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Sunday, 26 March 2017

Kong: Skull Island - The Rough & The Smooth

Going ape: King Kong's back and appears to be in Apocalypse Now

Now everyone has had the chance to see Kong: Skull Island, here's my review. Please note, it contains big spoilers and goes on a bit...

Kong: Skull Island
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson
Running time: 1 hour 58 mins

It's 1973, Richard Nixon is in the White House and the Vietnam War has just ended. Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) - representatives of a top-secret organisation called Monarch - persuade the US government to fund an expedition to Skull Island, a mysterious, uncharted land mass in the Pacific Ocean. Accompanied by 'Nam vet Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L Jackson), former SAS tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), pacifist photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), and battalions of soldiers and scientists, they drop explosive charges all over the island purportedly to help map the place but secretly to flush out something 'interesting'. However, they get rather more than they bargained for as, disturbed by the wanton destruction of his home, Kong - a 100-foot ape - attacks the fleet of helicopters in which they'd travelled to the island, killing almost everyone on board.


Split into two groups, following Kong's attack - one led by Packard, the other by Conrad - they trek through dense jungle and other inhospitable terrain, encountering a variety of giant creatures along the way, including Kong's arch-enemies the skullcrawlers. Conrad's group also stumbles across Hank Marlow (John C Reilly), a US airman who has been stranded on the island since being shot down during World War II. Marlow has spent the last 29 years living with a tribe native to the island - the Iwis - and he reveals how Kong is not only their god but the last of his kind after the skullcrawlers killed the rest of his family.

The survivors plan to escape Skull Island and, thanks to the ingenuity of Marlow and a long-dead Japanese pilot shot down at the same time he was, have the means. But Packard is going nowhere - not until he's gained revenge on Kong for the deaths of his men...


Life of Reilly: John C is downed WWII airman Hank Marlow

THE ROUGH

1. I tried - and mostly succeeded - to remain spoiler free for the movie, which meant I had no idea there was a post-credits scene, and managed to miss it the first time I saw the film. These tacked-on-at-the-end bits have become a real pain. After I've sat through a movie, all I want to do is get out of the cinema as soon as possible, not remain in my seat for another 10 minutes while loads of other people rumble past and over me on their way to the exit. I know moviegoers who like to stick around for the credits because they think it's polite to check out all those who worked on the film. But I've already shown my appreciation for those people's efforts, by buying a ticket to see their work up on the screen. Maybe cinema managers could put a little sign on the door as you enter that says: "Please note: This movie has a post-credits scene - remain in your seat to the very end."

2. There are, perhaps, far too many characters, and quite a few of them aren't fleshed out nearly as much as they should be. This is forgivable with some of the supporting players but rather less so when it comes to the film's stars. Tom Hiddleston's Conrad, is posh, English, tough and, erm, that's about it, while John Goodman's monster hunter gets one good line (see below), delivers a whole lot of exposition, and is then eaten. Brie Larson's anti-war photojournalist Mason Weaver isn't a lot better served and I suspect discussions about her character might have gone something like this...

STUDIO EXECUTIVE: So, Brie's character... what's she like?
WRITER: She wears a tight-fitting grey vest that shows off her ample bosom.
STUDIO EXECUTIVE: I see... and is this tight-fitting grey vest ever... wet?
WRITER: Sure, once or twice.
STUDIO EXECUTIVE: Cool - this is gold. And does she ever run about in this tight-fitting grey vest?
WRITER: Yeah.
STUDIO EXECUTIVE: Kid, you're a frickin' genius. Add another 10 bucks to whatever we're paying you.


Vest in show: Brie Larson is photojournalist Mason Weaver

3. On the subject of under-utilised characters, there were times I actually forgot Corey Hawkins' seismologist Houston Brooks and Tian Jing's biologist San Lin were even in the film. It was as if they were only included so they could pop up again in the post-credits sequence as agents of Monarch without audiences wondering who the heck they were.

4. As the US army choppers fly through thick cloud and violent storms to reach Skull Island, Jackson gets to deliver one of his trademark blood 'n' thunder speeches - it's meant to be the story of Icarus, I think. Unfortunately, I could hardly hear a single word of it over the helicopter blades and rumbles of thunder.

5. Cognisant of the criticism 2014's Godzilla deservedly received for showing too little of the monster, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts clearly decided to go in the completely opposite direction. Not only was Kong front and centre in all the trailers but, even if you'd been able to avoid them, he appears in the first five minutes of the film, looming up out of the jungle gloom as a far younger Hank Marlow and his Japanese enemy fight to the death. A little more mystery might have been appreciated.


A monster calls: John Goodman is Monarch agent, Bill Randa

6. So how does Skull Island work as an ecosystem exactly? There are a lot of normal-sized creatures (birds and suchlike), but also Kong and the skullcrawlers (great name for a band). We also see a huge spider, a massive water buffalo, a colossal octopus, and a giant stick insect thing. But only one of each. Reilly's character tells us there are also giant ants and, in one scene, we see a triceratops' skull. Dinosaurs, monsters and regular animals, all living on an island together; some in abundance, some seemingly one of a kind. What gives?

7. Disappointingly, The Dickies' You Drive Me Ape (You Big Gorilla) is nowhere to be found on the movie's soundtrack. Setting it in 1973 is no excuse.

Punk monkeys: The Dickies going ape

THE SMOOTH

1. The sound of old-fashioned fighter planes and their rat-a-tat guns in the film's excellent pre-credits scene - suddenly I was seven years old again and picturing Kong standing atop the Empire State Building. A very evocative opening.

2. I love the idea that someone thought, "You know what a new King Kong movie needs more than anything else? To be a bit more like Apocalypse Now." And that seemingly mad idea works like a charm here. The snazzy IMAX poster at the top of this review and the fact Skull Island was filmed in Vietnam are really just the tip of the iceberg, Francis Ford Coppola's '70s classic was clearly a big influence on great swathes of the film - the choppers, the evocative rock soundtrack (Black Sabbath, Jefferson Airplane, Creedence Clearwater Revival), the jungle, the napalm, the big, blazing sun, even the fact Hiddleston's character - Conrad - is clearly named after Joseph Conrad upon whose Heart Of DarknessApocalypse Now is based. And, of course, Packard has gone full Colonel Kurtz crazy by the end of the film.


Gorilla marketing: The official Skull Island trailer


3. “Washington will never be as screwed up as it is now,” deadpans Goodman in an amusingly ironic line at the beginning of the film. Not all of the dialogue sparkles but, every now and again, the film's screenwriting team serve up a real zinger.

