"K-19: The Widowmaker" "Kate And Leopold" "Katyn" "Kick-Ass" "Kick-Ass 2" "The Kids Are All Right" "Kill Bill: Volume 1" "Kill Bill: Volume 2" "Killer Elite" "Killing Them Softly" "King Arthur" "King Kong" (2005) "The Kingdom" "Kingdom Of Heaven" "The King's Speech" "Kingsman: The Secret Service" "Kinsey" "Kissing Jessica Stein" "The Kite Runner" "Klute" "Knight And Day" "Knocked Up" "Kong: Skull Island" "Koyaanisqatsi" "K-PAX"
A film which presents in an heroic light the Soviet crew of a nuclear submarine at the height of the Cold War is probably not what American audiences want to see in the aftermath of September 11th. Furthermore, unlike more conventional sub movies, such as "The Boat" or "U-571", this is one where essentially there is no enemy and not a single sonar blip. It is the work of an American woman, producer and director Kathryn Bigelow, where the only American on show is a helicopter crew member and the only woman to make an appearance is the tearful partner of one of the crew. So the whole thing is - so to speak - swimming against the tide.
It is all rather predictable and wooden with a weak script, yet it still is worth seeing - the production values are high, there is sustained drama, and it was "inspired" by an actual event. K-19 is the first of the Soviet Union's nuclear-powered submarines and is forced to go to sea with a host of known technical and logistical deficiencies with two rival captains on board. One could almost imagine the movie being shown to an MBA class studying leadership models, as we see the dramatically conflicting styles of command of the tough Alexei Vostikov (Harrison Ford) and the more tender Mikhail Polenin (Liam Neeson). If they get it wrong, they'll not only lose their crew, but they could provoke a nuclear war. Ultimately though, this is a tribute to the resourcefulness and bravery of crew members individually and collectively. There are some bad accents, but some tense moments, and it would be a shame if the movie sunk without trace.
Link: the true story of K-19 click here
"Kate And Leopold"
Meg Ryan - now 40 - was probably born a cute and ditzy blonde with a shaggy dog hair style. Indeed she may well have emerged from the womb crying: "Yes! Yess!! Yesss!!!" I've been a fan since seeing her in "Innerspace" and who could forget her fake orgasm scene in "When Harry Met Sally"?
So she is a natural - if typecast - in this romantic comedy where she plays the New York advertising executive Kate McKay. More surprising is Australian-born but London-based Hugh Jackson - Wolverine in "X-Men" - who sports an impeccable English accent as the suave Duke of Albany transported from 1876 via a crack in time located at the Brooklyn Bridge (which - perhaps fortunately - I didn't notice when I was there).
There have been many 'fish out of water' movies set in New York, ranging from "Crocodile Dundee" to "The Dream Team". This one is likeable but light, frothy but forgettable.
Everyone in Poland has heard of the Katyn massacre but I've been surprised and saddened at how few people in Britain know of the atrocity. In the early part of the Second World War, more than 4,000 Polish soldiers were executed in the Katyn forest near Smolensk in western Russia. This was part of an organised effort to eradicate the military, political and intellectual leadership of Poland and a series of executions in various other locations removed some 22,000 Poles from their loved ones and their nation.
So, who did this? The Germans claimed to have uncovered the bodies in 1943 and blamed the Soviets in an effort to embarrass and divide the Allies. The Soviet Union categorically denied the crime at the time and for decades afterwards, only in 1990 admitting what the Poles and any independent assessor of the evidence knew: Stalin's NKVD perpetrated the horror on his express command.
The incident has now been made into a major Polish film by the acclaimed Polish director Andrzej Wajda whose own father was killed at Katyn and who is now in his 80s. The work was premiered at the Berlin film festival in 2007; it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 2008; and it finally arrived in Britain in a few cinemas in the summer of 2009. It is an exceptional work - both powerful and moving - that deserves a much larger audience.
Starting in 1939 with the simultaneous invasion of Poland by the Nazis and the Soviets, it takes us in several jumps to the immediate post-war period and underlines that the shame of Katyn was not just the deaths of the 22,000 in 1940 but the denial of the truth by so many people for so many years afterwards. Through the device of a prolonged flashback, the film concludes with a return to Katyn with close-up scenes of the sheer brutality of what was unquestionably a war crime.
