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A very powerful and brilliantly played film, 27 August 2014

The amount of talent involved promised a great deal and A Place in the Sun lived up to it and more. The production values have such a sumptuous and haunting quality that perfectly match the romantic, tragic and darker tones A Place in the Sun has. Every frame is beautifully composed and every transition is as smooth as silk. George Stevens does a remarkable job directing, and very like with Giant he was wholly deserving of his Best Director Oscar, especially good is the very telling scene when George and Angela meet for the first time. Franz Waxman's score is lush and hauntingly beautiful in a way that is undoubtedly Waxman's style as soon as you hear it. A Place in the Sun is intelligently written with parts that are suspenseful and emotionally gut-wrenching. Equally so is the story, which personally didn't come across as dated, it is a dark and quite complex story powerfully told and quite ahead of its time too, the romantic parts are classily done and the tragedy is depicted movingly as well. The characters are compellingly real, not easy to sympathise for(apart from Alice) but that wasn't intended I don't think. The cast was a great one on paper and even greater on film, Montgomery Clift has rarely been more tortured and he does so in an enigmatic and affecting way, Elizabeth Taylor is at her most luminous(even outdoing Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Last Time I Saw You in Paris and Giant on that front) and gives one of her best performances and Shelley Winters is every bit as brilliant. A Place in the Sun may not be as solidly paced in the second half and Raymond Burr badly overdoes it as the attorney especially in the cross-examination with the breaking of the oar, but even they aren't quite enough to ruin a powerful and brilliantly made and played film that is among the best of the 50s. 9.5/10 Bethany Cox

SnakeHead Swamp (2014) (TV)
A lot of murkiness down in this swamp, 27 August 2014

SnakeHead Swamp is not as bad as it could have been and SyFy have done worse. The opening is cool, the actors though with a fair share of hit and miss moments at least don't take the movie too seriously or try too hard with Peaches Davis particularly fun, there is some decent gore and there is a little bit of novelty comedic value. But like a lot of SyFy outings, SnakeHead Swamp is still not very good, mediocre at best and lame at worst. Some of the photography is enough to induce a migraine, a lot of the movie looks rather drab and the special effects are really laughable with the killer fish looking more ridiculously goofy than menacing. They're not much of a threat either, exuding little personality and you don't learn much about them, SnakeHead Swamp does try to explain the motivation of the killer fish but does so in a muddled manner. The script is riddled with clichés and vomit-inducingly inane dialogue where a few of the worst of them make for unintentional comedy. The story has a decent start but it slows down soon after and never picks up after that, some of it is repetitive with some parts recapping what happened 10 minutes ago and it was really unnecessary, suspense and tension factors are next to zero and it gets infuriatingly ridiculous to the extent that you can't even take it at face value(sure there are movies that do a worse job with this but that's saying very little). A lot of it also is very rushed and under-explained so the story doesn't feel very developed or cohesive, while the attacks are high on gore but also high on predictability and very low in invention and thrills. Despite the efforts of the actors the characters are never interesting or likable, the characters are basically stereotypes with mostly cardboard personalities and a tendency in being annoying(especially Ian, who's also irritatingly acted). The music is not very memorable and either is too obvious in the attacks or it doesn't always fit with the mood. The direction is competent but unremarkable. Overall, not awful but very murky and with too much bad to recommend. 3/10 Bethany Cox

