Logan: sad, beautiful and final

Film

James Mangold is a compelling director; in that a lot of his work has real emotional depth and nuance, and often benefits from repeat viewing. And he’s kind of underappreciated. I mean, Girl, Interrupted, 3:10 To Yuma and Walk The Line all had him at the helm.

And yes, granted, he’s also got The Wolverine on his filmography, but we’re all allowed a little stumble now and then, right?

And I have to say, with Logan – almost certainly Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart’s last portrayal of the characters – Mangold has finished with superheroes on a high (assuming he’s not coming back to direct again). Because, simply put, this film is poles apart from almost ALL superhero movies (even Deadpool), in that it’s a melancholy love letter to Logan, aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Charles Xavier, aka Professor X (Patrick Stewart), as the two that are heart and soul – and indeed spine – of the X-Men franchise.

Theirs is the father-son dynamic that’s touched on consistently throughout prior films, but is really brought front and centre here. And, structure wise, we’re in somewhat different territory. Because whilst superhero films (these days) are often Westerns half in disguise, Logan wears this badge proudly, with Mangold really playing to his strengths as a director.

In that it’s a muscular, visceral, downtrodden and wistful story. One that’s gritty, painfully real, and lacks any semblance of a Hollywood shine. (I mean, within one scene more F bombs get dropped than the rest of the franchise put together.)

Indeed, Mangold has previously stated his touchpoints were Shane, The Cowboys, Paper Moon, Little Miss Sunshine and The Wrestler. And, for me, the latter two cited really shine through. Whether it’s the road trip structure or the fact Logan shares a lot of common ground with Mickey Rourke’s wrestler, in that he’s a ‘broken down old piece of meat’, you sense these influences keenly.

And, story wise, it also takes its cues from the Old Man Logan series of graphic novels. So within the opening scenes where we meet Logan, he’s a grey-haired, shabby limo driver. He drinks, he’s bleary-eyed, bent, broken and walks with a limp. So he’s oceans away from his body being the temple of earlier films. Now it’s more a urinal. In short, he’s a right mess and borderline suicidal.

Plus the fact he’s got a half-senile Charles to look after; shacked up in a metal bunker in Mexico (described in one scene as a man with the world’s most dangerous brain and a degenerative brain disorder to match. A lethal combination). So gone are the days of the mansion and gone are the days of mutants and the X-Men. Logan and Charles are practically all that’s left. And they’re barely clinging to life as it is.

But… they’re given purpose by the arrival of a young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), who has certain familiar abilities. And so Logan is tasked – with Charles in tow – to attempt to evade bad guys and get her to the safety of Canada. So we end up with a sort of mismatched family road movie – with Logan as the cantankerous yet caring father, Charles as the doddering yet insightful grandfather, and Laura as the wild, precocious daughter looking for a family and sense of belonging.

And, whilst the whole film has many sweet notes, it’s also immensely sad and surprisingly violent (every Wolverine kill is far bloodier and more gory than ever before).

This is also, without a shadow of a doubt, both Jackman and Stewart’s best performances as these characters. The studio has clearly given Mangold license to do things a bit differently, and it’s really paid off.

The world feels more real. It’s the most emotional ‘superhero’ film yet (in any franchise) and it’s focused in its use of a handful of characters tops, which is really refreshing (the swollen cast of recent X-Men outings was beginning to bore me a bit).

So ultimately, this is a strong contender for the best X-Men movie to date, or at least a firm second place. And you could argue that without all the prior films the weight of emotion wouldn’t ring true here, and that this movie needs to stand fully alone to be considered the best. And that’s valid.

But it’s also worth noting that this movie does FAR more right than it does wrong. Coupled with the fact that more than a handful of scenes are truly heartbreaking.

Now how many X-Men films could you say that about?

RIP Alan Rickman: we’ve lost a great

My musings

First David Bowie goes then, mere days later, we lose Alan Rickman. Both 69 and both lost their battles with cancer. This just isn’t acceptable. It’s so, so sad.

