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Field of Fish

Forgotten film
As this film appears to be completely forgotten about, I thought I should review it. My mum went to school with the writer, who gave us a VHS copy when I was a child. This review is based on my memory of that because I haven't seen it since and can't see anywhere to find it now. However, it was a good film.

My memory runs like this: a small group of children from Mousehole, who like to draw eyes on their hands and call it "the witchy eye" (maybe I'm conflating this with Pan's Labyrinth but I think they also placed their eye-hands over their real eyes), become obsessed with an eccentric old fisherman who lives in a boat on the top of one of the headlands. They eventually discover his tragic story (I forget what it is but it involved something at sea - maybe a failure to catch anything) and decide to help him by stealing hundreds of fish and placing them all around the boat he lives in. He wakes up in this "field of fish" and is over-joyed.

I remember enjoying the film very much. Sadly Cornwall doesn't have much of a domestic film industry and most films set there don't really capture the spirit of the place; this one does. It has that unique combination of free-spirit and deep connection to the coasts (I can't say land because the sea matters just as much). It was well filmed and acted. I don't know if the young people in the cast went on to anything but I hope so. It's only a short film but the concluding image of the old fisherman in his worn out boat surrounded by silver fish has always stuck with me. If you can, I'd recommend watching this.

One Girl

Beautiful examination of girlhood around the world
I was lucky enough to be able to watch a preview of this luminous film. It's a very simple but effective concept: one day in the life of four different girls, all around the world. The comparisons are carefully done, the uniqueness of each setting is drawn out, and we get a surprising amount of insight into their lives despite the short time setting. It wears its education lightly, with a refreshing lack of interference from voice over or flashy camera moves. Instead it lets its protagonists lives and dreams unspool with a quiet confidence. Watch it!

Pas son genre

Not my cup of tea
NOT MY TYPE is the story of a mismatched romance between a Parisian philosopher, exiled to teach in quiet Arras, and the sunny single- mother hairdresser he meets there. At first it seems like an amusing romcom about opposites attracting, but then the jokes stop. Then it seems like it might become a bittersweet, realistic love story full of regrets and misunderstandings, but then it runs out of ideas. At a certain point the relationship simply shudders to a halt and we're left to watch the same scenes over and over again (he endlessly reads to her from classic French literature but it doesn't matter because nothing seems to change). It doesn't help that the film is not much shy of two hours when it could easily have been 90 minutes. The leads are good, the setting unusual, the camera-work excellent and it benefits from being laugh-out-loud French (the philosopher even wears a black turtleneck sweater) but its failure to progress or come to a real conclusion leaves more questions than answers.

La proie

THE PREY is a French take on the man-on-the-run genre. This time our hero is a bank robber in prison who makes the mistake of trusting someone he shouldn't. Soon his stashed loot has been stolen and his family are under attack. Naturally he breaks out, leading to a three way race where he pursues the man who betrayed him whilst being chased by a driven female cop. Cue lots of hanging off trains, running into oncoming traffic and jumping out of windows. It's a very pure film, with little in the way of sub-plots, which keeps the suspense up and builds thrilling sequences. Dupontel and his hilarious curly hairdo bring a much needed humanity to the main character, who must be made of rubber considering the absurd amount of damage he takes only to keep running. The villain is also effectively creepy. It never aspires to be anything more than entertainment, but more than lives up to its promise, right down to the soppily happy ending.


Redeeming Features
REDEEMER is a Chilean action film, which isn't something you see often. The story is a classic Western: a hero with a dark past (and an impressive amount of Catholic accessories) comes to a small town being oppressed by drug lords and naturally decides to clean house one drop- kick to the face at a time. The locations are lovely - with plenty of Instagram style colour tints - and the narrative commendably brisk. The only problem is that the hero remains too much of an enigma and as a result there's a lack of emotional connection; it's cool to watch but you don't feel anything except during the most gruesome kills (thankfully these are largely set up and then happen off screen). It doesn't help that the guns are all CGI enhanced, meaning they lack any physicality. Still, the martial arts action is fantastic, with really well though out back-and-forth combat and stuntmen (including the hero) skilled enough that the scenes can play out in single steady shots which let you appreciate the skill on display. It's a small film but a good one and if Hollywood has any sense they'll be hiring the people who made this for a big budget remake.

