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Reviews

Robin Williams: Live at the Met
(1986)

Good but inconsistent
Some skits and jokes are hysterically funny, some fall quite flat. Part of the problem is Robin Williams' stream-of-consciousness delivery: it is hard to keep up with the joke his mind is moving so fast. Generally this is a good thing, but he does lose you, and himself, at times, I think.

Vikingdom
(2013)

Incredibly bad
Elrick, a forgotten Viking king, is given a series of tasks to accomplish in order to defeat Thor, the God of Thunder. The odds are stacked against him.

I watched this with low expectations. I knew this wasn't going to be Citizen Kane but was just interested in some light action to while away the time. (The fact that Natassia Malthe is in this movie helped too!). Yet, despite my low expectations, I was still very disappointed: this film is off-the-charts bad.

Everything about this is badly done: plot, dialogue, acting. Dialogue is extremely cringeworthy. The average school play has better performances. Even the fight scenes, production values and special effects and craptacular. Colour goes from grey to bright to black-and-white for no apparent reason. How can you mess up the cinematography that badly?

Avoid like the plague.

Strip Search
(2004)

Had the potential to be incredibly profound but falls well short
A film that asks, in the wake of 9/11 and the US focus on terrorism, the question "How much personal freedom would you be prepared to lose in order to be safer?". It then explores two similar scenarios, one in China and one in the US.

The central question of this movie, would you trade personal freedom for more safety from terrorism?, is a very interesting one. The question is asked at the outset, so I was immediately drawn into the discussion, thinking it would go somewhere profound.

Initially the film does appear to go down a path where this question will produce some interesting answers. We see that basically, in the wake of 9/11, suspected terrorists in the US are treated no better than a suspected criminal in a fascist totalitarian regime.

However, that's it. What follows is two interrogation scenes played out in the US and overseas that continues to emphasis this, but not provide any real solutions or answers. It all becomes very predictable, very quickly.

Ultimately, quite disappointing.

Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears
(2020)

Okay but not great: intrigue and engagement are on the low side
1929. Australian detective Phryne Fisher rescues a young Bedouin woman, Shirin, from a Jerusalem jail. Shirin's entire village was apparently wiped out by a giant sandstorm 10 years earlier but she now tells Miss Fisher that this is not true: they were all murdered.

I haven't watched anything of the TV series 'Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries' of which this movie is a part, of sorts, so had no expectations for this movie. It probably would have helped a bit to have watched the TV series as some of the relationships seem to follow from that. It's not critical, however, as the pieces fall into place quite easily.

The movie itself is surprisingly flat for a detective drama. Intrigue and tension are on the low side, as is engagement but that might be dependent on whether you've watched the TV series. The characters were likeable enough but that was about it: I never felt truly invested in them or how things panned out.

Plot is okay but not overly original. Twists are limited: it pretty much just chugs along.

Performances are okay but unspectacular.

Overall, okay but not great.

Contact
(1997)

Good but not great
Good but not great. Very interesting and intriguing, initially. Was set up for a powerful conclusion, but ended quite weakly.

Solid performances from an all-star cast: Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Skerritt, James Woods, John Hurt, David Morse, William Fichtner.

Nordwand
(2008)

Interesting, gripping drama
Interesting, gripping, docu-drama about a 1936 German expedition in its attempt to be the first to successfully climb the North Face of the Eiger. Moving story, well told.

Solid performances all round.

Tom Horn
(1980)

Interesting, and different, western. Moving, and thought-provoking.
Steve McQueen, in his penultimate movie, plays Tom Horn, and was perfectly cast. McQueen was dying of cancer when he made the movie, and his character is a man out of time, at the end of his life. Supporting cast includes Linda Evans and Slim Pickens.

Just Mercy
(2019)

Not very original but interesting and profound enough
A young Harvard lawyer moves to Alabama and sets up an organisation that sets out to provide justice for those that can't afford it. One of his first cases involves a man convicted of murder and sitting on death row. The evidence points to him being innocent but in Alabama verdicts often don't depend on whether you're guilty or not.

