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Reviews

Galaxy Quest
(1999)

Good fun
The sci fi series Galaxy Quest was a hit about 17 years ago and still has a very large fan base. Amongst these are an alien people who think the series is a documentary. They contact the cast in the hope of getting them to crew their spaceship against their bitter enemy. Soon the cast of Galaxy Quest are fighting for their lives in an inter-galactic war.

Good sci fi-comedy. Parodies typical sci fi series like Star Trek (especially) and the fans of such series. Not just a parody, is a fun comedy-adventure too.

Slick writing and solid direction are complemented by a star-studded cast. We have Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Sam Rockwell and Tony Shalhoub in the main roles but even the supporting cast includes Justin Long and Rainn Wilson, both acting in their first movie.

Very entertaining, while it's a comedy. At times it does take itself seriously as a drama and it's then that it is weak, as the action-drama side is pretty unoriginal and predictable.

Overall, not brilliant but good fun.

Koe no katachi
(2016)

Wonderful, profound themes, explored in a lethargic, unfocussed manner
A deaf girl, Shoko, joins a new school and is immediately the target of the class bully, Shoya. This causes her to leave the school and him to become ostracised by his classmates. A few years pass and Shoya sets out to find Shoko and redeem himself.

A movie with some great themes: (anti-)bullying, treatment of people with disabilities, tolerance, friendship, forgiveness and redemption. My only worry before watching this was that these would be handled in a trite, moralistic, patronising manner. Turns out the morals of the story are handled reasonably sensitively and in a non-condescending way. There are other problems though.

It started quite well, showing the background to the issue between Shoko and Shoya, building an engagement with the characters and a degree of intrigue around how Shoya would resolve the issue. However, from a point the plot just drifts. By this time there's already a large degree of resolution to proceedings and it's as if the writer and director were just padding the script.

Some of the sub-plots they use to kill time are a bit silly and some of the characters introduced a bit irritating. I was then hoping for a final portion to the film that then regained focus and tied everything up but this didn't happen. While there are one or two emotional moments the film fizzles out, rather than ends on a high note.

A pity, as this had heaps of potential, was very well-meant and started very well.

Phantom Thread
(2017)

Not your average romance
London, 1950s. Reynolds Woodcock is a famous dressmaker, counting royalty amongst his clients. A confirmed bachelor, he starts a relationship with Alma. It's initially a very one-sided, controlled relationship with him holding all the cards but Alma has other ideas.

A film that I just took for your average romantic drama until I realised that it was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (of Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood, The Master and Punch-Drunk Love fame, amongst others). Anderson's films are hardly ever conventional and when you throw in the fact that it stars Daniel Day-Lewis who's incredibly choosy with this roles (and starred in Anderson's There Will Be Blood) this looked like it might be something different.

Turns out its not conventional...but that doesn't necessarily make it great. It started off like a normal romantic drama though, making the first half reasonably lethargic (to the extent that I contemplated giving up). At a point, however, it takes an interesting and unexpected turn, ratcheting up the intensity and intrigue. From here on all manner of plot developments and conclusions were possible.

Unfortunately the path Anderson chooses to go down is one of more predictable and less satisfying or powerful ones. The film ends up back where it started, as a romantic drama, but with a mildly interesting twist.

All this makes for a film that's a bit of a roller-coaster ride in terms of engagement: the initial dull romance period, the intense, intriguing relationship machinations, psychological warfare period and then back to the romantic drama.

Ultimately I can't say I was disappointed as it was better than your average romantic drama, which is what I was initially expecting. Still, the third quarter gave me hope that this would turn out to be something brilliant, which it wasn't.

I can't fault the performances though. Daniel Day-Lewis is superb, as you'd expect. This is likely his final role - he subsequently announced his retirement from acting - and he duly got an Oscar nomination for his efforts. Relatively-unknown Vicky Krieps more than holds her own as Alma and Lesley Manville got an Oscar nomination for her performance as Cyril, Reynolds's sister.

Pather Panchali
(1955)

Much potential but doesn't work for me
Apu lives with his parents and sister in a small village in Bengal. Their everyday existence is a struggle and they have to resort to all manner of means to get by.

The central plot of this film was appealing: the conditions people live under and how they get by - a raw, uncompromising look at life. Yet, for me, it never seems to fulfil its potential.

The main problem is that the whole movie feels like scene-setting. You expect a fair amount of time to be spend initially showing the background but then plot development should occur. There's very little plot development, resulting in the movie feeling like it is just drifting aimlessly.

