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Cemetery of Splendour

December 3, 2016

Cemetery of Splendour (2016)
Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Actors: Jenjira Pongpas, Banlop Lomnoi, Petcharat Chaiburi

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Synopsis: Two women attend to a large battalion of soldiers who have mysteriously fallen under a sleeping sickness in northern Thailand.

Review: The great Apichatpong Weerasethakul brings his langorious, meditative cinematic sensibility to bear once again in the forested hinterland of northern Thailand. This time, his ‘hook’ revolves around a mysterious sleeping sickness that has beset a corps of soldiers, and the film’s running time dramatises and sensualises the almost absurd scenario of these men, holed up in a makeshift hospital that was once a school – suspended seemingly up among the trees.

If you’ve seen previous Weerasethakul works such as Tropical MaladySyndromes and a Century and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall his Past Lives, then there is nothing radically new here – in fact, it’s probably his gentlest, least intense film yet. It does almost at times descend into the realm of abstraction and conceptual art, particularly in the surreal sequences of random people bizarrely swapping benches in a country park.

That aside, Weerasethakul’s perpetual insistence on the stillness and purity of the pictoral and aural elements of his framing once again almost becomes the story. Just as the mysterious sleeping sickness forces the soldiers and suffering onlookers to recalibrate their spirit and listen to their “inner drummer”, so as a spectator, we are forced to immerse ourselves into the film’s ambience. Weerasethakul’s preference for medium and long shots almost wills us to detach, to pull back, and to frame the transience of mankind and people politics against the eternal rhythms and properties of nature. (December 2016)

Midnight Special

December 2, 2016

Midnight Special (2016)
Director: Jeff Nichols
Actors: Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, Joel Edgerton

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Synopsis: In the near future, Roy (Michael Shannon) and Lucas (Joel Edgerton) are shepherding Roy’s son Alton east across the state of Texas and towards Florida. Alton possesses paranormal abilities and appears to be communicating with an extra terrestrial body just above the planet. The FBI and Roy’s old religious cult are hot on Alton’s trail…

Review: There’s a lot to commend in Jeff Nichols’ stylish and concentrically atmospheric sci-fi curio. The film works especially best in its gripping opening stretch: an elliptical in media res montage that nicely thematises the wide spectrum of players and their stakes in the narrative, as well as hinting at the transcendent, supernatural theme centred around the boy’s “specialness”.

In a sense, the aura of Midnight Special‘s opening few scenes acts as apt microcosm for the pros and cons of the film overall. It’s never less than spectacularly cinematic, and each sequence features some kernel of ingenuity; however it also feels like the technique, stylistics and favouring of atmosphere are increasingly at service to a banal, hokum and underdeveloped central concept. It’s as if the opening fifteen minutes were a stellar short film which earned the director the right to pad it out more unconvincingly to feature length format. There’s also the sense that Nichols doesn’t quite have the confidence to honour the tauter, darker bent of his leanings, instead pushing the material more towards a hackneyed Spielbergian sentiment. (December 2016)

Further Beyond

November 29, 2016

Further Beyond (2016)
Directors: Christine Molloy, Joe Lawlor

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To read the full review of this film, please use the following link:

The Nice Guys

November 25, 2016

The Nice Guys (2016)
Director: Shane Black
Actors: Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, Angourie Rice

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Synopsis: Two ramshackle private investigators (Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe) team up to solve a mysterious case of a dead porn starlet and a missing teen in ’70s LA.

Review: Shane Black proves what an absolute dab hand he is at hilarious, literate crime capers with this, a near comic masterpiece to rank alongside his cult gem from ten years previous, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. As with that film, The Nice Guys is a glorious homage to (and send up of) LA noir; the twist being that this time Black filters his story round a late ’70s, retro, porn-inflected, disco-inspired Los Angeles. Just the opening moments of the film set up Black’s mastery of tone and droll humour as a dolly shot picks up the nocturnal allure of LA beneath a symbolically torn and gone-to-seed “Hollywood” sign, before zoning in on the mysterious fatal crash of starlet, Misty Mountains.

An area Black excels at once again is the brilliant balance of comedy, wit and pastiche versus making the whole piece dramatically viable and almost a gentle nod to the labyrinth lineage of LA noir dramas from yonder such as Chinatown and especially L.A. Confidential with the casting of Russell Crowe and even Kim Basinger (in a short, but significant, cameo role). Equally brilliant is Black’s ability to craft vibrant set pieces – from both an action and comedy perspective – and as in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, he films a glamorous tinseltown party like no other. The Sid Shattack extravaganza that forms the centrepiece of the story is an absolute comic masterclass – full of great slapstick, tremendous one-liners from Gosling and Crowe, and a truly exquisite piece of ‘blink or you’ll miss it’ surreal humour as Gosling’s naïve, gauche private eye goes swimming with mermaids on the hunt for a lead.