But I am sure the man that so artfully played Severus Snape in Harry Potter wouldn’t want us to be morose and down in the dumps, oh no. For little do people know, but Alan Sidney Patrick Rickman was a bit of a joker and had a great sense of humour. That’s the rub kids, he was acting. Acting. And he was bloody good at it too.

So rather than mourn his death let’s celebrate his life and, more specifically, his excellent body of cinematic work. Known for playing bad and despicable types, Rickman’s first credit on IMDb is for the nefarious Tybalt in a TV movie of Romeo & Juliet in 1978. This must have set the scene for what came next, surely? For a decade later, having worked steadily in TV and theatre, he made his big screen debut as the delectable – and thoroughly evil – Hans Gruber in Die Hard in 1988. A classic bad guy, and thoroughly worthy opponent for Bruce Willis’ cop in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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For me, the next time I saw Rickman chew up the scenery and scare – and hugely entertain – everyone around him, was as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves in 1991. Again, surrounded by Americans who weren’t quite sure what to do with him, they muddled by as best they could as he threatened to ‘cut their hearts out with a spoon.’ His legend status was beginning to cement nicely.

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He then decided to tone it down a bit, taking the role of the Metatron (the voice of God) in a quirky indie flick called Dogma, starring a young Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. His entrance, causing Linda Fiorentino to raise an eyebrow (no easy thing, she’s fiesty), proved he was very much in on the joke.

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Demonstrating his comedy chops were just as fearsome as his bad guy routine, he continued the trend that year playing a jaded and exasperated actor slowly unravelling (and massively enjoying himself in the process) in cult hit Galaxy Quest, a send-up of Star Trek, opposite Sigourney Weaver and Tim Allen.

Then, in 2001, we got to see his take on the character for which he’s most well known, Severus Snape in Harry Potter. At the time just a fledgling film and not the juggernaut franchise we now know and love. And whilst the whole cast went towards making it a success – and spawning the aforementioned franchise – Rickman’s performance as Snape (probably the most accurate portrayal of a Harry Potter character by any of the cast) was no doubt a big part of that success.

So with the franchise going from strength to strength for the rest of that decade, Alan was kept busy, but to his credit he never let the character of Snape go stale. He was always finding new ways to give him more depth and nuance. Even make him sympathetic (he was helped by Snape’s arc in the source material, but J.K. Rowling was still writing the books and he still had to put it across what he did know convincingly on screen).

On a break from Potter in the early days he also managed to get in a romantic comedy, of sorts, in Richard Curtis’ obligatory one-to-watch-at-Christmas movie, Love Actually. Despite the gargatuan cast, he stood out. His relationship with Emma Thompson’s character is one of the most heartbreaking and affecting story strands in the whole thing.

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In 2010, in what I consider to be an inspired bit of casting, he then played the Blue Caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland. His dour delivery of lines striking just the right note to stop the film from becoming too overloaded with Johnny Depp’s mad overacting.

A few years later, in 2014, he even turned his hand to directing, in a moderately well received period piece A Little Chaos, starring Kate Winslet.

And, even though he’s now gone, we may see him again, or at least his voice, as he reprised his role as the caterpillar in the not-yet-released Alice Through The Looking Glass.

So on a final note, to paraphrase/steal a line from Tommy Lee Jones in Men In Black… Alan Rickman isn’t dead, he’s just gone home.

But if I’m wrong, RIP Mr Rickman, wherever you are, you’ll be missed beyond measure.

 

RIP David Bowie: You remind me of the babe

Music, On my mind

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll know… David Bowie died today finally losing his battle with cancer aged 69, and tributes flooded the internet because, despite what most of us like to think, Bowie was a freak. An oddity.

And we’re all odd freaks too (most of us), so we loved that he allowed us to embrace that. Simply put, he showed us the way – through his music, acting and constant reinvention. He took us to the heavens and the stars helping us expand our thinking, and he naval-gazed in his quieter moments, causing us to reflect inward and question ourselves.

