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593 reviews in total 
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Spotlight (2015/I)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
571st Review - Outstanding Investigative Drama, 10 January 2016

The story of Spotlight - the investigative team at The Boston Globe - who uncovered the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, is told with such outstanding verve that this viewer was knocked sideways. I cannot recall another film this year that so intelligently and without melodrama produces scene after scene that just leave you wanting to know more.

The all-star stellar cast is underpinned by Keaton, who seems to have proved he has had his comeback - here he focuses on a nicely underplayed performance, and Ruffalo, whose slightly off-kilter manner works to his advantage, and Rachel McAdams, who moves from romantic comedies to this with the ease and promise she showed in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. There is not a dud moment in the film - it really is one of the best films about journalism, and ranks along with All The President's Men.

At the end of the day this is not just a great story, director Tom McCarthy, takes us along emotionally - but does so in such a forensic and well-judged manner that it produces a good mixture of trust and a measure of level-headedness. His script, with West Wings regular Josh Singer, is outstanding, simply the best script of the year that I can recall by quite a margin.

Of all the films I've seen this year, this is the one that tackles its difficult subject with bravery, clarity, and simplicity, but it never loses sight of why it matters. I am a loss to understand why it is not on everyone's Oscar list.

Jaco (2015)
2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
570th Review - The Fusion And The Fire, 5 December 2015

Jaco is a brilliant watch - anyone with a passing interest in music or artistic talent is always looking for clues to that elusive question What makes musical genius. Here, there are plenty of clues.

Jaco Pastorius single-handedly changed the bass as an instrument - his decision to remove the frets of his electric bass because of the Florida humidity, not only changed the sound, but also the timbre of the instrument - and this documentary uses previously unseen footage to document that change - and the man behind it.

Jaco has a great balance between interviews, footage, facts, and music - and for anyone who wonders where jazz went after Kind of Blue, without having to go through learning about Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman or Pharaoh Saunders, this kind of answers that question - it looks at fusion, and asks how rock and jazz came to live side by side.

More than that it focuses on the man - this slender reed that was a ball of energy heading to self-destruction - and gets close to some real understanding of his motivations, his demons, and his genius. No mean achievement.

This really does try to understand both the man and the music and it is a really fascinating, lively, and interesting watch. Definitely what a real music documentary should be.

Noble (2014)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
569th Review: Deeply Inspirational - An Individual Can Make A Difference, 4 November 2015

Noble is much more than just a film biography. It tells without hagiography the story of Christine Noble, who against all the odds, survived trauma after trauma in her native Ireland and went on to help literally thousands in Vietnam.

The film-making isn't top drawer, but, boy, the true story is - there are good central performances by the Christines at their different ages and attention has been spent on costuming etc, in the Sixties segments - but this is really a film about one woman's extraordinary resolve to fight poverty against seemingly impossible odds.

This is a film I would warmly recommend - it has more to say about determination, perseverance and resolve than most films and it does not shy away or coat over its subject, It's well handled and well delivered and well worth your time.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
568th Review: One of Streep's worst films, 27 October 2015

Ricki and the Flash is a mess - worse than that it's not the hot mess that Streep aims to be in the film, it's a turgid, boring, and hopeless mess that makes rock'n'roll into a soap opera.

I cannot remember the last time I watched a music film that bored so much - the script is flaccid, perfunctory, and worse than all of that is Streep, an actress who may be versatile but embodies a nervous repression suddenly trying to convince as a Blues ballsy rocker.

Honestly, one of the absolute low points - I'm the right age for this film, I love music, I even have daughters, and it was the worse two hours of therapy I've sat through this year.

Rudderless (2014)
3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
567th Review: I just watched two films when I wanted to watch one, 4 September 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Rudderless is a film worth your time especially if music films are your jam. William H Macy directs and co-wrote this and does a solid job in the first department, but the plotting rather than the writing is overwrought here.

This is a film that by its end cannot decide what redemption should mean, and settles for several easy options as it won't struggle really, really hard with its premise. There are clearly two films here and the join in the film is as wonky as a bad edit cut - this deliberate attempt to thought-provoke the viewer is misjudged - it makes for a film that refuses to gel and what could have been a singularly wonderful film about music as hope, is turned into something else. This is not the film as promised by the end and it makes me wonder why they chose this particular path.