As in all great buddy movies, strong chemistry between the leads is essential – and it’s pure gold-dust where Gosling and Crowe are concerned. Crowe has always been an underrated comedian and here he is “to the manor born” with a role that suits his gruff (but warm) persona perfectly, and Gosling nails his neurotic, shambolic role expertly – not falling into the trap of trying to demonstrate the shift into louche comic mode that many other matinee idols might have done. Summating all that is good about the film is its overarching air of irreverence (as redolent in the very oxymoronic title “The Nice Guys”). A scene where they go to a seedy Burbank hotel only to quickly backtrack on their way up to the villain’s penthouse when paying witness to two gruesome murders is both the film’s pièce de résistance and apex of its comic charm. (November 2016)

Casino Royale: The Last Great Bond Movie

November 16, 2016


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It’s the tenth anniversary of the release of Casino Royale – the film that gave the flagging Bond Series new life. Please go to the below link as I pay tribute to this behemoth of the Bond canon!


November 11, 2016

Weiner (2016)
Directors: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg

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Synopsis: Controversial Democratic politician, Anthony Weiner, runs for office in the New York mayoral elections of 2013.

Review: Easily one of the finest and most gripping films for many a year, Weiner’s sheer brilliance comes from the fact that its very medium and apparatus – the “fly on the wall” documentary – not only outs the story but, in a sense, becomes the story. Following controversial Democratic politician, Anthony Weiner, as he hits the New York mayoral campaign trail in 2013 (this after having resigned from Congress two years previously for a highly controversial “sexting” scandal), filmmakers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg chance upon pure serendipitous gold dust with Weiner’s incredible frankness and the staggering levels of access he offered, alongside the embarrassing sexting skeletons which return to haunt him at the very same time.

Thus, Weiner almost develops into a classical tragedy. It’s an overused soundbite to ascribe Shakespearian characteristics to troubled public figures, but Weiner’s rise and fall is straight from that lineage. Weiner’s dichotomy of pure political brilliance versus a deeply flawed personality is characterised straight away in a stunning opening montage where Weiner is engaged in a firebrand, pulverising take-down of one of his politician opponents in the House of Representatives against his subsequent, humiliating downfall.

Adding to the story’s tragic ingredients is Huma Abedin – Weiner’s prized wife who had been a Hillary Clinton staffer and confidante, and someone who evidently aligned herself with Weiner when he was in the political ascendancy. The documentary captures exquisitely and to an absolute T the growing sense of stunned disbelief as Abedin begins to conscience the sheer squalor of Weiner’s shattered political ambitions and the increasingly virile and pathetic way that he rails against that. The beauty of the film’s representation of the Weiner-Abedin subplot is that a fiction film couldn’t have captured it any better – it really is a by-product of the sheer alchemy of skilled (and fortuitous) documentary filmmaking.

Befitting the documentary’s assured sense of its story is that, although Weiner has become a byword for salacious smut and mockery (the surname itself doesn’t help), a sense of begrudging admiration for the man’s imperturbability and that strangely American quality of doughty optimism is transmitted. A salient point also emerges that a sensationalist media and public won’t let Weiner forget what are essentially only personal peccadilloes and vices, and it’s a real shame that a genuinely authentic and passionate voice for the lower/middle-classes in American politics has been lost to what amounts to a silly scandal. (November 2016)


November 6, 2016

Room (2016)
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Actors: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen

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Synopsis: A woman (Brie Larson) has been kidnapped and kept in absolute confinement for a number of years. Her son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay) – the product of rape by the captor – is her only source of hope, and together, as the years go by, they plot their escape….

Review: By the closing shots of Room, any of its ancillary benefits as a work of sheer emotional force and its performances of staggering grace (namely the turn by child actor Jacob Tremblay) are obscured by the bludgeoning conceitedness of its scenario which it carries unsubtly through the entirety of its running time.

This conceit – the ‘ironic’ perspective of the boy with his wondrous absorption in the totality of “Room”, masking that place’s sinister reality – is simply too literal and obvious. Abrahamson plays too much into the material, utilising an intentionally twee musical score to emphasise the subtext of the child’s perspective, and he films the story in a faux experiential balm. The problem being that this a film that wants to eat from its highly dramaturgical confection, so ambitions toward something more transcendent in exploring the properties of the child’s new, widened existence are betrayed by the need for us, the audience, to “get” the subtext at every turn.

The thematic territory of Room had immense promise for a more ambitious filmmaker. Just to go off on a tangent, I’ve always wondered about the ethics of blindness, and how – if a blind person gained sight for the first time in their lives – would they even be able to comprehend their newfound vision or would there be no correlation to their previous immersion in words and imagination only? Room hints at some of these complexities in the boy’s processing of his new domain (the tactile ‘pet therapy’ scene with a dog is unquestionably moving) but too often Abrahamson and the scenario veer down the soapy route – especially in inducing unrealistic conflict in the film’s final third when the mother predictably breaks down under the scrutiny of the media, and her dysfunctional family replete with conveniently separated grandparents have a wrought conflab at the most inappropriate of times. (November 2016)