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FILM REVIEWS: L

Contents
  • "LA Confidential"
  • "La La Land"
  • "Labor Day"
  • "The Lady"
  • "The Lady In The Van"
  • "The Lake House"
  • "Land And Freedom"
  • "The Land Girls"
  • "Lantana"
  • "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider"
  • "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life"
  • "Larry Crowne"
  • "The Last Castle"
  • "Last Chance Harvey"
  • "The Last King Of Scotland"
  • "Last Night" (1998)
  • "Last Night" (2010)
  • "The Last Samurai"
  • "The Last Seduction"
  • "The Last Station"
  • "Lawless"
  • "Layer Cake"
  • "Lebanon"
  • "Legend"
  • "The Legend Of Tarzan"
  • "The Lego Movie"
  • "The Lego Ninjago Movie"
  • "Lemon Tree"
  • "Leon"
  • "Letters From Iwo Jiwa"
  • "Life Is Beautiful"
  • "The Life Of David Gale"
  • "Life Of Pi"
  • "Limitless"
  • "Lincoln"
  • "Lion"
  • "Lions For Lambs"
  • "A Little Chaos"
  • "Little Voice"
  • "Little Women" (1994)
  • "The Lives Of Others"
  • "Logan"
  • "London Has Fallen"
  • "The Long Kiss Goodnight"
  • "A Long Way Down"
  • "The Look Of Love"
  • "Looper"
  • "Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring"
  • "Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers"
  • "Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King"
  • "Lore"
  • "Lost In Translation"
  • "Love Actually"
  • "Love & Friendship"
  • "Love And Other Drugs"
  • "Love And Other Impossibe Pursuits"
  • "Love Happens"
  • "Love In The Afternoon"
  • "Love In The Time Of Cholera"
  • "The Love Punch"
  • "Loving"
  • "Lucy"
  • "The Lunchbox"

  • "LA Confidential"

    Set around the Los Angeles Police Department in the 1950s, this is quite simply one of the best crime movies ever made. A clever but complex plot involving shifting loyalties and alliances, fast-moving and often explosive action, and a set of superb performances make this a work which has to be seen more than once.

    Although the script was by Brian Hegleland, it is based on the novel by James Ellroy whose mother was brutally murdered when he was 10. The assured direction is by Curtis Hanson who earlier made "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle". The central performances focus on a quartet of cops - Kevin Spacey as image-conscious Jack Vincennes, Russell Crowe as pugnacious Bud White, Guy Pearce as ruthlessly ambitious college boy Ed Exley and James Cromwell as their hard-bitten captain Dudley Smith - but Danny de Vito and Kim Bassinger also star in a film that grabs you from the start and never lets go.

    "La La Land"

    I have very wide tastes in cinema, but I generally avoid two genres: musicals and horror. However, I was always going to make an exception for "La La Land" following the vibes from the festivals and indeed, by the time I caught up with the movie, it had already been nominated for no less than 14 Academy Awards, putting it up there with other record-holders "All About Eve" (1950) and "Titantic" (1997)

    Among massive support, the film has had its critics. OK, the plot and characterisation are slight, but essentially this is a homage to the old-fashioned Hollywood musical and we don't need a complicated narrative or lots of back story. Instead we have gorgeous colours and wonderfully zooming and swirling cinematography with uplifting dance sequences and a memorable soundtrack (composed by Justin Hurwitz). OK, I've heard better singing and I've seen better dancing, but Ryan Gosling as Seb and Emma Stone as Mia are playing a jazz pianist and an actress respectively and their singing and dancing is much more than adequate. These are two glorious performances.

    Writer and director Damien Chazelle has given us a movie - such a contrast in tone and style from his previous "Whiplash"- which is destined to be a classic and become a long-running stage show (it is structured into four acts based on the seasons). The vibrant sequence before the title - reminiscent of a scene from "Fame"- is shown is worth the price of admission alone; musical numbers seemingly shot in a single take hold the attention and bring a smile to the face; a scene where the two leads first hold hands in a cinema is pure romance; the dance sequence in the Griffith Observatory is absolute magic; and the bitter-sweet ending not what I expected but a realistic conclusion to a work that urges us to strive for our dreams whatever the cost.

    I just loved this movie and I'm sure I'll see it again and again. Meanwhile I went straight out of the cinema and bought the soundtrack.

    "Labor Day"

    I chose to watch this film because it stars the British actress Kate Winslet. I reckon that this is the 10th movie in which I have seen her - all the way from "Heavenly Creatures" to "Contagion" - and she never gives a less than an impressive performance. This is one of her best yet. On this occasion, she plays a traumatised single mother in a small American town who suddenly finds herself under the control of an escaped convict played ably by Josh Brolin.

    The story takes place mainly over a Labor Day weekend but, in the course of the film, there are flashbacks relating to the lives of both the principals and, at the end, we jump forward in time. The whole thing is seen through the eyes of the young boy that is the son of the Winslet character and the screenplay - written by the director Jason Reitman - is based on a novel by Joyce Maynard. The narrative is slow, increasingly tense and ultimately moving and, while there is no sex, there is plenty of sensuality in this accomplished work. A peach pie has never looked so erotic.

    "The Lady"

    Making a commercial film about a struggle for human rights and democracy is a real struggle because most audiences want entertainment and not politics. So the producers have to find an 'angle'. In 1987, "A World Apart" told the story of the fight against apartheid in South Africa but through the prism of the strain that this put on ANC activist Ruth First's relationship with her young daughter. A similar approach is used here in this account of the life of Aung San Suu Kyi, the eponymous lady and leader of the National League for Democracy in the dictatorship that has ruled Burma for most of the period since post-war independence from Britain. So it is not politics as such which is to the fore here but Suu Kyi's relationship with her husband, Oxford academic Michael Aris, and most especialy the regime's brutal refusal to allow Aris to see his wife one last time when he was dying of prostate cancer. It is a gut-wrenchingly sad tale.

    Malaysian-born actress Michelle Yeoh - a Bond girl in "Tomorrow Never Dies" and pugilist star of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" - looks perfect in the leading role, giving a performance which, while often understated, is deeply moving. David Thewlis (various "Harry Potter" films and "The Boy With The Striped Pyjamas") is very effective as the long-suffering husband. The exotic locations and local faces in Thailand serve the movie well and original music by the French Eric Serra plus some Mozart enhance the emotional power of the work. It is perhaps no surprise that the script for what is in essence a love story comes from a female writer - the British Rebecca Frayn - but one might not expect the identity of the director for this Anglo-French film: Luc Besson, best known for such action movies as "Nikita", "Leon" and "The Fifth Element".

    "The Lady" may be a bit one-dimensional and lack nuance, but it highlights a long struggle for human rights that is not sufficiently well-known and the timing of its release (I saw it in January 2012) is poignant. When filming started, Suu Kyi was still under house arrest, as she had been in total for some 15 years, but by the time the film was finished she had been released. At the end of the movie, the iron grip of the regime and the number of political prisoners are highlighted but, in the weeks around the film's release, the generals instituted a series of liberalisation measures including the freeing of most political prisoners. If all this augurs an era of genuine democracy in Burma, "The Lady" will be a wonderful testimony to the power of personal courage and sacrifice to effect political change.

    Link: Wikipedia page on Aung San Suu Kyi click here

    "The Lady In Tne Van"

    The English have always had a remarkable tolerance of eccentricity and they don't come much more eccentric than the eponymous Miss Shepherd who in this "mostly true" story parked her vehicle in the Camden Town driveway of playwright Alan Bennett and finished up staying there for 15 years. Bennett turned his short book into a stage play that was directed by Nicholas Hytner with the redoubtable Maggie Smith in the title role. All three of them carry out the same duties in this film which is not just very funny but genuinely moving.

    Smith, 80 at the time, is of course utterly brilliant in a role which she has made her own, but Alex Jennings is exceptional too as two versions of Bennett (apparently the writer talks to himself a lot) and there are fine cameo performances from the likes of Frances de la Tour, Roger Allam, Jim Broadbent, Dominic Cooper and even James Corden. In short, this is a joy of a movie with an array of British talent.

    "The Lake House"

    "Speed" was such a success for Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves that it must have seemed an exciting idea to bring them back together again for the first time since that 1994 hit. Bullock can certainly act - given the right role - as we saw in "Crash", although I personally feel that Reeve's acting range is distinctly limited. So the prospects probably seemed fair for this renewed pairing in which Bullock plays a hospital doctor and Reeves an unfulfilled architect, both in Chicago, but - and here's the rub - separated by two years in time.

    They connect with one another through a stream of letters and this literary device could have worked much better in a novel and apparently did adequately as the South Korean movie "Il Mare" on which this Hollywood offering is based. Here, though, the whole thing seems stilted when it isn't downright ridiculous. There is simply no attempt to explain why these lovers are separated by 24 months, let alone how they manage to defy the laws of time and space to come together. So the whole thing is slow, unconvincing and unappealing.

