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James.S.Davies

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20 reviews in total 
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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Two powerful dramas from two supposedly different worlds, 17 March 2013
9/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A quality Danish family drama focussing on two families struggling to deal with absent parents. Young Christian is mourning the loss of his mother who's death he holds his work-away father, at least emotionally, responsible for. Then there's Elias, bullied at school for being Swedish and having goofy teeth, who is coming to terms with his parents' separation and who's father Anton is absent for long periods due to his work as a doctor at an African refugee camp.

The themes are not uncommon for a film dealing with two young adolescent boys as central protagonists: The moral dilemmas that come with justifying violence as retribution against those who have dealt you injustices. However, what this film does extremely effectively is explore this pivotal theme by setting up the parallel narratives in the Denmark and Africa. In the former we have the seemingly trivial tribulations of school-yard violence set against the latter's more obviously life-threatening brutality of a genocidal tyrant.

The film's moral compass is Anton who tries to teach the boys of the idiocy and futility of violent action in the developed world. Meanwhile he himself becomes compromised when he comes face to face with the tyrant in the developing world.

In A Better World is a brave film and it's to director Susanne Bier and her magnificent cast's utmost credit that it contains so many tender and dramatic moments while exploring one of life's more troubling moral equations in such a complex way.

Champion (1949)
A champion among boxing films, 29 August 2012
8/10

If the boxing game has its own genre, and the sheer number of them compared to other sports certainly suggests it warrants one, then this is one of the best of them.

Boxing has often been used to explore family values, moral disorder and the reality of an American dream that extols social climbing but, in this world at least, bounces you back like a ring rope. Certainly Midge Kelly, one of Kurt Douglas's great characters, finds hitting his opponents far easier than it is to punch through society's ceiling of power and fortune.

The film sets itself up as the tale of a poor boy done good; a rags to riches story. Indeed, there are the now all too familiar training and fights' montages as we witness his endeavour and ascent up the middleweight rankings. However, it soon becomes clear that hard work in the ring isn't enough to climb society's own rankings ladder. Kelly ruthlessly turn his back on the people who helped him on his way including his own family, and we see that the higher he climbs the more corruptible he becomes – choosing money, sex and his name in the papers over moral value.

The climb to the top has left him at odds to those closest to him, most notably his disabled brother Connie (movingly played by Arthur Kennedy). The film seems to extol the virtues its central protagonist has himself abandoned but at the same time suggests that without his ruthless streak he would have been left in the boxing wilderness without a shot at a title. Ultimately the system portrayed is corrupt and it seems that those trying to play it are destroyed by it. A bleak, dystopian conclusion, in keeping with the film noirs of that time.

Champion, both stylistically and thematically, feels like a forerunner to Raging Bull and to a lesser extent, the more recent The Fighter. This alone would make it worth a look, but the film packs enough of a punch through the quality of its performances and style to make it recommendable viewing in its own right.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
David Lynch's MASTERPIECE, 21 July 2003

The film starts like a glossy 50s melodrama with colourful suburban gardens complete with white picket fences and a neighbourly shiny red vintage fire engine serenely passing by. However, it isn't long before we're left with little doubt that a darker, murkier side is awaiting us, as the peacefulness is broken by a gardener's cripplingly sudden cardiac arrest followed by stark close-ups of parasitic beetles. This is a clever and beautifully shot taster of the film's overriding theme; that violence is always a threat even within America's seemingly most ideal small town environments.

The plot centres around the gardener's son, Jeffrey Beaumont, who is brought home from school after his father's collapse, finds a severed human ear and his youthful curiosity gets him involved in the intriguing mystery of singer Dorothy Vallens which ultimately leads into the violent world of local sociopath Frank Booth.

This is one of my favourite films of the 1980s although, like one of my other favourites Raging Bull, because of the realism of its violence, it can be hard to watch. The direction is superb and the cast all turn in career best performances. MacLachlan is likeable in a Jimmy Stewart kind of way as the all American boy (Jeffrey's father owns the local hardware store as did Stewart's in real life). His character was no out and out rebel but the film shows that even wholesome naïve adventurousness can be enough to fall into American society's seedy underbelly.

