Friday, 17 June 2011

O2 Media Awards 2011

I'm a-freight this isn't the award I'm in the running for. (Sorry.)

Hello there. This is a short missive to let you know that I've been nominated for a couple of O2 Media Awards. I'm up for the Feature Writer of the Year and Digital Journalist of the Year gongs at the Yorkshire and the Humber ceremony on July 14.

Last year I was shortlisted as both a Young Journalist and Digital Reporter and invited to eat veggie sausage sandwiches at The Loft in Leeds. This year's event will take place at York Racecourse.

This very blog formed part of my digital portfolio, so thank you for reading, commenting and generally being awesome over the past year. Without your support (and I do mean YOU), there wouldn't be much point to me doing it.

I'll report back to you on July 15 with all the gossip from the evening. And by gossip, I mean what we had to eat.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Visitor, the Army and filleting fish - Reviews #76

The Visitor (Thomas McCarthy, 2007) - After bit parts in Coen and Farrelly Brothers flicks, Richard Jenkins gets one of those once-in-a-lifetime roles, and gives one of those once-in-a-lifetime performances, in writer-director McCarthy's follow-up to The Station Agent. He plays a university professor coasting miserably, lazily through life and his infrequent lessons. Travelling to New York to present a paper he didn't even write, he's shaken from his stupor by a young Syrian drummer (Haaz Sleiman) who's been unwittingly living in Jenkins' city apartment. The film starts as a heartwarming comedy, as the pair bond over a shared love of music, then shifts into drama and tragedy after Sleiman is stopped by the cops in the underground.

McCarthy is a wonderful writer, with a great ear for dialogue, a complete resistance to melodrama and an ability to transmit hope and happiness in the face of hardship. There's also something of Jim Jarmusch in the way he celebrates humanity's common ground, rather than its petty and superficial differences. And once more he coaxes a startling turn from his lead actor, whose shift from moroseness to passion and compassion is a marvellous thing to behold, supported as it is by exceptional characterisations from Sleiman and screen mother Hiam Abbass. The Station Agent, with its pitch-perfect performances, distinctive visuals and level-headed script, was a tough act to follow, but McCarthy has done it, creating a mature, realistic and dramatically resonant movie that deals with the neglected subject of immigration whilst avoiding those diametric bugbears of triviality and worthiness. (4)


My Way Home (Bill Douglas, 1978) - "I want to die," repeats young Jamie (Stephen Archibald) over and over again, huddled on his bed in a Sally Army hostel, his tortured face smeared with dirt. "Thanks," he pipes up later, as a gay army pal kindly swaps their lunches, following Jamie's disastrous attempt to fillet a fish. They are the two key moments of release - one crippling, the other uplifting - in this unflinching portrait of internalised anguish and tentative hope, which completes director Douglas's astonishing autobiographical trilogy. The initial epiphany is a low: years of neglect and abandonment culminating in this flop-house breakdown, dominated by that bleakest of phrases. The second prefigures an upturn: a first friendship in a half-dozen years, and the undreamt-of possibility of a new home. All in all, this collection of scenes from Douglas's teenage years sees him indulge in apple-related larceny at a foster home, begin his first paid job by discarding his uniform in a public toilet and decamp to North Africa with the Army. Along the way there are fits of rage, fights with tedium ("I'm bored, I want to dae something," he repeatedly tells his army roommate; though he can never think quite what) and shards of solace. After all, why shouldn't he become a film director? Jamie might be out, but he's not down. My Way Home is the most technically accomplished film of the trilogy and, whilst never approaching the simple poetry of the extraordinary My Childhood, it's a better film than My Ain Folk, with a more coherent story and several simply wonderful vignettes. Knowing that this story was Douglas's own, and that Archibald himself wouldn't make it past 40, adds another level of poignancy to proceedings. As if that were necessary. (3.5)

Trivia note: The sudden switch to blisteringly hot climes foreshadows a similar jump in the director's only subsequent picture, the epic Comrades.

See also: The first two parts of Douglas's autobiographical trilogy are reviewed here.


