The Eurovision Song Contest 2016 – Preview + Running Order


I was way too excited to think clearly on Tuesday when my original post went up, there were typos and everything, but now I’ve had a chance to calm down, listen to all the entries for the 73rd time and change my mind about what I think is going to happen.

What’s changed this year?

Quite a bit. Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia and Bulgaria all returned (to the semis, at least), while Romania have been royally kicked to the kerb for not paying their Eurovision telly bill from last year. Portugal have withdrawn, which is Eurovision code for “we’ve never won, and we can’t bloody afford to keep trying”. Justin Timberlake will be performing during the interval (I am not kidding), which begs the question ‘will the Yanks be competing next year?’ Well they let the Aussies in, so anything’s possible.

Also, the voting system has been revised. When I say revised, I actually mean it’s been rigged even more. To understand Eurovision voting, anyway, is to understand quantum theory written in Chinese and read from a mirror. Obviously, I have no problem with this but not everyone has my amazing Eurovision spidey-sense  all you need to know is that the public vote is meaningless, it’s all down to the juries. Nobody knows who sits on these professional juries including, I suspect, those who are supposed to be sitting on it. This is the bit they don’t want you to know and explains why it’s so easy to rig the result.

The running order is now set in stone and, of coruse, this has been completely rigged as well. France, Australia and Cyprus are stuck in No Man’s Land at no.11, no.13 and no.14 respectively, so it’s all down to who wins the war between Ukraine and Russia. No change there, then. Ukraine have the edge because they go after Russia with only Spain and Latvia to keep them apart in the Green Room. The United Kingdom have a great draw, however, going second to last. That Top 10 place might actually happen.

Predictions follow at the end, which I reserve the right to change each hour, on the hour, before 8pm tomorrow, although I still aim to maintain my uncanny knack of correctly predicting the Top 5, just not in the correct order. Take from that what you will.

1 – Belgium

Laura Tesoro – “What’s The Pressure?”

Voleur! Voleur!

The pressure, Belgium, is that you’re nicking riffs not just from Queen, but also Jamiroquai and Pharrell Williams, then trying to hide it by putting a pretty girl stage front to funk it all out in silver sequins to distract us. They might have shot themselves in the foot, though, as this song would definitely benefit more from having a male vocalist – Laura’s just not strong enough to carry this. It’s catchy, it’s different from the rest of the field and it’s going to be popular, but it doesn’t detract from the fact they stole most of it. They’re on first, too, and no-one wins when they go first.

7/10 – Naughty, naughty

2 – Czech Republic

Gabriela Guncikova – “I Stand”

Wake me up later

The Czechs are very inexperienced when it comes to Eurovision, they’ve only competed four times before and have never reached the Grand Final – until now. They even withdrew completely in 2010 because of the “lack of interest” from their own viewing public. This song is a bit of a dirge with nothing to elevate it to Eurovision standards, so they’ve kind of dug their own apathetic grave once more.

3/10 – Time to Czech out

3 – Netherlands

Douwe Bob – “Slow Down”

Don’t slow down, just stop

In 2014, the Dutch could have caused one of the biggest Eurovision upsets ever when their cute, folksy ballad “Calm After The Storm” just lost out to the force of nature which was Conchita Wurst. Last year, they reverted to a ‘safe’ Eurovision number which ultimately disappointed despite it’s potential, so this year they’ve gone back to guitars. The first line is “I’m going nowhere and I’m going fast…”. Well, quite. It sounds like it belongs more in the credits of an un-amusing BBC sitcom (is there any other kind?) than anywhere near the prestigious Eurovision stage. Close your eyes and you can actually see “starring Robert Lindsay” scrolling in the darkness. Dutch Eurovisioners expect more, Bob! Be gone with your comfortable television jingles and come back next year with a key change, at the very least.

4/10 – Being cute is just not enough anymore, Bob

4 – Azerbaijan

Samra – “Miracle”

Consistently just ‘very good’

I like Azerbaijan, they do good Eurovision. In eight attempts they’ve finished Top 10 in all but two contests. This is another dance-pleaser and more than ticks some essential Eurovision boxes, and I originally thought the field was simply too strong for this to get higher than ninth or tenth. I’m rethinking that and it could go much higher.

8/10 – Good song but is it eclipsed by too many others?

5 – Hungary

Freddie – “Pioneer”

Yes, hide you might, Freddie!

The Magyars gave Eurovision a brilliant shot in 2014 when Andras Kallay-Saunders’ fabulous “Running” came fifth, but they faltered last year and I’m afraid this year will be no different. Freddie is a nice enough chap but he just can’t sing very well. There’s a lot of pained grunting and shouting, but that’s probably down to the bad goulash his mum’s been feeding him.

5/10 – Nothing pioneering about this, Freddie love

6 – Italy

Francesca Michielin- “No Degree Of Separation”

Still mardy about last year…

I try not to go on about it, much, but Italy’s operatic trio were utterly robbed last year by a biased jury system who inexplicably put Sweden ahead of them. The public vote had Italy as landslide winners but it wasn’t enough to tip the weighted Scales of Conspiracy in the Eye-Ties’ favour. The Italian Shadowlords have therefore thrown a fully justified strop and decided ‘not to play anymore’, because this song is about as catchy as a Leonard Cohen album. Never mind, Italy, I don’t blame you for your mardiness, this time.

4/10 – Save the celebratory cornettos

7 – Israel

Hovi Star – “Made of Stars”

Go to the naughty step, Hovi…

If you ever wondered what happened to Phil Oakey of Human League, wonder no longer. He’s been in a cocoon and has emerged as an Israeli butterfly called Hovi Star (really) to sing a lovely little power ballad called “Made of Stars” which is about, well, stars and stuff. Politics aside (they’re never going to win until they stop killing people), the song “could” have been Eurovision gold but they’ve messed up on the timings. You only get 3 minutes, Israel, 3 minutes!! Don’t you know this?! But you’ve taken far too long to get to the hummus and two veg. What part of ‘power ballad’ do you not understand? Why have you waited 2 mins 26 secs to get to the goosebumpy bits? You’ve wasted the most important middle section of the song when voters make the subconscious decision whether or not to like you.

Everyone knows you have until precisely 1min 13secs to suck us in with a catchy chorus, a teasing build-up or, better still, a little wink to the camera, unless you’re going all-in for an unbeatable key change 20 seconds before crescendo (see Russia). Oh, and speaking of crescendos, you’ve messed that up, too, reverting back to a slow end instead of the fireworks, bells and whistles you promised. Talk about leading us up the garden path…

7/10 – Close, but no shishlik

8 – Bulgaria

Poli Genova – “If Love Was A Crime”

Love isn’t the crime, here

Poli Genova was an extra in Mad Max: Fury Road and she’s been living in her costume ever since. This a pleasing dance number but it doesn’t really get going and will stay in the bottom half of the final scoreboard. She does some impressive comedy-knees during the chorus, and she’s clad in some bizarre reflective strapping which might make you feel travel sick if you watch for too long. I hope she’s got some more film work lined up soon, though, because Eurovision isn’t going to make her famous.

5/10 – Welcome back, Bulgaria, but it doesn’t look like you’re staying long

9 – Sweden

Frans – “If I Were Sorry”

Look sorrier…

As title holders, Sweden have a lot to live up to, but you can usually rely on them to always finish Top 5, it’s almost Eurovision law. They’ll struggle this year, though, probably because staging the contest this year has bankrupted the Swedish economy and they just can’t afford to win it again any time soon. Personally, I think this is one of the weakest entries they’ve ever offered, but the bookies still like it. It’s a young kid doing a bit of talk-singing at the beginning before the song fully gets going into a plinky-plonky paean to young love. It’s OK, but it’s nowhere near the Eurovision quality we expect from the Swedes, so there’s a vacant Top 3 slot up for grabs.

4/10 – Yes, Frans, you should be sorry…

10 – Germany

Jamie-Lee – “Ghost”

Trees

The Germans are consistently average in Eurovision. They win sometimes, they come Top 10 occasionally, and they also love to just drop out of the scoreboard entirely when they can’t be bothered (see France). They last won with Lena’s “Satellite” in 2010, and this year’s song (and performer) reminds me a little of that. It’s jaunty enough, with elements of Rihanna’s “Umbrella”, but it’s not going to do anything to excite or upset, it’s just ‘nice’. Jamie-Lee’s a nice enough kid who likes to wear toy trees on her head, but it’ll be past her bedtime by the time the final scores come in, and I wouldn’t bother waking her up for it.

6/10 – A decent support act

11 – France

Amir Haddad – “J’ai Cherche”

Bonjour!

France are notorious for not giving a toss about Eurovision but, as one of The Big Five, they’re forced into competing. Because of this, they make no attempt to hide their utter contempt for the contest by entering consistently rubbish songs which have no hope of winning. Two years ago, they came last, and they couldn’t have been happier. Then the November 2015 Paris terror attacks happened and suddenly there was a global Eurovision expectation that the French would simply have to throw forward a song asking for tolerance and world peace.

Well, they have made an effort, but instead of the expected emotive ballad, we have a catchy crowd-pleaser crooned by a suitably-swarthy Casanova of Israeli extraction (you see what they’re doing here, right?). Amir Haddad was a contestant on the French version of The Voice and is now very big in French disco circles. He’s also rather handsome, in case that hasn’t come across yet.

“J’ai Cherche” is a pop standard with on-the-nose lyrics such as “I have looked for a sense to my existence / It has made me leave my innocence behind”. You’re reaching for your phones right now, aren’t you? And well you might, because if that doesn’t convince you that the French are a serious threat this year, then get this – the chorus is in English. I know!! The French never do this, never! I have visions of pitchforks and placards being marched from the cobbles of Calais to the boulevards of Cannes protesting at such an outrageous betrayal.

