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Honey Boy (2019)
9/10
Excellent
26 December 2019
In lesser hands this excellent film could have chosen the well-trodden path of narratives concerning estranged father-son relationships. Instead, what we get is a vivid, sometimes painful, sometimes funny and occasionally shocking revelatory work from an accomplished team of filmmakers. The acting , centred on Lucas Hedges, Shia LaBeouf' and Noah Jupe, is of a stratospherically high standard. Mr LaBeouf contributes an tough, powerful, autobiographical script. The film is beautifully directed by Alma Har'el, photographed by Natasha Braier, tactfully edited by Dominic LaPerriere and Monica Salazar.
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The Lighthouse (I) (2019)
9/10
Outstanding
7 December 2019
It's easy to confuse originality and novelty. This entirely original film is built on what's already out there: tropes, images, myths and legends about sailors and the sea. Writer-brothers Robert and Max Eggers have created from this scavenging exercise a strong and simple tale of two mismatched lighthouse keepers, cut off from the outside world while on a month's tour of duty on an island somewhere off the North-East Atlantic shore.

The film is amazingly atmospheric, superbly served by its design team and cinematographer, working with monochrome and a non-standard aspect ratio. Editing (Louise Ford) and direction (Robert Eggers) are simiarly faultless.

The relationship between the two "wickies" is the centre of the film. Fortunately, one of them is played by Willem Dafoe. He is a great actor, whose trademark intensity is reinforced here by a fearlessness that can only come with a strong theatrical background. His commanding delivery of some extraordinarily dense and florid language is quite something to experience.

His acting partner here is Robert Pattinson. No one can seriously suggest that he and Mr Dafoe are on an equal footing. For the first hour or so, Mr Pattinson's lack of depth is not a hindrance. But the second hour requires a different gear. To my amazement, he upped his game. This could be because he couldn't help but do so in the presence of such an artist as Willem Dafoe. Or perhaps Robert Eggers is, amongst his other talents, a fine director of actors. I think it more likely that even second-rate actors can be brilliant when their characters have to go to the extremes that are required here. Whatever the reason, Pattinson rises to the occasion, especially in the astonishing final 20 minutes of the film. If the experience stays with him and he manages to hold on to some of the discoveries he's made here, he may go on to be worthy of the challenges he's taken on in a career that has gone out of its way to play against his pretty-boy looks.

To sum up, an outstanding film in every respect.
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A Hidden Life (2019)
8/10
A challenge
27 November 2019
Nearly half a century lies between this film and the only previous Terrence Malick I'd seen, BADLANDS, which I admire very much and have watched a number of times. As might be expected, he's a very different film maker now. I found A HIDDEN LIFE something of a puzzle. It is undoubtedly beautiful to watch, even as its subject matter gets progressively grimmer. Its religiosity was something of a challenge to me, as was its stilted dialogue. Its story is the familiar one of a man suffering for what he believes. It is the story of John Procter, the hero of Arthur Miller's play THE CRUCIBLE; it is the story of Ibsen's Dr Stockmann, in the play ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE. And of course it's the story of Jesus Christ. There is a tragic grandeur to all of these, and, whatever my reservations about it, there is tragic grandeur to A HIDDEN LIFE. My husband found it unbearably pretentious. I can see why. But I admire the way that this film isn't like anyone else's, that Malick has, in the course of the last half-century, found a way of working that delivers something unique. It certainly won't be to everyone's taste, and aspects of it test one's patience. All the same, I was glad to have seen it, not least for the cinematography and the performances, and the retelling of a story that we all still need to hear in these troubled times.
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Knives Out (2019)
7/10
Entertaining
23 November 2019
A fun movie. I suspect writer/director Rian Johnson of attempting to sneak in a political message, but if so it is completely drowned out by the noise of merrily preposterous whodunnitry.

Daniel Craig is a very good actor, so he gets away with being miscast as a Deep-South detective. Everybody else is effortlessly perfect, but it's really Ana de Armas' movie. She's excellent as the nurse to an uber-successful author (Christopher Plummer) whose family assembles for a get-together which was never going to turn out well. Ms de Armas' endearing rabbit-in-the-headlights quality belies a brilliantly controlled performance.

Lots of delights elsewhere. Great to see Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette and Don Johnson enjoying themselves so much. Interesting to see Chris Evans out of his Captain America uniform. K Callan has very few lines but reliably steals every scene she's in. And there's Frank Oz, delightfully deadpan, plus a cameo from the mighty M Emmet Walsh.

