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Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
10/10
You will be "shocked and awed" and come out feeling a little better than when you went in.
24 February 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I'll get this review in just ahead of the Oscar awards, as it deserves my support – not that it will make one iota of difference. Of all the films I have seen recently which are nominated for best picture, in my humble opinion, only "Hacksaw Ridge" and "Manchester by the Sea" are worthy contenders.

"Hell or High Water" is a good movie but not deserving of Best Picture. "Arrival" starts OK-ish but deteriorates into rubbish. La La Land is rubbish throughout. I gave up on "Fences", for while it is a worthy subject and brilliantly acted, it's a stage play – not a movie. "Moonlight" is good but is not the finished article, and I haven't seen "Lion" or "Hidden Figures", so I can't comment.

Back to "Hacksaw Ridge", which is beautifully directed by Mel Gibson. Gibson has been through purgatory, quite rightly, for his rabid anti-Semitic comments and other sociopathic meltdowns. But the academy has judged him on his artistic achievements and put his misdeeds to one side - which is how it should be.

I wonder if they would have been quite so understanding if Mr. Gibson had declared himself a Trump supporter? In the eyes of Hollywood, you can be a racist, and a wife abuser, but not a Republican.

I digress.

I doubt that Hacksaw Ridge is the war movie most of us expected to see when we sit down to watch it. As a genre, I am not keen on war movies, although there have been some pretty good ones, such as "Platoon", "Saving private Ryan" and "Good Morning Vietnam."

To these, I would definitely add Hacksaw Ridge. It is the true story of Desmond Doss, a deeply religious man who decides to enlist in WW2 because he wants to be a medic and save lives.

We first meet the adult Desmond at his home in Virginia where he saves the life of a man in a road accident which leads him to meet his future wife at the local hospital.

After signing up, his troubles start when he has to go through basic training and he refuses to carry a gun. He is court-martialed and is at the point of being sentenced to years in a military jail when he is granted a last minute reprieve and is allowed to continue his training and go to the war front - without a gun.

The action switches to Hacksaw Ridge, the taking of which will presage the collapse of Okinawa and the ending of the war against the Japanese.

At first derided by his fellow soldiers due to his refusal to bear arms, Desmond is thrust into the front lines of a murderous battle, where many of his comrades are killed or mortally wounded.

The US army is obliged to retreat from the ridge, leaving their wounded behind for the Japanese to kill and mutilate at their leisure.

But they hadn't reckoned on Desmond Doss, who returns to the battlefield time and time again, and under the noses of the Japanese, he succeeds in single-handedly rescuing 75 casualties from certain death.

In later skirmishes on the ridge, he performs more unbelievably heroic rescues, before becoming seriously wounded after he kicks a grenade away to save his comrades from the explosion.

There is much more to this story, and you don' have to be a lover of war movies to appreciate this deeply moving tale. It is actually an anti-war movie because it shows you what war is really all about, stripped of romantic and heroic notions. It shows up close the manner in which war wreaks terrible consequences on the participants – of both sides.

To say that Andrew Garfield is utterly brilliant in the role of Desmond Doss is an understatement, and nobody was more surprised than me to discover he was an Englishman, so convincing is his accent.

There are no bad actors in this movie – From Teresa Palmer, who plays the nurse who becomes Doss's wife, to all the myriad actors who played the members of his family and his comrades (and enemies) in the military.

Gibson has used all his consummate skill and vast experience to show us the horrors of war and what true heroism is all about. We applaud this gallant soldier who was the first man to receive the Medal of Honor – America's highest award for bravery - without ever firing a shot.

We could do with few more like Desmond Doss today. What a wonderful example of simple humanity in these times of unspeakable violence, hedonism and such manic selfishness and self-love that is slowly destroying our cherished beliefs and even civilization itself.

Oscar for Best Actor? It really is impossible to choose between Andrew Garfield and Casey Affleck for the best actor award, (although Affleck will get it), and as far as the Best Picture is concerned, I think maybe "Hacksaw" just has the edge over "Manchester", but I'm sure that the rubbishy "La La Land" will get it.

Go see Hacksaw Ridge – you will be "shocked and awed" and come out feeling a little better than when you went in.
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10/10
100% Note Perfect – Masterful Stuff!
11 February 2017
Warning: Spoilers
This is masterful stuff, and there wasn't a single minute in the 2 hours and 17 minutes running time when I so much as glanced at my smartphone, let alone picked it up and scrolled – as is my want.

Casey Affleck plays Lee, the younger brother of Joe, who lives with his son, Patrick, (Lee's nephew) in Manchester-by-the-Sea, a small picturesque coastal town in Massachusetts. Lee lives in a single room, 45 minutes' drive away, where he works as an apartment handyman.

We soon realize that Lee is not exactly your run of the mill handyman. While he knows his job pretty well, he is surly, rude and prickly to the tenants, prompting one woman to complain about him. Later, he is rude to another woman who tries to befriend him in a bar and after that, in the same bar, he becomes violent with two men who he thinks are talking about him.

So we get the message – our friend Lee is a troubled man.

Then Lee gets a call from home – his brother's doctor is calling from Manchester – Joe is in hospital and it's very serious.

Joe has died by the time Lee arrives, and after viewing the body, Lee drives to the local school to break the news of his brother's death to Joe's somewhat obnoxious teenage son. The two of them drive home. It is all very low key, with little - if any - emotion displayed on either side.

Patrick also behaves as if nothing has happened. He just wants to continue his rebellious teen-life with his two girlfriends and practice playing in a heavy metal band. His uncle remains taciturn and non-communicative.

By now, we are bursting to understand exactly what "gives" with this family.

Joe's will is read. He has left his property to his son but has appointed Lee as Patrick's guardian, with the house and property to be held in trust by Lee until Patrick is of age.

Lee is furious and tells the lawyer he cannot take on the role. Patrick is also none too impressed by this turn of events and the two of them quickly develop a love /hate - more hate than love – relationship, as they both are obliged to come to terms with the reality of the situation.

Through a series of flashbacks, we start to put this puzzling jigsaw together.

The heart of this drama is a terrible tragedy. After a drunken party at home with friends, Lee forgot to put a fireguard on the fireplace when he went out to buy some beer in the middle of the night. He returned home to find his house engulfed in flames.

His wife, Randi, who was sleeping downstairs, was saved, but his three children, who were upstairs, all perished.

Lee went to the police station to explain what happened and he grabbed a gun and tried to kill himself, but the cops, aided by Joe brother and his father prevented another tragedy.

We now completely understand why Lee is so troubled. Everyone blames him for his children's deaths – including his wife who leaves him - but nobody blames Lee more than Lee himself.

There is much more that happens in this bittersweet melodrama.

Poor dead Joe has to be kept in a freezer until spring as the ground is too frozen to dig a grave.

Lee and Patrick have a very hard time of it with each other, with Patrick rebelling at every turn and Lee desperately trying to do the right thing, but he is woefully ill equipped for such a difficult task.

A woman sets her cap at Lee until she finds she has more chance of charming a sheep than getting a rise out of the embittered protagonist.

And it keeps on coming…

There's the boat...

...and Lee's chance street encounter with his ex-wife, Randi, who has now remarried with a new baby. This becomes one of the most heart- rending moments into the whole film, as Randi tells him she deeply regrets leaving him and it is clear that she still loves him.

Lee goes to a bar to drown his sorrows. He soon picks a fight and the entire occupants of the bar gang up on him and he is very badly beaten. Rescued by a family friend, he is taken to their home, when he finally breaks down and cries.

The tale continues, and eventually reaches a satisfactory conclusion - of sorts

If I was unkind, I could describe "Manchester" as a very high-class soap, But this film is so much more than a soap. It is a raw, totally believable drama that cuts right through a slice of life in small town America, pop. 5136.

If you enjoy watching family dramas, I promise you that you will never get bored with this film with its strange, poignant narrative and superlative acting throughout.

Would the film have been as good without the incredible performance by Casey Affleck in the lead role? I'm not really sure, but there is no doubt that he fits the part like a glove.

Those who say he acted the part badly haven't the foggiest notion of what they are talking about. Yes, he is that good! Not for him, the shouting and histrionics – Affleck is so effective with his understated and brilliant portrayal of a man who has basically lost the will to live. Whenever he is on screen, your eyes are riveted to that tortured soul.

This movie is "note perfect" - writing, acting, directing - and I am more than happy to award it ten stars.
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Moonlight (I) (2016)
7/10
There is much that is good about Moonlight but it's not quite the finished article.
10 February 2017
Warning: Spoilers
There is much that is good about Moonlight and in the overall, I quite enjoyed it.

But I cannot for the life of me see how it won the Golden Globe for the best motion picture drama, or that it can win the best picture Oscar, as while enjoyable, it is some way from being a great movie

It is the story of Chiron, a gay African American, and it is split into three distinct time periods, with three different actors playing the main role.

The first part is when Chiron is a young boy, and to this reviewer, it is by far the best part of the movie. The sensitive young boy, who scarcely understands his own sexuality, is mercilessly bullied and made fun off by his schoolmates, who sense that he is different.

His mother is a prostitute crack addict and he has no father. A kindly drug dealer (now there's an oxymoron for you) in the neighborhood takes Chiron in hand, and between him and his girlfriend, they provide a safe haven from the horrors he suffers at home and at school.

While the first part of the story doesn't move along particularly quickly, there is more than enough going on to hold your attention.

