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The Favourite

Wickedly entertaining and accurate depiction of an unwelcome menage a trois
Firstly, this is not for simple palates. It lacks obvious dramatic moments and the kind of crowd-pleasing finale that the cousins seem to need. In their place, the film offers endless nuance, psychological and emotional truth and an ending that perfectly fits the story as told. And it packages all of that in a deceptively simple movie. And deception is the word here. This is like Liaisons Dangereuses for real people. The cast, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone and Olivia Colman all bring their considerable A game to a very smart and very witty script. The cinematography is spot-on and the music is idiosyncratic and sheer perfection. Of course, all these attributes inevitably limit the film's audience. I imagine that showings outside the big coastal cities of the US will be less than enthusiastically welcomed but that's a very small and unavoidable price to pay. If you got past third grade and have an IQ in triple digits, buy a ticket now. A footnote for those who gave the movie a poor or worse rating: because you lack the education, breadth of vision or humanity to understand what's really a very simple story, don't blame the film, the actors or the filmmaker. Look to yourself. Recognize this opportunity to become a fuller, more complete human being. Learn to read.


When will Hollywood learn...
...that making something politically correct and casting it with "inclusion" as the single guiding principle does not a masterpiece make. Or, in the case of the 2018 remake of Widows, does not even a decent movie make. As William Goldman famously said "Nobody knows anything" and this is exhibit A in that argument. I haven't been beaten over the head with this many infantile messages since I watched Crash. And, to add insult to injury, the writing is clunky and dull and the acting is proof that even the best thespians can't overcome a poor script. There are worse flicks out there but they, at least, own their badness. This one wants you to award it with Oscars. A sad reflection on the world of 2019.

Life on Mars

Awful remake for the children that watch network TV shows
Simply dreadful. This is the quintessence of everything that's wrong with American network television. It's a frame for frame remake of an extraordinary British TV show that manages to miss the entire point. It's clumsy, inept, politically "correct" and, all in all, awful. The acting is mixed, to put it kindly. But the direction and the writing are everything that we've come to expect from the big four networks. I know that there are people, mainly in the flyover states, who've missed out on the last fifty odd years but they are, thank God, a dying breed. Network TV needs to wake up. There's a reason that people watch cable shows. Life on Mars might have been even better than the UK version. Shameless managed it. The US version was even better than the UK version but as long as the big four networks believe that we're living in the 1950s they will continue to lose ratings.

Deadlier Than the Male

Nice 60s time capsule
I'd forgotten this film. At the time, it felt like Bond light but revisiting it half a century later, it's a minor gem. Judged as a movie, it's barely a six but with the perspective of distance it's better. No obvious sets, as far as I could tell all the interiors matched the exteriors. Drummond's apartment in Albert Hall Mansions is really there. I knew the area and those apartments intimately in the 60s. Sure, it lacks the high camp appeal of the Modesty Blaise flick but this really is the way it was. The two girls have a much more complex role than in any Bond movie and their relationship is hilarious. We're in Killing Eve territory. Yes, the usual britflick issues surface in the fight scenes, particularly judged by current standards, but take it for what it is today and it's thoroughly entertaining. There was a second Bulldog Drummond film which I haven't seen but it lacks Nigel Green's wonderful villain and by all accounts is inferior. If you're tempted to read the books, know that they're very different. I like them but their mix of sadism, snobbery and xenophobia will offend delicate minds that need a safe space.

The Brink

Shame on HBO for bowing to government pressure
Clever, very, very funny, insightful, instructive and addictively entertaining. So, why did HBO not renew for a second season? Hmm. I wonder.

Halt and Catch Fire

Even the people that praise it are missing the point...
I am in awe of the writing and the acting. This show epitomises the idea of character-driven. The emotional truth of the script and the actors is on a different plane to anything you might have seen. Comparisons with Mad Men and other shows are irrelevant. There is no comparison. These people are as real as fictional characters can get. The show is a deeply spiritual experience. Transcendental. Thank you.


