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184 reviews in total 
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The Breach (1970)
Something of a cropper for a great director, 17 April 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

As my purpose in writing these reviews is primarily to impart enthusiasm for films I greatly admire, I have little taste or time for rushing into print over ones that fall far short of outstanding. Let me say at the outset that I am a great admirer of Claude Chabrol at his best, I will go even further and claim that the trilogy of works he directed in 1969 and 1970, "La Femme Infidele", "Que la Bete Meurt" and "Le Boucher", dark, mesmerising yet compassionate explorations of disturbed human psyche, are among the crowning treasures of French cinema. I suppose the problem with Chabrol was that he was so prolific. Good as some of his later films were such as "La Ceremonie" and "Une Affaire de Femmes" he never again scaled those earlier heights. There are potboilers galore, mostly fairly watchable, though disappointing when one thinks of the past greatness of their creator. What to make though of "La Rupture", surely the most bizarrely outlandish of those far too many disappointments? A formidably wealthy grandfather (the most over-the-top of Chabrol's many swipes at the bourgeoisie) will go to any extreme to wrest control of his grandson from the boy's morally impeccable mother even though the youngster has sustained a serious head injury by his drug-ridden son, the boy's father. Next move to hire a shady layabout with a nymphomaniac girlfriend to trump something up that will prove the mother morally unfit to have custody of the boy. What better than to get girlfriend to dress up as mum, then for both of them to kidnap the mentally handicapped daughter of his and mum's landlady, feed the girl with drugged sweeties that will enable her to respond with pleasurable excitement to a depraved movie. To give this nonsense a semblance of artistic credence a mysterious balloon seller pops up from time to time in the local park suggesting some sort of symbolism and Pierre Jansen's atonal score punctuates the action with an aura of awesomeness that suggests something disturbing could be about to happen. Why am I bothering with all this? Simply to counter the many user reviews that express the view that "Le Rupture" is one of Chabrol's finest works. Its character types, the goodies - mother, the hospital doctor and the good-natured lawyer, the baddies - grandfather, the layabout and the layabout's girlfriend, the sillies - the card-playing elderly biddies and the histrionic actor in the guest house are all two- dimensional. All are light years away in depth from the husband driven by love and jealousy to act as he does in "La Femme Infidele", the bereaved father seeking some form of consolation in home movies of happy days past in "Que la Bete Meure" and the eponymous butcher whose love of the school teacher is heartrendingly impossible to reach any fruition given his background; reminders of the greatness Chabrol could be capable of achieving. In these he had something uniquely special to say about the nature of love.

Brooklyn (2015)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A cause for well deserved applause, 12 April 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Audience applause at the end of the showing I attended of "Brooklyn" is something I can hardly ever remember from a cinema visit. Obviously a symptom of universal pleasure, it got me thinking about how and why this particular film. For me it had to do with nostalgia. Although I was probably the oldest member of the audience I daresay there could have been quite a few not so far behind. Were they perhaps thinking, as I was, that most of today's cinema just doesn't generate the emotional warmth that we so often basked in during the heydays of the '30's through to the '50's? That here for once was a work that succeeded in capturing just that. It so rarely happens. John Schlesinger's "Yanks" did it for me in 1979 when he memorably evoked the emotional effect that the departure of so many American soldiers had on a British community at the end of the war with all the intensity of a previous generation of directors. I thought of "Yanks" when I came away from "Brooklyn". Although the new film is much smaller in scale it has that same affection for characters that was the hallmark of the best of yesteryear. I had imagined that a film chronicling a young Irish girl's experiences of travelling alone to a new life in the States would be more astringent. Although it does not shirk social issues such as a beautifully observed Christmas lunch for elderly Irishmen who have fallen on hard times, it has a warmth and honesty that never verges on the sentimental. We care for Eilis, happy when she finds love with the good natured Tony, worry when her return to Ireland presents her with a nice but obvious second best and rejoice when all comes right at the end. A lovely film, lovingly directed by a newcomer to me, John Crowley.

