Archive for the ‘ FILMS 2015 ’ Category


Steve Jobs
Danny Boyle’s biopic about the Apple mogul is an intensely irritating film about an intensely irritating man.
An excellent cast meets an excellent screenplay but somewhere down the line the two never gel consistently enough to create a substantial whole. Certainly Michael Fassbender in the title role alongside an almost unrecognisable Kate Winslet, as Joanna Hoffman as his right hand and anchor person, buoy the whole film ably assisted by Seth Rogan, Jeff Daniels and Katherin Waterston in supporting roles
. Meanwhile Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue rivals his work in ‘The Social Network’ about that other socially inept genius Mark Zuckerberg with its relentless pace and offhand witticisms and observations.
The film revolves around d three pivotal moments in the Jobs legacy: the launches of the Macintosh in 1984, the Cube in 1988 and the iMac in 1998 when the global denomination of Apple really began. Each scene is set with fraught background details as the personal and business worlds of Jobs often collide, collapse and restructure around the unveiling of his latest creations and efforts.
How these different facets of Jobs interact and impact on his decisions and reactions reveals the driven nature of the man and how very often genius swims upstream alone against difficult currents whilst those around him are content to drift downstream at a leisurely pace. Belief in oneself is the central message of this film and if it pisses everyone else off in the process then that is merely collateral damage.
There are many fraught and intense confrontations throughout the film and often it feels as if you are actively involved in the arguments and the whole thing becomes quite exhausting. I am unsure whether I can wholeheartedly recommend this film to anyone despite its merits as often the pacing and high-octane delivery becomes a little too tiring and relentless.
I can however recommend that you don’t attend with anyone who has a short attention span and finds the intricacies of a sophisticated and demanding dialogue difficult, as you may find it accompanied by much seat shuffling, sighing and exaggerated yawning as I was. Sorkin’s script and Fassbender’s portrayal however are beyond reproach however irritating other aspects of the film may be and these factors alone make it a decent watch if not a wholly satisfying one.


The 24th Bond film in the franchise opens with a tracking shot which follows Bond through a vivacious and colourful Mexico City vibrant with a carnival atmosphere in a style which pays homage to the opening scene of the Orson Welles classic ‘A Touch of Evil. Definitely one of the most impressive starts to a Bond film EVER, director Sam Mendes sets the scene for what looks likely to be a film of equally impressive standards which after 2012’s brilliant ‘Skyfall, which ranks as one of the best in the series, is exactly what the audience is looking for.
On many levels he actually delivers on this high level of expectation and certainly the return of such great supporting roles in Bond’s team, M, Q and Moneypenny played by Ralph Fiennes ,Ben Whishaw and Naomie Harris respectively and the introduction of the sinister C – a decidedly malevolent and irreverent Andrew Scott- who wishes to do away with the whole Double O prefix altogether, assists in this agenda.
Add to this a fantastic outing for Christoph Waltz as Franz Oberhauser/ Ernst Stavros Blofeld, Bond’s most resilient nemesis, Monica Bellucci as a romantic diversion before Lea Seydoux establishes her role as Bond’s main squeeze Madeleine Swann.
At the centre of this hotbed of talent however is Daniel Craig, in his fourth film as Bond, who also acts as the glue which binds all the disparate strands together in a role he has firmly made his own although rumours are swirling this may be his swan-song as the world’s most famous undercover agent.
Where the film does fall short however is an underdeveloped plot particularly in the past relationship and hinted at sibling rivalry between Bond and Blofeld, although this may be a ruse to merely return to it at a later date as the relationship feels merely skimmed over but hints at something far more complex. Likewise Seydoux looks suitably decorative as Madeleine but despite a few attempts to lend her some depth of character ultimately falls short although she could win an award for best accessorizing with a pair of sunglasses, she would probably have to share this with Craig though.
The locations are sumptuous throughout: a bustling Mexico City, a luxurious Rome, an exotic Tangiers, an icy snow topped Austrian mountain retreat and a dark, serious London are all marvellously filmed with stunning cinematography.
Despite all this the film doesn’t quite satisfy as much as its immediate predecessor although this was always going to be a tall order anyway. Certainly the plot feels unfinished and almost as if it is trying to tick too many boxes without actually exploring what is inside those boxes. This is nitpicking however and the best way to enjoy this film- and ultimately it is enjoyable- is to just sit back and allow yourself to be taken along for the whirlwind of a ride that it is!



