"I Am Legend" "I, Daniel Blake" "I Give It A Year" "The Ides Of March" "If Only" "The Illusionist" "The Imitation Game" "The Impossible" "In Bruges" "In Darkness" "In Her Shoes" "In The Cut" "In The Loop" "In The Mood For Love" "In The Shadow Of The Moon" "In This World" "Incendies" "Inception" "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power" "An Inconvenient Truth" "Independence Day: Resurgence" "Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull" "Infernal Affairs" "Inferno" "Inglourious Basterds" "Inside I'm Dancing" "Inside Out" "The Insider" "Insomnia" "Insurgent" "The Intern" "The International" "The Interpreter" "Interstellar" "Into The Arms Of Strangers" "Intolerable Cruelty" "Invictus" "The Ipcress File" "Iris" "The Iron Lady" "Ironman" "Ironman 2" "Ironman 3" "I, Robot" "The Island" "Isle Of Dogs" "It Happened One Night" "It's Complicated" "I've Loved You So Long"
"I Am Legend"
The 1954 sci-fi/vampire novel "I Am Legend" by Richard Matheson has now been filmed three times: as "The Last Man On Earth" in 1964 originally scripted by Matheson himself (which I have never seen), as "The Omega Man" in 1971 without the vampire elements (which I have viewed three times), and now with the original title and expensive sets and special effects. This time the seemingly sole survivor of the worldwide pandemic Robert Neville is played by Will Smith who is an actor with real charisma and charm and considerable box office appeal who has beefed himself up for the role.
The main strength of this version is the location shots in a deserted New York City (a move from the Los Angeles of the book and earlier films) and, although the filming of these scenes apparently caused traffic chaos and much anger for local residents, they chillingly set the tone for this dystopian thriller. To see the silent streets around Times Square or South Street Seaport or the lone scientist fishing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art or playing golf on the "USS Intrepid" is to view this heaving metropolis as we have never experienced it before. The German shepherd dog who is Neville's sole companion deserves an honourable mention for showing greater thespian skills than most of the extras and stunt men.
The principal weakness of the movie, however, is the realisation of the surviving victims of the virus. The CGI characters are almost as silly as they are scary but, above all, they are presented as more animalistic than human. "The Omega Man" handled these characters much better presenting them as sad as well as scary. The other serious fault is the lack of clarity in the narrative - at times, it is simply unclear what is happening and why and a longer director's cut would be welcome. Finally the references to Ground Zero and God may play well with American audiences but will not be so resonant to audiences elsewhere in the world.
"I, Daniel Blake"
British director Ken Loach – now aged 80 – is a film-maker with singular focus and talent. Nobody else would make a work about the benefits system with such a personal style and powerful impact. Like so many of his films, the acting and dialogue are so naturalistic that the work could almost be a documentary. Daniel Blake is a carpenter in Newcastle who has suffered the twin blows of bereavement and heart disease. He finds himself caught in the cruel benefits trap whereby his doctor judges him unfit for work but he is denied the Employment & Support Allowance, while the state tells him that he is for enough to work but he has neither the online skills to participate in the jobs market or the physical ability to take on a job.
He meets Londoner Katie, mother of two children, who is in a trap of her own. Her mother and friends are in London but she cannot afford to live there and has relocated to the north-east where the vagaries of the benefits system force her to resort to a food bank and worse. These are two souls who are both financially and materially on the precipice. The unlikely pairing of Daniel and Katie, brilliantly played by Dave Johns and Hayley Squires, is the kind heart of this otherwise searing portrayal of modern-day poverty in one of the richest countries of the world.
Like Daniel, a friend of mine went for a medical assessment (which I attended with him), following which he was refused the Employment & Support Allowance. Like Daniel, my friends appealed against the unfair decision. I spoke at the appeal which he won. Daniel, was not so fortunate. So I know at first hand that this film is a fair, if polemical, representation of what is actually happening and that any of us – in the face of one or two twists of fate – could be in that position.
In the famous movie “Spartacus”, the followers of the eponymous leader of the slave revolt cry out “”I’m Spartacus”. At the conclusion of “”I, Daniel Blake”, I wanted to scream out “I’m Daniel”.
"I Give It A Year"
The rom-com is such a commonplace genre that one has to work hard to come up with a new angle and this one is certainly more com than rom, starting where many finish with the marriage and then - like "Hope Springs" - examining how a partner's personality and habits can really irritate and annoy. At least the American couple in "Hope Springs" had given it a good shot and reached their 60s together but, as the title suggests, in this film it's downhill from the start and marriage is often represented as not so much a word as a sentence.
Written and directed by Londoner Dan Mazer and set in his (and my) home city, the English couple in question are portrayed by Rafe Spall and Rose Byrne (actually an Australian although many people think she is American because of the likes of "Bridesmaids") and their relationship is challenged by two Americans played by Simon Baker (actually another Australian) and Anna Faris, while some of the crudest lines are delivered by Stephen Merchant of "The Office" fame. This is a movie with lots of chuckles but few laugh-out-loud moments that reminds us that sadly marriage is not always love actually.
"The Ides Of March"
In one sense, this is George Clooney's film and I have been a fan of his since forever. Not only does he direct (his fourth such outing), he is co-producer and co-writer as well as taking a lead role as the charismatic and liberal contender to win the Democratic nomination for the White House. In another sense, this is Ryan Gosling's movie and I've been impressed by him since "Blue Valentine" and especially "Drive". He is the face we see first and last in this story and he plays the pivotal character, the idealistic press officer to the candidate. But there is even more acting talent on display, notably Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti who are both terrific as heads of campaign for rival Democratic candidates in the key primary of Ohio in the melting snows of March.
What attracted such a stellar cast and gives them such a vehicle to shine is a sharp script, based on a play by co-writer Beau Willimon who was himself once a key aide to a political candidate (Howard Dean). The play was called "Farragut North" which is the nearest metro station in Washington DC to the hub of lobbyist organisations in the capital. For an international audience, "The Ides Of March" works better as a title, giving us not just a calendar reference but a clear indication that we are going to experience more than one act of betrayal.
This is no cinematic equivalent of "The West Wing", my all-time favourite television series. The small-screen team may have fallen short and even messed up on occasions but were fundamentally decent and honourable political operatives. In the more cynical "The Ides Of March", everyone is compelled sooner or later to make compromises which represent an abandonment of principles. The plot details do not bear too much post-viewing analysis, but this is an intelligent and serious work that captures some of the flavour of American political campaigning and the pressures to sacrifice means for ends faced by decision-makers everywhere. "If Only"
I have a soft spot for romantic comedies and this one has the added advantages of being set in my own city of London with scenes from the Notting Hill carnival - and featuring the delightful British actress Lena Headey and the delectable Spanish actress Penélope Cruz (in her first English-speaking role). Like "Sliding Doors" which came out about the same time and is set in the same city, it centres on a double scenario in the love stakes, but bug-eyed Glaswegian Douglas Henshall does not have the charm of fellow Scot John Hannah and the tone of this movie is altogether sharper. Watch out for "If Only" appearing under other titles including "The Man With Rain In His Shoes" and "Twice Upon A Yesterday".
