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FILM REVIEWS: G

Contents

  • "Galaxy Quest"
  • "The Game"
  • "Gangs Of New York"
  • "Gangster Squad"
  • "Gangubai Kathiawadi"
  • "Garden State"
  • "Gemini Man"
  • "Gemma Bovery"
  • "The General's Daughter"
  • "The Gentlemen"
  • "Get Out"
  • "Gettysburg"
  • "The Ghost"
  • "Ghost In The Shell" (1995)
  • "Ghost In The Shell" (2017)
  • "Ghostbusters"
  • "The Gift"
  • "Gifted"
  • "The Girl In The Spider's Web"
  • "Girl, Interrupted"
  • "The Girl On The Train"
  • "The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest"
  • "The Girl Who Played With Fire"
  • "Girl With A Pearl Earring"
  • "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo"
  • "Girlhood"
  • "Gladiator"
  • "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery"
  • "Gloria Bell"
  • "Glorious 39"
  • "Godzilla" (1998)
  • "Godzilla" (2014)
  • "Godzilla vs Kong"
  • "Going In Style"
  • "The Golden Compass"
  • "Gone Girl"
  • "Gone In 60 Seconds"
  • "Good Bye Lenin!"
  • "A Good Day To Die Hard"
  • "Good Kill"
  • "The Good Liar"
  • "Good Luck To You, Leo Grande"
  • "Good Night, And Good Luck"
  • "The Good Nurse"
  • "The Good Shepherd"
  • "A Good Year"
  • "Good Will Hunting"
  • "Gosford Park"
  • "Gran Torino"
  • "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
  • "Gravity"
  • "The Gray Man"
  • "The Great Gatsby"
  • "The Great Wall"
  • "The Greatest Showman"
  • "Green Book"
  • "Green Lantern"
  • "The Green Mile"
  • "Green Zone"
  • "Greenberg"
  • "Greenland"
  • "Groundhog Day"
  • "Guardians Of The Galaxy"
  • "Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2"
  • "Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 3"
  • "The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society"

  • "Galaxy Quest"

    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.

    "The Game"

    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

    "Gangster Squad"

    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. Loosely 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 gangster movies are overwhelmingly male-dominated, but here there are two female roles - taken by Emma Stone as Cohen's squeeze and Mireille Enos as O'Mara's 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.

    "Gangubai Kathiawadi"

    Non-Indian viewers will initially be mystified by the title of this Hindi-language film, but it refers to a real person on whose life the work is loosely based. She is Ganga Jagjivandas Kathiawadi whose story was documented in the book "Mafia Queens Of Mumbai" written by S. Hussain Zaidi. In spite of this true life origin, the movie is preceded by a lengthy disclaimer insisting that it is "not intended to be a biography" and is "not designed to hurt or distain" any individual, community or religion. I guess this sensitivity from the film's producers is because the lead character is a prostitute and the work calls for prostitution and the rights of prostitutes to be respected - a radical position in any country but especially India.

    The same disclaimer calls about viewers to see the film as "for the purpose of entertainment" and this two and a half work does indeed entertain with the essential Bollywood features of a few songs and dances. But this is a superior Bollywood movie with fine acting - including an outstanding titular performance by Alia Bhatt - and some splendid camerawork (the story is set and filmed in Mumbai). It is rare for a Bollywood film to be headed by a female actor and Alia Bhatt must have taken a risk in portraying a prostitute so positively but the outcome is a triumph and highly recommended. Credit too to the director and writer Sanjay Leela Bhansali who was brought up in south Bombay (now Mumbai).

    "Garden State"

    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.

    "Gemini Man"

    Although this movie has had poor reviews, I wanted to see it, partly because I like Will Smith (and you get two of him here) and partly because there was location shooting in Cartagena, Colombia during my visit there last year (the other non-American location - Budapest, Hungary - is familiar to me too).

    Taiwanese director Ang Lee scored a success with the CGI film "The Life Of Pi" and the central plot device here - a brilliant hit man of 51 wants to retire after 72 kills but they send a young clone of him to take him out - had promise. I think the 'youthification' of Smith works very well and some of the action - notably a motorbike chase in Cartagena - is entertaining, but the plotting is weak and the dialogue is clunky.

    "Gemma Bovery"

    In the beginning (1856), there was the classic French novel "Madame Bovary" by Gustave Flaubert of which there have been many film versions in French, English and even Hindi. Then, in 1999, there was an English-language graphic novel "Gemma Bovery" by Posy Simmons which reworked the story into a satirical tale of English expatriates in France.

