Jun 28, 2016


'Like the novels of Henry James, the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer and the Times crossword puzzle, the modern diva thrives on difficulty. Creatures of grit and will­power, sinews and sequins, they are symbols of triumphant selfhood and obstacles overcome. These days, the paradox is played out in the termitic caverns of the internet. Protected by her social media fan posse, the “Beyhive”, Beyoncé recently kicked off her Lemonade tour by selling “Boycott Beyoncé” T-shirts and iPhone cases – a sly appropriation of the calls for a boycott of her shows after her Black Panther-inspired Super Bowl appearance raised the hackles of right-wing attack dogs. Let ’em loose. What doesn’t kill Bey only makes her stronger. Modern-day divahood is self-aware, self-deconstructing and backlash-embracing, but this dynamic is as old as the Hegelian dialectic. “She became popular by demonstrating how someone like her, someone with her seeming disadvantages, could become popular,” writes Neal Gabler in his smart new book, Barbra Streisand, a biography-cum-critical essay on the Brooklyn-born diva. It may be the best book about Streisand you will ever read, an acute and sympathetic rendering of a career forged from yearning and steel – “in one person, Punch and Judy”, in the words of the New Republic’s Stanley Kauffmann. Long before Beyoncé, Streisand’s fame contained its own backlash. “Barbra is the girl guys never look at twice,” said her manager Marty Erlichman. “And when she sings about that – about being an invisible woman – people break their neck trying to protect her.' — from my review of Neal Gabler's Barbara StreisandRedefining Beauty, Femininity, and Power

Jun 8, 2016

Quentin Tarantino Top Ten

As is my tradition when starting a new book on a filmmaker, my list of Tarantino movies, ranked (to see if there are any changes once I've rewatched everything/finished the book).
1. Pulp Fiction
2. Reservoir Dogs
3. Jackie Brown
4. Kill Bill Vol 1 & 2
5. Deathproof
6. Django Unchained
7. Inglorious Basterds
8. The Hateful Eight

Jun 6, 2016


'Nearly all of her books are set in Baltimore, concern large families, marking time with the usual watersheds of family life — courtship, weddings, children, college, deaths. Observing her characters befuddled comings and goings with sympathy and dry humor, Tyler applies a little nudge here, a prompt there, letting out the occasional sigh of disappointment, as someone’s good intentions don’t quite pan out as planned.  I have read her wise, warm-hearted work — including Dinner at the Homseick Restaurant, The Accidental Tourist and the Pulitzer-prize winning Breathing Lessons — religiously for over 20 years but I never thought we would meet.   She isn’t a recluse in the  Salinger mould, exactly — her novels bustle with too much gossip and life to give any impression other than one of supreme embededness — but she hasn’t given an interview in over 40 years. Then in 2012, she gave an interview to NPR to promote her novel The Beginner’s Goodbye. Others followed. Something seemed to have shifted in Tylerland. Some personal perestroika? A deep tectonic shift in the psychic-creative forces that govern literary careers? A kind of settling-up as she enters her eighth decade? Nothing of the sort, she says. Her editors just asked her and this time she thought: why not?  “I often wonder what would happen if I had Tolstoy around for tea,” she says gaily, while preparing coffee for me in her kitchen. “I’d probably have nothing to say to him.”  It’s like hearing that Gorbachev launched glasnost because he woke up one day and fancied a coke.  But then that is very Tyleresque, the long groove of routine disrupted by a sudden burst of to-hell-with-it impetuosity. A small dose of whimsy is detectable in late-period Tyler. ' — from my Sunday Times interview