A reasonably interesting story of injustice, and justice. Not very original, being derivative of many movies with similar themes, e.g. To Kill A Mockingbird (the film even takes place around where the book was set), The Hurricane and Dead Man Walking. It also takes a while to get going - the plot is drawn out for the first half or so - and many of the characters are stereotypically drawn, so for the first half it's a bit disappointing and a bit of a grind.

However, it all comes together quite well in the end. The final 45 minutes or so makes for very interesting viewing and the conclusion is quite profound and emotional.

Overall, reasonably interesting but takes some patience. The impact of the film is also largely dependent on whether you've seen similar films on the subject.

The Office
(2005)

Wonderful series
A documentary film crew is tasked with recording the daily lives of the employees of the Scranton branch of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. The employees turn out to be a wide assortment of characters.

I was never interested in the US version of The Office when it was first released: in fact it has taken me 15 years to watch it! I am a big fan of the UK version and figured the US version was just an Americanised rehash of the UK version and wouldn't do it any justice.

Initially I was proved partially right as the Season 1 largely followed the UK series' plot, down to some of the scenes and jokes. It was still very good though and showed enough originality to make me continue watching. I'm glad I did.

From Season 2 the series finds its own way and what a way it is! Cleverly, charmingly funny but what sets it apart is the emotional and dramatic side. There are some wonderful story arcs and sub-plots, not least of which is the Jim-Pam story. This really is the spine around which the series is built, especially in the earlier seasons. Their story is an incredibly engaging one, made even more captivating by an incredible, off-the-charts-level chemistry between the two actors, John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer.

This is not to say that the other characters and actors play second fiddle. Steve Carrell is fantastic as the boss Michael Scott - very funny and perfect for the role - as is Rainn Wilson as Jim's nemesis, Dwight Schrute. Even the secondary long-term characters have their chance to shine, there is that much breadth to proceedings.

Some of the shine did go off the show when Steve Carrell left. Will Farrell didn't work as a temporary replacement. However, the James Spader-Ed Helms period was great and saw the series almost back to its best.

In the final season you could see that it had run its course though. There was never a bad episode but the comedy didn't feel as fresh and clever as before and the emotional side was missing. This was all made up for with a brilliant, nostalgic, emotional final episode that brought everything full circle. Fantastic way to end a series.

The Hunter
(1980)

Notable only for being Steve McQueen's last movie
Bounty hunter Ralph "Papa" Thorson is receiving death threats from a criminal he helped put away. This while his girlfriend is about to give birth, an event he isn't looking forward to. Meanwhile, he has his job to do and this involves bringing in some tough characters.

I watched this because it is Steve McQueen's last movie and it turns out that is really the only reason to watch this. Plot is at best mildly interesting being reasonably unfocussed. Plot development doesn't always feel consistent.

There's a degree of engagement with McQueen's character (Thorson) but not to a large extent: the lack of focus in the plot makes for some inconsistent character traits and behaviours too.

McQueen is okay in the lead role. No other performances to speak of though. Tracey Walter is incredibly hammy as the villain of the piece.

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas
(2011)

Meh
The original Harold & Kumar movie was great. The second was Ok, but not great. This one is worse. Not bad, just not as good as its predecessors. Mostly quite silly, though it does have its moments.

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
(2008)

Well short of the first movie
The first Harold and Kumar movie was great, but this falls a fair way short of that mark. Has its moments, but ultimately has to rely on crude and/or stoner humour to fill the minutes (and many of the stoner jokes are simply retreads of the first movie). Liked it as a parody of the paranoia of US homeland security though.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
(2003)

Great film
Great naval warfare movie, set in the Napoleonic War. Solid plot, excellent direction. Does run out of steam towards the end, but the special effects and realism of it all make up for that.

Solid performances by Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany in the main roles.

Richard Jewell
(2019)

Another great drama from Clint Eastwood
Richard Jewell is a security guard at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics when he discovers a bomb, saving countless lives and making him an instant hero. However, due to his chequered past the FBI make him a prime suspect. An unscrupulous FBI agent leaks this information to an even less scrupulous reporter, resulting in Richard Jewell's life being turned into a nightmare.

