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Stuck on You (2003)
The 2 Leads Make It Work
A Farrelly brothers comedy about a set of conjoined twins? Let's face it - this could have been a one-joke movie that became stale after ten minutes. That was certainly my fear when I first heard of it. But I'm happy to report its much more than that.
The reason? Well the script is pretty good. Lots of surprisingly subtle lines as well as the belly laughs (of which there are many). But essentially the reason why it works is down to the two leads. Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear turn in really great performances.
They are certainly funny, and deliver the lines and the physical comedy in a way which makes you feel that they had a terrific time doing so. But what really makes the difference is that there is also a real warmth in their performances.
You feel that these 2 guys on screen really could be brothers. Its not about the script. Its the way they speak to each other, and look at each other that captures perfectly the relationship that can exist between close siblings. Their moments of irritability and anger (in some hilarious scenes they actually resort to fisticuffs) never last long, and you sense a real friendship and love. But don't worry - its all done in a very gentle, low-key way that never drowns out the next laugh.
The quality of the other characters varies, and for me the romantic element was the weakest part of the whole thing. But there's undoubtedly a lot of fun in the Hollywood in-jokes and the typical Farrelly humour keeps it rolling along at a nice pace.
As I always say about this sort of film, its not going to win any Oscars or find its way into any time capsule of 'culturally significant works of art'. But its funny, warm and in its own way quite thought-provoking. Watching it made me suddenly realise that its becoming quite unusual to see a film in which you actually 'like' the characters! Go and see it. It'll cheer you up.
Play for Today: Nuts in May (1976)
Filled with humour and pathos.
To anyone who loves to observe the eccentricities of the human condition, this film is a real gem.
Other reviewers have rightly pointed out that very little actually happens: it's just an English couple on a camping trip in the 1970s. But that analysis is to ignore the genius at work in the writing, and the acting of the two leads. Every frame, every line, every gesture is filled with humour and pathos - if you're prepared to look for it.
Roger Sloman and Alison Steadman are just sublime in their portrayal of the new-age suburban middle class couple. We scorn them, we pity them, we recognise them and we like them (albeit we wouldn't want to spend much time with them).
For me, the other characters - though necessary for the 'plot,' are less well-drawn. But the two leads are on screen so constantly it barely matters.
There's not much else to say, really. You just have to watch it. A warning though: once discovered, this is the sort of film you want to watch again and again. The dilemma is how you strike the balance between savouring it regularly without getting to know it too well.... I think the important thing is to use your discretion.
The Forgotten Ones (2009)
Pointless. Why Did They Bother?
If you read my reviews you'll see that I'm not one for hyperbole. But, all things considered, this really is one of the worst films I have ever seen.
A group of young rich Americans - who have various relationship issues between them - get on a yacht to sail off to a party. The boat sinks and they find themselves stranded on a mysterious island where they must battle to survive against a tribe of murdering sub-humans.
Yes it's all been done before, and there is NOTHING in this film that even attempts originality. But that's not the main problem. I can't tell you how bad it is. The relationships between the characters are poorly developed, the characters themselves are one-dimensional and unsympathetic, the acting is bottom-rate, the plot pointless, the direction annoying.
I usually try not to spoil in my reviews but this film is so bad I don't want you to waste your time seeing it, so I'll give you an example: One character is attacked by the creatures and dragged off into the jungle while he sleeps. He wakes to find his shin-bone broken and sticking out through his skin (he has noticed none of this as he slept). This kind of injury must surely be one of the most painful things possible, yet when he (eventually) notices it he winces as though he has been stung by a bee, then calmly ties the bone with a splint, gets up and starts walking around seemingly un-perturbed. Later we see him running.
Characters are seemingly killed off one by one, only to be seen again later being tortured by the creatures - and then killed anyway. As the plot rambles on, the tribe seems to have some kind of mysterious agenda, and it turns out they are selective in which humans they kill, but by the time we discover this there is only one human character left and she has no-one to talk to, so we don't get to know why.
Sometimes films are so bad they are actually funny, and they develop cult status. That won't happen to this one, because it doesn't even have any heart. Even if you like gore, the killings are not all that bloody so you'll be disappointed on that level too. Overall, by the time the closing credits roll it really is a relief, and you just wonder: why did they bother?
