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Friends & Crocodiles (2005)
Large canvas, beautiful to look at, plenty to think about
This piece seems to have divided the audience and critics. We have seen and heard more negative reviews than positive ones.
We thought it was a very interesting and enjoyable piece. As so often with Poliakoff, he creates characters who don't behave as you expect them to. They infuriate and they surprise you.
In this epic piece, spanning some 20 years (early eighties to early naughties)Poliakoff examines themes of business, friendships and survival in a fast-changing world.
Crocodiles are an interesting metaphor for survival and coping with change/trauma.
So are friends, both the loyal and the relatively fair-weather variety. Both types are on display here.
Drama about business is usually horribly infuriating because the playwright has little or no insight into how business really works. Similarly technology. Poliakoff understands business and technology far better than most writers.
Of course the piece simplifies and takes positions on these issues - who wants a 20 parter on such subjects - but the piece works excellently well as a sub 2 hour film for TV.
Several critics said that they "just don't get it" with this piece. I feel sorry for them if that is really the case. Perhaps most critics, like most writers, have little understanding of business and/or technology.
The acting is excellent - Damien Lewis (everywhere these days) and Jodhi May predictably good. A few cameos for old favourites too.
The cinematography is just stunning - Poliakoff is probably now at the very top of his game in this aspect of his work.
It's big canvas stuff, it is truly beautiful to look at and it leaves you plenty to think about and talk about afterwards.
We need more of this quality of stuff on TV and cinema please!! And this piece will last. Some of those who "don't get it" just now will, in a few years time, be hailing it as a classic and repeating it for decades to come. It's that sort of piece.
Bergman's Still Got What It Takes
Like so many superb Bergman films, this movie is strongly theatrical in form - indeed it could be adapted for the stage with minimal revision. Nevertheless, it benefits from the movie form, as it enables so many of us all over the world to see four superb acting performances.
I saw Scenes From a Marriage years ago and it was interesting to see those characters reprised. However, I think this film would be perfectly enjoyable and understandable to a viewer who had not seen Scenes From a Marriage. It might even be a good idea for the "Bergman Newbie" to see Saraband first.
I love the multi-layered ways that music plays an important part in this movie, both plot-wise and symbolically. A Saraband is a slow, mournful dance. The film is basically 10 oral duets, sandwiched between a solo prologue and epilogue. The characters are to some extent represented by their musical taste - Henrik with his glorious Bach organ works (and the Saraband he loves), Johann by the booming Bruckner scherzo he is playing before and after a pivotal conversation with Karin.
The cinematography lacks some of the exceptional qualities of Bergman's earlier work - I suspect that has to do with the TV format and his advancing years - the great man is probably unable to get quite so involved in camera-work these days. But no matter. The script, the acting and the direction are absolutely top class.
87 years old and Bergman's still got what it takes. Can we please all try and persuade him to "Sinatra" (i.e. make several more final appearances?)
A Grand Day Out (1989)
What a cracking start to a career
Wallace and Gromit are a phenomenon. How many stop motion animation films win Oscars, top the US and UK box office charts etc. But all that came later.
A Grand Day Out was the first Wallace and Gromit film. Low budget. More or less a graduation piece. Of course the animation is less sophisticated than in the later films. Of course the plot is a little shallow. The entire story is designed to minimise the need for sophisticated animation and to maximise the excuse for shortcomings (perhaps dogs and people would move a bit like that on a cheese moon).
Yet it is extraordinary to see how much of the Aardman genius is already there in this short film. Hilarious and clever references to other films. Mice in shades for take off. The rocket handbrake gag. Coin-operated machine gags (brilliantly recycled in Were-Rabbit BTW). And a machine (is it an Aga?) that daydreams about skiing when it sees Wallace's holiday magazines.
Of course TWT, ACS and Were-Rabbit are better movies, but this film is so worth seeing as a sign of early genius and indeed in its own right as a crude but wonderful animated film.
Play for Today: Joe's Ark (1974)
Several of Potter's recurring themes are explored here. Terminal illness. Christian religion challenged in the face of suffering. Austere communities on the Welsh borders. Oxbridge youngsters thrown together (by birth or circumstance) with more simple people. Family rifts. Rain. Biblical metaphor (in this case both Noah's Ark overtly and the Book of Job covertly, in case you hadn't guessed).