May 24, 2016

Trump and the art of the braggart

'Trump’s MO is much the same as Clay’s: constant declamation of his own worth (“I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created…. I’m so good looking…. Part of the beauty of me is that I am very rich…”) interrupted by restatements of the incompetence of his enemy. A man who has rendered himself an orange-hued cartoon for the purposes of reality TV, Trump has a master caricaturist’s instinct for turning his opponents, too, into cartoons (“low energy [Bush], Little Marco…. Lyin' Ted….”) so he can then kapow! them. His fame may have been incubated on reality TV and in the Twittersphere but his persona — big, brash, boastful — goes all the way back to the Wild West, and the tall-talking show offs, of somewhat fuzzy historical provenance, who spun the unfunny facts of frontier existence into comic fictions around the camp fire and bar room stove — Paul Bunyan, the lumberjack said to have created the Great Lakes to water his ox Babe, trained ants to do logging work and eat 50 pancakes in one minute; Sam Hyde (“the Munchausen of the red man”) who claimed to have killed a whale by plugging its spout hole; or Davy Crockett, the pioneer from Tennessee who told Congress in 1857, “I can walk like an ox, run like a fox, swim like an eel yell like an Indian, fight like a devil and spout like an earthquake, make love like a mad bull!” This is how the West was won: with boasting. “American braggadocio is more than usually distasteful” wrote novelist Anthony Trollope, rather missing the point. The Old World virtues of reserve and modesty were only possible in a heavily stratified society in which everyone knew his place and nobody pointed it out. Such tall frontier talk not only tamed fear and made friends of strangers, it established your bona fides in a fluid, fast-moving society that had largely cut loose from such social indices as class, family and birthplace. You were who you said you were, with all the elasticity of spirit and potential for charlatanism that implied.   “It is good to be shifty in a new country" says Joseph Hooper’s  Simon Suggs, one of many confidence tricksters who prowl the pages of 19th century American literature, suckering their unsuspecting compatriots — Melville’s The Lightning Rod Man, the Duke and the King in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Joseph Baldwin’s Ovid Bolus, a “natural liar” who lies “with a relish from the delight in invention”. In each case, these unscrupulous Fagins draw from the reader a certain amount of awe and respect together with a suspicion that the boundless self-assertion is barely a breath away from what makes America great. Edgar Allen Poe called his era “the epoch of the hoax.”' — from my column for 1843

May 21, 2016


'England can be a little proprietorial about its actresses. Reading between the lines of the stellar reviews (“the most entertaining performance in Kate Beckinsale's career,” “Kate Beckinsale is back to her best” “the meatiest part Beckinsale’s been given”), it’s not hard to detect a note of gentlemanly regret for the amount of werewolves she’s been forced to slay over the years. In the post-Hunger Games world, the idea of our leading Shakespereans perfecting their American accents and kicking butt in female-led actioners is par for the course: Kate Winslett attached her name to the Divergent franchise, and Emily Blunt signed up for more Edge of Tomorrows with Tom Cruise. Beckinsale was in many ways the first, proving her blockbuster mettle in Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor in 2001, before embarking on the Underworld films at a time when English actresses were still following the Emma Thompson model: one American film, then back to London for a recuperative spot of Shakespeare and a cold compress for the forehead. Beckinsale not only didn’t do that but she then left her English actor boyfriend Michael Sheen, to marry her Underworld director Len Wiseman — boo hiss!  — a neat triple blow to national pride. She   embraced American action auteurs, Los Angeles and vampire film franchises in one move, and paid for it in coverage that painted her as the English girl who had lost her head in Hollywood — a red carpet ditz.   “It's a really weird window of time,” she says. “It was at the time where if you moved to LA you were immediately an ass, in England. It was something that you had to apologize for constantly to press, to your family. It was immediately like, "You're going to become a dick. I was somebody who mainly seemed to walk around the red carpet, which was completely not the case. I spent 90 percent of my time rushing home to look after my kid, which was excellent protection. Nobody wants to try and shag the woman who's wearing a Baby Bjorn.” It’s not hard to see why Scorsese cast her as Ava Gardner in The Aviator. Beckinsale’s mixture of boldness, raunch and slight edging of camp harkens back to another, older tradition of female stars at the movies — the board, the dame, the vamp, as embodied by such Home Counties glamor queens as Liz Taylor, Joan Collins and Jane Seymour. Her favorite film is All About Eve, with Bette Davis letting loose one smart bomb after another.   “It's really fun seeing her with the paparazzi at Sundance. It was like a 1930's movie star,” says Stillman, “I've never seen so many flash cameras. I’m still blinded.” — from my interview for The Sunday Times

The death of the big screen

“That's certainly what the movie philosophers are thinking,“ says Lynda Obst veteran producer of Sleepless in Seattle and last year’s Interstellar. “As television, now, gets more and more deep into character and more like extended both Saturday afternoon matinees and indie movies, the job of movies is to become more and more extraordinary. We can't do the same job that television is doing so well.”  Film is the more purely visual medium. It has our full attention: each frame must pull its weight in terms of narrative or spectacle. We leave home to see it, and we want an experience that honors that spirit of adventure: we want to be swept of our feet, to go on a journey, to fall in love, to have our central nervous systems hijacked. That is why it is a director’s medium — it envelops us. TV comes to us, into our homes. It is casual, familiar, favouring habit-forming episodic narratives. That is why it is a writer’s medium.    The big screen glamorises; it’s stars the stuff of myth; the small screen is more like a member of the family. “I think you can probably watch Bridge of Spies at home but I wouldn't want to watch ET or Close Encounters of the Third Kind at home,” says Obst. “I wouldn't want to watch Revenant at home.  And something like The Avengers, it's too much fun laughing with the audience. So, these things are just communal experiences. We watch TV at home and we feel differently about television stars than we do about movie stars because the movie screen is much bigger and much more mythical. That's why the material is intrinsically different.”— from my piece for the Financial Times 

