jhsteel

IMDb member since February 2002
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Reviews

The Great Gatsby
(2013)

Not my cup of tea
I think this movie will suit anyone who loved Moulin Rouge. Unfortunately I didn't and this movie suffered from the same drawbacks for me. It was too garish, loud and modern in it's soundtrack. I love the era of the 1920s and love the music as well, so I would have preferred some suitable music. Baz Luhrmann's flair is well known and he is very talented. The cast are very good and the story (as far as I know) was shown well. But it didn't suit me and so I can't rate it highly. I love Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire, and I liked most of the other cast members. Leonardo DiCaprio is now an established mature actor and having recently seen The Aviator, his Gatsby reminded me of Howard Hughes in terms of his excesses (although not in his paranoia). Just a cautionary note that the visuals are very hectic and this is not your typical costume drama, but the anyone who know Luhrmann's style should know that.

Man Up
(2015)

Not a Richard Curtis movie, but reminded me of one.
This has a familiar feel to it and a few of Richard Curtis's romantic comedy tricks turn up, but it is actually sufficiently original and different. The characters are believable and the two leads are excellent, although some of the scenarios seem extreme. But then it's a romantic comedy. It works well and delivers a result which could have happened. London is used as a backdrop and the South Bank features, which was one aspect which made me think of Richard Curtis (he used the South Bank in 4 Weddings and a Funeral). Rory Kinnear is hilarious and scary but ultimately plays an important role.

An entertaining and funny film, quite short and punchy, with likable characters.

Bundle of Joy
(1956)

Nonsense but endearing
In the light of the sad demise of Debbie Reynolds, I was keen to see this film, since I had never seen anything with Debbie and her husband Eddie Fisher. It's a very silly film unfortunately and the suspension of disbelief is so drastic that I find it very difficult to deal with. We are supposed to believe that in the 1950s a woman can suddenly produce a 1 year-old child, having had a full-time job, no one noticed that she was pregnant, she wasn't off work, no one looks after the child, she doesn't know the name or gender of her own child, and her employer is happy for her. At the same time, she is denying that she is the mother of the child and no one believes her!

Apparently everyone was very broadminded and didn't understand how human reproduction works. I was born in the 1960-s and my adopted brother in 1970, at which time there was still a huge stigma to single mothers. In the 50s it would have been worse. I assume that audiences for this film would have just bought it as pure fantasy.

Apart from that, it was a fun film, apart from the songs which are not memorable. Debbie Reynolds is a legend. Eddie Fisher on the other hand, seemed rather underwhelming.

Gravity
(2013)

Gripping
The suspense got me because I honestly didn't know what would happen. It didn't occur to me that the only 2 people in the film were Sandra Bullock and George Clooney - it didn't need any more. The outcome was not predetermined and I felt that anything could happen, even at the end. The CGI was obviously very impressive. Having now seen the International Space Station on TV from the perspective of British astronaut Tim Peake, I think I probably got more out of this than if I had seen it beforehand. I knew that if an astronaut is floating in space, they have to grab one of the handles on the outside of the space craft and preferably tether themselves to it. I wasn't surprised to see Russian writing in the Soyuz and that Sandra Bullock's character was not fazed by that - she was trained. I feel that the response of a highly professional scientist to a dire emergency in space was realistic. Even though she was facing death, she remained relatively calm (most of the time). Recently, I have had cancer and faced death myself. The calmness shown in this film is genuine, and believe it or not it is possible to be accepting. I am getting better, by the way.

In summary, I found this movie very exciting, gripping and believable - almost. The disaster may not be realistic, but the human response to it was convincing. I applaud the achievement.

Steve Jobs
(2015)

too much talk, too many arguments
I was interested in this film because I am a Macintosh fan, so I was curious about the life of Steve Jobs. Unfortunately, so much of the movie was spent on people having hinge arguments and showing Jobs to be a very unpleasant man. I don't feel that I learned very much about him or how the Mac came to be developed, and since I had one of the first Mac computers, this was of interest to me.

