"Take This Waltz" "Taken" "Taken 2" "Taken 3" "The Taking Of Pelham 123" "A Tale Of Two Cities" "The Talented Mr Ripley" "Tamara Drewe" "Ted" "Tell No One" "The Terminal" "Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines" "Terminator Salvation" "Terminator Genisys" "Testament Of Youth" "Thanks For Sharing" "Theeb" "The Theory Of Everything" "There Will Be Blood" "The Thin Red Line" "The Thing" "13 Assassins" "Thirteen Days" "This Is 40"" "This Year's Love" "The Thomas Crown Affair" "Thor" "Thor: The Dark World" "A Thousand Times Good Night" "3 Days To Kill" "300" "300: Rise Of An Empire" "Three Kings" "3:10 To Yuma" "Timbuktu" "The Time Traveler's Wife" "Timecode" "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" "Titanic" "To Kill A King" "Tomorrowland" "Total Recall" "Touching The Void" "The Tourist" "Traffic" "Training Day" "Trainwreck" "Transcendence" "Transformers" "The Tree Of Life" "Tron: Legacy" "Tropic Thunder" "Troy" "True Grit" "The Truman Show" "Trumbo" "Twelve Monkeys" "12 Years A Slave" "21 Grams" "24 City" "2012" "2 Days In Paris" "2 Days In New York" "Two Days, One Night" "Twilight"
"Take This Waltz"
I have wide tastes in films but sometimes the contrasts are just so great. It's the summer of 2012. One day, I'm watching "The Dark Knight Rises", a big, brash movie of unrelenting action and plentiful special effects. The next moment almost, I'm viewing "Take This Waltz", a slow, gentle, naturalistic examination of infidelity. I really enjoyed them both which is what makes the cinema so great.
You could call "Waltz" a woman's film but that should not put off male viewers: it is both written and director by a woman, the Canadian Sarah Polley in her second such outing; the lead role is taken by a woman, the brilliant Michelle Williams; and there is a cameo from a well-known woman, the comedienne Sarah Silverman. Williams plays 28 year old freelance journalist Margot who has been married for five years to cookbook author Lou (Seth Rogen in a more restrained role than we usually see), but attracted to neighbour Daniel (good-looking Luke Kirby). The three of them live in the Portugal Village part of downtown Toronto by the lake.
Williams gives a wonderfully nuanced performance, while Polley ensures in the script that the choices are difficult - like life, in fact. Since this is a kind of woman's film, the nudity is different - women of various sizes and ages (including Williams & Silverman) in a full frontal nude showering scene - and the sex is different - at one point, a wordy but erotic description of intimacy and, at another point, varied couplings which might just be fantasies.
Does Margot make the right choice? Now, there's a question. As one of the characters puts it: "Life has a gap in it... It just does. You don't go crazy trying to fill it."
This is Liam Neeson's film. As a former CIA agent on a personal mission to recover his 17 year old daughter from Albanian sex traffickers in Paris, he is rarely off the screen. The 6' 4" Northern Irish actor may struggle with an American accent, but nothing else bothers his character in this movie of non-stop action, graphic violence and an amazing body count. It's totally predictable and utterly implausible but for sheer entertainment it delivers the goods.
Like the father says: "I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you." He proves to be a man of his word.
Four years after the sleeper hit that was "Taken", Liam Neeson - now 60 - is back as ex-CIA operative Bryan Mills with his black leather jacket and special set of skills. This time the storyline is inverted: he is not seeking the Albanians, they are after him; he is not rescuing his 'taken' daughter Kim (now a 30 year old Maggie Grace), but she is looking for her kidnapped father and her mother is 'taken too'. Also the scene switches to Istanbul with - as in "Skyfall" - action sequences on the roof of the Grand Bazaar.
It is entertaining enought but lacks the punch and the iconic speech of the original movie. Grace gets more to do and demonstrates that you can throw grenades around and attract little attention (criminals, please note) and drive into the US Embassy with comparative ease (terrorists, please note). The body count falls by five but that still leaves 30 to be shot and stabbed and strangled.
In the beginning, former special forces expert Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) found that his daughter was taken in Paris while, in the sequel, he himself was taken in Istanbul. Clearly Neeson took a bit of persuading to play the role a third time, but it would appear that three factors persuaded him: first, he didn't want to do any travelling this time (so all the shooting - in both senses of the word - is in the overly-familiar Los Angeles where he goes "down the rabbit hole"); second, apparently he didn't think anyone should be taken this time (and the writers obeyed the injunction until near the end when they just couldn't resist any more); and third, he wanted the money.
This is a movie which divides the critics and the public: the former have been very condescending about it but the later enjoy Mills using his special skills again and again (and you can't really blame them). The bad guys here are (mostly) Russians who have terrible accents and awful clothes (especially underwear), but it is always a pleasure to see Forest Whitaker (an intelligent member of the LAPD who knows the significance of a warm bagel). The tag line in the advertisements for "Taken 3" is "It ends here" and I think that would be a sensible decision (although I wouldn't guarantee it).
"The Taking Of Pelham 123"
Remakes are normally sad affairs but, by most accounts (I missed the 1974 original), this one is more exciting than the original. Of course, it's in the hands of British director Tony Scott whose utterly frenetic style is such than he rarely makes one cut when he can impose three and, for this style of thriller, Scott's energy and excitement work well, providing us with a genuinely entertaining ride. The two-hour movie opens strong and maintains a breathless pace, so the final few minutes are uncharacteristically slow and weak.
John Travolta is commanding as the leader of the gang who take over a New York subway train, whereas charismatic Denzel Washington is somewhat low-key in this performance as a senior rail manager temporarily required to act as a controller. James Gandolfini as the mayor and John Turturro are fine, if underused, in the support roles. The orginal plot is followed closely except that the ransom demand is raised from $1M to £10M and broadband communication makes a useful contribution.
"A Tale Of Two Cities"
Only recently have I got round to reading the Charles Dickens classic of 1859 and, having finished it, I immediately wanted to view this 1958 British film version. It is a faithful adaptation in terms of both narrative and language, although some of the information is presented earlier and the overall timescale is much contracted. Controversially the director Ralph Thomas insisted on shooting the movie in black and white since he felt that this would be more authentically Dickensian.
Produced on a tight budget and shot largely at Pinewood studios, the film was rightly a commercial success and stands up even today. Dirk Bogarde gives an impressive and nuanced performance as Sidney Carton in a breakthrough role that established him as a serious actor. Sadly Dorothy Tutin is miscast as Lucie Manette, being essentially a stage and not a film actress. Among an ensemble of fine British actors, Cecil Parker is excellent as Jarvis Lorry and Christopher Lee chilling as the Marquis St. Evremonde.
"The Talented Mr Ripley"
In real - as opposed to reel - life, Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow are now an item but, in this piece, they are protagonists over the affections and well-being of an American played by the British actor Jude Law who may find that, following appearances in such films as "Gattaca", this proves to be his breakthrough movie. Damon is the eponymous Tom Ripley who is asked to go to late 1950s Italy and persuade a rich stranger called Dickie Greenleaf (Law) to abandon his wanton ways and return to New York, but chameleon-like Tom is seduced by Dickie's lifestyle with ever-complicated consequences. It would spoil the film to say more about the intriguing, if unlikely, plot; suffice to say that Ripley's multiple talents range from the musical to the macabre.
The movie is both written and directed by the British Anthony Mingella, who had such a success with The English Patient, and here he has another winner on his hands. It's always an extra pleasure when one knows the locale of a film and Mingella has used a wonderful variety of Italian sites, including Naples, Rome and Venice, each of which I've visited more than once.
This is an utterly, utterly English film and all the more charming, wry and artful for that. No wonder both BBC Films and the UK Film Council helped to fund it. Director Stephen Frears ("The Queen") has taken a screenplay by Moira Buffini, adapted from a comic strip by Posy Simmonds which in turn is a kind of pastiche of Thomas Hardy's "Far From the Madding Crowd", and combined it with a wonderful British cast and the stunning Dorset countryside to create a delightful work which could hardly contrast more with the usual Hollywood output.
Set in the mythical and comatose village of Ewedown over the course of one year, the film - like Hardy's book - has three men vying for the attention of a bewitchingly beautiful young woman - Tamara who was brought up in the village, has reshaped her life in so many ways, and now returns as a successful journalist.
The casting is brilliant from gorgeous, former Bond girl ("Quantum Of Solace") Gemma Arterton as the eponymous attraction, sporting the most diminutive denim shorts imaginable, to 17 year old Jessica Barden who is terrific as the village teenager who unwittingly causes most of the mayhem, with so many fine performances in between, whether male or female, whether large or small. For fans of Thomas Hardy, there are many allusions to his charcter and work. For the rest of us, Buffini's script offers so many sharp lines before serving up a satisfying, if traditional, conclusion.
Seth MacFarlane is a multi-talented guy and this is totally his movie: it is his story, he co-wrote the script, he co-produced, he debut-directed and he voices the titular bear. The two main human characters - Ted's childhood friend John and John's live-in girlfriend Lori - are played engagingly by Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis, but it always comes back to the furry one. MacFarlane turns upside down and inside out the conventional notions of the teddy bear with the most foul-mouthed dialogue you can imagine. It is crude, rude, racist, irreverent and often very funny and there is a fight sequence that it the most hilarious since the one in "Borat". But this is a film for a specific demographic: the younger you are, the more you're likely to love it; the older you are, the more you're likely to find it juvenile.
