Archive for the ‘ FILMS 2014 ’ Category



This film set in the troubled streets of Belfast during 1971 captures perfectly the claustrophobia, fear, trepidation and lack of trust which the troubles engendered among the city’s occupants at this time of unrest. Jack O’Connell is outstanding and continues his impressive line of performances which began with Skins and has seen him mature into an actor with the intuition to match his skill. Directed by Yann Demange the film often feels as if it is closing in on itself and this technique brings home the plight of O’ Connell’s character Gary Hook, a young soldier stationed in Belfast as his first posting away from home.
After a confrontational stand off on the streets of Belfast where a hostile crowd have learnt of the army’s presence Hook finds himself abandoned by his unit and witnesses the horrific slaying of one of his colleagues. The next few hours are crucial to his survival and the streets of Belfast are littered with those who, fearful of their own position if they help a soldier considered the enemy by many, are unwilling to help if it means risking their own skin.
Hook nervous, bloody and bruised finds himself isolated and terrified as everyone he meets is a possible assassin or at the very least a contributor to his demise. It is a situation which leads him to an area where his safety is at most risk and it soon becomes clear that even those who should be siding with him cannot be relied on for their loyalty whilst others put themselves at risk in the act of human compassion.
The tension of Belfast, with burning burnt out cars on seemingly every street corner, along with paranoia, violence and mistrust is rife throughout this film. O’Connell is simply exceptional capturing every nuance of the abandoned soldier’s fear and miscomprehension of the situation he finds himself in. Definitely a thought provoking film ’71 is one which holds your attention throughout its duration and stays with you for several hours after.


Just an Observation
Well the hibernation is now official and after a fairly mild start winter has replaced autumn with a sudden chill in the air. The expectant air of Christmas looms ominously and the masses have already started discussing the John Lewis ad on social media. I do wonder when your life takes such a turn that the annual appearance of a shop ad becomes a matter worthy of discussion and even manages to reduce some to tears! Remind me to never take that turning; it must be the one marked ‘tragic’!
Elsewhere the end of one of the best series on terrestrial TV, Peaky Blinders, finished up last night and one good looking Irish man, Cillian Murphy, is to be replaced next week by another, the former Calvin Klein model Jamie Dornan as possibly the best looking psychopath ever, in The Fall. That will be the next few Thursday nights taken care of then! BBC2 at 9pm.
Out at the cinema this week I have seen one of the best films of the year, Nightcrawler, and in total contrast one of the worst, Mr. Turner. To the latter first and this Mike Leigh attempt at a biopic of the famous artist was a bitter disappointment that seemed to drag on for hours. At several junctures during the film the central character was close to death but only marginally more often than I felt close to it.
I went along on the advice of a dear friend who obviously has no taste in such matters, not that I shall ever remind him of this… often. It was doubly disappointing in that when eventually I escaped from the cinema-the seasons had changed twice at least in the interim- I assumed that at least I may have missed Christmas. In fact the only good thing about the whole experience was that although I had visibly aged at the films conclusion my companion-the recommender of this drudgery- had aged far more than me. Seriously, this film should come not with a guidance setting but an anti-ageing product!
Nightcrawler on the other hand is a sharp, sexy, well paced film in which Jake Gyllenhaal excels as the creepy protagonist with both sociopath and psychopathic leanings as well as a craving for success at any cost. Definitely one of the most compelling films I have seen in a while and a full review can be found here. Definitely recommended!
After unfortunately missing the return of The Hook ‘n’ Pull Gang last weekend I am determined not to make the same mistake this weekend when the mighty Primevals play at the Citrus Club in Grindlay Street this Saturday –Nov 8th- to launch their new album. Supported by The Phlegm and The Trama Dolls this night is probably the best night out this weekend for anyone who loves rock and roll. There are other things going on-notably glam homage The King Rockers at Studio 24- but The Primevals gig looks like being the one to catch.
Right the weekend starts now so have a good one everyone!
Poster at top by Al Hotchkiss.