4. The look of searing hatred and defiance Jackson shoots the giant ape after the creature has wiped out most of his soldiers in the film's bravura 'Choppers v Kong' battle. Few actors can bring that sort of presence or intensity to bear. In fact, Jackson is the best thing about Kong: Skull Island, his character Preston Packard comfortably its most complicated and compelling player. He's a man clearly defined by conflict and visibly unhappy at the end of the war ("We didn't lose the war, we abandoned it"). Genuinely reticent to return to the States, the chance to beat Kong (after losing to a rather different sort of Cong) is, for him, manna from heaven.

Pulp friction: Samuel L Jackson is vengeful 'Nam vet Packard

5. Reilly's stranded - and slightly crazy - World War II airman Marlow runs Jackson very close in the film's MVP stakes. The fact he's been stuck on the island for 29 years makes him a genuinely sympathetic, even heroic, character (his wife and son don't know if he's alive or dead), but the fact he knows nothing of 1973's 'modern world' is frequently well utilised for light relief. His bemused reaction to hearing David Bowie for the first time is a particular highlight, and you feel like punching the air when he gets a well deserved, emotionally upbeat ending.

6. The human tribe that lives on Skull Island - the Iwis - are refreshingly dull. Lesser filmmakers than Vogt-Roberts (who cut his teeth in TV and with indie hit The Kings Of Summer) would have had Riley's character 'Americanise' them. They'd have been playing baseball, tooting away on improvised jazz instruments, and the whole thing would have been oh-so-cute and thoroughly cringe-making. I really like the fact they are pretty much as Marlow had found them decades before - unknowable, strange and just a little bit threatening.

7. Kong's monstrous foes on the island are christened 'skullcrawlers' by Reilly's character ("Cause it sounds neat"). The revolting creatures - part-crocodile, part-snake, all total bastard - are truly the stuff of nightmares and I hope we see them again.

8. Visual effects have become so ridiculously good in the last couple of years (the likes of The Jungle Book and The BFG seem to have pushed everyone to up their game), that we're now rather blasé about them. But the effects artists deserve a big shout out here because their work is flawless. Not just in the action-packed battle scenes but in smaller ways too. I was particularly struck by the soulfulness of Kong's eyes - you could not just see but feel the pain and sadness in them.

Open wide: Skull Island's skullcrawlers are the stuff of nightmares 

9. Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack's 1933 King Kong didn't just thrill me as a kid, it was perhaps the first film that managed to break my heart too. As well as being genuinely upset by the movie's brutal climax, for the first time in my life, I'd glimpsed injustice. I really didn't like the way it felt. And the guy at the end of the movie had it wrong. It wasn't "beauty that killed the beast", it was greedy, nasty, savage human beings. Although director Vogt-Roberts can't match the original's emotional gut-punch (Kong wins and lives this time), when Packard announces his plan to kill the giant ape, that sense of injustice came flooding back. "Blimey," I thought to myself, "This bloke really gets it!" 

10. As much as I object to after-credits scenes, at least this one is worth the wait. Firstly because it finally gives Corey Hawkins (as seismologist Houston Brooks) and Tian Jing (as biologist San Lin) something to do but mainly for the line "Kong is not the only king...", and that final spine-shuddering roar. Wow.

Wild thing: Kong battles monsters and men on Skull Island

11. Skull Island is an awful lot better than Legendary's first Monsterverse movie, Gareth Edwards' dismal Godzilla. It's so good, in fact, I'm now very much looking forward to 2019's Godzilla: King Of Monsters and the following year's Kong v Godzilla. At this point, I feel I should mention a 'difficult' Romanian arthouse film, lest you think I've taken leave of my senses. Cristian Mungiu's Beyond The Hills. There you go...

Result: Rough 7 Smooth 11 - it's a comfortable win for a thoroughly enjoyable, albeit imperfect, blockbuster.

Monday, 20 March 2017

The Salesman, Arrival, and Deidra and Laney Rob A Train : Your Week In Film (March 20-26)

Being human: Amy Adams stars in Denis Villeneuve's Arrival

This week's most noteworthy films on DVD, Blu-ray, VOD, and TV...

In amongst the controversy and madness surrounding the finale of last month's Oscars ceremony, you'd be forgiven for forgetting that films other than Moonlight and La La Land actually won awards. The Salesman (cinemas and Curzon Home Cinema) WWW took home the prize for Best Foreign Language Picture, although its writer and director Asghar Farhadi boycotted the ceremony in protest at Trump's travel ban, which had included his home country Iran.

It was Farhadi's second Oscar win (following 2012's for A Separation) and further established the 44-year-old - who switched from TV work to movies with 2002's Low Heights - as one of the most garlanded and respected filmmakers in the world. That said, The Salesman isn't his strongest work and only really sparks into life in its final half-hour.

Emad  (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) are actors, currently starring in a production of Arthur Miller's The Death Of A Salesman at a Tehran theatre, and forced to move home when the block of flats they live in starts to collapse. The husband and wife end up in an apartment recently vacated by a prostitute, a turn of events which directly leads to Rana being sexually assaulted by one of the woman's former clients. After discovering the truth, vengeful Emad embarks on a mission to track down and punish the guilty party.

It's a real slow-burn, this, perhaps rather too much of one. It takes Emad an age to discover what has really happened to his wife and then we see his rage, at what he considers a personal affront, build and build over the film's second half, his fury even seeping out when he is performing on stage. (Apparently, Farhadi decided to incorporate Miller's play into his film because themes of "humiliation" are contained in both stories).

What's most interesting here is the way in which Rana ultimately becomes a bystander in her own drama - husband Emad determined to take revenge to make himself feel better, regardless of her protestations at his increasing foolhardiness. The film's finale is powerful stuff as the culprit is revealed and Emad's behaviour becomes so awful, you come close to sympathising with the target of his ire. The Salesman is about the ugliness of wounded male pride, ego and entitlement. In many ways, Rana is treated as an object as much by her husband as her assailant.

Tears for Sale: Emotions run high in Iranian drama

I've always been a bit agnostic when it came to the work of director Denis Villeneuve. His films are often interesting in some way but have rarely succeeded in truly grabbing me by the scruff of the neck, especially 2015's overpraised Sicario, which turned the horror of Mexico's drug wars into a bog-standard revenge thriller and whose 'lead character' (Emily Blunt's FBI agent) it relegated to the sidelines with undue haste.

