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I'm a bit of a sucker for cult pieces of all kinds.
I am a student of the human condition and films/TV that try to capture it.
Generally I only comment when comment is required. Most films/TV series are just so-so. I will comment when I see something that stands out of the ordinary; either for being particularly strong, or particularly disappointing.
I will never say anything on IMDb that I am not prepared to back up and justify.
A strong film or TV piece requires a strong review and I am careful to craft my comments to the calibre of the offering. However - where the film is an absolute dog, my comments will be brief and to the point.
In 2020 I will be 62. I've travelled and seen a lot. I am a graduate in Philosophy, and a retired teacher living in London. I hope you enjoy reading my reviews!
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The Queen's Gambit (2020)
This is really excellent - A must watch.
Well - WOW! The Queen's Gambit is really excellent. A Grand Master of a show! Strangely, I held back at first when this got rave reviews. I shouldn't have waited.
Everything about The Queen's Gambit works.
It's about connections; our connections to the characters and the characters connections with each other, especially the connections the central character makes. It's gripping and you want to watch more. It's exciting; we feel triumph. It's emotional; we feel pain. It is brilliantly acted. It looks absolutely superb - as a brilliant 50's-60's period piece it works fabulously well.
We swiftly make a connection with young Beth Harman, an other-worldly chess genius. We wonder at her brilliance, we wonder at her weaknesses. Above all - we wonder at how she is able to maintain such incredible focus. Across the episodes it isn't revealed to us what it is that is powering this prodigy - and we wonder at that too. The answers are left open - in a very pleasing way.
We go with Beth Harmon on a fantastic journey. We enjoy the superb cars, clothes and hotel interiors - just as she does. But it's very far from plain sailing. We see her "play" with a range of American societal norms - and she rejects all of them. She is very much her own person, beholden to no-one and this in itself is a magnificent and uplifting thing to see. However - Beth has issues. NO spoilers!!!
The series has rise and fall which is superbly modulated. It's not clear how it's going to go - except that there will be a final reckoning and it IS absolutely excellent. No spoilers!!!
I LOVED this! I don't normally gush - but The Queen's Gambit is BRILLIANT. I was gripped. I said; "Wow" in every episode. I wanted more.
If you are considering watching The Queen's Gambit, don't hesitate - say to yourself; "Let's play".
Raised by Wolves (2020)
No, I don't think so...
Raised by Wolves. Promising title - promising first couple of episodes. But then....
"Wolves" drifts and then drifts some more. The characters are bloody irritating - they keep making the same stupid mistakes AND they keep killing and damaging each other. Considering that life is supposed to be precious (and why we've decanted what's left of the human race to Kepler 22b 600 light years away), why the hell are these idiots still killing each other? It's not believable - I can't do it.
The kids die because they've eaten radioactive food produced on the planet. With that incredible technology wouldn't the Mother & Father figures have previously tested that food? Their primary mission is to keep humanity alive but they fail at that very basic level. It doesn't tie up - especially once they finally do test the food after 5 have died. Then there are the massive skeletons of snake-like creatures and the enormous holes. The androids have the sense of smell - but no kind of analytic sense. As a result they aren't able to put 2 and 2 together with the many other clues to see that there was once some sort of civilisation on Kepler 22b and some sort of disaster. We the viewer can see it - but for all their amazing programming and technology the Mother & Father androids; guardians entrusted with the protection of what's left of humanity can't see it. They don't see that evident danger. I know this is sci-fi - but that's not really on.
As it goes along, I find I don't care about the Religious Cult Vs Atheists stuff. It's rubbish. I know this is sci-fi - but I can't really bring myself to believe Homo Sapiens will wipe itself out over religious differences and destroy the Earth. Even if they did - would they really take their differences off in suitcases only to unpack them again 600 light years away and start shooting each other all over again? It's nonsense.
Returning to the character development. It's too patchy. We want to see characters developing individually and together. But they don't. The religious boy ends up shooting the woman pretending to be his mother and it was entirely predictable that he would pull the trigger because he has become as crazy as the man pretending to be his father. The character who could, and may yet still act as a moderator and leader - Campion, has not yet come through.
Behind all of this is a malevolent force which only shows itself fully in the last episode. It was so obvious that the creature growing inside Mother was not human, but boy - I so did not want to see that snake emerge from Mother in the series finale. That really annoyed me it was a carbon copy of Aliens. I DO NOT want to watch 5 seasons of Aliens!
And it IS going to turn out to be all about the snakes and the disaster that befell the previous (probably human) occupants of Kepler 22b repeating itself. It's nailed on. These snakes have some sort of preternatural essence. This "essence" has been lying inert for millennia waiting for an opportunity to rise again. All very Aliens. All very annoying. This "essence" has been manipulating things from the get-go - even influencing the androids, especially Mother. It doesn't come into focus until that snake appears.
Things had better change in Season 2 and quite quickly. DO I want to watch more Aliens? No, I don't think so...
Undifferentiated, rough and "not there to follow"
Full disclosure; I watch Art Movies. I love Art Movies! I'm happy to go with Art Movies. I don't mind a lack of narrative arc - so long as something else holds it together (example; Herzog "Fata Morgana"). I don't mind poor (or deliberately cranky) cinematography - so long as something else holds it together. I can put up with a lot of things. But what I can't put up with is faux.
Sadly Japon is faux. It isn't anything.
Added to the fact that Japon is faux, it has no narrative arc and has deliberately cranky cinematography. It adds up to a very frustrating watch.
What is hinted at is an observation of the human condition. The first 20 minutes of Japon are promising in this regard. But then it goes off into - well, nowhere. It's incomprehensible. It's gratuitous. It passes the point of being artfully ugly or even artfully brutal, and enters the realms of playing pointlessly with the sensitivities of the viewer. In short a film with no real objective aesthetically, artistically or as a description of the human condition.
The Family Man (2000)
A lovely warm film
The Family Man is one of my favourite films. Just watched it again on Boxing Night (Ok - I'm British!) and it delivered again. This is one of the GREAT Christmas films!