This compelling crime thriller starring an impeccable Jake Gyllenhaal and equally impressive Rene Russo, written and directed by Dan Gilroy is one of the best films I have seen thus far this year. Gyllenhaal more than adequately inhabits his role of Lou Bloom a young man in search of a career, fame, notoriety and respect at whatever the cost and make no mistake there is no value put on anything other than this success, not even the life of a colleague, if the situation necessitates it. It is this flagrant disregard for others which makes Gyllenhaal’s character so fascinating and watchable whilst the sociopath/psychopath hybrid which determines his personality is as creepy as it is compelling
Once Bloom discovers there is market in selling video footage of crimes and accidents and the aftermath that follows them he decides a career in providing the most intimate, voyeuristic and forensic footage possible with no consideration for the victims of these crimes or the fatalities of an accident or a shoot out. In this he is initially supported by Nina (Russo) who is seeking to boost her own flagging career and although when he suggests mixing business with pleasure she is at first horrified and disgusted but this soon turns to admiration as his skills and sheer determination rapidly become more attractive to her as she realises how much of a boost his input gives to her own kudos and value.
This act of convincing others that he is taking them on the road to success and they should simply do as he says without question is a tactic he uses on his assistant Rick(Riz Ahmed) only when Rick questions his motives and demands that he be treated a little more fairly and receive adequate recompense for his endeavours you sense that he is sealing his own fatal outcome.
As I said before Nightcrawler stands tall amongst the best films I have seen this year. It has everything: great performances, superb pacing, style, gravitas, moments of dark humour and skilful direction by Gilroy. Definitely not one to be missed.


Gone Girl
This David Fincher movie is at the centre of a controversial storm as to whether it empowers women or sets their cause back decades. Certainly it is a very modern approach to what is essentially a cold, calculating femme fatale but whether or not Fincher has used Rosamund Pike’s character ‘Amazing’ Amy Dunne as anything other than a bewitching, fascinating captivating film character, who drives the narrative of this film in several different directions, is irrelevant when considering how compelling her and co-star Ben Affleck-as her husband Nick- are at delivering nearly two and a half hours of convincingly intense cinema.
It would seem to outsiders that Nick and Amy have the perfect marriage and lifestyle-so organised even their cat has its own room- and cocooned in their own smugness, ‘We are so cool I would want to punch us in the face’ one of them decries at some juncture, but it is all surface and underneath the cracks are rising to the surface.
Matters culminate on the day of their fifth wedding anniversary when we first meet Nick as he visits his twin sister Margo ( Carrie Coon) with matters obviously preying on his mind. On his return home he finds an obviously staged burglary has taken place and Amy has disappeared amidst signs of a struggle. He then finds himself caught up in the midst of accusations and media manipulations as it becomes clear foul play has taken place but with the absence of a corpse an actual arrest for Amy’s murder is nigh on impossible even despite the mounting evidence.
How that evidence keeps mounting!
Nick has been having an affair. Nick has accrued thousands of pounds of credit card debts. Nick has recently negotiated a life insurance policy for over a million dollars in the event anything should happen to Amy.
It all seems a little too clear cut though and even the investigating police officer feels this way and postpones his arrest until the evidence suggests that this is the only feasible option.
It is at this juncture that the film takes the first of its many diversions into another twisted narrative before this one twists into another and then yet another. It is a convincing device and at no point of its two hours plus duration does this film ever waver or lose the audience’s attention taking them to unexpected places with its unpredictable twists and turns. Just when you feel it is time to breathe easier the film takes flight and moves off in another direction without ever feeling overly contrived or unconvincing.
Ben Affleck is outstanding as browbeaten Nick who has to summon up inner strengths to survive the onslaught of the hopelessness of his situation but it is Rosamund Pike who is a revelation. Cold, calculating and detached she is the epitome of the icy blonde Hitchcock searched for throughout his many movies-Tippi Hedren may have looked the part but let’s face it her acting abilities were limited at best- and give a performance which inspires both love and hate in equal measure.
Definitely a cinematic experience worth spending a couple of hours involving yourself with and Fincher’s direction and Trent Reznor’s score serve to up the ante into making this an almost perfect mystery thriller.