It's designed, filmed and edited with enthusiasm. Nothing to dislike, really. Undemanding entertainment.
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8/10
Genuinely enjoyable.
16 November 2019
A lively, warm-hearted Mark Twain-style fable with an excellent performance from Shia LaBoeuf and a completely captivating turn by Zack Gottsagen. The pair demonstrate an on-screen enjoyment of each other's company that can't be faked and is a pleasure to share. Dakota Johnson does what she can with her underwritten role, and there are some nice cameos from old stagers Bruce Dern and Thomas Haden Church. The central message is one of trust in and empathy for our fellow human beings, and the danger of lapsing into violence when these qualities are absent. That's easy to say, but hard to dramatise without lapsing into sentimentality. Due to the integrity of the peformances and the good taste of writer-directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz there are no such lapses here. Genuinely enjoyable.
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6/10
An improvement
14 November 2019
This is a lot better than Mr Baumbach's deadly 'The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)', over which it's better to draw a veil. There is another film lurking in the shadows, however: 'Kramer vs Kramer', of which 'Marriage Story' might be considered a kind of 30-years-have-gone-by update. The ambition and unselfconscious self-obsession of Adam Driver's character is shared by Dustin Hoffman's in the earlier film. But Scarlett Johansson's character is allowed not to feel as guilty as Meryl Streep's for believing that she could be a better mother if she could be a whole person. Baumbach gives Laura Dern, Ray Liotta and Alan Alda very good speeches as a trio of lawyers explaining how the courts will stitch the opposing parties up.

There are some funny lines and one really excellent scene in which the leads tear into each other, no holds barred. But it's Driver's raw delivery of a Sondheim song that will probably impress most.

I wish I'd've liked it more, but in the end the travails of those in Mr Baumbach's navel-gazing world are not perhaps as universal as he might like to think.
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4/10
Technically dazzling with a dull script
30 October 2019
Technically dazzling and well-acted film, but the script is a dull thud. Scenes are often contrived, sometimes exasperingly so, such as when Ken Miles (Christian Bale) explaiins the details of the Le Mans circuit to his son (Noah Jupe), or Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) demonstrates the need for a first-rate driver to Henry Ford II (excellent Tracy Letts). Come on, writers! Couldn't you do better than this?

Very much a boy's adventure pic with a slight seasoning of 'vulnerable man' stuff thrown in as a sop to 21st century sensibilities. In the only female role of any consequence, Caitriona Balfe is strong and supportive, but, for all the difference her character makes to the story, she might just as well not be there.

In the manner of all films about motor racing (e.g. GRAND PRIX, John Frankenheimer's 1966 movie), the race footage is what it's all about, and some of FORD v FERRARI's is genuinely thrilling. The story that surrounds it, interesting though it is, inevitably seems tame by comparison.
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The Irishman (2019)
9/10
The real thing
23 October 2019
This is a dark movie, so perhaps it shouldn't be such a pleasure to watch, but it really is a joy to be guided once more through those mean streets by Martin Scorsese and his A-team, de Niro, Pacino and Pesci. Yes, we've been here before. And yes, the women's roles are underdeveloped, albeit brilliantly acted. But that's the milieu Scorsese and his excellent screenwriter Steve Zaillian are investigating. The depth and the quality of every element is evident in every moment of this long film, which held me enthralled throughout. It is such a relief to return to this level of artistry in an age of facile blood-and-guts merchants like Tarantino. THE IRISHMAN is the real thing. And there's a bonus in a small but perfectly executed, effortlessly threatening cameo from Harvey Keitel. Unmissable.
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8/10
Thoughtful and textured
18 October 2019
This could so easily have been sentimental Hollywood pap about settling family feuds. Instead, it's a thoughtful, textured contemplation of how we can effectively deal with our expectations, disappointments and imperfections. It is true, as others have pointed out, that the female roles are ciphers, which might be considered a surprising weakness in a film directed by a woman. Nonetheless, Marielle Heller, who did such an excellent job on CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? also steers this movie superbly, handling the performances and the screenplay's playful shifts of tone with great assurance.

The central trio -- Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys and Chris Cooper -- are reliably terrific.
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I'm Still Here (I) (2010)
1/10
We're so lucky
18 October 2019
Fame. Boy, how it can screw people up. They can become so self-important and deluded and removed from reality. The media, hungry for content, no matter how banal, colludes in this. But, hey, don't all Joaquin and Casey's pals also collude here in the making of this film? This film that shows us what saps we all are when we ogle media reports about these Hollywood egomaniacs? What saps we all are! What saps they are! What saps!

