Why I Write | A Manifesto

I haven’t been writing much lately. Strike that. I have been writing. Emails. Tweets. Shopping lists. My job in social media requires that I write about 1500 words of content a day – I fire out aphorisms and axioms, trade in puns and something passing for wit, and publish reams of writing for an audience of over a million people with the click of a return key.

But it’s anonymous, and though not meaningless, it’s weightless when compared with the long-form, lyrical and lasting type of writing to which I aspire. It doesn’t carry the gravitas I crave, or the recognition that bylines and names on book spines bring with them.

Creatively, I feel spent. I’ve barely strung a sentence together in months. Good intentions have become best-laid plans and projects undertaken sit unfinished and gathering whatever the digital equivalent of dust is.

So this a reminder of why I write. Why I want to write. What I seek when I write. What I hope to accomplish with it.

The writing stalemate has occurred because I have found and erected barriers. I have found the time, but not known where to begin. I have perpetuated deceptions that writing ought to be devoured and digested and dissected or commissioned and requested to be completed. That writing without a purpose, or an endgame isn’t writing at all.

So this manifesto is an indulgence. It’s just for me. It’s going to be unapologetic and an unforgivable exercise in navel-gazing. And perhaps because I’m publishing it on my blog and promoting it on social media, it’s self-defeating and hypocritical.

But right now, in this moment, I’m writing it to write again. I’m writing it for me. 

***

For a few months now, I’ve been looking for permission and payment, rather than revelling in the process and pleasure of writing. I have been pitching and peddling. Squeezing ideas into captivating titles and condensing the sheer wilderness of writing – its limitlessness, go-anywhere-ness, its John-Cusack-holding-a-boombox-atop-his-head-say-anything-ness – into a cage, a count and the conciliation of contribution. And I have taken rejections as an excuse not to.

They’re not letting me. I don’t have anything to write.

That has put pin in pen many times.

But writing doesn’t always have to be a contribution. It shouldn’t have to make up a larger tapestry, or a thematic exploration. It can be an expression of a fleeting thought. It can exist in the here and now and be just because.

It’s thrilling to see words you have written accepted and published by someone else. You’ve been admitted to a club, you have a surpassed a gatekeeper. You are good enough. This time. I write for acceptance and accomplishment and attention. Sometimes. I write because I can. Because I can do it well. And people say so. But people also say no, so it can’t be the only reason. Writing exists well before its destination, so you have to find a reason to go on that journey.

***

I write because I think. I write to exist. Because it matters to me, perhaps more than it should, to be remembered. I write because sometimes it pours out of me like hot coffee from a cafetiere and because in those moments I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing.

Writing is both salve and chasm.

In this wearisome and whelming age, writing is curative. It is a slowing down and pausing to think. It’s the breath you take between each stroke swam.

I was reading an article in The Times written by Laura Freeman on literature as meditation. She writes,

We live in a mindful age where meditation is promised as the cure to all our Insta-ills….The problem is not that we are exhausted by a rushing world. Many of us are under-stimulated by days spent poring over emails and Excel, and then over-stimulated by nights full of twittering screens. What we lack isn’t silence, it’s sustenance. Something for starved imaginations to feast on.”

To read good writing is a joy unparalleled. It is an Eden. A quieting of aches and afflictions. A broadening of mind. A burrow of warmth and safety. A sublime expanse of scenery from the comfort of a sofa. It’s shaking your head in astonishment and nodding in agreement.  

I write to be that good. To give back what I’ve taken.

I write because writers are my heroes. (Call that a God-complex or ‘big dick energy’ but it’s the truth). I write because its my aspiration to be an inspiration.

I write because on the invite list to my fantasy dinner party there would be Joan Didion, Rebecca Solnit, Naomi Klein, Toni Morrison, Jonathan Franzen, Annie Proulx, Maggie Nelson, Richard Yates, Sarah Manguso, Nora Ephron, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Simone De Beauvoir, Daniel Woodrell, Claudia Rankine, Sarah Moss.

I write to be invited to fantasy dinner parties.

I write to be seen and heard.

My writing says, in between all its jammed in adjectives and compound sentences,  I am here, I am alive.

