Movies I've Seen

This is a librarian's personality at work, cataloguing the movies and TV shows I've seen. The Internet Movie DataBase remains the best source of movie information, and I favour Rotten Tomatoes for movie reviews.


A

The A-Team (2010)

One of the most notoriously cheesy TV series of the 1980s brought to the big screen. Not quite as cheesy, but just as dumb - if that makes any sense. I laughed and was entertained, so I have no major complaints.

2010, dir. Joe Carnahan. With Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton Jackson, Sharlto Copley, Jessica Biel, Gerald McRaney, Brian Bloom.

Above the Law

I saw this back when it came out, and more recently (2010) on TV.

Seagal (in his first film role) plays Nico Toscani, a Chicago police officer investigating a massive drug conspiracy - despite being told to lay off the case more than once. He plays an arrogant asshole, but I guess that's not terribly different from most action heroes - but he's less likable than most. What sets him apart to some extent is his martial arts fighting. Unusually, he's brought Aikido to the screen, and apparently refused to make it more flashy for the camera. I can respect that, but it's a fairly un-flashy art, and watching him in action isn't as entertaining as Jackie Chan, Jet Li, or Tony Jaa. I spent the whole movie thinking that he was the titular character, "above the law" (he certainly acts it), but apparently the title was aimed at the CIA and FBI, agencies that are in some respects accountable to no one. An interesting payload for a crappy martial arts flick ...

1988, dir. Andrew Davis. With Steven Seagal, Pam Grier, Sharon Stone, Daniel Faraldo, Henry Silva.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

If only I had remembered who directed this - I would have passed entirely. Or at least sat down prepared to eat a banquet of cheese. It's not that I mind cheese - this movie review list is riddled with ludicrously cheesy movies that I've enjoyed - it's just that Bekmambatov thinks he's making fine art, and this shit can't be taken seriously. Plodding line readings that aren't quite bad enough to be funny and no intentional humour at all. Lots of blood splatter though. That's right: young Abraham Lincoln (Walker - a terrible actor without the acting skills or even the appearance to carry off the gravitas we expect - and the movie implied - of Abraham Lincoln) couldn't save his mother from being killed by a vampire and is now being educated in the ways of killing vampires by a more skilled vampire killer (Cooper, possibly the only person to retain a shred of dignity through this farce). And his weapon of choice is a silver-edged axe. A number of other good actors show up to be humiliated - Mackie, Winstead, Sewell. Winstead looks amazingly similar to a younger Jennifer Ehles - so much so that I checked to see if they're related, but no. If you liked Bekmambatov's "Wanted" (should it be unclear, I did not) you might enjoy this, although it's not quite as "good." The action is similarly insanely over-the-top.

SPOILER ALERT: stop reading now if you haven't seen the movie. Why I'm bitching about logic errors on a movie like this, I don't know - it's just my nature to be bothered by them. Sturges (Cooper) is initially completely unable to touch or attack Adam (Sewell) in any way and we're told that the dead cannot kill the dead. And yet in the climactic battle sequence, Sturges is a key element in attacking and beating Adam. If you make your own storytelling rules, don't break them.

2012, dir. Timur Bekmambetov. With Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Anthony Mackie, Rufus Sewell, Jimmi Simpson, Marton Csokas, Erin Wasson, Joseph Mawle.

The Abyss

I saw this when it came out, in its original too-long format: 140 minutes. A group of workers led by Virgil "Bud" Brigman (Harris) on an experimental underwater oil drilling platform are co-opted by the U.S. military to help with the rescue/recovery/exploration of a nuclear sub that went down very near it. Since we saw the crash of the sub, we know that something beyond the capabilities of either the American or Soviet subs is zooming about in the neighbourhood - Cameron's set-up for the still-absurd ending.

Stars one of my favourite actors, Ed Harris. For better or worse, the plot is typical Cameron: pedestrian but absurd. Cameron does one thing I love: he obeys the laws of physics (putting him in a tiny minority in Hollywood). This is a wonderful thing when you're an engineer, as breaking those laws often takes me right out of a movie. He also makes spaces lived-in and realistic. But he loves his overblown plots ... SPOILER ALERT: stop reading now etc. So this time we have aliens on the bottom of the ocean. In the original version, they save Brigman's life - which is very sweet, but unexplained, and then the movie ends. In the much longer (add another 30 minutes to the already excessive run-time) extended edition, we see more character interactions, but especially we see the alien's motivations - and that they were going to destroy humanity ... but didn't because Brigman is such a nice guy (they were saving him because he ended up on the edge of death by preventing a nuclear explosion). It presents a very different view of the whole movie ... but it's still stupid, in fact probably even more so that the shorter version.

I liked Harris, and the relationship between Harris and Mastrantonio as his ex-wife - particularly the heart-breaking scene where she chooses to drown, but the whole movie would have been a hell of a lot better without the aliens. Problem is, Cameron probably couldn't have come up with a story without adding aliens ... Stick with the short version if you're a fan of Harris, otherwise pass entirely.

1989, dir. James Cameron. With Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Biehn, J.C. Quinn, Leo Burmester, Kimberly Scott, Todd Graff, John Bedford Lloyd, Chris Elliott.

Accidental Parkland: The Bounty & Burden of Toronto's Ravines

I saw "Accidental Parkland" in preview at the Patagonia store on Queen West in Toronto (2016-12-15). The movie points out that Toronto is blessed with a truly staggering number of ravines. They've been protected from building because of the danger of flooding, and so the city is left with thousands of hectares of "accidental parkland." And it is, without a doubt, a blessing and an opportunity. Shawn Micallef (professor and newspaper columnist in the city) narrates, and walks the ravines. Someone with a very good eye got the movie some great footage (including a lot of drone shots), although perhaps not enough: while there was no direct repetition of footage, there were several times they used footage that occurred moments after footage seen earlier in the film. As the film only runs about one hour, we might have hoped for better. They talk to a number of more or less influential people, among them Mark Mattson who is "Lake Ontario Waterkeeper" (I had no idea that title existed), Geoff Cape, CEO of Evergreen Brickworks, and Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto's Chief Planner. At one hour in length it's a bit too long, but for a movie that was made on $26,000 funding from Indiegogo, it's both informative and interesting.

2016, dir. Dan Berman. With Mark Mattson, Geoff Cape, Jennifer Keesmaat.

The Accidental Spy

Chan plays Buck Yuen, a very fit but apparently unsuccessful exercise equipment salesman. Early on we see his intuition getting him into foiling a bank robbery. Shortly after that he finds out that his father (who he never knew as he was an orphan) may still be alive. His father dies shortly, but not before setting Buck on the trail of a lot of money and some deadly chemicals.

Unlike most Chan movies, this actually requires you pay some attention. But the action seems to be much more about Chan absorbing as much abuse as possible rather than being acrobatic as he was in his earlier movies. The grand finale is a straight (and rather poor) crib from "Speed," and the movie as a whole is just crap. See his earlier movies, pass on this one.

2001, dir. Teddy Chan. With Jackie Chan, Eric Tsang, Vivian Hsu, Wu Hsing-kuo.

The Accidental Tourist

I saw this shortly after it was released and remembered it as very good, but my tastes have changed a lot since then. So it was a pleasant surprise to find that in 2008 this is even better than I remembered it. I thought well enough of it to read the original book by Anne Tyler in the intervening years, discovering in the process that, as eccentric as Kasdan's characters were, Tyler's were much more so. The book and the movie are both really good, and have characters with the same names with similar story arcs: but they're very different. This is a very funny, very poignant movie. Highly recommended.

1988, dir. Lawrence Kasdan. With William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Geena Davis, Amy Wright, David Ogden Stiers, Bill Pullman, Ed Begley Jr.

Across the Universe

A musical done entirely with Beatles music. I'm not a fan of musicals, but I watched this because of the music. Whatever they paid their director of photography, it wasn't enough: Every. Single. Shot. Was a thing of beauty. Nevertheless I left the movie a little disheartened: the story isn't very good, the references were stretched to breaking (they sang "Dear Prudence" to Prudence and that was fine, but "where did she come from?" "She came in through the bathroom window" was just stupid when acted out literally), the song interpretations are a bit uneven (Izzard doing Mr. Kite was possibly both the worst and the most interesting), the large middle stretch of surreality may fit the Sixties but was irritating, and it doesn't hold together particularly well. Still, there were some very good ideas and brilliant cinematography.

2007, dir. Julie Taymor. With Jim Sturgess, Evan Rachel Wood, Joe Anderson, Dana Fuchs, Martin Luther, T.V. Carpio, Eddie Izzard.

Adam's Rib

The trailer (which is on the DVD) claims this is a "romantic comedy." I didn't find much humour in it, and very little romance. Most of the humour consisted of the lawyer couple (Tracy and Hepburn) bickering constantly over the court case about a woman attempting to shoot her philandering husband and how it was all about equal rights for women.

1949. dir. George Cukor. With Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn.

The Addams Family

A cartoonist drew sick and twisted images of a family he named after himself - back in the 1950s, some of the comics didn't even run. But in the 1960s a somewhat toned down version became a TV series that won lasting fame. I don't remember anyone really expecting this movie to live up to the TV series, but it did: Julia and Houston were absolutely wonderful as Gomez and Morticia, and Ricci pretty much stole every scene she was in as Wednesday. The humour is twisted, but not sick enough to significantly change the audience demographic from the TV show. A lot of fun.

1991, dir. Barry Sonnenfeld. With Raul Julia, Angelica Houston, Christina Ricci, Christopher Lloyd.

The Admiral: Roaring Currents

I got interested in this movie because of the naval battle involved, The Battle of Myeongnyang (Wikipedia) in 1597. Wikipedia claimed of the movie itself that it was not only Korea's most financially successful movie, but also very well reviewed. Rotten Tomatoes (as of today, 2016-01-10) has four reviews, three of which are positive. The battle itself is fascinating: the Japanese had routed the Korean navy in the absence of Korea's star general Yi Sun-sin - he was betrayed and tortured (historical fact). After their replacement general proved totally incompetent and got most of their ships destroyed, they put Yi Sun-sin (played in the movie by Min-sik) back in charge. Except he had only 12 ships against a Japanese force in excess of 300 ships. Yi's choice of the battle location in a narrow straight with extremely strong currents proved to be even more advantageous than expected.

I was put off early by the painting of the Japanese as slimy and repugnant - they're even wearing heavy make-up to make them look more evil. The Koreans are, of course, good hard-working citizens. Most of them are terrified - who wouldn't be at those odds, they knew what they were facing. And the writers had the decency to include a treasonous captain who tried to leave (also historical fact). But given that the battle was 400 years ago - and that the Koreans and Japanese aren't in any kind of conflict at the moment - I'd kind of hoped their view of it would be slightly more neutral.

Some critics loved the drama of the large scale battles: unfortunately, I saw CG and took issue with the wake thrown up by speeding oar-powered boats. These are fairly large warships powered by men below decks with oars. Instead, they moved about as if powered by motors (odd, that).

Where I have to give some credit is on something else I thought was a bit absurd: the battle is initially taken up only by the Admiral's flagship. I thought that was ridiculous, movie grandstanding ... but in fact it's what happened.

The movie is historically interesting, but if you're interested in the history you might be better served by reading the Wikipedia article linked above or finding a book on the subject. As a movie drama it falls down by being too jingoistic and lacking in nuance.

2014, dir. Kim Han-min. With Choi Min-sik, Ryu Seung-ryong, Cho Jin-woong, Kim Myung-gon, Jin Goo, Lee Seung-joon.

Admission

Fey is Portia Nathan, an admissions officer at Princeton. Rudd is John Pressman, who runs an alternative school that's just shown up on Princeton's radar. When Portia visits the school, John hits her with a surprise: one of the kids at the school (Wolff) is probably hers - that she gave up for adoption at the age of 21.

The biggest problem with the movie is that it couldn't decide if it was going for low brow humour or intellectual humour. Parts of the movie are a charming drama-comedy about a woman coming to terms with the possibility of reconnecting with a son she'd long given up, and other parts are slapstick farce set in the same universe and with the same characters as our other movie. Fey and Rudd are both good, and do what they can, but the movie is too messy to succeed.

2013, dir. Paul Weitz. With Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Lily Tomlin, Wallace Shawn, Michael Sheen, Nat Wolff, Gloria Reuben, Olek Krupa.

An Adventure in Space and Time

Commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Who, this BBC made-for-TV movie celebrates the beginnings of the "Dr. Who" TV series. "Dr. Who" is now a mainstay of TV across the world (or at the very least the English-speaking world), and it's hard to imagine it as anything else: but 50 years ago it was a totally insane idea at the very staid and cautious BBC that barely made it to the screen to become the behemoth it is today. Cox is Sydney Newman, the BBC exec who came up with a rough outline and got it going. Raine plays Verity Lambert, a former assistant to Newman getting her first shot at producing (she went on to become a mainstay of British TV production). Dhawan is the young Waris Hussein, directing this crazy idea while dealing with racism as the BBC's first Indian director. And Bradley is William Hartwell, the grumpy and somewhat forgetful old man who became the first Doctor. Bradley was particularly good - as he's at the centre of the story, that's a very good thing.

The last 15 minutes shows interviews and footage of the original people (or family - it is 50 years on ...) talking about the show, giving the whole thing context. Very well done, and recommended for anyone who's a fan of science fiction - even if you're not a big fan of "Dr. Who."

2013, dir. Terry McDonough. With David Bradley, Jessica Raine, Sacha Dhawan, Brian Cox.

Adventureland

That summer job you hated when you were in university ... this is it. James Brennan (Eisenberg) is headed for grad school in the fall, but needs money and can't get a job waiting tables, so he ends up working at the local amusement park with a mixed bag of perpetual losers and other caught-in-between university students far too intelligent to be working the jobs they're in. Mottola wrote as well as directed, and has pulled out a very funny movie. There's a bit more humour-of-humiliation than I like, but certainly no more than you receive in that part of your life, and it's not played simply for the humour. Eisenberg was good, but I particularly liked Starr, who was charming as the over-educated, nerdy, likable, and less-than-gorgeous Joel.

2009, dir. Greg Mottola. With Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Margarita Levieva, Ryan Reynolds, Martin Starr, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

We see a theatre company performing part of the Baron Münchhausen stories in a besieged city in the late eighteenth century. They are interrupted by an old man (Neville) who claims to actually be Baron Münchausen, and takes over the stage to continue the story (which we see in flashback). After his stories are interrupted by shelling, the Baron and Sally (a very young Sarah Polley) take off in a balloon made out of women's silk underwear for a series of outrageous adventures - pursued (as he always is) by Death himself.

Utterly absurd and very funny, and in many ways the quintessential Gilliam film.

As it turns out, Münchhausen was a real person (1720-1797) who developed a reputation in later life for telling tall tales of his war years - which were eventually collected into a book. Gilliam has clearly modelled Neville's appearance on Doré's 1862 caricature of the man.

1988, dir. Terry Gilliam. With John Neville, Sarah Polley, Eric Idle, Uma Thurman, Jonathan Pryce, Oliver Reed, Robin Williams.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Season 1

The definitive Holmes of the 1980s, Brett plays the part in what is quite possibly the most accurate and well known version. Granada TV in the UK produced these first six 50 minute episodes, each bringing one of the original Conan Doyle stories to the screen.

Well done and well presented. The acting isn't fantastic but it's good enough, and I enjoyed the series.

1984. With Jeremy Brett, David Burke.

The Adventures of Tintin

The latest in a line of "motion capture" movies, in which perfectly good actors have computer generated skins laid over top of their faces. Oddly, the character I most strongly objected to because he was sitting right in the depths of the uncanny valley, was Tintin himself. All the rest of the characters were more cartoon-like, and thus avoided falling into the valley.

This movie is based on decades of Tintin stories by the comics artist Hergé, combining three of the comic book stories. Tintin (Bell) is a very young, award winning reporter. He buys a model ship in a flea market, and promptly finds himself embroiled in the search for some form of treasure on the ship his model is of.

As with the comic book, there's non-stop action. The action is usually physically impossible, and occasionally totally ludicrous. Some of this is meant for humour, some of it is just meant to be "cool." Tintin regulars Thompson (Pegg) and Thomson (Frost) appear, and Captain Haddock (Serkis) has a starring role. Of course there's a villain (Craig), but right triumphs and the inevitable sequel is set up.

I'm generally a big fan of children's movies, but I really didn't like this one. I suspect kids would, but I don't have kids and shouldn't be considered a good judge in this matter.

2011, dir. Steven Spielberg. With Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg.

Æon Flux

Lots of special effects. Lots. But guess what, that doesn't make a movie. I kind of enjoyed this science fiction extravaganza, but it's really not a good movie. Based on a graphic novel (or a series), look to the animated TV series for better material.

2005, dir. Karyn Kusama. With Charlize Theron, Pete Postlethwaite.

An Affair to Remember

I first became aware of "An Affair to Remember" through "Sleepless in Seattle" (so our world works). I was later to find that it's regarded as a classic, so I finally gave it a shot.

The basic premise is unfortunately familiar: suave playboy Nickie Ferrante (Grant) is engaged, but that hasn't stopped him having another affair, nor does it stop him flirting with Terry McKay (Kerr) on their U.S.-bound cruise ship. But she's also engaged, and somewhat better behaved than he is. But they become friends. At a stop in Villefranche-sur-Mer, Terry doesn't believe Nickie is going to see his grandmother: she thinks he has another woman in port. But he invites her along, and it turns out to be true. (I'm considerably confused by where their Europe-to-U.S.A. ship left from if it stopped at Villefranche: I thought most ships from Europe to the Americas started on the Atlantic side of the continent, not in the Mediterranean. Not to mention that Villefranche is an incredibly podunk little town quite near to the much more probable port of Nice ...) They have a lovely day with his grandmother, and both are made to see the world a little differently. As they arrive in New York, they promise to meet atop the Empire State Building in six months - something that was directly echoed in "Sleepless in Seattle."

The start was a little too clichéd for my taste: extra-suave playboy meets his match in beautiful, witty, intelligent and slightly sarcastic woman. And I really, really could have lived without the singing kids - that was a touch too much. But with those exceptions, it's an excellent movie.

1957, dir. Leo McCarey. With Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Richard Denning, Neva Patterson, Cathleen Nesbitt, Robert Q. Lewis, Fortunio Bonanova.

The African Queen

Hepburn plays Rose Sayer, a mannered and religious woman in Africa at the outbreak of the First World War. After the Germans burn the village she and her brother are missionaries in, her brother dies. Rose ends up travelling down-river with the Canadian captain of the "African Queen," a small steam-boat that delivers mail. Problem is, she and her brother barely tolerated the unmannered, unshaven boor (Bogart as Charlie Allnut). She attempts to convince him that they should go down-river (past a German fort and down two sets of very nasty rapids) to a lake, where they should attempt to destroy the "Queen Louisa," a heavily armed German boat preventing the advance of the British.

What follows is referred to by Wikipedia as an "adventure film," but if it wasn't in the National Film Registry and considered a "classic" by half the critics in the world, I would have called it a Rom Com. They don't get along, they fight, they reconcile, they have adventures. It's a Rom Com.

Bogart and Hepburn are both wonderful as lonely older people who don't really know how to deal with this massive change in their lives. Their romance is awkward and a little painful to watch. The ending is a little too convenient, but entertaining.

1951, dir. John Huston. With Humphrey Bogart, Katherine Hepburn, Robert Morley, Peter Bull.

After Life (orig. "Wandâfuru Raifu")

When you die, you are given one week to choose a single memory that you will live in forever. And then the team of people who help you choose that memory will film it, recreate it for you. The premise is thin and absurd, but Kore-eda filmed a bunch of people, actors and non-actors, talking about their favourite memories from their entire lives - and it's mesmerizing. In many ways the second half, which has slightly less talking, is not as good as the first half. A quiet and fascinating movie.

1998, dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda. With Arata, Erika Oda, Taketoshi Naitô.

After the Sunset

Beautiful scenery and beautiful stars can't save the kind of dog's breakfast Rattner likes to serve. Brosnan and Hayek play a pair of jewel thieves newly retired to a Caribbean island when Harrelson (the FBI agent who has followed Brosnan for years but never caught him) and a particularly tempting gem arrive on the island simultaneously. It's not a bad idea, but Rattner mangles everything so badly it's painful to watch (except perhaps when Hayek is on-screen).

2004, dir. Brett Rattner. With Pierce Brosnan, Salma Hayek, Woody Harrelson, Don Cheadle, Naomie Harris.

The Age of Adaline

Blake Lively plays Adaline Bowman who lives in modern San Francisco, age 106 - but looking 29. This is explained by the voice-over, which also walks us through the car accident (circa 1937), death, and lightning strike that stopped her aging. When the FBI decides they need to know why she seems to be 29 even though she's past fifty, she starts moving and changing identities every ten years. Not surprisingly, the movie is about ... a change of circumstances.

Lively does a good job as the old but ever youthful Adaline, while Burstyn plays her daughter (who is in her 60s or 70s) and Huisman a persistent and charming suitor as she approaches her next move and new identity. It's a relatively slow-paced and talky movie - which I have no issue with - and they do it fairly well. Unfortunately, the wrap-up suffers from severe predictability. Up until that point it was engaging, well acted, and fairly well thought out.

SPOILER ALERT: Read no further if you have any intention of watching this movie. It's just me getting pissy about predictability.

As Adaline races away from both her former and current suitor, I thought "she'll have a car accident. There may even be lightning." I was only marginally off - a woman of 100 years of age, already specifically shown to be a very good driver, makes an incredibly stupid driving mistake. Yup. Next up, lightning - because yes, she's died again. Oh, we've substituted a defibrillator. Next up: she'll find a gray hair because she's resumed aging. Wow, look at that. She did. I think the author(s) thought they were being clever with the symmetry of the car accidents, but instead it feels predictable, obvious, and stupid. I get that it's a romance and I have no issue with her settling in with the charming guy: that's a given. But that puts the onus on the writer to be more creative and interesting elsewhere.

2015, dir. Lee Toland Krieger. With Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Ellen Burstyn, Harrison Ford, Kathy Baker, Anthony Ingruber, Amanda Crew.

Ah! My Goddess

Mildly bizarre, kind of complex, targeting teens, doesn't make a lot of sense, and ultimately sickly sweet. Set in the future, with "gods" and "goddesses" walking around in both "heaven" and earth. A goddess and an human fall in love, and their love is tested - with a threat that might destroy the earth as we know it.

1993. dir. Hiroaki Gôda. With Kikuko Inoue, Masami Kikuchi, Yumi Tôma, Aya Hisakawa.

Akeelah and the Bee

Incredibly pedantic ("face your fears," and "be nice") and often overly sweet, this movie manages to be emotionally moving on the strengths of Fishburne's and Palmer's performances. Palmer, at age 12, is something of a miracle. Reminiscent of "Searching for Bobby Fischer." Enjoyable and uplifting.

2006, dir. Doug Atchison. With Keke Palmer, Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, J.R. Villarreal, Curtis Armstrong.

Aladdin

Disney's take on a classic story. Since the genie becomes a main character and is voiced by Williams, you can kind of guess where this one is headed: there's a lot of comedy. And, seeing it in 2011, I wonder if this movie didn't presage the sort of knowing, self-aware comedy that came into children's movies a decade later (with "Shrek" essentially being the vanguard). In the introductory segment, a peddler (also Williams) asks the camera "come closer," and it splats up against his face, "Too close! A little too close." I haven't always been a big fan of Williams, but when he's bright blue and can take on any form he wants, he can be pretty damn hilarious. There are a number of Eighties popular culture references that will go by a lot of people at this point (anyone remember Arsenio Hall?), but Williams is tossing out the jokes fast and furious, and nearly all of them are funny. And the rest of the plot is quite charming and has a positive message for the kids. Hell, I even liked Gottfried's voice work, he's quite funny here. This one is a real treat.

1992, dir. Ron Clements and John Musker. With Robin Williams, Scott Weinger, Jonathan Freeman, Linda Larkin, Frank Welker, Gilbert Gottfried, Douglas Seale.

Alegría (live in Sydney)

Cirque du Soleil's show "Alegría" filmed live in Sydney. Very good. I got it at the same time as the DVD of their show "Dralion," and it's an odd comparison: "Dralion" is the better show, but "Alegría" was filmed better.

1999. Dir. Franco Dragone. Cirque du Soleil.

Alegría

Dragone brings us a bowdlerized version of Cirque du Soleil. One of the earliest images of the movie is a view of the main character of the movie, Frac, looking up out of a packing case. Whether the horrible pun "Frac in a box" was intentional or not, it sets the tone for the movie. It's awfully difficult to take drama seriously when most of the characters are in clown face. It's a poor story, and there's very little support from the artistry and acrobatics of the Cirque that I expected. Don't see this.

1998, dir. Franco Dragone. With René Bazinet, Frank Langella, Julie Cox.

Alexander Nevsky

Russian anti-German propaganda (look at the date), but kind of fun. Prince Alexander - who is obviously a good prince because he fishes with his people - leads the defence of Russia against the evil Teutons. The evil people with money want to buy off the invaders, but the peasants (the good working people of the country) are roused to defend the land. They sing many songs.

The battle scenes consist of people milling about making chopping motions, the acting is poor, and it's all in the service of a political agenda. Despite which it's a well filmed and interesting movie. And it deserves considerable credit for better historical accuracy than most films - in the day-to-day stuff, if not the politics.

1938, dir. Sergei Eisenstein.

Alfie (2004)

Remarkably similar to its predecessor of the same name, a morality play dressed up as a sex comedy. Law talks to the camera (as Caine did in the original), a cocky sleep-with-anyone guy. But his indiscretions all catch up to him at once, what a shock. Wait, were we supposed to care for this asshole at the end of the movie?

2004, dir. Charles Shyer. With Jude Law, Jane Krakowski, Marisa Tomei, Omar Epps, Nia Long, Gedde Watanabe, Sienna Miller, Susan Sarandon.

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

This is roughly the 20th film/TV version of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton for Disney (an odd combination). Also odd was the decision to place extremely well known actors in the parts of the Mad Hatter, the Red Queen, and the White Queen (Depp, Bonham Carter, and Hathaway respectively) and an almost unknown actress (Wasikowska) as Alice at the core of the movie.

A frame story in the late nineteenth century has been added: we see Alice as a six year old with a recurring dream about the rabbit hole, then we see her again at nineteen at a garden party - where the current state of her life is made clear before she falls down the rabbit hole (again?). Many of the elements of Carroll's story are preserved - the Hatter, the Dormouse, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the Cheshire Cat, the Caterpillar - but the events aren't the same as the original and the Hatter is now a very major character.

I didn't think Wasikowska was particularly good as Alice. That may not be entirely fair when she's standing next to Depp, Bonham Carter and Hathaway, but the comparison is impossible to avoid. But despite that, and despite not having a lot to do with Carroll's original plot, I quite enjoyed this. The art is magnificent, most of the acting (intentionally over-the-top) is very good, and the story is a lot of fun (although I got rather less out of the frame story than "the dream").

2010, dir. Tim Burton. With Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Stephen Fry, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Michael Sheen.

Alien Autopsy

The film is about the making of a supposed documentary being filmed by Morgan Banner (Pullman) about British duo Ray Santilli (Donnelly) and Gary Shoefield (McPartlin). Ten years prior they had been in the U.S., and Santilli purchased an ancient film of the 1947 Roswell alien autopsy ...

"Ant and Dec" (Donnelly and McPartlin) are a British comedy duo. Santilli and Shoefield are real people, who show up for a couple minutes in the closing credits. The film details the multiple scams they ran through - how real any of it is is open to speculation. I found it mildly amusing, and at least as annoying - depends on your sense of humour. I kept hitting fast forward (very rare for me).

2006, dir. Jonny Campbell. With Ant McPartlin, Declan Donnelly, Bill Pullman, Harry Dean Stanton, Omid Djalili, Götz Otto.

Alien Resurrection

The fourth (and hopefully final) movie in the franchise. Of course we're still getting Alien / Predator crossovers. Weaver made a huge effort to have her Ripley character killed off at the end of the third movie as she was tired of the role. But this is science fiction, so we can do cloning (and Weaver was offered a huge sum of money for another sequel). Thus, Ripley is back. More or less. In many respects it's the same old story: the military wants to use the Alien lifeform as a weapon. So 200 years after Ripley died, they cloned her from DNA retrieved from the vat where she died in "Aliens 3." Except it was all mixed up with Alien DNA, so it took a few tries to get it right. Ripley is treated as a prisoner and experimental object - definitely not human. Also in the mix is a crew of mercenaries bringing human fodder in, a crew that includes Perlman and "Call" (Ryder).

While I think it's long past time this series should have ended, I also rather liked this movie - twice. And this time around I realized why: "written by Joss Whedon." That explained a lot. And being directed by Jeunet explains A) the presence of Pinon in an American movie, and B) the frequent amber lighting. Weaver and Whedon have come up with a particularly psycho version of Ripley, who is herself partly Alien - extremely strong, with acid blood, and can sense the behaviour of the other Aliens a long way away. There's a lovely twist on the android/cyborg thing from the first movie, and at the end, four people (it's the fourth movie in the series, see?) survive. (Although only two of them are fully human, but that's okay.)

1997, dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet. With Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Ron Perlman, Dominique Pinon, Gary Dourdan, Michael Wincott, Brad Dourif, Leland Orser, Dan Hedaya.

Alien vs. Predator

No, no, I wasn't expecting quality here. Pretty much by the numbers. People's chests explode, Predators kill Aliens, Aliens kill Predators, big Alien threat to all mankind. Yup. New record though: end credits clocked in at TWELVE MINUTES.

2004, dir. Paul Anderson. With no one you've heard of.

All About My Mother

I think "Talk to Her" is Almodavar's best, but this one's pretty good. He puts his characters in absurd situations, but the characters themselves are very good ... In this case, Manuela's son (her only family) dies. She returns to Barcelona to find her son's father and comes into the company of some ... interesting people.

2000 dir. Pedro Almodavar. With Cecilia Roth, Penélope Cruz, Antonia San Juan, Marisa Paredes, Candela Peña.

All of Me

Martin plays a lawyer who plays in a jazz band in the evenings. Tomlin plays an incredibly rich and selfish woman who is on the verge of death after a lifetime of illness. She's convinced that a swami will move her soul into a bowl, then into Tennant's body. Martin meets her as a lawyer, and they don't get along well. Eventually Tomlin dies, and she does indeed go into the bowl ... and then, through an accident, into Martin. She and Martin split his body pretty much down the middle.

A lousy comedy with a few pieces of utterly brilliant physical comedy by Martin. When the two of them are jointly occupying his body and he's trying to get somewhere, he strides on one side and minces on the other. Martin is brilliant in these moments, but absolutely everything is overplayed and the outcome is pretty much inevitable.

1984, dir. Carl Reiner. With Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin, Victoria Tennant, Madolyn Smith Osborne, Dana Elcar, Jason Bernard.

All the King's Men (2006)

The story of an earnest, passionate man (Penn) who rises to power as the governor of Louisiana and becomes as corrupt as those he was trying to drive out, seen through the eyes of his assistant (Law). The tale of a whole bunch of morally bankrupt people told in bits and pieces with not-very-compelling speeches and heavy-handed colourizing (or de-colourizing) of the film. I understand the 1949 version was very good - if so, this doesn't live up to it.

2006, dir. Steven Zaillian. With Sean Penn, Jude Law, Anthony Hopkins, Kate Winslet, Mark Ruffalo, Patricia Clarkson, James Gandolfini.

Allegiant

The sequel to "Insurgent," itself the sequel to "Divergent." Curiosity, a love of science fiction (apparently even bad SF), and the fact that the movies are free because I borrow them from the library keeps me coming back to this crap series. In what has now become standard operating procedure, the third book of author Veronica Roth's Divergent trilogy has been split in half, so three books has become four movies.

I should state that this review isn't based on actually watching the movie: I skimmed it, watching perhaps half the content or maybe a bit less. And that's because it's utter crap. The dialogue is still weak, just like the ideas. The characters haven't evolved: they're still rigidly set in the behaviour patterns they showed in the first movie.

Tris (Woodley), Four (James), Caleb (Elgort), Christina (Kravitz), and Peter (Teller) escape the growing chaos in Chicago, going over the wall and finding people outside. They find out that Chicago was essentially an experiment to see if the human genome would straighten itself out if given enough time and a bit of encouragement, and it has! Tris is PURE! (Four isn't, but Tris - because she's just cool like that - loves him anyway.) But the people outside are UNCOOL. So Tris and Four fight for their freedom again!

Woo. Spare yourself the pain. Consider my sacrifice: I've watched this garbage so you won't have to. Save yourself!

2016, dir. Robert Schwentke. With Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Zoë Kravitz, Jeff Daniels, Maggie Q, Naomi Watts, Octavia Spencer, Bill Skarsgård.

The Almighty Johnsons, Season 1

The concept of "The Almighty Johnsons" is fairly simple: a family of brothers in New Zealand are a bunch of re-incarnated, nearly powerless, and fairly minor Norse Gods. Our main character, Axl Johnson (Skilton), finds this out (as the others did before him) on his 21st birthday when the older brothers take him into the woods and make him stand in a circle of stones stark naked. He's more than a little skeptical ... until a bolt of lightning hits him. The reason he was naked wasn't religious: the next youngest brother had been really, seriously pissed to have his favourite jacket fried.

Axl turns out to be Odin re-incarnated, which changes everything. The brothers want to find him the reincarnation of Frigg - Odin's wife. Because if Odin connects with her, all of them will get their full powers back. His brother Anders (O'Gorman, the reincarnation of Bragi, god of poetry, who can talk any woman into his bed) thinks the best solution is for Axl to sleep with as many women as possible. Axl is exceptionally clueless even given that he's 21, but isn't entirely stupid and is a reasonably decent guy who's not overly keen on Anders' methodology. There's a low key ongoing conflict with a group of re-incarnated goddesses who don't want the return to power because they were always subordinate to the very stupid gods, etc. etc.

The series is fairly lightweight, with a fair bit of sex and plenty of raunchy jokes, and not a great deal of threat. On a purely practical level, it consisted of 10 episodes of about 45 minutes each, and all three seasons are available through Toronto Public Library. Characters are drawn a little broadly, but ... well, they're gods, admittedly with human concerns. And the writing is surprisingly good, interesting and funny and a reasonable representation of the ongoing soap opera that is the mythology of nearly any set of gods.

I was particularly fond of the sixth episode, in which their oracle leads them to a funeral and eventually to the reincarnation of Thor (Dolan). It was very funny, and Axl/Odin finally started taking a bit of responsibility and using his powers (such as they are) to do something worthwhile. The 7th and 8th episodes were also quite good. The season ended with several plot threads coming to a head (of course), including a rather good incarnation of Loki. "Good" in the sense that the actor does a marvellous job of playing a charming but nasty god who also happens to be a lawyer. I wasn't crazy about the directions the series was headed, but the writing remains pretty good so I'm likely to carry on to the next season.

2011. With Emmett Skilton, Tim Balme, Dean O'Gorman, Jared Turner, Ben Barrington, Alison Bruce, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rachel Nash, Michelle Langstone, Eve Gordon, Hayden Frost, Fern Sutherland, Geoff Dolan, Shane Cortese.

The Almighty Johnsons, Season 2

See my review of Season 1 above - particularly if you're not familiar with the setup of the show (although in that case you probably shouldn't read this review, there may be spoilers).

The weird setup remains much the same: Axl and his brothers are trying to find a way to restore their powers. Less breasts, just as much sex, staggering amounts of drinking, significant abuse of drugs. And still mostly a comedy. The writing is mostly on par with the previous year, although the ideas are perhaps a bit more stretched. They do have the good sense to realize that we'll be more interested in people than in gods, so mostly it's about the trouble being semi-god-like causes the (human) characters we care about. Axl's flatmates continue to play a big role: Gaia as the eternal romantic interest, and Zeb as the comedic relief - although he's a problem for me because most of the time he's full-on goofball, but when the kidnapping occurred, he randomly became smart for the duration (but no longer).

The season ending was this massive obnoxious hook - a new god arises, but not the one prophesied, leaving things in a mess. And it's just kind of dumb. I'm sure I'll watch the third season (it's the last), but I'm not as happy about it as I was after the previous season.

2012. With Emmett Skilton, Tim Balme, Dean O'Gorman, Jared Turner, Ben Barrington, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rachel Nash, Michelle Langstone, Eve Gordon, Hayden Frost, Fern Sutherland, Shane Cortese, Geoff Dolan.

The Almighty Johnsons, Season 3

See also my reviews of Season 1 and Season 2 above. The short version is this: when Axl Johnson turned 21 (at the beginning of Season 1), his brothers took him out into the woods, gave him a sword, and lightning hit him. At which point he discovered that he was a reincarnated Norse God - with very limited powers. Odin, specifically. And this was a big moment for his brothers, because they're all minor gods and the appearance of Odin could potentially mean that they'll all regain their full powers ... if the reincarnation of Odin is united with the reincarnation of Frigg. So we've already had two seasons of the brothers trying to track her down.

My favourite episodes all involved Thor: he only shows up for about one episode in each season, and Dolan does a wonderful job of their vision of an overweight goat farmer with a temper as Thor.

I had considerably less trouble with the New Zealand version of English than I expected ... and a good deal more trouble with their expressions. I now know that "munted" means not merely drunk, but so drunk (or messed up) as to not be functional. And it can also be applied to any piece of equipment ("this car is munted"). And that "having a root" means to have sex. And that a "fancy dress party" doesn't mean what we think (ie. suit and tie), but rather what we'd think of as a "costume party." And that was actually one of my biggest issues with the show: Axl (in fact nearly everyone) gets into a staggering variety of costumes across three seasons: at least one dress a season for Axl, his underwear on multiple occasions, butt naked fairly frequently, and on one memorable occasion, a merkin.

ASIDE: Speaking of fancy dress ... the four brothers end up showing up at the fancy dress party (independently) as a police man, an Indian, a cowboy, and a builder (Mike hasn't bothered with a costume, that's his profession). Mike looks utterly disgusted when he realizes what's happened. They don't bother to explain the joke and I'm guessing a very large portion of the show's audience missed it given that the Village People's "YMCA" came out in 1978, but I have to admit that if you did get it it was pretty rich.

This is the weakest of the three seasons, with the writing reaching farther and farther afield to try to bring in interesting elements of mythology to keep us entertained, and turning their human lives into a full blown soap opera. One of the things I particularly liked about the first season was the family bond between the brothers. Toward the end of this season they completely tear that apart, especially in the last three episodes. I thought "oh shit, you're just trying to ratchet up the tension before the inevitable cliffhanger ending before the fourth season you never got." And I believed that right up until the last half hour of the last episode when I finally realized they had actually known the end was coming and had written for it, which was a huge relief: I forgave them a lot for that. The ending was actually pretty good. Despite which ... if you want my recommendation, watch the first season and stop there.

2013. With Emmett Skilton, Tim Balme, Dean O'Gorman, Jared Turner, Ben Barrington, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rachel Nash, Michelle Langstone, Eve Gordon, Hayden Frost, Fern Sutherland, Shane Cortese, Geoff Dolan.

Almost Famous

I saw this a long time ago, probably when it came out. I remembered it as good, but that doesn't begin to do it justice: this is brilliant.

Set in 1973, Fugit plays William Miller, a precocious 15 year old who writes a couple articles for Creem magazine and then is invited by Rolling Stone to follow, and do an article on, the (non-existent) up-and-coming band "Stillwater." Hudson plays "Penny Lane," a band groupie of indeterminate age (but roughly the same age as William) who has an affair with Russell Hammond (Crudup), Stillwater's guitarist. Hammond has also become William's mentor, while William has fallen for Penny. It's all set in the drug-addled world of rock-and-roll with occasional phone calls from William's exceptionally protective mother (McDormand).

Really a fantastic movie. Hilarious, touching, a little bit heart-breaking, with great performances all around - Fugit, Crudup, and Hudson are particularly good. See it.

2000, dir. Cameron Crowe. With Patrick Fugit, Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, Frances McDormand, Jason Lee, Fairuza Balk, Anna Paquin, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Zooey Deschanel, Noah Taylor.

Aloha

Cooper plays Brian Gilcrest, an ex-soldier and former high-end contractor severely injured and effectively demoted, now returning to Hawaii to arrange a proper Hawaiian blessing for a pedestrian gate at a new space centre. He has to deal with his military assignee Allison Ng (Stone), his old buddy "Woody" (Krasinski) who's now married to the ex-girlfriend he shouldn't have given up (McAdams), and his billionaire boss Carson Welch (Murray). Not a great start, but not necessarily a bad one either. But then you have to mix in Crowe's love of over-the-top dialogue (he's used this to some success in the past - "Jerry McGuire" being a prime example - but it's just bad here) and a huge dose of seriously misplaced Hawaiian religion and mysticism, and you get a movie every bit as bad as the critics said it was.

Cooper and Stone do their best with the material, but there's not really any hope for it. The subtitling of the Manly Silence later in the movie was brilliantly funny and at least gave us some good comedy, but didn't aid in saving a movie already short on drama.

My response was to go re-watch Crowe's "Almost Famous," which I still consider to be among the best movies ever made.

2015, dir. Cameron Crowe. With Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, John Krasinski, Bill Murray, Danny McBride, Alec Baldwin.

Amal

Amal (Nagra) is an auto-rickshaw driver in New Delhi, scrupulously honest and eternally polite. One day he drives a rude old beggar (Shah), who turns out to be a multi-millionaire and later decides to leave his entire fortune to Amal ... if only it can get to Amal in a month despite the problems of locating an auto-rickshaw driver in a city of 13 million and the scheming relatives.

I picked it up at the library because it had a 100% rating at Rotten Tomatoes (admittedly from only five critics, but still impressive). It turns out that it's easy to get in Canada because, despite using all Indian actors and being set entirely in New Delhi, the majority of the funding is Canadian. Unfortunately, I found much of the movie dull, and the ending distinctly unsatisfying: setting aside other problems, they left a brand new murder dangling. Go figure.

2007, dir. Richie Mehta. With Rupinder Nagra, Naseeruddin Shah, Koel Purie, Seema Biswas.

The Amazing Spiderman (2012)

I watched this out of a sense of dedication to the genre (superhero films) rather than any great desire to do so. Superheroes are the new myths: morality tales of beings with powers greater than ours but similar problems, often on a grander scale - but ultimately they teach us what's right and wrong. And none has worked its way farther into the North American imagination than Peter Parker: "With great power comes great responsibility."

So here we are playing out the origins of Peter Parker (Garfield) again, complete with a magical spider, Oscorp, and not stopping the criminal who kills uncle Ben. We have a new enemy, the tragic Dr. Curt Connors (Ifans), and the girlfriend endangered by his new notoriety is Gwen Stacy (Stone) rather than Mary Jane. But the evil corporation is still Oscorp, and the story of Peter Parker is still a tragedy.

Garfield and Stone are good. Ifans is good when he's human, but I wasn't fond of their CG rendering of the Lizard. Leary is good, Sheen is okay, didn't like Field as Aunt May. It's better than the Tobey McGuire Spiderman, but I'm just so damn sick of the Spiderman story, over and over and over ...