The themes are well explored and there are several moving moments. After Joe throws the preacher out of his house, almost cursing belief itself, he then prays to Jesus and asks Jesus to take him (Joe) rather than his daughter. When the girl dies, Joe recites the Lord's Prayer in Welsh. The tacky comedian brother, Bobby, asks his girlfriend to marry him as they speed along the road to try to get to his sister's bedside in time. The short scene between father and son has barely a word but is beautifully done.
Not all of it works so well. It is slow in parts. Deliverately so. The scene where Bobby finds out about his sister and then verbally attacks the Asian worker sweeping up around him in a café, is terribly stilted (Waterman weak at showing anger and despair back then). And didn't Poliakoff more or less repeat that scene to greater effect in one of his late 70's classics?
Is this the best of Potter? No. But it is well worth a look and is a moving piece.
Where Adam Stood (1976)
Interesting, but oh so slow
This is a very interesting piece. The subject matter is fascinating - a naturalist who is a member of the Plymouth Bretheren at the time of Darwin. How does he reconcile his science with his religion? And how does his little son cope with it all? Well, it takes an age to find out (or so it seems).
The acting is good. The beach scenes are atmospheric. But oh, this piece is so slow.
There are glimpses of Potteresque greatness in this piece, but I wouldn't use it as a starting point for Potter or your dalliance with Potter might be short-lived.
Garden State (2004)
Slow but steady
I stumbled across this film by accident on a flight last night. By accident, because it wasn't even listed on the movie choices for that flight!! But I'm very pleased with the serendipity, which was in keeping with the mood and tone of the movie.
Ian Holm is the only actor in the film known to me - he is a great stage actor and plays his part in this movie well.
I am impressed to learn that young Zach is not only the lead actor (who performs well) but also the creative force behind the script and direction.
The reminders of Wes Anderson and Hal Ashby have been made elsewhere but occurred to me almost immediately on embarking on this films journey, so they bear repeating.
And it is a bit slow. Throughout, actually.
But heck, it is the lad's first movie, and it is a very good piece. Which must be a great sign for things to come. I for one will be looking out for his next.
Vera Drake (2004)
Mike Leigh at the Top of His Form
I'm a big fan of Mike Leigh, although he can sometimes disappoint. Not this time. Vera Drake is a superb piece of drama, utterly compelling from start to finish.
It has the usual Mike Leigh themes of families, relative poverty, secrets etc. The main plot revolves around Vera's avocation as a back street abortionist. This very difficult theme is covered with superb intelligence and balance.
There is an element of implausibility about Vera's naiveté with regard to the commercial value of her avocation (she does her work out of charity while others profiteer on the back of the substantial risks Vera takes), but it is almost churlish to raise this point. Also, I suspect that implausible naiveté was more plausible back then in 1950's England.
The cast are superb. A lot of the English theatre usual suspects, I'd highlight Imelda Stauton (of course) but also Peter Wight and Adrian Scarborough. I haven't seen Leigh work with these particular fine actors before but it works superbly.
Vera Drake deserves all the praise it is getting and should pick up a fistful of awards when the award season proper gets going.
Odd Man Out (1947)
Unusual and Interesting Film
Very unusual film, this. Haunting. I'm not a big fan of James Mason but he is excellent in this.
An unnamed organisation (the IRA) in an unnamed Norhern Irish city (Belfast) carry out an armed robbery that goes wrong. Johnny ends up shot, dying and on the run. The movie tracks the multiple stalking of this wounded, dying creature. Everyone wants a piece of him for different reasons.
Why the IRA and Belfast aren't named I don't know - perhaps the politics of the time caused this.
Some aspects of the movie have dated somewhat, but much of it remains gripping and fascinating.
Harold Pinter refers to it constantly in his play Old Times and you can imagine that a young Pinter would have been influenced by this movie.
Check this one out, for sure.
Jules et Jim (1962)
Has its moments
This is oft quoted as a great movie. It certainly is epic in its ambitions. However it failed to move me greatly. The love triangle thing has been done a lot and had already done so in 1962.
The epic elements didn't please me much - the cursory WW1 scenes. A passing mention of Nazism "they're even burning books now", but then let's get back to the stuff that really matters - a grade 'A' fruit of a woman and a pair of buddies who love her in different ways.
