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.

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 …

Suffragette  (2015)    0/100

Rating :   0/100            COMPLETE INCINERATION           106 Min        12A

Goodness, where to begin to with this one. Well, let’s start with the popular advertising poster:


As we can see from this, Meryl Streep is very much posited as one of the key actors in the film. She isn’t. She plays Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the suffragette movement who campaigned and brutally fought for women to have the vote, the suffrage, in Britain from the latter half of the nineteenth century until some women were eventually granted it in 1918 (and some more men, they didn’t have universal suffrage back then either) and then all women over 21 in 1928. As Em. Pankhurst, one could be forgiven for thinking she would indeed feature heavily in the movie, as it is though she has one scene giving a speech from a balcony which has very obviously and very poorly been dubbed in a sound studio, and then she scarpers, stopping briefly to tell protagonist Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) to keep up the good fight. It’s a cameo role, pure and simple, and thusly amounts to false advertising to sell a product which outside of the UK would appear to be a rather dismal, po faced and low-key film, which, actually, it is.

Secondly, again looking at the poster, ‘The Time is Now’, well, ‘The Time was Then’, surely? Coupled with the realisation the central character and the majority of events are purely fictional, we suddenly realise this is a film with a very skewed agenda at its heart, as we are shown that every man in Maud’s life is a total shitbag and she’s been sexually abused by her boss in the past at work, and there was of course seemingly nothing she could do about it, or perhaps she was willing then and now she’s angry at his attentions turning to someone younger – we are left to wonder, as she goes on to, quite by chance, end up meeting the Prime Minister and joining the suffragette movement with very little understanding of anything about it, rather she comes to realise that all men are pigs, and by extension the movie is really trying to imply the same is as true now as it was then.

We see, for example, the same lewd and abusive boss talk down to her, and in response she crushes his hand with a red-hot iron in front of everyone – a pretty serious assault despite the guy being a creep, but the police make a deal with her to let it go if she helps rat out the movement, which she initially agrees to then immediately reneges on, but the incident is mysteriously simply forgotten about. I remember studying the suffragette movement many years ago and although the details have long since faded nothing in this film bar the most famous of incidents shown, such as Emily Davison (Natalie Press) throwing herself to her death in front of the King’s horse, ring true. The acting from Mulligan is fine with less than inspiring support work around her, but even without the lack of any real audience connection with the material the film is flat and unrealistic throughout, notwithstanding the occasional moment of sympathy for families being torn apart, and this comes as no surprise given it’s directed by Sarah Gavron and written by Abi Morgan, whose last film together, ‘Brick Lane‘, was largely shunned and protested against by the very people it was supposed to be representing.

Historically, it’s one of a number of periods in the twentieth century that form a continuous narrative of groups struggling for their democratic and human rights and their varied approach to that struggle, and indeed it was high time a film was made about the suffragettes, but this is just unforgivable. The audience are led to believe that it was the suffragettes themselves that essentially gained the vote for women, which is an enormous simplification of the issue – politically it’s unthinkable that women weren’t going to get the vote in the UK as it had already been enacted in other democratic countries, it was just a question of how and when, and ultimately after the united effort of British women on the home front during World War I, taking over all the jobs vacated by the men off fighting, the first stages of legislation were passed to grant some women the suffrage, almost as a way to say thank you as much as a recognition that it was increasingly unjustifiable and, frankly, stupid not too.

However, that too is misleading given the suffragettes had been running around blowing things up, acts of terrorism which don’t traditionally make it easy for a government to acquiesce to your demands, there was no doubt an element of ‘perfect, we can use this and move on from it’ as well as opportunistic politicians hoping to gain from the extension of the public franchise, and it’s certainly arguable that the movement actually hindered their cause, successfully raising public awareness of the issue but also painting it in a strongly negative light.

Which leads nicely on to what I perceive to be the agenda of the film itself, which has nothing to do with the past but rather the fact that actresses in the film industry in America, and I think perhaps in the UK too although there are less public details about that, are currently up in arms about the lack of pay parity between the sexes, which has apparently been going on since the very beginning of the industry and yet they’ve never thought to do anything about it. This does seem to be a real problem, with no shortage of evidence being released this year alone to support it, however it really is their problem – do they really expect the public to care that they only get X million instead of Y million? Aware of this lack of public support, you occasionally see the debate being appropriated by people who should know better and who try to package the thing as ‘actually all women in the West are being victimised and held back by mysterious faceless white men in their forties who control everything including your brains’ and thus their struggle is actually your struggle.

This, I believe, is the real reason the film has been made and has been done as poorly and misguidedly as it has. Sorry to ruin it for the filmmakers but women in the UK have equal rights under law, and if someone were to be sexually discriminated against in the workplace, or paid less than a male for doing the same job, then there are fairly robust legal procedures they can utilise. Another constant gripe you hear in the industry is that there aren’t enough films with female central characters (which is rubbish by the way) and especially historical ones – well here was the perfect chance, and what did they elect to do instead? Create a fiction against an ‘historical backdrop’ robbing the movie of any real meaning with their creation of whimsy and prejudice because to actually make it a proper historical film, they would actually have to go and do some real work, Heaven forbid.

