Thursday, 30 January 2014

This is the film I am genuinely looking forward to more than any other in 2014

It's nearly three long years since Animal Kingdom, one of the best films of the last decade, blew my tiny mind and alerted me to the genius of writer / director David Michôd and his chums at Blue Tongue Films. Since then I've been frothing at the cock for Michôd's next film, The Rover, for which a teaser landed yesterday - exactly one year since principal photography began, if that means anything.

Animal Kingdom's brilliance means that The Rover is easily the film I'm looking forward to the most this year, and its absence from various high-profile "Ones To Watch In 2014" lists is baffling to say the least. Guy Pearce! Robert Pattinson! Er, Scoot McNairy! What's not to be stoked about?

Here's a synopsis:
"The Australian desert in a dangerous and damaged near future. Eric has left everything, everyone and every semblance of human kindness behind him. And then he has his last possession stolen by a gang of dangerous criminals. Eric sets off on a ruthless mission to track them down, forced along the way to enlist the help of Rey, the naïve and injured junior member of the gang, who was left behind in the bloody chaos of the gang's most recent robbery."
But what is Eric's mysterious last possession? Is it the Rover of the title? And is that his dog? His car? His replica inflatable henchman from surreal '60s TV series The Prisoner? Maybe the teaser will tell us.

Or maybe it won't. But the Facebook post which accompanies the teaser advises us to "Prepare for The Collapse." I have no idea what that means but I am so totally preparing for it. My Collapse preparation measures are being implemented as we speak. I ain't about to witness no Collapse without being fully ready for it, whatever the fuck it is. Bring it on.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

That's Rogertainment! Rogisode 1:
North Sea Hijack

Our first voyage into the choppy waters of Roger Moore's non-Bond career sees us sploshing about in the North Sea for a film which is variously called ffolkes (silly), Assault Force (generic) or North Sea Hijack (literal) depending on where in the world you watch it. Its German title - Sprengkommando Atlantik - emerges from Google Translate as Busting Commando Atlantic, which is both thrillingly mad and geographically insane.

Whatever it's called (let's say North Sea Hijack for the sake of accuracy), the film is based on a book called Esther, Ruth and Jennifer, the title of which makes sense in context but is no good for a film which features exploding oil rigs and a cat-loving James Bond in a tramp's beard and Where's Wally hat.

'ffolkes', incidentally, is Rodge's character's surname, and although a basic grasp of onomatology will tell you it's spelled with two small 'f's, the film is a bit confused about this, crediting him as "Ffolkes" in the end crawl. ffolkes' christian names are so spectacular that I am going to have to drip feed them slowly throughout this review, in order that the internet doesn't explode from the sheer force of their incrediblitude.

North Sea Hijack is, in today's wanky poster-quote terminology, Die Hard meets Captain Phillips, but nowhere near as good as such a mash-up suggests. Pleasingly, there's actually a minor character called Captain Phillips, and at one point a bad guy says "I'm the temporary captain of this tub!", which Cap'n Phil's chief pirate no doubt meant to say but got the quote wrong.

The plot is kickstarted by a group of terrorists, headed by Norman Bates in a fisherman's rib jumper, who hijack a Norwegian oil production platform's supply ship and make hilariously ambitious demands for a ransom of 25 million quid otherwise they'll blow up both the platform, which is called Jennifer, and its drilling rig, named Ruth. The ship they've hijacked is called Esther. All of this gets very confusing. Calling them "Big Oil Rig", "Little Oil Rig" and "Boat" would have made everything simpler.

"Destroy Esther!" "Sir, we're on Esther." "Balls. Destroy Barbara!"

Fortunately for world peace, ffolkes exists. He's basically an underwater Jack Bauer, a specialist in counter-terrorism on the high seas, except unlike Jack Bauer he lives in a castle, loves cats, despises women and enjoys cross-stitching. I'm not making this shit up. He's also got a personal team of stealth frogmen so good at infiltration they've got "FFOLKES FFUSILIERS" [sic] plastered across their wetsuits in bright yellow text and they still don't get caught. Conveniently, ffolkes is asked to come up with a plan to foil a terrorist attack on an oil production platform just months before Norman Bates actually carries his out, and he hones this plan by erecting a giant climbing frame in his garden and watching his assault force climb over it while he furiously masturbates into a bucket. Not really, he just shouts at them and chugs whiskey.

