45 YEARS***** Masterful


THE FORTY FIVE years referred to in the movie title is that of the wedding anniversary of Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff Mercer (Tom Courtenay). It’s an innocuous enough event (the last one having been cancelled due to his bypass operation) in the lives of a pleasant, happy, retired couple. But then a letter arrives informing Geoff that the body of a woman whom he had dated fifty years ago –Katya- has been discovered. It was fifty years ago when, on a hike somewhere up in the Swiss Alps, she slid, suddenly, into a crevasse and disappeared. And now, the Alps slowly melting as they are with the warming world, she has reemerged, entombed in ice.

The past has returned to cuckold the present.

The Geoff we’re introduced to is a man who seems to be shuffling toward senility and death (“the problem with old age” he tells one of his friends “is that you lose purposefulness”). He has been struggling to read Kiekegaard, the Danish philosopher. But with the arrival of the letter and the resurgence of a love long held in deep freeze like the ghost of Katya, he changes. Purpose returns. Turns out he is Katya’s next of kin. The authorities thought they’d been married. It’s a small fact he ‘thought’ he’d told his wife. He becomes secretive, petulant, and prone to prevarication. He starts smoking again. At nights, Kate discovers, he has begun to slip out of bed to their attic where, via a slide show of Katya, he can relive his past, give in to his memories and wallow… perhaps fall in love all over again with a woman dead for fifty years. Perhaps even Kate was just a wannabe version of Katya…the names are more or less the same after all.

Andrew Haigh’s brilliant movie (from a short story by David Constantine) riffs on Kiekegaard’s central philosophical construct: “Life can only be understood backward but it must be lived forward”. The issue isn’t so much that the past is always part of the present (T. S. Eliot re-construed Kiekegaard in “The Four Quartets” with his words that could be the tag line for the movie: “All time is eternally present”). Indeed the whole point of an anniversary is the celebration of the elasticity of love from past to present (and Haigh’s soundscape wonderful knits present and past together with all the hits of the 60’s.) The issue rather is that Geoff’s past is a secret unshared.

It’s as though he’s having an affair with a memory.

The discovery by Kate of Geoff’s secretly rekindled romance alters the dynamic of their relationship. The couple we met pre the arrival of the letter was one in which she was definitely the one in charge: the dynamic vibrant and somewhat superior one, guiding – as is expected of wives – her ageing, mumbling spouse (For the first half of the movie, Geoff isn’t greeted with the usual words “Hello, how are you?” but with the words “Are you OK?”). After the letter, as the reality dawns upon her that Geoff is escaping his present – her – for a better past –Katya – the wind in her sails dies away. You feel as though she’s imitating the actions of a person, distractedly planning their engagement party; but still maybe clinging to the hope that Geoff’s new found passion is just a phase (he has the desire to make love again…just not the prowess).

The big moment is the anniversary celebration where the song to which they’d danced forty five years ago was “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”. For some reason we all remember that song as one of those uber romantic songs. But as they dance, the darkness of the words sink in and the secrecy of the past finally trump the present:

“Now laughing friends deride
Tears I cannot hide.
So I smile and say
When a lovely flame dies, smoke gets in your eyes”

“45 Years” seems to be quietly reeling in awards: both Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay won awards recently at the Silver Berlin Bear Festival. And it won Best British Film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. They’re well deserved. Rampling and Courtenay’s acting is impeccable: understated, nuanced, compellingly believable (and interestingly, miles away from the showy agonies demanded of an Oscar).

The movie itself is a jewel of movie-making craftsmanship.

In the first scene, we see a jaunty Kate returning home (a nice cottage in Norfolk). She’s greeted by the postman and their very average, very pedestrian exchange maps out the entire movie’s concerns: she remarks to him how unusually early he is. He replies that it’s because of the newborn. Oh of course, she replies. She’d forgotten. She implores him to give her heartfelt best (she says she really means it) to his wife. She bids him goodbye and reminds him to call her Kate. It’s been a long time since you were a student, she concludes.

As she enters the house, we meet Geoff pouring over the letter

In two minutes, we not only get a sense of her (she was a teacher, strongly empathetic, brisk and energetic, but childless) and him (he’s bumbling, confused, trying to understand a letter written in German and given to prevarication), but the themes of birth and death, of the links between the past and the present, are immediately announced.

