"Nathalie" "The Navigators" "The Negotiator" "The Net" "Never Let Me Go" "The New Girlfriend" "The Next Three Days" "The Nice Guys" "Night At The Museum" "Night At The Museum 2" "Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb" "Nightcrawler" "Nights In Rodanthe" "Nikita" "9 Songs" "1917" "No Country For Old Men" "No Strings Attached" "Noah" "Non-Stop" "The Notebook" "Notes On A Scandel" "Notting Hill"
An elegant middle-aged woman (Fanny Ardant), her errant husband (Gérard Depardieu), a beautiful call girl (Emmanuelle Béart), lots of talk of sex but nothing on show, plenty of coffee and cigarettes, no car chases, no special effects - it could only be a French film and a quintissential one at that. Of course, there must be a law that no French movie can be shown outside France (I saw it in London) without the inclusion of Depardieu and the most attractive feature of any French film for me is the starring of Béart (I've been captivated since she gambolled in "Manon Des Sources"). Female director Anne Fontaine seems to be complicit here in the notion that a French man can have affairs without it meaning much as long his wife can share vicariously in the excitement. Mon Dieu .."The Navigators"
Most movies are escapist, depicting a world and a lifestyle that are unknown to the viewer. We rarely see the working class - except as criminals - and there is virtually never a reference to trade unions. But British director Ken Loach makes utterly different films, as is well-evidenced here. Set in Yorkshire in the mid 1990s, this work looks at the impact of rail privatisation on a group of maintenance staff or 'navvies', forced to confront a new management style where in theory the customer comes first but in practice cost is always the prime factor. Using an unknown cast, naturalistic dialogue and minimal plot, Loach presents us with something close to a documentary and we just know that it is not going to end well.
No, this is not a film about collective bargaining - otherwise it would have been in the section on trade union films! Instead it is a movie about a Chicago police hostage negotiator who is forced - by false charges of murder and embezzlement - to himself become a hostage taker and deal with a police negotiator from the other side of the precinct. Apparently based loosely on an actual incident which occurred in St Louis, the stars are two of the finest character actors around: Samuel L Jackson ("Pulp Fiction") as the wronged Danny Roman and Kevin Spacey ("The Usual Suspects") as the cool Chris Sabian. The chemistry between the two is important to the film's success and much helped by an excellent script and the actors near 20 years of friendship. The plotting is intelligent with plenty of tension and twists and there are some exciting action sequences, all making for a must-see movie. So what does the middle initial stand for in Samuel L Jackson? The answer - Leroy - may win you a pub quiz sometime.
The Internet really took off in 1993 when the number of users doubled to 25 million and the media discovered the network, so its no surprise that two years later we see the first Hollywood movie where the Net is the prime focus of the plot. Sandra Bullock is the engaging software tester who finds her identity electronically erased when she stumbles across a plot to control corporation and government networks via a trojan horse in so-called protection systems. As so often in American films, the bad guy is British, this time played by Jeremy Northam. The premise of the plot is perhaps not as outlandish as one might wish, but the execution is extremely derivative of so many other movies, not least in the sequence where Bullock is chased through a fairground by Northam.
"Never Let Me Go"
I had read the 2005 novel from Japanese-born British writer Ishiguru before seeing this film adaptation so I knew the premise of the plot; if you haven't read the book, it would be preferable that you approached the movie knowing as little as possible. It should suffice that the film is based on a work by one of our best writers and stars some of our most talented young actors.
We have here a remarkably faithful adaptation, much aided by the screenplay being written by Alex Garland who is a friend of Ishiguro and by Ishiguro himself being one of the executive producers. Therefore, like the novel, the film is quiet and understated and profoundly elegiac which means that it will not appeal to all viewers, but I found it intensely moving.
The three leading roles are taken by Carey Mulligan ("An Education"), Keira Knightley ("The Duchess") and Andrew Garfield ("The Social Network"), three friends from their days at the odd boarding school called Hailsham, and, if that is not enough talent, there are also performances from Charlotte Rampling and Sally Hawkins as teachers at the school and even a cameo from Andrea Riseborough who is one to watch.
