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Hitchcock (2012)
7/10
The Making of 'Psycho'...
8 August 2013
Based on Stephen Rebello's book 'Alfred Hitchcock and the making of Psycho', Hitchcock is a fascinating glimpse into the Master of Suspense's inner world, as both he and his dutiful wife and aide, Alma, battle censors, Paramount Studios and financial troubles when making the influential and controversial horror classic 'Psycho'.

In an Oscar nominated make-up transformation, Anthony Hopkins looks quite a lot like Alfred but much of the time, I do see and hear Hopkins rather than Hitch, though his characteristic mannerisms seem to be there. Helen Mirren plays Alma, the often exasperated but always dutiful wife who we find out, had far more influence on his films than we would dare believe. Scarlett Johansson plays Psycho's Janet Leigh and James D'Arcy is an uncanny double for Anthony Perkins.

It's quite an easy watch and a pleasant one and with enough juicy titbits for us film buffs to latch onto. It reminds us of how ridiculously the censors and Studios had a stranglehold, even with Hitchcock, who had just made an absolute smash with North by Northwest. That even Hitch had to mortgage his own home, in an effort to make Psycho and how it only ran in two cinemas, initially...

Don't expect a deep insight into Hitch's psyche, though this is covered a bit, often in a light-hearted way. So, in all, a lightly revealing slice of cinematic history, with quite a neat ending.
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My Childhood (1972)
9/10
Extraordinarily honest and Accomplished first feature
5 April 2013
Firstly, to my surprise, my local lending library had this BFI Bill Douglas trilogy to rent for £1.90, for a week. The lady staff member added its second sticker on which they stamp the due date. It had been in the library since 2008. A few dozen borrowings in 5 years...

Secondly, all the reviews here outline much about the plot and story and its gritty, hard-to-take realism. I agree absolutely with all said. Radio Times online quote 'makes the relentless chill of poverty almost tangible'.

This is simple but extremely effective film-making, sparse dialogue, close-ups that show gestures and silence and natural sounds to accentuate those feelings. Heartwarming and heartbreaking, this is one film that is a must-see for all cineastes who think they know British film and really is on par with anything that the Italian or Russian greats have done.

You feel a certain numbness, a chill after viewing that tells you something - that it's touched you. Not too many films achieve that these days.
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Jack and Jill (I) (2011)
1/10
Unwatchable.
15 March 2013
Unlike many - and many who have posted negative reviews here, I am occasionally endeared to Adam Sandler. Therefore, I gave this film every chance - spurred on by seeing Al Pacino of course and Katie Holmes' radiant sweet face always helps.

However, after 40 minutes the delete button the recording I'd made from Sky Movies sent it where it should have been consigned, even before it was scripted.

Sandler, as the drag 'twin' has a voice that will send armies of rats across rivers and entire continents to escape his high-pitched wail. The comedy, such as it is is more obvious than obvious and never funny. They often jibe at ethnic and taboo subjects but never have the smartness or follow up to make them acceptable.

As for Pacino, well, I did get to see him, in a big heavy parka jacket and false beard. Jack, or was it Jill? makes a lazy connection with Osama Bin Laden and our Al removes said false beard and it's suddenly 'Hey, it' me!'. Yes, you can see what I mean.

Lazy, boring, annoying and a big big waste of talent. And time. Don't waste yours - avoid.
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The Space Between (I) (2010)
5/10
Well Played Drama
15 March 2013
Currently on Sky Movies Premier, I thought I'd give this a try.

At first I found the time and setting rather manipulative and possibly distasteful - why bring back yet more flashbacks and memories of 9/11 - and just for the sake of a rather mawkish drama.

A Muslim Pakistani taxi driver sends his ten year old to LA on a plane, on Sept 11. He also works in a restaurant at the Top of the World Trade Centre. A fed-up mature air steward who has a habit of speaking her mind gets stuck with the boy when the plane is emergency grounded after the attacks. She then attempts to try and connect the boy with his father - and connect with the kid herself, but culture and religious clashes hinder at every turn.

There's a load of implausibilities to contend with too and writer/director Travis Fine mixes every modern directorial cliché in the book at it. The ten year old Pakistani boy is typically precocious, doesn't eat meat, ice-cream or anything 'normal' at all. He's also a right clever little person.

But holding it together is the great performance by Melissa Leo, who won an Oscar for best supporting actress in The Fighter, 2010. Almost too predictably, she's hard drinking, scornful, rough round the edges and bitter. She's strangely unaffected by her country being sent into turmoil and chaos. Chuck these human flaws around a Muslim ten year old with naive and hopelessly idealistic attitudes and it's a recipe for conflict, anger and yes, tenderness. In my view, these are the reasons to watch this movie.

These aspects and the road movie elements remind me of Walter Salle's Brazilian 'Central Station' but that is a FAR better movie in every respect.

I wouldn't have normally watched this movie given its subject and type and I'm still in two minds as to whether it was worth my time. It's not all bad, by quite a way but will fall under most people's radar - and understandably so.
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3/10
Feeble...
27 February 2013
The premise for this so-called 60's style Brit caper sounded intriguing...except that only Ray Winstone has any sort of character or charisma.

Where the likes of Terry Thomas and Peter Sellers had oodles of fizz and bang and entertained us, when the script was a dud, this is just a dud all round. The other characters - and their actors I've already forgotten, ten minutes after it's finished. They might as well been office furniture for all their presence and acting.

