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  • "Oblivion"
  • "Ocean's Eleven"
  • "Ocean's Twelve"
  • "Ocean's Thirteen"
  • "Of Gods And Men"
  • "Oliver Twist"
  • "Olympus Has Fallen"
  • "Once"
  • "One Day"
  • "127 Hours"
  • "One Night At McCool's"
  • "One Night Stand"
  • "Only God Forgives"
  • "Orlando"
  • "The Other Boleyn Girl"
  • "Pacific Rim"
  • "Paddington"
  • "The Painted Veil"
  • "Pan's Labyrinth"
  • "Panic Room"
  • "Paris"
  • "The Past"
  • "The Patriot"
  • "Pay It Forward"
  • "The Perfect Storm"
  • "Persepolis"
  • "Philomena"
  • "Phoenix"
  • "Phone Booth"
  • "Pi"
  • "The Piano"
  • "The Pianist"
  • "Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl"
  • "Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest"
  • "Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End"
  • "Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides"
  • "Pitch Black"
  • "The Place Beyond The Pines"
  • "Planet Of The Apes"
  • "Pleasantville"
  • "Please Give"
  • "Pompeii"
  • "Possession"
  • "Il Postino"
  • "The Postman"
  • "Postman Pat: The Movie"
  • "Potiche"
  • "Practical Magic"
  • "Precious"
  • "The Prestige"
  • "Pride"
  • "Pride & Prejudice"
  • "Prime"
  • "The Private Lives Of Pippa Lee"
  • "Prometheus"
  • "Proof Of Life"
  • "The Proposal"
  • "Public Enemies"
  • "Pushing Tin"
  • "Quantum Of Solace"
  • "Quartet"
  • "The Queen"
  • "The Quiet American"
  • "Rabbit-Proof Fence"
  • "The Raid"
  • "The Raid 2"
  • "The Railway Man"
  • "Ra.One"
  • "Ratatouille"
  • "The Reader"
  • "RED"
  • "RED 2"
  • "Red Cliff"
  • "Red Dog"
  • "Red State"
  • "Red Tails"
  • "Requiem For A Dream"
  • "The Reluctant Fundamentalist"
  • "The Remains Of The Day"
  • "Reservoir Dogs"
  • "Revanche"
  • "Revolutionary Road"
  • "Ride With The Devil"
  • "Righteous Kill"
  • "Rio 2"
  • "Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes"
  • "The Road"
  • "Road To Perdition"
  • "Robin Hood"
  • "The Rock"
  • "Rocky" "Roger Dodger"
  • "A Royal Affair"
  • "The Royal Tenenbaums"
  • "Run Lola Run"
  • "Runaway Bride"
  • "Rush"
  • "Rush Hour"
  • "Russian Ark"

  • "Oblivion"

    Science fiction is one of my favourite film genres and I usually enjoy a Tom Cruise movie, so I was looking forward to "Oblivion", only to be sadly disappointed. A slow and sluggish first half finally comes alive only to present a series of plot twists that become ever more confusing and unsatisfactory.

    Some of the scenery is suitably bleak for an apocalyptic story but the model work is all too evident. Cruise is fine, although his dialogue is pretty leaden. However, in a small cast, the two female support roles - the accomplished British actress Andrea Riseborough and the Ukrainian former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko - are underused and often reduced to whimpering "Jack! Jack!!"

    The responsibility for this let-down is all too clear. Joseph Kosinski co-wrote, produced and directed the work which is based on his unpublished graphic novel of the same name. Like his previous directorial effort "Tron: Legacy", "Oblivion" looks good but lacks flesh and blood characters. There was probably a reason why the graphic novel is unpublished.

    "Ocean's Eleven"

    The cinematic convention is that the remake of a successful film is rarely as good as the original, but here director Steven Soderbergh has inverted that convention by taking a mediocre movie of 1960 and turning it into an enormously entertaining caper. A lot of it is down to Soderbergh's sheer cinematic verve; some of it is explained by the sharp script from Ted Griffin; but ultimately it works because of the stellar casting.

    George Clooney oozes charisma and cool as Danny Ocean, a career criminal who is no sooner out of jail than, like Yul Brynner in "The Magnificent Seven", he's recruiting for a mission impossible. Few shots are fired on this escapade, though, because it all comes down to planning, cunning and sheer bravado.