"The New Girlfriend"
Sometimes, the less you know about a film, the more you are likely to enjoy it. This is one of those times. All I really knew about the movie was that it was French and appreciated by public and critics alike. That was enough for me and ensured that the surprises really were surprises. You need to know more? OK, the film is based on a 1985 short Story by Ruth Rendell and the directed by François Ozon ("Potiche"). What? You want more? The core of the film is the relationship between characters - the husband David and best friend Claire of the recently deceased Laura - ably acted by Romain Duris and Anaïs Demoustier. Oh, gosh. You want to know what it's about? Let's just say that it's an amusingly serious - if this is not too oxymoronic - examination of sexual identity. And that really is all I'm going to tell you about this enjoyable movie. Now see it for yourself.
"The Next Three Days"
This is Russell Crowe's film and, if there's bad Crowe performance, I haven't seen it. But here he is not the action figure of "Gladiator" or "Robin Hood" but more the everyman trying to be the good man as in "L.A Confidential" or "The Insider". His beloved wife and mother of his young son is imprisoned for a murder that he is convinced she did not commit and, when all the legal avenues have been exhausted, this mild-mannered teacher gradually resorts to ever-extreme measures. Elizabeth Banks is convincing as the woman for whom he risks everything and there are some fine cameo performances from the likes of Liam Neeson and Brian Dennehy.
"The Next Three Days" is a remake of the French movie "Anything For Her" and the action is transposed to Pittsburgh with shooting in the actual Allegheny County Jail. It is a slow build up to the increasingly tense action scenes. The real problem is the lack of credibilty in the plotline. Many movie require us to suspend our critical faculties and make all sort of allowances, but here it's really hard to believe both the transformation in the central character and the efficacy of the escape plan. But, heh, my wife has never been accused of murder and I've never tried to break her out of prison.
"The Nice Guys"
Critics and audiences alike have rated this movie and some of my friends really liked it, but I was disappointed. At one level, it's a retread of action comedy buddy films like "Lethal Weapon" which is not surprising since director and co-writer Shane Black penned the original "Lethal Weapon" in 1987. But clearly, three decades later, he feels that the humour has to be more absurd (interviewing mermaids?) and the violence has to be more visceral (choking a dying man?) and this is a combination which sat uneasily with me in spite of a sharp, wise-cracking script. Of course, as the eponymous private eyes of seedy 1977 Los Angeles, burly Russell Crowe, as the violent Jackson Healy, and slimline Ryan Gosling, as the more sensitive Holland March, have great chemistry and are very watchable, but some of the female roles - especially Kim Bassinger (remember her in "LA Confidential" with Crowe) and young Angourie Rice (an impressive film debut) - are more surprising delights.
This is the 1990 French movie that was remade by the Americans as "The Assassin" and then became the television series "La Femme Nikita". The orginal, written and directed by Luc Besson, is raw, violent and powerful - always on the edge and surprising. In the eponymous role, Anne Parillaud is totally convincing in a role which requires her to show very different character facets and there are able support performances from Tcheky Karyo as her minder, Jean-Hugues Anglade as her lover, and Jean Reno as 'the cleaner', with a surprise cameo from 62 year old Jeanne Moreau.
"Night At The Museum"
This is the kind of family movie that I used to take my son to 20 years ago and I only saw it because he (now aged 30) took me along as a Boxing Day frivolity. Ben Stiller is the hapless divorced father taking a job as night security guard at New York's Museum of Natural History (which I've visited) where, over three consecutive nights, he has to come to terms with history coming alive (literally).
There'a amazing array of talent here including Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan & Ricky Gervais and even embracing veterans Dick van Dyke, Mickey Rooney & Bill Cobbs (average age almost 80). The cast of characters is amazing from Attila the Hun to Christopher Columbus, from minature cowboys and Roman soldiers to a dinosaur skeleton and wild animals, and the special effects are excellent. Entertaining enough - just don't expect anything clever or subtle.
"Night At The Museum 2"
This is a model of how a sequel should succeed in following up on the success of an original. Keep the same basic plot but relocate and develop it: so it is still night-time in a museum but we move from the Museum of Natural History in New York City to the Smithsonian museum complex in Washington DC. Keep all the favourite characters but add some new ones: so we still have the pan-faced Ben Stiller as the one-time museum guard but now we also have Amy Adams as the feisty flier Amelia Earhart; we still have the cowboy (Owen Wilson) and the centurion (Steve Coogan) but now we have the Egyptian pharaoh (Hank Azaria) not to mention Ivan the Terrible, Napoleon and Al Capone; and we don't just have one president (Theodore Roosevelt) but two (add Abraham Lincoln).
