The Best Films of 2015

Caren Pistorius in Slow West

There’s a tendency among people who watch a lot of films to boost ones that stand out rather than ones that are good. This can lead to some perverse choices in the “best of” lists that proliferate at this time of year. So that probably explains the rogue nature of the list below – ha ha. If you’re expecting to find Spectre (not at all bad) or the latest Marvel movie or Jurassic World, look elsewhere. These are just the films, of the maybe 350 films or so that I’ve watched in the past 12 months, that jumped out and grabbed me. Some of them are 2014 releases.

Ten Best

Paddington (dir: Paul King)

Operating in Mary Poppins territory, this adaptation of Michael Bond’s books is charming, funny and clever, has jokes for kids and some more thoughtful though never intrusive observations for adults, integrates the animated bear from darkest Peru with the live action brilliantly and there’s even an action-star gag by support-playing baddie Nicole Kidman that’s aimed at ex-husband Tom Cruise.

Wild (dir: Jean-Marc Vallée)

The redemptive drama is a hard sell, but this one about a broken woman’s long trek to self-realisation works in every way. Reese Witherspoon is believably frail as the wee girl dwarfed by her huge rucksack (metaphor), director Jean-Marc Vallée uses music perfectly and does something many directors have forgotten all about – he structures his film visually, using the editing suite to full advantage. His compositional work is remarkable.

Ex Machina (dir: Alex Garland)

Just as we are realising that technology’s grip is icy, and Google might not be our friend, along comes Alex Garland’s directorial debut, a dystopian slab of hard sci-fi in which geeky Domhnall Gleeson falls for robot Alicia Vikander while hipster tech uberlord Oscar Isaac looks on. A three-hander – give or take – getting perfect performances from all concerned, and it glistens like a tiny, beautifully cut gem.

Kajaki (dir: Paul Katis)

A gaggle of British squaddies with names like Tug, Spud and Smudge wander into a minefield and suddenly their casually homophobic banter is replaced by focused professionalism and a sharp interest in staying alive. Gruesomely tense, horrific in its depiction of the damage inflicted by IEDs, is this the best British war film since Ice Cold in Alex? It’s a great war film by any standards.

It Follows (dir: David Robert Mitchell)

Sexual intercourse as an engine of death isn’t new in horror films, but It Follows finds a simple and brilliant new way of telling the story all over again – zombies who are “slow but not dumb” and might appear any time, any place, anywhere, dressed in nightwear or perhaps not very much at all. A lurchingly subjective camera, expressionistic framing and Disasterpeace’s Wendy Carlos-alike score help rack up the intensity even further.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (dir: Ana Lily Amirpour)

The Muslim jilbab as a kind of vampire’s cape – what a brilliantly observed idea that is in one of the strangest horror films of recent times, which combines something of the mass-observation aesthetic of photographer Sebastião Salgado with the disjointed cool of early Jim Jarmusch. Shot entirely in California, yet clearly a film about and for Iran, it’s a fascinating, Middle Eastern take on the Let the Right One In “innocent vampire” genre.

Slow West (dir: John Maclean)

Michael Fassbender’s astonishing run continues with this out-of-nowhere debut by John Maclean, an exquisitely wrought western making clear its debt to old pulp novels and their love of hard-tack glamour and salty danger. Tense as hell, in fact the whole film is one long, slow build towards a great finale. And it looks the business too.

Aferim! (dir: Radu Jude)

There hasn’t been a great Romanian film for about ten minutes, but here’s a slightly different sort than what we’re used to – a historical picaresque following an 1830s cop and his son as they seek to capture a Gypsy and return him to his owner, a rich boyar whose wife has been too free with her favours. Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon inspires some of the look and pace of it, and Don Quixote is clearly also a reference, though Cervantes didn’t finish on as gruesomely gripping a high as this does.