May 4, 2016


'The new Terrence Malick film Knight of Cups arrives in cinemas this week. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say “the ongoing Terrence Malick project arrives back in theaters, after a protracted spell in the editing room, this week with some new actors in it.” His films have reached such a level of wispy abstraction that they have long since blurred into a single strip of celluloid — a  dance  of  beautiful actors baring their souls in fragments of dialogue and whispered voiceover, while  cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski bobs and weaves through the tall grass like a daydreaming Keats. This one  has  Christian Bale as a screenwriter adrift in the pleasure-dome of modern Hollywood, wandering from  night-club to pool party, frolicking with a series of willowy beauties — Frieda Pinto, Natalie Portman — who whisper  promises of damnation and deliverance  (“Where will I meet you? Which way shall I go? How do I begin?”) while trailing their hands in pools, or gamboling through surf. Bale wears the  grim-set expression of a man beset by sirens, although as critics have been quick to point out: Knight of Cups’s depiction of the Babylon of modern Hollywood both looks and sounds suspiciously like an advert for the fragrance one should wear while braving it. But then the film is only notionally about Hollywood, in the same way that The Thin Red Line was only tangentially about the war in the Pacific. All Malick films are about the same thing — man’s fall from grace, Paradise Lost — a theme he was worked and reworked in six film spanning four decades.  Working “from the inside out,” he shots many of his scenes twice, once with dialogue and once without,  giving him greater freedom in the cutting room, where he can layer up the scenes with voiceover and music, cutting the cord of direct engagement between audience and the drama, to kindle a mesmerised dependence on the opiate of imagery alone.  “He just got bored with his own writing and with our acting and started to see another movie in there,” said star Richard Gere of  Days of Heaven, the 1978 film shot almost entirely at the magic hour of dusk, and which took Malick two years to edit, so exhausting him he didn’t make another film for 20 years. “He was looking for God’s light” said costar Sam Shephard. It is a strong contender for the most beautiful movie ever made.' — from my piece for The New Statesman 

Apr 23, 2016

Top Ten Prince tracks

1. Sign O' The Times
2. Kiss
3. When Doves Cry
4. Raspberry Beret
5. If I Was Your Girlfriend
6. Let's Go Crazy
7. Sexy Mothafucker
8. The Most Beautiful Girl In The World
9. Diamonds and Pearls
10.  I Wanna Be Your Lover

Apr 16, 2016

On My iPod: April 15th 2016

1. Laser Gun — M83
2. Waves (Tame Impala Remix) — Miguel
3. The Sound — The 1975
4. Everything I Have is Yours  — Villagers
5. Never Knew You Loved Me Too — Freddy Thompson & Kelly Jones
6. Before You Fell — Marit Larsen
7. Pirate Dial — M Ward
8. Make Me Like You — Gwen Stefani
9. Alive — Sia
10. Close to You — Rihanna

Mar 27, 2016


'The director Jeff Nichols  has rather crept up on us, much like his films. He has made four of them — “Shotgun Stories” (2007), “Take Shelter” (2011), “Mud” (2012), and now “Midnight Special” — in which his themes have emerged as clearly as oncoming headlights at night. The settings is the forgotten American heartland of trailer homes and pickup trucks,  gas stations and motels, beer and bad TV. His characters are blue-collar workers, the kind of people who, in Obama’s clanger of 2008, “cling to guns or religion”. In another filmmaker’s world they would be dismissed as religious nuts — conspiracy cultists, hoarding books on lay-lines and blanking out their windows to keep out the daylight. In Nichols world they are the heroes. Here, the wackjobs are right.  In one extraordinary sequence, great balls of fire descend from the heavens on a lonely gas station, scorching and crumpling the tarmac: the world of Edward Hopper interrupted by the world of Steven Spielberg. It is to Spielberg that many reviewers have turned for comparisons — in particular the early Spielberg of E.T. and Close Encounters, who dreamed of alien visitation in terms of rampaging hoovers and runaway toys — but there’s no music playing during the sequence, which is almost silent but for the sound of the crumpling tarmac. Nichols works in a maximalist film culture, in a maximalist genre (sci-fi) but he is a bona fide minimalist, a master of the ellipse: Take Shelter was maybe the sparest movie about the apocalypse you’ll ever see. This film, too, is shaved to the bone.   In one scene, a man levels a gun at another man’s head, a scene we’ve seen enough to know that the filmmaking world divides into two camps: those who would show the gunshot and those who would cut to the exterior of the dwelling and the muffled sound of a gunshot.  Nichols does neither: he cuts on the sound of the victim’s increasingly rapid breathing and moves calmly into the next scene. No exterior. No gunshot. What more do we need than a man’s last breath?' — from my review of Midnight Special for The Economist


