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Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)
Great to look at but lacking any kind of plot
I saw this on 25th October in Norwich, complete with Q&A session with Geoffrey Rush and Shekhar Kapur. Overall, an impressive piece of film-making but with some major minuses. Given that the director has taken a liberal view of history, there is no need to pull him on up on several areas of blatant historical and Geographical inaccuracies, such as Elizabeth's speech at Tilbury, Mary Stuart's accent and Northamptonshire suddenly sprouting mountains. This is a reasonable adaptation strategy - take the main dramatic points of the film and fill in the rest with the spirit of the story you want to tell, even if it is inaccurate.
PLUSSES- The cinematography is excellent. The costumes are also amazing (even if not historically accurate as blue wasn't a colour known to Elizabethan England, but tish and pish).
Cate Blanchett is superb, again. Sam Morton is very touching as Mary Stuart and Geoffrey Rush is what he always is - excellent.
MINUSES- Clive Owen - Oh Dear!!! Granted, he looks the part but the boy reads his lines like it's read through and not a terribly important one either. He CANNOT ACT!!! What accent was he supposed to have?
Geoffrey Rush is criminally underused. His character, Walsingham, was a mainstay of the first film and yet is so peripheral in this, even when he is the supporting actor.
The plot. Very loose. The plot is simply how the Queen learns to cope with becoming divine rather than human, and how Spain plots to invade England. The first half an hour is very flabby and the dialogue a touch *too* over-dramatic in places.
Some people have accused it of being anti-catholic. Bullsh*t! It is about Catholicism versus Protestantism; that's what the history is about. That is why Spain wanted to invade. But it is also about tolerance over dogmatism. Elizabeth rejects punishing the Catholics in her land when she has the chance to do so. This is a parable of the dangers of religious extremism and is not picking on Catholics unfairly. Put it into today's context and it makes an important point.
Anyway, overall, an enjoyable film but Owen's performance is so bad as to detract from the good things in it. Beautiful to look at but a bit of a missed opportunity.
Kapur said he would like to make a film about Elizabeth's last few days on earth, so watch this space.
The London Nobody Knows (1968)
Unique images of a lost London
The London Nobody Knows - based on the book of the same name by Geoffrey Fletcher - is a 45 minute snapshot of the underbelly of late 1960s London and is a fascinating time capsule of the remnants of a bygone age, before the extensive redevelopment of the late 60s and 70s.
The actor James Mason guides us away from the London everybody knows (Trafalgar Square, Madame Tussauds, Oxford St, etc.), and instead takes us on a tour of the hidden gems on the capital: crumbling and deserted theatres, street markets, jellied eels and mash stalls, the last remaining gas lamp lighters, street escapologists, strange and now long-defunct industries (egg breaking plants?), ornate Victorian toilets, etc. It also shows a seedier and sadder side of London; poor souls who are doomed to occupy Salvation Army hostels and doorways for the rest of their days, without hope of breaking free of the shackles of poverty, alcoholism and mental illness. Some these images are heartbreaking.
While fascinating, informative and often funny, it leaves you lamenting a lost London (is Marks', the wonderful Jewish deli still there?), while at the same time making you glad that the drabness and the kind of grinding poverty seen here are consigned to the dustbins of history. This isn't available on DVD or video, so you're going to have to hope that BBC4 find it in one of their cupboards and reshow it. With the Beeb currently in the grip of Betjemania, this seems as good a time as any to broadcast it again.
Miami Vice (2006)
Interesting film (but I wish they wouldn't mumble......)
This was an interesting film; enjoyable and well acted but hard to follow in places. It wasn't that it was poorly directed and written (it is Michael Mann, after all) but I was having real trouble understanding what was being said at times. Sure, many of the characters are of Hispanic origin but it doesn't prevent everyone from slowing their speech down a little and speaking up. This mumbling prevented me from understanding several (obviously) important sub-plots until it was too late (e.g. what the hell was that opening scene in the nightclub all about?) Like all Michael Mann films, it looks beautiful. Some of the camera-work can only really be appreciated on the big screen and he manages to do for Miami what he did for LA in Heat. And, as if to prove he can still do impressive gun battles (Heat) he manages a high-powered, if rather one-sided shoot out at the end.
Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell are excellent, as is the entire cast. We don't know a great deal about the characters, but then they are undercover so this is possibly a deliberate attempt by Mann to keep the audience a certain distance from them in the same way they have to do to their enemies. As was pointed out, this is no buddy movie and they barely exchange a dozen lines of dialogue.
