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Highly recommended, and vastly superior to most of the genre.
27 September 2016
Excellent performances and interesting source material (MR Carey adapting his own novel), plus imaginative direction (Scottish director Colm McCarthy), create a chilling sci-fi tale of hungries (zombies) versus humanity.

The opening sequence sets the tone. Melanie, a young, polite, and courteous girl manacles herself into a wheel chair. She seems entirely innocent and harmless, yet her captors fear otherwise. She and other children, each similarly restrained, are given an armed escort to a classroom. It's an arresting start and it grabs our attention. Sennia Nanua plays Melanie and the story revolves around her. We watch society collapsing through her eyes, see her threatened by the human beings around her, and fear for her. We watch her do terrible things, and yet we root for her. Everything is uncertain. Nothing is as it seems. It's a brilliant performance from a new talent, and it serves the film perfectly.

Melanie is surrounded by contrasting emotions from those nearest to her. Gemma Arterton is excellent as protective and caring psychologist/teacher Helen Justineau, fiercely defending Melanie against the machinations of Dr Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close) who sees Melanie as a specimen to be dissected. Paddy Considine convinces as Sergeant Eddie Parks, a tough, no- nonsense soldier fighting a losing battle.

Colm McCarthy brings this all together superbly, belying the film's modest budget. Striking visuals and frenetic action are never allowed to overwhelm the characters, who take centre stage. And at it's heart is Melanie. Confusing, ambivalent, terrifying, lovable Melanie. It's a wonderful turn from Sennia Nanua.

Highly recommended, and vastly superior to most of the genre.
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Keira Knightley lights up the screen.
19 September 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Keira Knightley lights up the screen in a beautiful adaptation of Jane Austen's much loved novel. It's a film full of wonderful scenes, many of which live in the memory due to Knightley's peerless radiance. She has never looked more perfect, and Joe Wright focuses his lens with great aplomb on his heroine, allowing her to take centre stage.

Matthew Macfadyen plays Darcy, in a role perhaps slightly underwritten, and as the film progresses, he shows us something of Darcy's awkwardness. However, this retelling is more interested in Elizabeth Bennet (Knightley) than it is in Darcy, and Macfayden has to make the most of the lines given to him.

Brenda Blethyn impresses as Mrs Bennet, as does Donald Sutherland as her spouse. Both are superb. Simon Woods (Mr Bingley) does well too, and his romance with Jane (a lovely Rosamund Pike) is beautifully portrayed. Judi Dench is suitably imperious as Lady Catherine de Bourg. Tom Hollander, as the ridiculous Collins, gives a wonderfully sycophantic performance.

Beautiful scene follows beautiful scene - the rumbustious public ball, Lizzie realising that Darcy has helped her onto a carriage, the sophisticated private ball with Darcy and Lizzie's dance, the single camera shot taking in so many guests and happenings, Collins' proposal to the unsuspecting heroine, Lizzie on a swing watching the seasons pass, Darcy's proposal (beautifully catching the conflicting emotions), Lizzie receiving Darcy's letter, the sunlight playing on Lizzie's face as she journey's north, Lizzie atop a rocky outcrop, Lizzie seeing Pemberley for the first time, Lizzie walking among the statues, then peering around a door frame to see Darcy and his sister, Lizzie explaining a letter she's just received, the Bennet family panicking when Bingley and Darcy pay an unexpected visit, Lizzie admitting a little of her feelings to Jane, Bingley's proposal, and Darcy and Lizzie finding each other as the sun rises. Almost every moment is beautifully constructed and photographed, and at the centre of it all is Keira Knightley giving what, to date, is her career defining performance as the luminous, intelligent, and witty heroine.

It's a beautiful film. Almost perfect.
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Youth (I) (2015)
A beautiful study of ageing and loss.
23 August 2016
A beautiful study of ageing and loss, featuring a wonderful central performance from Michael Caine. Playing Fred Ballinger, a veteran composer and conductor on holiday in the Swiss Alps, Caine impresses as a man for whom his music was seemingly everything yet he now languishes in a peripheral life, unwilling to conduct his most famous work one more time.