'A whole room could have been put together from the subset of works interrupted by the French revolution, including  David’s portrait of Adelaide Madame Pastoret and her son (1791-2) left unfinished because of emergent political differences between David and Pastoret’s Royalist husband with the result that the sewing needle she is supposed to be holding is not there, invisible — one of the daintiest net effects of the Jacobin Terror imaginable.  Less satisfying  is the latter portion of the exhibition, when the non finito aesthetic meets the modern artists who most fully embraced it, when the exhibition catches up with itself, so to speak  — the result being exquisite self-cancellation. Here are Janine Antoni’s heads in soap and chocolate, missing the noses bitten off by three visitors, a testament to their own impermanence, or  Edward Ruscha lithographs in the That is Right portfolio — variously titled That is Right, Actual, Correct, Definite, Certain,  Sure, Exact and Final — in direct mockery of our completist urges, or Andy Warhol’s  Do It Yourself (Violin) 1962, a facsimile of a paint-by-numbers kit with only the  bottom half of violin  complete, the rest of it numbered blanks awaiting color from the bored suburban housewife who is to be imagined dabbing at it while she waits the arrival of her husband back from work. It’s not just the loftiness of the irony that is off-putting — although it does scream 1960s as loudly as Mad Men-era porkpie hats — but the fact that this testament to the unfinished is itself, painstakingly finished, inch by pedantic inch.' — from my review of 'Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible', at the Met Breuer

Jan 3, 2016


1. Carol — Carter Burwell
2. The Revenant — Ryuichi Sakamoto
3. The Danish Girl — Alexandre Desplat
4. Inside Out — Michael Giacchino
5. Bridge of Spies — Thomas Newman
6. Mad Max: Fury Road — Junkie XL
7. Tomorrowland — Michael Giacchino
8. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – John Williams
9. Steve Jobs — Daniel Pemberton
10. The Martian — Harry Gregson-Williams

Dec 30, 2015


1. Rooney Mara, Carol
2. Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
3. Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
4. Charleze Theron, Mad Max Fury Road
5. Brie Larson, Room
6. Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
7. Elizabeth Banks, Love & Mercy
8. Benicio Del Toro, Sicario
9. Ian McKellen, Mr Holmes
10. Amy Schumer, Trainwreck

Dec 22, 2015


Hail, Caesar! — Coens (Jan) The Witch — Eggars  (Feb) Triple 9 — Hillcoat, C. Affleck Knight of Cups — Malick, Bale (MarchMidnight Special  Jeff Nichols, Dunst, Shannon (March) Green Room — Yeltsin, Poots (March) Demolition— Vallee, Watts Gyllenhaal (April) Everybody Wants Some —  Richard Linklater (April) The Jungle Book — Favreau (April) Snowden — Stone, Gordon-Levitt (May) The Nice Guys — Black, Crowe, Gosling (May) Maggie's Plan — Hawke, Gerwig, Moore (Sony, May) Finding Dory — (Stanton, Pixar, June) The BFG — Spielberg, Rylance  (July) Ghostbusters — Feig (July) La La Land — Chazelle, Gosling, Stone (July) Untitled Fifth Bourne Film — Greengrass, Damon (July) The Accountant — Affleck, Simmons (Oct) Live by Night — Lehan, Affleck (Oct) Dr Strange — Cumberbatch (Nov) Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk — Lee, Stewart (Nov) The Great Wall — Yimou, Damon (Nov) The Founder — Keaton (Nov) Rogue One — Edwards, Weitz, Jones (Dec) Sing — McConnaughey, Witherspoon (Dec) Avatar 2 — Cameron (TBA) Silence — Scorsese, Neeson (TBA) Untitled Howard Hughes Film — Beatty (TBA) The Book of Henry  —(Trevorrow, Focus, TBA) Creative Control — (Amazon, TBA) The Light Between OceansCianfrance, Vicander, Fassbender ( TBA) Untitled Woody Allen Film — Allen, Willis (TBA) Gold (d: Stephen Gaghan) Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramirez, Bryce Dallas Howard, Corey Stoll. Love And Friendship (d: Whit Stillman) Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny.  Una (d: Benedict Andrews)  Rooney Mara American Honey (d: Andrea Arnold)  Arielle Holmes, Shia LaBeouf.   American Pastoral (d: Ewan MacGregor).  Ewan MacGregor, Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Connelly. Loving (d: Jeff Nichols)  Joel Edgerton, Michael Shannon.  Jackie (d: Pablo Larraín) Natalie Portman, Greta Gerwig, Peter Sarsgaard, John Hurt. Certain Women (d: Kelly Reichardt) Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams. The Neon Demon (d: Nicolas Winding Refn) Elle Fanning, Bella Heathcoate, Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks. 20th Century Women (d: Mike Mills) Elle Fanning, Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup.  True Crimes (d: Alexandros Avranas). Jim Carrey, Charlotte Gainsbourg. Shopper (d: Olivier Assayas)  Kristen Stewart, Nora von Waldstätten, Lars Eidinger.  Manchester By The Sea (d: Kenneth Lonergan). Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler. Wiener-Dog (d: Todd Solondz). Greta Gerwig, Zosia Mamet, Kieran Culkin, Julie Delpy, Danny DeVito, Ellen BurstynThe Circle (d: James Ponsoldt) Emma Watson, John Boyega, Tom Hanks, Patton OswaltMiss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiars (d: Tim Burton), Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Judi Dench, Samuel L. Jackson.  A United Kingdom (d: Amma Asante) David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike.   

