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FILM REVIEWS: B

Contents

  • "The Baader-Meinhof Complex"
  • "Babel"
  • "Baby Driver"
  • "Bagdad Cafe"
  • "Bajirao Mastani"
  • "The Bang Bang Club"
  • "The Banger Sisters"
  • "Baraka"
  • "Bastille Day"
  • "Batman Begins"
  • "Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice"
  • "Baise-Moi"
  • "Beautiful Girls"
  • "A Beautiful Mind"
  • "Becoming Jane"
  • "Before I Go To Sleep"
  • "Before Sunrise"
  • "Before Sunset"
  • "Before Midnight"
  • "Begin Again"
  • "Behind Enemy Lines"
  • "Behind The Candelabra"
  • "Being John Malkovich"
  • "Belle"
  • "Bend It Like Beckham"
  • "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"
  • "Bhaji On The Beach"
  • "Big Eyes"
  • "Big Fish"
  • "Big Game"
  • "Big Hero 6"
  • "The Big Short"
  • "Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)"
  • "Billy Elliot"
  • "Black Hawk Down"
  • "Black Swan"
  • "Blended"
  • "The Blind Side"
  • "Blood Diamond"
  • "Blue Is The Warmest Colour"
  • "Blue Jasmine"
  • "Blue Valentine"
  • "Blue Velvet"
  • "Bobby"
  • "Body Of Lies"
  • "The Book Of Eli"
  • "The Book Of Life"
  • "The Book Thief"
  • "Borat"
  • "Bound"
  • "The Bourne Identity"
  • "The Bourne Supremacy"
  • "The Bourne Ultimatum"
  • "The Bourne Legacy"
  • "The Boxtrolls"
  • "The Boy With The Striped Pyjamas"
  • "Boyhood"
  • "Boys Don't Cry"
  • "Bread And Roses"
  • "Breaking And Entering"
  • "Brick Lane"
  • "Bride And Prejudice"
  • "Brideshead Revisited"
  • "Bridesmaids"
  • "Bridge Of Spies"
  • "Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason"
  • "Bridget Jones's Baby"
  • "Bridget Jones's Diary"
  • "Bright Star"
  • "Brokeback Mountain"
  • "Brooklyn"
  • "Bruce Almighty"
  • "Brüno"
  • "Buena Vista Social Club"
  • "Burn After Reading"
  • "The Butler"
  • "By The Sea"

  • "The Baader-Meinhof Complex"

    Formally named the Red Army Faction (Rote Armee Fraktion in German), this German urban terrorist group - at its height in the late 1960s and 1970s but only formally dissolved in 1998 - was more commonly referred to by the names of two of its leaders, Andreas Baader (played here by Moritz Bleibtreu) and Ulrike Meinhof (portrayed by Martina Gedeck). This is not an easy movement to represent, still less explain, partly because the events are so numerous, partly because the timescales are so long, and above all because the politics behind it and the state reaction to it are morally complex, but this German film makes a very commendable attempt, showing the narrative mainly from the perspective of the group without ever glamorising their actions which resulted in 34 deaths and many injuries.

    The script is based on a best-selling book by Stefan Aust, Chief Editor of the German weekly news magazine "Der Spiegel", but considerable credit must go to Uli Edel who both co-wrote and directed this compelling work that tries to face up honestly to a terribly painful period of post-war German history. It is a long film (two and a half hours) and sometimes confusing, with plenty of graphic violence, hard language and some nudity, but it raises sharp questions that still resonate today about the idealism of the young, the expression of political protest, and the role of the media and the police in confronting such anger and disillusionment.

    Link: Wikipedia page on the RAF click here

    "Babel"

    This is not an easy work for the viewer in either structure or subject matter, but it is thoughtful and thought-inspiring and contains many impressive performances.

    Scripted by Guillermo Arriaga and directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (Mexicans who worked together on "21 Grams"), this is a film in four languages (English, Spanish, Arabic and Japanese) linking four families (American, Mexican, Moroccan and Japanese) on three continents (America, Africa and Asia) told in 24 non-chronological chapters. The link is a hunting rifle which was made in the USA, bought in Japan, and given away in Morocco.

    Cate Blanchett is the American tourist on holiday in Morocco who is hit by a bullet from the rifle, while Brad Pitt is her husband in a deeply fractured marriage. Their two children are taken to a wedding in Mexico by their maid (Adriana Barraza) and her nephew (Gael García Bernal) while, over in Japan, the original owner of the weapon (Kôji Yakusho) struggles to cope with the suicide of his wife and the estrangement of his deaf-mute teenage daughter (Rinko Kikuchi).

    Some of the characters are dealt with by authority with respect and courtesy, but others are handled with contempt and even brutality. All these lives are inter-connected but some seem to matter more in an unequal and unfair world bedevilled by a lack of communication at so many levels - truly a modern-day tower of Babel. An ambitous and intelligent work that somehow feels sadly soulless.

    "Baby Driver"

    "Drive" meets "La La Land" in this smash success of summer 2017 both written and directed with great panache by the British Edgar Wright. Is this a car-chase heist movie disguised as a romantic musical or the other way round? No, it's a genuinely fresh and original mash-up of genres with a plethora of tropes from other cinematic work.

    Like "La La Land', the opening sequence grabs the attention and sets the tone. The eponymous young man at the wheel, played with a mixture of innocence and brutality by Ansel Elgort, is revealed to be someone with brilliant driving skills that enable bank robbers to escape any number of Atlanta's police vehicles but somebody who needs to overcome his tinnitus by playing loud rock music into his ear pods. Following the opening titles, a stroll to a coffee shop has all the cleverness of other parts of "La la Land". However, the story-line - a laconic loner who discovers a woman who might be his escape from a life of crime - is straight out of "Drive" which, as a thriller, is actually the better movie.

    There is lots of action in this film, with cars and guns in scene after scene, but what really makes the movie is the acting. This is a work where so many of the support roles are filled by actors who can and have top-lined movies: Kevin Spacey as Doc, the mastermind behind the heists; Jamie Foxx as Bats who is the wrong side of crazy; and Jon Hamm as Buddy who exhibits an almost "Terminator"-like ability to keep coming back. The female roles - notably Baby's love interest Debora (Lily James) and Buddy's partner Darling (Eliza González) are not so well-drawn. And the ending might be viewed as a little too sweet. But, heh, this is quality movie-making that is going to be a classic.

    "Bagdad Cafe"

    "Bagdad Cafe" - which was originally released as "Out Of Rosenheim" - has nothing whatsoever to do with Iraq, being set in California. It is in the 'stranger comes into town' genre. But what a stranger: well-built Jasmin from Rosenheim in Germany (ably played by Marianne Sägebrecht). And what a 'town': just a run-down diner and rusty gas pump by the side of a dusty highway, the place populated by a strange bunch of wacky characters who include the irascible cafe owner Brenda (CCH Pounder) and the aged set painter Rudi (68 year old Jack Palance). In a quirky but engaging tale, Jasmin both metaphorically and literally brings both magic and harmony to this disparate community, in the process discovering a new role and home for herself.

    "Bajirao Mastani"

    This Indian film is one of the most expensive ever to be made in Bollywood but it has proved to be one of the highest-grossing works in the sub-continent's movie market. Like any big Bollywood movie, there are song and dance routines (five of them), but there are also lavish sets and costumes and excellent cinematography in a visually stunning work that tells a historic story with contemporary relevance. Set in 18th century Hindustan, it narrates the ultimately tragic love between the Maratha military leader Baji Rao I (the good-looking star Ranveer Singh) and the Muslim princess Mastani who became his second wife (the beautiful model and actress Deepika Padukone). This is not a easy film to view if one is not a Hindi speakers, since the English sub-titles are often hard to read against a light background and the film runs to 2 hours 38 minutes (when shown in the cinema, there is an intermission), but it is definitely worth the effort and a triumph for Sanjay Leela Bhansali who co-wrote the script, composed the music, co-produced and directed.

    "The Bang Bang Club"

    The 'club' - a real life group of four white photographers - operated in South Africa during the difficult last years of the apartheid era in 1990-1994 when the white regime encouraged the Inkatha Freedom Party to attack the supporters of Nelson Mandela's African National Congress and appalling atrocities of black-on-black violence were committed. Two of the photographers won Pulitzer Prizes for their shots but all suffered psychologically and physically.

    The film is an adaptation of a book by the two surviving members of the 'club' written and directed by South African documentary film-maker Steven Silver and it was shot on location in Thokoza township south of Johannesburg. So there can be little doubt about the authenticity of the principal events and the verisimilitude of the settings. Somehow, however, the script and acting have a amateurish feel, so that the work is not quite as gripping as it should be.

    The movie reminds me of the 1973 work "Under Fire". Although the political situations are different - the 1973 film is about the civil war in Nicaragua - both films centre on the work of photographers in recording conflict and presenting it to the wider world and both explore how the motives and role of such participants can be complex and controversial. Even observers of dramatic political events cannot be neutral or passive.

    Wikipedia page on the club click here

    "The Banger Sisters"

    This 2002 movie was obviously an attempt to appeal to a neglected cinema demographic of middle-aged women, so it stars 56 year old Goldie Hawn as Suzette and 55 year old Susan Sarandon as Lavinia who are not in fact relatives but former sister-in-arms during an early sex-fueled period when they were 'banged' by a lot of rock stars (resulting in a collection of photos of 'rock cocks') and even a few roadies. One of them is still the free-spirited, laid back (sorry for the pun) soul of yester years while the other is now an upright and uptight married woman with two daughters. No prizes for guessing which (1). One of them succeeds in changing the other to embrace her view of life. No prizes for guessing which (2). This is a weak attempt at comedy that risks trivialising the consequences of casual sex.

    "Baraka"

    This 1992 film with a title that means 'the essence of life' is the creation of writer, cinematographer and director Ron Fricke and can be seen as a kind of follow-up to the 1982 film "Koyaanisqatsi" on which Fricke was also the photographer. Again we have no actors, no plot and no dialogue but an array of stunning images from all around the world. It was filmed in Dolby stereo and 70 mm in a host of exotic and interesting locations in some 24 countries. The sound is brilliant and the visual images are amazing, but one never knows where one is and the scene changes constantly.

    "Bastille Day"

    You have to forget that, during the making of this action film shot in Paris, the French capital was the scene of a brutal terrorist attack. Instead you have to go with the flow - and, boy, does it flow with constant flights and fights and a frenetically-cut chase sequence on rooftops that could have come straight out of a Bourne movie. British director James Watkins has given us a thoroughly entertaining romp that never lets up and looks great. The plotting is utterly implausible but the hard-as-diamond core is the former CIA agent Briar played wonderfully by Britain's Idris Elba in a role that could be seen as an audition to be the next James Bond. Not at all sure about his 'singing' over the credits though ...

