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tomgillespie2002

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Tender and graceful, 13 April 2016
9/10

Gabriel Axel's Babette's Feast, adapted from Karen Blixen's short story of the same name (written under the pen name Isak Dinesen) and winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, is about both the richness of true artistry and the spiritual necessity of sampling what few pleasures life has to offer during our short time on Earth. Like an exquisite, expensive meal, it moves at a slow pace and requires you to savour the delicate starters before the wholly satisfying climax arrives like a rich dessert and fine malt whiskey, resulting in the most romantic film about living a quiet, pious life ever made.

Two elderly sisters, Martine (Birgitte Federspiel) and Filippa (Bodil Kjer), have lived in a windy, remote hamlet in Jutland, Denmark their entire life. Years ago, their father (Pouel Kern) was a highly respected pastor, and with his two young and beautiful daughters (played in flashback by Vibeke Hastrup and Hanne Stensgaard), ran a small conventicle, who still meet up occasionally to converse. The sisters are courted in their youth by two men - cavalry officer Lorens Lowenhielm (Jarl Kulle), who falls in love with Martine, and opera singer Achille Papin (Jean-Philippe Lafont), who happens to hear Filippa's flawless singing voice and longs to make her a star. Both reject their suitors advances out of loyalty to their marriage- spurning father, and remain alone together for the remainder of their lives.

One day, a French refugee named Babette (Stephane Audran) arrives having being sent by the ageing Papin to escape the bloody Paris Commune. The sisters have no money to pay her, but take her in when Babette offers to work for food and shelter. Her swaggering nature makes her hit in the small coastal town, and she stays with Martine and Filippa for years. When she receives a letter from Paris informing her that she has won 10,000 francs in the lottery, she begs the sisters to put aside their rigorous routine and allow her to cook them and their white-haired conventicle a fine French feast. They reluctantly agree but soon become concerned at the exotic ingredients arriving at their doorstep (including a live turtle), but Babette's feast with be spiritually enlightening for everyone involved.

Babette's Feast manages to gaze warmly on a life that may seem harsh and miserable to many, and the early scenes of the sisters turning their backs on a life of true love and fame is difficult to watch. But Martine and Filippa remain without any bitterness; their only concern being the dwindling resources due to a lack of new members to their flock. In their old age, the rest of the group have become quarrelsome, but as each beautiful course is served, the petty issues are mended as they all experience the earthly miracle being set out in front of them. We taste every bite and get light-headed as the wine is supped, and it's a truly sincere experience. It also retains a tenderness and a grace usually lost in movies designed to pull on the heart-strings, and this is embodied by Audran who is outstanding as the eponymous artist.

Made in Britain (1982) (TV)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
One of the best TV movies ever, 12 April 2016
8/10

Written by David Leland and directed by Alan Clarke, Made in Britain was originally broadcast on the BBC as part of a quartet of pieces dubbed Tales Out of School, all of which shared a focus on Britain's educational system. The films, all written by Leland, were a reaction to Margaret Thatchers political regime, and Made in Britain depicts the sort of character that was emerging from the increasingly violent and racist youth culture of the time.

When we first meet Trevor (Tim Roth in his debut), he is being tried in court for throwing a brick through a Pakistani family's window and shoplifting. Defiant to the very end, the 20 year-old neo-Nazi with a swastika tattooed on his face is sent to an Assessment Centre while his fate is determined. There he shares a room with a black teenager with learning difficulties who he takes with him to the Job Centre where he throws a brick through a window and steals a car. Trevor is told by the superintendent that time and time again Trevor has ensured his life will result in an endless cycle of poverty, crime and prison, and this is his last chance to make a choice.

