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  • "Pacific Rim"
  • "Paddington"
  • "Paddington 2"
  • "The Painted Veil"
  • "Pan"
  • "Pan's Labyrinth"
  • "Panic Room"
  • "Paris"
  • "The Party"
  • "Passengers"
  • "The Past"
  • "The Patriot"
  • "Patriots Day"
  • "Pay It Forward"
  • "The Perfect Storm"
  • "Persepolis"
  • "Peter Rabbit"
  • "Peterloo"
  • "Philomena"
  • "Phoenix"
  • "Phone Booth"
  • "Pi"
  • "The Piano"
  • "The Pianist"
  • "Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl"
  • "Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest"
  • "Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End"
  • "Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides"
  • "Pitch Black"
  • "The Place Beyond The Pines"
  • "Planet Of The Apes"
  • "Pleasantville"
  • "Please Give"
  • "Pompeii"
  • "Possession"
  • "The Post"
  • "Il Postino"
  • "The Postman"
  • "Postman Pat: The Movie"
  • "Potiche"
  • "Power Rangers"
  • "Practical Magic"
  • "Precious"
  • "The Predator"
  • "Predestination"
  • "The Prestige"
  • "Pride"
  • "Pride & Prejudice"
  • "Prime"
  • "The Private Lives Of Pippa Lee"
  • "Prometheus"
  • "Proof Of Life"
  • "The Proposal"
  • "Public Enemies"
  • "Pushing Tin"

  • "Pacific Rim"

    As summer blockbusters go, you don't get much bigger and much brasher than this and the whole thing is so visually bombastic that I'm glad I did not choose to see the 3D version. The pitch to the money boys who provided the $180M cost of the movie must have been simple: "It's Godzilla meets Transformers - but bigger, much bigger". So the threat comes from gigantic sea creatures called Kaiju (Japanese for 'strange beast') who emerge from a crack in the Pacific floor to smash up seaboard cities like San Francisco and Sydney, while the attempt to beat them takes the form of enormous robots called Jaegers (German for 'hunter') manned by two 'pilots' who need to be neurally connected (much like my wife and her twin sister), most of whom are battling internal demons as well as those ever-more colossal Kaiju.

    The whole thing is directed and co-written by the Mexican Guillermo del Toro who crafted the wonderful "Pan's Labyrinth" and he has made sure that he has a cast drawn from the United States, Britain, Australia and Japan (the only woman) and located the fight back in Hong Kong to maximise the worldwide audience draw. The pacing is excellent with a really strong opening and then a gradual build up to a climax on an oceanic scale but, as so often with blockbusters, the whole thing is a bit too long. The special effects are fun, although the beasts are not as well 'drawn' as the robots, and, as well as plenty of drama and destruction, there is humour, including a pair of scientists who are human versions of R2D2 and C3PO. It's silly but entertainingly so.

    Note: early on in the credits, there is a short extra scene.


    I first saw "Paddington" with my granddaughter (almost four) and it's hard to be sure who liked it most since this is such an utterly charming and entertaining movie. Indeed I enjoyed it so much that, a few weeks later, I took along two other young relatives - a girl of nine and a boy of six - and they confirmed that this is a delight for all children of all agea and for adults with a sense of fun.

    Visually it is a captivating CGI representation of the eponymous bear (politely voiced by Ben Wishaw) and deploys some neat cinematic devices; script-wise it combines humour, word play, and sharp allusions to the plight of the immigrant; while acting-wise we have a slew of marvellous British performers including Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins and Julie Walters as the adults in Paddington's new family and Nicole Kidman who has other plans for our furry friend. In a movie full of laughter, the bathroom scene is a classic. A sequel or even a series is inevitable and would be most welcome.

    "Paddington 2"

    I loved "Paddington" and - to my delight - I loved "Paddington 2" too.

    Of course, we start with the adorable character created by Michael Bond (who died between the release of the two films), the brilliant CGI representation of our furry friend, and the purr-fect voicing by Ben Wishaw. This is such a British franchise with so very many British character actors (OK, and one Irish) and so many London locations, although this is the kind of gentle London that we saw in "Notting Hill" (most notably in the prison scenes). Indeed the villain this time is less threatening than Nicole Kidman's character in the first film and played brilliantly by the ever-so-English star of "Notting Hill", Hugh Grant, who - following his success in "Florence Foster Jenkins" - shows that he is not just a pretty face.

    The film is endlessly inventive, not least in bringing to life a pop-up book of London landmarks which is at the heart of the plot, and it is stuffed full of visual gags as well as so many funny lines, a few aimed at adult viewers rather than little ones. My granddaughter (almost seven) found it delightful with one of her favourite scenes being Paddington's window-cleaning efforts. Be sure to stay for the credits - a final delight in 100 happy minutes.

    "The Painted Veil"

    This is a jewel of a movie which sparkles from every facet: a compelling narrative, first-class acting, a fine score, and superb photography. The core of the work is the 1925 novel by Somerset Maugham which draws on his experiences as a medical student and partner in a troubled marriage. It is set in China in the 1920s and focuses on a visit to a cholera epidemic by intense bacteriologist Walter Fane (American Edward Norton) and his new wife Kitty the fey socialite (British-born, Australian-raised Naomi Watts).

    The novel has been filmed twice before in 1934 and in 1957. This version has the inestimable advantage of being shot in China itself in Beijing, Shanghai and the Guangxi region (all of which I have visited) which enables New Zealand cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh to create some stunning visuals. Its leading actors affect acceptable British accents and give real power and depth to the roles, while the strong supporting cast includes Liev Schreiber as Kitty's lover (Screiber and Watts are a couple in real life) and the veteran Diana Rigg as a mother superior.


    "Pan" has been panned by many critics but really it's entertaining enough if narratively weak. My wife and I took our granddaughter (almost five) to see it in 3D (which works quite well) and the little one enjoyed it, although she found some bits scary. Later my wife took two of her other young relatives - a girl of almost 10 and boy of seven - and they really liked it. So it's not a failure by any means but, whether it recoups its massive $150 million budget and whether we actually see the sequel hinted at in the final dialogue, must be highly problematic.

    The film offers a vision of 12 year old Peter and his companion Hook before the first learned to fly and the second lost his hand. Young Levi Miller is surprisingly accomplished as Peter, while Garrett Hedlund plays Hook like a combination of Indiana Jones and Han Solo. Hugh Jackman has fun as Blackbeard and Rooney Mara is sweet as Tiger Lilly. Visually the movie is a treat - flying galleons attacked by wartime Spitfires, for example - and thw whole tone seems to be an attempt to emulate the "Pirates Of The Caribbean" franchise, but the storyline is weak.

    "Pan's Labyrinth"

    This Spanish-language film is an utterly brilliant interweaving of two different tales from two totally different genres: one a story of the last stages of the Spanish Civil War in 1944 involving much violence and cruelty and the other a Gothic children's fantasy with various fantastical characters. What links the two narratives is the central personage of a young and brave girl called Ofelia (12 year old Ivana Baquero), the step-daughter of the brutal Spanish army captain (Sergi López) in the first story and the reincarnation of a lost underworld princess in the second.

