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'Flowers? What do I want with flowers? They... They only die. I've got enough on my plate without flowers.', 19 May 2016

Thank you BBC and TriStar for providing a moment of sanity in the current deluge of noisy, incendiary, absurd plot movies that seem to draw the crowds (and the money) today. THE LADY IN THE VAN is a little jewel of a film, written by brilliant playwright Alan Bennett (Beyond the Fringe, The Madness of King George, The History Boys, etc) – a memoir of sorts, directed by Nicholas Hytner (The History Boys, The Crucible, The Madness of King George, etc), and starring the incomparable Maggie Smith in a role unlike her usual grand dame roles and Alex Jennings in a dual role of Alan Bennett as writer and as the one who experiences life, providing the source of Bennett's writings and plays. The entire cast is superb – especially the tiny cameos by Jim Broadbent, Dominic Cooper, Cecilia Noble, Deborah Findlay, Roger Allam, Clare Hammond, Gwen Taylor, Frances de la Tour and on and on.

The story is summarized here: THE LADY IN THE VAN tells the true story of Alan Bennett's strained friendship with Miss Mary Shepherd (Maggie Smite), an eccentric homeless woman whom Bennett Alex Jennings) befriended in the 1970s before allowing her temporarily to park her Bedford van in the driveway of his Camden home. She stayed there for 15 years. As the story develops Bennett learns that Miss Shepherd is really Margaret Fairchild (died 1989), a former gifted pupil of the pianist Alfred Cortot. She had played Chopin in a promenade concert, tried to become a nun, was committed to an institution by her brother, escaped, had an accident when her van was hit by a motorcyclist for which she believed herself to blame, and thereafter lived in fear of arrest.

Not only is the story funny and touching, it also makes a huge statement about our disregard for the homeless, the manner in which the Catholic church copes with its own problems, and the extraordinary love that develops between Mary and Alan. The music that plays such a significant role is Franz Schubert's Impromptu No. 3 in G-Flat Major, Op.90, D 899 and Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor, Op.11: II. Romanze – Larghetto and III. Rondo - Vivace beautifully played by Clare Hammond - all lovingly embraced and incorporated by the musical score of George Fenton (who also conducts the BBC Concert Orchestra in the film).

This illuminating and entertaining film will provide or restore belief in films as a means of significant statement and joy. Highly Recommended.

Exposed (2016/III)
The title sums up the movie, 16 May 2016

Of great interest in considering the failure of this film, the following is about the director: 'Declan Dale is a pseudonym used much in the way that the name Alan Smithee was used for films that a director has disowned. Dale's only film is Exposed, a Keanu Reeves thriller that was significantly edited by Lionsgate Premiere without the original director's permission. The film, originally titled Daughter of God, was a surreal bi-lingual drama, reminiscent of Pan's Labyrinth and Irreversible, that focused on child abuse, violence towards women, mass incarceration, and police violence committed under the color of authority. However, the executives at Lionsgate Premiere thought they had been sold a Keanu Reeves cop-thriller. To increase the film's potential box office, during the editing process Lionsgate changed the story's focus to center on Reeves' character, and changed the movie into a generic crime-thriller. The director disowned the film, using the pseudonym of Declan Dale. And apparently the same situation occurred with the writer Gee Malik Linton.

Perhaps that is the explanation we need when we wonder how a film can be so scrambled with any sense of character development or meaning. The plot synopsis attempts to make sense of the story: 'Detective Galban (Keanu Reeves), finds his partner and close friend, Detective Cullen, murdered in an underground subway. On the hunt for the killer/s, Galban begins to suspect his partner may have been heavily involved in drug dealing and police corruption. As Galban investigates, people who knew Cullen, are conveniently found dead. The closer Galban gets to the truth, both Cullen's wife, Janine (Mira Sorvino), and his Lieutenant (Christopher McDonald), try to persuade him to back off, fearing his findings may discredit Cullen and expose corruption within the Police Department. Galban's only remaining lead is Isabel ((Ana de Armas), a young, devout, Latino girl, who resides with her in-laws. Galban fears her life could be in jeopardy should he get too close to her. However, Isabel has recently experienced something not from this world, something mystical that she believes is truly a miracle. Not unlike Galban, Isabel is dealing with her own demons from the past; a past that just may lead them to the truth...'

