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Human beings vs the State: Captain Fantastic vs I, Daniel Blake

An American man tries to shield his children from society; but finds society, and children, are complicated.

A British man and woman try to make their way through life; but are tormented and defeated.

I recently saw two fine films in 24 hours.  In the confusingly-named Captain Fantastic, Viggo Mortensen plays a father trying to raise six children in a remote forest according to his ’60s-oriented anti-capitalist views.  When a tragedy forces them to interact with the outside world, the father’s efforts to give the children what he considers the best possible upbringing are challenged; and something has to give.


Preview: “there are two types of being in the universe…”

I know sequels are usually rubbish. But I can’t help hoping this movie will at least retain some of the greatness of the original “Guardians of the Galaxy”.

The trailer has two good points:

  • a promising soundtrack
  • a fine line: “There are two types of beings in the universe.  Those who dance.  And those who do not.”  This is a pretty good distinction.


6 reasons “The Neon Demon” makes “Showgirls” look like Shakespeare. 2/10

A glamorous woman lies on a couch, her throat apparently cut, awash with blood.  Techno music swells.  Nothing happens.  The music continues.  Still nothing happens.  The camera dwells on the woman.  Hours pass.

You sometimes sit down to watch a movie and feel your heart sink during the opening scene.  Rarely have I felt that sensation so intensely as in the opening sequence to “Neon Demon”.  Did someone lose the editing scissors?  Did no-one say: “Let’s cut this scene from three minutes to 10 seconds in case the audience loses the will to live”?  If not, why not?

The premise of “The Neon Demon” sounds promising.  A staggeringly beautiful young model comes to LA.  In seconds, she is the hottest property in town.  Other models become jealous and seek bloodcurdling revenge while engaging in acts of taboo sex.   (more…)

Independence Day 2: Oh, my God! 1/10

A giant bad alien spacecraft attacks the earth, equipped with impenetrable force-field, overwhelming technological superiority, and the ability to make opponents clutch their heads and go “aaaargh” or “Oh my God!”simply by appearing in the neighbourhood.

Plucky earthlings (mild spoiler alert – but you guessed this, right?) repel the attack, despite most of Europe, the US East Coast and other unimportant zones being destroyed by the impact of the giant spacecraft landing.

They are aided (mild spoiler alert – but you could have guessed this, surely?) by the bad aliens having the same kind of glaring vulnerability routinely overlooked by the Death Star Reconstruction Committee in the “Star Wars” franchise.


Haven’t we seen this before?

Yes, in the original “Independence Day” movie in 1996.  Hardly anything has changed, except that most of the actors from the original movie have aged.

(The exception is Jeff Goldblum, who looks roughly the same as he did in 1996, despite appearing in around 50 movies, video games and TV series in the intervening 20 years.  In fact, the degree to which Jeff Goldblum is identical reminds me of Ian McKellen’s famous observation that he was lucky to be able to play two different roles – an old gay bloke and an old straight bloke – whereas some actors could only play one role.  So true of so many actors.)

What else is there to say about this incredibly bad movie?


“Mad Max – Fury Road”: a magnificent explosion of insanity 9/10

One of my favourite moments in “Mad Max – Fury Road” comes when a gigantic armoured truck (or “war rig”) roars past a desolate swamp inhabited by stilt-walking mutants.

The mutants continue their mysterious swamp-wading activities as the truck zooms by.

The mutants are not explained.  The shot lasts a few seconds.

But the scene sums up much that is magnificent in the explosion of insanity which is Mad Max: Fury Road.  If you’re going to set a movie in an imagined post-apocalyptic world, you’d better make that world look exotic, gritty and all-round awesome from start to finish.



Review: Hail Caesar: 5 reasons the Emperor has no clothes 2/10

I love the movies.  On a Saturday night I went to see the extraordinary Argentine drama The Clan in the Istanbul Film Festival, about a family from Buenos Aires who kidnap and murder people.  I’d have given it 10/10 but I had to leave the cinema half-way through, because a small bomb went off across town, and I missed the end.  Long story.

So on the Sunday night I went to the same cinema to see Hail Caesar, the latest movie from the Coen Brothers.

I’ve seen and enjoyed lots of Coen Brothers films.  Blood Simple.  Raising Arizona.  Miller’s Crossing.  Fargo.  The Big Lebowski.

Now you mention it I haven’t seen a really good Coen Brothers film since 1998.

I watched Bridge of Spies and found it good-looking but deadly boring. Where’s the dramatic tension?  Why should we care about the characters?  It had none of the characteristics – originality, surprise, joy, dark twists – which distinguished the early Coen Brothers productions.

The trouble is, I’m such an optimist I always think: “these guys have ploughed millions of dollars – tens, hundreds of millions – into making this movie.  They must have some basic idea of what they’re doing.  It’ll improve soon.”

I’m so naive.

So I approached Hail, Caesar with trepidation.  It has George Clooney in it, possibly Hollywood’s most boring actor.  The trailer makes it look terrible.  But it was on when I had a free night.

It was beyond awful.  Here are five reasons why:


“The Force Awakens”: the good news and the bad

The good news: the best scene I’ve ever seen in a movie was the opening of Star Wars in 1977. “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”. High-concept, ironic, awesome. A field of stars, then planets: one, two, then a third, filling the horizon. A space ship zapping into view, pursued by a star destroyer so huge it took twelve seconds to appear from the top of the screen, driven by three immense engines thrumming with power – I saw it in 70mm Dolby surround sound and the cinema shook and… wonderful.

The bad news: the worst scene I’ve ever seen in a movie was the opening of Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace, 16 years after the previous movie. You saw the instant the opening text crawled up the screen that the mojo was gone. Ewan McGregor’s first words: “I have a bad feeling about this“.  Too right! Things went downhill for the next three episodes.

So I’m hoping that “The Force Awakens”, will be more Star Wars than menace.  Based on the way the series has deteriorated over the years, my ever-analytical head says standing in a ice-cold shower of nitric acid while tiger ants gnaw my nasal passages will probably be more entertaining.  But my ever-optimistic heart says “maybe this time they’ll have a plot, some new ideas, and rediscover their sense of playfulness and irony”.

Desperate for any concrete info, I’ve trawled the trailers.


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