Reviews written by registered user

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169 reviews in total 
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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Not Even Friday Night Fluff., 21 January 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Several years back I invented a new movie category: Friday Night Fluff. That's a movie you can escape into after a hard week at work, without taxing your brain too much but without actually insulting your intelligence. Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit fails because while it was hardly taxing, I did regard it as a bit of an insult. They threw every cliché in the book at this one. Kevin Costner is probably the best thing in it. It's truly inadequate on every level - predictable, self important and in a few places, quite laughable.

I like Chris Pine as Captain Kirk in the Star Trek re-boot, but he is totally miscast here, and as for Keira Knightley as a gifted doctor..? Arghhh!! She's about as convincing as I would be as a gifted NFL Quarterback. Leaving aside the fact that Ms Knightley has but one facial expression and it involves a forward thrust jaw (which she has put to use in every movie since Bend it like Beckham), I found the 'morning after the night before' scene where she wakes up in bed with Chris Pine's Ryan, simply laughable. There she is, after what is intimated might have been a night of passion, in full un-smudged make up, including copious amounts of perfect eye shadow, and with not so much as a hair out of place. That was the point at which the female part of the audience cracked up laughing, because we all know that she should look like a panda. And if they can't be bothered to even get that right, why should I suspend belief and bother with the rest of this twaddle?

There are also some egregious editing faults. This just drives me nuts, it's such an insult to the audience, so lazy, so cynical. One moment the villain is clinging to a chain about to be swept away by a torrent of water, the next he's in the back of a truck barreling down the road with the hero. Or did I fall asleep and miss something vital?

How on earth did Kenneth Brannagh get sucked into this, either as an actor or director? My, but he must need the money... I found his Russian villain pretty clichéd too. Admittedly, it's hard to pull off an eastern European bad guy without parodying Blofeld. Patrick Stewart had it about right in the original TV series of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; he just looked tough and kept his mouth shut.

The plot revolves around Chris Pine's Ryan (a gifted economist) being embedded in a Wall Street business, where he uncovers a plot in a Russian subsidiary to fund terrorism in the US and bring the financial world crashing down around our ears. Ryan is an undercover CIA agent, and his subsequent trip to Moscow, followed by Knightley (his g/f), leads to one of the worst lines I have heard in a movie in a long time

Ryan: I'm in the CIA

G/F: Thank God - I thought you were having an affair.

Unfortunately all the writing is of this caliber. And isn't it interesting that we have come full circle and those damn Ruskies are back as public enemy #1? Ironic really, when you recall that in 2008 we managed to bring the financial world crashing down around our ears all by ourselves and without the aid of either the Russians or terrorism.

1 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Almost Great. Almost., 3 November 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is almost a very good movie. Almost. But not quite. It was so, so close to being very good but there were a few glaring items that for me, made it fall short.

I want to state upfront that I am a big fan of Cormac McCarthy's writing (when will they film Blood Meridian?) He could write a laundry list and I would probably buy it. I also love movies and go to the theater at least once a week, usually with my husband, also a McCarthy fan. Movies require suspension of disbelief; you have to be able to lose yourself in the story and the characters to the extent that you truly forget for a couple of hours that you're watching a highly paid Hollywood star, not a real drug baron. With the best movies, you are slightly startled when it ends, and you realize with regret that you are not in Mexico, or the Himalayas or wherever, and you actually have to go home and empty the dishwasher… For me, the best movies have me getting up from my seat with regret and a sigh.

Here's the things I loved about The Counselor; Cameron Diaz, not an actor I usually appreciate and about whom I have actually written some quite scathing reviews in the past, sucked me in totally, in the way I described above. It's simply the best thing I have ever seen her do. Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz and Michael Fassbender similarly. I loved the colors and cinematography, the atmosphere, the dialog and the story. I had braced myself for gore but really, it wasn't as gory as I anticipated. There was more menace than gore. This is a tale of people made stupid by greed, hubris and a sense of entitlement, in so far over their heads that they have lost sight of land completely. A tale for our times and for me it mostly worked.