This was my clear favourite in the beginning but, having seen two rehearsals, Mr Haddad just doesn’t own the stage as well as Super Sergey from Russia, and there’s no real performance, either, whereas Sergey has bought all the bells and whistles in the shop. Also, unlike Russia who had to get through a semi final, France don’t get to showcase their song before Saturday, so the lovely Amir only gets one chance to impress. Sergey, on the other hand, has had Planet Euovision gossiping about him for at least three months.

The running order draw hasn’t been kind to Amir, though, so his chances are fading slightly. Having said that, any other year and France would be as likely to win Eurovision as Leicester City winning the Premiership, and look what happened there…

8.5/10 – Could be France’s first win for 39 years…but only if Russia and Ukraine finally annihilate one another

12 – Poland

Michal Szpak – “Color Of Your Life”

Because he’s worth it

Who can forget Donatan & Cleo’s national costume spectacular of 2014 when 100 old ladies baked bread on the Eurovision stage? Well sorry to disappoint, but all those old dears are now dead and the only person left to compete for Poland is Chad from Nickelback or, if you squint, Cheryl Tweedy-Cole-Fernandez-Versini-Payne. He’s now going by the name ‘Michal’ and he’s going to seduce you with a power ballad and a wind machine. It’s great, and Chad/Michal’Cheryl has got the staring-seductively-into-the-camera thing bang on, as well as having lovely, lovely hair. He also has the best key change of the night, at the perfect time. I defy you not to start digging out all your middle-of-the-road 80s vinyl after hearing this. Cigarette lighters were invented for this song. You will cry. Yes, you will.

6/10 – There won’t be a dry eye in (my) house

13 – Australia

Dami Im – “Sound of Silence”

Shouldn’t be allowed!

You know when Australia was allowed to enter last year’s 60th anniversary event as a special, one-off, never-to-be-repeated guest, and they came fifth with a pretty good song which many people probably only voted for because it would be the one, absolutely only time they’d ever be able to vote for Australia in a Eurovision Song Contest??? WRONG! Because the Grand Eurovision Shadowlords lied through their teeth, and the Aussies have been allowed back again. No quarantine laws here!

For all we know, they’re in it forever, now. Eurovision is massive in Australia – the reason for their VIP guest-pass last year – but seriously, is this just one more step towards Eurovision becoming open to anyone? Sigh. Anyway, if you can wade your way through the corks and barbecues heading to Stockholm on Saturday, you’ll be treated to Dami Im, a lady whose name looks like a Scrabble anagram but whose voice gives us a power ballad of suitably Eurovision proportions. They take this seriously, the Aussies, and really did their homework last year, but even though this song is nowhere near as strong, they’ll still do well.

8.5/10 – Hard not to like them but they still shouldn’t be allowed

14 – Cyprus

Minus One – “Alter Ego”

‘Ave it!!!

I don’t quite know what’s happened to me this week but there’s no point denying it any longer – I have a huge crush on Cyprus this year. I think I’m actually in love with them, in a very unhealthy way. The Cypriots often throw in a traditional tune with balalaikas and flutes, but this time they’ve gone all mean and moody and it’s making me think naughty thoughts. This has grown on me so much, probably because it makes great walking music; just the thing for marching to work through the Everton ghettos every morning. No-one bothers me, not when I’ve got a filthy Cypriot rock band for protection.

Minus One are a group of rugged chaps who would look more at home in some Helsinki grunge bar than a seaside taverna in Limassol, and watching them strut their stuff takes me way back to a previous life of sweaty rock clubs and long-haired lotharios, but that’s another blog entirely…

There will be cages, strobes and even a wolf at some point. Grrrr! If you haven’t guessed, I’m a sucker for all this leather-coated, tattooed, eyebrow-piercing, manly weirdness, I am utterly seduced and I will need to lie down in a darkened room during the interval.

9.5/10 – Right up my street, but I might be the only one who lives here

15 – Serbia

ZAA Sanja Vucic – “Goodbye (Shelter)”

Should have stayed true to herself

I’m doing a complete turnaround on Serbia. They’ve been my favourite for ages, thanks to a cracking performance at their national finals (see link above). But since they got to Stockholm, the whole production has changed and what you’ll see on Saturday night is a shadow of what it should be – it’s like they’ve been bribed to throw it. If I had a Eurovision heart, they just broke it. They’ll still do well, but not half as well as they deserve, and it’s their own fault.

From a 9.5/10 down to a 7/10 – Bottled it

16 – Lithuania

Donny Montell – “I’ve Been Waiting For This Night”

For God’s sake, be careful Donny!

Anyone called Donny Montell should automatically win Eurovision, but sadly Donny has to compete just like everybody else. This is actually a very good song, but the stylist got lost on the way from Vilnius and poor Donny has had to do his own hair and wear his own clothes. He’s also clearly been let loose on the vodka, even though he’s not old enough to drink. Like Latvia, there’s some seriously dodgy dad-dancing going on (it’s obviously a Baltic thing) and, at some point, he’s going to attempt a somersault. This could be the year the Eurovision ambulance makes its debut.

6/10 – Be afraid, be very afraid

17 – Croatia

Nina Kraljic – “Lighthouse”

Too near the rocks

About 20 years ago, Dolores O’Riordan from The Cranberries moved to Zagreb and had a musical daughter whose destiny was to represent Croatia in Eurovision. The result is a lovely little song which would be great to blast out on the arl’ car stereo as you drive across the Dinaric Alps, or somewhere equally Hobbity. It’s charming and pretty and all that stuff, but it stands about much chance of winning as Dolores becoming Pope. Also, she has bizarre dress sense which is way too distracting.

6/10 – Lacks welly

18 – Russia

Sergey Lazarev – “You’re The Only One”

Calm DOWN, Sergey!

Last year, Sweden won mainly because they had a gimmicky light show thing which helped their singer look better than he was. I can’t be sure the Russians aren’t aiming to do the same thing this year because their stage show is a blatant attempt to copy the Swedish tactic. Having said that, it’s pretty good, regardless. Someone in the Kremlin has been sent to Eurovision School, and it shows in spades. Actually, Russia are threatening to usurp Sweden as Kings of Eurovision. They’ve done very well in recent years and would probably have won last year had Polina Gagarina been allowed to bring a hundred children and some puppies onto the stage for her rousing crescendo. This year, the Russians are pinning their hopes on Mr Lazarev and his energetic disco pleaser. It’s causing some hot chatter in the Eurovision catacombs, that’s for sure, and not just because of the stupid lights, because they have a pretty fine ace up that well-tailored sleeve…

Get ready to be Euro-dazzled, then, because Super Sergey is going to smash our heads in with not one, but two crucial key changes within 15 seconds of each another. I know! You read right! It’s unheard of, it’s cheeky and it’s a downright filthy tactic! But don’t faint at Russia’s audacity, just get your betting slips out instead. Their only threats are the Frogs. who could still edge it with the sympathy vote, or the Ukrainians, who are politicising the hell out of Eurovision this year, and way more than should be legal.

Unless Sergey falls off his invisible stage, or the Ukrainians assassinate him, it’s surely in the bag?

9.5/10 – A double key-change?!! Come ON…!

19 – Spain

Barei – “Say Yay!”

Just chillin’

You can always rely on the Spanish to just turn up at Eurovision and have some fun. They don’t care where they come, they just want to share the tapas and Rioja and maybe have a siesta during the pre-vote interval. This entry is a cheery number sung by an energetic songtress with a penchant for glittery spandex. See, you’ve got your money’s worth already. It may place Top 12, but only if she wears those leggings.

7/10 – Just go with it

20 – Latvia

Justs – “Heartbeat”

Childline is 0800 1111

Justs is a clean-cut, preppy kid who’s just entered his rebellious leather jacket phase and wants to tell us all about the meaning of love even though he’s only 14. The stubble isn’t real, by the way, it’s drawn on with a Sharpie. It’s an average song but Justs is giving it all he’s got, complete with static dancing which is almost dad-like. He’s a sweetheart, but the Eurovision sharks will eat him alive.

6/10 – School disco

21 – Ukraine

Jamala – “1944”

Hijacker

I feel very strongly about this song, but for unkind reasons. Last year Ukraine withdrew from the contest because of all the turmoil going off over there, but they’re back with a blatant attempt to guilt the rest of Europe into voting for them with lyrics which don’t hold back. The first verse goes “When strangers are coming, they come to your house / They kill you all and say ‘we’re not guilty'”. Well if that isn’t setting your stall out, I don’t know what is. The rest it is wailing, literally, and it’s not even in tune. When Putin hears this, he’ll consider it an act of war and it’s all going to kick off again in the Crimea. But the weirdest thing, the most insane thing,  is that Russia will probably give it 12 points. Go on, watch, they will.

This has been up there as second-favourite all week, even after two rehearsals and a semi-final which only served to prove that this ghastly woman cannot sing. It’s horrible, in every way, and I can’t emphasise enough how utterly inexplicable it is that this even got past the semi final, never mind be challenging for the trophy. It’s political and cynical, and the stupid Eurovision voting electorate will vote for it in their droves. Shame on you all.

2/10 – Play nicely, Ukraine…

22 – Malta

Ira Losco – “Walk On Water”

It’ll stick in your head, don’t fight it

You might not think of Malta as Eurovision heavyweights, but they’re consistent high achievers, with a fair few second places to their names and a strong pedigree in powerful female vocalists. It’s what they do well, so it makes sense for them to stick to what they know. This one is more dance-orientated than usual, but the combination of gorgeous chanteuse, sultry dancing, some well-chosen high notes, a good speck in the running order and, most importantly, a catchy chorus, means this is definitely one to watch. It won’t win, but it’s a grown-up bet to place Top 5.

8.5/10 – A real grower

23 – Georgia

Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitaz – “Midnight Gold”

It feels wrong to like this

Who knew Georgia could be funky? These guys are bonkers and the song is about as un-Eurovision as you can get. It’s just so wrong, it’s somehow right. So glad they made it through the semis but there’s an element of “we don’t really give a toss if we come last”,  which they probably will, which is making me like them even more.

