Steve Jobs  (2015)    79/100

Rating :   79/100                        Treasure Chest                     122 Min        15

Positioning itself nicely amongst the forerunners for the Oscars next year, ‘Steve Jobs’ sees previous Oscar winner Danny Boyle (I think you might be able to see Ewen Bremner as one of the skinheads in the Mac promo advert at one point) direct Michael Fassbender as the titular late co-founder of Apple, along with Kate Winslet as his assistant, or his work-wife as she puts it in the film, Joanna Hoffman. The most immediately striking thing about the story, which the trailer was at pains to project, is that it hits the essential nail right on its head – what did Steve Jobs actually do? What was it that made the world’s media effectively deify him?

Herein lies the essence of the entire film, as an intricate character study unfolds against the backdrop of three Apple product launches (one in 1984 shot in 16mm, then 88 in 35mm and 98 filmed digitally) and numerous fictional conversations with the most important people in Jobs’s life, all in the moments before he steps onto the stage at the various theatrical venues. This approach is instantly reminiscent of last year’s ‘Birdman‘, and indeed there appears to be a nod to ‘The Imitation Game‘ as well with an enormous painting of Alan Turing at one point, but the screenplay from Aaron Sorkin (‘A Few Good Men’ 92, ‘Malice’ 93, ‘The Social Network’ 10) works incredibly well at giving us an insightful taste into what made the man and indeed what the man was made of, as our opinion of him is pulled this way and that and all players dance around the flame of his ego, ever burning with his desire to have end-to-end control of his products.

The movie opens with archival footage of an interview with the legendary Arthur C. Clarke (you can see the interview on his Wikipedia page, in the Sri Lanka section) detailing what he predicts the future of technology will mean for the human race and its way of living, demonstrating that all of the products that Apple have come out with were simply a natural and inevitable result of where science was taking us and nicely framing the debate over whether Jobs’s approach was sensible or just narrow minded, or perhaps sensible for himself at the expense of everyone else (if you’ve ever had to integrate Apple and Microsoft hardware, Jobs will most likely not be one of your heroes).

Once again Boyle anchors and drives forth his work with fantastic use of music – beats underpin what would otherwise be fairly dry scenes of multiple conversations and actually manage to make them exciting, giving a palpable sense of rhythm to the narrative and a distinction to each section whilst Daniel Pemberton’s score still manages to unify everything nicely. It’s a highly original way to deliver a complex biography and it works on every level, with only some of the sections with John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) acting as a surrogate father, and things seguing into Jobs’s childhood, feeling a little forced. The wonderful writing and direction are completely matched by the acting throughout, but especially so from the leads and both Ripley Sobo and Makenzie Moss as nine and five-year-old Lisa Brennan-Jobs respectively.

It’s enthralling to watch and ponder over, as Jobs suffers the drive to prove himself to the extreme in order to fill an ever gnawing void, with the fear of being sidelined if he relaxes control extending into, arguably grounded, paranoia regarding betrayal by those around him, and the irritation of being hounded by people trying to put obstacles in his way instead of realising what he was attempting to create. It has to be an Oscar nod for Fassbender, who one suspects could end up giving Daniel Day-Lewis a run for his money eventually, and who here commands the screen and the people around him the way you imagine Jobs would have done, with an unwavering accent to boot and utter conviction that Apple’s products are his and are more important than life itself. With equally great support from Seth Rogen and Michael Stuhlbarg.

Destry Rides Again  (1939)    79/100

Rating :   79/100                                                                       94 Min        PG

Classic western famous for a number of reasons – firstly, at its core the protagonist Destry (James Stewart) is called into the remote, fictional town of Bottleneck as deputy Sheriff and elects to try and enforce justice without the use of guns, indeed he doesn’t even carry any on him, and secondly the movie features what must be one of the longest, if not THE longest, catfight in cinematic history (excluding porn of course) between the legendary Marlene Dietrich and Una Merkel – a fight extended when Jimmy Stewart gets involved (pictured above – the two famously embarked on an affair whilst on set, and it’s difficult to imagine the passionate fight scenes didn’t play a pivotal role).

