"Galaxy Quest" "The Game" "Gangs Of New York" "Gangster Squad" "Garden State" "The General's Daughter" "Gettysburg" "The Ghost" "Ghostbusters" "The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest" "The Girl Who Played With Fire" "Girl, Interrupted" "Girl With A Pearl Earring" "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" "Girlhood" "Gladiator" "Glorious 39" "Godzilla" (1998) "Godzilla" (2014) "The Golden Compass" "Gone Girl" "Gone In 60 Seconds" "Good Bye Lenin!" "Good Kill" "Good Night, And Good Luck" "A Good Year" "Good Will Hunting" "Gosford Park" "Gran Torino" "The Grand Budapest Hotel" "Gravity" "The Great Gatsby" "Green Lantern" "The Green Mile" "Green Zone" "Greenberg" "Groundhog Day" "Guardians Of The Galaxy"
I love science fiction movies, but I confess that I'm not a great "Star Trek" fan - I find both the television series and the films too ponderous and moralistic and the original cast certainly overstayed their time on the big screen. So it's OK by me to spoof the series, its cast, and its fanatical followers in the inconsequential, but rather entertaining, "Galaxy Quest". Tim Allen is almost touching in the Kirk-type role and the British Alan Rickman brings a lovely dead-pan style to the Spock-alike part. But the revelation is the statuesque Sigourney Weaver. We know that she can do comedy - "Ghostbusters" made that clear - but it took a certain kind of self-deprecating charm to poke gentle fun at her "Alien" role as "The Talented Miss Ripley" by taking on a persona that required her to be both blonde and buxom.
If I tell you that this is from the director of the shocker "Seven", you know that it's not about baseball or basketball. If life was a trial for Franz Kafka, then seemingly for David Fincher it's some sort of game - in both cases, we don't know the rules or the outcome, let alone who's behind it all. Like "Seven", this is a dark work in both visual and narrative terms. Michael Douglas, who is never off the screen, is excellent as the tough investment banker Nicholas van Orton who's approaching his 48th birthday and willing - however reluctantly - to try something novel as a birthday gift from his younger brother Conrad (Sean Penn in a role for which he is too young and under-used). But is this clever entertainment, a financial scam, or something entirely different? We only find out at the end of an inventive thriller with as many twists as a corkscrew.
"Gangs Of New York"
One of the outstanding directors of his generation, Martin Scorese never creates a movie that is less than both interesting and impressive and "Gangs" is both.
Partly it is the unusual subject material: the gangs dominating a vicously violent Five Points distict of New York in 1863 - the largely British & Dutch heritage Natives commanded by Bill 'The Butcher' Cutting and the mainly Irish immigrant Dead Rabbits originally led by 'Priest' Vallon. Partly it is starry cast and the compelling acting - especially a brilliant Daniel Day-Lewis as the utterly chilling 'Butcher' and an impressive Leonardo DiCaprio as Vallon's son Amsterdam, but also Cameron Diaz as Amsterdam's lover, Jim Broadbent as a corrupt political boss, and John C Reilly as an equally corrupt police chief plus a cameo appearance by Liam Neeson as the 'Priest'. Partly - and this is what is seared on the brain - it is the bloody, brutal and often random violence that is visited upon so many of the movie's New York characters at a time when the Civil War was in full flow.
This is not the 'American Dream' as we traditionally envisage it and viewing "Gangs" is not an uplifting experience. It is all shot on sets and this is rather obvious. And it is perhaps longer than it needed have been (almost three hours). But it is still a must-see movie.
Link: the Five Points click here
The title leaves no doubt as to the genre here, but the squad is not one of gangsters but a special team of cops put together to combat them in the Los Angeles of 1949. Looszely based on some actual characters, the idea for an off-the-books team comes from police chief Parker in the form of Nick Nolte, now in his 70s and looking like a block of rough granite. Leader of the unorthodox crew is former war hero John O'Mara (the excellent square-jawed Josh Brolin) and his effective deputy is fresh-faced Jerry Wooters (the ever-cool Ryan Gosling who alone is a reason for viewing the film).
They are out to bring down the brutally cruel Jewish 'Kosher Nostra' crime boss Mickey Cohen who is played so well by a heavily made-up Sean Penn that his performance is almost a caricature. All gangsters movies are overwhelmingly male-dominated, but there are two females roles - taken by Emma Stone as Cohen's squeeze and Mireille Enos as O'Mara pregnant wife - which are brief but strong.
"Gangster Squad" is not up there with "L.A. Confidential" or "The Untouchables" - both of which it owes much to - but it is immensely stylish and always entertaining. The main weakness is its total lack of subtlety: like O'Mara himself, it just charges through the front door all guns blazing and the characters, dialogue and plotting are all standard to the point of comic book.
I confess that I only looked at this 2004 movie because it stars Natalie Portman. I've been a fan since her remarkable performance in "Leon" (1994) and, following her great success in "Black Swan" (2011), I wanted to catch up on some of her earlier work. She gives an assured display here as a cookie youngster. But this is Zach Braff's film - at the age of just 29, he wrote it, he directed it and he takes the lead role as a troubled young man returning to the Garden State of New Jersey (Braff's home state) after a long absence to confront family and friends and in the process discover himself. It's slow and quirky but it picks up pace and spirit to make for a rewarding viewing.