On a personal level I discovered Bowie through old cassette tapes in my parent’s music collection. I had a listen and liked them, but didn’t quite ‘get it’, so put them aside and went back to my house records (I used to DJ a bit back then).

Then, around ten years later in my mid-20s, I found Bowie again.

Now I own an acoustic guitar and his songs had ways of finding me and making me sing alone in my room, expressing myself in a most liberating manner. From Space Oddity to A Man Who Sold The World to Starman, I sang my little heart out. What music was this? It was glorious and timeless (but in a good way, not a stuffy, Antiques Roadshow kind of way).

Then I became aware of his work in film, watching him steal scenes in The Prestige opposite Hugh Jackman. And so I revisited an ’80s, coming-of-age classic, The Labyrinth, where he was something of a force of nature, strutting his stuff in leather trousers opposite a young Jennifer Connelly.

I could go on… and on. But, well, you get it. If Bowie meant something to you then he meant something to you. And he kind of meant something to a great many of us, in profoundly different ways.

So, as tribute, below are a selection of clips that meant something to me.

Rest in peace David Bowie, you’re now among the stars.

 

The Leftovers: season two review

TV

Where does one begin with The Leftovers? It’s safe to say it’s like no other show out there. For sure, it has shades of other shows, mostly drama. But there’s a lot in there, and a lot that’ll go over your head (it did mine).

It’s also maddeningly infuriating too. As viewers and consumers and fans and critics we’re used to knowing everything these days. Instant gratification. The Leftovers takes that away from us. It puts us in the same boat as the characters, utterly lost and confused. And you sort of love it for that.

Assuming you’ve seen season one (it would take too long to explain, see here), season two picks up with the Garvey family (well, Kevin, Jill, Nora and a random baby) moving to Jarden, a town in Texas which has seemingly been spared the apocalypse while the rest of the world has not.

As well as being a tourist attraction the town is also closely guarded – after all, they can’t just let anyone in. This expands the world of The Leftovers and gives us an insight into other communities and how they’ve dealt – or failed to deal – with what happened; as the people of Jarden aren’t as ‘spared’ as the Garvey family first think. Furthermore, fleeing to this place won’t solve all of Kevin’s problems – he still suffers from guilt and is plagued by suicidal thoughts and visions which worsen as this season progresses.

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Other characters get a few scenes to keep things varied, but most are largely sidelined (Jill and Nora, prime suspects). So this season, it’s really all about Kevin. How does he adjust to Jarden? How does he deal with his guilt and depression? How does he connect with those closest to him?

With this show (based on a book by Tom Perotta), screenwriter Damon Lindelof has crafted something incredibly poignant, nuanced and painfully flawed. It takes a long, hard look at death, loss, grief, faith, religion, zealotry, persecution, belief – and a heck of a lot more. It poses more questions than it answers and, as a viewer, you’re often at pains to see where, if anywhere, the story is heading. Yet that’s its strength.

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And it has matured drastically between seasons one and two, shifting locations, adding characters, expanding the world and so on. Currently HBO are pondering whether it deserves a third season. Like many, I’m torn (almost every reaction I have to do with this show). On the one hand, like many fans, I crave a third season, one which might provide some answers, or at least some glimpse of where it’s going. But then, the show’s not about answers and story arc, not really. It bucks convention.

In some ways ending where it does would be sort of perfect. It’s dramatic, narratively satisfying and poetically beautiful. And I bet most shows would give a lot to be able to say the same thing after two seasons. Golden age of television, indeed.

Amy: the girl with demons that were just too dark to overcome

Film

From great pain comes great genius. And let’s not muck about, Amy Winehouse, the gobby girl from North London, the unassuming jazz singer, had both in buckets.

This documentary – directed by Asif Kapadia, the man who brought us Senna a few years back – charts her life through mostly previously unseen footage in a compelling and deeply affecting way.

I’ll say from the outset I was – and still am – a big fan.

