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john-ruffle

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25 reviews in total 
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7 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
Actually, One of this summer's BETTER Films!, 19 August 2010
8/10

I nearly skipped this film, it has almost universally bad reviews, but my 12 year old son and his friend really wanted to see it, we made a family outing of it, with me fearing the worst! I was very pleasantly surprised, and found the film a serious attempt to address a spirituality that is not widely understood in the west. Maybe this is one reason why the film has been panned. I then looked at audience reviews a little closer, and I realise that most of those who disliked it - no, HATED it - were already fans of the cartoon versions. It falls into place; having never seen any other versions I was coming to the film fresh. What I did recognise was the Dala Lama in the little boy Avator, and this lent the film authenticity.

As a Christian, it may seem strange that I am endorsing a film that is rooted in eastern mysticism. First of all, it is a worthy attempt at a challenging subject, and I found the performances - while approached with simplicity - quite in keeping with the mystical nature of the material. The second point is that it has a non-violence theme, and sends the message 5that some things in the realm of the spirit should not be manipulated by humans.

The musical score fitted the action seamlessly - so much so, I hope it gets an Oscar nomination; at one point, there is total silence as our heroes walk on ice... the silence is deafening and very dramatic.

The most mystical part of this production is WHY so many people have failed to connect with the film. The one down-side I have to agree with is that they really did not try with the 3D. But even this did not spoil the film for me. Yes, I will pay good money to see the sequel!

5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Brilliantly Executed and Historically Important: British Cinema at its Best, 1 April 2009
10/10

This film, produced by Gainsborough Studios in London, (which was based in Islington, north London), was actually almost beyond reasonable doubt, made at Lime Grove Studios in Shepherd's Bush. This may help if any film buffs are interested in trying to recognise locations. (I live very close to where these old studios used to be, so you could say I have a vested interest!) "During World War II, the tall factory chimney on the (Islington) site was considered dangerous in the event of bombing, and Gainsborough Studios were evacuated to Lime Grove for the duration of the war." Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gainsborough_Pictures

Back to the film however. This is a very important British film that should be watched be everyone with any interest at all in 20th Century British history and/or cultural influences. What makes this film special is that it was made and released actually during World War II, and it has an immediacy and impact that a retrospective war film simply cannot have. It is, therefore a historical document of great value. It is also a great film. Not simple "good", but "great". The plotting is good, the acting is good... but in particular, watch for the superb "montage" sequences that typify British cinema of the era, both dramatic works and documentary.

Fortunataely, the Daily Mail gave a DVD of the film away free in early 2009, so getting hold of a copy should not be too hard for folks in reach of a British charity shop. I don't know if the DVD is region-restricted, so readers in other parts of the world may have greater difficulty getting a copy if this.

The domestic sibling rivalry in the first act of the picture is particularly telling, and the banter reveals not ancient customs, but rather, reveals just how little has changed in teenage attitudes in over 65 years - an entire generation and a half ago! Look for the elder daughter painting her toe-nails. Attitudes toward the opposite sex also don't seem dated at all, despite the so-called (and largely very regrettable) "sexual revolution" of the 1960s and beyond.

Histroical dramas are such a popular genre today. However, they all have to re-create the past from a matrix formed from present perceptions. However well executed, they can never entirely reach beyond the auteurs' perceptions of the past. This film, however, is indeed a genuine time capsule. Yes, it was a contribution to the war effort, and so some would relegate it to propaganda. But look beyond that. These WERE the times they lived in! As has been noted by another writer, the reference to the "United Nations" in the film, several years before the creation of the "United Nations" cannot possibly be a historical "mistake" (If you want to find out HOW this reference ended up in the dialogue, read the "trivea" comments!) For those in USA and other parts of the world, from the boiling hot 1920s Morris "Bulnose" Oxford open tourer to the railway arches and dance halls... this WAS how we lived in Britain in that age!

Grey Owl (1999)
4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Bond in the Wilderness?, 5 November 2007
3/10

James Bond in the wilderness? Well, that's the way it looks: Pierce Brosnan is after all best known as Bond in "Tommorrow Never Dies" (1997) and "Golden Eye" (1995) - both shot prior to this release. Frankly, the film's two leads are both badly miscast, with Brosnan turning in the marginally more convincing performance, and with Annie Galipeau (as Pony, Grey Owl's love interest) having to battle with carelessly-written dialogue.