I Am Divine

This documentary directed by Jeffery Schwarz detailing the rise of the late, great Divine from his Baltimore origins to national then international and onwards to the brink of mainstream success is like its subject matter; in that it is funny, poignant, challenging and, especially at its conclusion, more than a little tragic.
The thing about Divine which set him apart from other drag acts, apart from his vast size which contributed to rather than distracted from his appeal, was the fact he was always willing to go that bit further, be that bit fiercer and more than prepared to be that much more outrageous than his rivals. Whilst other drag queens on the scene took themselves much more seriously Divine was prepared to send both them and himself up whilst simultaneously being wholly serious about what he was doing. Teaming up with fellow Baltimore outcast/freak John Waters was a stroke of genius and one suspects without this fortuitous pairing neither would be the recognised important figures they are today.
Born Harris Glenn Milstead, though always referred to Glenn when growing up and Divine thereafter, to a conservative middle class family who indulged his leanings as an obviously effete child by encouraging him to enter the hairdressing and beauty world where his talents could flourish without too much embarrassment to his family’s sensibilities. However with the arrival of the sixties and the counterculture Glenn started to indulge in more and more outrageous antics until a rift leading to a total fall out with his family was necessary if he intended to continue down the path he was following. It rapidly became clear this is exactly that path was one he more than wanted to follow; in fact it transpired he wanted to lead the way down his own particular path.
Teaming up with John Waters and a group of fellow outcasts a few low budget movies were made, culminating in cult classics such as Mondo Trasho, Pink Flamingos-with its infamous eating dog shit scene- and Female Trouble. These films started to breakthrough nationally and eventually became classics on the gay and underground scenes and after this Divine’s rise to international renown was inexorable. Meanwhile a musical career was added to an already growing portfolio with several records-‘Native Love’ and ‘Shoot Your Shot’ are still personal favourites to this day although the sight of Divine, in all his glory, wobbling around on Top Of The Pops whipping himself into a frenzy whilst belting out ‘You Think You’re A Man’ is a moment that will always stay with me-—adding to the growing legend.
Around this juncture mainstream success was on the horizon and an appearance in the most successful Waters movie to date, Hairspray, showed that behind the outrage was real acting talent; an appearance as a man for the first time in ‘Trouble in Mind’ confirmed this. The success of Hairspray awarded Divine appointments with big time players and he was about to start work on the networked comedy with a recurring role in the now classic series ‘Married With Children’. Unfortunately circumstances conspired that on the weekend before he was due to start shooting-he was actually already ensconced in his Hollywood hotel preparing his lines- when he had a massive heart attack which killed him.
The tragedy of such an event would not have been lost on Divine however who would probably have appreciated the irony. Here was everything he had worked for; money, success, recognition and, probably most importantly, acceptance. It did ensure however his legacy remained a cult and, whilst it is totally selfish of me to say this, personally I am glad he remains known only to those who remember him and whoever they decide to introduce to the man and his legacy. In a way it keeps him a little closer to those who loved him without having to share him!
I Am Divine is showing at the Cameo Cinema until Thursday.