Yes, the film is artsy and that usually is a plus – looming otherworldly spirits that alter the storyline, indecipherable conversations despite constant subtitles, etc – but in the end the film has been too manipulated by too many people and the result is - confused.

Misconduct (2016)
'Hear what I tell you, the worst vice is advice.', 15 May 2016

MISCONDUCT is a much-maligned movie – which is a sad statement when it is placed in comparison to the billion dollar Marvel Comic/ zombie/shallow films that are so popular with the public. Perhaps it is because this movie requires thinking to follow the rambling plot, putting together all the clues that in the end result in a fascinating intrigue story. Written by Simon Boyes ('Broken') and Adam Mason ('Hangman') and directed by first time director Shintaro Shimosawa, The story is a warped one – in that it is about greed, deceit, vaulted ambition, lies, corruption, murder, affairs – just the sort of thing that is served up on television series nightly, but the cast is a strong one and able to hold the fragments trickled out before us fairly well.

Plot: When an ambitious young lawyer Ben Cahill (Josh Duhamel) takes on a big case against a powerful and ruthless executive of a large pharmaceutical company Arthur Denning (Anthony Hopkins) responsible for a lethal habit of not testing drugs before unleashing them on a dying public, he soon finds himself involved in a case of blackmail and corruption. Ben's boss is the oddly strange but ultimately vicious Charles Abrams (Al Pacino) who leads him into dangerous waters. Meanwhile Ben psychological discards his nurse wife Charlotte (Alice Eve) for the come-on of Emily (Malin Akerman), Denning's current live in whose involvement in the plot changes the course of direction for the story in a twisted manner – and it goes downhill from there.

Way too many characters with inadequate character development to justify including them (Byung-hun Lee's 'accountant', Julia Stiles ill-defined character etc), the action belongs to Pacino and Hopkins and Duhamel who manage to keep out attention throughout this meandering twisted but interesting study of the depths to which greed and ambition will drive us.

Deadpool (2016)
1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
'Looks ARE everything! Ever heard Dave Beckham speak? It's like he mouth-sexed a can of helium', 14 May 2016

DEADPOOL is a spoof of MARVEL comic book characters, directed with panache by Tim Miller, rich in one-liners such as 'Life is an endless series of trainwrecks with only brief commercial-like breaks of happiness. This had been the ultimate commercial break. Which meant it was time to return to our regularly scheduled programming.' It is apparently based on the Marvel Comics character by the same name (Deadpool is a fictional antihero Initially Deadpool was depicted as a supervillain but later evolved into his more recognizable antiheroic persona. Deadpool is a disfigured and mentally unstable mercenary with the superhuman ability of an accelerated healing factor and physical prowess. He is known as the "Merc with a Mouth" because of his talkative nature and tendency to break the fourth wall, which is used by writers for humorous effect and running gags). Even for those saturated with the endless expensive overblown repetitious Marvel Comic films that flood the market (making billions of dollars), This film is funny, not only due to the comedic writing of Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, Fabian Nicienza and Rob Liefeld, but also due to start Ryan Reynolds inimitable talent for admixing silly banter with heroic handsome good looks and fancy footwork.

Very briefly (because there isn't much story), 'This is the origin story of former Special Forces operative turned mercenary Wade Wilson, who after being subjected to a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers, adopts the alter ego Deadpool. Armed with his new abilities and a dark, twisted sense of humor, Deadpool hunts down the man who nearly destroyed his life.'

Much of the success of this film is due to the cast – Ryan Reynolds of course, but also a brilliant role for Ed Skrein as Ajax, T.J. Miller, the every glamorous Morena Baccarin (of Homeland fame), as Vanessa, Gina Carano as Angel Dust, Leslie Uggams as Blind Al, etc.

The film does go overboard in noisy destruction and massive killings and foul language, but hey, this is a Marvel Comics outing – so you expect something different? Entertaining if a bit too long.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
'You either step into the abyss or step back from it; you cannot walk along its edge for long.', 30 April 2016

BBC has done it again – created a five part miniseries that is a well written, well directed, well photographed, well lighted and exquisitely acted cinematic exploration of a relationship drama refracted through the prism of the spy genre. Written by Tom Rob Smith and directed with great sensitivity by Jakob Verbruggen, this story takes chances on so many levels – the main characters are gay, there is a very sensual depiction of a gay sexual experience, the secret societies of all nations are involved in this tale of espionage, and the story is as much about a mystery as it is about a love relationship that is abruptly cut short, leaving many questions unanswered, and allowing the audience to feel the degrees of grief and conundrum that sudden loss of a loved one brings.