Only two seasons? You have to be kidding me! WTF!
Imagine Miami Vice put in a blender with Casino and The Conversation, spiced up with a few splashes of your favorite political conspiracy thriller, passed through a sieve that removes all the flash and you have Intelligence. Set in Vancouver, this is a highly engaging series that's littered with Emmy-worthy performances from a (Canadian) cast you've probably never heard of.

Silver Bears

But factor in the nostalgia and it's a 7.5
Here's the prob. The book's a lot better. Paul Erdman invented the financial thriller with Billion Dollar Sure Thing and followed it up with this story. Inevitably, it's a 70s caper pic without the physical action. Not a great recipe but it works. The leads are OK. Michael Caine isn't given a lot to work with and Jay Leno shows he was right to take another direction. The supporting roles are much better filled. Joss Ackland and Charles Gray both deliver on cue and whoever plays Donald Luckman comes closer than anyone to the book. On the other hand, Cybil Shepherd's Debbie Luckman is nothing like the book. She's better! In the book, Debbie's a frustrated, embittered bitch. And not without reason but here, she's a suburban child escaping her boundaries but never breaking faith with Donald. Donald's going to be locked up and she's not about to abandon him. But Michael Caine's home is awfully close to the jail ...

Prime Suspect 1973

Convincing psychological portrait
Let's set our guidelines. I'm reviewing a prequel to Prime Suspect. One that's set in 1973. What does it need to achieve? A damning indictment of sex discrimination and police culture of the period? No, that's been done. It's a stage setter, a picture of how the seeds were sown. Of how a twenty-something girl from a nice, middle-class background became the towering presence that was Helen Mirren. Job done. In ways I didn't see coming.

As a police procedural, it's above average but no more. The portrayal of 1973 is pretty damn' good (I was there) but the lame music video intros show a serious lack of confidence. Relax people, we get it and we don't need Slade to reinforce it.

There are some writing hiccups, as anyone watching the final episode of season one can attest. It may be inconvenient to have to explain how our heroine reaches the roof without tripping over her unconscious colleague or being shot by the armed and desperate bank robber but as writers you need to deal with it. Having our heroine magically appear on the roof isn't good enough. It's lazy and assumes that the audience doesn't care.

The actress who plays the "Jane"character has a difficult role. Although she's cast as the lead, her role is really a supporting one (shades of 70s sexism??) and all the more difficult for that. The angle is a necessary one to set us up for the second season and it takes an actress of strength to deliver. Stephanie Martini (a seriously Ian Fleming name!) delivers a low key, contained performance of great nuance. Much as Helen Mirren might have done.

I, for one, can't wait to see the next chapter of this story. It deserves a second season and perhaps some new recruits to the writing team.

White Collar

If "It Takes a Thief" met "Mcmillan and Wife"...
... on a properly chaperoned date, this might be the eventual outcome. White Collar is a network show so there's nothing to frighten the horses (or the god-fearing denizens of the flyover states) but it has a good heart, well-cast leads and explores enough moral and personal conundrums to keep undemanding but intelligent viewers watching. I like the characters. Against all the odds, I'm already watching the fourth season.

For all it's simplistic world view, the main characters engage you. Real life? Absolutely not. But the show presents moral dilemmas that flesh out the facile story lines and allow the main characters to gain some depth. It's still mind candy but that's OK.

If I have one issue with the show, it's the contempt that it has for its audience. Most of the time, it doesn't show but occasionally the script reveals that disdain. Do you know the difference between China and Japan? Is the Spanish language indistinguishable from Portuguese? According to the writers or perhaps the producers of White Collar the correct answers are No and Yes respectively!

Seriously? The show and you deserve better. These are not mistakes, they are cynical shortcuts, assumptions that the audience will not be able to tell the difference. Even Sam Goldwyn's legendary freedom with historical facts pails before this onslaught of convenient nonsense.

Is this a problem? It should be. Does it spoil the show? Don't let it. Watch the show anyway.