His first name is Rufus.

It's not much of a spoiler to say that ffolkes saves the day, the oil rig and its crew of hilarious Swedish-chef-from-The-Muppets impersonators (I think they're supposed to be Norwegian) through a combination of guile, shouting and ruthless embroidery. Everyone lives happily ever after, including Admiral James Mason and Oil Rig Boss Man Felix Leiter. In the film's final (and best) scene, the Prime Minister - A WOMAN - pops round to ffolkes' castle (in Roger Moore's own car, complete with personalised number plate) to deliver a box of kittens by way of thanks. Whether ffolkes will broil or sauté them remains unexplored.

In order to distance Rodge from his most famous role (North Sea Hijack was released the same year as Moonraker), a futile attempt was made to make him something of a cunt. So, for that reason alone, he's a short-tempered grumpychops and a staggering cartoon misogynist, neither of which has any bearing on the plot. It's fun to see Rodge trying to be a twat, but his own aura of irrepressible charm is so thick that his inner bastard has no chance of breaking through. He's also largely absent from the first half hour while the world's dullest hijack gets underway, and nobody's given Anthony Perkins or James Mason anything interesting to do in the meantime, so all that's left is to marvel at the magnificence of ffolkes' monikers.

His middle name is Excalibur.

Daft in all the ways that most British action films of the 1970s were (ffolkes' grand plan for killing the villain involves an undignified amount of James Mason bending over), North Sea Hijack is really only one for Rogerphiles. But given that everyone in the world should be a Rogerphile, that's a pretty broad appeal. It's a transparent attempt by Moore to stretch himself, but it does feel a bit like somebody, tasked with coming up with the least James Bondy personality traits possible, panicked and yelled "SEWING AND KITTENS!" and before they knew it Rodge was stitching and stroking like a mad old lady. One can only imagine the on-set gags he must have made about pricks and pussies.


"WALL TO WALL ACTION" - Watch-Wearers' Weekly magazine

Massive Rogery thanks to Luke Whiston and Becky Harvey for the DVD. The point of all this, such as it is, is explained here.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

That's Rogertainment!

Fair warning: I've had an idea. Not a particularly original idea; in fact, not even a very good idea (and there may have been gin present at its conception), but an idea nevertheless, and one which I believe deserves a warning.

Last year, for some birthday or other, I received two films from some excellent friends: 1978's The Wild Geese and 1979's North Sea Hijack. Both were gifted to me because I, like every true Englishman, believe that Sir Roger George Moore is among the greatest creatures ever to walk the Earth, and that includes the Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger. And so it became clear to me that I must devote myself to watching every single one of Rodge's films, and by "every single one" I mean "the ones I can easily get hold of", and also "not SpiceWorld".

So let it be known that I intend to devour as much of His Royal Rogerness' output as I can over the coming months / decades, and I shall endeavour to report back on my findings on these very pages. I doubt that I'll find better than The Man Who Haunted Himself, and I won't be including Bond films because I've covered them elsewhere, but I promise not to rest until I've swallowed as much Moore as I can take.

Bearing in mind that, as I understand it, most Roger Moore films are of questionable value as works of art, I'll be rating each film not on its quality but on its level of Rogertainment; that is, how much great Roger Business goes on in it. Films will be awarded between one and five Rogers, thusly:

Very little, low quality Roger Business

Not quite enough Roger Business, or Roger Business of insufficient quality

Medium-level Roger Business, just enough to satisfy

An advanced amount and / or level of Roger Business

Premium, prolonged Roger Business

Let the feast begin. And yes, I'll be attempting to get to the bottom of this:

Friday, 24 January 2014

Two films out this week that are even better than Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Film #1 That Is Out This Week And Is Even Better Than Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is Inside Llewyn DavisHere is a review which I wrote for someone else.

Film #2 That Is Out This Week And Is Even Better Than Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is the 4K restoration of The General, which I haven't reviewed anywhere but is the greatest silent movie ever made.

