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Disappointing but enjoyable rip-off
19 December 2015
My score of six seems a little unfair, even to me, because I did actually enjoy the film. The problem I have is that I spent much of the film thinking, "Hey, that's scene from 'A New Hope', that bit was from 'Empire Strikes Back'" and "Err, isn't this the same story as 'The Phantom Menace or is it a mash-up remake of episodes 4,5 and 6?" You get the picture. J.J.Abrams may have been trying for an affectionate tribute to what has gone before, but for me it ended as a thoroughly enjoyable but unoriginal copy-and-paste mash-up of previous Star Wars films. You just know that Honest Trailers are going to have a field day showing the dozen or scenes and plots side by side. Ultimately, the film was rescued not just by the brilliant direction and cinematography, but by the two lead characters. Daisy Ridley as Rey is truly outstanding. In so many ways I found her more convincing than Mark Hamil, who was always just a little too gangly in the first two Star Wars films to be completely believable as an action hero. The Rey character is everything you felt Luke Skywalker should have been. So would I recommend friends to go and see it? Absolutely, it really is great fun. Will I get the DVD when it comes out? Most probably. Will I go to see the next film in the cinema? Possibly not, more than likely I'll save my money and wait for the DVD.
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Oblivion (I) (2013)
Highly original post-apocalyptic Sci-fi film.
29 September 2013
It's difficult to come up with an original concept for a post-apocalyptic film these days without resorting to dark, bleak, dystopian visions of the future. Oblivion shows us, successfully and entertainingly, that that is not only way to handle the genre. It succeeds in being brilliant rather than being just another sci-fi film because of the depth of the story. It's a not-everything-is-what-it-appears kind of film, and essential we are drawn into a mystery, in which the chief characters don't even know they are involved. The special effects are spectacular. OK, we know Hollywood can do 'spectacular' at the drop of a hat now, but whereas films like Skyfall and Transformers: Age of Extinction throw endless, gratuitous VFX at the film to try to convince you've seen something good, here they are used to advance the story - rather than the other way around. For me, for a film to be good, it's all about story, and Oblivion is a story you can enjoy.
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Gravity (2013)
Tense, spectacular, jaw-dropping
29 September 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Two astronauts floating in space - how could that possibly be a concept for one of the most riveting films I have ever seen, and be deserving of the adjectives mentioned in this review's title? And yet Gravity is without doubt one of the most absorbing, don't-look-away-can't-look-away films I've seen for a long time. There are some films (good, entertaining films) that you just watch. Then there are those rare films which have the power to draw you in and make you forget you are WATCHING. Instead, you are EXPERIENCING. That's Gravity. Apart from the astonishing, beautiful and epic scale of the film, with directorial and photographic moments reminiscent of David Lean and Stanley Kubrick, the original script will keep you guessing all the way to the final frame of film. Both actors give solid, convincing performances, but Sandra Bullock has finally been given a part capable of revealing her real talent. Her character has real depth, and (by some truly brilliant directorial techniques), you become completely empathic with her... and when a space film gets the seal of authenticity from ISS astronauts and NASA, it can't be THAT bad!
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A Thoroughly British Heist
29 April 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This terribly British film has it's upper lip so firmly starched you can taste the cornflour. Although it sets out to be a light-hearted heist rather than a comedy, it comes from the same camp of British Film making as the Lady Killers and The Lavender Hill Mob. It is an enjoyable and entertaining watch, however it's just not quite as well directed as a true Ealing Comedy to which it seems to hark back. Frankly, I was surprised that the director, Basil Dearden, is the same director who only three years previously made the delightful gem "The Smallest Show On Earth" (which somehow only gets a an average 6.9 on IMDb.) But here's the thing. I was only about half-way through when it suddenly struck me that, deliberate or not, "The League of Gentlemen" must surely have been the inspiration for "The Dirty Dozen". The parallels are just to strong to be mere co-incidence. An army colonel gets together a team of hard-luck ex-army types and takes them on one last mission (a heist, in this instance.) As part of their operation they must break into an army camp to steal weapons. In order to achieve this, one of them must disguise himself as a senior officer and perform a surprise inspection - sound familiar? You probably won't want to put this on your film bucket-list, but it's worth spending "a few bob" on, as I believe they said in Britian in those days, or at least recording when it comes round on TV. The two hours spent watching it won't drag.