There are so many things that go into The Family Man; Cage is the pushy Wall Street broker who is at root a good man. Precisely because he is a good man he ends up getting a "glimpse" of a life he could have had. This completely unmoors him and we see how that plays out. Leoni is - as Cage rightly describes; beautiful - inside and out! Her character is just lovely in every respect; the perfect mom and life partner. The chemistry is warm and terrific even though Cage is hugely confused and conflicted with the "other man" still inside of him. One of his best perfomances. Shout out for the little girl "Annie" and her cameo - she's brilliant too.
This film works well on the deeper levels because the story is strong; why did we make the choices we made? How might things have played out if different paths had been taken? The Family Man invites us to look at ourselves and ask these questions in a charming and disarming way.
However, there is an necessary central sadness in The Family Man; that Cage & Leoni have not, as a matter of fact, had that life together. But actually this sadness powers the film in very positive ways. Because the story is so strong and the characters so well portrayed, we feel for Cage and for Leoni at the end scenes. This is where the story lands. Cage does the right thing, it is Leoni's turn to make a big decision - and the symmetry is complete.
The Midnight Sky (2020)
Oh dear, oh dear....
This is terrible; a real dog, a real missed opportunity. Such a shame. It looks good - a lot of good special effects (very good zero Gravity, for example). But that's the only thing that saves this from a lower rating, and the rating is low enough!
As with many weak films, too many things just don't add up in The Midnight Sky. The chief problem here though is the story; it's pointless - it goes nowhere! It literally goes to the end of human kind....
It starts badly - and stays there. It's pace is glacial.
There are too many technical weaknesses. For one thing; there is no possibility whatsoever of there being an "undiscovered moon of Jupiter"; Galileo would turn in his grave. In space there is time lag in radio communications due to the vast distances - but there was no time lag! And why did the spacecraft suddenly push hugely off course? The laws of physics says that's impossible nonsense. And you don't get day and then night just above the Artic Circle; it's impossible! You get a very long day with twilight every 24hrs, then twilight then night with twilight every 24hrs, and that's the year!
Then there are the stupidities; going on a dangerous spacewalk in an area that the astronauts know is dangerous. You just wouldn't do that, and if you did you certainly wouldn't be singing "Sweet Caroline"! Nonsense.
And then there are the pointlessnesses; Why did everyone fly off to certain death at the beginning? And what about the entirely emotionless pregnacy in space??? That's nonsense as well. And the crashed aircraft with the survivor - what on earth was the point of that? I'm not even sure I saw the point of the spacecraft at all...?
But the central problem is the story. What is it about? Other reviewers have talked about positives; ecology, scientific knowledge. Yah - it might be, but it isn't. Those reviewers have invented stuff. They think we "haven't got it", but the truth is; they've "got" something that isn't there! It's all one giant "SO WHAT".
If this story is about anything at all it's about some kind of "saving". The Cloney character endeavours to "save" what's left of mankind even though for him all hope is gone. He does it by referrence to some kind of mystical (hardly hinted at) link to the daughter he never knew. I'm guessing here because it's all so vague and poorly constructed and only comes into "focus" in the last 10 minutes or so. But by then I was so bored that I just didn't care anymore.
Was this just one giant 2 hour hallucination? It's a possible explanation! I've wasted another 10 minutes of my life by writing about it too!
Easy Rider (1969)
It is what it looks like
By now Easy Rider is a totem for the free-livin' hippy culture of the late 1960's. A time capsule - if you will.
I grew up in the UK in the 1960's & 70's and Easy Rider was always a film I wanted to see as it had rapidly gained cult status. Rated "X" - or 18 by todays standards I had to wait until 1976 before they would let me into the cinema!
In the 44 years since I first saw it nothing has really changed. WIth some films you watch and then 20 years or more later you watch again and you think, "phew that wasn't how I remember it". Not so with Easy Rider. Even though I am now in my 60's I see this film exactly the same way I did when I was 18. Why is this?
Easy Rider speaks to the counter-cultural in me. I grew up believing that if I didn't want to conform then if I wouldn't have to. Except.... In my life I did conform (schoolteacher, now retired). We kinda have to conform - but I still believe in the counter-culture!
When you watch Easy Rider - whether the first viewing or the 10th - you are struck by how Captain America (Fonda), Billy (Hopper), and indeed Hanson (Nicholson) all express admiration for what they see as the "American Dream". In their own ways they are each products of it - but in their own ways each one is trying to break out. A key aspect of the American Dream is growing up with and nurturing the desire to "live free". The Hendrix track chosen; "If 6 was 9" speaks perfectly to this. Now here's the thing; they all want to live free - the hippies in the commune, the central characters, even the vile locals in the Louisiana roadhouse - but they can't. Why? Easy Rider is a kind of exploration of why they can't and what happens because they can't.
It's a classic roadtrip movie. Great cinematography and some classic situations. No unneccessary dialogue - indeed - the two "heroes" (anti-heroes) aren't seen to gel or come together during the piece. The story mostly moves along because of the input of the Nicholson character.
The soundtrack is excellent and makes the film what it is. In the "making of" video in the Extras on the disc we learn that Crosby, Stills and Nash were asked to write the soundtrack. Surprise! However, they watched the film with the existing songs and declared that they were blown away and could not improve on them. Bigger surprise!
Overall - Easy Rider is what it looks like; 2 stoners who like motor bike roadtrips have made a film about 2 stoners on a motor bike road trip. It's quite straightforward.
Born to be Wild? Hell yeah!
Das Leben der Anderen (2006)
The impact of surveillance and control
This is an excellent film. Based, no doubt, on the lived realities of thousands Germans on the other side of the Iron Curtain up until 1989.
Difficult to write about this one without spoilers - so I will keep it about the film.
What would it be like to live in a place where you know that control and surveillance, with consequences, are part of normal life? What would it be like to be one of those conducting the surveillance? The Lives of Others shows us what this place is like. We know that this place is real too - or at least was real up until 30 years ago. This film opens the door and shows us the impact this has on both sides; those watched and those watching. It isn't pretty.