Please go and see one or both of these instead of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. It's in everyone's interest.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Talking silents with Neil Brand

One balmy evening in the summer of 2009, I wandered into a free outdoor screening of the first silent comedy I'd ever seen: Buster Keaton's The General, accompanied on the piano by Neil Brand. I was amused by the prospect because several hundred years ago when I was at university in a dark and damp corner of the midlands, Brand delivered a guest lecture about the music of silent films. Tragically I remembered nothing about the lecture, probably because I was a student and, in a tiresomely stereotype-conforming way, either drunk, hungover or still in bed. Sorry Neil.

Nevertheless, The General was a revelation. I felt like someone had lifted up a corner of the universe to reveal a black and white, silent landscape which offered infinite possibilities for new and fantastic film experiences. As it turned out none of them would rival The General for sheer jaw-dropping, beautifully-constructed physical comedy, but I've spent the intervening years soaking up as much of the work of Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd as I can regardless. Neil Brand, meanwhile, has spent the intervening years accompanying silent films all over the world, continuing to be one of the foremost authorities on film music, and last year presented BBC Four's tremendous The Sound Of Cinema series, so I suppose he wins.

That unsolicited and somewhat tedious insight into my past is by way of introduction to a decidedly untedious event at London's heart-burstingly gorgeous BFI, to the name of which I shall allocate an exclusive line on this blog post:

Buster’s Music: An Illustrated Talk by Neil Brand

The talk is part of the BFI's Nobel prize-worthy 'Buster Keaton and the Cinema of Today' season, and includes a screening of a newly-discovered cut of Keaton's 1922 short The Blacksmith, which features some excellent automobile destruction and a scene in which Keaton nearly gets a train driven up his bottom.

All this excitement takes place on Monday February 3rd at 8.30pm. In case for some unfathomably insane reason you haven't yet bought tickets to see the work of a genius discussed by another genius, I asked Neil Brand to explain a bit more about the evening in a transparent attempt to sell more tickets. In return for this free publicity I expect my lifetime membership to the BFI to be confirmed any minute now.

Aaaany minute now.

Hello Neil. So this thing you're doing all looks a bit good. What will the evening entail?

I'm trying to get under the skin of Keaton's personality when he's in character. When we think of archetypal Lloyd or Chaplin in character we get a good sense of their characters' backgrounds and status and what makes them tick, but not so with Keaton. The stone-faced acrobat doesn't say "vaudeville" or "1920s go-getter", is neither high nor low status, yet seems somehow to be both. The through-lines in all his films are an (eventual) ability to cope with everything that life throws at him, and a flat hat.

Yet from the earliest shorts right up to The Cameraman, we never stop to question who he actually is. To try and unravel the mystery, I'm looking at his body language, his use of props, his abilities with the set-piece scene (that fantastic wrestling match in the changing room in The Cameraman, particularly), his own sense of humour, his amazing use of speeded-up camera (when you see some of his work at the actual speed he filmed it, it makes his performance even more magical) and what kind of music his comedy generates. The audience will be very surprised at some of the results.

Is scoring for Keaton markedly different to scoring for Chaplin, Lloyd or Laurel & Hardy?

It tends to be much sparer: there's a sense that one is accompanying a dazzlingly good soloist who only needs the slightest prod to be able to stay on top of the music. He allows you to use slower, more repeated patterns and hardly ever demands a tune. He's not sentimental, and he never stays in one place for very long, so Keaton's signature, again and again, is discreet speed and deftness. It's a real challenge to come up with anything that really does him justice.

What's so great about this new print of The Blacksmith?

The Blacksmith in its original form has some slow moments - it tends not to be among most fans' favourite shorts for that reason - yet this 'new' cut has nearly five minutes of much better action, including two absolutely side-splitting gags that are as good as anything else he did at the time. It's a complete mystery why he dumped them in favour of the cut we all know, except that one of them could be thought a bit risqué: in the middle of a chase Keaton and Joe Roberts stop to watch a woman undressing. Also, thanks to John Bengtson, who has made a lifetime's study of the original locations of silent comedy, we get to see Doug Fairbanks' Robin Hood castle looming behind one of the dusty streets Keaton is haring down. That's how we know he shot the 'new' stuff first.

I expect you'll cover this on the night, but is it tricky to make the music support the comedy on screen without taking over and blowing the gags?