Theeb (dir: Naji Abu Nowar)

It takes a while for it to sink in, but what we have in Theeb – as we follow the exploits of the youngest son of a Bedouin tribe in the Laurence of Arabia-era desert – is a story straight out of Rider Haggard territory. It’s the sort of ripping adventure that once upon a time emboldened Spielberg and Lucas to make Indiana Jones but is done without a cocked eyebrow here, with genuine danger, tough decisions, cruel fate and a bit of socio-economic background (the collapse of the Ottoman Empire) all adding spice.

Mommy (dir: Xavier Dolan)

With Tom at the Farm it became clear that Xavier Dolan was something of a genius. Mommy is further proof, a tough drama about the stumbling relationship of a flaky mother (Anne Dorval), her aggressive, firecracker ADHD teenage son (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) and their nervous neighbour (Suzanne Clément). It wears its emotions out there on a selfie stick – “fuck off” in this film often means “I love you” – and there are at least two scenes so powerful you might have to remind yourself to breathe.

Honourable Mentions

Victoria Almeida in What's Left of Us
Victoria Almeida drives the boys crazy in What’s Left of Us


Appropriate Behaviour (dir: Desiree Akhavan)

The life and times of a second generation Iranian, or of a confused bisexual, or of a girl in the big city, or of a struggling 20something – Desiree Akhavan gets it all just right in this through-the-fingers New York comedy.

Maps to the Stars (dir: David Cronenberg)

Still Alice won her the acting accolades, but Julianne Moore is actually better in this return to nightmarishness for David Cronenberg, as a fading star and member of a family for whom the term fucked really doesn’t cover it. The Player meets Sunset Boulevard.

Life After Beth (dir: Jeff Baena)

Aubrey Plaza gives it her absolute all as a newly dead zombie trying to have a relationship with old boyfriend Dane DeHaan – who finds her a whole lot more into him than she used to be – in a genuinely inventive comedy made all the better by the presence of John C Reilly and Molly Shannon as Plaza’s concerned parents. Dead funny.

The Tribe (dir: Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy)

Shot entirely in Lithuanian sign language, acted by first-timers and set in a school for the deaf where a new boy finds that the descriptor “sex and violence” barely covers what’s going on, this film sounds like a stunt – and it obviously is to some extent – but it’s a stunt that works. And the lack of dialogue is no bar to understanding when emotion this direct and action this unambiguous is concerned.

 The Babadook (dir: Jennifer Kent)

There’s a touch of The Innocents in this highly atmospheric Aussie horror about a mother driven to desperation by her needy child. Or is it the child we need to feel worried for? Sure, it goes slack in the middle, and becomes over-focused on telling us that writer/director Jennifer Kent has seen a whole load of old horror movies, but wait for the finale – barking, scary and brilliant.

The Book of Life (dir: Jorge R Gutierrez)

A Mexican flavoured animation with a Day of the Dead theme and a plot with a distinct Orpheus and Eurydice flavour – she’s dead and he goes after her into the underworld (ish). The visuals are spaghetti western meets Ren and Stimpy, the songs are jaunty and mariachi-flavoured and the voicework (Ice Cube in particular) is exemplary.

Pictures of the Old World (dir: Dusan Hanák)

“The best Slovak film ever made”, the reputation of Dusan Hanák’s disarmingly simple documentary from the early 1970s – about the dirt poor lives of ancient peasants up in the back of beyond – is entirely deserved. “I’m going to die this year, I can feel it,” says one old timer. And that’s what it’s about – quite starkly. Death.

Two Night Stand (dir: Max Nichols)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Pink Panther, It Happened One Night and The Dick Van Dyke Show are all in the mix in this subversive comedy about a girl (Analeigh Tipton) who has hook-up sex with a stranger (Miles Teller) and then gets stuck in his apartment. Old-school screwball romance follows, charmingly, smartly and at speed.

Predestination (dir: Michael and Peter Spierig)

Robert Heinlein’s sci-fi story All You Zombies provides the backbone for the Spierig brothers’ follow-up to the similarly idea-crammed Daybreakers, a “guy walks into a bar” tale of a hermaphrodite (Sarah Snook) who walks into Ethan Hawke’s bar and tells him a story about time travel and the paradoxes that erupt from it. Refreshingly hard sci-fi.

