FIFA are fiddling again, this time with the game itself ..

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FIFA : the guardian organisation protecting the interests of the most cherished sport on the planet, or a morally bankrupt gravy train riddled with institutionalised vested interests ? Whatever you may think of football’s governing body, one of FIFA’s most … Continue reading

Film review – Get Out

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GET OUT Deceptively upbeat psychological horror-thriller about a mixed race couple’s “meet the parents” weekend in the country where all is not what it seems.  Starring Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams and directed by debutant Jordan Peele. Get Out is one of those … Continue reading

Film review – Free Fire

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FREE FIRE Anarchic ’70s arms deal caper starring Sharlto Copley and Cillian Murphy, directed by Ben Wheatley. If they ever make a biopic about Monty Python’s Eric Idle, then Sharlto Copley must play the lead role. The relentlessly hysterical South … Continue reading

Film review – Arrival

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ARRIVAL

Thought-provoking sci-fi drama about first contact with an alien race, who arrive in ships strategically placed around the planet simultaneously.
Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker, and directed by Denis Villeneuve.

What would happen if aliens landed on our planet ?
Have you ever stopped to think about it ?
I mean, really stopped to think about it ?
How would it affect you and the people around you ?
How would the media react ? Or the military ? Or the various governments, world leaders, conglomerates, corporations and captains of industry ?
Would there be mass hysteria or mass apathy and an impending sense of doom ?
Maybe there would there be a swelling of hope and positivity ?
Perhaps religious fervour would take hold as some interpret it as the second coming ?

Arrival is a profound tale that asks all of these questions and more.
It answers a few of them too, but like 2001, Close Encounters and Interstellar before it, Arrival leaves its audience thinking. I like that in a sci-fi movie.
Based on a short story called The Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, the plot revolves around the eponymous arrival of twelve alien ships, each of which has “parked” – for want of a better word – hovering above the earth’s surface. In various locations around the world, they hang silently suspended : Australia, China, Denmark, Japan, the Black Sea and so on, though the story focuses on rural Montana, USA.
Like a smooth pebble stood on one end, the giant pod-like vessels are eerily beautiful but strangely menacing at the same time, with one story arc looking at the way they are perceived around the world. Maybe that’s why they were put where they were ? Perhaps the aliens wanted to see as diverse a view of our world as they could ? Or maybe it was completely random. We don’t know yet. What we do know is the world has ground to a halt as we sit and wait to see what’s going to happen next …

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Tension.
Ignorance.
Curiosity.
Fear.
Wonder.
The mind races as the possibilities abound ..
Surely they could have wiped us out already if they’d wanted to, so why are they here ?
What is their purpose ?
Questions. So many questions.
We need to be able to communicate with them.
Enter linguistics expert Louise Banks (Adams), recruited by the US military to help decode whatever messages the aliens plan on sending us. Alongside her, physisist Ian Donnelly (Renner) has been selected to cover the science side of things, with Colonel Weber (Whitaker) eager to speed up the process by playing them off against each other from the get-go. They’ve not even landed at the alien ship’s location before they’re arguing the potentials and debating the what-ifs, with Weber smug that his devil’s advocacy may just work ..
Similar scenarios are taking place all over the world and the twelve nations involved all quickly agree to share information and pool their collective resources in order to work out what’s going on. Live feeds are installed overnight with teams of interpreters working over time, banks of computers whirring and teams of data analysts and various experts all doing their best to unravel the mysteries before them.
What happens next sees Banks and Donnelly communicating with the aliens inside the ships themselves, slowly at first but increasingly rapidly as the two professors team up to figure it all out. The scenes inside the ship are incredibly atmospheric and beautifully filmed, ramping up the tension with each session spent face to face with beings from another world.
The language itself is completely different to any on earth and without the aid of computers Banks would’ve taken years to even get the merest foothold of a chance of understanding it, such is the complexity of it all. Arrival is very much a modern take on the first contact premise with none of the usual “Take me to your leader” style clichés and you’re conscious of the feeling that this film could not have been made twenty years ago.
Time itself plays a massive part in the story and – as in Interstellar – a suspension of belief is required to go with it all, kind of like a leap of faith, before everything falls into place.
The payoff is deeply emotional : for the lead characters, for the planet and for you, the audience.