Ah, but if they managed to persuade large numbers of women to watch and endorse the film, partly by riling them up against this mystical modern oppression in order to get more ticket sales and thusly improve their box office potential as female filmmakers, then this, potentially, could allow them to negotiate better pay deals with studios. In effect, they want you the public to sort out their problems by giving them your money, and they’ve designed this rather insidious project just for that purpose. It’s incredible, why don’t they just strike like everyone else? The writers in Hollywood went on strike over pay several years back and brought the system to its knees. They moan and moan and moan and yet do nothing to actually tackle the issue – presumably they have to be a part of the same union in order to act in Hollywood, since the industry cannot survive without actresses, and since fair pay is in every woman’s interests (and every man’s as well ultimately), then surely a one hundred percent withdrawal of services until better independent watchdogs or standards could be put in place would be successful?

Ironically, much like the women in the film, their tactics are more likely to simply get other people’s backs up, people who may have agreed and supported them otherwise, and indeed there is little acknowledgement of the nature of individual clients negotiating their own prices or producers having the right to pay whatever they are willing to pay etc. nor the role sex appeal can play in bankability, but when you have Amanda Seyfried reportedly finding out she got paid ten percent of what her male co-star got paid, at a time when both were equivalent box office draws and had similar sized parts, and Keira Knightley getting paid roughly half the amount Orlando Bloom did for the third Pirates film (the difference was presumably for acting lessons) it’s clear something is badly wrong somewhere.

A few days ago, a report was headlined on the BBC news that women in the UK are paid 19% less than men. A typical attention grabbing headline that was shot to pieces when the details were eventually gone into, such as that figure including part-time workers – when adjusted for full-time work the percentage dropped to 9% and the primary reason for the difference appeared to simply be the low numbers of women working in many of the highest paid sectors, engineering for example, with no data on why that was the case. This was delivered by one of the women behind the study who gleefully began her interview by stating women outperformed men at all levels in secondary education, something which sounds a little dubious but along with the distinct lack of any real science all but ruined the reports credibility. This is very typical of late; gender roles, parity and feminism have become enormous hooks for the British media to report on, one could be forgiven for thinking it’s when they don’t have anything else to say, and very rarely are any real arguments or facts presented but rather the whole caboodle is forcibly inserted into every issue and thrust upon every film that’s released.

In interviews for the release of this film, Streep had a go at review website Rotten Tomatoes for not representing enough female critics and thus providing, she argued, a skewed consideration of film in favour of a male point of view. Garbage. Rotten Tomatoes has very strict criteria to reach before you can be a part of it, and it’s simply the case that not enough female critics reach this criteria, it cannot possibly be the fault of the site itself unless corruption is involved and I’m not aware of any evidence to suggest that – and frankly I find the idea of films for men and films for women absolutely disgusting, so it really oughtn’t to matter what gender the critic is. I know just as many women who love ‘Die Hard’, ‘Sin City’ and classic westerns as I do men who love ‘Twilight’, ‘Grease’ and ‘Dirty Dancing’. Similarly, Romola Garai, who plays Alice Haughton in the film, decided to announce her career was being hampered by the lack of childcare facilities at work for her. Wow, imagine if every workplace in the land suddenly had to provide a crèche for their employees, or rather their children, to use. Ironically, numerous studios might actually have the space and money to provide a supervised crèche which would be great for everyone on-set, so despite her implication of discrimination she has hit on a pretty decent suggestion.

Finally, one of the most telling elements of the cynical absolute nonsense behind this film is the casting of Helena Bonham Carter as one of the main suffragettes. In real-life she is close friends with British Prime Minister David Cameron (herself descended from former Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, who also features in this film coincidentally) the leader of the Conservative party who not only have traditionally been against votes for women (many feared it would lead to universal suffrage for men, thus the working man whom the Conservatives punish) but also votes for anyone that takes power away from them, against equal rights for everyone unless they have money (they are at present attempting to annul the Human Rights Act, which the British public seem to be largely unawares of), and they are trying to make it more difficult for people to exercise their right to strike fairly, and Cameron himself is personally responsible for introducing measures that have resulted in the deaths of thousands of poor and disabled people up and down the country whilst giving himself and the wealthy tax cuts, and they are even redrawing the political map to give themselves a bigger share of the seats next election.

Bonham Carter has publicly endorsed Cameron, and thus the party, saying what a nice guy he is – her choosing to be in this film is a sick joke since she is joined at the hip with the right wing of British politics. Her message is vote Conservative girls, and who profits from this? Why, she does of course, and her aristocratic rich friends – she ironically gave her support to the domestic violence campaign group ‘Sisters Uncut’, who were protesting against the film at its premiere after cuts to domestic violence services, saying “I’m glad our film has done something. That’s exactly what it’s there for.” – who is responsible for the cuts? David Cameron. At a time when a film encouraging people to vote and engage in politics would have been a good idea, this has been hijacked by all the wrong people.

Everest  (2015)    96/100

Rating :   96/100                      Treasure Chest                       121 Min        12A

This is an absolute powerhouse of a movie that thunderously announces the start of the awards season, boldly dominating IMAX theatres a week before its theatrical release and, having now watched it twice on IMAX and once on a normal 3D screen, this is definitely one film where the larger format makes a big difference. In fact, even if for some reason you weren’t taken with the story, the visuals of Everest and its surroundings alone make it worth going to see (sections were filmed on the mountain itself, others in the Italian Alps, and then variously at Cinecitta and Pinewood studios).

