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Retread of previous efforts but with relentless action
Don't get me wrong - this is an exciting movie that does not let the franchise down. But we have seen most of it before, some almost frame by frame. Putting a woman and a black male actor upfront as heroes really is tokenism in trying to make the film distinctive, because it is not. Yes, the CGI is better than some earlier efforts and it looks realistic compared to some $200M comic book adaptations around. True, the action is relentless (Mad Max has obviously started a trend - one to be regretted), and the film suffers for it. The villains are underused and really pretty pathetic - the son of Han and Leia could not frighten a kindergarten birthday party! And the Starkiller base must have had a very secretive funder over the previous decades of chaos following the death of the Emperor! Resistance and Republic - just another theme thrown away in the rush. And how does the heroine turn into a pretty potent jedi with absolutely no training?! Answers another day, I suppose. Okay, but not worth the long wait on balance!
Edge of Eternity (1959)
When 'noir' opened out into Colour
In the 1950s when television was beginning to make inroads into the cinema-going audience, Hollywood made films that were grander, bigger, more colourful, and shot on location. So you got huge big budget historical epics, but also smaller films that were given wide screen and colourful location treatment. Thus some movies like the 'crime noir' genre were opened out into big screen colour, thus almost at a stroke cutting 'noir' off from its' roots in black and white. This is such a film. But, despite the fact that Don Siegel is the director, the movie is short on suspense and any deep characterisation - at 80 minutes it really is too short for much. But perhaps the budget was being too stretched! However, we get lots of aerial shots of the tremendous Grand Canyon, and a spirited, breathtaking denouement on a tramway over the said gorge. The actors try, against a very ordinary script. But the plot is fairly preposterous - unknowns taking gold out of an old mine with no-one noticing, until murder of a John Doe sets the flawed Deputy Sheriff (Cornel Wilde) off in pursuit. There are political pressures as well, but never fully realised. A romantic element is in the backdrop and provides the vital breakthrough, but it never all adds up to much, except the scenery and location.
The Lady in the Van (2015)
Awful Disappointment despite Maggie Smith's Bravura Peerformance
I had seen the play and enjoyed it, both the writing and the excellent acting of Dame Maggie Smith. Believe me, this so-called movie is not a film at all. It is a star vehicle for a tremendously bravura performance by the leading actress, almost like a studio of the thirties giving one of its' leading ladies a blank cheque.
The plot is simple. An old lady (Maggie Smith) travels around North London parking her battered old van and living in squalor in the same place for months on end. Finally when the yellow lines are painted, Alan Bennett the writer (Alex Jennings) allows her to park in his drive - and she stays for fifteen years! The relationship between the two is the heart of the screenplay, or it should be. But, no, we have to open it up as it is a film, and it loses its way dramatically! It becomes a minor mystery story as we discover bit by bit who she was and why she was living as she was. All of which was found out only after her death, as the film says at the end! So the interchange between the two main protagonists gets lost amidst cinematic clichés and other characters putting in their two pennyworth, including Bennett's mother. There is also an attempt (pretty poor it must be said) by the writer to find himself in his writing. Cue a very seedy rent boyish sub theme and so-called coming out, which was not really present in the play and is almost gratuitous and forced in the film.
And why do we have the stage device of two Bennetts - one the writer and the other the 'living' - on screen at once? As one reviewer said, could we not have had a voice over? It is silly and looks terribly stagey as the rest of the film tries to open out and be realistic. All in all a right mess that is not a film at all.
As a postscript, Mr Bennett and his concerns about 'northernness', old ladies (especially his mother) and the details of toilet behaviour are just old hat. What made them funny in the 70s, 80s, and 90s are now almost forgotten, and this piece seems to have been made at least a decade too late. How anyone under 55 can relate to it is beyond me! Your name is on the writing credits, Mr Bennett, and you have ruined your own work, or did the 'script doctors' get at it? Oh dear, what an utter mess.
