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Age of Heroes (2011)
Sporadically Pleasing - awful ending
An odd, but often enjoyable film.
Pretty much anything with Danny Dyer in it will be preposterous, and ultimately he is, and the film is.
Pretty much anything with Sean Bean in it will have its moments - and this does.
The low budget works for a film that operates on an intimate level, the broad sweep of war is for another time.
The supporting cast is pretty good, the Nazi commando hunters suitably teutonic and sadistic. For aficionados of the war film genre, there is plenty to enjoy. The big problem is that the film just ends. Had they run out of ideas? Script? Money? Running time? We will never know.
Cheer on Bean's valour, laugh at Danny Dyer, and you will be happy.
Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
Great Expdctations - Mediocre Reality
I had been looking forwards to this. Queen were a great band, the reviews had been enthusiastic, but the experience of watching it fell short of my expectations.
The entire film felt contrived, a construct by Brian May and Roger Taylor. The pre Live Aid schism was inadequately explained, and flawed , the gratuitous multicultural crowd shots during Live Aid were historically inaccurate. The narrative a disjointed cut and paste.
Mercury's compulsive sexual behaviour is awkwardly shown, as is his personal relationship with manager John Reid, whose character was poorly written, particularly in contrast to his portrayal in the Elton John biopic "Rocketman". Aiden Gillen's Reid here is insipid, and anonymous. There is no hint of his business or sexual prowess, Richard Madden's portrayal in "Rocketman" smoulders.
The making of the film was disrupted by a false start with Sacha Baron Cohen dropping out as Freddie, and veteran Hollywood Producer Bryan Singer also leaving for Dexter Fletcher to complete the project. It shows. Current Queen manager Jim Beach is on the production team ensuring that the image is as favourable as possible. It feels like a feature length promo.
I found Rami Malek as Freddie irritating, superficial and lightweight. The dynamic of his relationship with Sarah Austin never worked, or was convincing. Lucy Boynton as Sarah Austin performs well, and looks good, yet she feels like a plot device, rather than a person. Malek is strong in being fey and affected, weak in demonstrating the force that Mercury was.
As a film, rather than documentary, it has clearly succeeded. The music is strong, memorable and well presented. But I found the work as a whole unsatisfying.
Comparisons with the contemporaneously released "Rocketman" are inevitable. The distinction is clear. "Bohemian Rhapsody" relies upon the personality of a dead man, and is produced by third parties with a personal interest in the favourable depiction of their supporting roles. "Rocketman" is an Elton John project in which he dares to bare his soul rather than rely upon the music to carry the day.
"Bohemian Rhapsody" taught me nothing. There were no facts or insights of which I was unaware as a music fan. Following the success of the musical "We will Rock You" the film was the logical last piece in the artistic Queen jigsaw. As a stand-' alone music film it is pretty good, but only because of the live music sequences, particularly Live Aid. Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page must look on ruefully at the way in which Brian May has kept the money tree blossoming without Mercury.
Darkest Hour (2017)
Terrific Historial Drama
This story follows closely Christopher Nolan's " Dunkirk". In that film, Churchill barely makes an appearance, in "The Darkest Hour" Dunkirk doesn't make an appearance. Perhaps the two should be combined?
Gary Oldman is sensational as Churchill. His career has some difficult moments in retrospect. Director Joe Wright circumvents this by concentrating on a few weeks, Great Britain's Darkest Hour, when Western Europe had capitulated to the Nazi war machine, the USA sat on its hands, and the British army was about to be wiped out in France.
Oldman is complimented by some fine supporting, if underwritten, roles. Kirsten Scott Thomas is cruelly underused as Churchill's wife, eking the maximum out of her few minutes of screen time. As Halifax, Stephen Dillane is magnificent in a superbly oleaginous portrayal. Ben Mendelsohn develops King George V from foe to friend in quick time.
The political scenes are atmospheric and terrific, the oratory a reminder of how powerful a good speech can be. Lily James is easy on the eye as Churchill's secretary, but the part feels clunky. It pulls a pretty young woman into the story, but does little else. Adie Haastrup's part as the only black face in the film feels a little contrived in the tube carriage scene which itself feels very contrived.