Rather better, though, is Villeneuve's Arrival (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WWWW, a handsome, humanistic and thoroughly rewarding first-contact sci-fi tale, based on a short story by Ted Chiang. It stars Amy Adams as a linguistics professor recruited by the US military to communicate with the denizens of a vast extra-terrestrial spaceship hovering a few metres above Montana. One of 12 such vessels dotted all over the globe, Adams' main task is to discover the nature of the creatures' purpose on Earth before Chinese suspicions about them transform into outright aggression.

This is another film that begs your indulgence while its ideas, themes and secrets are slowly uncovered. Arrival might look like just another "alien invasion" movie at first sight but scrutinise it a little harder and you'll see it's really about the need for communication and co-operation between countries and people in an increasingly chaotic world, as well as a call for tolerance and understanding when encountering outsiders, no matter how unusual they may seem. Ultimately, it's also about making terrible choices, with awful consequences, and learning to live with them.

When Adams encounters the creatures - or "heptapods", as they are christened - for the first time, she really nails what it must be like to experience such an extraordinary moment - fear, wonder and awe are etched on her face and are audible in her voice. It's a fine performance and one I found a lot more engaging than the rather inert one she gave in Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals, Adams' other lead role from last year.

Serious sci-fi fans, well versed in this kind of stuff, might not be left gasping at Arrival's big reveal but will surely appreciate the way in which Eric Heisserer's screenplay drops clues and hints about exactly what is going on throughout the movie, including in its very first moments. All in all, it's an extremely smart piece of work, with a score and cinematography every bit the equal of its performances, writing and direction.

Loving the alien: Adams makes first contact 

I'm not quite sure Deidra and Laney Rob A Train (Netflix) WW knows what it wants to be. On the surface, it's a light-hearted high-school comedy about two Idaho sisters (brainiac Deidra and timid Laney), who embark on a life of crime when their mum is jailed and they can't pay the bills. On the other, it deals with some fairly heavy issues (crime, poverty, family breakdown), but treats them in a knockabout, none-too-serious manner. It's as if risking life, limb and liberty, just to thieve a box of iPhones, is no more out of the ordinary than playing Knock Down Ginger or scrumping apples, and seeing your mum banged up in America's famously horrible prison system is just a bit of an adventure, really. In fact, apart from the odd moment of bad language, this could easily be the kind of thing my kids would once have tuned into on Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel, which is a decidedly odd - and not entirely successful - way of approaching these subjects.

The other problem I had with Sydney Freeland's film is that Deidra and Laney (plus their jailbird mum) are black (practically the only black characters in the entire film, in fact) and seeing them embrace criminality so readily seems an entirely unhelpful message to send. The film's saving grace, though, is its two leads - Riverdale's Ashleigh Murray (as Deidra) and Rachel Crow (as Laney), both of whom are the personification of likeability and charm.

Train in vain: Ashleigh Murray turns to crime

The Fits (DVD and VOD) WWW is one of those films that proper critics call "mesmerising" and "beguiling", which is their way of saying, "I really have no idea what the bloody heck I've just seen". I'm not sure I can shed any more light on what Anna Rose Holmer's debut feature is actually about, but I do know I enjoyed being discombobulated by it.

The wonderfully-named Royalty Hightower is Toni, an 11-year-old tomboy struggling to fit in with her peers, and spending perhaps far too much time hanging around the local gym with her older boxer brother. Glimpsing a formidable local dance troupe practising in the same building, she is soon drawn into their world of punishing rehearsals and ultra-competitiveness. However, when members of the troupe suddenly start suffering fainting spells and mysterious physical fits, the local authorities become convinced there's something strange in the water...

Holmer at no point reveals what has brought on these 'fits' and so you are invited to speculate upon their nature. Is it really just something weird in the water supply, or simply an unusual coming-of-age metaphor? Have the dance steps the girls rehearsed a thousand times somehow altered their body chemistry, or are we talking about a full-blown supernatural - or perhaps even religious - event? Or did Holmer just see Carol Morley's 2014 film The Falling and think, "Ooh, I like the look of that". Whatever, this is an impressive debut full of ideas that accomplishes an awful lot on a tiny budget. I'd even be prepared to call it 'mesmerising' and 'beguiling', if that would convince you to see it.

Your highness: Royalty Hightower in The Fits

This week's best movies on TV can both be found on Film4. Richard Linklater's achingly human coming-of-age tale Boyhood (Tuesday, 9pm) WWWW is perhaps most famous for the way in which it was filmed - in stops and starts over a 12-year period, as its cast grew older. At two hours, 45 minutes in length, it requires a bit of investment but is more than worth it, firstly because, as ambitious cinematic experiments go, it's a very successful one and, secondly, because Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke are both superb in it.

It may have a similar title but Celine Sciamma's Girlhood (Thursday, 11:05pm) WWW½ couldn't be more different. A powerful French-language drama, set in and around a tough Parisian estate, it focuses on the members of a black girl gang, including resourceful but troubled Marieme (Karidja Touré). The group bonds over trips into the city, shoplifting clothes, punch-ups, and, in one of the film’s finest moments, miming along to Rihanna’s sublime Diamonds. Of course, membership of the gang only offers temporary respite from Marieme’s mounting woes...

What I shall be watching this week: Jordan Peele's social satire-cum-horror movie, Get Out. Also, Power Rangers!

Ratings guide
WWWW - Wonderful
WWW - Worthwhile
WW - Watchable
W - Woeful

Friday, 17 March 2017

Michelle Rodriguez gives it her best shot but transgender hitman thriller Tomboy is irredeemably rotten

Let's hear it for the Boy: Nah, let's not...

Tomboy (aka The Assignment, aka [re]Assignment)
Director: Walter Hill
Starring: Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shaloub
Running time: 1hr 35mins

If I awoke one morning to discover I'd been transformed overnight into Michelle Rodriguez, I suspect my reaction might go something like this: "YAHHHHHOOOOOO! I look exactly like Hollywood actress Michelle Rodriguez and am no longer a clapped-out old white bloke with a beer belly and pipe-cleaner arms. Just check out my toned abs, pert bosom and firm backside. I'm bloody gorgeous!" (My wife might be a bit iffy about the whole situation at first, but I'm sure she'd come round).

Alas, when the exact same thing happens to Frank Kitchen, in Tomboy, he isn't jubilant at all. In fact, horrified, he gazes into a mirror and starts howling like a kicked dog. You see, Frank was once a badass hitman and being turned into a boobs-and-beaver-owning lady - even one as scrummy as our Michelle - well and truly pisses on his macho chips.