The script is obvious and rather boring as we now know all about Plutonium - it has no excitement value whatsoever. The movie seemed to have the budget of a TV pilot 'special' - it's so obviously struggling that it's rather embarrassing. The direction, too, is particularly feeble, without any panache or style whatsoever.

I've been generous with my 3/10. It's not going to be too awful for those that might buy the DVD if they have a good idea of what sort of movie they're getting but for most Hot Potato is a waste of time and effort. And, yes, I do enjoy and own many of the old genuine 60's films on DVD - Too Many Crooks, for example - brilliant! Buy that instead!
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MacArthur (1977)
7/10
Solid Military Biopic...
21 February 2013
This is one of those rather long (2 hours) worthy but involving historical war dramas. More drama than war. Always seemingly shot through a veil of soft focus, often to such a degree as to represent a sea-mist, it does feature the excellent Gregory Peck as the eponymous MacArthur.

Entertainment wise it's pretty good, obviously wordy throughout all the military planning and many discussions. To my mind, MacArthur comes across as a softer character than the impression I've got from elsewhere. That maybe down to Peck, or maybe not, his performance is in his usual measured, reassuring manner. He remains very watchable throughout, though for younger audiences, they may just find it all too slow and un-engaging.

For us older lot, it's solid character-based drama from the older school of movie making, with no CGI, of course and the occasional use of actual newsreel. There are a number of large scale and undoubtedly expensive scenes (signing of the Treaty of Japan, for example). If you enjoy Gregory Peck, are interested in MacArthur and/or like war movies that cover mid WW2 to post war and beyond periods, then it's a likable and modestly enjoyable film.

The DVD can be bought very cheaply secondhand, now. It offers next to nothing in the way of extras - only a theatrical trailer, though it has - dubbed? in German, French, Spanish and Italian - and English hard of hearing. Subtitles are in the above languages only. The screen ratio is a widescreen filling 1.85:1 and the score is in a good sounding stereo, but not surround.
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Dog Days (2001)
8/10
Oddly Compelling....
21 February 2013
Not the sort of movie you expect to find for 99p in a medieval market town's Cash Converters!

I HAD seen Dog Days before, probably on Film 4, where such oddities belong but unaware of this director's subsequent films, though I had seen Import/Export on F4 but not made the connection.

Firstly, I find it strange that many, including some reviewers here have the notion that Austria to be a genteel place. They're human as everybody is everywhere, whether that be LA, London or Vienna. And didn't a certain A. Hitler come from Austria and more significantly, cinematic provocateur extraordinaire, Michael Haneke is Austrian and all his early movies were about and showing almost exactly the same kind of under-the-target unrest and spiralling human life of his fellow Austrians.

To be honest, whilst Haneke is much more the international film-maker (the Oscars in 2013, I believe?) and is much revered, critically, I find his rather sadistic and humourless approach just a bit too trying.

Uri's sardonic and often ridiculous scenarios are often achingly funny - such as the habitual hitch-hiker who soon gets spouting off crazy top ten lists, obviously not knowing what they mean (top ten positions for lovemaking, for example, then, for most popular models of TVs).

Filmed in one long heat-wave with lots of (frankly) overweight Austrians removing their clothing as much as they can - and not just for sex - adds to the strangeness and won't appeal to everyone, but in the 34C heat and in and around our own homes, wouldn't we want to do this too?

There are quite long periods of fairly trivial talk about trivial things - but what might be trivial to the modern suburban Viennese, is actually strangely fascinating for us. Then, there are quite long periods of sadistic cruelty - visiting Haneke's 'Funny Games' territory and as much enjoyment. These, as they should be, are an uncomfortable watch and their inclusion might be questioned, but I would guess are as otherwise the whole exercise would be a quirky, near freak-show comedy.

There are simply too may elements to go into - and if you're not one who can handle a couple of minutes of actual hardcore orgy porn, filmed specially, not as a video on someone's TV, simply ignore this movie. Over ten years have passed since this movie came out and time and viewing habits and expectations have obviously lessened many of the potential shock elements, now.

Indeed, there's almost nothing new here, that hasn't been said, now. That aside, no genre is seemingly unique now and Dog Days still appeals due to its fresh fizz and liberal attitudes. It still remains a unique viewing experience and for the liberally minded adult, has much to offer as both an offbeat social statement as well as entertainment.
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Skyfall (2012)
8/10
Skyfall is Brilliant!
21 February 2013
I usually get to see Bond's at the cinema and have the big DVD boxset of all the Bond's up to the last, A Quantum of Solace. I missed Skyfall at the flicks and so when my local Tesco had it at ten to midnight, for £10, it was mine.

And I watched straight away. Bond's still aren't perfect and never will be - we all have different expectations on both who Bond is now, who he should be and how well Daniel Craig is portraying him.

For a start, no Bond will make total sense, which is good, you cannot have a 007 that isn't slightly barmy, fantastical and at least a bit macho. Sexism has largely gone, which suits the modern audience and the interplay between Judi Dench as 'M' and Craig is hypnotic. Others may find it incredulous. But, let's face it, Dame Judi can out-act anything and make it seem real, which is really what this milarky called acting is all about.

