Film: About Time (2013)

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Along with The Time Traveller’s Wife (2009) and The Butterfly Effect (2004), Richard Curtis’ film About Time forms part of a trio of intriguing biological time travel movies.   It’s too long by about 30 minutes but buried in there is a small, in the good sense, loving story about boys and their dads.  It works well because it does the whole sentimental family story thing whilst using the dramatic device of time travel to foreground the idea that growing up means taking the place of your parents.

The scenes between the father (Bill Nighy doing Bill Nighy) and son (Domhnall Gleeson doing young Hugh Grant / idealised Richard Curtis) are priceless, with the final one utterly sublime, and all scenes with Tom Hollander are, as usual, just utterly watchable.


Of the three films mentioned above, I think that The Butterfly Effect is the better one because it’s pure pulp and that covers it’s sins.  The tragedy of The Time Traveller’s Wife, which is otherwise a good film, is that it’s about the time-traveller rather than his wife.

TV: Son of Man (1969)

Well, it’s Easter, Good Friday to be precise, and coincidentally I’ve found myself reading Jose Saramago’s really quiet brilliant novel The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, which, as these things do, has bought to mind several films along related lines but the one that I always think of is Dennis Potter’s Son of Man.

Originally broadcast as part the BBC’s Wednesday Play strand, Son of Man tells the story of Christ (Colin Blakeley on tough form) as if he is unsure of his own divinity, a question that the play itself steadfastly refuses to resolve (even the silence is ambiguous) and a conceit that pushes the central and brilliantly revolutionary thought of loving your enemies to the foreground.  There are no miracles here but Son of Man is full of the kind of quietly stunning moments that the small screen does so well, including a shattering (shattered?) reaction from Pontius Pilate.

Apparently, Potter’s film was shot cheaply in about three days in a studio and you can tell that the black and white is hiding a multitude of budgetary shortfalls but, none the less, this is a provocative and fasinating film that easily stands alongside the likes of Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964).

TV: True Detective (2014 – )

There are two things about True Detective that should disincline me towards it.  The first is that I’m tired of watching police shows in which the starting point is a dead, mutilated, often raped woman.  This is isn’t a feminist thing (although the point remains) but rather a variety thing, and there are just so many police shows and rape has always been the cheapest of cheap fall backs for easy drama.  Secondly, when these conspiracies get reduced to a monster in a maze it often lets real power, those that run things, off the hook.  The implication being that the smart elites must keep the wretched poor on a leash and all for the sake of a visceral finale.

True Detective was great TV because it did these things but did them well and knew exactly when to make the implied literal.  Of course, the central pairing of Harrelson and McConaughey didn’t harm it either with both actors perfectly cast to embody the show’s back and forth on the drift between the real and the uncanny (for several episodes the opening credits seemed like a misstep then they suddenly made sense).  Then, on the technical side of things, there was that bravura unbroken take during the robbery which passed by almost unnoticed as if to boast about the sure and perfectly judged hold that director Cary Fukunaga had on proceedings.

This was treat of a TV show.  Plus it gets extra points for actually finishing instead of trailing on and on inevitably off.

Film: Starred Up (2014)

I’m a big fan of genre cinema.  In many ways it tells us more about the reality of situations than more naturalistic works but in the case of Starred Up the drama is so involving, thanks mainly to the strong performances by Ben Mendelsohn and Jack O’Connell, that when the generic prison movie elements do surface they disrupt rather than drive proceedings.  But there is still plenty to like here because the central thrust of the movie shines through bringing moments of progress that feel like surfacing for air and a constrained tender note that is perfectly realised.

Film: Noah (2014)

There is a lot of chat about the scriptural accuracy of Aronofsky’s film, as if that had anything to do with it being a ‘good’ film or not. Well, I can’t vouch for the strictness of the adaptation (as you might of guessed I couldn’t really care less either) but it is a good film. It’s modern big budget cinema at it’s most interesting and with a real sense of mission.

The reason that this film really works is that it is a steadfastly religious work. The film not only explicitly cites a ‘creator’ but presents a world in which God plays an active and immediate role. Noah himself is played as a servant (Crowe brings to the role all the pressure and heavy obligation that that entails) and the central idea, that the Ark is the church, is strongly represented. Despite all this, and rather crucially, the film doesn’t preach (even in what some might see as it’s more secular environmentalist side) or gloat in the destruction of the wicked.