I could perhaps better understand Frank's unhappiness if, during his many years spent as a chap, he'd looked like, say, Ray Winstone or John Wayne - a right rugged geezer who struck matches on his chin and shat bullets. But he didn't. In fact, he looked exactly like Michelle Rodriguez would wearing a false beard - and not a very convincing one at that. Clearly, the definition of what constitutes 'macho' has drifted a bit over the years. Obama's fault, I imagine.

And what has brought poor Frank to this pretty post-penis pass? Well, it turns out that, in his role as a badass hitman, he has bumped off Sebastian (Adrian Hough), the disturbed brother of Doctor Rachel Kay (Sigourney Weaver), and she's decidedly upset about it. Not so upset that she wants Frank dead, you understand, only perturbed enough to use all her skills as a rogue surgeon cum mad scientist to turn him into a beautiful woman. I'm not sure Doctor Kay thought it through, did she? It's like getting revenge on someone for burning down your house by giving them a million pounds.

Instead of heading for Hollywood to get work as Rodriguez's body double on the latest Fast & Furious movie, Frank hides out with a young nurse, with whom she'd had a pre-surgery one-night stand. Plotting revenge, newly-female Frank starts gunning down anyone connected with Honest John (Anthony LaPaglia), the man who betrayed her, as she works her way towards Weaver in the film's final boss level.

Rod for her own back: Stick to Fast & Furious, Michelle

The whole thing is so cack-handed and insensitive that it's hard to know where to begin. Actually, let's start with that title. Calling the movie [re]Assignment or The Assignment was clumsy enough (Frank's 'assignment' to kill the doctor's brother led to her gender 'reassignment'. Get it?), but surely Tomboy is a hundred times worse. Firstly, a tomboy is "a girl who exhibits characteristics or behaviours considered typical of a boy" and Frank demonstrably isn't that; he's a man who has physically transitioned - albeit against his will - into a woman. They are two completely different things. It's like making a film about, say, a zebra, and calling it 'Horse', simply because you can't be arsed to look up the difference. Secondly, the wretched movie now shares a title with Céline Sciamma's vastly superior 2011 film, which explores the subject of gender fluidity through the eyes of a young girl, who self-identifies as a boy. It's a warm, gentle and rewarding piece of work, and I find the idea it will now share Google search space with this oddly upsetting. Perhaps director Walter Hill should have just called his picture Dick/Off and been done with it.

Worst of all, though, is the idea buried just below Tomboy's surface: that gender reassignment surgery is worse than death - a terrible punishment to be inflicted only on your most implacable enemy. And worse, being turned into a woman is somehow a demotion. At one point, Kitchen even seeks out a doctor and looks like she's been given a terminal diagnosis when told the operation isn't reversible. But, despite worries she's turning "soft" and doubts about being able to satisfy girlfriend Johnnie (yes, really), Frank appears every bit as efficiently ruthless as she ever was, despatching Honest John's goons as if channelling John Wick.

The premise is ridiculous but, in the right hands, could have been handled with humanity and humour. Director/co-writer Hill is never interested in letting Frank explore what it's like to transition - there are no moments when he's allowed to think about it, to truly experience it. Hill, who originally conceived the story as a graphic novel, is so busy playing up its pulpy roots (there are moments, Sin City-style, where the action morphs into cartoonish artwork) he forgets that even the crassest comic-book movies make time for a little reflection.

Over his many decades in Hollywood, Hill - now 75 - has given us thrilling action flicks such as The Warriors and The Driver, as well as buddy comedies such as 48 Hours and Red Heat. His stuff is very loud, very male; he probably thinks sensitivity and restraint are Rihanna's backing singers and he's demonstrably not the right person to be allowed anywhere near a film about so delicate a subject. That said, perhaps Tomboy doesn't need to be sensitive and restrained, maybe it just needs to be a hell of a lot cleverer. Paul Verhoeven's Elle (billed as a 'rape revenge black comedy') and Teeth (2007's whip-smart vagina dentata movie) prove that even the most unpromising premises can be spun into gold with the right filmmaker at the helm, some interesting ideas and a great script.


Strait no chaser: Sigourney Weaver under lock and key in Tomboy

Rodriguez is game, I'll give her that. As pre-op Frank, she affects an unconvincingly gruff voice, as well as donning the aforementioned beard and even a pretend penis in one scene, before disrobing almost completely to try and sell the reassignment idea, grabbing in frantic horror at her breasts as if she'd had a couple of cauliflowers grafted onto her chest. Weaver, on the other hand, looks like she's in a hostage video, dully reciting turgid, overripe dialogue that would make George Lucas blush.

In fact, the Alien actress's scenes with Tony Shaloub's psychiatrist are uniformly dreadful, some of the worst in any film I've seen in the past year. Set after her final confrontation with Frank, the sequences act as a framing device - Weaver expositioning like there's no tomorrow while occasionally mentioning her character's love for Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe (we're supposed to take her for a great intellect because she can quote from Richard II and The Raven, apparently). These moments bring the action to a juddering halt because they are so inert - Weaver, straitjacketed and sat behind a table at a mental institution, exchanging huge gobs of unwieldy dialogue with Shaloub; the kind of stuff no one says in real life.

Like an obstinate turd that refuses to be flushed round the U-bend, I have a horrible feeling Tomboy is going to become something of a cult in the coming years: an un-PC B-movie that people who should know better watch 'ironically'. "It's so bad, it's good," they'll chirp in that punchable way of theirs. Unfortunately, the only thing good about Hill's rotten film is the moment it ends.  

Rating: W

Tomboy is available on VOD now, and gets a DVD release on 3 April

Ratings guide
WWWW - Wonderful
WWW - Worthwhile
WW - Watchable
W - Woeful

Monday, 13 March 2017

Personal Shopper, The Love Witch, and Catfight: Your Week In Film (March 13-19)

Flair Witch: Anna Biller's mad magical oddity is a visual treat

This week's most noteworthy movie releases on DVD, Blu-ray, VOD, and in cinemas... 

The seemingly ubiquitous Kristen Stewart became the first US actress to win a French César award for her performance in Olivier Assayas's Clouds Of Sils Maria, and she stars again in the director's follow-up, Personal Shopper (cinemas from Friday) WWW½.