It really is. Accompanying comedy is about finding the hidden rhythm behind a comedy sequence and the points at which that rhythm changes. It's almost never about individual gags. It's impossible to give a Tom and Jerry-style piano accompaniment to a ninety-minute comedy feature because it would simply be too busy, too theatrical. It may hit every sound cue on screen but it would drive the audience crazy.

This is what's led me towards looking at silent comedy from the point of view of body language: it's the most important indicator of the speed the music should move, and other visual references give you indications of style, momentum, pauses and so on. It's an obvious thing to say but all we accompanists have to go on is what we're watching, and what clues we can glean from it. Over the years I've tried to say more by doing less. I still haven't managed it but the intention's there.

While I've got you, are there any plans for further programmes like The Sound Of Cinema?

I hope so. I don't know if the BBC want any more film music docs (I hope so because there's a huge amount we simply couldn't cover in the series - Europe and the UK, for instance), but I am in negotiation for a series on a different (although still musical) subject, which I hope we may get some news on fairly soon. I'll keep you posted.

Tickets for Buster’s Music: An Illustrated Talk by Neil Brand are available right here, right now. You know what to do. (Buy tickets)

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Here are three things that happen in
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit that may give you some idea of what kind of film it is

1. The film's opening image is a helicopter shot of a cityscape. A river snakes through the centre of frame. On one side of the river is a large, oblong building, at one end of which is a tall Gothic tower with a clock face on each of its sides, while on the other side is a modern, upright circular structure surrounded by what looks like small pods. But with just these scant visual clues to go on, how are we to know where this mysterious land could possibly be? To what dark and unexplored corner of which alien planet is Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit taking us? Fortunately a caption appears on screen to answer all our burning questions. It simply reads: "LONDON".

2. We're inside a private plane bound from Russia to the United States. On the plane are Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Kevin Costner: Recruiter Of Shadows and Keira Knightley: Shadow Fiancée, as well as a team of CIA hotshots all sitting at individual computer terminals. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is attempting to discover the location of an impending terrorist attack, and he does this by shouting garbled instructions very quickly at each CIA hotshot. It's impossible to follow what he's saying, but it goes along these lines:

That guy we're after! He did that thing that time in that place! He must therefore be in some other kind of place doing this other kind of thing! CIA hotshot #4, Google that for me!

CIA HOTSHOT #4 Googles.

(one second later)
Got it!

This exchange is repeated approximately four times in the space of one minute, after which time the exact location of the impending terrorist attack has been pinpointed.

3. Desperate to apprehend a fleeing bad guy in a moment of high tension, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is frustrated by his complete lack of a suitable vehicle with which to give chase. At that precise moment, a colleague conveniently appears on a motorbike, which Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit commandeers. It is the colleague's third scene in the film, and brings his total screen time to about forty-four seconds. His first scene, some seventy minutes earlier, featured him showing off his new motorbike to Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. He does nothing else of any note in the rest of the film.

That's what kind of film Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is. The choice of whether or not to spend money on going to see it is yours, but it's worth bearing in mind that Patriot Games can be purchased on DVD for under three pounds.

Friday, 17 January 2014

The Wolf Of Wall Street

"As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a banker"

It's 10.30 on a Monday morning and I'm watching a man apparently introducing cocaine into the anus of a prostitute with a straw. I haven't quite woken up yet so while the procedure I'm witnessing is as delicate a way as any to ease me in to the following three hours of Quaalude-fuelled hedonism and bacchanalian debauchery, it's frankly still all a bit of a shock. I mean usually the Victoria Line is much more civilised once rush hour's over.

AHAHAHA but seriously. The scene I am describing does in fact take place at the beginning of Martin Scorsese's The Wolf Of Wall Street, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio as absolute fucking irredeemable shitkicker Jordan Belfort. Belfort was a stockbroker in the late '80s and '90s who ripped off thousands of individuals and companies in order to fund his addiction to money, sex and hoovering up every available narcotic substance he could get his nose on. As punishment for his crimes, Belfort served fewer than two years of his four-year jail term and was forced to have his story told by one of the greatest directors who ever lived in a film starring one of Hollywood's best and best-loved actors. Oh and he also gets a cameo. So remember kids: DRUGS DOESN'T PAY.

