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The Lovely Bones (2009)
I thought it was good
If this had not been a Peter Jackson film I doubt if I would have gone and seen it. The reviews it has received range from mixed to negative. I don't think it's as good as The Lord of the Rings or King Kong but still a film worth seeing. The fact that the protagonist is a teenage girl would put many guys off seeing it but Peter Jackson has made some good films for boys of all ages and I definitely am a fan of his work. There is a small in-joke with the bookshop advertising the book of The Lord of the Rings and you see Peter Jackson in the camera shop examining a now long obsolete implement, a cine camera. It also seems strange now in the digital age Susie taking her pictures on film. I must admit when I first saw it I didn't recognise Saoirse Ronan from Atonement. She gives a good performance but the best performance in the film is from Stanley Tucci. Right from the moment he appears on screen you're thinking "I don't like the look of this guy". He was nominated for an Oscar but didn't win. He should have. The book is I think more of a ladies' book and I haven't read it so I can't make any comparisons. One thing I know about the book is that Christian fundamentalists didn't like it because there is no last judgement and no God in the afterlife as portrayed in the book. But what's so bad about there being no last judgement. They turn God into a bogeyman and they are very flawed and bad people if they wish an eternity of torment on people who don't share their obsession with ancient Middle Eastern beliefs. One critic said Peter Jackson portrayed the afterlife as an amalgam of screensavers. Personally, I don't want my afterlife to be as girly as Susie's.
Lower budget but still good
C S Lewis died the day before the first ever episode of Dr Who was broadcast and like Dr Who this version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has excellent production values but low budget special effects. I think the animatronic of Aslan must have absorbed quite a lot of the special effects budget. The two-dimensional animations of the various creatures contrasting with the three-dimensional Aslan mar the impact of an otherwise good production as do the rather humanoid beavers and wolves. But Barbara Kellerman is every bit as good as Tilda Swinton and the four child actors playing the Pevensie children are excellent. Thanks to the films of more recent years and a DVD promotion by the Daily Mail this BBC version of the second Narnia book will have gained a new following. It might lack the special effects and spectacular New Zealand locations of the 2005 film but I still recommend it highly.
In Bruges (2008)
A very original gangster movie
This film features characters and a plot which one would normally expect to be located in the east end of London. Or if it was about gangsters hiding out in a continental city one would expect it to be Amsterdam. But no, it's Bruges. The plot may seem relatively simple but there are a lot of deeper meanings in the film in the imagery of Bosch paintings and references to religious relics. Bruges is a city well worth visiting which I have been to a couple of times before but for me the city will never be the same again after seeing this film. The film is an 18 certificate and one can see why. Kids who may want to see it because it features four moonlighters from the Harry Potter films should not be allowed to. There is a lot of swearing in it and the scenes where people get shot are quite grisly. There is also one scene which is not for people who suffer from vertigo. Very good and Clemence Poesy also looks hot in a slip!
The 39 Steps (2008)
This version is not true to the spirit of John Buchan's novel and loses out a lot by not being set in Galloway, something which gives Robert Powell's version the edge. I wonder if this version is meant to be a rebooting of the Hannay stories in the style of Daniel Craig's James Bond films. I mean Hannay has always been played by dark-haired actors and most book covers of The 39 Steps and the other Hannay stories show Hannay as dark-haired. Some also say Hannay is a more gentlemanly early 20th century James Bond. There is also no love interest in Hannay's life until the third novel, Mr Standfast, but Lydia Leonard is there as a suffragette who is a romantic at heart and doesn't say no to being wooed with roses and posh dinners. The anachronism of the SE5a before the First World War has broken out really grates. Another thing that mars it a bit for Scottish viewers is that one recognises all the locations. The Foreign Office is Glasgow City Chambers, another part of which contains Hannay's flat and his club and he is seen passing Register House at the eastern end of Princes Street when he is making his escape from London. The London railway station is actually Kelvingrove Art Galleries and the villains' headquarters is Dumbarton Castle. Altogether a rather pointless remake.