Stewart is Maureen, an American living in Paris and working as a general dog's body for a ghastly celebrity fashion model, named Kyra. She is also a medium, desperate to make contact with the spirit of her dead twin brother, Lewis, who has passed away some months before following a heart attack (she shares his life-threatening condition).

Only a hop, skip and a jump away from being a genuine horror, this is really about the emptiness of Maureen's life and the terrible absence she feels since her sibling's death. The movie opens in classic chiller tradition with the medium on her own in a supposedly haunted house, spooky tracking shots providing the requisite amount of suspense as she feels her way around in the dark. But it's really a metaphor for Maureen's day-to-day existence - barren, unfulfilled, scary, and perhaps even under imminent threat from the disease that cut down Lewis.

Stewart's Maureen is a desperate character - unable to leave Paris or move on while the possibility she might be able to contact her brother's spirit remains. Despite Kyra's superficiality and general awfulness, Maureen envies her simplicity and wealth. When Kyra is out of the country, Maureen tries on her clothes and sleeps in her bed, as if stepping into her employer's shoes (literally) for even just one night provides a welcome respite from her own existence, one in which even her supposed boyfriend (Ty Olwin) couldn't be kept more at arm's length as he works abroad.

I like Assayas, his films are the right kind of strange and he never does what you expect of him. I suppose his work can seem a bit cold and passionless but that approach works here. Personal Shopper has an elegiac quality in which post-Charlie Hebdo, post-Bataclan Paris has rarely seemed more foreboding (you'll see no shots of the Arc de Triomphe or Eiffel Tower all lit up in touristy splendour here). The director makes some odd storytelling choices too - a lengthy scene in which Stewart goes to London and back again on Eurostar, all the while exchanging texts with a mysterious person, who may or may not be the ghost of her dead twin brother, probably breaks every rule of modern filmmaking, but effectively ratchets up the suspense and finds a way to make the ping of a mobile phone genuinely sinister.

Stewart, meanwhile, continues to go from strength to strength, her intense naturalistic performances recently earning her favourable comparisons with James Dean. I feel sorry for anyone still judging her ability and career on the Twilight movies. At this point it's like dissing Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie based on your recollection of The Laughing Gnome. She's great here - as she was in Certain Women, which opened in the UK last week. Maureen is trapped, scared, shattered by grief and, following her twin's death, perhaps only half a person. In fact, the possibility of contacting her brother seems to be the only thing that keeps her upright and functioning. Stewart makes us feel every bit of it. Not with big emotional grandstanding, but often with no more than a haunted look, a pregnant pause or an exquisitely-delivered line.


Shop 'til you drop: Stewart reteams with director Assayas

American filmmaker Anna Biller is one of those multi-talented, and therefore profoundly annoying, people who seem able to turn their hand to anything. Not only did Biller produce, write and direct The Love Witch (DVD, Blu-ray, VOD and cinemas) WWW, she also made the costumes and sets, as well as painting the artwork which hangs on our titular spell-caster's walls. It wouldn't surprise me if she'd handled the catering and peddled a bicycle to make electricity to power the cameras too.

If I hadn't known it was a new film, I'd have sworn The Love Witch was a long-lost Technicolor oddity from the late sixties or early seventies - perhaps a Hammer Horror left at the back of the vault for some mysterious reason, or a lurid psycho-thriller deemed altogether too odd for wide release. Biller's painstaking attention to detail is a wonder to behold, although cinematographer M David Mullen, an expert on period cinematography, must take his fair share of the credit.

Elaine (Samantha Robinson) is a beautiful young witch, who relocates from San Francisco to a small Californian town following the demise of unfaithful husband, Jared. It soon becomes clear Elaine is responsible for his death and her quest for true love is about to claim a bunch of new victims. Using a dangerous love potion, she makes a series of local men fall head over heels for her charms but it isn't long before the bodies start to pile up and the police are on to her.


The 'love as mental disorder' theme is hardly new but Biller gives it a feminist spin here. Although Elaine is gorgeous and men fall over themselves to sleep with her, what she seeks is true love and someone who wants her for what she is rather than what they want her to be. If Elaine is truly mad, she's been driven to it by her suitors' need to exert control over her and their subsequent betrayal once they fail to do so. As messages go, it's a real iron first in a velvet glove, as Biller's seductive visuals and dream-like atmosphere lull you into a false sense of security. 

Arguing The Love Witch wears its influences on its sleeve a bit too much would be pointless - its evocation of period is deliberate and losing that element would rob the film of one of its great strengths. And, yes, it's also camp, pulpy and, at two hours, drags a little, but several beautifully-realised set-pieces - including an extraordinary sequence set at a Medieval Fayre - more than make up for any longueurs.

Spellbinding: Samantha Robinson captivates as the Love Witch

Even better than The Love Witch is Viva WWWW, which has recently been added to the ever-changing catalogue of oddities and classics at online streaming site, Mubi.com. This is Biller's debut from 2007 and shares the same love of period detail as the more recent film, as well as its sharp feminist edge. I spent most of the first half-hour wondering what on earth I was watching as Biller (playing frustrated housewife Barbi) exchanged deliberately stilted dialogue with three other characters while occasionally disrobing in something that looked a lot like a mercifully long-lost soft-porn comedy. Viva soon finds its feet, though, and in no time at all you're under its spell, as Biller takes a sledgehammer to cosy liberal notions that the sexual revolution of the 1960s and seventies was always a panacea for women. This is an incredibly smart movie, full of ideas, incredible visuals and even the odd song - all written by Biller, natch.

I'm rather less enamoured of Catfight (cinemas and VOD) WW, a pitch-black comedy in which veteran actresses Sandra Oh (Sideways) and Anne Heche (Donnie Brasco) beat each other to a pulp in three lengthy and utterly brutal scenes guaranteed to make you wince. Some of the violence is of the hyper-real cartoon variety but a good chunk of it is nastier and more realistic than that.

Writer/director Onur Tukel's film is a satire of petty status envy, anger and irrationality set in an America only a stone's throw from reality, in which the draft has been reintroduced and the 'War on Terror' has become a permanent money-making fixture for big business as the US military rides roughshod over the entire Middle East. Living in this all-too-believable dystopia are Heche, a bitter, impoverished artist and Oh, a boozy trophy wife. The pair were friends at college but drifted apart when the former came out as a lesbian. Years later they meet again at a birthday party at which Oh is a guest and Heche a waitress. Verbal barbs and sarcastic banter quickly give way to physical confrontation as the two proceed to knock the hell out of each other in a deserted stairwell. The fight leaves Oh in a coma for two years and she wakes to discover everything is different for both her and nemesis Heche...