America's Sweethearts (Joe Roth, 2001) is a thin but amusing mainstream comedy, as former couple John Cusack and Catherine Zeta-Jones are reunited at the press junket for their final film, helmed by pretentious megalomaniac Christopher Walken. Also along for the ride is Zeta Jones' newly-slim sister and put-upon PA (Julia Roberts), who's got a bit of a thing for Cusack. There are some very funny scenes and lines ("Siegfried and Roy are here?" and "So I hit him in the tray with my face" being particular favourites), Cusack is pretty good value - for me, he's one of the most likeable and most underrated actors of recent decades - and there's fine comic support from Hank Azaria, Seth Green (who knew?) and Billy Crystal, the latter co-scripting. (3)


City Hall (Harold Becker, 1996)
- A former New York deputy mayor, two noted Scorsese collaborators and the scriptwriter of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest worked on the screenplay of this box-office flop. Perhaps that abundance of culinarians accounts for it being so muted, and so hopelessly muddled, with an uninvolving mystery and reams of faux-poetic rhetoric that doesn't really mean anything. Al Pacino's speech at the funeral of a six-year-old gun crime victim is a case in point. His performance is rousing, but the mayor's oration is not only completely self-serving and inappropriate, it's full of incomprehensible wordplay, bizarre syntax and metaphors that aren't metaphors. "That boy was as pure and as innocent... as the driven snow," Pacino yells. Innocent as the driven snow? That's not a real thing.

John Cusack, he of the fine back catalogue and improbably tiny mouth, plays the deputy mayor of New York. When a tough cop and a drug pusher with mafia links shoot one another - and then a six-year-old boy - Cusack and office veteran David Paymer start digging, and smell fish. There's the germ of a good film here, with an interesting insider view of politics and a mature final-reel treatment of back-room deal-making that avoids melodrama. There's also Pacino, who didn't do much of his best work in the '90s but is in commanding form, while Danny Aiello really does does look like a crooked politico. But the film never gets out of first gear - plodding along without tension, surprise or revelation - there's a terrible framing voiceover that has no relation to the actual picture and a risible, tacked-on romantic subplot with Cusack and lawyer Bridget Fonda, and the multitude of writers often seem to be copying wholesale from the Big Book of Political Quotations. (2)

Monday, 13 June 2011

From Harrogate to Hollywood - An interview with Christian McKay

Christian McKay won acclaim for his big-screen role as Orson Welles. Now he’s coming to the district to perform a piano suite and discuss his career. He tells RICK BURIN about Orson, Spanish music and making his acting debut in a Harrogate panto.

Christian McKay in award-winning form, playing Orson Welles. The actor is also an accomplished concert pianist. (S)

HE’S worked with Woody Allen, played Orson Welles and shared a red carpet with George Clooney. But Christian McKay’s journey from RADA graduate to international screen sensation began on stage in Harrogate.

Playing a ghostly tree.

“My first job was a panto at Harrogate Theatre,” he says. “They gave me four parts, being cheap buggers, including an old man, Little John, Richard the Lionheart and a ghostly tree: Mandragora.

“I got caught in the trap door and carried on. It prepared me very well for the RSC.”

The date was November 2001 and the show was Babes in the Wood.

“Every audience for the panto is completely different - you have to get a feel for what they’re laughing at and play up to that,” he said at the time.

The Advertiser billed him as a concert pianist making his acting debut. It was his talent for music that had manifested itself first.

As a child, Bury-born McKay was a chorister at Manchester Cathedral and studied piano at Chetham’s, where the instrument became “the focal point of my life, through my Polish piano tutor screaming at me”. At the age of 21, he performed Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3.


Drama, meanwhile, was a hobby. Then, after musical courses at the University of York, the Royal College of Music and Queensland Conservatorium, McKay went for an audition at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA).

“It was a kind of experiment,” the 37-year-old says.

He ended up spending three years there. “Suddenly the acting took over and my concerts dwindled,” he says.

Even so, he left a first year movement class (“doing all ridiculous things like being a tree”), telling his classmates he was visiting his parents, to catch a plane to the continent. “I played a festival on Saturday night and on Monday morning I was back at RADA, playing a snake, rolling around on the floor,” he says.

