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The Killing$ of Tony Blair (2016)
Well informed documentary on the crimes of Tony Blair
A well made, low budget documentary produced and presented by George Galloway, former Labour MP and scourge of Tony Blair's New Labour.
The film obviously focuses on Blair's role in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and its aftermath, followed by his role as a Middle East 'peace envoy'. Blair's actions in supporting George Bush's drive for war in Iraq are well known and documented already and so most of the footage or analysis offers nothing new.
What is more interesting is the details of Blair's other exploits both during and after his time as British prime minister. These include his relationships with banks such as JP Morgan who employed Blair as an adviser or big business, such as Rupert Murdoch's media empire who Blair cosied up to.
The documentary's strongest point is in detailing the vast amounts of money Tony Blair has made since leaving office through various speaking engagements and advisory roles.
Tony Blair is a man who has made vast wealth from speaking to and advising all sorts from big businesses to violent dictators. All the while he benefits from taxpayers money paying for his security detail to protect not just him but also his many properties.
Various talking heads including politicians, journalists, diplomats and political activists are on hand to provide analysis including strong contributions from former minister Clare Short and writer Will Self.
The film is let down somewhat by George Galloway's ego which sees him feature prominently throughout the film. And at times he gets carried away by his sense of his own importance.
But if you can tolerate Galloway, it is an otherwise very strong documentary on Tony Blair, a figure who will live long in history as a pariah and war criminal.
Bobby Sands: 66 Days (2016)
A documentary detailing the hunger strike by IRA member Bobby Sands in 1981 which led to his death. The film centres around the writings of Sands himself while he was on the hunger strike at the Maze Prison. Around that, we have a number of historians, former IRA members and politicians giving their views, interspersed with archive footage of scenes from the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
The dominant interviewee in the film is the Irish journalist Fintan O'Toole. He espouses, at great length, the idea that Bobby Sands was an artist, who in dying, was making the ultimate sacrifice for his art. O'Toole completely separates Sands actions from the political context of the time. Sands was in prison for a second time for IRA activities. He had joined the IRA in 1971, having grown up in a time of violence, discrimination and oppression of catholic people in the 6 counties. This is the context behind Bobby Sands' actions but it is barely mentioned.
The violence perpetrated by loyalists and the British army, against nationalists is never mentioned in this film. Only violence by the IRA is mentioned. The film even mentions the upsurge in violence in 1972, without mentioning the biggest reason for it, Bloody Sunday which occurred in January of that year.
And therein lies the biggest problem with this film. It is determined to present a very one-sided picture of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, where the IRA were the sole aggressors and everyone else, including the British were victims. At the same time, Bobby Sands is separated from the historical context by the constant positing of him as some kind of artist. The film disrespects Bobby Sands and all the hunger strikers by removing their actions from the political context of the time.
And while some of the animated sequences are well done, the editing is poor. Scenes are juxtaposed together which jar against each other. Thus the film doesn't flow very well and can be hard to watch, while certain scenes are unnecessarily repeated.
Ultimately, the film is revisionist propaganda, serving a particular political line. Decontextualising the hunger strikes from other events in Northern Ireland does not do the story of Bobby Sands justice.
Star Trek Beyond (2016)
Poor camera-work destroys the film
As a fan of the Star Trek reboot films I had high hopes for Beyond. But it certainly doesn't live up to the standards of the previous two films.
After a very slow start, the film develops into an almost non-stop action film. The problem is that the terrible camera-work renders most of the action scenes unwatchable. The jerky camera just left me with a headache while its almost impossible to tell what is going on at times.
The plot is lazy and rehashes much of Into Darkness. The villain Krall, is very similar to Khan in his actions and motivations, while the climactic scene is almost an exact copy of that in Into Darkness.
There are some nice moments, Sulu meeting his husband, tributes to George Kirk and Leonard Nimoy. And Jaylah is an interesting new character, hopefully she is kept on for the next film. Although I would also hope that Scotty manages to stop calling her 'lassie'. Its sexist and got very tiresome.
