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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri – Martin Mcdonagh ***

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri – Martin McDonagh ***

Some movies wear their pitch on their sleeves.  This movie is technically first class: writing, direction, cinematography, even the occasional evocative country music insert – all work well to create a sharp, black, ironic and at times scabrously funny film.

However, McDonah, unlike his previous films in this style: In Bruges  and Seven Psychopaths, sets this in an ostensibly ordinary small town in Missouri where Mildred (Frances McDormand at her dead-pan, wry-eyed best) decides to take on the much-admired local Sheriff Billoughby (Harrelson doing Harrelson) for failing to find the rapist murderer of her daughter killed 7 months before. Like a homespun Avenging Angel Mildred rents 3 defunct billboards on a disused road on the outskirts of town to accuse Willoughby of incompetence and shame him into action.  This sets off a Cohen-brothers-like trail of inexorably logical violent mayhem driven by Mildred’s implacable pursuit of vengeance and the law of unexpected consequences.

The trouble is this works if you set your story in an explicitly criminal context; that is. an inherently morally ambivalent world where none of the everyday limits to behaviour are recognised or observed; and violence and death go with the territory. This allows us to put on hold our natural reservations about uncivilised, even brutally violent behaviour: frees us if you will, to laugh, even relish, the well-deserved come-uppance and predictably violent fate of the morally flawed, or just plain bad protagonists.

But here there is no recognizable moral context; no real small town ethos, within which Mcdonagh’s characterisations can remotely develop into anything approaching real characters. Mildred, Willoughby et al aren’t real people rooted in small town America, deeply or otherwise; they are simply characterisations with no life or existence outside Hollywood and the demands of a storyline written, yes to entertain, but essentially to create a successful product that will make a profit. Tarantino country.

The cleverly constructed plot drives this movie: its emotional force, dramatic arc if you will, of grief and revenge, rationalises how all the characters behave. The writing is good enough to create many scenes where we are tempted, seduced, into taking the emotions and motivations seriously. But then the demands of plot and aesthetic style destroys the illusion in favour of what must come next: not because of the credible emotional motivations of ‘real’ characters; but to sustain a cool moral ambivalence and exploitation of violence and aggression that makes us laugh until we think for just a moment about why.

This is very much Cohen-brothers-like territory: and generates much the same response: schadenfreude-based laughter that one wishes one hadn’t responded to so instinctively. Of course it’s just a movie and we’re there to be entertained: and laughing even despite ourselves, can’t be that bad – can it?

Critics generally love this stuff: as will those for whom The Goodfellahs is their favourite movie that they like to re-watch every now and then. There is a kind of clever, sophisticated, amoral ‘knowingness’ that over-praises and over-values this kind of carefully crafted, Hollywood commodity product which commands the confidence of investors because it appeals to our baser instincts (always a safe bet) and makes us feel participants in a kind of ‘cool’ aesthetic that makes those who do not share it seem backward and dull.

Violent racism? – wickedly funny. Dwarfism?  Have a laugh masquerading as pathos. Wilfully ignorant, unjustified, misplaced retribution? Oops. Police deputy as a ‘retard’? So stupid he can’t help but be funny; but maybe he’s a good guy underneath – just thick.

“Come on man – it’s just a movie. Don’t take it so seriously.” Ok as long as you remember that a large number of people spent tens of £millions, utilising some of the most talented actors in movies, to produce this subtly conceived, slickly fashioned product to look, sound, and pretend to be about real people, feeling real emotions albeit in extreme circumstances.

The assiduously contrived moral ambivalence this movie exploits to make a buck is perfectly illustrated by the final scene in the film. Ubercool irony: but soulless.

Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool – Paul McGuigan ****



Film stars Don’t Die In Liverpool – Paul McGuigan ****

There is a brief scene late on in this film that lifts it above what had thus far been a simple touching and poignant if unlikely, age-gap romance between Oscar-winning Hollywood actress Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) and young scouse actor Peter Turner (Jamie Bell). With a screenplay by Matt Greenhalgh based on Turner’s book of the same name, their brief love affair found Grahame, starved of film work in Hollywood surviving on the Liverpool stage in a ‘star-vehicle’ version of Tennessee Williams’ Glass Menagerie.