    This could so easily have been a ridiculous failure, but its stunning success is thanks to Mexican writer and director Guillermo del Toro who manages to make both tales both compelling and connected and, in the process, offers us some shocking characters - both human and fantasy - and many thought-provoking incidents and situations. He imbues the whole thing with washed-out colours and wonderful visual imagery. Del Toro has described the labyrinth as "a metaphor for Spain in extreme right and left transition to where it is now". This is most definitely not a film for children, but any adult who values innovative cinema will find this a rare treat.

    official web site click here
    discussion of film click here

    "Panic Room"

    This is a thriller by numbers with the problem that all the action takes place in a large New York apartment, with the distinctive feature of a special room for emergencies, and all the interaction is bewtween essentially five characters: newly divorced Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) & her diabetic daughter (Kristen Stewart) and three intruders (Forester Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam and Jared Leto). However, it works well enough with sustained tension, thanks mainly to clever camerawork from director David Fincher ("Se7en" and "Fight Club") and effective acting from Foster in her classic protective mother role.


    I could watch any film starring the beautiful and talented French actress Juliette Binoche and have seen most of her England-language work, but naturally most of her 40 or so movies are in her first language, including this one from 2008.

    "Paris" is not just a French film, it is a quintessentially Gallic flic. Writer and director Cedric Klapisch makes the eponymous capital city almost an actor in itself with plentiful shots of familar and unfamiliar locations and typical French spots like the cafe, the boulangerie, and the food market. Also tres Francais is the plentiful dialogue, the existential angst, the beautiful women, the mandatory intellectual, and the odd couplings (although the actual sex is never seen), while Klapisch gives us unconnected characters (Paris is the only thread) and unresolved lives (more like real life than reel life).

    Binoche plays a social worker who clearly takes her professional work seriously because she is herself a single mother of three children and needs to take time off work to care for her brother (Romain Duris) who has a heart condition that may be fatal. It's all very watchable with social concerns leavened with some humour, but in the end I found it rather indulgent and too loosely worked. Some more narrative structure and drive would have lifted the film from a curiosity to a curio.

    "The Party"

    This black comedy is a British oddity of a film in so many respects: written by a woman (Sally Potter), directed by a woman (the same Potter), as many female roles as male (actually one more out of seven), shot in black and white, located wholly on the ground floor of a London house, told in real time, and running for only 71 minutes. Newly appointed (shadow) health minister Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) and her husband Bill (Timothy Spall) are hosting a small celebration of her success with an odd American/German couple April and Gottfried (Patricia Clarkson & Bruno Ganz), a mixed-age lesbian couple Martha and Jinny (Cherry Jones & Emily Mortimer), and a hyped-up husband Tom (Cillan Murphy) waiting for his wife to arrive. All the performances by this starry cast are a delight, enhanced by a witty and twisting script, while the opening and closing scenes, so intertwined, are simply wonderful.


    Critics have not been as supportive of this film as the punters, but I'm with the latter. Instead the critics raved about "Arrival", another science fiction movie issued about the same time, but for me "Passengers" was less ambitious in its plotting but much more accessible and enjoyable.

    At one level, "Passengers" is a fairly traditional sci-fi movie, located entirely in space on a huge craft called the Starship Avalon which is transporting some 5,000 passengers and several hundred crew in deep hibernation on a 130 year-long journey to a far-off planet called Homestead II. The beginning and end of the film have similarities with the same segments of "The Martian", while the tone of the early part of the movie is reminiscent of "Silent Running". At another level, "Passengers" is an old-fashioned romance in the classic three-act format. Starring two of the hottest young actors around just now - Chris Pratt as the engineer Jim (echoes of the starship Enterprise) and Jennifer Lawrence as the writer (and "Sleeping Beauty") Aurora - there is some real chemistry and a moral dilemma here.

    The whole thing is wonderfully atmospheric with some brilliant designs and sets - both exterior (notably the corkscrew layout of the ship) and interior (especially a New York-style bar) - and some clever special effects (such as a sequence involving a temporary loss of gravity). In the end, the narrative is not dark like "Alien" or grand like "2001" but affirmative - a kind of "Sleepless In Space".

    "The Past"

    Having viewed and admired "About Elly" (2009) and "The Separation" (2011), both written and directed by the Iranian Asghar Farhadi, I was keen to see "The Past" (2013), again scripted and directed by Farhadi. What was the same was the constant changing of our understanding of what is happening and how we should react and the classic art house unresolved conclusion. What is different this time is that the film was shot in France and in French (a language not spoken by Farhadi).

    Bérénice Bejo ("The Artist") plays Marie, the Parisian mother of two children from a relationship which preceded both that with the Iranian Ahmed (Ali Mosaffa), the husband whom she wants to divorce, and the Arab Samir (Tahar Rahim), the current lover with whom she now wants to live. A fourth character is never heard and only very briefly seen - Samir's wife who has tried to commit suicide for reasons which are the subject of speculation and revision. "The Past" cements Farhadi's reputation as a director of special talent who tells fascinating stories in a low-key, yet compelling, fashion.

    "The Patriot"

    There is no doubting the impressive production values of this re-creation of the American War of Independence. Filmed on location in South Carolina, some 400 enthusiasts of the period helped to portray faithfully the clothing, the weaponry and the tactics of this epic conflict. There are some exciting fight sequences and some impressive battle scenes and the direction, photography and sound are all superlative, so some credit should go to German director Roland Emmerich who has previously given us "Independence Day" and "Godzilla".

    Yet, however entertaining the movie, it is irredeemably flawed by its appalling travesty of history and I simply cannot imagine how the Smithsonian Institution could allow itself to be credited as historical consultants. I saw the film with my good American friend Eric Lee and it is difficult to say which of us found the narrative more risible and offensive. The British regulars are represented as proto-Nazis and there is simply no evidence to justify the infamous church-burning scene that seems to be a crude attempt to wipe out the memory of the American butchery at My Lai. Although Americans supported slavery for four decades after the British abolished it, here blacks are shown as free and happy.

    As the eponymous settler and family man Benjamin Martin, Mel Gibson once more plays a hero of mythic qualities - at times he is referred to as a ghost - most notably in a tomahawk-wheeling scene taken straight from "The Last Of The Mohicans". As in "Braveheart", he turns the course of battle with a speech that few could have heard and still fewer would have heeded and this time his literal flag-waving apparently becomes a pivotal point in American history. The whole thing is laden with clichés from the traumatised girl who will not speak to the dogs who switch their affections to the good guy. At the end of the 2 hours 41 minutes, you will be none the wiser about why the Americans fought for independence and how they won the war and this inability - or unwillingness - to come to terms with history has serious implications for the present.