The film is based on a novel by Andrzej Mularczyk and revolves around a number of fictional families with a fair bit of location work in Krakow, a city centre that looks today much like it did in the 1940s and which I have visited. The photography and acting are both excellent and selective use of wartime film footage simply adds to the sense of verisimilitude.
Footnote: To my utter astonishment, at the Renoir cinema in central London where I saw the film, as I descended the stairs to the screen, I was given a leaflet by a representation of something called The Stalin Society which insisted that the massacre was carried out by the Germans in 1943 and that Wajda's film is simply part of a sustained attempt to discredit communism at a time of economic crisis when so many people would see it as the obvious alternative to capitalism.
Link: the Katyn massacre click here
On paper, this must have looked like a distinctly dubious proposition: a pastiche of the super-hero movie, with teenage kids played by unknown actors taking most of the lead roles, and a script involving foul language and lots of graphic violence. Yet it works a treat with terrific action sequences and splendid humour. The language and the violence are presented in a comic book context that makes them outrageously entertaining rather than in any way offensive or upsetting.The main credit for this success should go to the British Matthew Vaughan who is both director and co-writer (the other co-writer is Jane Goldman aka Mrs Jonathan Ross), previously known for his direction of Daniel Craig in "Layer Cake". Although Nicolas Cage and Mark Strong provide strong acting ballast, most of the key roles are taken by youngsters who acquit themselves well: Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the eponymous Kick-Ass, Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Red Mist, and the wonderful, diminutive 11 year old Chloë Grace Moretz as the purple-wigged Hit-Girl. Excellent soundtrack too.
Four years after the original movie comes an equally outrageous and enjoyable sequel, although this time Jeff Wadlow takes over both writing and directing duties. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is back as the eponymous Kick-Ass and his side-kick is still Chloë Grace Moretz (now quite grown up at 15) as the purple-wigged Hit-Girl, but this time they have a larger cast of supporting super-heroes with such wonderful names as Colonel Stars and Stripes (a hardly recognisable Jim Carey) and Night Bitch (Lindy Booth).
On the opposite side of the divide between good and evil, we still have Christopher Mintz-Plasse - but his character has decided to ditch the Red Mist name for the less subtle one The Motherfucker - and he too now has a wider range of supporters with such colourful monikers as Black Death and Genghis Carnage. It's all great fun with the best roles going to the female characters, the aforementioned teenager Chloë Grace Moretz and the giant Ukrainian Olga Kurkulina as Mother Russia who inevitably pair off for a a battle to the death. If you sit through all the credits, there's a short clip at the end.
"The Kids Are All Right"
The kids are not really all right. Joni (Mia Wasikowska), aged 18, has an unrealised crush on a boy and is about to leave home for college, while Laser (Josh Hutcherson), aged 15, has a weird friend and wants to make contact with his and Joni's sperm-donor father. But they're pretty together compared to the grown ups. Their "moms", lesbian married couple Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), have many of the problems of any straight couple who've been together two decades and brought up two children, while the arrival of charming sperm guy Paul (Mark Ruffalo) disturbs all the relationship dynamics big time, causing issues for all of them and for him.
The lesbianism is handled very frankly and there's even a discussion of why gay women would be turned on by a video of gay men, while the dialogue and the acting is very naturalistic and nuanced. Everyone means well but somehow it doesn't all work out as anyone envisages. So there's anger and tears but lots of wit and humour too. Lisa Cholodenko - a lesbian who became pregnant by a sperm donor during the shooting of the film - has crafted a sensitive piece of direction and co-writing and she has been well-served by three fine performances from her lead actors. Bening and Moore give up on the careful make-up and fine clothes that normally make these attractive women movie stars and immediately convince the viewer that they are real characters and this is a real marriage.
The critics have absolutely raved about this work and it is good, very good, but perhaps they have oversold it somewhat and the ending is rather sudden and unsatisfying.
