Firstly, an apology to any Flickerdrome followers (left) out there. I began the year with great intentions (to analyse and assess each weeks' two most highly regarded films according to The Critic List – well, no-one’s paying me for this, I’m not sitting through Sex & The City 2 et al just to find out that yes, they really are that shit) but events conspired against me (lost my job, etc). So while I kept going to the cinema, the blog was sadly neglected and became more of a guilty burden than a fun, creative outlet.

HOWEVER, I still have plans for this site, and will be recommencing in 2011 with a more realistic (but no less brilliant, obviously) and possibly collaborative approach to bringing you, yes you, the best guide to what’s worth going to see at the cinema.

Flickerdrome’s best, and worst, movies of 2010...


The Father of My Children (Le Père de Mes Enfants)

Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
France/Germany, 2009, 112mins, rated 12A
Screening: The Renoir, 6 March 2010

In my February review of Lucrecia Martel’s tense and engrossing The Headless Woman, I not only praised it for its unique cinematic style, but expounded on the importance of art cinema and those film-makers who are dedicated to exploring film’s complexities in order to really communicate with us. Who’d have thought then that within a matter of weeks I’d be seeing a film that’s not only another perfect example of effective art cinema, but one that embodies the very principles I was extolling and actually summarises, explores and, in its own peculiar way, celebrates the exact point I was trying to make (albeit in a much clearer and more beautiful way)…


Flickerdrome's 'Top 10'

I'm not really that big on lists, but I figure having a 'top ten' on here can help you see where I'm coming from as a film fan. It's not written in stone and wasn't pored over for weeks on end, it's not even in any particular order, just a summation of ten movies that have absolutely floored me at some point. I'm sure there are plenty more out there that I've yet to see or have yet to be made that could just as easily be included...

2001: A Space Odyssey
USA, 1968. Director: Stanley Kubrick
"I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do."

Once 2001 blows your mind, you're never quite the same again. Evolution, God, extra terrestrials, the perfect silent movie intro, unequalled cinematic advancements, man vs. machine, the dichotomy of synthetic intelligence and then: Through The Stargate. What a trip. God bless you Mr Kubrick.
Also ran: Citizen Kane, Apocalypse Now, Dr Strangelove


Shutter Island

Director: Martin Scorsese
USA, 2010, 138mins, rated 15
Screening: Notting Hill Coronet, 14 March 2010

Boston, 1954. Two US Marshals – Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) – emerge from the fog on a boat bound for Shutter Island: a maximum security offshore prison for the criminally insane. Dressed in classic film noir attire (hats, suits and long coats) and accompanied by ominous classical music, the tone is set for a dark and unsettling ride. After a decade of overly-contrived epics, Martin Scorsese’s back, relaxing from the need to bring us another magnum opus and sinking his teeth into a glorious homage to Hitchcock and Hollywood’s dark years. An intense psychological-suspense-thriller-mystery awash with fantastic twists and turns, Shutter Island feels at once like a new and assured direction for Scorsese, as well as something pleasantly familiar. It's very possibly his most direct and enjoyable film since Casino.



Director: Neil Jordan
Ireland/USA, 2010, 111mins, rated 12A
Screening: Paramount screening room, 2 March 2010

Neil Jordan, like his fellow British contemporaries Alan Parker and Stephen Frears, has moved back and forth between Hollywood and Britain making dramas and fantasies of varying success for years. With his latest, Ondine, he mixes all these elements to create a charming rural Irish socio-realist drama mixed with a Hollywood-esque fairytale fantasy. The results, while on the whole quite enjoyable, are a little shaky.


The Road vs. Into The Wild

The Road
Director: John Hillcoat
USA, 2009, 119mins, rated 15

Into The Wild
Director: Sean Pean
USA, 2007, 143mins, rated 15

Double bill screening at The Phoenix, 28 February 2010

In a departure from standard Flickerdrome practice (technically my remit is to review films released in UK cinemas since 1 January 2010 and – just in case you were wondering), I’m looking at The Road and Into The Wild together following a double bill screening of the two movies at the lovely Phoenix cinema in East Finchley. Although two very different films with two very different outlooks on life, they complement one another well as a double and have strong thematic similarities, notably: they’re both adaptations, both road movies (of sorts), both feature ‘the wilderness’ in central roles and both concern the relationship of father and son.


