HACKSAW RIDGE – REVIEW: Andrew Garfield plays pacifist superhero in bloody World War 2 drama.

Mel Gibson returns to blood and violence with a have-your-cake-and-eat-it Pacific theater war movie. Andrew Garfield stars as the pacifist stretcher-bearer Desmond Doss. Having volunteered to join the army at the outbreak of the Second World War, Doss refuses to carry a rifle, much to the consternation and then fury of his comrades and superiors. Vince Vaughn, who plays Vince Vaughn giving up smoking, is a sergeant with a particular grievance against him. However, once on the battlefield Doss’s heroism proves divinely inspired and life-saving.

Hacksaw Ridge is going for the same ideological spill-over that proved such a success for Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper. Those who like war will like it, those who don’t like war will like it and those who say they don’t like war but secretly kind of do will love it. There’s muscular Christianity, muscularity generally and blood and guts galore. Garfield is good as a ‘holy fool’ whose pacifism seems to be reductively inspired by an aversion to his abusive father. Gibson seems to like him as a saintly character that you don’t really need to feel any need to imitate.

This is an insanely dishonest movie and as such will be hugely popular.

Oscar glory beckons.

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BROOKLYN – REVIEW – Soarisie Rohoonan and Domnonanhall Gleeson star with Emory… Sorry I’ll start again.

Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters (cut and paste from Wikipedia!) star in Brooklyn, scripted by novelist Nick Hornby, from Colm Tóibín’s book: Brooklyn. Saoirse plays Aish… A… an Irish girl who has decided to emigrate to America because Ireland is full of the bitches, none more so than her boss at the haberdashery Miss Kelly. Her nice sister Rose has arranged everything and she befriends a nice lady on the ship who tells her how to behave in the America, when she gets there. Once settled in the Brooklyn of the title, Eilis (pronounced Ay-lish, [thanks Wikipedia again]) meets up with nice Julie Walters her landlady and the other young ladies, who at first appear to be bitches but are actually nice once you get to know them. A nice priest (Jim Broadbent) helps her out, even paying for her to go to night classes and study to be a book keeper. She meets a nice Italian boy, who quickly falls in love with her, but following a family tragedy she must return to Ireland where she discovers there are more opportunities for her than there once were. Which is nice.

No one gets raped, there’s no sexual abuse of any sort, no violence, nothing gets stolen, nothing blows up, and no one is hurt by falling masonry, there’s hardly even a cross word. Brooklyn is so nice, it’s almost radical in its niceness. Punk!  The past is posited as a better time, when men were chivalrous and priests kindly, and independent young girls with a modicum of spunk could make it. A time when you could use the word spunk without raising an eyebrow! I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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EVEREST – REVIEW: John Connor and Donnie Darko go up a mountain but Josh Brolin finds it is No Country for Old Men and the whole thing collapses on Michael Kelly like a House of Cards.

The problem with Everest is that the damned thing is so f*cking big. You can’t really see it. And if you see it from the sky as a way of really getting it all in, you’re automatically taking away from it, its key characteristic: which is that it is is higher than everything else. Baltasar Kormákur’s film does a solid job of telling the true story of the disastrous 1996 expedition which was told in Jon Krakauer’s book “Into Thin Air”.  Jason Clarke plays Rob Hall, the leader of one of two commercial enterprises that takes its clients to the summit of Everest. Jake Gyllenhaal is his competitor and friend Scott Fischer who with Russian climber Anatoli Boukreev (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson)  is leading the other group. With so many at Base Camp there is a genuine worry that something might go wrong, but there are commercial pressures of getting their expectant clients Beck (Josh Brolin) and Doug (John Hawkes) up especially as it all takes place under the watchful eye of journalist Krakauer (Kelly).

The strength of the film is in a wonderful lead performance by Clarke who is quietly fashioning a series of brilliant character pieces amidst the more generic pay days. His Rob Hall is a gentle, solid, reassuring presence: his expertise and humanity, a tribute to the man. The rest of the cast don’t quite rise to the same level but they are all solid enough. Once the storm arrives and with it disaster, there is a sense of genuine loss – though in its attempt to not point the blame, confusion seeps into the narrative so that we are never quite clear what is going on. The CGI mountain and the real thing clash occasionally, and base camp is so obviously studio bound as to be a real distraction, but in general the mountain comes over as a worthy adversary and the drama is well done if not exactly the peak that its subject seems to demand.

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TRUE DETECTIVE SEASON 2: EPISODE 7: BLACK MAPS AND MOTEL ROOMS  – So we’re almost at the light at the end of the tunnel, but that unfortunately means – we’re still in the tunnel.

