Spotlight  (2015)    70/100

Rating :   70/100                                                                     128 Min        15

Drama documenting the true story of The Boston Globe’s ‘Spotlight’ feature department, who hit upon the wide-reaching scandal of Catholic priest paedophilia in the area, and, more exactly, its long running cover-up by the clergy which was to instigate revelations and repercussions throughout the world. Indeed in 2008 Pope Benedict XVI publicly apologised for the damage caused, but what this film will be remembered for is the sheer scale of the problem, which is simply overwhelming.

Alas, it’s not a great film it has to be said, it relies entirely on its subject matter wherein it can hardly fail to interest and captivate, but most of the first two-thirds lacks any real relationship with the audience and it has all been pieced together in a very straightforward way, with multiple scenes feeling like the actors are fumbling together through them. Eventually more of an emotional connection arrives, largely via a great performance from Mark Ruffalo’s dedicated and understandably outraged reporter Mike Rezendes, which leads to a suitably impactful finale.

It plays the whole thing a little safe though. Given the horror that it’s covering, we only feel a tiny bit of the evil at play – this film should really have taken no prisoners, with what the victims went through at the forefront of everything, and the church put much more on the stand than we see – the focus here is on the reporters mincing around most of the time and it’s an opportunity lost, delivering a good film but not one that’s going to hit where it really hurts, although you are still likely to remember the distaste and anger it’ll leave you with.

Up for numerous Oscars (winning best film, and best original screenplay for Josh Singer {‘The Fifth Estate‘} and Tom McCarthy), it was probably the best of an uninspiring bunch, though some of the nominations were a bit of a surprise, including for the eminently watchable Rachel McAdams in support – note the several obvious shots framed to specifically show her ass off in the film (which I did appreciate to be fair). Important to watch because of the story, but average at best in terms of its execution. Not without its effect in the real world though, with the inevitable sparking of debate about an ongoing issue.

Season of the Witch (2011)    59/100

Rating :   59/100                                                                     95 Min         15

When I watched this on the big screen I quite enjoyed it, despite its several faults – watching it again on the small screen it was a little more disappointing, although to be fair knowing what’s going to happen is undoubtedly partly responsible for that. Nicolas Cage stars as Behmen, the honourable knight who has turned his back on the church and the bloodshed of the crusades, and finds himself tasked with delivering a young girl to a monastery where she is to answer to the charge of witchcraft, and for being responsible for unleashing a deadly plague upon the land. The film is clear from the beginning that witches are a very real problem for the forces of good on the Earth – could the innocent looking girl be one of them?

Claire Foy as ‘The Girl’ is one of the best things about the movie, and wondering exactly what is going on with her is quite fun. Indeed, there is a strong vein of tongue-in-cheekness to the film – such as the opening montage with Cage and sword-wielding buddy Ron Pearlman (playing the equally honourable and disillusioned Felson) hacking their way through hundreds of enemy troops, standing out against ropey CGI backgrounds throughout, whilst they ribald each other over who’s going to buy who the drinks after the slaughter. Some of the dialogue is equally hammy, but if you happen to be in the mood for some fantasy fare and don’t have high expectations, then this will probably still entertain.

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.

Star Wars Episode VII : The Force Awakens  (2015)    75/100

Rating :   75/100                      Treasure Chest                  135 Min        12A

‘I have a bad feeling about this.’ Han Solo : Harrison Ford

Oddly enough, I felt no such feeling of trepidation over the continuation of cinema’s most famous saga and the biggest release of the year, due entirely to the fact that J.J.Abrams was on board as the director and he’d made such a wonderful job of rebooting Star Trek, indeed he also handles the scriptwriting duties here along with Lawrence Kasdan (‘The Empire Strikes Back’ 80, ‘Return of the Jedi’ 83) and Michael Arndt (‘Little Miss Sunshine’ 06, ‘The Hunger Games : Catching Fire‘). What the devoted cast and crew deliver is an extremely solid anchor for the future of the franchise, with obvious branches for expansion throughout and plenty for fans to love and be excited about. There’s something really comforting about George Lucas’s universe exploding on the big-screen once more, especially over Christmas, replete with original cast members and newcomers Daisy Ridley and John Boyega.

