Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Tyrannosaur, reflection

Paddy Considine made his directorial debut in the 2008 BAFTA winning short film Dog Altogether about a violence-fuelled man and a charity worker. Tyranossaur is an expansion of that film and explores the relationship in which the charity worker’s character is being abused.

Olivia Colman’s role in Paddy Considine’s new movie is not a surprise. They first met on Hot Fuzz and went on to play together in Le Donk and Scor-say-zee. In Tyrannosaur, Considine directs Colman in a story about as far as you could go from the lighthearted tone of their previous feature works.

The story features, Joseph, (Peter Mullan), a man with anger and alcohol issues. He strikes up an unlikely friendship with a Christian woman (Olivia Colman) working at a charity shop who is caught up in an abusive relationship.

The strongest performance is from Colman who impresses with an amazing repertoire that rings true throughout. Mullan rages quietly, bursts into anger and settles again just as seamlessly. The anger jars at first but it’s not long before it stops being a surprise and he becomes the one with which we identify.

The one part which seemed slightly out of character was a break in the proceedings where a pub full of people became drunk and merry. In an environment where alcohol is more a weapon than a means of escape, this just didn’t sit right. However, it did serve to show that the movie and circumstances were about the people and the characters rather than anything else. There were no excuses and no extenuating circumstances.

Considine has created a story where the relationships and the environment blend together in a harsh commentary about taking responsibility for your actions. It is well worth watching.


Interview with Paddy Considine and Olivia Colman in the Guardian.

A single man, some thoughts

A gay man in sixties America goes through an important day and we follow.

His long term partner has died and he is trying to cope in a world that has rendered him invisible. He is judged as something abhorrent and yet the world that others describe as normal is unbelievably cruel.

Sometimes awful things have their own kind of beauty.

The cruelty of the children next door.

The bigoted neighbours.

The blue, like Joni Mitchell’s I Love You is everywhere. The little girl’s dress, the beautiful student’s eyes.

Is the world of all men so sexual? This man’s world is full of sexuality even when the grief makes that taking a gun with him seem normal. Men’s athletic bodies are followed by the protagonist and the camera.

Some random thoughts: why does Julianne Moore have top billing when she isn’t that big a character; isn’t Colin Firth a little old for his gorgeous partner.

A beautiful film.

Julia’s Eyes (Los Ojos de Julia)

This isn’t a Guillermo del Toro movie in the way of Pan’s Labyrinth but it is a product of a team which includes the famous director who was responsible for the Orphanage. Guillem Morales co-wrote, with Oriol Paulo, and directed Julia’s Eyes (Los Ojos de Julia), his second full length movie and while the directing is very tight, the story may have a few glitches.

Saying that, he has done an amazing job at creating a consistent level of tension in this Spanish horror / thriller which left me worried and on the edge of my seat from the very start. It stars the beautiful Belén Rueda whose faultless acting and impressive control is amazing in the movie.

Julia’s Eyes is the story of a woman who is slowly losing her sight whilst trying to investigate the mysterious death of her twin sister.

It’s playing at the Watershed in Bristol until Thursday, June 30.

Husbands by John Cassavetes

Peter Falk was drafted in to help write and star in the movie Husbands (1970) which he says was ahead of its time.

The critics call it a movie about middle aged men confronting their mortality. John Cassavetes, the director and writer, says “Think of it this way: When you’re an old guy, you can tell your grandkids about the time you and your buddies on impulse hopped a plane to London, spent three days drinking, gambling, picking up women, then came home to wife and kids.”

He makes it sound simple and in effect it is because that is what they do except one of them doesn’t come home and all of them push the boundaries of what it is to be male in a civilised society. On the way back from the funeral of the fourth in their group of friends, the three men go out drinking and seem to slowly unravel what it means to be husbands.

They go drinking, flirt with women, become aggressive, play basketball and jet off to London. In the meantime we get to see them drop their facades, if that’s what they are, as they drunkenly talk about feelings, experiences and let random thoughts come out.