Adapted from a short story by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Steven Millhauser, this is the kind of accomplished and classily-shot but understated movie that I suspect more people will see on DVD and television than at the cinema. Essentially it is a passionate love story, set in the Austro-Hungarian Empire of the late 19th century, between the eponymous magic man Eisenhaum (Edward Norton) and the beautiful and aristocratic Sophie (Jessica Biel). Attempting to block such a union is the Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell) and his intelligent police inspector Uhl (an able performance from Paul Giamatti).
The illusions are integral to both the look and narrative of the film and the great illusionist Ricky Jay was technical adviser on the work by director Neil Burger, as he was on the recently-released movie "The Prestige" (directed by Christopher Nolan). Since I know the Czech Republic so well, I was almost distracted by the wonderful locations of Prague, Tábor and Ceský Krumlov, while Dick Pope obtained an Academy Award nomination for his wonderful cinematography. Meanwhile the score from Philip Glass, while not as compelling as that for "The Hours" is not as intrusive as that for "Notes On A Scandal".
"The Imitation Game"
What makes this such an exceptional film is the combination of a compelling narrative with an outstanding central performance. It is the true story of how the brilliant but eccentric British mathematics genius Alan Turing led a small, but exceptionally talented. team that managed to break the Germans' Enigma code which shortened the Second World War by years. Benedict Cumberbatch gives a wonderfully nuanced display as the reclusive and tortured scientist. A very creditable showing by Keira Kinighley should be acknowledged and Charles Dance and Mark Strong are always spot on.
Norwegian director Morten Tyldum and American writer Graham Moore eschew straightline plotting, deploying three alternating timelines: Turing's time as a desperately lonely child at boarding school, his wartime service in Hut 8 at the top secret Bletchley Park decoding centre, and his post-war arrest for an act of "gross indecency" with another man. It seems amazing now that the British state could have convicted, and arguably sent to his death, someone who made such a phenomenal contribution to the defeat of Hitler.
This is a film which, important though it is for reviving the reputation of an unlikely war hero who for so long was forgotten or maligned, speaks to us today, both because of our (fortunately) very different attitude to homosexuality now and of contemporary developments in computing and artificial intelligence/
On Christmas Day 2004, foreign tourists from around the world were enjoying the sun and sea in Thailand resorts; the next day, they were overwhelmed by a tsunami that killed around a quarter of a million people in no less than 14 countries. There is really only one way to tell such a story on film and that is to reduce the gigantic horror to one family so that an audience can make a personal connection. So we are presented with a British family of five: father Henry (Ewan McGregor), mother Maria (Naomi Watts), and their three sons, Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Predergast).Not too much time is spent setting the scene and introducing the characters before we are hit by the tsunami, a brilliant and scary realisation of a force of nature that can barely be comprehended. The narrative is then split in two as Maria and Lucas are swept many miles inland and Henry and the two youngest boys have no idea if the others have survived. Never lapsing into over-sentimentality or histrionics, the portrayal of survival against the odds is presented in an emotionally powerful and convincing manner that makes this always compelling and at times a hard film to watch. McGregor is excellent as the distraught husband, especially in a traumatic scene when he has to talk on a mobile to his father-in-law at home. But this is Naomi Watts' movie - she is brilliant and her wonderful performance won her an Academy Award nomination. Holland shows promise in the role of eldest son. And watch out for a cameo from Geraldine Chaplin. Although the opening of the film explains that it is based on a true story, only at the beginning of the credits do we learn that the family in question is Spanish. The full story of María Belón is not told in the film since, after leaving Thailand, she had to spend 14 months in hospitals in Singapore and Spain. So this is - in spite of being shot entirely in English - a Spanish work: director (Juan Antonio Bayona), writer (Sergio G. Sánchez), and crew are all Spanish and, as well as filming at the actual Thailand resort, most of the shooting was in Spain. In some ways, it is sad that a film about a tsunami that largely killed Asian citizens has to feature a European family and that even the family whose story has been chosen has to be English-speaking, but this is the reality of commercial moviemaking if one wants a film that will acquire funding and be seen around the world. At least, the first names of all the family members are simply English versions of the real Spanish names and many of the details of the film family - such as their living in Japan and Maria being a doctor - are true to life. Interestingly, at the time the film was released, the oldest two Spanish boys were studying in Britain.
A European city of culture and canals popular with tourists; a dwarf mistaken for a child; and murder. Since 1973, this would have spelled "Don't Look Now", the chilling thriller set in Venice. But now the same ingredients could describe "In Bruges" filmed almost entirely in the Fleming Gothic wonder. Yet the two movies could hardly be more different.
Although set in Belgium with two Irish leads (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) and French and Dutch female support actors, In Bruges" is a very British film - written and directed by South Londoner Martin McDonagh and centred on the consequences of contract killing. Like other British gangster movies - such as "Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels" (1998) or "Layer Cake" (2004), there's tough language, drugs and violence but all leavened with black humour and some great lines.
The subject matter of some films is so serious that it makes it difficult to assess the work in purely cinematic terms. This is especially true of real-life events that raise moral issues and there can be no bigger instance than that of the Holocaust which is every second of "In Darkness". It tells a story that would be literally incredible if it was not true: how a dissolute Polish sewer worker called Leopold Socha saved the lives of 10 Jews by hiding them underground for 13 months. This happened in what was during the Second World War the Polish town of Lwów and today is the Ukrainian town of Lviv. In 1978, Socha and his wife were awarded the title "Righteous among the Nations" by Yad Vashem in Israel.
The film is the work of Polish female director Agnieszka Holland and it is a Polish, German and Canadian co-production with a screenplay by Canadian writer David F. Shamoon. In any country, the film will have some subtitles, because the dialogue involves Polish, Ukrainian, Yiddish and German, and of course in English-speaking nations the whole thing is sub-titled which will limit its appeal to many, but it really is a work worth watching. Holland effectively conveys the paralysing fear and utter squalor of life in the sewers and Robert Wieckiewicz as Socha - like the other actors - shows how the unbearable stresses of such situations make people behave in ways, both good and bad, which are out of character.
Director Holland's father was Jewish and both his parents died in the Warsaw ghetto. At the time she was shooting the film, she believed that all the Jews who had survived in the sewers were dead but, before the work was released, she found that there was was still a living survivor, Krystyna Chiger. When Chiger was shown a rough cut of the film, she declared that it was "very, very realstic and accurate".
"In Darkness" does not have the narrative drive and clear characterisation of "Schindler's List" but, like Spielberg's film, it is powerful moviemaking and heart-wrenching storytelling.Link: the story of Leopold Socha click here
"In Her Shoes"
My wife and I went along to this film thinking that it was a romantic comedy. It does have romance and it does have comedy, but it has more serious aspirations as an examination of the tensions and trials of sibling rivalry between two American sisters in their early 30s. As such, this is essentially a chick flick movie for older girls and sensitive guys. Based on the best-selling novel by Jennifer Weiner, it deals with some tough issues of betrayal and hurt, but ultimately has too neat and sweet a finale to hit the mark or the heart.
The real strength of the movie is the quality acting. The two sisters at the centre of the narrative are played by Toni Collette, as the older sibling Rose, a rather plain-looking, hard-working lawyer who buys very expensive shoes to relieve her misery, and Cameron Diaz, as the wanton, selfish but very attractive and promiscuous Maggie who would love to fill those shoes in more ways than one. Since her arrival in "Muriel's Wedding", Collette has continued to impress, while Diaz repeatedly shows that she is more than just a pretty face and slim body. Also there is some excellent support work by a number of elderly actors, most notably a finely nuanced performance from the veteran Shirley Maclaine.