Ballinger's friendship with Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel on top form) gives the film much of it's heart. Old friends, they have a lifetime of shared memories and their scenes sparkle with wit and humour. More troublesome for Ballinger is his relationship with his daughter, Lena (a fine Rachel Weisz), for she never felt she mattered to her father as much as his music did.

Paolo Sorrentino's film is never less than visually stunning. Gorgeous landscapes and beautifully constructed scenes showcase the characters fragility. The film is beautifully paced, like a gentle octogenarian afternoon. Lovely support from Paul Dano and Jane Fonda as two American film stars, he quietly intellectual, and her brash and monstrous. It's the performances that really make this film tick but add the landscapes and the wonderful music (David Lang), and you have something very charming indeed.

Slow. Ponderous, even. But charming and played to perfection. Highly recommended.
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Jason Bourne (2016)
Bourne is back with a Vesuvius style eruption of thrills and spills.
29 July 2016
To say Bourne is back with a bang is an understatement. Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon have done it again, and Bourne is back with a Vesuvius style eruption of thrills and spills. This adrenaline fuelled, thrill ride of a movie will get your blood pumping and your heart pounding. Suggest you seek medical advice before you take your seat!

Barely existing as a bare knuckle fighter on the Greek /Albanian border, Bourne (Matt Damon) is found by Nicky (Julia Stiles). She has discovered secrets about his past which bring him back into action, seeking the truth. Damon, as always, plays Bourne to perfection, skillfully eliciting our empathy. This time, his main adversaries are CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), Operative Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), and a CIA asset (Vincent Cassel).

Cassel, in particular, gives the film vibrancy with a display of cold hearted rage. A perfect counterweight to the titular character, it's their mayhem inducing film long duel that gives the film so much impetus. It's now a tried and tested formula but the performances and the non stop excitement don't allow you a moment to contemplate whether it's getting stale. You simply sit on the edge of your seat and hold on tight.

Afterwards, you might briefly reflect on how repetitive the series is and wonder whether it might be best to let Bourne retire whilst still at the top of his game. However, with the brilliant Greengrass and Damon duo at the helm, Bourne might have more life in him yet.

If you enjoyed the previous Bourne films, this is hugely recommended. You won't be disappointed.
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An exciting, special effects laden, couple of hours.
25 July 2016
An exciting, special effects laden, couple of hours. It starts with frenetic action and you wonder what has happened to the characters but then, the scene set, Simon Pegg and Doug Jung's script pauses for belated breath and allows us to enjoy something of the spark that first endeared us to the original TV series. Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Bones (Karl Urban), bickering their way through adversity, and Kirk (Chris Pine), were always the very heart of the original Star Trek, and they are given time to interact and charm the audience in a way that's possibly been missing for over 40 years. Pegg (Scotty) has written himself something more interesting too, as he encounters a new and interesting alien character, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella).

Idris Elba plays the one dimensional baddie, Krall, with some verve but his character isn't explored or explained sufficiently and may prove forgettable. This is a negative compared to the previous instalment, where the bad guy almost stole the movie.

Once the characters have been allowed to bicker a little, it's back to frenetic CGI action. It's fast and furious, if a little confusing. As to exactly what is happening and why is never entirely clear, but we know who the good guys are and can cheer them on, unashamedly.

Perhaps the weakest film in the current reboot, this gains from rediscovered characters, but the confusing action and one dimensional bad guy serve to undermine what might otherwise have been an excellent entry in the franchise. Worth a watch though, just don't expect to follow exactly what is happening!
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An inspiring true story lifts this otherwise poor movie to being almost watchable.
20 June 2016
An inspiring true story lifts this otherwise poor movie to being almost watchable. Pat Boone plays David Wilkerson, a small town preacher who finds himself involved in New York gang warfare, and Erik Estrada is Nicky Cruz, a violent gang member.

Unconvincing performances and leaden direction distract from what might otherwise be interesting. The action scenes are almost laughable. However, the true story on which the film is based is remarkable. It's a story full of hope and that in itself is sometimes enough.

I can't actually recommend it, but if you need a little hope it might be just the ticket.
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Die Hard (1988)
A highly enjoyable, if slightly guilty, pleasure.
20 June 2016
Preposterous, ridiculous, and silly, this exciting action flick will nevertheless get your pulse racing.