Frequencies aka OXV: The Manual (dir: Darren Paul Fisher)

Strip away the romance and what is human courtship about? Status, clearly, according to this lo-fi, highly fascinating film about “what happens when a high frequency meets a low frequency” – hot, smart girl meets average guy, in other words. It’s patchily acted and a bit speechy towards the end, but there are enough ideas in this bizarre film for about 12 Hollywood blockbusters.

 Turned towards the Sun (dir: Greg Olliver)

A simple and revelatory documentary about 90-something poet and Second World War hero Micky Burn, a long-form visual version of a Daily Telegraph obituary whose power lies in the richness of Burn’s Zelig-like life. He was – just one for-instance – the guy in the secret radio room at Colditz.

What’s Left of Us aka El Desierto (dir: Christoph Behl)

A simple but powerful Argentinian zombie movie about a girl, a boy and another boy all locked up together in a house while the world goes to hell in a handcart outside. And inside, it turns out, once sexual dynamics and the fallout of a fetid love triangle start to exert themselves. Victoria Almeida is a powerful and provocative lead, the sexy counterweight to the hothouse atmosphere of death.

Tusk (dir: Kevin Smith)

Kevin Smith reminds us how good he can be with a film about a guy (Justin Long) being turned into a walrus by a demented surgeon (Michael Parks) while his much-cheated-on girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) searches for him. A simple film, it somehow manages to be funny and appallingly gruesome at the same time.

Face of an Angel (dir: Michael Winterbottom)

Michael Winterbottom’s drama takes the bones of the Meredith Kercher/Amanda Knox case and constructs a brilliant meditation on the modus operandi of the media, as well as a modern-day Dante and Beatrice tale in which film-maker Daniel Brühl is smitten by virginal Cara Delevingne, as anyone watching probably will be too.

While We’re Young (dir: Noah Baumbach)

Not-as-young-as-they-once-were couple Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts try to keep up with hipsters Adam Horovitz and Amanda Seyfried in a very Jewish New York comedy – smart, dry, a touch bitter – about the importance of being not just true to yourself, but of doing this absolutely and totally properly.

 White God aka Fehér Isten (dir: Kornél Mudruczó)

Kicking off with a quote by Rilke, this unique Hungarian film is like a Disney animal flick about the adventures of a mongrel, except done as existential sci-fi – what exactly would happen if dogs had the same degree of consciousness that humans have?

The Salvation (dir: Kristian Levring)

Director Kristian Levring used to be a Dogme man, but shouts “I’m so over all that now” with this remarkable western that’s like a fusion of Sergio Leone, John Ford, Sam Peckinpah and Robert Aldrich, with a perfectly cast Mads Mikkelsen as a Clint Eastwood-alike quester after vengeance. If looks could kill…

Run All Night (dir: Jaume Collet-Serra)

Another of Liam Neeson’s geri-actioners, though this time he’s back with director Jaume Collet-Serra for a deliberately retro dash for the finish in which strong, silent Neeson takes on the good guys, the bad guys and eventually the whole of New York. Hugely overwrought, entirely satisfying, it’s genre done properly.

Still the Water aka Tutatsume no mado (dir: Naomi Kawase)

If Douglas Sirk had been Japanese he might have come up with this overheated love story about teenage lovers hedging towards full penetrative sex as the waves crash, storms rage and their families conspire against them. Leisurely, beautiful, lusty and lovely, an unusual mix of the entirely natural and the gigantically metaphorical.

Phoenix (dir: Christian Petzold)

The latest of a string of dark, intelligent films that director Christian Petzold and actor Nina Hoss have made together is a revenge drama set in the aftermath of the Second World War where Hoss, just released from a death camp, is recruited by her own husband to play his dead wife – he doesn’t recognise her, obviously – and she plays along. Oh deary deary me.

