Mini-movie reviews

The problem is that I watch more movies than I have time to review in full, though most deserve something committed to virtual paper.  The best I can do is a roundup of a few of those movies I’ve watched or re-watached in recent days, maybe to be expanded at some point yet to come!

Brokeback Mountain



Gay romance between cowboys out on the prairie?  Small wonder Ang Lee‘s beautifully composed and achingly sad picture caused a buzz of controversy at the time of release.  It might confront some of society’s taboos, particularly those in mid-West America, but it should be watched for being an emotionally credible love story, acted with passion, intensity and sensitivity by the late Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal – and indeed by Anne Hathaway and Michelle Williams as the spurned spouses.  This is ultimately a tragic story, since by its very nature theirs is a love that, in that macho environment, dare not speak its name.  Their dreams of being together turn out to be the stuff of fantasy, but is that not how life often turns out?  Remember the beautiful moments.  Lee certainly deserved his Best Director Oscar.  8.5/10

Prizzi’s Honor

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My mate Nigel and I went to see Prizzi’s Honor years ago.  I remember that vividly because  we didn’t say a word about the film after we left the cinema, so disappointing was John Huston‘s comedy-drama-mob movie.  Upon revision years later I think I did it a slight disservice, though even the mighty Jack Nicholson looks out of sorts with a Brooklyn accent and a character with no obvious signs of intelligence.  Arguably his worst performance in a movie?  The movie is worth watching for Anjelica Huston‘s sharp and Oscar-winning performance, and the nominated William Hickey as the rasp-voiced Machiavellian Don, but is not within touching distance of the Godfather or Goodfellas.  Not really convinced by the concept of a husband-and-wife hit men each contracted to take out the other, and that communicates itself through the action. 5/10

The Brothers Grimm

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So awful I switched off and deleted the recording after half an hour.  An impressive cast, production values and special effects, but not one of Terry Gilliam‘s best by a long chalk.  Watch Brazil to see him at his best. 3/10

Enemy at the Gates

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Against a backdrop of the notorious siege of Stalingrad and based on real events, this wonderful movie tells the cat-and-mouse story of a personal battle for survival between two legendary snipers played by Jude Law (on the Russki side) and Ed Harris (for the Nazis), quite apart from the PR benefits of killing the star sniper (as opposed to striker.)  Meanwhile the horror and deprivation caused by the stand-off continue.  The ground-out victory for the Russians is etched on almost every face.  I particularly love Ron Perlman bucking the that trend with devil-may-care attitude.  An excellent movie which sold on action/adventure but is far more than that.  7.5/10

Hotel Rwanda

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Talking of the horror of war, this is a movie about the inhuman atrocities conducted in the Rwandan genocide, and in particular the courage of a hotel assistant manager to shelter over 1200 Tutsis and Hutus alike from a mass slaughter that consumed the lives of up to a million people.  This movie has been described with good reason as “the black Schindler’s List“, helped by a noble performance by Don Cheadle as the man who gave up any notions of self-interest to help those most in need against a Hutu government that described Tutsis as “cockroaches.”  How would we react under the same circumstances?  Beautifully told and worthy of its many accolades, and avoiding the temptation to layer on the melodrama.  8/10

Copycat

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While in one sense a very formulaic serial killer movie, this one is interesting for a number of reasons, not least the choice of copying the modus operandi adopted by several serial killers as a means of terrorising agoraphobic criminal psychologist and serial killer specialist Dr Helen Hudson (Sigourney Weaver), who reluctantly aids cops Monaghan and Goetz (Holly Hunter and Dermot Mulroney.)  Yes the story runs in a very predictable fashion but this is a highly engaging movie, one in which the honours are stolen unexpectedly by Harry Connick jr in a winning cameo as the jailed serial killer Darryll Lee Cullum.  Maybe not a great film but certainly worth seeing, maybe more than once.  6/10

Shallow Grave

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Danny Boyle‘s debut is a darkly comic but cautionary tale inspired by the Pardoner’s tale from Chaucer‘s Canterbury Tales, explaining how money is the root of all evil.  The three friends corrupted by the lure of money in this case are Edinburgh flatmates Ewan McGregor, Kerry Fox and Christopher Ecclestone.  Quite apart from turning one against the other, the more immediate danger is the vicious thugs whose money landed by chance in their laps.  Entertaining throughout, right the way throughout to its inevitably gory conclusion.  6.5/10

Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid

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It’s been some considerable while since I saw Butch Cassidy, so it’s a pleasure to report that not only has the movie not faded in the meantime but it has in fact matured in the 42 years since it was first released.  Where is was originally marketed as a genial western, it now reveals a 360-degree analysis of the complex relationship between Butch and Sundance, at times almost bromance – a deep and instinctive mutual trust with the tragic and inevitable consequences of a life of crime – and at others bitching like husband and wife.  Beautifully acted by Newman and Redford, and always a joy to watch.  The story is familiar – gang of bank robbers try to rob a train once too often, get chased by a top posse, miraculously escape, go to Bolivia but ultimately meet their end at the hands of half the Bolivian army.  That’s the stuff legends are made of.  8/10

Quadrophenia

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Not the first r/mock-opera made from themed albums by The Who, but by far the most dramatically successful.  The music is sublime and certainly in the tradition of the 60s mod era, whose culture is explored through the eyes of tragic anti-hero Jimmy Cooper (Phil Daniels.)  The album comes to life through drama and the iconic locations used (Brighton, the chalk cliffs etc.), but it is the music that tells the story.  Listen to The Real Me, 5:15, Love Reign o’er Me and more to appreciate the sheer power of the story.  7/10

Thirteen Days

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I’ve always been wary of “historical docudramas” on the grounds that history has frequently been rewritten to accommodate whatever dramatic purposes the director has in mind.  This case came under especially close scrutiny since I know a lot about the Cuban Missile Crisis, having studied it at length during my first degree in International Politics.  Not only is Thirteen Days as historically accurate as we could reasonably achieve, but played very well and without undue bias on either side.  Erring on the side of narrative to determine how the key decisions were reached rather than melodrama or emotional turmoil was probably a wise decision, and certainly improves both the coherence of the movie and enables a fine cast to extract skilfully understated performances.  7.5/10

This is England

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A well-made and finely acted movie exploring skinhead subculture being subsumed within far-right race-hating ultra-nationalist groups like the National Front, and the paradoxical cultural roots it shares with West Indian culture, notably ska, soul and reggae music, but one I find repellant and almost impossible to watch through the attitudes and violence expressed by the leading protagonist, more so than almost any other film I can recall watching.  You could argue it succeeds in its ambitions by my very revulsion, but while the only sympathies lie initially with the teenage boy Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), though even he loses our understanding when he abuses the non-nonsense Indian owner of the corner shop, who is then beaten up by the vicious “Combo” (Stephen Graham – undeniably effective and committed.)  Combo it is who makes the case for his partisan beliefs in an impassioned speech from which the movie gets its name, but the thuggery, even against members of his own group, says far more.  6/10

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