Fortunately there's no need for anyone to get on their moral high horse about any of that, because the film is all kinds of brilliant. DiCaprio is absolutely on fire in his latest attempt (following Django Unchained and The Great Gatsby) to corner the market in obscenely wealthy cunts, while Scorsese has made his best film since GoodFellas. It's a bit of a shame that it's essentially a remake of that film, with bankers replacing gangsters, but never mind that because The Wolf Of Wall Street has dwarf-tossing and a nappy-wearing chimp on roller skates and Matthew McConaughey dispensing advice on wanking in the workplace like a filthy Yoda.
Three solid hours of Caligulan depravity might sound tough to swallow, but Scorsese's genius is in balancing the insanity with the less histrionic bits of Terence Winter's script in such a way that you don't necessarily feel like you've spent the whole running time with a wet finger in the mains. Nor, however, is there chance to be bored; it's never less than entertaining, and the only time you'll be checking your watch is to see if that really was 180 minutes that just passed.

Where The Wolf Of Wall Street just fails to meet its promise is in the substance, which is ironic because substances are in no short supply here. There's the sledgehammer implication that Belfort's company, Stratton Oakmont, is a metaphor for America (you can tell because at one point DiCaprio bellows "STRATTON OAKMONT IS AMERICA!!!"), but there's no hint of the global ripples caused by the likes of Belfort and their dive-bombs of self-gratification. And for a three-hour film there's a vaguely disappointing lack of narrative scale: once Belfort's first-act move up through the gears of his arc reaches maximum overdrive, everything that follows is just another episode of bogglingly selfish dickery.

But these are minor quibbles; if you want an examination of the downfall of the financial sector, watch Inside Job, which doesn't have a single chimp in a nappy. The Wolf Of Wall Street is a proper blast of in-your-face and up-your-nose filmmaking from a team of genuine legends, and on top of everything you'd expect from Martin Scorsese it's also frequently hilarious: the Lemmons sequence alone is a masterclass of physical comedy from DiCaprio and Jonah Hill, who has reached a milestone in his career in that this is the first film in which I've found him bearable. So well done Jonah, well done Leo and well done Marty. Let's celebrate! I've got a straw round here somewhere.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Rhyming Oscar nominations announced

Up for Best Vest: Sandra Bullock in Gravity

Best Nest
Christian Bale's hair, American Hustle
Bradley Cooper's hair, American Hustle
Jennifer Lawrence's hair, American Hustle
Jeremy Renner's hair, American Hustle
Radagast the Brown's hair, The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

Best Chest
Amy Adams, American Hustle
Hugh Jackman, The Wolverine
Ryan Gosling, The Place Beyond The Pines
Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
Adele Exarchopolous, Blue Is The Warmest Colour

Best Breast
[Award amalgamated into Best Chest category]

Best Guest
Jasmine Francis (Cate Blanchett), Blue Jasmine
Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin), Labor Day
PL Travers (Emma Thompson), Saving Mr Banks
Muse (Barkhad Abdi), Captain Phillips
Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), Iron Man 3

Best Quest
The Quest For The Negative, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty
The Quest For The Dwarves' Gold, The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug
The Quest For Enormous Amounts Of Booze, The World's End
The Quest For Treasure, A Field In England
The Quest For A Joke, Anchorman 2

Best Vest
Matt Damon's vest, Elysium
Channing Tatum's vest, White House Down
Hugh Jackman's vest, The Wolverine
Robert Downey Jr's vest, Iron Man 3
Sandra Bullock's vest, Gravity

Best West
The Wild West, The Lone Ranger

[Rhyming Oscars cancelled for stupidity]

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

All Is Lost: The Eight Ages Of Cap'n Bob

Batten down the hatches, there's a metaphor blowing in

Hopefully by now you've seen All Is Lost, a perfectly reasonable film starring Robert Redford as a wrinkly, sea-bound equivalent of Sandra Bullock in Gravity. If not, why not give it a whizz? It's the tenth-best film I saw at last year's London Film Festival, and only nine films in existence can honestly say they come with a higher recommendation than that.