Swirling mist, damp drizzle, carnage all around and tortuous circumstances do not only describe the setting scene of Justin Kurzel’s impressive interpretation of William Shakespeare’s iconic play Macbeth but also the miserable October weather of the day I chose to go and see it, which assisted the ambience somewhat,
Starring Michael Fassbender, who seems perfectly at home in the title role, as the man who would be King of Scotland if only there weren’t a few human impediments that needed to be removed before he can assume the position he believes is rightfully his. Marion Cotillard ably assists him as Lady Macbeth his ruthlessly ambitious wife who initially puts these ideas of grandiosity into his head and supports him on his quest toward his supposed rightful destiny though later has a crisis of confidence as his rise continues and his reign of terror and barbarity continues.
Both actors are excellent in their roles although the medium of cinema necessitates a different approach to- as well as some tinkering with- the text which will no doubt infuriate purists of the Bard who believe that every line should be exact. Occasionally this more understated approach results in a struggle to hear what Fassbender is saying as his nuanced delivery gets a little lost but generally it is not a problem.
Cotillard, in comparison, carries a weight of expression in her eyes so that sometimes they say more than the dialogue ever could. She is exceptional throughout and the perfect foil to Fassbender’s Macbeth.
The impressive supporting cast includes David Thewlis, Sean Harris, Paddy Considine, Elizabeth Debicki and Jack Reynor As for the all important Scottish accents they are impressive enough but whenever a true Scot appears in a lesser role then their authenticity is thrown into question a little. This however is unimportant and minor quibbling but still noticeable in an amusing way.
The Scottish scenery however manages to almost upstage them all in its splendid isolated beauty. Some amazing cinematography lends it a fiery glow or windswept chill as befits each scene and contributes to the drama immeasurably; it emerges as the most regal figure of all.
Kurzel has delivered an extremely impressive adaptation of this Shakespeare tale which should no doubt satisfy the purists whilst attracting a new audience also. Cotillard and Fassbender more than adequately fill their roles but is the Scottish landscape-even with its drizzle, rain and swirling mist- which emerges as the true star.



This deeply flawed biopic, directed by Brian Helgeland, which often strays into the realms of cliché and occasionally overstates its obviousness is ultimately saved by two things and both of them are Tom Hardy’s central performances. Even here though the always captivating Hardy seems to invest more charisma and depth to Reggie, portraying him as a cocky cockney charmer, whilst Ronnie is almost reduced to comedy psycho status telling all and sundry in a deadpan manner ‘I’m a homosexual’ and ‘I prefer boys’ which has more in common with a bad Tommy Cooper impressionist than a fearsome gangster who ruled London’s East End: it would be only less convincing if he followed it up with an obligatory ‘Just like that’!
Despite this however one suspects that Hardy was asked to focus more on Reggie as it is essentially his story as told through the eyes of his wife Frances – a good supporting performance by Emily Browning- as their relationship develops and she finds herself more and more isolated from the dark and dangerous world her husband inhabits so seeks solace by numbing her loneliness and despair with pills which ultimately ends in tragedy and precipitates the brothers’ ultimate downfall and the collapse of their empire.
Along the way there is a host of other top British talent drafted in to prop up what is essentially Hardy’s film: David Thewlis, Christopher Eccleston, Paul Bettany and John Sessions all turn in convincing performances as associates, rivals or both.
The period detail is pretty spot on although the cinematography doesn’t quite capture the grittiness of East End London in the 1960s and the default setting most films now turn to when trying to distil the essence of this era-the late twentieth century in general it would seem- of constant smoking becomes tiresome and overplayed when it is included in every single scene.
Better use could also have been made of the soundtrack which again lapsed into predictability especially when the sixties had such a plethora of great music which could have been to great use.
Ultimately though Legend doesn’t quite live up to its name or my expectations and often feels like an opportunity missed but even then it is not wholly without merit. I will admit to quite liking it and Hardy is exceptional but whether I would recommend anyone going to the cinema to see it then I would be more reticent in my enthusiasm.