His big break as an actor came in 2007, when independent filmmaker Richard Linklater - the director of Before Sunrise and School of Rock - came to watch his one-man show, Rosebud.

Linklater was planning a film about Orson Welles and McKay was playing the booming polymath every night, at a small, off-Broadway theatre.

“Of course, I never wanted to play Orson. I wanted to play Churchill,” he says. “It just came about through unemployment. I was with a couple of mates, I had never played a real-life character and I thought: ‘How’s about doing a one-man show?’

“One of them said: ‘You’ve got a bit of a resemblance to Orson Welles’ and I said: ‘Oh no, not him, he’s a fat American. I don’t want to play him. I’m on a diet.’”

The 'fat American'

He considered Richard Burton (he breaks into a note-perfect impression), Peter Sellers or Alec Guinness, “but it always kept coming back to Welles”.

“I didn’t know anything about him, really, only the highlights,” he says. “But I kind of fell in love with the old man.”

When he received a script for Linklater’s film, Me and Orson Welles, he was sceptical.

“I took it with a big, down-to-earth, Lancastrian pinch of salt,” he says. “Then he turned up. I thought: ‘You can’t possibly cast me, I’m an unknown, I want to remain that way.’”

When Linklater spoke to big producers, they’d say: “Get rid of the limey.” “Right up until the moment he said ‘action’, I thought they would get somebody else,” McKay says.

“Of course they changed their mind, all of them, when the reviews started coming in and the awards nominations... in their dickie bows.”

McKay’s performance in the film is simply phenomenal. Whether seducing his players via sweetly-spoken flattery or heaping opprobrium on them, slotting cherished sections of The Magnificent Ambersons into a radio serial or lamenting his amorphous, shallow nature, McKay is Welles.

He twinkles, yells, guffaws, postures and roars. And in that one moment of heartbreaking self-awareness, his Welles reveals a compulsive need to play the chameleon, saying: “If people can’t find you, they can’t dislike you.”


McKay won three awards and was nominated for 13 others, as the wave of acclaim saw him rub shoulders with Hollywood royalty. “I was on the red carpet doing some interview and I looked around: on one side was George Clooney, on the other was Meryl Streep, and there was the Hollywood sign,” he says. “I thought: ‘This will probably never happen to me again.’”

Maybe not, given that he got bored during the ceremony and headed out the back to chat with the chauffeurs and cooks, almost missing his moment in the spotlight. He was returned to his seat by a gruff American, shouting: ‘You, the Orson Welles guy!’

McKay says playing Welles was “the most extraordinary rollercoaster”.

Having turned down four offers to revive the role on screen, he’s now planning a film about Welles’ later life. Is it easy to slip into the character? “I can’t,” he says. “I’ve completely lost him, which is good.”

The role hasn’t helped his career as much as he might have hoped. “I would go to auditions and they’d say: ‘We can’t have Orson Welles in the company’. I would say: ‘I’m not, I’m just a jobbing actor trying to get a job’,” he says.

Other roles

“In terms of personality, you couldn’t get two people more dissimilar. I met his daughter and she said: ‘You would have got on great with Dad’ and I always claim that we wouldn’t have got on at all. I think he would have despised me. I would have thought him very rude.”

Then, recalling his time playing Welles, he adds with a laugh: “But occasionally we’ve met and got on.”

Smaller roles have followed. McKay featured in the Howard Marks biopic Mr. Nice, as an MI6 operative who recruits the drug smuggler for some low-level espionage - and lives to regret it.

“That was lovely, because I met Howard Marks at the premiere and we were wondering whether the character I played might have snuck in,” he says.

Then he appeared in Woody Allen’s film You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, as one of Josh Brolin’s poker pals.

“I was greatly looking forward to meeting the great man,” he says. But he blew his chances by crushing Allen’s hand as he went to shake it, then cracking a joke the director didn’t understand, “a better gag than anything in the film”. “After that the camera was on my shoulder,” he says.

Despite his limited screentime, he says it was “a very interesting experience”, especially working with Brolin and Slumdog Millionaire actress Freda Pinto.