    Along for the fun - and it's clear that the crew really enjoyed themselves - are young stars Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, old timers Elliot Gould and Carl Reiner, and sundry others ranging from a non English-speaking Chinese acrobat to a Cockney-speaking black man, although not all the eleven gang members are well delineated. Andy Garcia is the owner of the three casinos whose $150 million is targeted and Julia Roberts is his girlfriend who - at least for Ocean - is as much a target as the money.

    The plot is totally fanciful, never more so that in the suggestion that one could take possession and operate a device that would knock out the electricity of Las Vegas without either act attracting the attention of law enforcement let alone special forces. But it is all done with great panache and, as sheer entertainment, this is hard to beat.

    Footnote: The movie ends with a beautiful rendition of "Claire de Lune" by Debussy. Question: which other film uses this piece classical music? Answer: the 1991 "Frankie and Johnny".

    "Ocean's Twelve"

    A director of the calibre of Steven Soderbergh should stay clear of a re-make, but it worked handsomely with "Ocean's Eleven", and he should avoid like the plague a sequel, as proved by the bitter disappointment that is "Ocean's Twelve".

    This is all style and no substance. The style comes from Soderbergh's lively camerawork, the location shooting in Amsterdam and Rome, and the re-engagement of all the stars from the original movie plus Catherine Zeta-Jones as the twelfth character. The lack of substance comes from the absence of set-piece action and a convoluted plot that involves too many flash-backs and twists. The dialogue is poor and the music is over-loud but, above all, the whole thing is totally derivative - of the first film, of "The Italian Job" (foreign gang in Italian city), of "The Thomas Crown Affair" (male thief has relationship with female investigator), of "Octopussy" (theft of Fabergé egg), of "Entrapment" (cat burglar evading laser beams) and even "Notting Hill" (Julia Roberts playing herself).

    For Soderbergh, twelve is clearly an unlucky number and he would be crazy to even think of "Ocean's 13".

    "Ocean's Thirteen"

    At the heart of this film is a robbery that is just too easy to carry out but nets huge proceeds - and that just about describes the movie itself. "Ocean's 12" was so disappointing that it did not merit a sequel, but clearly the franchise was just so profitable that nobody could resist the temptation to milk the audience one more time.

    In fact, "Ocean's 13" is not as bad as "Ocean's 12" with a much simpler - arguably too simple - plot, but it is nowhere near as good as "Ocean's 11". It is such a lazy work: the same director and the same stars back in the orginal location have just spun the wheel one more time with no thought for more characterisation or some originality. The main stars, George Clonney and Brad Pitt, are more than pretty faces, as we saw in "Syriana" and "Babel" respectively, and Al Pacino and Andy Garcia are sadly underused, with even the one female character Ellen Barkin utterly wasted.

    Yet, as before, Steven Soderbergh keeps things moving along and gives us plenty of flashy scenery and camerawork, so many viewers will not notice that they've been mugged.

    "Of Gods And Men"

    This 2010 French-language film has an unusual subject and style. It tells the true story of nine French Trappist monks living in the monastery of Tibhirine in an Algeria torn apart by civil war (it was actually filmed in a restored monastery in Morocco) who were kidnapped and beheaded in 1996 after deciding to remain in the country in spite of the growing threats. The format is slow and reverential with little dialogue and as much chanting, while the cinematography is in muted colours but almost photographic in composition.

    Director Xavier Beauvois is well-served by his fine ensemble of actors. Those who play the monks have wonderful faces and Lambert Wilson as the leader Christian and Michael Lonsdale as the doctor Luc are especially captivating in this engrossing and moving film that revives memories of a brutal incident about which there are still many unresolved questions.

    "Oliver Twist"

    I guess it's time for another film version of the Charles Dickens classic, since the David Lean work was as long ago as 1948, but it is a tough act to beat. The still-cobbled streets of Prague make for some excellent sets, although at times London here looks a little too much like an old-fashioned Christmas card.

    Of course, the story is utterly familiar, although the narrative selection is different this time from the earlier movie, so the real novelty in any such production is in the performances. Young Barney Clark is adequate in the eponymous role, but it is an unrecognisable Ben Kingsley as Fagan who steals the show for me. Perhaps the Jewishness of Polish director Roman Polanski - himself an orphan as a child fending for himself in a cruel world - has ensured that Kingsley's Fagan is a more sympathetic character than would otherwise have been the case.

    In short, entertaining and enjoyable, but unexceptional and not up there with Polanski's other literary adapation "Tess".

    "Olympus Has Fallen"

    Often Hollywood movies come in pairs, so this year (2013) we have two that, a decade or so after terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, feel able to represent an assault on another iconic American building: the office of the President. Later in the year, we will have "White House Down", but first up here storms "Olympus Has Fallen".