Grahame 56 in 1979 when they meet, rekindles passion along with career in a brief but tender cross-generation love affair with the likeable if emotionally naive Turner, then 27. With the very able restrained support of Julie Walters and Kenneth Cranham as Turner’s parents, strong performances from the always reliable Bening and the increasingly assured Bell, negotiate as well as Greenhalgh’s screenplay will permit, the usual ‘edge-of-queasiness’ pitfalls of love scenes between protagonists with 30 years between them.

Although discreetly shot and played with a becoming modesty, the love scenes do reflect the simplistic clichés of cinematic treatment of age-gap sex. Grahame’s emotional history – 4 children from 4 different Hollywood husbands – probably justifies this resort to the prevailing popular assumption that any relationship between an older woman and younger man must inevitably be defined by sex and represent a woman’s doomed attempt to recover her youth by rekindling her sexual passion with a younger man who is of course in turn defined by the stamina and power of his sexual desire. What the later more nuanced conception in the film shows denies this frankly patronising stereotypical trope. Before that it is as if the only credible reason an older woman might be attracted to a younger man is because of his sexual prowess defined by performance. Thus we see Bening’s Gloria angered and undermined when Turner frankly refers to her age. How is this ‘hurt’ redeemed? Why of course by Turner grabbing her roughly under the sway of irresistible sexual desire. And to complete the cliché Grahame is both reassured and her quasi-youthful irresistible sexuality is re-validated. As I say this may be ‘true’ to Grahame; but then it sits ill with Bening, whose inherent class and maturity (as opposed to ‘age’) effortlessly suggests a more emotionally and sexually complex woman for whom a deeply satisfying sexual congress might just be the expression of a deeper, more nuanced, emotional relationship with a young man of unusual sensitivity and emotional character.

Must every woman who enters a relationship with a younger man be a cougar of popular vulgarity? Yes according to Hollywood. And a culture which uses sex to sell everything from lug-wrenches to kitchen rolls; and where young men are apparently using Viagra as a recreational drug to enhance performance – all making someone a hefty profit, suggests this might be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Cinematically it has long been the case that French directors make the best, nuanced, insightful, grown-up films about sex and sexuality: perhaps because they understand that sex is far too serious to be taken too seriously.

But finally, after these disappointingly clichéd early scenes, either Turner’s insight or simply Bening’s class, rescues us and the film. In an impressive coalescence of scene, actors and script; a superbly moving sequence transcends age to show us sensitivity, tenderness and the mutual generosity of deep feeling that finally transforms a romantic dalliance turned routine sexual affair, into a real mature love between grown-ups. Here the playing, especially by Bening, excels anything that went before and sets us up to feel genuinely moved by the subsequent tragic conclusion of the film and Grahame’s volatile emotional life, thereby fulfilling the ending presaged in the film’s title.

It is a profound irony that it is illness and mortality that eventually generates this emotional depth and total intimacy between Grahame and Turner. All we need now is a Director with the wisdom and insight to show us such courageous trust and intimacy as part of living our lives; not solely as solace and compassion to face ending them. Sex and sexuality shouts at us from every advert, web-site, book, TV. But genuine intimacy is as rare as hen’s teeth: never more so than in the cinematic portrayal of sexual relationships – where arguably it is most precious.

Our Last Tango – German Kral



Love doesn’t make the world go round: desire does. Love is a state of being; desire a life force that sustains it. Transcending both is passion: love and desire conjoined to create a power that can both enhance and even threaten life itself.

The extraordinary Maria Nieves Rego is passion incarnate; the heart and soul at the core of this powerful, affecting film. Self taught, this complex wilful woman, driven by a life-long, single-minded passion, still burning brightly at 83, became perhaps the greatest Tango-dancer there has ever been. Her undying passion for this dance has sustained her in love and through much loss and heartache beyond.

The Argentine Tango – part ritual, part theatre, through the art of dance represents all the passionate possibilities and contradictions of the relation of men and women; each separated by a fierce gender independence yet drawn to one another by the irresistible magnetic attraction of opposites in their sexuality. If perhaps the more sinuous Rumba is the dance of love, the Tango, especially the Argentine Tango has no rival as the dance of passion: as much a representation of conflict and confrontation as of a hard won union from a battle fought to an exhausted but honourable and fragile peace.

Nothing so banal as a mere dance could fire and sustain a Maria Nieves. Her partnership with Juan Carlos Copes raised their artistic union to a level of expression beyond each as an individual. Partner, lover, spouse and serially betrayed wife, even Maria’s sense of loss in a childless life was transcended by her ferocious independence and passion for her dance.

