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122 reviews in total 
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"Hunted" (2012)
2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Complicated but enjoyable thriller, 20 August 2013

Given some of the poor reviews, I just had to say that I really enjoyed this series. It was complicated and you were never sure what was going on, but I had a good time. It was a little frustrated that too many issues were left unresolved, however the writer also worked on the X Files, so perhaps that was to be expected. Usually British thrillers are a little too slow for my taste, but this moved at a brisk pace. The heroine was likable and so were most of her colleagues.

What I found interesting is that loyalty is becoming a thing of the past. I have been in corporations where you can't trust anyone and everyone has an obscure agenda. Working for yourself is probably the only answer.

I have actually completed large power projects in India, and my company did look at doing business in Pakistan in the 1990s. Despite the accusation in the show that multi-nationals were ripping off the poor people in Pakistan, the reality has been that most Western banks and companies won't touch the country with a ten foot barge pole. There are easier and less corrupt places in the world to do business. Pakistan's infrastructure is poor partly because Western companies won't invest. A colleague visited Karachi in the 1990s and had a couple of bodyguards meet him at the airport. He then watched a riot take place outside his hotel. Life is too short for this nonsense.

Also, the Pakistanis would hire an investment bank to handle the auction. They give you the opportunity to increase your bid. If it's too low, they will provide guidance. They are trying to get the highest rice for their client and the process rules tends to go out of the window. That said, who really cares.

Game Change (2012) (TV)
5 out of 18 people found the following review useful:
Hard to watch, 18 March 2012

I found the film hard to watch and I ended up feeling sorry for Palin. The film has a story to tell but it seemed like an unfair, hatchet job. McCain is depicted as a man so desperate to get elected president that he took a gamble on Palin, somebody shown in this film to be totally unqualified to be president.

Nobody in this film ends up looking good, none of the characters has real depth. This isn't a Shakespearean drama just a bunch of over- ambitious narcissists trying to muddle through. I have watched McCain being demolished on the John Stewart show so I've never been convinced that he's particularly sharp. Especially when a late night comedian can make you doubt his grasp and understanding of foreign affairs.

If you read the New York Times then this story is old hat. What we get in this film is a cartoon dumbed down version of history. However, it does make you question whether integrity has ever existed in politics. Obviously, some people will do or say anything or pretend to be whatever you want them to be, to get their hands on real power.

Excellent, 20 February 2012

I watched this as a 15 year old and I found it fascinating. The characters were clever and often devious. I have worked in organizations where people were usually putting on an act and they pretended they were smarter than they actually were. However you eventually discovered you could not trust many of them and they were often completely clueless. In that way the Organization was helpful. People were cryptic because they knew nothing and this was just a defence mechanism. I have worked for multi-nationals that have disappeared off the map, mainly because the top management was incompetent. In those organizations it was often about what people thought you knew rather than your actual competence - this is a very British trait. If you go to the schools you must be good. I haven't seen this show since 1972, but I still remember it. Start your business, that's the message I should have learned from watching this stuff.

Page Eight (2011) (TV)
4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Enjoyable but ultimately disappointing, 7 November 2011

Page Eight is well acted and well written but I found the ending implausible. It's a fictional story seemingly set in 2003. Britain has a prime minister (Ralph Fiennes) desperate to help America in its war on terror. He obtains evidence of US wrong doing but can't share this with his own officials. We are told the story could be politically damaging if it gets out. However, the film now seems like ancient history and it's hard to be shocked or to care.

Bush and Blair have become an embarrassment and the Iraq War is generally viewed as a huge mistake. Tony Blair now seems to have been wrong on most things including his eagerness to join the euro. Britain has since reassessed its role in the world and no longer wants to be America's "partner of choice." If this film had been produced in 2002 it may have had some relevance, but the world has moved on. Iraq now seems like a sad interlude that most people really want to forget. It explains why films about the war on terror are box office poison. The motivations of the PM are never explored, however that would have made a more interesting film.

Ultimately it was hard to believe that Johnny (Bill Nighy)a Cambridge educated MI5 officer would give up his career and pension to do the right thing. Things like that don't happen in Britain. I always thought David Hare distrusted the British establishment. In this film the men in the shadows become the real protectors of the national interest. Who would have guessed?

Inside Job (2010)
5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Great Film, 20 April 2011

Inside Job is a fascinating and enjoyable film. I have lived through various financial crises dating back to Long Term Capital Management's collapse in the mid-1990s. With each succeeding market meltdown the culprits seem to get progressively greedier and the regulators look increasingly stupid. What is worrying is that business ethics seem to be a thing of the past.

Dating back to the 1920s it seems that given complete freedom to speculate, investors will act irresponsibly. Roosevelt concluded that tighter regulation was necessary to stop a repeat of the 1929 crash and he was probably right. Greenspan and his followers seem to have believed that people are smarter today and government intervention was no longer necessary. The film shows that markets can't be trusted to regulate themselves.