They have very much played it safe with the concept by recreating everything that made the original films a success, which was almost certainly the right way to go about it, as thirty years on from the events of ‘The Return of the Jedi’ sees the universe still embroiled in conflict in order to supply the constant background tension, whilst the essential and compellingly truthful philosophy of good versus evil via the light and dark side of the Force, at once both simple and complex, continues to spur everything forward as characterisation goes into hyperdrive and the central players’ relationships draw in our attention, all against the backdrop of fantastic special effects.

John Williams returns for the score, and interestingly if you watch early sci-fi epic ‘Metropolis’ (27) you’ll notice some overt influences on Star Wars generally but also hints of its various musical themes in Gottfried Huppertz’s original score (perhaps not surprising given both he and Williams were heavily influenced by Strauss and Wagner). Similarly, here there appears to be a nod to the space opera’s samurai roots (in particular the work of legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa – especially ‘The Hidden Fortress’ {58}, wherein the droid characters’ origin is immediately apparent) with one of the central bad guys wielding a lightsaber in the shape of a longsword (one imagines a katana blade wouldn’t really be feasible).

Without giving away any details about the story, the downside of playing it safe is that there’s nothing especially original to be found, and the various hooks are very similar to devices commonly used in TV series, but again this is a conscious choice from the writers and happily the pace continues to steadily escalate from the onset to the finale, delivering an adventure that’s fun and engaging enough to overlook the obvious gears at play – although some of the most important scenes do feel a bit shaky, and, as with Star Trek, a little more subtlety and depth may not have gone amiss (you can spot a few lens flares from Abrams dotted around the place as well – he could’ve gotten away with a few more to be honest, it’s a nice effect).

Ridley and Boyega play Rey and Finn respectively (not the first Star Wars characters to have less than inspiring names) and both do a great job, especially the relatively inexperienced Ridley given the pressure involved (when she smiles she looks a bit like Keira Knightley actually – maybe she is a clone, spliced with DNA from Natalie Portman {both Knightley and Portman were in Episode I}), and although the casting of a young female and a young black male as the two new central characters was an overtly political choice, it actually makes sense here and doesn’t feel, ahem, forced, and it’s certainly quite rare to see a black male protagonist not played by the same handful of actors – for a film aimed at being a defining moment for a new generation of fans the significance of these choices makes their final selection a really good idea.

There is perhaps a slight concern that they’ve gone too far and robbed Rey of any femininity whatsoever, accidentally making her a boy in their strive for political correctness, but I think that argument quickly disappears into the metaphysical, and, frankly, she’s one of the best things in the film and easily my favourite character (new droid BB-8 is also sure to be a hit, which she also mothers to a degree actually). Curiously, the producers stated there would be no moments reminiscent of Princess Leia in a golden bikini (perhaps fearing a backlash similar to that of Alice Eve in her pants in ‘Star Trek : Into Darkness‘) and this overconcern about her attire has led them, accidentally and slightly ridiculously, to sport Rey in the same set of unrevealing, but also unwashed, clothes for almost the entire story, meaning, basically, she must reek to high heaven. It’s a perfectly decent outfit but her activities ensure she likely sweats more than anyone else in the movie – detecting her presence via the Force presumably became redundant as the film progressed.

Great support work throughout compliments that from the core performers, with Ford probably the best of the bunch and helping to settle the newcomers, and there’s even an evil Scottish guy at one point – you can tell he’s been given strict guidelines on how to deliver his lines by the way he pronounces all his t’s properly (we usually don’t bother with this in Scotland, we’re not great fans of glottal stops). I was fortunate enough to be at one of the IMAX preview showings and there was a terrific atmosphere with people cheering and applauding and I hope that’s repeated across the land – indeed I’m totally in the mood to go and re-watch all the previous films now.

