"J. Edgar" "Jack Reacher" "Jobs" "Joe" "John Carter" "John Wick" "Johnny English" "The Joy Luck Club" "Julie & Julia" "Juno" "Jurassic Park III" "Jurassic World" "K-19: The Widowmaker" "Kate And Leopold" "Katyn" "Kick-Ass" "Kick-Ass 2" "The Kids Are All Right" "Kill Bill: Volume 1" "Kill Bill: Volume 2" "Killer Elite" "Killing Them Softly" "King Arthur" "King Kong" "The Kingdom" "Kingdom Of Heaven" "The King's Speech" "Kingsman: The Secret Service" "Kinsey" "Kissing Jessica Stein" "The Kite Runner" "Klute" "Knight And Day" "Knocked Up" "Koyaanisqatsi" "K-PAX" "LA Confidential" "Labor Day" "The Lady" "The Lake House" "Land And Freedom" "The Land Girls" "Lantana" "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life" "Larry Crowne" "The Last Castle" "Last Chance Harvey" "The Last King Of Scotland" "Last Night" (1998) "Last Night" (2010) "The Last Samurai" "The Last Seduction" "The Last Station" "Lawless" "Layer Cake" "Lebanon" "The Lego Movie" "Leon" "Letters From Iwo Jiwa" "Life Is Beautiful" "The Life Of David Gale" "Life Of Pi" "Limitless" "Lincoln" "Lions For Lambs" "A Liitle Chaos" "Little Voice" "Little Women" (1994) "The Lives Of Others" "The Look Of Love" "Looper" "The Long Kiss Goodnight" "A Long Way Down" "Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring" "Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers" "Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King" "Lore" "Lost In Translation" "Love Actually" "Love And Other Drugs" "Love And Other Impossibe Pursuits" "Love Happens" "Love In The Afternoon" "The Love Punch" "Lucy" "The Lunchbox"
"J. Edgar"John Edgar Hoover founded the Federal Bureau of Invesgiation and led it in megalomaniac style until his death. This account of his career and speculation of his private life is a dark movie on so many levels. It deals with serious criminality ranging from mobsters to kidnappers to spies; it portrays a FBI that tramples over human rights and itself spies on citizens; it is a portrait of a man who effectively blackmailed presidents but hid his own sexual tendencies; and the whole thing is shot in bleached-out colours and endless shadows. It is an ambitious project for producer and director Clint Eastwood, who has tackled the bio-pic before with "Bird", and writer Dustin Lance Black, who scripted the bio-pic "Milk", since they cover the huge period from the Palmer Raids of 1919 to Hoover's death in 1972 in a series of flash backs involving multiple characters which makes it hard work for the viewer. Of course, it is an even tougher enterprise for Leonardo DiCaprio who has to portray the eponymous and complex FBI chief as he ages half a century. DiCaprio is a fine actor who has come along way since "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" in 1993 and he too has done the bio-pic thing before ("THe Aviator") and is quite well deserved by his prosthetics (which one cannot say for Armie Hammer as Hoover's No 2 at the Bureau Clyde Tolson).
So this is a fascinating film but it lacks a narrative thrust and real drama or excitement.
Link: Wikipedia page on Hoover click here
I haven't read any of the 17 Jack Reacher novels written by the British Jim Grant under the pseudonym Lee Grant, so it was no bother to me that the 5' 7' Tom Cruise did not match up to the 6' 5' character of the books. Whatever one says about Cruise, he is still looking good and has genuine star appeal. Writer and director Christopher McQuarrie has produced a fast and often violent film with implausible plotting but pace and verve. From the tense opening segment of a sniper attack in Pittsburgh, this is a work with style if little substance, aided by some good support performances from Werner Herzog and Robert Duvall. Like a Clint Eastwood character in the likes of "High Plains Drifter", Reacher appears from nowhere and disappears to nowhere, but Cruise and Child are no doubt hoping that this is the start of a new franchise and, in sheer entertainment terms, I wouldn't mind a return.
Mark Zuckerberg is to Facebook what Steve Jobs was to Apple - the college drop-out who became the founding genius of one of the absolute giants of the new information age, a brilliant mind, a compulsive personality and a ruthless entrepreneur. In the case of Zuckerberg, all this was superbly represented in the 2010 movie "The Social Network" - a work which set the bar really high for a bio-pic of an IT guru. I'm afraid that the 2013 "Jobs", while a workmanlike film, cannot compare. "TSN" had a bigger budget ($40M compared to $12M) but more importantly it had a much better scriptwriter (Aaron Sorkin rather than first-timer Matt Whiteley). The box office takings reflected the different budgets and talents.
"Jobs" focuses on the early years of Apple, so we witness the Apple, Apple II and Mackintosh computers and the iPod but not the iPhone or iPad. And there is nothing about the man's illness and death. Instead the core of the movie is his expulsion from Apple in 1985 and his return in 1996. This makes for some drama but overall the film is slow and pedestrian compared to the pacing and excitement of "TSN". Ashton Kutcher is creditable in the lead role - he adopts the facial features and the gait of the man - and many of the supporting characters look quite like the real-life men (there are very few women around) that they portray, but much of the acting is as weak as most of the script.
In 1971, there was an American movie called "Joe" set in New York City and state in which a couple of ordinary 'joes' (one is actually called Joe), resenting the liberal society in which they find themselves, turn to appalling violence. Now (2014), we have another American film with the same title with a story that is almost as depressing and almost as violent as again a joe - both in character and name - finds himself turning to brutal action for what he judges to be a rightous cause. This time the director is David Gordon Green who films Larry Brown's novel in a very male, dirt poor, hard-drinking world around Austin in Texas.
In a slow-moving and atmospheric tale, Joe befriends a 15 year old Gary who is abused by his drunken father. This is an outstanding central performance from Nicolas Cage who keeps his trademark histrionics under control here. But the two other lead roles are played by interesting characters. Gary is ably portrayed by young Tye Sheridan who, after both "Tree Of Life" and "Mud", is beginning to make a name for himself. Then the violent father is represented by a complete non-professional: Gary Poulter, a homeless man who died on the streets shortly after the film was finished. This is art imitating life imitating art.
This is a film adaptation of a science fiction novel written by Edgar Rice Burroughs a hundred years ago. Was it worth the wait? Well, it has enabled state of the art special effects to be deployed in a movie estimated to cost some $250 million to produce and the creatures and features on display are impressive. I saw the work in 3D on an IMAX screen and, while I certainly felt part of the action, I can't say that the 3D added much most of the time.
Canadian Taylor Kitsch plays the eponymous former Confederate soldier who suddenly finds himself transported to Mars - or, as the locals call it, Barsoom. In his previous film "The Bang Bang Club", Kitsch portrayed another character called Carter with long hair and a beard so maybe he just walked off one set and into another, although in this role he has extraordinary powers of jumping. Some of his co-stars - notably Willem Dafoe and Samantha Morton - are unrecognisable since they play CGI-created aliens, while many of the others - such as Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, Dominic West and James Purefoy - are stalwarts of British cinema and television.
There are three tribes on Mars: citizens of warring Zodanga and Helium, who inexplicably look just like humans, and the exceptionally tall, thin, green, four-armed Tharks who look like cousins of Jar Jar Binks from the "Star Wars" series (indeed so much of "John Carter" is derivative of "Star Wars", although defenders of the film will point that that the Burroughs novel long preceded the George Lucas movies). A fair bit of the time, I had no clear idea what these characters were up to and why but the whole thing was a visual treat that does not bear any serious analysis.
James Bond, Jack Bauer, Jason Bourn, Jack Reacher, John Carter, and now John Wick - writers do seem to have limited imaginations when it comes to the names of their action heroes. JW is a retired assassin and we all know that, in the movies, it doesn't take much to bring a man with "a very particular set of skills" back into the game. Kidnapping his daughter usually does it but, if you want to be sure, kill his dog. This really makes Wick (Keanu Reeves back on cracking form) mad. Of course, we knew who the bad guys were even before their mistake with the mutt because they speak Russian and the subtitles are presented in comic book style to add to the fun.
There's minimal plot but maximum action in this film directed by Chad Stahelski (Keanu's stunt double in "The Matrix") and David Leitch (another veteran stunt coordinator). Wick is not out simply to disable his foes but instead rarely leaves death in doubt and he is no silent killer but absolutely litters the screen in bodies in a riot of action and noise that somehow escapes the notice of the New York Police Department. According to those who count these things, the original "Taken" movie clocked up a body count of 35 but Wick racks up a much superior 76. I saw the movie on an IMAX screen so I was both shaken and stirred.
Mr Bean meets Mr Bond and the result is "Laugh Another Day". Rowan Atkinson can be very funny, as we saw in his 1997 beanfeast. The trouble with this movie is that, 40 years after the first 007 outing, Bond has been parodied to death. What was funny for 60 seconds in a television advertisement for Barclaycard cannot be sustained for a full-length movie and most of the jokes are signposted well in advance. Natalie Imbruglia gives the impression of having wandered off the set of an Aussie soap (what do you mean, she has?), while John Malkovich looks squint-eyed and affects the most appalling French accent, because "The Wonk Is Not Enough".
"The Joy Luck Club"
This is an ambitious and worthy film that unfortunately comes near to collapsing under the weight of its multiple storylines. Four Chinese women recall their brutal lives back in the feudal homeland and then their Chinese-American daughters are shown clashing with their mothers in modern-day California. Taken from the novel by Amy Tan and co-written by her for the screen, the movie tries to cover too much and as a result engages too little, although it is refreshing to observe a different culture and view new actresses.
"Julie & Julia"
Julie Powell is a New York blogger who in 2002 decides to write about how she plans to cook all 524 dishes in a famous American cookbook of French food over the course - sorry for the pun - of 365 days. She is played by the amiable Amy Adams. Julia Child is the larger than life co-author of the book which was published in 1961 after many years of effort only to become a US classic. She is portrayed by the wonderful Meryl Streep in yet another marvellous performance. Nora Ephron - who gave us "Sleepless In Seattle" and "You've Got Mail" - is both screenwriter and director.
Now I know nothing about cooking, but I am both a blogger and an author so I could identify to some extent with the main characters can see how these true-life intertwined narratives could work well in writing (the blog actually became a book and the cookbook led to an autobiography) and indeed the movie frequently quotes from blog postings and letters. As a two-hour film though, there is simply not enough dramatic material or plot development to make a meal of a movie and the two hours rather drag.
Julie Powell''s original blog click here
Julie Powell's current blog click here
An unusual title for an unusual movie but one that is an absolute delight. Juno is a 16 year old girl living in Minnesota, USA who is named after a Roman goddess and she is played by 20 year old Canadian Ellen Page in a wonderfully mature and quirky performance that achieved an Academy Award nomination. Early on in the film, she becomes pregnant and the rest of the story is how she - and her parents and the intended adopted parents of the baby - deal with the situation. J K Simmons, Allison Janney, Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner bring real texture to the adult roles.
The witty script is a cracking one and comes from Diablo Cody, a pen name for one-time stripper Brook Busey, and it won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Shooting was in and around Vancouver, standing in for Minnesota, and the tiny budget of US$6.5 million was recouped within three weeks of (limited) release. Personally I could have done without the songs from Kimya Dawson, but in fact the soundtrack was very successful in its own right.
The director is Canadian-born Jason Reitman whose father Ivan directed such movies as "Ghostbusters".
"Jurassic Park III"
Just when you knew that it still wasn't safe to visit the island - some fool does so. Following in the dinosaur footsteps of the earlier two movies in 1993 and 1997, a new cohort of youngsters can thrill to the brilliant special effects - especially since this one is rated PG. For the lead character, its back to the original film with Sam Neill as Dr Alan Grant and there's even brief appearances from his colleague at that time, played by Laura Dern. However, the real 'stars', as always, are the creatures themselves and - as before - we have a mixture of old and new, the latter this time being represented by something called the spinosaurus and the winged pterodactyls. There's no plot and the ending is surprisingly sudden and weak, but this won't worry the kids and, at a mere one and a half hours, it's the perfect afternoon's entertainment for them.