Joaquin and Casey are not saps for making this movie though. They see through it all.

Thank heavens for Joaquin and Casey, who know what it is to lead simple lives.

We're so lucky they're there for us.
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10/10
Elegance and passion
3 September 2019
A beautifully written, photographed, designed and acted film this is. Touching, and thoughful and funny and wise. Maybe it'll appeal to us oldsters more than the young, since its leading character is a man whose bones ache. But the hurt in his heart will surely touch everyone. Memory and loss, youth and age, creativity and its absence, the effect both of the onset of passion and its fading away. It's all there. And in a structure of such elegance and wit -- two qualities that have more or less withered in Hollywood movies. As I came away from this masterpiece, I imagined the mystification of dim L.A studio suits as they tried to make sense of the twists and turns of a great creative mind such as Almadovar's.

Treat yourself to this wonderful flim. And luxuriate in its suberb music -- another classic score by the amazing Alberto Iglesias.
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Not good
3 July 2019
The play on which this movie is based works well on stage. A couple of actors bring to life the letters of Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. It's simple and effective. The flim also uses the letters as the basis of the script, but the screenplay hasn't converted the literary tone into something speakable. The result is a thick porridge of words that doesn't sound remotely like living language . Even the best performance -- and it really is excellent -- by Elizabeth Debecki as Mrs Woolf, can't escape from the impossible pretension of the stuff coming out of her character's mouth. The accents, too, even Debecki's, have clearly been tirelessly worked on and worked over: few people sound real or believeable. Less accomplished cast members (of whom there are several) haven't a hope.

The film as a whole is similarly stilted. In spite of occasional (and welcomely effective) poetic visual flourishes, the film is so freighted with the weight of period frocks, settings and props, that it never takes flight. Only Isobel Waller-Bridge's music, liberated from period accuracy, escapes the self-consciousness that paralyses other departments.

The worst aspect of this tedious movie is that it takes the Bloomsbury set at their own estimate. This one's a genius, that one's a rebel, she is daring, he is boring....Whatever their talents may or may not have been, they are presented, uncritically, as so wrapped up in themselves, so hopelessly removed, in their privilege bubble, from the daily grind of the society around them, that there's no reason at all to be interested in their self-regard and self-induced melodramas.

A very poor effort indeed.
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Rocketman (I) (2019)
6/10
Not bad
22 May 2019
A work of efficient legacy image-management by Sir Elton and his team. It's quite funny in places, visually impressive in others (the costumes are a real treat), harmlessly enjoyable on the whole. It's like watching an unusually raunchy school pageant, basically innocent but with a lot of knowing references to that naughty world of sex, drugs and rock 'n roll beyond -- or maybe on -- the sports fields.

Taron Egerton is a good, perhaps very good, character actor in the making. He has a certain hidden quality that makes him intriguing. He doesn't have the charisma of a Brad Pitt or a Leonardo de Caprio, or the young Johhny Depp. Using his acting chops, he successfully recreates Elton the performer. He doesn't communicate the depths of despair that we're shown the great man going through, though. I'm not sure why. Perhaps the problem is the glib psychobabble of these scenes that are the weak points of Lee Hall's otherwise nicely-wrought script. Acting support varies from the excellent (Jamie Bell, Gemma Jones) to the inexplicable (Bryce Dallas Howard).

The film is a juke-box musical, drawing on Sir Elton's extensive back catalogue to slot in to appropriate on-screen situations. Mostly these are easy fits (Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting, for example), some more oblique. The most successful is the title number, which is realised in an entirely unexpected, totally effective way. Kudos to all concerned.

