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604 reviews in total 
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One worth seeking out, 25 February 2015

Of all the films made from the novels and stories of Graham Greene, "Across the Bridge" is probably the least known and least appreciated which is a pity as it's actually very good, (it's much, much better than John Ford's "The Fugitive", his feeble attempt to film "The Power and the Glory"). Of course, with a better director than Ken Annakin and a better supporting cast it might have been perfect. As it is, it's entirely reliant on its plot, which is gripping, and a sterling performance from Rod Steiger, to hold our interest.

He's Carl Schaffner, a crooked businessman who, in an attempt to escape justice, assumes the identity of the man he thinks he's killed and who just happens to be a murderer. It's a plot not dissimilar to that of Antonioni's later "The Passenger" and if this film is never in that class, neither does it deserve to be overlooked. Worth seeking out.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Bleak, grim and ultimately unsatisfying, 17 February 2015

"Kelly + Victor" is the story of a sadomasochistic relationship between a young couple who meet in a nightclub then go back to hers for sex. It's a thin little story tarted up with shots of nature and landscape between the bouts of not very pleasant passion. It's a film that shows real promise, (director Kieran Evans won a BAFTA for it), but is too concerned with softening the blow by making this into an 'art' movie complete with visit to an art gallery. I think it would have been a better picture had a more direct approach been taken. Julian Morris is outstanding as Victor; he is a naturally physical performer who throws himself completely into the role. If Antonia Campbell-Huges is less impressive as Kelly it may be because her character never feels real. Her addiction to kinky sex feels to me like a scriptwriter's affectation. It's a bleak, grim little picture, very 21st century kitchen-sink and it made me long for the less explicit but more dramatically satisfying British films of the early 1960's.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Absolutely essential, 16 February 2015

"Inherent Vice" is the first outright comedy that Paul Thomas Anderson has made and it's only the second film he's made based on someone else's work, (in this case Thomas Pynchon, whose dialogue he has faithfully reproduced). Consequently the film has been somewhat side-lined and underrated so while it may not be "Magnolia", "There Will Be Blood" or "The Master" it is still head and shoulders above anything else out there at the moment. The plot may be virtually impenetrable, (but then who gives a toss about plot these days), yet as a snapshot of a drug-fueled LA in 1970 this is close to priceless. If Anderson was Altman in a previous life then this is his "The Long Goodbye" by way of Howard Hawks' "The Big Sleep".

When I said the plot was impenetrable I think I should have said it was more or less irrelevant since it is easily summed up in the opening and then conveniently disappears down a rabbit-hole. 'Doc', (a terrific Joaquin Phoenix), is a spaced-out PI 'hired' by former girl-friend Shasta, (newcomer Katherine Waterston), to track down missing billionaire Michael Wolfmann, (Eric Roberts), whom she believes has been kidnapped by his own wife. He isn't very far into the investigation when he wakes up beside a corpse and finds himself surrounded by the fuzz, chief among whom is one Bigfoot Bjornsen, (a never better Josh Brolin). After that you really need to pay very close attention or just go with the flow as more and more characters slip in and out of the frame and an organization called 'The Golden Fang' begins to loom large. Oh, and I did mention this was a comedy and a very funny one, too. It's the kind of surreal, psychedelic comedy movies don't do these days and in that respect it's another throwback to independent Ameriican movie-making in the seventies.

As well as Phoenix and Brolin, both at the top of their game, there is Reese Witherspoon as a promiscuous Assistant DA, an amazing Martin Short as a very peculiar dentist, (and on screen for much too short a time), Owen Wilson as some kind of whistle-blower, (at least I guessed that was what he was), not to mention cameos from the likes of Jeannie Berlin and Jefferson Mays. It's a fun film though it might confound Anderson devotees and anyone who thought him incapable of doing anything other than "The Master" or "Magnolia" and, of course, it looks the part. As well as being a great writer, Anderson has always been a great visual stylist and here DoP Robert Elswit imbues the film with a Vilmos Zsigmond hue. Yes, this is a film that isn't just set in 1970 but which could have been made then, too. It may not be Anderson's best work but it is absolutely essential nevertheless.