In all my IMDb reviews over the years, I have never given a move a '1' rating before. It seems there's a first time for everything!
I Know You Know (2008)
Set aside enough time to watch it twice!
The things I look for in a film are, first and foremost, good acting. I love how really authentic performances can drive a movie. Other things I look for are a good tight script, thoughtful direction and strong characters. Bearing all that in mind, I think this is a really fine film. I really enjoyed it.
I can't say very much about the plot, because it's the kind of film that would be very easy to spoil. In fact, be careful of any reviews you read - for that same reason. It's a fairly low-key film (don't look for car chases and explosions) but certainly not boring. The story is intriguing, and the two central performances keep you transfixed. It's about a young boy growing up in Wales, and focuses on his close relationship with his father, who is not all he seems.
Robert Carlyle is great as the Dad, but the heart of the film is the performance by young Aaron Fuller as the son. What a star this kid is going to be - his performance here is quite brilliant. The film is based on the true story of the director's early life and his relationship with his own father - and as such it is very moving, especially towards the end.
What I will say is that you might like to set aside enough time to watch this twice. Because after it had finished, I wanted to watch it all over again - right away. You may wish to do the same (you can do this easily because at 1hr 18mins the film doesn't outstay its welcome).
Black Water (2007)
Horror as it should be done
When I read the synopsis - 3 people lost in the wild battling against a huge crocodile - I wasn't exactly drawn in. It sounded like the typical yawn-movie horror formula of a bunch of people stalked by a monster - except in this case there are only three of them, so we wouldn't even get the macabre 'joy' of watching them get picked off one by one.
However, I watched it (couldn't sleep; nothing else to do) and it turned out to be much better than expected. The acting is great, the atmosphere tense and you really get that rare sense of a low budget winner.
Horror as it should be done. First-rate film-making. It's not perfect but it's well worth seeing. I give it a 7.
Another frustrated fan leaps out of the closet!!
Like most of the other comments on this film, mine is not going to be a 'review'. People wanting to know what BTK is 'about' won't get much from the next few paragraphs. Rather, this is a personal tribute - a trip down memory lane and a celebration of a film that meant a lot to me in its time.
Because Yep. I'm another one! I was a teenage snooker addict of the 80s, greedily watching every shot broadcast (and so many were in those days) who couldn't believe my luck when this film came out. And I remember sitting up bleary-eyed to watch it on Channel 4 that late night sometime in 1986 or 87. I too taped it on my family's old VHS video recorder.... but I went a step further than most here and actually transferred it from there onto a maxell audio tape (yes, by sitting the tape recorder in front of the TV and remaining very quiet while it recorded!) so I could listen to it in my bedroom as well!
Well that video has long gone - but believe it or not I still have that audio tape.... somewhere. (not that I need to listen to it. The lyrics and sounds are seared into my memory, so many times did listen to it back then!) And yes, how fantastic it is to come on here and see so many good friends talking of their similar experience. Oh if only the internet had existed back then - we could all have found each other on some online fansite and become friends, rather than believing (universally it seems) that we were isolated; that we were alone in our devotion, that we were, perhaps, "The One"! Ah well. Perhaps it's best that it wasn't submerged in an internet community as films are today. It was frustrating not to be able to share our joy widely (untiol now). But there was something 'pure' about enjoying it alone. It was of its time.
It's been a long time to wait. But this board has proved that, to the small number of us who saw it in the mid 80s, this film will always remain a truly unforgettable little gem, with some of the most outrageously delicious dialogue I've ever heard: "This location is not capricious." Superb! :)
A film about people.
If you are someone who hates 'foreign' films or movies with subtitles, then don't read any further and go watch some other film. But you'll be missing something very special indeed.
This is a movie about two young brothers in Russia who are growing up without a father. Brought up by their mother and grandmother, the only male influence they have is their bond with each other. And then one day their father comes back, and it is decided that they will go with him on a fishing trip. The easy-going older boy is pleased to see his Dad and wants things to work out, but is nervous. The younger brother is more serious by nature, and resents the sudden intrusion. The father meanwhile seems to struggle with his paternal instinct. Off they go, with their fishing gear, and a trip that will change their lives.
