Oct 24, 2014

On my iPod: Oct 24th


1. Our Destiny Lies Above Us — Hans Zimmer
2. Run Time — Imogen Heap
3. Sugar Storm — Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
4. Summertime — Annie Lennox
5. Up All Night — Owl City
6. Kiss and Not Tell – La Roux
7. Pets — Deadmau5
8. Airwaves — Ray La Montagne
9. Telstar – Bill Frisell
10. Canto at Gabelmeister's Peak — Alexandre Desplat

Oct 20, 2014

Palazzo have announced my Woody Allen book:—
'A new title created by Palazzo Editions has been announced for publication next autumn. Woody Allen: A Retrospective by film critic and author Tom Shone continues our hugely successful series on the world’s greatest film directors including Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, Roman Polanski and, most recently, Martin Scorsese. The book will be released to coincide with Woody’s 80th birthday in December 2015 and will be published by Abrams in the US, Thames & Hudson in the UK and Knesebeck in Germany. More international sales are to be announced shortly.'

Oct 19, 2014

Trawling the city, collecting indignities

The New Republic has reposted my article on Scorsese and masculinity:—
'Goodfellas is convincing on so many levels — from the thrust and parry of the wiseguys’ talk to the flora and fauna of their clothes and apartments — that it’s easy to forget that underneath it runs a piece of wish fulfillment as plangent as that of Spielberg’s wish to be visited by aliens. As Scorsese put it, “It’s what I thought of these guys when I was six.” Underneath all the carpeting and double-breasted suits and double-lock collars is a dream of what it is to be pass muster with thugs — be invited in, to feel their hands on your back, hear their praise in your ears. The body language Scorsese recognised in Liotta was his own, growing up on the streets of Little Italy: antennae attuned to the first sign of trouble, anxious to avoid another beating from his elder brother, making everyone laugh by talking very fast, turning his nerves into comedy. And beneath the laughter, beneath the nerves, the theme running subterraneously through Scorsese’s childhood? Humiliation. It was a “humiliation” for his family to have to move back in with his grandparents on Elizabeth Street after an altercation with a landlord. Humiliation, too, was what he saw visited on the men he occasionally saw on the street; good men, working for the rackets, who “when the time came for them to do what they had to do, they couldn't do it,” so they just imploded. “They were humiliated constantly.”   It is the thing the protagonists of his films fear the most, certainly in those he made with de Niro, that kettle drum of thin-skinnedness, who turns Taxi Driver into one long trawl for potential insults and affronts to Travis’s dignity — he picks them up like radio signals. It is the great Scorsese paradox, the source of so much comedy as well as tragedy in his work, that men capable of unleashing such violence do so at the daintiest of provocations:  a misunderstood word (“mook”), a glance, the number of blueberries in a muffin.    “It was outta respect,” says Henry Hill (Liotta) as he torches a parking lot  in Goodfellas, and when Scorsese lost the best picture Oscar to Dances with Wolves in 1990, the thing that hurt him the most? "They put me in the front row with my mother, and then I didn't win"— the ultimate slap to an Italian male.' 

Oct 17, 2014

SCORSESE: THE REVIEWS PART 2

From Clive James's review of my Scorsese book in Prospect:—
"What makes the book worth taking home, however, is the excellent text... These words are by Tom Shone, a film critic worth reading whatever aspect of the film industry he talks about. (His book Blockbuster is a must). Talking about Scorsese he speaks the language of admiration. Most critics are at their best when speaking the language of derision but Shone has the precious gift of being carried away in a sensible manner, and of being celebratory without setting your teeth on edge."

Oct 13, 2014

REVIEW: BIRDMAN (dir. Iñárritu)

From my review for Intelligent Life:—
'Not since the salad days of Robert Altman has a director packed a film with as much filthy talk, dark humor, Puckish satire and deep relish for human fault and foible as Mexican director Alejandro G. Iñárritu does in his new film Birdman... A gleeful deconstruction of Hollywood superheroes and has-beens — a kind of Sunset Boulevard for the age of spandex — the film is constructed entirely from long, continuous takes, shot by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who prowls the enclaves of the venerable St. James Theater on West 44th Street with much the same stealth with which he penetrated outer space in last year’s Gravity. Here the stars on view are just as dazzling, from the collapsing supernova that is Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), a wormy, preening method actor whose commitment to realism extends to getting drunk on stage, followed by actual intercourse; to the black holes of insecurity that are his costars, Lesley (Naomi Watts) and  Laura (Andrea Riseborough), a young starlet who may be pregnant with Riggan’s baby. “What are you going to do?” asks Riggan’s manager (Zach Galifianakis) as the forces of chaos lap the sides of his production.  “I’ll think of something,” promises Riggan. “I’ll riff.” That’s the film all over, from Keaton’s sidewinding, live-wire performance to the virtuoso single takes to the skittering snare-drum soundtrack — this is cinema as jazz, with a view of life as one extended improv. Mexican directors would appear to be on fire right now, holding their own against Hollywood in much the same way that the French did in the early sixties — speaking the same cinematic language but refuses to play by the same rules. Birdman bears much the same relationship to Hollywood superheroes movies as Breathless did to the Bogart flicks which Godard soaked up in his youth, before breaking down their formulas and reconstituting them, freeform, as nouvelle vague bebop.' 
 [A]