And so it continues for the entire movie… the references to Kiekegaard, his regression to smoking (…gets in your eyes?), her tender caring, like a mother to her child, when he cuts his thumb etc. are all part of the fabric of a movie where there’s not a wasted scene; where what passes for the casualness of everyday life or everyday conversation is always loaded with meaning.

So nice to find an adult movie among this summer’s morass of mediocrity.

MISTRESS AMERICA*** Almost Very Good



“MISTRESS AMERICA”, THE new movie from Noah Baumbach (of the brilliant, “While We Were Young” and “Frances Ha) refers to a short story penned by the young, impressionable Tracy (Lola Kirke from “Gone Girl”) about her exuberant, selfish, charismatic friend, Brooke (Greta Gerwig from “Frances Ha”, “Greenberg” etc. who also co-wrote).

Brooke has wild and totally unrealistic dreams about opening a restaurant, come community center, come hair salon, come art gallery…having herself never opened a restaurant before or for that matter, even knowing how to cook. It’s just one of the many schemes, bright ideas and follies that, undifferentiated one from the other, clutter Brooke’s lively imagination. She’s a sexy, trippy, funny, thirty year old egomaniacal loser who, in her own mind, is a success just waiting to happen. It’s not clear whether she’s simply self-delusional or has a massively inflated ego-driven overdose of self-belief.

To naïve Tracy, she’s both a leader you want to follow, and, more importantly, a character study waiting to be written. Finally to the more withdrawn, thoughtful observing eye of Tracy, here is a subject fitting her own self-centered powers of observation.

Around these two planets circle a number of lesser constellations: Tracy’s ‘object of desire’ is a nerdy looking Tony (Matthew Shear, also of “While We Were Young”) a fellow writer who seems to share none of her romantic interests; his sourpuss girlfriend, Nicolette (Jasmine Cephas Jones) is someone who may or may not have been around prior to Tracy’s crush on him; Brooke’s clear-sighted ex-boyfriend, Dylan (Michael Chernus:“Captain Phillips”) is on-tap to be, she hopes, a willing investor in her madcap restaurant dream; and his wife (Heather Lind) is the pretty, cynical guardian against any renewed amorous interests on Brooke’s part. Various parents, the deus ex machina of the entire plot, hover dimly out of sight

As with all of Baumbach’s movies, there are many wonderfully well-observed moments and sharp, nicely written repartee. Gerwig skillfully manages to make a pretty unpleasant character come across as charming and attractive to us as she appears to her coterie of fans.


“Mistress America” is billed as a comedy, but the neurotic, emotionally stunted, self-centered, Woody Allen-ish characters whose lives we observe are anything but comic. This is really a story about the failure of relationships, all of which are loosely held together, woven into the story of Brooke’s misguided plans to turn her restaurant fantasy to reality.

The characters don’t so much as relate to one another as intersect. No one quite gets along with anyone else: jealousy, self-centeredness, greed and possessiveness rather than either love or affection are the only glues that (barely) hold the relationships together.

It’s as though the title is suggesting that in this modern hip urban universe, the selflessness of love and marriage has been replaced by the selfishness and transience of the Mistress with its connotation of slightly seedy loveless coupling.


There are meta-fictions at work here. For “Mistress America” is both the name of the movie and the name of Tracy’s short story, which is both a literary success and, possibly, just her own enamoured/jaundiced view of Brooke and her world.

Indeed, art itself can at worst be nothing more than a jaundiced, highly personal view of the world. What redeems it are the inner truths and human insights that free it from misanthropic distortion. Here, Tracy’s short story is seen less in the light of its literary achievement, more as a violation of friendship. Perhaps the ego-centricity we see of Brooke is really just a projection of Tracy’s own artistic selfishness. And the loose, episodic structure of the movie, where the relationships never quite feel real is simply Baumbach’s way of a reflecting Tracy’s still immature inability to process and fully understand the underlying dynamic of couples.

In other words we’re seeing “Mistress America” both as Baumbach’s and as Tracy’s story.