Brit director (American Beauty his best to date) has done a superb job, mixing an incredibly exciting, totally implausible opening, from which 007 cannot possibly recover, to big sweeping and (obviously) expensive locational shoots. The Shanghai set scenes are amazing and immediately make you want to go there.

There's an occasional and knowing irony and self-mocking of 'old' Bond, that's as dry as his shaken (not stirred!) vodka tonics, which are both clever and reassuring, aiding continuity within the franchise. Young Ben Wishaw makes for an unexpected (I had no idea) and effective 'Q', again keeping the franchise fresh and open to new story developments in the future.

The prerequisite Bond baddie is taken up by a quite weird Javier Badem, all peroxide blonde...! whilst Ralph Fiennes is supremely suited as MI6 Top Brass. The girls are all beautiful (of course) and Adele's title song (and having just won a BAFTA) is big on presence and stature - a very worthy addition to that title of Bond Theme.

Albert Finney is almost unrecognisable as a white bearded old Scotsman, defending a castle, in Scotland, where the film ends, in a rather Western style sort of shoot-out. I won't say any more on this!

I, personally, thoroughly enjoyed every single minute of Skyfall. I expected to and I wasn't disappointed. I'll watch it again within a few days, guaranteed!
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Isolation (2005)
7/10
Mutant cow foetuses, instead of zombies...
29 January 2013
If my title hasn't put you off your takeaway Big Mac, then this unusual, modest, Irish set little horror flick from Billy O'Brien could well stir up your stagnant horror viewing.

Fed up with mutant zombies aimlessly running around or silly, annoying students driving nowhere on a moonlit night, with loud judders all but making up for genuine scares?

I'm not saying that Isolation will be the scariest thing you'll ever see but as it turns into 'Alien' territory, with dark, claustrophobic (& strangely familiar and homely) farm buildings and milking sheds becoming the space craft in that movie, it has its moments of being not very pleasant. At all, as the (whatever it is) wants to find a host in the farm-working humans in the story (all fair/good performances, from relative unknowns).

The basic premise is a fairly sound and pertinent one, an unofficial and one-man breeding campaign for improving his herd's growing and milking capabilities result in a calf being still-born....

Yes, it's a bit too long as it takes a long-winded approach to get on track, The Archers' approach seems naively quaint at times but the gore - as we 'know' its source - always seems real.

Isolation has quite a low IMDb score yet some TV listings reviews rate it highly. I'm going for a safer middle ground - if you want a different horror flick to rent or download tonight, (or see it on Film 4, as I did) then it's well worth trying out. Just be careful what you're eating!
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10/10
Superb!!
29 January 2013
I loved this movie - it takes a good silent film to keep me glued to the screen, many Silents have huge amounts of frenetic studio-bound talking heads, but of course we have to wait for the titles to see what has just been said.

Other reviewers have laid the premise of this one but as a Russian film lover and trying anything I come across (this DVD, just £3!!) and expecting propaganda and heavy symbolism, I had a tour de force of both Mongolian and Buddhist life, but far from being a National Geographic documentary, this had real passionate pizazz and incredible, often beautiful locations, with long-lost ancient rituals and occasions coming alive on the screen.

I think it unfair to criticise and thus mark down a film because of the style and way it was made, at the time - this is 1928, the film stock and prints has degraded and the technical aspects made for slightly sped-up and jaunty action, whilst almost all the huge casts would have been local amateurs.

However, what made it for me was the music - brilliantly (and I believe, the original choice overseen by the director just before his death, in the 50s) - the crisp stereo really prickling the senses and the variety - from strident symphonies to traditional music from the locations in the film, all perfectly matched to the action. So, when some of the strangest looking tube-like horns get blown by long bearded Mongolians, we get a strange sounding instrument, not an artificially contrived one. This might sound a minor point but for me, from the outset, it really put me in the mood and set me up for the duration.

So - whilst many of the rather turgid Silent dramas are rather hard work and there's a sense of relief when they finally end, this was pure pleasure all the way through. Put to one side any preconceived notions about communist regimes and heavy Soviet symbolism and enjoy this much lighter and enjoyable classic. (It IS critically considered a Classic, actually and not just my say so or opinion)
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2/10
'Rom-Com' without either the rom, or the com
25 January 2013
If like me, you've followed Jack Nicolson for years and want to check out everything he's ever done, simply pretend that you didn't read his name on this cast list - save two hours of your precious life as this lot are definitely not worth it, what is sadder is that they genuinely seem to think that they are!

Reece Witherspoon is as attractive as always but Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd must surely take equal honours as THE most boring men in Hollywood, let alone two hunks that Witherspoon's character would want to actually date!

She's supposed to a softball champ but since dropped from the National team hits a low spot and so baseball hot-shot (Wilson) gets her attention but she can't seem to make him commit to anything serious. Rudd plays a (yawn) businessman who is honest and true (bigger yawn) but is bogged down and hampered by his father's (Nicolson) dodgy dealings. If you're a sports fan, and are expecting some action, (I don't think) we see either sports champ actually playing, though there were some shots in/around/above a stadium or two.

Labelled as a rom-com, such pap would normally squeeze under my radar by a couple of hundred of miles but when there's almost no "rom" and even less "com" (which category does a lengthy argument/discussion about colour matching towels fit into?) then I should have gone with every instinct and avoided.
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3/10
Should've gone to the opticians!
25 January 2013
Got this movie as part of a job lot of Michael Caine 'freebies', from the Daily Mail. I'm determined to be lenient...Robert Ludlum has done some solid, if heavy-going European based cold-war thrillers, so I was really hoping it'd be at least passable.