Very dense dialogue and a disappointing film. If Steve Jobs was really such a difficult person, then we needed to know, but it didn't make a satisfying film. I don't like watching endless fights, with no break, and this film was one long fight as far as I could tell. My attention wandered very quickly.

A Walk in the Woods
(2015)

Gentle entertainment
I was rather baffled at the start because the film's premise was that Bill Bryson had never hiked the Appalacian Trail, while I had read the book about it many years ago. In the film, an elderly version of Bryson meets up with his old friend Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte, very good), I found myself wondering whether my memory was defective, because he must have been much younger in reality, but then I realised that Robert Redford wanted to make the book into a film, it had taken him decades to achieve this and his own participation was essential. Given Redford's age, the poetic licence had to be stretched and the friends were now old men. It still works, however.

I enjoyed it very much and it works, as a gentle entertainment with a not too demanding plot. It bends the truth in many ways, but no matter. I decided to take it at face value and at this level, it worked. I will now go back and read the book again, which is well worth doing.

The Water Diviner
(2014)

Very impressive and moving
I didn't know what to expect from this film, and the subject seemed depressing: a father goes searching for his dead sons in Turkey. However, it was gripping, involving, full of 3- dimensional characters and depths of meaning. The cultural authenticity looked impressive to me, although I as no expert.. All I knew prior to this film was that the Dardanelles campaign in WW1 cost many Anzac lives and was regarded as a disaster. For Russell Crowe's family it was the loss of 3 sons, and all that the father could do was go to where they died to find them.

The story builds to a gripping climax and the ending was completely unexpected. I was very impressed, having always been a Russell Crowe fan, with his ability to direct and produce something so meaningful and historically informative, while at the same time giving us a story so moving and ultimately rewarding. Very glad I made the effort to see this.

The Life and Death of Peter Sellers
(2004)

Brilliant portrayal
Geoffrey Rush is phenomenal as every character played by Peter Sellers in his varied career. The sad story of a man who effectively lost his personality in the characters he assumed is brought to life and it was convincing. I remember feeling sad when Sellers died, but at the same time I saw in his final TV interview that he wasn't able to express who he was. This was evoked very well by this film. It is tragic in many ways but realistic. He was a comedy genius and films like Dr Strangelove could not have been made without him. Peter Sellers' early comedies are also well worth revisiting.

I enjoyed the movie and I'm glad i made the effort to see it. All the cast were wonderful and looked like the people they were playing.

Once Upon a Honeymoon
(1942)

Strange approach to Hitler
This film is great because I love Cary Grant, but I was surprised that in 1942 people were making what appeared to be a comedy about Hitler. It seems similar to a comedy being made about Daesh now: the evil that is killing millions of people across Europe was being treated light-heartedly by US film makers in 1942. However, the sense of humour needed to fight a war of that nature probably helped everyone to focus their efforts to defeat the enemy.

The characters of the Nazis seems almost humorous, Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers were their usual wonderful selves, and it was very light and enjoyable. I had to look at the date when it was made, in order to understand the context.

Djúpið
(2012)

Gripping and real
This film has the air of a docu-drama, and I believe it sticks closely to real events. The drama is gripping though - it's an amazing story of survival and the gruelling ordeal which the fisherman Gulli went through in the North Atlantic. Amazingly, it was almost light-hearted and there is no lack of humour although it was a tragic story as well.

I was wondering in advance whether this would be a frightening film, but it wasn't. Every person portrayed appeared real and it was easy to identify with them. The story of Gulli's miraculous survival, followed by the reaction of the media and scientists kept my interest.

I'm a scientist and so I was fascinated by the implications of the physiology of this man and how he adapted to extreme exposure to cold temperatures. I presume that other people who find sub-zero temperatures easy to deal with may also have adaptations, and science needs to find out more. No one can know how they will react until they are in a life or death situation. Gulli's matter-of-fact response was incredible.