    Finally, in 2014, we have a (largely) French-language film version of the novel by Luxembourger director Anne Fontaine. The point of view is that of Martin (Fabrice Luchini), an ex-Parisian with something of an obsession for Gustave Flaubert's work, who has settled in a village in Normandy as a baker (lots of gorgeous countryside and delicious bread on display). He becomes overly involved in the life of a British couple who have just moved into the village, Charles Bovery (Jason Flemyng) and his bewitchingly beautiful wife Gemma (Gemma Arterton).

    The success of the film is due to Arterton's looks and acting. Originally Fontaine rejected Arterton for the role because the British actor had starred in another film adaptation of a Posy Simmonds graphic novel, "Tamara Drewe" (2010). Also Arterton didn't speak a word of French when she was cast in the film, but she learned to speak her French lines with the help of her then boyfriend Franklin Ohannessian who also worked on the production. The story is presented as both comedy and drama which might confuse some viewers, but I loved the movie as an under-appreciated gem (sorry for the pun).

    "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 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.

    "The Gentlemen"

    You know what you're getting with Guy Ritchie and this is a quintessentially Guy Ritchie movie: he co-created the story, co-wrote the script, and both produced and directed. So unsurprisingly this crime story, set in London, has a convoluted plot with plenty of violence and bad language plus a fair bit of humour. What makes it particularly entertaining is the casting. Matthew McConaughey - always a class act - is the American with a highly lucrative marijuana business which he wishes to sell. Framing the whole narrative with his own story is a British geezer played by Hugh Grant as you have never seen and heard him before. Supporting cast members include Michelle Dockery from TV series "Downton Abbey" and Colin Farrell from everything. It's all rather silly but diverting fun.

    "Get Out"

    OK, so this is a horror film which is not a genre I normally entertain and I would probably have never seen it if friends had not taken me. But this is a horror film which is as smart as it is scary, featuring a clever plot with some sharp twists, a political satire on liberal views of race, and even some humour. Made on a tiny budget of $4.5M, the movie has been a spectacular success earning over $200M at the box office.

    "Get Out" is the directorial debut of African-American Jordan Peele who also wrote the script and who is an actor and comedian as well as a film-maker. Following an opening sequence which is only explained at the end, we join black Chris (British actor Daniel Kaluuya in a stand-out performance) and his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) on a trip to meet her parents whom we are told are Obama-supporting liberals. So what could possibly go wrong? The title hints that plenty could - and it does in a work that could have been called (except the title has already been used) "There Will Be Blood".

    "Gettysburg"

    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 Ghost"

    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.

    "Ghost In The Shell" (1995)

    After seeing the 2017 Hollywood remake of this Japanese anime classic, I made a point of accessing the original work directed by Mamoru Oshii. The graphics are wonderful and the music is striking, but the plot is more confused that the remake and there is more philosophising and less action. Good to compare and contrast though.

    "Ghost In The Shell" (2017))

    Beginning in 1989, there was a Japanese manga serial by Masamune Shirow. Then in 1995 there was a Japanese anime movie by Mamoru Oshii, said to be one of the best ever in this genre. Now we have a Hollywood remake directed by the British Rupert Sanders. I have no familiarity with the original series or anime work, but I understand that this new film is more conventional but also more accessible - dialling down the philosophical considerations but turning up the action sequences. Certainly this is a visually stunning work which constantly reminds one of "Blade Runner" with its Asiatic urban landscape and ubiquitous advertising.

    Set in the not too distant future, the technology has developed which enables a human brain (the ghost) to be implanted into a robotic body (the shell) providing a combination of intuitive thinking and physical toughness that makes the ideal weapon. Major - played by Scarlett Johansson - is the first of her kind, but she is soon involved in a mission of unexpected danger and revelation. If we have to have a non-Asiatic actor in this role, Johannsen is perfect, following hard on the heels of her previous other-worldly roles in "Lucy" and "Under The Skin" plus - voice only - "Her". As the sexiest cyborg since Eva in "Ex Machina" and the most gymnastic female agent since Trinity in "The Matrix", Major is a force to be reckoned with, but also someone with vulnerabilities as glitches reveal glimpses of her past.

    "Ghost In The Shell" may not be a science-fiction classic, like the aforementioned "Blade Runner" or "The Matrix", but it is a fine addition to the genre which I thoroughly enjoyed. And it's tempted me to seek out the anime version ...