In a recent PBS documentary there was a report Brooksley Born's attempt to regulate derivatives in the 1990s. Born was the chairperson of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and was stopped by a cabal consisting of Greenspan, Summers and Rubin. Born received no support from Bill Clinton who appointed her. Her resignation is also mentioned in Inside Job. Before the crash Greenspan was considered by the press to be almost a wise Yoda-like genius. His views carried the day but eventually his luck ran out. Things may have turned out differently had Born been listened to.

Many of the academics interviewed in the film now look ridiculous for their support of big finance. In my experience academics don't really understand how markets work. They have very simplistic theories based around the idea that markets are rational and efficient. I just interviewed two recent MBA graduates from good schools and its amazing they are still being taught stuff I learned 30 years ago, which I now know is seriously flawed. Various crashes have taught me that most academic theories in finance don't really survive in the real world. It's a case of the blind leading the blind.

Greenspan admitted to Congress that his understanding of the way markets work may have been wrong. However,as the film reveals, academics have often provided intellectual cover for the bankers and speculators. They are supposedly independent but they have become articulate and convincing cheerleaders for free markets. Unfortunately they have also become useful idiots. People tend to blame the Republican's for being too easy on big business, but George Bush's initiated the Enron trials and Jeff Skilling their former CEO was sent to prison for 24 years. Bush also introduced the Sarbannes-Oxley legislation. The shocking thing about Inside Job is that under Obama nobody on Wall Street was punished and the legislation he introduced has really changed nothing. He is clearly no Roosevelt. You got the impression from the film that both Obama and Clinton employed advisers that were too close to Wall Street.

Hopefully after the next meltdown, serious change will happen, however don't bet on it.

True Grit (2010)
0 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Over-hyped, 17 January 2011

I was disappointed with True Grit, mainly because so many critics had given it such great reviews. I usually like Westerns so I was hoping for something I would enjoy but I felt let down. The film looked authentic and Roger Deakins' cinematography was beautiful, but I didn't find the story particularly interesting and the ending was anti-climatic.

Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old farm girl hires a tough, old U.S. marshal, Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) to track down her father's killer. Matt Damon plays a Texas Ranger who joins the chase. The first problem was the accents. Bridges and Damon adopt 19th century sounding regional accents. I struggled to understand what Bridges was saying most of the time. Damon's verbose and mumbling Texas Ranger was equally hard to comprehend and his outmoded speech patterns were irritating. Strangely, Ross, although supposedly from Arkansas, sounded like a modern American teenager. It was a rather incongruous combination. It would have been better without the accents.

Cogburn is an unbelievable character and almost a cartoon. He's tough and fearless but with a heart of gold. He acts as Mattie's protector and apart from his drinking and penchant for shooting criminals he's almost too good to be true. Mattie Ross seemed too precocious and outspoken for a 14 year old. Damon's character is almost a cipher, someone who talks funny and dresses stylishly but you never work out who he is. I didn't really connect with the characters or care what happened to them.

Although nominally an action film, there were only two real action scenes in the movie, neither of which was particularly memorable. Ross and her posse chase the bad guys, find them relatively easily, and the evildoers are punished. The Coen Brothers talked about the comedy in the movie, but I missed most of it. There wasn't much tension either and it was all very predictable. I felt that 3:10 To Yuma and Unforgiven had more interesting story lines. Overall, True Grit was OK, but I really expected more given the hype. I have been disappointed by Coen films in the past so I probably don't get their humor. In my view their films are usually not as good as you would hope.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Great Movie, 20 November 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Groundhog Day is one of my favorite films of the 1990s. It's funny, smart and the story is original. It's an almost perfect movie. Bill Murray is superb as Phil Connors, an arrogant, egocentric and misanthropic TV weather man who receives his comeuppance through getting to re-live the same day over and over again.

Every day is the same and only Connor's attitude to those around him changes. Initially he makes the most of the experience. He sleeps with women, drinks and eats too much and steals money. Over time Phil falls in love with his lovely TV producer, Rita played by Andie MacDowell, and decides to win her heart. After her rejection he becomes lonely and depressed. He tries suicide but discovers he is indestructible. During time in captivity he begins to read philosophy and eventually learns to empathize with those around him. Phil has enough time to become a virtuoso pianist and a brilliant ice sculptor. Connors achieves some happiness by doing good and eventually becomes a reformed character. Finally he wins over Rita and is released from the spell.

The plot is new but the supernatural elements are a throwback to the films of the 1930s and 1940s. Unlike A Christmas Carol, Phil doesn't have a ghost to explain to him where we went wrong and why he should change. In Groundhog Day he has to figure it out for himself and this takes a long time. The film is not a formulaic Hollywood romantic comedy and the script written by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis is clever and funny. The film wouldn't work without a brilliant central performance and Bill Murray was made to play Phil Connors. He starts off as a jerk but gradually you start to like him. The rest of the cast are excellent; the film features a strong team of character actors who often steal scenes from Murray. Harold Ramis does an inspired job as the writer-director. This is a great movie.

