"Let life enchant you again." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Thoughts
June 6, 2008

April-May Film Reviews

The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Richard Ford – Reviews of this film are split concerning the narration, which plays a prominent if patchy role in the film. For me, it was a massive distraction and together with the uneven pace and fitful dialogue undermined what could have been a great western. What […]

The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Richard Ford – Reviews of this film are split concerning the narration, which plays a prominent if patchy role in the film. For me, it was a massive distraction and together with the uneven pace and fitful dialogue undermined what could have been a great western. What redeems this film is the acting, especially from the two leads and the arresting cinematography. A must for fans of westerns and satisfying viewing for the rest of us.

The Band’s Visit – Charming, funny, wonderfully constructed, visually engaging and ultimately bittersweet film about an Egyptian police band stranded in a desolate Israeli town. Surprising depth, humour and sensitivity mark out this film as one the best I’ve seen this year.

Be Kind Rewind – Like Cinema Paradiso, this is a film about film (and also a film about cinema). That is, we don’t just get a story about film-making and film-watching, we also get a study of the social role of cinema and the commercial realities of the film industry. Sharp, ironic, playful and deeply enjoyable.

The Counterfeiters – Gritty, tough and well-crafted. This is one of the most impressive holocaust films I have ever seen. In equal measures morally challenging and thought-provoking, this is a film that works hard on every level to deliver a story that is richly drawn and never facile. A must-see film.

Dan In Real Life – Without Steve Carell’s performance this film would have been a relentlessly stupefying piece of romantic-drivel. With his performance it is only marginally better than that. Pretty quickly the wit and humour gives way to an increasingly implausible second-rate farce. Oh and Carrell’s character passing on Emily Blunt in favour of Juliet Binoche? I doubt that would have happened in “real life.”

The Devil Probably – If I had a list of the ten most bleak films of all time, this would be on it. The post-’68 generation find themselves on the Left Bank philosophising, taking drugs, having sex, killing time and not enjoying any of it. A denuded look at youthful restlessness seeing fault in all things but being unwilling to commit to real understanding or change. Memorable if strenuous viewing.

Everything Is Alright – With our appetite for fast edits and meta-dialogue it’s easy to underestimate how progressive and confrontational this film must have been in the mid seventies. A searching yet subtle look at what was and was not achieved in the spring of ‘68. A challenge for those who think post-modernity began sometime in the 90s and a rich source of reflection for those who know better.

The Forbidden Kingdom – A little weighed down by all the Kung-Fu movie references this film is a jolly, light-hearted romp. It says something about contemporary cinema when the absence of swearing and sex scenes marks out an action film from the pack. Will appeal most to those raised on martial arts films or those who are new to the genre (and in their teens). Not great, but a great deal of fun.

Four Brothers – Sometimes you catch yourself part way through a film wondering why you set out to watch it and whether it is worth seeing it to the end. You start missing chunks of dialogue as you ponder the piles of laundry, unanswered emails and other chores you could be spending your time attending to. Unless you enjoy that sort of experience it’s best to avoid this laboured and unsurprising crime melodrama. Despite an outstanding cast, the film never manages to generate enough suspense or malice to make it engaging.

The Good German – I love the idea of setting a classic Noir film in the decayed moral ambiguity of post-WW2 Europe. I love the cast, the cinematography and the score for this film as well. That’s where the love-affair ends though. Could have been a lot more than a homage, but sadly never amounts to more than the sum of its parts.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – If you believe (like me) that the original Indiana films were nothing more than light-hearted fun in a classic B-Movie matinee format, then there’s a good chance you will like this film, which really just offers more of the same from Indy and co. If, however, time has given your view of the originals a rosy hue of significance, then you may well be disappointed.

Iron Man – A strong cast, confident direction, powerful score and apt sense of humour raise this film above the pack of action comic-strip recreations. Iron Man was a childhood favourite, but also an disagreeable character, prone to the kind of moral clichés that make Superman so unbearable. But, here Robert Downey Jr’s comic timing gives an edge that makes Iron Man not only contemporary, but likeable as well. And, what’s the point of an action film if you find yourself cheering for the bad guy? See it, but only on the big screen.

Meet Joe Black – I missed this film on cinematic release and only saw it for the first time this month. It’s easy to see why Brad Pitt was such a hit here, it’s a welcome reminder that Sir Anthony Hopkins was a great actor and it makes you wonder why Claire Forlani’s career has not blosommed more fully. At times the plot creaks, but in its better moments this is a worthwhile study of human finality and the value of truth in relationships. Outstanding score.

Once – A beautifully drawn and creatively shot little film. There is a lovely pace and flow to the dialogue and a wonderful balance of gritty realism and bittersweet charm. The music and musical performs are expectional, fresh and riveting.

The Other Boleyn Girl – Could be described as the other ahistorical telling of the Henry VIII story. Far less interesting, seductive and perhaps most worryingly, less historically accurate than the current TV series, The Tudors. Great actors wasted on a poorly written and dramatically vacant adaptation.

Pirates Of Silicon Valley – Surprisingly good telemovie that covers the early years of Apple and Microsoft. Witty and well paced storytelling does an adequate job of capturing the light and improvisational early years of personal computing. For anyone who remembers when computers belonged in the shed rather than the fashion magazine, this is a welcome reminder of how things were and for those who didn’t live through that, a potential eye-opener.

The Savages – Like bright sunshine on an icy winter’s day, this film is harsh, difficult to look at, and revealing in it’s own, starkly beautiful way. Too few films deal this honestly with death and the transition to mid-life in such an unsentimental and transparent manner. Deeply rewarding.

What Happens In Vegas – This film has four to five good laughs in it and not much else, with the supporting cast saving it from being a total disaster. Best left for a long haul flight or a very rainy long weekend.

Brodie 16 years ago

Fernando – the Indiana Jones film is the only one I’ve seen from your list. Think your comments are spot on. What’s more I don’t think it’s the worst Indy film, that honour still goes IMHO to The Temple of Doom.

I wonder if Indy’s hat rolling along to the character played by Shia LeBeouf at the end signals that there will be more films in this series with Ford taking on the role played by Connery and LeBouf moving centre stage to take on the Indy role. Don’t know what they would call it, ‘Son of Indy’ does not role off the tongue well!

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

It is all set up for at least a sequel, if not two more. What does Indy say? Not yet?

Setting this one in the Cold War gives the franchise a fresh pair of legs. Who wouldn’t love to see Indy back in Cold War East Germany? I would guess that Shia could do something worthy of the hat in the next one, then lead the third new film in his own right.

andy goodliff 16 years ago

I thought Indiana Jones was the worst film I’d seen in ages. apparently they had be waiting 10 or 12 years or finding a good script and this was the best they could come up with – contrived and boring.

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

If the new Indy flick is the worst you’ve “seen in ages” then congratulations, you must be choosing your films wisely indeed. And, sure it is contrived. So were the originals, to the point of being cartoon-like. I thought that was part of the appeal.

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