Author Archive

The Best World Cup Ever?


Ten days ago it was in the bag – breathless pundits fell over each other to proclaim World Cup 2014 not only the greatest tournament, but also the greatest thing in recorded history: a bonanza of liquid football, attacking intent, and goals so good they made weird noises come out of your mouth. It was almost too much to take – three matches a day, each one throwing up quality and question in equal measure. How come Chile seem to counter attack with fifteen men? Who were those lookalikes playing for Spain? Why has a substituted player always run further than the team average?

And then, just as you were about to fire out a cliché regarding Hollywood’s inability to script such drama, Luis Suarez decides to chow down on Giorgio Chiellini. Mindblowing stuff, and we hadn’t even reached the knockout stage. Continue reading

Film Review: The Double

Double exlusive trailer

We live in an age of anxiety, and good old Dostoyevsky saw it coming: “If there’s no God everything is permitted,” he said in 1880. It is a statement often quoted as a moral warning – a prediction that without the Big G overseeing things man would implode in an orgy of hedonistic chaos. But that wasn’t Fyodor’s main concern – he was much more interested in how a world without meaning, fate, or belief might torture an individual human soul.

Welcome to the 21st Century. “Everything is permitted” is now the gleeful cheer of our consumerist overlords. Enjoy freedom! Enjoy choice! Be anyone you want to be! Unfortunately, for people who don’t particularly like themselves this is a double kick in the guts, because not only have they grown up to be a social clod with all the charisma of a P60, they are now entirely and solely responsible for this state of affairs. Nobody to blame but yourself says the modern world – you chose this miserable destiny. You could easily have been a rock star or spaceman but you ended up sitting in your pants, eating Nutella straight from the jar, writing film reviews nobody reads. What a waste.

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Film Review – Under the Skin


Under the Skin begins with total blackness and ends with a pure white sky. In between there is much greyness: the visual greys of its wintry Glasgow setting, the grey fog of confusion as the film withholds anything resembling plot exposition, and of course that most persistent of grey areas – the good old human condition.

Yes, on its surface this is a film about an alien who takes the form of Scarlett Johansson, trundles around in a white van searching for lonely men before luring them back to a house where they suffer a disturbing end in a black void of nothingness. But beneath its skin this is a film about us – our strangeness, our confusions, our potential for kindness. Continue reading

Film Review : Inside Llewyn Davis


New York, 1961 – the fifties are gone, the sixties are yet to swing. Shot in washed out greys and wintry browns, this historical no-man’s land is the perfect setting for Inside Llewyn Davis – a tale of chilly rootlessness.

Llewyn, the folk musician at the heart of the film, is of no fixed abode. Constantly on the move, he seems destined to wander – a stoical Ulysses of Manhattan with no winter coat and no destination. We first encounter Llewyn on a basement stage in Greenwich Village, singing the refrain from Hang Me Oh Hang Me (‘Poor Boy, I been all around this world’), and the film proceeds to loop itself around a week in the life of this immaculately-bearded troubadour. Continue reading

12 Years A Slave


When I read about 12 Years a Slave I was smitten: innovative director with excellent CV, grim political subject matter, eye-catching cast, galaxy of five-star reviews from latte-sipping publications. As a man with a taste for misery, leftist politics and Michael Fassbender, it seemed we were made for each other.

But then we met. It was OK. It wasn’t a disaster. I politely winced in all the right places, felt bad at the appropriate moments, genuinely admired much of the acting. But there was no spark. We parted amicably and I trudged home, deflating like a slow puncture. Continue reading

The Selfish Giant


The Selfish Giant opens under a clear night sky. Tethered horses bow their heads, content and calm beneath a frozen explosion of stars. The camera lingers, motionless. It is a mesmerising shot of expansive stillness, transforming a slab of inner city wasteland into a vision of pastoral peace. Ominously, the first cut of the film ruptures this peace with a blast of human rage.

These opening minutes are a sign of what is to come – brutal social realism laced with a visual poetry that lifts it out of the kitchen sink. The Selfish Giant’s success lies in its expert weaving of these two stylistic strands, leaving us with an icy depiction of underclass struggle, but one that gropes, hopes and hints toward an enduring human warmth amongst the debris of post-industrial West Yorkshire. Continue reading

Le Week-End


For all its wry humour and fleeting warmth, Le Week-End revolves around two fairly traumatic thoughts. Firstly, in old age we will all be haunted by regret. Secondly, the only way of coping with that regret is to desperately cling to whatever love we’ve accrued along the way. The merits of this kind of love – the hard callus of intimacy that remains long after passion’s initial fracture – have previously been explored by writer Hanif Kureishi, and his latest film is another study of enduring human bonds. Continue reading

Film Review: Stories We Tell

Scene from Stories We Tell. Courtesy of 2011 National Film Board of Canada, Ken Woroner.

There’s a moment in Stories We Tell when Michael Polley, the paternal linchpin of the film, talks about the flies that infiltrate his apartment and provide his daily company. “They look for food, they look for a mate; they never ask why.” Michael’s musings are full of wistful warmth, but his admiration for those unselfconscious flies touches the tender spot of this documentary.

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Goodbye Cruel World – Top 5 Doomsday Films


If the silver screen is a mirror reflecting our darkest fantasies, then it seems we have a sly yearning for human extinction. Apocalypse films abound – those currently heading to World War Z will see trailers for three more before their Fanta has even warmed up. But while our culture’s obsession with catastrophe is interesting, the films we tend to feed it with are usually not – the destruction of mankind would seem like a small mercy to anyone sitting through Deep Impact

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Ireland v England – Memories From Enemy Territory

lansdowne2Stuttgart, 1988

Psychiatrists will often focus on the traumas of childhood – those moments when our cosy kiddywink world is brutally introduced to reality. “Hello,” says reality, “Guess what, you are not the centre of the universe. In fact the universe is chaos, and basically out to destroy you. Have a nice day.”

One such psychological wound is the sudden realisation that our parents are not gods, and in my case paternal authority crumbled at exactly 5:20PM on 12 June 1988. As a nine-year-old I had the vague knowledge that football did not always go well (Maradona’s hand of God had previously introduced me to the concept of injustice), but when an omnipotent father-figure proclaims in assured tones that “England will stuff Ireland this afternoon” the match itself becomes a mere formality – the gracious unfurling of a pre-ordained fact. Continue reading