It seems that you can't keep a good monster story down, so we've had remakes of "King Kong" and "Godzilla" and returns to the dinosaurs as the blockbuster "Jurassic Park" (1993) was followed by the less successful "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" (1997) and then by the rather tame "Jurassic Park III" (2001) before - after an interval of 14 years - we now have the spectactular "Jurassic World" which managed to take half a billion dollars at the box office on its opening weekend. How can we explain this?
Obviously part of the answer has to be the dinosaurs themselves. This time, we have the biggest, baddest, most modified of them all: Indominus rex (will those scientists never learn?). But we also have the interesting dynamic of dinosaurs who can relate to humans and even protect them. So many creature movies - whether it's the "King Kong" ones or "The Planet Of The Apes" franchise or even "Ted" and "Paddington" - play with the notions that the animals are not so different from us and, especially in the case of the human villains, that some of us are not so different from some of them.
Another part of the film's success has to be related to the actors. Almost overnight Chris Pratt has become such an appealling box office star with his voice in "The Lego Movie" and his heroics in "Guardian Of The Galaxy", while Bryce Dallas Howard (the daughter of director Ron Howard) is a welcome fresh face who can convincingly kick some dinosaur ass. Finally we get more gore this time around. In one memorable sequence, a poor woman is grabbed by one dinosaur which in turn is then gobbled up by an even bigger one. So no real plot and the usual stereotypical characters, but a bit more bite for your buck.
A film which presents in an heroic light the Soviet crew of a nuclear submarine at the height of the Cold War is probably not what American audiences want to see in the aftermath of September 11th. Furthermore, unlike more conventional sub movies, such as "The Boat" or "U-571", this is one where essentially there is no enemy and not a single sonar blip. It is the work of an American woman, producer and director Kathryn Bigelow, where the only American on show is a helicopter crew member and the only woman to make an appearance is the tearful partner of one of the crew. So the whole thing is - so to speak - swimming against the tide.
It is all rather predictable and wooden with a weak script, yet it still is worth seeing - the production values are high, there is sustained drama, and it was "inspired" by an actual event. K-19 is the first of the Soviet Union's nuclear-powered submarines and is forced to go to sea with a host of known technical and logistical deficiencies with two rival captains on board. One could almost imagine the movie being shown to an MBA class studying leadership models, as we see the dramatically conflicting styles of command of the tough Alexei Vostikov (Harrison Ford) and the more tender Mikhail Polenin (Liam Neeson). If they get it wrong, they'll not only lose their crew, but they could provoke a nuclear war. Ultimately though, this is a tribute to the resourcefulness and bravery of crew members individually and collectively. There are some bad accents, but some tense moments, and it would be a shame if the movie sunk without trace.
Link: the true story of K-19 click here
"Kate And Leopold"
Meg Ryan - now 40 - was probably born a cute and ditzy blonde with a shaggy dog hair style. Indeed she may well have emerged from the womb crying: "Yes! Yess!! Yesss!!!" I've been a fan since seeing her in "Innerspace" and who could forget her fake orgasm scene in "When Harry Met Sally"?
So she is a natural - if typecast - in this romantic comedy where she plays the New York advertising executive Kate McKay. More surprising is Australian-born but London-based Hugh Jackson - Wolverine in "X-Men" - who sports an impeccable English accent as the suave Duke of Albany transported from 1876 via a crack in time located at the Brooklyn Bridge (which - perhaps fortunately - I didn't notice when I was there).
There have been many 'fish out of water' movies set in New York, ranging from "Crocodile Dundee" to "The Dream Team". This one is likeable but light, frothy but forgettable.
Everyone in Poland has heard of the Katyn massacre but I've been surprised and saddened at how few people in Britain know of the atrocity. In the early part of the Second World War, more than 4,000 Polish soldiers were executed in the Katyn forest near Smolensk in western Russia. This was part of an organised effort to eradicate the military, political and intellectual leadership of Poland and a series of executions in various other locations removed some 22,000 Poles from their loved ones and their nation.
So, who did this? The Germans claimed to have uncovered the bodies in 1943 and blamed the Soviets in an effort to embarrass and divide the Allies. The Soviet Union categorically denied the crime at the time and for decades afterwards, only in 1990 admitting what the Poles and any independent assessor of the evidence knew: Stalin's NKVD perpetrated the horror on his express command.
The incident has now been made into a major Polish film by the acclaimed Polish director Andrzej Wajda whose own father was killed at Katyn and who is now in his 80s. The work was premiered at the Berlin film festival in 2007; it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 2008; and it finally arrived in Britain in a few cinemas in the summer of 2009. It is an exceptional work - both powerful and moving - that deserves a much larger audience.
Starting in 1939 with the simultaneous invasion of Poland by the Nazis and the Soviets, it takes us in several jumps to the immediate post-war period and underlines that the shame of Katyn was not just the deaths of the 22,000 in 1940 but the denial of the truth by so many people for so many years afterwards. Through the device of a prolonged flashback, the film concludes with a return to Katyn with close-up scenes of the sheer brutality of what was unquestionably a war crime.
The film is based on a novel by Andrzej Mularczyk and revolves around a number of fictional families with a fair bit of location work in Krakow, a city centre that looks today much like it did in the 1940s and which I have visited. The photography and acting are both excellent and selective use of wartime film footage simply adds to the sense of verisimilitude.
Footnote: To my utter astonishment, at the Renoir cinema in central London where I saw the film, as I descended the stairs to the screen, I was given a leaflet by a representation of something called The Stalin Society which insisted that the massacre was carried out by the Germans in 1943 and that Wajda's film is simply part of a sustained attempt to discredit communism at a time of economic crisis when so many people would see it as the obvious alternative to capitalism.
Link: the Katyn massacre click here
On paper, this must have looked like a distinctly dubious proposition: a pastiche of the super-hero movie, with teenage kids played by unknown actors taking most of the lead roles, and a script involving foul language and lots of graphic violence. Yet it works a treat with terrific action sequences and splendid humour. The language and the violence are presented in a comic book context that makes them outrageously entertaining rather than in any way offensive or upsetting.The main credit for this success should go to the British Matthew Vaughan who is both director and co-writer (the other co-writer is Jane Goldman aka Mrs Jonathan Ross), previously known for his direction of Daniel Craig in "Layer Cake". Although Nicolas Cage and Mark Strong provide strong acting ballast, most of the key roles are taken by youngsters who acquit themselves well: Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the eponymous Kick-Ass, Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Red Mist, and the wonderful, diminutive 11 year old Chloë Grace Moretz as the purple-wigged Hit-Girl. Excellent soundtrack too.
Four years after the original movie comes an equally outrageous and enjoyable sequel, although this time Jeff Wadlow takes over both writing and directing duties. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is back as the eponymous Kick-Ass and his side-kick is still Chloë Grace Moretz (now quite grown up at 15) as the purple-wigged Hit-Girl, but this time they have a larger cast of supporting super-heroes with such wonderful names as Colonel Stars and Stripes (a hardly recognisable Jim Carey) and Night Bitch (Lindy Booth).
On the opposite side of the divide between good and evil, we still have Christopher Mintz-Plasse - but his character has decided to ditch the Red Mist name for the less subtle one The Motherfucker - and he too now has a wider range of supporters with such colourful monikers as Black Death and Genghis Carnage. It's all great fun with the best roles going to the female characters, the aforementioned teenager Chloë Grace Moretz and the giant Ukrainian Olga Kurkulina as Mother Russia who inevitably pair off for a a battle to the death. If you sit through all the credits, there's a short clip at the end.
"The Kids Are All Right"
The kids are not really all right. Joni (Mia Wasikowska), aged 18, has an unrealised crush on a boy and is about to leave home for college, while Laser (Josh Hutcherson), aged 15, has a weird friend and wants to make contact with his and Joni's sperm-donor father. But they're pretty together compared to the grown ups. Their "moms", lesbian married couple Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), have many of the problems of any straight couple who've been together two decades and brought up two children, while the arrival of charming sperm guy Paul (Mark Ruffalo) disturbs all the relationship dynamics big time, causing issues for all of them and for him.
The lesbianism is handled very frankly and there's even a discussion of why gay women would be turned on by a video of gay men, while the dialogue and the acting is very naturalistic and nuanced. Everyone means well but somehow it doesn't all work out as anyone envisages. So there's anger and tears but lots of wit and humour too. Lisa Cholodenko - a lesbian who became pregnant by a sperm donor during the shooting of the film - has crafted a sensitive piece of direction and co-writing and she has been well-served by three fine performances from her lead actors. Bening and Moore give up on the careful make-up and fine clothes that normally make these attractive women movie stars and immediately convince the viewer that they are real characters and this is a real marriage.
The critics have absolutely raved about this work and it is good, very good, but perhaps they have oversold it somewhat and the ending is rather sudden and unsatisfying.
"Kill Bill: Volume 1"
You wait six years for a new Quentin Tarantino film and what happens? Two come along. But, on the strength of Volume 1, I'm really looking forward to the second and maybe some cinemas will show both parts together, giving a whole new meaning to the term 'double bill'. The overall project is a tongue-in-cheek homage to samurai films, kung fu movies, and spaghetti westerns that will revive Tarantino's cult reputation.
From the throat-grabbing opening to the jaw-dropping closing, along a gravity-defying, blood-spurting, limb-chopping journey of retribution, this is classic and unmistakable Tarantino, down to the use of chapter headings and labelling, the non-linear nature of the narrative, the graphic deployment of an animé sequence, and the inevitable idiosyncratic choice of music. Writer and director Tarantino was right to wait a year until his preferred star Uma Thurman was available, because this talented - as well as sexy and sassy - woman carries the film as the one-time pregnant bride who becomes a vengeful assassin in a yellow cat suit with a very special sword.
The whole thing is something to do with a strange and fearsome group called The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. Two squad members - Vernita Green who is actually black (Vivica A Fox) and O-Ren Ishii who is actually a Chinese-American and not Japanese (Lucy Lui) - pay the price for messing up the wedding, with a veritable orgy of death and dismemberment in between, and I don't think that the other squad members (including former lover Bill) will have much of a chance in Volume 2. But I want to see how they meet their well-deserved end and hopefully in the process discover where the bride learned her martial arts, what exactly was her relationship with Bill, and why was her wedding day the subject of such savagery.
"Kill Bill: Volume 2"
Apparently wunderkid Quentin Tarantino, writer and director of "Kill Bill", conceived it as a single work, but Harvey Weinstein of Miramax, suggested that it be cut in two. Looking at the double bill (sorry!) now, it's hard not to believe that it was always intended to be a two-parter, because the tone of the two parts is so different. If this doesn't sound too perverse for a Tarantino work, Volume 2 is a gentler movie - slower paced, much more character-driven and, in spite of some ugly violence, with a much, much lower body count.
In my review of Volume 1, I concluded: "I don't think that the other squad members (including former lover Bill) will have much of a chance in Volume 2. But I want to see how they meet their well-deserved end and hopefully in the process discover where the bride learned her martial arts, what exactly was her relationship with Bill, and why was her wedding day the subject of such savagery." In this sense, the second part is satisfying: all the questions are answered, all the issues resolved, and all of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad are well and truly eliminated.
Whereas Bill hardly featured in the initial half, he is central to the latter segment and David Carradine - whom I remember from the television series "Kung Fu" - gives a compelling performance in which he has the best lines, notably his apologia for the massacre. Again, though, it is Uma Thurman - as The Bride, Black Mamba, Beatrix Kiddo, and Mommy - who is brilliantly cast in a role which has already become iconic. Her rise from the 'dead' has echoes of Hammer horror "The Fall Of The House Of Usher", while her eye-catching battle sequence with Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) in the constricted confines of a trailer reminds one of the train fight in "From Russia With Love". If I came out the cinema with a slight sense of disappointment, it was because Bill is dispatched just too quickly, creating a slight sense of anti-climax. The smooth-talking brute deserved to suffer much more ...
This is a Jason Statham movie, so you know what to expect - although Robert de Niro and Clive Owen are there to add a veneer of class. It's one of the noisiest films you'll ever see and an action movie par excellence. So, while most of the acting is wooden and all the dialogue is stilted, we have a unremitting catalogue of running, jumping, punching, kicking, driving, and shooting, shooting, shooting with barely a pause to reload.
The plot - such as it is - involves Statham being hired by a Omani sheik to take out three former British SAS soldiers who killed his sons, so we have the unusual scenario of ex-special forces personnel being the bad guys or at least the victims. The storyline is based on "The Feathermen", a book by Ranulph Fiennes - who did serve in Oman - which allegedly is inspired by true events.