Part two begins with Chiron in his mid-teens. He is still shy and his schoolmates still tease and bully him. One day he is taunted viciously about his prostitute mother; he gets angry but takes no action.

Kevin, his school friend since childhood, takes him to a deserted beach where they kiss and Kevin gives him a hand job. Later at school Chiron is taunted yet again and Kevin is put under pressure by a school gang to punch Chiron. This he does, and urges Chiron to stay down on the ground, but Kevin keeps getting up again, whereupon the gang descend on him and beat him severely.

This is a pivotal moment in Chiron's life. He has clearly had enough of being picked on and intimidated. The next day he enters class, picks up a chair and breaks it over the gang leader's head. He is dragged off by teachers and arrested by the police.

The story still holds your attention, as you care enough to want to know where it goes from here. But there are many overly long gaps in action and dialogue, and we just watch the screen for minutes at a time, waiting for someone to speak or something to happen.

This is particularly so in the scenes between Chiron and Kevin, where I suppose we are watching the transformation of Kevin from school friend to gay conspirator, but it is not done very well and frankly, you just get rather bored.

Part three begins ten years later when Chiron is out of jail and is now called "Black" - a powerful drug dealer in Atlanta.

Kevin is now a cook in a diner back in Florida and one day he calls Chiron for the first time since he was incarcerated. They have a stilted conversation, and as a result, "Black" decides to drive back to Florida and pay Kevin a visit.

The third part is the worst. Moviegoers have already invested a fair amount of time in this movie that now seems to be running out of steam, but you hang in there and hope for the best. Once more there are long periods where not much happens – Black and Kevin stare at each other, and Kevin cooks a meal for Black.

The only really good scene is when Black visits his mother on route Kevin's diner. Mum begs forgiveness for all the wrongs she has committed, and for her failure to bring him up properly.

But subsequent scenes at the diner, and at Kevin's home, are so slow to the point of sleep-inducing.

In the end, we find out that although Kevin has been married and has a child, he is still gay. Black tells Kevin that he has never touched anyone since that day on the beach when he kissed Kevin.

Moonlight is clearly a 21st-century American morality play. America is a country where poor black gays are treated so badly that they have no chance of a achieving a good life. They will end up in prison and become drug dealers. Those who do survive on the right side of the law are obliged to hide their sexuality, as is the case with Kevin.

But I'm not too sure that this little three-part mini-drama tells us anything we didn't already know. We are forced to watch a lot of angst – and I get that, but I don't feel that much of it was done particularly well. For most of the time, it isn't clear what is going on until it happens. If that's what the director wanted, then he succeeded, but for this reviewer, it just resulted in frustration.

I know I shouldn't question the story line as I have no way of knowing if such a story is feasible, but it did strike me as rather 'pat' that Chiron had been a virgin all his life. Sure, he wouldn't have wanted his sexuality to be known, but surely a powerful drug lord would have found a way. I wonder how many gay men with raging hormones, from any ethnicity, spend their adulthood in sexual abstinence? Where there's a will there's usually a way.

I think his sexual abstinence was a ploy to justify him driving across America to visit his schoolboy friend, and to drag the audience across the finishing line on a dramatic high.

The acting throughout is pretty good. Mahershala Ali, and Naomie Harris richly deserve their Oscar nominations
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La La Land (I) (2016)
1/10
Yet another Hollywood con-job
16 January 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Yet Another Hollywood Con-job!

It ain't "West Side Story", which is quite possibly the best musical ever made.

It also ain't "Singing in the Rain", which is arguably the best postwar musical made in the Hollywood tradition.

It also ain't "Top Hat", rated by many as the best Rogers/Astaire musical.

It also ain't "Moulin Rouge", which was a riot of great music, comedy, genuine drama, and emotion.

And it ain't even "Les Misérables", arguably the finest ever stage musical which was ruined on film by a non-professional singing cast who could barely sing in tune, (Anne Hathaway excepted).

As with other 'duds' that are adored by the professional critics and film insiders, such as "Birdman" and the recent "American Honey", it seems to be yet another case of the "Kings New Clothes". Nobody dares to criticize.

We are told by the experts that La La Land it is absolutely brilliant and when we go to see it we will swoon in the aisles, barely able to find the superlatives to describe how much we loved it.

Yet if you scroll down the user reviews of this smash hit musical, in among the glowing 10 out of ten-star reviews, you will find a fair sprinkling of one-star reviews. Not five or six or seven stars … no, just 1-stars among the 10-stars.

It doesn't make sense – why do all these people give it ten stars and others only one, with headlines such as "Painfully Bad Film Musical", "They Don't Make Them Like They Used To", and "So Disappointed!" "Been There, Seen That" and "Visceral hatred for a con job"

If you are wondering why is it that some people can love it and others hate it – go and read some of the one-star reviews. The reviewers are movie lovers, (like me), and many are movie-musical lovers, (like me), and they intelligently articulate with tremendous clarity why La La Land has been ridiculously over-hyped, and why the endless publicity has simply turned 99% of the movie-going public into one enormous flock of sheep.

So what's wrong with it?

In a single word, it is INSIPID. (Insipid: lacking in qualities that interest, stimulate or challenge; dull, vapid, flat….)

The songs are insipid.

Even though I am partial to jazz - and some of the jazz sequences with John Legend do sparkle - in general, the music score is mundane to a fault and the tunes are instantly forgettable.

The singing is insipid.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling do their best, but they are NOT professional singers, and I suspect you could find better singers at any local amateur dramatic musical production. The movie directors of old were smart enough to understand that if their stars cannot sing, such as Natalie Wood in "West Side Story", then dub in a decent singer. How many people ever realized that Natalie didn't actually sing those wonderful songs?

The dancing by Stone and Gosling is insipid.

Again, they do their best but they are NOT professionals. In some sequences, you can almost sense the dance instructors off camera shouting out "Stop! one step left! one step back!" and so on. They are sooo… wooden.

The ensemble dancers are pretty much OK, but to be honest, there are no really great, original dance sequences that astonish and astound you- nothing that even comes close to the kind of stuff we have seen in the movie musicals of the past. Frankly, I can see better dance sequences every week in "Strictly come Dancing" or "Dancing with the Stars" than I saw in La La Land.

The story is insipid.

It takes forever to get going and for the first half of the movie you have to pinch yourself to keep watching these insipid characters playing out thoroughly unoriginal, utterly boring story. You really don't care what happens to either of them.

The Story

Struggling actress meets struggling jazz pianist. Pianist makes good, actress dumps him because he opts for "wealth and fame" over his musical principles – whatever that may mean. The actress gives up, and goes home to mom; successful pianist comes to the rescue and persuades her to go to one last audition. Guess what? She makes it and becomes a star, and the two stars go their separate ways.

What an enthralling story, don't you think? This review hardly qualifies as one of those containing spoilers, as the story is so insipid.

Okay, so is anything good?

Yes – the cinematography and editing are good, as you might expect of a movie with a budget exceeding 30 million dollars. They can afford to hire to very best technicians that money can buy – and they do.

But a good cameraman and a good editor, and a good costume designer and a good set designer, and so on, do not a good movie make. These wonderful technicians were already let down from the start by director Damien Chazelle, who wrote the insipid story and by Justin Hurwitz who penned the insipid music.

If you've got nothing better to do, and like me, you hate all the Hollywood franchise trash that fills our cinema screens these days, then you might do worse than spend a couple of hours snoozing through this piece of insipid, sleep-inducing rubbish.

But if you expect to be uplifted and leave with a fine tune ringing in your ears, then you're in for a major disappointment.

Unless you're one of the sheep… baa aah…
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9/10
A rare film that will make you laugh, cry, feel good and even think a little.
7 January 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Some reviewers love it and a few hate it, but the 'love-its' have it by a country mile.

As for this reviewer, well, yes I did enjoy it very much, but maybe the first hour a soupçon more than the second hour – but I'm splitting hairs.

Are you tired of formulaic, franchise hi-tech rubbish that the Hollywood factories churn out these days?

Do you sometimes wonder if there are any films being made anymore that can make you laugh, make you cry, make you wonder, make you think, and make you leave with a good feeling in your belly?

If so, then Captain Fantastic may well be the movie for you.

The story is quite simple. An American couple, Ben and Leslie, decide to uproot from so-called civilized America with their six kids and go and live in a cabin located deep in the mountains of Washington State. There's no electricity or water, no TV, no radio, no smartphones (or any phones) and none of the luxuries - and most might say necessities - of modern day living.

The children are 'home schooled', are taught to hunt and forage for their food, and they live the life of backwoodsmen. They are obliged to follow a strict and sometimes dangerous fitness regime and are trained to deal with any emergency that may arise.

They are all apparently happy with their lives in the wilderness, and their intelligent and well-educated parents imbue them with the precepts of socialism and teach them the evils of capitalism, corporate America, and the outside world.

But Mum, (Leslie), has fallen ill. She has a serious mental disorder - paranoid and bipolar – a condition that has possibly been exacerbated by her chosen lifestyle. We don't see Leslie, except in very brief flashbacks, as when the film opens, she has already been shipped to a hospital where her estranged parents can watch over her.

Soon after the movie starts, the family learn that Leslie has killed herself and the remainder of the film is devoted to the family's efforts to attend her funeral and what happens in its aftermath.

Leslie's father, a very wealthy and influential man, blames Ben for the death of his daughter and warns him that if he tries to attend the funeral, he will have him arrested.

