Review: The Farewell 

DIR/WRI:  Lulu Wang • DOP: Anna Franquesa Solano • ED: Matt Friedman, Michael Taylor • DES: Yong Ok Lee • PRO: Anita Gou, Daniele Tate Melia, Andrew Miano, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Chris Weitz, Jane Zheng • MUS: Alex Weston • CAST: Awkwafina, Shuzhen Zhou, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Chen Han, Aoi Mizuhara

Based on the real experiences of writer/director Wang, the twist in The Farewell is revealed immediately when Billi (Awkwafina) learns that her beloved grandmother “Nai Nai” (Shuzhen Zhou) has received a fatal cancer diagnosis. But, as is common within the Chinese culture, Nai Nai isn’t not being told about her fate. 

Instead, the family are all going to assemble for a hastily-advanced wedding between youngsters Hao Hao (Chen Han) and Aiko (Aoi Mizuhara). It’s the perfect ruse for a big bash and for everyone to say their – secret – goodbyes to the family matriarch.

Billi of course wants to fly from New York like her parents (Tzi Ma and Diana Lin) are doing, but they reckon, what with news about a scholarship coming and the fact that she’s still single and living cheque to cheque, perhaps she should stay put. 

More than that, having been bought up in America, she surely won’t be able to keep her composure and dignity like a good Chinese girl: she’s bound to let the cat out of the bag.

Billi has other ideas, and, arriving at what’s essentially a tragic/happy reunion, she (and us) are then taken on a funny but often deeply emotional journey as we find that she isn’t the only one who has misgivings about this “good lie”.

Awkwafina is about as far from her role in Crazy Rich Asians as she can be here, and we’re with her all the way.  More than that, the delicate direction and the astoundingly good supporting cast – all of whom have their moment – make you complicit in the secret and you begin to wonder: should they tell Nai Nai? 

You’ll have to go to find out what happens, but bring some tissues along with you! 

James Bartlett

100′ 10″
PG (see IFCO for details)

The Farewell  is released 16th August 2019

The Farewell – Official Website




Film Ireland Goes to the Heart of Alaska

Image: B1999.14.1210D, Hilscher Collection, Atwood Resource Center, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, Anchorage, AK.


James Bartlett found himself in Fairbanks, Alaska and learned about the single most powerful businessman in the Territory of Alaska and its richest resident, Austin “Cap” Lathrop, who would have a role to play in the territory’s film history. 

Ireland may be famous for its weather, but it struggles to hold a candle to the freezing extremes of Alaska. Fairbanks is the second-largest city in Alaska, and, due to its location right in the center of the state, is nicknamed “The Golden Heart.” 

Alaska is enormous, too. Twice the size of Texas, I was surprised to learn that it only became a US state in 1959. Until the discovery of gold (and later oil), the purchase of this frozen, largely-uninhabited landmass was famously derided as a folly.  

Hollywood rarely comes to Fairbanks, though a number of its landmarks did feature in the Oscar-nominated 2007 film Into the Wild. Directed by Sean Penn, it looked at the life of Christopher McCandless, a young man searching for adventure who died in the Alaskan wilds he had made his temporary outdoor home. 

On a recent visit to Fairbanks I saw several of the locations that featured in the film, including a couple of evenings in the shamrock-friendly Big I pub (you just can’t get away from Irish pubs, no matter where you are).  

Inside I heard stories of fur trapping, driving across the ice on the frozen Chena River (there was only one two-way steel bridge), and how travel by small plane is still as common as ever.  I also learned that Fairbanks was once home to a film mogul named Austin “Cap” Lathrop.

Lathrop first made inroads into Alaska in 1895, when his steamship bought supplies – and prospective miners – to the territory. He later invested in mining and oil, and in 1911 he converted a clothing store into his first Empress film theatre in the city of Valdez.

He opened other Empress-named cinemas, including the all-concrete one in Fairbanks (1927), where he also bought out the owners of the rather forlorn-looking Lacey Street Theater (both now long replaced by a multiplex). 

Lacey Street

He had radio and newspaper interests in Fairbanks and beyond too, but in 1924 he was the driving force behind adventure-drama film The Chechahcos (the title meaning “tenderfoot” or “new arrival”). 

Many Alaskan stories had been seen on the big screen, but they didn’t shoot on location. Lathrop, as president of the Alaska Motion Picture Corporation, wanted to change that. They announced plans for the production of a 12-reel picture – three of which were to be shot in Alaska – as a co-production with Oregon-based American Lithograph.  A large studio was built in Anchorage, and the crew from Hollywood, New York and Oregon flew in to work on the melodramatic story of gold-rush days. 

Every effort was made for full authenticity, and actors and crew alike faced the challenges of shooting on location, including a final chase involving mushing, a frozen river and a glacier – all of it real. Many local actors were hired, and others lined up to help and to work as extras (a story familiar to the countless hundreds or more who picked up work on the many years that “Game of Thrones” shot in Northern Ireland). Pathe-International bought the rights, and it was screened at the White House for the President before being released across America.

Hopes were high and reviews favorable, but audiences weren’t impressed (and the unusual title probably didn’t help either). Some, however, noticed that Charlie Chaplin’s 1925 comedy The Gold Rush might have been influenced by it, and in 2003 it was selected by the National Film Preservation Board.


Lathrop died in an accident in 1950, but he did live on in perhaps Fairbanks’ most famous film. Released in 1960, Ice Palace was partly shot in Fairbanks, and featured a cast that included Richard Burton and Robert Ryan. 

Based on the 1958 novel by Edna Ferber, it saw rich businessman “Czar” Kennedy (played by Burton) and Thor Storm (Ryan) as two friends and rivals living in “Baranof,” a growing city looking towards statehood.  “Baranof” was greatly inspired by Fairbanks, and Czar was based on the life of “Cap” Lathrop. 

Northward Building

In 1950 a new, swish, eight-story apartment complex called the Northward Building had been built in Fairbanks. It was home to the city’s elite, and a very-similar building was Czar’s home in the pages of the book.  Writer Edna Ferber was fresh off the success of her previous novel Giant (and the subsequent James Dean film), but this movie version was a flop.   

Though it has lost almost all its lustre, the Northward Building still pays tribute to its moment in the spotlight: the hallway is lined with posters, newspaper articles and copies of the book. Locals still call “The Ice Palace”. 

Perhaps the best show in Fairbanks is the Aurora Borealis, which can be seen – weather conditions permitting – on many nights of the year here, thanks to that central location. I was lucky enough to catch a pre-winter glimpse….



Currently based in Los Angeles, James Bartlett is a story analyst for the Sundance Institute, the Nicholl Fellowships, the UCLA Professional Screenwriting Program, the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards and National Geographic Films. He also reads for several UK regions, is the US consultant for Euroscript, and lectures across the UK and Ireland.

He’s available for private consultation at


Review: Framing John DeLorean

James Bartlett gets behind the wheel of Framing John DeLorean.

Even if you’re not a petrol head, you definitely know the car he designed. Stainless steel silver, gull-wing doors, and it travels through time when it reaches 88 mph…

Okay, that last bit isn’t true, but you know I’m talking about the DeLorean DMC-12, the amazing-looking sports car that took Marty and Doc flying Back to the Future in the 1985 movie and its two sequels.

What fewer people know is that John DeLorean was arrested in an FBI sting at a Los Angeles hotel and charged with conspiracy to obtain and distribute 55 pounds of cocaine in 1982 – yes, several years before the car became a movie icon. The factory had been in production for barely a year or so, but his glamorous image, model wife and celebrity endorsements didn’t look like it was going to be enough to save it from closure. Those 55 pounds of cocaine were apparently his desperate attempt to get some big money – fast.   

That factory? It was in a suburb of Belfast. Yes, the DeLorean cars were all made in Belfast, during some of the worst days of “The Troubles.” And a huge chunk of the money invested in DeLorean’s venture had come from the British government. But on that night in 1982, the party was over.

DeLorean was acquitted on the drugs charge, but questions about many missing millions never went away, and what you could call the Tesla of its day seemed destined to be a quirky museum exhibit.

A superstar automotive executive, a dream to start a new economical and environmentally-conscious car company, millions of dollars, drugs, sectarian violence, disgrace, and Hollywood magic.  How has this story not been filmed before?

It’s a question that opens Framing John DeLorean, a documentary that’s slightly different in that it talks to the actors playing the roles in the reenactment sequences.  It also talks to a number of people who were involved in the whole escapade: designers, engineers, still-disappointed factory workers, lawyers, the FBI agent, the informer who drew DeLorean into the sting, and others.

Was DeLorean a visionary undone by bad luck, or a con man on the make?

The most interesting moments – which, like the reenactments, you wish there were more of – see Baldwin talking off-camera (usually in the make-up chair) about how he approached the role, and what he thinks DeLorean must have felt as his dream crumbled about him.

Those reenactments – often matching shot-for-shot directly from archive footage – really bring the story to life, though it’s of course the interviews with the actual people (and especially DeLorean’s children), that bring the story home.

DeLorean’s fame – and then infamy – clearly crushed his son and daughter. Their parents divorced immediately after the court verdict, and they suffered jokes and media attention all their young lives. More than that, their father was actively looking to bring his car company back right up until his own death in 2005, and it seems they often felt they came second or third in his affections.

DeLorean the company still lives, by the way.  Liverpudlian Stephen Wynne bought all the remaining parts in a bankruptcy sale in 1997, and his repair facilities in several US cities are always booked up months in advance. He’s waiting for government approval to go back into limited production, and has improved everything under the bonnet and elsewhere for a 21st century version.

There are still rabid fans and collectors across the world as well, and strong reviews for Framing John DeLorean at Tribeca led to the news that George Clooney’s Smokehouse Productions is planning a project, with Clooney directing and maybe starring.

Also, 2018’s Driven, which was directed by Belfast’s own Nick Hamm and looked at the relationship between DeLorean and that confidential informant, has just been picked up for North American distribution.

Wherever John Z. DeLorean is now, he’s surely happy about it all.


Framing John DeLorean is released on VOD 7th  June 7 2019




The Movie Brothers – Part I: John Houlihan

John and Patrick Houlihan at Newsman Scoring Stage at 20th Century Fox Studios (pic: John Houlihan)


The Movie Brothers – Part I: John Houlihan


James Bartlett


In honour of St. Patrick’s Day, we interviewed two brothers – John and Patrick Houlihan – who not only both live in Southern California and both have the same job as a music supervisor, but they also both work at 20th Century Fox film studios.

As the oldest of the two, we chose John to go first. Like Patrick, he is Senior Vice President of Music at Fox, and his credits include John Wick 1 and 2, the Deadpool and Austin Powers movies, Atomic Blonde, The Shape of Water and many more movies and television shows. He’s also the co-founder and past president of the Guild of Music Supervisors.   

He was born in upstate New York, “just a couple miles away from where my Great-Great Grandfather lived when he arrived from Ireland in 1867.” In the 1970s the family relocated to New Jersey, which was where he mainly grew up and graduated High School. “It was a rowdy upbringing, being one of five siblings with awesome parents,” he remembers.  

He now lives in Studio City, California, with his wife of 20 years Julie, and three teenage sons. “Daily life is like a sitcom without cameras,” he says, then admits that his official press-release age will stay “mid to late 40s” for as long as he can manage it.

John noted that the Houlihans “are a part of the great Irish diaspora: out of sight but not out of mind,” and that everything has changed in recent years.

