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FILM REVIEWS: R

Contents
  • "Rabbit-Proof Fence"
  • "The Raid"
  • "The Raid 2"
  • "The Railway Man"
  • "Ra.One"
  • "Ratatouille"
  • "The Reader"
  • "RED"
  • "RED 2"
  • "Red Cliff"
  • "Red Dog"
  • "Red State"
  • "Red Tails"
  • "Requiem For A Dream"
  • "The Reluctant Fundamentalist"
  • "The Remains Of The Day"
  • "Reservoir Dogs"
  • "Revanche"
  • "The Revenant"
  • "Revolutionary Road"
  • "Ride With The Devil"
  • "Righteous Kill"
  • "Rio 2"
  • "Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes"
  • "The Road"
  • "Road To Perdition"
  • "Robin Hood"
  • "The Rock"
  • "Rocky Balboa"
  • "Roger Dodger"
  • "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story"
  • "Room"
  • "A Royal Affair"
  • "The Royal Tenenbaums"
  • "Run Lola Run"
  • "Runaway Bride"
  • "Rush"
  • "Rush Hour"
  • "Russian Ark"

  • "Rabbit-Proof Fence"

    Set in Australia in 1931, this is the true story of how half-caste Aboriginal children were taken from their mothers to be brought up as Christian Australians. When the fourteen year-old aboriginal girl Molly Craig is taken from her mother in Jigalong with her eight year-old sister Daisy Kadibill and their ten year-old cousin Gracie Fields to the distant Moore River Native Center, they run away and follow the fence of the title in an effort to return home, an incredible 1,500 miles away.

    Everlyn Sampi is remarkable as Molly, while Kenneth Branagh takes on the role of the Chief Protector of Aborigines in the State of Western Australia in this slow but moving record of a cultural and human tragedy. The film is based on the book by Molly's daughter Doris Pilkington and at the end there is a brief shot of Molly and her sister today.

    "The Raid"

    In more than half a century of film viewing, this is easily the movie of most sustained violence that I have ever seen. Think of a cross between the most action-filled segments of Tarantino's "Kill Bill" (2003) and the Japanese "13 Assassins" (2010). But what a thrill - I loved it.

    The Welshman Gareth Huw Evans both wrote and directed, as well as edited and choreographed, but otherwise this is an Indonesian film shot in the local language on local sites with local actors. The basic plot is very simple: a special police unit is sent into a multi-storey housing block to take out the criminal gang that controls it and much of local crime. The killing by guns, knives and martial arts (the Indonesian 'pencak silat') is on a prodigious scale but, in between all the murder and mayhem, there is a straight-line narrative told in almost real time with a number of satisfying twists.

    The hero is policeman Rama played by silat national champion Iko Uwais, while the most combative villain is a character called Mad Dog portrayed by professional silat instructor Yayan Ruhian. One blow by either of these would put me out of action for weeks but they inflict amazing punishment on each other in an utterly brutal final fight-out.

    "The Raid 2"

    As I entered the London cinema to see this Indonesian movie, I overheard a bit of conversation between two people who had just seen it and were comparing it to the original. All I caught was a reference to "more -ory". I thought: "more gory"? How could that be? But you'd be surprised what a man with a baseball bat and a girl with two hammers can do. Later I decided that the comment was "more story". And it is true that this sequel is altogether more open: over a period of years instead of hours; all over Jakarta rather than simply in one building; and involving three gangs rather one (not to mention corrupt police). So, if you enjoyed ultra-violent "The Raid" - and I loved it - you'll be more than satisfied with the gore-fest that is the follow-up which, while necessarily lacking the absolute novelty of the original, is - surprisingly for a sequel - just as good if not better. This is a contender for the best action movie of all time.

    The budget was bigger but still minuscule by Hollywood standards: just £4.5M compared to a measly £1M. Welshman Gareth Huw Evans writes, directs and edits again and Iko Uwais is back as Rama, the cop who is as hard and straight as a nail. So we expect a lot, but "The Raid 2" delivers with stunning action scenes in a whole variety of environments - the muddiest prison courtyard ever, a nightclub, a porn studio, a kitchen, a metro train, even a speeding car, and the inevitable corridor - and a terrific cast of villains. At times, one wonders why - like Indiana Jones in "Raiders Of The Lost Ark" - a character does not simply shoot his opponent rather than pummel him with hands and feet and why gangs of goons tend to line up for action rather than attacking all at once, but, heh, this is a martial arts movie and there are certain conventions to follow and the exposition of the Indonesian 'pencak silat' is no exception. In short, a fantastic movie.

    "The Railway Man"

    War casts long shadows over both nations and individuals and, when the fighting stops, the pain remains. This is the remarkable story of a British officer who became a prisoner of war when the Japanese took Singapore in early 1942, worked on the infamous Burma-Siam railway, and suffered terrible torture for constructing a radio receiver. Eric Lomax is played by Jeremy Irvine (wartime) and Colin Firth (post-war), while his lead kempei torturer Takeshi Nagase is portrayed by Tanroh Ishida and then Hiroyuki Sanada. Nicole Kidman sports a good English accent (as she did in "The Hours") as Lomax's (second) wife, but the casting of the Swedish Stellan Skarsgård is odd. This is not a easy film to watch but tells a moving real-life story that is ultimately up-lifting. In the central role, Firth is impressive. Like a good wine, this is an actor who improves with age.