There are some beautiful moments, some fine cinematography, more than able performances, but in the end it was disappointing. Disappointing in the way that a meal in a fine restaurant might be very good on paper but just doesn't send you personally.
I'd recommend that people see this movie, but going into it with lower expectations than I had.
Stage Beauty (2004)
Can Do Better Than This
I'm a big fan of Richard Eyre and have a fascination with this period, so I should have loved this movie. It literally sent me to sleep - I needed to rewind and run about half of it a second time - unimpressive.
Actually the second half was better - in particular the Othello death scene done properly.
Don't believe the tosh some correspondents have written regarding the deep meaning on sexuality - such analysis should not get past sophomore. The restored monarchy wanted to counter the puritanical nature of Parliament years when theatre and most music was prohibited. There is an interesting story to be told about that period in theatrical history but this isn't it.
Some fine acting and some fun acting. Rupert Everett does Charles II in the style of the current Prince Charles to great effect. A lot of Eyre's favourite luvvies get cameos too.
It ought to have worked. It didn't. Move on, Richard Eyre, or better still come back to the theatre which is what you do best.
Witchfinder General (1968)
Nasty Little Film Way Past Its Sell By Date
I didn't like this film at all.
Young director of course, who knows where his career might have ended up, but it reeks of all that was wrong with British film in the 60s and 70s.
Script dire. Acting patchy in places. The military scenes, love scenes and horse riding scenes are cringe-inducing.
Violence seems gratuitous in parts.
Very two-dimensional characters - either unambiguous goodies or baddies. Childish in every aspect except the violence.
See the movie version of the Crucible if you seek a thoughtful and well acted movie on the 17th century witch hunting fad.
Comme une image (2004)
Comme-dy of Manners
Very amusing, entertaining and even at times touching movie about a luvvie family.
The daughter struggles to live under the weight of the enormous expectations and domination of her father. He is an incredibly selfish and insensitive man, beautifully portrayed in the movie. The author friend is similarly selfish. Men come out of this movie pretty badly, really, apart from the young lad (Rashid?).
The passages when the father's trophy wife leaves him and then returns to him are superb. The daughter comes out of that cathartic episode much like a used rag would come out of a motor car's catharsis.
The daughter is an irritating character, however - you just want her to make the most of herself - irritating but so true to real life.
The music is absolutely beautiful, as long as you like baroque / early classical (which we do). Even if you think you don't like that period music, give it a try in this film - it might just change your life!
She's Gone (2004)
Superb acting, superb timing, superb themes, superb setting
Well acted throughout and the suspense was excellent. Disregard other comments about the ending - I won't add to the near spoilers by elaborating but we found the balance just fine and the ending very believable and touching.
Lots of issues touched on here, not least the covert racism in Ray Winstone's character and the timing of the thing (at the time of the synagogue & consulate bombings) a brilliant setting.
All performances were good, especially the daughter's friend, the wife and the Turkish cop, but Ray Winstone stole the show.
Wondrous Oblivion (2003)
Cricket, Ska and Kosher Jammers
This is a delightful and very entertaining movie. You do not have to be mad on cricket to love it (my partner Janie proves that point) but I suspect it helps.
My own background is quite similar to that of the young lad (not quite so long ago, not quite so poor, not quite so bad at cricket without coaching, not quite so good with coaching......) so my own views on the films charms and resonances are probably unrepresentative. Suffice it to say that the film touched almost all of the right buttons.
There are some lovely, amusing bits. For example, one sequence shows several short shots of the characters playing "yard cricket", including one shot of them trying to practice catching in their sowesters in the pouring rain. Hilarious and delightful.
The racism theme is handled with great sensitivity, but without the complexity that might otherwise make the film profound rather than obvious. The film is sentimental, at the end especially so, to the point of being cheesy. But then quattro formaggio with extra cheese and parmesan on top tastes pretty good.
There are one or two historical anomalies. Most reports of the film I have seen refer to the date as 1960. West Indies toured England with Worrell and Sobers in 1957 & 1963. Worrell was finished by 1966. I think it must therefore be 1963. But there's a lovely scene where the Jewish mother and West Indian father dance to "I'm in a Dancing Mood" by Delroy Wilson - published 1966. In fact most of the Ska (or should I describe some of it as Rock Steady) would have been post 1963 I think. But I suppose I should get a life rather than fret about these things - the music was wonderful. And juxtaposing Ska with "Micky Katz and his Kosher Jammers" and yard cricket worked surprisingly well.