Bruce Willis as the foul mouthed John McClane gives a career defining performance, matched by an excellent turn from Alan Rickman. The film never tries to create believable human beings; instead we are invited to marvel at McClane's banter laced heroics as he kills each terrorist. They're only terrorists, so we can unashamedly enjoy each demise with glee.

It's action set pieces are put together with aplomb. John McTiernan paces the film brilliantly, interspersing breathless action with humour and reflection. However, it's not remotely believable. The tension that any suspension of disbelief would create is missing. We know what's going to happen from the outset. An all American action hero like McClane predetermines the ending.

It's a film you can happily revisit. The excitement isn't generated by tension or doubt, it's caused by expertly created pyrotechnics, and excessive & ridiculous heroics. A solid actioner that spawned many inferior copycats. A highly enjoyable, if slightly guilty, pleasure.
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If you want to waste a couple of hours, you could do much worse.
9 May 2016
This is a slick, flashy, courtroom thriller about a slick, flashy lawyer. Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey) makes a fast buck defending ne'er do wells, until he's presented with a gift wrapped opportunity to line his pockets defending a rich kid accused of assault.

McConaughey does well in the cocky titular role, showing us a near alcoholic whose life is disintegrating around him as he finds himself wading through something much deeper than he'd expected. Ryan Phillippe, as Louis Roulet (the rich kid) fails to provide a convincing counterweight, and other members of a promising cast are underused, with the lovely Marisa Tomei and William H. Macy almost wasted.

As with most things slick and flashy, it doesn't have much depth. You slip and slide from one scene to the next without having a moment to draw breath. It is fast paced, and exciting, but the story is far fetched and implausible.

If you want to waste a couple of hours, you could do much worse. However, if you're looking for something particularly worthwhile, this probably isn't going to be it.
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Whiplash (2014)
An enthralling thrill ride of a movie about jazz.
5 May 2016
An enthralling thrill ride of a movie about jazz. Yep, that's right. Andrew (Miles Teller) is a promising jazz drummer who has ambitions to be the very best. Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) is the cantankerous, exacting, conductor whom Andrew needs to impress if he is to fulfil his dream.

The two leads perform brilliantly. Simmons launches into Fletcher's virulent tirades with savage gusto, his frightening demeanour and victimisation of the promising pupil creating the initial drama and tension. We feel for Andrew as he suffers the verbal and physical abuse meted out by his potential mentor. A battle of wills develops with Andrew determined not to simply accept every degradation heaped upon him.

In the interests of tension and drama, it's overdone. Whilst immersed in the events taking place before you, you may not notice. The film is that powerful. But afterwards, you are likely to think how improbable it all was. Scenes between Andrew and both his father and girlfriend feel superfluous, interrupting the savage narrative of the battle between Fletcher and Andrew.

It's this battle that results in events taking a different turn. We are made to see both sides. There is no goodie or baddie, it's the tale of two obsessions in conflict and the ensuing sparks that fly. Then we reach the dramatic finale (no spoilers here) and watch it unfold before us like the drawing back of a taught bowstring, wondering where the arrow will fly.

Excellent, gut wrenching, roller-coaster movie. Prepare yourself accordingly!
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This is Eastwood's masterpiece.
17 April 2016
Clint Eastwood's beautiful film tells the simple story of Frankie Dunn (Eastwood) and Eddie Scrap-Iron Dupris (Morgan Freeman), two old friends who run a boxing gym together, and the impact that Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) has on both their lives. Eastwood allows his characters centre stage, trusting in a marvellous script by Paul Haggis (based on stories by FX Toole) and the tremendous work of his players. The result is a wonderfully unfussy and affecting tale of people who feel as real as you or I, each line and expression ringing as true as anything we have seen on film.

Eastwood and Freeman use every single line to wonderful and curmudgeonly effect, portraying a deep friendship borne out of shared experiences and disappointments. Maggie is set on Frankie being her trainer and manager but he resists, unwilling to train a girl. Eddie sees something in Maggie, and encourages Frankie to train her. Slowly, Maggie's determination wins an unwilling Frankie over. Watching their friendship take root and blossom draws us deeper into the story, with the malcontented Frankie slowly warming to his new, if unwanted, charge. These three characters are the heart of the movie, and it's a film with a seriously huge heart.

Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman won Oscars for their roles, and Eastwood won an Oscar for his direction, with the film winning Best Picture. However, Eastwood the actor has never been better. All three give beautifully pitched performances, and Eastwood the director captures them perfectly.

There's fine support work too from Jay Baruchel as Danger Barch, who dreams of being a world champion and Margo Martindale as Maggie's mother.

It's a story to make you laugh, it's a story to make you cheer, and it's a story to make you cry. This is Eastwood's masterpiece and one of my favourite films of all time. It's emotionally challenging, but I urge you to watch it.
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It's a lovely film and one this viewer is very happy to recommend.
16 April 2016
Our two protagonists are Will Shakespeare (Jospeh Fiennes), struggling playwright with a bad attack of writers block and in need of inspiration, and Viola De Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) an innocent but aristocratic young beauty. She disguises herself as a man in order to tread the boards and explore her love with the poetic prose of her favourite playwright and suddenly his inspiration returns, from which is borne Romeo and Juliet, possibly the greatest and most tragic love story ever to make the stage.

However, this film isn't tragic. It's a beautifully realised romantic comedy, crafted with dollops of wit by it's writers Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman. They cleverly weave Shakespeare's beautiful prose into their story, and create a concoction both laugh out loud funny and yet beautiful, with moments of tragedy adding weight to what might otherwise be just a fluff.

A wonderful cast play it beautifully. Fiennes and Paltrow are excellent as the two romantic leads, but the supporting cast match them superbly. Special mentions for Judi Dench as an eminently regal Queen Elizabeth, Geoffrey Rush as a suitably put upon and seedy Philip Henslowe, and Tom Wilkinson as Hugh Fennyman, his journey from harsh moneylender to theatre lover being beautifully played. Colin Firth, Martin Clunes, Ben Affleck, Simon Callow, Imelda Staunton, Jim Carter, Mark Williams all contribute to a simply wonderful ensemble of talent, performing this wonderful conceit with the necessary wit and flair.

John Madden brings these facets together and allows them centre stage. The actors and the script weave their magic, immersed in a convincing recreation of Tudor London. It's skillfully done, and the central love story is beautifully entwined with the play, each informing the other.

It's a lovely film and one this viewer is very happy to recommend.
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The best thing Tom Cruise has done for some time and very highly recommended.
1 April 2016
A tremendously exciting and funny, action packed, science fiction romp, featuring possibly Tom Cruise's finest performance in years.

Cruise plays Major Bill Cage, an ex advertising executive, who finds himself ordered to join an invasion of continental Europe which as been over-run by aliens. A confirmed coward, Cage finds himself disgraced and demoted, and forced into combat. There something happens to him, resulting in his living the same day over and over, repeatedly being sent into combat. He meets Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), and together they search for a way to beat the alien invaders.

Scenes repeat as Cage relives each day. Watching Cruise play against type is part of the fun, but the film finds plenty of humour in the situation, and we witness Cage learning to face danger despite his fear. His journey from an abject coward to a hero is plotted beautifully, and Cruise gives a wonderful performance never losing sight of the levity that adds much to the films appeal. He is ably supported by Emily Blunt as Vrataski, who matches his eventual grit and heroics. Bill Paxton features in the role of Master Sergeant Farell, in some of the funniest scenes.

Doug Liman creates a visual treat. The invasion scenes are hugely dramatic and expertly constructed, creating a sense of reality, chaos and danger into which the leads are thrown. The action is breathtaking and the special effects entirely convincing. The film moves at breakneck pace towards it's exciting conclusion, and not a moment is wasted. Liman packs so much into less than two hours that many other films can't match with much more run time.

The best thing Tom Cruise has done for some time and very highly recommended. You'll be left breathless and stirred, just as you should be by a great action movie.
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Risen (2016)
This is an interesting take on an oft told tale.
20 March 2016
Set in Jerusalem in AD33, this is the tale of Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), a Roman tribune tasked with finding the body of Yeshua (Cliff Curtis) to destroy the rumours that he is the Messiah.