    "Ghostbusters"

    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.

    "The Gift"

    This is absolutely a film from Australian Joel Egerton: he wrote it, co-produced it and directed it as well as starred in it and it is an assured feature directorial debut. This psychological thriller revolves around three characters: married couple Simon and Robyn Callen (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) and Gordon Moseley (Egerton) who went to the same high school as Simon in a suburb of Los Angeles. As the plot reveals more and more, our perception of each of them the changes which presents an acting challenge with Bateman especially rising to that challenge. A satisfying tale of intrigue and revenge.

    "Gifted"

    The title is a reference to seven year old Mary who has outstanding mathematical skills inherited from her British grandmother and American-British mother. When her mother commits suicide, her uncle Frank spirits her off to Florida in an effort to give her a normal life. The narrative may be a bit trite and the conclusion too neat, but this small movie hits some emotional spots and is made by some fine performances. Young Mckenna Grace is amazing as Mary; Chris Evans is a much more low-key and nuanced than in his Captain America role as he plays Mary's uncle; and Lindsay Duncan is very accomplished in the unsympathetic role as Mary's grandmother. African-American Octavia Spencer and comedian Jenny Slate are strong in support turns. Director Marc Webb, fresh from a couple of "Spider-Man" movies, is interested in real human relationships, as he showed with "300 Days Of Summer", and he can be proud of this addition to his canon.

    "The Girl In The Spider's Web"

    Each of the three "Millennium" novels produced by the Swedish crime writer Stieg Larsson before his death was made into a successful Swedish-language film with the mesmerising Noomi Rapace as the vengeful computer hacker Lisbeth Salander. The first book was then made into an English-language film with Rooney Mara as Salander and here we have the fourth book - actually written by David Lagercrantz - and this time Claire Foy is in the eponymous role. Now Foy is a fine actor but, in spite of the tattoos, piercings, haircut and leather outfits, she does not really inhabit the part. Also the movie, while visually dark and striking, has a meandering plot that is full of implausibilities and so it is not surprising that it has been the least well-received of the franchise.

    "Girl, Interrupted"

    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 On The Train"

    I enjoyed Paula Hawkins' accomplished and best-selling novel and looked forward to the screen adaptation. Sadly the location has been shifted from north London to north of New York City and the only concession to the original British locale is to cast British actress Emily Blunt in the lead role as the hard-drinking Rachel who remains an English woman even though in the States. Notwithstanding this unfortunate switch of location, the film follows the book faithfully from a narrative perspective, with initially three points of view and only slowly revealing key information. I have to say that this plotting works better on the page than on the screen but Blunt, as always, is excellent and the work is a more than satisfactory transposition. With the exception of Luke Evans (a Welsh actor who struggles with his American accent), there is a fine support cast and it is pleasing to see Allison Janney ("The West Wing") and, more briefly, Lisa Kudrow ("Friends").

    "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 Scandinavian version of "Silence Of The Lambs".

    Link: the "Millennium" trilogy click here

    "Girlhood"

    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.

    "Gladiator"

    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.

    "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery"

    "Knives Out" was a critical and commercial success and, while I enjoyed it, I found it overrated. Three years later, thanks to Netflix, we have a new murder mystery again written and directed by Rian Johnson. Of course, Benoit Blanc is back as the world's greatest detective, but Daniel Craig is no better at effecting a Southern US accent. The venue switches from an American home to a Greek island and, except for Blanc, all the characters are new, notably a billionaire disrupter played by Edward Norton and a key member of the murder mystery party portrayed by Janelle Monáe. Other party guests are represented by medium profile actors such as Kate Hudson and Dave Bautista and there are no less than nine tiny cameos from the likes of Serena Williams and Hugh Grant.

    So the thespian ensemble and the exotic sets provide plenty of visual entertainment. However, it is all very light and frothy, with much parodying of celebrity culture, as a result of which the whole thing is more about comedy than criminality. The ending especially is just plain silly. But the film seems to be doing well, so I fear that we're in more of this old-fashioned hokum.

    Note: The title "Glass Onion" refers to The Beatles' song from The White Album. The song is enigmatic and therefore it was thought to be appropriate for a murder mystery movie. Director Rian Johnson has expressed his frustration over having to add "A Knives Out Mystery" to the film's title for marketing purposes.

