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 …

Macbeth  (2015)    61/100

Rating :   61/100                                                                     113 Min        15

A little bit of a disappointment I have to say. Director Justin Kurzel’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s Scottish play is very memorable for its bloody, bleak and beautiful visuals of the Isle of Skye and Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland, but throughout almost the entirety of the film it fails to be very engaging. Too many moments feel like actors reading Shakespeare rather than living their parts or vocalising the minds and emotions of their characters, and the darkness, particularly the central character’s decent into it, isn’t offset against anything – it all goes pear shaped too quickly for us to care particularly about the unfolding tragedy.

If we compare this to one of the most famous examples of the protagonist going through a violent metamorphoses, Michael Corleone in ‘The Godfather’ (72), there we like Michael, we see him at the wedding with his girlfriend, we learn he’s a good guy, a strong character – and indeed it’s primarily the bond for his family that begins the corruption of his soul, so we understand it and care about him as a character. Macbeth generally, and particularly here, is much more difficult to invest in, as are all of the characters. In real life he was considered to be quite a benevolent king, and in the play he begins as someone who commanded the loyalty of those around him – the film needed much more of this. As it is, we just have stylised bloodletting before his woman finds it a little too easy to sex him into devilry.

Michael Fassbender takes centre stage as the titular devil and he fits the role like a glove, although his portrayal is curtailed by the shortcomings of the film and doesn’t shine quite as brightly as it could have done. Almost none of the main cast are Scottish but all attempt very reasonable accents, with Fassbender and then Englishman Sean Harris in support as Macduff doing the best of the bunch. French actress Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth does stand out a little as the only one not attempting the accent and unfortunately it does jar with the others and the setting, and despite her being a great actress it nevertheless adds to the imprint of hollow characterisation. Critically, a lot of the dialogue is muffled and difficult to make out – it’s fine not understanding the, in parts, antiquated language Shakespeare wrote in, or getting confused by the poetry and its references, but one should at least be able to make out the words themselves.

To be fair to the film I did just watch Kurosawa’s version of the play, ‘Throne of Blood’ (57), a few months ago so I wasn’t really in the mood for the same story again so soon, but if you are similarly overly familiar with the play then visuals aside I don’t think you’re going to really gain anything from this retelling. Also with David Thewlis as Duncan, Paddy Considine as Banquo and Jack Reynor as Malcolm.

Escape to Victory  (1981)    65/100

Rating :   65/100                                                                     116 Min        PG

This is one of those films that when you learn of it you think to yourself ‘really? That exists?’, and ‘how come I’ve never heard of it before?’. This is a World War II P.O.W. drama in which Michael Caine must train a group of prisoners to form an Allies football team to take on the fully fit German national team in Vichy France. Command in the camp order Caine not to comply but he tells them to stuff it – and guess who’s in goal for the allies? Sylvester Stallone. Oh yes.

Max von Sydow plays the fairly sympathetic Nazi who used to be a professional player in days gone by, and thus he brainchilds the showdown before his superiors hijack it for propaganda. The film is perhaps somewhat light on what living in a Nazi P.O.W. camp was actually like, and when Caine makes the salient point that the set-up is completely unfair given the emaciated state of his players you are in agreement, until you realise the Allies’ team is comprised of Pelé, Bobby Moore, John Wark, Osvaldo Ardiles, Kazimierz Deyna, Paul Van Himst… and the list of international professional football players goes on.

It’s a reworking of the 1962 Hungarian film ‘Two Half Times in Hell’, itself based on the real life death matches played out by Ukrainian teams versus the Nazis, and was directed by the legendary John Huston with a memorable soundtrack highly reminiscent of the ‘Great Escape’ (63) from composer Bill Conti (‘Rocky’ 76), which you may recognise from some of the recent Sky Sports adverts. The sporting moments (some of which were choreographed by Pelé himself) whilst not the most amazing ever filmed are nevertheless continuously engaging, as indeed are the roars and sways of the crowd, and although the camera lingers a little too long here and there, and some of the details feel a little flimsy, this is still a really enjoyable, singularly unique, war sports film.

American Sniper  (2014)    76/100

Rating :   76/100                                                                      132 Min       15

Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial effort has replicated the success of many of its predecessors by finding its way into the Oscars race (best film and best actor for Bradley Cooper), this time around though it has been beleaguered by controversy over its portrayal of both the war in Iraq following nine eleven and also the accuracy of the depiction of real life central character Chris Kyle, the titular American sniper and indeed the most successful one in US history going by his number of kills. I don’t think the naysayers are in this case justified – I fail to see how anyone can view the film as anything other than a very strong statement against war in general, and as for the content and the focus on one side of the conflict, well, there is a pretty big clue in the title as to what one can expect from the plot.