Addendum I've now watched the entire show. It remains consistently good right up to the final episode which is a cracker. Yes, the occasional disregard for the audience is still there, witness the birthdate of Neil's father's partner (1934? Really?) but the show's strengths outweigh all of that. And that final episode? Wow!


Gets better by the minute
It must be really hard being what passes for a professional critic in this post-deregulation era. No training, no guidelines, no taste, limited intellect and a $200 TV from BestBuy. Man, life sucks. Even if you wanted to take the time to actually watch the shows and movies that you're reviewing, you can't. You're forced to fast-forward and hope that no one notices that you're reviewing a show or a movie that you haven't actually watched. So, you play safe. You follow the crowd. You read other reviews and mentally thank the reviewers for saving you the time. Not that you had a choice, your ADD saw to that. Bottom line? Ignore the professional reviewers. They haven't watched it. StartUp is not the greatest show ever but it is better than ninety percent of the shows out there at the moment and has absolutely earned its second season. I was blown away by the first season finale. As well constructed an ending/setup as I've seen... ever!

Addendum. I've finished the second season and added one star to make it an eight. The characters continue to develop and the storyline stays true to its origins - as do the characters. We have some new players and they are 100% congruent, adding some more texture and some more locations to the story. This is a terrific show. No reservations. It's to the credit of the writers that I want a third season but have no idea where that might take us.

Nina Forever

What an interesting film - flawed but oh so interesting...
A fabulous concept, lots of problems but well worth an hour and a half of your life. For a first film, this is awesome. Its flaws are all of inexperience - an over-egged script and some logical but emotionally unconvincing physicalisations of the dead girlfriend. Its strengths are of original talent, a cast that's much better than the budget would suggest and an utterly unique point of view. One of the strengths of the movie is the actress who plays the living girlfriend. She could be Ruth Wilson's sibling and brings a similar level of interest to the most ordinary moments. The rest of the film is adequate for the purpose - which is exactly what it needs to be. Cinematography and locations are unobtrusive and allow the concept room to breathe. I hope the filmmakers draw the right conclusions and move onwards and upwards. Hey guys, if you're ever in Los Angeles. look me up!

The Counselor

8 for ambition and 4 for results = 6
The Counselor could have been one of my all-time favorite flicks. I've watched it twice and I'll see it again before I die. I'd rather watch a single ambitious failure than a dozen safe successes and this is a hugely ambitious failure. What draws me back time and again is the challenge of understanding why it doesn't work. The cast is stellar and the script crackles with taut, witty dialog and some thought-provoking philosophy. There are even some very funny jokes. Why wasn't Jesus born in Mexico? You'll have to watch the movie for the answer. The photography is gorgeous, the south west locations unusual and that wonderful French confection, the mise en scene, on the face of it perfect. After two viewings, I'm beginning to understand the problem. There's an odd lack of energy. That's always a danger with an ensemble piece or a story that's centered on an everyman and Ridley Scott's been down that road once before. Kingdom of Heaven had the same issues and it's instructive that the director's cut was ultimately the much better version. So, here we have another ensemble piece built around an everyman. Instead of Orlando Bloom, we have Michael Fassbender but here Fassbender, whose acting credentials are pretty damn good, is oddly uninvolving. Of course, his performance is authentic, restrained and everything you'd expect from an actor of his calibre. But he's shallow. Right there, we get to the heart of the problem. He is shallow. He is an everyman, caught up in a nightmare created by his own weakness. But we never learn the root of that weakness, why he needs the deal so badly and that's what's missing from The Counselor. It's like watching an accident that happened years ago to people you never knew. The rest of the cast? Everyone delivers. Badem hams it up shamelessly, Cruz is as good as always, Ganz has the best cameo, Pitt proves yet again that he's a far better supporting actor than starring and Perez is perfect. The oddity here is Cameron Diaz. She's not miscast as other reviewers have argued. She's actually spot on. The beautiful, smart survivor who's reaching her sell-by date as a rich man's toy and knows it. That it isn't a wholely successful performance is not, I think, her fault. She has perhaps the meatiest and most nuanced role as the real architect of Fassbender's downfall but the script doesn't give her the material to explore her character to the full. This is a flawed film, part thriller, part tragedy, part comedy and part shaggy-dog story. I will watch it again.