"Killing Them Softly"
Constant smoking, some heavy drinking, serious drug use, endless foul language, some whoring, a terribly brutal beating. Oh, several violent murders. be warned - this is a heavy gangster movie. But it has real style, some superb acting, and a message of sorts.Australian writer and director Andrew Dominik, who worked with Brad Pitt on "The Assassination Of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford", has teamed up with Pitt again to film the 1974 novel "Cogan's Trade" by George V Higgins. Pitt is terrific as the hitman Jackie Cogan who doesn't like to get too close to his victims physically or emotionally so that he can kill them 'softly'. Ray Liotta, James Gandolfini and Richard Jenkins are familar faces in a gangster world, but the support roles are well-executed as well. All of the characters here are "Goodfellas" but none of them are good fellows - if you get my meaning - and yet the viewer can't help having some sympathy with some of this criminal disfraternity.
Dominik has made his film something of a political commentary by setting it in the run-up to the US presidential election of 2008 and the financial fiasco of that period with the non too subtle suggestion that greed and criminality are as prevalent in the banks as on the streets of the US of A. In case the viewer missed the analogy, the Cogan character makes the comment in the final scene that "America is not a county. It's a business." Good point - and violently made. Not as cool as "Drive" but still a damn good movie.
Over the years, I've enjoyed many entertaining movies produced by Jerry Bruckheimer from "Top Gun" to "Pirates Of The Caribbean" and once again there is the rousing score (written by Hans Zimmer) and the great action sequences (filmed in Ireland), with a battle scene on a frozen lake particularly exciting, but sadly there are too many weaknesses to make this a success in the vein of "The Rock" or "Black Hawk Down".
The chief deficiency - as in far too many movies - is in the script. I could have forgiven the total recasting of the Arthurian legend, down to its repositioning centuries earlier than is normally suggested back to the contraction of the Roman Empire, if there had been a half-decent plot and some less stilted lines, surprising absences given that the writer David Franzoni authored the script for "Gladiator". It may not be the classic story as depicted in John Boorman's "Excalibur", but new research has fundamentally revised the myths.
The other main weakness is in the casting. "Gladiator" had Russell Crow and "Troy" had Brad Pitt, true stars with charismatic presence, but Clive Owen as Arthur cannot rise above his essentially television persona and Keira Knightly, lovely and spirited though she is, appears too young and has too few lines as Guinevere. In fact, the best performances come from Ray Winstone as one of Arthur's rough-hewn knights and Stellan Skarsgård as the leader of the brutal Saxons.
If you can live with these faults and keep your expectations in check, then this is a reasonably uplifting action movie that attempts to do for early English nationalism what "Braveheart" did for Scottish patriotism.
This is a mammoth of a movie: an ape standing 25 feet high, huge dinosaurs and insects, a budget of over $200 million, a workforce of 2,500, and a running time of over three hours (in Prague where I saw it, there was an old-style intermission). But, the architect of it all, New Zealander Peter Jackson, was seemingly born to craft the work, having been inspired to enter moviemaking when he saw the original at the age of nine, having almost made the film in 1996, and now the veteran of three outstanding segments of "Lord Of The Rings". The storyline is utterly familiar from the original and iconic 1933 black and white, stop motion, film and the much maligned, more tongue-in-cheek, up-dated remake of 1976, but Jackson has created a homage to his beloved original with so many allusions (most obviously with the final line of dialogue) and some subtle changes (such as a more modern heroine and a more playful relationship between beauty and the beast).
In many ways, what is most similar and most different is Kong himself. At the heart of the movie, we still have a black beast that is lost and lonely in a manner paralleled by the blonde woman with whom he develops a strange affection that will ultimately be the death of him. On the other hand, as modelled on the movements of Andy Serkis (who is the cook as well as Kong), this is a gorilla who walks on all fours in a naturalistic style absent from the previous versions. Jack Black ("High Fidelity") is surprisingly effective in a role (the film producer Carl Denham) that represents a change of style from his usual comedic characters, while fetching Naomi Watts ("21 Grams") is wonderful as a more independent-minded Ann Darrow than we have seen before. Adrien Brody is a talented actor, as witnessed in "The Pianist", but seems somewhat ill-cast here as a playwright who is willing and able to climb to the very top of the Empire State Building to rescue his muse.
Obviously "King Kong" is a film full of allegorical references, never more so than when New York in the Depression - brilliantly realised in some stunning opening and closing scenes - is represented as a jungle as much as Skull Island itself, but essentionally movies are about magic and entertainment and, in these respects, Jackson delivers a wonderful, if over-long (twice the length of the original), trip. Skull Island looks genuinely scary, the animals are brilliantly realised with some state-of-the-art special effects, the fight sequences between Kong and dinosaurs are ferocious, the insect scene - apparently cut from the 1933 version - will make young viewers especially cringe and squirm, and the parallel love stories have a certain tenderness. So it may be corny and familiar but it works really well.
Link: Kong is king site click here
The Kingdom in question here is Saudi Arabia, where virtually all the film is set but none of the shooting could take place (so Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates fills in). When a bomb goes off in an American housing compound, a crack FBI investigation team (Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman) manages to gain short-term access to the country (which is utterly unlikely) to investigate the attack with explosive consequences (which are even more unlikely).
At the level of entertainment, the movie is a success. It grips from the very beginning and the tension never lets up. Bombs and bullets are flying everywhere and there is more than enough action. At the level of education, it could be worse, especially from a director (Peter Berg) not noted for being cerebral in his work.
During the opening credits, we have a very rapid but interesting history of Saudia Arabia, which goes beyond the usual distinction between Sunni and Shia to highlight the role of the Wahhabi movement. In this slightly more nuanced examination of the war on terror than we usually have from Hollywood, not all the Americans are good and not all the Arabs - notably a character played by Ashraf Barhom - is bad.
"Kingdom Of Heaven"
With his brilliant "Gladiator", director Ridley Scott revived the sword and sandal genre; since then, we have had "King Arthur, "Troy" and "Alexander", none of which equalled the Roman triumph. Now Scott himself returns to the theme with a movie which seeks to proclaim a grander political message than "Gladiator" but which lacks the pace and excitement. His message here - post the trauma of 9/11 - is that it is possible, and indeed necessary, for the great world religions of Christianity and Islam to co-exist in a spirit of mutual tolerance and even respect. Perhaps predictably, Scott has been criticised both for being anti-Islamic and for being an apologist for the Muslim view. Howver, the last time I saw a cinematic effort to advocate such a theme on such a scale was the classic "El Cid" of 1961.
In "Kingdom Of Heaven", the setting is a brief period of peace in the war of the Crusades when at the end of the 12th century the King of Jerusalem Baldwin IV (a metal-masked Ed Norton) and the Saracen General Saladin (Syrian actor Ghassan Massound) brokered a peace that was threatened by fundamentalists on both sides. If one needs more resonances with the present, one recalls that the birthplace of Saladin, Tikrit in modern-day Iraq, is also that of Saddam Hussein and the most dangerous of the fundamentalists are the Christian Templars whose supposed heirs are to be found in Dan Brown's bestseller "The Da Vinci Code" and, in spirit at least, among the neo-cons in the Bush Administration.
The central role is taken by Orlando Bloom - who has already seen a good deal of swordplay in "The Lord Of The Rings" - as Balian, a blacksmith in rural France who one day finds that he is the son of a knight (the always impressive Liam Neeson) and almost as quickly is transported to Jerusalem, becoming a magnificant sword fighter and military strategist. As if this was not fortune enough, the freckle-faced local beauty Sibylla (the French Eva Green) makes it clear that she is happy to do her bit for cultural unity, although - given the sensibilities of American viewers - there is not a hint of nudity or sex (now violence is no problem for the US moral guardians). Costumes, sets, sound and music are all of a high order. The script is written by William Monahan and has clearly been well-researched - most of the leading characters (including Balian) existed and all the key events actually took place - but it lacks the characterisation and depth of a work like "Gladiator" or, to go back many years, "Lawrence Of Arabia" (directed by David Lean who is much admired by Scott).
Shot on location in Spain and Morocco and utilising wonderful effects, it looks stunning, especially the recreation of Jerusalem itself and the October 1187 savage assault of the city with siege towers and massive catapults which makes "The Alamao" look like a tea party. Blood spurts and sprays all over the place and yet ironically the work would have benefited from a few more scenes of conflict since it sags in parts. Indeed, at one point, we seem to be promised the mother of all conflicts (actually the July 1187 Battle of Hittin), when the scene suddenly switches to the aftermath of the massacre with dead bodies everywhere. In short, the two-and-a-half-hour "Kingdom Of Heaven" is a politically and cinematically ambitious and worthy work that deserves praise for both its intentions and execution but falls short of the classic that it might have been.
Link: the real Balian click here
"The King's Speech"
In one sense, this subject - the unexpected and (by him especially) unwanted accession to the throne of Prince Albert as King George VI - is an obvious choice for a British film for we love tales about the monarchy - think of "Elizabeth", "Elizabeth: The Golden Age", "The Madness Of King George", "The Young Victoria, "Mrs Brown", "The Queen" ... On the other hand, an instance of extreme stammering would seem to be a most unsuitable subject for a medium which is all about fluency in both words and vision. Yet the outcome is a triumph.
Considerable credit goes first to scriptwriter David Seidler, who was attracted to the project as a one-time stammerer, while director Tom Hooper - whose television mini-series "John Adams" I enjoyed so very much - has crafted a wonderful work that will bring special pride to his father whom I know professionally.
Fresh from his superb performance in "A Single Man", Colin Firth provides a superlative portrayal of the psychologically damaged George, known to his family - and (impertinently) his speech therapist - as Bertie. While magnificent Aussie Geoffrey Rush was the one with the mental problems in "Shine", here he is the one with the (considerably unorthodox) response, therapist Lionel Logue who provides compensating techniques and much-needed friendship. Helena Bonham Carter is perfect as George's wife and (an Australian affecting a splendid English accent) Guy Pearce is ideal as George's brother.
But this is a rare jewel of a movie - one with not a wasted or weak line of dialogue, one with not a less than accomplished and convincing piece of acting however small the role. There is plenty of humour and tenderness in a story that ends in a personal triumph: the speech at the end, which is one of the two allusions in the clever title, when you hang on every word as Beethoven belts out.
"Kingsman: The Secret Service"
If you enjoyed the 2010 movie "Kick-Ass" (and I certainly did), you'll be joyously entertained by "Kingsman". That's no accident since the films have the same British director Matthew Vaughan and the same British writer Jane Goldman (aka Mrs Jonathan Ross). Whereas "King-Ass" was a twist on the super-hero genre, "Kingsman" is a homage to the spy caper with particular reference to the earlier Bond movies. While "King-Ass" was wonderfully violent, "Kingsman" at times presents a gore-fest, notably in over the top sequences involving a fight scene in a church and heads exploding to accompanying music.
It is a cleverly constructed work with excitement from the opening seconds, a narrative that fairly zips along, and lots of wry humour. And it deliberately pitches for a wide audience with a host of older familiar stars (Colin Firth, Michael Caine, Samuel L Jackson) plus a raft of new younger talent (Taron Egerton as the working class young buck, Sophie Cookson as his side kick, and Sofia Boutella as his intended nemesis). Sometimes it is all a little too contrived, with the device of a line of dialogue repeated later in a slighly different context used over and over again, but it is all so much fun you forgive such contrivances.
The plan is that "Kingsman" will become a franchise and early in the credits a scene sets up the central charater for the next movie.
America has always had a complex and confused relationship with sex. On the one hand, the country generates the largest volume of pornography in the world; on the other hand, it has an almost puritanical public attitude to any portrayal of sex in the mainstream media. In the 1940s and 1950s, Dr Alfred Kinsey was the personification of this ambivalence: a man who pioneered a new detached, scientific analysis of sexual behaviour, while himself exhibiting a confusing mixture of loyalty and lasciviousness in his relationships.