This is film squarely aimed at children and we took two boys aged 8 and 10 who thought it was fantastic. The monkey face-slapping scene was the one that all the kids loved most. But young-at-heart adults will find much to enjoy too with much referencing of historic figures and incidents plus allusions to plenty of other movies. Personally I really enjoyed the scenes set in the National Air & Space Museum because this is my favourite museum in the whole world.
"Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb"
In spite of the absence of a number in the title, this is the third (and last?) film in a franchise that I have thoroughly enjoyed for providing inventive entertainment (imagine a fight sequence inside a MC Escher drawing). Each movie has been based in a museum I know well and this time we are in my home city of London at the wonderful British Museum which means that the Elgin Marbles and other artifacts come alive. At the heart of the franchise is Ben Stiller, a comic actor with deceptively understated style, and this time he gets to plays two very contrasting roles, particularly funny when his characters interact.
If there are weaknesses in this outing, they are that perhaps too many of the original characters are involved (meaning that screen time is spread rather thinly between them), there could have been more original museum characters (the main one is Dan Stevens as Sir Lancelot), and it would have been good to have more female roles (Australian Rebel Wilson as the BM security guard is effectively the only substantive one). And, of course, there is the sadness of seeing Robin Williams and Mickey Rooney in their last screen roles.
All that said, this is a worthy addition to a really fun franchise which has probably now run its course.
It's a delight to see a film with a different topic and a different style from so much Hollywood fare. The eponymous nightcrawler drives around Los Angeles at night listening in to police communications, waiting for a car smash up or even a murder, and racing to get to the scene before the cops and other nightcrawlers to obtain graphic images on a camcorder that can be sold to a TV news channel desperate for ratings.
Lou Bloom is a newcomer to the role but learns quick and knows no physical or moral limitations. The role is totally inhabited by Jake Gyllenhaal in a brilliant performance in which he has slimmed down his body, slicked back his long hair, and adopted a speaking style that is invariably calm yet robotic and utterly chilling. And it's good to see 60 year old Rene Russo (the director's wife) back with a decent role as an avaricious, yet vulnerable, television editor.
Great credit goes to screenwriter turned director Dan Gilroy who has crafted a sharp script and an almost documentary-style debut direction that draws in the viewer remorselessly with never a weak scene in a story that simply races along. The gritty urban landscape and thumping soundtrack add to the atmospherics. This is a biting satire both of "if it bleeds it leads" television news and of senseless and insensitive management speak that hits the mark time and time again in a narrative that would be funny if it was not so callous and cruel.
"Nights In Rodanthe"
Terrible title for a movie that is not nearly as terrible as some critics have suggested. At a time when there are so many romantic comedies aimed at young viewers, it's no bad thing to have the occasional romantic story that eschews humour and involves characters in middle age - think something along the lines of "Bridges Of Madison County" (both are based on novels).
The (goodlooking) stars are Richard Gere, as a doctor seeking to establish a new relationship with his estranged son in Latin America, and Diane Lane, a mother in a deeply unhappy marriage considering whether to abandon it - two actors who were together in the earlier "Unfaithful". The (unusual) setting is the Outer Banks of North Carolina at a time of year when hurricanes are threatened. At times, it's a little silly and sentimental but still worth an evening in front of the television if not a visit to the cinema.
In the (admittedly unlikely) eventuality that someone wandered into a cinema expecting this to be a musical, a rude shock would ensue, since this is the most sexually explicit mainstream film ever exhibited in Britain. Indeed the only mainstream movie I've previously seen to compare in explicitness was the 1976 Japanese work "Ai No Corrida" ("In the Realm Of The Senses"), but this work goes further with a scene of ejaculation, as well as fellatio, cunnilingus and penetrative sex. Since this is the work of accomplished British director Michael Winterbottom ("In This World"), one cannot possibly regard this is as pornography - besides anything else, porn features far more voluptuous women and portrays the sex from an exclusively male point of view, whereas the sex here is realistic (as well as real) and as female-oriented as much as male.
The problem is that the film appears to be utterly meaningless. A British research geologist Matt (Kieran O'Brien) goes to London gigs and has sex with American student Lisa (skinny model Margot Stilley), but there is no characterisation or plot or even a script (the dialogue was improvised and is banal). Even the music seems to bear no relationship to the lovers and - except for some haunting work from Michael Nyman - is dreary gunge. Shot on low budget digital video, the picture is as grey as the subject matter and the only light-hearted aspect is the rather unsubtle joke of the (mercifully short) running time (69 minutes). Come again? No chance - too much of an anti-climax.