    The plot for "OHF" has topicality, since the storyline is the seizure of the White House by North Koreans who wish to facilitate the takeover of South Korea by the North and the movie was released at a time of heightened tension with North Korea threatening both the South and the USA with the launch of a nuclear missile. Beyond topicality, however, the plotting is utterly risible with nothing being remotely plausible in either military or political terms. Meanwhile the dialogue - mostly staccato and fortunately quite minimal - is pretty banal ("The United States does not negotiate with terrorists" - but, guess what?).

    On the other hand, on the simple level of the action movie, "Olympus" delivers with bullets and bodies galore and good pacing with a successive of twists in the tale. The hero of this quintessentially American movie is in fact a Scot who originally studied to be a lawyer (Gerard Butler as agent Mike Banning), while Aaron Eckart plays the square-jawed non-political president and Morgan Freeman - who has been a movie president in his time - gets to be acting president. Rick Yune, who is the leader of the North Korean terrorists, is actually of Korean origin.

    So don't look for a credible story or a decent script or distinguished acting, but enjoy a rattling action adventure in which truth, justice and the American way prevail once more - as God apparently intended.


    Films do not come much 'smaller' than this 2006 offering, written and directed by the Irish John Carney and shot in Dublin with a skeleton crew in a mere 17 days on a couple of shaky camcorders. It looks dark and fuzzy and amateurish, but it has a soul, thanks largely to the warmth of the two central characters, played by the Irish Glen Hansard and the Czech Markéta Irglová, both chosen for their musical skills and not for any acting ability.

    The story is very slight but life-affirming: Hansard's Guy (he is not named) getting round to recording an album one weekend - instead of delaying the project, as so many musicians do, to 'once' something or other has been done - with the support of the much younger Girl (who is also not named), in the process finding a powerful bond. Hansard and Irglová wrote and performed all the new songs.

    I did not catch the film until seven years after its release by which time it had become something of a phenomenon, winning an Academy Award for Best Song and forming the basis of an award-winning musical. I'm not sure it's really that special, but it is is always good to see a poorly-funded movie make a breakthrough and it is a heart-warming little treat.

    "One Day"

    I suppose you could call this a rom-com plus. Certainly it's a romance but a slow-burning one over a couple of decades between an English couple who first hook up on their last day at Edinburgh University: Emma Morley, the working class Northerner who is sensible and sensitive but lacking in self-confidence, and Dexter Mayhew, the middle-class Southerner who is selfish and shallow until life teaches him some hard lessons. And there's comedy, although more in some clever one-liners than in situations or scenes. But there's something a bit extra. If you've read the huge bestseller on which the film is based (as I have), you'll know what's different. If you haven't read the novel, it's best that you don't know.

    The movie is a faithful adaptation of the book which is to be expected since author David Nicholls wrote the screenplay, so we retain the device of revisiting the characters on the anniversary of their first meeting over a period of a couple of decades and we have some of the same sharp lines of dialogue. But the transfer to the screen doesn't work as well as I had expected, largely I think because there isn't time in a two-hour film compared to a novel of over 400 pages to develop the sense of period in each year.

    Jim Sturges ("The Way Back") does fine as Dexter. It's a good role for an actor because the character changes a lot over the years and at different times he is loathsome and likeable. Sadly Anne Hathaway ("Love And Other Drugs") is totally miscast as Emma. She is too attractive for the character known to the readers of the novel and she is American instead of a Yorkshire girl. She tries with the accent but rarely comes anywhere near it. The role should have gone to someone like Carey Mulligan or Andrea Riseborough, but I suppose the producers wanted a well-known American actress to help the movie in the large and lucrative US market. It was a mistake.

    In supporting roles, Rafe Spall as Emma's partner, Romola Garai as Dexter's wife and Patricia Clarkson as Dexter's mother are pleasing and settings in Edinburgh, London and Paris are appealling. So not the film it could and should have been but a bolder rom-com than most that reminds us that we need to seize the day.

    "127 Hours"

    In cinematic terms, this story - the true-life account of how in 2003 lone climber Aron Ralston found himself stuck in Utah's Blue John Canyon - is locked between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, it is a cracking tale that would not be credible if it had not in fact happened. On the other hand, a narrative focused on only one person in one precise place, when every viewer will know the ending, is very limiting.