"The General's Daughter"
Like "A Few Good Men", this is an investigation of a murder on an American military base where the top bass simply want a cover up. It is effectively a star vehicle for John Travolta as Paul Brenner from the Army's Criminal Investigation Division and he gives a strong, if one-dimensional, performance as someone who will stand up to anyone, including the General (James Cromwell), to find the truth. James Woods plays one of the many suspects and, thoupways he is simply brilliant. Ultimately I found this film unsettling and unpleasant - although the final credits purport to make the movie a tribute to women in the military, it uses themes of sexual violence in a manner which I found offensive.
Prior to seeing this spectactular movie, I toured the battle site at Gettysburg and I read the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel on which it is based ("The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara), so I suspect that I understood the personalities and the tactics of this decisive conflict of 1863 more than most non-Americans (I am British) which was certainly a help. Originally planned as a mini series for television, thanks to the support of Ted Turner the work had a theatrical release in 1993 in a version lasting over four hours (making it even longer than "Lawrence Of Arabia"). It did not do well at the box office but has been praised by critics.
There is a great deal to admire, notably the huge efforts made to ensure authenticity (with the notable exception of placing the 20th Maine in the line of Pickett's Charge). Much of the film was shot at Gettysburg National Park and over 13,000 Civil War re-enactors volunteered their efforts with their own props and costumes. Visually the movie is stunning, with the defence of Little Round Top and Pickett's Charge providing thrilling cinema, all enhanced by Randy Endelman's rousing score. Most of the casting is spot on, with Jeff Daniels as Laurence Chamberlain and Sam Elliott as John Buford on the Confederate side and Tom Berenger as James Longstreet and Stephen Lang as George Pickett on the Union side all giving fine performances.
But the movie does have weaknesses. The most obvious is the last-minute casting of the normally splendid Martin Sheen as Robert E Lee, an odd choice (he is too short) and an odd portrayal (he comes across as somewhat effete). Another problem is the preponderance of full-scale speeches which sound preachy and slow down the narrative. Finally, for non-Americans and for Americans who are not Civil War enthusiasts, the film really is too long and could have benefited from some sharper editing.
The whole project took some 15 years to bring to fruition, by which time Michael Shaara was dead, but he would have been very happy with this production which follows closely his plotting and uses much of his dialogue. For Ronald F Maxwell, who both wrote and directed this massive enterprise, the movie is a triumph and it will stand as one of the best war films ever made.
The storyline - based on a novel by British writer Robert Harris - has nothing to do with the supernatural; instead the title (in Europe) refers to the ghost writer (the title in the US), ably played by Ewan McGregor disguising his Scottish accent, drafted in to rewrite the memoirs of recently retired British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) who has just been charged with war crimes in the conduct of his government's ant-terror policies. The action is set on America's north-east coast but the film was shot in Germany (including the island of Sylt in the North Sea) with seemingly endless rain-lashed days.
This is a work with a lot of baggage: Harris has written some accomplished (if sometimes formulaic) novels and adapted his own book for the screen which gives it a rather 'by the numbers' feel; Harris famously broke with Tony Blair when the latter took the UK to war over Iraq and this is a thinly-disguised critique of a political leader he once admired; while the director Roman Polanski could never have shot the movie in the United States, where it is set, because he is wanted there on charges of child abuse and indeed had to edit the film while under house arrest in Switzerland.
It is one of those films that works fine at the time, with sustained tension and a final twist that is satisfyingly sudden and dramatic, but once out of the theatre one quickly realises that the plot devices are both contrived and implausible.
I'm not generally keen on remakes - it seems a lazy approach to film-making - so at first I wasn't sure about how to approach a reboot of Ivan Reitman's 1984 "Ghostbusters", but the replacement of the four male eponymous roles by four women was inspired and, in spite of some outrageous online trolling, it works wonderfully. The director (Paul Feig) and two of the stars (Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy) of the comedy hit "Bridesmaids" are reunited and gay Kate McKinnon and black Leslie Jones make up the intrepid quartet who battle all sorts of ghouls in downtown New York.
The script - by Paul Fieg and Katie Dippold - is sharp. I thought that "Bridesmaids" lacked a feminist punch, but this remake of "Ghostbusters" makes some good gender points, notably by casting beefcake Chris Hemsworth in a role reversal piece of eye-candy for the girls as the receptionist Kevin. I had a smile on my face from beginning to end and by the end I mean all the way through the credits where one more cameo awaits those patient enough to stay watching.
I saw this film, about young American women in a private psychiatric hospital in the 1960s, several years after its release, by which time its main stars Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie had exhibited some bizarre behaviour in real life. Indeed an early reference to stealing when one could afford the goods seemed almost prophetic in the case of Ryder. They both give strong performances (Jolie won an Academy Award for best supporting actress) and Whoopi Goldberg and Vanessa Redgrave add to the talent on display in this sensitive and moving work based on the actual experience of Susanna Kaysen (the Ryder character) who is diagnosed as having borderline personality disorder, a controversial description.
"The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest"
This is the Swedish-language film adaptation of the third of the three "Millennium" crime novels (titled "The Aircastle Which Got Blown Up" in the original) penned by the Swedish crusading journalist Stieg Larsson. As with the second segment and the six-part television series, the director is Daniel Alfredson.