2012, dir. Marc Webb. With Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Sally Field, Martin Sheen, Irrfan Khan.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The first series of big budget Spider-Man movies starring Tobey Maguire took until the third movie to fall into self-parody, with the utterly ludicrous emo-Peter Parker after Peter is taken over by the Venom parasite. This second series starring Garfield, has only required two movies to achieve the state of self-parody. There are only two real characters in the movie: Peter and Gwen (Stone). Everybody else is a plot device, a cliché, or irredeemably over-the-top. And even Peter and Gwen are moved around like pieces on a Snakes-and-Ladders board (I'm not going to grace this garbage with a comparison to the more traditional "chess board"). Giamatti shows up as a growling, sweating Russian gangster for five minutes at the beginning. Then he disappears for the entire duration of the movie (2h21m, it's not like they didn't have time to develop actual characters), only to reappear for a few seconds. DeHaan plays Harry Osborn - he looks like a sleazeball from the second he steps on screen, and his father's nastiness is provided as a reason for him being evil, but his dubious friendship with Peter is never believable and barely explored. Worst of all is Foxx as Max Dillon/Electro: he's played as a genius electrical engineer with the social skills of a wall socket and a persecution complex. They had better than two hours to make a good character with this, and instead they employ brutally over-used stereotypes.

The effects are great, but there's really nothing else to watch this movie for.

2014, dir. Marc Webb. With Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Colm Feore, Paul Giamatti, Sally Field, Chris Cooper, Marton Csokas.

Amélie (orig. "Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain)

An incredibly charming movie about a young woman in Paris who messes with the lives of her friends and co-workers - and finds her own life changing. Hilariously funny.

Surreal and filmed in massively over-saturated colours. I think my favourite moment is when a four image passport photo of a stranger that Nino (Kassovitz) is carrying starts telling him about Amélie (who he hasn't met yet) and arguing between the frames about whether she's pretty or beautiful. It's utterly hilarious ... and gives some idea of the sensibility of the movie.

2001. dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet. With Audrey Tatou, Mathieu Kassovitz.

The American President

I think I saw this when it was first released - and now again in 2012. The movie was written by Aaron Sorkin, and reads a lot like a Capra version of "The West Wing" (which Sorkin also wrote). Not a difficult jump to make: not only does this start with a classic Sorkin corridor-walk-and-talk, but Capra is referenced early in the film and a number of actors overlapped from this movie to "The West Wing."

Douglas plays Andrew Shepherd, a popular, widowed Democratic president. He shortly meets Sydney Wade (Bening), a lobbyist for an environmental group - and asks her out. The president, dating, has a lot of awkward political fallout.

The movie is essentially a romantic comedy with a heavy dose of political manoeuvring. Douglas is really good, Bening is good, and the supporting actors are all entertaining. This is a very funny and enjoyable film.

1995, dir. Rob Reiner. With Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Martin Sheen, Michael J. Fox, Anna Deveare Smith, Samantha Mathis, Richard Dreyfuss, David Paymer, Shawna Waldron.

American Splendor

An HBO movie following up on the success of "Crumb." Looks at the life of cartoonist Harvey Pekar, a friend of Crumb's. Weird blend of reality and fictionalized biography. Spends a great deal of time taxiing down the runway, setting the stage, but when in finally takes off it's really good. The voice-over on the DVD is surprisingly good - a reunion of nearly all the actors and all the people they played.

2003 dir. Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini. With Paul Giamatti, Harvey Pekar, Hope Davis.

American Ultra

The trailers for the movie were kind of fun, suggesting Eisenberg was some kind of secret agent who was a complete stoner ... to the point that he didn't remember he was a secret agent. It looked funny. And for the first thirty minutes, it was very funny, with Eisenberg and Stewart being an incredibly convincing stoner couple who are deeply in love. But the real problem is that somewhere around the thirty minute mark, the movie turns much darker, losing the humour and becoming grim and very violent.

One of the reviews I saw suggested that this was a mash-up of "Pineapple Express" and "The Bourne Identity." This is accurate as far as it goes, but you really need to throw in a big serving of "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" for the dynamic between the lovers and the grand finale in the department store. That pretty much covers it, because there aren't any new ideas here: had they given more time to the charming Eisenberg/Stewart stoner couple, it could have been a lot of fun. But in the end I'd have to recommend passing on this one, because it ceased being fun after thirty minutes and the extensive CIA inter-departmental manoeuvring that follows isn't even well played.

2015, dir. Nima Nourizadeh. With Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton, Walton Goggins, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman, Tony Hale.

Angel (Season 1, Disc 2)

Contains the episodes "Expecting," "She," "I've Got You Under My Skin," and "The Prodigy." I suppose I was hoping for the equivalent of the first season of "Buffy," instead I got something that felt like it had already been running for six seasons. It tries to balance its humour and pathos the way "Buffy" did, but fails: the humour is too flippant, and the pathos doesn't really stand on a solid enough base to really affect the viewer. Disappointing.

2000. With David Boreanaz, Alexis Denisof, Charisma Carpenter.

The Angry Birds Movie

Based on possibly the most popular single game in the history of cell phones.

Red is a volatile bird, sentenced to Anger Management class. There he meets (and tries to avoid) Chuck, Bomb, Terence, and his instructor Matilda. When Pigs visit the island, Red is the only one who's suspicious. So when the Pigs steal all the birds' eggs, they turn to Red for leadership.

It was a strange experience watching this movie: they had a hell of a voice cast, and the jokes come thick and fast. And on paper, they probably looked good. I kept going over the jokes in my head as they went by, and thinking "that ought to be funny ..." And yet it was amazing how few of them were. The movie was stupid, mildly offensive, colourful, innocuous, and highly unsuccessful. Definitely a movie for all ages to avoid.

2016, dir. Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly. With Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Kate McKinnon, Sean Penn, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Bill Hader, Peter Dinklage.

The Ant Bully

Cute but predictable. Enjoyable, but you'll be thinking "it's all been done before:" this one doesn't really add anything new. Good voice work, decent animation.

Young boy (Tyler) is bullied by his peers, doesn't connect with his parents. In his frustration, he floods the ant hill in his yard. As revenge, an ant-wizard (voiced by Cage) changes him to the size of an ant. The ant queen (Streep) declares that he has to learn to live as an ant. He's mentored by Roberts' character. As the movie progresses, he finds that his bitterness and lack of teamwork doesn't work. So predictable.

2006, dir. John Davis. Zach Tyler, Nicolas Cage, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Paul Giamatti, Bruce Campbell, Regina King, Lily Tomlin, Larry Miller, Ricardo Montalban.

Ant-Man

The movie opens twice - the first time in 1989, with Hank Pym (a digitally youth-ified Douglas) quitting S.H.I.E.L.D. over Stark senior's desire to weaponize Pym's shrinking technology. The second time is after the title sequence and set in the current day, with Scott Lang (Rudd - an unlikely but reasonably successful action hero) getting out of jail after a stint for burglary. He's picked up - and housed - by his former cell-mate Luis (Peña - who has a large role but went over-the-top anyway ... although he's reasonably charming and funny). It's quickly established that Lang has a Masters in Electrical Engineering (I approve), his most famous heist was both technologically extremely difficult and charitable not lucrative (giving money back to people who had been ripped off), and that he has a young daughter he desperately loves but can't see much because he's an ex-con (and her would-be step-dad is a cop). All of that in about ten minutes, it definitely felt like a data dump. A reasonably well constructed one, but so laden with information that it screamed "prep!" as it happened. And then Hank Pym is back, fighting his former associate Darren Cross (Stoll) who's nearly recreated the Ant-Man tech and is clearly evil because he wants to weaponize it.

All of the characters are drawn a little too broadly, but the actors are also clearly enjoying themselves in a way that makes the movie entertaining to the viewer. The end result is flawed, but fairly well constructed and a lot of fun.

Like any Marvel film, there's both a mid-credits scene and a post-credits scene to look for. The mid-credits scene directly relates to the movie you've just seen, and is fairly rewarding in context. The post-credits scene is an idiotic hook for "Captain America: Civil War," which tells you essentially nothing if you haven't read the related comic books, and hardly anything even if you have.

2015, dir. Peyton Reed. With Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Michael Peña, Bobby Cannavale, Anthony Mackie, Judy Greer.

Antz

Allen brings existential angst to animated kid's films. Go figure. A lot of the humour is aimed squarely at adults, and a lot at kids - with little crossover. It's fairly entertaining, more than a bit didactic, and somewhat confused about its target audience. The line-up of actors is pretty incredible.

1998, dir. Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson. With Woody Allen, Dan Ackroyd, Anne Bancroft, Danny Glover, Gene Hackman, Christopher Walken, Sylvester Stallone, Jennifer Lopez, Sharon Stone.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil

Anvil is a Canadian heavy metal band. In 1984 they were on stage at the Super Rock festival in Japan with the Scorpions, Whitesnake, and Bon Jovi. They were hugely influential on all the metal bands of the time ... but they've never had any particular success. Despite which they're still rocking out to small crowds in 2006 when the movie was filmed, despite having dull day jobs to pay the mortgage because Anvil doesn't pay for shit. But they refuse to quit, believing at every turn that the next concert will sell out, the next album will go gold ...

The movie is quite good, but kind of depressing as they go further into debt to record a new album that no record label is willing to distribute and their concerts sell 50 or 100 tickets. It's a fascinating character study. The irony of it is that the movie has put them back on the map: now they're opening for AC/DC and Saxon.

2009, dir. Sacha Gervasi. With Steve "Lips" Kudlow, Robb Reiner, Glenn Five, Ivan Hurd, Tiziana Arrigoni, Chris Tsangarides, Lars Ulrich, Slash, Lemmy, Tom Araya, Scott Ian.

The Apartment

I was fairly concerned at the beginning that I was going to watch a slapstick comedy with no real content - it took a good 45 minutes to get warmed up and actually put some emotion into the silliness. It was a bit late, but it was pretty good anyway. Lemmon plays a low ranking business man who loans his apartment to higher ranking business men for their trysts - an awkward circumstance at best, and now he finds he's fallen for one of the mistresses.

1959, dir. Billy Wilder. With Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray.

Appaloosa

Harris and Mortensen play enforcers hired to clean the bad elements (Irons and his men) out of the town of Appaloosa. As Mortensen's voice-over explains at the beginning, it might be a bit more complicated than that. While this is historically accurate and well acted, I thought that Westerns haven't changed much since the 1950s - except for the rather more frank inclusion of sex. Certainly the violence has always been there - brutal but actually somewhat underplayed in this one. While it was, indeed, well done, I found myself entirely unmoved by this movie.

2008, dir. Ed Harris. With Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Rene Zellweger, Jeremy Irons, Timothy Spall, James Gammon.

Appleseed

After a massive world war, humanity sets up a single utopian city to live in. Of course, there are cracks and flaws in utopia, quickly discovered by Deunan when she's brought into the city from the outside world. The buildings and machines are all CG and generally look pretty good, but most of the people are hand-drawn. Not that the people look bad, but I found the mix a little disconcerting. The dialogue is awful and the story absurd.

2004, dir. Shinji Aramaki.

Arabian Nights

Hallmark Entertainment - had I known that up front, I probably wouldn't have watched it. Despite which, it's pretty damn good for a TV mini-series. Lavish production, some clever ideas, and famous stories brought to life in credible style.

1999, dir. Steve Barron. With Mili Avital, Dougray Scott, James Frain, Rufus Sewell, Jason Scott Lee, Tcheky Karyo, Alan Bates, John Leguizamo.

The Best Arbuckle Keaton Collection

A two DVD collection of two-reel silent shorts, directed by and starring Arbuckle, all of which co-star Buster Keaton. Arbuckle had his career totally destroyed in 1923 by a massive rape trial - he was completely exonerated, but his career was not.

Arbuckle was a physical comedian much in the style of Harold Lloyd and later stars Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Arbuckle had his moments, but I was more interested in watching this early view of Keaton learning his trade - before he became "Old Stone Face." That's right, he actually reacts to things in these ones. And he already really, really knew how to fall down. It was fascinating to see in the short "Back Stage" a stage facade of a two storey building falling on an oblivious Arbuckle who is fortunate enough to be standing such that he goes through a window in the facade without injury. Sound familiar? It's a gag that Keaton borrowed to greater effect in "Steamboat Bill, Jr."(?) in which he used a real house facade and probably would have died if he hadn't positioned himself correctly. It's one of his most famous scenes.

Titles: "The Butcher Boy," "The Rough House," "His Wedding Night," "Oh, Doctor!," "Coney Island," "Out West," "The Bell Boy," "Moonshine," "Good Night, Nurse," "Back Stage," "The Hayseed," "The Garage."

compilation: 2001, original dates 1917-1920. dir. Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. With Buster Keaton, Al St. John, Alice Lake, Jack Coogan Sr., Molly Malone.

The Aristocrats

One hundred comedians (or thereabouts) and their takes on one incredibly filthy joke. Some of the view of how comedians work, their analysis of humour, was interesting - but I found the central joke relatively unfunny which left me kind of disinterested in a lot of the proceedings.

The two most obscene and/or disgusting takes on the joke were told by Goldberg and Sagat. Sagat?! Apparently after years of doing the excessively family-friendly "Full House" and "America's Funniest Home Videos," he had a lot of bile to get out. Ironically, the version that amused me the most was perhaps the least offensive.

With Penn Gillette, Whoopi Goldberg, Gilbert Gottfried, Bob Sagat, George Carlin ...

Armour of God

One of Chan's less inspired movies, "Armour of God" sees Jackie as an Indiana Jones-like character called "The Asian Hawk" recovering (and selling) relics from all over the world. An evil cult wants to possess the Armour of God and Jackie has had three of the five pieces pass through his hands in the last few years. So the cult kidnaps one of the members of Jackie's former band and his ex-girlfriend - which saddles him with his ex-best-friend, now her boyfriend. So we get a fairly typical buddy set-up, with the friend being the theoretical comedic relief and simultaneously making Jackie's job of rescuing the girl much more difficult. There are a couple passable fights, a few decent stunts, but it's a hell of a wade to get to them.

1987, dir. Jackie Chan and Eric Tsang. With Jackie Chan, Alan Tam, Rosamund Kwan, Lola Forner.

Armour of God II: Operation Condor

One of Chan's most sexist movies, which is saying something. He surrounds himself with pretty, second rate actresses and has them shriek, lose their clothes, and be helpless. He occasionally throws in a joke or two aimed at his own sexism, but it doesn't stop him.

Nominally a sequel to "Armour of God," the movie sees the return of only two characters (one being Chan) and neither is quite what they were in the previous movie. But Chan is still a globe-trotting Indiana Jones type, this time after several tons of Nazi gold. He sets out with one woman as his boss, is joined by a second whose grandfather helped hide the gold, and rather inexplicably acquires a third helpless woman along the way in Africa. Good triumphs, but not without quite a number of fistfights - sadly, not among his best. He was concentrating on crazy stunts - powered paragliding, zorbing, fighting in a wind tunnel. A little too over-the-top, not enough good fights.

1991, dir. Jackie Chan. With Jackie Chan, Carol Cheng, Eva Cobo de Garcia, Shoko Ikeda, Aldo Sambrell.

Arn - The Knight Templar

Apparently there are two cuts of this film - one, the original Swedish version, and the second one that includes the original Swedish movie and the sequel in one. I take it this latter one was all that was released in North America, and it's what I saw.

We first meet Arn (Nätterqvist) in the Crusades, killing bandits in the Holy Land. In the process, he has saved a small group from the bandits - a small group that includes Saladin (Soman). He and Saladin find a deep respect for each other. We're also filled in on Arn's back story: he grew up in a monastery, where he learned to fight from a former Knight Templar. When he stepped out into the world, his ability to fight saves his family - and creates other problems. Which are compounded when he falls in love with Cecilia (Helin), who is promised to another but loves Arn.

I found the movie too long - interesting that what I saw was a severely cut down version of two movies (the good news being that I didn't think that showed at all). But it's well done and well acted. The tone is sad, somber throughout as Arn and his love go through twenty years of penance and live under constant threat of battle.

2008, dir. Peter Flinth. With Joakim Nätterqvist, Sofia Helin, Milind Soman, Stellan Skarsgård, Simon Callow, Vincent Perez, Bibi Andersson, Michael Nyqvist.

Around the World in Eighty Days

I love Jackie Chan. I've become accustomed to watching stupid but entertaining movies based around his skills. In this case, all I got was stupid. Charming, but so silly it was pathetic and I didn't think much of the action, usually one of Chan's strengths.

2004, dir. Frank Coraci. With Jackie Chan, Steve CCoogan, Cécile De France, Jim Broadbent.

Arrietty

Apparently those with a knowledge of juvenile fiction recognize the name as that of a character in Mary Norton's old book The Borrowers, and indeed this is based on that book. It is, however, set in modern day Japan. Yonebayashi is with Studio Ghibli, and has clearly studied Miyazaki's work. Miyazaki had a hand in the script.

Arrietty is about 10 cm tall, and she and her parents live under the floorboards of a house in the country. Trouble comes in the form of a sick young (human) boy: he means them no harm, but when he spots Arrietty on a couple of occasions, their interactions begin to cause problems for her family.

The movie is quite slow-paced with utterly gorgeous visuals. It's not going to astound you with its pyrotechnics, but it's likely to stay in your mind as a thing of quiet beauty.

2010, dir. Hiromasa Yonebayashi. With Mirai Shida, Ryūnosuke Kamiki, Shinobu Ōtake, Keiko Takeshita, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Tomokazu Miura, Kirin Kiki.

The Arrival

I saw this first when it came out, and again in 2011.

Sheen plays Zane Zaminski, a radio astronomer for SETI who thinks he's heard an alien radio signal. As soon as he mentions it to his supervisor, he's shut down, and it's not just his job he loses. He starts "borrowing" other people's satellite dishes to make a composite radio telescope array, then goes to Mexico to visit the site of an answering signal.

Sheen has a lot of fun as the incredibly paranoid and slightly loopy Zane (with an arrogance that seems to have presaged his own later life ...) and a decent supporting cast and enjoyable script make this a lot of fun to watch ... although perhaps more for science fiction fans than anyone else.

1996, dir. David Twohy. With Charlie Sheen, Teri Polo, Tony T. Johnson, Lindsay Crouse, Ron Silver, Richard Schiff.

Arrow, Season 1

The story centres around young billionaire playboy Oliver Queen (Amell), newly returned home after five years on a tropical island after the wreck of his father's ship. Evidently risen from the dead, he comes back to right the wrongs his father left him heir to in the city. His weapon of choice is the bow, and he's very, very good with it. And at fighting in general. Not what he was when he left. His vendetta in the city develops in parallel with the story of his time on the island.

There's an idea in Computer Science called "The Principle of Least Surprise," which means you want your user (or even your programmer) to be able to guess what a function or interface does. Unfortunately, "Arrow" seems to have been written according to this same principle. The characters are reasonably well written (if weakly acted), the dialogue is reasonably good, but the action and the plot developments are amazingly free of interesting surprises. I don't claim to have predicted all the plot points by any means, but when they never went anywhere I couldn't have gone myself with 15 or 20 minutes of thought ... Not impressive.

One interesting feature of the show is that no one (NO ONE) in Starling City is anything less than attractive. They're all perfect. Another significant issue is that it's astonishingly similar to Batman: rich playboy by day, masked vigilante by night, with all the techno-toys money can buy. Sound familiar?

2012-13, with Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, Colin Donnell, David Ramsey, Willa Holland, Susanna Thompson, Paul Blackthorne, Emily Bett Rickards, Manu Bennett, John Barrowman.

Arrow, Season 2

Season 2 got away from the Principle of Least Surprise ... but by the 4th episode or so I was kind of wishing they could have chosen a more realistic storyline, like Oliver going water skiing and jumping over a shark or something like that. People who were thought dead reappear. There are assassins (a lot of them), strength-enhancing drugs, deaths, reversals (good people become bad, etc.), people who were dead reappearing (as opposed to those who, say, fell off a sinking ship and were presumed dead), more masked villains, more masked vigilantes. It's a full scale soap opera - not that that's significantly different than the original comic books, but I didn't find it terribly palatable then either.

2013-14, with Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, Colin Donnell, David Ramsey, Willa Holland, Susanna Thompson, Paul Blackthorne, Emily Bett Rickards, Manu Bennett, John Barrowman, Colton Haynes.

Arthur and George

Martin Clunes plays the recently widowed Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Arsher Ali plays George Edalji, a solicitor of Indian descent in rural England in 1903. He's accused of maiming multiple animals and sentenced to three years hard labour. After his release, Sir Arthur becomes his biggest sponsor in an attempt to prove him innocent after the fact. Edalji would be unable to practice law having been convicted of committing a crime, so the stakes were fairly high for him. Of course Sir Arthur was not Sherlock Holmes, no matter how much he might have liked to have been - but on the flip side, neither was he a stupid man. (It's loosely based on real events.)

The mini-series consists of three 45 minute episodes, and involves both Edalji's family and Sir Arthur's family and friends. It's all fairly low key, but it's also intelligent and interesting. I enjoyed it.

2015. With Martin Clunes, Arsher Ali, Charles Edwards, Art Malik, Emma Fielding.

Arthur Christmas

An animated movie by Aardman and Sony Animation.

Arthur Christmas (McAvoy) is the youngest of the family that runs the North Pole: his father Malcolm (Broadbent) is the current Santa Claus, and his brother Steve (Laurie) is in charge of operations. The beginning, Christmas night with Santa's massive technological sled and an army of ninja elves delivering presents, is brilliantly funny. Arthur turns out to be a horrible klutz - because of this he's been assigned to the mail room where he can't do as much damage. But he visits the control room anyway, and manages to make a scene without meaning to. And then he discovers that a child has been missed - received no gift - and sets out to remedy the situation with the help of GrandSanta (his grandfather - voiced by Nighy) and Bryony (Jensen), a slightly maniacal Scottish elf from the Wrapping Department.

Both good-natured and very entertaining, this is a fun and charming Christmas story. I was a little reluctant to watch it, but it definitely won me over. Jensen was a particular stand-out, hugely funny.

2011, dir. Sarah Smith. With James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Ashley Jensen, Imelda Staunton, Marc Wootton, Laura Linney, Eva Longoria, Ramona Marquez, Michael Palin.

The Artist

A black and white, silent film from 2011. It's an interesting conceit: we follow the life of a famous silent movie star ("George Valentin," played by Dujardin) and his rising protégé Peppy Miller (Bejo) who goes into the talking pictures that Valentin scorns.

It's very well done, but it's also frustratingly self-aware. Likewise, it's frequently very clever - but sometimes it was just ... annoying. Nevertheless, Hazanavicius' extensive research and love of silent film paid off with a beautifully constructed film. A huge success as a pastiche and a tribute, I thought the story was somewhat less successful.

2011, dir. Michel Hazanavicius. With Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, Uggie, James Cromwell, John Goodman, Missi Pyle, Penelope Ann Miller, Malcolm McDowell.

As You Like It (BBC, 1978)

A BBC TV production with a surprisingly untalented cast. Only Mirren is even halfway decent, and she's too old for her role (Rosalind) and rather subdued. It's not disastrous, and it does appear to include the entire text (rather unusual these days).

1978, dir. Basil Coleman. With Helen Mirren, Brian Stirner, Richard Pasco, Angharad Rees, James Bolam, Clive Francis.

As You Like It (CBC, 1983)

Filmed on the stage at the Stratford Festival in 1983, and superior to the 1978 BBC version also listed here. Rosalind, Celia and Orlando are all too old, but it's well acted, and well interpreted - meaning that someone spent a lot of time thinking about Shakespeare's meaning, and some physical hints are given to help us understand Shakespeare's more obscure language ... without going overboard or taking us out of the play. Besides, it's broad comedy. A good production.

1983, dir. John Hirsch. With Roberta Maxwell (Rosalind), Andrew Gillies (Orlando), Nicholas Pennell (Jacques), Rosemary Dunsmore (Celia).

As You Like It (Branagh, 2006)

Branagh has re-envisioned this Shakespeare play as set in a British enclave in the late 1800s in Japan. This was a bizarre and distracting choice, and I couldn't see any real strength to the decision. The acting varies from okay to quite good: Blessed phoned in both his performances as the older and younger dukes, Garai (Celia) was too animated, Molina (Touchstone) was underused, Howard (Rosalind) and Kline (Jacques) were good. As is often the case, Branagh had some very sound insights into the structure of the play and made some good choices interpreting the action. But he chopped the text mercilessly - as he often does - to poorer effect than usual. So he managed two or three really beautiful moments I'd love to cut out of the rest of the movie to stuff into the ultimate version of the play ... but unless you're a big fan of Shakespeare, this production probably isn't worth your time.

2006, dir. Kenneth Branagh. With Bryce Dallas Howard, Kevin Kline, Brian Blessed, Romola Garai, Richard Briers, David Oyelowo, Adrian Lester, Jade Jefferies, Janet McTeer, Alfred Molina.

The Assassin

I pride myself on being able to make more sense of movies and catch more details than most other people. As we all know from stories and movies, the prideful are eventually brought low. In this case, by a movie with an utterly glacial pace that shows an unresolved martial arts fight (it seems that both fighters walked away, but there's no explanation of why it happened) followed by a shot of goats in a pen chewing their cuds. The only conclusion is that the director is more concerned with "pretty" than with resolution. I was roped into this movie because it had an 81% rating and is "Certified Fresh" over at Rotten Tomatoes: I'm really going to have to rethink my decision methodology.

The basic premise sees a young woman (Nie Yinniang, played by Qi) who was sent away to train with a nun ... who teaches her to be an assassin ... coming home with the assignment of killing her cousin (Chen) who is now a provincial official and who also used to be her fiancée. There's other political intrigue at work, and some nasty family politics as her ex-fiancée is having an affair with a dancer (or is she officially his concubine? ... but his wife doesn't like it).

There may be cultural clues if you're Chinese that will fill in the gaping holes left by the director's disinterest in the plot (at 1 hour 45 minutes, there's enough plot for a 30 minute short - the rest of the time is filled with scenery and very long silences between conversation).

It's pretty in places, but overall I'd rate this one "agonizing."

2015, dir. Hou Hsiao-Hsien. With Shu Qi, Chang Chen, Zhou Yun, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Ethan Juan.

Assassin's Creed

I don't know anything about the video game series that inspired this movie, although I understand it's better than this turgid piece of crap. This movie is a poster child for why video games shouldn't be turned into movies ... and somehow it dragged several excellent actors down with it.

Fassbender plays both modern-day murderer Callum Lynch, and also Aguilar de Nerha of the Assassin's Creed Brotherhood in 1492. In the modern day, as in the past, the Assassins are fighting the Knights Templar: the Assassins fight for the freedom of mankind, the Knights believe in peace through the removal of all free will. In the modern day, the Knights put Callum into a machine that allows him to relive parts of the life of his relative de Nerha, hoping to find the "Apple of Eden."

The plot only gets sillier, so I'll spare you. Fassbender apparently thought this project was good enough to be a producer. He's pretty much the only person in the whole thing who manages to bring a moment or two drama to the production. The others aren't trying very hard, but they have such a ham-fisted plot and lousy dialogue to deal with that selling this product is akin to selling shoes to snakes even if they'd been working at it. Some of the action sequences are mildly entertaining, although entirely unbelievable.

Overblown, over-long, and intensely ludicrous.

2016, dir. Justin Kurzel. With Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling and Michael K. Williams.

Astro Boy (2009)

An animated children's movie based on the very old and often adapted work of Osamu Tezuka.

Toby (Highmore) is the brilliant young son of Dr. Tenma (Cage), who is killed - partly by his own curiosity and a little by the bad choices of his father and President Stone (Sutherland), for whom Tenma works. Tenma builds a highly realistic (but heavily armed) robot recreation of his son (also Highmore) ... and then rejects him because his behaviour isn't exactly the same as his son Toby. This young child robot has various adventures and eventually saves everyone and everything, and feels better about himself.

The target age group on this one is younger than I'm used to, although perhaps not out of line with the original Astro Boy material. There's very little in here for adults except the pretty visuals, and even seven year olds may notice this is a bit heavy-handed.

2009, dir. David Bowers. With Freddie Highmore, Nicolas Cage, Kristen Bell, Bill Nighy, Donald Sutherland, Nathan Lane, Samuel L. Jackson.

Atonement

Wright's follow-up to his very good version of "Pride and Prejudice," he chose to adapt another novel - this time a recent novel by Ian McEwan about Britain during the war. While the older daughter of the Tallis family (Knightley) falls for one of the servants (McAvoy), the younger Tallis daughter (played at different ages by Ronan, Garai, and Redgrave) accuses him of a crime he didn't commit, changing all their lives. Flashbacks and different points of view of the same event mean that you spend a lot of time patching the actual sequence of events together in your head. I found the eventual conclusion ... realistic, but unsatisfying.

2007, dir. Joe Wright. With Keira Knightley, Saoirse Ronan, James McAvoy, Brenda Blethyn, Romola Garai, Vanessa Redgrave.

Attack on Titan

I learned a new word! "Tokusatsu," defined by Wikipedia as "a Japanese term that applies to any live-action film or television drama that features considerable use of special effects (tokusatsu literally translates as 'special filming' in Japanese)." And yes, "Godzilla" is the quintessential tokusatsu movie.

The movie was released in two parts in Japan: "Attack on Titan" and "Attack on Titan: End of the World." This is a review of the first of these two.

"Attack on Titan" is based on a successful manga of the same name. The main premise is that 100 years ago, Titans appeared - 20 metre tall humanoids who like to eat humans. The remainder of humanity (I love the assumption made by so many pieces of fiction that their people are the centre of the universe) builds three massive concentric walls to keep the Titans out, and lives a peaceful and relatively low-tech existence for 100 years. All of which is explained, and our heroes introduced, in 15 minutes before the first new sighting of a Titan - one so large it kicks a whole in the wall so regular Titans can enter. Decimation follows. And then we jump forward two years. Which is a crap story structure, but nothing compared to the wooden prose, lousy exposition, and terrible acting. Now "humanity" has lost their food supply (the outer ring wall contained the farms) and our heroes are part of a desperate mission by the makeshift military to try to fix the breached wall so the Titans within the outer ring can be cleared out.

The effects are good but not great. The method of attacking the Titans is ... physically improbable, as are the Titans themselves (and their food source). Most importantly, the writing and acting are bloody awful. And yet, it's kind of mesmerizing and I watched the entire thing. Whether or not I'll bother to track down "End of the World" is open to question.

2015, dir. Shinji Higuchi. With Haruma Miura, Hiroki Hasegawa, Kiko Mizuhara, Kanata Hongō, Takahiro Miura, Nanami Sakuraba, Satoru Matsuo, Shu Watanabe, Ayame Misaki, Rina Takeda, Satomi Ishihara, Pierre Taki, Jun Kunimura.

Attack the Block

A low budget science fiction thriller that starts out with a mugging in a low rent district of modern London. A young woman headed home is mugged, but escapes further injury when the muggers are distracted by a meteor hitting a car. The meteor has delivered some kind of small and nasty creature, which the muggers attack. Unfortunately, more (and larger) arrive shortly.

The set-up is unusual, and the cast of unknowns (Whittaker and Frost appear to be the only ones who've been in major movies before, and neither is hugely well known) attack the script with energy and intensity. Very entertaining.

2011, dir. Joe Cornish. With John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail, Frank Drameh, Leeon Jones, Simon Howard, Nick Frost, Jumayn Hunter, Luke Treadaway.

Au revoir les enfants

This is now regarded as one of the classics of cinema. It's a semi-autobiographical tale by the director, Louis Malle, who grew up in France during the Second World War. The story is about Julien Quentin (Manesse), who at the beginning of the film is returning to boarding school. He's one of the school's hellraisers (also quite smart), but we first see him as a pampered Momma's boy. At his Roman Catholic school, one of the new students is Jean Bonnet (Fejtö), who turns out to be a Jew that the priests are hiding. This is a big risk in the middle of occupied France.

The movie plays out as a series of vignettes, scenes from their day-to-day life at the school. There's zero effort to join the scenes together. This lack of continuity made the film a fairly bumpy ride, and somewhat uninvolving. By the end you have a pretty good picture of who everyone is, and where they stand in the world ... just in time for the inevitable tragedy that made this period of Malle's life so memorable he needed to make a film about it.

It's a window on a particular place and period in time, and in the end a fairly good movie, but if we set aside the awe and the horror that surrounds the circumstances and just look at it as a movie ... I just don't understand the respect it gets. It's a good movie, but I didn't feel like it qualified as a great movie.

1987, dir. Louis Malle. With Gaspard Manesse, Raphaël Fejtö, Francine Racette, Stanislas Carré, Philippe Morier-Genoud, François Berléand, Irène Jacob, François Négret.

Austenland

Russell plays Jane Hayes, an American woman obsessed with Jane Austen's novels, particularly Colin Firth's version of Mr. Darcy. She spends all the money she has on a trip to Austenland, where she discovers that her travel agent sold her the cheap package, and playing at romance isn't as good as she'd hoped.

The concept isn't bad, but they start by massively overplaying Jane's obsession. As soon as she arrives in Austenland, she dials it back by a factor of ten and the movie deliberately surrounds her with tasteless boors (number one on the list being Coolidge, who's so far past "typecast" she's defining a new category) so she looks like a princess. Throw in a handsome stable boy (McKenzie) and a Mr. Darcy (Feild) who both fall for her ... The jokes are routinely painfully broad and the romance foregone. Could have been so much better if they'd ever heard the word "subtlety," but as it is, everyone should pass - especially Austen fans.

2013, dir. Jerusha Hess. With Keri Russell, JJ Feild, Bret McKenzie, Jennifer Coolidge, James Callis, Jane Seymour, Georgia King, Ricky Whittle, Rupert Vansittart.

Avatar

Let's get this out of the way first: young man goes to new place, tries to infiltrate natives, succeeds, becomes enamoured of native culture, helps natives fight his own evil culture. The story is unoriginal. Although they do a reasonably good version.

That said, this is simply the most beautiful movie I've ever seen. Cameron has created an entire world, a stunning visual feast, easily worth seeing multiple times. See it in 3-D, preferably in IMAX if that's available to you. The sense of immersion is much greater in IMAX, having seen both.

Special Edition: The above is about the original theatrical release. The Special Edition hit theatres in late August 2010 with an extra eight or nine minutes of footage and immediately tanked - more because people had had enough "Avatar" than because it was a bad version. The added footage is scattered throughout the film in 10-30 second segments, and, while none of it is revelatory, I thought it added considerably to the film. The film is already incredibly long, but with reason: Cameron is world-building, taking the plot at a leisurely pace to help you understand an entire new world. The new material adds more context: not essential, but one of those rare cases where the director restoring footage is actually a good thing.

2009, dir. James Cameron. With Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Joel Moore, Giovani Ribisi, Michelle Rodriguez, Laz Alonso, Dileep Rao.

Avatar: The Last Airbender

By the time I got to three friends having told me I really needed to watch this Nickelodeon series, I started to take them seriously. The biggest problem was trying to watch it on the library's very popular and very scratched DVDs: I was forced to skip "Book 2 Volume 1" (how they label the discs, in this case indicating episodes 1-5 of the second year out of 21 episodes) because the disc was unusable. Each volume has a run-time of 2h02m, made somewhat shorter by five sets of beginning and end credits. The series ran for three years.

I found several problems with the series, none of them particularly serious. It's heavy-handed with the life lessons for the entire three year run - often with the young characters delivering them with more understanding of emotions (and willingness to talk about them) than 12-to-15-year-olds actually have. But then, the target audience was (according to Wikipedia) 6 to 11 years old. The animation is relatively low rent, low res, and jerky - although it's also often quite beautiful. Several pieces of the outcome were blatantly obvious: the Avatar would succeed, and I knew where Zuko and Iroh were headed by the middle of the first season (although Zuko's journey took longer than I expected). But despite these short-comings, it was immensely enjoyable: it's funny, it's great to look at, it's amazingly inventive, and it's really charming. I was a little shaky on it after "Book I Volume I" (the first five episodes) because it was TV animation and heavy-handed, but I kept going and was richly rewarded: they take the time to create a huge cast of characters, and to tell their stories in a massive and consistent story arc right across the three years run. Some parts are predictable, but most of it is surprising and very entertaining. It's a crying shame that Shyamalan's live-action movie interpretation is so widely reported to be spectacularly awful.

2005-2008, created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. With Zach Tyler Eisen, Mae Whitman, Jack DeSena, Jessie Flower, Dante Basco, Dee Bradley Baker, Mako Iwamatsu, Greg Baldwin, Gey DeLisle.

The Avengers (Series 4, episodes 4-23 to 4-26)

Being in the Science Fiction community in the 80s, it was hard to avoid mention of the old British TV series "The Avengers." And then there was the notorious 1998 Hollywood film starring Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes, which achieved an appalling 5% on Rotten Tomatoes to remind me again. I've often wondered what this oh-so-greatly-loved show was about. When a random disc from the series appeared in front of me at the library, I picked it up. This is the fourth disc of 1966, including the episodes "The House That Jack Built," "A Sense of History," "How to Succeed ... at Murder," and "Honey for the Prince."

Wikipedia suggests that the first couple episodes were actually about avenging something (a murder), but by the fourth season it was simply an excuse for Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg to run about being goofy, solving crimes with smart minds and an ability to fight, and be charmingly deceptive when necessary. While the cover shows Rigg clinging to Macnee, the DVD shows her to be eminently capable of taking care of herself. He rides to the rescue once, only to find that she's already got herself out of trouble: "Where's your shining armour?" she says, to which he replies "Oh, ah, it's at the laundry." It was lovely to see a capable woman who didn't need rescuing - particularly in 1960s TV. On the flip-side of that, in all four episodes they find a way to get her into a revealing costume. Macnee on the other hand is always dressed in a suit and tie. So only partial points for the creation of a strong female lead.

Charming, somewhat entertaining, and about as deep as a puddle. I'm afraid it falls under the Samuel Johnson quote: "Worth seeing? Yes; but not worth going to see."

1966. With Patrick Macnee, Diana Rigg.

The Avengers

The intersection (I thought of using "culmination," but that implies termination, and that's not happening) of several of Marvel's movie franchises: "The Incredible Hulk" (now Ruffalo, the third actor in three movies), "Iron Man" (Downey), "Thor" (Hemsworth), and "Captain America" (Evans) are all at play here. The two other members of the team, Hawkeye (Renner) and the Black Widow (Johansson) appeared in "Thor" and "Iron Man 2" respectively. They are brought together by Nick Fury (Jackson, also previously seen in "Iron Man 2") as the "Avengers Initiative" to fend off an attack on earth by Loki (Hiddleston, from "Thor").

Whedon directed and co-wrote. As usual, he manages to balance personal interactions between the characters and the grand scale of the battle they're embroiled in, setting his little plot points early on in the movie so you don't even know they're being set, then skewering you thoroughly on something innocent you learned earlier. Fanboys get what they want - not only do the good guys fight the bad guys, but the good guys occasionally fight amongst themselves. And people who want some intelligence get it too: it's well written and well plotted. And, as reported by just about every critic before me, Hulk's beat-down on Loki is indeed one of the best moments in the movie (short as it is).

The word that comes to my mind is "worthy." Marvel and Whedon had a lot to live up to with the success and quality they managed to bring to "Thor," "Iron Man," and "Captain America" (I'm going to forget about both recent versions of "The Hulk," except to say that Ruffalo makes a far superior Bruce Banner to Eric Bana or even Edward Norton). And they've lived up to all those franchises. Just make sure you know the previous movies before you step into this, and you'll enjoy it immensely.

2012, dir. Joss Whedon. With Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Samuel L. Jackson, Stellan Skarsgård, Cobie Smulders.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

"Age of Ultron" opens with bizarrely blatant CG shots, including one of director Whedon's favourites which sees all of the Avengers lunging across the screen simultaneously. It's cute, but so blatantly a set piece that I recoiled in disgust. From there the movie - and the CG - improve. We meet "the twins," Wanda and Pietro Maximoff ("The Scarlet Witch" and "Quicksilver" in Marvel's larger universe). Which is somewhat disorienting if you've seen "X-Men: Days of Future Past" because in that not only are they played by different actors but they're about a decade apart in age - I wish Marvel would regulate their properties better ... but I digress and this seems to be entirely expected by a lot of people. And then there's the evil dude Ultron who's created by Tony Stark (still Downey, looking too smug this time out), and lots of big fights.

It's fun - even if we have to put up with deliberately contrived fights like the early on "Hulk vs. Iron Man/Hulkbuster suit" ... someone please ring the fight bell. They go about two rounds, and trash a major city. You know the routine, and the excuse: the Scarlet Witch got into Hulk's head. It all builds to a major denouement, and humanity is saved - mostly. Blah blah blah. There are good fights and it was enjoyable, but the first Avengers movie was definitely the better of the two.

Spader has a blast voicing "Ultron," and does a fine job of bringing the deranged AI to life. Sadly, the only other character development of any description, despite the relatively long run-time, is regarding the possible budding romance between Bruce Banner (the Hulk, Ruffalo) and Natasha Romanoff ("Black Widow," Johansson). I suppose there's a bit for the Scarlet Witch (Olsen) and Quicksilver (Taylor-Johnson), but mostly they appear fully formed and we're expected to understand their bond through a few glances between them.

2014, dir. Joss Whedon. With Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Mackie.

Awakenings

Williams is Dr. Sayer, an academic who ends up working in a chronic care facility in a hospital. Some of the patients are catatonic, and he noticed that many of them responded to certain types of stimuli and were survivors of encephalitis. He begins to treat one of them with the new drug L-Dopa.

Based on a non-fiction book by Oliver Sacks, the movie is reasonably well done and rather bittersweet: I can't say much more without spoiling the movie. Williams' performance was a little shaky, and De Niro's felt exaggerated (although it may have been accurate). And, while it's good as a whole, I didn't think it was in any way outstanding.

1990, dir. Penny Marshall. With Robin Williams, Robert De Niro, John Heard, Julie Kavner, Penelope Ann Miller, Max Von Sydow.

The Awful Truth

A Broadway play-turned-movie, and thus full of witty one-liners and caustic humour. But somewhat impaired in the common sense department ... not just the characters, but the screenwriters as well. Grant and Dunne play a married couple who get into a tiff and immediately decide that divorce is the only solution, and we spend the next hour and a quarter watching them reconsider. Silly, and, as mentioned, occasionally funny.

1937, dir. Leo McCarey. With Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Ralph Bellamy, Alexander D'Arcy, Cecil Cunningham, Molly Lamont, Esther Dale.


B

Babette's Feast

A French woman of unknown origins prepares a huge feast for a group of religious puritans in a remote town in Denmark. Fairly good, but I found much of it emotionally cold - it doesn't draw you in or involve you much.

1987. dir. Gabriel Axel.

Babylon 5

Babylon 5 is a space station - the fifth of a series, none of the previous ones having gone operational. The first three each fell to sabotage, and the fourth vanished completely within 24 hours of being completed. There's a pilot movie, "The Gathering," that's fairly bad, but should be watched if you're going to tackle the series. The first season is mediocre - "oh look, we have a space station! and aliens!" It sets the scene - I only watched about eight episodes of 22, on the recommendation of a serious fan of the series - but does little of the groundwork for the staggering story arc to follow. The change from the first season to the second is astounding, like a light switch being flipped. Seasons two to four is possibly the most spectacular story arc ever told in TV history: Straczynski planned out the whole damn thing from the beginning of Season one, and it's ... amazing. Space Opera on the grandest scale - I've often mocked "space opera," but when it's done right ... and wow, it's definitely done right here.

In "The Gathering," Babylon 5 goes operational with Commander Jeffrey Sinclair in charge. He was a survivor of "The Line," the last line of defence in the Earth-Minbari war. The Minbari totally overwhelmed Earth's defences ... and then surrendered. Why is unknown, and is a big driver of the series. The pilot movie (this should be watched before any of the TV episodes) also shows the ambassadors of the various alien races arriving on the station.

