The Danish Girl  (2015)    49/100

Rating :   49/100                                                                     119 Min        15

What a horrific mess. A film fundamentally flawed by its not knowing, to put it mildly, what it wants to be or what it is trying to say. Based on David Ebershoff’s 2000 novel of the same name and adapted for the screen by Lucinda Coxon (‘Wild Target’ 10), this loosely tells the true story of Danish painter Einar Wegener, who goes through a, long buried, crises of identity, suddenly convinced he is a woman trapped in a man’s body. One would naturally assume this is really a mainstream attempt to portray a strong and explorative transgender theme on the big-screen, and that we would identify with Wegener’s plight and confusion on a human level, but we really, really don’t – in fact he just comes across as clinically insane, which he is diagnosed as at one point by ‘evil’ practitioners of medicine but actually they seem to be quite correct; he has been, for example, banging away quite happily at his young nubile wife Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander) for six or seven years and now suddenly he refuses to even acknowledge this happened and recoils from her, as if every aspect of his previous existence that he can’t be bothered with is now taboo.

If he isn’t psychotic then he’s the most vain, self-absorbed obnoxious little shit one could have the misfortune to marry, as his ‘crises’ justifies him doing whatever he wants and cheating on his wife with various men. Eddie Redmayne plays Einar and by God is he terrible here – you would be hard pressed to find a worse example of overacting anywhere, as he cries and cries and whimpers and pretends to be injured (he gets beat up for no apparent reason, oh, and he decides he’s having his period as well at one point) something which he has effectively made a career out of doing. If we look at the header picture above I think even I would make a more convincing human female – although the film at least partially acknowledges this failure, or seems to at any rate, until near the end where people seem to genuinely believe he passes for a woman. The film in general smacks of this kind of insincerity throughout – Oscar bait with a modern day politically charged topic, and I imagine any endorsement from the transgender community is purely down to lack of many other options.

Tom Hooper directs and to be fair he almost completely avoids having the camera too close to his performers’ faces after ‘Les Miserables‘, and a lot of his shots of countryside and the framing of scenic cityscapes are great, it’s really the story and acting that destroy the film as melodrama takes an enormous bite out of history in their misguided creepy crawl in the direction of award season glory. It’s a shame, there was a lot of potential to explore the subject – and indeed in the film’s frank portrayal of nudity there begins to form the semblance of something greater, before it all disintegrates in the second act. Also with Amber Heard, who’s dancing scenes were reportedly cut from the film. Fuck’s sake.

Joy  (2015)    71/100

Rating :   71/100                                                                     124 Min        12A

David O. Russell writes (or rather rewrites, with Annie Mumolo penning the original script), directs and calls upon Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, much like he did with ‘Silver Linings Playbook‘ and ‘American Hustle‘, to star in the semi-fictional tale of self-made business magnate and inventor Joy Mangano (played by Lawrence). The film gets off to the worst possible start, with titles dedicating it to strong women in general …. and one in particular. It’s a little condescending, as if David O. Russell had only recently discovered women were actually capable of doing something interesting enough to make a film about, and there are numerous hints of force throughout the film: Joy when she is a child (played by Isabella Crovetti-Cramp) saying she doesn’t need a prince in the fantasy future life she’s playing out, for example – we can see what the intention was of course, but the tone is a little too blatant. Why not simply tell the story?

A story which sells itself entirely – it’s not easy to see where fact and fiction collide here, but it certainly appears on the face of it that the main details are correct and the most important showdowns and moments when the protagonist really has to take the bull by the horns actually did happen. We begin in 1989 with Joy frantically running her household and her father (De Niro) appearing on the doorstep then being promptly thrust into the basement in order to share it with her now divorced husband (Edgar Ramirez), whilst her kids are looked after upstairs, supervised by her grandmother (Diane Ladd), kids that occasionally accompany her mother (Virginia Madsen) who seems to permanently engage with vegetating in front of her favourite soap opera on the tele in her room.

Oddly, we are constantly greeted with scenes from this same show throughout the first chapter of the film, demonstrating the nightmarish pull of the humdrum and banal void as Joy struggles to fit the bill as house matriarch whilst working as an airline reservations manager, but these sections are far too wayward, indulgent, lengthy and frequent and could mostly have been axed, although showing the pervasive sickness that can arise from such garbage on television and the isolating effect it has on families is to be applauded, it nevertheless simply becomes another overplayed element of the movie.

