Nicholas Barber

  • “SPOTLIGHT” COULD SHINE BRIGHTER

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, September 3rd 2015

    Anyone who makes a film set in a big-city newspaper office is required by law to include certain elements: the scene in which a reporter asks an editor for more time on a story, the thunderous rolling of the printing presses when that story is completed. And sure enough, those scenes are present and correct in “Spotlight”, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival on Thursday. But, overall, it’s impressive how restrained and cliché-resistant “Spotlight” is. Thomas McCarthy, its co-writer-director, has made a streamlined docu-drama that’s as functional, well made and unshowy as the beige chinos its characters all wear. And even when he includes a moment that has been in 100 previous newspaper yarns, such as the one where a reluctant key witness finally agrees to come forward, he sneaks it in so quickly and quietly that you hardly notice it.

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  • A SUSPICIOUSLY POLISHED DR SEUSS

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, August 12th 2015

    Step aside, “Go Set a Watchman”. As exciting as it may be that Harper Lee has published her second novel in 55 years, it’s surely more exciting that another of America’s literary titans has a new book out 24 years after his death. The book is “What Pet Should I Get?” by Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr Seuss. The genius behind “The Cat in the Hat” and “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”, Geisel wrote and illustrated it some time between 1958 and 1962—just after Lee wrote “Go Set a Watchman”, incidentally. But rather than sending the manuscript to his publishers, he tucked it in a box, where it was discovered in 2013 by his widow, Audrey. She passed the yellowing black-and-white drawings and type-written text labels on to Cathy Goldsmith, who was Geisel’s art director at Random House. And Goldsmith’s team then burnished the pages into a glossy, full-colour hardback. It hasn’t been published in Britain yet, but in America “What Pet Should I Get?” sold 200,000 copies in its first week on the shelves, as people grabbed the opportunity to own a Dr Seuss first edition for $17.99. Getting my hands on an American copy felt like taking a wrong turn in an Egyptian pyramid and finding a roomful of undiscovered treasure.

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  • ANT-MAN: MARVEL’S LATEST TRIFLE

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, July 16th 2015

    There has been a lot of talk this year about “superhero fatigue”—the idea being that we’re tired of all the films and television shows about caped crusaders. Having devoted much of my childhood to reading superhero comics, I assumed that I was inoculated against this condition, but it hit me halfway through the latest shiny Marvel Studios production, “Ant-Man”. Everything about it is exhaustingly familiar. The film’s director, Peyton Reed, has called it a “palate cleanser”, something light and easily digestible to give us a refreshing break from Marvel’s usual saving-the-universe blockbusters. But it’s more like third or fourth helpings of the same soggy trifle.

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  • ARNIE TURNS SENSITIVE

    Short Read: for his pick of the films, Nicholas Barber spotlights a zombie drama which is surprisingly tender—and devoid of catchphrases

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  • A DELICIOUS BOHEMIAN COMEDY

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, June 26th 2015

    “The Overnight”, like Noah Baumbach’s recent hit comedy “While We’re Young”, examines a dubious nascent friendship between two bohemian couples—one of them more bohemian than the other. The less cool couple are Alex (Adam Scott, above left) and Emily (Taylor Schilling), both in their 30s, who have just moved from Seattle to Los Angeles with their son, RJ. Alex, a stay-at-home dad, is worried that he won’t meet new people, so when RJ starts playing with another boy in the local park, Alex is happy to talk to the boy’s father, Kurt (Jason Schwartzman, above right). He is happier still when Kurt invites the family over for pizza. True, he seems a tad touchy-feely, and his hat is an even bolder fashion statement than Adam Driver’s was in “While We’re Young”, but, hey, that’s California.

    The evening begins promisingly. Kurt has an enviable gated mansion and a charming French wife, Charlotte (Judith Godrèche), and has apparently made a fortune from his water-filtration system. Without it, he explains, “You’re basically drinking liquid cancer.” Alex and Emily are so impressed that, after a few glasses of wine, they agree to let RJ sleep upstairs while the grown-ups keep the party going. Kurt then breaks out the marijuana, and proposes some naked swimming in the pool.

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  • SADDLE-STITCHING BEATS SUPERHEROES

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, June 24th 2015

    The first thing that struck me about last weekend’s East London Comics & Arts Festival, or ELCAF, is that there were women there. Lots of women. Everywhere you looked, studenty women were laughing, hugging, leafing through books, chatting enthusiastically in various languages, and sitting at tables signing their sketches. That might not seem remarkable for an arts festival, but I spent many of my teenage weekends at comics conventions, and most of the people there were just like I was: male, pasty and dressed in extra-baggy Judge Death T-shirts. That went for the comics creators as well as the fans. With a few exceptions, the only women at those conventions were life-sized cardboard cut-outs of Wonder Woman.

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  • DAVID O. RUSSELL’S LUCKY ESCAPE

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, June 19th 2015

    David O. Russell is the toast of Hollywood. The director of “The Fighter”, “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle”, Russell can be relied upon to knock out one multi-Oscar-nominated hit after another, providing Robert De Niro with his only worthwhile recent roles in the process. But he wasn’t always quite so popular. Russell’s loopy philosophical comedy, “I Heart Huckabees”, opened to a bemused reception in 2004, and its follow-up, “Nailed”, was shut down nine times during production due to financial problems. Eventually, in 2010, Russell abandoned the unfinished film, leaving his fans to wonder, wistfully, if we had been denied a masterpiece.

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  • CHRISTOPHER LEE’S LONG SHADOW

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, June 12th 2015

    Sir Christopher Lee, whose death at the age of 93 was announced on Thursday, used to grumble to interviewers that people wouldn’t stop associating him with Count Dracula, whereas, in his view, he had made a better job of many other roles. His own favourite performance was as Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, in “Jinnah” (1998). It’s a complaint you have to take with a pinch of salt. After all, Lee played the Prince of Darkness in seven Hammer films between 1958 and 1973, plus one German production, so it’s not unreasonable of us to picture him with blood dripping down his chin and a bosomy starlet hanging from his arm.

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  • 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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