For Yeshua, read Jesus. It's a tale we know well, but Clavius has yet to discover the truth. His hard bitten Roman intellect, born out of military service and harsh necessity, refuses to accept the supernatural tale unravelling before him. Pontius Pilate (Colin Firth) exerts increasing pressure, needing to quell unrest before the Emperor arrives. What follows is a well played and involving detective story, as Clavius pursues clues and suspects in search of the truth and a body.

His search eventually leads him to a spiritual awakening, and the film changes. It's no longer a detective story. It's a story about something much bigger and I don't need to tell you what that is.

Fiennes is very good as Clavius. Convincing both as the put upon tribune, under pressure to solve the mystery of the missing body, and as the man for whom everything changes.

For this viewer, this is an interesting take on an oft told tale, from a very different perspective. If you are an atheist without an open mind, this probably isn't for you. Otherwise, I'd recommend it.
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Brooklyn (2015)
This is an unashamedly old fashioned and romantic drama.
20 March 2016
A beautifully realised adaptation of Colm Tóibín's classic novel. Saoirse Ronan plays Eilis Lacey, an Irish girl leaving home for a brighter future in 1950's New York.

It's a charming film, with the beautiful Ronan giving a polished and emotive performance. Father Flood (a kindly Jim Broadbent) has placed Eilis in the boarding house of Ma Kehoe (Julie Walters playing amusingly to type, but with an Irish accent). Home sick, Eilis meets Italian-American Tony (Emory Cohen) and they fall in love. She slowly blossoms, but then tragedy strikes and she has to return home, where she finds herself unexpectedly receiving the attention of Jim (Domhnall Gleeson).

Torn between the excitement of an uncertain future with Tony and a safe alternative with Jim, Eilish is eventually forced to make a decision.

This is an unashamedly old fashioned and romantic drama. Beautifully shot and expertly played, particularly by the lovely Saoirse Ronan, this tale has emotional impact and you will find yourself caring about Eilish and her life.
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Groundhog Day (1993)
Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell star in this delightful Harold Ramis romantic comedy.
15 March 2016
Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell star in this delightful Harold Ramis romantic comedy. Murray plays Phil, an egotistical and shallow TV weatherman presenter, sent to report on Groundhog Day with Rita (MacDowell) as the producer, and cameraman, Larry (Chris Elliott).

Stranded by an unexpected blizzard, Phil wakes up each morning to the same day, over and over. Phil sees this as an opportunity to enjoy himself at the expense of those around him, but as he becomes aware of his growing affection for Rita , and her dislike of him, he grows to understand that there is much more to life than the superficiality of his earlier shallow existence. In doing so, he changes into a much warmer and kinder individual, and finds life treating him very differently, now that he is behaving to others differently.

It's a fairy-tale of sorts. Beautifully played by both leads, it's full of charm. However, at it's core is a delicious performance by Murray finding nuance and humour in almost every line. The gradual transformation is well served by an intelligent script, ensuring that repeating scenes always have something fresh to offer.

It's a serious comedy. Murray's dramatic depth is required too, particularly in scenes with an old man. Murray's comic abilities were never to be doubted, but here he does much more than make us laugh. It's possibly his finest ever performance.

It's a film full of hope for all of us, and it deals with some of the biggest issues. A lovely film.
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The Martian (2015)
Ridley Scott and Matt Damon combine to make a wonderful movie.
14 March 2016
Ridley Scott and Matt Damon combine to make a wonderful movie about survival and man's appetite for life. Nick Watney (Damon) is presumed dead and left stranded on Mars. With insufficient supplies he has to use his knowledge and ingenuity to survive until a rescue mission can try to save him.

Ridley Scott has a reputation as a director more concerned with visuals than character. The Martian is a beautiful film to watch. The landscapes are mightily impressive, and the special effects entirely convincing. However, Scott disproves his false reputation, allowing Nick Watney to take centre stage. Damon gives a performance full of warmth and humour, about a man for whom such traits are an important part of his fight for survival. His ability to take one small step at a time and bounce back from adversity is what saves him. Damon and Scott bring Watney very much to life and imbue the film with the central characters warmth and wit, giving us a hugely entertaining film packed with humanity.