Spiralling out of another chaotic dream about the soap opera, Joy awakens with zest and inspiration for a product that will ignite everyone and everything around her – the Miracle Mop, designed to address the simple everyday practical issues she, and everyone else doing any floor cleaning, were met with every day, namely having to wring out the thing by hand (although surely they had buckets with strainers back then?) and buy a new one all too frequently. Thus begins her adventure as she attempts to produce and market her creation, bringing into the frame two new characters: her father’s new wealthy girlfriend (Isabella Rossellini) and a head executive of the QVC advertising channel (Bradley Cooper).

It’s an inspirational tale that ought to speak volumes to anyone who’s ever tried to create anything themselves and despite the film’s many self-imposed setbacks, including twists and turns that continually have you thinking the movie is over when it’s not, it ultimately delivers thanks in no small measure to another fantastic and Oscar worthy performance from Lawrence herself. A sizeable amount of trimming and a little less force would have ensured this came out of the blocks at the same pace Silver Linings and Hustle did, but in the end the heart of the true story and strong acting all round ultimately atone for its artistic hiccups.

In the Heart of the Sea  (2015)    68/100

Rating :   68/100                                                                     122 Min        12A

Director Ron Howard’s latest dramatic feature since ‘Rush‘ is based on the similarly titled 2000 novel by Nathaniel Philbrick and once again features Chris Hemsworth as one of the protagonists, here playing Owen Chase – first mate of the Essex, a whaling ship whose fateful 1820 voyage was one of the primary sources that inspired writer Herman Melville to pen his historic fiction ‘Moby-Dick’ in 1851 (the legend of albino sperm whale Mocha Dick, who frequented the waters around the Chilean island of Mocha, was another such real-life source). Here, shots of the Essex and her crew are occasionally interjected by scenes of an eagerly attentive Melville (Ben Whishaw) listening to the recounting of the story by one of the original crew (Brendan Gleeson), often visibly pained by the memories the writer elicits from him.

The Essex hailed from Nantucket in Massachusetts, and the most obvious thing that stands out from the opening chapter of the film is the truly terrible range of accents that the cast have attempted, chief turkey among them being Hemsworth’s – to be honest, they are so bad I’m not even sure if they are attempted something similar to the modern-day region, maybe even close to Bostonian, or something which for some reason they think must have existed once upon a time. It’s all, ahem, ropey to say the least, but as a crew their collective voices seem to coalesce together and eventually it all evens out.

The crux of the story is the Essex’s basic and ongoing attempt to hunt whales, especially the extremely lucrative sperm whales, for their oil (it wasn’t until the late 1840s that Scotsman James Young really began the crude oil trade, taking out the UK and US patents for Paraffin distillation from coal in the early 1850s) and the unfortunate dearth of aquatic activity they come across leads them to desperate searches further and further into the Pacific Ocean, whereupon they encounter one particular sperm whale, bedecked white and awash with the scars of many previous encounters with man, who isn’t especially keen to let the whalers have it all their own way, and so begins their real adventure.

All of this is against the background of tension between the first mate and the captain, George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), as the latter is a posh dunderhead from a rich family, thusly gaining the position, whose manhood isn’t best pleased to find that his first mate is in fact Thor, swaggering around, vaunting up ropes, proving to always be right and seeming to single-handedly sail the ship. This element of the film never really climbs out of the doldrums of melodrama, but the recreation of the voyage amidst the setting of the ship is one of the highlights, and the story and effects, for the most part, unerringly draw us into their world for the movie’s duration, also providing the key to its eventual success as we really feel for them and the many maritime men for whom such journeys were a reality.

The additional horror of showing us the brutal reality of their line of work, with sanguinary depictions of the murder of innocent whales, will absolutely disgust many viewers, and indeed you can feel the film jitter with uncertainty over how to portray these scenes and the characters within them, but they are fascinating from a historical accuracy point of view and indeed these detailed features are in keeping with one of the many noteworthy aspects of ‘Moby-Dick’ itself, which, incredulously, was not a financial success during the author’s lifetime.