“I’ve become obsessed with trying to confirm the Irish towns, churches and neighborhoods where my ancestors once dwelled – it seems around Tipperary. Fortunately for me and my brothers I’ve hit a research wall, so it seems like we need to travel over for a pub crawl across Ireland in order to find the original parish records that hold our family origin story. We’ll bring my 13-year-old son to be our designated driver!” he laughs.    

Both brothers have visited Ireland before, and John’s first trip was part of his honeymoon. “We both fell in love with the people and the land,” he says.

A few years later in 2004, John returned to Ireland – this time thanks to his career. He was working with legendary Irish writer-director Jim Sheridan on the biopic Get Rich or Die Tryin’, which was partially edited in Dublin after shooting in Toronto.  

But what does a music supervisor do? In brief, they get a script and asses the music needs for the story; what the composer might produce, what songs should be used in the background, or in montages, or even sung by characters.    

“There is no such thing as a typical day,” said John, “and that’s why it is a dream job for us.”

Explaining further, he said that they “do the craziest things behind the scenes to help the vision of filmmakers and musicians come true. We jump into the fray and help a dozen different creative people agree on the best music approach for a film when everyone has their own highly subjective take.”

A large amount of time is spent on the business side of things too. Permission and (sometimes large) payments are necessary to use any song that’s still in copyright, but countless other factors can come into play and change everything. As a rule, the more famous the song, the more expensive it will be to use.  

“We can’t just think of music ideas; we need to deliver those ideas by creating new recordings that make movie magic, oversee the formal copyright clearance deals and manage limited budgets.”

John remembered helping a director get $2,000,0000 worth of licensed music choices into their final film on a music budget of $500,000, and said that there have been some strange moments too.

“I was tip-toeing down a recording studio hallway past two snoozing, 300 lb., 6 foot 6-inch-tall, bodyguards so I could crash a recording session and close a song deal with a famous rapper,” he remembers, adding that he even once meditated himself into a deep trance to send a beam of energy across America to Aretha Franklin so she would approve use of one her songs.

“And it worked too!” he laughs.

John – or his brother – can be working on up to a dozen movies simultaneously, “and sometimes we’re juggling 101 problems. We try to flow with it all, and be like improvisational jazz musicians. Coming from a big family was good practice,” he says.  

Though the world of the movies might be a secret to many of us, there is one thing professionals and public alike can relate to: how music has changed from being a physical form (vinyl, cassettes, CDs) to online streaming and computer files.

“I’ve received well over 100,000 CDs over the years from companies and artists pitching their music for use in film and TV,” says John, admitting that he occasionally had joyful clear-outs, junking countless silver discs.

Nevertheless, he’s been unable to go entirely cold-turkey. He tries to be as online and digital as possible in his day-to-day listening, but he and Julie (who, unbelievably, is a music supervisor too) still have some 40,000 CDs in their garage.

He half-jokingly says he expects to end up on a “Hoarders” reality television show one day, “clutching a David Bowie CD set as their psychologist tries to talk me into finally throwing everything away.”

More seriously, he notes that while a large majority of the history of popular music is available online, around 15% or so has not yet – and may never – make the migration to digital, so having as much available as possible gives him every opportunity to find that “homerun” song.

Talking further about work, it was impossible not to ask John about the pros and cons of working with his brother Patrick every day.

John wonders if their boss was “out of her mind to hire two Houlihans,” but then admits that it’s “definitely is fun to see my brother every day, and get the chance to collaborate with him on major film projects.”

Then came the inevitable sibling joshing.

“Patrick himself will tell you that I’m absolutely the smarter, funnier and clearly more handsome of the two of us – not to mention my athletic superiority!” boasts John.

John worked in the industry from his early days – booking bands for school festivals and working as a college radio DJ – and then, after graduating college, he started an artist management company and independent record label in New Jersey.

The two brothers have also worked together for many years; John was manager of Patrick’s indie rock band Daisyhaze in Washington, DC, though in 1992 John was the first to move to Los Angeles with the express purpose to get into music supervision.

He had just $200 in his pocket then, but in time he hired Patrick at a small company he co-founded, and the story continued with Julie and yet another of their brothers, Kevin, joining them (his expertise being in music licensing).  

As John says, “there must be a music secret sauce recipe in the Houlihan’s!”   

It could have been very different, though. John says that when he was in college, he started a house-painting company during summer vacation, and found he had a real knack for it.

“I am at inner peace when I’m painting a house, especially the windows and trim,” he said, adding that his work once moved a watching woman to tears. “I’ll admit she possibly had a drinking problem, but it was still a nice compliment!”

It seems that ultimately then he took the right path, but as for the future, he has an Irish dream that’s not related to music:

“To buy a home on the water in Kinsale. So, if in 20 years you see an old guy in a beat-up fishing boat puttering around the River Bandon before heading to the pub, that will be me.”

Next we talk to Patrick and learn his story…


Review: Red Sparrow

DIR: Francis Lawrence •  WRI: Justin Haythe • PRO: Peter Chernin, David Ready, Jenno Topping, Steven Zaillian  DOP: Jo Willems • ED: Alan Edward Bell • MUS: James Newton Howard • DES: Maria Djurkovic • CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Egerton, Matthias Schoenaerts

When her ballet career comes to a sudden end, young Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence) finds her home – and care for her sick mother (Joely Richardson) – all at risk, but her creepy Uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts) has a solution: work for the shadowy Russian security services.

Under the tutelage of the unforgiving Matron (Charlotte Rampling), Dominika joins the latest class of “Sparrows,” a group of men and women taught to use sex as a weapon, and Dominika is a quick learner, not afraid to use her brains, brawn and other assets.

Elsewhere in Moscow, CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Egerton) sees his ace double-agent nearly exposed, and now it looks like he’s off the case and headed back to the USA – but luckily he gets another shot, and, of course, he’s the first target for Dominika

The pair quickly meet and soon realize exactly what the other is up to, but those sparks seem to be there – so there’s going to be trouble ahead. Then again, who is Dominika loyal to, and will she let her feelings for Nate overcome her love for the Motherland?

Ponderous and lacking the action and thrills we might have expected from such a story, director Lawrence (no relation; though he did helm several of the Hunger Games films) tries hard to make full use of the rather gorgeous Budapest scenery, and the action (or rather not) seems to switch from Vienna to London and more Euro hotspots.

Yes there’s nudity – and more than that, several violent scenes – but the whole tone seems like a 1980s affair, with a standard Russian cartoonish accent from Lawrence, many twists that are confusingly predictable (you’ll NEVER guess who the mole is!) and a subplot involving the sale of a defence system that comes on a series of computer disks (yes, the square disks used 20-30 years ago).

Quite how such an impressive supporting cast was assembled (Jeremy Irons, Ciaran Hinds, Mary-Louise Parker, Douglas Hodge) isn’t clear, but maybe they all thought the adaptation might be a Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy-style spin on the book by Jason Matthews.

Sadly, in the century of Bourne, the recent Atomic Blonde (and the ever-present Bond), this Mata Hari idea seems past its sell-by date. Maybe it needed a “B” in the title…


James Bartlett

16 (See IFCO for details)

139 minutes
Red Sparrow is released 1st March 2018

Red Sparrow– Official Website




Review: Game Night


DIR: John Francis Daley,  Jonathan Goldstein •  WRI: Mark Perez • PRO: Jason Bateman, John Fox, James Garavente  DOP: Barry Peterson • ED: David Egan, Jamie Gross, Gregory Plotkin • MUS: Cliff Martinez • DES: Michael Corenblith • CAST: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Jesse Plemons, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Sharon Horgan, Billy Magnusson

Fiercely competitive couple Max (Bateman) and Annie (McAdams) have put the snacks out, the beers are in the fridge, and once their friends Kevin and Michelle (Morris and Bunbury) and dunderhead Ryan (Magnusson) arrive, their weekly Game Night can begin.

Then Max’s more successful, charismatic and better-looking brother Brooks (Chandler) screeches up in his red sportscar, tipping off intense cop neighbor Gary (Plemons) that, once again, he and his little dog Sebastian have been excluded from the festivities.

Brooks insists the group come to his fab rented place for the next Game Night, and, once assembled – with Sarah (Horgan) now Ryan’s date – he tells them they’re going to be taking part in a murder/mystery that will see one of them “kidnapped,” and a race for everyone else to find the clues, rescue the “victim,” save the day (and of course: WIN!).

Moments later a nearly-convincing FBI agent appears and tells them a team of kidnappers are in the area, before, on cue, a gun-toting pair of thugs arrive. Quaffing champers and nibbling cheese, Annie et al watch the very convincing punch-up between the thugs and Brooks that follows, and when Brooks is manhandled out the door they break into applause. Max is fuming that his brother is, as ever, the star of the show, but there’s no time for that as the three couples open the first clue and the chase begins. He and Annie are soon at the head of the pack – and so they’re the ones who discover that everything is not what it seems…

Unexpectedly amusing and engaging, Game Night is an adult caper movie with a clear tone and even a strong, pacy directorial style from Daley and Goldstein, writers of Horrible Bosses, who are now stepping up to directing.

Screenwriter Mark Perez deserves great credit too (he’s very much left one of his previous credits, Lindsay Lohan-starrer Herbie: Fully Loaded in the rear-view mirror) by crafting a third act that was especially full of good twists and surprises.

There were some missteps, like the unnecessary “having a baby” subplot, but the cast are game and seemingly having fun (Horgan plays her always-welcome “Catastrophe” persona, and there are a number of tiny parts and cameos to spot too).

Overall, this is an enjoyable romp that’s worth a look – if only to find out whether being a pub quiz ace and having serious skills at Pictionary or Charades can really help you when your up against international criminals.


James Bartlett

15A (See IFCO for details)

99 minutes
Game Night is released 2nd March 2018

Game Night – Official Website





Review: Lady Bird

Ahead of its February release here, and to celebrate Saoirse Ronan’s Golden Globe win, James Bartlett takes a look at Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird.


The state capital of California, Sacramento is a tree-rich hipster place for many, but when you’re a broke tantrummy teenager stuck in a Catholic school with low grades and a University place well off the table, the location is unimportant.

17-year-old teenager Christine (Ronan) hates her hometown, and insists on being called “Lady Bird,” much to the chagrin of her stressed-out, ever-worrying mother Marion (Metcalf). They argue constantly, and – unknown to Lady Bird – things are close to crisis in their blended family home as dad Larry (Letts) looks like he’s about to get laid off.

Meanwhile, Lady Bird nevertheless has fun with her bestie Julie (Feldstein), and when they join the school musical and Lady Bird falls for Danny (Hedges), things are looking up – though spending Thanksgiving with Danny’s well-to-do family upsets her mum no end.

They argue more, and when Lady Bird loses her virginity to roll-up smoking pseudo-intellectual Kyle (Chalamet), who is very much part of the cool clique, poor Julie gets dumped like a hot potato.

Lady Bird then learns she’s on the waiting list for a university in New York, and sets out happily for the big year-ending prom with Kyle and his pals – but is that how she wants this period of her life to end?

A coming-of-age tale that takes place in 2002 – long before teenagers lost themselves on their phones – the directorial debut of Gerwig was originally a mammoth-length script that she says wasn’t autobiographical, even though she was born in Sacramento.

It certainly shows that Gerwig is a young talent well on the up. She’s been acclaimed for both her writing and acting already, and is getting plaudits here too. Ronan is also getting nods for her performance, walking that fine line of being empathetic and real, annoying and showboaty, and sometimes rather loveable – all while being an often-irritating teenager.

Metcalf – better known for her extensive award-winning work on the stage and as sister Jackie in the many series of “Roseanne” – is great too, mixing the overbearingness of a parent with subtle moments that allow her to be more than just Lady Bird’s greatest critic; the airport scene was a tear-jerker.