"Tell No One"
This French film - titled in the orginal "Ne le dis à personne" - is an accomplished thriller which will be enjoyed most by those who know least about it before viewing because a good deal of the work's success comes from a clever plot which, like an onion, seems to have endless layers which are only slowly revealed. Based on a novel by Harlan Corben, it is directed by Guillaume Canet with François Cluzet as pediatrician Dr Alex Beck as a man whose wife was brutally murdered eight years previously in circumstances which suggest that he himself could have been the assailant. Cluzet convincingly portrays the pain and confusion and anger of a man suffering loss and betrayal and bewilderment, while Canet keeps us constantly on edge in a two-hour narrative with many meaningful moments, a good chase sequence, and as many final twists as a corkscrew.
Over three decades, director Steven Spielberg has achieved outstanding success through offering us two main types of movie: blockbuster works of thrilling entertainment (think "Jaws", "ET" and the Indian Jones series) and more serious and historical narratives (such as "The Color Purple", "Schindler's List" and "Munich"). "The Terminal" is neither of these. Most of the time, it is a romantic comedy but, towards the end, the plot spins off in an entirely different direction. This lack of clarity may well account for the lacklustre performance at the box office.
Inspired by the bizarre case of the Iranian refugee Merhan Nasseri who resided at Paris's Charles de Gaulle for an incredible eight years, this is the story of Easter European Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks), a visitor from the fictional state of Krakhozia, who finds himself stuck for months at New York's JFK airport (actually filmed in Montreal) where he befriends a cast of characters included an exceptionally unhelpful airport official (Stanley Tucci) and a very attractive air hostess (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
Hanks is rarely off screen and does his usual excellent job although, instead of his usual Mr Everyman role, here he is more Mr Noman. Essentialy this is a moral about the power of waiting, but done very lightly.
Link: the case of Merhan Nasseri click here
"Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines"
The first two "Terminator" films were classics and, given the disappointments of Arnold Schwarzenegger's more recent movies (such as "End Of Days" and "The Sixth Day"), it was obviously enormously tempting to return to his most famous and iconic role, even after an interval of 12 years. But it was a wise decision - Arnie has shaped up (literally) and cleaned up at the box office in a return to form that might yet prove to be a platform to political success that terminates his 'acting' career.
Director James Cameron has now left the scene and his role is taken over by Jonathan Mostow who - as we know from the history-twisting, but action-laded "U-571" - is a competent producer of exciting movies. Like all sequels, "T3" is formulaic - a repetition of the key elements of earlier movies in the franchise with a few variations. But it is a winning formula and the obligatory road chase sequence is really well done, while the main twist - a female terminator - works effectively with Kristanna Loken looking chillingly attractive. I especially enjoyed the deployment of some new machines.
There is no real plot or character development here, but the storyline remains honest to the original premise that Armageddon is inevitable. Above all, it is thoroughly entertaining; as Arnie comments at one point: "Your levity is good - it relieves tension and the fear of death". A couple of lines leave open a possible return to the franchise and, since terminators obviously come in many forms, this could even happen without Arnie if he proves to be busy running California. One way or another, I'm convinced he'll be back.
"T1" (1984) and "T2" (1991) were terrific, but then both were written and directed by James Cameron. "T3" (2003) - directed by Jonathan Mostow - was not in the same class, but still thoroughly entertaining. Even as "T3" was released, we knew that Arnold Schwarzenegger was embarked on a political career that was likely to mean that (in spite of his catch phrase) he would not be back in the iconic role.
Six years later, we are back - but with a different director and no Arnie and, in contrast with the largely contemporary settings of the first three movies, a story set in a post-apocalyptic 2018. At the helm on this occasion is McG (real name Joseph McGinty Nichol) - best-known for directing the two "Charlie's Angels" films - but some gravitas comes from the overly-intense Christian Bale as resistance leader John Connor and the Australian Sam Worthington as a cyborg with identity problems.
The narrative can be summarised in just six words: one explosion after another after another. In the middle of all these conflagrations, there are no less than ten types of machine seeking to eradicate the remaining humans. So there's plenty of exciting action and impressive visuals represented in bleached colours, but it's a classic case of a triumph of style over substance with minimal characterisation, a plot that is implausible when it is not confusing, and an ending that is surprisingly and disappointingly weak.
I thought the first two "Terminator" movies (1984 & 1991) were terrific and the third (2003) and fourth (2009) were entertaining enough, so - after an interval of another six years - I looked forward to a fifth outing for the franchise, but I was sadly disappointed. The main problem is the script which is confusing and often risible. The narrative goes back to 1984 and reworks the plot in a way that turns it inside out, upside down, and back to front. I managed to avoid the trailers which I believe contained major plot spoilers and, as a result, while understanding less than might have been the case I at least had some surprises. But it just made no sense and I feared that, if there was one more reference to"quantum this" or "quantum that", I would be tempted to find a gun and blow my brains out.
And, honestly how can one take seriously a "Terminator" movie in which Arnold Schwarzenegger is 67 and referred to as "Pops"? The third actor to play the adult John Connor (Jason Clarke) is quite good, but the third actor to portray Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) and the second actress as Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) are rather weak. So what's left? Well, director Alan Taylor ("Thor: The Dark World") ensures that the action sequences and special effects are moderately enjoyable, but nothing that we haven't seen before. Apparently this rebooting of the franchise is supposed to be the first of a trilogy and a mid-credits scene suggests that Skynet is not totally defeated. I guess that we will have to suffer this but, to paraphrase Arnie's repeated line in this movie "Old, not obsolete", I fear that the franchise is now both old and obsolete.
"Testament Of Youth"
The centenary of the outbreak of what was at the time called The Great War, and came later to be known as The First World War, led to an outpouring of commemorative and cultural events. This explains the timing of "Testament Of Youth" which in fact is based on the famous first instalment of the memoirs of Vera Brittain (1893-1970) which was published as long ago as 1933 and is still in print. It is both a tale of tragic loss as young, idealistic men volunteer for the slaughter fields of France and Belgium and an account of an intelligent young woman's efforts to obtain a university education and make her independent way in the world.
There is a fine ensemble cast of established and new British actors, but the central role is the subject of a surprise and bold piece of casting as the Swedish actress Alicia Vikander plays the quintessentially British Brittain. However, Vikander gives a luminous performance and she is clearly destined for a very successful career. There is a sense of authenticity in having a female scriptwriter Juliette Towhidi to turn Brittain's memoir into a film and the whole thing is beautifully shot with stunning scenery plus attention to period dress and transport.
There is a scene in "Testament Of Youth" which borrows directly from an iconic shot in the classic movie "Gone With The Wind": in both works, an overhead camera pulls back as the central female character walks through a field of dead and dying men revealing ever-larger numbers of bodies.
Link: Wikipedia page on Vera Brittain click here
"Thanks For Sharing"
I went along to this movie thinking that it was a rom-com. There is some romance and some comedy, but mainly this is a serious look at a serious subject that the media usually finds difficult to treat seriously: sex addiction. This is shown to be much like other addictions, such as those to drink or drugs - utterly destructive of the addict's personal and professional life and needing a great deal of support to combat.
This is a brave choice of subject for co-writer and director Stuart Blumberg who also penned "The Kids Are Alright" which dealt with childrearing by a lesbian couple. What makes the film is the excellent cast which includes good-looking Mark Ruffalo (who was in "The Kids ...") as a sex addict, the ever gorgeous Gwyneth Paltrow as his new girlfriend, the maturing Tim Robbins as the leader of the addicts' support group, and the spikey singer Alecia "Pink" Moore as another sex addict in only her first major acting role. As a film, it has its weaknesses but it is an honourable attempt to deal with a sensitive subject in a way that balances honesty with entertainment.
This 2014 Arabic-language film tells a story set at the same time and in the same place as my all-time favourite movie "Lawrence Of Arabia" (1962): it is located during the First World War in the Hijaz part of the Ottoman Empire. Indeed this new film borrows a scene from the older work to establish the narrative: an Arab boy follows an English soldier into the desert without the latter's knowledge. Both films were even shot at the same location - Wadi Rum in Jordan which I have visited - and the scenery and cinematography are spectacular. Theeb (the name means wolf) is the name of the young boy who risks everything by embarking on an adventure greater than he could have imagined and his quiet conquest of each challenge is a moving rite of passage. Amazingly the boy who plays Theeb, Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat, has never acted before. Great credit goes to British-Jordanian director and co-writer Naji Abu Nowar for a wonderfully engaging work.
"The Theory Of Everything"
Over the past two and a half decades, I have read three books by theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking and a biography of him, as well as attending his famous 1995 lecture at the Royal Albert Hall in London (the last physicist to fill that venue was Albert Einstein in 1933). Furthermore I was very aware of the buzz around this film and especially the plaudits for the performance by Eddie Redmayne in the central role. So there was no way I was going to miss this movie and I was not disappointed. Redmayne is simply brilliant and totally inhabits the role, but I was also impressed by newcomer Felicity Jones as Hawking's first wife Jane.