So how does he choose his roles? “When somebody like Mark Pellington - the director of the Mothman Prophecies and Arlington Road - rings you from America and says: ‘There’s a part I would like you to do’, you do it. You’re lucky to be asked,” he says.

“That’s the difference between American and British actors. A panto in Harrogate? Thanks very much, put me down. A couple of episodes of Coronation Street? Great.

“Perhaps it’s because we’re more versatile - that’s in our training.”

Speaking of Corrie, he’s particularly proud of The Road to Coronation Street, a BAFTA-winning drama about the soap’s origins, made by Brideshead Revisited director Charles Sturridge. “I just think he’s one of the greatest directors I have been lucky enough to work with,” he says. “It’s a lovely film.”

He has also completed a TV series about the Borgias. It’s a European production, not the American one starring Jeremy Irons. “I worked with his wife Sinéad at Stratford, though. I was her eunuch,” he says.

And then there is his labour of love: a film about the First World War Churchill, which McKay has begun writing, with an eye on a 2014 release date. “This is about when he failed and when he thought that his career was over,” he says.

“It would be wonderful to use all those lessons I learned about portraying a real person, because you don’t make an impression, you give the audience a flavour of the character, with little tricks and mannerisms.

“Winston Churchill had a lisp - and speech impediments are quite fashionable in terms of awards at the moment,” he adds with a chuckle.


But first he has some “music time”, while he and wife Emily - who live near Kent - are also expecting their first child. “We’re looking forward to a luxurious summer of music and nappies, all being well,” he says.

McKay returns to the Harrogate district this month for the Northern Aldborough Festival, where he’ll talk about his career and perform Enrique Granados’ piano suite Goyescas. He has played concerts in Yorkshire before, being introduced as ‘Christine McVay’ by one confused compère.

He fell in love with Goyescas as a teenager at Chetham’s, last performing it in public 14 years ago, in Brisbane, Australia.

The piece has a poignant history. “The piano suite was so successful that Granados turned it into an opera, and paid for it with his life,” McKay says. After a successful debut in New York, the composer was invited to play a recital at the White House, but his boat was torpedoed and he drowned.

“It’s absolutely tragic, it was the summation of his career; he had written this letter saying: ‘I feel like I’m now beginning my work’,” McKay says.

“It’s an extraordinary, multi-layered piece of music, very like the story of Spain and based on paintings by Goya. Probably the reason I love it so much is it’s like an opera for the piano, with music and drama going along hand in hand - which is what I do.”

Christian McKay is at Aldborough Church on Tuesday, June 21 from 7.30pm. Tickets are £18. Call 01423 900989, email or go to www.aldborough
This article was written by Rick Burin and appeared on Page 25 of the Harrogate Advertiser, June 10, 2011.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Baumbach's debut, Paddy Chayefsky's war and Pete and Dud going solo - Reviews #75

Kicking and Screaming (Noah Baumbach, 1995) - Baumbach's debut is an eloquent, funny and touching hybrid of Diner and Metropolitan, as a quartet of college graduates take their uneasy first steps in the real world. The plotting is unambitious - a failed relationship and an infidelity across 96 minutes - but the dialogue is excellent and the characters are very well-drawn. Chris Eigeman (who was the greatest thing about the peerless Metropolitan) is great in a typically sardonic role and Carlos Jacott drew raves for his antsy turn, though the absolute standouts are central couple Josh Hamilton and Olivia d'Abo - he insecure and subservient to the fates; she independent and heading to Prague. We begin with their bitchy, His Girl Friday-esque break-up, before the flowering of their romance unfolds in warm, idiosyncratic, wonderfully-photographed snapshots. Their chemistry is something else. Individually, they're mightily impressive. Together, sensational. (3.5)

See also: For a review of Baumbach's Greenberg, go here.


"The first dead man on Omaha Beach must be a sailor!"
The Americanisation of Emily (Arthur Hiller, 1964)
- Paddy Chayefsky's script is as smart, subversive and original as they come, charting James Garner's journey from "dog robber" - procuring women, food and booze for the Navy's top brass, a world away from the front-line - to appallingly cowardly D-Day self-preservationist. It's a celebration of life itself, with an utter contempt for war and the lauding of sacrifice, complete with a superb romance between Garner and Julie Andrews, some choice observations about Anglo-American relations and a devastating supporting performance from Joyce Grenfell. Yes, devastating. And yes, Joyce Grenfell.