It is interesting how various synopses of this miniseries are interpreted: 'This is the story of a chance romance between two people from very different worlds, one from the headquarters of the Secret Intelligence Service, the other from a world of clubbing and youthful excess.' And the better one, 'What begins as a chance romance between two people from opposite walks of life - one an antisocial investment banker Alex (Edward Holcroft) the other a slacker romantic Danny (Ben Whishaw) quickly unravels when the reclusive banker disappears under suspicious circumstances, exposing his real identity as a spy and forcing his lover down a dark path to reveal the truth.' What these synopses fail to explain is the complexity of the relationship between Danny and Alex, the dependency of Danny on the advice of his only friend Scottie (Jim Broadbent) who recalls the old days in England when being gay was a crime, Danny's discovery of SMBD equipment in Alex's attic where Alex is discovered dead in a trunk, the clues that lead to the police (Samantha Spiro), Alex's strange mother Frances (Charlotte Rampling), a past shared encounter with an escort (Riccardo Scamarcio), and on and on.

To offer more would be spoiling the story – which is very convoluted at times. The first four episodes are brilliant, but things fall apart a bit in the final episode. Bt that does not hamper the brilliance of this excellent miniseries. All of the actors are excellent, but Ben Whishaw continues to demonstrate that he is one of the fines actors on the screen today. Very Highly Recommended

Ardor (2014)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
The man from the river, 9 April 2016

Pablo Fendrick wrote and directed this Argentine film that tries to be something more than barely tolerable but gets lost in what seems like an endlessly slow moving uncomfortable night at the movies. The rain forests are beautiful, the scenery is fine, the actors are fine, but the story cannot seem o decide whether it is a myth or a political statement about the gross disparity between the wealthy and the poor in South America.

The chief attraction is Gael García Bernal (Kai), a mysterious man who emerges from the Argentinean rain forest to help a poor farmer and his daughter Vania, who are threatened by a band of mercenaries hired to force them to sell their land and take over his property by setting fire to their farm and community. They capture Vania (Alice Braga) but Kai rescues her and we are left to discern what the future will hold for these 'creatures'.

Fans of Gael García Bernal will get to see a lot of him here but even this fine young actor cannot salvage this very tedious and meaningless film. In Spanish with English subtitles.

The Intern (2015/I)
'The truth is... something about you makes me feel calm, or more centered, or something.', 27 March 2016

Now and then a movie comes along that instead of polarizing senior citizens against the younger Internet media obsessed generation elects to show how mutually beneficial the two ends of the age spectrum can be. And that is what Nancy Meyers (The Intern, It's Complicated, The Holiday, Something's Gotta Give, The Parent Trap, Father of the Bride, etc) has accomplished with aplomb in writing and directing this very fine little comedy with strong philosophical overtones. The fact that she is working with a cast of impeccable actors adds to the pleasure and meaning of this very fine little film. But in the long run it is the mutual respect for the two ends of the age divide that makes this a true 'comedy' rather that a mocking spoof.

70-year-old widower Ben Whittaker Robert De Niro) has discovered that retirement isn't all it's cracked up to be. Seizing an opportunity to get back in the game, he becomes a senior intern at an online fashion site, founded and run by Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway) – a true barnstormer of a creative personality obsessed with her success of her start up business. Jules is married to a stay at home dad (Anders Holm) and has a spunky child, but her work seems to take precedence – until the concept of a senior intern is forced upon her. Gradually the two come together in the most respectful and endearing way and form a heartfelt partnership that both need.

The supporting cast - Rene Russo (the office masseuse), Andrew Rannells, Adam DeVine, Zach Pearlman, Jason Orley, Christina Scherer, Nat Wolff, Celia Weston et al – is to the person terrific. Played with a fine pacing and more information about Internet marketing than any book can offer, this is not only entertaining but a learning experience. Hathaway and De Niro are magic together.