7/10 – Georgian subversion

24 – Austria

ZOE – “Lion d’ici”

Austria had a famous win in 2014 with the marvellous “Rise Like A Phoenix”, surely one of the best winners in Eurovision history. The Austrians are still a bit overwhelmed by their own success, however, so they’ve decided to take it easy for a few years. This cute little ditty wasn’t supposed to get past the semis, which means they’ve had to stump up some extra Euros for the extended hotel bill – they thought they’d be back in Vienna by Wednesday morning. The classic schoolgirl error was choosing to sing in French instead of German. It doesn’t matter what  you’re singing, French sounds lovely but German doesn’t, so it’s their own fault, really.

5/10 – Not going to plan…

25 – United Kingdom

Joe & Jake – “You’re Not Alone”

Awwww…..

For the last five years, the UK entry has been selected internally by a panel of evil Shadowlords who have never, ever seen Eurovision in their numerously-reincarnated lives. And look where that got us. So this year they went back to letting the Great British Public decide, which could have been a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it made the nation feel part of proceedings (OK, no it didn’t) but on the other, it also meant that thousands of drunk piss-texters could have chosen us a song even more rubbish than last year’s  (which was beyond dire).

Luckily the winning ditty from the six on offer was genuinely the best one and might actually get us in the Top 10 which, considering every other country in Europe hates the bones of us, would be no mean feat. Joe & Jake are two rejects from The Voice 2015 who teamed up as a duo and have presented us with a catchy, very Euro-friendly bop-a-thon which should garner the votes of plenty frustrated French housewives, randy Estonian teenagers and probably a few fellas, too. On song alone, it’s one of the best in the race and the draw is fantastic, but that won’t matter. If Sweden was singing this, they’d flipping walk it.

8/10 – Brilliantly-Eurovision but they need different passports to get close to the Top 5

26 – Armenia

Iveta Mukuchyan – “LoveWave”

Watchable, listenable, but not winnable

The Armenians did pretty well in 2014 with a respectable 4th place. This year they’re going for the tried and tested pretty-girl-with-wind-machine formula and an “ooh-oooooh” chorus which might exacerbate the insomnia but, mild catchiness aside, there’s not much else to it, but there doesn’t need to be, so expect this to make the Top 10 with relative ease. Going last always helps, too.

7/10 – Ticks the relevant boxes but lacks the Oomph-factor

Honourable mention:

San Marino

Serhat – “I Didn’t Know”

They didn’t make the final, but this is actually classic Eurovision…if it was 1974. You have to watch it to appreciate just how glorious this is in every Eurovision way possible. It’s got the Seventies beat, the throaty whispered vocals…and a Fedora. This might even have beaten Abba’s Waterloo, it’s that good. Sorry, my darling Serhat, you’re just 42 years late with this.

Predictions (which I will change many times before 8pm Saturday…):

If it was up to me…

  1. Cyprus 2. France 3. Russia 4. Serbia (if she ups the Welly Factor) 5. United Kingdom

What will probably happen…

  1. Russia 2. Ukraine 3. France 4. Malta 5. Australia

Prediction update (as of 2230)

  1. Russia 2. Ukraine 3. Australia 4. France 5. Spain

Spain nailed it tonight, right? From zero to hero…

Fancy a flutter?

It’s a little pointless betting on Russia unless you want to combine with some other Top 5 places, or go for a Winner + Last Place. Russia + Georgia would be my choice for something like 12/1.

Cyprus has an outrageously possible shot of upsetting the smorgasbord by finishing Top 5 which, at the moment, you can get for around 10/1, the same as United Kingdom.

Malta have been gathering some serious fans this week, too. Top 5 for them is currently at 3/1. Combine with a Russian win to get around 5/1.

United Kingdom are currently 4/1 to finish in the Top 10, but the odds are shortening all the time so get your tenner on sooner rather than later.

2016 Oscar Preview Part 5: Best Supporting Actor + Predictions

A stronger field than the Best Actor category this year, this is where the real talent is. Yes, even Sylvester Stallone deserves his place, just. Predictions for the ceremony tonight, are at the end and I’m bound to get every one of them wrong. This isn’t Eurovision, I’m not that good.

CHRISTIAN BALE – “The Big Short”


Loved this film, and Bale is great, very funny, very intense (as usual) and perfectly cast. I did think Steve Carrell was better, though, and should have got the nod ahead of Bale, but I’m just being picky. Bale plays the fictionalised version of Michael Burry, a hedge fund manager who, in 2005, realises that the US housing market is a bit screwed, and predicts a collapse a few years hence. In the meantime, he begins betting against the market in preparation for a meltdown which nobody else seems aware of. A few others get wind of this and start doing the same (called “shorting”) until, eventually, financial armageddon arrives. It’s a complicated subject made very watchable by a fabulous script, hilarious performances and a style all of its own. Bale has a very good chance of winning, but I think Mark Rylance will shade it.
9/10 – Essential viewing

SYLVESTER STALLONE – “Creed”


The seventh instalment of the Rocky series, Creed follows a familiar story of up and coming boxer joining forces with older mentor to take a shot at a world boxing crown. Michael B Jordan (Friday Night Lights, The Wire) is Donnie Johnson, the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, enduring a rough life on the street before Creed’s widow takes him in to save him from a life of crime. But to her horror, Donnie wants to be a boxer, and he seeks out Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone, obviously) to help mentor him. Balboa is reluctant to get back into the game and also discovers he has cancer, just like his late wife, so he has his own demons to face. It’s cliche-101, but satisfyingly so. All performances are great, but I’m not sure if Stallone’s nod for Best Supporting Actor wasn’t due in part to nostalgia and sentiment on the part of the Academy. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this, but it did sweep me along and you can’t beat Stallone just being Stallone.
7.5/10 – Heavyweight entertainment

MARK RUFFALO – “Spotlight”


I’m a big Ruffalo fan, and he was easily the best thing in Spotlight. Being an ensemble piece, this is why he was probably only given a supporting nod, not the main one, as there wasn’t really a main character in this film, not even Michael Keaton as the editor. Ruffalo is always watchable, even when he’s not saying anything, but the main reason he deserves this nomination is because he’s the only actor in the film who really gets emotional about anything that’s happening. I think a voice was raised one time during the film, despite the disturbing subject matter, and that voice was Ruffalo’s when his investigative journalist character gets a tad frustrated at all the covering up going on in the Catholic Church. I thought the film itself a little dour, but Ruffalo was a highlight. He’ll definitely get an Academy Award one day, but if he does, I hope it’s for a better film than this.
8/10 – Worth his own spotlight

TOM HARDY – “The Revenant”

Well there’s no point rehashing why The Revenant didn’t float my boat, but Tom Hardy was one of the brighter lights as nasty old Fitzgerald, who tries to kill the injured Hugo Glass, then abandons him to the elements anyway. It’s impossible to decipher all of Fitzgerald’s dialogue – whether this was Hardy’s poor execution of the particular dialect he was attempting, or a completely accurate, Method-style triumph, I’ve no idea – but phonetics aside, he still manages to convey evil and general bastard-ness a million times better than Leonardo DiCaprio does anything. Hardy was definitely the more watchable of the two, even though they’re not on screen together for much of the film. If The Revenant does as well as everyone reckons it’s going to, then Hardy winning could be the surprise of the night.
7/10 – It might be a bear necessity for him to win

MARK RYLANCE – “Bridge Of Spies”


The British know that Mark Rylance has been around for centuries, but the Americans are only just recognising his face. That’s because he’s primarily a stage actor, mostly Shakespeare (he was Artistic Director of The Globe for ten years, for goodness’ sake…) with only a handful of films on his CV, including the very controversial “Intimacy” in 2001. Thanks to his silent, and literally statuesque, performance in Wolf Hall, however, he’s now hot property in Hollywood.
In Bridge Of Spies he plays Rudolf Abel, the English-born Soviet spy defended in court by James Donovan (Tom Hanks). Convicted and jailed, Abel is then used by Donovan, years later, as a bargaining chip to secure the release of US pilot Gary Powers, who has been shot down over the Soviet Union and captured.
We mostly see Abel at the beginning and end of the film as suits his character’s purpose but, just as in Wolf Hall, Rylance is incredibly watchable, even if he is just “being Mark Rylance”. That is, he doesn’t say a lot, he stares into the distance with disturbing regularity and, when he does speak, it’s with an understated theatricality which betrays his stage roots but nevertheless leaves us wanting more.
His accent veers from Scottish, to English, back to Scottish again, and I still can’t decide if this is deliberate, to hammer home the fact that Abel is a chameleon (he used several aliases during his life – his real name was Fisher), or it’s a genuine mess-up which slipped through filming because Americans just can’t tell the difference anyway.
That aside, his scenes with Hanks, during which their characters develop what could almost be described as a friendship, are truly touching, and it would have been nice to see a bit more of that (in retrospect, I’m thinking that this relationship was the better story?). If you like a bet, Rylance is a decent shout to win. The only thing counting against him is that most Academy voters still won’t know who he is, and they don’t like voting for people they’ve never had lunch with.
9/10 – Doesn’t put a foot wrong

PREDICTIONS

What “Should” Win

Best Picture: The Big Short

Best Actor: Bryan Cranston

Best Actress: Charlotte Rampling

Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale

Best Supporting Actress: Rooney Mara

 

What Will “Probably” Win:

Best Picture: The Revenant

Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio

Best Actress: Brie Larson

Best Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance

Best Supporting Actress: Rooney Mara

 

 

2016 Oscar Preview Part 4: Best Supporting Actress

A weird bunch, this, because two of them should be up for Best Actress, not Supporting. Politics at play, for sure, but I wouldn’t like to call it…

RACHEL McADAMS – “Spotlight”


Good actress, reliable, dependable and likeable, but I just fail to see why this particular performance merits a Best Supporting Actress nomination. She’s OK, and does her best with a script which consistently fails to land any of the punches the subject matter promises. But if they’d removed all of her scenes, I honestly don’t think I’d have noticed. Mark Ruffalo was the standout in this film, and that’s about it. Not much else to say, but if all you need to do to get an Oscar nod these days is turn up on set and deliver lines from a mediocre script in a not-very-dazzling way, then I suppose Kim Kardashian is already making room for a trophy cabinet.
6/10 – She’s fine, but that’s it.