How The Films of Scorsese Made Me A Man

From my piece on Scorsese and masculinity for the New Statesman:—
'Do you know how Scorsese came to cast Ray Liotta in Goodfellas? At the height of the controversy over The Last Temptation of Christ, the director took his film to the Venice Film Festival, and one morning, walking out of his hotel on the lido, he saw Liotta across the lobby.  The actor’s audition tape had just arrived at his office back in New York. “I got the tape!” he called out. “I haven’t been able to view it yet!” Liotta came toward him, one of Scorsese’s bodyguards grabbed the actor’s arm and Scorsese noticed something interesting: the actor held his ground with the bigger men, but made them understand he was no threat. “Oh, he understands that kind of situation,” he thought. Goodfella. 
If masculinity were a product, then Italian-American masculinity — florid, violent, hungry for respect, as thin-skinned as Italian sausage — would the brand leader, thanks to the movies.  What does it say that a generation of men, asked to pinpoint a film that speaks to them as men, will quote lines from The Godfather or Goodfellas? A certain butchness has always attended the inner circles of auteur theory, which allowed the boy’s club of the nouvelle vague to swoon over the ritualized violence of Hitchcock and Hawks without embarrassment. Somehow, it’s harder to think of critics today wanting to apply the term “greatest living director” to one of our softer, feminized, beta males —a Spielberg, say, or a Woody Allen. Real auteurs don’t care about pleasing the crowd, or fantasy, or jokes.  They give you a piece of their mind. They get their films off their chest, hewing them from the rock face of their impenetrable psyches. Goodfellas is convincing on so many levels — from the thrust and parry of the wiseguys’ talk to the flora and fauna of their clothes and apartments — that it’s easy to forget that underneath it runs a piece of wish fulfillment as plangent as that of Spielberg’s wish to be visited by aliens. As Scorsese put it, “It’s what I thought of these guys when I was six.” Underneath all the carpeting and double-breasted suits and double-lock collars is a dream of what it is to be pass muster with thugs — be invited in, to feel their hands on your back, hear their praise in your ears. 
The body language Scorsese recognised in Liotta was his own, growing up on the streets of Little Italy: antennae attuned to the first sign of trouble, anxious to avoid another beating from his elder brother, making everyone laugh by talking very fast, turning his nerves into comedy. And beneath the laughter, beneath the nerves, the theme running subterraneously through Scorsese’s childhood? Humiliation. It was a “humiliation” for his family to have to move back in with his grandparents on Elizabeth Street after an altercation with a landlord. Humiliation, too, was what he saw visited on the men he occasionally saw on the street; good men, working for the rackets, who   “when the time came for them to do what they had to do, they couldn't do it,” so they just imploded. “They were humiliated constantly.”  It is the thing the protagonists of his films fear the most, certainly in those he made with de Niro, that kettle drum of thin-skinnedness, who turns Taxi Driver into one long trawl for potential insults and affronts to Travis’s dignity — he picks them up like radio signals. It is the great Scorsese paradox, the source of so much comedy as well as tragedy in his work, that men capable of unleashing such violence do so at the daintiest of provocations:  a misunderstood word (“mook”), a glance, the number of blueberries in a muffin.    “It was outta respect,” says Henry Hill (Liotta) as he torches a parking lot  in Goodfellas, and when Scorsese lost the best picture Oscar to Dances with Wolves in 1990, the thing that hurt him the most? "They put me in the front row with my mother, and then I didn't win"— the ultimate slap to an Italian male.'   