 Marshland aka La Isla Mínima (dir: Alberto Rodriguez)

Stunningly good-looking policier about an ageing Franco-supporting cop and his younger more democratic sidekick investigating a murder out in the photogenic Guadalquivir marshes in 1980. Brilliantly acted and shot, with locations and music to match, it even does a car chase in an entirely new way. Did I mention how good it looks?

Little Accidents (dir: Sara Colangelo)

Old school 1970s-style humane ensemble drama with a standout Boyd Holbrook as a survivor of a terrible mining disaster whose testimony about the event at an upcoming hearing is going to decide the futures of a whole lot of people in town. An ambling drawl of a movie, with Elizabeth Banks and Jacob Lofland almost as good as Holbrook, surely a star of 2016.

 Turbo Kid (dir: François Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoan-Karl Whissell)

Utterly on-the-nail pastiche of 1980s straight-to-VHS movie-making, a post-apocalyptic Total Recall meets Mad Max story of a BMX-riding kid, called Kid, gaining special powers, falling for a special girl (a special Laurence Leboeuf) and saving the world. Funny and gory, with in-jokes for nerds, and a fabulous John Carpenter-like soundtrack by Le Matos.

Mad Max: Fury Road (dir: George Miller)

Pedal-to-the-metal furious punk-funk madness, with a barely speaking Tom Hardy as Max, the road warrior on the road with badass Charlize Theron (the film’s real star) while director George Miller obsessively choreographs the relentless chase/action mayhem around them.

Tomorrowland (dir: Brad Bird)

Whatever happened to the futurism of jet packs and flying cars? Brad Bird answers the question with jaw-dropping visuals in a modern-day Wizard of Oz quest-adventure coolly received by critics with ass/elbow disassociation disorder.

Cop Car (dir: Jon Watts)

Another of those great Kevin Bacon movies he comes up with every few years, with our guy as a really bad cop on the trail of a couple of kids who have nicked his car, unaware there’s something in the boot they really don’t want to be discovering. A high-concept B movie of real distinction, lean, simple and with smart, believable dialogue, especially for the kids.

Palio (dir: Cosima Spender)

A remarkable documentary about the Palio, a horse race run in Siena, Italy, twice a year, which takes such pains to introduce us to its characters – chiefly, the young buck hoping to steal the grizzled champion’s crown – that when the race kicks off, you’re really in the medieval square with the riders.

 Minions (dir: Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin)

After the boring Despicable Me 2, who’d have thought that a spin-off – the backstory of Gru’s little yellow helpers – would have worked this well. Brilliantly animated and written, it’s a breathless, idea-packed, funny, inventive animated comedy.

I Believe in Miracles (dir: Jonny Owen)

Even if you have no interest in the 1970s, or British football, or managerial legend Brian Clough, this documentary about his astonishing success and idiosyncratic style will have you hooked. “The most charismatic man I ever met,” says one former player, part of the team of underdogs he willed to European Cup success, twice.

And if you want to watch or buy any of the films, this Amazon link will allow you to do just that – enjoy!

I am an Amazon affiliate

© Steve Morrissey 2015

5 October 2015-10-05

Britt Robertson in Tomorrowland: A World Beyond


Out This Week



Tomorrowland (Disney, cert 12)

