Friday, 28 February 2014


Directed by Paolo Sorrentino


This is a bit reminiscent of 2012. The Master was so good, I remember actually laughing in the dark of a London cinema – in awe and admiration. But then there was Holy Motors, which was genius against talent, Mulholland Drive against Blue Velvet.  This year the Coens released the brilliant Inside Llewyn Davis (Oscar people should be hanged), and yet who could forget this sprawling Italian epic that is just on a wholly different level of greatness.

To me, reviewing this film is akin to writing about the best work of my favourite classical composer. It should just be a list of superlatives battling with each other for the top spot. Magnificent, overwhelming, inspiring. Or I could just go for pathetic metaphors, and compare the experience of watching The Great Beauty to growing wings and flying over Rome on a clear day.  

This film is Paolo Sorrentino’s ode to art, beauty and, incidentally, the eternal city. But it’s not just poetic and ephemeral – it can also be cruel and vulgar when it needs to. And it’s not just classical music of transcendental variety playing over the Tiber river. It’s club bangers, too, blasting at full speed during wild, extravagant parties. The aesthetic joy of watching this film is truly singular. The scenes and images are powerful and they will stay with you forever, like that gorgeous girl staring at Jep Gambardella from his all-too distant past. 

Quite simply, The Great Beauty is why you should love cinema. It’s clever, complex… and inexplicably beautiful.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Film review: NEBRASKA

Directed by Alexander Payne


Apparently there are people who will find this just depressing. And you can’t blame those people, they have every reason and right to be depressed. Nebraska is black and white, slow, awkward, not especially eventful. How exactly could it not become a critics’ darling nominated for every award in America and elsewhere?

You won’t be depressed if you appreciate good filmmaking. Nebraska is when understated becomes impressive, when slightly oddball becomes extremely moving. My advice would be to get into the groove of this thing, especially if you are new to Alexander Payne’s world. However, if you’ve been here since Election (what a great, great film), the only distinct difference would be the monochrome colouring of Nebraska.

But just consider how natural it is, Alexander Payne making a film in black and white. The aesthetics are the same, and it’s humour through pain and awkwardness and understatement. The world you see is very real, and just the tiniest bit farcical. Which might be the bit that makes Payne’s style so interesting and so unique in the first place.  

The premise is very simple. Woody Grant, a delusional and disillusioned old man, thinks he won a $1 million sweepstakes prize and wants to claim it by getting to Lincoln, Nebraska. Basically – on foot. His son, another local loser (Payne does them well), is weak-willed and tender-hearted to the extent that he gives in to the hopeless whim and agrees to drive them both to their vague destination. At some point Nebraska becomes something of a road film, with distant and not-so-distant echoes of his past works, Sideways and especially About Schmidt

While not much happens throughout the film, I absolutely refuse to view it as some sort of intellectual tax you have to pay to the world of art. Nebraska isn’t boring; it has too much humour and warmth to be boring. 

Monday, 24 February 2014


Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen


If ever in your life you decide to do something as foolish and irresponsible as write fiction, don’t attend seminars and don’t take up courses in creative writing. Instead, invest some of your time in the Coen brothers’ films. Fargo. Miller’s Crossing. Barton Fink. The Man Who Wasn’t There. Even lesser stuff like The Hudsucker Proxy could prove extremely useful. Because much of what you need to know about the story and crisp, clear-cut symbolism will be there on screen, coupled with fantastic acting, cinematography and all other joys that only films can bring.

Inside Llewyn Davis is pure aural and visual bliss. It is roughly based on the life of a relatively unknown 60’s folk artist, Dave Van Ronk, and tells about a week in the life of a one-time Greenwich Village folk singer who wanted to make it big but never had the guts or charisma to do so. In a way, he never even tried.