But here's what didn't work for me and why I can only give The Counselor an eight and not a nine or ten. First, Javier Bardem, with a tan, a white suit and spiked hair, looked so much like a middle aged Tom Jones that I kept expecting him to burst into song. I simply never took him seriously and that pretty much ruined the movie for me. And casting Dean Norris as the Chicago Buyer was an error too. Now Norris is an excellent actor, but when he came on screen briefly, literally everyone in the theater shuffled in their seats and muttered to their companion "Isn't that what's his name from Breaking Bad..?" Really, you could hear it being whispered right through the theater.

Now I'm not sure how you get round this, when an actor has become famous in a popular role on TV, but I suspect that had Norris had a BIGGER part in The Counselor, we'd have actually had time to assimilate his presence, accept him and move on. But his brief injection into the plot was just jarring. I couldn't suspend disbelief, and by the time we had all settled back in our seats, the plot had moved on.

Third, I have lost count of the number of times I've seen the piano wire/beheaded motorcyclist cliché done on screen. It's popular in WW2 movies where the Resistance frequently use it to lop off a few Nazi outriders' heads before blowing up Herr Commandant in his staff car. It may well be favored by drug gangs, but to me, it just felt old.

I also spotted a couple of egregious continuity errors. You know, this is really inexcusable, such lack of attention to detail in a movie. It always irritates me. Do they think we are too stupid to spot them? Are they too broke to go back and fix them? Or do the editors truly not see them? Just one; Malkina in a posh restaurant, the waiter pours champagne, we are looking over her shoulder and see her pick up the glass firmly by the bowl. The camera tracks around to a front view of her and… Hey Presto! She's holding the glass delicately by the stem, all without moving her arm. Either Malkina has amazing sleight of hand to go with her gymnastic ability on cars hoods, or the editor needs to think about a new job.

And for me the spell was broken. I'm not a person who goes to movies just to spot the errors, but this kind of thing makes me think that the people who make the movies sometimes lack respect for the audience. Which is a pity, because this is almost a very good movie.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Kinda Strange, 14 September 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

To be honest I only watched this movie because I like Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal, but I hoped it might be modestly amusing. In truth, it's funny for the first few scenes but it's a joke that wears thin very quickly. It had potential, and the stars are all engaging actors, but really, it's not very good and it's not very funny. I've seen worse, but as a spoof of a Spaghetti Western meets Tarantino, which I assume it's trying to be, it's simply too weak. Not quite sure what Luna and Bernal are doing here..? Paying the rent I guess. I think the coyote meets stuffed puma part with overlaid text was one of the weakest movie jokes I've seen in a while. Have the courage of your convictions guys! If you think a stuffed animal mock fight is funny, go for it. Don't pad it with a 6th grade voice over and explanation..! Truly disappointing.

Marley (2012)
5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
A Brief Life, Well Lived., 5 May 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a very good film about an astonishing man. I rarely throw the word 'genius' around loosely, but I truly believe that's what Bob Marley was. There are a few musicians who died far too early and you wonder what they might have gone on to achieve had they lived longer... Buddy Holly, Mozart, Lennon and Bob Marley. Still, he packed quite a lot into his 36 years, before his tragically early death from cancer in 1981, and has left the world a wonderful catalog of music along with 11 (or was it 12?) children. Bob Marley is truly an international superstar, possibly even more famous in death than he was in life. The music transcends cultural boundaries in a way that little else does.

This movie directed by Kevin Macdonald traces Bob Marley's life from his very humble beginnings in St Anne's Parish Jamaica, through a move to Kingston, a brief early stint in Delaware USA and extended periods in London, interviewing those who knew him best; fellow musicians in his band, his wife and several girl friends, some of his children, an early teacher, his Mum, record producers, even politicians. Marley didn't invent Reggae, but he took it to the world, and the many, many songs he wrote carried his personal message of peace and love, and it also became the medium of his desire to see his fellow men and women world wide getting along better together. He was a modest man and generous to a fault, giving away swathes of money to help others in Jamaica. He was a perfectionist, making his band rehearse for long hours to perfect what looked effortless and laid back on stage. What he wanted more than anything was to get his music and his message of love, out to the world.

