Friday, June 09, 2017


Tuesday, April 25, 2017


I’m stuck. I’ve got a grab bag of tricks for getting unstuck. They don’t always work. Here’s one that helps sometimes, and I’m putting it here because I have a tendency to lose this whenever I need it most. It’s the script for “Arctic Radar” the tenth episode of the fourth season of The West Wing, written by Aaron Sorkin. One scene in particular. Here’s the set-up: Communications Director Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) is stuck. In the sort of peppy, verbose meet-cute that Sorkin excels at, Toby swaps speech drafts with prospective speechwriter Will Bailey (Joshua Malina). There’s a lot more going on than that (and you can read the whole thing here), but here’s the bit that I’m particularly interested in:

This is incredibly good, Will. "Never shrinking from the world's..." "...a fierce belief in what we can achieve together." I used to write like this. It was ten months ago. I don't understand what's going on. I really don't. I've had slumps before. Everybody does, but this is different. I'm sorry, we don't know each other, but there aren't that many people I can talk to about it. I don't understand what's happening. There's no blood going to it. I never had to locate it before. I don't even know where to look. I'm the President's voice and I don't want it to sound like this. And there's an incredible history to second inaugurals. "Fear itself," Lincoln... I really thought I was on my way to being one of those guys. I thought I was close. Now I'm just writing for my life and you can't serve the President that way. But if I didn't write... I can't serve him at all.

Yeah. Can I tell you three things? You are more in need of a night in Atlantic City, than any man I've ever met. Number two is, the last thing you need to worry about is no blood going there. You've got blood going there, about thirteen ways. And some of it isn't good. Once again, I say, "Atlantic City." I'd say sit down at a table, go for dinner, see a show, take a walk on the boardwalk and smell the salt air... but if you're anything like me, nothing after "sit down at a table" is going to happen.

What's the third thing?

You are one of those guys. This is an inning of good relief pitching from a fresh arm.

Starting to realise that I really need a night in Atlantic City...

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

The Full Clip #6

“A man becomes preeminent, he's expected to have enthusiasms. Enthusiasms... Enthusiasms... What are mine? What draws my admiration? What is that which gives me joy?” -- Robert De Niro as Al Capone in The Untouchables

Haven’t done one of these for years, but I feel like now is the ideal time to unapologetically geek out about the stuff I’m digging at the moment, to turn away from the overcast Perpetual Rage Engine of Twitter and towards the light of Fun and Art and Excitement and Sheer Unalloyed Joy.

Brothers, sisters, we don't need this fascist groove thang! Here we go...

Jackie Chan Hasn't Seen His Original Stunt Team In Decades. Then Realizes They're All Standing Behind Him. A band of professional bone-breakers have never been more heart-warming. I’ve got something in my eye...

There are people in this world who think that Nic Cage is a joke or a meme. And I get it. Really. But to those people I say: what the hell do you want from a movie star? Personally, I want someone unpredictable and inconsistent and Not Like Other People. Fortunately, I am not alone in this. Nicolas Cage Attended This Year’s C4GED Marathon At The Alamo Drafthouse In which minds were blown in Austin.

When it comes to the whole chin-stroking “Should we punch Nazis?” argument, I fall firmly on the side of the argument that says: Yes. When individuals aggressively advocate or encourage the genocide of entire races, I don’t think a roundhouse to the jaw is unreasonable. What’s a couple of loose teeth in the fight against murder on an industrial scale? Sooner or later, talk of Nazi-punching inevitably circles around to Captain America. Which leads me to this…”Released in the summer of 1982, “Captain America” #275 was by J.M. DeMatteis, Mike Zeck and John Beatty, and it sees Steve Rogers attend a protest of a Neo-Nazi group along with his girlfriend, Bernie Rosenthal (the protest was organized by Bernie’s ex-husband). It was supposed to be a peaceful protest, but then someone just couldn’t put up with the hate speech that the Neo-Nazis were spouting…”

Mark Kermode remembers William Peter Blatty “the writer of both the funniest Inspector Clouseau film and ‘the greatest film ever made’, a mesmerising novelist turned filmmaker whose investigations of faith and evil across The Exorcist, The Ninth Configuration and The Exorcist III (aka Legion) were testament to his belief in an afterlife.”

Coming Attractions Part 1: It’s been thirteen years since the last episode but now, at last, Samurai Jack is Back. Watch out!

Coming Attractions Part  2: I don’t think I can adequately convey in words just how insanely excited I am about the impending return of the unkillable John Wick. Bring da motherfuckin' ruckus!

Currently Reading: Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon

And remember: “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” (tl;dr: Evil only triumphs if you do nothing. Thanks, Edmund Burke!)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Listomania! My Favourite Films of 2016

So if 2014 was all about the eyes and 2015 was all about the ears, then 2016 was The Year of The Divertissement.