…but we’re also here for the spectacle and Noah doesn’t disappoint. Whether it’s the stunning time-lapse creation story, the destroyed landscape (both of which raise the fascinating idea that this is a future story rather than an ancient one), or the cathedral like Ark and the nightmarish flood itself, this is a film of bold, and often breath-taking, images.

Aronofsky unleashed and highly recommended.

Film: The Rapture (1991)

With Aronofsky’s Noah (2014) in cinemas I’ve been thinking about religious cinema or, more accurately, the use of religion in cinema.  I’m not religious but the stories and ideas make for great drama and The Rapture is a great example of that.

Written and directed by Michael Tolkin, the film follows a woman (Mimi Rogers) who becomes born again after her encounters with a sect convince her that the Biblical rapture is coming.  The strength of the film is in the way that it takes a religious concept and turns it into a supernatural conspiracy.  With this comes a heavy air of Cronenberg-ish unease that captures perfectly (I imagine) the fearful wonder of religious revelation.

It’s an odd film and not the easiest of watches but it’s the definition of a hidden gem and a million miles away from the blood thirsty and downright vindictive Left Behind (2000).


1. Another good movie in this area is the Paul Bettany fantasy drama Legion (2010).  It’s not massively well regarded and has a  few less brain cells but it does have a similar feel to The Rapture and asks the question ‘what if someone said no to God?’.  The answer apparently has a lot to do with machine guns.

2. Left Behind, based on the first a massively well selling series of books (I managed one then really couldn’t stand any more), is getting a remake this year starring Nic Cage… so there’s that to look forward to.

Film: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Jogging around the Washington Monument at dawn, the spectre of Nazi science, Robert Redford and a nice dose of conspiracy give Captain America: The Winter Soldier an interesting 70′s flavour that easily makes up for the loss of the WWII on steroids vibe of the first movie but what keeps Steve Rogers on the top of the Marvel pile is the moral clarity.  Rogers does good things because that’s what you should do and he does them without the snark of Stark or the diva self-seriousness of Bruce Wayne.

Outside of the character concept the film is a cracking piece of entertainment with a very decent story that doesn’t outstay it’s welcome and that alone beats the other, really quite bobbins, Marvel movies by a long stretch.


Film: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Just as with any art form, there is a simple joy to cinema.  Go watch The Grand Budapest Hotel and it’s up there on the screen.

Wes Anderson’s latest, with it’s loving set design, wonderful ensemble and Academy ratio is an absolute pleasure to spend time with.  Not only does it take in a cracking yarn but the parts sit perfectly with the whole.  It lets you wallow in the details without pushing you out of the plot and is so well tuned that even Ralph Fiennes’ majestic M. Gustave, the legendary concierge at the centre of this caper, doesn’t unbalance it…

It’s just fun.  It’s raucous and fun and it looks great.  It’s cinema and joyful.

Film: Escape Plan (2013)

Arnold Schwarzenegger is always something of a treat.  Even his worst films, and there are quite a few of them, still have a certain charm because his presence is immense.  In terms of personality alone he fills the screen, add to that his impossible physicality and you have a genuine movie star.  Stallone is a different kettle of fish altogether.  His screen persona was guided by his behind the camera seriousness and this led to films that don’t carry the same weight of nostalgia.  There are some true gems but the majority are either just dunder-headed or nasty and Stallone’s sombre screen persona just doesn’t encourage the benefit of the doubt.

In bringing together Schwazenegger and Stallone, Escape Plan makes the error of assuming that it can combine what both actors do best but falls down on a couple of fronts.  Firstly, the tone switches from self-knowing to self-serious too often and whatever fun has been injected into proceedings gets drained out at regular intervals.  This also comes through in the plotting which would have benefited from a lot of slimming down and ditching the whole financial back story.  Make the story about a wronged man getting help from a fellow inmate who has just had enough of an evil warden.  Simple.  As it is things are less personal and the film suffers because it’s hard to care about money.

On the plus side Arnie is great, even giving us sight of a performance unhindered by that accent, and the parts of the film that are his are very entertaining, plus there are some great slices of ham served up by Jim Caviezel and a cast of familiar faces.

File under ‘wish it was more fun’.