Enfermés dehors

Lock In
LOCKED OUT is, as is typical for an Albert Dupontel film, bonkers. It's essentially a homage to Silent Era comedy (half Chaplin, half Keaton) with all the editing, colour and language of the modern world. It's about a glue-sniffing tramp who finds the uniform of a suicidal policeman and, in order to get a free lunch in the police canteen, starts wearing it. Before long he's trying to right wrongs, form a hobo police force and kidnapping businessmen in order to recover the child of the ex-porn star he's fallen for. Like many manic films the pacing is a bit odd: at times it builds gags until you can't stop laughing, whilst at other times it feels a little saggy. That said, the laughs are worth waiting for and at 80 minutes or so it never overstays its welcome. It helps that every inch of the film is filled with great ideas, characters and design (look out for Terry Deary as a tramp who tries to scam a meal by pretending Terry Gilliam is his baby) and that it does manage to end on a sensitive emotional note. Try it.

Toute première fois

French Kissed
I KISSED A GIRL is an clever spin on a common theme of gay movies. This time, rather than the stiff straight guy who realises he's gay, we have a happy and successful homosexual about to marry his partner of ten years...only for him to get drunk and sleep with a beautiful Swedish woman. Soon he's obsessed with her. Is he straight? Homosexual? Bisexual? He doesn't know, and his confusion - not helped by the less than useful assistance of his best friend, who'll sleep with any Russian hooker he can, only to find the one woman he can't do without is his bossy, large-nosed secretary - makes up the movie. Like every rom-com there's a lot of cliché but the film is charmingly adult, witty and has that refreshing and peculiarly French frankness about sex. The people are beautiful (often in surprising ways) and the confusion creates some wonderful farce. Contrary to another comment, this is not a homophobic film. Rather the plot is a sign of how far public acceptance of homosexuality has come; one of the funniest jokes is the way his parents are so accepting of him being gay that they don't know what to think when he tells them he's fallen for a woman. This is a rom- com that's both romantic and funny - and nicely shot to boot. Give it a try.

Mr. Holmes

MR HOLMES is a clever conceit that unfortunately never goes anywhere. The plot sees an aged Holmes in 1947 living in self-imposed exile in a remote village, with only his widowed housekeeper, her son and his bees for company. Spurred on by a recent visit to Japan (cue the inevitable shots of the devastation in Hiroshima), he tries to recollect and write down his last case - the one which caused him to go into exile - which involved a beautiful woman in the 1920s. The dementia allows the filmmakers to make effective use of flashbacks to tell the story but otherwise it's an over-predictable British period drama: superb actors, excellent production design and beautiful landscapes...but nothing to say. Life in exile is not that interesting - McKellen's brilliant performance aside - and the final case is almost absurdly slight. It all culminates with Holmes, the man of logic, deciding that sometimes fiction is superior to fact; the sad truth is that the popularly- imagined Sherlock, with his pipe and deerstalker and impossibly precise deductions, is rather more interesting than this somewhat dull intellectual chamber piece.

Black Sheep of Whitehall

White Sheep
THE BLACK SHEEP OF WHITEHALL was one of the many films starring the now largely forgotten British comedian Will Hays. As usual, he's a shady character who gets dragged into things; this time a Professor Davies - running an mail order qualifications scam - who is confused with a Professor Daveys - a top Latin American economist come to London to arbitrate on a vital trade agreement - after the latter is kidnapped by Nazi agents in the middle of the Second World War. With John Mills' straight man, they rumble the plot and - afraid the police won't believe them - decide to free the right professor by infiltrating the sanitorium where he's being hidden. It's fast-paced, music-hall comedy as the pair bumble from scrape to scrape, with the inevitable transvestism and occasional war jokes. The highlight though is the climactic chase, in which the professor is towed behind a car on a medical tricycle; it is a brilliant piece of visual comedy that makes the entire film worthwhile. An old-fashioned treat.