Vanilla Sky

Glossy but emotionally subpar remake
I revisited Vanilla Sky recently. I wondered if my early impressions of the film might be ripe for revision. In one way they were. I came away from my second viewing with a clearer idea of the film's strengths and weaknesses. Vanilla Sky begins with a disadvantage. It's an almost frame by frame remake of the hugely successful and widely admired Spanish film Abre Los Ojos and so actively invites comparison. That's been done and I can't add anything meaningful to the debate. But since Vanilla Sky was made, there has been a rash of similarly themed movies, books and (in Britain at least) radio plays. Judged by these standards, the movie fares quite well. It's beautifully made. Everything and everyone looks wonderful. The girls in particular are perfectly cast and bring serious emotional power to their scenes. If you don't think Cameron Diaz can act, take a look at her scene with Cruise in the car. It'll send shivers up and down your spine. But that emotional punch is ultimately what the film lacks. It's the missing ingredient and the fault lies with Cruise. As the rich and impossibly charming playboy inheritee of his daddy's publishing empire, he's note perfect. Of course. Tom Cruise has made a career out of knowing his strengths and is rightly the most commercially successful actor of the last few decades. There's no denying his commitment to his craft and what serious actor could resist the lure of Charles Laughton's crown as the king of prosthetic pathos but it's the undoing of this film. All the training, all the practice, all the sheer willpower in the world cannot prepare you for a role like this. And that's the point. The role is pivotal and Cruise is not the actor to invest it with a full emotional life. Frankly, it's hard to think who would have been a better choice. Without Cruise, the film might never have been made and anyway, he's not the movie's only problem. Kurt Russel's responsible for some cringeworthy mugging, better suited to a bad daytime soap. Would I rather the film hadn't been made? No, it brought the story to a wider audience and has its own strengths. I doubt that it will be remade any time soon but if it were, I wonder what Tom Hardy would make of that central role.

Miss Meadows

Wonderful central performance lifts a mundane script
I've always liked what little of Katie Holmes' work I've seen. It seemed to me that she had an interesting quality that most critics either missed or ignored. Miss Meadows is proof that the lady is a serious actress of real depth and nuance. The eponymous heroine is a brilliant creation brought to life, and then some, by Holmes' performance. I can't stress this enough. This is a serious piece of work by the actress and in a better film might have led to all kinds of accolades. Here she's let down by the TV movie sensibilities of the script and of the casting. In some ways this is a brave movie, venturing into territory more frequently occupied by the French. Here though, the filmmakers don't seem to have understood the power of their creation and have opted for the safety of the known, the cliché. The supporting cast is similarly compromised. Holmes needed to have been surrounded by top class talent, capable of elevating their characters beyond the written page. It didn't happen and the moment has passed. One of the best, most complete female characters that American cinema has produced has been consigned to the scrap heap and Jennifer Jason Leigh's famous quote seems as true today as it was twenty years ago.

Gangster No. 1

Fundamentally great film just avoids being fatally sabotaged by casting anomalies
I suspect there's a very interesting backstory to the making of Gangster No. 1. Consider the casting. The main body of the film is raised to almost mythical status by the pairing of David Thewlis and Paul Bettany. Neither has given a better performance and the chemistry is to die for. Think "Single White Female" relocated to 1960s London gangsters. The movie begins in the more or less present, then goes back to the 60s before ending back where we started. Everything in that 60s segment is perfect. It's not only the leads. Every character is on the money. It's rarely that everything comes together in this way but here it does. Ageing actors by thirty years within one movie offers a real challenge to the filmmaker but here the ageing is spot on, utterly credible. Which makes the substitution of Paul Bettany with Malcom McDowell for the present-day scenes incomprehensible. It simply doesn't work. But it gets worse. McDowell's a terrific actor but here it's as though nobody showed him Bettany's footage. He's playing a completely different character. Voice, accent, mannerisms, movement, walk. They're all different to Bettany's and it almost destroys the film. That it doesn't, that Gangster No. 1 is still one of the finest gangster films you'll see, is the tragedy here. Forget "one of the...". It could have been Oscar winningly, eat your heart out Francis great. And then there's the script. I have a copy of a play, by the same name and clearly from the same source but the writers' names appear nowhere in the movie credits. As I said at the beginning of this review, an interesting backstory. It's a shame that the film and we the audience paid the price.