I loved her music, that unique and beguiling voice, the darkness she carried that came out in her lyrics and – this may seem callous but – I cannot think of another artist that, if they died, I’d be that cut up about. There was obviously something about her that spoke to me.

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Darkness, pain, loneliness, vulnerability – these things can mean a lot to a lot of people and Amy was our figurehead. When she died it was a shock, although the act not shocking in itself. More that maybe it hadn’t happened sooner, in a way, given the media frenzy which surrounded her later years (which we’ll come to in a bit).

With Amy we get a detailed insight into her inner circle, the people closest to her and how her eventual demise came to pass. From her friends and various managers and producers to her absent family, all seemed to play a part in trying to help her get back on track, but almost all ultimately failed her in some way.

And some more than others.

The person that got cast in the worst light was probably her father, Mitch Winehouse (who came out after the film’s release, surprisingly enough, saying he wanted the filmmakers to make changes). With her most famous song, Rehab, directly referencing the fact he told her not to go, he had dealt his own hand in terms of how he wanted to be portrayed as a father. This absenteeism as a role model for Amy continued right up until the end.

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In fact, time and again Kapadia comes back to clips that illustrate the fact that most of Amy’s darkness and self-destructive impulses stemmed from the lack of a father figure in her life. Starting with Mitch leaving the family to have an affair whilst she was growing up, she then spent the rest of her life trying to replace him, either with boyfriends/husbands (Blake Fielder-Civil being the worst of the bunch) or managers and producers or, near the end, bodyguards.

The media also comes under Kapadia’s scrutiny (and rightly so), with the rise of the paparazzi scrum hounding her every move directly contributing to her downward spiral. (In some ways the same thing happened with Princess Diana, so it’s clear we’ll never learn.) In this Kapadia makes us complicit, we’re just as much to blame as anyone within her inner circle. We buy the magazines and read the tabloids and gobble up all the sordid details of her destruction like sharks out for blood.

The sucker punch, the killer blow if you will, was that Amy almost turned a corner right before the end. She did a duet with her idol Tony Bennett (who said she was up there with greats like Ella Fitzgerald) and she planned, by the looks of it, to return to her jazz roots. But then, in a flash, it was all over.

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If you were a fan of Amy Winehouse you’ll most likely find the film engaging and insightful. If you weren’t, you’ll still get something from it, as it’s a fascinating look at the recent and tragic demise of a modern-day musical genius and the factors that contributed to her downfall.

Kapadia seems to have treated the material sensitively and portrayed Amy in a sympathetic light. Whether you choose to – as I do – feel a little responsible and quite disgusted by the way the world ended up treating her will be up to you.

For me, it made me raw again that she’s gone. But this was an important film to make and the story needed to be told.

Rest in peace Amy. We’ll miss you, always.

The Age of Adaline: Who wants to live forever?

Film

There’s a TV show I’m watching at the moment called Forever, starring Ioan Gruffudd as the lead character who cannot age. In each episode something happens to trigger his memory to a time in his past when a similar thing happened. Thus we learn a little about his character and it gives him a chance – in a knowing voice-over – to impart his wisdom on the strange things people do that shapes their lives.

It’s an easy watch, not too taxing and has a certain degree of charm. In the case of The Age of Adaline a similar flashback technique is regularly employed, but it tends to slow the whole story down to a plod at best, but let’s start, as most stories do, from the top.

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We meet Adaline (Blake Lively) working in a library in modern-day San Francisco. We learn (through the first of many lethargic flashbacks) that she was in an accident decades ago which causes her not to age – and to avoid suspicion she keeps people at arm’s length and changes identity every ten years.

You know the message of the film before it’s even got going. If you continually push people away you’ll never really live, blah blah. To get her living life she meets handsome stranger Ellis Jones (Dutch actor Michiel Huisman, most recently seen as Daario Naharis in Game of Thrones) who eventually cracks her frosty exterior and forces her to make a choice – after much to-ing and fro-ing – to live and actually love.

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But, like I say, you know all this. You’ll see it coming a mile away.