The narrative arc of the story feeds our interest throughout. Symbolically - it is 1984 the year of Orwell's seminal novel of a dystopian regime; "The Party". In The Lives of Others we see how the notorious East German secret police "Stasi" go about their business. It is unpleasant. We watch Stasi Captain Weisler interogate and take apart one of his suspects and we watch him glorying in teaching trainees these brutal techniques. This is Orwell's world of 1984 made real.
Members of the (East Berlin) artistic community know they have to conform. If they don't they are blacklisted and ruined. This is clearly seen in the fall of theatrical director Albert Jeska. The paranoia of the state is so profound that even wholly loyal people are suspected simply because their loyality is seen to be too pure and perfect to be true. This is the case for Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) - a playright and close friend of the fallen Jeska. Partly because of his associates, Dreyman is detailed for deep surveillance - but he has no idea at all that he is being watched and listened to day and night.
Meanwhile, Captain Weisler and his team bug Dreyman's appartment and begin the operation. He writes and files his reports under his codename; HGW XX/7. However, as the story unfolds we find that there is more to Weisler than first meets the eye.... No spoilers!
There is a darkness that powers this movie. We perceive it and are uncomfortable knowing that this can and has happened in real-life. We see the damage. There is almost no light. We feel the awful effects through Dreyman's partner Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck) who is controlled and manipulated horribly. It's deeply unpleasant.
The story builds to a crescendo. We know that we are just as powerless as Dreyman and Sieland and there is an inevitability to how this will play out.
No spoilers!!! But this movie has a quite superb ending.
This is a powerful compelling story. The acting is first class. Highly recommended.
Professione: reporter (1975)
A story about misplaced logic
This is a very good offering from Antonioni.
As ever well observed and thoughtfully photographed, The Passenger (Professione; Reporter) also features a laconic and excellent performance by Nicholson, ably supported by Maria Schneider.
The settings are a well integrated part of the story which ranges across North Africa, London, Barcelona and Munich.
There is intrigue throughout and we are caught up in the thinking of David Locke (Nicholson). We sort of understand why he has made the profound choice he makes near the beginning. But he has not thought through the consequences of what he has done - and as these consequences unfold we the viewer see that these are severe. There are plenty of indicators that should have alerted him that he is playing a dangerous game - but he ignores and circumvents them. We can see that this is madness - but Locke just presses on.
The girl (Schneider) is a counter-weight to Lockes' behaviours. It's as if she represents the new life Locke wants. But because Locke is STILL the person he was before - he can't make the switch, can't accept the cues. The girl is Lockes' misplaced logic.
The final scenes include a remarkable and beautiful panning and tracking shot many minutes long - all before Steadycam was invented. This shot is a metaphor for what has taken place during the film; moving through prison-like bars out into free space. I will say no more - as that would be a spoiler!
As the flim fades to grey we are left to reflect that we would not make the choices Locke has made.
Overall, Antonioni has crafted a minor classic.
It's about seeing
Caravaggio is a sumptuous beautiful film - Jarman's best work.
It is constructed in set-pieces. This device invites us to look at the work of the Renaissance painter in the way that HE would look at his tableau vivant. It's revealing. But this film is not about the art of Caravaggio - it is about Caravaggio the person and the way he is seen by us today. Jarman helps us to see him.
The film work is outstanding, the compositions and lighting are perfect and help us into the "eye" of the painter. We see the world the way he does.
We also see Caravaggio the way his contemporaries see him. This isn't always easy. The church figures admire him but others do not. Jarman has chosen this subject because he empathises and wants us to empathise too. There is a subtlety to the way Jarman achieves this; Caravaggio takes in a poor young deaf and dumb boy and looks after him right at the beginning. He expresses and demonstrates genuine love. We see a real and vibrant person - dangerous but someone we would want to meet - someone who has motivations we might understand and appreciate. There is the "affair" with Ranuccio (Sean Bean) and a knife fight that could have gone nasty - but doesn't. Caravaggio does end up cutting his throat but in a completely different context - Jarman gives us another slant.
Towards the end we realise that Caravaggio is not wholly set in the 16/17th Century! There are several anacronisms; We see the front of a truck and a typewriter for example. It was his habit to paint contemporary dressed figures in his biblical pieces - but I think there is another reason why Jarman does this;
I have a theory that the construction of Caravaggio is such that by the time we get to the end our skills of "seeing" have been so highly sharpened by watching that we notice things that we would not have noticed had we not sat through this film. It's about here too that we realise that this is one of the points that Jarman is trying to make; It's about seeing. We peel through layers of seeing and arrive at the one that feels right. Despite the fact that we know he is a murderer, in Caravaggio we reach a view that he is a good and decent man. Jarman's treatment ensures that we don't see him in a negative light.
Overall Caravaggio is a very strong offering. Make sure you see it.
Altered States (1980)
What an acid trip looks like
This was a big movie in it's day and I saw it at the cinema but it wasn't as good as the hype. I've started this review with a star rating of 7 - but writing the review makes me think I should downgrade it to 6. Perhaps it's 6.5! :-)
I recently re-watched Altered States as haven't seen it for about 30 years. I had completely forgotten that it is a Ken Russell work. There are aspects of the film that indicate it as obviously Russell - but the story chosen is not.
Other reviewers have mentioned the centrality of the relationship between Edwards (William Hurt) and Jessup (Blair Brown) and the way it finally redeems Edwards. I have to say that I didn't see it like that at all. For me Altered States is about Edwards' search for the primal most inner being; it's literally an acid trip.
Unfortunately - it doesn't add up. The movie is unbalanced. Edwards is unhinged - and Jessop puts up with it for some reason. Then there is the silly nonsense with the magic mushrooms - followed by the trip to end all trips. The visuals consume both the film and the capacity of the viewer. It's exhausting and it isn't the real point.