Some of the weakest episodes are "Come the Inquisitor" in Season two, and the entire story arc about "The First Ones" from 4-1 through 4-6. Straczynski clearly has a fascination with the spiritual, but I didn't think it fit in well at all with the very physical presence of the station the series was named after. G'Kar and Londo Mollari are the best characters, because each has a very distinctive and superbly developed character arc within the fantastic set of stories. Londo's assistant Vir is also wonderful.

After the massive story arc and wars of the first four years the fifth year is a lesser product, disappointing after what has come before. Let's start with "actress" Tracy Scoggins as Elizabeth Lochley: she takes over command of B5 from Sheridan (who remains in a different role). Much of the year is about the telepath resistance, those who want to avoid the iron fist of the Psi Corps. Robin Atkin Downes plays reasonably well as Byron, leader of the rogue telepaths ... but the character's story arc plays out incredibly poorly when he decides that lying and blackmail are fine, even though he's absolutely against the use of violence - bizarre. And then there's Patricia Tallman as Lyta: such a terrible, terrible actress, and she plays a large part in this year as well. The best part of the year is G'Kar's unwilling conversion to spiritual icon among his people: G'Kar is a fantastic character, and this plays well.

The follow-up movie In the Beginning is told as a story to Centauri children by Emperor Mollari - he tells the tale of the origins of the Earth-Minbari war. The movie is quite good as an addition to canon, but shows one of the few instances of Straczynski retconning details: this movie wasn't a part of the grand sweep of his plans, it was clearly added later. For example, Delenn knew what the glowing tri-luminary meant when applied to Sinclair - and yet in the TV series she doesn't know what it meant when it glowed in association with herself (guess: it meant the same thing.) Setting that and a couple other minor details aside, it's quite good.

The movie Thirdspace is definitely one of the weakest entries: a device covered in Vorlon markings (oops - minor spoiler) is towed from hyperspace to B5, and as it starts to power up it causes massive psychic disturbance among the population of B5. Theoretically between the Shadow War and the war with Earth, this seems to be entirely outside the actual B5 timeline: we see dozens of people beaten bloody and senseless, we see multiple starships with explosions, and at the end Sheridan says "no one was hurt?!" Really poor.

The movie River of Souls brings in Martin Sheen as a "Soulhunter," one of an alien species who capture sentient species' souls at the point of death. Straczynski returns to his fascination with the spiritual, and again produces a fairly weak product - although perhaps better than "Thirdspace." This also sees significant retconning: Sheen's character claims the only time the soul hunters had ever been stopped from retrieving a soul was Dukhat, the Minbari leader. But the soul hunters arrive before the death, and we've seen Dukhat's death not once but twice: in the TV series and in "In the Beginning." There were no soul hunters, and their presence isn't something you fail to mention.

The movie A Call to Arms is somewhat better than the other movies. Sheridan and a couple others are drawn together by dreams, and it's eventually revealed that their source is legitimate and their mission is to fight the Drakh - the most significant race left behind who worked with the Shadows. A noticeable oddity of the movie is the use of a different composer - Christopher Franke did the entire TV series and all the other movies, and the new music is in a distinctly different style. This was also the lead-in for "Babylon 5: Crusade."

The Legend of the Rangers: To Live and Die in Starlight was a 2002 B5 movie starring mostly new staff - primarily being about David Martel (Dylan Neal) and the new crew of the old ship the Liandra. G'Kar is the only returning character. Martel was a pretty good character, as was his friend and first officer Dulann, but I was seriously put off by the new weapons control system that saw someone punching and kicking in a space simulation to fire weapons ...

Babylon 5: Crusade might as well have been called "Star Trek: Confrontational." The premise of the show is that the new and fantastic space ship "Excalibur" is searching the galaxy for the cure to the Drakh plague, which will kill billions of humans within five years. So the Excalibur goes around beating people up and doing science - but TNT cancelled it after 13 episodes. Watching it in 2013, I can't see its cancellation as a loss - it just wasn't a very good show.

1994-1998. With Bruce Boxleitner, Claudia Christian, Jerry Doyle, Mira Furlan, Richard Biggs, Peter Jurasik, Andreas Katsulas, Jeff Conaway, Michael O'Hare, Patricia Tallman, Andrea Thompson, Jason Carter, Bill Mumy, Tracy Scoggins, Stephen Furst, Gary Cole, Daniel Dae Kim, David Allen Brooks, Peter Woodward, Carrie Dobro.

Bad Boys

A couple of really funny jokes in a long and tedious movie. Don't bother.

1995, dir. Michael Bay. With Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Téa Leoni.

Bad Influence

Michael (Spader) is a young executive who is letting himself be pushed around in all aspects of his life. After an incident in a bar, he meets Alex (Lowe) and starts to learn from him not to let himself be pushed around. But Alex's wildness goes rather farther than Michael's conscience will let him, and their confrontations become extremely ugly. A psychological thriller of sorts, one I didn't like much although the two leads played their parts very well.

1990, dir. Curtis Hanson. With James Spader, Rob Lowe.

Bagdad Cafe

"A middle-aged German woman walks into an American truck stop ..." Unfortunately this 95 minute joke is told with Eighties coloured filters over the camera lenses and bizarre jump-cuts, as well as highly improbable personal interactions. Not quite screwball, not quite magic realism, not quite good ...

Sägebrecht plays Jasmin Münchgstettner, an Austrian woman who has split from her husband in the middle of the American desert. She walks to a truck stop, where she lives in the motel and deals with the short-tempered owner Brenda (Pounder), Brenda's family, and the small selection of odd people who come through or live near the truck stop. Through charm, a fondness for cleaning, and a budding interest in magic (and posing nude for paintings), Jasmin wins the hearts of all around her.

The best feature of the movie as far as I was concerned was that Flagg (as Brenda's son Salomo) played all his own music on the piano - a lot of playing, and he did it quite well. That's hugely unusual. Unfortunately, that wasn't really what the movie needed most.

1987, dir. Percy Adlon. With Marianne Sägebrecht, C.C.H. Pounder, Jack Palance, Darron Flagg, Christine Kaufmann, Monica Calhoun, George Aguilar, G. Smokey Campbell, Hans Stadlbauer, Alan S. Craig, Apesanahkwat.

Ball of Fire

A group of professors labour over an encyclopedia "of all human knowledge." The youngest of them (also the leader), Bertram Potts (Cooper), goes out to do some research on current slang, and ends up with 'Sugarpuss' O'Shea (Stanwyck), a showgirl and gangster's girlfriend in tow. She shakes up the professors, and Potts falls in love with her - although she's only using him. Etc. Not terribly inventive, but the professors, while a bit clichéd, are incredibly charming. Stanwyck is very good too. It's a silly movie that had no right to be worth watching, but it's funny and charming and quite enjoyable.

1941, dir. Howard Hawks. With Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Oskar Homolka, Henry Travers, Richard Haydn, Dana Andrews, Dan Duryea, Elisha Cook Jr.

Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever

This has a reputation as being one of the worst films ever made. In fact, I found it quite disappointing: it's not nearly bad enough to warrant that reputation. Sure, the director (who classically styles himself "Kaos") managed to pry incredibly wooden performances from the otherwise competent Banderas and Liu. Sure, it ignores physics completely, but most action films do that. And yes, it's tedious, with non sequiturs and a somewhat poorly structured plot. But where's the hilariously bad dialogue? It's all just tedious. And the continuity is fairly consistent. The fights are sequential, and most of the blows look vaguely as if they landed. Where are the blatant errors that entertain?

To me the most frustrating problem was the final fight between Liu and Park (finally wearing his own face, instead of Toad in "X-Men" or Darth Maul in "The Phantom Menace"). I'm sure Liu trained hard, but it was immediately and massively evident that Park was a far superior martial artist (he's done it all his life and he's a movie stunt man - he knows how to move). Of course Liu wins the fight: but a five year old child with no martial arts training would be left scratching their head and thinking "how did that happen?" after the fight was over.

My favourite part though is when Banderas tells his wife "we must run." The next shot is a slow-mo shot of their legs running through puddles. Then we have the clichéd speed-up to full speed. We all know what this means: they're fleeing from gun-men or an imminent explosion. And then the pull-back ... revealing that they're not running, they're going at a light trot under no particular threat. I fell out laughing. It was a shot that should have been in one of the parody movies, but it wasn't done here for humour (which is part of why it worked so well ...)

2002, dir. Wych Kaosayananda (listed as "Kaos"). With Antonio Banderas, Lucy Liu, Gregg Henry, Ray Park, Talisa Soto, Terry Chen, Miguel Sandoval.

Balls of Fury

Another one of those I'm a little embarrassed to admit I watched ... It's bad. On the other hand, it did have a couple of big laughs - albeit with far too big a wait between them. Reminds me a lot of the over-the-top, hit-or-miss approach to comedy that the SNL alumni seem to take to comedy: it's extremely uneven, and perfectly happy to go for the gross-out.

The basic premise has Randy Daytona (Fogler) coming out of retirement to play Ping Pong again, trying to get into a high stakes Ping Pong match run by the deadly Feng (Walken).

2007, dir. Robert Ben Garant. With Dan Fogler, Christopher Walken, George Lopez, Maggie Q, James Hong.

The Band's Visit

An Egyptian police band goes to Israel to play a concert. They take the wrong bus and get stuck in a small town with no way out until the next day and no hotels. Locals host them. ...... Yes, that's it. It's quiet, funny (extremely so in a couple places, but quietly so throughout), and charming. See it. The "Muslims meet the Jews" thing is there, but this isn't a preaching movie, it's just ... people.

2007, dir. Eran Kolirin. With Sasson Gabai, Ronit Elkabetz, Saleh Bakri, Khalifa Natour.

Baran

Iranian movie about a short-tempered young construction worker who discovers that the new youth (an illegal Afghan worker) on the site is female, not male. He becomes obsessed with her. They had essentially two filming sites: a skeletal building that they're trying to rebuild (and which quite a few of them live in), and a small village. Very poorly acted, good cinematography, fascinating chiefly because it shows something of Iranian life.

2001, dir. Majid Majidi. With Hossein Abedini, Zahra Bahrami, Mohammad Amir Naji.

Barb Wire

I've always wanted to quote Mr. Cranky's review on this one - he just says it so well: "... if nothing else, 'Barb Wire' doesn't try to fool. Its opening sequence knows full well what Pamela Lee's two biggest assets are -- those half-grapefruit, silicon-implanted protrusions jiggling around on her chest. To inflate the nature of her fame, the filmmakers cram her into a dress two sizes too small so that as she dances to heavy metal music in the opening scene, her nipples fly out of her garment like pop-up thermometers on an overcooked turkey."

The acting is staggeringly bad across the board. I watched this primarily to see what the writers had done with "Casablanca" - the movie is based on a comic book that's a rewrite, with Lee in the role of Rick. Nothing good, and I do mean "nothing." Which is actually a little surprising: almost every re-envisioning manages to find something to improve, or some idea about the old story that's new or interesting. But having Lee pop out of costume repeatedly really didn't qualify.

1996, dir. David Hogan. With Pamela Anderson Lee, Temuera Morrison, Victoria Rowell, Jack Noseworthy, Xander Berkeley, Udo Kier, Steve Railsback.

Barbarella: Queen of the Galaxy

More than anything you can see the influence of producer Dino de Laurentiis, who redefined "camp" every time he made a movie. We're talking about the man behind the 1980 version of "Flash Gordon." This movie is mostly about bad special effects and Fonda in slinky outfits (or nothing at all). And I now know where Duran Duran got their name, and where "Flesh Gordon" drew its primary inspiration. Sad to say, this is a landmark in SF film (not entirely a bad thing: SF film needed both sexuality and humour in a bad way). Ludicrous as it is, this is definitely worth watching.

1968, dir. Roger Vadim. With Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law, Anita Pallenberg, Milo O'Shea.

The Barbarian Invasions (orig.: Les Invasions Barbares)

Arcand brings back most of the cast of "The Decline of the American Empire" 17 years later. Once again, the topic of the day is sex. Last time it was sex and life, but now one of their number is dying so it becomes sex and death. I found it remarkably ... disposable considering its central pillar is a death - even if it is used as a confirmation of life. Still, enjoyable and with a fair bit to think about.

2003, dir. Denys Arcand. With Rémy Girard, Stéphane Rousseau, Dorothée Berryman, Louise Portal, Dominique Michel, Yves Jacques, Pierre Curzi, Marie-Josée Croze.

Barefoot Gen (orig. "Hadashi no Gen")

A super cute movie about starving in WWII Hiroshima, right up until the bomb drops on them and most people die horribly. Then more people die of radiation sickness. Good fun for the whole family. Gen is a young boy who ends up trying to be a protector to his pregnant mother when the rest of his family dies. The combination of cute and horror didn't really work for me, even if the author did live through the Hiroshima bomb.

1992, dir. Mori Masaki. With Issei Miyazaki, Masaki Kôda, Yoshie Shimamura.

Barney's Version

I was less than sure about this movie adaptation of a Mordecai Richler novel, but it won me over. In a big way. Never bet against Giamatti - he can bring the worst script to life, and handed a good one (like this), he'll leave the audience awe-struck.

Giamatti plays Barney, a heavy-drinking Montrealer. We see his life from his twenties all the way to the very sad ending, and his relationships with his father, his three wives, his best friends, and his two children. Barney is a bit of a loudmouth asshole, but like anyone he has redeeming features. His love of his third wife (Pike, luminous as always) is one of his biggest - particularly after his sorry second marriage. Highly recommended.

2010, dir. Richard J. Lewis. With Paul Giamatti, Rosamund Pike, Dustin Hoffman, Minnie Driver, Scott Speedman, Rachelle Lefevre, Mark Addy, Bruce Greenwood, Saul Rubinek, Anna Hopkins, Jake Hoffman. Cameos by Atom Egoyan, David Cronenberg, Paul Gross, Denys Arcand.

Batman (1989)

I saw this when it came out and loved it, so it was a surprise to me to find that I hate it in 2011 - quite a reversal. The effects in the movie have aged poorly (the most direct comparison being the first of the Christopher Nolan Batman movies), and Burton's visual sensibilities really wore on me this time. I didn't like Burton in 1989, I have no idea why I liked this movie ... As I remembered, Keaton is considerably better than you'd expect in the role - but then, he was spectacular in "Clean and Sober" so I suppose it shouldn't be a big surprise. Nicholson sets the right tone as the Joker, but the facial prosthetics are incredibly distracting. Burton successfully takes the tone from the goofiness of the Sixties Batman TV series and movie to the much grittier feel of the comic books. It's not a bad movie, but it's far too Burton for me both visually and emotionally..

1989, dir. Tim Burton. With Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Billy Dee Williams, Jack Palance, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Michael Gough.

Batman Begins

Another shot at Batman's origins, and a fairly good one. The final dénouement is massively over the top, but that's no different than any other action movie these days.

2005, dir. Christopher Nolan. With Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Katie Holmes, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Linus Roache, Morgan Freeman.

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

Animated. Slightly better than the 20 minute TV cartoons it's based upon. A "Phantasm" begins killing off local crime figures, contrary to Batman's desire to adhere to the law. Simultaneously, a woman that he had considered marrying as Bruce Wayne resurfaces in his life. No attempt is ever made to explain the Phantasm's magical abilities: he just does what he does.

2005. With Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Dana Delany, Hart Bochner, Abe Vigour.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

Turns out DC has a chronology just like Marvel, and you really should watch "Man of Steel" (2013) before watching "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice." Actually, my suspicion is that you should NOT watch them: you can do that in either order, and you won't have lost five hours of your life.

In "Man of Steel," Superman's battle with General Zod badly trashed Gotham City. Now Batman (Ben Affleck) is all upset with Superman (Henry Cavill) and determined to take him down to end the threat of the untrustable alien. To which end he constructs a battle suit and makes some nasty Kryptonite weapons. Into this mix we throw Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) aka Wonder Woman, and Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). And here we hit upon the biggest of many problems with the movie: Eisenberg and director Zack Snyder have apparently concluded that "massively annoying" is the same thing as "massively evil" and substituted the former for the latter in Eisenberg's performance. I wanted to punch him every time he was on screen because he was so irritating. Let's compare this to Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker. Ledger was unsettling the second you saw him, and the air of menace about him was palpable. Punching him wasn't something you thought about: "getting the hell out" was more likely the plan. Eisenberg is a capable actor, but when he does evil things as Lex Luthor it seems more like a mistake than a plan: he's a very poor villain.

This is DC's equivalent to Marvel's "Captain America: The Winter Soldier " - they're starting to get a smaller group of superheroes into the same movie. There are several strategies at work here: 1) roll several superheroes together, see if it sells, 2) question the morality of one or several of the superheroes, 3) which allows superheroes to fight each other because everybody loves that, 4) save the world, 5) hint at a bigger group movie to come (the upcoming "Justice League" movie with Batman, Wonder Woman and more). ("Winter Soldier" was actually post-Avengers so the latter point doesn't apply, but the rest of the points apply to both movies.) I'm sick to death of the comic book penchant for changes of opinion exclusively so we can see a fight between this hero and that ("Captain America: Civil War" is the worst for this) and the team-up-and-save-the-world trope at the end has also been done to death. Superhero movies need to bring something new to the table to be interesting, and this one doesn't.

2016, dir. Zack Snyder. With Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Jeremy Irons, Laurence Fishburne, Gal Gadot, Holly Hunter.

The Battle of Algiers (orig. "La Battaglia di Algeri")

Shows the Algerian revolution against the French Colonials from 1956-1962. The style verges on documentary, and is fairly unbiased - and all the more depressing for it, as it shows the French torturing prisoners and the Algerians bombing cafés with children and babies in them. The plot, coming as it did mostly from an account of the war, doesn't tie up its loose ends quite as neatly as a fictional movie, but this is a hell of a portrayal of war. A creepy and depressing piece of work that everyone should see. Filmed in Algeria by an Italian in French and Algerian. Several nominations and awards ... and wasn't screened in France for decades.

1967, dir. Gillo Pontecorvo. With Brahim Hadjadj, Jean Martin, Yacef Saadi.

Battleship

Our hero is Alex Hopper (Kitsch), the intelligent but unmotivated brother of a Stone Hopper (Skarsgård), an exemplary American naval officer. Stone forces Alex into the Navy, where he survives - but doesn't thrive. While out on multi-nation naval exercises, Alex gets into a fight with Japanese naval captain Nagata (Asano, looking and acting like Ken Watanabe) that A) puts him on the to-be-discharged-when-we-hit-shore list, and B) blatantly sets up a "these two will have to co-operate later" scenario. All this, just in time for the alien invasion caused by NASA's misguided attempts to communicate with another planet, which locks a few ships in lethal battle with the aliens. Another standard plot device is used to put Alex in charge of a vessel where he's in a position to save the day (and co-operate with Nagata). I leave it to you to guess whether or not he comes through, or gets the girl.

The acting is poor, very much of the "run, jump and grimace" variety on the low end of the action movie spectrum. Kitsch, who's proven he can act in other contexts (even if it was the spectacularly misguided - but interesting - "John Carter") is poor here. Physics is defied at every turn. The effects are pretty, but the movie is dull.

2012, dir. Peter Berg. With Taylor Kitsch, Liam Neeson, Rihanna, Alexander Skarsgård, Brooklyn Decker, Tadanobu Asano, Hamish Linklater, Gregory D. Gadson, Adam Godley.

Beat the Devil

Bogart plays Billy Dannreuther, with the first shot being a band playing in a town square that pans over to show us four men (Morley, Lorre, Barnard, Tulli) being taken away by the police and Bogart commenting on their crimes as his associates. Back we go in time to see them waiting in the same African town for a boat to take them to buy land cheap - land loaded with uranium. But they don't trust their contact - Dannreuther. Dannreuther is a charming con man married to Maria (Lollobrigida), but shortly enjoying the company of Mrs. Gwendolen Chelm (Jones) - while Maria becomes interested in Gwendolen's husband Harry.

For some reason I thought this was a serious movie when I started it: I was disabused of that idea relatively quickly. It's a flat-out farce, although not a hugely successful one. I found it at least mildly amusing: perhaps not laugh-out-loud funny, but I was grinning at the silliness most of the way through.

1953, dir. John Huston. With Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, Edward Underdown, Ivor Barnard, Marco Tulli, Mario Perrone, Saro Urzì.

Beauty and the Beast

I saw this when it came out, and again now in 2011. One of Disney's most famous productions, and one of their most overblown. Full of musical numbers, and some of their most obviously CG animation. All the characters are caricatures, with the loss of charm that accompanies that. I realize I'm disagreeing with 92% of the critics (according to Rotten Tomatoes) when I say this, but I think this is one of their poorer outings.

1991, dir. Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. With Paige O'Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Steirs, Angela Lansbury, Bradley Michael Pierce, Rex Everhart.

A Beautiful Mind

John Nash is a mathematician who received the Nobel Prize for economics in 1994. "A Beautiful Mind" is the story of his life, as interpreted by Howard. I'm usually unimpressed by Howard's more manipulative sentimental notes, but he uses it to excellent effect here - I was hugely impressed with this movie.

An interesting follow-up to this is the one hour PBS documentary "A Brilliant Madness," a biography of Nash. Howard strayed in the finer details of Nash's madness, but ultimately "A Beautiful Mind" was quite an accurate portrayal.

2001. dir. Ron Howard. With Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris.

Becoming Jane

An attempt to reconstruct the early life of Jane Austen. The first half was clever and extremely funny (even though I didn't believe a word of it had actually happened ... they recreated the history, but no one knows the conversations), but the second half had to dig into the romance that almost certainly formed her life, and the reasons that it didn't quite happen. Some of it was a little too pat (such as the reason Jane decides to leave Tom Lefroy), but for the most part it was very enjoyable. The closing scene includes one hell of a wicked jab that you won't be expecting: yes, Lefroy really did name his child that. Hathaway and McAvoy were excellent, which went a long way to making this one good.

2007, dir. Julian Jarrold. With Anne Hathaway, James McAvoy, Julie Walters, James Cromwell, Maggie Smith, Joe Anderson, Lucy Cohu, Laurence Fox, Ian Richardson, Anne Maxwell Martin.

Bedazzled (2000)

This turns out to be based on a Peter Cook and Dudley Moore movie of the same name from 1967. I wonder if that one was equally atrocious?

It starts out utterly awful, with Fraser playing a character so broad and dorky that the people who starred in "Revenge of the Nerds" would have been embarrassed to play the role. But then, Ramis is directing: subtlety isn't really his strength. The devil appears in the form of Elizabeth Hurley, in a series of outfits that change at the snap of her fingers. Fraser sells his soul to be with Frances O'Connor's character Alison, and gets seven wishes. But each wish is twisted horribly - as an example, he wants to be a powerful man married to O'Connor, and he finds himself a Colombian drug lord losing control of his empire, married to Alison ... who barely speaks to him and is sleeping with her English tutor.

As the process of repeated terrible wishes slowly educates Fraser, he becomes a much more tolerable person. And the gags finally have some humour and clout. But it's too little too late: sickening crap not recommended for anyone.

2000, dir. Harold Ramis. With Brendan Fraser, Elizabeth Hurley, Frances O'Connor, Orlando Jones, Paul Adelstein, Toby Huss, Miriam Shor, Gabriel Casseus.

Bee Movie

I was never a fan of Seinfeld: either his stand-up comedy or his show. But he has almost redeemed himself with this incredibly charming film (he wrote and did the voice work for the main character). Perhaps having kids has reduced the cynicism that got on my nerves so much.

The main premise is a fairly typical one: Barry B. Benson, a bee, has just graduated from bee college and is now required to choose a job that he'll hold the rest of his life. But he refuses, and then goes out into the world beyond the hive - and ends up mixing with the humans and causing all kinds of havoc. It's very funny, the animation is good (especially the flying sequences which work particularly well), and there are a bunch of entertaining cameos to keep the adults paying attention.

2007, dir. Steve Hickner, Simon J. Smith. With Jerry Seinfeld, Renée Zellweger, Matthew Broderick, Patrick Warburton, John Goodman, Chris Rock, Larry King, Sting, Ray Liotta.

Before Sunrise

Linklater does like his talk. That's all this is, endless talk and negotiation of ideas. Hawke plays the American and Delpy the French woman who meet on a train on the way to Vienna and spend one evening and night together ... talking. Hawke plays the brash, annoying but kind of charming American to the hilt - a stereotype I've never liked. Much of the blame goes to Linklater's writing and direction - many people love this movie, but I don't really like the script. But the characters are intelligent, and the dialogue has occasional moments of insight.

1995, dir. Richard Linklater. With Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy.

Begin Again

Ruffalo plays drunken asshole music producer Dan Mulligan, and Knightley plays Gretta James, a young British songwriter currently in New York. Their lives intersect, and Dan expresses an interest in producing her music ... even though he's just lost his job.

Knightley and Ruffalo act well, but the viewer's interest in this movie hinges heavily on whether or not they like the music written and played by Gretta James (and occasionally as sung by Gretta's ex-, Dave Kohl, played by Levine). The movie is Carney's as not only the director, but also the script writer and co-author of most (all?) of the songs. And I didn't like the songs. What there is of a plot is good enough, but it was dominated by the not-so-great music. <sigh>

2013, dir. John Carney. With Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, Catherine Keener, Hailee Steinfeld, James Corden, Ceelo Green, Mos Def/Yasiin Bey.

Beginners

We first meet Oliver (McGregor) cleaning out the house of his recently deceased father. We see Oliver's life in flashbacks, including his father (Hal, played by Plummer) becoming actively gay shortly after the death of his wife, Oliver's mother. And we move forward in his life, with him inheriting his father's dog (an important character in the story) and starting a relationship with Anna (Laurent). Oliver is bad at relationships, always sabotaging them, and Hal - although he had known he was gay for over 40 years - had never acted on his gayness before. Thus the film's title.

Well acted (particularly Plummer as the newly freed gay man) with an interesting aesthetic. The story is charming and good, but never quite reaches the heights. Worth seeing.

2010, dir. Mike Mills. With Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Mélanie Laurent, Goran Višnjić, Kai Lennox, Mary Page Keller, China Shavers.

Bella

When his brother fires a waitress (Nina, played by Blanchard) at their restaurant for being late, José (who is the chef, played by Verástegui) walks out to make sure she's okay, and spends the day with her. In their day together her reason for being late comes out, as do his secrets: the smaller of which is that he used to be a football star, and we later find how he fell from grace.

The movie is very well meaning, but both the structure and the acting are mediocre. I enjoyed it more for it being filmed entirely in and around New York City, and for its portrayal of a Mexican/Puerto Rican family there.

2006, dir. Alejandro Gomez Monteverde. With Eduardo Verástegui, Tammy Blanchard, Manny Perez.

Bend It Like Beckham

Has a lot in common with "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," re-written for an Indian family in the U.K. This is a very funny and up-beat movie about a young Indian girl whose parents don't want her to play football (aka "soccer" for us North Americans), which is pretty much the only thing she wants to do. Humour, misunderstandings, romance, and reconciliation follow. A favourite movie of mine.

2002. dir. Gurinder Chadha. With Parminder K. Nagra, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Anupam Kher.

Benny and Joon

Benny (Quinn) lives with his intelligent but slightly crazy sister Joon (Masterson), who isn't entirely stable. At one of Benny's bizarre (and hilarious) poker games, Joon loses a hand and is required to house Sam (Depp). Personal interactions get complicated, and Benny in particular has trouble adjusting to the changes. Depp does his best to emulate Buster Keaton, Fatty Arbuckle, and Charlie Chaplin, and is spectacularly funny. I found Benny's explosion at the climax of the film a bit excessive for his character, but in all other respects this is a hilarious and wonderful film, highly recommended.

1993, dir. Jeremiah S. Chechik. With Aidan Quinn, Mary Stewart Masterson, Johnny Depp, Oliver Platt, Julianne Moore.

Beowulf and Grendel

Beowulf, but with massive embellishments, redrawn to cast everything in shades of gray. Grendel is no longer an evil monster, and Beowulf is still a hero, but his actions are seen in a very different light. Polley plays a substantial role as a witch who never appeared in the original poem, and there's a sub-plot about a recruiting Christian priest that's new. The Icelandic scenery (and weather!) is spectacular, and the historical reconstruction is good (it convinced me, but perhaps that's not hard). Very not Hollywood, always a plus.

2005, dir. Sturla Gunnarsson. With Gerard Butler, Ingvar E. Sigurdsson, Stellan Skarsgård, Tony Curran, Sarah Polley.

Beowulf (2007)

Borrows from the 2005 version ("Beowulf and Grendel") - once again there's a strong tie between the community and the monster, and this time also between the mother and Beowulf's later life. But this version is animated, sort of. On top of the actions of real actors. What this primarily does is utterly destroy the acting. Why hire good actors (Hopkins, Wright Penn, Malkovitch, Gleeson) if you're going to obscure the subtleties behind artificial masks? There's a circularity to the story (in part by Neil Gaiman) that's annoying in its cleverness. Despite all of which it's quite a spectacle to see.

2007, dir. Robert Zemeckis. With Ray Winstone, Brendan Gleeson, Robin Wright Penn, Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich, Crispin Glover, Alison Lohman, Angelina Jolie.

Beowulf (1999)

Solid B-movie gold. Lambert plays the titular hero in a post-apocalyptic world with major medieval elements and a touch of technology. Relies fairly heavily on the "Beowulf" myth, although they did make some mildly interesting changes: Beowulf isn't entirely human, Hrothgar's right-hand man isn't a snivelling traitor - his story was actually kind of interesting, if poorly acted (like everyone else). The outpost/keep they're in actually looked pretty good except when they added their awful special effects. It's an atrociously bad movie, but ... I kind of enjoyed it.

1999, dir. Graham Baker. With Christopher Lambert, Rhona Mitra, Oliver Cotton, Götz Otto, Charles Robinson, Brent Jefferson Lowe, Layla Roberts.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" stars an impressive line-up of the best of Britain's older actors: Dench, Nighy, Wilton, Imrie, Wilkinson, and Smith. It really doesn't get much better than that - or at least you would think so, but it could definitely be improved by a less clichéd script ... Interesting to see this was directed by John Madden, of Shakespeare in Love fame - too bad he didn't have Tom Stoppard write the screen play this time ...

The story finds seven recently retired British citizens all moving to India and settling in "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," a crumbling colonial era building - lovely but run-down. Sonny (Patel, a bit over-the-top but fairly entertaining) plays the young, charming and bombastic hotel owner under siege by his mother who doesn't agree with his business practises or his choice of would-be wife.

It's often charming - hard for it not to be with the abundance of brilliant actors on tap - but relies too much on the clichés of India, and occasionally over-plays them. While the actors aren't as well known, anyone interested in "India 101" should try the criminally overlooked "Outsourced," another fish-out-of-water comedy set in India that I felt was more accurate to the spirit of the country.

2014, dir. John Madden. With Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, Ronald Pickup.

The Best of Not the 9 O'Clock News

A very influential TV comedy show from Britain, starting in 1979 and running into the early 80s. This two DVD set compiles the best bits from quite a few episodes, and runs about three hours. Like Monty Python before them (Python gets an explicit nod in one of the skits) they're very uneven. But definitely worth a look. Of course if you don't know who Margaret Thatcher or the Royal Family are, a fair chunk of the humour will be lost to you. Atkinson went on to fame most notably as Mr. Bean, and Smith and Jones went on to the very long-running series "Alas Smith & Jones."

1979-1982. With Rowan Atkinson, Mel Smith, Griff Rhys Jones, Pamela Stephenson.

The Best of Youth (orig. "La Meglio Gioventù")

A six hour epic following the lives of two brothers from Rome and their family and friends over nearly 40 years. It takes over an hour to really get interesting, but once it does you're in for the full run. A real Italian history lesson for the rest of us: from floods in Turin to communist rebels to mafia assassinations of judges - but most of the film centres on the smaller things, the lives of the main characters. I was frustrated in a couple places where it became obvious from small clues what the characters were going to do ... but not why. How can we have seen so much of their lives and know so little about their motivations? But that's another aspect of the movie not preaching to its viewers, and ... it's really good. Have a look.

2003, dir. Marco Tullio Giordana. With Luigi Lo Cascio, Alessio Boni, Adriana Asti, Sonia Bergamasco, Fabrizio Gifuni, Maya Sansa, Valentina Carnelutti, Jasmine Trinca, Andrea Tidona, Lidia Vitale, Claudio Gioè.

The Best Years of Our Lives

A 1946 Wyler movie that opens on three veterans of the Second World War returning home to Boone City in the U.S. March is the middle-aged Sergeant Al Stephenson, Andrews is Captain Fred Derry, and Russell is sailor Homer Parrish. All three have dreamt of returning home, but having made it back, they all have trouble resuming their old lives. Stephenson's children are now essentially adults, and he's not sure what to make of it. Derry's wife isn't where he expected to find her, and has taken a job that makes it very hard for him to catch up with her. And Parrish lost both his hands - and while he's very skilled with the hooks the military has supplied him with, his parents and fiancée have some trouble with his change of status, and he doesn't deal well with their reaction.

The movie then follows their attempts to resume their old lives, and their occasional meetings at Butch's place, a bar run by Homer's cousin (Carmichael). It's a long movie (172m), but thought-provoking and quite good.

1946, dir. William Wyler. With Frederic March, Dana Andrews, Harold Russell, Myrna Loy, Hoagy Carmichael.

Better Off Dead

The "Airplane" of 80s teen comedy, with Cusack at the centre, the main reason the movie doesn't fall flat on its face. Armstrong plays the same stoner he played all through the 80s and into the early 90s - overtaken by Jack Black, and now possibly Michael Cera (although he's not usually portrayed as being on drugs). But back to this movie ... Cusack plays a high school student dumped at the start by his dream girl. He makes a couple half-hearted attempts at suicide, tries to become a skiing star, tries to race the Korean Howard Cosell kids, avoids his mother's cooking, avoids his seven year old brother's evil genius inventions and schemes, and is pursued by an insane paper boy (repeatedly). If you like scattershot surreal humour, you'll like this. Not entirely my thing, but I did enjoy the soundtrack by Rupert Hine.

1985, dir. Savage Steve Holland. With John Cusack, David Ogden Stiers, Kim Darby, Diane Franklin, Scooter Stevens, Laura Waterbury, Dan Schneider, Yuji Okumoto, Brian Imada, Amanda Wyss, Curtis Armstrong.

Better Than Chocolate

Two young women start a romance just before one's mother moves in with her. Genuine Canadian content - Vancouver/Port Coquitlam, relaxed attitude about sex and underage drinking. Erotic. Mediocre acting. Passable but not great script.

1999 dir. Anne Wheeler. With Karyn Dwyer, Christina Cox.

Beverly Hills Cop

Apparently they had originally cast Stallone to lead this one! And he wrote out most of the humour and add huge heaps of action. They dumped him gently and he took the action scenes and made "Cobra" while they hired Murphy to replace him.

There's still quite a bit of action left, and some comedy - mostly based around Murphy being annoying. It's what he does. And then there's the soundtrack, possibly one of the most memorable ever written, by Harold Faltermeyer. I didn't say "good," just "memorable." Reinhold and Ashton are amusing as the actual Beverly Hills cops (Murphy is supposed to be from Detroit), fall guys for Murphy's pranks. The full reversal of the entire department to thinking Murphy is okay despite his trashing entire neighbourhoods to get the bad guy is a little difficult to swallow.

I'm not a huge fan, but this was possibly the most successful action-comedy movie ever made.

1984, dir. Martin Brest. With Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Lisa Eilbacher, Ronny Cox, Steven Berkhoff, James Russo, Paul Reiser.

Bewitched (2005)

Ferrell plays a movie star whose career is in a tailspin, now starring on a TV remake of "Bewitched." To ensure he gets the majority of the attention he insists on an unknown as his co-star. He scouts Kidman himself - the big "joke" of the movie being that she is actually a witch.

There were a bunch of clever ideas and some really good casting that went into this film. Unfortunately, the script is incredibly uneven and Ferrell does what he always does: shrieks and falls down, and expects people to laugh. They're actually targeting meta-humour here: Ferrell playing a failing and unfunny actor, and we're supposed to laugh at him NOT being funny?

The casting of Kidman was brilliant: she's cute, charming, naive, everything she's supposed to be. The script is occasionally over-the-top, where it would have gotten more laughs by treading more lightly. Caine is hilarious as her father, who appears at random to mock (or simply disbelieve) her attempts to be normal. MacLaine's character is so deliberately over-the-top that she's not really a lot of help. Caine and Kidman's moments together almost made the film watchable, but ultimately the blundering and ever-present Ferrell completely torpedoes what could have been a passable comedy.

2005, dir. Nora Ephron. With Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, Shirley MacLaine, Michael Caine.

Beyond Silence (orig. "Jenseits der Stille")

The child of two deaf parents chooses to play clarinet like her aunt, who is estranged from her father. A little too sweet in places (particularly the ending), but intelligent and well filmed.

1996, dir. Caroline Link. With Sylvie Testud, Tatjana Trieb, Howie Seago, Emmanuelle Laborit, Sibylle Canonica, Matthias Habich.

Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis (English: "Welcome to the Sticks")

Possibly France's most successful comedy ever, I tracked it down after I nearly fell out of my chair laughing during "The Intouchables" (another, more recent French comedy).

"Bienvenue ..." is the story of Philippe Abrams (Merad), a postal manager in southern France who is trying to get posted to the southern seashore for the sake of his obnoxious wife (Félix). His attempt to claim that he's handicapped to get such a post earns him a disciplinary assignment to a tiny town on the rather less desirable northern seashore where the locals speak a variant of French called "ch'ti." He is surprised to find wonderful people (most notably his co-worker Antoine - played by Boon, who was also the writer and director) and a lovely place, but when he tries to describe it to his wife back home, she cannot believe he isn't suffering horribly - so he goes along with her version of the story.

I found a few good laughs in the story, but it relies heavily on Philippe lying and humiliating himself repeatedly - mostly in an attempt to do things for other people, but these are simply not gags I enjoy. So for the most part I found the movie a loss.

Interestingly, the town of Bergues, where the movie was set and shot, not only exists but is apparently experiencing a tourist boom because of the film.

2008, dir. Dany Boon. With Kad Merad, Dany Boon, Zoé Félix, Anne Marivin, Lorenzo Ausilia-Foret.

The Big Bounce

A comedy of sorts, in which everyone is scamming everyone else. It's hard to care about any of the characters, and since the humour is pretty limited and this sure as hell isn't a drama, what's left to watch? Pretty poor.

2004, dir. George Armitage. With Owen Wilson, Morgan Freeman, Charlie Sheen, Sara Foster, Gary Sinise.

The Big Brawl

Chan's first - unsuccessful - attempt at the North American market.

Set in 1930s Chicago, Chan plays Jerry Kwan. His father runs a restaurant and doesn't appreciate that this son prefers to do martial arts training with his uncle rather than be a doctor like his brother. According to Wikipedia the crew were mostly those who had worked on "Enter the Dragon," so it's perhaps less surprising that there was a fine homage to Lee's "Return of the Dragon" fight scene in an alley behind the restaurant. Chan is eventually manipulated via a kidnapping into fighting in a big contest toward the end of the movie.

It's a great showcase for Chan (although he was apparently unhappy with some of the takes), and - as stupid martial arts movies go - it's actually pretty good.

1980, dir. Robert Clouse. With Jacki Chan, José Ferrer, Kristine DeBell, Mako, Rosalind Chao.

The Big Chill

I saw this when it first came out, but haven't again until now - 2008. It's a relief to see that it's as good as I remembered, possibly even better as there were some nuances I missed back then. Kasdan really did bring together the right cast with a very good story about friendship, trust, and growth. A group of college friends come together for the funeral of one of the members of the clique who committed suicide, although none of them know why. And strange things happen as the result of their reunion. It looks a bit dated, but it remains a damn fine movie.

1983, dir. Lawrence Kasdan. With Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, JoBeth Williams.

The Big Easy

Quaid puts on a Creole accent (irritating, and while I can't say if it's accurate, it was at least consistent) as a New Orleans cop on the take who falls for a district attorney (Barkin) who's after corrupt cops. The two leads look sexy, and nobody acts badly, but no one is great either. And the plot is split between corruption and romance in such a way that neither quite comes together right. Not bad, but ...

1987, dir. Jim McBride. With Dennis Quaid, Ellen Barkin, Ned Beatty, John Goodman.

Big Fish

I always have mixed reactions to Burton's movies. Crudup plays a thirty-something coming to the bedside of his dying father, who has told him tall tales all his life. He tries to get his father to tell him more of the truth of his life, and the movie is partly a view of the past, a retelling of the stories he's heard, and partly his attempts at reconciliation. It's a strange movie, but pretty good.

2003, dir. Tim Burton. With Billy Crudup, Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Jessica Lange, Helena Bonham Carter, Alison Lohman, Matthew McGrory.

Big Game

The basic premise isn't bad - absurd, but not bad. Air Force One is shot out of the sky over Finland, and the President of the United States (Jackson, in one of his less bad-ass roles) is lost in the mountains where he has to rely on a 13 year old boy who's a hard-core hunter (Tommila) as they're both hunted by the terrorists who shot down the plane. And, like most movies, there are good moments. But this one can't decide if it's going to be serious (where I thought the potential might lie), or comedic. Certainly, there's comedic potential in a team-up like that, but milk it too much and you've got a cheese-fest ... and they leaned a little too far into the cheese. Or maybe it was just the frequently hammy dialogue. Mildly fun to watch with a couple decent action set pieces and a heart-warming finale ... which is followed by the revelation of another level of betrayal for no reason at all, which sours the ending just a bit more. <sigh>

The BluRay lent to me by a friend had only one "Extra," which was the "Unrated version" of the movie. Very unusual, as it's possibly the only unrated cut I've ever seen that was SHORTER than the original movie (by five minutes!). A quick scan suggests that the primary changes are the inclusion of a longer scene showing our young hunter rehearsing killing his imaginary deer, pulling its still beating heart out and eating it. The only other change that stood out had Jackson in the standard cut saying "Mother-<gunfire>" - his use of the phrase is strategically cut off by a burst of gunfire. In the unrated version, he says the full phrase. Quite a bit must have been cut to add the longer scene with the boy and still have a five minutes shorter version, but I'm not sure what: it seems the stuff that was cut wasn't memorable.

2014, dir. Jalmari Helander. With Samuel L. Jackson, Onni Tommila, Ray Stevenson, Victor Garber, Jim Broadbent, Mehmet Kurtuluş, Felicity Huffman.

Big Hero 6

Hiro (Potter) is a 14 year old robotics genius who uses his skills for profit in dubious underground robot fights. His older (and equally intelligent) brother Tadashi (Henney) gently steers him into a university career, but this is cut short by tragedy early in the film. Hiro is devastated, but eventually aided - and to some extent guided - by Baymax (Adsit), a (goofy) health care robot that Tadashi created. Tadashi's friends are eventually roped in to helping find the cause of the tragedy.

The movie is successful on almost every level: Hiro is convincing as a slightly misguided genius, the tragedy is heart-breaking, Hiro's recovery is slow (and more convincing because of it), and the humour is frequent and marvellous without stepping on the toes of the drama. It's a superbly constructed and hugely entertaining film. And the end-of-film easter egg with Stan Lee is definitely worth making it through the credits.

2014, dir. Don Hall and Chris Williams. With Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Génesis Rodríguez, Maya Rudolph, James Cromwell, Daniel Henney, Alan Tudyk, Stan Lee.

The Big Lebowski

I tried ... I just couldn't. It wasn't funny. Bridges plays "The Dude," a stoner who shares the last name of Lebowski with a very rich man who owes a lot of debts to people dumb enough to mistake the Dude for the Big Lebowski. Goodman (over the top, but acting quite well) and Buscemi play the Dude's equally clueless friends and bowling buddies. I didn't see the whole movie because my thumb developed this nasty tic and kept hitting the fast forward button.

