Dallas Buyers Club



This wasn’t the official poster artwork but it is a much more striking portrait of the principal actor Matthew McConaughey and the amazingly starkly realised character he plays. In fact this is a man who genuinely inhabits the skin of someone else.  Indeed it is hard to recognise the actor behind this performance, so changed and chimera like is he. A deserved winner of awards, this film justifies the commitment of financiers and producers alike to difficult drama. At a time when the money is chasing popcorn & kids films (because they make money), it is a brave person who backs a script such as this.

Having said that the film itself isn’t the strongest story line. It is an interesting one and compelling at the start with the clock ticking but that is soon lost as the resolution becomes clearer. In comparison Erin Brockovich managed to hide it’s cards and keep the tension right to the end. That is not to diminish Dallas but rather raise Erin to a higher level, it is simply a superior film among superior films. McConaughey’s performance edges Julia Roberts but it is marginal (because it really isn’t an actor we are watching but a chameleon). And both were served by excellent support work (it is easy to overlook Albert Finney’s fantastic shilly-shally-ing performance as the lawyer) and direction.

This is one of those films that everyone ought to see if only to recognise what it takes to be someone else. McConaughey is quite simply painfully brilliant.

Hair in the gate film score = B ++

Siberian Education

Siberian poster


After the massive disappointment of Stalingrad I turned eastward for something better and found this minor story that may, or may not, have some grounding in the true ways of Siberians. But whether it has any basis of fact it is clear they’re a tough lot; cold weather, long winters, alcohol made from pine trees and clearly so little to do when they get snowed in that the men hang around tattoo parlours all their lives.

Fronted by the capable but increasingly marginalised acting talents of John Malkovich (who suffers typecasting on par with Frankenstein) this is a minor story that has all the appearances of an indie movie benefiting from a bigger commitment by a distributor. It is well put together but, despite the many qualities that adorn the film the story never really takes the viewer anywhere. Of course  Siberian Education does exactly what it says on the tin – namely inform the audience about how hard life is in the Russian hinterland and how the curriculum errs away from life skills and more towards death skills. With a heavy dollop of old folklore and collective community wisdom your average Siberian teenager is destined to be a thief and violent on occasion but sensitive to mental issues.  But the ways are clearly changing and so I predict future educated Siberians will be; just as violent with a tendency towards drugs and prostitution and away from community commitment.

Body art will remain a popular past time, especially for those in jail and I would suggest someone includes extra classes in storytelling.

Hair in the gate film score = D





Here is a big film. Big idea, big delivery, big star and big budget. And for the most part it delivers big which is a good thing because, with the cost of visual effects coming down all the time, there are a lot of Sci-fi films being released that just don’t cut the mustard.

Somewhere in the not too distant future Earth will be visited by alien life, of that even the sceptics are beginning to agree.  There are simply too many Earth-like worlds out there for there not to be life. But whether they are slime like, amphibians, bipeds, hive mind or preferring to hide behind a diamond motif, nobody knows for sure. But in this uncertain but certain future our ambassadorial team are kidnapped, copied and returned as an invading army.  So Tom has got to make the big bucks while he can because when there are 20,000 of him in an army, he’ll be on minimum wage.

Such is the life of a superstar. Take a film role that never lets you die. Help repair the planet. Oh, and get the technology that Apple etc will be working on next year.

I loved Oblivion because it had a whopping great big idea. Okay, it was a mash up of the brilliantly formed Moon and the mega impact of Independence Day, but in reverse (watch the film & you’ll know what I mean). Cruise is good at the role of average-man-turns-out-to-be hero, probably one of the best in Hollywood actually. So with an amazingly rendered world post apocalyptic war the film has all the ingredients for story immersion. It is a thinking film with more depth than most but there is one black hole in the story which is practically un-fixable but, if you overlook it, then everything else is a satisfying delivery.

So well worth the watch and well worth the score of….