One of the finest of all 'kitchen-sink' movies, 9 February 2015

Watching Richard Harris' performance as Frank Machin in Lindsay Anderson's 1963 masterpiece "This Sporting Life" you might be reminded of Marlon Brando's work in "A Streetcar Named Desire" or indeed of Robert De Niro's Jake La Motta in Scorsese's later "Raging Bull", (Scorsese's film owes a great deal to "This Sporting Life" without ever quite measuring up). All three characters share the same animalistic intensity and an inability to communicate except in the most primordial level. This was the film that made Harris a star and it's his greatest performance; he was nominated for the Oscar and won the Best Actor prize at Cannes. His co-star is the great Rachel Roberts as the widowed landlady who takes Machin into her bed. Like Harris, she too was nominated and deservedly so; she's as fine here as she was in Karl Reisz's "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning", (Reisz produced this film while Anderson made his feature debut as a director). David Storey did the superb adaptation from his own novel and the brilliant supporting cast included Alan Badel, William Hartnell and Colin Blakely. Denys Coop was responsible for the cinematography and Peter Taylor was the editor. It's still one of the finest of all films that uses sport both as a backdrop and as a metaphor and is one of the greatest of all 'kitchen-sink' movies.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Seek this out; it's superb, 5 February 2015

With only his third film J.C. Chandor has taken on the mantle of Sidney Lumet and has done him proud. "A Most Violent Year" is an incredibly tense, gripping drama, (I hesitate to call it a thriller per se), set in New York in 1981, reputedly the most violent year in the city's history and around the time Lumet was making films like "Prince of the City" and "The Verdict". Like these, "A Most Violent Year" depends, not on action, extreme violence or sex but on a good story, a brilliant script, intelligent direction and a host of superb performances.

Oscar Isaac, (getting better with every film), is Abel Morales, owner of his own oil company and in the throes of a deal that will greatly expand his empire, who finds he is also the subject of a number of hi-jackings of this trucks, possibly organized by his competitors. Abel is a good, decent man who doesn't want to dirty his hands even though both he and his company are being investigated by District Attorney David Oyelowo. His wife, on the other hand, isn't so squeamish, whether it's in fiddling the books or shooting an injured deer. She's played, terrifically, by Jessica Chastain in an Oscar-worthy performance, (she didn't even manage a nomination), and her presence on screen suggests this film may go down some very dark streets indeed.

Of course, if Chandor keeps making films like this he isn't going to wow the Academy, (though he did wow the National Board of Review who chose it as the years best picture), or bring in the big bucks not because "A Most Violent Year" is below par, (it isn't; it's easily one of the best pictures of last year), but because he makes the kind of intelligent pictures about subjects other directors tend to shy away from, (the financial fall-out in "Margin Call"; a one-man show and set in the middle of the Ocean in "All is Lost"). He's also proved himself a great director of actors and a writer of uncommon intelligence. The fact that this film failed to pick up a single Oscar nomination speaks volumes about the Academy's tunnel-vision. Seek it out, it's superb.

Foxcatcher (2014)
0 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
A chilly, forbidding film, 1 February 2015

"Foxcatcher" is a grim, depressing and dislikeable film in which the American Dream turns very sour indeed. It's based on actual characters and events and is totally without humour. There is nothing to eradicate the clammy feeling that something isn't right here. An unrecognizable Steve Carell, (with prosthetic nose), is John du Pont, a member of America's richest family, a man with too much money, too much time on his hands and almost pathological fear and probable hatred of his mother, (a steely, forbidding Vanessa Redgrave), who decides to sponsor and coach brothers Mark and David Schultz and the American Olympic Wrestling Team.

From the outset you know this creepy little man has an agenda other than the straightforward one of seeing his fellow countrymen pick up gold though it's hard to guess exactly what it is. The film never makes explicit du Pont's psychosis. Is he simply a closeted homosexual? Perhaps. Watching it I was reminded of the old gag, "My mother made me a homosexual". "If I gave her the wool would she make me one, too". (Any joke, even one as lame as this one, would have been welcome during the course of this movie). Or is he looking for the sons he never had or are likely to have? The brothers are played by Channing Tatum, (Mark), and David Ruffalo, (David), and they are both excellent. Tatum is a revelation; there is a touch of Lon Chaney's Lennie in "Of Mice and Men" in this performance. He is a lumbering giant, not very bright and almost totally dependent on his brother. Ruffalo has the smaller part and he gives the film its only warmth. Otherwise this is a chilly, downbeat movie and I don't plan on seeing it again any time soon.

Whiplash (2014)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Totally riveting., 18 January 2015

Who would have thought that a movie about a young musician training to the the drumming world's equivalent of Charlie 'Bird' Parker could be this gripping but Damien Chazelle's "Whiplash", (it's only his second film and he both wrote and directed), works both as a study about a pupil/teacher relationship and as a film about obsession as well as being a superlative jazz 'musical' and it's a film that confounds expectations at every turn. Only once does it go slightly off the rails in a melodramatic sequence leading up to a crucial concert but it recovers from this blip building to an incredible musical climax in Carnegie Hall.