1998, dir. Joel and Ethan Coen. With Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, David Huddleston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tara Reid.

The Big Short

This is a surprisingly interesting movie about the collapse of the housing market in 2008, with several of the characters based on real people who shorted the housing market. It's based on a non-fiction book of the same name: The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, by Michael Lewis (2010). Not something most people would consider a compelling subject for a big budget movie, but McKay makes it quite watchable. That said, my level of enthusiasm doesn't quite reach that of the critics and friends who recommended it: I liked it and enjoyed it, but I didn't think it was quite as brilliant as most people seemed to think. My divergence may have to do with every single character in the movie being slightly over-the-top. I'm kind of torn on this one because I suspect they're not incorrect in their portrayals: people crazy enough to short the housing market in 2006 and 2007 would have to be a little bit "out there," they were going against every other stock broker and trader in the world. The fourth wall breaks by several actors were entertaining, but contributed to the feeling that this was a weird hybrid between a comedy, a documentary, and a drama rather than a "real" drama. This disconnect shouldn't be a problem for most people, and, as mentioned, it's a fairly good movie.

2015, dir. Adam McKay. With Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, John Magaro, Finn Wittrock, Hamish Linklater, Rafe Spall, Jeremy Strong, Adepero Oduye, Marisa Tomei, Melissa Leo.

The Big Sleep

Probably the movie that made Bacall a star, although that honour could arguably go to "To Have and Have Not" (also with Bogart). This is based on Raymond Chandler's first novel, also his first novel starring Philip Marlowe (played by Bogart). For the first fifteen minutes I greatly enjoyed the rapid-fire witty banter, but it becomes tiresome and annoying: it happens occasionally in life, but is never as continuous as this. Bogart and Bacall play well, but an incomprehensible plot leave you rather befuddled. Occasionally enjoyable to watch, but very hard to follow.

1946, dir. Howard Hawks. With Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely, Martha Vickers.

Big Trouble in Little China

One of the cheesiest movies ever made. Russell plays loud-mouthed trucker Jack Burton, who gets mixed up in black magic in Little China in San Francisco over a gambling debt. The plot and dialogue are absurd, and the end product hilariously funny.

1986, dir. John Carpenter. With Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong, Suzee Pai, Al Leong.

A Bigger Splash

Tilda Swinton plays rock star Marianne Lane, on vacation on a small Italian island after vocal surgery. With her is her boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts). They're quiet life is interrupted by the arrival of Marianne's former producer and ex-lover Harry. Harry - as played by Ralph Fiennes - is a flamboyant obnoxious braggart, and he's brought his (previously unknown) daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson) with him. Harry and Paul also knew each other previously. We get to watch as they provoke each other, fuck, and squabble.

The acting is very good, I'll give it that - Feinnes is particularly impressive (although very hard to like) as Harry, who loves life so much that he knows where the best food is, swims naked at the drop of a hat, snorts drugs, always says exactly what he thinks, and fucks anyone that will have him. He and his daughter succeed in bringing out the worst in Paul and Marianne. And watching two hours of four really unpleasant people getting on each other's nerves and fighting ... just isn't my idea of fun, no matter how well done.

2015, dir. Luca Guadagnino. With Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson, Lily McMenamy, Aurore Clément, Elena Bucci, Corrado Guzzanti.

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

I saw this back around when it came out, watched it again in 2014. It remains both incredibly stupid and distinctly entertaining.

Bill (Winter) and Ted (Reeves) are best friends without a clue, on the cusp of failing history. They are given a magical phone box that travels through time, with which they collect a number of historical personages for their final report. Napoleon is a lousy loser at bowling and loves water slides. Other such discoveries abound. I was pleasantly surprised by how funny it was.

1989, dir. Stephen Herek. With Alex Winter, Keanu Reeves, George Carlin, Terry Camilleri, Dan Shor, Tony Steedman, Rod Loomis, Al Leong, Jane Wiedlin, Robert V. Barron, Clifford David, Martha Davis, Fee Waybill, Clarence Clemons.

A Birder's Guide to Everything

Smit-McPhee plays David, a high school student whose father is about to remarry after the death of his mother. He's not dealing well with the loss of his mother, and has followed in her footsteps as a passionate birder. His friends at school are also birders, and on the eve of his father's wedding, he runs off in pursuit of a possibly extinct bird that he saw, accompanied by his two friends and "the new girl," and eventually joined by Lawrence Konrad (Kingsley), an avid birder they all look up to.

This is an indie movie with a tiny budget, or at least if there was any budget they spent it all on Kingsley (although my suspicion is he worked for the Hollywood equivalent of peanuts because this looked like fun). The kids do a passable job in the service of a fairly good story, life lessons are learned, etc. (it's essentially a coming-of-age story). Which makes it sound more quaint and clichéd than it is: it's ultimately quite enjoyable.

2013, dir. Rob Meyer. With Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alex Wolff, Katie Chang, Ben Kingsley.

Birdman

Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, an aging Hollywood actor who's mainly known for playing the action hero Birdman in a series of three blockbuster movies years ago. He's now trying to bring a play of Raymond Carver's short story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" to Broadway, but it isn't going well. He's having problems with his actors, and the voice of Birdman mocks him for his inadequacies.

The movie is filmed as if the entire thing is a single take, following actors through the halls of the theatre, onto the stage, up on the roof, out on the street to the bar next door. If you look for it, there are places where they must have made cuts (a passage through a pitch black corridor, or a few moments of a still scene), but even these are few and far between. It's impressive, unusual, and occasionally disorienting. It's also not clear how much of it actually happens, with Thomson performing telekinesis on several occasions, and an ambiguous ending.

I was impressed by it without actually liking it: there are a number of very good performances, and the visual style is nothing you've ever seen before. If you're a fan of movies, this is definitely worth seeing for what it says about actors, the acting, and for the spectacular filming.

2015, dir. Alejandro G. Iñárritu. With Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Lindsay Duncan.

The Birds

I have a great respect for Alfred Hitchcock which has led me to work my way through almost his entire catalogue over the years. My favourite Hitchcock is "To Catch a Thief," and my favourite surprise among his less well known movies was "Stage Fright" with its wonderful dialogue between father and daughter. So I finally watched "The Birds" in 2017, a movie I'd never seen. If you're one of the three people left in the world who A) hasn't seen the movie, and B) actually cares about the plot and doesn't want spoilers, stop reading now. I'm writing for everyone who's seen it and I'll feel free to spoil.

We set up our two leads immediately - rich and beautiful practical joker and inveterate liar Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren, who was later to claim Hitchcock psychologically tortured her on the set ... she was probably telling the truth) and handsome and dashing lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor). A prank of hers leads to her being in the same small seaside town he stays in weekends, where the birds start misbehaving and attacking humans.

The movie - being Hitchcock - concentrates heavily on the human aspects of the situation - Mitch's insecure mother, Melanie's lying, Mitch's ex-girlfriend, the romance developing between Melanie and Mitch. The dialogue is better than your average Hollywood movie, but I didn't think it was up to Hitchcock's standards. Unfortunately, the effects are utterly appalling by modern standards and the movie is crammed full of what are now tired old horror movie tropes: people leaving safe places for stupid reasons, people going places alone, and my personal favourite, Melanie effectively blocking herself into a room full of birds when she was trying to exit the room.

And then there's the ending: they all get into a car and drive away from the birds. No wrap-up, no explanation, no answers to who survived or why any of it happened. Possibly my least favourite Hitchcock.

1963, dir. Alfred Hitchcock. With Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Suzanne Pleshette, Jessica Tandy, Veronica Cartwright.

The Bishop's Wife

Niven plays a Bishop who spends so much time trying to get his cathedral built that he's in danger of losing his wife (Young). When he prays to God for help an angel (Grant) comes to his aid ... but appears to be about to take his wife away from him.

Grant and Niven are good, Young seems terribly bland - but I think the fault there lies more with the script than the actress. Charming but not overly romantic or funny. I did like Wooley as the somewhat Bohemian history professor.

1947, dir. Henry Koster. With Cary Grant, David Niven, Loretta Young, Monty Wooley, James Gleason.

The Black Cauldron

One of Disney's poorer outings, and a blundering insult to the source material. Lloyd Alexander wrote a series of children's books called "The Prydain Chronicles," very good books. The Black Cauldron was the second of five, and possibly the darkest of the lot. The Horned King and his legions of dead soldiers are a horrific threat in the book, and they kill quite a few people. Does anybody die in this movie? Not even a single bad guy. The characters are as quirky as they are in the original, but this is actually a liability - without back-story, it makes little sense that they should be so weird. All is reduced to cuteness and overwhelmed by trite. Even if you haven't read the original, this is going to be a pretty poor movie.

1985, dir. Ted Berman and Richard Rich. With Grant Bardsley, Susan Sheridan, Freddie Jones, Nigel Hawthorne.

The Black Hole

I loved this when it first came out ... Even at that age I thought my taste was better. I guess the effects looked okay back then ... This is appallingly bad. Any movie that gets five lines into the dialogue and says "It's mission, to find habitable life," you know you're in trouble. "Habitable life?!" Bad science I expected: but English that bad was a bit of a surprise. Hell, the robots acted better than the humans and they didn't even have faces.

1979, dir. Gary Nelson. With Maximilian Schell, Anthony Perkins, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Foster, Joseph Bottoms, Yvette Mimieux, Roddy McDowall, Slim Pickens.

Black Snake Moan

If you've seen the trailer but not the movie, it may help to know that one of the producers (in the DVD extras) referred to the movie as "a fable." Old black man chains young white girl to his couch in rural Tennessee - yeah, that's believable. Leave that behind and enjoy the movie: it paints with big strokes, but it's pretty good. Not least because of Jackson and Ricci, both of whom are excellent.

Ricci plays Rae, whose boyfriend Ronnie (Timberlake) goes off to join the army. Rae promptly goes on a sex, alcohol and drugs bender, and ends up beaten and left for dead in a ditch. Jackson finds her there, and decides to cure her evil ways.

The story is absurd, but gets that way by over-emphasizing highly accurate points about unhappy people we've all met to make its point. Jackson and Ricci, under Brewer's direction, take what could have been the ultimate in B-movie trash and turn it into an astonishingly decent movie with good help from Timberlake, Cothran, and Richards.

2006, dir. Craig Brewer. With Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci, Justin Timberlake, John Cothran Jr., Kim Richards, S. Epatha Merkerson, David Banner, Michael Raymond-James.

Blade

This is the best action horror movie ever made. Snipes plays a half-human-half-vampire Vampire hunter, assisted by Kristofferson (in a role that probably saved his career). Humour, violence, and lots of action. See it.

1998. dir. Stephen Norrington. With Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson.

Blade II

The darkest of the three movies, finds Blade teaming up with some other vampires to fight a new breed of uber-vampires. While there's plenty of action, this is the closest to pure horror that the series got. There's a lot of leaping about in the fights, for which they chose CG over wirework. Unfortunately, it's very obvious.

2002, dir. Guillermo del Toro. With Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Ron Perlman.

Blade Trinity

Humour was what was needed to liven up the overly serious "Blade II," but they added too much, with Snipes still taking himself way too seriously. Posey is supposed to be scary and funny, but manages neither. She's just annoying. Reynolds, who's a fairly capable actor, was let loose with his own brand of humour in this movie, and is nearly as annoying as Parker. Purcell is reasonably good as the ultimate vampire. But the addition of Oswalt to the mix tells you what direction they were headed in. Some of the action is enjoyable, but this is a bad movie.

2004, dir. David Goyer. With Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Jennifer Biel, Ryan Reynolds, Dominic Purcell, Parker Posey, "Triple H," Callum Keith Rennie, John Michael Higgins, Patton Oswalt.

Bladerunner

One of the greatest science fiction films ever made. I preferred the original with Harrison Ford's voice-over (I'd seen it something like nine times), but the "Director's Cut" is also very good ... and I have to admit the voice-over is pretty bad. I haven't seen "The Final Cut" yet, but I don't expect it to make much of a difference. Based on a Philip K. Dick novel, the movie follows the story of Deckard (Ford) as he hunts "replicants" (very human androids). The setting is 2019, in a brilliantly conceived dystopian Los Angeles. A pretty bleak story - particularly when you consider that you're intended (in all the later cuts) to wonder if Deckard is in fact a replicant himself ...

1982. dir. Ridley Scott. With Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer, Daryl Hannah, Edward James Olmos.

Blake's 7 Series 1

As I write I've only watched episodes 1-6 of this series.

Roj Blake (Thomas) starts the series as a mind-wiped political dissident. His former comrades reach out to him, and he is shortly framed for a crime he didn't commit (because dissidence isn't even discussed) and shipped to a penal colony. I don't think that I'm giving too much away (given that the series is 35 years old and titled after a group of people) to say that he escapes with a group and starts "dissidenting" again.

I quite liked the first three episodes, the set-up with their dystopian future, evil government, and political manoeuvring. Despite special effects that made period Doctor Who look pretty good - the effects are unbelievably awful, so cheesy the most dedicated fan is going to giggle occasionally, 6" plastic space ship model terrible, etc. But after that it became apparent that it was to be more of an episodic and less upbeat Star Trek - travel about and confront various alien life forms, with periodic confrontations with the evil government - than anything else. The acting is mediocre, but arguably no worse than Star Trek. And a fairly convincing argument can be made that "Blake's 7" paved the way for "Babylon 5," Farscape," "Firefly," and the 2004 incarnation of "Battlestar Galactica," with its band of squabbling anti-heroes fighting for the right.

1978. With Gareth Thomas, Paul Darrow, Michael Keating, Sally Knyvette, Jan Chappell, David Jackson.

Blast from the Past

In 1962, a brilliant but paranoid physicist (Walken, of course) takes his pregnant wife (Spacek) down into their bomb shelter just as a plane crashes on their house. Convinced that "the bomb" has gone off, he locks them in for 35 years. So when his son Adam (Fraser) emerges in 1997, he embodies early Sixties values in the modern world and knows nothing of modern technology. He meets Eve (Silverstone) and hilarity ensues. More or less. Unbelievably cheesy, but I have to admit I kind of enjoyed it.

1999, dir. Hugh Wilson. With Brendan Fraser, Alicia Silverstone, Christopher Walken, Sissy Spacek, Dave Foley, Joey Slotnick.

Blazing Saddles

Starts with the construction of the railroad in 1874 in the West. The construction crew is shown to be mostly African-American and Chinese, managed by obnoxious and stupid white men. Hedley Lamarr (Korman) is trying to take over land that the railway will go through on the assumption it'll be worth money, and in trying to do that he convinces state governor J. Le Petomane (Brooks) to appoint Bart (Little) as the new sheriff to the town. Bart being black in an all-white town, Lamarr hopes the townspeople will either leave town or lynch the sheriff. Bart turns out to be quick on his feet, and is assisted in his adventures by The Waco Kid (Wilder).

Possibly Brooks' best known movie, and apparently a well-regarded comedy (#6 on the American Film Institute's "100 Years...100 Laughs" list). I loved this when it came out (I was ten) - it had people falling down, anachronisms and fart jokes, what's not to like? But I was less impressed in 2014. I have to admit that it remains impressive for sheer craziness, and I did find a few laughs in the mix. Wikipedia's comment on one of the aspects of the film is interesting: "The film satirizes the racism obscured by myth-making Hollywood accounts of the American West, with the hero being a black sheriff in an all-white town." With that in mind, it includes classic quotes like "All right ... we'll give some land to the Niggers and the Chinks, but we don't want the Irish."

I would love for someone to do a comparison of this to "Destry Rides Again:" if I recall correctly, the similarities goes substantially beyond Kahn's mediocre Dietrich impersonation.

1974, dir. Mel Brooks. With Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman, Slim Pickens, Madeline Kahn, Mel Brooks, Dom DeLuise.

Blitz

"Blitz" opens on Statham's character Tom Brant interrupting three young men trying to steal a car and, when they threaten him and demand his wallet, he beats the crap out of them with a hurley. We find out shortly after that that he's a police officer, and this is his general attitude. It's soon established there's a serial cop killer on the loose, and he's targeting police in South East London, Brant's branch. Brant uses his unsubtle techniques to get the information he needs - and somewhat surprisingly works with the new transfer and head of the investigation, Porter Nash (Considine). Although maybe this isn't too surprising, as we learn early on that Nash, when pushed far enough, will also step outside the law.

Statham isn't a brilliant actor. He's very good at the physical roles, and can be quite charming - and that's what's kept him employed for so long. Here, they put him in a character almost totally devoid of charm, leaving a violent and unpleasant man without a lot of depth - Considine and Gillen (as the killer) shine by comparison. The writer did manage what I thought was a surprisingly satisfying ending (although totally illegal - no surprise there). The end product is just "a cop movie with Jason Statham in it," no great work of art and definitely one to switch your brain off for, but if that's your thing it's serviceable entertainment.

2011, dir. Elliott Lester. With Jason Statham, Paddy Considine, Aiden Gillen, Zawe Ashton, David Morrissey, Mark Rylance, Luke Evans.

Blue Submarine No. 6

I think this was originally a TV miniseries in four parts, only a half hour each - so about movie length. The Japanese don't have quite the same sense of plotting, or good and bad, as we do. This one leaps into the action with no introduction and never fully fills you in on the backstory. The ragged blend of CGI and hand-drawn cell animation is actually fairly attractive, but the plot and conclusion are ... unsatisfactory.

1998. dir. Mahiro Maeda.

Blue Thunder

Scheider plays Frank Murphy, a police helicopter pilot and Vietnam war vet. He and his observer (a very young Stern) get assigned to a secret military helicopter project, which turns out (predictably enough) to be thoroughly rotten. There's intrigue, mayhem, and chases. As action movies go, fairly good.

1983, dir. John Badham. With Roy Scheider, Malcolm McDowell, Daniel Stern, Candy Clark, Warren Oates, Paul Roebling.

The Bodyguard from Beijing

One of Li's Hong Kong movies (and the better for it). Passable action, something vaguely resembling romance. The tape has better subtitles than the DVD.

dir. Cory Yuen. With Jet Li.

Boiler Room

Ribisi plays a college drop-out who runs his own illegal casino at the start of the movie, and is shortly recruited for a questionable stock brokerage. No one in this is particularly good, and, while the plot is good, it's not enough to make this a good movie.

2000. dir. Ben Younger. With Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, and Nia Long.

Bollywood Hero

This is an intensely frustrating piece of work, a TV miniseries of 2 hours 45 minutes that could have been really good. A good idea and good plot fall to Kattan's mediocre acting and general foolishness.

Kattan plays Kattan - literally, his character is called "Chris Kattan" and was in all those fine movies: "Corky Romano," "A Night at the Roxbury," and of course SNL. And he's sick of playing small and/or really bad roles: he wants to be a leading man. In his desperation, he accepts the lead in a movie in Bollywood.

The idea is sound, and the plot is excellent. Some of it is obvious: musical numbers, cultural fish-out-of-water, romancing the beautiful girl. The plot about the director and his sister and their struggle to keep their dead father's movie theatre afloat and live up to his name is pretty good. Unfortunately Kattan is Kattan: his humour is, as always, unfunny - although somewhat muted. He makes an effort, but he's just not enough of a leading man, not charismatic enough. Too bad.

2009. With Chris Kattan, Pooja Kumar, Ali Fazal, Julian Sands, Neha Dhupia, Rachna Shah.

Bolt

It's extremely predictable, but damn it's funny! And cute and charming too. Bolt (voiced by Travolta) is a dog who stars in a TV show. He believes everything on the show is true, including his own superpowers. So when his "person," Penny (voiced by Cyrus), is "kidnapped" by the villain of the TV series and Bolt escapes, the real world comes as something of a surprise. He captures an "evil" cat (Essman) and is joined by an adoring hamster (Walton) in a ball as he struggles to get from New York back to Hollywood. I'm guessing you can fill in 90% of the remaining plot from this short summary, and I'm not saying you're wrong. But remember what I said: it's funny. See it.

2008, dir. Byron Howard, Chris Williams. With John Travolta, Miley Cyrus, Susie Essman, Mark Walton, Malcolm McDowell, James Lipton, Greg Germann.

Bon Cop Bad Cop

Yes, it borrows heavily from the Hollywood buddy cop genre, and that's a little disappointing for a Canadian movie. But it's entertaining, isn't that what we're aiming for? And besides, it reeks of Canada: half the dialogue is in French, the references to "Ontario," "Quebec," "Montreal," and "Toronto" are extremely frequent, and, above all, the motivating problem is HOCKEY murders. It's a seriously Canadian film. It's not great art, but it's funny and entertaining and that's a good thing. There are some bad sections, but whenever Feore and Huard are on screen together it's worth watching.

2006, dir. Erik Canuel. With Colm Feore, Patrick Huard, Rick Mercer, Erik Knudsen, Sylvain Marcel.

Bon Voyage

A big line-up of some of the best actors in French cinema struggle with a mediocre script and the bizarre idea that the Nazi invasion of France at the beginning of the Second World War would be a good time to stage a romantic comedy. In one sense it is: people of all classes and backgrounds are packed into hotels and boarding rooms with regard only for expediency, and that gives rise to opportunities for humour: but around every corner is the horrors of displacement, invasion, and war. And the script still needs work. Adjani plays a reprehensible actress who uses her beauty to manipulate men, Derangère a childhood friend who loves her desperately, and Depardieu the vacillating government minister who is Adjani's latest target.

2003, dir. Jean-Paul Rappeneau. With Grégori Derangère, Isabelle Adjani, Gérard Depardieu, Virginie Ledoyen, Yvan Attal, Peter Coyote, Jean-Marc Stehl´.

The Book of Eli

Washington plays Eli, a wanderer in a post-apocalyptic world. The apocalypse is never explained, but it's mentioned that it's been about 30 years. Eli heard a voice shortly after the apocalypse and found a book (the Bible, no big surprise) - possibly the only one in existence because most were destroyed as having been the cause of the apocalypse. He's been travelling through a decimated world, headed west, for this whole time. But now he encounters Carnegie (Oldman), who is impressed to find that Eli can read like himself, wants Eli's skills at self defence ... and wants a bible, with the idea that with those words he could build an empire.

Washington is good, as you'd expect. Oldman plays something akin to his regular character, but happily not spot-on - enough different to be at least somewhat interesting. Beals hasn't registered on my radar since "Flashdance," and she's very good here - nice to see. There are a couple nice twists in the plot - around the nature of the book itself and a couple other details - that keep it from descending into cliché. The movie is filmed in extremely high contrast with very little colour, more a palate of browns - a convincingly grim world of violence, starvation, and lawlessness. Good for fans of the genre, but unlikely to captivate others.

2010, dir. Albert and Allen Hughes. With Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kuniz, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals.

The Book of Life

The movie starts with two young boys both in love with the same girl. Our hero is Manolo (Luna), a musician at heart born into a family of bullfighters. The woman of his dreams is Kate (Saldana), and her other suitor is Joaquin (Tatum). When they're children, La Muerte (goddess of death and Queen of the Land of the Remembered, voiced by del Castillo) and Xibulba (ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, voiced by Perlman) make a world-shaking wager over which of the two boys get the girl. We see them again as adults, now on the Mexican Day of the Dead: Xibulba, seeing that he's likely to lose his wager ... cheats.

Seen in the theatre in 3D. The style of animation is unusual, and fairly interesting: the characters are computer-animated, but they appear either as wood puppets (no strings) or bone. The presentation is equally as over-the-top, with the story ranging across the land of the living and both lands of the dead, with lots of magic, heroism and humour at every step. I found the absurdity led to a feeling of inconsequentiality, but the end result is quite funny and enjoyable.

2014, dir. Jorge Gutierrez. With Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Kate del Castillo, Ron Perlman.

The Born Losers

The first in the series of "Billy Jack" movies (the second was called simply "Billy Jack"). Written, directed by and starring Laughlin. This movie is named after the motorcycle gang that terrorizes the town Billy Jack (Laughlin) lives near, and he quickly becomes embroiled with them. Particularly after they rape several young women in the town, and then terrorize the families to prevent anyone from testifying against them in court. One girl in particular, Vicky (his co-screenwriter James) falls under Billy's protection.

I was interested in these movies as they're occasionally touted as early martial arts movies. Laughlin is put forward as part Indian and ex-army. But the closest we get to martial arts here is Laughlin side-stepping someone and delivering something that vaguely resembles a karate chop. It's hard to tell: the fight editing is jumpy and generally poor, and haymakers are the preferred blow.

This is an exploitation flick. It revels in the rapes, flaunts them, and then revels in the beatings. The acting is staggeringly wooden. Repulsive.

1967, dir. T.C. Frank (Laughlin). With Tom Laughlin, Elizabeth James, Jeremy Slate.

Born to Defence

I think there's a factory right next to the fortune cookie factory that cranks out bad martial arts movie titles. Hong Kong product, Li's directorial debut. Bloodier than most of his, fights are okay but not great. I like elegant fights, but these ones are messy.

1986, dir. Jet Li. With Jet Li.

Born Yesterday

Directed by George Cukor, the movie opens with Harry Brock (Crawford) coming to Washington with his showgirl girlfriend Emma "Billie" Dawn (Holliday). He's there to influence politicians (with cash), and her foolishness quickly embarrasses him - although he's no charmer himself. He hires reporter Paul Verrall (Holden) to educate Billie, a process that's much more effective than anybody expected.

Holliday is unpleasantly convincing as the uncouth and uneducated Billie, and manages to play her improbable transformation reasonably well. I found I disliked pretty much every character in the movie, although I think you're meant to like Paul Verrall, and eventually Billie. She takes her education and starts "doing the right thing," but I found too much of the old Billie in her (and wouldn't have believed it if there was less - a bit of a Catch 22). So - a fairly good movie that I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about.

1950, dir. George Cukor. With Judy Holliday, Broderick Crawford, William Holden, Howard St. John, Frank Otto, Larry Oliver.

The Bourne Identity (1988, TV)

I had no idea that Matt Damon's version of this wasn't the first. This made-for-TV movie holds that distinction, but I only found out about it in 2009. While I would undoubtedly do better reading the book, I found watching this movie to be quite an education: I suspect it's more accurate to the book than Damon's version, and the plot line is significantly different. The start is much the same with Bourne being pulled from the sea comatose (and awaking amnesiac), full of bullet holes and with the number of a Swiss bank account surgically implanted in his hip. Elliot made the drunken but fatherly doctor who removed his bullets and aided in his recovery a much more significant character, and I wish he'd had a larger part. This may be the character he always plays, I don't watch much TV; but it fitted well here. Chamberlain and Young play Bourne as having a worse temper and being more willing to use others than Damon's version. This version has its share of TV cheese, the love scene in particular being truly appalling. Other than that, I would highly recommend this to fans of the genre, and especially to fans of the Damon version. Be warned it runs three hours.

1988, dir. Roger Young. With Richard Chamberlain, Jaclyn Smith, Anthony Quayle, Donald Moffat, Denholm Elliot, Yorgo Voyagis.

The Bourne Identity (2002)

A man washes ashore full of bullets and without memory. He shortly finds he's a target for several people who want to kill him - and that he's pretty good at killing people himself. It's predictable in the sense that he unravels his own history while fighting off bad guys, but it's better done than most movies of the type: you're always a little off balance, and (with the exception of the five storey drop at the end) they obey pretty much all the laws of physics.

Rewatched this in 2012: this is how action movies should be made. Well constructed, well acted (you know, when acting is actually needed), and with great action.

2002, dir. Doug Liman. With Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Clive Owen, Brian Cox, Julia Stiles.

The Bourne Supremacy

Damon is back as Bourne. After two years of a quiet life, he's attacked and his friend killed. He sets out on a vendetta to assure they never bother him again (apparently he's not successful, as there's another sequel). How they manage to make a single man successfully taking on a large portion of the CIA convincing, I don't know - but they do. Again, Bourne is entirely efficient and effective ... but haunted by his conscience. Urban hardly has any speaking lines, but is on screen a lot and quite good as another highly efficient assassin (who obeys the laws of physics). Greengrass' perpetual hand-held filming manages to maintain the sense of always being a little off balance without making the audience seasick. Another very good movie.

2004, dir. Paul Greengrass. With Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Brian Cox, Joan Allen, Julia Stiles, Karl Urban.

The Bourne Ultimatum

Back again, Bourne once again accused/threatened with doing something he had nothing to do with. And again, he sets out to clear his name (or just get rid of the people causing problems) - leaving a trail of bodies behind him. Greengrass again offers his unsteady camera work, and Allen, Stiles, and Strathairn are along to add some class.

The movie has a lot of good action and has some extended scenes that really bring the player's paranoia to the viewer, but this isn't really the equal of the first two movies - in part because it's almost totally action-driven, with character development kept to an absolute minimum and used almost exclusively to either move the action forward or point out how terrible a character is.

2007, dir. Paul Greengrass. With Matt Damon, David Strathairn, Joan Allen, Julia Stiles, Scott Glenn, Albert Finney, Joey Ansah.

The Bourne Legacy

One critic complained that this is a Bourne movie ... without Bourne. So what exactly do you have?

Starts with a tribute to the first movie, a shot of a person floating motionless in the water. Renner plays Aaron Cross (the floater), a member of "Operation Outcome." (And I thought the already revealed Operations Treadstone and Blackbriar were quite sufficient.) Because of the public revelation of these programs at the end of the last Bourne movie, Operation Outcome is shut down by killing off the operatives - but guess what, Cross survives and rescues Dr. Marta Shearing (Weisz) who was part of the science crew on the project, and thus also under threat of termination. They are hunted by another secret organization, even more secreter than the one that was after Bourne (oh geez). And let's not forget the Larx supersoldier program that pops up later in the movie.

This movie feels quite different from the previous movies in some respects - more about the people, more talking. And really, it's better at that than at the chase scenes, and it would be nice to see this Bourne-alike think his way out of stuff rather than muscle his way out, but we aren't so fortunate.

Overall not too bad, but doesn't seem likely to stop the Bourne series slide into mediocrity. If it wasn't so obvious to compare it to the first two Bourne movies (this is better than the third), this would stand alone as quite a decent action movie. Renner has a hell of a screen presence, and Weisz puts in a good performance.

2012, dir. Tony Gilroy. With Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Oscar Isaac, Željko Ivanek, Stacey Keach, Louis Ozawa Changchien.

The Boxtrolls

The movie is set in something vaguely resembling the British Victorian era, uses stop-motion animation just like "Paranorman" (with which it shares the production company Laika), and is about a young boy trying to save his friends from persecution and death.

Eggs (named because of the box he wears, and voiced by Hempstead-Wright - Bran Stark of "Game of Thrones" fame) is a boy raised from a baby by the underground dwelling boxtrolls, who come up into the town above at night to scavenge mechanical parts for their inventions. Archibald Snatcher (Kingsley), an unpleasant man who wants to better his social standing, convinces the town that the boxtrolls steal and eat babies, and sets out to round up and kill all of them with a promise of social advancement from the mayor. The boxtrolls don't fight back because they're just goofy and sweet, so the task of defending them falls to Eggs - who has no familiarity with human society. Fortunately, he falls in with the mayor's daughter (Fanning). Laika has laid out a lot of jokes for adults, but you'll have to pay serious attention as a lot of them flash by as names on businesses and boxes ... and be prepared for an endless string of cheese jokes, many of which the kids won't get (although there's plenty for them here).

I wasn't too keen on the style of animation. Even the cutest characters had a slight touch of the grotesque in them - I suppose that was true in "Paranorman" as well, but I thought it worked better in that one, with it being about zombies and raising the dead and all. Plenty cute and reasonably funny, it's not a bad film, but I don't think I'll be watching it again - unlike "Paranorman," which is a story of surprising depth (and with better fitted animation) that I've watched several times.

2014, dir. Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi. With Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Elle Fanning, Ben Kingsley, Toni Collette, Jared Harris, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan.

The Boys Are Back

Owen plays Joe Warr, a sports writer struggling to connect with his young son after the cancer death of his wife. He does his best while enforcing almost no discipline - a thing that haunts him when his older son by another marriage comes to visit. It's very good for what it is, with an excellent performance by Owen - but you'd better want to watch an Australian family drama.

2009, dir. Scott Hicks. With Clive Owen, Nicholas McAnulty, George MacKay, Laura Fraser, Emma Lung.

Brave

Merida is the first daughter of a Scottish Clan, perhaps in medieval times, in this animated movie by Pixar. She's extremely good at archery, and when her parents (mostly her mother) try to wed her to the son of another clan leader (to be chosen by competition), she runs off and does something foolish involving a witch (and bears).

Pixar has always had a side-line in moral lessons, but they've never before let it get in the way of telling the story (okay, "Cars ..."). This time, the moral lesson is front and centre - and in case you missed it, it's then applied with a sledgehammer. Also front and centre is a Disney cutsey-ness (the bear learning to let go and be a bear, a very long and tiresome scene) that's atypical of previous Pixar movies. The common assessment is that "this isn't as bad as 'Cars 2.'" That's true, but this is also nowhere near as good as any of the other Pixar pictures. Merida's hair is almost worth the price of admission (watch the trailer if you don't know what I'm talking about), but an hour and a half of hair isn't exactly a movie.

Much better you should go (re-)watch one of Pixar's earlier movies. And pray they get back to that mindset.

Re-watching it didn't help - a couple moments of humour stuck in a brutally heavy-handed FAMILY VALUES film. I cried for the death of Pixar.

2012, dir. Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman. With Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Julie Walters, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane, John Ratzenberger.

Brazil

It would be simple to say this is 1984 meets Monty Python, and that's certainly true on the surface. But there's a bit more to it. Sam Lowry (Pryce) lives in a dystopian world full of broken duct work and a bureaucracy that combines the worst aspects of the current (2008) U.S. government and that of the former U.S.S.R. He works for the government and has, shall we say, a very active fantasy life. It's extremely surreal, occasionally very funny, brutally depressing, and absolutely brilliant.

1985, dir. Terry Gilliam. With Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Michael Palin, Ian Richardson, Peter Vaughan, Jim Broadbent.

Bread and Tulips ("Pane e Tulipani")

A woman with a husband and family is accidentally left behind at a rest stop on the highway when her family is on vacation. While waiting for them, she abruptly decides to hitch a ride, ending up in Venice where she stays rather longer than she had planned. Fitting the plan of comedies everywhere, she encounters and becomes involved in the lives of a bunch of local eccentrics. It's charming and somewhat funny.

2000, dir. Silvio Soldini. With Licia Maglietta, Bruno Ganz.

The Break-Up

I'm not sure why I dragged myself to or through this one. Aniston? Of the "Friends," she's the only one with any acting talent - but it's not really that much. And here she doesn't particularly stretch herself playing opposite Vaughn, who has only the one tired old routine. Not funny, not romantic, and not even interesting. You know you're in for trouble when everyone else is a walking plot device.

2006, dir. Peyton Reed. With Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Aniston, Joey Lauren Adams, Cole Hauser, Jon Favreau, Vincent D'Onofrio.

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Watching this was an interesting exercise. Hepburn plays Holly Golightly (to borrow a phrase from "EdTV"): "she's damaged goods, Bro!" To believe a romantic comedy, you have to be convinced that the leads would appeal to each other and I definitely wasn't convinced that the relatively level-headed Paul Varjak (Peppard) would fall for this utter wack-job (Hepburn).

Rooney played "Mr. Funyoshi," the stereotyped Asian landlord: an incredibly obnoxious and unfunny role usually reserved for the deservedly maligned Jerry Lewis.

1961. dir. Blake Edwards. With Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Mickey Rooney.

The Breakfast Club

One of Hughes's most clichéd - and best - efforts. Hughes has always been heavy-handed, and so his movies are riddled with clichés and stereotypes. But he was successful because from this he usually manages to pull some achingly accurate moments of truth. This movie swings even further in both directions than most of his productions.

Saturday morning finds five students in high school detention. As is admitted in the movie, they represent stereotypes: a brain (Hall), an athlete (Estevez), a basket case (Sheedy), a princess (Ringwald), and a criminal (Judd), attended by a contemptible teacher (Gleason). After some initial stereotypical interactions, they start to talk and eventually there are full confessions and an understanding is reached. And yes, it still sounds clichéd, but it's funny and offers insights into both the people and the stereotypes. Nelson is particularly good, managing to make Bender ("the criminal") both reprehensible and sympathetic - but all the actors do well.

I really wonder what people who didn't go to high school in the 80s would see in this - probably nothing at all.

1985, dir. John Hughes. With Anthony Michael Hall, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Paul Gleason, John Kapelos.

Breaking Away

Strange to see this again, 27 years after seeing it in the theatres ... Quaid looks so young, and Stern is pretty funny in a minor role, not yet having fallen into his later stereotype(s). But the main story of this group of four recent high school graduates focuses on Christopher, a talented cyclist who should (perhaps) be in college. Yes sir, another coming-of-age tale ... done with a little more wit, intelligence and compassion than usual. Pretty good.

1979, dir. Peter Yates. With Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern, Jackie Earle Haley, Robyn Douglass, Barbara Barrie, Paul Dooley.

Breathless (orig. "À bout de souffle")

The movie that probably single-handedly started the French New Wave. Belmondo's character steals a car, and ends up killing a police man. He spends most of his time on the run in Paris flirting with Seberg. The shooting and editing are incredibly choppy - sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. If that's the charm of the movie, I failed to see it.

1960, dir. Jean-Luc Godard. Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg.

The Breed

Low budget science fiction story about vampires living among us openly. Cop buddy movie with one of the partners being a vampire (Paul) and the other human. I enjoyed it despite it being fairly cheesy.

2001, dir. Michael Oblowitz. With Adrian Paul, Bokeem Woodbine, Ling Bai.

Brick

I was interested in this because of what Johnson did after: "The Brothers Bloom" (which I think was a failure, but nevertheless a very interesting one), and "Looper" (which I haven't seen yet, but which has received almost universal acclaim).

Gordon-Levitt plays Brendan Frye, and the movie opens with him kneeling beside the dead body of a young woman. We flash back and find that Brendan a high school student adrift after the loss of his girlfriend a couple months previously. He receives a desperate and jumbled call from his ex-, which leads him on a wild chase to save her - and when he's unable to do that, to find out who killed her and who put her in front of the killer.

Essentially film noir except that it's set in a modern day high school, the movie is quite complex and uses highly stylized language. Not current or old slang - just a language of its own. This might have worked better if the sets were more stylized, but they feel like Los Angeles with just a touch of colourization and not much more so I found that the language took me right out of the movie. I liked the idea, I liked that I had to pay attention, and Gordon-Levitt is quite good, but the script kept tossing me back out of my willing suspension of disbelief.

2006, dir. Rian Johnson. With Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lukas Haas, Noah Fleiss, Matt O'Leary, Emilie de Ravin, Nora Zehetner, Brian J. White, Noah Segan, Richard Roundtree.

Bride and Prejudice

I was a big fan of Chadha's previous film "Bend it Like Beckham," so I wanted to see her Bollywood/British take on Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." Since I've seen four or five versions of "Pride and Prejudice" and read the book (twice?), I'm not even going to try to look at this separately.

Rai plays Lalita Bakshi, the equivalent of Elizabeth Bennet. Shirodkar is her sister Jaya (Jane), Henderson is William (Darcy), Andrews is Mr. Balraj (Bingley), and Gillies is Wickham. The number of sisters in the Bakshi/Bennet family has been reduced from five to four, but we still have Lalita's youngest sister Lakhi/Lydia (Chowdhary) to run off with Wickham. The story is set in modern day Amritsar, London, and Los Angeles.

I think my favourite character has always been the father (Kher) - he's very smart and funny, and just doesn't get enough airtime. But that's not really what the movie is about, just a personal thing. The movie is funny, and while I have to agree with the critics that the musical numbers aren't quite up to Bollywood standards (not as well rehearsed/co-ordinated), they're still quite enjoyable. Overall, a refreshing take on Austen's much-played story.

2004, dir. Gurinder Chadha. With Aishwarya Rai, Martin Henderson, Naveen Andrews, Namrata Shirodkar, Anupam Kher, Daniel Gillies, Nadira Babbar, Indira Varma, Sonali Kulkarni, Nitin Ganatra, Peeya Rai Chowdhary, Alexis Bledel.

Brideshead Revisited (2008)

A whole bunch of miserable people (Catholic and atheist alike) wallowing about in their badly written guilt. What, precisely, was the point?

Charles Ryder (Goode) plays a young man befriended by the alcoholic and probably homosexual Sebastian Flyte. Ryder falls in love with the Flyte family home of Brideshead, and eventually also falls for Sebastian's sister Julia (Atwell). Thompson plays the extremely religious family matriarch, Lady Marchmain - who initially hopes Charles will be a good influence on Sebastian, despite being a proclaimed atheist. But she later warns him off Julia, who must marry a Catholic. It all ends badly, and without a rewarding moment anywhere.

2008, dir. Julian Jerrold. With Matthew Goode, Ben Whishaw, Hayley Atwell, Emma Thompson, Michael Gambon.

The Bridge on the River Kwai

This won seven Academy Awards in 1957, but didn't particularly enchant me in 2004. It's good but not stunning. Being Lean, it's 2h40m - fairly restrained for him. Guinness plays a British officer leading prisoners of war under the Japanese in Ceylon. Holden plays an American unimpressed by Baldwin's determination to live honourably at all costs.

1957, dir. David Lean. With Alec Guinness, William Holden.

The Bridges of Madison County

We start with two adult children meeting a lawyer about their mother's will, then jump back to see (through the children reading journals) the most important time of their mother's life. Streep plays Francesca, a housewife in Iowa who meets a travelling National Geographic photographer (Eastwood) while her husband is away. She shows him around the area, and they fall for each other.

I found it very drawn out. This was intentional, but to me it was kind of tedious. To my surprise, I really liked the ending with the children. But overall, I wasn't too impressed.

1995, dir. Clint Eastwood. With Meryl Streep, Clint Eastwood, Victor Slezak, Annie Corley.

A Brief History of Time

The film opens on a woman talking about someone: happily, most of us will realize that the person being talked about is Stephen Hawking. After all, the movie is titled after his most famous book. But Morris isn't going to tell you who anybody is: people talk, and you guess who they are. The effects are cheap crap and I rather wished they'd passed on them and just stuck with the people talking, but the effects aren't the point of the movie nor are they a huge distraction.

The people and stories chosen paint a fascinating picture of a brilliant but unfocused young man (something Hawking himself admits to) whose ideas and interests come sharply into focus because of his disease. Another piece of that puzzle was added by a colleague (?) who talked about how having to work almost entirely inside his own head (because reading and writing are so problematic for him) meant that Hawking had to develop a unique toolset - and when you have a toolset that no one else in the world has, you make unique discoveries.

A fascinating portrait of possibly the greatest genius of our age - worth a watch if you have the slightest interest in Stephen Hawking. Also a great companion piece to the wonderful "The Theory of Everything," a fictionalized version of his life.

1992, dir. Errol Morris. With Stephen Hawking, Jane Hawking, Isobel Hawking, Janet Humphrey, Mary Hawking, Basil King.

A Brilliant Young Mind

Butterfield plays Nathan Ellis, a young teen who's exceptionally good at math. His supportive and understanding father died when he was nine. His mother (Hawkins) is also very supportive, but doesn't understand him quite as well as his dad did. They find a tutor for him in the depressive and slightly foul-mouthed Martin (Spall) who is a former Math Olympiad competitor. Nathan is also recruited to the Math Olympiad, and is sent to training in Taiwan - which pushes him way out of his comfort zone.