It also didn't help that I didn't find the main characters very engaging.

Throw in an irritating soundtrack - how much sitar music do you need? - and it's a bit of a slog to get through. I even turned off the sound for a long stretch to avoid the soundtrack.

Mortal Kombat
(2021)

Generic modern action film
Even worse than I imagined. From the outset this is just your usual modern game/comic-based action film. Plot is basic and unoriginal and just geared towards taking you to the next action sequence. Action is the usual gravity-defying martial arts stuff.

Performances are weak but don't really matter as there is very little time required for actual acting. CGI is good but that's what you'd expect.

Very weak.

Z
(1969)

Slow start, powerful ending
After speaking at a rally, a left-wing politician is attacked and later dies. The police, who viewed the politician as a threat to society, call the incident an accident. Even when the two perpetrators are caught the police minimize the charge. However, the investigating magistrate is determined to discover the truth.

A powerful, profound film that examines topics like injustice, fascism and high-level criminality.

It initially didn't look like it was going to be that great though. The first hour is sluggish and unengaging, just detailing events. While you empathise with the victims no central character emerges and there's really nobody to support. It looks like it's going to be a rather dry, dull affair.

This changes in the second half as the magistrate gets into his work. The second half is riveting viewing as the pieces fall into place. This leads to a powerful ending that also contains a very profound twist.

Great drama.

Causalidad
(2021)

Initial intrigue turns to tedium
The initial setup for this movie is intriguing - a woman kidnapped but by whom and to what end? However the writer and director squander this solid base with a plot that is random and unfocussed. The film just drifts throughout and what plot development there is doesn't make much sense.

As for the this being lauded for being shot in a single sequence, if that's the best thing about the movie clearly there's not much else to it.

Dick Tracy
(1990)

All style, no substance
All style, no substance. Great visual effects, but boring story, badly told.

Dull performance from Warren Beatty in the lead role. Only positive is the over-the-top intense performance from Al Pacino, as the arch-villain Big Boy Caprice.

Dersu Uzala
(1975)

Beautifully told and shot but requires a fair amount of patience
In 1902 a Russian army officer and his squad are tasked with exploring and mapping a remote part of Siberia. On their travels they meet a local hunter, Dersu Uzala, an old man determined to live his life in isolation. At their request he becomes their guide and over time a friendship forms between the officer and Dersu.

A very un-Kurosawaesque Akira Kurosawa film. For one it's filmed in Russia, in Russian. Based on a true story, Kurosawa had wanted to make this film since the 1950s but struggled to adapt it to a Japanese setting. Ultimately he got to make it in its ideal setting: in Russia, with Russian actors.

It's also filmed in colour, a rarity for Kurosawa films.

The finished product is beautifully shot and told, the story of a friendship that spanned several years and encompassed many adventures. It's also the story of a clash of lifestyles and outlooks: the urbane, rational soldier vs the superstitious and unsophisticated yet incredibly in-tune with nature hunter. Yet despite their different ages, backgrounds and outlooks the two are good friends and make a great combination.

On the downside, the film is unnecessarily long. Every scene is drawn out excessively, resulting in a fair amount of patience being required to get through the whole film. It ends quite emotionally, giving you some reward for your patience, but it can be a slog at times.

Shin seiki Evangelion Gekijô-ban: Air/Magokoro wo, kimi ni
(1997)

Even worse than your usual anime film
Being an anime drama I largely knew what to expect from this: random plot, sci fi / fantasy elements that are overly complex in order to hide the weak plot, sexualised teens / kids. This has all that in spades but then takes the absurdity and crappiness up to the next level by having long dream / fantasy sequences that are, at best, random and gratuitous.

By the end these scenes consume the film so it is just one long, nonsensical sequence of random settings, images and scenes. In the beginning, while the plot was very weak there was at least some semblance of one and the action sequences were reasonably interesting. By the end it has gone from mediocre to ridiculously pretentious and bad.

The Unforgiven
(1960)

Less than the sum of its parts
Two families, Zachary and Rawlins, are neighbours on the Texas frontier. Their peaceful co-existence is shattered when a strange old man informs them that Rachel Zachary is an Indian, stolen from the local Kiowa tribe during a raid by the settlers. This appears to be borne out when a Kiowa warrior approaches the Zacharys, wanting his sister returned to the tribe.

A film that, on paper, looks like it should be great: directed by the legendary John Huston, starring Burt Lancaster, Audrey Hepburn, Audie Murphy and Lillian Gish, based on a book by Alan Le May, who also wrote The Searchers. Yet it doesn't work.