At one point in the film, Jane briefly explains the nature of the theory of everything: an attempt to unify general relativity and quantum mechanics. But like CMB - the cosmic radiation that is regarded as proof of the big bang theory - the science is in the background. In the foreground is the relationship between Stephen and Jane and indeed the film is based on her 1999 memoir, "Music To Move The Stars" which was republished in a revised version in 2007 as "Travelling To Infinity, My Life with Stephen".
Life married to a self-centred genius would never have been easy but, when one adds the impact of progressive motor neurone disease plus the fame that went with the former and the support staff that went with the latter, it is a testimony to Jane's humanity that the marriage lasted so long, although the later years were characterised by an open relationship on both sides. The towering performance by Redmayne, movingly displaying the physical deterioration over time, plus family scenes shot as if with a home movie camera, makes the film look more like a documentary than an artistic creation. Indeed brilliant British director James Marsh has more experience with documentaries ("Man On Wire") than films ("Shadow Dancer") and this skill has paid off enormously with this splendid film that is bound to win many awards.
The most moving lines are when Stephen and Jane decide to part and when they are joined by their three children at Buckingham Palace and the final scenes - a flashback through time - offers a clever and apposite conclusion to the film but not the story (Hawking - given two years to live when first diagnosed with MND - is amazingly now 72).
Link: Wikipedia page on Stephen Hawking click here
"There Will Be Blood"
There will indeed be blood but only after two and a half hours and only after much appearance of another sticky stuff which provided the title of the novel on which the film is based: the 1927 work "Oil!" by Upton Sinclair. This movie by Paul Thomas Anderson - he both wrote and directed it - has had rave reviews from the critics and in truth it is wonderfully photographed in Texas and features a tour de force performance by Daniel Day Lewis as Californian oilman Daniel Plainview. But it is a tale of unremitting misery centered on a character with a soul as black as the liquid he seeks and sells. There is no explanation for why he is so evil and no hint of redemption in this technically brilliant but emotionally sapping morality tale.
"The Thin Red Line"
Inevitably this film will be compared with "Saving Private Ryan", since they were issued about the same time and both deal graphically with the experience of American troops in World War Two. Yet the two could hardly be more different. It is not just that ".. Line" is set in the Pacific rather than the European theatre; the structure and style of this first work in 20 years from the maverick director Terrence Malick is a world apart from Spielberg's offering.
The impressive cast is led by Nick Nolte, Sean Penn and John Cusack, but they are ably supported by less well-known Adrien Brody, Jim Caviezel and Ben Chaplin, and the performances are uniformly excellent. The photography is superb and the music haunting. But ultimately this is a mess of a movie. The narrative is weak and punctuated by incomprehensible monologues in a dream-like scenario that at times borders on the surreal. It received seven Academy Award nominations but lost out - in my view, rightly - to ".. Ryan".
“The Thing”My tastes in films are eclectic but I tend to stay clear of musicals and horror movies. Nevertheless I accompanied a young friend to this work as his choice for a gloomy winter's afternoon viewing. He had seen the original 1982 film by John Carpenter whereas I hadn't. As I understand it, this prequel - coming three decades later - explains and leads into the original, but I found that it stood up as a tale on its own. It's 1982 an somewhere in Antartica they've found an alien spaceship and an alien body encased in ice. Now given that “Alien” appeared three years earlier, you'd think that the occupants of the Norwegian base would know better than to go messing around and indeed so much of the movie is derivative of the Ridley Scott movie, including the feisty female – in this case, newcomer Mary Elizabeth Winstead. The pacing and tension are quite well done, but too many people get killed too quickly. If we had fewer victims whom we had come to know better and if their deaths were less sudden, we would feel their pain more. "13 Assassins"
I don't see many Japanese films but I love a good samurai movie and you don't see many of them these days. "The Last Samurai" (2003) was an American effort, yet rather good. "13 Assassins" is more authentic in being Japanese and is in fact a remake of another Japanese work of 1963. The director Takashi Miike is noted for being prolific (this was shot in just two weeks) and excessive (this is certainly a bloodfest, although somewhat restrained by past standards). Using a minimum of CGI, this is a gritty, muddy conflict in which limbs are lost and heads do roll.
Set in 1844, at the end of the Edo period of rule by the shoguns, the story pits the noble warrior Shinzaemon (Kôji Yakusho) and 12 volunteers for death against the brutal Lord Naritsugu (Gorô Inagaki) and his entourage of 200 soldiers. After a slow process of selection and training of the assassins - a process familiar from both "Seven Samurai" and "The Magnificent Seven" - we have a terrific last three-quarters of an hour of non-stop combat in a deserted village. It would not be a spoiler to tell you that, at the end of its all, not many are left standing. Not since "The Wild Bunch" in 1969 have I seen such a concluding orgy of death.
I was 14 at the time of the Cuba missile crisis of October 1962. I was scared at the time and have seen no reason not to have been as a result of watching several subsequent documentaries and re-enactments of those incredibly dramatic 13 days. This 2000 movie of that historic period is directed by Roger Donaldson and often looks like a drama-documentary, a style deliberately evoked by occasional use of black and white, but underlines the sense of drama by using a few scenes of what might have been as missiles are launched.
The strengths of the film are its careful use of detailed records of the key meetings and conversations plus the use of a range of actors who look and sound like President John F Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood), his Attorney General Brother Robert F Kennedy (Steven Culp), Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, Air Force General Curis Lemay and others. The weakness is the casting of Kevin Costner as Kenny O'Donnell, Special Assistant to the President, through whose eyes we see the events. Our familiarity with Costner as an actor and the use of O'Donnell for the perspective both serve to unbalance what should have been an unremitting focus on the President himself.
Having said that, what the film does really well - in total contrast to so many political movies - is to demonstrate how difficult and complex is the decision-making process, especially when one has imperfect information, conflicting signals, and rival factions (which frankly is usually the case).
"This Is 40"
In "Knocked Up" (2007), writer and director Judd Apatow focused on the unlikely couple of Ben and Alison, but a sub-theme was the experience of Alison's sister Debbie (Leslie Mann who is Apatow's wife) and brother-in-law Pete (Paul Rudd), representing a warning vision of how adulthood can so often work out. Five years later, Apatow is back as both writer and director to tell us how things now look for Debbie and Pete (played by the same actors) as they both hit the big four-oh.And it's not a pretty sight as they struggle with both relationship and professional challenges plus inter-generational problems at both ends of the life scale. Their daughters Sadie and Charlotte (played by Apatow's own children) are a handful and a half and Pete's father (Albert Brooks) and Leslie's father (John Lithgow) present very different, but equally painful, dilemmas.
If this sounds grim, it is far from it with both dialogue and situations providing lots of humour, much of it very broad indeed. Somehow Apatow manages to balance hilarity with pathos, so that the viewer is constantly ricocheting from laughter to sadness, often in the same scene. Essentially this is a a kind of rom-com, but its insights into marriage and parenthood give it a powerful extra dimension.
"This Year's Love"
Like the much better known "Notting Hill", this is a very British film centred on a part of north London - in this case Camden Town - but, in every other respect, the two could hardly be more different. "This Year's Love" has grit and grime with lots of swearing, smoking, drinking and - to use the vogue word - shagging. Like the television series "Friends" it narrates the lives and loves of six twenty-something characters who all know each other but, in this case, there is much less amity and much more sexuality with, in the course of the three year time-scale, each of the main characters bedding at least two of those of the opposite sex, with some extra coupling thrown in for even more colour.
It is a credit to David Kane, the writer and debut director, that this tragicomedy all works so well and it is a shame that one cannot always hear the sharp dialogue. Kane was aided by fine performances from a relatively unknown cast, headed by actors Douglas Henshall, Dougray Scott and Ian Hart and actresses Catherine McCormack ("Braveheart"), Jennifer Ehle ("Wilde") and Kathy Burke ("Nil By Mouth").
"The Thomas Crown Affair"
This is the movie that my colleague Beth Lamont walked out of while on holiday in New York City. However, while it is light and predictable (especially if you saw the original), it is a slick production that is enjoyable and entertaining. This remake of the 1968 success stars suave Pierce Brosnan, taking time off from being 007, as the businessman turned art thief and sophisticated Rene Russo as the insurance investigator who is supposed to be his nemesis. These were the roles taken first time round by Steve McQueen (who died in 1980) and Faye Dunaway who appears in this reprise as Queens psychoanalyst. It is a homage to the original: while the chess scene is gone, the glider sequence is still there and the song "Windmills On Your Mind" (sung now by Sting) can be heard if you stay for the credits.
Like "Entrapment" the heart of the movie is the relationship between two canny protagonists, but here the lovers are played by actors virtually the same age and it is a delight to see a 45 year old woman 'allowed' to be the femme fatale (it helps that Russo is a former model). Incidentally, if "Entrapment" and "Thomas Crown" seem to have a similar plot, that's no coincidence. Brosnan, who produced "Thomas Crown", did not like the original script for the intended remake, so the writer took it to Sean Connery.