The tempestuous volatile relationship between Maria and Juan Carlos Copes perfectly emulated the dramatic arc of the dance that brought them fame and world-wide artistic eminence. Love and hate; conflict and union, trust and betrayal, honour and shame: Maria’s eloquent testimony to camera reveals it all: leaving one with an overwhelming sense that such talent and passionate dedication is as much curse as blessing.

Using archive footage of breathtaking performances in their prime and recreating their life in dance through current youthful dancers, director German Kral creates a powerful sense of engagement in an extraordinary life.

Without personal regret but advising today’s women dancers not to delay motherhood lest it eludes them: this challenging, passionate, wilful, feisty woman relishes her sense of hard-won independence and embraces without complaint the solitariness, perhaps loneliness this entails, as she disappears into the Buenos Aires night, a lone poignant figure in the back of a taxi. Whatever else, this moving film leaves us with a sense of a life lived to the full and which in artistic terms at least, transcended even the powerful passionate woman who lived it.


The Revenant – Alejandro González Iñárritu




The Revenant – Alejandro González Iñárritu

Verisimilitude is not Art. The universal critical acclaim The Revenant is attracting, reflected by its 12 Oscar nominations is surpassed in absurdity only by the bewildering 10 nominations for Mad Max – Fury Road. That is beyond parody.

The Revenant, if successful on the night will be a first: a ‘Best’ picture no one ever sees twice: not because of its relentless brutality, though it is relentless and brutal; but because of its unrelieved one-dimensional tedium.

Director Iñárritu’s film is the latest and by far the most comprehensive example of confusing empirical truth with artistic truth.  It takes to almost life-threatening lengths (to the actors) the belief that conveying a sense of the hardship and brutal challenges of the 1820’s South Dakota wilderness is entirely predicated  upon a forensically literal attempt to recreate in every detail, the life, time and circumstance of the period.  This is to substitute research and analysis for imagination and insight: mechanics for Art.

This is just an extreme example of Hollywood’s current Philistine obsession with literalism of word and image: unless we see the lumps we can’t imagine what vomit is like; to appreciate the profound complexity of a woman having a pee, we must of course accompany her into the toilet and be close enough to hear the trickle.  I’m not sure any of the hundreds of great films of the past ever lacked any sense of realism or authenticity just because it was taken for granted that people puke and women pee.  The sublime paradox is of course that this obsessive search for authenticity is itself a lie: as the vomit is as phoney as the mistaken effort to make us believe otherwise.

The Revenant elevates such trivial cases to a point of principle: absolutely nothing is left to the imagination: a flesh-ripping bear attack; being buried alive; and everything imaginable in between is shown with pathological attention to detail. There are many issues raised by this ‘colouring-book’ conception of Art which must ‘fill-in’ every square inch of narrative dramatic space as the viewer cannot be credited with the imagination or intelligence to respond with their own creative understanding.  The actual narrative of The Revenant is almost totally without resonance. Cries of horror from the universally smitten Critical community: but I stand by the claim; with this proviso; that the only genuine ‘resonance’ the film has is in the cinematography, which veers wildly from occasional moments of a genuine bleak depth, to ‘arty’ devices like swaying tree-tops seen from below: a visual cliché that Terence Malik has long ago sucked all the metaphorical juice from. One of the worst consequences of this literalist directorial style is that everything takes an infernally long time to communicate: talk about not seeing the wood for the trees!  Although there are of course moments of drama and tension in the film; it only rarely has any genuine sense of pace and virtually no dramatic, narrative cadence. This isn’t surprising as virtually all the action of the film takes place outdoors in an implacably hostile freezing climate requiring everyone to be reduced to anonymous multi-layered bundles of skins and furs which more than once leaves us confused as to who the hell we are watching do what.  In such an environment, never venturing indoors or even very often to the relative peace and quiet of a camp fire;  if screenwriters Iñárritu and Mark L Smith had wanted to give the characters anything interesting to say – we wouldn’t have heard a word of it over the cruelly hostile weather they are constantly battling.