The camera work is intimate and peculiar. The scenes last a little too long. Cassavetes’ style aimed to promote spontaneity and the improvisation makes some of it seem quite real.

One of the first drunken scenes is when the three men, Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara and Cassavetes are in an Irish bar and initiate a singing contest. What starts off as fun turns uncomfortable as they pressure one woman to sing over and over again, at times insulting her, kissing her and also singing over her.

There are indications that the friendship of the three men stands outside what their normal roles are supposed to be with one of them telling the other that he’s not the first to beat a woman.

The camera work is intimate. When Falk spends time in a bathroom stall throwing up, Cassavetes is sitting on the floor and is shown in the bottom left hand of the screen for what seems like a long time.

The Cube showed Husbands this week in what seems now like a timely screening as Peter Falk died on June 24, 2011. 41 years have passed but the movie still comes across as an important exploration of what men, or people, leave behind when they conform to one role more than any others.

Quotation from Peter Falk’s book Just One More Thing

Watershed chief backs away from film ban fight

The British Board of Film Classification has been in the news these past few daysafter banning the film Human Centipede II. Apparently no amount of footage could be cut to make the film suitable for any classification so it can not be seen or distributed in the UK legally.

The original movie is about a surgeon who creates the first human centipede by surgically connecting three tourists via their gastric systems. The sequel, which was already planned with the release of the first movie, is meant to be even worse and was described as ”sexually violent and potentially obscene”.

Bristol24-7 asked Mark Cosgrove, head of programming at the independent cinema The Watershed which showed Human Centipede in 2010, what he thought of the BBFC’s ruling and their censorship.

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The banning of Human Centipede II

My initial response to the British Board of Film Classification’s ban of the Human Centipede II was ‘good’. I was glad that the film cannot be bought on DVD or downloaded legally anywhere in the UK because it is “sexually violent and potentially obscene” [see reasoning].

The Human Centipede is about a surgeon who obsesses about creating the first human centipede. He surgically connects two stranded tourist girls and a Japanese tourist via their gastric systems. The sequel, which was already planned with the release of the first movie, is meant to be even worse but I won’t tell you how, see the BBFC ruling for more details on that.

So far I can see no merit in the movie and felt justified in being glad that it was banned but what does that say about freedom of expression and censorship?

“I do not believe it should be banned, just like I do not believe that the works of the Marques de Sade (from whose work we get the word Sadism) should have been burnt 200 years ago. Banning films is, to me, just as bad as burning books. We can’t have freedom of expression, and then put a limit on that freedom. We need to accept the extremities of artistic expression, and let those that want to face this diabolical and radical presentation of the ‘other’ do as they wish” says Oliver Connor, from Splinternet.

After all, the work is fantasy, no one really gets hurt, it’s all make believe. This is pretty much what the film’s maker Tom Six says as well.

David Cox in the Guardian points out that it is the link between sex and pleasure that was the primary reason for the ban and this brings to mind the sexualization of children and the new regulations being considered by the government about companies being made responsible.

“I fundamentally don’t believe in censorship, however I do fundamentally believe in responsibilities. Where those meet is an interesting point” says Mark Cosgrove, head of programming at the independent cinema Watershed which screened Human Centipede in 2010. Freedom of expression is surrounded by ethical and moral responsibilities. What is depicted, must have some sort of effect.

The effect of movies is mentioned in a piece on Think Progress about two new movies about mass shootings: We Need To Talk About Kevin and Beautiful Boy. Alyssa Rosenberg concludes her post by wondering how useful these movies were “in trying to make sure that spree killings happen with less frequency”.

That question feels wrong. Freedom of expression versus responsibility sounds right. Ensuring art is useful however sounds wrong. Authors and film makers aren’t here to guide reality but to represent their version of it. Unaccountable and free to do as they please, it would be a serious mistake to ask them to provide work that is for the good of society.