Dave Van Ronk was a fitting prototype for the idea. I’m familiar with the guy’s recordings, and it’s decent folk music with good spirit and little imagination. Basically, it lacks that vital reinvention that Dylan underwent between 1962 and 1963. The Coens use some of the stuff he did (“Green, Green Rocky Road”), a Peter, Paul and Mary classic (“Five Hundred Miles”, written by Hedy West) and even one brilliant original (Justin Timberlake, of all people, co-wrote the catchy folk-pop gem “Please, Mr. Kennedy”). Particularly good are two traditional songs, “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me” and “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)”, which you get to hear a couple of times throughout the film. In other words, the soundtrack to Inside Llewyn Davis is indispensable. Just imagine a 60’s take on O Brother, Where Art Thou?, with T-Bone Burnett back to what he does so well.

Speaking of style, it’s the Coens of A Serious Man sort. The gorgeous, autumnal colours, an unlikely hero under pressure, lots of despair and dry wit. There’s not much violence (the little we see is hilarious), just the story and the beautiful, depressing world of the famed folk scene of 60’s New York. The acting is superb, but then you never see under-par acting in a Coens film. Oscar Isaac is tortured and stubborn and just a little bit annoying. Justin Timberlake is all understated charm; soft voice and humble sweaters. Carey Mulligan is at her cynical, down-to-earth best. I also love Jeanine Serralles who plays Llewyn’s sister: she is angry and loving and absolutely adorable. And please note that the actors are the ones who actually perform these songs. And live, too. Classic Coens. 

The story is of course intricate and clever, and you just have to love the cute ginger cat whose name is Ulysses. It’s a brilliant journey indeed, though God knows it isn’t too much fun getting inside Llewyn Davis. After all, some talent just breeds frustration.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

SONG OF THE WEEK #136: Twin Peaks - "James' Song"

Twin Peaks is of course a masterpiece for all ages. I'm not sure how this thing will sound out of context, but I'd just like to quote a certain YouTube comment by one 'Jim Morrissey': "This song is gorgeous, cheesy, ridiculous, sexy, insane, dumb, amazing - all at once." Precisely. 

Friday, 21 February 2014

Film review: ALL IS LOST

Directed by J. C. Chandor


All Is Lost is a sort of lo-fi disaster film. It has great quality, it’s made with style, and Robert Redford holds the screen with masterful ease, but you have to wonder if that screen could hold mainstream audience looking for thrills. This is very basic and very unadorned for a disaster film. I can very much imagine an obscure cinema on the outskirts of a small town playing it at uncomfortable hours.

It’s quite astonishing that J. C. Chandor had his debut in 2011 with a film that couldn’t be any more different. Margin Call was a slick, smart, quick-paced financial drama; All Is Lost is a low-budget survival story about a man lost at sea. The film is slow, but if you get into its mood – you will find this quite engaging.

Robert Redford (who is the only person you will see in the film) is 86 years old, but my God is he giving a robust performance. It’s not in any way imposing or particularly conspicuous (even considering that he is always on screen), but there is great understated power in his every movement. And by far my favourite part about All Is Lost is that we are never told why this man is at sea in the first place. Where is he going? What’s his story? All we see is one man trying to hold on to life. And for once – this seems enough. 

There are no visual effects and the plot twists are all within the powers of your imagination, which makes All Is Lost so electrifyingly realistic. But Christ – that script must have been ludicrously short.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Film review: BLUE JASMINE

Directed by Woody Allen


Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen’s best film since Sweet And Lowdown. But of course: critics have been saying this for years, decades now. Match Point, remember, was Allen’s best drama since Crimes And Misdemeanors. Midnight In Paris, too, was a remarkable return to form and Allen’s best comedy since Hannah And Her Sisters. And so it goes, on and on. However, what I’m saying is that Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen’s best film since 1999. By this director’s standards, 15 years is nothing. His week beats your year.

