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Hunted (2012)
Complicated but enjoyable thriller
20 August 2013
Given some of the poor reviews, I just had to say that I really enjoyed this series. It was complicated and you were never sure what was going on, but I had a good time. It was a little frustrated that too many issues were left unresolved, however the writer also worked on the X Files, so perhaps that was to be expected. Usually British thrillers are a little too slow for my taste, but this moved at a brisk pace. The heroine was likable and so were most of her colleagues.

What I found interesting is that loyalty is becoming a thing of the past. I have been in corporations where you can't trust anyone and everyone has an obscure agenda. Working for yourself is probably the only answer.

I have actually completed large power projects in India, and my company did look at doing business in Pakistan in the 1990s. Despite the accusation in the show that multi-nationals were ripping off the poor people in Pakistan, the reality has been that most Western banks and companies won't touch the country with a ten foot barge pole. There are easier and less corrupt places in the world to do business. Pakistan's infrastructure is poor partly because Western companies won't invest. A colleague visited Karachi in the 1990s and had a couple of bodyguards meet him at the airport. He then watched a riot take place outside his hotel. Life is too short for this nonsense.

Also, the Pakistanis would hire an investment bank to handle the auction. They give you the opportunity to increase your bid. If it's too low, they will provide guidance. They are trying to get the highest rice for their client and the process rules tends to go out of the window. That said, who really cares.
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Game Change (2012 TV Movie)
Hard to watch
18 March 2012
I found the film hard to watch and I ended up feeling sorry for Palin. The film has a story to tell but it seemed like an unfair, hatchet job. McCain is depicted as a man so desperate to get elected president that he took a gamble on Palin, somebody shown in this film to be totally unqualified to be president.

Nobody in this film ends up looking good, none of the characters has real depth. This isn't a Shakespearean drama just a bunch of over- ambitious narcissists trying to muddle through. I have watched McCain being demolished on the John Stewart show so I've never been convinced that he's particularly sharp. Especially when a late night comedian can make you doubt his grasp and understanding of foreign affairs.

If you read the New York Times then this story is old hat. What we get in this film is a cartoon dumbed down version of history. However, it does make you question whether integrity has ever existed in politics. Obviously, some people will do or say anything or pretend to be whatever you want them to be, to get their hands on real power.
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The Organization (1971– )
20 February 2012
I watched this as a 15 year old and I found it fascinating. The characters were clever and often devious. I have worked in organizations where people were usually putting on an act and they pretended they were smarter than they actually were. However you eventually discovered you could not trust many of them and they were often completely clueless. In that way the Organization was helpful. People were cryptic because they knew nothing and this was just a defence mechanism. I have worked for multi-nationals that have disappeared off the map, mainly because the top management was incompetent. In those organizations it was often about what people thought you knew rather than your actual competence - this is a very British trait. If you go to the schools you must be good. I haven't seen this show since 1972, but I still remember it. Start your business, that's the message I should have learned from watching this stuff.
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Page Eight (2011 TV Movie)
Enjoyable but ultimately disappointing
7 November 2011
Page Eight is well acted and well written but I found the ending implausible. It's a fictional story seemingly set in 2003. Britain has a prime minister (Ralph Fiennes) desperate to help America in its war on terror. He obtains evidence of US wrong doing but can't share this with his own officials. We are told the story could be politically damaging if it gets out. However, the film now seems like ancient history and it's hard to be shocked or to care.

Bush and Blair have become an embarrassment and the Iraq War is generally viewed as a huge mistake. Tony Blair now seems to have been wrong on most things including his eagerness to join the euro. Britain has since reassessed its role in the world and no longer wants to be America's "partner of choice." If this film had been produced in 2002 it may have had some relevance, but the world has moved on. Iraq now seems like a sad interlude that most people really want to forget. It explains why films about the war on terror are box office poison. The motivations of the PM are never explored, however that would have made a more interesting film.

Ultimately it was hard to believe that Johnny (Bill Nighy)a Cambridge educated MI5 officer would give up his career and pension to do the right thing. Things like that don't happen in Britain. I always thought David Hare distrusted the British establishment. In this film the men in the shadows become the real protectors of the national interest. Who would have guessed?
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Inside Job (2010)
Great Film
20 April 2011
Inside Job is a fascinating and enjoyable film. I have lived through various financial crises dating back to Long Term Capital Management's collapse in the mid-1990s. With each succeeding market meltdown the culprits seem to get progressively greedier and the regulators look increasingly stupid. What is worrying is that business ethics seem to be a thing of the past.

Dating back to the 1920s it seems that given complete freedom to speculate, investors will act irresponsibly. Roosevelt concluded that tighter regulation was necessary to stop a repeat of the 1929 crash and he was probably right. Greenspan and his followers seem to have believed that people are smarter today and government intervention was no longer necessary. The film shows that markets can't be trusted to regulate themselves.