No spoilers - but this is a film about people. About brothers. About the father-son thing. About loss, reconciliation, communication (lack of) and loyalty. But it is very watchable, and the story that plays out is very ordinary - at least until the end, perhaps. Any guy who grew up with a brother near the same age will find much to recognise here (I did). And I guess the same will be true of families in which an absent parent returned.
Not much is said - the script is quite minimalist. That's because guys in these kind of emotionally strained situations don't talk much! But the acting from all concerned is superb. They manage to convey so many thoughts, fears and emotions without too many words. The bleak direction is evocative and you actually feel cold at times watching this film, so have a blanket or a sweater handy! But it's hard to take your eyes off the screen, and you'll find yourself really caring.
The 16-year-old actor who played the older brother died in a drowning accident shortly after the film was made, giving added poignancy to his very nuanced performance.
The Edge (1997)
Just a damn good solid adventure story.
This film has it all. Great acting, stunning scenery, intrigue, tension, adventure, the odd twist, great action sequences, as well as beauty, and a beast! But above all, it is really just a great story. A good yarn, as my grandfather used to say. And you can't ask for more from a movie than that.
Anthony Hopkins is the paranoid rich guy with the beautiful young model wife (Elle MacPherson). Alec Baldwin is the laconic photographer who accompanies them to Alaska as part of a group doing a photo-shoot. Hopkins and Baldwin get lost in the wilderness with their friend (Harold Perrineau). The three soon become two (I won't spoil it by saying how) and the rest of the movie is about their battle to survive against all odds - and each other! I love "The Edge". Hopkins in particular turns in one of his great under-stated performances, and the film as a whole is as good a character study as you will find in modern Hollywood.
But as I say above, its best recommendation is that it is just a damn good story. A rollicking adventure that keeps you glued to the screen and really has you pinned to your seat at times. It won't win any awards for originality or artistry, but it doesn't make those kind of claims. It's just everything that the movies should be: a great film to just sit back and enjoy.
Bad Manners (1997)
Extraordinary - a little 'off the beat'
An ageing couple of academics are stuck in a stale marriage. Her old boyfriend comes to stay for a few days with his (much younger) girlfriend. Things are tense from the beginning. And then $50 goes missing.
This is an extraordinary film. I started watching it while working on my computer - so the movie was just on in the background - but gradually it pulled me in and I couldn't take my eyes off it.
The scenario it sets up could have gone in a number of different directions. At one point early on I had a horrible feeling it was going to be a standard sex flick about middle-aged adultery. Or, after the money goes missing, it might have moved too fast and forced us to watch a bunch of repressed characters suddenly turning to screaming and violence. But no - it's classier than that. What we get instead is a slow-burning exploration of character and relationships. And it isn't at all clear where it is going to go.
I won't over-praise it. The film drags at times, and as others have said its origins as a stage play are very obvious (there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that, except that it does show a slightly limited imagination). The acting is good, rather than top-notch, and personally I always find Saul Rubineck is one of those actors who plays the same character every time.
So it is not perfect. But if you're in the mood for something a little 'off the beat,' it's worth watching. Just don't expect to get any work done while it's on!
Becoming Jane (2007)
Fine performances from a host of great character actors
This is the story of how the young Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway) lost her heart to a young Irishman Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy), and how the social complexities of the times impacted on their lives. It is filled with fine performances from a host of great character actors like Julie Walters and James Cromwell (as Jane's parents), Ian Richardson (as Lefroy's Uncle) and Maggie Smith (as the local wealthy Duchess).
Two shining minor performances to look out for: Jessica Ashworth as the pouting teenage girl who develops a crush on Lefroy and - more briefly - Helen McRory as novelist Mrs Ashworth, who is visited by Jane on a trip to London.
This is not the most original film ever made, but it is well-done, and worth watching for the performances and period detail.
Nicely Done, but Haven't We Been Here Before?
This movie is about a male to female trans-sexual and her troubled teenage son who drive together across the country, meeting assorted characters and getting in and out of a number of scrapes on the way to finding themselves - and each other.
Wait a minute... an LGBT-themed generation-gap 'road trip' movie? Haven't we been here before? For example, in 'Priscilla,' or 'To Wong Foo'? Well, yes. And frankly there isn't much here that is all that new. What 'Transamerica' does have going for it is some great performances. Other reviewers are rightly raving about the quality of Felicity Huffman's portrayal of the central figure. But I thought Kevin Zegers was no less striking as the teenager, and there are some good supporting turns as well, from the likes of Burt Young.