While Dern is endearing in her portrayal Jeffrey's robin loving sweetheart and is the film's purest representative of innocence, Hopper and Rossellini's characters represent the darker possibilities of life. Valens is one of film's all time great femme fatale's whose world has been made intolerable by the gas guzzling Booth, possibly cinema's scariest psychopath. Rossellini was required to gain weight for the film and is both vunerable and self-destructive, yet her sexuality is understandably appealing to the young Jeffrey. Hopper is quite simply scary but somehow manages to make his despicable character sympathetic. What makes Frank Booth so terrifying is that he is allowed to move freely among society seemingly without detection. This is no caged psychopath we're dealing with here.

This film gets 10 out of 10. It's a classic but not one for the faint hearted.

3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
The Drugs Don't Work, 4 February 2001

It would be true to say that William Marsh's directorial debut pulls no punches. In fact shock tactics are deliberately played right from the word go. One of the first shots is of the alcoholic Giles' bloody teeth falling out one by one. From here on in the audience is left with little doubt that we're in for a bumpy ride. However, we end up being bombarded with so many scenes of drugs, violence, nudity and general depravity that one soon develops an immunity.

The plot centers around one hedonistic weekend where a bunch of directionless English graduates who inhabit a country mansion, are visited by three American friends (one of whom is played by Marsh himself) bent on supplying the perfect weekend of sex and drugs. It's kind of like watching a drugged-up version of Peter's Friends. The films' sub-plot involves a net based terrorist group known as The Conceptualists, who have somehow infiltrated the proceedings. It soon becomes clear that one of the revelers is not what they seem. However any intrigue, or indeed suspense, is dulled by our lack of empathy for the characters, who are either too larger-than-life to be believable or just totally un-likeable.

Dead Babies would no doubt like to be thought of in the same tradition as other drug fueled British cult classics such as Performance, Withnail and I, and Trainspotting. However, these films were far more character driven and weren't so heavily dependent on artificial means of stimulation.

Memento (2000)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Definitely not instantly forgettable, 9 December 2000
7/10

British director Christopher Nolan's latest venture is an intriguing and often confusing attempt to portray the events of a young widower with vengeance in mind for his late wife's killing. What makes this different from your average revenge film is that Lenny (Guy Pearce) has a "condition" which means that since the incident (involving his wife's apparent rape and murder) he only has a two minute memory span. Nolan's stroke of genius is that he offers us such a disjointed narrative that his audience can't help but identify with Lenny's disorientation!

Throughout the film, like Lenny, we attempt to piece together some sense of chronology and most importantly we can't be sure of whom Lenny should trust. The main support roles, Carrie Anne Moss as the femme fatale and Joe Pantoliano as the private detective-type, are both notable for their moral ambiguities.

Not only is the plot structure a refreshing and rewarding experience, the performances are certainly up to scratch with Guy Pearce giving another fine display in the lead role, proving that LA Confidential wasn't just a flash in the pan.

Snatch (2000)
Anything to declare?... Yeah don't go to Hollywood!, 26 November 2000
7/10

The British film industry is lucky. Guy Ritchie doesn't like flying!

The main criticism I'd heard regarding this film was that it was just more of the same from its predecessor Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Well I'd rather have a Lock Stock'2 than the 50 Runaway Brides that Hollywood deems worthy to force upon us each year!

Of course it is impossible to avoid comparisons with Ritchie's remarkable debut. The trademarks are all here - the larger than life criminal underworlders (including more racial stereotypes than all the Bond films put together), the far-fetched farcical plot, and the comicbook violence. However, Snatch is an altogether darker, harder tonic to swallow.

While Snatch may be a lot darker in tone, with hard edged depictions of life in the depths of the criminal underworld (most notably the dog-fighting), it still delivers plenty of punch in its comedy. The cast all seem to thoroughly enjoy their roles (most of which are pretty much straightforward cameos) with Brad Pitt perhaps steeling the show with his spot on coherently-challenged Gypsy boxer.

Snatch is a brutally stylish, wickedly enjoyable British gangster film. More of the same then!

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Alm' Fam' is Ab' Fab', 11 October 2000
7/10

However much this film may seemingly portray itself as a deconstruction of the rock'n'roll myth it is pretty much the stuff of nostalgia and fairytale from beginning to end, and all the more funny and emotionally engaging for it!