Revenge is the perfect emotional dramatic drive for a movie: think of two perfect examples; John Ford’s clearly parallel but infinitely better The Searchers (1956); or John Boorman’s equally superior Point Blank (1967). But even revenge needs characters as well as circumstances, actions and events. There isn’t for me a single developed character in The Revenant: Leonardo Di Caprio’s Glass is an anonymous bundle of fur and matted hair grunting and groaning his way from one physical disaster to the next. Tom Hardy does actually get a chance to at least sketch in his treacherous nature but ‘sketch’ it is and so sketchy it remains. It is very hard to give a damn about anyone in The Revenant because Iñárritu is content to leave them as virtually anonymous elemental forces of nature, completely subsumed within an unforgiving, utterly indifferent natural environment.

Perhaps this is the conception the Critics have bought into: Man and Nature, elemental, primal, morally determined by physical necessity. But even that seems to me to fall into the same ‘literalist’ trap. The person I saw the film with when I expressed some reservations, immediately remarked – “well that was what it was like!” I very much doubt she had any actual historical evidence for this categorical remark but it demonstrates our overwhelming tendency to want to believe the most extreme interpretations of historical events and especially people and communities of the past.

Philosophically it seems to me to be a grandiose intellectual conceit to believe that we can actually, from within our present culture, truly understand “what it was like” to live in such unimaginably (sic) different circumstances. This fallacy of what we might call factual infallibility troubles me with many films of which the recent Turner was a good example. It is what you do with the facts you choose to represent that offers the artistic dimension; not an obsession with the ‘accuracy’ with which you represent them.

Di Caprio speaks as if their intention was to make an Art-house docu-drama. But this is a slippery genre that precisely raises serious questions about the distinction between artistic and empirical truth.  These are related, but fundamentally different values at root. In the context, setting of the The Revenant: however remote, however hostile, the Natural world, the miracle was that communities were formed;  people lived everyday, albeit physically arduous demanding lives.  They married, had children, formed tribes and groups with rules of behaviour and conduct within a culture. There are other profound truths ignored by Hollywood History: the tenuous survival of early white settlers in the hostile environment Iñárritu is so taken with, was firstly in part due to the assistance and help they were given on how to live under such conditions, by the indigenous, Native American peoples who had been doing so successfully for thousands of years before them. Also: for many if not most, testosterone-soaked Hunter/Warrior Men it is pretty clear that there were many wives and sisters and other women without whom it would have been impossible for communities to have even been formed, let alone sustained once established. The kind of withstanding courage over time required to survive under such adverse conditions seems to me much more feminine than male in character.

There are virtually no women in The Revenant:  Glass’s Native American wife whose killing, by we know not who; and who gave him the son whose killing drives the movie; is little more than an ethereal plot device – we know absolutely nothing about her except that her loss left him bereft.  In this irreducibly macho-centric world the occasional hand-me-down shag is the kind of woman implied. Even the daughter of the Native American chief who he believes has been captured and abused by White Men: is simply a clichéd victim stereotype whose rape by an (infernal) French Trapper is interrupted by Glass’s need to steal French horses to escape.

How in the name of sanity can Leonardo di Caprio be even nominated for an acting Oscar for this film? By what acting criteria can he be judged?  His body is virtually invisible beneath the endless layers of fur and skins; his face is rarely genuinely visible and when it is he must have been so bloody cold it is virtually expressionless. As discussed above, he has virtually nothing to say, and spends most of the film dragging himself from one physical hardship to another, his gait and bodily movement impaired by the results of the Grizzly attack suffered early in the film. We might as well say in a film of Richard the Third that the Oscar should be awarded to the hump.

I am a great admirer of Iñárritu – Babel was in my view a masterpiece: and Di Caprio has made some excellent films; for which he is long overdue for recognition of his acting talent. But it will be an offence against reason and anything remotely approaching sound judgement, to reward him here for a role where acting is reduced to a cross between a brutal version of ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here: Olympic gymnastics; and Bear Grylls lost in the Jungle without a camera team.

To reduce acting to this macho, testosterone-driven, self-flagellating exercise in pointless self-imposed privation is perverse when there are other candidates in what is admittedly a pretty lean year artistically, who deserve proper consideration for genuinely nuanced, subtle acting performances.

As for Mad Max: frankly I think the Academicians are simply taking the piss.

* 45 Years – Andrew Haig Patronising, Depressing Stereotypes




star    45 Years – Andrew Haig  * (Beware – semi-spoiler alert)

“I think it needs a new ballcock”.  If there is a film that can survive giving space to this deathless line – 45 Years isn’t it.  In one if their periodic moments of collective lunacy, UK critics have unanimously awarded 5 stars to this insufferably patronising, depressing study in tedium which exploits every stereotypical view of older people in the book.