Alceste à bicyclette

Head Over Handlebars
BICYCLING WITH MOLIERE is one of those meta-films about actors playing actors. The story sees an actor who has found fame but not satisfaction by playing a doctor on TV try to stage an adaptation of Moliere's La Misanthrope. To do so he wants to recruit an old acting friend, who has retired to the Ile de Rhe and, ironically, become a misanthrope. The two immediately square off: who will play the lead and how should they play it? With one week to convince each other, the actors also find themselves exploring the island, bonding with an Italian woman going through a bitter divorce and trying to give acting lessons to a girl who stars in pornos. The jokes aren't terribly funny - it does help if you know the text - but there's a lot of pleasure to be taken in watching the interplay between superb actors like Lambert and Luchini as they explore the text, their friendship and the island. It's cultured and intelligent in a way that most films aren't, with moments of sublime beauty. The only jarring note is the ending which, although appropriate to the subject, feels unnecessarily cruel.

Les brigades du Tigre

White Tiger
THE TIGER BRIGADES is essentially Les Untouchables, as four cops (of the newly formed Mobile Brigades; essentially a French version of the FBI or Flying Squad) in 1912 take on a bunch of anarchist robbers who have stolen a coded ledger that contains all sorts of secrets that the rich and aristocratic don't want known. Added to this there's a Russian princess with anarchist sympathies, the upcoming signing of the Triple Entente pact and a financial conspiracy. Adapted from the popular 70s TV series, it's a well-made film that never quite lifts off, largely because the main characters aren't all that interesting; often it feels like large chunks of their back-stories were left on the cutting room floor. That said it cracks along at quite a pace, utilising the period's charm - including a slow chase between a crude car and a bicycle, and a farmhouse shootout which the aristocracy watch as if it was a bird shoot - before climaxing at the opera with a nod towards Eisenstein (think Ivan Grozny). It's the sort of film where the subject matter is more interesting than the drama itself; highly watchable without being overly memorable.

The Sea Wolves

Rarely Board
THE SEA WOLVES is the kind of film which, even at the time it was made, is the sort of film they don't make anymore. The plot - so improbable that it is indeed based on fact - is that British shipping is being sunk by U-boats guided by German spies using a hidden radio transmitter on board a ship interned in neutral Goa (a Portuguese colony in India). Unable to do anything official the Brits come up with the ludicrous but brilliant wheeze of sending a bunch of old duffers - from an almost defunct part-time unit called the Calcutta Light Horse - on a commando raid into the harbour to blow up the Hun ship. And their cover story: that they're a drunken works outing who wanted to board the shop for a dare. Peck - stiff but reliable - and Niven - charming as ever - lead this bit whilst Roger Moore - in a beige safari suit again - does his James Bond act as he seduces a woman who he doesn't realise is a German spy. It's all jolly good fun in a rainy Saturday afternoon style; an old- fashioned yarn full of reliable old actors having - just like their characters - one last adventure. Younger viewers might dislike the relatively slow pace, the general lack of action and the absence of gore/flesh/swearing but it has a great deal of the charm, common sense and maturity lacking from modern cinema; having completed their mission they whisper "poor devils" whilst watching the German ships burn, instead of cheering.


Loop the Loop
LOOPER is such a refreshingly good American film that it's almost possible to forget that it's essentially a B-movie. The plot is based on the idea that time travel will be invented in the future but will be criminalised, so that the only people to use it are the Mafia, who send their victims back in time to be killed in the past by specialised hit- men called Loopers. Once you accept that absurdity - and the presence of telekinetic powers - the film creates a simple but clever plot, in which one of these hit-men finds himself asked to kill his future, older self. He fails and soon finds the mafia after him, whilst his older self tries to hunt down the man who will kill his (their) wife in the future. The future is well imagined in low key ways - unusually for a SF flick, half the film is set in rural areas - and intelligent. What really sets it apart though is the cleverness of writer- director Rian Johnson, who elevates what ought to be a generic B- picture through a masterful use of music, writing, editing and image.

Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter

Our Children's View
OUR MOTHERS, OUR FATHERS (aka GENERATION WAR) is notable mostly for what it is, rather than how good it is. It's yet another German attempt to process the Second World War experience; a sort of German BAND OF BROTHERS. It covers the experiences of five friends - three men and two women, with one of the men being Jewish - during the war: the two brothers join up and see combat, one of the girls becomes a combat nurse, the other girl makes a Faustian pact to become a Nazi- approved singer, and the Jew tries to escape the Holocaust. Somewhat inevitably they all become disillusioned and it's not too hard to guess which ones are unlikely to survive. As a miniseries it consists of just three 90- minute episodes, which is the main weakness of a series with such a sweeping subject; in attempting to cover so many battles across the entire war and a huge number of historical topics in such a short time period it ends up not doing any of them justice. It also tends too much towards soap-esque plots, in which the benefit of hindsight and a lack of historical subtlety are too obvious: the Nazism is underplayed, at times the protagonists seem to run into every soon-to-be-killed Jew (and it's almost only Jews) in Eastern Europe, and there's a controversial section on the Polish AK which is not-untrue but poorly dealt with. There are also serious budget limitations, with the battle scenes trying for American-style intensity but only coming across as contrived. It's not a horrible series but it's not all that great either, and the most interesting part is to see how the Germans continue to try to process their traumatic 20th century.

Les beaux jours

Not So Good Days
THE GOOD DAYS (aka BRIGHT DAYS AHEAD) is another French film about that most French of genres: the well-mannered, middle-class affair. In this case she's a recently retired dentist in a coastal town, who goes to a club for retirees where she takes a computer class because she's fed up of not understanding the machines, only to fall in love with the much younger teacher, who it turns out used to visit the dentists just to watch her. Inevitably it's doomed: her husband finds out and it turns out that her new lover isn't exclusive in his affections. It's a well made and well observed drama with an excellent cast but it isn't anything that anyone who enjoys French films won't have seen before, done better.

Mientras duermes

A Snore
SLEEP TIGHT is a non-supernatural horror film, about the concierge of a Spanish apartment block who - for reasons even he doesn't understand - can't be happy. As a result he hates the world and decides to rob the happiness of all the people who live in his building. To do so he uses his position to manipulate them and their lives, in an effort to mentally break them. He meets his match though in a happy young woman whose life is the polar opposite of his, which forces him to pull out all the stops. Then her boyfriend arrives to stay and things get even worse. It's an interesting concept and the film mines it for plenty of creepiness - all the scarier for its irrationality and plausibility - but it doesn't really have anywhere to go and as someone who doesn't like horror films I found little of interest to me. Those who do like the genre might feel differently.


FORCE MAJEURE is a short film that somehow ended up a feature. The idea is good: a Swedish family go on an Alpine skiing holiday and one day, at lunch, they look like they are about to be hit by an avalanche. At the moment of crisis the father of the family flees, abandoning his wife and children. The avalanche stops, the family are safe, and the questions begin. Soon various friends and the kids are drawn in, as the family begins to disintegrate. The problem is that there just isn't enough meat on this bone; the conversations are forced, repetitive and lack depth. Worse still, it's hard to care about these people; it has that peculiarly Scandi coldness, where there are no close-ups, where the characters are eternally uptight, and where the closest we get to humanity is to watch the actors urinating or brushing their teeth. To bulk this out there are lots of lovely shots of the ski slopes. Like many Scandi films there is a slightly hysterical bleakness to all this. The ending is not open, so much as pointless. As a short film this would have been excellent, at two hours it's tedious.