ROONEY MARA – “Carol”


I’ve already mentioned this but Mara should have been up for Best Actress, not Supporting. She has at least equal screen time with Blanchett and, even though the film is called Carol, it’s Mara’s character Therese who the story is really about. Looking very much like Audrey Hepburn throughout, Mara is completely convincing as the young wannabe photographer who falls under the spell of troubled socialite, Carol Aird. Their relationship is a slow-burn of lunches, Sunday afternoons and a road trip to Iowa, before the ‘affair’ is finally consummated in a low-rent motel, a tryst which is secretly recorded by a P.I hired by Carol’s estranged husband in a bid to prove her immorality. As the confused Therese, Mara is really excellent, conveying innocence and curiosity as well as she does ambition and adventure. Of the five nominees, she’s the strongest (just).
9/10 – One Rooney I don’t mind watching

KATE WINSLET – “Steve Jobs”

Always dependable, like Cate Blanchett, Winslet is unrecognisable as Steve Jobs’ marketing ninja, Joanna Hoffman, who is by Jobs’ side throughout his career. Set mainly in the 1980s, there are lots of terrible haircuts, Deirdre Barlow glasses and horrendous ‘fashions’ for Winslet to contend with, not to mention Hoffman’s unique accent which is a mix of Polish, New ‘Yoik’ and West Coast, so she’s worth the gong for voice work alone. Winslet and Michael Fassbender as Jobs work very well together, there’s a real chemistry and I think Winslet made Fassbender look even better than he would have done. She won the BAFTA a couple of weeks ago, but maybe the British Academy was biased. I don’t think she’ll win the Oscar, but it she did, it would be deserved.
8.5/10 – Does a great job(s)

ALICIA VIKANDER – “The Danish Girl”


Just like Rooney Mara, Vikander should really have been up for the main award, not a supporting one, because she shares equal screen time with Eddie Redmayne and is much, much better than him anyway. Alicia Vikander is everywhere just lately – you’ve probably seen her in Anna Karenina, Testament Of Youth and Ex Machina. She’s also dating Michael Fassbender, which makes me want to really dislike her, but I can’t. She’s very watchable in The Danish Girl, but she’s up against such stuff competition, I’m not sure she can compete, especially as the film itself was a bit of a Larry Letdown.
8.5/10 – The real Danish Girl

JENNIFER JASON LEIGH – “The Hateful Eight”

She’s been around forever, so she deserves an award just for surviving in an industry which hates women over 40 (go Charlotte Rampling!). The Hateful Eight is a Western mystery from Quentin Tarantino, a bit Hitchcockian in its premise and execution but with those delicious Tarantino-isms which make his stuff so great (and occasionally dreadful, too). Jennifer Jason Leigh more than holds her own in an impressive cast (great to see Walton Goggins on the big screen, too – love, love, love him), as one of eight strangers travelling in a stagecoach, who seek refuge from a blizzard in an isolated lodge. It’s very theatre-like in its set-up, very Agatha Christie, as each character keeps secrets which slowly unravel and increase the tension as the various personalities fight for supremacy in their claustrophobic surroundings. Leigh is justly nominated, but she won’t win.
8/10 – Outclasses (nearly) all the guys

2016 Oscar Preview Part 3: Best Actress

***WARNING: SPOILERS!!!***

Once again, the ladies have kicked the fellas’ asses this year. There are two standout performances and three also-rans, but overall the calibre is so much better than the Best Actors. Let’s take a look…

BRIE LARSON – “Room”

I don’t know much about Brie Larson, except that she has a silly name and looks too much like Merritt Wever for me to tell them apart. After watching Room, however, I now know that she is a very, very good actress and I’d like to see more. As already discussed, Room is a difficult drama to watch at times, but Larson’s performance as a young woman kidnapped and held captive for seven years while having to raise a child fathered by her attacker, is incredibly moving and quite astonishing. You absolutely feel every shadow and line on her face, every nuance and breath and, most importantly, you believe entirely that she is the mother of young Jack (a knockout performance by Jacob Tremblay), with every emotion that being a mother dictates.

Not Brie Larson

Maybe it’s because I haven’t seen Larson in anything before, which made her seem so real, but she had me hooked from the first scene and, barring a little too much melodrama later on (screenwriters should never adapt their own novels), it was an hypnotic two hours of acting because she’s in virtually every scene. So was Tremblay, though, and the Academy completely ignored what was a brilliant turn by this amazing young actor, which is a real travesty. I hope Larson wins, because you just know she’s going to dedicate it to Tremblay, without whom she wouldn’t have been able to shine like this.

9/10 – She’s the favourite and she already has the Golden Globe

SAIORSE RONAN – “Brooklyn”

The 13-year old Ronan was mesmerising in Atonement (for which she was first Oscar-nominated), so I’ve tried to keep up with her career ever since. Now 21, Brooklyn is a perfect vehicle for her and she is, as expected, extremely watchable and has no problem commanding the screen and encouraging us to go along with her character’s emotional journey through 1950s New York and Ireland. Nobody could have done a better job than Ronan, but unfortunately the film wasn’t as amazing as she was, so I’m not sure this will be her year. She’ll do it one day, definitely, but she needs a better role.

8/10 – Outstanding actress in an average film

CATE BLANCHETT – “Carol”

Cate Blanchett is one of those actresses that would have fitted right in to the Golden Age of Hollywood alongside the Katharine Hepburns, Rita Hayworths and Grace Kellys. She’s effortless sophisticated and elegant, so the role of Carol – an upper class lesbian in 1950s Manhattan – is tailor made. Based on Patricia Highsmith’s semi-autobiographical novel, The Price Of Salt, the film details the forbidden affair between Carol and a young ingenue, Therese (Rooney Mara). Being a Highsmith adaptation, there’s plenty of psychology at play, from the abhorrent behaviour of Carol’s estranged, cuckolded husband, Harge (Kyle Chandler), to the underplayed jealousies of her best friend and former lover, Abby (Sarah Paulson). Blanchett is on brilliant form as Carol expertly seduces Therese, while struggling to stop Harge from gaining full custody of their bizarrely-named daughter, Rindy.

The dynamic between Blanchett and Mara is terrific, and you totally believe their attraction to one another. Blanchett obviously deserves her nomination, but it’s strange that Mara, who has equal – if not more – screen time than Blanchett, was only put forward in the supporting category. This is really Therese’s story, not Carol’s, so it’s a bit cynical of the producers to discard Mara in favour of Blanchett being the better horse. Great as she was, it’s still Blanchett being Blanchett and nothing out of the ordinary, even if her ordinary is always excellent.

8.5/10 – Blanchett at her dependable best.

CHARLOTTE RAMPLING – “45 Years”

I love Charlotte Rampling, she just gets better with age. Her own life story would make a great film and she just has this innate charisma which means you can’t take your eyes off her. 45 Years is a great film. It’s the story of Kate (Rampling) and Geoff Mercer (Tom Courtenay), a seemingly-stable couple who live in rural isolation in the Norfolk Broads. As they approach their Sapphire anniversary (hence the title), and prepare for the party they’ve organised, news arrives of a grim discovery in Switzerland – the body of a woman has been found preserved in a glacier. The woman is Geoff’s lover, Katya, who fell into a crevasse during a hiking trip with Geoff in the 1960s.

Although Kate has always known about Katya (Kate and Geoff didn’t meet until a few years later), Kate becomes concerned at Geoff’s changing mood, as he begins to internally eulogise about what might have been with Katya, and how she may look exactly the same now, frozen in the ice. He contemplates travelling to Switzerland to see her perfect, youthful face once more, which upsets Kate, who questions whether Geoff ever loved her as much as he loved Katya. The gentle unravelling of Kate and Geoff’s relationship takes place over just six days and, as the day of the party arrives, we wonder how Kate will get through it.

A Courtenay & Rampling  Masterclass

It’s a gently-paced tale with most of the scenes taking place in the Mercer home or out on the beautiful, misty Broads. Almost theatre-like in its simple, set staging, it’s a glorious two-hander for Rampling and Courtenay to really get their teeth into, and it’s great to see two older actors take centre stage in what is essentially a kitchen sink drama for the middle classes (and Rampling does stand at the sink a lot). There are lots of poignant silences plus tons of knowing looks and awkward glances, all of which weave multiple layers of emotion through a story which must feel, look and sound so, so familiar to anyone who’s been married for as long as the Mercers. This is why it’s such a great film, because it feels real. Even scenes where Rampling takes a full twenty seconds to fill a glass with water, take a sip, then rinse the glass, in total silence, conveys authentic emotion.

Director Andrew Haigh (who also adapted the screenplay from David Constantine’s short story In Another Country) is paying tribute to the best of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh as he leads us on an emotionally suspenseful journey into the psyche of British relationships. Rampling is just superb, she manages to show us exactly who Kate is just by looking into her face, and Courtenay (one of our finest actors) is magnificent as Geoff and it’s quite simply criminal that he did not make the Best Actor shortlist, especially when you look at the generally mediocre calibre of those who did (NB. Both Rampling and Courtenay won Silver Bears at the Berlin Film Festival).