That said, it is lacking something. It's the tale of a man in a boat who, through sheer circumstance, has to fight for survival against the elements. Maybe he succeeds, maybe he doesn't: the ending's fairly ambiguous - or at least it was to me. But perhaps I needed that ambiguity, because everything I'd seen in the preceding 100 minutes just seemed too... straightforward. We learn nothing about Redford's character (which is, frankly, a preferable approach to Bullock's crowbarred and clichéd dead kid backstory), so All Is Lost becomes purely a conflict between man and nature. Nothing wrong with that as such, but I needed more. I just couldn't believe someone would make a film like that and not have something else to say.

And so it was that, mid-way through the film, I began to see a metaphor emerge, along the vague lines that the entire story was an allegory of a human life from conception to death and possibly beyond. Whether it was writer / director JC Chandor's intention to imply subliminal meaning, I don't know. I haven't bothered to find out, because if it wasn't then the film really is just about a man on a boat and I'll be disappointed. I'm pretty sure the metaphor I had in mind wasn't planned though, for two reasons: one, it falls apart like a child's fib under the lightest of scrutiny, and two, when I outlined it to The Shiznit's Ali Gray in a post-screening chat he looked at me as if I was speaking Hindi and then laughed at me. It's fair to say the idea hadn't occurred to him.

But more on that guy later; allow me to outline my hypothesis. As I say, it's idiotic and incomplete, but bear with me. Also, be warned: this bit contains spoilers up the wazzoo.

The Eight Ages Of Cap'n Bob

1. Conception
Cap'n Bob's journey across the ocean / existence, at least as far as we're concerned, begins with penetration. A large, firm container forcibly inserts itself into the fragile outer skin of his boat (the Virginia Jean, which, er, sounds a bit like 'vagina'), spilling its load. Shortly afterwards, Cap'n Bob emerges from his vessel and our protagonist's story begins. So far, so "seriously?", I know, but stay with me. And don't forget that the chances of any given sperm fertilising an egg are astronomical; probably about the same as a container crashing into your boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

2. The plain sailing of youth
I seem to remember an early stretch of All Is Lost in which nothing much happened. It was just like the carefree days of childhood, or something. Alternatively I may have nodded off.
3. Direction and education
We all need direction in our formative years, and Cap'n Bob is no exception. He attempts to find his by fixing the navigation systems on his boat, while simultaneously schooling himself by reading about celestial navigation.

4. Adolescence
What's that on the horizon? Why, it's The Tempest Of Puberty! Things are about to get stormy, and everything is going to change. There'll be lots of tossing, which is a cheap joke on my part for which I apologise, but basically Cap'n Bob's about to enter a maelstrom from which he can only hope to emerge stronger and better prepared for whatever the future has in store.
5. Leaving home
When Cap'n Bob's first home becomes unsuitable for his needs (because it's basically matchsticks), it's time for him to move out to a smaller, cramped abode where he lives off meagre food rations and drinks the juice from baked bean cans. This is a time of survival, when he must fend for himself: if only he could find another human being to help him face a cruel world and wash his underpants.

6. A need to belong
Cap'n Bob masters a skill: he learns to operate a sextant. With this he aims to propel himself towards international shipping lanes, a blatant (i.e. tenuous) metaphor for business and the constantly-moving stream that is working life. Only by joining in can Bob hope to live like everyone else. Heh, "Bob hope". But wait! There are sharks in the water, predators who want to bring him down for their own selfish reasons. Welcome to adulthood.
7. Failure
Cap'n Bob's grand plan fails for reasons both within and beyond his control, so he writes a letter. This is clearly representative of the part of life where we fuck everything up and start a blog because nobody will listen to me us.

8. Senility and death
Like an old man losing control of his faculties and behaving in an increasingly irrational manner, Cap'n Bob rather stupidly sets fire to his own life raft. Death comes for him, and while he struggles against it for as long as he can, eventually he gives up. In the film's final moments, he's either saved or drowned, depending on how full or empty your glass is. Personally I think he's hanging up his sou'wester in Davy Jones' Locker.

So there you have it. Shakespeare proposed the seven ages of man; I went one better. IN YOUR FACE, 'THE BARD'! I fully expect and deserve ridicule for it, but let's be honest: films are as much about what we bring to them as they are about what they bring to us. Ali liked All Is Lost and didn't need to endow it with a load of subtext in order to enjoy it, and that's fine. I found it lacking, so filled in the blanks for myself - I didn't do it deliberately, my brain just went looking for more than it could see and found stuff that may or may not be there.