Yet these quibbles are part of the films strength. Wright has crafted a drama out of great raw material, the two hour running time flies by.
Great spectacle- underwritten story
I am an enthusiastic amateur historian with a particular interest in World War Two. When I heard this film was being made I was both excited, and apprehensive. I was thrilled that one of the great military evacuations of history was coming to the screen, but worried about how the sheer scope of covering an exodus of around a third of a million troops, with the successful ending known, would be tackled.
Early reviews praised the spectacle, but criticised the narrative.
It is a very good looking film with plenty of panoramic sweeps giving it an epic feel. Director Christopher Nolan has produced a film with an authentic, defiant, heroic , tinge. Understandably, Nolan eschews trying to tell the whole story. There is no Goering, Rundstedt, Hitler, Churchill or Gort. Instead the story is told in three micro stories on the sea, land and air. This has advantages, and disadvantages.
There is an intensity and visceral energy to the aerial dogfights, the plight of foot soldiers desperately trying to leave the beaches, only to find themselves torpedoed, and back on the beaches again, and hose manning the flotillas of small boats. However, those stories are vignettes, and not enough time is given to develop an emotional connection with the protagonists. The absence of input from the respective national and military leaders also fails to join the dots of individual heroism and tragedy.
Thus the early praise and criticism is both justified. This is a fine looking film, spectacular, and compelling in its presentation. But the narrative, and characterisation, is weak, making it fall short as one of the great war films.
The Shepherd (2008)
Quite Good Genre Offering
I caught this by chance, and am not a particular fan of formulaic violent Police stories. But
It was quite good. JVD plays the taciturn out of town cop with a rabbit, brought in to supplement the numbers of the Texan border guards. Andree Bernard is hotter than the Texan midday sun as a barmaid, and the rogue Special Forces team turned drug runners are convincing adversaries.
A classic, formula, bar brawl where a mouthy local picks on the wrong man is well handled, as is a quickfire shootout with some alleyway muggers. A set piece confrontation between the drug runners bus, disguised as a Church outing, is absurd. The choice of weaponry absurd. But if you like explosions, sirens, cars becoming wrecked, machine guns and the like, it does just fine.
JVD's treacherous partner Billy is well played by Gary McDonald. JVD's taunt that Bily's adulterous wife was fond of giving other men oral sex, and Billy should remember that the next time he kissed her was memorable, as was the result.
Border security, illegal immigration, drug running and local politics all appear in the mix just the right side of credibility, even if the finale inevitably tests that credibility to its limits.
At ninety five minutes, it does not outstay its welcome.
Above Us the Waves (1955)
A Fine British War Film
I first saw this in the 1960's and revisited it some fifty years later.
Of course it is of its time. It combines a story based on fact that is compelling and courageous, with a modest budget. The special effects are clunky, the costuming erratic, and armoury dubious, but it doesn't really matter. The story is well told, and dramatic. Submarine movies are at their best underwater where the claustrophobic drama is intense, and at their worst when that leaves them with nowhere to go. Here, fortunately the climax is on the surface, and incidental gems like a passing German patrol vessel playing music loudly also take place topside.
The portrayal of toffs in charge and salt of the earth ranks grate a little now, but John Mills is a sound, reflective toff.
Modern adrenaline junkies will not be impressed, but the simple heroism and determination portrayed is as impressive now as it was then.
Jurassic World (2015)
A decent effort- but the franchise is moribund
The fourth in the "Jurassic" series, this film has divided opinion. It is easy to understand why.
As an addition to the series it is derivative, clichéd, lazy and half baked. As a stand- alone action film it is rather good.
The problem with the series is that the original brought together great writing with Michael Crichton, a great idea, ground breaking special effects, and Spielberg. That is a potent combination.
Four down the line, there is no Michael Crichton, no original idea, great special effects and no Spielberg. The wonder has gone.
Which if you are checking out the series for the first time, is fine. Bryce Dallas Howard is hot, Chris Pratt is handsome, and there are lots of dinosaur moments eating each others, and humans. Yet once you have seen the dinosaurs doing their thing, and the genetically modified super dinosaur doing his/her thing, the tension drops, and on an island, there are only so many people you can eat. The jeopardy isn't really there. A risible sub plot of a team developing raptors for military purposes is, risible. The breathy claim that they could have worked wonders in Tora Bora is just stupid.