"Kill Bill: Volume 1"
You wait six years for a new Quentin Tarantino film and what happens? Two come along. But, on the strength of Volume 1, I'm really looking forward to the second and maybe some cinemas will show both parts together, giving a whole new meaning to the term 'double bill'. The overall project is a tongue-in-cheek homage to samurai films, kung fu movies, and spaghetti westerns that will revive Tarantino's cult reputation.
From the throat-grabbing opening to the jaw-dropping closing, along a gravity-defying, blood-spurting, limb-chopping journey of retribution, this is classic and unmistakable Tarantino, down to the use of chapter headings and labelling, the non-linear nature of the narrative, the graphic deployment of an animé sequence, and the inevitable idiosyncratic choice of music. Writer and director Tarantino was right to wait a year until his preferred star Uma Thurman was available, because this talented - as well as sexy and sassy - woman carries the film as the one-time pregnant bride who becomes a vengeful assassin in a yellow cat suit with a very special sword.
The whole thing is something to do with a strange and fearsome group called The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. Two squad members - Vernita Green who is actually black (Vivica A Fox) and O-Ren Ishii who is actually a Chinese-American and not Japanese (Lucy Lui) - pay the price for messing up the wedding, with a veritable orgy of death and dismemberment in between, and I don't think that the other squad members (including former lover Bill) will have much of a chance in Volume 2. But I want to see how they meet their well-deserved end and hopefully in the process discover where the bride learned her martial arts, what exactly was her relationship with Bill, and why was her wedding day the subject of such savagery.
"Kill Bill: Volume 2"
Apparently wunderkid Quentin Tarantino, writer and director of "Kill Bill", conceived it as a single work, but Harvey Weinstein of Miramax, suggested that it be cut in two. Looking at the double bill (sorry!) now, it's hard not to believe that it was always intended to be a two-parter, because the tone of the two parts is so different. If this doesn't sound too perverse for a Tarantino work, Volume 2 is a gentler movie - slower paced, much more character-driven and, in spite of some ugly violence, with a much, much lower body count.
In my review of Volume 1, I concluded: "I don't think that the other squad members (including former lover Bill) will have much of a chance in Volume 2. But I want to see how they meet their well-deserved end and hopefully in the process discover where the bride learned her martial arts, what exactly was her relationship with Bill, and why was her wedding day the subject of such savagery." In this sense, the second part is satisfying: all the questions are answered, all the issues resolved, and all of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad are well and truly eliminated.
Whereas Bill hardly featured in the initial half, he is central to the latter segment and David Carradine - whom I remember from the television series "Kung Fu" - gives a compelling performance in which he has the best lines, notably his apologia for the massacre. Again, though, it is Uma Thurman - as The Bride, Black Mamba, Beatrix Kiddo, and Mommy - who is brilliantly cast in a role which has already become iconic. Her rise from the 'dead' has echoes of Hammer horror "The Fall Of The House Of Usher", while her eye-catching battle sequence with Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) in the constricted confines of a trailer reminds one of the train fight in "From Russia With Love". If I came out the cinema with a slight sense of disappointment, it was because Bill is dispatched just too quickly, creating a slight sense of anti-climax. The smooth-talking brute deserved to suffer much more ...
This is a Jason Statham movie, so you know what to expect - although Robert de Niro and Clive Owen are there to add a veneer of class. It's one of the noisiest films you'll ever see and an action movie par excellence. So, while most of the acting is wooden and all the dialogue is stilted, we have a unremitting catalogue of running, jumping, punching, kicking, driving, and shooting, shooting, shooting with barely a pause to reload.
The plot - such as it is - involves Statham being hired by a Omani sheik to take out three former British SAS soldiers who killed his sons, so we have the unusual scenario of ex-special forces personnel being the bad guys or at least the victims. The storyline is based on "The Feathermen", a book by Ranulph Fiennes - who did serve in Oman - which allegedly is inspired by true events.