Brilliantly performed and hauntingly beautiful a lot of the time but like the Petr Weigl film not always ideal, 27 August 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It is hard to decide which is better between the two because they both share similar pros and cons, a lot of impressive things but falls short in others. Schubert's Die Winterreise is one of the greatest song cycles ever with music so gorgeous and a story that is told with such emotion, poetry and meaning. Of the two, Weigl's for me was better visually but this was better musically. Visually, what this version has going for it is some clever and exquisitely done photography that brought a haunting and poetic quality, the opening is the standout though the slow shots and tight close ups are beautifully composed and like watching a Tarkovsky film while still feeling current. Arty it definitely is but not from personal view in a self-indulgent way. The lighting is atmospheric and at times beautiful and at others harrowing depending on the song and the image and the white set and lighting, symbolic of eternity, in the middle section of the film look great. What didn't come off so well was the rather sparse and unappealing set for the first and last acts, much preferred the picturesque settings in the Weigl film, and that it felt like a muddled hodge-podge at times of period detail and modernism. There are some striking and really quite vivid images most certainly and a fair number of them especially during Gute Nacht and Der Leiermann are equally moving and harrowing, others astonishing in their simplicity. But while the concept and story is clear throughout- fitting with Schubert's state of mind and health at the time with him in turmoil and with the knowledge that his life is nearing the end but somehow he must struggle on- some images don't quite fit the mood and meaning in the song they're featured in and seem to be telling a different story. Regarding the parts with the rape and murder of the young girl, the twigs behind the skirting board and the knife, their meaning was quite clear but they were rather wacky touches that trivialised the music a little. Dramatically though the film is riveting on the most part, the last section is intensely moving, the opening is incredibly haunting and while the middle drags a little it is beautifully simple at the same time. Ian Bostridge's acting and expressive facial expressions are impeccable. Musically, this version of Die Winterreise is phenomenal, Schubert's music is a large part as to how that is but how it's performed is just as large a part. Julius Drake plays the piano very sensitively, especially in Gute Nacht and Der Leiermann though I do have a soft spot also for the growling intensity that the opening of Im Dorfe has. The best thing about the film is the singing of Ian Bostridge, he sings with truly beautiful tone, total commitment to the text and the story each song is telling, perfect musicianship and crystalline diction, maybe his interpretations(of a song cycle that is notoriously not easy at all to interpret) are not as soul-searching as those of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's but this is evidence of one intelligent singer who characterises brilliantly. And he is an improvement over Brigitte Fassbaender for Wiegl's version, she also sang wonderfully but to me it does make much more sense for Die Winterreise to be performed by a man as the cycle is from a male perspective. Overall, has many impressive things but not completely ideal still. 7/10 Bethany Cox

Standard but very entertaining, 27 August 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

As someone who does enjoy the Sylvester and Tweety cartoons better than most, A Bird in a Guilty Cage is not one of their absolute best but is still very entertaining stuff and anybody who does like their cartoons should have no problem liking this one. The story is admittedly very formulaic(basically Sylvester trying to catch and eat Tweety but with his attempts back-firing), not unusual for Sylvester and Tweety, and some of the gags especially the doll-house chase one(how many times has the opening and entering a door to come out of another routine been used?) are standard Sylvester and Tweety and the outcomes are not surprising. The gags are still funny and well-timed though, especially the mannequin gags and the ending. The doll-house chase is action-wise very lively as well which makes up for its predictability, Sylvester shooting himself in the finger was the gag that came off least which came across as rather tired. The dialogue has enough freshness and wit, the best being Sylvester's asides and at least there isn't a lame final line from Tweety. The animation is colourful and with a pleasing amount of pleasing detail and Carl Stalling's music is a delight as always, Sylvester's tip-toeing manages to be enhanced thanks to the music being so characterful. A Bird in a Guilty Cage is crisply paced and while Tweety is cute without being cloying and is amusing(though other cartoons of his do a better job showing his anarchic personality, his material is not quite strong enough to come through) all the best parts belong to Sylvester and he is not just hilarious, especially in his asides and facial expressions(crafty without being Grinch-like) but you do feel empathy for him at the same time. Mel Blanc's voice work is brilliant as it consistently was. To conclude, A Bird in a Guilty Cage may be standard but it's also colourful and very entertaining. 8/10 Bethany Cox