In a recent PBS documentary there was a report Brooksley Born's attempt to regulate derivatives in the 1990s. Born was the chairperson of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and was stopped by a cabal consisting of Greenspan, Summers and Rubin. Born received no support from Bill Clinton who appointed her. Her resignation is also mentioned in Inside Job. Before the crash Greenspan was considered by the press to be almost a wise Yoda-like genius. His views carried the day but eventually his luck ran out. Things may have turned out differently had Born been listened to.

Many of the academics interviewed in the film now look ridiculous for their support of big finance. In my experience academics don't really understand how markets work. They have very simplistic theories based around the idea that markets are rational and efficient. I just interviewed two recent MBA graduates from good schools and its amazing they are still being taught stuff I learned 30 years ago, which I now know is seriously flawed. Various crashes have taught me that most academic theories in finance don't really survive in the real world. It's a case of the blind leading the blind.

Greenspan admitted to Congress that his understanding of the way markets work may have been wrong. However,as the film reveals, academics have often provided intellectual cover for the bankers and speculators. They are supposedly independent but they have become articulate and convincing cheerleaders for free markets. Unfortunately they have also become useful idiots. People tend to blame the Republican's for being too easy on big business, but George Bush's initiated the Enron trials and Jeff Skilling their former CEO was sent to prison for 24 years. Bush also introduced the Sarbannes-Oxley legislation. The shocking thing about Inside Job is that under Obama nobody on Wall Street was punished and the legislation he introduced has really changed nothing. He is clearly no Roosevelt. You got the impression from the film that both Obama and Clinton employed advisers that were too close to Wall Street.

Hopefully after the next meltdown, serious change will happen, however don't bet on it.
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True Grit (2010)
17 January 2011
I was disappointed with True Grit, mainly because so many critics had given it such great reviews. I usually like Westerns so I was hoping for something I would enjoy but I felt let down. The film looked authentic and Roger Deakins' cinematography was beautiful, but I didn't find the story particularly interesting and the ending was anti-climatic.

Mattie Ross, a 14-year-old farm girl hires a tough, old U.S. marshal, Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) to track down her father's killer. Matt Damon plays a Texas Ranger who joins the chase. The first problem was the accents. Bridges and Damon adopt 19th century sounding regional accents. I struggled to understand what Bridges was saying most of the time. Damon's verbose and mumbling Texas Ranger was equally hard to comprehend and his outmoded speech patterns were irritating. Strangely, Ross, although supposedly from Arkansas, sounded like a modern American teenager. It was a rather incongruous combination. It would have been better without the accents.

Cogburn is an unbelievable character and almost a cartoon. He's tough and fearless but with a heart of gold. He acts as Mattie's protector and apart from his drinking and penchant for shooting criminals he's almost too good to be true. Mattie Ross seemed too precocious and outspoken for a 14 year old. Damon's character is almost a cipher, someone who talks funny and dresses stylishly but you never work out who he is. I didn't really connect with the characters or care what happened to them.

Although nominally an action film, there were only two real action scenes in the movie, neither of which was particularly memorable. Ross and her posse chase the bad guys, find them relatively easily, and the evildoers are punished. The Coen Brothers talked about the comedy in the movie, but I missed most of it. There wasn't much tension either and it was all very predictable. I felt that 3:10 To Yuma and Unforgiven had more interesting story lines. Overall, True Grit was OK, but I really expected more given the hype. I have been disappointed by Coen films in the past so I probably don't get their humor. In my view their films are usually not as good as you would hope.
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Groundhog Day (1993)
Great Movie
20 November 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Groundhog Day is one of my favorite films of the 1990s. It's funny, smart and the story is original. It's an almost perfect movie. Bill Murray is superb as Phil Connors, an arrogant, egocentric and misanthropic TV weather man who receives his comeuppance through getting to re-live the same day over and over again.

Every day is the same and only Connor's attitude to those around him changes. Initially he makes the most of the experience. He sleeps with women, drinks and eats too much and steals money. Over time Phil falls in love with his lovely TV producer, Rita played by Andie MacDowell, and decides to win her heart. After her rejection he becomes lonely and depressed. He tries suicide but discovers he is indestructible. During time in captivity he begins to read philosophy and eventually learns to empathize with those around him. Phil has enough time to become a virtuoso pianist and a brilliant ice sculptor. Connors achieves some happiness by doing good and eventually becomes a reformed character. Finally he wins over Rita and is released from the spell.

