Nicholas Barber


    ~ 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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    ~ 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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    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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    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, February 4th 2015

    Why hasn’t David Oyelowo been nominated for an Oscar or a BAFTA? As the star of the new Martin Luther King film, “Selma”, Oyelowo (pictured) was tipped to win on both sides of the Atlantic, and his exclusion from the shortlists has prompted lots of outraged commentary—including from Oyelowo himself—much of it accusing the American and British film academies of racism. This seems unfair. “12 Years a Slave” cleaned up at last year’s awards, after all, so it is more likely that Oyelowo has been a victim of bad timing. Amanda Berry, BAFTA’s chief executive, noted that “Selma” wasn’t screened in Britain until the end of November, and that many BAFTA voters didn’t get around to seeing it. But there may be another reason for the dearth of acting nominations. It could be that the film simply doesn’t let Oyelowo go to the emotional and physical extremes that awards voters are looking for.

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    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, January 23rd 2015

    Films about artificial intelligence, from “Blade Runner” to “Her”, tend to pose two key questions: first, how can we prove that a machine has consciousness? And second, would a conscious machine have human rights? But once such films have posed those key questions, they usually move on to the issues they’re really interested in. First, will these machines decide to murder us all and take over the world? And second, will any of them look and sound like beautiful women? What’s disappointing about Alex Garland’s shiny new science-fiction mystery, “Ex Machina”, is that it seems genuinely fascinated by the first two questions, only to discard them in favour of the last two.

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    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, January 14th 2015

    Paul Thomas Anderson is probably the most revered writer-director of his generation. He was already loved for “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia”, but when he made “There Will Be Blood” and “The Master”, he came to be regarded as a major American artist whose grand themes and experimental narratives made his contemporaries seem like lightweights. It’s an assessment I would go along with. But when the trailer for his new film promised that it would be a faster, sillier, sex’n’drug-fuelled detective comedy, I couldn’t stifle a sigh of relief. Anderson, it seemed, had got his sense of humour back.

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    Short Read: for his pick of the films, Nicholas Barber taps into Damien Chazelle's exhilarating debut

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    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, January 7th 2015

    Bennett Miller’s new film, “Foxcatcher”, is bound to catch a few Oscar nominations, and I’ll be amazed if it doesn’t bag one for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. A sombre true-crime tragicomedy, “Foxcatcher” features Steve Carell as John du Pont, a delusional Pennsylvania billionaire who uses his Citizen Kane-level wealth to set himself up as an Olympic wrestling coach. But you would be forgiven for not realising that Carell was in the film at all. In an effort to help us forget his lighter comic roles in “Anchorman” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”, he has been given a broad, pale, puffy face with an overhanging brow and heavy-lidded eyes. More significantly, he has been given the nose to end all noses. Carell’s own smelling apparatus, sans make-up, isn’t exactly discreet, but in “Foxcatcher” he has a conk like a walrus’s flipper. As more than one critic has noted, the arrow-shaped schnoz his animated character has in “Despicable Me” is only marginally smaller.

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    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, December 18th 2014

    A raucous, Sherlock Holmes-themed pantomime called "Mrs Hudson's Christmas Corker" might not sound like the most highbrow play that London has to offer. But if you sample enough of the mulled wine being served in the foyer beforehand, you begin to see it differently. Not just a knockabout collection of puns and pratfalls, the play incorporates so much of what is revered in contemporary theatre that it could be the centrepiece of any prestigious international arts festival. Just look at the checklist. It’s a site-specific, time-specific project, co-created by multi-cultural performers who each flit between multiple roles. It has an onstage band and animated back projections. It has self-reflexive commentary and audience participation. And it has a masculine literary source which is given a gynocentric makeover. Finally, it was developed in a hidden-away urban venue that is being rescued slowly from dilapidation. Beat that, National Theatre.

    The venue is Wilton’s, a mid-19th-century music hall that was derelict for decades before reopening in the late 1990s. On the border between the City and Docklands, it has somehow escaped being demolished by Boris Johnson and replaced by a block of bankers’ flats, and its flaking grandeur is regularly employed in music videos and films, including Woody Allen’s “Cassandra’s Dream” and Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”.

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    Ever watched a film and felt you could have made it shorter, sharper or less irritating? Nicholas Barber on the rise of the fan edit

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