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Love, Life & Laughter (1934)
Weak story, weak characters, just one shining star
Without Gracie, this film would have disappeared without trace and I doubt anyone would have missed it, although for a rainy Tuesday in the 1930s, it was probably good enough. There is very little to relish in this fary tale romance other than the costume design and make-up, with the roles of Prince Charles and Nellie Gwynn are both wafer-thin and unbelievable. Gracie shines through of course, and does look truely wonderful, but even she can't compensate for the comedy which is not only predictable but also seems to fall flat most of the time. One for devoted fans!
Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
Good old-fashioned entertainment
Having recently watched the very lacklustre Crimes of Grindelwald as part of my job, I was today forced to sit through this new Mary Poppins film without any say in the matter whatsoever. You know what, it was really good! The songs are generally entertaining, if not as distinctive or as memorable as the ones in original film, but songs aside, the original super, sugar-coated cocker-nee construction always felt old-fashioned even when it was new. Here Emily Blunt redefines the role of Mary Poppins in a way that not only builds upon Julie Andrews original portrayal, but knocks it right into the middle of next week. The film is engaging throughout and avoids the traps of being overly sentimental or super sugary sweet without moving a million miles from the framework of the earlier film. The children are all believable and endearing and the guest stars add to a successful mix without jarring distraction. Perhaps the Michael Banks character does teeter on the brink of vapidity in a few scenes, but I think this has more to do with the writing rather than Ben Whishaw's acting. I also thought the whole 'A Cover is Not the Book' number felt out of place, but other than that, sit back, relax and enjoy!
Enjoyable film, but it's all just a bit too nice
This is one of those films where its hard to pin down exactly what's wrong. The acting is first rate, the dialog is realistic and amusing, and costumes, props and sets appear pretty much spot on. I think its that it is all just a bit too sanitised and everyone is just a little bit too nice. Most of London was a filthy, miserable place in the early 80s (see High Hopes by Mike Leigh), the majority of people where somewhat lacking in money, and it really wasn't until after the riots in 1985 that the overall tackiness started to fade. - in contrast, everyone here appears to be fairly well-off and all turned out in their Sunday best whenever we see them and all of London looks quite nice. Even more noticeable, every working mens club in 1984 had to be viewed through a thick fug of tobacco smoke and however well they were looked after, furniture and furnishings were apt to be tinted brown from tar, somewhat tired and all rather second-hand. Finally, even though this is a light-hearted look back, I did feel the bigotry and discrimination was side-stepped and over-sanitised, things did start to progress in this period, but not really that much..
Battlefield Recovery (2016)
One day they'll dig up programmes like this to show just how bad TV can be
"I'm Craig and I know tactics". "How personal is that?" Vacuous "experts" dig up sites in Latvia where there is a 90% chance of finding WWII relics with the kind of reckless abandonment that invites disaster and really deserves prosecution. Leaping gleefully like children whenever some tangible find comes to the surface. "hey its a bayonet", "Let me see" "wow that's sharp". this is treasure-hunting at its worst with some vague allusions towards preserving the sites from plunder by the sort of dreadful people who are just down the road doing exactly the same thing as our "experts" without a camera crew to excuse their actions. Watch what happens when they set fire to unexploded ordinance! Oh gosh is that a grenade pin? This is the TV you get when the only thing that drives TV programming is viewing figures and how cheap it is to make. Total crap made by people who think it's all you lot deserve filling channels that need stuff to fill them up that doesn't cost much because there are too many channels.
Les Misérables (2012)
Too close to the stage musical?
I do love the story and have watched most of the filmed versions that have appeared over the years with the Gerard Depardieu version being my own favourite. Financially this film has been a great success, I just wish they had worked harder to make the most of what a cinematic version might offer and it could have been another Oliver or West Side Story, but sadly it's not. So few musicals appear to work to fully utilise the medium of film and this one fails on many counts. 1. if your actors can't sing, don't force them to perfom long and avoidable solos! Poor Hugh Jackman did his best, but even an actor of his calibre can't compensate for such a long and unflattering spotlight. 2.Intersperse the songs with other stuff! 10 minutes of action does not mean the next 40 minuites can be overlooked. 3.Give people rousing choruses that they can sing along to. This film almost managed it, but felt the need to change track every time it got close. 4.You don't need to get your actors to sing every single bit of dialog. I think someone cottoned on to this about 3/4 of the way through, but then thought better of it. As it stands, this version is about an hour too long. i just hope its scale doesn't put anyone off from making another musical version some time in the future as it could be so much better than this.
