Friday, 31 August 2012


For the first time in the history of Stranded Cinema, I have an exclusive. Despite it not being released until late September in the UK, I have already seen Savages. In fact, I saw it at a free preview screening several months ago. Although the agreement not to discuss the film at these screenings is hardly enforced, I have held back. However, as it's been released in the USA, I feel that I can now post my thoughts safely. It’s the latest project from Oliver Stone, developed from a novel by Don Winslow. The first thing to say is that this is a terrible film. Two marijuana growers in California, who share a girlfriend called ‘O’, get into trouble with a Mexican cartel who want to take over the market. Their girlfriend is eventually taken hostage and they must struggle to find a way to release her. The plot, as you can tell, sounds like a Tarantino film from the 90s, and that’s exactly what it feels like it is trying to be. The narrative starts, however, with little or no set up. Why do we care about these characters, who are little more than drug dealers with heart? What interest do we have in them? We’re given a narration by ‘O’, but rather than helping it is annoying. It continues far too long. ‘Show, don’t tell’ is the classic imperative of good cinema which Stone has ignored here. The audience isn’t stupid, unless you want them to be. The narration is drifting and vacant, over slow motion or blurred shots, portentous in its content, with pseudo-intellectual insights such as ‘I had orgasms, he had wargasms’.  Salma Hayek plays the Mexican cartel leader – a deeply flawed, unbelievable character, badly acted. Someone can’t be a heartless psychotic businesswoman, and a loving mother. There is an extent to which this can’t be stretched. Travolta is good enough as a slimy federal agent, but the best thing about this film (as in most films he’s in) is Benicio del Toro. He plays the right-hand man of Hayek’s character, and tours California with a gang of Mexican gardeners, turning up at people’s houses and torturing/killing them. He is so good it’s almost funny. Even his character, however, is stretched to breaking point towards the end. The one powerful moment of this film is the revelation of the rape, but what is the point? It means nothing and has no implications to the plotline. Lastly, the double-ending will annoy almost everyone who sees it, and is again pointless. The final conclusion of the film is deeply unsatisfactory. Nothing is resolved. It is escapism as its worst – they leave the country and all of their responsibilities to live happily ever after. It may be that the film was improved with further editing after the preview screenings, but there are fundamental flaws here which I don’t think can be ironed out. Any work of art that at some point resorts to the dictionary definition of its title for any sort of meaning, as this film does, has lost all hope.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

The Hunt for Red October

This film has one of the most frequently misspelt titles of all time – there is no ‘the’ before ‘red’. Despite knowing who was in it and what it was generally about, I’d never seen it fully, and thus was unaware it formed part of the Jack Ryan story, the character from Tom Clancy’s novels who also features in Clear and Present Danger and Patriot Games. It is the first in the series (although apparently contains many references to Patriot Games, suggesting it was written later). You don’t need to know this when watching the film, but it does help. Ryan’s character is far more interesting than your usual action hero. Here he discovers that the Russians have launched a new, silent submarine, capable of avoiding sonar and that it’s heading for America. What he soon learns, however, is that the officers are intending to defect. Connery does his best to restrain his strong Scottish accent, but it is not very convincing. There is a strange, very heavily signposted transition between the languages as the camera zooms in on a man speaking Russian and zooms out on him speaking English. I don’t think there is a better way to disturb your audience and disrupt the flow of a film. Connery’s character itself is somewhat unlikeable, and it is only with some extremely improbable plot-turns that Ryan (played by Alec Baldwin) gets to meet him face to face. It is a complex story, although there are some rather obvious devices to help it on its way: ‘I know how he’s going to get them off the submarine’ Ryan says at one point. He then doesn’t tell us, but keeps it a secret until the critical moment. It is ultimately a hollow film – teasing us with a deeper meaning, when there really is none. It is not especially tense, thrilling or dramatic, but good enough – which, most of the time, is all we want.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