It’s often the mark of a great film when the more you watch it, the more you actually appreciate and enjoy it – I’ve answered some of my initial criticisms and uncertainties and not only is this easily the best film I’ve seen this year, I actually just wanted to go and watch it again immediately after the credits rolled for my third time (I’d even recommend sitting through them, there are no extra scenes but it’s fascinating to see all the various people and departments involved, and indeed how few stunt performers there were given the nature of the film, and the score from Dario Marianelli {‘Pride and Prejudice’ 05, ‘Atonement’ 07, ‘Anna Karenina’ 12} plays out the film and the credits perfectly – indeed, it’s definitely one of the main highlights throughout, setting exactly the right stirring tone for both drama and adventure).

The story details the events of one particular ascent of Everest in 1996 and as always with this kind of film, it works best if you know absolutely nothing about it going in so I’ll just summarise what the opening credits relate – namely that in the nineties professional climbers, beginning with high profile mountaineer Rob Hall and his company Adventure Consultants, started to organise trips to the summit of Everest as a business, and that between the beginning of organised and successful commercial operations and Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s first ascent in 1953, one in four climbers died whilst trying to defeat the mountain. Indeed, the film makes sure to run through the various horrible things that can happen to you humans whilst you try, mostly due to the area being in the ‘Death Zone’, an altitude where the air is too thin to survive for long without a mixture of serious training and artificial aid.

The film is remarkably successful in several key areas, and as always those of principal importance concern the writing which here addresses all of the pitfalls screenwriters Simon Beaufoy (‘Slumdog Millionaire’ 08, ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ 11, ‘The Hunger Games : Catching Fire‘) and William Nicholson (‘Shadowlands’ 93, ‘Gladiator’ 2000) must have been very aware of – they make us care about each of the characters, for example, and artfully deal with the unavoidable ‘what on Earth made you go up there in the first place?’, and although moments like these are in many ways obvious concessions for the benefit of the audience they, asides from the occasional incidence of someone randomly writing squiggles on a board in the background, have been handled really well.

Even though they’re mostly all together, we get to know and appreciate each character through a series of vignettes which are knitted together to form the story – each not only has us guessing what might ultimately happen, but most of them can also be read into in a number of different ways and the writers have been very careful to apply an even handed approach to events with regards to what occurs, leaving plenty of room for discussion afterward and, crucially, making the drama feel very, very human, and it all does an impressive job too of actually making us feel like we’re there, like what we’re witnessing is as we’d experience it if we were on the same, or perhaps any, climbing trip, rather than something stylised or augmented for cinema.

Anyone who’s ever engaged in any kind of outdoor activity may well know that feeling you have when everything is going well and then all of a sudden you realise you might be in a spot of trouble, and as Jason Clarke (playing Rob Hall) says near the beginning of the movie you can’t compromise on safety. When you’re in charge of something and have to make the big calls you’ve got to be brutal and unwavering with them each time (whenever you feel that cold sensation of ‘it’ll probably be fine …’ then you know you’re in a bad spot and should put an end to it right away), and essentially hope that people realise it’s for their own good – in my experience that’s usually a bit of wishful thinking but you’ve got to be ready and prepared for it nonetheless and like all the best films of this type Everest really brings this concept into focus, as well as the audacity and vulnerability of attempting to embrace the natural world on its own terms.

The editing by Mick Audsley and direction from Baltasar Kormákur work perfectly with the writing, as for much of the first half the views are scenic and mostly relaxing and it’s not until the film really gets going that the dramatic, vertigo inducing shots come into play – and although not every moment has the impact that you wish it had, the balance between scaring the audience and not making them vomit is finely achieved, cue moments of ‘is the camera going to carry on moving so we’re looking straight down … yup it is eeeeeeee’, and indeed when you’re filming, panning and rotational shots are some of the easiest to mess up as you always have to move slower than you think you do otherwise it just becomes a blur for the viewer. Sinfully absent, however, are any outstanding shots of the night sky – from Everest the view on a clear night of the Heavens and the Milky Way must be truly a sight to behold and it’s really surprising it doesn’t feature here, and indeed there are two scenes that are shot in the same manner with a static camera, and I can’t help but wish they’d done a more traditional shot for one of them, although they may have been accused of sensationalism that way, or being too cheesy or perhaps even disrespectful to the story.

The acting is universally great from an impressive lineup of stars: the aforementioned Clarke, Josh Brolin, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emily Watson, John Hawkes, Martin Henderson, Sam Worthington, Robin Wright, Michael Kelly and non other than the inimitable Keira Knightley. Both Brolin and Clarke are really impressive but especially so with regards to Brolin – the way he’s brought the subtleties of his role to life is one of the biggest and most effective anchors for the entire movie. I love the fact that Keira is in a film about the coveted pinnacle of the physical world as I kind of draw numerous parallels between them and, all obvious jokes aside, here, although her role is very much a supporting one, she is absolutely fantastic in it with a nigh on perfect Kiwi accent, and although there is one line I wish they hadn’t given her character as it sounds like something Elizabeth Swann would say and I wasn’t initially convinced by some of the direction for her scenes (tight frames on her face may suggest playing to her looks over tension etc.) but each and every time it’s her performance that really gets the audience going in a very audible way, so I have to concede the director was right on the money there.