What you probably don’t count on is, halfway through, with the story heading the way we expect, we get treated to the pleasure of Harrison Ford turning up as Ellis’s dad, William. As things flag a little he gives everything a much needed lift and brings real warmth, gravitas and star power to proceedings.

In essence, he shows the youngsters how this acting lark is done.

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As a lead, Blake Lively is perfectly fine. Nothing she does will really blow you away but it’s a solid performance. In terms of looks you can see why she was cast; there’s a sort of timeless beauty about her that fits well. I spent the film’s first third giving her a hard time, likening her to a poor woman’s Rosumund Pike (who would have been great), but Lively does get better as she goes on and I warmed to her eventually. Damning with faint praise you might say, but praise nonetheless.

Returning to my earlier point about TV; as a story this one is slight and doesn’t feel that cinematic. Plus the regular flashbacks – which work well in the episodic nature of the small screen – do grind things to a halt here, testing even the most patient moviegoer.

Take Forest Gump for example. A guy sits on a bench and tells his story and each flashback is a joy as his life was so varied and full of excitement. Plus Hanks really sells it.

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The problem with Adaline is that her flashbacks all seem to be wistful, melancholy and full of remorse, which makes for a rather strained watch and she becomes difficult for the audience to like on any level.

The title of this blog, as some of you may have spotted, refers to the song by Queen in Highlander, a beautiful track that elevated a bit of a B-movie. Yet… even there the main character led an exciting life. And the flashbacks helped serve a dramatic story in the present. In The Age of Adaline her tale in the present day is just a straight up romance. C’mon guys, you need to mix it up a little.

So there you have it. A passable film with a reasonable cast and a bit of a wobbly concept. One to catch on a Sunday night but maybe skip at the cinema.

Death

Poetry

Death. What is death anyway?
If life is a journey from the cradle to the grave, where does it all end? How are we supposed to behave?
Religion has us all believing that we’re part of the plan, that if we stand up and help our fellow man we’ll be welcomed in, absolved of sin and born again.
There’s comfort in that I suppose. And for those of us that chose a different path, what then? Are we out on our arse? Straight to hell in a handcart?
Death frightens me I’ll admit it.
Whether heaven or hell await me I can’t say. For all I know my path is pre-ordained, like a stain on the carpet of life no matter the strife I endure I am constant until the end.
Do I have an arc? Am I supposed to learn something along the way?
Am I supposed to love, hate, work and pray?
Let’s say religion is for suckers but praying has a place, like meditation it takes us to a space where our minds can be free. Free to sing and dance and soar beyond ourselves, to transcend.
But this is only momentary, fleeting, short-lived. Like a damp squib our lives can be extinguished in the blink of an eye.
There’s nothing sadder than the moment after a party popper is released.
The climax has come and gone, all too sudden.
We cease.

Ps. Some of you may notice the feature image for this piece is Death, one of the endless, taken from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. Neil worked with Terry Pratchett from time to time and they were friends. Terry died last month and this is my tribute to him. ‘Why not use Death from the Discworld series then?’, some of you may ask. Whilst he’s a great character he felt too masculine. I felt this piece needed a female Death, hence one of the endless.

Ex Machina: Lessons in playing God

Film

Alex Garland is a mighty fine writer. He’s now a director. His past writing credits include The Beach, 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go, Dredd and now Ex Machina.

With the latter he’s stepped up to the director’s chair, and done so without missing a beat. He’s been helped by a great cast of course, in three rising stars: Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander.

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The story here starts with young coder Caleb (Gleeson) winning a competition to spend a week with reclusive genius Nathan (Isaac), CEO of Bluebook (essentially, Google). He quickly finds out he’s to be the subject of a ‘Turing test’ (to determine artificial intelligence) with beautiful cyborg Ava (Vikander).

Attempting to manipulate – or at least stay on the good side of – an unhinged genius is something Gleeson has done before (in Frank opposite Michael Fassbender), but here he has his work cut out for him with Nathan.