Excellent, 30 October 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The Quiet American is an enjoyable and intelligent film about Vietnam in the early 1950s. On the surface it can be viewed as a film about two men fighting over a girl, but it also provides an interesting commentary on post-war geopolitics. The film is set in 1952 when the threat of "world communism" became an obsession for many.

Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine) is a cynical London Times correspondent based in Vietnam. Fowler is an older man, living with a beautiful young Vietnamese mistress called Phuong. Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser) is a young, energetic, American idealist who befriends Fowler and later steals his girl. Fowler is jaded, lazy and selfish. He doesn't want to return to the UK. Pyle wants to rescue Phuong from what he considers to be a bleak future with Fowler. He offers marriage and Phuong accepts. She wants someone affluent to look after her. It's never clear whether she really cares about either Fowler or Pyle.

The relationship and competition between Fowler and Pyle can be interpreted as a metaphor for the post-war relationship between the U.S. and the European colonial powers. Pyle considers French efforts to defeat the communists in Vietnam as ineffectual. He doesn't like the way the Europeans exploit their colonies and treat people like second class citizens in their own countries. Pyle wants the Europeans out of the way so that America can lead the struggle against the communists; he favors a Third Way.

We eventually find out that Pyle is a senior CIA agent and the "Third Way" involves the U.S. putting its own thugs in charge. America's man is General Thé who commits two atrocities witnessed by Fowler, one in which women and children are killed. Pyle recognizes that the general is cruel and ruthless, but doesn't appreciate that backing violent thugs like the general is not in America's long term interests because it alienates the local population. Fowler doesn't approve of the carnage that develops and helps the communists to assassinate Pyle.

The communists are viewed sympathetically, they are presented as nationalists who just want to get the foreigners out of their country. The film presents the case that the domino theory was wrong and the Vietnamese just wanted their country back. According to this film they supported the Russians because they funded their independence struggle. The problem was that pushing the Europeans out of their colonies left a vacuum leaving the U.S. to become the world's policeman. I don't know enough about Vietnam to know whether the movie is historically accurate or whether the CIA had a master plan for the country back in 1952. But it is an interesting and thought provoking film.

The film revolves around the complex characters of Fowler and Pyle, Caine and Fraser do an excellent job in bringing the characters to life and making the film work.

4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Truly Awful, 22 October 2010

Richard Curtis seems to have has lost his mojo. I loved Four Weddings and Love Actually, both films were clever and well written. Pirate Radio was just awful it was hard to believe it was written by the same person. The one redeeming feature is the music of the 1960s, which still sounds great. There has never been anything to touch it and the film is almost worth watching for the soundtrack.

The main problem is that the characters are just cartoons. Kenneth Branagh plays a government minister obsessed with killing off pirate radio. He's like Dick Dastardly in Wacky Races he pops up every few minutes demanding that his flunkies devise a cunning new plan to stop the pirates. The Branagh thing goes on too long and isn't very funny. The real government minister who killed off the pirates was Tony Benn who later reinvented himself as a left wing hero.Like the comrades in Eastern Europe, Benn didn't approve of pop music or independent, commercial radio.

The radio station is loosely based on Radio Caroline, whose DJs like Tony Blackburn mostly ended up on BBC Radio One. The tone of Caroline reflected the music of the day which was brash,fun and optimistic. The real DJs were young men in their early twenties. In this film they just looked too old and middle aged. English girls in the mid-sixties were also relatively chaste by today's standards so the emphasis on sex was a little over done.

The dialogue wasn't what you would expect from a Curtis film it didn't have his usual wit and sparkle. The characters were not very well developed and you didn't really care about any of them. The idea that people in Britain sat around in groups listening to the radio was just daft. I was really disappointed I expected more.

7 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
Sad and depressing, 26 September 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Never Let Me Go is a dystopian tale set in 1980s Britain, in what seems like a parallel universe. Cloning has somehow enabled the human race to live longer and the film focuses on the lives of three clones. They have been created so that they could provide their internal organs to "real" humans once they reach their twenties. It is a sad and depressing story. The moral seems to be that clones also have rights. If you are looking for fun and escapism you won't find it here.

It isn't really explained how transplanting organs would extend human life. How would receiving a new kidney or liver enable the average person to live to over a 100? The film is well acted and you feel sorry for the characters. However the clones do not seem very bright. They are gullible, naive and behave like sheep. What I found implausible was that they would just accept their fate without challenge or complaint like battery farm animals. If they were really human they would do anything to survive. The clones live a dreary life in a country which looks very drab. The film only has one gear and moves at a snail's pace.

If you are going to make a serious film with an unhappy ending, I feel you have a responsibility to deal with some of the real problems of our time. If you demoralize your audience it should be for a worthy cause. One of the roles of film is to enlighten and explain complex issues few of us fully understand. Human rights for clones is an issue that lacks relevance. It just seems like indulgent nonsense. I came out of the film badly in need of a drink. Watching this film wasn't an enjoyable experience.

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