Dec 19, 2015


'Let’s get verdicts out of the way: Star Wars Episode VII; The Force Awakens is probably the best in the series since The Empire Strikes Back. It is first-rate entertainment, fast and funny, yet filled with the prickly sense of fate a saga like this needs, and also surprisingly moving. Indeed, Abrams is pretty much peerless in channeling our collective warmth for past pop culture. He has made five films so far — Mission Impossible 3, Star Trek, Star Trek 2: Into Darkness, Super 8 and now this — two sequels, two reboots and one homage to his mentor Steven Spielberg. His hit reel is a mass of other’s mens copyrights. Somewhere between a remixer and a cover artist, he is expert at smuggling his virtues into the pre-existing grooves of other’s formats and franchises. And yet you know a J J Abrams movie when you see it — the dynamic framing, the unfakeable sense of pep and optimism, the fascination with mystery-box plots in which characters stumble out of aliases and into their true vocation. The identity crisis of multi-taskers: it’s a very Abrams theme. It’s the theme, too, of The Force Awakens, which is full of track-switchers,  unexpected alliances, reinventions, sudden reveals.  The experience of watching the film is a fascinatingly novel one, almost uncanny, in the true sense of the word: to see life breathed into elements so familiar  bordering on the eerie, like seeing a puppet move by itself. It’s magic in its purest form. Here they all are, all the old tropes: The sand planet. The hot-shot pilot. The father set against son. The opportunist who may or may not grow a conscience. But all seen from pleasingly unfamiliar angles. Lucas pretty much exhausted the typology of planets — ice, water, snow, desert — so Abrams wisely seeks out new contexts for the key pieces of eye candy: light sabres in rain,  x-wings churning up spray over a lake, the Millennium Falcon skimming sand, an Imperial battle destroyers rusting in the desert. He’s a master defamiliariser.' — from my review for Intelligent Life

BEST FILMS of 2015

1. Carol
2. Brooklyn
3. Bridge of Spies
4. The Revenant
5. The Big Short
6. Son of Saul
7. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
8the Look of Silence
9. Anomalisa
10. Mad Max: Fury Road


'Dressed in his customary Blundstone boots, dark navy jeans, and plaid shirt,  Abrams is a boyish 49-year-old, with a curly high-rise of Zeppo Marx hair, a bulbous nose, black spectacles, and a quick darting intelligence that doesn't need to dominate the room. The offices of most movie directors are mausoleums to their reputation — slightly anonymous places to stash their awards and posters — but Abrams’s office, on the second floor of his production company Bad Robot, in Santa Monica, instead burst with his enthusiasms. “Are you ready?” asks a brass placard above the buzzer. Inside, guests are invited to wait in a foyer surrounded on three sides loaded to capacity with with toys, magic tricks, movie cameras and memorabilia —  the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Star Trek, Star Wars, Flash Gordon  Godzilla,; an original Planet of the Apes ape-head prosthesis, collector’s-edition dolls from  The Twilight Zone, a stack of board games:  Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Six Million Dollar Man, and Mission: Impossible. The whole space, with its frosted glass and gunship metal spiral staircase, rather resembles a 15-year-old boy’s bedroom, as given a makeover by Philipe Stark. “No, seriously, it really is his bedroom when he was 15” says actor and childhood friend Greg Grunberg who has appeared in many of his movies,  and has known Abrams since he was a chubby, bespectacled kid,  filling his bedroom in suburban Brentwood with magic tricks, clay models and   homemade prosthetics, shooting movies on Super 8 in which he subjected his sister Tracy to zombie attack and alien abduction.    “He was always trying to figure out how this was done. How did he do that, how did he do this. It was exciting to be around him, even when he was five and six.”  The corridors of Bad Robot are thronged with young, ethnically diverse staff, some wearing headsets, all working on the raft of movie projects and  TV series Abrams seems to be either directing, writing, or producing at any given moment.   “JJ does his best work when his back against the wall,” says Damon Lindolf, the show runner of  the Abrams co-created the TV series Lost which more of less defined binge-watching for the modern age. “If he's feeling comfortable, and relaxed he will manufacture events to put his back against the wall in order to generate his best work.  Just when you think he’s bitten off more than he can chew, he Indiana Joneses it.”” — from my interview for The Times