"In The Cut"
Whatever happened to Meg Ryan? Like so many pretty actresses who achieve film success in their 20s and 30s, she was unable to extend her cinematic career into later life. After a minor role in "Top Gun", for a time, she was cuteness personified in a string of hit movies such as "When Harry Met Sally", "Sleepless In Seattle" and "You've Got Mail", although she showed that she could take on more serious roles in such films as "Courage Under Fire" and "Proof Of Life". Nothing in her earlier career, however, compared to her dramatically different role in "In The Cut" released in 2003 when she was 41. Although we did not know it at the time, effectively this strange choice marked the end of her movie career.
But was it the role that concluded the career or it the other way round? Maybe, having decided she wanted out, she chose to make her exit via a characterisation that could hardly have been further from the roles for which she was best known and widely adored. There were signs that something was awry when Ryan appeared on British television to talk to Michael Parkinson about "In The Cut" and her almost monosyllabic answers resulted in a near meltdown.
As Frannie Avery, Ryan played an English literature lecturer in New York City who becomes obsessed with the sexual language of the seedy world stripping and prostitution (the film title itself is sexual slang) and quickly embarks on a dangerous relationship with a policeman (Mark Ruffalo) who is investigating a gruesome series of murders involving the cutting up of young women. Ryan does not hold back in the role, frequently appearing topless. It is a really dark tale and perhaps surprisingly it is both based on a novel by a woman (Susanna Moore) and directed by a woman (New Zealander Jane Campion of "The Piano" fame).
As cinema, it is a slightly bizarre work which juxtaposes explicit sexual language and activity plus imagery of bloody body parts with extracts from poems and references to the novel "To The Lighthouse". It is atmospherically shot and provides sustained tension, but it fails above all because there is no explanation or exploration of the motivation of Avery to enter such an alien and scary world and take such obvious risks. Perhaps, in this sense, the role is a metaphor for Ryan's own odd choice of role.
"In The Loop"
American television gave us the serious, while still entertaining, "The West Wing" and "Commander-in-Chief" but British television likes to satirise politics as in "Yes, Minister" and "The Thick Of It". The latter UK series has now been transformed into the full-scale movie "In The Loop" with the same scriptwriter Armando Iannucci, some of the same actors, and the same docu-verite style. Although the action is set in Washington and New York as well as London, the US actors include the likes of James Gandolfini, and the storyline is clearly about the road to war in Iraq (never actually named), the humour is very British and it's hard to see the film doing well in the States. Another problem - for both British and American audiences - is the timing: mocking the process by which it was decided to invade Iraq a full six years after the event rather lessens the impact.
Yet there is much to enjoy here, especially in the wonderful lines which fairly crackle and constantly amuse if rarely provoke outright hilarity. At the core of the interconnected relationships is that between the diminutive and hapless Minister for International Development Simon Foster, played by Tom Hollander but based on Clare Short, and the ferociously foul-mouthed Director of Communications for the Prime Minister Michael Tucker, portrayed brilliantly by Peter Capaldi and inspired by Alistair Campbell.
"In The Mood For Love"
This stylish work by Hong Hong director Kar-Wai Wong is like a Chinese version of "Brief Encounter" in that it shows a man and woman - both married - struggling with whether they should be unfaithful to their spouses, although the twist this time is that their partners are apparently already having an affair with each other. As the couple in question, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung and Maggie Cheung give understated but emotional performances.
"In The Shadow Of The Moon"
Between 1968 and 1972, nine American spacecraft voyaged to the moon and 12 men walked upon its surface. This remarkable documentary brings together for the first, and very possibly the last, time surviving crew members from every single Apollo mission which flew to the moon - ten in all - and allows them to tell their story in their own moving words (unfortunately the very first man to walk on the moon Neil Armstrong remains reclusive and did not participate in the film). The narrative is illustrated with some stunning footage, most of it digitally remastered and much of it not seen before by the general public. One marvels at the power of the rocketry, the serenity of space, the beauty of the Earth, and the mystery of the moon and wonders if we will ever return. British director David Sington has created something truly historic.
"In This World"
The critics were impressed by this film - it won the Berlin Golden Bear Award - but it is unlikely to attract a wide audience because, however worthy, the subject matter and treatment are both too bleak. Two Afghan boys - played by non-professionals using their own names of Jamal and Enayatullah - are seen trying to fulfil their dream of a new life in London. Filmed on digital video and using only available light with the characters mainly speaking their native Pashto, there is location shooting in Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Italy, France and Britain, so the whole thing looks and sounds like a documentary. This is bold film-making by director Michael Winterbottom that successfully engages our concern for economic refugees, but leaves one feeling saddened and powerless.
This French Canadian film - the title translates as "Scorched" - is located mainly in an unnamed Middle Eastern country that is clearly Lebanon althought it was shot in Jordan (both nations that I have visited). It tells a powerful and deeply disturbing story about how Nawal Marwan, played wonderfully by the Belgian-Moroccan actress Lubna Azabal, dies and leaves her twin daughter Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and son Simon (Maxim Gaudette) with a strange instruction: letters must be delivered to the father they thought was dead and to a brother they did not know they had. Based on a play, the narrative by writer and director Denis Villeneuve repeatedly jumps back and forth from the present day to several decades earlier which does not always make the story easy to follow (advice: look for three points on the back of a heel). So the viewer has to pay close attention as the twins learn more and more about their enigmatic mother and in the process themselves in some shocking turns of events. This is cinema of a high order that packs a genuinely emotional punch.
Be warned: this film has one of the most complicated plots that you'll ever encounter in moviedom. But be advised: this work is one of the most inventive and thrilling that you'll ever encounter on the screen. From the opening seconds to the closing seconds and everything in between, this is a movie that constantly engages with no 'downtime' at all, so you cannot afford to doze for a moment - and you won't want to do so. This is "Total Recall" on steroids - and some.
First, that plot. This is a world in which it is possible for trained operatives to enter the dreams of others and gain access to their most private secrets - a process called extraction - but, in this case, a team is required to enter a subject's dream state in order to implant an idea - the inception of the title. Except it's not that simple. The storyline takes us into a dream within a dream within a dream and even down to somewhere called limbo and, in the climatic third of the film, there are actually three narratives progressing in parallel.
Now, why it works - and so brilliantly. It's all down to the British Christopher Nolan who has already impressed us with his directorial talents on "Memento", "Insomnia", "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight". Here he is writer, producer and director and the result is a truly original and immensely assured work that is as entertaining as it is challenging. Nolan has created a dreamworld with a set of rules - so each level requires one team member to be 'awake' - and devices - such as 'the kick' to pull you out of the dream and the 'totem' which tells you whether you are still in a dream or not.
It cost a ton - something like $170M - to make, but the money is on the screen with some stunning special effects, most notably some brilliant city-shaping scenes set in Paris. The whole thing was shot in six countries on four continents. Effectively atmospheric music is provided by Hans Zimmer. And it is populated by an ensemble of talented actors of varied provenance.