I don’t know how well the audience I was in the cinema with knew Allen’s past films, but when the screen went black and the lights were switched on, there was an awkward silence that screamed disbelief. It’s not that people wanted more. It’s them not quite realizing that that particular image of Cate Blanchett was the one they would have to go home with. That Woody Allen could cut it off without warning and without a kiss. Even Match Point seemed more upbeat seconds before the closing credits. So, the silence: you can’t wean people off happy endings.

Feeling of sweet despair. Despair – because the story (I believe this to be Allen’s best script in years) doesn’t let in too much light. It does allow for a few hilarious trademark jokes, but you wouldn’t expect many from a painful riches to rags tale. Sweet – because Blue Jasmine gives off so much of that velvety, pleasantly old-fashioned Woody Allen feel. It’s that unmistakable vibe, coupled with substance (there’s nothing remotely fillerish about this film). Allen and bad acting never really went together, and there isn’t a single performance here I could fault. But it’s Cate Blanchett you can’t look away from. She holds the screen tightly and never lets go. She oozes despair, neurosis, tortured feeling, humiliation – often all those things in one scene, one shot. If she doesn’t get every best actress award imaginable, someone has to be blind. 

Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen film #45 (note that I discard What’s Up, Tiger Lily? yet do include the short Oedipus Wrecks and the Herbert Ross-directed Play It Again, Sam onto the list), and out of those 45 I don’t count one I could call bad. Blue Jasmine belongs to the top league, and I really couldn’t care less about the sex abuse controversy.  

Tuesday, 18 February 2014


Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée


No film featuring Marc Bolan’s “Life Is Strange” can be called a bad film, but Jared Leto. Matthew McConaughey’s heroics cannot be underestimated either, but Jared fucking Leto. Talentless wimp, cute Angel Face biding time in acting business? No, that’s not him anymore, and the question is where exactly did that come from?

Dallas Buyers Club is a very grim film, you have to be prepared for that. Even at the very beginning, when Ron Woodroof still doesn’t know he has AIDS and 30 days to live – the film seems too heavy to handle. Casual sex, muddy rodeo, cocaine, Dallas Buyers Club looks dark even before the real darkness sets in.

Oddly, it gets better. Woodroof (stylish and depressing performance by McConaughey, who of course had to drop 23 kilos to play the role (that’s your fully used checked-in baggage next time you fly, by the way); Leto dropped 14, which is quite remarkable in his case), an electrician and a homophobe leading a hedonistic lifestyle, has fantastically droll sense of humour that brings a certain amount of relief to the proceedings. Nothing too bright, of course, but what would you expect from a film with this subject matter?

The film is based on real events that happened between 1985 and 1992, when little was known about AIDS and even less about drugs that could help. “Dallas Buyers Club” was set up by Woodroof to sell drugs (illegal according to the FDA) he smuggled into Texas. The queues are endless, people are desperate, with unlikely business partners Woodroof and Rayon (Leto), both HIV-positive, at the centre of love, hate and controversy. 

McConaughey’s performance is deserving of an Oscar, no question about it, but watch Jared Leto play a transgender woman (Woodroof hates faggots, remember) with such warmth and conviction that you might accidentally think those 30 Second to Mars records had some value after all (no). Besides, Rayon is a fan of Marc Bolan. There’s a scene in which McConaughey’s character tears Bolan’s posters off the wall believing that is actually Boy George. That’s a terrific scene, and it helps make the heavy and devastating Dallas Buyers Club so memorable and enjoyable. It’s a film that stays with you, and times being what they are – what could possibly be a bigger compliment?..

Sunday, 16 February 2014

SONG OF THE WEEK #135: Little Feat - "Willin'"

They recorded and re-recorded "Willin'" again and again, even before Lowell George's death, but the orginal version was always the one I loved best (Little Feat, 1970). One of the most perfect songs this world has known. If you don't like it, I'd advise to stay away from music altogether.

Friday, 14 February 2014


Directed by Ben Wheatley


There is no dross like left-field dross (no pun intended). When something so decidedly non-mainstream fails, it’s not just bad. It’s offensively bad, and every time you just want to write a long and vicious essay decrying how postmodernism spoils good art. Is A Field In England good art? I don’t know, but “I find pages easier to turn than people” is a line to kill for. The film has lots of good lines.