Escapism: the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.

It’s been a trying twelve months. And not because of our shared shit spectacle of the BowiePrinceBrexitTrump variety. It’s been a trying twelve months for other, more personal reasons. It hasn’t been terrible, but it has been tough and I’m bone-tired - and so my cinema-going needs were different this year. I didn’t particularly desire cinema that made me think - I craved cinema that made me feel something (and let's just take it as read that the two aren't mutually exclusive). I wanted the prima materia of the movies - that ineffable Good Stuff that provokes an emotional response -  and the darkened auditoria didn’t let me down...

..."I like the beats and the shouting". The USS Franklin takes out a swarm of attack ships by harnessing the devastating destructive power of “classical music” - the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage - in Star Trek Beyond. "Good choice"...

...Overweight high-school outcast Robbie “The Rock” Wierdicht busts some serious moves in the shower to En Vogue’s My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It) in Central Intelligence - a cuddly warm grin of a movie that provides refreshing evidence that mainstream, big-budget Hollywood comedies can still be kind-hearted, body-positive and genuinely funny without coating themselves in a filthy patina of casual racism, sexism, homophobia or hackneyed "bro" antics…

...Chris Hemsworth. Melissa McCarthy. Kevin’s job interview in Ghostbusters. Michael Hat...

...I had something in my eye watching Creed, I thrilled at The Purge Election Year and Don’t Breathe, I took inordinate pleasure at Abbott & Costello references in three of the year’s finest movies (Arrival, Paterson and The Nice Guys), I sought out and embraced the joy of the movies…

So. Here we go. In no particular order, my twelve favourite films of 2016:

Creed (Ryan Coogler)

Some Creed stats:
Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes dance numbers: 1
Times I almost burst into tears: 2
Uncontrollable excitement: 2
Uncontrollable grinning: lost count
Some of these estimates might be a bit low (apart from that Harold Melvin one - that's pretty accurate)

Elle (Paul Verhoeven)

Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier)

High-Rise (Ben Wheatley)

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi)

Paterson (Jim Jarmusch)

Only Luddites Left Alive. “There’s always another day, right?”

Room (Lenny Abrahamson)

Spotlight (Tom McCarthy)

The Big Short (Adam McKay)

The Nice Guys (Shane Black)

A film so simpatico with my predilections and obsessions that it felt like Shane Black made it just for me. Ryan Gosling absolutely nails his Lou Costello riff, and I'm a sucker for a Jim Rockford Easter egg. Outstanding - My favourite film of the year. (Later on in the year, John Michael McDonagh’s disappointing War On Everyone landed. Whilst The Nice Guys is a rye-soaked Rockford Files riff, War On Everyone is an over-stylised, faux-nihilistic, not-as-funny-or-clever-as-it-thinks-it-is Streets Of San Francisco.)

The Wailing (Goksung) (Hong-jin Na)

Train to Busan (Busanhaeng) (Sang-ho Yeon)

Bubbling under my Top Twelve, the now-customary Close But No Cigar:

10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg)
Arrival (Denis Villeneuve)
Central Intelligence (Rawson Marshall Thurber)
Chicken (Joe A. Stephenson)
Hail, Caesar! (Joel and Ethan Coen)
Kubo and the Two Strings (Travis Knight)
Mustang (Deniz Gamze Ergüven)
The Club (El Club) (Pablo Larraín)
The Shallows (Jaume Collet-Serra)
Tickled (David Farrier and Dylan Reeve)
Your Name (Kimi no na wa.) (Makoto Shinkai)
Zootopia (Zootropolis) (Byron Howard and Rich Moore)

Sunday, September 18, 2016


A brief, rare despatch from The Year I Miss Stuff, washing up on the shores of this blog, ready to uncork. Hello.

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” 
-- Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

This is one of the former. Although I think I detect the gradual shift towards the latter. Maybe it’s the change of season. The leaves have started to fall from the trees, and at the same time the tumblers slowly fall into place with an imperceptible click.

I am here, after a fashion. Just not quite as “here” as I’d like to be just yet.

It's Samuel Johnson's 307th birthday today. And so I depart again with his words:

“…one enquiry only gave occasion to another, that book referred to book, that to search was not always to find, and to find was not always to be informed; and that thus to pursue perfection, was, like the first inhabitants of Arcadia, to chase the sun, which, when they had reached the hill where he seemed to rest, was still beheld at the same distance from them.”

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

United in Diversity

It feels like we've had months of vitriol, lies, acrimony, hatespeech, distortions and frequent examples of Reductio ad Hitlerum. It's exhausting.

So I'll be the soul of wit and declare my intentions for tomorrow's EU Referendum vote, fervently hoping that there are enough like-minded souls out there to join me.

