Some late night ponderism re: Macbeth, which I liked, albeit with caveats


From the grisliest murder to the grimiest battle, there’s some pretty awesome cinema going down in Justin Kurzel’s bloodthirsty, crimson-hued adaptation of Macbeth, a psychological horror show that throws as much chaos, hostility and murder at the screen as you’d dare in a 15 certificate, multiplex friendly release. It’s quite the experience, and while it’s delightful to see somebody try, I remain unconvinced that such a dense, nihilistic, often gruesome movie can really connect with a mainstream audience on any significant scale. Nor do I sense Macbeth getting any serious awards traction, to be honest, though the appearance of the Weinstein clan in closing credits suggests that an Oscars run on the cards. Children get burned alive in this movie. It’s hardly Forrest Gump. The film works best, from my perspective, as a kind of dirty, lurid, ‘midnight movie’ take on an old classic. It has more in common with something like Nicolas Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising (check out those blood-red skies) than it does your average period drama. A cult favourite in the making, basically.

Anyway, regardless of all that jive, at its essence, Kurzel’s Macbeth is a gnarly portrait of the Scottish laird as traumatised war veteran, one that strips down the structure of the original text, playing out only the most essential events in a crisp(ish) two-hours. This lean take on an otherwise hefty slab of tragedy means that Kurzel can get straight to the heart of the matters at hand: madness, warfare, patriotism, legacy.

Inevitably, such myopic revisionism results in the film ripping out quite a bit of the poetry of the original play. For instance, instead of luxuriating in the rhythms of the bard, the performers deliver key passages in the garrulous style of confessing lunatics. And for some reason, at important moments when schemes are unfurled for the audience by the play’s most conniving characters, they’re heavily intercut with pretty literal visual representations of the very things being described. Some movies want to show. Some movies want to tell. Kurzel wants to do both. The film’s textual concision sort of works, albeit in fits and bursts, but Kurzel’s lack of subtlety means this macabre film’s cinematic ambitions don’t quite convert into a cohesive artistic success.

As Kurzel proved in his gloom-soaked debut Snowtown, he’s an emerging master of creeping dread, and so it goes here. Macbeth really is the glummest time you’ll have in a cinema. It bathes in doom. It revels in despair. It laughs in the face of nothing. It’s often ridiculously po-faced and serious. Any wit hardwired into Shakespeare’s verse gets lost in a miasma of sorrow and squalor, and much of the film’s action shimmers in the gloaming of a Scotland at war with itself. The film is an existential depression poem.

In this adaptation, the warrior thane starts off mad, and gets even madder, very quickly. There is almost too much madness for one movie. At the beginning, in a feverish melange of throat-slitting and head-chopping, we see exactly what horrors Macbeth has to enact in the name of the crown. Sadly, by the time he’s viciously attacking King Duncan in a spectacularly gory sequence lifted straight from an Eighties video nasty, any sympathy for this particular devil is extinguished.  It’s a swift, and irreversible transition from depressed soldier to serial killer.

Macbeth’s rapid deterioration mirrors that of his homeland, and there’s a sense that his reign is very much a necessary evil, a kind of great purge of the old guard before the court can once again be cleansed and renewed. To quote a lesser cultural source, it reminded me of the that incredible Jack Nicholson line in The Departed: “I don’t want to be a product of my environment, I want my environment to be a product of me”. Macbeth and Scotland co-exist in a symbiotic, almost parasitic relationship. But when Macbeth’s madness spirals out of his control, and his irrevocably bruised and battered ego is unleashed upon the land and its people, Scotland fights back.

Michael Fassbender is one of the best in the business when it comes to depicting very difficult men, and Macbeth is probably as difficult as you can get. He’s very good here, though I wonder if this intense and paranoid performance is a little too one note. Maybe this is another side-effect of the screenplay’s radical abridgement, but there aren’t many layers on show. In fact, he appears to have exactly two modes, creepy and insane, both of which he deploys with considerable aplomb. But is it enough? Maybe it works for this particular Macbeth, but I sense he’s not even close to definitive.

An ultra exciting, completely exhilarating, fantastically amazing, generally mega blog update

Right. It’s time to update this thing. Here is a selection of ramblings for assorted outlets, from 2013 to date. Totes swaggy.


Just Jim (Review)

Inherent Vice (Review)

From Worst to Best – Woody Allen films ranked (and where to watch them) (Feature)

The Disaster Artist: Hayao Miyazaki and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (Feature)

Premium Rush (Review)

The Leftovers S1 Ep 1 (Review)

James Franco: Mainstream cinema’s great contradiction (Feature)

Tracks (Review)

Lilting (Review)

The National: Mistaken for Strangers (Review)

Parkland (Review)

Nymphomaniac Parts 1 & 2 (Review)

Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus (Review)

Mitt (Review)

Tooth: Do You Believe in Fairies? (Review)

Only God Forgives (Review)

Computer Chess (Review)


Bill Murray: The King of Growing Old Disgracefully (Feature)

Jersey Boys (Review)

2013’s most unlikely box-office hits (Feature)

Don Jon (Review)

Shakespeare on Film (to be or not to be?) (Feature)

Five actors who can’t help but play psychos (Feature)


Why the Oscars matter (Feature)


Pixels (Review)

Accidental Love (Review)

Man Up (Review)

Focus (Review)

Beyond Clueless (Review)

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (Review)

The Babadook (Review)

Love, Rosie (Review)

The Great British Train Robbery: A Tale of Two Thieves (Review)

I Origins (Review)

Chef (Review)

The Fault in Our Stars (Review)

Cheap Thrills (Review)

X-Men: Days of Future Past (Review)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Review)

Rio 2 (Review)

Honour (Review)

The Borderlands (Review)

The Machine (Review)

The Stag (Review)

The Lego Movie (Review)

Teenage (Review)

Bounty Killer (Review)

Thanks for Sharing (Review)

Raindance, Assange etc.