Sunset Song  (2015)    75/100

Rating :   75/100                                                                     135 Min        15

Adapted from Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s 1932 novel of the same name, ‘Sunset Song’ firmly sets the central focus on Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn), who grows up in rural Aberdeenshire and works the land whilst enduring an abusive father, before falling in love and watching in despair as the men in the village are forced by the church and the state to march off and join World War I. I feel I should warn you that this film made me quite intensely angry after viewing it (never a good thing when one is a dragon), but it did so by virtue of it being a great film masterfully created, bar just a few scenes with music that backfires (the novel ends with a song, so they kind of had to attempt it at some point) and a central character change that’s almost certainly displayed too abruptly for its own good.

Bizarrely, this was filmed in Luxembourg and New Zealand as well as Scotland (you’d think it cheaper just to stay in Scotland, although we have no film studio here which might be why – something there is currently a campaign to hopefully do something about), and one must be aware before watching this that it is looooooong and slooooooooow, absolutely not a film to bring popcorn into unless you are willing to piss off everyone in the auditorium including yourself. Many of the indoor scenes have a hazy quality to them and they are matched in contrast with crisply clear shots of beautiful countryside, indeed the former reminded me so much of Terence Davies’ ‘The Deep Blue Sea’ (11) that there was a definite internal high-five when I discovered he wrote and directed this too, and the film stands as a really good example of how it’s possible to make an incredibly still and slow movie work and resonate with an audience.

I’m additionally glad that it’s an Englishman who has chosen to take on one of the most famous of Scottish novels from the last one hundred years, because watching all the men leave to fight in a war that had nothing to do with Scotland and was naught more than a member measuring contest between pompous aristocrats is alone enough to make your blood boil, but becomes increasingly septic when combined with the current dragging of the nation into more military conflict, this time by dropping bombs on Syria, once again by rich English toffs (in parliament the Scottish National Party, which currently controls almost all of the seats in Scotland, voted unanimously against the bombing campaign) who almost certainly stand to personally gain financially given it makes no military sense whatsoever, pretty sure America and France don’t need any more bombs, and their party (the Tory party) has a long history of profiting from war (former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her son immediately spring to mind). Davies here is a most desperately welcome counterpoint to the all too common and pervasive feeling that English arrogance and greed constantly threatens and undermines Scotland and her people.

Deyn seems to grow much like her character does as the film progresses, gaining in personal strength and determination as time passes and leaving an enduring impression on the audience as we feel her various triumphs and heartaches, and the emotional, physical and claustrophobic recreation of her environment is fantastic, replete with realistic sex scenes – having the camera pan round while the man is on top (Kevin Guthrie in this case) to reveal an uncompromising view of a large hairy male arse is certainly something you’re unlikely to see in the mainstream …

Emotional and poignant, it’s a film that constantly threatens to drive you away with the intense silence and quiet; the close brooding with violent tempers ever champing at the bit, but instead it leaves us reeling from the reality that was, and still is.

By the Sea  (2015)    66/100

Rating :   66/100                                                                     122 Min        15

A film written and directed by Angelina Jolie and starring both herself and her husband Brad Pitt, as Vanessa and Roland respectively – a couple whose marriage is on the not-so-subtle allegorical rocks below the Mediterranean French hotel in which they stay throughout the movie (it was filmed in Malta), was always going to arouse conjecture regarding possible correlations between fact and fiction (this is the first time the lady in question has listed herself as Angelina Jolie-Pitt, perhaps anticipating such gossip), much as orgy themed ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ (99) did when it was released with its famous married couple Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise: shortly before they broke up. Given events in the film, the central pair here will be hoping no one reads into it too much, lest they should encounter whispers of ‘better not invite Angelina and Brad, they are massive perverts’.

There is a deliberate attempt to evoke arthouse film here, with influences from the likes of Antonioni, Fillini and even Bergman, and whilst it never comes close to the work of those masters, Jolie has nevertheless attempted something fairly, if you’ll pardon the pun, off-the-wall, which she deserves credit for – as former dancer Vanessa whiles away her miserable hours in their hotel room, her failed author husband drinking a bottle of beer for every line he thinks about writing, until one day she notices a sizeable hole bored so that the neighbours next door can be spied on at will. After very brief consideration, she partakes.