***

But within writing lies the possibility to be misunderstood. To be heard and not listened to. To be seen, but ill-framed. To be judged. And harshly so. To be rendered more invisible by having written in the first place. Writing can create a fissure, a cleft, a canyon. It can put colour to an idea, but if you think something is blue and someone else reads it as green, writing can be divisive.

There is beauty in that. Writing is chromatic and contradictory and if we all saw things the same way wouldn’t life be boring? Etc etc.

But there is risk in writing. It’s like saying I love you for the first time. It’s a feeling inside of you that needs to come out, that only in verbalising and iterating and claiming can it feel true and only in the saying of it can you expect reciprocation. Silent I love yous are always regretted. There is joy in being declarative and decisive. Only then can you hear the words I feel that too. I think that too. I love you too. And yet…

And yet and yet and yet and yet

This is a chorus that threatens to drown out many dreams. In between every verse of victory, in doing something you feel proud of, there is this.

And yet, it could go wrong. And yet, they might not feel the same.

The I love you can linger in the air, unreturned and the silence of being unloved in that moment is bruising, deafening, squalid.

Writing that is misread feels the same.

In many academic essays I had the phrase I’m not sure what you are trying to say here scrawled in red next to a brutally dense and ambitious paragraph that contained so much but probably said very little. And yet every time I saw it I felt sick. I felt like crying.

I write for clarity. And I had been ambiguous. Or at least, and I often felt this at university, I had expressed something in the way I wanted to, but not in the way it was meant to be written. Meant as in according to marking guidelines and academic architecture. Rubrics and frameworks and and fretworks I had failed to exist within and comply with.

There is a profile in The New York Times that recently came out, written by Taffy Brodesser-Akner on the frankly, phenomenal Jonathan Franzen.

“He’d been surprised at how some of those essays were received in the world…Had they even read the work? Had they fact-checked? Ultimately, it didn’t matter. He had to look at those essays again. A writer doesn’t write to be misunderstood.

And yet how does one respond? Those incidents, which have come to number many, had begun to precede him more loudly than his proudest contributions to the world: his novels, which number five….people don’t seem to understand him or his good intentions — that she can’t figure out when exactly they all turned on him. “

Writing can skate a thin line. Writing is both salve and chasm.

***

I write to give purpose and structure to a day. To put reins on an imagination that has only ever known how to run wild. It soothes the sensation that a wordless day, albeit a lived one, is a wasted day.

“How was your day?”, my housemate (and so much more, this label is a callous précis of her true function to my sanity) always remembers to ask.

“Good. I got some writing done” comes the all too scarce reply.

But that’s my definition of good. Of productive. Of fulfilling. I am content with a day that produces a handful of sentences, a cluster of prose that contains within in it the power to placate. I write to humour myself. To be able to tell myself I did something honest and worthwhile. Whether it becomes that remains to be seen.

My writing is a work in a progress. Just as I am. But it’s the only construction I want to devote myself to (right now). It is my Sagrada Família.

I write to learn. I write to self-improve.

Therein lies the issue with writing – it’s a lonely pursuit. And a selfish one. You can write to be read and you can write for an audience – therein lies its nobility and magnanimity – but its presumptive to be writing that way.

I currently do not have the privilege (though I possess a lot of others) of assuming that my work will be read, so to write for those reasons is futile.

I write for myself. I have to.

And so it’s self-centred. An exercise in narcissism. I spend hours a day forming thoughts and thinking they’re special enough to be documented. What a life the writer’s life is! You lock yourself away, retreat, scarper from family suppers and make excuses not attend social gatherings because you have to write. And it’s a discipline. To commit to it is to turn down other adventures and pleasures. To devote yourself to you and the words you want to say. You can’t be a writer without having written something.

This is a quandary that plagues me. I can’t call myself a writer. Perhaps I should. But it feels disingenuous.

What have you written? People would ask.

I wouldn’t be able to name something they had read. So although I don’t write to be read, you have to be read to be a writer. At least that’s how it feels. Those are the rules of the game.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t write to be writer. That’s the ambition. But in the meantime, whilst it doesn’t compel a salary and serves only as a side-hustle, I write to tell stories. In order to live. I write to live my best life.