I have no doubt this movie, like Bohemian Rhapsody before it, will make a several mountains of money. It's not a bad film. On the whole it's an entertaining film. Credit to director Dexter Fletcher and his team for that. For me, this attempt to be mega-popular is always going to mean punches are pulled, that the unhappiness is never going to be particularly intense, while the highs are only tolerably high. On the other hand, the movie embraces Elton's gayness, working it through from a secret to a point of pride. That's excellent.
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High Life (2018)
5/10
Mundane
17 May 2019
Successfully moody movie. It's not particularly clear what's going on but it doesn't matter much, since the characters are a grim bunch and we're not encouraged to like them or identify with them. That's the problem, really. It may be we're being invited to consider even these damaged, damaging souls as worth compassion as any other, which is fair enough, but beyond that it's difficult to know what's at stake. I left the cinema with a feeling that the movie wasn't worth making. It's not as if we don't get clues to meaning. There's a set-up that's revealed to us early on, so this isn't as spoiler -- we're watching criminals paying for their crimes by being put on a prison ship, lives held to be worthless. But this felt to me like a token gesture, a nod towards keeping the audience in the loop, and it weakens the film. Better to know even less, as in, say, LAST YEAR IN MARIENBAD, where the poetry of the piece lies in juxtaposition of powerful images and words. Unfortunately, HIGH LIFE doesn't come anywhere near that.

The acting doesn't help.With the exception of Juliette Binoche, a megawatt screen presence, completely compelling whenever she's there, pretty much everyone else is mediocre at best. The leading role is played by Robert Pattinson, whose male-model features are enhanced rather than expunged by his rough 'n' tough character look. His best scenes, spontaneous and genuine, are early on when he's working with a baby. Otherwise he's blank. He's clearly considered a good actor by some people, but in a film with Binoche, who really IS a good actor, the difference in quality really shows.

The tech side of the film is good, especially the cinematography and the music. But overall it's disappointingly mundane.
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10/10
A thousand stars
4 May 2019
A film about living life in the shadow of death, about how viewing the world without sunglasses lets in the light, and shows us the truth. This beautful movie is made with surging energy and a lightness of touch by Agnes Varda, the immortal poet of French cinema. It is superbly constructed while feeling as if it were being made up as it goes along. The camera captures a Paris that in some ways has disappeared but in others is still with us and which I hope will remain forever.

Corinne Marchand is forever Cleo, a singer waiting for the result of a recent medical test. When she sings her "Sans Toi", your eyes will fill with tears; when she vamps her way down the steps in Montsouris Park, you'll smile your broadest smile. Around her, life teems -- friends, colleagues, strangers and their children, animals, trees, overheard conversations, momentary remarks -- all observed with a keen eye and endless compassion by Varda and her team.

Ten stars for this? No. A thousand. It's beyond rating. For me, this sits among the highest achievements of cinema. CLEO will live forever.
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10/10
Profound, complex and beautiful
15 April 2019
A totally amazing feature debut by writer-director Francis Lee. The central performances by Josh O'Connor (as Johnny) and Alec Secareanu (as Gheorghe) blaze with screen presence and emotional honesty. They carry the film, but are given excellent support by two veterans, Ian Hart and Gemma Jones.

Essentially a simple story about love awakening the tenderness of an angry, self-loathing young man, Lee's film nonetheless is profound and complex. The Yorkshire landscape in which it is located is ruggedly beautiful, and cinematographer Joshua James Richards takes full advantage of it. But his prime focus are the characters' faces: Johnny's contorted with turmoil, Gheorghe's souful and observant. The way the former melts in the gentle strength of the latter is one of the film's great pleasures.

Some have made comparisons with BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, another pioneering masterpiece, but, while there is evidently some overlap, GOD'S OWN COUNTRY is very different, set at a later time in a different place. It is more concentrated, less epic in tone, but it is equally powerful, tremendously heartnening, and is destined to become one of my all-time favourites.
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7/10
Art that conceals art
16 December 2018
A thoughtful and engrossing film. It considers what the limits of freedom are in the Land of the Free, and the fate of those who have survived fighting for such ideals. It is carefully paced, beautifully acted, full of character. I've seen reviews comparing it to CAPTAIN FANTASTIC. While it obviously shares themes with that film, LEAVE NO TRACE is a subtler, quieter work, focussed as much on internal as external struggles. Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie make a completely convincing father and daughter. There is fine support from Dana Millican and Dale Dickey. All craft aspects are in good hands. And Debra Granik's direction is the art-that-conceals-art kind, bringing the best out of everybody while tactfully guiding us towards what we need to see.
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7/10
Great actors
14 December 2018
You really can't go wrong with John C Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed. Each one a brilliant artist. No matter how provocative and bloody the film, to be in the company of these guys is to have a worthwhile cinematic experience. Excellent contributions, too, from Rebecca Root and Carol Kane.