Either way, Lady Bird is a great entry in what’s a tricky genre: strong performances from the entire cast, a crisp, dramatic, emotional and amusing script, and a fluid directorial style that makes full use of the locations and indeed makes you change your mind about Sacramento (just like Lady Bird does).

Lady Bird is in cinemas 23rd February.



Melbourne International Film Festival: Three Summers

James Bartlett takes a look at Ben Elton’s “amusing and often-charming ensemble rom-com/drama” Three Summers, which screened at this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival


The Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) featured hundreds of features and shorts over the 17 days, and this year’s theme was to “explore new worlds,” which saw matters of social justice, empathy and connection examined in many of the stories seen on screen – extremely apposite in an Australia that’s currently wrestling with marriage equality and the ever-present issue of Aboriginal rights.

For audiences in the UK at least, perhaps the most notable screening at MIFF was the latest effort from Ben Elton, the comedian/author much-beloved for his co-writing work on “Blackadder” and “The Young Ones,” as well as his ’80s and ’90s comedy shows.

Successful novels followed too, though his film work has been less than stellar; Maybe Baby was a famous flop despite the presence of “’Adder” chum Hugh Laurie, Phantom of the Opera follow-up Love Never Dies pretty much bombed too, and, “The Thin Blue Line” aside, a couple of UK television series also crashed and burned.

But he also wrote the Queen musical We Will Rock You and all was forgiven – though arguably that wasn’t a difficult target to hit, since Mercury, May, Deacon and Taylor’s music did most of the work.

In more recent years Elton has notably lived more or less full-time in Australia after meeting and marrying his then-bass player wife during a trip he first made with Rik Mayall.

During the speech he made at the glitzy Centerpiece Gala Screening he said a day “never goes by” when he doesn’t think about Mayall, his regular comedy compatriot, and he also spoke movingly about his love for Down Under, and how much his latest film meant to him.

Getting plenty of laughs – and even using his “little bit of politics” catchphrase – he amused the crowd before the screening, and it was clear a lot was riding on this for him, his cast and crew, and the Australian funders. Elton even mentioned how long it had been since his last film; his twins were born during Maybe Baby, and were turning 18 this very day.

An amusing and often-charming ensemble rom-com/drama that really tries hard to please, Three Summers is based around three years at the fictional Westival folk festival in Western Australia, and the summertime flirtations between Irish theremin player/dog shampooer Roland (Robert Sheehan, “Misfits”) and Irish-Australian violinist Keevey (Rebecca Breeds, “Home and Away,” “Pretty Little Liars”).

During the first year, the spirited, Tinder-using Keevey comes on strong despite Roland’s snobbish attitude and an insistence that she should be doing more than regional festivals. He’s purely in it for the music, but after their first kiss he drops a real clanger, telling Keevey that the headlining “WArrikins” are a cheesy, Irish pub-rock band. Of course, Keevey is their lead singer and fiddle player; her alcoholic dad’s even in the band too.

Alongside this annual on/off pairing there are other things happening at Westival while amusing radio DJ (Magda Szubanski) exhorts everyone to “get folked” and encourages “challenging” music.

Aboriginal leader (Kelton Pell) and his group of miscreant teenagers feel they’re there just for “authenticity,” shy teen Afghani refugee (Amay Jain) has been bought along by his new, super-sensitive adoptive parents, and fellow teenager (Adrianne Daff), whose mum is never off the phone to work and whose grouchy Morris dancer grandad (Michael Caton) definitely doesn’t welcome anyone new to “his” Australia.

There’s also two “boring” married couples who have come to the fest for years, do the same thing every year – drink copious amounts of wine – and have never actually been to any gigs.

As you might imagine, there’s a lot there to cram in: multiple protagonists and multiple issues and agendas to try and give time to – even the gay thing gets a small moment late on – but the main focus is Roland and Keevey.

In year two, Roland is now doing the chasing. He had slipped an application form to a prestigious music school under Keevey’s door last year, and though we saw her fail to make it at the audition, he doesn’t know what happened.

She still can’t forgive him for THAT comment though, and is keen to get revenge – which she does by calling him out at her gig (oh yes, he comes to see the Warrkins, even if he disapproves. Well, he’s in love with the lead singer, natch).

This revelation comes out in year three, and the other storylines have developed off-screen in the intervening months too, which means that we never see the hard work and soul-searching that has gone on, something that feels like a bit of a lazy cheat when everything – as it seemingly has to – turns out all happy, with everyone now open-minded, understanding and liberated (and can you guess what happens with the two boring married couples? Wife swap!).

Some missteps – like finding out Keevey’s father seemingly had a very complex drunken moment and faked her signature rejecting the place she in fact won at the music school – and the performance by an Afghani music trio, whose lead singer gives a speech about living in a refugee camp (and then turns to the side of the stage to see the cops waiting to take him and his fellow musicians right back there) seem awkward and uninspired.

There’s much here that seems very on-the-nose and just too easy/unlikely, but it’s of course hopeful, positive (and slight) stuff that just about makes it over the finish line thanks to the many expected jokes and funny moments à la Elton that made the audience at The Forum at least laugh long and loud.

As a kind of “Australia in a tent” idea it seems very much aimed at and inspired by audiences there more than anything, even if some of the ideas (immigration, racism) have universal meaning. Sheehan and Breeds work hard – and Sheehan’s physical comedy playing that strange electronic machine is a highlight – but whether it catches on anywhere else around the world remains to be seen.


The 2017 Melbourne International Film Festival ran 3–20 August 



Melbourne International Film Festival: The Challenge

James Bartlett gets close to nature in Yuri Ancarani’s The Challenge, which screened at the 66th Melbourne International Film Festival.

Screening recently at the Melbourne Film Festival in Australia, this scant 70 minutes or travelogue documentary is oddly compelling and almost dialogue-free, which means your focus becomes more on the sounds.

There’s the low roar of countless SUVs driving randomly across the desert like swarms of ants or herds of metal wildebeests, a gold motorbike thundering as its leads the other bikers along an endless road, and the occasional shrieks of pampered falcons on a private jet or a twitchy cheetah on a lead, growling and purring as he’s driven around in a Lamborghini.

We’re in the oil-rich – and apparently idle rich – world of young billionaires living in Qatar, where the ancient sport of falconry is highly competitive. Though there’s not really a strong narrative or character to follow, we head generally towards a falconry competition taking place in the vast desert.

Drones and falcon-cams get us close to the action – competing falcons, all with exotic names like pedigree dogs – are sent after live pigeons, and it’s fascinating to see the jerky, unclear, camera when it’s clear one of them has hit their feathered target.

Winner of the Special Jury Prize at Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland last year, it’s a rare look into a playground where everyone seems to be listlessly on their mobile phones, nothing is unaffordable, and falcon auctions are live, big-screen TV events.

The endless vistas covered with SUVs and the immense, almost-unimaginable wealth make this almost a dizzy fantasy that, for its short running time at least, is certainly diverting and revealing, though you do wish we’d learned more about the falcon keepers/trainers.


The 2017 Melbourne International Film Festival ran 3–20 August 



Melbourne International Film Festival: Faces Places (Visages Villages)


James Bartlett checks out the “charming and likeable” Faces Places,  which screened at the 66th Melbourne International Film Festival.


Premiering at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and currently doing the rounds on that circuit – I saw it recently at the Melbourne Film Festival – this charming and likeable documentary is likely to be coming to a cinema near you some time soon.

Based on the unlikely – and initially uneasy – relationship between veteran documentarian and photographer Varda and fedora-wearing street muralist JR (you probably know his work; faces and other subjects blown up into huge black-and-white posters and slapped on the side of buildings or in odd places), it follows them as they travel across hidden, rural France in a photo booth van.

Despite JR seemingly being in awe of the red-and-white haired Agnès (who, it was announced on September 6th, is one of the recipients of an honorary Oscar this year), he is rather sarcastic to her, while she constantly exhorts him to take off his sunglasses, which he wears no matter what. They visit a chemical plant, an abandoned town and even discover a WWII bunker that’s fallen down a cliff onto a beach and now looks like a broken arrowhead of the gods.

Meeting locals as they use them as models for the instant-printed posters that become part of temporary open-air galleries, there are emotional moments as we see a local postman immortalized in his neighborhood, or a woman’s face plastered on the outside of her home just days before the whole street is bulldozed.

Most stunning perhaps are the giant-sized posters of the wives of dock workers affixed to a huge wall of shipping containers, but we get to know this odd pair well too, and learn that Agnès has a long (but lapsed) relationship with French film auteur Jean Luc-Godard.

It’s his doorstep that we finally end up on, but that’s not the main subject of this documentary; it’s the story of an unexpected friendship that develops – literally before our eyes – during a fun road trip, and, more than that, the reactions that people have to their experiment.


The 2017 Melbourne International Film Festival ran 3–20 August 


Melbourne International Film Festival: Rabbit

James Bartlett catches Rabbit at the 66th Melbourne International Film Festival.

On one of the buzziest nights at the recent 66th Melbourne International Film Festival, writer/director Luke Shanahan’s psychological thriller/horror Rabbit had its world premiere.

Audiences were especially curious because Rabbit was the winning pitch at the festival’s 37º South Market a couple of years before. The prize included a paid trip to the London Production Finance Market, and subsequent hopes that it would attract financing and talent.

That the film actually got made so soon was impressive enough, but when ‘Rectify’ star Adelaide Clemens, an Aussie actor who had appeared alongside Leonardo DeCaprio in The Great Gatsby, was secured for the main role, it seemed another good omen.

The audience certainly lapped it up – all the promo posters were stolen from The Forum theatre where the screening was held for a start – but did it live up to the hype?

Rabbit certainly starts arrestingly and recognizably, with Cleo running headlong through the woods as she’s chased by a masked man. She finds a cabin, and seemingly saviors – but that’s not the case.

Elsewhere, we meet Maude (Clemens), who is leaving her medical dissection class feeling a little faint; it’s an early sign of things to come.

For a long time Maude has been tortured by horrific dreams – dreams that show her twin Cleo (also Clemens) in an isolated cabin and seemingly being tortured.

Cleo went missing a year ago, but everyone has given her up for dead – except for Maude, who decides to visit her shattered parents and then recruit Cleo’s former fiancée Ralph (Russell) and Henry (Pasvolsky), the obsessed cop who never gave up on the case, to try to find this cabin.

There are immediately sinister shades of ’70s shockers like Deliverance, the recent Get Out and even a touch of Hammer Horror when they come across a bizarre camping ground that’s full of weirdos – and, it seems, several other pairs of twins.

The mystery deepens of course; Maude suffering more and more intense dreams, and events spinning out of control around her – including Henry running off into the dark after an unknown person, and Ralph seeming to disappear too.

Then the screen literally goes red for a few seconds.

Maude wakes to finds herself in a clean and airy country house, where silent young girls in aprons seem to keep everything just so – but then there are Nerida and Keith (Baetens and Mayer), husband and wife doctors who are conducting an unusual experiment on their “guests.”

Maude seems to give in to her fate, reluctantly agreeing to their demands – which seem harmless at first – as she is still convinced that Cleo is alive, and Nerida promises her they can be reunited if she plays nice.

The story now in fact becomes more about Nerida and her mixed feelings over the fact that her long-time experiment might have finally found patient zero (as it were) – but that means something deadly has to happen to prove her hypothesis is correct.

As you have probably gathered, we’re in the disturbing world of eugenics and human experiments here, and director of photography Anna Howard does an excellent job of making both vast landscapes and cramped woods seem equally oppressive and dangerous, while Shanahan’s direction is smooth for the genre (at least until his writing begins to wander).