The Brothers Bloom

Perhaps the best of the recent spate of grifter and illusionist flicks
My last review was of a poorly adapted and clearly subverted John Gresham adaptation. I gave it a 6 because it had a decent cast and production values. I wanted to give it a 5 but the compression effects of IMDb's ratings mitigated against that. And so it is with The Brothers Bloom. I really wanted to give it an 8. It's that good but it's missing something, something that prevents it from being perfect. It needs a different ending. Or maybe that should be a different conclusion. The ending itself is absolutely congruous with the body of the film but the conclusion doesn't give me what I wanted. You'll need to watch the film to understand the significance of that. As it stands, it's still my favorite film about con artists and a real showcase for Rian Johnson's talents as both writer and director. Wildly entertaining, very smart, with a nice performance from Mark Ruffalo, Adrian Brody at his least irritating and Rachel Weisz on perfect form. Who knew she was such a great comedienne. God but I want to give this an 8!

Runaway Jury

Shoddy adaptation in which art imitates art
One of the central themes of John Gresham's more than decent legal potboiler is the lengths to which the tobacco companies will go in order to subvert the truth and corrupt the legal process. So it's with a sense of irony that we discover that in the movie it's not a tobacco company that's being sued but a gun company. The plaintiff is not the wife of a victim of lung cancer but of the victim of a mass shooting. That's by no means the worst aspect of this shoddy adaptation. The signs of tampering are everywhere. There's nothing wrong with the cast - if you haven't read the book. If you have, then Hackman's well cast but given nothing to work with, Hoffman's well cast but allowed way too much leeway and Weitz and Cusack are basically wrong. Apart from anything, they're both ten years too old and it does matter. Almost everything that made the book an entertaining page-turner has been lost in the translation to film, with nothing put in its place. Offhand, the only decent Gresham adaptation is Coppola's The Rainmaker. It sticks to the book and makes for a good flick.

Mozart in the Jungle

Pitch perfect
This review is based on the first six episodes of the first season. I like this series so much that it's hard to see it objectively. I like it so much that I'm not bingeing but rather rationing myself to a meagre 25 or so minutes each day. So, what makes it quite so enjoyable? Firstly, it's genuinely good - a perfect cast delivering tonally perfect performances with a script that delivers reality plus a few extra percentage points. Occasionally, it's laugh out loud funny but mostly it's genuinely affecting. This is no guilty pleasure in which you know you're being manipulated but you're going along for the (very fun) ride. This always feels real, grounded. There are a few stereotypes amongst the smaller roles but the big ones, the roles that anchor this series, are well written and perfectly cast. Lola Kirke is a wonderful lightning rod, if gaining weight by the episode; Saffron Burrows is fine, if somewhat less interesting than in her pre plastic surgery roles; Bernadette Peters is terrific; Malcolm McDowell is the perfect exiting Maestro. And then there's Gael Garcia Bernal. As an outsider, I have no idea how much of his character was on the page and how much was his own invention but the results are spectacular. He makes this series. His portrayal of Rodrigo, the infant terrible of the conducting world, is nothing short of brilliant and creates, most appropriately, the bright star around which everything revolves. Mozart in the Jungle is not highbrow entertainment. It doesn't challenge or confront. It works its magic more subtly, and sometimes more effectively. It's a feel good show in the best possible way. Real, not fake. It likes its characters, for all their flaws. You could do worse.