When did we give up on believing in the future? Can we believe again? Writer Damon Lindelof sets out to tackle the turn to postmodernism – the most significant philosophical cultural shift in the West for a century – in a big, multiplex popcorn film. George Clooney is postmodernity incarnate, who as an eager, inventive little boy called Frank went to the 1964 New York World’s Fair (the high point of modernity and its showcase event) and met a young girl called Athena, was wowed both by her and by the scientific marvels he saw there. Then was wowed some more when he was granted access to an even more spiffy world where cars flew and people wore figure-hugging fashions, no one was obese and everyone seemed happy. Cut to 40 or so years later, where disappointed Frank – the future didn’t turn out the way he expected – is being tracked down by a sparky Casey (Britt Robertson), the latest person recruited by that same little girl to try and kickstart the future again. Many many adventures are had as this little team of Frank, Casey and Athena head off on a Wizard of Oz style quest and eventually meet the Wizard aka Nix (Hugh Laurie), the guy with the answers to the whole stalled future problem. It’s perhaps this “wha?” aspect to the plot – the big idea – that has prevented so many reviewers from giving this film its full due. Quite simply, and quite unfairly, Tomorrowland has been judged to a higher standard than, say, an Avengers movie, and so on Rotten Tomatoes, or wherever, its scores are a bit disappointing. Because, my god, this is an exhilarating ride: fun and visually a wow, thoughtful and smart, with so many upsides that you want to grab those “meh” reviewers and ask them what exactly it is that they want. In Britt Robertson we have the perfect girl-next-door heroine (and how often does a young woman carry a film?), Clooney dons a Harrison Ford persona as the gruff but essentially decent grown-up (referring to Casey as “kid” in finest Han Solo style), director Brad Bird serves the whole thing up as a feast of visual CG/live action crossover so accomplished that it’s hard to see the join, and by going for 1960s retro-modernist styling, he’s pretty much futureproofed the film too. Lindelof, meanwhile, has space for digressions – the scene in a shop selling sci-fi fanboy memorabilia stands out – has fun with history, and even deals with an overt bit of product placement by Coca Cola with a deft deflection. Downsides? I don’t share Disney’s faith in the orchestra for soundtracks, but then Daft Punk can’t be everywhere, and, yes, the big finale is a bit of an emotional gush. But I bet it brings a tear to your eye. Because, in this film, more or less every target Lindelof and Bird set out to hit, they hit.

Tomorrowland: A World Beyond – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




Mad Max: Fury Road (Warner, cert 15)

This was never going to be easy – relaunching a franchise which was tied heart and soul to the punk ethos. But director/co-writer George Miller, realising the adaptability of what he’d created in the 1980s, and with just the tiniest tinker under the bonnet, turns out a Mad Max for the 21st century, one that’s absorbed the Fast and Furious and the Bourne franchises and is ready to race it out across photogenic Australian desert all over again. And that’s all this is – a race. Tom Hardy spends much of the early part of the film trapped in an iron mask – a little joke about the number of “mumbling” roles? – leaving the film pretty much to Charlize Theron, as the driver and honcho of this gigantic behemoth of a truck which is being pursued by a “very bad man” (Theron’s words, and another Miller joke, about the perfunctoriness of his script) who wants the harem of escaped lovelies she has in tow. Few words are said, many scowls are exchanged, and Miller gives us desert sequences and lots of action, much pedalling to the metal, lithe clambering under the truck moving at speed, and Nicholas Hoult as an eye candy Max-in-training. But forget the skeletal bad guys, in fact it’s the attention to mechanical detail that is the most gratifying thing about this film, and why it works so well. Miller tells us how things work, why they stay together rather than flying off into space, which makes it all the more gratifying when they actually do fly off into space, or barrel off into the desert in flames. He gives us a mechanical ballet, frequently set to a classical or operatic soundtrack, and his camera and editing choices work at the level of poetry of a particularly kinetic sort. Occasionally you can spot that the big truck is moving a lot slower than is suggested, and now and again you might spot a model being used, but these details are forgivable, I’d say, because the mood is right, the pace is right and the title is right too – this is all about fury.

Mad Max: Fury Road – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




Turbo Kid (Lionsgate, cert 15)