Good acting is always worth watching, so I'd recommend seeing this movie if you like this kind of thing. But the downside is that too many of the characters and situations are a little bit clichéd. It's nicely done, and its political message is subtly woven rather than rammed into your face. But at the end of the day, don't expect anything that you haven't seen before.
Different, and well worth seeing
There's a sarcastic phrase people use here in the UK that goes, "How very different from the home life of our own dear Queen!" It definitely applies to this movie! Tupac Shakur and Tim Roth play two small-time drug-addled crooks who have a bad experience, so they decide to get clean. They're completely sincere and determined to do it, but the film is about how difficult it is, in practical terms, to get off drugs in today's USA. Despite all the political hype and the government programmes and the well-meaning organisations, when a guy actually walks in off the street and says 'Get Me Off Drugs', he faces a bewildering maze of stifling bureaucracy and indifferent public officials which seems designed to set him straight back on the cycle of despair.
So the film is sometimes frustrating to watch. It's grim in parts too. But it's also very funny. Tim Roth is as good as ever, but Shakur is a revelation. His earlier films were not so good, but here (his final movie before being murdered) he seemed to hit a groove. The chemistry between the two leads is great. The film is really about friendship as much as anything else.
Gridlocked is different to any film you've ever seen. At 91 minutes it doesn't out-stay its welcome, and the pacy direction keeps it moving along nicely. It's not a classic but it is well worth seeing.
The Caine Mutiny (1954)
Superb second half, pity about the first hour.
This is a film of two halves. The first half is dreary and below average. The second half is superb.
That excellent second half of the movie concerns the actual mutiny that took place aboard the USS Caine. The principled, anguished officers (played by Van Johnson and Robert Francis) are egged on by their two-faced shyster colleague (Fred MacMurray) to take command of the ship from the increasingly paranoid captain (Humphrey Bogart). Whether they were right to do so is then played out in a superb courtroom drama, where military lawyers (E.G. Marshall and Jose Ferrer) take opposing sides in questioning all involved.
This part of the film - the mutiny and its aftermath - is gripping, brilliantly acted and full of aching moral dilemmas. Bogart, in one of his final screen roles, is absolutely magnificent as the flawed anti-hero, and MacMurray, Marshall and Ferrer also give great performances. Indeed, if the film consisted of just this part of the story it would be one of the best of its kind.
Unfortunately, someone in the production team decided that this drama needed a long introduction, so we have to sit through a meandering first hour before we get to the meat of the movie. Some of this over-long first hour is given to character development, but too much of it concerns unnecessary side-shows like the completely superfluous love affair between Francis's character and his sweetheart back home. The result is that many viewers will have switched off from the movie (either emotionally or literally) before the good stuff begins.
And that's a real shame because this really does mar what could have been a great film. I'm almost tempted to recommend that you should switch on after the first hour and just watch it from there - but that would be to disrespect the film. It is what it is and films should be judged on their entirety, not in segments (however tempting it is to do so).
So, on that basis, The Caine Mutiny deserves a 6, when without the first hour it could have garnered a 9. In production terms, for a film made in 1954, it looks terrific (though the widescreen shots of the ship being tossed on the waves during the typhoon scene lack the reality of more modern effects) and it is the acting of the leads that stays in your mind long after the film is over.
Given what I've said, I suppose the question that matters is: is the latter part of the film good enough to make it worth your while sitting through the slow beginning? And the answer is yes. After all, there are some great actors on display here, and in top form too. At the end of the day, that has to be worth waiting for.
Eight Below (2006)
You don't expect the dogs to start talking!
This is an extraordinary - and very enjoyable - film, based on a true story about a group of huskies and the people who work with them. But if that sounds like a familiar formula, don't be fooled. This is quite unlike any other film you will see this year.
The dogs, of course, steal the show. You probably need to be a dog-lover (as I am) to enjoy it properly - but I would stick my neck out and say that non dog-lovers should also see it. What is extraordinary is that, as you watch the huskies inter-act with each other, you actually understand what is going through their minds - and yet very rarely does the director slip over into the trap of 'humanising' their emotions. It would have been very easy to make this like an overly 'cute' kind of Disney movie, but that trap is avoided. The film is perhaps a little too sentimental at times, but not once do you expect the dogs to start talking!