I'm a bit of a sucker for super-hero movies, although I was unfamiliar with this particular character. Equally unfamiliar to me was the actor who plays this Norse god, 27 year old Australian Chris Hemsworth, and the one - British Tom Hiddleston - who portrays Thor's brother Loki. But I'm a fan of Anthony Hopkins, who here has fun as the top god Odin, and of Natalie Portman, who here is rather wasted after her terrific performance in "Black Swan". And then I was intrigued by the director: Kenneth Branagh who more usually directs works by Shakespeare (although let's not forget "Frankenstein").
The result is entertaining and fun, although the visuals are often stronger than the plot or the dialogue. I saw it in 3D but the extra dimension did not add as much as one would hope. While other men lose their mojo, Thor mislays something called his Mjolnir (his mighty hammer) but, once it's back in his hand, the young cosmologist (Portman) is all over him (so why does he leave her behind?).
Note: Like "Ironman " and Ironman 2", if you sit to the end of the credits, you'll see a clip which is setting us up for another Marvel Comics movie "The Avengers".
"Thor: The Dark World"
"The Aether awakens us. The convergence returns." OMG. How bad can this get? "The walls between worlds will become almost non-existent. Physics is gonna go ballistic. Increases and decreases in gravity. Spatial extrusions. The very fabric of reality is gonna be torn apart." OMG!!! That's how bad it's gonna get. OK, so the dialogue is pretty awful - although there are a few fun one-liners. And the Norse god Thor is not my favourite super-hero - too much like "The Lord Of The Rings" meets "Star Wars".
But I find it hard to resist any super-hero movie and Chris Hemsworth (the eponymous hammer-wheeling man from Asgard) went up in my opinion with his performance in "Rush", I'm always ready to view a movie with Natalie Portman (an actress with a Harvard psychology degree who delivers that line about "the fabric of reality"), and I enjoyed seeing the scenes in my home city of London (although my friends in Greenwich will wonder why that was the centre of the convergence and a joke about Thor using the London Underground to return to Greenwich overlooks the fact that Greenwich is not actually served by the Underground). And the special effects are wonderful.
Marvel movies have a habit of offering a teaser clip at the end of the credits and this time we are treated to two: one mid credits and one at the very end. So it is clear that this second outing for Thor in his own film will not be the last in the ever-growing universe of the Marvel film franchise
"A Thousand Times Good Night"
This is a truly European production with a genuinely global agenda. A Norway-Sweden-Ireland co-production, it was shot in Ireland, Afghanistan, Kenya and Morocco and both the director Erik Poppe and writer Harald Rosenløw Eeg are Norwegian (the story is inspired by Poppe's personal experiences as a war photographer). War photographer Rebecca (the French Juliette Binoche) is married to marine biologist Marcus (the Danish Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and they live in Ireland with their two daughters, but Rebecca is constantly drawn to conflict zones where she take incredible risks to obtain dramatic photographs. The film explores what such a situation does to the family left at home and what drives someone to risk all that is dear to them. The largely wordless opening sequence presages a slow work, but a compelling one, and as always Binoche gives a mesmerising performance.
"3 Days To Kill"
This mish-mash of genres could have been called "3 Ways To The Till" since it seems to be a confused effort to get different audiences to pay up for a cinema ticket. It could have been a hard-edged thriller about an aging hit man with some sardonic lines of dialogue - like "Leon" directed by Luc Besson. Or it could have been a caper movie with slap-stick violence and some pretty women - like "Charlie's Angels" directed by McG. And how about throwing in the idea of a former agent nearing the end of his time wanting to reconcile with his estranged daughter - like, I don't know, say Sean Connery's character in "The Rock".
Well, "3 Days To Kill", written by Luc Besson and directed by McG, tries to have it all and, as a result, is all over the place, one moment depicting execution or torture or threatened rape and the next showing assassins arguing about the age of their victims or a villain willingly climbing into the boot of a sports car or a CIA agent constantly interrupted by an irritating ring tone placed on his mobile by his teenage daughter.
And, while we don't expect too much reality in movie designed for entertainment, how is the viewer supposed to accept a top agent taking time off at the height of a key operation to make a birthday phone call or a callous killer who is happy to have a large family of Mali immigrants in his flat or a dad teaching a teenager to ride a bike in one of the most public places in tourist Paris? At the centre of this hokum is Kevin Costner who can - and deserves to - do better than this "Dances With Fools".
The 480 BC Battle of Thermopylae is the stuff of military legend when, in popular lore, a mere 300 Spartans commanded by King Leonidas held off a Persian force led by Xerxes the Great that Herodotus claimed as 2.6 million. In truth, the Spartans were backed by a mixed force of almost 7,000, while there are enormous variations in modern estimates of the multi-ethnic Persian army, but somewhere between 100,000-200,000 seems realistic. Whatever the actual figures, the odds against the Spartans were terrible, death was inevitable, and their honour secure.
The story was first told on film in 1962 when director Rudolph Maté went to Greece and shot a worthy, but conventional and surprisingly leaden, version entitled "The 300 Spartans", starring American Richard Egan as King Leonidas and the British David Farrar as Xerxes. "300" takes the same basic narrative and presents it in an utterly different style in a blood-fest when "The Wild Bunch" meets "Kill Bill" and the visuals are like nothing except "Sin City". This time the director is Zack Snyder, known for his music videos, and the location is three small sets in Montreal with green backgrounds later filled by superb computer-generated graphics and the whole storybook style is based on the graphic novel by co-producer Frank Miller. Both versions use the legendary exchange: "When we attack today, our arrows will blot out the sun!" "Good; then we will fight in the shade." But only "300" has such fun lines as: "Spartans! Enjoy your breakfast, for tonight we dine in Hell!"
Ever since its first public showing at the Berlin Film Festival, most critics have mauled "300" and it presents an easy target for those wanting something more cerebral: there is virtually no plot or characterisation, the script is sparse and bland, much of the acting is exaggerated and over-loud, when it is not homo-erotic it is oddly camp, and the whole thing is stereotypical when it is not outright xenophobic and politically incorrect. And yet, as entertainment, it has much to offer: the sepia-tinged visuals are absolutely stunning and the fight sequences viscerally exciting. I was fortunate enough to see it in IMAX and I regularly felt blood-splattered and exhausted and quite ready to leap into the action.
There are no big names in the cast list which helps the sense of history but does not raise the thespian talent quotient. Gerard Butler plays King Leonidas with a Scottish accent, while the Brazilian Rodrigo Santoro is a version of Xerxes bejewelled with ethnic metalwork. Most of the warriors are literally larger than life: the actors playing the Spartans reveal most of their bodies with digitally-enhanced muscles, while on Xerxes' side characters include a huge hunchback, a giant emissary and a claw-armed executioner as well the metal-masked Immortals. This is before we get on to an enormous raging rhino and bedecked elephants. Truly this is a battle with a circus-like cast. The love interest comes from the feisty wife of Leonidas, Queen Gorgo, portrayed by the alluring British actress Lena Headey. There is even a scene in a rippling corn field borrowed from "Gladiator".
At the end of the day, what makes the movie are the thrilling fight sequences with encounters in which the film is slowed down and then speeded up to give a video-game quality that is unlike anything you have previously seen on the big screen. When a sword slashes or a spear lungs or an arrow whistles, you really feel and hear it. At times, it is as if a picture by Hieronymus Bosch had come to life.
Link: Battle of Thermopylae click here
"300: Rise Of An Empire"
If you enjoyed the original "300" directed by Zack Snyder in 2006 (and I did), then you will delight in "Rise Of An Empire" which Snyder helped to write and produce - while leaving direction to first-timer Noam Murro - coming along eight years later. Again the focus is on the clash between the Persians and the Greeks in 480 BC, but this time the Battle of Thermopylae is a footnote as the action both precedes and succeeds that conflict, culminating in the sea battle at Salamis which has been described as one of the most significant battles in human history.
Of course, great liberties are taken with historical detail, the exposition of the narrative is a bit plodding, and much of the dialogue is frankly risible, so most film critics are not going to admire this work, but audiences will thrill to the return of so much of what make the first "300" so distinctive and such fun: the muscular bodies, the slashing swords, the spurting blood, all drawn from a palette of subdued colours and underlined by the slow motion-fast forward shots. Although much of the action is set at sea, the whole movie was shot at the indoor green-screen sound stages of in Bulgaria. and the special effects look good in 3D.
British actress Lena Headey is back as Queen Gorgo (having meanwhile starred in television's "Games Of Thrones") and the Brazilian Rodrigo Santoro reprises the role of bejewelled Xerxes. This time, the hero is Athenian politician and general Themistocles played by the Australian Sullivan Stapleton who does not have quite the presence of Gerard Butler but does well enough.
The star of the movie though is Eva Green as kohl-eyed, sword-wheeling, super villainess Artemisia, the Greek queen who sided with Xerxes and was the only female commander at Salamis. I've had a bit of a thing for Green since seeing her in "Kingdom Of Heaven" in 2005. This French actress with the cut-glass English accent has the most stunning eyes and these are not the only parts of her on display in a brutal encounter with Themistocles.
