Nicholas Barber

  • AL PACINO, THE SERIOUS FUNNYMAN

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, May 26th 2015

    What would it be like to be in “An Audience with Robert De Niro”, or Dustin Hoffman, or Martin Sheen, or Robert Duvall, or Gene Hackman? Enlightening and entertaining, I’m sure. But would it be as fun as “An Audience with Al Pacino”? Definitely not.

    Last Friday at the Hammersmith Apollo in London, the party started even before Pacino took to the stage. Appropriately for a venue that specialises in rock and comedy gigs, the audience wasn’t sitting quietly as show time approached, but was swigging from plastic pint glasses and trading “Scent of a Woman” quotes at high volume. Then a montage of Pacino’s greatest hits was projected onto the backdrop, and cheers and whistles greeted every clipnone louder, of course, than the whoops for the inevitable “Scarface” catchphrase: “Say hello to my li’l frien’!” When the man himself strolled onstage, in a black suit and piratical jewellery, the audience leapt to its feet. In response, Pacino flashed a wolfish grin and delivered his opening line in that unmistakable yawp: “I think I’m home.”

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  • CANNES: A FILM FESTIVAL FROM HELL

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, May 22nd

    The Cannes film festival can be paradise. For all of its queues and its silly rules about wearing high heels on the red carpet, it also offers top-quality croissants, strolls on the beach in the sunshine, and the opportunity to stand within six feet of Salma Hayek. And then there are the films. This year’s selection has been hugely enjoyable, although a grim thread has run through it. Film after film has mapped out a harsh dystopia where people endure the cruellest imaginable ordeals. In other words, the festival’s predominant setting has been hell itself.

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  • AN ALMOST SILENT MASTERPIECE

    Short Read: for his pick of the films, Nicholas Barber is fascinated by a Ukrainian debut set in a school for the deaf

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  • RUSSELL BRAND'S HAZY AGITPROP

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, April 24th 2015

    “Everything you’re going to hear about in this film, you already know.” So says Russell Brand at the start of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, the excitable anti-banker agitprop documentary he has made with the director Michael Winterbottom. It’s a clever disclaimer. Brand immediately establishes that he hasn’t uncovered anything new about the Grand Canyon-like divide between rich and poor: he just wants to remind us that it’s okay to be angry about it. The problem for me, though, is that I’m a lot more ignorant about global financial shenanigans than Brand imagines. Like many people, I don’t know everything about off-shore tax havens and quantitative easing, and I was frustrated that “The Emperor’s New Clothes” didn’t enlighten me.

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  • TOM HARDY SHINES IN CHILD 44

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, April 16th 2015

    How do you catch a murderer in a country where murder, officially, doesn’t exist? That’s the question that keeps tripping up the characters in Daniel Espinosa’s grim, ambitious new thriller, “Child 44”, a film in which the oppressive institutional anti-logic of Stalin’s USSR is far more threatening than the serial killer on the loose.

    Adapted from Tom Rob Smith’s bestselling novel, “Child 44” features Tom Hardy as Leo Demidov (pictured), a ruthless secret-police investigator who is so efficient at snaring “traitors”, and so loyal to the Party, that he has earnt a swanky Moscow apartment and a beautiful wife, Raisa (Noomi Rapace). His rise through the ranks stalls only when his best friend’s young son is found dead by a railway track. All the forensic evidence suggests that a Russian Jack the Ripper is picking off children, but Leo’s superior officer (Vincent Cassel) declares that the boy was hit by a train: murder, after all, is a “capitalist disease” with no place in Stalin’s socialist Utopia. If Leo asks to look at the autopsy report, he will be committing treason and inviting execution—especially if his envious lieutenant (Joel Kinnaman) has anything to do with it. But after a lifetime’s profitable obedience, not even Leo can keep ignoring the chasm between the real truth and the government-approved version.

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  • REALITY BITES IN FORCE MAJEURE

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, April 9th 2015

    The Swedish family in Ruben Ostlund’s sublime comedy-drama, "Force Majeure", could have strolled straight out of a holiday brochure. When we first see them posing for a photograph on an Alpine mountainside in designer ski togs, Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) are as attractively sculpted and well dressed as models, and their adorable son and daughter complete a picture of wholesome Scandinavian health and harmony.

    There is a similar photogenic gorgeousness to the avalanche they see on the other side of the valley the next day, just as they’re sitting down to lunch on a restaurant terrace. Tomas explains that it is a controlled avalanche, set off by the resort managers, but when the thundering wave of snow gets worryingly close to the terrace, he panics and runs for cover, leaving Ebba clinging to their terrified children. The killer detail: he grabbed his phone and his gloves from the restaurant table before he bolted.

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  • TALES OF THE DISPROPORTIONATE

    Short Read: for his pick of the films, Nicholas Barber spotlights a wild Argentine portmanteau that has audiences cheering

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  • ALTMAN: DARINGLY EXPERIMENTAL

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, March 27th 2015

    When Robert Altman died in 2006, at the age of 81, he was location scouting for what would have been his 40th feature film. That’s a prodigious canon by anyone’s standards, but Altman didn’t even start directing for the big screen until he was a grey-bearded fortysomething with many, many hours of television under his belt. It’s inevitable, then, that any two-hour survey of his career will only skim like a pebble over its surface. But that thought doesn’t make “Altman” any less frustrating. The best thing about Ron Mann’s affectionate documentary is that it mentions so many fascinating incidents in passing. The worst thing is that it examines so few of them in detail.

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  • FROZEN FEVER: IT'S A DISNEY FRAUD

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, March 18th 2015

    Disney’s kitsch new live-action film of “Cinderella” is already a hit in America, and it’s sure to work its box-office magic in Britain, too, where it will be released just in time for the Easter holidays. But it would be interesting to know how many people buy tickets because they are aching to see Kenneth Branagh’s take on “Cinderella”, and how many have heard that a certain short film is being screened before it“Frozen Fever”, a seven-minute cartoon sequel to Disney’s blockbusting Oscar-winner, “Frozen”.

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  • THE FEARLESS JULIANNE MOORE

    Visual CV: she was a late starter, but now she's an Oscar-winner for her agonising portrayal of a woman with early-onset Alzheimer's. Nicholas Barber picks her best performances

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