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110 reviews in total 
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Kind hearts are more than coronets..., 3 August 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Even in 1921 this film was old-fashioned, both technically and dramatically. All he same, it's worth watching, even if the reasons for watching it aren't cinematic. The filming technique is simple: an unmoving camera, with the actors in front of it, in long takes, the standard methods of theatre-derived early cinema. Most of the shots are medium close-up or show the whole set - mostly shots of Bill Rivers's living room and members of his family and his fish stall just outside. The only exception is a race between Bill and another coaster driving their own carts in a race on a country road. This is filmed from the back of a car travelling in front of them and is astonishingly well-done. Unfortunately, it seems to have used up all the film's effects budget, as the other two races are depicted by random shots, with the competitors indistinguishable from each other. In the last race - a steeplechase - there is a title reading "She can't lose now!" followed by a shot of three horses neck-and-neck as they cross a fence. The "dialogue" is clumsy: a series of unnecessary remarks and conversations in transliterated cockney interrupting the (in)action.

The stories too are clichéd: Bill wins a little money backing his own horse in a road-race, loses his savings backing her in a trotting race and then regains the lot backing the winner of a steeplechase. The other story is of Bill's niece, Maggie, who ran away from home and vanished years ago, out to better herself. Now and again Bill and his father look for Maggie in the West End (there's a hint they think she's a prostitute) and fail to find her. Maggie - now Marjorie Dessalar - is an actress and is just about to succeed when she takes the lead in a musical. She is also being pursued by a baronet, who may be bold (we're told he has a D.S.O.), but he isn't bad - in fact, he is strictly honourable in his intentions towards Marjorie. Equally, Marjorie tells him of her background and introduces him to her relatives before they marry. The Bart. isn't put off and enables Bill to regain his money by backing his horse by halves and all is well. That is the reason to watch the film: for all its cinematic faults and hackneyed plots, there is a remarkable human generosity to it. The Cockneyisms of Bill and his family and neighbours are looked at anthropologically as much as a source of humour. When Bill confesses that he has lost their nest-egg, his wife is stoical, accepting that Bill's pride in Polly, his horse, carried him away. The only partly malevolent character - an acquaintance of Sir Robert who marries for money - is depicted as comical rather than wicked.

Walkover (1965)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Fighting for nothing, 30 May 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Rysopis ends with Skolimowski's alter-ego Andrzej Leszczyc leaving Warsaw on a train to go and do his military service, here he turns up in another town on another train. That isn't quite the beginning, though. The first thing we see is the face of a young woman who throws herself under the train as it draws into the station. Andrzej doesn't seem to notice at the time. He's trying to get the attention of Teresa, played by Elzbieta Czyzewska (who played all the women in Rysopis), who had Andrzej thrown out of his first university course. In between catching his train in Warsaw and getting off this one, Andrzej has done his military service, learnt to box, gone back to college and dropped out again and makes his living by competing in novice boxing matches and selling the prizes of watches and radios.Tomorrow he will be thirty...

The film is a sequel to Rysopis in tone and technique as well - another dog dies, there is the same kind of jazz score and Skolimowski shows his love of virtuoso camera-work, especially long tracking shots. The whole film consists of only thirty four shots - the most extraordinary involving a conversation between Andrzej on a train and a boxer he has beaten on a motorcycle as they move across the countryside. One novelty is the use of interior monologues or soliloquies as Andrzej broods over his situation in a way he did not in the earlier film. In the end, Andrzej and another veteran novice boxer are fighting outside the ring over a cheap radio awarded as a prize...

5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
This is the biggest electric train set a boy ever had!, 19 October 2014

...said Orson Welles of a film set. Walter Summers had a couple of battleships and several cruisers as bonuses. A restoration of a silent film depicting these two battles. The ships which played the originals are named, the human actors are not, which shows their comparative importance. As far as there is a hero, it is the German Admiral von Spee, who is shown as knowing his fate almost from the start, but the film is remarkably fair in its depiction of people. The only comic aspect- its portrait of the Falklands Defence Force as food for powder who'll fill a pit as well as better- shifts to recognition that like Falstaff's men they show a raggle-taggle courage as admirable as it is absurd. But it is the ships and machinery that dominate the film. There is an extra-ordinary collage sequence depicting the fitting-out of the battle-cruisers at Devonport which is a feat of virtuosity worthy of Eisenstein; there are repeated shots of the engines and the stokers' feats in getting up steam in H.M.S. Kent's pursuit of the nominally faster SMS Nurnberg are concentrated on as exercises in co-operative skill and dedication. The ships themselves- real ships, we are constantly reminded- shown on the ocean and the pattern of guns across the screen could come from futurist paintings. Finally, the specially commissioned score, played, appropriately, by a Royal Marine band, is a fine accompaniment.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Rondo Giocoso a la Grenouille, 7 September 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Sylvain Chomet's first live action film is another exercise in homage and hyper-reality. It is in the same kind of slightly off-kilter world as his other films, like, but not quite like, our own. Paul, an aging infant prodigy, has one last chance to win a prize for young pianists before he stops being officially young. He has been mute since his parents' mysterious deaths when he was two and was raised by his mother's staid sisters, Anna and Annie, dance teachers, who control his life and have made him practise continually on the family's ancestral piano in a flat full of ancestral portraits when he is isn't playing at their dance school.