"Killing Them Softly"
Constant smoking, some heavy drinking, serious drug use, endless foul language, some whoring, a terribly brutal beating. Oh, several violent murders. be warned - this is a heavy gangster movie. But it has real style, some superb acting, and a message of sorts.Australian writer and director Andrew Dominik, who worked with Brad Pitt on "The Assassination Of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford", has teamed up with Pitt again to film the 1974 novel "Cogan's Trade" by George V Higgins. Pitt is terrific as the hitman Jackie Cogan who doesn't like to get too close to his victims physically or emotionally so that he can kill them 'softly'. Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini and Richard Jenkins are familar faces in a gangster world, but the support roles are well-executed as well. All of the characters here are "Goodfellas" but none of them are good fellows - if you get my meaning - and yet the viewer can't help having some sympathy with some of this criminal disfraternity.
Dominik has made his film something of a political commentary by setting it in the run-up to the US presidential election of 2008 and the financial fiasco of that period with the non too subtle suggestion that greed and criminality are as prevalent in the banks as on the streets of the US of A. In case the viewer missed the analogy, the Cogan character makes the comment in the final scene that "America is not a county. It's a business." Good point - and violently made. Not as cool as "Drive" but still a damn good movie.
Over the years, I've enjoyed many entertaining movies produced by Jerry Bruckheimer from "Top Gun" to "Pirates Of The Caribbean" and once again there is the rousing score (written by Hans Zimmer) and the great action sequences (filmed in Ireland), with a battle scene on a frozen lake particularly exciting, but sadly there are too many weaknesses to make this a success in the vein of "The Rock" or "Black Hawk Down".
The chief deficiency - as in far too many movies - is in the script. I could have forgiven the total recasting of the Arthurian legend, down to its repositioning centuries earlier than is normally suggested back to the contraction of the Roman Empire, if there had been a half-decent plot and some less stilted lines, surprising absences given that the writer David Franzoni authored the script for "Gladiator". It may not be the classic story as depicted in John Boorman's "Excalibur", but new research has fundamentally revised the myths.
The other main weakness is in the casting. "Gladiator" had Russell Crow and "Troy" had Brad Pitt, true stars with charismatic presence, but Clive Owen as Arthur cannot rise above his essentially television persona and Keira Knightly, lovely and spirited though she is, appears too young and has too few lines as Guinevere. In fact, the best performances come from Ray Winstone as one of Arthur's rough-hewn knights and Stellan Skarsgård as the leader of the brutal Saxons.
If you can live with these faults and keep your expectations in check, then this is a reasonably uplifting action movie that attempts to do for early English nationalism what "Braveheart" did for Scottish patriotism.
"King Kong" (2005)
This is a mammoth of a movie: an ape standing 25 feet high, huge dinosaurs and insects, a budget of over $200 million, a workforce of 2,500, and a running time of over three hours (in Prague where I saw it, there was an old-style intermission). But, the architect of it all, New Zealander Peter Jackson, was seemingly born to craft the work, having been inspired to enter moviemaking when he saw the original at the age of nine, having almost made the film in 1996, and now the veteran of three outstanding segments of "Lord Of The Rings". The storyline is utterly familiar from the original and iconic 1933 black and white, stop motion, film and the much maligned, more tongue-in-cheek, up-dated remake of 1976, but Jackson has created a homage to his beloved original with so many allusions (most obviously with the final line of dialogue) and some subtle changes (such as a more modern heroine and a more playful relationship between beauty and the beast).
In many ways, what is most similar and most different is Kong himself. At the heart of the movie, we still have a black beast that is lost and lonely in a manner paralleled by the blonde woman with whom he develops a strange affection that will ultimately be the death of him. On the other hand, as modelled on the movements of Andy Serkis (who is the cook as well as Kong), this is a gorilla who walks on all fours in a naturalistic style absent from the previous versions. Jack Black ("High Fidelity") is surprisingly effective in a role (the film producer Carl Denham) that represents a change of style from his usual comedic characters, while fetching Naomi Watts ("21 Grams") is wonderful as a more independent-minded Ann Darrow than we have seen before. Adrien Brody is a talented actor, as witnessed in "The Pianist", but seems somewhat ill-cast here as a playwright who is willing and able to climb to the very top of the Empire State Building to rescue his muse.