Composer Michael Darren’s music is blaring bombastic though, forcing the emotions and feelings onto you when they’re already there – something that’s a real pity, as it only emphasizes how the narrative begins to fishtail and go off the path in that second half, with Maude seemingly giving up on escaping or finding her sister.

It’s something that allows Belgian-born actress Baetens to nearly steal the film away. Looking uncannily like Holly Hunter, she’s a sexy but cold psychopath, who would confuse anyone. More so than the potential offered by Shanahan and the ravaged Clemens, she’s really worth looking out for in the future

So is Cleo still out there, still held captive by the hooded man that Maude is so sure she can see – and maybe even influence – or is that supernatural connection going to condemn both the sisters, rather than reunite them? And will the creepy sibling story behind the “rabbit” title come into play too?


The 2017 Melbourne International Film Festival ran 3–20 August 



A Second Look at ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’


James Bartlett takes another look at War for the Planet of the Apes. 

Contains spoilers.

The third in the series following Rise and Dawn (don’t worry, their stories are summarized at the beginning), War for the Planet of the Apes sees Caesar (Andy Serkis) leading his genetically-enhanced simian people in what seems to be a happy life – except that the humans just won’t leave them alone.

Nearly wiped out by the Simian Flu, the humans are now represented by a violent force of Alpha Omega soldiers led by the Colonel (Woody Harrelson). Some scared apes have turned traitor and joined him, so Caesar agrees to a plan to lead his people across the desert to a new home – but the word gets out and there’s an attack, and the Colonel kills Caesar’s wife and son.

Wrenched away from his desire for peace, Caesar vows bloody revenge, reluctantly allowing Rocket (Terry Notary), Maurice (Karin Konoval) and Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) to join him on his quest to travel to the border and hunt down the Colonel.

En route they come across a mute girl named Nova (Amiah Miller) and a long-hidden escapee from a zoo, Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), but by the time they have reached the former weapons depot at the border, Caesar’s people (including his young son Cornelius) are there behind bars – and Caesar himself is then captured.

The Colonel tortures Caesar, revealing that the Simian Flu has mutated and now renders humans speechless, regressing them to a primitive mentality, while outside Rocket, Maurice and Bad Ape are using an underground tunnel to help prepare for an escape – but during the break, opposing military forces appear and attack…

The final story in the reboot trio, this has received excellent reviews for its camerawork, direction and performances, Serkis’ motion capture work in particular (he’s surely the best actor ever in that regard).

There are long stretches with no dialogue or subtitles here – only a few of the apes can speak, while Harrelson gets to chew the scenery as a Colonel Kurtz-type – yet we’re just as engaged with these characters and their feelings, friendships and families.

Despite the title, this is no all-out action movie, and in a time when superheroes seem to dominate the cinema screens, to see a story that is about humanity and so many of the traits we associate with it (but from characters who can’t just shake off endless pummeling) adds a real frailty and emotion.

The special effects – aside from the cinematography of stunning snowy mountains and landscapes – are first rate, and rarely do you not feel that these are real creatures we’re seeing; sometimes the many shots of the faces – and those eyes – make you almost want to look away.

More than that – and again arguably separating it from some superhero fare – there’s some real complexity here in the plot and storyline, with allusions to the ancient Hebrews, African-American slaves and Native Americans, all wrapped in our own needless inability to stop interfering with the planet and its creatures.

Nature always wins in the end though – and the Colonel’s final scene has a great bon mot – but he’s not the only character we won’t see again in the next sequel.






Review: Train to Busan



DIR/WRI: Sang-ho Yeon • David Koepp • CAST: Yoo Gong, Soo-an Kim, Yu-mi Jeong


After passing through a chemical spray quarantine checkpoint, a farmer hits a deer – a deer that then jerks, cracks its bones, and gets right up off the blood-splattered road. There’s been a chemical spill nearby, and something’s up…


Elsewhere, after realizing he’s in danger of being an absent father, workaholic Seok Woo (Gong Yoo) reluctantly agrees to accompany his adorable daughter Soo-An (Kim Soon-an) on the train ride to Busan, where her mother – his ex – now lives.


Seconds before the KoRail train departs, a sweaty teen stumbles onboard – she’s been bitten by something, and when a kindly uniformed conductor asks her what’s wrong… well, we’re off to the zombie races.


A collection of random passengers finally end up together in various degrees of safety, locked in safe carriages or toilets while the rabid, snarling beasties claw at the doors – and the rest of Korea seems to be under attack as well.


Among the passengers are a beefy guy with his pregnant wife, an elderly mother and daughter, a school team of baseball players, a seemingly-homeless guy, and a pushy businessman: who will make it to freedom, and will they ever get off the train?


Mixing Snowpiercer (another Korean film) with zombies, this fast-paced and surprisingly emotionally effective thriller breathes a bit more life into what’s an exhausted horror sub-genre due to effective direction from writer/director Sang-ho Yeon. The action scenes, almost when you think they’re over, get even more dangerous and exciting (the blazing train that crashes towards the end, for example).


There’s plenty of symbolism and metaphor here too: the evil corporate man sacrificing everyone else to save himself, the multi-generational elements, the idea of even the possibly-infected being outcast by braying mobs, the rich versus the poor, and so on.


More than that though, the detail – the bodies in the river water, the carriages full of trapped, snarling zombies – and those zombies themselves, throwing themselves like lemmings through windows and crushing and trampling over each other (remind you of the holiday sales, perhaps?).


As the cast get picked off one by one – usually in an act of heroism – we wonder who is going to make it to the city of Busan, which is said to be safe and guarded by the army – but even then there’s a last twist to make this stand out from the bloody crowd.

Train to Busan has made close to $80m worldwide in just a few weeks, and the same director is behind an animated story called Seoul Station, also due out this year, which is a prequel to this story.


For now though, the film version – a hit at Cannes earlier this year and in receipt of praise from critics of all stripes – is worth catching when it comes to a screen near you.



James Bartlett

118 mins

Train to Busan is released 14th October 2016 016

Train to Busan – Official Website



Review: Hunt for the Wilderpeople


DIR/WRI: Taika Waititi  • PRO: Carthew Neal, Matt Noonan, Leanne Saunders, Taika Waititi • DOP: Lachlan Milne • ED: Tom Eagles, Yana Gorskaya, Luke Haigh • DES: Neville Stevenson • MUS: Lukasz Pawel Buda, Samuel Scott,Conrad Wedde • CAST: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata

It’s the end of the line for chubby troubled Maori teen Ricky (Julian Dennison), who has been dragged to a ramshackle farm right out in the New Zealand bush by grimly determined social worker Paula (Rachel House).

It’s the last foster home that will give Ricky a bed, and despite the kindly welcome from Becca (Rima Te Wiata) and grumpy Hector (Sam Neill), it seems that the monosyllabic Ricky is unimpressed by a life living off the land. He’s too “gangsta” for all that stuff, yet Becca and Hector win him over, and, for the first time in his short life, Ricky feels like part of a family.

But then it’s just Ricky and the devastated, out-of-his-depth Hector, and it looks like the young lad is going back to the city – and probably “juvie” (teen jail) – so he decides to disappear into the bush. Of course, Hector can’t just let him leave, and soon they’re a media sensation, the subject of a huge manhunt by those after a $10,000 reward…

Though he’s the cat among the pigeons, unhappy tearaway Ricky is a softie underneath, and his early scenes with Te Wiata are touching and sweet. Hector though really just wants to be left alone with his dark past, and so shoving the two together and throwing them into the wild beauty of New Zealand gives us plenty of time for them to finally get to know each other.

Rather unbelievably the pair rough it for months, provisioned by occasionally stealing from other hikers and cabins and their own shooting skills, while reward-hunters and Paula are in relentless pursuit (though it does seem absurd that a black-clad SWAT-style team would really roam the millions of acres all that time too).

Anyway, as Hector and Ricky roam the greenery, they have a few adventures – meeting a giant boar, a crazy hermit Bush Man (a hilarious cameo from Rhys Darby). There’s a final chase in what’s surely an homage to Max Max: Fury Road before they’re finally captured and taken back to reality – but by then we know they’re an odd pair that kind of belong together.

A mixture of comedy, drama, whimsy and anarchy (and with plenty of charm to spare, even if sometimes the tone wavers a little), this is almost impossible not to like, and it’s the strong characters that draw you in. They’re all distinct, and though the dialogue is often spare, you want to keep following this adventure.

Director Waititi also helmed other NZ-set comedies What We Do In The Dark, Eagle vs Shark, and episodes of “The Inbetweeners” and “Flight of the Conchords,” and his skills come to the fore here.

The circular shots that show time passing are a clever device in particular, and it’s no surprise Hollywood came a-calling for him (he’s currently directing Thor: Ragnarok with Hiddleston and Hemsworth).

Whether he can get such memorable performances in a green screen superhero affair remains to be seen, but here he’s drawn on the book Wild Pork and Watercress and conjured up a boys-own tale that not only makes you want to visit New Zealand, but makes you wish you could run into these two “wilderpeople.”

A hit at the Sundance Film Festival – and with critics – this is on a limited release at the moment, so catch it if you can!


James Bartlett

101 minutes

Hunt for the Wilderpeople  is released 16th September 2016

Hunt for the Wilderpeople – Official Website




Melbourne Film Festival: The Family



James Bartlett checks out Rosie Jones’ documentary about the secretive cult led by yoga teacher Anne Hamilton, which screened at this year’s Melbourne Film Festival.

With the Manson Family still regularly in the news and often fictionalized on our screens (August 9 was the 47th anniversary of the shocking murders), it’s inevitable that people will be drawn to this new documentary about another cult utilizing the same moniker.

In this case though, the bizarre “family” lorded over by Anne Hamilton-Byrne and her husband Bill in Victoria, Australia in the 1970s and 1980s, really was an attempt to be an ersatz family: supporters of the cult handed over their children to these new “parents” and “aunties,” and there was even deliberate fraud in obliterating the history of adopted and unwanted children; more members who could be ready for what they came to see as Judgment Day.

Shockingly, many of Melbourne’s political and intellectual elite were open followers, and colluded in squashing the police investigations and arranging and hiding the illegal adoptions – leaving ultimately lone policeman Lex de Man clutching at straws, a 1987 raid on their isolated lake compounded removing six kids but bringing little more justice over the years.

In many ways, the story is familiar: an unnaturally charismatic, beautiful blonde who dabbled in mysticism and drugs in a search for the truth in the late 1960s became a kind of earth mother, seen by her devotees as the reincarnation of Christ, and assembled around her the children and teens she felt could be prepared for the day when the apocalypse came.

Dying the kid’s hair blond, dressing them all alike – and administering LSD and other drugs to them, as well as regular beatings, an authoritarian regime that included vitamins, exercise and isolation – you can see the red flags flying from miles away, right?


It took years before police could finally take definitive action on the sect whose motto was “unseen, unheard and unknown,” as the poor, desperate kids wanted nothing more than their “parents” love, and only a few brave ones escaped (or were banished) began to talk.

This documentary talks to a number of these damaged now-adults (there were apparently 28 in all), and shows how the Hamilton-Brynes escaped to upstate New York, always sitting on a fortune of money signed over by their followers (money that allowed them to pay for expensive lawyers).

Astonishingly, a handful of followers still meet regularly and Anne, now 95, suffers from dementia. And she lives in a nursing home in Melbourne. Yes, in Melbourne. She never served a day in prison.
These extraordinary circumstances are looked into, and this recent history clearly still resonated powerfully with the locals here, as when de Man was called out of the audience at the Q & A afterward, the sustained ovation he received was almost unlike any reaction I have ever seen.