    "Batman Begins"

    I'm a bit of a sucker for superhero films and Batman has a kind of credibility as the superhero without superpowers, so I happily saw the two Tim Burton offerings ("Batman" & "Batman Returns") and even the pair of inferior Joel Schumacher works ("Batman Forever" & "Batman & Robin"). I wouldn't have expected the British director Christopher Nolan ("Memento" & "Insominia") as the choice to revive the franchise, but the return to the origins of the story - a mere 12 frames in Bob Kane's 1939 comic strip - and the much darker, more psychological approach work really well and result in a superior and entertaining movie.

    Christian Bale - whom I first saw as a child in "Empire Of The Son" - is a credibly brooding Batman/Bruce Wayne, but Tom Cruise's current squeeze Katie Holmes is rather weak as his conscience cum love interest. One distinguishing feature of this fifth outing for the caped crusader is the impressive line-up of support actors who include the British Michael Caine as Wayne's Cockney butler, Tom Wilkinson as the head hood, and Gary Oldman as the future Commisioner Gordon (a rare opportunity for Oldman to play a good guy) plus Rutger Hauer and Morgan Freeman, who are employees of Waynes Enterprises with very different motivations, and Liam Neeson of the mysterious League of Shadows.

    In any superhero movie, the non-human stars are the gadgets and here "BB" offers some good-looking stuff and an original angle on how Wayne acquires it all. The Batmobile is very different from previous films - a kind of ultra-rugged Humvee that smashes all in its path. Some, at least, of the reported $180 that the movie cost to make has obviously gone on this hardware with a lot more on the stylistic sets of Gotham City, Wayne Manor and a Tibetan retreat. The rousing soundtrack from Hans Zimmer adds to the atmosphere. In short, this is a visually and aesthetically satisfying outing and, Oldman's final reference to the Joker, is either Nolan's bid for a sequel or a clever link to the 1989 Jack Nicholson role.

    "Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice"

    I rather enjoyed "Man Of Steel" - the latest rebooting of the Superman franchise - so I was looking forward to the sequel but, by the time I was able to see it at the cinema after an extended period travelling abroad, the critics had given it harsh treatment, although audiences had been kinder and it had already managed to recoup its estimated budget of $250M. When the sequel was first publicised, friends of mine queried how this would be a genuine contest of rival superheroes since Superman has all the powers in the world (OK, out of this world) whereas Batman has no actual special powers but, of course, the explanation was in the clip at the end of "Man Of Steel": it is kryptonite that levels the playing the field.

    Again Zack Synder is director which means that visually the movie has lots of terrific-looking scenes. The problem is that the narrative zig-zags all over the place, providing back story for the two main characters and scene-setting for a range of future characters as well as the central story of a conflict between two men who are both misunderstood and misunderstanding. This is a work of excess: too noisy, too loud, too serious, and at 151 minutes way too long.

    This is a pity because the movie opens strongly with a revisiting of the concluding battle of "Man Of Steel" seen from the ground's eye view of a Batman who is bitterly critical of Superman's God-like powers which cause so much death and destruction. But then there are so many themes running into each other: the romance between Superman (Henry Cavill) and Lois Lane (Amy Adams), the relationship between Batman (Ben Affleck) and his butler (Jeremy Irons), the emergence of Wonder Woman (Israeli-born Gal Gadot), and not just one really bad guy but two, the underdeveloped character Lex Luther (Jesse Eisenberg) and his weird (unnecessary) creation who is a kind of super-giant King Kong without the fur or the sensitivity.

    This may be a film that stands taller in the future: if you expect less and understand more, it may feel more satisfying and, if it turns out to be a platform for a Justice League franchise, then DC Comics will be happy.

    "Baise-Moi"

    In some 30 years of cinema-going, this is just about the most graphically violent and sexually explicit 'mainstream' movie in my experience. Of course, it's French (the title translates as "Rape Me"). More surprisingly, it is written and directed by two women, the novelist Virginie Despentes (on whose book it is based) and the pornographic film-maker Coralie Trinh Thi. In the UK, the film obtained an '18' certificate after the British Board of Film Classification cut 10 seconds from the early brutal rape scene.

    This extreme and shocking version of the "Thelma And Louise" tale sees Manu of north African origin (Raffaëla Anderson) and middle-class Nadine (Karen Bach) on an orgiastic journey of sex and violence, unrelieved by any sympathetic characters, unhinded by any police action, and with no obvious purpose. It is simply impossible to divine what the makers were trying to tell us, but clearly - like their principal characters - they are very damaged and very angry.

    "Beautiful Girls"

    This is a film which deserves to be better known. It may be small - no special effects, no car chases, no 'A' list stars - but it has a sparkling script by Scott Rosenberg and an impressive ensemble cast that includes Matt Dillon, Timothy Hutton, Uma Thurman, Mira Sorvino, Rosie O'Donnell and young Natalie Portman. Told over a few days in a snown-threwn winter, this is the tale of five male friends in their late 20s who all went to high school together in small-town America and are now struggling to come to terms with their relationships with women. O'Donnell gives the best outburst while, unlikely though it sounds, the relationship between Hutton and Portman is the most touching. The inter-related stories are well-handled by director Ted Demme who at the time was only a little older than his characters.

    "A Beautiful Mind"

    Mental illness often makes compelling cinema - think of "Rain Man" or "Shine". Now both sides of the Atlantic have produced new movies on this theme, looking at the effect of such illness on brilliant and famous individuals: from the UK there is "Iris" portraying Alzheimer's Disease and from the US comes "A Beautiful Mind" examining paranoid schizophrenia.

    This latter work is essentially the story of American mathematical genius John Forbes Nash Jnr whose biography of the same name was written by Sylvia Nasar. However, I say 'essentially' because director Ron Howard - known for his 'triumph over adversity' movies ("Apollo 13", "Backdraft", "Parenthood") - has given us a somewhat sentimentalised and sanitised version of a complex life. Nowhere in this film will one learn anything of Nash's homosexuality or importuning, one would never guess about his divorce and remarriage, and we are told nothing of his repressed upbringing or his son's own troubles with schizophrenia.

    Having said all this, "A Beautiful Mind" is a must-see movie, primarily because of an outstanding performance from Russell Crowe who plays Nash from his arrival at Princeton in 1947 to his award of the Nobel Prize in 1994. Adopting Nash's West Virginian accent, his ornamental style of speech and mannered mode of movement, this is a character a million miles away from the assured confidence of Maximus in "Gladiator" and will deservedly win him many awards.

    Jennifer Connelly is excellent as Nash's wonderfully supportive wife Alicia. Like "Iris", there is not much on the principal's work but, again like "Iris", this is ultimately a love story - an account of how a partner can be there when the spouse has literally lost his or her mind. Director Ron Howard skilfully manipulates us, both visually and emotionally, but in a sense all art is manipulative and, if we fall for the trap, it's because we want to. We want the human spirit to survive and succeed - and here it most assuredly does.

    Link: autobiography of John Nash click here

    "Becoming Jane"

    It is a truth universally acknowledged, that anything on celluloid concerning the English novelist Jane Austen will have an audience. Since her six books have been adapted so many times, it must have seemed a clever pitch to create a movie that looks and sounds so much like these various adaptations but centres instead on Austen's encounter with an Irish lawyer named Tom Lefroy in 1795 when she would only have been 20 and just starting her writings. However, the nature of this relationship is entirely speculative, although the source material - a 2003 book by Jon Spence - would pretend otherwise.

    In this unlikely but not impossible tale, Austen is played by the brown-eyed American Anne Hathaway, fresh from her success in "The Devil Wears Prada", and she manages a passable English accent, even if she is rather too pretty for the role. Her suitor is portrayed by the blue-eyed Scot James McAvoy in a very different role from his recent "The Last King Of Scotland" and he too affects an effective English accent, even if he is too short for her. The always splendid Maggie Smith and Julie Walters are in supporting roles that are all too easy for them.

    In the film, Austen assures us that "My characters will have all that they desire" - but here we don't. This is a costume drama in which the costumes are more convincing than the drama. The whole thing is sadly too pedestrian and predictable, although it looks wonderful, even if it is rural Ireland standing in for England's Hampshire.

    "Before I Go Sleep"

    In 1995, there was a movie called "While You Were Sleeping", a romantic vehicle for Sandra Bullock, but this 2014 similarly-titled work is very different: a thriller with Nicole Kidman in the central role as Christine, a woman who suffered a serious assault years ago and now forgets everything each time she sleeps. Two men are trying to help her, husband Ben (Colin Firth) and therapist Dr Nash (Mark Strong). Like most standard thrillers, we find that our assessments of the principals swing back and forth before 'the big reveal'.

    There is a sub-genre of movies involving limited memory - think "Blink", "The Bourne Identity" or "50 First Dates" to name just a few - and "Before I Go To Sleep" is not the best of them (that would be "Memento") but, if one does not think too much about the implausible narrative, this is entertaining enough, helped by good source material (the best-selling novel by S J Watson which I had not read when I saw the film) and the solid acting (Kidman with a good English accent, Firth not as straighforwardly charming as he is usually, Strong not as as unremittingly threatening as he is so often).

    Link: my review of the book click here

    "Before Sunrise"

    Directed and co-written by Richard Linklater, this is an unusual work with a minimal amount of plot, a minimum number of characters, and a short period of time but a good deal of dialogue and characterisation. Two strangers in their early 20s meet on a train and, on impulse, decide to spend a night walking round Vienna together. Some viewers will find this slow and inconsequential but I was charmed and engaged.

    The movie is made by its two young stars: Ethan Hawke as the American Jesse and Julie Delpy as the French Celine. The dialogue and the acting are both so naturalistic that we feel as if we're listening in to a real-life conversation and my favourite scene is when each character in turn pretends to be calling a friend and talks about the person they've just encountered. Jesse and Celine have never met before and will probably never meet again and yet, over the hours, they are powerfully drawn together as we are to them.

    "Before Sunset"

    You should really see "Before Sunrise" (1995) first. If you don't enjoy that - and many will find it too slow and wordy - then don't bother with the follow-up. If you liked the original - and I certainly did - then you have to see this sequel (2004).

    It's the same director and co-writer (Richard Linklater); it's the same actors playing the same characters (Ethan Hawke as the American Jesse and Julie Delpy as the French Celine); and it's the same structure (essentially one long conversation as the duo walk around a European city over the space of a few hours). Again the dialogue and acting are so naturalistic that one feels that one is listening in on a real exchange.

    What's different? It's day not night. The city is Paris not Vienna. Most importantly, it's nine years later and Jesse and Celine have lived and loved in their own fashion and had time to think about what might have been. But can it still be? Most sequels fall short of the original; this one complements it beautifully.