What brings Destry there in the first place is the murder of the previous sheriff – something nobody in town wants to talk about or acknowledge lest they face repercussions from the gang operating out of The Last Chance Saloon (there were multiple locales carrying this name throughout the Old West, originally ones that offered the last opportunity to imbibe before heading out into the desert {and, presumably, the last chance to change your mind} before it became a generic metaphor). Duty bound, Destry sets out to get to the bottom of things and bring those responsible to justice, and just maybe play a little with the firekitten that is ‘Frenchy’ (Dietrich) along the way.

It’s a fascinating concept which will never get old, and the protagonist is properly tested – thrown into violent situations and forced to endure a ribald reception from the public for his stance but he, ahem, sticks to his guns and gracefully walks through it all with a self-assurance in himself and his belief, which eventually begins to win people over. He, then, has not only the philosophy but also the wherewithal that it will require a strategy and level of personal charisma in order for his approach to succeed.

Directed by George Marshall, who would remake the film again in 1954 (Much like Hitchcock did with ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’ in 34 and 56), it’s impossible not to be curious as to how Destry is going to handle each situation and the overall feeling of the responses he provides is both satisfying and impressive, although there is a debate to be had regarding the finale and where it fits within the philosophy of the rest of the movie, and indeed you could argue it either makes, or breaks it …

American Hustle  (2013)    79/100

Rating :   79/100                     Treasure Chest                   138 Min        15

A film which could deservedly take home a clean sweep at this year’s Oscars ceremony, with fully merited nominations in the best film, director, actor, actress, supporting actor and supporting actress categories.

It’s from writer/director David O. Russell (Eric Warren Singer wrote the original version of the screenplay, which was more focused on the real events that inspired it) hot on the heels of his success with 2012’s ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ and once again featuring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper – this time in supporting roles, with Christian Bale and Amy Adams taking the lead as two con artists forced to work for the FBI in order to try and catch bigger fish, specifically the mayor of Camden, New Jersey – played by Jeremy Renner. The only problem is, the mayor and his associates are willing to break the law in order to speed the wheels of a deal which would reap great benefits for the local community, cue certain moral dilemmas.

At its heart though, this is a story about the central characters and their relationships with one another, told against the backdrop of high crime and egotistical one-upmanship. The same strong vein of comedy that existed throughout Silver Linings is once again in fine form here, possibly to the extent that if you liked that movie you almost certainly will enjoy this too, and naturally the converse of that is likely just as true.

It’s difficult to think of that many films where all of the cast do such a universally impressive job, together with O. Russell, and it is nice to see it getting the attention it deserves, with Bale in particular giving one his finest performances in an already illustrious career, here once again replete with a physical transformation – gaining a very noticeable amount of excess baggage for the role.

Set around 1978, the film very cleverly opens with the line ‘Some of this stuff actually happened’, partly because the story is very loosely based on the Abscam sting operation, but it’s also perhaps a jibe aimed in the direction of ‘Argo’, which beat Silver Linings to win the best picture Oscar but which also came under heavy fire (including from The Red Dragon) for saying ‘Based on a true story’, and yet it fabricated almost everything…

Saving Mr. Banks  (2013)    79/100

Rating :   79/100                                                                     125 Min        PG

There was nary a dry eye in the house by the time this biographical tearjerker ended, and despite slightly over egging the pudding at times, it has set itself up nicely for multiple award nominations over the coming months. The plot focuses on the behind the scenes storyboarding and scriptwriting of ‘Mary Poppins’ (64), or, to be more exact, Walt Disney’s (Tom Hanks) invitation to P.L.Travers (Emma Thompson) to come work with his team in California to oversee that her Marry Poppins novel was being treated respectfully, in order to gain her signature on the rights to make the film – which Disney had been seeking for two whole decades. This task, however, would not prove to be easy.

Initially, Thompson’s Travers is far too ruthlessly curt and acidic to be likeable in any emotionally tangible way, but over time we warm to her and to the heart of the story as we learn that the titular Mr Banks (the father of the family in Mary Poppins) is in fact based upon Travers’ memories of her own father and her childhood in Australia – and we relive those memories via flashbacks, and great performances from Colin Farrell as her father and Annie Rose Buckley as her younger self.

