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1431 reviews in total 
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Plausible but listless, 25 May 2017

Andrea Riseborough is very good in 'Shadow Dancer', James Marsh's film about a reluctant IRA informer. I usually think of her as an archetypal English rose, but she plays a tough young Irishwoman with aplomb. The film, however, is extremely low key, especially Clive Owen, whose catatonic performance seems to be what his director ordered, but which adds to the general feeling of listlessness. The plot is nicely judged, but the execution lacks the tension the subject matter should impart.

4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
A failure of attitude, 24 May 2017

The truth of the infamous Rochdale "child grooming" case is not well served by its name. This was actually a story of child rape and prostitution on a massive scale, whose perpetrators bribed, bullied and threatened very young girls to take part. But part of the reason these activities reached the terrible level they did was due to the failure of many authorities, which variously saw the girls as having loose morals (the treatment of one of the victims as a madam, because she was victimised first and then introduced her friends is the most jaw-dropping moment), or acted as jobsworths. 'Three Girls' is a brilliant, believable, painful reconstruction of the crimes, their botched investigation, and the eventual prosecution: it also asserts (worryingly) that those who were most upset by the numerous institutional failures were never properly listened to after the events were over. The final failure of attitude is the failure to fully admit that anything went wrong.

Calvary (2014)
Thoughtful but elusive, 16 May 2017

In John McDonagh's film 'Calvery', a priest is threatened by a parishioner, who announces his intention to kill him a week hence. We then see the priest having mostly one-to-one conversations with his troubled (and troublesome) flock; he knows which one wants to kill him (for the crimes of the church in general, not for his personal sins), but we do not. The setting is a somewhat archetypal west-coast Irish village. What's good about the film is its portrayal of a man clearly sincerely motivated by his belief and his sense of duty, nonetheless wrestling with a profound crisis of self-interest. That said, the story is contrived, almost deliberately stylised; I liked it, but the point remains elusive.

1 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Waste of an opportunity, 13 May 2017

The original 'Prime Suspect', and its small set of sequels, were unusually good television detective dramas, starring the incomparable Helen Mirren as a hard-bitten female investigator. 'Prime Suspect 1973', a prequel, is not however nearly as good. There are several problems: the script is clumsy, the production screams '1973' at you so loudly you might consider this a piece of historical anthropology (instead of a drama where the differences between how we lived then and how we live now permeate the background without intruding on the centre stage); and above all else that Stefanie Martini (in the lead role) resembles a young Helen Mirren not one wit: neither for looks, voice, or crucially, for the character of the person she plays. Another, more technical difficulty, is that whereas the original was praised for its procedural accuracy, an ordinary WPC (as the character is in the prequel) has much less oversight of an investigation than the inspector leading it, so the plot has to perpetually struggle to put its character centre-stage. I'm sure there is a good story that could be told about the young Jane Tennison, especially given how well Mirren realised the later version; this, however, is sadly not it.

The beast in man, and the man in the beast, 13 May 2017

Bengt Erlingsson's 'Of Horses and Men' tells the story of a remote Icelandic village where people don't say much, but, as a series of vignettes show, have fairly important relationships with their animals. The tone is droll and, although it takes a bit of getting used to, the individual tales are actually quite amusing, as is the overall conceit of the film. It's not exactly high art, but it's definitely warmer than the bleak landscapes that form the film's backdrop might suggest.

Pioneer (2013)
A damp squib, 8 May 2017

'Pioneer' should by rights be an interesting film, inspired by true stories of commercial and governmental espionage, scientific advance, and personal bravery, as the Norwegian government was attempting to build (in the 1970s) its first pipeline to take North Sea oil ashore. But in fact, it's rather disappointing. Firstly, there's not much dramatic tension, in spite of a ostensibly vigorous plot. And secondly, that plot itself seems unlikely: large multinational companies are certainly guilty of many evils, but I find it relatively incredible to imagine they would murder Norweigian citizens to cover up ethics breaches - more normal behaviour would be to pay the fine and carry on as before. Perhaps it's because the motivation seems so preposterous that the story fails to ignite. The unvarnished truth (which we are told led to a lawsuit by disgruntled divers) would have been more interesting.

Prisoners and Guards, 2 May 2017

In the 1970s, moderate Christian Democrat leader Aldo Moro proposed a historic compromise with the Communist party, whereupon more radical leftists abducted, imprisoned and ultimately killed him. Aside from the personal tragedy, one can wonder if Italy lost the chance of a better future. But how can a group of supposed idealists kill an essentially innocent man, and moreover, one of the more decent politicians of his age? Only, we learn, by abstracting away from humanity. Director Marco Bellocchio was himself once involved in radical politics, enough to understand; and his film about the Moro kidnapping is austere, showing not telling the bleak lives of the captives and captors alike. The soundtrack is heavier than it needs to be, and there's not a lot to soften the mood, nor even lengthy political discussions: the decision to kill is taken, and what follows, follows. Pschologically, the film seems on the mark; but it might have been more interesting with a bit more back story and context.

Airplane! (1980)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Don't call me Shirley!, 30 April 2017

'Airplane!' is, above all else, a very silly comedy, a spoof on 1970s-style disaster movies that was later followed by the brilliant 'Police Squad' and the massively successful 'Naked Gun' movies. Not every joke works, but they come thick and fast, and more often than not, the stupider the better. In some ways, the movie harks back to an age when air travel was less routine than today: on the other, it's notable there's a joke about "no-frills" passengers arriving as baggage from as long ago as 1980. And after those 37 years, the film as a whole is still a kind of juvenile fun.

Fun in its own way, but not set in any real moral universe, 28 April 2017

'The Players' is a breezy French comedy, a series of short films (by different directors) on the subject of male infidelity. The shortness of each segment keeps it fresh and lightweight; but there's an underlying theme to all these movies: that (married) men just have to seek our additional partners. The various films make them look ridiculous; but also seem to suggest that infidelity really is just something to laugh about, that it's a simple fact of life and that the aforementioned ridiculousness is its natural, and only proper, punishment. I laughed in places, but it's a movie without any real heart.

Young Love, 24 April 2017

There's a lot to like about 'Blue is the Warmest Colour', a lengthy drama about an ultimately failed (lesbian) relationship, for a start, lots of beautiful young Frenchwomen, smoking cigarettes and looking cool. More seriously, the film really practices "show not tell", allowing us to get a real feel for its characters' lives and the subtlety of the dynamic of their interaction. Oddly, this is not (to me) a "gay" movie, in that it's a film about two people who find each other attractive, and to inexperienced Adele, it's a very particular wonder, which I liked - not everyone feels that "gay" or "straight" is a category by which they care to be identified, that you necessarily have something in common with those whose sexual orientation you share. Likewise, the relationship ends for very particular reasons, due to differences in need and social class (in this case, between the middle middle class and a certain affluent pseudo-Bohemia). Finally, the sex scenes are beautifully lit and acted.

But - it is a lengthy drama. The repeated scenes where we see Adele teaching tell us about the passage of time, and her current state of ambition and mind - but sometimes the viewer is left wondering if the director couldn't have found a trick, to convey this information in a more compact way. The sex scenes aren't just porn - they offer great insight into the characters - but again they're very long. And perhaps my sympathy for this indulgence of the protagonists was lessened by the fact that they seem to both have plenty of advantages - in good looks, in family background, in a talent for what they do. We see how Adele is shattered by the break-up; but it's hard to believe she won't get over it. Ultimately, however, these are quibbles compared with what the film does well. Set aside sufficient time, and you'll enjoy it.

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