Tom Shone

  • LIKE A BLOW-UP BUSTER KEATON

    ~ Posted by Tom Shone, January 30th 2014

    If Apple ever got its hands on Florence Nightingale it might end up with something like Baymax, the big, inflatable white blob at the centre of the new Disney animation "Big Hero 6". Baymax is a robot caregiver who asks people, “On a scale of one to ten, how much does it hurt?” in a soothing, slightly effeminate voice like that of HAL from "2001" (in actuality Scott Adsit from "30 Rock"), and who dispenses hugs that envelop you like a duvet. “It’s like spooning a marshmallow,” says one of the teen heroes of the tale, although adult viewers may find older memories prodded by Baymax’s air of roly-poly befuddlement. When his batteries are low, he lollops drunkenly across the screen like Chaplin on the deck of a rocking boat in "The Immigrant", and when he gets stuck crawling through a window—that old fat-man routine—he extricates himself by partially deflating himself with a gnat-like "peeooowwww" sound while maintaining a straight face that would be the envy of Buster Keaton. But then deadpan has always been the secret weapon of animators: keeping a straight face is so much easier when you’re nothing but a straight line to begin with.  

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  • J.C. CHANDOR'S SURGICAL PRECISION

    ~ Posted by Tom Shone, January 24th 2015

    As Abel Morales, the oil distributor struggling to keep his business afloat in "A Most Violent Year", Oscar Isaac (above) wears a big camel-hair coat, looks people dead in the eye and speaks in the crisp, precise diction of a man who has learned that power comes with not raising your voice. “You must take the path that is most right,” he says—a lesson close to the heart of this sombre, slightly dry, urgent film about one man’s attempts not to become a gangster in the New York of 1981. Its director, J.C. Chandor, has chosen his location and period with great care. The drama stems from the fact that in the New York of 1981—a city that boasted more than 1,800 murders—there were probably more reasons for a struggling oil distributor to become a gangster than there were reasons not to. It’s a film about criminality’s slow, gravitational suck—the steady drip, drip, drip of difficulties that one day makes brushing past the law seem easier than waiting in line.   

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  • BOYHOOD: SMALL FILM, BIG CHANCE

    ~ Posted by Tom Shone, January 15th 2015

    One hesitates to use the word “egoless” with regard to Hollywood but one of the pleasures turned up by this year’s awards season has been watching the director Richard Linklater’s Capraesque path to and from the winner’s podium. His film "Boyhood", shot over a 12-year period in the life of its teenage hero, played by the newcomer Ellar Coltrane (above), has been the unlikely frontrunner to win the Best Picture Oscar since October. Unlikely because nothing about Linklater’s gently indolent films—from his debut, "Slacker", to "Dazed and Confused" to the "Before Sunrise" trilogy—exactly shouted “Oscar”. They don’t shout much of anything at all, offering up small-scale epiphanies and stoner pensées in a spirit of patient pointillism not a million miles away from the films of Eric Rohmer.

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  • HOLLYWOOD'S MEXICAN WAVE

    At the Cinema: fifty years ago it was Godard and Truffaut turning Hollywood on its head. These days, Tom Shone argues, it's Mexican directors like Alejandro González Iñárritu 

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  • PAINTERLINESS AND PUG-UGLINESS

    At the Cinema: Tom Shone considers whether a film can be too beautifulsometimes a shot of ugliness can have more meaning

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  • NOLAN'S HYMN TO HUMAN CONNECTION

    ~ Posted by Tom Shone, October 27th 2014

    Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” can only really be approached by a series of paradoxes similar to those chalked up on a blackboard near its start. Just as the theory of relativity dictates that space and time are functions of one another, so the film welds commercial blockbuster and auteurist cinema into a single, stunning ribbon of celluloid—movie as Möbius strip—with obvious debts to both Spielberg and Tarkovsky. It’s both the most boffinish of Nolan’s films and the most boldly open-hearted, a hymn to human connection that mows you down, turns you inside out and deposits you on the pavement afterwards, blinking. And yet if someone were to ask you what it was about you would probably mumble something about black holes, or wormholes, and the like. The film is its own astrophysical anomaly. There have to be 99m alternative universes in which “Interstellar” is a bad movie and another couple of hundred in which it is a terrible one. And yet, Nolan has finagled his way to the single universe in which it is a good, and maybe even great one.