Dec 12, 2015


1. Ode — Nils Frahm
2. Should Have Known Better — Sufjian Stevens
3. Be The One — Dua Lipa
4. Grace — Clem Snide
5. Depreston — Courtney Barrett
6. Bros — Wolf Alice
7. Homecoming — Josh Ritter
8. No Room In Framce — Deathcab For Cutie
9. What Do You Mean? — Justin Bieber
10. Bad Blood – Ryan Adams

Dec 11, 2015


1. Carrie and Lowell — Sufjian Stevens
2. Strangers — RAC
3. Solo — Nils Frahm
4. My Love is Cool —Wolf Alice
5. Darling Arithmetic — Villagers
6. Pageant Material — Kacey Musgraves
7. Dead & Born & Grown — the Staves
8. Girls Come First — Clem Snide
9. Slowness — Outfit
10. Loyalty — The Weather Station 

Dec 5, 2015


'Alejandro Inarritu's The Revenant is a visceral, immersive man-against-the wilderness tale with full metaphysical reverb: Jack London by way of Terence Malick. It’s almost too much — too long, too brutal, too highflown —  but there is a long and glorious history of overreach at the cinema, from Erich Von Stroheim to Francis Ford Coppola, which has fallen into sad decline. Technically, our directors have never been better —  you can’t fault a Christopher Nolan or a J J Abrams for ingenuity, or spectacle. Nor can anyone doubt the wormy, forensic allure of a David Fincher or Darren Aronofsky film.  But our most inventive cinema is pulled off in the shadows, hidden well away from the big budgets and studio beancounters, so even the arthouse lacks risk. What we lack is a mad genius or two,  working in full public view and with the backing and resources of a studio, towards a personal vision that could combust at any point — auteur as icarus, movie as meteor.'— from my review for Intelligent Life

Oct 27, 2015

Attachment theory and the movie audience

'Great artists are not supposed to think of their audiences, of course — that is supposed to be one of the signs of their artistry. But film is a mass medium, which puts all filmmakers in a relationship of some sort with the audience, be it grudging, respectful, delighted, neglectful. In 1970, the American psychologist Mary Ainsworth, working off research by British  psychologist John Bowlby, devised something called the ‘Strange Situation’ test, designed to gauge the varieties of attachment between infant and their mothers. Infants between 12 and 18 months were placed with their mother in a small room, and observed through one-way glass.  Then, 
(1) A stranger joins mother and infant. (2) Mother leaves baby and stranger alone. (3) Mother returns and stranger leaves. (4) Mother leaves; infant left completely alone. (5) Stranger returns. (6) Mother returns and stranger leaves.
Ainsworth found infants falling into three categories. The first, which she characterized as having a ‘”secure” attachment style, were distressed when the mother left, avoided the stranger when alone, but were friendly when the mother was present, using her as a ‘base’ to explore their environment. This almost perfectly describes a hit-maker like Spielberg, whose films are an almost exact simulacrum of that mixture of safety and fear a child feels when it is scared, playfully, by a parent.  When he makes a film that doesn’t go over well with the public, like 1941, he tends to   internalise the public’s reaction (“I’ll spend the rest of my life disowning the movie,” he told The New York Times upon its release), but he also recovers quickly: 1941 was followed by Raiders of the Lost Ark. His confidence returned by that movie’s success, he was emboldened to tackle the “whisper from my childhood” E.T. In other words, Spielberg uses his public the way the secure infant uses his mother, as a safe base to launch further explorations. Bowlby and Ainsworth’s second category was “Ambivalent” Attachment. When the mother departs, this type of child is extremely distressed, avoids the stranger, showing fear, and then ambivalence when the mother returns, remaining close but resentful, maybe even pushing her away. This is Woody Allen, whose antennae to the conflicts between his own needs and those of his audience is acute.  “There’s no correlation between my taste and public taste,” he has said.  Indeed, in a variant on the old Groucho Marx gag, quoted in Annie Hall, about not wanting to join any club that would have him as a member, Allen often distrusts, or downgrades, any film of his that has gone over too well with the public —whether Annie Hall (“nothing special" ), Hannah and Her Sisters (“a film I feel I screwed up very badly”) or Manhattan (“they’re wrong”).  He is the infant who makes a show of turning its back on its mother as a show of independence.  The  third and final category was “Avoidant attachment”. The infants in this category showed no sign of distress when the mother left, was okay with the stranger, playing normally, but show little interest when the mother returns — maybe just a look or a smile — showing no preference between their mother, a stranger, or an empty room.  One thinks of a filmmaker like Kubrick, or the more austere end of the European arthouse — Lars Von Trier, Gaspar Noel, or Michael Haneke whose films, Funny Games, The Piano Player, Amour, intentionally put the audience through the grinder in their unflinching depiction of onscreen cruelty. There are no cutaways, no reaction shots, no judicious framing devices that give the audience an out, just the uneasy prospect of our own spectatorship, reflected back to us. “By its own nature, film is rape,” says Haneke. “You can't avoid it. Film is always about manipulation. The question is to what end for what purpose, especially when you come from a German language background. What is the purpose of my raping them? In my case, to make them aware of how they are being manipulated, to make that manipulation visible so that they can reflect on it and they can become independent and form their own perspective or opinion.  The film doesn't take place on the screen, the film takes place in the audience's mind. There's not a single film that I make, but there are as many films as there are viewers who watch them.”'  
From my piece about movie audiences for Intelligent Life