Roth is a ferocious force of nature as Trevor. Alan Clarke's films always manage to turn its despicable lead into a charismatic, and almost sympathetic, human being. Normally, someone like Trevor would be an unbearable character to spend 70 minutes with, but Roth, Leland and Clarke make him into a fascinating embodiment of nihilism. The moment during his late-night rampage when he stares perplexed at a shop display of an idealistic family makes for a powerful social message. Everything is "bollocks" and everybody is a "wanker", but there's an empathy to be had with his complete disillusionment with the system. He doesn't even come across a particularly racist, it's almost like it's just another thing for him to hate. Surely one of the best TV movies ever, and a great achievement for the BBC during one of its most creative periods.

1 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
A colossal mess, 12 April 2016
4/10

With the phenomenal success of Marvel's 8-year (and still going strong) moulding of their cinematic universe, the fashionable goal for studios now seems to be to create a vast world for their ensemble of characters to co-exist and occasionally cross paths. Marvel's output now includes some of the highest-grossest films of all time, so it was never going to take other studios too long to realise the potential in their comic-book property. Fox's X-Men franchise expanded itself this year with Deadpool, and the box- office success of Man of Steel in 2013 now have publishing behemoth DC flexing their muscles.

Subtlety isn't something Zack Snyder, director of 300 (2006), Watchmen (2009) and Sucker Punch (2011), is known for. Like Joss Whedon at Marvel before his departure, Snyder has been employed as head honcho for DC's expanded universe. Rather than taking the time to build the world from the ground up and teasing fans with what's to come, Snyder throws everything (including the kitchen sink in one scene) at Man of Steel's follow-up, which introduces a seriously p****d-off Batman into the mix, as well as a hoard of famous and not-so-famous fellow superheroes who are all due their own stand- alone movies in the future. To summarise, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is a colossal mess.

Picking up during the climax of Man of Steel that saw Superman (Henry Cavill) cause mega-destruction and the deaths of thousands of people during his fisticuffs with General Zod (Michael Shannon), Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) arrives at Metropolis to witness the carnage first hand. This older, more damaged Batman holes up in his mansion and discusses Superman's alien threat with his trusted butler Alfred (Jeremy Irons). An unsupervised being of almost unlimited power, Wayne sees Superman as a threat to humanity and hopes to turn the public against him using his influence at the Daily Planet newspaper.

Meanwhile, billionaire eccentric Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) takes a special interest in Superman, and convinces Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) to allow him access to Zod's fallen spacecraft as well as the General's body. Wayne learns of Luthor's activities and attends one of his gatherings in the hope of stealing encrypted files, and learns that a mysterious woman by the name of Diane Prince (Gal Gadot) is also seeking the same thing. Knowing that Superman and Batman will always stand in his way, Luthor imports Kryptonite from the Indian Ocean and begins to set in motion a great battle between the two, from which surely only one will walk away.

The plot seems to only concern itself with the bigger picture, with its eyes firmly on the Justice League movie due next year, Without any sense of immediate threat and with such an emotional detachment from its characters, it's extremely difficult to care about much that happens during Batman v Superman. It's all too much, too soon. On top of the muddled plot, Snyder throws in glimpses of future members of the superhero team - The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) - that act like mini-trailers jammed into the middle of the movie without much thought, and a seemingly random, yet beautifully captured, dream sequence that foreshadows the big bad Darkseid.

Most of the characters motivations are left unexplained too. While Superman's actions with Zod left catastrophic damage, the public are pretty clear that they view him as a hero fighting an alien threat, even concocting a monument in his honour. So why is Batman so utterly p****d at him, especially when Superman doesn't even harm him during their first encounter when he could have snapped him like a twig? Luthor, played by an Eisenberg who seems to believe he is on the set of Adam West's 1960's TV show, is hell-bent of neutralising Superman's threat. Does he have daddy issues? A fear of God? Luthor rants like a teenager hyped-up from sugar and video-games and hints at these and many others, but no real explanation is given. And just what was he hoping to achieve by unleashing the part cave-troll, part what you couldn't flush down the toilet this morning, at the end?