But then what about having everything freely available and letting the audience choose? The choice in our cinemas most of the time is imposed by huge American production teams presenting us with the latest Hollywood blockbusters. The same famous actors getting paid millions to act in run of the mill stories that also provide no useful lesson. I doubt they could even be called art.

Choice in capitalism is not about freedom but about purchasing power. Independent cinemas, like the Watershed, are few and far between.

While I’d like agree with the arguments for freedom of expression in this case, I won’t be doing it for the reasons of choice. There are so many things hampering choice in the movie industry that banning the Human Centipede II is but a tiny footnote and a trivial one at that.

There are more serious discussions that we could be having. After all, people being connected up and forced to digest the same ‘crap’ is not too far away from a representation of what’s availabe at the cinema these days anyway.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, one dimensional at best

I sat in the theatre thinking, it will be alright, after all he doesn’t need to do ‘sexy’ in this production. Oh how wrong I was. Turns out that Mr Hyde is all about sleaze and physical lust and cruelty and that’s something that the main actor just couldn’t do.

I saw Marti Pellow at the Hippodrome two years ago and spent more than half the performance wishing I was anywhere else. Beautifully colourful scenery, great choreography and a brilliant story but all fell flat as soon as Pellow was anywhere on stage. He was the main character there too.

My belief that it was hard to live up to Jack Nicholson’s wicked performance in the movie was destroyed with Pellow’s ability to drain all energy out of the air with his very presence.

The musical adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel didn’t help of course.  The weak dialogue was just filler between the endless singing.

The painful simmering smile on his fiance’s face which made it a shame she sang so beautifully. In fact they all sang wonderfully but the acting wasn’t so successful. A duet between Dr Jekyll and his fiancee Emma seemed to go on forever and I wonder whether there was anything significant towards the end of the show to justify it.

I would love to say that I walked out half way through but the truth is I had to leave for a home emergency and I’m not really sorry to have done so.

The production seemed out of sync with itself and I’m not sure if it was just Pellow or the cheesy ‘ragamuffin’-esque caricatures of characters. Slight homage to the cat bin lady could have been funnier.

Ah well. Lessons learned and all that. To quote George Bush, you can’t fool me twice. Shame on me.

Bristol Hippodrome, Jekyll and Hyde runs until May 14.

Honeymooner, a reflection

For a movie that begins with the line ‘no one should be alone on their wedding day’, Honeymooner is spectacularly uplifting and fun. Filmed on a £45,000 budget it takes director, Col Spector’s, script, some brilliant acting and intersperses it all around the pubs and pretty locations in Camden Town.

The giggles start early when Fran (Gerard Kearns, Shameless) is woken up on his wedding day by his best friend who calls to invite him out for yoga and to help with some advice from Deepak Chopra. With the prospect of spending, what would have been, his honeymoon alone, he is led along on what is meant to be a recovery adventure. His two best friends take him to pubs and bars, trying to cheer him up while at the same time trying to get through their own issues.

His friends, however, seem to have more problems than him and their love lives are dealt with in a way that would sound more familiar spoken by women. Ben (Chris Coghill) and Jon (Al Weaver) make behaviour like bringing flowers and asking for cuddles seem a perfectly normal way for guys to behave. Along with flirting with every woman who crosses their path that is.

This Watershed screening of Honeymooner was part of the programme of New British Cinema Quarterly sessions which present original films from British filmmakers. A new film from is selected from the UK’s major film festivals, and is screened each quarter and accompanied by a Question and Answer session from the filmmakers involved.

Col Spector joined us after the film to engage cheerfully with the audience and tell us about his adventures in making the movie. The production was inexpensive and relied on deferred payments and bank loans for a lot of things including the use of Nick Drake’s Pink Moon.

What would have been a cliché movie had it involved women in the lead roles turns into a light, refreshing and almost spiritual foray into getting over an ill-fated romance. This could very well be the British man’s answer to Eat, Pray, Love although luckily it takes itself a lot less seriously.