The saving grace of Charlotte Rampling’s Herculean failure to make something of the ill-conceived and badly written part of Kate, is its triumph of instinct over technique.  Rampling’s natural authority, intelligence and strength of personality refuses to be buried by the intentionally pathetic, wimpy, wishy washy woman that writer/Director Andrew Haig has conceived and written.  This is Alan Bennett country: devoid of his insight or wit. Witless pretty much captures the essence of this twaddle.

Courtney struggles manfully, but he can’t breathe any life into the wet, emotionally stunted twerp that is Geoff; obsessing throughout 45 years of marriage to a real, intelligent, passionate woman; over a youthful lover he hardly knew whose eternal appeal rests on having fallen to her death up a very big Swiss mountain and down a very deep hole, watched by an inept but hunky Swiss guide of whom gormless Geoff was, and remains, passively jealous. Oops. Strewth.

Oh Charlotte; Oh Tom; didn’t you read this meretricious pap?  Both of you are as competent and assured in your art as you have ever been; still vital and powerfully expressive: whatever possessed you to try to breathe life into two such cardboard characters?    It’s not that Geoff and Kate are horrible: it is that they are so insufferably nice: sans passion, sans willpower, sans balls!   And is it really beyond the artistic creativity and invention of excellent actors and a serious Director to portray the sexual expression of love between a couple who have been together for 45 years and know each other’s bodies and needs literally intimately, with more positive conviction than the excruciatingly embarrassing, apologetic sequence we have to endure, squirming in our seats, in this film?

Geoff and Kate have ‘enjured’ – neither wholly enjoyed nor fully endured – a childless 45 year liaison; (one hesitates to say marriage as they talk to each other like they’re a scratch partnership at Bridge); aided of course by the de rigeur doggie surrogate.  Surrounded by a group of teeth-grindingly Middle Class friends you wouldn’t wish on your own worst enemy, they parse out their personal and social lives in a Norfolk rural idyll to die in, not for.

With all the spontaneous enthusiasm of lambs strolling down to the abattoir; Geoff and Kate meekly bow to the inexorable pressure of bourgeois convention by marking, hardly celebrating, their long-service marriage medals with a party neither wants; highlighted by a speech from Geoff of such stupefying crassness that one prays for divine (feminine) retribution.  And this moment, dear reader is the whole rationale for this manipulative confection: the closing shot of Kate, long-suffering and redolent with pathos.  Critics seem to have bought into this without question.  Sorry folks but I’m far more inclined to kick Ms Rampling, as Kate, up her still very sexy bum and say “C’mon Katie get a grip and a life – you’re not dead yet.’

The philosophical subtext of Haig’s film is that both Geoff and Kate are victims, because of their age; and Kate doubly so, because she is a woman. Give me strength: how does the critical community swallow this bullsh*t so wholeheartedly?

Why am I so hostile?   Our culture has long ‘buried’ death in euphemisms to avoid dealing with the one great certainty of existence.  But at least the dead are beyond harm.  What Mr Haig and Co are doing is to try to entomb the Chronologically Gifted before they’re even dead.  The generation who fought and won a World War against naked evil and many brutal conflicts since; have confronted more personal, social revolutionary change than any human beings in history; have created and disseminated a renaissance in music and drama, in film-making and Art; are now portrayed as Bingo-fodder, beings to pity, patronize and ‘pathosogize’. It is a miracle that Mr Haig eschewed the stock character of almost every modern narrative about people of honourable age – the Alzheimer sufferer.  Of course human beings are more prone to illness and ill-health the older they get: but disease and sickness are a tragedies of the human condition as such; not of age.

I am reminded of the appalling film Hilary and Jackie (1998) which spent most of its dreadful 2 hours ignoring the breath-taking, inspirational artistry of a sublime musician (Jacqueline Du Pre) to obsess about whether she did or didn’t sleep with her brother-in-law.

Our culture, across the Arts: Drama, Film, Television etc; de facto promotes an ethos obsessed with the idea that either the only, or the most important aspects of the lives of those with a few decades of living, of experience, of achievement, behind them; are their ailments, disappointments and loss of will, potency and relevance.