Even Sam Worthington who very much exhibits his familiar ‘I am ON and ready for a FIGHT’ style actually sees it work really well for the film and for me this is currently deserving of an Oscars sweep next year, although it’s very early days yet. I’d love to see Clarke, Brolin, Kormákur, Nicholson, Beaufoy, Watson, Marianelli, cinematographer Salvatore Totino and, indeed, Keira nominated as although her screen time is really small, if the film manages to gain any traction with the Academy then we might see a repeat of what happened with 1976’s ‘Network’, which was a fantastic film that deservedly won a raft of Oscars but also landed Beatrice Straight one for best supporting actress and whom I think still holds the record for shortest screen time, at circa five minutes, for a win in the category and yet provided moments of emotional connection for the audience in a memorable way, and Keira’s scenes here along with her delivery have that same emotive quality and are certainly statuette worthy, but it will only stand a chance of happening if the film itself makes it to the finishing line.

Unusually, I’m not researching anything about this film; partly because, although I may live to rue this, I trust them with the details of the story in this scenario, and also because I don’t want the illusion to be shattered just yet by finding out things like my favourite moments were actually shot in a cosy studio somewhere etc. I’m also looking forward to watching it several more times and getting stuck into the extra material that’s bound to be on the DVD – I remember watching the bonus features for ‘Vertical Limit’ (2000) which wasn’t a particularly great film but after the featurettes and seeing what they went through to film it I had a great deal more respect for the filmmakers, in particular with things like Scott Glenn climbing up the ice with picks and no safety equipment, if memory serves.

There’s something about being able to watch a film detailing people climbing Everest and realistically taking you there with them all from the comfort of your chair in the theatre, something that goes to the very heart of one of cinema’s greatest strengths.

A fantastic film that will stay with you for a very long time.

Selma  (2014)    0/100

Rating :   0/100             COMPLETE INCINERATION           128 Min        12A

This film is nothing short of revolting, and is the direct descendant of ‘Argo‘ which set the tone and bad precedent for bastardising history and not only getting away with it, but being rewarded for doing so by winning best film at the Oscars – a feat which ‘Selma’ could technically repeat in a few hours time later this evening, but the fact is the only reason it’s been nominated is because it’s a film about the Civil Rights Movement, not because it is any good and as Dr King quotes in the interview below “I think it was T.S. Eliot who said that ‘there is no greater heresy than to do the right thing for the wrong reason’” (also, note how composed Dr King is compared to the interviewers that surround him in that clip) and as much as this episode in history has long deserved a proper retelling on the silver screen to be promoted and propagated, this is most certainly not it.

As far as The Red Dragon is concerned, Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most awesome human beings to have ever existed, and he is absolutely one of the most influential and important figures of the twentieth century and by extension the modern world. This film centers on the march from the city of Selma in Alabama to the state capital, Montgomery, which took place in 1965 and, occurring when the Civil Rights Movement was already in full swing, was to force the issue of equal voting rights for all people irrespective of colour onto the nationwide agenda. Taking place after the 1963 march to Washington, the Selma series of events would prove to be arguably even more galvanising with the aftershocks quickly swaying the mood of Washington as well as huge swathes of the American public.

Here David Oyelowo plays Dr King and much has been made of his ‘snub’ for best actor at the Oscars, but the truth of the matter is he simply isn’t good enough. At no point does he remind you of Dr King either in mannerism or accent, and if you are familiar with Oyelowo’s previous roles you can see precious little difference between them and this. His first line is ‘It ain’t right’ as he stands in front of the mirror dressing and talking to his out of shot wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo), and you think to yourself, ‘hmm, this just seems a bit off – I can’t imagine the eloquent and extremely well spoken Dr King talking like that’, maybe he did when he wasn’t on camera, but it’s an instant bad start for the film. Oyelowo puts a lot of gusto into his delivery of the speeches but from an acting point of view this is arguably not all that difficult with a crowd of people you know are going to cheer you on.

Treated with a hideous and sickening level of triteness is Coretta herself – here there is not only a suggestion that her husband is sexually jealous because she has briefly spoken with Malcolm X, and indeed it is suggested that the government might be secretly trying to break up their marriage, but at one point she has a go at him for severely stressing her and their family out with the work he is doing. Bollocks. She was utterly supportive and understanding of the movement, eventually even leading it, and she was an extraordinarily strong character in real life. She also had way more right to be angry than most given her entire family were constantly threatened and indeed their home was bombed, this screenplay is quite content to reduce her to a useless device in service of an equally useless plot. During her ‘confrontation’ with Dr King she asks him if he first of all loves her, to which he replies in the affirmative, and then if he ‘loves the others’ – which others? He says no, but it is deliberately vague as to whom she is referring, it could be the kids, it could the people in the movement, but there is a horrible and sinister suggestion that it could be other women, but the film just wants to put that seed out there it doesn’t want to go so far as to accuse the devoutly faithful (he was after all a fully ordained Baptist minister who made sure he visited his congregation as often as he could even while trying to change history) Dr King of playing the field.