The type of film I grew up on, 12 November 2015

It was the type of film I used to see with my mother when she met me after school with a packed tea during those far off days of the war; the type of film I would look out for many years later on afternoon TV to share with her once more during the closing days of her life in a nearby nursing home. I have never lost my affection for those American 'weepies' of the '40's even though I now have to admit that many like John Cromwell's "Since You Went Away" fall some way short of the greatest by William Wyler and John Ford. There are even examples by lesser directors such as Anatole Litvak's "All This and Heaven Too" and Henry King's "Song of Bernadette" that are head and shoulders above it in overall quality. Nevertheless, as I waded through almost three hours of treacle the other evening I felt that "Since You Went Away" was an experience worth resurrecting if only for three factors, as a historical document, one sequence of tremendous emotional power and a reminder of the glorious black and white photography of some of those Hollywood masters, in this case Stanley Cortez ("The Magnificent Ambersons" and "Night of the Hunter"). Made at the height of the second world war the film was intended as a tribute to those wives, youngsters and others left behind on the home front. It generated enormous empathy from housewives everywhere with its central character played by Claudette Colbert, the embodiment of the 'stiff upper lip'. In probably her best role she keeps the whole film together in spite of its indulgent over length and often discursive irrelevant frills such as the martinet lodger's eating habits and his relations with the family dog. Often it needs the mention of 'Corregidor' or 'Salerno' to get back on course. I don't suppose I would be taking the trouble to pen this review were it not for a wonderful thing that happens well into the film, the meeting and steadily growing relationship between daughter Jane (Jennifer Jones) and the lodger's grandson (Robert Walker). In countless war films particularly those of this period there were attempts so encapsulate the intense preciousness of a couple's short time together before being torn apart by enforced separation. Of course it's that old love-youth-death cocktail yet again but I cannot remember it being more movingly done than here. Marvellous use of the pathetic fallacy of being caught in a thunderstorm in a country landscape followed by possibly the greatest cinematic train departure ever. Worth seeing if for nothing else.

I Wish (2011)
A modern fairytale, 25 April 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A group of children walking in an unfamiliar landscape stop to gaze in rapture at a garden full of colourful flowers. For a moment they seem to have forgotten the reason they have taken their journey; one lovely moment among many in Hirokazu Kore-eda's "I Wish," a meditation on how children would like their world to be that little bit better. The film has taken quite a while to reach this point. In a rather meandering exposition the elder of two brothers separated geographically by a family split comes to realise that his greatest wish is for them to be reunited again. He even wonders whether the smouldering volcano that dominates the town might one day burst, causing the mass exodus that could end in physical relocation and reconciliation. He paints a picture of the eruption, places it on a high point of his wall and gazes up at it from his bed. During the development that follows be excitedly learns that the passing of the two bullet trains on a newly constructed line joining his town and his brother's generates at their point of passing a force so powerful that anyone standing beside the track will have their wish come true - the very stuff of fairy tale here translated into a realistic contemporary setting. When both brothers gather together a few friends to make their collective wishes come true what has until then been a rather slow footed film cluttered with non-essentials suddenly springs to life. The two groups travelling from their two towns towards each other on their local line meet up at a country station. From this point there is magic in the storytelling. What I admire most about Kore-eda is his honesty. In real life not every wish can come true but every so often there can come about a coincidence that can in itself be something of a miracle. Here it takes the form of the children's chance encounter with very human "good fairies." the elderly couple who see in one of the girls a resemblance to a daughter whose company they no longer enjoy. This is just enough to get the children to the one place where they can be close enough to the bullet trains to scream their wishes. The rest of the films is the quietest of codas as the children return home with perhaps a wiser view of the world than when they set out.

4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
That rarity, a quiet epic, 22 April 2015

Hou Hsiou-Hsien's "A City of Sadness" is one of Oriental Cinema's most rewarding challenges. I have returned to it several times, always with a sense of awe, understanding it a little more on each occasion but still not always sure what is actually happening on the screen. Although this makes the experience sometimes frustrating, the miracle is that it never detracts from the gut feeling I have had from the very first viewing that I am watching a masterpiece. An ambitious attempt to capture the immediate post second world war period of Taiwanese history by following the members of one family through fragments of their daily lives rather than a carefully constructed continuous narrative, Hou's work resonates with tremendous feeling. As is usual with this director, the audience has to work hard to supply connections in a film without joins, in order to understand who is who and what is actually going on. I have to admit that some of the scenes of gang violence still elude me, but, these apart, the light is beginning to shine through. It is clear that the old man with the beret who sits often staring vacantly is the owner of that densely furnished restaurant; that he has four sons. The eldest, the sturdy looking one, seems perennially mixed up with figures of a gangster underworld, the second has returned from the war mentally damaged, the third did not return from active service in the Phillipines and is presumed dead. And then there is the youngest who has a photographer's studio and seems completely apart from the rest of the family by virtue of a sensitive, gentle nature and the disability of complete deafness brought on by a childhood accident. It is his fortunes and those of the young nurse he eventually marries that provide the sense of audience empathy that even the most obscure cinema need in order to work its magic. Their scenes provide moments of great tenderness in a relationship that relies entirely for communication on the written note such as the occasion when she needs to tell him about the beauty of a German folksong that is being played. When the country is placed under repressive martial law with massed executions for dissenters we have snippets of the deaf mute's experiences. There is a particularly telling moment when he is in captivity, unable to hear the sound of the firing squad from which he somehow mercifully escapes. In "A City of Sadness" it is short scenes such as this that one remembers so vividly. That it provides the experience of a sweeping epic without recourse to any great scenes of action is both its mystery and fascination.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Ealing not only made good comedies, 3 March 2015