Hanks is good as always (he grew his moustache to meticulously mirror Disney’s) but it is really Thompson that gives both a transformative and genuinely evocative performance – and so far she and Cate Blanchett for ‘Blue Jasmine’ are The Red Dragon’s top two contenders to take home the coveted best actress award at the Oscars next year …

Hobo with a Shotgun  (2011)    79/100

Rating :   79/100                                                                       86 Min        18

What a great ‘splatterhouse’ film. This, like ‘Machete’ (10), began as a trailer for a movie that didn’t exist, shown during the ‘Grindhouse’ (07) double bill of Robert Rodriguez’s ‘Planet Terror’ and Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Death Proof’ (filmmakers Jason Eisener, John Davies, and Rob Cotterill, based in Canada, won an international competition to secure their trailer in the slot) . Rutger Hauer brings the titular Hobo to life, traveling into a town where all notions of law and order have been torn to shreds, and life is effectively dictated by the whims of the ruling drug lord’s family, which, naturally, our (anti) hero will take exception to. A film whose entire premise is encapsulated by the title, and at the same time we can’t wait for the Hobo to pick up his shotgun and start kicking some ass – and really, who better to do it than Hauer?

This is a bloody, bloody film, but it is highly enjoyable. Some of the scenes have been heavily colourised, to the extent that they are effectively completely blue or orangey yellow – it’s terrible, and yet it somehow works for this film! Directed by Jason Eisener, it offers an interesting perspective on the raging debate over the portrayal of violence in film, as watching this not long after ‘Elysium’ I found a scene here where a school bus full of children is deliberately torched much less disturbing than the one in ‘Elysium’ that simply has a young girl being verbally threatened. The reason of course is entirely down to the way each is filmed (we only really see an exterior shot of the bus in flames, whereas in the latter it is very obvious there is a real young girl in the room), with Eisener having a much better idea of what he was making, and the fact that here the violence has an unreal tongue in cheek manner to it laced with dark humour.

With a perfect retro soundtrack in accompaniment, this is one irreverent action film to fall in love with.


“I can promise you, when I get out of here, I’m gonna bite your face off!”   Rutger Hauer/Hobo

“You want to know if I’m homeless? So you can kill me! Some people, got a bed to sleep on. Where they can crawl under the covers and have a good night’s rest. But other people, they don’t got beds at all. Instead they got to find a alleyway, or a park bench, where some fuckers not going to stab them. Just because they don’t got beds doesn’t mean they’re homeless! Cos guess what? They got the biggest home of any of us. It’s called the streets! And right now, we’re all standing in their home! So maybe, we should show them some God damn respect! If this is their home, they got a right to keep it clean don’t they? Sometimes, on the streets, a broom just ain’t gonna fuckin’ cut it! That’s when you gotta get a shotgun! So if you wanna kill me, go ahead. But I’ll warn ya, from where I’m standing, things are looking real fuckin’ filthy!”   Molly Dunsworth/Abby

Monsters University  (2013)    79/100

Rating :   79/100                                                                     104 Min        U

Pixar show once again that they, together with their Disney partners/owners, are in a league of their own when it comes to animation that will appeal to all audiences, regardless of age. This is a prequel to their successful 4th film Monsters Inc (2001) and tells the tale of how the two central characters Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sullivan (John Goodman) originally came to meet at the titular Monsters University (M.U.), and their challenge to prove themselves worthy enough to compete with the scariest monsters around.

The rendering work looks superb, and overall the story is engaging and inspiring, with the raft of interesting secondary characters that we’ve come to expect. Voice support comes from the likes of Steve Buscemi and Helen Mirren and as always a cameo from the company’s good luck totem, John Ratzenberger. There is a brief after credits scene, though you do have to wait a pretty long time to get to it ….

Star Trek – Into Darkness  (2013)    79/100

Rating :   79/100                                                                     132 Min        12A

The follow up to J.J.Abrams’ bold forage into the Star Trek universe continues where the first film (‘Star Trek’ 09) left off, with the crew of the Enterprise a couple of years farther down their alternative timeline to the original series, and The Federation trying to come to terms with the rather brutal and abrupt events of the last film. It bears a lot in common with its successful predecessor, and it fulfils its mission statement perfectly: remaining true to the essence of Gene Roddenberry’s creation (replete with the music from the sixties playing at the end, mention of Tribbles, Mudd, and Christine Chapel – a.k.a. Nurse Chapel, one of the most commonly recurring secondary members of the original crew) whilst still standing on its own two feet as something creative in its own right and encapsulating the blockbuster outlook the new films have been conceived with.