Marvellous and Original
Many of us are familiar with the story of the discovery of Tutenkhamun's tomb but Egypt goes into it in much greater detail. Egypt presents the events that led to the story of the curse of Tutenkhamun in a level headed way. I wonder though, how true is the story about Howard Carter having a thing for Lady Evelyn Carnarvon? Mind you, when she's played by the lovely, slightly Keira Knightley-ish Alexandra Weaver who can blame him? Giovanni Belzoni was a colourful larger than life character whose priceless contributions to Egyptology are not well known to the general public. Thanks to him, marvellous Egyptian treasures such as the Head of the Younger Memnon are now in the British Museum. Thanks to CGI, Egypt shows us Abu Simbel exactly as it was found by Belzoni, half buried by the sandstorms of three millenia. CGI also shows us what these monuments looked like when they were newly built and it's very strange as hitherto it was hard to conceive of them as anything other than ruins. Although the discovery of the Rosetta Stone is well known this series tells us about another name not known to many people, Jean Francois Champollion. I used to think that with the discovery of the Rosetta Stone translating the hieroglyphs would have been as straightforward as looking up a language dictionary. Egypt shows us that it wasn't as easy as that. Champollion deciphered their meaning and enabled the reason for the construction of the Great Pyramid at Gizeh to be discovered. I recommend buying the DVD very strongly. As another reviewer says, it can be watched over and over again. It's great.
Never too old! (Spoilers)
Indy seems here to be putting into practice the lesson he learned in German East Africa while pursuing the Phantom Train of Doom. One is only as old as one feels. He's every bit as much of an action hero as he was in Raiders of the Lost Ark. All the essential elements are here. An ancient mystery, militaristic villains, fights during chases in army trucks, creepy crawlies, lost tombs full of human remains, the Paramount logo morphing into something else (in this film a prairie dog hill) and a grisly death for the villain. There are references to the previous three films and also the Young Indiana Jones television series. It would have been nice to have seen Sean Connery reprising his role as Professor Henry Jones but Sir Sean is quite adamant he has retired from films and when he says no he means no. Nice to have the tributes to the late Denholm Elliott in the form of the portrait and statue of Marcus Brody on the university campus. This film rounds off very well a marvellous series.
Another slightly over-rated 80s movie
This film had been a pet project of Sir Richard Attenborough's which took almost quarter of a century to reach the screen. Sir Richard is a very staunch pacifist and Gandhi is definitely the one of the greatest pacifists within living memory. This film certainly taught us all a great deal more about him and introduced many to his very sensible maxim "An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind". Although his approach to his religion was too strict for many people it is very creditable how ecumenical he was. He declared himself not just a Hindu but a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim and a Buddhist. His adherence to his pacifism was remarkable and he achieved infinitely more by being not violent than anyone could by being violent. One of his other sayings, not quoted in the film, was "I am against violence. The good it does is only temporary. The evil it does is permanent". Very true! The pace of the film, though, is a bit slow. It plods along like the Mahatma on one of his protest marches and has a bit of a history lesson air to it. Certainly, until I saw this film I had never heard of the Amritsar massacre. It is good the scene where General Dyer says at the enquiry that he would have given aid to any wounded who had "applied" and then the barrister asks "General Dyer, how does a child shot with a 303 Lee Enfield "apply" for help?". He has no answer to give. It is very poignant the following scene where Gandhi and Pandit Nehru are looking down the well which several people jumped down in order to escape the fusillade of bullets. None of them survived. The film though does contain a few slightly melodramatic touches, characteristic of Richard Attenborough, such as the wee one crying next to his slain mother during the massacre. I have not seen the actor Peter Harlow in any other films but he is absolutely spot on as Lord Mountbatten, to whom the film is dedicated, a man who took a great deal of interest in this film during its long gestation and who was tragically and brutally murdered by the IRA. A demonstration of how pointless violence is. Although this film is good, like a lot of early 80s films it is a bit over-rated. Like Chariots of Fire, if it were being made nowadays it would be a lot more impressive with the help of a bit of CGI. It would also be different in that we have a very different approach to historic films nowadays.