Sadly the documentary – while happily showing that some of the ex-children have gone on to have their own children, and even discovered whom their parents really were – struggles to dig deep and leaves many questions unanswered, such as what happened to all the local well-heeled and big-wigged Melbournians who supported this insanity.

Instead, after a while the relentless stories of child abuse become numbing before there’s much discussion of what was done to stop it all, but nevertheless this is head-shakingly compulsive overall, the many pieces of home movie footage of these twisted Von Trapps in their apparent “innocence” always chilling.

It also shows that while Capturing the Friedmans and the hippy-dippy cults in Los Angeles seem to make this an American problem, evil and abuse masked under by the cloth of goodness and (non-official) religion flourishes everywhere in the world.


The 2016 Melbourne Film Festival took place 28 July – 14 August.



Melbourne Film Festival: Mahana



James Bartlett continues his coverage from this year’s Melbourne Film Festival with a look at Mahana from New Zealand director Lee Tamahori.


1960s New Zealand and Grandfather (Temuera Morrison) is the patriarch of the Mahana family. He rules with an iron fist, but there’s no velvet glove underneath. This multi-generational family split the work on a huge farm according to his rules and whims, relying heavily on the annual sheep-shearing contract that sees them butt heads against the rival Poata family.

On the business end of grandfather’s hard-knock life is his grandson Simeon (Akuhata Keefe), who is starting to rebel against his dictatorship – and even (barely) trying to catch the eye of one of the sweet Poata daughters.

When Simeon finds a photograph that suggests the family history is quite different from what they’ve all been told – and he starts asking questions of Nana (Nancy Brunning) about her marriage – he steps over the line and he, his parents and siblings are banished to a decaying shack.

It’s not certain whether they’ll make it – though it’s certain Grandfather will never forgive – but as Simeon grows in confidence and time passes, other family members join them and Nana visits regularly. It’s as if the Mahana family is waiting for the moment when the truth can be revealed.

This was an age when Maori men and women – despite the strictly defined social roles – all worked with axe and sickle when it was required, yet in the eyes of the (white) law their voice was literally not heard, and many scenes here show not only the beauty of New Zealand, but the blood and sweat that went into making it what it is.

A slow-burning drama that has enough conflict and strong characters to even support a television series, Mahana sees director Tamahori – again working with a Witi Ihimaera’s novel, as he did in his earlier film Whale Rider – adding to his impressive and eclectic resume that includes the Devil’s Double, xXx: State of the Union, Along Came a Spider, Mulholland Falls and even a Bond – Die Another Day.

But here he’s back in the past, and he seems to suit those days. Then there’s the brooding, violent presence of Morrison some 22 years later after his turn in Tamahori’s breakout Once Were Warriors; Morrison never gives an inch as Grandfather and dominates every scene; Simeon even fetches the hated Mr. Poata when there’s an accident on the farm – not him.

The melding and changing of Maori culture, the restlessness of teenagers and the wisdom – and tragedy – of advancing years conclude in a tear-inducing finale, and though it’s languorous at times, this is powerful and evocative stuff. Intense too, such is the power of families, guilt, obligation and love – something everyone can relate to, even if it might have lightened things to give more time to the Romeo and Juliet possibilities here, as Keefe deserved to shine a little more.


The 2016 Melbourne Film Festival took place 28 July – 14 August.





Melbourne Film Festival: 11 Minutes

fot. Robert Jaworski tel. +48 501 37 22 40

James Bartlett clocks in 11 Minutes, which screened at this year’s Melbourne Film Festival (28 July – 14 August).

With a simple premise – the lives of several unrelated people are intertwined over 11 minutes in Warsaw, Poland – this was a hit at the Venice Film Festival, getting a special mention in the Vittorio Veneta category and being nominated for the Golden Lion too; a seeming triumph for veteran writer/director (and even occasional actor) Skolimowski.

The story of this Irish/Polish co-production begins with Anna (Chapko) and her husband (Mecwaldowski) enjoying the first morning of their honeymoon, selfie/iphone filming themselves in bed. But then Anna is on her way to a hotel to meet Richard Martin (Irish actor Dormer), an apparent movie producer who is prepping the room by pouring champagne – and unplugging the phones.

Husband Mecwaldowski however realizes she accidentally took a sleeping pill he put in her drink, and begins a frantic chase to get to the hotel – where Martin is already creepily questioning and flirting with her.

Elsewhere, other people are going about their day. A hot dog seller (Chyra) is charming some nuns, a courier is delivering drugs and “servicing” a client, a couple are breaking up and handing over the dog, and a window-washer is having a bedtime break too.

We switch continuously between these stories, and lead inevitably towards a conclusion that will hopefully see them clearly come together; how we don’t yet know. The answer is a stunning and exciting slo-mo sequence that leaves you with a bang, but ultimately struggles to justify the 70 minutes or so it took to get there.

Despite the success of this film, it did at times seem grasping for symbolism with some David Lynch-style elements (the nuns; several pointless scenes viewed as if we were the dog; a girl inexplicably spitting in the hot dog seller’s face; the lack of character names; dissonant and loud noises and music; drug-induced shaky-scenes; a random suicide; a bubble floating), all of which made this seem quirky for quirky’s sake too often.

More than that, the constant flipping never allowed for any emotional momentum – let alone dialogue and narrative clarity – to ever build, so often it seemed we arrived too late, and then left again none the wiser. That said, the end scene is a cracker, and Dormer and Chapko dance around each other with some erotic fizz, but overall this seems too fractured and bumpy a ride to justify the time.

The 2016 Melbourne Film Festival took place 28 July – 14 August.


Melbourne Film Festival: Kedi


James Bartlett purrs his way through Kedi, which screened at this year’s Melbourne Film Festival (28 July – 14 August).

Instanbul has been in the spotlight recently – for all the wrong reasons – so it’s refreshing to watch this short and sweet Turkish-language documentary about the furry symbols of the capital city.

In Kedi we see a totally different side to the ancient city, specifically the feral felines that roam the ancient city. Instanbul is dominated by them, and they pad around the streets, roofs, shops, restaurants and even the underground, enjoying what seems to be an endless heaven of feeding, watering, stroking and tickling from the inhabitants, all of whom see them as much a part of the capital as themselves.

There’s no real narrative or structure here, jut explanatory voiceover and interviews with the local people. Few of the cats are kept as pets – they just come and go as they please – and some have names, while others don’t. If you’ve ever had a cat or even tried to befriend one, you’ll see that this makes sense: they’re discerning beasties.

The people explain how they met “their” cat, how “they” became a part of their lives, and, inevitably, how far some of them will go: cooking up pounds of chicken every day, feeding and even housing dozens of them, letting them run amok, and how they helped them come to terms with tough times in their lives.

Many of the citizens have open-ended tabs at understanding vet’s surgeries, such is the frequency they take wounded or sick cats for first aid, and while showing the streets in catcam (at cat-level) and how sneaky (and downright adorable they can be, the kittens especially), many of the cats earn their keep, often as ratters.

While some of the cats are clearly bruisers, the film gets amazingly close to the four-legged inhabitants, and we also get a sense of the beautiful, bustling Istanbul, its cramped alleys and stores selling the latest fashions, artisan jewelry, delicate pastries and fishing lines – the port an obvious favorite hangout. It gives the place a softer edge, and I certainly never knew how cats dominated the lives of people here.

In a world where dogs seem to have been deified way more than is necessary (I can almost see the raging emails of complaint already), it’s refreshing to simply listen and watch the world of cats that’s captured here.

Sure there are many moments that cause coos, awws and moans of adoration – and laughter – but it never gets too sentimental or slushy (even if we never find out what happened to the kitten taken to the vet for example; clearly it wasn’t good), but whether you’re a cat person, a dog person or neither, this is worth seeing as a snapshot and different view of an ancient place that, right now, certainly seems to need all the calm and happiness the anonymous cats can muster.

Yes, it’s easy to say that this is the ultimate cat video – MiaowTube deluxe, as it were – but there’s more to it than that.






Review: The Shallows

Nancy (Blake Lively) in Columbia Pictures' THE SHALLOWS.

DIR:Jaume Collet-Serra • WRI: Anthony Jaswinski • PRO: Lynn Harris, Matti Leshem • DOP: Flavio Martínez Labiano • ED: Joel Negron • DES: Hugh Bateup • MUS: Marco Beltrami • CAST: Blake Lively, Óscar Jaenada, Brett Cullen 


On arriving at a secret beach she was told about by her late mother, stressed-out medical student Nancy (Blake Lively) finally feels like she can catch some waves, bask in the sun, and chill out – despite the worries of her family about where she is.

Two local guys give her advice about the best places to surf, and soon enough she’s blissfully happy – for a while at least, until she seems something large a bit further out in the deep blue. Curious, she finds that it’s the wrecked carcass of a whale – and that there are already guests at the mammalian table.

Making for the shore, she gets bumped by a shark and is flailing in the water when she feels a tug on her leg, and there’s a bloom of blood around her. She (just) makes it to a small rock island nearby, with an also-injured seagull flapping up onto the outcrop alongside her. Now all she can do is watch as the other surfer dudes drive away – and then wonder what will happen when the tide comes in…

Time ticks by, the next day comes, and the guys return for another day surfing – only this time Nancy’s yelling at them not to get into the water; she’s seen a drunken beach bum who rifled her bag and then tried to retrieve her board pay the price, and if these two don’t see her and get help, she might not ever be found.

Alas, the two guys are soon chums in more than one way, and now Nancy (and her winged friend she calls “Steven”) are truly alone. The sun’s beating, Nancy’s wounds are suppurating, and so she risks getting one of the guys’ battered GoPro in order to record her last message home.

But is she going to just wait to die, or make one last desperate swim for the red buoy that’s tantalizingly close – but of course means she has to swim through the danger zone to get there….

One of the most instantly-accessible types of horror pics – the shark genre has even made it into parody with Sharknado and many other SyFy channel-style hybrids – this is a film you’ll either immediately want to see, or (possibly because a shark attack, rare as they are, is one of your nightmares) will avoid at all costs.

Blake Lively utterly holds her own in what’s essentially a solo effort, using her brains more than her brawn in an attempt to try and survive – and then outrun – something that sees her as a small snack.

There’s some bloody, wince-inducing moments and inevitable comparisons to the daddy of all shark movies, Jaws, (the end sequence at one point absolutely brings back memories of the battle on the Orca) – but at a brisk 86 minutes it never stops being entertaining, follows the crucial rule of holding back on showing the toothy villain too much, makes the location look like paradise, and doesn’t offer too many cheesy cop-outs or laughably unlikely beats.

More than that, it showcases the acting talents of what is clearly the best-trained seagull in the history of filmmaking. Seemingly not a CGI or animatronic beast, Steven the Seagull is a welcome friend for Nancy – a beaked “Wilson” if you like – and you almost hope he gets away more than she does….

As for box office, it made the budget back on opening weekend in the USA alone, so I think we can safely expect another trip out there…



James Bartlett

86 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

The Shallows is released 12th August 2016

The Shallows – Official Website



Review: Paper Towns


DIR: Jake Schreier • WRI: John Green • PRO: Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey • DOP: David Lanzenberg • ED: Jacob Craycroft • DES: Chris L. Spellman • MUS: Son Lux • CAST: Nat Wolff, Cara Delevigne, Austin Abrams, Justice Smith, Halston Sage, Jaz Sinclair


Ever since she moved in next door, Quentin (Nat Wolff) has had a crush on Margo (Cara Delevigne). As young kids they were inseparable, but as teenage awkwardness bit they drifted apart. He worked hard and became a bit of a nerd with his best buds Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith), while she was the cool rebel, reading poetry and having adventures.