Circles, too. And squares. A Field In England is a classic far-out experience that sees its characters consume mushrooms in hallucinogenic quantities, die twice and have a thing called ‘pissing disease’. If your stomach is too small, stay away. This is black-and-white, old-school horror, psychedelia, Waiting For Godot, and lovely 17th-century styled folk music all rolled into one and messing with your brain. A trip in every sense of the word.

The English Civil War is in full swing, but the film is set in a field separated from the battle by a long hedge. Four men desert and decide to go to an ale house. The ale house is pretty much Kafka’s castle in that it’s out there somewhere yet getting to it isn’t really on the cards. Then an Irishman called O’Neill appears (“It does not surprise me that the Devil is an Irishman, but I thought that perhaps he would be a little taller”) who assumes control over the group and commands them to dig out some kind of treasure buried somewhere in the field. This is the case where you just have to hang on and look straight: because it’s quite engaging in its own absurd way. 

And you have to love the characters. There’s a refined man called Whitehead (good name) who is all about science and books. There’s one who seems to have every disease but plague. There’s one without a brain (no, not literally). The chemistry between the actors is amazing. Hell, the whole thing is amazing. It’s highly allegorical and it’s open to interpretation. And as the psychedelic fog disappears and your frail ideas slowly drift away, only one thing stands as a clear fact: Ben Wheatley is a major talent. 

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Film review: HER

Directed by Spike Jonze


God knows few things are more tedious than discussing the great dangers of the Internet. How it corrupts. How it vitiates your moral principles. How easily it lets you target your sexual desires (relevant in this instance). There’s a reason why all this talk is so tedious, and the reason is its total, glaring pointlessness. It’s not like you will log off the Internet altogether and donate all your money to a local school.

And yet haven’t we all become emotional perverts who would rather post a picture than put it in words? Her asks this question. It isn’t tedious because it isn’t didactical and doesn’t try to split your head with a hammer. It’s actually very understated, and there’s an awkward, quirky love story on top of it – a sort of deeper Ruby Sparks without the cloy cuteness.

The film is set in the future where some of those great dangers are a fully realized reality. It’s computers all around, of course, and Jonze’s future looks like a depressing candyland inhabited by emotionally confused, often frustrated people who don’t wear belts and who do odd things for a living. Theodore Twombly (a good if unrevelatory performance from Joaquin Phoenix), for instance, writes love letters for those who can’t express their feelings. He also mourns the death of his own relationship. Enter his new operational system that can be customized according to his own preferences and desires. The OS is called “Samantha” and talks like Scarlett Johansson, and he finds himself addicted and in love. Johansson’s voice can do that. 

The supporting cast includes Amy Adams and Rooney Mara, so you know you’re in good hands. It’s never quite overwhelming, the sound of Arcade Fire’s “Suppersymmetry” (they are responsible for the soundtrack) playing in the background captures the mood perfectly. Her  is a very meditative, slow-paced film that looks like a therapy course that brings no relief. A fairy tale for grown-ups. A lovely romantic drama with an edge. Stylish but maybe too nice.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Film review: GRAVITY

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón


Art should impress. If art doesn’t impress, it’s pretty much weak tea with no milk or sugar. And all snobbery aside (this particular reviewer is highly susceptible, but he’s giving it a miss this time), Gravity is simply breathtaking. So much so that you really do have to have some personal issues or inherent anti-hype agenda to keep going on a tedious, never-ending loop of “where’s the plot?” and “Sandra Bullock can’t act”.

Let’s get a few things out of the way. Sandra Bullock can’t act. Well, that may very well be the case (she was good in The Heat though, if that counts for anything), but she certainly doesn’t in any way spoil Gravity.  The acting is overall very minimalist, never hammy, and when she has to hold the screen – she does it well. The story is indeed very simple, but did anyone really need twisted embellishments in a survival story set in space?..