    "Gloria Bell"

    It is not easy, being a person of maturer years who has been single for some time, to start a new relationship and I can testify to that from personal experience. It probably helps if, as a woman in her late 50s, you have the body, the clothes and the confidence of the titular West Coast American played beautifully - in all sense of the word - by Julianne Moore who executive produced the work.

    This is a close English-language remake of the apparently (I haven't seen it) grittier Spanish-language original (the 2013 "Gloria") by Chilean director and co-writer Sebastián Lelio. All the male characters in this movie - notably Gloria's lover Arnold (John Turturro) - are weak, vain and deeply flawed but, with the aid of music (there is a great soundtrack of 1970s ballads and disco classics) and dancing (we start and finish on the dance floor) and a little help from her elderly mother, Gloria survives so well that the Laura Branigan song at the finale becomes a feminist anthem.

    "Glorious 39"

    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.

    "Godzilla" (1998)

    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 familiar Manhattan sights including the Flat Iron Building, the Chrysler Building, Madison Square Garden and Brooklyn Bridge, but the city suffers as much as the audience.

    "Godzilla" (2014)

    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 Francisco 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.

    "Godzilla vs Kong"

    Over the years, I've seen the two American versions of Godzilla and the three versions of Kong, so I was up for a movie pairing these two mega-monsters - and there were some extra factors. It was the end of the third British lockdown of the global pandemic and I was desperate for some cinematic entertainment. It was showing at a local IMAX cinema and, if there's a film that cries out for a huge screen, it's this one. Finally, I was with friends including a 14 year old boy. So, I went for it.

    The acting is mediocre and the dialogue is dire, while the plot is pretty crazy, but the special effects are impressive, the action is non-stop, and the noise is incredible. Prepare for a trip to Hollow Earth, the home world of the Titans, but beware of the strong reverse-gravitational effect. Exciting, huh? No mega-monster movie would be complete without the smashing up of a well-known city and, in this case, the final titanic battle takes place in Hong Kong. The tag line for the movie is "One will fall" and, of course both monsters have their fans - but, don't worry, it all works out and we enjoyed it.

    "Going In Style"

    There are very few films that feature older characters in main roles so I suppose we should commend "Going In Style" for making the effort. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin are all hitting or into their 80s and the three of them are very talented actors who are hardly stretched in this remake of a 1979 heist caper. It's a comedy but with jokes that are too few and too lame and a narrative that is too predictable and lacking in any edge, but it's entertaining enough if expectations are not too elevated and at least it only runs to 96 minutes.

    I confess that I would never have gone to the cinema to see this movie but, when visiting a good friend in a major London hospital, I found that it was showing to patients and visitors courtesy of a British scheme called Medicinema - slogan 'Feel better with film' - that makes works available at the same time as their theatre release. So maybe not such a bad choice for this particular audience.

    "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.

    Links:
    Philip Pullman's site click here
    my review of the book "Northern Lights" click here

    "Gone Girl"

    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.

    "A Good Day To Die Hard"

    After the considerable success of "Die Hard" (1988) and "Die Hard 2" (1990) and the more restrained reception for "Die Hard With A Vengeance" (1995) and "Die Hard 4.0" (2007), it must have been just too tempting to milk the franchise a bit more with this fifth (and surely final) outing in 2013 by independent-minded and bloody-vested and seemingly indestructible Bruce Willis (now in his late 50s) as New York cop John McClane. I was never going to visit the cinema to this limp offering but, during the 2020 coronavirus lockdown, it turned up on television and I thought that I might as well complete the franchise.

    This film has two differences fron the other four: all the action is set outside the United States (Russia - represented by Hungary) and Willis has to share the billing with (Australian) actor Jai Courtney who plays John McClane's estranged son Jack. But we have the typical deployment of heavy vehicles and military helicopters plus a simply massive bullet-count. The plot is simply risible, most notably when the two McClanes purport to drive overnight from Moscow to Chernobyl (the road distance between these locations is almost 1,000 kms or over 600 miles and they are actually now in different countries!). However, there is one consolation - this is shortest of the "Die Hard" movies (97 minutes).

    "Good Kill"

    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.

    "The Good Liar"

    The oxymoronic nature of the title of this 2019 British film reminded me of "True Lies", the 1994 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Here though the thespian standards are so much higher with the leading roles taken by two of the greatest living British actors, 80 year old Sir Ian McKellen and 74 year old Dame Helen Mirren, making their first appearance together on the screen. He plays a consummate con man, smooth, cunning and ruthless, and she is his latest mark, a recent widow worth millions. But this is a story - based on a novel - in which nobody is exactly who they say they are with lots of revelations before the truth is out in a rather too-neat finale.