At first, Ben accepts that he cannot go, but the six kids want to see their Mom one last time, so in the end, they load up their converted school bus and head back to civilization.

The next part of the movie is really a road trip, and there some amusing incidents along the way. One with a cop who stops them for having a faulty tail light, and an embarrassing episode with the eldest son who has his first kiss with a strange girl, and in particular, a planned raid of a supermarket. Here they succeed in stealing hundreds of dollars worth of groceries under the noses of the shop owners.

There follows a mix of both amusing and serious confrontations with the in-laws. Leslie's father succeeds in extricating the six kids from Ben's custody for a while, but it all works out pretty well in the end.

The first part of the film was totally captivating in every possible way, but once they embark on their journey back to the real world, some of the plot holes were a little hard to stomach. In particular, the robbery of the food mart didn't sit well with this reviewer. Would a father who despised capitalism and wanted his kids to understand the true meaning of right and wrong embark on such a criminal venture?

But apart from the moral issues of the robbery, what about the high risks of getting caught? If they were arrested it would be all over for family life in the mountains. Would he really take such a risk?

Okay, I appreciate it was all done in a spirit of good humor, and it was genuinely funny – but at the expense of the good-natured and well- meaning citizens who become innocent dupes in their felonious act.

One of the most amazing parts of the film was the kids. From the very start, I completely forgot that I was watching a team of child actors. For me, nearly all films containing child actors, no matter how good they are supposed to be, usually make me squirm a little when the 'little dears' say their lines. I am always painfully aware that the kids are actors acting parts.

Yet never once throughout the whole movie did I once think to myself, "Hey! these are just kids acting." I was truly in their world from the very first frame of film to the last. All six kids were truly outstanding, and I was transported to their world. As indeed was Viggo Mortenson who played Ben, their father, to say nothing of the remaining ensemble cast. Not a dud between the lot of them. I particularly liked Frank Langella as the grieving, angry father.

So apart from a couple of plot holes, (which only people like me are mean-spirited enough to take issue with), it is difficult to find fault with this very enjoyable film.

The cinematography, screenplay, and direction were masterful and I hope we will see much more from the pen and undoubted directing talents of Matt Ross.

We need more writers and directors like Matt Ross to bring us back to a time when filmmaking isn't just another rehash of yet another comic-book hero or a prequel, sequel, spin-off of Star Wars/Star Trek/West world/Frozen/ Finding Dory……and God only knows what franchise.
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4/10
Not as bad as "Birdman", but only by a couple of whiskers.
26 December 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Once again there seems to be a 'disconnect' between the professional critics, and those who go to movies to be entertained.

There is TV program on BBC called FILM 2016 which, as you might imagine, reviews the latest film releases. When the resident critic stated his choice of film of the year was "American Honey" I decided that this was a "must-see".

Just to be sure, I checked out the critics' online reviews in the Guardian, Telegraph, and other august literary reviews and found that to a man, (or woman), they all gave this movie 5 stars out of 5.

So what better movie to snuggle down to over Christmas?

It started with great promise. A young lady (Star) and two kids are rummaging around in a large trash container for food. This is followed by a crazy scene where she meets a gang of itinerant magazine sellers in a nearby food mart, buying food and dancing their way around the aisles to hip-hop music. The apparent head of this oddball collection of misfits, (Jake), offers Star a job.

"Be at the Motel Six at 7 tomorrow morning", he tells her.

Star goes back to her trailer trash home, gets mauled by some thoroughly unpleasant drunken oaf and then takes the kids – who we all thought were hers – to their mother who is line dancing at a nearby outdoor bar. She leaves them with her mother and sets off to Motel Six to seek her fate.

So far so good - looks like we will have an interesting ride.

Unfortunately, from this moment on the film goes downhill. Star joins a bunch of crazy youths who are traveling across the USA in a mini-van – stopping off every day in a new town to sell magazines.

Apart from the fact that in this day of the internet, nobody buys magazines anymore, these kids go cold calling, house to house, and make up any kind of sob story to persuade the householders to part with magazine subscriptions.

Every evening they meet up and hand over their day's sales to their boss, (Crystal) a hard- nosed woman who takes 80% to pay for their motels and food and, of course, for her cut. The kids all share rooms, but Crystal has her own, and she amuses herself by having sex with the most handsome men on the team.

The two lowest sellers of the day are made to have a drunken fight with each other.

Star is teamed with Jake – their 'star' seller and they develop a love /hate relationship as she refuses to go along with Jake's lies to his customers, while at the same time she falls madly in love with him. Jake seems to reciprocate her feelings, but we are never quite sure, as he also 'services' his boss, Crystal.

In between selling, the gang travel from one town to another, playing hip-hop music in the van, singing, drinking, smoking pot and taking drugs and generally having a thoroughly hedonistic time of it.

They have no meaningful conversations; they have no ambitions, no plans for the future, no morals or ethics. They lie and sometimes steal from their customers and basically don't care about anything other than having a good time with each other.

Star has vague dreams about owning her own trailer home and settling down with Jake, but even this plan seems somehow insincere and unattainable.

That's it – that's the film. It rambles on for almost three hours, and you know less about these people at the end of the film than you did at the beginning. I confess that I am not a hip-hop fan, but even if I was, I doubt that I would have enjoyed the film anymore.

We are treated to three hours of nothing – just a crazy bunch of kids having a good time traveling across America, fighting each other, getting drunk and stoned and singing along to hip-hop.

Okay, there are maybe two or three short scenes worth watching, such the one when Star goes off with a bunch of middle-aged Texans to their ranch and earns 400 bucks by drinking a bottle of liquor straight, including a worm in the bottom of the bottle.

But for the main part, nothing really happens and after two hours you realize you have been conned – much like the poor mutts in the film were when they bought magazine subscriptions.

There are plot holes galore, but I won't go into those, except to say it seems inconceivable that their dubious selling practices and thefts would go completely unnoticed by the law. They even steal a luxury, open-top car, but we don't see a single cop in the entire movie.

On the plus side – just like that other piece of nonsense, "Birdman" – the acting by the entire ensemble cast, particularly Sasha Lane as Star, Shia La Beouf as Jake and Riley Keough as Crystal is superb. There isn't a single dud - they are all utterly believable in their roles. The cinematography is outstanding, as is the direction.

But to what end? The director could easily have cut an hour from the running time without losing anything, and if she had been a bit more focused with the script, and given us a halfway decent plot to retain our interest, it could have been so much better. But she didn't and it wasn't.

My guess is that most of the dialogue was improvised, and they probably made it up as they went along. It works with a Mike Leigh film as the cast spend weeks developing the plot before shooting starts, but it does not work here.

I give it four stars out of ten because there were a few goods bits, in between all the boring nonsense.
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Topsy-Turvy (1999)
10/10
This is not the film you think it may be – hunt it out and spend three enjoyable hours getting away from it all.
26 June 2016
Warning: Spoilers
It is not the film you think it may be – hunt it out, and spend three enjoyable hours getting away from it all.

I have long been a huge admirer of Mike Leigh's films – the brilliant, award-winning English director who eschews the Hollywood system and refuses to make films that will uplift you or tells stories with conventional happy (or sad) endings.

He makes films that show us 'slices of life' in England, mainly working and middle-class people – sometimes good people – often bad – but always with gritty reality. He never holds back, and occasionally he makes us feel very uncomfortable as he peels away the layers of quasi-polite behaviour and we see the real people underneath.

He shows us the love, the hate, the greed, the jealousies, the selfishness, the egoism, the misery, the depression, the generosity, the kindness, the cruelty that lies beneath the surface in our so- called civilised society.

Leigh's films never have scripts. This is one of the reasons he tends to use the same ensemble of actors, film after film. The first part of Leigh's filmmaking process is to get the actors together for several weeks prior to shooting. He gives them the outline of the 'story' and their characters and they improvise the scenes together until he is satisfied. Leigh and his actors have totally perfected this method, and it was only relatively recently that I discovered that all the dialogue was improvised, as so convincing is the end result.

Topsy-Turvy, his 1999 masterpiece, is very different to many of his films. For starters, it contains a lot of wonderful, unabashed humour. It has none of the depressing realism of "Vera Drake", a story of a 1950's back-street abortionist, or the depressing story of a family living in a council flat, ("All or Nothing"), or the revelations of what lies under the surface in a middle-class family over the period of one year, ("Another Year"), or even "Happy-Go-Lucky", an upbeat, funny film that ultimately turns out not to be not quite so happy.

You don't have to be a lover of opera or Gilbert and Sullivan fan to enjoy this film, but you do have to love music, because music and live theatre is at the core of this enjoyable romp through the life and times of Victorian theatre; in particular, what lay behind the scenes at the Doyle Carte opera company, who had exclusive rights to these ever-popular and amusing operettas.

We join the lives of Gilbert and Sullivan when they are already very rich and successful. Sullivan – who pens the music – has become concerned that they are starting to repeat themselves, and refuses to write the score for Gilbert's latest libretto, even though he is contracted so to do.

Gilbert, brilliantly played by Jim Broadbent, is a clever man who writes very funny librettos, yet in real life he is a somewhat controlling person, full of heavy sarcasm and with a fragile ego. He is furious with the critics who dared to criticise his latest offering. All in all, he is not a very nice person.

By contrast, Sullivan, who is equally well played by Alan Corduner, is a fun-loving, amiable hedonist, who dreams of writing a great grand opera.