    "Before Midnight"

    For those who enjoy writer and director Richard Linklater's "Before ..." trilogy - and most cinema-goers will despair at the lack of narrative and action and be bored by the wordiness of them all - we regard the American Jesse (Ethan Hawke), now a celebrated writer, and the French Celine, now an environmentalist activist, as our lovely friends whom we wish to see as a loving couple.

    The formula is wonderful: every nine years, a European setting of around 12 hours in which the two talk and talk in a naturalistic manner that no other films have dared to replicate. After two capital cities - Vienna in "Before Sunrise" (1995) and Paris in "Before Sunset" (2004) - the location this time is the much more bucolic Greek Peloponnese. There are two other major differences: Jesse and Celine have now been married for eight years and have twin daughters, so now we are examining not what could be (".. Sunrise") or "should have been" (..."Sunset") but what has been and is, and they are not the only characters, so we have a lunch scene in which people of various ages with their own experiences of relationships offer very different visions of what it means to be a couple.

    There has never been a triptych like the "Before..." movies and I cannot think of any three linked films that collectively I have admired and enjoyed more. "...Midnight" is a triumph for both the director and his two co-writers and stars. What was so wonderful about the first two offerings - the long continuous takes and the witty, engaging conversations - is still there, but the whole story is genuinely developed in a style that makes the central relationship seem utterly real. From painful experience, I can vouchsafe that the arrival of children and the passage of seven or eight years presents real challenges to a relationship and anyone who has sustained a relationship in such conditions will find some of the dialogue almost painfully poignant.

    As the lights in the cinema came on, I fell into conversation with a couple of similar age to Jesse and Celine in the first film: one a Europan and one an American. I could not help but think about what life would hold for them. As for Jesse and Celine, will we see them again in 2022 in "Before Midday" located in Chicago? Really I can't wait that long to meet them again ...

    "Begin Again"

    I loved this movie. From beginning to end, a smile rarely left my face. OK, so it's essentially a remake of "Once" (2007) with the same writer and director (Irishman John Carney) and the same story (a man and a younger woman from another country meeting in a major city of the guy's nation and uniting to create unconventional music). I actually enjoyed "Begin Again" more than "Once". The earlier film was shot on an almost non-existent budget with camcorders, whereas this one has a decent budget and much more professional production values; I think New York is snazzier than Dublin (I've been to both about half a dozen times); and Mark Ruffalo as the guy and Keira Knightley as the girl are much better actors than ... (exactly - who remembers them?).

    The movie has a smart opening with beautiful Knightley as the British singer-songwriter Gretta giving an open-mic performance of one of her songs before meeting charming Ruffalo as a washed-up American A & R man Dan before the film backtracks twice to show us how each of these very different characters came to be at this place at this time. In a similar fashion to my wife (who can view a room and mentally refurnish and even redesign it), Dan can visualise how Geta's song would come over with full backing musicians and a revised arrangement.

    The songs - written by Gregg Alexander of New Radicals - are good, but it is Knightley who is the surprise. Although she is married to a rock and roll player, she is outside of her comfort song here, but she learned to play the guitar for the role and sings well (as indeed she did in "The Edge Of Love"). I have purchased the soundtrack CD.

    "Behind Enemy Lines"

    It often happens that films come in pairs and, in the same month on British screens, we have "Behind Enemy Lines" and "Black Hawk Down", two movies featuring rescues of American servicemen from policing missions in distant parts of the globe where the US involvement was less than brilliant. Their appearance is not coincidental - it reflects a wish, post the horror of the World Trade Center attack, to show America at its most heroic. Certainly "Behind Enemy Lines" deliver an adrenalin rush, but the style is too gung-ho for it to last long.

    The plot concerns the shooting down of an American jet which is 'off mission' over Serb-occupied Bosnia-Herzegovina. The American military has co-operated fully with the hardware, so - in a return to "Top Gun" territory - there are terrificly atmospheric shots of the aircraft carrier that is the crew's base and some really exciting film of the F-18 Hornet that is their 'mount'. Slovakia stands in for Bosnia but fits the bill convincingly.

    It was a shrewd move not to cast a star in the lead role, but instead the newcomer, blond-haired, pinched-nosed Owen Wilson. In fact, the only really well-known actor in the movie is Gene Hackman, playing a characteristically gruff role as the admiral of the carrier, but he is sadly under-used, even when stupidly he is shown leading the helicopter rescue operation ("Let's go get our boy!").

    First time director John Moore deploys some flashy camera-work and provides plenty of pyrotechnics but, besides the fact that it has been done before (in the more intelligent "Bat 21"), the whole thing is just too formulaic and simplistic to make a lasting impression.

    "Behind The Candelabra"

    Wladziu Valentino Liberace, known to the world simply by his Italian surname, by friends as Lee and by his family as Walter, was a genuinely talented and immensely flamboyant entertainer whose trademark was a candelabra on his grand piano but, behind his public persona, he was a rampant homosexual who seduced a series of younger men who became ornaments in his homes of "palatial kitsch". Director Steven Soderbergh has insisted that this bio-pic of Liberace is his final act, but is it a television movie or a theatrical film? The answer is both. Soderbergh claims that no Hollywood studio would finance such a revelatory and intimate portrait and therefore he made the work for America's HBO television network but, outside the United States, it has been shown in cinemas.

    One can perhaps understand, if not excuse, Hollywood's sensitivities since this is a remarkably frank, if generally sympathetic, portrayal, not least sexually (although little is actually seen). It is based on a memoir written by Scott Thorsen who met Liberace when the entertainer was 58 and spent five years in a relationship with him before a bitter break-up and the pianist's death from AIDS aged 67. Michael Douglas is brilliant as Liberace, utterly convincing as a man with all the riches he could want but desperate for true companionship and love. Matt Damon is impressive in the difficult support role and there are cameos from some surprising and barely recognisable stars: Rob Lowe, Dan Ackroyd and Debbie Reynolds.

    Liberace's love for Thorson was a strange and suffocating affair in which the performer required his young companion to undergo facial surgery to make him look like an earlier version of himself and take drugs to keep him slim, all the while confined to a gilded cage which required him to give all of his space, time, and dignity. So this is ultimately a profoundly sad work, not necessarily recommended for a New Year's Eve iTunes download (which is how we viewed it with friends) by definitely well worth seeing.

    "Being John Malkovich"

    Scriptwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze have produced a brilliantly inventive and utterly surreal movie that will blow your mind. Both hardly recognisable, John Cusack and Cameron Diaz play an out-of-work puppeteer and his animal-loving wife who each manage to make love to the enigmatic Maxine (Catherine Keener) by virtue of entering the mind of an iconic actor (Malkovich as himself).

    Entry to the aforesaid portal is at the back of a filing cabinet on floor 7 1/2 of a New York office block, where the clerical staff have to walk around with hunched shoulders because the ceilings are so low, and at one point in the bizarre narrative there are even subtitles in chimpanzee language. Wacky or what? But it works as original, amusing and thought-provoking entertainment of a high order.

    "Belle"

    In late 2013 and early 2014, two films made by black British directors and starring black British actors took a real-life historical black figure to say something important about slavery in the late 18th and early 19th centuries - but the two works could hardly be different in tone. Whereas "12 Years A Slave" was brutally hard-hitting in its account of a free American who was kidnapped into slavery, "Belle" is a much more gentle tale of the daughter of a black slave who manages to be raised more or less as a member of the British aristocracy.

    Dido Elizabeth Belle was the illegitimate, mixed race daughter of a well-born British sea captain and an African slave. She is played wonderfully by the mixed race actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw (her father is black South African), whose previously work has been mostly on television, and the movie is the accomplished work of the director Amma Asante (her parents are Ghanaian), whose only previous feature direction was a decade ago, and we are going to hear a lot more about these talented women. A fine cast of British character actors, including Tom Wilkinson as the Lord Chief Justice and Emily Watson and Penelope Wilton in more support roles, make this a very watchable work.

    Given the setting - London mainly in 1772 (although the film was largely shot on the Isle of Man) - Dido has a degree of status and some wealth but has to contend with the triple trappings of race, gender and class, as she battles both to find a husband who actually loves her (enter Sam Reid as the earnest Mr Davinier) and to encourage the LCJ to make the honourable decision in the real life court case about the 'Zong' slave ship. In true Jane Austen fashion, our heroine finds both love and honour, so no surprises here but a movie with a heart.

    Links:
    Wikipedia page on Dido Elizabeth Belle click here
    Wikipedia page on the 'Zong' massacre click here

    "Bend It Like Beckham"

    This is a sheer delight of a film. OK, the clichéd plot-line is straight out of a cheap comic: young footballer overcomes personal obstacles to score winning goal in final seconds of crucial match. But the twist is that the 18 year old football fanatic is a girl and she's Asian to boot! Parminder Nagra is utterly credible as Jess, inspired by her hero David Beckham and encouraged by her English friend Jules (Keira Knightley) and Irish coach Joe (Rhys Meyers), but thwarted by Indian parents trying hard to maintain their religious and social traditions in west London's Hounslow (just down the road from where I live). Director and co-writer Gurinder Chadha presents a wry and very funny observation of the culture clash and its ultimate resolution in a movie brimming with sharp dialogue and comedic scenes, all enlivened by a superb sound track.

    "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"

    Admit it: when was the last time you saw a film in which the seven lead roles are taken by British actors in their 60s and 70s? Never - right? So this is a movie aiming at a very different demographic than the usual teenage-targeted Hollywood fare and it is a refeshing and welcome change that will delight young as well as old.

    The doyennes of the cast are Judi Dench and Maggie Smith who are both now in their late 70s but sparkle here as very different lonely singletons. Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton play a sweet and sour couple in the thespian menu. Tom Wilkinson is a retired judge with a secret. Finally Celia Imrie and Ronald Pickup are two more sad souls who might or might not find solace together. All of the seven find that retirement can be 'outsourced' to an Indian hotel that certainly looks exotic in the (photoshopped) brochure, but actually needs somewhat more than the enthusiasm of its young manager (Dev Patel) who has romantic problems of his own.

    The location of the hotel is Jaipur in northern India which is a character in itself and, since I have visited the city, I can attest to the wonderful vibrancy and colour of this extraordinary metropolis. But, as our seven intrepid Brits learn, India requires some adjustment to one's expectations and lifestyle and some make the adjustment sooner or better than others. A cynic might dub this multiple storyline of comedy and romance as "Love Geriatrically" and the characters are rather stereotypical, but this is a delightful movie that makes the viewer feel good about life.

    "Bhaji On The Beach"

    In this cleverly-titled film, the beach is at Blackpool - a seaside resort in the north-west of England that I know well from many political and trade union conferences - while the bhaji is the vegetable savoury consumed by a group of Asian women on a day trip from Birmingham and the argy-bargy or argument that ensues when they confront a variety of generational, gender and culture differences. Writer Meera Syal and director Gurinda Chadha tackle a large agenda with both humour and pathos.

