Deftly acted character study and slice of Romanian life
A Romanian drama; A story about a young man who visits his father to arrange a surprise reunion with the rest of the family that his father has neglected all his life. This road movie has a theme about emotional baggage and the complications of a broken home, and how adultery figures in the context of father-son relationship. But, more plainly it is about two men, father and son, who are running away from their own partner issues for a day. The humorous moments, thanks to a brilliant performance by Adrian Titieni, make this film very watchable. Equally, the reactions from the cast around him are also superb which make this a vicarious pleasure and an enjoyable ride. The writing is meticulous and the conversations are organic and realistic and perfectly timed stream of consciousness. Sequences are intended to be immersive for the audience, unfolding naturally for effect and honesty, which is refreshing. Some scenes go beyond convention for their length, unhampered by editing, and connote a lack of meaning perhaps but they never outstay their welcome. All in all, this is a complex portrait of a typical Eastern European family set against some wonderful Romanian countryside in winter.
An Indian Hindi war biopic drama; A story about the life of Indian Army officer Vikram Batra, awarded for valour for his actions during the 1999 Kargil War, an armed conflict fought between India and Pakistan from May to July 1999 in the Kargil district of Jammu and Kashmir. The film outlines the affable and brave life of the soldier and pays homage to the hundreds of lives lost in Operation Vijay. However, it channels patriotism that limits the film's dramatic reach. The writer pounds the audience with dialogue about hero status when showing them would have sufficed. The surplus of scenes showing Batra facing ordnance and enemy fire forced spectacle to be the casualty. There are moving moments though, and nicely captured humour too, albethey confined to romantic interludes in Batra's civilian life. As for the war itself, there are some beautifully photographed landscapes and the action set-pieces are well choreographed in foreground. All in all, the film is watchable, flourishing in parts and the performances are all very good, but the direction is uneven.
An American-British romantic adventure; A story about Robin Hood and Maid Marian, characters in English folklore. Set twenty years after his legendary adventures, Robin, approaching middle-age, is re-acquainted with Marian. But when he learns she has been arrested by the Sheriff of Nottingham, Robin faces his old nemesis one last time. A sublimely expressive spectacle of bittersweet nostalgia. It has solid characters, a good plot, good visual pacing, the historical imagery is clean, and it has a moving soundtrack from John Barry. However, it tends to stay within its story premise without fully exploring the themes it touches on i.e. End of youth, high romance, death, and simple human compassion. The funny asides are enjoyable, but if the director had exerted more control the film would have been more tonally consistent. Instead it was tragicomedy and a bit betwixt-and-between. Connery and Hepburn have a wonderful chemistry though - the depth of feeling to the characters' rekindled courtship is touching. They are grounded in the reality of quarrels and jealousy, yet reaching many moments of passion and affection that are a joy to watch.
A missionary walked out of Hiroshima to enlightenment
A German documentary; An interesting and unusual story about inter-religious dialogue, namely Zen Buddhism and Mystic Christianity. It is compelling for its illustration of how religions can learn from one another, and brings to the fore an attempt of one man, Hugo Makibi Enomiya-Lassalle (1898-1990), a Jesuit and Zen teacher, who devoted his life to the cause of pioneering Buddhist-Christian dialogue. The film is imaginative and creative in its various imagery and apologue animations, and insights from contributing religious teachers. It shows the wisdom of Lasalle and his task: the integration of Zen and Christianity, but also the conflict he encountered, the external criticism he received, and internalised self-doubt he harboured. Its realistic vision for the future resonates, and the balance of the narrative holds the viewer's attention right to the end.
An American horror; A story about the arrival of a mysterious baby boy to a couple who keep their discovery quiet. Growing up, the child begins to have urges that provide a grave danger to all. The film has story elements resembling the Superman story and other superhero tropes. The film has some effective moments and the actors gave some good performances, but an interesting premise, alas, gave way to a predictable plot. Some sequences felt like a film trailer playing out such was their lack of fluency. The sense of dread and foreboding was unsustained to be replaced by derivative action sequences, slash horror, and gore. A cynical film with the main character meting out violence draining the film of anything meaningful to say.