River of Grass

This film is the debut of writer-director Kelly Reichardt ,who has since gone on to direct Meek’s Cutoff. All of her films so far have created excitement in the film-world, but she has yet to intrude into mainstream consciousness (if that is even her intention). River of Grass is a small-scale, independent film about a bored housewife who gets involved with a younger man in a small town in Florida. Everything is told from the perspective of the woman, and we hear throughout her narration on events in a relaxed, monotone drawl. It feels at times like a homemade movie. The camera is shaky, the picture grainy, and dialogue mumbled (and could be one of the inspirations for mumblecore). Despite this, after watching I was surprised the film was as old as 1994. It feels fresh and modern (in comparison to other films from the same year, like Speed for example). The characters are casual, even after they think they’ve killed someone with a gun they find. We’re uncertain throughout how we’re supposed to judge their actions, and who we are supposed to support, or reprehend (she leaves her children at home alone to go out to a bar; he threatens his grandmother with a gun). The ending is sudden, but not exactly shocking. It’s only surprising perhaps that there is no sexuality involved in the story. They are two bored characters, beyond being desperate and lonely, lacking any purpose or meaning to their lives. There is a raw sound to the movie. It is intoxicating, sometimes painful to watch, and impresses indelibly on the memory. A strange, beguiling film that will alter you imperceptibly, but permanently.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Sorority Row

A film like this has to be judged by its own standards, or those of its genre. Any attempt to compare it to cinema more widely, or art and literature as a whole, would result in calamity. There’s no mistaking who this film was made for and why. Five final year students at a sorority house in an anonymous University in the US accidentally kill their friend. They decide to hide the body, but nine months later, when they are graduating, something starts picking them off, one by one. This may sound very, very familiar, and it is. I Know What You Did Last Summer did this twelve years earlier. However, as I found out after watching the film, Sorority Row is a ‘reimagining’ of an 80s original: The House on Sorority Row. So the claims of which came first are perhaps moot. Nonetheless, Sorority Row cannot be said to be original or innovative in anything that it does. To a certain extent teen horrors aren’t expected to do this, but the best, and most famous, always stretch the boundaries of what’s possible within their limits. As with Lesbian Vampire Killers, it may seem relatively easy to make a film like this. There are, as Randy from Scream might say, certain rules that one must abide by in order to successfully make a horror movie. Sorority Row fails on several counts. Who, for instance, is the main character? We’re never really sure. This needs to be defined fairly early, unless you want to constantly tease the audience with who will or won’t survive – but this is a risky step itself. Is the killer frightening enough? Are they supernatural or human? Do they have a certain unique style, or way of killing? It seems some of this has been considered (the tyre iron), but not all of it. When we discover who the killer actually is, the reason for the killer to have acted the way they did becomes meaningless. This ‘reveal’, in fact, is one of the hardest things to pull off in these films. Here it is done poorly (someone spots something in someone’s conveniently open bag), although there is at least some surprise as to who it is. The murders themselves are so obviously flagged that they’re not at all frightening, gruesome, or even funny (as they sometimes are in the Scream franchise). It seems we’ve become so used to films like this, that we need them to be more and more extreme, leading to the torture porn in Hostel and Saw, which even I refuse to watch. The end of the film has multiple, anti-climactic conclusions and we leave it feeling we have experienced very little style, and virtually no substance. Even by the standards of the genre, this film is poor.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Total Recall

Total Recall has been remade and will be released next week. It is perhaps an obvious choice for a remake – contemporary CGI, modern taste for realism and irony, and better actors (Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale), have the potential to make it a huge, rollercoaster of a blockbuster. I wonder, however, how much of the sinister play with reality and memory the new version will retain. The strap-line on its posters says ‘What is Real?’, suggesting that this will be a major theme in the film. In the original, we remain uncertain until quite late in the movie as to whether anything we see is actually happening or not. There is a scene in which the people trying to capture Quaid/Hauser (played by Schwarzenegger) attempt to persuade him that he is dreaming, that he is not really a spy on Mars, but an ordinary construction worker on Earth. He sees through this lie and manages to escape, but the dilemma is crucial to the film and how it manipulates its audience. We are the real construction workers on Earth, fantasising that we might be spies on Mars. We are placing ourselves in the shoes of Quaid/Hauser, and this scene in which he is told he is dreaming is ultimately directed at us. It speaks directly to us, and the lie is actually the truth. The film as a whole rather than encouraging us to believe we can be more than construction workers, in fact reinforces our position as such. It gives us this fantasy, allows us to play with it for two hours, so that we might accept reality more happily. I’m also fascinated by the many questions that Quaid/Hauser’s identity raises for us. For Quaid, Hauser is a different person, someone he cannot be, and this is in fact how all of us treat our past and future selves. They are distinct from us, yet we recognise whilst repressing the inevitable links. There’s an metafictive play with the names, too: Quaid is Irish-American and Hauser is German-Dutch. The film was directed by Verhoeven (a Ducthman) with American money. Significant? I don’t know. I await with both excitement and concern this new version. It will have lost the quirks of Verhoeven’s direction – the fast changes of situation, the panning camera, zooming in from a distance on its target – but what will it have gained?