Matt Damon is truly superb in the title role but he is ably assisted by a wonderful supporting cast including Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. However, it's Damon's film. He is better able to win an audience's support and trust in a role than any other film star today. We like him, we root for him, and we care for him.

Possibly the best film of 2015 and worth a couple of hours of anyone's time. Unmissable.
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Shane (1953)
This is undoubtedly one of the greatest westerns ever made.
6 March 2016
Beautifully crafted, this quintessential tale of the old west features magnificent cinematography from Loyal Griggs. Against the unbelievably dramatic backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, peaceful homesteaders try to withstand the efforts of the local rancher to drive them off what he considers to be his land. Into the tale rides Shane (Alan Ladd). Befriending homesteader Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) and his family, he becomes involved in the conflict.

We are never told that Shane is a gunfighter, but we and the Starretts know this instinctively. Shane finds something he might never have known before; a sense of belonging, a familial love for the Starrett family. Not just Joe but Joey (Brandon De Wilde) his son, and Marian (Jean Arthur) his wife. It's the unspoken love between Shane and Marian that gives the film much of it's emotional power. Although unspoken, Joe becomes aware of it and accepts it, knowing that his wife and Shane are above suspicion. Joey is aware of it too, eventually speaking of it in the films final scenes.

Seen largely through Joey's young eyes, this is a mythic tale portraying a time when good and evil were easy to recognise. Jack Wilson (played by Jack Palance) enters the story as a force for evil. Dressed largely in black, the contrast between Wilson and Shane, in his buckskins, is stark.

Alan Ladd was simply never better, finding particular nuance in the expression of his unspoken love for Marian. Van Heflin also gives probably his finest performance as the solid, upstanding Starrett, accepting that someone else might be better able to take care of his family than he is. Jack Palance is extraordinarily menacing in a role with few lines, using his physicality to great effect. Jean Arthur as Marian is the heart of the piece, her love for Joe, Joey, and Shane holding the story together, and the silent affection she holds for the titular character beautifully conveyed by expression.

Full of iconic scenes, George Stevens creates something special. Shane riding towards the Starrett homestead framed between antlers; Shane and Joe working together on a tree stump and forging a bond of friendship; a bar brawl to end all bar brawls; Shane shooting a rock for Joey and the violence of the gunshot; the first shocking killing; a funeral played out in a harsh landscape against the beautiful mountains; the distress of horses and farm animals conveying the violence of a fist fight; and then the finale. And then we have Joey and Shane, creating possibly the most iconic scene of all.

This is undoubtedly one of the greatest westerns ever made. For this viewer, it also one of the best movies to grace our screens. It is simply a wonderful piece of work from all concerned.
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Roman Holiday (1953)
Audrey Hepburn simply dazzles in this gem of a movie.
28 February 2016
Audrey Hepburn simply dazzles in this gem of a movie. Princess Ann (Hepburn) escapes the confines of her rarefied royal existence for a day, to be rescued by a reporter, Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck).

Bradley senses a scoop and seeks to inveigle the Princess into a story. However, this is a fairy tale, of the Princess and the commoner. Love blossoms, the beautiful Princess experiencing everyday things we might take for granted with a delight we cannot know. Sitting at a roadside café, getting a haircut, enjoying an ice cream, dancing on a riverboat. She soaks in these experiences in the company of her handsome saviour, not realising his intentions.

It's beautifully done. Hepburn is radiant, refined, beautiful, enchanting - things she went on to display in many movies. However, she was at her most perfect here, as the beautiful Princess needing love and wanting happiness. Peck is an ideal foil. Tall, dark, and handsome, his only thought being the scoop placed before him, his ambition wilting in the face of his developing love for a Princess he can't hope to attain. Both are ably supported by Eddie Albert as Irving Radovich, Bradley's photographer colleague. Indeed, Albert is involved in many of the funniest scenes.

It's a fairy tale, beautifully told. William Wyler makes the most of his location, showing us Rome in all it's splendour. The perfect backdrop to the perfect fairy tale.