Butterfield and Hawkins are both good, but Spall steals every scene he's in and Marsan is also more memorable (as the obnoxious British team coach) than the two leads. Considerably better than your average uplifting-story-of-the-week, but - despite being "based on a true story" or "inspired by a true story" or whatever it is - I enjoyed it but the movie doesn't manage to achieve greatness.

2014, dir. Morgan Matthews. With Asa Butterfield, Rafe Spall, Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Jo Yang, Martin McCann.

Broadchurch, Series 1

"Broadchurch" opens with the death of an 11 year old boy. Before his body is discovered, Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller (Colman) returns to work to find that the job as Detective Inspector she was assured she would have has gone instead to Alec Hardy (Tennant) - a investigator notorious for the recent failed Sandbrook murder investigation. Now they have a murder investigation - and she's reporting to him. Broadchurch is a small and tightly knit coastal town of 15,000 people in the UK.

I watched the first three episodes (of eight in the first season), and came up with a term for it - "grief porn." It's well written and very well acted, so we get to see this family (and community) suffering - in their living room, in their bedroom, even in their bathroom. As they sob, the camera lingers, comes closer, to ensure you can see the tears rolling down and that you don't miss a moment of anger, frustration, or hurt. Like watching a car wreck, it was hard to look away. But after three episodes I went online to find out who the killer was, because I wasn't up to five more episodes of the soap opera of intimate suffering. Well done, but definitely not my thing.

2013. With David Tennant, Olivia Colman, Jodie Whittaker, Andrew Buchan.

Brokeback Mountain

A good movie that I didn't like, despite having Lee at the helm. Gyllenhaal and Ledger were both excellent.

2005. dir. Ang Lee. With Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger, Randy Quaid, Anne Hathaway.

Brokedown Palace

Two friends fresh out of high school decide to go on a big adventure together. They end up in Thailand, and an encounter with a friendly Australian leads them on a weekend trip to Hong Kong. They're arrested and thrown in jail when drugs are found in one of their backpacks. Most of the movie is about their time in a Thai jail and their attempts to get out. Not a happy movie, and not particularly good.

1999, dir. Jonathan Kaplan. With Claire Danes, Kate Beckinsale, Lou Diamond Phillips, Jacqueline Kim, Bill Pullman.

Broken Arrow

The premise is fairly simple: two pilots (played by Travolta and Slater) of the "B-3 Stealth Bomber" (a fictional iteration on the B-2) run a top secret exercise with a pair of live nuclear bombs ... only one of the pilots has decided he needs a big pay off and sabotages the mission so that he can steal and sell the bombs. The rest of the movie consists of the second pilot and a Utah park ranger (Samantha Mathis) tangling with the other pilot and his crew, trying to stop the sale and/or detonation. "Broken arrow" is a military term indicating a lost nuclear weapon.

Woo is best known for his gun battles and explosions. And I don't know what was up with Mathis: her acting is off-the-charts awful in this one. Not that it's a great script or anything, but Travolta and Slater have a lot of fun with it. The action is fairly good - over-the-top Woo, but actually slightly more believable than usual. Classic quotes include "I don't know what's scarier, losing nuclear weapons, or that it happens so often there's actually a term for it," and "would you mind not shooting at the thermonuclear weapons?"

1996, dir. John Woo. With Christian Slater, John Travolta, Samantha Mathis, Delroy Lindo, Frank Whaley.

Broken Flowers

It's the journey itself that matters, not the destination, right? Don't expect any answers from this film - but it's an interesting trip, I guess. Murray plays an ageing Don Juan who receives a letter from a woman saying that she had a son, his son, that he didn't know about, 20 years before. Rather involuntarily, he sets off in search of the woman. The word "sparse" comes to mind.

2005, dir. Jim Jarmusch. With Bill Murray, Jeffrey Wright, Julie Delpy, Sharon Stone, Chloë Sevigny, Jessica Lange.

Bronco Billy

Eastwood directed 1980's "Bronco Billy," in which he also played the title character. Bronco Billy is a sharp-shooting cowboy, the leader of an Old West show that goes from town to town putting on a big top show. They're not doing terribly well financially and it doesn't sound like they ever have. Billy's assistants keep quitting (he shoots at them as part of the act) until - rather against her will - they're joined by a snotty heiress (Locke - Clint's significant other at the time).

The movie is mostly about Bronco Billy - as one might guess from the title. Initially, he seems like just an obnoxious narrow-minded cowboy wannabe with a hell of a temper. But through various badly acted scenes (Eastwood's manly squinting to show his pain has rarely seemed more ill used) we learn that he's a good-hearted man who'll do almost anything for the people he cares about. Locke's acting is only slightly better as her character has her own transformation through the course of the movie. The clichés, styles, and subtle (and not-so-subtle) sexism of the Seventies are very much on display.

A weird slice of Americana with an unsubtle "be what you want to be" message. Despite its flaws I found it kind of fascinating because of the lifestyle and window in time it represented.

1980, dir. Clint Eastwood. With Clint Eastwood, Sandra Locke, Scatman Crothers, Geoffrey Lewis, Bill McKinney, Sam Bottoms, Dan Vadis, Sierra Pecheur.

The Brothers Bloom

Steven (Ruffalo) and Bloom (Brody) are brothers who have been con artists from roughly the age of 10. It's made clear that Bloom is the actor, always playing roles written by his older brother who is very clearly the leader. Bloom has tried to leave a number of times, but doesn't know what the hell to do with himself when he's away from Steven. Now Steven has assured him "one last con, then we're done." The mark is Penelope (Weisz), a lonely, charming, eccentric, and staggeringly rich young woman.

The characters and presentation are eccentric. All the leads act well, and I found the movie hysterically funny. Kikuchi as "Bang Bang," their almost entirely silent explosives expert, brings some of the biggest laughs. Unfortunately, as it builds toward its climax, it becomes fairly clear that it has to end in tragedy, which doesn't sit well at the end of a comedy ... See it for the actors and the humour, but brace yourself for an off ending.

2008, dir. Rian Johnson. With Adrien Brody, Rachel Weisz, Mark Ruffalo, Rinko Kikuchi, Robbie Coltrane, Maximillian Schell.

The Brothers Grimm

Ledger and Damon play the brothers, who make their money scamming people into believing their area is haunted and then they come in and remove the problem - for a fee. They are shortly recruited, involuntarily, to take care of an actual enchanted forest. It's not Gilliam at his best - typical of Gilliam, he has requested massively over-the-top performances (and a bunch of bad accents), and the ending in particular is irritating, but there's still a lot to enjoy in the movie. It's a great vision of where the Grimm brothers might have started out.

2005, dir. Terry Gilliam. With Matt Damon, Heath Ledger, Peter Stormare, Jonathon Pryce, Lena Headey, Monica Belluci.

Bruce Almighty

Bruce (Carrey) complains at God. God (Freeman) lets Bruce take over his job temporarily. If you like Carrey, you'll probably like this movie. To me, the only thing that made it worth watching was Freeman, who's a whole lot more charming and has a lot more presence than Carrey. Anniston as Bruce's girlfriend was wasted - she's not a great actress, but she's not bad and could have helped.

2003. With Jim Carrey, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Anniston.

Bubba Ho-Tep

I was interested to find out only a few days before I watched this film that its director is somewhat notorious for directing bizarre and rather bad (but often cult-following-inducing - notably "Phantasm") horror movies. This one opens with a voice-over by our lead (Campbell) which includes reference to the oozing pustule on his pecker. You can gauge the level of both the dialogue and the general campiness right there. Campbell's character claims he's Elvis, although he arrived in the rest home he lives in under the name of Sebastian Haff, an Elvis impersonator. Since he broke his hip falling off stage, he needs a walker to get around. He eventually teams up with a black man who claims he's John F. Kennedy (Davis) to stop a soul-sucking Egyptian mummy (it sucks the souls of the elderly out through their assholes).

Some critics have viewed this as being more about getting old than a horror-comedy, and there's something to that. However you look at it, there's not really a lot of action (and what there is is low speed, as our "heroes" aren't particularly mobile). It's mostly voice-over and dialogue, nearly all weird. The movie has become something of a cult classic, but while I found it kind of perversely fascinating, I'm pretty sure I won't be watching it again.

2002, dir. Don Coscarelli. With Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Ella Joyce, Heidi Marnhout, Bob Ivy, Larry Pennell, Reggie Bannister, Daniel Roebuck.

The Bucket List

Freeman and Nicholson play two terminal cancer patients who set out to check off items on "the Bucket List," things they want to do before they "kick the bucket." Of course Freeman is an unassuming mechanic, and Nicholson is, well, Nicholson (asshole billionaire without friends in this case) so we're really mixing it up with the elements of a classic buddy movie ... (that's sarcasm) Off they go to the Great Wall, the Pyramids, etc. But of course we bond and get emotional over the more human elements on the list. Two of the better actors in the world today could only bring a modicum of life to this doddering cliché. Perhaps Reiner is feeling his age?

2007, dir. Rob Reiner. With Morgan Freeman, Jack Nicholson, Sean Hayes, Rob Morrow.

Buena Vista Social Club

A charming but not particularly exciting documentary about a group of mostly forgotten Cuban musicians brought together by Ry Cooder to make a (highly successful) album and play a couple concerts.

1999, dir. Wim Wenders.

Buffalo Soldiers

A very cynical movie. What do soldiers do in time of peace? Especially if they're soldiers because the alternative was jail time? Phoenix plays a Ray Elwood, in charge of supplies at a U.S. army base in West Germany just as the Berlin Wall is falling. He steals stuff and deals drugs. But things get ugly when he comes by a large supply of weaponry that he tries to sell, and a new Sergeant appears on base intent on making his life difficult.

2001, dir. Gregor Jordan. With Joaquin Phoenix, Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Anna Paquin, Elizabeth McGovern, Michael Peña, Leon Robinson.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer [movie]

The concept is a pretty good one: the horror movie cliché of the pretty blonde girl walking into an alley and being slaughtered is turned on its head: Buffy walks into an alley, the vampire(s) die. It has its moments, but the TV series it inspired was actually quite a bit better.

1992. dir. Fran Rubel Kuzui. With Kristy Swanson, Donald Sutherland, Luke Perry, Rutger Hauer, and Paul Reubens.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 1 (TV)

Put in as a mid-season replacement, Buffy was probably a surprise to the networks. I suppose it should be classified as a "horror-comedy," but it's not actually very horrifying. It is pretty funny though. 12 episodes on four DVDs. The series picks up where the movie left off, with Buffy and her mother in the town of Sunnydale trying to start a new life. She ends up with a team of companions that help her fight evil from episode to episode. I've always been partial to Giles the Librarian, even if it is his last name. The series is better than the movie, and Gellar is definitely a better Buffy.

1997-1998. With Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, Anthony Head, Nicholas Brendon, David Boreanaz.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 2 (TV)

Darker and funnier than the first season. Season two weighs in at a more regular 22 episodes on six DVDs. While some of the necessities of TV plotting kick in (don't kill off those recurring characters, illogical things from people's pasts haunt them, good people/creatures become evil, evil becomes good, blah blah blah), this is really entertaining stuff.

1998-1999. With Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, Anthony Head, Nicholas Brendon, David Boreanaz, James Marsters.

Bull Durham

A season in the life of the Durham Bulls, a minor league baseball team. Sarandon is a dedicated groupie, who spends each year with one of the players, who she chooses at the start of the season. Her choice is between the unfocused hotshot new pitcher (Robbins) or the veteran catcher (Costner) brought in to get Robbins on track. She chooses Robbins, but as the movie proceeds it becomes clear Costner is a much better choice.

About talent, dreams, and sex - not necessarily in that order. The critics loved this one, but I found it mildly amusing at best. It's raunchy as hell if you like that kind of thing.

1988, dir. Ron Shelton. With Susan Sarandon, Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins, Robert Wuhl, Trey Wilson, Max Patkin.

Bulletproof Monk

Terrible, terrible movie. Such a waste of Yun-Fat. The idea that Scott has charisma is completely laughable - I think that's what they were going for, but the guy who played Stifler would have to be a damn fine actor to pull it off, and he isn't. King was terrible. Yun-Fat added a bit of charm and looked pretty good in this tale of an eternally youthful monk protecting a world-shaking Buddhist scroll, but the only redeeming feature I found (and it ain't much) is that huge chunks of the movie were shot in Toronto.

2003, dir. Paul Hunter. With Yun-Fat Chow, Seann William Scott, Jaime King.

Bullitt

If they hadn't named the movie "Bullitt" you might mistakenly have taken this to be a police procedural with elements of action and mystery. Certainly, McQueen as "Frank Bullitt" is central to the movie, but it doesn't play like a character study. Watching it in 2007 I'm probably just not getting it because I can't appreciate what a star McQueen was at the time. Despite the odd naming, the movie itself is pretty good, if rather ambiguous about a couple major elements. The famous car chase is, while not as intricate or as crazy as modern ones, all the better for feeling (and being!) real. McQueen is good in the lead, and the cinematography is very good - and was probably ground-breaking at the time.

1968, dir. Peter Yates. With Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, Jacqueline Bisset, Don Gordon.

Bulworth

Beatty's magnum opus, stomping all over American politics. Very funny, kind of dark. Beatty plays a politician up for re-election who finds himself representing everything he hated in the political process. He gets a whole bunch of life insurance and then takes out a contract on his own life. Then he proceeds to crash and burn, and starts rapping at political gatherings. It's bizarre, but hilarious. "All we need is a voluntary, free-spirited, open-ended program of procreative racial deconstruction. Everybody just gotta keep fuckin' everybody 'til they're all the same color."

1998, dir. Warren Beatty. With Warren Beatty, Halle Berry, Oliver Platt, Don Cheadle.

Bus Stop

A 1956 Marilyn Monroe movie, I thought this would be worth a look for that inclusion alone. I know almost nothing about her beyond the name and the myth.

The movie opens on Beauregard "Bo" Decker (Murray) showing off his cowboy skills - roping a calf with considerable speed. He's headed to Phoenix Arizona to compete in a rodeo. Unfortunately - both for him and for us - he's both stupid and socially incompetent. His friend Virgil (O'Connell) does his best to guide Bo, but Bo's pretty damn unbiddable. Especially after Virgil suggests Bo might want to meet a woman. Bo sees "Chérie" (Monroe) at a cafe, and decides she's the one - whether she wants to be or not. The movie was designed to put Monroe in a skimpy outfit for the entire running time. Chérie isn't exactly the brightest light, nor is she a moral high water mark for the neighbourhood. Bo ropes her (literally at one point) and gets her on the bus to Montana.

The acting is cheesy and overdone, although the script is written in caricatures so the fault isn't entirely with the actors. The whole thing is ham-fisted and cringe-inducing - particularly the punchline. Complete crap.

1956, dir. Marilyn Monroe, Don Murray, Arthur O'Connell, Betty Field.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Famous, but not my thing when I watched it in 2007. Fictionalizes the life of two of the U.S.'s best known Old West bank robbers. Robberies, shooting, machismo, and Bolivia.

1969, dir. George Roy Hill. With Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katharine Ross.

Byzantium

Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton play mother and daughter vampires Eleanor and Clara Webb, each in the neighbourhood of 200 years old. It's established early that most of the current vampire tropes don't apply: they're not super-fast or super-strong, sunlight has no effect on them ... but they do have to consume blood. Eleanor looks 16, and Clara treats her as a child while making money as a prostitute. She's never told Eleanor - who's tired of moving around - that they're being chased.

Some of the cinematography is truly gorgeous. The story is more about a dysfunctional family than vampirism, although arguably their family problems stem from 200 years of failing to communicate. I guess it made its point about moving on when it's (long past) time, and that pain is necessary ... I didn't think it was a particularly good film: too bad given the starring line-up and good performances.

The more I think about the film the more badly constructed it seems: it's implied that there are a number of other vampires, but we only ever meet three. It's stated that they're a society that enacts justice, but we never see anything of the sort. They chase Eleanor and Clara, but that's about their "code." And they attempt to recruit Jonny Lee Miller's Captain Ruthven character, who is one of the most morally reprehensible people in existence - they know it but still try to recruit him. And at the end of the movie there's a betrayal that's telegraphed by the physical set-up of the players, but the motivation of the character is unclear at best. The whole movie feels like this: a muddle of unclear characters, ideas, and motivations.

2012, dir. Neil Jordan. With Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, Sam Riley, Jonny Lee Miller, Caleb Landry Jones, Daniel Mays, Tom Hollander.


C

The Cabin in the Woods

Five young university students (following the tropes, we have the athlete, the promiscuous girl, the stoner, the scholar, and the virgin) take a camper to a cabin in the woods that's owned by the cousin of "the athlete" (Hemsworth). As they travel to the cabin it becomes apparent that their trip is being monitored by an extremely large organization of some sort.

The dialogue is surprisingly good - but then it was written by Joss Whedon (and Goddard). And there's more at work than just a typical horror story: the technicians for the organization are carefully arranging each of the "kills" for a reason. Whedon has a great time turning the horror genre on its head. Reminded me considerably of "Tucker and Dale Versus Evil," another movie that's not precisely horror. This is even gorier.

2012, dir. Drew Goddard. With Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford.

Cadillac Records

A history lesson about Leonard Chess (Brody), Chess Records, and the rise of Rock and Roll. Chess opened a studio in Chicago, and the colour of your skin didn't matter so long as your records sold. He was also a bit of an equal opportunity exploiter, although he did try to take care of his artists. Fascinating stories of Muddy Waters (Wright), Little Walter (Short), Chuck Berry (Def), and Etta James (Knowles). It's the kind of film you hope is true (as it claims to be). Well acted.

2008, dir. Darnell Martin. Adrien Brody, Beyoncé Knowles, Jeffrey Wright, Gabrielle Union, Columbus Short, Mos Def, Cedric the Entertainer, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Eamonn Walker.

The Caine Mutiny

An ensemble movie, although Francis is perhaps a bit more at the front than the rest of the cast. He plays a young navy officer assigned to a sloppy ship, initially enthusiastic when the ship is assigned a new captain. That new commander is Philip Francis Queeg, played by Bogart. Queeg is detail-oriented, and somewhat worn down by command. Given the title of the movie I guess I'm not giving away much when I say that his ways eventually lead the crew to consider that he may be endangering their lives.

Bogart was fairly good, but I thought the really good performances were by MacMurray, Johnson, and Ferrer.

1954, dir. Edward Dmytryk. With Robert Francis, Humphrey Bogart, Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray, José Ferrer, May Wynn, Lee Marvin, Tom Tully.

Cairo Time

Clarkson plays Juliette Grant, a woman arriving in Cairo to visit her husband who works with the U.N. He's tied up in Gaza and sends his friend Tareq (Siddig) to pick her up at the airport. As her husband continues to stay away, she sees considerably more of Tareq and a certain amount of attraction grows.

I didn't much like Clarkson's character (we started off badly when she completely failed to prepare herself for Egypt: she clearly didn't bother to research the place she was visiting), and while I thought Siddig was excellent, there's not a lot of plot. It reminded me a lot of "Lost in Translation," but without the humour or the interest. I was good with watching Cairo and Egypt go by, but as a movie ... not really.

The DVD is from "Mongrel Media," and includes both an ad for Egypt tourism that I fast-forwarded through, and an ad for Mercedes Benz - which I could not fast-forward. The DVD also didn't have subtitles. I don't think Mongrel has ever had subs, which I don't like, but the addition of ads - especially ones that can't be skipped - is revolting.

2009, dir. Ruba Nadda. With Patricia Clarkson, Alexander Siddig, Elena Anaya, Amina Annabi, Tom McCamus.

Calendar Girls

Based on a true story, several middle-aged members of the Women's Institute in a small town in Britain decide that their yearly calendar should be more interesting than in the past: they pose (discretely) nude for it, to raise money for a local hospital. Mirren leads a good cast. Funny and charming.

2003, dir. Nigel Cole. With Helen Mirren, Julie Walters, John Alderton, Linda Bassett, Annette Crosbie, Ciarán Hinds.

Caligula

Take the sex content of your average 70's porno movie, the violence of one of the recent Korean revenge flicks, add a bunch of very well known actors, and edit out any sense of plot continuity while letting the movie run to two and a half hours, and voilà, you have "Caligula." I only managed to watch the first hour, I took to skimming after that - seriously foul stuff.

1979, dir. Tinto Brass, Bob Guccione. With Malcolm McDowell, Teresa Ann Savoy, Guido Mannari, John Gielgud, Peter O'Toole, Giancarlo Badessi, Bruno Brive, Helen Mirren.

Calvary

Gleeson plays Father James, priest to the small town of Easkey in Ireland. The movie opens with Father James hearing the confession of a man who explains how he was horribly sexually abused by another priest from the age of seven ... and how he's going to kill Father James one week later, because killing a good priest will send a message.

The rest of the week is laid out as labelled days. We meet his daughter (Reilly), freshly home from London and a suicide attempt over her latest love affair. And we meet the people of the town as Father James ministers to them. And this is where the movie fell down for me: every town, every priest has some unpleasant or difficult people. I don't question that. But every single person in Easkey (with the exception of a French tourist, and James's daughter, neither of whom actually live there) is bitter, violent, or horrible - sometimes all three. Even as they acknowledge, rather excessively, that Father James is "a good priest" - I suppose to emphasize the writer's initial point about killing a good priest.

The movie is incredibly dark, depressing, and unpleasant. I guess the movie thinks that it offered some hope at the end, but I didn't see it that way. A grim and ugly movie about nasty people, with no real hope for improvement - so not my kind of movie.

2014, dir. John Michael McDonagh. With Brendan Gleeson, Kelly Reilly, Chris O'Dowd, Aidan Gillen, Dylan Moran, Isaach de Bankolé, Domhnall Gleeson, Marie-Josée Croze, M. Emmet Walsh.

The Cameraman

I found this movie by looking for Buster Keaton movies and then narrowing it down to the movies he made that actually get some critical respect. This is the first (but not the last) movie he did for MGM. MGM is notorious for taking all creative control from Keaton and essentially destroying his career over the following decade by putting him in a series of cookie-cutter comedies where he and others mugged their way through. But Wikipedia claimed that this movie was still pretty good.

Keaton plays a tintype photographer. After meeting a lovely woman who works at MGM's news division, he decides the way to win her heart is to become a newsreel cameraman. Various highjinks and misunderstandings ensue - including Keaton apparently killing an organ grinder's monkey and, having paid for the death, coming into possession of the merely stunned monkey who of course causes him further problems.

I didn't think that this lived up to Wikipedia's opinion of it - I got maybe one laugh out of the whole thing. It seemed like a series of unsuccessfully contrived situations for Keaton and others to mug, and even Keaton's talent for falling down doesn't really get much of an opportunity to shine. Not his best. If you don't know who he is, start with "Sherlock Jr."

1928, dir. Edward Sedgwick, Buster Keaton. With Buster Keaton, Marceline Day, Harold Goodwin, Sidney Bracey, Harry Gribbon.

A Canterbury Tale

Three strangers get off a train in the town of Chillingbourne. As they walk to the centre of town, someone dumps glue into the hair of the young woman and rushes off. And so we have our central mystery, and a charming movie that moves at a glacial pace. I found it interesting for its portrayal of World War II Britain (although I've seen several before), but the characters are appealing, and the dialogue is both intelligent and charming. The three each work toward their own goals, but also keep their eyes open and work to figure out who "The Glue Man" is, as he's done this multiple times in a rather small town. The big climax of the movie is in the nearby town of Canterbury and its cathedral. I think what astonished me most was a walk around Canterbury: dozens of holes in the ground where buildings used to be, each with large careful signs explaining where that business had relocated to. Life goes on even in the face of devastating bombing.

1944, dir. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. With Eric Portman, Sheila Sim, Dennis Price, Sgt. John Sweet.

The Cannonball Run

A bit of a strange beast, this is a huge cast screwball comedy, 40 years past the main era of screwball comedies.

The movie is based on the "Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash," an unofficial and probably illegal cross-country race run several times in the U.S. The movie opens by introducing us to our various eccentric characters, spending more than half an hour on that. We spend most of our time during the race with the ambulance driven by Reynolds and DeLuise, who use Elam as a Doctor decoy and Fawcett as a patient. Other drivers include the team of Martin and Davis Jr., who are dressed as priests, Barbeau and Buckman driving a Countach and using their cleavage to get out of speeding tickets, Farr as a sheik driving a Rolls Royce, Moore as, well, a parody of Roger Moore, and Chan and Hui as Japanese (huh?) Mitsubishi drivers.

An interesting side-note: Wikipedia claims that Chan has said that the bloopers shown during the closing credits are what caused him to start doing that in nearly all his movies.

1981, dir. Hal Needham. With Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Farrah Fawcett, Jack Elam, Adrienne Barbeau, Tara Buckman, Terry Bradshaw, Mel Tillis, Roger Moore, Jackie Chan, Michael Hui, Jamie Farr.

Captain America: The First Avenger

Evans plays Steve Rogers, a short, thin, and unhealthy young man on the eve of the U.S. entry into World War II. Utterly determined to join the army, he applies at five different places until he's evidently allowed in for "heart," and put in a "super soldier" program. Which magically doubles his weight and triples his muscle mass, or something like that.

Evans is good in the lead and his team-mates have fun. The rah-rah patriotism gets a little old, but Evans, Atwell, and to a lesser extent Jones, carry it on personality. Not a great movie, but immensely enjoyable.

2011, dir. Joe Johnston. With Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Stanley Tucci.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Evans returns as Steve Rogers aka Captain America, living in Washington D.C. and an employee of S.H.I.E.L.D. We first see him running laps at the Mall, where he passes Sam Wilson (Mackie) several times, and they become friends. Rogers' disagreements with S.H.I.E.L.D.'s pre-emptive kill plans is highlighted before things get really ugly.

The dialogue is excellent: Black Widow and Captain America bantering about who he should date is hilarious. And "The Winter Soldier" is an effective and menacing enemy for the Captain (although I'm awfully tired of Marvel's reliance on brainwashing ...). But the plot is less well done: most of the critics love this thing, and it's not bad, but Marvel has a problem of scale: they seem to think they have to endanger the entire world and draw in a dozen superheroes with every movie they make now. That's fun occasionally (think "The Avengers") but having smaller scale movies with more personal stories isn't just a good idea, it's a necessity. This one should have been smaller - a lot smaller.

2014, dir. Anthony and Joe Russo. With Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson, Emily VanCamp.

Captain America: Civil War

The plot points in the first hour of this movie are delivered like plodding hammer blows.

  • Bucky is the Winter Soldier.
  • Under mind control he has done many evil things.
  • Some evil guy called Zemo wants to control him.
  • Steve Rogers/Captain America is still determined to free/save Bucky.
  • Tony Stark feels guilty about the things he didn't say to his parents before they abruptly died.
  • The Avengers have induced a lot of collateral damage in saving the world.
  • Tony Stark is made to feel guilty about a death in Segovia.
  • The Black Panther is mad because his Dad the King was killed.
  • the U.N. thinks the Avengers are dangerous and should have an oversight committee.

The delivery of this information is incredibly work-man-like, with about as much poetry and appeal as the process of bulldozing a lot before raising a house.

I was pretty offended by the "you killed lots of people in Segovia" thing: in "The Avengers: Age of Ultron," we saw the Avengers saving every single person. They made a big deal of it, and we were never shown anyone dying (except one of the heroes). So to say they killed lots of people is essentially saying "we lied about what happened in the last movie."

The Avengers and associated heroes split into two camps: those who think they should be controlled by the U.N., and those who think they should continue to remain at large and control their own destiny. There's wrangling, there are fights, alliances are tested and occasionally changed. There are more fights. And it's not drama anymore, it's just ... soap opera. Just as the comics they're based on are perpetual soap opera, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has inevitably devolved to that same state: "we don't want to kill off our main players, we'll have them injured, we'll have different teams fight each other. And next week we'll have half of them swap sides and do it again." Has some very funny dialogue, but that's not a saving grace. The failures of logic surrounding Zemo's actions are massive.

I'm running against the critics on this one (they loved it), but I think this is a major stumble for the MCU and the beginning of the end. Undoubtedly I'll see many of the MCU movies that will follow, and I'm sure a few of them will be good, but I think it's mostly downhill from here.

2016, dir. Anthony Russo and Joe Russo. With Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Elizabeth Olsen, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Daniel Brühl, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Frank Grillo, William Hurt.

Captain Blood

Flynn plays Peter Blood, a former military man and doctor who is accused of treason because he treated the injuries of a rebel. As a result, he's sent as a slave to Jamaica. There he forms a motley crew of other slaves (all white) and steals a ship. Within a couple years they're the most infamous and successful pirate crew in the Caribbean.

There are movies that are "classics" that still hold power today ("Casablanca" comes to mind, also directed by Curtiz). This is not one of those movies. It was very successful in the theatres and it's the movie that made Flynn a star, but from a remove of 80 years all I really see is a handsome man posturing and posing. The most memorable pose is, of course, the poster-ready noble-looking-skywards-profile, and he does it so well.

The movie is by modern action movie standards incredibly slow-paced: it's more than an hour before there's anything that could conceivably be called a physical altercation. Prior to that we're establishing characters and politics ... and not doing it terribly well as the acting isn't good. I was also fascinated by the whole "righteous man" / "wrongly accused" thing, and how that fits with being a pirate.

1935, dir. Michael Curtiz. With Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Ross Alexander, Lionel Atwill, Guy Kibbee.

The Captains

A documentary under the auspices of Movie Central / The Movie Network, in which Shatner jets about interviewing all the other Captains from the Star Trek franchise - up to and including the new James T. Kirk from the 2009 "Star Trek" reboot.

Shatner is a mediocre-to-weird interviewer who likes to talk about himself. Be prepared for a movie that's almost half Shatner. Bakula's big into musicals. Mulgrew is as wound-up as her on-screen character. Stewart said some interesting things about his life. Brooks is off-the-charts weird. Pine was charming but a bit dull. And Shatner went to where he started, the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario, where he threw in some Canadian content by interviewing Plummer - who didn't play a captain, but did have a major part in "The Undiscovered Country."

Brooks and Shatner singing to each other over Brooks' playing jazz piano was either the high point or the low point of the movie - in fact, it may have been both. An interesting movie for dedicated Trekkies, but not for anyone else.

2011, dir. William Shatner. With William Shatner, Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula, Chris Pine, Christopher Plummer.

Cars

This was a terribly frustrating movie for me - I desperately wanted to like it because Pixar has produced such excellent movies in the past ("Toy Story," "Finding Nemo," "The Incredibles ..."), but this doesn't live up to that. Instead, I found some hysterically funny moments embedded in a sickly sweet syrup of American family values. Pixar has always delivered family values, but in a more subtle, much more palatable form. And, unfortunately, Larry the Cable Guy does get to deliver several bodily function noises. Despite which there are some truly inspired moments: the Ahhnold SUV, Jay Limo the talk show host, the Japanese news show, the passing reference to Pixar's own short "For the Birds," ditto with "ET," and the truly inspired closing credits (reminiscent of the equally brilliant closing credits in Lasseter's own "A Bug's Life" and "Toy Story 2").

Since writing the above I've bought the DVD, and, while it's mostly true, it's pretty harsh. It's a very funny, very enjoyable movie (but yes, it is sickly sweet).

2006, dir. John Lasseter. With Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt, Larry the Cable Guy, Paul Newman, Cheech Marin, Tony Shalhoub.

Cars 2

I've never reviewed a full-length movie on 15 minutes of footage before. This is a reminder for myself (all of these reviews are, but some of the others might actually be helpful to others) that I did give this one a try. This movie looks very pretty, with gorgeous animation supporting the adventures of a James Bond-like spy car, followed by Lightning McQueen's return to Radiator Springs to see his friends. But the writing is incredibly insipid, plodding through the spy stuff by the numbers and then playing up Mater's cluelessness without actually hitting a single comedic note. Most direct-to-DVD authors would be embarrassed by this script.

In a way, seeing this was a relief. Pixar has finally done a bad movie. It made me sad too, but a bad movie from Pixar was inevitable, and I'm glad that's out of the way. Now we won't expect the world from them every time.

2011, dir. John Lasseter and Brad Lewis. With Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Jason Isaacs, Thomas Kretschmann, Eddie Izzard.

Casablanca

A truly great movie. The main character is Rick (Bogart), the owner of "Rick's Café Américain" in Casablanca, a disillusioned man who "sticks his neck out for nobody." This is Casablanca in 1941(?), a purgatory, marginally safe ground during the second world war that people flee to while trying to escape to America. Rick's life is badly shaken with the appearance of Ilsa (Bergman), the love of his life - who has her politically active husband with her and is looking for safe passage. The story is great, but what really makes it work is good cinematography, good acting, and a sly wit. It's also the origin of several iconic quotes in modern society: "Play it again, Sam," (even though nobody ever actually said that in the movie), "Here's looking at you, kid," and "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

1943, dir. Michael Curtiz. With Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre.

Casino Royale (2006)

The Bond movies have always been financially successful, but almost never critically so. After a wave of franchises re-inventing themselves (Batman, Superman ...) the Bond group decided to have a shot at it. New Bond, less reliance on technological toys and bad puns, very good action, a real sense of danger in what Bond is doing, and real live acting and emotion add up to an excellent movie. I was particularly impressed with the parkour (the chase through the construction site) near the beginning, and the scene when he breaks into M's house (also early on). It shows remarkably well that she's dealing with a group of men (the "double-0s") who are extremely capable, above the law (she put them there), extremely dangerous, and borderline psychopaths. Not a view of Bond we've had before. And because this is the very start of his career we see him change from someone almost human into the character we know (when has Bond every changed before?). And there's a very real possibility he could leave the service or even die. This is the best of the Bonds - by a wide margin.

2006, dir. Martin Campbell. With Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench.

Cast Away

Hanks is a workaholic FedEx employee who's the sole survivor of a plane crash. He's stranded on a deserted island for a several years. Too long, somewhat overblown, but an excellent performance by Hanks.

2002. dir. Robert Zemeckis. With Tom Hanks.

Casting By

The movie is primarily about the rise of the Casting Director as a prominent position in Hollywood, although it does a sideline in being a hagiography about Marion Dougherty.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Hollywood studios had stars on contract and casting - such as it was - was done by seeing who was available and who would be the biggest box office draw in the title role. Didn't matter that the character didn't fit the actor's style, put that round peg into that square hole ...

Marion Dougherty started arranging minor characters for TV in the 1950s. In the 1960s she was working in Hollywood as a Casting Director, fitting actors to roles she thought would suit them as the contract casting model fell apart. The movie interviews dozens of famous directors and actors to sing her praises, directors saying they couldn't have done it without her, actors saying they'd never have broken through without her. The latter seemed rather superfluous: they didn't interview people who she didn't cast, only the most successful of those she did cast. They interviewed only one director (Taylor Hackford) who downplayed the role of Casting Director, apparently as an incredibly weak attempt to show both sides of the argument - so instead Hackford came off seeming like a villain.

It was educational about the role of casting in movies, but the excessive love it showed for Dougherty (even if much of it was justified, which is hard to tell from within a movie so in love with her) was a little sickening.

2012, dir. Tom Donahue. With Woody Allen, Ned Beatty, Jeff Bridges, Glenn Close, Robert De Niro, Richard Donner, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Duvall, Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Taylor Hackford, Paul Haggis, Arthur Hiller, Norman Jewison, Diane Lane, John Lithgow, Bette Midler, Al Pacino, Robert Redford, John Sayles, Martin Scorsese, Cybill Shepherd, Oliver Stone, John Travolta, Jon Voight, Paula Weinstein.

Castle in the Sky

Another surreal and beautiful world from Miyazaki, carrying many of his favourite themes: caring for nature, young girls coming of age (although the male character is equally important - unusual in a Miyazaki movie), and lots of flying things. All the characters are well developed and entertaining, and the visuals are fantastic. A great movie.

Anna Paquin's voicing and pseudo-British accent as the main female character was horrible. I would have listened to the Japanese audio anyway, but that sealed the deal.

1986, dir. Hayao Miyazaki. English voices: Anna Paquin, James van der Beek.

The Castle of Cagliostro

Brings the famous anime character (and, further back, a famous French literary character) Lupin III to the big screen. I was interested in this because it's directed by Miyazaki, but nothing about it really shows his touch. It's conventional, passable anime.

1979, dir. Hayao Miyazaki.

Castles in the Sky

Not to be confused with "Castle in the Sky," a Hayao Miyazaki movie that I also have an interest in. This is a BBC TV movie, the story of the invention of radar by Sir Robert Watson-Watt prior to and during the Second World War.

Watson-Watt was a meteorologist, but in the mid-1930s he came up with the idea that you could detect incoming aircraft by bouncing radio waves off of them. With the rise of Hitler and his massive production of military planes, the British War Ministry decided (reluctantly, according to the film) to get Watson-Watt to develop this idea. The movie follows his efforts with a team of other "weather men" and "outsiders" to make their product work as envisioned. Drama is developed (after a fashion) by putting them in conflict with their superiors at the war office who want "real scientists" working on the project, or want the money for more offensive war machinery. And also by having Watson-Watt's marriage fall apart.

They play up that he's a "weatherman" and entirely ignore his background to make him seem the opposite of the Oxford scientists that the war ministry threatens to replace him with - but Watson-Watt did in fact have a very strong engineering background. His marriage did fall apart, although I don't know if it was during the period he was working on this, or because of it. As other critics have pointed out, just because an event is historically significant doesn't make it dramatically significant: Robert Watson-Watt seems to have been a charming, very intelligent, and decent guy, but perhaps not dramatically rewarding. And I have no doubt that the development of radar was a huge struggle full of set-backs, but most of the struggles presented to us were manufactured and not terribly interesting. Izzard does a great job in the lead (in what may be his first entirely straight role ever?) with good support from a number of the other actors, with one notable exception. I quite like McInnerny, but he seemed like a particularly poor choice as Winston Churchill: he's too tall (18 cm taller than Churchill), not fat enough, and mostly sounded like a frat boy trying to imitate Churchill's speech patterns. Happily, he's not on screen much. In the end a poor story only barely worked for me because I was fascinated by the (limited) technical details of the history.

2014, dir. Gillies MacKinnon. With Eddie Izzard, Laura Fraser, Alex Jennings, David Hayman, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Karl Davies, Tim McInnerny, Iain McKee, Joe Bone.

Casual Sex?

A movie about two women looking for the titular "casual sex." Or so they claim, and promptly go look for regular relationships. This is supposed to be a comedy, but for those with any memory of the Eighties, the presence of Andrew Dice Clay in a major role should tell you just how funny it is. We didn't take the warning, and sat through an hour and a half of tripe.

1988, dir. Geneviève Robert. With Lea Thompson, Victoria Jackson, Stephen Shellen, Jerry Levine, Andrew Dice Clay.

Catwoman

One of the most notoriously awful movies of the last 25 years, and the winner of four Razzies. Those are Golden Raspberries for the worst in film - in this case, Picture, Actress, Director, and Screenplay. I think it should have got one for worst special effects and/or worst fight choreography, but I'm a little late to the discussion since it came out in 2004. (Reviewed in 2017.)

Patience Phillips (Halle Berry) is an advertising artist at a beauty products company. She finds out too much about the not-entirely-safe product the company is about to launch, and is killed. But she's reborn as Catwoman. The story from there is inevitable: she solves the mystery and defeats the evil.

The problem is ... well, everything. The script is crap. Half the scenes are cringe-inducing (which is actually less than I expected after how often I'd heard about this movie ...). Berry is incredibly campy as Catwoman, but never does a single stunt: she's always replaced by blatantly obvious CG. Her outfit is particularly notorious: a skimpy, ludicrous, and surprisingly unflattering leather thing that probably inspired her equally silly hip-swinging walk. Benjamin Bratt plays the beefcake cop caught between the unassuming Patience and the very assertive Catwoman - he gets the least-bad dialogue.

Might be entertaining if you were really drunk, but I doubt it.

2004, dir. "Pitof" (Jean-Christophe Comar). With Halle Berry, Benjamin Bratt, Lambert Wilson, Frances Conroy, Alex Borstein, Sharon Stone.

The Cat and the Canary

Based on a play, the movie is about the reading of a will at a British mansion in the country. The attendees are unpleasant and in some cases at each other's throats, and the will doesn't help. They must stay in the mansion overnight, complicated by the possible presence of an escaped mental asylum inmate in the area. Tries to be both scary and funny, but succeeds in neither.

1979, dir. Radley Metzger. With Carol Lynley, Michael Callan, Olivia Hussey.

Cat Ballou

Cat Ballou (Fonda) is a proper young woman, just educated to be a school teacher and now being sent back to the "Wild West" to the town where her father is a rancher. But this is a comedy more than a Western, and we're frequently accompanied throughout the picture by a Greek Chorus, Cole and Kaye, who play banjos and sing fill-in material between scenes.

Ballou falls for a charming outlaw (Callan) on the train home, and inadvertently assists in his escape from custody. On her return home she finds her father is being harassed by the local town who want the land rights to his farm. She hires the gunfighter and author of her favourite Western novels (Marvin) to protect her father, but when he arrives he turns out to be an alcoholic. A particularly dark event (that doesn't fit at all with the tone of the rest of the movie, and is glossed over so the comedy can continue) turns her to train robbery, and leaves her headed to the gallows - which the chorus informs us of in the first couple minutes of the movie. At best mildly funny.

1965, dir. Elliot Silverstein. With Jane Fonda, Lee Marvin, Tom Nardini, Michael Callan, Dwayne Hickman, John Marley, Jay C. Flippen, Nat King Cole, Stubby Kaye.

The Cat Returns (orig. "Neko no ongaeshi")

The title refers to the appearance of a very similar cat character in "Whisper of the Heart," another anime movie.

Haru is a young woman lacking in self-assurance. When she saves a cat about to be run over by a truck, she finds herself offered the rewards for saving the son of the King of Cats - including being taken permanently to the Kingdom of Cats and marrying the prince in question. She's not entirely sure this is what she wants to do, and with some very odd assistance she attempts to sort things out.

While not a Miyazaki movie, this comes from the same studio (Ghibli) and that influence is obvious in both the primary setup and the attention to detail. I found much of it quite charming (and funny), but it was never as compelling as Miyazaki's best. It's a good start for a young director, probably worth watching.

2002, dir. Hiroyuki Morita. English voices by Anne Hathaway, Cary Elwes, Elliott Gould, Peter Boyle, Tim Curry.

Catch Me If You Can

Biography (of sorts) of a very good and very young con man, Frank Abagnale Jr. Quite a good movie, very well put together.

2002. dir. Steven Spielberg. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken.

Catfish

A documentary (more or less) about a young photographer (Yaniv, aka "Nev") in New York City who receives a painting of one of his photos by Abby, an eight year old girl - a very good painting. He's soon entangled in a relationship with several people in her family on Facebook ... Including heading for an intimate relationship with Abby's older half-sister.

Nev's two office mates (or is it flat-mates?) are filmmakers, and they start filming him about his relationship with Abby. They eventually decide to head out to Michigan to meet this family, and everything goes monumentally sideways. Nobody dies, nothing horrible, it's just ... not what it appears. A weird movie about the state of identity and trust in the age of Facebook.

2010, dir. Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman. With Nev Schulman, Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost, Angela Pierce, Vince Pierce, Abby Pierce.

The Cell

A visual extravaganza, lurid and bizarre. Lopez isn't much of an actress, although she did better than I expected. She plays a psychologist using an experimental process to enter the mind of people in a coma. She's asked to enter the mind of a serial killer to try to find the location of his last victim before the victim dies. I thought they did a good job with some of the wild visuals for the mindscapes, but ultimately the plot doesn't support it very well. May be worth seeing if you have a fascination with extraordinary cinematography. This was Singh's first movie (he had previously done music videos) and it demonstrated his extraordinary visual flair - and lack of grasp of both actors and plot.