Having read a lukewarm review of "The Captive Heart" in Time Out (my cinema bible) and thinking, "They're bound to trash this one," I leaped to the IMDb reviews ready to play my "champion of the turkey" role. What a pleasurable surprise to find it not needed, that I am indeed at one with sympathetic users and critics alike in admiration for this rather special offering from the Ealing archive. Whereas the comedies from the West London studios are still admired with affection, their more serious fare tends to be overlooked. "The Captive Heart" is something of a forgotten treasure, a tribute in the wake of victory, to our gallant servicemen who spent much of the second world war as prisoners in German camps. It's another team piece in the mode of Carol Reed's better known "The Way Ahead" which takes a cross section of class types and closely observes their behaviour as they share an enforced coming together. It's all very stereotypical but if treated with sincerity, as in both films, a measure of character cliché can be forgiven. If the level of acting is fairly mediocre, particularly some of the women with those period prissy upper class accents, one part, that of Michael Redgrave as a Czech who has assumed the role of an English soldier killed in battle to escape being identified by the Germans, stands out for its quality. Where the film really scores is in its reminder of a time when people were really nice to one another particularly when brought together in adversity. Everyone mucks in to help, from comforting the young soldier when first confronted with the permanence of his lack of sight to the initially unsympathetic character who gives up his chance of repatriation to aid one who needs it more, welcome reminders of an age when it was generally normal rather than exceptional to emerge from the cinema feeling good.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A very good 'bad' movie, 28 February 2015

They've been screaming at one another for an awfully long time. And they're still at it, those dysfunctional couples and families that seem to come mainly from American theatre. Cinema guarantees an even larger audience for screaming domestic monsters so it is no surprise that many stage hits from "The Little Foxes" to "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" quickly find their way to the big screen. Family angst enriched by the odd skeleton in the cupboard is usually sure fire box office. I must admit to finding the genre quite addictive,so much so that I have to be really careful to distinguish the good from the bad. What of "August: Osage County" which I have just caught up with? Well, it has Meryl Streep for a start as a matriarch with the ability to out-scream everyone else on set or any other set for that matter. Otherwise she hasn't much going for her, poor thing - a widow suffering from mouth cancer but still smoking like a chimney, popping as many pills as she can get her hands on, hair falling out from chemotherapy. But at least she has rather an attractive wig that she wears with great presence in those scenes where she is called upon to scream her loudest. Hers is a tremendous part and Streep seizes it with a relish that just about sends her over the top. The eldest of her three daughters is almost her match when it comes to verbal vitriol. Julia Roberts gives a powerful performance that in places almost overshadows that of her film mother in the way her dislikability is the more believable. From the acting point of view this is a terrific ensemble piece with every character playing their gut wrenching weaknesses to the hilt. Even Benedict Cumberbatch, who seems to be attracting a lot of attention lately, tears his heart out for getting up too late to attend the family funeral, capping this with the disaster of upsetting a dish at the aftermath dinner. That dinner is quite something! It somehow seems to bring out the worst in everybody, raising domestic angst in a tremendous crescendo, but not before Streep's brother-in-law is forced into the position of having to deliver an embarrassingly long and mawkish grace. I am not sure where all this leads but I certainly enjoyed it. However, is there not something exploitive in the process of of being offered entertainment by watching people behaving badly, inducing in one pure titillation? Fine if the result is pure comedy like that most successful TV series "The Inbetweeners," but rather more dubious in the case of a drama inviting comparison with "A Long Day's Journey Into Night" or "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", both outstanding for their penetrating tragic insights into the human condition. "August: Osage County" strains rather too hard to surpass its predecessors in hysteria so that any messages it might have been trying to convey become drowned in grotesque caricature. However as I enjoyed it so much I feel obliged to crown it a very good 'bad' movie though not quite a great 'bad' one, an accolade I would reserve for Sam Wood's glorious 1942 melodrama, "Kings Row" in which a future President of the USA screamed "Where's the rest of me?"