    "Big Eyes"

    Tim Burton directs the utterly remarkable real life story of how paintings of sad children with big eyes became fantastically popular before being revealed as not by Walter Keane (played by Christoph Waltz) but by his wife Margaret (Amy Adams). Waltz is a terrific actor but seems oddly miscast as the American fantasist, whereas Adams successfully conveys the fragility of a woman who allowed herself to be used and abused. Whether the paintings are any good or simply kitsch and whether the film is truly insightful or merely entertaining is, in both cases, down to the viewer.

    Link: Wikipedia page on Margaret Keane click here

    "Big Fish"

    There are tall tales; there are TALL tales; and then there's those told by Edward Bloom (played by Ewan McGregor as a young man and by Albert Finney as an old one). His son (Billy Crudup) believes very little, but just maybe there's more truth in these stores that he or we originally thought - and, in any event, sometimes the embellished truth is what what makes life more colourful and fun. Tim Burton ("Edward Scissorhands" & "Batman") is the perfect director for such an entertaining, even enchanting, world of the strange and the surreal, but I'm never comfortable with British actors as familiar as McGregor, Finney and Helena Bonham Carter adopting American accents and the conclusion is oddly down-beat.

    "Big Game"

    To enjoy this passably entertaining film, one has to suspend belief and accept the notion that a small bunch of terrorists could bring down Air Force One and a 13-year old boy with a bow and arrow could defend the U.S. President. And can you really imagine an American president who is black with a sense of humour or a villain who has a beard and wears a black leather jacket? This film is an effort by Europeans to produce something in the vein of "Air Force One" or "White House Down": a work written and directed by a Finn (Jalmari Helander), shot in Finland and Germany, pairing a well-known American actor (Samuel L Jackson playing it by numbers) with an unknown child Finnish actor (a strangely inert Onni Tommila), and music from a Slovak orchestra. Hollywood has nothing to fear.

    "Big Hero 6"

    A little over a year after I took my granddaughter Catrin (then almost three) to her first ever movie "Frozen" (which she utterly adored), I took her (now just four) to see this very different film from the same stable (Walt Disney Animation Studios) and I'm delighted to record that she loved it. We saw it in IMAX in 3D and we were both blown away.

    Although this time the central character is a young boy - Hiro Hamada of the city of San Fransokyo - rather than two princesses, my granddaughter had no trouble relating to it because Hiro is so cute, his inflatable robot Baymax is androgynous, and two of his four friends - making up the six heroes - are very capable girls.

    I reckon that "Frozen" plus "Big Hero 6" - with a few films in between - will give her a lifelong love of the movies.

    "The Big Short"

    There are many ways that movies can tell the story of financial markets - but they are all complicated and they are all scary. While "Margin Call" (2011) was very tight and very serious, "The Wolf Of Wall Street" (2013) was a sprawling comedy. "The Big Short" - which examines how the sub-prime mortgage scandal brought about the financial collapse of 2007-2008 - is somewhere in between. It tells a particular true story, based on the Michael Lewis book "The Big Short: Inside The Doomsday Machine", but it uses a whole variety of techniques to make the complex terminology understandable and entertaining: a documentary style, flashy camerawork, text on screen, straight-to-camera dialogue, and bizarre cameos set in a bath tub, a kitchen, and a casino.

    It works thanks to the skill of co-writer and director Adam McKay and a good deal of fine acting with the best-known faces being Steve Carell and Christian Bale, who are both terrific, and Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt, who are both excellent. But it is a terribly male film with all the female characters being small parts as wives, regulators or strippers. The talented Marisa Tomei is wholly underused. A leading female personage from the book, Meredith Whitney, is not even mentioned. Also it is an odd movie because the viewer kind of wants the the three groups of lead characters - the ones attempting to 'short' the market - to be proved right, but that means that Wall Street is corrupt, the regulators are asleep, and millions of citizens are going to suffer.

    This is powerful and compelling cinema and the bits of text that conclude the film are utterly chilling. They include the observation:

    "Five trillion dollars in pensions, real estate, savings and bonds disappeared. Eight million people lost their jobs and six million their homes. And that was just the USA. Banks took the money the American people gave them, used it to pay themselves huge bonuses, lobbied Congress to kill big reform, then blamed immigrants and poor people. And only one single banker went to jail. Some poor schmuck from Credit Suisse."

    "Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)"

    I managed to catch "Birdman" while it was still on the big screen but, by the time I did this, the movie had already garnered four Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director. Most of the Academy's voters are actors and this is very much a film about acting and actors. If American cinemagoers had voted for Best Picture, "American Sniper" would have won hands-down and has taken more money that all the other Best Picture nominations combined. I admired both works - but they could hardly be more different.

    While "AS" covers a lot of ground, both in terms of geography and time, the action in "Birdman" largely takes place in a New York theatre and, although the narrative traverses several weeks, the shooting contrives to give the impression that, in the main, this was a single take (you have to look much closer than in Hitchcock's "Rope" to spot the 16 actual cuts). If "AS" is about a man that most Americans see as a hero struggling with his inner demons, then "Birdman" is about an actor who used to play a superhero devoured by his demons. One of the many delights of the film is the delicious irony that the eponymous superhero is played by Michael Keaton who, of course, once portrayed another black-clad, caped superhero.

    But while Keaton gives a tour de force performance which gained him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor (it went instead to Eddie Redmayne), like any good play this is an ensemble piece with a slew of fine thespian displays. Leading the pack is Edward Norton, but the young female stars - Naomi Watts, Emma Stone and Britain's Andrea Riseborough - are all impressive. And both the cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki and the jazz drum music from Antonio Sanchez add to this marvellously accomplished work.

    If one person has to be singled out in assessing "Birdman, it must be the Mexican Alejandro González Iñárritu who directed, produced and co-wrote the movie. Maybe, just maybe, however, the whole thing is too artful, knowing, contrived and ultimately -dare I say it - pretentious. So many lines of dialogue, so many scenes, shots and props, can be seen as alluding to another character or another film or capable of several interpretations. Indeed the title itself involves an ambiguous sub-title and even then the parentheses do not enclose the word 'or'. Perhaps this is a flawed work of genius that, while never less than utterly absorbing, tries just a little too hard to be so clever.

    "Billy Elliot"

    "Flashdance" meets "The Full Monty" in this sentimental but uplifting movie début by British director Stephen Daldry. Jamie Lee - a 13 year old lad from Billingham chosen from 2,000 hopefuls - is outstanding as the 11 year old Billy who discovers a passion for dance that enables him to channel his frustration and anger and to escape the problems of his widowed family and strike-ridden community.

    I've loved Julie Walters ever since her Mrs Apron character in the television sketch 'Acorn Antiques' and here she gives a remarkably assured performance as the boy's mentor. Gary Lewis is effective as Billy's father, a man of pent-up emotions who cannot understand his son'a strange ambitions. Set against the bitter miners' dispute of 1984-85 in the north-east of England, there is a great deal of pain in this film, but also much humour, real exhilaration, and ultimately personal triumph.

    "Black Hawk Down"

    Like "Behind Enemy Lines", this is a movie rushed out in the aftermath of the World Trade Center horror, apparently on the assumption that it will make Americans feel better about themselves. It would seem that, in the US, there has been a "Let's kick ass" response but, to this British viewer at least, such a reaction is hard to fathom. Certainly the film is a celebration of comradeship and heroism, but it reminds us of an appalling military misjudgement by the Americans and a lack of political will by the international community.

    It depicts in savagely graphic form the outcome of an October 1993 operation in the Somalian capital of Mogadishu when an attempt to detain henchmen of the local warlord gave rise to a 15-hour "firefight" in which 18 American soldiers lost their lives and more than 70 were injured, while something like 500 Somalians - men, women ands children - were killed. Élite soldiers of the Rangers and Delta Force regiments go in, supported by Black Hawk and Humvee helicopters but, from the start, it is a mess, as one soldier falls from Black Hawk, resulting in it being downed by the local militia. This is war as we have never seen it before on the big screen: brutal and confused combat in city streets and houses where the enemy does not wear a uniform or fight by the rules and rescue is far from hand.

    This was always going to be a better work than "Behind Enemy Lines" because it is helmed by one of the finest directors around and presents a very much less 'gung ho' depiction of war. Fresh from his success with the wonderful "Gladiator", British Ridley Scott - the son of a Royal Marine - has taken locations in Morocco and used magnificent camerawork to produce a stunning visual and visceral record based closely on the book by journalist Mark Bowden. Indeed such is the verisimilitude of Scott's action that one can't always hear what is said or understand what is happening.

    As I left the London screen where I saw "Black Hawk Down", I found myself in conversation with the cinema attendant who incredibly happened to be a Somalian who was there in 1993. He assured me that the events were worse than shown in the film - we didn't see (fortunately) the parading of the dead Americans through the streets - and the situation is just as bad now as it was then, with four clans controlling different quarters of Mogadishu.

    A year after the disastrous American intervention in Somalia, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan and we all looked the other way until the appalling events of 11 September 2001. If Scott's film serves to remind us that we cannot forgot the injustice in Somalia - and other parts of Africa - perhaps it will have served a higher purpose than entertainment.

    "Black Swan"

    "Swan Lake" has been my favourite ballet since I saw the famed Margot Fonteyn perform the lead role in my first visit to this art form. Natalie Portman has been a favourite actress since her precocious performance as a 12 year old in "Leon" led on - via "Star Wars" - to such accomplished work as "Closer" and "The Other Boleyn Girl". I can't say that Darren Aronofsky is a favourite director since, while he is genuinely talented and I admired "The Wrestler", I found "Requiem For A Dream" really disturbing and "The Fountain" unwatchable.

    So I approached "Black Swan" with both real excitement and some trepidation. This psycho-drama, which is reminiscent of both "Repulsion" and "The Red Shoes" and has many parallels with the body-punishing depiction of "The Wrestler", will not appeal to everyone and some will regard it as over the top, but I admired it enormously. Aronofsky ensures that the camera is never still and every scene is claustrophobic physically and/or psychologically.

    But it is 29 year old Portman who is simply outstanding in her best performance to date as ballet dancer Nina Sayers who has to conquer the demanding twin roles of the White Swan/Odette and the Black Swan/Odile. The role seems made for Portman who is hardly ever off the screen, since she was a dancer as a child and has a degree in psychology. She prepared physically for a year and the choreographer is now her partner Benjamin Millepied.

    Supporting roles come from Barbara Hershey as Nina's overbearing mother and Vincent Cassel as the intimidating ballet director and from Mila Kunis and Winona Ryder as up-and-coming and past-her-best ballet dancers respectively - all of whom appear to represent threats to the increasingly paranoid Nina. In the final segment as the eponymous dark bird, Portman looks terrific and her acting achieves new heights, while - as in "The Wrestler" - Aranofsky ends the film on exactly the right shot.