It’s immensely entertaining, looks fantastic, and is filled with the prerequisite spirit of camaraderie that all great adventure films have in common. Indeed, it is certainly one film to see on the big-screen, and the bigger the better (some scenes were shot on IMAX), and there are relatively few sci-fi films nowadays that display the ‘final frontier’ of space in such an awe inspiring cinematic way, in fact I’d like to see more time spent on this in the third instalment which must surely follow on from the immediate success of this one, and there are a lot of appreciable nice touches, like the flair added to the warp trail effect from the Enterprise. Michael Giacchino returns once more for the score, his music fitting perfectly into the list of memorable and atmospheric Star Trek themes, as does Leonard Nimoy for another brief cameo, his character surely busily preparing New Vulcan and her allies for the arrival of a certain none too friendly cybernetic race in circa one hundred years or so….

The story is captivating, but is also one given to debate afterwards as to whether or not several plot elements hold up under scrutiny. This is exactly the same as ‘Star Trek’ which seen bad guy Nero witness his home planet being destroyed and then going back in time, which would have allowed him to forewarn said planet and possibly prevent its annihilation, or at least evacuate everyone, but instead he decided to go on a mass genocidal killing spree with his advanced ship, for no logical purpose other than to create drama on a suitable scale. The story here riffs very heavily off several elements from its canon of Star Trek source material, and also fits in a sizeable nod to The Godfather part III in the process.

It would perhaps be wise to have Abram’s flair for action and entertainment combined with a bit more of the Star Trek ethos in the next one, but there is no doubt he has injected new life back into the wonderful characters that helped create one of the most enduring legacies in the history of the big and small screen, and the future for this incarnation is wide open, in fact it was a stroke of unfettering genius to break the timeline and take us back to where it all began. Performances are good all round, including from new cast members Alice Eve, Benedict Cumberbatch and Peter Weller (most famous previously for playing Robocop), Simon Pegg has also largely improved his Scottish accent. If you enjoy this, most certainly watch the second of the original series of films, which was arguably the best of the bunch.

The Paperboy  (2012)    79/100

Rating :   79/100                                                                     107 Min        15

This is the latest film from director/screenwriter/producer Lee Daniels, whose last film was the hard hitting, Oscar nominated ‘Precious’, back in 2009. Here we see a marvellous performance by everyone in the talented ensemble cast, including Nicole Kidman, Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey, David Oyelowo, John Cusack, Macy Grey and Scott Glen in support. But no Oscar nods this time round? The reason is not that they aren’t merited, especially in the case of Kidman, but that the material is a little dark and overtly sexual for most people’s taste. For example, the story mostly revolves around the imprisonment of one Hillary Van Wetter, played by Cusack, and the investigation of his innocence or guilt by Miami Times journalists, spearheaded by the drive of Kidman’s character who intends to marry Van Wetter should he be found innocent and released – cue a most amusing scene in the prison featuring Cusack jerking off whilst Kidman flaunts her stuff for him, and the others not entirely sure what to do with this particularly sizeable elephant in the room (far from the first time Kidman has wonderfully portrayed a highly sexualised character, nor her first onscreen masturbatory antics – see the deserving but mostly overlooked ‘Margot at the Wedding’).

Daniels co-wrote the screenplay with author Peter Dexter, adapted from his novel of the same name, and the whole film has had a film grain texture applied to it, which is initially a huge distraction and irritant, but as the film goes on it gets easier on the eyes. This is to evoke the 60’s era it’s set in, but if we look at the success of ‘The Help’ set in a similar age and venue, the American south, which was edited with no gimmicky effects, we see its use was hardly necessary to recreate the feel they were looking for. Expect some brutal violence on the way, and they may have perhaps egged the pudding a little, but overall the great work of the cast make this vibrantly engaging and a possible career best for some of them. It’s especially good news for Efron, who is a good actor, but ever since ‘17 Again’ (09) he’s gone for safe and humdrum fare at best. ‘The Paperboy’ also marks another very noteworthy role for Matthew McConaughey, in a year that seen him with plaudits for both ‘Magic Mike’ and ‘Killer Joe’ (which premiered in Edinburgh incidentally, or Edinborow as I believe most of the cast liked to pronounce it), making 2012 almost certainly a career high for him.