Director Sam Mendes stunned cinema-goers with his opening sequence for the James Bond movie "Spectre", set during The Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City, when it appeared to be shot in one take of seven minutes (actually done in three shots). In retrospect, we can see that this was just a trial run for Mendes since the hugely ambitous "!917" appears to be a single take for the entire two-hour film (it isn't, of course, but most viewers will not spot the cuts). The most impressive cinematic work that I have seen that does truly involve just a single take is the oddly captivating "Russian Ark". In "1917", the single-take approach gives the work powerful tension and the viewer strong engagement in what is a genuinely immersive experience. The technique enables the narrative to appear to run in more-or-less real time to represent a matter of hours in April 1917.
The plot - inspired by stories told by Mendes' grandfather who served on the Western Front in the First World War - involves British Lance Corporals Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Scofield (George MacKay) - being instructed to cross 'no man's land' and abandoned German lines to reach 1,600 British troops - including Blake's brother - intending to launch a dawn attack in ignorance of a German trap. The power of the story is helped by the casting of two leads who are newcomers, but there are brief camees from Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Benedict Cumberbach. Interestingly, although we do see odd Germans, we never really view their faces - they are an anonymous enemy.Will the two lance corporals reach the attack zone in time and will they be able to prevent a military massacre? The production design (Dennis Gassner) and cinematography (Roger Deakins) are brilliant and some scenes are almost surreal (notably the nighttime sequences). The blasted wasteland, the clinging mud, the huge water-filled craters, the stripped tree trunks, the carcasses of man and horse everywhere, all represent a Dante-like nightmare as the odyssey unfolds and one challenge follows another. Unfortunately the dialogue is sometimes stilted (Mendes himself was co-writer) and some of the scenes are a bit hackneyed. But overall this is a cinematic tour-de-force that will leave the viewer exhausted rather than exhilerated.
"No Country For Old Men"
The 'country' is the US-Mexico border (more specifically West Texas) and, for anyone involved in the drugs trade, they are unlikely to become 'old men' because the attrition rate is so high. It is clear then that this is a movie with a high body count but, in the hands of the talented Coen brothers (Joel and Ethan), the story of a drug deal gone wrong is told with a superlative mixture of drama and style that won the film four Academy Awards including Best Picture.
On this occasion, although the Coens as usual wrote as well as directed (and co-produced), they were adapting an original work, the 2005 novel by Cormac McCarthy. So they are McCarthy's characters but the Coens' choice of actors is superb.Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin and Woody Harrelson are excellent and Javier Bardem is - not withstanding a weird hairstyle - chillingly wonderful as the unstoppable killing machine with a fondness for coin tossing.
It is not always clear what is happening but the action quickly moves on, so one has no time to ponder on the confusion. For me, the real weakness of the movie is the conclusion which - while apparently faithful to the novel - is unsatisfyingly opaque.
"No Strings Attached"
In 1989, the classic rom-com "When Harry Met Sally" posed the question of whether a guy and a gal could just be friends without sex getting in the way. A little over two decades later, "No Strings Attached" asks whether they can just have sex without love taking over. Of course, we are now in the age when so many rom-coms are much more sexually explicit and here we have an excessive number of references to body parts and sexual activity. Yet there is very little visual explicitness and the only naked body on show is male.
Diminutive (5' 3") Natalie Portman is obviously trying to do something totally different from her intense role in "Black Swan" as Emma, a doctor with commitment issues, and, pretty though she is, this is not a natural role for her. Tall (6' 2") Ashton Kutcher is more at home as Adam, an aspiring television writer who is originally willing to go along with the sex-only partnership. Like "When Harry Met Sally", "No Strings Attached" is written by a woman (Elizabeth Meriwether) and directed by a veteran of comedy films (Ivan Reitman) but it is not in the same class, while still being moderately funny and engaging.
It looked so promising. Darren Aronofsky is an imaginative director who has produced some impressive work such as "The Wrestler" and "Black Swan". Russell Crowe never gives a weak performance and has filled a variety of heroic roles from "Gladiator" to "Robin Hood". And the trailer looked good with Ray Winstone and all that water.
But, oh, what a disappoinment. It starts too slowly, it finishes too limply, and too many sections in between are languid. Since I am not religious at all, I had no problem with variations from the Biblical text, but I did expect some narrative sense and sensibility. The worse aspect was the appearance of fallen angels in the form of lumbering stone giants who looked as if they had taken a wrong turning off the set of a "Transformers" movie. There was not enough about the ark or the animals and Noah himself is portrayed as a callous zealot with little examination of his motivation.