Overall, the film feels lazy. Not enough thought or care went into the film, it feels like too many people were on auto-pilot in making it.
The Big Short (2015)
Witty expose of the banking crisis
The Big Short focuses on four individuals who predicted the banking collapse of 2008 and so bet against the banks. Christian Bale plays Michael Burry, a hedge fund investor who in 2005 predicted that the housing market would collapse and bring down the banks. Other investors, played by Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt soon get wind of Burrys prediction and decide to follow him. When they bet against the banks, the bankers laugh but take their bets thinking its easy money. But of course, as we know, these people were proved right as a mortgage crisis led to several banks collapsing while others were given huge government bailouts. The film does very well to explain the jargon behind the banking. Although the idea of getting celebrities such as Selena Gomez and Anthony Bourdain to give the explanations does wear thin. The film is very well acted, particularly Carrell who is on top form. Unfortunately the film does descend into Wolf of Wall Street style excess at times which can be wearying and seems to be a desperate attempt to add a bit of thrill to what is otherwise very dialogue heavy film. Women have a very small role in the film, other than when they are strippers being objectified. By the time Marisa Tomei reappeared near the end of the film, I had forgotten that she was in it. And while there is some mention, certainly more so than in WoWS, there could have been more about the consequences of the banking crisis for ordinary people who lost their homes and jobs. Overall though, the film is enjoyable and informative.
Stylish but unoriginal
Oblivion is a generally well made and entertaining film. The cinematography is very good, the sets, gadgets and special effects are all top notch. The film also features strong performances by Tom Cruise, Andrea Riseborough and Olga Kurylenko.
Unfortunately the plot is a disaster. At times it is incomprehensible, while also managing to blatantly rips off a number of other sci-fi films, in particular The Matrix and Moon while the Scavengers even look like Predator.
The film is good to look at, but brings nothing new and is ultimately a disappointment.
Formulaic, boring Bond!
SPECTRE contains all the famous elements of a James Bond film - fast cars, beautiful women, explosions, dastardly villains in secret lairs. The problem seems to be that the director and writers seemed more concerned with including all these elements than creating a coherent plot or memorable characters.
The film begins with a superlative tracking shot following James Bond through downtown Mexico City during the Day of the Dead festivities. The sequence shows great technical skill but it is brought to a shuddering halt. Too often in the film, good sequences are ruined by jarring moments that don't fit. Later, a car chase in Rome, contains moments of attempted humour that jar against the overall dark tone of the film. And SPECTRE is certainly dark, almost all scenes take place at night, and often in the dark of abandoned buildings. At the same time, the car chase lacks the tension of a classic Bond chase scene, seeming more like an advert for the beauty of Rome than Bond escaping with his life.
This chase follows a largely unnecessary diversion to meet Monica Belluci's gangsters moll. Her role is completely inconsequential to the film other than to send Bond to a meeting with the films main villain, Franz Oberhauser.
Too quickly, the meeting is over, and overall, Oberhauser features far too little in the film. Of course, this could just be a set-up for appearances in later films, but it leaves SPECTRE lacking in villainy. This isn't helped by the fact that Oberhauser's dastardly plot is incoherent, and not a particularly frightening prospect. Oberhauser's plot is to take over global surveillance systems which suggests the films desperate attempt to appear relevant in a world following the revelations of the NSA and Edward Snowden. Oberhauser's plan doesn't appear any worse than the reality of what is actually going on in the world. Furthermore, Oberhauser's intentions are complicated by his seeming desire for revenge against James Bond over old family connections, a plot point borrowed from Skyfall and Silva's desire for revenge on M.
And as has become de riguer for Bond films, there is a mole within MI5 who is working for the villain, but its obvious from the start who it is so there is no surprise in the reveal.
The film borrows heavily from earlier Bond films with references to From Russia With Love, On Her Majesty's Secret Service and You Only Live Twice amongst others, as well as tying up loose ends from the previous three films.