The movie's main positive is Affleck. The groans echoed throughout social media when his casting was announced, but he nails both Bruce Wayne and Batman. He is the Darkest Knight there has ever been, with a brute physicality that could flick Christian Bale's incarnation across the screen. Snyder has the skill to bring a comic book panel to life better than anybody, and Batman v Superman is frequently astonishing to look at. Gadot also excels during her small amount of screen-time, and is the only one appearing to be having any fun. Of the smack-down itself, it's an exciting and brutal affair, brought to a close by one of the most ridiculous moments of mutual enlightenment in cinema, ever. Like Man of Steel, Batman v Superman has defied mixed (and some utterly unforgiving) reviews and stormed the box-office, so I think it's safe to say that the DC train will plough on.

1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Goes out with a whimper when it could have been explosive, 6 April 2016
5/10

One of the ugliest and blatant money-spinning schemes to emerge from Hollywood in recent years is the trend of splitting up the final entry of a successful book series unnecessarily into two parts. Although I wasn't overly keen on The Hunger Games' second entry, Catching Fire (2013), it was at least - along with the original 2012 movie that kicked off the successful movie franchise that helped launch Jennifer Lawrence into super-stardom - decently paced; a tight, nifty thriller with some enjoyable set-pieces. Part 1 of Mockingjay lacked anything in the way of spectacle, and while Part 2 certainly delivers on the action front, it still stutters due to stretching a pretty slim book into over 4 hours of screen-time.

Following a slow start during which we meet up with heroine Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) who is coming to terms with the horrors of war and the re-emergence of the emotionally damaged Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) in her life, things pick up when Katniss defies the orders of revolution propaganda chief Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and the increasingly shady President Coin (Julianne Moore), and forces her way to the front line. What Katniss and her team face on their way to assassinate President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is a city booby- trapped to the gills with giant machine guns, flamethrowers, and other imaginatively-designed instruments of death awaiting them at every turn. Circumstances have changed but the Games remain the same.

What Part 1 lacked most of all was the Hunger Games themselves, and here they are cleverly woven back into the story. As absurd some of the set-ups are (surely a couple of well-placed soldiers armed with walkie-talkies and sniper-rifles would have been more efficient and cost-effective?), they undoubtedly eject the film with the excitement it sorely needs. Mockingjay Part 2 is also extremely dark and violent, pushing its UK 12A certificate to breaking point. One set-piece set in a sewer that sees a horde of snarling monsters chase our heroes in a scene straight out of a horror movie and a genuinely shocking (if you haven't read the books) moment of brutality near the end prove to be brave and mature decisions. And why shouldn't young folk see death depicted without the usual padding or sentimentality?

I also applaud the story for taking an unconventional approach to the inevitable Everdeen-Snow showdown, but its here that events take a confusing turn as Lawrence's Everdeen is kept at an emotional distance that clouds her motivations without the aid of narration, and the movie struggles in the closing moments. It's also an ending that should have come the film before, with the slicing of the story resulting in Part 2 going out with a slight whimper when it could have been explosive. On a positive note, it seems that audiences are finally catching on to the kind of studio greed that forced them to watch the likes of The Hobbit for nine hours over three years, as Lionsgate's movie performed poorer than expected at the box office (though it still made a shed-load).

Bonkers plot and Hammer-esque sets make for a fun giallo, 5 April 2016
7/10

Emilio Miraglia only directed a handful of films throughout his career (though he was more prolific as an assistant to the likes of Luciano Salce, Carlo Lizzani and Lucio Fulci), the two films he made between 1971 and 1972 - The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave and The Red Queen Kills 7 Times - stand out most of all. Although the two films are pretty recognisable titles to any giallo enthusiast, Miraglia's name hardly echoes throughout the annals of the genre, most likely down to his slim body work as it certainly isn't down a lack of quality.