Oct 10, 2014

SCORSESE: THE FIRST REVIEWS


'A beautiful book on the Taxi Driver director's career by former Sunday Times film critic Tom Shone who relishes Scorsese's "energetic winding riffs that mix cinema history and personal reminiscence".' — Kate Muir, The Times
"Movie fans will be delighted to discover that Tom Shone’s lavishly illustrated new tome about the great man is no mere coffee table book. Shone expertly guides us through Scorsese’s long career, from the early years of  film school and guerrilla film-making, to those classic movies of the 1970s and ’80s, and on to his more recent period. Scorsese’s own contributions and those of his collaborators are frequent, but Shone shows a fine appreciation of his subject, too. Describing Taxi Driver (1976) as having ‘the stillness of a cobra’ is both pithy and apposite.... Fascinating stuff." — Michael Doherty, RTE Guide

Oct 4, 2014

'Til Death Us Do Part

From my piece about Gone Girl for the FT:—
'The sex war was supposed to be over.  Feminism had won all its arguments — moral, political, cultural — leaving only the legislative to catch up. “In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders,” wrote Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In of a corporate landscape whose middle management is increasingly dominated by women, 40% of whom are now out-earning their husbands. On campuses across America, where young women now earn 60% of all master’s degrees, young millenials of both sexes sport “THIS IS WHAT   IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE” t-shirts. Feminism has become culturally ubiquitous, a pop cultural cliché, and while first generation feminists may turn up their noses at the sight of Beyonce dancing in front of a giant, lit-up FEMINIST banner at the MTV Video Music Awards, such ubiquity is a sign of how much part of the mainstream their arguments have become.   These days, feminists looking for a fight with anything like the old fire have had to turn their attention to fresher geopolitical pastures, to Afghanistan, India and the like.      
And then came Gone Girl. Gillian Flynn’s bestseller proved a feminist flashpoint when it was first published in 2012 and this week arrives in movie theatres trailing its own sulphur- cloud, thanks to an adaptation by Hollywood’s reigning prince of darkness, David Fincher.   The film stars Ben Affleck as New York writer Nick Dunne, who loses his job and has to move back to his home town in Missouri, only to become suspect number one in a murder investigation when his wife Amy, a glacial beauty played by Rosamund Pike, goes missing. Taking it’s cue from the grisly domestic murder cases that hold American cable viewers goggle-eyed — Scott Peterson, Casey Anthony, and of course, O J Simpson — the story unfolds in a glare of flashbulbs, TV lights and smart-phone image-grabs, as two-bit pop psychologist and body language experts deduce innocence or guilt from a passing smirk. As played by the burly, shifty-looking Affleck in jackets just a shade too tight for him, Nick is one of those guys who is most insincere when telling the truth and picks up suspicion like moss — a media whipping boy par excellence. That’s the film’s hook: How easy it is to frame someone in the court of public opinion.  After the film’s premiere at the New York film festival last week, Affleck noted that it seemed to act like a gender Rorshasch test.  “Most women journalists are like, what’s it like playing a jerk. Most of the men just go, ‘Yeah.'” 
But that is only half the story. To describe the half that has kicked up controversy is not just to risk spoilers but to embrace them with open arms, so be warned. The movie’s many twists and turns eventually reveal a sociopathic villainess who is the architect of Nick’s downfall and whose m.o., when she is not framing innocent lunkheads for murder,  is fabricated charges of rape. It is this that landed Flynn in the cross-hairs of feminists critics who have charged the author with peddling “misogynist caricatures”, and “a deep animosity towards women”. “Gone Girl is the wet dream of every misogynistic men’s ‘rights’ activist,” alleged Interrogating Media in a post entitled Gone Girl and the Specter of Feminism. Defending her book on her website, Flynn wrote, I’ve grown quite weary of the spunky heroines, brave rape victims, soul-searching fashionistas that stock so many books. I particularly mourn the lack of female villains — good, potent female villains… The point is, women have spent so many years girl-powering ourselves — to the point of almost parodic encouragement — we’ve left no room to acknowledge our dark side.”  
Certainly, the movie’s timing could not be worse — or better, depending on your point of view — coming as it does in the middle of an ongoing conversation about sexual assault in the US military and on college campuses, where what Millenials quaintly refer to as ‘rape culture’ has prompted petitions demanding the cancellation of a Robin Thicke concert because the lyrics of his song “Blurred Lines” allegedly celebrate “systemic patriarchy and sexual oppression”. (The song has already been banned by more than 20 British universities.) Activists at Wellesley College, in Connecticut, recently demanded that administrators remove a statue of a naked sleepwalking man they said could “trigger” memories of sexual assault for victims.  “To bring up a conversation about rape sets off everybody's discomfort buttons,” says Rebecca Traister, author of Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women. “Rape is one of those crimes that generally includes only two witnesses, which makes it very fertile ground for imaginative fiction, especially when you're talking about interpersonal drama. It's like two-person Rashomon — it’s the ultimate he-said-she-said.  To see the monster we all have within us, to show our little sexual monsters, is uncomfortable.   We can have our brand new feminist ideas about workplace economics, equality, about reproductive rights, and so on, we can have all those ideas, but still have this voice within us telling us these really old ideas about how sex works between men and women. I’m not condemning the book. It’s a page turner, sold a zillion copies, I read it right to the end.   You're going to have troubling gender elements in fiction, because these are the troubling gender elements in life, but it becomes far less liberating when you understand that they are trading on very, very old ideas about the power that women have to sexually, emotionally manipulate men. When you boil women down to only that, it's troubling.” 
At the same time, says Traister,  “Gone Girl explodes marriage,” says Rebecca Traister. And it explodes precisely the one kind of marriage that is still idealized, between white, urban sophisticated people that meet in mid-life. There are many marriage models out there but this is the one that is still viewed aspirationally:   between white, beautiful, privilege educated New Yorkers. That is the picture of marriage that is sold to us, the one we all must desire. And that is the one the book vandalises. So there is a subversive argument being advanced about marriage in the film, that it's not an institution that can tame women any longer.”'  
And, since we're here, my Fincher top ten:—
1. Zodiac
2. The Social Network
3. Se7en
4. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
5. Panic Room
6. Gone Girl
7. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
8. Alien 3
9. Fight Club
10. The Game