The other thing which impressed me was the authenticity of the settings, the scenery of the sea and the Icelandic islands. It was beautifully shot. Authentic news footage of the eruption of the volcano on the Westman Islands was included, and new scenes with the actors blended seamlessly with that. I have been to Iceland and watched films about that eruption, so I recognised this. I've also walked on a lava field on Iceland, but I was fortunate to be wearing walking boots. I can't imagine walking on that surface barefoot for hours.

I was captivated by this film and I recommend it - very inspiring and informative on so many levels.

United 93
(2006)

Terrifying, real, moving.
I have just seen this film for the first time, many years after the events that we all remember so clearly. It was shocking, although I knew what to expect. seeing the events of 9/11 unfolding from the perspective of the ground personnel trying to make sense of it all, the sense of urgency and apparently their inability to prevent the hijacked planes reaching their targets. The main focus of the film was on the events on the fourth hijacked plane which crashed in Pennsylvania. No one knows exactly what happened on that plane, but there is enough information available to construct a totally credible sequence of events.

it's one of the most tense things I have ever watched and I was aware of my own fear responses kicking in. The performances of everyone involved are impeccable and completely realistic. Paul Greengrass made documentaries before this film and this shows in the filming and the non-sensationalist approach. The dialogue lacks any dramatic stirring speeches or anything we would expect from a conventional action movie. It's all about how ordinary people would react in a terrifying situation where initially they don't know what is happening, and then the reality dawns on them and they attempt to do whatever they can to survive.

I was fascinated by the detail of what happened in Air Traffic Control from the first suspicion that something was wrong, to the events that we saw on the news. I assume that these events were recorded and everything really happened. It takes time for people to understand something so awful and so incomprehensible, even those who are highly competent and very experienced.

I remember how I felt, listening to the radio and looking at the news coverage in the UK. I was bewildered, but it was a long way from me. For these people it was their responsibility to deal with an unknown threat situation.

The power of this film is in its matter-of-fact approach which doesn't make judgements and presents the facts as they are known, in a very dramatic way. I am glad that I was brave enough to finally see it. Well done to everyone involved.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
(2014)

As good as expected.
I saved watching this until I needed to be diverted from the winter weather. Fantastic, just as good as I anticipated it would be. The surrealistic atmosphere, the humour, the stellar cast, the Wes Anderson trademark quirkiness and darkness of the story, all made this memorable. I don't understand why some people who know that they are not fans of Wes Anderson's work have commented that they hated this film. His style is unique and if people don't get it or like it, the best approach would be to avoid it. Wes Anderson's contribution to cinema is legendary and he is one of my firm favourites.

It's difficult to choose a specific aspect of this film which stands out, because it is uniformly excellent, and although Ralph Fiennes performance is central, all the performances however small (Bill Murray was a cameo and so were some others) were crucial and contributed to the whole. I have travelled in Eastern Europe and East Germany and some of the locations reminded me fondly of my travels. I have even stayed in ex-communist hotels and the Grand Budapest reminded me of these places. Amazing.

The Ides of March
(2011)

It isn't the West Wing
I was keen on watching this because I read a magazine review which mentioned the West Wing, one of my absolute favourite shows. The movie has the political credibility nailed but is not in the same league as Aaron Sorkin's slick drama. I was interested enough to keep watching because I wanted to know what happens, but I was rather puzzled by the inconclusive ending. George Clooney's politician running for presidential nomination is believable, and Ryan Gosling as his aide appears to be a moral person who maybe becomes corrupted, but the story involving the intern Molly was not completely clear to me. There were too many questions unanswered. It presents a believable view of the dirty tricks in political campaigns, but there was a lot of swearing and the dark side was winning. It is not the West Wing in any way, it's a political drama and a fairly confusing one at that.

Philomena
(2013)

Very moving true story
I knew that Judi Dench would be excellent, and she was. Philomena's story is heartbreaking and Judi plays this woman in a totally convincing way. Philomena has had 50 years to deal with her loss and she is not going to give up, although she has to be persuaded to go along with some aspects of Martin Sixsmith's (played wonderfully by Steve Coogan) quest. It has the ring of truth about it and is played to perfection by all concerned. The tragic story has resonance for many people who are still living with the consequences of the Magdalen Sisters' treatment of unmarried mothers, and these people need to find healing. I hope that this film, with its sensitive approach will help them.