Oct 25, 2015


'“I suppose I had better get some clothes on,” says Erica Jong, flitting barefoot across the floors of her   Upper East Side apartment, whose living room has been temporarily taken over by the Times photographer and his assistant. Jong has spent the last 40 minutes having her hair and make-up done and is wearing in what appears to be a black negligee. “I could do the interview naked but one reaches a certain age,” she says. “I come from a very bohemian family. It bothers me not to all to walk around here naked... I honestly thing getting older is such a trip. I think we all go through a period of, ‘Oh my god, I have to pee all the time,’ or ‘Oh my god, my beloved is going phew, because he's taking medication,’ and the pharmaceutical companies are not our friend. If you get past that, and we all do get past it, we discover that beyond that rage, there is the best time of life.” This is slightly surprising, certainly delivered with more enthusiasm than her book, I tell her. It seems so full of rage against the dying of the light — ‘age rage,’ to use her own term.  “Look, I sit in California with my adorable nephew Zane who's a young actor. I look at him and I think, if I were 40 years younger I would jump on his bones. Wouldn't it be awful? It would be incest. He's my brother's son's kid. I'm not going to at on it. I'm not a lunatic, but I feel the pleasure of looking at a beautiful young man who is 15 years old. Why not? You feel. All your life you feel. I'm not interested in incest, by the way. It's not my thing. I'm not interested in B&B. Not my thing. I thought 50 Shades of Grey was appalling. An appalling piece of shit. Appalling. It wasn't even copy edited. Anastasia, she has an orgasm, she goes, ‘Holy cow!". I have never met a woman anywhere in the world who said, ‘Holy Cow’ when she had an orgasm. Or said, ‘Holy shit.’ Have you ever met a woman who said, ‘Holy shit? when she comes? I'd kick her out of bed.” And there, in that long, winding digression — candid, verging on scandalous, but packing a terrific comic sting — you pretty much have Erica Jong, feminism’s embarrassing aunt: the one who shows up to your 15th birthday and over shares about her sex-life. At 73, she is a formidable presence, a legendary voluptuary as adept at conquering with words as she is with her flesh, her  ballsy-broad manners brooking little interruption as she scoots from one train of thought to another,  her blue eyes blazing as she lest off one f-bomb after another. She’s like a cross between Gloria Swanson and Eddie Murphy. ' — from my interview for The Times Magazine

Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer

'So now we know. The Force has awoken. And it’s female. The third and possibly final trailer for the new Star Wars film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, dropped at 7:08 pm Pacific Standard Time on Monday night and planet earth went nuts. The trailer took just 23 minutes to hit 1 million views on Facebook, and within a couple of hours had generated 390,000 tweets, — that’s 17,000 tweets per minute, or “283 freak outs per second,” as the beancounters at Wired magazine calculated. The film hits theatres on December 18th, but fans for whom the rescuscitation of the Lucas space fantasy franchise amounts to nothing short of a reboot of their childhoods,  immediately fell to digesting every large morsel contained in the two-and-a-half-minute trailer, with its remix of familiar elements: stormtroopers on ice, Sith lords in rain,  TIE fighters in close combat, and  x-wings turn up spray over a lake. But the headline news for a saga that has always been seen as skewing overwhelmingly towards young boys: Star Wars has gone fem. “Who are you?” an off screen female voice  asks of British newcomer Daisy Ridley. “I’m no-one,” replies Ridley, which is Jedi screenwriting code for  “a no-one who is going to turn out to be a very big someone at some point in the story.” Ridley plays a character called Rey, a ship scavenger on the planet Jakku — a kind of intergalactic second-hand  car-dealer — who stumbles across the Millennium Falcon and its crew. “It’s true, all of it,” says the unmistakable gravelly tones of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo. “The dark side, the Jedi, they’re real.” Even more telling, though, is the gender, and identity, of the woman instructing Ridley in the ways of the Force. “The Force, it’s calling to you,” says someone who sounds suspiciously like the twinkly-toned Carrie Fisher, “Just let it in” — a sentiment more commonly associated with conferences celebrating the earth-mother deity Gaia, or Wings-era Paul McCartney, than the clash of light-sabres or march of empires...' – from my piece for The Sunday Times