The plot is new but the supernatural elements are a throwback to the films of the 1930s and 1940s. Unlike A Christmas Carol, Phil doesn't have a ghost to explain to him where we went wrong and why he should change. In Groundhog Day he has to figure it out for himself and this takes a long time. The film is not a formulaic Hollywood romantic comedy and the script written by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis is clever and funny. The film wouldn't work without a brilliant central performance and Bill Murray was made to play Phil Connors. He starts off as a jerk but gradually you start to like him. The rest of the cast are excellent; the film features a strong team of character actors who often steal scenes from Murray. Harold Ramis does an inspired job as the writer-director. This is a great movie.
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30 October 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The Quiet American is an enjoyable and intelligent film about Vietnam in the early 1950s. On the surface it can be viewed as a film about two men fighting over a girl, but it also provides an interesting commentary on post-war geopolitics. The film is set in 1952 when the threat of "world communism" became an obsession for many.

Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine) is a cynical London Times correspondent based in Vietnam. Fowler is an older man, living with a beautiful young Vietnamese mistress called Phuong. Alden Pyle (Brendan Fraser) is a young, energetic, American idealist who befriends Fowler and later steals his girl. Fowler is jaded, lazy and selfish. He doesn't want to return to the UK. Pyle wants to rescue Phuong from what he considers to be a bleak future with Fowler. He offers marriage and Phuong accepts. She wants someone affluent to look after her. It's never clear whether she really cares about either Fowler or Pyle.

The relationship and competition between Fowler and Pyle can be interpreted as a metaphor for the post-war relationship between the U.S. and the European colonial powers. Pyle considers French efforts to defeat the communists in Vietnam as ineffectual. He doesn't like the way the Europeans exploit their colonies and treat people like second class citizens in their own countries. Pyle wants the Europeans out of the way so that America can lead the struggle against the communists; he favors a Third Way.

We eventually find out that Pyle is a senior CIA agent and the "Third Way" involves the U.S. putting its own thugs in charge. America's man is General Thé who commits two atrocities witnessed by Fowler, one in which women and children are killed. Pyle recognizes that the general is cruel and ruthless, but doesn't appreciate that backing violent thugs like the general is not in America's long term interests because it alienates the local population. Fowler doesn't approve of the carnage that develops and helps the communists to assassinate Pyle.

The communists are viewed sympathetically, they are presented as nationalists who just want to get the foreigners out of their country. The film presents the case that the domino theory was wrong and the Vietnamese just wanted their country back. According to this film they supported the Russians because they funded their independence struggle. The problem was that pushing the Europeans out of their colonies left a vacuum leaving the U.S. to become the world's policeman. I don't know enough about Vietnam to know whether the movie is historically accurate or whether the CIA had a master plan for the country back in 1952. But it is an interesting and thought provoking film.

The film revolves around the complex characters of Fowler and Pyle, Caine and Fraser do an excellent job in bringing the characters to life and making the film work.
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Pirate Radio (2009)
Truly Awful
22 October 2010
Richard Curtis seems to have has lost his mojo. I loved Four Weddings and Love Actually, both films were clever and well written. Pirate Radio was just awful it was hard to believe it was written by the same person. The one redeeming feature is the music of the 1960s, which still sounds great. There has never been anything to touch it and the film is almost worth watching for the soundtrack.

The main problem is that the characters are just cartoons. Kenneth Branagh plays a government minister obsessed with killing off pirate radio. He's like Dick Dastardly in Wacky Races he pops up every few minutes demanding that his flunkies devise a cunning new plan to stop the pirates. The Branagh thing goes on too long and isn't very funny. The real government minister who killed off the pirates was Tony Benn who later reinvented himself as a left wing hero.Like the comrades in Eastern Europe, Benn didn't approve of pop music or independent, commercial radio.

The radio station is loosely based on Radio Caroline, whose DJs like Tony Blackburn mostly ended up on BBC Radio One. The tone of Caroline reflected the music of the day which was brash,fun and optimistic. The real DJs were young men in their early twenties. In this film they just looked too old and middle aged. English girls in the mid-sixties were also relatively chaste by today's standards so the emphasis on sex was a little over done.

The dialogue wasn't what you would expect from a Curtis film it didn't have his usual wit and sparkle. The characters were not very well developed and you didn't really care about any of them. The idea that people in Britain sat around in groups listening to the radio was just daft. I was really disappointed I expected more.
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Sad and depressing
26 September 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Never Let Me Go is a dystopian tale set in 1980s Britain, in what seems like a parallel universe. Cloning has somehow enabled the human race to live longer and the film focuses on the lives of three clones. They have been created so that they could provide their internal organs to "real" humans once they reach their twenties. It is a sad and depressing story. The moral seems to be that clones also have rights. If you are looking for fun and escapism you won't find it here.

It isn't really explained how transplanting organs would extend human life. How would receiving a new kidney or liver enable the average person to live to over a 100? The film is well acted and you feel sorry for the characters. However the clones do not seem very bright. They are gullible, naive and behave like sheep. What I found implausible was that they would just accept their fate without challenge or complaint like battery farm animals. If they were really human they would do anything to survive. The clones live a dreary life in a country which looks very drab. The film only has one gear and moves at a snail's pace.

