Category Archives: Movie Reviews

CLOSER

Mike Nichols, 2004 US. Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Clive Owen.

“What do you wank about?” “Ex-girlfriends.” “Not current ones?” “Never.”

A typical exchange from Closer. Bitingly funny but unremittingly cynical, it’s a merciless dissection of relationships. Nichols, director of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, is on familiar ground and, once again, he elicits bravura performances from his cast.

Law and Roberts haven’t been this good in years, but it’s Owen’s doctor and Portman’s stripper who steal the show. They don’t share much screen time but the scene in which he hires her for a lapdance is perfect; aggressive and self-loathing, he’s the epitome of wounded masculinity, pathetically susceptible to Portman’s mind-games.

None of this brilliance would be possible without Patrick Marber’s faultless script. By retaining the structure of his original play – we visit the characters only when they’re getting together or breaking apart – he ensures every scene is compelling, if not entirely heart-warming.

Essential cinema, just don’t take a date.

Ian Winterton

★★★★

First published in The Leeds Guide magazine in 2004

ALEXANDER

Oliver Stone, 2004 US. Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Rosario Dawson, Jared Leto, Anthony Hopkins.

By Zeus, what in Hades happened here?

A cinematic folly to rival Ishtar, Oliver Stone’s Alexander is the most ill conceived and poorly executed movie for many an age. Just plain bad on every level – even the costumes fail to look cool – it’s guaranteed to ruin a few careers, especially Colin Farrell’s.

Dressed up like David Lee Roth for most of the film, he either screams hysterically (a Homer Simpson-style “N-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!” for every fallen comrade), pouts (steely-eyed determination) or looks constipated (simmering passion).

The rest of the cast deliver equally OTT performances, all of which indicates that Mr Stone wanted it that way. Internet rumours that he was freebasing during the shoot seem entirely credible – the whole decadent debacle is the cinematic equivalent of a 1970’s concept album.

One star then, and that’s for the unintentional laughs. And because I’ve never seen a war-elephant have its trunk hacked off before.

Ian Winterton

First published in The Leeds Guide magazine in 2004

A COCK AND BULL STORY

UK 2005. Cert: 15. 94 mins. Dir: Michael Winterbottom. Cast: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Shirley Henderson, Dylan Moran, David Walliams, Jeremy Northam, James Fleet, Stephen Fry, Naomie Harris, Ian Hart, Gillian Anderson

Movie Review by Ian Winterton

You don’t have to be familiar with The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gent, Laurence Sterne’s groundbreaking 18th century novel, to get a lot out of A Cock And Bull Story. Indeed, all you need to know about the book is that it is considered the most unfilmable book in history. As Coogan intones in the film, Sterne was “post-modern before there was any modernism to be post about”, with his narrator trying to give us the story of his life but getting so caught up in the lives of his forebears that, by the end of 312 chapters, he hasn’t finished describing his birth yet.

The filmmakers’ approach is simple – make the movie about the making of the film of Tristram Shandy, simultaneously exposing the follies of the film business, illuminating the novel’s major themes (mortality, unreliable narrators, human vanity) while stating from the off that they don’t stand a chance of succeeding – and works brilliantly.

Flitting back and forth between scenes set within the novel and the foolhardy struggle of the filmmakers, A Cock And Bull Story is consistently hilarious, thought-provoking and brimming with energy. The post-modernism isn’t just a one-way street, as it spills out into our world with stars Coogan, Brydon and, in a cameo, Gillian Anderson, starring as themselves. As with the book, knowledge of these celebrities isn’t essential to enjoying the movie but, particularly when Coogan is shown discussing his extra-marital affairs with his agent, it adds an extra level of enjoyment.

Shot primarily on hand-held digital, A Cock And Bull Story is similar to Winterbottom’s triumphant 24 Hour Party People (the real Tony Wilson appears as himself, interviewing Coogan), only even better. There are many reasons for this, but the main one is that, while the earlier film relied on the sublime talents of Coogan, here he’s joined by the equally talented Rob Brydon.

A Cock And Bull Story was one of the audience favourites at last year’s Leeds International Film Festival – if you didn’t catch it then, now’s your chance to see the most pretentious, self-referential, unsufferable smug and – oh yes – fantastic British film for years.

★★★★

First published in The Leeds Guide magazine in 2005.

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN

USA 2005. Cert: 15. 134 mins. Dir: Ang Lee. Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway

Review by Ian Winterton

As is so often the way, after the full-on cheese-fest of summer, which merges with the commerciality of Christmas, January sees the release of what, 12 months from now, will still be seen as one of 2006’s best films.

Maestro Ang Lee returns to form after the shambles that was Hulk with an epic American love story. It’s the early 1960’s and herders for hire Jack (Gyllenhaal) and Ennis (Ledger) are sent up into the mountains of Wyoming to look after a herd of sheep. Sharing a tent, it soon becomes apparent that they both want to be more than just friends and. Ennis insists that he “ain’t queer”. “Neither am I,” says Jack, although you get the impression he’s saying this for Ennis’ sake. After their initial affair, it’s obvious that they’re both in love. But Ennis, having witnessed “what happens to queers” as a young boy, is keen to bury his feelings and goes ahead and marries. Jack does the same, though with even less enthusiasm, and both men raise families. Before long, however, they’re embarking on ‘fishing trips’ together, living a lie for 20 years, only able to be their true selves for a few weeks.

A masterpiece on every level, Brokeback Mountain will bring a tear to the eye of all but the most hard-hearted homophobe. That said, the two men don’t have the monopoly on heart-rending emotion; their wives, played brilliantly by Hathaway (as a brassy Texan gal, she’s unrecognisable as the lead from The Princess Diaries) and Williams (The Station Agent), suffer awfully as the truth about their husbands becomes apparent.

Whether Hollywood can overcome its prejudices to give this the Oscars it deserves remains to be seen. In the meantime, I urge everybody to see Brokeback Mountain and not just because it’s the right-on thing to do; whatever you’re sexual preference, this is one of the best love stories for years.

★★★★

First published in The Leeds Guide magazine in 2006.