Clint Eastwood's latest movies have tended to be based on real life events and characters with the central character(s) usually being everyday people who do something heroic. He then builds an engaging, interesting story around this. 'Sully' was a great example of this ('The 11:17 to Paris', unfortunately, was not. Though based on an heroic event, the film was sub-par).

Richard Jewell follows in this trend, both thematically and quality-wise. The hero here is an unlikely one: an overweight, not-too-bright, security guard with an officious 'respect my authority' complex. But it works. Eastwood works his magic, taking us on the journey, getting us to root for the underdog. His efforts are aided by a solid performance by Paul Walter Hauser as Jewell, a superb performance by Sam Rockwell as his lawyer, Watson Bryant, and good support from Olivia Wilde, Kathy Bates and John Hamm.

Throw in some interesting themes, especially of police harassment and the destructive, defamatory power of the media and you have a great film.

A Million Ways to Die in the West
(2014)

Funny and entertaining
The American West, 1880s. A passive, shy sheep farmer tries to avoid conflict, a trait which has kept him alive but has now resulted in his girlfriend leaving him. She is now with a dapper, successful, extroverted store owner, Foy, a fact Foy keeps reminding him of. When the rivalry leads to a duel, he gets help from an unexpected, beautiful source.

Pretty good, and unexpectedly so. I like Seth MacFarlane, largely for The Family Guy (but Ted was pretty good too), but his comedies can be low-brow at times and the trailers for the this seemed to bear that out. Having eventually watched this, I am pleasantly surprised.

Quite funny with some of the usual MacFarlane humour: clever, satirical, topical and sometimes over the top. He does resort to some low-brow stuff on occasion but for the most part it quite original and intelligent.

The plot is fairly conventional and merely a platform for the humour, but that's pretty much what you'd expect from a comedy.

Solid performances from MacFarlane himself plus Charlize Theron, Neal Patrick Harris, Amanda Seyfried and Liam Neeson.

Good fun.

The Gentlemen
(2019)

Superb
Michael Pearson, a marijuana kingpin, is looking to sell off his business and retire to a quiet, law-abiding life. He finds a buyer but then things start to get complicated. Another potential buyer appears and when Pearson rejects his offer, things start to go wrong in his operation.

Superb. Written and directed by Guy Ritchie this has all his trademarks: gangsters as the good guys (and bad guys), clever, gritty plot with some great twists, great tongue-in cheek humour. It is a tour de force by Ritchie and, as much as I love Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch and RocknRolla, is his best work.

Not only does the film play to Ritchie's strengths it also feels less formulaic than his usual gangster-crime offerings. While he is good at what he does, his plots do feel a bit repetitive at times. This, while still falling in his usual arc, has an originality about it which is quite refreshing.

All this is helped by a star-studded cast - Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Hugh Grant, Colin Farrell, Eddie Marsan - none of whom put a foot wrong. Hugh Grant is almost unrecognisable as the slimy journalist: a great departure from the shy, nerdy roles he is known for.

Highly recommended.

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
(2020)

Entertaining
Harley Quinn and the Joker have split up. This leaves Harley Quinn isolated as the Joker will no longer protect her. In this vulnerable state she inadvertently stumbles into a plot by crime lord Roman Sionis to become the most powerful person in Gotham City.

I guess this puts me in the minority but I enjoyed the Suicide Squad. Maybe it's because I generally don't like superhero movies and it seemed different to the standard formulaic stuff trundled out: more comedic, less serious, less super-powers mumbo jumbo. Harley Quinn, played by Margot Robbie, was a stand-out character in Suicide Squad so it is no surprise that she now has her own movie.

This film continues in the same vein as Suicide Squad: more comedic, no super-powers. Plot is reasonably interesting and there is a reasonable amount of character engagement. It does become a rather formulaic action movie towards the end, taking some of the lustre off proceedings.

Margot Robbie is, once again, great as Harley Quinn: wonderfully over-the-top, dynamic and funny. Ewan McGregor is excellent and almost steals the show as the villain, Roman Stoinis: great intensity. Good support by Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya and Jurnee Smollett as Black Canary.