If you are going to make a serious film with an unhappy ending, I feel you have a responsibility to deal with some of the real problems of our time. If you demoralize your audience it should be for a worthy cause. One of the roles of film is to enlighten and explain complex issues few of us fully understand. Human rights for clones is an issue that lacks relevance. It just seems like indulgent nonsense. I came out of the film badly in need of a drink. Watching this film wasn't an enjoyable experience.
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Good Documentary
20 September 2010
Lawrence Wright's film is fascinating and thought provoking. I read Wright's book The Looming Tower in 2006 and it was the first time I felt I had a clear understanding what the war with Al Qaeda was all about. In this film, Wright explores similar territory and provides an explanation of the philosophy of groups like Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Both share a view of the world that is repugnant and alien to our liberal western sensibilities. We value human life, scientific progress and equality for women and they don't. Wright explains that the Islamic world resents the material and military success of the West. The rise of terrorism has been a way for some extremists to obtain payback for the years of humiliation.

While the West has mostly rejected religious fanaticism, Wright shows that parts of the Islamic world are now embracing it. Many regard their failure to compete with the West as a punishment from God. Because Muslims have rejected the true path they need to embrace fundamentalism to achieve God's forgiveness. They therefore reject modernity and oppose Arab leaders like Anwer Sadat who favor secularism. Al Qaeda wants to eliminate what it sees as our corrosive influence in the Middle East. However it is not clear why God isn't punishing us, the infidels for our blasphemous ways. We don't enforce the punishments listed in the Old Testament like killing anyone who works on the Sabbath, so it's hard for us to understand why the stoning of women is making a comeback in countries like Iran or why this is something that God requires.

Wright argues that U.S. policies towards the Muslim world after 9/11 have played into bin Laden's hands. Policy makers failed to understand that bin Laden was happy to weaken the U.S. by drawing it into long draining wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The nightmare scenario is for the Islamists capture the Middle East or they start an ongoing insurgency in the West. Watching this program you feel reasonably confident this won't happen, mainly because you quickly realize how crazy their beliefs are. Their views have no appeal for us and it's hard to believe that rational Muslims really want what Al Qaeda is selling. Even their interpretation of Islam seems un-Islamic.

The West and the Islamists have incompatible views on the world so it seems that there will always be conflict. Wright seems to understand this strange world. This is a fascinating film.
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Deja Vu: Brits take on Hollywood
9 September 2010
I caught this film by accident and found it fascinating. I've been living in the US for the last 10 years so I had never heard of Polygram and didn't know the story. I used to work in the film industry in the 1980s. The documentary seemed like a replay of what happened to Goldcrest. Goldcrest was a British company that won Oscars making films like Chariots of Fire, Gandhi and The Killing Fields. Golcrest tried making big-budget films featuring Hollywood stars and went bust.

The moral of the Goldcrest story is don't try and compete with Hollywood in the mainstream film market, but there seems to be an almost kamikaze wish amongst certain British businessmen to want to be big in America. It's like moths to a flame. They don't realize that the culture is so different.

For someone living in London it's impossible to predict what Americans will pay to see. The BBC started a TV channel, called BBC America, presumably to showcase its talent, but it now seems to just show reruns of Star Trek, Top Gear and anything featuring Gordon Ramsey.

The documentary focuses on Four Weddings and a Funeral to justify the company's strategy of U.S. Expansion, but that film only earned 21% of its gross revenues from the US market, and earned $53 million which is not a huge amount of money. There is an argument for saying that perhaps the Rest of the World should have been the focus for Polygram. Four Weddings was also in many ways a one-off, it had brilliant script from Richard Curtis who has been unable to recapture that magic with his subsequent efforts.

If you read George Lucas's book Blockbusting you notice that even seemingly successful films like Mission Impossible II end up losing money. The Dutch company that abandoned Polygram was probably making a prudent business decision.

Many British journalists and film people believe that if someone is nominated for an Oscar, they become serious players in the U.S. The Oscars are different. Oscar voters tend to be fair and generous but they also have intellectual pretensions so they reward serious Indie movies. Winning Oscars doesn't make you a star in America or guarantee box office success. Vince Vaughn, Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell will never win Oscars, but they make mainstream Hollywood hits. Foreigners should realize they will only ever be bit players in Hollywood and make the most of it.

I have heard variations of the Polygram story before, it is just the characters that are different.
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Green Zone (2010)
Another Film About Iraq Which Doesn't Work
8 August 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The Green Zone is an attempt to explain the origins of the Iraq War within the context of a Hollywood action film. For me, this combination does not really work. American thrillers typically operate in a fantasy world where anything is possible, but they also have certain rules. This film is an action film but it also tries to provide a history lesson.