Writer and director Bill Condon cleverly uses the narrative device of framing the film around the idea of Kinsey being the subject of one of his own questionnaires. This enables us to learn about his troubled upbringing with a repressed and repressive father, his total lack of sex until his marriage at the age of 30, his ground-breaking research at the conservative mid-western Indiana University, and his experimentation with homosexuality and masochism while endorsing partner-swopping by members of his research team. In the eponymous role, Liam Neeson gives his best performance since his recreation of other real-life figures in "Michael Collins" and "Schindler's List". As his open-minded but long-suffering wife, Laura Linney gives an Oscar-nominated showing. Peter Sarsgarrd is sensitive and subtle as Kinsey's colleague, friend and lover, while Lynn Redgrave has a cameo role that is so powerful her scene should have been the ending of the movie.
The film contains much explicit discussion of sex, but the only depiction of intercourse is an end credits sequence of black-and-white film from the Kinsey archives showing copulation between animals, and the only nudity is a couple of brief shots of a full frontal male. So this is not a work to excite or even titillate but to inform and provoke. "Kinsey" is a brave and timely movie that dares to remind us that, as recently as half a century ago, the USA treated sex as the great unmentionable, to be carried out with one person in one position for the simple gratification of men, and, while we are far from slipping back to that view, sections of society still have great difficulty in accepting the variety of sexual practices and orientations.
"Kissing Jessica Stein"
This is such a fresh and enjoyable romantic comedy with the twist that it centres on two basically straight New York women who experiment with a lesbian relationship. It could so easily have been prurient or embarrassing or just plain sexist, but that it succeeds so well and so endearingly is down to Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen.
These two wrote and performed the original off-off-Broadway play and have now successfully transfered their scripting and thespian talents to the screen. Westfeldt plays the eponymous Jessica, a Jewish singleton who sets impossible standards for both herself and her male suitors, while Juergensen is the cooler Helen who seduces Jessica into trying something Sapphic. The dialogue and acting are very naturalistic and, together with direction by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, it makes for entertaining, if undemanding, viewing.
> "The Kite Runner"
I was enormously impressed and moved by the first novel from Khaled Hosseini, a tale of the friendship of two Afghan boys: Amir, aged 12 when we first meet him in Kabul and Hassan, the runner of the title - the former Pashtun, Sunni and wealthy; the latter Hazara, Shia and poor. To bring such a rich text to the screen was always going to be a hugely challenging enterprise and director Marc Foster and writer David Benioff have achieved a qualified success. A brave decision was made to use local languages so, most of the time, the characters speak in Dari (and bits of Pashtu and Urdu), although the scenes in America are in English. An unknown cast - including two impressive child actors - and an unusual location - various parts of China standing in for Afghanistan - make this a very distinctive work that is miles away from the usual commercial Hollywood fare.
Understandably, given the limitations of running time, the film concentrates on the human relationships and misses out most of the history and the politics that underline the power of the novel. Even then, so much narrative is squeezed into just two hours, that there is no time to show the real nature and depth of the boys' friendship and, for all its efforts, the movie does not quite convey the emotional rawness of the novel. Where the moving image can and does score over the written text, however, is in the depiction of the kite flying which acts as bookends to the narrative, giving a slightly more uplifting ending to the film version of the story.
It is bitterly ironic that "The Kite Runner" has been banned in Afghanistan itself after government officials claimed it could incite violence. To everyone who can see the film, I would heartily commend it.
The oddly-named John Klute (Donald Sutherland) is a private detective tasked with investigating the disappearance of a businessman who was a friend and the only clue seems to be his apparent correspondence with a New York prostitute called Bree Daniel (Jane Fonda). Producer and director Alan J Pakula created a work that is both thematically and visually very dark, although there is the odd moment of tenderness. Fonda is particularly good and won an Academy Award for her engaging performance.
"Knight And Day"
This action comedy is all rather contrived (starting with the never-explained title) and certainly rather silly (involving a battery of great power but unfortunate unrealiability), yet it is nevertheless entertaining and made very watchable by its two appealling stars: Tom Cruise as an FBI agent in trouble with the agency and Cameron Diaz as an innocent citizen who gets caught up in an early subterfuge. Some of the stunts are fun, with Cruise as usual doing most of his own role's himself, but the CGI is rather obvious.
This movie - the surprise low-budget success of summer 2007 - is the latest in a growing line of 'nerd gets girl' rom-com fantasies which have included "High Fidelity", "The Wedding Singer" and "There's Something About Mary". Written and directed by Judd Apatow, who gave us "The 40-Year Old Virgin", this stars Seth Rogen as Ben Stone, an overweight slacker in all departments, who manages to bed Katherine Heigl as Alison Scott, the beautiful and aspiring television production assistant about to go in front of the cameras. Their drunken one-night stand becomes immensely more complicated when Alison finds that she is pregnant and wants the baby.
"Knocked Up" is really two films aimed at different demographics and, over the two hours, it veers from one to the other. There is the gross-out comedy full of crudity and profanity aimed at (mainly male) teenagers and then there is the perceptive, even moving, examination of the trials and the joys of commitment, marriage, pregnancy and parenthood targeted mainly at both men and women in their 20s and 30s. The first theme has some very funny lines and situations, but for me all these cinematic references to masturbation need to be taken in hand. The second theme is more intelligent and true-to-life, while still being wry and amusing, and is made genuinely poignant by the engaging performances of the two leads, ably supported by Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd as Alison's sister and brother-in-law representing a warning vision of how adulthood can so often work out.
A most unusual title for a most unusual film. The term 'koyaanisqatsi' is a Hopi Indian word meaning 'life out of balance'. This is a breathtakingly original work with no plot, no characters, and no dialogue. Instead, using time lapse, slow motion, aerial and infra-red photography, producer and director Godfrey Reggio and cinematographer Ron Fricke present some brilliant imagery of contemporary America suffused by atmospheric music from Philip Glass. Following shots of a pristine vision of our fragile earth, in a powerful ecological message we see how man and machine have damaged and desecrated it. The work, released in 1982, was followed by "Powaqatsi" (1988) and "Naqoyqatsi" (2002) to make up a trilogy.
Link: official web site click here
Great title, reminiscent of "THX 1138" from George Lucas. However, although this might sound like another science fiction movie - which initially put off my wife - it is in fact an earth-bound tale devoid of special effects. Kevin Space, as a character called Prot, is either a visitor from a planet called K-PAX who can travel faster than the speed of light or someone very seriously mentally ill with complex and detailed delusions. Assigned to find out is Jeff Bridges as Dr Mark Powell who - on his own admission - becomes too deeply involved in the mystery.
Spacey, an actor with an 'otherworldliness' about him and a surname to match, is utterly believable as the benevolent and insightful alien with a consuming taste for fruit. Of course, Bridges has been here before and performs well as the doctor who often cares more about his patients than his family. He was himself a visitor from outer space in "Starman" and he was a psychiatrist again in "Vanilla Sky". Indeed so well cast are the two that it's hard to imagine that originally Spacey was going to be the shrink and Will Smith was slated to be the spaceman.
There are some good lines ("I've got a light beam to catch"), but unfortunately it all looks rather familiar. The idea of a man with seemingly magic powers was done in "Phenomenon" and the cathartic revelations in the psychiatrist's office is straight out of "The Prince Of Tides". Although there is much sentimentally, the ending is uncharacteristically down-beat and - unless you're like me and watch all the credits - you'll miss a tiny scene at the very end of this particular rainbow.
Set around the Los Angeles Police Department in the 1950s, this is quite simply one of the best crime movies ever made. A clever but complex plot involving shifting loyalties and alliances, fast-moving and often explosive action, and a set of superb performances make this a work which has to be seen more than once.
Although the script was by Brian Hegleland, it is based on the novel by James Ellroy whose mother was brutally murdered when he was 10. The assured direction is by Curtis Hanson who earlier made "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle". The central performances focus on a quartet of cops - Kevin Spacey as image-conscious Jack Vincennes, Russell Crowe as pugnacious Bud White, Guy Pearce as ruthlessly ambitious college boy Ed Exley and James Cromwell as their hard-bitten captain Dudley Smith - but Danny de Vito and Kim Bassinger also star in a film that grabs you from the start and never lets go.
I chose to watch this film because it stars the British actress Kate Winslet. I reckon that this is the 10th movie in which I have seen her - all the way from "Heavenly Creatures" to "Contagion" - and she never gives a less than an impressive performance. This is one of her best yet. On this occasion, she plays a traumatised single mother in a small American town who suddenly finds herself under the control of an escaped convict played ably by Josh Brolin.
The story takes place mainly over a Labor Day weekend but, in the course of the film, there are flashbacks relating to the lives of both the principals and, at the end, we jump forward in time. The whole thing is seen through the eyes of the young boy that is the son of the Winslet character and the screenplay - written by the director Jason Reitman - is based on a novel by Joyce Maynard. The narrative is slow, increasingly tense and ultimately moving and, while there is no sex, there is plenty of sensuality in this accomplished work. A peach pie has never looked so erotic.
Making a commercial film about a struggle for human rights and democracy is a real struggle because most audiences want entertainment and not politics. So the producers have to find an 'angle'. In 1987, "A World Apart" told the story of the fight against apartheid in South Africa but through the prism of the strain that this put on ANC activist Ruth First's relationship with her young daughter. A similar approach is used here in this account of the life of Aung San Suu Kyi, the eponymous lady and leader of the National League for Democracy in the dictatorship that has ruled Burma for most of the period since post-war independence from Britain. So it is not politics as such which is to the fore here but Suu Kyi's relationship with her husband, Oxford academic Michael Aris, and most especialy the regime's brutal refusal to allow Aris to see his wife one last time when he was dying of prostate cancer. It is a gut-wrenchingly sad tale.
Malaysian-born actress Michelle Yeoh - a Bond girl in "Tomorrow Never Dies" and pugilist star of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" - looks perfect in the leading role, giving a performance which, while often understated, is deeply moving. David Thewlis (various "Harry Potter" films and "The Boy With The Striped Pyjamas") is very effective as the long-suffering husband. The exotic locations and local faces in Thailand serve the movie well and original music by the French Eric Serra plus some Mozart enhance the emotional power of the work. It is perhaps no surprise that the script for what is in essence a love story comes from a female writer - the British Rebecca Frayn - but one might not expect the identity of the director for this Anglo-French film: Luc Besson, best known for such action movies as "Nikita", "Leon" and "The Fifth Element".
"The Lady" may be a bit one-dimensional and lack nuance, but it highlights a long struggle for human rights that is not sufficiently well-known and the timing of its release (I saw it in January 2012) is poignant. When filming started, Suu Kyi was still under house arrest, as she had been in total for some 15 years, but by the time the film was finished she had been released. At the end of the movie, the iron grip of the regime and the number of political prisoners are highlighted but, in the weeks around the film's release, the generals instituted a series of liberalisation measures including the freeing of most political prisoners. If all this augurs an era of genuine democracy in Burma, "The Lady" will be a wonderful testimony to the power of personal courage and sacrifice to effect political change.Link: Wikipedia page on Aung San Suu Kyi click here
"The Lake House"
"Speed" was such a success for Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves that it must have seemed an exciting idea to bring them back together again for the first time since that 1994 hit. Bullock can certainly act - given the right role - as we saw in "Crash", although I personally feel that Reeve's acting range is distinctly limited. So the prospects probably seemed fair for this renewed pairing in which Bullock plays a hospital doctor and Reeves an unfulfilled architect, both in Chicago, but - and here's the rub - separated by two years in time.
They connect with one another through a stream of letters and this literary device could have worked much better in a novel and apparently did adequately as the South Korean movie "Il Mare" on which this Hollywood offering is based. Here, though, the whole thing seems stilted when it isn't downright ridiculous. There is simply no attempt to explain why these lovers are separated by 24 months, let alone how they manage to defy the laws of time and space to come together. So the whole thing is slow, unconvincing and unappealing.
Argentinian director Alejandro Agresti offers us some zippy camerawork and attractive shots of Chicago's architecture and the house itself is impressive if you like living in a goldfish bowl on stilts. Sadly, however, "The Lake House" is likely to sink with little trace.
"Land And Freedom"
Directed by the committed British Ken Loach, this was a British/Spanish/German co-production about the Spanish Civil War with half the dialogue in English and half in Spanish with subtitles. The work demands a lot of the viewer with, at one stage, a prolonged political debate between the political factions, but there is some good acting - especially from Ian Hart as the unemployed Liverpudlian who volunteers for the International Brigade - and some dramatic action sequences.