As for the humans, Paul Walker is developing into a very good movie actor, and Jason Biggs is always good fun on screen. The film is as much about human loss, fears and emotions as it is about canine intelligence. It also tells you a thing or two about what life is like in a remote Antarctic outpost.
I'd certainly recommend this movie to anyone searching out a couple of hours worth of entertainment. Oh, and there is one moment in the film which is genuinely terrifying: it'll make you jump out of your skin. I'll say no more about that except you'll know it when you see it (You have been warned!)
Inside Man (2006)
A well-crafted, complex heist movie
One piece of advice has to dominate any review of this complex bank heist movie: Don't take your eyes off the screen for one second. If you do you're liable to miss something that will then leave you confused for the rest of the film. In fact, after you've seen it once you will probably want to watch it through again to check up on a couple of points. It is that kind of movie.
If that puts you off seeing it, it isn't meant to. This is a good film, well-crafted and nicely directed, with some genuinely surprising twists and a decent set of performances from reliable stars like Clive Owen, Willem Defoe and Jodie Foster. It falls short of being excellent though, perhaps because the pace is allowed to sag at times. It is maybe a little longer than it needs to be. And - hard as they try - none of the actors manages to create any great sympathy for their characters. Some viewers might like that, in that it allows you to concentrate on the events of the plot. Others may feel it lacks emotional depth.
But overall it's a decent film, certainly worth seeing. It's one you have to concentrate on though.
Just Married (2003)
Does What It Says on the Tin
Newlyweds Brittany Murphy and Ashton Kutcher embark on the honeymoon from hell. Ermmm. That's it.
This movie very much does what it says on the tin. It doesn't claim to be an intellectual journey. It's just a bit of screen candyfloss. But for all that, I'd rate it as one of the better examples of its type.
Why? Because there are enough laughs to keep it going - especially in the first half of the film. And the two leads are likable enough. It has to be said that both look terrific, and Kutcher in particular has developed a very nice style in physical comedy.
The problem with all these kind of movies, for me, is that they tend to drag a bit as they reach the 1hour mark, and then you're sort of waiting for it to end. This is certainly the case here. But if you like to see goodlooking people in reasonably funny romantic situations, you can do a lot worse than this one.
A Civil Action (1998)
A film to savour for the performances
This is one of a number of legal dramas which appeared in the 1990s, which pitted the 'little guy' against multi-million dollar corporations. I've seen it many times, but every time it is on TV I try and watch it again, and I can tell you the reason in in two words: Robert Duvall.
Actually that's not fair. It's a good film in itself. Well written, well directed and with a whole host of good performances, from reliable actors like John Travolta, William H Macy and John Lithgow among others.
But Duvall is delicious. He plays an experienced trial lawyer, who is brilliant at his job defending companies against damage claims, but his brilliance is very un-obvious. In fact, he goes out of his way to appear very ordinary: the crumpled suit, the cheap briefcase, the homely baseball-loving ways and his affected offbeat mannerisms ("This is a good quality pen.") He is in fact the kind of character who would make anyone want to be a lawyer (and I hate lawyers as much as the next guy!)
But I digress. There is more to 'A Civil Action' than this. You want to know if the film is worth watching - and it is. It is at heart a good story, with human interest, moral presence and a few unexpected twists. But above all, its a film to sit back and savour for the performances. One of them above all the others.
An enjoyable film, refreshingly free of cynicism
Three young couples vie to win a magazine contest by holding their 'themed' weddings in public, with the winners being awarded a first prize of a brand new home. Step forward the three couples: nudists Michael and Joanna; tennis-mad Josef and Meredith, and Hollywood musical fans Matt and Samantha.
The fun comes for us as as viewers as we join the fly-on the wall documentary team that follows all three couples as the wedding organisers and their respective families try to get the weddings together in time for the contest.
This is a showcase of modern British comedy talent. Jimmy Carr, Felicity Montagu, Stephen Mangan, Martin Freeman, Jessica Stevenson and Alison Steadman all do their bit. But the real stars are the lesser known Vincent Franklin and Jason Watkins as the camp wedding organisers who won't let anything get in the way of the couples' dream day.