Matt Damon plays Roy Miller, an honest, everyman who concludes that the pre-war intelligence was wrong and Saddam Hussein didn't have WMDs.Unfortunately nobody in authority wants to face up to this reality and they try and stop Miller getting the news out. This may have been shocking news in 2003, but given that we are now in 2010 it is no longer a surprise. In defense of the conspirators, everybody on the American side took it for granted that Saddam had WMDs and they would eventually turn up. Either way, it was only a matter of time before it became apparent that a mistake had been made.

Trying to introduce real events into the thriller genre is an interesting experiment but it is a little disorientating. Hitchcock believed that his audiences didn't really care about the elaborate plots used in his films, to him they were just MacGuffins, which helped propel the action. The director Paul Greengrass tries to make the MacGuffin the center of his movie and it doesn't work. The problem is that the participants in the conspiracy are based on real people. It is hard to believe that Paul Bremer, who had worked at a Washington think-tank before Iraq, was also an evil mastermind running his own special forces team.

The film loses the plot in other ways. Most Americans believed, rightly or wrongly, that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11 and the majority of US troops who invaded Iraq believed they were on a revenge mission. The WMD argument was mainly used to justify the war to people in the UK (where Greengrass lives) and on the UN Security Council. Polls show that over 60% of the US public now believe the war was a mistake.

The film is well made and fairly entertaining, but I ultimately found it annoying, basically I like my action films to be make-believe. I also prefer history lessons that are accurate. Greengrass clearly had an agenda, but I don't believe you can use action movies to explain complex issues like the origins of the Iraq War.
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4 July 2010
Knight & Day is moderately entertaining and a little disappointing. Roy Miller (Tom Cruise) is a secret agent on the run for a crime he didn't commit. He accidentally meets June (Cameron Diaz) a car mechanic who is in the wrong place at the wrong time. June decides to join the adventure and eventually becomes the film's love interest. Roy and June are chased throughout and the U.S. and Europe by the CIA and a Spanish arms dealer. The film looks expensive and it has high production values.

Knight and Day has lots of chases and explosions and it's the type of film that Hollywood is usually very good at making. Miller's fighting skills are almost superhuman and he makes James Bond and Jason Bourne seem second-rate. He kills lots of people but none of it feels real, it's just cartoon violence. The film is mostly played for laughs so there is little tension and you never feel like any real harm will come to the characters. This combination worked well in Mr and Mrs Smith, but Pitt and Jolie were more convincing in their roles and had a wittier script to work with. Unfortunately Knight & Day just felt mediocre and it wasn't very amusing. Secret agents are better when they are angst-ridden (e.g., John Cusack in Grosse Point Blank) but Miller seemed just too perky and nice to be truly believable as an international assassin.

Unfortunately Cruise and Diaz seemed to be getting a little old for their parts. Tom is 48 and his character behaved like someone in their twenties. It may have been more enjoyable and believable with a younger cast.

The film contained no real surprises and I felt as if I had seen it all before. The "innocent man on the run" plot has been used in lots of Hollywood movies and it can seem old and tired. However if you like chases and explosions and beautiful locations and don't want to to think too much then this could be the movie for you. I was hoping for more.
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The Special Relationship (2010 TV Movie)
13 June 2010
The Special Relationship is a disappointing and shallow film about Tony Blair's relationship with two U.S. presidents. Blair is a conundrum and probably only his wife really knows what makes him tick. Peter Morgan has almost become Blair's official biographer in film, however his take on Blair seems superficial and simple-minded. Morgan's Blair is likable, charismatic, loyal and sincere. He's also a devoted family man and a Christian. In this film he is constantly trying to do the right thing and comes off like a cross between a soap-opera character and a secular saint. Most people in Britain wouldn't buy into this interpretation.

The men and women who become the leaders of countries are usually incredibly ambitious, manipulative and complicated. They often like Clinton and Kennedy have potentially self destructive appetites. Blair we are meant to believe is just like a suburban dad. I have always been somewhat cynical about Blair's motives. When I first came across him during an election campaign in 1983 he was a socialist who recommended nationalization and nuclear disarmament. He gradually moved to the right and around 2003 became a fully fledged neocon.

This film suggests that Blair was basically a good guy trying to help the oppressed peoples of the world. For most people in Britain he is someone who put the interests of the United States above those of his own country. Not surprisingly he is still popular in the US but at home he hasn't been forgiven for supporting the Iraq War and for claiming that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Blair left office with approval ratings in the mid-twenties and British newspaper columnists love to write negative articles about him. The big mystery is what motivated his course of action, until his liaison with Bush he was popular. Since his resignation in 2007 Blair has done well financially out of his unwavering support for US foreign policy. In Polanski's the Ghost Writer it is even suggested that Blair was working for the CIA. It's a mystery this film doesn't help solve. MI5 has gone on record to say that Saddam wasn't a threat to Britain in 2003.