Gripes? Well, I'm not convinced that Isabella would have fallen so easily for Crockett, particularly when their business relationship was still relatively undeveloped and unsure. And why was Montoya so angry at seeing Crockett and Isabella slow-dancing when she had already told him that she had slept with him? Maybe it was fully explained but they mumbled....
Anyway, it's worth seeing and despite its length, it doesn't feel a long movie although the bit with Sonny and Isabella does perhaps drag on a little too long. Not up to 'The Insider' and 'Heat' but a worthy addition to the Mann filmography.
The mark of 2/10 represents the score for a program that tried to be a serious investigation into the paranormal. Let's face it, if you were going to try and convince me that this was a serious paranormal investigation, then you don't have Sarah Greene, Mike Smith, Michael Parkinson and Craig Charles as presenters as well as a lot of obvious actors pretending they were scientists or victims of poltergeists. All we needed was Noel Edmonds.
Anyone who thought this was real and was genuinely scared by it is beyond help. What scared me was how the BBC could waste licence payers money on such crap!!!
Never meet your heroes
I approached this with trepidation, knowing that it painted a fairly unflattering portrayal of Stan Laurel. However, it has to be said that it was a very moving piece that captured the obvious affection between the two men, even if Laurel in real (younger) life was a very difficult man who made life hell for many of those around him.
All were superb (particularly the young Laurel) although the younger Hardy's accent came and went. Hardy was a Georgian and yet his accent here seemed a mix of English and Noo-Yawk. This might seem a tad picky but there was none of that 'Southern Gentleman' that we know and love him for. The elder Hardy, however, bore an uncanny resemblance (although he never spoke). The elder Laurel, played by the always excellent Jim Norton, was also an inspired piece of casting in terms of resemblance. Perhaps the writers tried (and I'm quoting 'The Independent' of 7/6/06 here) to shoehorn too many L&H references into the hour but overall this was a very well written and performed piece.
However, if you've grown up idolising them as the finest comedy duo of all time, you could probably have done without being force-fed the younger Stan's less endearing side and instead remember him as the comic genius he was.
The Day of the Jackal (1973)
Is character development important? Nope!
I can't get tired of watching this film. The acting, editing, and direction are all wonderful and the result is a masterpiece, BUT it has no character development whatsoever. Character development is one of the things that screen writing students are told is absolutely fundamental to a story and yet this film proves it is a nonsense. We know virtually nothing about any of the characters except Lebel, and even then all we really know is that he likes Pigeons and sleeps heavily.
When you've got something as beautifully taut as this, you don't need to care about the characters.
One slight moan though. At the end, when the Jackal is shot, he seems to fly against a very flimsy wall. Was this filmed on a Blake's Seven set?
The World Is Not Enough (1999)
TWINE - Least inspiring Bond movie
It's not that The World is Not Enough is a bad movie (none of them are), but it just doesn't inspire me the way the others do. I have them all on video and tend to watch them reasonably regularly but after having watched this one once, I've no desire to see it again because it's just too bland. Sure, Sophie Marceau is gorgeous, and, as good an actor as Robert Carlyle is, his villain doesn't have the charisma of a Scaramanga, or Blofeld.
Anyone else feel the same?
p.s. I also think Tim Dalton as possibly the most authentic Bond so you might want to treat my opinions with care.
p.p.s. Can't wait for Daniel Craig as Bond (particularly with the AMV8 Vantage). Maybe they can dispense with the over the top special effects for a decade or two. This plea comes after having witnessed the ZX81-style CGI effects of Brosnan windsurfing on Die Another Day, Oh Per-lease!!
The real trauma was having paid to see it
I can't remember being so disappointed by a film. I love psychological thrillers but this was just so pretentious and up its own ar*e that I found myself not giving a toss what happens to anyone in it (except Mena Suvari, naturally).
I guess the hope is with making such a film is that the viewer will, through repeated viewings, find more and more to enjoy in the film, but frankly I would resent the loss of 90 minutes of my life having to sit through it again. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe if I did watch it again, I would find more to enjoy but directors ought to consider making their films suitably enjoyable at the initial viewing that you would *want* to watch it again. As it was I found myself justifying why I ought to watch the last half of it.
What a wasted opportunity.
The Signalman (1976)
One of the greats
This is one of the greatest things the BBC has done. The Signalman was typical of the BBC's 'Ghost Story for Christmas' - windswept and lonely landscapes, very few characters, and use of subtle shocks. It was also untypical in that it was one of the only non-M.R. James tales used in the series, coming as it did from the pen of Charles Dickens.