It is a lovely film and well worth the investment of 106 minutes to smile, laugh and be moved.
Compelling and superbly constructed
We found this film compelling throughout and superbly constructed. The idea of working backwards through time works in this movie precisely because the protagonist suffers from a rare "total" short-term memory loss. The strange time lines induce us to empathise with the protagonist, although it is clear that he is not an altogether sympathetic character. This is not a great movie for characterisation, but it is utterly memorable and deserves the adulation it has received.
Billy Liar (1963)
Hasn't aged well
I was really looking forward to this - I read Billy Liar as a child and found the character endearing then. Perhaps even then Billy Liar would have worked better for me on the page than on the screen. I found this movie disappointing.
No complaints regarding cast - Tom Courtenay is always great value, Julie Christie is simply adorable, Leonard Rossiter one of the UK's great character actor / comedians.
Perhaps it is just that this style of British film making hasn't aged well, but I found the movie slow, unfunny and unconvincing. I know it is hailed as a British film classic, but it simply didn't work for me. Aficionados of British movies should see this film to form their own view. But those who simply want to discover the world of Billy Liar are better off with their noses in the book, in my view.
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
I don't mind the language, it's the beating I don't need
I know that this film is highly regarded and that my adverse view is a minority one, but I found Reservoir Dogs unsubtle and uninteresting.
I don't really like violent movies, but I liked Pulp Fiction, which I found clever and compelling. Reservoir Dogs shows some signs of similar flair, but only the odd flicker of it.
The strong language I was promised was not particularly ripe - I learned no new ways of saying "f*** you" having experienced the entire canon in Glengarry Glen Ross. Indeed, Mamet does foul language better. The introduction of the prefix "mother" in Pulp Fiction took the language genre much further. Mostly this film is distinguished only by the gratuitousness of its violence, which is disturbing at times, especially Mr Blonde's frenzy.
What little plot there is (and boy, is there little) didn't quite stack up for me, nor did it bring out any real complexity in the characters.
I enjoyed the opening scene in the diner, haggling over the morality of tipping, but it was downhill from there for me.
Good performances by Tim Roth and Harvey Keitel in particular.
Room to Rent (2000)
Charming, funny and interesting
We enjoyed this film from start to finish - it is charming, funny and interesting.
Fine actors such as Rupert Graves and Anna Massey provide excellent support for the talented Said Taghmaoui who plays the lead.
The plot is a little predictable, but no real harm in that. Issues around economic migration and the way women are treated in our society are given a light touch but are respectably covered. This film does not have the depth of Dirty Pretty Things, for example, but does not set out to have that depth.
The early sequence filmed at night along the Edgware Road in London really captured the bright lights and chaos of the neighbourhood. Do try the shawarmas in Maroush/Ranoush if you get the chance to make a pilgrimage there, by the way. They are the best to be had outside the Middle East.
Great fun, see it and enjoy.
En passion (1969)
Bergman really was at the top of his game by the late 1960's and this masterful piece is one of his (many) great works.
He has some of his best actors at his disposal: Liv Ullmann, Bibi Andersson and Max von Sydow. They are all superb in this film.
Key themes include "living a lie", the many ways in which love can manifest itself, man's inhumanity to man and our ability to be cruel to animals as well as each other. People who get especially upset at images of cruelty to animals might best keep away from this movie, although those scenes are done very sensitively.
The film is interspersed with post modernist vignettes by the main actors explaining how they feel about their characters. While I found those scenes fascinating, they did interrupt the flow a little and I found myself needing some time after each interruption to rejoin the lost and lonely world on that remote island.
But the criticisms are minor. The heaps of praise are my main comments on this film. I was transfixed by it. As usual with Bergman, action junkies should stay away, but lovers of great and thoughtful drama should get a lot of pleasure from this great film.
Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
One of the better film versions of a Williams classic
Film versions of Tennessee Williams great plays can be a little frustrating, especially for those of us lucky enough to have seen a fine production of the play on stage. I saw a fine production of this piece in London in 1999, with Sheila Gish as Mrs Venable, Rachel Weisz as Catherine and Gerard Butler as Doctor Cukrowicz.