The viewpoint is that of the Republican side and it is fiercely uncompromising in its stance, claiming that the Stalinist Communist Party sabotaged the revolution by liquidating the Trotskyist POUM (and the anarchists). Although no doubt well-intentioned, the film is rather confusing for those who know little about the factional differences and too one-sided and simplistic in its support for the Militia viewpoint.
"The Land Girls"
When the men went off to fight the Second World war, the world of work was transformed by the influx of women - a phenomenon little explored in film. The implications for factory work was examined in the 1980 American documentary "The Life And Times Of Rosie The Riveter", while this 1998 British film - directed and co-written by David Leland - provides a fictional look at the role of the Women's Land Army through the experiences of three attractive city girls: working class hairdresser Prue (Anna Friel), middle class graduate Ag (Rachel Weisz), and quiet Stella (Catherine McCormack). The man in the middle of all the fields and the fornication is farmer's son Joe (Steven Mackintosh).
Another star of the film is the beautiful countryside of Devon and Somerset, while a Spitfire flown by Mark Hanna makes a cameo appearance. Like another movie set on the land in wartime - "Another Time, Another Place" (1983) - this is based on a novel by a female author, in this case Angela Huth. She has created three wonderful roles for young British actresses and David Leland has brought the book to life with a marvellous evocation of the period and an accomplished combination of humour and pathos.
Calvin Allan writes:
This Australian film opens with the (fully-clothed) body of a dead woman hidden deep in a lantana - a dense, thorny bush which forms a metaphor for the film's treatment of its central characters: four couples whose lives are interweaved in a complex, but very believable way. As the film evolves, it does not become evident which one of the women is the victim until towards the end. By then, we care deeply about the reasons for her disappearance and the motives, and even more so, for what it has to say both about those who are involved with her on the screen and, by extension, ourselves as viewers bringing to it our own complex relationships.
It is no coincidence that one of the characters is a therapist - perhaps as much for ourselves as for the on-screen characters. In an absorbing, gritty (and appropriately shot) film that has much to say about the state of the human - and specifically the male - condition, Anthony LaPaglia, the male lead, is utterly compelling as an Australian detective undergoing his own mid-life crises, a tough role to which he brings immense realism and, ultimately, pathos. Despite the difficult nature of the film's central themes, it is not without its moments of humour and its ending outlines a hopeful, if fragile, future.
Note: At the time that Calvin submitted this review to me, I had not seen "Latana". I have subsequently viewed it twice and fully endorse his positive assessment. This is a finely-plotted work with a carefully-constructed narrative that engages and challenges in equal measure.
"Lara Croft: Tomb Raider"
There are far too few strong roles for women in the cinema, so bringing electronic game icon Lara Croft to the big screen was a wonderful idea and 26 year old American actress Angelina Jolie is perfect physically for the role, even managing a competent English accent, like her compatriots Gwyneth Paltrow ("Sliding Doors") and Renee Zellweger ("Bridget Jones's Diary") before her. Her sardonic tone and sassy swagger are just right. In another neat bit of casting, real life dad Jon Voight plays her deceased father in flash backs.
Director Simon West does a competent job. The locations are wonderful - most notably the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, but also Iceland, Venice and Hartfield House in rural England - and the action scenes are fast, furious and fun. A pity then that the plot is so weak (finding the key to time and space before the wicked Illuminati get hold of it) and some characterisation would certainly have been in order (where did Lara learn to shoot two huge guns simultaneously?). Jolie has signed a two-sequel contract, so let's hope that the franchise will become better.
Footnote: Jolie told an interviewer: "I'll make it real simple. I'm a 36C. In the game, Lara is a double-D. In the movie, she's a D. So we split the difference and made her more athletic".
"Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life"
This movie has had a tough time from the critics, but really its weaknesses and strengths are very similar to the original outing - and that grossed almost $300M worldwide. There are worse things in life than spending two hours watching someone with Angelina Jolie's animalistic eyes, bee-stung lips and engaging figure knocking hell out of the bad guys, while performing swirling gymnastics and sporting two huge guns.
Jan de Bont ("Speed") has taken over as director. Again the plot is simple and silly: some megalomaniac (an unimpressive Ciarán Hinds) wants to gain access to an object that will give him unprecedented power over the world (this time it's Pandora's Box which can only be located through a golden orb). Again the script is weak when not risible. But again the locations are wonderful (Greece, Hong Kong and Kenya) and the action non-stop. An extra bonus is Scotsman Gerard Butler who brings a real physicality to his role as a renegade agent and some emotional vulnerability to Croft's tough exterior.
Oh dear, I so wanted to like this movie - but I felt so let down. Tom Hanks, as the eponymous affable store assistant dismissed because he doesn't have a college degree (isn't that illegal?), and Julia Roberts, as an (unlikely) college professor cynically giving speech classes, are two of the most likeable stars of a certain age in the Hollywood firmament and the idea of a romance between middle-aged characters seemed so refreshing after moviedom's excessive focus on pubescent teens. Yet this is a rom-com with too little rom and very little com.
Sadly we have to hold Hanks responsible since he is the director (his second effort after "That Thing You Do!") as well as the lead actor and he even co-writes the script which is so lame and limp. Really, giving up an SVU for a scooter and hanging out with kids who think it's cool to wear your shirt out, click your fingers and practice feng shui is not exactly the sort of life-changing drama that too many American workers are experiencing from the current recession.
Once again Hanks is playing Mr Everyman who finds himself a fish out of water, but he has done this so, so much better in movies ranging from "Big" to "Forrest Gump" and this feeble effort was never going to be his crowning achievement.
"The Last Castle"
Film legend Robert Redford gives a controlled, understated performance as an American three-star general charged with a crime he does not contest and condemned to serve in a maximum security military prison - the castle of the title. He quickly finds that the institution is commanded by an obsessive and cruel warden impressively played by James Gandolfini. A psychological battle of minds takes place between the two men to achieve control of the inmates and ultimately the prison itself. At one point, a soldier guarding the institution assures the warden that the former general may have won the hearts and minds of the prisoners but the military staff still have the inmates' balls. Who will win this contest and at what cost? As the movie unfolds, the action is ramped up higher and higher while the whole thing becomes more and more implausible. But, as entertainment, it works well enough.
"Last Chance Harvey"
Harvey Shine is an American jingle writer at serious risk of losing his job as he jets over to London for the wedding of his daughter where he is assigned a peripheral role compared to her step-father. Kate Walker works at Heathrow airport conducting passenger surveys and is a middle-aged single women still caring for an emotionally dependent mother. How these lost souls find each and friendship is the simple, gentle story of this movie aimed at an older and more feminine demographic than your Hollywood blockbuster. In many ways, this is a very British work - written and directed by Londoner Joel Hopkins, shot frequently on the capital's South Bank and other familiar tourist locations, and featuring an Autumnal setting that reflects the age of the lead characters.
It is a slight, but engaging, tale and told with a script that could have been trite in the hands of lesser actors, but the casting is superb and absolutely makes the movie. Dustin Hoffman as Harvey is now in his seventies but looks a decade younger; he is an outstanding actor and even wrote the 'father of the bride' speech and composed and performed the jiggle that opens the film. Emma Thompson (now 50 but still so lovely) as Kate is brilliant; she can convey so much with an expression or a walk and gives a genuinely nuanced performance. These are naturalistic actors who can do pathos and humour with equal talent and who do not rush their lines and can communicate with a pause. It's love actually.
"The Last King Of Scotland"
Based on a novel by Giles Foden, this tells the story of the friendship between a fictional young Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) and the all too real Ugandan dictator Idi Amin (Forester Whitaker) who took the country into the bowels of hell during his period as president from 1971-1979. The Garrigan character was loosely inspired by the experience of Bob Astles, a British soldier and diplomat who was one of Amin's confidants, while many aspects of Amin's personality as portrayed in the film and many of the events depicted - such as the expulsion of the Ugandan Asians and the holding of Israeli hostages at Entebbe airport - are the stuff of history.
Scottish director Kevin Macdonald has produced a fine work which was largely shot in Uganda itself and made good use of local music. McAvoy is excellent as the naïve doctor who gets in way above his head, but it is Whitaker who is outstanding as the eponymous tyrant, switching from affable father figure to nervous paranoid to chilling psycopath - a performance which won him the Academy Award for Best Actor.
'Last Night" (1998)
If you knew that the world was going to end in six hours, how would you spend the remaining time? I know .. but besides that? This is a low budget Canadian film that addresses some of these issues with dry, mordant humour. It comes from Don McKellar who wrote and directed the work and takes the leading role. He explores a range of reactions from the college mate who wants to have sex in every conceivable situation and variation, to the gas company official who calls every subscriber to thank them for their custom. The ending is perfect.
"Last Night" (2010)This is a movie for grown ups, both because of the pacing (leisurely) and the subject matter (the threat of marital infidelity). It is the feature debut of Iranian-American writer/producer/director Massy Tadjedin and she has created an assured and nuanced piece of work. The married couple are Michael (Australian Sam Worthington) and Joanna (British Keira Knightley) and the risks come from Michael's overnight business trip to Philadelphia with vivacious colleague Laura (Cuban-American Eva Mendes) and Joanna's encounter with charming Alex, a former lover visiting New York (French Guillaume Canet). Will they? Won't they? And will they tell? It is almost painfully authentic.
"The Last Samurai"
The critics have not been overly supportive of this movie, but it is one of the best action-adventure films since "Gladiator" - intelligently scripted and well-paced with an emotive soundtrack. It is far more exciting than "Master And Commander" with well-choreographed fights and stunning battle sequences, while the visceral violence is even more gripping than in "The Return Of The King". Set almost exclusively in Japan in 1876 with a good deal of Japanese dialogue, this is far more respectful of oriental culture than "Lost In Translation" and reminiscent of "Dances With Wolves" in its appreciation of the 'native' way of life. In fact, it was largely shot in New Zealand and the cinematographer is simply wonderful, while the weaponry and costumery are impressively authentic.
Tom Cruise plays Nathan Aldgren, an American civil war veteran who is still revolted and traumatised by the role he played in the indian wars. In the life of the samurai, he finds the honour and dignity that give purpose to life - and death - and, when taken captive by them, soon goes 'native'. Ken Wanatabe is noble in the eponymous role and indeed all the Japanese actors give deeper performances than their Hollywood counterparts. If director Edward Zwick - who did so well with "Glory" - had dispensed with the narration and ended the movie with the conclusion of the final battle, this would have been an even stronger work, but it is still superior entertainment.
The film is loosely based on the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877.
Link: Wikipedia page on the Satsuma rebellion click here
"The Last Seduction"
In a role reminiscent of an early Kathleen Turner in “Body Heat” (1981), Linda Fiorentino is simply brilliant as a manipulative, ball-breaking femme fatale willing to do anything to keep her ill-gotten dollars. Peter Berg plays the small-town guy taken for the ride of his life, while Bill Pullman is the one who swindled the money in the first place. I came very late to this movie and I simply can’t understand why Fiorentino hasn’t become a star (all I’ve seen her in is “Men In Black”). This is a film noir that is sexy, funny, violent, and totally amoral.
"The Last Station"
There's something quite compelling about a film with the word 'last' in the title and I can recall "The Last Emperor", "The Last Of The Mohicans", "The Last Samurai", "The Last Seduction" and "The Last Starfighter", to name a few in this vein. The eponymous railway station in this case is Astapovo in southern Russia, a location of which the world would have remained blissfully unaware if it had not been the place of death of the acclaimed author Leo Tolstoy in 1910.
This German-Russian film with mainly American and British actors was both written and directed by the American Michael Hoffman who took as his source material the 1990 novel of the same name by the American academic Jay Parini. Christopher Plummer is the 82 year old Tolstoy, torn between family and acolytes, while Helen Mirren (herself part Russian) plays his long-suffering wife and mother of his 13 children - both excellent performances that received Academy Award nominations. Paul Giambatti is Tolstoy's chief disciple Vladimir Chertkov and James McAvoy is secretary to the great author - two more fine portrayals.
There is some wonderful cinematography, aided by the use of a variety of locations in Germany and a few in Russia (including Tolystoy's home of Yasnaya Polyana). Altogether an intelligent and instructive film.