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Right from their first meeting we see Nathan pumping iron outside his beautiful forest/mountain retreat. He’s a beast of a man with a shaved head and bushy, slightly unkempt beard, looking more like South American gangster than the head of one of the world’s most powerful tech companies. But then that’s the point, he’s not what you expect. He confounds expectations.

And with a masterclass in passive-aggressive behaviour, Isaac keeps us guessing. We see him as Gleeson’s Caleb sees him; drinking heavily then attempting to cancel it out by furiously detoxing. He calls Caleb his buddy, sharing a beer with him one moment then the next cutting him off mid-sentence with a psychotic look or antagonistically dismissive comment. In short, he’s used to being in control but has his demons. Lots of them, judging by the film’s first third.

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As most of us have been dimly aware, over the last few years Gleeson’s career has skyrocketed. Other actors often have showier parts, but he tends to provide the anchor to the story and a way in for the audience – if he was a footballer he’d be a defensive midfielder. Often overlooked, but the rest of the team know he makes them look good.

And talking of the rest of the team, when Caleb isn’t having unnerving conversations with Nathan he’s being challenged by Ava in an altogether different manner. Vikander is a revelation as Ava, all sharp, precise movements and piercing looks, she puts Caleb on the back foot from the get-go, challenging why he’s there and what he truly wants and desires, making him question himself as much as the situation.

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All in all, this is a riveting film from start to finish. The three leads excel in equal measure and Garland’s script and direction are strong. It’s tense, dramatic, emotional, and makes you question – in terms of technology and what it means to be human – where we as a race are going. Or where we might be going. It’s timely too, with Stephen Hawking’s recent comments that the existence of AI poses a threat to our very existence.

So, if films cannot tackle big themes and do so in a commanding, compelling and affecting manner, then what good are they? Or, to put it another way, if you care about the future of humanity and thoughtful, challenging filmmaking, go see this film.

Wild: Witherspoon’s epic journey of discovery

Film

Reese Witherspoon is due a good performance. The last time she gave one, let’s be honest, was as June Carter in Walk The Line in 2005. Since then she’s been coasting a little with below par rom-coms and the like.

However that’s water under the bridge now, or snow down the mountain, whatever wilderness phrase you care to use; for with Wild she gives a raw, real, stripped back and unflinchingly honest performance in this true tale, based on the memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed.

Reese Witherspoon in Wild

Witherspoon plays Cheryl, a woman who has had an altogether bad lot in life. Following the rather sudden and early death of her mother (Laura Dern) as well as a messy divorce, she tries to numb the pain with drugs and meaningless sex (don’t we all?), but realises the only way to come out the other side of her grief is to ‘put yourself in the way of beauty’, as her mother puts it. So she opts to hike the entire length of the Pacific Crest Trail to rediscover who she is and come to terms with her grief and self-loathing.

Following Dallas Buyers Club in 2013 Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee has delivered a one-two punch on his filmography in the last couple of years, drawing incredibly honest and affecting performances from his leads – McConaughey in Dallas and Witherspoon here.

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He directs in a languid, unhurried style, with confidence in his script (penned by author Nick Hornby) and lead actress. Cheryl’s journey up the PCT covers over 1000 miles and is mostly slow plodding, so as an audience we need some respite. Vallee gradually builds up a picture of Cheryl and why she’s taken on this life-defining challenge by giving us regular flashbacks to her past, which play out like a pleasant fever dream (if there is such a thing), like casting your mind back to a perfect summer’s day as a kid.

Whilst clearly painful to relive these memories, Cheryl is being driven along by a deep, almost unfathomable love for her mother, played superbly by Dern (who herself brings a vitality and vulnerability to a relatively small role). Vallee allows many scenes to take place wordlessly, or with little dialogue, letting us think and feel as an audience. With so many modern movies spoonfeeding emotions the filmmakers would like us to feel, it’s a refreshing approach for a director to treat the audience with this level of mutual respect.

