Category Archives: Films – 5 stars


Classic film noir plot, characters, and mise-en-scène, but set in a stereotypical American high school. The contrast and incongruity is (deliberately) hilarious at times, but it remains meticulously true to the genre, providing an ultimately bleak vision of love and betrayal. A must-see.

The Prestige

A trick gone horribly wrong sets two ambitious stage magicians (Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman) against each other. Their hostilities escalate in a series of attacks, deceptions and betrayals that leave you aghast at the lengths each of them will go to to discover the other’s secrets. Although the story is set in the late 1800s, certain plot twists turn it into one of the best science fiction films ever made. It is also without a doubt the best film I’ve seen this year.


One of the key rules of storytelling is that your characters should change in the course of the story. Normally, a film or a novel will take a couple, maybe a small handful of core characters, and show them being altered by their experiences. If the story is intense enough, you can end up really caring for and empathizing with these characters as if they were close friends. In Crash there are a dozen key characters, all of whom undergo enormous upheavals in their lives. The crises all stem from racism, both understated and overt, and from the distance we keep from each other.

The cast is amazing, and the performances they give uniformly excellent. The script is astonishing, and the direction is calculated to wring the maximum effect from it. Even though there are very few truly terrible things that happen in the film, the constant likelihood and imminence of those terrible things keeps you on a knife edge. The relief when they don’t come to pass is like dams bursting. Make no mistake: this film will put you through a wringer. I’m a big softy, so it’s not unusual for me to cry at the end of a film. What is unusual is for me to be in tears from the middle of a film onwards, and an emotional wreck for hours afterwards.

Crash is a truly great film. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Sin City

Noir doesn’t get any blacker than this, nor any better. Sin City is a series of four stories, linked by a few common characters, and by the seedy location of Sin City itself. The stories cover revenge, justice, and the struggle of the downtrodden at their most basic and brutal. Life is cheap, violence is ubiquitous, but the good guys (or at least, the less bad guys) still fight for the ones they love. Told in an arresting, partially colourised, high-constrast black-and-white visual style with voice-over narration, it really is a film that has to be seen to be believed.

The Aviator

Despite having been very impressed by him in Romeo and Juliet and Catch Me If You Can, Leonardo DiCaprio has never really had much appeal for me as a star. His heartthrob status has got in the way of my appreciation of him. (I still haven’t seen Titanic, and have no particular plans to.) But The Aviator has changed all that. His performance as the obsessively driven Howard Hughes is, quite simply, spectacular. It’s a demanding role, calling for a convincing portrayal of both fierce determination and drive and introverted neuroticism, and DiCaprio pulls it off like a master. Scratch that, with this role he shows that he is a master.

But even with this performance, DiCaprio doesn’t own the film: Cate Blanchett races off with an amazing piece of character acting as she totally becomes Katherine Hepburn. The supporting cast, from small parts such as Jude Law’s Errol Flynn, to major antagonists like Alec Baldwin’s Juan Trippe, is stellar. (Definitely a candidate for the award for best use of the word “fuck” in a serious screenplay*.) Even at a challenging three hours long, the film is never less than totally engrossing. A masterpiece.

Wilbur (Wants To Kill Himself)

Not nearly as depressing as the title might suggest, Wilbur is the story of two Glasgow book shop owners, Harbour (Adrian Rawlins) and his brother Wilbur (Jamie Sives). Wilbur is a habitual but unsuccessful suicide. Following a failed attempt shortly after the death of their father, Harbour persuades Wilbur to move in with him, where he can better protect him from himself. There, during another failed attempt, Wilbur is rescued by Alice (Shirley Henderson), a timid single mother who frequents the book shop to sell books she finds in her work as a hospital cleaner. A sweet, troubled love story follows, but it’s not the one you’d expect.

Although this isn’t a Dogme film like her previous feature, Italian For Beginners, director Lone Scherfig sticks to some of its tenets by showing the story in a simple, linear fashion, with a minimum of stylistic tricks, and a clear and honest focus on the characters. The cast are wholly believable, and never set a foot wrong. The screenplay is both uplifting and sad, and it finds quirky humour in the strangest of places. It made me laugh out loud, and it made me cry even after the film was over. It is just wonderful.

The Incredibles

Ah, forget it. I was going to write about the quality of the animation, how the story cleverly draws on and extends themes from the superhero genre, the sharpness of the script, the utterly masterful direction, and voice work that probably deserves an Oscar all of its own… but it’s just too much. There are few films this year that can touch The Incredibles for its blockbuster combination of energy, emotion, action, and sheer fun. And diving beneath the surface splendour, it shows the kind of filmmaking skill, depth, and maturity that few films ever attain. It’s simply a great film.

Touching The Void

This is the story of two mountain climbers, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, who attempted an ascent of the West face of Siula Grande in Peru in 1985. It was a difficult climb, but they made it. It was on the way back down that their troubles really started.

Touching the Void is the documentary reconstruction of their climb and descent, based on Joe Simpson’s book. It uses actors in the reconstruction, but the narration is provided by Simpson and Yates themselves. Occasionally the film cuts to head shots of them talking, to emphasize the strength of their emotions as they remember the events.

It’s a stunning story, and an extraordinary film. The beautiful cinematography and constrasts starkly with the loneliness, terror, and pain they faced on the mountain. Simpson’s emotional journey to the brink of madness and despair–and beyond–is stripped of heroism and the sentimentality it can inspire, and instead portrayed with naked honesty. It’s intense, harrowing, touched with humour, and gives whole new meaning to the word “gripping”. A must-see.

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

Without a doubt the best film I’ve seen so far this year. Sweet, sad, touching, clever, romantic, and funny. Jim Carrey harnesses all his comic talents to give a performance that is all the more powerful for its restraint. Kate Winslet is dippy, off-beat, and real. The script is quirky, insightful, and overwhelmingly postive in a melancholy kind of way. It is also the best science fiction film I’ve seen in…well, a long time. Not in the spaceships-and-aliens sense–it is set in the here and now–but simply in the way it explores themes of a scientific and philosophical nature through their impact on the everyday lives of ordinary people. A definite must-see.

Pirates of the Caribbean

How can this film not put a smile on your face? It’s a classic mix of pirates, sword fights, cursed treasure, and a love story. Pirate films, like Westerns, seem to belong to a bygone age of Hollywood film making. We’ll never see them back in full force, but precisely because of their absence, Pirates of the Caribbean is a unique breath of fresh air, touched with nostalgia and spiced with grand adventure. Johnny Depp throws his whole heart into the utterly over-the-top Captain Jack Sparrow; Orlando Bloom does the honest young man battling to save the girl he loves; and Geoffrey Rush is the wicked Captain Barbossa, doomed to a life of undead misery until he finds the last piece of Aztec Gold. Every set piece is big and bold, filled with explosive action. All the pirate stereotypes and clichés are present and accounted for, but brushed down and jazzed up for (post) modern times. A rollickin’ good romp, poppet. Yarrr!