Retro in every respect, from the VHS style opening credits, to its “this is the future – this is 1997” serious voiceover, its Rocky style theme music of strangled vocals and screaming guitars, down to the casting of the fabulous Michael Ironside, the villain in Total Recall, as another villain here, the overlord of some post-apocalyptic world where water is in short supply and Ironside’s Zeus (hey, aim high) controls it. In this skanky world of privation moves The Kid (Munro Chambers), a teenager with a love of comic books, in particular tales of Turbo Rider, a mythical personage who turns out to have been real after all – The Kid finds Turbo Rider’s downed superhero vehicle and dons his apparel, at roughly the same time as he comes into the orbit of Apple (Laurence Lebeouf), a pretty girl of staggering naivety but so big-hearted the Kid is strongly inclined to let her tag along. Together these two, obviously, are going to fall in love and take on the might of Zeus and his henchman Skeletron, save the day, free the water and so on. Give this one a few minutes, because at first its obvious cheapness and the wobbly acting might have your hand hovering over the stop button. But once it finds its feet it’s a real charmer – a film smiling from ear to ear as it warmly homages the era it’s pastiching. The leads are unaffected, the jokes are witty – ranging from tiny allusions to Soylent Green to physical comedy about unintended consequences, such as an assailant rushing towards Kid and Apple with the intention of knifing them, tripping over and stabbing himself through the eye. Which brings us to the gore, which is spectacular and cartoonish – bodies cut up as if by a mad butcher fly through the air, blood cannonades out of neck wounds, and so on. And everyone – everyone – rides a BMX bike, as if this were BMX Bandits remade by Peter Jackson in his Bad Taste era.

Turbo Kid – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




Danny Collins (E One, cert 15)

Just when you think Al Pacino will never do anything worth watching ever again, along comes Danny Collins, a supreme example of Pacino at his best, playing a coke-snorting, brandy-chugging rocker getting his mojo back. The backstory is based on a true one – about John Lennon writing an up-and-coming musician a letter in the early 1970s, a few lines of encouragement plus an observation about the important things in life (Imagine no possessions, being the gist). But… the letter went unreceived for decades. As in real life, so in this film, ageing, sold-out, lounge-lizard Collins gets the letter, bought for him by his corny, loveable manager (Christopher Plummer, again just pulsing out charisma), a letter which forces him to appraise his life thus far. Sickened with what he’s become, he checks into a cheap (for him) hotel and starts trying to write a few songs, stuff from the heart. The songs all sound like Imagine crossed with My Way, and that tone of mawkish “love me and my tiny violin” does tend to pervade the film. So when Collins tries to reconnect with his son (Bobby Cannavale) – product of a one-night stand many years before – the breast-beating tom-toms get going, when what we clearly most want to see is Al turning the charm right up, singing a few songs (he’s not bad), having a bantery relationship with hotel manager Annette Bening (touching and believable – because she resists) and the general “we’re not worthiness” of the civilians Collins comes across as he moves through the unfamiliar world of the cheapish hotel lobbies he’s now chosen to inhabit. With an edit this would be a classic in the It’s a Wonderful Life vein. Even without one, it’s a lovely film, particularly if you’re a Pacino fan. And aren’t we all when he’s on form?

Danny Collins – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




London Road (Spirit, cert 15)

Something a bit different – a musical based on an actual spree by a serial killer in Ipswich in 2006. Steve Wright killed five women, all prostitutes, and the events and the effect it had on the residents of the rundown area of London Road were turned into a piece of musical verbatim theatre by Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork, with Rufus Norris directing at the National Theatre in London. It was a big hit, so a film version always seemed likely, even though this isn’t going to be everyone’s idea of a comfy night out, or in. First let’s dispense with Tom Hardy, who should be renamed Tom Hardly, because he’s barely in this filmed version, appearing as a cab driver for a few minutes near the beginning, then again for a few seconds near the end. Olivia Colman, surely the hottest thing on British TV right now, is in it, though, as one of the many curtain-twitching residents being interviewed and singing their remarks, often directly to camera. Rufus Norris remains the director of the film, graduating from the more soap-based “grim report from the suburbs” drama of his last film, Broken, to show himself a dapper director of the musical – his camera has fluidity, his lively ensemble numbers work as well as his more mournful solo pieces, often shot on sofas in living rooms, where the likes of Colman or Anita Dobson (formerly of EastEnders) express some often rather uncomfortable opinions – about the dead girls being slags, and worse. Sympathy is there, but it’s in short supply and is mostly supplied by sung testimony from the girls themselves. Musically you’d pitch it on Sondheim’s lawn – rhythmic and extrapolating the cadences of the news bulletin or “well I never” gossip exchanged over back garden walls to create melodies. Because of this fidelity to source, London Road works very well, though it’s a strange and macabre experience. Fascinating is the word so often used for this level of “entertainment” – where the subliminal is doing a lot of the dramatic driving – and fascinating is what I’ll reach for here, too.