I forget the point I was trying to make. Maybe you can make one up and retroactively apply it to this post yourself.

Friday, 10 January 2014

A few inadequate words on
12 Years A Slave, the best film of 2014

"Your story is amazing, and in no good way"
- Samuel Bass (Brad Pitt)

It really pisses me off when a truly brilliant film comes out at the beginning of the year, because I like to watch my list of favourites shift and rearrange as the year goes on and I watch and rewatch more movies. 2014, however, may as well give up and go home now. If another film comes along in the next twelve months that earns the right to sit above that still of 12 Years A Slave over on the left, I will eat all a y'all's hats.

I saw Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave at last year's London Film Festival, and it destroyed me. I was with friends, but when I left the cinema I couldn't speak to any of them. I headed straight for the station and went home. What was I going to say? The only word I could form was an exhausted "fuck", and standing around in Leicester Square with puffy eyes saying "fuck" over and over isn't cool. I felt like a light somewhere inside me had been extinguished, never to be relit. It was worse than when Timothy Dalton said he wasn't going to do any more Bond films.

The true story of a wealthy and respected man kidnapped and sold into slavery in mid-19th century Washington DC, 12 Years A Slave follows Solomon Northup's (Chiwetel Ejiofor) incredible journey as he's passed around from one owner to another. Some are kind to him (apart from the whole owning-him-as-a-slave thing), some are a bit shitty, and some are Epps (Michael Fassbender), who is... well, he's... fuck.

The film is a harrowing and exruciating experience - one scene, shot in a long take that you'll beg to cut away to something, anything, else, is near-unbearable - but it's buoyed by hope and the kindness that exists in a world of horror. It's also an astonishing tale of tenacity and endurance: "I don't want to survive, I want to live", says Solomon early on in his ordeal. Some time later, that becomes a broken "I survive". But the will to live again burns in Ejiofor's eyes as fiercely as the madness in Fassbender's.

The anguish you feel for Solomon builds slowly, creeping up insidiously, and this is McQueen's genius. There are moments of awfulness, for sure, but you don't really notice the weight of woe bearing down on you until you suddenly realise you're crushed by it, and by then it's too late. McQueen has stealth-devastated you. Fuck.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Pedant-baiting poster quote of the week

Actually I can think of one film that 's come fairly close to Blade Runner since 1981. It's called Blade Runner and it was released in June 1982.

The BAFTA nominations in pictures

Well, picture.

Full nominations, including the conspicuous absence of 2013's actual best British film, here.

Monday, 6 January 2014

The Ten Least Unbrilliant Films Of 2013

I suppose the first order of business upon The Incredible Suit's much-unheralded resurrection would be to run down my favourite films of 2013. God knows what might happen if such a list were to go unrecorded. Can you imagine? Me neither. So here they are. Merry Christmas!

WRECK-IT RALPH I had negative interest in Wreck-It Ralph when it came out, and only watched it on DVD because somebody paid me to. Just goes to show what a dick I am. Staggering worldbuilding, a meaty existential crisis and diabetes-inducing amounts of high-glucose fun make this my favourite animated film of the year by ruddy miles. (The only other animated film I saw in 2013 was Monsters University)

IRON MAN THREE Time to face Stark reality: Jon Favreau is not a great director. If only he'd buggered off to make way for Shane Black to take charge of all three Iron Man films instead of just this one, we could have had another era-defining superhero trilogy on our hands. As it is, Iron Man Three embarrasses its predecessors - and most of the rest of of the Marvel Cinematic Universe - with a daft but daring script, a tremendous supporting cast and the year's best blockbuster set-pieces. Robert Downey Jr may be the lead, but it's painfully clear that the real star of this franchise is Shane Black.

THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES An epic, operatic film beefed up by sterling turns from Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, The Place Beyond The Pines is to fathers and sons what director Derek Cianfrance's previous film, Blue Valentine, was to husbands and wives. Let down only by an overlong third act populated by horrible teenagers, ugh, it's still a bleak and moody meditation on the merciless vagaries of fate.