The original was a great film, this is just good entertainment. There is nothing wrong with that.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Boring and disappointing
I have watched all the Mad Max films from the start. The first was low budget, but compelling, with a young Mel Gibson at his best. The second and third took the idea to another level with a big budget, and a softer crossover into the Sci-fi/Western mainstream. A reboot seemed like a good idea with no need for Mel Gibson to reprise his earlier eponymous role. But what seemed like a good idea, with George Miller directing turns out to be a bad idea. The budget is massive. The landscapes are panoramic, the retro-futuristic war wagons a delight. The plot and script is a disaster.
I wanted to enjoy it. The second twoinstalments were apocalyptic fantasies, but laced with a sense of humour, and charm. This is charmless. Fury Road's opening scene is a chaotic tour de force featuring the capture, then escape of Mad Max. Only as the opening draws to an end do the doubts start, his ability to defy the hoards becomes a little preposterous. Still we have the first road chase to entertain us. But as it unfolds the truth dawns- that is all there is. One long chase.
Instead of the myriad possibilities that a dystopian future offers, we are instead funnelled into the confines of the car chase, a poor man's Fast and Furious.
Tom Hardy is fine as Mad Max, co- star Charlize Theron is de-glammed as rebel Imperator Furiosa. Glamour is provided , bizarrely, by a small cohort of white robed vestal concubines. However as the chase unfolds, repetition creeps in, and disaster strikes an action film, I became bored. There is only so much you can do with a car chase, and those possibilities do not cover a 120 minute running time. Shooting airborne BMX'ers is a good joke, but after a while isn't.
All this is a shame. Some of the detail is good. Oxygen masks with wolfs' teeth, a battle party led by a rock guitarist shooting flame from his axe, the spectacular sets, shot in Nabibia. But it isn't enough. The established vision is reheated with no new direction, and the interminable running time just leaves you asking "why?" I can't really comment on the acting as there is none, the characters just perform the storyboard. Such a waste of money and resource. The idea of Mad Max remains a good one- but a new director is needed to realise its potential.
A budget of half and a running time of ninety minutes would have concentrated minds. Instead of allowing ours to wander.
Fast & Furious 7 (2015)
Big Budget Brouhaha
If you want girls, guns, fast cars and lots of explosions this will not disappoint. A mixture of James Bond, Expendables, Mission Impossible, Bourne and the A Team on crack cocaine, the story races along, looking good, with the volume cranked up to ten. In the credits the stunt crew easily outnumber the actors.
The set pieces are outstanding. A motorised parachute drop and car escape from skyscraper to skyscraper stand out. More routine sequences with a coach on the edge of a cliff, and a helicopter and drone attack in a city's streets are no less effective. The script is corny, the cod philosophy risible, the jeopardy unconvincing – but who cares? You have girls, guns, fast cars and lots of explosions.
Jason Statham is solid as the baddie, Vin Diesel is of course cool as **** the hero. Kurt Russell acquits his role well as the mysterious Government Mr Fixit. Djimon Hounsou glowers in an underwritten role, Paul Walker is as reliable as ever and will be missed following his untimely death in a road traffic accident. Director James "Saw" Wan is relentless in his storytelling. Nathalie Emmanuel smolders and shimmies as the hacker.
Although the seventh in the series, the drone strikes , hacking, and omniscient surveillance maintains the films contemporaneity and stays abreast of the day, the appeal of a fast car is of course timeless. Fans will be delighted, the curious will have more than enough to engage them,this is no thriller, just an action ride, but an excellent one.
Ex Machina (2014)
Thoughtful and meticulously constructed
What a delight to see a thoughtful, meticulously constructed sci-fi film that does not rely on special effects and explosions for its success.
Set amidst a visceral wilderness, the cerebral Nathan (Oscar Isaac), CEO of a high the company, has built a remote laboratory to explore AI. Employee Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins the opportunity to test it. What unfolds is an exploration of what makes us human.