Actually - it's hard to tell what the point of the film actually is. Sure - Edwards is obsessed - but so what? Sure - there are some amazing visuals - but plenty of films have those. Aside from these aspects the film doesn't seem to have any centre. The "search" in Altered States for the primal first being is fatuous. The portrayal is just too far from credible.
Why then have I given this movie a "7" and not lower? Because it does have impact. When I first saw it at the cinema in 1981 I found it genuinely scary - I thought it was a horror film. The effects are quite good - especially for the early 1980's. It is also quite shocking to watch Edwards' self-willed disintegration.
However - the final assessement of Altered States has to be that essentially it is a vehicle for Ken Russell showing us what an acid trip looks like. Most viewers won't get it.
Basic but engaging and fun
I'm torn over The Boy Who Flew With Condors.
On the one hand I first saw this as a schoolboy at initial transmission in the UK sometime in the late 1960's. I always had an interest in aeroplanes and spaceflight and this little Disney piece fed that interest. I won't claim that it started me in a life of gliding - but I will claim that it was in the background.
Much later in life I did take up gliding and today possess a DG-800B self-launching sailplane. I have achieved "All 3 Diamonds" and the UK 750km Diploma. I have 1500 hours in gliders and am an instructor.
So - I see Condors through the eyes of the 9 year-old child and as the adult expert. But I also see Condors as a piece of education and entertainment. This little film succeeds as both; but only just!
It is a very Disney piece; frivolous, flimsy and lightweight. Some of the pieces are downright silly. For example; we would never land in a duck pond and we would never roll up behind someone of a golf course. We would never fly in the mountains in such dangerous weather. However - we do use other soaring birds to help us and we do engage in different forms of soaring; thermals, cliffs/hills and mountain wave. And we do have a lot of fun exploring the skies.
Condors is very dated now. Those gliders are museum pieces and the methods and attitudes are completely outmoded.
Nevertheless - The Boy Who Flew With Condors is worth a watch. It's basic but engaging and fun.
You'll need a theory
I had a lot of issues with this one at initial watching. Many of the things that happen in Theorem are too enigmatic and don't seem to make any sense first time around.
I came to Theorem having never heard of Pasolini, his films, writing, religion, sexuality or politics. Secondly, I don't know anything about 1960's Milanese society. Thirdly, although I know my scriptures I don't have enough of a grasp of the religious or "saintly" and the way Catholicism in Northern Italy manifests itself. All of these placed me at a disadvantage. By the end I was disatisfied. I needed more. This is the weakness in the film; it needed, for me at least, an expansion and an explanation.
So, I rolled immediately straight into a second viewing - this time with the commentary switched on. This improved matters considerably and I am now able to say something meaningful about this interesting film.
Theorem is a metaphysical study. It's a study of the way 5 characters deal with powerful upwellings from within themselves. I think this is the best interpretation - my best theory about what's going on.
I'm not interested in director Pasolini's politics, religion, sexuality or driving motivators. When I watch a film I want a story, strong characters well acted and I want good cinematography. Theorem has these and it possesses the key element of requiring the viewer to search for explanation. In this respect Theorem is highly intriguing.
Pasolini is making a range of statements; some are obvious, some are not. For example, the servant maid character is literally raised up, while the rich family is effectively destroyed. The daughter respects her father but the brief imagery presented leaves us considering whether there may be something else. She is destroyed. The son is essentially weak; something has seduced him but it's not clear what or actually why. No matter - his former life is destroyed and he leaves it behind. The story of the mother is basically one of falling; she falls into ruination. At the end she actually is in a pit - and all of this for no particular reason. The father figures' story is more complex; he is "saved" in order to execute a "higher" purpose - but when he has he then nevertheless is in despair. Again - there is no reason why any of this is takes place.
By far the best etched and most interesting character is that of the servant maid. Hers is the most engaging of the individual stories. Although she is raised up - she too ends up in a pit - albeit a completely different kind of pit to the one the mother finds herself in. It's worth watching Theorem just to follow her journey.
The Terrance Stamp character is almost superfluous but the whole piece revolves around the effect of whatever he, or it, has on the 5 characters. A powerful influence but so lightly treated that he is almost not there at all. Subtle.
Theorem also contains a hidden gem in the Ennio Morricone soundtrack.
Overall Theorem deserves careful viewing. It would be far too simplistic to see it as some kind of sexual repression/awakening piece, it's much more sophisticated than that. This is a good film but be advised - you'll need a theory.
A mid-range cult piece - but deep down it's a dressed up rom-com...
To be honest - this is silly nonsense!
However - Millennium doesn't have nothing to offer. It's actually a fair attempt with a good underlaying sci-fi story. That's not the problem; the problem is that deep down this is just another rom-com.
I don't want to see a rom-com, especially not one as weak and silly as this. If I wanted a rom-com I'd watch Notting Hill or Love Actually or something like that. Seen in his mode Millenium is pointless and weak. There is no reason or rhyme to why Ladd & Kristofferson are attracted. Not only is it daft - it's also badly done. It just doesn't work. It's naff.
However, the sci-fi aspect does have some merit - although seen through today's eyes it might encourage conspiracy theorists. Unfortunately - the sci-fi story is not given front and centre treatment. Instead there is is this rather flimsy attempt to use the story as a vehicle for the Ladd/Kristofferson thing (whatever it is).
Another thing about Millennium is that by now it's it's own time capsule. It's clearly a film of the 1980's. That kinda has it's own interest!
Taken overall Millenium is probably worth a watch as a cult piece. But don't raise your hopes too high; this is just a dressed up rom-com.
An eclectic and engaging journey
This is a charming quirky little piece from Jarman at somewhere near his best.
Light, engaging and entertaining, the director has made far more difficult and challenging films than Wittgenstein. This is to the good - as the philosopher was undoubtedly a highly complex personality. He needed simplifying.
Jarman treats his subject with great love and sensitivity. The care and attention extends to ensuring that things are kept easy and simple. Wittgenstein's philosophical outpourings are exceptionally hard to access, but we are given just enough so that we appreciate the genius. It's cleverly done.