The Headless Woman (La Mujer Sin Cabeza)

Director: Lucrecia Martel
Argentina, 2008, 87mins, rated 12A
Screening: The Renoir, 20 February 2010

One of the real pleasures of art cinema is the likelihood of having your intelligence respected by a film-maker. Film’s such a powerful medium because of its myriad complexities and its ability to communicate on multiple cerebral and visceral levels. And yet it's depressing that so few film-makers seem to have the ability to connect with us through it. As the small number of film-makers with something to say – and the ability to say it – struggle to get their work noticed, a general mediocrity pulls us ever further down the river of shit, dulling our expectations as we gawp at the bleak surroundings. But then, thank bog, something like The Headless Woman comes along and reminds us how mesmerising the experience of cinema can be.

The third feature from Argentinean writer/director Lucrecia Martel, The Headless Woman is an enigmatic and sneakily unsettling study of suburban bourgeois life. Showing a real understanding of the subtleties of film-making – as well as a biting outlook on her country's class, race and gender issues – Martel has created a unique film with a narrative style that is testament to the power of engaging cinema. Reminiscent of some of the most thought-provoking films of the last decade (Haneke's Hidden and Lynch's Inland Empire sprang to mind) The Headless Woman generates an inimitable tension as it unfolds its story like a puzzle – grabbing your imagination and not letting go until it’s finished.


Up In The Air

Director: Jason Reitman
USA, 2009, 119mins, rated 15
Screening: The Phoenix, 6 February 2010

George Clooney portrays corporate America struggling to come to terms with the current recession and a new-found conscience in this flawed drama from director Jason Reitman (Juno, Thank You For Not Smoking). Despite an engaging proposition and some strong central performances, the film-makers can't stave off some of the evil spectres of mainstream movie-making – sloppy writing and bad casting.

While it does pose some thought-provoking questions on the state of modern life, Up In The Air gradually descends into cliché and sentimentality with an inability to tie together these initially interesting ideas. It's worth seeing, but don't believe the hype – this is no modern day Frank Capra movie (despite Clooney's best efforts to emulate Cary Grant's everyman persona).


A Prophet (Un Prophète)

Director: Jacques Audiard
France, 2009, 155mins, rated 18
Screening: The Phoenix, 22 January 2010

Where Jacques Audiard’s previous two films, 2001’s Read My Lips and 2005’s The Beat That My Heart Skipped, both flirted with Noir-ish elements of the French criminal underworld, his latest film, A Prophet, immerses us fully in the dark hinterland of France’s criminal underclass. Inspired by conditions he'd witnessed when screening one of his films in a French prison, Audiard brings us an epic, sprawling and intense thriller that works as both a coming-of-age journey and a stark exposé of the French penal system – with all its institutional racism and corrupt gangster operations.


The Road, 2

Director: John Hillcoat
USA, 2009, 119mins, rated 15
Screening: The Phoenix, 8 January 2010

That Hollywood has finally discovered Cormac McCarthy is a timely honour to this great American writer; but what took it so long to see the cinematic potential of his work? One of the most consistent and critically-lauded contemporary authors, McCarthy has burrowed deep into the American psyche over his 45 year writing career. And yet it’s only within the last five that the movie industry has noticed how perfect his simply drawn characters, grand themes of alienation, conflict and loss, and dramatically visual prose are for adaptation to the big screen.

Although it’s a departure from the revisionist Western settings of McCarthy’s previous four novels, the scope, characters and themes of The Road are universal and the narrative inherently cinematic. To make it work well on screen, a director with a strong visual style was vital. It must have been quite a gamble choosing Australian John Hillcoat, who only has one other feature under his belt (2005’s The Proposition), but, artistically at least, the gamble paid off.

The Road is set in the not too distant future and follows the plight of a father and son dealing with a world that has suffered a dreadful, unspecified, cataclysm. With their surroundings reduced to a desolate wasteland devoid of virtually all life, and with their fellow survivors forming into cannibalistic hunting packs, the pair head south towards the coast with the hope of finding some sort of salvation from the bleak emptiness of their day-to-day struggle.

What sets The Road apart from other post-apocalyptic films is the graphically naturalistic way in which the aftermath is portrayed. The film is shot mainly on location, and special mention has to be given to the work of Spanish cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe, whose haunting photography helps give the film its authentic feel. The majority of the camera work is suffocatingly close, giving the shots a claustrophobic feel that replicates the oppressive clouds of ash described in the book. When there are occasional wide or long shots, the landscapes are morbid, bleak and infertile, dominated by blankets of thick dark cloud.

Filmed through the winter in Pennsylvania, Oregon and Louisiana (including parts of Katrina-ravaged New Orleans), there is a stark natural trauma to nearly all The Road’s shots. The sense of doom is heightened by the washed-out and underexposed lighting, which reduces the colours to dull tones and the light to a torpid haze. To complement the bleak look, sound design is also used to great effect. In a technique that’s been best exploited by David Lynch over the years, The Road uses an almost constant background mix of rumbling, crackling and tearing sounds, giving the unnerving sense that the very earth outside the frame is breaking apart. Conversely, one of my criticisms would be the choice of music. Not only did I find Nick Cave’s score a touch too apparent, I thought the need for music was entirely unnecessary.