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  • FOXCATCHER'S EERIE HUSHES

    ~ Posted by Tom Shone, October 20th 2014

    Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher” gets under your skin. You have no idea where it is heading, only a vague but increasing sense that something is badly wrong, and when a gun is finally pulled and fired into someone’s gut you think: but of course. Did Miller get in training for this film by making “Capote”, his 2005 movie about the writing of “In Cold Blood”? There, the psychopathology was dirt-poor, rough-neck, as flat as the Kansas skyline. Here it comes from the poisonous mixture of wealth, power and thwarted dynasticism that grew like nightshade on the estate of John du Pont, the real-life heir of the du Pont business dynasty and a self-styled patriot. In the late 1980s, he built a state-of-the-art training facility for two brother wrestlers with whom he had become obsessed. We first see the brothers wrestling during training: Mark (Channing Tatum, above right) draws blood from his elder brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), only to be put firmly in his place. The entire sequence—wordless but for the squeaks of sneakers and slaps of flesh—is a piece of silent, brutal ballet that tells you everything you need to know about the fierce fraternal bond that is about to be corrupted.

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  • BIRDMAN TAKES FLIGHT

    ~ Posted by Tom Shone, October 13th 2014

    Not since the salad days of Robert Altman has a director packed a film with as much filthy talk, dark humour, puckish satire and deep relish for human fault and foible as Alejandro G. Iñárritu does in “Birdman”. A tour de force take on the soul of the actor in the era of the blockbuster, the film stars Michael Keaton (pictured) as Riggan Thomson, an ageing Hollywood star whose career and credibility have never quite recovered from playing the comic-book superhero Birdman. Now, he has decided to risk everything—his own money, his Malibu home—on a Broadway production of the Raymond Carver short story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. Anyone expecting a subtle subtextual glance towards Keaton’s own career since playing Batman in Tim Burton’s 1989 movie is in for a surprise: the film takes your knowingness and raises it several meta-levels. Even the journalists name-check Roland Barthes. They hound the beleaguered star to his dressing room, where he removes his gummed-on wig while a nubile Robert Downey Jr, as Iron Man, mocks him from the TV. “That clown doesn’t have half your talent,” snarls the voice of Riggan’s inner demon—Birdman presumably, but bearing a suspicious resemblance to Keaton’s Batman bass growl. “And he’s making a fortune in that tin-man get-up.” 

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  • MASTERS OF MINIMALISM

    ~ Posted by Tom Shone, September 12th 2014

    So there they were, on stage together for the first time in 31 years, Steve Reich (right) and Philip Glass (left), the Lennon and McCartney of minimalism—Glass slouching behind his keyboard at one end of the stage, Reich behind his. Glass probably was sitting erect, but everything about the man, from his mad professor hair to his billowing corduroy pants, aspires to the status of a puddle. Reich, wearing a baseball cap, sat almost immobile but for his hands. They played one of Reich’s pieces first, “Four Organs”, in which a percussionist lays down a steady heartbeat on maracas, while four organists take repeated stabs at a single chord, adding a 7th or an 11th, coming in a beat earlier, teasing it long, deconstructing and reconstructing it—like a piece of music remembering itself. “Four Organs” nearly caused a riot when it was first heard at Carnegie Hall in 1970. Finally, a flurry of movement from Reich, like a cat bundling itself up to pounce, and the piece ends. The applause is rapturous.

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  • THE ANTI-CHAMELEON

    At the Cinema Special: Philip Seymour Hoffman left behind one last great performance, in “A Most Wanted Man”. Tom Shone shows how he fits into a long line of film stars who have done two things extremely well

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