… And Justice for All (1979)

Rewatching for my The Complete Pacino list.

This looks very dated now, and isn’t helped by the 80s crime show soundtrack, yet the attack on the justice system is still pertinent.

Pacino as the best lawyer in town was a bit Saturday night television, but the closing speech is something to behold and in itself warranted Pacino’s Oscar nomination that year.


A linguist is one of the first ports of call when aliens stop by for a visit.

I’ve studied and had an interest in language my whole life, so this was guaranteed to have my curiosity from the outset. Pleasingly, this aspect continues to play a part throughout the picture – but there’s so much more to it than this.

Director Denis Villeneuve is someone whose work I have long admired, and this is yet another outstanding piece of cinema from the French-Canadian.

Amy Adams is the aforementioned linguist dealing with personal sadness who is called in to build connections with the visitors. As her quest begins it’s easy to feel her fear at being put in this extraordinary situation, and the tension of the initial encounter is evident. But her growing understanding of the aliens’ language is only part of the story.

The narrative explores philosophical questions about language, semantics and culture, and how this impacts on our view of the world. It also presents the idea that in learning a language, we open up a window into how other cultures think, and that it might be markedly different from our own comfortable view of existence.

Woven through this is a timely challenge to the nations of the world that talking to each other is infinitely preferable to working in isolation or exclusion.

But let’s not forget that this is ‘un film de Villeneuve’, and there is also something extra to contend with – not so much a twist, but a gradual understanding of something else going on for Adams’ professor. Even without this element it would have been a fabulous film, but these measured moments of discovery make the opening few minutes even more striking.

While it’s fair to say that this is Amy Adams’ film, I want to give a mention to Jeremy Renner. I do love him in the MCU, but I long for him to do something different nowadays. He was outstanding in The Hurt Locker (which seems to get forgotten) and although I had little time for American Hustle, he was for me far and away the best thing about it. In Arrival he’s definitely in a supporting role to Adams, but he does it very well. I was also mesmerised by the score, created by Icelander Jóhann Jóhannsson.

The Light Between Oceans

It is official. My heart is made of stone.

Shannon Plumb, wife of director Derek Cianfrance, wrote that the reason this film was not well received at the Venice Film Festival is because most film critics at the screenings were men. She wrote:

Women who see the film love it. When they did the weekend Cinemascore survey of the audience, they found that 72 percent of the audience was female – and gave the film an A- score. 28 percent was male and gave it a B+ score.

I would say B+ was still an indication of liking the film, and so I’m not quite sure I understand the logic. Also, I am a woman and I did not love the film.

In the same way in which I completely understood my Mum’s adoration of Paul Newman but couldn’t share it, I can see why people do love this film. The majority of the audience who shared the screening I attended appeared to have thoroughly enjoyed their time in the cinema, if the sniffles and eye-wiping were anything to go by.

So it probably says more about me and my expectations that I was not won over. Not even by the considerable talents of Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander and Rachel Weisz, and the direction of Derek Cianfrance, whose previous films Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines I did like very much.

I felt that the idea of the narrative was interesting – the choices we make and their repercussions down the line – but that it all felt a bit too obvious, and the script was a little mawkish. More interesting would have been heavier weighting on Fassbender’s survivor guilt which he subdues throughout and which inevitably has a bearing on his choices.

So I have to admit I was untouched by this, and accept that (as others may already have concluded) my heart truly is made of stone.

Nocturnal Animals

I’m still thinking about this film. Partly about the images, partly about the story, and partly about how much I liked it. I did like it, that’s for sure, but I’m not quite sure how much.

It looks beautiful. Every shot is framed to perfection, most obviously in the present day life of Amy Adams and her sterile home and work settings. Here the colour palette is cool, natural, with just the occasional splash of purposeful red. As she begins to read the proof copy of her ex-husband’s novel, the visualisation of this imaginary story is first at night, then filled with the warm yellow tones of the West Texas sun. The difference is so striking that it’s almost as if director Tom Ford has shot two separate films, they’re so far apart in tone. All the emotion and intensity seems to have seeped out of reality and into the fantasy as seen by Adams’ Susan as she reads.

And the story which she is reading is brutal – a word which Susan uses herself to describe the way she ended her first marriage to the story’s author. The opening road rage incident and its aftermath are incredibly tense and actually uncomfortable to watch (thanks largely to a really sleazy Aaron Taylor-Johnson) – and from this point on, images, colours, words cross-over and appear in both strands of the storyline. Occasionally this is a little clunky (a slogan on a painting, for example) but in general it’s clear that these links are signs of Susan being emotionally pulled back into an earlier stage of her life, shared with the story’s author Edward, played by Jake Gyllenhaal.

Gyllenhaal also plays the victimised then vengeful husband in Susan’s imagining of the book’s narrative and is on top form, matched by a highly intimidating Michael Shannon in full-on craggy law-enforcement mode. I’m also going to take time here to mention Armie Hammer. The guy needs to be given something proper to do. Yes he’s been charming and funny in the past, but here, with very limited screen time, we get to see just how good he can be.