    "Patriots Day"

    The day is 15 April 2013; the place is Boston; the occasion is the annual marathon. As we all know, two radicalised Chechen immigrants, Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff) and Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze), set off two bombs which killed three people and injured several hundred others, including 16 who lost limbs. This film is a very workmanlike and respectful, almost documentary-style, account of the eve of the event, the bombing itself, and tracking down of the assailants in a tense five-day manhunt. Mark Wahlberg, reuniting with the director for the third film in a row, is Boston detective Tommy Saunders, a composite of several real people, while Kevin Bacon plays FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers.

    For writer and director Peter Berg, following "Lone Survivor" and "Deep Water Horizon", "Patriots Day" can be seen as the third part of his unofficial Americans-in-crisis trilogy which probably play better for US audiences than overseas, but manage to combine information with entertainment. This time round, the viewer cannot fail to be struck by the complexity and sophistication of modern-day surveillance and forensic technologies. If only these technologies could prevent terrorist incidents (without too much of a sacrifice of our privacy and freedoms) as well as find those who have just committed such an atrocity.

    "Pay It Forward"

    At the heart of this film is a wonderfully life-affirming idea conceived by a young school boy called Trevor played by Haley Joel Osment ("The Sixth Sense"): suppose each of us pay a favour forward instead of back to three people who then did the same. Wouldn't this change the world? An idea to change the world is the tough assignment set by Trevor's new teacher (Kevin Spacey) to the anger of his mother (Helen Hunt) who fears that her son will take the challenge literally and then be bitter when (inevitably) it fails to work.

    How Trevor's three forward favours work out and what this means for Trevor and for his mother and teacher represent the narrative of an ambitious film that could have been so much better and which ends on a particularly uncomfortable note.

    "The Perfect Storm"

    The film is based on Sebastian Junger's 1997 best selling book about the loss of the sword-boat "Andrea Gail" in a ferocious storm off the New England coast in 1991 and directed by Wolfgang Petersen who gave us another maritime drama with "Das Boot" (1981). The lead roles are taken by George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg who were together in "Three Kings" and seem likely to continue pairing up in further movies.

    The dialogue is often hard to follow - especially for my Czech mates Vojta and Tereza with whom I saw the film - but in fact there is minimal plot or characterisation. Instead, as in "Twister" (1996), it is the elements which are centre stage and the special effects are utterly believable - in both films, Industrial Light and Magic was responsible.

    Once one of the characters declares: "We're gonna make it, skip", I knew the how it would end ...


    Moviemaking is still overwhelmingly a male business with most directors being male and most films telling a male story, so it is a refreshing change here to see a female co-writer and co-director (Marjane Satrapi) telling a female tale (actually her own). Even more unusual is the setting (modern day Iran) and the format (black and white animation), so this a movie that is especially memorable and moving, by turns being tragic and amusing and at all times unremittingly political and feminist.

    The original film is in French and based on a graphic novel written in French and drawn by Satrapi who now lives in the Marais district of Paris with her Swedish husband, but the version I saw was dubbed into (American) English. This works well for a animated feature - there's no problem with lip-syncing and the technique allows one to concentrate fully on the impressive graphics.

    "Persepolis" - named after the ancient capital of Persia that was ransacked by the troops of Alexander the Great - was nominated for an Academy Award in the section for Best Animated Feature and, while it never stood a chance against "Ratatouille", this is still an exceptional work that deserves a large audience.

    "Peter Rabbit"

    I took my seven year old granddaughter to see this film version of the Beatrix Potter tale and the cinema was absolutely full of kids wearing cardboard bunny ears. The animation of the rabbits is well-done and James Corden is appealling as the voice of Peter, while Rose Byrne and Domhnall Glesson do fine as the lead humans in the story. The problem is that there is not enough story or even enough charm, so this is no "Paddington" or "Paddington 2".


    On 16 August 1819 in St Peter's Field in central Manchester, around 60,000 pro-democracy reformers gathered in a peaceful protest that turned savage when it was attacked by armed cavalry, resulting in 18 deaths and over 600 injured. Until recently, the only public commemoration of this historic event was a plaque on the wall of what used to be the Free Trade Hall and is now the city's Radisson Hotel. Most people have never heard of this event which was quickly called Peterloo. However, I have always been aware of it because I grew up in Manchester until I was 23; I spoke as School Captain at my school's Speech Day in the Free Trade Hall; and I studied in the Central Library in what is now St Peter's Square.

    Now a new film, called simply "Peterloo", both written and directed by Mike Leigh - together with bicentenary events next summer - will highlight this neglected piece of working class history. Leigh has crafted his work with great attention to historical accuracy and period detail and he brings home very powerfully the grinding poverty and perpetual hunger of the working class folk of Manchester and the surrounding Lancashire mill towns. The story is filled with a large group of well-cast personages, most notably Maxine Peake as Nellie, mother of a young, traumatised soldier back from Waterloo, and Rory Kinnear as Henry 'Orator' Hunt, the eloquent speaker at the rally calling for parliamentary representation more than a decade before the Great Reform Act of 1832.

    This is an immensely worthy work that reflects my own politics, but my experience of viewing it at the cinema - even on the opening weekend, it was screened in a small theatre in front of a small audience - suggests that it is not going to pull in the punters. The reasons are clear. There are too many characters giving too many polemical speeches; too many of the characters - especially the politicians and the justices - are in fact caricatures; and, at two and a half hours, the whole thing is just too long and too pedestrian. This is such a pity because the history lesson is a vital one and the final massacre scene is stunning.


    What is so accomplished about this British film is that it manages to tell a heart-rending (and true) story with so much understated humour through two such contrasting but utterly believable characters. Philomena Lee is an Irish woman who was forced to give up her baby son, who was borne out of wedlock in her repressively Catholic homeland, but she never forgot him for a day and almost half a century later endeavoured to find Anthony against the wishes of the nuns who sold him to a childless couple. The quest was originally recorded in a book by the British journalist Martin Sixsmith.

    Here Philomena is played by Judi Dench, an actress who, like a fine mature wine, just gets better with age, managing to convey so much with just a tearful look. Sixsmith is portrayed by Steve Coogan who gives his best acting performance to date as someone who is so unlike Philomena - strikingly intelligent against her lack of education, profoundly agnostic in contrast to her continued piety, depressed and angry while she is optimistic and forgiving. It is such a joy to see challenging roles written for an older woman and someone who has been considered mainly a comedian.

    Coogan also co-wrote and co-produced this sensitive work which was directed by Stephen Frears whose more recent films have included "The Queen" and "Tamara Drewe". Do they find Philomena's son? As so often, the journey is as important as the destination which in fact brings her full circle.