Once again Noomi Rapace is utterly compelling as the laconic Lisbeth Salander, unable to overtly express emotion whether to a caring, young doctor or a crusading, middle-aged journalist, and she looks stunning in the final court-room sequences. Michael Nyqvist is still the crumpled, "Millennium" investigator Mikael Blomkvist who takes extraordinary risks for someone who cannot return his love and with someone who does in spite of all.
For me personally, the second film was not quite as outstanding as the first and this final part of the triptych is not as satisfying as either of the other two. Of course, we have the resolution of the mystery (although quite what The Section was up to is confusing) and the nemesis of the bad guys (although the arrest of geriatric former spies is hardly that dramatic), but much of this long work is rather slow and the pacing uneven. Wonder what Hollywood will make of the remakes?
Link: the "Millennium" trilogy click here
"The Girl Who Played With Fire"
This is the Swedish-language film adaptation of the second of the three "Millennium" crime novels by the Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson and it's really essential that one sees "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" first because vital themes are continued. Most middle segments of trilogies lack the bright originality of the first and the satisfying denouement of the last, but this one will certainly hold your attention until the girl kicks the hornet's nest.
In this central segment, Lisbeth Salander (the mesmerising Noomi Rapace) is much more central to the narrative and indeed she and investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) are only physically together for moments, although often in electronic communication and always in emotional connection.
The criminality being investigated by the "Millennium" team is more woman-hating in the form of sex trafficking and again the plot contains some surprises but this time the villains are reminiscent of Bond baddies like Blofeld and Jaws. The violence is not quite as stomach-churning as in the first episode, yet there's still plenty of bone-crunching, blood-splattering action. Lisbeth here is the most death-defying female avenger since The Bride in "Kill Bill Part 2".
Link: the "Millennium" trilogy click here
"Girl With A Pearl Earring"
I've viewed with admiration the luminescent Johannes Vermeer painting in The Hague; I've read with delight the inventive novel by Tracy Chevalier [for review click here]; and now I've seen the magnificent film directed so admirably by Peter Webber. Young Scarlett Johansson, perfectly cast in the eponymous role, is in another work released at the same time ("Lost In Translation") in which she has a charged, but unconsummated, relationship with a middle-aged man. Here it is Colin Firth who - in a more challenging role than he is normally offered - is the Dutch artist, captivated by his maid Griet who clearly understands his creative processes much more than his highly-strung wife (Essie Davis) or his domineering mother-in-law (Judy Parfitt). The scene where Vermeer pierces the girl's ear and draws blood is clearly a metaphor for what does not take place.
Set in Delft in 1665, this co-production was not shot in that location or even Amsterdam but in Luxembourg and it looks simply sensuous. Indeed this is a jewel of a movie with so many sparkling features: the glorious cinematography by the Portuguese Eduardo Serra who makes marvellous use of natural light, the production design by Ben vas Os who captures the detail of 17th century Dutch life, the authentic costume design by Dien van Straalen, the bravely (but properly) sparse dialogue by Olivia Hetreed, and the haunting music by the French Alexandre Desplat. The acting is uniformly impressive and, besides the roles already mentioned, credit should go to Tom Wilkinson in a strong, if unsympathetic, performance as Vermeer's (invented) patron.
Link: web site for book click here
"The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo"
This is the Swedish-language film adaptation of the first of the three "Millennium" crime novels (titled "Men Who Hate Women" in the original) penned by the Swedish crusading journalist Stieg Larsson and published only after his premature death to astonishing worldwide acclaim. The eponymous young anti-heroine is the tattooed and pierced ace hacker, bike rider and bisexual Lisbeth Salander, brilliantly portrayed by Noomi Rapace, who becomes the accomplice of middle-aged, disgraced investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist). Together they work on a crime four decades old: the disappearance of Harriet Vanger from a gathering on the island owned by the powerful and dysfunctional Vanger family.
This is a much colder and darker Sweden - both physically and metaphorically - than the open and tolerant society that we usually imagine and often makes for uncomfortable viewing, especially in scenes of sexual violence. Yet we have no choice but to watch because the narrative is so compelling and twisting and we want to know how the unlikely pairing of Mikael and Lisbeth will work out almost as much as we need to discover who is behind all the sadistic murders and how retribution will be delivered. A Scandanivian version of "Silence Of The Lambs".
Link: the "Millennium" trilogy click here
In 2014, two films with similar titles were released: "Boyhood" and "Girlhood". But they were very different. The first was an American movie, shot over 12 years, with an all-white cast. The second was a French work with a narrative of a few months and a cast almost wholly black. "Girlhood" - which was called "Bande De Filles" in the original French - tells the story of 16 year old Marieme (a remarkable showing by young Karidja Touré) who joins a gang of three other girls in an effort to find some status, only to discover that this is not the life she seeks. Like "Boyhood", there is no real resolution but simply a coming of age. Céline Sciamma - herself white - both wrote and directed this original view of what it means to be young, uneducated and black in France.
When I first started going to the cinema some 40 years ago, the sword-and-sandal saga was a staple part of the repertoire. Many of the films came from Italy and starred the ubiquitous former Mr Universe Steve Reeves who ironically died a few days before the opening in Britain of "Gladiator". Easily the best of these epics was "Spartacus" (1960), but I had thought this type of film long dead before the talented and resourceful Ridley Scott - director of such magnificent work as "Alien", "Blade Runner" and "Thelma And Louise" - decided to revisit (but surely not revive) the genre. The plotting and values of "Gladiator" are decidedly old-fashioned, but the skill and technology deployed to bring it to the screen are state-of-the-art.