The Special Relationship is a throw-back to the biopics of the 1940s when "great men" were viewed sympathetically. I am looking forward to someday watching a film about the real Tony Blair. He is a more interesting character than the portrait painted in this simple-minded rationalization.
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Duplicity (2009)
Overall a bit disappointing.
13 April 2010
Duplicity is a clever movie. It is also well written and has a great cast. Two former spies attempt to pull off a daring con and steal $40 million from their employers. Unlike the really good heist movies, such as the Sting and the Italian Job you don't really care very much about these characters. They seem arrogant and full of themselves. You have to like the thieves for these films to work their magic. The film is about corporate spying in the pharmaceutical industry which isn't a subject which normally sets the pulse racing. Heist films are implausible so it helps if they are also fun, but the story was too serious and the ending too downbeat.

Julia Roberts plays Claire Stenwick a corporate spy working for a pharmaceutical company called Burkett & Randle. Clive Owen plays Ray Koval, a spy working for a rival company. Both Stenwick and Koval know each other from their days at the CIA and MI6. Their job is to protect the products of their firms from industrial espionage. Both Stenwick and Koval will lie, cheat and steal to obtain an advantage. This doesn't make them particularly likable. When they find an opportunity to steal from their bosses and become extremely rich they plan an elaborate con. Julia Roberts is starting to look like someone's mother and seemed a little old for this preposterous nonsense. The film is OK, but I expected more.
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An Education (2009)
Good film, but given the hype a little underwhelming.
9 April 2010
An Education is an enjoyable film. Carey Mulligan is delightful as Jenny Mellor, a 16 year old who comes of age in the London suburbs during the early sixties. The film is set in the years just before the Beatles and Swinging London. The sexual revolution had yet to happen and for most people life is dull and boring. Peter Sarsgaard plays David Goldman a charming conman who seduces Jenny and her parents. David seems to be a successful businessman, he has lots of money and lives a glamorous life. David and his friends Danny (Dominic Cooper) and Helen (Rosamund Pike)are hedonists who enjoy art, good music and traveling. We slowly find out that they are not what they seem.

Jenny's folks don't realize that their daughter is having a sexual relationship with David. Today, most parents are very protective and suspicious so it is difficult to imagine a time when parents were so naive and gullible. Nick Hornby's screenplay was well written but everyone seems a little too nice. The film peters out as the relationship between David and Jenny comes to an end, but the ending is fairly upbeat. Like many British films An Education features a boat load of "fine character actors" in relatively small roles. Overall the story seemed a little far-fetched despite being based on a true story. An Education was a good film but given the hype I was a little underwhelmed.

The story is based on a memoir by Observer journalist Lynn Barber who developed a fearsome reputation as a celebrity interviewer in the 1980s. Barber eventually ran out of willing victims because her hatchet jobs were often brutal and funny.
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Sheen is excellent as Clough
13 March 2010
I enjoyed Damned United particularly Michael Sheen's performance as Brian Clough. The film is cleverly written and fun to watch. The film makes Clough seem a much more sympathetic character than he appeared at the time. Many people including myself felt that Clough was an arrogant twit with an amazing ability to lose friends and alienate people. Sheen makes him seem likable. Clough had his demons and was a complicated man. Clough's methods were unique. He was essentially a dictator, and not always a benevolent one, often punching or slapping his players. What can't be argued was that he was a great and very successful football manager.

Clough's record was remarkable. He won the English championship with different provincial teams, neither of which is currently in the Premier League. He won the European Cup twice with Nottingham Forest. In 1973 his Derby team lost in the semi-finals to Juventus. Clough called the Italian team "cheating bastards." A later London Sunday Times investigation claimed that Clough was right and Derby's opponents had bribed the match officials. Nothing was ever done about this by FIFA or EUFA, some things never change.

As a Leeds United supporter, who lived through Clough's 44 days at the club, I don't feel the film portrayed the events fairly or accurately. I don't remember the Leeds team being particularly violent, the game was certainly more physical then and players received less protection from referees.

The film depicts Billy Bremner, Norman Hunter and Johnny Giles as boorish thugs. Bremner was a hard man but he was also a very skillful player. He was captain of Scotland in the 1974 World Cup and has been inducted into both the English and Scottish Halls of Fame. Giles was at the time also the manager of the Irish national team. Hunter played 28 times for England. Don Revie was a great man who took Leeds from the old Second Division to two First Division championships and two European trophies. The film doesn't really explain how he was able to win the loyalty of the Leeds players. In movies it's just easier to show everything in black and white terms.