And, it has to be said, when women threw themselves at him, he rarely turned them away. But no one seemed jealous, least of all Rita his wife, although I suspect that her generous acceptance of his wandering ways probably hurt more than she let on, then or now. His daughter comes across as somewhat bitter, lamenting that even at his death, his family didn't really get quality time alone with him, Bob wanted to share himself with the world.

The seventies, the height of Marley's creativity, coincided with a time of dreadful political violence and rivalry in Jamaica, and Marley, although he never aligned himself with any party or leader, survived an attempt on his life. He fled with his band to the UK for some peace and quiet, producing some of his best music at this time and embarking on tours that took his fame worldwide. And it was in London that he first encountered the melanoma that was eventually to spread to his lungs and brain. Had he accepted the advice of doctors and had his toe amputated, he might be alive today, but he loved football (ie soccer to my US readers) so much that he was afraid a missing toe might affect his ability to play, and to dance on stage. Invited back to Jamaica, the only person capable of bringing any peace to the warring political factions, he staged one of his most memorable concerts, free in Kingston, and managed to get both leaders on stage, shaking hands.

After doctors gave up on his cancer, he went to Germany for a last ditch effort at turning back the tide at a controversial holistic clinic. But the cancer was too advanced, spread all over his frail body. He died in Miami in May 1981, a mere 36 years old.

Yet today, Bob Marley is an iconic figure around the world, the first great planet-wide music star to come from a developing country. "Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights" is a rallying cry in slums everywhere. My own personal favorite has to be One Love, his anthem to the union of the world's people. The only thing I find problematic is his adoration of Haili Selassi, late emperor of Ethiopia, a small and inconsequential man as far as I can see. But maybe it's my loss, and Marley saw something I have missed. And I haven't even touched on the huge ganja intake, that can hardly have aided his lungs.

In fact I have barely touched on so many elements of this film and of Bob Marley himself. Just go see. Great movie, great man.

Pina (2011)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Hmmmmm..., 18 February 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I'm not quite sure how I feel about this movie. Visually it's stunning and mesmerizing. I am not sure I would call it a documentary, much of it is performance art. I freely admit I know little about modern dance technique, but there does seem to be a fine line between dance and mime on occasion. We learn little about Pina Bausch herself which is kind of annoying, was the movie only made for people who were already avid fans? As I watched archive film of her in the studio smoking, I found myself idly wondering what she died of..?

On the other hand, here I am still thinking about it, and looking her up on Google, so it must have made an impact at some level... Some of the locations where the pieces are set, are simply stunning. A street scene, an overhead light rail car, a quarry, a glass enclosed building, a stage and my favorite, a series of stone doorways.

It's obvious that these are superb dancers, but I actually found quite a lot of the choreography repetitive and a little irritating. But then again, one of my favourite moves, where a female dancer dived through the arms of her male partner, was never repeated! Arghhh!!! Possibly I have spent too much time watching 'conventional' dance, ballet, jazz and tap, because I found myself thinking "Get on with it.." more than once. And I'm still a bit puzzled by the leaf blower, what was that about?

But like I said, what do I know? Interesting, compelling and a visual feast. But a documentary? Not really.

1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Could Have Been Better, 3 August 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is not a bad movie, but it could have been better. We left the cinema on a Friday night feeling like we had been entertained – which is about all I really need on a Friday night – but it was a little bit of a mess. Prettily shot though, in New Mexico I think.