The script is often funny, several scenes are gory, the storytelling is carefully but expertly paced. The presentation of a land without law is particularly vivid. Paradoxically, the final images of the film bring that out even more strongly. A fine piece of work but, I appreciate that not everyone will enjoy it.
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Boy Erased (2018)
8/10
Excellent in every department
10 December 2018
A beautiful, compassionate film. It is a tremendous achievement by Joel Egerton, who wrote, produced and directed, and gives one of the many tremendous performances, along with remarkably self-effacing and truthful work by Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. But the film belongs to Lucas Hedges as the young man who goes on a remarkable journey of self-acceptance against a hurricane of bigotry and intolerance. Excellent in every department.
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Colette (I) (2018)
2/10
For pity's sake
10 December 2018
This is a dreary film, devoid of the originality of the artist it purports to celebrate. The production design reeks of research: so many shots derive from familiar canvases of Renoir, Seurat, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and their contemporaries that the cinematographer might just as well have been filming scenes in front of such canvases at the National Gallery. The leaden screenplay plods along with attempts at bon mots dying in the mouths of those two affable duffers Kiera Knightley and Dominic West, but what charm they have can't save them in this. Wan, winsome Knightley in particular is totally miscast as a person whose energy bursts through her work, someone whose charisma is evident in every photograph taken of her. Denise Gough, Fiona Shaw and some of the other performers offer the best support they can, but they haven't got a hope.

I kept thinking of how perfect Ms Knightley was in Joe Wright's imaginative take on ANNA KARENINA. I felt really quite sorry for her, and everybody else, at the end of this. It's not as if it was really bad. If it were, it might have been fun. Instead, we get deadly mediocrity.

One star for effort, and another for pity's sake.
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Wildlife (2018)
8/10
Beautifully observed
24 November 2018
An auspicious directing debut by Paul Dano, who with his wife Zoe Kazan co-scripted this adaptation of a Richard Ford novel. The result is a steadily-paced, beautifully observed tale of family dysfunction. Many shots by DOP Diego Garcia seem to emphasize how small the human characters are in the context of America's vastness, how relentless their struggle is both with the world outside and inside themselves. Such shots are balanced by intimate, soul-searching close-ups, that paradoxically register our mutual unknowability.

The acting is jaw-droppingly good all round, but special mention has to go to Carey Mulligan: she is a revelation. Kudos, too, to David Lang's perfectly judged musical score.
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Midnight (1939)
9/10
a riot
13 February 2018
I stumbled across this movie in a DVD store and decided to give it a try because I like Claudette Colbert so much. By the time the film ended, I couldn't believe I'd not heard of it before, because it is BRILLIANT!

One of those rare comedies that gets funnier as it goes along, saving up its best laughs for the home straight. Script by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett -- unbeatable.

Top-drawer on every level. Highly recommend.
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9/10
Luxury
10 February 2018
A luxurious movie set in the world of 1950s haut-couture, something I'd never have anticipated in a Paul Thomas Anderson film. Acted to perfection, beautifully written, designed and shot, with a pleasantly unnerving instability of genre: it's a romance, a thriller, a mystery, a comedy, a satire -- it's all of these. It boasts a comparatively conventional but nevertheless beautiful score from Jonny Greenwood. I can't wait to see it again.
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2/10
Lost
10 February 2018
Perhaps this movie is meant to be satirical. A light-hearted examination of what it means to live the life of a wacky self-obsessed and self-important scultor (Hoffman) and his zany wife (Thompson) and his (not hers: she's his third wife) three troubled children (Sandler, Stiller, Marvel) in the Big Apple. Soft targets? Undoubtedly.

The performers grab their roles and squeeze them for emotional possibilities, except for Marvel who quietly underplays her underwritten role and ends up as someone we feel we might know, or at least want to know. Cameo appearances (Adam Driver, Candice Bergen, Sigourney Weaver) merely contribute to the suffocating sense of self-indulgence ("look who's in my movie). It barely seems possible that this is the writer/diretor of WHILE WE'RE YOUNG and THE SQUID AND THE WHALE. I hope he finds himself again before too long.
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The Insult (2017)
9/10
A must-see
11 December 2017
A superbly constructed and written, excellently directed and wonderfully acted film. It is specifically about Lebanon, but the kind of conflict it depicts, and the attitudes taken up by the antagonists, could and do flare up anywhere. The film is even-handed in depicting the factions. Everyone has their reasons, their justifications, their excuses. The full gamut of society, from President to car mechanic, is involved, implicated, complicated. Certainly one of the best movies I've seen this year.
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