The film - which makes an obvious but interesting correlation between the behaviour of a government and its citizens (in this case, "might is right" seems to be the maxim of both) - may have worked as a sketch or even a short film, but had delighted me quite enough by its halfway point. Heche, Oh, and Alicia Silverstone (playing Heche's lover) are always good value, though, and even manage to imbue Tukel's patchy, misanthropic material with a bit of humanity.

Welcome to the punch: Rivalry gets brutal in Catfight

Not much better but equally misanthropic is Nocturnal Animals (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WW, Tom Ford's cold, cruel and oddly distancing thriller which sees Amy Adams' successful LA gallery owner contacted out of the blue by an ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal), who she treated badly. He has written a lurid crime novel, the subtext of which provides a bitter running commentary on their failed relationship. We then see three separate stories play out - Adams in the present day reading the book, Adams and Gyllenhaal's past together, and the contents of the crime novel itself. It's an intriguing premise that the film never comes close to living up to, although Adams - plus supporting players Michael Shannon, Laura Linney, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson - make it worth a look, as does the film's smart, elliptical ending.

Altogether more fun is bonkers action thriller The Accountant (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WWW, in which Ben Affleck stars as an autistic maths savant who divides his time between forensic accounting and being an arse-kicking anti-hero hitman (or something). The whole thing is brain-manglingly absurd and uneven, but its breathless pace and the sheer brass balls of the premise just about haul it over the finish line.

What I shall be watching this week: Asghar Farhadi's Oscar-winning The Salesman, which is in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday.

Ratings guide
WWWW - Wonderful
WWW - Worthwhile
WW - Watchable
W - Woeful

Saturday, 11 March 2017

On Second Thoughts... I ♥ Huckabees (2004)


Welcome to On Second Thoughts..., a new column in which I look back at a movie I didn't much care for on first viewing and give it a second chance to impress me (I'm sure filmmakers the world over will be humbled by my magnanimity). Most of the films I cover in these columns will be ones I haven't seen in years, so there's a good chance my opinions and feelings about them may have changed over time. Well, that's the idea, anyway...

What is it? I ♥ Huckabees was director/co-writer David O Russell's fourth feature and the follow-up to his critically lauded Iraq War/heist picture, 1999's Three Kings, which, as far I'm concerned, remains easily his best film. Huckabees featured an all-star cast, including Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, Isabelle Huppert, Jude Law, Mark Wahlberg, Naomi Watts, and Jason Schwartzman. It's a very different film to Kings (to say the least) and was billed as an "existential comedy".

What's it about? Hoffman and Tomlin are Bernard and Vivian Jaffe, husband-and-wife "existential detectives", who are paid by clients not to uncover spousal cheating or locate long-lost relatives, but to investigate the meaning of their lives. Albert (Schwartzman) - the head of an activist group (Open Spaces) campaigning to prevent Huckabees department stores from building a new branch on a local beauty spot - asks the pair to look into why he keeps running into the same tall black guy (Ger Duany) in different areas of his life. He believes this coincidence has some significance.

Meanwhile, Albert's activist colleague, Brad (played with bounderish glee by Jude Law), is conspiring to oust him from his position with Open Spaces and sell out the local woods and marshes to the Huckabees chain. Albert and new fireman pal Tommy (Wahlberg) battle to prevent this from happening while coming increasingly under the influence of the detectives' arch-nemesis, Catherine Vauban (Huppert), a French nihilist for whom the universe is a dark, disturbing place in which Bernard and Vivian's hippy-dippy ideas of interconnectedness have no place.


Wild at Heart: Huckerbees is an enjoyable screwball romp

Why didn't I like it first time round? I thought it was twee, pretentious (a lazy description I'd never use now), and pretty much unbearable. Like being locked in a room with a first-year philosophy student who'd read a bit about Kierkegaard and Sartre on Wikipedia and now felt qualified to share it with the world. As a result, I didn't watch another film by Russell until American Hustle, in 2013. The situation wasn't helped when unpleasant footage emerged of the director being abusive towards Tomlin on the movie's set. I figured he was a filmmaker with whom I was done for good.

Why am I rewatching it now? My feelings towards Russell have softened somewhat in recent years, especially since he and Tomlin patched it up (in 2015, when asked by the Hollywood Reporter whether she'd work with him again, Tomlin replied: "Of course I would! I adore him, I love him. He’s brilliant"). I also really liked Russell's most recent film, Joy, an underrated biopic that genuinely tried to do something different in a tired sub-genre. Plus, Hoffman, Tomlin and Huppert are ALWAYS worth watching.

Has my opinion changed? I must have been in a truly horrible mood back in 2004 because Huckabees is actually a lot of fun. Maddening and up itself, certainly, but also breathless, boisterous, smart and ambitious. The idea of exploring different philosophical doctrines - interconnectedness versus nihilism - via the medium of a screwball comedy full of rat-a-tat dialogue and surreal digressions is a truly inspired one and Russell, plus co-writer Jeff Baena, pulls it off impressively. I've been wondering if the film was a response to the huge political and philosophical schism that existed in America, post-911 and the second Iraq War. It would certainly make sense if so and, of course, Russell's film is just as relevant today. Perhaps, even more so. 

The cast are all incredibly game and the scene in which Schwartzman and Huppert cover each other in mud before having sex in the woods has to be seen to be believed, while Wahlberg turns in one of his very best performances as a Regular Joe fire fighter/no-nonsense philosopher, struggling to find meaning in a world full of injustice. Tomlin and Hoffman are dependably terrific and, while comedy isn't really Huppert's forte, she brings a delicious hauteur to her role as the Gallic ice maiden, whose business card reads: "Cruelty, Manipulation, Meaninglessness". One of the things that really struck me while watching the film was some of the amusing combinations of talent it threw together: not just genuine greats such as Hoffman and Huppert sharing scenes, but when are you ever likely to get Huppert and Wahlberg together on screen again? Somehow I can't see the Elle actress cropping up in Ted 3: Thunder Buddies In Paris.

So, have I learned to truly ♥ Huckabees? Well, let's not get carried away, but I certainly like it an awful lot more than I used to.

Scene you should check out on YouTube right now: Schwartzman and Wahlberg visit Stephen, the tall black guy who the former keeps running into, and are invited to have dinner with his adopted white Christian family (including Jonah Hill in an early role). Suffice to say, it goes horribly, hilariously badly...