These are powerhouse performances from two veteran actors who have more talent in their little fingers than your so-called Hollywood A-listers have in their entire glittery bodies, and Rampling more than deserves to win. I think Larson will shade it, but if Rampling does get the gong, then it’ll be the best surprise of the night.

9.5/10 – This is how it’s done, kids!

JENNIFER LAWRENCE – “Joy”

The Oscars wouldn’t be the Oscars without Jennifer Lawrence being up for Best Actress. Or rather, it wouldn’t be the Oscars without a Jennifer Lawrence-Bradley Cooper film being up for “something”. Is it in their contracts that they have to make at least one film a year together? At least in this one there’s no romance, although there are moments when you think it’s going to happen. Yawn.

Joy is loosely based on the life of Joy Mangano, a single mother who made a fortune with the invention of the Miracle Mop. Told in a very irreverent way with lots of funny moments and colorful characters, Joy is the only sane person in the madhouse which is her life. Her mother (Virginia Madsen) is away with the fairies, addicted to daytime soap operas with no clue where the TV ends and real life begins. Her father, Rudy (Robert De Niro) is a bit of a waster who’s romancing a wealthy widow, Trudy (Isabella Rossellini). Joy is constantly at odds with her half-sister, Peggy (Elisabeth Rohm), who looks down on Joy and her humdrum life. Only Joy’s grandmother, Mimi (Diane Ladd) believes in Joy and her inventive aspirations. Eventually Joy manages to get her mop manufactured, helped by QVC boss Neil Walker (Bradders), and she makes a fortune, but not after lots of family trouble and setbacks.

It’s very quirky in parts, and nobody does quirky better than Lawrence. She’s eminently watchable, as ever, so she’s a fair outside bet, but I don’t think she’s quite good enough to eclipse the magnificent Brie Larson, or Charlotte Rampling, who is beyond compare anyway.

One last note – it’s a shame that Madsen didn’t get recognised for her brilliant performance as Joy’s dotty mother, Terri, who steals every scene she’s in.

7/10 – This won’t be Jennifer’s year

2016 Oscars Preview Part 2: Best Actor

***WARNING – SPOILERS!!!!***

Time to look at what the Academy judged to be the five best acting masterclasses of the year. All I can say is, I’ve seen twenty other films with twenty better performances. None of these were “amazing”, even if some were surprising. Where’s Christopher Walken when you need him?

Leonardo DiCaprio – “The Revenant”

No, just no. Don’t start me, I don’t have the energy. Oh crap, OK then.

Listen, it’s a good film. It’s not great, it’s nowhere near great, it’s just good. The bear fight? Fabulous, completely brilliant, and if there was an Oscar for Best Actor In A Bear Fight, then Leo would walk it. But he should not, in any way, shape or form, win this award, which means he probably will, but the reason he probably will is not because he’s the Best Actor at all, but because everyone’s tired of wondering when he’ll win one, so they just want it over with so they can start the same debate next year with Johnny Depp.

The thing is, Leo could easily have won for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, and definitely for This Boy’s Life, but that was when he was good, but it’s been downhill ever since. Not just that, but there’s really not a lot of acting going on in The Revenant. There’s at least half an hour where not a single word is even spoken, it’s like he’s doing a Crimewatch reconstruction or something – “OK, Leo, just look very pissed off for a bit, then hide behind a tree and look furtive for twenty minutes”. And you’ve got to be serious and look at the other nominees, because they’re all way better, without exception. Cranston, Redmayne (marginally), Fassbender, Jeez…even Matt flipping Damon, they’re all much, much stronger in their respective films than DiCaprio is in The Revenant. Am I biased? Probably, because I don’t think he’s a great actor, not anymore. But if The Wolf Of Wall Street (which is surely one of the worst films in the history of cinema) can get him a nomination, then the trophy is already his.

5/10 – The bear should have killed him

EDDIE REDMAYNE – “The Danish Girl”

I was a big Eddie fan this time last year – his turn as Stephen Hawking was one of the best transformations I’ve seen on screen. So I was looking forward to this film where he also plays a real life trailblazer – this time the Danish artist Einar Wegener, aka Lili Elbe, one of the first men to undergo a sex change operation, back in the 1930s.

The film follows the seemingly-idyllic marriage of Einar and his wife, Gerda (the brilliant Alicia Vikander), Einar being one of the darlings of the Copenhagen art world. Gerda, too, is an artist, but never gets the recognition she deserves. She’s bohemian, open-minded and experimental, but she’s not quite prepared for the discovery that hubby identifies more as a woman than a man. This doesn’t change their love for each other (they are true soulmates) – and Gerda even helps Einar with her dresses and make up when they venture out to parties, where Einar pretends to be his own (female) cousin.

But Einar (now calling himself “Lili Elbe”) is tired of having to hide her true self away and determines to become a woman in every sense of the word. S/he finds a surgeon, Dr Warnekros (Sebastian Koch, who seems to be in everything these days), to perform the numerous operations needed to complete Lili’s physical transition, as she and Gerda struggle to reconcile themselves to the fact they are no longer ‘man and wife’ in the traditional sense.

Redmayne, already very pretty, was the obvious choice for this role, but his attractiveness is the very thing which doesn’t work. There’s no denying his mastery of nuance, facial expression and body language (which is what made his portrayal of Hawking so mesmeric), but throughout the film he’s actually very dull and completely devoid of personality. There are so many twee turns of the chin, forced fluttering of eyelashes and overall cliched girliness, it didn’t take me long to start sighing at the sheer sugariness of it all.

The real Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe was certainly not as pretty in real life as Redmayne is and, had they cast an actual transgender woman (there are plenty of very capable actresses about), then the film could have retained some much-needed authenticity. As it is, although Redmayne was always going to get a nomination for playing such a “daring” role, he’s very, very annoying throughout. All he does is speak his lines with that cut glass accent of his (how very Danish…) and smirk a lot. My friend Tony summed it up best, calling him a “bloody simpering idiot”, and Tony’s a rather respected film reviewer, all of which gives Redmayne a real fighting shout of making it two in a row.

6.5/10 – Art for art’s sake

MICHAEL FASSBENDER – “Steve Jobs”

Stuck in development hell for a while as various scripts were written/rejected/burned, it’s Aaron Sorkin who finally came up with “the one”. Casting was equally tiresome, with almost every actor in the Western World being touted for the lead role, even Leonardo DiCaprio. Fassbender got it, and he’s very good. It was a risk on the part of the producers, as Fassbender is still not considered proper A-List, but it works.

This is not a bio-pic, as such, because it’s not a life story. It doesn’t show his childhood or even mention his death, instead choosing to dissect the film into three definitive acts, all based around product launches of different Jobs concepts – the Apple Mac, the NeXT PC and the iMac G3. As Jobs prepares backstage for each of these launches, he has to deal with issues ranging from problems with the child he denies is his, to fights with former best friend and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), who is conflicted between personal loyalty and professional umbrage at the way Jobs always treats him.

Always on hand to offer advice and defuse any arguments is Jobs’ loyal Marketing Director, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), who has been his right hand woman for a million years. As you’d expect from Aaron Sorkin, the script is fast and witty, packing in numerous pop culture references in a myriad walk’n’talks (of which Sorkin is the master). Time moves quickly, and you get to see under the surface of a man who was, by all accounts, very difficult to be around and, at times, very cruel.

There wasn’t a great deal of effort made to make Fassbender look like Jobs (except for the mandatory turtleneck near the end), but that was a good thing. Instead, the script and the storytelling really took centre stage and I found myself quite engrossed. Should Fassbender win? Well if it’s between him and Leo, then of course he bloody should. I mean, I should win ahead of Leonardo DiCaprio, and I’m not even an actor. Or a man.

8/10 – A solid lead performance in a difficult role

MATT DAMON – “The Martian”

Wasn’t expecting great things of The Martian, especially as I find Matt Damon a little bland, but both film and actor surprised me. Damon’s portrayal of stranded astronaut (Martianaut?) Watney is engrossing and funny at the same time. Enough has been said of the film already, but I don’t think Damon will win this, mainly because there just wasn’t that extra “umph” that all great leading performances should have. If they’d given him just twenty more minutes one-on-one time with the video log and lost some of the silly crew scenes, then it might have boosted his chances.

8/10 – It’s good but it’s not right

BRYAN CRANSTON – “Trumbo”

Dalton Trumbo was a weirdly-named American screenwriter who was blacklisted in the 1940s and 1950s for his alleged Communist sympathies. Responsible for epics such as Spartacus, Exodus, Roman Holiday and The Brave One, Trumbo was a socialist who campaigned for workers rights (especially tradesmen who worked on film sets), which put him in the crosshairs of those insane donkeys at the House Committee for Un-American Activities. This committee would indict anybody in the movie industry who showed any compassion, for anything, because this naturally made them Communists, which made them Soviet sympathisers, which made them traitors. Still hard to believe any of that actually happened…

Anyway, Bryan Cranston is brilliant as Trumbo, even if the film itself is a little laboured. You only think about Walter White for about ten minutes (the two characters look remarkably similar for a while) but once Cranston gets going, you won’t be thinking about meth labs for at least an hour. He won’t win, because I doubt much of the Academy voters will have bothered to watch it, despite the subject matter being about their own back yard. But it’s worth renting out for a great performance and a chance to see Dean O’Gorman’s excellent turn as Kirk Douglas, complete with dimple.

8.5/10 – Nice to see Trumbo on a shortlist instead of a blacklist

2016 Oscar Preview Part 1: Best Picture

Here we go again, time for all the back-slapping at an event which is becoming more rigged than Eurovision, but I still love it and can’t help spewing out a few pages of drivel about all the runners and riders, like it’s the Grand National or something.

I’m splitting this year’s preview into five parts: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress. I didn’t have time to do Best Original Screenplay (booo) and I’m ditching Best Adapted Screenplay because, without reading the books those films are based on, I have no idea how well they’ve been adapted.