Julian Assange is a fugitive from international justice. He is wanted for questioning by Swedish authorities relating to allegations of unlawful coercion, sexual molestation and rape dating back three years. Assange has not yet been charged, that comes later in the Swedish process, but a warrant has been issued for his arrest.

Bearing this in mind, it was with no small degree of shock and awe that I digested this morning’s news regarding Assange’s bizarro appointment to the jury of the Raindance Film Festival. I could have choked on my Weetabix. To paraphrase Leonardo DiCaprio’s repugnant slave-trader in Django Unchained, they already had my curiosity, but now they have my attention.

The festival doesn’t certainly doesn’t need this kind of ballyhoo. Founded in 1992, Raindance has slowly but surely cemented its reputation as one of the very best film festivals in the UK. A killer showcase for new independent talent from around the globe, it was the first place in the country to screen game-changers like Pulp Fiction, Memento and Ben Wheatley’s incendiary debut picture, Down Terrace. This year’s slate includes 100 new feature length films and 150 shorts, and promises to be the one of their most exciting line-ups ever.

The jury’s pretty brillliant too, with such luminaries as Portishead singer Beth Gibbons and YouTube sensation Charlie McDonnell weighing in on the programme. As for Assange, well, perusing the Raindance website this afternoon, they sound jolly pleased to have the Wikileaks founder on board. The blurb describes him as “a subtle political thinker, a radical democrat and an audacious dissident of the digital age.” High praise indeed, although there’s nary a mention of his site’s involvement with the incarceration of Chelsea Manning nor the sexual assault claims he faces in Sweden.

Regarding the latter, the details of the criminal case against Assange are harrowing but important. The devil is in the detail. To recap, it is alleged that Assange forced two separate women into having unprotected sex against their wishes over a period of 10 days in August 2010. One of the victims accused Assange of deliberately tampering with a condom. Another claimed that she awoke one morning to find Assange already mid-coitus, once again without protection. The excellent and experienced Guardian reporter Nick Davies provides a full and very precise account of the accusations here. It’s shocking, abhorrent stuff. So much so that I wonder if Assange’s co-jurors realise the full, sordid extent of the charges?

These days Assange finds himself languishing in the Ecuadorian embassy in deepest, darkest Belgravia, like some kind of troglodytic playboy, having exhausted all possible legal recourse in his efforts to avoid extradition. The final nail in that particular coffin was struck on 30 May 2012, when the Supreme Court saw fit to dismiss his latest appeal by a majority of 5-2.

You can see why a life of cushion-walled, ambassadorial privilege would suit someone like Assange. His supporters believe, probably with some degree of validity, that by relinquishing Assange to the Swedish government, you might as well just serve him up to the United States on a silver platter. Given that the US would almost certainly try and make a play for espionage charges, the maximum penalty for which is death, it’s pretty easy to comprehend how Assange would try his level best to stay put and keep schtum.

All very well, but how the hell did he end up on the jury of the UK’s leading celebration of independent film? According to Raindance chairman Elliot Grove, “We choose our jurors because they are interesting people.” That’s what he told the BBC at this morning’s press launch. Well, if it’s “interesting” the festival’s after, then they’ve well and truly hit the motherlode with Assange, though not necessarily for the reasons laid out in their own, rather fawning tribute. “Alleged rapist” certainly makes Assange sound interesting, alright, though admittedly it’s not the kind of thing you’d expect to see in a press release.

(Apparently DVDs of the titles under consideration at this year’s event will be dispatched directly to the embassy so that Assange can fulfill his obligations as a responsible juror. It’ll be like Lovefilm for the stateless. Also, a potential piracy nightmare – they do realise that he illicitly posts other people’s material online for a living, right?)

Of course, Assange is innocent until proven guilty. No one’s questioning his right to take the gig. But the irony of him stepping up to take part in a jury of all things, when he doesn’t have the guts to face one himself is beyond the pale. The charges facing Assange are extremely serious, and his continued refusal to face his accusers in a court room represents an affront to rape victims everywhere.

Assange is not entirely to blame for this latest debacle. His appointment to the Raindance jury (“The Raindance Jury” – it sounds like a bloody John Grisham novel) is a calamitous lapse of judgement on behalf of the festival organisers. By publicly standing by Assange and endorsing his credentials to such a slavish extent, Raindance effectively throws its lot in with an alleged sex offender who continuously evades due process. Why do we keep indulging him?

The dignified thing would be for Assange to quietly step aside. His appearance can only draw attention from the film-makers in competition. Sadly, dignity is not one of Assange’s more pronounced traits. Only last week, he appeared in a satirical YouTube video reinforcing his proposed run for the Australian senate by donning a fright wig and belting out John Farnham’s power ballad The Voice at the top of his strained lungs. So much for the “subtle political thinker” endorsed by Raindance. Assange’s callousness in light of the allegations made against him is staggering. His neverending quest for attention a mystery.

The Raindance Film Festival runs from 25th September to 6th October at the Vue Piccadilly Circus.