But this film version is actually extremely good. The cast more or less speaks for itself. Katherine Hepburn is not quite as repulsive as I imagine Mrs Venable to have become, but this is a movie version after all and somehow Katherine Hepburn seemed to become increasingly ghastly as the movie goes on - strong work on her part and the Director's part I shouldn't wonder. Taylor and Clift are predictably good.
Most Tennessee William's plays had their endings tampered with for Hollywood and this piece is no exception. However, there is only a subtle difference between the ending of the film and the ending of the play, unlike the cringe-inducing changes to some ("Streetcar" and "Cat" being the main offenders).
This is not William's best-known piece, but it is one of my favourites and this film version also slots in right up there with the very, very best.
Well worth seeing, is this.
Aleksandr Nevskiy (1938)
Subtle it isn't, superb it is
This is one of those movies where you have to put to one side some of its obvious shortcomings (a result of the date and location of its production)and accentuate the positive. In many ways this is a truly superb film.
Forgive the parody in the one line summary, but the most serious shortcoming for an English speaker like me was the ghastly subtitles. The print I saw had 1982 Soviet "Film Export" subtitles, which consistently used inverted grammar, presumably to give the impression of 13th century speech. The actual impact of this nonsense is to make it harder to follow the subtitles which means you spend less time looking at the images. Given that the cinematographic imagery is this films great strength, this is a real issue.
Other IMDB-niks have written plenty about the Stalinist propaganda elements of this film (just in case the viewer doesn't notice them for him/herself). They have also written plenty about the battle on the ice scene, which is superb in my view.
The love interest almost totally lacks subtlety and yet strangely..... almost totally lacks charm also. But it is good to cringe every now and then.
I was familiar with the Prokofiev music to this film long before seeing the film. The images and the music complement each other marvelously. And it is the images that will stick in the mind for a long time. Bergman clearly learned a lot from these images - the imagery of his medieval pieces (e.g. The Seventh Seal, The Virgin Spring) building upon and enhancing Eisenstein's ideas. This film was made in 1938 in the USSR. In that context it is a masterpiece, albeit a flawed one.
For the modern viewer, I suggest that you go with the flow and enjoy the many treats on show.
Sweet and Lowdown (1999)
Very watchable, very charming
This is a very enjoyable movie. It has many touches in it that are classic Woody Allen, so it should appeal to his many fans. It is also so strong on the jazz material that it should appeal to jazz afficianados even if they are not Woody Allen fans.
The biographical / documentary styles keep this movie away from Woody's worst excesses (I am a fan, but not a blinkered one)and provide momentum. There are one or two scenes that migrate towards farce, such as the hold-up scene(s) and the "moon seat".
This film is well worth seeing.
Will it send you to sleep?
Almost irredeemably dull. This movie reeks of subsidy, but not just the European Union Common Agricultural Policy kind. Would this film ever get made on a purely commercial decision basis? I doubt it, because it is "worthy" only because it covers rural poverty. It is not entertaining. It is not innovative. It is not great art. It is simply "worthy". But not, in my opinion, worth investing two hours of your life into seeing. Will it send you to sleep? It did that job for me.
Most unusual, well worth seeing
It is a real rarity for me these days to see a film that I find genuinely original or unusual. But this really is one such film. It is also charming, funny and spell-binding. Yes, some of the surrealism grates a little, but the film moves so gracefully through its paces that the rare jolting moment is soon forgotten.
Lots of memorable scenes and events - probably a film worth seeing more than once as there is so much going on, especially for those of us who need subtitles.
This really is a super film - well worth seeing.
Killer's Kiss (1955)
Minimum budget, maximum effect
Boxing is one of my least favourite subjects, so much so that I put off seeing this film until now. However, it is no more about boxing than "On the Waterfront", a great movie, which I think Kubrick was emulating (or "tributing", as we say these days) to some extent in this movie.
The plot reads like a cheap B movie, as does the script and the budget. Yet with these severely limited resources, Kubrick manages to make an utterly compelling film. The pace is helped by the length of the movie - 67 minutes would be unacceptable today, but is right for this piece; an additional 30 minutes of padding would have ruined it.
The fight scene in the mannequin warehouse is an extraordinary piece of imagination, cinematography and fight choreography. And no, that fight is not even faintly like boxing.
So, Kubrick's first feature effort. Minimum budget, maximum effect, well worth seeing.