"Lawless" is a brilliant film: beautifully photographed, superbly acted, exploding with brutal violence, yet leavened with two touching romances. It is said to be based on a true story and the source material is a book by the grandson of the narrator entitled "The Wettest County in The World".It is hard to imagine now but, for almost 14 years, American democracy banned the consumption of alcohol through a constitutional change in a notorious period known as Prohibition from 1920-1933. "Lawless" tells the story of one family of bootleggers in Franklin County, Virginia - the three Bondurant brothers: taciturn leader Forrest (Tom Hardy), the manic oldest brother Howard (Jason Clarke), and the initially mild youngest brother Jack (Shia Labeouf). Setting himself up as their intended nememsis is a sadistic lawman played by Guy Pearce. But this is a movie where even the support roles are filled by talented actors, so Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska and Gary Oldman make this a star-studded work.
"Lawless" is a combination of the urban gangster and the rural western, but it is especially resonant of "The Godfather Part 1" with its emphasis on family, its sympathy for the lawbreakers, and its disturbing violence. Australian director John Hillcoat is clearly a rising talent.
Incidentally "Lawless" is one of the very few cases where an uncensored version has never been released in its country of origin. While the US releases only offer the censored version, the uncensored version is only available in foreign countries.
The modern tradition of the violent and sardonic London 'in yer face' gangster movie - starting with "The Long Good Friday" and continuing through "Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch" - is continued here with a movie that is the directorial debut of Matthew Vaughn who worked as producer on the last two of the aforementioned films. It is an impressive first work with a flashy directorial style and clever use of the camera that draws the viewer uncomfortably into the action. The violence is often brutal, but it is more a matter of hearing what is happening and seeing the consequences than witnessing the actual physical blows.
What ultimately makes "Layer Cake" more evocative of the American "GoodFellas" than "Lock, Stock .." and the rest is its creation of a terrifying nightmare world of drugs and deceit, murder and mayhem, and cross and doublecross. At times, it is not clear what is happening, but the action is never less than compelling and this is a tough cake to swallow. Most of the cast is unfamiliar (the principal exception being Michael Gambon as the figure at the top of the cake) and, in the central and narrating role, Daniel Craig is particularly convincing as the suave unnamed crook trying to leave this mad world and spend some of his illgotten gains with newcomer Sienna Miller (who has one of only two female roles in this very male movie).
If one had to encapsulate this film in one word, it would be 'tight' - tight in the sustained tension throughout every one of its 93 minutes; tight in its concentration on the first 24 hours of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon; above all, tight in locating the whole work inside the claustrophobic confines of a tank holding four young and inexperienced IDF soldiers. It invites comparison with other war movies: with the American "The Hurt Locker" - released about the same time - for its total focus on a small group operating in the scariest of circumstances; with the Israeli "Waltz With Bashir" for its examination of an ill-conceived war where it was impossible to know who was friend and who was foe; with the German "The Boat" for its unremitting location inside a machine of war that is itself vulnerable.
"Lebanon" was written and debut directed by Samuel Maoz who was himself a young recruit and tank gunner in the war of 1982 and who only now is able to articulate some of the horrors he witnessed in that conflict. Inside the film's vehicle is the statement: "Tanks are made of iron. Men are made of steel." But Maoz quickly makes it clear that these men are made of flesh and blood and raw nerves; they are soon lost physically, emotionally and morally. As he put it in an interview: "You cannot be in hell without tasting the food."
There are certainly elements of cliche in this work and the perspective is monocular in more than one sense, but seeing "Lebanon" is a truly visceral experience with a series of profoundly disturbing images and a brilliant deployment of sound. For me, the most unsettling section was a soliloquy by a Phalangist to a Syrian. In that conversation, one sees literally face to face the inhumanity of man to man. I saw the film with a teenage Israeli planning to join the Israeli army who has the same name as one of the soldiers in the movie. The thought that he could be in those circumstances and have to make those decisions chills me.
"The Lego Movie"
How often does one go to the cinema at 11.15 am on a week day morning? But the place was packed. Admittedly it was half-term and this children's film had just been released. My wife and I took along her nephew's daughter (8) and son (5) and they absolutely loved it.
The main character Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) is a construction worker who loves to sing "everything is awesome" while constantly being reminded to "follow the instructions". His world is controlled by President Business and his hordes of Micro Managers. Some have criticised the film as anti-business but it is really anti-conformity to over-restrictive rules.
The whole thing is one continous marketing exercise but children will love recognising the multicoloured bricks and familiar mini-figures. The plot is a simplistic good vs evil tale but the last 20 minutes make it a little bit cleverer than that. Already it has achieved outstanding commercial success, so the brand guys will be thrilled and the sequels will follow.
What a wonderful movie - so different and so stylish. Directed by Luc Besson ("Nikita"), it is a kind of love story between the eponymous gristled French professional hitman (Jean Reno) and 12 year old abused American girl Matilda (Natalie Portman, subsequently seen as Queen Amidala in the "Star Wars" films) who are thrown together by circumstance. They give wonderful performances - as does Gary Oldman as a psychotic cop - in a work where lots of dramatic tension and explosive violence are balanced with humour and tenderness to produce a real hit.
"Letters From Iwo Jiwa"
I've been a massive fan of Clint Eastwood's directorial talents ever since "Play Misty For Me" (1971), so the arrival in 2006 of a diptych on the Battle of Iwo Jiwa - the American viewpoint in "Flags Of Our Fathers" and the Japanese perspective in "Letters From Iwo Jiwa" - was genuinely exciting.
There are some similarities. Both are based on books - this one on "Picture Letters from Commander in Chief" by Tadamichi Kuribayashi, the Japanese commander on Iwo Jima. Both depict the scenes on the island in bleached-out colours. For English-speaking viewers, "Letters .." will be less accessible than "Flags .." since the whole thing is spoken in Japanese and 141 minutes of subtitles will be an effort for some, but the Japanese viewpoint is the better film with a much clearer narrative and an unusually humanistic view of Japanese soldiers. Ken Watanabe - who was introduced to western audiences in "The Last Samurai" - is assured as Kuribayashi in a nuanced performance.
Even today, the bare facts of the battle are astonishing: on the American side, almost 7,000 dead and over 19,000 wounded and, for the Japanese, around 18,000 dead and a mere 200 or so captured alive. This was a revolting taste of what would have happened if the Americans had attempted to take mainland Japan with conventional forces rather than by dropping two atomic bombs. Eastwood is to be commended for giving us two thoughtful views on this seminal battle.
Link: Wikipedia page on the battle of Iwo Jima click here
"Life Is Beautiful"
Although this Italian-language film was critically acclaimed - it won Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Actor and Best Original Dramatic Score - I just couldn’t bring myself to go to the cinema to see a comedy about the Holocaust but, when I saw it on television, I could see that it deserved its reception and the subject is handled sensitively if humorously. It is a triumph for Italy's version of Charlie Chaplin, Roberto Benigni, who directed and co-wrote the film as well as taking the lead role of Jewish-Italian Guido Orifice (at the Academy Awards, he amazed everyone by walking across the backs of the seats to receive his award!). Giorgio Cantarini is endearing as his son, persuaded that confinement in a German concentration camp is actually a fantastical game, and Nicoletta Braschi is beautiful as his Aryan wife who chooses to join them (like every attractive Italian in war-time, she reminds me of my late mother). This is such an unusual film that is patently non-credible, but best seen as a clever and effective satire on the absurdities of racism.
"The Life Of David Gale"
I have admired director Alan Parker's work since "Midnight Express" and I have been a big fan of actor Kevin Spacey since "The Usual Suspects", so this pairing of the two promised much. Here Spacey plays a philosophy academic who is passionately opposed to capital punishment but finds himself convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Thin-some and American-accented Kate Winslet is the investigative journalist who meets him for the first time just four days before the date of execution and becomes convinced of his innocence. I certainly don't object to message movies - and, in this case, I strongly support the message - but, as so often in such works, the case is presented in a one-sided, even histrionic, fashion. All cinema, indeed all art, is manipulative, but this film manipulates its audience in too obvious a fashion.
"Life Of Pi"
When I read Yann Martel's magical 2001 novel a couple of years after it was published, I was aware that there was interest in filming it, but I could not imagine how this would be done. The delay of almost a decade in bringing the story to the screen has worked to the benefit of the enterprise because, as well as attracting the directorial talents of the wonderful Ang Lee - who has made such teriffic films as "Sense And Sensibility", "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Brokeback Mountain" - the technology has developed so much that the combination of Lee's art and CGI science is an absolute triumph.
At the core of the movie is the 227 days that young Indian Pi spends aboard a life boat with only a 450lb Royal Bengal tiger called Richard Parker, a female orang-utan called Orange Juice, a zebra with a broken leg, and a hyena for initial company. Amazingly this part of Pi's life is represented by Suraj Sharma, who has never acted before and even had to be taught to swim, selected from more than 3,000 boys seen, and only 17 at the time of most of the filming in a vast tank of cold water in an abandoned airport in Lee's home nation of Taiwan.
I saw the film as Lee wants it to be seen - in 3D. I confess that I am not a fan of this format and, since the magnificent "Avatar", I've seen little succesful use of it. However, "Life Of Pi" works brilliantly in 3D since it is such a surreal story.
It isn't actually true that we only use a fraction of our brain - as suggested by this movie - but it's certainly the case that sometimes we're much sharper than others and that we can't recall most of what we once knew. So, suppose there was a drug - let's call it NZT - that would enable you to be super-sharp all the time and remember everything you ever knew; suppose you were a writer - let's call him Eddie Morra - who couldn't actually get the words down and had just lost his girlfriend; suppose you were offered a tablet of NZT for free. Would you take it and, if it worked, would you want more? Is the Pope a Catholic?
It's a really good role for young Bradley Cooper as Eddie because he is rarely off the screen and essentially has two roles to play with some disturbing in-between scenes. He also gets to act opposite screen veteran Robert de Niro who is always watchable. Then there's Abbie Cornish, looking sweeter than Sweet Pea in "Sucker Punch", as the girlfriend who knows nothing about NZT and an almost unrecognisable Anna Friel as the ex-wife who knows far too much about NZT.
The structure of the movie works well, opening at a particularly dramatic moment and then flashing back to how the drug-fuelled odyssey began, and the style is entertaining, with some frenetic camerawork that could fool you into thinking you'd actually taken something yourself. But it's all a bit too glossy, with no time to ponder on the wider moral implications of such a wonder drug, and a particularly lame ending.
Many film directors stick to one broad genre or style; some deliberately try to range across genres; and then there is Steven Spielberg who makes two very different types of movie: thrillingly entertaining works usually aimed at young audiences, starting with "E.T. - The Extra-Terrestrial" and "Raiders of The Lost Ark", and serious, worthy, usually historically-based pieces, such as "Schindler's List" and "Munich". "Lincoln" falls squarely in the second category and, like others in this grouping (such as "The Color Purple" and "Amistad"), has the issue of slavery at its heart, in this case the struggle by the 16th President of the United States to persuade the House of Representatives to pass the Thirteen Amendment to the Constitution in January 1865, the 'lame duck' period between his re-election and inauguration and a mere four months before the bloody and protracted Civil War would end.
The restrained direction of Spielberg and the historically-laden script of his writer Tony Kushner expect a lot of non-American audiences who will not be familiar with the Congressional politics of the time, when the Republican Party was actually the liberal wing of the political spectrum, in a narrative which assumes some knowledge of a host of characters and deploys over 100 speaking roles. Those who know little of the iconic Abraham Lincoln will be surprised, maybe even shocked, at the dubious legality of his Emancipation Proclamation and the skulduggery that this wily lawyer deployed to win the neccesary two-thirds majority for the proposed Amendment (as a change to the Constitution, a simple majority was not sufficient).
In the eponymous role, Anglo-Irish Daniel Day-Lewis totally inhabits the part and gives a towering performance with his stooped frame and high-pitched voice. The support roles are played by a strong cast, including Sally Field as Lincoln's troubled wife, David Stratham as his loyal Secretary of State, and Tommy Lee Jones as the ultra-liberal Thaddeus Stevens. The only lightness in a heavy work comes from three political fixers who act as reminders that lobbying has always bedevilled American politics. The cinematography is superb with many scenes shot in bleached-out colours and even dark shadows. In the end, however, "Lincoln" feels more like a rather ponderous exercise in political education than a work than excites the emotions or entertains an audience.