Oct 3, 2014

On my iPod: Oct 2nd 2014


1. Electric Counterpoint: 1. Fast — Johnny Greenwood
2. One More Day — Lucinda Williams
3. Uptight Downtown – La Roux
4. You've Got Nothing to Lose — Michael Kiwanuka
5. B a K L — Loney, Dear
6. Head Underwater — Jenny Lewis
7. Return — Eno / Hyde
8. Pets — Deadmau5
9. minipops 67 [120.2] [source field mix] — Aphex Twin
10. Waitress Song — First Aid Kit
Parade has the exclusive on some photos from my Scorsese book here. Above, directing Mean Streets with De Niro and Keitel.

Sep 29, 2014

PROFILE: REESE WITHERSPOON

From my Vogue cover story:—
'Certainly “Wild” and “Reese Witherspoon” have not, until a year ago, been items that would turn up much in a Google search. It’s not too hard to see what star seeking to shed her studio gleam might find in Strayed’s memoir, a raw, soulful portrait of a woman cut off from the human pack, a “stray”, stripped to the core after the death of her mother and the collapse of her marriage. As she sets about hiking the Pacific Coast Trail, she finds herself dismantling and rebuilding her very identity as a woman, “the one I’d fostered all through my young adult years while trying on different costumes — earth girl, punk girl, cow girl, riot girl, ballsy girl. The one for whom behind every pair of boots or sexy little skirt or flourish of the hair there was a trap door that led to the least true version of me.” The takeaways from Wild are obvious enough —Reese shoots heroin! Has sex with strange men! Swears like a sailor! — but more revealing  are the earlier scenes, showing us Strayed alone on the trail. Shot with a  minimal crew, with hand-held cameras, no rehersal, with Vallee and his cameraman swapping when the other got tired it felt, says Witherspoon, “more like a  documentary than a feature film” and the result has a remarkable candor: Witherspoon’s face plain and unadorned by make-up, slack yet determined, unillumined by the effort of charming people, or pleasing them. One of cinema’s great crowd-pleasers, alone.' 
Published today, my book on the films of Martin Scorsese.

Sep 28, 2014

"What did I tell you? Don't buy anything!"

From my piece about Scorsese's influence on the fashion world for The Daily Telegraph:—
'On February 8th, 1976 screenwriter Paul Schrader arrived at the Cinema 1 movie theater in New York to find queues around the block for his latest film, Taxi Driver. At first he thought: something’s wrong, they haven’t let them in yet. Then he realized it was the line for the next show, comprised mostly of pale, young men, all dressed with buzz cuts in army surplus jackets, in honor of the film’s brooding, psychopathically inclined protagonist. “Assemble a killer outfit” trilled a Details article from 2012, advising readers on how they could best recreate Travis’ Bickle’s “awkwardly intense” existential-loner look:    vintage Western buckle, hand-distressed Jeans, Salt Valley Western Shirt, all topped off with an M-65 Field Jacket and Flight Bomber Jackets, for that PSTD touch.   Travis may be an odd-ball fashion icon— Scorsese himself counted himself “shocked” at the way audiences took up the character as a hero — but he knew better than anyone how the screen glamorizes everything it touches: as a boy he had stood in front of the mirror, as Travis stands in front of his, practicing his cowboy moves, copied from Alan Ladd and Gary Cooper. Travis’s look — with its suggestion of rural transplant (“God, you’re square”) — drew in part from Scorsese’s own neo-hippie phase, when, in the aftermath of shooting the documentary Woodstock, he took to jeans for the first time, and shirts bought from LA’s thrift shops with girlfriend Sandy Weintraub. “At that point there was a part of me that wanted to erase everything of where I came from,” he said. “I had a feeling that I had escaped. I was wearing those cowboy shirts, our hair grew a little longer, and it was 1973 or so. It was really good.” Scorsese’s mother and father, remember, were both in the rag trade: his mother, Catherine, a seamstress and his father Charles, a clothes presser in the garment district.    ''Charlie could tell you if a wiseguy's collar spread was off a quarter-inch,'' said Gangs of New York writer Jay Cocks, and indeed his father served as wardrobe consultant on many of Marty’s gangland films, alongside costume designer Richard Bruno whose wardrobes for Goodfellas — broad, double breasted suits over steep-pointed shirts with deep collars that hide the top part of tie and a tab added to the double-lock collar to line up the collar points — started a trend in U.S. cities in the early 1990s. Scorsese’s films track masculinity in the rough, with all its attendant flora and fauna, so it’s no surprise that he uses clothes as indices of power, hubris, and excess, from Henry Hill’s first suit in Goodfellas (“You look like a gangster!” exclaims his mother), to his powder-blue-bathrobed decline (“I get to live the rest of my life as a schnook”), from the 70 costume changes Robert De Niro enjoyed in Casino (best look: the coral jacket with matching apricot shirt, tie and socks he wears to be blown up in his car), to the shoulder-to-shoulder Armani in Wolf of Wall Street. “Is he wearing a bow tie?” asks Jordan Belfort of one mild-mannered young  broker, before firing him on the spot.' 