The Two Faces of January

This screen adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel directed by Hossein Amini contains her usual stylistic devices: exotic locations, luxuriously understated attire and glamorous characters oozing sophistication masking a ruthless ambition whilst dark and dirty dealings lead them into a cesspit of deception. It is an extremely watch-able film from the very off as impressive Greek architecture co-ordinates beautifully with the understated but exquisite clothes of its three main characters who subsequently become inextricably entangled in a series of events which drag each of them further and further to the depths of their souls whilst their polite middle class facades, although slightly ruffled and scuffed, remain intact.
Chester (Viggo Mortensen) and Colette MacFarland (Kirsten Dunst)-if these are indeed even their real names- seem, on the surface, to be a wealthy and sophisticated American couple. On their version of a ‘Grand Tour’ they stop off in Athens where they meet up with a young tour guide Rydal-the impossibly handsome Oscar Isaac- who makes a living as a tour guide whilst creaming off extra profit by ripping off his charges. It turns out that he is the multi-lingual son of a leading American archaeologist who tried to instil his children with a privileged and unique education which should set them up for life. Rydal’s reaction to all of this was to run away from the future his father had mapped out for him and, in essence, attempt to escape the very world the MacFarlands are trying to represent whilst simultaneously attempting to gain entry into.
Immediately there is an attraction between Rydal and Colette but there is also something of a bond between him and Chester. It is never made explicit whether this is a father-son or homo-erotic attraction but although Colette is the focus of both men’s attentions there is also the hint that she is also merely in the way.
It transpires early on that the MacFarlands are not exactly who they say they are, in any regard, resulting in their dubious past catching up with them with a confrontation which leads to murder and the subsequent cover up three find themselves embroiled in a downward spiral which sends each of them plummeting to new depths of their being. No-one in this sordid tale is wholly innocent but the feeling that if a little more honesty was applied then the situation, whilst still bad, would not degenerate quite as far as it eventually does with further fatalities, deception and corruption wrecking each of their lives.
Despite the fantastic surroundings-after Athens both Crete and Turkey play supporting roles in what is essentially a three handed outing- it is also an extremely claustrophobic film as it is the small and ever increasing insularity, due to circumstance, of the central triumvirate’s world which we mostly inhabit. The performances are excellent with Viggo Mortensen playing a charming but charmless rogue, Dunst as the seemingly innocent but obviously knowing wife and Isaac as the good looking, deceptive but essentially honest rich boy determined to make his mark on the world on his own terms. It is a film layered with sexual tension between the three of them and although I felt the ending lent itself to Hollywood tradition it is still an extremely slick, seductive and worthwhile film I would not mind seeing again. That is recommendation in itself.


Frank trailer

This offbeat comedy drama by Jon Ronson has a light touch but a dark soul. Starring Michael Fassbender and based on the true life tale of Frank Sidebottom, who performed in a papier-mâché head, it mixes a soupcon of fact to create a film that is as simple as it is complex whilst maintaining a kudos that will garner it favour amongst the avant-garde. Fassbender manages to give a great performance even if for the majority of the film he has to rely on vocalising his various facial expressions-much to the chagrin of his volatile and antagonistic acolyte Clara (Maggie Gyllenhall)- and even though at the films denouement the mask is removed this adds little to the mystery of the character but rather lends the film a more conventional structure.
Narrated throughout from the viewpoint of Jon(Domhnall Gleeson), a wannabe musician and composer, who has his sights on stardom to break out of the mundane world he inhabits living with his parents whilst working the nine to five nightmare in an office. When the band Soronprfbs come to his town and their keyboard player tries to drown himself in a suicide bid, following a mental meltdown, he flippantly offers his services as a replacement and finds himself whisked away to an isolated recording studio with the mysterious Frank- who bears some resemblance to the offbeat Captain Beefheart- and his even weirder bunch of supporting musicians who idolise him to the point of fanaticism.
The recording process inevitably does not go smoothly and Jon unwisely offers to pay for it out of his inheritance from his grandfather without realising just how much it is all going to cost. The scenes at the recording facility range from serious to violent to heartrending whilst even incorporating some comedy slapstick moments. The whole feeling is one of a surreal dream come nightmare where everyone involved is playing an absurd extremist creating a tortured epic.
Inevitably this set up is bound to lead to further disaster and indeed it does whilst combining offbeat humour with pathos. As an audience we are rooting for Frank and his celebrated, but far from conventional, talent but somehow in our hearts we know this can never, ever be and mainstream success will always elude him. Therefore the ending of the film is notably downbeat and its attempts to explain the character of Frank fail in their objectives because it is the mystery and fantasy we have already projected onto him which provide the film’s major motivational tool and charm.
Despite this Frank is a seriously thought provoking film which questions the value of fame, integrity and celebrity. Although simply presented it is full of complexities which give it a depth which might not seem obvious from the outset but become more apparent as the film engages you in its surreal ambitions. Because of this it works on several levels and leaves you feeling emotionally connected to a character that has spent the majority of the film encased in a giant papier-mâché mask. This, in itself, is no mean achievement!