Has its flaws but also a lot of charms, 27 August 2014

The Last Time I Saw Paris won't be everybody's cup of tea, but while it could have been much better I do not consider it a bad film. If anything it was an uneven but decent one. The ending did feel very forced and at odds with the mood of the rest of the film, there could have been more of a focus on the relationship between Helen and Charles, Van Johnson does start off a tad uncomfortable and his drunken argument with himself is pretty embarrassing and some of the film feels skimming the surface quality and lacking in depth with a dose of over-sentimentality. The film is also in serious need of a restoration, the faded, grainy print doesn't do it justice. But for all its flaws, The Last Time I Saw Paris has much to like and the good stuff is beautiful and charming indeed. The sets have a painterly charm and the Parisian location is irresistible(Paris has always been one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world, and couldn't have been a more perfect choice of location for this film) while the cinematography from Joseph Ruttenberg has a real intricacy, matching the mood and nostalgic atmosphere most fittingly, and Helen Rose's dresses are sumptuous in every sense of the word, especially Elizabeth Taylor's lavender dress which goes perfectly with her violet eyes. Conrad Salinger haunting and lush music score, a script despite the lack of depth that is intelligently, poignantly and wittily written- the car race is hilarious- and a story that has a fair amount of nostalgic charm and emotional resonance especially in the first half are also things to like. The direction is leisurely but not overly so, letting the film speak for itself, the characters are sympathetically drawn and likable although Charles is the only one who's really developed. And The Last Time I Saw Paris is also beautifully cast and beautifully played, especially by a luminous Elizabeth Taylor who brings sublime subtlety and nuances to her role an amusingly eccentric and endearingly roguish Walter Pidgeon. George Dolenz and Eva Gabor are also solid, Donna Reed is excellent in an atypical role and Sandy Descher proves herself to be an adorable child actress. Johnson may not start off well but the more interesting Charles gets the more comfortable and emotionally involved Johnson becomes, with his increasingly brooding, intense and affecting performance being one of the saving graces of the second half. Stylistically and tonally the film is true to F. Scott Fitzgerald's story Babylon Revisited despite the updating, but the story despite like the film having a weaker latter half had much more depth to the story and the characters more compelling in development and motivations. In conclusion, very flawed but also has a lot of charms, worth the watch. 6.5/10 Bethany Cox

Whatever Works works quite well, 27 August 2014

Woody Allen has directed and written better films and Whatever Works is one of his most polarising(even from a director who's already not everybody's cup of tea, I happen to admire him and love a lot of his work). It is easy to see why people would dislike it, some parts felt contrived especially the ending(an attempt at a feel-good happy ending that seemed too abrupt and didn't ring true), others felt a bit stagy and the talking to the audience technique was used too much and got annoying after a while. Plus a lot won't relate and haven't related to Boris, who is a contender for the most unpleasant individual character from a Woody Allen film, replacing Harry from Deconstructing Harry. But while Whatever Works is not a masterpiece it is also easy to see why a number of people do like it. It is beautifully filmed with the colourful New York location used to striking effect and is expertly directed by Allen. The soundtrack has a very catchy vibe and the story while philosophically very bleak is structurally one of Allen's most unique(only outdone by Deconstructing Harry and Zelig) and manages to make not-much-new ideas- especially with Allen's commonly used theme of the older man falling in love with a younger woman- feel original. While not perfect, it is engrossing, interesting and is assuredly paced. Whatever Works has a very clever script, often insightful and almost always hilarious, as ever Allen uses themes that are relevant, easy to relate to and sometimes painful and presents them in a blunt and very biting way that is painful to hear but also remarkably real. You know something's right when you find yourself agreeing with some of what Boris is saying. Whatever Works is not entirely bleak though because there is a feel-good element that's charmingly done and it is heartfelt in places. The characters are not likable nor were they meant to be, and while there are more realistically written characters in a Woody Allen film they are hardly phony either. The acting is great, Larry David conveys Boris' grumpiness and cynicism perfectly but he is also very entertaining with small ounces of likability, a lot will find him and Boris annoying but they weren't a problem for me. Evan Rachel Wood is entrancing and Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley Jnr bag some of the funniest moments of the film and relish them. Henry Cavill is very convincing as a smug creep which was very appropriate for the scumbag that his character is. Michael McKean is underused but still good. All in all, not among Allen's best but still works quite well, in fact while it is not perfect and a very polarising film I found it a good one. 7/10 Bethany Cox