    There have been so many films with a Holocaust theme; what could a new German film have to say that is different? This worthy work, written and directed by Christian Petzold, addresses the issue of complicity in the betrayal of the Jews by ordinary German citizens. But it does so through a narrative contrivance that is literally incredible. We are to believe that a Holocaust survivor, following a restructuring of her face, returns to war-torn Berlin and locates her husband, who does not recognise her, but believes she is so alike the wife he believes dead in the camps that he presses her to adopt that persona, so that he can falsely claim her inheritance. If one can somehow accept this notion, then we have a deeply moving film, well-acted particularly by Nina Hoss. It is slow and static - located largely in a couple of living quarters and the eponymous nightclub - so that it could almost as easily have been a play and the ending is not necessarily obvious or even satisfactory.

    "Phone Booth"

    Suddenly hot, new Irish actor Colin Farrell is everywhere: "Daredevil", "The Recruit" and now "Phone Booth". In this movie, he is rarely off the screen, since the action is real time(ish) and largely located in and around the Manhatten booth of the title, thanks to the use of split screen and superimposed images that keep the action tightly focused. It's the kind of lean, single-site thriller that Alfred Hitchcock might have made (think of "Lifeboat"), but actually comes from director Joel Schumacher (maker of two of the Batman movies) and scriptwriter Larry Cohen.

    Farrell plays slimy publicist Stu Shepard who uses the phone booth to set up a liaison which he hopes will lead to an affair, while a virtually unseen Kiefer Sutherland is the self-appointed moralist sniper who has him pinned down physically and psychologically. Early on in their bizarre conversation, Stu pleads: "What do you want?", to which the anonymous caller insists: "I want your complete attention". Thanks to lively camerawork and sharp dialogue, plus a running time of only 81 minutes, the film commands our attention throughout, although the ending could have been stronger.

    "The Piano"

    This was written, produced and directed by New Zealander Jane Campion with haunting music by Michael Nyman. It is set in New Zealand in 1852 and tells the mostly dark tale of the growing love between a mute, played by Holly Hunter, and a settler, played by Harvey Keitel (both of whom have to appear nude). It is an enigmatic work that benefits from more than one viewing and a strange, even surreal, and very sensual film that reflects a woman's direction. The piano of the title is almost a character in itself in this most unusual, but very impressive, work.


    Having been impressed with the 2008 release of "The Wrestler" directed by Darren Aronofsky, I was encouraged to look at some of his earlier work by a young friend with some off-beat tastes in movies, starting with "Pi" which Aronofsky both wrote and directed in 1998. Here Sean Gullette plays Max Cohen, a brilliant mathematician searching for the patterns in nature while being persued by representatives of a Wall Street firm and a Kabbalah sect. Though it has acquired a kind of cult status, I found this grainy, black and white offering bleak and boring and ultimately little better than an act of youthful self-indulgence.

    "The Pianist"

    In May 1991, I was invited to give a lecture in Warsaw and took the opportunity of my time there to visit the wartime locations of the Jewish ghetto, the station from which the Jews were deported to the concentration camps and the final assault of the 1943 Jewish Uprising as well as a monument to the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. That wet Sunday, I found it all hard to internalise, but now Roman Polanski has directed a compelling film in which all these events and locations are brought to life all too realistically and vividly. Polanski himself was a child in the Krakow ghetto and lost his mother to the camps, so this is an intensely personal and painful work that has taken many decades for him to address on film.

    All too easily, films about the Holocaust can overwhelm the senses with the sheer, incomprehensible scale of this modern-day barbarity, but Polanski gives an individual dimension to the account by telling the amazing, but true, story of the famed Polish musician Wladyslaw Szpilman, portrayed brilliantly by relative unknown Adrien Brody. Equally such films frequently present a stereotypical view of good and evil, yet here writer Ronald Harwood manages to depict - sometimes even in the same character - both cruelty and kindness by Jews, gentiles and even Germans. Ultimately what could so easily have been a depressing return to familiar if important territory becomes a work of affirmation and redemption.

    official web site click here
    the history behind the film click here

    "Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl"

    Who would have thought that the pirate genre could be made to successfully walk the gangplank again? And who would have imagined that producer Jerry Bruckheimer - the guy behind a succession of violent action movies like "The Rock" - would be the man to do it? But here we have family entertainment at its best - non-stop action, lots of humour, effective special effects and great locations (St Vincent), although it's not always clear what's going on.

    What really makes the movie though is the clever casting. Johnny Depp gives a marvellously camp performance as Captain Jack Sparrow, the most charming rogue ever to stride the decks. Geoffrey Rush, as his rival to command the "Black Pearl", is even madder here than in "Shine". British viewers of the television series "The Office" will find Mackenzie Crook giving an eye-catching performance. Orlando Bloom, after his heroics in "Lord Of The Rings", gives us some more dash and bravery. While young and sweet Keira Knightley, following her freshness in "Bend It Like Beckham", obtains the big break that is likely to secure her a successful career. All this made me a jolly Roger.

    "Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest"

    The first "Pirates" movie was immense fun, but this sequel - like so, so many others - ultimately disappoints. Most of the ingredients that made the original sailing such a joy are present, but what's missing is a proper narrative, as a result of which we're too often all at sea. Much of the time, it's hard to work out what's happening and this confusion highlights other weaknesses such as Orlando Bloom's wooden acting and Keira Knightley's under-utilisation.

    Having said this, there is still much to enjoy here - especially the clever prosthetics of Davy Jones and his crustacean crew, the destructiveness of the giant-tentacled Kraken, and the fighting sequence involving a giant waterwheel, while again Johnny Depp steals the gold with his wonderfully camp portrayal of Captian Jack Sparrow. The ending reminds one of the conclusion of "The Empire Strikes Back" and clearly Jack's going to be back. Let's hope that the third (and final?) film explains all and revives the magic of the original.

    "Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End"

    By the time I climbed aboard, this movie had already broken the record for worldwide box office takings in the first six days ($401M), ensuring that the huge expense (a reputed $200M) is going to be more than recouped as the treasure chest overflows for Walt Disney Productions. But: is it any good? In truth, it has all the strengths - wonderful entertainment, stunning visuals, clever effects, constant action, visual and verbal jokes, and above all Johnny Depp - and all the weaknesses - a confused narrative, poor dialogue, some wooden acting - of the earlier two sailings in the franchise, but with a few extra little nuggets and problems.

    On the plus side, we get to see some multiple versions of Jack Sparrow in a series of surreal sequences, there's a cameo appearance from Jack's dad, and the final exciting battle sequence in a swirling vortex has everything from mayhem to matrimony. On the other hand, there is no synopsis of what has gone before, there are many more pirate leaders than before, there are more double-crosses and betrayals than one can mentally accommodate, and the whole thing is so incredibly long (168 minutes) that in my local cinema they introduced an intermission at an utterly random point. If after this interminable voyage, one sits through an endless stream of credits, there is an extra little clip that takes us 10 years on - leading the way to yet another sequel?

    "Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides"

    The "Pirates" franchise is one of the strangest in the world of movies; it is so entertaining and profitable and yet based on nothing more than a theme park ride and totally lacking the narrative form of the "Harry Potter" films or the endlessly refreshed format of the James Bond outings. At its heart is Captain Jack Sparrow, one of the oddest and most lovable characters in cinema and an absolute triumph of creation by Johnny Depp. Nothing else seems to matter, as long as there is endless swash and buckle.