This black comedy from John Michael McDonagh touches on many moments of greatness in its tale of Father James Lavelle- Brendon Gleeson- who learns of his upcoming murder from an irate parishioner with grievances against the church during confession. What follows is a whodunit-or more correctly a who’s going to do it- which focuses on a community which is disrespectful of the church though still paying it lip service whilst the Church’s representatives are tarnished in the wake of all the scandals, hypocrisy and double standards which have tainted the Catholic church in recent times.
Playing the good priest, Gleeson excels in this film and his Lavelle is the polar opposite of the pill popping politically incorrect policeman, Sergeant Gerry Boyle, he played in 2010’s impressive ‘The Guard’. Not that he is by any means Mary Poppins in a cassock as he likes a drink, uses profane language and even has a daughter from a marriage, previous to discovering his vocation as a priest later in life. It is this understanding of a life beyond the stifling constraints of the church which lend him an insight and compassion which may confuse others still blinded by its beliefs,
His parishioners likewise still pay him common courtesies but even in such a small community their flagrant disregard for a church which represents a bygone era is blatantly obvious. Adultery, domestic abuse and snorting cocaine in public toilets all seem common place and the fact that the church itself has been exposed in recent years means that others feel less need to hide, disguise or deny their own transgressions.
Surrounded by a stellar cast including Chris O’ Dowd, Aidan Gillen and Kelly Reilly amongst others Gleeson may carry the film but he has able support from an equally strong team. Each male member of the community is under suspicion as it is claims of abuse from an early age by a priest-not himself who even his future killer recognises as a good priest- that Lavelle is expected to pay for with his own life. The interaction of the village with their priest details accurately how much in disrepair the reputation of the church actually is in.
The conclusion of the film may be a trifle operatic in its execution but it is also not one that lingers too long on fake sentiment and overblown emotional histrionics. Set on a cold and windy beach, where Lavelle has been told to arrive in order to meet his death, it is cold, stark and emotionally raw. In keeping with the rest of the film it is suitably dark but still manages to retain its sense of dignity and draws the film to an interesting conclusion with plenty of food for thought.