However, this film belongs to Audrey Hepburn. She shines and dazzles, brightening nearly two hours of every viewers life. How could you hope for more than that.
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This is a film to make you feel better about the world and your fellow man.
27 February 2016
This super film brings together the talents of James Stewart and Frank Capra for one of many successful outings. Stewart is Jefferson Smith, who finds himself a Senator ill equipped for the corruption that surrounds him.

It's a brilliant turn from Stewart. He plays the naive yet thoroughly decent Smith with charm and wit, and is wonderfully supported by Jean Arthur as his assistant, Saunders. Her abject cynicism is slowly eroded by the innocent values of the new Senator, and she falls in love. This love story serves the story beautifully, as both actors and Capra tug at our heartstrings and draw us into the drama.

There is also fine support from Claude Rains as Joseph Paine, Smith's mentor, and Harry Carey as the President of the Senate.

Put all of this together and you have a gem of a movie. The triumph of good over evil, the lone voice over the conglomerate, and small town values over big city corruption, added to a touching and affecting love story told with charm and humour, creates something very special. This is a film to make you feel better about the world and your fellow man. It's a beautiful piece of work.
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Hombre (1967)
This is a vastly superior western.
26 February 2016
A tough, sun bleached western from Martin Ritt, this is well served by fine performances and some tremendous cinematography from James Wong Howe.

John Russell (Newman) is a white man raised by the Apaches, who travels by stagecoach with a group of people whose lives aren't as simple as we first believe. Threatened by bandits, Russell unwillingly leads his fellow passengers towards safety. His moral code is sparse and unforgiving, but he is surrounded by others of a different persuasion, most notably Jessie, played by Diane Cilento. When the bandits hold a passengers wife hostage, Russell's moral code is challenged, and it's his unexpected attachment to Jessie that causes him to behave differently.

Newman and Cilento are excellent. Richard Boone is the perfect counter weight as Cicero Grimes, the principal bandit. Martin Balsam (stagecoach driver) and Frederic March (an Indian agent) make an impression too, as does Frank Silvera (Mexican bandit).

This is a vastly superior western. Superlative work from the stars and an intelligent script, added to the dusty Death Valley location work, create a tense, sparse western well worth watching.
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Memento (2000)
If you want challenging and compelling entertainment, this is it.
22 February 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Quite unlike anything I've seen before, this breathtaking yet disturbing thriller completely rewrites the rules.

Guy Pearce plays Leonard, a man who suffers from a rare condition as a result of an injury sustained when his wife was murdered, leaving him unable to remember events for more than a few minutes. Despite his condition, Leonard is determined to find his wife's killer.

Of course, the main character has almost no idea what he's doing or why, his sense of time and place fractured by his inability to remember. In order to convey something of Leonard's state of mind, Christopher Nolan confuses us with scenes overlapping, seeming to repeat. It takes us a while to realise that we started at the end and events are unfolding in reverse, revealing other events that lead up to what we just saw. It's quite simply a wonderful sleight of hand from Nolan, creating something disturbing and compelling. We are deliberately surprised, confounded and uncertain.

Guy Pearce is tremendous in the central role. We root for him, wanting him to find his wife's killer, as he struggles against his repeated memory loss. Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano are excellent as the friends he can never remember.

The film edges backwards to it's shocking climax. It's an ending I never imagined, and Nolan's magic trick is complete. If you want challenging and compelling entertainment, this is it.
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Gone Girl (2014)
David Fincher's Gone Girl is a complex thriller full of twists and turns.
20 February 2016
David Fincher's Gone Girl is a complex thriller full of twists and turns. Did he, didn't he, is she, isn't she? But then it deepens into something less predictable and altogether more surprising.

Husband Ben Affleck gradually falls under suspicion of murder after his wife, Roasmund Pike, disappears. His responses and behaviour seem unexpected and that's all the media needs to both determine the crime and judge him guilty. His wife is portrayed as a perfect spouse while his character is subjected to ritual innuendo and suspicion.

In fact, their relationship is far more complex, and much more disturbing, than we realise. Exploring the machinations of their marriage creates a compelling narrative as we begin to question what really happened, and who is guilty. The story suddenly answers our questions part way though and the narrative takes an even darker turn leaving us with something altogether more surprising.

It's a film partly about image and perception. About how the media create a fiction to suit their own ends, which are happily and hungrily consumed by the public. It's also about the image we choose to present of ourselves, and the fictions we create individually.