Functions as entertainment but with some false notes
An American drama; A story about four teenage friends brutalized by the guards at a reform school; two of the four grow up to be hit men and commit a crime on a guard for which they are to be prosecuted, but they have allies in their quest for release. This is a film based on a true story but not corroborated by the New York authorities. Nevertheless, it is a powerful, sad, and haunting story about abuse. The story itself is compelling viewing with some good supporting performances, particularly from De Niro and Hoffman and it is well structured, and photographed well. The criminal acts in the film have a disturbing subtext and deserved better treatment tonally, not least in the ending which is a distinct false note. Concentrating the drama on the parts played by Patric and Pitt and not the defendants in the third act supports one view, that the morality it searches for is on shaky ground.
An American sci-fi adventure. A story about an astronaut who has to make a three-year journey home to Earth, cutting short the first manned mission to explore the moons of Jupiter. This is a low budget film with an interesting premise about solitude which offers a modicum of intrigue. It foregoes special effects and aims to create the sense of isolation and boredom and mental wellbeing of an astronaut on a deep space mission. To a degree it succeeds, but it dwells on the boredom of the astronaut so much that there are too many blank frames and scenes that feel like overkill; the inaction highlights a few inaccuracies and inconsistencies with space capsule design and conditions of habitation to the more discerning eye. The astronaut characters were not convincing as suitable personalities for deep space endurance; showing contrast between the two personalities was not done with much subtlety. Similarly, some of the ground staff that were portrayed were at odds with the professionalism we know of highly technical aeronautical flight direction staff. The film ends with a weak twist which may be unsatisfying for some and although it is thought-provoking, it leaves some unanswered questions. Khary Payton does a fairly good job of portraying a man who is near breaking point. There is a particularly spectacular scene showing Venus' atmosphere, which is welcome diversion. The film's sound effects and music add a lot to the story's mood and tone.
An American mystery horror; A story about a brother and sister who conceal a terrible secret from the teenager they have adopted, concerning a farmhouse deep in a forest. This is a splendid, heavy plotted thriller with grand passions and Freudian undertones dealing with madness, scandal, tyrannical possessiveness, and murder and much more. Edward G Robinson performs well as a tormented, crippled farmer. The film builds tension well and the longueurs during the build-up are not so noticeable. Some of the acting is melodramatic and it has a gamey feel; Miklos Rozsa's atmospheric score intrudes some of the sequences at times like a 'B' movie, but otherwise it has an appropriately macabre musical assist. The lighting and camerawork produces a tenebrous feel in some of the silvan scenes, but sometimes it is too dark. But, it is in the editing where the film is below par, bordering the atrocious in some scenes where continuity is out of kilter. All in all, an entertaining, eerie, pastoral psychodrama.
A British drama; A story about the French widow of an English soldier who offers her services to British Intelligence, sent undercover in Vichy France. This gripping, moving and grim fact-based melodrama is a daunting and vivid tale. Anna Nagle gives a brilliant performance, immersing herself in the role in the same way as many Method actors did in a later generation. Trevor Howard and Peter Ustinov are equally convincing. The film brings respect and patriotism to the telling, and although there is little mystery, the factual elements are sensitively handled for a true story.
An American Western; A story about a special Secret Service agent sent from Washington to investigate a land swindle scheme under the direction of a town boss. This is a buoyant and optimistic drama, but the dubbing of John Wayne singing was disappointing in effect. It has a cliched storyline but there's lots of action and stunts by Yakima Canutt, who also plays a henchman and is particularly good in the climactic punch-up with Wayne.
High on action, low on production value swashbuckler
An American action adventure; A story about a trio of Foreign Legionnaires who confront a mysterious Arab terrorist when their rescuer is framed for murder. This is a 70 minute movie edited from "The Three Musketeers", a 1933 film serial loosely based on Alexandre Dumas' famous 1844 novel. The film has some impressive period setting and good aerial acrobatics and diverting action sequences, but this feature is poorly constructed and choppy due to the scenes stitched together in poor dramatic flow, mostly unaided by musical theme. The editing only serves to magnify the stilted performances from most of the cast.
Familiar oater with swingin' fists and slingin' iron
An American Western; A story about two miners who strike gold, but corrupt officials plan to get their hands on the claim. The film is underwhelming, but strangely endurable and charming. It opens up in a corny way but there are some curious action scenes like a skating sequence on a sluce, a gruesome fight, and a chase involving a horse, train car, and a Model T car. George "Gabby" Hayes plays the comic sidekick, supplying feeble comedy to a young clean-cut hero, John Wayne, who is in high spirits here, but the rest of the cast are quite wooden.