***

I write because it’s my jam. And bread and butter (though we established not in the monetary meaning; it brings all the insides together.) It’s chicken soup in the miserable midst of a cold or a cup of tea on the top of a snow-capped mountain. It’s the first robin spotted on the cusp of winter. It’s a pair of jeans that slide on like a dream and caress your hips but don’t gape at the waist. It’s getting a text back you’ve been pining for. It’s a new kitten. It’s blowing out candles on a birthday cake to the symphony of gathered friends commemorating you. It’s feeling the sun on your back as if thawing your spine. It’s falling asleep in a park and having nowhere to be. It’s waking up in the morning to absence of alarm. It’s a bowling strike. It’s a penalty scored. It’s a home run. It’s an impetuous, top-of-your-lungs-windows-down-sing-song in the car. It’s the first lick of an ice cream, the smoothness a surprise for your tongue. It’s making the last train home, panting with irrepressible relief that your legs had the strength to see you through. It’s the cat with the hearts in his eyes emoji. It’s a gifted book with a note written on the first page.

It’s being told I love you too.

It is nourishment and reprieve. It is both palliative and restorative.

I write because it’s hard and they say anything worth doing is.

I write because it makes me happy.

***

“I write to give my life a form, a narrative, a chronology; and, for good measure, I seal loose ends with cadenced prose and add glitter where I know things were quite lusterless. I write to reach out to the real world, though I know that I write to stay away from a world that is still too real and never as provisional or ambivalent as I’d like it to be.”

55772ac69399217d87faa2de3222ae39.jpg– André Aciman, The New York Times

“Writing is finally a series of permissions you give yourself to be expressive in certain ways. To invent. To leap. To fly. To fall. To find your own characteristic way of narrating and insisting; that is, to find your own inner freedom. “

– Susan Sontag, The New York Times

“In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind.

– Joan Didion, The New York Times

“Groping through the dark is, in large part, what writing consists of anyway. Working through and feeling around the shadows of an idea. Getting pricked. Cursing purity. Threshing out. Scuffing up and peeling away. Feral rearranging. Letting form ferment. Letting form pass through you…Writing is losing focus and winning it back, only to lose it once more. Hanging on despite the nausea of producing nothing good by noon, despite the Sisyphean task of arriving at a conclusion that pleases.”

– Durga Chew-Bose, Too Much and Not the Mood

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Review: Room

A film ‘inspired by’ the notorious Josef Fritzl case and warning of a ‘strong abduction theme’ could easily be dismissed as harrowing awards fodder, replete with tearful reunions and traumatic flashbacks.

But Lenny Abrahamson (last seen unleashing quirk in full throttle with Frank) is a smarter director than that, and screenwriter Emma Donoghue knows the source material better than that (she did after all pen the novel it’s based upon). Together, they’ve stripped the story back to its most gripping core and Ma (Brie Larson) and Jack’s (Jacob Tremblay) story is ultimately one of survival.

Despite assumptions, it’s not all desperately sad. At its heart, Room is about a mother and son, and if nothing more, it tingles with the triumph of the human spirit.

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Room immediately depicts a sense of claustrophobia, using tight close-ups to showcase the sparsely-furnished prison – objects all personified by 5 year old Jack – and to illustrate the startling intimacy of a mother and her child, obligated to breathe the same squalid air day in and day out. However, by envisioning the space from a child’s perspective it becomes a canvas for his imagination, as yet unburdened by the agonising circumstances of his existence.

As a result, their relationship is both fraught with the frustrations of their limitations (Jack is mad at Ma for forgetting the candles on his birthday cake, not awed by her ability to whip one up at all), and the site of overwhelming tenderness. Ma has lovingly created a routine (involving ‘track’, reading, play, tea and bath-time) and a sense of normality for her son. In some regards she has sacrificed her own sanity to enable her son to live freely and contently, for Room is all he has ever known.

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When their captor ‘Old Nick’ – a man only ever glimpsed by Jack through wardrobe slats, as he pay regular visits to restock their cupboards and rape Ma – reveals his on-going struggle to provide for them, Ma knows his ‘kindness’ wouldn’t extend to keeping them alive. It’s at this point Room becomes a story of gripping intensity, as Ma hatches a plan to escape, reliant on Jack’s ability to both understand and operate in a world he has never been a part of, let alone knew existed.