Hair in the gate film score = B

Walking on Sunshine


The funny thing about this light weight popcorn-muncher is that while I was watching my last post, Hannah Arendt, my lovely wife was upstairs watching this. The next day she insisted I sit with my daughters and watch it (she joined us for a second viewing!)

What can I say? It wasn’t as good as Mama Mia. It wasn’t as big a budget, the songs were less classic, more cheese, the players well-chosen bearing in mind it would never have been an easy film to cast, and the production values were good for the money spent. Walking on Sunshine had a ‘sit back and enjoy while brain is in neutral’ instruction on the pack. And after my previous viewing it was probably what the doctor/bar tender would have ordered me anyway.  Sadly, I have to admit I hummed the songs and laughed at enough moments that my girls were amazed I enjoyed it as much as them! I’m not about to pronounce a masterpiece but I can accept that when a film pleases my daughters as this one did then it deserves a positive review.

Hair in the Gate film score = D +  (but please consume sugar while watching)


Hannah Arendt


This is a very difficult film to review for a number of reasons. Firstly, the film is all about a controversial opinion by a respected writer and academic about a subject that stirred a lot of emotions and involved a notorious figure from the darkest days in modern history.

Hannah was a strong, independently minded thinker who employed clinical analysis in just about every aspect of her life; from her work and relationships (with various men and her philandering husband) to her rationalization of events that led to the notorious trial of Adolf Eichmann, an individual identified as a key player in the monstrous Third Reich. Hannah was employed by the New Yorker to cover the trial, commissioned to write a series of articles. What she wrote led to a massive backlash against her and re-opened wounds seeking at least some closure with the Eichmann verdict and execution. And although this is the story that the film tells I’m not going to express an opinion on her actions except to say she was very brave, an extremely objective analyst and, like most great thinkers, lacking a degree of emotional intelligence to balance the intellectual acuteness.

As for the movie, well, I was surprised to discover subsequently that the film was made as recently as 2012. Not knowing this while watching, I had it pegged as a 90’s film. The film felt as if it was made more as a historical record rather than anything to capture an audience. it was like watching a group of people talk about events, rather than watching a film about events. So you learn that Hannah smokes a lot, doesn’t shirk with her opinions or devotion to friends, thinks a lot (while smoking) and was a giant of political thinking although I’m not expert enough to have an opinion about her standing in the pantheon of thinkers.

Could I recommend this film? No, I’d archive it. Do I respect this film? Yes, as an archive piece. The acting is so so, the drama boiled down to talking heads and original b&w footage of the trial – except for one moment at the end when Barbara Sukowa, who plays Hannah, gets to finally inhabit a character that does, rather than thinks.  Hannah gives a short, precise and skilled rebuttal to her detractors. This is the moment, after nearly 100 minutes, when Sukowa acts the part and brings Hannah’s passion for thinking to life. That brief delivery doesn’t justify the previous 100 minutes as a film but, like I said, I think this should be viewed in the context of an important work for the historical record. Archivists will probably agree. Personally, if I want profound thinking I read a book.

Hair in the gate film score = D



The only film I managed to see in the cinema this Christmas past was Paddington, at the behest of a 6, 8 and 28 year old (the latter is my gorgeous wife). So forget anything like a big budget Hollywood spectacular.  Instead it was to be a trad British story and trad British cast (except the Peruvian immigrant).  Now, I have to admit this wasn’t a film I was overly expecting to enjoy, having remembered the cartoons of the 70’s/80’s: too much like dull fair. So with a cinema full of kids, popcorn & treats and accompanying parents all anticipating 90 odd minutes of crowd noise, the lights dimmed and… (after commercials) a rather magical and thoroughly entertaining treat was shared by all. Paddington is without question the kind of Christmas film Britain is very good at making; funny, warm and endearing. Despite a difficult gestation (longer than the species average 7 months) and losing Colin Firth (who may have, like some, thought the film would end up more like that pictured below),

near miss

the whole production was splendid and Hugh Bonneville was an excellent alternative – probably better as it turns out. Ms Kidman was great, the family believable and best of all Paddington was rendered believable (well, you know what I mean), helped by a strong back story presented early in which his uncle & aunt help his character inhabit his cgi body. So it will come as no surprise that everyone emerged from the Odeon smiling and Paddington has found a home in everyone’s heart. Hurrah!