Central to the whole thing working is Leonardo DiCaprio as Dom Cobb, the troubled leader of the inception crew. It's a pleasure to see Ken Watanabe from "The Last Samurai" as the Japanese commissioner of the operation. Britain's Tom Hardy is charming as the roguish team operative Eames. The diminutive but ever so cute Ellen Page does not have the demanding role that she had in "Juno" but brings architectural design skills to the team as Ariadne. And this is before one mentions Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard, Tom Berenger and even cameos by Michael Caine and Pete Postelthwaite. Nolan gives his characters meaningful names, most obviously with Ariadne, a character in Greek mythology who possesses the key to a labyrinth.
Rarely have I left a cinema (I was at the British Film Institute's IMAX screen in London) so convinced that I wanted to see the film again, both to better understand the complexities of the plot and to enjoy once more the dazzling performance that is "Inception".
Footnote: When I did see "Inception" again one year later, it was on a DVD on television. I understood much more about what was going on (not everything though) and it was still immensely entertaining, but it was not the same mind-blowing novelty of the first viewing.
"An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power"
When the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" was issued in 2006, it took me three years before I caught up with it at home but, in 2017, I made a point of viewing the sequel straightaway at the cinema. The issue of climate change has become so much more urgent and the stakes so much higher now that we have a climate change denier in the White House. Directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk have done a fine job in knitting together extracts from fluent presentations by former US Vice-President Al Gore, his visits to sights illustrating both the growing instances of disaster and successful initiatives to cut carbon emissions, and his role at the UN Climate Change Conference in 2016. The sequel may not have quite the shock impact of the original work, but it makes a compelling case and offers a sense of hope that was lacking 10 years ago as new technologies transform our options for effective action.
As an American politician, Gore rightly points out: "In order to address the environmental crisis, we're going to have to spend some time fixing the democracy crisis."
"An Inconvenient Truth"
Three years after the production of this documentary on Al Gore's presentation on global warming, I finally caught up with it. In the meanwhile, it had won a host of awards including Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, while Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Although the film has been challenged in a British court, for me its overwhelming message is incontestable and compelling and director Davis Guggenheim has done the world a service in making the lecture accessible to many more millions than have witnessed Gore's oratory at first hand.
The man who was once the next President of the United States concludes powerfully: "Future generations may well have occasion to ask themselves, 'What were our parents thinking? Why didn't they wake up when they had a chance?' We have to hear that question from them, now."
Link: Wikipedia page on the film click here
"Independence Day: Resurgence"
In 1996, the original movie was the summer blockbuster of the year and it was moderately entertaining if simple-minded. Twenty years later, what's different? Well, there's no Will Smith but a personable Liam Hemsworth ("The Hunger Games") as the young hero, we see more of the aliens (why are they always ugly and insect-like?), the American president is a woman (could it really happen?), everything is bigger and louder, and the whole thing is in 3D (inevitably for today's blockbuster).
But otherwise things are much the same: lots of the old characters are back, so Jeff Goldblum gets to be clever again and Bill Paxton gets to fly again, iconic buildings are destroyed (notably in my home city of London), while the script is even more banal and the plot even more incomprehensible. I guess that Roland Emmerich means well in presenting a message that the world is at its best when it works together and utilises new technologies but, since the original movie, the world has witnessed 9/11 and I saw this sequel the day after Britain voted to leave the European Union (which Brexit's leaders dubbed Independence Day), so the message rings a little hollow outside the magic world of the cinema.
"Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull"
From the very beginning, this is an affectionate homage to the three Indiana Jones movies that were released between 1981-1989 (the opening seconds are a playful reference to the initial shot in "Raiders Of The Lost Ark") and this is both the strength and the weakness of the first outing for the academic-cum-adventurer in 19 years. The young audience at whom this film is aimed will never have seen Indy on the big screen and will surely delight in the experience, while those of us who grew up with the earlier escapades will yearn for something a little more original and inventive.
Set in the midst of the Cold War in 1957, the usual plot ingredients are all there: an attempt by an evil force to obtain control of some sort of mystical power so as to dominate the world, with references to all sort of ancient civilisations and encounters with long dead bodies and very alive insects. In the process, Jones survives everything from beatings by Soviet agents to a full-scale nuclear explosion. The problem is that the narrative is weak, so many of the scenes we have seen before, and so much simply doesn't make sense (for instance, what's with the monkey business?).
Now aged 65 Harrison Ford has worn well in the intervening years and replaces his trademark fedora hat with some style and it is joy to see the lovely Karen Allen back where she belongs - in the arms of the explorer. Cate Blanchett's performance as a dominatrix Stalinist is a delight, but a trio of fine British actors - Ray Winstone, John Hurt and Jim Broadbent - are underused. Twenty-one year old Shia LaBeouf from "Transformers" is engaging enough as Indy's son and is obviously being positioned to take over the franchise if it continues (with Ford making merely a support appearance in the next adventure). From an artistic point of view, I feel that the brand has run its course, but I suspect that financially the attraction of more movies will be too strong to resist - and no doubt I'll be back in the cinema to see them.
I've seen a few films in Mandarin Chinese, but this is the first that I've viewed one in Cantonese Chinese - not that I can tell the difference. Shot in Hong Kong, this has been a massive hit in south-east Asia and with some reason. It is not the eastern movie that we might expect with excesses of shooting and balletic violence, but a more subtle examination of good and evil through the characters of a policeman (Andy Lau) and a Triad member (Tony Leung) who are both in fact working for the other side. It is fast-paced, imaginatively shot, and immensely stylish.
This is the third cinematic outing for Robert Langdon, the fictional character created by the best-selling author Dan Jones. Previously we've had "The Da Vinci Code" (2006) and "Angels & Demons" (2009). Now (2016) he's back played again by Tom Hanks with Ron Howard again in the director's chair but a new female accomplice, the British actress Felicity Jones. The stakes are absurdly high: a visionary wants to recalibrate humankind by wiping out half of it - that's approaching 4 billion people - with a deadly virus that can only be tracked down by decoding all sorts of messages relating to Dante and the Inferno.
I found the film visually appealling because the action takes us from Florence to Venice to Istanbul and I've been to all three cities and visited all the buildings featured in the plot. But it's all very silly with dialogue full of portentous declarations about cultural artefacts, lots of running around by the principal actors, and regular twists in which the good guy/girl becomes the bad guy/girl and vice versa. Just leave your brain to one side and try to enjoy the ride.
I deliberately didn't read reviews of Quentin Tarrantino's latest offering before seeing the movie, but it was clear that the ratings of the reviewers were all over the place. Since I knew that the story was centred on a ruthless bunch of American-Jewish soldiers in 1940s occupied France, I was expecting tons of violent action like "Kill Bill Part 1"; instead I found a five-chapter construction with extensive scenes of dialogue (much in German or French) making it much more like "Kill Bill Part 2". As a writer, Tarrantino gives his actors some cracking lines and, as a director, he allows those actors time to deliver them with immense style. The soldiers of the title feature much less than one might expect and the shooting comes in short but vicious bursts.