The basic storyline is thoroughly familiar to anyone who has seen "The Fall Of The Roman Empire" (1964): following the death of the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius in AD 180, a noble soldier seeks to restore the glory that was Rome in the face of the corruption and brutality fostered by the new, young emperor Commodus. But, whereas "Fall" was very slow and stilted, from the opening battle scene in Germania to the closing combat in the Colosseum, "Gladiator" is simply thrilling. Above all, this is a tribute to Scott who is a consummate film-maker: the photography, the cutting, the sound, the music are all brilliant. Having twice visited the ruins of the Colosseum, I had wondered what it looked like originally and now I believe I know as a result of Scott's computer-generated recreation of the mighty edifice and its visceral exhibition of violence.
Yet the director is well-served by his stable of actors. New Zealand-born Russell Crowe, who first came to the fore in "L.A. Confidential", is inspiring as Maximus, a hero as honourable and laconic as he is brave and resourceful. Plato would have been proud of him, since he believed that the only man fit to rule was one who did not want to do so. Joaquin Phoenix has a deeply unsympathetic role as Commodus but brings immense depth to the evil part. Among the other performers are an unusually venerable Richard Harris as Marcus Aurelius, Derek Jacobi who was so magnificent in the British television series "I, Claudius", and Oliver Reed who drank himself to death during the filming in Malta.
I first came across the captivating young British actress Romola Garai in the 2004 movie "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights". Since then, most of her work has been for television, but she was back on the large screen in the 2009 film "Glorious 39". The '39' refers to 1939 when Britain was on the edge of war with Germany. 'Glorious' relates to both the nature of that year's summer and the affectionate name for Garai's character Anne, the adopted daughter of the aristocratic Keyes family which is headed by an influential Conservative Member of Parliament who is appalled by the notion of the country going to war for the second time in only a couple of decades.
Written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff as a kind of Hitchcockian thriller, this is a work replete with well-known British character actors spanning the age range from Christopher Lee & Julie Christie through Bill Nighy & Jeremy Northam to David Tennant & Eddie Redmayne. With so much talent available, one has a right to expect more than is actually delivered. The plotting is rather silly and often slow and the characterisation somewhat stilted, while the ending is most unsatisfactory. The locations - mostly in Norfolk - are fine though.
German-born director Roland Emmerich is not noted for his subtlety - his previous film was "Independence Day" - and there is nothing subtle about this version of a huge monster ravaging an iconic city, in this case New York. Matthew Broderick struggles to bring some sense to the mayhem, while French actor Jean Reno seems to have wandered into the wrong movie. The script is very poor and the plot almost non-existent, but the special effects are fun in this cross between "King Kong", "Aliens" and "Jurassic Park". There are some familar Manhatten sights including the Flat Iron Building, the Chrysler Building, Madison Square Garden and Brooklyn Bridge, but the city suffers as much as the audience.
Clearly one cannot keep down a monster the size of Godzilla (the name is a combination of two Japanese words meaning 'gorilla' and 'whale'). Since his first appearance in a Japanese movie in 1954, there have been no less than 28 offerings from Toho Studios, while there have now been four American productions: two (1956 and 1985) repackagings of a Japanese film, the ill-fated 1998 version (which was supposed to have been the first of a trilogy), and now this Legendary/Warner Brothers outing.
Let it be said immediately that British director Gareth Edwards has produced a superior film to the mess than we had in 1998 - a well-paced and entertaining thriller. He is helped by advances in technology (the end credits name a vast army of special effects artists) and the co-operation of the US military (the same end credits acknowledge the use of an arsenal of ships and weaponry), but also we have a vaguely understandable plot this time, as San Franscisco rather than New York City is pummelled into the ground. Godzilla looks the part (congratulations to the casting director), but the two MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) look as if they were rejects from the 1997 movie "Starship Troopers".
As two of those in charge of the monster hunt, Ken Watanabe and David Strathairn fit their roles well; and, as a romantic couple in peril, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen are pretty enough; but Sally Hawkins is miscast for a blockbuster movie (and I mean that as a compliment) and there is a criminal underuse of the wonderful French actress Juliette Binoche (as with Jean Reno in the 1998 film, it seems that the producers just wanted to pull in a Gallic audience). For once in a movie, the ending comes at exactly the right point (with no silly coda) and makes it clear that a sequel is likely.
"The Golden Compass"
It was always going to be difficult to bring to the screen the Philip Pullman trilogy "His Dark Materials" because, while the novels are full of characters and images that state-of-the-art CGI could render so effectively, the complex themes present a real challenge for what is essentially an entertainment medium. For those who haven't read the 1,300 pages, it's going to to be difficult to appreciate all that is going on while, for fans of the novels (such as me), anything left out or changed is going to be something of a let down.
It's no wonder then that the film rights were sold 14 years before the first movie hits the screens and that American writer-director Chris Weitz at one stage pulled out of the whole enterprise. But it's been worth it. While not a total success, this is a fine adaptation of the first novel - "Northern Lights" in the UK and "The Golden Compass" in the USA - that must surely lead to the filming of the other two novels.