    In a concluding line of dialogue, Mirren's character warns children playing in a pond "It's deeper than it looks" - which is true of the film. Having said that, this is not a feature that I would have bothered to see at a cinema but it makes for an entertaining evening on the television.

    "Good Luck To You, Leo Grande"

    When was the last time that you saw a film exploring the sexual desires of a woman in her 50s, that involved a discussion of the female orgasm (or lack of it), that used the word concupiscence in the dialogue? Exactly. So this is a novel film in so many respects. Retired school teacher and widow Nancy Stokes - not her real name - hires Irish sex worker Leo Grande - not his real name either - for a series of encounters in the same hotel room in Norwich. Their conversations are by turns revelatory, insightful, moving, witty, funny, and even at times erotic. Not surprisingly both the writer and the director are women: the British Katy Brand and the Australian Sophie Hyde respectively.

    Emma Thompson (now in her 60s actually) takes the lead role and confirms her status as one of the finest British actresses of her generation. In one particular scene at the end, she displays special courage. Daryl McCormack is excellent as a young man who enjoys his work and does it with sensitivity. The point is that sex is rarely just about body functions. It is about who we are, who we have become, who we want to be. I'm sure that that this enjoyable and thoughtful film will stimulate much discussion among reviewers and viewers and it could easily be transferred to the stage where different actors could interpret these rich roles.

    "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).

    "The Good Nurse"

    This Netflix film is not an easy watch because it is so dark, both literally (so many scenes are in shadow) and narratively (it concerns the deliberate killing of hospital patients by a nurse). The two American characters in the centre of this true life drama are played by Eddie Redmayne as the good nurse Charlie Cullen and Jessica Chastain as fellow nurse Amy, both of whom give fine performances with Chastain in particular demonstrating a palette of emotions.

    At the end we are told that Charlie Cullen was convicted of 29 murders but is thought to have been responsible for around 400 which would make him the most prolific killer in US history. On a smaller scale, it reminds me of a British case currently at trial of the nurse Lucy Letby who is accused of murdering babies in her care.

    "The Good Nurse" raises difficult questions. Are some people evil or should we reserve the word for acts rather than persons? Cullen was really kind to his fellow nurse Amy and her children. Should we blame the perpetrator of the crime or the institutions for which they worked? A succession of hospitals that employed Cullen covered up their concerns to protect their legal liability and public reputation.

    "The Good Shepherd"

    This 2006 movie is something of a cinematic curiosity since it has so much talent on both sides of the camera and yet the outcome is so disappointing.

    It purports to tell the story of the formation by the United States of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during the Second World War and its transformation into the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as the Cold War took hold. Very loosely based on a number of real life American and Russian figures in the espionage world, its leading character is the upright, laconic Edward Wilson played by Matt Damon who does not seem to age in the two-decade narrative. The character is partly based on James Jesus Angleton, who was chief of counterintelligence for the CIA, and partly on covert operations specialist Richard Bissell.

    There is so much talent here. The director is the acclaimed actor Robert De Niro (who has only directed one other film "A Bronx Tale) and he has a cameo role as the head of the OSS. As well as Matt Damon, others in the star-stunned cast list include Angelina Jolie, Alec Baldwin, William Hurt, Joe Pesci John Turturro and Michael Gambon. In spite of this, the film is over long, over complicated and just too leaden. So I cannot really recommend it; yet, if you're a student of cinema, I think that you have to see it.

    "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.

    "Gosford Park"

    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.

    "Gran Torino"

    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 diptych "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 poncho 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."

    "Gravity"

    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 Gray Man"

    This is a film adaptation of a best-selling novel of the same name by Mark Greaney and, since the book is the opening salvo of a (so far) 11-work series, we could well be seeing the start of a new spy film franchise to rival James Bond or Ethan Hunt or Jason Bourne. The CIA assassin in question is gray - or grey as we write in British English - not because he is dull but because he operates in a grey zone. His actual name is Court Gentry (really) but he is better known as Sierra Six (as he explains, 007 was already taken). I'm a massive Ryan Gosling fan and we haven't seen him in a movie for four years ("First Man"), so I'm pleased to find him in the eponymous role and to learn that he's up for sequels. His good looks and laconic manner are perfect for the character.