2000. dir. Tarsem Singh. With Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn, Vincent D'Onofrio.

Cellular

About two minutes of intro and no extro at all, just action from end to end. Kidnapped woman manages to make a (long-lasting) phone call to a random guy (Evans) on his cellular, and his attempts to help her lead him into random acts of ... well, violence. Some major logical flaws surrounding the phone calls, but if you can ignore that it's not too bad.

2004, dir. David Ellis. With Chris Evans, Kim Basinger, Jason Statham, William H. Macy.

Cemetery Man

The original Italian title was "Dellamorte Dellamore" which apparently means something like "of death, of love." I watched this because I'd read it was based on the same material as "Dylan Dog ." It appears to be more accurate to say that it's based on material by the same author, Tiziano Sclavi (and the Dylan Dog graphic novel was drawn with Dylan looking like Rupert Everett). This deals with the undead, but beyond that the similarity is almost non-existent. I didn't think I'd be able to find a movie this obscure ... but guess what, it's on YouTube (blurry and low quality, but if that's all you can get ...).

I've never seen a Giallo film. So for me to say this has something in common with the Giallo genre is somewhat suspect. But it's definitely a bloody horror comedy film from Italy, with significant elements of eroticism, perversity, and plain old-fashioned craziness.

Everett plays Francesco Dellamorte, the caretaker of the graveyard in the small Italian town of Buffalora. (Of course, in an Italian-French-German production set in an Italian town, everyone speaks the language of the star ... English.) Francesco has a problem: the dead often rise from their graves within seven days of burial. But he patrols at night and puts them back in the earth. His helper Gnaghi (Hadji-Lazaro) has only one word in his vocabulary, although Francesco comprehends entire sentences in that word. And he keeps crossing paths with a gorgeous woman (Falchi) who loves him - as he loves her - but she keeps dying.

It was fascinating in a perverse sort of way, but it's camp for camp's sake without ever really going anywhere.

1994, dir. Michele Soavi. With Rupert Everett, François Hadji-Lazaro, Anna Falchi.

Centurion

Rome is trying to expand its empire into Northern Britain, where the Picts are fighting a vicious guerilla war on the Romans. Our protagonist complains that it's "a war without honour," but as the invaders I felt they had even less right than usual to complain about that. Our protagonist and honourable man in a mess of grit and dishonesty is Quitus Dias (Fassbender), a fairly high-ranking officer in the Roman army in Britain. His army is slaughtered, and he and his few remaining men are hunted relentlessly across the frozen British countryside as he tries to get them home.

A grim and exceptionally bloody tale, some of the human moments stand out borne on the acting of a good cast. It's not a story that's going to win anyone by charm, approach with caution.

2010, dir. Neil Marshall. With Michael Fassbender, Olga Kurylenko, Liam Cunningham, Dominic West, David Morrissey, J.J. Feild, Usrich Thomsen, Noel Clarke, Imogen Poots, Riz Ahmed.

Chain Reaction

Where to start? The technological basis for this film is blurry at best. There are more logical flaws than the bridges of Chicago have rivets. Reeves plays a student machinist kicked out of school for blowing something up by mistake, but his machinist skills are apparently enough to take on or outrun huge numbers of thugs and cops. If he was more of a "MacGyver" it would have been easier to swallow, as absurd as that show was. Freeman and Weisz can't save this one - and don't blame it all on Reeves either: he may not have been brilliant, but this is hardly his fault.

1996, dir. Andrew Davis. With Keanu Reeves, Morgan Freeman, Rachel Weisz, Fred Ward, Brian Cox.

Chasing Liberty

Moore plays Anna Foster (codenamed "Liberty" by the Secret Service people who have to keep her safe), daughter to the president of the U.S.A. At the age of 18, she wants to be out doing stuff and dating boys, but crowds of Secret Service people around her make a normal life difficult. In Prague she makes a break for it, on the back of a scooter driven by Ben (Goode), who we shortly find out is also Secret Service (although she doesn't know it). Her father thinks this is a good arrangement, and makes Ben escort her on her further adventures.

I'll never know if I would have spotted that this was a riff on "Roman Holiday" - I was informed by Wikipedia before I saw the movie. "Roman Holiday" is quite possibly the best rom com ever made, so I thought I'd give this one a shot. Unfortunately, Moore's skills don't extend beyond "cute." Goode is incredibly handsome, charming, charismatic, and a better actor than Moore. He doesn't quite make it into Gregory Peck territory, but Moore is so far from Audrey Hepburn they couldn't see each other with telescopes. The silly and sloppy script is the nail in the coffin, and riffing on "Amélie" with the scooter scenes didn't particularly help. Mildly amusing at best.

2004, dir. Andy Cadiff. With Mandy Moore, Matthew Goode, Jeremy Piven, Annabella Sciorra, Mark Harmon, Caroline Goodall.

Chaplin

A mediocre movie, but a really good biopic, if that makes any sense. Chaplin surely did love his women young ... I'm afraid that's the main thing that stuck with me. If the movie is correct, he married four times, and the oldest of them was 18 - when he was in his fifties. (This appears to be fairly accurate.) Downey is, as reported, superb in the lead - he does Chaplin's slapstick incredibly well, and that's a hell of a trick. The problem with the movie is that Chaplin had a messy life, and layered on top of this is the idea that what we're seeing is a flashback of his life through the discussion of his biography-in-progress between Chaplin and his agent (Hopkins). Messy. But fascinating!

1992, dir. Richard Attenborough. With Robert Downey Jr., Dan Aykroyd, Geraldine Chaplin, Anthony Hopkins, Milla Jovovich, Moira Kelly, Kevin Kline, Diane Lane, Penelope Ann Miller, Paul Rhys, Marisa Tomei, Nancy Travis, James Woods, John Thaw.

Chaos Theory

About a man with an overly organized life. One thing goes wrong and his entire life falls like dominoes. Sweet and occasionally amusing, but forgettable and not very good.

2007, dir. Marcos Siega. With Ryan Reynolds, Emily Mortimer, Stuart Townsend.

Charade

Hepburn and Grant turn in good performances, but the movie seemed somewhat unsure about whether it was a murder mystery or a comedy. Eventually it decided on more of the latter, with a concomitant loss of menace. But the leads are charming and the dialogue is clever.

1963, dir. Stanley Donen. With Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Walter Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Depp at his absolute weirdest - which is pretty damn weird - in a Burton movie, so you know the whole thing is going to be more than a little off balance. I think Roald Dahl would have been pretty pleased with this take on his work. The kids are appropriately over-the-top, the special effects are very good, and the whole experience is damn weird.

2005, dir. Tim Burton. With Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, David Kelly, Helena Bonham Carter, Noah Taylor, Deep Roy.

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle

I don't think I've ever seen a more humiliating or embarrassing piece of film in my entire life. I cringed all the way through it. I ask myself why I watched the whole thing, and all I can think is "car wreck syndrome:" I just couldn't believe it was really that bad. Apparently the original was just as bad so there appears to be a market for it. The action was ludicrous in its even more blatant than usual disregard of the laws of physics (think "A Team"), and the whole movie was a sequence of vignettes attempting to put the three main women in more and more foolish outfits and positions. It made me begin to wonder if maybe the Austin Powers films are actually high art.

2003, dir. "McG" (Joseph McGinty Nichol). With Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, Demi Moore.

Charlotte's Web

I think we have "Babe" to thank for the slightly less sentimental attitude about farm animals in children's movies. In any case, it's made quite clear early on that Wilbur is going to be bacon if something extraordinary doesn't happen. And of course that's where Charlotte comes in. Fanning is great - they couldn't have done this without her. The line-up of voice talent is staggering. The humour is wonderful - although it gets pushed aside to some extent in the second half to make way for a bit too much pathos and sentimentality. Still, definitely an enjoyable movie.

2006, dir. Gary Winick. With Julia Roberts, Dakota Fanning, Dominic Scott Kay, Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Oprah Winfrey, Cedric the Entertainer, Kathy Bates, Reba McEntire, Robert Redford, Thomas Haden Church, André Benjamin.

Chasing Amy

Probably Smith's best work. It's meant for a young crowd - it's raunchy and has some scenes that'll make adults cringe, but it's an excellent piece of work despite that. Basic premise: male comic artist falls for female comic artist who turns out to be a lesbian. I suppose it's a romantic comedy, but hardly standard issue. And for once, Affleck turns in a decent acting job.

1999, dir. Kevin Smith. With Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Jason Lee, Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes.

La Chèvre

I saw this movie back when it came out, and thought it was hilarious then. I was pretty sure I wouldn't be as impressed in 2012, but I was curious.

Campana (Depardieu) is a tough detective getting nowhere searching for Marie (Charbit), the daughter of a rich businessman. Marie vanished in Mexico six weeks prior to the start of the film. The company psychologist (Valardy) convinces the father that the correct way to find his incredibly unlucky daughter is to send one of the company accountants who is also staggeringly unlucky to find her. And so Campana is saddled with Perrin (Richard), and back they go to Mexico for more slapstick shenanigans.

Perrin is incredibly annoying: he's been told he's in charge of the investigation and is obnoxious about it, having no clue of the real reason for his presence. He seems to have made it to the age of 45 or so without ever realizing that he's insanely unlucky and that most people don't walk into doors on a weekly basis. But Richard is quite good at physical humour, and Depardieu is a surprisingly good straight man. All in all, an entertaining enough way to pass an hour and a half.

1981, dir. Francis Veber. With Pierre Richard, Gérard Depardieu, Michel Robin, Corynne Charbit, Pedro Armendáriz Jr., Jorge Luke, André Valardy.

Chicago

Zellweger is a want-to-be Jazz singer in the Twenties. She sees her life in musical numbers, and after she murders her nasty boyfriend, much of the movie takes place in jail. The director calls it a satire and the Academy apparently thought it was worth six Oscars, but a couple good numbers couldn't redeem this one for me.

2002. dir. Rob Marshall. With Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah.

Chicken Little

Chicken Little (voiced by Braff) is a small but very intelligent chicken in a town full of animals. Unfortunately, after a piece of sky falls on his head and he successfully encourages everyone to run for their lives, he can't find the piece of sky and becomes an outcast.

The movie was Disney's last animated film before they purchased Pixar outright. The animation style is deliberately chunky and crooked, a visual style I didn't like. The dialogue is clever and knowing, very much a la "Shrek" - a method that's been severely overused in the intervening years and is rather a mixed blessing here. There are some clever ideas and a few decent jokes, but overall the movie falls flat.

2005, dir. Mark Dindal. With Zach Braff, Joan Cusack, Steve Zahn, Amy Sedaris, Garry Marshall, Don Knotts, Fred Willard.

Childhood's End

I read a couple of Arthur C. Clarke's books when I was younger but Childhood's End wasn't one of them: I can't compare this to the source material. This is a 2015 three part mini-series from Syfy, with each part running roughly 1h22m.

The series starts in the current world (mostly modern America) with the arrival of the Overlord's ships which hover over several major cities throughout the world. Kerellen (Charles Dance) - who claims to be the "Overlord for Earth" - speaks to pretty much everyone on Earth, explaining that they will usher in a new age of peace, a utopia. He recruits a farmer named Ricky Stormgren (Mike Vogel) to act as a representative. Over the next several years, the overlord's promises are seen to be coming true - although Kerellen refuses to let any human see him, saying that they aren't ready. Ricky stays with us through the second episode, but astrophysicist Milo Rodericks (Osy Ikhile) is our main protagonist through the second and especially the third and final episode.

The story moves through phases, each with several characters. Most major characters are seen in all the episodes, but some episodes concentrate more on certain characters. It's an interesting and fairly good if rather bleak look at what might happen if we encountered an alien race immensely more advanced than we are.

2015, dir. Nick Hurran. With Mike Vogel, Osy Ikhile, Daisy Betts, Yael Stone, Georgina Haig, Charles Dance.

Children of a Lesser God

At this point (2003) it really screams "Eighties" - despite which it's still a pretty good movie. The two leads are excellent and the script is good, it's the peripherals that are dated. Matlin got (and deserved) a best actress Oscar.

1986. dir. Randa Haines. With William Hurt, Marlee Matlin.

The Children of Huang Shi

The story of an inexperienced but determined English journalist (Rhys-Meyers playing George Hogg) who manages to find his way into the middle of the Rape of Nanking. He's about to be executed for taking photos of the Japanese atrocities, but is rescued by a small group of communists (led by Yun-Fat's character). He's forced to flee and finds himself taking care of a bunch of a children in an orphanage. He wants to continue his work as a journalist, but the children rely on him and they become his project.

Well meant, reasonably well acted by very good actors, based on a true story with fascinating characters, well shot, and a hell of a re-creation of war-torn China, the movie as a whole still manages to fall down. I'm at a loss to explain why: it's not bad, but neither is it particularly good.

2008, dir. Roger Spottiswoode. With Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Radha Mitchell, Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Guang Li.

Children of Men

Brilliant filming, brilliant SF. Fantastic world-building. In the near future (2027), there hasn't been a child born in 18 years. The world has pretty much gone to hell - the UK has soldiered on as they've often done, although under brutal military rule and detaining and deporting all foreigners. Owen plays Theo, a former political activist who has turned to the bottle and pretty much given up. Into his world comes his ex-, who dumps a huge problem into his lap: a pregnant foreigner. Don't look for light or cheerful entertainment here, but it's a really excellent film.

This movie's one failing (and it's fairly significant) is that the woman at the centre of the movie is incredibly important - and a complete non-entity. Cuarón concentrates so much on Owen and Moore that he ignores this essential character.

2006, dir. Alfonso Cuarón. With Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Claire-Hope Ashitey, Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices

Makoto Shinkai's first full length movie which I placed on hold at the library immediately after watching "5 Centimeters Per Second," his previous (non-full-length) movie.

Our heroine is Asuna, approximately 10-12 years old. She's very independent and pretty much runs the house after school because she's an only child and her mother is always working. But her life gets explosively weird with the arrival of a huge creature, and her rescue from the creature by a somewhat super-powered young man named Shun. We find out that Asuna's father died when she was very young. Asuna also gets entangled with her teacher Mr. Morisaki (who has lost his wife) after she becomes interested in the mention in a school story of a place called 'Agartha' where Shun claimed to be from.

The story is a heavy-handed and sometimes very weird exploration of how people deal with death, loss, and the process of grieving. Asuna and Mr. Morisaki end up in the underworld, where they have further adventures and attempt to process their own losses.

Obviously I wasn't overly excited about the plot of the movie. It reminded me quite a lot of Miyazaki's "Castle in the Sky" in the artwork, the heavy-handed message, and the weirdness of the environment. I was somewhat disappointed in this one, although the artwork is just as brilliant as his previous movie. I look forward to seeing his future movies.

2011, dir. Makoto Shinkai. With Hisako Kanemoto, Miyu Irino, Kazuhiko Inoue, Yūna Inamura.

The Chinese Connection

Bruce Lee, see the alternative title "Fist of Fury."

Chinese Zodiac

Chan returns as his "JC" character, a follow-up (or re-boot, according to Wikipedia) of the "Armour of God" series of movies. JC is comes across as the love child of Indiana Jones and James Bond - a tomb raider with a huge amount of technology at his disposal.

JC is trying to track down twelve bronze heads, animals of the Chinese Zodiac, with his team of three other archeologist-tomb-raider-fighters. They're doing it for money, but they team up with a woman who believes deeply in repatriation of artifacts to their home country. Will JC grow a conscience? Does anyone care?

There are muddled sub-plots about the messed up relationships JC and each of his team-members have. There's a morality play. There are two cute but pathetic female characters who cannot defend themselves and are thus "funny" - one of Chan's all-time favourite offensive tropes. I'd like to suggest that his having a strong female character on his team somehow redeems him, but no, she gets a cat-fight with another woman. The big set-piece at the end of the movie is once again Chan doing a stunt that involves him absorbing a massive amount of physical abuse. It's not entertaining. There's precisely one good fight - which is one more than some of his previous movies, so I guess that's a step up. But overall, this is a pretty terrible film.

2012, dir. Jackie Chan. With Jackie Chan, Kwon Sang-woo, Liao Fan, Yao Xing Tong, Zhang Lan Xin, Laura Weissbecker, Jonathan Lee, Oliver Platt.

Chobits

A relatively short (27 episodes, 22 minutes each) Anime series. Obscenely cute, fairly funny. Would be appropriate for ten year olds if it didn't mention (but not show) porn and breasts so often.

Motosuwa can't afford a "persocon" (a personal computer / robot / significant-other-replacement), but finds one on a trash heap. She runs without an OS, and may be a "Chobits," an urban legend of an uber-persocon. He names her "Chii." The series is about her learning to be human, and the evolution of their relationship.

Chocolat

I didn't see this 2000 movie until 2017, despite (or perhaps because of) its reputation. Learning it was directed by Hallström didn't help: he directs well-known and extremely emotionally manipulative movies ("The Cider House Rules," "The Hundred-Foot Journey," many others). The summary review of "A Dog's Purpose" on Rotten Tomatoes pretty much covers the problems of his movies: "... offers an awkward blend of sugary sentiment and canine suffering that tugs at animal-loving audiences' heartstrings with shameless abandon." But I continue to occasionally watch his stuff because he also once directed what I consider to be one of the best movies ever made, "The Shipping News."

"Chocolat" opens with the arrival of a woman and her daughter dressed in vivid red coats in a small (and fairly gray) French town in 1959. The woman (Vianne, played by Juliette Binoche) rents a shop with an apartment over it, and opens a chocolate shop - right in the middle of Lent, much to the disgust of the puritanical mayor Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina). Vianne has a magical ability to guess people's favourite chocolates, and her chocolates ... free people. They are so delicious that people are inspired to be better, to do the right thing, etc. etc. Of course Vianne has her own demons - mostly in the form of her history of moving from place to place, something she inherited from her migrant mother.

The movie is set in France and filmed in France, starring a French actress, but all dialogue is in English.

The acting is good, but it's all a painfully heavy-handed magic-realist parable with a tediously obvious outcome. If you like having your heart-strings tugged (and don't mind having a clear view of the man behind the curtain doing the yanking), Hallström is your man. But I think I've had enough.

2000, dir. Lasse Hallström. With Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin, Johnny Depp, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugh O'Conor, John Wood, Peter Stormare, Leslie Caron.

Chop Socky: Cinema Hong Kong

A hell of a lesson in the history of wuxia/kung fu movies from the 1920s through 2003. Talks to all the right people. The short run-time (55m) meant that it didn't have time for some things I would have been interested in (wuxia before film and in book form, wire-work versus no wires, relationship to the actual martial arts ...), but does a superb job of showing the trends in martial arts movies, including the pivotal movies and important people. Most interesting to me was the trend in the 1970s to show more blood, blood everywhere, dismemberment ... when all I want to see is the martial arts and maybe some drama. Utterly fascinating to fans of the genre, probably useless to others. Fans MUST see this.

2004, dir. Ian Taylor. With Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Sammo Hung, Jim Nicholson, John Woo.

Les Choristes (aka. "The Chorus")

Yes, it's a bit cheesy and perhaps undeservedly optimistic, but it's also incredibly charming and enjoyable. I'm usually not a fan of choral music, but even I found something to like in the music.

2004, dir. Christophe Barratier. With Gérard Jugnot, François Berléand, Kad Merad, Jean-Paul Bonnaire, Marie Bunel, Jean-Baptiste Maunier.

A Christmas Story

Something of a Christmas classic that I didn't see until 2006. Billingsley plays a 10 year old(?) in hot pursuit of a Red Ryder BB Gun prior to Christmas, while trying to survive the travails of school, parents, and the approaching holiday season. A friend pointed out that the kids do in fact act more like kids than in most any other movie, and it's amusing to compare the nostalgia of the voice-over of the adult to the out-and-out avarice of the child. The story is a bit episodic, All-American vignettes written by Jean Shepherd (who also does the voice-over) that remind me a little of Garrison Keillor.

An amusing side note: director Clark's previous movies were the "much maligned" (as he put it) "Porky's" and "Porky's II," without which (he notes) this movie could not have existed.

1983, dir. Bob Clark. With Peter Billingsley, Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon, (voice of) Jean Shepherd.

Chronicle

Our teenage main character (DeHaan) buys a video camera (our primary eye through most of the movie), and the opening shot establishes the reason: he wants to record the attacks of his drunken abusive father. We also quickly learn that his mother is dying. At a party that evening he's called in because he has a camera to record a weird hole in the ground. The two other guys enter and he follows, where they're all exposed to ... something. After which they're all capable of telekinesis to a greater or lesser extent. As their skills grow, they use it for frivolous and occasionally obnoxious pranks. But things turn dark as one of them goes off the rails.

I don't like the sort of "found footage" thing - it's much less jittery than "Cloverfield," but at least the logic of filming in "Cloverfield" is consistent: one camera, one tape, found later at the attack site. This footage has been edited - not professional edits, but clearly not all done by our primary character, and then there's footage from another student's camera and several security cameras ... it makes no sense. Setting that aside, the movie is reasonably good: the characters are well done, and the development of their "powers" are fairly consistent. I didn't like it much because of the dark tone, but should work for most others.

2012, dir. Josh Trank. With Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly, Ashley Hinshaw.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Beautiful, not quite so heavy handed with the religion as the original, but unfortunately pedestrian in the interpretation. Oddly, the add-on intro that wasn't in the book was one of the better parts of the movie. The kids acted fairly well except for the youngest - who was nevertheless very cute. The talking animals weren't a huge success.

2005, dir. Andrew Adamson. With William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes, Georgie Henley, Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Peter: "You've seen him. I wish he'd just given me some sort of proof." Lucy: "Maybe we're the ones that need to prove ourselves to him." In Narnia, God manifests himself as a lion and occasionally provides miracles for the faithful. Although only after hundreds of thousands have been slaughtered.

I was fascinated to find that C.S. Lewis seems to believe that a person killing dozens in a war is fine, but killing a particularly evil enemy while he's on his knees (when, I might add, it could stop a war) isn't noble enough. That kind of logic baffles me entirely. (It's been a while since I read the books: I'm assuming the movie version of the hand-to-hand combat is reasonably close to the book, which it may not be. But I think Lewis's logic is pretty much like this.)

Once again the acting takes a back seat to the scenery and effects - which are absolutely first-rate. Dinklage was a stand-out, a very good actor limited in his choice of roles because he's 4'5". He plays a dwarf here, and perhaps it would have been better if he wasn't such a good actor as he made those around him look like fools. Of the children, Keynes held up the best this time.

2008, dir. Andrew Adamson. With Ben Barnes, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Sergio Castellitto, Peter Dinklage, Warwick Davis, Vincent Grass, Eddie Izzard, Liam Neeson.

The Chronicles of Riddick

A really disappointing movie ... Riddick is Diesel's character from "Pitch Black," one of the best SF/horror movies of the last decade. The character of Riddick was a pretty compelling one, but they tried to expand on his background and threw in all kinds of nonsensical crap. The overall story of the movie itself was disappointing too (peaceful planet, evil alien invasion, blah blah blah), and Dench's performance was ... lousy. This was Diesel's project: he'd been dying to work with Dench and convinced her. I just wish he'd picked a better project, for both of them.

2003. dir. David Twohy. With Vin Diesel, Judi Dench, Colm Feore, Thandie Newton, Karl Urban, Alexa Davalos.

Chronos

Fricke gained some fame in the early 1980s working with Godfrey Reggio on his visual masterpiece "Koyaanisqatsi." Wikipedia says of him "specializing in time-lapse photography and large format cinematography." "Chronos" was his first work as director (at least if you believe Wikipedia), although it only runs 45 minutes. The original IMAX images come out an odd size on DVD, less than the full width of a 16:9 screen. Scenes vary between nature (we start in the American west), famous sites (Michelangelo's David was in there - odd when I was there two weeks ago), and cities (New York featured heavily). Very few shots are in real time: many are sped up, a few slowed down, and some odder modifications are made. It's lovely to behold, but I didn't feel like it went anywhere. It made me realise that Reggio's "Koyaanisqatsi" (just as dialogue-free) really does have a successful progression and message, because I found none at all in this. I wrote a blog entry on Cinematography a couple months ago, although you don't need to read it: it's a long rant to say that "plot matters more than cinematography to me, even though I love cinematography" ... so I wasn't too surprised to find myself vaguely disappointed by this. At least it wasn't lumbered by lousy actors or terrible dialogue: it's pure, beautiful imagery.

1985, dir. Ron Fricke.

The Cider House Rules

Caine runs an orphanage, Maguire is his favourite. Maguire leaves to see the world. A coming of age story set in the U.S. during the Second World War, based on a John Irving novel. It's fairly good, but it's also depressing, and if I watch a depressing movie, I want it to be better than this was.

dir. Lasse Hallström. With Michael Caine, Toby Maguire, Charlize Theron, Delroy Lindo.

Cinderella (2015)

Branagh's live-action take on Disney's previously animated interpretation of "Cinderella." Disney's version is based on Cendrillon by Charles Perrault, an interpretation of a centuries-old fairy tale. Just as well they didn't base it on the Brother's Grimm version (both of the step-sisters carve pieces off their feet to fit into the glass slipper in that one). James plays Ella, a beautiful, gentle, and kind young girl with two wonderful parents. But her mother (Atwell) dies, and her father (Chaplin) eventually remarries to an incredible bitch of a woman (Blanchett) with two equally unpleasant daughters. Why her father would do this after having been married to the love of his life is never explained. Inevitably he dies while he's away on business and the step-mother and step-sisters turn Ella into a slave in her own house, renaming her "Cinder-Ella."

I think you can guess the rest of the story: fairy godmother (Bonham Carter), ball, prince (Madden), glass slipper, search, and - spoiler alert - happy ending. I suppose I watched this out of respect for Branagh: he's amazingly inconsistent, but occasionally very good. Unfortunately, this is Grade A pure weepy schmaltz ... with fantastic costumes. It looks pretty, but James has the emotional depth of a puddle, and everyone is playing straight to archetype anyway. Nauseating.

2015, dir. Kenneth Branagh. With Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Derek Jacobi, Sophie McShera, Holliday Grainger, Ben Chaplin, Hayley Atwell.

Cinema Paradiso

The original was heavy-handed but powerful. The director's cut (released in 2003(?) on DVD) is heavy-handed and incredibly tedious with another 51 minutes of footage. Someone please stop directors from "fixing" the injustices forced on them in editing the film ... See the original version: it's good.

1989. dir. Guiseppe Tornatore. With Philippe Noiret.

City Hunter (orig. "Sing si lip yan")

Based on a Japanese manga, Chan plays a womanizing private detective (with a Japanese name, but speaking Cantonese ...) hired to ... oh hell, I don't remember. Anyway he ends up on a cruise ship where he flirts with women, has fights, and performs numerous pratfalls. This can be considered a spoof or a manga brought literally to life, your choice: someone falls a long way and leaves a person-shaped hole in the deck of the ship, that kind of thing. I was hoping for a bunch of Chan's signature martial arts fights, but they went mostly for a lot of humour that didn't particularly work for me.

1993, dir. Jing Wong. With Jackie Chan, Joey Wang, Chingmy Yau, Richard Norton, Michael Wong, Gary Daniels.

City of Ember

Lina (Ronan) and Doon (Treadaway) grow up in the city of Ember, the last of humanity in an underground city that's deteriorating and dying. But due to the sudden death of a mayor, the city's most important secret (the way out, to be used at 200 years) was lost. Lina and Doon both question the complacency and resignation of their elders, and begin to believe in a way out.

Based on the novel by Jeanne DuPrau, the film makers didn't aim particularly high: there's not a lot of deep meaning here, and it's not hugely complex. On the other hand, they did make a charming and entertaining film.

2008, dir. Gil Kenan. With Saoirse Ronan, Harry Treadaway, Bill Murray, Mackenzie Crook, Tim Robbins, Martin Landau.

The City of Lost Children (orig. "La Cité des enfants perdus")

Caro and Jeunet's second full length film after "Delicatessen," this one is so surreal and bizarre it makes "Delicatessen" look, well, "normal." And if you've seen "Delicatessen" you'll know that's one hell of an achievement.

Evidently Emilfork's character "Krank" is unable to dream, so he kidnaps children from a nearby city to steal their dreams. Perlman plays the not-all-there strongman "One," whose adopted younger brother is stolen. Vittet plays a young girl who works for "The Octopus," a very nasty pair of women joined at the hip (Brunet and Mallet, identical twins). Krank is assisted by five copies of Pinon, all of whom deliberately over-act (along with the rest of the cast). The sets are quite impressive. Utterly bizarre. I'm not sorry I watched it, but I wouldn't really recommend it either.

1995, dir. Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet. With Ron Perlman, Daniel Emilfork, Judith Vittet, Dominique Pinon, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Geneviève Brunet, Odile Mallet.

A Civil Action

Purports to tell a true story, the history of a personal injury lawyer (Travolta) who sees dollar signs on the would-be defendants of a town water poisoning case that (probably) killed quite a few of the town's children, but finds himself becoming personally involved and eventually very nearly bankrupting his own law firm in the pursuit of a bigger settlement - for the people rather than for himself. I found it amazingly uninvolving: Travolta's character is hard to like at the beginning because all he's after is success and money, but he doesn't become much more likable when he finds his conscience because he's blind to the facts that he can't win (at least not the way he wants it) and that he's bankrupting his firm.

1997, dir. Steven Zaillian. With John Travolta, Robert Duvall, William H. Macy, Tony Shalhoub, Zeljko Ivanek, Bruce Norris, John Lithgow, Kathleen Quinlan, James Gandolfini, Stephen Fry, Dan Hedaya.

Clash

Trinh, aka "Phoenix" (Van) is a mob enforcer, hiring other criminals to assist her in a job she does under coercion for her boss who holds her daughter as collateral. "Tiger" (Johnny Nguyen) is one of the hired help. This is primarily a martial arts flick.

The acting is awful, the plot weak, and the martial arts mediocre (although slightly better than I expected). Van is a pop star and model - surprisingly, her fighting isn't significantly worse than Nguyen who makes his living as a martial artist and stunt man. Van is gorgeous, but that doesn't make a movie. There's betrayal and deception and lots of people die. Not recommended even for fans of the martial arts.

2009, dir. Le Thanh Son. With Veronica Ngo Thanh Van, Johnny Tri Nguyen, Lam Minh Thang, Hoang Phuc Nguyen.

Clash of the Titans (2010)

A remake of the notoriously bad 1981 film of the same name. I guess the thinking was that they couldn't produce a poorer product. I haven't seen the original, so I can't compare.

The film starts with narration about the defeat of the Titans by the gods Zeus (Neeson), Poseidon, and Hades (Fiennes) - this also introduces Hades creature "the Kraken," and sets up the rivalry between Zeus and Hades. Then we're introduced to Perseus (played as an adult by Worthington), a demi-god (son of Zeus and a human mother) who was raised by a human family and has no idea of his powers. But it shortly falls to him to prevent the Kraken from destroying the city of Argos - and thus we have a quest in which he sets off to find the means to kill the unkillable.

The movie reminded me a great deal of "Transformers" (the first one) - an eye-popping special effects extravaganza in the service of an incredibly stupid but somehow entertaining story. There are a million problems with it, but somehow it's just fun. It won't work for everyone, but if you liked "Transformers," you may enjoy this one too.

2010, dir. Louis Leterrier. With Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Jason Flemyng, Alexa Davalos, Mads Mikkelsen.

Clash of Wings

15 50 minute episodes presenting Walter Boyne's book of the same title about the air fighting during the Second World War. Episodes tend to centre around elements of the war: The Battle of Britain, The German Russian offensive, The early fight between the Japanese and the Americans in the Pacific.

It added interesting things to my knowledge of aerial warfare about manufacturing and supply lines, but had a frustrating tendency to discuss particular planes while occasionally (rarely, but a bad plan when your audience is plane buffs) using footage of planes that weren't even in the air at the time being discussed. In particular, they showed the Fock-Wulf Fw 190 during the early Russian attacks, and the Vought F4U Corsair just after Pearl Harbour: both would appear to great effect later in the war, but not at that point.

Editing was choppy and the voice-over was done by someone with the accent of each country being discussed: consistency would have been better. Especially when they tossed in Boyne himself wandering around a fancy house periodically giving us thirty second sound bites about the outcome of some particular battle.

1990. Discovery Channel.

Clean and Sober

I don't know when I watched this - before I started writing these mini-reviews around 2004. But the movie stuck in my head something fierce, and I've remembered it as a fantastic film.

Keaton made a radical and amazingly successful departure from comedy to do a turn as a cocaine addict who somewhat involuntarily finds himself in a 12 step program. The movie is about his struggles with addiction, his mentor (Freeman), and the woman he falls for and loses who's in the program with him (Baker). The plot is nothing extraordinary, but the acting is: a really good film.

1988, dir. Glenn Gordon Caron. With Michael Keaton, Kathy Baker, Morgan Freeman, M. Emmet Walsh.

Clear and Present Danger

I remembered not liking this when it came out, but then I didn't like "The Hunt for Red October" the first time around either. Both are Clancy novels about Jack Ryan - "Red October" has Alec Baldwin as intelligence analyst Ryan, who's played as a thinker, this one has Ford as more of a action figure. Ford isn't acting well, and Ryan works better as a thinker.

This time out, Ryan is filling the shoes of his sick boss while trying to figure out a drug-related slaughter on a privately owned yacht and why there appears to be unauthorized American military action in South America against drug cartels. This could have been done with the same intelligence as "Red October," but instead they threw a fair bit of action on top of some nasty political manoeuvring. Unfortunately the action's not very good, the politics are only mildly interesting, and the acting is pretty poor (although Jones is alright as the sick boss). The end product is a heap of expensive crap that shouldn't have been as bad as it is.

1994, dir. Phillip Noyce. With Harrison Ford, Willem Dafoe, Miguel Sandoval, Belita Moreno, Joaquim de Almeida, James Earl Jones, Benjamin Bratt, Harris Yulin, Henry Czerny.

The Clock

Technically, this is an art installation made of movies - but the end effect is a very long movie. Marclay has compiled movie clips showing clocks or related to time to create a 24 hour movie. I saw from 1730 to roughly 1920 at the Power Plant in Toronto. What Marclay has done is hugely impressive - if the average clip is 20 seconds, he would need 4320 clips. And then there's choosing them so there's some visual continuity (not always) and audible continuity (very good). In hindsight, the three years it took him to put it together seems a little short. And yet I'm not sure this is great art: he isn't constructing a story, and, while there was always something to do with clocks or time, I didn't feel like this led to any conclusion or overarching theme. But at the same time, I have to admit I found it utterly mesmerizing for somewhat unclear reasons: probably because I was having fun playing "name the movie" and "name the actor/actress."

Notable clips for me included "Time After Time," "The Matrix," and the 2002 version of "The Time Machine." I was also entertained by a transition from Donald to Kiefer Sutherland. How he got the rights for thousands of movie clips is another mystery entirely.

2010, dir. Christian Marclay.

Closely Watched Trains (orig. "Ostre sledované vlaky")

A mildly surreal Czech comedy about sex, set during the Second World War. That latter part doesn't seem to make much difference - right up until the end. But this is proof once again that old comedy doesn't always translate well - I hardly laughed at all. Mostly it was just surreal. I suppose it's not as funny anymore because it's about sex and we've long ago brushed past all the mores it was sideswiping.

1966, dir. Jirí Menzel. With Václav Neckár, Josef Somr, Vlastimil Brodský.

Closer

A movie about four people abusing each other emotionally for two hours. A lot of people liked this movie, but none of the characters are even remotely likable - and even if that's okay with you I didn't think the dialogue was particularly realistic.

2004, dir. Mike Nichols. With Jude Law, Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Clive Owen.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

I suppose any animated film has a degree of surreality to it simply because it's animated: it's been abstracted from reality and any resemblance is constructed in our minds. But most of them occasionally make reference to reality. This one buzzes reality for a few seconds at the beginning and then heads off into deep space: it's extremely surreal. It's very funny in places, both verbal and visual gags. And it's got a couple sharp things to say about North American society and how we perceive each other - the kids will laugh right through it, but the parents will notice. Very good.

2009, dir. Phil Lord, Christopher Miller. Bill Hader, Anna Faris, Neil Patrick Harris, James Caan, Bruce Campbell, Andy Samberg, Mr. T, Bobb'e J. Thompson, Benjamin Bratt.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2

I was a big fan of the original, which is incredibly surreal, very clever, and very entertaining. It seems with this one they decided the primary virtues of the previous movie that they should recreate were bright colours, surreality, and bad puns. The brains and most of the charm got left behind.

All the people who live on the island of Swallow Falls are evacuated after the events of the last movie to allow for the clean-up of the giant food by Live Corp. Our hero Flint Lockwood is given the opportunity to work at Live Corp, working with this life-long inventor-hero Chester. This distracts him from his friends. Eventually he's sent to help clean up the excess food at Swallow Falls (after a large contingent of Live Corp staff have failed). Chester turns out to be evil and friendship saves the day.

The incredibly colourful food animals - with names like "Flamangos" and "Tacodile - Supreme" - probably entertain the little ones, but the original had a lot of thought behind it that's totally lacking here. Very disappointing.

2013, dir. Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn. With Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Will Forte, Andy Samberg, Neil Patrick Harris, Benjamin Bratt, Terry Crews, Kristen Schaal.

Cloverfield

Does for the Godzilla genre what "Blair Witch" did for lost-in-the-woods. That is to say, shaky POV. Follows a group of not entirely charming friends who were at a party as they try to survive the night of the arrival of a giant monster, with one of them holding the cam.

Fairly clever and well executed, although some people may get motion sickness. You've never heard of any of the cast, despite the budget. We have J.J. Abrams to thank for this over-the-top craziness. Reeves sounds, in the director's commentary, like an intelligent guy and may actually produce some work worth seeing later.

2007, dir. Matt Reeves. With Michael Stahl-David, T. J. Miller, Jessica Lucas, Mike Vogel, Lizzy Caplan, Odette Yustman.

Clueless

A loose modern remake of Jane Austen's "Emma," this is amusing in places but its heavy reliance on the slang and fashion of its time have made it feel extremely dated less than ten years later.

1995. dir. Amy Heckerling. With Alicia Silverstone, Wallace Shawn, Brittany Murphy.

The Cocoanuts

Groucho plays the owner of a Florida resort that's making no money. Chico and Harpo fill in their usual roles of mixed support and trouble-makers, and Zeppo is the romantic straight man. Groucho is intermittently funny, and there are far too many musical numbers that I skipped through.

1929, dir. Robert Florey and Joseph Santley. With Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, Zeppo Marx, Margaret Dumont.

Code 46

Ahh, the extraordinary Samantha Morton. Not beautiful, not ugly, not talented or untalented, just ... extraordinary. Her bizarre acting was great as the girl who saw the future in "Minority Report," but in this one I got sick of seeing her writhe, squirm, moan, and occasionally look confused. The movie amounted to a bunch of fairly standard science fiction ideas (papers for everything, language melding, elite city dwellers, memory wiping, control of genetics) and molds them into a poor plot around an unconvincing forbidden love.

2003, dir. Michael Winterbottom. With Tim Robbins, Samantha Morton.

Cold Mountain

Law plays a Confederate soldier in the Civil War, Kidman his fiancée, and Zellweger the ... farm hand ... who helps manage her farm after her father's death. Law, sick of war, and holding a letter from Kidman asking him to come back and help her, deserts and starts a very long trek back. We watch the trials and tribulations at both ends through most of a year and an excessively long running time (154m). The acting is good, and the story is both epic and personal ... and yet there's something lacking. That may just be me: it was nominated for several Oscars and won one (Zellweger).

2003, dir. Anthony Minghella. With Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renée Zellweger, Brendan Gleeson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Giovanni Ribisi, Donald Sutherland, Rayi Winstone, Kathy Baker, James Gammon, Ethan Suplee.

Cold Souls

Giamatti plays ... Paul Giamatti. An actor that we first see rehearsing "Uncle Vanya," he gets seriously wound up over his characters - to the point that it interferes with his performance. So he decides to have his soul removed and stored. But now he has no compassion or empathy, his wife thinks he feels different, and his performance in the play is awful. Next he temporarily borrows the soul of a Russian poet ... etc.

As you might expect, this is a pretty weird movie. And not, I think, among Giamatti's best performances. Because they're trying to show that he acts differently with each soul, he's overdoing certain behaviours at different times. He carries it better than anyone else would, but it's still not an elegant solution or performance. It's amusing in spots, but mostly just weird.

2009, dir. Sophie Barthes. With Paul Giamatti, Emily Watson, David Strathairn, Dina Korzun, Katheryn Winnick.

Collateral

Foxx plays a cabbie who finds himself driving a contract killer around Los Angeles as he does a series of hits. It's an action movie, and as they go, it's actually a pretty good one. Both of the main characters act fairly well, and there's a bit more of a nod to reality than usual (although not a lot more).

2004. dir. Michael Mann. With Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith.

The Colour of Magic

Based on Terry Pratchett's first (and not best) Discworld novel of the same name. Since I've read it it's hard for me to say how this would fly with those who haven't read it - but it looks rather like chaos in the name of humour, too ludicrous to really hold together ... It sticks very close to the book (at least as I remember it), and that kind of ludicrous situational humour has always worked well for Pratchett ... on the page. It's hard to translate to the screen. But as someone who's read it, I found it quite entertaining - all 191 minutes of the original British made-for-TV movie. The effects are quite good, and the leads were mostly very good. I thought Astin as Twoflower was the weakest, but making Twoflower convincing is pretty tough. But right next to him was Jason in the role of Rincewind, which he did very well indeed (although I've always pictured Rincewind as in his thirties). My main dispute with the movie was the number of people that the Luggage ate: I really thought it should be higher. But again, what's funny on the page is less funny (and less family-friendly) when you actually see it ...

Pratchett has the closing line of the movie in a tiny role as an astrozoologist. A nice touch.

2008, dir. Vadim Jean. With David Jason, Sean Astin, Tim Curry, Jeremy Irons, Brian Cox, James Cosmo, Christopher Lee, Terry Pratchett.

The Commitments

The 1991 movie based on the 1987 Roddie Doyle novel of the same name. Our protagonist is Jimmy Rabbitte (Arkins), young and unemployed in Dublin, with a dream of starting a famous band. He starts auditioning and recruiting, and brings together ten people to play American Soul. They start out sounding a bit crap, but they keep rehearsing until they sound fantastic on stage ... while simultaneously they're disintegrating off stage.

The actors were picked primarily for their ability to play or sing, and it shows in the performances: they sound fantastic. So much so that much of the cast ran a couple of tours performing the music in the movie, and both the soundtrack and a follow-up album charted. But the portrayal of a band forming and falling apart again is beautiful, hilarious, and a little tragic: it remains one of the best band movies there is. A great piece of work.

1991, dir. Alan Parker. With Robert Arkins, Andrew Strong, Glen Hansard, Kenneth McCluskey, Angeline Ball, Maria Doyle, Bronagh Gallagher, Johnny Murphy, Félim Gormley, Michael Aherne, Dick Massey, Dave Finnegan, Colm Meaney, Anne Kent.

The Company of Wolves

The movie starts with a rich teenager (Patterson) in modern Britain being pestered by her older sister (Slowe). We then enter her dreams, where she lives in a fairytale forest. Her sister is killed by wolves in the forest, and she goes to stay with her grandmother (Lansbury) who loves to tell bloody stories (which are also put on film for us). Grandma also knits her a bright-red shawl for our Little Red Riding Hood. So the whole movie is a dream, except for about two minutes at each end: not a promising structure.