The casting is excellent. Thirteen year old acting newcomer from Brighton, the oddly-named Dakota Blue Richards, is convincing as the teenage heroine Lyra Belacqua, even if her 'urchin' accent wanders somewhat. Nicole Kidman is brilliant as the icily smooth Mrs Coulter. A bearded Daniel Craig is strong as Lord Asriel. Eva Green has the exotic looks for the witches' leader Serafina Pekkala. Sam Elliott is suitably gravelly as the cowboy aeronaut Lee Scoresby.
But, of course, a fantasy film like this would not work without convincing special effects and, generally speaking, these are first class. The various daemons are well-executed and the giant polar bears - especially the heroic Iorek Byrnison (voiced magisterially by Ian McKellan) - are splendid. Naturally all sort of compromises are necessary to bring a work as complex and controversial as this to the big screen but, to my mind, it is acceptable to turn the Magisterium from not simply a representation of the Catholic Church but to a symbol of all religious and political authoritarianism.
Philip Pullman's site click here
my review of the book "Northern Lights" click here
I love the title: short, punchy, alliterative. It is, of course, the title of the best-selling novel on which it is based. Now, in such cases, I'm never sure whether it is better to see the film first or read the book first. In the end, it comes down to an accident of timing. When you read a novel, you don't know if it will be made into a film; when a film is released, it is too late to read the novel first if you want to see the movie at the cinema. So I haven't read the novel and, in this case, the film screenplay - although written by the author herself Gillian Flynn - apparently has a different ending, so go figure.
Nick and Amy Dunne - played by Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike - have had to relocate from New York to Missouri and have now been married exactly five years, but this is the anniversary from hell when the girl goes and the revelations crash one upon another.
We always knew from as early as "Good Will Hunting" that, given a decent role, Affleck can act and this movie cements his return from mediocrity announced by "Argo". English girl Pike first came to our attention as a Bond girl in "Die Another Day", but always had more to offer and she is simply brilliant as the glacial beauty who calls to mind the main female characters in both "Basic Instinct" and "Fatal Attraction". The movie has somehow been classed as both feminist and misogynist, but what is undeniable is that it offers a strong and complex central female role and that is all too rare in cinema.
Nick moans: "Yes, I loved you and then all we did was resent each other, try to control each other. We caused each other pain." Amy replies: "That's marriage." But this is not your usual marriage and just how unusual becomes ever clearer up until the final moments and for two and a half hours one is mesmerised by the descent into horror. Director David Finch, who shocked us with "Seven" and mystified us with "The Game", has produced a terrific thriller than I will certainty see again. And I guess I'll have to read the book too.
Link: my review of the book click here
"Gone In 60 Seconds"
I always look forward to films produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and movies like "Con Air" and "The Rock" provided great entertainment, but "Gone.." disappointed me. It seemed like an excuse to show flashy cars and yet another prolonged chase sequence with little thought of the need for a plot. Nicolas Cage - the master car thief pulled out of 'retirement' - is at his most languid; fine actors like Robert Duvall and Will Patton are seriously under-utilised; I would have liked to have seen more of Angelina Jolie (I know..); our own Vinnie Jones inexplicably has only one speaking opportunity; and I'm becoming a little tired of the callous villain always being a Brit (this time Christopher Eccleston).
"Good Bye Lenin!"
A little over a decade after its demise, communism in Europe is becoming an historical curiosity. In Prague, there is now a Museum of Communism (next door to a McDonalds) and here we have a German film which satirises the Honecker regime through an inventive storyline set just before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
A middle-aged woman - movingly played by Katrin Sass, a successful actress in the former East Germany - goes into a coma due to a heart attack and, when she resumes consciousness eight months later, her son (Daniel Brühl) is warned that a sudden shock could kill her, so - through increasingly complex contrivances - he has to maintain the fiction for her that communism is still thriving. This requires him not just to disguise, but ultimately to subvert, history by representing the pulling down of the wall as a kindly act by the Communist regime to admit West Germans disillusioned with the excesses of capitalism.
Perhaps one needs to have lived in an East European communist state (or at least to have visited one - as I did) to appreciate the bitterness of some of the humour and certainly this movie has done incredibly well in its native Germany. But anyone can enjoy this work, directed and co-written by Wolfgang Becker, for its mixture of quaint love of a son for his mother and sending up of some of the injustices and indeed absurdities of the former regime. The most memorable visual image is a brief, but somewhat surreal, one involving a statue of Lenin, seemingly bidding farewell to a failed system permeated by waste and deceit.
Sometimes moviemaking can be at its best when it does not simply entertain but poses challenging questions about contemporary issues. "Good Kill" asks us whether it is moral, legal and even effective to use Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (so-called drones) to eliminate assumed terrorists, even when collateral damage (that is, the deaths of non-terrorists) is likely or even certain. These are not academic questions: the use of drones to kill Islamic extremists has been extensive under the Obama administration in the United States and, just before I caught up with this film, my own government in Britain confirmed the use of drones to execute ISIS militants.
We see all the action - surprisingly close up and personal thanks to the amazing military technology - through the eyes of a Las Vegas-based fighter pilot turned drone pilot Major Thomas Egan. He is played by Ethan Hawke who is known for his wordy roles in films like the "Before ..." trilogy and "Boyhood" but here is laconic, showing the pained emotions in his face and movements more than in his few words - especially to his long-suffering wife Molly (January Jones).