Firstly, I need to put my glasses on, to get the picture into focus. Oh, I already do have them on! Silent films from nearly 100 years ago are sharper - it's easier to follow the voices round, to see where they are. Except it's in mono, so that's that one fluffed. This trapped-in-a-box sound is tinny at the high-end and crashingly boomy and distorted at the low.

The film itself is pretty stodgy but passable and Caine is OK. It helps if you like him and if you do then you can always watch him and switch off (the mind, not the TV). Definitely a film to watch alone (too embarrassing otherwise) and when unfussy and when there's little choice of entertainment elsewhere.

Sorry to not expand any further with the story - it was largely unfollowable in the form it was presented in and watching again to refresh the memory would be a punishment above and beyond!
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7/10
Rather Charmless and Forgettable....
25 January 2013
Don't get me wrong, Emily Blunt seems perfect as the young Queen, her diction exemplary, her poise Regal. As are all the leading players are (not diction, or poise!) very good in their roles from our favourite big and small screen stars - Miranda Richardson, Paul Bettany, Mark Strong, Rupert Friend, Jim Broadbent etc.

There are lots of reviews up here and so I won't want to repeat too much of they say, but somehow, the very high standards of production, often very glossy (and Oscar winner for Costume Design), plus the lush and swelling stereo (surround) sound, take away the tactility of both the subjects and the film itself. Not that I'm necessarily wanting to get back to the VHS quality of 1980s 'costume drama', mind you!

Maybe it's because many of the characters are portrayed as hard-nosed and bitchy, out of date and greedy. This does highlight the romantic side of the film, though, between Victoria and Albert, as they get to know each other, but this takes a good while to reach and isn't as clammily awful as it could have been. Endearing almost, which is a bit distant from the often perceived hardness of the monarch in her more documented reign of later life.

It's entertaining enough with some gorgeous photography of some lovely stately homes and is perfect fodder for a dark early winter's evening. There's no sex or violence, though adults will be in no doubt when those bits take place, hence the PG certificate.

As a history lesson, it's OK, it's never rammed down our throats and if we choose, we can just let it run and simply enjoy the surface sheen. The acting never really is raised beyond what is needed - Jim Broadbent as King William IV shouting very loudly at a huge banquet might be considered as full-bodied acting but it's not necessarily good. The two main players do have their moments but Julian Fellowes' (writer also of Downton Abbey) screenplay is necessarily rather clipped and to the point - I don't think small-talk was the done thing in Victoria's household!

So, good solid entertainment that's good to look at and which should please the Period Drama brigade as well as reaching a wider - and younger, audience. The Sinead O'Connor end titles song is a beautiful and fitting climax that firmly tells us that this film was intended to be a popularist one, which, I think is a good thing.
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7/10
Caine, Kinglsey...and Cook...
25 January 2013
How many films have these three names as stars, as Sherlock and Dr Watson, though Peter has a minor role, but also with the likes of Nigel Davenport and Jeffrey Jones too, the quality cast always keeps things interesting, even if the comedy comes and goes a bit, at times.

My movie came by way of a job lot of Michael Caine films given 'free' with the Daily Mail, so in essence, it cost just 20p. Some of this lot are of frankly awful quality, sub-video actually but this one sparkles with crisp, bright visuals and good stereo sound.

Despite Michael Caine playing Michael Caine (again) his comedic, often drunk portrayal of the sleuth is always engaging, if hammy and a little obvious. Of course, as others have also pointed out, director Thom Eberhardt's novel twist is the role reversal and that it's all Watson's genius and sleuthing and Holmes is just an actor acting him out - therefore, Sherlock is the buffoon, often (& comically) corrected by Kingsley's Watson - you'll see exactly how this works yourself, by watching it!

Whilst it helps to be a fan of the Baker Street duo (I'm not an avid one, but can and do enjoy an occasional dip into) there is a breezy and broad appeal here whilst still retaining a good period feel, though Blenheim Palace near Oxford doubles as old London a fair bit. The whole family could sit down and enjoy this one, unlike the stuffier, more authentic Holmes', the jaunty and rather fun score by Henry Mancini helping. The steam train journey up to Lake Windermere is also a pleasant diversion, breaking up a rather ridiculous story about forged five pound notes.

So, not a movie for those requiring - or expecting reasoned logic and by-the-book acting, but for a light, rainy Sunday afternoon flick that you can dip in and out of, then good fun and well worth the time, especially, if like me, you fancy a bit of good ole Michael Caine.
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8/10
Sunny and Witty...
25 January 2013
Pushed somewhat as being the 'new' East Is East and from the producers of 'Shameless', the scatological Manchester-set socio-comic series on Channel 4, director Penny Woolcock's 'Mischief Night' celebrates the racial (dis)harmonies of a Leeds estate, between a Pakistani family and a white one.

Starting breezily, giddily even, with laugh-out-loud capers as our characters are introduced by the endearing, if down-to-earth - and often, very earthy - mother of the white family, played by an impressive and natural Kelli Hollis, we are lead on an enjoyable journey of the lighter - and darker - side of living on the dole in the noughties.