Sep 12, 2014

REVIEW: MUSIC FOR 18 MUSICIANS

From my review for Intelligent Life:—
'Finally, came the evening’s climax and highlight: a performance of Reich’s “Music For 18 Musicians”, one of the most sustained and beautiful feats of contrapuntal music—the Matterhorn for mallet instrumentalists. At its core lie two syncopated xylophones keeping up a steady melodic pulse, while around it amass marimbas, a vibraphone, a violin, a cello, bass clarinets, soprano voices and two pianos, all fading in and out but keeping the same quick, shimmering tempo, passing in, through and around one another, like intersecting shoals of fish, or as if the orchestra had formed a single organism and we were hearing its breath. Like surgeons attending the same patient, the musicians stand mostly—I haven’t see so many quietly pistoning elbows since Kraftwerk played at MoMA. Occasionally one will leave, or move to another instrument: at one point, the vibraphone player got up and joined Reich at his piano to provide some top notes, like someone espying a spare body part at an orgy. You think that too sexual a simile for music so mathematical? Reich’s time in Africa in the early seventies paid off; his absorption of black rhythms have placed him accidentally but fascinatingly close to the mainstream of modern pop and dance music. His music moves from the hips — it’s funky. When London DJs spotted the crossover between classical minimalism and Deep House—the trance-like rhythms, the cyclical repetition—it was Reich’s work they sampled and pillaged. Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood performed a portion of Reich’s “Electric Counterpoint” at Glastonbury this year, and has an album of the full work coming out this month. Glass builds impossible castles in the sky, great teetering structures that seem to just hang there, unattached to anything except one man’s will that they exist. But Reich is connected to the ground. He burrows and builds. It’s only afterwards that the size and beauty of what he has built hits you, and when it does it hits you in the solar plexus.'