Jolie’s directing is better than her last attempt, ‘Unbroken‘, at a very fundamental level – early shots of the setting interject closer views of the characters and help to give us a framework, showing us the surroundings in much the same way we take mental snapshots of the most memorable views of the places we visit, and her work behind the camera feels at once marked in the right places and also disguised where it should be (though I note one of the opening brief shots is quite randomly of two cats. A reference to something perhaps?)

There is a conceit with this man-made gap in the wall – as we view it there is no earthly way that the couple next door (played by Mélanie Laurent and Melvil Poupaud) wouldn’t notice the thing, especially since they effectively look right at it several times over. However, we see what the protagonists do, which effectively means we’re looking through a lens to cover the space in the room that the view does – of course this is the conspicuous lens of the camera but since we never see the peephole from the victims’ room, who is to say it wasn’t created with an actual lens? If that were the case, whosoever created the thing would have probably also gone to lengths to disguise it, and indeed sound wouldn’t travel as well as it would through a simple hole.

Similarly, regarding the film’s central driving motif – the mystery over why their relationship is in tatters and what connection, if any, this has to the voyeurism, only so many options are dangled in front of us before all is revealed and you’re left both unsurprised and also wondering if it really fits with everything before. However, if you really read between the lines there are a couple of potential events in their past which you could say are hinted at and no more, and if true then they would justify events in the film to a much greater degree, but you really have to want to piece it together and the movie itself isn’t focused enough to deliver where it needed to.

Much of the premise does work, it’s really the middle section that needed to be a lot more intricate – as it is there’s a flatness to it, a cold distance between the voyeur and the act of viewing, as if it’s being done out of simple ennui and that perhaps Jolie wasn’t quite willing to go the full distance and show masturbation onscreen, for example. Though, again, if the lack of arousal was intentional then it’s only really justified by a significant investment from the audience (in the real world). Other peripheral elements could also have been tighter – like the local barkeep, played by Niels Arestrup, divulging his life story and philosophy almost straight away instead of attempting more poignancy later on perhaps.

Still, lots of elements are really well done – the visuals with their prevalence of white against the sunny, sandy landscapes all set in the 60s/70s, are beautifully shot and immediately bring to mind the recent ‘The Two Faces of January‘. Both leads deliver great performances, with Jolie rarely more radiant onscreen and evoking shades of Bardot when she gets dressed up for the evening, and there are a number of key moments that work well, especially when delving into the sadness and pain of each character. The film proves interesting enough to draw you in throughout, and even if it ultimately doesn’t reach the level of the kind of art that inspired it, it is still reasonably successful on its own terms. Plenty of signs of promise from the determined writer/director.

Hector  (2015)    67/100

Rating :   67/100                                                                       87 Min        15

A Christmas film with a decidedly more depressing angle than is the norm. Hector (Peter Mullan) is a homeless pensioner living rough in Scotland and has been doing so for many years – although he has managed to make some friends, played by Keith Allen and Natalie Gavin, and indeed has become a regular at a Christmas shelter in London, which he is determined to reach this year as well via a lengthy bout of hitchhiking. This time, however, he needs a crutch to walk and ailing general health means he is scheduled for an operation after the holiday season, though for exactly what we aren’t told.

From first-time writer and director Jake Gavin, it’s as bleak as it needed to be for the first half of the film, as we watch Hector survive in the face of bitter elements opposed to that very purpose, and choosing to ground it as a Christmas movie was perfect as it reminds us of those less fortunate than ourselves and the hardships they will be enduring right now. Thereafter, the film warms up thematically as Hector’s backstory is explored amidst the arrival of friendlier faces and it’s here that a massive opportunity has been missed – the current political climate in Britain with the Tory party in power has left many vulnerable people homeless and destitute for no good reason and yet the exact mechanisms for this are very much under the public radar, reason being a decidedly right-wing and pro-Tory media (evinced by the somewhat pantomime attack on left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn – especially by the BBC, who seem to enjoy camping outside his front door ready to insult him every time he leaves home).

The story could have explored this dark facet of modern Britain, and indeed the medium of film is one bastion that can illuminate current circumstance, but alas the retirement of Ken Loach from feature films has left a noticeable void in British film for the cries of the voiceless, and the character of Hector is very much a victim of both chance and his own feelings of hopelessness. Dramatically fine, but given the bigger picture perhaps a little easy overall. Mullan is convincing throughout and the beautiful Sarah Solemani also shines as the care worker whose relationship with the people around her may be more symbiotic than is apparent.