A Walk in the Woods (2015)
Gentle whimsy that does not disservice the book
Do not listen to the nay sayers - you know the boring, poor acting, bad script brigade. Just go and watch a gentle film that does not have CGI (to take the budget up to M$150), feisty women, heavy in your face message, is 'dark' or based on a comic/graphic novel with loads of youf starlets who cannot act! It is a movie that will not stretch you, but will amuse, especially the older members of the audience, for whom the wistfulness of one last adventure is understandable and meaningful. Forget the backpacks being too light, the change of boots not seen, the ages of the main players, and wallow in two guys trying to do something tough and trying to get some meaning out of their adventure. Yes, there does not appear to be enough effort expended (same with 'Wild') and the vistas do not last, but in the book Bryson and pal eventually are overcome by the tree cover on the trail and give up. Plot - famous writer busy doing nothing decides to hike the Appalachian Trail - a tough long distance hiking trail on the east side of the US. He has to get a companion and the only one who will agree is a dissipated old mate from Des Moines, Iowa, whom Bill Bryson grew up with. Cue clashes of different paths taken by the two men as they stumble and grouch the inclines of the Trail. The acting is downbeat - rightly so - and the direction slow and uninvolving like the authorial distance that Bryson employs in his books And the movie sums up America's attitude to walking with Kmart sequence. Redford (Bryson) walks through a swamp, while Nolte (Katz) takes a taxi. The shop is barely a few hundred yards away!
The Martian (2015)
Very very ordinary and boring for long stretches
Someone came up with the idea in Hollywood that the hopeless position of 'Apollo 13' could be crossed with the CGI/techniques of 'Gravity.' And as the story is not true we can really go to town on the jeopardy elements in space as well as on Mars. Hence we have someone left behind on the red planet with little hope of rescue, trying desperately to think of ways of staying alive - Daniel Defoe - does he still get royalties for rip offs of 'Robinson Crusoe?' For most of the time it all seems comparatively easy, and you do not believe for one minute that we are anywhere but in the desert on Earth, even Wadi Rum from 'Lawrence of Arabia.' Atmosphere is the same!!!! Work is just a matter of humping a few things, and trouble can all be fixed with white tape!!!! The middle of this film is awfully boring and totally uninteresting - drama having to be provided by painful expressions of disbelief and horror at the predicament of Matt Damon (the stranded astronaut) by Edifor and Wiig that does not really convince. Action in the last third is pure Hollywood - let's space walk without a safety rope, and we can cut our spacesuit to use pas propulsion! For most of the film you are looking and feeling with Matt Damon (not a lot as he is given little to work on), but just in case you did not get his predicament, there is a totally redundant speech by him on what he faced as the final scene! But worst of all, there is a hole in the plot so large it undermines the rickety edifice of a superficial movie completely. They leave Matt Damon because of a storm on Mars which threatens to topple the MAV (escape rocket back to orbit), and it would have done if they had not left. Guess how Matt Damon escapes the red planet? Another MAV has been sent early for a later mission and is sitting upright untouched some thousands of kilometres across the surface! Oh, really, come on Mr Scott and Hollywood that is cheating your audience. Acting is basic and perfunctory. Direction just a red shaded desert scene with endless vistas. Script needed heavy doctoring - forget the jokes, they are mere pleasantries! Overall another over-hyped film that is pretty empty and ordinary.
Familiar Franchise Fare, but Flashily Ordinary
Rogue Nation delivers set piece action and thrills to satisfy most of the intended audience, but basically they are rather hackneyed and fourth rate. They do not make up for the acres of empty space at the heart of the movie's plot and characterisation. Let alone the script and direction which are utterly predictable and gone through strictly by numbers. A just about good enough film that does not try too hard. After all, predictability is the key to a franchise success, or a dreadful bore to the uncommitted and unenthusiastic - there really is only an hour's TV episode material here. True, it carries it all off with gloss and panache, but then the Chinese backers would want to be sure on a return for their investment! Tom Cruise (looking older) gives his all-American, polished, believable performance we come to expect in his action genre films, while the support cast do their thing like moving wallpaper. Rebecca Ferguson flaunting her slightly heavy thighs at almost every opportunity is an interesting choice as the femme fatale (good or bad?), but Swedish/UK cool does not add a lot to a very clichéd role. Sean Harris (unrecognisable) tries to method act the chief villain and still manages to make no impression. Just like Philip Seymour Hoffman in an earlier MI, you have to chew a bit of scenery rather than stay cold at a very great distance! Can we have a franchise-free (particularly comic-based ones) and Matt Damon not lost in space year of movies, please, and get back to some straightforward, effects-free entertainment that Hollywood used to do so well!?