Despite assumptions, it’s not all desperately sad. At its heart, Room is about a mother and son, and if nothing more, it tingles with the triumph of the human spirit.

Brie Larson avoided the su64176n and lived on a protein-rich diet to gain the pallid complexion and sinewy limbs of a young woman forced to spent 7 years of her life in an 100 square foot room. But her transformation runs deeper than the appearance of obvious deprivation. For an actress predominantly seen in comedic supporting roles (21 Jump Street, Trainwreck), you could be forgiven for describing her performance as revelatory. More than that, it’s astonishingly layered. In Ma’s eyes, we witness every strain and every patience tested. We feel the urgency of her revealing the truth to Jack and we glimpse her remembrance of a life outside of Room, of a childhood innocence brutally snatched away. Even in acts of seeming cruelty – wrapping her son up in a rug as he plays dead and willing him to repeatedly roll himself free – we sense nothing but unconditional love. Ma is a woman on the brink and Larson imbues her with a tenacity and shrewdness, conveying both her devastating vulnerability and bristling with a maternal fierceness.

Of course the very nature of the plot requires a young actor able to hold his own against Larson’s powerhouse performance. And Jacob Tremblay does just that. It’s not surprising he calls Larson his ‘best friend’, for the closeness they exude is remarkable. At every turn Tremblay manages to express Jack’s innocence, petulance, curiosity and finally, his wide-eyed wonder in experiencing a series of firsts.

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Joan Allen and William H. Macy provide reliable, understated support as the parents having to adjust to their daughter’s return and taking small steps to introduce their grandson to the realities of the world. The clever design of their home and the suffocating presence of the media also hint at whether Ma and Jack are just as much captives outside of Room.

RoomLennyAbrahamson1We’ve seen Abrahamson achieve a balance between absurdity and hilarity with the wondrous Frank and with Room he proves himself adept at crafting an intelligent and intense drama from a child’s perspective without succumbing to mawkishness. He never milks Jack’s naiveté, but rather carefully harnesses it to create moments of severe poignancy and potency. Tremblay’s scenes with the underrated Allen (who isn’t seen in enough movies) are particularly wrenching, as Jack innocently reveals details of the torment he and Ma endured.

As agonizing as the transition process is for all involved – the audience especially – it’s a testament to all involved that you can never tear yourself away. In a malevolent and unpredictable world, where Ma’s kindness was met with an act of unimaginable cruelty, Abrahamson finds a beauty and solace.

Verdict: Disturbing and absorbing in equal measure. Whether or not it takes home the Best Picture Oscar, Room is a real win for independent cinema, and a brilliant showcase for how a film – small in scope and budget – can have a big impact.

Review: The Danish Girl

Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl, is a sensual and occasionally moving film, but one that altogether lacks gumption or dynamism.

Telling the story of Lili Elbe, an artist who became one of the first recipients of gender reassignment surgery, Hooper employs a sedate and sumptuous approach that may have suited his Oscar-winning biopic The King’s Speech, but feels somewhat inappropriate here.

We first meet Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) and his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) as the picture of marital bliss. Flirtatious, loving and both artistically-inclined, theirs is a relationship of complete affinity, so much so that Gerda describes her first kiss with Einar as though it was like ‘kissing myself’.

It is in these quiet moments of realisation that The Danish Girl is at it’s most hypnotic. Sadly, it’s a tone that Hooper fails to sustain.

The couple are bohemian royalty, with Einar enjoying relative fame and success as a landscape painter and Gerda – though slighted by her own lack of recognition as a portraitist – content to frolic at society parties and lavish amid the dreamy surroundings of Copenhagen circa 1926.

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However that happiness is no sooner established than quickly punctured by Einar’s apparent fetish for femininity and all that comes with it. Asked to sit in for their ballet dancer friend (a playful Amber Heard), whom Gerda is painting, Einar – feigning reluctance, though visibly animated – dons stockings, shoes and a dress and adopts an elegant pose. The picture is all too funny for Gerda, but for Einar it stirs a feeling of deep-seated dissatisfaction with his masculine identity. Touching the silk fabrics, there are already glimmers that he might feel more complete, more himself, were he to embrace a different persona altogether.

It is in these quiet moments of realisation that The Danish Girl is at it’s most hypnotic. Sadly, it’s a tone that Hooper fails to sustain.