London Road – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




The Physician (Arrow, cert 15)

And now for something very familiar – a big old school, cast-of-thousands epic that straddles continents and reaches back into a past epoch. Well, close half an eye and we’re there, because this is a German production (by Ufa, no less, studio of Murnau, Lang, Sternberg and Lubitsch) and so hasn’t quite the budget of a big Hollywood piece. But then I’m not so sure Hollywood would be quite so keen to embrace what Ufa are up to here, which is a defence of rationalism, the enlightenment and learning, as told in the story of a young medieval English orphan (Tom Payne, another capable Hugh Dancy type) who winds up being the student of the great Islamic polymath, physician and scholar Ibn-Sena aka Avicenna (Ben Kingsley). It is a lovely unashamed work of filmic theatre and I thoroughly enjoyed every cent of its slightly paltry $36 million budget, particularly the early scenes, where Payne’s Rob is taken under the wing of travelling huckster/barber Stellan Skarsgård and is taught the basics of the trade – which include amputations between the carousing and wenching. This medieval background is painted in more detail than anything that follows, the drama then moving at pace as Rob abandons the mud and misery of England for the ringlets and skullcaps of the Jews, moving rapidly on to the camel jockeys of the Middle East as he makes his way into Islamic territory – circumcising himself en route – so he can pass undetected as an infidel. Everything is done in the broadest of sweeps and you’re either going to give it a by – as I did – or object to the speed of the storytelling. Having met and been taken on by Avicenna, Rob invents the study of anatomy, for instance, divines the vectors of bubonic plague, pleads for religious relativism with Zoroastrians. So, yes, it’s a bit schematic, but Kingsley delivers gravitas as Ibn-Sena, standing in for Jack Hawkins or Rex Harrison or Peter Ustinov. I could do with less of Olivier Martinez, the wickedly handsome Frenchman who is currently Mr Halle Berry, as the dastardly local Shah. But he’s actually totemic of the whole thing, which is unafraid to just block out the entire drama and leave us to add the nuance. Maybe it was the Moroccan locations I liked so much.

The Physician – Watch it/buy it at Amazon




Shooting for Socrates (Soda, cert PG)

In 1986 Northern Ireland, on one of their momentary David and Goliath jaunts, took on Brazil in their last Group D game of the World Cup in Mexico. They lost, of course. Is that a spoiler? I don’t think so, because if this tiny team had won, it would have been etched in the annals of football legend unto the crack of doom. Suffice to say that they played and didn’t disgrace themselves. I’m not sure the same can be said about this film, which has good intentions but doesn’t seem to know how to go about creating what is trying to be a feelgood Full Monty knock-off. It’s a strong cast though, with John Hannah as charismatic manager Billy Bingham, and the likes of Richard Dormer and Conleth Hill providing the sort of thespian welly that the screenplay seems coy about delivering. We’re reminded, for example, in frequent flashbacks to the working-class streets of Northern Ireland, that there is a religious/ethnic divide, which has fuelled years of strife, in snapshots of life inside a nice Protestant family and a nice Catholic family, each just trying to make the best of a bad situation. Do we learn, though, that the football team – which this film is meant to be about – also contained Catholics and Protestants? We do not. And there – life in microcosm, conflict on the field of play, teamwork, better together than apart – are the metaphorical pegs on which to hang this film, which instead swings back and forth between “back home” and the preparations for the big game, desperately trying to tie the two distinct geographies together. Manager Billy Bingham’s wife features, for no reason that makes any sense, unless the film is actually about him, and I’ve missed something. All in all it’s about as convincing as the large number of bad 1980s wigs on display. As for Socrates, it’s the Brazilian player the title refers to, not the philosopher, though god help us if there isn’t an attempt to tie those two together as well.

Shooting for Socrates – Watch it/buy it at Amazon





© Steve Morrissey 2015