Hair in the gate score = B

Nymphomaniac: Vol 1


At first glance this might seem the sort of film where, er, one might want to watch it on your own. And I did because my wife was utterly disinterested. Please don’t draw any conclusions from that though as, after having seen the film, Nymphomaniac is more than a smut film. It is also, sadly, less than a great film. 

The story of Part 1 concerns the sexualisation of a woman from a very early age. Presented as chapters it is undoubtedly fascinating from a male perspective but such a detailed telling of such intimate personal details make this voyeurism, regardless of whether it is fact or fiction. So it is at times uncomfortable. Not for what is on the screen but how & why we as a viewer are watching. Entertainment? What like the Nuremburg trials? A snuff movie? You see where I am going with this? Lars von Trier has managed to find a subject that is interesting yet questionable. How good was it for you? Thankfully that is a question Charlotte Gainsbourg never asks (or Stacy Martin never mumbles post coital). Personally I was glad of the fly fishing analogy to keep the story from descending into a Soho knocking shop experience.  I kept worrying that Stellan Skarsgård would go wrinkly on us with Ms Gainsbourg (though I fear this will be delivered in Vol. 2). He was nicely compassionate as the interviewer but I’m not keen on him becoming a participant.  And while I thought the lead character Joe remote and unlikeable at the start, I was glad of it by the end.  No one seriously wants to invest in liking a character this detached unless, of course, as an onscreen sex partner (pray don’t ever fall in love with a Joe-esque individual). By the end of Vol. 1 I was glad she remained so distant. Boy that woman has troubles.

But then so does Jerome. Take a look at these before & after shots.  Did Joe do that to him?

Jeromeimages (7)

No wonder Shia LaBeouf had than personal meltdown last year. He is an A-lister. Is his erect penis? Cameo appearances are good for the career. Maybe Shia is reconsidering that one. What the picture on the right doesn’t show is that it was his penis on the red carpet (well, not literally). Shia is just walking Mr Penis to the premiere.

Notwithstanding the wooden performance (sorry) all the main actors and all the supporting roles are very convincing. The whole film is engrossing, at times engorged, and the deft handling by the director makes it feel all too real. So, after 140+ minutes one can say that this is an interesting film, a very interesting film.  Only die-hard fans of von Trier (or porn) will say it is a great film. But then again maybe Vol. 2 will elevate it to the next level.

You know, all that penis talk might get my wife to watch the film.

Hair in the gate film score = B – –

Apologies for all the puns.



Stalingrad 2013 Stalingrad pointer

It has been quite a while since I had the chance to post a review – busy on the income front. So it seemed appropriate to sit back and watch something epic. This 2013 Russian tent pole looked interesting and did good business in its home territory. Maybe, I thought, it will also give an insight into the current Russian mindset with everything going on inside and outside the motherland’s borders. So here’s my report.

Firstly the two pictures above. One the left is the official film poster. On the right is the subtle main character identifier. The clue is the gun barrel.

The positives first; it looks really good – on par with the latest crop of computer games. There are masses of production values and clearly a lot of roubles spent (a LOT the way exchange rates go). This makes this a comparatively inexpensive film by Western standards, more bang per buck. Except the bang isn’t really targeted. This is not a Fury film. This is more like a box of ammo exploding somewhere on set, but no one is really looking in the right direction. From the start there is a really fake modern story line about an old guy working in a disaster zone which immediately has you doing mental calculations once you get that this is the narrator. You come to the conclusion he is a pensioner-rescuer! But maybe that’s how it is in modern Russia.