    It's pleasing to see Billy Bob Thornton as Six's vaguely honourable mentor and Ana de Armas as Six's resourceful fellow spook, but the acting honours here go to Chris Evans who clearly had fun switching from being good guy Captain America to becoming Six's intended nemesis the sociopathic Lloyd Hansen. Smaller roles include Regé-Jean Page ("Bridgerton") and Afre Woodard ("Clemency"). The locations are varied and exotic, the camerawork is swooping and swirling, and the cutting is frenetic in this fast-paced and stylish thriller.

    You'll perhaps know what to expect from "The Gray Man" when you know that it's directed by the Russo brothers (Anthony and Joe) who helmed no less than four Marvel movies. In fact, even with this knowledge, be prepared for a mind-blowing level of action. The narrative is exceptionally thin - another case of a chase for sensitive data on a tiny device - with no twists or surprises or even a romance and there are only very short interludes between one explosive action sequence after another after another. Indeed there are nine-set pieces shoot-ups in a variety of foreign settings, most notably in Prague (my favourite foreign city).

    "The Gray Man" is Netflix's most expensive film so far at a reputed cost of some $200M, but I was determined to see it on the big screen before no doubt I view it again on television. For sheer entertainment, this is hard to beat. Just don't expect any subtlety or sophistication.

    "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".

    "The Great Wall"

    Chinese director Zhang Yimou is a huge talent. I was enormously impressed by his films "House Of Flying Daggers" and "Hero" and, of course, this is the man who was responsible for the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. So expectations were high for "The Great Wall", his first film in the English language and the biggest-ever US/China project with a budget of some £ 120M.

    Sadly the result is a limited success. The best features for me were those which echoed Zhang's earlier films: visually sumptuous shots, wonderful landscapes, bright colours, drum music, massed ranks of armoured men (and this time women), and great fighting sequences.

    What I was not keen on was the emphasis on CGI-generated creatures - the mythical Tao-Tie monsters - and the concessions to a western audience: a weak script with ill-fitting attempts at humour and the inclusion of western stars who seem out of place (Matt Damon and Pedro Tovar who appear to be channeling Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Willem Dafoe whose character seems irrelevant to the plot).

    It's not a disaster, just a disappointment.

    As for the Great Wall of China itself - a structure I've visited at two sections - it ultimately failed to do what it was designed to do and President Donald Trump would do well to take note.

    "The Greatest Showman"

    This musical bio-pic stars Hugh Jackman in the eponymous role as the American impresario P T Barnum and Michelle Williams as his wife Charity; there is another relationship between Barnum's business partner (Zac Efron) and a circus performer (dancer and singer Zendaya); and there is a large cast of multifarious circus characters from Strong Man to Tom Thumb. Above all, however, this movie is about the music and, in the absence of much dialogue, there are plenty of rubustiuous songs.

    On its initial release, "The Greatest Showman" was a slowburner but its army of devoted fans gave it much more prominence and popularity. As someone who does not generally watch musicals, I came late to the movie, only finally catching it when it appeared on television. I confess that for me the music did not make up for the lack of characterisation and narrative and, in the genre of musicals, I much preferred "La La Land".

    "Green Book"

    We are back in the territory of "Driving Miss Daisy" but with a role reversal. Here the driver is white - a traditional, working-class, family-orientated Italian-American - while the passenger is black - an educated and cultured African-American pianist who is a lonely figure unable to identify with either black or white communities. Another major difference is that this film is based on a true story of how in 1962 Tony Lip drove Dr Don Shirley around the American deep south for a series of concerts. The Green Book of the title was a guide to which establishments were prepared to accommodate blacks.

    This is not the kind of work we have come to expect of director and co-writer Peter Farrelly who, with his brother, gave us such less thoughtful movies as "Dumb And Dumber". The examination of race relations is somewhat simplistic and sometimes the characters come across as rather stereotypical, while the Shirley family has challenged the friendship apparently forged on this road trip (the film is based on a book by a relative of Tony Lip).

    Having said all this, the film manages to be worthy while entertaining and presents an uplifting message of how different individuals can change how each sees the world in a manner which brings people together - and, boy, do we need such a message right now. Also the two central performances are outstanding: a paunchy Viggo Mortensen ("The Lord Of The Rings") as Tony and Mahershala Ali ("Moonlight") as Dr Shirley. These are characters for whom we genuinely feel as each traverses the arc of transformation.