Gerda, still caught up in the heady hilarity of her husband’s pantomime, encourages Einar to attend a party with her dressed as a woman. Together they conjure up Lili, a bashful cousin of Einar’s, whom bears a striking resemblance to him. As Lili gradually begins to manifest full time, the film become more parodic.

Redmayne does a marvellous job of conveying Einar’s inner turmoil, and certainly as he gazes at himself in the mirror, distorting his own body to adopt a womanly form, one can’t fail to be convinced of the transformative talents of the very actor that became Stephen Hawking for last year’s The Theory Of Everything. But here the very casting a cisgender man lends falseness to the entire film, for Redmayne cannot very well become a woman. Despite his earnest attempts at delicacy and elegance, he is ultimately playing dress-up and his performance often consists more of certain poses, movements or facial expressions than it does of an underlying sense of womanhood. Redmayne captures the subtleties of body language, but all too often it feels affected and superficial.

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As Einar begins to consider the possibility of becoming Lili full-time, and consulting doctors that could grant his wish, Gerda’s career begins to soar. Her portraits of Lili find an audience in Paris and as she becomes increasingly visible to society, her husband slowly disappears.

Alicia Vikander, the young Swedish actress who’s on the precipice of going stratospheric, is the beating heart of this film. Where Redmayne is all poise and grace, hers is a performance that feels spontaneous and raw, every emotion possible flickering across her face as Gerda grapples with Einar’s new identity. The scene where Gerda begs Lili to give her her husband back is perhaps the most gut wrenching.

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It’s hard to fault the filmmaking. Hooper is a director obsessed with perfection and wherever you look there is more exquisite scenery and furniture and fabric to absorb. The protagonist’s lives might be falling apart, but dammit their sofas can be flawlessly upholstered. It’s this tendency to prettify that becomes the film’s and ironically, Lili’s, undoing.

Alicia Vikander, the young Swedish actress who’s on the precipice of going stratospheric, is the beating heart of this film.

The precise, calculated style feels too measured and not messy enough for the subject matter at hand. The painterly aesthetic might reflect its protagonist’s craft, however it doesn’t do justice to the challenge and trauma of Lili’s transition. Even when threat looms in the form of prejudiced assailants or dangerously conventional doctors, it feels tentative and performative rather than real and frightening.

Hooper and co-wreddie-redmayne-alicia-vikander-the-danish-girl.jpgiter Lucinda Coxon have not only neatened Lili’s story and presumably made it more palatable for mainstream cinema-going audiences (and no doubt Oscar voters), but rather worse cut it short. Lili died at the age of 49 from a fatal womb transplant after enduring a series of operations, and therefore it seems unlikely she had a moment of epiphanic self-acceptance before conceding to death in Gerda’s arms, shortly followed by an overwhelmingly saccharine scene – that practically yells SYMBOLISM – where Lili’s scarf drifts across the Danish landscapes she hitherto committed to canvas.

Indeed Gerda’s own life took a sour turn. She did not get swept off her feet by the dashing Matthias Schoenaarts (as Hooper would have you believe), but married an Italian officer who drained her of all her financial resources. (Read more about the true story here).

The Danish Girl, for all its good intentions, is a contrived vanity project that sadly diminishes the struggle of Lili’s transformation. I walked away from the cinema thinking it was all very lovely, which I fear, was hardly the point.

Hollywood hitting a wall?

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Once upon a time there existed such a thing – an institution, a marvel, an industry – as silent cinema. The transition from this mute art form to the sounds of actor’s voices that mark our movies today was supposedly characterised by chaos, upheaval, rapidity – the sudden realisation that sound was the way forward! (As depicted in the beloved film Singin’ in the Rain). Such is the film industry’s propensity for dramatization.

And now it appears that much the same rhetoric is being employed in regard to Hollywood. The glittering, gold-mine of movie stars and moguls, big budgets and even bigger egos, could potentially be usurped by a different system.

Indeed, legendary filmmakers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have recently diagnosed the terminal condition of this beloved filmmaking industry. (For a full interview, click here).