So if you fancy a flutter and you have absolutely nothing better to do, here’s my tuppence ha’penny worth…

WARNING!: SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS!!

SPOTLIGHT

spotlight

A drama centred around the 2002 Boston paedophile priests scandal, which revealed the existence of systematic child abuse (and high-level cover-ups) within the global Catholic Church, Spotlight is a film which follows in the cinematic footsteps of other such celebrated exposes like All The President’s Men and JFK. Spotlight is the name of the investigative team of journalists at the Boston Globe newspaper who chipped away at the dirty surface of a story which turned out to be one of the biggest scandals of modern times.

The action revolves around the real-life investigative team led by Spotlight editor, Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Michael Keaton), with journalists Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), Matt Carroll (Brian D’Arcy James) and Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), overseen by the Globe’s overall editor, Marty Baron (Liev Scheiber, doing his ‘Boston thing’ again). It’s a good drama, as each of the team chase their own leads and slowly piece together a jigsaw of lies and abuse which, it quickly becomes apparent, is much, much bigger than anybody had anticipated.

Their investigation won them a Pulitzer Prize but, even though there’s no denying the drama of the subject matter, this is about the film itself. Is it a great movie? No, not really. It does its job and takes us on a worthy journey of exposing the bad guys and giving a valuable platform for the voices of victims to be heard, but there’s nothing about the film that a good documentary couldn’t have done, and I’m surprised it’s a ‘hot favourite’ to win the gong. I’m even more surprised that Rachel McAdams has a nomination for Best Supporting Actress, because she doesn’t do anything remotely remarkable at all. She says her lines, completes her character’s journey and is a capable, lone female foil to her colleagues, but Oscar-worthy? Sorry, nowhere close. But more on her in Part 5…

Mark Ruffalo, on the other hand, fully deserves his own nomination as he’s the only one who really stands out in a decent, solid, but ultimately underwhelming ensemble cast. Schreiber delivers a subtle turn as editor Baron (which makes him even more watchable) and Keaton capitalises on last year’s Birdman success with a good performance as crusader Robinson, but none of it is enough to elevate what I honestly think is just a mediocre film. But it ticks all the Oscar prerequisite boxes of worthiness, political correctness and moral crusading to ensure a high number of votes from an Academy too scared to ‘not’ vote for it.

7/10 – The front page doesn’t really need holding for this

THE REVENANT

I’ll try and keep this shorter than the film, but it’ll be difficult, there’s so much to say. It’s no secret that I’m not a Leonardo DiCaprio fan. Aside from the superb What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993) which I still think was his finest hour, the thing with DiCaprio is that I always know I’m watching DiCaprio. It doesn’t matter what character he’s playing, he never manages to convince me that he’s anybody other than DiCaprio, stuck with his permanently-15-year-old face and those eyes which always look so angry. It’s the same with The Revenant.

Very loosely based on the true story of 19th century fur trapper and frontierman, Hugh Glass, who was (allegedly) attacked by a bear and left to die by his mates as they tried to flee a marauding band of nasty old Native Americans, it’s an epic drama of survival and revenge with minimal dialogue and a glorious gallery of sweeping panoramas and ethereal lighting (cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is really good at his job…).

But what should, on paper, be a gripping tale of Man v Wilderness = Revenge, turns into the type of mess only Hollywood can manage. I mean, why would you stick to the amazing truth when you can ruin it all with made-up stuff? This is a true story, remember (although contemporary accounts of what happened were supposedly exaggerated), but it wasn’t exciting enough for Hollywood, was it? Apparently, a guy who survives a scrap with a pretty big bear, is abandoned by his campmates and then faces an epic 200-mile crawl across a desolate, unforgiving icy frontier with nothing but his wits, snow, roadkill and the desire for revenge to keep him alive, is too dull, so they had to throw in some extra heroics to spice things up a bit.

And so we have Leo getting up to all kinds of derring-do while trying not to die from some pretty serious injuries. He saves a Native American woman from being raped by some horrible Frenchies (part of a needless subplot); survives a breathless river ride over rapids whilst wearing a 10-ton bearskin which turns out to be surprisingly buoyant; and enjoys a brief friendship with a Pawnee Indian, if just to show us that not all Native Americans were murdering bastards (unlike the French, it seems). It’s silly, cliched tinkering like this which distracts from what could have been an incredible, but straightforward, tale, and they should have left well alone.

The highlights are actually when DiCaprio is nowhere to be seen. Tom Hardy as antagonist Fitzgerald – one of the fellas who abandons Glass to his surely-inevitable fate – is on deliciously wicked form, even if you can’t understand a word he’s saying. Fellow Brit, Will Poulter, is also a scene-stealer as the naive Bridger, who hates himself for turning his back on Glass. Both are great, but it’s almost like there are two films going on, and I was more interested in the Fitzgerald/Bridger one, than the Hugh Glass one.

There are two major problems with The Revenant: firstly, they over-dramatised a story that simply didn’t need it (woman in peril; Leo to the rescue; crazy river ride etc). They even changed the ending (I won’t spoil it entirely…) even though the truth would have made for a more powerful denouement.

“I’m suffering here, you know!” Yeah, you’re not the only one…

Secondly, it’s way too long at two and a half hours. Shave off forty minutes of cringeworthy cliches like the hallucination at the “church”, the twenty seven sunlight-through-the-clouds ‘God-moments’ (yawn) and the very, very annoying dead-wife-voice-echoes spurring Leo on every time he nearly gave up on life. God, I wish he had, and saved us an hour. With a $140m budget, however, I suppose they had to wring out as much material as possible to make all the ‘suffering’ worthwhile.

Oh yeah, the suffering, did you know about all the suffering? What do you mean you haven’t read about all the suffering in just about every interview Leo’s done in the last two months? OK, so the cast and crew went ‘through hell’ for their art; filming on location in truly miserable conditions, eating (and vomiting back up) real bison liver and all the other nasty bits and bobs, but it’s hard to feel any sympathy when they’re all earning a bloody fortune. But this isn’t I’m A Celebrity, and an audience doesn’t really care how you made the film, they just want to be entertained and absorbed by the end result.

During all this suffering, however, they forgot to make a great movie. Yes, it’s beautifully-shot and some of the special effects were truly incredible (the infamous bear scene is a masterpiece), but that doesn’t make up for the film’s biggest sin in that it’s, quite simply, dull for much of the time. As a National Geographic nature film it would win every award going, but this is not an Oscar-worthy movie, which pretty much guarantees that it’ll win everything it’s nominated for.

Oh, and can I just ask, how on earth did a man whose body and organs are supposed to be lacerated beyond repair, manage to expertly tailor a bearskin coat to his almost exact measurements while being battered by a snowstorm? Where did he get the needle, or the thread, or the means by which to cut up the bloody hide? Why, Hollywood, why? Oh I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep this short…

6/10 – Cinematic Nytol

ROOM

Adapted from Emma Donoghue’s 2010 Booker Prize-shortlisted novel (she also wrote the screenplay), Room is a drama about a 5-year old boy, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), and his mother, Joy (Brie Larson). Snatched from the street when she was 19 years old, Joy has been held captive in an outbuilding for seven years by the man she calls Old Nick – Jack being the product of one of the almost daily rapes she is subjected to. But despite the nature of his conception, Joy is dedicated to Jack, who gives her a reason to stay alive and hope that, one day, they will know freedom.

Having never seen or set foot in the outside world, the ‘Room’ is the only universe young Jack has ever known. They have an old TV but, to Jack, everything he sees on it is fabricated, even nature documentaries; the only reality being the four walls around him and what’s inside. Joy tries to stoke his imagination with story telling, and shields him from Old Nick’s attentions by hiding the boy in a wardrobe every time he comes around. So far, so depressing, right? Except it’s not, it’s actually quite uplifting, seeing how Joy manages to create a happy world for her son – the only way she can cope with her own tragedy.

The first half of the film is very claustrophobic, and deliberately so – Joy and Jack are the only two people we see as they get on with each day in their prison; Jack seeing wonder and goodness in almost everything, whether it’s watching the blue sky through the only (high up) window, getting washed in the filthy bathtub, doing stretches in the cramped 10ft x 10ft space, or making snakes out of strung-together eggshells. For Joy, it’s obviously a different story, as she struggles to keep her sanity while coping with her kidnapper’s daily assaults and also trying to keep Jack safe. It’s harrowing stuff so, when a miracle happens and Joy and Jack are rescued, it would be easy to think that their suffering is over but, for Jack at least, it’s only just beginning.

Watching him try and cope with a world he never even knew existed, from tiny things like never having seen stairs before, to having to wear a face mask because he simply has no immune system, is heartbreaking to watch. For Joy, too, freedom comes with a price, not least the discovery that her traumatised parents have long since divorced and her father cannot even look at little Jack without seeing his daughter’s rapist.

The book was inspired in part by the case of Josef Fritzl, the Austrian man who kept his own daughter captive for 24 years and fathered seven children by her. It’s disturbing, but this film isn’t really “about” the kidnap and imprisonment of Joy and Jack, it’s about nurturing, it’s about the redemptive power of love and it’s about the very nature of imprisonment, both physical and mental (after Joy and Jack are “freed”, their torment increases). Watching a confused and frightened Jack plead to be taken “back to Room” rather than stay in the spacious – but unfamiliar – house of his grandmother (with dozens of paparazzi camped outside), had me in actual tears, and that is not an easy thing to do to someone who laughed when Bambi died.

The success of this film 100% relies on the relationship between actors Larson and Tremblay, and it has to be said that, while Larson absolutely deserves her Best Actress nomination, it’s incredible that Jacob Tremblay has not been afforded the same recognition for what has to be the best performance by a (very) young actor since Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense. He is phenomenal, often uncomfortably so, because it’s just not normal for any 8-year old child actor to convince me he’s not just a child actor. It’s the Leo Factor all over again. But this lad, well, make the most of him because, in a few years time he’ll doubtless be hooked on heroin and falling out of Vegas brothels every other night. With Leonardo DiCaprio, probably.