Obviously "King Kong" is a film full of allegorical references, never more so than when New York in the Depression - brilliantly realised in some stunning opening and closing scenes - is represented as a jungle as much as Skull Island itself, but essentionally movies are about magic and entertainment and, in these respects, Jackson delivers a wonderful, if over-long (twice the length of the original), trip. Skull Island looks genuinely scary, the animals are brilliantly realised with some state-of-the-art special effects, the fight sequences between Kong and dinosaurs are ferocious, the insect scene - apparently cut from the 1933 version - will make young viewers especially cringe and squirm, and the parallel love stories have a certain tenderness. So it may be corny and familiar but it works really well.
The Kingdom in question here is Saudi Arabia, where virtually all the film is set but none of the shooting could take place (so Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates fills in). When a bomb goes off in an American housing compound, a crack FBI investigation team (Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman) manages to gain short-term access to the country (which is utterly unlikely) to investigate the attack with explosive consequences (which are even more unlikely).
At the level of entertainment, the movie is a success. It grips from the very beginning and the tension never lets up. Bombs and bullets are flying everywhere and there is more than enough action. At the level of education, it could be worse, especially from a director (Peter Berg) not noted for being cerebral in his work.
During the opening credits, we have a very rapid but interesting history of Saudia Arabia, which goes beyond the usual distinction between Sunni and Shia to highlight the role of the Wahhabi movement. In this slightly more nuanced examination of the war on terror than we usually have from Hollywood, not all the Americans are good and not all the Arabs - notably a character played by Ashraf Barhom - is bad.
"Kingdom Of Heaven"
With his brilliant "Gladiator", director Ridley Scott revived the sword and sandal genre; since then, we have had "King Arthur, "Troy" and "Alexander", none of which equalled the Roman triumph. Now Scott himself returns to the theme with a movie which seeks to proclaim a grander political message than "Gladiator" but which lacks the pace and excitement. His message here - post the trauma of 9/11 - is that it is possible, and indeed necessary, for the great world religions of Christianity and Islam to co-exist in a spirit of mutual tolerance and even respect. Perhaps predictably, Scott has been criticised both for being anti-Islamic and for being an apologist for the Muslim view. Howver, the last time I saw a cinematic effort to advocate such a theme on such a scale was the classic "El Cid" of 1961.
In "Kingdom Of Heaven", the setting is a brief period of peace in the war of the Crusades when at the end of the 12th century the King of Jerusalem Baldwin IV (a metal-masked Ed Norton) and the Saracen General Saladin (Syrian actor Ghassan Massound) brokered a peace that was threatened by fundamentalists on both sides. If one needs more resonances with the present, one recalls that the birthplace of Saladin, Tikrit in modern-day Iraq, is also that of Saddam Hussein and the most dangerous of the fundamentalists are the Christian Templars whose supposed heirs are to be found in Dan Brown's bestseller "The Da Vinci Code" and, in spirit at least, among the neo-cons in the Bush Administration.
The central role is taken by Orlando Bloom - who has already seen a good deal of swordplay in "The Lord Of The Rings" - as Balian, a blacksmith in rural France who one day finds that he is the son of a knight (the always impressive Liam Neeson) and almost as quickly is transported to Jerusalem, becoming a magnificant sword fighter and military strategist. As if this was not fortune enough, the freckle-faced local beauty Sibylla (the French Eva Green) makes it clear that she is happy to do her bit for cultural unity, although - given the sensibilities of American viewers - there is not a hint of nudity or sex (now violence is no problem for the US moral guardians). Costumes, sets, sound and music are all of a high order. The script is written by William Monahan and has clearly been well-researched - most of the leading characters (including Balian) existed and all the key events actually took place - but it lacks the characterisation and depth of a work like "Gladiator" or, to go back many years, "Lawrence Of Arabia" (directed by David Lean who is much admired by Scott).
Shot on location in Spain and Morocco and utilising wonderful effects, it looks stunning, especially the recreation of Jerusalem itself and the October 1187 savage assault of the city with siege towers and massive catapults which makes "The Alamao" look like a tea party. Blood spurts and sprays all over the place and yet ironically the work would have benefited from a few more scenes of conflict since it sags in parts. Indeed, at one point, we seem to be promised the mother of all conflicts (actually the July 1187 Battle of Hittin), when the scene suddenly switches to the aftermath of the massacre with dead bodies everywhere. In short, the two-and-a-half-hour "Kingdom Of Heaven" is a politically and cinematically ambitious and worthy work that deserves praise for both its intentions and execution but falls short of the classic that it might have been.