Through the Air (La Resistance de L’ Air)
The debut feature film from Frederic Grivois is an interesting, complex and powerful thriller which often hits its mark. It is a wry observation on male pride and capitalist gain with Reda Kateb in the lead role of Vincent whose frustrations with his life force him into making some questionable decisions and utilise his skill as a top marksman to relieve his financial pressures but inevitably a whole new series of problems arise instead.
Ambling along but struggling to afford the finer things in life, Vincent feels pressured by his wife to try and improve their social status by constantly comparing their lifestyle with that of her sister who married successfully and is more than comfortably off. A new house designed by the couple to their own specific specifications has landed them into even more difficult financial territory and the pressure on Vincent is mounting. Matters are worsened when his sick father comes to stay and upsets their routine further whilst also not holding back on commenting on the problems he sees in their relationship and lifestyle, as he sees it.
Meanwhile to relieve stress and claim some time of his own Vincent immerses himself in rifle shooting at a local club where he is approached by an enigmatic stranger who charms him into using his skills with the offer of vast financial gain for a few minutes work. Inevitably the work is as a hired assassin and Vincent finds hi,self more and more drawn into a world that he cannot escape from even when he decides that he wants to.
Grivois manages to build tension throughout this film but doesn’t always capitalise on it. Thus some scenes which are set up as being taut and tense lose momentum as they seem to fizzle out in preference for close ups of the actors in deep thought. This works in some scenes but often it falls a little flat and the moment passes almost unnoticed. Not that the actors are in any way to blame for this as they all give arresting performances. Vincent’s frustrations with his life, in both its incarnations, are clearly felt as is Delphine’s bewilderment with what is going on around her.
What Grivois does do successfully is expose capitalist gain and male pride as being weaknesses as opposed top strengths. This observation is probably the film’s strongest message and in that it succeeds. Unfortunately the plot often feels convoluted and relies on restraint a little too often. This however does not prevent it from being an accomplished and interesting thriller which possesses intelligence over action scenes.


The Incident

Jane Linfoot’s debut film –she wrote and directed it- shows a lot of promise with its strong cast, eerie but beautiful setting and its theme of lives becoming intertwined via circumstance and chance meetings. The whole thing is very easy on the eye –not least its two exceptionally attractive stars Tom Hughes and Ruta Gedmintas- with its designer house encapsulating sleek and modern living alongside the tasteful beige and muted tonal colours of the wardrobe choices of the two lead charcters but somehow the whole thing feels slightly unsatisfying and underwhelming; it almost feels like stumbling into ninety minutes of awkward moments.
Joe and Annabel-Hughes and Gudminstar- seem to be the embodiment of a modern metropolitan couple, he a successful architect and she a gallery owner, but beneath the carapace of sleekness lies a desire to break out. This is all too easily captured at the film’s beginning when Tom approached by a young girl Lily(Tasha Connor) offering him sex for money accepts a little too readily and without too much persuasion. This seemingly random act sets other situations in motion although it never becomes clear how or why.
Very quickly the whole veneer of the couple’s life begins to crack and unravel revealing flaws beneath the surface that make them question their whole life together. It would seem that their particular brand of success doesn’t guarantee happiness or even emotional security.
Personally I found this film beautiful to look at but ultimately frustrating, indulgent and really not very interesting. It is hard to care about characters when they feel underdeveloped and not the sort of people you can actually care about. There seems to be a lot of supposed soul searching and gazing out of windows and no-one- particularly Joe and Annabel- feels comfortable within their own skins. In essence the film feels like being trapped in an awkward moment for most of its duration and makes for quite an unsettling experience which I suppose may actually be the point. Unfortunately ‘The Incident didn’t register enough for me on an emotional scale for it to have any long lasting effect or even be thought provoking or challenging. Instead it felt almost unfinished and therefore ultimately unsatisfying.