The premise of The Red Queen is giallo at its most gleefully ludicrous. While the film is mostly a gory thriller, there are elements of Gothic with its cobwebbed, desolate mansion setting during the opening scenes. A dying grandfather tells two of his granddaughters of the tale behind the gruesome painting overlooking his death-bed, of one sister ('The Red Queen') who stabbed and murdered the other sister ('The Black Queen'). This cycle repeats itself every 100 years, due again in 1972. When the dreaded year comes, the grown up Kitty (Barbara Bouchet) works as a fashion photographer and believes that her sister Evelyn died in a freak accident years ago. When people start dying, murdered by a manic woman in red, has Evelyn returned from beyond the grave as the Red Queen or is something even more sinister at play?

When the movie finished, I was left wondering how such a convoluted build-up could lead to such an easily-explained mystery, but that's the beauty of giallo and The Red Queen itself. The infusion of Gothic undertones peppered throughout the film only add to the fun of the piece, although its feet lie firmly in its pulpy paperback roots. Complete with impressively staged, gory set-pieces, this adds pretty much every element of the genre into the mix - the world of high fashion photography, beautiful, big-eyed women, a gruff detective, and plenty of sexual deviancy. So, it offers little in the way of originality, but it's certainly a lot of fun (the scene with the fence spike is a cracker). See it for the bonkers plot and ghostly, Hammer-esque sets if nothing else.

Room (2015/I)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Complex and awe-inspiring film, 4 April 2016
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

There has perhaps never been a more obvious metaphor in cinema for the loss of childhood innocence and the sudden arrival of the big, scary, grown-up world out there, but Irish director Lenny Abrahamson, who helmed 2014's magnificent Frank, translates Emma Donoghue's internal monologue-heavy novel of the same name with tenderness and care, successfully avoiding sensationalising the horror at its disturbing core. Room is one of the year's most complex and awe-inspiring films.

Five year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) has never left the place he knows as Room. To him, the tiny shed he has lived his entire life is the whole world, with the pictures on the television screen beamed in from some distant galaxy. He and his devoted mother Joy (Brie Larson) spend every day in a set routine, with Joy using every waking moment to tend to her son and shield him from the terrible situation they're actually in. We come to learn that Joy has been locked in Room for seven years, taken a long time ago by a man she only knows as Old Nick (Deadwood's Sean Bridgers), who routinely re- ups their supplies and rapes Joy while Jack peeks through the cracks of his wardrobe.

Larson won an Oscar for her performance here and rightly so. The relationship between Joy and Jack is more than simple mother-and- son, as it comes quickly to light that the boy is the only thing keeping her alive. Still, she struggles with his energy and growing curiosity of things he cannot comprehend, until one day she decides to tell him the truth and plans their escape. Her depression is becoming overwhelming, to the point where she may commit suicide, and then what then for her son? If you're unaware of the plot then don't read any further, for it is the moment Jack finally breaks free, followed shortly after by his mother, when the film moves into different territory altogether - Jack coping with this mind-blowing revelation. There now exists things he has never seen before, such as other people, other places, and the sky.

Tremblay is equally as good as Jack with arguably a more complex character. It's appalling that his name was missing from the Academy's line-up, as this is the finest male performance of the year (as lovely as it was to see Leonardo DiCaprio receive his long- overdue award). His experience of this new, massive planet is amplified by some intelligent camera-work from cinematographer Danny Cohen, who films in sparse wide-shots to heighten the scale, and employs intense close- ups during the early scenes in Room to almost offend your sense of space. Yet its the two leads and their natural chemistry that really assist Room in delivering its intended emotional wallop. Whenever they're apart, you feel the tear and their need for each other. This is powerful, intelligent film- making, with a real hint of the greatness that could come from Abrahamson in the future.

Spotlight (2015/I)
Riveting procedural hampered by an emotional distance, 1 April 2016
7/10

This years Academy Award Best Picture line-up was one of the most underwhelming in recent memory, but there was a little cheer when director Tom McCarthy's underdog Spotlight took home the top prize. My personal favourite of the nominees, The Big Short, lost out, and the stand-out film of the year, Inside Out, wasn't even on the list (although it took home the Best Animated Feature), but the lack of truly great films this year doesn't take anything away from Spotlight, which is a riveting little procedural hampered by a surprising emotional distance from the disturbing subject matter.