From the outset you realise that Audrey Hepburn is miscast. It's not even the fact that she's supposed to be a native American, which is a whole discussion in itself, but the fact that westerns clearly aren't for her. She effectively gets to play her usual sort of role, a la Breakfast at Tiffany's and Roman Holiday, but in a rough western drama setting. The whole sweet, innocent, quirky routine which was so adorable in those films is jarringly out of place here. No wonder then that this was her only western.

Then there's the plot. The first 40 minutes or so are very dull and largely padding. Yes, it was meant to sketch the background but the scene setting was massively overdone. Once the film gets going you think it is going to be a condemnation of racism and intolerance and a balanced look at the conflict between the settlers and the native Americans. Far from it, as the Indians are cast as the villains and there's no profundity at all. This is disappointing as I figured the Indians had a point and weren't necessarily in the wrong (and I'm not the sort of person to go looking for woke outcomes or some reason to be offended by a movie's plot choices).

Throw in a score that's remarkably inappropriate, e.g. Playing a jaunty, comedic tune while someone is being murdered, and this film is tonally off the mark.

Very disappointing.

Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo
(1966)

Okay
OK, but certainly not the classic it is made out to be. Drifts a lot, and the plot isn't always very coherent. Desperately in need of editing, clocking in at nearly three hours.

Clint Eastwood does his usual cool, silent routine, and does it well. Supporting cast are pretty poor though - fairly hammy performances all round.

Wrath of Man
(2021)

Another great crime drama from Guy Ritchie
An Englishman, Patrick Hill, gets a job at a Los Angeles cash transport company. His colleagues find him cold and mysterious but things change when he single-handedly foils an attempted hijack, killing six hijackers in the process. Maybe there's more to him than meets the eye.

Directed by Guy Ritchie, Wrath of Man has many of the Ritchie traits: a crime drama involving a heist or scam, a complex, multi-layered plot, edgy characters, heaps of violence and a decent twist or two.

The plot is quite intriguing, especially initially as we don't know much about Hill and his background. Ritchie drip feeds information and slowly the pieces start to fall into place. Even towards the end when it looks like the plot is going to progress in predictable fashion there are some great twists to keep you guessing.

Solid performances from a cast that includes Jason Statham, Scott Eastwood, Josh Hartnett, Holt McCallany (of Mindhunter fame) and Eddie Marsan. Great action sequences and production values round off a highly entertaining film.

Drive Angry
(2011)

Better than expected
Better than I expected, though loses some points towards the end. Has the style of a B-grade 70s action movie, but with much better production values and acting. Started off very well - intriguing, gritty and edgy - and manages to sustain the interest until almost the end. Unravels a bit towards the end, getting random and explosion-orientated.

Decent performances from Nicholas Cage and Amber Heard. However, Willian Fichtner, as The Accountant, steals the show.

Ultimately, a cheapish-feeling but reasonably entertaining movie.

The History Boys
(2006)

Disappointing
Dead Poets Society this is not. Not profound at all, and the comedy was rather thin.

Rambling plot, trite stereotypical characters, easy laughs, themes left half-explored. Quite disappointing.

Hitler's Circle of Evil
(2018)

Interesting, educational documentary series
A history of the senior membership of the Nazi Party - Hitler's inner circle - from their history prior to the formation of the Nazi party, the origins of the party in the 1920s and Hitler's ascent to power in the 1930s to the party's demise in WW2 and what happened to them after that.

An interesting and quite educational documentary on one of the most despicable regimes and groups of individuals in history. Started a bit slowly as we see the origins of the party and the backstories of the different characters. I was also expecting a docudrama - a dramatized, Sopranos-like telling of the story - so was a bit disappointed when it was a narrated documentary with actors.

However, the engagement does increase as the series progresses, largely due to the Machiavellian schemes and in-fighting between the characters. Considering how evil all these people were it's not that surprising how self-serving they were and that would try to undermine each other at every turn.

By the end it is riveting viewing, especially as WW2 progresses and we know their comeuppance is on the horizon.

Quel maledetto treno blindato
(1978)

Mildly entertaining
France, 1944. A group of American military prisoners escape from the military police and head for the Swiss border. Along the way they meet up with a group of French Resistance fighters who mistake them for a US Special Forces team. Now they have a vital mission to complete.

The film from which Quentin Tarantino got the title of his 2009 movie. Beyond that and the fact that they involve a group of American soldiers operating behind German lines there is no similarity between the two films, plot- or quality-wise.