Star Wars returns to mark a great end to a very mediocre year at the cinema, and hopefully it will become a Christmas tradition for future years in much the same way journeys to Middle-earth were in the past.

Steve Jobs  (2015)    79/100

Rating :   79/100                        Treasure Chest                     122 Min        15

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

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

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

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

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

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse  (2015)    50/100

Rating :   50/100                                                                       93 Min        15

Woeful writing ruins what wasn’t a completely awful premise for a zombie comedy film. Ben (Tye Sheridan), Carter (Logan Miller) and Augie (Joey Morgan) are best friends and scouts who suddenly have to put everything they’ve learned whilst earning their badges into practice in order to try and survive their town being randomly overrun by zombies, although they appear to actually inaugurate the incursion by running over a deer near the beginning and somehow turning it into a member of the undead, which is at least original even if nothing much else in the film is.

Lame comedy, drama and character interplay are interspersed with loud jolts, as zombies pop up everywhere to irritatingly assault the senses, whilst the boys are the traditional fat kid, the one who thinks he’s way cooler than he is and the central straight guy in love with a girl he doesn’t know how to talk to. Precious little use of the theme and an all too traditional arc of ‘Scouts is lame … actually no, it’s pretty cool, and now I’ve realised how important our friendship really is’ leave this suffering from the same level of boredom as the likes of ‘Life After Beth‘ and ‘Warm Bodies‘. Although, as you can see from the pic above, Sarah Dumont in support does give teenage boys a pretty good reason to enjoy the film, not me you understand …

Spectre  (2015)    65/100

Rating :   65/100                                                                     148 Min        12A

‘Spectre’ couldn’t really be more of a film for our times if it tried. Its shortcomings are frequently noticeable and include such cardinal sins as elements which are boring, flat, cheesy, stupid, and with numerous hammy moments for essentially all the characters. Although expectations were always going to be too high after Bond’s last outing, the wonderful ‘Skyfall‘, became the most successful British film of all time, I can nevertheless see Bond fans being fairly divided over this one.

This was aimed as the crowning jewel in the Daniel Craig (the actor currently playing Bond) era of films, linking the threads of the stories from ‘Casino Royale’ (06), ‘Quantum of Solace’ (08) and ‘Skyfall’ (12) with Bond’s traditional evil arch-enemy Spectre – the sinister organisation that dominated the early films, beginning with the first one in 1962, ‘Dr No.’ (SPECTRE was previously an acronym standing for ‘Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion’), before intellectual property rights issues eventually seen it nosedive into a chimney, if memory serves. Here, there seems to be a reference put in to what must be every single Bond film prior to Spectre’s release, and it kind of feels like when your favourite TV series has a ‘recap’ episode and you feel cheated because you’ve already seen everything in it before.

It all takes a step backward from where the modern films had been correctly heading, with stunts becoming much less believable than before, well executed technically but nobody in their right mind would attempt them in the first place, as Bond shows shades of his ‘too cocky for his own good’ persona of the past, replete with cheesy terrible lines and a hard-on for wafer-thin female characters – in fact, it feels like someone was sitting with a checklist of what should be included in the ‘typical’ Bond film and they just went through it, there’s no real heart to the film, whereas in Skyfall we felt Bond was a real person, fighting real enemies in a reasonably believable manner, with real tension and consequences.

Sam Mendes has returned as director, alas no Roger Deakins as cinematographer this time (Hoyte van Hoytema as his replacement does a god job though), and there was initial praise for giving Monica Bellucci a role, for casting someone a little older than your average Bond girl – but she’s barely in it! You don’t cast Monica Bellucci and then give her a couple of brief moments onscreen during which she essentially just gets banged by the protagonist – indeed, she is expecting assassins to come for her at any second so Bond dutifully takes her clothes off and beds her, next scene she is sitting atop the bed wearing sexy lingerie, as if she thought ‘even though I’m waiting to be killed at any moment, let me change into this sexy outfit I’ve been wanting to show off for ages before you go’, and then Bond tells her not to worry as he’s contacting Felix Leiter for her, who will presumably also take some time in being able to offer her any form of protection.