I've seen a fair few '50s and '60s war comedies and the majority have been trivial and underwhelming. Emily is the complete antidote to that: incredibly ambitious and intelligent, and sometimes very funny. It's nice when you're finding it difficult to keep up with such incredibly fast, heavy, polemical material, rather than being asked to go: "Ah hurr-hurr, they painted the boat pink." (3.5)

See also: '30s leading man, stage titan and Being There president Melvyn Douglas appears here as an admiral who is losing his mind. Find out about his career as a romantic comedy lead by perusing reviews of Tell No Tales, I Met Him in Paris, And So They Were Married and Our Wife.


Arthur (Steve Gordon, 1981) - A drunken, self-pitying multi-millionaire (Dudley Moore) must choose between his inheritance and the love of his life (Liza Minnelli). That strong story is brought to life by excellent serio-comic performances from Moore and the wonderful John Gielgud - playing his butler and best friend - though the script is a bit flabby in places and Minnelli doesn't really cut it as a romantic lead. (3)


The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer (Kevin Billington, 1971) - Peter Cook is fine as a blank, glacial opinion pollster who uses decidedly Machiavellian methods to ascend the greasy pole of politics in this effective satire. The film has too many pointless, Python-esque diversions (most of the script was written by John Cleese and Graham Chapman), but builds to a spectacular, chilling climax - and there are brilliant jokes all over the place. "Yes?" enquires a receptionist as Rimmer enters an office building. "Yes," he replies, ascending the stairs. He entices rival Denholm Elliot to join his company by "jotting down a few reasons" he might like to switch. "Oh yes, I see, that's very well put," replies Elliott, looking at the cheque. "I particularly like the noughts." There's also the heckler ("Don't talk to me about 'unemployment', young man"), the glass of Fors and the identity parade ("Hello Whitey"), and it's pretty amusing that Cook supposedly asked the designer to make Rimmer's flat an exact copy of hated executive producer David Frost's, while insisting on slotting Frostian vacancies like: "Lovely to see you" into his supercilious patter. (3)


The Saint's Double Trouble (Jack Hively, 1940) - I'm a big fan of '40s mystery-comedy series like Boston Blackie, The Lone Wolf and Michael Shayne. Before becoming an exemplary character actor and the screen's finest cad, George Sanders starred in a couple of fun ones: The Saint and later The Falcon, where he was succeeded by his real-life brother, Tom Conway. (Interestingly, by far the best entries were made without Sanders: The Saint in New York, featuring Louis Hayward, and The Falcon Strikes Back, with Conway). The Saint films were generally marked by well-plotted storylines and a fast pace, but this entry is well below par. Sanders plays a dual role as hero Simon Templar and his nefarious doppleganger. It's an interesting idea, and the special effects aren't bad, but the story is confusing, the characters' actions make little sense and the great Bela Lugosi is utterly wasted in a nothing role. The film's main strength is Sanders' delightful delivery and his grown-up sparring with love interest Helene Whitney, who fears he's lost to cruelty and darkness. That makes for a highly satisfying kiss-off; it's a pity the rest is so muddled. (2)

Thursday, 2 June 2011

The funniest film of all time? - Reviews #74

The Awful Truth (Leo McCarey, 1937) is perhaps the funniest film of all time - particularly in its first 50 minutes - as Cary Grant delivers an absolute masterclass in light comedy. Everything he does, from revelling in Ralph Bellamy's enthusiastically terrible nightclub dancing to trying on a hat, is just hysterical. His facial mannerisms, his throwaway delivery, his unexpected pratfalls - it's all just perfect. Grant plays a supposedly progressive husband who goes out of his "continental mind" upon discovering his wife's apparent infidelity, and begins divorce proceedings. Gloriously, his foil is Irene Dunne, who gave Myrna Loy a run for her money as the finest female American comic of the '30s. Her inimitable vibrato sigh, infectious laugh and playful persona are just a joy, her delighted lie that Jerry's family refer to him as "Jerry the Nipper", due to his endless tippling, merely one of a host of highlights.

