Category Archives: Cinema

Michael Shannon skipped the Oscars and went for a beer.


I’ve always thought this actor was awesome. The bloke is intense, scary, has a bit of De Niro about him. From Revolutionary Road (2008) to 99 Homes (2014) and Frank & Lola (2016), the man is just incapable of lazy acting.

The Shape of Water (2017) was up for (and won) a handful of gongs. And its powerhouse actor? He was in the pub. Brilliant.


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Tron: Legacy (2010) and Daft Punk.


Tron (1982) was some kind of game-changer, a belter that pronounced there were existential possibilities within the personal computer to explore, shambolic micro worlds which parallel our own with power structures at their core (fascism in a motherboard).


For a mass-entertainment movie it is one deep experience, and even the Reagan-era state-of-the-art special effects weirdly haven’t dated. It was, with War Games (1983) and The Terminator (1984), one of the first movies to confront what is now a pre-eminent disaster scenario – a virus in the works.

Tron: Legacy (2010) has nothing on the original, though it does at a Disney-level ponder the impossibility of perfection and the dangers of so-called ‘Artificial Intelligence’. Visually, however, it is the peak of sleek, images that would make the 1984 Macintosh weep like George Orwell at the Night of the Long Knives.

The score is CR7 with a football –  a technological cutting-edge marvel of electronics and orchestra. The images mirror a Sergio Leone shoot-out in their synchronicity with the music. And if the mise en scène were set to a James Horner sesh I’d turn the spectacle off.

FYI: I could listen to this score whilst taking a Harry Dunne dump and it would be cinematic. Incredible sounds.



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Downsizing (2017) and utopia.


In this decidedly odd (by common reckoning) picture, the disenfranchised, the dissatisfied, and the financially … fucked get themselves miniaturised – or ‘downsized’ – in order that they’ll be free to discover the sweet life they were previously denied by their limitations. It’s presented as a sine qua non; the only way for them to discover all the worldly pleasures (the American Dream?) is in an artificial community for modern-day Lilliputians.

There’s a lot to be said for a movie with both the materialist and the ecological at its forefront. We surely can’t expand forever, and with overpopulation and the ‘drain on resources’ we just might have to regress, the irony here being that the characters shrink yet conversely (in an almost alternate world) discover more than they would have before.

The utopia here is one inhabited by mostly entirely self-aware characters, but as this is a familiar tale, every new world becomes a microcosm of the former; people will be people. As the thug-philosopher Tony Soprano would maintain, there’s no geographical solution to an emotional problem.

The movie loses its way towards the end, with such a promising premise wasted on narrative detours and too many subplots. It is, however, quite the change from explosions and talking robots who morph into cars.

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Nil By Mouth (1997)


51RCE5V6KFLWith Gary Oldman tipped for his first Oscar after rave reviews for his impenetrable Churchill craic in Darkest Hour (2017), I watched a few of his most lauded performances, coming away from The Firm (1989) and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) especially impressed. It was Nil By Mouth (1997), however, this his directorial debut in which he doesn’t star, which most remained.

I first saw it in 2002 at the recommendation of a classmate who broke 9/11 to me. It was because of such profound importance I attached to his statements that I rented (R.I.P. Blockbuster) this grim, thoroughly … grim movie. I’d seen Scum (1979), another Alan Clarke bit of Ray Winstone savagery, and Mike Leigh’s Naked (1993), but this was something else.

Despairing portraits of working-class life back in their Saturday Night and Sunday Morning heydey were always suggestive rather than explicit. Stuck-in-a-rut characters had their transient pleasures and, dare I say it, trivial pursuits. The Nil By Mouth (1997) equivalent to Albert Finney’s beer binges appears to be calamitous drug use, domestic terror, and injecting heroin in the back of a dirty van. This is a movie with no regard for aesthetic polish or even entertainment – it reminded me of one of those socially conscious photographs (Dorothea Lange) of the Great Depression or the slum tenements of New York in the 1890s.

I would skip the popcorn when watching Nil By Mouth (1997).

Further reading:

Full movie:

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Medieval globetrotters.

Concerning us riff raff in the Middle Ages, I pictured some plonker of my age birthed in a ditch and travelling in a lifetime no further than 30 miles from that manky hole in the ground. That was my preconception of life as a shackled-up member of the peasantry.

The thing is they *did* travel – it was an arduous, unforgiving task fraught with more dangers than a Saw movie, but there were, as recent research has illustrated, plenty of people who embraced the unknown and left their ‘shitholes’ simply for the pleasures of the destination, the exhilaration of seeing new things. The Canterbury Tales were ‘real life’.