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They speak about the ‘Going for the Gold’ gambling mentality (and reality) which will inevitably be its undoing. Hollywood are betting on a few large-scale $250-million blockbusters every year. Sooner or later, say the directing duo, the entire industry will go bust when those few large expensive feature films flop, and the entire industry will be re-defined.

“There’s going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen mega-budget movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that’s going to change the paradigm.”

Such evidence can be found in massive flops like John Carter, Green Lantern or the 3D Mars Needs Moms which all lost something in the ballpark figure of $100million. This slew of un-savvy investments could certainly spell the death knell for the industry.

Spielberg points out the seemingly inevitable conservatism of the movie industry in the face of expanding content choices: “You’re at the point right now where a studio would rather invest $250 million in one film for a real shot at the brass ring than make a whole bunch of really interesting, deeply personal – and even maybe historical – projects that may get lost in the shuffle.”

He lamented that it’s becoming harder and harder for even brand-name filmmakers to get their projects into movie theatres. In fact Lincoln – you know, that Oscar-winning, $180million-making, historical biopic – was intended for HBO. And if Spielberg is having a hard-time convincing studios to get behind him, imagine how tough emerging talent will find it to break into the industry.

TV is fast becoming the way to go, with a recent glut of big name actors popping up in TV series; Claire Danes in Homeland, Kevin Spacey in House of Cards, Laura Linney in The Big C, Diane Kruger in The Bridge, the list could go on.

It hardly seems surprisingly considering that TV shows are starting to exhibit a lot more integrity, variety and genius than the film studios, which have recently churned out duds like The Lone Ranger, After Earth, White House Down and Pacific Rim. The Lone Ranger costing Disney more than $200 million to produce and took in $29million on its opening weekend at the box office. 

Spielberg suggests that, soon, Hollywood’s rose-tinted glasses may take a turn for clarity, when it edges further and further toward bankruptcy. And will ultimately forced to change its corporate ways. That change might include: movie-going becoming a rarer, more special and more expensive occasion – likening itself to the theatre; movies being released in all formats, everywhere, at the same time; and most movies coming to us via online services. This, the pair suggest, will mean a bright future for movie-makers with a particular vision – they will be able to make a living out of globally aggregated niche audiences.

And whilst that may very well be the only way to sustain, or resuscitate a floundering business model, it seems somewhat poignant that such a favoured pastime will be reduced to a ‘birthday treat’, or to laptop screens only as more and more people undoubtedly revert to downloading their entertainment.

When this door closes, another one might open – independent films may rise in popularity – but if greed sends Hollywood to the grave, it should be a lesson to us all that mainstream isn’t always the way to go.

 

Review: Anna Karenina (2012)

 Anna Karenina
 
Players: Joe Wright (DIR), Keira Knightley, Aaron Johnson, Jude Law, Matthew McFayden, Kelly McDonald
 
Having proven skilled at adapting Austen and McEwan it appears Joe Wright wanted to tackle more tragic, epic and quite frankly longer material. Cue Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.

 A beast of the literary world and a popular choice for cinematic adaptation, questions undoubtedly appeared as to the necessity of another. Clearly unperturbed, Wright not only delivers a mature and visually stunning interpretation of the classic, but one with a truly novel twist – its all set in a theatre.

 Whilst this may divide viewers it operates on two levels; as a metaphor for how society is constructed and all its inhabitants performing roles, as well as a visually impressive narrative segway during set changes. Thus the ideologies behind Tolstoy’s 500+ page lament for Russian society resonate well within the theatrical setting.

 The cast too are as exquisite as the setting. Keira Knightley as the seduced and thus condemned heroine is at her period drama best in her third pairing with Wright. A coquettish socialite beguiled by the attention lavished upon her by the handsome Count Vronsky (Johnson), she breaks free from the glacial restrictions of Russian aristocracy in rip-roaring, piston-pumping, passionate style with believability and ease. Something Wright forcefully emphasises with consistent train references.

 Not short of talented male support, Jude Law as bald, po-faced and tediously duty bound Karenin is almost unrecognisable. Whilst the charming Aaron Johnson as Vronsky displays all the swagger, charisma and boldness first seen in Nowhere Boy. Matthew MacFayden is also worth a mention on scene-stealing form as Anna’s pompous and avaricious brother Oblonsky.