    Link: comparisons between the film and the reality click here

    "Ra.One"

    This has been promoted as one of the biggest and brashest movies ever to have come out of Bollywood and, since I have eclectic tastes in cinema, I decided to give it a go. In most respects,it is a typical Indian film for a mass audience: minimal plot, a fair bit of overacting, smatterings of other languages than Hindi, plenty of action, some drama and excitement, lots of humour and slapstick, of course music, singing and dancing, and - yes - an intermission. What makes this work a little different is the expenditure of special effects and computer graphics. But Hollywood has nothing to fear: this film is not going to win a new audience for Indian cinema in America or Europe and indeed many of the plot lines and visual elements are very derivative of (better) Hollywood movies. There are all sorts of in-jokes that will not be picked up by non-Indian viewers and a bit of anti-Chinese racism.

    Having said all this, if you just go with the flow, it's an entertaining romp and I for one do enjoy Indian-style singing and dancing. So, what's it all about? It's an Indian contribution to the super-hero genre, although oddly the title - an allusion to a mythical character called Lankeshwar Ravan - is a reference to the super-villain. Both characters emerge from a computer game created by Shekhar Subramaniam at the urging of both his employer and his son. Indian super star Shah Rukh Khan (SRK) plays both the bumbling but loving Shekhar and his alter-ego the powerful but autistic G.One who, after some tribulations, naturally proves to be the nemesis of the eponymous "Ra.One". In both incarnations, he is backed by the lovely Kareena Kapoor in her lives in London and Mumbai respectively.

    If you want to see a better Indian film, go for "My Name Is Khan" which also stars SRK but has a real message - although minus singing and dancing.

    "Ratatouille"

    Rats and kitchens are not a combination that we normally expect but, in the world of animation, anything is possible and this is an entertaining and engaging tail (sorry tale) co-written and co-directed by Brad Bird which won both the American Academy Award and the British BAFTA for Best Animated Film. For me, a particular delight was the voice of Peter O'Toole as food critic Anton Ego.

    "The Reader"

    The Holocaust is such a huge subject in every sense that it's not surprising that there have been so many films examining the experience from so many varied angles. By one authoritative reckoning, there have been nearly 300 such cinematic works and some - such "Sophie's Choice" and "Schindler's List" - have been truly memorable and moving. However, "The Reader" is an addition to the genre that it is hard to welcome.

    Directed by Stephen Daldry ("The Hours"), technically it is superb. The acting is fine with an outstanding performance by Kate Winslet as Hanna, a former concentration camp guard who betrays no understanding, let alone guilt, for her actions both at Auschwitz and at a fire and yet shows kindness in assisting a young man in the grip of scarlet fever who becomes the reader of the story (David Kross as the youth and Ralph Fiennes as the man). The make-up and cinematography are first class.

    The problem is the narrative, which jumps backwards and forwards between 1958, 1966 and 1984, based on a bestselling German novel by Bernard Schlink. Things might be clearer in the book but, in the film, the motivations of the leading characters are utterly opaque and the central message of the work is totally unclear, leaving this viewer anyway perplexed and unsatisfied with a story which seems morally confusing if not vacuous.

    Links:
    official web site click here
    Wikipedia page on the book click here
    the real 'Bitch of Buchenwald' click here

    "RED"

    When you know that RED stands for 'Retired: Extremely Dangerous', you expect older actors and explosive action and you get plenty of both from a film with its tongue so firmly in its cheek that it's almost a spoof. Leading the gang of ex special ops personnel is Bruce Willis which might suggest an alternative title of "Die Hard With A Pension".

    Other members of the old - in both senses of the word - team are gravelly Morgan Freeman, manic Johm Malkovich and cool Helen Mirren (great to see the one-time Queen with huge weaponry). Want some more old-timers? You've got Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfus and even Ernest Borgnine (now in his 90s). The only young actors - and they are in their 40s - are Mary-Louise Parker and less well known Karl Urban.

    So this is not a movie for the usual teenage demographic of much Hollywood fare but more a pitch to attract the middle-aged viewer who will enjoy familiar faces combined with action and humour but wonder where the plot went.

    "RED 2"

    RED = 'Retired: Extremely Dangerous' (sounds like me). In 2010, "RED" earned twice what it took to make, so I guess a sequel was inevitable and three years later fans of the first - which included this particular one-time agent - will enjoy the second.

    Like all sequels, it's a mixture of the old (and most of them are aged) gang and some newcomers, so Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Brian Cox and Mary-Louise Parker reprise their roles (Mirren is great and has a wonderful line about being the Queen of England), while arrivals included Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta Jones and South Korean Byung-hun Lee.

    This constellation of stars is combined with heavy weaponry and light humour in a plot that is puerile (something about red mercury - don't ask) and peripatetic (bouncing between London, Paris and Moscow - although the studio work was shot in Canada). It's not James Bond or Jason Bourne but it gives older actors and viewers plenty of fun.