Quentin never shook that crush though, so with just days before the end of High School he can’t believe his luck when she appears at his bedroom window and wants him to join her for an “adventure”: getting revenge on her cheating boyfriend and her so-called friends who knew all about it.

Despite himself Quentin goes along with the late night hi-jinks, and then assures eye-rolling Ben and Radar that now, finally, things have changed – and he can’t wait to see her tomorrow.

But then she disappears. Her parents shrug it off – she’s run away before – but Quentin when Quentin finds what he thinks is a clue from her to him about where she’s gone, he decides he’s going to find her – with his best buds in tow of course, as well as Radar’s girlfriend Angela (Jaz Sinclair) and Lacey (Halston Sage), Margo’s best friend who really didn’t know about the betraying boyfriend stuff.

After finding more clues they end up in a mini-van on a long, long drive to upstate New York to find a “paper town” – a fake town mapmakers put in their work to expose illegal copyright – to see if Margo is there (and to make it back in time for the all-important Prom, naturally).

As you might imagine, we’re firmly in teenage/Young Adult-territory here, and if the poster seems somehow reminiscent of last year’s The Fault in Our Stars, that’s because this is also based on a book by the same writer, John Green. More than that, Wolff played the amusing blind friend Issac in The Fault… (and keep an eye out for an uncredited cameo by Ansel Elgort here: he was the heartthrob lead in that film too).

As such we’re getting lots of soft-shuffle dance music here, very little swearing or nastiness, almost no danger, an astonishing lack of cell phones (these teens were on a 26-hour road trip and did nothing but talk/look at the scenery? Right.) and other logic problems such as how on earth they all managed to reassure their parents – who never called them once to check up – that this folly/road trip was nothing to worry about.

But logic is not what this story is about. It’s about teenagers, their friends, their loves, and learning how people can be more than they seem, and about the decisions you have to make when you’re growing up.

It has its requisite heartwarming and amusing moments (the three lads seem like real mates and have a great rapport), and though it’s rather overlong and the road trip starts late (with Lacey and especially Angela’s presence seeming rather forced), if you’ve just left school and are about to start college/university, it’s bound to touch a chord – and even if that was a long time ago it will probably trigger a memory or two as well.

James Bartlett

12A (See IFCO for details)
108 minutes

Paper Towns is released 21st August 2015

Paper Towns – Official Website



A Second Look at ‘Trainwreck’


James Bartlett takes another look at Trainwreck, which is out in cinemas now.


In the US at least, there has been much hullabaloo around this movie, with modern comedy hotshot director/producer Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, The 40 Year Old Virgin and others) saying that Schumer, a comedian known only in the States for her cable show Inside Amy Schumer is something raunchy, new and different.

Schumer wrote and stars in Trainwreck, and her character – and that of her sister Kim – use the same names and real life circumstances, including the fact that their father is really in a nursing home too.

Following her TV persona then, Amy of Trainwreck is a boozin’, tokin’ gal with a tendency for one-night stands, but nevertheless a desire to get on in life (whatever that means). She’s like many women we all know or have known, in fact. And she doesn’t seem to be a trainwreck, frankly.

This being a film – and based in reality – she and happily-married and pregnant with number two sister Kim (Brie Larson) clash a lot about this – and about the care of their sick pa Gordon (Quinn), who, while seemingly in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, is still rude, rough and ready – and advised them both at a tender age that monogamy doesn’t work. Clearly only 50% of his daughters took that on board.

Anyway, Amy naturally hates sports and so is bummed to get an assignment from her magazine boss Dianna (a hilarious Tilda Swinton) writing about nerdy sports doctor Aaron (Bill Hader). He’s a sweet charmer though, and so of course Amy gets drunk and beds him – but for some reason she breaks her rule and stays overnight.

Disaster has to be coming though, right? Surely something will sabotage all of this? Amy can’t be falling in love – can’t even be loved, maybe – and yes, it all falls apart later on (sort of), but then she decides to get it together in montage-quick time.

For the first half of the story, we’re in the territory of light comedy with some allusions to Woody Allen but with more raunch. There are some funny lines, some funny moments, Hader really works hard to take Amy as she is – which is actually rather unlikeable and selfish. It’s a problem that dogs her and the story throughout, as we’re never quite on her side and want her to be happy: she seems happy enough as she is anyway really, and perhaps, like she reasons, Aaron doesn’t end up with someone like her.

The second half is when the wheels come off a little, the emotional “drama” seeming highly contrived, the weak arguments and actions of both Amy and Aaron seemingly unlikely based on what we’ve seen before, and the tone veering more between heavy drama and smirky/smutty comedy gags (perhaps the legacy of writing a sketch comedy show). Mix in some unnecessary cameo appearances that stretch the running time too long as well, and it’s all gone very much towards fulfilling the title.

And then there’s the ending which, without spoiling it, certainly quashes any sense that Amy is being herself – or even just toning down some of the more embarrassing or dangerous elements bits – isn’t what a man/Aaron wants.

No, a man doesn’t want a woman who can act “like” a man and be quite happy. No, according to Schumer/Apatow, a man wants something specific – and women have got to fit their square peg into that round hole no matter what; so Amy does so.

It’s a shame, because there were many more ways the ending could have gone and we would have been happy with it, still feeling that Amy (at least) was changing a little in discovering a valuable relationship, but was still essentially herself. But no. What a pity.



Review: Terminator Genisys


DIR: Alan Taylor • WRI:  Brian Lynch • PRO: Janet Healy, Christopher Meledandri  • ED: Claire Dodgson • MUS: Heitor Pereira • CAST: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, Jason Clarke


So. Here we are again with the fifth Terminator film – and that’s not including the television series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Arnie is back from his sojourn in California politics, and the lead is the waifish Daenerys from Game of Thrones, (with dark hair) but what on earth can they do to reboot/remake this story so that it’s different from what’s gone before?

Quite a lot, as it turns out – though it’s damned confusing.

We start in the future, where soldier Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) is the right hand man of John Connor (Jason Clarke). Reese is the erstwhile hero of the tale; after going back in time from 2029 and battling the original Terminator, he saved Sarah so that she could later give birth to John, the man who would lead the humans against the killing machines of Skynet, a computer entity that became part of our everyday lives – and then took over.

That takeover theme is continued here – SPOILER ALERT – through an all-pervasive phone/tablet computer system everyone runs their lives off. The latest super version, Genisys, is about to be launched and make our entire lives connected in every possible way. Sounds somewhat fruit-related, right?

It’s one of several sharp moments in this film – there are homages and lines that pay tribute to what’s gone before of course – but I’ll keep the JK Simmons twist to myself; it’s a bit of a cracker.

Back to this film though, where initially we see all as it should be: kind of. Moments before Reese is sent back in time to protect Sarah, he sees John being grabbed by someone with bad intentions – but who and what? Arriving back in 1984, Reese is soon being chased by the silver mercury-style shape shifting cop T-1000 (Byung Hun-Lee) – only now it’s Sarah (Emilia Clarke) telling him “come with me if you want to live.”

She doesn’t need protection anymore; the original (naked) Terminator who just arrived was killed by Guardian (Schwarzenegger), who came back in time even before 1984, and has become Sarah’s surrogate father (she rather awkwardly calls him “pops”).

Nothing is what it seems now, and soon Reese and Sarah are flying back to future San Francisco to try and stop the whole Skynet horror happening at all; they’ll meet Guardian there in a few decades. He’s delayed by traffic though and they’re arrested, but then, miraculously, Connor appears – he’s made it through time too…. or has he?

You really need a pen and paper to keep up with the convoluted twists and turns of what’s happened in the past, present and future here: all you need to know is that Reese and Sarah are the parents of Connor, the man who is set to save the world – expect that now he’s about to destroy it.

Forget all that though; you’re here for action, and there’s plenty of it. Arnie – as usual with few lines and the only laughs – gets battered all over the place, there’s a good scene on the Golden Gate Bridge, and the metal Connor is a great twist on the evolved machines.

The liquid T-1000 is great too, and though Clarke herself is such a tiny waif that she seems more like a young teen than a hardcore battler – and the forced “family” humour moments seem exactly that – while it’s a touch on the long side, there’s enough entertainment here for a Terminator fan to be happy with before the inevitable next installment.

James Bartlett


12A(See IFCO for details)
125 minutes

Terminator Genisys is released 3rd July 2015

Terminator Genisys– Official Website



Review: Spy


DIR/WRI:  Paul Feig •  PRO: Peter Chernin, Paul Feig, Jessie Henderson, Jenno Topping • DOP: Robert D. Yeoman • ED: Mellissa Bretherton • MUS: Theodore Shapiro • DES: Jefferson Sage • CAST: Melissa McCarthy, Miranda Hart, Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Jude Law, Allison Janney, Bobby Cannavale


When super-suave agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law) is killed by the fabulously-quiffed Raina Boyanov (Rose Byrne), his CIA desk jockey handler Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) is devastated. Worse than that, now there’s a nuclear bomb available to any dastardly buyer, and Cooper begs Chief Crocker (Allison Janney) for a chance to finally get out in the field and do some real spying-type stuff.

Agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) laughs off that idea – he wants to go in with all guns blazing – but this requires a light touch, and he’s too OTT. When he storms out, the Chief has no choice but to – reluctantly – give the nod to Susan. Finally she’s going undercover!

Quick as a flash – well, after getting her underwhelming super spy “weapon” – Susan has said goodbye to her BFF and fellow agent Nancy (Miranda Hart) and is on the way to Budapest, slipping into her first hideous cat women/single-for-life frumpy middle-America lady tourist disguise.

Ford is there too – he’s gone rogue – and now Susan has to deal with him and try not to blow her cover (or make too many mistakes). She manages to infiltrate Raina’s inner circle, but then things start to get really dangerous: can Susan and her friends save the world (and finally get a decent haircut and frock to stop Raina’s bitchy comments?).

Written and directed by Feig, Spy reunites him again with his Bridesmaids and Heat star McCarthy, who was wobbling a bit after the relative failure of Tammy, which was the first film where she was the only name on the poster.

Perhaps taking note of this, Feig does the unusual for this kind of film; he beefs up the supporting cast and actually gives them something to do. Apparently a huge fan of English TV star Miranda Hart (an unknown in the USA), Feig gives her a funny and meaty role, and she almost steals the film from McCarthy at times; they’re like a kind of female Laurel and Hardy.

The rest of the supporting cast – Statham, Law, Byrne and another British comedian Peter Serafinowicz, playing an amorously cheesy Italian agent – get plenty to do as well, and because they’re all totally up for a laugh, the combination effect works really well and makes McCarthy shine a little more.

There are plenty of laughs to be had, and with smart direction (we’re in Bond territory here of course, but there are chases and knife fights alongside blood, vomit and plenty of f-bombs – Americans love to hear English people swear), this is likely to set off a sequel or two…

James Bartlett

15A (See IFCO for details)
119 minutes

Spy is released 5th June 2015

Spy – Official Website


Review: San Andreas



DIR: Brad Peyton • WRI: Carlton Cuse • PRO: Beau Flynn • DOP: Steve Yedlin • ED: Robert D. Yeoman • MUS: Andrew Lockington • DES: Barry Chusid • CAST: Dwayne Johnson, Paul Giamatti, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson


Ray Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) is an ace chopper pilot for the LAFD, and we meet him when he squeezes his bird down the side of a mountain overhang and – of course – has to strap on the harness to save his buddy and the driver of the SUV that hangs by a thread….