New Zealand-born screenwriter-director Andrew Niccol ("Lord Of War") ensures that both sides of the argument are put, but there is no doubt on which side he himself sits. At the end, there is a sequence which gives the viewer some satisfaction, even a thrill, but Niccol has cleverly made us complicit in an act, the like of which we have spent most of the movie certainly questioning and possibly even condemning. "Good Kill" had limited theatrical release and success but it is a brave and honest attempt to make a political movie that raises vital issues.
"Good Night, And Good Luck"
This wordy and worthy film is a homage to veteran CBS newscaster Edward R. Murrow who dared to challenge the hysterical campaign of Senator Joseph McCarthy to find Communist sympathisers in every corner of the post-war American establishment. David Strathairn is wonderful as the fearlessly independent TV presenter who would sign off his pieces with the phrase "Good Night, And Good Luck".
The black and white treatment and the close-up camerawork make this look like a documentary and indeed a good deal of film footage from the time is used which adds to the effect. Such an uncommercial movie could not have been made without George Clooney who directed, co-wrote and stars as Murrow's producer Fred W Friendly. The whole thing was made for a mere $7M.
Other well-known actors contributed to this political statement that television has to be about more than entertainment and advertisers: Robert Downey Jr, Frank Langella, and Jeff Daniels (who some years later headed the cast of "The Newsroom", a TV series inspired by the spirit of Murrow).
"A Good Year"
When one thinks of director Ridley Scott and actor Russell Crowe, one thinks of "Gladiator", but here they are together in a lighthearted piece with comedy and romance and a setting in rural France which is about as far away from centurions and the colosseum as one could imagine. The choice of director is odd because the action movie is clearly his forte, but the casting of Crowe is even odder, although he affects a reasonable British accent and brings a light touch to this tale of tough City shark falling for the charms of the French vineyard and the Gallic restaurant owner (Marion Cotillard) very loosely inspired by Peter Mayle's book "A Year In Provence". It's entertaining enough but give me Maximus any day.
"Good Will Hunting"
This is a life-affirming movie with some excellent dialogue (and a deliciously dirty joke from Minnie Driver), co-written by close friends Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, both of whom star. Damon is the eponymous dysfunctional maths genius, while Affleck is his life-long buddy in the non-aspirational working-class world of south Boston. Stellan Skarsgård, as an MIT maths professor, and his friend Robin Williams, as a psychiatrist with his own problems, try - in their very different ways to rescue Will but, in the process, discover things about themselves and their friendship. Williams is excellent in a role which in some respects reprises his performance in Awakenings, while Damon exhibits a raw young talent as the tortured rebel.
I didn't think that they made films like this anymore, but I'm certainly glad they do because it is a sheer delight. In many ways, it is the quintessential British movie, combining the social satire of the old television series "Upstairs, Downstairs" with the conventions of an Agatha Christie murder mystery, the whole thing populated by a magnificent collection of British character actors. Yet it was directed by the American Robert Altman who has become the master of the ensemble movie, whether it be "The Player" or (less successfully) "Pret-Á-Porter".
Gosford Park - actually Syon House in west London, near where I live - is the stately home of Sir William (Michael Gambon) and Lady Sylvia McCordle (Kristin Scott Thomas) who invite some relations and guests to a shooting party in 1932. Before too long, Sir William has been murdered and writer Julian Fellowes - who gives the cast some wonderful lines in a richly-textured script - ensures that there are plenty of suspects with a whole variety of theoretical motives.
In fact, Sir William is such an unpleasant character that we don't really care that he's been killed and the rites and rituals of the British upper class are dissected with such fascination that we don't care that much who killed him either. But tradition decrees that we have a murderer and a motive and we are given at least one of each.
There are so many fine performances from so many well-known (at least to a British audience) faces - Alan Bates, Jeremy Northam, Charles Dance, Clive Owen, Robert E Grant, Helen Mirren, Emily Watson, and many more - but it is the aged Maggie Smith as the Countess of Trentham who has some of the best lines and ultimately steals the show.
Since "A Fistful Of Dollars" in 1964, Clint Eastwood's body of work as an actor and director is without precedent in volume and accomplishment in the history of Hollywood. After directing only in the triptych "Flags Of Our Fathers" and "Letters From Iwo Jiwa", here he returns to the combined acting and directing (plus producing) of "Million Dollar Baby" and again the core of the movie is the relationship between Eastwood's character and a young person seeking a way in the world.
Now aged 78, Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a Silver Star veteran of Korea who subsequently spent 50 years on the production line at Ford, where he acquired his immaculately-preserved 1972 Gran Torino. Grizzled and growling, he has just lost his beloved wife, is estranged from his two grown-up sons, and has a fractious relationship with his ethnic neighbours, notably the Hmong family next door. There is a lot of anger and racism in this film but, book-ended by funerals, it ultimately manages to be up-lifting and redeeming.
We're told that this will be Eastwood's last acting role (his 45th since adopting the pancho of The Man With No Name) but hopefully we'll still see his directorial work (this being his 29th such outing).
"The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Rarely has a movie looked so good: the compositions and colours make each shot a minor work of art. Rarely has a film had such a constellation of stars: in a fun exercise of 'spot the actor', you should be able to identify a dozen, although one will prove harder than the rest (clue: it's an elderly woman). But then this is a work from the idiosyncratic Wes Anderson who wrote, produced and directed.