Gemma Bovery

Madame Returns
GEMMA BOVERY is essentially a paean to the hotness of Gemma Arteton and to classic French literature. The plot sees the ordered village life of a former publisher, who semi-retired to became a baker in Normandy due to his love of Flaubert's "Madame Bovery" which is set there, turned upside down by the arrival of an English couple. She is beautiful and bored and her surname is Bovery. Soon her life begins to mirror the novel, as she seeks out affairs to deal with her ennui. Worried by this - because he knows the book ends with her suicide - the baker/publisher begins to try and discreetly guide her, with mixed results. Only the French could make something as insubstantial as this - and then make it work. Although billed as a comedy-drama, it's neither very funny nor entirely dramatically successful, but it sustains itself with a low- key middle class charm. Village life is gorgeously portrayed and most importantly the film succeeds in making you care about what is essentially a silly woman making bad decisions; like many French films it's all about the gloriousness of women, which Arteton more than lives up to. A small charmer.

The Last Stand

Falls Down
THE LAST STAND was supposed to be Arnie's comeback, but it feels more tired than he looks. The plot sees a Cartel boss - played by a Spaniard, inevitably - escape the ham-fisted FBI and head for the border in a souped up car that nobody (yeah, nobody) can catch; so it's up to the almost retired sheriff of the sleepy Arizona town that's the last place before the border to marshal his deputies in order to stop him escaping (apparently it's impossible to drive around the town). It's a perfectly fine B-movie plot but it's let down by the childish script: a villain who spouts trite philosophy but isn't actually scary, a hot female villain who doesn't even get the opportunity to show off her hotness (let alone have a character), rural clichés that were old in the 1950s, a comic relief gun-nut who is staggeringly unfunny, deputies who each have one bland characteristic and no more, FBI agents who mistake shouting and demanding action for effective work, and a hero running away from a generic traumatic event in his past. Of course, you don't go to these films for character but even with a noted Korean director roped in the action is weak; the good guys survive the most ridiculous situations (even one who is lying next to a car which blows up), the villains come out of the woodwork whenever required and the guns'n'car action has all the look and realism of an FPS. Add in lots of unnecessary swearing, plot holes galore and CGI blood and it's just a bad film all round, which even Arnie and his accent can't save.


TRANCE is further evidence that Danny Boyle films are always worth watching, even when they don't entirely work. The plot - taken from a TV movie - sees a Scottish art auctioneer collaborate with criminals to steal a rare painting, only for him to get knocked on the head and forget where he's stashed it. Frustrated after torture doesn't work, the crims bring in a psychoanalyst who quickly rumbles them and becomes more involved than anyone intended. It's the sort of film where everyone has hidden agendas and secrets, as the different players alternate between being villains and heroes, leading to one of the more audacious final plot twists in recent years. Add to that shifts between reality and the unconscious and you've got a slippery, occasionally frustrating but genuinely innovative film. It's imaginatively filmed and unlike so many recent thrillers it tries very hard to be cerebral, even if it does seem to confuse or alienate many people. It's not entirely successful - largely because none of the characters are warm enough to care about - but well worth watching.

Get the Gringo

Vacation Blues
GET THE GRINGO (aka WHAT I DID ON MY SUMMER VACATION) is classic Mel Gibson. He's a battered old bank robber - just like in PAYBACK - who stumbles across the border into Mexico with a couple of million and a dead partner. The Mex cops nick his cash, to spend on hookers and German cars, whilst throwing him into the slammer. Based on a real life experiment (which inevitably ended badly), the prison is sorta-open; with the criminals carrying guns, dealing drugs and even living with their families inside. The only rule is that escape means death. Mel gives the place plenty of sarcastic voice-over, all whilst casing the joint, making friends with a cigarette-crazy kid and even romancing the boy's mother. Soon he's climbing the criminal ladder, even as the people whose money he stole come looking for him. Cue some satisfyingly Peckinpah-esque blood'n'slo-mo shootouts, as well as a slightly random digression from the prison. It's gory, foul-mouthed and cynical...but somehow still has its heart in the right place as Mel finds redemption (he is Catholic after all) and settles scores. A taut 90 minutes long, this old-school thriller ought to have re- established his career after his drunken ZOG-ranting but alas...