Zero Dark Thirty  (2012)    79/100

Rating :   79/100                                                                     157 Min        15

‘Zero Dark Thirty’ tells the story of how American intelligence operatives tracked down Osama Bin Laden hiding in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011. Or does it? As it deals with the shadowy world of intelligence, we will never quite know unless the official documents are made public (which in Britain happens thirty years after the fact, as per the ‘Thirty Years Rule’). The film is from director Kathryn Bigelow (the first female winner of the best director Oscar for 2008’s ‘The Hurt Locker’) and writer Mark Boal. Originally, the pair had been working on a project surrounding the Battle of Tora Bora in Afghanistan in 2001, which had been a previous military attempt to capture Bin Laden, but when they heard the news of the Abbottabad raid they decided to shelve that project but still use their intelligence contacts and information to form the basis of ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, perhaps sensing they had a foot in the door advantage over anyone else thinking to do the inevitable and dramatise the event on film.

The exact nature of the real intelligence they had access to, and its accuracy, is still a very hot topic of debate in America, with the filmmakers to undergo yet more investigations by the government as confirmed this month and with the Republicans during the last presidential campaign claiming that they breached security protocols and put the intelligence services at risk. Even more contentious is the film’s depiction of the use of torture on suspected terrorist prisoners and the fact that it could be argued that real necessary intel was garnered this way, and indeed whether or not the movie actually promotes torture.

However, this misses the real question. Is it accurate? If the torture and what came from it is entirely true to actual events, then the filmmakers have done their job. If those events are knowingly fictionalised and yet are presented to us as fact, then they have some very serious questions to answer. This is the only point that really matters, but to touch on the debate very slightly, despite the fact some information does get obtained from torture which eventually leads to closing in on the target, it takes the better part of a decade to do so, it’s not exactly displayed as the most effective or efficient method of gathering information by the film, all moral questions aside.

The film walks, successfully, a curious line – keeping us both emotionally distant but involved in the beginning, and slowly reeling us in until cold barrenness finally gives way with the emotion of the main character in the final scene, and quite emotively so after almost three hours of harsh reality. It doesn’t take much more than a simple nod in the right direction for us to invest throughout, as the subject matter is so familiar to everyone. We largely see events through the perspective of female CIA agent Maya, played by Jessica Chastain, a fictional agent but one reportedly based on a real person. Up for an Oscar for the role, she convinces throughout, as do all the supports, though the one scene when the film very consciously tries to ramp up the tension was way too obvious and could have been done much more effectively.

For some real pathos, the cinema I watched this in made a special effort, which was good to see, for a severely disabled man, requiring a machine to breathe, to watch the screening. It was impossible not to consider that he himself may have been involved in the conflict. Provided this is an accurate depiction of real events, it becomes an extremely important film to see as it is an effective and debate provoking reminder of both the capacity for bloodshed in the world, and the difficulties of modern civilisations trying to keep that bloodshed at bay without unduly causing more. Timely with Britain’s announcement over the last couple of days that she is to send troops into Mali: is it part of a larger sensible strategy, or an ego and hopeful ratings boost for one of the most unpopular Prime Ministers the country has ever had (perhaps just as Margaret Thatcher’s public appeal soared with the tides of war {who’s son ran an arms company incidentally})?

Zero dark thirty refers to the military term for half past midnight, and, although I don’t think it’s mentioned in the film, the Abbottabad operation was code-named Operation Neptune Spear, for those of you who like to know mission names. For another film, one which largely flew under the radar, that deals with similar themes of torture and national security see ‘Unthinkable’ (2010) with Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Sheen.

Ruby Sparks  (2012)    79/100

Rating :   79/100                                                                     104 Min        15

Wonderful. As conceptually brilliant as it is surprising and multi-faceted. Paul Dano plays Calvin Weir-Fields, a talented writer who begins to write a story about a girl who then comes to life (Ruby Sparks, played by Zoe Kazan who not only makes her debut at screenwriting here, but is also the granddaughter of legendary Oscar winning director Elia Kazan – ‘On the Waterfront’ 54, ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’ 47) straight from the pages of his unpublished manuscript. It manages to avoid both painting its message in bold ink and straying too much into making obvious farce, instead offering a joyous expression of romanticism and selling it to us through the looking glass. Not to be missed.