Link: Battle of Salamis click here
Written and directed by independent-minded David O Russell, this is a war film with a difference that defies easy categorisation. For a start, it begins on the day that the war - Operation Desert Storm in March 1991 - ends. Then the action is not about territorial conquest, but initially about personal greed and later increasingly about group liberation. In spite of the title, there are not even three protagonists but four, well-played by George Clooney (the former "ER" television doctor who is now a star of growing charisma), Mark Wahlberg (an actor previously known for playing a porn star with a prodigious tumescence in "Boogie Nights"), Ice Cube (the former gangsta rapper with the most ridiculous name since Rip Torn), and Spike Jonze (director of "Being John Malkovich").
There are echoes of other films: like Courage Under Fire, it has a Gulf War setting; like Kellys Heroes, its centred on a freelance wartime quest for personal wealth; and, in some of the stand-off scenes, one is reminded of The Wild Bunch. But Russell has a very personal style of his own with jerky, newsreel-like camera action and an almost surreal take on the effect of a bullet on the human body. This is an impressive work which poses some sharp political questions about the conduct and purpose of the Gulf War, let down only by a too-easy ending. Quiz time: what do "Twister" and "Three Kings" have in common? Answer: both feature flying cows (you'd better believe it!).
"3:10 To Yuma"
Don't generally get no westerns no more so I guess, when one rides into town, I'm gonna mosey on down and check it out.
Now there have been so many westerns in the history of the cinema that it's impossible for a new one not to be derivative and "3:10" is self evidently so, both in being based on a 1953 short story by Elmore Leonard and being a remake of the 1957 movie of the same title starring Glenn Ford in the lead role. There are obvious echoes of "High Noon" in the cowardice of all but one man to do the right thing and of "Shane" in a boy finding inspiration in a cowboy's courage. So, if the trail is so well-trodden, why go there?
It's partly the joy of the western itself: those terrains, those outfits and - above all - those guns (and here, when shots ring out, they RING out). It's partly the more nuanced character of the main protagonist: the outlaw Ben Wade who is cunning, ruthless and real fast with a pistol, but knows his Bible, can sketch a sensitive drawing, and is polite to the women folk. Above all it's the fine acting, mainly from the charismatic Russell Crowe as the leader of the gang and Christian Bale as the rancher Dan Evans who is determined to get him on that train, but also from various support performances including the veteran Peter Fonda as a bounty hunter endlessly on Wade's trail and Ben Foster as Wade's psychopathic second-in-command.
The very final sequence is too light-hearted for the 122 minutes that have preceded it but, that apart, this is a fine western that manages to combine both exciting action and character delineation in a work that will further enhance the reputation of director James Mangold who did so well with "Walk The Line".
Timbuktu is of course the most famous city in the west African state of Mali and this film is set in 2012 when jihadist forces overran the northern part of the country, but the whole work was shot in neighbouring Mauritania with Oualata standing in for the eponymous city. Writer and director Abderrahmane Sissako, who lives in France, was born of a father from Mali and a mother from Mauritania and spent his early years in both countries. At diffrent times, no less than five languages are used, so every viewer will need subtitles.
Sissako's fine film shows the impact of the Islamic extremists on the local population and, while there are some scenes of great cruelty, the silliness of the fundamentalists is brought out in gently comedic encounters. The film looks stunning with wonderful cinematography from Sofian El Fani displaying a captivating array of scenes and faces, but most western viewers will find the narrative slow and meandering with a finale that is rather too quick and a little confusing. I found it mesmerising.
"The Time Traveler's Wife"
Time travel is a time-honoured (sorry) narrative device but it's hard to do well because the plot inconsistencies are so obvious and numerous. Clearly this tale worked fine as a novel since Audrey Niffenegger's fantasy romance was an immmediate bestseller when it was published in 2003. Director Robert Schwentke does his best to turn the story into film but the results are rather shakey when they are not outright confusing.
The TT is played by Eric Bana and his long-suffering wife is Rachel McAdams and they make the film watchable. We already know from the "Terminator" movies that time travel involves losing one's clothes (so lots of rear shots of Bana's bum) but it seems that another feature is that one never has the time to have a decent shave (so lots of Bana's bristles). Apparently there are some advantages though: you can buy a winning lottery ticket (naughty!) and you can have sex with a 'younger' version of your husband (very naughty!).
Films do not come bolder and more experimental than this. Throughout the entire 93 minutes, the screen is divided into four segments and each quadrant is occupied by the product of one hand-held camera generating one continuous shot - a feat not technically possible until the advent of digitalisation. As if this were not enough, there was only an outline script, permitting and indeed requiring considerable improvisation by the cast of 28.
It is not as difficult to follow as one might fear because the soundtrack is usually dominant in one corner, focusing the viewer on one quarter while allowing other points of view. There are some very attractive women on show: the director's partner Saffron Burrows, Salma Hayek, Jean Tripplehorn and Xander Berkeley. But plot-wise the focus is on a male: a dissolute producer played by Stellan Skarsgård ("Ronin").
Essentially though, this is the work of an auteur - the British Mike Figgis was director, co-producer, writer, and even composer. The whole thing is a satire on Hollywood film production and, when one character describes the very kind of film portrayed by "Timecode", the producer character condemns it as "the most pretentious shit I ever heard". "Pretentious"? Probably. "Shit"? No. Successful? Tentatively.
Link: Mike Figgis info click here
"Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Languid and laconic are the words that most come to mind when recalling this accomplished film adaptation of the famous John le Carré novel of 1974. The plot unfolds slowly and the silences are prolonged; yet the pacing and paucity work so well in this espionage drama because the direction by Swedish Tomas Alfredson is so assured, the script by British husband & wife team Peter Straughan & the late Bridget O'Connor is so compelling, and the multi-talented cast is so superlative.
We are used to the British Gary Oldman playing American characters of evil intent, but here he is brilliant as George Smiley, the resilient and lugubrious hunter of the mole in MI6's Circus. He heads a roll-call of terrific British talent which includes John Hunt, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, Ciarán Hinds and Benedict Cumberbatch. Even le Carré (now aged 79) makes a momentary appearance. This is a very male movie but Kathy Burke rounds off what is almost an embarrassment of thespian ability in one film.
If you've not read the novel or seen the 1979 BBC serialisation (as I haven't), you may struggle at times to follow each twist in this tale of betrayal at so many levels, but this does not spoil the experience so much as encourage a second viewing.
Like many others, I've always been fascinated by the tragedy of the "Titanic". One of the first films I ever saw was the black and white 1958 account called "A Night To Remember" and, a few years before the release of this movie, I visited an exhibition at London's National Maritime Museum of artefacts recovered from the wreck. Therefore I wanted to see this film, but I could have done without the tidal wave of publicity which preceded it.
The main reason for the hype was the staggering sum - allegedly some $200 million or more - spent on it by the writer and director, the driven James Cameron, to produce a 3 hour 15 minute spectacular. Against the background of the famous 1912 sinking, there is an "Upstairs, Downstairs" love match between Kate Winslet as the refined Rosie and Leonardo de Caprio as the free-spirited Jack. Once the ship hits the iceberg, so many of the scenes and characters are borrowed from the earlier film, but this version is distinguished by a 90% scale model of the ship and some sensational special effects depicting the sinking. It is certainly an impressive piece of work, but not as informative or moving as the British offering of 1958.
As the world now knows, in fact the Cameron film was so successful that "Titanic" won an amazing 11 Academy Awards - equalling the record set by "Ben Hur" in 1959 - and became the biggest money-making movie of all time. The excellent soundtrack and theme song have also been great successes. As a result, a sequel has been suggested which opens with Jack bursting from the waves panting for breath - not really!
Footnote: Some 15 years after the original release of "Titantic" to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking in 2012, James Cameron offered us a new version of the movie with retrofitted 3D and I saw it in IMAX on the biggest screen in Britain at London's British Film Institute. We are told that some 300 computer artists put in more than 750,000 man hours to 'sculpt' the original photography into a three-dimensional presentation. So does it work? The 3D does not add that much - not like Cameron's "Avatar" - but it is well-done and gives a little added punch to what is already a terrifically entertaining film which I thoroughly enjoyed seeing on the big screen again."To Kill A King"
The English civil war and its aftermath is one of the most fascinating periods of British history [for a book review click here] - after all, it is the only time in the last 1,200 years than the country was a republic. The events were covered in a 1970 film called "Cromwell" in which Richard Harris played the eponymous role. This 2003 work has an alliterative title which emphasizes the drama of regicide and it is different in many other ways.
Whereas "Cromwell" features scenes of great physical conflict (notably the 1645 Battle of Naseby), "TKAK" starts at the end of this battle and is very much a character-driven movie. There are four fine performances from the leads: Tim Roth as the idealistic but power-driven Oliver Cromwell, Rupert Everett as the cunning and conniving King Charles I, Dougray Scott as General Sir Thomas Fairfax, an inspirational leader of the Parliamentary forces who nevertheless seeks compromise with the king, and Olivia Williams as Fairfax's wife Lady Anne, torn between love of her husband and loyalty to her class. Strangely the events are seen from the perspective of Fairfax who was a much lesser character in the earlier film.