Tuesday, 21 August 2012


Despite the successes of some Westerns in recent years, cinema audiences still seem ambivalent about the genre. In the late 80s and early 90s there was quite a resurgence with Young Guns, Dances with Wolves, Unforgiven, Open Range, and Tombstone. More recently we’ve had There Will Be Blood, True Grit, Appaloosa, 3:10 to Yuma and Cowboys & Aliens. The genre has expanded to include revisionist, noir, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, futuristic, contemporary and comic book westerns. Despite this, you will still occasionally meet people who’ll say ‘I don’t like Westerns’. For a genre to be discounted entirely seems rather dramatic, and may stem from a European distance to these movies (despite the efforts of Sergio Leone). It is perhaps down to films like Shalako, made in 1968, that the reputation of Westerns still sometimes suffers. Starring Sean Connery and Brigitte Bardot, it purports to be a more sympathetic Western – the Indians are not unreasonable savages, they just want their land. However, they are still men in wigs, their faces painted brown, screaming as they attack, simple-minded in their intentions. The film reminded me a lot of Zulu, made four years earlier, but with much more success. The title, Shalako, probably put a lot of people off. The entirely miscast Connery as the main character doesn’t help, nor does Bardot in a strange, uncharacteristic role (one of the few American films she’s in). It feels very much like, and probably was, a cast put together before a script. The film is in fact far smaller in scale than it purports to be. There are sweeping landscapes, but the plot follows only a few characters for little more than two days. They are attacked and surrounded by Indians and try to escape. Eventually they are caught again by the Indians and a final showdown is expected. What we receive at the end, however, is highly disappointing. There is no substantial conclusion or resolution. The real enemy, of course, as in all these movies, is the in-fighting between the white men. Shalako is as tremendously flawed as a film can be. We never have sympathy for any of the characters, despite Connery’s natural charisma, or Bardot’s beauty. It is in all a weird movie, probably better forgotten.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Lesbian Vampire Killers

I’m ashamed to say I saw this film, although in my defence it was on the television while I was waiting for someone. That person didn’t arrive and I ended up seeing the whole movie. The title is self-explanatory. There’s no subterfuge around what the creators were trying to do (when a vampire is killed, white gunk spurts out of them – I probably don’t need to spell out what it’s supposed to be). In fact, my one complaint would be not that they went too far, but that they didn’t go far enough. It could’ve been far scarier/sexier, if they’d been willing to be daring. Unfortunately what we have is a rather tame B-movie that only half-delivers on its promises. The set up is fairly abysmal – why does the vampire queen have to wait until the last in the family line? Why is the main character the last in the line? Likewise, towards the end, why do the vampires leave the two lovers alone for a few minutes – just so the script writers can fit a bit of dialogue in? These may seem like trivial details, but I believe it is exactly on details like these that B-movies need to be perfect. They need a compelling, believable set up and strong character motives – that, in fact, is almost all they need. See the films of John Carpenter for how to do this properly. The film also needs a good ending – here it is poor to the point of boredom and distraction. There are multiple climaxes with no point or impetus – people running backwards and forwards in the woods mindlessly. It’s obvious that this film owes a lot to Shaun of the Dead, but its creators can’t deliver half of the wit, irony, music, pacing and fast camera movement that Edgar Wright can. There is, however, one great line. It’s a line that you secretly wish every character in a horror film would say: ‘I know there’s some really strange stuff going on, but can’t we just pretend like it’s not happening?’.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Dead Poets Society