The relationship between the two is very stormy, especially when Sullivan refuses to fulfil his contractual obligations. But after a visit to a Japanese cultural exhibition in London, Gilbert came up with the idea of The Mikado, arguably G&S' finest operetta. He uses Japanese characters to poke fun at the Victorian establishment and this tour de force becomes an outstanding success.

At just under three hours, Topsy-Turvy is a very long film, but it needs to be that long so that we can enjoy the many renderings of G &S's 'songs' and also to give the ensemble cast the time to develop their roles and become real believable characters.

The film is a riot of fun and we get great insights into how the Victorian theatre functioned. We see the lives, loves and vices of the people who inhabited it, and some wonderfully amusing vignettes, such as rehearsals where the demanding Gilbert directs the hardworking and exhausted performers while Sullivan conducts. We also get glimpses of the other side of Victorian London – its street women and its beggars.

There are many excellent cameo performances by members of the ensemble cast. Pride of place goes to Timothy Spall as the comedy Tenor, but there really are no bad performances.

The film is also full of colour and wonderful Victorian costumes. The staging of the performances are so cleverly done, you think you are part of the audience.

Topsy-Turvy garnered two Oscars, and it deserved more – but we all know how difficult it is for a Mike Leigh film to break through to the Hollywood establishment.

My only tiny gripe is that as great as Broadbent was, there were a few times when he reminded me of his character, Harold Zidler, in Moulin Rouge. But that's no great sin as Moulin Rouge was also a great flick.

Trust me, Topsy-Turvy is not the film you think it may be – hunt it out and spend three enjoyable hours getting away from it all.
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My King (2015)
9/10
A masterpiece of French filmmaking.
13 June 2016
Warning: Spoilers
'Mon Roi' ("My King"), which was selected to compete in the Cannes Film Festival, is a typical French tale of a tortuous relationship between a highly charismatic man (Georgio) and a woman (Tony) who he charms into marriage.

Most of the movie is told in flashbacks. Tony is in rehabilitation following a serious Skiing accident in which there is a suggestion that it might have been a deliberate attempt at suicide. Here she meets some much younger, diverse characters who offer her support and become firm friends. It is during this time that she looks back over her life with Georgio.

The two were very much in love, and at first, things go very well. Georgio owns a smart restaurant and Tony is carried away with his lifestyle and his 'joie de vivre'. He sweeps her off her feet, even though there are a number of early warning signs that things may eventually go a bit awry.

He takes her to a wedding ceremony without advance warning where he happens to be the best man; then she meets one of his ex-girlfriends (Agnes) who is working at Georgio's restaurant, and who accuses Tony of stealing her boyfriend. Next, Georgio insists that Tony becomes pregnant – and when she duly complies, the two get married.

Things get worse. On hearing the news of the marriage, Agnes tries to kill herself and in the aftermath, Georgio insists on taking care of her. The newly married couple fight many times and separate, only to reconcile again. By this time Georgio is living in his own apartment for much of the time and Tony catches him with a strange girl in his bed.

There is much more, but although my review does contain a few spoilers, I won't tell you what happens and completely ruin it for those who want to watch it.

Very few western couples succeed in remaining together for their entire lives, and this movie is a typical story of incapability. Despite the unquenchable fiery love between them, it is clear that love alone is not enough to support a marriage.

The clever flashbacks, the high production values and the outstanding acting of the entire cast, including the young people Tony meets at the rehabilitation centre and Tony's brother and his girlfriend, who act as Tony's counsellors, make this movie a real gem to watch.

But it is the two central characters played by Emmanuelle Bercot (Tony) and Vincent Cassel who plays a blinder as Georgio that makes this film so watchable and believable. Bercot picked up the best actress gong at the Cannes Film Festival.

'Mon Roi' is a masterpiece of French filmmaking, and they didn't need a 'cop whodunit' or a mass shooting or a hostage-taking or a terrorist outrage to have me glued to the screen throughout its two hours + length.
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Mia madre (2015)
9/10
it will uplift your spirits and give you much food for thought.
13 June 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Mia Madre ("My Mum") is a typical Italian offering – a story that has no beginning and no end… but the bits in between are absolutely delightful and totally absorbing.

Mia Madre is filled with unforgettable characters. At its heart is Margherita, (played by Margherita Buy), a middle-aged film director who has made any number of gritty Italian 'socially aware' movies in the style of a Ken Loach or Mile Leigh. She is now questioning whether her films really work and if they make any difference to an indifferent world.

She is having problems with her latest effort, a film about a factory whose workers are on strike and is being taken over by a rich Italian/American. She has trouble with the production and camera crews and is having a nightmare with an Italian/American actor, Barry, brought in to play the new factory owner, and who continually forgets his lines.

She has broken up with her partner and cannot relate to her teenage daughter. But the biggest problem is her mother, who is in hospital dying; but mum hasn't been told she is dying and wants to go home.

It's enough to drag down most people in a mid-life crisis and it very nearly does for Margherita. There are some wonderful scenes between Margherita and her mother and with her ex-partner, and her brother, both of whom are distressed with Mum's condition.

Then there is the interplay with her daughter who is being rebellious but is also emotionally affected by her Grandmother's condition.

From time to time, Margherita has flashbacks of her mother in better times when she was a highly regarded lecturer at a university. She sadly speculates on what will happen to hundreds of books owned by her mother after she dies.

Amidst all this, the film production stumbles on, and relations between Margherita and star actor Barry get worse and worse, with Barry 'blowing up' on set and later Margherita telling him just what she thinks of him in words that leave little to the imagination.

She has a heart-to-heart with her ex-partner and she becomes distraught by the realisation that she has been cold and unfeeling to her ex-partner and also to her family, friends and work colleagues – in fact to everyone.

It's a wonderful mishmash of emotions and strong personalities, and the great acting brings these characters alive and makes you want to know what happens. As I said, it doesn't really have any ending, but it does have closure of sorts, and the film will leave you feeling quite satisfied, as good Italian films always do.

Mia Madre won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at last year's Cannes Film Festival, and at a running time of 1 hour 45 minutes, it will uplift your spirits and give you much food for thought.
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Cold in July (2014)
5/10
A movie of two halves - the first half excellent, the second half utter drivel.
22 May 2016
Warning: Spoilers
I'm not too sure what I expected when I started to watch this film, but within the first minute, I was hooked. A couple are awoken by the noise of an intruder downstairs and the terrified husband bravely decides to go and see what's going on. He takes his father's gun with him which he has taken out of an old shoe-box. He creeps downstairs, his gun shaking in his hand, pulls the trigger by accident and the intruder is shot dead.

My wife, who is Thai, asked me why the man wasn't arrested, but I explained to her that this was America and everyone had a gun and they were within their rights to shoot an intruder in their home. She asked if he would have to pay any money to the dead man's relatives. "No darling, they don't pay 'blood money' in America."

In the aftermath of the shooting, the shooter, Dane, is feted as a hero and the case is closed within 24 hours. The stupid mutt who broke in is buried with little ceremony at a cemetery on the edge of town. We learn that he was a wanted felon, so he got what he deserved.

Enter stage right the dead man's father - also a felon - just released on bail who proceeds to make veiled threats against Dane's young son. The police initially dismiss the threats as being without substance, but after the old man breaks into Dane's house and leaves messages in the form of bullets in the young boy's bed, the cops get serious. So far so good and the acting and the action will hold you to your seats.

In spite of police hiding in the woods and an ex-commando cop sitting inside the house, the old man, Ben, succeeds in outwitting them all, visits the son in his bedroom before making his escape. Good suspenseful stuff. I am still hooked.

A day later the sheriff calls Dane to advise that Ben was captured in Mexico and is on his way back to Texas for a long spell in jail. Case closed, everybody celebrates and we all breathe a sigh of relief. Just when you begin to wonder where the story can go from here; Daney boy is leaving the police station after signing a few forms, when he sees a wanted poster for the man he killed, still pinned to the police notice board. He takes it down and looks at the mug shot. The man he killed looks nothing like the mug shot on the photo. He tries to tell the sheriff but the cop doesn't want to know - Dane is mistaken, he insists and refuses to discuss it.

Very intriguing, and you start to wonder where the story will go from here. You grab a quick cup of tea and return to your comfy seat, fully expecting the second half of the film to be as good as the first half.

When I tell you that I almost turned the movie off near the end, you can get an idea of how dire it was. Never have I seen a film that starts off in Oscar-worthy mode and descends into razzle mode so quickly.

Dane stakes out the cop shop and sees the sheriff and his cop cohorts smuggle Ben into a car late at night and leave him drugged and tied up, lying across a rail line out of town. Although the plot is already starting to signs of cracking, I still stay with it. Daney boy can't make up his mind whether to rescue Ben or not. Hurry up! The train is coming… and just when you think it is too late, he snatches Ben away from a ghastly death. Corny but still just about worth watching to see what happens.

But it goes downhill very quickly from here. The long corny second half tale is so full of plot holes it would take an army of writers to fix them. Shy, nerdy Dane teams up with Ben.Together with a wild west mate who Ben calls in to help, they go in search of Ben's son, after digging up the grave to convince Ben that it wasn't his son who was killed by Dan. They discover that the cops are protecting Ben Jr in a witness protection programme, but there is no credible explanation as to why the cops wanted Ben dead. The robbery was staged by the cops to convince the local bad boys that Ben Jr was dead. So there were already two potential deaths instigated by cops to protect one very evil dude.