    For "Pirates 4", Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley have sailed over the horizon but Geoffrey Rush is back again, wide-eyed and legless, and Ian McShane and Penelope Cruz are now on board. And we have mermaids - but not as we usually imagine them (think "Splash"). As with the other "Pirates" sailings, an intelligent - or at least intelligible - plot is as elusive as a mermaid's tear. All that is clear is that everyone is seeking the Fountain of Youth and, at some two and a quarter hours, the viewer too might want to join the search.

    Yet visually it is all so kinetic and emotionally it is all so much fun that we forgive the leaks in the hold and just go along for the voyage. At the end of the endless credits, there is a short clip that makes it clear that "Pirates 5" will be docking in a few years.

    "Pitch Black"

    This is "Aliens" revisited - but with enough variation and verve to make it a compelling movie from bone-rattling opening to nail-biting finale. Once more, we have a space crew led by a resourceful woman (an able performance from Radha Mitchell) confronting killers more sensed than seen. But this is a planet with a difference: at first, bleached white by three suns but later - thanks to an unfortunately-timed eclipse - the total darkness of the title.

    And, since the eclectic characters are played by a (mixed American/ Australian) unknown cast, it is not so easy to determine who will live and who will be devoured alive in this tightly-paced and sharply-cut work. Considerable credit goes to director and co-writer David Twohy and some charisma comes in the bulky form of Vin Diesel as a convict with rare insight.

    "The Place Beyond The Pines"

    This is very much a play in three acts which is a little over-long but always absorbing with recurrent themes of discovery and guilt. The first segment is focused on a heavily tatooed bike rider with special riding skills who finds himself drawn into the world of bank heists. The next component is all about the cop who tackles the biker when a robbery goes wrong. The final part - set 15 years later - brings together the disturbed teenage sons of the two principals.

    The director is Derek Cianfranco who used Ryan Gosling as his male lead in his earlier movie "Blue Valentine" and deploys his charismatic talents again as Luke Glanton, the accomplished biker. In between these two films, Gosling shot to prominence in a terrific performance in "Drive". In "Drive", he used his car skills to assist in robberies and in this film he effectively reprises the role, switching from four wheels to two, and I confess that I would have watched the movie for Gosling alone. But the other main character - an intense Bradley Cooper as the ambitious but conflicted cop Avery Cross - is equally well represented and there are some nice cameos from the likes of Eva Mendes and Ray Liotta which make this an immensely watchable story.

    The first two acts of this tragedy are set in the upstate New York town of Schenectady which, in the Mohawk language, means 'the place beyond the pines' and British cinematographer Sean Bobbitt makes atmospheric use of the surrounding countryside.

    "Planet Of The Apes"

    I'm old enough to have seen and enjoyed, when it was first released in 1968, the original film directed by Franklin J Schaffner, with its now legendary ending as astronaut Taylor (played by Charlton Heston) finally realises where he is and screams "Damn them all to hell!" Also I'm an admirer of director Tim Burton's innovative work in such movies as "Batman", so I looked forward to Burton's effort at re-imagining Pierre Boulle's imaginative novel. Sadly the result is nothing to go ape about.

    As one would expect with Burton, the work has a distinctive and impressive look, even if it is frequently as much Gothic as gorilla. The location shooting in Hawaii and Arizona and the prosthetics of five-times-Oscar-winner Rick Baker give the film strength. The problem - as so often in today's Hollywood - is the script which seems to have been produced by sitting a bunch of chimps in front of some keyboards. Much of the dialogue is risible and the thoughtfulness and sharpness of Schaffner's work is missing.

    Mark Wahlberg, in the role of the lost spaceman Leo Davidson, is adequate, but he does not have the presence or the anger that made Heston's performance so powerful. In fact, Heston makes a cameo appearance in this re-make and manages to reprise his 1960s closing line. Many of the other stars, who include Tim Roth ("Reservoir Dogs") and Michael Clarke Duncan ("The Green Mile"), can only be recognised by their voices.

    In the original, Taylor was fleeing Earth because war and famine had caused him to become totally disillusioned with mankind. In the reprise, Davidson is desperate to return to the Earth he knows, even though he is on a planet where he finishes up with a God-like status among both men and apes and he can choose between the bee-sting lips of Estella Warren and the simian charms of Helena Bonham-Carter. Anyone that silly deserves what he finds in a brave, but essentially futile, attempt to provide a variation on the 1968 ending.


    In this movie written, produced and directed by Gary Ross, Tobey Maguire (as Bud) and Reese Witherspoon (as Mary Sue) are two 90s kids who are sucked into a 50s-style TV sitcom where their parents are William H Macey ("Honey, I'm home!" and Joan Allen. This television world is black and white both literally and metaphorically and there are clever special effects as the sitcom seeps and then bursts into colour. There are obvious allusions to Nazism in this comedic but intelligent film that celebrates change, difference and uncertainty.

    "Please Give"

    Many will class this independent work a woman's film - and it is true that the writer-director is a woman (New York-born Nicole Holofcener who is sometimes called the female Woody Allen), three of the four main roles are taken by (attractive) women (Catherine Keener, Amanda Peet and Rebecca Hall), and three of the four support roles are filled by women (two very elderly and one very young). But it would be a mistake to pigeon-hole this movie which is full of wryly humorous and insightful observations on the human condition.

    Set in Holofcener's New York, this is a character-driven movie with minimal plotting. It concerns the occupants of and visitors to a couple of next-door Manhatten apartments: a middle-class and middle-aged husband (Oliver Platt) and his do-gooder wife (Keener) who are planning to expand into the accommodation of an aged woman looked after in very different ways by her daughters (Peet and Hall). At the heart of the narrative is the eternal question: what does it mean to be good?


    The disaster movie is a staple of the cinema and the genre reached its apex in the early 1970s with films like "The Towering Inferno", "The Poseidon Adventure" and "Earthquake" (which introduced is to the short-lived 'sensurround'). Here an actual historic catastrophy - the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD - is the backdrop to a series of bloody battles in a Roman arena and an unlikely upstairs/downstairs romance which makes this story "Titanic" meets "Gladiator". The effects might not be on the scale of James Cameron's sea-born epic, but the 3D works well when the volcano blows. And Kit Harington is no Russell Crowe but fans of "Game Of Throne" will be pleased to see him given a big screen role.

    As so often in this type of film, the roles of the women are sadly underwritten. Emily Browning with her bee-stung lips plays the love interest while Carrie-Anne Moss is her mother. Now these women can kick-ass, as we saw in "Sucker Punch" and "The Matrix" respectively, but here they just have to look pretty and frown. And then there is Keifer Sutherland acting against type as a manipulative and evil senator (Jack Bauer a bad guy?!?) with a really weird accent.