Of the many gaps in my movie knowledge, Dead Poets Society was perhaps a significant one, but not because it is considered a great movie (it received no votes in the Sight and Sound poll). It’s a film instead that had and still has a profound impact on my generation. It came out just as I was starting in secondary school myself, and there are a few parallels to my own experiences (albeit this film is in fact set in 1959). I had seen parts of it, and knew a great deal more about it from the many secondary references that exist in other films, TV shows etc. It was, as they say, not a movie but an experience, seeming to summarise the feelings of a generation. The performance of Robin Williams and the appearance of several teenage stars (Ethan Hawke and Robert Sean Leonard) no doubt helped to make it popular. Undoubtedly it is deeply moving, and you’d have a heart of stone not to feel some emotion at the ending – even if it’s fairly manipulative. The film as a whole, though, speeds rapidly along, and only gives us a glimpse of the story that we are watching. It is, after all, adapted from a novel. We seem to skip much that is of importance – his audition and rehearsals, for one. The society of the title actually plays only a small part in the film. There is also little real motivation for the action of the ending. We get the sense of something richer, but don’t experience it. The direction of Peter Weir is good, as always, but the philosophy that Williams promotes is fairly simplistic, as is the attitude to poetry – dominated by American and in particular Beat generation poets. We feel such a strong connection to the 1950s because the issue of over-protective, traditional parents and a repressive society that an individual struggles against is something that, whilst prominent then, stays with us always. It is this, despite everything else that the film provides, that is the main pull and message of the movie.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Horse Feathers

I can’t remember when I first saw the Marx brothers. This is odd. I imagine most people can or will remember (if they haven’t seen them yet). There is nothing in the world like them anymore, although there may have been at the time they made their movies. Nonetheless, where to rank their films as cinema is still an issue – are they just good comedies, or something more? It could be argued the sheer force and relentless nature of the jokes makes them great – even if, as films, they are simple and somewhat inane. They take the physical comedy of Chaplin to a new level, adding not just the verbal wit, but songs, dance and music. Horse Feathers, however, isn’t the title with which to introduce someone to the Marx brothers. The films starts almost immediately with a bizarre, nonsensical monologue by Groucho, followed by a song and dance routine. It includes great lines such as ‘Well, I thought my razor was dull until I heard his speech’ and ‘I came into this college to get my son out of it’, but there is a lot there which I didn’t, or couldn’t, understand. As an introduction it’s baffling, but it at least makes it clear to the audience what the Marx brothers are trying to do here: tell jokes, regardless of any plot. The humour is strange in places (this film was made 80 years ago after all), the jokes sometimes either seem not funny at all or offensive, and the plot is flimsy and strained, but there are equally moments when you’ll laugh so hard you’ll cry. ‘I married your mother because I wanted children. Imagine my disappointment when you arrived’. Their best films are more than just a collection of sketches like this, but still in Horse Feathers you will find the relentless verbal and physical humour and some great songs, including the classic ‘everyone says I love you’ – with different verses depending on the perspectives of the different characters.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Edge of Darkness

One of the strangest remakes of recent years has been this film, derived from a 1980s British television series. Unfortunately I think I only ever saw the first episode of the series, and so I can’t offer much of a comparison between the two. However, it’s relatively obvious from watching the film that there is a great plot and script behind it all that must have come from the series. Indeed, the director Martin Campbell was the director of the original series (he has since directed Casino Royale, but also The Legend of Zorro). This, unfortunately, is where the comparisons end. Perhaps the greatest disaster of this remake was the casting of Mel Gibson. He is quintessentially wrong for this role, and not just because his attempt at a Boston accent is jarring. Production started just after The Departed won several Oscars, and you can’t help but hear the studio saying ‘let’s do another thriller set in Boston, only this time let’s get Mel Gibson!’. The plot is long, the characters are complex, and it all feels too much for this film. What’s more, the idea of a nuclear threat is not so strong today as it was in the 1980s, and the feel of a secretive, oppressive government (based on Thatcher at the time) isn’t as compelling anymore. Having not seen the original, there is still intrigue here, but the whole thing falls awkwardly together. The saccharine ending in particular I can’t help but feel was designed by Hollywood, and the two anonymous men in suits who follow Gibson around, like Men in Black, are one of the most ridiculous aspects of the remake. It is perhaps a television series that could be adapted well to the cinema, but this film isn’t it.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