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… but to say any more than that would be spoiling the sci-fi picture of the year.
Amy Adams gives the performance of a lifetime here and will surely be nominated for an Oscar. Jeremy Renner surprised me by showing some real acting chops – though admittedly I’ve only ever seen him in action movies till this point – and the chemistry between the two of them was well paced and organic. Forest Whitaker makes an excellent colonel : a strong leader, good people manager yet under immense pressure to get results.
The cinematography is stunning in places, while the effects are all too real – Villeneuve deserves a lot of credit for making Arrival so believable.
If you want laser guns and monsters, action and machismo, forget it.
If you like cerebral sci-fi and wished Interstellar had had a female lead, you need to see this picture.

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Film review – A Monster Calls

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A MONSTER CALLS Heartbreaking real world fantasy about a boy facing up to losing his mother to cancer, directed by JA Bayona and starring Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones and the voice of Liam Neeson. Sometimes a film hits you so … Continue reading

Film review – Allied

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ALLIED

Wartime thriller about two spies thrown together in an undercover operation in Casablanca before falling in love and returning to London to get married during the Blitz. Starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, and directed by Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Back To The Future, Cast Away)

Brad Pitt returns to war-torn Europe following the success of 2014’s Fury, but rather than being cooped up inside a tank he now finds himself in the roomier but no less claustrophobic environs of French Morocco.
As a Canadian, Max Vatan would no doubt have grown up learning French as a second-language, which is handy now he’s working behind enemy lines for the RAF but he’s about to test his accent to the limit . The story opens with Max returning to Casablanca to be reunited with his “wife”, Parisian resistance spy Marianne (Cotillard), after several months away working “in phosphates” for a French  mining company.
In reality, the pair have never met and he’s only told to look for a woman in a purple dress in a nightclub. Somehow, the duo fudge their way through the joyful reunion, sufficiently fooling the wife’s circle of friends to get away as quickly as possible, seemingly to rekindle their love but in actuality to begin work on their plans to assassinate the local German ambassador at a party some ten days’ hence.
The duo keep up appearances 24/7 and as they get to know each other they hone the details both of the operation as well as of their own “marriage”. Walls have ears and there are eyes seemingly everywhere watching their every move.
Eventually, they end up getting married for real in London and have a child during an air raid. So far, so WWII, right ?
The couple have a few hoops to jump through before the authorities are happy but soon enough things settle down and family life sets in, Marianne with the baby, Max with a desk job at the air force.

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Allied has the feel of being a movie out of time, not just in that it’s a period piece story but the way it’s scripted, shot and lit. The plot feels almost Hitchcockian in its scope and visually the picture looks like it was actually made in the late 40s or early 50s, with soft, washed-out lighting and all those tiny set details on the clothing, the cars and the surroundings being just so. It’s beautiful. Even in the terrors of an air raid on a hospital, there’s an elegance to the cinematography that places you right in the heart of the action and transports you to another era altogether. Despite a run time of over two hours, I found myself completely immersed in the movie and not once noted a sense of anything dragging.
The rest of the story I’m loathe to talk about for fear of spoilers, but suffice to say the tension mounts during the second half of the film when it becomes a race against time for Max.
As the shadows grow ever darker surrounding him, Marianne and baby Anna, that sense of claustrophobia draws in again, ever more tightly binding the three of them together, yet almost tearing them apart at the same time.

Trying to engender a movie with the flavour of Hitchcock is never an easy task, but Allied pulls it off, despite lots of bad press ahead of the release. Luckily, I don’t read the gossip columns so I don’t know what was said and nor do I care.
The lavish sets serve both London and north Africa well and Pitt is superbly restrained in an almost British way as he struggles to come to terms with what’s happening around him. Marion Cotillard was a natural choice for an English-speaking French spy and handles her role beautifully as an iron-fisted woman in velvet gloves. Their chemistry is excellent and as Marianne herself says, she likes to “keep the emotions real”. I enjoyed the film immensely.

