Tag Archives: Film

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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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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Your fugitive’s name is Dr. Richard Kimble.

“I didn’t kill my wife.”

“I don’t care.”


The Fugitive (1993) still holds up today, a thousand action-thrillers on. It’s now widely considered the benchmark for the ‘smart’ popcorn movie (big name star, TV source material, Oscar pretensions). There are spectacular set pieces here but it’s the intelligence of the script and the care in which the characters are sculpted which first captivated audiences. The battle of wits between the two leads and the obsession with which they pursue their agendas is like Maverick vs. Iceman but without the fighter jets and a volleyball scene. Well, perhaps a more mature version.

I saw it the other day for the first time in a decade and I was struck by how mature the film is, how it doesn’t pay lip service to target audiences/demographics. It’s simply a wrongly accused bloke on the run, but these are humans and not cardboard stock characters.

Stylistically, there is one sequence which dominates. A film lecturer I had at university showed us it in class as a textbook/expert use of montage, how a sequence so brief can cover so much crucial plot information. It takes your average modern-day movie an hour to cover what’s done here in under five minutes:

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Frank Vincent – an appreciation.

From as far back as I can remember … I always thought highly of Frank Vincent.


He just dominated scenes, even if his appearances in films were fleeting. He was the archetypal ‘heavy’ because he looked the part so well, but he had a gravelly charisma that was so natural it elevated him above his character actor peers. His violent interactions with Joe Pesci are his legacy:

In Raging Bull (1980) Joe Pesci repeatedly slams a car window into his noggin.

In Goodfellas (1990) Joe Pesci doesn’t take kindly to being asked to go home for his shine box.

In Casino (1995) Frank Vincent belatedly enacts revenge by burying Joe Pesci alive in a cornfield.

Such were the charming cinematic highlights of my youth.


It was in the final two seasons of The Sopranos, though, that Frank Vincent’s acting chops were finally rewarded with a meatier role. His antagonist Phil Leotardo was the most complex in the show, a tragic combination of envy, hubris, and self-loathing. He should have got an Emmy for his performance.

Salud, Frank.

Further reading:


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Dunkirk (2017) – a brief appraisal.

Dunkirk (2017) is a new kind of war movie.


There are no gratuitous blood-and-guts sequences, nor are there any overtly saccharine attempts to sentimentalise the drama (think Spielberg). It was wound like a spring, and shot with such precision and clarity of vision. The film is a non-linear impressionist snapshot of the evacuation, and it was so refreshing to see a picture made of that great escape bereft of nonsensical German accents or extended scenes of generals and statesmen at conference tables. It’s the anti-genre constraints war movie, more akin to a peak Michael Mann picture – Heat (1995), The Insider (1999) – than your generic battle flick.

Operation Dynamo - men wait in an orderly fashion for their turn to be rescued.

Fear predominates – fear of being smothered by a relentless enemy, this claustrophobia reflected in sometimes mere facial expression and the economy with which Nolan employs the classic close up. And in small acts of heroism characters occasionally perform, the film explodes with such unexpected emotion that it occasionally reaches the cinematic heights of the transcendental. The last twenty minutes of Dunkirk (2017) are among some of the most prolongedly intense in modern cinema, hope (and home) the against-all-odds outcome. Masterpiece.

Further reading/viewing:



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Locke (2013) – one man *in* his car.

Locke (2013) is a high concept movie without the Bayhem explosions, like Phone Booth (2002) in its situational drama but set in our everyday more altogether maudlin and depressing British existence ….


One man, one car, one mobile phone with hands-free kit, one 90-minute journey. Seldom do we see a ‘travel’ movie in which the visual exterior landscape is totally irrelevant to the protagonist’s crumbling world. It’s a film as much about sound as the image. And it makes a concrete pour seem quite the arresting topic. A must see.


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Iconoclasm and ‘truth’ – challenging the official narrative.

Iconic moments of recent history are inseparable from the defining image which catapults them into popular consciousness – the Moon Landing, ‘Tank Man’ at Tiananmen Square, that famous kiss on VJ Day.

It’s only through viewing other photographic sources that we can escape the prism of these force-fed yarns and experience events three-dimensionally.


I see some accompanying images of articles and do wonder why, time and time again, the same stock image is used. It’s as if the rest have been erased and this one is the last Malteser in the box.

Every single piece I’ve ever read about the JFK Assassination is accompanied by stills of the Zapruder film, which has served as the basis for conspiracy theorising and debunking. No one denies its value, but it has to a large extent conveniently encapsulated and simplified the entire discourse (the ‘death’ of the American Dream, the dawn of cynicism) into a singular artefact.


It’s in our nature to seek easy explanations. What happened immediately before and after the event has been sidelined (with the causal factors and consequences), the icon seemingly enough to digest. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. That’s the problem. There’s only one picture doing the rounds.

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