"Lions For Lambs"
The title comes from a comment made during the First World War about British soldiers being lions lead by lambs, but this is an American film about the current "war on terror". The structure is unusual with three contemporaneous and inter-cut 'conversations'.
One takes place in a Senator's office in Washington DC with Tom Cruise as the aspiring politician with a new approach to the war in Afghanistan and Meryl Streep as the doubtful reporter; another is in a college professor's office in California with Robert Redford - who also directs - as the teacher trying to persuade clever student Andrew Garfield to make more of his life; while the last is between an African-American soldier and his badly-wounded Spanish-American comrade as they face superior enemy forces on a nighttime mountain top in Afghanistan. The two office exchanges are wordy and worthy, while the shoot-out necessarily involves few words but immense courage.
Such serious themes and stellar actors could have made for a truly powerful movie, but most of it comes over as a play than than a film and the ending is unsatisfactorily brusque.
"A Little Chaos"
At a time when "F&F7" is dominating box office takings, this could hardly be a more different offering: not so much fast and furious as slow and sedate. It is pitching for a more refined, but inevitably much smaller, audience and its target demographic will find it a qualified success. Modestly enjoyable but unexceptional.
Set at the court of the French King Louis XIV (Alan Rickman) in Versailles (but wholly shot at some splendid British locations), this a well-intentioned, mildly feminist, work that presents a woman landscape designer - the fictional Sabine de Barra (Kate Winslet) - in a world (like most) dominated by men such as the real-life Andreé Le Nôtre (Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts). Not only does she cause a liitle chaos in the gardens, but in the court where, in a surprising couple of scenes, she discovers and exposes the sexism and ageism towards the female aristocracy.
At one level, this is Rickman's film: it is only the second he has directed, he contributed to the script, and he steals certain scenes as the Sun King. However, for me, it was owned by the ever-winsome Winslet. She is somebody one can imagine getting her hands dirty in gardens and standing up for her sex; she is one of the finest British actresses of her generation; and I have never seen her in a role where she did not bring something a little special. But, at the end of the day, "A Little Chaos" has too little going on and too small a budget to be more than an pleasant antidote to the crash-bang-wallop of too many other movies.
This is a very British film: small-scale (it only lasts one and a half hours and the location shooting was in Scarborough), wonderfully scripted (it is based on a play), and full of fine performances (Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent, Ewan McGregor and Brenda Blethyn - who received an Academy Award nomination - all feature). LV is a term of derision for a young woman severely traumatised by the premature death of her devoted, music-loving father and the emotional battering from her overbearingly loud and loquacious mother (Bethyn). Jane Horrocks - who performed the role on stage - is brilliant as the slight figure who can hardly speak but is able to mimic singers such as Judy Garland and Marlyn Monroe. The movie manages to be both immensely funny and heart-warmingly touching.
"Little Women" (1994)
A bit of a chick flick, this one – but then I do have a definite feminine side. The autobiographical novel “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott was published in 1868 and tells the story of four girls in a New England family of the mid 19th century. Such has been its appeal to successive generations of Americans that it has been made into a film three times – by George Cukor in 1933, by Mervyn Le Roy in 1949, and now by Gillian Armstrong. In this notably feminist version, the four youngsters are played by winsome Winona Ryder (Jo – the Alcott character), Claire Danes (Beth), Trini Alvarado (Meg) and Kirsten Dunst (Amy), with Susan Sarandon as the saintly mother and Gabriel Bryne terribly miscast as a German teacher. The movie is beautifully shot with British Columbia standing in for Massachusetts.
"The Lives Of Others"
Commendably German cinema is not afraid to confront the ugly past of the country. We had "The Boat" and "Downfall" on the Nazi era and "Good Bye Lenin!" and now "The Lives Of Others" on the communist period. Like "Good Bye Lenin!" this newest film is set and shot in East Berlin and features the collapse of the Wall in 1989. However, whereas the former was a satire set mostly after the fall of communism, "The Lives Of Others" is a sombre work located overwhelmingly before the demise of the regime.
The film opens with the brutal facts on the formidable size of the secret police apparatus operated by the former East Germany: the Stasi employed 100,000 full-time workers and had an incredible 400,000 informants. In a country of just 17m, there weer 5M personal files. Playright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his lover, the actress Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedek), think that they can survive the worst of the surveillance machine but, when a Government minister decides that he wants Christa-Maria for himself, a chain of events is set in motion which changes everything and everybody.
Surprisingly the greatest changes occur with the Stasi agent assigned to bug the flat of Georg & Christa-Maria. Ulrich Mühe gives an outstanding performance as the intially cold and efficient Gerd Wiesler and the poignancy of his role is only heightened when one remembers that Muhe himself was married to a Stasi agent. At first utterly chilling, he and we are moved by the gradual transformation that goes on in his perspective and behaviour. The Stasi probaly had nobody like Wiesler but, as a cinematic device, the character works well.
It is remarkable that such an assured film could be the début work of 33 year old Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck who both wrote and directed it. Deservedly it won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film of 2006.
article on what was right and what was wrong click here
article on why it could never have really happened click here
"The Long Kiss Goodnight"
Finnish Renny Harlin directed this as a starring vehicle for his (then) wife Geena Davis who - aided by Samuel L Jackson - has a 'tough girl' role reminiscent of "Nikita" or "The Assassin". There is silly dialogue and confused plotting, but a few good one-liners and some good action scenes.
"A Long Way Down"
Can one make a comedy about something as serious as suicide? Well, I guess if the source material is good enough, one can make a comedy about anything (after all, the Italian film "Life Is Beautiful" managed to make a comedy out of the Holocaust). The source material here is yet another book by the talented Nick Hornby ("About A Boy") and voice-overs remind one regularly that this started as a novel, but the film is only a moderate success.
The story revolves around four characters who - in most unlikely fashion - meet for the first time on top of the same tall tower in London on New Year's Eve with the same intention of ending their lives, although for very different reasons. Pierce Brosnan and Aaron Paul are fine but Toni Collette and newcomer Imogen Poots are better. However much the film is played for laughs, one cannot escape the reality that we never know just what is going on in other people's lives and how much we all need friendship and support.
"The Look Of Love"
I had no particular wish to see this bio-pic of British pornographer-in chief-Paul Raymond, even though I was a young man when he was at the height of his fame, but my son is a fan of Steve Coogan and persuaded me to join him in seeing the film.
I find it difficult not to think of Coogan as a comedian but, once I had managed to put that image to the back of my mind, I was impressed by his clever portrayal of Raymond which manages to be a not unsympathetic representation of a man who became filthy rich - at his height the wealthiest man in Britain - by pandering to man's most basic desires.
Coogan is not the only British comedian in the film and somewhat bizarrely and rather distractingly a host of others pop up in one significant role (Chris Addison) and various cameo roles (Stephen Fry, David Walliams, Matt Lucas, Dara O'Briain). However, the most interesting roles go to the trio of women with whom Raymond had deeply troubled relationships: his wife Jean (Anna Friel), his lover Fiona (Tamsin Egerton), and his daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots).
Director Michael Winterbottom (no sniggers, please) has given us lots of nudity before ("Nine Songs"), but here we have massive drug use (at one point, even during childbirth) and, while not without some humour, the whole tawdry narrative is desperately depressing. Raymond finished up a recluse and, by the end of this film, I felt like joining him.
Instead we wandered from London's Curzon Soho cinema, literally round the corner to Soho itself, the scene of Raymond's business ventures and most immediately the cake shop that is featured at the beginning and end of the film.
Shanghai, 2074 - 55 year old Joseph Simmons (Bruce Willis) is sent back 30 years through time travel to be assassinated at the wish of a criminal fraternity which doesn't want the inconvenience of a body in a future when murder is hard to hide. Kansas, 2044 - 25 year old Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt with a nose made to look like that of Wilis) is the eponymous looper whose job is to kill those sent to him for execution, even if it is his older self (a process known as 'closing the loop'). London, 2012 - I enter the cinema excited to see a movie which has received such tremendous reviews but aware that the plotting is going to hurt my head. Writer and director Rian Johnson has given us a wonderfully inventive narrative, but the trouble with time travel movies is that you struggle to understand all the rules and reconcile all the contradictions and then you realise that, try as you might, it really doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
But suspend belief and enjoy the ride for this is an exciting and well-plotted story that grabs you from the beginning and never stops shaking you up. As well as the two leads (good to see Willis still credible as the hard man after so long and encouraging to see Gordon-Levitt's growing success), there are some good support roles, notably Jeff Daniels playing against type as a vicious criminal overlord and the ever-watchable Emily Blunt eschewing her cut-glass English accent for a passable Kansas one. And then there is that cute kid ((Pierce Gagnon) who may not be quite as innocent as he looks. A particularly enjoyable scene is when Old Joe meets Young Joe in a diner which reminded me a little of when Robert de Niro and Al Pacino meet in a similar setting in "Heat".
"Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring"
J.R.R. Tolkien was a professor of medieval literature at Oxford University when he wrote the "Ring" trilogy between 1937 and 1949 and, since their publication in 1954/55, apparently some 100M people have consumed them. I've never read a word of Tolkien and have no desire to do so, but I'm always up for a fantasy film because today's special effects are so brilliant in realising strange, new worlds. Director Peter Jackson shot three films in one mammoth undertaking, taking 15 months and $300M and deploying 300 crew members and 20,000 extras.
Certainly there is much to admire here: an eclectic cast, some fine acting from veterans Ian McKellan (Gandalf) and Christopher Lee (Saruman), magnificent sets, wonderful prosthetics, stunning special effects, terrific battle scenes, soaring camerawork, and the splendidly varied terrain of the director's New Zealand.
But there are many problems too - most of them inherent in the novels themselves. For starters, how can one believe that the saviour of Middle Earth can have a name like Frodo Baggins (played by pop-eyed Elijah Wood)? Indeed, for viewers not familiar with the books, there is a bewildering array of strange names and it's not always clear what's going on. Then there's the lack of female characters, just brief appearances by the ethereal Queen Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and the elf Arwen (Liv Tyler). Next there's the utter ponderousness of it all - this is a work that takes itself so seriously and "Harry Potter" was much more fun. In short, one could say that the film is a triumph of visuals over victuals.
Most seriously of all, there is the poor pacing. The bladder-testing three hour movie is one set-piece battle after another, with no real plot development or build up of the tension. Then, to cap it all, suddenly the film ends in mid air, leaving us to wait for 12 months before we can pick up the story ("The Empire Strikes Back" did this much more successfully). However, real fans will stick it out and Christmas and the "Ring" is set to become a hobbit.
"Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers"
If you've not read "Lord Of The Rings" or seen the first film, "The Two Towers" will be totally bewildering to you, because director Peter Jackson offers no summation of the earlier work but plunges immediately into three new segments. I've not read the book but I have seen the earlier film, so I had some idea of the plot, but I confess that - 12 months on - I can't really remember where the Ring came from and why Frodo Baggins has it. But never mind, like the other movie this is a visual treat and, unlike the original film, we don't have to put up with all that twee stuff in The Shire.
Of the three adventures, the least satisfactory is the wanderings of the Hobbits Merry and Pippin. Personally I could do without talking, walking trees but I suppose that, if they're in the novel, they have to be in the movie. Then there's two more Hobbits - the central hero, bug-eyed Mr Frodo, and his ever-faithful Sam, the gardener - who encounter a strange, schizophrenic creature called the Gollum, brilliantly realised through computer graphics but voiced by and based on the British actor Andy Serkis. By far the best segment is that centred on the warrior Aragorn, the elf Legolas and the dwarf Gimli which climaxes in a stupendous battle where thousands upon thousands of the hulking, clanking Uruk-Hai lay ferocious siege to the fortress at Helm's Deep.
Even more so than "The Fellowship Of The Ring", "The Two Towers" totally marginalises its (very few) female characters and it's clear that Middle Earth is even more of a man's world than this one. Again the landscapes are stunning and the aerial shots breathtaking, while the special effects reflect immense credit on the New Zealand creators. All in all, intoxicating for "Ring" readers, but less than totally satisfactory for the rest of us.
"Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King"
While "The Matrix" trilogy has progressively disappointed me, as it failed to capitalise on the brilliance of the original movie, "The Rings" triptych has increasingly engaged me, as - originally unfamiliar with the characters because I've never read any Tolkien - I have become used to the strangeness and complexities of Middle Earth.
For me, this is not the cinematic masterpiece that some have claimed. The dialogue is dire, the characterisation is minimal, and Saruman is sadly absent. Yet again, the female actors are few and underused, although for once we have a warrior in Eowyn. There's no doubt that, at a bladder-bursting 3 hours 21 minutes, this final segment is too long and the ending in particular is unnecessarily protracted and trite.
However, the movie is unquestionably a phenomenon that ends the trilogy on a satisfying high. As with the previous works, there is spectacular New Zealand scenery, sweeping and swirling camerawork, and superb prosthetics and special effects. This time, though, the battle scenes are bigger and bloodier than ever and literally out of this world - stunning panoramas, huge numbers, fantastical creatures and thrilling action. If anything, at times it is all too fast and a little confusing.
The three films have made the reputation of director Peter Jackson, actor Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn), and the New Zealand special effects industry, while veterans Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee have crowned their long and distinguished careers. The realisation of Gollum and the battle sequences will be cinematic benchmarks for decades to come. But the movies, like the book, tell us nothing new about human nature and should not be elevated above their true level of sophisticated storytelling and genuine entertainment.
Links for all "LOTR" films:
unofficial fan site click here
another fan site click here
Surprisngly this 2012 German-language film was co-written and directed by the Australian Cate Shortland which explains how funding came from Australia plus Germany and other European sources, but it was shot entirely on location in Germany. The story unfolds slowly and not always clearly, so this is not a film that will appeal to everyone, but it is a powerful and thought-provoking work that deserves a wide audience.The Hannelore of the title is a German girl in her early teens who, at the very end of the Second World War, finds herself abandoned by her Nazi parents and left with four younger siblings, one a baby, with instructions to take them to her grandmother's place, a long way across an utterly devastated land. In her first film role, Saskia Rosendahl is amazing as a young person who, on a frightening journey, has to endure not just considerable physical deprivations but profound challenges to perceptions of her parents, her country and those evil Jews.
"Lost In Translation"
I'm not a particular fan of the undoubtedly-talented Bill Murray, but here he gives his best performance since "Groundhog Day" as Bob, a middle-aged actor selling his soul to make a whiskey commercial for the lucrative Japanese market. I've never seen Scarlett Johannson in a movie before, but this young actress, pretty in a plain way, shows considerable promise as Charlotte, a 22 year old philosophy graduate and recent bride who is already as lost as the older man.
The two dislocated and disoriented characters find themselves unable to sleep in the capital's Park Hyatt Hotel and unable to connect with a society which seems so soulless and alien, but this "Sleepless In Toyko" story is a million miles from the Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan offering, eschewing a neat final coupling in favour of a chaste parting with some unheard words of wisdom or comfort. All credit then to writer, director and co-producer Sofia Coppola who, having recovered from her miscasting in "The Godfather III", is proving to be an able and unconventional creator of original movies.
Maybe the work is a bit hard on the Japanese whose frivolous pursuit of excessive politeness, the easy laugh, and everything bright and electronic is easy to parody. Most of the movie is set in the entertainment district of Shinjuku, where I have been and which actually has an incredible buzz, and there is the almost obligatory scene of karaoke, which I have performed (in the interests of international relations). There is another side to the Japanese which the film only hints at with a brief trip to a temple in Kyoto, but Americans always find it difficult to appreciate another culture and Bob and Charlotte are too lost to want to make the effort.
Link: Park Hyatt Toyko click here
The film opens with the recording of a cynical repackaging of the old hit single "Love Is All Around" by an aging rocker who aims to hit the populist Christmas market and critics have suggested that essentially "Love Actually" is a manipulative reworking of earlier Richard Curtis scripts designed to pull in cinemagoers in the run-up to Christmas. It certainly is - but it is rather more. The evidence of the crowds at my multiplex is that Curtis has succeeded handsomely in his directorial debut and created a natural feel-good alternative to "It's A Wonderful Life" for television viewing at endless future yuletides.
OK, so this is moviemaking by the numbers, but they are some numbers. A multi-stranded storyline gives us nine different looks at love, most of them sweet to the point of saccharine, but the whole thing is saved from excessive sentimentality by a couple of harder-edged scenarios, one topical political scene, and a cracking script with lashings of humour. The whole thing lacks focus and a clear narrative form, but few viewers will bother. They'll be too occupied laughing at the gags and spotting all the stars.
The cast is one to die for. We have the best of British - from Hugh Grant as the affable Prime Minister to Rowan Atkinson as the bumbling shop assistant, with the highlights being Bill Nighy as the over the hill and over the top rock star and Emma Thompson as someone who can express pain equally as well as laughter. These 'Brits as imagined by Yanks' only exist in Curtis's dream world but we cannot help but warm to them. On top of these dozen or so skilful performances, we have several surprise guest appearances by Americans, a German super model, and a delightful Portugese ingénue. Throw in tourist scenes of London and a lively soundtrack and you have all the ingredients for a runaway success.
Over the years, I have seen "Love Actually" four times and love it more on each occasion.
"Love And Other Drugs"
This is a rom-com with much more bite than most - for two reasons. First, there is much more sexually-explicit language and activity (and even some nudity) than usual. Second, it deals with a serious illness (Parkinson's disease) and a serious issue (the inadequacies of the US health care system). In the latter case at least, it reminded me of the much smaller film "Adam" which is not as well-known as it should be.
In the wrong hands, this could have been a sugar-coated pill that left a bad taste, but director and co-writer Edward Zwick - best known for heroic movies like "The Last Samurai" and "Defiance" - does a fine job and his ability to combine humour with pathos reminds us of his earlier television work with "Thirtysomething". What really makes the movie though is the choice of two accomplished and hugely attractive stars: Jake Gyllenhaal (as the drug salesman) and Anne Hathaway (as the sick waitress) who worked together on "Brokeback Mountain" and here demonstrate real chemistry.
The film is inspired by the non-fiction book "Hard Sell: The Evolution Of A Viagra Salesman" by Jamie Reidy and, although the name of the central male character is changed (to Jamie Randall), the names of the drugs (Zoloft, Prozac, Viagra) and of the companies (Pfizer, Lilly) are for real. What is not real is the character of Jamie's rich slob of a brother and the ending is rather too conventional (which is where "Adam" scored).
"Love And Other Impossible Pursuits"
Inevitably seeing this movie brought to mind another with a similar title, "Love And other Drugs", which was released later but I saw first. As well as titles with the same three first words, both films are based on a book (in this case a successful novel by Ayelet Waldman), are scripted by the director (in this instance, Don Roos), have an attractive and young lead actress (in this one, Natalie Portman), and deal with challenging social issues (this time, step-parenting and infant mortality). However, where "..Drugs" was a romantic comedy, "..Impossible Pursuits" has less romance and very little comedy. In fact, at times it is quite harrowing.It works because of an intelligent script (although the dialogue is sometimes hard to follow) and some fine acting, not just from Portman - who is excellent - but Scott Cohen as her husband, Lisa Kudrow as the ex-wife, and Charlie Tahan as the troubled child of the first marriage. Many films set in New York include scenes in Central Park, but here the location is particularly well used, especially in a silent walk to remember the deaths of the unborn or newly born. The soundtrack too neatly complements the action in a work that is well worth viewing as a contrast to the standard rom-com.
A more honest title for this movie would be "Mindless In Seattle" because it is a romantic comedy set in the north-western American city (although largely shot in Vancouver) and it is - well, you get the message. It tries to be a rom-com with a difference by portraying the difficulty of coming to terms with the loss of a family member, but it cannot decide whether it is promoting or parodying the notion of self help to overcome bereavement.Aaron Eckhart, as the widower now running courses for the bereaved, and Jennifer Aniston, as the florist he accidentally meets while running such a course, are both good-looking and watchable actors, but they are lumbered with a limp script and predicable storyline from writer and director Brandon Camp whose previous work has been for television. "Love In The Afternoon"
It took me four decades to see this French film from 1972 and I found it very French - lots of dialogue, lots of introspection - and very 1970s - lots of smoking, lots of miniskirts. It was both written and directed by Eric Rohmer as the sixth and last of set of moral tales, this one concerning temptation and seduction. Bernard Verley plays happily married Frédéric who becomes captivated by the eccentric Chloé portrayed by Zouzou (real name Danièle Ciarlet). Will he succumb? Do we care?
"The Love Punch"
"The Love Punch" was both written and directed by the British Joel Hopkins and bares comparison with his previous film "Last Chance Harvey" which five years previously he again both wrote and directed. At the heart of both works is a story of love between an older couple. In both cases, the lead actress is the wonderful Emma Thompson and indeed, in both cases, she plays a character called Kate. What is different is that this time her love interest is not an elderly American whom she has only just met (Dustin Hoffman) but her ex-husband who is a similar age (Pierce Brosnan). Of course, Brosnan's most famous role was as James Bond but he is somewhat older now and part of the humour derives from this contrast.
The story is slim: the divorced couple need to form a partnership of convenience to steal a diamond from a French entrepreneur who has fleeced the company which is the source of all their finances. Filmed almost entirely in France, the locations are attractive but it rather looks as if the country was chosen for tax reasons rather than being integral to the plot. It is a slight and silly caper but made watchable by the actors. Thompson and Brosman exhibit real chemistry and, in support roles, British character actors Timothy Spall and Cecilia Imrie are a delight to watch.
Flamboyant French director Luc Besson has a penchant for making movies featuring strong young women - think Mathilda (Natalie Portman) in Leon, the titular heroine (Anne Parillaud) in "La Femme Nikita", and Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) in "The Fifth Element". A similar idea of a youngster turned into a fighting machine was offered us in "Hanna".
This time, we have the eponymous Lucy - a great role for the beautiful and talented Scarlett Johansson - who is a blonde-haired American in Taiwan who suddenly finds herself ingesting a new super-drug than enables her to use progressively more and more of her mind with ultimately universal implications. If this sounds a bit like the plot premise of "Limitless" where NZT has been replaced by CPH4, then you can count on Besson for taking the notion further, much further, too far in fact. What starts as fun and merely fanciful finishes up as metaphysical nonsense. There are echoes here of all sorts of previous films such as "2001" (there are stargates aplenty) and "The Tree Of Life" (there is another dinosaur) and - inevitably - "The Matrix" (remember Trinity?).
The work is visually stunning with an eclectic collection of images ranging from wildlife to cityscape to biology to cosmology and, since I saw it on an IMAX screen, at times I was close to hallucinating. The soundtrack adds to the atmospherics with use of Mozart's "Requiem" and contemporary songs (don't miss the one used for the long credits sequence). And the cast is very watchable with the Korean Choi Min-sik as lead bad guy and the ever-cool Morgan Freeman as lead scientist. Unusually for such an ambitious film, it clocks in at a mere one and half hours and I would have been happier with a second hour in the vein of the first. But, heh, it's never boring.
I confess that I had never heard of the 'dabbawallas' of Mumbai until I read reviews of the 2013 Indian film "The Lunchbox" and it was some time before I managed to rent the movie - a work with a mix of Hindi and English dialogue - which is the first to be both written and directed by Ritesh Batra who was born and raised in the city. Apparently the 'dabbawalla' system is famous in business schools for having been accorded a Sigma Six rating which means that less than one mistake is made in every six million deliveries.
Yet Batra has constructed his story around the idea that that, in the case of one office worker, Saajan (played by Irrfan Khan) who is a widower planning to take early retirement, for a successive of weeks he wrongly receives the delicious food cooked by young housewife and mother Ila (played by former model Nimrat Kaur). This leads to an exchange of increasingly lengthy and intimate notes delivered daily with the 'tiffin' (container) that, in the age of instant e-mail, evokes an altogether different age and style.
Do Saajan and Ila ever come together and, if so, what happens? The answers are not obvious in this bittersweet romantic comedy that is a delight to watch for its originality, vibrancy and warmth. Both characters are certainly changed by the encounter but, as someone else in the film explains, "Sometimes even the wrong train can take you to the right destination".
Link: an explanation of the 'dabbawalla' system click here
All reviews by ROGER DARLINGTON.
Last modified on 20 June 2015
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