While I’m still figuring out exactly how I feel about the film, there were a couple of things which jarred. One was the opening sequence. I’ve read about the reasons Ford felt the need to include these images, but I think he was mistaken in his decision, or perhaps even slightly deluding himself. Regardless of how the people on screen felt during the opening credits, several people around me (mostly men) were laughing very unkindly and unsympathetically. Whatever Ford thought he was doing, it certainly wasn’t happening where I was. I’m also not totally convinced by the flashback sequences. We’re supposed to be looking back 20 years, yet our protagonists only look different because Amy Adams has her hair parted in the middle. I found myself having to work too hard to make these scenes slot in to place.

My final gripe is trivial, but very real. Amy Adams makes great play of putting on a huge pair of glasses as she settles down to real a large proof version of the book in question. Yet later on she’s woken by a text message in the middle of the night and can read it without groping for her glasses? As a spectacles-wearer this just wouldn’t happen. Trust me.

In this his second feature, Ford is attempting to explore a pervasive ‘wanting-it-all’ mentality where greed and desire result in unhappiness and dissatisfaction; even when we have everything we could possibly imagine, it’s not enough.

I’ve heard the criticism that this film is style over substance. I disagree. There is definite substance there, but perhaps it’s just that the style gets in the way once too often. I definitely think this film warrants multiple viewings, and I’ll be doing just that.

A version of this review first appeared on http://www.filmdispenser.com

Doctor Strange 

Woah. So many things in this film seemed incredibly familiar, which is strange (sorry) since I went into this with zero knowledge of the character and having only seen the teaser trailer.

Eschewing a training montage in favour of letting the audience work out that time had passed and skills had been acquired was actually a good move in my opinion. We realise that Strange has learned his knowledge through time and effort rather than having a superpower gifted to him. We also see him taking responsibility for his actions and questioning the ethics of his use of said knowledge.

Now, whether you believe or accept this mystical knowledge is another thing entirely, and it does bring a different dimension to the Marvel superhero/demi-god/mutant dynamic.

The visual effects are truly stunning on multiple occasions – better than any I can instantly recall in the MCU – to such an extent that I actually thought I ought to have seen it in 3D for a better experience.  And that’s not something I thought I would ever say out loud.

True, this is also where the familiarity exists – we have seen such things before in Inception and The Matrix for example, and even episodes of Star Trek, but the way they are used here definitely adds to our prior experience rather than merely copying.

It’s in the character-building however where there are ups and downs. Here’s another thing I thought I’d never admit – Benedict Cumberbatch was very good. I didn’t think his John Harrison in Star Trek Into Darkness quite hit the mark (apart from his fighting skills), but Stephen Strange is just the right combination of arrogance, intelligence and later acceptance which is required for his story. The other Benedict in the cast, Benedict Wong (playing a character named Wong, just to confuse matters further) is just plain brilliant and I really hope we get to see him again. But as is to be expected, the magnificent Tilda Swindon is MVP. So good.

On the other side of the infinity stone, Beautiful Mads Mikkelsen was superb but given criminally little to do, which was massively disappointing. And again, Rachel McAdams is capable of a lot more than she was allowed here.

So while I wasn’t as bowled over by this film as others, it was entertaining, visually engrossing, and funny where it felt it could legitimately get away with it. Apart from the cape. That can do one.

Two post-credit sequences, folks.

A version of this post appeared at www.filmdispenser.com



Childhood Movie Scares – inspired by the Filmspotting podcast

I’m a week behind on this podcast, and so I guess its my own fault that I ended up listening to it driving over the Pennines, in the dark, through the fog, alone.

I hadn’t planned it that way – I’m a real wuss when it comes to horror films, and so I actively avoid them. There’s a whole list of films I haven’t seen and I doubt I ever will, because I don’t like being frightened. There are enough scary things in the world already, thank you, without paying for it.

Part of the podcast has the hosts and guest naming their Top 5 Childhood Movie Scares, and as I was on my spooky lonesome drive home, I started to think what had scared me as a child, before I had properly learned to avoid stuff like that. These may be small fry for you, but most of them still give me the creeps even now. As I said, I’m a wuss.

5   Daleks. Any episode. (Since superseded as an adult by those Weeping Angels.)

4   The Birds pecking at Tippi Hedren’s face.

3   The actual Picture of Dorian Gray.

2   Those dolls with metal teeth in Barbarella.

1   The video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Eyes. I hate it when eyes go funny. And zombies. And Michael Jackson’s pretty creepy anyway, come to think of it.

Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World

Werner Herzog investigates the Internet and I haven’t a clue what the first half hour was about but that was fine because Herzog was narrating.

This series of interviews looks at a different aspect of the internet’s impact on society – from hacking to the colonisation of Mars to addiction. Several of them actually deserved films of their own – or at least much deeper investigation. And while his interview subjects are talking technically and scientifically, Herzog throws several of them with questions about love, dreams and emotions. Some of them roll with him, others don’t quite know how to respond. These are the light touches of a genius.

Peak Herzog this is not, but it’s never a chore to listen to him – as the trailer demonstrates.

Now Werner Herzog on the run with Edward Snowden – that would be a documentary.