    "Red Cliff"

    The Battle of Red Cliffs holds a special place in Chinese history and mythology. It was a decisive conflict which occurred at the end of the Han Dynasty, immediately prior to the period of the Three Kingdoms, and it was fought in the winter of 208/209 between the allied forces of the southern warlords Liu Bei and Sun Quan and the numerically superior forces of the northern warlord Cao Cao. The 2008 film, titled simply "Red Cliff", was deliberately timed for release in China in the lead up to the 2008 Summer Olympics and was a great success with Chinese audiences. One year later, the movie has a limited release in the West where the selling point is not so much the history (which is largely unknown outside China) as the director (Hong Kong's John Woo who is known for such Hollywood work as "Broken Arrow", "Face/Off" and "Mission: Impossible 2").

    It has to be said that the Mandarin dialogue is leaden and much of the acting somewhat exaggerated, but a huge cast and considerable special effects - allied with the director's trademark style - makes the movie visually stunning with clever tactical manoeuvres, multiple battle scenes and considerable blood. If it all seems a little confused to Western audiences, this is probably because we are seeing it in a rather different version to the original. In Asia, "Red Cliff" was released in two parts, totalling over four hours in length, whereas outside of Asia, the release is a single film of 'only' two and a half hours. For me, it's not up there with "Hero" or "House of Flying Daggers" but it is well-worth seeing and a pictorial treat.

    Link: Battle of Red Cliffs click here

    "Red Dog"

    I doubt very much that I would ever have seen this 2011 Australian film if I had not gone on a conducted holiday in the country two years later. Our tour director decided to relieve the boredom of a long coach journey by showing the movie in less than ideal viewing circumstances. This simple tale of how a dog wanders the outback and touches the lives of so many disparate people along the way is inspired by a true story that has been the subject of several books. The film is often funny, occasionally moving, and always very Ozzie.

    "Red State"

    Non-American views need to be reminded that in the USA politically the terms 'red' and 'blue' are used in the opposite sense to most other countries, so a red state is a conservative one and this film is set in middle America and revolves around the actions of the fundamentalist, God-fearing, homosexual-hating Five Points Trinity Church of Pastor Abin Cooper (an excellent performance by Michael Parks, especially in the delivery of a 15 minute sermon). When the church attracts the attention of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), a squad led by John Goodman who for once plays a straight role, the scene is set for a conflict reminiscent of the infamous 1993 Waco seige. This low budget work, both written and directed by Kevin Smith, is an odd production, starting as a teenage horror movie before morphing into a bloody shoot-out, while satirising both the religious right and the simplistic authorities.

    "Red Tails"

    This 2012 movie has the same subject - the success of America's all-black 332nd Fighter Group known as "The Red Tails" in the Second World War - as the more low-budget and less well-known 1999 HBO television film "The Tuskegee Airmen", but it is very different in structure and tone. The more recent work has nothing on the selection and training of the airmen, but jumps straight to their deployment in Italy in 1944, and it is an unashamedly action-orientated tale with a rather simplistic gung-ho approach.

    Black actors are understandably put out that so many films with good roles for them involve a white 'saviour' - think, for instance, of "The Help" - but, in a sense, "Red Tails" has its own white 'saviour' because executive producer George Lucas had to fund both the production ($59M) and distribution ($35M) costs since Hollywood was not willing to bank a movie in which all the leading roles are taken by black actors and, with the exception of Cuba Gooding Jr (who was in "The Tuskegee Airmen" as well), these actors are hardly known. Indeed the most dashing role is taken by David Oyelowo who is a British-born actor of Nigerian descent.

    So all credit to Lucas for bringing this heroic story to a wider audience, but it is as if anxiety about its commercial prospects led to it being made as entertaining as possible with little subtlety ans some improbable scenarios. It has to be said, however, that the special effects - most of the production was in the Czech Republic - are excellent with authentic representations of the P-40 Warhawk, P-51 Mustang and B-17 Flying Fortress on the USAAF side and of the Me 109 and 262 on the Luftwaffe side (there is very little use of actual vintage aircraft).

    Link: Wikipedia page click here

    "Requiem For A Dream"

    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" (1998) - which I thought was awful - and then moving on to "Requiem For A Dream" (2000) - which is one of the most disturbing films I have ever seen but nevertheless a genuine accomplishment. Based on the novel by Hubert Selby Jr and co-scripted by Aronfsky and Selby, it depicts the horrific descent into drugs hell by four characters: a young white man (Jared Leto), his girlfriend (the beautiful Jennifer Connelly), his mother (an outstanding Ellen Burstyn) and his black accomplice (Marlon Wayans). Not a film for those seeking light entertainment or conventional techniques.

    "The Reluctant Fundamentalist"

    Four years after I read the impressive novel by Mohsin Hamid, I went to see the film which is based on the book. I wondered how a novel, which is essentially one long monologue by an educated Pakistani called Changez Khan with no other voices whatsoever, would be turned into a big screen offering but reckoned that, if they could do it for such complex works as "Life Of Pi" and "Cloud Atlas", it could work for Hamid's subtle narrative. So it proved. The 'conversation' in Lahore has been effectively opened out with shooting not just in Pakistan and India but the United States and Turkey, while very effective use is made of music, starting with a dramatic opening scene. The essential clash of cultures, via a confrontation between the reluctant fundamentalist (played by Riz Admed) and the ambiguous American Bobby (Liev Schreiber), is retained, but the film is less opaque than the book, with it being (eventually) much clearer where the two main protagonists stand in the 'war on terror'.