All of this leads to the primary cardinal sin of the movie – at one crucial point we watch as Dr King leads, after a previous violent encounter which he wasn’t present at, a sizeable march from Selma, and a wall of police that had been standing in front of them, the same police responsible for the previous violence, suddenly parts down the middle leaving the way open for the marchers. Dr. King stops, kneels on the ground in silent contemplation, or prayer, and then decides to turn the march around and head back to where they came from. Understandably, his supporters are a little confused by this and he simply tells them the equivalent of ‘I had a bad feeling about it’ as if it were a trap and he was concerned about more violence, but the audience share in the feelings of the marchers at having been let down – the way was after all clear and even if it was a trap and the lines of police were waiting to close in, it would have been the pinnacle of King’s strategy as the affair would have been caught on camera for the world to see and after that deed who could not stand with his cause. At this moment there is also a federal injunction against the march, but the movement had deliberated and decided they had a duty to march despite the temporary ruling. Point is, this critical event didn’t happen this way. Let’s see what Dr King himself has to say about the matter …

“I held on to my decision to march despite the fact that many people in the line were concerned about breaking the court injunction issued by one of the strongest and best judges in the South. I felt that we had to march at least to the point where the troopers had brutalized the people, even if it meant a recurrence of violence, arrest, or even death. As a nonviolent leader, I could not advocate breaking through a human wall set up by the policemen. While we desperately desired to proceed to Montgomery, we knew before we started our march that this human wall set up on Pettus Bridge would make it impossible for us to go beyond it. It was not that we didn’t intend to go on to Montgomery, but that, in consideration of our commitment to nonviolent action, we knew we could not go under those conditions.

We sought to find a middle course. We marched until we faced the troopers in their solid line shoulder to shoulder across Highway 80. We did not disengage until they made it clear they were going to use force. We disengaged then because we felt we had made our point, we had revealed the continued presence of violence.”

‘The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.’ Edited by Clayborne Carson, chapter 26 ‘Selma’, pages 281-282

In real life, if presented by the invented scenario of the film, Dr King would have continued the march – doing what the imaginary Dr King in the film does could very well have sounded the death knell of the movement, and the decision to do this with the plot breaks the entire spine of the movie. This insanity is continued with the choice of music in the film – at one point a music only version of ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ plays, which can have only negative connotations when played over a film like this, and then crucially, as the people march on one of their attempts to reach Montgomery we hear a version of Bob Dylan’s ‘Masters of War’ play – let me reproduce some of the lyrics of the song, lyrics that are cut off in the film:

That even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand over your grave
‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead.

It’s a song brimming with bitter unforgiving hatred and diametrically opposed to the nonviolent and Christian philosophy of Dr King – a philosophy he learned and adopted after thinking for a long time about both the morally and politically correct way forward for equal civil rights for all people in America, and eventually he came across the achievements of Gandhi and realised nonviolent opposition was the way forward: meaning people fight for their rights but in a nonviolent way, such as with marches and demonstrations etc. to raise public awareness and shame the enemy, especially if they themselves react in a violent manner as had happened at the initial march attempt in Selma.

It’s very telling that at no point in the film is there any actual footage of Dr King, and at the very, very end of the credits there is a note saying the film is not meant to be a documentary, but they are basically hiding the statement and, frankly, no one should be able to make and release films like this about critically important events which sees the filmmakers’ egos supplant and rewrite history in the overt way that this attempts to.

Testament of Youth  (2014)    0/100

Rating :   0/100             COMPLETE INCINERATION           129 Min        12A

Aaaargh what a load of garbage! A film about stupid posh people who go off to war excited about potentially killing themselves and who then try to moan about it poignantly, completely ignoring their own idiocy and the fact that it was their very ilk who were not only responsible for starting the blooming war in the first place, but for then buying their way into the ranks of the officer elite and, once again through their stupidity, sending many thousands of men who didn’t have a choice about being there to their pointless and horrible deaths, all told through the eyes of the most pathetic useless waify twat that you can imagine. The waify twat in question is Vera Brittain, whose autobiographical novel this is based on, and World War I is the society event of the day. Vera is a woman, and is therefore much put upon and oppressed – as we can tell in the very beginning when daddy, and this did bring a tear to my eye, buys her a piano when she didn’t want one and she flips out, proving she’s an ungrateful spoilt little pisser right from the word go.

This upset at the piano is all to do with money going on something that everyone can use rather than sending her to Oxford to study, but she is apparently used to getting her own way so daddy eventually pays up anyway. Whilst we are waiting for the terribly exciting decision from the uni (even though she forgot to check what was required for the entrance exam and cocked it up and yet her entry is a forgone conclusion anyway) we are to believe that she is somehow a talented and spirited exception that is fighting the good fight for women’s lib, which is a massive bastardisation of the social issues of the day – women attended university in Britain long before 1914 (officially British universities have been open to women since 1876) and I imagine if you were male or female and, say, from the sticks around Birmingham you may have had much more difficulty getting into Oxford then than a young lass from gentrified money. So she’s really clever and talented right? So clever, in fact, she convinces her father to send her brother off to the war as ‘it will be good for him’, ahaha ha ha. Really? You’ve somehow got into Oxford and yet the poorest uneducated homeless orphan on the street can easily tell you that going off to any war is unlikely to be ‘good for you’.