Having seen much of the UK TV programme "Long Lost Family" where many adopted children find their mothers, and vice versa, I know that this is a real issue for those who were forced to part from their children during times when attitudes were less tolerant. This subject means a lot to me because my brother was adopted by my parents.

This film is highly recommended for many reasons.

The Grass Is Greener
(1960)

Great fun
I love this film and recently bought it on DVD. I had not watched it for many years, and it's wonderful to see it again. Since I last saw it I've visited Osterley Park in Middlesex - it's on the Piccadilly Line and easy to get to, and I was fascinated to see the changes that have taken place there since this film was made. Apart from the filming locations, which are excellent, the action is well worth seeing again. This is a comedy of manners, worthy of Noel Coward or similar authors, which challenges our assumptions about how people might behave. It's supposed to be the upper classes behaving in a civilised manner, but that is rather difficult to believe. You have to suspend disbelief and go along with the premise that people could behave like this. All the performances are excellent and it works, even in 2014. I wonder what people thought in 1960? My interpretation is that the Earl (Cary Grant) is hurt that his wife appears to have chosen to be unfaithful to him on a whim, and he has to decide what to do. He decides to be civilised, but he plays a very clever game to get her back and it works. Beneath all the civilised talk there is a very primal contest going on, and the emotional blackmail works. The bond is too strong to break, but he had to fight for her or face losing her. The desperation of his position is not obvious, but it is there nonetheless.

I'm not sure that Robert Mitchum was right for this - he was the least convincing, but the other 4 main players were completely right. How anyone could consider leaving Cary Grant in the first place is beyond me.

An Affair to Remember
(1957)

A classic worth seeing again.
I loved this movie when I first saw it, probably in my teens. I thought it very romantic and I didn't mind the schmaltz and the melodrama. It stands up to viewing many times, and although I am now much older, I still like it. The fact that it was made in the 1950s does a lot to explain why Deborah Kerr's character doesn't contact Cary Grant's character when she fails to meet him- her reasoning is that since she isn't able to walk, her former lover might not want to see her again. To a modern mind, that seems crazy and if it happened to me, I would still get in touch with the man I was supposed to meet, in case he still wanted to see me again! However, dramatically it works very well. The final scene is full of poignancy and double meanings.

The witty shipboard romance works as well, and I found it convincing that these two people got together, with a subtlety to their relationship which is fascinating. The silly behaviour of the fellow passengers, not able to leave two people alone on a ship, seems rather excessive. Maybe if a famous playboy went on a cruises he would experience that sort of intrusive scrutiny today, but I don't believe that they would allow it to happen, so we are left to imagine. But in the context of the travel options in the 1950s, it is believable.

This is a classic Hollywood romance starring two of the all-time greats at the top of their game, and must be seen. Take some of the sugary scenes with a pinch of salt, but the substance of it is timeless.

Moonrise Kingdom
(2012)

Escape into Wes Anderson's imagination
I have just seen this for the first time - what took me so long? It lived up to my expectations and exceeded them. The young cast members were assured and played their roles brilliantly, while the older stars did an excellent job of creating a credible world, all within the imagination of the director. I always know that Anderson's world is not like the real one, and I think anyone who enjoys this movie can do so because they can suspend disbelief and enter into that world of imagination. I loved the music score as well, being a fan of Benjamin Britten, especially Noye's Fludde, which was evoked so well with the children dressed up as animals, and the tempest at the end of the film, it all made sense to me, and the whole was a masterpiece of storytelling.

Great comedy and poignancy, supported by the excellent children's voices singing the Britten soundtrack. If you can remember what it was like to be a child and want to have adventures, this is the movie for you, no matter how old you are (I am in my 50s).