Victor Frankenstein  (2015)    37/100

Rating :   37/100                                                                     110 Min        12A

A monstrous waste of time. This is from 20th Century Fox and so isn’t actually part of Universal’s relaunch of their ‘monsters’ back catalogue into a new franchise, as last year’s ‘Dracula Untold‘ was (interestingly, Charles Dance played the ancient vampire in the cave there, and here he appears briefly as Frankenstein’s father), although no doubt Universal will be keenly taking note of just how badly they’ve bludgeoned the hell out of the material – the primary problem, aside from terrible scriptwriting from Max Landis (‘American Ultra‘), direction from Paul McGuigan (‘Push’ 09, ‘Lucky Number Slevin’ 06) and acting from James McAvoy (Victor Frankenstein), Daniel Radcliffe (Igor) and Andrew Scott (Inspector Turpin), is that it very much feels like a lame attempt to simply make more money from long since dead material, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Not that it couldn’t have been redone incredibly well, thematically it’s as compelling now as it was when Mary Shelley penned the novel in 1818, but we can gain some insight into the film’s many downfalls by looking at some choice quotes, mentioned here, from an interview with the director : “[Frankenstein] has always been a mad scientist with funny hair – and that’s it. He’s not really had a backstory.” Wrong. McGuigan has clearly never seen Hammer Horror’s classic ‘The Curse of Frankenstein’ (57), one of the most famous versions of the story, wherein loads of time is spent on building up Frankenstein’s backstory and character – one of the reasons it works so well. McGuigan continues : “… there’s not a reverence to the book… I don’t know if you’ve ever read it, but it’s as dull as dishwater, man… If you love the book, you’ll hate the movie.” Well, why exactly are you adapting the novel again?

The film opens with the soon to be Frankenstein’s assistant Igor living as a hunchbacked circus clown, whose medical ability is unveiled after a somewhat predictable ‘No Sebastian, don’t try it without the net!’ moment and then bizarrely the circus imprisons him, before the curious and scheming Frankenstein initiates a rescue and they become wanted criminals for murder as the circus also decides to try and kill them in their flight and someone gets nailed, or knifed to be more precise, although the protagonists aren’t actually responsible, all before Igor’s hunch is cured and mysteriously all the traits Radcilffe was ‘acting’ also oddly disappear. It’s awful, and makes little to no sense, much like the remainder of the film.

McAvoy’s accent ranges heavily from something close to his own to a truly horrid English one, as he displays a sort of vaudeville crazy scientist routine that’s about as appealing as nails scratching on his blackboard would be (although in true modern Hollywood style he often prefers to write on the floor), whilst Radcliffe mopes around like a wooden monkey, pushed aimlessly around by his mentor and the equally whimsical screenplay. Jessica Brown Findlay appears in a love interest role that is really a hopeless distraction for the story, but her performance, and her beauty, is in such contrast to everything around her that she ends up being one of the film’s saving graces in the end.

Similarly, the final section that takes place at Dunnottar castle in Scotland finally begins to build something resembling visual tension (Dracula’s castle may have been based on Slains Castle which is also in Aberdeenshire, incidentally) but it’s not long before all is forcibly throttled down the privy once more. We see Frankenstein, for example, go up to his creation declaring in despair ‘it’s not life!’, well the thing just got up and walked toward you on its own matey it looks pretty alive to me, and then everyone goes into hysterics for no reason and, well, one very much sympathises with the monster who is likely smarter than everyone else combined. Tremendously realised sets and costumes (if you are ever in Edinburgh check out Frankenstein’s pub for more on the same theme) but overall this just feels like a bad TV episode they couldn’t be bothered even properly linking scenes together in.

Indeed, the movie is so poor that multiple people found checking their Facebook news feeds for the majority of it more interesting; normally I would suggest people who check their phones in the cinema should have their tongues superglued to the screen after the show, but on this occasion, I similarly found their Facebook news feeds more entertaining than anything happening in McGuigan’s lazy, disjointed, muck-fest of a movie.