Some may find the pace slow, others will relish that writer and director Alex Garland uses every shot and every second to communicate and build his message.
Nathan's persona is in counterpoint to his position, his technological brilliance harnessed to an obsession with sex, bodies, and hedonism. The cinematography is lush, the vast brooding open wilderness in brutal juxtaposition with the claustrophobic, sealed laboratory where the action takes place.
The dialogue is sharp, the plotting always one step in front of the obvious. But Garland does not pitch this as a didactic tale on the perils of AI, it is not a seminar, more like a friend inviting you round for a beer and asking "what if?"
True Grit (2010)
A good story, well told.
I saw the original when it first came out. I enjoyed the story, warmed to John Wayne's performance as Rooster Cogburn, and hated Kim Darby's portrayal of Mattie. Normally, I am wary of remakes, but with the Coen brothers and Spielberg behind it ,the omens were good. The former are excellent at dialogue and storytelling, the latter expert in production.
The plot is simple, a mouthy fourteen year old girl sets out to avenge her father's death by bringing his killer to justice with the help of a drunken, gnarled Marshall, and succeeds. The success of the film depends upon the interplay between Mattie and Rooster. Hailee Steinfield and Jeff Bridges deliver in spades.
Steinfield's portrayal of Mattie is far more satisfying than Darby's was in the original. Darby was boyish to a fault, Steinfield is feminine, brattish, but smart. Bridge's Cogburn is closer to John Wayne's, but his amorality and ruthlessness are cranked up. Matt Damon is satisfying as rival Marshall Lebeouf, Matt Damon animalistic as quarry Tom Chaney. Both parts feel a little underwritten as Cogburn and Mattie steal the screen time which at 110 minutes could probably have been ten minutes longer, the original was almost twenty minutes longer.
But the story is told with pace, the landscape cinematography is lush, the townscapes authentic. The dialogue is as sharp and witty as you would expect from the Coen brothers, my only gripe being Bridge's diction which sometimes rendered his lines incomprehensible. When violence erupts it is bloody and graphic lifting the classification to a 15 from the original's U, but it is never gratuitous, and serves as a dramatic counterpoint between the verbal duelling of Mattie and Cogburn.
A good story, well told.
3:10 to Yuma (2007)
Affectionate, faithful, modern Western
In the DVD extras, director James Mangold speaks warmly of the Western genre, its historic appeal and its contemporary relevance. I am not sure whether this production will win any new converts, but it will satisfy those, like myself, who are fond of both the genre, and the greats of the genre which have gone before.
A remake, the plot is simple, and in the telling does not stand up to close scrutiny. Yet when the good guy is small time rancher Dan Evans (Christian Bale) and the bad- ass bad guy Ben Wade is Russell Crowe that does not really matter. Shot on location, not on sound stage, the story has an epic sweep to it, the scenery and cinematography is magnificent. With the benefit of a big budget, the action sequences are impressive, and offer the sophistication of modern special effects.
Women are in short supply. They are either in the kitchen (Gretchen Mol), or in the bad guy's bed (Vinessa Shaw). Peter Fonda is wonderful in the supporting role of robbery victim, Ben Foster is a wide-eyed menace as baddie lieutenant.
At two hours, the story probably runs fifteen minutes too long, but the actors and scenery more than compensate for any lulls. Recommended to all aficionados of Westerns.
A Decent Medieval Gore Fest
As a medieval gore-fest this film has some merit. The story itself loosely hangs around a historical context of King John, Magna Carta and the siege of Rochester. Although of dubious historical accuracy, when you tell a story from several hundred years ago, it would be foolish to carp too much on accuracy which tends to be pretty subjective in the circumstances.
The cast is quite strong , featuring the likes of Derek Jacobi, Charles Dance, and Brian Cox. Characterisation is basic, but the story is driven by numerous action sequences which are convincing and compelling. At two hours, the story probably over runs by about 30 minutes, but just when interest is starting to fade up pops another battle.
What defines this production is its blood and gore. The commanders of Islamic State will have been furiously taking notes as tongues, feet and hands are severed and a dismembered body is catapulted towards the enemy. The rebels against King John are unconvincingly small in number straining credibility but making the storytelling a little easier.