The structure is a story within a story within a story and at the heart of this Russian doll is a tale set in a mythical Middle European nation called Zubrowka between the two world wars and focused on Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), the dedicated but eccentric concierge of the eponymous hotel, and his aspiring young bell boy Zero Mustapha (Tony Revolori). In a wonderful cast full of exquisite performances, Fiennes is a revelation. The man who chilled us in "Schindler's List" here shows a remarkable skill in comedic acting.
In a twisting plot of deceit and murder, above all this is a whimsical work from the opening views of the hotel to the final credits (when a little Russian character does a dance). Shot entirely in Germany, many of the scenes were filmed on the stages of the Babelsberg Studios.Footnote: My friend Stephen Locke comments: "The German city of Görlitz where some of the filming was done, including some of the hotel shots (done in an art nouveau former department store), was the home of my great grandfather until he was booted out by the Nazis in 1940 and subsequently murdered."
The title is telling. Set in orbit around the Earth, there is virtually no gravity here but, thanks to a freak accident, very soon the gravity of the situation becomes terrifying. Gravity and oxygen are not the only things in short supply in this film: there are only two characters (played by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) and in consequence not a lot of dialogue but, if there is a paucity of words, there is almost an excess of wonder and drama in this terrific movie from Mexican director Alfonso Cuardón ("Pan's Labyrinth").
Although years in conception, Cuardón - who also co-wrote the script with his son - does not waste time with scene-setting or character exposition on Earth. Immediately we are suspended in space, marvelling at the silence and gloriousness of it all. At the other end of the story, Cuardon does not bother with Hollywood-style codas to lighten the mood - "Gravity" ends exactly when it should. In between, there is never a moment when you are not captivated by what is happening on screen. And, for once, a blockbuster does not overrun its time, coming in at just an hour and a half.
Bullock and Clooney are excellent in portrayal of very different characters who will live or die by the other's decisions. She is Dr Ryan Stone, the mission specialist with no previous time in space who becomes fear personified. He is Matt Kowalski, the space veteran on his last mission who never loses his charm or cool. The crisis they face is so predictable - if, hopefully, unlikely - that it has a name in the scientific community (the Kessler syndrome).
For movie fan like me, there are so many allusions to earlier films: the floating majesty of the opening scene recalls the first view of space in "2001"; when the astronauts are warned by Houston mission control of the impending danger, the voice is that of Ed Harris from "Apollo 13"; when Bullock takes off her bulky space suit, we are inevitably reminded of Sigourney Weaver at the end of "Alien".
I saw "Gravity" at London's newest multiplex - Cineworld at Wembly's London Designer Outlet - and I opted to view in 3D (which i normally avoid) and D-BOX (which I have never experienced before). I can't say that the tilting seat added that much to the enjoyment of the movie, but the 3D was terrific. Not since "Avatar" have I felt that the extra dimension worked so well. I really felt as if I was in space and there is an especially moving moment involving a single tear. Some of the science may be suspect, but the brilliant special effects made it all too real for me.
"The Great Gatsby"
Any movie by Australian director Baz Luhrmann is worth seeing because he has such a distinctive and exuberant style and you have to admire his willingness to be different, even if he is - as the "Guardian" film critic Peter Bradshaw put it - "a man who can't see a nuance without calling security for it to be thrown off his set". In different ways, I enjoyed "Moulin Rouge" and "Australia" and I was prepared to give "The Great Gatsby" a go, in spite of some harsh reviews.
The F Scott Fitzgerald novel of 1925 has been filmed no less than four times before, notably in 1974 when Robert Redford played the plutocrat Jay Gatsby and Mia Farrow was his great love Daisy Buchanan in a restrained interpretation. Of course, Luhrmann does not do restraint and, in this movie, as well as his trademark grandiose sets and extensive CGI, he has shot the work in 3D, but I can only take so much Bazz and for this jazz I chose to see a 2D version, although even then it is very obvious where the 3D was intended to hit you in the eyes.
It is, of course, over the top (most obviously in those huge party scenes in the Gatsby mansion), the framing device of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) in a sanatorium is unnecessary, and the use of non- contemporary music by the likes of Jay-Z often jars. But there are some lavish sets and some gorgeous costumes and the whole thing has undeniable energy. Leonardo di Caprio has both the charm and the menace of Gatsby, while Cary Mulligan as Daisy continues to grown as an international star. Not so much "All that Baz" as "Not that bad".
I'm not a reader of comic books but I enjoy a good super-hero movie and recognise that comics are a rich source of characters for such films. Marvel has given us the likes of Spider-Man, Iron Man, X-Men and Thor, while DC Comics has been racing to catch up with Superman, Batman and now "Green Lantern". Since most of these are franchises, that's one huge battery of super-heroes and new movies inevitably struggle to differentiate themselves and offer something new.
"Green Lantern" is entertaining enough but lacks distinction. Character-wise, it is hardly special. We have the usual alter-ego, a human with childhood issues and a disbelieving girlfriend, although at least Hal Jordan (a lantern-jawed Ryan Reynolds) is a cocky test pilot with 'the right stuff'. We have the familiar evil destroyer which in this case looks strangely like the dust cloud that raced through the streets of New York City after the collapse of the Twin Towers (deliberate?).