Oct 17, 2015

Woody Allen: A Retrospective reviews contd

“No American dramatist has done more to document the pleasures, pitfalls, and withdrawal pains of imagining the world other than it is,” Tom Shone writes in the text accompanying Woody Allen: A Retrospective, a luxuriant photo history of Allen’s work. “Dramatist,” as Shone knows—and amply demonstrates—could be replaced by “fabulist,” “comedian” or “auteur.” The singularity of Allen’s persona—the mussy hair and owlish spectacles, the mournful oblong face, the weirdly energised droopiness—obscures his protean nature, and the many stages he has restlessly passed through. The thread that connects Allen’s work is the vision of American city life as secret paradise, the site of conquest and ego-enriching romance rather of corrupting sin. It is a familiar theme for the American Jewish artist. Saul Bellow was a prince of the city. So was Norman Mailer. Woody Allen is a third... Shone rightly praises Zelig (1983), also done in the style of a documentary. Its hero is a chameleon-cipher who randomly moves through history, slipped into actual newsreel footage of the great (Babe Ruth, F Scott Fitzgerald) and the malignant (a Nazi rally)... Shone observes shrewdly that Zelig is heir to the great comedians of the silent era, “as voiceless as he is faceless… a silent ghost, unable to voice complaint or ‘kvetch’, only to mimic and please.” Ten years ago, I was in the audience when Allen was interviewed on stage by Janet Maslin, formerly the chief film reviewer for The New York Times, who at one point asked him to comment on comedies from Hollywood’s golden age. He was dismissive of many classics: Bringing up Baby and the collected gems of Preston Sturges were all stale rube jokes; Some Like It Hot was laboured female-drag. Whom did he like? Chaplin, Groucho Marx, Judy Holliday. The only humour that mattered, he said, was city humour. All his favourites come in city flavours: Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando." — Sam Tenenhaus, Prospect

On my iPod, Oct 17th: Outfit

1.  On The Water, In The Way — Outfit
2. Homecoming — Josh Ritter
3. 3AM — RAC
4. Bad Blood — Ryan Adams
5. What Do You Mean? — Justin Bieber
6. Automatic Part 1 — Jean-Michel Jarre and Vince Clarke
7. Souvenir – Orchestral Maneuvres in the Dark
8. E*MO*TION — Carly Rae Jespen
9. Majorette — Beach House
10. Feel You — Have You In My Wilderness 

QUOTE of the DAY: Del Toro on Spielberg

'It’s preternaturally nimble with such grace in the way it’s staged. It’s so brisk. It’s so breathless. It’s so apparently effortless and so damn fluid. The hardest thing to accomplish on film is to make time stand still, or make a story completely fluid. Those are two truly, truly difficult things to do, and they mostly come most naturally through the narrator’s voice. Spielberg seems to me supernaturally suited for the story of Catch Me If You Can. It’s in my opinion one of the nimblest movies with fantastic performances... he does what Stanley Donen did so well. He’s brisk. He is muscular. The way his narrative flows is just almost miraculous and so beautifully staged. As a filmmaker, you want to see it dissected and savored the way you would if you had a sumptuous meal in a restaurant. Little by little, you taste the coriander, then you think, how did you get this far in a life without these cloves? The more you chew on a movie like that, the more you discover the subtle flavors and the materials it’s made of.' — Guillermo del Toro, Deadline Hollywood

Oct 14, 2015

Woody: A Retrospective Reviews Cont.d

"The British critic and journalist Tom Shone wrote the above-average text for an Abrams book on Martin Scorsese last year – it was a tribute that managed to recognize the wildly varying quality of a great filmmaker’s body of work. Shone and Abrams have collaborated again on a new over-sized volume “Woody Allen: A Retrospective” and it is another sharp examination of a long and bumpy moviemaking career... “A Retrospective” takes us through each of the films, with lots of new anecdotes about their creation, and fresh insights into their positions in Allen’s body of work. Shone is quite harsh when it comes to that terrible turn of the century lull that produced such indifferent films as “Hollywood Ending” and “Anything Else” but he also charts Allen’s return to peak form in several pictures made within the past decade. The book is a must for Woody Allen fans." — Joe Meyers, Connecticut News  
"Sharp, smart... Shone doesn't just follow critical orthodoxies. He makes his argument beautifully. It's the brain food Allen's rich career deserves." — Ian Freer, Empire