The two aunts, on the other hand are perfect. But the film is not about aunts. It is about the wilds of the Canadian wilderness. And while the photography may be pretty, there is no grit to the harsh reality of living in the wilds. Annie Galipeau, as Pony, just fails to be convincing, unfortunately, because I really wanted to believe in her. She was a relatively inexperienced twenty-year-old on this film, and it could have worked, but Richard Attenborough was maybe just not tough enough on her. He makes her look vulnerable, which of course she is.. but in the wrong sort of way.

But one thing for sure, she appears picture-perfect throughout. But mascara and eyebrow thickener in the wilderness? It just doesn't fit, especially as she only ever seems to walk forest trials with Bond (sorry, Grey Owl), and use photo-ops for kissing close-ups.

I've lived with forest people in the Pacific North West, and they simply don't look this pretty and stay so sweet while fighting for survival. Which brings me to another point: the film fails to evoke the period in which it is set: the 1930s. I put the blame here largely on a lack-lustre script that is keen on preaching at the expense of dramatic arc, plot points and those small details that can evoke period through action.

William Nicholson wrote the screenplay, and his latest offering, "Elizabeth, the Golden Age" opened three days ago, so I do hope there is an improvement.

Yes, I've read the comments others have posted, but I'm not convinced. A lot of potential, but mishandled and even maybe ill-conceived. If it had had a religious film, it would have been panned, but because it preaches environmentalism, the film remains somewhat above criticism, since it is "politically correct." Sorry, for all that, I don't buy it. Amen.

4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Timeless Perfection from Hollywood's Studio System, 5 September 2007
10/10

Up there with film classics such as 'Casablanca' and Orson Wells' groundbreaking 'Citizen Kane', 'Singin' in the Rain' is one of the all-time top films to come out of Hollywood. Considered by many (including the American Film Institute) to be the greatest film musical, 'Singin' in the Rain' , with its awesome production values, was made 12 years before the stunning 'West Side Story'.

When I first saw the film as a teenager, however, failing to see beyond its American sugar-floss sentimentality, I arrogantly despised it. Yet just one year later I sat through it again and instantly came under its spell, caught up in a magic that has never left me. 'Singin' in the Rain' is a riot of self-indulgent fun, studio skulduggery, romance and innocence of not just one, but two by-gone ages: and therein lieth part of its enduring magic. In rich Technicolor, with some of the finest and slickest visual stunts, (it all looks so effortless on screen) along with some of the greatest song and dance numbers, no one can really say they 'know Hollywood' until they've laughed and cried their way through this film. Parodying a Hollywood back in the days when sound was first coming to the silver screen, it simultaneously reflects the late 1920s, in which the film is set, and the early '50s, (the era in which it was produced). Thus, unwittingly encapsulating much of the entire golden age of Hollywood in one motion picture, like fine wine, it has simply matured with age. The production values are so flawlessly high that I sometimes have to pinch myself to remember that the film recreates in song and dance an era some 25 years earlier..

All the songs, including the famous title number, are revivals of numbers that appeared in early sound films, giving the film an air of authenticity. Donald O'Connor's 'Make 'Em Laugh' number is a particular highpoint to watch out for. The typically flamboyant Gene Kelly ballet sequence in the second half is slightly more controversial, with some viewers feeling that despite its brilliant choreography and staging, it slows the action and is out of touch with the naive innocence of the rest of the film, but others view it is the sequence that makes the movie, giving it balance.

It is worth noting that this ballet sequence probably would never have made it into the film at all has it not been for the stunning 1948 British film, 'The Red Shoes' (produced by Powell and Pressburger). The ballet sequence featuring Moira Shearer included 15 minutes of uninterrupted, dialogue-free screen time. Gene Kelly loved it, and thanks to the critical and popular success of 'The Red Shoes', (photographed by the legendary Jack Cardiff), Kelly convinced producer Arthur Freed that ballet on film was commercially viable.

Just five months before the 1952 premier of 'Singin' in the Rain', MGM had released another major Gene Kelly musical, 'An American in Paris', and initially, this was the film critics preferred. However, with audiences making 'Singin' in the Rain' a box-office hit from the very start, critical opinion began to change and it soon became clear that 'Singin' in the Rain' possessed a timeless quality approaching sheer perfection, revealing that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts. Overall, in a happy combination of chance and design, (not forgetting the chemistry a 19 year-old Debbie Reynolds brought to the screen and Adolph Green and Betty Comden's wonderful script), the production elements in 'Singin' in the Rain' flow together perfectly, revealing just how well the Hollywood studio system really could work at those special moments when everyone, craftsmen and artists alike, were on peak form.