Link: the real Balian click here
"The King's Speech"
In one sense, this subject - the unexpected and (by him especially) unwanted accession to the throne of Prince Albert as King George VI - is an obvious choice for a British film for we love tales about the monarchy - think of "Elizabeth", "Elizabeth: The Golden Age", "The Madness Of King George", "The Young Victoria, "Mrs Brown", "The Queen" ... On the other hand, an instance of extreme stammering would seem to be a most unsuitable subject for a medium which is all about fluency in both words and vision. Yet the outcome is a triumph.
Considerable credit goes first to scriptwriter David Seidler, who was attracted to the project as a one-time stammerer, while director Tom Hooper - whose television mini-series "John Adams" I enjoyed so very much - has crafted a wonderful work that will bring special pride to his father whom I know professionally.
Fresh from his superb performance in "A Single Man", Colin Firth provides a superlative portrayal of the psychologically damaged George, known to his family - and (impertinently) his speech therapist - as Bertie. While magnificent Aussie Geoffrey Rush was the one with the mental problems in "Shine", here he is the one with the (considerably unorthodox) response, therapist Lionel Logue who provides compensating techniques and much-needed friendship. Helena Bonham Carter is perfect as George's wife and (an Australian affecting a splendid English accent) Guy Pearce is ideal as George's brother.
But this is a rare jewel of a movie - one with not a wasted or weak line of dialogue, one with not a less than accomplished and convincing piece of acting however small the role. There is plenty of humour and tenderness in a story that ends in a personal triumph: the speech at the end, which is one of the two allusions in the clever title, when you hang on every word as Beethoven belts out.
"Kingsman: The Secret Service"
If you enjoyed the 2010 movie "Kick-Ass" (and I certainly did), you'll be joyously entertained by "Kingsman". That's no accident since the films have the same British director Matthew Vaughan and the same British writer Jane Goldman (aka Mrs Jonathan Ross). Whereas "King-Ass" was a twist on the super-hero genre, "Kingsman" is a homage to the spy caper with particular reference to the earlier Bond movies. While "King-Ass" was wonderfully violent, "Kingsman" at times presents a gore-fest, notably in over the top sequences involving a fight scene in a church and heads exploding to accompanying music.
It is a cleverly constructed work with excitement from the opening seconds, a narrative that fairly zips along, and lots of wry humour. And it deliberately pitches for a wide audience with a host of older familiar stars (Colin Firth, Michael Caine, Samuel L Jackson) plus a raft of new younger talent (Taron Egerton as the working class young buck, Sophie Cookson as his side kick, and Sofia Boutella as his intended nemesis). Sometimes it is all a little too contrived, with the device of a line of dialogue repeated later in a slighly different context used over and over again, but it is all so much fun you forgive such contrivances.
The plan is that "Kingsman" will become a franchise and early in the credits a scene sets up the central charater for the next movie.
America has always had a complex and confused relationship with sex. On the one hand, the country generates the largest volume of pornography in the world; on the other hand, it has an almost puritanical public attitude to any portrayal of sex in the mainstream media. In the 1940s and 1950s, Dr Alfred Kinsey was the personification of this ambivalence: a man who pioneered a new detached, scientific analysis of sexual behaviour, while himself exhibiting a confusing mixture of loyalty and lasciviousness in his relationships.
Writer and director Bill Condon cleverly uses the narrative device of framing the film around the idea of Kinsey being the subject of one of his own questionnaires. This enables us to learn about his troubled upbringing with a repressed and repressive father, his total lack of sex until his marriage at the age of 30, his ground-breaking research at the conservative mid-western Indiana University, and his experimentation with homosexuality and masochism while endorsing partner-swopping by members of his research team. In the eponymous role, Liam Neeson gives his best performance since his recreation of other real-life figures in "Michael Collins" and "Schindler's List". As his open-minded but long-suffering wife, Laura Linney gives an Oscar-nominated showing. Peter Sarsgarrd is sensitive and subtle as Kinsey's colleague, friend and lover, while Lynn Redgrave has a cameo role that is so powerful her scene should have been the ending of the movie.
