A review of the 2020 action movie “The Old Guard”

March 31st, 2023 by Roger Darlington

Charlize Theron in combat mode is always a sight to behold. After her stand-out performances in “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015) and “Atomic Blonde” (2017), she has the lead role in “The Old Guard” which, as a Netflix movie appearing at the beginning of the pandemic, went straight to streaming. Theron plays the leader of a small team of immortal mercenaries who, in the present day, are about to gain a new recruit, if they can stay ahead of big pharma which wants to exploit their special genetics. The story is based a on graphic novel by Greg Rucka who is the debut screenwriter.

This is quite a progressive work: Theron is not just the lead actor but a co-director; the female director Gina Prince-Bythewood and two of the main actors are black; and there is a gay scene between two of the superheroes. This would not be enough commend it but, in addition, there are plenty of exciting acting sequences and a decent screenplay. The final scene neatly sets us up for a sequel and it looks like there’s a franchise in the making.

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A review of the new action movie “John Wick: Chapter 4”

March 28th, 2023 by Roger Darlington

Oh my, what a blast. If you enjoyed the three previous John Wick movies, you’re gonna love this one.

Former kickboxer and former stuntman Chad Stahelski once again directs this latest contribution to an action hero franchise that continues to be both popular and profitable. Keanu Reeves is back as our suited, laconic, titular assassin, a one-man killing machine, seemingly indestructible whether pummelled, slashed, shot or simply knocked down an endless flights of steps.

This time, he takes on the High Table big-time in the form of the Marquis de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård), but there are plenty of other formidable opponents, such as the blind Caine (Donnie Yen) and the huge Killa (Scott Adkins).

As we’ve come to expect, the work is endlessly stylish, as one thrilling action sequence follows another with dramatic sets, splendid choreography and raucous music. There’s usually neon lights or falling water or lights and water and there’s always bodies, dead bodies, lots and lots of them.

The action moves from New York to Morocco with long sojourns in Osaka, Berlin and Paris. There are some fabulous sequences, including a one-shot, bird’s-eye perspective of murder and mayhem.

Of course, it’s too long – almost three hours – but this seems to be almost standard for ‘big’ movies these days. Of course, it’s utterly over-the top, but this is what Wick’s fans expect and want. It is just so mindlessly entertaining. This time, stay to the very end: for the first time in a Wick film, there is a clip after the credits

I always finish my review of a John Wick movie with an estimate of the death toll. This one sets a new record score: 140.

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What is time and who controls it?

March 27th, 2023 by Roger Darlington

I once went on a one-day course on time held at London’s City Literary Institute. The morning speaker was a physicist who explained that time was everything that had happened since the ‘big bang’ 13.8 billion years ago until now. The afternoon speaker was a philosopher who declared that there was no such thing as time.

Currently, in the troubled small state of Lebanon, there is a disagreement over whether the clocks have gone forward or not, so that literally some people are expected to be in two places at once. You can read more about this odd state of affairs here.

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A review of “Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania”

March 25th, 2023 by Roger Darlington

This is the third Ant-Man movie and the 31st film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Over the past 15 years, I’ve diligently seen every episode of the MCU, but sometimes – like here – it feels more like a duty than a delight.

Paul Rudd and (now short-haired) Evangeline Lilly are back as the tiny titular superheroes, while Michael Douglas and (the ever watchable) Michelle Pfeiffer reprise their roles as the original holders of the eponymous titles. But now we have a plethora of other characters in play, including Kathryn Newton as a third superhero, Bill Murray as minor bad guy Lord Krylar, and Jonathan Majors as major bad guy Kang the Conqueror.

Visually the best part of the movie is a tour of the Quantum Realm revealing a host of weird and wonderful life forms (including one that looks like a bunch of broccoli), many of which are observed in a piece inspired by the cantina scene in the original “Star Wars”.

However, the opening is plain silly: apparently one can simply be sucked into the Quantum Realm five at a time thanks to the fiddling of a teenager. Then the plot is very weak: basically Kang has to be prevented from rebuilding his multiversal power core that will enable him to depart the Quantum Realm and travel anywhere in time or anywhere in the multiverse causing all sorts of havoc.

Two clips in the course of the endless credits suggest that nothing is actually resolved and all the main characters will be back for more mayhem. Scriptwriter Jeff Loveness has a background in comedy and has produced a storyline that is pityingly thin and a tone that lack any sense of dread.

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Word of the day: misophonia

March 23rd, 2023 by Roger Darlington

Misophonia is a disorder in which people feel strong emotional responses to certain sounds, feeling angry, distressed or even unable to function in social or work settings as a result. Researchers say they have found 18.4% of the UK population have significant symptoms of misophonia.

You can read more about this here.

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A review of the new South London rom-com “Rye Lane”

March 19th, 2023 by Roger Darlington

We all remember how “Notting Hill” (1999) was a rom-com that failed utterly to reflect the ethnic diversity of London, but the British rom-com is changing.

Hot on the heels of “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” which features a lead character of Pakistani heritage (plus a segment in Lahore), we have “Rye Lane” in which the lead characters and most of the support characters are Black British and almost all the location shooting is in the Peckham and Brixton districts of South London.

This is the directorial debut of Raine Allen-Miller, a light-coloured Black Londoner who has made a point of casting dark-skinned Black actors in the lead roles. So we have David Jonsson as Dom and Vivian Oparah as Yas, two young South Londoners, attempting to get over a relationship break-up, who find themselves walking around their neighbourhoods for the day talking about all sorts of subjects in a style reminiscent of the Richard Linklater movie “Before Sunset”. Both stars are appealing and Oparah shows particular talent.