    "Blended"

    Sometimes the film is chosen for me, when I have a two hour gap in my schedule of meetings, there is a limited choice at that time and place, and I've already seen all the best movies on release. That's how I got to see this rom-com starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. Now I'm not a fan of Sandler but I do admire Barrymore (boy, has she come a long way since she was that cute little girl in "E.T."), so this did not seem that bad an option.

    In fact, I've only seen two other Sandler movies: "The Wedding Singer" and "50 First Days" and, what do you know, both starred Barrymore. This time both Sandler and Barrymore are single parents, him with three girls and her with two boys. After a short and miserable blind date stateside, they accidentally find themselves at the same resort in South Africa and the rest of the plot is inevitable.

    "Blended" had a promising and well-intentioned concept: lots of families these days are untraditional (including my own) and blending such families is a challenge but the presentation is very simplistic and sentimental and Sandler's brand of wry humour offers too few actual laughs. What's more the choice of location for much of the shooting is bizarre. Sun City is the last place I'd want to visit in South Africa (and I have toured the country) and all the local characters are presented as absurd cartoonish stereotypes. Thank goodness for Barrymore ...

    "The Blind Side"

    This is not a film which is going to play well outside of the United States. It is the true story of how a tough Memphis mother in a wealthy family (Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy) befriends a huge, homeless and ill-educated black man (Quinton Aaron as Michael Oher), enabling him ultimately to become a highly successfully professional American football player. Of course, outside the USA, few people will have heard of Oher or have much interest in American football. Even the title - a footballing term - is unhelpful. Furthermore, as a narrative, it has the additional problems of being slow and lacking dramatic tension.

    Having said all this, it is a fine performance by Bullock who has to adopt a Southern accent for a role which sees her playing a much more assertive and less cute character than is usually her wont. It won her the Academy Award for Best Actress. And, in its own way, the tale is inspirational, showing that with some tender loving care (and in this case a lot of money) the most unlikely and ill-equipped can be enabled to succeed.

    "Blood Diamond"

    There are not many Hollywood movies shot in Africa that deal with a specifically African subject, so this examination of the role of conflict diamonds in wars such as that in Sierra Leone is worthy and welcome. It is written by Charles Leavitt ("K-PAX") and directed by Edward Zwick ("The Last Samarai") and it was filmed largely in Mozambique with other scenes in South Africa.

    The film does not flinch from depicting some terrible images including child soldiers and limb amputation and raises the question of responsibility of the diamond industry plus governments and media. However, at heart this is an action thriller revolving around three very different characters: African-born white smuggler Danny Archer played by Leonard Di Caprio whose accent here may vacillate somewhat but whose thespian talents continue to grow; Solomon Vandy, a local fisherman and father, portrayed by Benin-born Djimon Hounsou who was so memorable in "Gladiator"; and American journalist and campaigner Maddy Bowen acted by one-time model Jennifer Connelly of "A Beautiful Mind".

    Politically this is a somewhat simplistic offering but its intentions are honourable and it manages to be entertaining as well as instructive.

    "Blue Is The Warmest Colour"

    The winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2013, this three-hour examination of young lesbian love is a quintessentially French film: very long, very slow, intellectual conversations, lots of eating, lots of drinking, lots of smoking, serious, intense, lingering, and then there's the sex. It has the longest and most explicit sex scene that I have seen in some 50 years of viewing movies.

    The story is one of love found and love lost between a teenage schoolgirl Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and a little older art student blue-haired Emma (Léa Seydoux) as directed by Franco-Tunisian Abdellatif Kechiche. The relationship between the actors and director has been complex and controversial: script and scenes evolved fluidly as the production proceeded, shooting was prolonged and repetitive (that sex sequence took 10 days), and both women have publicly complained over the tyrannical approach of Kechiche. Then Julie Maroh, who wrote the original graphic novel that inspired the movie, has dismissed this adaptation as a straight person's fantasy of gay love.

    So this is a controversial film at several levels. But the result of all this creative tension is a powerful and compelling work with superb acting by Seydoux and a truly stunning performance from 18 year old Exarchopoulos. The whole film has a naturalistic feel about it, whether the leads are conversing or coupling, and the ambiguous ending seems so right.

    "Blue Jasmine"

    Woodly Allen - now 77 - makes a sparkling return to form in this his 46th film as director. It opens with the eponymous American socialite (Australian Cate Blachett) on a flight from New York to San Francisco, seemingly having a conversation but in reality indulging in a ranting monologue, and it closes in a similar style on a San Francisco park bench.

    In between, we are treated to briliant, Oscar-worthy acting from Blanchett as a woman tottering on the edge of complete mental breakdown as her material world and ridiculous illusions vanish in a terrifing miasma, partly of the making of a financially and sexually venal husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) and partly the result of her own fantasy vision, latterly fuelled by much pill-popping, spirit consumption, and outright lying, laced with much condescension and cynicism.

    Her materialistic values and inveterate duplicity are contrasted with the lifestyle of Ginger (the excellent British Sally Hawkins). Jasmine and Ginger were both adopted and raised as sisters but could hardly be more different. Jasmine's history with her husband and sister are only slowly revealed in a series of flashbacks which serve to underline this nightmare of a car crash in slow motion.

    Ginger's fiance Chili (Bobby Cannavale) is the nearest we see to a decent man and he is lacking intelligence and composure. The rest are either too trusting or utterly untrustworthy. So "Blue Jasmine" is not a great advertisement for the human condition, but it is a movie of great flair and a spectacular central performance.

    "Blue Valentine"

    The title's a clue. "Valentine" - it's a love story. "Blue" - there's a lot of sadness. So this is no rom-com. Indeed mainstream Hollywood rarely produces work as mature and downbeat as this and it is in fact the output of independent director Derek Cianfrance who also co-wrote the script. Both the cinematography and dialogue are very naturalistic, so that the viewer almost feels like an eavesdropper on real conversations and situations.

    Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams - who are credited as executive producers - give marvellously nuanced and heartfelt performances as Dean and Cindy, two young working class Americans from dysfunctional backgrounds, two people who conceive a child and decide to marry but find the relationship really tough to sustain. We first meet them at the point of melt-down but successive flash-backs tell us how they met and married. Here are two good people with no compelling reason to part but not enough in common for both to want to stay together. Painfully realistic.

    "Blue Velvet"

    I've always thought of director David Lynch as too weird for me and, so except for "The Elephant Man (1980) and "Dune" (1984), I've stayed away from his work. However, 20 years after its release, I was persuaded to watch "Blue Velvet" when a friend loaned me the DVD. I wasn't wrong: Lynch, who wrote as well as directed this film, is a man with a strange vision and this movie is a very edgy and deeply disturbing work that does not encourage me to tackle any of his other more recent efforts. I guess my problem is that, while I can take a lot of sex and violence in my cinematic experience, I don't like them together. I do have to accept that this is a stylish work and, in Frank Booth (played by a truly scary Denis Hooper), we have an unforgettable villain. However, in a work that is so dark, the ending is perhaps too conventionally reassuring and familiar.

    "Bobby"

    Robert Altman may now have shuffled off to the great director's chair in the sky, but his hallmark style of multiple storylines and well-known actors has been picked up here by Emilio Estevez who is writer, director and one of the stars of this compelling work which manages to be both hugely entertaining and strikingly political.

    Although there are no less than 22 characters - the majority played by very well-known faces in a star-studded, ensemble piece - all the action occurs on one day (6th June 1968) and in one place (the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles) - the day and the location of the assassination of Robert F Kennedy as he was winning the California Democratic primary in a race that might have taken him back to the White House, this time as president instead of Richard Nixon. Much use of archive footage almost makes RFK himself one of the cast.

    The inter-related stories of the staff and occupants of the hotel are told so well that, by the time the movie reaches its inevitable conclusion, we care about the welfare of the fictional charcters almost as much as we tense up at the knowledge of the senseless slaying of RFK. This is one film where it pays to stay for the credits because there are so many interesting photographs of RFK and other historic characters.

    In one sense, this is probably a work that resonates particularly powerfully with those who were alive at the time (I was 20 but Estevez was only six). On the other hand, the speeches of RFK referenced by Estevez sound astonishingly contemporary, as he laments America's involvement in a foreign war, the growing threat to the environment, the scourge of working-class poverty, and the divisions between racial groups in the USA. If anything, for a general audience, the political messages are bludgeoned a little too strongly in the final set of speech extracts, but this is a minor complaint.

    Martin Sheen, Emilio's father and liberal activist, a man who played John F Kennedy in a television mini-series and fictional president Josiah Barlett in "The West Wing", and one of the wonderful ensemble cast in "Bobby", must be mighty proud of his boy.

    "Body Of Lies"

    Hollywood has given us a stream of movies focused on Islamic fundamentalist terrorism and "Body Of Lies" has nothing original to say on the subject, but it is an entertaining enough couple of hours with cinematography, plot locations, and narrative developments jumping around at a frenetic pace. This is not vintage work from British director Ridley Scott (that would be "Alien" and "Gladiator") but it zips along in the style that he brought to "Black Hawk Down" and "American Gangster".

    Scott always enjoys working with Russell Crowe and here Crowe plays cold and callous CIA controller Ed Hoffman in fine style. His apparent mannequin is agent Roger Ferris, portrayed ably by Leonardo DiCaprio (although he could have done without the goatee beard), but also pulling the strings is Jordanian spy master Hani Pasha (the British Mark Strong). The love interest comes from Iranian actress Golshifteh Farhani who became the first star from Iran to act in a major Hollywood production since the Islamic revolution, an act for which she was banned from leaving her country.

    The film is based on a novel by "Washington Post" columnist David Ignatius and would have benefited from a less messy plot line.

    "The Book Of Eli"

    Like "The Road", this a film set in a post-apocalyptic United States with a man walking all the way to the west coast. For Eli, played by the charismatic Denzel Washington, this is a 30-year journey with little for company except a Bible and a vision and an uncanny ability to survive impossible situations. The cinematography is impressive with atmospheric bleached-out shooting and there are some fine action scenes which combine the ambience of "Mad Max" with the characterisation of a Clint Eastwood-style avenger.

    Non-American audiences though are unlikely to be moved by the heavy religious nature of the message and there is an appalling underuse of talent with Gary Oldman yet again hamming it up as the villain and the likes of Michael Gambon and Frances de la Tour given far too little screen time. If you want to see a futuristic movie about the power of the written word, I recommend "Farenheit 451" whose ending is partially plagiarised by "The Book Of Eli".