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A Snail Swimming Through Treacle
23 April 2013
Now I'm just as happy watching a slow burn film as an all action epic, but this felt like Peter Jackson had spent 3 hours rubbing two sticks together and failed to get a single glow. It felt laboured and turgid. If I'd submitted the script to my old English teacher she would have written "PADDING!" in big red letters in the margins. Friends who have watched it (and some reviewers, I note) comment that "You need to give it a chance as the film doesn't really get started until you're about an hour in." An hour! Any other film that took half a standard film length on introducing the characters wouldn't have stood a chance of being shot. I imagine Jackson's pitch to the studio went something like this:

PJ. I want to make Tolkien's The Hobbit. Studio. Is it like Lord of the Rings? PJ. Sort of, it's set in the same world and is about what happened to Bilbo Baggins before Frodo got the ring. Studio. So it's a prequel. PJ. Not exactly. Tolkien wrote it first. It's a separate story really, then he decided... Studio. Ah, we only do prequels - audiences aren't clever enough to recognise a separate-but-before story. PJ. It's a prequel. Studio. Great. How long is it? PJ. Just over 300 pages - say 1 hour 40? Studio. (Sighs)Peter, we'll make more money if it's another trilogy. PJ. It's a trilogy.

The LOTR trilogy successfully managed to create a fantasy world which was believable with credible characters and fantasy dialogue that worked. You simply accepted all the talk of magic, olden ways, Elven lore etc, but in The Hobbit it just comes across as corny and forced, as though someone had picked up a load of cheap fantasy novels and extracted suitable mystical stock phrases from them. The characters don't sell either, particularly the utterly ridiculous Radagast. They haven't got that same stamp of authenticity that they did in LOTR. Saruman appears to be on the verge of senility and listening to broad Scots and Irish accents of two of the dwarfs is priceless. As far as the visual style of the film is concerned, I get the artistic decision to shoot with the high frame rate cameras and creating super-saturated shots, but just because it's an artistic decision doesn't mean it's a GOOD artistic decision. Unfortunately, along with a lot of the CG, it just make the film look slightly fake and unconvincing.

I'm not a Tolkienite, though I do appreciate his books, but I suspect that in whatever passes for Middle-earth heaven, JRR is sitting somewhere sobbing and just repeating the word, "Why?" over and over again.
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Sea Wolf (2009– )
Highly watchable adaptation
24 March 2013
When I bought this in a charity shop for a couple of quid, I thought I wasn't risking much for something I suspected was going to be a low-budget, ham-acted flop. Actually, it is one of the better things I've watched this year. It's a two-part made for TV miniseries adaptation of Jack London's adventure novel of the same name. You may not have heard of the cast (apart from Tim Roth), though their faces will rings distant bells, but the acting was in a different league the dreadful school-play stuff that chokes turns the free film channels on TV. It is well produced, solidly directed with, for the most part, believable sets and stunts. Of particular note is Sebastian Koch's portrayal of the sadistic (or is he...?) Wolf Larsen. As an adventure drama it works and is worth watching.
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Quartet (2012)
A laborious waltz of predictable jokes
30 January 2013
This was absolutely nowhere where near as clever, witty or well written as The Best Marigold Hotel. That film had a really positive image of older people who weren't all befuddled eccentrics and used its well thought out humour to sharp effect. Sadly, Quartet fails all respects. Its portrayal of old people is stereotyped and relies on worn out jokes about old people's bad manners, forgetfulness and toilet habits. This kind of thing just is not funny anymore. Hoffman may as well have copied whole sections of script out of the Simpsons - it would have been funnier. It is just barely saved by the performances of the four main stars, without whose talent Dustin Hoffman's film would have been an embarrassing flop.