I got interested in this because it had fairly good reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and because it was directed by Neil Jordan. I struggled through it primarily because it was Jordan, but I'm here to tell you that the special effects are appallingly bad, and the pointlessly complex structure doesn't amount to a cohesive whole and the whole damn thing is just idiotic. Really terrible.

1984, dir. Neil Jordan. With Sarah Patterson, Angela Lansbury, David Warner, Tusse Silberg, Micha Bergese, Graham Crowden, Shephen Rea, Georgia Slowe, Shane Johnstone.

Concussion

Smith plays Bennet Omalu, an over-educated Nigerian doctor who works as a pathologist in (or near, anyway) Pittsburgh. When Hall of Fame football player Mike Webster (Morse) landed on his autopsy table at the age of 50, Omalu spent his own money to determine what was wrong with Webster's brain - and discovered something that was eventually named Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Essentially, "you get too many minor concussions playing football, you get brain problems and you die young." The movie follows his attempts to tell the National Football League about it (according to the movie, he was surprised that they didn't want to hear it - and they have highly paid lawyers to prevent such conversations ...), while also trying to start a family. The movie runs from roughly 2002 through 2009 - by which time the NFL was finally forced to acknowledge there might be some small problem ...

Smith is good as Omalu, and he gets good backup from Mbatha-Raw as his love interest and wife, Morse as Webster, Brooks as his mentor and head coroner Cyril Wecht, and Baldwin as a former team doctor Julian Bailes - who's very unhappy with what's happening to his former players. The final product is a well constructed (if not stellar) movie about a rather interesting and disturbing subject. It's a good portrait of a man who did what was right in the face of very nasty opposition, and deserves all the accolades this movie implies.

2015, dir. Peter Landesman, Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Albert Brooks, David Morse, Arliss Howard, Paul Reiser, Luke Wilson, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje.

Confessions of a Superhero

All I could think watching this movie is how weird my life would look if it were put on film. We follow the lives of four people in Hollywood, all of whom want to be actors, but have instead spent years on Hollywood Boulevard as costumed superheroes posing for pictures and working for tips - glorified panhandling. It struck me as a kind of reality TV show more than a documentary, although I suppose it can be considered as both. And no, I don't think my life is that strange, but we all have our quirks and ideas that make others scratch their heads and feel superior. The filming is awful (focus isn't always there, zooms are abrupt, subjects aren't always entirely in frame) and the intro by Morgan Spurlock wasn't merely gratuitous, it was actively bad. But the movie ... it's not bad. The director makes no judgements, although he chooses to end on relative high notes for each of the characters. Strange stuff.

2007, dir. Matthew Ogens. With Maxwell Allen, Christopher Dennis, Jennifer Wenger, Joseph McQueen.

The Congress

The first half hour of the movie concentrates heavily on battering Robin Wright (played by Robin Wright) for her inconsistency, her refusal to take parts or do what's expected of her - the point being that she has no options, and if she wants to make any money at all, she has to take the contract in front of her. The script has the subtlety of a sledgehammer, and I very nearly quit because it was so godawful - Wright managed to wring a bit of substance out of the terrible material, but Keitel (as, we are forcefully made to understand, her long-suffering agent) wasn't trying very hard at all.

But after Robin signs over the rights to, well, HER (her digital image, her right to act, everything), the movie jumps forward 20 years to the Future Congress. Which is ... animated. Everyone is what they want to be - and everything and nothing is valid. From that point on, the movie is pure psychedelia - and makes little more sense than that suggests. If you can stomach the first half hour, the remaining 90 minutes is ... more interesting. I'm not sure it's better, just weirder.

Based in part on Stanisław Lem's 1971 SF novel The Futurological Congress.

I watched this because a friend recommended it, and that combined with my respect for Ari Folman and his previous movie "Waltz With Bashir" kept me watching even after the poorly done introduction.

"The events, characters and firms depicted in this photoplay are fictitious. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or firms is purely coincidental." We see this so often at the end of movies that most of us don't think about it at all. I hadn't thought about it in a long time, not until I saw this movie: this movie, starring Robin Wright playing a character called "Robin Wright" who played "Princess Buttercup" in a movie called "The Princess Bride." The disclaimer seems more than a little inaccurate as Robin Wright is definitely real. (Or is she? I'VE never met her. Maybe Hollywood is an illusion in my mind ...)

2013, dir. Ari Folman. With Robin Wright, Jon Hamm, Harvey Keitel, Danny Huston, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Paul Giamatti, Sami Gayle.

Conspiracy

Kilmer plays a shell-shocked vet of the Iraq War. Back home in the U.S. he never leaves his apartment, spends what little money he has on a succession of prostitutes, and lives with his flashbacks. A veteran buddy eventually convinces Kilmer to move down to New Mexico to help him out. When he arrives, no one has ever heard of his friend, and he receives a rather poor welcome. Strangely enough, there's a conspiracy in town, and eventually Kilmer tries to take care of it.

If you took "Rambo," "Soldier," and about a dozen other movies of that variety and stuff them all in the blender, something just like this would come out. Minor oddities included illegal aliens (from Mexico) being the prosecuted group, and the bad guys all belonging to a company called "Halicorp" which is accused of the worst kind of war profiteering - a very clear knock-off of Halliburton. Cole plays the exact same bad guy he played the last time I saw him (I think in "Pineapple Express"). Like any movie, it had a few decent moments; but overall, it stinks.

2008, dir. Adam Marcus. With Val Kilmer, Gary Cole, Jennifer Esposito, Jay Jablonski, Greg Serano.

The Constant Gardener

Would have been an excellent movie if it wasn't for the music video editing, use of colour, and volume. It's an intelligent political intrigue, not a brainless action movie. Despite the editing and with the help of very good performances by Weisz and Fiennes, this is a good (albeit very depressing) movie about the evils of drug companies in the Third World. Original story by John le Carré.

2005, dir. Fernando Meirelles. With Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Bill Nighy, Pete Postlethwaite.

Constantine

Based on the DC comic "Hellblazer," "Constantine" stars Reeves as an attempted suicide who's been to hell and can see the angels and demons walking on earth among us. If you can accept that premise, you might enjoy this movie. Watch past the end of the credits. Fans of the comic will be disappointed in the choice of Reeves, who isn't blond and isn't Cockney. But Weisz is excellent, Swinton and Reeves are very good, the ideas are wild, and the action is great. Despite huge flaws, it's highly entertaining. I was particularly impressed with the ending, which someone worked out very well indeed.

2005, dir. Francis Lawrence. With Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf, Tilda Swinton.

Contact

"Contact" was written as a film treatment by Carl Sagan and his wife Ann Druyan. When movie production stalled, Sagan released the book Contact in 1985, with the film eventually coming out in 1997 - the year after Sagan's death. It's a fascinating take on Science and Faith, and despite some significant flaws, I've been a big fan for years.

Foster is Dr. Eleanor "Ellie" Arroway, a SETI scientist who lost her mother at childbirth and her father at age 9. She's independent, intelligent, excessively honest, and bad at relationships. While working at Arecibo in Puerto Rico, she and her team find an incredibly strong signal coming from the Vega star system. A signal with a LOT of information embedded in it. What comes of this is a machine that - they think - will transport someone to Vega to meet the aliens. Ellie desperately wants to be that person.

I've totally left out Palmer Joss (McConaughey), a man she had a fling with in Puerto Rico. As the machine is being built, Palmer goes on to considerable fame as a Christian philosopher. He also becomes the middle ground in the film between Ellie's atheism and Busey's religious fanatic.

I find the movie's take on both the science of star travel and the essence of science vs. faith to be quite brilliant - I've watched the movie three or four times, and find it thought-provoking every time. Sagan himself was not (as I suspected, age 10, watching his famous TV series "Cosmos") an atheist like Ellie, but neither was he a follower of a particular church. I have to guess he wrote Ellie and Palmer as representative of those two sides of his personality, science and faith. Towards the end of the movie, Ellie comes up against a particularly nasty conundrum for an atheist scientist: she has an unquantifiable experience that she must ask others to take on faith. It didn't occur to me until this viewing of the movie that there's a very strong connection between the movie and Arthur C. Clarke's "Third Law:" "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

The biggest problem with the movie is Foster's performance. Don't get me wrong, I love Foster. But there are a couple extended scenes where she goes way over the top - or Zemeckis told her to make it an excessive ecstatic religious experience, I don't know. Either way, it's too much and the reason that I can't list this as one of the best movies in the history of the world. Given that, it still remains a thought-provoking and wonderful film about how we view the universe around us and a celebration of humanity.

1997, dir. Robert Zemeckis. With Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Skerritt, William Fichtner, Jake Busey, Angela Bassett, John Hurt, James Woods, David Morse, Rob Lowe.

Cool Runnings

Based, loosely, on the events leading up to the Jamaican bobsled team racing at the 1988 Winter Olympics. It's definitely one of the more bizarre true fish-out-of-water sports stories you can find. Being a Disney product, it spends its time trying to be extra charming - and mostly managing to do so. The four sprinters all have their own reasons and problems - but their coach is a real piece of work. Candy plays a discredited American bobsledder who had a couple gold medals before he was caught cheating. Candy actually puts in a really good performance. The script is definitely manipulative, but by the end you're really cheering for them. Quite enjoyable.

1993, dir. Jon Turtletaub. With Leon Robinson, Doug E. Doug, Rawle D. Lewis, Malik Yoba, John Candy.

Cool World

A lower budget, crazier, and much more sexualized version of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." Came with a pretty poor recommendation, sitting as it does at 4% on Rotten Tomatoes 23 years after its release. The confused plot first shows us a human (a very young Pitt, acting rather poorly here) in our world in 1945 drawn into the animated (and comedic) "Cool World" just as his mother dies - a bizarre tonal shift that lets you know Bakshi is going to be tone-deaf throughout the movie. We then jump forward nearly 50 years, and see that an unchanged Pitt is now a policeman in Cool World, and out in the real world a cartoonist (Byrne) who drew one of the Cool World characters (Holli Would, played by Basinger) is getting out of jail. The cartoonist starts transitioning between worlds, and he and Holli cause major problems.

When the characters are in Cool World, the place is visually fascinating. It's also utterly littered with visual non-sequiturs: fist-fights, safes or cows dropping out of the sky - usually on to characters - crazy things just floating through the air. It's very cool to look at, but doesn't make a lot of sense or add to the plot. Byrne's comic book artist seems like a very white-bread guy, but we're supposed to think he really, really want to be in the utterly insane environment of Cool World - nothing sold me on that at all. Despite all of which I rather enjoyed it, as damaged as it is. It was interesting, and I think I'm looking for that right now after a string of incredibly boring action movies.

1992, dir. Ralph Bakshi. With Kim Basinger, Brad Pitt, Candi Milo, Gabriel Byrne.

The Cooler

Macy plays the titular "cooler," a man whose luck is so bad he's employed by a casino to "cool" tables - his presence will destroy anyone's run of luck. That is, until he falls in love (with Bello's character). So now he's being paid to bring bad luck and is instead bringing good luck ... not exactly what his vindictive employer (Baldwin) wants. Definitely a bit on the surreal side. Macy is entertaining, Baldwin vicious, and Bello gets naked again. Weird, and I didn't like it much.

2003, dir. Wayne Kramer. With William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin, Maria Bello.

Coraline

Coraline is a young girl dissatisfied with her parents, her life, and her new weird neighbours. Live action animation in the same style as "The Nightmare Before Christmas," with which it shares the same director. Coraline find a small door that occasionally leads to a copy of her new apartment - complete with copies of her parents, who seem to be much nicer than her real parents.

The story takes a dark turn - as you might expect of both the director and the original author, Neil Gaiman. The animation is beautiful, the story reasonably good, the characters fun.

2009, dir. Henry Selick. With Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, John Hodgman, Ian McShane, Robert Bailey Jr., Keith David.

The Core

A Seventies disaster movie made in 2003 with modern tropes and good acting ... which doesn't prevent it from having painfully bad science. But this is one of those ones where you go into it knowing it's going to be really bad and enjoy it anyway. It was fun.

The basic premise is that the core of the Earth has stopped rotating, and everyone on the planet will die in under a year unless our intrepid (and very intelligent and antagonistic) heroes get to the core and detonate a bunch of atomic bombs to start the core rotating again. Against impossible odds and insurmountable problems and etc.

2003, dir. Jon Amiel. With Hilary Swank, Aaron Eckhart, Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci, DJ Qualls, Tchéky Karyo, Bruce Greenwood, Alfre Woodard.

Coup de Torchon

A cop in French West Africa in 1938 gets tired of being insulted by everyone and takes it upon himself dispense justice in his own unique way - uninformed by much moral sense. I'm sure there were black comedies before this one, but this is very dark. Funny, nasty, and mesmerizing.

1981, dir. Bertrand Tavernier. With Philippe Noiret, Isabelle Huppert.

Courage Under Fire

I saw this when it came out and remembered it as quite good. I watched it again in 2012. Washington plays Lieutenant Colonel Serling who we first see in the Gulf War, where he is involved in a "friendly fire" incident. After the war he has a new medal, a drinking problem, and a job investigating whether or not people should be given the medals they are put in for. The movie centres around his investigation of the death of the helicopter pilot Captain Walden (Ryan). The movie is nominally about her and the Medal of Honor, but is more about Serling and his problems, the stresses of combat, and the desirability of telling the truth - the whole truth - surrounding service deaths.

The acting is uniformly good, although I wouldn't call anyone in this one outstanding - possibly Damon, in a supporting role showing up most of the rest of the cast. I kind of wished the story had been more about Walden - but I think that's because it was how I remembered it, and my memory was incorrect. Serling initially gets almost consistent reports of the incident, but pursues it further and finds the stories diverging in a rather "Rashomon"-like way.

1996, dir. Edward Zwick. With Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan, Matt Damon, Lou Diamond Phillips, Michael Moriarty, Scott Glenn, Tim Guinee, Seth Gilliam, Bronson Pinchot.

The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell

Cooper plays Billy Mitchell, an Army General who believed in the early 1920s that air power was the way of the future, and that the U.S. military services were ignoring it at their peril. As his advice is ignored and shunted aside, he eventually chooses court-martial to force a more public airing of his views.

The movie paints him as a visionary, describing in a 1923 letter almost exactly the attack that was to come on Pearl Harbour (the movie was made in 1955). He was certainly more forward-looking than many of his peers in the military forces, and the movie does go for historical accuracy in other respects (the Shenandoah, his reassignment to Texas), but I very much doubt his description of the attack on Hawaii was that accurate. And unfortunately, accurate or not, this movie is rather dry going. Cooper is very good, but the subject isn't hugely involving.

1955, dir. Otto Preminger. With Gary Cooper, Charles Bickford, Ralph Bellamy, Rod Steiger, Elizabeth Montgomery.

Cowboy Bebop

Japanese anime series, this is a review of the entire year. Episodes have about 21 minutes of content when you strip off the credits, the total run was 26 episodes. 21 minutes is totally inadequate for any actual character or plot development - which is unfortunate because I really liked the characters and some of the plots would have been great had they not been so insanely condensed.

We first meet Jet and Spike, a pair of bounty hunters cruising around the solar system in Jet's big spaceship. Both of them have their own small ship for local travel and occasionally fighting, but Spike has the really cool ship. Within a couple episodes they've managed to pick up a dog (Ein), Faye (a gorgeous bounty hunter with a gambling problem), and the child Edward, an incredibly eccentric female(!) computer genius. They rarely manage to collect bounties as they often end up doing "the right thing" instead of the lucrative thing. We get filled in on everyone's back stories as things proceed. Some episodes are comedic (eg. Ed trying her hand at bounty hunting and feeding everyone else on the crew psychedelic mushrooms), some are sad (eg. Faye's massive memory loss and re-awakening with massive debt incurred by medical treatment/resurrection she didn't precisely request). But the ending is incredibly harsh and sudden - although not a total surprise. More of a wrap-up wouldn't have hurt.

It struck me as a mash-up of "Firefly" and "Trigun." Not that a lot of people would get that: you're likely to see "Cowboy Bebop" long before you see "Trigun."

1998, dir. Shinichiro Watanabe.

Cowboys & Aliens

A man (Craig) wakes in the desert with no idea where he is, or even who he is. Although some of his abilities become clearer a couple minutes later when three men try to rob him and he takes them all out with considerable ease. In town he tries to mind his own business but soon enough he's involved in everyone else's. And then the aliens attack, which leads to a couple discoveries: they're abducting people (surprise!) and the weird bracelet around our anti-hero/amnesiac's wrist is a weapon capable of taking out the alien flyers.

As usual, Favreau directs as if there's nothing in the world more fun than making a movie and blowing shit up. This was clearly fun to work on. But the "we're making a Western, ha-ha tricked you here's aliens" routine is decidedly uninspiring and merely passable acting from Ford and Wilde (although Craig was quite good) meant that an already messy script ("let's ride back and forth and toss in new characters and twists") never really got off the ground.

2011, dir. Jon Favreau. With Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Clancy Brown, Keith Carradine, Adam Beach.

Cradle 2 the Grave

This movie is pretty bad - which is to say it's better than most of Jet Li's American movies. Jet Li is an extremely talented martial artist, and, while he's no actor, he's at least fairly charming. But his goofy Hong Kong movies look excellent by comparison to the tripe he's turned out since he was "discovered." I keep hoping he'll end up in something better.

2003. dir. Andrzej Bartkowiak. With Jet Li, DMX.

Crank

The basic premise is that our hero ("Chev Chelios," played by Statham) wakes up to find he's been poisoned by an enemy and the only way to stay alive is to stay cranked on adrenaline. That tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the movie. I hope you can guess that it's intensely ludicrous. It's a bad movie, but ... pretty entertaining. Although I'm more than a little embarrassed to say that in public.

2006, dir. Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor. With Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Efren Ramirez, Dwight Yoakam, Carlos Sanz, Keone Young.

Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Carell plays Cal Weaver, whose wife Emily (Moore) asks for a divorce at the beginning of the movie. He spends his time sitting in a bar bemoaning his state to no one in particular. Jacob (Gosling), a pick-up artist who takes home a different woman pretty much every night, takes Cal under his wing and tutors him. As Cal learns the tricks of the trade, Jacob unexpectedly falls hard for one woman (Stone). There's also a subplot about Cal and Emily's son Robbie (Bobo) who's desperately in love with his babysitter (Tipton) - who is herself in love with Cal ...

This is essentially the spiritual (and American) successor to "Love Actually." It's about being in love, and the value of that whether or not you can actually have the person you love or not.

Tipton's performance is excellent, but is much more surprising when you find out that this gawky, shy and awkward 17 year old is actually a 22 year old fashion model. Stone is also excellent, although the role is in many ways a more mature version of her character in "Easy A." Gosling and Moore are excellent, but no one is surprised about that. Carell continues to be a very decent dramatic actor. Bobo is great as the intelligent and obsessed young son.

Follows the comedy practise of characters being writ larger than life - some of the things that happen are a bit over the top. And there are a couple of major film-making contrivances in which the identity of certain players are deliberately hidden from us so it can be sprung on us later for laughs. I was mildly annoyed by this, but damn, they were big laughs. Setting aside the exceptionally high level of coincidence required for the big blow-up between the second and final acts (which is again brilliantly funny), the script is really good and supported by excellent performances. I bought it on disc the day it came out.

2011, dir. Glenn Ficarra, John Requa. With Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Analeigh Tipton, Marisa Tomei, Kevin Bacon, Jonah Bobo.

Criminal

This is set in the current day, but it falls under the heading of "science fiction" because the main premise of the film is a bit of science that doesn't actually exist yet. Bill Pope (Reynolds) of the CIA is trying to extract hacker Jan Strook (Pitt) who wants to get away from his insane boss Heimdahl (Mollà). This is because Heimdahl would happily cause a nuclear holocaust with the control Strook has gained over missile access codes. But Heimdahl has Pope killed, leaving Strook stranded and the CIA not knowing what's going on. So they use an experimental technology from Dr. Micah Franks (Jones) to transfer the memories of their dead agent into the head of incarcerated sociopath Jerico Stewart (Costner). When Jerico isn't immediately responsive with the memories he wants, CIA boss Quaker Wells (Oldman) indicates that Jerico should be disposed of. But they don't do it on the spot because that wouldn't give him time to escape. And he does escape, and the memories start to take their effect.

The basic idea is sound, even quite interesting: what happens when you place the memories of a basically decent man in the head of an emotionless criminal? Jan Strook's hacking into the American missile defence system, is improbable, but ... let's let that go, it's a semi-credible threat. And I wouldn't have started watching the DVD if I wasn't willing to accept the memory re-implantation idea. But Strook's former boss Heimdahl - when he's not torturing people, he sits quietly typing - from where he apparently controls the GPS system, the entire world's cellular phone network, and every security camera anywhere (with sound and pan/zoom control). Damn he's good. In fact, he's so spectacularly good that he doesn't need Strook at all, because he's an immensely better hacker ... and he's totally unbelievable. It's unfortunate as Costner turned in a pretty good performance that might have made the movie watchable if it weren't so ludicrous. And in other regards, it's just kind of ... generic. The end result is a bit of a mess and, while not totally horrible, hard to recommend to anyone.

2016, dir. Ariel Vromen. With Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Gal Gadot, Alice Eve, Michael Pitt, Jordi Mollà, Antje Traue, Scott Adkins, Amaury Nolasco.

Crocodile Dundee

The movie that temporarily made a star of Hogan, brought us endless Aussie jokes, and became an icon of the Eighties.

Kozlowski plays newspaper reporter Sue Charlton, who pursues a story of a man attacked by a crocodile to the Australian Outback. There she finds that the story of him losing part of his leg was an exaggeration - although the attack was not. After a tour to the site of the attack, she convinces Dundee to come to New York with her. Comedic things happen in both locations.

The movie screams 1980s. Hogan isn't a particularly talented actor, but he's charming and funny and has written himself quite a few good jokes. Kozlowski, also a mediocre actor, is a passable foil. It remains an enjoyable movie in 2014.

1986, dir. Peter Faiman. With Paul Hogan, Linda Kozlowski, Mark Blum, David Gulpilil, John Meillon, Michael Lombard.

The Croods

I didn't much like the style of the animation or the humour in the trailer, but I decided to watch the movie anyway because the critics liked it, and, let's face it, I like animated kids movies. I only managed to hold my grudge for about fifteen minutes. It's silly, surreal, heavy-handed ... but also charming, and very funny.

The Croods are a family of cave dwellers, with oldest daughter Eep (Stone) being in her rebellious phase. Dad (Cage) is very insistent that they stay in the safety of the cave for days at a time if there's any danger at all in the outside world. Their not-very-peaceful existence is interrupted by Eep's interest in Guy (Reynolds) - and the fact that Guy is fleeing the shifting of the tectonic plates, which is rewriting the geography of the entire world. The creatures they encounter are fantastical, ridiculous, excessive, pretty, and entertaining. It's just that kind of movie. Lessons are learned by all.

2013, dir. Chris Sanders, Kirk De Micco. With Emma Stone, Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Clark Duke, Cloris Leachman.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

I think this was the first DVD I ever purchased. It's also one of the most influential martial arts movies ever made: the first time a well-known director tackled the genre, also for the first time with good actors, a big budget, and a huge world-wide release. This movie legitimized martial arts movies, and paved the way for big budget releases like "Hero," "The House of Flying Daggers," and several others.

The story opens with Li Mu-bai (Yun-Fat) and Yu Shu-lien (Yeoh). Li Mu-bai is considering giving up his sword, the legendary Green Destiny, and the warrior's life that goes with it. There are hints that this might even allow a long-postponed romance to blossom between the two. But the Green Destiny is stolen, and the two become entangled with Jen (a Governor's daughter) and Lo (a desert bandit). And to confuse things further, it appears that the Jade Fox - a woman who murdered Li Mu-bai's master - may have re-surfaced. And did I mention that the better-trained among them can fly and perform super-human feats?

It sounds like a cheesy martial arts movie because it's based on a Wuxia novel. And that might have been all it was, but Lee brings superb direction, excellent actors, and stunning cinematography to it, and produces a film that's enchanted millions who were never fans of the genre. Elegant, beautiful, and heart-breaking, this is a really wonderful movie.

2000, dir. Ang Lee. With Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Chang Chen, Cheng Pei-pei.

The Crow

One of the earlier graphic-novel-to-movie translations, this time of a vicious revenge story. Lee died during the making of the movie. I still don't understand why the critics like this one so much: sure, Proyas has a great eye for sets and shots, but the story is over-the-top vicious, silly, and not very well acted. If you want to see Proyas really on his game, watch "Dark City." "I, Robot" is more accessible and has issues, but is still very good. If you want to see Lee doing martial arts (this barely qualifies), try the shabby but well choreographed "Rapid Fire."

The plot revolves around a man (Lee) whose girlfriend was raped and who was murdered, and his return after death to take revenge.

1994, dir. Alex Proyas. With Brandon Lee, Rochelle Davis, Ernie Hudson, David Patrick Kelly, Michael Wincott, Bai Ling.

Crumb

Robert Crumb had a lot to do with starting the underground comics movement in the late 60s. He's still an active comics author. This movie follows him around for a while, talks to his family, looks at his comics, and looks into his past life. Crumb has no problem talking about his life in considerable detail: it's how he's made his living for the past thirty years. Many of his comics are his own bizarre interpretations of the events in his life. Many of his comics are about sex, and the movie spends time dwelling on his fantasies, and occasionally his actual sex life. Get ready for a really weird ride. He's a pretty strange individual, but as the movie progresses and you meet his brothers and mother, you realize he's the sane one in the family ... Hilarious and extremely disturbing. I highly recommend it - you won't forget it for a long time.

1998. dir. Terry Zwigoff.

The Cup

About Buddhism, passion, and Tibet. Probably the only movie you'll ever see in Bhutanese (the Tibetan language?). Based on a true story. Several young monks at a Buddhist monastery in India are determined to see the World Cup football games, even though it's against monastery rules. The people in the movie are (I think) all monks, and not particularly good actors. But it's funny and enjoyable, and very educational about Tibetans and Buddhism.

2000. dir. Khyentse Norbu.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Pitt plays Benjamin Button, born a shrivelled up and ancient baby, abandoned, forever ageing backward. In love, permanently and from a very young age, with Blanchett's character Daisy. The story is told by Ormond, playing Daisy's daughter, reading Button's diaries to Daisy as Daisy lies dying. It's certainly an epic movie: it follows him from his birth in 1920 to her deathbed in New Orleans during what appears to be the arrival of Hurricane Katrina. The aging of Blanchett, and the reverse effect on Pitt, are managed very well. I liked it, but didn't find it terribly involving.

2008, dir. David Fincher. With Cate Blanchett, Brad Pitt, Julia Ormond, Elias Koteas, Taraji P. Henson, Tilda Swinton.

Curse of the Golden Flower (orig. "Man cheng jin dai huang jin jia")

"Lavish" and "Extravagant" don't begin to do this movie justice: the sets and costumes are spectacular. Too bad the motivations for most of the characters are ... well, opaque. It reminded me a great deal of "The Lion in Winter" (okay, I'm getting old: I've seen most of the predecessors): king and empress at odds, three sons, everybody scheming. The king is slowly poisoning the empress, the empress is sleeping with the first son (child of the previous empress), first son is sleeping with the royal pharmacist's daughter, second son is desperately trying to be loyal to everyone, and third son is young enough to be blithely unaware of everything. Look at the pretty scenery and forget the foundering tragedy plot. Or better: go see "Hero" or "House of Flying Daggers." Both of which are flawed, but very pretty and better than this.

2006, dir. Zhang Yimou. With Chow Yun-Fat, Gong Li, Jay Chou, Liu Ye, Ni Dahong, Qin Junjie, Li Man, Chen Jin.


D

The Dance of Reality

I haven't seen a movie this bizarre since "Eraserhead," thirty years ago. I can give you some idea of the basic premise, but it's totally insane and I can't do justice to its weirdness. I suppose I was curious about Alejandro Jodorowsky after watching "Jodorowsky's Dune ."

Jeremías Herskovits (who is in fact the director Jodorowsky's grandson) plays the young Alejandro. He lives in Chile with his parents Sara (Pamela Flores) and Jaime (Brontis Jodorowsky, Alejandro's son - this is very much a family affair). Sara is very strongly Christian, and sings everything instead of speaking. But Jaime is a hard-core communist and atheist who worships Stalin, and demands strength and self-control from his young and fearful son. Alejandro Jodorowsky (the director, not the character played by Herskovits) appears occasionally to stand behind the young Alejandro - to reassure him and make incredibly cryptic pronouncements that clarified nothing. But it hasn't really got weird yet. At one point, to prove his bravery, Jaime delivers water to plague victims. He becomes infected - but his wife saves him by praying to God and then urinating all over him. Jaime now knows what he needs to do: he's going to save the workers by murdering Carlos Ibáñez (dictator in Chile from 1952 to 1958). He fails, and in an even weirder turn, is captured and tortured by Nazis (let's not forget the cattle prod to the testicles - Jodorowsky really likes naked people of both genders). The movie ends shortly after Jaime's return home and spiritual awakening. Oh dear - did I ruin that for you? Trust me, you aren't watching this one for the plot - if you watch it at all.

Let's have a look at the cast list ...

2013, dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky. With Brontis Jodorowsky, Jeremías Herskovits, Pamela Flores, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Bastián Bodenhöfer, Andrés Cox, Adán Jodorowsky, Cristóbal Jodorowsky.

Dark Passage

Humphrey Bogart plays Vincent Parry, accused of murdering his wife. In the first scene, we see him escaping from San Quentin prison on a supply truck. The film is quite unusual in showing most of the first third of the film from Vincent's P.O.V. - and even when it's not his view, his face is never shown until he has plastic surgery (to become Humphrey Bogart). After his escape from prison, he's aided by Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall - possibly at her most beautiful), a woman convinced that - as he claims - he didn't kill his wife. Parry eventually tries to prove his own innocence.

The movie is very uneven. Some scenes are brilliantly creepy - particularly as he's taken into plastic surgery by a doctor who's lost his license, and who jokes about what a mess he could make of Parry's face if he didn't like him or if he slipped up. The dialogue varies between preposterous and very good. It felt a bit like a failed experiment, but it was sure as hell interesting and I really enjoyed watching it.

1947, dir. Delmer Daves. With Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Agnes Moorehead, Bruce Bennett, Tom D'Andrea, Clifton Young, Rory Mallinson, Houseley Stevenson.

Dave

Kline plays Dave Kovic, a decent guy who runs a temp agency and has a side line in doing presidential impersonations. He's even hired by the White House staff to do a walk-and-wave when the president wants some time off. But when the president has a debilitating stroke, Dave is hired for a longer period - and has to do some more serious appearances. Dave's upbeat impersonation of the president infects not only the people around him, but the entire nation. Unfortunately, there are a number of skeletons in the closet.

Echoes of Heinlein's "Double Star" and "Prisoner of Zenda" are heard loud and clear ... More correctly, I should say this is a Ruritanian Romance, it's just happens that the two titles mentioned are ones I'm familiar with.

Kline is wonderful, Weaver puts in a great performance as the First Lady, and all the supporting cast is great as well. It's very funny. And it has a type of plot structure that I particularly appreciate, being somewhat circular: Dave starts to get involved in what's going on, and ultimately uses the event that roped him in in the first place to skewer the wrong-doers and get himself out of the role. A really wonderful comedy, highly recommended.

1993, dir. Ivan Reitman. With Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Frank Langella, Kevin Dunn, Ving Rhames, Ben Kingsley, Charles Grodin, Laura Linney, Stephen Root, Tom Dugan.

The Da Vinci Code

A long-winded, muddled mess of a movie. I haven't read the book. There are only two types of scenes in this movie: long explanations of art or Christian conspiracy theory, or action. This leaves no time for acting by an otherwise excellent cast. Even with all the explanations, it's occasionally unclear what's going on and you probably don't care anyways.

2006, dir. Ron Howard. With Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Jean Reno, Paul Bettany, Alfred Molina.

Dakota Skye

Tiny little indie movie about a young woman (Boylan), a high school student who has a "superpower": whenever anyone lies to her, she knows the truth. As she points out in her voice-over, this isn't quite as much of a blessing as you'd think. Having discovered that everyone lies, she's become apathetic, sleep-walking through her own life. Until her boyfriend's stoner best friend (Nelson) shows up: he never lies. And he's a pretty cool guy. His presence forces her out of her apathy and into making decisions about her life.

Boylan, Nelson, and Ghuman (Dakota's boyfriend) are all reasonably good. The script is very good. The movie has too many montages, too many long shots with music and no speech. It gets a little old, but they're used reasonably well to develop the plot. I liked it the first time I saw it, but kind of dismissed it because it's an indie. But it seriously stuck in my head, so I watched it again. The idea is excellent, and very well developed: this should be required viewing for fans of superhero movies.

2008, dir. John Humber. With Eileen April Boylan, Ian Nelson, J.B. Ghuman Jr.

The Dam Busters

The movie was made in 1955, just ten years after the end of the Second World War. It's about the development and deployment of the bouncing bombs used against the German hydroelectric dams in the Ruhr Valley (apparently called Operation Chastise ). You would expect that it being made so shortly after the war would mean Rah-Rah patriotism, but not as much as I expected. The opening credits expressed gratitude to all the crew and surviving relatives who helped with the film - and this is one of the places the film falls down: everyone who worked on the process was JUST LOVELY. Not a bad or incompetent person to be seen anywhere.

The movie opens with Barnes Wallis (played by Redgrave) working on the design of the bomb, and the first half of the movie is about that and the politics of getting practical trials for the bomb. I found that fascinating - as were the incredibly simple, but very effective, bomb sight that was designed specifically for the mission, and their method for staying at a very exact height on the approach. But around the half way mark, we switch to the actual bombing mission: we watch the men chatting, waiting for the call. We watch them going to the planes. We watch them board the planes, taxi, take off, fly over the ocean, fly over the land. It got somewhat more interesting with the actual bomb runs, but even that was too long. At the end, we're informed of the success of the runs against the Möhne and Edersee Dams, but the Sorpe Dam - which had previously been mentioned several times - isn't mentioned at all. Apparently because it wasn't damaged, but just forgetting to mention that - weird.

I suspect the historical accuracy of the technology is excellent. And they flew four(?) Avro Lancasters simultaneously in the film, a thing we'll never see again (there's one flying in the entire world in 2015). So from a technical point of view it's a wonderful movie. Dramatically, not so much. Recommended for war buffs, but not for the drama or action.

1955, dir. Michael Anderson. With Richard Todd, Michael Redgrave, Ursula Jeans, Basil Sydney.

Dan in Real Life

Carell plays Dan, a widower who writes an advice column on family matters. At a gathering of his extended family, he falls for his brother's new girlfriend. Not a particularly brilliant premise, but workable with the good cast - Carell is actually a pretty good straight actor, in fact I much prefer it to his humour. But the movie fails because about half the time the director takes the easy route, goes for the cheap laugh. Dan acting like a petulant child and sabotaging his brother over family dinner was a particular low point: not because the humour didn't really work, but because it wasn't believable of the character. I was going to say "no bodily fluids jokes," but in fact there's about a minute and a half spent on masturbation, so it does get that low. On the good side there are moments like Dan telling his brother not to give the new girlfriend his (Dan's) book. You think initially that this is just Dan's belief that it's not that great a book, but over time you realize that it's because the book will be damaging to the new relationship. Carell is good, and the three girls playing his intelligent young daughters are good and work exceptionally well with him. If only they hadn't aimed so low so often.

2007, dir. Peter Hedges. With Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche, Dane Cook, Alison Pill, Brittany Robertson, Marlene Lawston, Dianne Wiest, John Mahoney.

Dances With Wolves

Far too long at four hours, there's a passable movie lurking inside this behemoth. The cinematography was beautiful, doing justice to the prairie setting. Costner was wooden. The leisurely pace has some advantages, but for the most part left me restless. The main story concerns a soldier who has just escaped the chaos of the American Civil War slowly being absorbed into a Plains Indian tribe.

1990. Dir. Kevin Costner. With Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Graham Greene, Rodney A. Grant, Floyd 'Red Crow' Westerman.

Dangerous Liaisons

France, before the revolution. Not exactly the picture of courtly love. Brutal sexual and psychological manipulation. Excellent. Very depressing.

1988. dir. Stephen Frears. With John Malkovitch, Glenn Close, Uma Thurman, Keanu Reeves.

Daredevil

Not as bad as I expected after it received a lot of bad reviews. It varies between Ferrell in the ludicrous role of "Bullseye" (okay, the whole thing is ludicrous, but we're trying to suspend disbelief here and he makes that even more difficult) and the very entertaining playground fight. Not the best of the superhero movies, but not the worst either. The second disc includes a great deal of material about the making of the movie and the comic books which is at least as interesting as the movie itself.

2003. dir. Mark Steven Johnson. With Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, Colin Ferrell.

The Darjeeling Limited

Definitely a Wes Anderson movie, with his great eye for visuals and penchant for family dysfunction. Falls squarely in the middle between the resounding success of "The Royal Tenenbaums" and the disastrous "The Life Aquatic." Same cast as always, very similar themes. Three brothers convene on a train in India, speaking to each other for the first time in a year.

2007, dir. Wes Anderson. With Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Amara Karan, Wallace Wolodarsky, Anjelica Huston.

Dark City

I own this one, and love it. It's weird, dark, and very hard to describe. Think of the paranoia of Philip K. Dick, throw in Proyas's directing style, and you have a story of aliens invading a city and experimenting with people's memories. Bizarre, but very good, and a visual feast.

1998, dir. Alex Proyas. With Rufus Sewell, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland.

The Dark Knight

Murphy (The Scarecrow) is wasted in what amounted to a cameo appearance, to my surprise Gyllenhaal is a poor substitute for Katie Holmes (although she's a better actress), and - if you have to die - every actor should go out acting as well as Ledger did in this one. He was superb. I'm about to bitch at length about the Joker, but none of that is against Ledger: it's all about poor writing and logical fallacies. Sure, I'm willing to suspend disbelief when watching a movie. But the movie should have some degree of internal consistency. And nothing about the Joker is consistent (except his intelligence). We first see him robbing a bank, and then killing all his henchmen. Later, we see him burning a huge heap of money because the things he likes ("gasoline, dynamite") are cheap. We see him recruiting by saying "we need one person" and leaving three people from a competing gang to kill each other so he can take the survivor: this doesn't promote loyalty, nor does it select for intelligence or even competence. And yet he executes multiple incredibly complex plans (interception of Harvey Dent in a very heavily protected police van, break-out from jail, Dent/Dawes and the explosives, hospital break-in and destruction, ferry hi-jacking) flawlessly. I don't question his intelligence: Ledger makes him an extremely convincing insane genius. But he has no talent at all for working with people, and his plans are staggeringly convoluted and require dozens of extremely good employees to set up and execute. In fact, this is very similar to the problem the Joker character of the first movie (Nicholson) suffered from. The first half of this movie was good, but the whole Joker thing really got on my nerves through the second half.

2008, dir. Christopher Nolan. With Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Monique Gabriela Curnen, Ron Dean, Cillian Murphy, Chin Han, Nestor Carbonell, Eric Roberts, Ritchie Coster, Anthony Michael Hall.

The Dark Knight Rises

Nolan directs the third, and evidently final, Batman movie. At least in this series. They left the door open for a sequel - way the hell open, and straining. But I think Nolan is done.

Batman has disappeared for eight years, and simultaneously (no one noticed?) Bruce Wayne has become a total recluse. Batman took the blame for the death of Harvey Dent (as shown at the end of "The Dark Knight"). And apparently Wayne/Batman has no cartilage in his knees ... but that's okay, because he has military-grade prosthetics to help him. Bruce Wayne is drawn out of his house by the cat burglar Selina Kyle ("Catwoman" in canon, but I don't think she's ever called that in the movie - played by Hathaway), who steals a pearl necklace from him ... and a copy of his fingerprints.

This is followed by the arrival of Bane in Gotham. Bane controls an incredibly dedicated and well trained militia, and is revealed to have had connections to Ra's al Ghul and the League of Shadows (we met them in the first movie).

The movie is long and tiring, and - while not so bad as the second movie (excepting, as always, Heath Ledger's performance) - just gritty and kind of uninteresting. I found the ending to be particularly improbable and hard to swallow - not to mention that someone named "Robin" finds himself in possession of the batcave at the end of the movie. I quite liked "Batman Begins," but it was all downhill from there ...

2012, dir. Christopher Nolan. With Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman.

Dracula Untold

Transylvania is ruled by the charming and likeable Vlad the Impaler (Evans) who is a Good King(TM) and has a wife he worships and a son he adores. Yup, that's how they're playing it. Vlad is Transylvanian, but he was a child tribute to the Turks, a former Turkish child soldier (very good at it too). And now the Turks are demanding another tribute of young boys as soldiers, including Vlad's son. His wife sobs and cries and reminds him he promised her this would never happen ... so he kills the emissaries and brings the wrath of the entire Turkish empire down on his small country.

In an attempt to defend his family (and, incidentally, his country), he goes to that cave on Broke Tooth Mountain, where he makes the deal and becomes a vampire. Temporarily, he hopes.

Warning, Spoilers: This is meant to be a great tragedy, at least the ending sort of essays that. He slaughters tens of thousands of Turks, but for some reason their leader uses a sneaky flanking maneuver that should have been totally unnecessary because Transylvania had no army - at all. And the Turks did this not even knowing what Vlad had become - why? Halfway through the movie the Turks kill everyone in his entire country, but this is as nothing to the deaths of two or three people near him. It doesn't play well.

Finally, they wrap up with a noble and tragic ending ... which they proceed to completely sabotage and de-fang (if you'll pardon the unintentional pun) by a questionable technicality and extending the movie to the modern day to leave room for the inevitable (they hope) sequel.

The movie is supported by some brilliantly applied special effects work that's wonderful to see, but the plot is so bad it's not worth watching at all.

2014, dir. Gary Shore. With Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, Art Parkinson, Charles Dance.

Dark Shadows (2012)

A re-imagining of a gothic 1960s cult TV series, now a movie. Depp plays Barnabas Collins, the head of a wealthy family on the New England coast in 1760. Cursed to be a vampire and buried alive, he's accidentally released in 1972 and returns to the Collins family home to help revive their fishing empire. An already exceedingly quirky family is made quirkier by the inclusion of a vampire. But Barnabas also has to contend with the 200 year old (and still gorgeous) witch who created him (Green) who isn't much friendlier than she was 200 years prior.

The biggest problem is that the movie doesn't know if it's horror, comedy, or even horror-comedy. Aside from a bit of a blood-bath when Barnabas is released, the movie mostly glosses over the horror aspects. And the comedy isn't even particularly funny. Even the usually brilliant Depp can't sell this product.

2012, dir. Tim Burton. With Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Bella Heathcote, Helena Bonham Carter, Jackie Earle Haley, Jonny Lee Miller, Chloë Grace Moretz.

Dave Chappelle's Block Party

The critics loved this one, so I decided to have a look at it. I didn't find it funny enough to cover my disinterest in the music, but Wyclef Jean made it worth my time at the end: "Remember, the white man don't owe you shit. You're responsible for yourself. They got libraries in the ghetto. You need to go in there and educate yourselves. I couldn't speak English when I came to this country, but I went to the library and read. That's what you got to do." And he goes on to say "and if they don't have libraries, talk to your politician, talk to your mayor, make it happen." I think I like him.

2006, dir. Michel Gondry. With Dave Chappelle.