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Film Review – The Accountant

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THE ACCOUNTANT

Rainman meets John Wick in this complex and original drama about a high-functioning autistic maths savant who offers services above and beyond the usual cooking of the books. Crime thriller starring Ben Affleck, JK Simmons and Anna Kendrick.

For years Ben Affleck has suffered from never quite being taken seriously enough in Hollywood while best buddy from school, Matt Damon, has carved out an envious career as one of the most bankable – and likeable – stars on the red carpet.
All that started to change in 2012 when Argo, which he both directed and starred in, picked up the best picture Oscar. Since then, there’s been a little more respect and a lot more kudos coming his way, though whether he can make a decent leather-clad fist of the upcoming Batman movie is another story ..

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Christian Wolff is an accountant with a difference.
At first glance, he appears to be a successful, small town book-keeper with modest premises just outside Chicago. He runs an unremarkable business in an unremarkable part of Illinois and has an unremarkable client list consisting of unremarkable local firms.
However, being blessed with a most remarkable numerical ability, Wolff also runs a neat sideline in money laundering for drug cartels, dictators, mafia bosses and the like, which is why he’s being pursued by hound-dog Treasury agent, Raymond King (Simmons). King, though quite the maths whizz himself, hasn’t quite put two and two together yet and doesn’t even have a name for his target, just a nickname ..

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The Accountant is a quirky and unusual movie in that all the pre-release marketing pointed towards a run-of-the-mill thriller about a mysterious genius who “uncooks the books” of some of the most dangerous people on the planet. While that does remain true, there’s a whole lot more to the tale than meets the eye.
For starters, his personal travails are revealed minimally at first in flashback, meaning there’s a rather back-to-front element to the plotline. Normally I don’t particularly enjoy films shot in this way as I tend to feel it’s all just a gimmick as an unoriginal director tries to go all Tarantino on us, but with The Accountant it’s done for a reason.
The dramatic effect is that there are one or two big reveals towards the end which will – hopefully – astonish you if you’ve been paying close attention. I get the impression this is one of those films – a bit like The Shawshank Redemption – that will not only reward repeated viewings, allowing you to pick up more clues the more times you see it, but also that will grow via word-of-mouth.

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As you can probably tell by now, I very much liked this picture.
The cast is superb : Affleck for once being allowed to under-act as it’s part of the deal with this somewhat anti-social anti-hero – though his detractors would say he’s been doing that for years – JK Simmons again flexing his hard-man muscles and Anna Kendrick proving she’s not just a comedic talent. There’s also a strong supporting ensemble including everyone’s favourite nutty uncle, Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development, Larry Sanders and The Hangover), everyone’s favourite unhinged matriarch, Jean Smart (Fargo, 24 and Frasier) and everyone’s favourite mad scientist, John Lithgow (3rd Rock From The Sun) among others.
There’s some lighter moments too, both in the flashbacks and the present, particularly when the story focuses on social interaction, or the lack of it ..
The script is tight, realistic, funny and dramatic all at the same time, while the plot itself is nicely paced and pitched at an intelligent audience. If you just want action, take a look at Affleck’s back catalogue from pre-2010. If you enjoyed the more cerebral dramatics of, say, Spotlight then this should be right up your street.

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Having said that, there are still strong hints of the stylised violence of renowned Hong Kong director, John Woo, most recently revisited in the seriously under-rated Keanu Reeves’ picture, John Wick.
When The Accountant puts down his calculator long enough to make his point a different way, he usually does so with panache and controlled aggression : precisely what made Wick such an interesting film. Both roles, while at times temporarily sociopathic, make for largely sympathetic character studies as well, leaving the audience in the dark as they wrestle with trying to decide who to root for. Both movies paint bleak portraits of broken individuals in broad and deliberate strokes of grey .. but then (Hollywood) life itself hasn’t been black and white since the 1950s.

As the plot unfolds, the levels on which The Accountant operates begin to be revealed.
The treasury agents investigating his dealings can’t quite piece all the elements together and though they inch ever closer to their prey, Wolff always remains one step ahead of the authorities. The question is, can he do the same with one of his clients ?

… and that’s about where we have to leave it in terms of the story.
The Accountant is an excellent thriller and a great winter movie which will leave you asking questions days after seeing it .. which you need to do, now.

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