At some point in the near future she realise this may have been a mistake and so she tries to get out of her studies to ‘do her bit’ as a nurse – to which her superior quite rightly points out that this is treating her place at the university with quite considerable disdain and she shouldn’t squander the privilege to go and do something she’s not trained at and will make no real difference in so doing either. She does it anyway and we see many, many shots of other nurses running around trying to save people whilst she looks hopelessly around aghast at the horrors she is surrounded by. Over the years, though, she remains unremittingly aghast, perpetually doing the better part of nothing – even Scarlett O’Hara did a better job of getting her hands dirty when she had to. The drama is unveiled in a horrendously melodramatic way that is so painfully bad I simply refuse to believe any of it is based on anything other than the most rudimentary of facts.

As for the acting, it is universally terrible – in particular from Alicia Vikander, who plays Brittain, and Kit Harington who plays her love interest and who initially has a job at the back somewhere but then volunteers for the front. Bright lad, you can see why the pair fell for each other. Directed by James Kent, it is also perforated by long almost completely silent shots and if you are going to make a film in this manner then you absolutely have to know what you are doing, otherwise not only does it seem utterly pretentious but you simply create many awkward moments for all but a solo audience. This really couldn’t paint a more negative portrayal of Brittain, which is sad as this is also the first big-screen adaptation of her most famous literary work, first published in 1933 and eventually forming part of an ongoing memoir that she was still writing for when she passed away in 1970.

The Imitation Game  (2014)    100/100

Rating :   100/100                      Treasure Chest                    114 Min        12A

This tells, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most important stories of the twentieth century – that of British mathematician Alan Turing, who during World War II was focused primarily on breaking the German Enigma code at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, and whose work would not only play a truly seismic part in the war effort but would propagate and be taken on by himself into numerous scientific disciplines, helping create the foundation of the modern computer, for example. As if that weren’t enough what happened to him in his personal life is already truly dramatic, irrespective of his decidedly epic achievements. Why is this story not better known?

Turing absolutely has claim to be one of the top ten most influential and important personages of the last century, but the state kept much of his story classified and top secret for many decades (as well as a number of his scientific papers), and then when the movie industry eventually got hold of it they messed it up by creating misfires ‘Enigma’ (01), with Kate Winslet and Dougray Scott which neglected to even mention Turing (although, interestingly it was co-financed by Mick Jagger who actually owns one of the machines), and even more controversially ‘U-571’ (2000), with Matthew McConaughey and Harvey Keitel which didn’t involve itself with the code breaking but instead focused on Americans capturing an Enigma machine despite the fact it was the British that had done so (writer David Ayer has since apologised for this), thankfully someone has given the source material the treatment it really deserved.

Helmed by Norwegian director Morten Tyldum (‘Headhunters’ 11), Graham Moore adapts the 1983 novel ‘Alan Turing: The Enigma’ by Andrew Hodges (himself a mathematician) and Benedict Cumberbatch gives a potentially Oscar winning, and immensely enjoyable, performance as Turing, portraying him as an irascible genius (as Matthew Goode’s character says in the film) but one that’s easy to like and sympathise with, and who provides the audience with cause to laugh on more than one occasion. Keira Knightley plays Joan Clarke, who solves a marketing crossword puzzle and gains access to the code breaking team and would come to play a central role in everyone’s lives, but Turing’s most of all. Additional support comes from Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Mark Strong and Charles Dance and absolutely everyone is good here (including Alex Lawther as Turing when he is younger) but the focus is very much on telling Turing’s story.

Actually filmed on location at Bletchley Park, I was already certain of giving this a very high mark as it’s a really intriguing, satisfying and genuinely very moving historical drama – but I was wavering on the issue of historical accuracy. However, the more I read up on the subject, the more convinced I became that the film does remarkably well – I suspect Turing himself would laugh at much of it, you can probably take all the interactions between the characters and consider them legitimate inventions, but I also believe he would be very pleased, and consider it truthful in all the ways that ultimately matter. Complaints have been made from the Polish media that the necessary work of their own soldiers and code breakers isn’t highlighted, but I don’t think that’s fair really – it’s very clearly alluded to in the film and certainly The Red Dragon came away with the distinct impression they had played a vital role, one is simply encouraged to do a little research afterward to learn more.

Accounts from his co-workers all seem to vouch for his central and pivotal role in events and if you have Winston Churchill himself claiming that Turing made the single biggest contribution to winning the war, well, it’s pretty difficult to argue with that really. Many of the events in the film which one may reasonably assume to be fictitious are actually true – and they have also omitted a lot of Turing’s other achievements: he’s shown running around the Park to keep fit (and no doubt de-stress), for example, but they don’t mention he actually used to sometimes run all the way to London from Bletchley, a distance of more than sixty kilometres (a marathon is a mere forty two). My personal favourite anecdote is that he used to chain his coffee mug to the radiator so that no one else could use it. I approve of this. Where I am right now I keep careful track of the mug I use AS IT’S THE BIGGEST – Dragons require copious amounts of tea otherwise they go on killing rampages. This may save your life one day.