Oddly enough, there is no back story to any of the reputed 255 kills that we see Kyle ratchet up and many of the details to do with individual events are inventions or elaborations, though nothing that doesn’t fit with the setting, and throughout the movie there is a narrative following an enemy sniper which is purely to make the story more engaging, although the sniper himself did exist. These changes work well, the film is genuinely quite exciting in some places – evoking similarities between it and ‘Zero Dark Thirty‘, and the license taken doesn’t interfere with the central concepts of what the condition of war in general is like to fight through and what the lasting effects can be for the combatants (civilians and the wider political context are very much not the focus here). The elements of jingoism are to be utterly expected, we are after all watching men going in to a war zone where their lives are guaranteed to be in jeopardy. Some of the editing is more reminiscent of the kind of way a traditional action film might be put together, but it’s the mere tiniest distraction from the seriousness of the film.

Where the film does fall down, however, is with the role of the ‘weepy moaning wife’ left behind whilst her husband endures hell. Sienna Miller has the rather joyless task of playing the part and although it certainly makes sense that she would be concerned for her husband and want him to stop returning to the war zone, she is just relentless from even before they have had their first date. She is about as stereotyped as they come and bemoaning how terrible soldiers are for potential mates doesn’t apparently stop her from eagerly bedding, tying the knot with and then opening her oven door for them, not to mention then living off their pay check. Nonetheless, this is a well made and powerful film – one that very unusually deliberately invites you to look up more about its central character, and Cooper is great in delivering a performance that one can very easily imagine as typifying the attitudes and experiences of many young American men signing up for the army. He even manages to convey that perhaps Kyle may not have been the sharpest tool in the shed at times, assuming this was deliberate of course ….

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.

Exodus : Gods and Kings  (2014)    57/100

Rating :   57/100                                                                     150 Min        12A

There is a clue in the title to this that it isn’t going to be all that great – ‘Exodus’ sounds grand, epic and serious. ‘Exodus : Gods and Kings’ sounds shit, like they want to make it clear they are using the story from the Old Testament but ‘not really’, or ‘we’re doing our own thing with it’, well, what’s the point then? The film is about the life of Moses (Christian Bale) in ancient Egypt up until the moment of the Exodus itself, opening with his time as the Pharaoh’s right hand man and here the man in charge actually prefers him to his real son, Ramesses II (Joel Edgerton), I don’t remember this from the old sermons I once heard (before I burned the church down) but OK.

Visually it’s very nice with wonderful costumes, sets and scenes of warfare and carnage which director Ridley Scott is no stranger to, but it suffers from the basic problem of just plodding on and running out of steam very quickly. ‘Noah‘ had an artistry to it and delivered things that were unexpected, and even the melodrama with the characters worked on some levels, here though it is very much a case of OK now this plague will arrive, and then the next one and then … and so on, all leading to a graphically impressive crossing of the Red Sea, which is crowned off by an example of complete and utter ridiculousness that is frankly embarrassing for Scott, where we witness central characters surviving being smacked in the head by A TIDAL WAVE right in the middle of the Sea. Hmm. There is also a somewhat confused morality within the screenplay – God’s wrath seems to inflict equal suffering on Hebrew and Egyptian alike, for example. In fact, it’s really difficult to discern what the point in making the film was.

As is always the case for biblical films there have been numerous controversies surrounding the story and production, ultimately though it simply isn’t good enough to care that much about, though criticisms about the ethnicity of all the actors (complaint being that all the leads are white) are difficult to allay when, as you see above, the actors with very black skin are clearly shown to be slaves. Is this inaccurate though? As you travel south from the Med through to the tropics the skin colour of the people naturally darkens (as presumably it still would have done in antiquity, although interestingly the early dynasties arose not too long after the time the Sahara is estimated to have become a desert in 3500 BC, after a shift in the Earth’s orbit), would it make sense for the Egyptians to trade for slaves around their southern borders? Do we even know what the colour of the ancient Egyptians’ skin was? Modern day North Africa is genetically dominated by the legacy of Islamic conquest and Mediterranean trade, and Egypt has always been at the confluence of three continents so I think it’s safe to say that it is difficult to know for sure, and Bale and Edgerton are at least suitably sunned so I’m not convinced it’s fair criticism.

There is an interesting moment when Christian Bale rides forth on horseback with his men flanking him on either side, and then he draws his sword ready for battle. Or at least, he tries to, it actually gets stuck briefly and it’s perhaps telling they decided to keep the take – it is precisely what you could imagine happening if you were suddenly asked to film a climatic scene as ‘leader’, or indeed do it in real life for some reason, that or falling off your horse after tugging too hard, so in a way it’s nice it’s in there. Support from Ben Kingsley, María Valverde, and Sigourney Weaver – even though she only has about two lines.