    "The Book Of Life"

    It was half term and I was looking after Joshua - the seven year old son of very close family friends - for a few days. He chose this film and wanted to see it in 3D. He had his wishes and he was not disappointed. From producer Guillermo del Toro and director Jorge Gutierrez, this is an animated comedy with a unique visual style - a veritable riot of colours and shapes. Set around the Mexican Day of the Dead, it is the classic love triangle as two boys - Manolo (Diego Luna) and Joaquin (Channing Tatum) - seek the affections of Maria (Zoe Saldana). Somehow, everyone (including Joshua) ends happy.

    "The Book Thief"

    I admired the novel by Markus Zusak which describes the experience of a young girl in wartime Germany but the story works better on the page than on the screen. Many of the ingredients - effective sets and locations, good photography and strong acting - are creditable, but the script is not strong enough and there is insufficient narrative dynamic to make this worthy film the success that British director Brian Perceval and his German crew clearly sought. Young Canadian Sophie Nélisse does well as the central character Liesel Melinger and Australian Geoffrey Rush and Briton Emily Watson are excellent as her adoptive parents, while Roger Allam provides the gentle yet chilling voice of Death. Sadly the fear of Nazism and the magic of books do not come through as powerfully as they should.

    "Borat"

    ... or, to give the movie its full title "Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan". This is genuinely ground-breaking cinema as the most gratuitously offensive work I have seen in over 40 years of film viewing - and yet it is brilliantly inventive in its politically-charged humour with endless visual and verbal gags that hit so many targets right between the eyes. I found it really funny and my wife thought it hysterical, at one point (the naked fight sequence) being in danger of stopping breathing.

    British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen has a huge success here with his portrayal of a Kazakhstan television presenter making a documentary on his examination of American culture and his search for Pamela Anderson. Kazakhstan has no reason to object to this sending up of the nation which can only increase tourism and is as nothing compared to the exposure of the prejudice and hypocrisy of so many sections of American society ranging from fraternity houses to evangelical Christians.

    Footnote: Cohen - who is of course Jewish - seemingly makes a whole succession of anti-Semitic jokes while in reality exposing the ridiculous nature of ant-Jewish prejudice and (I am reliably informed by a Jewish friend), along the way, frequently spouts fluent Hebrew.

    "Bound"

    Few people noticed this film at the time of its release, but it has become particularly interesting as the only work written, produced and directed by the Wachowski brothers (Andy and Larry) before they hit the big time with "The Matrix". From the teasing title, one might think this is a movie involving bondage but, except for one lesbian love scene, there is no overt sex. Husky-voiced Jennifer Tilly ("The Getaway"), a ganster's girlfriend called Violet, and tatooed Gina Gershon ("Showgirls"), a thief known as Corky, form a partnership to defraud mafia henchman Caesar (Joe Paliano) of $2M in this wonderfully stylish thriller with lively camerawork.

    "The Bourne Identity"

    There are echoes here of the 1996 movie "The Long Kiss Goodnight" when Geena Davies plays someone who only gradually discovers that she is a highly trained agent. In this case, it is Matt Damon - as the eponympous Jason Bourne - who has to discover who he is and what he does in a complicated but enjoyable action-filled thriller based on the book by Robert Ludlum. He is assisted by a German free spirit called Marie (played by Franka Potente) who discovers more than she expected when she goes along for the (car) ride. Chris Cooper, Clive Owen and Brian Cox are among those who want Bourne buried. Direction is from Doug Liman, while the screenplay comes from Tony Gilroy.

    "The Bourne Supremacy"

    It's two years later, they are still trying to wipe out Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), and he and we are almost as confused as before with much still unexplained about the CIA's Treadstone operation. Direction this time comes from the British Paul Greengrass, but original director Doug Liman is an executive producer and the writing credits are again split between novelist Robert Ludlum and scriptwriter Tony Gilroy. In this sequel, the action jumps from Goa to Berlin to Moscow (scene of a spectacular car chase) and the camerawork is especially frenetic with plenty of tension and action to entertain. Senior Agency staffer Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) fails to bring Bourne in but, in the final sequence, tells him his real name ...

    "The Bourne Ultimatum"

    I saw "The Bourne Identity" (2002) and "The Bourne Supremacy" (2004) on television but enjoyed them so much that I was determined to see the 2007 third segment on the big screen where the furious pacing and visceral violence has full impact. So many trilogies fail to live up to the promise of the original movie and the later works too often look as if they've been tacked on to sweat the asset of the franchise (there's much talk of "the asset" in this movie), but the Bourne films have got better as they've progressed, are neatly linked by characters and plot, and in the end are satisfyingly symmetrical (we open and close the series with a floating body).

    Doug Liman got things off to a commendable start as the original director, but having Paul Greenglass at the helm of the second and third films and Tony Gilroy as a scriptwriter on all three has really paid off. The trade-mark running through streets and over roofs and racing in cars and on bikes (with no regard for traffic rules or laws of gravity) are here again in spades, but most of the locations are new, notably London's Waterloo station (very familar to me) followed in short order by Madrid, Tangier and New York. The dazzling editing, the insistent score and the 169 stunt performers present an enthralling couple of hours.

    I was delighted to see that (like me) Bourne is a "Guardian" reader, but sadly my PC does not work as fast as those at the CIA and I doubt that even the Agency has quite such immediate access to such voluminous data bases (if they do, the 'war on terror' should have been a breeze).

    This time Blackbriar is added to Treadstone, but things gradually become clearer to Bourne, both in terms of his fractured memories and his real enemies. The narrative arc works well as Bourne discovers who are his friends in the Agency and only kills when he really has to do so. As the eponymous ex-CIA black ops agent, Matt Damon exhibits physical and technical resources that are frankly superhuman and the ending could have been stronger, but this is still a thrilling and satisfying piece of cinema.

    "The Bourne Legacy"

    Who would have thought that the Bourne franchise could survive without director Paul Greengrass, actor Matt Damon, and even the Jason Bourne character himself? That it does, and does so rather successfully, is primarily down to Tony Gilroy. He wrote the screenplay for the three previous Bourne movies - "Identity" (2002), "Supremacy" (2004) and "Ultimatum" (2007) - and, five years after we might have thought that the conspiracy had run its course, he's back as both writer and director (for good measure, he also conceived the story).

    OK, it may not have the originality of the earlier works and the final chase sequence (a full 15 minutes) is too long, but I found the plot more intelligible and, in a film with no downtime, the tension and the action are sustained for the full two and a quarter hours, all the way from Alaska to Manila.

    As the great tag line explains: "There was never just one". In the fall-out from the conclusion of "The Bourne Ultimatum", the Defense Department is forced to freeze all its covert black ops programs which involves dispensing with the services of some exceptional assets, but one agent - Outcom 3 or Aaron Cross - wants to stay alive which, to start with, requires him to find a way of coping without his steady supply of ability-enhancing green and blue meds. The rebooting of the franchise works so well because of the casting of Jeremy Renner, an actor of real presence and physicality, as the rogue agent. After more than a decade of solid work, Renner achieved 'overnight' success in his breakthrough movie "The Hurt Locker" and he is now set to be a major action star.

    Cross needs to team up with neurophysicist Dr Marta Shearing who is played by Rachel Weisz, an accomplished actress who can pull off a role which is a lot more than the usual girl along for the ride. Cross's nemesis is Retired Colonel Eric Byer, portrayed chillingly by the ever-able Edward Norton. Even the smaller roles are filled by strong actors and, throughout it all, we have an insistent score by James Newton Howard.

    The critics have been rather dismissive of "The Bourne Legacy", but audiences are enjoying it - and I certainly did.

    "The Boxtrolls"

    There are cute children's films - like "Frozen, the first movie to which I ever took my granddaughter Catrin (then just under three) - and then there is the more challenging kind - like "The Boxtrolls" to which I took her nine months later. We haven't read the source material, the novel "Here Be Monsters!" by Alan Snow, but she knows all about trolls from "Frozen" and other stories and these are very cleverly represented through stop-motion capture by the specialist production company Laika. But it's a little bit scary for young ones, so Catrin held on to my hand most of the film and sat on my lap for the final third.

    For British adults of a certain age, the characters of the town of Cheesebridge look like people from a Gerald Scarfe cartoon and the subterranean habitat of the boxtrolls themselves is like a cross between the worlds of Heath Robinson and Hieronymus Bosch. The voices are very well-done and for me the best of comes from Ben Kingsley as a hard bad guy and Richard Ayoade as a soft bad guy. Stay for the credits when early on there is a little bit of existential angst on display from two of the stop motion characters.

    "The Boy With The Striped Pyjamas"

    The Holocaust is always a hugely sensitive topic for storytelling, even more so when the perspective is that of a child. It was done successfully, if unconventionally, with the Italian work "Life Is Sweet". In this case, the source material is a novel by Irish writer John Boyne which has been adapted for the screen and directed by the British Mark Herman.

    For much of the time, one is not sure if this is going to work. All the characters speak with middle-class English accents, including Vera Farmiga who is American, which hardly aids authenticity. Then the central proposition - that the eight year old son (Asa Butterfield) of a German commandant of a concentration camp (David Thewlis) could befriend an inmate of the same age (Jack Scanlon) and not understand anything of what was going on - seems preposterous. Of course, fiction is allowed to depart from reality to examine a central truth and therefore the conclusion of this tale is critical and it is the moving finale that ultimately makes this a powerful and instructive piece of filmmaking.

    "Boyhood"

    Three of my favourite films are "Before Sunrise" (1995), "Before Sunset" (2004) and "Before Midnight" (2013), all written and directed by Richard Linklater, all featuring the same two characters growing up over time, all starring Ethan Hawke as one of those characters, all using naturalistic dialogue as the main narrative device to tell very domestic stories. So I was never going to need any persuading to see "Boyhood", written and directed by Linklater, centred on a boy growing up from five to 18, again starring Hawke, and again using dialogue rather than action to tell the stories and overwhelmingly set in a variety of homes.

    What makes "Boyhood" different from the other three movies, indeed what makes it astonishing, is that this 12 year story was shot in twelve chronological segments over a mere 39 days with the same core actors but it is presented as one integrated whole over two and three quarter hours. There is no overt signalling of the year to year jumps with the viewer left to join up the chapters which proves remarkably easy and even fluid. The commitment of all concerned is simply breathtaking.

    The eponymous Texan boy is Mason played by Ellar Coltrane who proves to be a remarkably subdued and laconic teenager, unremarkable in many ways and yet strangely attractive. His mom is Patricia Arquette who is terrific as a strong woman who neverthless makes some bad choices, starting and finishing as a single parent. Hawke is the birth father who drops in and out of his children's lives with often a greater boyish sense of fun than his offspring. And Mason's sister is portrayed by the director own daughter Lorelie Linklater.