The film contains much explicit discussion of sex, but the only depiction of intercourse is an end credits sequence of black-and-white film from the Kinsey archives showing copulation between animals, and the only nudity is a couple of brief shots of a full frontal male. So this is not a work to excite or even titillate but to inform and provoke. "Kinsey" is a brave and timely movie that dares to remind us that, as recently as half a century ago, the USA treated sex as the great unmentionable, to be carried out with one person in one position for the simple gratification of men, and, while we are far from slipping back to that view, sections of society still have great difficulty in accepting the variety of sexual practices and orientations.
"Kissing Jessica Stein"
This is such a fresh and enjoyable romantic comedy with the twist that it centres on two basically straight New York women who experiment with a lesbian relationship. It could so easily have been prurient or embarrassing or just plain sexist, but that it succeeds so well and so endearingly is down to Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen.
These two wrote and performed the original off-off-Broadway play and have now successfully transfered their scripting and thespian talents to the screen. Westfeldt plays the eponymous Jessica, a Jewish singleton who sets impossible standards for both herself and her male suitors, while Juergensen is the cooler Helen who seduces Jessica into trying something Sapphic. The dialogue and acting are very naturalistic and, together with direction by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, it makes for entertaining, if undemanding, viewing.
> "The Kite Runner"
I was enormously impressed and moved by the first novel from Khaled Hosseini, a tale of the friendship of two Afghan boys: Amir, aged 12 when we first meet him in Kabul and Hassan, the runner of the title - the former Pashtun, Sunni and wealthy; the latter Hazara, Shia and poor. To bring such a rich text to the screen was always going to be a hugely challenging enterprise and director Marc Foster and writer David Benioff have achieved a qualified success. A brave decision was made to use local languages so, most of the time, the characters speak in Dari (and bits of Pashtu and Urdu), although the scenes in America are in English. An unknown cast - including two impressive child actors - and an unusual location - various parts of China standing in for Afghanistan - make this a very distinctive work that is miles away from the usual commercial Hollywood fare.
Understandably, given the limitations of running time, the film concentrates on the human relationships and misses out most of the history and the politics that underline the power of the novel. Even then, so much narrative is squeezed into just two hours, that there is no time to show the real nature and depth of the boys' friendship and, for all its efforts, the movie does not quite convey the emotional rawness of the novel. Where the moving image can and does score over the written text, however, is in the depiction of the kite flying which acts as bookends to the narrative, giving a slightly more uplifting ending to the film version of the story.
It is bitterly ironic that "The Kite Runner" has been banned in Afghanistan itself after government officials claimed it could incite violence. To everyone who can see the film, I would heartily commend it.
The oddly-named John Klute (Donald Sutherland) is a private detective tasked with investigating the disappearance of a businessman who was a friend and the only clue seems to be his apparent correspondence with a New York prostitute called Bree Daniel (Jane Fonda). Producer and director Alan J Pakula created a work that is both thematically and visually very dark, although there is the odd moment of tenderness. Fonda is particularly good and won an Academy Award for her engaging performance.
"Knight And Day"
This action comedy is all rather contrived (starting with the never-explained title) and certainly rather silly (involving a battery of great power but unfortunate unrealiability), yet it is nevertheless entertaining and made very watchable by its two appealling stars: Tom Cruise as an FBI agent in trouble with the agency and Cameron Diaz as an innocent citizen who gets caught up in an early subterfuge. Some of the stunts are fun, with Cruise as usual doing most of his own role's himself, but the CGI is rather obvious.
This movie - the surprise low-budget success of summer 2007 - is the latest in a growing line of 'nerd gets girl' rom-com fantasies which have included "High Fidelity", "The Wedding Singer" and "There's Something About Mary". Written and directed by Judd Apatow, who gave us "The 40-Year Old Virgin", this stars Seth Rogen as Ben Stone, an overweight slacker in all departments, who manages to bed Katherine Heigl as Alison Scott, the beautiful and aspiring television production assistant about to go in front of the cameras. Their drunken one-night stand becomes immensely more complicated when Alison finds that she is pregnant and wants the baby.