The Bartered Bride (2006) (TV)
An immensely charming Czech production of a Czech masterpiece, 26 August 2014

Smetana's The Bartered Bride is mostly likely the quintessential Czech opera, it is funny- often hilarious- and charming with music that is consistently beautiful and lively in a distinctive way. This fun and charming opera gets an equally fun and charming production that is a close second best to the Lucia Popp/Siegfried Jerusalem performance which while not as authentic as this(the only one of the three DVD productions I've seen performed in Czech, with Vienna's in German and Met's in English) was perfectly done in all areas. The problems in this 1981 production are both technically, the lip synchronisation is poor being on the sloppy side and making it too obvious that it was dubbed and the camera work could have been more intimate and expansive and with less of the full-face close-ups. But the actual production itself is almost flawless apart from perhaps less of the children. The sets and costumes are beautiful and rustic complete with dynamic lighting, despite being shot in a studio somehow it feels remarkably real and Czech village life really comes to life here. The staging is traditional but never conservative, eventful but never too busy and intricate but never static, perfectly capturing the spirit of the opera narratively and musically. The dances are beautifully choreographed and very buoyantly danced, looking and sounding very Czech. The orchestral playing immerses you right in right from the opening bars of the overture all the way through to the finale in a stylish and lushly played reading. The chorus exude energy and the whole production is nimbly conducted, Smetana's music coming to sparkling life. You can't get any better with the performances, with the handsomely sung and endearing Jenik of Peter Dvorsky and glittering Marenka of Gabriella Benackova being particularly great. Their chemistry is genuinely sweet and never feels forced. Miroslav Knopp is an ardent Zanek, especially vocally, Marie Vesela does wonders with Ludmilla(a relatively small role) and Richard Novak's Kecal is hilarious. All in all, beautifully done, immensely charming and lots of fun, the production may have been wanting technically but everywhere else it's hard to find fault. 9/10 Bethany Cox

Postman Pat in the 21st century but with disappointing results, 26 August 2014

Postman Pat was always a family favourite which we still all have a fondness for. Despite being warned very strongly against going to see this film and despite the trailer looking unappetising, I still saw it anyway. It was always going to be a film that would go either way, the amount of talent on board, my general love for family films and for Postman Pat could have suggested that the film would be fun and charming, but there was the worry also that it would look as muddled, target-audience-confused and hasty-looking as the trailer suggested. The film has its moments and it is not from personal opinion quite as bad as heard, but it was a big disappointment. The film begins very promisingly with a very idyllic opening that was the closest the film ever got in resembling the show, the Big Time song is a great upbeat song that has some very funny visual gags, the montage where Pat meets his wife for the first time was very touching and the "Faster Pussy-Bot, Kill Kill!" seemed like a Daleks reference and it was if the case a clever one at that. The soundtrack is catchy and bring energy to the film and the voice cast are good and very enthusiastic, David Tennant sounds like he's having a whale of a time but Steven Mangan, who's very sympathetic and dead-on as Pat, and Jim Broadbent acquit themselves very well too.

Sadly, Postman Pat: The Movie is let down by that it didn't seem to know what to do with itself or know who to aim the film at. The story is rather over-complicated and confused focusing mainly on the talent show subplot and also including a Dr Who-like robot invasion/world domination one, neither of which show any originality, cleverness or charm. The satire for the former is nowhere near sharp enough, the humour actually felt to me rather forced mostly throughout the film and borders on vulgar while the latter felt thrown in and like it belonged in another film altogether, is not all that cleverly or thrillingly done and may contain bits that the younger audience may find scary or upsetting. The script would have benefited from a far more simpler approach and less going on and while it is admirable that the film did clearly think of the adult audience I think it could have done a better job at having more for the youngsters. Some of the jokes will go over their heads, unless they were introduced to Dr Who at a very young age, and if they are familiar with the whimsy and warmth that the show had the film sadly is a far cry from that. The characters are bland, the exceptions being Pat who is very likable and possibly Jess as well but the others lacked personality. The film was unevenly paced with some of the earlier parts in need of more zip and some of the later parts in need of a slow-down, most apparent in a climax that was action-packed but too busy and dark compared to the rest of the film. The soundtrack is one of the best things about Postman Pat: The Movie and Ronan Keating does a great job as Pat's singing voice but it is a case of the singing voice not matching the speaking voice especially in the tone. Just as disappointing as the writing was the animation, the opening was really promising but the rest looked like it was made in a lot of haste and had some very over-saturated and too bright colours, the characters also lack expression and on occasions look creepy, Pat is the one exception. Overall, a disappointing feature film debut of a much cherished classic character, not an awful film and has some good assets but it felt over-stuffed, muddled and bland with some cheap direct-to-video-like visuals with the opening being the only time where it bared any resemblance to the show. 4/10 Bethany Cox