One thing the film does get right is the lack of money in football back then. When Peter Taylor was at Brighton he offered my best friend a professional contract. My friend decided to go to university instead. With the DVD this is an additional feature in which three idiots masquerading as "experts" discuss football in the 1970s. One of them thought Norman Hunter was Scottish. Another couldn't believe that the Leeds players were educated enough to understand Revie's tactical reports. Anyone who has played the game at any level knows that football intelligence does not correlate with academic success. I've played football with very smart streetwise kids who left school at 16, on the field they were tactically astute. Sir Alex Ferguson, the manager of Manchester United, was a shipyard worker before he became a footballer.

Overall I enjoyed the movie. It was clever and well written and Michael Sheen is brilliant as Clough.
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Survivors (2008–2010)
Post-Apocalyptic Tale set in Multi-Cultural Britain
7 March 2010
Although I am enjoying this series on BBC America I do have some reservations. It does make you think what living in a post-apocalyptic world would be like and how you might adapt and stay alive. But it's hard to believe Britain could end up like this. There are no zombies or Mad-Max wannabees in the Survivors, but there is anarchy. Without government control the British turn nasty and violent. There are plenty of strange and dangerous people who make this new world seem a scary place. Most of the survivors scavenge and prey on the weak. Trusting people has suddenly become harder and it's every man for himself. What seems slightly incongruous for this genre, is that most of the characters seem very British and ordinary. In post-apocalyptic films you expect that the good guys will be chased by gangs of crazed psychopaths, dressed like 1970s punk-rockers. The baddies are evil, but in an understated British way.

The story focuses on a small group who didn't know each other before the cataclysm. They travel about the country seeking a permanent home. The leader is a Scottish housewife, Abby Grant. The show is produced by the politically correct BBC so Abby's group is a coalition of what used to be called minorities. It includes a lesbian doctor, a Muslim playboy, a former prison inmate/murderer,a black systems analyst and a Muslim schoolboy.At first some members of the group seem selfish and there are tensions, but they gradually grow on you. As the series develops they gradually become more like a family. The group unites because there is safety in numbers. They are generally helpful and courteous towards the other people they meet. It seems that decent law-abiding white males have been wiped out. If you see one in this series it usually signals danger.

This series is more exciting than the 1970s version of Survivors. It holds your attention and is often gripping. But to me it does not seem very realistic. Why would they need to start coal mining again? There must be plenty of coal sitting at power stations. I have not lived in the UK for nearly 10 years but I find it hard to believe that the British could be become so unpleasant. I would have expected more cooperation and camaraderie.
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The 39 Steps (2008 TV Movie)
1 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I enjoyed this version of 39 Steps. The story is a lot different from Hitchcock's 1935 film and the recent stage version. I saw the play on Broadway and it was very funny, almost a spoof of the film. This TV version plays it straight. Rupert Penry-Jones is excellent as Hannay and Lydia Leonard does a good job as his feisty love interest. Neither Penry-Jones nor Leonard has the screen charisma of Robert Donat or Madeleine Carroll, the leads in Hitchock's 1935 film, but they are likable and convincing.

Every version of the 39 Steps is different. The only consistent character is Hannay. However, in the book he is a Scot who lives in South Africa, in Hitchock's film he was Canadian and in this film he's English. The heroines all have different names and occupations.Unlike in Hithcock's film there is no Mr. Memory and the spies this time are Germans.

The original film was one of the first "innocent man on the run" stories and Hitchcock had Hannay escaping to Scotland to avoid the police and foreign spies. He started a genre which became much loved by Hollywood. This film is not really a thriller because Leonard is a spy working for British intelligence who knows that Hannay is innocent. The Hitchcock version works better because Carroll's character is an innocent bystander who initially believes Hannay is a murderer.

Hithcock liked his heroines to be beautiful and Carroll definitely added some sexual interest. Carroll was one of the first stunning blonds that Hitchcock employed. BBC heroines have never had that much sex-appeal and because Leonard is less interesting to look at, it becomes harder to believe that Penry-Jones could become so infatuated so quickly.

The main disappointment was the ending which was daft and something of a letdown. But, Scotland looks great, particularly the houses and the scenery. Hithcock's film was a classic and the plot changes in this TV version don't really work. It could also have done with tighter direction, but overall it was entertaining but different. Even though its probably the worst version of the story I have seen, I still found it enjoyable and worth watching.
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The Virginian (1962–1971)
Great Western Series
12 February 2010
I first saw the Virginian in England in the 1960s. It became my favorite Western series. The characters were honest, likable and honorable. The acting was good and the stories were compelling and well written. The show also seemed more subtle and complex than the average western series. The stories usually had a moral message and the good guys always came out on top.James Drury, Doug McClure and Lee J.Cobb were all excellent.