This determination to pay homage detracts from the film as there is little original on show. Its a shame as the film has an excellent cast but in particular Christoph Waltz and Monica Bellucci are wasted. Lea Seydoux is good, but at times falls into the tropes of the Bond girls of old instead of the more nuanced female characters of the more recent films. It was nice to see more of Ben Whishaw as Q, but Ralph Fiennes is a huge step back from Judi Dench as M, while Moneypenny played by Naomie Harris fails to justify her larger than usual role in the film. Most worryingly Daniel Craig is on autopilot, seeming disinterested, no longer the perky young Bond of Casino Royale.
Overall, the film then is a disappointment. Sam Mendes brings nothing new here, hopefully the talk of him signing on for Bond 25 comes to nothing as the series needs a new direction.
The Queen of Ireland (2015)
Enjoyable documentary about a drag queen who became queen of Ireland!
Wonderful documentary about Rory O'Neill, aka Miss Panti Bliss, the Que en of Ireland. The film deals with Rory's life from growing up in the small town of Ballinrobe in Mayo, to the start of his career as a drag queen in Tokyo and Dublin and his political activism in recent years.
Much of the film deals with the same-sex marriage referendum, which Panti was a prominent campaigner. This was preceded by Pantigate, and his brilliant Noble Call speech which was tweeted around the world with endorsements from celebrities from Stephen Fry to Martina Navratilova.
The film gives a good overview of the struggle for LGBT equality in Ireland from the 1970's to the present day with contributions from some of the leading figures such as David Norris and Tonie Walsh.
But ultimately the film is a very personal film about Rory O'Neill and it concludes with a homecoming show in Ballinrobe where he returns as a star.
The film is hugely enjoyable, as Rory/Panti is a very likable character and shows how and why Miss Panti Bliss is so popular in Ireland today.
Just a warning, if you have read Panti's book Woman in the Making and seen his stand-up show, there isn't much more information in the film other than the footage around the referendum and his homecoming to Ballinrobe.
Road to Perdition (2002)
Clichéd, poorly acted mess of a film
I had heard a lot of good things about this film so was seriously disappointed. The plot was very clichéd and predictable all the way through. The final shootout scene was the most obviously predictable but many of the events leading up to it were also obvious. While too many of the characters actions made no sense whatsoever, particularly the actions and motivations of Paul Newmans character, John Rooney.
The acting was poor particularly from Daniel Craig whose accent varied from New York to posh English often within the same line. Even Tom Hanks underperformed in the lead role.
The variations in tone between serious and comedic were jarring and didn't fit with the film at all. And the film is plagued by the concept that to depict a dark tone or story just add torrential rain. Admittedly this concept is a problem in many films but this takes it to a new level.
The only positives in this film are some fine cinematography and the attention to detail in capturing the 1931 setting.
Potential, but ultimately disappointing
I found this film showy and way too self indulgent. The whole film is devoted to parodying itself, and acting, and theatre, and its cast and itself again. Yet it lacks the requisite humour. We get it, Keaton used to play Batman and is now washed up, and Norton is a method actor. Knowing this before hand, as would most cinema-goers does not make this parody particularly worthwhile.
The film takes a typical pot shot at theatre critics, and then attacks theatre for being bourgeois. Yet the film is filmed like a theatre play and it never escapes its stagey setting. Aside from Keaton and Norton, overacting at the centre, a variety of good actors are left on the sidelines in throwaway roles. Andrea Riseborough is particularly neglected and then cast aside for the majority of the film.
The middle of the film drags along as well before picking up at the end. But the finale is risible. The scriptwriters don't seem to have fully decided whether Keatons character is actually a birdman or just delusional so they go for both in a clichéd ending.
The film had potential, a great cast, some good cinematography, but ultimately it was a disappointment. Certainly shouldn't be the Oscar favourite all the critics seem to be raving about.