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As a result this is one of those films where you can expect to be saddened, touched, uplifted and delighted. It has lighter moments peppered throughout (a particularly amusing hitchhiking encounter with a journalist is one to watch out for), as well as some incredibly tender moments (one where a young child sings Cheryl a song will probably have you getting a bit misty-eyed).

Moreover, the character of Cheryl is an interesting one… it’s clear why Witherspoon was drawn to the part. It’s the sort of challenging role you could see Jennifer Lawrence playing, as it’s a bit like her character in Winter’s Bone. However she’s in so much these days that it’s good it went to someone else.

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And Witherspoon is nigh on perfect for Cheryl. She’s one tough cookie, yet achingly vulnerable underneath it all. Physically she really laid herself bare. This is no ‘let’s slap a bit of fake Hollywood dirt on her’ approach, she really looks like she’s been hiking in the outdoors for months. An engrossing performance, made all the more poignant by the fact that it’s a true tale.

They do say that you can’t beat real life for the best stories, and this shows it. So hurrah for Vallee, Hornby and Witherspoon for bringing this sort of story to the screen. If this marks a new direction for Witherspoon’s career, I’ll be paying much closer attention from now on.

The Leftovers: season one review

TV

The brainchild of novelist Tom Perrotta and brought to the small screen with the help of Damon Lindelof (the chap that drove most of us mad with frustration for years with Lost), The Leftovers was an unexpectedly beautiful and tragically poignant portrayal of the way society – and the world at large – copes with loss on a massive yet distinctly personal scale.

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The show begins with an event in which a significant portion (2%) of the world’s population vanishes in an instant, never to be seen again. The show isn’t too concerned with explaining where these people have gone, but more so with how the people left behind deal with life moving forward. Hence… The Leftovers.

To give the story an anchor (and focus) it’s largely told from the point of view of the Garvey family, particularly the Chief of Police Kevin (Justin Theroux), an amazingly complex (and thoroughly conflicted) individual.

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The rest of the cast includes Kevin’s daughter Jill (Margaret Qualley) and father (Scott Glenn), the former Chief of Police; Nora Durst (Carrie Coon), a mother who lost her entire family during the event; her brother Matt (Christopher Eccleston), a local priest who cannot reconcile his beliefs with what has happened; Meg Abbott (Liv Tyler), a lady recently converted to local cult the Guilty Remnant, led by the resolute Patti Nevin (Ann Dowd).

At first, like a lot of people, I felt confused then indignant when I realised we’d not be shown what happened to those that vanished. You have to imagine that this was a conscious decision by the show’s creators, forcing viewers to experience similar emotions that those coping with – and trying to understand – the nature of loss might arguably go through.

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As avid (or resentful) fans of Lost are quick to point out, if you know Lindelof’s work you’ll know he likes to leave telling clues throughout his shows. Make no mistake though, clues is about all this shares with Lost. This is, through and through, a character study of a group of troubled individuals trying to live out their lives. But there is a constant stream of what could be clues, or at least suggestive imagery throughout.

A standout performance worth mentioning is Theroux’s Kevin Garvey, a self-confessed ‘bad guy’, despite (or because of?) his position of power as police chief. With a wife who’s joined the Guilty Remnant and wants a divorce through to a daughter with whom he cannot connect, a son on the run from the law and a father who’s been locked up on insanity charges, Kevin barely holds it together throughout the season, slightly unravelling with each episode.

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You could say his family represents a microcosm of the town at large and their problems, beliefs and conflict. Nora is another brilliant character. Utterly consumed with grief at the loss of her family she goes to some very dark places during the season, with Carrie Coon putting in a raw and unflinching performance.

Perrotta and Lindelof probably pose more questions than answers with this show. Where did the people go who vanished? Did they deserve to go? Are the ones that stayed the lucky or unlucky ones? Initially I found this story a difficult one to connect with, it’s sombre, loaded with grief and the characters are hard to like or understand. Yet, if you stick with it, you’ll find it gradually unfurls into something naunced, introspective, beautiful and very, very human.