    Argentinian director Alejandro Agresti offers us some zippy camerawork and attractive shots of Chicago's architecture and the house itself is impressive if you like living in a goldfish bowl on stilts. Sadly, however, "The Lake House" is likely to sink with little trace.

    "Land And Freedom"

    Directed by the committed British Ken Loach, this was a British/Spanish/German co-production about the Spanish Civil War with half the dialogue in English and half in Spanish with subtitles. The work demands a lot of the viewer with, at one stage, a prolonged political debate between the political factions, but there is some good acting - especially from Ian Hart as the unemployed Liverpudlian who volunteers for the International Brigade - and some dramatic action sequences.

    The viewpoint is that of the Republican side and it is fiercely uncompromising in its stance, claiming that the Stalinist Communist Party sabotaged the revolution by liquidating the Trotskyist POUM (and the anarchists). Although no doubt well-intentioned, the film is rather confusing for those who know little about the factional differences and too one-sided and simplistic in its support for the Militia viewpoint.

    "The Land Girls"

    When the men went off to fight the Second World war, the world of work was transformed by the influx of women - a phenomenon little explored in film. The implications for factory work was examined in the 1980 American documentary "The Life And Times Of Rosie The Riveter", while this 1998 British film - directed and co-written by David Leland - provides a fictional look at the role of the Women's Land Army through the experiences of three attractive city girls: working class hairdresser Prue (Anna Friel), middle class graduate Ag (Rachel Weisz), and quiet Stella (Catherine McCormack). The man in the middle of all the fields and the fornication is farmer's son Joe (Steven Mackintosh).

    Another star of the film is the beautiful countryside of Devon and Somerset, while a Spitfire flown by Mark Hanna makes a cameo appearance. Like another movie set on the land in wartime - "Another Time, Another Place" (1983) - this is based on a novel by a female author, in this case Angela Huth. She has created three wonderful roles for young British actresses and David Leland has brought the book to life with a marvellous evocation of the period and an accomplished combination of humour and pathos.

    "Lantana"

    Calvin Allan writes:

    This Australian film opens with the (fully-clothed) body of a dead woman hidden deep in a lantana - a dense, thorny bush which forms a metaphor for the film's treatment of its central characters: four couples whose lives are interweaved in a complex, but very believable way. As the film evolves, it does not become evident which one of the women is the victim until towards the end. By then, we care deeply about the reasons for her disappearance and the motives, and even more so, for what it has to say both about those who are involved with her on the screen and, by extension, ourselves as viewers bringing to it our own complex relationships.

    It is no coincidence that one of the characters is a therapist - perhaps as much for ourselves as for the on-screen characters. In an absorbing, gritty (and appropriately shot) film that has much to say about the state of the human - and specifically the male - condition, Anthony LaPaglia, the male lead, is utterly compelling as an Australian detective undergoing his own mid-life crises, a tough role to which he brings immense realism and, ultimately, pathos. Despite the difficult nature of the film's central themes, it is not without its moments of humour and its ending outlines a hopeful, if fragile, future.

    Note: At the time that Calvin submitted this review to me, I had not seen "Latana". I have subsequently viewed it twice and fully endorse his positive assessment. This is a finely-plotted work with a carefully-constructed narrative that engages and challenges in equal measure.

    "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider"

    There are far too few strong roles for women in the cinema, so bringing electronic game icon Lara Croft to the big screen was a wonderful idea and 26 year old American actress Angelina Jolie is perfect physically for the role, even managing a competent English accent, like her compatriots Gwyneth Paltrow ("Sliding Doors") and Renee Zellweger ("Bridget Jones's Diary") before her. Her sardonic tone and sassy swagger are just right. In another neat bit of casting, real life dad Jon Voight plays her deceased father in flash backs.

    Director Simon West does a competent job. The locations are wonderful - most notably the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, but also Iceland, Venice and Hartfield House in rural England - and the action scenes are fast, furious and fun. A pity then that the plot is so weak (finding the key to time and space before the wicked Illuminati get hold of it) and some characterisation would certainly have been in order (where did Lara learn to shoot two huge guns simultaneously?). Jolie has signed a two-sequel contract, so let's hope that the franchise will become better.

    Footnote: Jolie told an interviewer: "I'll make it real simple. I'm a 36C. In the game, Lara is a double-D. In the movie, she's a D. So we split the difference and made her more athletic".

    "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life"

    This movie has had a tough time from the critics, but really its weaknesses and strengths are very similar to the original outing - and that grossed almost $300M worldwide. There are worse things in life than spending two hours watching someone with Angelina Jolie's animalistic eyes, bee-stung lips and engaging figure knocking hell out of the bad guys, while performing swirling gymnastics and sporting two huge guns.

    Jan de Bont ("Speed") has taken over as director. Again the plot is simple and silly: some megalomaniac (an unimpressive Ciarán Hinds) wants to gain access to an object that will give him unprecedented power over the world (this time it's Pandora's Box which can only be located through a golden orb). Again the script is weak when not risible. But again the locations are wonderful (Greece, Hong Kong and Kenya) and the action non-stop. An extra bonus is Scotsman Gerard Butler who brings a real physicality to his role as a renegade agent and some emotional vulnerability to Croft's tough exterior.

    "Larry Crowne"

    Oh dear, I so wanted to like this movie - but I felt so let down. Tom Hanks, as the eponymous affable store assistant dismissed because he doesn't have a college degree (isn't that illegal?), and Julia Roberts, as an (unlikely) college professor cynically giving speech classes, are two of the most likeable stars of a certain age in the Hollywood firmament and the idea of a romance between middle-aged characters seemed so refreshing after moviedom's excessive focus on pubescent teens. Yet this is a rom-com with too little rom and very little com.

    Sadly we have to hold Hanks responsible since he is the director (his second effort after "That Thing You Do!") as well as the lead actor and he even co-writes the script which is so lame and limp. Really, giving up an SVU for a scooter and hanging out with kids who think it's cool to wear your shirt out, click your fingers and practice feng shui is not exactly the sort of life-changing drama that too many American workers are experiencing from the current recession.

    Once again Hanks is playing Mr Everyman who finds himself a fish out of water, but he has done this so, so much better in movies ranging from "Big" to "Forrest Gump" and this feeble effort was never going to be his crowning achievement.

    "The Last Castle"

    Film legend Robert Redford gives a controlled, understated performance as an American three-star general charged with a crime he does not contest and condemned to serve in a maximum security military prison - the castle of the title. He quickly finds that the institution is commanded by an obsessive and cruel warden impressively played by James Gandolfini. A psychological battle of minds takes place between the two men to achieve control of the inmates and ultimately the prison itself.

    At one point, a soldier guarding the institution assures the warden that the former general may have won the hearts and minds of the prisoners but the military staff still have the inmates' balls. Who will win this contest and at what cost? As the movie unfolds, the action is ramped up higher and higher while the whole thing becomes more and more implausible. But, as entertainment, it works well enough.

    "Last Chance Harvey"

    Harvey Shine is an American jingle writer at serious risk of losing his job as he jets over to London for the wedding of his daughter where he is assigned a peripheral role compared to her step-father. Kate Walker works at Heathrow airport conducting passenger surveys and is a middle-aged single women still caring for an emotionally dependent mother. How these lost souls find each and friendship is the simple, gentle story of this movie aimed at an older and more feminine demographic than your Hollywood blockbuster. In many ways, this is a very British work - written and directed by Londoner Joel Hopkins, shot frequently on the capital's South Bank and other familiar tourist locations, and featuring an Autumnal setting that reflects the age of the lead characters.

    It is a slight, but engaging, tale and told with a script that could have been trite in the hands of lesser actors, but the casting is superb and absolutely makes the movie. Dustin Hoffman as Harvey is now in his seventies but looks a decade younger; he is an outstanding actor and even wrote the 'father of the bride' speech and composed and performed the jiggle that opens the film. Emma Thompson (now 50 but still so lovely) as Kate is brilliant; she can convey so much with an expression or a walk and gives a genuinely nuanced performance. These are naturalistic actors who can do pathos and humour with equal talent and who do not rush their lines and can communicate with a pause. It's love actually.

    "The Last King Of Scotland"

    Based on a novel by Giles Foden, this tells the story of the friendship between a fictional young Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) and the all too real Ugandan dictator Idi Amin (Forester Whitaker) who took the country into the bowels of hell during his period as president from 1971-1979. The Garrigan character was loosely inspired by the experience of Bob Astles, a British soldier and diplomat who was one of Amin's confidants, while many aspects of Amin's personality as portrayed in the film and many of the events depicted - such as the expulsion of the Ugandan Asians and the holding of Israeli hostages at Entebbe airport - are the stuff of history.