    This is not a film that one can judge by conventional storytelling standards. There is no real beginning, middle and end. We come in at a somewhat arbitrary point, we hang out with the characters for more than a decade of growth and development, and we drop out at a fairly random point (Mason is about to start college but has reached no real decisions about who he is and what he is going to do). As his mother laments towards the end: "I just thought there would be more." This feels less like a feature film, therefore, than a real-life documentary. It is that good.

    "Boys Don't Cry"

    This is a film with an unusual subject and a surprising performance. It is the true story of American transgendered Brandon Teena who was born as a girl but lived as a man - so successfully that a deep relationship with a woman was established but so tragically that it led to a brutal rape and sadistic murder. The astonishingly beautiful Hilary Swank gives such a convincing and sensitive portrayal of Brandon that she rightly won an Academy Award for Best Actress. Chloë Sevigny is excellent too as Brandon's friend and then lover Lana Tisdale, resulting in her own Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The movie was researched for five years by Kimberley Peirce before she co-wrote and directed it - a remarkable and moving achievement.

    Link: Wikipedia page on Brandon Teena click here

    "Bread And Roses"

    Like most films about trade unionism, this one is based on actual events (even though, at the end, it proclaims that everything is fictional). The title comes from the historic slogan of the striking textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1912 and the contemporary storyline is inspired by a three-week strike of janitors in Los Angeles in 1990 which was a turning point in the 'Justice for Janitors' campaign waged by the Service Employees International Union. This is an LA that one never sees in the countless movies shot in the city which show glamour and gangsters but never the under-paid and exploited workers who keep so much of the metropolis going.

    The key characters in the narrative are Mexican sisters: the elder one Rosa (played movingly by Elpidia Carrillo), who already works in the city as a janitor and is struggling with a sick husband and young children, and the younger one Maya (a fiesty Pilar Padilla), whom we first see as an illegal immigrant crossing the US-Mexican border at dead of night. As in "Norma Rae", the workers are encouraged by a white, male, Jewish trade union organiser: in this case, Sam Shapiro (ably played by Adrien Brody). Although not without some humour and drama, the characters in the film are essentially one-dimensional and there is never any doubt where justice lies in this unequal battle between working-class Latinos and middle-class whites.

    The real surprise of the movie is its source. This may be a very American story, but the director Ken Loach and writer Paul Laverty are British and the work was funded by five European countries. Most of the dialogue is in Spanish and sometimes the subtitles are shown against a bright background which makes them difficult to read. But the use of the immigrants' own language certainly adds to the authentity, as does the classic Loach documentary-like style of shooting. Indeed many real-life janitors played small roles and a couple of real-life organisers make appearances.

    "Breaking And Entering"

    How does one choose a film to view? Often it is the subject matter - here the fraught relationship between landscape architect Will and both his partner of 10 years Liv (who has an autistic daughter) and his new lover Amira (who has a thieving son). Sometimes it is the star - in this case, Jude Law who has to choose between his American partner with an obsessive approach to parenthood (Robin Wright Penn) and his Bosnian refugee girlfriend working as a seamstress (Juliette Binoche). Other times it is the director - on this occasion, Anthony Minghella who writes as well as directs as he returns to the north London milieu in which he located "Truly, Madly, Deeply".

    All of these are reasonable reasons for wanting to see "Breaking and Entering", but I confess that it was the supporting French actress Juliette Binoche that drew me to the work. I've been in love with her ever since her first English-language appearance in "The Unbearable Lightness Of Being" in 1988. She is simply beautiful in a bewitching manner, while always convincing as an actress, especially in vulnerable roles (as here).

    This is a multi-layered work in which the title can be taken in three ways: the obvious sense with the robberies perpetrated by Amira's son Miro; the deeper sense with Will's emotional assault on Amira; and still another sense as the middle-class Will and his like invade the traditionally working-class area of Kings Cross.

    Those who need car chases or special effects in their movie experiences should avoid Mighella's parable, but those who value thoughtful and nuanced works will find much to admire here.

    "Brick Lane"

    So many British films are costume dramas or gangster movies that it's a real pleasure to see a work that focuses on the modern and very real challenges of an immigrant community. Where "East Is East" dealt with a Pakistani family and "Bend It Like Beckham" had an Indian focus, "Brick Lane" - based on the Booker-nominated novel by Monica Ali - addresses the life of a teenage girl from a village in Bangladesh (scenes actually shot in a beautiful-looking India) who is married off to a much older compatriot living in the eponymous area of east London.

    So much is fresh and feminine here: most of the roles are for women and newcomer Tannishta Chatterjee, as the central character Nazneen, is excellent, often conveying so much simply with her eyes; Sarah Gavron is assured in her first directing role; the writing credits go to Ali herself and two other women; while the original score comes from Jocelyn Pook and the haunting singing from Natacha Atlas. This is a measured and intimate work that is more about different types of love and religion than it is about the Bangaleshi community itself.

    "Bride And Prejudice"

    Who put the 'B' in "Pride" in the title of Jane Austen's famous novel? Why, Bollywood. Gurinder Chadha, an Indian who has been a long-time resident in London, gave us the wry and amusing "Bhaji On The Beach" and "Bend It Like Beckham" and now co-writes and directs this makeover for a very familiar and very English storyline. Set in India (Amritsar & Goa), the UK (London) and the USA (Los Angeles), it was actually shot mainly in London and Buckinghamshire in order to secure funding from the UK Film Council. However, the treatment is classic Bollywood with lots of singing and dancing and no kissing.

    The Darcy role is taken by smooth New Zealander Martin Henderson, who lacks the brooding passion of the novel's character, while Indian actress Aishwarya Rai portrays the headstrong character of Elizabeth Bennet (here renamed Lalita Bakshi). She really makes the movie beause she is the "Queen of Bollywood", a beautiful former Miss World who can speak seven languages who has already starred in some 40 films. The colourful costumes and exotic locations make up for the lightness of it all.

    "Brideshead Revisited"

    I haven't read Catholic convert Evelyn Waugh's famous 1945 novel or seen Granada's acclaimed 1981 television adaptation. so I approached the story fresh, as indeed will most viewers of this quintissentially England tale of the repressive nature of religion and class. I understand that the adaptation by Andrew Davies and Jeremy Brock has taken some liberties with the orginal, more subtle narrative, but this is inevitable in a work of just 133 minutes compared to the 11 episodes of the television series.

    Directed by the English Julian Jarrold who made "Becoming Jane", the film has many strengths. As well as evocative music, there are wonderful locations in Oxford, Venice, Morocco and above all Castle Howard in North Yorkshire standing in - as in the television version - as the eponymous country house that is almost a character in itself. The script contains some fine lines - often very cutting and very cruel. Above all, there is some accomplished acting, both from veterans Michael Gambon and Emma Thompson as Lord and Lady Marchmain and newcomers Ben Whishaw and Hayley Attwell as their son Sebastian and daughter Julia and Matthew Goode as Charles Ryder, a young artist who falls in love in different ways with both Sebastian and Julia as well as their home and style.

    Sadly, however, ultimately the whole film seems somewhat pedestrian and leaves one feeling strangely cold and disconnected.

    Link: Wikipedia entry on the novel click here

    "Bridesmaids"

    Hollywood is constantly pumping out crude, gross-out comedies aimed at testosterone-charged young men, so it's a change to have a comedy with a good dose of both crudity and grossness aimed at women of an older age demographic. "Bridesmaids" is a chick-flick that will appeal to many guys too and, at its best, it is laugh-out loud funny. At its core is Kristen Wiig as maid of honour Annie who gives a marvellously naturalistic performance that reminds us of Meg Ryan at her height ("When Harry Met Sally") and Wiig - familiar to American viewers but unknown outside North America - also deserves credit as co-author of the often sharp and acerbic script.

    But is this a movie that feminists will find appealling? I'm glad you asked. On the one hand, there are six leading roles for women actors here and ultimately the film is about female friendship and support. We avoid the bums and breasts that would be in a male-oriented gross-out, but lovemaking scenes in which the woman wears her underwear look ridiculous and we still have vomit and faeces. On the other hand, a narrative that places at its heart the notion that the marriage ceremony and all that leads up to it is the height of any woman's aspiration and consequently worth throwing inordinate amounts of energy, time and money at is deeply unfeminist. And the only developed male character in the movie is an Irish state patrolman of unbelievable gentleness.

    "Bridge Of Spies"

    A thriller co-authored by Joel and Ethan Coen, directed by Steven Spielberg and, starring Tom Hanks promises much - and fortunately "Bridge Of Spies" delivers. For all this super-talent, what gives the movie such power is the compelling story which is largely inspired by true events. At the height of the Cold War in 1962, an insurance lawyer called James Donovan (Hanks) - without any specific status or authority and suffering from a head cold during the key negotiations - managed to facilitate a spy swap. In return for downed U2 pilot Gary Powers, (and an unfortunate American student detained in East Berlin), the Americans agreed to hand over convicted Soviet KGB spy Rudolf Abel, the physical exchange of the actual spies taking place on Glienicke Bridge (hence the title of the movie echoing that other bridge in Venice).

    This is a great role for Hanks who plays the kind of decent American that is rare in the movies these days, an amicable lawyer who is willing to offer Abel a legal defence and gives a CIA operative a mini-lecture on the need to honour "the rule book" that is the US Constitution. In effect, Donovan is the bridge between Abel and Powers and the film cleverly tells the spies'stories in parallel - two dedicated state servants who become lonely prisoners whose only physical connection is a few seconds passing one another on a snowy bridge without a word exchanged between them. Abel is played by the outstanding British actor Mark Rylance who, as he did in his portrayal of Thomas Cromwell on BBC television, ushers a laconic, wry and understated persona (although his accent rather wanders).

    It is a tribute to the sharp (and sometimes amusing) script - co-authored by British dramatist Matt Charmian - that, although we know how the mission will end, it is still a gripping tale. Thanks to cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, the film looks good with a lot of attention to period detail, but there are a couple of contemporary political messages here. The first is clear: in the face of a war (whether the cold war or the war on terror), we should not abandon our "rulebook" (that is, our protection of liberty). The other message might be unintentional: just as the East Germans build a wall and fortifications to prevent their citizens from seeking freedom and prosperity in the West, so Europe today - but notably not Germany itself - is erecting fences to prevent Syrian and other refugees from their efforts to flee another form of totalitarian rule.

    Link: Wikipedia page on James Donovan click here

    "Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason"

    Saturday evening. Go to north London cinema to see new BJ movie with latest flame (OK, wife of 22 years) and best friends Ivan and Ros (their idea). Gap between two films: for us - three years; for Bridget - six weeks or (as she puts it so delicately) "71 ecstatic shags" (that's some going - or coming). Same trio: Colin Firth (g.), Hugh Grant (v.g.), Renée Zellweger (v.v.g.). But also same silly scenario - like second layer of box of chocs with same flavour and same shapes. Only new character: Jacinda Barrett - too little screen time and body weight. Best bit: law society dinner quiz. Worst bit: tasteless Thailand prison sequence. Bridget wiggles and wobbles, audience giggles and gobbles.