It gets worse. It turns out that witness-protected Ben Jr is busy making porn 'snuff' videos, with Jr personally killing the young Mexican girls they 'employ' for each movie. Let's tell the cops, says Dane. He is told the cops are fully aware of what Ben Jr is up to, and they don't care.

So let's get this straight, they kill some innocent punter back in Dan's hometown by telling him to go robbing, they do their damnedest to kill Ben's father for reasons that are not clear, and they have no issues with any number of underage Mexican girls being brutally murdered on camera by this man they are protecting.

There is much more in the way of coincidences and ridiculous plot lines, but I think you get the idea. As was to be expected, there is a mass shoot out at the end of the movie where timid Dane has been transformed into an avenging Rambo and the three of them go on a killing spree that would do justice to a Scorsese film.

Dane returns home to small-town America and back to his job, making picture frames, but we know that life will never be the same. What a load of old….

But what do I know?
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10/10
The Deer Hunter has stood the test of time and I am sure it will still be eminently watchable in another 30 years.
6 May 2016
The other day I dipped into the past and had a second viewing of Michael Cimino's Deer Hunter. It is a 3-hour epic about three blue- collar Pennsylvania workers who enlist to fight in Vietnam and about their friends, wives, and lovers that they leave back home. The film, which was made in 1979, was the only really successful movie in Cimino's brief directorial career and some maintain that the sheer effort of getting this masterpiece to the screen was so draining on his creative juices that he was subsequently washed out as a director for ever more.

I have no idea if there is any substance to this, but, watching this film, after a break of some 30 odd years, I still find it an extraordinary piece of filmmaking, and it must surely be in anyone's top ten of all-time greatest movies. Apart from arguably, the overlong wedding scene, (about 51 minutes!), the film just flies by. The film is not really about the Vietnam War. It is about a group of men whose lives are changed forever by the horrors of war – it could have been any war – and more of the action actually takes place in America than in the 'war zones'.

As with any great movie, the cast is superb, without a single weak link. Leading the pack are Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken and John Savage – a virtual who's who of Hollywood's greatest and they certainly pulled out all the stops here. Deer Hunter is a very moving, very scary, electrifying, extremely thought-provoking film. It explores the conflicting reactions of regular, working-class Americans, when they are transplanted into a totally alien, hostile, tropical climate - to a country where life means nothing and where the American psyche suffered a bloody nose. The Vietnam sequences were actually shot in Thailand and I happened to have been there at the time and knew many locals who were involved in the production. I also recognised many of the 'bit-players' and the nightclub sequences that were shot in the Patpong red-light district of Bangkok.

So it was really turning back of the clock when I watched this movie the other day. On the first occasion, I watched it in a cinema in Bangkok, which was packed to overflowing due to the publicity it had received as it was partly shot in Thailand. The film actually flopped at the box office in Thailand as the Thais just didn't get it and I am sure many walked out before the conclusion of the notorious 51-minute wedding scene.

But there is no doubt in this reviewer's mind that The Deer Hunter has stood the test of time and I am sure it will still be eminently watchable in another 30 years. Movie lovers out there who have not seen The Deer Hunter would do well to seek it out and see how an old-fashioned piece of American filmmaking can still move you and inspire you.

Happy movie watching, folks…
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9/10
This movie has celebrated its half-century birthday and it is still a wonderful example of the cinematic art.
6 May 2016
A good test of a classic film is not whether you can watch it again and again, but whether each time you watch it, you continue to get a little more out of it. There are very few movies that I will ever watch more than once, however good I think they are, unless many years have passed since my previous viewing. Such was the case with two old, classic movies that I recently decided to give a second run to. The first was David Lean's Doctor Zhivago, the epic Russian story set at the outbreak of the Russian revolution, based on the novel by Boris Pasternak.

Doctor Zhivago is a towering piece of movie making by the master British Director and is reckoned by many to be one of the finest movies ever made. Others maintain that although it is a brilliant movie, it is only third place in the 'David Lean top ten' behind the 'Bridge over the River Kwai' and, of course, the multi-Oscar-winning 'Lawrence of Arabia'.

I do not agree that it is the best movie ever made and I also reserve judgement as to whether it is the best movie David lean ever made until I have re-visited 'his other two masterpieces; but it is certainly a towering piece of filmmaking and it held me enthralled for the entire 3 hours and 20 minutes!

I found the end part of the story which is a sort of epilogue, where the action jumps forward to the (then) present day, a bit confusing, a little tiresome, somewhat contrived, and lacking in any real drama. But I am being picky, for what went before is truly inspirational. The cinematography is breath-taking, and the acting, for the most part, was superb. In particular, I thought Julie Christie, as Lara, was incredibly ravishing and it was probably her finest ever acting role. Rod Steiger was also brilliant as the menacingly, evil, drunken whore- monger, Komarovsky. In spite of all his faults, you couldn't help empathising with him, for you could feel his compassion, despite what he did and what he stood for. Maybe I like him because I just adore these tragic, passionate, hard drinking, whoring Soviets….

I thought that Omar Sharif played his role okay without really doing much to commend his acting prowess. He looked and sounded the part – so it worked – but in reality, he was just playing himself and 'walking' through the role. Watching the movie some 50 years later, I feel he was definitely a weak link in the chain. He comes across as a bit amateurish and 'dated' and if Lean was casting this movie today, I doubt if Sharif would have got a look in.

But I am being picky again. This movie has celebrated its half-century birthday and it is still a wonderful example of the cinematic art. It garnered 10 Oscar nominations and won six, including best screenplay, best cinematography and best music - which included that beautiful theme by Maurice Jarre. It is a travesty that Lean did not pick up the best director gong.

I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a romantic, exciting, tear- jerking love story that is set in the epic landscapes of Russia during the tumultuous days of the revolution. A must see for all movie lovers.
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9/10
I can certainly recommend The Hurt Locker to anyone who appreciates a well-produced, above-average, dramatic, soul-searching piece of filmmaking.
5 May 2016
The Hurt Locker, about an American bomb disposal squad operating in Iraq, has more than its fair share of blood-thirsty action, but ultimately, it is about the members of the squad and how their dangerous jobs affected them.

There have been many criticisms levelled at this movie concerning factual inaccuracies within the 'nuts and bolts' of the story. It has been said that such bomb squads did not operate in the manner depicted in the movie and certain events could never have happened in the way portrayed. I have some sympathy for this criticism, for if you are making a deadly serious movie about a recent historical event that is still burning in the hearts and consciousness of many, then I do feel the producers have a duty not to deliberately misrepresent the truth. However, in general, I doubt whether the so-called inaccuracies had any serious impact on the film, as the story is about the people, not about the correctness of the technical operations. Indeed, many within the military have praised it as a work of 'admitted fiction' that does much to illustrate the horrors of war and the effect on brave soldiers in the front line – whatever their nationalities happen to be.

I can certainly recommend The Hurt Locker to anyone who appreciates a well-produced, above-average, dramatic, soul-searching piece of filmmaking.These days, most of us have become desensitized to the mass killings that are shown 24/7 in TV news reports from conflicts around the world. If this isn't enough, we are also assailed on every side by fictional violence that is stuffed down our throats by Hollywood and the TV producers, looking to improve ratings. But despite this regular gluttony of death and violence, The Hurt Locker really gets through to us movie-goers - we are there with them - as is evidenced by a rich haul of six Oscars, including best film, best director, and best screenplay.
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Brothers (I) (2009)
9/10
This movie reaches startling heights of dramatic horror. A "must see".
5 May 2016
'Brothers', is a very good movie about an American officer who is captured and held by terrorists in Afghanistan, and about his family back in the USA - in particular, the officer's wife and his ne'er-do- well, ex-convict brother. The officer eventually returns home but is assailed by personal 'demons'. The last part of the movie reaches startling heights of dramatic horror. I won't say any more, as I don't wish to spoil it for those who have yet to see it.

Brothers didn't win any major awards, but I can assure you that the acting by all concerned is absolutely superb and the direction and overall production is peerless. It is a film that will shock you to your foundations and make you realise that 'we mere mortals' are not only fallible but also capable of change – sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worst. It is a must see.
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9/10
It is funny, entertaining, sad and thought- provoking in equal measures.
4 May 2016
Warning: Spoilers
'Good Morning Vietnam', starring the late American comedian and movie mega-star, Robin Williams, is probably the most telling and memorable anti-war film made about the Vietnam war.

I have mixed feelings about Williams as a comedian – I suppose I struggle a little with him in much the same way as Americans struggle with many British comics. He was undoubtedly a very gifted, genuinely funny man and when I succeeded in following his very fast repartee, I can laugh along with the best of them. But sometimes, his delivery is fast, and so 'American' that I just can't follow what he is saying, so most of his clever humour goes over my head. I do remember once watching him being interviewed on UK's Michael Parkinson chat show, some years ago and he was utterly hilarious and took the whole show over with his brilliant antics and 'one liners'. Maybe he slowed down his delivery a bit for us slow-witted Brits. He is also no slouch as a movie actor and has a string of successful hits to his name. I was never a great fan of Mrs. Doubtfire but I thought his performance in Dead Poets Society was truly inspirational.