Black Mass  (2015)    58/100

Rating :   58/100                                                                     122 Min        15

Detailing the exploits from the mid-seventies onwards of infamous Boston mobster James ‘Whitey’ Bulger (Johnny Depp), directed by Scott Cooper (‘Crazy Heart’ 09, ‘Out of the Furnace‘) and written by Jez Butterworth (‘Edge of Tomorrow‘, ‘Spectre‘) and Mark Mallouk in his screenwriting debut, ‘Black Mass’ feels from start to finish like a poor man’s ‘The Departed’ (06), as we simply watch brutal killing after brutal killing take place at either the bequest or the hands of the protagonist, with the ludicrously overt antics of a complicit FBI agent as the only real countermeasure to the bloodshed, bar a few moments with Bulger’s young son and wife (Dakota Johnson) where the film finds some rare flashes of humanity.

It’s a vile film, gritty to be sure, but with nothing more than Bulger killing everyone that slights him as the heart of the piece it becomes difficult to the see any point to the movie other than a warning not to get involved with psychopaths. Joel Edgerton plays FBI agent John Connolly, who manages to persuade his boss (Kevin Bacon) and colleagues (David Harbour and Adam Scott) that bringing in Bulger as an informant is a totally sweet idea and that his childhood friendship with the man in question isn’t in any way a conflict of interests. If it wasn’t true, you would never believe it, but the way Connolly comes across onscreen wouldn’t sell to the least discerning of officials, never mind the Bureau.

Johnny Depp gives a, much touted, thoroughly transformative performance as Bulger, but this is exactly what Depp has being doing his entire career really – even recently in films that underperformed like ‘The Lone Ranger‘ and ‘Mortdecai‘, where the media largely ignored his work and preferred to lay claim to his career being over instead, and even though it’s a noteworthy turn the especially dark writing and material are unlikely to do him many favours come awards season. Indeed, there’s no immediate reason for the movie’s title other than its story representing a relentless physical amalgam of disturbing and pathological violence.

Carol  (2015)    55/100

Rating :   55/100                                                                     118 Min        15

Based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel ‘The Price of Salt’ and adapted by screenwriter Phyllis Nagy in her feature debut, Todd Haynes (‘I’m Not There’ 07, ‘Far from Heaven’ 02) directs this tale of forbidden desire and romance set in the Big Apple in 1950 with an obvious loving devotion to the era and the setting, but it’s here that too much of the focus clearly lies, leaving his characters largely stifled and suffocating in all the hazy nostalgia. Rooney Mara plays Therese Belivet, a young and uncertain shop assistant, too accustomed to saying yes to people, who one day lays eyes on the well-to-do and elegant Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), who enters her store in search of a gift for her young daughter and encounters an instant lustful attraction between the two of them.

The initial sexual atmosphere prompts the pair to arrange a meeting but it actually largely disappears from there on in, appearing in intimate moments in the future but never really creating the tension that was set-up at the onset. Indeed, their first moment of real physical contact comes when Therese places a comforting hand on Carol’s shoulder and their fingers deliberately touch – but then the camera cuts out and we are taken to a scene later in the evening when they’re outside talking about family matters. That’s terrible, we really needed to see that scene play out, to see the reactions and the body language, to feel either tense and uncomfortable or excited, or to at least see each of the characters’ reaction to the touch, as it is we view the moment from behind as well so we know nothing and then it’s all gone, much like the romance and the libidinous exposition from the film.

There’s an element of the material having lost some relevance, what was perhaps written to deliberately provoke and challenge readers in 1952 is simply no longer considered remotely risqué, and much of the background: Carol’s husband is vying for custody of their daughter now that he realises his wife prefers carpet munching to spending time with him and Therese’s boyfriend wants to get married but she thinks she might want to be a photographer and be gay instead, all carries the artificial feel of the movie with it, a set of traps placed to confine the women and potentially doom their affair, conveniently providing a framework for theoretical tension and reasons for them to want to be together – as much to share in an escape from their constrictive lives as friends as to begin a new physical and emotional entanglement.