This ungrounded feeling to the writing continues throughout: we see a bad guy growing a conscience because women and children are involved although we can infer from what we already know that this cannot possibly be a sudden realisation but rather a blasé convenience, ‘The Dark Knight’ (08) references abound with bad guys talking about ‘aggressive expansion’ and something the villains do at the end which seems completely out of the blue as if several scenes are missing as in many other parts of the film, and, most terrible of all, the main villain Franz Oberhauser (played by Christoph Waltz) has been scrubbed and battered with an unhealthy amount of soap-opera, someone that should be terrifying and brilliant, or at least believable, comes across as anything but that, with Waltz miscast in a role that needed a much more intricate and daring treatment to work.

Having said that, the same plot ingredients, including Oberhauser, done in different ways could have worked out, but they needed a much smarter, involving and less self-referential final product. Mendes has his ‘Touch of Evil’ (58) moment with the opening scene all filmed in one continuous shot until the action begins (also likely inspired by last year’s best picture winner ‘Birdman‘) and this section of the film works really well, with the music memorably setting the tone amongst the wonderful backdrop of the ‘Day of the Dead’ festival in Mexico City, and it’s likely this will be the scene most remembered, although stylistically it’s not the only highlight and certainly a fight later on aboard a train also stands out for its bleak and uncompromising brutality.

The movie works far better on IMAX than on a standard screen (IMAX doesn’t always make a big difference) and after three sittings and an initial disappointment it does become easier to appreciate it and also to enjoy the numerous wonderful visuals that Mendes and Hoytema have dotted the film with (there’s even a location very reminiscent of the PC game ‘Riven’ for those familiar with it). Writing this just over a week after the terror attacks on Paris and Beirut (I notice the BBC have barely bothered to report on the latter incidentally) it’s impossible not to see numerous correlations between many of the plot elements and recent events – global intelligence agencies quickly announced they are going to work more closely together and share information, for example, just as they do in the film, indeed you do have to question a strategy from fundamentalists trying to retain physical territory in the Middle East that effectively unites the entire world against them, and notwithstanding the plot of Spectre one hopes that this united spirit will ultimately be a great and defining thing for the twenty-first century, although, ironically, this idea also brings us back to the plot of the film.

Just as 9/11 inspired a more gritty Bond with ‘Casino Royale’, so too will the plot for Bond 25 reflect recent events, and with both Britain and France announcing a recruitment drive for the intelligence services the world really is looking for more real-life Bonds, as well as heroism from the public in situations where help simply isn’t going to arrive on time – such as that displayed by Adel Termos, who sprung on a suicide bomber during the Beirut attacks resulting in an early detonation and preventing the scores or perhaps even hundreds of deaths that would have arisen if the bomber had been allowed to reach his intended target. Watching ‘Spectre’ display its wonderful locations from around the globe: Mexico City, Austria, London, Morocco, Rome, and pondering the reality now that everyone is united against a common enemy – life and creation vs pointless death, one is suddenly struck by just how romantic and hopeful a concept that truly is.

Dave Bautista plays henchman villain Mr Hinx, with Léa Seydoux as primary Bond girl Madeleine Swann in a role that, despite Seydoux having a lot of onscreen presence and being one of the best things in the movie, remains rather in servitude of Bond and his desires. Interestingly, all the best Bond movies for me had, well, good writing generally, but real female characters that were original and existed in their own right rather than as thinly veiled pieces of apparel for the protagonist – for anyone not familiar with the films I’d recommend, in order of their release, ‘Dr No.’, ‘From Russia with Love’, ‘Goldfinger’, ‘Thunderball’, ‘On Her Majesties Secret Service’, ‘Live and Let Die’, ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’, ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’, ‘Goldeneye’ (slight nostalgia for the N64 game on this one), ‘Casino Royale’ and ‘Skyfall’, although some of the others had their moments too.