9/10 – Not pretty but some of the best acting you’ll see this year

BROOKLYN

Another one-word title, this is a film about…well, yes, obviously. Anyway, based on the book by Ireland’s unofficial patron saint of literature, Colm Toibin, and adapted by Nick “High Fidelity” Hornby, it’s the tale of young Irish girl Eilis (pr. Ay-lish) Lacey, who emigrates from her sleepy Irish town to the dizzy heights of Brooklyn in search of a better job, better prospects, better life etc. It’s the 1950s, so for the first act we have lots of chocolate box Irish scenery, immaculately-pressed clothing, hairstyles which make women look thirty years older than they are and, of course, the prerequisite Catholic priests, matriarchs and small village gossips that we’ve seen a million times before.

When Eilis eventually gets on the boat, it’s another cliche-driven ten minutes of seasickness, (more) Irish-girl-naivety and wide-eyed wonder once she reaches the magical shores of New York, but at least this is where we get to meet Julie Walters, as the boarding house ‘mother’, and Jim Broadbent as the priest who facilitated Eilis’s passage.

The rest of the film concerns Eilis’s battles with severe homesickness and guilt as she settles into her new life, a life which doesn’t stop her copping off with a handsome, if insecure, Italian, Tony (Emory Cohen), who she secretly marries before her life suffers a further seismic shift when her beloved sister dies and she finds herself sailing back to Ireland. Once home, Eilis strikes up a friendship with local lad, Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson) and begins to question where her life is actually headed. It’s all very twee, formulaic and, if she was still alive, then Catherine Cookson could have some legitimate plagiarism, complaints. I haven’t read the book, not that it should matter, but even though I know you can’t mess with a story that has already been decided, John Crowley’s direction and Hornby’s script made it all feel just a little bit too Sunday-night-telly instead of Oscar-worthy feature film (it’s a BBC Films/Irish Film Board co-production, after all).

There’s nothing wrong with the film, as such, it’s just that I felt like I’d seen it so many times before. Tales of naive Irish people leaving tiny villages to move to New York, falling in love, making new lives, enduring a spot of drama, then finding some kind of inner peace in the very place they forgot to look all along, played out against a backdrop of fiddles, Catholics, cold winters and fumbled first-time sex…it’s just one long cliché, and no attempt was made to avoid it.

There was even a cloying Christmas scene with Eilis serving dinner to the Irish-American homeless while a scruffy navvy with an angelic voice sang a haunting Gaelic lilt as the snow fell gently on the streets outside. Maybe that exact scene was in the book, too, but it just felt contrived and, well, boring. Saiorse Ronan as Eilis is luminous, indeed there isn’t any actor who does a bad job with the material they’ve been given. But I’m genuinely surprised that Brooklyn is being lauded as one of the best films of the last five years, when there’s very little that sets it apart from the myriad other Irish immigrant films like Gangs of New York, In America, Angela’s Ashes etc. But the Americans love films about the Irish, it makes them feel as homesick as Eilis about a place they’ve never been to and never will go to, so maybe that’s why they’re all falling over themselves to throw awards at it.

7/10 – Punching way above its weight

BRIDGE OF SPIES

No, they haven’t made a rock opera about T’Pau’s marvellous 1987 album (pity). Instead, this is a Cold War epic (2.5 hours!) written by the Coens and Someone Else, and directed by Steven Spielberg. And it’s got Tom Hanks in it. So far, so Oscar. The story concerns the 1960 diplomatic crisis between the US and the Ruskies, when stupid American pilot Gary Powers got him and his naughty spy plane shot down over the Soviet Union. Despite his pre-mission orders to commit suicide should such an unfortunate event occur, Powers allows himself to be taken captive, thus causing a bit of a headache for President Roosevelt, who’s due to have peace talks with Krushchev in a fortnight’s time.

Hanks is the hero lawyer sent to negotiate for Powers’ release, using the US’s own captive, alleged Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), as a swapsie. As Donovan himself defended Abel during his trial years earlier, he is the natural negotiator. It’s classic John Le Carre territory, except it’s all real – well, the basics are real, but this is Hollywood, so a lot of liberties have been taken with the story (see The Revenant).

Being a Coens script, I expected some dark humor, which should have been a given in a film set in the Cold War. So I was surprised to find little irreverence but mountains of cliches instead, including a considerable spoonful of schmaltz, the likes of which the Coens, especially, would usually have a field day mocking. Hanks’ Donovan is a stand-up lawyer of Atticus Finch proportions who, even though he’s having to defend an alleged Russian spy, is determined to make sure Abel gets a fair trial. He is subsequently targeted by the ignorant general public, who take potshots at his house to protest at the Commie sympathiser living amongst them – cue a long Hanks stare past the camera which is obviously meant to tell us “Hey! I’m a democratic, fair-minded American and, by God, I’m going to show you what that means!”

Donovan also has a perfect family, which means he gets to have nice little chats about stuff like nuclear war and what it means to be honorable and open-minded about things we don’t know. Amy Ryan plays dutiful wife, Mary, and it’s she who’s the boss at home, which I guess was supposed to show us an ironic contrast between Donovan’s peerless diplomatic skills in tense, political situations, against his total ineffectiveness at home, where his kids don’t even notice when he’s around and his wife is forever scolding him about something.

That dynamic didn’t really work, though. The family scenes felt forced and contrived, like the film was being put together by numbers. Every cliché in the book is rolled out – Donovan being followed home by shadowy figures; tense verbal sparring between Donovan and his sinister counterpart over a glass of good Scotch; Donovan being stopped in Berlin to have his papers checked (will he get through??? Of course he will!!) etc etc. There’s also a scene where Donovan, on an overhead Berlin train, witnesses men being shot as they try to get over the newly-built Wall (this never happened to Donovan in real life). Obviously Donovan is horrified. Then, at the end of the film, back home, Donovan watches from another train as some kids playfully scale neighborhood fences – the contrast between Communism and Democracy, geddit! Duh. It’s spoonfeeding like this which really annoys an audience, and I expected better of the Coens, and Spielberg.

The best scenes are always those between Hanks and Rylance. I do like Hanks, even if he can be dull sometimes, but when Rylance is with him it’s like a chess match to see who can deliver the best line in the best way. They have a natural chemistry which is magnetic to watch, so it’s a shame we only get to see Rylance at the beginning and the end, with not much in between.

Overall, Bridge Of Spies is your standard Cold War spy drama, but not even the Coens could elevate it to something a bit more multi-layered. Sure, there are several tongue-in-cheek lines which, I’m assuming, are supposed to offset all the cliché, but the aim misses by miles. There’s one scene in particular which really irked – when Soviet negotiator Schischkin picks up the wrong ringing phone and smiles at Donovan in an almost Carry-On comedic way. Obviously some kind of Coen in-joke, it feels completely out of place, almost as though it’s a blooper which somehow made its way onto the final edit. Unfortunately, that final edit doesn’t deliver with the panache, style or sense of drama its makers made us expect.

Trivia: Gary Powers’plane was a U-2, and the girl playing Donovan’s daughter is Bono’s own daughter, Eve Hewson. Another Coen in-joke?

7/10 – The spy is still out in the cold

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

A big surprise for a Best Picture nom, as action films just don’t get nominated, despite the huge amount of skill and imagination which usually goes into making them. I’m not a big action film fan, myself, but there’s always a place for them, and I was a bit of a Mad Maxer back in the day, because of my teenage Mel Gibson obsession. Because of that, I was reluctant to watch this in case it ‘ruined’ the Mad Max world I was used to.

Happily, the film stands alone and you don’t need to know anything about the others to watch this one. I wasn’t sure what to expect, apart from the usual crash, bang, wallops and some unintelligible Dystopian dialogue. Ticks on all counts. But I was surprised at how absorbed I became, even if it took a good hour to get there. You know the story, because it’s the same as every other post-holocaust story: the world is a wasteland and survival is the only thing that matters. Water and other resources are scarce and whoever controls the water, controls the world, in this case Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne).

Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), who is now alone having lost those close to him in the holocaust (and who carries the guilt of not being able to save them), is captured by Joe’s soldiers and used as a blood donor to feed Joe’s army of War Boys. Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), kidnapped as a child and trained by Joe to become one of his lieutenants, defects, taking with her five of Joe’s slave wives, with the intention of leading a new life in “The Green Place” – a lush paradise Furiosa remembers from her childhood. Escaping from the War Boys, Max joins forces with Furiosa to defeat Joe and end his tyranny.

Basically, Fury Road is one long action sequence, with sparse dialogue, yet it still manages to weave a story that takes you along with it. Although the set pieces are undeniably impressive (and I didn’t even see it in 3D), I did find them tiresome, too. Seen one multi-vehicle pile-up, seen ’em all. Also, this isn’t actually Mad Max’s film, it’s Furiosa’s, she’s definitely the lead character, it’s her story, her journey, and Max is only a supporting role. In fact, it’s an all round feminist flick – it’s the women who consistently kick ass, usually with clever forward thinking as opposed to strength and firepower, while the fellas do their best to keep up.

I’m not sure whether a Best Picture nomination is merited (although you can’t deny them the other categories it’s up for), strengthened by the fact there are no acting nods – unusual, as one usually triggers the other – but then again I’m disappointed by the general quality of the films which have been nominated anyway. Some of those which made the longlist but not the shortlist were infinitely better movies.

Mad Max: Fury Road was a rollercoaster two hours of entertainment, but not sure it’s as laudable as everyone else seems to want to make out.