    Although the political messages are signposted more simplistically in the film than in the novel, this is still a work that challenges preconceptions about the capitalist West and the religious East and ultimately about ends versus means and good versus evil. Considerable credit should go to Indian director Mira Nair ("Monsoon Wedding" - another culture-conflict movie) and, as well as the excellent main roles, there is strong support in minor roles filled by Kiefer Sutherland and Kate Hudson. Although the turning point for Changez is the attack on the Twin Towers, subsequent events in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere have only served to underline the need for a better understanding of what motivates fundamentalism and how best it should be opposed.

    So do see "Zero Dark Thirty" (which I thought was excellent), but also take the trouble to find the much less high profile film "The Reluctant Fundamentalist". At one point in the movie, Changez is asked by an American official: "How do you feel about the United States of America?" It is not a simple question. This film does not offer a simple answer.

    "The Remains Of The Day"

    I first saw this film shortly after it was released in 1993, but it was 2012 before I eventually read the novel by Kazuo Ishiguru which led me to revisit the movie. It is a very faithful and effective adaptation of the Booker Prize-winning novel which is to be expected from such a talented and durable team as scriptwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory. Anthony Hopkins is brilliant as the repressed butler of Darlington Hall, while Emma Thompson and James Ivory are excellent in support. Looking back at the film after a couple of decades, one is saddened to be reminded of the ability of the late Christopher Reeve and amused by the early performance from Hugh Grant.

    "Reservoir Dogs"

    A colourful bunch of criminals work through the consequences of a diamond heist - never actually seen - which has gone dramatically wrong in this verbal and violent work written, directed and starring Quentin Tarantino who has since achieved iconic status. This is not a movie for the squeamish, since it features the longest-lasting death throes outside of opera and a revolting torture sequence, but it is made with immense style, the full story only gradually revealed in a series of skilful flash-backs. Two of the actors, Harvey Keitel and Tim Roth, reappear in Tarantino;s next film "Pulp Fiction" and, in a conversation, one of the characters refers to actress Pam Grier who takes the eponymous role in his third film "Jackie Brown".

    "Revanche"

    I had never seen an Austrian film until I caught "The Counterfeiters" which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 2008. Then, coincidentally, I found that in the same week I was viewing a second Austrian movie - this time "Revanche" which was a nominee for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 2009. Sadly "Revanche" - directed and written by Götz Spielmann - does not begin to compare in quality with "The Counterfeiters" and I would never have seen it but for a special viewing at London's Austrian Cultural Forum.

    It is a thriller of sorts (with some sex and a lot of wood-cutting) exploring the odd relationship between two couples: a criminal and his prostitute girlfriend and a policeman and his wife. But there are far too few thrills in a two-hour movie that is about one-third too long.

    "The Revenant"

    If all you knew about a film was its title, then this one would be rivalled in obscurity only by "Sicario". In the latter case, the word was explained at the opening of the movie; in this case, the viewer is left to infer the meaning from the narrative. A revenant is a person who returns, especially from the dead, and the term comes from a French word for ghost. In this case, the eponymous returner is tracker Hugh Glass (a stunning performance from Leonard Di Caprio) and screenwriter Mark L Smith has worked parly from the true story of an early 19th century Wyoming mountain man and partly from a 2002 novel by Michael Punke. In a minimalist script, there is no back story or exposition - we are straight into the action - and there are long periods of no dialogue at all.

    This is a genuinely international work. The lead star is American, of course, but the other three major roles are filled in accomplished style by actors from the British Isles - Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, and Will Poulter - although all four are barely recognisable under so much facial hair. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki - who worked together on "Birdman" - are both Mexican. And the outdoor locations themselves - breathtakingly shot in natural light with clever camera angles - were in Canada and Argentina.

    There is a rare physicality to this brilliant moviemaking as the viewer goes through the life-threatening ordeals endured by Glass, whether the threat comes from native tribes, fellow fur trappers, wild animals, or 'just' the terrain and climate. The work has become best-known for the scene involving a bear attack but I was even more gripped by another sequence in which Glass is invited simply to blink. The last time I felt so exhausted at the end of a film was "Touching The Void".

    "Revolutionary Road"

    It's a decade since Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet starred as ill-fated lovers aboard the "Titantic". Since then, each has made some fine movies = DiCaprio in the likes of "Gangs Of New York" and "The Aviator" and Winslet in such as "Iris" and "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind". In between, they have remained good friends.

    So it's great to see them back together, this time as a young couple living in a Connecticut suburb during 1955 in a film based on a 1961 novel by Richard Yates and directed by Winslet's husband Sam Mendes ("American Beauty" and "Road To Perdition"). Both give excellent performances, with Winslet especially nuanced, in a dark tale of unfulfilled hope and lacerating conflict.