I’ve yet to see a film forensically shed light upon the dangers and pitfalls of travelling in the Middle Ages – how it was done, the ordeal of the whole escapade. Imagine plodding hundreds, even thousands, of miles in heavily armed groups to reduce the dangers, the only knowledge of your destination that of hearsay, not a single image preparing you for the place.

Cinema needs a cracker about a penniless tradesman slogging it solo across all manner of mayhem, ‘Edmund’ from a Lancashire hovel on his epic mission to Florence. Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven (2005) is the only flick in recent memory that with verisimilitude depicts some snippet of the gruelling nature of travel back in the dark days, this the late 12th century of the crusade and the crucifix.


I have this image of your stock member of the rabble doing anything to escape his lot (‘Nastybrutish and short‘), the grasping of even the most remote of opportunities, a former serf, now peasant, off exploring sans the protection of his noble.

I’ve met so many folk in Edinburgh who simply have no interest in seeing the world. It’s not their oyster; it’s an irrelevance. The sense of haughtiness applies even at the micro level – “Why would I want to sample Aldi when I have a Lidl on my doorstep?” Today’s by-choice non-travellers are a carbon copy of our image of the medieval peasantry. Either through poverty – a simple economic inability to explore – or through a self-cocooning belief that other places don’t belong to them, a large swathe of our populace travel proportionally less than their medieval counterparts. I don’t get it. Perhaps staying put it just easier and that’s the only explanation for it.

The dangers of travel are immeasurably less than in, say, 1418, yet the fears of tragic happenstance metastasise in the mind – pervasive news media can really pump the fear. It could be you on that AWOL Malaysia Airlines flight.

In a digital world which comes to you, there is less need to seek out the exotic. Video games and virtual reality are the modern-day pilgrimage, Amazon and eBay the trip into town.

Further reading:


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The Central Park Bird Lady.

In every park in every city there’s an initially creepy but ultimately benevolent bird lady with a heart of pure gold. Please pass on a turtle dove (and some shampoo) to your resident hobo this Christmas.

N.B. The Bird Lady – her life story up until meeting Kevin McCallister – really should have been a movie prequel.

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The Room/Disaster Artist.


Making art from … art?

The Room (2003) is fucking atrocious, there’s no denying it. And now we have The Disaster Artist (2017) – essentially the making of that train wreck – opening to rave reviews.

The former’s enduring fascination for audiences – and some of these cult fuckers have a drinking-the-Kool-Aid vibe about them – rests on the premise that no matter how appalling the picture is it warrants more repeat viewings than any other shitter out there in film history. It appears, in its apex moments, a movie made by an alien – that this alien had a crash course in filmmaking and declared itself the Orson Welles of the cosmos.

The Room (2003) is art, even more so than anything Andy Warhol ever shat out. Ed Wood (1994) is for me its paramour. A double-bill for the ages. Cinema gives us such lovely treats.

Further viewing/reading:




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Happy Birthday, Martin Scorsese.

martin_scorsese_by_toast77775 years old today. Pioneer, maestro, legend. Keep the masterpieces coming, bro. X.

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Fountainbridge Marina.

Edinburgh does have its wee accidental allusions.

Gioachino Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie enters my noggin every time I slo-mo stride along ‘Fountainbridge Marina’, a singular image of Alex DeLarge and his droogs syncing to another Kubrickian vignette. Kubrick infects everything, cinema’s supreme stylist.



‘As we walked along the flatblock marina, I was calm on the outside, but thinking all the time. So now it was to be Georgie the general, saying what we should do and what not to do, and Dim as his mindless greeding bulldog. But suddenly I viddied that thinking was for the gloopy ones and that the oomny ones use, like, inspiration and what Bog sends. For now it was lovely music that came to my aid. There was a window open with the stereo on and I viddied right at once what to do.’

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Edinburgh circa 1931.

Watching this short Pathé feature I’ve seldom recalled so many conflictingly good and bad memories inhabiting the same space. In almost every image here I ludicrously time-travel to a kaleidoscope of experiences and the Sartrean depths of the moment, something about the temporality of being-for-itself.

The singular power of images, for me, is that they transcend the ‘shadows-and-dust’ narrative we direct. A memory of a place or person is just a memory – it’s the image that validates our longing for the past experience.

It is odd how little Edinburgh has changed architecturally since 1931 – it’s one of those cities seemingly impervious to redesign (a Venice of the North?) and this is imbued in its dormant volcano. People come and go, the landscape watches on.

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