Of course, this re-imaging of the Second World War represents an utterly preposterous narrative but, if one surrenders to Tarrantino's adolescent and audacious vision of how he would have liked things to have gone, then this movie is enormous fun and, for a semitophile like me, something akin to what one reviewer called "kosher porn". There are some excellent performances - including Brad Pitt as Tennessee leader of the Basterds and Mike Myers virtually unrecognisable in a support role - but Tarrantino's casting discovery Christoph Waltz is simply outstanding as SS Colonel Hans Landa aka 'The Jew Hunter'. It may be long (two and a half hours) and it may be self-indulgent, but it is full of suspense and holds the attention throughout.
Whatever the film's scale of commercial success (and it should do well), this is a piece of auteurism destined to be a staple of many a film course since its reverence for the movies and countless allusions to specific works imbue almost every scene. It starts with the title, a corruption of the American title for an 1978 Italian B-movie, where the mis-spelling is never explained but is the first indication of QT's compulsive quirkiness. It ends with the last line of dialogue - "I think this just might be my masterpiece" - in which the director (none too subtly) is telling us something. In between, we have music from spaghetti westerns, a character who used to be a film critic, frequent references to German movies, a bar game involving a film title, a climatic scene in a cinema, and much much more.
"Inside I'm Dancing"
This is a little-known 2004 film which, for some reason, was retitled for American release as "Rory O'Shea Was Here". It is an unusual work in that both the leading characters have severe disabilities: Rory (James McAvoy) has muscular dystrophy and Michael (Steven Robertson) has cerebral palsy which means that both are wheel-chair users and initially in a residential care home. They are befriended by an attractive young woman called Siobhan (Romola Garai) who agrees to be their carer in their attempt at independent living. Although the originator of the story (Christian O'Reilly), director (Damien O'Donnell), all the locations (Dublin) amd much of the funding (Irish Film Board) are Irish, strangely the two lead actors are Scottish and the lead actress is English, but they aquit themselves well in a worthy work which, while having humour, is ultimately very moving.
This is such a great time for kids' movies that, if you don't have children or grandchildren, you need to borrow or steal a youngster or just go along anyway. For this one, my wife and I were fotunate enough to have her great niece (nine) and great nephew (seven)- thanks, guys. Later I viewed the film a second time with my granddaughter (four and half), who was seeing it for the second time, and a little boy of about the same age, who needed to leave the cinema for a time because he found it too sad.
Children's animation does not come much more inventive and challenging than "Inside Out" from Pixar, the studio that gave us "Toy Story" and "Up", and director/writer Pete Docter, the man who worked on these earlier achievements. Most of the film takes place inside the mind of an 11 year old girl called Riley who is suffering from her parents' move from Minnesota (where Pete Docter grew up) to San Francisco. Her emotions are brought to life by five colourful characters called Joy (yellow), Sadness (blue), Anger (red), Disgust (green) and Fear (purple). The moral of the story is that, for a young person facing a new environment (indeed for all of us), it's tough for Joy to keep all the other emotions in check but it's OK to be sad sometimes.
Visually the movie is a treat: as well as the five emotions battling over the control deck in Riley's mind, there are five Peronality Islands, the Subconscious, the Train of Thought, and endless multi-coloured balls representing memories to be stored, sorted and lost. At times, the narrative is almost surreal. The brilliance of the film is that there is lots of humour for the kids but plenty to think about for the adults. Its success with both critics and audiences seems certain to augur a sequel based around a mysterious button, which has emerged on the control deck, labled Puberty.
This is not an obvious, or an easy, subject for cinematic treatment - high-level whistle-blowing in the US tobacco industry - but, in the hands of accomplished director Michael Mann, the outcome is a compelling analysis of the nature of big business and media values in corporate America. Al Pacino gives another fine performance as CBS "60 Minutes" television producer Lowell Bergman, trying to maintain his old-fashioned radicalism while surviving the tyranny of the suits and protecting his source.
It is Russell Crowe, however, who sustains the two and a half hour movie as he portrays the former Brown & Williamson scientist, turned informant and science teacher, Jeffrey Wigand. I actually viewed "The Insider" after I saw "Gladiator" and it is astonishing that the same actor could have so ably taken on both eponymous roles. For the former, 34 year old Crowe takes on the persona of a man 18 years his senior by putting on 80 lb, while grey hair, glasses and sheer talent do the rest.
This true story has an uncompromising message: cigarettes are delivery devices for nicotine and the companies that manufacture them are deliberately trying to make users addicted to them. Sad, then, that Crowe himself is a smoker.
Text of Wigand's legal deposition click here
Text of CBS "60 Minutes" programme click here
Site about Jeffrey Wigand click here
A movie with no special effects, no explosives, no real action sequences - how could it succeed? Yet British director Christopher Nolan, known previously only for "Momento", has made a wonderfully crafted remake of a 1997 Norwegian thriller. Although slowly paced, the plot is so intelligent and the acting so fine that one is in no danger of falling asleep any more than the Los Angeles cop played consummately by Al Pacino is in the near-permanent daylight of an Alaskan summer.
His quarry is a murderer who writes crime novels and likes to play mind games and it is a pleasure to see Robin Williams back in a successful 'straight' role, where the inter-play between the protagonists reminds one of the Pacino/de Niro meeting in "Heat". Young Hilary Swank gives a promising performance as a rookie cop who admires the Pacino character more than perhaps she should. Finally, the unusual location shooting gives the film a very distinctive feel, although - while set in Alaska - most of the actual shooting was done in Canada's British Columbia.
The "Divergent" series of novels, which started to appear in 2011, owes a great deal to "The Hunger Games" collection, which began to be published in 2008. Both are three works aimed at young adults and written by female American authors (in the case of "Divergent", Veronica Roth). Both have a principled and plucky 16 year old heroine (in "Divergent", Beatrice 'Tris' Prior). Both are set in a post-apocalyptic dystopian world located in the former United States (in "Divergent", an enclosed Chicago). Both involve societies strictly divided (in the case of "Divergent", into five factions based on different human attributes). Both mix violence and romance in an exploration of coming of age and discovery of identity. And both are being turned into four money-making movies.
The trouble is that, while I have read "The Hunger Games" novels, I have not read the "Divergent" series and this lack of familiarity - plus the films of the books coming out a year apart - makes the narrative of the "Divergent" movies a bit complicated for someone like me. In the first film, Tris (played well by Shailene Woodley) was inducted into the Dauntless faction and involved in an attempt by them to overthrow the Abnegation faction at the behest of the Erudite leader Janine (a striking Kate Winslet). In this the second film, Tris teams up with the Factionless and undergoes a series of challenging simulations imposed by Janine. Believe me, this is very much a simplication. So while visually the movie is quite entertaining, the dialogue is dull and the overall presentation rather lame.
American writer and director Nancy Myers, a woman in her mid 60s, has made her name with a particular type of movie, such as "Something's Gotta Give", "The Holiday" and "It's Complicated", and "The Intern" fits right into that mould: tales of love and loss told from the perspective which is that of a woman or older person or both, essentially comedic but with some wry observations and some occasional poignancy. There are too few films aimed at a mature audience and, as a sensitive man of a certain age, I enjoy her work, but she is careful never to be too challenging.