For pretty well the entire movie, the positive aspects of chaotic lives are highlighted and most of the outdoor scenes feature bright, yellow sunshine, the negative ones dealt with a knowing comic overtone, which could be argued does not portray real life but first you have to get people to watch your film, not run a dour documentary, the like of which we could endure on BBC2 almost anytime. Many scenes about drugs reminded me of another favourite film of mine, the 'Welsh Trainspotting' "Twin Town".

Anyway, the story basically covers a week leading up to the Mischief Night, a big excuse for trick and treating , but with pyrotechnics and, oh, yes, a hot-air balloon!, which is at Halloween, though with school kids without coats, or blazers, points at filming being in the summer, but who cares? Kelli Hollis' character, whose partner/husband/boyfriend (lucky dip choice!) has done a runner (again) and she's now got her beady and lustful eye on Asian hunk Ramon Tikarum.

Mischief Night can be enjoyed when (I'm sure!) suitably imbibed yourself with friends as it can be on your own as that bright and breezy socio- comedy I mentioned. There's also enough going on, with both visual and written puns for a repeated viewing (or two!)
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Quicksand (2003)
5/10
Part of the Michael Caine Collection...?
25 January 2013
So says The Daily Mail as they not only want to give this film away as a 'freebie' with their newspaper, they are trying to make us want it too, because, this is a Michael Keaton, not Caine, film.

Caine gets to shout 'bloody' again (as in his most famous ever line, in The Italian Job), this time about money he's owed, or he owes - not always sure who is pointing guns at whom, or why, the next, they're in a heap on the floor. Keaton is seemably always on the run, after setting off for south of France to dig up some info on some deal that's been flagged up as dodgy. Next thing, he's shot the Chief of Police, on Armistice Day, in a French town and everybody has seen him do it - and yes! there's a very convenient film crew who almost knew he was about to do it...The investigating police are dodgy as there's all sorts of cover-ups going on, to do with porno film rackets and illegal immigrants and such, I think..(nothing too explicit, cert 15).

Anyway, this credibility straining movie, in old style 4:3 ratio has its moments, cannot recall too many of them, now, that it's finished, except Caine, who is really quite obnoxious, but in a Michael Caine sort of way - i.e - we know he's such a great guy in real life so we forgive him (& for his not-too-rare dodgy choices of film roles) as he gets to try strangling folk, with his bare hands as well as string, or rope, or whatever...

Some of the French actresses are pleasing, both to the eye and their attempt at adding a different perspective to an otherwise quite unpleasant film.

Never mind, this is still better than some Michael Caine movies out there and the transfer quality and sound is OK.
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8/10
Lavish, huge AND entertaining...
25 January 2013
I always enjoyed this big, long old 'un from 1936, from when I first saw it on TV many years ago. Recently re-acquainted with this DVD, it's done that rare thing - it actually seems better and more enjoyable now!

Often, these MGM-style Vaudevillian style razzmatazz's are all show and simply die when the cameras point away from the huge and monumental stages and when the songs turn to mere dialogue. What appealed to me then - and now, is the sparkling, sparring script and banterish dialogue between rascally William Powell (only bettered as his inimitable Thin Man) as Ziegfeld himself and Frank Morgan and of course with Oscar winner here, Luise Rainer as his fiery wife, Anna Held. Powell's screen wife in The Thin Man, the lovely Myrna Loy features also.

The songs themselves are horribly dated, of course, but that's their charm, so bad that they're good. Audiences of the time, of course, were bowled over and the film won Best Picture Oscar, too. Audiences of our current films will think something very similar in 75 years time, also!

The production values and transfer quality are as good as I've seen of any movie this old - good contrast and biting sharpness (not HD, of course) and the DVD almost never suffers from flicker, spots or scratches. The sound is pretty amazing, too, good and clear, at both ends of the spectrum and with little distortion when the big band and orchestra strike up. There's a little hiss at high volumes but that's very normal.

Too long? No. Just don't try watching it one sitting. The audiences then didn't have to and you don't need to, either! There is an interval, with a music interlude, so just pause it then. It's also so enjoyable that often the story itself takes second billing and it doesn't seem to matter which bits you watch...
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Baarìa (2009)
6/10
Lavish and expensive, but soul-less
25 January 2013
For my considerable sins, I did not even know this film existed, even though Cinema Paridiso is my favourite World cinema film, and in my top five of all time.

Catching it late on Film 4, I was especially interested and keen, as Radio Times' David Parkinson awarded a rare five stars and so was expecting a true gem to magically unfold before my receptive and captivated eyes.

Firstly, it's no good folk saying not to compare it with Paradiso when so many scenes, specially near the start are of town market squares and night and shots of old films in cinemas with young boys being naughty - but instead of making me feel at home these seemed to me to be more of re-hashing than their obvious desire. Whilst Paradiso had a few main characters that we soon grew to love and cherish, Baaria unfolds so quickly and overwhelmingly, it's like a floodgate and as more than a few other reviewers have noted, makes the narrative difficult to follow.

All those Euros thrown at it somehow do not enhance the character or soul of the film, the letterbox widescreen losing connectivity on TV and whilst it was undoubtedly very impressive in the cinema, I feel detached from both it and the characters - indeed, the story as a whole, in fact! So earnest is Tornatorre to make an epic, it remains that - and frankly, a bit of a lame beast, hopping rather clumsily from scene to scene. And, just as soon as someone says something profound, long before the subtitles have sunk in and related to the story as a whole, we are then whisked off to another, often un-associated scene.