It's a good Bond film
OK, the story is no more or less plausible than previous episodes in the series. Perhaps it has a harder edge, with a line of coffins draped in Union Jacks and faux news coverage of summary executions filmed on hand-held cameras mimicking all too familiar real life events. What is unfortunate is that the legacy of this series, injects softness where there should be none and implausibility where mere spectacle is no longer enough. The legacy demands that Bond is portrayed as a heroic figure, but coldly, there is little in this tale that is heroic. The dichotomy for the writers is delivering a convincing narrative about this secret agent, when little that drove the invention of the character and his "glamour" has any meaningful relevance to the job such an agent would need to do in today's world. We've know this for years of course, and the problem is perhaps the biggest challenge to face anyone who wants to continue the succession. There are few films in cinema history that are nicer to look at than this one, but if you want to get the most out of the film, don't bother trying to connect too many of the dots in the story. It's not Shawshank, The Godfather or Lawrence of Arabia, but it is a GOOD James Bond film!
Funny Games (1997)
Perhaps the most literal film title I've ever come across
Having seen several of Haneke's films, I didn't realise that this was a bit of an odd one out. Film is always about the relationship between what a filmmaker is attempting to portray and the films audience. But different people watch different films for different reasons and in some respects, with this film it feels as though Haneke is just being patronising to people who've seen some of his other films. Had it been included as one of the "Saw" series, I think I'd have probably rated it higher. Obviously I didn't know where this film was going at the outset, but anyone who's watched some of Haneke's other films, has to recognise that they are rather more ambitious than mere torture-porn. So why take time to belittle your own audience with a film that asks the question "Why are you watching this film?". The film works well in exploring and presenting that concept,and is beautifully acted, lighted and shot, but the narrative is all rather showboating for anyone who is watching this film for its critical value. My experience is that the only people who act outside social norms as depicted in this film are either very small children or near-fictional creations of the media used to frame their own agenda. As a viewer of this particular package, I was hoping for something more ambitious from Haneke than a sort of childish game.
The Lady in the Van (2015)
A good tale poorly rendered
"Maggie Smith is Glorious" boasts the cover of the DVD, and I wouldn't in any way contradict that, but she is the film's saving grace and the fact that the DVD contains an entire segment on "visual effects" reveals just how far from what was once a simple but endearing essay on English eccentricity this film has wandered. As with much of Bennett's work, it was in this simplicity that the attraction of the story lay, and moments of dialog in the script do hark back to that clarity. But with two Alan Bennetts, both with - to my ear - draining impersonations of Bennett's accent, an ensemble cast - many of whom seem to have been chosen for reasons other than their suitability for the roles and a frankly bizarre, Monty Python like final segment that fits like a spoonful of saccharine on top of a tablespoonful of sugar - what a disappointment!
Lone Survivor (2013)
Jingoistic , violent, and ultimately a school-boy war comic
First of all I have the greatest respect for the real soldiers that this film purports to represent. The training depicted during the introductory titles tests them to the limit and sometimes beyond. Throw them down a mountain though in the way that we see demonstrated in this film not once but twice, and they will break. Shoot them in the head and they will die. Stick bullet holes in them and they will pass out from shock or from blood loss. Fill their legs with huge chunks of shrapnel and they won't be able to walk. Somehow his film seems to have bypassed a reality check by many viewers, I can't think of any other reason it scores so highly. The action is brutal and intense, but also constructed in a way that should be absurdly unbelievable for most people over the age of 15. The characterisation makes Top Gun look like a work of Shakespeare and the gung-ho sacrifice of a Chinook full of soldiers forced on at gunpoint into the battle by one of their own ranks right up there with Major Kong riding the bomb in Dr Strangelove. Watch Come and See if you want to know what war is like, and watch Top Gun if you just want entertainment. The only people I'd recommend this one for is for sound-editors and mixers.