Escaping from his birthday party, attended by his aunts' elderly friends, Paul encounters Mme Proust, an aging ukulele-playing hippie with a huge black deaf dog and no aspirations to musical virtuosity, who uses exotic tisanes (accompanied by madeleines, of course) to revive Paul's childhood memories and bring closure, in the best Hollywood Freudian way, to his problems. There is a destiny that shapes our ends, she explains, rough-hew them how we will, and that is what it does to Paul.

Paul's repressed memories appear from an infant's brightly-coloured p.o.v. to the accompaniment of music his aunts would abhor, including seductive jazz-playing frog accordionists. In the end, Paul is an integrated man, an acclaimed virtuoso (if not on the piano), able to speak, a good father who does not repeat his own father's mistakes... Like Chomet's earlier films, this is a game of references and hallucinations and just as animated as they were, if in a different way.

The Rover (2014)
0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Mad Maximum, 17 August 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Set in a dystopian outback ten years after "the collapse"- the end of civilisation as we- or Australians, at least- know it- this film has no coherence of plot or characterisation. For example, everyone insists on using U.S. dollars for currency, even though Guy Pearce's character Eric (he's called that in the credits, but he goes out of his way not to reveal his name in the film) points out truthfully that they're nothing but paper; even though the world is in chaos, the railways function and enormous ore trains go across country with armed escorts; Pearce's character changes from being left-handed to right-handed; old telegraph poles are used for crucifixions, but electricity functions everywhere; there are empty houses everywhere, but Eric and Rey, his companion/prisoner/hostage stay in motels. You can enjoy yourself counting the absurdities and contradictions. All the same, you've got to hang on to the end of this doolally shaggy dog story- and the landscapes and some of the acting, when you can make out what they are actually saying, make this quite good fun- to find out just what the title actually refers to.

4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Through the gates of Hell, 24 May 2014

A leisurely, beautiful look at grief and despair. It's set specifically in Poland in 2010- a year of unprecedented disasters: floods early in the year, the death of the country's president and many senior officials in a 'plane crash, on an official visit of commemoration to Katyn, a volcanic eruption which grounded aircraft throughout Europe. TV images of these events accompany the main characters through the film. At the same time, a young man, a poet and scholar, who was injured and scarred in a car crash which killed the driver, the young man's best friend, and his wife or girlfriend- it isn't made clear which- wanders around, relying on prescription drugs and a recording of Dante's Divine Comedy and fantastic visions to keep him going. The young man walks or drives, sleeping irregularly, ambushed by dreams or memories, talking with the dead, having hallucinatory visions in a surreal world, while his aunt, a philosopher and Stoic, offers the words of Epictetus, Seneca, Heidegger saying that life and death are illusory. A bikinied girl from a TV gameshow comes to life to offer comfort to him; a whore entertains a customer in a cemetery vault; the young man's dead father yokes oxen and ploughs up the sterile tiles of a supermarket; an ineffectual angel watches the young woman's body in a cathedral- this was the first scene- and at the end water crashes through the roof of the cathedral and floods away across the floor. It isn't a Christian vision- the only priest is ineffective- but there is a religious aspect to this solemn ritualistic pageant: perhaps beauty itself is one of the consolations of existence. In the end it seems that the young man- and Poland have escaped from the grim fugue.

45 out of 48 people found the following review useful:
Taut and realistic, 20 October 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A fine realistic- almost documentary- examination of the hijacking of a Danish-owned freighter by Somali pirates. The two central characters are the ship's cook and the company's C.E.O., who negotiates the crew's release after over four months. There is an almost obsessive concern for realism- the scenes with the crew and the pirates were filmed on a real freighter- which had itself once been hijacked- off the coast of Somalia; the offices of a real shipping company were used; the hostage negotiator used as a consultant plays the part of a hostage negotiator. There are only two lapses from exact realism: the C.E.O. rejects the consultant's advice to recruit an outside negotiator. This makes for more drama at the expense of realism, but we have just seen him negotiate a deal that looked impossible with a Japanese company and- coolly impassive though he is- we can accept he is triumphant and thinks he is the best man for the job. Much of the film is a study of this man's moral education and moral courage as he learns to take others' advice, comes close to psychological collapse and finally triumphs, only to have his triumph destroyed by chance. Even then, he accepts his duty to take responsibility for what has happened, even if it is out of his control. The other lapse from realism is probably the result of the cinematic demand that something has to happen, even in a film where triumph consists of making sure nothing happens. The film takes place almost entirely in confined spaces- the company's offices, in the ship's cabins or cargo deck with occasional glimpses of the outside sea and the sky. There are a couple of moments where pirates and hostages almost meet as equals- when the crew are allowed on deck and catch a fish which inspires a feast for all of them- but for most of the film the pirates are potentially murderous 'others' who inspire only fear and hatred. Even their own English-speaking negotiator, for all his claims not to be a pirate like the others, reveals his own duplicity.