Big Gold Dream: Scottish Post-Punk and Infiltrating the Mainstream

Scotland in the mid-seventies was a grainy, bleak, miserable and grey place with high unemployment and little on offer to young working class kids other than a lifetime of continuing mundanity and little hope of transcending their austere surroundings. It wasn’t until punk started making seismic waves from its London origins in 1976 that any kind of future other than ‘No Future’ could be considered as a viable alternative to a generation who had been waiting restlessly in the wings for something they could call their own and would allow them to take their own destinies in hand.
Punk however had its own inbuilt obsolescence and whilst the angry fix which energised this generation had them hooked they needed something a little stronger with more longevity to elongate the high that punk initially instigated.
This is where director Grant McPhee along with Erik Sandberg and Innes Reekie begin their film on the post-punk scene in Scotland which for a change favours the little documented and vitally important east coast Edinburgh scene as opposed to the more familiar west coast Glasgow one.
There are certain points however wherein the twain meet and the reaction from the separate cities was not always amicable or complimentary. Both however were both strongly influenced by the sounds and attitudes of the avant-garde leanings of The Velvet Underground but whereas the Glasgow scene leaned towards the melodic acoustic flavours of ‘Candy Says’ and ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ from the third Velvets album the Edinburgh bands favoured the brutal sonic maelstrom of ‘White Light/ White Heat’ and the aural assault of the likes of‘Sister Ray’.
McPhee manages to garner sound-bites, anecdotes and several insights, both witty and serious in equal measure, from most of the major players on the scene and this is a roll call which features Bob Last, Hilary Morrison, Davy Henderson, Robert King, Malcolm Ross, Fay Fife, Russell Burn, Alan Mc Gee and Peter Hook amongst a cast of seemingly thousands.
The story picks up in 1977 not long after the release of The Buzzcocks’ ‘Spiral Scratch’ EP which so energised Hilary Morrison that she harangued her then boyfriend, Bob Last, into starting a record label in which they could produce original works of its calibre. Thus Fast Product was born and although they only managed twelve releases in their short two year lifespan they brought out first releases by the likes of The Human League who went onto global superstardom, The Mekons, The Scars, Gang of Four and even early works by the likes of Joy Division.
Meanwhile on the west coast Alan Horne had set up his own roster of talent on Postcard records which included Orange Juice, Aztec Camera and Edinburgh’s Josef K whilst at the same time managing to grab the bulk of the headlines and attention from the influential music press.
It is the lesser documented Edinburgh scene which receives the bulk of this film’s attention however and although Last, Morrison and Malcolm Ross are important players if the film can be said to belong to any one individual then that individual is Davy Henderson, formerly of the Fire Engines and Win. He manages to inject a sense of hope and ambition from the first time he saw The Slits support The Clash when he realised barriers and boundaries were being broken down followed by a sense of melancholy, loss and regret as he describes the break up of the Fire Engines and, as things started to sour, his frustration as a sure fire hit for Win-‘You’ve Got the Power‘- became yet another flop instead.
Definitely a highlight of this year’s festival and all the more fascinating as it focuses on the festival’s host city Edinburgh which is much a star of the film as any of its players. ‘Big Gold Dream’ is a fantastic account of a generation who had decided enough was enough and decided to make their own important mark on the world however big or small that contribution was. The voice over by Robert Forster draws the disparate strands neatly together and combined with a veritable feast of footage -much of which has never been widely seen before- the tension, excitement and sheer verve of the scene is captured perfectly. It was a time when the impossible seemed possible and young people, although having very little in comparison to their modern day counterparts, had a sense that their time was now. What they also possessed was a sense of vision, a desire to divert, a need to create and an attitude sorely missing from future generations!
Big Gold Dream: Scottish Post Punk and Infiltrating the Mainstream has its premiere at Edinburgh Filmhouse at 20.00 on Friday 19th June and there are a further two showings at Belmont in Aberdeen on Tuesday 23rd and Edinburgh Odeon on Saturday 27th June.


