Laugh and you laugh alone



Disappointing. Direction by Todd Philips seemed unsure about the degree and kind of stylisation it was aiming at. I got the meta moments where the curtains around his mother’s hospital bed morphed into theatrical curtains and were then framed by a television screen. I understood that this was supposed to underscore the theatricality of his resort to violence and his need to perform and ultimately to find an audience. I understood that his performance in a peak time chat show was an act of self-validation but there was nothing surprising about all this. There seemed to be no dynamic build up and I’d guessed what was going to happen anyway. I found Joaquin Phoenix’s fits of involuntary laughter embarrassing rather than creepy and the development of his psychopathology rather predictable, except at the very end where his deranged dance routines in iconic ‘Gotham City’ locations were genuinely exciting. All the same, I felt the whole thing had been over-hyped, a slightly clumsy attempt to emulate Scorsese.

Oliver Twist [1948 – Dir. David Lean]


Everyone knows Lean’s magnificent Great Expectations but this faithful rendering of Dickens’ novel is easily missed. The lighting is melodramatically noir but carefully conveys Dickens’ polarised black/white imagery in the book. Stagey but powerful sets (big influence on ‘Oliver’). Alex Guinness, with a politically incorrect prosthetic nose, is superb as Fagin and Robert Newton as Bill Sikes is characteristically but appropriately OTT. Best supporting roles: a young Anthony Newley as a very artful Dodger and Sikes’ very gifted dog.



I have no idea why this film has had such glowing reviews. I was very bored. The sluggish pace was often maddening. Questioner poses a Q and you wait (for 15 seconds at one point) for A: ‘I don’t know’.

Hardly gripping. The fact that I ended up counting these lacunae in the action says it all. There was a lot of dumb and banal scripting.

Five women from five different scientific professions go into ‘The Shimmering’, a kind of rainbow haze around a lighthouse, to assess its meaning and threat. Feminists won’t get much out of this because the women behave just like men in action films, i.e. walking stupidly into obvious danger, firing semi-automatic weapons a lot, and blaming each other.

There was stuff about refracted genetics which sounded baloney to me but it turned out to explain an alligator with shark’s teeth and a prognathous bear with dental problems.

The quasi-Kubrik ending was pretty but I don’t know what it meant and I doubt if the director did either. Critics thought it all too cerebral for the box office. I thought it pretentious and pseudo-intellectual.

That may be why The Guardian liked it.

Eli [Netflix]


Insipid and silly. About as scary as Winnie the Pooh. Usual problems. Undisciplined screenplay. Awful dialogue. Too much action – too little build up. Do not waste your time getting to the stupid and inadequate conclusion.



Friends raved about it. So I watched it. Oh, brother, was I bored. Sure La Zellweger did a marvellous impersonation job but so what? Trouble is, I was never a fan anyway. The Wizard of Oz scared me as a kid and when I saw it all the way to the end as an older teenager, I found the morality sentimental and the ending inept. The story of a star destroyed by her manipulators is not new. Garland’s absorption in the egoism of performance is well done but, for my money, Piaf did it better. The way Judy is pumped with uppers and downers to get her to perform is sad but I couldn’t feel that it was tragic. There seemed to be no compensating uplift. It was all victim. I can see that, if you liked the music, the uplift was there, but I’m not one for the jazz-lite big band ballad American style myself. As for her gay claque, well, charming, but I’m not sure such stereotyping is liberating at all. I don’t know if being called a ‘friend of Dorothy’ is any better than being called a ‘shirt-lifter’ even if it’s funnier. So, sorry, if this is heresy, but that was a long two hours.

Downton Abbey: The Film


Silly, sentimental, twee, daft, snobbish, funny. The evocation of a world that never was, with soft-soaped nods at politics that never quite were (so as not to offend), an improbable plot about a royal visit, a downstairs rebellion, a queer footman (sorry two) and the incomparable Dame Maggie, not to mention a beautiful orchestra – all the ingredients for a soft-centred Saturday at the end of a leap year February with the wind howling outside like a banshee with piles.

You don’t like happy endings? Go and watch Eastenders, you miserable dog.

Theatre of Blood (1973)


The funniest thing I’ve seen in ages. Shakespearean actor, Edward Kendal Sheridan Lionheart, wreaks revenge on the critics who denied him an award and murders them one by one in macabre scenarios from Shakespeare plays. Don’t miss the weighing scene from The Merchant where the pound of flesh is two ounces over or the duel from Romeo and Juliet played on gymnasium trampolines. Lionheart is played by the wonderfully atrocious, Vincent Price, Cardinal of Camp and High Priest of Ham. How he must have relished the opportunity for sumptuous self-parody. The supporting cast is stellar. I particularly enjoyed Milo O’Shea as Inspector Boot. As over the top as the Christmas fairy. As purple as my prose.

(or meths)

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