Wu xia (2011)
A Very Chinese Redemption
This is a Chinese martial arts film but aspires to something more meaningful - the cost of redemption from an awful crime. The main character is pretty familiar - ordinary peasant in two horse village, who somehow manages to overcome a merciless bandit in a one on one fight! Premise is familiar, but this takes some working out because it is brilliantly filmed so that the peasant does not look very capable, just lucky. But a brilliant detective is on his heels, and desperately searching for the truth. Of course, the peasant turns out to be a brilliant martial arts exponent (played by Donny Yen what would you expect?) who has committed horrific murders. Cue his old gang (with ruthlessly violent old father/leader in the van) find out and the scene is set for the final battle between father and son/ evil and maybe good.
It is a film that takes its time, with beautiful photography, fine acting, and an interesting plot that takes its time to unravel. The direction and action work very well. But it could do with a bit of 'go' at times.
Terminator Genisys (2015)
Arnie saves this poor reboot
If Arnold Schwartzenegger were not in this movie, it would be truly awful. He provides the context, background, affection, and nostalgia for past efforts - except the truly ludicrous T4! He and his cyborg remain the rock solid foundation of the franchise, showing other younger actors that they are trying too hard or simply are not good enough. The two main younger male stars are frankly a waste of space with no gravitas or presence to warrant their participation, while Emilia Clarke just about passes muster as the young girl too mature for her years on the edge of crying 'help' throughout. But, no, this is 2015, only kick ass girls allowed!!!!!!!!!!!!! And this is where the trouble with the movie begins. The movie has several multi-dimensional timelines which are impossible to follow, so changes pop up all the time, and we have to wait around as an audience as some tawdry attempt at explanation is made. it is all too much and far too confusing. So much so, as soon as you start to think 'what a load of rubbish,' up pops the next action, bang, wallop sequence is thrown at you.
Yes, awful script, unmemorable performances, lazy direction all lead to a fifth rate film, but good ol' Arnie he keeps you watching and remembering when fun and fright with the old 'Terminator' worked so brilliantly.
Poor script lets down a valiant effort
The book is apparently the memoirs of a trek along the 1000 mile Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed after her life fell apart following the early death of her mother. The hike and writing about it became a catharsis and redemption for her. The film is an attempt to show a fairly ordinary woman, who goes badly off the rails, who then walks herself back to reality and a normal life. Reese Witherspoon gives it her best shot in the lead role. Despite being a little small for the role, she wholeheartedly shows her body off and indulges in a few rude sex scenes as she falls from grace. She looks in great shape, and her admirers will not feel short changed! But the script dwells far too long - in flashback - on the past, and encourages you to dislike her character. She lets down a good husband, and her mother's memory. The walk requires the lead to suffer, review her life, gain some new insights, and finally to reach some sort of redemption. On all fronts the screenplay short changes us. She suffers a bit, but you do not get a real impression and feel for the three month hike. Personal insights in diary form are notoriously personal and often cliché-ridden. Cue for mumblecore acting to quickly waltz over any embarrassment! Redemption, if you're not paying attention, comes again in a minute long mumbling voice over that says everything in her life ended happily!!!!! It does not work overall and, therefore, is a disappointment. And the original photos taken on the hike (shown over the final credits) of Cheryl show her happy and smiling! Um... The direction is adequate, photography good, and the supports played well, but that script by Mr Hornby - get back to North London watching Arsene Wenger fail again and again to find your mojo. This is awful stuff. If you want a feel for what a long hike can do for relationships, watch again and again the scenes near the end with the three young men. They are odd but believable because they show the impact of a long arduous hike together, which Ms Witherspoon's character never quite manages.
A Poorish Sequel with little new to say
The first film was bright, pretty truthful about old age, and extremely watchable. This is a surprise sequel made because the first made so much money - and it shows. There is a lack of invention, very poor script, anodyne characterisation, and, worst of all, the plot line and meat of the film all belong to tele/film land rather than to real older people. You can see why middle aged, middle class film critics are praising it. There is little of the worries of old people (eg death, families left behind in UK, reflections on the past), India is a sanitised OK place (no hot climate, no crowds, no dirt) so they can go on expiating colonial guilt, no racism (such bad form and only for Mail readers), and the themes and tropes all belong to familiar cinematic conventions - eg infidelity, second marriage, unrequited love and no money worries! So the piece is really only held together by two of our greatest thespians - Maggie Smith and Judi Dench, while the subplots would disgrace 'Midsomer Murders!' What a wretched disappointment of a movie. This really does patronise the grey audience it is aimed at. Real life or any approximation of it is totally missing. While the Bollywood elements are just a tack on to meet the criticisms of the first film by those middle aged critics again - not enough representation of India, dahling! Oh really!