Unbroken  (2014)    45/100

Rating :   45/100                                                                     137 Min        15

Just about everything in this film is broken, from insane casting choices to a host of continuity errors and lacklustre infrastructure. This is Angelina Jolie’s third time directing and so far she’s been met with a lot of opposition – I haven’t seen her other films, but you kind of think to yourself maybe she’s getting stick because of who she is. Well, she is bad. I mean, bad in the sense that she reeks of raw eggs fermenting inside of dead rabid cats behind the camera – she has no idea where to put a camera, how to pace a film, or even assemble and tell a story. It’s all over the place, slow, and is a stark and painful trope of three cinema staples: the bullied kid who trains hard and becomes a successful hero, the survival in the face of physical extremes and certain death flick, and the prisoner of war drama. Sadly, it’s actually based on a real story and you have to feel for Louis Zamperini, whose life story this is, and who alas passed away the year of the film’s release.

The film follows Zamperini’s life, from being a troubled kid through to becoming an Olympic runner and then war hero who was singled out to endure extreme brutality whilst interred in a Japanese P.O.W. Camp during World War II, and it opens with a perilous mission in a bomber over the Pacific with scenes even less convincing than the ones in ‘Memphis Belle’ (90). We see, for example, Zamperini show us he is a hero by caring for one of the wounded gunners – instead of grabbing the bleeding vacant gun and trying to help shoot down the plane threatening to kill the rest of them. The lame attempt at believability is continued with such fare as showing some of the men adrift at sea after a few days and they have all allowed the skin on their faces to burn badly, despite having ample materials to cover up with, then we see them many days later and they all look healthier. The Japs give Zamperini a good hiding and force him to eat gruel on the ground, but then apparently give him a shave before sticking him in a camp to be tortured again, wherein Zamperini is punched in the face by every single other prisoner, and then looks none the worse for ware next we see him (we at least don’t know the time frame in this case, but still, it can’t have been that long), and so on.

There are better moments toward the end of the film, and some of the concentration camp scenes convince, but it takes more than half of the film for them to get there and the rest is terrible. It’s also a casting catastrophe – who would be one’s first choice to play an Italian American war hero who deserves recognition in film? Would it be an actor who thus far has only been convincing at playing violent and sadistic English thugs? No. And yet yes it seems – Jack O’Connell is the man in question and the only time he really convinces here is when he punches a fish right in its beady eye to, I’m not kidding, knock it out. Often seeming to do the acting equivalent of twiddling his thumbs he is exceptionally poor in this – and who is he given to be his all American buddy? Domhnall Gleeson, another actor from this side of the pond who’s character portrayal here is weepy to the point of sycophancy. Then who should show up in the camp, who could possibly make the casting any worse than it is already, but Garrett Hedlund who has still not learned that staring off into space whilst growling neither makes for convincing masculinity nor acting.

The writing is as bad as everything else in the film (from the Cohen brothers, amongst others) – I feel sorry for cinematographer Roger Deakins who has made an effort and received an Oscar nod for it, but it must have been by way of compensation really, I mean in the Olympic Games scenes it’s painfully obvious there is no real crowd thanks to the rubbish digital work. In fact, I didn’t even believe O’Connell was running most of the time, there’s barely a bead of sweat on him and his competitors are clearly allowing him to pass. A tragic film, one which also has two further Oscar nods for sound editing and sound mixing – and alas it could well be these are simply to placate various parties after the movie’s failure to make it into any of the major categories.

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

’71  (2014)    62/100

Rating :   62/100                                                                       99 Min        15

An odd film in that it’s set during the height of the Troubles in Belfast in Northern Ireland, but it’s actually a completely fictional story. I’m not sure how wise it is to take artistic license with something so important and divisive in not too distant Northern Irish history. On the one hand it demonstrates the kind of scenarios and conflicts that would have been experienced at the time, and with a bit of distance so they don’t have to worry about historical accuracy with the characters and so on – on the other it could be seen as not treating events seriously enough, using it as an excuse to create a tense drama that, in the absence of a properly delivered political backdrop, could have been set in any conflict. Director Yann Demange and writer Gregory Burke have more or less walked their fine line successfully here, showing a sense of the conflict’s reality and the brutal horror of the violence but together with a framework for its existence, and without simply getting lost in their own dramatic attempt to keep the audience engaged.