I like Williams a lot in Good Morning Vietnam and his wacky, spontaneous sense of humour was absolutely perfect for the role of the irreverent, entertaining DJ who was shipped over to Saigon to shake things up at the armed services radio station. The movie is based on the true experiences of a DJ who was sent there during the early days of the war, and he states that the story is about 40% accurate – but which 40%? Of course, we will never know. I still had problems with Williams' rapid-fire delivery and 'one-liners', when he was broadcasting 'on air' and sometimes I was lucky if I caught one joke in five of his deliveries. But that didn't matter, as he was in character and was playing the part of this crazy, funny DJ and I have no doubt that the GI's had no problems in understanding what he was saying.

Interestingly, like The Deer Hunter, the entire Vietnam sequences (which are prevalent throughout the movie) were all shot in Thailand. I had not realized this until I read the closing credits, although I should have known something was amiss - the traffic was all driving on the left-hand side, whereas in Vietnam they drive on the right…. The Deer Hunter did not really deal with the Vietnam war as such, but merely used the war as a background to show the effects the war had on a group of blue-collar workers from America's hinterland. 'Good Morning Vietnam' on the other hand, was clearly an anti-war, anti-military bullshit-bureaucracy, where tin-pot, ignorant, myopic officers abused the power they had over their fellow soldiers. We can make some allowances for a certain degree of dramatic licence in the interest of a good story. But even so, the background to the movie was totally believable and certainly provided an interesting insight into how seeds were being sown, which would eventually lead to America's greatest military disaster. When the Williams character arrived in Saigon in 1965, the conflict in Vietnam was regarded as a local little skirmish, but by the time he was thrown out of the country, it had already developed into a full-scale war, even though news of the daily bombings in Saigon by Viet Cong terrorists and the general war escalation was kept from the local radio airwaves.

Ironically, along with many other milestones, the Vietnam War eventually became the first war where the world could watch the 'action' from the front lines as they ate their dinner at home every night. It was the first time that unimpeded access was granted to journalists and TV crews.

'Good Morning Vietnam' is funny, entertaining, sad and thought- provoking in equal measures. Enough time has now passed for the viewer to resist the urge to become too judgmental about the 'villains' of the piece' – the US military; but nevertheless, it remains an interesting film which helps us to understand why America's 'Dunkirk' will probably remain part of their psyche for many years to come. If you haven't yet seen it, I recommend you give it a go.
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10/10
Go search it out and watch a piece of truly horrifying history within living memory.
4 May 2016
'The Killing Fields', is Roland Joffé's ground-breaking, British-made drama about the Kymer Rouge's brutal, 5-year regime in Cambodia. This Academy award-winning film, made in 1984, tells the true story of an American newspaper journalist, (Sydney Schanberg) and his Cambodian Assistant, (Pran) before, during and after the takeover by Pol Pot and his murderous Khmer Rouge regime.

The film is beautifully directed, shot and acted and it accurately portrays a truly harrowing and heart-breaking period in Cambodia's recent history. The Killing Fields should be compulsory viewing for anyone who lives in this region, particularly in Thailand, Cambodia or Vietnam. This genocide only took place some 37 years ago, yet for most people under thirty, they have little or no knowledge of what took place, right on their doorstep. Here in Thailand, there seems to be universal ignorance of tragic events that happened so close to their common border. Estimates of the total number of deaths resulting from Khmer Rouge policies during the period they controlled the country (1975-1979), including from disease and starvation, range from 1.7 to 2.5 million out of a population of around 8 million, or give or take, 25% of the population. One American reviewer recently described this film as 'The Ultimate Ugly American Movie' and goes on to say: '….that amazing film about the human price of American involvement in Southeast Asia….' The film includes some 'telling references' about America's dubious role in the terrible events that overtook Cambodia, such as: "After what the Khmer Rouge have been through, I don't think they'll be exactly affectionate toward Westerners…." (spoken by a US embassy official) and: "Maybe we underestimated the anger that $7 billion in bombing would unleash." (Sydney Schanberg.)

During the U.S. war in Vietnam, Cambodia was embroiled in a bloody civil war between the communist Khmer Rouge, backed by China and North Vietnam, and Cambodian government forces backed by the U.S. From 1969-73, the U.S. military covertly carpet-bombed eastern Cambodia in an attempt to disrupt North Vietnamese operations and defend the government against the Khmer Rouge, causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Cambodian citizens. For a country which at the time had a population of about 6 million, the losses were enormously devastating. Amongst the Cambodian populace, resentment grew against the U.S. and what was perceived as the American "puppet government" in Phnom Penh. The Khmer Rouge represented resistance to the U.S. and consequently, as bombs continued to fall, Cambodian citizens flocked to join them.

Sydney Schanberg, who was a New York Times reporter and renowned for his experience in Cambodia at the time, said the Khmer Rouge "… would point… at the bombs falling from B-52s as something they had to oppose if they were going to have freedom. And it became a recruiting tool until they grew to a fierce, indefatigable guerrilla army." Eventually, the Khmer Rouge were able to overwhelm the government forces and establish control over Cambodia, leading to Pol Pot's "agrarian revolution", the killing fields, the torture centres and the loss of some 2 million Cambodian lives.

In his memoirs, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has denied that the U.S. is at all responsible for the rise of the Khmer Rouge.

But bitterly recounted descriptions of the bombings by survivors of the Khmer Rouge terror demonstrate that there is little to separate the U.S. bombings and Khmer Rouge brutality in the minds of Cambodian survivors. Who better to determine accountability than those who most directly suffered? It is impossible to say for certain, but such personal accounts are a powerful condemnation of the bombings and evidence that the U.S. government at the time was significantly responsible for what occurred thereafter.

It is impossible to know for sure whether the bombing of Cambodia from 1969-73 led directly or indirectly, to massive suffering and the deaths of a full one-third of Cambodia's population at the time. But worse is the dysfunction caused by that tragedy which continues to profoundly affect Cambodian society to this day. I have been to Cambodia several times in recent years, and it was a very rare occurrence when I met anyone over 40 years of age.

If you missed the Killing Fields when it was first released, or you were too young - or yet to be born - go search it out and watch a piece of truly horrifying history within living memory.
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3/10
I gave up after about one hour. Not for me I'm afraid.
3 May 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Following a friend's recommendation, I started to watch 'Angels and Demons', directed by Ton Howard and starring Tom Hanks with really knowing what it was all about.

As soon as the movie started, I realised I had made a mistake.

I am not totally against 'action movies' or indeed any decent suspense or clever mystery yarn with 'baddies' and 'goodies', but it has to be really good – an Oscar winner, or close to.

By way of example, a recent action movie that I thoroughly enjoyed was 'The Town': a bank heist, cops and robbers pic set in Boston and it was one of the best in that genre that I have ever seen. There was plenty of drama, action, suspense, and real people with real dramatic lives, to the extent that you actually believed in them and cared about what happened to them. But in the main, most of the formula-ridden junk that the film studios churn out these days leaves me absolutely cold.

I read Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, as it was a world-wide phenomenon, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Well, it was a clever romp with some genuinely suspenseful and exciting story lines. I know I am being elitist, but I thought the quality of the writing was pretty ordinary, to say the least. However I was sufficiently interested to view the hyped up movie of the same name, but frankly, I couldn't even make it to the halfway stage. To me, it was totally boring garbage.

And now, inadvertently, I was watching a Dan Brown 'sequel', complete with Tom Hanks performing a reprise role. I decided to give it a chance and watch it for a while, for something in the back of my mind reminded me that this movie was reckoned to be a much better film than the Da Vinci Code.

It was a certainly a well-produced flick, and the 'no expense spared' production values oozed out of every inch of footage. The actors, including Hanks, were doing their best, but frankly it became very tedious. There was no chemistry between the two leading stars and there were lots of stereotypical, creepy Cardinals and other nasty Italian priests playing all the bit parts. The plot might have been fascinating in print, but to this reviewer, it was a piece of boring nonsense and the behaviour of the leading participants didn't contain one iota of credibility.

The story involves a sinister, murdering group of scientists, whose ancestors went underground in the middle ages to protect them from persecution by the catholic church. Then these evil men, who kidnap and kill 4 cardinals and then blow up Vatican city with a piece of stolen anti-matter was, to say the least a bit far-fetched. But in this day and age, it was just another variation on a totally unoriginal theme. I am okay-ish with unbelievable plots – even way out science fiction plots - but the characters must always behave in a convincing and credible manner. In this movie, as in so many of a similar ilk, they simply don't. There was no way to relate to them as being believable, real people - they are just comic-book, cardboard cut-out dummies, with their strings being pulled by avaricious studio producers.

I gave up after about one hour. Not for me I'm afraid.
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9/10
The cinematography is truly innovative and the performances by the ensemble cast of Hong Kong /Chinese actors is absolutely riveting.
3 May 2016
I doubt whether many of you have heard of this film. It is a Hong Kong movie made by and starring Hong Kong Chinese, with English sub-titles. For any of you out there who are tired of the mainstream hogwash churned out by the major Hollywood studios, then I suggest you track down this movie. It will make a very pleasant, entertaining change to your regular movie diet.

This film is, in fact, two separate stories about two Hong Kong cops back in the mid 90's who have both been ditched by their long term girlfriends. Doesn't sound like much in the way of story lines, but trust me, they are both fascinating contemporary dramas. The second story, in particular, is full of unpretentiousness, humour, warmth, with just a very small dose of pathos.

The humour, in both stories, is so original and funny that it actually had me laughing out loud, and believe me, it takes something very funny for me to do that. (This is not slapstick humour – it is real humour.)