The pupil/teacher relationship is that between Andrew, a priggishly self-confident young drummer and Fletcher, his martinet music instructor. Fletcher's idea of teaching is to abuse, verbally and sometimes physically, his students until they do things his way. If they don't measure up, they're out. He's played by J.K. Simmons as the music world's equivalent of R. Lee Ermey's drill sergeant in "Full Metal Jacket" and at times you hope he might suffer the same fate. It's a career best performance from a great character actor finally getting his dues and almost certainly an Oscar. Andrew is MilesTeller and neither Teller nor Chazelle make him particularly likable or sympathetic which is a nice touch; there are times you feel he deserves all he gets. A cosier actor would have made for a cosier picture and a less exciting one. When they go up against each other you feel at least we might have a battle of equals. Fletcher is a monster but he might also be a great teacher who knows he may have finally found his Charlie Parker. There's just enough of an edge to Simmons' performance for us to want to look for the man beneath the caricature just as Teller's Andrew is equally alienating.

Luckily, for such a blood-soaked saga, in a very literate sense, there is enough humour in Chazelle's excellent script to get us through the sticky passages, (and there are a few; there's only so much cymbal-throwing bluster we can take), and the almost wordless climax, including a nine minute drum solo, is as musically and dramatically riveting as anything in recent cinema. "Whiplash" may not be perfect but it's as near as dammit and marks Chazelle out as one of the best and most exciting young directors working today.

Really rather splendid, 15 January 2015

Robert Bolt won two Oscars back to back, (for "Doctor Zhivago" and "A Man for All Seasons"), as well as penning that most literate of epics "Lawrence of Arabia". Indeed for a time he seemed to be David Lean's writer of choice until his script for Lean's elephantine "Ryan's Daughter" and that films critical failure, severed those ties. In 1972 Bolt not only wrote, but also directed, "Lady Caroline Lamb". It wasn't really a success and, as may be expected, is a very literate-minded costumer but also, as may be expected, is highly intelligent and very nicely played.

It is, of course, an account, for the most part, of the title character's scandalous and disastrous affair with the mad, bad and dangerous to know Lord Byron, seen here as some kind of 19th century rock star. As Lady Caroline, Sarah Miles is quite splendid, (she was, of course, Mrs Bolt), I've always felt Miles was a much better actress than she was ever given credit for, though her tremulous style wasn't to everyone's taste. As Byron, a somewhat surprising Richard Chamberlain acquits himself somewhat surprisingly well, while Jon Finch is more than adequate as Lady Caroline's husband. The supporting cast are made up mostly of the great and the good of the British acting establishment, (a superb Margaret Leighton, John Mills, Laurence Olivier as Wellington, Ralph Richardson in an excellent cameo as King George IV, Michael Wilding), and the production overall is extremely handsome to look at. (It's obvious, on the whole, no expense was spared). Indeed, as historical dramas go, this one is a cut above the rest with Bolt displaying a keen sense of the cinematic in several scenes. Hardly ever revived, it's worth seeking out.

It does what it says on the tin, 14 January 2015

With a title like "Shoot-out at Medicine Bend" you know exactly what you're going to get. This is a thoroughly likable B-Western with Randolph Scott, a young James Garner and Gordon Jones as ex-army buddies trying to find out who robbed them, (when they were doing a bit of skinny-dipping), aka the goodies and James Craig, Myron Healey, John Alderson and sundry others as the baddies. There isn't really much plot; it's really just the good guys vs the bad guys and that's it but it's exciting and quite funny. The females involved are a young Angie Dickinson, cast here as the 'nice' girl and Dani Crayne, the saloon singer. Richard L Bare is the director and he doesn't waste a single shot.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Filmed theatre, nothing more., 13 January 2015

"From Here to Eternity: The Musical" flopped when it opened in London last year and it's easy to see why; this is a very 'American' show to get its world premiere in the West End. It's also something of a downer. (did British audiences really want to see a show that ends with the bombing of Pearl Harbour?), and frankly it's British cast were never really up to the task, (British actors doing American accents always seem to be below par). It also didn't boast any real stars, though both former pop idol Darius Campbell and Robert Lonsdale are more than adequate, and it's impossible to get the movie out of your mind. On the plus side, it's very well staged by Tamara Harvey and boasts an outstanding musical score by newcomer Stuart Brayson. With a better American cast it's the kind of show I can see doing very nicely on Broadway.

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