The penultimate episode of the second season of True Detective finally got rid of a major character, but my nonchalance was almost unbearable. Let’s rewind to the motel room where the now framed Velcro (Colin Farrell) and Euripedes (Rachel McAdam) basically recreate the inside of Nic Pizzolatto’s writing room of a head as he desperately tries to remember what happened in all the other episodes as a way of bringing out some closure. As they do this the sexual tensions fizz, leading them to some of the silliest dialogue – ‘You’re not a bad man’ ‘Yes, I am’, ‘Oh no you’re not’  ‘Oh yes I am’ etc. There is a sense that finally the show is becoming leaner as David Morse and the sister split along with Paul’s (Taylor Kitsch) mom and girlfriend. Velcro’s fat son was busy watching Friends so we saw not a whisker of the grumpy lad (my favorite character of the whole show thus far).

Frank (Vince Vaughn) is finally getting smart and violent. Even though having just been told everyone has been bought, he entrusts his wife with shady henchman #5. His showdown with Zee Roooshun is going to be fun. I hope he shoots Osip while the nasty man is elongating one of those endless vowels of his.

Next week we have the last 90 minute episode – which I hope begins with Paul on a stretcher being told by Ray, ‘Lucky he hit you with one of those fancy paint balling guns and not an actual bullet’ (from an idea suggested by @pennywisereject).


CANNES – MAD MAX FURY ROAD – is a rollicking rock and roll road movie, a two hour chase which never lets up, and yet for all the thrills and spills, George Miller has made a sharply clever film as well.

So the plot is this: there has been some kind of nuclear skirmish and everywhere looks like a rock video from the late eighties. Tom Hardy plays Max, an ex-cop turned road warrior turned appropriately nutty alliterative man. He’s taken prisoner by a the war boys and Immorten Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, the original Mad Max’s Toecutter), who use him as a blood bag to revive the radiation sick lads, but when war chief Imperator Furiosa (a stunning Charlize Theron) decides to hijack her own convoy and steal away with Joe’s prize possessions – his women, who look like they’ve just stepped off a Benetton billboard – Max finds himself dragged along the chase, not as a driver or a killer, but as blood refill.

What happens for the next two hours is just gobsmackingly fun! Miller is so knowingly confident of his own high-ridiculousness that he even has the convoy include a rock orchestra to play the soundtrack on screen. The action is stunning, the use of real stunts making all the difference. The building of tension and the inventiveness of the sequences bespeak sharp minds at work and the ludicrousness of it all is part of the exhilarating fun. The feminist turn the story takes is one of the many pleasing surprises as the damsels in distress shuck of their victimhood and kick ass.

Hardy’s great, Theron’s better, but when it comes down to it this is a film from the GENIUS George Miller. There’s no arguing with that.


AVENGERS AGE OF ULTRON: REVIEW – The Avengers return in Joss Whedon’s slick screwball comedy.

Crash, Bang, Wallop – what a picture! There’s wit – fan service – action scenes and other stuff, but to be honest I’m getting a bit tired of Marvel and superhero pictures in general. There’s nothing wrong with the picture. Far from it. The gang are back together and fighting Hydra in some snowy mittel-European Ruritania, providing The Avengers with a nice ‘elsewhere’ setting in some exciting punch ’em up scenes: the hero shot comes early! And then we have a glowing blue doo-hah which must be protected because it’s so powerful. But Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) can’t help but fiddle with it in an attempt to create an artificial intelligence defense system which would effectively render the Avengers obsolete.  Oopsy-daisy! Ultron turns into a super villain intent on wiping out humanity.

Despite the clear intelligence of Whedon as a filmmaker, his actually characters are whoppingly stupid, none more so than the ‘genius’ Stark, who frankly gets off incredibly lightly for his potentially genocidal error. There’s some soap opera with the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Captain America (Chris Evans) grab some of the funniest lines, proving that occasionally it’s the straight men who can snatch the laughs when the self-knowing wit of RDJ grows wearisome. Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Paul Bettany are new heroes, the former seems to be spending this phase of her career tripping through rubble (see also Godzilla).

So it’s fun and all that. But I can’t say I care as much as perhaps I’m led to believe by score etc. that I should. I don’t care about Hulk and Black Widow. I’m unconvinced by the moral conundrums, when no one seems to want to take responsibility for their actions. Doctor Banner is supposed to be the conscience of the group but after he wreaks havoc through a city center his only solution seems to be to run away. And perhaps I’m weighed down by the prospect of another two Russo brothers directed movies: The Avengers: Infinity Wars Parts One and Two, but I’m beginning to suffer from a genuine fatigue with this sort of thing, regardless of its quality. It’s going to go the way of the Western. There are simply too many and no matter how good an individual film might be – and this is a stand out entry – there are only so many times you can watch a city destroyed, a blue doo-dah purloined, a bunch of costumed sociopaths ruminate on morality before you begin to think it might be time for the whole sub-fascist circus to be wrapped up and put away.

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LAST KNIGHTS: REVIEW – Morgan Freeman and Clive Owen star in a load sword and shouting rubbish for money.