The two leads are exemplary. Affleck convinces as an ambivalent husband, and ensures that we question everything we see, until the film decides to provide the answers. Pike is a revelation in a complex role.

It might be a vaguely preposterous story, but it's so well crafted in every sense that it probably won't matter. It'll glue you to your seat for the duration. Only afterwards might you consider the likelihood of such a tale.
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Sicario (2015)
Intense and compelling.
13 February 2016
Intense and compelling, this beautifully shot thriller features wonderful work from Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro, amongst others, and depicts a murky, morally vacuous war against drugs on the Mexican border.

Blunt plays Kate Macer, an FBI agent who, fed on half truths and lies, slowly realises the nature of the mission she's a part of. It's a powerful and visceral turn, and has much to do with the success of the film. Similarly, del Toro is brilliantly inscrutable as Alejandro and Josh Brolin does fine work as Matt, the apparent architect of the chaos. These three leads work brilliantly together, the friction between their characters driving the film. However, it's Blunt's gilt-edged performance as the stories moral compass that forms the centrepiece.

Roger Deakins cinematography is a highlight. The screen is filled with beautiful skyscapes and sunsets, the characters descending in silhouette to an underworld, a tunnel across the border. Denis Villenueve directs with verve and pace, never allowing the film to falter for a second. An early foray into Mexico is as taut and tense as anything you will find on film, and Villenueve, having grabbed you, simply doesn't let go.

One of the best films of the year. Don't miss it.
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The Departed (2006)
A gritty, violent gangster tale of murky morality and questionable loyalties.
8 February 2016
Directed by Martin Scorcese, this gritty, violent gangster tale of murky morality and questionable loyalties features a string of powerful performances from a great cast.

Of course, Scorcese is in familiar territory, but his cast give the film an unexpected freshness and vitality. Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio are the two leads playing a game of cat and mouse, and both are convincing. Jack Nicholson is devilishness personified as the films central gangster and he chews up every piece of scenery in sight with great relish. Mark Wahlberg also has great fun with his excessively obscene dialogue. However, for this viewer, it was Damon's performance, his quiet scheming and increasing panic as his plans unravelled that took the film to a level higher than that of simply being a good gangster yarn.

It's not a film to brighten your day, but it's well made and convincing. Cope with the language and violence associated with a typical Scorcese gangster tale, and it's whopping 151 minutes will pass by in a relative flash.
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War & Peace (2016)
War & Peace is simply a triumph.
8 February 2016
War & Peace is simply a triumph. I did try to read the book once, the word 'try' being operative, so I'm not considering it as an interpretation of the printed page. I've never been compelled to write a review for a TV series before, but as a piece of celluloid art this was spellbinding.

The performances were universally perfect, from the central characters to the more periphery. Paul Dano as Pierre Bezukhov gave us a wonderfully human portrayal of intelligence and humanism struggling against the barbarity of war and the debauchery of peace. Lily James was enchanting as Natasha Rostova, painting her journey from a carefree, inexperienced girl to a fallen woman in delicate colours. The scenes of her reunited with Andrei Bolkonsky (an excellent James Norton) were heart wrenching, as was the ending. I'm not sure a TV series has ever elicited tears from this viewer before, but this one certainly did during the final episode, and three times!

The other particularly emotional scene was between Marya Bolkonskaya (the lovely Jessie Buckley) and Nikolai Rostov (Jack Lowden).

Also brilliant were Jim Broadbent as the cantankerous Prince Bolkonsky and Adrian Edmondson as the affable Count Ilya Rostov, being the two bookends of the piece. Every performance was pitch perfect and I should now list every cast member with a superlative attached, but...

Of course, a great performance needs a great script as it's foundation stone. Andrew Davies had a string of wonderful adaptations to his name already (including Pride & Prejudice, 1995) and this one might just have topped the lot. Tom Harper, the director, has definitely given us his best work to date allowing the performances to shine yet also giving us spectacle and drama on a breathtaking scale. It will be interesting to see what he does next.

I cannot recommend this highly enough. If you haven't yet seen it, please don't miss it. You will be amply rewarded.
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