Sep 8, 2014

INTERVIEW: AL PACINO


'I’m a little worried ahead of meeting Al Pacino how crazy he’s going to be.  On the evidence of his latest film: very crazy. The film is actually two films. One is a production of Oscar Wilde’s play Salome.  The other is a documentary about the making of the first in the style of his previous Looking for Richard, a marvelous mosie around the highways and byway of  Shakespeare’s Richard III that set up a marvellous consonance with Pacino’s early roles, with Shakespeare’s anti-hero emerging as a kind of prototype gangster: Corleone with a crown.As Herod in  Salome, he holds court in  the declamatory, reach-for the-rafters  style of his work after Scent of a Woman. Jessica Chastain plays the Biblical temptress who has John the Baptist beheaded — her first film role. Or so Pacino could claim in 2006 when he started filming. By the time he was done, in 2011, another five filmmakers had beaten him to the punch and cast Chastain in their films. One of his collaborators even had time to write and publish a book about Pacino’s travails with the project, which finally, after losing American distribution, premieres at the South Bank Centre on the 7th, where Pacino will also appear in person, alongside Chastain, to talk about the project. You half expect to look up and seem him personally threading the film through the projector.   
“It has plagued me,” Pacino tells me when I meet him at his house in Beverly Hills, a large mansion house hidden from the street by carefully groomed shrubbery and trees. In the sitting room, CNN plays on a large plasma TV. Above the fireplace, a poem written by Pacino to his 14-year-old daughter Olivia. Next door, a room with some gym equipment and a painted portrait of Pacino, of whom there is no sign until, from upstairs sounds a loud yelp, followed by a faintly recognizable “Oooooh…” Pacino has just stepped on his daughter’s pet dog. “My children are all over the place,” he explains, leading me to the large, white verandah deck out front, where a chess set sits by one of the windows. The house is a rental. He’s been here about ten years now. “I've always expected to go home to New York, and I’m still expecting to go,” he says. He is wearing a black v-neck t-shirt and gym pants, a leather necklace and bracelet, his goatee trim and dark; his hair tousled and bed-headish.  Talking, he runs his hand through it, as if to check it’s still there, or untangle it. He doesn’t seem crazy — or anything like the kohl-eyed wild man who drags his production of Salome through hell, high water, and bad reviews in his behind-the-scenes doc, a fascinating collision of Wilde’s Salome and Pacino’s celebrity in which nobody quite emerges the winner. Pacino is seen arguing with his producers over whether it should be two films or one (“fuck em”). He frays the nerves of his editor with hundreds of miles of footage.  “Al doesn't know what he’d doing,” confides one of his collaborators who retitled the project Salomaybe. It’s by far the more compelling performance  — not Pacino as Herod, but Pacino as Pacino, brooding and wild-eyed, the emperor calling his own bluff, wondering aloud if he can make the centre hold, or if he isjust high on his own powers of bamboozlement. 
You know what it is, is you get a little moody, and you just take the mood and enlarge it because you know the cameras are rolling,” he says. “You know it may be good for the film, but I’m glad you felt it because there was some stuff going on. To be honest, I didn’t know where I was going. I thought, why am I doing this? Many times.  I still do.   I could feel the ‘why’ as I watched it. I could feel, what's Al on about? What is he doing? I know what I was trying to do. I think I was trying to bring an obsession to light. There's something about it that it just takes you over, because it’s about that thing, that passion, that unrequited passion that drives us sometimes and destroys us. I love that. It just ruins your life.” 
— from my Sunday Times interview 

Aug 9, 2014

My Woody Allen top ten

As always when I start a new book on a filmmaker, I'm going to do a Top Ten 'before' and a Top Ten 'after', to see what changes. Right now My Woody Allen top ten is as follows:—
1. Annie Hall
2. Purple Rose of Cairo
3. Sleeper
4. Manhattan
5. Zelig
5. Stardust Memories
6. Manhattan Murder Mystery
7. Bullets Over Broadway
9. Bananas
10. Radio Days 

REVIEW: The Hundred Foot Journey

From my Guardian review:—
'A snobby French restuarateur. An Indian chef who cooks with splices from his dead mother.  A cute French waif who rides a bicycle through idyllic rural France. Young love! Old recipes! With cardamons on top!  Sounds like a Lasse Hallström movie.  This one comes to us from Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, who turned Richard C Morais’s book into bestseller. The title refers to the distance between two restaurants, but it turns out to mean so much more than that. It’s symbolic of the gulf that separated cultures, peoples, individual human hearts, and, in most probably, the contractually agreed distance that had to be maintained around the parking spaces of its superstar-producers during filming.  Helen Mirren plays the  forbiddingly proper Madame Mallory, owner of the  hugely successful  Le Saule Pleureur restaurant, in the absurdly picaresque town of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, where she serves immaculate portions of classical French cooking, to a clientele that includes the President of France.  Her noise hoists even higher in the air, when, into the abandoned restaurant on the opposite side of her quiet, rural road, moves  a boisterous family of Indian emigrees, headed by  Papa Kadam (Om Puri), to set up an Indian restaurant. How they can afford it, when they have just moved out from under the flight-path at Heathrow is something of a mystery, but up it goes, a big garish thing, with a cut-out of the Taj Mahal in front, and the name “Maison Mumbai” spelled out in huge fairy-lights, so we find it magical, but with the ‘U’ on the blink, to make sure we find it quirky. Poor India. The country was just inches from a clean getaway — Ghandi was a distant memory, Monsoon Wedding had just about blown over — and along comes Slumdog Millionaire and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel to revive the whole sorry trope of the sitar-strumming, mystically inclined subcontinent. Naturally, Papa Kadam spends much time communing with his dead wife, whose spices are sprinkled into the dishes of his eldest son Hassan (Manish Dayal), a gifted chef and Papa’s secret weapon in the restaurant war to come.   “Curry is curry is it not?” sniffs Mirren in one of several lines which cunningly alert us as to the correct direction of our sympathies.  “Its called subtlety of taste,” says Mirren after Hassan sprinkles spices onto pigeon fermier rôti aux épices douces. Boo Hiss! Down with French gastro-snobs! “Its called meanness of spirit,” replies Papa Kadam. Yay for Indian spices and color and fairy-lights with a single letter on the fritz!   All the food looks amazing — shot in swishy slo-mo by cinematographer Linus Sandgren, it is swept onto tables to full with orchestral accompaniment — but the movie so stacks the deck against snobs, vaguely and variously defined as “anyone wishing to use a cook-book”,“French people who insist on speaking French”, and “people who don't like loud music or curry”, that it’s hard not to feel a little sympathy for the poor, black-hearted creatures. Why shouldn’t madame Mallory object to the blasting of bombastic Indian house music, modeled on ‘Jai Ho’, day and night? And why should she be forced to watch Hassan sprinkle cardomons into bœuf bourguignon and applaud him for the heresy?' 