This is a work with many strengths: strong acting, a decent script, and splendid location shooting (especially at Hampton Court Palace). Its weakness as history is to overplay Halifax at the expense of Cromwell, while its main deficiency as a movie is its poor pacing with the lack of a strong finish.
I'm a big fan of George Clooney and I love science-fiction films, so I was looking forward to this movie, but it left me feeling somewhat disappointed: not enough Clooney, in any event, probably miscast; not enough Tomorrowland, even then, not sure how it fitted into the plot; a ridiculous scene set in Paris; a very obvious piece of product placement by Coca Cola; and overall a narrative that doesn't make a lot of sense. It is not even clear what Tomorrowland is: the future of our planet? an alternative universe? someone's imagination?
Director Brad Bird has given us some wonderful family entertainment in the past ("The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille") but I fear that children and adults alike are going to feel let down by this offering. Perhaps it is no surprise that the screenplay was largely crafted by Damon Lindelof who co-created the fiendishly enigmatic television series "Lost". However, I give the film credit for its optimistic viewpoint - too many visions of tomorrow are miserably dystopic. I would like the odd projection of the future to be attractive, since it's where I intend to spend the rest of my life.
"Touching The Void"
This stunning drama-documentary sears itself on the brain so that the memories are fresh long after the credits roll. The reason is that every harrowing detail is true and yet the feat depicted seems so superhuman that it is hardly credible.
Simon Yates and Joe Simpson are two British mountaineers who decided to tackle the unpreviously unclimbed West Face of the 21,000 foot snow-covered Siula Grande mountain in Peru. The ascent was exceptionally difficult, but the descent was a disaster with Simpson breaking a leg and Yates having to abandon him. How Simpson survived was narrated in his best-selling book from which the film takes its title [for my book review click here] and, in this Oscar-winning documentary, Yates and Simpson tell the story without any third-party comment or analysis, while the events are dramatically recreated by actors with sensational filming in the Alps and Peru itself.
You cannot watch the work without feeling the cold and the pain and the hopelessness and asking yourself how you would have reacted if you had been in anything like a similar situation to Yates and Simpson respectively. Ultimately this film is a tribute to the power of the human spirit. That Simpson could survive is a miracle; that he could face six operations and return to climbing is amazing; and that such an impressive documentary could be made is a triumph for director Kevin Macdonald.
I totally recall the 1990 movie version of Philip K Dick's short story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" as both exciting and entertaining. Arnold Schwarzenegger as manual worker Doug Quiad brought a certain vulnerability to the role as this mountain of man who had no idea what was going on and Dutch director Paul Verhoeven gave a real verve to the whole production. Sadly this remake 22 years later is something of a disappointment, although some critics have been overly harsh.
Colin Farrell now in the lead role is a far better actor than Arnie but the pace is so frenetic that he is not given much opportunity to display his thespian talents. The role of his 'wife' - memorably filled by Sharon Stone in the original - now goes to Kate Beckinsale (wife of director Len Wiseman) and is much expanded from the first outing, so that the part of the rebel agent, originally taken by Rachel Tocotin and now played by Jessica Biel, is rather underwritten.
It seems perverse to call a remake derivative, but so much of this version of "Total Recall" reminds one not just of the original film, but of so many other sci-fi movies: the world of the workers looks like "Blade Runner", the flying cars evokes "The Fifth Element", the synthetic troops are retreads of either the Stormtroopers or the clones from "Star Wars" films, even the relentless pursuit by Beckinsale's character echoes Arnie in the first "Terminator" movie. Oddly this work is both too dark, in that there is rarely enough lighting, and not dark enough, in that - unlike the original - there is little ambiguity about whether the whole thing is a dream.
There are three beautiful things to view in this movie: 1) Johnny Depp as the eponymous tourist, an American teacher called Frank; 2) Angelina Jolie as the mysterious British girl Elise, oozing glamour with a series of gorgeous outfits; 3) the city of Venice where most of the story takes place, which displays both its magnificent buildings and its dark alley ways. Sadly the rest is a disappointment.
The pacing is pedestrian and the dialogue is limp. Above all, German director and co-writer Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck - a million miles away from his wonderful work in "The Lives Of Others" - can't make up his mind whether this is a thriller or a romance or a comedy, so that it never quite works at any of these levels.
What I know about drugs, you could write on the back of a cigarette packet (I've never even smoked) and I was not initially inclined to spend two and a half hours witnessing an examination of the problem as exhibited in the relationship between Mexico and the United States. But the reviews and word of mouth were so good that I made the effort and - together with my 24 year old son - I found a powerful and challenging work.
Both the subject matter and the style make this an uneasy experience. It's no fun seeing young people overdosing or turning to prostitution and the whole movie is shot in a grainy, bleached, jerky documentary style with rapid inter-cutting of different narratives. Director Steven Soderbergh and writer Stephen Gaghan take a social problem so often viewed in simplistic terms and present a multi-layered, multi-faceted approach, devoid of easy answers and even any answers at all. The final line of dialogue is "We're here to listen" and I guess that the purpose of the movie is to make us think rather than to offer us a solution.
This is one of those films in which there are many good performances and no one is allowed to overshadow the subject matter itself. Real life husband and wife Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones play respectively a judge turned drugs czar and a naïve wife turned drug baroness, but they never appear on screen together. There are some excellent roles for minority actors - indeed almost half the dialogue is in Spanish - with Benicio Del Toro particularly impressive as a Mexican policeman in a moral maze. You'll be thinking about this work long after you've left the cinema and that can only be beneficial, given the scale and complexity of our drugs problem.
Don't be misled by the innocuous title of this 2001 movie - for Los Angeles cop Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) on his first day with the narcotics division, this is going to be a day from hell. And don't be caught out by the casting of Denzel Washington as Detective Alonzo Harris, Jake's mentor-cum-nemesis - this is is not the Washington whom we first met in 1987 in "Cry, Freedom" who has since played a whole series of good guy roles. In this movie, he is one real m****r f****r. And, if you don't like this sort of language, don't watch the film because it is replete with four- and six-letter expletives as well as street language that is sometimes hard to follow .Writer David Ayer and director Antoine Fuqua have provided a violent and bloody narrative that grips from start to finish. Both Washington and Hawke are rarely off the screen and Washington in particular gives a capital performance. In fact, both actors attracted Oscar nominations with Washington deservedly winning for Best Actor for his bravura turn. The Alonzo Harris character was loosely inspired by the disgraced LAPD officer Rafael Perez who served two prison terms totalling six years. If he ever saw the movie, he would feel that it could have been a whole lot worse.
This is the fifth comedy directed by Judd Apatow (I enjoyed "Knocked Up") but the first that he has not written. That's because this is Amy Schumer's movie: she wrote the whip-smart script and takes the lead role, appearing in almost every scene. Amy the actress plays Amy the magazine journalist (any of this autobiographical?) who enjoys casual sex and dreads commitment (some comedic role reversal here) who - against expectation and, at least intially, wish - falls for a sports doctor (Bill Hader) who is the subject of a feature she is writing.
Non-American audiences will not be familiar with Amy Schumer, whose previous work has been on television, but she is clearly a massive talent, delivering some great (if often very crude) lines. Similarly non-Americans (like me) will not know the basketball stars who appear and most viewers will struggle to recognise the utterly different looking Tilda Swinton in one of a whole series of cameos including Daniel Radcliffe, Marisa Tomei and Matthew Broderick. But any open-minded film fan will find a share of laugh-out-loud moments and a near continuous smiley experience.
This is a film which showed some promise. After all, it raises some fascinating questions: Would it be possible to turn the mind of a human being into electrical impulses that could be stored on computers? If such a virtual mind was connected to the vast resources of the Internet, what would be the consequences? The cast list was tantalising too: Johnny Depp in as conventional role as we ever see him, Morgan Freeman as sageful as always, and the appealing Rebecca Hall. But the treatment is such a disappointment: painfully slow and surprisingly dull with a script that is frankly dire.
Director Michael Bey won me over with "The Rock" in 1996 and here gives us the longest, the loudest and easily the most explosive summer blockbuster of 2007 and probably any other year. It may simply be an extended product placement exercise for the Hambros toys, the US military and eBay; it may be difficult to work out which robots are the Autobots (led by Optimus Prime) and which are the Decepticons (headed by Megatron); it may have one of the most hackneyed sub-plots in teenage cinema (geek gets girl); it may have a simplistic humour that includes explicit reference to masturbation. But none of this really matters. Hell, this is sheer entertainment of the fast and furious kind that knows the demographics of its target audience and is going to clean up at the cinema making a sequel inevitable.
"The Tree Of Life"
In 1968, I struggled to comprehend the meaning of "2001: A Space Odyssey", but it 'only' covered the history of humankind and at least it had some dialogue and a linear narrative - although the ending was really obscure and I only really understood it when I read the novel.
When it comes to "The Tree Of Life", we have a whole new level of bewilderment: it kind of embraces the history of the universe, although we only really know that from the reviewers who had the benefit of media briefings; there is virtually no real dialogue with most of the speech in the form of mumbled voice-overs veering between banality and bathos; and the narrative line is like a zig-zag, jumping from the extinction of the dinosaurs to a flip-flop between the 1950s and the present and a final scene that could be in any place and time. I think you get the picture ...