The location shooting is colourful, in both the literal and metaphorical sense, and the cinematography is quirky with lots of wide-angle bendy sequences. The narrative follows the traditional romcom pattern of attraction, break-up, reconciliation, but the final segment of this triptych is surprisingly short, as if this low-budget film had suddenly spent all its funding.

In fact, the work as a whole is shorter than most contemporary movies at just 82 minutes, but this is no bad thing. These days too many films are too long and, in this case, the script does not have enough punch to take us along for much longer.

Rye Lane is in the London Borough of Southwark where I live and the final sequences in this film were shot around Tate Modern just minutes from my flat. I enjoy rom-coms and I welcome the extra diversity in storytelling. Therefore, I really wanted “Rye Lane” to smash it, but I found it only moderately successful. The script is just not really up to it.

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A review of the 2022 film “White Noise”

March 16th, 2023 by Roger Darlington

I chose to watch this film because I’ve found interesting some other work by the writer and director Noah Baumbach (such as “While We’re Young” and “Marriage Story”) and I usually admire the performances of the lead actors Adam Driver (such as the aforementioned films and recent segments of the “Star Wars” saga) and Greta Gerwig (such as “Mistress America” and “Maggie’s Plan”).

But let me save you two and a quarter hours of your life by advising you not to bother with this movie. Some critics have loved it, calling it absurdist and post-modern, but I found it incoherent and inexplicable. I suppose it is some kind of satire on modern America, but it left me cold and confused.

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A review of “TJ’s War”, a biography of a World War Two secret agent by his son Ian Maclean

March 15th, 2023 by Roger Darlington

In the Second World War, Scottish Highlander Thomas John Maclean – known to his comrades as TJ – almost accidentally found himself recruited as a secret agent in MI6 which resulted in immensely challenging operations in the United States, Norway, Italy and Germany. For such a young man (he was only 19 at the start of the conflict), such clandestine service proved to be a deeply traumatic experience so that, during the war, he became an alcoholic and, after the war, he effectively drank himself to death by the age of 49.

His son Iain Maclean was not quite 11 when he lost his father and it has taken him half a century to understand fully who his father was and finally to bring the incredible story to print.

Of course, there have been endless memoirs from this global war, but this one covers parts of the conflict that rarely feature in other works, including the role of MI6 in Nazi-held Europe, the situation in occupied Norway, the failure of the failed Anzio plan, and the betrayal of Russia’s Cossacks. Also the tone is very different from the stoicism, even detachment, of many such works with plenty of terror and tears and a profound revulsion of killing.

Maclean has chosen to tell the story in a style known as creative non-fiction. As a management consultant who has never previously written a book, he is to be commended for producing a work that reads like a novel and demonstrates immense flair and fluidity. I understand that he was inspired by the writing of Ernest Hemingway and Jack London. The book is a real page-turner with the 450 pages divided into 72 short paragraphs.

The problem with this style of writing is to know what is fact, what is fiction, and what is simply embellishment or creative licence. I read the book before I met the author and, in an interview of over two hours, I questioned him about why he had chosen this particular style of writing and the extent to which he had used his imagination to create incidents and characters and to input the thoughts of TJ and others.

As a result, I would expect the serious student of the war to approach “TJ’s War” with a degree of caution. However, for the general reader, this is a war story with a difference that will have wide appeal and make a riveting read.

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A review of the film “The Banshees Of Inisherin”

March 13th, 2023 by Roger Darlington

This is a film that elicits mixed emotions. Certainly it is both written and directed by a considerable talent (Martin McDonagh who gave us “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri”); it has some wonderful scenery (not Inisherin – which is a fictional island – but Inishmore and Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland); and it has no less than four stand-out performances (Colin Farrell, Brendon Gleeson, Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan).

But the subject matter is desperately sad – a sudden break in the long-standing friendship of the Farrell and Glesson characters – and the consequences of this break-up are brutal while the conclusion is heart-breaking.

The story is set in 1923 during the Irish Civil War on the mainland and the ruptures between these one-time friends is another, more intimate, kind of civil war. Maybe one can understand the first (it was a conflict over the nature of Irish independence), but the second is hard to comprehend.

Maybe it is a consequence of the smallness and isolation of an island community, but it ought to be possible to end a friendship more kindly. Farrell’s character is confused, then angry, and finally vengeful and, in portraying all these emotions, the actor gives possibly the finest performance of his career to date.

“Banshees” is supposed to be a black comedy – like “In Bruges” when Farrell, Gleeson and McDonagh last worked together – but really there is much more blackness than comedy. Everyone on this island seems to be a bit crazy, except the Condon character who wisely decides to leave.

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A review of the new rom-com movie “What’s Love Got To Do With It?’

March 12th, 2023 by Roger Darlington

The rom-com is such a staple of the cinematic diet that any addition to the genre has to find a new angle. In this case, the novel element is the comparison of arranged marriage – or assisted marriage, as it now called – which is so common in the Indian sub-continent (with a very high survival rate) and the so-called love marriage which is standard in the West (with an appalling success rate).

The screenwriter has some personal experience to bring to bear, since Jemima Goldsmith married for love in an Islamic ceremony to former cricketer and later Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, but divorced nine years later. This choice of subject enables some more novelty: many actors of Pakistani heritage and some location shooting in Lahore. The director is Indian filmmaker Shekhar Kapur who has made such classic works of British history as “Elizabeth” and “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”.

So there is some distinguished pedigree here, but this is not a film that will win awards, just one that will satisfyingly entertain anyone who is a romantic (like me). The two leads are good-looking and watchable: documentary filmmaker Zoe (Lily James) and oncologist Kazim (Shazad Latif), the former commitment-phobic and the later keen to follow his community’s traditions. In real life, such cultural differences might prove problematic, as Jemima Goldsmith found, but in reel life the end is never in doubt.

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