20 Feet from Stardom

This Oscar winning documentary from Morgan Neville charts the historical value of the singers who, as backing vocalists for major stars, shaped the sound of modern music as we know it but never attained the recognition they deserved. Going someway to redress the balance this heartfelt and moving documentary looks at the importance and influence –come on let’s face it often the backing vocal parts are the ones which stick in the mind the most and the ones you find yourself singing along with- these women have had.
It is mainly women that this film focuses on although Luther Vandross is a notable exception but he managed superstar success where his female counterparts failed.
Whilst it is unbelievable that stardom eluded such talented individuals it also becomes apparent that it was not simply their gender which worked against them but also their colour; at the time they were working, misogyny and racism went hand in hand in a white male dominated music industry. Not that bitterness is the driving energy behind this film nor does resentment raise its head too often but there is certainly an air of disappointment and confusion mixed with certain moments of sheer bliss at moments of triumph when eventually one of them receives their deserved accolades.
Of all the singers featured in this film the one whose tale probably stands out the most is Darlene Love. Invited to ghost on several sessions by sixties wunderkind- the more recently disgraced- Phil Spector she was invited to sing on several sessions and her voice appeared as the lead vocal on major classic hits such as ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ and ‘He’s a Rebel’ credited to The Crystals, who appeared lip-synching her vocals on international TV whilst she languished in obscurity with Spector dangling the carrot of fame under her nose but continuing to leave her un-credited. Possibly the most frustrating tale of this whole film as her voice is instantly recognisable even today.
Another frustrating case is that of Claudia Lennear who began as an Ikette alongside Tina Turner and served as the inspiration for The Rolling Stones’ ‘Brown Sugar’ as well as David Bowie’s ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ but found herself thwarted when she made a bid for solo stardom. Things may be on the up for Lennear though as this film has awakened the interest of a recently energised Mr. Bowie who has insisted he will assist in re-launching her career in any way he can.
It would seem that although these ladies also possessed immense talent this was simply not enough in an industry that thought that one successful black soul singer was enough and that Aretha Franklin would do very nicely, thank you very much
. Thus the word was never to be made aware of the splendid voices of Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Tata Vega, Judith Hill or Jo Lawry as there was simply not a big enough market to house them all during the late sixties and early seventies and therefore remained deprived of hearing about them.
There are many notable stars singing the praises of these unhailed musical heroes not least Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger and Sting and although the film ends on a positive note- Love found herself eventually inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011- there is still an air of sadness and missed opportunities surrounding the whole affair. It is a film which whilst pulling at the heartstrings also reveals that although fame may have been only twenty feet away on the same stage, for these women, it was twenty feet which may as well have been a million miles.


The Past

Written and directed by the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi The Past tells the tale Ahmad- Ali Mossafa- who returns to France to finalise his divorce after four years previously abandoning his wife and lifestyle to return to his native Iran. It is a film which weighs heavily with suspicion and mistrust between the four central characters, who constantly seem in conflict with each other whilst their actions result in tragedy and confusion for those hit by the fall out from their situation, whilst those in it struggle with conflicting emotions that are hard to fathom.
Right from the films opening sequence when Ahmad is picked up at the airport by his soon to be ex-wife Marie -Bérénice Bejo- it is clear that this divorce is not quite as simplistic as it should be. There are obviously still unresolved issues between the couple and their almost immediate feuding reveals this. Meanwhile the fact Marie has neglected to book him into a hotel in favour of having him stay at her flat which, aside from being in the process of redecoration, has the added turmoil of having her new partner Samir- A Prophet’s Tahar Rahim- and his son staying there also. Claiming the reason she wants him there is to help with her oldest teenage daughter Lucie-Pauline Burlet- who has become unmanageable is only part of the story however.
Things between the four soon disintegrate and a pregnant Marie’s relationship with Samir is further exacerbated with her stressed out relationship with Lucie and being openly still in possession of feelings for Ahmad. There seems little in the relationship between Samir and Marie to indicate they are happy-not once during the films duration do they as much as smile at each other never mind show any intimacy- and when it is revealed that Samir’s wife, Celine, is in a coma after a suicide attempt pre-empted by discovering their affair it becomes clear that this relationship was blighted from the start.
Throughout the film the source of who revealed their affair to Celine becomes less and less clear but it is an intricate web of lies which reveals that each participant is guilty in some way. Unfortunately Celine and Samir also had a son , Fouad, who despite being an innocent in the whole drama seems to be the one most affected, or at least the message is that at some point he will be.
The Past is a complicated film of complex emotions with little room for traditional film makers resolve throughout or at its denouement. It makes clear that the past shapes our future and if that is based on lies and unresolved issues then the present and future too can only exist on these terms. The performances throughout are excellent and Farhadi has created a film which provides serious thought provoking and intelligent reflection. It certainly is a film with plenty of food for thought and has already been awarded the Palme d’Or award at 2013’s Cannes Festival amongst other awards and nominations.
The Past is showing at the Fimhouse Edinburgh.