    "Ride With The Devil"

    Taiwan-born director Ang Lee certainly likes to vary the subject matter of his movies. Following a costume drama ("Sense And Sensibility") and a contemporary drama ("The Ice Storm") comes this oddly-titled, but beautifully shot, American civil film, set in the backwater of the Kansis/Missouri border. Although there are some hard-hitting action scenes, this is an unusual and impressive western that is more concerned with character than conflict. The central character is Jake Roedel - ably, if understatedly, played by Tobey Maguire who was also in "The Ice Storm". Jake goes off to war with his friend Jack (Skeet Ulrich), but his life is changed by an unmarried mother and a black Confederate fighter as much as by all the shooting and running.

    "Righteous Kill"

    Robert De Nero and Al Pacino are both outstanding actors who have had long and illustrious careers, but they have only appeared in the same film on three occasions. In 1974, they were both in "The Godfather: Part II", but never together. In 1995, they were united in "Heat", where they only shared two pivotal scenes. Then, in 2008, we had "Righteous Kill" when they spend most of the movie together. Interestingly, in "Godfather", both are criminals; in "Heat", one is a criminal and the other is a cop; while, in "Righteous Kill", they are both cops.

    Turk (De Nero) and Rooster (Pacino) are two ageing New York detectives and long-time partners who are on the trail of a serial killer with a penchant for poetry. Writer Russell Gewirtz manipulates the viewer into thinking one thing when the action seems to suggest other things and it is all rather tangled until a conclusion that makes some sort of sense (but not much). This is a poor use of two great talents who are watchable but wasted. "Righteous Kill" is nothing like as good as "The Godfather: Part II" or "Heat" but it seems to pay homage to the second movie in a last scene that echoes that of the finale of the earlier work.

    "Rio 2"

    My wife and I had no reason (or excuse) to see the original "Rio" in 2011 but, three years later, we were happy to take two young relatives - Yasmin (8) and Lucas (almost 6) - to see the sequel in 3D (their first movie in this format). Again Brazilian Carlos Saldanha directs and co-writes and again the two blue micaws at the heart of the action, Blu and Jewel, are voiced by Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway respectively. This time though they're seeking other blue micaws in the depths of the Amazonia jungle. There's not much story - a fashionable theme of saving the rain forest - but the colour is great, the 3D works a treat, and the Latin American music is a joy (additionally there is a fun cover of the classic song "I Will Survive").

    "Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes"

    It seems that you can't keep a good ape story in its cage. In the beginning, there was the French-language novel by Pierre Boulle (1963); then followed the original film in 1968 and between 1970 and 1973 no less than four sequels; there were two television series in 1974 and 1975 and various comics; a reboot of the original film came along in 2001; and now ten years later we have a prequel. There are three allusions in the 2011 work to the 1968 original - see if you can spot them.

    What makes the latest movie special is that it tells a different story, how a scientific experiment with a mixture of caring and mercenary motives goes disastrously wrong, and it uses much more advanced digital effects which impressively render simians both expressing character and wreaking mayhem. San Francisco - the backdrop to so many films - is a great location here with the Golden Gate Bridge providing a splendid setting for the first mass conflict between apes and humans. Of course, it won't be the last because the commercial success of the movie, plus the nature of the conclusion and a brief clip early on in the credits, all set us up nicely for a sequel.

    Meanwhile well done to British Rupert Wyatt on creating a well-paced and gripping adventure and congratulations to the special effects guys for creating such a believable universe and to Andy Serkis for his achievement as lead ape Caesar (following similar creature performances in "The Lord Of The Rings" and "King Kong"). James Franco, John Lithgow and Brian Cox as always are in fine form, but sadly the one female role - filled by the beautiful Freida Pinto ("Slumdog Millionaire") - is seriously underwritten.

    "The Road"

    I found Cormac McCarthy's 2006 novel of a post-apocalyptic struggle for survival a bleak tale impressively written. This respectful adaptation for the screen, by director Australian-based John Hillcoat and British writer Joe Penhall, is faithful to the main events in the book and, while lacking in some of the insight of the main character - the father (Viggo Mortensen) protecting his son (13 year old Rodi Smit-McPhee - scores heavily in its visual depiction of this hell on earth. The colours are almost totally bleached out and the location shooting - in Oregon, Pennsylvannia, Florida, Louisiana (using some areas shattered by Hurricane Katrina) and Mount St Helens - brutally evokes a world where the choice seems to be between cannabalism and suicide.

    There is not a lot of talking here (and some of that is voice-over) and not many characters (Charlize Theron, Robert Duvall and Guy Pearce all have mere cameos), but tons of atmosphere and considerable emotion. In a sense the world has already finished, so the conclusion of the end of the road is inevitably a kind of anti-climax but one that restates humanistic values in a territory of terror.

    "Road To Perdition"

    We've waited three years for British director Sam Mendes to follow up his Oscar-laden debut "American Beauty"; we've waited his whole career to see Tom Hanks play an immoral guy (although we're still rooting for him from the beginning); and, so far as I can determine, we've waited the history of the cinema for an English-language movie with the word 'perdition' in the title. Was it worth the wait? Most certainly - Mendes has triumphed again with totally different subject material - Irish-American gangsterism of 1931 - but the same consummate composure and craftmanship of every scene.