So we swim back to 1942 and suddenly the Volga is all action, there are lots of people trying to get to grips with the Nazi war machine and… hey! Just who is the central character? It is all awash like the boat crossing.  Talk about the fog of war, this is the fog of story. So after 10 or 15 minutes of this confusion a show of hands from the survivors and there, you’ve got the main not-dead leads, more or less.

So after filtering all the detritus that war throws at you and the cast one can’t help but then notice that there is a hard core patriotic message being tattooed with every machine gun stutter. While clearly Stalingrad was a defeat for the Nazi swine, Stalingrad (the film) is one massive can of whoop ass dished by the heroic boys in green/grey/mud/rags. The good news is that there really wasn’t a desperate, brutal Communist machine grinding Soviet troops to their death – they went willingly and with joy, Huzzah.

Another plus is that there  hasn’t been an overt propaganda feel good WW2 film for quite a while. Uncle Jo would be pleased. His heir, Cousin Putin, must love it.

Hair in the gate film score = D –

The House Bunny

The House Bunny


Anna Faris aka the House Bunny really does fulfil everyone’s expectation that a bunny girl is vacuous, semi nude most of the time and permanently startled – like a rabbit – hence the poster image which delivers two out of three, no doubt avoiding overt sexualisation to get a PG-13 rating in America. You think? Regardless that the subject is a reject porn accessory (because Playboy mansion bunnies happened to evolve from magazine centrefolds), this is actually a fun, non controversial attempt to show there is life after porn, except here it never gets near to anything too risque. The outfits are the most daring thing and one can’t help feel Barbie would have given Anna Faris a run for her money in the revealing wardrobe stakes.

Ms Faris is air-headed enough to fall into every situation that presents itself, from false exile (who wouldn’t want to escape Hugh Hefner?), house mother to a bunch of losers and object of affection by the only deep, meaningful character in the cast (Mr Hanks Junior; cast as one would expect with degrees of open honesty and integrity only a Hanks can handle), Ms Faris is actually very good at the lightweight comedy, reminiscent in performance if not material to Doris Day’s heyday in comedy (that’s a different sort of mouthful).

So like a lot of Hollywood fare, this is a film to escape reality for 90 minutes or so. It doesn’t take you anywhere new or test your emotions/ resolve/ prejudices; it simply seeks to entertain and for the most part is fluffy fun, rather like the promise of that Playboy bunny in the June ’81 edition.  But they never made a film of Terri…

Hair in the gate film score = C –

FYI Real bunny

Real bunny

Alternative bunny


Both are cute.





. I totally got her as a Playboy bunny and, strange as it may seem, I totally got her as a House Bunny too. From apparent vacuous to

30 Minutes or Less


Jessie Eisenberg will be an actor we all love in 20 years time. He makes all the right decisions about which films to do. If he’s in a film it is worth watching and in this instance his influence is enough to persuade me to watch 30 Minutes or Less despite the presence of Danny McBride, a bellwether at the opposite end of the spectrum. I generally make it a rule to swerve his films after so many chronically awful and barren duds. What I can say is that maybe acting in the company of superior talent drags McBride into better roles because his trollish behaviour/ acting actually suits his role here and, if he gets another half decent gig, he may prove he isn’t a dumb ass as he regularly portrays. 

This is an entertaining, scruffy sort of film giving Eisenberg the sort of below the radar role that he thrives on. (Think The Social Network, previously made into a mediocre film and seemingly a non-starter for career enhancement). He brings the same convincing no hope reality to the role that so endears him to an audience. And given the fact that his fellow actors are nicely stereotyped in their roles the humour plays out well without choking off the story or vise versa. The lack of credible policing in Hicksville undoubtedly allows weird, detached humanity to flourish. Maybe this film has a deeper message; a prequel to director Ruben Fleischer’s excellent & droll Zombieland. Maybe the mid West really is full of stranger than reality characters.  Maybe pizza delivery is a dangerous occupation. Maybe you should watch this for 84 minutes, not less.

Hair in the gate film score = C +