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Limitless (I) (2011)
Enjoyable film spoiled by a bad ending
30 January 2013
What would you do if you could somehow release all your potential? That's the question the film asks. And, on the whole, it tackles the subject very well and thoroughly entertaingly. You will not be be bored by this film. There's enough story to keep you interested and make you think all the way through... right up until the last, disappointing moment. Obviously, I don't want to tell you how it all ends, but, for me, it was like one one Ronnie Corbett's stories he used to tell on The Two Ronnies. He'd cleverly pull you along through the story, there'd be a few laughs along the way, but the final punchline always seemed a bit flat. In the end, I was glad to have seen this film, would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good sort-of sci-fi thriller, but I'm glad I watched on DVD and didn't fork out for a cinema ticket. BTW Bradley Cooper (from TV series Alias) plays an excellent part, and one hopes he'll get a few more A-list roles.
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Skyfall (2012)
31 October 2012
Plot? What plot? I've seen bigger plots in our local allotments, and they probably cost more than the budget for Skyfall's script. I just don't get where all the rave reviews are coming from. Skyfall is what I would call a washing-line film - lots of big impressive scenes hung together on a very thin story. It is rather sad that James Bond has succumbed to Hollywood's current formula for creating a 'block-buster' by stitching together evermore jaw-dropping set pieces in the hope of convincing you that you've seen a 'great film.' However, the lack of compelling story not-withstanding, Skyfall is still a good entertaining watch simply because of the excellent direction by Sam Mendes, the superb photography and spectacular special effects. One fight scene in particular was utterly mesmerising. I'm not giving anything away if I say that the two undoubted stars of the film are a wonderfully evil villain and a car – between them they just about manage to raise Skyfall to rank just above your average shoot-'em-up/blow-'em-up FX thriller. UPDATE: Just watched the Blu-ray again. I thought I'd give it another chance in case I'd missed something... my opinion about the film stands. It's no Diamonds Are Forever.
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Eden Log (2007)
Highly original enigmatic sci-fantasy
19 July 2012
Looking at the other reviews, this is obviously a Marmite film, you will either love it or hate it. One thing is absolutely certain, you won't understand what's happening at first - you're not meant to. As the making-of documentary explains, you're looking at what's happening through the eyes of the main character and you only ever know as much about the world he finds himself in as he does. If you feel bewildered and a little lost at first, that's a sign of how well directed it is, because that's what you're supposed to feel. If you like films with clear, obvious (boring) A-B-C story lines, where everything is spelled out for you, you may not like this so much. However, if you like thought-provoking films that use different storytelling techniques, you should enjoy it. In a way, it is a similar storytelling style to some Japanese anime films where what the story is about is only revealed bit-by-bit. It is a visually stunning film which has clearly been influenced by dungeon-like role playing games. Yes it's enigmatic and puzzling, but a film doesn't have to be easily understood to be good - think of 2001 A Space Odyssey, for instance.
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Mirrormask (2005)
Beautifully filmed family fantasy adventure
19 July 2012
I loved this. It's a sort of cross between Coraline, Alice in Wonderland and Skellig. Filmed with real actors but set in an animated world. It's worth watching for the wonderful fantasy-grunge artwork and graphics alone. Suitable for the whole family, though sensitive under 10s maybe a little scared of one or two scenes. It portrays positive family and moral values: perseverance, loyalty, bravery, friendship, being true to yourself. Don't be put off by the fact that it was released as straight-to-DVD, it is well written, acted and directed, deserves a wide audience and is by no means a budget film. Shame it's not more widely known. PS - See if you can spot Stephen Fry's brief appearance.
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Sharktopus (2010 TV Movie)
Tentacles, teeth and terribly funny!
29 February 2012
A brilliantly ridiculous b-movie style sci-fi which had my son and I almost in tears we laughed so much. Everything is so wonderfully unbelievable that there is no way you can take this as a serious horror, so just sit back and enjoy it for the masterpiece of ham horror I think it is. Eric Roberts (Will Butler in TV series Less than Perfect)shows what a truly underrated actor he is, playing the "it's-behind-you" script absolutely straight, without a hint of "I'm too good for this film". I can truly say this is without doubt the best worst film I've seen for a very long time. I'm sure it will become a cult-classic. BUT (now this is very important, so pay attention) make sure you watch it with company who will be able appreciate it for what it is, because anyone trying to watch it as a serious (horror/sci-fi) film will be disappointed and will most likely ruin your evening with silly comments about credibility - just point out that the film's title is a bit of a give-away at how credible the film is.
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