Bellamy, forever the spare in these romantic triangles, also delivers a terrific characterisation. The scene in which he tries to laugh along with Grant's quips and misbehaviour, only to be silently told not to by Dunne, is a particular favourite. The cast is rounded out by Joyce Compton as a faux-Southern showgirl and Molly Lamont, playing a cipher of a socialite. The script, by female playright Viña Delmar, is sheer battle-of-the-sexes magic - magnificently conceived and executed - and there are flashes, fragments of effortlessly-judged sentiment scattered through the film, often in the most unlikely places, which make it all the more special. While the film loses its momentum a little in the last half hour - it's still funny, but it's not as frantically, breathlessly hilarious - the sweet ending, heavy in wordplay and Lubitsch-esque door gags, is original, appealing and even kinda sexy. (4)

Trivia note: The leads reunited for My Favourite Wife, which is less coherent and well-rounded but extremely funny, with another astonishing comic performance by Grant. There's a moment where he dashes out of a lobby phone booth, having pretended to be somewhere else, runs smack into his wife and instinctively emits a curious hum, that is just sublime.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Coach Carter, Vince Papale, and people just walking around - Reviews #73

Three American sports films and a movie about the British pastime of empire-building:

For a good hour, Coach Carter (Thomas Carter, 2005) appears to be following a well-worn path, as high school basketball coach Samuel L. Jackson whips a discipline-free collection of inner-city individuals into a slick, unbeaten unit. Then it emerges that the players have reneged on a deal to attend class and secure C+ grades, and the authoritarian taskmaster locks them out of the gym, suspending all practices and matches until they up their game off the court. It's heartening to see a film so confident of its message: that the US treats young African-Americans abominably, almost willing them to fail, that sports stars are put on a pedestal in a way that damages society and that academic excellence is undervalued in comparison. (Intriguingly, the '40s baseball comedy It Happens Every Spring also addresses the two latter observations, in rather lighter fashion.)

The script is flawed - there's the odd poor line, an uninteresting subplot about a student who may be about to become a father that repeatedly brings the film to a juddering halt, and a tendency to reel off stats to cement its thesis - and there's something a little calculating about the way the music swells every time Jackson starts grandstanding. Which happens rather a lot. But this is still an extremely persuasive blend of inspirational true-life story, sports picture and social polemic. Jackson is extremely good in the central role, better than I've ever seen him, the plotting is extremely involving, the game sequences are very well choreographed (though the structural problem familiar from Rocky of each side dominating in turn persists) and the whole thing is surprisingly moving - even when its methods of manipulation are pretty transparent.

Every basketball film suffers from not being Hoop Dreams (well, except one), a human drama of singular power in which every frame is real, but this is an unexpectedly impressive and heartfelt film in which the laudable strengths - intriguing subject matter, a powerful central turn and a sense of conviction scarce in contemporary cinema - overpower its more grounded, trivial shortcomings. (3)


A League of Their Own (Penny Marshall, 1992) is a cracking piece of escapism that pays tribute to the female baseball players of the WWII period, who filled stadiums when the male superstars went off to fight. The central squabble between sisters Geena Davis and Tori Petty is of questionable value, the character development is sometimes lacking (or else duplicitous in the case of Megan Cavanagh) and Davis is transparently the worst baseball player of all time, but for all that it's just a tremendously entertaining film: fast-moving, stuffed with ace montages, faux-newsreels and enjoyable sequences, and boasting several excellent performances. Petty is fine in her role as the overlooked younger sibling and there are eye-catching supporting bits from David Strathairn - who played crooked pitcher Eddie Cicotte in John Sayles' Eight Men Out - as the league's publicity man and Jon Lovitz as a sleazy, tactless talent scout. But the best performance unquestionably comes from Tom Hanks. I was a Hanks agnostic, but this has won me round. He delivers a superb, tragi-comic turn as an ex-baseball pro turned "fall-down drunk" who finds a new lease of life doing, well, what still appears to be just about the bare minimum of coaching. Whether bickering with his benefactor, scratching his balls in the dugout or advising a young autograph hunter to "avoid the clap", Hanks treads the gossamer-thin line between perfection and caricature, while keeping the pathos in check. It's a shame, then, that Marshall somewhat botches the job with a pointless, painfully mawkish framing device set in the present day, which is completely at odds with the rest of the film. Seeing as several scenes and subplots had to be excised due to time constraints, this obtrusive monument to saccharin seems particularly misguided. The rest of it, though: lovely. (3)