THE WORLD'S END Having grown up in the video age, Edgar Wright understands the value of repeat viewings better than most. That's why, like the first two parts of his Cornetto Trilogy, The World's End is crammed with delicious detail and improves with every revisit. And as someone who may or may not be of a similar age to the characters, its many themes ring true; many's the time I've had to fight off a smashy smashy egg man lady with armlegs. It also sports one of the year's best second-act shifts - from knowing thirty-something comedy to global intergalactic warfare (albeit on a microcosmic scale) - and the fight scenes are directed with cast iron nerve. Bring on the Ant Man.

FILTH It's uninspired to compare Filth to Trainspotting, but at the same time it's a huge compliment - it's a worthy companion piece to Danny Boyle's film and a ridiculous blast of anarchy in its own right. James McAvoy is a revelation as the supremely cuntish Bruce Robertson, and director Jon S Baird drives the film like he's at the wheel of a monster truck, crushing every other contemporary British cop drama under five-foot high wheels of pure insanity.

AMERICAN HUSTLE Statistics show that American Hustle contains 76.9% of all of 2013's acting, 97.4% of its hairpieces and 100% of its amazing costumes. Assembled by David O. Russell, all these elements combine to produce a slick, original and unexpectedly funny caper movie anchored by five of Hollywood's finest living actors. It's GoodFellas-lite, but even diet Scorsese is tastier than nearly everything else out this year.

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS With sweat pooling under his moobs like two puddles of pure liquid tension, Tom Hanks is perfect as Captain Phillips, the working class everyman suddenly plunged into mental battle with the unknown: in this case, Barkhad Abdi as wired and wiry pirate Muse. "Everything gon' be OK," goes Muse's unconvincing mantra, and sure enough before long your fingernails and blood pressure are pretty goddamn far from OK. An hour of hide-and-seek followed by an hour of sardines add up to a tightrope-tense experience, and the final scene - despite verging on Oscar showboating - provides the perfect release.

LES MISÉRABLES Love, honour, compassion, courage, sacrifice, faith, greed, altruism, redemption and the enduring power of the human spirit: some films struggle to cover just one of these grand themes. Les Misérables nails them all while tossing off an amusing Sacha-Baron-Cohen-with-a-funny-accent scene or two. In embarking on a project as gigantic in scope as this, Tom Hooper displayed the kind of balls that Miley Cyrus would have had a good swing on, and what could have been an embarrassing clusterfuck instead turned out to be a triumph of powerhouse balladeering, shot with aching beauty as stunning technically as it is visually.

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY Ben Stiller dials down the Ben Stiller like we always knew he could in this utterly joyous adventure that warns us - without preaching - not to live Life Online, to stop looking at the world through screens and to just fucking do it, whatever "it" is. Beautifully and imaginatively shot, with a flawless script full of setups and payoffs and perfectly-judged levels of sentimentality, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty is gorgeous, glorious, heart-burstingly lovely stuff and would probably be even higher on this list if I'd had time to think about it a bit longer.

ONLY GOD FORGIVES The world's most successful experiment in producing movie Marmite, Only God Forgives managed to polarise audiences like nothing else this year. Those who find Nicolas Winding Refn's bewildering Bangkok nightmare a cynical, empty exercise in audience alienation are probably right, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Production design, score, cinematography and costume design assume equal billing to Ryan Gosling and Kristin Scott-Thomas in an arthouse oddity that makes you either bystander or accomplice; personally, I'm guilty as sin.


Bubbling under: Star Trek Into Darkness (shut up), Upstream Colour, Blue Jasmine, Frances Ha, Robot & Frank, In A World..., Zero Dark Thirty, Cloud Atlas, Blue Is The Warmest Colour, Blancanieves.

Conspicuous by their absence: Pacific Rim (just awful), Gravity (technically incredible, but narratively suspect), all those films you loved but I didn't. Sorry.

These opinions are correct and indisputable as of January 6th 2014. Any changes, contradictions or humiliating backtracks will be updated here.

Been away, but now I'm back

All right, put the bunting and champagne away, it's embarrassing.

Coming soon, but not soon enough to be relevant: The Incredible Suit's Top Ten Films Of 2013!