    Scottish director Kevin Macdonald has produced a fine work which was largely shot in Uganda itself and made good use of local music. McAvoy is excellent as the naïve doctor who gets in way above his head, but it is Whitaker who is outstanding as the eponymous tyrant, switching from affable father figure to nervous paranoid to chilling psycopath - a performance which won him the Academy Award for Best Actor.

    'Last Night" (1998)

    If you knew that the world was going to end in six hours, how would you spend the remaining time? I know .. but besides that? This is a low budget Canadian film that addresses some of these issues with dry, mordant humour. It comes from Don McKellar who wrote and directed the work and takes the leading role. He explores a range of reactions from the college mate who wants to have sex in every conceivable situation and variation, to the gas company official who calls every subscriber to thank them for their custom. The ending is perfect.

    "Last Night" (2010)

    This is a movie for grown ups, both because of the pacing (leisurely) and the subject matter (the threat of marital infidelity). It is the feature debut of Iranian-American writer/producer/director Massy Tadjedin and she has created an assured and nuanced piece of work.

    The married couple are Michael (Australian Sam Worthington) and Joanna (British Keira Knightley) and the risks come from Michael's overnight business trip to Philadelphia with vivacious colleague Laura (Cuban-American Eva Mendes) and Joanna's encounter with charming Alex, a former lover visiting New York (French Guillaume Canet). Will they? Won't they? And will they tell? It is almost painfully authentic.

    "The Last Samurai"

    The critics have not been overly supportive of this movie, but it is one of the best action-adventure films since "Gladiator" - intelligently scripted and well-paced with an emotive soundtrack. It is far more exciting than "Master And Commander" with well-choreographed fights and stunning battle sequences, while the visceral violence is even more gripping than in "The Return Of The King". Set almost exclusively in Japan in 1876 with a good deal of Japanese dialogue, this is far more respectful of oriental culture than "Lost In Translation" and reminiscent of "Dances With Wolves" in its appreciation of the 'native' way of life. In fact, it was largely shot in New Zealand and the cinematographer is simply wonderful, while the weaponry and costumery are impressively authentic.

    Tom Cruise plays Nathan Aldgren, an American civil war veteran who is still revolted and traumatised by the role he played in the indian wars. In the life of the samurai, he finds the honour and dignity that give purpose to life - and death - and, when taken captive by them, soon goes 'native'. Ken Wanatabe is noble in the eponymous role and indeed all the Japanese actors give deeper performances than their Hollywood counterparts. If director Edward Zwick - who did so well with "Glory" - had dispensed with the narration and ended the movie with the conclusion of the final battle, this would have been an even stronger work, but it is still superior entertainment.

    The film is loosely based on the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877.

    Link: Wikipedia page on the Satsuma rebellion click here

    "The Last Seduction"

    In a role reminiscent of an early Kathleen Turner in “Body Heat” (1981), Linda Fiorentino is simply brilliant as a manipulative, ball-breaking femme fatale willing to do anything to keep her ill-gotten dollars. Peter Berg plays the small-town guy taken for the ride of his life, while Bill Pullman is the one who swindled the money in the first place. I came very late to this movie and I simply can’t understand why Fiorentino hasn’t become a star (all I’ve seen her in is “Men In Black”). This is a film noir that is sexy, funny, violent, and totally amoral.

    "The Last Station"

    There's something quite compelling about a film with the word 'last' in the title and I can recall "The Last Emperor", "The Last Of The Mohicans", "The Last Samurai", "The Last Seduction" and "The Last Starfighter", to name a few in this vein. The eponymous railway station in this case is Astapovo in southern Russia, a location of which the world would have remained blissfully unaware if it had not been the place of death of the acclaimed author Leo Tolstoy in 1910.

    This German-Russian film with mainly American and British actors was both written and directed by the American Michael Hoffman who took as his source material the 1990 novel of the same name by the American academic Jay Parini. Christopher Plummer is the 82 year old Tolstoy, torn between family and acolytes, while Helen Mirren (herself part Russian) plays his long-suffering wife and mother of his 13 children - both excellent performances that received Academy Award nominations. Paul Giambatti is Tolstoy's chief disciple Vladimir Chertkov and James McAvoy is secretary to the great author - two more fine portrayals.

    There is some wonderful cinematography, aided by the use of a variety of locations in Germany and a few in Russia (including Tolystoy's home of Yasnaya Polyana). Altogether an intelligent and instructive film.

    "Lawless"

    "Lawless" is a brilliant film: beautifully photographed, superbly acted, exploding with brutal violence, yet leavened with two touching romances. It is said to be based on a true story and the source material is a book by the grandson of the narrator entitled "The Wettest County in The World".

    It is hard to imagine now but, for almost 14 years, American democracy banned the consumption of alcohol through a constitutional change in a notorious period known as Prohibition from 1920-1933. "Lawless" tells the story of one family of bootleggers in Franklin County, Virginia - the three Bondurant brothers: taciturn leader Forrest (Tom Hardy), the manic oldest brother Howard (Jason Clarke), and the initially mild youngest brother Jack (Shia Labeouf). Setting himself up as their intended nememsis is a sadistic lawman played by Guy Pearce. But this is a movie where even the support roles are filled by talented actors, so Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska and Gary Oldman make this a star-studded work.

    "Lawless" is a combination of the urban gangster and the rural western, but it is especially resonant of "The Godfather Part 1" with its emphasis on family, its sympathy for the lawbreakers, and its disturbing violence. Australian director John Hillcoat is clearly a rising talent.

    Incidentally "Lawless" is one of the very few cases where an uncensored version has never been released in its country of origin. While the US releases only offer the censored version, the uncensored version is only available in foreign countries.

    "Layer Cake"

    The modern tradition of the violent and sardonic London 'in yer face' gangster movie - starting with "The Long Good Friday" and continuing through "Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch" - is continued here with a movie that is the directorial debut of Matthew Vaughn who worked as producer on the last two of the aforementioned films. It is an impressive first work with a flashy directorial style and clever use of the camera that draws the viewer uncomfortably into the action. The violence is often brutal, but it is more a matter of hearing what is happening and seeing the consequences than witnessing the actual physical blows.

    What ultimately makes "Layer Cake" more evocative of the American "GoodFellas" than "Lock, Stock .." and the rest is its creation of a terrifying nightmare world of drugs and deceit, murder and mayhem, and cross and doublecross. At times, it is not clear what is happening, but the action is never less than compelling and this is a tough cake to swallow. Most of the cast is unfamiliar (the principal exception being Michael Gambon as the figure at the top of the cake) and, in the central and narrating role, Daniel Craig is particularly convincing as the suave unnamed crook trying to leave this mad world and spend some of his illgotten gains with newcomer Sienna Miller (who has one of only two female roles in this very male movie).

    "Lebanon"

    If one had to encapsulate this film in one word, it would be 'tight' - tight in the sustained tension throughout every one of its 93 minutes; tight in its concentration on the first 24 hours of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon; above all, tight in locating the whole work inside the claustrophobic confines of a tank holding four young and inexperienced IDF soldiers. It invites comparison with other war movies: with the American "The Hurt Locker" - released about the same time - for its total focus on a small group operating in the scariest of circumstances; with the Israeli "Waltz With Bashir" for its examination of an ill-conceived war where it was impossible to know who was friend and who was foe; with the German "The Boat" for its unremitting location inside a machine of war that is itself vulnerable.

    "Lebanon" was written and debut directed by Samuel Maoz who was himself a young recruit and tank gunner in the war of 1982 and who only now is able to articulate some of the horrors he witnessed in that conflict. Inside the film's vehicle is the statement: "Tanks are made of iron. Men are made of steel." But Maoz quickly makes it clear that these men are made of flesh and blood and raw nerves; they are soon lost physically, emotionally and morally. As he put it in an interview: "You cannot be in hell without tasting the food."

    There are certainly elements of cliche in this work and the perspective is monocular in more than one sense, but seeing "Lebanon" is a truly visceral experience with a series of profoundly disturbing images and a brilliant deployment of sound. For me, the most unsettling section was a soliloquy by a Phalangist to a Syrian. In that conversation, one sees literally face to face the inhumanity of man to man. I saw the film with a teenage Israeli planning to join the Israeli army who has the same name as one of the soldiers in the movie. The thought that he could be in those circumstances and have to make those decisions chills me.

    "Legend"

    Generally I am not keen on viewing films about real-life gangsters because I think that there is a tendency to humanise them and underplay their villainy. This account of the reign of identical twin brothers Ronnie and Reggie Kray in London's East End of the 1960s is not free of such reservations. Let's start with the title - it seems to suggest fame rather infamy. While there are scenes of appalling violence and brutal murders, most of this vengeance is aimed at other gangsters and their threat to the wider community is glossed over. The police are portrayed as flat-footed, even comic, whereas it took real courage to go after the Krays. At times, the film can't resist going for a laugh which I could have done without in such a serious story. And then the format, of seeing the narrative through the eyes and words of Reggie's girlfriend/wife Frances (Emily Browning), is very contrived as becomes clear towards the end and only seems to present Reggie as a killer who is nevertheless an incurable romantic.