The time has come for the Haters to suck it. I'm So IN.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

On the QT

There are a lot of reasons why this blog has gone dark in recent months, none of which I'm inclined to go into now. But with the passing of Garry Shandling last week, here's an apposite quotation from the man himself:

"The world is too noisy and distracted to probably ultimately survive. Everyone needs to shut the fuck up. The answers are in the silence. Monks set themselves on fire to protest and to make this point. Just consider it."

I'll be back. No flipping!

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Listomania! My Favourite Films of 2015

If 2014 was all about the eyes, then 2015 was all about the ears. The sounds and the groove and the feet. “After a long day of Turing test, you gotta unwind…”

...Oscar Isaac and Sonoya Mizuno in perfect sync to Oliver Cheatham’s Get Down Saturday Night under blood red lights - an infernal disco - Domhnall Gleeson looking on in a state of bewildered horror as Isaac gives that unzipped all-in-one tracksuit a proper workout. My favourite ninety seconds of cinema in 2015…

...Miles Teller frantically calculating whether or not he’s pushing or dragging to the syncopated beat-down of J.K. Simmons' slaps to the face. Jazz as military manoeuvre, percussion as punishment, blood on the drumsticks. Just my tempo…

...The sheer unalloyed joie de vivre as we pull into the final act of Magic Mike XXL, idyllically rendered in the warm glow of the Kings of Tampa preparing to put on One Last Show, a montage to the sound of Heatwave’s triumphant The Groove Line...

And so here’s my Cream of the 2015 Crop, and I don’t have to preface it with tedious preamble about the inherent subjectivity of personal favourites do I? Great! And, obviously, I haven’t seen Everything, because that would be madness. I do have a life, you know? One last thing: These are in No Particular Order. OK, that’s it. Let’s do it!

Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu)

I saw this on January 1st and wondered if anything could possibly top it over the next 364 days. Turns out that wasn’t so difficult after all...Whilst no film is for everybody, I didn’t forsee that there would be such a hostile backlash from people who really didn’t like it. I’m with Mark Twain on this: “It were not best that we should all think alike; it is difference of opinion that makes horse-races.”

Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)

Big Hero 6 (Don Hall and Chris Williams)

Fistbump! Yes, I prefer Big Hero 6 to the universally adored Inside Out. No, don’t fucking argue with me about it.

John Wick (David Leitch and Chad Stahelski)

Black Coal, Thin Ice (Bai ri yan huo) (Yi'nan Diao)

Ingredients: Retribution, vengeance, death by ice skate, fireworks, neon, dismemberment and a dance number. Marinate in blood, booze and snow. Et voilà: Superior Chinese Noir.

Magic Mike XXL (Gregory Jacobs)

The Glass Slipper. The Groove Line. The Last Ride. Magic Mike XXL hits all the right (up)beats. Dayum.

Slow West (John Maclean)

Bone Tomahawk (S. Craig Zahler) - which I already wrote about a bit here

Victoria (Sebastian Schipper) - another one I’ve written a little bit about before, here

Yes, that makes a total of nine. No, I couldn’t settle on a definitive ten. So, here’s an “Any one of these could be number ten” Close But No Cigar list:

Enemy (Denis Villeneuve)
Ex Machina (Alex Garland)
Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson)
Mad Max Fury Road (George Miller)
Mr. Holmes (Bill Condon)
Sicario (Denis Villeneuve)
The Gift (Joel Edgerton)
The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos)
Trumbo (Jay Roach)

Bonus Hate: Kingsman: The Secret Service (Matthew Vaughn)

I wrote around 1,000 words on the good and the bad of Kingsman: The Secret Service, mostly concentrating on the incredibly dubious gender politics on screen (it ain't called QueensWoman, after all...) but it was exhausting and it wasn't really helping to quell my rage. So here's the lone surviving closing sentence: "Like the shiny platters of greasy fast food that megalomaniac villain Richmond Valentine favours, Kingsman: The Secret Service is vaguely enjoyable to a point, but once you’ve swallowed the whole thing, you just end up feeling queasy and wishing that you hadn’t bothered."

And I’m out. Peace!

"Leave your worries behind
'Cause rain, shine, won't mind
We're ridin' on the Groove Line tonight"

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The 59th BFI London Film Festival 2015: Part Two

The first part of my London Film Festival wrap-up is here. Six down, six to go...