Already a child prodigy in academic terms, young Billy Miller (Michael Angarano) begins a journey of rock'n'roll self discovery after inheriting his sister's (Zooey Deschanel) entire record collection when she manages to sever herself from her mother's (Frances MacDormand) domineering conservativeness, running off to San Fransisco to become an air hostess. The collection reads like a who's who of the golden age of guitar based psychadelic pop music from The Beach Boys' 'Pet Sounds' to The Who's 'Tommy'.

By the age of 15 with his mother's "don't do Drugs" moto still ringing in his ears, Billy (now played by Patrick Fugit)gatecrashes his frist gig, gaining access backstage with the help of an army of "non-groupies" headed by the beautiful and promiscuous Penny Lane (Kate Hudson). Armed only with a tape recorder and a few words of wisdom bestowed on him from his local mentor, real-life music-journo legend Lester Bangs, he embarks on an assignment for Rolling Stone magazine covering the haphazard breakthrough tour of Rock's latest grear white no-hopers 'Stillwater'.

During the coarse of this tour, which gives Almost Famous its road movie credential, Billy be-friends the band's pin-up guitarist Russell (Billy Crudup), the charismatic Jim Morrison wannabe of the band, and more importantly the man who uses Penny as his part-time squeeze. Throughout events young Billy is torn between the extremities of liberal decadence of the music scene and the conservative matriarchal and still dominant figure of his mother back home in San Diego. As in his previous work 'Jerry Macguire' Cameron Crowe's message is neither clearly left or right wing. While seemingly offering an acceptance of the conflicting ideologies; conservative matriarchy versus free-living rock'n'roll, the film highlights the destructiveness of both sides. While in 'Jerry Macguire' such political ambiguities may have seemed wishy-washy, they are a more welcome treatment for this subject matter.

Frances MacDormand (of Oscar Winning fame for Fargo) is perfectly freaksome as Billy's mother, who constantly condemns the evils of the decadent lifestyle, ably "freaking out" even the most notorious of rock cronies through just one phone call, and delivering arguably the film's best line, "rock stars have kidnapped my son". However, like any film with a child as its central protagonist, its success hinges on the casting of Billy, and Patrick Fugit, as awkward and geeky as he is charming and intellectual, and as un-cool as he is an anomaly, certainly doesn't let proceedings down here.

Whether or not you understand the in-jokes and references that relate to this period of the "death of rock'n'roll" (as Bangs refers to it) in early 1970s America, there are still enough humorous moments for even the most novice of music lovers to enjoy. Although admittedly you will get even more out of it the more knowledge you come to the film with. Needless to say one can imagine some aging crinkly haired rocker sitting in a cinema somewhere complaining about its lack of true authenticity (Peter Frampton was used as a technical consultant as well as having a cameo role so it should be pretty close to the real deal!). Despite such predictable quibbles, it's an original concept for a major Hollywood studio movie, and a brave one too, and for this it should be applauded.

11 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
More than just a blonde bombshell!, 22 August 2000
9/10

Diana Dors in her first dramatic role, and last before her unsuccessful venture into Hollywood, sees her trade in her glamorous image for a more realistic and down to earth performance as a woman who finds herself on death row after committing a crime of passion. The film, based on a John Henry novel, has obvious similarities to the real life drama of Ruth Ellis, who murdered her ex-lover on a busy London street and become the last British woman to be hung a year before this film was made.

Dors had become one of the more famous starlets to emerge in Britain's post-war attempt at a Hollywood-like star system. Her familiarity with British audiences no doubt ensured sympathy for her character, which played partly on her bad-girl image. However, this was more than a mere star vehicle, and it saw her transform herself from a star to a serious actress. The American distributors seemed to miss the point somewhat, titling the film on its release there, 'Blonde Sinner'.

The film obviously draws upon the controversial issue of capital punishment. There is no doubt that, despite us witnessing her murder in cold blood, our sympathies are meant to lie with Dors' character. This is of course partly due to her star persona but also because of the way in which the film is directed. Rarely do we see the face of her victim who we learn nothing of apart from his cold attitude towards her ex-lover, Michael Craig, whom Dors has shown nothing but compassion for. Her callous attitude towards his tragic New Years eve suicide is exemplary of this, when she shrugs him off as someone who had just been a nuisance to her.