It is no wonder that at the Cannes Film Festival The Tree Of Life both won won the Palm d'Or and attracted hoots of derision. Neither reaction will have fazed writer and director Terrence Malick who occupies his own parallel universe. This is a man who moves at a pace which is more glacial than galloping, so that this is only his fifth film in 40 years and, at this rate, the 67 year old may not have many more creations to offer.
The plot - such as there is one - is simply told. The O'Briens are a pretty typical American family of the post-war years living in Waco, Texas: a repressive, disciplinarian father (a mature performance from Brad Pitt), an ethereal stay-at-home mother (Jessica Chastain), and three boys growing up in a small town where nothing much happens. But, aged 19, the middle boy is killed in circumstances which are never explained.
So at one level this is a work about the meaning or the meaningless of life with the pain of one family set in the context of all time and all space. At another level. I'm convinced that this is a deeply autobiographical work: Malik grew up in Waco, his brother committed suicide, and he is a man of Christan faith.
If the work sounds pretentious and opaque, it is. And it is long and slow. But it is audaciously ambitious and it is full of stunning imagery, magnificent photography, dazzling camera work and wonderful classical music. I'm pleased I saw it, I would see it again, but this is not a particular tree that everyone will want to climb.
When I went to the cinema in 1982 to see the Walt Disney production "Tron" with my young son who is now about to become a father, I found it enjoyable but - in spite of the first use of computer-generated backgrounds and special effects - underwhelming. Plotwise (what plot?), I saw no case for a sequel and I would never have imagined that any follow-up would take 28 years. So why go back inside the world of bits and bytes? The reason is simply the same as that for the original production: to show off the latest digital technology. And it sure does that. I saw the movie in 3D on the biggest screen in Britain (central London's BFI cinema) and the look and sound were awesome.
Cleverly first-time director Joseph Kosinki only brings on the 3D when Sam Flynn (good-looking Garrett Hedlund), in the search for his long-missing father Kevin (a bearded, grizzled Jeff Bridges), first enters 'the Grid' and the effect is truly scalp-tingling. The races with light cycles and fights with light discs are immense fun and visually the whole work is a delight. The sound is terrific: at times the cinema seems to shake and the pounding soundtrack from Daft Punk is genuinely atmospheric.
The problems this time round are the same as three decades ago: the plot is minimal and unintelligible and the script is banal. At one point, Kevin Flynn exclaims: "You're messing with my Zen thing, man!" Believe me, I felt the same - man.
Characterwise, the sequel has some contrasts with the original. Now we have not just one but two Kevin Flynns, the second being Clu (short for catchy Codified Likeness Utility) who is wholly computer-generated in a rather effective, if rather smooth-faced, creation. Also the babe-factor is turned up a few notches with the cute Olivia Wilde (Remy from "House") as the feisty, black-clad Querra and Beau Garrrett as the white-clad siren Gem. The most bizarre character is cyberspace bar-owner Castor played astonishingly by Michael Sheen - he who gave us such convincing portrayals of Tony Blair and David Frost - in a camp performance which is a sad effort to inject some much-needed humour into a script that is littered with references to the like of "biodigital jazz".
This is a film about the making of a film about the shooting of a film and stars a dude playing the dude disguised as another dude. Confused? Well, "Tropic Thunder" is that kind of movie. From the very beginning - no credits, just mock advertisements and fake trailers - we're in for a rumble in the jungle with much madness, mayhem and even a touch of genius with visual and verbal gags coming so often and so fast that nobody will get them all on first viewing (especially some of Robert Downey Jr's heavily accented lines) but most will catch enough to have a lot of fun.
Most of the credit goes to comedian Ben Stiller who co-wrote, co-produced and directed this work as well as taking a leading role. The whole thing is a parody of action movies in general and Vietnam movies in particular with "Apocalypse Now", "Platoon" and "Rambo" being just three of dozens and dozens of films that are referenced. The focus is on a team of five thespians - Tugg Speedman (Stiller), Kirk Lazarus (Downey Jr), Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) plus two minor actors - who start off making a war movie with grand ambitions and pathetic outcomes, only to realise (slowly) that they really are in a conflict situation and nothing is what or who it seems.
Footnote: The name "Tropic Thunder" is a play on 'Tropic Lightning', the nickname of the 25th Infantry Division which fought in Vietnam.
Essentially cinema is story-telling in modern guise and one of the oldest and greatest stories of humankind is Homer's work "The Iliad" which "inspires" this movie by German director Wolfgang Petersen who first came to our attention with a very different film about war "Das Boot". The story is much conflated and twisted and Achilles' heel barely figures. Homer would have been unimpressed at the many liberties taken with his classic work and all of us have to suffer a rather dire script and some indifferent acting (except for veteran Peter O'Toole as the aged King Priam) and a strange mixture of American, English, Scottish, Australian and other accents.
However, at the heart of any story of war are the warriors and the battles and here "Troy" delivers in some style. Brad Pitt as the running, throwing, sword-wheeling Achilles and Eric Bana as a brave and able Hector are physically in good shape and their exciting fight sequence is one of the highlights of this 2 hour 43 minute work. Achilles is presented as a very modern hero, arrogant, full of angst, and no respecter of authority.
The battle sequences themselves rival those of "Lord Of The Rings" for the stunning use of special effects and the depiction of visceral violence. Indeed Orlando Bloom and Sean Bean seem to have stepped straight out of "LOTR" into "Troy", although the few actresses in the movie are generally newcomers, notably former model Diane Kruger as Helen whose beautiful face launches a thousand ships (most of which we see, thanks to the wonders of CGI).
"Troy" apparently cost some $185M to make, with filming in Malta and Mexico as well at the studios in Shepperton. It was "Gladiator" which revived the sword and sandal saga, but "Troy" is not in the same class as that superlative movie. However, if the Hollywood wizards can set up "Alien vs Predator", maybe they could conjure up "Maximus vs Achilles".
Doggawn it, who woulda thought anyone would wanna remake a 1969 western which won The Duke an Oscar? Well, those Coen boys sure made a mighty fine movie and no mistake.
The talent of Joel and Ethan Coen is legendary and their choice of subject eclectic. After the success of "No Country For Old Men", "Burn After Reading" and "A Serious Man", they have made their first western, although "No Country ..." could be seen as a kind of cowboy movie and, like that work, "True Grit" is based on a novel (in this case by Charles Portis). As with every Coen film, it looks wonderful and again the cinematography is by Roger Deakins who worked on that other beautifully-crafted western "The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford". The sound is brilliant too from the sharp lines of dialogue or the period music to the clinking of a man's spurs or the panting of an exhausted horse.
The crowning achievement is the casting. Perhaps only The Dude - Jeff Bridges in a bravado performance - could outshine The Duke (John Wayne) in the central role as Rooster Cogburn. It was not so difficult to surpass Kim Darby's original portrayal of Mattie Ross, but Hailee Steinfeld - this time someone the same 14 years old as the novel's character - shows precocious talent. If Cogburn is the most hirsute of all the men in this movie, others are not far behind, notably Texas Ranger La Boeuf (Matt Damon in a refreshingly different performance from his Bourne-type roles) plus bad guys Tom Chaney (a convincing Josh Brolin) and Lucky Ned Pepper (a colourful Barry Pepper).
In short, a rootin, tootin classic.
"The Truman Show"
I came late and reluctantly to this film because I am not a Jim Carrey fan, but here he gives an unusually multi-layered performance as the eponymous star of a 30-year long, 24 hours a day, world-wide television show in which the only 'reality' is the man himself. This 'world within a world' is reminiscent of the science fiction work "Logan's Run", but this time the inner world is populated by actors with the exception of Truman Burbank. The show is controlled by the God-like Christof - a strong performance from Ed Harris - who, at one point, calls: "Cue - the sun!"
This is an inventive movie directed with style by Australian Peter Weir who similarly elicited a 'straight' performance from a comedian when he made the excellent "Dead Poet's Society" with Robin Williams. "Truman" has a thoughtful premise, an intelligent plot, accomplished acting and atmospheric music (from Philip Glass) in what is ultimately a life-affirming story.
"Terminator"-like, a shaven-headed Bruce Willis leaves behind the dyspeptic world of 2035 - all but wiped out by a virus unleashed some four decades earlier - to travel back to the Baltimore and Philadelphia of 1996 in an effort to learn how to combat the plague. In a psychiatric hospital, he meets a psychotic played by Brad Pitt, in an able performance far removed from his usual pretty boy roles, and psychiatrist Madeline Stowe, who is eventually persuaded to join the effort to combat the eco-terrorist group the Twelve Monkeys of the title. British director Terry Gilliam was once a member of the famed Monty Python's Flying Circus and here gives us an inventive mix of the present and future and the real and imagined which is not finally clarified until the last seconds of the movie.
Dalton Trumbo was an American screenwriter who penned such films as "Roman Holiday", "The Brave One", "Exodus" and "Spartacus" (two of which won Academy Awards). But he was a member of the Communist Party and in the late 1940s was found to be in contempt of the House Un-American Activities Committee, so he and nine others were sent to prison. Once out of jail, they were blacklisted by Hollywood but managed to keep writing under false names.