ADDENDUM I've now watched the final four episodes, during which I mentally knocked off a point (episode 8) and put it back on for episode 10. Episode 8 is by far the weakest. It's not that it's bad, it's just that its sensibilities suddenly resembled humdrum American TV and thus became deeply unnerving. It's as though the writers had forgotten, or worse had never understood what made this series so wonderful. Episode 8 was an attempt to broaden the humor at the expense of the humanity. As though someone had pointed out that this was meant to be a comedy. For the record, episode 7 had been a delight and 9, if not special in its own right, at least an improvement on 8. And then there were, or rather was, 10. The finale. The performance towards which everything had led. It's a masterpiece. The perfect summation of and climax to everything that's come before. It's heartstoppingly brave, rolling the emotional dice again and again. It left me breathless, quite literally. Compromises? Not really but we must prepare for a second series and so are denied absolute closure. That final episode was so close to perfection that I hesitate to anticipate a second series. But of course I will. I do. With trepidation.

Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon

Portrait of the artist
Artists, painters especially, make for difficult movie subjects. It's often easier to study the painting than the painter. Pollock's a case in point. Ed Harris' efforts notwithstanding, Pollock the movie wasn't a spellbinder and in the end revealed nothing of the man. Perhaps Francis Bacon is an easier subject because this film by John Maybury is, I think, the most successful attempt to bring an artist's inner life to the screen. Certainly, the film's not without its flaws. Daniel Craig's a more convincing James Bond than he is an opportunistic bit of rough, caught up in a new, seductive world. Jacobi, on the other hand, is mesmerizing as Bacon, relishing every moment of his screen time. Better still is an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton as Muriel Belcher, the owner of The Colony Room. That's a film in itself. What makes this film the artistic success that it is, is that it takes Bacon's style and transmutes it onto celluloid. I came away from watching Love Is the Devil with an understanding and appreciation of Bacon's work that I'd lacked.


Performances fail to lift it out of mediocrity
Revisiting Swordfish recently, also directed by Dominic Sena and which I thoroughly enjoyed despite its occasional shortcomings, I read a negative review which suggested that Sena hadn't made a decent movie since Kalifornia and which wondered why that was. As a public school educated Brit living in Los Angeles, I am oddly drawn to movies featuring white trash, trailer parks and all the other paraphernalia of the underbelly of America. The French have the same issue. Paris may be the only place on earth in which a Corvette is actually cool. Back to Kalifornia. I revisited the film the other day and was disappointed. It's not a bad flick. Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis act their socks off and they're well supported by David Duchovny and Michelle Forbes. But therein lies part of the problem. A stronger director would have reined in Lewis and Pitt, allowed for a better balance. As it is, their performances border on the comic. They stay grounded because they're both terrific actors but they sometimes distract from rather than add to the tension. The other problem is the central conceit. We're going on a tour of infamous murder sites... with a murderer. We know he's a psychopathic killer from the start but his companions don't. And that places us firmly in standard horror flick territory. DON'T TAKE THE SHORTCUT THROUGH THE WOODS!! But of course she does. And that's the issue here. It devalues the film. It might have been a much better film without the addition of the tour of murder sites. Less is more, people. Worth watching? Yes, but you'll have to deal with the frustration of missed opportunities. Try Swordfish instead. It's aged rather well.

We Still Kill the Old Way

Script, script, script!
It's a nice if not original idea, bolstered by good perts from the two main protagonists and a decent supporting cast. The script's the problem and as William H. Macy pointed out, that makes for an insurmountable problem. The movie begins well enough, certainly well enough to make you think it's going to be an interesting ride. We watch Ian Ogilvy and Danny-boy Hatchard in their respective territories and we know we're heading for conflict. Then there's Stephen Berkoff and things are looking up. And that's as good as it gets. We lose Berkoff and we're back to a more simple film but that's OK. What's not OK is the lack of audience empathy that it demonstrates. Berkoff's way too interesting to introduce and then lose within a few short minutes. And that lack of empathy continues. There's a scene, actually a couple of scenes, in which the old school gangsters torture the new kids on the block. Trust me, you really want them to suffer. And they do, just not enough. We're left wanting and that need is never satisfied because from that point the film takes a turn for the worse. Basic scriptwriting rules are abandoned and any vestigial connection with reality, or even the reality of the world of this film, is broken. By the end, you really don't care. But this flick still thinks it has one card up its sleeve. A final scene that references The Italian Job. Oh, please!