Jack O’Connell plays the protagonist Gary – a British soldier deployed in Belfast for the first time, who ends up isolated from the rest of his unit and on the run as all hell breaks loose in the city around him and he desperately tries to reach the relative safety of his barracks. It’s well shot, there’s some real tension in there, and O’Connell passes mustard in the role although really he’s not asked to do much except run around looking scared and he has yet to impress in any role that doesn’t involve him portraying a violent psychopath, the next few leading roles he has lined up should put his acting chops to the test. The film’s major problem lies in its believability, as the story becomes increasingly difficult to buy into – in particular the moment when one of the characters, who has himself and his daughter to protect, thinks to himself ‘hmm something is happening here which we absolutely must keep a complete secret from everyone, I mean like everyone, even the people I trust most in the world, and then in a matter of hours it’ll all be over anyway. “OK love, I’m just popping out to tell the local head of the IRA about our situation. Yeah, it seems like the logical thing to do. Bye!”’ It’s pretty much downhill from there.

Fury  (2014)    54/100

Rating :   54/100                                                                     134 Min        15

When a film purports itself to be ‘The most realistic war film ever’ it had better be able to put its money where its mouth is, and alas this could quite easily qualify as the one of the most UNREALISTIC war films of all time. Screenwriter and director David Ayer is one of the most childish writers working in Hollywood today, and his obsession with nonsensical violence evinced by his previous films ‘Sabotage‘ and ‘End of Watch‘ continues – in a normal film a character might open a box and find a new clue, or something that sparks an emotional trigger for them and a moment of reflection, in a David Ayer film that box is guaranteed to contain not only pictures of a family member skull fucking genetically modified babies but also pieces of remaining flesh tanned for personal use. He can get away with this to an extent with a war film and the associated potential for real and visceral horror, but when we see the inside of a tank at the beginning of the film and the remains of someone’s face on the metal, looking like a fried egg, we realise he just can’t help himself.

Not to say that’s necessarily unrealistic, rather unlikely granted, but it is the following which render the film silly – 1) The soldiers do not fire weapons, they fire lasers. I kid you not, green laser fire (red for the Allies) issues forth from the German troops looking for all the world like a scene from Star Wars (ironically, this is to show the use of tracer fire which helped gunners and infantry adjust their aim and was certainly used extensively by both sides in the war, it’s just been taken to a daft extreme here). 2) The tactics are at best dubious. We see three tanks versus one and the three of them just bunch together instead of trying to use both flanks. 3) Reason number 2 is taken to the point of lunacy as (this is a spoiler so you might want to jump to the next paragraph, but it was also used as the main selling point in the trailer if you’ve seen it – another thing they shouldn’t have done) we watch Brad Pitt opt for a stand-off between his immobilised single tank versus several hundred SS troops. During this event daytime becomes night in less than about forty seconds and Pitt and his four strong crew have ample time to leave and fight another day, or indeed come up with a better plan, but they all decide to stay largely because it is Brad Pitt saying they should and they are all afraid of him. It’s not heroic, or exciting – IT’S JUST FUCKING STUPID. I also have a large doubt over whether or not that tank has a 360 degree firing arc with its machine guns when the hatch is down, I rather suspect it doesn’t making the decision even worse.

The fictional story takes place in Germany toward the end of the Second World War with the very beleaguered and war weary crew of the tank ‘Fury’ receiving a new greenhorn gunner (Logan Lerman) who has never even been inside a tank before which enrages them all, and they proceed to slap him around the head at every opportunity. Lerman actually does the best out of everyone in this film for managing to react/act to the treatment he gets appropriately for his character – as a performer it can’t have been easy to temper his responses to the right level, and he consistently delivers on what is the core character arc of the story as he bonds with Pitt’s veteran whose soul has been ravaged by violence, death and stress to the dangerous brink of perhaps losing sight of himself completely. Pitt does a reasonable job of anchoring the piece but his performance is hampered by ridiculous hero worship from Ayer as well as having more than a few ropey lines of dialogue to try and do something meaningful with.

It is within the work of the wardrobe and art direction departments that a very high level of authenticity has been achieved – it looks fantastic (laser shows aside) and the tanks used were real ones from museums and collectors which are more or less the correct models for the time. The rest of the crew are played by Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña and Jon Bernthal and they had to live in the tank for a week together before shooting began (LaBeouf reportedly refused to wash himself to help achieve a new level of ‘realism’. I’m surprised nobody fired real bullets at him too). Despite the egregious setbacks there is still a definite satisfaction to be gained from some of the action scenes, and here Ayer the director definitely outstrips Ayer the writer – it’s really the ludicrous and utterly forced central decision by the characters and the ensuing battle that destroys the credibility of the entire film.