 And yet for all its attention to detail, intensity and beautifully elegiac tone, one can’t help but sigh at the sheer length of it. Wright’s motivic repetitions; close-ups of character’s faces and coat-changing vignettes become somewhat tiresome. And ultimately the characters aren’t particularly sympathetic leaving you under-whelmed and perhaps as cold as the Russian landscape itself.

 
Verdict: Sprawling, slow-paced and slightly indulgent. Sumptuous settings, clever editing and terrific performances can’t quite match the flawless magic of Tolstoy’s novel.

Winter Preview

One of the perks of work experience at a film magazine is that I have the luxury of spending hours researching up and coming releases. Here are just a handful of what I’m looking forward to…
Liberal Arts
Players: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Zac Efron, Richard Jenkins, Alison Janney
It’s official. I have a major girl crush on Elizabeth Olsen. She is fast becoming one of my favourite actresses; with just 4 releases to her name, her performances are assured, beguiling and charming. Liberal Arts is to be her 5th credit, helmed by the equally lovely Josh Radnor. Proving his comedy chops in ‘How I Met Your Mother’ and his subtle directorial prowess in ‘Happythankyoumoreplease’, this follow-up should tick the same easy-going, heart-warming and witty box as its predecessor.
ETA 5 October
Ruby Sparks

 Players: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris (DIRs), Zoe Kazan, Paul Dano, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas
With several supporting turns to her name in films such as ‘In The Valley of Elah’, ‘Revolutionary Road ‘The Private Lives of Pippa Lee’ and ‘It’s Complicated’, Zoe Kazan is no stranger to Hollywood, not least because she’s the grand-daughter of the great Elia Kazan. It’s fantastic then to see her finally getting a starring role, both as actress and screenwriter, in the up and coming ‘Ruby Sparks’: a rom-com of sorts, which sees a novelist will his fictitious female protagonist into existence. A charming premise with real-life couple Kazan and Dano playing the leads (sparks will no doubt fly), I’m expecting good things.
ETA 12 October
The Sapphires

Players: Wayne Blair (DIR), Chris O’Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy
Dubbed the Australian ‘Dreamgirls’, this soulful drama recaptures the spirit of 1968 as an aboriginal girl group entertain US troops in Vietnam. With IT Crowd fave O’Dowd providing laughs this could be the feel-good surprise of the year.
ETA 2 November
Rust and Bone
Players: Jacques Audiard (DIR), Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Armand Verdure
Cotillard looks to be back on Oscar-winning form as a killer whale trainer who connects with a stranger after a horrible accident. With a director known for intense and riveting dramas, (The Prophet, The Beat That My Heart Skipped) one thing’s for sure this is no Free Willy.
ETA 2 November
Silver Linings Playbook
Players: David O’Russell (DIR), Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence
Fresh from the boxing ring O’Russell serves up a dramedy that sees the romantic entanglement of Cooper and Lawrence; two complicated souls whom strike up a deal. Slated to be an intense but funny exploration of mental illness this also sees the return of Julia Stiles to the big screen.
  
ETA 21 November
Trouble With The Curve 
Players: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake
After slightly mediocre fare with J.Edgar and Hereafter, hopefully Eastwood can score a homerun with this baseball family drama, which sees him playing an ailing baseball scout who takes his daughter Adams on one last recruiting trip.
It’s certainly tried and tested material; a sports movie with plenty of heart, but Eastwood has proven more than adept at avoiding the saccharine where others might struggle (Bridges of Madison County) as well as helming an emotionally powerful sports film (Million Dollar Baby), so this should be an enjoyable walk in the park for both him and us.
ETA 30 November
The Oranges
Players: Julian Farino (DIR), Hugh Laurie, Catherine Keener, Leighton Meester, Oliver Platt, Alison Janney
That awkward moment your Dad falls for his best friend’s daughter. So goes the plot of ‘The Oranges’ a modern day Romeo and Juliet if you will, which sees two neighbouring families having to deal with the romantic entanglement of Laurie and Meester. Offering up strong comedic talent and a script drenched in wit (based on an early draft I managed to read), I’m most looking forward to appearances from Alia Shawkat (the best friend in ‘Whip It’) and Adam Brody (Seth from ‘The O.C’) who will hopefully be at their sarcastic, socially awkward best.
ETA 7 December
The Words
Players: Brian Klugman, Lee Sternthal (DIRs), Bradley Cooper, Dennis Quaid, Olivia Wilde, Zoe Saldana, Jeremy Irons
Having premiered at Sundance 2012 we should expect a UK cinematic release sometime soon. Good news indeed as this multi-layered narrative, moving backwards and forwards in time looks to be an intense and thought-provoking film. Featuring some delectable acting talent and a literary narrative basis about a writer who must pay the price for plagiarising, I am already hooked. Shame about the title though.
Zero Dark Thirty
Players: Kathryn Bigelow (DIR), Joel Edgerton, Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong
Directorial goddess Bigelow follows up The Hurt Locker with equally powerful and political material chronicling the decade-long hunt for Bin Laden after 9/11. Starring man and woman of the moment, Edgerton and Chastain, respectively. Should be explosive.
ETA 25 January
Elysium
Players: Neil Blomkamp (DIR), Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley,
Undoubtedly one of the most hotly anticipated films of 2013, Neil Blomkamp’s District 9 follow-up looks set to be a blistering sci-fi action movie. Unflinching graphics, profound morals and a killer cast. Roll on March.
ETA 1 March
Robot And Frank
  