    Mendes is well-served by a fine cast. Besides Hanks, Paul Newman comes out of retirement to give an excellent performance as the gang leader who is a father figure to the Hanks character (indeed the whole film is about the father-son relationship), Daniel Craig and Jude Law are impressive as psychotic killers of different kinds, and young Tyler Hoechlin is convincing as Hanks' son and the narrator of the story. As with "American Beauty", Mendes has used veteran cinematographer Conrad Hall, who creates wonderful visual images, and an atmospheric score from Thomas Newman which, together with the production design of Dennis Gassner (who makes the Depression era so live) adds up to a real class act.

    "Robin Hood"

    Any film directed by Ridley Scott or starring Russell Crowe commands my attention and together at best we have the wonderful "Gladiator" although "A Good Year" was much less satisfying. So Scott overseeing Crowe as the eponymous 12th century English hero was a real draw and, while not up there with Maximus, is a very satisfactory escapade indeed. It's true that writer Brian Hegleland plays fast and loose with English history (I had not previously suspected that we might owe Magna Carta to the man in tights) and that Crowe's accent wanders all around the British Isles (his English accent was more consistent in "A Good Year" but non-regionally middle class), but neither weakness matters too much in such an entertaining romp.

    "Robin Hood" is resonant of so many other movies and not just others about the merry men of Sherwood Forest, such as Kevin Costner's "Prince Of Thieves", but also everything from "Sommersby" (another case of a man returning from the wars being mistaken for a villager's husband) to "Saving Private Ryan" (a previous enactment of invaders being cut down on the beach). Where this movie scores is in telling us the supposed back story to the origins of Robin becoming an outlaw - although we have had such back stories for superheros as with "Batman Begins" - together with some fine character performances (including a notably feisty Marian from Cate Blanchett and the archetypal villain from Mark Strong), plenty of up-close and bloody action, excellent costumes and sets, and a rousing score. A rather complicated plot ends where other Robin Hood movies have begun.

    "The Rock"

    This is a terrific action movie produced by the "Top Gun" team of Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson (who died shortly afterwards). Sean Connery, as an ex-SAS member and ex-Alcatraz prisoner, Nicolas Cage, as a reluctant FBI chemical weapons expert, and Ed Harris, as a renegade Vietnam veteran, give credence to a rollercoaster film which is fast, furious and fun with explosive action and relentless pace. The cutting is superb, the music is exciting, and the characters have more depth than in most films of this kind. Among many memorable scenes, the opening attack on the weapons facility is particularly exciting and the massacre in the Alcatraz shower room is especially moving. I've seen the movie three times now.

    "Rocky Balboa"

    It all started way back in 1976 when Sylvester Stallone - who wrote the script and took the leading role - created the character of the Philadelphia low-grade boxer who managed, against all the odds, to go the distance with world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed and give the world a new kind of underdog to support. In "Rocky II" (1979), after 15 brutal rounds, he defeats Creed and takes the title. In 1982, "Rocky III" sees our hero lose to Mr T before Apollo helps him bounce back. By the time of "Rocky IV" (1985), the franchise had acquired an international dimension as the Cold War is acted out in the ring with Rocky squaring up to the Russian Ivan Drago. Another five years passed before Stallone felt that he had to return to the iconic role - in "Rocky V", he adopts a young fighter who turns on him.

    That really should have been it - but, as the tagline for "Rocky Balboa" puts it, "It ain't over 'til it's over" so, 16 years after the last film and an amazing 30 years after the original movie, he's back. It seems that Rocky is so missing his wife Adrian that, in spite of running a successful restaurant named after her, he finds that he has something "lurking in the basement". On this sixth outing, the narrative arc is just the same as first time round - again a complete no-chancer facing a world champion after a gruelling training routine involving the same frozen meat, the same one-armed press-ups, and of course the same race up the Museum of Art steps - and the same music.

    What's different is the advanced years of Rocky and of course Stallone himself (now 60) - but he looks good, the film looks good, and you'll feel good at the final bell. This time - as with II, III & IV - Stallone directs as well as writes and acts, so it is a very personal success for him. As the man says: "It ain't about how hard you hit, it is about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much can you take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!"

    "Roger Dodger"

    As a Roger (but not a dodger), I couldn't resist going to see this low-budget independent movie and it is a very promising first offering from young New Yorker Dylan Kidd who both wrote and directed. Like the hit television series "Sex And The City", this is a work about singles in Manhatten with lots of talk about sex but no actual action. The twist is that the viewpoint is male and, while there is lots of sharp and witty dialogue, the whole thing is drenched in cynicism and a kind of sadness.

    The success of the movie - it has won several festival awards - rests on two key elements. The first is a cracking script from Kidd and the second is an excellent performance from Campbell Scott (son of George C Scott) as the eponymous hard-drinking, heavy-smoking copywriter and womaniser, a damaged character full of anger and disappointment that no amount of bravado and bombast can disguise. Jesse Eisenberg is just right as Nick the nerd who wants his Uncle Roger to teach him the art of seduction. Finally, somehow (maybe it's his seduction technique) Kidd has managed to persuade three beautiful stars to play smaller roles: Isabella Rosselini from "Death Becomes Her", Elizabeth Berkley from "Showgirls", and Jennifer Beals from "Flashdance".