This is an enjoyable little film, with a nice basic idea, littered with lots of good performances. It is 'smile' humour, rather than 'laugh out loud' stuff. But the smiles are here a-plenty. It is also surprisingly moving at times as well, and refreshingly free of cynicism. If at times you doubt the sincerity of some of those involved, the ending leaves you on a high.
'Confetti' is not brilliant or ground-breaking, but it will make you smile. And that's not such a bad recommendation, is it?
Enjoyable, well-acted, funny and uplifting
What's the difference between a hill and a mountain? And more importantly, does it matter? Well, it did to the residents of a small Welsh village in 1917 when two English cartographers arrived to tell them that their 'mountain' did not in fact quite make the grade. The devastated locals hatch a plan to put the science right, and therein lies the plot of this very original and charming film.
Its plot veers between the insignificant and the faintly ludicrous, but by the time you have realised this you are already enjoying yourself too much to care. Why? It's a delightful and clever combination of whimsical nostalgia and top-rate performances from some truly fine character actors who are clearly having a whale of a time.
Most of these performances come as no surprise: Hugh Grant plays his archetypal Hugh Grant character of course - but what critics forget is that he does it very well. Ian McNeice is typically impressive as his pompous but rather stupid superior, as is Ian Hart as the troubled young boy just back from the trenches, and Colm Meaney keeps the standard high as the sly local barman. But for me the show is stolen by Kenneth Griffith as the passionate, ever-trembling, Reverend Jones (watch him in the scene when he scolds Morgan the Goat for selling alcohol at the hill - a tremendously funny and moving characterisation).
For me, the film goes off the boil a little when it gets a bogged down in Grant's inevitable fling with local temptress Tara Fitzgerald. But thankfully this doesn't clog the pace of the film too much, and we move to the denouement.
It's only after the film has finished that you realise there was much more to it than met the eye. The atmospheric portrayal of early 20th century Wales owes much to meticulous direction and a wonderfully vibrant score. Critics might find some of the locals a bit yokelish, but that would be harsh, I think. This is an affectionate and subtle period piece, with something to say about the human spirit. But even more than that, it's an enjoyable, well-acted, funny and ultimately uplifting film.
The African Queen (1951)
Its immense charm wins you over
Here is a film made in a time when all that was needed to make it work was character, performance, direction - and a bit of goodwill from the audience. Sounds easy, but try and find all that in a Hollywood film today! I first saw The African Queen when I was just a boy. It was already 30 years old then, and dated, but its immense charm wins you over just as inevitably as that of the two main characters makes them fall for each other.
Forget the impossible coincidences and holes in the plot, and forgive the politically-incorrect portrayals of the Germans and Africans (it was after all a different time, and no great offence was meant). This is a Sunday afternoon treat. Two great Hollywood icons sparring with each other on-screen - with another (Huston) choreographing it all from behind the camera. I agree with the IMDb reviewer who says it is not the classic it is often claimed to be. But it's damn good, all the same.
Vera Drake (2004)
Well acted, minutely observed but something's lacking
Vera Drake is about a woman who believed that - in performing backstreet abortions - she was doing the right thing. The simplicity of her life belies the massive significance of what she does, and the drama here is about what happens when the paternalistic society in which she lives finally - inevitably - catches up with her.
This film will probably challenge your morals on abortion, whichever view you take. That's because it is clever and subtle enough to present all sides sympathetically - yet without preaching on behalf of any of them. The full horrors of what is involved in the abortion act itself is not glossed over. Yet there is never any doubt that Vera herself is a fundamentally good woman who spends her whole life doing good works, making sacrifices to look after others.
I found it quite hard to categorise this film. I almost gave it a 5 but I decided it scrapes a 6 on the basis of some fine acting (particularly Imelda Staunton's central performance) and painstakingly-observed 1950s period detail. But somehow there is something lacking. Perhaps in playing it subtle they almost hold back too much. I wanted to like it more. But it's not, in the end, as good as it should be.
Secrets & Lies (1996)
Strikingly 'real' human characters
A young black woman seeks out her family history and gets drawn into the suppressed, emotionally complex lives of her birth mother and her extended family. In terms of plot, that's about it. Nothing really 'exciting' happens. It's just a story about people and how they relate to each other. But that doesn't mean it isn't dramatic, or absorbing. It is.