If you like bloody historical drama, illuminated by a fiendishly evil and erratic King John, you will enjoy this movie.
Ruined by a Preposterous Ending.
Ruined by a Preposterous Ending.
There are not that many films about Allied tank crews, and the idea has potential with the cramped confines of a tank doubling for those of a submarine, and submarine films, with their claustrophobic intensity have a rich history. Director David Ayer has a distinguished action track record behind him, and was behind the commercially successful, but historically risible, U 571.
It tells the story, warts and all, of an American tank crew in the final push into Germany. Authentic to a fault, Brad Pitt is suitably muscular as the tank commander, Shia Lebeouf shades the acting honours though as the reluctant rookie.
Ayer handles the story, and the action sequences well. The gruesome reality of war is well told. But he loses the plot as the story rolls to its climax. Modern audiences are beyond the good guys surviving and triumphing over overwhelming odds, yet at the end, Ayer cannot resist the "against the odds" shoot out, and the SS are caricatured as evil, but inept, fighters.
Without the preposterous ending, "Fury" would be a creditable 7/10, with it, it slips to a lazy 5/10.
The true story of the wartime experiences of American Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini, this is he directorial debut of Angelina Jolie.
The raw material is excellent. An immigrant who achieves Olympic glory for his adopted country, survival at sea after a crash landing, and victimisation in a Japanese POW camp by brutal captors. But somehow, Jolie's inexperience results in a story hat drags, and lacks dramatic tension. This is further compounded by an inappropriate title, as by the end Zamperini is broken.
Production values are high, and the cinematography is excellent throughout. But the dialogue is poor, and the editing weak. Throughout, Jolie thinks that she is lingering to great dramatic effect, when she should have moved on.
A two hour twenty running time is appropriate to the story, but Jolie does not know how to either tell a story, or fill the time. On the plus side, the door is still open for someone else to do a proper job on the story.
Worthy- but short of greatness
There are far too few films about the Afghanistan/ Iraq conflict and "Kajaki" is a worthy effort to redress that imbalance. Low budget, and with a cast without big names, authenticity is the quality which seeps through every blood stained pore of this story. Filmed in Jordan, the heat and landscape convince.
No attempt is made to comment on the politics of why they are there. There are no bad guys versus good guys, just a small patrol of soldiers who find themselves trapped in an unmarked Soviet era minefield.
The dialogue is salty, laced with trooper black humour, the action limited to a handful of explosions. The drama is wholly one of their unpredictable, entrapment of unseen danger.
Although the heroism of all involved is impressive, the camaraderie heart-warming, this soldier's tale stops well short of greatness. Attention to detail, eschewing dramatic opportunity ,results in a strangely muted affair. An American film would have had a Taleban attack bravely repulsed, evil locals getting their comeuppance with a mass Black Hawk strike, and intra group tensions resolved with the quiet guy coming good.
As a film which portrays the casual violence of war, and how soldiers deal with it, the result is admirable. But the dialogue is not quite good enough, or the drama and sense of jeopardy sufficiently pressing, for this to reach classic status.
A friend knew nothing about the story of Pompeii. I explained that a volcano erupted and killed a lot of people. Which is the first challenge for the film maker. Is this a disaster story or a swords and sandals story with a volcanic eruption in it? Director Paul Anderson hedges his bets with indifferent results.
The plot seems formulaic and derivative, quite a lot of the Gladiator story is in here, and a love story is bolted in. Kit Harrington (Milo) is convincing enough as the captive gladiator taken from the Horse People amidst the slaughter of his people, establishing a revenge element from the start. Emily Browning (Cassia) is coquettish as the daughter of the Pompeii governor whom he falls I love with, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is the most compelling character as Atticus, the veteran gladiator who needs one more win for freedom.
All in all Anderson gives himself a lot to go at but fails to convince in any particular department. The fight scenes are good, and the volcano broods suitably, but despite the potential he cannot convince as a storyteller. Kiefer Sutherland is Corvus, the baddie, the corrupt Rome senator who demands the governor's daughter for marriage in return for his support for a building project, and never quite gets his performance right. Instead of seeming menacing, he just seems mildly irritated.