Hector and the Search for Happiness

French whimsy with an English touch
I'd decided on the title for this review before I learnt that the source material was a French novel. That explains a great deal. Hector and the... is a deeply felt, funny, moving, insightful and whimsical look at how we (fail to) make the best of life. The film makes its points adroitly, avoiding (sometimes barely but a miss is as good as a mile)maudlin sentimentality. It's liberally sprinkled with perfect one-liners, acute observations and star cameos but the glue that holds the whole thing together is the relationship between Hector and his girlfriend. It's heartrendingly real. The version that I watched was a full ten minutes shorter than the original runtime and I'd guess that the few dots that failed to join up as needed were a result of that USA audience edit. Another guess would lead me to give the full length cut an eight rather than a seven. Here's the deal. It's a feel-good movie for which you won't need a supply of sick bags. By the end, I felt... happier. Really!

The Devil You Know

A missed opportunity
Loosely based on, or at least inspired by the Lana Turner, Cheryl Crane, Johnny Stompanato murder, The Devil You Know shows all the signs of having run out of money during principal photography. Valiant attempts to stretch what footage there was into a feature film and give it a stilted, 90s European art-house feel resulted in a 72 minute, stylish mess. That said, the film has its strengths, not least the principal performances. IMDb's Trivia section shows Lesley Ann Warren as having been replaced by Lena Olin. If true, the filmmakers fell on their collective feet. Olin's perfectly cast as the fading star, as is Molly Price as her PA. The real star performance, though, belongs to Rosamund Pike as the daughter in constant fear of being eclipsed. Pike's a great actress in search of the perfect role. She was extremely good as a Bond girl, albeit too subtle for the core audience and she was wonderful in Gone Girl but this is her best performance to date. A perfect portrayal of a daughter locked into a battle with the mother from hell and with plenty of her own demons. And therein lies the attraction of The Devil You Know. At its core, it's a great depiction of a deeply flawed mother daughter relationship. Pointless to speculate on what might have been with solid financing and a firmer hand at the helm. Instead, enjoy for what it is. Warts and all.

Die Another Day

Die Another Day is vintage Bond, but with Brosnan rather than Connery. And therein lies the problem. It's a problem of perception. This is a really good Bond movie. Is Brosnan a good Bond? Yes. A great Bond? No. The lightness of touch that Connery had and even Moore had, is lacking. It wasn't always thus. Look at any episode of Remington Steele, but time and life took an unfair toll on Brosnan and the humor was lost. The other elements are there in spades though. The girls. Halle Berry is a class act and delivers real. Real smart, real sexy. The role's not that well written but in the cannon of Bond girls, she's up there. Then there's Rosamund Pike. She's not a teenage boy's fantasy, unlike most Bond girls. She's a man's fantasy and all the better for it. Smart, understated and devastating. She's more of a mold breaker than Berry. A very different Bond girl. The action is always good, sometimes sublime. There's a visceral edge to the fencing sequence that you can't fake. Toby Stephens deserves credit for this. He's a particularly good and convincing Bond villain throughout but in that scene his desperation, his need to win, is palpable. Which brings me to Madonna. WTF? Yes, the song's borderline awful but her cameo role? It's fine. Actually better than fine. I wanted more. Why the critical carping. If I have a single overarching criticism, it's in the length of the final sequence at the Ice Palace. It's as good as anything from earlier Connery movies but a few more minutes on the editing room floor might have improved the balance. Underrated.

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