    For all these criticisms, writer and director Brian Helgeland has produced a fine movie that captures the spirit of the times and covers a lot of ground in its 131 minutes. Above all, this is a superb platform for two powerful performances from Tom Hardy who plays both twins: the bespectacled, homosexual, mumbling, paranoid schizophrenic Ronnie and the handsome, smooth, calculating, conflicted and loyal Reggie. The viewer almost forgets that there is one actor rather than two on show here and this work must cement Hardy's reputation as one of the finest British actors around (he would make a great Bond). Helgeland presents the story as a kind of love triangle with both Ronnie and Frances vying for Reggie's affections but, like a Shakespearean tragedy, nobody is left standing after the gang and the law have finished their long-running struggle.

    "The Legend Of Tarzan"

    I'm not sure that I would have bothered to go to the cinema to see yet another Tarzan movie (even though the last one was 32 years ago) if it wasn't for the fact that I was amusing my nine year old friend Joshua. What is different this time is the deployment of extensive specific effects to portray an array of wild animals and a politically correct storyline in which Tarzan is allied with the natives against the brutality of Belgian colonialism. Swedish Alexander Skarsgård and Australian Margot Robbie certainly look the part of Tarzan and Jane but hardly distinguish themselves in thespian terms, while American Samuel L Jackson and Austrian Christoph Waltz as Tarzan's friend and foe respectively both exhibit far more charisma but can only lift the quality so far, given that the first half of the movie is so plodding and the second half is so predictable even though the end result is moderately entertaining.

    "The Lego Movie"

    How often does one go to the cinema at 11.15 am on a week day morning? But the place was packed. Admittedly it was half-term and this children's film had just been released. My wife and I took along her nephew's daughter (8) and son (5) and they absolutely loved it.

    The main character Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) is a construction worker who loves to sing "everything is awesome" while constantly being reminded to "follow the instructions". His world is controlled by President Business and his hordes of Micro Managers. Some have criticised the film as anti-business but it is really anti-conformity to over-restrictive rules.

    The whole thing is one continous marketing exercise but children will love recognising the multicoloured bricks and familiar mini-figures. The plot is a simplistic good vs evil tale but the last 20 minutes make it a little bit cleverer than that. Already it has achieved outstanding commercial success, so the brand guys will be thrilled and the sequels will follow.

    "The Lego Ninjago Movie"

    "The Emoji Movie", an attempt to emulate the success of "The Lego Movie", was released just weeks before "The Lego Ninjago Movie", the third construct in the popular plastic brick film franchise. "Emoji" was a disappointment, whereas "Ninjago" continues the winning formula of the Lego series.

    Many children will already be familar with the Ninjago television series and, like "Power Rangers" (another recent film based on a television series), we have a set of heroes with their own colours and powers and, for those are unfamiliar with them, there is a quick exposition of the six members of the Secret Ninjago Force. Like "The Lego Movie", the story is neatly book-ended by some live action.

    Amazingly I saw "Ninjago" at the cinema twice in a couple of weeks: once with my 10 year old 'godson' and then with my six year old granddaughter, both of whom were very happy with the experience. It does not have the originality of the first film in the franchise, but we can be sure that Lego characters will be back on the big screen sometime soon.

    "Lemon Tree"

    How does one tell a story about something as huge and complicated as the Arab/Israeli conflict? This 2008 Israeli film - made with German and French support - meets the challenge by reducing the situation to a struggle over a grove of lemon trees. This particular grove is owned by a Palestinian woman Salma Zidane (played wonderfully by Hiam Abbass) located on the Israel/West Bank border where the new Israeli Minister of Defence Israel Navon (Doron Tavory) chooses to make his home with attendant security issues that are eventually taken all the way to the Israeli Supreme Court. If this seems a rather contrived situation, then it's as well to appreciate that the story is inspired by the actual case of Minister Shaul Mofaz. There are no real villains in this well-intentioned, quietly understated tale, just conflicting views of culture and entitlement that lie at the heart of the wider conflict itself that seems without end.

    "Leon"

    What a wonderful movie - so different and so stylish. Directed by Luc Besson ("Nikita"), it is a kind of love story between the eponymous gristled French professional hitman (Jean Reno) and 12 year old abused American girl Matilda (Natalie Portman, subsequently seen as Queen Amidala in the "Star Wars" films) who are thrown together by circumstance. They give wonderful performances - as does Gary Oldman as a psychotic cop - in a work where lots of dramatic tension and explosive violence are balanced with humour and tenderness to produce a real hit.

    "Letters From Iwo Jiwa"

    I've been a massive fan of Clint Eastwood's directorial talents ever since "Play Misty For Me" (1971), so the arrival in 2006 of a diptych on the Battle of Iwo Jiwa - the American viewpoint in "Flags Of Our Fathers" and the Japanese perspective in "Letters From Iwo Jiwa" - was genuinely exciting.

    There are some similarities. Both are based on books - this one on "Picture Letters from Commander in Chief" by Tadamichi Kuribayashi, the Japanese commander on Iwo Jima. Both depict the scenes on the island in bleached-out colours. For English-speaking viewers, "Letters .." will be less accessible than "Flags .." since the whole thing is spoken in Japanese and 141 minutes of subtitles will be an effort for some, but the Japanese viewpoint is the better film with a much clearer narrative and an unusually humanistic view of Japanese soldiers. Ken Watanabe - who was introduced to western audiences in "The Last Samurai" - is assured as Kuribayashi in a nuanced performance.

    Even today, the bare facts of the battle are astonishing: on the American side, almost 7,000 dead and over 19,000 wounded and, for the Japanese, around 18,000 dead and a mere 200 or so captured alive. This was a revolting taste of what would have happened if the Americans had attempted to take mainland Japan with conventional forces rather than by dropping two atomic bombs. Eastwood is to be commended for giving us two thoughtful views on this seminal battle.

    Link: Wikipedia page on the battle of Iwo Jima click here

    "Life Is Beautiful"

    Although this Italian-language film was critically acclaimed - it won Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Actor and Best Original Dramatic Score - I just couldn’t bring myself to go to the cinema to see a comedy about the Holocaust but, when I saw it on television, I could see that it deserved its reception and the subject is handled sensitively if humorously. It is a triumph for Italy's version of Charlie Chaplin, Roberto Benigni, who directed and co-wrote the film as well as taking the lead role of Jewish-Italian Guido Orifice (at the Academy Awards, he amazed everyone by walking across the backs of the seats to receive his award!). Giorgio Cantarini is endearing as his son, persuaded that confinement in a German concentration camp is actually a fantastical game, and Nicoletta Braschi is beautiful as his Aryan wife who chooses to join them (like every attractive Italian in war-time, she reminds me of my late mother). This is such an unusual film that is patently non-credible, but best seen as a clever and effective satire on the absurdities of racism.

    "The Life Of David Gale"

    I have admired director Alan Parker's work since "Midnight Express" and I have been a big fan of actor Kevin Spacey since "The Usual Suspects", so this pairing of the two promised much. Here Spacey plays a philosophy academic who is passionately opposed to capital punishment but finds himself convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Thin-some and American-accented Kate Winslet is the investigative journalist who meets him for the first time just four days before the date of execution and becomes convinced of his innocence. I certainly don't object to message movies - and, in this case, I strongly support the message - but, as so often in such works, the case is presented in a one-sided, even histrionic, fashion. All cinema, indeed all art, is manipulative, but this film manipulates its audience in too obvious a fashion.

    "Life Of Pi"

    When I read Yann Martel's magical 2001 novel a couple of years after it was published, I was aware that there was interest in filming it, but I could not imagine how this would be done. The delay of almost a decade in bringing the story to the screen has worked to the benefit of the enterprise because, as well as attracting the directorial talents of the wonderful Ang Lee - who has made such teriffic films as "Sense And Sensibility", "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Brokeback Mountain" - the technology has developed so much that the combination of Lee's art and CGI science is an absolute triumph.

    At the core of the movie is the 227 days that young Indian Pi spends aboard a life boat with only a 450lb Royal Bengal tiger called Richard Parker, a female orang-utan called Orange Juice, a zebra with a broken leg, and a hyena for initial company. Amazingly this part of Pi's life is represented by Suraj Sharma, who has never acted before and even had to be taught to swim, selected from more than 3,000 boys seen, and only 17 at the time of most of the filming in a vast tank of cold water in an abandoned airport in Lee's home nation of Taiwan.