    Critics have been hard on "Pompeii" and the dialogue is dire, but really it is perfectly adequate entertainment of the action variety. I won't spoil it for you by telling you what happens to the Roman city at the end but the final scene, while schmaltzy, is oddly satisfying.


    I'm a big fan of Gwyneth Paltrow whom I regard as an actress of rare talent and beauty so, in spite of many reviewers being parsimonious in their praise for this film, I ventured out to London's Leicester Square to make my own judgement and did not regret it. Following her performances in "Emma", "Sliding Doors" and "Shakespeare In Love", for the fourth time Paltrow adopts an impeccable English accent.

    This time she plays an academic specialising in the work of an obscure 19th century poet called Christabel LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle, whom I enjoyed in "This Year's Love"). She is approached by an American researcher, Roland Michell, played by a permanently unshaven Aaron Eckhart, who has discovered a possible romantic connection between LaMotte and fellow poet Randolph Henry Ash (Jeremy Northam, last seen in that other costume drama "Gosford Park"). It turns out that Ash's marriage has no physical side (for reasons which are not explained), while LaMotte's lesbian relationship may not be as exclusive as was thought.

    All this sounds more raunchy that it is. There is in fact little sex and no nudity at all on show; yet director Neil LaBute ensures that sensuality imbues scene after scene. Set against the unusual locations of Lincoln and Whitby, the modern-day academics retrace the steps of the two poets both physically and romantically in cross-cutting scenes that reminded me of the structure of "The French Lieutenant's Woman". If you're a pubescent popcorn-guzzler, you'll hate this movie and find it terribly slow and literary (it is based on the Booker Prize-winning novel by A S Byatt); on the other hand, if you'd like something different from the usual mindless, blockbuster fare, you'll probably find this a refreshing change.

    "The Post"

    Steven Spielberg is one of the most commercially and critically successful directors in the history of Hollywood. Meryle Streep and Tom Hamks are among the very finest actors of their generation but, until now, have never appeared in the same movie. So a work which brings together these three titans of the screen has to be cinematic gold and so it proves to be.

    The year is 1971, the Vietnam War continues to devour lives, and someone has leaked the Pentagon Papers, a 7,000-page study of American policy on the conflict commissioned by then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. The renowned "New York Times" accesses the Papers first but is blocked from further publication by the US Government headed by Richard Nixon. When a much smaller, more local newspaper, the "Washington Post", gets its hands on the review, its owner Katherine 'Kay' Graham (Streep) has to decide whether to follow the urging of editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks) and risk the very existence of the paper by publication of the Pentagon's secrets.

    Every viewer will know what happened but Spielberg makes the story genuinely gripping, aided by superb performances by Streep and Hanks and a fine script by newcomer Liz Hannah and Josh Singer (who wrote "Spotlight"). The period is wonderfully created with all the smoking, drinking and misogyny and all the visions of old technology (dial phones, pay phones, chattering typewriters, vacuum tubes, and clunking hot metal type). But the film - which was produced quickly without special effects - is so topical for our times, in showing both the need for women to be recognised and respected and the requirement for the American media to stand up independently to a bullying president.

    "The Post" is a companion piece to "All The President's Men" (1976) since both films deal with the same newspaper and the same president. Indeed the final scene of the former is the first scene of the latter: the burglary at the Watergate offices. However, in 1976 nobody would have imagined that another American president would be so embroiled in nefarious activities and so hostile to the media. "The Post" is a wonderfully timely reminder that the price of freedom is indeed eternal vigilance.

    "Il Postino"

    This is a small but charming Italian film directed by Englishman Michael Radford with Frenchman Philippe Noiret as the Chilean poet in exile and Italian Massimo Toisi - who died immediately after the shooting finished - as the local part-time postman. In this tender and wistful comedy, the poet assists the postman to write such beguiling letters that he wins the love of beautiful Maria Grazia Cucinotta.

    "The Postman"

    As someone who at the time (1997) worked for the mail carriers' trade union in Britain, I had to see a film with this title. The advantage of going to see a movie that has been universally slated by the critics is that one expects little. Even then "The Postman" fails to deliver. Based on a novel by science fiction writer David Brin, the setting is a post-apocalyptic United States in 2013. An unlikely - and, for the most part, unwilling - hero emerges when a wanderer who performs bits of Shakespeare (badly) finds an old mail van and dons the uniform and the persona of the letter carrier, only to find that he brings new connections and unexpected hope to lost souls.

    If the film fails - and frankly it is about as appealing as the average piece of junk mail - there is only one man to blame for this $80 million extravaganza. Kevin Costner was the co-producer, director and star and Warner Brothers allowed him the final cut which is why it comes in at just three minutes less than three hours. If you want to see a film about a postman, see the Italian "Il Postino" instead.

    "Postman Pat: The Movie"

    This was the third film to which I took my granddaughter Catrin (then three and third years old) but it had nothing like the appeal to her of her earlier visit to "Frozen". As a familiar character from television and books, Postman Pat (voiced by TV actor Stephen Mangan but with Ronan Keating as the singing voice) has an immediate attraction for young children and the cartoon has plenty of colour, action and songs, although it looks more like a television production than a big screen affair. However, the storyline's weak double satire - of management efficiency measures in a postal operation called Special Delivery Service and of an overpowering game show host named Simon Cowbell - are better understood by parents than children, so neither age group was terribly enthused.


    I first saw the French actress Catherine Deneuve in a movie in the English-language "Repulsion" in 1965 when she as just 22. Playing the 'trophy wife' of the title in this 2010 French film, Deneuve is 67 but still glamorous. When Suzanne Pujol's husband (Fabrice Luchini) - a sexist partner and a harsh boss - has to absent himself from his 300-employee umbrella factory for health reasons, she takes over and transforms both the industrial relations and the business performance of the plant with a sensitive feminine touch that makes full use of her connections including the local mayor (Gérard Depardieu).

    Set in 1977 and a comedy, this is an old-fashioned and very light work that lacks any subtlety or nuance with writer and director François Ozon simply satiring both the factory owner and his trade unions.

    "Power Rangers"

    When I offered to take my young friend Joshua (almost 10) to the cinema, this is the film he chose, having some familiarity with the television series. For him, it hit the spot, showing a bunch of five teenagers of mixed gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation combining forces to defeat huge rock-like creatures that resemble Transformers and, in the process, save the world.

    "Practical Magic"

    Everyone concerned with this film must have been under a spell because this is the only way that anybody could have thought that such hocus-pocus would be a commercial success. Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman squander their talents, as sisters who are witches with a fatal effect on men that they love, in a movie that has brews and broomsticks but no plot or purpose.