The cinematography is truly innovative, and the performances by the ensemble cast of Hong Kong /Chinese actors is absolutely riveting.

If you want to see parts of Hong Kong that you probably have never seen before; see how the working classes and the aspiring 'upwardly mobile' classes were living in the 1990's; watch a couple of charming, delightfully endearing and amusing stories without any of the tear- jerking, syrupy drivel that Hollywood rom-coms attempt to drag out of you, then you could do far, far worse than watch Chunking Express.

According to IMDb, a dreadful piece of junk like "Angels and Demons" grossed 133 Millon dollars, but Chunking Express only grossed 650 thousand.

That's sad, or maybe it's me that has bad taste.
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Hereafter (2010)
9/10
Yet another masterpiece from Eastwood.
3 May 2016
I bought a DVD of 'Hereafter' many months ago, as a friend had mentioned to me one day that he had enjoyed watching it in a local Pattaya cinema. To be honest, the title put me off, and I assumed that it was yet another one of those 'spiritual' type stories where people in this world are contacted by or guided by someone in the after-life, along the lines of 'Ghost' (which to be fair was a pretty good movie but is now quite dated), 'What Dreams May Come', 'City of Angels' and so on. Frankly this story line has been done to death and I grow weary of movie producers who insist on regurgitating the same old story lines, rather than give their audiences something original to get their teeth stuck into.

Anyway, it was bothering me in my list of 'UNSEEN MOVIES' so I decided to give it a go. I should have known better, as it was produced by that genius of a film director, Clint Eastwood. Who would ever believe that a 'corny' macho, deadpan cowboy actor would transform himself into one of Hollywood's finest ever filmmakers? For me, he has never made a bad movie, from Bridges of Madison County, to 'Mystic River' and the wonderful 'Gran Torino' and of course, he has already received several Oscars, most notably for 'Million Dollar Baby'.

'Hereafter' is a great movie, all the more so because almost everyone connected with this movie - from the writers to the director to the actors - has publicly stated that they do not believe in the afterlife. The story is beautifully played out, by a tour de force of actors – especially the two French actors, (Cécile De France and Thierry Neuvic), and Matt Damon in quite possibly his finest role ever. This is not an action or a fantasy movie in the traditional sense, although the horrific opening footage of a tsunami which devastated a South Pacific Resort is truly riveting. It is a beautifully understated, introspective film which explores the characters and lives of the three principal players, who come from totally different walks of life and from different parts of the world: San Francisco, Paris, and London. It is the clever tale of how they became drawn to each other by their varying needs to connect, (or to 'disconnect' in the case of one of them), with the so-called 'hereafter'.

It is a well-crafted film and you can't help rooting for these somewhat flawed 'heroes'. The subject matter is dealt with in a manner that neither promotes nor disparages the notion that there is something there in the next life. In the end, we are left to our own deliberations.

Yet another masterpiece from Eastwood.

The film cost an incredible 50 Million dollars to make, which although the cost is about par for this kind of major Hollywood blockbuster boasting a 'name' actor and director, it does seem to make you wonder where all the money went, other than in the pockets of the people making it.
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10/10
Some professional reviewers claim that this is the best piece of thriller drama produced by British television in years
3 May 2016
If you appreciate a good yarn, superlative acting and a story that will keep you riveted throughout its seven hours of screen time, then you could do little better than watch The Shadow Line.

The Shadow Line is a complex story of criminals who kill and double cross each other and of a police force that is as corrupt and violent as the criminals they are trying to put away. We are not spared generous doses of horrific violence and the villain-in-chief, a character who goes by the name of 'Gatehouse', is so frighteningly malevolent, that he has been compared to Hannibal Lector in his ability to put the heebie-jeebies into the viewing public.

I was very surprised to learn that about 2.5 million viewers abandoned watching this series after the second episode, and it has left me in despair as to what the modern audiences regard as good entertainment.

I truly wonder just what the length of the average attention span and the level of intelligence of the average viewer can be these days. Sure, on occasion, the plot moved slowly – but only in the interest of character development. Do we really want all our 'cops and robbers' to be purely two-dimensional people or do we want to be able to relate to them and try to understand what makes them 'tick', much as we can in TV series such as 'Sopranos' or 'Boardwalk Empire?

And just because a plot has several twists and turns, does that mean that it is incomprehensible to the average viewer? If this old codger can understand it, then surely the younger generation to should be able to follow it in their sleep!

Some professional reviewers claim that this is the best piece of thriller drama produced by British television in years, and I am inclined to agree with them. They certainly pulled out all their stops and the results were exhilarating. But a small word of warning; if you do hunt this series down and watch it – don't expect anything approaching a conventional ending. And there certainly won't be any sequels – thank God!

I was interested to note that the entire series was filmed in the Isle of Man, even though it is largely set in London with a few scenes in Ireland. Believe me, you would never have known it. There were no obvious signs that the producers cut any corners to save production costs.

It is a bit of crusade of mine to somehow get Hollywood to drastically reduce the obscene amounts of money they spend on movies. It just isn't necessary, as we have seen time and time again by all the low budget films and TV series that are every bit as good, and can attract equally large audiences.

If the principal 'players': actors, writers, producers and directors alike, refuse to drop their ridiculous pay demands, then go and search out new talent. I'm quite sure that there's plenty around.

And then Hollywood wouldn't be screaming so loudly about all the illegal downloads of their products and they wouldn't be obliged to charge far too much for the privilege of buying a legitimate copy. Get the movie costs down and then charge a sensible download fee that the average Joe can afford to pay. And everyone will be happy.

I know – pigs might fly
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The A Word (2016– )
6/10
Is an entire community of well-educated, middle-class people really like this?
3 May 2016
Warning: Spoilers
It must be my age, but I seem to be more and more out of sync with most reviewers - both professional and amateur - who generally seemed to have liked this latest BBC offering.

Or is it that nobody dares to criticise a supposedly well-meaning BBC drama with autism at its centre, for fear of being accused of political incorrectness?

When this six-episode series was launched, the pundits were extolling its virtues as a piece of real British drama - without having to resort to yet another 'cops and robbers' theme to catch its audience.

To be fair, episode one of this family drama: mum, dad, Grandad, teenage daughter, five-year-old autistic son, uncle and cheating aunt set in the Lake District - was quite enjoyable. The characters were well developed, the acting first class, the action had some good humour and the adorable young boy at the centre of the story who was afflicted with mild autism was brilliant. He had a passion for music and was only happy when he had his music headphones on or the radio in his home was turned up to ear splitting volume. Sure the family seemed a little at odds on how to deal with this problem in their midst - who wouldn't be? But nobody dared suggest that he was suffering from autism. Anyone who ventured to offer an opinion that there might be something seriously wrong with him- like cheating auntie tried to do, (who was also a qualified doctor) - was dumped on from a great height by protective mum; with dad also in a supportive role.

So far so good; but for me, things went downhill from there. I almost stopped watching. Instead of mum and dad accepting that there was something wrong, that their son needed professional help, they continued to bury their heads in the sand. Granddad took the boy to the doctor without telling mum. The doctor agreed there was something amiss. Mum went ballistic and threw dad out of her house.

Slowly -oh so slowly - mum and dad sort of came to terms that something was indeed wrong, but still continued to reject professional and well-meant amateur advice at every turn. There are many sub-plots in this piece. Cheating wife trying to make a fresh start with uncle; uncle trying to take over the running of Granddad's brewery business because his own business had gone bust; Dad, deeply in debt building a costly 'gastro-pub' - whatever that may be; Grandad having it off with his singing teacher; teenage daughter having it off with local dick-head schoolboy, and so on…

So good acting, good plots, plenty going on, plenty of drama - so why the 'sour face'? I have a sour face because the remaining five episodes of the drama were so utterly depressing, and in the main totally lacked credibility. Everyone has faults, but in this particular extended family, they had enough faults to fill Hades itself. Mum took the lead; with her resolute determination to never tell anyone her son was autistic. At first, this meant trying to teach him at home - roping in all the family to help. When that plan collapsed, amid bitter recrimination and arguments, she insisted the poor lad went back to a normal school so that she wouldn't be tainted with having an autistic son. It really was painful to watch.

Dad wasn't a lot better, and he continually insisted he knew the way to control his son and had almost violent arguments with his wife about it. Grandad was a pain in the arse and was always letting his temper getting the better of him and saying hurtful things to anyone and everyone. Uncle couldn't forgive his cheating wife, despite her very best efforts to put it in the past. I haven't told you half of it - it just goes on and on. They never stop arguing and bickering and saying bad things to each other. The poor boy at the centre of it all seems to be a punching ball.

I'm sorry, but I simply do not believe in this enlightened age that parents would feel embarrassed about admitting their son was autistic. It just doesn't ring true, especially when by denying his condition they were harming his chance of getting proper help. The rest of the family weren't much better either.

It was only in 'corny' episode six, when the boy disappeared, that they finally and very begrudgingly admitted their son was autistic so that the search party would know what to expect if they came across him. Then they tried to blame another autistic adult for the boy's disappearance. Is a whole community of well-educated, middle-class people really like this? I'm sorry, but I just do not believe it.
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Youth (I) (2015)
9/10
A masterpiece of film-making which will entertain and uplift you in equal measure.
28 April 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Michael Caine is yet another one of a small select group of actors who always turns in a great performance and will make any movie he appears in feel a bit special. He is now in his 80's and some of my other favourites, such as Pacino and De Niro are not too far behind in the age ranks. I'm not too sure who is going to replace them in my affections when they finally call it a day - probably no one.