Carol’s daughter looks remarkably like a younger version of Therese, and this is both no accident and one of the more interesting elements of the film, the rest could have done with more insights into the human condition but alas the trysts never really bite, not even in bed, and moments of charm are leavened out by the dominance of effusive boredom and meaningless aesthetics, driven home by dressing Mara up like Audrey Hepburn at the end of the film, even though it’s too early for her to be copying her anyway unless she really took to Hepburn’s cigarette selling cameos. Similarly, if we look at the pic above, which is where the pair first meet, we can see all the thought gone into positioning and staging, much like a Vetriano painting with suggestive angles all over – note how the pen points phallically toward Therese following precisely the eager bent of Carol’s gaze and posture, see the way she pinches the card she’s holding and look at how Therese’s right breast is perfectly framed to be protruding proudly toward that which is making her heart race. All this is fine, but there’s too little soul beneath the surface artistry.

The leads both offer promise, especially Mara, but they never fully convince romantically and one hopes the affair doesn’t become another female Oscar winner purely because of its content and its brief moments of nudity – which one does question the film’s need for, and yet they provide some of the more memorable moments and I think there’s always going to be a certain, ahem, je ne sais quoi about watching two of Hollywood’s most attractive leading ladies going at it under the sheets. Visual peaks aside, I found myself wondering, would changing the sex of one lover alter the film in any way? No, is the answer, it would be just as tedious.

Bridge of Spies  (2015)    69/100

Rating :   69/100                                                                     141 Min        12A

Spielberg’s latest delivers a film stylistically similar to his last, ‘Lincoln‘, with its focus on one central historical character and the legal, human and emotional struggle he finds himself having to negotiate for the outcome he desires; one that flies in the face of the odds and stands to make him multiple enemies. James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) is the gifted insurance lawyer working in 1957’s New York City who is chosen, because of his talents and his solid reputation, to defend captured alleged Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (played by renowned stage actor Mark Rylance), and who will find himself embroiled in diplomatic and legal intrigue with his values and wit tested beyond any normal and fair measure as he stands resolute in Abel’s corner, eschewing the piecemeal defence he was expected to mount.

Donovan turns out to be fully worthy of firstly being committed to film, but also of the calibre of the filmmakers responsible for doing so, and Hanks is as comfortably likeable and commanding as he always is. Interestingly, the story features the top secret operations of the American U-2 spy planes (an aircraft that was nicknamed ‘Dragon Lady’, incidentally), and Donovan’s daughter Carol is played by none other than the lovely Eve Hewson, who is of course the daughter of U2 frontman Paul Hewson, aka Bono.

Rylance delivers an impressively stoic performance replete with an utterly convincing Scottish accent – Abel was apparently born and bred in Newcastle but nevertheless sounded like he was from north of the border, which is why the screenplay relates he was born in northern England but then makes deliberate mention of Scotland when Donovan pretends to be going on a fishing trip there (although this anecdote is historically accurate) – The Red Dragon appreciates the acknowledgement, otherwise people may have thought they used northern England because of the old fashioned falsehood that nobody would know where Scotland was (incidentally, I meet mortals from all over the world on a regular basis and time and time again they tell me ‘Braveheart’ (95) is especially popular in their country. It really helped put Scotland on the map internationally and is apparently shown as a sort of Christmas staple around the globe {come to think, it was shown here on Film4 a few days ago too}. I wonder what it is that all nations can relate to in it … ).

The movie has numerous saccharine moments and a few fanciful overly patriotic ones too, such as a brief aerial action ‘hero’ sequence that’s not in the least believable, although it does have visual parallels with scenes in other Spielberg films, like ‘Tintin‘, ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ (89) and ‘E.T.’ (82), and it’s fascinating to learn more about the director’s approach, such as turning up way before everyone else on set (after watching several movies in the early hours of the morning) and only then really thinking about, and going through, how he’s going to film that scene, constantly asking himself what the heart of the movie really is, what it’s really trying to say and so on.

A genuine filmmaker through and through, his final version proves intriguing from start to finish if a little long for the story, where perhaps less of the secondary characters in Matt Charman’s script (who gave it to the Cohen brothers to spruce up a little) could ultimately have proven more, just as veering away from Janusz Kamiński’s borderline cheesy cinematography (it’s the Cold War so everything looks cold for the most part with predominant shades of blue and grey etc.) and not condensing several months of negotiations into a couple of days may have helped the film ring a little more true. Compelling, mostly accurate and well crafted nonetheless, the classic tale of someone standing up for what they believe in, and using their intellect and charm to try and persuade everyone else they’re right, is there for us to enjoy and we can expect at least a few Oscar nods coming its way in the new year …