    I saw the film as Lee wants it to be seen - in 3D. I confess that I am not a fan of this format and, since the magnificent "Avatar", I've seen little succesful use of it. However, "Life Of Pi" works brilliantly in 3D since it is such a surreal story.

    "Limitless"

    It isn't actually true that we only use a fraction of our brain - as suggested by this movie - but it's certainly the case that sometimes we're much sharper than others and that we can't recall most of what we once knew. So, suppose there was a drug - let's call it NZT - that would enable you to be super-sharp all the time and remember everything you ever knew; suppose you were a writer - let's call him Eddie Morra - who couldn't actually get the words down and had just lost his girlfriend; suppose you were offered a tablet of NZT for free. Would you take it and, if it worked, would you want more? Is the Pope a Catholic?

    It's a really good role for young Bradley Cooper as Eddie because he is rarely off the screen and essentially has two roles to play with some disturbing in-between scenes. He also gets to act opposite screen veteran Robert de Niro who is always watchable. Then there's Abbie Cornish, looking sweeter than Sweet Pea in "Sucker Punch", as the girlfriend who knows nothing about NZT and an almost unrecognisable Anna Friel as the ex-wife who knows far too much about NZT.

    The structure of the movie works well, opening at a particularly dramatic moment and then flashing back to how the drug-fuelled odyssey began, and the style is entertaining, with some frenetic camerawork that could fool you into thinking you'd actually taken something yourself. But it's all a bit too glossy, with no time to ponder on the wider moral implications of such a wonder drug, and a particularly lame ending.

    "Lincoln"

    Many film directors stick to one broad genre or style; some deliberately try to range across genres; and then there is Steven Spielberg who makes two very different types of movie: thrillingly entertaining works usually aimed at young audiences, starting with "E.T. - The Extra-Terrestrial" and "Raiders of The Lost Ark", and serious, worthy, usually historically-based pieces, such as "Schindler's List" and "Munich". "Lincoln" falls squarely in the second category and, like others in this grouping (such as "The Color Purple" and "Amistad"), has the issue of slavery at its heart, in this case the struggle by the 16th President of the United States to persuade the House of Representatives to pass the Thirteen Amendment to the Constitution in January 1865, the 'lame duck' period between his re-election and inauguration and a mere four months before the bloody and protracted Civil War would end.

    The restrained direction of Spielberg and the historically-laden script of his writer Tony Kushner expect a lot of non-American audiences who will not be familiar with the Congressional politics of the time, when the Republican Party was actually the liberal wing of the political spectrum, in a narrative which assumes some knowledge of a host of characters and deploys over 100 speaking roles. Those who know little of the iconic Abraham Lincoln will be surprised, maybe even shocked, at the dubious legality of his Emancipation Proclamation and the skulduggery that this wily lawyer deployed to win the neccesary two-thirds majority for the proposed Amendment (as a change to the Constitution, a simple majority was not sufficient).

    In the eponymous role, Anglo-Irish Daniel Day-Lewis totally inhabits the part and gives a towering performance with his stooped frame and high-pitched voice. The support roles are played by a strong cast, including Sally Field as Lincoln's troubled wife, David Stratham as his loyal Secretary of State, and Tommy Lee Jones as the ultra-liberal Thaddeus Stevens. The only lightness in a heavy work comes from three political fixers who act as reminders that lobbying has always bedevilled American politics. The cinematography is superb with many scenes shot in bleached-out colours and even dark shadows. In the end, however, "Lincoln" feels more like a rather ponderous exercise in political education than a work than excites the emotions or entertains an audience.

    "Lion"

    Essentially film-making is about story-telling and sometimes - as in this case - the story is so remarkable that only the fact that it is true makes it credible. In the north of India, five year old Saroo finds himself separated at night from his older brother, finds a place to sleep on an empty train, and finishes up 1,600 km (1,000 miles) away in Kolkata (Calcutta). His inability to speak the local language - he is from a Hindi-speaking part of the country while Kolkata uses Bengali - plus his young age and poor recollection of place names all render him utterly unable to find a way back to his family. Only a couple of decades later, by which time he has had an adopted childhood in Tasmania can Saroo - with the add of Google Earth - find a way of reconnecting with his past after an interval of 25 years.

    Little Sunny Pawar is wonderful as the young Saroo, while Dev Patel enhances his growing reputation with a solid performance as Saroo as a young man. Nicole Kidman, as always, is excellent as Saroo's adoptive mother. First-time feature director Garth Davis delivers a fine piece of work, enhanced by location shooting in India and Australia. Only in the final seconds of the tale do we learn the reason for the title of the film. My only reservation about this worthy work is that, for all its emotional punch, it lacks a certain edge since we know how the story is going to unfold and there are no surprises along the way.

    I saw the movie in my local multiplex in Harrow in north-west London and there was a certain piquancy to this, since Dev Patel was brought up in Harrow and around two-thirds of the audience were local Asians. We all took home the end of film message that in India over 80,000 children go missing each year and there are over 11 million children living on the streets.

    Link: the story of Saroo Brierley click here

    "Lions For Lambs"

    The title comes from a comment made during the First World War about British soldiers being lions lead by lambs, but this is an American film about the current "war on terror". The structure is unusual with three contemporaneous and inter-cut 'conversations'.

    One takes place in a Senator's office in Washington DC with Tom Cruise as the aspiring politician with a new approach to the war in Afghanistan and Meryl Streep as the doubtful reporter; another is in a college professor's office in California with Robert Redford - who also directs - as the teacher trying to persuade clever student Andrew Garfield to make more of his life; while the last is between an African-American soldier and his badly-wounded Spanish-American comrade as they face superior enemy forces on a nighttime mountain top in Afghanistan. The two office exchanges are wordy and worthy, while the shoot-out necessarily involves few words but immense courage.

    Such serious themes and stellar actors could have made for a truly powerful movie, but most of it comes over as a play than than a film and the ending is unsatisfactorily brusque.

    "A Little Chaos"

    At a time when "F&F7" is dominating box office takings, this could hardly be a more different offering: not so much fast and furious as slow and sedate. It is pitching for a more refined, but inevitably much smaller, audience and its target demographic will find it a qualified success. Modestly enjoyable but unexceptional.

    Set at the court of the French King Louis XIV (Alan Rickman) in Versailles (but wholly shot at some splendid British locations), this a well-intentioned, mildly feminist, work that presents a woman landscape designer - the fictional Sabine de Barra (Kate Winslet) - in a world (like most) dominated by men such as the real-life Andreé Le Nôtre (Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts). Not only does she cause a liitle chaos in the gardens, but in the court where, in a surprising couple of scenes, she discovers and exposes the sexism and ageism towards the female aristocracy.

    At one level, this is Rickman's film: it is only the second he has directed, he contributed to the script, and he steals certain scenes as the Sun King. However, for me, it was owned by the ever-winsome Winslet. She is somebody one can imagine getting her hands dirty in gardens and standing up for her sex; she is one of the finest British actresses of her generation; and I have never seen her in a role where she did not bring something a little special. But, at the end of the day, "A Little Chaos" has too little going on and too small a budget to be more than an pleasant antidote to the crash-bang-wallop of too many other movies.

    "Little Voice"

    This is a very British film: small-scale (it only lasts one and a half hours and the location shooting was in Scarborough), wonderfully scripted (it is based on a play), and full of fine performances (Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent, Ewan McGregor and Brenda Blethyn - who received an Academy Award nomination - all feature). LV is a term of derision for a young woman severely traumatised by the premature death of her devoted, music-loving father and the emotional battering from her overbearingly loud and loquacious mother (Bethyn). Jane Horrocks - who performed the role on stage - is brilliant as the slight figure who can hardly speak but is able to mimic singers such as Judy Garland and Marlyn Monroe. The movie manages to be both immensely funny and heart-warmingly touching.

    "Little Women" (1994)

    A bit of a chick flick, this one – but then I do have a definite feminine side. The autobiographical novel “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott was published in 1868 and tells the story of four girls in a New England family of the mid 19th century. Such has been its appeal to successive generations of Americans that it has been made into a film three times – by George Cukor in 1933, by Mervyn Le Roy in 1949, and now by Gillian Armstrong. In this notably feminist version, the four youngsters are played by winsome Winona Ryder (Jo – the Alcott character), Claire Danes (Beth), Trini Alvarado (Meg) and Kirsten Dunst (Amy), with Susan Sarandon as the saintly mother and Gabriel Bryne terribly miscast as a German teacher. The movie is beautifully shot with British Columbia standing in for Massachusetts.

    "The Lives Of Others"

    Commendably German cinema is not afraid to confront the ugly past of the country. We had "The Boat" and "Downfall" on the Nazi era and "Good Bye Lenin!" and now "The Lives Of Others" on the communist period. Like "Good Bye Lenin!" this newest film is set and shot in East Berlin and features the collapse of the Wall in 1989. However, whereas the former was a satire set mostly after the fall of communism, "The Lives Of Others" is a sombre work located overwhelmingly before the demise of the regime.