12 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
The Horrors of War, 13 October 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Like The Mysteries of Lisbon this film was adapted by Raoul Ruiz from a novel by Camilo Castelo Branco. However, after Ruiz's death it was directed by his widow Valeria Sarmiento. It depicts the retreat of the Anglo-Portuguese army under the Viscount- as he then was- Wellington to the Lines of Torres Vedas and the civilians forced to retreat with them as a result of the scorched earth policy imposed by Wellington. Malkovich's Wellington isn't much like the original. Malkovich is twenty years too old for the part and looks nothing like the original to begin with. He is shown almost entirely in his relations with a French exile painting his portrait, complaining about too many corpses and not enough panache in pictures of battles and wondering whether being known for inventing Beef Wellington is a compliment. About the only suggestion that Wellington was a military genius is the repeated emphasis that he had ordered the Lines to be built over a year before and had anticipated his eventual retreat to them before the start of the campaign. There are only two curious scenes which suggest other aspects than buffoonery to his character: one where he watches through a telescope an aide has given him an idiot boy stagger through the retreating mob of civilians looking for help. Does he know the human cost of his policy and escape it in absurdity? The other- his last appearance- where he gazes at a portrait of Bonaparte. Does he want to look like Bonaparte? Does he want to be Bonaparte? Is he getting into the mind of his opponent like Montgomery with Rommell? It's impossible to say.

Fortunately, Wellington himself is a small role. The main emphasis is on individuals caught up in the retreat- a Portuguese sergeant, his wounded lieutenant, the Irish widow (with a cut-glass English accent unfortunately) of one of Wellington's soldiers, a Portuguese whore, an Anglo-Portuguese girl with a taste for incest, an at-first-unidentified French soldier, the French general Masséna's transvestite mistress in a hussar's uniform, the idiot boy, an aristocrat fleeing with his library and searching for his vanished wife, an apparently unscrupulous pedlar...these are just a few of the characters involved. On the one hand, they are often so interesting that we'd like to know more about them; on the other, they never stay long enough to bore or annoy. A plot does emerge gradually with quite a few characters involved, but it is the line to connect the various events- a series of horrors and atrocities, some recounted in a grimly comic way. I've never seen any of Sarmiento's films so I can't say how this differs from the way Ruiz would have directed it- the grim humour, or its openness, is hers rather than Ruiz's, I think, and a certain lightness of touch. One astonishing thing is the effects obtained from a fairly small cast and a small budget; we are never aware that we are watching 'armies' of a few dozen people. One complaint- the Portuguese T.V. version is three 60 minute episodes; the film is 151 minutes long- only thirty minutes shorter. Given that, why not let us see the lot? It would still be shorter than The Mysteries of Lisbon.

8 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
This is the way the world ends..., 11 October 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Three short entertaining and intriguing films about the end of the world or humanity. The first features a put-upon hero left to clean up the family flat while his parents and sister go on holiday who meets a beautiful girl with whom he becomes a zombie, whether from a variant of 'flu, a kind of B.S.E. or North Korean biological warfare isn't made clear and doesn'tmatter. The second is about a robot in a Buddhist monastery which appears to have 'become Buddha'- achieved nirvana- the monks want to know if this is possible or if it is a defect in the robot and the repair man sent to examine it and from there we move to a strange meditation on robots and machines and humanity and what might be the differences between them- a philosophical Blade Runner. We also catch strange glimpses of a possible future world. Paradoxically, in some ways this episode is the one least suited to cinema and the one I'd like to have seen expanded. It ends with a quiet chilling revelation that changes the way we have seen everything before.

The third part involves a little girl who throws away a pool ball and orders another on the 'net. Owing to a galactic error worthy of The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy, the ball arrives in the form of a meteor ten kilometres across and liable to wipe out humanity...Cue (as in the first episode) satire on T.V, personalities, politicians, scientists, weather forecasters etc.and a curious happy ending.

3 out of 16 people found the following review useful:
Hang onto your seats! It's going to be a bumpy night!, 30 September 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A wonderful, bonkers masterpiece inspired by Carax's love of films and literature. People want to know what it's about, which is like asking what the world is about when- like the world- it's just there, another deeply Melvillean film- a great white whale replaced by a great white limousine- inspired by another of his failures: this time, The Confidence Man, with Monsieur Oscar- remember, Oscar is one of Capax's 'real' or 'given' or 'birth' names, but may be 'only' another persona for Denis Lavant's character, if he is or has a character- in fact one effect of watching the film is to question every 'reality' or meaning, to look for connexions, real or false, significant or trivial, to look for significant anagrams in names like in 'Denis Lavant'- after all, M. Oscar only appears after the sleeper apparently wakes and uses his finger which is also a key to open the door to...a cinema full of corpses, where naked children and mysterious shapes wander in the aisles and we never get to see the film the corpses are watching- if there is a film that they are watching at all- and if there is, is it 'only' a nineteenth century study of human movement?- and they haven't just been left there or just happen to be there.

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