Black Hawk Down (2001)
Call of Duty with a bit of bromance
Very slightly more sophisticated than John Wayne's Green Berets, this is a gung-ho action packed patriotic thriller "based on real events". Like COD, it's pretty accurate in it's depiction of weapon usage and clearly shows that through succeeding in its aim to "leave no man behind", we may be loosing the battle but winning the war. We know at the end, that this particular episode wasn't a great victory for the USA. But hey ho, every US soldier who died is a brave hero listed by name at the end of the film, the hundreds of Somali's were just cannon fodder and clearly every single one was a savage committed to the cause. Were all the Somalis on the same side? Who cares. Where did their weapons come from? Who cares. The one thing I do remember from media coverage of the actual conflict was footage of some of the bodies of American soldiers captured during the battle being dragged through the streets. Clearly this would have distracted from this "accurate" portrayal which rather than being heralded as a graphic representation of real events, should be more widely recognised as a recruiting flag-waver. If it didn't pretend to be something its not, then as an action thriller, it is well crafted and I would have given it higher marks. But people have been led to believe it is more than that, and that is really unforgivable.
Great style, a wonderful homage, but not a film for filmgoers.
Opera - for many people an unapproachable blend of classical music, pantomime theatrics and (probably) someone dying. Such a superficial understanding of the medium is a direct result of it's lack of accessibility. It usually costs a lot of money to see a production which is really worth seeing, not everyone in the audience will be there for the show and even those that are, quite a few probably can't understand the dialog. It's only through an understanding of how all the elements work together to create a greater whole that you can fully appreciate the beauty in it's complexity and nuance. Film is different, generally far more accessible but just as complex and because the elements are better understood and recognised, many more new films appear than new operas. Brick is a film with great ambition and a huge number of the correct ingredients, style, colour, complexity, pizazz and it has clearly been made by someone with a passion for the art and a love of film. But it's like an Opera where one of the singers is out of tune but they press on regardless. A small but vital element is missing. This film is so wrapped up in it's teams ambition and in being a showcase for creativity, that for whatever reason they didn't think a great story to wrap it all around could be a critical ingredient. The film may tick a lot of the right boxes for film studies and the punchline at the end may be unexpected, but the writer is so wrapped up in creating syncopated dialogue and with the desire to be obtuse that I can't help feeling much of the potential audience would have stopped watching long before it reached that point, and even those that hadn't, would probably wonder why they bothered. There are a lot of great ingredients in this film, the cake really looks fantastic and smells delicious, it's just not really worth spending the time eating it.
This is a brilliant film-maker at his absolute peak. Masterly control of pace, visuals, story, lighting, sound, script. No second or frame is wasted in drawing the viewer into this sparse, all-encompassing descent into hell. You can read whatever you like into the driving force behind Carol's psychosis, the vagueness of the clues suggest, but never spell out in a way that many writers would feel forced to convey. Her world falls apart not through any direct outside force or action, but through time and self-imposed introversion and isolation. Catherine Deneuve is totally believable throughout and subtle touches like nun's playing volleyball and rooms that change shape and size all add to the confusion of what's real and what's going on inside or outside her head. One of the few films I've seen where you do recoil without thinking.
The Moon Is Down (1943)
Flies conquering flypaper
This is a tremendous book, and given the constraints of wartime, the film isn't a bad representation. The music occasionally errs on the side of mawkishness, there's a slightly awkward mix of actors playing the Germans, and whether or not they should speak with a German accent perhaps should have been decided upon for the sake of consistency before filming began. Other than that though, here is a good look at life under occupation. The town is only defended by twelve men, and is "conquered" in one deft swoop with little damage. But the real story is that while the Germans may occupy the town and while it's inhabitants can do little directly against soldiers with guns, like "flies conquering flypaper" the German's are in a trap of their own making, and nothing they can do will conquer the minds or win the hearts of the people that they seek to oppress. As Mayor Orden tells the soon to be shot Alex Morden at a kangaroo court of German Officers, "Go Knowing that these men will never again have any rest at all until they're gone from Norway or dead".