One Day
(2011)

Not entirely successful, but worth watching
I enjoyed the book so I wanted to see the film. I think this film suffered from the difficulty of transferring to the screen a story based upon following 2 characters through an annual snapshot of their lives - for me, the story was too sketchy and lacked enough depth for each stage of their lives. I think we missed some important background and substance for the events, although the relationship between Dexter and Emma made sense. When they got together properly, this was a climax of the book and yet it didn't feel that way in the film, it was't given enough weight. The tragedy also was shown as written in the book, but the consequences not explored well enough. Having said all that, I did enjoy it, I just feel it could have been better. It wasn't satisfying, although the book was. Anne Hathaway was excellent, and many of the other cast members gave great performances.

Blue Jasmine
(2013)

Poignant and meaningful
I knew that I would enjoy this because Woody Allen is getting better with age. Cate Blanchett is brilliant in the role of a woman in denial, who allowed her life to be hijacked by her former husband, who was a crook, played by Alec Baldwin. She now has to deal with the consequences of his actions and everyone's pain, and she is incapable of telling the truth or dealing with reality. Cate's acting is exceptional, amongst a wonderful cast - the characterisation is so vivid that I felt unsettled. Most of all, I came out telling myself "don't let that happen to me" - it's not likely to. It is a cautionary tale in many ways: most of all, about telling the truth to yourself and others. Sally Hawkins as usual is excellent as Jasmine's down-to-earth sister who has to offer shelter and support to her sibling, and who has suffered herself.

As others have mentioned, the action moves between the present and the past without warning and this takes some adjustment, but the story makes sense. It is gripping although the audience does not know where it is heading.

On one level this film is a trademark Woody Allen, on another level it is very unexpected - it's a serious story (with some humour) and the full drama of Jasmine's life is portrayed on Cate Blanchett's face. The ending is unexpected and thought-provoking, almost existential. I recommend it but don't expect a light comedy.

Jesus Christ Superstar
(1973)

Thought-provoking, musically significant rock opera.
Jesus Christ Superstar is a rock opera written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice in the early 1970s, and this is a movie version. I saw the original London run of the show, as a child, and it made a huge impression on me. Some reviewers have questioned why Jesus is portrayed as human, but the point of this opera is to examine the "superstar" status of Jesus in his time, and the effect that this had upon his followers, the Jewish priests and the Romans. It deals with the phenomenon of Jesus from every angle, and it works. Musically, it stands up just as well as it did in the 70s, and it still packs a punch. It shows the reality of how the political threat posed by the Jesus movement was dealt with, and suggests a reason for the Crucifixion. There are many historical accounts of Jesus's life, based upon the Bible. This libretto and screenplay are brave enough to look at it from a human angle, and it spoke to me as a child. I understood for the first time the reality of Jesus's life as a man and how he suffered, as a man. It's value is its originality. Probably one of the best things Lloyd Webber has ever done, and the wit and wisdom of Tim Rice is always valuable. Give it a chance, even if you are a Christian.

Back to the Future Part III
(1990)

Great fun, in spite of the contradictions.
I like the trilogy and in my opinion, they are all necessary and fit together. This is an enjoyable movie and can be taken as a unit, although there is some need to refer back to the previous episodes, in order to understand the beginning and make proper sense of the ending. It's a nice conclusion to the trilogy, because it ties up the loose ends and resolves some of the plot that was left hanging in Part 2.

However, I have a problem that I can't resolve and I may be just misunderstanding something, but I don't get why Doc is missing at the end. At the start of Part 3, we know that Doc has gone back to 1885 by mistake - we found this out at the end of Part 2, when Marty receives a letter. Marty is now in 1955 (also by mistake) and he wants to get back to his original time, i.e. 1985. At the same time, he needs to return to 1885 to rescue Doc who is in danger of being shot. The 1955 version of Doc helps him to do this and this version of Doc remains in 1955.

Marty goes back in time, finds Doc, eventually solves all the problems and returns to 1985. Then he says that he misses the Doc, who remained in 1885, but what has happened to Doc from 1955 who should have just got older? I know there are plot holes in all the films, but this has really baffled me.

