The Movies

A place for capsule film reviews.

The Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Metropolis
Inception
The Guard
Cowboys and Aliens
The Third Man
I Am Legend
The Spirit
Fearless
The Man Who Knew Too Much
Hero
The Manchurian Candidate
Once Upon A Time In China 2
Once Upon A Time In China (aka Wong Fei Hung)
Soylent Green
Bedknobs And Broomsticks
The Heiress
20th Century Boys: Part 1
Soylent Green
Avatar
Face Off
Humans (aka Humains)
Modesty Blaise
Robin B Hood (aka Bo bui gai wak
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Dark City (Thriller/Dark Future)
Achingly stylish and classy noir/sci-fi blend that’s streets ahead on dark, expressionistic visuals and cool special effects, although possibly occupying rather a well-ploughed furrow in terms of plot. It is carried by a top-notch cast including Rufus Sewell, Richard O’Brien, Kiefer Sutherland, William Hurt and Ian Richardson, and worth 100 minutes of any film fan’s time.
Monkey Magic: The Movie (Action/Asian Cinema)
A very entertaining remake of the iconic 70s Japanese TV series which popularised the Journey to the West legend so successfully in the UK. There’s nothing here whatsoever to upset fans – you’d hardly know Tripitaka and Sandy weren’t the originals and Monkey’s done particularly well. Two hours of silly, unadulterated, easy-on-the-eye entertainment. Recommended.
Rope (Mystery/Noir)
Worth watching for its place in film history – Hitchcock shot this stage-drama in 10-minute long takes and spliced them together with no editing. However the characters are unsympathetic to the point of causing revulsion and Hitchcock perennial James Stewart is miscast to the point of wrecking the film. One to see once, mark down as seen and move on.
Letter From An Unknown Woman (Melodrama)
Watchable but disturbing melodrama from little-known director Max Olphüs that features a powerful central performance from Joan Fontaine, playing a girl/woman in the grip of obsession and determined to throw away her life on a man who doesn’t deserve it. Like most melodramas it both celebrates and punishes its subject and this portrayal of feminine psychology is a particularly ugly one. However, the tricks used to age Fontaine from girlhood to adulthood are engaging. Probably one for fans of the genre, or those curious about the director, only.
Legend Of The Shadowless Swords (Asian Cinema)
Engaging melodrama in a particularly Korean vein – featuring a good dose of the Wuxia martial arts genre. It features the quest of a disinherited prince to come to terms with his inheritance and reclaim his stolen kingdom – and is based around a fable of how a forgotten kindness may return to change our life. Has not necessarily found favour fans but it features solid performances from the actors, a couple of particularly strong female roles and excellent martial arts choreography. Passed a couple of hours very entertainingly.
Our Man In Havana (Comedy)
You don’t know the meaning of black comedy until you’ve seen this bleak masterpiece from Carol Reed, already among my favourite film directors (and that was before I learned Daphne du Maurier wouldn’t marry him). Landmark performances from Noel Coward and Alec Guinness only add to its charms. I say charms. Its characters are lazy, venal and utterly self-interested misfits with few, if any, redeeming features. Its mood so exactly matches the cynicism of our own era that it is a treat – you’ll love it and be slightly shocked at yourself for so doing.
Strangers On A Train (Mystery/Thriller)
An item in the Hitchcock oeuvre which helps to define the master director’s work, and which is unmissable for students of his technique, fans of the era or film students in general. Also surprisingly modern in its tale of a celebrity who fails to deal with a pushy fan firmly enough and gets stuck with a particularly dangerous stalker as a consequence. Hitch, as ever, is brutal with his hero, playing by the rules of narrative in giving him an opportunity to steer clear of the whole mess, but making it so brief that only one in a hundred would snatch it. A proper must-see classic.
New York Stories
White Nights
The A-Team
The Go-Between
Key Largo
Scarface
The King’s Speech
Little Caesar
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Allan Quatermain And The Temple Of Skulls
The Pirates of Penzance
Jumanji
Public Enemy
Sweeney Todd: the demon barber of Fleet Street
Moon
Julie and Julia
The Bride With White Hair
Game over: Kasparov and the Machine
In Bruges
42nd Street
Hue and Cry
Ringers: Lord Of The Fans
The Mask of Zorro
A big chunk of pretty, silly, enjoyable nonsense.
The Wrestler
A bravura performance from Mickey Rourke as a washed-up wrestler whose life is heading at full speed down a railway siding with nothing in the world that he can do to put the brakes on. Casting, acting, writing and photography are all superb, making an affecting, emotional and profoundly moving whole. You probably don’t need to be a fan of the sport to enjoy it, either, since it is a morality tale full of big, deeply human lessons. Rourke’s performance is superb and almost can’t be praised enough. It’s certainly not an easy film, and it’s distinctly low-budget, but it is nevertheless pretty much a great one.
Steamboy