Again, the performances and music are terrific, and it even gets something of what being in a band is really like. However, the plotting is strangely off-balanced and makes a very enjoyable, likable film into something else entirely, and rather than making the film deeper it pulled this viewer straight off the screen like a cold shower and because of this it fails to provoke the thought that the makers hope it might. It needed a far more rigorous process to handle the third act and it never gets there.

I would still recommend this one for its music and the redemption offered in the first 48 minutes, but once the twist is revealed it is a hard film to believe, or believe in.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
565th Review - Looks very Merchant Ivory 1985, and honestly, the 1967 is way better..., 3 September 2015

This is a solid adaptation of Hardy's brilliant romantic novel about Bathsheba Everdeen, a woman of means and beauty, and the three men in her life. The novel is about tragedy, honesty, and the consequences of choice, set in the 19th Century West Country of England and this adaptation is faithful to the spirit of its time.

With highly intelligent actors in the cast we end up with a slightly underdone version, it is all a little too flat, we, the audience want to swept away by Frank's passion, and to be more impressed by Boldwood's wealth and folly. Oak's Stoicism is done well by the always dependable Matthias Schoenearts underplayed performance, but it is a surprisingly one dimensional, he and Carey Mulligan match well.

What the film reminds me of most are the Merchant Ivory films of the 1980s with their emphasis on manners and mannerisms. I want this to be more than that - and in places it is - chiefly when characters are open and honest there are flashes of real brilliance. However, and it is a huge however, it cannot hold a light to the 1967 version - which is really one of the greatest adaptions of any novel - it may be unfair, but that film still looks and feels fresh. I watched it again after seeing this new one and would recommend it every time over this.

Overall, this is a good costume drama and a faithful adaptation. It is a little to dry to really be impressive, but shines in those moments of knowing looks and subtle exchanges. It is well worth your time if the plot and pacing suit.

Survivor (2015/I)
6 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
564th Review: E for effort, F for execution, 18 July 2015

With way more holes in in than Swiss cheese this hokum is trite trash at best. The film squanders a great cast with a script that should never have been green lighted and then proceeds to go to some laughably illogical places.

The performances are fine and I even watched the whole thing - but honestly, it was tough going when half the time your brain is going "What? Why? How?"

The theme of thwarting the terrorist mega-plot is a good one, but making it into a bad episode of CSI/24 is not.

Honestly? Only worth your time if you absolutely will watch any spy film.

Big Eyes (2014/I)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
563nd Review: Cold, Hard, Kitsch, 20 June 2015

The true story of Margaret and Walter Keane, who created an art empire, but did so through manipulation and magnificent hubris is told in Big Eyes. Tim Burton directs and does so in a surprisingly straight forward manner. Big Eyes has all it needs in story, stars, and director to be one of the better dramas of the year - Burton avoids the clichés of kitsch and instead takes us into the stylism of the 1950s in stunning detail - clothes, furniture, mannerisms and manners are all beautifully rendered. However, we never really get beyond the surface and when we do it never convinces at it should. The main fault is the polarization of the central performances - they are really two dimensional and as such the film relies more on surface than substance.

Amy Adams is the put upon wife, she tucks her chin in and widens her eyes, and does her trademark mix of pathetic and amused. Christopher Waltz is her Svengali husband, a mix of megalomaniac and charm - the perfect salesman. Together, they create the hugely popular Big Eyes style of kitsch - hugely over sentimental and hugely populist and popular.

The film plays to a dark streak of humor and a light streak of drama - Burton obviously loves the topic but it is in many ways an unbalanced film - it is watchable, particularly if the style and look of the 1950s are of interest, and the central performances are, even if comically simplistic, extremely watchable.

Above all Big Eyes is proof that you really can fool all of the people some of the time.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
562nd Review: Oscar Contending Masterpiece, 29 May 2015

Song of the Sea is a singularly exceptional film. It hides complexity in both story and fabulous art behind a simple, beguiling tale of two children, Saoirse and Ben, their father, Connor, their mother Bronach, and a very adorable dog, Cu, who struggle to cope with loss, and find in magical realism a way to understand and find the world afresh.