Relatos salvajes (2014)
Fashionable anti-affirmation wrapped up in an old package
It's been a while since I've seen a compilation movie, but the format lends itself well to these type of short cameos where the theme is similar, but perhaps not substantive enough for a longer work. Personally, I thought the first tale was the strongest, but by the third I was hoping for a change of tack. As I'd not heard of the film before, I stayed till the end, but I'll be pleased when the current fashion for nihilism dies a death and we can move on. When revenge and misery can be celebrated as enthusiastically as this film's popularity would seem to indicate, it doesn't bode well for society as a whole. The movie is well put together, well-acted and the scripts are good, but nobody is going to look back on this film in twenty years time as anything other than an occasionally humorous piece of light-entertainment.
Cracking little crime drama, a little ahead of it's time
Anyone who enjoys British TV crime drama such as Softly Softly, Taggart or Frost will be right at home with this unfamiliar and rarely shown film. It's wonderful to see a rather seedy early-sixties Brighton, and other than some rather choppy camera work which makes it look more like a 60s TV production than a film, it's surprisingly modern in it's pacing. Jack Warner is on good form, and despite playing a Detective Inspector on the verge of retirement, still looks a little old - even though this was filmed at least a decade before he finished playing Dixon of Dock Green! John Le Mesurier shines in a small role as a distraught father. I thought one or two of the cast perform a little too stiffly to make this a real classic, but its enjoyable nevertheless.
Train of Events (1949)
An entertaining ensemble of vignettes
Most Ealing films are worth watching, and this one I feel does deserve a bit of a wider audience. I'll start by saying it does have a major flaw, which I'm sure also provides the reason for the films original poor reception. A train crash is an extraordinary, life-changing event. Although the crash in this film does affect the outcome of one of the tales, in the main it simply provides a trite plot device to link together all our groups of disparate characters. Although trains do play a role in one of the tales, the crash in this film feels as artificial as one of those TV soap episodes when viewing figures have started to drop off and they want people to come back and see which major character is killed off. Still, that flaw aside, the whole thing is filled with some delicious cameos - Stella (Valerie Hobson) delivering a perfect raspberry to Irina Norozova (Irina Baronova) - a tempestuous Russian pianist driven to such heights of passion by the conducting of Stella's husband (John Clements), the climax of her performance is as vivid as the Cafe scene from When Harry met Sally. Peter Finch is noteworthy as the jilted actor, but his performance is overshadowed by Mary Morris as his floozy, shameless wife. Jack Warner's engine driver piece is perhaps more basic fare, but several flawless parries with Miles Malleson, particularly discussing whether a hen suffers from gapes, bumblefoot or pip serve to raise the game. Joan Dowling, as the selfless, piteous, adoring Ella also gives a wonderful performance, and it's very sad to read that her own life ended so tragically before it had really begun.
Eight Iron Men (1952)
Satisfactory war drama
Mainly confined to a couple of sets, the success or failure of this film rests very heavily on the script and upon the ensemble cast. Most of the actors work well, Bonar Colleano and Lee Marvin almost raising this film to a level above the slightly interesting. Unfortunately, the script just isn't punchy enough and you wait for tense moments that never arrive. The guy who gets stranded has proved himself pretty useless. Our heroes, need to contrast dark and light traits in humanity. Do they follow orders and abandon the sap or do the decent thing, ignore the orders, risk life and limb and try and rescue a guy who many of them think isn't worth the effort. The idea is sound, but though much of the dialogue is interesting, for the most part there is a palpable lack of tension. Richard Kiley as Carter should play a critical role, but his lines are pretty lame and he is unconvincing. Verbal sparring between him and Lee Marvin is so one sided, you're never sure what Carter is thinking about. The ending is also lacklustre, almost as if there should have been another scene and they forgot to record it. Worth seeing for the performances of Lee Marvin and the sadly short-lived Bonar Colleano and for the curious day-dream sequences, but saving Private Ryan it ain't!