    This is such an unusual movie on so many scores. The source material is a novel by a black female writer ("Push" by Sapphire), the co-producer and director is black and gay (Lee Daniels), and the cast list includes hardly a white face and hardly a familiar face. The subject matter is dark - child abuse and teenage pregnancy - and there are many heartrending scenes, yet ultimately it is a uplifting work showing the power of education and care to rescue even the most brutalised and disadvantaged. And the central character, the eponymous 16 year old Claireece "Precious" Jones, played by the part African-American, part Senegalese Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe in her first acting role, is a most unlikely protagonist: very young, morbidly obese, illiterate and mostly inarticulate (as are many of the other characters, making the dialogue hard to follow at times).

    Yet the film is an absolute triumph and has rightly won many awards. It received six nominations, including one for Best Picture, at the Academy Awards and Geoffrey Fletcher won for Best Adapted Screenplay while Mo'Nique took the award for Best Supporting Actress in the unsympathic role of Precious's abusive mother. A concluding sequence, where Precious and her mother appear before the girl's social worker (acted by Mariah Carey), is the most powerful of a series of moving scenes which live in the memory long after the viewing. This is the dark side of the American dream that we rarely see on the big screen.

    "The Predator"

    This is a Shane Black movie. In the original 1987 "Predator", Black had a tiny role as the first man to be killed by the alien invader and he was uncredited script doctor on the work. Three decades later, Black is back, this time as director and co-writer of the fourth installment in the Predator film series (or the sixth if you count the two "Alien vs Predator" films). Was it worth waiting for? Not really. There are a few clever plot ideas and non-stop action, but the script, the acting and the special effects are all second-rate and the whole thing is just too noisy and frenetic.


    This is a 2014 Australian science fiction mystery thriller film written and directed by Michael and Peter Spierig and based on the Robert A. Heinlein short story "All You Zombies". The vast majority of the screen time is taken by just two actors: American Ethan Hawke, whom I really admire from a range of independent movies, and Sarah Snook, a young Australian previously unknown to me who is simply brilliant.

    This is not a film that will appeal to everyone: after a dramatic (and confusing) opening, there is a long, slow build-up to the action and a perplexing plot involving a time-travelling agent who seeks to prevent crimes before they are committed and is now on a final mission to find the so-called Drizzle Bomber. At the end, your brain will probably be spinning and - like me - you'll want to read and think about what it all means, but it is a stylish and challenging movie that is refreshingly different. Just how far can one drive the predestination paradox? Time will tell ...

    "The Prestige"

    At the end of the 19th century, London is the cockpit for the obsessive rivalry between two accomplished illusionists: Robert Angier and Alfred Borden, capably played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale respectively. There are some very watchable supporting performances from the likes of Michael Caine and Scarlett Johannson. As the intrigue and trickery becomes deeper, hearts are broken and lives are lost.

    If the basic plot sounds complicated, comprehension is made even more difficult by the trademark non-linear narrative deployed by director and co-writer Christopher Nolan who has adapted Christopher Priest's 1995 novel of the same name. This is a film with many fans but, for me, it doesn't quite work. It takes so much effort to divine what is happening and, when one does, the explanations are just too contrived.

    Hollywood movies often come in pairs and, in the same year as "The Prestige" (2006), we had "The Illusionist" which was less clever but more credible.


    In the summer of 2014, my wife and I went to a north London dinner party where one of the other guests was Mike Jackson, a leading member of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners ((LGSM), a support group during the bitter industrial dispute of 1984-85 which provided money and assistance to a mining community in South Wales. He told us how he had been acting as a principal adviser to writer Stephen Beresford and director Matthew Warchus who had crafted the forthcoming film "Pride" which explored this unlikely pairing of groups fighting the iniquities of Thatcher's Britain and he made clear his delight at how the subject had been treated for the big screen.

    So, the first weekend that the movie was on show, four of us from that dinner party were in the cinema to view it and we were all thrilled with how brilliantly this story has been told. Some of us even cried.

    The film is unashamedly political, both in its representation of the prejudice against homosexuals at a time was AIDS was devastating the gay community and the hostility of ministers, media and police to the miners' fight to keep pits open, but the treatment ensures that this is an immensely entertaining and often very funny work. Although the movie wears its political heart on its sleeve, it avoids an over-simplistic portrayal of the gay cause by showing entrenched opposition to their involvement in the miners dispute from sections of the Welsh community and challenge from gays themselves as to why they should be involved in a workers' strike, although the controversy of the lack of a ballot authorising the strike itself is avoided.

    The script is a triumph with every line making an impact and telling us something and there are some wonderful jokes. A disco dancing scene and a solo-to-group singing session are destined to become favourite recollections of a memorable movie. The cast is magical: a combination of distinguished charactor actors like Imelda Staunton, Dominic West and Bill Nighy (although his South Wales accent is wobbly) and young newcomers like Ben Schnetzer, Joseph Gilgun and George MacKay. And there is remarkable attention to period detail (we had the same design of coffee cup as in an early scene), enhanced by music from the time.

    Although GLSM was eventually shunned by the official strike committee and the miners lost the strike and almost all of Britain's pits have subsequently closed, the concluding scenes of the film and the final bits of informative text turn this historic interaction into a success that should inspire the present-day gay community and labour movement alike. As Mike Jackson put it in an article about the film: “The one thing the ruling class don’t want is solidarity; they don’t want us to join the dots up.”

    "Pride & Prejudice"

    This quintessentially English film is utterly charming - a very traditional interpretation of Jane Austen's 1813 novel that manages to entertain, amuse and even move. First time director Joe Wright has worked with television playwright Deborah Moggach's script and a wonderful collection of mainly British actors to delight us. The versatile camerawork, luscious countryside, grand settings, period costumes, and atmospheric music are evidence of a work on which much love has been lavished.

    At the heart of this triumph is the delightful 20 year old Keira Knightley as the assured and sharp Elizabeth Bennett, the second of five daughters looking to be married off by an anxious mother. Knightley's rise in the thespian firmament has been meteoric and this is her best performance to date in a role for which she is perfectly cast. Matthew MacFadyen is suitably brooding and gauche as Mr Darcy, but the cast list is enlivened with splendid British character actors, including Brenda Blethyn as Lizzie's irascible mother, Tom Hollander as a diminutive cleric seeking a wife, and Judi Dench as the formidable Lady Catherine, plus the Canadian Donald Sutherland (Lizzie's wise father).

    This is a Georgian world in which social conventions present a veritable minefield for indiscretions or misunderstandings and in which a formal dance can be as intricate an occasion as international diplomacy. Pride and prejudice are only two of the obstacles to be overcome before inevitably true love brings Lizzie and her dark knight nose to nose (we don't even see a kiss). Passionate stuff indeed.


    Boy meets girl; boy loses girl; you know the rest - or do you? Although a romantic comedy, this story from writer and director Ben Younger is one tinged with some realism and even pathos. The angle here is that she (the luscious Uma Thurman in a role a million miles from the superb "Kill Bill") is Rafi, a Gentile and 37, while he (affable Bryan Greenberg) is David, Jewish and only 23. In between the two, both professionally and personally, is Meryl Streep who as always gives the best performance of the movie. There are some sharp and funny lines, but overall the narrative lacks direction. the cutting is poor, and the main effect limp.