Like most films set amongst the huddled office meetings, desk- thumping and pen-chewing of the newspaper room, Spotlight takes its inspiration from Alan J. Pakula's seminal All the President's Men (1976), and concerns itself solely on the noble efforts of the staff trying to piece together that big story that will change everything. Here, we're at the Boston Globe in 2001, and the newspapers new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) and almost instantly notices the importance of delving deeper into eccentric lawyer Mitchel Garabedian's (Stanley Tucci) accusation that Cardinal Law (Len Cariou) has covered up the molestation of various children by a priest in their very city.

Baron hands the task to Spotlight, a team consisting of 'Robby' Robinson (Michael Keaton), Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian D'Arcy James), who takes months exhaustively researching their subject matter before publishing their findings. What they uncovered were hundreds of cases in Boston alone of child molestation by priests, and the fact that this was ignored by people in a position to do much more. In fact, some of the most powerful moments come from the revelations that some of the Boston Globe staff sat on the story for years without taking notice of the extent of the abuse. With Operation Yewtree still hitting the headlines here in the UK, the subject of sweeping these kinds of cases under the rug couldn't be more relevant.

Spotlight depicts, in breathtaking detail, the work carried out by Robinson and his team to uncover the truth and to obtain the required evidence. Keaton, after last years Birdman, gives another assured performance, and Ruffalo is routinely terrific as the pit- bull Rezendes. Aesthetically, the film cannot be faulted, and McCarthy sticks strictly to the facts. However, the lack of an emotional connection means the film does not induce the kind of anger it really should. Without doubt the movies stand-out scene is Pfeiffer's reaction to a priests blunt response to her equally blunt questioning, and the film should maintain the sort of power and shock this moment inspires, but keeps itself frustratingly distant. Spotlight is still an accomplished piece of work with some sparkling dialogue, and McCarthy hints that he may have found the same form he had with his terrific debut The Station Agent (2003).

A work of surprising complexity and sly wit, 26 March 2016
7/10

Producer Val Newton's output while working in the horror unit of RKO studios produced some of the finest American B-movies made between 1942 and 1946, delivering creepy tales that not only had the ability to frighten, but also explored the darkest regions of the human psyche, backed by Gothic sets and brooding cinematography. Newton's work with Jacques Tourneur undoubtedly produced the studios best work, but even slighter films such as The Body Snatcher yearned to break out from its low-budget trappings. Reuniting horror icons Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi for the final time, The Body Snatcher is a work of surprising complexity and sly wit.

Edinburgh, 1831, and surgeon Dr. MacFarlane (Henry Daniell) finds his work hampered by a lack of cadavers to experiment on and to use to teach his students. He is visited by Mrs. Marsh (Rita Corday), who hopes that MacFarlane's skills can help cure her paraplegic daughter and allow her to walk again. He refuses, citing the surgery as too dangerous. His young student Donald Fettes (Russell Wade) urges him to do it, but learns that the bodies required for experimentation are in short supply and the fresh cadavers brought into the school do not always come from the morgue, but instead are bought for a small price from the shady John Gray (Karloff).

With the disturbing story of Burke and Hare lurking very much in the characters minds, The Body Snatcher focuses less on the grisly work of grave-robbing and murder, and more on the destructive relationship between MacFarlane and Gray, two old acquaintances who loathe each other but have become co-dependent. MacFarlane longs to be rid of the old brute, but Gray's sadistic hold over his respected colleague means that he won't give up that easily, and soon Gray's midnight antics digging up the dead turns to murder as the city catches wind of his heinous deeds. This may be Karloff's finest performance, adding a smirk and a wicked sense of humour to his evildoer, with Daniell more than holding his own as the conflicted doctor.