    That it works so magnificently is down to British director Danny Boyle, whose fine work has ranged "Trainspotting" to "Slumdog Millionaire" and actor James Franco, star of three "Spider-Man" movies which could hardly be further removed from this fable. The story is 'opened up' by the incorporation of an invented encounter with two young women and access to flashbacks and hallucinations in Ralston's mind. Use of split screen, an atmospheric soundtrack, and superb cinematographer all enhance the experience.

    When Ralston decides what needs to be done to live, it is tough on the viewer but ultimately this is a project that celebrates the triumph of the human spirit. In terms of sheer courage from a man alone, the only film with which I can compare "127 Hours" is "Touching The Void" (another true story) and, in terms of the static location of most of the narrative, I recall the movie "Phone Booth". But "127 Hours" - which actually runs for only 94 minutes - is a unique production.

    Link: Wikipedia page on Aron Ralston click here

    "One Night At McCool's"

    This genre-bending film deserves to be better known because it is really good fun. Taking the essential features of a femme fatale thriller and turning them into a black comedy, scriptwriter Harald Zwart does a smart job, providing some 'laugh out loud' moments (notably the final sequence). It is cleverly constructed as three sets of confessions about the same woman: barman Randy (Matt Dillon) to a hired hitman (co-producer Michael Douglas), lawyer Carl (Paul Reiser) to a psychiatrist, and detective Dehling (John Goodman) to his parish priest. It works because of the uniformly fine acting and the ideal casting of the luscious Liv Tyler as Jewel who drives them all wild with desire while she manipulates them all to her domestic advantage.

    "One Night Stand"

    Mike Figgis is a fine film-maker who is never less than interesting. Here he explores sensitively the charged relationship between a Los Angeles commercials director (Wesley Snipes) and a New York “rocket scientist” (the classy Nastassja Kinski), both married but brought together first by chance and later by sickness (Robert Downey Jnr excellent as an AIDS sufferer). Figgis adopts a very naturalist style which often makes the dialogue hard to catch but renders the lovemaking unusually tender and credible. The revelation is Snipes who gives a performance of so much more depth than his usual action roles.

    "Only God Forgives"

    This is a film which has utterly divided the critics, those in the "Guardian" newspaper and "Empire" magazine giving it five stars while the audience at the Cannes Film Festival booed its first screening. Most movie fans will give it a miss and many of those who brave a viewing will wonder why they bothered. For me, it was enough that the director and writer is the Danish Nicolas Winding Refn and the central character is played by the American Ryan Gosling. Two years ago, this pairing gave us "Drive" which I thought was brilliant. Sadly the revenge movie "Only God Forgives" is like "Drive" on drugs and I don't do drugs.

    While "Drive" was often leisurely in its pacing, "OGF" is so slow that at times it appears to stop, hanging in mid air. While "Drive" was laconic, "OGF" is frequently near wordless with Ryan probably having the fewest lines ever spoken by a leading character in a major film. While "Drive" was at times brutally violent, "OGF" is orgiastic in its aggression, most notably in a revolting torture scene. While "Drive" had a plot and a relationship at its heart, "OGF" appears meaningless and heartless. At times, it it is hard to know if it is all supposed to be real or whether some of it is a tormented dream.

    The film does have style: neon lights, dark corners, shadow patterns, long corridors, and an atmospheric soundtrack. Gosling, as the owner of a boxing club in downtown Bangkok, is a charismatic actor who can hold a scene without saying a word; Kristin Scott Thomas, as his mother from hell, looks and sounds as in no other role she has taken; and Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm alternates between sleepwalking, karaoke singing, and mutilating and murdering. Certaintly not everybody's cup of chai.


    This is a stunningly original film that really benefits from a second viewing. Written and directed by Sally Potter from Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel, it was filmed on wonderful locations in St Petersburg and Uzbekistan, but is largely set in England. It narrates the varied fortunes of an individual who lives for 400 years, first as a man and then as a woman. The well-cast, adrogynous-looking Tilda Swinton is excellent in the eponymous role and rarely off the screen, sometimes making wry comments to camera. Acting, costumes, scenery and music are all impressive in this subtly feminist work.

    "The Other Boleyn Girl"

    The things that a man will do for love (or at least sex or a male heir) - even if he is one of the most powerful monarchs of medieval Europe. We all know that England's King Henry VIII divorced Katherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn and, in so doing, took his nation out of the Church of Rome and set the scene for the great age of Anne's daughter Queen Elizabeth.

    What this movie purports to do - based on the hugely successful novel by Philippa Gregory - is tell us about the rival affections of Anne's younger sister Mary. Although all the leading characters are actual historic figures, the film - like the book - is a work of fiction, so separating the real from the reel is a tricky task.