Rating then: W
Rating now: WWW

Coming soon: Donnie Darko

Ratings guide
WWWW - Wonderful
WWW - Worthwhile
WW - Watchable
W - Woeful

Monday, 6 March 2017

Certain Women, Doctor Strange, and Hell Comes To Frogtown: Your week in film (March 6-12)

The Doctor is in: Strange is the latest addition to Marvel's superhero ranks 

This week's highlights on DVD, Blu-ray, VOD, and in cinemas...

I don't know whether it's a backlash against bigger, brasher, faster blockbusters but movies that are low-key and slow-burning are definitely all the rage right now. Moonlight and Spotlight - the last two Best Picture winners at the Oscars - are both subdued, leisurely-paced affairs, while films such as Loving, Arrival, and Manchester By The Sea have racked up plenty of awards, nominations and critical plaudits, too. Even Logan, the latest instalment in the long-running X-Men saga, eschews super-powered pyrotechnics for a darker, deeper, altogether more brooding tone.

Kelly Reichardt (Meek's Cutoff) has been making small, intricate, thoughtful films for years and her latest, Certain Women (in cinemas now) WWW, is therefore very timely. Set in Montana and based on Maile Meloy's short stories, it features three loosely linked tales of four women. Laura (Laura Dern) is a lawyer trying to rid herself of Fuller (Jared Harris), an unstable client obsessed with his unfair dismissal case, while Michelle Williams plays Gina, a hard-nosed business owner more interested in building her "authentic" Montana dream home than saving her failing marriage. Finally, there's Beth (Kristin Stewart), an overworked lawyer (yes, another one) making an eight-hour round trip twice a week to teach an adult-education class she really doesn't have time for. A young Native American rancher - brilliant newcomer Lily Gladstone - develops a crush on her.

These aren't character studies as much as warts-and-all snapshots of the women's lives. The stories are all very different but, if there is one thing these people share, it's a certain disaffection; Laura is frustrated that, after badgering her for eight months, Fuller wants the second opinion of a male lawyer, Gina's relationships with her husband and daughter are in turmoil, harried Beth barely has time to think straight while Gladstone's character (known only as 'The Rancher') exudes awkwardness and loneliness in equal measure. With the exception of Gladstone, they aren't always the most sympathetic bunch either. Dern is conducting an affair with a married man, Gina is trying to finagle a pile of sandstone out of a vulnerable elderly man, and Beth lives in her own head so much she doesn't see, or perhaps even care, about The Rancher's obvious feelings towards her.

The first two segments are compelling in their own ways (especially when Laura becomes involved in a hostage situation that Reichardt plays for laughs) but it isn't until we get to the Stewart/Gladstone story that the film really fizzes into life. Unrequited love is, of course, a staple of all kinds of fiction but I haven't seen its resultant longing and heartache articulated on screen quite so winningly in a while. Reichardt's preference for slow pacing and long takes is perfect for Gladstone's clumsy attempted courtship of the young lawyer, especially in the film's most perfect scene as the pair ride one of The Rancher's horses together. Conducted at night, in silence, it's a lovely moment that the director gives all the time and space it needs to breathe. Elsewhere, particularly in Gina's segments, proceedings and relationships feel a little less perfectly cooked but this is a real return to form for Reichardt after 2013's clumsy eco-terrorist drama, Night Moves.

Wonder Women: Kelly Reichardt is back on form 

When it comes to those aforementioned "bigger, brasher, faster blockbusters" few do it better than Marvel. But Doctor Strange (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WW isn't up there with the company's best efforts (Iron Man, Guardians Of The Galaxy). It boasts a great cast (including Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Tilda Swinton) and some truly mind-boggling effects (of which more in a moment). But, frustratingly often, Scott Derrickson's film is little more than a bunch of smart set-pieces in need of a better script, and a real hotchpotch of different influences (everything from Doctor Who to Harry Potter via Inception). Worse still, some of that great cast are either given little to do (Rachel McAdams) or straddled with lifeless characters (Mads Mikkelsen).

Doctor Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is a rich, successful, brilliant and arrogant New York neurosurgeon whose career is destroyed when a car accident leaves his hands shattered. Desperate to get his old life back but beyond the help of regular surgery, Strange travels to Kathmandu, in hopes of discovering a miracle cure. There he encounters a powerful being called The Ancient One (Swinton), who inducts him into a head-spinning world of magic and alternative dimensions. He soon finds himself pitted against Kaecilius (Mikkelsen) - a former student of The Ancient One's - who has turned bad and plans to conquer the planet in the name of an immensely powerful creature.

Despite my misgivings, and the fact they won't look nearly so grand on the small screen, director Derrickson nevertheless serves up a couple of visual moments to treasure. The climactic battle between Strange and his monstrous foe, Dormammu, is a time-twisting treat but even better is an earlier scene in which Swinton's Ancient One blows the Doctor's mind with a gloriously trippy whistle-stop tour of the universe and its many dimensions - an experience so overwhelming even Timothy Leary might have baulked at it.

Stranger things: Cumberbatch casts his spell

Hell Comes To Frogtown (DVD) WWW is a long-lost classic of the Italian neorealist movement, which has been recently rediscovered and restored by... no, I'm kidding, it's a gloriously silly post-apocalyptic slice of low-budget sci-fi from 1988 (the Blu-ray came out back in December but the DVD has only been made available from today). Donald G Jackson and RJ Kizer's film is noteworthy for two reasons - the fact it stars They Live's cult wrestler/action hero 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper (who passed away in 2015) and also because it was so clearly the inspiration for last year's magnificent Mad Max: Fury Road.

Piper is Sam Hell (brother of 'Shia' and 'Evan', I sincerely hope), one of only a few fertile men left after nuclear Armageddon has wiped out two thirds of America's male population. He is captured by Med-Tech (a team of female scientists who seem to hold sway in this bleak new world), made to wear an explosive electronic codpiece and press-ganged into a mission to liberate a group of young women from their kidnappers in the mutant wasteland. (The idea is that Hell rescues these ladies, then gets them pregnant to help with the repopulation effort). Cue a race of frog people, gratuitous nudity, punch-ups, a surprising amount of dancing, explosions, and a script with its tongue wedged so firmly in its cheek, you'd need some sort of special tongue/cheek wrench to pry them apart again.

