Director: Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson (2016)

Puppets and traditional stop motion animation are used bring this former stage play to surreal life.

It offers a bleak view of middle aged angst as it explores the different effects of the participants of a one night stand.

The puppets have an organic quality capable of great nuance, as well as being able to pee, smoke, drink and have sex.

David Thewlis and Jennifer Jason Leigh star as the voices of Michael and Lisa who meet in a hotel.

He is the principal speaker at a conference for call centre workers she is attending.

An unpleasant and practiced predator of weak and vulnerable women, Michael exploits his minor celebrity in world of customer service despite having a family at home.

The versatile Tom Noonan plays everyone else from the taxi driver to the concierge.

Beautifully lit and carefully framed, Michael moves in an isolated world of hotel rooms, bars, taxis and airports.

The frustration and mechanisation of modern life are symbolised by Michael’s purchase of an automaton from a toy shop for the discerning gentleman.

This technological dependance is pointed to as the prime cause for modern day isolation while also suggesting this is not a new phenomenon.

Using animation instead of live actors adds to the nightmarish tone but doesn’t compensate for the light plot.

And as arch observational humour slowly metamorphoses into the relentless glare of existential despair, it becomes a wearying watch.


Director: Justin Kurzel (2015)

This bold and bleak adaption of Shakespeare‘s Scottish play is violent and visually arresting but curiously unmoving.

A moody, macho and masochistic Michael Fassbender frets for a couple of hours upon the stage.

He drips with menace and blood and there is much sound and fury.

After serving his King by quelling an insurrection, Macbeth encounters three witches who prophesy a royal future.

Encouraged by his wife he murders his way to the throne, and becomes consumed by madness.

A macabre tone is struck from the start with the burial of an infant. Among the battles, murders, ghosts, and witches, the rural feudal society is chillingly and chillily realised.

The relentless rain-lashed realism captures the grim hardships of the era, but there is also beauty is the landscapes, a children’s chorus and the craftsmanship of cloaks and daggers.

Fiona Crombie’s strong production design offers fine detail and heavy weathering, anchoring the actors in the period.

It’s a consistent vision, utilising wild exteriors in what was a gruelling shoot for cast and crew.

Interiors were filmed in the magnificent and contemporaneous Ely Cathedral.

Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw frames some lovely images but fellow Australian, director Kurzel rarely use his camera to fully bring out the drama of the verse.

The pair are stronger on the hoof, creating some terrific moments in battle and in the hunt.

Kurzel’s brother Jed adds to the tone with an unsettling screeching soundtrack.

Three writer’s have acceptably trimmed Shakespeare’s verse. But it’s sadly compromised through frequently flat recital, caught within beards or lost thick fog of a Scots brogue.

There’s also tendency by most of the men to employ a throaty whisper as often as possible, so we have to strain for understanding.

Only Englishman Sean Harris as Macduff and the French actress Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth offer engaging readings. Both characters are motivated by grief for lost children.

Elizabeth Debicki has a moment on fire but David Thewlis, Jack Reynor and Paddy Considine seem oddly removed from events around them.

Shakespeare put humour in his tragedies to emphasise his antagonists’ fall and make their doom compelling.

As Fassbender’s Macbeth moves from military machine to murderer to madman, the actor fails to find the humanity.

Devoid of love, humour or a conscience to lose or regain, the tragedy is missing in action.

What remains is a blood-soaked slog through the fog of 10th century war.


The Theory of Everything

Director: James Marsh

This tasteful, tear-ridden and terribly British biopic of scientist Stephen Hawking is sadly uneven.

Despite some Oscar worthy acting this brief history of his life is too thinly stretched with the latter half not matching the emotional power of the first.

 Prodigiously clever student Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) is at Cambridge University; cycling and studying for his PhD.

He meets the arty, angelic Jane (Felicity Jones) and they enjoy a picture postcard courtship amid the dreaming spires.

It’s an impressively physical performance by Eddie Redmayne and Jones is as excellent as always, great support is offered by David Thewlis as kindly don Dennis and Harry Lloyd as Hawking’s best friend Brian.

His growing clumsiness leads to a collapse and in hospital he is diagnosed with motor neurone disease.

While his mind stays sharp he will lose control of his muscles which will gradually waste away through lack of use.

He is given two years to live.

Moving you to tears with the sort of stiff upper-lip that built the British Empire, Jane refuses Stephen’s requests to leave.

They marry and as walking sticks give way to wheelchairs, his scientific career goes supernova.

Jane is poorly served; transforming abruptly from loving wife to challenged carer, signalling a sea change in their relationship.

However science and the story’s emotional momentum is abandoned for soap opera as the focus moves to marital infidelity and his growing international celebrity.

Meanwhile although we’re left to wonder how years after his terminal diagnosis Hawking is still alive at 72 as the careless script, happy to ponder the scale of the universe, never alludes to that particular mystery.

Nor are we close to knowing whether he’ll ever establish his unified theory of life, the universe and everything.

If only it had ended in physics not platitudes this could have been one of the films of the year.