    "Green Lantern"

    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" (1999) 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.

    "Green Zone"

    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."

    "Greenberg"

    "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.

    "Greenland"

    In the middle of a global pandemic which has killed millions, here comes a movie featuring an extinction event that wipes out some 75% of all life on Earth. Cheery, eh?

    Of course, there is something of a sub-genre of films involving threats to Earth from cosmic objects. Think of "Meteor" (1979), "Armageddon" and "Deep Impact" (both 1998) plus - my personal favourite - "Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World" (2012). Sadly "Greenland" is not a distinguished addition to the canon.

    Since the budget available to director Ric Roman Waugh ("Angel Has Fallen") was moderate, the special effects are limited in this more character-driven work, but the characters are so stereotypical: a married couple facing difficulties (Gerard Butler and Morena Baccarin), their son who has diabetes and manages to mislay his insulin, and various individuals who either help or hinder their attempt to reach the safety of a special facility in Greenland.

    I suppose as a reminder that we could face greater challenges than Covid-19 and a two-hour diversion from lockdown, it has some entertainment value.

    "Groundhog Day"

    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).

    "Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2"

    In 2014, the original "Guardians" was a surprising hit and, like many others, I was totally won over by its original bunch of characters and fresh tone with rich colours, witty script and zippy action. Three years later, the next outing for these space heroes is again directed and co-written by James Gunn so it is very much a case of back to the future. This sequel does not have the novelty of the initial film but the reprising of style will ensure that it is another massive success. One thing that has changed is that, whereas the first "Guardians" was the break-out role for Chris Pratt as Peter Quill (aka Star-Lord), since then he has become a major star with hits like "Jurassic World" and "Passengers".

    There is a wonderful opening with a background battle between four of our superheroes and a giant squid while - a minor twist on the original lineup - Baby Groot dances to ELO's "Mr Blue Sky", the first of a succession of musical tributes to the 1970s. The closing credits provide much more than the traditional single clip of other Marvel movies with a host of textual and visual tit-bits. In between, the action rarely stops with a luscious use of colour for both characters and sets, but for much of the time I had little idea what was going on. I mean: a demi-god called Ego who has trouble sleeping. Rollover, Freud. Best just to enjoy the ride. "Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 3"

    I'm a loyal fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), so I wasn't going to miss this 32nd contribution to the long-running and ever-sprawling saga. Also the Guardians of the Galaxy (GOTG) characters have always been the funniest in the MCU and this volume was billed as their final one as the current team. There was three years between the first two movies and then six between the last one and this one, so it's been almost a decade in which Quill, Gamora, Drax, Groot and Rocket have become like friends with other many characters joining along the way.

    Director and writer James Gunn always loads up his superhero movies with multiple characters and storylines with acres of action sequences and tons of loud music (often at the same time), so I frequently struggle to follow all that is going on and to remember all the relationships between the different characters but, this time, the central theme is clear and appealing: Rocket - always my favourite character - is dying and to save him the team has to tackle Rocket's creator, a character called the The High Evolutionary. In the process, we are given Rocket's back story and meet more cute animals than you've ever seen in a MCU movie.

    It's mayhem, it's mad, but it's a blast.

    "The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society"

    I literally knew nothing about this film except its quirky title when I sat down to watch it during the lockdown period of the 2020 coronavirus crisis. I imagined that it was some sort of romantic comedy, but found that, while there was romance, it was a much more substantive story about life on the Channel island during the wartime German occupation. The narrative is set immediately after the Second World War in 1946 and involves a writer, Juliet Ashton (delightfully played by Lily James), visiting the island to meet members of the titular society and gradually discovering information - illustrated through flash-backs to the war - about the dreadful conditions and choices faced by the island's occupants during rule by the Wehrmacht.

    Surprisingly, the film is based on a novel written by the American Mary Ann Shaffer together with her niece Annie Barrows. Shaffer was an author, editor, librarian, and bookshop worker and books are a recurrent theme of the story. Also surprisingly, none of the work was shot on Guernsey itself, a beautiful island which I have visited. But the English locations are splendidly used and the attention to wartime clothing, hairstyles and artefacts provide real authenticity. An impressive support cast includes faces which will be well-known to British viewers such as Tom Courtenay, Penelope Wilton and Katherine Parkinson. So, all in all, a little-known film that is a joy to discover.

    All reviews by ROGER DARLINGTON.

    Last modified on 3 March 2024


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