“Mistress America” (why America?) is a very mixed bag: fitfully brilliant and often silly. The story’s choppy, episodic structure, with several irrelevant scenes seemingly thrown in for no purpose other than humor, give the film a forced theatrical sensibility. This is rescued only by Greta Gerwig. Baumbach is an intelligent, thoughtful writer (such a relief from Summer blockbuster rubbish), but his directorial storytelling still feels too self-conscious, too striving after a style that too often imposes itself on the story.

As a director he needs to chill and just go with the flow.

Scaremongering Plumbs New Depths as Blair Prophesies Labour “Annihilation”

a sensible blog about the present bacchanal taking place in UK politics now


a3-posterThe hysterical railing against the possibility of Jeremy Corbyn being voted in as Labour leader is now embarrassingly over the top. Blair has become the voice of doom, seeking to ramp up fear among the Labour rank and file. According to him, if we vote in Corbyn, “it won’t be a defeat” at the next election but “will mean rout, possibly annihilation”.

The Guardian front page manages to juxtapose Blair’s mad rantings about precipices and destruction with photos of a world in flames (actually a fire at a Chinese port).

The Telegraph, of course, has also jumped on the bandwagon with the Blair ‘story’ as its headline and added a quote from Jack Straw attacking “the hard-Left candidate’s (sic) ‘economic illiteracy’”.

Meanwhile, the Daily Mail has decided to launch an attack from another angle with its “exclusive” story supposedly revealing Corbyn’s “‘long-standing links’ with notorious…

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SOMETIMES IT REALLY doesn’t matter how much talent you have at your disposal. If a story, any story for that matter, fails to offer up people with whom we can connect…care enough to root for or hiss at, then all we have is a plot without a center; action without purpose, sound and fury without meaning.

Tom Cruise’s latest, and we can but hope, last outing, as the bland character-less Ethan Hunt, is another overwrought restaging of Mission Impossible; an exercise in headache-inducing tedium.

For some reason, the IMF has been disbanded (sadly not Christine Lagarde’s IMF) by Alec Baldwin, sleeping through his role as CIA director Alan Hurley. Hunt must go on the run. He’s discovered that there’s a covert version of the Force who’s been destabilizing nations for the last several years (downing aircraft, blowing up factories, killing off politicians etc). But no-one believes him. So, with the help of a mysterious MI6 spy (Rebecca Ferguson… the stand out presence in this farrago) and his loyal team of IMF-fers, he must go it alone and save the world.


He runs and jumps, holds his breath for hours, hangs on to an airborne ‘plane, dodges machine gun bullets, mows down swarms of menacing motorcyclists, narrowly avoids getting kissed by a woman (whew!), kidnaps the British PM and tries everything he can possibly do to make us give a damn.

Sadly it’s an impossible mission.

But why?

“Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation” has a tremendous collection of talent. Christopher McQuarrie who directed, was one of the writers who gave us “The Usual Suspects”. Certainly his set piece action scenes, especially a long motorcycle chase, is grippingly well done. JJ Abrams of “Lost”, the charming “Super 8”, the nicely re-booted “Star Trek” and the only fun “Mission Impossible”: Ghost Protocol, is Hollywood’s latest whizz kid producer/director. Lalo Schifrin’s heart-thumping original score is beautifully enhanced by Joe Kramer. And the cast (Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin) is, at least, solid.

The problem is partly the story, which never exhales long enough to invite us to relate to either the characters or the situation they’re in. It’s as though the producers weren’t confident enough that there was something worth engaging with, so they simply took the default route of piling on the action.

But that’s putting it nicely.

At its core, the problem is Tom, who try as he might, never ever convinces that he’s a real person. And I don’t mean his character, Ethan Hunt, I mean Tom himself. Since Tom Cruise became TOM CRUISE, the only convincing role he’s had has been that of Vincent, the cold, inhuman hit man of Michael Mann’s “Collateral”. Mann needed someone as soullessly robotic as Cameron’s Terminator; and he found it in Tom.

Director Christopher McQuarrie (who also directed Cruise in the failed “Jack Reacher”) seemed happy to go with the flow and voila! “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”, a movie as soullessly robotic as its lead actor