The craft extends from Wittgenstein's early life and subsequent work right through to scenes on his deathbed. Via this device we catch glimpses of the whole person. We come to learn a lot about our subject through Jarman's deft and sympathetic treatment.
Don't watch this expecting the surreal grit of Jubilee or high art of Caravaggio. Instead, ready yourself for an eclectic journey through the life and works of one of the world's greatest minds. Your guide is Jarman. He clearly cares about Ludwig Wittgenstein and by the end so do we.
C'era una volta il West (1968)
A superb film
I consider this to be one of the greatest films of all time.
Why is it one of the greatest films of all time? Why; because everything in and around it contribute strongly to make the experience greater than the sum of the parts.
The photography is superb; Leone's use of Techniscope brings the magnificence and drama of Arizona/Utah/(Spain!) to front and centre. The landscapes and long tracking shots are stunning. Leone also uses the full-frame close ups of the faces of the characters to invite the viewer into the powerful emotions of each. We can see every pore in the faces of Harmonica (Bronson) Jill (Cardinale), Cheyenne (Robards) and Frank (Fonda); complete with his wonderful blue eyes. This device is akin to us looking at a mirror and seeing ourselves; in effect, we are invited to see ourselves as each of the characters, invited into their turmoil. It's brilliant.
The music by Ennio Morricone is superb. Truly one of the greatest soundtracks of all time. Leone uses this (which was written and recorded before filming commenced) to tremendous effect - building rise and fall into the imagery and storytelling. Leone simply lets the music do the talking.
Some have commented that the story is "thin". I don't agree. Better to look at the journey of each of the characters. I include the railway as a character too. Jill is redeemed; she comes out to the west looking to make a new start and to purify herself. It doesn't look like she will succeed - but by the very end, she does. Harmonica has been appallingly and shockingly damaged in early life. His redemption is vengence. Cheyenne is a bad guy who, in fact, is hugely improved by his contact with Jill early on in the film. Jill is his redemption. Frank is just unremittingly evil - sadistic and vicious. There is no possible redemption for him. Morton the railway baron is not redeemed either and neither should he be for his murderous sponsorship of Frank. As for the railway; it ploughs on into the west - into the future.
A superb film.
The Leftovers (2014)
This is right up there with the best
I am just rolling through my third time of watching this amazing series. Brilliant.
Forget what the negative reviewers here say. They've missed the point and "not got it".
This is right up there with Breaking Bad, The Prisoner, Game of Thrones and all the best television ever made.
Why is it brilliant?
It's brilliant because it's a wide-ranging account of the human condition; we are suggestible, we are irrational, we are social creatures (that can go wildly wrong...) and we are dangerous. Above all - we are emotional and we are vulnerable. We watch this account and the effect is profound.
The way that The Leftovers achieves this effect is worth comment. This is sophisticated television with everything working together; the script, the characters, the acting, the filming, the locations and the music (music which is truly wonderful). It's the interplay between the characters, their vulnerabilities and their inner worlds that we see. Or do we? This is the key; WE as watchers interpose OUR values, OUR understanding and OUR world view. In the end - we end up looking at our own inner worlds! It messes with your head. This is the genius of The Leftovers.
The Garvey family and those associated are all trying to continue their lives and we see the effects of the "Departure" through the lens of their experience. Sometimes, often actually - it's deeply shocking. This is very challenging television - not like anything you've ever seen.
These characters are isolated; in silos. They are like characters in a Jean-Paul Sartre novel. They can't and don't understand or come to terms with their own situation, let alone anyone else's. This would be largely true in the real world where there has been no "Departure". But in the world of The Leftovers lots of things have unravelled - exposing the nature of moral codes, belief systems and superstitions. The characters look as if they are searching for meaning, looking for a way to connect, looking for answers. But when it all comes down to it - they can't. In fact they aren't searching at all - that's just US searching and US looking at it trying to give it meaning. Of the many truths exposed by The Leftovers, two of them are; there is no meaning and there are no answers, either for them, or for us.
All 3 Seasons are excellent. Each has truly epic moments that work well because the context has been superbly set up. We come to an understanding of the well-etched characters that are superbly acted. We form a good idea of how they are going to react. We sense their pain, feel their isolation. The seasons are very different one from the next - but the underlying themes are the same. What we see is different manifestations of those themes.
In a sense - The Leftovers is more relevant and better framed now that the world has been hit by Coronavirus. Tragically, between 1% & 2% of the world's population are not going to survive. However - in this world we cope with life and death as the natural order of things. In the world of The Leftovers, 2% just disappear - without any warning or rational explanation. That's the shock of it. The order of the world is transformed by this event, particularly the moral order.
With time on my hands, maybe it's time to read the original book by Tom Perrotta! It's a pleasure to watch the series one more time though. This is television to get you thinking; television to make the hairs on the back of the neck stand up. This is right up there with the best.
Thank you HBO!
Season 1; Just about worth persisting with...
Yes - the comparison with Lost and The Leftovers does hold true. For me, there is also a whiff of X Files and more than a dash of any conspiracy theory piece you'd care to think of, e.g. Spielberg's mini-series Taken.
However, Manifest doesn't hold a candle to any of these. The Leftovers and Taken are genuinely outstanding. Manifest, sadly, is not.
The problem with Manifest is not the story. The story is good enough and intriguing enough to hold our interest. The problem, or rather, problems, are to do with the dire script, somewhat hammy acting, the front-of face camera angles, and, worst of all, the mommas' American apple pie family situations. These are cringeworthy.
Here are perfect-looking people, in what looks like a perfect too good to be true American family (complete with wholesome American family values and dialogue, yawn...). But, hey surprise - something weird happened to them on a flight back from Jamaica, and now their 'values' are of absolutely no use to them whatsoever. Indeed - the family doesn't and can't cope with what happens. The family is irrevocably split and it's unrecoverable. Unfortunately, we are treated to 16 episodes of watching this 'perfect' family thrashing about with awful dialogue and dire breathy acting. There are many times when you just want to turn it off and just give up!