    "The Private Lives Of Pippa Lee"

    This will be regarded as 'a woman's movie' since it is written and directed by a woman (Rebecca Miller) and its central character (Robin Wright Penn) and most of the support roles (Julianne Moore, Winona Ryder, Blake Lively, Mario Bello, Monica Bellucci) are women too. But the male roles (Alan Arkin and Keanu Reeves) contribute to a stellar cast and the themes of self-discovery and self-expression are universal. If Pippa is angst-ridden, it's because she's had a traumatic life and the movie reveals a series of dramatic incidents, while concluding on a hopeful note. With not a car chase or a special effect in sight, this is an adult film in the proper sense of the word and as such well-worth viewing.


    I saw each of the four "Alien" films as they were released: the first (1979) and second (1986) were classic in different ways, the third (1992) was something of a disappointment, while the fourth (1997) was satisfactory. So - after 15 years with no further additions to the franchise - I was excited about the prospect of original director Ridley Scott (now 74) revisiting the territory with what started as a prequel and has turned into more of a spin-off. I saw it at London's BFI cinema in IMAX and 3D on the largest screen in Britain, so it was a totally immersive experience.

    The starting point of the story is a scene from the original movie: that huge Space Jockey sitting at the controls of his spaceship with a gaping hole in his body - who was he and what was he doing there? "Prometheus" is a satisfying film in offering us some - sometimes surprising - answers while setting us up for the next stage of the "Alien" journey. It neatly reprises some classic elements of the franchise - such as the half-naked heroine who shows great initiative and bravery (Noomi Rapace from "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo") and the android with ambiguous intentions ( a brilliant Michael Fasbender) - but there some exciting new features, most notably the world of the life form represented by that enigmatic Space Jockey, and some dramatic sequences, most memorably an emergency medical operation.

    It is not as scary as the original or as exciting as the first sequel but it will thrill "Alien" fans with a genuine development of the narrative. Nice touches include a clip from "Lawrence Of Arabia" (my all-time favourite film) and the appearance of Charlize Theron (somewhat underused). But I could have done without the crucifix idea.

    "Proof Of Life"

    The title is a reference to the first requirement of the specialists who work in kidnapping and ransom, for this is a superior thriller about the attempt to recover alive American dam builder Peter Bowman (played by David Morse) following his capture by a tough Latin American guerilla group. The professional negotiator is Terry Thorne and, for once, Russell Crowe is allowed to use his natural accent as an Australian who has served with the British SAS. In the middle of it all is Bowman's wife Alice, portrayed by the ever-watchable Meg Ryan who is sleepless in South America.

    Director Taylor Hackford grabs our attention from the very beginning with a tense action sequence set in Chechnya (but shot in Poland) and then, except for some scenes in good old London town, the story unfolds in a fictional Andean republic with superb photography on location in Ecuador. The finale is an exciting and realistic attack on the guerilla camp led by Crowe and an emotional and equally realistic "Casablanca"-style parting between Crowe and Ryan. In an ironic case of life imitating art, the two leads commenced a nine-month affair while filming the movie and, since its release, Crowe has been the subject of kidnap threats.

    Footnote: When I saw the film in London, there was applause at both the opening and closing credits. Enquiries revealed the presence of a troupe from the movie's post-production company The Whitehouse cheering on a colleague. Way to go, guys!

    "The Proposal"

    At the heart of this frothy rom-com is duplicity. American Sandra Bullock plays Canadian high-flying book editor Margaret, while Canadian Ryan Reynolds is her hard-working and long-suffering American executive assistant, and they plan a marriage of covenience so that she can remain working in New York and he can get his novel published. To compound the falsity, most of the movie is set in Alaska but shot in Massachusetts and the narrative is supposed to take place over a weekend when it would take a full day each way to make the journey from NYC to Sitka.

    If you can forgive all this and imagine the beautiful Bullock as a bitch of a boss, it is entertaining and romantic enough, but director Anne Fletcher and her able stars deserved a better script than the first writing effort of Pete Chiarelli.

    "Public Enemies"

    Michael Mann is a fine director known for his male movies from "The Last Of The Mohicans" to "The Kingdom", often featuring real-life male characters as in "The Insider", "Ali" and "The Aviator", and frequently focusing on criminality as in "Heat", "Collateral" and "Miami Vice". "Public Enemies" then - set in crime-ridden 1930s America and telling the tale of flamboyant bank robber and prison escapee John Dillinger - is quintissential Mann. Stylistically - and this movie oozes style - this is trademark Mann, complete with the huge close-ups of intense male faces. What is new is the use by cinematographer Dante Spinotti of high definition video which, together with scrupulous attention to period detail, makes this a true evocation of the period and, together with interesting use of colour and intense sharpness of sound, creates an absorbing movie that one simply has to see at the cinema to enjoy the full richness of the work.

    For all the bank robbing and gun fighting, this is essentially a human story and inevitably comparisons will be made with "Heat". Again we have the lawless and the lawman as complex, committed but somewhat taciturn figures circling one another plot-wise and only once actually meeting face to face. The charismatic Johnny Depp plays Dillinger, while Christan Bale is his nemesis FBI agent Melvin Purvis, in accomplished performances backed up by a succession of strong minor appearances. For me, the sole significant female role - Marion Cotillard as Dillinger's moll, the half-French, half-Indian Billie - does not work as it should and it's hard to understand why he would take such risks for such a tepid character.

    Based on Bryan Burrough's non-fiction 2004 book "Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34" and with a screenplay partly written by Mann himself, Dillinger is presented in a rather sympathetic light as a kind of latter-day Robin Hood, adding colour and escapism to the dreary lives of Depression-era Americans. It's not always clear what is being said and what is happening, but inevitably one is swept along in a work that, while long (140 minutes), is never boring. It may not have the pacing and drama - and that station shoot-out - of "The Untouchables", but "Public Enemies" is a worthy addition to the gangster genre.

    Link: Wikipedia page on John Dillinger click here

    "Pushing Tin"

    This strange title comes from the unusual setting of the film – it’s a term used by air traffic controllers to refer to positioning aircraft in tight air spaces and the movie is set in New York’s Terminal Radar Approach Control {TRACON). Local hot shot Nick Falzone, ably played by the charming John Cusack ("Grosse Point Blank"), is challenged at work, at play and ultimately in the sack by ultra-cool newcomer Russell Bell, portrayed by the excellent Billy Bob Thornton. All this is particularly tough on the wives: respectively Australian actress Cate Blanchett, who was so good as "Elizabeth", and sultry Angelina Jolie (daughter of Jon Voight). "Pushing Tin" is a black comedy, with a touch of romance, that is probably best avoided if you have a fear of flying. But, if you sometimes feel stressed at work, this film should put it all in perspective and entertain you in the bargain.

    All reviews by ROGER DARLINGTON.

    Last modified on 5 November 2018

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