The problem with Cowboys and Aliens is that it's one of those movies that wants to be all things to all people and doesn't pull it off. Is it a drama, a spoof, a serious sci fi movie or a parody? Daniel Craig gives a good solid performance as the central character, an outlaw who has lost his memory and lands in the middle of a scruffy New Mexican, failing, mining town, lorded over by a cattle baron bully totally hammed up by Harrison Ford. I can't deny that simply looking at Craig – who is super buff – for 2 hours is probably pleasure enough for a Friday night. The aliens are irredeemably evil – no attempt at any of the touchy feely 'they are so much more intelligent than us' stuff. These guys are bad, ugly, rapacious and not even very bright. Everything barring the kitchen sink is thrown in, the local Apaches, the outlaw gang, the tough but beautiful, mysterious woman, the weakling son, the Indian boy raised by white men, the upright local sheriff, the mild mannered saloon owner, the kid on the brink of learning about manhood, a dog… I mean this is a pastiche on one level.

But then there are one or two scenes which are really quite jarringly violent and nasty, which made me wonder exactly what this movie is supposed to be? The one that had me wincing most, was the guy being tortured by being strung between 2 horses with the threat of being pulled apart, like a western equivalent of the medieval rack. He is released from that fate only to be dragged off along the ground at a gallop, presumably to his death. The kid learning to wield a very large knife to kill an alien was pretty vivid too.

But then there are other scenes which are just plain silly, like the low tech rocket which looked like something that came free in a cereal box. Had the violent scenes been more tongue in cheek, it might have worked. Had the science fiction been even slightly more 'sciency' it might have worked. If it's a serious attempt at depicting an alien invasion of earth, I found it pretty unconvincing. As pure sci fi entertainment, it's no Men in Black.

Perhaps one problem I have with this is Harrison Ford, who seems to be playing a parody of himself. I loved him as Han and even as the archaeologist, but this? No way. Then there is Craig's mystery bracelet, which I never quite understood. I mean are they kidnapping people for food or to make them into warriors or what? Why did Craig's character have that bracelet at all? So many holes, so little effective dialog. But then again, it was nicely shot with dramatic scenery, and it WAS a Friday night…..

9 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
Moving, Intense and Captivating., 16 January 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

1962 wasn't a good time to be gay. When George Falconers's lover of sixteen years, Jim, is killed in an auto wreck, poor George isn't even invited to the funeral - even though they had been together longer than most married heterosexual couples can manage. He is definitely persona not grata around the parents and other family members, and he's told of the tragedy as an after thought. The Love that Dare Not Speak Its Name. Can't recall who wrote that, but it was certainly true of homosexuality in 1962, even in liberal LA. (This movie is set at about the same time as Brokeback Mountain by the way.) As polite society put it, George was a confirmed bachelor. As a neighbour less politely put it, George was light in his loafers.

Even George's neighbour, long time friend and one time lover Charlotte, can't quite believe that what George and Jim shared was real love, Wasn't it, she inquires, really just a substitute for the real thing? No replies George angrily, probably the only time we really see his teflon demeanour crack.

A Single Man is a superb movie. Moving, beautifully crafted, well written and fabulously well acted. The only reason I haven't given it ten is because the ending is perhaps just a little too 'pat'. Fashion designer Tom Ford can feel justifiably proud of his debut as a film director. The movie is based on a Christopher Isherwood story and written for the screen by Ford himself and David Scearce. Every scene is beautifully constructed, perfectly lit and the design is, as one might imagine of someone with Ford's artistic eye, unimpeachable. Every detail of early 1960s life is here, from the interiors to the attitudes.

When the movie opens, Jim has been dead eight months and George cannot come to terms with the loss. Every day it's agony to wake up, every day just has to be gotten through. George, a college lecturer and an ex-pat Brit, has lost his soul mate, his life, his love, but cannot even express that loss openly at a time when homosexuals were still persecuted. He is invisible and his grief doesn't exist to the world, except for Charlotte (Charley), neighbour and fellow Brit, who sympathises and yet still yearns for George in a naive way, a feeling still lodged in the recesses of her under-used brain that all would be right with the world if they could only get together. Julianne Moore is perfect as Charley, a heavy drinking and smoking, rich, divorced fashionista with no proper job and way too much time on her hands, as clever women so often had, in those pre-feminist days.