The times are dark and unspecific, Games of Throne-y but without dragons. The realm is an Empire stretching across national boundaries in a way that coincidentally reflects the multinational co-producers who came together to finance this film. The men are a band of amazingly cool at fighting knights who are also racially, ethnically and religiously diverse in a PC way to appeal to as many markets as possible as inoffensively as possible. The men are bound by a strict code of honor about killing lots of people in the most generic way possible.

Old Baron Bartokles (Morgan Freeman) is bored of good acting and so decides to ham it up and enjoy himself. He is a nobleman who in his autumn years has decided to disavow the hereditary principle, the idea of an aristocracy, corruption and all the things he’s been fine with for the previous years. Being a bit grumpy, he rubs the Emperor and his ministers the wrong way and soon finds himself on the sharp end of a beheading. His loyal servant Rickleshin (Clive Owen) and his unmerry men are scattered and apparently hopeless, but will they manage to get revenge, or will Rickleshin go back to his old bad drinking ways?

Yes, they’ll get revenge. Shit, I’ve said it. SPOILER! Oops, but believe me I’ve saved you two hours of your life. The dialogue seems to have been written for translation into another unearthly language, a kind of filmic Esperanto and it is spoken with the conviction of actors who look happy to be overdubbed. The action is okay, but has none of the kinetic madness of 13 Assassins, which is obviously an influence, and the story plods along in a caperish way, hitting fairly predictable beats and asking you to care for a bunch of characters who are little more than ciphers – young man, older man, etc. By far the best thing about the film is the title Last Knights, because it has a pun of the quality not seen since Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise ruled the multiplex together.

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THE INTERVIEW: REVIEW – After all the fuss, the hack, the threats, the censorship, the President’s comments, the executives replies and the final release, what is the James Franco and Seth Rogen film The Interview actually like?

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20,000 DAYS ON EARTH: REVIEW – Australian rock star Nick Cave spends his 20,000th day on earth in the company of a camera crew, Ray Winstone, Kylie Minogue and various collaborators.

Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s surprisingly affable rockumentary shows the brilliant and gloomy songwriter in a variety of staged encounters in his adopted home of Brighton – including a toe-curling psychiatry session, the making of an album, preparation for a concert, lunch with a collaborator and various anecdotes from a career that has always managed to maintain a cult status while occasionally bobbing – like a murder victim wrapped in plastic sheeting – into the mainstream.

Full disclosure: I am a huge Nick Cave fan, having followed him from The Birthday Party through to the Bad Seeds. I saw him when he was touring The Good Son and never looked back. His albums are almost without exception fantastic, his film scores are exceptional, especially The Road and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and his two novels are awful, but I’ve dutifully read both. He even had a short stint as an actor in the amazing and underrated Australian prison film Ghosts of the Civil Dead, directed by fan and collaborator John Hilcoat as well as an appearance as himself in Wim Wenders’ masterpiece Wings of Desire.

I felt some trepidation watching the film, with the feeling you might get before meeting your hero, but the film pulls off the trick of at once being intimate and yet perpetuating  the image of the austere, brooding and unapproachable songster. A layer of darkness is undercut by mundane business, typified by a shot of Cave en famille munching pizza with his twin boys, and watching television. This being Cave, he’s not watching Strictly Dancing, but instead the final shoot out of Brian De Palma’s Scarface.

In short, if you like Nick Cave the film will be a welcome companion piece to The Road to God Knows Where. And if you don’t you’ll be baffled by the whole project.


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THE MONUMENTS MEN: REVIEW – Danny Ocean goes to Europe to save a bunch of valuable artworks from the dastardly Nazis and the dratted Ruskies. For the mission, he recruits an unhealthy looking John Goodman, the guy from the Artist, Bob Balaban and Bill Murray as well as a middle aged Will Hunting.

The acting talent is there. Clooney has directed two good films – Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Goodnight, and Good Luck were both creditable – so he knows how to do it. The subject is interesting and novel. So what went wrong? 

First of all, the film keeps desperately wanting to move us, so Clooney and co-writer Grant Haslov keep front-loading the emotion: with inspiring speeches before anyone’s done anything, voice-over read letters to parents underlining explicitly why something is tragic and Christmas carols sung by a daughter, sloppily juxtaposed with the death of an unknown soldier. It’s all a mush of a mushness.
Neither is the comedy as caper-y as the poster sells us, nor as funny. Clooney is genuinely interested in his subject and wants us to feel the heroism of his art historians in uniform. So he keeps telling us this, again and again, and the humor is vaguely apologetic and horribly gentle. Bill Murray does Bill Murray again, so if you like Bill Murray doing Bill Murray you’ll see Billy Murray.
However, entertainment can be gained by guessing with your friends what Cate Blanchett’s motivation is for being such a pain in the ass throughout. 

PlayStation 4 Announced. A Bottom Styled Review

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