I'm not the only one to say that it'll take another, if not three views to follow the story, you feel that you should, somehow but whilst one is all too happy to do that when the film deserves such, my initial viewing does not tell me that that to be the case, which is a pity.

True, the typically larger than life characters and robust humour is ever present but they do not seem to connect with anything that's memorable and so all this leads to are a lot of linked-up snippets of excitable Sicilian life that do not gel. Maybe the fault lies in the fact that I re-watched the original The Godfather the very day before and am comparing (in pace and character and narrative development, not the story) and frankly, the two are legions apart.

So, believe me, I am really rather disappointed with Baaria. I will try again with it and hopefully it will appeal to me more.
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Career Girls (1997)
7/10
Back to the 80's (& the 90's!)
25 January 2013
I quite enjoy re-playing Mike Leigh's older films, this time reviewing them and admittedly, Career Girls was far from being my (or, it seems, most other people's) first choice.

I'd recorded mine from Film4's broadcast, just before the release of his latest 'Another Year' the advantage being Mr Leigh introduced it himself and said that it was often overlooked and he wasn't quite sure why. I had seen it myself on a couple of occasions before, most probably on the same channel and always quite liked it. It's not my favourite but always found it better once fully immersed.

Is that because I'm a bloke, who never went to Uni and never had to flat-share, but there again, the 80s and 90s were formative years for me too.

Anyway, as is usual with almost Leigh films, the opening few minutes always seem to have annoying characters that we really rather not share any time with, doing their best (worst?) to put us off. However, once we get used to them and their strange, odd ways, they become part of our screen lives and as if they were people we actually know, we put up with their annoying aspects and revel in their good, Leigh's folk are very human, almost TOO much so.

So, Leigh's purpose was to show how passages of time, circumstance and education, plus friendship can follow in both predictive and unpredicted ways with the reunion of two Uni classmates ten years later, with frequent, but obvious, flashbacks to the student years, we can see how people can change. Side by side, the contrasts are very marked, almost too much so, but as we usually witness our friends forming slowly, year by year, who's to say that Leigh is not right?

There's a smaller pool of main characters than with the better Leighs, and as with say, the later but even less good Happy Go Lucky, there is less respite from the obnoxious and smaller variety in which to spice up the story.

Oddly, considering it's the female lead characters that Leigh is championing it's the two male leads that we see regularly on TV and cinema screen these days - Mark Benton as the twitchy, overweight Goth who gets to know them in student digs but always finds solace and comfort in food instead of confronting fears, including women; these two women. And Andy Serkis, who Leigh says he made as an opposite to Benton's sweet nature as possible and in Serkis, we have a 'disgusting pig' as Leigh refers to him. Both chauvinist and arrogant he could be seen as the ultimate product of the Thatcherite Yuppie years and again, typically Leigh, he doesn't portray this subtly and quite rightly, we want to leave his company as quickly as possible but perhaps more importantly, want our 'girls' to, as well. There are lots of comedic takes on Serkis' lifestyle 'choices' and this does lighten the emotional load.

The two female leads, Katrin Cartlidge and Lynda Steadman though do not seem to be gracing our screens at all right now, though Cartlidge did feature in Leigh's Topsy Turvy (1999) and previously in the excellent Naked(Leigh's best film, probably) from 1993. Steadman seemed to have been in TV dramas about then but - all according to IMDb - nothing since 2003.

Maybe Mike Leigh has made too much out of political and economic markers to make us really care for any of the people here. Yes, they're engaging with their character traits and whilst we sort of feel a part of their world, albeit briefly, we don't necessarily want to be. However, there are some nice down to earth and more reflective moments, they are just a bit too far between to be make the film totally enjoyable.
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8/10
The Welsh "Etre et Revoir"?
25 January 2013
Well, not really, but when we see the primary school class scenes, near the start, that is what immediately struck me and I'm sure anyone who's also seen and enjoyed the phenomenally popular and successful charting of a year of a French primary school and their teacher will know what I'm saying. Those who haven't - and enjoyed this, should check it out - directed by Nicolas Philibert, released 2002 and is sometimes known by its less elegant English translation 'To Be and To Have'.

Now that I've established that Sleep Furiously isn't just about the primary school (but its importance resonates throughout) I agree with nearly all the comments from reviewers, from the positive to the critical. I can see why the young Welsh couple found it clunky and boring and casting a backwards look on their country-folk yet I can see it for what it is. I too, find it distasteful and mocking for comfortable people to see 'twee folk doing what comes naturally and jolly good luck to them' - as they open another bottle of wine.

The reasons why I was attracted to buying, almost blind, except for reviews here and the advert, is because I'm an Englishman who lived and worked in Wales for a good portion of my adult life and for a time, dealt with agricultural policy. Very low down the ladder, I must add. I was also brought up on a farm myself. But mainly, because I'm very familiar with south Wales and re-visit regularly and with images of north Wales so prevalent in the touristy media (and now having taken up my hobby as photographer as part-time job) it's the oft forgotten 'middle-bit' of Wales that I've seen almost nothing of.

Yet, of course, it is the main farming area and mention is made of the Royal Welsh Show (which I have been to) which is held near Builth Wells, in Mid Wales - not north or south, where more people could visit and make it more commercial but where the heart of the real country is.