There are but two characters and a striking image of the Earth as a background. Trying to describe the impressive visuals, you will soon run out of superlatives. It really is overwhelming, the ultimate 3D experience that just begs for an overpriced iMax outing. The space is infinite, something goes wrong, and that’s all complication you need. The very basic nature of the story makes you follow it with truly dogged dedication. But of course: Cuarón being Cuarón, he throws in a fair amount of smart symbolism: the string connecting astronauts to the spaceship becomes umbilical cord, curled up Bullock looks like an embryo, and there’s of course the final sequence that manages to be both straightforward and absolutely irresistible. 

Final thought. In a world going for overkill it is refreshing to have a Hollywood film lasting just over half an hour. And not a second wasted.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

SONG OF THE WEEK #134: EMA - "California"

EMA is going to release her third album in 2014, and fingers crossed it will be as good as the tortured, gloriously messed-up Past Life Martyred Saints (2011). Three years on, "California" still hits me where it should.

Friday, 7 February 2014


Directed by Martin Scorsese


Martin Scorsese can do whatever he wants these days, but let’s consider this: the man hasn’t made a truly great (no-questions-asked great) film since The Aviator. And that was in 2004. It’s all part of an ongoing, dangerously soulless phase: Shutter Island was Scorsese getting technical about Dennis Lehane’s novel, Hugo was Scorsese getting technical about 3D, and The Wolf Of Wall Street is Scorsese getting technical about entertainment. If anything – he’s good at all those things.

It’s just that inside there is void.

The man knows how to entertain, and in that respect The Wolf Of Wall Street is value for money . After the slick and dreary Hugo, we get this welcome adrenaline rush of clever bullshit. The box office is incredible, the cinemas are overcrowded, the critics are happy or at the very least hilariously outraged, and in the course of three whopping hours Scorsese never lets go for one second. Golden Globe saw it as a comedy movie, which almost makes sense. It’s not so much funny (unless you will laugh at the scene where DiCaprio snorts cocaine out of a hooker’s butthole) as great fun.

Overall, The Wolf Of Wall Street is a rather banal proposition: Martin Scorsese making a big movie about money (all based on Jordan Belfort’s equally opulent memoir), swindles and corruption, drugs and extravagance, with Leonardo DiCaprio in the main role. I don’t even know how I feel about seeing DiCaprio in yet another Scorsese film. Don’t get me wrong though. If someone somewhere still thinks DiCaprio isn’t a great actor, I’ll be the first in line to protest. He is a terrific actor, and he is terrific in this film (actually a ‘movie’; this is where Aldous Huxley’s talkie-feelie-movie snobbery should be dropped). I just think Scorsese should stop casting him with such a blinding, unimaginative consistency. It’s getting formulaic.

DiCaprio is the main guy: the Wall Street wolf who is actually a little too likable for someone of that sort. Then there’s Matthew McConaughey (who is always good) as the mentor, there’s Jonah Hill (whose role is mostly reduced to getting stoned and pissed) as the friend and there’s Margot Robbie (obscenely seductive, of course) as the girl. The acting is impeccable, you definitely can’t fault that. Nor can you fault the brilliant scene where DiCaprio’s character has to crawl after a particularly bad overdose. Nor any other scene for that matter. The drugs are used, the money is swindled, the girls are shagged – what’s not to like. Well, maybe the fact that it gets a little too repetitive after a while? Or the fact that it feels oh so derivative and secondary for a director with that filmography? That Scorsese doesn’t have anything to say – past what he said so effectively back in 1990? 

The bottom line then. Immoral, profane, vulgar – but in a rather intelligent way. For all its flatulent and fatuous self-indulgence ,  it’s actually a masterful work. A pale shadow of Goodfellas – granted. Bloated and empty. All the same – The Wolf Of Wall Street is as close as you can get to wasting three hours on something that is actually really bloody good. After all (if you don’t mind a little blasphemy), wasn’t Citizen Kane that too? Bloated and completely empty?.. 