The story follows George through the day he has chosen to end it all. Suicide will end his pain. He methodically puts his affairs in order, leaving everything neat and tidy, right down to the clothes for his funeral, the insurance policies neatly laid out on his table, last compliments paid to his staff and co-workers. He buys bullets for his old gun, and, in a scene infused with black humour, tries to decide how best to shoot himself so as to leave the least mess for his house cleaner. But he can't quite get it right, so goes off to the liquor store to buy a bottle of whiskey and while he is there, meets one of his students, Kenny, himself struggling to come to terms with his sexuality. A series of people reach out to George in small acts of kindness throughout his day, and the movie turns on whether or not these small acts will be enough to convince George to go on with life, or whether he will still pull the trigger.

It may sound like a rather gloomy subject, but A Single Man is life affirming, and moving, and an excellent study in bereavement. Colin Firth gives the performance of a lifetime, beautifully contained and you have to feel he may have finally have shaken off the ghost of Mr Darcy and his Thinking Girl's Crumpet tag forever. He is a much better actor than he is usually given credit for and should be a bigger star than he currently is. I would not be surprised to see both Firth and Moore nominated on the strength of these performances.

This is obviously subject matter close to the heart of Tom Ford. It will be interesting to see what he comes up with next time.

Avatar (2009)
0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Dances with Wolves Meets My Little Pony - But I Loved It!, 16 January 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

If you are going to see Avatar, see it in 3D. I can't imagine it having anything like the impact in boring old 2D as it does in 3D. Possibly 2010 will be the year that 3D finally comes of age? I really loved this movie – it blew me away. The movie just leaps off the screen visually and grabs you by the jugular.

The story is quite obviously director James Cameron's unapologetic take on the white man's conquest of North America and the assault on the Indians (well it could be any act of colonialism really, the British in Australia, the Spanish in Central America….. basically the locals are in the way of the invaders' desire to grab the resources), except in this case, the Indians win. You can call the story simplistic, you can accuse it of plagiarism, but it is what it is and Cameron need make no apologies for it. It's a vehicle for the stunning CGI, nothing more nothing less, it's not subtle but neither is it pretentious or 'posy'. What you see is what you get. And what you get is spectacular.

The performances are all excellent; I loved Sam Worthington in the role of hero Jake Sully. I last saw Worthington in the Australian movie Getting Square, alongside one of my favourite actors David Wenham and I think he has a huge future ahead of him as an international star. Worthington's Sully is a paraplegic ex marine on the planet (OK it's a moon really) Pandora, taking the place of his dead twin brother to become an avatar, mind melded to the genetically modified body of an aboriginal inhabitant of the planet. Pandora is under major assault from the military industrial complex, who are after a local mineral, Unobtainium. The biggest deposit of Unobtainium is right under the local's main spiritual site, and the invaders want to move them. As Dr Grace Augustine, Sigourney Weaver is in her element. Grace is the leader of the avatar program, and determined to protect the locals from the rapacious advance of the miners under the command of Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) a slightly rabid, gung ho Colonel who has little time for the bleeding heart, liberal approach to planetary conquest.

Going undercover on Pandora amongst the locals – the Na'vi – Sully in his avatar embodiment inevitably falls in love and turns from the Dark Side to the side of the angels, becoming a hero who helps them fight off the invaders. His love interest is Neytiri (Zoe Saldana – previously fabulous as Uhura in Star Trek). Neytiri is a bow wielding strong Cameron woman in the tradition he has established of Girlies who can take care of themselves - and I love him for that alone.