Blade Runner-The Final Cut
Losing the voiceover and happy ending of 1982’s original release and correcting the flawed corrections of The Director’s Cut of 1992, it would seem that this is the definitive version of Ridley Scott’s dystopian sci-fi classic based on Philip K. Dick’s ‘Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep?’ that surely everyone must be satisfied with. Totally absorbing, compelling and immersive it certainly doesn’t feel as if it could be improved upon and Scott himself has stated that this version from 2007 captures his vision of a near future environment where squalid darkness is set off against the blinding neon and technology of corporate success.
Set in a Los Angeles shrouded in perpetual darkness and constant rain- in contrast to its constant sunshine and happy demeanour reputation- and a world where replicants function as slaves in colonies in place of humans yet mirroring and expanding on human emotions. Led by Roy-a career defining performance from Rutger Hauer- a coup is staged on the Nexus 6 colony and three escapees find themselves hunted by the professional assassin Deckard , a Blade Runner whose job is to retire -execute- disobedient and insubordinate replicants who try to infiltrate the world and pass themselves off as human.
Played by Harrison Ford in an almost robotically chilling manner, Deckard himself displays characteristics of a replicant. His romantic entanglement with the beautiful Rachel, also a replicant, confirms his sympathies with these androids that similarly to humans have a limited life expectancy and selective memories; the main difference being that the replicants memories are selected for them by others whilst humans tend to choose their own.
The film essentially belongs to Hauer who gives a commanding performance and his ‘I have seen things you people wouldn’t believe’ rain drenched soliloquy which is almost Shakespearian in both its ambition and execution at the films climactic moment is a classic in its own right although Ford, Sean Young and Darryl Hannah are all also on outstanding form.
The soundtrack by Vangelis consisting of of haunted vocals, wailing saxophones and eerie synths is one of the few soundtrack/score albums which can stand alone as a classic in its own right even if you haven’t seen the film. Not that I recommend anyone doesn’t see this film however and not that I recommend anyone doesn’t see this film on the big screen and experience the gritty atmospherics which immerse you in a futuristic world of grim and frightening realities which seem even more plausible now than they did in 1982. Some films are made to be seen on the big screen and no amount of re-runs or DVD/ Blu Ray boxsets can ever capture the universe this film lets you inhabit for its duration.


Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
Approached in 2007 by Kurt Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love, Brett Morgen was offered a veritable treasure trove of material for this biopic of possibly one of the last great rock stars to galvanise a generation. Intimate, revealing, tender, sad and with no gloss plied onto the squalid and desperate lifestyle of its protagonist it is a step away from the usual portrait of a rock star; the fame and glamour more usually associated with such depictions seems a distant and unwelcome interloper.
Even at the height of his career with hundreds of thousands in a state of worship at events such as 1993’s Reading Festival the euphoria of the crowd is tempered with the melancholy of its attentions, who entered the stage on a wheelchair dressed in a hospital gown. Already viewing stardom as a sickness things deteriorated pretty swiftly after this moment which many others would have seen as an ultimate triumph but somehow he saw as a loss of control.
It transpires that the alienation Cobain felt when fame set its sights on him was nothing new. As a child hyperactivity and an unwillingness to be welded into shape by the pliers of either peers or parents was apparent, matters only worsened when the latter decided to divorce. Deeply affected by this the teenage Cobain was shunted around from relative to relative- grandparents, uncles and aunts were all drafted in to try and help ground him in some security and exert some influence over his errant ways- thus setting a pattern of nomadic rootlessness which stayed with him throughout his brief life.
Fixating on his music both his songwriting and guitar playing instilled him with the feelings other things in his life failed to deliver. Working incessantly on these he achieved small time recognition but his reputation grew and prior to the release of ‘ Nevermind’ in 1991 his mother on hearing the master tapes of the soon to be released global phenomenon warned him he had better shape up as fame was bound to come knocking and his fragile state was in no way ready for it.
And what a phenomenon ‘Nevermind’ was!
With success came access to the hard drugs he had already experimented with and also at this juncture came his great love, Courtney Love.
Opinions are always divided as to whether Love was as destructive an element as the drugs themselves but Cobain was on a destructive path anyway and she may merely have been a companion on his fatalistic route. Certainly the footage of them together prior to and post their daughter, Frances, being born show a couple completely at ease with each other and they do seem happy even if in hindsight it is happiness tinged with sadness and destruction.
Certainly the supposed glamour of a rock stars existence seems to be very absent and replaced with a squalor and desperation which belied their status as the world’s numero uno rock and roll couple. This was no Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg holding court at the palatial and opulent Nellecote on the French Riviera but instead could be a high rise on any council estate. There is not a shred of glamour on display and this does a lot to debunk the notion of any cache of heroism or cool anyone might attach to heroin or addiction of any kind.
When the end came for Cobain it was both surprising and expected. The clues were all there in the notebooks and artworks Love provided Morgen with. They reveal a mind and soul very much in torment and in April 1994 he joined that pantheon of rock and roll greats- Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison- who also departed at the age of 27. Like those stars of a previous generation it felt like a great talent had been wasted and like most of them it felt like he still had so much more to give.