Black Swan, A Reflection

We all know the story. Virginal girl, pure and sweet, trapped in the body of a swan. She desires freedom, but only true love can break the spell. Her wish is nearly granted in the form of a prince. But before he can declare his love, her lustful twin, the Black Swan, tricks and seduces him. Devastated, the White Swan leaps off a cliff, killing herself and in death finds freedom.

The story, as the director Thomas Leroy, played by Vincent Cassell, tells the ballet dancers “has been done to death” but not in this way where we are promised something altogether more “visceral and real”. Tschaikovsky’s 1875 masterpiece is known as one of the most difficult ballet’s to perform and the prestige that comes from performing it well is simply invaluable apparently (source).

As a ballerina, it makes sense that Nina Sayers, played wonderfully by Natalie Portman, would agonise over getting everything just right and as she tells us herself, she wants to be perfect, but there’s more to this film than dancing. The conflict and struggle occurs within the young woman as she faces her own womanhood while trying to perfect a most difficult role, in reality and on stage.

The story itself goes back to the age old representation of being female and dealing with the basic archetypes: virgin, enchantress, mother and crone. The passage through time goes one way and once you leave one role behind you can’t get it back. The passage from virgin to enchantress is one symbolised by the bleeding that sees you leave childhood behind. The blood stops with the crone who no longer can produce anything fruitful and who has left reproduction behind long ago.

‘Virgin’ Nina is beautifully suited for the part of delicate Princess Odette but is finding it difficult to portray her evil twin Odile, the enchantress in this story, who can effortlessly seduce her intended. The transformation has to come from inside and Nina finds it difficult to let go.

Her fear of progressing is bound up with her profession and her mother who is holding on to the only thing she has left, her care taker matronly role which is on the verge of ending. She doesn’t make for a great example of what happens next as the madness, of which we gain glimpses, is a sign that she is resisting on to final stage of her womanhood, the crone. You can’t defy time but she tries by treating her daughter as a child, clipping her burgeoning wings, in a sense, as she tries to leave. She is the watchdog over the young dancer’s sexuality and we see her sleeping on a chair in Nina’s pink bedroom full of stuffed toys.

As Nina makes her way from ‘virgin’ to ‘enchantress’, we watch as the bleeding starts, in her psyche if not her body. The horror of the blood is a reminder of the unstoppable passage of time. As a ballerina, her years in the profession are limited, a fact portrayed starkly by an older dancer, played by Winona Ryder, who in her mid-30 is forced to retire.

We become witness to the ultimate battle between the death of her mother’s role and her own career which are fighting against the perfection of one moment in the spotlight and her professional glory. The struggle is externalised into this magnificent movie which is both gripping and horrific.

Matthew Libatique’s camera work, which flows and focusses like a dizzying dance, earned him one of the five Academy Award nominations for the film, as did Darren Aronofsky’s masterful directing.

The rite of passage from youth to sexual being is as familiar as the score from Swan Lake, but you’ll never see it or hear it quite like this.

Dogtooth at the Academy Awards

The Greek movie, Dogtooth, has received its ninth nomination, among its five wins, since its release in 2009. This is no ordinary announcement however, because unlike the Montréal Festival of New Cinema or the Mar del Plata Film Festival, we know that the whole world will be watching when the results are announced for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards on 27 February.

This is quite an accolade for a movie which has received a varied selection of opinions ranging from ‘a brilliant Greek black comedy’ (Guardian), to ‘special and troubling’ (Time Out), ‘weird’ and ‘as much an exercise in perversity as an examination of it’ (NYT).

Influences for Dogtooth come from director Giorgos Lanthimos, who also wrote the screenplay with Efthimis Filippou, and the look and feel are from the cinematography of Thimios Bakatakis which are praised by the NYT for ‘gauzy and diffuse’ light which helps ‘to produce an atmosphere that is insistently and not always unpleasantly dreamlike’.

Read the Ephemeral Digest review at

Mary Tsoni in Dogtooth. Picture by Kino International.