    The film opens with the brutal facts on the formidable size of the secret police apparatus operated by the former East Germany: the Stasi employed 100,000 full-time workers and had an incredible 400,000 informants. In a country of just 17m, there weer 5M personal files. Playright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his lover, the actress Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedek), think that they can survive the worst of the surveillance machine but, when a Government minister decides that he wants Christa-Maria for himself, a chain of events is set in motion which changes everything and everybody.

    Surprisingly the greatest changes occur with the Stasi agent assigned to bug the flat of Georg & Christa-Maria. Ulrich Mühe gives an outstanding performance as the intially cold and efficient Gerd Wiesler and the poignancy of his role is only heightened when one remembers that Muhe himself was married to a Stasi agent. At first utterly chilling, he and we are moved by the gradual transformation that goes on in his perspective and behaviour. The Stasi probaly had nobody like Wiesler but, as a cinematic device, the character works well.

    It is remarkable that such an assured film could be the début work of 33 year old Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck who both wrote and directed it. Deservedly it won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film of 2006.

    Links:
    article on what was right and what was wrong click here
    article on why it could never have really happened click here

    "Logan"

    This is the ninth movie in the X-Men franchise (I've seen them all) and the third of the stand-alone "Wolverine" films, but this really is an X-Men movie like no other. In characterisation, narrative, location and style, it stands apart but is entirely consistent with the others and brings the story to a most satisfying conclusion.

    Set in 2029 when mutants are all but extinct and located in a bleached terrain on the Tex-Mex border, we find adamantium-clawed Logan aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackson) and wheelchair-bound Charlers Xavier aka Professor X (Patrick Stewart) as we've never seen them before: fragile, failing, vulnerable and ultimately in terminal decline. In thespian terms, this raises the bar for both Jackman and Stewart who are able to deliver more nuanced performances than one usually finds in super-hero movies. They are being chased by the bad guys from Transigen in a fleet of heavy, black vehicles commanded by a metal-armed cyborg, so this is part a road movie (with elements of "Mad Max: Fury Road") and part an elegiac western (with echoes of "Unforgiven" and clips from "Shane").

    But this is the most viscerally violent and outright bloody X-Men work of them all with perforated chests and rolling heads, not just from Wolverine and X-24 but also from 11 year old girl mutant Laura/X-23 (played amazingly by English-Spanish child actress Dafne Keen).

    It's 17 years since we first met the X-Men on the big screen and Jackman as Wolverine has appeared in them all. The three stand-alone Wolverine films have been "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (2009), "The Wolverine" (2013) and now (2017) "Logan" (note the human name). James Mangold directed the last two and this time originated the story and co-wrote the screenplay and he can be proud of a truly exciting and entertaining piece of work that is one of the very best in the franchise. Although possibly a litle too long, "Logan" opens strongly, it is well paced, and the ending is poignant yet uplifting. But. unlike most Marvel movies, there is no end credit scene - I told you it was different.

    "London Has Fallen"

    Often Hollywood movies come in pairs, so 2013 saw two that, a decade or so after terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, felt able to represent an assault on another iconic American building: the office of the President. First out of the trap was "Olympus Has Fallen" which was followed a little later by "White House Down". The basic plot of the two movies was remarkably similar: bad guys seize the White House and capture the President before attempting to take over control of all US missile forces. "OHF" had half the budget of "WHD" but earned almost as much at the box office and was slightly more credible, so this is the one that, three years later, has a follow-up showing.

    The same president is in peril (Aaron Eckhart) and the same secret service agent is his saviour (the Scottish Gerard Butler), but the location shifts to the city where I have lived for 45 years, so it's fun to see so many familiar landmarks, although most of them suffer serious damage from a large group of bad guys who find it stupidly easy to infiltrate British police and security. Indeed, except for a few tough SAS guys who back up the American's attack on Terrorist HQ, the British are treated as pretty inept compared to the single-handed bravery and brilliance of agent Mike Banning. But, like the original movie, while winning no plaudits for plotting or dialogue and deploying weak special effects, there's enough action and excitement to entertain and this time for a commendably brief 99 minutes.

    "The Long Kiss Goodnight"

    Finnish Renny Harlin directed this as a starring vehicle for his (then) wife Geena Davis who - aided by Samuel L Jackson - has a 'tough girl' role reminiscent of "Nikita" or "The Assassin". There is silly dialogue and confused plotting, but a few good one-liners and some good action scenes.

    "A Long Way Down"

    Can one make a comedy about something as serious as suicide? Well, I guess if the source material is good enough, one can make a comedy about anything (after all, the Italian film "Life Is Beautiful" managed to make a comedy out of the Holocaust). The source material here is yet another book by the talented Nick Hornby ("About A Boy") and voice-overs remind one regularly that this started as a novel, but the film is only a moderate success.

    The story revolves around four characters who - in most unlikely fashion - meet for the first time on top of the same tall tower in London on New Year's Eve with the same intention of ending their lives, although for very different reasons. Pierce Brosnan and Aaron Paul are fine but Toni Collette and newcomer Imogen Poots are better. However much the film is played for laughs, one cannot escape the reality that we never know just what is going on in other people's lives and how much we all need friendship and support.

    "The Look Of Love"

    I had no particular wish to see this bio-pic of British pornographer-in chief-Paul Raymond, even though I was a young man when he was at the height of his fame, but my son is a fan of Steve Coogan and persuaded me to join him in seeing the film.

    I find it difficult not to think of Coogan as a comedian but, once I had managed to put that image to the back of my mind, I was impressed by his clever portrayal of Raymond which manages to be a not unsympathetic representation of a man who became filthy rich - at his height the wealthiest man in Britain - by pandering to man's most basic desires.

    Coogan is not the only British comedian in the film and somewhat bizarrely and rather distractingly a host of others pop up in one significant role (Chris Addison) and various cameo roles (Stephen Fry, David Walliams, Matt Lucas, Dara O'Briain). However, the most interesting roles go to the trio of women with whom Raymond had deeply troubled relationships: his wife Jean (Anna Friel), his lover Fiona (Tamsin Egerton), and his daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots).

    Director Michael Winterbottom (no sniggers, please) has given us lots of nudity before ("Nine Songs"), but here we have massive drug use (at one point, even during childbirth) and, while not without some humour, the whole tawdry narrative is desperately depressing. Raymond finished up a recluse and, by the end of this film, I felt like joining him.

    Instead we wandered from London's Curzon Soho cinema, literally round the corner to Soho itself, the scene of Raymond's business ventures and most immediately the cake shop that is featured at the beginning and end of the film.

    "Looper"

    Shanghai, 2074 - 55 year old Joseph Simmons (Bruce Willis) is sent back 30 years through time travel to be assassinated at the wish of a criminal fraternity which doesn't want the inconvenience of a body in a future when murder is hard to hide. Kansas, 2044 - 25 year old Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt with a nose made to look like that of Wilis) is the eponymous looper whose job is to kill those sent to him for execution, even if it is his older self (a process known as 'closing the loop'). London, 2012 - I enter the cinema excited to see a movie which has received such tremendous reviews but aware that the plotting is going to hurt my head. Writer and director Rian Johnson has given us a wonderfully inventive narrative, but the trouble with time travel movies is that you struggle to understand all the rules and reconcile all the contradictions and then you realise that, try as you might, it really doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

    But suspend belief and enjoy the ride for this is an exciting and well-plotted story that grabs you from the beginning and never stops shaking you up. As well as the two leads (good to see Willis still credible as the hard man after so long and encouraging to see Gordon-Levitt's growing success), there are some good support roles, notably Jeff Daniels playing against type as a vicious criminal overlord and the ever-watchable Emily Blunt eschewing her cut-glass English accent for a passable Kansas one. And then there is that cute kid ((Pierce Gagnon) who may not be quite as innocent as he looks. A particularly enjoyable scene is when Old Joe meets Young Joe in a diner which reminded me a little of when Robert de Niro and Al Pacino meet in a similar setting in "Heat".

    "Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring"

    J.R.R. Tolkien was a professor of medieval literature at Oxford University when he wrote the "Ring" trilogy between 1937 and 1949 and, since their publication in 1954/55, apparently some 100M people have consumed them. I've never read a word of Tolkien and have no desire to do so, but I'm always up for a fantasy film because today's special effects are so brilliant in realising strange, new worlds. Director Peter Jackson shot three films in one mammoth undertaking, taking 15 months and $300M and deploying 300 crew members and 20,000 extras.

    Certainly there is much to admire here: an eclectic cast, some fine acting from veterans Ian McKellan (Gandalf) and Christopher Lee (Saruman), magnificent sets, wonderful prosthetics, stunning special effects, terrific battle scenes, soaring camerawork, and the splendidly varied terrain of the director's New Zealand.