David Fincher’s career as a director has been a strange one so far, and I still can’t decide if I like his movies or not. Audiences seem equally uncertain. Perhaps it’s because although Fincher’s films all have a certain style and economy, his stamp is not as obvious or noticeable as, say, the Coen brothers or Spielberg. A lot of people might have seen The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, or The Social Network, and not known they were watching the work of the same director as Se7en and Alien 3. He’s one of only a few directors, however, that I can say I’ve seen every one of his films, for one reason or another. The last one was Benjamin Button, which I’d never been as greatly interested to watch as some of his others. I have to say it’s marred by the cliché of an old woman narrating a story from her deathbed. Indeed, aside from the one unique aspect of Button’s existence (which you will probably know about even if you haven’t seen the film), there is nothing surprising about this movie. We follow his life story from beginning to end – it’s ups and downs, romantic or otherwise. He does not discover something revolutionary about the meaning of life, imparts no great wisdom, nor does he receive any. I kept expecting a twist, or a deeper meaning, but none came. There is no reason for what happens to him. The film is developed from a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and that is what it felt like – short. It should, ultimately perhaps, have been a short film. There is not enough here to be a full-length feature, despite it containing the whole life of a man. It does not have the depth or richness that a novel, or film, should have. There is also something very creepy about Brad Pitt as an old/young man, especially in his relationship with the girl. Perhaps this is what Fincher was going for - it’s sometimes very hard to tell what his intentions are. Despite displaying that same style and economy, the same careful attention to detail, the film feels empty, and I think you'd find it hard to find someone who ranks it among Fincher's best.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

True Grit

I try wherever possible to read the book of a movie before seeing it and watch an original before viewing the remake. On this occasion, however, I failed on both counts. In fact, I made the decision to watch this regardless of the original. I trusted that the Coen brothers had made a film that was their own, and did not need reference to an original (someone who’s seen it can tell me if I’m right). This dilemma, however, is occurring more and more. Can we have seen and read every book or original that a film is based on? Sometimes there are several versions, at least (see the recent Spider-man reboot). It is perhaps a question for another time to ask why it is we’re making so many remakes. In the theatre this is an assumed practice, with only a small proportion of London’s stages taken up with original works. Film exists somewhere in-between theatre and the novel, which is what makes it so compelling. Each new production is far more permanent than the single performance it purports to be. This version of True Grit, for example, may outlive its predecessors. The Coen brothers decided to return to the book and be more faithful to it than John Wayne’s version was. It is arguably the first straight genre movie that they’ve ever done, and it’s interesting for that alone. Jeff Bridges plays a wayward U.S Marshall hired by a young girl to find her father’s killer. The action is short, brutal and occasionally gruesome, as we can expect from the Coen brothers. There is also a dark humour, Carter Burwell’s score, and that bleak, unforgiving outlook, lacking sympathy for any of their characters, that is typical of their films. This movie sits somewhere in-between the somewhat comic nature of films like O Brother, Where art Thou? and the more serious tone of No Country for Old Men, but it can still be clearly seen as directed by the same hands. I wouldn’t class it as one of their best, but it is certainly head and shoulders above a lot of other films you might be choosing between on a Friday night. Despite being nominated for ten Oscars, it won none.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The Rum Diary

My eagerness to like this film might have overridden its actual worth. Since as a student I saw Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I’ve had a fondness for Hunter S. Thompson, particularly as he’s portrayed by Johnny Depp. Although The Rum Diary is ostensibly fictitious, it’s obvious that the main character is supposed to be, or was, Thompson. It goes without saying that this is a strange film, but perhaps not in the way you’re thinking. Ignoring the details, the basic plot is that of a romantic comedy. This is what is stressed by the storyline despite the actual underlying drive of the film being towards exposing corrupt capitalism, which is somewhat sidelined. It would’ve been a much better movie, perhaps, if this message was put to the fore, and the romantic element sublimated or even avoided. Nonetheless, the light-hearted story that we have is still enjoyable, quirky, and mildly funny. Depp is once again good at impersonating his late friend Thompson, although he does not go to such extremes as he did in the earlier movie. We never really get to like any of the characters, however, which leaves us without much interest in what happens to them. Giovanni Ribisi’s character in particular is very disturbing, and not in a good way. The main issue with the film is that people unfamiliar with Thompson would probably find it odd, and fans of his would be disappointed that it wasn’t odd enough. It sits unfortunately somewhere in-between, trying to please both sets of people, but doing neither. Fans of Thompson may enjoy it slightly more, however, but this mainly comes from the ending which gives us an interesting premonition, or even justification, of the man he is to become.