There is a tantalising glimpse of how the story could have been developed when the ladies are shown buying the services of gladiators the night before in an oblique and obtuse way. Instead we get a strange romantic interlude when Milo steals a ride with Cassia.
The eruption, destruction and tsunami are all given the 3D treatment but there are only so many pyroclastic clouds and raining debris that can entertain, and like the eruption, the scene soon runs out of steam.
Critics have lambasted this film. That is a little harsh. As a superficial gladiator and disaster film it entertains, but no more.
The Inbetweeners 2 (2014)
That Joke isn't Funny anymore
I am a huge fan of the Inbetweeners. I have watched every television episode, and thoroughly enjoyed the first feature film. This sequel had all the previous ingredients, a big budget, and a big canvas on which to paint. Yet I found it painfully unfunny.
I watched it on DVD, and it took me around four goes to complete it, so uncompelling was the storyline, so laborious the script. Maybe it is an intrinsic problem with gross out humour? You can only take it so far- then you have done it.
The fake promo video at the start where Jay is eulogising about his imaginary life is good, and amuses, but that should have been about it. A premise of the "inbetween" existence from sixth form to adulthood had been previously brilliantly realised to date by both script writers and cast. As that premise is exhausted, so the joke is exhausted.
Devotees will find the film entertains in the context of well -worn jokes, stereotypes and scenarios, but Inbetweeners 2 is definitely the coda on this project. In cash terms, it has been enormously successful, creatively it has run out of fuel.
Taken 3 (2014)
Taken 3 is somewhat hampered by the absence of anyone being taken. The original was visceral and enjoyable, the second instalment, a let -down. Liam Neeson's renaissance as a sixty something action hero is curious, but his acting talents are undeniable and he makes for a convincing hero.
The plot, and dialogue, is clunky, shallow and awkward. The camera-work confusing, with bucket shots spoiling some of the best action scenes. Some of the worst aspects of American action movies are present here. Cavalcades of police cars fail to halt their prey and crash, the bad guys miss with barrages of automatic weapon fire while Neeson scores a hit with each pistol shot, and American detectives ignore the basics of police procedure and common sense.
Forest Whittaker is a fine actor, but most of the time he appears to struggles to come to terms with his preposterous role. The final shoot out in which the bad guy dies wearing a pair of white underpants will no doubt win some sort of gay award.
As an action movie, there is not much wrong here, all the ingredients are present. It never drags, and you are never more than a few minutes away from a shooting. But beyond that there is a vacuous emptiness which stalks proceedings. Canal Plus co-funded the project, and it is a shame that the setting was not in France, an element which contributed to the original success of the franchise.
A Timeless Masterpiece
This is an instant classic. The raw materials, a heart-warming, but lightweight children's story are not the obvious stuff of a great film,the hybrid real life and cgi high risk. But it works, spectacularly. Translated into over thirty languages, and comprising over twenty books, the simple adventures of an anthropomorphised bear from darkest Peru have enchanted parents and children alike. Hamish McColl has done a fabulous job with the screenplay creating a story inspired by events in the books, but not telling a particular previous story.
The ingredients are carefully crafted. Casting is almost perfect. Hugh Bonneville is an arch paternal figure, a role popularised with his stint at Downton Abbey, a series which has enjoyed great success in the United States, broadening the film's transatlantic appeal. Nicole Kidman is wonderful in her baddie, Cruella de Ville incarnation as Millicent. All dads will love the lingering shots of her from the soles of her vertiginous heels upwards. She flounces and pounces and generally has the most fun, particularly when enhanced by her no-hoper admirer Mr Curry (Peter Capaldi). The kids, play cameo roles well, housekeeper Julie Walters is a dotty delight with prodigious drinking game skills. The only character I didn't quite buy was Sally Hawkins as the wife. Very Boho and Notting Hill, she didn't quite convince opposite Hugh Bonneville as his wife.
At the eleventh hour crisis struck the production when Colin Firth left the production as the voice of Paddington. But sweet are the uses of adversity, and Ben Wishaw stepped in to capture the spirit and essence of the bear perfectly.