Due to loving restoration and the marvels of modern digital transfers, we can now see the film as it originally looked, in all its brilliant colour saturation - a far cry from the washed out versions you may have seen as Christmas time TV fodder. If this is the fist time you've ever seen it, then I hope you are wiser than I was, and that you fall in love with this timeless picture first time around: it really is a cinema treat for all ages! C 2007 John Ruffle

0 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
"How would they have done it today?", 19 February 2007
7/10

This Stanwick picture came up on late night BBC2, and I'm not too proud to admit that I was one of those who had been unaware of its existence. Not having a TV guide at hand, I logged onto IMDb to check the details - and failed to find it first time around. Reason? I only bothered checking the movies for the 1930s, so convinced was I that this film could not possibly have been made in the context of a 1940s Hollywood. How wrong I was!

Barbara Stanwyck shows a different - and wholly more enjoyable side - than one might usually ascribe to her screen performances. Her talent in this film showcases a breadth of performance art, if it is somewhat lacking on depth.

Just about every review of this picture has a line or two about Stanwyck's legs. They have been described as "...the primary attraction..." Yes, at 36 years old, I have to admit that her legs really are show stoppers, only adding to the fact that this motion picture is a Stanwyck vehicle. The same review mentions her "...sparkling eyes, world-weary intonations and exaggerated movements..." and I would add that she comes across rather Dietrich-like. Stanwyck always had a rather porcelain, fragile-feminine on-screen presence, however, even in her most robust parts. This tends to give her a rather artificial screen appearance, even at her finest acting moments. She never quite gets beyond what of course in reality she is doing: acting for the American mass audience (including many G.I.s no doubt around the world, since this was released after the USA entered the WWII.)

Another review mentions the similarities to "The Blue Angel", and it really is worth a comparison of these two pictures - especially the treatment of two lead female parts - even if the earlier "The Blue Angel" is by far the more commanding work. For a different reason, the film stands comparison to "Stage Door" but the Stanwyck picture looses out in the dialogue department - "Stage Door" - a much earlier film - crackles with dialogue, whereas this picture goes for the more visual approach to see just what it can pass by the Hayes Production code censors, it seems.

It really is this last point that made me convinced that this picture was 1930s Hollwood output, rather than from 1943. The censors must have been asleep during this picture, as I can't think of a picture from the same era, (despite Jane Russell), that gets away with showing so much girlie flesh. (Unfortunately, since the print was so poor, it also had the image quality of a 1930s release.)

In all, a fairly important, very interesting, under-viewed and useful picture for film historians and media students especially, even if, in the end, the work has little to offer by way of redeeming features. A good one to examine in the light of the studio system and the Production Code, also a great discussion starter for film students. For those considering the development of the soap opera genre, again this film is one of many that should be studied. When looking a film which, in this case, is well over sixty-years old, questions of social treatment and cultural context arise. With the overt sex-industry context of this film, the obvious question is: "How would Hollywood have had done it today?" My answer, "Without question, with a lot less taste, and with a far inferior end result.

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A note - primarily to myself - about the Princess Nervina prima donna character. I have a hunch I know who the character may have been based upon, but I really need to read the book and do more research first. If I find any connections, I'll update this review accordingly or start a thread in the forum section.

6 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Seventy Years and Still Shows Well!, 6 February 2007
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

So much has already been written about the famous Astaire / Rogers movie couplings that I'll be brief and limit this review to notes which I can edit later to a more rounded overview at a later time. However, having just re-watched the picture after a gap of around ten years does help to make certain features stand out quite clearly, so here goes.

This is a formula picture; an unashamed vehicle for Astaire and Rogers. It is fluffy, lighthearted and short on characterisation. In-between the dance numbers, the pacing is slow and the storyline is trivial, with many of the gags coming across as bad high school pranks to modern audiences. But that is only half the story, because the film celebrates its 70th birthday this year, so we can forgive an awful lot -- indeed, while there is still a massive audience for mindless TV soaps around the world, we can forgive this RKO hit for literally everything, because its strengths far outweigh any of its weaknesses. Besides, along with the other eight Astaire/Rogers 1930s formula musicals, this is a vitally important film for the study of the musical film genre.

What is interesting is the use of cross cutting to single (or at least minimal) shot scenes that advance the story for each character - this is most evident on the sequences in the middle of the picture when they are all on board the ship crossing from Paris to New York. This pre-curses the style that soaps are shot in today, and is worth showing to film and drama students as an early development of the soap genre.