    The three central characters - all quintessential members of the English nobility - are in fact played by non-British actors who nevertheless affect convincing English accents: Eric Bana as the king and Natalie Portman as the famous Boleyn and Scarlett Johansson as the other Boleyn. Some of the support roles are particularly well-played by the likes of Kristin Scott Thomas and Ana Torrent. This stellar cast - plus wonderful costumes and a slew of splendid English locations - makes this an immensely watchable film in which, in spite of the title, Portman has the meatiest role. If only some more effort and skill had gone into the script.

    Footnote: I have a lifelong love of the cinema and, throughout the nearly 50 years that I've kept a daily diary, I've recorded all the films that I've seen at the cinema, on television and on VCR or DVD and maintained a card index system to note when I've seen (or re-seen) each film. Quite accidentally, "The Other Boleyn Girl" was my 2,000th film.

    "Pacific Rim"

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

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

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


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

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

    "The Painted Veil"

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

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

    "Pan's Labyrinth"

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

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

    official web site click here
    discussion of film click here

    "Panic Room"

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


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

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

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

    "The Past"

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

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

    "The Patriot"

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

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

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

    "Pay It Forward"

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

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

    "The Perfect Storm"

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

    "Phone Booth"

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

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

    "The Piano"

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


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

    "The Pianist"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides"

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

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

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

    "Pitch Black"

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

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

    "The Place Beyond The Pines"

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

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

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

    "Planet Of The Apes"

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

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

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

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


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

    "Please Give"

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

    "Il Postino"

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

    "The Postman"

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

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

    "Postman Pat: The Movie"

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


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

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

    "Practical Magic"

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


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

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

    "The Prestige"

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

    "Pride & Prejudice"

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

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

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


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

    "The Private Lives Of Pippa Lee"

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


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

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

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

    "Proof Of Life"

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

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

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

    "The Proposal"

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

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

    "Public Enemies"

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

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

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

    Link: Wikipedia page on John Dillinger click here

    "Pushing Tin"

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

    "Quantum Of Solace"

    Following up the outstanding success of "Casino Royale" was always going to be a really tough mission and "Quantum Of Solace" - written as an immediate sequel to the earlier movie - is, while hugely entertaining, only a partial success.

    The greatest plus is again Daniel Craig who has quickly made the 007 role his own. Here he is an agent full of controlled anger of the loss of his love Vesper Lynd who is visibly bloodied by the brutal, bone-crunching encounters that he faces and fights. We have a gorgeous Bond girl in the Ukrainian Olga Kurylenko (playing the Bolivian-Russian Camille) who - in a clever referencing of many of the Fleming novels - is a beautiful woman with a physical flaw (think of Honeychile Rider's broken nose). We have lots and lots of running and chases in every type of vehicle - whether car, boat or (pre-war) aircraft - and simply frenetic editing. It's all so fast and so furious, but actually too fast and too furious. Indeed the last two Bond films have so obviously been massively influenced by the box office takings of the Bourne trilogy.

    What we don't have is a compelling narrative - the plot is really confused at times - or any of the humour or the gadgets that were so much a part of films earlier in the 45 year old franchise. For the second consecutive time, the main villain is a Frenchman (1066 and all that) but Mattieu Amalric as Dominic Greene is not so scary and we only glimpse the real Mr Big right at the end of the movie. Effectively there's no sex: Bond sleeps with one woman but we don't see them in bed and then she comes to a sticky end - which counterpoints the classic murder scene in "Goldfinger" - in terms which suggest that in future she should be known as Oil Fields. Even the music is a letdown: no use of the famous Monty Norman theme until the end and a terrible opening song.

    In short: by the end of this 22nd outing, I was shaken but not stirred.

    Link: explanation of title click here


    In the last couple of years, Hollywood has given us "It's Complicated" and "Hope Springs", while British cinema has offered up "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" and now "Quartet" - all films majoring on characters in older age but designed to demonstrate that being in one 60s or 70s does not mean that one is not interested in love and even sex. Of the four, "Quartet" has the oldest combined cast age but the slightest storyline.

    Set in a beautiful English residential care home for retired musicians and singers, the eponymous four are Reggie (75 year old Tom Courtenay) and Jean (78 year old Maggie Smith), who have some history, plus Wilf (70 year old Billy Connolly) and Cissy (72 year old Pauline Collins), who have incontinence and dementia respectively. The supporting cast is led by Michael Gambon (72) and includes many real life retired performers. The film is based on a play written and then adapted for the screen by Ronald Harwood (78) and it is the directorial debut of Dustin Hoffman (75).