Similarly (there are slight spoilers in this paragraph so you might want to skip it), with regard to the breaking of the code what we see onscreen is kind of what was used – it’s spread out over time in the film and it makes sense for the screenplay but in reality it would probably have taken them all of two seconds to realise its importance, though it is ironic that Hitler’s own ego was to have such an affect on matters. I don’t think it’s mentioned in the film, but I am reliably told that the Enigma machine could map a letter to any other except itself, and had it been able to do that it would have been perhaps outwith the team’s powers to break (or at least added significantly to the time frame involved). Also not delved into is that the spy mentioned in the film was actually able to provide the Soviets with vital information used in the battle of Kursk, which changed the entire tide of the war on the Eastern Front in favour of Russia. It really is no hyperbole to say that many of us are alive today thanks to the determined efforts of Alan Turing.

I’d love to see the film, Cumberbatch, Tyldum and Moore get Oscar nominations for this but, as you will no doubt have guessed, no one more so than Keira for best supporting actress – she has certainly had a great year and garnered a lot of good faith in the States with the likes of ‘Jack Ryan : Shadow Recruit‘, ‘Begin Again‘ and ‘Laggies‘, not to mention a lot of positive attention with her fairly low-key and intimate marriage in 2013, the revelation she only gives herself a respectable sum of circa thirty grand to live off each year, and then posing topless to take a stance against the media’s abuse of the female image. Together with the right film, i.e. this one, and a strong character with a great performance which she delivers here, it could very well propel her back into Oscar’s sights – plus she was robbed of the one she deserved for ‘Pride and Prejudice’ back in 2005, so say I ..

Incidentally, this is also the second film with her and Steven Waddington (best known for playing the villainous English major in ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ 92), the other being ‘The Hole’ (01), and in each case he plays a police sergeant and they never actually meet onscreen. Probably, no one else on the planet has noticed this (except for Waddington who must be pissed, and he failed to woo Madeleine Stowe in The Last of the Mohicans as well). Keira is also a fan of crosswords in real life, so is The Red Dragon which can only mean one thing – babies. That’s right, little baby dragons with Keira’s face on them, Keirons if you will, running around the place riddling humans to their everlasting peril. Actually, due to the success of the film GCHQ released an app, ‘Cryptoy’, which tests your code breaking powers and if you are good enough they may contact you. However, do you really want to install an app created by the intelligence services? It’s not like this film is a ringing endorsement of working for them – and I can only imagine what the permissions on it are like.

Alternatives for logic challenges are the ‘Myst’ series of games for the PC – you can get most of them for twenty quid from here (there’s even a sale on at the moment), or there’s a free online version, although I’m not completely sold on this as yet … Also, you might want to have a look at this little oddity which someone created and is quite fun, and, for your viewing and intellectual pleasure, The Red Dragon has a created a crossword for you to try. If you solve it within five minutes you get … well, nothing, but that’s not the point. (pen and paper required and the answers are at the bottom so don’t scroll down too fast …)

Blank crossword grid

1. “A friend in need …” (2,1,6,6)     8. Uncovered heat shed, covered (8)
9. Strictly oblique minister? (6) 10. Artisan looking south acts aimlessly (7)  11. Sounds like the highest voices, but is really Fred’s daughter (7)
13. Red ire again upset French ass (8)  15. Felt strongly passionate as dead remains placed in bed (6)  16. Even garb ajee scat in pieces (6) 18. Ralph hitting singular stake loses head spelling all (8)  21. The state of ecstasy – itself beset by a poorly maiden (7)  22. Initially, early studies showed even nocturnal creatures exude scent (7)  25. Placid icicle sour inside  26. Yielding to revelry Dona bans reckless whims, and leaves (8)  27. “You can’t teach an …” (3,3,3,6)

1. Inch forward, taste the source of instinctive impulses is bland (7)  2. One encouraging taking risks? (7)  3. Connect again as royal engineers bind together (5)
4. Dune unearthed without a stitch (4)  5. Strike the target, with a stroke, and you can use it to purify the claws (9)  6. Troop formation command level (7)  7. Modelled after removal indicator to have gotten rid of (7)  12. Bared, made to prohibit entrance (5)  14. Secret cooing tin rattled (9)  16. The music from the orchestra suffers from restlessness (7)  17. Awful, headless, fell jedi going weak at the knees (7)
19. Mountainous peak protects animal life, producing acid’s name (7)
20. Oppressed by nature Nazis display their long curls of hair (7)  23. The lunatics are better, at first, shrieking amidst new enemies return (5)  24. Special rear (4)






Across  –  1) is a friend indeed  8) sheathed  9) bishop  10) potters  11) Pebbles  13) derrière  15) burned  16) abject  18) alphabet  21) illegal  22) essence  25) acidic  26) abandons  27) old dog new tricks

Down  –   1) insipid  2) abetter/abettor  3) retie  4) nude  5) nailbrush  6) echelon  7) deposed  12) debar  14) incognito  16) agitato  17) jellied  19) benzoic  20) tresses  23) saner  24) rare

Mr. Turner  (2014)    63/100

Rating :   63/100                                                                     150 Min        12A

Lavish, but oh so drawn out. Mike Leigh writes and directs this biography of English watercolour master Joseph Mallord William Turner, all focused on his late middle age, and I suspect even if you weren’t aware he was behind the camera you’d have a good chance of guessing since it follows his favourite themes of misery, death, and intermittent sex to briefly alleviate the gloom – all in sequential rotation. Timothy Spall plays the man himself, and whilst Spall is a fantastic actor and this is a well researched and very interesting interpretation, I’m not entirely convinced it’s a good one. Turner is displayed as conspicuously porcine, grunting and partially snarling when he’s not throwing overly large words at the unsuspecting people around him, or indulging in verbosity if you prefer, and all of this appears to fit eye witness accounts of the man – and perhaps that is the problem, we have an outward representation of someone that’s been combined with Leigh’s somewhat definitively depressing outlook on life and that’s about it, we never really feel like we’re getting to the heart of the real person.