Legend (2015/I)
'Me and my brother, we're gonna rule London!', 25 March 2016

Brian Helgeland both wrote the screenplay (based on John Pearson's book) and directed this mobster movie. The sole attraction (aside form a fine performance by Emily Browning) is the tick of using actor Tom Hardy to play both roles of the twins – and for that reason it is worth watching.

The film tells the story of the identical twin gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray (Tom Hardy in a duplicitous role), two of the most notorious criminals in British history, and their organized crime empire in the East End of London during the 1960s. Focusing on the relationship between Reggie Kray and Frances Shea (Emily Browning), the film is told from France's' point of view as someone who knew him best, as well as the mental health issues the same sex life that Ronnie Kray faced and their rise to power as the notorious gangsters of London.

There are some fine roles for Christopher Eccleston, Tara Fitzgerald, Nicholas Farrell, and Joshua Hill, but the entire production is overlong, consistent fighting, and not a lot of character development. But the overriding problem of this film is that is nearly unintelligible due to the thick East Ender accents the actors use. Tom Hardy does a fine job as both twins (very different in nature) but he too is almost impossible to understand. Fortunately on DVD there are English subtitles so we can understand the dialogue.

Effie Gray (2014)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
'The essence of lying is in deception, not in words.' - John Ruskin, 24 March 2016

EFFIE GRAY was strangely overlooked by the public despite a sterling cast enacting Emma Thompson's screenplay re-enacting the lives of the Victorians John Ruskin and is failed marriage to Effie Gray and the entry of romance between Effie and the brilliant Pre- Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais. Perhaps the primary flaw in this little beautifully photographed period piece is Director Richard Laxton's sluggish pacing of the film – It does drag on forever, unnecessarily. (Laxton's other films include Burton and Taylor, River, and An Englishman in New York.)

The basis of the film is a true Victorian scandal of Effie Gray being the first woman to divorce her husband. In 1848 the 29-year-old art and architecture critic, author and painter John Ruskin (Greg Wise) married Euphemia 'Effie' Gray (Dakota Fanning), the beautiful 19-year-old daughter of family friends. After six increasingly unhappy years, Effie fell in love with her husband's protégé the famous Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais (Tom Sturridge) and set about having the marriage annulled. What reverberated then and now was that the reason given for ending the union was non- consummation. But what really snagged in the public consciousness was Ruskin's explanation of why he didn't fulfill his marital duties (was he gay, simply repulsed by the fact that Effie has pubic hair unlike the classical female figures of art, etc – questions that have not been answered). Effie struggles with John's overbearing parents (Julie Walters and David Suchet), found solace with the prominent Eastlakes (Emma Thompson and James Fox), a doctor (Robbie Coltrane), and one Travers Twist (Derek Jacobi).

The story is interesting, the characterizations excellent, the sets and scenery and costumes brilliant, and for a period piece this film is excellent. Audiences these days are simply more mature than to be 'shielded' form the facts of an unconsummated marriage and more emphasis could have been given to the fact the Effie was an early women's rights activist.

'You can't always trust people to behave properly.', 20 March 2016

Now and then along comes a film with a quiet little story about they way we are walking through our lives – a glance at a situation in communication and relationships of friends that makes the film soar above the often tedious riffraff of Marvel comics and gangster action films - an becomes a memorable experience that merits seeing again and again. Written by Sarah Kerochan and directed by Isabel Coixet (Elegy, Paris, je t'aime, My Life Without Me, The Secret Life of Words), one of the primary reasons the film works such magic are the consummate performances by Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley. The chemistry among all the cast members is on target.

Wendy (Patrician Clarkson), a self-absorbed New York book critic, is shocked to reality by the sudden end of her marriage to Ted (Jake Weber) and the decision by her daughter Tasha (Grace Gummer) to live as a farmer in Vermont. Always dependent on her husband for driving, she must now learn to take the wheel on her own. Her instructor Darwan (Ben Kingsley) is a Sikh Indian, living in America after being jailed in India for political reasons and working two jobs as a taxi driver and a driving instructor, who watches with alarm as his pupil falls apart at the seams. He himself is contemplating an arranged marriage with Jasleen (Sarita Choudhury), a woman he has never met. As these two lives intersect, both will change in unpredictable ways, discovering aspects in each other's backgrounds, beliefs, vocabularies and philosophies.

This is an example how a little gentle film can become immensely impressive when in the hands of pros such as Clarkson and Kingsley. Highly Recommended.

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