The last Caine film I saw was the excellent Harry Browne, in which he plays an avenging, retired marine. The part suited him down to the ground. I am not convinced that Caine was perfectly cast in Youth, although the old trooper pulled out all the stops and delivered his usual blistering performance.

Caine was, is, and always will be a cockney. He is pretty good at American accents and he had a wonderful upper-class British accent in the film that made him - Zulu. But in Youth, Caine plays the part of a world renowned, retired maestro - an orchestral conductor on a par with Barbirolli or von Karajan. I'm sorry, but dear old Michael, however hard he tries, doesn't quite pull off the right accent. He wasn't a Malcom Sergeant - not even a Colin Davis. He tries to speak in an educated middle-class accent, but to me, his cockney strains still came through.

I doubt if the director, Paolo Sorrentino, who also wrote this fine movie, even realised the problem existed - after all, he's not English. I know Caine was supposed to be a bit of a rough diamond, but how rough a diamond can you be if you have lived and breathed the world of classical music for your entire life. I can't see anyone's cockney accent surviving that. But I guess it's only the English who will notice it.

The film's screenplay was very original and the film was beautifully made. Together with Harvey Keitel, who plays an ageing film director, Caine is holidaying at an exclusive upmarket Swiss hotel in the Alps. The hotel caters for the rich and famous where healthy food and exercise is the order of the day. We have a female British pop star (Rita Ora), a very fat Maradonna look- alike, a real Miss Universe, a high-class escort, and many more diverse characters, most of them young and beautiful.

Caine is visited by the Queen's equerry, who asks Caine to conduct some of his own compositions for Prince Philip's birthday. He declines - twice. Keitel is surrounded by a ragbag trio of young impecunious screenwriters who are helping him to complete his latest screenplay. The two octogenarians also have their respective son and daughter with them, who are married to each other; but the Keitel's son dumps Caine's daughter soon after the movie starts. So what are all these people really doing there and how do they interact with each other? Will Caine eventually change his mind and agree to conduct for the Queen? Will 'has-been' Keitel get his script finished and will he get the money to shoot it? Will the arrival of feisty Jane Fonda as Keitel's leading lady change anything? Then there is Caine's estranged wife - who is dying.

The film quite clearly has Italian roots. There's some titillating nudity and a few doses of 'rumpy-pumpy' to spice things up a bit, along with a healthy dose of surrealism and a lot of laugh out loud, witty humour. It is about two successful men at the end of their lives, thinking back to the days of their youth. It is also about the youths themselves and the intense, fleeting relationships they have with each other. It is a masterpiece of film-making and it will leave you feeling entertained and uplifted. I can't explain why - it just does.

My wife, who is Thai, couldn't make head or tail of what was going on, but that doesn't surprise me. She struggled mightily with the dialogue - which is at the heart of the film. In any case, there's no discernible plot in the traditional sense, it's far too Italian for that…. As another IDMb reviewer has written, "Either you love it or you get nothing from it."

I loved it and my wife…well...she...(guess)
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Danny Collins (2015)
8/10
Hollywood and Pacino oiling the movie wheels to perfection.
25 April 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Regular readers of my film reviews and blog will know that one of my very favourite actors is Al Pacino. I make no claim that he is the finest actor to ever appear on the silver screen, indeed many of his performances are way over the top; but I don't care - I love him. Any movie that Al Pacino stars in is fine in my book - he always lights up the screen, always turns in unforgettable performances, and invariably takes a mundane story and makes it magical.

And so it is in Danny Rose, where Al Pacino plays an ageing pop star who can still fill stadiums by singing the same banal songs that he made famous some 40 years earlier. Most of his devoted fans have grown old with him and we see rows and rows of women of a certain age all screaming and whooping whenever he appears on stage. I am trying to think of similar performers in real life, and maybe the likes of Barry Manilow or in the UK, maybe Cliff Richards might fill the bill. But dear old Danny is far more of a caricature than a real life person, and unlike Manilow and Richards, none of his 40 -year old songs have any merit whatsoever, and he really isn't a very nice person.

But then something happens that is actually based on a true story. His manager, (the excellent Christopher Plummer in one of his last roles), tracks down a letter that was sent to Danny in 1971 by John Lennon, but which Danny never received. Lennon had sent him some advice about his songwriting and suggested they meet up. Danny is shocked and traumatised as he wonders how his life might have changed if he had received the letter. He is suddenly hit with the realisation that he has been a drunken ass-hole for most of his life; that he is kidding himself if he thinks that his gorgeous, sexy fiancé, one-third of his age, could really care for him, and the fact that he hasn't written a worthwhile song in more than 40 years. He decides to abandon his moneymaking tour (which we later discover was to be his retirement pension) and move into a suburban New Jersey hotel and track down his long lost son who he has never met.

There is some wonderful, tender interplay between Pacino, his son's wife and daughter and later his son, who hates him with a purple passion. There are also some amusing, touching scenes with Pacino and his fiancé, (who receives Danny's blessing to cheat on him), and with the female hotel manager and two of the hotel staff. To be honest, the story is a little on the clichéd side, and some of the events are predictable - but not all. There are some blatant attempts to extract a few tears from us as fatal health issues are dragged to centre stage - but not for Danny… Without Pacino, this movie would probably die without much fanfare, but as ever, he lifts it out of the ordinary to a higher plane. Along with Plummer, Jennifer Garner as his daughter-in-law, and the excellent Annette Benning as the hotel manager, they made a corny story it into an excellent movie treat. Hollywood and Pacino oiling the movie wheels to perfection.
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8/10
Much better than the reviewers gave it credit for…. but what's new?
25 April 2016
The film has come in for a lot of criticism as well as some praise but as far as I can determine it has been generally regarded as a bit of a flop, both financially and critically. I actually quite enjoyed it. There has been much criticism of the acting, especially Mia Farrow in the role of Daisy, but for me, it worked quite well. I thought the lead male actors were particularly good and Redford made a sterling effort in portraying the somewhat enigmatic Gatsby on the big screen. The costumes, scenery, design and cinematography were exceptional and brought to life everything in the way that I had imagined when I read the novel. The music, ably orchestrated by Nelson Riddle, was, of course superb and so evocative of the Jazz Age era.

Reading some reviews afterwards, (which ranged from hating it to loving it), I found several reviewers complaining that the screenplay, by no lesser personage than Francis Ford Coppola, was very mundane and lacked the beauty of Fitzgerald's original prose. These comments caused me to wonder about the wilful deceptions of reviewers who are determined to put the boot into a film they don't like.

When I saw this movie, I had only just read the book, and Fitzgerald's wonderful writing style was still firmly in my mind; so as I watched the movie, I kept thinking to myself; 'Did they actually pay Coppola to write this?' Not because it was terrible, but because it seemed to me that he had copied the narrative, word for word, from the original novel. It was essentially a 'cut and paste' job. It was quite remarkable how he succeeded in using so much of Fitzgerald's own prose, whether it was from the mouth of 'Nick', by way of narration, or part of the general dialogue. And even when the writer, (or producers), had decided to include new scenes that were not in the novel, you could barely detect any change in the style of the dialogue from that written by the novelist. To me, far from being mundane, the screenplay was a master class on how to be as faithful as possible to the original book. As with the book, it is all quite subjective, but I have sneaking suspicion that the film is now held in much higher regard than when it was originally released.
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7/10
Overall, it was an enjoyable ride.
25 April 2016
I am a life-long fan of John Le Carré. He is one of my favourite 20th Century authors – and he is still going strong in his 70's. 'Tinker Tailor Soldier, Spy' was a classic of the cold war spy genre and it wasn't long ago that I watched the BBC 1979 adaptation, which I enjoyed very much, although I found the background music somewhat grating. So it was with great anticipation that I sat down to watch the 2011 celluloid version of Le Carré's classic.

On the whole I did enjoy it and I think I will probably watch it again as I feel it is that rare kind of film that requires more than one viewing to fully appreciate its 'finer points'. I have to say that if I hadn't read the novel and recently watched the BBC version, I doubt that I would have had much idea about what was going on. The film is a 'film noir' to outdo all 'film noirs' and I think you would have you be a bit of a clever-clogs to really follow all the nuances of the convoluted plot if you hadn't previously read the book or seen the BBC adaptation. But given that I had and I did, I managed to follow where the film was going – just about, as they did change some of the finer points of the story line. I also found some of the scenes quite brilliant in their ability to evoke to a bygone age and atmosphere.

I am now devoted fan of Gary Oldman who gave a masterful portrayal of George Smiley, but I do feel that most of the other main characters were pretty one-dimensional. Not the actors' faults, as they were all top drawer, and did their best with the material at hand, but more a fault of the screenplay. The exception to this was Smiley's wife, of whom we only ever caught the briefest glimpses, yet in some indefinable way, we somehow knew all about her. It is a 'patchy' piece of work – brilliant in parts and sometimes baffling, but never, as some have asserted, boring.

The plot moves along in brief 'snapshots' of dialogue and action and as a consequence, you have to be pretty quick-witted to fully appreciate what is actually happening. Overall, it was an enjoyable 'ride', and I particularly loved the scenes of the spooks' 70's 'office Christmas party', which were so evocative, grotesque and almost scary. I also loved the ending, but I won't spoil it for you. Oh… the music is totally brilliant!
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