Directed by Robert Wise, whose career covered almost everything from low-budget horror (The Curse of the Cat People (1944)), to hugely successful musicals (West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965)), to sci-fi of varying quality (The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)), he employs RKO's terrific sets to their maximum potential, bringing 19th century Scotland to life in all its murky glory. Lugosi always appears as one of MacFarlane's assistants, but his billing on the poster is slightly misleading given his slender screen-time. Karloff states that Newton helped resurrect his career and move him away from Universal type-casting, and, although it is still within the same genre, The Body Snatcher allows him to shake off the make-up and allow his natural screen presence to shine through.

Reaffirms the belief that good can triumph over evil, 25 March 2016
9/10

Undoubtedly one of the most beloved American films of all time, Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is one of the great directors most cynical portraits of the U.S., revealing an infestation of corruption all the way to the top of the Senate in the city where the Capitol Dome and the Lincoln Memorial sit uneasily as symbols of idealism. The film is also one of his most optimistic, and this blend of attitudes have led to many other Hollywood movies being labelled in his honour as 'Capraesque', one of the most misunderstood and overused labels in cinema.

'Capraesque' is commonly lumped upon movies with an overbearing sense of positivity, with the little man, or woman, ultimately overcoming overwhelming odds to triumph over whatever conglomerate or institution trying to stamp all over them. But what the labellers forget is the skill required to convincingly build up the struggle of the hero, making the climax all the more poignant and satisfying in the process. When Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), the small-town head of the Boy Rangers, is invited to join the U.S. Senate, he accepts the role with humility and a determination to prove himself worthy. What he doesn't know is that fellow senator Joseph Paine (Claude Rains) intends for Smith to be a stooge while he and his boss Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold) go about their dodgy business.

Initially, his "aw, shucks!" persona is met with ridicule by the press, and is seen as a naive idiot by his secretary Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur). However, his patriotism soon endears him to Saunders, who witnesses his peers and superiors begin to tear him to shreds as he uncovers a scheme to buy up land. As Smith, Stewart is perfect, embodying the kind of American ideals that the country prides itself upon but rarely follows, stubbornly holding court while he fights for his reputation in a riveting climax. It's a Wonderful Life (1946) is commonly labelled as Capra's finest moment but, in my humble opinion, Mr. Smith is his crowning achievement, a movie of such substance and social insight that it more than transcends its now-routine formula and reaffirms a belief in good overcoming evil.

Reaffirms the belief that good can triumph over evil, 25 March 2016
9/10

Undoubtedly one of the most beloved American films of all time, Frank Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is one of the great directors most cynical portraits of the U.S., revealing an infestation of corruption all the way to the top of the Senate in the city where the Capitol Dome and the Lincoln Memorial sit uneasily as symbols of idealism. The film is also one of his most optimistic, and this blend of attitudes have led to many other Hollywood movies being labelled in his honour as 'Capraesque', one of the most misunderstood and overused labels in cinema.

'Capraesque' is commonly lumped upon movies with an overbearing sense of positivity, with the little man, or woman, ultimately overcoming overwhelming odds to triumph over whatever conglomerate or institution trying to stamp all over them. But what the labellers forget is the skill required to convincingly build up the struggle of the hero, making the climax all the more poignant and satisfying in the process. When Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), the small-town head of the Boy Rangers, is invited to join the U.S. Senate, he accepts the role with humility and a determination to prove himself worthy. What he doesn't know is that fellow senator Joseph Paine (Claude Rains) intends for Smith to be a stooge while he and his boss Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold) go about their dodgy business.

Initially, his "aw, shucks!" persona is met with ridicule by the press, and is seen as a naive idiot by his secretary Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur). However, his patriotism soon endears him to Saunders, who witnesses his peers and superiors begin to tear him to shreds as he uncovers a scheme to buy up land. As Smith, Stewart is perfect, embodying the kind of American ideals that the country prides itself upon but rarely follows, stubbornly holding court while he fights for his reputation in a riveting climax. It's a Wonderful Life (1946) is commonly labelled as Capra's finest moment but, in my humble opinion, Mr. Smith is his crowning achievement, a movie of such substance and social insight that it more than transcends its now-routine formula and reaffirms a belief in good overcoming evil.


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