The disappointment is Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Huntress. She is a fine actress but here seems miscast, as her character just seems so lifeless and unengaging. It might not entirely be her fault though: Huntress's character isn't developed and is easily the least-formed of all the main characters. Her dialogue is quite badly written too.

Overall, not brilliant but entertaining enough.

Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive
(2016)

Interesting and edifying
The life and death of the famed, and notorious, writer and poet Edgar Allan Poe. He was more than a writer of horror stories (albeit some of the most famous and revered horror stories ever written).

Interesting and edifying documentary on the great, and misunderstood, Edgar Allan Poe. The public perception of him is formed by his most well-known works, the vast majority of which were dark and macabre. His reputation was also sullied by his literary rivals (and one in particular) who sought to denigrate him after his death.

This documentary sets the record straight.

Mysterious Island
(2010)

Incredibly bad: Jules Verne deserves far better than this
March 1865. A group of Union soldiers escape from Confederate hands in a balloon, accompanied by their former Confederate captor. The balloon crashes on a sinister island, complete with strange malevolent creatures, pirates...and people from the year 2012.

Ostensibly based on Jules Verne's classic novel but, if it is, it must be very loosely based, as there is no way Jules Verne wrote even 5% of this crap. (Unfortunately, I haven't read Verne's novel, so can't comment with any authority on how closely this movie does follow the book). Bad in every way: plot, dialogue, acting. Even the historical references are inaccurate!

Monumentally cringeworthy. Avoid like the plague.

The Social Dilemma
(2020)

You're the product
A documentary on how social media platforms use your interactions in order to promote things to you. This data and resulting analysis forms the basis for what you see in your news feed, impacting your thoughts, views and actions.

Excellent documentary, highlighting the addictiveness and manipulativeness of social media. Former employees, many of them with senior roles, from a variety of media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google, Pinterest, among others) detail how social media companies mine your data in order to, using sophisticated algorithms, determine what shows up on your screen. The aim is to increase advertising revenue. Essentially they're selling you to the advertiser, making you the product, not the customer.

The documentary also shows how this impacts your thoughts and behaviours, as you end up only seeing news and views that reinforce your pre-existing views, rather than challenging them, leading to a polarisation of society.

The points made in the interviews are illustrated with a mini-drama involving a family, showing how the children spend far too much time staring at their phones and how social media shapes their self-image and confidence and distorts their perceptions.

All in all it's a very thought-provoking, sobering, challenging examination of the world we live in.

A Stranger Is Watching
(1982)

Mediocre crime-thriller
Fairly mediocre, common-or-garden crime-thriller. Nothing new or really original. Performances are OK, but you feel they are just going through the motions.

A Dog's Way Home
(2019)

Sweet, emotional film
A stray puppy, Bella, is taken in by young man, Lucas. Everything seems to be going fine but Lucas has annoyed a property developer who uses his connections to have Bella impounded. In order for Lucas to prevent Bella from being permanently locked up, Lucas sends her to live with another family over 600 kms away. However, Bella is determined to find her way home.

Sweet, emotional movie about a boy and his dog, told from the dog's perspective. Hardly original - movies like Lassie Come Home (1943) and The Incredible Journey (1963) have covered the central plot before - but it works, very well.

Having the story told from the dog's perspective helps too, as does some delightfully funny scenes. There's a wonderful warmth and engagement to proceedings.

Highly recommended, especially for dog lovers.

McHale's Navy
(1964)

Doesn't work
McHale's Navy was, most famously a TV series, and it shows in this movie. This movie has that sitcom feel: cram as many laughter attempts into as short a time as possible, with a random plot and no character development. Plus the humour is generally quite juvenile.

This all doesn't lend itself well to the longer format.

The Train
(1964)

Interesting WW2 movie
Interesting WW2 movie. Very original, though improbable, plot. Good action and suspense, which is maintained well throughout.

Good performances from Burt Lancaster in the lead role and Paul Scofield as the German Colonel.

The Three Stooges
(2012)

Meh
Not as bad as I expected, but still misses the mark. Has some great laugh-out-loud moments, but is mostly pretty lame. Really doesn't do the Three Stooges brand much favours.

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