It has to be said that Ginger Rogers really does look bored during this picture, (legend has it that she really WAS bored by this time) except when she's dancing - and it has always been said that Ginger was a far lesser dancer than Fred. The difference in ability is very clear to see in this picture, and interestingly, Fred does a whole lot more hoofing than Ginger on this picture.

On the dance angle, there's an interesting mix of ballet and jazz - and this is the feature that perhaps makes this movie stand out from the other Astaire Rogers combos. It is also a feature that makes this film interesting for students of media history.

This is a backstage musical, and the "show within a show" theme here is strong, even if we do see more action on board the liner than behind the flats. The plot structure is very well crafted - structure being a very different issue from both pacing and story-line. So when we get the "Shall We Dance" show, (where all those Ginger look-a-likes appear), we do actually get to see some ballet. This pre-dates Powell and Pressburger's British post war picture, "The Red Shoes", (photographed in Technicolor by Jack Cardiff) by over ten years. This is more important than it may at first appear:

"The Red Shoes" was a surprise hit, in that the conventional wisdom of the time (aka the Moguls of Hollywood) said that a filmed 22 minute ballet sequence on film sans dialogue would send audiences to sleep and kill the box office. But the audiences loved it! So MGM responded with Gene Kelly dancing his way through "Singin' in the Rain" in 1952. And without THAT motion picture, we would be missing one of the Top Ten Movies of all time.

Ginger really comes to life toward the end of the movie, with a tantalisingly-short, yet superb, dance sequence, where she literally throws herself at Fred. Of special note here is the remarkable dolly-in shot that pre-shaddows "Singin' in the Rain" by around 15 years. Which again shows that motion picture making, like any activity in life, builds upon prior experience - it is not just down to genius. It is for that very reason that I encourage students to take history seriously.

Right then; we've not mentioned the George Gershwin score, which is right up there, as you would expect on an Astaire/Rogers vehicle. These, remember are the two BIG musical stars of the period. which brings us to wardrobe -- Ginger's wardrobe, since that was the only one that remotely mattered -- to Ginger and her mother, at any rate! Ginger is ALWAYS the star, and "Shall We Dance" reveals at least two of Ginger's best ever costumes -- two bold black and white florals -- watch her dress, not her feet in the roller-skate sequence -- and that black dress for "Shall We Dance" is just, well, a way-out classic!

Modern audiences might be a bit confused over the "shocking" bedroom talk - just remember the Hayes Code was in full force, and hard as it may be to believe, the film flies right on the edge of the Code right as it is! One of the rules was the 5-second limit on screen snoggs. Astaire and Rogers didn't have anything to worry about there, however: despite the audiences of the '30s desperately waiting for that magic moment, it never was to come: in all their movies together, Fred and Ginger never did kiss on screen!

10 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
A Sixties Classic Reveals a Rare Achievement, 5 January 2007
8/10

With a surprisingly strong script and good performances, the film delivers as a late 1960s production that reveals a cinema that was in transition into the modern era. As a historical drama it deserved its one Oscar win and 9 other nominations. It avoids the plodding performances of most costume dramas of the time, while not quite delivering the stunning intimacy that was achieved by the BBC two years later in its landmark "Elizabeth R" mini-series 1971 - (achieved through micro-direction, dedication to detail and precision use of the small screen close-up - who ever said film is the same medium as broadcast television?)

Richard Burton turns in arguably the best performance of his career as Henry VIII. Had his performance revealed just a shade more gravitas and reflection, he surely would have picked up an Oscar.

I'm glad to say that British commercial TV managed to air a decent print of this picture over the Christmas season 2006, even though the cinema-scope frame edges were cut off. Well worth watching, but if you shop for a DVD, do make sure it is in the correct format so the full 35mm squeeze / 70mm letterbox frame is visible. A classic from the '60s and a rare achievement.

33 out of 44 people found the following review useful:
A Realistic Spin on a Timeless Story, 23 November 2006
10/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The Nativity Story: Don't miss it - its strengths far outweigh its weaknesses. Here's my 17 year-old daughter's review hot from a 23rd November 2006 London preview, so this is a typical teenage take on the new release. "The film has a realistic spin", she told me shortly after exiting the theatre, "but toward the end it got so overdone; like the old Christmas films with a star shining through a hole in the roof of the stable scenario. The wise men appear right there in the stable, on the same night Jesus was born, and lo and behold, there were three of them!" (Contrary to popular myth, the Bible never does mention the number of wise men.) "The film was well paced at the beginning," she agreed, "but toward the end, it seemed rushed, like they had to finish off the 100 minutes of screen time." This may reflect the tight production schedule – how many movies make it from a blank piece of paper to world-wide theatrical release in 12 months? An amazing accomplishment by any standard.