Really is a splendid film, 21 August 2014

Splendor in the Grass is my fourth Elia Kazan film, the other three being A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront and East of Eden. All three of those are wonderful films, On the Waterfront even being one of the best films of the 50s, and-apart from it being a little too long and psychologically simplistic in places-so is Splendor in the Grass. It looks absolutely beautiful and is technically accomplished, with the 20s setting actually looking like the 20s, and David Amram's score is romantic, lyrical and emotionally searing while allowing the drama to speak for itself. The script rightly won an Oscar, it is a very intelligently written film with no padding, it's both thought-provoking and poignant and it draws and develops the characters remarkably- bringing humanity and flesh-and-blood-quality to potential stereotypes- the most interesting being Deanie. The story takes its time to unfold but it's all worth it, it is done so gracefully, the romantic elements are sweet without being cloyingly so and it is also one of the most moving films I've seen. Especially the ending which is heart-breaking. Kazan's direction is remarkably sensitive, more so than his occasionally heavy-handed direction in East of Eden. The powerful performances in Splendor in the Grass also help, the standouts being Pat Hingle and especially Natalie Wood. Hingle is quite terrifying as the formidable father figure and Wood has never been more tender and it is a contender for her best performance(the bath-tub breakdown was another truly moving moment in the film, and the emotion felt genuine and not forced). Warren Beatty makes a most credible feature debut, acting with understated poise, while Audrey Christie dominates the screen while giving her maternal character depth and Barbara Lodon relishes her role too. All in all, a splendid film that is beautifully made and really tugging at the heart-strings. 9/10 Bethany Cox

Nuclear Hurricane (2007) (TV)
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Nuclear rubbish, 21 August 2014

Disaster movies can be entertaining, although the number of bad ones are too many to list, and the idea was interesting. But Nuclear Hurricane failed in every single way imaginable. Even for low-budget it looks cheap, very drab in lighting, grainy in the way it's shot and the editing is often sloppy at best. There is no better news about the special effects which look artificial and under-proportioned, if you are expecting an epic nuclear hurricane like the title promises you'll be disappointed, this hurricane didn't even rise above lukewarm. The music is very generic, you hear similar-sounding scores all the time and with much better pace and placement. The writing is really awful and was in serious need of a re-boot(pun intended) in Nuclear Hurricane, with very inane dialogue that has a lot of talk but entirely vacuous and sometimes irrelevant. There's even attempts at humour, and not only is the humour not funny at all, more tired than anything else, but it's most of the time placed inappropriately. Story-wise the movie is a complete slog, with sluggish pacing, padding that adds little(the pregnant woman subplot was not interesting and suffered some of the worst of the dialogue) and no tension or fun. It's also incredibly repetitive and has so many holes that you can drive the biggest ever truck through them, it's very difficult to be engrossed when the story is this confused(some scenes almost incomprehensible) and stupid. The characters are a cardboard and unlikeable bunch, especially the female sheriff, not many characters recently have got on my nerves but this character did. The most interesting character is the computer Staci, but even that character was derivative of Hal9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The acting is poor, with no chemistry or sense that they cared about the jeopardy they were in, ranging from bland to overwrought. This is including Jamie Luner. All in all, awfully bad from start to finish with nothing good to say about it. 1/10 Bethany Cox

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