It is the tale of a lonely Signalman in Edwardian England (I think, difficult to be sure of the exact time at which the adaption is set) who is haunted by an apparition who materialises just before a tragedy occurs on the line. A traveller, who is staying at an Inn nearby, tries to look at the situation rationally, telling the signalman that he is clearly a victim of his own imagination in this secluded and lonely spot. Of course, the 'spectre' is not in his imagination and the traveller is not able to prevent the final tragedy when the signalman is killed by a train.
The apparition itself, if you look at it with a cynical eye, is merely a person in a cloak and a blue cardboard face mask, but Boy is it effective! In fact, I would say it is infinitely more effective than any of the crap emanating from Hollywood in recent years, where subtlety is not encouraged. The two actors, Denholm Elliot and Bernard Lloyd are excellent. Elliot in particular is wonderful as the haunted signalman, helpless to know what to do in the face of forces beyond his limited understanding.
Overall, if you want to see how ghost stories can be done effectively without insulting the audience's intelligence, then watch this. The British Film Institute (BFI) have recently released in on DVD.
Schalcken the Painter (1979)
They don't make 'em like this anymore
This was not one of the BBC's 'Ghost Stories for Christmas' (it was broadcast as part of the 'Omnibus' series), but it could easily have been one as it had the necessary eeriness and unforgettable imagery of those wonderful mid-70's adaptations.
In fact this was an hour's worth of art history combined with J. Sheridan leFanu's short story 'A Strange Event in the Life of Schalcken the Painter'. It doesn't stick exactly to the story (not a criticism) but chooses to spend additional time on Schalcken's work as a painter. The background imagery is reminiscent of Vermeer's work and I'm sure I saw a Rembrandt double in there someone. In short, it is beautiful to look at and yet retains the necessary darkness of the original story.
One of the things that struck me about this after all these years is quite how little dialogue there was, and yet this this seems to enhance the piece rather than detract from it. The cast are excellent, particularly Jeremy Clyde as the laconic and moody painter, and the beautiful Cheryl Kennedy (whatever happened to her?) as Rose Velderkaust. Who can forget that final scene in the crypt? I bet John Justin didn't.
Criticisms? This may be a bit harsh on a wonderful piece of work that only the BBC seemed capable of producing, but I thought that Vanderhausen wasn't nearly as scary as in the story. In the book, we read of a white faced, black lipped, cadaverous figure whose stilted movements are reminiscent of a "spirit unused to the management of bodily machinery". By the lack of both blinking and evident chest movements indicating breathing, we know Vanderhausen is clearly an animated corpse. In the film, we get a dark-skinned staring madman whose mortality is never questioned, and this, while creepy, lessens the ending which should have been terrifying and ended up as merely disturbing (boy, am I difficult to please).
All in all, fabulous. Please BBC, make this available on DVD. This is one of the best things you've ever done. Be proud of it.
Ocean's Twelve (2004)
Soderbergh loses the plot, that's if there was one to begin with.
I have to admit to having heard a very negative review before watching this film so although my expectations weren't high, I was prepared to put it to the back of my mind and watch it objectively. Like the first, the film was quite good fun (Ocean's Eleven was excellent). However, I have four major gripes that ruined this film for me:
1. What the hell were they thinking of with the Julia Roberts thing? Can't find a better way out of a problem with the plot? No problem, resort to the most crass and smug solution and everyone will think how clever we are. Wrong. 2. Gaping plot holes. Was the laser alarm system random or wasn't it? If it was as they said (i.e. random), how can Vincent Cassel have planned his little dance through it? And, how does Matt Damon's mum actually get them out at the end? 3. Camera-work. Is it me, or have film-makers resorted to camera-work designed to make the audience feel as nauseated as possible? 4. The plot. Ultra-confusing. Far too much going on. No doubt it will make a little more sense after repeated viewings but I don't think many people will feel that inclined to watch it again.
Oh, and why did they choose Arsenal?
On the plus side, I had to completely switch my opinion of three actors.
Catherine Zeta Jones. I thought she was excellent in this although her welsh accent peeped out a few times. Boy, did she look good! Matt Damon. Because he wasn't playing Golden Boy and showing us how white his teeth were, I ended up rather liking him. Brad Pitt. Spent the whole movie trying giving everyone mouth half-open, sultry looks. What a waste of a good actor.
Anyway it was quite good fun with great locations and a host of stars but is a very poor follow-up to an excellent original. Stephen Soderbergh should have donated this one to Alan Smithee. For God's sake, don't make Ocean's Thirteen.