While Tarantino's film is brilliant, this is mediocre at best. This is essentially a Spaghetti WW2 Drama, a Spaghetti Western set in WW2. All the hallmarks of a Spaghetti Western are there: the random, implausible plot, the gung ho action sequences, the very hammy performances and the laughably poor production values.

In addition, not only do we have badly-dubbed English dialogue over Italian / non-English-speaking actors we have the same for American actors! It's as if the Americans were dubbed into Italian and then redubbed into English. Badly.

However, like many Spaghetti Westerns it is reasonably entertaining, in a mindless sort of way. It's okay, as long as you don't think too much (at all, in fact).

Galaxy of Terror
(1981)

Generic alien-horror film
A fairly generic alien-horror film, made to cash in on the rise of that genre in the early 80s. Standard, predictable plot, basic direction and effects, mediocre performances. This despite having some decent names in the cast: Robert Englund (pre-Nightmare on Elm Street and fame), Ray Walston, Sid Haig.

Not worth watching.

The Adventures of Tintin
(1991)

Wonderfully entertaining
The global adventures of young Belgian reporter Tintin and his faithful dog Snowy. Often assisting him in his endeavours are his friends Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus. Bumbling detectives Thompson and Thomson do their best to help.

A wonderfully entertaining TV series. Very faithfully to the original comics written by Hergé. I loved the comics as a kid and, while it has been a while since I read the comics, the adaptations here seem very unadulterated, like exact moving picture replicas of the comics. The artwork is pretty much exactly like the Hergé's originals.

While it is meant for kids, the stories can easily be enjoyed by adults too. There's great creativity on display plus some wonderful light-hearted moments too.

NewsRadio
(1995)

Great comedy
Dave Nelson takes over as news director at a radio station in New York. His staff are an odd assortment, all with particular quirks and idiosyncrasies. Dave seems to have his work cut out and starts to regret taking up the offer. However, managing them may be difficult but it will be fun.

Great comedy from the 1990s. Clever gags and punchlines and topical references mixed with some good slapstick make for a funny and fun show. A zany take on everyday life in a radio station.

The writing is aided by a great cast that includes Dave Foley, Maura Tierney, Phil Hartman and Stephen Root. Guest stars included Lauren Graham, Patrick Warburton, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross all of which enhanced the show.

The show did lose some of its lustre in Season 5 after Phil Hartman was replaced by Jon Lovitz (after Hartman's untimely death). Hartman's character, Bill McNeal, was the best thing about the show and Lovitz is not in Hartman's league. His character was also a bit irritating. It's no surprise then that the show was cancelled after Season 5.

The Last Duel
(2021)

Great, original film that gets better and better the further into it you get
France, late-14th century. Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris were friends but a series of disagreements has soured their relationship. These animosities are stoked to deadly feud when de Carrouges's wife, Marguerite, accuses Le Gris of raping her. When all other avenues of justice are exhausted, de Carrouges takes the only option left to him: a duel to the death.

Great drama, directed by Ridley Scott and written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Ridley Scott's first film as a director was "The Duellists" (1977). Set during the Napoleonic era, two French army officers engage in a series of duels over a period of 15 years over a matter of honour. From the basic description I saw of The Last Duel I expected this to be a rehash of that so set my expectations accordingly.

Turns out The Last Duel is very different to The Duellists and thankfully so (not that The Duellists was bad - in fact it's a great film - but because a remake of it would be fairly boring). It starts conventionally enough: over a span of 16 years we see de Carrouges's view of the sequence of events. As this sets the scene for the remainder of the movie the de Carrouges part is mildly interesting but not overly engaging. At this point the film seemed like just another feud-leading-to-climactic-fight-scene.

What happens next elevates the film above that. We now see the events of the last 16 years from Le Gris's perspective. De Carrouges no longer looks like the saintly hero and Le Gris could be the one we're supposed to root for. The film is now looking like a Rashomon-type movie, i.e. Different perspectives, which one is correct?

However, it is the final part, Marguerite's view, that elevates the film to greatness. While Le Gris's view made the film intriguing it ends with any ambiguity to the course of events extinguished. This is where Scott, Damon and Affleck missed a trick - by making it clear what the truth is so soon they remove the mystery from the plot.

In the long run it doesn't matter too much as it is soon clear that the main theme is not of a feud, honour satisfied or how different people can have different perspectives of the same event but one of injustice. Marguerite's part is incredibly powerful and engaging and makes for compelling viewing.