Jägarna 2

FALSE TRAIL (aka HUNTERS 2) is a Swedish cop film set in the redneck- like rural part of the country where bad rock music, check shirts and alcoholism are the height of cool. When a girl is murdered a city cop from Stockholm is sent back to his rural home, where it turns out that his (widowed) sister is law is married to the local top-cop, who also happens to be city cop's prime suspect. Things are kept nicely murky for quite a while, with the protagonist's suspicions often seeming more like prejudice than fact, as the investigation twists and turns. At a certain point it becomes not so much a question of whodunnit but rather of whether the protagonist can actually pin the murder on the criminal as they brilliantly cover their tracks. Similar to many other Scandi films, this is as much a drama as a genre film, with it offering a compellingly brutal portrayal of controlling manhood. The countryside is gorgeously shot, it's packed with good actors (Stomare's beard deserves its own credit), the rural setting is unusual and atmospheric, and it slowly builds up the pace until it comes to a shatteringly savage Cain-and-Abel type finale in the woods.

Closed Circuit

Closed Loop
CLOSED CIRCUIT is yet another British counter-terrorism movie which focuses on the supposed evils of the Security Service (MI5) rather than on the Islamists they fight. After a bombing in London the terrorist ring-leader is caught and put on trial, only for his defence lawyer to die in mysterious circumstances. A new legal team - one each for the closed and open courts - is brought in but they fail to declare that they've been sleeping together. Inevitably they stumble on a really dumb MI5 conspiracy in which the service, after making a mistake, decides the best thing to do is (spoilers) to murder a bunch of high-profile people in order to cover it up. It's nice to see upper-middle class London depicted but the characters are unsympathetic - Bana especially is miscast as a viper-tongue, divorced lawyer - and the plot is stupid; MI5 simply do not run around assassinating people and to suggest that they do is irresponsible because it adds more fuel to the usual idiotic conspiracy theories that circulate. If you want to know what's really going on then read the 7/7 Report.

Night Train to Munich

Train On Time
NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH is a classic old 1940s b&w wartime propaganda film. With its gentleman spy and genius scientist (with beautiful daughter) McGuffin it's gloriously old fashioned. The plot sees a Czech scientist and his daughter captured by the Nazis just before the outbreak of war with Poland (which will drag in Britain and France, and mark the true beginnings of WWII) who put them on a train to Munich with a villainous Gestapo officer. Thankfully, also on board is a British gentleman-spy (the old dapper fool routine) with plans to get them off. To add a little comedy, there's also a pair of British travellers who become so appalled by the pushiness and rudeness of the Germans that they decide to join in. The use of matte paintings, models and trick photography might put off younger viewers but it's charming and effective. Similarly, most of the action scenes have the combination of purity and artificiality of so many early films, with a gunfight on a gondola moving between two mountain peaks being both particularly unreal and charming. The dialogue is fast and humorous, especially around the (sorta) love triangle. Altogether, an afternoon delight.


A HIJACKING takes a subject that would usually make a good B-movie and turns it into an emotionally wringing exercise in realistic fear. The plot very simply sees a Danish-owned ship captured by Somali pirates. The story moves between the ship's crew living in captivity with their captors and the corporate team trying to negotiate their freedom. The film is brilliant in avoiding cliché: the corporate team really do want the best but are hobbled by the cruel realities of a trade where agreeing a price instantly will just lead to more demands, forcing them to negotiate over a tiny sums for months; meanwhile the crew go from initial shock to bonding with the pirates over things like fishing, but without the film losing sight of the fact that the pirates are violent criminals who can and will kill over anything. As time passes during the negotiations the tension rises as nerves begin to fray. What makes this so effective is the total realism; every moment is tension- packed because the crew, who are utterly human, are so totally at the mercy of their capricious and alien captors; the film is often a hard watch, precisely because of this. This is combined with a poetically realistic depiction of what life is like on ships in the modern world. The ending is perfect: people go home, but they're all horribly marked by what they've been through.

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