Using superb metaphors and meaning from Irish folktales and legends the film can be viewed on one level simply as an adventurous fairy tale set in modern times, but viewed deeply, it speaks deeply to the human condition; and for this viewer is one of the most singular films of the decade. It is fun, funny, and sorrowful and, importantly, as unpatronising as children themselves. It is totally suited to all ages, including very small children, who will adore the seals and Cu, and adults, and even teenagers, who may be enticed to see something more.

It is this aspect of understanding the human condition in Tomm Moore's film that lifts it from another animated film to the absolute finest cinema. Yet he does so with such a light touch that many viewers will accept the magical realism and simply enjoy the charm and whimsy and be swept along. However, it also poignantly asks if happiness can exist without sorrow, and given the choice, would we want to live without either or both, and does so with some terrific touches.

In addition, here is a world of sublime artistic technical skill and excellent voice acting - the film is hand-drawn and was 4 years in the making - the detailing with swirls and lines in the backgrounds and the tiny movements, while still keeping a simply line drawn animation, deserves multiple viewings. Tomm Moore has with this and Secret of Kells turned Irish animation into a world class powerhouse. This is not American or Japanese, Moore has successfully defined in two films, a unique approach that marries Celtic line art with simple 2D animation and a non-vibrant colour palette and has created a new school of animation.

This is a great film - several critics pounced on Kells for a lack of a defined story, here they cannot possibly complain: the interweaving of Irish legends with the modern day, is both inspired and strong. Also strong is a wonderful sly sense of humour and real, not forced, emotion. It is both entertaining and deep - and works.

Finally, it is the meaning and value of family and above all, the place of the mother, that makes Song of the Sea exceptional - I have seen few other film that explores loss with such wonderful metaphors as this, and certainly none as beautiful and with such a light touch as this. It is constantly surprising, full of wonder, and is, in the best sense, simply magical. Above all, it never defines where reality ends and magic begins and that is its real magic.

8 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
561st Review: Alice in Satireland, 22 May 2015

Welcome to Me is much more than a dark comedy. It is the evilish innocuous lovechild of whack of center films like Eagle and Shark (2007), Gentleman Broncos (2008), and Lars and The Real Girl (2007) if they coupled with satires like Network (1976), and Bob Roberts (1992), and it does so with dark whimsy, subtle charm, and is laugh-out loud funny.

The resulting film is a superb satire on the all out illusion of the American dream. Firstly, it derides the notion that money and fame are the goal of living while lauding it, a tough balancing act, and, secondly, that, in a country where 70% self-medicate for some form of depression, anxiety, or just can't cope with life, that mental illness is what happens to others. It combines the two, and lets the lunatic take over the asylum. We might well ask whether the crazy is the message or the medium...

Kristen Wiig is Alice. And let's start by saying in this Wonderland it's a great name for the character; and, a name that's almost become a cliché name for all woman in crisis, as Bob has for all blue-collar guys. Alice is a heady mixture of cutely crazy. We tried to list it all, but kind of only got as far as obsessive-compulsive, bipolar, narcissism, and manic-depressive, all veiled behind an obsession with voyeurism by her, and of her, through the TV. And that is the first point: she is non-categorizable - she is not just do-lalley, she is not even complex, she is Alice - wanting the world to love her, and wanting the world to cure her, to cure her past, and to see how important her pain is.

When her own therapist, a snappy turn by Tim Robbins, effectively gives up, Alice gets beyond lucky and gets her chance to have her own TV show through an amoral (or just pragmatic?) James Marsden. What results is a truly roller-coaster ride into Alice's bizarro gonzo world, where her unedited world is literally broadcast.

This is the best satire we've seen is a while. Like Nightcrawler (2014), it pokes the bear of TV for all its worth, and looks at America as a modern freak show, where empty calories and instant gratification have replaced any meaningful content. It is also really a film about the death of TV for the YouTube generation - who under 30 watches more TV than internet now?

This is post-hipster, post-modern, life out loud funny, that leaves you with a bad taste - it is smart, both kind and cruel, and a brilliant take on Modern America. Above all, it is original and deserves to be praised for being a film that belongs more to indie films of the 1970s than now - it is a surprisingly lingering, has just enough sympathy while still skewering its subjects, and for us, is a gob-smacking watch.

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