    Not a blockbuster, not a feel-good movie, not without flaws, but an impressive début that is well-worth viewing.

    Incidentally, how many other films do you know that have the name Roger in the title? The only ones I know are "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" and "Roger And Me".

    "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story"

    Walt Disney Productions clearly knew what it was doing when it purchased the rights to the "Star Wars" franchise from its creator George Lucas. "Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens" was a major success and the idea of having stand-alone spin-off movies looks like satisfying both the fans and the investors. The first of these oddities - appropriately called "Rogue One" - is a real crowd-pleaser that is set in the period between "Star Wars III: Revenge Of The Sith" and "Star Wars IV: A New Hope" with the conclusion fitting into start of the first film to be released like a piece of a jigsaw.

    It does this mainly through a narrative, inspired by visual effects supervisor John Knoll and crafted by Chris Wietz and Tony Gilroy, that explains how the plans to the Death Star were acquired but additionally we have glimpses of some of the characters that will appear later in the saga, in two cases using CGI eerily to create characters played by actors who are now either much older or dead.

    We've has plucky heroines in previous "Star Wars" outings (Princess Leia and Rey), but this time we have a female character at the heart of the adventure in the form of the reluctant leader Jyn Erso played by the talented British actress Felicty Jones who was so good in "The Theory Of Everything". She is supported by an ethnically diverse team including rebel fighter Cassian Andor (the Mexican Diego Luna), renegade Empire pilot Bodhi Rook (British Asian actor Riz Ahmed), blind swordsman Chirrut Imwe (Hong Kong actor Donnie Yen), and Chirrut's partner Baze Malbus (the Chinese Wen Jiang)

    This is a different kind of "Star Wars" episode with no (genuine) Jedi, minimal appearance of a light sabre, and barely an impact of the Force which makes the whole escapade more hazardous. Also, although the movie has some humorous lines, essentially it takes itself seriously so there is nothing like Jar Jar Binks, who was generally derided, or even the Ewoks, whom some found just too cute. Instead we just have a reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) who is darkly droll. In past "Star Wars" episodes, our heroes have often found it too easy to escape from a threatening situation with the stormtroopers rightly charged with very poor shooting skills but, in this anthology film, not all the rebels are going to survive.

    The special effects are excellent and there are some striking locations utilising Iceland, Jordan and The Maldives. I was fortunate enough to see the movie on an IMAX screen in 3D which meant that the third-act battle scenes of X-Wing and TIE fighters were especially exciting. We Brits should take special pleasure in that the work was shot at Pinewood Studios and the director is British Gareth Edwards.

    "Room"

    Emma Donoghue has adapted for the screen her Booker Prize-nominated novel - loosely inspired by some real events - which tells the story of a young woman called (ironically) Joy kidnapped seven years previously and held in a garden shed where five years ago sex with her captor resulted in the birth of her son Jack. It sounds horrific, but in the end it is actually inspiring because it is less about detention and more about relationships - not just between mother and child but between mother and her parents and between child and his grandparents.

    By the time I caught up with the movie, it had been nominated for four Academy Awards and won one, Best Actress for Brie Larson who, most of the time, appears with no make-up and gaunt. But all the performances are impressive, not least that of young Jacob Tremblay as Jack. The novel is narrated in his words and the film uses his voiceover from time to time which gives added poignancy to this remarkable and moving story. Jack is just five and forms a special relationship with a grandparent and I am grandparent to a little one who is just five, so I found the film especially resonant.

    Irish director Lenny Abrahamson has done brilliantly in conveying the physical confines of the eponymous room and the psychological restraints under which we all operate. I didn't like his previous work "Frank", which I found too weird, but this is a triumph.

    "A Royal Affair"

    I was so impressed by the performance of young Swedish actress Alicia Vikander in the sci-fi movie "Ex Machina" that, following a recommendation, I decided to view this earlier foreign-language film in which she has a starring role. In fact, it is a Danish film and she had to learn how to pronounce the lines correctly but she is simply wonderful. Like her fellow Swede Greta Garbo, the camera just loves Vikander and we are going to see a lot of her in future.

    Based on fact, "A Royal Affair" is the story of how, in the late 18th century, the British Princess Caroline Mathilde (Vikander) is the subject of an arranged marriage to the Danish King Christian VII (a first film role for Mikkel Boe Følsgaard), both of whom find themselves embroiled with an older German doctor called Johann Friedrich Struensee (former Bond baddie Mads Mikkelsen). At one level, this is a tale of political intrigue as Struensee joins the mentally ill king in battling an aristocratic establishment who have no wish to embrace Enlightenment ideas. At another level, it is a love story between Caroline and Johann and, in a different way, between the king and his mentor.

    The film looks beautiful with use of a range of locations in the Czech Republic and some fine cinematography. Nikolaj Arcel both directed and co-wrote with skill. But ultimately it is the cast who make the movie: as well as the three principal leads, each role is taken by a splendid Danish character actor so that collectively they certainly bring home the bacon.