Asked about the humour angle, my daughter thinks that it "..could have done with a little humour; yes, the wise men did add some comedy flavour, but it wasn't that funny". Also, she didn't like the name, the title reminding her of "...every single nativity film you're ever likely to see." For me, however, the title is simple and straight-forward - just like the movie, which she rates at around 7/10. The IMDb rating linked to this piece reflects my own unashamedly generous rating (especially in light of the clear anti-Christian bias evident in some reviews of this production).

Interesting that I had to remind my daughter who Keisha Castle-Hughes is, (both these beautiful young women are around the same age as it happens), but she made the connection in the end, and thinks Keisha turned in a quite tidy, understated performance. For me, although the film does show evidence of being rushed through production, (especially the final act), I do take my hat off to Mike Rich, for turning out that screenplay in one month, start to finish, and to Catherine Hardwicke for actually getting this to the screen for Christmas 2006.

Regardless of how she rates the finished screen-time, at least my daughter got to see "The Nativity Story" several days earlier than Pope Benedict XVI and a theatre full of cardinals for its Vatican world premier. (Note: the pope was in Turkey at the time, so didn't actually see it at all!) My take on the film is that it brings us back to the time when one could openly be thankful for that quite amazing birth so long ago, and not have to make apologies to be politically correct. Whether one believes or not, certainly a history-changing event. I do hope that this rendition on the big screen does well at the box-office. It deserves to, because despite the title, and while it stays rooted to the ancient religious drama genre, it simply isn't like any other nativity film you're ever likely to see!

Julie (1956)
5 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Entertaining, superbly edited and severely underrated mini-masterpiece, 25 July 2006
8/10

a J.R. mini-review...

Some have commented that the film falls into three distinct parts - and I believe they are right. Although there are some classic film noir-ish moments earlier in the film, here I'm reviewing just the final act set on board a Douglas DC4 - great for plane buffs, by the way.

While some reviewers feel that it is unrealistic, I beg to disagree. The cockpit shots are as good as any flight sim, and the whole thing does have an authentic 'aviation' feel to it. The only part hard to swallow was how the husband managed to get aboard the flight with no ticket and no boarding pass.

Since 9/11, this third act is almost too close to life for comfort. Yes, the last half hour is an amazing piece of movie making, because although the plot does indeed turn mechanical rather than psychological at that point, it certainly does carry a tension all of it's own - very much worth studying from a film editor's point of view: observe and see just how they kept the adrenaline flowing during those last thirty minutes of screen time: Masterful!

Yes, but where was Beckham?, 24 July 2006
8/10

My comments about this film are prejudiced, I admit it. Reason? The majority of the location shoots were all around the neighbourhood where I lived as a teenager, and where I still teach teenagers today. This means the film immediately engages me on a personal and non-cinematic level.

One of the best British films of recent years, BILB manages to portray not only racial conflict, but also the tension that youth of all races have with traditional customs and parental expectations. With my familiarity of the area, and also its people, I can assure the viewer that on this level, the film works as accurately as a documentary might have, with the advantage that BILB is a whole lot more gripping.

In an age of mindless teenage screen fodder, this film is funny, touching and refreshingly reflective. For any audience, the film works - for a teenage audience, however, it deserves a 10/10. I've given it an eight because I'm not a teenager, and I try to make my scores reflect general, cinema-literate audiences.

A downside of the film structure is its pacing. It's a little uneven in its plot points, and worse still, I have yet to figure out the purpose or the plotting of the fight over the video camera. I saw it on first theatrical release, and perhaps I'm thick, but it simply made no sense at all even on re-play on video later.

But the film's most serious flaw is its casting - or rather, its lack of casting. Simply put, where was Beckham? Although, according to IMDb.com, he was represented by uncredited stock footage, the Beckham of the title simply did a no-show for the movie. An absolutely unforgivable omission, one that deserves my pulling the film rating down a notch. But I'll refrain, since it was almost certainly David Beckham's refusal to co-operate. The very least he could have done would have been a visit to the film shoot, so at least some actuality footage could have been run over the closing titles, instead of the obligatory teen-flick "goof" footage. If I could vote for Beckham, he'd get a zero for disappointing an otherwise very good (proud-to-be multi-cultural) British film comedy.


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