The prevailing zeitgeist of ‘age’ dominating our contemporary artistic culture is as victimhood: physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual.  It is tempting to believe that an unconscious fear drives this widespread conviction – that of today’s young of becoming old.  The hard-earned life-wisdom of an older generation commonly denied, dismissed and frequently mocked; has no authoritative artistic ‘voice’.  This systematic, prejudiced, distortion of the truth surpasses even the justifiable complaints of feminists of similar injustice in the treatment of women.  Women in effect suffer a double whammy – for they are half of the patronized older citizens as well.

Age is a number: ‘Old’ is an attitude.  Youth isn’t a quality or an achievement: it is a ‘gift’.  We deserve no credit for our gifts: only what we make of them.  In that sense Age is perhaps one of the greatest gifts of all and likewise therefore – judge those with most of their journey behind them not on where they’ve been with the gift of youth; but where they’re going with the gift of Age.

I’ll leave the last word with a great Italian Film Director (Antonioni I believe) who, when in his 80’s was asked how old he was, replied (in wonderfully expressive Italian of course):

“I have my heart, my mind and my balls – who cares how old I am?”

DOMINION – Poem Sousse




It is time, in all conscience
Human conscience
Not to pray. In God’s name deny
Next world promises
Man-made lethal lies
Of a Man-imagined paradise
Heaven’s rivers in spate with hate
run red with human blood

Murderous metaphysics multiply
Myriad-worded menus
Without a scrap of food
And blood for wine
Sustain Man’s brute addiction
To religious power, might, and death
Not in our names
Despairing, weeping Gods decry

Only in the form of absence
May we love unbound
For us the only absolute
Is life: this life, not some future lie
This wondrous, sacred gift of now
Fragile finite transient
Our sole duty to preserve
This end all means must serve

The gods are in despair today
jesus weeps: mohammad mourns
yahweh Job recalls
Their creation, Man, now loves hate
His hate of love ascends
women, givers of life He rapes unheard
What a piece of work is Man
Death His dominion now.


Jurassic World – email to BBFC 26th June 2015

Jurassic world



Email to British Board of Film Censors – 26th June 2015

JURASSIC WORLD  –  Colin Trevorrow

I have just watched a performance of this film in a crowded cinema at Cineworld Stevenage.

I see around 3/4 movies a week and have written over 400 reviews at my blog www.zettelfilmreviews.co.uk and posted to the writers’ website – www.writewords.org.uk.

I have a generally liberal attitude towards classification and absolutely no instinct for strengthening censorship.

However I was deeply disturbed to watch this very graphic, frightening film with a significant number of very young children present: at least one of whom was so small (and perhaps frightened) that he/she watched the whole film in its mother’s arms.

There were a very substantial number of very young children, albeit accompanied by adults, so small it is hard to believe they were not less than 10 years–old.  At least one was so tiny I would assess her age at around 7-8. (I am the father of 2 with a grandchild so I have some sense of age).

I know the 12A classification gives the cinema no authority to refuse admission at any age as long as accompanied by an adult.  I applaud the liberal sentiment behind this principle and as a parent accept that my wife and I should be the final arbiters of what our children are allowed to see.  Ours are now grown up but we have had moments of soul-searching over the years especially with highly publicized films pitched at a broad market to include children, often generating a very significant ‘peer pressure’ effect.

As JW is rapidly becoming one of the fastest and largest-grossing pictures of all time, this hyped and highly publicized sequel to a 20 year-old classic, generates all kinds of pressure on parents and children alike of the kind mentioned above.

As an adult I found the film exciting, tense, thrilling and at times very effectively scary and frightening – indeed at times terrifying. As an adult I did not find it unduly excessive in any particular respect. However my experience of the film was deeply disturbing, taking place within an audience including such a large number of very young people – some alarmingly young.  My adult experience of watching the film was seriously spoilt by my realization of the, in my view entirely inappropriate youthfulness of so many of the audience.

The terms of the excessively loosely defined ’12A’ certificate offers the cinema absolutely no authority to refuse admission to a child of any age, however young, as long as they are accompanied by an adult.

I would ask you to seriously consider the following complaints/observations.

1.    THREAT

The only reliable (commercially untainted) protection offered parents from taking children to such an entirely inappropriate film, are the guidelines from your BBFCinsight.  In my view you have let parents down badly and culpably, with your reasoning and classification of this film.

Your reasoning seriously glosses and understates the level, graphic-ness and dramatic threat the film delivers.  You describe the many violently graphic sequences in this film as follows:

“Several sequences of moderate threat include humans being chased by dinosaurs, or hiding when aggressive dinosaurs are nearby. Some children are shown being scared and upset, but they reassure each other and are not harmed.”