7/10 – Overhyped to the Max

THE MARTIAN

An adaptation of Andy Weir’s bestseller, The Martian concerns the desperate attempt by stranded astronaut, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), to survive alone on Mars for A Very Long Time while NASA attempt to get him back. On the original mission, Watney and his fellow astronauts from Ares III are caught in a fierce storm, during which Watney goes missing, all indications suggesting he has perished. Commander Melissa Lowe (Jessica Chastain) then has to make the difficult decision to leave Watney’s body behind as she tries to save the rest of the crew by hot-footing it out of there.

After an outpouring of grief back on Planet Earth, it’s only when the Mars mission director Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) notices satellite movement at the Mars base camp, that he realises Watney is alive and NASA launch a rescue attempt. However, they don’t tell the other returning astronauts (whose flight back is scheduled to take over a year), fearing it will jeopardise their concentration. When the crew do find out, thanks to some benign interfering by Ares III boss, Mitch Henderson (Sean Bean, whose dialogue was probably subtitled in US cinemas…), Lewis and her crew are unanimous in their decision to turn the ship around and go back for their buddy.

Meanwhile, on Mars, Watney (the crew’s botanist) spends his days rigging up ingenious rudimentary equipment to allow him to grow potatoes and expand his food supply. He does this while listening to Lewis’s stock of disco music (which is very funny) and recording a daily video log. He manages to establish regular contact with Earth, who guide him on the final preparations for his rescue, over 15 months later.

It’s basic “lost in space” fare, but of course the underlying themes are nothing to do with space, or Mars, or growing potatoes, but about the strength of the human spirit, the basic survival DNA we all possess and, most importantly, the fact that NASA astronauts never leave one of their own behind (except when they did…).

I wasn’t expecting to like this, as it’s not my “thing”, and I haven’t read the book either, but despite the usual, cliché-ridden space-disaster run-up, once Watney was left alone to fend for himself, it actually got very interesting. It’s kind of changed my opinion on Matt Damon, too, as I’ve previously considered him a pretty overrated, just middle of the road, dependable actor, but really nothing special. To hold a film almost solo for such a long time, though, was impressive, and the wry humour he injected into Watney was clever and moreish.

For some reason, this film was categorised as a “musical or comedy” when it came to the Golden Globe awards (who separate films according to genre). I can only think that this was done to give Damon a better a chance of winning a Best Actor award (which he did). Had the film been entered as a drama, which it should have been, then he’d have been up against Leo and Eddie, and the producers obviously didn’t fancy their chances. Yes, there are funny bits, but The Martian is not a comedy.

That anomaly aside, The Martian deserves all its plaudits, and Ridley Scott is obviously back on form after some dodgy recent offerings, Prometheus especially (sorry, Lee…). In fact, you could have taken all the NASA and buddy stuff out completely and just been hooked on Watney vs Mars for another hour, at least.

8.5/10 – Mars attacks

THE BIG SHORT

I know nothing about finance, ask my bank manager. So a comedy-drama about something as serious and obliterating as the global financial meltdown of 2007-08 wasn’t something that was drawing me to the cinema. Fortunately, you don’t need to be Bernie Madoff to follow the action, and the result is an absorbing, and very hilarious, satire on the arrogance of bankers and the pitfalls of engineered capitalism.

The very brief synopsis is: American mortgage lenders were giving money to homeowners who they knew could not keep up repayments. They spread these mortgages across millions of bonds which, on the surface, were valuable (triple-A rated), and which investors were happy to buy up, because the property market was, supposedly, one of those bankable things which would never fail. ‘Hiding’ the growing number of unstable mortgages inside the bonds (there are hundreds of thousands of mortgages which make up one bond), is illegal, but the arrogance of the industry means that those actively doing this are flying under the radar.

In 2005, a slightly loopy hedge fund manager called Michael Burry (Christian Bale), realises what’s happening and begins betting against these bonds (called ‘shorting’, hence the title). Word inadvertently gets out to a few other traders like the cynical Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) and also-slightly-crazy Mark Baum (Steve Carrell), who also begin throwing large amounts of money into the big short. The big banks laugh these guys out of every meeting, but still take the trades, arrogantly assuming that it’s easy money because nothing at all is ever going to happen to hurt the property market in the US.

The inevitable eventually happens and, as millions of homeowners begin defaulting on their mortgages, the credit bubble bursts and global hell breaks loose. Burry et al end up making billions of dollars (albeit they don’t feel good about it) while the banks go bust, thousands are laid off, millions of Americans lose their homes (and jobs) and yet the bankers responsible for the collapse all walk away scott-free. Sound familiar?

It’s a brilliant film, brilliantly made and has a great small role for an unrecognisable Brad Pitt (who produced it). I didn’t understand a lot of it but, knowing this, the script breaks the fourth wall and throws in a lot of tongue-in-cheek asides to camera, to explain some of the more complicated banking jargon. Example – Ryan Gosling’s character, Vennett, is trying to tell us about some background to what’s happening, but instead just says “OK, so here’s Margot Robbie naked in a bathtub to explain sub-prime loans….” Another celebrity cameo is “international pop star” Selena Gomez sitting at a casino table to explain to us what “collateralized debt obligations” are.

It’s irreverent, stylish, fast-paced and very, very funny, almost Tarantino-esque in some of the snappy dialogue that just flows along so seamlessly, it’s almost improvised. Bale is great as the real-life Burry, a borderline Asperger-genius who works barefoot in jeans and t shirt as he plays with other people’s money, but the comedy standout is actually Steve Carell as the highly strung Baum. He’s just hilarious in every scene, and it really should have been him who got the Best Supporting Actor nod, ahead of Bale.

Out of all the Best Picture nominees, only this and Room actually deserve to be on the stage, but everyone keeps telling us this is the Year of The Revenant. The BAFTAs will be a good indication as to where awards are likely to go, but if there’s any justice (which is a stupid hope to have), then The Big Short should win.

9.5/10 – Dazzling but don’t bet on it to win

A Cat’s Eye View: Weeks 3 & 4 – The Trolley Woman Of Oxton Village

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Some of you might be wondering where I’ve been this past week so I’ll just get straight to it – I’ve been in hiding. It wasn’t my choice, in fact I had no choice at all, truth be told. The seclusion was forced upon me thanks to an incident of such monumental embarassment, I don’t think I can ever show my furry face again. At the very least, I am hoping my owners return next week to tell me they’ve decided we’re all going to Brazil permanently. A new country, a new home, a new chance to establish and enjoy the kind of upwardly mobile social status I should be enjoying right here. But my life has been ruined by this idiot of a sitter who doesn’t have the first idea about the importance of appearances and how to conduct oneself this side of the river.

It all happened early last week. I’d miaowed down her door at 6am sharp, which I’d thought was rather generous of me as she looked like she could do with a lie-in. After breakfast and a quick tour of the garden frightening a few squirrels, I loped back inside to see if any play time might be on the agenda, and it was then that I saw it, ‘it’ being the most hideous, social pariah-making vessel of transport I’d ever seen. A pink and white spotted plastic bag on wheels I originally presumed was being used for simple internal storage purposes but which, it quickly transpired, was being prepared for external, public, interactive use.

I have a limited understanding of humans, obviously, but my sitter likes to stand in front of me and describe in minute detail what her plans for the day are, as though it is a conversation I can take part in. She asked if I wanted to “have a ride around the garden” in this horrible contraption – a request I loudly declined. She then tried to put me on top of the damn thing so she could take a picture  but, short of nailing my paws to it, that was about as likely as that football team of hers winning the League. She did manage one shot, but I hid my face like a paparazzi pro and buggered off to the shed roof.

Not likely!

Not likely!

But then I saw her walking outside with it! Down the drive, out onto the street and up to the village! Oh my GOD! If she was heading to Birkenhead, then I could just about get away with it because none of my friends live there and there would be a chance no-one would see her. But Oxton Village!? I was mortified. How could she do this to me? It meant she’d be walking past Bert’s house, which I’d never hear the end of. Worse, she’d also be passing Delilah’s mansion on Christchurch Road. Delilah is a Grade-A queen bitch who thinks she owns the whole of Oxton just because her house has a name, not a number. She always sits on her garden wall, spitting at anyone who dares to pass, and she even tried to get me banned from Cabal Cats once when I had a slight fur infection, saying only beautiful cats should be allowed in. Which is hilarious, when you consider how ugly she is.

Sure enough, after just 30 seconds, I heard the distinct laughter of Lilli-Belle on Kings Mount. Lilli-Belle is a bit of a tart, who sometimes get mistaken for me just because she’s black. It’s quite fitting that she lives on Kings Mount because she loves nothing better than lying on the pavement, her legs spread, waiting for some tom, any tom, to come and give her attention, and it’s no coincidence that her house has a red light in the porchway. So to hear her cackling her amusement as my stupid sitter  flounced up the road with that damn trolley, made me die a little bit inside.

Lilli-Belle, aka Eezee-Cat

Lilli-Belle, aka Eezee-Cat

By midday, there was already a choir of cats congregating by the shed wall, laughing, mocking, their words cruel, abrasive and utterly without mercy. I thought Bert, at least, might stand by my shoulder but, typical bloke, he sided with the bullies instead and left me high and dry. When the sitter returned, I was even more distraught to see her taking her time to lift the trolley up the steps and into the house. It was full of stuff (and nothing for me, by the way) and she was in no hurry to unpack any of it. Instead, she just sat in the conservatory with a glass of wine, the trolley on full display to the entire garden which, by now, was completely surrounded by every cat in Oxton, Birkenhead, Wallasey and Prenton (or so it seemed).

Since then, I’ve been practically housebound. I’m just too ashamed to go out and the longer it goes on, the worse it gets. There was some respite a few days ago when one of the sitter’s friends came round to stay for a couple of days. I got lots of attention, which is no more than I deserved, but then things got a little weird when they started dressing up as unicorns and fairies and other such nonsense. I mean, where did they think they were, Narnia? Sometimes you just don’t realise what you’ve got until you’re faced with a horrible alternative, and I can’t wait until my owners return, even if one of them is Welsh.