Assorted Reviews

🎬Hacksaw Ridge


Deserving of its accolades in some respects but I can’t escape feeling there is something schizophrenic about Gibson’s work.There is a celebration of Desmond’s refusal to bear arms and his decision to work in the middle of the battle as a medic. This alternative heroism is portrayed powerfully with messianic imagery. We can almost put aside the fact that the people he rescues are those who most persecuted him when he was training – just a little too convenient so that the symbolism seems laboured. But it’s clear enough: there are different kinds of heroism.

By contrast, I couldn’t help feeling that the horrendous battle scenes were just too lovingly detailed, crafted with just too much enjoyment – they went on so long that the shock was replaced by tedium. In the end, we have a very long film (the introduction was protracted and not very compelling) which carries a moral message, contradicted by its sado-masochistic obsession with violence.

📺Sex Education [Netflix] Episode 1

The school looks American (wide corridors, lockers, huge canteen, vast assembly hall). The central character is called Otis. How many white English boys do you know called Otis? The obsession with psychotherapy is transatlantic – and yet the actors and the accents are British. This cultural mix was uncomfortable at first. If there is a genre I dislike more than romcom, it’s American High School movies. However, the script was clever and the acting is terrific. Gillian Anderson is funny/scary as Otis’s sex therapist mother. Asa Butterfield (The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas; Journey’s End) is a fine young actor and is impressive as Otis.

I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve seen another episode or two, but I can see it becoming addictive.

Not for children. Definitely not for children.

📺 Endeavour VI: Episode 1


Much that was enjoyable. Acting impeccable as ever. But it won’t do. Without Barrington Pheloung’s seamless music, the script seemed patchy, thin and undisciplined and the conclusion improbable. There was a lot of pulsing in the soundtrack from near silent to a soaring bit from Allegri’s Miserere. Equally, there were pulses of soft to sharp focus in the camera work. I thought this was an attempt to create a surreal time-slippery atmosphere – and then I thought it might just be a mistake. And then I thought I might just be getting a wobbly signal because I’m staying in rural Yorkshire. And then I thought – no, it’s a mistake. I think it will get better. I hope so.

📽Can’t Come Out To Play (The Harvest – USA) 


Satisfying horror with some genuinely tense moments and a plot which gradually reveals its nasty premise. There are some corny moments but Charlie Tahan gives a moving performance as Andy and Samantha Morton is chilling as his ‘mother’, menacing from the start and wonderfully psychotic toward the end.

📺The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann [Netflix]


Watching the Netflix documentary on the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. 

It is superbly done. I would only say that reconstructions should be signed as such. It is easy to go for the conspiracy theories about the McCanns. Some of it is inspired simply by their wealth and lifestyle. There are many unresolved questions and discrepancies in their account but their status is aguidos was revoked and they won damages against a lubricious and fantasising press. I think I would have disliked them and their circle intensely and it is true they employed some dubious people. That aside, I would want to set the anguish of losing a child in the forefront of my mind.

I have not finished watching the series. I had reservations about watching it at all. As a writer, I couldn’t resist the complex narratives involved nor the superlative production values. Documentary is not my favourite genre but this is a classic. And who knows, it might throw up further leads – though I fear it is only more likely to throw up further conspiracy theories.

🎥The Collector (1976 – William Wyler, dir.)


I thought I might be on to a winner here given that John Fowles’ intriguing novel was the starting point and given Wyler’s reputation. A paranoid bank clerk [Terence Stamp], whose obsessive hobby is butterfly collecting, wins the pools, buys a remote Tudor house, and decides to add a beautiful and exotic new creature [Samantha Eggar] to his collection. Stamp makes a compelling sociopath with his electric blue eyes. He tries to establish his social class with a mess of an accent – he needn’t have bothered: the ballpoint pen in the outside breast pocket does it well enough. Samantha Eggar as a victim full of feminine wiles is fine. God knows what the feminists would make of the scenario and the way her character is represented – I think they’d have a very good point. It begins well enough, with Stamp stalking his victim in London, and it ends wittily and neatly, though, I have to say, rather predictably. Sadly, the film suffers from Soggy Middle Syndrome and I wouldn’t have wished it a moment longer.

🎥The Tenant [dir. Polanski]


Fifty shades of kinky. Slightly less than gripping study in paranoia. Man rents apartment where previous tenant has committed suicide by leaping from the window. She is in hospital and not yet dead when the transaction occurs.

It’s an uneven piece with chilling moments and suspenseful passages. Polanski is good at dripping taps, ticking clocks, doors, window frames and mirrors (recalling Hitchcock). He is also good at rendering the ordinariness of the lives glimpsed through these everyday portals as strange and menacing.

Best disjunctive running gag is that no tabac will serve him anything but Marlboro cigarettes when he wants Disque Bleu. This is symptomatic of a growing sense of motiveless persecution which reminds one of Kafka’s The Trial.

Identity fluidity, gender liquidity, sanity deliquescence – it’s all there. There is a charivari of shots up at lighted windows near the end which made me think of Fellini. The very end is a shocker.

But, but, but – it feels undisciplined and my attention came and went. It was better than anything on the telly tonight but that’s not saying much.

I will give it an extra star for the depiction of Paris in the ’70’s as I remember it, before its glamorisation – rainy, grubby, dingy, but still spiky, with its pinball tables in the cafés and the zinc comptoirs and the plastic soucoupes for your change and receipts – 100 franc notes and the smell of coffee and chocolate and bread and French cigarettes.



Based on a Stephen King story it has the elements of a great yarn. The setting is spooky enough – an isolated farmhouse amid endless acres of corn. The characters: Father, mother, son are realised in detail. The situation: parental rivalry, inheritance, land – patriarchy vs. matriarchy – these are the ingredients of a Greek tragedy. However, it didn’t work for me. Thomas Janes’ Nebraska accent with its tortured vowels was hard going for an English viewer. I tried but it was like watching a film in a language you don’t know, without benefit of subtitles.

The cows and the rats were good.

📽22 July


Based on the massacre at Utoya in Norway in 2011. Grim viewing but compelling. Superb acting and direction.

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