Director Paul King creates a wonderfully British landscape without wallowing in nostalgia too much. Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, the Natural History Museum, Red telephone boxes, double decker buses and English Bobbies are of course on show, but multi -cultural bustling London is also there, saving it from a sickly sweet end.
Not only is the story well told, but the dialogue is crisp, funny and fresh too. The linguist daughter learns how to say "I have been accused of insider trading and require legal representation" in Chinese, and when Paddington is tied up in a chase wearing a policeman's helmet the local bobbies come to his aid with an "officer in distress" call.
King has some fun with nods to other movies too. The scene where the cabbies code becomes "guidelines" under Inquisitor Nicole Kidman echoes Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, Paddington has to rescue his hat from a descending shutter blind as Indiana Jones did, and Kidman descends from a skylight in an attempt to capture Paddington as Tom Cruise did in Mission Impossible, with a further scene reprised as Paddington makes his escape up a metal vent shaft.
Ninety minutes is about right for a family film and at 95 minutes, not a second is wasted, nor dramatic lull endured. Hugh Bonneville's scene in drag is more Les Dawson than Mrs Doubtfire and works in a surreal way, Matt Lucas gets his comeuppance as an awkward cab driver in a way that British MP David Mellor would surely approve of. Some homespun philosophy about outsiders, family, and love, stay just the right side of schmaltz neatly reinforcing the story's wholesome credentials. The special effects are fabulous, particularly a flood, and the essentials, a hat, duffle coat and marmalade are all present and correct.
A certainty to be around for many Christmases, and years, to come.
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
A Definitive Gangster Tale
I was only a small child when this first came out, and although I was aware of its reputation, had never managed to see it. Almost fifty years later I have put that right.
What first struck me was what a good looking film it is, rich and lush. A young Warren Beatty is strikingly handsome, Faye Dunaway fabulously beautiful. The countryside, shot in Texas, is an alluring golden hue, a soft focus backdrop to a violent, merciless story.
A tale of desperadoes, on the run, robbing and killing as they go, was not new, and has been re-imagined many times since. But the ambivalence of our emotions, played with by two lead characters who are both appealing in demeanour, but brutal in their actions resonates even now.
Gene Hackman and Billy Wilder are amongst a strong supporting cast, with dialogue heavy interludes which Tarantino has since honed and developed in his career as a movie maker. Indeed the final shoot-out could easily be from a Tarantino film.
Director Arthur Penn ended his career with 27 features to his credit, but before his film career he was vastly experienced in the Playhouse TV series. That grasp of making a scene count is much in evidence here. Apart from Little Big Man, none of his other films scaled the heights that Bonnie and Clyde does. Maybe, having made a pretty much perfect genre piece, the options seemed limited.
Nearly half a century later the film still seems fresh despite all that has followed it. The mix of humdrum small town life, youthful dreaming, the excitement of the chase, and the devil of wrong doing are a heady concoction when it works as it does here. Two images endure for me, the bloody, brutal finale, and a youthful chase, boy after girl, through swaying cornfields. They are worthy cyphers for the film as a whole.
The Command (1954)
A Commanding Western
I was brought up as a child watching Westerns. As a middle aged adult it is interesting to revisit the genre.
The Command is routine and conservative in its content. A waggon train needs to reach its destination and the pesky injuns are getting restless again. Cue the US cavalry to see them there safe and sound. What sets this above the average though is a strong performance from lead Guy Madison as Captain McClaw, a surgeon elevated to command when the cavalry officer in charge is killed in a skirmish. The screenplay has the chance to examine the nature of command as his cavalry men shudder at the thought of becoming "nurses". Of course McClaw rises to the challenge and ends up using his lack of formal training to triumph using unorthodox tactics to prevail.
A sub plot of smallpox amongst the waggon train, and illness amongst the Indians, adds extra drama and variety to proceedings. Director David Butler died with 89 productions , mainly for Fox, to his credit including numerous Western TV episodes. His grasp of the genre and a story are well evidenced here.
The action scenes are well handled, the appearance of smoke signals and Indian scouts on the ridge of a hill are always bad news and Joan Weldon is suitably sultry as Martha Cutting, the Captain's love interest. Although short of classic status, it passes its one and a half hour running time with pace and very agreeably.