    "Bridget Jones's Baby"

    Six years after the wonderful Renée Zellweger last made a movie and 12 years after the last Bridget Jones' escapade, the actress returns in a role which she has made utterly her own in a third outing for the eponymous London singleton and again Zellweger impressively masters an English accent and manages to make her klutzy character totally endearing. The plot is unoriginal (a "Mamma Mia!"-style doubt over the paternity of her baby), the outcome is rarely in doubt, and some of the jokes are old, but this is unquestionably a better film than "The Edge Of Reason" and I actually laughed more than for the original "Diary". Some of the best lines go to co-writer Emma Thompson as Bridget's doctor, but the funniest collection of visual gags - a rush to the hospital for the imminent birth - is shared between Zellweger and her two suitors played by the very British Colin Firth and the American Patrick Demsey.

    "Bridget Jones's Diary"

    I found the eponymous heroine of Helen Fielding's best-selling novel a rather pathetic and even sad character. In this movie version, Renée Zellweger turns her into a more endearing personage and it is amazing that the Texan-born actress was willing to put on so much weight and was so capable of mastering a middle-class English accent. The jokes start from the very beginning and don't finish until mid-way through the closing credits, but they simply aren't good enough to make you laugh rather than merely smile.

    Link: my review of the book click here

    "Bright Star"

    The title is the same as that of perhaps the most famous composition by the English Romantic poet John Keats and it is commonly assumed that the final version of the poem was inspired by his great love Fanny Brawne. Here the young British actor Ben Wishaw gives a convincing portrait of the aspiring but sick poet, while the beguiling Australian actress Abbie Cornish effects a fine English accent as his muse.

    The real credit for this unusual and difficult choice of movie subject has to go to New Zealander Jane Campion who - as with the superb "The Piano" - is both writer and director. Shot in England, the photography is beautiful, the costumes are magnificent, and the poetry (six works are quoted) is - while not easy - wonderfully lyrical.

    "Bright Star" will not be to everyone's taste seeming to many to be slow and laborious, but the discerning viewer will find this elegiac work a small gem.

    Links:
    biography of John Keats click here
    text of the poem "Bright Star" click here

    "Brokeback Mountain"

    Ang Lee is a uniquely accomplished director who has produced a succession of distinguished films which encompass an astonishing range of genres. Following fine work in his homeland of Taiwan such as "Eat Drink, Man Woman", he has made the period drama "Sense And Sensibility", the examination of family angst "The Ice Storm", an unusual western "Ride With The Devil", the wonderful 'wu xia' work "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", the comic book fantasy "Hulk" (a rare failure), and now an anguished study of homosexuality between two modern-day cowboys in his latest triumph "Brokeback Mountain".

    It is based on a short story written by Annie Proulx for the "New Yorker" in 1997 but commences in 1963. Located in Wyoming, USA but shot in Alberta, Canada, the scenery is stunning, even down to the cloud formations. Jack Gyllenhaal is the attractive, confident Jack Twist, while Heath ledger is the rougher, brooding, laconic Ennis del Mar - two men who have known little affection in their lives until an unexpected turn of events while they are tending sheep on the eponymous hillside. It is a relationship that struggles over two decades, even while both men marry and become fathers. The love and the pain, both between the two men and between them and their wives, is handled with great sensitivity and pathos, leaving the viewer saddened and moved.

    "Brooklyn"

    This gem of a movie is very quiet yet powerfully emotional with a fine central performance and a convincing sense of period. Adapted from Colm Tóibin's novel by fellow writer Nick Hornby, this is the early 1950s experience of small town Irish girl Eilis (Saoirse Ronan who coincidentally was born in New York) who leaves the island and sails to a new life in New York, subsequently to find herself sought by two young men, Italian-American Tony (Emory Cohen) and Irishman Jim (Domhnall Gleeson).

    All the performances are perfectly pitched with delightful cameos from Jim Broadbent and Juli Walters, but this is the movie that makes a star of Ronan. In "Atonement", she was convincing but slightly odd-looking in a small but pivotal role; in Hanna", she was accomplished as the eponymous robotic assassin who had more action than words; but here she is simply sublime, conveying beautifully the transition from mousy and introvert immigrant to sweet and confident lover.

    If there is a weakness in the film, it is the rather sudden and simple resolution of the central conflict but, that apart, this is an essentially flawless and immensely satisfying work.

    "Bruce Almighty"

    I've not been a particular fan of Jim Carrey. Nothing would have induced me to see the "Ace Ventura" films, but I enjoyed his performances in "The Mask" and "The Truman Show" and he's been growing on me through television interviews. There is no doubting that the buffet-haired, plastic-faced, motor-mouthed one is a rare, if manic, talent and this movie is a showcase for his wacky style which sadly under-utilises Morgan Freeman and Jennifer Aniston as God and girlfriend respectively.

    As a morality tale of a man who has God's powers for a week, there are some really funny scenes here (such as the Moses-inspired parting of the red soup), but the plotline is far too thin and shmaltzy. It seems that - as in "Groundhog Day" - the conservative message is that we should be content with our lot, even if that 'only' means being a reporter of bizarre community stories on a local television station.

    "Brüno"

    This is the third movie from Sacha Baron Cohen, the very talented and utterly outrageous British comedian who has the unlikely background of an upbringing with Orthodox Jewish parents and an education at Cambridge University. "Ali G Indahouse" held little appeal for me but "Borat" was a sensation, representing truly ground-breaking humour. Whereas "Borat" sent up xenophobia in savagely effective style with the eccentric, dark man from Kazakhstan, "Brüno" seeks to do the same with homophobia in the form of the gay, blond boy from Austria - both seemingly endearing, innocent, inquiring souls.

    There are some wonderful scenes here - I especially liked the 'exposure' of the Christian "gay converters" and the concluding 'fight' scene - but "Brüno" does not hit the mark as much as "Borat" did for several reasons. "Borat" was a brilliantly original piece of film-making whereas this is essentially a retread with the same style and some of the same targets (notably gullible Americans). The focus on the anal aspect of the homosexual lifestyle hardly does justice to being gay and is often so outlandish that it would offend its targets even if it was heterosexual practice that was being parodied.

    In short, "Brüno" is so, so - more schadenfreude than wunderbar.

    "Buena Vista Social Club"

    The Buena Vista Social Club was originally a location in Havana that achieved local fame in the 1940s, but this is the film that, almost five decades after most of the performers were largely came out to wide acclaim, but it was only in 2008 - after a wonderful visit to Cuba - that I finaly got around to viewing it.

    The movie is a mixture of a recording made in Havana by Cuban musician Juan de Marcos González and American guitarist Ry Cooder and concerts by the performers in Amsterdam and New York in 1998. At the time, the oldest participants were in their ninties so, by the time, I saw the work, some were already dead.

    The narrative could have been smoother and clearer, but this award-winning documentary scores because of the sheer exuberance of the Cuban music it features and the remarkable cast of immensely talented characters whose work it revives and celebrates. In short, a triumph that has profoundly changed the lives of the musicians and introduced their music to a new audience.

    Link: Wikipedia page click here

    "Burn After Reading"

    Wonderfully quirky characters played by sparkingly talented actors pulse through a narrative on the interconnectedness and happenstance nature of life in this combination of tense thriller and black comedy written , produced and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen.

    It all starts with the resignation of CIA analyst Osborne Cox (a truly scary and foulmouthed John Malkovich) who is married to Katie (cold and calculating Tilda Swinton) who is having an affair with federal agent Harry Pfarrer (a dark-bearded George Clooney). This would make for an odd enough cast but then we have the three staff of the Hardbodies Fitness Center: Chad Feldheimer (a blond=streaked Brad Pitt) who thinks that he can extort Cox, Linda Litzke (an edgy Frances Dormand) who would like a share of the proceeds for a series of cosmetic operations, and their boss Ted Treffon (Richard Jenkins) who really cares for Linda just as she is.

    In pursuing their very different objectives, some of these characters are going to reach a sticky end in a tight tale of barely more than one and a half hours. For the Coen brothers, this is a world away from their previous work, "No Country For Old Men", and a successful and entertaining return to some of the territory traversed by "Fargo" in 1996.

    "The Butler"

    This hugely ambitious and immensely worthy film attempts, through the experience of the eponymous manservant in the White House, to tell the story of American racial segregation and the civil rights movement that challenged it over three decades. It is "inspired by a true story" which came to light in a "Washington Post" article in November 2008 as the first black President in US history was about to secure his momentous victory.

    The real life butler was Eugene Allen (who spent 34 years in service), but in the film he is called Cecil Gaines and portrayed with understated sensitivity by Forest Whitaker. In her first acting role for a decade a half, Oprah Winfrey is excellent as his long-suffering wife Gloria. This is a movie with lots of roles for black actors, such as Cuba Gooding Jr and David Oyelowo, but there are also many celebrity cameos, especially in the representation - of varied quality - of a succession of Presidents: Eisenehower (Robin Williams), Kennedy (James Marsden), Johnson (Lieb Schreiber), Nixon (John Cusack), and Reagan (Alan Rickman).

    There are echoes here of "Forrest Gump", another movie that sought to narrate social change in America over a period of decades with all sorts of chance encounters by the character of the title but, in that case, we excused the contrivances as part of the humour. Another film that comes to mind is "The Help" where again we had an indictment of racial discrimination in terms that lacked much subtlety or nuance and that all too obvioulsy wore its heart upon its sleeve. In "The Butler", director Lee Daniels and screenwriter Danny Strong strain to do too much and be in too many places and some of the characterisations are stereotypical and a few of the scenes mawkish.

    This is a movie which will play better in its home country than elsewhere but still, in the north-west London cinema where I viewed it, there was a substantial black element in the audience and there was applause at the end. So, for all its flaws as a film, this is cinema with a powerful message.

    "By The Sea"

    Located in a remote resort in France (but shot on Gozo in Malta), this story is located in the 1970s, so no computers or smartphones and lots of smoking and drinking plus a veteran sport car. The focus is almost exclusively on a married couple who clearly have a very strained relationship for a reason which is only explained - and then too briefly - at the very end. The pacing is languid, even soporific, and there is only one person to blame: Angelina Jolie who wrote, directed and stars as an unsympathetic character. Her co-star as husband is her real-life partner at the time Brad Pitt. Sadly this film seems prophetic since Jolie and Pitt split up soon afterwards and both the movie and its afterword seem to echo "Eyes Wide Shut" with then husband and wife Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.

    All reviews by ROGER DARLINGTON.

    Last modified on 2 July 217


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