The Witch
“Think on thy sins!”. Subtitled “A New-England Folktale”, set in the 1630s and in the fine tradition of Witchfinder General, The Blood on Satan’s Claw, A Field in England and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, with dialogue culled from real diaries and court records of the era, Robert Eggers’ The Witch did something to me in a cinema that has never happened before. Now, I like to think that I’m a hardened horror buff, but this one really burrowed under my skin in a way that I wasn’t expecting. With a devastating sustained control of mood and tone, The Witch was so deeply and oppressively unsettling throughout that my fight-or-flight response kicked in and I almost wanted to get up and leave. I kept feeling that I needed to escape. The discordant sounds, the prowling, unflinching gaze of the camera...The Witch is chilly, bleak, hugely impressive, incredibly effective and I’m pretty sure that I never want to watch it again.

Cemetery of Splendour
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s melancholy, hypnotic film doesn’t lend itself easily to a pithy, ultimately reductive synopsis. Not strictly magical realism, yet delicately touched with fabulism, Cemetery of Splendour primarily focuses on a makeshift rural hospital ward of soldiers struck down with an intermittent sleeping sickness, fighting in their collective dreams of the past. Layers of reality are piled on top of one another, and spirits wander between each realm without fanfare. Lights and colours shift subtly, and time and space, past and present, life and death, gods, mortals and spirits are revealed to be useless definitions and meaningless constructs. An understated, beautiful waking dream of a film.

The End of the Tour begins in 2008 with the breaking news of the “pleasantly unpleasant” David Foster Wallace’s suicide, before spiraling backwards to David Lipsky’s recollections of the five days he spent interviewing him in 1996, first at Wallace’s home in Bloomington, Illinois and then on the final date of a book tour in Minneapolis. I should note that I’m not overly familiar with Wallace's written work, so I didn’t come to the film with any pro- or anti- opinions about the man or his writings - but I don’t think that matters very much. Whilst I don’t think the film is as revealing or profound as it thinks it is, what it does do very well is examine the spiky, combative and competitive relationship between an interviewer and his subject. Jason Segel plays Wallace as a TV addicted, shambling bear of a man - guarded and somewhat socially awkward but always quick with a quip or a well-turned phrase. It’s fun to just watch the two men shooting the shit with digressions on everything from Alanis Morissette to just how amazing Die Hard is, the simmering, ambiguous undercurrent behind every exchange never far from the surface. Do “brothers of the lung” Wallace and Lipsky genuinely like each other? Or is this just a professional transaction, using each other for their own ends? The End of the Tour also gently prods at insecurity and imposter syndrome, isolation, loneliness, ego (and id), with fine performances from both leads (although it isn’t hard to tell that Jesse Eisenberg probably isn’t a real smoker…). That said, my favourite sequence in the film remains the one where Wallace sits rapt in awe at a screening of John Woo’s Broken Arrow.

A Tale of Three Cities
Check that Dickens allusion in the title - it’s no coincidence. Starting in 1951 before returning to the 30s and 40s to tell the wartime romance of Jackie Chan’s parents - his father a former spy; his mother a former opium smuggler, A Tale of Three Cities is an intimate epic preoccupied with time. The film opens with the carnage resulting from an exploding clocktower, and from there it moves through good and bad times; right and wrong times; victims of the time(s) and a loss of time with loved ones. Soldiers on covert maneuvers are unable to synchronise their watches...because they don’t have them. A car explodes in a shower of black-market watches. It’s a moving love story that looks at immigration and displacement and the toll they take on separated lovers and, whilst the film has one too many subplots that detracts from our central star-crossed couple, this is a thrilling, touching, quietly powerful melodrama.

Some Victoria statistics for you. Duration: 134 minutes. Shot in one continuous take. The film is the third and final (and reportedly, the only successful) take. Based on a twelve page script. Shot over 22 locations. And, cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen gets the first credit over the end titles, as he should. Taking place between 4.30 and 7am in the Kreuzberg and Mitte neighbourhoods of Berlin, Victoria shows us the hour before a heist and the hour after the heist, with the bank job itself taking place just off-screen in between. There’s an incredible piano rendition of Franz Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz, there are car chases and running gun battles, and then, as the dark angel at the heart of it all, there’s Laia Costa as Victoria. A compelling, extraordinary presence, the camera never leaves her, no matter where it goes, in this euphoric, exhilarating sunrise flit through the streets of Berlin, and it never feels like merely a formal experiment with a single uninterrupted take (in stark contrast to the pyrotechnic artificiality of similar in Birdman). Astonishing.

Adapted from Sylvia Chang’s stage production Design for Living, Johnnie To gets his Verfremdungseffekt on with this ambitious 3D musical comic satire on the 2008 financial crisis. Harnessing every trick in the Brechtian Alienation Playbook, To conjures with space and artifice utilising his remarkable multi-level set, from the Huge Clocks (because, of course, Time Is Money) to the way the frame is divided and the characters are separated into distinct areas of the screen, to the symbolic elevators denoting status via movement, this is a bravura piece of work showing a side of To rarely seen.