    But there are many problems too - most of them inherent in the novels themselves. For starters, how can one believe that the saviour of Middle Earth can have a name like Frodo Baggins (played by pop-eyed Elijah Wood)? Indeed, for viewers not familiar with the books, there is a bewildering array of strange names and it's not always clear what's going on. Then there's the lack of female characters, just brief appearances by the ethereal Queen Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and the elf Arwen (Liv Tyler). Next there's the utter ponderousness of it all - this is a work that takes itself so seriously and "Harry Potter" was much more fun. In short, one could say that the film is a triumph of visuals over victuals.

    Most seriously of all, there is the poor pacing. The bladder-testing three hour movie is one set-piece battle after another, with no real plot development or build up of the tension. Then, to cap it all, suddenly the film ends in mid air, leaving us to wait for 12 months before we can pick up the story ("The Empire Strikes Back" did this much more successfully). However, real fans will stick it out and Christmas and the "Ring" is set to become a hobbit.

    "Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers"

    If you've not read "Lord Of The Rings" or seen the first film, "The Two Towers" will be totally bewildering to you, because director Peter Jackson offers no summation of the earlier work but plunges immediately into three new segments. I've not read the book but I have seen the earlier film, so I had some idea of the plot, but I confess that - 12 months on - I can't really remember where the Ring came from and why Frodo Baggins has it. But never mind, like the other movie this is a visual treat and, unlike the original film, we don't have to put up with all that twee stuff in The Shire.

    Of the three adventures, the least satisfactory is the wanderings of the Hobbits Merry and Pippin. Personally I could do without talking, walking trees but I suppose that, if they're in the novel, they have to be in the movie. Then there's two more Hobbits - the central hero, bug-eyed Mr Frodo, and his ever-faithful Sam, the gardener - who encounter a strange, schizophrenic creature called the Gollum, brilliantly realised through computer graphics but voiced by and based on the British actor Andy Serkis. By far the best segment is that centred on the warrior Aragorn, the elf Legolas and the dwarf Gimli which climaxes in a stupendous battle where thousands upon thousands of the hulking, clanking Uruk-Hai lay ferocious siege to the fortress at Helm's Deep.

    Even more so than "The Fellowship Of The Ring", "The Two Towers" totally marginalises its (very few) female characters and it's clear that Middle Earth is even more of a man's world than this one. Again the landscapes are stunning and the aerial shots breathtaking, while the special effects reflect immense credit on the New Zealand creators. All in all, intoxicating for "Ring" readers, but less than totally satisfactory for the rest of us.

    "Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King"

    While "The Matrix" trilogy has progressively disappointed me, as it failed to capitalise on the brilliance of the original movie, "The Rings" triptych has increasingly engaged me, as - originally unfamiliar with the characters because I've never read any Tolkien - I have become used to the strangeness and complexities of Middle Earth.

    For me, this is not the cinematic masterpiece that some have claimed. The dialogue is dire, the characterisation is minimal, and Saruman is sadly absent. Yet again, the female actors are few and underused, although for once we have a warrior in Eowyn. There's no doubt that, at a bladder-bursting 3 hours 21 minutes, this final segment is too long and the ending in particular is unnecessarily protracted and trite.

    However, the movie is unquestionably a phenomenon that ends the trilogy on a satisfying high. As with the previous works, there is spectacular New Zealand scenery, sweeping and swirling camerawork, and superb prosthetics and special effects. This time, though, the battle scenes are bigger and bloodier than ever and literally out of this world - stunning panoramas, huge numbers, fantastical creatures and thrilling action. If anything, at times it is all too fast and a little confusing.

    The three films have made the reputation of director Peter Jackson, actor Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn), and the New Zealand special effects industry, while veterans Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee have crowned their long and distinguished careers. The realisation of Gollum and the battle sequences will be cinematic benchmarks for decades to come. But the movies, like the book, tell us nothing new about human nature and should not be elevated above their true level of sophisticated storytelling and genuine entertainment.

    Links for all "LOTR" films:
    unofficial fan site click here
    another fan site click here

    "Lore"

    Surprisngly this 2012 German-language film was co-written and directed by the Australian Cate Shortland which explains how funding came from Australia plus Germany and other European sources, but it was shot entirely on location in Germany. The story unfolds slowly and not always clearly, so this is not a film that will appeal to everyone, but it is a powerful and thought-provoking work that deserves a wide audience.

    The Hannelore of the title is a German girl in her early teens who, at the very end of the Second World War, finds herself abandoned by her Nazi parents and left with four younger siblings, one a baby, with instructions to take them to her grandmother's place, a long way across an utterly devastated land. In her first film role, Saskia Rosendahl is amazing as a young person who, on a frightening journey, has to endure not just considerable physical deprivations but profound challenges to perceptions of her parents, her country and those evil Jews.

    "Lost In Translation"

    I'm not a particular fan of the undoubtedly-talented Bill Murray, but here he gives his best performance since "Groundhog Day" as Bob, a middle-aged actor selling his soul to make a whiskey commercial for the lucrative Japanese market. I've never seen Scarlett Johannson in a movie before, but this young actress, pretty in a plain way, shows considerable promise as Charlotte, a 22 year old philosophy graduate and recent bride who is already as lost as the older man.

    The two dislocated and disoriented characters find themselves unable to sleep in the capital's Park Hyatt Hotel and unable to connect with a society which seems so soulless and alien, but this "Sleepless In Toyko" story is a million miles from the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan offering, eschewing a neat final coupling in favour of a chaste parting with some unheard words of wisdom or comfort. All credit then to writer, director and co-producer Sofia Coppola who, having recovered from her miscasting in "The Godfather III", is proving to be an able and unconventional creator of original movies.

    Maybe the work is a bit hard on the Japanese whose frivolous pursuit of excessive politeness, the easy laugh, and everything bright and electronic is easy to parody. Most of the movie is set in the entertainment district of Shinjuku, where I have been and which actually has an incredible buzz, and there is the almost obligatory scene of karaoke, which I have performed (in the interests of international relations). There is another side to the Japanese which the film only hints at with a brief trip to a temple in Kyoto, but Americans always find it difficult to appreciate another culture and Bob and Charlotte are too lost to want to make the effort.

    Link: Park Hyatt Toyko click here

    "Love Actually"

    The film opens with the recording of a cynical repackaging of the old hit single "Love Is All Around" by an ageing rocker who aims to hit the populist Christmas market and critics have suggested that essentially "Love Actually" is a manipulative reworking of earlier Richard Curtis scripts designed to pull in cinemagoers in the run-up to Christmas. It certainly is - but it is rather more. The evidence of the crowds at my multiplex is that Curtis has succeeded handsomely in his directorial debut and created a natural feel-good alternative to "It's A Wonderful Life" for television viewing at endless future yuletides.

    OK, so this is moviemaking by the numbers, but they are some numbers. A multi-stranded storyline gives us no less than ten different looks at love, most of them sweet to the point of saccharine, but the whole thing is saved from excessive sentimentality by a couple of harder-edged scenarios, one topical political scene, and a cracking script with lashings of humour. The whole thing lacks focus and a clear narrative form, but few viewers will bother. They'll be too occupied laughing at the gags and spotting all the stars.

    The cast is one to die for. We have the best of British - from Hugh Grant as the affable Prime Minister to Rowan Atkinson as the bumbling shop assistant, with the highlights being Bill Nighy as the over the hill and over the top rock star and Emma Thompson as someone who can express pain equally as well as laughter. These 'Brits as imagined by Yanks' only exist in Curtis's dream world but we cannot help but warm to them. On top of these dozen or so skilful performances, we have several surprise guest appearances by Americans, a German super model, and a delightful Portugese ingénue. Throw in tourist scenes of London and a lively soundtrack and you have all the ingredients for a runaway success.

    Over the years, I have seen "Love Actually" four times and love it more on each occasion.

    "Love & Friendship"

    The American Whit Stillman has written, produced and directed this very English film which adapts the title of one early Jane Austen work ("Love And Freindship" [sic]) and the story of a unfinished novella only published after her death ("Lady Susan") to tell an amusing tale of English high society in the 1790s with a sharply witty script plus gorgeously attractive costumes, furnishings and locations (all in fact in Ireland). At the heart of all the intrigue is Lady Susan Vernon herself, recently widowed, beautiful, clever, and endlessly scheming, played brilliantly by Kate Beckinsale, but the cast is embellished with a host of fine character actors. Lady Susan knows how to manipulate men and indeed just about all the male roles are simple or silly. The real problem though is that there are too many players (over a dozen) and too much scheming for the viewer always to know what is going on.