Monday, 6 August 2012


After having recently overtaken Citizen Kane as Sight and Sound's greatest film of all time, I thought I should re-watch Vertigo. Luckily, ITV obliged by putting it on one of their channels last week. I'd seen the film a while ago, and clips of it since, but never been as excited as I felt I should be. We’re always told that the greatest works of art take maturity to appreciate. Why this should be is debatable – surely if they were great, we would like them at once? It depends on our definition of ‘great’. I think most people’s would be something like: does it reward repeated viewing? Enough has been written about this film, I’m sure, but one thing it does do is reward repeated viewing. Watching it again I began to unpick the many layers there are to this movie. It is slow, careful and subtle in the way it carries its audience along. At its centre is the impossibility of desire – what he wants is a woman who never existed. This of course appeals to modern critics greatly. We should also point to the voyeurism of Stewart’s character – this is essentially our own. We too, like him, want to stand in the shadows (the cinema) and watch what she is doing. We read her actions as a language that we must translate (she is silent until he rescues her from the river). There were still moments that frustrated me – such as the famous ‘plot hole’ when she seemingly disappears from the hotel, and the ending itself. The brutality of Stewart’s character is hard to watch. It is justified anger, but there is also something beyond this, an anger almost at his own creation. Then there is her fall – why is she afraid of the nun? Is it an accident, or does she throw herself? Lastly, what happens to Midge’s character? There is an alternate ending that shows her together with Stewart’s character, and this we assume is what will eventually happen: he’ll return to her, albeit unhappily. I return, though, to the list itself. I’ve hinted that Vertigo’s new position at the top could be down to the taste of modern critics. Philip French wrote an interesting article about the changes in cinematic fashion which is worth reading, and he backs up my conclusion. Does ranking films really mean anything? Isn’t a better system Halliwell’s star rating? The top ten doesn't include a film beyond 1968, which makes it quite meaningless to the majority of filmgoers. The appeal of ranking is strong, and induces fruitful discussion, but it is enough for me to note that Veritgo is one of the greatest films of all time. I don’t need to rank them.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Crazy, Stupid, Love

You’d be forgiven for not having any inclination to watch this film at all. Steve Carell has been struggling to make a good movie since The 40 Year-Old Virgin, and Ryan Gosling could just have been dragged in to raise the box office figures. You’ll be surprised by this film, however (although not once you’ve read this review). Carell’s character separates from his wife. He starts going to a bar to drink and complain to whomever might listen. Gosling, who uses the bar to pick up women (which he is very successful at), notices him and the two strike up a strange friendship. It’s their interaction, like a weird buddy-cop movie, that is at the heart of the film. However, just when you think the movie might be following familiar lines, it reaches a climax that is surprising, hilarious and moving all at the same time. I’m not saying this is a great film which will be ranked alongside Vertigo and Citizen Kane, but it is far better than your usual romantic comedy. It’s directed by two men, which is rare: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, whose debut was I Love You Philip Morris. It picks carefully upon the conflict that arises due to multiple perspectives on the world – male, female, young, old, married, single. It feels like it has so much in it, and the dialogue and plot is so well worked, that I began to suspect it was adapted from a novel (it’s not). Admittedly there are moments of humour which jar uncomfortably with the subject’s seriousness, but overall this is a very enjoyable two hours – sweet, funny, and disturbing in turns.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

The Fighter

Some films slip anonymously away after having been Oscar contenders, and even winners. The Fighter seems like it might belong to this category. Even though it won best supporting actor (Christian Bale) and best supporting actress (Melissa Leo), it’s hard to find anyone who has either heard of or seen this movie. Although in many ways it follows conventional sports-movie lines, Wahlberg is a boxer trying to step out of the shadow of his older brother’s success, it is not at all straightforward. Note first that it’s directed by David O. Russell, the creator of I Heart Huckabees and Three Kings. The film feels like a Clint Eastwood production aimed at Oscar success, yet it has the curious comedy of Russell’s other films as well (notably Wahlberg’s pack of weird sisters). Wahlberg, not  a great actor, is overshadowed by Bale, playing his older brother, who follows a much more interesting character development throughout the film. The problem for me with Bale’s performance is that is was so ‘method’ it was almost painful to watch at times. Instead of creating a character, he is copying a real person, which is perhaps what makes it awkward. There are poignant and moving moments in this film, but it ultimately can’t escape its fairly pedestrian sports-movie plot. It doesn’t break new ground, and rarely surprises us. It is a strange film, worth watching for some of the performances and the quirks of Russell’s style, but otherwise understandably now anonymous.

The Hateful Eight

Tarantino has said he'll only make ten films, and then retire. I don't know if he still stands by this statement, and if he does we ...