It’s an impressive start to what’s clearly going to be an action/adventure/thriller and, like many of the best disaster movies, will see Los Angeles and San Francisco come under the hammer – in this case, not one but two massive earthquakes, and then a tsunami for good measure.

The destruction starts at the Hoover Dam in Nevada though, and right there is earthquake expert Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti), whose worst fears are confirmed: there are hotspots aplenty and the San Andreas fault is ready to snap; he races onto live TV and sends out a warning.


But snap it does. In LA, Ray’s almost-degree-nisi wife Emma (Carla Gugino) is having lunch at a high-storey hotel when the quake hits. Destruction follows, but luckily Ray is in the air and, with some fancy flying and some athletics from Emma, he manages to save her from the roof.


In San Francisco, their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) has just said goodbye to her new friends – stuttering Brit Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) and his cheeky/irritating little bruv Ollie (County Donegal-born actor Art Parkinson) – when Frisco gets flattened, and she’s trapped in car in an underground car park.


Smitten Ben and plucky Ollie go to help, and now the story splits: this trio are trying to head for higher ground, while Ray and Emma have decided to fly tout de suite to save their daughter – but there are many, many obstacles to overcome before they’ll even get close….


Not known for their scientific accuracy, this disaster movie certainly doesn’t disappoint in that area – though of course what we’re there to see is the (movie) world of these California landmarks falling about our ears (even in 3D).


Of course, there are many, many moments when logic, reason and rationality just leave the building (and “dramatic” moments that just get a laugh). We don’t see much blood, lost limbs or crushed people either, and as for “The Rock”, he has a Superman-like ability to fly a plane, a helicopter, to skydive, to dive underwater, to steer a speedboat – all without a scratch. In fact our family and their new British friends get barely a scratch despite enduring unimaginably dangerous circumstances.


It’s what we expect though, and while Johnson and Daddario try their best with the halting, awkward, cheesy moments – and nothing’s ever said about Gaines taking the LAFD helicopter and flying it away from all the L.A. citizens he is paid and legally avowed to help save – it can’t be argued that there are plenty of “oh my god” moments here. What did you expect?


James Bartlett


12A (See IFCO for details)

114 minutes

San Andreas is released 29th May 2015

San Andreas – Official Website



A Second Look: A Most Wanted Man


James Bartlett takes another look at Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man


Based on the novel by spymaster supremo John le Carré, this German-based thriller is bang-up-to-date in terms of subject matter, and like his other most noted works (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The Constant Gardener) require a more measured and cerebral approach – something of a rarity in these endless eons of comic book kapows.


Yes, that means there aren’t lots of shootouts and explosions; instead we’re in a complicated and covert world where harassed, dog-tired German agent Günther Bachmann (Seymour Hoffman) learns about Issa (Dobrygin), a Chechen/Russian who has turned up in Hamburg and found friends amongst the Muslim community there.


While Issa himself says almost nothing (though the scars and burns on his back speak volumes), he has a photograph of man he says is his estranged father. If that’s true, Issa is the heir to a massive fortune, but – as Bachmann finds out – that money could be dirty, and become deadly in the wrong hands. Hamburg is the cargo capital of Europe you see, and security is so lax that there are just too many ways something could be smuggled out.


Under pressure, Bachmann reluctantly takes advice from smooth, calculating US Ambassador Mitchell (Wright), while Issa finds an ally in human rights lawyer Annabel (McAdams), who wants to get him a visa to stay. It’s not going to be as simple as that though, not in the world we live in now, and as agents start to circle overhead like vultures over a carcass, it’s time for Bachmann and his weary team to make a move….


As 2014 starts the final lap, it’s been rather a soul-destroying year in the world of the movies – and of course I mean off the big screen, with Seymour Hoffman’s drug overdose back in February, Robin Williams’ suicide and the death of other names including Bob Hoskins, Lauren Bacall, Mickey Rooney, Eli Wallach, Shirley Temple and Richard Attenborough. Those names cover almost every genre and period of Hollywood history, and by the time this film – Seymour Hoffman’s last – was released, there was a pall of expectation (or something like that) over it.


Truth be told, Seymour Hoffman looks like a man on the edge here. Puffy, baggy-eyed, never without a cigarette and a whisky, his breath coming in loud gasps: you can retrospectively say his end was perhaps predictably nigh – though of course you’d be wrong, as least in some ways.


He was just acting – acting as superbly as he always did, even if the film he was in is rather middle-of-the road, solid-but-unspectacular stuff (though the direction by Corbijn and the adaptation by Australian screenwriter Andrew Bovell does well to keep the many threads running out).


If this had been set in New York, say, he’d be lauded for his intensity and there would be Oscar talk (he won one for Capote and was nominated for three others – four times in seven years in fact). As it was, that was not to be: the film kind of disappeared in the US, whose audiences are famously averse to seeing anything vaguely foreign-related, to say nothing of movies that require deep concentration.


This movie was heavy-going, that’s for sure, and the German accents wavered with all concerned, but as an albeit-unexpected cap to Seymour Hoffman’s career, it could have been a lot less distinguished. We have his excellent performances to look back on, and though this isn’t one of the best, it’s worth paying for a ticket to see the last bow of one of the era’s most excellent – and most publicly under-appreciated – actors.






DIR/WRI:  Luc Besson  PRO: Virginie Silla • DOP: Thierry Arbogast  DES: Hugues Tissandier MUS: Eric Serra  CAST:  Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked

It’s the morning after for Lucy (Johansson), an American student who is outside a Taiwanese hotel with her new dodgy boyfriend. He has a dodgy delivery to make, and when she refuses to split the $1000 fee with him he handcuffs her to the briefcase – so she has to go in and make the drop to Jang (Choi).


Guns appear, Richard is shot, and Lucy finds herself opening the briefcase as all Choi’s goons hide behind riot shields. Inside the briefcase though are several packs of blue powder – some very special blue powder – and Choi offers the terrified Lucy a job.


It’s not really an offer: she wakes to find a bandage on her stomach and, like three other human drug mules, she’s given a passport and plane ticket and told to make the delivery. But before she even makes the plane, she’s beaten up in a strange cell – and the brutal kicking breaks open the drug packet inside her.


But this doesn’t lead to a fatal overdose; it rushes through her veins, blows her mind, throws her around the room like she’s caught in a hurricane, and makes her a near superhuman with inconceivable powers and abilities.


Elsewhere, neurological professor Norman (Freeman) is talking to an audience of academics and students about that very thing: since humans use just 10% of their brain (half that of a dolphin), what would happen if they could access the other 90%?


These two people are fated to meet, and when Lucy contacts French cop Del Rio, giving him unanswerable proof that he should round up the other drug mules quick smart, the race is on between Choi and Lucy: can she reach Norman in time to pass on what she’s learned? She needs regular doses of the drug to save her from falling apart – literally – and time is ticking: when she reaches 100% capacity she’ll cease to exist.


This high-actioner bears many of the hallmarks of a Luc Besson joint; thumping music, a Parisian car chase, gangs of gun-toting guys slow-mo shooting in corridors, and a fairly loose storyline. Lucy becomes a virtual God here for heaven’s sake, though she manages to easily deal with the astonishing overload she must be facing.


As will quickly become clear when you watch, this is Besson’s attempt to do Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in the 21st century. Early on we get regular cut aways to BBC-style documentary clips of nature raw in tooth and claw, and then we cut between them and Freeman’s sober intoning about the human mind.


It’s aiming high, and though the end sequence – Besson’s modern, special effects take on the tunnel of stars/wormhole/whatever it is from 2001: A Space Odyssey is certainly breathtaking and rather mind-boggling – there’s little emotion here.


The early regret Lucy voices that the more intelligent she becomes, the more her emotions fade (and the more she becomes less human) is about as profound as we get, Johansson becoming more a kind of mindless robot supercomputer as she gets nearer to 100%. Overall this often seems like a series of spectacular television commercials spliced with a selection of greatest sci-fi movie wish-list moments, but at a brisk 90 minutes this transcendental update of Besson’s 1990 Nikita is a ride worth taking.


James Bartlett

15A (See IFCO for details)
89 mins

Lucy is released on 22nd August 2014

Lucy  – Official Website


The Rover


DIR/WRI: David Michô PRO: David Linde, David Michôd,Liz Watts • DOP: Natasha Braier  ED: Peter Sciberras DES: Josephine Ford  MUS: Antony Partos  CAST: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy

In a world bereft of new Twilight films, anything that Robert Pattinson does is going to be looked at, and he couldn’t have gone further (in almost every way) in this film, which is set in a desolate, dilapidated Australia “ten years after the collapse” and begins with grubby Eric (Guy Pearce) driving across the dusty, deserted land. We don’t know where he’s going or why, but his eyes are fixed in a thousand yard stare and only just register signs of life when his car is stolen outside a lonely bar.

After revving the thieves abandoned truck out of the ditch it landed in when it crashed, he gives chase. The injured Henry (Scoot McNairy) and his two scavenger friends can’t believe it, and even when they pepper the truck with bullets and come to a halt, standing off like cowboys on the road, Eric vows that he won’t stop following them until they give his car back.

Elsewhere, a shot and bleeding Rey (Pattinson) clambers into a dying soldier’s Hummer and sets off along the road. He’s chasing after Henry too; he was a member of the gang and got left behind for dead when things went wrong.

Eric comes to and gets back into the truck, then stops at every bizarre roadside shack looking for information – and to buy a gun. Now the killing begins. Back outside, Rey appears and unwittingly asks Eric where he got Henry’s truck from; now Eric has a way to get his car back, though first he has to get Rey patched up at the house of a bush doctor (Susan Prior).

As they drive, drive, drive, Eric says little and seems to care even less, while the seemingly slow-witted Rey struggles with being left behind. Sleeping under the stars, they’re soon on the run from the army too as they make for the small town where the gang was due to lay low…

Owing a great deal to Westerns, the legacy of Mad Max – and the often-forced quirkiness of David Lynch too – this rather frustrating but compelling film is held together by excellent performances from the leads. Pearce – his shoulder hunched, his eyes looking exhausted and his mind as focused as a psychopaths – is as intense as the ruined country he now lives in, while Pattinson is a revelation, a mass of ticks and confusion as he heavy-breathes and tries to come to terms with not only his sibling betrayal, but the fact his only source of hope is a man unconcerned with humanity.

The shoot took place in sweltering and isolated spots of Australia, and it certainly did its job: you’re always itching for a shower. The countless supporting characters – many of them local people and all of them shouldering rifles – look so drawn and wild that they could easily fit into the world of JRR Tolkien.

But it’s relentlessly grim, violent stuff, and the long stretches of time when we simply follow the car or Eric sits in silence while Rey tries desperately to make a connection, the pair of them seeming like Lennie and George from Of Mice and Men, can get very tiresome.

There are some major self-serving logic problems too; it’s unbelievable that Henry’s truck is drivable after the crash we see – let alone that they leave it by the unconscious Eric after he’s just said he’d never stop chasing them – and as thieves it’s inconceivable that they wouldn’t bother to look in the boot, or at least siphon out the precious petrol.

Eric never seems to want for water or food either – though he almost seems like he doesn’t need it – and the thing that was in his car? Well, I’ll leave it to you to decide whether – and why – it was worth it all the dead bodies.