Apart from this issue, it's a fun film and I don't think it is a massive disappointment. It is Part 3 and it deserves its place in the series.

It's Complicated
(2009)

Not bad at all, give it a chance.
I liked it, actually, because I expected it to be really predictable and it wasn't. The performances were all excellent, and the fact that it is a romantic comedy brings a lot of latitude in the credibility stakes. Early on, I was rather dismayed by Steve Martin's appearance and I thought his character seemed destined to be over-serious, which didn't seem right. Steve is brilliant at comedy, physical humour and dancing. Eventually I realised why he had been cast in this role, and he delivered on the promise. Meryl Streep was spectacular and the younger cast members as her children were all believable. Alec Baldwin is a little chubby, but that was worked into the plot and didn't seem wrong - he's a middle aged man, and he had a heart scare as well.

As a story, it could have been deeper or more real, but it worked as entertainment. I enjoyed it and it brightened my day. Nothing wrong in that. Also, it might offer a little insight into ways of dealing with middle age (some of us need that).

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
(2011)

Brilliant and closer to reality than you think
I went to see this on the recommendation of my sister who loved it and said it was funny. I see the comedy but I also appreciate, as others have already said, the reality of what growing older can mean to different people. It's a great story and the acting is superb. I didn't laugh much because I found a lot of resonance in my own life and the poignancy took over for me. All were excellent - especially Judi Dench and Bill Nighy, but also Dev Patel and the girlfriend - their youthful energy contrasted with the older cast members finding their feet in a strange land.

It was inspiring and believable. I have been to Sri Lanka and while not as huge or chaotic as India, I understand the culture shock. Older viewers will find much to think about and I hope younger people will too.

The Ghost Writer
(2010)

Very Polanski
I enjoyed this for the suspense, not knowing the story at all. I also enjoyed the fact that it is unmistakably a Roman Polanski film. There are some implausible elements, but personally I chose to take these in as part of the story. It is not supposed to resemble real life, so I'm happy to go along with it. The atmosphere of menace on the island seemed very effective, and the air of mystery surrounding what happened to the previous ghost writer was well done.

I was convinced that there were clues within the manuscript, which Ewan McGregor's character was given to work on and which he thought was boring, but which was the key to the mystery. He carried it around with him, and its importance seemed to be stressed by several of the characters. In this age of electronic documents, it was unusual to see someone carting a huge pile of paper around.

I agree with others about Olivia Williams's performance. I have always liked her, seen her on stage playing Shakespeare many years ago, and she is excellent here. The parallels between this ex-PM and his wife ad the Blairs don't really extend to the personalities of the people involved, and the relationship between this fictional couple is fascinating.

Googling the CIA? It should not be possible, and yet there is a lot of information out there. In Polanski's world, reality is not the same as in our world (I've noticed this in several of his films). It's a plot device as a short-cut for the character to find out the vital information he needs.

The ending was good, although I can agree to some extent about implausibility of the final scene. However, it reminded me vividly of a scene in Frantic, an earlier Polanski thriller, in which Harrison Ford's wife is abducted off-screen. The event befalling McGregor's character is unseen an yet we are clear about what happened.

I like Polanski's style and I think this film has a lot to recommend it. Suspend disbelief and you will enjoy the ride.

In Bruges
(2008)

Beautifully filmed
I'm a fan and I don't mind the violence, which is an essential part of a film about hit men. The characters are violent men but we see that they all have a softer side. The darkness at the heart of even a beautiful place like the touristy city of Bruges is evident, and although the city is shown in all its beauty, I'm ready to believe that there is indeed a seedier side - there always is in any place of beauty.

Colin Farrell's performance is excellent, as is Brendan Gleeson and of course Ralph Fiennes. The supporting cast are also very good, and the balance of humour and tragedy is satisfying. I also think the ending is great, unexpected and appropriate.

I have been to Bruges several times and it is exactly like that, except hopefully without the violence. I recommend this film to anyone with an open mind who appreciates lovely architecture, dark humour and doesn't mind very strong language.

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