This is so culpably bland and understated it is virtually fatuous.  It totally fails to give a parent seeking advice any serious indication of the genuinely terrifying nature of many sequences: some of which would compare in dramatic shock and terror terms with scenes eg from Jaws!

2.    INJURY DETAIL – you say

“Occasional bloody moments feature, without any strong detail or clear focus on injuries.”

The Pterodactyl sequence alone makes these remarks shamefully complacent. Human beings, including at least 1 child, are grasped in talons and lifted into the sky.  In a terrifying extended sequence, very reminiscent of the very first shark attack in Jaws, the Park PA assigned to look after the 2 children is first clutched in talons and lifted to a great height; then as one Pterodactyl drops her, another ‘playfully’ catches her in mid-air – like cats ‘playing’ with a mouse.  Eventually she is dropped into the water, recaptured by the Pterodactyl which then flies with her, by now clearly knowing her horrible death is imminent, up straight towards the camera when the massive sea-dinosaur earlier presaged in a shocking anticipatory gobble of a large fish leaps from the depths.  Pterodactyl and female PA are then literally gobbled up by the massively-lethally-toothed creature.

Of course there’s no blood! This unfortunate woman is simply swallowed whole.  This is a fearsomely graphic sequence, indelibly projected into the mind and we cannot help but share the utter terror throughout the whole sequence of the victim’s total awareness of the horrific death she is about to suffer, indeed is suffering.  This makes your assessors’ comments shamefully inadequate. Precisely what works for adults, to terrify them, may very well be questionable for children.

3.    As an aside: both in the incident above and elsewhere throughout the film all, the many human ‘canapes’ ripped and wrenched to death before being swallowed whole; are all ‘unlikeable’, ‘alien’ or anonymous characters – they’re fat, unpleasant or non-caucasian.  Are we, are the children present, really supposed to be indifferent to these disposable human beings’ fates just because they aren’t likable or ‘like’ us?

4.    I am deeply suspicious of your facile classification of this film which at the very least should be a 12 not a 12A.  But then, even a 12 certificate would seriously reduce the box office wouldn’t it?  A 15 certification would probably as much as halve the box office.  In my view the makers of JW have with great precision and care, intentionally structured this profoundly manipulative product to slip it under your demonstrably weak surveillance, into a 12A certificate – precisely to maximize its box office.  The rather feeble attempts at creating a ‘jokey’ tone at various points may pander to your criteria but they are utterly, grotesquely out of synch with the horrific reality of the tone and action of the rest of what is being portrayed.

This film strikes me as a cynically pitched and carefully crafted product, subtly structured to maximize profits through the box-office gold of a 12A certificate.

I have for over 50 years, been a cinema-goer, movie-lover and devotee of film as the popular art form of at least the last century. I have occasionally differed from your view of classification but have always been able to see and to some extent accept the rationale for your certification decision. I have never been moved to write or protest before: but this one frankly stinks.  You should, as an organization, watch it again,  properly,  and if you can’t now change the classification, then publicize your serious concern at the number of very young children who appear to be seeing it thanks to the ignorance or ill-informed foolishness of their parents.

The 12A ‘fudge’ is in my view actively permitting potential real harm short and perhaps even long-term, to impressionable young minds thanks to the ignorance or plain daft indulgence of parents who ought to know better.  If, even subliminally, your classification has taken the easy, non-confrontational route because of actual or applied commercial, political pressure from an exceptionally well-organized Hollywood pressure group – then shame on you even more.  The public in general and parents in particular, need your integrity and objectivity to properly manage the queasily dubious 12A classification.

I would argue that any, sensible, liberal and open-minded adult watching Jurassic World (and I watched it in 2D – God help us if young children were in 3D and I-Max 3D showings) could not, in all conscience, want almost any under 12 to watch it; and to be literally horrified at the thought that the transparently weak 12A classification permits a child of any age to see it: they just need an adult who has taken leave of their moral, parental senses to go with them.