World War Z (2013)
A Z Movie
This is a Zombie apocalypse movie on a worldwide scale, an idea based on a book by Max Brooks. I enjoy the pivotal movies of the genre, in particular the likes of the Omega Man and Romero's Zombies series. A summer blockbuster budget offering it does not lack in spectacle, ambition and special effects. As such it works pretty well. However as a contribution to the Zombie body of work it is poor.
Director Marc Forsters' credentials are illuminating. He handled the big budget of Quantum of Solace satisfactorily, but added little to the tradition of Bond in a fairly soul less movie. The Kite Runner, a much smaller budget with a far better script, was a great success though. Here his ambition of a worldwide epic never gets started. The opening United States sequence is strong enough, but the characterisation of Brad Pitt's persona, Gerry Lane, is shallow, his family are simply irritating. On more than one occasion I hoped that his children were devoured in a single zombie bite. So as the family backstory bites, so irritation levels rise. When the action moves to the Middle East the sequences are impressive and exciting, but the final forty minutes are devoted to a cat and mouse denouement which should have lasted four minutes.
If you are looking for a big budget spectacular, you will not be too disappointed. If you are looking for a strong plot, a great screenplay and a compelling zombie story you will be very disappointed.
Pretty satisfying Cross Genre Piece
Lucy is a sci-fi thriller, with pace, excitement and thrills. Director Luc Besson has a track record with action (Nikkita, District 13) and his touch here is sure, and assured. The ingredients are transparent. A strong Chinese section will play well to the fast emerging Far East market, with English subtitles, which will reverse in home markets. The denouement in Paris reflects the Canal + funding and Bessons' nationality, the French Cop even gets to kiss the girl! And the Englishman is the fey baddie, a wonderfully reptilian cameo by Julian Rhind Tutt.
Besson does not allow himself to be too tied down by the requirements of genre. The opening scene is pure gritty action thriller as the eponymous Lucy finds herself helpless in a drug –trafficking plot, this then morphs into a superhero sequence as she ingests her packages. Thereafter there is a parallel sequence featuring the gravel voiced tones of Morgan Freeman, playing a cutting edge scientist and driving the sci-fi element with a surfeit of scientific psycho-babble, and all comes together for a cartoon style climax of increasing improbability.
Scarlett Johansen, as Lucy, carries the part, short dresses and Loubouttin heels, with some style. Sassy, tough, vulnerable and determined she proves that female leads can command a film, an opportunity which is denied far too many actresses. Her nemesis, Mr Jang, played by Min Sik Choi has no such personality breadth, and is a convincing inscrutable, cruel killer.
This is not a story that bears close examination, but it rattles along at some speed, works, and entertains. The car chase in Paris is convincing, but the shoot outs are stylised, losing some of the power that the opening scene offers. The idea of a drug which enhances human potential was explored quite recently in Limitless, Lucy trumps it for verve and brio. Purists of any of the aforementioned genres will carp, but the end package is pretty satisfying.
Amongst the worst films I have ever seen
There is a market for gross out humour, as box office sales for this film demonstrate. But for me, this slew of lazy, stereotypical fare is neither funny, nor worthy in any sense.
Eddie Murphy is a talented actor whose work needs discipline. Here there is none. Fat people can be funny, as can oddballs, but good humour requires that you laugh with them, rather than at them. On too many occasions watching Norbit I simply cringed, in only one scene, did I laugh – when a big fat black momma takes a water chute and flies off the end.
Thandi Newton plays Norbit's out of reach love interest, and is stranded, beautiful and engaging around the dross which laps all around her. Thirteen year olds, struggling to keep up at school, and behind with their reading, will enjoy the base humour and limited horizons which this film offers. For the rest, there will be much else to amuse. Norbit, played by Murphy, is squashed by the whale like Rasputia, played by Murphyhaving been taken in by the wacky Mr Wong played by Murphy and thats it, You have to endure another 101 minutes of purgatory.
Director Brian Robbins forte is in American comedy series for TV, where an episode may last only 21 minutes and one joke can be stretched out, but he wholly fails to produce a feature film worth of comedy. I may have seen worse films, but I can't name them right now.