Conflict of Wings (1954)
Bland drama with a touch of comedy & romance but no surprises
Perhaps akin to a somnambulistic cruise upon the Norfolk Broads, this film plods along and along and along. Kieron Moore looks occasionally agitated, Niall MacGinnis (Harry Tilney) raises his voice and John Gregson and Muriel Pavlow provide almost as much billing and cooing as the local wildlife. Glimpses of town life and the RAF base are perhaps highlights, but the plot and the dialogue is all so insipid that it's hard to maintain a great deal of interest in the developing "conflict". A rather over-strident score detracts further, particularly when it clashes with the soft, fluffy landscape of the wetlands which is generally captured (sadly) with all the grandeur and magnitude of those stock film-library shots of Africa they drop into Tarzan films. Perditor is apparently Latin for destroyer, which probably has some significance in the book, but the bird with that epithet seems the only real victim by the end of the film, for everyone else the message seems more like "ahh, but that's progress".
The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959)
Uneven but satisfactory drama
The opening 40 minutes or so of this film are fantastic. Cooper and Heston are excellent. The sets and special effects are extraordinarily good and exceptionally realistic for the era and everyone should be gripped by this point. We then move to the first and most crippling thorn in the side of this film, Richard Harris. His role is small but important and played with all the subtlety of a lead balloon. With an accent that varies from brummie to cockney to South African (but is defiantly never Irish), he dominates every scene in which he appears in a way that - thanks to his acting - his character somehow never quite manages. We then move to what should appear to be a gripping peak, Cooper's day in court. This is a critical part of the story, but minor sub-plots, instead of being used to build up or sustain the tension, instead provide distractions and disperse much of the energy. The court case which is deliberately anti-climactic should serve to drive the momentum of the story forward, but comes across as a sort of ineffectual interlude until we are allowed to return to the drama of the final reel. Here again all is fine and things begin to build up again until Harris is required to take the menace and terror up a further notch. He fails. There is drama, but it's nothing to what it might have been. The film closes with a nondescript scene tying up loose ends and includes the line "I think perhaps there will be serious charges against the owners in London". Well gosh, really!
High Flight (1957)
One for Hawker Hunter fans only. Top Gun it ain't.
Rather half-hearted effort at showing the passage of a group of Air Cadets through basic training in the 1950s at RAF Cranwell. There are no surprises, the roles are all pretty weak and the two leads Ray Milland and Kenneth Haigh fail miserably to conjure any passion into the 'dramatic' events that involve them both. Really, the only thing worthy of note is some of the footage of the Hawker Hunters and de Havilland Vampires and concomitant vehicles and equipment, but even ardent admirers of such things will probably long for an edited version the film where the storyline doesn't keep on interrupting the aesthetics.
Terrific looks, great performance, feeble plot
There is a lot to like about this film, particularly if you're a fan of motor racing and cinematography. Beautiful costume, wonderful settings and terrific cars all shot in sumptuous colour. Stanley Baker and James Robertson Justice adding more than a little gravitas to roles thinner than a ten-bob note, but even though they're backed up by the talents of Odile Versois and Maurice Denham amongst others, they are unable to drag your attention from a plot so ludicrous that even 'Boys Own' would have rejected it. Anthony Steel has top billing, but the troubles that had begun to dog him off-screen translate into a performance that barely registers and one wonders if there were major changes in the story and script to accommodate his fall from grace. The film is quite an enjoyable romp and definitely worth watching, even if it's just for a glimpse of such obscure cars as the Fairthorpe Atom and Isocarro Furgone!