Filmed on location in Sector 2814 of the Universe, "Green Lantern" scores in scenes set on the Green Lantern Corps home planet of Oa, but is at its weakest when it tries to be funny. I saw it in 3D which worked well for many sequences - and even for the early credits when a short scene sets us up for a possible sequel.
"The Green Mile"
One is bound to compare "The Green Mile" with "The Shawshank Redemption" (1994): both were written and directed by Frank Darabont, both are based on stories by Stephen King, and both are set in American pre-war prisons. "Mile" has been much more successful at the box office, but it is not as good a film. The acting is uniformly excellent, with another fine performance by Tom Hanks leading the kindest collection of prison warders - with one notable exception - ever seen on celluloid and Michael Clarke Duncan moving as the mystical black giant John Coffey (his initials are not unintentional) accused of murdering two young girls. The script and the direction are so good that one accepts the presence of a performing mouse called Mr Jangles. And there is an important social message about the revolting nature of capital punishment by electrocution. However, in the end, the whole thing is just too sentimental and silly and too long into the bargain. A urinary infection plays a role in the plot and it may well be that, after 3 hours 9 minutes, the toilet is not that far from your mind.
British director Paul Greengrass + American actor Matt Damon = "The Bourne Supremacy", "The Bourne Ultimatum" and now "Green Zone", so we know what to expect here - and we're not disappointed. From the opening seconds, we're into the action with the trademark Greengrass 'in the action' frenetic camerawork and sharp editing. Although the film is said to be inspired by the non-fiction book "Imperial Life In The Emerald City" by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, a journalist for The Washington Post, the conspiratorial storyline is the invention of Greengrass who developed the original script.
If the tension isn't as excruciating at that other Iraq movie "The Hurt Locker", at least "Green Zone" has a narrative and poses some questions, hard questions that many American viewers would probably were rather not aired: what was the source of the 'intelligence' that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction? why was the source so readily believed when the evidence was so thin? could the bloody insurgency which followed the relatively easy initial occupation have been avoided if the Americans had been willing to work with elements of the Iraqi army?
See the movie and think about the issues. As a central Iraqi character puts it: "It's not up to you to determine what happens in this country."
"Hurt people hurt people" mid-20s Florence Marr (Greta Gerwig) tells 40-ish Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) in this quirky movie with a lot of psychological hurt although not without whimsical humour. Florence has just come out of a relationship and is struggling to become a ballad singer, while suddenly finding a personal problem she never expected. Roger has just emerged from a breakdown, having long ago blown his chance of a career as a rock musician, along the way breaking relationships with his wife and fellow band members. The unlikely pairing comes about when Florence, a home help to a wealthy Los Angeles family, finds herself in the company of Roger who is house-sitting while the family is abroad. This was probably supposed to be Stiller's movie and it is a rare pleasure to see him in a non-comic role. But in reality this is Gerwig's film - she is so natural and engaging.There is probably an element of autobiography here - although we don't know how much - because director Noah Baumbach co-wrote the script with his wife Jennifer Jason Leigh (who has a small role as Greenberg's ex wife). Like Greenberg's life (he tells people, that he is trying to "do nothing"), the film has no plot and no resolution with a sudden and very open ending but, in the same way that Florence tells Roger "You like me more than you think you do", perhaps you'll like the movie more than you think you will.
An acerbic and irascible weatherman, played by Bill Murray, is required once more to cover the odd tradition of the even-odder named Punxsutawney in Pennsylvania whereby each February 2 an attempt is made to predict the onset of spring with the aid of a furry friend. Except this time, he finds himself in a time loop, endlessly repeating the same 24 hours. In this inventive comedy that is a kind of latter-day version of "It's A Wonderful Life", he can either go crazy as he descends further into the nightmare or he can learn to become a better man and win the heart of TV producer Andie MacDowell. No prizes for guessing which, but it's all done with a lot of fun and some charm.
"Guardian Of The Galaxy"
It really shouldn't work: a sci-fi, super-hero movie with an utterly bizarre set of five characters - the guardians of the title. There's Quill (Chris Pratt), the only human, an Indiana Jones/Hans Solo type with a devil-may-care attitude to all danger; next up we have Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a green-skinned woman with special martial skills who seems to have wandered in from the set of "Avatar"; then there's Drax (Dave Bautista) with huge muscles, multi-coloured skin and a habit of taking comments literally; even more outrageously we have Groot (Vin Diesel in motion-capture), a tree - yes, a tree - with lots of branches but only a three-word vocabulary (remind you of Chewbacca?); and finally - my favourite - there's a talking racoon with attitude called Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a little fella with some BIG guns.
And yet, work it does - but how? Well, visually it's an absolute treat - different worlds, buildings, vehicles and weapons, the magic of deep space, and lots and lots of colour. I saw the film in 3D on an IMAX screen and it sucked me in. Plot-wise, it's all a bit confusing - lots of complicated names and something to do with a mysterious metal orb - but the whole thing zings along so speedily, it just doesn't matter. Perhaps, above all, it is quite simply fun - it is a rollicking escapade with lots of humorous one-liners and funny situations. At the end of the credits (as well as the usual extra clip in Marvel movies), we have an assurance that no trees were harmed in the making of the film as well as the promise that the guardians will be back (I'll be waiting).
All reviews by ROGER DARLINGTON.
Last modified on 21 July 2016
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