Impressive Japanese anime from the makers of Akira using innovative technique of photorealistic backgrounds to give added depth and impact to the film. Accurate to the point of genre-defining, this steampunk epic includes an odd combination of Japanese and Victorian English sensibilities (including a very funny Mancunian accent for the young eponymous hero) and the obligatory big apocalyptic climax that wrecks half of London and requires Her Majesty’s Redcoats to sort it all out. Of course, animation is the perfect medium. If you like either steampunk or innovative film-making this is pretty much a must. Well worth the time spent watching it.
The Forbidden Kingdom (martial arts)
If only all films were made like this. Fantastic cast, fantastic premise and beautiful camerawork. The story is based on the Chinese epic Journey To The West and the legend of The Monkey King immortalised for so many of us who came home from school during the 1980s to watch Masaaki Sakai and Masako Natsume on the telly. It features the first-ever screen partnership between martial arts screen legends Jet Li and Jackie Chan and as such is a must-see. It tells the story of Boston teen Jason Tripitakas (yep, that’s right) who falls into ancient China at a point of crisis in his life with a quest he must solve to return home. This is everything that cinema should be – thrilling, engaging, visually stunning. A must-watch.
Beowulf (fantasy/epic)
Vastly ambitious project that manages to remain just this side of risible. As an experiment in motion-capture animation it is indifferently successful at best – the actors have all the expression of Second Life avatars, and also implausibly square heads. The story has been fiddled with to make it a melodrama. And you are constantly watching out of the corner of your eye for the cast of Erik the Viking to stroll in, being irreverent. Still, the writers deserve a cheer for getting the actual spoken verse on screen in places and in particular for a lovely narrative sequence underwater that establishes the hero’s character with impressive economy. But I’d much rather see skilful camerawork and actual emotions crossing an actor’s face.
JFK
A confused and unsatisfying mess of a film that seems intent on cramming in every single conspiracy theory ever dreamed up on the subject of Kennedy’s assassination, and which comes across as stupid and undiscriminating as a result. This was firmly in the ‘I wasted two hours’ column and didn’t leave me feeling that I’d learned a single useful fact about the historical events. Kevin Costner does do a workmanlike job but otherwise the advice is avoid, avoid, avoid as it’s two hours you’ll otherwise never see again.
State of Play
Erin Brockovitch
Watchmen, Tales of the Black Freighter
The Magnificent Ambersons
The Machinist
Dean Spanley
The Quatermass Experiment
Persepolis
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Le Mans
Don’t Look Now
Akira
To Kill A Mockingbird
Man On Wire
A stunning documentary, based on wire-walker Philip Petit’s book on the same subject, describing his unauthorised 1974 trip between the rooves of New York’s Twin Towers.
Lagaan
The best film about cricket ever made. Also, a mind-blowing four-hour Bollywood spectacular which no fan of the genre, or anyone interested in it, should even consider missing. It’s almost beyond words, except to say that it stars heart-throb Aamir Khan, who also produced it, and should be read in conjunction with Chris England’s making-of book Balham to Bollywood. England was an actor who played a bit of cricket. As a handy batsman, he was naturally cast as homicidal fast bowler Yardley, well-assisted by some spectacular facial hair from the costume department, and his account of the filming is compelling reading.
X-Files: I Want to Believe
It’s what we all wanted to happen, and now it has. Scully has a nice, respectable job as a doctor while Mulder sits in his den cultivating a wild beard and throwing pencils at the ceiling. The suggestion is that the den is adjacent to whatever living quarters Scully returns to during her brief respites from caring for dying children. Can they take the roadster for one last spin? This was like meeting old friends and finding out that everything had turned out unexpectedly well for them. In other words, perfectly safe to watch if you were ever a fan.
The X-Files: Fight the Future
It could have been so much worse. As series devotees who gave up at the end of season five, on the grounds that something that good didn’t need to be spoiled, we were looking to ease our withdrawal symptoms with a little movie action and to watch this as a kind of coda rather than the season-bridging extended episode it was intended for. We didn’t come away traumatised. And the explosion at the beginning is kind of spectacular.
Three Colours trilogy
A re-watch of all three films – this time knowing what the twist would be, and also with access to the extensive special features and director interviews that came with the DVDs. Confirmed in our view that these are substantial and important films which almost instantly won recognition as part of the movie canon, where they deservedly belong. And so beautifully photographed. If you haven’t seen them, you must, preferably now.
Bride and Prejudice
Spectacular and colourful Bollywood rendition of the timeless story of Lizzie Bennet and Mr Darcy and, unexpectedly, it works remarkably well. All the big song-and-dance numbers you’d expect, but also enough plot and actorly engagement to keep the ship afloat. Close on two hours, but it’s time well spent.

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