Invincible (Ericson Core, 2006)
- Philadelphia, 1975. Unemployment is soaring, the factory workers are on strike and NFL side The Eagles are in meltdown. Enter Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg), an out-of-work substitute teacher, part-time barman and American Football fanatic, who pitches up at an open trial held by new coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) and proceeds to run 40m in 4.5 seconds. He can't really make the team, can he? Well if he can't, we won't have much of a story. This is a textbook Disney drama, in the best sense of the phrase (and there are many other senses of the phrase): simple, sentimental and sanitised (I doubt very much that Papale's best pal shouted: "You're a freakin' Eagle!" upon him making the cut, and you will never see a sympathetic Disney character endorse a union), but hugely uplifting and extremely well-crafted.

Wahlberg, who no-one but the most fervent Funky Bunchers would have tipped to make it as a serious, important actor, is thoroughly excellent, as he always is these days, and Kinnear is perfect as the twinkly-eyed coach who's got a special feeling about his down-to-earth discovery. The film also excels in the on-field sequences, putting the viewer in the centre of the action to such a degree that I genuinely got a few pre-match butterflies. These critical encounters are effectively contrasted with a handful of late-night headlight-lit character-building amateur games.

Love interest Elizabeth Banks is completely unconvincing - she's too modern by at least 31 years - and the comic interludes seem ill-judged, but the central story is fantastic and it's superbly told, right down to the real-life footage at the close. (3.5)

There's an interesting comparison (well, I think it's interesting) between these three films in terms of how they see their sports stars. In Coach Carter, Jackson laments that society allows them to be unaccountable and arrogant. In Invincible, they can be a symbol of hope and inspiration, a famous touchdown by Steve Van Buren getting Papale's father - a fan - through 20 years of hard work and hardship. A League of Their Own argues that sport is important - if it's what you hold most dear - but that raising a family is equally heroic. I think Invincible will speak particularly strongly to anyone who was obsessed with sport as a child. The realisation that I wouldn't become a professional footballer was probably an important formative disappointment or something, but I'm not sure I've ever really got over it.


Burn! (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1969) is a hopeless, fascinating jumble, as English naval officer Marlon Brando instigates a slaves' revolt in a Portuguese colony, then returns 10 years later to quash the same rebel army. That superlative subject matter becomes an almost wilfully scatty melange. You get a wooden exchange, half of it dubbed, in the style of these international '60s epics, in some pokey set. Then a spellbinding image: perhaps a rebel twisting in the smoke of a forest fire. Then lots of footage of people walking... incessantly, intolerably walking... hundreds of them, just walking, for minutes at a time. Then a devastating solliloquy from Brando - doing his best George Sanders voice - on the subject of morality, civilisation or personal honour. Then more people walking, more dubbing, more walking. Burn! also features one of the most peculiar scores Ennio Morricone has ever submitted. If you can imagine the sound of an elephant sitting on Morricone as he tries to play a synthesiser, it's pretty much like that. Including the yelling. There's at least half an hour of footage missing from this English-language cut; whether the extra bits would make it seem less or more disjointed and long-winded remains to be seen. But it is worth catching for those passages of brilliance: its sporadically impressive imagery, the clear, then-timely overtones of Vietnam (Walker even goes to Indo-China between the film's two halves) and Brando's often amazing characterisation. There's just a lot of tedium amidst such timelessness. (2.5)

DVD note: The DVD I got from LoveFilm, produced by Cornerstone Media, was absolutely atrocious: fuzzy and drained of colour, panned-and-scanned, and with poor sound. The triple threat.