There is too much schmaltz, and too much garbage. It's too soapy.
This is a real pity, because the background story could support something much better. The Leftovers is so wondrously excellent (10 out of 10) because the viewer is given a chance to really identify with and understand the inner turmoil of each character in a changed world. The characters in Manifest are in a changed world too - but you wouldn't know. In The Leftovers, like the characters in it - we the audience learn and adapt to new moral realities. It's a journey of exploration of a kind we'd never thought we'd have to make, which tests us and causes us to reflect deeply on the human condition. It's brilliant!
Manifest could go to these higher reaches, but it doesn't. It's strangled by its own formula and can't grow. The characters are one-dimensional, there is no character development, and actually, these characters are really not that interesting. Bearing in mind their incredible experience - you'd think they would be interesting, but the script writers have wrung it out of them. I could write better scripts! It's also rather predictable. We can figure out and see for ourselves who or what some characters are and how the plot is going to go. This is an additional irritation to add to an already long list.
Manifest is at its best when we the viewers are allowed to use our imagination to ponder just what the hell is going on - what is behind all this inexplicable stuff? Occasionally we get enough to keep us interested - like the story of the pilot who steals an aircraft, or the appearance of the Wolf. But it's only just enough.
So, I suppose I'm invested now and when Season 2 comes out I'll be watching. But let's hope they read some of my comments and the comments of others here and start taking the opportunities on offer. If they don't, Manifest Season 2 could be somewhat short...
First Man (2018)
The inner journey to being the first...
Just got home from watching First Man.
I'll disclose straight away that I am a HUGE student of manned space flight. I've seen the Apollo 11 capsule and Neil Armstrong's X-15 hanging from the roof of the Smithsonian in Washington. I've visited Cape Kennedy 3 times and done all the tours. I have read many of the astronauts' books, including Andrew Chaikin's outstanding "A Man on the Moon". Obviously, I am also a huge fan of the HBO series "From the Earth to the Moon". On top of all that - as a 10-year-old, I sat and watched completely gripped as Armstrong made the famous first step. I admit though, that I hadn't read "First Man".
So, what about this film? Well, it's not about going to the moon, although you could see it like that if you wanted to. So - what is it about? Now we get to the thought-provoking part; it's not clear.... I think it's about what the inner journey for Neil Armstrong might have been like. A lot of this is left up to us as we see what he experienced, and how he dealt with it.
Looking at the film, it's obvious that there is something quite de-humanising about everything surrounding space flight. Astronauts rely completely on machines; machines are our way into space, machines dominate every aspect - right down to enabling us to breathe. We are strapped into this machine - and it goes...
The space flight and launch sequences are brilliant. You and I are never going to experience being inside a Gemini capsule during launch - but First Man takes you as close as we are going to get. These rockets are scary and dangerous and it takes special qualities to fly in them.
Then there is an aspect to the film which is on another level again; and this is that, perhaps, for Armstrong, the whole personal journey of going to the moon, and being first was for him an unreal and out of body experience. After all - what can possibly prepare you to ride one of the most powerful and sophisticated machines ever built to another world? The answer is nothing can.
Armstrong in the film realises this. He is in a ground-braking and extremely dangerous line of work! The film shows this well. Test pilot, astronaut - Armstrong is very good at what he does. His role in saving Gemini 8 from disaster is shown. Had that mission ended in death for himself and Dave Scott, the whole history of the exploration of space might have turned out very differently, i.e. the Russians might have gotten to the moon first. In fact, he is so good, that he is the one chosen to solve the final problem and overcome the fraught challenge of flying that first moon landing.
Also, there is the personal dimension. Armstrong is a family man - but his line of work brings him close to death on many occasions. This is not lost on Jan, his wife. Her portrayal, by Claire Foy is excellent and believable. She tries to be supportive, but it is impossible for her too. Because the business of going to the moon is so difficult, so technically challenging and dangerous, so reliant on machines that could fail - the Apollo astronauts themselves all thought that they had a one in three chance of dying on a mission. All the wives and partners knew this too, particularly after the Apollo 1 catastrophe - which wasn't even in space.
OK. So, what about the film??? Well.... I liked it - but then I have deep knowledge of this subject and am always happy to watch films or shows about space. If I step back though, I can see why and how this movie might leave a lot of people cold. Why? Well, because Armstrong is shown rather dehumanized and abstracted from everything he is so profoundly absorbed with. A lot of viewers may not like the Armstrong of this movie - but I suspect that this portrayal is quite near to life. He is not shown here as some gung-ho all-American hero. Far from it. He is almost machine-like in his application to what is required to solve the problems and deal with the inherently dangerous business of going to the moon. He displays few emotions. It is unclear whether he is trying to protect himself or the people around him though this behaviour. Either way, Gosling's Armstrong does not grab you as someone you would enjoy going to the moon with. Sure - you'd get there safely - but after 10 days in space with him, you wouldn't know him any better. Armstrong would be in the Lunar Module with you - but he would be on his own inner journey.
Essentially, First Man is about just that; Armstrong IS the one who has been chosen to do these things first. Why? Because he has been identified as having the qualities required to carry it off. Once chosen, he has to find a way to deal with the enormity of the technical challenge of the first landing AND the personal challenges of keeping his real life together in the face of huge danger. First Man is a film about how one particular person handled the inner journey required. The viewer is left to reflect on it.
I am a long time Star Wars fan. Not a nerd - just a movie goer who has a lot respect for the franchise. As a 19 year old, I saw "A New Hope" in The Dominion Theatre, Tottenham Court Road, London in early January 1978. I have grown up with this stuff, and can quote every line form the original trilogy.
So, you can imagine how greatly it disappoints me when I say that I found Episode VIII Unsatisfactory.
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A lot things about this film are just plain wrong, just plain don't add up. There are too many missed opportunities. Worse - the opportunities that are taken actually mess things up and twist them. It's frustrating to watch, and disappointing.