There are lots of nice scenic shots but they are so obviously staged, with horses running in unison into the frame on cue etc., and the whole film never quite escapes that feeling of artificiality. Not to mention it’s really long and the opening hour or so is interminably dull. It does, however, have more success in creating a realistic impression of the arts scene at the time, as we see Turner mix, as best he can, with his contemporaries and he displays his guile and skill in the infamous anecdote often told where he shows off in front of rival Constable, seeming to deface his own work in the gallery only to return later and finish it off, delivering his coup de grâce to an appreciative audience. A lot of work and study has clearly gone into this and certainly some merit is here to be found, just be prepared for a rather laborious search for it. Incidentally, the Scottish National Gallery holds roughly forty of Turner’s works and they often appear on display at some point during the year for anyone interested in viewing them – at least partially fulfilling for these paintings the artist’s wish that his work be permanently bequeathed to, and put on display for, the British nation. Many of the others ended up in collections scattered around the globe.

Pride  (2014)    76/100

Rating :   76/100                                                                     120 Min        15

A fantastic, moving and historically fascinating British drama chronicling the gay community of London’s attempt to help the Welsh miners picketing in 1984 as part of the larger nation-wide miner’s strike, one which encapsulated a major attack on the Thatcher government of the day and whose outcome would affect the fabric of British commerce forevermore. The community see a commonality between their struggle for the promotion of gay rights and the fight that the miners are engaged in, and when their good intentions are originally rebuffed they decide to take their money direct to the source – rural Wales, where not everyone is quite as liberal and pleased to see them as they would have hoped.

Lots of good performances from the likes of Dominic West, Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton, and a particularly strong one from Ben Schnetzer playing the leader of the London group whose single minded determination drives forth the entire narrative. The story also introduces some of the earliest diagnosed British victims of HIV, and the contrast between what happens to the people it mentions is worthy of a film in its own right. This is one of the best treatments of inclusivity and equality in recent memory, with great moments like when one of the local Welsh girls breaks out into song in a crowded hall and everyone feels compelled to join in, as well as a fascinating political backdrop that certainly has strong echoes with the Tory government in power now, as well as interesting titbits of information, like how the same seam of coal runs along the Atlantic connecting Wales, Spain and North America.

The Happy Lands  (2012)    85/100

Rating :   85/100                       Treasure Chest                     108 Min        12

A Scottish film from Edinburgh based production company Theatre Workshop, focusing on the 1926 Miner’s strike in Fife (the East coast region between the rivers Tay and Forth), which was in itself part of a larger worker’s strike throughout the United Kingdom playing a hugely important role in the Labour and trade union movement in the 20th century. The film manages that most difficult of things for any historical drama – balancing the importance of the event from a socio-political standpoint, and also relating the events to us in a believable and human way, evoking genuine emotional empathy for the characters onscreen.

The cast seems to be comprised of a mix of experienced and new actors alike, but they all unanimously do a great job – Jokie Wallace in particular as both the local magistrate and the principal organiser of the strike. In fact, for anyone wanting to gain more exposure to the Scots language, this is a very good film to practice with as a lot of the vocabulary that features is in common usage throughout the land and here both the pronunciation and the sound quality are excellent (the film is subtitled in English, much like ‘Trainspotting’ 96 was for American audiences).

Initially, and for the close of the film, we are shown interviews with the cast, talking about the impact the events told had on their forefathers and how they, by extension, have had an effect on their own lives and their shared heritage. The dramatisation that forms the movie’s heart focuses on the friendly local community that brings the strike to the fore, a community where nobody felt the need to lock their doors and who immortalised the slogan ‘Not a penny off the pay, not a minute on the day’ after mine bosses attempted to squeeze them for all they were worth.

It’s a story that is incredibly relevant for today, with the right wing eroding worker’s rights up and down the country once again, all in the name of their own profit with the ‘economic crisis’ the perfect excuse for a carte blanche attack on civil rights and liberties, and the continual extension of privatisation allowing the few to abuse the many who enjoy worse public services charged at ever higher rates, although this is something that Scotland has the opportunity to end in tomorrow’s independence referendum … Films like this are wonderfully educational with regards to the long fight people had for the rights that we now take for granted, the same principals that the Tory party in Britain, and the right wing further afield, are doing their best to obliterate. I don’t really understand why this didn’t get a much bigger general release when it came out (political reasons?) but for very good companion pieces to this see Ken Loach’s wonderful ‘The Spirit of ‘45’ (13) and the recent Polish film ‘Walesa – Man of Hope’, and to be honest there were moments in this that brought me uncomfortably close to actually shedding a tear.