    It is such an affectionate work with fine acting and splendid music, but it really needed more bite.

    "The Queen"

    By the time I finally caught this film, it had been on release for five months and won Helen Mirren in the eponymous role almost every award going for best actress including the Academy Award. Ordinarily this would simply have been a very competent, quintissentially British movie - except for James Cromwell (as Prince Philip), all the actors are British; all the locations - including wonderful Scottish highlands - are British; and what could be more British than a story of how a queen responds to the death of a former princess.

    What raises the movie to a totally new level is the outstanding performance of Mirren who captures the Queen's looks and speech so brilliantly and manages ultimately to win our sympathy as someone totally unprepared for the public outpouring over Diana's death and reluctantly accepting the advice of the much more in-touch new New Labour Prime Minister, ably portrayed by Michael Sheen (who did the same thing for the television drama "the Deal"). Of course, a decade later, even Blair has to move on - but HRH is still there ....

    "The Quiet American"

    Set in the French-occupied Vietnam of 1952, this is based on the 1955 novel by left-wing British novelist Graham Green and is a remake of the Mankiewicz anti-communist film issued in 1957. Coming out towards the end of 2002 as the United States prepares for a major confrontation with Iraq, this new version, directed by Australian Phillip Noyce, is not likely to appeal much to traditional Right-wing American sentiment and indeed the very limited release in the States means that few Americans will see it. But it is a compelling work which - unlike so much Hollywood fare - makes clear the moral complexity of one country intervening in the affairs of another and explores the origins of America's most serious foreign policy blunder.

    Brendan Fraser is good as the eponymous aid worker whose life turns out to be somewhat less quiescent than at first appears. Do Hai Yen is beautiful as the Vietnamese girl who sees him as a route to the West. But it is Michael Caine, as the "Times" foreign correspondent Thomas Fowler, who is wonderful as the initially indolent, self-serving ex-pat who finds that, as he learns more about his new world, he has to make a moral and difficult choice. The film gains much by being shot on Vietnamese locations, including Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and the excellent soundtrack complements well the atmosphere of exoticism and danger.

    official web site click here
    Graham Greene's Vietnam click here

    "Rabbit-Proof Fence"

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

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

    "The Raid"

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

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

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

    "The Raid 2"

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

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

    "The Railway Man"

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

    Link: comparisons between the film and the reality click here


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

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

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


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

    "The Reader"

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

    "RED 2"

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

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

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

    "Red Cliff"

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

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

    Link: Battle of Red Cliffs click here

    "Red Dog"

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

    "Red State"

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

    "Red Tails"

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

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

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

    Link: Wikipedia page click here

    "Requiem For A Dream"

    Having been impressed with the 2008 release of "The Wrestler" directed by Darren Aronofsky, I was encouraged to look at some of his earlier work by a young friend with some off-beat tastes in movies, starting with "Pi" (1998) - which I thought was awful - and then moving on to "Requiem For A Dream" (2000) - which is one of the most disturbing films I have ever seen but nevertheless a genuine accomplishment. Based on the novel by Hubert Selby Jr and co-scripted by Aronfsky and Selby, it depicts the horrific descent into drugs hell by four characters: a young white man (Jared Leto), his girlfriend (the beautiful Jennifer Connelly), his mother (an outstanding Ellen Burstyn) and his black accomplice (Marlon Wayans). Not a film for those seeking light entertainment or conventional techniques.

    "The Reluctant Fundamentalist"

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

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

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

    "The Remains Of The Day"

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

    "Reservoir Dogs"

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


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

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

    "Revolutionary Road"

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

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

    "Ride With The Devil"

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

    "Righteous Kill"

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

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

    "Rio 2"

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

    "Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes"

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

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

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

    "The Road"

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

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

    "Road To Perdition"

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

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

    "Robin Hood"

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

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

    "The Rock"

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

    "Rocky Balboa"

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

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

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

    "Roger Dodger"

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

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

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

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

    "A Royal Affair"

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

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

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

    Link: Wikipedia page on King Christian VII click here

    "The Royal Tenenbaums"

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

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

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

    "Run Lola Run"

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

    "Runaway Bride"

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


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

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

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

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

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

    "Rush Hour"

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

    "Russian Ark"

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

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

    All reviews by ROGER DARLINGTON.

    Last modified on 20 May 2015

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