Curiously, the plot for ‘Spectre’ is also remarkably similar to a certain other big release from earlier this year, it often happens in the industry for one reason or another, although confidential emails relating to ‘Spectre’ were put into the public domain during the Sony hack, did any of them contain plot details? Hmm …

The theme song ‘Writing’s on the Wall’ from Sam Smith kind of sums up the film – you can see what it could have been and what the aim was, but the execution is off in too many important places. ‘Spectre’ works well as an homage to the franchise and as a culturally relevant piece of filmmaking, but as a stand-alone, artful, involving, believable and clever action film in the vein of Skyfall … not so much.


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.

Sicario  (2015)    72/100

Rating :   72/100                                                                     121 Min        15

Emily Blunt flees to Mexico after insulting the Republican presidential candidates in the States – not really (Blunt did recently commit this faux pas after becoming a U.S. citizen but has not, as yet, had to flee south of the border) rather she plays F.B.I. agent Kate Macer who is recruited by other intelligence officials to facilitate further strikes against the major Mexican drug cartels that had begun to make heavy inroads into her locale of Arizona. Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve, of ‘Prisoners‘ fame, directs and Taylor Sheridan pens his screenwriting debut (he is better known for acting in TV series ‘Veronica Mars’ and ‘Sons of Anarchy’) to create a tense and beautifully shot thriller, with a level of realism on a par with ‘The Counsellor‘.

Villeneuve is one of the hottest rising stars behind the camera in Hollywood and here many of the early sections work really well, feeling immersive, real and exciting – but he’s not quite there yet, the good work begins to peter out a little as the movie goes on, largely due to a change in dynamic with the character interplay, a shift in focus away from the central character, Macer, may have helped allay that but as it is the film is still successful. In support are Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro and Daniel Kaluuya – the acting is unwavering throughout and as with ‘Prisoners’ you do think there may be Oscar calls involved, although it’s a bit early to say for sure.

Sometimes if you follow up a really good film, that probably deserved a mention, with another solid one then that’s when the Academy pays attention (kind of like Michael Fassbender missing out for ‘Shame’ {11} and then getting nominated the year after for ‘12 Years a Slave‘, and indeed he’ll almost certainly get another nod this year too). Blunt is the strongest candidate for awards glory and she is long overdue more recognition. Her role may indeed come to be packaged as a strong female one, but in reality she’s really playing an overly headstrong character out of her depth, it’s not a particularly great endorsement of feminism even though it may end up being championed as just that. Cinematographer Roger Deakins also adds a great deal of expertise that allows many of the desert shots, both aerial and of the horizon, to really stand out, rounding off a grittily memorable film.

Solace  (2015)    71/100

Rating :   71/100                                                                     101 Min        15

A movie dealing with a psychic who helps the F.B.I. solve crimes and which is, surprisingly, not total rubbish. It sounds like ‘Species’ (95) but the film very quickly just posits the fact that John Clancy (Anthony Hopkins) has far-reaching mental gifts and you basically think ‘OK great’, partly because it’s Hopkins playing him and as always he is brilliant to watch. Clancy has retired after family tragedy, but agents Merriweather (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and the disbelieving Cowles (Abbie Cornish) request his services to trap a particularly skilled serial killer.

It’s a thriller that’s eminently easy to watch and its better moments are very reminiscent of ‘Se7en’ (95), indeed the initial script was intended as a sequel, and although it’s not really in the same league as that seminal film it does tick a number of the same boxes. From director Afonso Poyart and writers Sean Bailey and Ted Griffin and with some solid support from Colin Farrell, the film keeps the audience engaged throughout with a fairly eloquent delivery of what prove to be quite interesting core ideas.