In this case, the female point of view is that of start up founder Jules (a delightful Anne Hathaway) who is struggling to have it all: a demanding job, a loving husband, and a delightful daughter (something's gotta give). The perspective of an older person comes from a man, the intern of the title, Ben (a charming Robert De Niro), who is widowed and lonely (fortunately the lovely Rene Russo is on hand as Fiona the company masseur). As well as her usual themes, Myers plays with some inter-generational issues especially around technology and work-life balance, in a work that is light but made by two eminently watchable leads (Jules has some great clothes and Ben is rarely out of a suit and tie).
German director Tom Tykwer did an entertaining job with "Run Lola Run" (a similar concept to "Sliding Doors") and here tries hard to give us a political thriller in the image of Jason Bourne, but it is ultimately a disappointing effort. The shoot-out in New York's Guggenheim museum (recreated on a German set) is fun, although one wonders how the NYPD could be so slow to respond to such a major downtown incident, and the use of glass and steel office buildings to represent the glossiness of the corporate world makes for some striking visual images, but there are just too many flaws in this cinematic edifice.
The villain of the piece is one of the world's most powerful banks, the International Bank of Business and Credit (IBBC), a deliberate echo of the real BCCI which was involved in a money-laundering scandal almost a decade before the film was released. The main weakness is the script from first-time screenwriter Eric Singer. Too many of the lines are pathetic and the narrative is both confusing and implausible.
Clive Owen, playing a shabby Interpol agent on loan from New Scotland Yard with the unlikely name of Louis Salinger, has a lot of running around to do but this does not excuse never ever shaving; Naomi Watts as a Manhattan Assistant District Attorney is sadly underused (see "The Painted Veil" for what she can do); but it is always a pleasure to see Armin Mueller-Stahl (now aged 78).
The political thriller genre is one I very much enjoy and one that director Sydney Pollack has ably visited before ("Three Days Of The Condor"). Here he has two major stars, Nicole Kidman as the eponymous United Nations employee Silvia Broome (displaying a rather good African accent and fluency in the fictional language of Ku) and Sean Penn as the secret service agent Tobin Keller assigned to investigate her unlikely claim of a planned assassination of the dictatorial ruler of the fictional African state of Matobo. He also has the skyscrapers and streets of downtown New York and unprecedented location access to the interior of UN headquarters. So my expectations were high.
Things start well with a tense scene in murderous Maboto and the first whispers of the conspiracy at the UN, but then the whole thing unravels with bewildering plot twists and weak dialogue, concluding with a really dull final sequence. Like the UN itself, this is a work which promises so much more than it delivers. The fault, I fear, is with the script which has been worked on by no less than five writers, resulting in confusion, incredulity and some over-sentimentality. Nevertheless the film does raise an immensely serious issue: how should the international community deal with a leader who started as a freedom fighter and is now a murderous tyrant? Robert Mugabe comes particularly to mind and it is clearly no coincidence that Matobo is a national park in Zimbabwe.
Science fiction is one of my most popular movie genres. Christopher Nolan is one of my favourite directors. So I was really excited about the prospect of seeing "Interstellar". When a good friend saw it before me and warned me off viewing it, I still went ahead. I don't regret my decision at all but I can understand, and share, the reservations about this over-obscure work.
In 1968, I was thrilled by the brilliance of Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" but comprehended little after the passage through the star gate until I read the novel by Arthur C Clarke. "Interstellar" is similarly visually stunning but Nolan and his brother Jonathan have crafted a narrative that is so opaque that I don't know whether I will ever work it out. It seems that a worm hole and a black hole have created a narrative with a whole lots of holes.
I admire the ambition of the movie: themes do not come much bigger than survival of the human species and travel to other galaxies but extraterrestrials communicating through Morse Code and constructing giant bookcases in space just stretch credibility too far. As well as "2001", the film that comes to mind is "Contact" which, while not so grandiose in execution, made a bit more sense thanks to Carl Sagan.
There is a lot of acting talent on display here to balance the striking visual imagery. Matthew McConaughey, as a space jockey right our of "The Right Stuff", and Jessica Chastain as his scientist daughter give fine performances, but Anne Hathaway and Matt Damon seem somewhat miscast as astronauts and the Londoner Michael Caine is a very odd choice to head a future NASA. Once again Hans Zimmer provides a haunting soundtrack. So there is much to admire about "Interstellar". It's just a pity that it's so unintelligible to human beings.
The film lasts almost three hours but I didn't notice that it was so long - which means that ultimately I enjoyed it and that time is relative.
"Into The Arms Of Strangers"
For some reason, most of my closest friends are Jewish and two of them, Ivan and Ros Sloboda, suggested that my wife and me accompany them in seeing this harrowing account the 'kindertransport', the transfer from the Nazi terror of Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia to Britain of some 10,000 Jewish children in the nine-month window of opportunity between Krystalnacht and the outbreak of war. Ros's mother - who was from Leipzig - was one of the kinder children.
It is impossible to convey or imagine the feelings of heart-broken parents, forced to send away their children, knowing that they are most unlikely ever to see them again, or of terrified children, torn suddenly and inexplicably from the only family, country, faith and language that they have ever known. But the alternative was almost certain death and some one and a half million children perished in camps like Auschwitz and Terezin which I have visited.
One cannot review this like a normal film. In a sense, it is not a film at all, but a documentary, consisting of two hours of personal testimony from some of the 'Kinder' with interweaving footage and photography from the time. And nothing relating to the unique horror of the Holocaust could be regarded as having anything to do with normality or humanity. Most people will see this work on television but, as Philip French of the Observer put it, "There are occasions when it's morally important for the image to be bigger than we are'.
The 'pitch' to the studios must have sounded impressive: take one of the best-looking actors, hunky George Clooney, and one of the most attractive actresses, Welsh rose Catherine Zeta-Jones, and team them with those quirky Coen brothers (Joel & Ethan) to produce an old-fashioned romantic comedy in which true love triumphs over the cynicism of the divorce lawyers. But the outcome is a wasted opportunity with a formulaic style and little subtlety in the humour. At least Clooney tries to bring some life to the limp plotting, but Zeta-Jones just glides through looking cool, while talent of the calibre of Geoffrey Rush and Billy Bob Thornton are sadly underutilised. To watch this movie is far from intolerable cruelty, but it is a real disappointment.
The title - which means 'unconquered' in Latin - comes from a famous poem by the late 19th century poet W.E. Henley, a favourite of Nelson Mandela, and the film is based on a book by John Carlin entitled "Playing The Enemy: Nelson Mandela And The Game That Made A Nation".
The movie is largely set in Mandela's term as South Africa's first black President in the run-up to and the running of the 1995 Rugby World Cup Championship which was hosted by the newly democratic 'rainbow nation'. It shows how Mandela - called here by his clan name Madiba - took great political risks to support the Springboks, a potent symbol of white South Africa, in order to unify the new post-apartheid country.
It would take someone special to play Mandela but Morgan Freeman was a natural choice and does a fine job, skilfully capturing the great man's style of speaking and moving, if sometimes faltering on the accent. Matt Damon is assured as the Springboks' captain Francçois Pienaar. Although American actors take these two lead roles, most of the other positions are filled by South Africans, the whole thing was shot in South Africa, and the script is by South African émigré Anthony Peckham.