Players: Jake Schreier (DIR), Frank Langella, James Marsden, Susan Sarandon, Liv Tyler, Peter Sarsgaard (voice)
In a world overrun by technology an ex-jewel thief and his robotic butler buddy up to pull off a heist. The trailer looks adorable; think ‘Moon’ crossed with ‘The Sting’, with an added dose of light-hearted fun.
  
ETA 8 March
Now You See Me 
Players: Louis Letterier (DIR), Morgan Freeman, Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg, Michael Caine, Melanie Laurent
If you ignore the previous credits of director Letterier (The Transporter 1 & 2, Clash Of The Titans, The Incredible Hulk) and instead focus on the stellar cast, intriguing premise and potential magic of this heist-thriller about FBI agents tracking a team of bank robbing illusionists then you can understand my anticipation.
ETA 27 March
The Place Beyond The Pines
Players: Derek Cianfrance (DIR), Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Rose Byrne, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta
In a year Ryan Gosling brought us Drive, Crazy Stupid Love and The Ides of March, whatever his next move, it was clearly going to be hotly anticipated. Reuniting with the director of ‘Blue Valentine’, ‘Pines’ tells the story of a motorcycle stunt rider whom in order to provide for his wife and child toys with committing a crime that puts him on a collision course with a cop-turned-politician. With a cast that also includes Bradley Cooper, Rose Byrne and Eva Mendes, I predict that this will be one helluva sexy film.
Also in an interview with screenwriter Ben Coccio he revealed that he “suggested that the movie be set in the kind of town I grew up in, Schenectady, New York. [Derek] told me his wife was from Schenectady. So, in looking for a title, I found out what ‘Schenectady’ means. It’s a dutch derivation of an Iroquois phrase which means, ‘The Place Beyond the Pines.’ It’s already too cool for its own good.
  
The Company You Keep
Players: Robert Redford (DIR), Shia LaBeouf, Julie Christie, Richard Jenkins, Brendan Gleeson, Anna Kendrick, Stanley Tucci
After Redford’s last directorial effort, the rather disappointingly lacklustre Lincoln-assasination movie ‘The Conspirator’, slipped under the radar, I’m really hoping his next project sees him back on form. This thriller wrapped filming in November 2011 and is due out sometime next year.
Just like ‘The Conspirator’ it features an unbelievably high calibre cast; not surprising for someone whose many years in the business must no doubt have acquired a reputation that’s like ‘bees to a honey-pot’ for actors. Screen veterans Susan Sarandon, Chris Cooper, Stanley Tucci and Richard Jenkins, as well as Redford himself should all add a touch of class to this thriller, which is centered on a former Weather Underground activist who goes on the run from a journalist who has discovered his identity.
The young’uns of the cast consist of LaBeouf and Kendrick, who can both be magnetic and charismatic under good direction, whilst indie darling Brit Marling ups the hype factor for this one massively. An intriguing film indeed, which will hopefully keep the likes of ‘Ordinary People’ and ‘The Horse Whisperer’ company on Redford’s success record.