Laboured re-enactment of a complex historical event
A British historical drama; A story set in 1819 about a cavalry and yeomanry charge on a peaceful protest of 100,000 people at St Peter's Field in Manchester, England. An impassioned telling of an important event in English history with a narrative of extensive exposition, rhetoric and political discourse. As an account based on facts it is selective, based on individual incidents that do not fully convey the true depth and seriousness of the situation running through England in post-Waterloo Britain. By lampooning high power to the degree it does dullens the overall dramatic tone. The first act becomes sluggish and it hardly recovers in the second, but the final act is an arresting sequence of action and suspense. The director sets a suitably dour scene of the impoverished people but the twangyness of the accents and over-indulgent mock-Northern expressions of some of the actors feel grating. Many of the performances seem lacking and Maxine Peake's delivery feels redundant at times in her over emphasis of local dialect. The film ends rather abruptly, failing to deal with the aftermath of the massacre. On the upside it holds a fascinating wealth of detail and the vividly recreated period backdrop, costumes and props lends a lot of authenticity. The cinematography, and in particular the natural daylight and candle light in the interior scenes, is sumptuous.
Thought provoking and absorbing with uneven direction
A British romantic sci-fi drama; A story about a discovery by scientists about vibrations that can be used to predetermine every aspect of human life; a man and a woman are incompatible but he is determined to prove science wrong. This film is a good example of the primacy of story in filmmaking. In spite of the uninspiring dialogue, unremarkable soundtrack, stilted acting, and its low budget and adequate production values, it comes out as a creditable film. The strength of its intriguing ideas and narrative structure is a credit to sci-fi and it doesn't suffer for the absence of visual and special effects and stunts that many producers resort to in this genre. Eleanor Wyld and Daniel Fraser as the adult lovers remain convincing and charming despite the script. The theme about the machinations of fate makes for interesting viewing but it drags its feet over a rocky conspiracy theory subplot.
A French-Italian thriller; A story about an expatriate American living peacefully on the French Riviera whose murky past comes back to haunt him; Based on the 1959 novel "Ride the Nightmare" by Richard Matheson, this is a routine revenge thriller that hardly conjures the drama of its title. Charles Bronson's presence keeps the interest for a long way into the second act with his laid back tough-guy persona. It has interesting locations, against which an interesting high-speed car chase ensues. But, all in all, the film creaks from slack direction, a familiar plot, and less than inspired casting in the supporting roles.
High octane actioner with an unaccustomed cruel edge
A British spy fantasy adventure; A story about a spy of the secret department of the British Secret Service who is asked to help with a secret mission to capture a notorious drug baron. Disobeying orders, he goes rogue, and undercover, to bring the criminal down from the inside. The 16th film in the series is grittier and more graphically violent; a tone suited to Timothy Dalton's brooding incarnation of Ian Fleming's superspy. His wrathful portrayal of the character, seething and hotheaded at times, is a departure from the light touch comedy of the past. While his performance produces lean tension, something is lost with fewer moments of humour; James Bond as a character is a shell with a background left unexplored. Also, the vestiges of the "gentleman spy" which made the films distinctive and attractive are mostly lost with Dalton. Crucially, as a Bond film it satisfies in special effects, gadgetry, and locations but it gets a little bogged down in narrative for an action film and many scenes don't reach a genuine frisson of excitement. Treated as a stand alone film, it is watchable, with a good lead performance, with impressive action sequences and a fiery climax. The direction lacks flair, and the storyline isn't altogether coherent for the showpiece stunts.
An American mystery adventure film; A story about an Air Transport Company pilot who pursues the mysterious saboteur responsible for the train crash which killed his father. The 'B' film serial ediited into one feature film later has a good flow of action and relies on the plane and train sequences to keep the interest early on but it dullens as the acts pass. The plot device of having the master criminal - a Pulp-style Master of Disguise - resemble every red herring in the large cast, turns this into a drab affair with plot turns on too many coincidences. Due to the fast pace it also didn't give any of the actors the opportunity to shine in their roles and they force it by overacting through dreary dialogue. John Wayne provides some athleticism but is occasionally ill-equipped to handle the dramatic scenes.