Since this is modern history, there are no surprises in the narrative, but it is a wonderfully uplifting work that demonstrates the power of compassion and forgiveness. The surprise is the director: 79 year old Clint Eastwood would not be an obvious choice but this - his 30th piece of direction over four decades - is another impressive addition to his canon of work. Freeman and Eastwood have collaborated before on "Unforgiven" and "Million Dollar Baby", both of which won the Academy Award for Best Film.
"The Ipcress File"
This British spy film - based on the novel by Len Deighton - was released in 1965 but I did not view it until 2009 and then only because a former colleague had advised me that the office of the central character Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) was in the central London building - 28-30 Grosvenor Gardens - where I worked part-time for three years as a Council member of Postwatch, the consumer body for postal customers.
This movie came out in the same year as the fourth James Bond film "Thunderball" and the style could hardly be more different: a bespectacled agent who never travels outside London and sees very little action in a slow plot development lacking credibility. No wonder the expected Palmer franchise stopped at the first effort.
Mental illness often makes challenging cinema - think of "Rain Man" or "Shine". Now both sides of the Atlantic have produced new movies on this theme, looking at the effect of such illness on brilliant and famous individuals: from the US comes "A Beautiful Mind" examining schizophrenia and from the UK there is "Iris" portraying Alzheimer's Disease.
The latter concerns the novelist and philosopher Dame Iris Murdoch (1919-1999) who was loved and cared for by her uxorious husband Professor John Bayley, on whose books the movie is based. Kate Winslet and Hugh Bonneville represent the couple at Oxford University in the early 1950s, while Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent take on the roles for the last years of the author's life - what one critic has called the "bonking" and "bonkers" phases of her rich life.
The performances are uniformly excellent, with Dench compelling in a role where expressions as much as words speak volumes. When she does speak, it is often movingly, as when she comments "I feel as if I'm sailing into darkness".
The film cuts constantly from one period to the other and would have been better served with a more settled structure. Also the subject matter is terribly depressing and anyone who has watched a loved one destroyed mentally - in my case, it was my mother after a stroke - will know how utterly helpless one feels. But not all cinema can be escapist fantasies like "Harry Potter" and "Lord Of The Rings", so see "Iris" and be thankful for your mind.
"The Iron Lady"
I approached this portrayal of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher by American actress Meryl Streep with some trepidation. As a member of the Labour Party for over 40 years, I am ideologically opposed to all that the Conservative Party icon stood for, but I have been a massive fan of Streep ever since "The Deer Hunter" in 1978. Streep is brilliant, representing three versions of Thatcher: the high-pitched speaking ambitious politician, the lower-tone speaking stern Prime Minister, and the dementia-ravished widow. For this performance, Streep deservedly received her 17th Academy Award nomination and her third win.
Both director and writer are women: respectively Phyllida Lloyd, who directed Streep in "Mamma Mia!", and Abi Mprgan, most of whose work has been for television. Although Thatcher was of course an immensely strong character and one can only sympathise with the sexist attitudes that she had to combat in the British political scene of the 1960s and 1970s, virtually all the male characters in this film - notably Thatcher's cabinet colleagues - are represented as pathetically weak cyphers. Even her husband Dennis, played by Jim Broadbent, comes across as a kind of of Charlie Chaplin clown rather than an astute businessman.
I have two major problems with "The Iron Lady".
First, for a film about the towering figure of British post-war politics, it is remarkably light on actual politics. There are references to events like the Falklands War, the miners' strike, and the poll tax riots, but the issues are never examined and arguably Thatcher's most profound impacts on British society - the reduction in public expenditure and the programme of privatisation - are never mentioned.
Second, the narrative structure of the work is wrong. Far too much time is spend on portaying Thatcher in her dotage with imagined conversations with her dead husband; one could have begun and ended with this perspective but it dominates the film. As a result, too little time is spent on Thatcher in her prime and the storyline is fractured and confused. In the end, this is not so much a film about a politician or about politics, but a vision of aging, loss and loneliness. Not so much an iron lady as a female King Lear.
Let's face it - it's a tough world out there, so we need all the superheroes we can find. Ironman may be in the second tier of the Marvel Comics stable but, in the hands of director Jon Favreau (who started as an actor in such films as "Batmen Begins" and "Daredevil"), we are given a very satisfying contribution to the genre which opens strongly and maintains a cracking pace with action and humour alternating to good effect.
The storyline is unoriginal and utterly predictable and we have come to take excellent special effects almost for granted. What lifts this superhero movie out of the blandness that it could have exhibited are some fine performances from Robert Downey Jr as both arms manufacturer Tony Stark and eponymous metallic flying and shooting shocktrooper and a bald-headed and bushy-bearded Jeff Bridges as his associate Obadiah Stane plus able support roles from Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark's ultra-efficient aide 'Pepper' Potts and Terrence Howard as his military friend Jim Rhodes.
This is a movie which reminds you of so many others, most obviously "Robocop", but there is enough energy and verve and sufficient contemporary references - not least to Afghanistan - that one can persuade oneself that this is something fresh if not entirely new. And, if you sit through the endless credits, you'll be rewarded with a short clip that sets us up for a later film in the Marvel Comics franchise.
It's almost an iron (sorry) law of moviemaking that a sequel is not as good as the original, but this one comes close enough to satisfy, aided by the return of the brilliant Robert Downey Jr as the manic Tony Stark/Ironman and Jon Favereau as accomplished director. There's more plot this time; indeed possibly too much, as our metallic and schizophrenic hero faces a whole slew of challenges from his one-time aide Lt Col Rhodes (Don Cheadle), rival arms manufacturer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), Russian technocrat and tatoo fanatic Ivan Vanyo (Mickey Rourke as bulked up as in "The Wrestler") with his savagely destructive energy whips, and even his own suit which is slowly killing him.
In the face of so many troubles, even a super-hero needs some assistance and much of this comes from female aides Virginia 'Pepper' Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Natalie Rushman/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) who provide superb management and martial skills respectively. In this sequel, there's a lot more ironmen but not quite enough of the Ironman himself. And not enough of the SHIELD's Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson). But there are good special effects and exciting action sequences so that the whole thing flies along like the suit with its jet thrusters permanently on.
All of which which makes one look forward immensely to "Iron Man 3" and, as with the original movie, if you sit through all the credits, you'll see a short item setting up the next film in the Marvel Comics franchise.
A Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr, brilliant as always) who is having trouble sleeping, experiencing panic attacks, and in therapy? Clearly Ironman found the battle in "Avengers Assemble" a tough outing and we have here a more nuanced super-hero narrative. But he can't simply be left to finesse his collection of metallic outfits and enjoy his live-in partner 'Pepper' Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow with an amazingly flat stomach for a mother of two) because there are new villains on the rampage. One is uber-terrorist The Mandarin (a wonderful performance from the British Ben Kingsley), another is science entrepreneur Aldrich Killian (Australian Guy Pearce who, as in "Lawless", exhibits real callousness), while a third is one-time Stark girlfriend Maya Hansen (another Brit in the pleasing shape of Rebecca Hall).
Third time round, Jon Favreau has handed over the directorial reins - but retained his cameo acting role - to Shane Black who is also co-writer (his original profession as in the "Lethal Weapon" franchise). Also we have the fashionable use of 3D which does not always enhance the production (often the action is too fast to really appreciate the extra dimension). So this is an entertaining, if unoriginal, romp with the requisite action leavened by wry humour.