London Belongs to Me (1948)
Life is what happens to you while you're busy making plans
An interesting narrative voyage, which truly defies a neat categorisation. The film points us in several different directions, but is constructed chiefly around the lives of Mr and Mrs Josser and their daughter Doris who live in the ground floor of No 10 Dulcimer Street in London in 1938 -39. Retiring after many years of loyal service at the same company, Mr Josser is looking forward to settling down with his wife in a small cottage in the country. With war on the horizon, convention might dictate that this would become a primary theme, however, like life, this film isn't like that - war does come, but to these ordinary folk, it's only a small part of the scenery. Instead we are given a wonderful tapestry of richly played intertwined vignettes. Some humorous, some dramatic but all of which serve to draw us in. Mr Josser and his family are often incidental to the main point of focus, but isn't that often just how life is!
Sympathetic but ultimately superficial portrait
I hoped this would offer a more revealing insight into Amy's mental illness, but the problem with some types of mental illness is that people are so very good at hiding it. I guess what you do see here, in a way that for most people is hidden, is how much of your life for anyone with mental health issues is really just an act. For sure, thanks to her amazing talent, Amy's life was played out to a much wider audience and hence captured - often in excruciating detail by the camera, but by the end of the film, although I had a better idea of the chronology of events, I think it really exposed surprisingly little of Amy Winehouse and just what made her tick. Yes many people along the way did recognise her instability, but I think it was quite notable how the media seized on drug abuse, when this, bulimia and even the alcoholism that killed her were merely symptoms of much deeper problems. Inevitably, the roller-coaster of drug-abuse and recovery dominates the narrative of this film, but generally overlooks how much time and effort Amy must have spent on becoming the best Jazz singer on the planet and the amount of intellectual effort she required to achieve that feat and also to produce lyrics that were both sincere and interesting. I think she achieved that aim, but a 5 minute chat with her friend during the 2008 Grammy awards revealed just how superficial she found the achievement. Sadly despite her intelligence, she had a fairly closed mind to any form of psychological therapy, and despite a succession of boyfriends, doesn't appear from anything we see here to have found anyone who she trusted enough who was in any position to help her change direction. To my mind, she created a kind of comic book character for herself, only to find that despite massive international acclaim, it didn't mean the same thing to her. She gave a massive amount to charity, and clearly had a sincere perspective on a huge range of issues, sadly nobody in this film really talks to her about anything but "Amy Winehouse".
Twisting the time away
Polished, professional performances, but the twist lacks the punch of "The Sting", the drama of "Ocean's Eleven" or even the humour of "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels". Ultimately, we need to care for someone at the end who doesn't seem to have any redeeming qualities and I didn't buy it. From the start, it's clear that this will be a twist in the tale drama, and our sympathies focus on Jess (played by Margot Robbie), an out-of-her-depth con-artist who foolishly targets Nicky, a master con-artist (played by Will Smith). Without giving too much away, for this film to really work, we need to love and care about both characters and their relationship with each other right up to the end of the film. Unfortunately for the twists to work, one of them has to completely betray the other more than once. It would be incredulous for any relationship to survive this, and one of this pair is too nice for us to really forgive the other. The story really wants to be too clever, and in striving to surprise us, also hopes we'll overlook an implausible, unbreachable divide to buy into it's happy ending. It's not an unenjoyable romp, but in the end I think that makes it a twist to far.
Heavens Above! (1963)
Even a stellar Sellers can't boost mockery to biting satire
There is a very rich wealth of comedic talent involved throughout this film. Sadly, the majority are wasted in shallow stereotypical caricatures which en-masse, eventually drag the fairly simple premise (answered very pointedly by the film's title) away from the pleasing light-heartedness of films like "Two Way Stretch" or the benchmark satire of "I'm All Right Jack" to something that ends up leaving a bit of a nasty taste in the mouth. The only reason to watch this film is to enjoy the work of Peter Sellers. The meek sincerity of his Rev. John Smallwood is unblemished throughout, but what should be the pointed nature of his eventual salvation at the end of the film jars badly. We witness that both the church and the odious parish emerge relatively unscathed, but Smallwood's deliverance doesn't gel and appears as though it were tacked on regardless when the film-makers couldn't think of anything else to end the film. Alongside Sellers, only George Woodbridge is particularly notable, playing very much against type as a fairly shrewd Bishop.