However, the film is commendable in that manages to avoid mere melodrama. We don't just get a one-sided view of events. We are left in no doubt that the Dors character is herself an adultress who committed a murder with malice and forethought. The issue the film achieves in getting across is the detrimental effect the capital punishment system has on those who are around it. Not only do we see the effect it has on Dors' family but also we get an insight of the wardesses who are with her for her final days. In particular we recognise the discipline shown by Yvonne Mitchell's character, Macfarlane, a young wardess who is drawn with compassion and sympathy towards Dors, and yet must contain her emotions especially during the last agonisingly pensive hours. There is also a feeling that we should not be overly sympathetic towards Dors, as she is rebuked by an elderly Christian lady that visits her for being too self-pitying and for showing little or no remorse. This theme is of course drawn on in more detail in Tim Robbins' recent death row drama 'Dead Man Walking'.

J. Lee Thompson's taut direction shows signs of his later atmospheric Stateside successes such as 'Cape Fear'. The expressionistic filming techniques used to add to the claustrophobic tension of the prison cell scenes are particularly effective. Yvonne Mitchell provides a strong supporting role as the young wardess who befriends Dors. However, it is Dors herself who should be applauded most of all for her emotional and naturalistic performance as the woman awaiting her fate. Some of the film's themes may seem rather cliched to a modern audience but I would imagine it hit a nerve when the issue was at the forethought of the British consciousness.

Sensitive 70s Sensibilities, 10 August 2000

Like his previous film Sense and Sensibility, Ang Lee's latest intense character-based drama is a period piece. This one is rather more contemporary however, as it's set in 1970s upstate New York rather than 18th century rural England. Once again he demonstrates his remarkable versatility, not only in setting but in the fact that the film's dramatic qualities is often matched by a wonderful subtle humour.

The Ice Storm essentially portrays how the liberal sensibilities of the parents in the film disrupted the up-bringing of their off-spring. The young teenagers seem almost forced in to their sexual awakenings. The extra-marital social practices of the parents makes them problematic role models.

Despite the supposed sexual liberation the emotions in this film seem just as repressive as they did in Austen's England. The emotions of the serial adultress played by Sigourney Weaver seem as cold as the storm itself. Even Kline's emotions are only eventually thawed out through a mixture of drunken jealousy and grief.

Comparisons are now bound to be made with 'American Beauty'. It certainly isn't as accessible as that already proclaimed classic, but its possibly a more rewarding film. The cast are all notable for the realism they bring in their portrayals of the dysfunctional 70s characters. While Lee's direction is real quality, with the imagery he brings to the screen being one of The Ice Storm's most commendable qualities.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Black Men Have To Jump?, 5 August 2000

Spike Lee returns to familiar themes for this basketball drama, in which a talented young black man desperately seeks to escape from the black ghetto he has been brought up in. Such an overriding theme is almost identical to that of his previous venture 'Clockers'.

Lee teams up with Washington for the first time since their successful collaboration on the Malcolm X biopic. The actor plays the jailed father of basketball genius, Jesus Shuttleworth, who is ruthless in his attempt to ensure that his son escapes the ghetto through the sport. However, what also becomes clear is that his motives are not entirely unselfish in that he also puts the hopes of the entire family upon the boy's shoulders.

The son understandably resents his father; in fact it's a wonder he has any contact with him at all considering the crime he was put away for! Whilst the resentment towards his father may be justifiable, we also see that he feels that he is unable to succeed without turning his back on the neighbourhood which reared him. An example of this is when he breaks off from his relationship with his childhood sweetheart after we see him cheating on her with some white college bimbos.

However, Lee doesn't seem critical of the youth's ruthless desire, on the contrary the narrative seems quite sympathetic towards him as we watch him being pulled from all angles as to where his future should lie by people who have only their own vested interests in mind. Lee tries to focus on the fact that a young black man such as Jesus has very little choice even when it would appear from the outside that he has the world at his feet.

The situation of Jesus' character reminded me much of Morris Chestnut's Ricky in John Singleton's 'Boyz N The Hood', who was tragically destroyed by his society before he could escape. Unlike the football hopeful in Singleton's earlier film, Lee's basketball hopeful is prepared to trample on those closest to him to reach the lure of riches. Like the character of Flipper in Lee's 'Jungle Fever' he succumbs, all be it in a less literal way, to the white temptation and thus damages his own black roots. By placing his father as the film's central protagonist we gain a first hand perspective of the potential harm.

Basketball, a sport traditionally dominated by Afro-Americans, offers the ideal symbol for Lee's thought provoking critique of the flawed Afro-American Dream.


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