"Knocked Up" is really two films aimed at different demographics and, over the two hours, it veers from one to the other. There is the gross-out comedy full of crudity and profanity aimed at (mainly male) teenagers and then there is the perceptive, even moving, examination of the trials and the joys of commitment, marriage, pregnancy and parenthood targeted mainly at both men and women in their 20s and 30s. The first theme has some very funny lines and situations, but for me all these cinematic references to masturbation need to be taken in hand. The second theme is more intelligent and true-to-life, while still being wry and amusing, and is made genuinely poignant by the engaging performances of the two leads, ably supported by Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd as Alison's sister and brother-in-law representing a warning vision of how adulthood can so often work out.
"Kong: Skull Island"
It seems that you can't keep a giant ape down and this is at least the fourth Kong movie that I've seen following the versions of "King Kong" released in 1933, 1976 and 2005. What makes this one different? It channels "Apocalypse Now" big time, setting the action just after the Vietnam War and deploying a group of GIs from that conflict led by a bombastic lieutenant colonel who insists "This is one war we're not gonna lose" (yeh). Stupidly they start by carpet bombing Skull Island in the same way that the Americans did Vietnam with the same effect, except that this time it's not the Vietcong who are enraged but ugly, giant reptiles. I suppose another difference is that special effects have moved on, even in the decade since the last Kong movie, and there are some striking visuals and impressive CGI, but this effort is nowhere near as effective as Peter Jackson's 2005 blockbuster.
The plot is minimal and the script often dire. Kong appears far too early and is not characterised as well as the three other films. And there is a massive waste of cinematic talent with the likes of John Goodman, John C Reilly, Tom Huddleston and Samuel L Jackson under-utilised and/or under-stretched, no more so than with the one female role where the talents of Brie Larson - recent Academy Award winner for "Room" - are squandered. If you sit through endless credits, you'll see a clip which appears to be setting up a sequel in which Kong faces off with Godzilla (apparently in a 2020 release). I won't be holding my breath ...
A most unusual title for a most unusual film. The term 'koyaanisqatsi' is a Hopi Indian word meaning 'life out of balance'. This is a breathtakingly original work with no plot, no characters, and no dialogue. Instead, using time lapse, slow motion, aerial and infra-red photography, producer and director Godfrey Reggio and cinematographer Ron Fricke present some brilliant imagery of contemporary America suffused by atmospheric music from Philip Glass. Following shots of a pristine vision of our fragile earth, in a powerful ecological message we see how man and machine have damaged and desecrated it. The work, released in 1982, was followed by "Powaqatsi" (1988) and "Naqoyqatsi" (2002) to make up a trilogy.
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Great title, reminiscent of "THX 1138" from George Lucas. However, although this might sound like another science fiction movie - which initially put off my wife - it is in fact an earth-bound tale devoid of special effects. Kevin Space, as a character called Prot, is either a visitor from a planet called K-PAX who can travel faster than the speed of light or someone very seriously mentally ill with complex and detailed delusions. Assigned to find out is Jeff Bridges as Dr Mark Powell who - on his own admission - becomes too deeply involved in the mystery.
Spacey, an actor with an 'otherworldliness' about him and a surname to match, is utterly believable as the benevolent and insightful alien with a consuming taste for fruit. Of course, Bridges has been here before and performs well as the doctor who often cares more about his patients than his family. He was himself a visitor from outer space in "Starman" and he was a psychiatrist again in "Vanilla Sky". Indeed so well cast are the two that it's hard to imagine that originally Spacey was going to be the shrink and Will Smith was slated to be the spaceman.
There are some good lines ("I've got a light beam to catch"), but unfortunately it all looks rather familiar. The idea of a man with seemingly magic powers was done in "Phenomenon" and the cathartic revelations in the psychiatrist's office is straight out of "The Prince Of Tides". Although there is much sentimentally, the ending is uncharacteristically down-beat and - unless you're like me and watch all the credits - you'll miss a tiny scene at the very end of this particular rainbow.
All reviews by ROGER DARLINGTON.
Last modified on 12 March 2017
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