The narrative of the road is subtly paced, with much of the scenario being either inferred or hinted at through flashback scenes. It is left to some short, sharp sequences of very tense action and the strength of the actors to keep the film moving. Coming from a relatively inexperienced director, the performances in The Road are particularly impressive. Viggo Mortensen, playing the father, is especially convincing, conveying with a desperate intensity the tortured sufferings of a man whose world has been torn apart. Beaten down and reduced to living like a hunted animal, the father has lost much of his pride, but must keep strength for his son. Torn between the urge to survive and protect, or the choice of ending his and his son’s further suffering (as we see others have done) is a constant mental battle for him.

Obviously The Road is not a feel good movie, but don’t let that put you off. Certainly it’s heart-wrenching and often very distressing, but it’s also exceptionally well made and a beautifully constructed fable. Handled with sensitivity, honesty and taste, The Road is a very rewarding movie that raises numerous questions about our future as both a species and a civilisation. By showing us what we stand to lose, it hopes to make us appreciate what we’ve got. That there is no grand conclusion, merely a glimmer of hope in the continuation of ‘the fire’, makes this film all the more thought provoking as a story, and refreshing as a piece of cinema.

by William Thomas

The Road, 1

Director: John Hillcoat
USA, 2009, 119mins, rated 15
Screening: The Phoenix, 8 January 2010

Viewing The Road, my fears of Hollywood having meddled in this post-apocalyptic fable by author Cormac McCarthy were put to rest. The film is actually a remarkably faithful adaptation of the book. Its lead – a craggy, sunken-eyed Viggo Mortensen – puts in a fine performance as the gaunt, bearded survivor. His voice, a rasping broken whisper, provides the film’s occasional narration and works well as a device. It certainly helped allay my fears that McCarthy's own lyrical voice might be lost in the re-telling – his pared down poetry of despair being the only beautiful thing in an otherwise harrowing, nightmarish journey without respite or a clear end.

I needn't have worried in this regard, for The Road is certainly a harrowing film. The washed out scenery which director Hillcoat has assembled (without, it might be noted, the use of heavy CGI), is a paean to a landscape scoured clean of hope. He does a fine job as well in introducing a new element, in the sounds of a groaning, creaking, disintegrating nature. There is no sanctuary for the lingering survivors of the unexplained global disaster, no way stations or empty houses which are not stalked by the spectres of hunger and fear.

Through this bleak landscape, the nameless man and his son trek carrying "the fire," which is either a fable of their own to keep hope alive through the long nights, or else a last, fading glimmer of civilization. You are free to choose which, but in the suffering faces of both boy and man, there is something that seems to suggest a knowing nod to the latter. They also carry a gun, with only two bullets left in it, making it perhaps less a tool for the defence of their lives than a means of a less than horrific exit from its misery. For they are not alone, either on the road or in this ashen wilderness.

While the pair seem only a few canned goods away from succumbing to either sheer starvation or numbing cold, this is not what they fear the most. Cannibalistic gangs of equally begrimed humans prowl the dead earth. When the last tin of food is gone, and the final two humans sit down facing each other over the cold grey ashes, that will be the last. The evidence of this unravelling is seen as they travel, in the form of skulls and ribcages picked clean from a world devoid of any species but their own. In one important exchange, a fellow wanderer muses on the fate of the last living human. Would they know? It wouldn't matter he concludes, they'd just be.

A lot of The Road is of course just that, being. Life whittled down to its most primal urge. Hiding, running, shivering in the terrible grey light, the two do what they must to survive, and at the same time, cling to their own fragile humanity. In this at least, much of what made the book so moving, shines through. Hillcoat has done an excellent job with the locations to paint a portrait of a world that is not just dying, but is already dead and gone.

All that remains then is the man and the boy whom he is determined to protect with his last breath. All they have is each other and their binding, fierce love. If I have a complaint, if the film stumbles where the book soldiers on, it might be in those sequences where the few other human survivors enter the film. There is a subtle something – missing from the shambling cannibals and the few other survivors that the pair meet – a depth perhaps. It is where the film looses its focus when compared to the book, if anywhere, and starts to resemble other, lesser takes on the same grim subject.