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
A not altogether successful reminder of former glories, 21 February 2015

There are times when I long for a great new film from France. Gone it seems are the days of Goretta, Chabrol, Truffaut, Malle and Bresson. Sometimes Techine rises to it, but only just. I was reminded a few days ago of what we are missing when I caught up with Mia Hansen-Love's "Goodbye First Love", a film that conveys the ecstasy and pangs of adolescent passion with a delicacy that the French so often manage to achieve with such effortless ease. In short, this could not have come from any other country. I watched the first third which follows the intense relationship of eighteen year old Sullivan and the younger Camille with something of the excitement of rediscovery. Hansen-Love's direction has a fluency and pace that perfectly match the breakneck quality of an affair teetering on the edge of uncertain fulfilment. When Sullivan departs with his mates on a South American backpacking trip Camille is distraught. Her slow recovery and recognition of a different type of love in her relationship with her mature architecture teacher, Lorenz, form the central part of the film. Unfortunately with the absence of a frenetic passion something of the vitality of the first third is lessened and the film becomes an altogether more mundane affair that even Sullivan's return several months later cannot quite rescue from the occasional yawn. What I imagined from the beginning might prove to be a re-run into "La Dentelliere" country ends up as something far less substantial in quality. Today's French cinema, although often still quite distinctive in style, sadly lacks a director of the calibre of those men from the past.

It's grim up north, 16 February 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

British cinema has long been telling us "it's grim up north." Directors certainly piled on this message during our '50s and '60s New Wave. Up in Scotland, as Bill Douglas in his Trilogy let us know, it could be even grimmer. In some of the work of Tony Richardson ("A Taste of Honey" for example) the grimness could be softened somewhat with poetic images of industrial landscapes. Nothing wrong with this. "Honey" is a lovely film in many ways, but if a director wanted to be hard-hittingly grim he had to jettison poetic visuals as Lindsay Anderson did in "This Sporting Life", possibly the greatest film of our New Wave. There have been innumerable "grim" films with northern settings since with occasional outstanding examples as Ken Loach's "Kes" and more recently Shane Meadows's "This is England." Into this august company steps Clio Barnard with "The Selfish Giant" remarkable for painting possibly the bleakest picture I have come across of life north of The Wash. True there are some beautiful shots of cooling towers and others of horses in misty landscapes but these barely relieve the unrelenting sordidness of the way families of no-hopers live on the fringe of a northern city.. The opening scene introduces Arbor, a disturbed, hyper-active kid being fished out screaming from underneath his bed by his constant friend, Swifty, to go on a night time forage for scrap metal. Although they are in the same class at school, Swifty seems that much older and more mature by virtue of a voice that has already broken. The boys always do things together, whether it is being excluded from school or nicking scrap to sell to the unscrupulous dealer, Kitten. Eventually Arbor goes one step too far when he nicks scrap from Kitten to sell elsewhere. Ordered to replace the stolen cable results in a shocking and unbearable tragedy. "The Selfish Giant" is one of those films that doesn't give up its secrets straight away. When I first saw it I was sickened by its unrelieved sordidness, with foul-mouthed characters such as Swifty's father acting completely without respect or compassion for anyone, but with the death of one of the boys some three quarters of the way through, the film begins to achieve a level of intensity that makes for mesmerising cinema. Arbor is not able to articulate his grief on the death of his friend but the long wait in the rain outside Swifty's house, his eventual acceptance by the grieving mother and the affectionate grooming of the horse in the the final shots say it all. Herein lies the compassion we have been longing for, the very stuff of great tragedy.

A sensitive balancing act, 13 February 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Come as You Are" is an all too rare example of a film featuring physical disability that actually succeeds. Let's face it. Which of us would normally expect to be entertained by the spectacle of three young men, a paraplegic, one with hardly any vision and one semi-paralysed as a result of terminal cancer, struggling to go on a holiday sex adventure? I have to admit that on reading the blurb in the Radio Times I thought this could not possibly work. It sounded like some sort of "Inbetweeners" effort in the worst possible taste. However as it was taking up time in a BBC World Cinema slot I felt duty bound to give it a "ten minute" test particularly as too little attention is given to foreign movies by our TV companies. That the film grabbed immediately and survived those initial scenes I can only attribute to the likability of its characters. Admittedly Philip the paraplegic, the mouthy one of the three, needed getting used to, but his companions, Lars and Jozef, had those endearing features that make for good company on a long journey. But even Philip was to reveal a more sympathetic side towards the end. I suppose in a way it worked because it was a comedy that skilfully sidestepped the mawkish, with each scene however embarrassingly uncomfortable for the characters at the time - the hotel bedroom scene where a key is mislaid or the misadventure where Jozef accidentally rolls down an embankment into a lake - tending to come right so that the overall feel-good factor was never quite dissipated. Claude, the lads' overweight female chauffeur holds the whole thing together beautifully. She develops a bond with her charges as we do with both them and her. In the end their sexual fulfilment is what matters all round. Admittedly the scene where death finally catches up with Lars is terribly sad but somehow it speaks for the honesty of a film that faces up to the fact that life is a balancing act of laughter and tears for most of us.

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