A Quite Fair Portrayal
Although Julie Walters looks a bit like Caroline Aherne as her Mrs Merton character in quite a few scenes this is quite a true and very fair portrayal of Mrs Whitehouse. Whatever you think of her prudery and her lack of humour you actually feel sympathetic to her when she gets heckled at meetings and gets abusive letters and phonecalls. It's fair to say that the permissive society had an inpermissive nature, if you get my meaning. She was also not a lady to mess with and you said unfavourable things about her at your peril. The film mentions her successful defamation actions. It's fair to say that if you were up against Mrs Whitehouse in court your chances of success were slim. The end credits mention Whitehouse v Lemon (aka The Gay News Case) which was very much on the Pythons' minds when they made The Life of Brian. To her credit she was one of the first people to campaign against child pornography but she turned herself into a figure of fun by finding fault with Dr Who and Pinky & Perky. I wondered how on earth was Pinky & Perky corruptive? Well, I suppose it was. It inspired many 60s and 70s kids to play LPs at 78rpm and I think that might have been bad for the records. Sir Hugh Carleton-Greene is not portrayed favourably. He is shown to be arrogant, smug, coarse, foul-mouthed and lecherous. I have no idea what he was like as a person so I can't judge how fair a portrayal this was. Julie Walters these days is of course best known as Molly Weasley in the Harry Potter films and I imagined a scene where Sir Hugh gets a howler from Mary Whitehouse. The letter gets delivered by owl on his desk and then shouts, in Julie Walters' voice, "Hugh Carleton-Greene, I am absolutely disgusted" and then goes on to complain about the number of bloodys in Till Death Us Do Part, Dr Who having nightmare qualities etc and what kind of example certain programmes are to the young people of the country and then goes on in the gentler "Oh and Ginny dear" voice to say "Oh and last Sunday's Songs of Praise was lovely", then blowing a raspberry and self-shredding. Mrs Whitehouse died the year the first Harry Potter film came out. It's fair to say she'd have some criticisms to make of Harry Potter.
The Hole (2001)
Great! (warning:- spoiler, do not on any account read if you haven't seen the film)
This is a marvellous psychological thriller. Four Aga Saga teenagers duck a field trip in order to hide out and party in an old nuclear bunker left over from the Cold War. But the real reason for it is that one of them has formed a crush on another and the reason she has done this is part of her plan to win the object of her affection. She enlists the help of her sinister nerdy friend in this scam. Differing interpretations of the story are shown on screen and the ending is totally unlike anything you expect. I saw the trailer and I thought at first it looked a bit like one of these anti-teen drinking films you got shown at secondary school. But it is marvellous and well worth watching. That young lady of whom the world was shortly due to hear a lot more of, Keira Knightley, does very well and it's hard to credit she's only 15 (well, Lee Arenberg says that she has more maturity than he'll ever have). Although it's set at a very exclusive private school it could just as easily be a tough inner-city comprehensive. I almost laughed when Frankie said she was on a diet (Keira Knightley most certainly doesn't need to lose weight) but I realise now that it was a reference to the character's bulimia. A good and original thriller.
Gregory's Girl (1980)
A Film about Football, Teen Angst, Funny Haircuts, Awful Architecture and Dreadful Fashions!
When first released Gregory's Girl was shown on a double bill with Chariots of Fire, another film which I've reviewed. I also think, due to the time it came out, the early 1980s when cinema seemed to be a dying art form, this led to it being a bit over-rated but it's definitely not a bad film. It's a comedy but not a laugh out loud comedy, in fact the humour is very gentle. One might also say it's a feminist movie. Dorothy is battling sexism to be up there with the guys, the girls are portrayed as smart and sorted out and the guys are portrayed as nerdy and awkward. In some ways now it looks almost as dated as an Ealing comedy. All the guys are having a bad hair day and the film is from an era when there was no internet and there were no mobile phones. The architecture that forms the backdrop is very cold and unwelcoming and some of the film takes place in Cumbernauld Town Centre, which has been officially named as the worst piece of architecture in Europe. Nowadays no guy would ever dress for a first date the way Gregory does. Times have changed a lot since this was made. If workmen wolf-whistled at schoolgirls nowadays they'd run the risk of being arrested! Gregory's Girl shows that a good film can be made on a microscopic budget. But, as I said, because the film industry was in decline when it was made, this led to it being a bit overrated. Also, in those days if you were born in Scotland, female and of school age and you had talent in some area you became Scotland's Darling! This happened to Dee Hepburn just as it happened a few years earlier to Lena Zavaroni. Dee's role in the film is surprisingly not as big as one might expect. But she was hyped a bit out of proportion and depicted in the papers as a beautiful young woman with the world at her feet. She wasn't really that great an actress despite winning a Variety Club Award and her acting career faltered a few years later and she became a sales rep. I just hope though she doesn't realise it was me who wrote this comment, though. I once had a fleeting chance encounter with her and she's a very nice person. But, although Gregory's Girl is good, I prefer to remain in the 21st Century with regard to films about footballing females and Bend It Like Beckham is much much better.