One can well understand why today's American film industry would want to tell this story - perhaps especially now that the US is succumbing to new elements of paranoia - but one would not expect the tale to be told by director Ray Roach who has given the world very different movies like ""Austin Powers" and "Meet The Parents". What we have is a worthy work, but it is somewhat pedestrian and preachy and certainly too long (124 minutes). Furthermore it is politically weak in presenting American Communists as wholly innocent and likeable characters.
What makes the movie is the outstanding central performance of Bryan Cranston - most of whose work has been in television - as Dalton Trumbo. At the end credits, we see and hear a short recording of the real Trumbo and one can appreciate just how accomplished is Cranston's take on this brave and witty but selfish and idiosyncratic character.
Link: Wikipedia page on Dalton Trumbo click here
"12 Years A Slave"
Let's be honest about it: this spotlight on the darkest days of American history is a particularly British triumph. The brilliant director (and artist) Steve McQueen and outstanding Chiwetel Ejiofor, as the eponymous Solomon Northup, are both British; even Michael Fassbender, in the main support role as a sadistically brutal slave-owner, is half British; and Benedict Cumberbatch makes an appearance as a 'kinder' slave owner.
But, of course, there is a vast array of American talent here too. As always, Sean Bobbitt is inspiring as director of photography, making full use of the Louisiana locations. And a host of fine US actors make cameo appearances, notably Brad Pitt (who was one of the 10 producers), Paul Giamatti (looking as if he had walked straight out of the TV mini series "John Adams"), Sarah Paulson and Alfre Woodard. In her first film role, Lupita Nyong'o gives a heart-rending performance as a young slave who is horrendously abused. Original music by Hans Zimmer and use of contemporary songs add to the searing atmosphere of the work
McQueen is unrelenting in his focus: except for short pieces at the beginning and the end of the film, all the time is the period in captivity and, except for occasional glimpses of humanity, we see the slaves subjected to humiliation and horror again and again and again. McQueen's style is slow and penetrating with some long and wordless scenes totally captivating.
As a piece of social history, this movie is simply stunning - a virtual blow to the solar plexus. As a cinematic work, it has some challenges: there is no conventional narrative arc in which a plot unfolds or a character develops because Northrup is confined to a small geographical space where he can only survive by keeping as low a profile as possible; the characters are literally black and white with little subtlety or nuance; and there is not really a sense that the period of incarceration is more than a decade.
At the start and finish of the film, we are reminded that this is a true story based on the book written by Northup in 1853, once he finally re-acquired his freedom (in a pedestrian act of bureaucracy rather than anything more dramatic or violent). As if Northup has not suffered enough, we learn that his legal actions against both those who sold and bought him failed in the courts. A special award should go to McQueen's Dutch partner Bianca Stigter who discovered Northup's book and recommended it to the director.
This is one of those films when, the less you know about it, the more you are likely to appreciate it. What you probably do need to know about it though is that it has a totally non-linear structure and is presented to us as a series of unordered fragments like a shattered mirror. This unconventional format demands considerable concentration from the viewer, but this makes for a compelling movie experience in which one constantly re-evaluates characters and events.
The work is the first film in English by Alejandro González Iñárritu, the Mexican director of "Amores Perros", and it is written by his collaborator on that film, Guillermo Arriaga. At its core are three outstanding Oscar-nominated performances from Sean Penn ("Mystic River"), Benicio Del Toro ("Traffic") and the British-born Naomi Watts. The themes could not be more serious - suffering, guilt, life, death, rebirth - but ultimately the movie manages to be redemptive.
"21 Grams" is a reference to the weight allegedly lost by a human body when it dies (which is, of course, nonsense - but it makes for an intriguing title).
Not many Chinese films obtain a release in Western cinemas. Those that do tend to be set in the distant past and have large casts, colourful costumes and exciting action - think "Hero", "House Of Flying Daggers", "Curse Of The Golden Flower" and "Red Cliff". This is not one of those movies. "24 City" is contemporary in subject, pedestrian in pacing, and documentary in style (director Jia Zhang-ke uses a mix of real characters and actors including Joan Chen).
It is set in the city of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in south-west China, which I visited a few weeks before seeing the film and I took along two friends from Sichuan who know the city well. It tells the terribly sad tale of the closure of a factory, which once employed 4,000 workers on the manufacture of military hardware, so that the site can be used for a modern complex of apartments and hotels - the 24 City of the title.
The unusual part documentary/part fiction style - there are five authentic interviews and four fictional scenes delivered by actors - means that the work lacks the 'bite' of a real documentary and the narrative of full fiction, but some critics admired it.
I'm always attracted to disaster movies for the sheer escapist thrill and German director and writer Roland Emmerich, who gave us "Independence Day" (1996) and "The Day After Tomorrow" (2004) as big budget contributions to the genre, now offers "2012" as what must be statistically the biggest disaster movie of them all (over six billion die - sorry if that's a spoiler).
The actors are almost incidental to what is a feast of fun special effects, but John Cusack is engaging as Jackson Curtis (note the initials) who manages single-handedly to save humankind (oh dear, another spoiler) and, in the process win back the heart of the cute Amanda Peet as his ex-wife plus the affections of their children Noah (original name for someone destined for an ark) and Lily. All the characters are caricatures though - and how can one believe that the US President could be black?
The science - something about pesky neutrinos - is laughable and whatever the problem was seems to sort itself out very rapidly (and conveniently) at the end oops - another spoiler). Meanwhile the mobile networks seem to carry on working fine and the Chinese (bless them) show a remarkable capacity to build vast arks at great speed without anyone noticing. There's a politically correct message, as what is left of humankind returns to Africa where it all started (gosh - another spoiler).
In short, "2012" is unlikely to figure on anybody's list of the top 10 or 100 or 1,000 films ever made and it's not even the best disaster movie ever produced ("Towering Inferno" in 1974 was the most gripping human drama), but it's entertaining enough and never takes itself seriously.
"2 Days In Paris"
In 1995 and 2004, the French actress Julie Delpy starred (with the American Ethan Hawke) in two movies set in major cities over a short period in which the two lead characters talk a great deal together: "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset" - both of which I loved. Clearly, Delpy - who writes and directs as well as acts - was inspired by writer and director of the two "Before ..." movies Richard Linklater and here takes on all three roles in this 2007 movie, supported in the thespian department by the American Adam Goldberg.
"2 Days ..." has a similar style and feel to the "Before ..." offerings - which is good - but there are differences: the American-Gallic couple are already an item, they are far from the only characters in the film, there is a bit more time and movement to play with, and there are more explicit sexual references. I really enjoyed it - insightful as well as amusing.
All credit to Delpy who, as well as the duties already mentioned, produced and edited the movie, did some song writing and singing, and cast her mother and father as her character's parents.
"2 Days In New York"
In "2 Days In Paris" (2007), Marion (Julie Delpy) was visiting her eccentric family in Paris with her American partner at a trying time in her New York-based relationship. Five years later, she is still living in NYC but now with a new partner called Mingus (played by the wonderful Chris Rock in under-stated manner compared to his exuberant stand-up comedy performances). This time, Marion's family are visiting her or at least her father (again played by Delpy's real father) and sister plus ex boyfriend are here (sadly Delpy's real mother - like her character in the previous film - has since died).
Again we have a mixture of English and French dialogue and lots of wry humour and sexual references, but new elements include Marion's sale of her soul to Vincent Gallo and Mingus's conversations with a cardboard cut-out of Barack Obama. It's all great fun and marks out Delpy - who again writes and directs - as a real talent.
"Two Days, One Night"
This French-language film is both written and directed by brothers Jean Pierre & Luc Dardenne and set in their native Wallonia part of Belgium, poorer than the Flemish north of the country and hard hit by the post-2008 recession. It is the complete antithesis of the Hollywood movie: slow and deliberate with no special effects or action sequences.
A small company has a vote of its workforce which decides that it would rather all the staff receive a bonus than take back a female colleague who wishes to return to work after a bout of depression. The woman at the heart of this moral dilemma is Sandra, played by the talented French actress Marion Cotillard, who has just a weekend to persuade her colleagues to change their mind. Essentially this is a film about solidarity - or lack of it - not just in the workplace but also at home and shows how different factors influence our decisions and how those decisions have consequences for ourselves and for others.
Very occasionally, I don't choose the film; it chooses me - as when I make an unexpected visit to a multiplex with a very tight time window and I've already seen the other movies in that window. This is how I came to see this teenage vampire movie which I guess is aimed at girls of a certain age. "Twilight" comes with a following, since it's the first novel of a series of four by American Mormon writer Stephenie Meyer, and the scriptwriter (Melissa Rosenberg) and the director (Catherine Hardwicke) are both women as well.
Given their very limited resources - this is a low-budget production with some dire special effects - the outcome is a fair one. Mainly this is due to the good-looking young stars: Kristen Stewart who is really sweet as Bella Swan and Robert Pattinson who is suitably edgy as Edward Cullen. But the locations - in Oregon and Washington states - give the work a distinctive feel and the soundtrack is rather good too.
All reviews by ROGER DARLINGTON.
Last modified on 23 September 2016
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