This is all rounded off with a brutally realistic fight scene at the end. I can't think of a film that has shown medieval fighting depicted so accurately or graphically.

Ultimately a very well made, intelligent, highly original film with multiple layers and themes. Production values are excellent: every detail seems exactly like it would have been in the 14th century. All this makes for an incredibly realistic, historically accurate film.

Performances are spot on: Matt Damon (as de Carrouges), Adam Driver (as Le Gris) and Jodie Comer (as Marguerite) are excellent in the lead roles. Ben Affleck is almost unrecognisable as Count Pierre d'Alençon and puts in a solid performance. (His appearance was a bit distracting though: he kept reminding me of Will Ferrell's character in Zoolander!).

Also interesting to see Alex Lawther (of "The End of the ... World" fame) as King Charles VI. He provides some of the lighter moments of the film as he often seems to find deadly serious, life-and-death moments quite amusing. King Charles VI was only 16-18 years old at the time so I thought this was to show that he was really just a boy, out of his depth. Turns out this wasn't just there for levity but was a realistic portrayal of King Charles VI's character as he was known to have suffered from mental illness and psychosis. Yet another example of the historical accuracy involved.

D-Day 360
(2014)

Interesting
A detailed look at Operation Overlord: the Allied invasion of German-occupied Normandy on 6 June 1944. Given particular coverage is the infrastructure and logistics of the invasion, from the construction of the German bunkers to the amount of munitions the Allies expended and the success of this expenditure.

Reasonably interesting. I have a comprehensive knowledge of Operation Overlord but was intrigued by this as the summary claimed it would look closely at the numbers involved, in particular the logistics involved. It does that but it isn't as interesting as I thought it would be. Rather than give the numbers some meaning they are largely just quoted, so the relevance is understated.

For someone who doesn't know much about the operation this will be quite edifying. For me there were some elements that were new but it was largely stuff I already knew.

Don't Look Up
(2021)

Funny and chillingly accurate and plausible
Two astronomers discover a massive comet heading towards Earth. The comet will wipe out mankind in six months' time if nothing is done about it. They manage to gain an audience with the US President, land on TV talk shows and have their story printed in the media but everyone seems to have other priorities.

On the surface a disaster movie in the vein of Armageddon or Deep Impact. However, it is not just that and is far better than that.

Written and directed by Adam McKay (The Big Short, Vice, The Other Guys, Anchorman), Don't Look Up is a funny, accurate examination of the warped priorities and agendas of the people who have the largest control over our lives. Politicians care more about how something will impact their polling numbers than saving mankind, the media cares more about finding something slanderous on a person than alerting people to imminent destruction, talk shows care more about sensationalism, the personal lives of vapid pop stars and on putting on a happy face than on news that actually matters to people, corporate opportunists who use even a planet-destroying disaster to make a profit and in so doing increase the danger (and how the politicians fall in line behind them).

It is all quite chillingly accurate and plausible: from experience you can relate to the misguided, self-absorbed agendas of these institutions and individuals and the powerlessness and irritation you feel in having to deal with them and their decisions.

It is so close to home that it sometimes makes the film irritating to watch: you'd rather not be reminded how incompetent, superficial, self-servicing and nefarious the government, media etc are, how they screw up your life on a regular basis and how likely it is that they will eventually wipe out mankind.

All this makes for a film that is one part hilariously funny and another part scarily serious and confronting. Unlike some other movies I did not find this mix of comedy and drama jarring. In fact, the humour helps point out the absurdity of it all.

By the way, keep watching until the very end. There's two scenes woven into/after the credits that are worth sticking around for.

A World of Worlds
(2020)

Incredibly bad
Absolutely nothing good, or even half-decent, about this film. Weak, random plot that makes very little sense. Direction to match the inane plot. Poor production values. Next-level-hammy performances.

Avoid.

Boudica: Rise of the Warrior Queen
(2019)

A subject deserving of a far better film
A few films have been made of the adult life of Boudica, the warrior queen who led a revolt against Roman rule in Britain. A good film on her rise to being The Warrior Queen would be interesting. Unfortunately, this is not that film: it covers that subject but is not a good film.

The central plot is okay but hardly makes for compelling viewing. Some unnecessary sub-plots weaken the overall effort (but without them the film would be too short!). There is some engagement with characters but the performances, including that of Ella Peel as Boudica, limit that.

Production values are okay, as are the action scenes, what there are. For a film on the making of one of Britain's most famous warriors there's not that many action/battle scenes.

Disappointing.

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