The film is daft in a way that is actually quite hard to pull off. Silly and camp, yes, but also rather knowing and, at times, quite clever. There's a great bit near the beginning featuring the Statue of Liberty that I won't spoil but perfectly illustrates what I mean. And Frogtown is full of such playful, pleasing moments - some visual, some spoken - that suggest everybody involved was not only in on the joke but also having the time of their lives, including Piper, a charismatic screen presence, for sure, but one barely on nodding terms with anything you'd call 'acting'.

It's amusingly odd that a film so obviously intended as a Mad Max spoof/homage/cash-in should end up inspiring Fury Road, director George Miller's finest and most successful instalment of the Road Warrior saga, whose adventures he kicked off in 1979. There's one particular sequence here that really gives the game away, when, having rescued the kidnapped women, Hell and his companions (including Cec Verrell's Centinella, a badass proto-Furiosa) are pursued by Frogtown's Commander Toty (Brian Frank). The resultant car chase may lack the ambitious acrobatics, unfettered imagination and bludgeoning violence of Fury Road's best moments but its influence on the multiple Oscar winner is as plain as the mullet on Piper's head.

Let's get Rowdy: Piper invades Frogtown

What I shall be watching this week: I haven't seen a good, old-fashioned monster movie in a while, so I'm hoping Kong: Skull Island will sate my creature feature needs... at least until someone finally gets around to releasing Shin Godzilla over here.

Ratings
WWWW - Wonderful
WWW - Worthwhile
WW - Watchable
W - Woeful

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Late to the party: 22 random thoughts about this year's Oscars


1. The Oscars ceremony doesn't get underway until 01.30 in the morning UK time so I watched it on catch-up yesterday instead. I may have missed out on all the excitement of seeing the show live but at least I could fast-forward through the ads... and Alex Zane's bits.

2. On the subject of Alex Zane's bits, since when is Countdown's Rachel Riley an authority on film?

3. Suicide Squad won an Oscar - that's one more than The Big Lebowski, His Girl Friday, Kind Hearts And Coronets, Duck Soup, Frankenstein, Heat, M, A Matter Of Life Or Death, The Searchers, Don't Look Now,
À Bout De Soufflé, or The Shining. Really.

4. I'm not particularly familiar with Jimmy Kimmel but he was a fine host who I'd be happy to see back again next year. His ongoing 'feud' with Matt Damon, especially the We Bought A Zoo takedown, was hilarious. That bit with the kid from Lion was just a little odd, though, wasn't it?

5. Outfit of the night...



6. Hairdo of the night...


7. Bowtie that looked most like a bat...


8. Just when I didn't think it was possible for me to love composer Mica Levi more than I already do...




9. I loved the segments in which stars of today were asked to wax lyrical about their favourite old-timey film performances. If you didn't see it, Charlize Theron chose Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment, Javier Bardem went for Meryl Streep in The Bridges Of Madison County, and Seth Rogen spoke from the heart about his love for Michael J Fox in Back To The Future. Each pair then appeared together on stage to present an award. It was a lovely way of tying together Hollywood's past and present, and I hope they do more of it in future years.

10. The ceremony got the anti-Trump sentiment just about right. A couple of decent jabs from Kimmel and some impassioned speeches about tolerance, inclusivity and the contribution immigrants have made to the US film industry, plus the absent Best Foreign Language winner Asghar Farhadi's statement read out on stage. Any more would have been overkill.

11. Justin Timberlake's song from the movie Trolls - Can't Stop The Feeling! - is as catchy as Ebola and I haven't been able to get it out my head since it opened the ceremony.


12. The stunt with the tourists was great fun although I was struck by how many of the group spent their time filming what was happening right in front of them on their phones, instead of actually experiencing it. Weird.

13. I wonder how much of a bollocking that dancer got for walloping Moana's Auli’i Cravalho in the face with a flag during her big number?

14. The Casey Affleck problem (Brie Larson apparently refused to applaud his Best Actor victory, despite presenting him with the award, while Denzel Washington didn't seem at all happy to be namechecked from the stage during his acceptance speech). Unfortunately, reprehensible human beings sometimes make great art. Sad but true.


15. Disappointments? The Oscars are always disappointing because of the way the Academy treats foreign language cinema (stuffs it all into one category), horror and comedy (completely ignores them). Plus, great films are overlooked every year (nothing for The VVitch, Love & Friendship or Julieta this time). The biggest let-down on the night for me, though, was Emma Stone beating Isabelle Huppert to the Best Actress prize. Stone is terrific in La La Land, don't get me wrong, but this was an opportunity for the Academy to not just award Huppert for her stunning turn in Paul Verhoeven's Elle but for the incredible work she has done year in, year out over a career spanning five decades. She has been referred to as the 'French Meryl Streep' but Streep would never go near the kind of challenging roles Huppert does as a matter of course. The Academy blew it.

16. The twist ending wasn't the only cock-up at the ceremony and arguably not even the worst. Neglecting to feature Gary Shandling during the In Memoriam section, and then showing a photo of a woman who was still very much alive was beyond sloppy. I suspect there will be at least a couple of people looking for new jobs this week.

17. Jennifer Aniston's small tribute to Bill Paxton (who passed away on Saturday), before the In Memoriam segment, was very classy.


18. It's been amusing to watch the way in which La La Land's critical standing has waxed and waned over the last six months. First, it was a masterpiece, then an overrated nostalgia fest full of cultural appropriation and amateurish dance routines. Now, post-wrongfilmgate, it's back in everyone's good books. At this rate, Damien Chazelle's musical will be a shoo-in for next year's Best Picture award.

19. The historical link between Best Director and Best Picture winners continues to break down. Only once in the last five years has the winner of Best Director and Best Picture been from the same film (Alejandro González Iñárritu and Birdman in 2015). In the 20 years up to 2013, however, the film taking director and picture prizes was the same on 16 occasions. Perhaps the Academy are keener to 'spread the love' these days or maybe directors aren't as important as they used to be. 

20. Congratulations to Moonlight. Not just the first LGBT movie to win Best Picture, but one of its stars, Mahershala Ali, became the first Muslim to win an acting Oscar. In 89 years. I'll say that again: EIGHTY. NINE. YEARS. And, to think, there were those who questioned last year's calls for more diversity.


21. As far as I'm concerned, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway could have come out on stage, eaten a basketful of kittens and performed a song and dance number with Milo Yiannopoulos, BEFORE reading out the wrong card, and I would've still forgiven them. They're old, they're screen legends, they can do what the heck they like.

22. The best explanation for that La La Land/Moonlight snafu? Turns out we all live in a giant computer simulation and it is malfunctioning.