A Turkish drama; A story about an architect who is having a midlife crisis and visits his hometown in Northern Turkey and discovers that everything that was once familiar has now changed for the worse. The film has a theme about one man's search for spiritual redemption. It is a slowly paced tale and has a painterly feel but there are moments when it allows inertia to take hold when it should provide meaning through plot or character. There is power in the mood of loss and loneliness, but this lingers too much as does the landscape lensing.
An American sci-fi thriller; A story about a teenager and her father who travel through space to a distant moon aiming to strike it rich, but there are others aiming for the same riches and it devolves into a fight of survival.
This is a simple but effective psychological drama, interestingly observed and imaginatively set. Despite a laboured start establishing the theme with characters pushing buttons and winding up apparatus as filler, we get to the crux of the story and a detailed depiction of prospecting on an alien world. While the spectacle is minimalist it is an engrossing human story with an interesting plot on competitive advantage. The otherworldliness is captured from the beginning and sustains throughout and the lived-in style is not just necessary due to the budget restrictions, it is also skilfully achieved.
Picturesque but routine white hats vs black hats drama
An American Western; A story about a sheriff who follows a man he believes to be a thief, only to find his suspect is on the trail of a bandit who is part of a larger plot to starve the townsfolk of a nearby city. With perfunctory direction and a predictable plot this film has little to offer in terms of artistry though there are some new techniques in flash-pan movement of character movement. John Wayne is suitably impressive as the lawman and George "Gabby" Hayes as the sheriff shines. The film offers spectacular scenery captured in the location shots at Big Pine, California, which help to elevate it above its ploddy pacing.
An American comedy; A story about a New York working girl who travels to the American West on a bus tour and meets a handsome rodeo cowboy. This is a low-budget opposites attract romantic adventure. Jean Arthur and John Wayne don't exactly have screen chemistry but their amorous exchanges are entertaining and warm. There are the usual clichés of gambling, boozing and fighting of the West that meets the affectations of the East, but also some touching moments with the two oil and water characters. The problem is the story doesn't really go anywhere despite the journey.
An American Western; A story about a frontiersman who poses as an outlaw to infiltrate a band of outlaws in order to get close to their ringleader who murdered his father. This film is a remake of Partners of the Trail (1931). John Wayne has authority but labours through as the cowboy on a mission. The film fails to create enough atmosphere dispite the robust support from George "Gabby" Hayes as the sidekick. The plot is too convoluted and the chase scenes and shoots out feel lifeless because the characters are not allowed to develop fully.
An American Western; A story set in Nevada about a saddle tramp who goes in league with a US marshal to infiltrate rodeo racketeers who are secretly murdering any competitors so that thet collect all the prize money. Simultaneously lively and dull, this is a film with a simplistic dialogue and simplistic storyline. John Wayne struggles along in the embarrassing glare of low production values, resorting to showcase his trick riding skills. There is stock footage of a real rodeo, the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, which provides some interesting footage of good stuntwork, but otherwise this is an unremarkable oater.
An American Western; A story about three cowboys, The Three Mesquiteers, who convince a group of settlers to exchange their present properties for some which, unbeknownst to them, are going to be worthless. They are captured before they can warn the ranchers. The storyline is robust enough to be watchable. Jennifer Jones as the stereotypical prairie flower is a good distraction from the predictable plot. There are inconsistencies, such as in the timeline, and anachronisms such as period costumes, hairstyles and makeup, and with props and land structures. The set piece finale is short, unremarkable, and rushed.
An American Western; A story about a stagecoach of passengers in peril from the Apache on their journey across Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah border. The passengers are a drunken doctor, two women about whom not much is known, a bank manager under suspicion, and an escaped felon, but by the end of the journey they all learn something about each other. Based on Guy de Maupassant's story "Boule de Suif" this films strength is in its screenplay: while the journeying characters have vices and virtues, they are not as they first seem which creates drama and intrigue. The strength in the telling is a brilliant cast of support players. There is a marvellous set piece action sequence in the second act with very impressive stunts. While the film can be said to succeed in promoting an American ideal of mythmaking and equality, the depiction of native Americans is crude.