The Icelandic locations are striking and some of the director's trademark flashiness is quite gripping but, as I left the half empty cinema, my abiding impression was that every member of humankind is a descendant of Emily Watson and I'm not sure that's what Aronofsky intended. So, should you bother to see "Noah"? Sadly, no-a.
There's a whole sub-genre of movies based around trouble in an airliner - think of the four "Airport" films of the 1970s, the two "Airplane" comedies of the 1980s, the action-thrillers "Passenger 57" (1992) and "Flightplan" (2005), the real life account of "United 93" (2006) or even the hilarious "Snakes On A Plane" (2006). So don't expect anything too original from "Non-Stop", set almost entirely on a flight from New York to London on the fictional airline Aqualantic.
At the centre of the action is air marshal Bill Marks who - like the pilot in "Flight" - has a past fuelled by alcohol. What gives "Non-Stop" an element of class is that Marks is played by Liam Neeson who is a serious actor - brilliant in the eponymous roles of "Michael Collins" and "Schindler's List" but latterly turning to action roles (the two "Taken" movies"). Julianne Moore is also around as one of the suspect passenger to add a little gravitas.
As entertainment, this is a fun enough film. At the time, the tension is maintained and the twists keep coming but, on reflection, little of the narrative makes much sense - but, if it did, air travel would be less safe, so let's enjoy the ride.
It took me a decade or so to catch up with this 2004 film, by which time its two young stars had carved out impressive careers: Ryan Gosling with leading roles like "Drive", "The Ides Of March" and "The Place Beyond The Pines" and Rachel McAdams with appearances in "The Time Traveler's Wife", "Midnight In Paris" and "About Time". In this early work of theirs, you can see why because Gosling as Noah and McAdams as Allie are utterly convincing as two immensely attractive young people crazily in love with one another in spite of the differences in class and personality.
The tale is told through the notebook of the title which, many years later, is read by Duke (James Garner) to a fellow inmate of his nursing home (Gena Rowlands) who is suffering from very serious dementia. It is a powerful story taken from the novel by Nicholas Sparks and ably crafted by director Nick Cassavetes, the son of Gena Rowlands and film director John Cassavetes. Some may find it sentimental, even manipulative, but ultimately all art manipulates our emotions and I simply loved "The Notebook".
"Notes On A Scandal"
It is a sheer delight to see such a character-driven film with a sharp script and fine acting all round. It cannot have been an easy task to translate to the screen Zoë Heller's Booker-shortlisted novel, given its first person perspective, but Patrick Marber's screenplay does an excellent job, incorporating a lot of voice-over, especially at the beginning.
The setting is a north London school and the key relationship is that between Barbara Covett and Sheba Hart (two carefully-chosen names), the first a cynical history teacher close to retirement, a hard-looking and bitter woman, and the other a new and idealistic art teacher, beguilingly beautiful to a variety of her colleagues. These characters are played respectively by Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett who both give outstanding Oscar-worthy performances. Among an able support cast, Bill Nighy is especially impressive.
Barbara and Sheba are both missing something and think that they can find it in another person, in the case of Barbara - the diarist and narrator - in Sheba herself ("She's the one I have waited for"). But the working out of this relationship - and that between Sheba and her family and lover - involve many secrets, much pain, and some betrayals in this rawly emotional tale.
Although I enjoy the music of Philip Glass and thought that it enhanced "The Hours" considerably, here it is in danger of overwhelming the movie. But this is a minor criticism of a superb piece of cinema which brings much credit on its director Richard Eyre who tackled the life of another older woman in "Iris". At barely one and a half hours, it does not seek the length of so many movies which is in a sense a relief since the subject matter is so intense.
This is from the writer (Richard Curtis) and producer (Duncan Kenworthy) of the phenomenally-successful "Four Weddings And A Funeral" and it is another romantic comedy with Hugh Grant leading a very British cast except for an American leading lady. All the performances are excellent and Julia Roberts is perfectly cast as the famous movie star who falls for the diffident London bookshop owner. It might not be for the cynical, but my wife and I found it totally charming with some enjoyable jokes. However, those of us who live in London know that a portrayal of Notting Hill without black faces is a serious misrepresentation.
All reviews by ROGER DARLINGTON.
Last modified on 11 January 1917
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