I wanted to find out more about the ways of the Force, and how Rey might acquire and deal with these. I wanted to see Luke as the sage Jedi Master, doing what Yoda asked him to do; "pass on what you have learned...". I wanted to see so much that was promised in "The Force Awakens". But it wasn't there.
Instead, I was treated to forced (and poor) self-reverential humour, characters that didn't grow together in adversity (and they do in Eps IV, V & VI). There is no "life" in this story. It doesn't gel.
Somethings do work well, but the problem is that the things that work well, are not the things I wanted or expected, to see. Chief amongst these is the encounter between Rey and Luke on the island. Luke has repudiated the Force and withdrawn from it, fearing his lack of control. Just as Obi Wan believed that he had failed with Anakin, so now Luke believes he has failed with Ben Solo. Even this isn't handled that well. Ben Solo/Kylo Ren is a profoundly conflicted character (acted better than Anakin, btw), but it is not clear why there is a "Force Connection" between him and Rey? Snooke claims that he created this link, but this doesn't really seem credible, especially after Kylo dispatches him with Lukes light sabre. Who/what is Snooke? We don't find out.
The climax featuring Luke and Kylo is very good - but then the writers go and spoil it by what happens next. As soon as we see Luke on the island and hear his music and see the two setting suns, we immediately sense that he is going to follow Yoda and pass into the Force. So it proves. That is by far the most surprising and disappointing thing that happens.
I'm not bothered about the other characters, that I can't even name, who appear overblown and stiff in comparison to Luke, Kylo, Leia and Rey. I'm not bothered about the predictable and sometimes banal action that follows. I AM bothered about the fact that Episode IX now will only have Chewbacca, The Falcon, R2-D2 and C3-PO to work with. I can't really see where Star Wars can go from here.
Finally. Bless you Carrie Fisher - you will always be our Princess. RIP.
The Hateful Eight (2015)
Quintin, oh Quintin - what have you done!? This is predictable tedious rubbish. It's actually boring!! The pity of it all is that here we have assembled some good acting talent, some good possibilities, and, actually, a talented writer and director. It's all lost though. Lost in the meaningless, predictable posing and tripe. Shame!
As with Inglorious Basterds, this film totally overdoes itself. (Please also see my review of that film here).
We don't, or at least, I don't, want to watch silly macho posing. I don't want to listen to dialogue that, frankly, I could write myself. I don't want to accurately predict the outcome of the film by the end of the first ten minutes. I don't want to sit and have Tarantino waste my time as I watch his silly sense of humour unfold with such monotonous nonsense.... Yawn!
Only two things save this film from a rating much lower than the one I've given it here. 1) The original score by Ennio Morricone is excellent. And, 2) The setting in a frozen Wyoming is good - harsh and beautiful.
But that's all folks!
A remarkable and fascinating film
Blow Up gives no clues as to where it's going. The first 20 minutes require patience. We wonder why we see 'revellers' at Paternoster Square in their Land Rover and in the London city streets.
Scenes at a doss house introduce us to Hemmings, a disaffected, shallow, but very well-off fashion photographer in 1966 'swinging London'. He is conceited and misogynistic, a dislikeable creation.
Hemmings' (famous) scene with his top model culminates with him standing astride the model laying on the floor in a faux sexual pose snapping his camera shouting for more. All very overt . Then there is a faux post-coital resolution as Hemmings sits exhausted on his studio sofa whilst the model remains on the floor deflated and somewhat used. Possibly, this scene is included in order to show aspects of the societal norms in which it is created; permissive, impermanent, male-dominated, all exemplified through Hemmings. A further photoshoot with a collection of waxwork like female models dressed à la mode reinforces this.
Hemmings visits an artist friend nearby. His art is analytic cubist in the style of 1908-14 Braque or Picasso, which requires the viewer to draw their own conclusions, or impose them. He says, "They don't mean anything . Afterwards I find something to hang on to . Then it sorts itself out, adds up. It's like finding a clue in a detective story." Later, we reflect on this.
Hemmings visits an old antique shop that he is looking to acquire. In the claustrophobic room, we see lots of small statues and heads. If we take stock - like the work of Hemmings' artist friend, the film so far seems abstract lacking any focus.
Leaving the shop, Hemmings finds himself drawn to a nearby park. We first see Hemmings from behind, taking photos, approaching the park. Then we see him from inside through 4 large trees that look like the bars of a cage. The mood created is suddenly different; there is a brilliant use of the greens of the trees and grass. The sound of the wind heightens our senses as viewers, and Hemmings' senses. Trees are filmed blowing in the wind and their sound, with no dialogue, pervades the next minutes, building atmosphere superbly. Hemmings is enlivened and wants to capture it.
In a secluded part of the park, Hemmings notices two "lovers". Intrigued, he tries to photograph their cavorting. Unsatisfied, he tries to get closer. We don't quite see what he sees; instead we watch him, watching them. The female looks around nervously to see if anyone else is nearby. She doesn't notice Hemmings. The white noise of the trees, and this changed emphasis of the film onto figures behaving in a much more human and intimate way, with Hemmings' watching, is quite brilliant. With a few simple but highly charged shots, Antonioni has built emotional tension between viewer and viewed (Hemmings and the couple), and again viewer and viewed (us and these scenes).
The female of the couple, Redgrave, notices Hemmings and runs to challenge him. She resents his activities and wants the film, she says; "we haven't met, you've never seen me". Hemmings, unsurprisingly, doesn't care. Redgrave wants the film – so much that she bites his hand to try to get it. This is a very strong reaction! He totally ignores her and goes back to taking photos. The male companion does not come to assist Redgrave, he's nowhere to be seen. Redgrave runs off. We are still not sure where this is all going .
Redgrave has followed Hemmings. She finds his studio. There are some disconcerting scenes here; Redgrave will do anything to get that film. Hemmings gives her the wrong film. Redgrave shapes to seduce Hemmings, but before she can, the incongruous propeller he bought earlier at the shop is delivered. Eventually, after they smoke some dope, Redgrave leaves with 'the film'. Like us, Hemmings begins to wonder; 'what is so pressing about that film from the park'? Highly intriguing. But more is to follow.