    "Love And Other Drugs"

    This is a rom-com with much more bite than most - for two reasons. First, there is much more sexually-explicit language and activity (and even some nudity) than usual. Second, it deals with a serious illness (Parkinson's disease) and a serious issue (the inadequacies of the US health care system). In the latter case at least, it reminded me of the much smaller film "Adam" which is not as well-known as it should be.

    In the wrong hands, this could have been a sugar-coated pill that left a bad taste, but director and co-writer Edward Zwick - best known for heroic movies like "The Last Samurai" and "Defiance" - does a fine job and his ability to combine humour with pathos reminds us of his earlier television work with "Thirtysomething". What really makes the movie though is the choice of two accomplished and hugely attractive stars: Jake Gyllenhaal (as the drug salesman) and Anne Hathaway (as the sick waitress) who worked together on "Brokeback Mountain" and here demonstrate real chemistry.

    The film is inspired by the non-fiction book "Hard Sell: The Evolution Of A Viagra Salesman" by Jamie Reidy and, although the name of the central male character is changed (to Jamie Randall), the names of the drugs (Zoloft, Prozac, Viagra) and of the companies (Pfizer, Lilly) are for real. What is not real is the character of Jamie's rich slob of a brother and the ending is rather too conventional (which is where "Adam" scored).

    "Love And Other Impossible Pursuits"

    Inevitably seeing this movie brought to mind another with a similar title, "Love And other Drugs", which was released later but I saw first. As well as titles with the same three first words, both films are based on a book (in this case a successful novel by Ayelet Waldman), are scripted by the director (in this instance, Don Roos), have an attractive and young lead actress (in this one, Natalie Portman), and deal with challenging social issues (this time, step-parenting and infant mortality). However, where "..Drugs" was a romantic comedy, "..Impossible Pursuits" has less romance and very little comedy. In fact, at times it is quite harrowing.

    It works because of an intelligent script (although the dialogue is sometimes hard to follow) and some fine acting, not just from Portman - who is excellent - but Scott Cohen as her husband, Lisa Kudrow as the ex-wife, and Charlie Tahan as the troubled child of the first marriage. Many films set in New York include scenes in Central Park, but here the location is particularly well used, especially in a silent walk to remember the deaths of the unborn or newly born. The soundtrack too neatly complements the action in a work that is well worth viewing as a contrast to the standard rom-com.

    "Love Happens"

    A more honest title for this movie would be "Mindless In Seattle" because it is a romantic comedy set in the north-western American city (although largely shot in Vancouver) and it is - well, you get the message. It tries to be a rom-com with a difference by portraying the difficulty of coming to terms with the loss of a family member, but it cannot decide whether it is promoting or parodying the notion of self help to overcome bereavement.

    Aaron Eckhart, as the widower now running courses for the bereaved, and Jennifer Aniston, as the florist he accidentally meets while running such a course, are both good-looking and watchable actors, but they are lumbered with a limp script and predicable storyline from writer and director Brandon Camp whose previous work has been for television.

    "Love In The Afternoon"

    It took me four decades to see this French film from 1972 and I found it very French - lots of dialogue, lots of introspection - and very 1970s - lots of smoking, lots of miniskirts. It was both written and directed by Eric Rohmer as the sixth and last of set of moral tales, this one concerning temptation and seduction. Bernard Verley plays happily married Frédéric who becomes captivated by the eccentric Chloé portrayed by Zouzou (real name Danièle Ciarlet). Will he succumb? Do we care?

    "Love In The Time Of Cholera"

    The novel by Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez was first published in Spanish in 1985 and this English-language movie adaptation was released in 2007. As the title makes clear, this is a love story, but what makes it different is the time (roughly 1880-1930), the place (unnamed in the novel but identified in the film as the Colombian city of Cartagena) and the postponed consummation (only after half a century do the lovers finally fulfil their dreams). The main characters are the alluring Fermina Daza (played by Giovanna Mezzogiorno) and the lovelorn Florentino Ariza (Javier Bardem) although Fermina's husband Doctor Juvenal Urbino (Benjamin Bratt) has a key role. I have no idea how faithful the film is to the book, but I enjoyed this cinematic adaptation - somewhat languid in the telling but beautifully shot and well-acted - and it has given me a desire to visit the historic, walled city of Cartagena where much of it was shot.

    "The Love Punch"

    "The Love Punch" was both written and directed by the British Joel Hopkins and bares comparison with his previous film "Last Chance Harvey" which five years previously he again both wrote and directed. At the heart of both works is a story of love between an older couple. In both cases, the lead actress is the wonderful Emma Thompson and indeed, in both cases, she plays a character called Kate. What is different is that this time her love interest is not an elderly American whom she has only just met (Dustin Hoffman) but her ex-husband who is a similar age (Pierce Brosnan). Of course, Brosnan's most famous role was as James Bond but he is somewhat older now and part of the humour derives from this contrast.

    The story is slim: the divorced couple need to form a partnership of convenience to steal a diamond from a French entrepreneur who has fleeced the company which is the source of all their finances. Filmed almost entirely in France, the locations are attractive but it rather looks as if the country was chosen for tax reasons rather than being integral to the plot. It is a slight and silly caper but made watchable by the actors. Thompson and Brosman exhibit real chemistry and, in support roles, British character actors Timothy Spall and Cecilia Imrie are a delight to watch.

    "Loving"

    In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case of Loving v. Virginia where the plaintiffs were inter-racial couple Richard and Mildred Loving and the defendant was the state of Virginia where they lived. The court held unanimously that Virginia's Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which forbade marriage between people of different races, was unconstitutional. This decision effectively invalidated all such laws in other states as well (at the time, inter-racial marriage was still illegal in at least 15 other states).

    This low-budget, independent movie barely features the Supreme Court hearing and there are no grandstanding courtroon speeches. Instead the film focuses on the couple and their quiet but deep love for one another. No stars are in the cast, but Joel Edgerton as Richard and Ruth Negga as Mildred give understated performances of great power and persuasion in a work both written and directed by Jeff Nichols of Arkansas.

    Link: the case of Loving v. Virginia click here

    "Lucy"

    Flamboyant French director Luc Besson has a penchant for making movies featuring strong young women - think Mathilda (Natalie Portman) in Leon, the titular heroine (Anne Parillaud) in "La Femme Nikita", and Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) in "The Fifth Element". A similar idea of a youngster turned into a fighting machine was offered us in "Hanna".

    This time, we have the eponymous Lucy - a great role for the beautiful and talented Scarlett Johansson - who is a blonde-haired American in Taiwan who suddenly finds herself ingesting a new super-drug than enables her to use progressively more and more of her mind with ultimately universal implications. If this sounds a bit like the plot premise of "Limitless" where NZT has been replaced by CPH4, then you can count on Besson for taking the notion further, much further, too far in fact. What starts as fun and merely fanciful finishes up as metaphysical nonsense. There are echoes here of all sorts of previous films such as "2001" (there are stargates aplenty) and "The Tree Of Life" (there is another dinosaur) and - inevitably - "The Matrix" (remember Trinity?).

    The work is visually stunning with an eclectic collection of images ranging from wildlife to cityscape to biology to cosmology and, since I saw it on an IMAX screen, at times I was close to hallucinating. The soundtrack adds to the atmospherics with use of Mozart's "Requiem" and contemporary songs (don't miss the one used for the long credits sequence). And the cast is very watchable with the Korean Choi Min-sik as lead bad guy and the ever-cool Morgan Freeman as lead scientist. Unusually for such an ambitious film, it clocks in at a mere one and half hours and I would have been happier with a second hour in the vein of the first. But, heh, it's never boring.

    "The Lunchbox"

    I confess that I had never heard of the 'dabbawallas' of Mumbai until I read reviews of the 2013 Indian film "The Lunchbox" and it was some time before I managed to rent the movie - a work with a mix of Hindi and English dialogue - which is the first to be both written and directed by Ritesh Batra who was born and raised in the city. Apparently the 'dabbawalla' system is famous in business schools for having been accorded a Sigma Six rating which means that less than one mistake is made in every six million deliveries.

    Yet Batra has constructed his story around the idea that that, in the case of one office worker, Saajan (played by Irrfan Khan) who is a widower planning to take early retirement, for a successive of weeks he wrongly receives the delicious food cooked by young housewife and mother Ila (played by former model Nimrat Kaur). This leads to an exchange of increasingly lengthy and intimate notes delivered daily with the 'tiffin' (container) that, in the age of instant e-mail, evokes an altogether different age and style.

    Do Saajan and Ila ever come together and, if so, what happens? The answers are not obvious in this bittersweet romantic comedy that is a delight to watch for its originality, vibrancy and warmth. Both characters are certainly changed by the encounter but, as someone else in the film explains, "Sometimes even the wrong train can take you to the right destination".

    Link: an explanation of the 'dabbawalla' system click here

    All reviews by ROGER DARLINGTON.

    Last modified on 9 October 2017


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