Mike Leigh's record in character-based films is rightly legendary. He knows exactly how to do this. But it only works if the performances are excellent. And on the whole, these are.
To start with the main drawback, Phyllis Logan's accent grates with me. Her character is supposed to be Scottish, but the accent doesn't work at all. And I'm afraid, for me, this detracts a little from her character, which is probably one of the weakest in the film anyway.
But it is more than made up for by the superb performances of Timothy Spall, Brenda Blethyn and Marianne Jean-Baptiste. It's not often when watching a film that you develop a strong opinion of a character at the beginning which is completely changed by the end. Blethyn does that here: her character was intensely annoying to me at first (almost made me switch off in fact). But by the end I felt quite differently. And that's down to Blethyn and Leigh.
There's a couple of scene-stealing minor cameos to look out for too. One is by Lesley Manville, playing the social worker who starts Hortense (Jean-Baptiste) on her search for her real mother. The other is by Ron Cook, as the failed emigrant who once sold Maurice (Spall) his photography business. Both are only on screen for a few minutes, but leave a lasting impression and are the kind of strikingly 'real' human characters that these kind of films are all about.
At 2hrs 40 minutes 'Secrets and Lies' is a bit of a marathon. But it needs to be - and it repays your patience. If you stay till the end you will have seen a very good film.
50 First Dates (2004)
Standard feel-good rom-com
The key to whether you should watch this film is how much you can stomach Adam Sandler. If you think he's great you'll love this. If you can't stand him then you will probably not find much here to distract you from that.
Personally, I've never been a fan of his. But I watched this because I quite liked the idea of this film. Let's face it - it's not often you get a movie about a woman (Drew Barrymore) who is involved in an accident which leaves her with a 24-hour memory span so that her would-be boyfriend has to make up ways to 'meet' and make her fall in love with him every day. So I watched it, and it was OK. A good few laughs plus some nice 'aaaah' moments and a pleasing soundtrack thrown in as well.
Downsides? I could have done without some of the annoying sidekicks. Admittedly the two leads couldn't have sustained the whole film on their own, but for me there are a few too many 'quirky' hangers-on, playing - largely unsuccessfully - for laughs. The exceptions to this include the slightly more classy turns from Dan Ayckroyd as the doctor, Blake Clark as the girl's father, and the show-stealing walrus who is the star attraction at the zoo where Sandler's character works as a vet.
So overall, 50 First Dates is not great, but it doesn't pretend to be. It's a nice, amusing, diverting, feel-good movie that will leave you with a smile on your face and - just possibly - make you despise the male lead a little less than you did before.
A decent film - with a mesmerising 17-minute cameo
This is a decent film, for the most part a very watchable telling of a good true story which is worth knowing about. Gary Cooper is solid in the title role (albeit he is apparently nothing like the real-life Mitchell) and the drama moves along at a reasonable pace.
But for 17 minutes towards the end it rises above that and becomes mesmerising. What makes the difference? Two words: Rod Steiger. The cross-examination scene, where he goads and scorns Cooper mercilessly, is one of those very rare moments in cinema when a performance holds the screen and burns itself into your memory. No matter how many times I have seen this film, I always spend the first hour or so waiting to relish this particular scene. And I am never disappointed.
So watch the film for two reasons: it is good in its own right. A well-played, thoughtful and dignified film about a good man who was ahead of his time. But whatever you do, make sure you don't miss the last half-hour!
The Mountain (1956)
A very good, solid film
This is a really good, solid film from the 1950s American era. Spencer Tracy and Robert Wagner play two brothers who climb a mountain - but the characters and motives are very different, and there are twists in store when they reach the top.
Tracy is always watchable, and this is no exception. He plays a simple man, a good climber and a deeply honourable person. His younger brother (a very beautiful-looking 26-year old Robert Wagner) is everything he isn't: greedy, lazy, shallow and petulant. The climbing scenes are terrific. Even if you aren't interested in climbing (I'm not) they are so precise and tense you will find yourself mesmerised. But it's really the actors, and the relationship between the two characters, who hold your attention.
If you find this film on TV it's likely to be in the afternoon. And it's a very good way to spend a couple of hours. The cliché is unavoidable, but they really don't make them like this anymore!