As with the previous "Iron Man" movies, if you sit through endless technical credits, you'll be rewarded with a short extra clip but this time we are not set up for the next segment in the franchise but have an explanation of my therapy allusion. Many franchises sag at the third offering (think "Alien" or "Superman") but "Ironman" is holding up well and, after this extra clip. we are reassured that "Tony Stark will return" which is good news.
It's Chicago in 2035; someone who stands out physically from the crowd is running with a woman's handbag; a policeman assumes robbery and gives chase, only to find that the robot was simply collecting the bag for an asthmatic woman. It seems that prejudice (and allergy) is still prevalent in the future and you'd expect the cop to know better because he's black. But since this is Will Smith in his traditional summer blockbuster, we know that somewhere down the line he's going to be able to tell us "I told you so" and that - like "Blade Runner" and "Robocop" - a wicked corporation will be at the centre of the conspiracy.
"I, Robot" is billed as "inspired" by the nine stories of Isaac Asimov published in 1950, so we have the spririt but none of the narrative of Asimov's seminal work. In truth, the central theme of 'machines try to take over the world' is now rather hackneyed, done much better in "Blade Runner", more recently in "The Matrix" trilogy, and to death in the "Terminator" series.
What makes this film a little different are the stars and the special effects, welded together effectively by director Alex Pryas. A beefed-up and charismatic Will Smith shows that he can act and former model Bridget Moynahan demonstrates the potential that Sandra Bullock exhibited in "Demolition Man", while the CGI-generated robots look good, especially when set out in endless serried ranks in the manufacturing plant or when represented by the spirited android Sonny (Alan Tudyk).
Ultimately what prevents "I, Robot" rising above the entertaining, but formulaic and unmemorable, is the lack of originality, a stronger script, and deeper characterisation - the failures of most movies - and I hope that the timid ending is not setting us up for a sequel of robot wars. It could have been so much cleverer, especially if the script had picked up on the ambiguity that the robot-hating detective is part-android himself.
Any film directed by Michael Bay (think "The Rock", "Armageddon", "Pearl Harbor") is going to be loud, brash and even over-the-top and "The Island" is no exception. This is his first venture though into science fiction (the movie is set in the USA of 2019) and he has fun with some antiseptic habitats, medical laboratories, towering city structures, and futuristic forms of travel, ensuring that sooner or later everything is blown apart with the maximum noise and bits. You might be reassured to know that companies such as Microsoft and Nokia are still thriving in 2019, although it could just be product placement.
The plot - such as it is - features Ewan McGregor as Lincoln Six-Echo and Scarlett Johnsson as Jordan Two-Delta who look human enough, but soon find that their world, the island and, everything they thought they knew is not what is seems. Appealling support roles come in the form of Sean Bean (why is the bad guy usually a Brit?), Steve Buscemi (always wonderfully quirky), Djimon Hounsou (a few more lines than in "Gladiator"), and Michael Clarke Duncan ("The Green Mile"). We've seen all the elements before: replicants on the lose ("Blade Runner"), implanted memories ("Total Recall"), adults in child-like sexual discovery "Demolition Man"), a man meeting his clone ("The 6th Day"), and several scenes (especially the final escape) are taken straight out of "Logan's Run". But it's all put together with a certain panache and is entertaining enough if one leaves one's brain in the lab.
"Isle Of Dogs"
If you live in London (as I do), then the Isle of Dogs is a former area of dockland bounded by a major meander in the River Thames. In this case of this move, however, it is a fictional island opposite the Japanese metropolis of Megasaki City headed by a cruel mayor who expels all dogs from the city to the island on the ground that they are a health threat to local citizens. It's not difficult to see this as a liberal-minded allegory for how we threat any group in society which is seen as different.
But this is not an overtly political film because of its utterly whimsical style - after all, this is a work directed and written by Wes Anderson who never does things conventionally and whose last production was the wonderful "The Grand Budapest Hotel". This time - as with his earlier "Fantastic Mr Fox" - the whole thing is a beautifully-rendered stop-motion animation with some striking visuals but, in spite of the certification and the involvement of a 12 year old pilot, this is not a children's film. It is just too quirky, with all the references to Japanese culture (including exciting taiko drumming) and the use of Japanese language (not always translated).
The speaking cast is simply incredible with a dozen well-known actors voicing the different dogs, including Bryan Cranstan, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, and Jeff Goldblum plus (in smaller roles) Scarlett Johansson and Tilda Swinton. Some scenes seem random and unexplained but the whole thing is so charming and enjoyable that it doesn't need to make complete sense to be an unusual delight of a movie.
"It Happened One Night"
This 1934 black and white movie is classic Frank Capra (the director): engaging, uplifting, romantic, funny. It stars two of the biggest names in Hollywood at the time: Claudette Colbert as spoiled heiress Ellie, on the run from a domineering father and on her way to an unappealling husband, and Clark Gable, as newspaper reporter Peter who is looking for a story and finds more than he bargained for. The makeshift 'curtain' between their beds - dubbed "the walls of Jericho" - assumes a metaphorical meaning as both characters change along the journey represented in coy terms reflecting the repressed times.
The film won five Academy Awards including ones for Gable, Colbert and Capra.
Writer and director Nancy Myers has made a successful career of comedies that represent a specifically female point of view (think of "What Women Want" and "The Holiday") and here she takes her distinctive stance one stage further by portraying the viewpoint of a woman of a certain age, mother of three Jane who has been married for 20 years and divorced for 10 and thought that her sex life was over. It's a sign of Hollywood's obsession with youth that Myers' suggestion that people in their 50s might actually enjoy sex - and with each other - is regarded as novel, but she adds a further twist by presenting Jane's opportunity for a new love life as coming in the first instance at least from her ex-husband who has since married - you guessed it - a much younger woman.
Jane is played by Meryl Streep, the ablest actress of her generation who is equally adept at drama or comedy and rightly has long ago extended her career beyond the normal female thespian timescale of just her 20s and 30s. She is perfect for this role - not just totally convincing as an actress but genuinely attractive as an older woman. Her ex Jake is portrayed by Alec Baldwin who is surprisngly good in a role a long way from action hero Jack Ryan in "The Hunt For Red October". Steve Martin is less appealing as love rival Adam - it is hard to take his face seriously and his character is just too saccahrine.
All three are very comfortable professionally and financially and, while relationships are undoubtedly complicated, they beat unemployment and poverty. So it's rather escapist humour, but some of it - notably a scene with a lap top computer - is very funny."I've Loved You So Long"
This is one of those films that, the less you know about it in advance, the more you are likely to appreciate it - which makes reviewing it a little problematic. All you really need to know is that it's French and excellent. But you might like to know that it's a wonderful vehicle for Kristin Scott Thomas, the British actress married to a Frenchman, who plays Juliette, an Anglo-French woman with some dark and painful secrets which only slowly unfold as the narrative takes its traumatic course. The movie opens and closes with close-ups of her haunted face and, in between, she is rarely off the screen in a marvellously nuanced performance, well supported by Elsa Zylberstein who plays her younger sister Léa. Written and directed by Philippe Claudel and located in Nancy in the east of the country, this is French moviemaking at its best.
All reviews by ROGER DARLINGTON.
Last modified on 15 April 2018
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