Nicholas Barber


    ~ 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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    ~ 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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    ~ 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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    ~ 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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    ~ 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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    ~ 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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    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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    ~ 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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    ~ 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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    ~ 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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