Hemmings develops the film and looks with increasing interest at the images that appear totally innocuous at first
More scenes follow that serve to confuse; there is a ménage à trois which is quite distasteful and seems out of place. Hemmings returns to the park. He drives into town. He thinks he sees Redgrave in Regent Street. She disappears. He tries to find her. Instead, he happens on The Yardbirds playing a seedy club somewhere behind Carnaby Street. The trendy dressed, mannequin-like audience are oddly passive until Jeff Beck smashes his guitar and tosses it into the crowd, who go berserk to grab the pieces. There is an extended scene at a party where dope is smoked openly.
The final scenes are quite remarkable.
After the party, Hemmings returns once more to the park. Again, the wind blows the trees He is confused and deflated. The revellers arrive in their Land Rover, and again behave strangely. Two of them play a game of mime tennis while the others watch silently. There is no ball. Again, we watch Hemmings watching others. This time though the mood is different. The imaginary 'ball' flies over the fence, onto the grass, and Hemmings is silently summoned to fetch and throw it back. The camera tracks the 'ball' – so we also 'see' the 'ball'. Why? Because we put it there with our minds. We watch Hemmings throw it, we watch him watching it, and follow as it bounces back into play. Like him, we have joined the illusion We hear a real ball bouncing. Then, Hemmings disappears. It's the most enigmatic ending.
The tennis game is the paradigm for the story; What exactly have we been watching? A momentary dream? An illusion? Maybe the reality was what we put in it, how we interpreted it, and when we watched, we saw just what we wanted to see .
An extraordinary and powerful cinematic experience.
Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)
This is brilliant fun!!! So many reasons to watch and really enjoy this. As it starts its relatively okay Bondish silly stuff. A Kingsman is a kind of Bond type "hiding in plain sight" kind of hero replete with weapons, gizmos and über combat skills. Then we start to see the "makings" of Joe Public - a bloke like you and me. This is the story of how he becomes a Kingsman.The scene in the pub is brilliant...!!! Slowly but surely a "Kingsman" is made. Kick Ass central is the destination of this train. You won't want to get off.... It does get silly - make no mistake, Samuel L Jacksons character is just daft and it all ends up in silliness! But that doesn't matter!!! A Kingsman is born and it's all cool - right down to the final scene in the pub. Don't miss this its brilliant!!!
Rain Man (1988)
A lovely movie for so many reasons
Have just watched this again after many years. A really good movie.
By now Rain Man is a time capsule for the acquisitive thrusting 1980's - and it is great to watch simply to see how films were made back then, what they looked like and how they told their stories. This film reminded me of the movie Wall Street - with Gordon Gekko as the greedy badie. Cruise is on that spectrum, greedy, mean and selfish. Gekko has no redemption, but Rain Man is, slowly but surely Cruise's redemption. It's fine to see it unfolding.
In a believable way, Cruise (Charlie Babbitt) slowly comes to terms with the facts that a) he has an older brother, Hoffman (Raymond Babbitt) that he never knew he had (thus compounding his contempt for his now deceased father), and b) his Autistic brother has really profound needs, but exceptional gifts. Cruise is the dynamic part of the pairing and gives an excellent performance going through shock, denial but eventually acceptance of the new realities. In return, Raymond slowly undergoes subtle changes in response to his brother Charlie and the experience of the road trip - in small ways he does learn to relate to Charlie and he acquires skills that he would not have acquired had he stayed forever in the Home. It's delightful to see the brothers slowly come to accept each other in their own ways.
By today's standards Rain Man is a slow movie lacking in polish glitz and refinement. It's dated in the way it looks and the way it tells it's story - but I like it for that. Rain Man is also a forgotten movie, for some reason. This is a great shame as it is a really good film, with Cruise showing strongly. It is also a complete tour de force by Hoffman - who gives arguably his finest ever performance rightfully collecting the Best Actor Oscar.
So - watch Rain Man - a lovely movie for so many reasons.
I haven't seen any of the previous Mission Impossible films - but I used to love watching the TV series back in the 1970's. I have just come out of watching "Rogue Nation" at the Ziegfeld in NY and I was surprised - a great film, great entertainment! It may not be to everyone's taste - but I really enjoyed this. It's true to the format of the original TV series, has really explosive action and builds good tension - which is modulated, rising and falling throughout the film to an excellent crescendo.
Excellent special effects - excellent chase scenes!
This is lovely!
Just returned from a Christmas Eve viewing of Paddington.... what really good solid family entertainment! An excellent movie.
Paddington is animated in remarkable and stunning detail and really looks as alive and vibrant as any Paddington fan would want him to be.
The first 30 minutes of this are quite superb - tear jerking actually if you love the original books. There is real craft to the film in the way it looks and the amazing features - including the cut away house which is imaginative and draws in the viewer. There is something here for everyone.
There is a flaw - the Nicole Kidman femme fatale story-line. Paddington doesn't need such an unpleasant device or plot line. Paddington is so much larger than life and so much a clumsy and unlikely hero in the books that any film could easily be carried by the character of the bear and his adopted family and their gentle and warm stories. The kind of threat carried in the Nicole Kidman character is NEVER seen in any of the books, stories or other characters. Pity about that then...!
Nevertheless - this film is not reduced by the introduction of unnecessary material. It's still a genuinely good movie.
There is real involvement with the "orphan" situation of Paddington as he slowly comes to terms with a London which is unlike anything he might have been prepared for. I really like this feature which also becomes a tribute to the glories of London complete with Buckingham Palace guards and the contents of their Bearskins!
There are lots of allusions to classic movies - especially Mary Poppins, and Mr Brown (Paddington's adopted father....) is very reminiscent of Mr Banks. Indeed - Mr Brown is in many ways "saved" by his contact with Paddington and the development of this feature is quite delightful. But this movie certainly stands alone - as Paddington coming to terms with his new life and new family (and his new family coming to terms with him....) are just as powerful and just as involving as any of the other features.
This is a great movie. Really lovely - just go out and see it!!!