Yet, for all the predictability there is around people baking cakes and choosing books at the mobile library (I recall those in my childhood - and I'm mid 40's, so not THAT old!) it is the anticipation of what it is that comes next. Yes, you could fall asleep and no-one would really blame you but it also will bring down your blood pressure and I've always found Welsh used as everyday language, actually rather lovely, if that doesn't sound too patronising and how, with no obvious reason, English will be used instead, despite it being the same speakers and subject!

It obviously hasn't found an audience as wide or large as To Be and to Have (which has been shown on BBC4) and it'd be futile to try and work out why and why not. For a moment I wondered if this was a vanity project by the director but I'm sure you'll see why I soon dropped this idea!

I enjoyed the few time-lapsed sections probably the most - the curtains gently billowing in the breeze was sublime and the people with the fireworks, complete with a burst of the atmospheric electronic music, wonderful.

Whilst not the bravest, nor the most cutting edge of even engaging documentary ever made, it is certainly good and I'm now looking forward to watching it with my 80 year old father and his sister over Christmas. He has always enjoyed nature programmes - and One Man and His Dog - plus attractive country scenery and the pace will suit them both to a tee. And as an old pig farmer, the sights and sounds of the piglets being born will be special, too, I'm sure.
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7/10
Decent war-drama
25 January 2013
This rarely shown film was on UK commercial TV channel '5 USA'.

Though Hell to Eternity fans out to being a fairly standard WWII war drama, for me it was the opening scenes and background circumstances that make this one stand out above many others.

'Yanks vs Japs' movies do tend to be two-a-penny, it seems but lead character Guy Gabaldon (a very good, determined Jefrey Hunter) was brought up from a young age by a Japanese family after his mother dies, in his California community. By the time of Pearl Harbour, and as a young adult, he sees his Japanese siblings as his brothers and of the same blood and race - therefore you can see and appreciate his heartbreak and dilemma on conscription and he is sent out to the Pacific.

His knowledge of the Japanese language becomes a huge asset and he becomes a war hero when he uses this talent to get an enemy battalion to surrender and the film is essentially a biopic of him and his story.

Fortunately, despite much that could be over-sentimentalised, it never gets too cloying and the dialogue remains pretty much matter of fact, i.e. realistic. It's in quite a flat, grey black & white and it's quite long, but worth sitting through. It doesn't say anything that new and the action won't have you shell-shocked but quite a decent movie, if you can catch it.
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9/10
Swedish Period Drama at its Finest...
25 January 2013
It is the very honesty and intelligence that I find so beguiling and compulsive about the now, late Ingmar Bergman, and this being the life- story of his parents. Sounds great, doesn't it? Like the vast majority I was veered toward the Great Swede director via The Seventh Seal and it surprises me still, that not only did I find time for all his lesser, more ordinary and sometimes rather depressing films, I was after everything he made and associated with. The only other three directors I have vowed to do this for are/were Federico Fellini, Stanley Kubrick and Billy Wilder.

'Normal' period drama i.e. British, probably because it's so commonplace and accepted and even pushed upon us - if we didn't watch Downton Abbey on TV, we felt almost chastised! doesn't move me much, possibly because by now, most of the popular novels and adaptations have been re-done so many times. However, I find it rather calming and enjoyable to look through the eyes of 19th C Swedish middle-class family life and as such, Bille August's direction and period detail is never less than 100% convincing.

The picture quality of the DVD is excellent, subtle yet full of life and texture. The ratio fills a standard widescreen format, so you get all of the picture. Compared to the rather poor transfer I have of Bergman's Scenes From A Marriage, this is near perfect. The score is simple yet sympathetic, too.

Bergman stalwart Max von Sydow is perfect as the grandfather and Permilla August (the director's wife) as Anna Bergman, to be Ingmar's mother. In some ways it helps to know of - and appreciate - the genius, yes, genius, that the couple went onto bear, but not essentially so as the story of young love but disapproving parents and society is a such a universal one that in fact it can be enjoyed by everyone.

Lastly, whilst I'm not complaining, my DVD is clearly marked as a 'PG' yet there is female topless nudity and subsequent mild sex scenes that's quite prevalent, especially near the start. Whilst children are very unlikely to watch this, especially alone, parents should know of this and whilst '15' is possibly too strong, especially for a more relaxed European film, a '12' would be more appropriate.
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7/10
Wishful Fantasy just made for Carrey & Morgan
25 January 2013
This neat idea works on many levels and if like me, you haven't always enjoyed Carrey's OTT mugging and frankly annoying persona at times, it just works better here.

We all know the structure to this, where Bruce (Carrey) is given God's powers, by God, a regal white-suited black man, Morgan Freeman, giving the Lord an accessible and friendly, even 'human' persona. Once he has these, Bruce breezily sets about getting what most of us men would be tempted by, bigger breasts for his fiancé (Jennifer Aniston), a new stylish wardrobe and many other slightly dubious wishfuls, pushing the boundaries of taste, but, in my view, not over-extending them, the certificate 12 pointing at this.

Revenge to street punks after they laugh and mock his wish for a peaceful world is wreaked in imaginative and witty ways, done with good SFX. Some fairly obvious musical links could mar (Barry White when Bruce pulls the full moon closer, when he intends an ultra-romantic night with Aniston) but generally these are fun and don't outstay their welcome.