Aug 6, 2014

And for my next trick.....

Book news. My Scorsese retrospective is at the printers, and should be in book stores by late September. Not wishing to loiter, and a firm believer that the devil finds work for idle hands, etc, I am about to embark on a sequel, for the same publishers, this one a retrospective of the films of Woody Allen, which aims to break away the encrustations and embellishments of "reputation", blow away the cobwebs, and flush out the living, breathing filmmaker underneath — in particular the antic seventies auteur who broke the fourth wall like it was wet tissue paper, threw his camera around with Godardian abandon and raised all sorts of merry hell in the editing suite, but who somehow gets omitted from the mucho-macho Dirty-Dozen-style group portraits that traditionally make up film histories of that decade. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls & Tiger Lillies, as it were.

Jul 23, 2014

Screengrab: Anticipated movies of the Fall


From Top: Gone Girl, Big Hero 6, Birdman, Miss Julie, Foxcatcher, The Skeleton Twins, St Vincent

Jul 3, 2014

Best American movies of the last 25 years







A recent Twitter exchange left me all abuzz about my favorite American movies of the last 25 years. After some thought, I have refined the list, which now reads as follows:—
Avatar
Before Sunrise
Boogie Nights
Brokeback Mountain
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Fargo
Goodfellas
Groundhog Day
Heat
Hoop Dreams
The Hurt Locker
Memento
Miller's Crossing
Mystic River
Pulp Fiction
Rushmore
Schindler's List
The Social Network
Toy Story 3 
Avatar for its timely understanding of asymmetric warfare; Before Sunrise because from small acorns etc; Boogie Nights rather than There Will Be Blood for the pleasures of polyphony; Brokeback Mountain for the bottomlessness of Ennis' pain; Eternal Sunshine for its seamless mixture of melancholy, cinematography and ingenuity; Fargo for its formal perfection and use of snow; Goodfellas because it was the closest Scorsese ever came to an account of his Hollywood years; Groundhog Day because because because; Heat rather than Last of the Mohicans for being  ultimately the more expressive of Michael Mann's gestalt; Hoop Dreams because it made reality feel as shapely as fiction; The Hurt Locker for it's apolitical excitements; Memento for the revelation that all noir goes backwards; Miller's Crossing for its brains; Mystic River rather than Unforgiven for it's final scene; Pulp Fiction for being better a Godard film than Godard ever made; Rushmore rather than the others for the intimacy of its cast; Schindler's List for the mystery it made of goodness; The Social Network for it's sublime union of Fincher and Sorkin; and Toy Story 3 for its sweet, pleasurable ache, like tiredness felt in the back of a car headed home.