James Bartlett

16 (See IFCO for details)
102 mins

The Rover is released on 15th August 2014

The Rover  – Official Website


The Purge: Anarchy

DIR/WRI: James DeMonaco    PRO: Michael Bay, Jason Blum, Andrew Form, Bradley Fuller , Sebastien Lemercier DOP: Jacques Jouffret   ED: Vince Filippone, Todd E. Miller   DES: Brad Ricker MUS: Nathan Whitehead   CAST: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zoe Soul, Kiele Sanchez, Zach Gilford


The year is 2023, and the annual “Purge” is about to take place across the USA. All crime is legal from 7pm until the good ol’ morning light of 7am the next day, and it means anyone can grab a gun – or flamethrower or axe or machete – and go out and “purge” themselves.


There are no laws, no consequences and no police or ambulance will come running: this is a “Founding Fathers” America, and you either barricade yourself in your house or you get out there – and Leo (Frank Grillo) is definitely locking and loading for this gunstravaganza. Oh, he has a target in mind.


Not happy to be outside are breaking-up couple Liz and Shane (Sanchez and Gilford) whose car breaks down and leaves them on the streets when the siren sounds. Elsewhere, hard-working waitress Eva and her daughter Cali (Ejogo and Soul) are battening down the hatches – but even then that doesn’t mean that the Purge isn’t coming calling into their happy home.


Outside, there are also huge trucks roaming the streets alongside the masked marauders, bloodthirsty gangs and watchful snipers, and these trucks are packed with army-style teams who seem to have specific targets in mind too, and when Eva and Cali are grabbed, Leo sees – and this time, just can’t “drive away.”


He rescues them both, and soon they collide with the pursued pair of Liz and Shane – and now there are five. Only one of them is really ready for action, but aside from the maniacs, murderers and truckers, there are other forces; a revolutionary group led by Carmelo (Michael K. Williams), who preaches that the people have had enough of wanton murder, and that it’s really the rich who love this deadly annual playground.


For him and his followers, it’s time to take it back. For Leo’s gang, they need to stay alive. Either way, the clock is ticking…


Set the year after The Purge – a 2012 medium-sized hit that had a undeniably interesting premise – The Purge: Anarchy comes to screens as the USA is once again embroiled in a seemingly-endless series of shootings, and certainly initially plays on that travesty well (even if Carmelo and his rebels are way too like the Black Panthers, and the idea that rich=bad and poor=treated like scum could have been twisted like a stiletto, rather than butter knife).



Also, The Purge was more based around an intense domestic attack, and was more frightening and up-close-and-personal. Here though, nearly everything happens outside – a more dangerous place to be. That said, having a group of four strangers and just one leader leads to some unevenness; too often Leo tells the quivering bunch to “wait here” while he takes care of business, and none of them really ever step up to the plate.


That uneven feeling dominates as the story progresses, especially after the midpoint – a good scene where we see that the family home isn’t always the safest place to be – when it gets rather disjointed, turning into a kind of pseudo video game as the group are captured and then auctioned off for hunting by the rich in a kind of fake country estate paintball arena.


Leo does the lion’s share of the work there as well, before he finally gets back to the job in hand. So, despite the protests of idealistic teenager Cali and Eva will he kill, despite having saved? That’s for cinema-goers to find out, though a couple of things are certain: that there will be another “Purge” next year, and that America’s love of guns will keep making this movie seem scarily plausible.

James Bartlett

16 (See IFCO for details)
103 mins

The Purge: Anarchy is released on 25th July 2014

The Purge: Anarchy – Official Website


The Fault in Our Stars

fault in our stars

DIR:  Josh Boone • WRI: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber • PRO: Wyck Godfrey, Marty Bowen • DOP: Ben Richardson • ED: Robb Sullivan • CAST: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, Willem Dafoe

Based on the best-selling book by John Green, this teenage drama/romance has been as highly anticipated – especially by teenage girls – as, well, any instalment of  The Hunger Games or the recent Insurgent, and it’s probably no coincidence that Woodley stars in that second film as well as this one.

She plays Hazel, a teenager on the cusp of being an adult and suffering from a cancer that affects her lungs, and can make going upstairs an exhausting effort. She constantly carries an oxygen tank behind her, and a tube leads from it across her face and to her nostrils.

Nevertheless she’s a “miracle,” a cancer trial seeming to have done the trick for her (for now at least) and so she attends an awkward Jesus-centred cancer survivors group for other teens, and it’s there that she meets handsome Gus (Ansel Elgort), who lost a leg to his cancer, but is in remission.

He’s there in support of his best bud Isaac (Nat Woolf), who will soon lose both eyes to his disease, and is immediately drawn to the tomboyish Hazel. The pair finds an instant connection in their love of a book about cancer, their thoughts about life – and how they know it’s going to be short – and with two sets of supportive parents looking on happily but warily, a friendship develops.

It’s more than that of course, and the ever-gallant Gus decides to use his “Make A Wish” moment for a trip to Amsterdam for the two of them to meet Peter Van Houten, the man behind the book they love. They had both contacted him by email, and with ever-supportive Grace’s mom (Laura Dern) in tow and looking to be matchmaker, a wonderful trip to Old Europe follows.

There’s a posh meal, champagne, Gus declaring his barely-hidden love for Hazel (despite her worry they should just be “friends”) and everything is “cool” and “awesome,” like it is for teens these days. But then, when they finally meet Van Houten (Willem DeFoe), he’s a nasty, bad-tempered drunk with no answers and little sympathy. Gus had bad news too – his cancer is back, and it aint going away – but now they become lovers in every way, and look to the future regardless.

Back in the USA things go downhill, and as the couple try to enjoy their wholesome romance, eulogies are requested – and performed at a special “friends only” rehearsal funeral for Gus – before the inevitable midnight phone call finally comes…

If you think this sounds like a romance melodrama worthy of a teenage Barbara Cartland, you’d be absolutely right. Teenage girls across the world will cry and swoon over this regardless of what anyone says, and you can see why; this is teenage cancer via The Gap.

It’s a world where everyone is quirky or handsome with smooth skin, all the parents wear cool clothes, are endlessly caring and there’s never any mention of where on earth the many hundreds of thousands – or even millions – of dollars are coming from to pay for all this treatment.

There’s nothing nasty or icky or gut-wrenchingly awful or excruciating to watch – like cancer really is – and for all her apparent gutsiness, Hazel follows behind Gus like a passive lamb; he’s the boyfriend of her dreams. So of course, he has to die.

That said, Elgort does more or less steal the show, working hard with his showroom dummy-esque role – you almost expect him to have no genitals, like a Ken doll – and it’s actually Woolf, in two scenes where he rages about being dumped by his girlfriend because “she can’t handle him going blind,” who provides the only real-seeming rage or hurt. They’re all teenagers, but where are the tantrums and the whining?

Woodley – great in The Descendents but coming rather ubiquitous – plays a teen well (they all do), and though it just about avoids too much cheese and sugar (save for the scene in the Anne Frank house), this is something that’s likely to be a staple of many family’s DVD collection, despite that fact that males will bridle immediately at the title, and few people over 21 are going to be able to stand watching it, especially since at over two hours it’s way too long.

James Bartlett


12A (See IFCO for details)
125 mins

The Fault in Our Stars is released on 20th June 2014

The Fault in Our Stars – Official Website


From the Archive: Five Ways To Kill Your Script



Film Ireland gets some not-to-be-ignored advice from James Bartlett, story analyst to the Sundance Institute amongst other illustrious organisation.



Living in Hollywood and working as a script reader and story editor, I know that studios, agencies and production companies receive hundreds of scripts per day. The market in Europe may be less intense (and less well-funded), but either way, someone like me is going to be the first person to read your script.


Over 10 years of script reading I have noticed the same 13 mistakes appearing time and time again in scripts. These ‘red flags’ are all a reason to say ‘No’, and I devised the lecture ‘Hollywood Screenwriting: Jumping The First Hurdle’ to help writers by talking about these 13 mistakes, looking at screenwriting competitions and the industry as a whole so that they’ll have a more sellable, professional product. Whether you’re a new writer or an experienced professional, everyone makes these mistakes – believe me!


1. Spelling and Punctuation

It may seem obvious, but 75–80% of scripts have this problem. You call yourself a writer and want to be paid to write, yet you can’t spell? Or you don’t know the correct usage of ‘you’re’ and ‘your’ or ‘it’s’ and ‘its’? Remarkably, ‘loose’ and ‘lose’ are always incorrect, and Spell Check is simply not enough.


Frank is slumped on the coach, polishing off a bear. A dozen bears are strewn on the coffee table, a one man party that didn’t go so well.

The writer means a ‘beer’ of course, yet Spell Check reads ‘bear’ as a word. I’ve even read scripts where the very first word was spelled wrong! Try reading your script from the end to the beginning and keep checking, because there’s never any excuse…


2. Introducing Characters

When any character first appears, their name should be in CAPS (i.e. JOHN or WAITER). It should not be in caps in the scene description from then on, because IT gets REALLY hardTO READ when ALMOST every other WORD is IN CAPITAL letters, and secondly, it’s a nightmare for casting (unless you have hundreds of characters all named JOHN in your script).


3. Songs, Poems & Quotes

Firstly, music licensing is often complicated and expensive. Producers always cut the music budget first too, so it’s best not to keep drawing attention to it. Also, while it may seem like a good idea, what happens if the reader doesn’t know the song, doesn’t like it, or thinks it doesn’t work with the scene? Then it takes him/her out of the story, and it comes off as an attempt to manufacture emotion.


An opera aria plays on the car stereo: ‘Morgen!’ from Strauss’ Wesendonk Lieder WWV91.


The important information here is that opera is playing on the car stereo; listing the song itself is the mark of an amateur (unless of course the script is an original musical).


4. Prompts, Asides & Jokes To The Reader

This often manifests itself by showing knowledge of films, books, the film business, or the screenwriting process itself. Don’t ever address the reader outside the world of the story, just impress them with your characters, dialogue and narrative – that’s all they care about.


He is Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom, focused on his prize, moving forward despite the ghosts and ghouls lurking in the darkness, waiting for him, ready to strike.


The Delivery Guy leans against a hand truck and talks as if he were pontificating on Nietzsche’s theme of eternal recurrence.


As this happens, several people in the theatre feel great about laying down ten bucks to see this on the big screen – recession be damned!


His wife Kathleen pokes her head around the door and smiles. See, I told you we would see her again – and soon.


Her smile, the twinkle in her eyes – it’s pretty hard not to love her.


5. Formatting

Incorrect presentation and formatting makes your script stand out a mile – in a bad way – and though there are many differing opinions, in the US there are very, very strict industry standards.


Use Courier 12 font to write (no bolding , underlining, italics or colours), punch with two holes at top and bottom, and bind with brass fasteners (known as ‘brads’ for some unknown reason).


Some competitions even have categories for formatting, and the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting (the biggest screenwriting competition and worth entering) even has a guide ( so you can be sure of 10 points at least.


To learn about the rest of the mistakes, get some insider information and find out the positive steps that make your script a better read, come to ‘Hollywood Screenwriting: Jumping The First Hurdle’.

This article originally appeared in Film Ireland Magazine, Issue 133, 2010

Currently based in Los Angeles, James Bartlett is a story analyst for the Sundance Institute, the Nicholl Fellowships, the UCLA Professional Screenwriting Program, the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards and National Geographic Films. He also reads for several UK regions, is the US consultant for Euroscript, and lectures across the UK and Ireland. He’s available for private consultation at

James will be in Filmbase on Thursday, 7th November to deliver his Screenwriting Pitching Workshop plus a three-hour seminar: Hollywood Screenwriting: Jumping the First Hurdle