The Virginian came from a time when American TV shows were very popular in the UK.During the 1960s and 1970s we tended to see a lot of American shows in prime-time in Britain, but that changed in the 1980s. This show is being shown on Encore and I'm enjoying watching it in color for the first time.
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War is Horrible
3 February 2010
The Hurt Locker covers about 3 months in the life of a bomb disposal team operating in Iraq during 2004. The acting is convincing and the film is beautifully directed. The film graphically shows the brutality and hostility that American soldiers faced during the early stages of the occupation. Iraq was in chaos and the bomb disposal teams helped clear Baghdad of IEDs. Watching this movie can be an uncomfortable experience, you feel like an extra member of the team. I am basically a philistine so when I go to the movies I usually prefer to forget my troubles and like to be entertained. For me the film's realism made watching a harrowing and depressing experience. This is not a movie for the faint of heart.

The camera follows the team from one incident to another and shows the everyday experiences the soldiers faced. The three team members react differently to the horrors they confront. Sgt. J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) hate Iraq. They want to go home and try to avoid taking any unnecessary risks. Sgt. Will James (Jeremy Renner)the team leader is calm and seems to enjoy the war. James is described by a colonel as an "animal." The soldiers are not the frightened kids, high on drugs that we saw in many Vietnam movies. These men are mature,professionals who interact like grown-ups but there is tension amongst the team members because Sanborn believes that James takes too many risks.

The movie is well made and gives you a better understanding of what the soldiers went through. It shows how war can change people forever and Bigelow doesn't sweeten the pill.
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Cheesy Western
29 January 2010
My dad loved John Wayne so I grew up watching films like the Comancheros. When I was a kid I enjoyed cowboy films, but I watched this film for the first time in decades and I was surprised how bad it was. John Wayne plays John Wayne. Most of the other performers just ham it up and chew the scenery. There is no real attempt at acting.

There is also no attempt at realism. Although the film was supposedly set in Texas, nobody has a Texas accent. In the film Wayne and Whitman leave Galveston bound for the Louisiana border and stumble into Monument Valley, Utah. I live in Texas and there is grass and woods in this part of the state,it's not desert country. Although supposedly set in 1843 the characters use Winchester rifles and Colt Peacemaker pistols which were not available for another 25-30 years. Nobody in this film dressed or looked like they lived in the 1840s. The story didn't make a lot of sense either.

Wayne by this time had become an institution and represented the type of man, men of my father's generation aspired to be. He epitomized rugged masculinity. Wayne was tough, likable,honest and personified integrity. Which is all very well, but the film just seemed terribly old fashioned and was hard to enjoy because of the bad acting, ridiculous plot and its overall laziness.
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Takes me back
23 January 2010
I really enjoyed Hooligans. Lexi Alexander, the director, made a fun and fast-paced action film. There are innumerable fight scenes with plenty of boozing and swearing and the acting is convincing, especially from Elijah Wood and Charlie Hunnam. The film does not judge harshly those that participate in hooliganism but it shows that the potential risks can outweigh the thrills.

It reminded me of life in England in the 1970s. The film depicted fairly accurately some aspects of the football world as it was then. I knew people who would travel around the country supposedly supporting their team who were mainly looking for a fight. I had a friend at college who eventually became an accountant who liked the excitement and the camaraderie. Most of the hooligans gave it up when they reached their early twenties. They grew up, found girl friends and realised that having a criminal record might damage their future career prospects.

In the 1970s hooliganism was in many ways tolerated by the authorities. The assumption was that young men liked to fight and as long as they just beat each other up hopefully they would get the violence out of their systems and become solid members of society. It was when English fans started to export the violence overseas that the authorities began to take notice and it became a national embarrassment. After the Heysel Disaster in 1985 when 39 Italian fans were killed in a stampede trying to escape from rampaging Liverpool supporters the British government carried out a major crackdown and it became less of a problem in the years that followed. There is still the occasional flare up, mostly involving England when they play overseas, but the police seem to have the situation under control. I now live in the US and have no idea whether the world shown in the film still exists.

The film is good fun and focuses on the fights and the male bonding. It does not try to explain why young men felt the need to behave this way.
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Alias Smith and Jones (1971–1973)
Enjoyable Series
14 December 2009
Alias Smith and Jones was a breath of fresh air in 1971. It made most of the westerns my dad watched seem dull and old fashioned. Hollywood was still making western movies starring John Wayne and Henry Fonda who usually played geriatric gunfighters. The rival spaghetti westerns seemed tacky and often ridiculous. I have fond memories of Smith & Jones.

The series was loosely based on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It was light-hearted and humorous. Pete Duel and Ben Murphy played Hannibal Heyes (aka, Smith) and Kid Curry (aka, Jones). Heyes provided the brains and was an excellent card player, while Curry was the fastest gun in the West. The stories were well written, uncomplicated and enjoyable. The lead characters were youngish and likable.

I was at school in England and it was shown on Monday nights on BBC2 sandwiched between the science series Horizon and Call My Bluff. It was a show I looked forward to. Watching it again it's not as good as I remembered it, but it is still enjoyable.
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