    Link: Wikipedia page on King Christian VII click here

    "The Royal Tenenbaums"

    I'm at all sure that I'd have gone to see this film if it hadn't received such positive reviews. The strange title gives no indication of the subject matter and, when one does discover the theme of the movie (examination of a dysfunctional well-off New York family), it's not exactly a crowd-puller. Royal Tenenbaum is the odd name of the head of an even odder family, played by Gene Hackman - an actor who is now in his 70s and starring in his 80th film. Hackman does little comedy - believe it or not, this is a funny movie - but here has the pivotal role in a stellar cast.

    His wife Etheline - whom he left 17 years ago - is played by Anjelica Huston and they have three 'grown-up' children, each of whom was once a prodigy and now has psychological problems. There's Chas (Ben Stiller), a financial whizz-kid, Richie (Luke Wilson), a one-time tennis champ, and Margot (a panda-eyed Gwyneth Paltrow), a playright of sorts. If that was not enough, there's Danny Glover as Etheline's suitor, Bill Murray as Margot's husband, and Owen Wilson (who teamed with Hackman in "Behind Enemy Lines") as a family friend.

    It's this talented cast that gives director and co-writer Wes Anderson such an entertaining success for such a quirky movie. Without them, it's hard to see how this would have been more than a light-weight curiosity

    "Run Lola Run"

    Like the better-known Hollywood movie of the same year "Sliding Doors", this work - both written and directed by Tom Tykwer - presents the same essential plot more than once with dramatically different endings as a result of tiny changes in causation. This is a German film and the setting is Berlin. Red-haired Lola (Franka Potente) is given just 20 minutes to find 100,000 marks, otherwise her criminal boyfriend Manni (Herbert Knaup) is dead. Three narratives are offered us with some flamboyant camerawork and insistent music and, as well as being entertained, we are provoked to consider the accidental nature and fragility of circumstance and life.

    "Runaway Bride"

    Almost a decade after the world-wide success of "Pretty Woman" comes this romantic comedy from the same team: director Garry Marshall and co-stars Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. There's even the same supporting actor Hector Elizondo and a kind of reprise of the shop scene. This time round Roberts, playing small-town girl Maggie Carpenter, is a woman who has already jilted three men at the altar and is planning a fourth attempt at nuptials to a local bone-head. Will she go through with the wedding or will she fall for columnist Gere - in spite of the 18 year age difference - instead? Pretty, predictable, profitable.

    "Rush"

    In 1976, the rivalry between two brilliant racing car drivers, the British James Hunt and the Austrian Nikki Lauda, came to a head in the almost literally life-and-death struggle of the Formula One championship. American director Ron Howard ("Apollo 13", "A Beautiful Mind", "Frost/Nixon") and British scriptwriter Peter Morgan (both play and screenplay of "Frost/Nixon") have done a terrific job bringing the titanic struggle to the big screen, aided by some excellent casting and powerful sound and cinematography. Those were the days when most years a couple of drivers would be killed, so the stakes could not be higher.

    Sensibly the car racing does not over-dominate, since this is essentially a character-driven conflict, but when the racing is on screen - notably in the final race - the excitement is visceral. The Australian Chris Hemsworth (previously best known as "Thor") and the Spanish-born German Daniel Brühl ("Inglourious Basterds") are so good as the British and Austrian drivers respectively that the dialect coaches should receive a special commendation. Arguably Brühl gives the stronger performance which should auger well for his future career.

    A great strength of this tale is that there is not a hero or a villain. Both drivers had privileged backgrounds and were superbly talented, but both were flawed. although in very contrasting ways, including styles of thinking, driving and womanising (Olivia Wilde as model Suzy Miller and Alexandra Maria Lara as aristocratic Marlene Knaus respectively).

    I never saw the recent film "Senna" (2010) so "Rush" reminded me most of the much older "Grand Prix" (1966), but what is stunning about "Rush" is that it all happened. A season of the fastest sport in the world decided in the last race by one point - you couldn't make it up. Rush to see the movie.

    Links:
    Wikipedia page on James Hunt click here
    Wikipedia page on Nikki Lauda click here

    "Rush Hour"

    In the long tradition of a pair of mis-matched cops, this stars Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker, billed as 'the fastest hands in the East versus the biggest mouth in the West", tackling a kidnapping in Los Angeles in amusingly contrasting styles. Much like "Beverley Hills Cop", this is harmless, but mindless, entertainment.

    "Russian Ark"

    Just three weeks before making my first visit to St Petersburg, I was able to catch this homage to the three-hundred year history of the city by the noted director Aleksandr Sokurov. The construction of the work is simply remarkable: it was shot in one, unbroken take of an hour and a half in the munificent rooms of the Hermitage (a feat rivalled only by Alfred Hitchcock with "Rope" or Mike Figgis with "Timecode") and deployed 867 actors, an even greater number of extras, three live orchestras and 22 assistant directors.

    The result is a dream-like evocation of historical characters and incidents witnessed through the sweeping, swirling and gliding camerawork of cinematographer Tilman Büttner. The final scenes of a joyous ball and the thronging procession down the main staircase are simply breathtaking. I would have liked some more structure and narrative, but perhaps this reflects my conventionality and lack of knowledge of Russian history.

    All reviews by ROGER DARLINGTON.

    Last modified on 22 December 2016


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