However, when Bruce kind of uses his powers for his own uses and gets his old job back and things go swimmingly but as backlashes and repercussions from his spontaneous 'miracles' backfire and he loses the love of his fiancé, his powers disappear. The film obviously intends this to have a moral resonance but the light-hearted nature of the comedy obviously dilutes this and some might miss it altogether, whilst the religious will suitably feel that some justice has been done.

It does get rather mushy and a bit sickly as Bruce finds that Grace, his fiancé has been praying to the real God (God has an extremely popular and busy email address for prayers that Bruce has access to, another nifty idea!) that her Bruce can find the errors of his ways etc etc. Get over this rather icky patch and you'll bask in the afterglow as the film concludes.
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9/10
A classic to enjoy again - and again...
25 January 2013
Back from a photo-trek cross freezing, muddy countryside and everything aches - a stack of world and art DVDs to watch, but what do I reach out for?

Well, fairly obviously, this Ealing comedy, that has a take on American gangster flicks of the 40's - you can see, perhaps, shadows of Bogart and Edward G Robinson in there - but typically British, typically London and East End. Being a later Ealing, it's in Technicolor - the vast majority of Ealings from this classic period were in black & white and this one has high production values, some of older, lesser known weren't so good and/or have poorer DVD transfers.

The comedy is quite broad and obvious at times but which disguises a clever story but it is the characters and London scenes that steal it every time. The London before my time but must still be recognisable to many, all bustle and recovering from War.

The casting is sublime, from the wonderfully twee but rather plucky 80 year old Katie Johnson as Mrs Wilberforce (just 'Old Lady' in some credits) but also with a list that includes Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers, Cecil Parker, Danny Green and of course, the gang's smooth-talking leader, Alec Guinness, in a role I don't think he's ever played the like of which before, or since!

Anyway, this mob (with names as Mr Robinson, Mr Harvey, Mr Robinson, reminds one of Tarantino's 'Reservoir Dogs) want an innocent and discrete little pad from which to execute a large bank robbery from and the dappy old dear seems a too perfect landlady to be true. As pretend- musicians she says she doesn't even mind if they practice their instruments!

However, soon, as she innocently meddles in their affairs and we have lumbering crooks climbing out over the roof to try and catch her escaped parrot, they do not realise the trouble she will cause them. As you can imagine, there are lots of opportunities for both witty and visual humour. This is mixed with genuine 'Sweeney' style realism street scenes as the heist takes place. The final scenes include an atmospheric Hitchcockian style suspense scene, with the shunt and puff of steam trains below - and a really great twist...

A young Frankie Howerd has a quick, but amusing run-in with Mrs Wilberforce as a rather old barrow boy but perhaps what made it special for many my father's age was to feature Jack Warner (the incredibly popular and fondly remembered Dixon of Dock Green star, who was pretty much the face of the British 'Bobby' at this time) as the superintendent-in-charge of the case.

Really great films do get remade and Hollywood came knocking a whole half century later, with the Coen bros. casting Tom Hanks into the Alec Guinness role and a Deep South black woman as Mrs Wilberforce. In my opinion - and in my review of it - I feel that this is an adaptation by Americans and for them, not us and should be seen a different film - the humour does not translate, neither, I doubt did this original appeal wholly to the Americans, either.

So, one of the top five Ealings and one of the best British films. I watched it as part of my 'Ealing Comedy DVD Collection', that also includes The Man in the White Suit, The Lavendar Hill Mob and Kind Hearts & Coronets - an essential foursome if there ever was one and an excellent way of getting four of the best Brit flicks, ever!
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Zodiac (2007)
8/10
Excellent - as a straightforward crime drama
25 January 2013
For those who like their complex crime dramas, then David Fincher's 'Zodiac' is hard to beat. If you're after a dazzingly stylised Fincher flick along the lines of Fight Club, you are going to be SO disappointed.

Whilst Spike Lee's 'Summer Of Sam', which uses the backdrop of the real- life case of the 'Zodiac's murderous spree in 1970's San Francisco, to concentrate on various characters and is therefore a drama, Fincher goes for straightforward but extremely detailed and painstaking good old police work.

The trump card is the solid casting, necessary as the 150 mins duration might have become less than riveting otherwise, with a central triangle involving excellent performances from Robert Downey Jnr, Jake Gyllenhaal and Mark Ruffalo. Downey is an interestingly flamboyant reporter and Gyllenhaal a cartoonist at a newspaper that first receives cryptic messages, from the killer, whilst Ruffalo plays the police inspector involved in the case.

The disturbed letters taunt and confuse and the cartoonist thinks he sees a way of decoding them. You could say that the meat to the mostly veg of the film are the brief but very violent actual murders - nothing that shocking or different, at least these days but do give an indication that this was a brutal and disturbed sociopathic serial killer at work.

You might feel cheated that even at the end, the case remains unsolved - this is no 'spoiler', it's fact and instead of leaving one unsatisfied, it almost adds to the intrigue and a eerie sense of unease.

The period feel is spot-on and some of the music's good and whilst it certainly won't sit with everybody, anyone who enjoys a psychological profile, this is superb, safe in the knowledge that at least this one had not been made up and whilst Zodiac was released some 12 years after Fincher's own ground-breaking and classic 'Se7en', you can see the same mind expertly working both scenarios.
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