That is the bare bones of the story. It is how it is told that makes Avatar worth seeing – possibly more than once. Cameron throws in elements from just about every big movie franchise of the last two decades. There are 'nods' to Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Dances with Wolves, The Magnificent Seven and even, dare I say, My Little Pony. But it is all quite upfront and obvious, nothing subtle here, so I don't have a real problem with it. Pandora is a low gravity planet and the science makes reasonable sense. My spouse – who counts himself as something of an aviation expert – tells me the helicopter rotors were believable for low G, and certainly low gravity plus a very thin atmosphere might lead to tall, lean people of the type seem in Avatar, I'm not sure the blue skin color is believable, but who knows? Certainly if evolution had followed a similar course to the earth, the absence of a cataclysmic meteor impact might leave a population of large reptiles, even flying reptiles, and a fairly insignificant mammal population. This is all stunningly presented to the viewer in glorious technicolor and 3D which literally leaps out of the screen and grabs you by the eyeballs, aerial jelly fish float above the seat in front of you, primordial creatures leap off the screen at you. I haven't seen anything this impressive since I last went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and I found myself wondering how long Cameron has spent standing in front of the Sea Nettle exhibit?

Avatar is an astonishing achievement, and I am quite prepared to forgive Cameron the simplistic characters and linear story, because he has had the guts to produce something this visually stunning. I'm really looking forward to the next 3D offering that the movie world has to offer.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Not Your Mother's Sherlock Holmes, 4 January 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Sherlock Holmes as imagined by Guy Ritchie, is not the Sherlock Holmes of Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett. Downey brings a certain punkiness to the role which somehow I had never imagined Holmes to be capable of. Yes I know he was a morphine smoking junkie, but dash it sir, he was a classy one! I'm not saying I didn't enjoy the movie, but it was all just a little frenetic for someone brought up on a more cerebral imagining of the great crime solver. Some of the geography left a little to be desired too. I mean they go into the sewers beneath the Houses of Parliament and pop up in no time at all, next to a half built Tower Bridge….several miles away to the east along the Thames. Hmmmm…….. curious my dear fellow.

The story involves some confection of Hellfire Club type sacrifices of young women, dastardly noblemen and a plot to take over the British Empire. Or something. It's really not that important. The costumes are pretty, the acting smart and the movie is entertaining, in a Friday Night Fluff kind of way – in fact it's probably the best Friday Night Fluff I've seen in a year. Rachel McAdams is a beautiful Irene Adler and Jude Law is excellent at bringing some pith to Watson. It's a chance for any number of British character actors to pop up and earn a few bob, including James Fox, Geraldine James and the quite wonderful Eddie Marsan as poor old leaden footed Inspector Lestrade (Marsan was last seen as the vitriolic driving instructor in Happy Go Lucky.)

No, what annoyed me just a little was some of the rather cartoonish CGI. There were just too many places where it was obvious we were looking at a computer image, which in this day and age I find really inexcusable. And some of the studio scenes which were supposed to be outside were very badly lit, making it quite obvious that the action was taking place indoors. Perhaps I'm being a little pedantic, but if you are going to use CGI instead of real locations or studio sets, make it seamless, and if you are using studio sets get the lighting right. Thanks!

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A Pleasant Surprise, 26 December 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I had no real expectations of this movie and was quite pleasantly surprised that it turned out to be a mid week gem. This could make me like Robert de Niro again.

I last saw him in the inexcusably bad Righteous Kill where he struggled to convince as a tough guy cop, a role he is quite clearly too old to play. In Everybody's Fine, de Niro makes the brave move of actually playing his age, and he is very good. The basic plot is uncomplicated - a widower is let down over the holiday season when his kids all cancel their visits. So he sets off to visit them instead and begins to realise that he barely knows them - his late wife took care of all the intimate, messy, emotional support of family life. One of the four kids is in hospital in Mexico but none of the other three will tell him what is going on. And not one of them quite lives the life that he thinks they lead.

Robert de Niro convinces as the widower, and Drew Barrymore, Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale hold up their ends as the kids. Sam Rockwell can do no wrong for me anyway, but Beckinsale here was a vast improvement on anything I have ever see her do before. Barrymore is cute but I find her a rather one note actor.

Not a great movie but not at all bad, given some of the dross I've seen in 2009

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