It is a problem that most adaptations face, being forced to shoehorn the full complexity of a book, even in this case a relatively short one, into the span of a mere two hours. The two main protagonists are adroitly done, in broad strokes at least, but some of the others seem to have been left on the margins or painted in less fully. There is an important scene involving a pregnant couple, either entirely missing from the film or else reduced to a flickering event seen only from a distance. A later encounter with an older blind man, prophetically named Ely, is likewise not as fully fleshed out in the film as it is in the book. Commonplace, perhaps, but in these instances, it weakens the story, or at least the motivations of the two main travellers, as these encounters are formative ones which more fully explain and explore the fears and insecurities held by the man and boy.

This brings me to one final, minor bump, found towards the end at the two's southerly travels, but not in the book. They encounter an unexpected sign of life in the flight of an iridescent beetle. The symbolism feels a bit forced, and unnecessary. There is hope, of a sort, already in the ending, so I’m not certain why the filmmakers veer away from the path they have so unflinchingly followed up until now. Perhaps the book's final message was rated somewhere as just too unbearably grim: that the good guys have lost, as well as the bad, and the fire is carried, barely flickering, towards a horizon that does not offer up any false promises. There is love – and the bond it forges in the human heart – but sometimes even this must be left by the wayside for life to move on.

by Eric Edwards



Director: James Cameron
USA, 2009, 165min, rated 12A
Screening: IMAX Waterloo, 6 January 2010

From time-hopping sci-fi franchises to mega budget histori-fiction romance-cum-disaster epics, James Cameron’s always been a profitable if fairly hit and miss filmmaker. His latest offering, Avatar, takes this formula to a whole new level, hitting big with an incredible new 3D cinematic process, but aiming low with a family friendly, finger-wagging science fantasy eco yarn peppered with well-trodden narrative clichés.

It’s the year 2154 and mankind, having squandered the earth’s natural resources, is plundering the galaxies for more. On the distant moon Pandora, the valuable mineral unobtanium (a vital source of energy, apparently) has been discovered and is being mined by the RDA corporation, supported in their efforts by an army of ex-marine mercenaries and small team of scientists – led by Sigourney Weaver’s Dr Grace Augustine.

Pandora is inhabited by the Na’vi, a species of ten foot tall blue-skinned cat-people who live in close natural harmony with their lush and bounteous planet and bear a ludicrous Jar Jar Binks-esque similarity to some super spiritual African jungle tribe. The story’s conflict lies with the Na’vi’s resistance to the aggressive mining programme of RDA, the fact that the biggest source of unobtanium lies directly beneath their sacred village, and the efforts of Sigourney Weaver’s scientists to win the Na’vi’s ‘hearts and minds’ before the marines destroy them.

The plot centres on Jake Scully, a paraplegic ex-marine sent to Pandora to replace his dead brother as a member of the ‘Avatar’ team. Sigourney Weaver and friends have developed a way to connect with the Na’vi by creating a team of genetically-engineered human-Na’vi hybrids (Avatars) controlled through some sort of virtual reality telepathic mind displacement by genetically matched human controllers. There’s certainly a lot more fiction than science going on.

And it basically gets sillier from there. However, it doesn’t much matter, as from the opening scenes of Scully waking from cryogenic sleep to the final – and all-too inevitable – epic battle sequence, this is film best enjoyed with the mouth hanging open and the brain disengaged. Avatar’s not a movie most people will be rushing to see for its narrative complexities and scientific foresight; it’s all about the spectacle, and my word does it deliver on that.

James Cameron has developed a new digital HD stereoscopic version of his Fusion Camera System to create Avatar. The results are a stunningly deep and absorbing visual experience that both delivers on this long-promised format and ushers in a new era of cinema. Not only is this 3D technology as revolutionary to the cinema experience as the first talkies or the advent of colour, but the fact that it (temporarily) eradicates piracy and will have people flocking back to the cinema is going to be a major boon for the industry on the whole.

Much of Avatar takes place in the lush bioluminescent forests of the imagined Pandora, and it’s here that Cameron is able to employ the new 3D technology to its best effect. The depth of field that the new process brings is quite extraordinary, and there are plenty of moments when you really feel enveloped by the scenery, as foreground elements seemingly extend out and surround you.

But overall, aside from some seemingly heartfelt jibes at US foreign policy and the profit-at-any-cost aggression of the military-industrial complex, Avatar is a film that is all spectacle and very little else. For all the hype and money, Avatar is little more than an enjoyable and exceptionally dynamic thrill for the eyes and ears. It exists purely in the moment (albeit a 2 hour, 45 minute moment) and leaves you with little more to take home once the credits have rolled than a worthy-but-flawed Roland Emmerich-esque warning, to relinquish our dependency on technology and reconnect with mother earth.

by William Thomas