The Chris Beetles Gallery has been a fantastic oasis of illustration in St James’s for years now and, with them also dealing in photography, it was inevitable that they would one day open a gallery just devoted to that. Last Tuesday, I went to the launch of the Chris Beetles Fine Photographs. Located on Swallow Street near Piccadilly, the space kicks off with an exhibition from the wonderful Eve Arnold, female Magnum photographer and the woman who shot Marilyn Monroe when she was making The Misfits. It’s well worth a visit as it’s a lovely space and it’s nice to see Arnold’s work on display. It’s also obvious that the owners will be taking as much care with this as they have done with the Illustration gallery and it’s a worthy addition to the photo galleries in the West End of London.


January was a quiet month for movies but I did go to see two films at press screenings at the end of the month. First we have True Grit, the Coen Brothers’ ‘remake’ of the much-loved John Wayne western, sticking more closely to the book that it was based on. Now the Coen Brothers are amongst my favourite directors and I have loved them since I saw Barton Fink at the cinema (I came to them a little late) but they have this strange tendency to follow a great film with a competent but pointless one. A Serious Man (2009) was a very good film indeed so unfortunately True Grit follows this pattern. Jeff Bridges plays Rooster Cogburn, the irascible Marshall retained by young Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) to bring the killer of her father to justice. Matt Damon is Texas Ranger Laboeuf here, who falls in with Cogburn and Ross on the trail of killer Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). The problem with 2010’s version of True Grit is not that it’s badly made or poorly acted. Bridges is very capable as Cogburn, Steinfeld acquits herself very admirably on screen and Damon is excellent almost as usual and the cinematography by Roger Deakins is wonderful but it doesn’t add anything really: the John Wayne version still holds up pretty well over four decades after it was released. The fact that lots of praise has been lavished on it is a little bit of a mystery as it is a competent and well-made but ultimately pointless exercise. Let’s hope that their next film comes out of left-field a bit more. True Grit is a decent, 3-star film but it doesn’t leave you with anything and so will be forgotten very quickly by posterity…
Paul, directed by Greg Mottola, is the latest Simon Pegg/ Nick Frost collaboration. With Edgar Wright off to the US, it’s the first of their movies not with him. Paul deals with two English geeks taking a roadtrip pilgrimage to all of the weird places in the West and Southwest of the USA, places where UFOs and strange happenings have been reported over the years. Kicking off in the nerd mecca of San Diego Comic Con, Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost) get more than they bargained for when they meet a real-life extra-terrestrial in the shape of Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen). Paul won’t appeal to everyone and it’s not perfect by any means. Frost is annoying but Pegg is likeable on screen and Rogen’s ET-with-attitude is entertaining. Jason Bateman as the FBI agent with the humourous name (I won’t stick it in here) is suitably hard-bitten and Sigourney Weaver as the evil US government agency head looks like she’s having fun here. Kristen Wiig stays the right side of annoying as a one-eyed Christian girl who takes a shine to Willy. For the people who dream of things like going to San Diego Comic-Con and writing their own science fiction or fantasy novels, Paul
is an enjoyable slice of knowing nonsense which, while it won’t change the world, will pass an hour and a half pleasantly enough…