Mr Turner – Mike Leigh Over-rated, over-praised






Mr Turner – Mike Leigh

Probably the most over-praised, over-rated film of the year. Despite a languidly and tediously long-drawn out 150 minutes, Mike Leigh manages virtually no insights, no illumination of Turner the artist or his Art. A clunking, almost unplayably self-conscious ‘literary’ script serves a misconceived effort to ‘recreate’ with obsessional ‘authenticity’ the language and mores of the period. As a result poor Mr Spall (excellent actor though he is) is trapped into the conceit of ‘inhabiting’ (ie inventing) a Turner who becomes a grunting grotesque with nothing interesting, or convincing to say about himself or, unforgivably, his art.

William Goldman once observed that one should never try to be faithful to a book of which one makes a film: but that one must always be faithful to the spirit of the book. The same is true of the past: we know the facts of the 19th century setting of this film but knows what it was really like tolive it. Leigh’s film is inhabited by exaggerated Dickensian caricatures.

The past is infinitely more alien than another country. Mike Leigh seems to have settled for an obsessional, false, ‘verisimilitude’ at the expense of an artistic vision of the spirit of the man, his painting and his times. Turner’s art,  his iconic and iconoclastic innovative paintings are reduced in Leigh’s film to pretty window-dressing. We learn nothing about the passion that motivated them, the passion they reflected and the mind and sensibility that first conceived, then created them.

<strong>Not since Arnand Tucker’s execrable Hilary and Jackie (about Jacquleine Du Pre)assumed that the most interesting thing about one of the most gifted, mesmeric musicians of her time, was whether she had slept with her brother-in-law, has an artist been so ill-served by a film ostensibly made to celebrate great art. I see no reason to think, and Leigh certainly doesn’t provide one, that a graphic portrayal of a grunting, piggish brute with the sexual sensibility of a dog on heat, has anything at all to do with the creation of several of the most transcendent paintings of not just their time, but any time. And an oddly inappropriate atonal, distancing score doesn’t improve things one jot.

Such a disappointment: and a precious lost opportunity. And the usual unjustified ‘Britfilm’ hype won’t kid anyone for long.

Lord Melvyn Bragg – Q & A at Curzon for Sky Arts South Bank Originals





Lord Melvyn Bragg – Q & A at Curzon for Sky Arts South Bank Originals

We are used to hearing Melvyn, Lord Bragg, interviewing others. Over the 50 years or more of his presence on our screens and airwaves he has informed, educated, entertained and at times enthralled us by sharing the results of his own passionate curiosity and down-to-earth, no-nonsense love of the Arts in all their forms.

For once a series of excellent questions from the audience freed him to expand on deep felt insights, affectionately telling and funny anecdotes from a lifetime of meeting and sharing ideas with an extraordinary range of supremely talented people: from Dolly Parton to Francis Bacon; Barushnikov to McCartney. His indomitable enthusiasm and searching curiosity renders even the esoteric and perplexing accessible to anyone with a willingly open mind and a desire to understand.

To use a much overused and often undeserved term: the Right Honourable The Lord Melvyn Bragg is a genuine National Treasure who carries his distinction lightly with a sublimely English self-deprecation which marks a genuine humility without a hint of what the Welsh call ‘side’.

Melvyn rocks!

The new series of South Bank Original on Sky Arts, although using 1000s of hours of peviously aired interviews etc is a completely new, re-examination of a particular subject or artist over many years. The two shown here on Dolly Parton and Mikhail  Baryshnikov were insightful, poignant and beautifully observed.

Poem – ‘I’






I am happy – and sad
sometimes good
and yes, sometimes bad

I am who I am
but have a duty
to he who I might be
I am tethered – yet free
I am me

I am loved – and love
know unrest – but am still blessed

I am curious – and perplexed
troubled, and at peace
my madness makes me sane
and my sanity makes me mad

I am father – and son
husband, lover, friend
endless possibilities
and yet all are one

I am blood, tissue, cell
body and brain
but consciousness as well
Somewhere in the hinterland
of synapse, nerve and cause
the person, the self – the ‘I’
thinks and feels, plans and acts – wills
bound but not determined
by careless Nature’s Laws

I am a million inchoate fragments
of feeling, sense and hope
ordered on memory’s fragile thread
contradictions side by side
resigned by Human Nature
to forget destination
and perhaps deserve the ride

I am sacred – and profane
driven by desire and will
terrified by freedom
and the duty to fulfil
to become all I can be
No one can lift the burden or the thrill
of a shared humanity
no prophets, Gods or masters
through obedience reward or fear
excuse my deeds but me
Rebellion not quiescence
dissent not conformity
pave the road the ‘I’ must travel
to reach its destiny