Jul 2, 2014

The fine art of being swept up, up and away

From my column about film scores for Intelligent Life:—
'If there’s any big news from the world of film scores over the last few years, it is the replacement of the old symphonic model represented by Williams — the last of an old guard that includes Bernard Hermann, Jerry Goldsmith and Elmer Bernstein — with a generation fully cognizant of the musical challenge presented by the minimalism of Michael Nyman, Glass and Steve Reich, as well as the ambient experimentalism of someone like Brian Eno. As cinema screens have grown ever busier, film scores seem to have emptied out. There’s much less ’Peter-and-The-Wolfing’, which is to say big themes, spelled out in strings, pegged to specific characters — Lara’s Theme, from Doctor Zhivago, for example. Instead you’ll find more layering, more washes of sound, less melodies, more rhythms. The work of Thomas Newman is less hummable than it is hypnotic, often marking out empty space with spare, reverb-heavy two-part piano melodies, which step up or down an interval, then hold, as if poised on the edge of something vast. It’s horizontal music —the natural accompaniment of landscapes, making him perfect for the empty earthscapes of WALL-E, and the oceanic ambience of Finding Nemo. Mychael Danna did something similar with his Moneyball score: a work of pure, glittering expectation, like a wet lawn at dawn. That’s his Gorecki-like ascent of chords you can hear building in the trailer for the new Christopher Nolan epic Interstellar. Stylistically, Williams most immediate heir is Michael Giacchino, who has something of Williams ear for high-vaulting melodic intervals, and is thus a perfect fit for any film that puts a low premium on the forces of gravity. That makes him a busy man, right now — he wrote the beautiful cloud-bound waltz for Up and will be working on the next Star Wars —but not as busy as the French composer Alexander Desplat, whose name so superbly evokes the image of a tomato hitting a wall, and who this year scored the unlikely trio of Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, Godzilla, and Angelina Jolie’s forthcoming world-war II drama about Olympic track star Louis Zamperini, Unbroken. Desplat likes to combine the lush romanticism of Georges Delarue with a rhythmic, backbone of mallet instruments, harps and timpani that somehow recall the inner workings of a grandfather clock: not for nothing did he score David Fincher’s backward-ticking biopic, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.'
From James Wolcott's excellent appreciation:-
'Paul Mazursky loved and appreciated actors because he began as one, studying with famed acting teacher Lee Strasberg and appearing on screen in Stanley Kubrick’s debut film Fear and Desire and Richard Brooks’ The Blackboard Jungle, which daggered the fear of juvenile delinquency into America’s breast. Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976), Mazursky’s nostalgic valentine to theater aspiration and bohemian freedom, brims with affection for acting and actors, the intertwining of vanity and insecurity that twists nerves into knots, when every audition might be the Big Break or another stop on the road to rejection. Such a cast: the improbably young Christopher Walken and Jeff Goldblum, Ellen Greene, Antonio Fargas, Lois Smith, Lenny Baker as Mazursky’s autobiographical hero, and Shelley Winters as the Jewish mother of all Jewish mothers, not a suffocater and castrater like Alex Portnoy’s gorgon mom looming loudly outside the bathroom door, but a giant matzoh ball barreling down the track. Mazursky’s comedies were at their characteristic best when they remained rooted to the stage floor, allowing themselves lots of breathing space for improv, giving the actors elbow room to splay. In 1975, “psychobabble” entered the popular parlance, and Mazursky’s urbanites spoke psychobabble fluently, a therapy-speak that derived from the fifty-minute hour on the analyst’s couch or chair--a ritual for which Mazursky himself was thoroughly immersed, casting his own therapist to portray one in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Blume in Love, and Willie & Phil, and playing a shrink himself in the ill-fated Faithful (out of kindness we will pass over the fount of wisdom that was real-life psychologist Penelope Russianoff in An Unmarried Woman, whose soothing banalities had reviewers blowing kazoos)--and glossy-magazine trend pieces that furnished the soundbite morsels of cocktail chatter. Jill Clayburgh dancing-prancing around her spacious, sun-filled Upper East Side apartment in t-shirt and panties in An Unmarried Woman was an emancipation proclamation that might have sprung from the pages of New York magazine, where sexual liberation and attractive real estate appeared inseparable for the gal and guy on the go.'

Jun 28, 2014

REVIEW: TRANSFORMERS: AGE of EXTINCTION (dir. Bay)

From my Guardian review:—
'Extinction really does seem to take an age in this film,  its running time distended to a lumbering 144 minutes by Bay’s love of check-out-my-shot slow-motion, so we catch the exact angle with which the Transformers pirouette through the air, and the exact number of inches by which they fail to miss an overhead bridge, and the precise scatter-pattern of cratering masonry that results.  Extinction really does take an age in this film — the Debbie Does Dallas of destruction porn.  The real progenitor of these films is not Steven Spielberg, or even Irwin Allen,  but Smokey and the Bandit, Honkytonk Freeway, and all those other Kentucky-fried, demolition derbies  that littered up the back end of the seventies with their multiple shunts, pile-ups and smasheroos.  “That was insane!” says one young scientist after the Autobots have torn up  much of Chicago’s Michigan avenue, “It was awesome but it was insane!” It is also curiously boring. One of the stranger aspects of the Transformer oeuvre is that you can watch all four movies back to back, find your eyes comprehensively boggled, your ears played like timpani, and yet discover that your pulse has not deviated once above a steady 60 bpm. Bay has all the attributes of a great action director except the ability to instill fear in an audience. He wants us thrust back in our seats, not on the edge of them, overwhelmed with awesomeness not fretting over what is going to happen next.  The summer blockbuster may originally have pitched battle against outsized antagonists — gigantic Death Stars, giant sharks — but their protagonists were pint-sized, Davids plucking up the  courage to face  Goliath. “Aren’t you a little short to be a stormtrooper?” asked a skeptical Princess Leia. ““I don't want to ever feel you could kill that shark,” Spielberg told Roy Sheider while shooting Jaws, filling out his cast with uber-nerds, beta-males and lily livers. Bay’s snickering giganticism, together with his withering disdain for anything that smacks of weakness, make him very much the man of America’s imperial hour.  The Transformer movies delivers a Hobbesian vision of man and machine, in which Goliaths are thumped by even bigger Goliaths, only to be creamed by even more vast uber-Goliaths, in infinite regress. Does the inside of Dick Cheney’s head look like this?'