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Film review: JEUNE & JOLIE

Directed by Francois Ozon


Like almost any other French film, Jeune & Jolie is very French. This time it’s Francois Ozon telling a story of a pretty 17-year-old girl who becomes aware of her sexuality and starts working as a prostitute. You will see Paris, you will hear Francoise Hardy playing in the backround, and you will wonder whether this is crude or romantic.

Ozon’s previous film, In The House, was brilliant. Whatever was provocative about it remained more or less understated, and you had an intriguing, cleverly scripted story to follow. This time, though, the plot seems weak, and regrettably Ozon seems content with it.

The film looks gorgeous and those who are in it look gorgeous too. The girl is indeed jolie, and when you witness the miserable perverts abusing and insulting her – the desired effect is certainly reached. It’s not pretty. However, there’s one who treats her like a gentleman (yes, I know how it sounds), and naturally he’s the only one she comes back to again and again..

It’s a well-executed film, and there’s enough thought-provoking stuff you can get out of it. The problem is, the story lacks depth and seems too contrived to be in any way emotional. And it all comes to a particularly far-fetched ending that tells us what sort of fanciful ideas Ozon is having these days. I’m not getting into details, but let’s just say it’s interesting, and if you buy it – well, there's definitely some of that French blood in you.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014


Directed by Richard Linklater


This of course should start with a tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman who died yesterday of drug overdose. A death so uncalled for you will yet again be reminded of Heath Ledger. A death so indiscriminate you won’t care whether it was cocaine or sleeping pills. A death so untimely you would think 46 was 27. Never less than great, Hoffman routinely reached the kind of awe-inspiring brilliance (The Master, Capote, Synecdoche, New York, Doubt…) that made it look like others were trying too hard. In a world deadened by daily news, this was truly shocking.

Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight. It’s a little frustrating that I haven’t really lived with these films. They haven’t sprung up at various points in my life to give an exciting angle and a different perspective. They haven’t been this little parallel universe that I grudgingly put on hold for another nine years (1995, 2004, 2013).  I just watched them all over the course of one short month. Can I comment?

But I will. These films are doll-house perfect. Not in the sense that they are better than others you love or admire; in a way, there’s no competition. These three films exist in their own ideal, romantic, well-honed world. They don’t need to compete. They don’t need your Oscars or Baftas or what have you. They are self-sufficient. They are perfect. So perfect in fact that I have only seen each of them once. This probably won’t change.

The films star Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy whom we find at different points in their lives. In Before Sunrise we saw them fling. In Before Sunset we saw them flirt. And in Before Midnight we see them… well, fight basically. They are on holiday in Greece, both pushing forty, things have changed, and as ever you can’t look away. Before Midnight is minimalist, very wordy and full of long takes that seem so natural you don’t notice it is actually a movie. Perhaps the only deviation is the inclusion of a lengthy dinner scene that has several people having a rather fascinating conversation. Otherwise it’s the same old thing: Jesse and Celine talking.  

The dialogues (co-written/semi-improvised by Hawke and Delpy) are magnetic, electrifying, totally engaging. They make you care. Beautifully acted and cleverly conceived, these films remain elegant little poems full of romance, understatement and real-life drama. Apparently there are people who find the whole thing tedious and annoying, but hopefully it’s not us.

I’m putting this on hold now, for Before Dusk (Dawn?) to quietly resurface in 2022 (bloody hell) and let us peek through another doll-house window. Very briefly, but that I guess is part of the attraction.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

SONG OF THE WEEK #133: The Jam - "Going Underground"

Their studio albums from 1978 onwards were consistently good (if ever lacking that extra dimension which would make them certified classics), but The Jam were mostly a singles band. "Going Underground" (from 1980) is case in point; as good a song as you will ever hear.