Day Watch

"Day Watch" is the sequel to Bekmambetov's earlier "Night Watch," about the grand fight between good and evil supernatural people in the middle of modern day Moscow. Our protagonist is Anton, who's on the side of light but isn't very powerful and pretty much nothing he does turns out well. At the end of the last movie (SPOILER ALERT FOR THAT MOVIE, STOP NOW), his 12 year old(?) son Yegor - who is to be the most powerful supernatural being in the world - turned to the dark side. So now Anton is caught between the dark actions of his son and the trainee he's with who's bent on stopping the son Anton won't publicly acknowledge. His trainee, Svetlana, is also rather inconveniently the love of his life.

The overall story arc becomes evident over time, but I suspect that even if I'd rewatched "Night Watch" recently, this movie would still have been incomprehensible in many of its small details. Bekmambetov just doesn't fill in a lot of details that we need (despite the almost 2.5 hour run-time). Despite the incomprehensibility, the movie is kind of mesmerising with impressive visuals and all kinds of stuff that's interesting simply because it's clearly not-from-around-here.

2006, dir. Timur Bekmambetov. With Konstantin Khabensky, Vladimir Menshov, Mariya Poroshina, Viktor Verzhbitsky, Valeri Zolotukhin, Aleksei Chadov, Galina Tyunina.

Daybreakers

In 2019 most of the human race have been turned into vampires by a plague. A few real humans remain on the run, and many more are held in pens, unconscious, and farmed for their blood. Edward Dalton (Hawke), the head haematologist at Bromley Marks (the lead supplier of blood to the U.S.) is searching for a blood substitute, and bothered by his conscience. The rest of the world is bothered by the high rate of mutation brought on in the population by the blood shortage. Dalton has a run-in with some free humans that he saves - and they take an interest in him because of his profession.

The society resulting from rampant vampirism is reasonably well set up. All the standard vampire limitations seem to apply: stake them or expose them to sunlight and they die (explosively). It was well done and mildly enjoyable right up until the end when they wallop you with an excellent twist that really makes you need to re-think how things are going to play out. Fun.

2010, dir. Michael and Peter Spierig. With Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Claudia Karvan, Sam Neill, Michael Dorman, Isabel Lucas.

A Day at the Races

Bringing the Marx Brothers special brand of mayhem ("anarchic," the critics like to call it) to a sanitarium and race track. Groucho plays a horse doctor mistaken for a human doctor, while Harpo plays a jockey and Chico plays a ... well, driver, con man, and gambler. I fast-forwarded through the three big musical numbers, but found myself laughing quite a bit through the rest of the movie.

1937, dir. Sam Wood. With Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Margaret Dumont, Allan Jones, Maureen O'Sullivan.

Day for Night (orig. "La Nuit Américaine")

Commonly referred to as "Truffaut's love letter to cinema," this is a movie about making a movie - and what a royal pain in the ass it can be. Enjoyable, but cluttered with too many characters, and an excess of scenery (the side effect of having movie scenery and equipment showing in a movie). I do love the original title.

1973, dir. François Truffaut. With Jacqueline Bisset, Valentina Cortese, Dani, Alexandra Stewart, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Jean Champion, Jean-Pierre Léaud, François Truffaut, Nike Arrighi, Nathalie Baye, David Markham.

The Day of the Jackal

Far superior to "The Jackal," the 1997 remake. The plot revolves around an assassination attempt on Charles de Gaulle. Fox is cold and systematic as the assassin. When Fox isn't on screen the movie is about the pursuit of this completely unknown assassin - hard to find when he has no name, no face, and not even a reputation, but they're pretty sure he's very good at what he does.

1973, dir. Fred Zinnemann. With Edward Fox, Michel Auclair, Denis Carey, Derek Jacobi.

The Day of the Triffids (1981)

If you can forgive the appalling special effects (it's the BBC), the unbelievably lurid 60s-esque intro, and the poor music, this is a very good mini-series. It sticks close to Wyndham's excellent original story, and the human drama is well played. So ignore the Triffids and watch the people.

Bill Masen (Duttine) wakes up in the hospital. He knows why he's there - he works with Triffids, a very nasty kind of plant that's temporarily (he hopes) blinded him - but not why he's been left entirely alone and the city is almost completely silent. Eventually he takes the bandages off his eyes himself and finds that almost the entire world was blinded by the beautiful meteor shower the night before.

This script happily jettisons most of Wyndham's unconscious 50s sexism, but kept every other element of the story - a good thing, because it's a damn good story. Coker (played by Colbourne) remains one of my favourite characters.

1981, dir. Ken Hannam. With John Duttine, Emma Relph, Maurice Colbourne.

The Day of the Triffids (2009)

Another BBC TV series based on the Wyndham book. The technical aspects were better: the CGI (including the Triffids themselves) and the music. And they had some interesting ideas about how to update the Triffids and why people kept them around (this is set in the modern day). But they heavily modified the plot, and chose a couple of very poor actors for the leads. Scott as Bill Masen could teach Keanu Reeves a thing or two about wooden. He had two expressions: a scowl and ... another scowl. Izzard is actually pretty good in his unrewarding role as the flat-out evil Torrence (set up from the beginning as the big evil of the series, and stripped of the motivations of his third act appearance in the Wyndham original). Cox is okay, and Priestley is wasted (not a favourite actor of mine, but looked like he could have helped here) in the very reduced and badly modified role of Coker.

The BBC usually goes for good acting and poor special effects on a thin budget. It looks like they spent more here to get better special effects, but the money they spent on big name actors has gone seriously astray. And the unnecessary plot rewrite significantly damaged a previously excellent story. Put up with the awful credits and special effects of the 1981 version: it's otherwise a far superior product.

2009, dir. Nick Copus. With Dougray Scott, Joely Richardson, Eddie Izzard, Jason Priestley, Brian Cox, Jenn Murray, Julia Joyce.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

One of the "classics" of science fiction. A spaceship lands in Washington, and the visitor is shot by a nervous soldier within thirty seconds of descending from the ship. The visitor turns out to be essentially human, and after healing (incredibly quickly) he slips off to try to meet real humans. There are a bunch of bizarre assumptions (he understands humans so well that he can blend in fine at a boarding house - and yet he doesn't know about money or the value of diamonds), but that's probably inevitable. While it shows some of the prejudices of the period, it also holds up remarkably well. (This is where the name "Klaatu" originated - he's the visitor - and his robot is called "Gort.")

1951, dir. Robert Wise. With Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Sam Jaffe.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)

If your main character is an alien who has no emotions as we know them, who should you choose to play the alien? Reeves, of course. I like him and think he's an acceptable and often charming actor, but I still think the choice is kind of inspired. As was the rather strange choice of Cleese as a Nobel-winning physicist: he pulled it off.

But they almost immediately commit a staggering logical gaff: if you find a self-powered incoming extraterrestrial object hurtling toward Manhattan at a speed that's going to create a massive crater, you don't rush all your carefully collected specialists to ground zero just before the expected impact. Hello? There are other logical problems, but they all pale by comparison to this one.

For those who've seen the original, this is a fascinating exercise in what they've updated: they've updated a lot, and someone gave it a lot of thought, and got most of it right. I was impressed. But if you haven't seen the original I don't think this will be as good or as enjoyable. Can't say for sure as I've seen the first one: it's definitely dated, but it's still good. I was pleased to find that this one is almost as thought-provoking (although the kid is flat-out annoying).

2008, dir. Scott Derrickson. Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates, Jaden Smith, John Cleese, Jon Hamm, James Hong.

Dead Again

Branagh's second directing gig after "Henry V." Branagh plays Mike Church, an private investigator who finds himself in possession of a woman (Thompson) without memories or a voice. After putting an ad in the paper to look for her family or friends, he gets instead Franklyn (Jacobi), a hypnotist who helps her regain her voice and then, through further sessions, some of her past ... lives. In fact, a large chunk of the movie is played out in the 1940s, in black and white, with a socialite couple (also Thompson and Branagh) whose history ended with the murder-by-scissors of the wife (apparently by the husband) and the execution of the husband. Williams plays a disgraced psychologist in a relatively small part that remains possibly my favourite of anything he's ever done.

Branagh's directing here fluctuates wildly between pretty good and wildly over-the-top. He knows he's doing it, he's doing it on purpose ... but it's still way over the top. I think he's reaching for the kind of visuals Hitchcock occasionally used, but with somewhat less success than Hitchcock. Nevertheless, it's an entertaining and enjoyable movie.

1991, dir. Kenneth Branagh. With Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Derek Jacobi, Andy García, Hanna Schygulla, Wayne Knight, Robin Williams.

Deadpool

Deadpool has long held a special place in the Marvel comics universe - an obnoxious, motor-mouthed anti-hero who frequently breaks the fourth wall by talking directly to the audience. Reynolds played the part both in the appalling "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and in this movie - although his origin story and final appearance are significantly different between the two. I think Marvel would prefer we forget about "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," even though Hugh Jackman is still playing the role of Wolverine. So let's consider this an entirely separate movie.

Reynolds plays Wade Williams, a former special forces operative and current mercenary in New York City. While he talks a lot and is unpleasant to be around, he's shown doing good things for little or no money. He finds a soulmate in the equally obnoxious prostitute Vanessa Carlysle (Baccarin), but a year into their romance he's diagnosed with terminal cancer. This eventually leads to his entering the "Weapon X" program (I don't think it was ever named in the movie) where he's cured and given superpowers ... but the price is very high. Which sets him on the path of vengeance.

The movie starts around the end of my plot summary with an amusing set of credits. It then proceeds into a fight on a freeway that had me laughing so hard I actually paused the movie because I was going to miss the next thirty seconds of the film. Reynolds, who desperately wanted to play Deadpool in a movie of his own, has been handed a great script and is having the time of his life delivering the funniest material ever given to a guy in a superhero costume. The movie eventually backs up to fill in the details I've mentioned, all narrated by Deadpool.

My biggest single problem with the film was T.J. Miller as Weasel: he's supposed to be Wade's best friend, but all he ever does is drink with him and insult him (I understand that this may be their dynamic - but still). This is supposed to be the "comedy relief" (it says so on the case), but I didn't find him very funny and he sure as hell wasn't a friend. On the other hand, Baccarin was an inspired choice as Wade's love interest: she's beautiful, but also sells her foul-mouthed behaviour and attachment to Wade. The fights are good not just as "superhero" fights, but also as platforms for Deadpool's jokes, and the people who scripted the fights clearly revelled in the opportunity to do things that they couldn't put in other more mainstream Marvel movies (Angel's brutal and hilarious crotch shot on Colossus comes to mind, but is far from the only thing).

Has a distinctive style and is perhaps not for everyone, but most fans of superhero movies will enjoy this incredibly irreverent and hilarious ride.

2016, dir. Tim Miller. With Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T.J. Miller, Gina Carano, Leslie Uggams, Brianna Hildebrand.

Dear Frankie

Frankie frequently writes to his father who is in the merchant marine since the separation of his parents when he was very young. We soon find out that his letters end up in his mother's (Mortimer) hands, and she replies to them. Which works well enough until the ship Frankie thinks his father is on pulls into port. Rather than give up on the ruse, Mortimer hires someone (Butler) to play the part of the father, with substantial side effects. Charming, almost sickly sweet, with a very open ending. Mortimer and Butler are good.

2004, dir. Shona Auerbach. With Emily Mortimer, Jack McElhone, Gerard Butler.

Death In Paradise, Season 1

British Detective Inspector Richard Poole (Ben Miller) is sent to the small (fictional) Caribbean island of Saint Marie, where he makes it eminently clear that he doesn't want to remain. But after solving the murder he was sent for in the first episode, he finds out he's going to be staying anyway. He's a prat - despised by his own department in the U.K. and apparently both disinterested in and unable to make friends. But he's an intelligent man and a surprisingly good detective.

I find online that the series has been quite successful, with Season 6 currently going forward. I find it's also accused of being formulaic - and this is correct, as Poole collects the seemingly unrelated facts, then at the 37 minute mark of the 57 minute run-time has an epiphany that he doesn't share with his colleagues or us, and at 50 minutes we have a gathering of the suspects and the big reveal.

His co-workers/employees Dwayne (Danny John-Jules) and Fidel (Gary Carr) are well written and a pleasure to watch. I have mixed feelings about his partner Camille Bordey (Sara Martins), who, while a well fleshed-out character, seems to primarily be a foil to follow him around to point out what an ass he is and turn his social awkwardness into comedy. She's intelligent and notices stuff, but never appears to be instrumental in solving stuff - it would be good if they'd give her the occasional Poole-free success.

Enjoyable, but too much the same and too "easy." I don't think I'll be tracking down the other seasons.

2011. With Ben Miller, Sara Martins, Danny John-Jules, Gary Carr, Selwyn Patterson, Élizabeth Bourgine.

Death In Paradise, Season 2 and 3

I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I did follow up season 1 with series 2 and 3: it's meaningless fluff, easy to watch, no thought required. Season 3 introduces a new detective, Humphrey Goodman (Kris Marshall). On the surface this is a good thing: he's a very different character than D.I. Poole. He's staggeringly clumsy, he's immensely better dealing with people, and he likes being in the Caribbean. But his methods of solving cases are identical, as are the structure of the each episode. He always solves the case: the bad guy is caught and there's no doubt about who did it.

The show's popularity has only grown as time has passed: as I write in mid-2017, the sixth series has aired to better ratings than any previous one, and the show has been renewed for a seventh series.

2011. With Ben Miller, Kris Marshall, Sara Martins, Danny John-Jules, Gary Carr, Selwyn Patterson, Élizabeth Bourgine.

Death of a Superhero

Brodie-Sangster plays Donald, a 15 year old with terminal cancer. He's angry and pushes his parents away. They keep sending him to psychologists, while he spends his time drawing, and imagining himself the superhero he spends his time drawing - his superhero is frequently close to death. Serkis plays the one psychologist who actually kind of gets through to Donald, and Loftus is the girl he meets.

Based on a novel of the same name by New Zealand author Anthony McCarten, who also did the screenplay. Serkis is good, Sangster is okay. Not surprisingly, it's kind of depressing.

2011, dir. Ian FitzGibbon. With Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Andy Serkis, Aisling Loftus, Sharon Horgan, Michael McElhatton.

Death Race

A remake - in spirit only - of Roger Corman's 1975 trash classic "Death Race 2000." Corman was on-board as a producer. Anderson brings us the story of an ex-race car driver (Statham) framed for murder by a prison warden so she can bring him in to drive in the televised and extremely lucrative "Death Race" inside her prison. This is of course just an excuse for a revenge movie with lots of cars, crashes, explosions, and (very) gory deaths. And don't forget the babes - Martinez is gorgeous. Pure trash, and highly enjoyable if you like that kind of thing.

In the past I've mostly encountered McShane as an animated bad guy - yes, I know he's done lots of other stuff, but that's what I've seen of him. It was a treat to find out he's a good actor and makes an appealing good guy.

The BluRay release also comes with an extended cut: it's been a while since I saw the theatrical release so I'm not sure what's been added in, but I didn't get the sense that it helped much. It didn't make it significantly worse (as many do), but I think the Theatrical Cut is the better choice.

2008, dir. Paul W.S. Anderson. With Jason Statham, Joan Allen, Tyrese Gibson, Natalie Martinez, Ian McShane, Max Ryan, Jason Clarke, Frederick Koehler, Robert LaSardo, Robin Shou, Jacob Vargas.

Death Trap

A well-known playwright (Caine) riding a string of flops is approached by one of his young students (Reeve) to review the student's play. He decides to invite the student over and murder him to get the play for himself. This is followed by a string of reversals and betrayals to stagger the mind. It's meant to be ludicrously funny, but to me it was just ludicrous. But it's odd to see Reeve so long ago: I've thought of him for so long as a wheelchair-borne quadriplegic that I'd forgotten he was a good looking actor when he was younger.

1982, dir. Sidney Lumet. With Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, Dyan Cannon, Irene Worth.

Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay

Ricky Jay is a well known magician (if you don't know the name, you'd recognize his face), and he's an intelligent and generally interesting man - although a bit of an ass. Somehow they've managed to make a remarkably boring movie about him - in part by taking a lifetime of magical practice and repertoire and reducing it to less than 15 minutes of footage in the movie. Instead, we have Jay talking about his mentors, magicians long gone (Cardini, Dai Vernon, Charlie Miller). Certainly, he's not telling us their secrets: he's a magician, they don't do that. So he talks about what it was like to be around them. And this kind of story telling isn't really his forte as a performer. I would much rather have seen him perform for an hour and a half.

2012, dir. Molly Bernstein. With Ricky Jay, David Mamet.

The Decoy Bride

This got very poor reviews, but I watched it because I like Tennant and I love Macdonald, who is an incredibly talented actress. The premise sees author James Arber (Tennant) about to be married to the very famous movie star Lara Tyler (Eve), but in a quest to avoid paparazzi and confuse the press, Katie Nic Aodh (Macdonald) is pressed into service as a "decoy bride." In time-honoured tradition, James and Katie get off on the wrong foot and hate each other but eventually realize that they like each other - except of course that he's to marry someone else.

The reviewers aren't wrong: this is poorly written and sloppily constructed. They spend far too much time humiliating their characters and expecting it to raise laughs - but occasionally they hand Macdonald a good line and she puts it right out of the park. I hope she does more comedy.

2011, dir. Sheree Folkson. With Kelly Macdonald, David Tennant, Alice Eve, Michael Urie, Sally Phillips, Maureen Beattie, Federico Castelluccio, James Fleet, Dylan Moran.

Defendor

Harrelson plays Arthur Poppington, aka "Defendor." Arthur isn't very bright, but is determined - as Defendor - to take out "Captain Industry." So he dresses up as Defendor and goes out nights to protect the world from evil. We see most of this in flashback, with Arthur being interviewed by Dr. Park (Oh) in a psychological evaluation.

The film has huge banners all over it proclaiming its Canadian-ness and its various Canadian funding, but three out of five of the main characters are American (Oh and Koteas being the Canadians) and nothing in the content suggests that the city is Canadian (nor is it indicated that it's American).

Harrelson is good, and the script remains fairly true to itself right through to the end (although things resolve a little too positively to feel real) - which, not surprisingly, isn't very happy. The movie is reasonably good, but I didn't particularly enjoy it.

2009, dir. Peter Stebbings. With Woody Harrelson, Kat Dennings, Elias Koteas, Sandra Oh, Michael Kelly.

Definitely, Maybe

After a sex-ed class at school, Maya Hayes (Breslin) demands her father (Reynolds) tell her the story of how he met her mother (who he is about to divorce). He turns it into a mystery, changing the names of the three main women in his life as he tells her his personal history across 16 years. Most of it we see as it happened, but there are occasional interruptions by Maya. It's a comedy, it's ... sort of romantic. Superbly drawn characters despite having a mid-sized ensemble cast, very funny and quite charming. There's chemistry between all the players. I also hadn't the slightest idea where it was going and found the ending satisfying without being obvious - a big surprise for something that's nominally a romantic comedy. An excellent movie, highly recommended.

2008, dir. Adam Brooks. With Ryan Reynolds, Abigail Breslin, Elizabeth Banks, Isla Fisher, Rachel Weisz, Derek Luke, Liane Balaban, Kevin Kline.

Déjà Vu

Washington plays a cop (actually a federal agent, but the difference isn't particularly important to the movie despite their making much of it) investigating a horrific bombing on a New Orleans ferry that kills over 500 people. He makes a connection on a young woman apparently killed in the explosion whose corpse showed up too early, and because of this detective work is drawn farther into the investigation. This includes viewing the scene four and a half days ago through what he is initially told is an assemblage of satellite data but which turns out to be a device that sees into the past, and you just know time travel will be involved.

MINOR SPOILER: Unfortunately the apartment with the blood-soaked bandages couldn't exist in the time line in which Washington started to investigate. Time travel, particularly when the characters have an opportunity to change things, present an immense technical ("could it happen?") challenge for writers. And they made a huge logical error: having carefully set you up to understand the parameters and how the time travel might work, they choose both options from their own either/or scenario. The first thirty minutes is a surprisingly decent suspense thriller, but it gets sillier and poorer once the SF elements are introduced - the "I can see the past" car chase is particularly stupid.

2006, dir. Tony Scott. With Denzel Washington, Paula Patton, Val Kilmer, James Caviezel, Adam Goldberg, Elden Hensen.

Delicatessen

"Surreal" doesn't begin to cover it. In a post-apocalyptic world, a surviving delicatessen serves up the occasional passer-by to the local residents. I borrowed this because it was directed by Jeunet, and it certainly has many of the touches he shows in later films including a heavy inclination to sepia toning and absurdity by the truck load. Well-loved by both the critics and the fans, I guess I just didn't "get it."

1991, dir. Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Jeunet. With Dominique Pinon, Marie-Laure Dougnac, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Ticky Holgado, Anne-Marie Pisani, Silvie Laguna.

Desert Heat

This is a bad martial arts movie (direct to video apparently), but saying "it's just a poor remake of 'Yojimbo'" misses out on some wonderfully sick and morbid humour. There have been many parodies of Mr. Miyagi (the mentor in the original "The Karate Kid"), but who better to parody the role than Pat Morita? Under the direction of the same man who directed him the first time? (Although Avildsen was so embarrassed by this one he's credited as "Danny Mulroon.") The movie's greatest weakness is its attempts to be a serious martial arts film. That's just boring (and the fighting isn't even good). But the twisted humour is marvelous.

1999, dir. John Avildsen (credited as "Danny Mulroon"). With Jean-Claude Van Damme, Pat Morita, Danny Trejo.

Design for Living

A Noel Coward play, directed by Lubitsch in 1933 - pre-Hayes Code. This is an important point: the play is about two men and a woman all living together while both men are in love with the woman and she loves them. Cooper and March play a couple of starving artists who meet a lovely woman (Hopkins) on a train. Both of them fall for her, shenanigans ensue. And then she moves in with them, to inspire them in their respective arts ... with a "Gentleman's Agreement" that there will be no sex (it was stated in almost exactly those terms, something that couldn't possibly have happened post-Hayes). It's all utterly absurd and I wasn't overly fond of Hopkins' character, but it was also charming and hilarious. Recommended - if you can track it down. (Since Criterion has done one of their clean-up jobs on it it shouldn't be too difficult.)

1933, dir. Ernst Lubitsch. With Gary Cooper, Frederic March, Miriam Hopkins, Edward Everett Horton, Franklin Pangborn.

Despicable Me

Gru (voiced by Carrell) is a supervillain - but he's also getting a bit old and being supplanted by the younger Vector (Segel). Having failed to break into Vector's fortress, he discovers that Vector's weakness is cookies, so he adopts three children who sell cookies to sneak his robotic minions into Vector's place. The bonding process that follows is unbelievable, ludicrous, occasionally sickly sweet, and very, very entertaining. Gru's army of minions (bright yellow, pill-shaped, short, indestructible, semi-humanoid ...) are also very funny.

2010, dir. Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud. With Steve Carrell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Julie Andrews, Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Elsie Fisher, Pierre Coffin.

Despicable Me 2

Sees our hero and father figure Gru (Carrell) teamed up with the Anti-Villain League - specifically his partner Lucy Wilde (Wiig, hilarious) - to save the world from other villains ... now that he's a dad and not a villain anymore.

Offers plenty of laughs, although the story is somewhat more slapstick than the last one (which already relied heavily on slapstick). Parents will find the cloying cuteness of the daughters overplayed in this one - although they'll also recognize Gru's overbearing concern about his daughters developing an interest in boys. The best scenes are the ones with Wiig in them: she's given many of the best lines and delivers them very well indeed. Once again, the closing credits offer some of the funniest bits (even without the 3D it was intended to play to).

2013, dir. Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud. With the voices of Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Miranda Cosgrove, Elsie Fisher, Dana Gaier, Russell Brand, Ken Jeong, Steve Coogan.

Destry Rides Again

I've never seen Stewart looking so young (or so thin and tall). And the movie has Dietrich too! Stewart plays Destry, a young new Deputy in a violent town who doesn't believe in guns. Everyone finds this hilarious except for the sheriff (Winninger) who had hoped Destry would be a gunslinger like his father. Destry falls for the beautiful lounge singer (Dietrich) who works for the unscrupulous Kent (Donlevy).

The movie shows its age and Vaudeville origins with the staged (literally) singing numbers with Dietrich in a saloon. Stewart is perhaps a bit better than usual: he's playing his usual character, but hasn't worn it in quite as much as he had later. I couldn't really see the appeal of Dietrich. Winninger was good - both funny as the former town drunk and also poignant when he needed to be. Overall fairly funny.

1939, dir. George Marshall. With James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich, Mischa Auer, Charles Winninger, Brian Donlevy.

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

Lau plays Detective Dee, jailed for eight years for treachery against the crown when he opposed the soon-to-be Empress' becoming protector of the throne. He's summoned to see her when a couple of men spontaneously combust on the eve of her ascendancy as Empress, and then sent out to investigate with the assistance of Jing'er (Li) and Pei (Deng). The first is unreliable and treacherous, and the second is a complete asshole ... who at least wants to get to the truth.

As befits a Wu Xia picture, the leads are all capable of super-human feats. Unfortunately, the fight scenes (under the care of Sammo Hung) kind of suck, so don't see it for that. The mystery is complex and mildly interesting, but I was bothered by the spontaneous combustion relying on a non-existent animal (it might have been better if it was caused by religious superstition, as was suggested at one point). I rather liked the Pei Donglai character - as I mentioned, not a nice guy but determined to seek the truth, not a common type of character in the Chinese movies I've seen. But overall it was a pretty poor and commonplace (if high budget) martial arts flick.

2010, dir. Tsui Hark. With Andy Lau, Bingbing Li, Chao Deng, Carina Lau, Tony Leung Ka Fai.

The Devil Wears Prada

Hathaway plays a recent grad who wants to be a journalist working for the insanely demanding Streep at a fashion magazine in New York. The movie is essentially about selling your soul - something I might have guessed from the title, but you never know with a comedy. As her personal life is devastated, Hathaway starts dressing more and more stylishly and occasionally actually receiving acknowledgement from her boss. Hathaway is charming (except for the selling her soul part), Streep is miserable, Blunt is unpleasant, Tucci plays his normal role (he plays it well, also as usual ... but isn't it time for him to move on?) and Grenier is around just enough to play the boyfriend, the reminder of what she's losing. It wasn't nearly as humiliating or embarrassing as it could have been and there's definitely some humour, but this isn't a particularly good movie.

2006, dir. David Frankel. With Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Stanley Tucci, Adrien Grenier, Simon Baker, Tracie Thoms.

The Devil's Disciple (1959)

I've seen the 1987 BBC production of "The Devil's Disciple" several times, and read the Shaw play a couple times - this is probably my favourite Shaw. Unfortunately, whatever this movie is, it isn't much of Shaw. There were bits of his plot and some of his words, but Reverend Anderson is now an on-screen action hero instead of an off-stage one, and huge chunks of nuance and character have been left on the cutting room floor by the massive changes to plot and dialogue. Like Shakespeare, what Shaw did best was words, dialogue. Unlike Shakespeare, whose non-historical plots often stumbled, Shaw was reasonably good at plot. Getting a Hollywood screenwriter to change them both was an incredibly poor idea. I don't require a word-for-word production, but they've changed so much here, and so much for the worse, that I can't recommend this to anyone.

Lancaster (whose acting I've never liked) plays the Reverend Anthony Anderson, Douglas plays Richard Dudgeon, and Olivier plays General John "Gentlemanly Johnny" Burgoyne.

1959, dir. Guy Hamilton. With Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Janette Scott, Harry Andrews, Basil Sydney.

The Devil's Disciple (1987)

Written by George Bernard Shaw, a BBC TV production. The filming is ... iffy. But the performances are good, and the script pretty much puts away any further doubts. My favourite Shaw play.

In 1777 America, Richard Dudgeon (Gwilym) returns home, disowned son of a religious and bitter mother, to find himself owner of the house on his father's death. Just in time to face the occupation of the British army. Dudgeon claims to be "the Devil's Disciple," although he may just be doing it because he's infuriated by the religious hypocrisy around him. The local preacher (Stewart) has a shot at befriending him. I enjoyed Shaw's script immensely (and this production is Shaw, word-for-word - there's some virtue in that).

1987, dir. David Jones. With Mike Gwilym, Patrick Stewart, Ian Richardson, Elizabeth Spriggs, Susan Wooldridge.

Diabolique

I've rarely seen a movie so over-the-top that it's boring, but this definitely manages. Stone plays cold and obnoxious, and doesn't manage to even do that particularly well. Adjani does weepy and weak. Palminteri tries for ferocious sexual animal or some such and just looks silly. The story has the wife and mistress of a brutal teacher teaming up to murder him, but strange things happen after the murder. Even if you can get past the bad acting, there are other major issues: who took the pictures of the wife and mistress moving the crate? All the major parties were occupied. And the ending, in which pretty much everyone dies and is revived a couple times, is beyond ludicrous.

1996, dir. Jeremiah S. Chechik. With Isabelle Adjani, Sharon Stone, Chazz Palminteri, Kathy Bates, Donal Logue.

Dial M for Murder

Hitchcock adaptation of a Frederick Knott play (Knott did the screenplay too). A beautiful young wife (Kelly) is having an affair, and her husband (Milland), while pretending not to know, plots to have her killed so he can keep her money. He's slippery and clever, but things don't quite go as planned. Clever, witty, and well-acted. Not great, but definitely enjoyable and worth seeing.

1954, dir. Alfred Hitchcock. With Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings, John Williams, Anthony Dawson.

Dick Tracy

Beatty's take on the classic comic. Painted in broad strokes in every respect, I found it more annoying than successful. The dialogue is broad, the characters are broadly drawn, all the bad guys wear tons of facial prosthetics, and the colours blaze off the screen. "Sin City" took a lot of clues from this one: use the facial modifications and colours in judicious quantities as highlights, not continuous overload. Oddly, I thought Madonna provided one of the better acting jobs in this sloppy mess (the list of people who embarrassed themselves in this one is long). It's an interesting movie and worth seeing, but it's not very good.

1990, dir. Warren Beatty. With Warren Beatty, Glenne Headly, Charlie Korsmo, Madonna, Mandy Patinkin, Paul Sorvino, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Dick Van Dyke.

Die Hard

Of course I'd seen "Die Hard" before I watched it in 2017. I was never a huge fan. But another viewing shows me it's got a lot of good action and some very funny jokes. Ironically, it's become quite famous as a Christmas movie (as it's set near Christmas, with our hero John McClane coming to L.A. to see his family). I'm not sure it's ready to supplant "It's a Wonderful Life" or even "A Christmas Story," I suppose because it has more violence than cheer. But there's a certain segment of the population that considers it a masterpiece, and it is set at Christmas ...

I was particularly entertained to see Al Leong as one of the evil henchmen: he was in half the Eighties action flicks (memorably and appropriately "Big Trouble in Little China"), and he always rocked the Fu Manchu mustache and the long hair while going bald thing, hardly ever spoke and usually died a horrible death. (Look him up on Google Images - you'll remember him if you saw those Eighties movies.)

1988, dir. John McTiernan. With Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Alexander Godunov, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson, Paul Gleason, De'voreaux White, William Atherton, Clarence Gilyard, Hart Bochner, James Shigeta, Al Leong.

Die Hard 2

Another Christmas finds John McClane (Bruce Willis) waiting at an airport for his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedalia) to land in Washington, D.C. John spots a suspicious package and follows the bearer into the luggage transfer area where he promptly gets into a gunfight. He is again rebuffed by the local police, and again goes rogue. His wife's life is - again - in danger, and he - again - fights ferociously and gets hurt and keeps fighting. Except this time it's not as likeable or funny.

Further sequels followed, and I think I've seen all of them too ... but they're all worse than this one, which is worse than the original.

1990, dir. Renny Harlin. With Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, William Sadler, Art Evans, William Atherton, Franco Nero, Dennis Franz, Fred Thompson, John Amos, Reginald VelJohnson.

Le Dîner de Cons

Pierre (Lhermitte) and his friends have a dinner each week, and each one of them brings the stupidest guest they can find (prize to be awarded later - no, really, they have a prize). Pierre has found a winner, a man who builds incredibly complex models from matchsticks, carrying pictures of them and going on at great length (Villeret, who played the same role on stage). But Pierre's back has gone out and his wife is upset with the game. When his new dinner guest comes over, he loses his wife to the hijinks that ensue and every attempt to fix things make matters worse, all of which is hilariously funny ... if you like humiliation. But the only part I enjoyed was Huster as the ex-husband laughing at Lhermitte as he suffers through payback. A thoroughly mean-spirited movie about a bunch of obnoxious people.

1998, dir. Francis Veber. With Thierry Lhermitte, Jacques Villeret, Francis Huster.

Dinner at Eight

A screen version of a 1932 play of the same name, which might as well have been set on a stage for all the set changes we had. About a bunch of unpleasant people doing unpleasant things to each other - I can't claim they're all nasty, as a couple of them do good things. But this is the exception, not the rule.

Millicent Jordan (Burke) is terribly excited to have invited Lord and Lady Fencliffe to dinner, as her husband's shipping business struggles. Their daughter is having an affair they don't know about with an aging and alcoholic actor, and the other invitees include a former movie star the husband had a crush on 30 years prior, a very crass possible business partner and his equally crass wife, and the philandering local doctor and his wife.

Wikipedia's absolute first statement about the movie was "Pre-Code," and in hindsight that's blatantly obvious: the drunken, thrice-married, not-yet-divorced 47 year old actor carrying on with a 20 year old girl PLUS a married doctor having multiple affairs his wife knows about ... dead give-away, if only I'd been thinking. As interesting as that is, the characters are unappealing and the acting is too uneven to raise this to any significant level of interest.

1933, dir. George Cukor. With Marie Dressler, John Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, Lionel Barrymore, Lee Tracy, Edmund Lowe, Billie Burke.

Dinosaur 13

This is a documentary about the political fallout surrounding the excavation of the 13th T-Rex skeleton, nicknamed "Sue." It was about 80% complete, and as such, quite an extraordinary discovery. It was found by the Black Hills Institute, a for-profit group in the Dakotas. I think we were meant to see how horribly mistreated the discoverers were - and indeed they were run through the wringer by the American legal system - but the main thing I got from it was just how incredibly messed up the American view of the world is, how incredibly profit-driven and uninterested in the public good it is. The film makers try to pretend to be unbiased, but they obviously favour the BHI. The most obvious example of this occurs when we see a shot of the jail one of the BHI guys ended up in: it's titled "Florence Jail, Colorado" (or something similar, don't remember the wording) and then a subtitle appears: "known as 'Alcatraz of the north.'"

Mildly interesting, but a little long and definitely biased.

2014, dir. Todd Douglas Miller.

The Dirty Dozen

The premise is simple: take a major who's smart but doesn't behave well (Marvin) and give him a dozen long term army prisoners to train and storm a German chateau with. It's generally considered a suicide mission, but anyone who comes back will (probably) have their record expunged.

Too long by half at 149 minutes, we spend a lot of time meeting the dozen (who I still couldn't keep straight), seeing their training, and seeing them participate in a war game. The acting is uniformly "okay" - I wouldn't have said there was any danger of awards, but apparently the Academy disagreed as Cassavetes was nominated. Not a favourite.

It was interesting to read on Wikipedia that the movie was considered shockingly violent at the time of its release, because I didn't even notice. Apparently standards have changed. A lot.

1967, dir. Robert Aldritch. With Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, John Cassavetes, Richard Jaeckel, George Kennedy, Trini Lopez, Ralph Meeker, Robert Ryan, Clint Walker, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, Robert Webber.

Dirty Filthy Love

I suppose I picked this up because of Sheen: he really is one of the best actors around these days. Here he plays Mark Furness, who's lost his wife because of his OCD, and shortly after the movie begins, he loses his job as well. As Tourette's Syndrome and coprolalia start to put in appearances in his behaviour, he begins to realize what his problem is and finds his way into a support group with the help of a woman (Henderson) who also has OCD.

For the first ten minutes Henderson was on screen, all I could think about was where I had heard that incredibly distinctive voice before. It took me a while to put it together: she was "Moaning Myrtle" in the Harry Potter series of movies. That is one unusual voice.

The movie is described as a comedy, and certainly there are some very funny moments. But I found the overall tone to be fairly grim. There's some hope, but it becomes clear that Mark is never going to have anything approaching a normal life again. There's good acting all around, but unless you have a particular interest in seeing life with OCD (at that it may not be portrayed particularly accurately) I'm not sure I'd recommend this.

2004, dir. Adrian Shergold. With Michael Sheen, Shirley Henderson, Adrian Bower, Claudie Blakley, Anastasia Griffith.

The Dish

"Based on a true story." When the Americans went to the Moon, a radio telescope in the middle of a sheep paddock in Australia was used to transmit a significant part of possibly the most famous TV broadcast ever made as Armstrong walked on the Moon. This tells the story of the people and town associated with that telescope. I'm usually not a fan of Australian humour (it can be strange or over-the-top), but this is both straight-forward and clever, and the jokes fit the characters. Manages to convey both the anxiety and the excitement of the event. A marvellously funny and incredibly charming movie, highly recommended.

2000, dir. Rob Sitch. With Sam Neill, Billy Mitchell, Patrick Warburton, Roy Billing.

District 9

In the near future, a very large spaceship settles over Johannesburg. Humans eventually cut their way in and rescue the starving aliens on board. Twenty years later, the million-plus aliens are being kept in a slum that's now to be relocated further away from Johannesburg. In charge of this operation and at the centre of the movie is Wikus van de Merwe (Copley), a cheerful and not terribly bright man who was probably chosen for the job because he married the chairman's daughter.

A surprisingly decent SF movie, I didn't like it much - in large part because our main character spends most of the movie puking, mutating, and disintegrating. If you're okay with that, it's pretty good.

2009, dir. Neill Blomkamp. With Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, David James.

District 13 (orig. "Banlieue 13")

Free running / parkour and martial arts action flick from France. This has action that should make Tony Jaa and Jackie Chan sit up and take note. The initial (parkour) chase scene is fantastic. There's some good fights and action later, and - while it's mostly predictable - there are some entertaining twists and turns. Action movies don't usually come out of France, and that's another good reason for fans of the genre to watch this one: it's got a different feel. Definitely worthwhile.

2004, dir. Pierre Morel. With David Belle, Cyril Raffaelli, Tony D'Amario, Bibi Naceri, Dany Verissimo.

District 13: Ultimatum (aka. "D13-U", orig. "Banlieue 13 Ultimatum")

Just like the previous movie, except not as good. They do all the same things: we meet Belle doing good in the hood (trying to blow up the wall around D13 this time ... last time it was destroying a drug stash), and we meet Raffaelli single-handedly taking out a drug dealer, exactly the same as last time. And this time Leïto (Belle) rescues Damien (Raffaelli) from jail instead of vice versa ... And guess what? They have to save D13 from being exploded, again. Except this time the editing is even choppier so the fights have less visual appeal, and the same problem applies to the parkour. Neither is as good as the previous outing. There are more bad guys, and more good/bad guys, and the end result is more laughable.

2009, dir. Patrick Alessandrin. With David Belle, Cyril Raffaelli, MC Jean Gab'1, Philippe Torreton, Daniel Duval, Elodie Yung.

Dive Bomber

Made just prior to the American entry into the Second World War, this rah-rah patriotic Hollywood product has little to recommend it except the science. Starring Flynn as a flight medical researcher and MacMurray as a leading pilot sometimes involved in medical testing, the flying footage is excellent but too long (even for me, a die-hard fan of that era of planes) and the acting kind of sucks. MacMurray misses the target on both his comedy and his acting. Flynn is somewhat convincing as a womanizing devil and okay as a doctor, but poor as a person with actual human emotions. There are also one or two supposedly "comedic" sub-plots dragged in for the "entertainment" value that fall completely flat while upping an already too-long run-time.

What the story is primarily about is the development of aeronautical methods of preventing black-outs in dives and preventing altitude sickness. And in this alone the movie is quite interesting - although probably only for a science geek like myself. Hardly recommended, even for the latter group. Other points of interest include incredibly early use of Technicolor - in combination with unprecedented naval aerial filming, and atrociously bad direction by Curtiz - who directed Flynn's most famous movies and "Casablanca" (only a year later).

1941, dir. Michael Curtiz. With Errol Flynn, Fred MacMurray, Ralph Bellamy, Alexis Smith.

Divergent

Veronica Roth wrote a successful series of young adult books called The Divergent Series, set in and around a dystopian post-apocalyptic Chicago. The movie series seems to be repeating the same success in the film medium.

Our heroine is Beatrice (Woodley) who, after going through the Choosing Ceremony, renames herself "Tris." She leaves the faction she was born into (Abnegation - the people who help others) to join the one she's always revered, Dauntless (the police force). But she's discovered that when she was tested, she tested as "Divergent" (not fully explained, but apparently "able to excel at anything") very bad news indeed in a strictly enforced caste system.

Much of the movie revolves around her training as Dauntless, but as they do this they're also building up the politics of the world she lives in, showing the characters of her fellow Dauntless recruits, and slowly moving "Four" (James) from being the recruit's worst enemy to being her romantic interest. I have to give credit where it's due: it's well structured. Unfortunately, the ideas aren't anything new (dystopia, segregation, mind control, face your worst fears) and it's not done so well as to make the basic material into a brilliant story. It's also held back by being a fantasy: she turns out to be fantastically smart and talented (this was never noticed before?), and the hottest and smartest boy in the world (who may also be Divergent like her) falls for her ... and I'm going to call it "fantasy" despite the darker elements, because that fantasy is delivered with the subtlety of a brick to the head.

I'm amused that an author would write a book about the Erudite (intellectual) faction being the evil, trouble-making one: after all, which group would writers be placed in?

Apparently I'm not the first to find significant similarities to both The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner - both of which are young adult dystopian SF series being turned into movies. Although I was more amused by a comparison I haven't heard mentioned yet: the test, Choosing Ceremony, and factions of "Divergent" are a lot like Harry Potter's "Sorting Hat" and Houses. And just like Harry, Tris would do well in more than one of them ...

I'll probably watch the sequel because I like science fiction, people with super powers, and black-and-white morality. Mildly entertaining, but so far from great art they had to change the time zone on their clocks when they made it.

2014, dir. Neil Burger. With Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Zoë Kravitz, Kate Winslet, Ray Stevenson, Miles Teller, Maggie Q, Tony Goldwyn.

Django Unchained

Django (Foxx) is a slave in the American South just before the Civil War. He is freed (in typically spectacular, violent Tarantino style) within the first fifteen minutes by Dr. King Schulz (Waltz). Schulz is a bounty hunter who needs Django's help to identify some slavers that Django knows, so he frees and hires Django. They work together as bounty hunters through the winter, and then go in the spring to free Django's wife.

Nobody revels in "the righteous kill" quite the way Tarantino does. Many of the critics liked this movie, but Tarantino's love of violent, "justified" kills makes me feel distinctly unclean. "Look, I'm going to create a horrifically evil person(s) so that we can revel in knee-capping them and watching them die horribly!" Urgh.

2012, dir. Quentin Tarantino. With Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel Jackson, Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, James Remar.

Do I Sound Gay?

Thorpe opens his movie by reading the leading titles out loud as they go by, and I have to admit that my reaction to the title question was "yes." After the title, the camera gets pointed at a number of people who attempt to answer the same question about his voice. Thorpe's quest leads him to interview a variety gay celebrities: Dan Savage, George Takei, David Sedaris, Margaret Cho, Tim Gunn and Don Lemon among them. This is interspersed with his voice lessons from several different sources, interviews with academics about the sound of the human voice, and chats with his friends - who are entertaining and likeable people. As I've seen some rather badly constructed documentaries recently, I'll mention that this one is well filmed, well thought out, and very well edited. It all adds up to a fascinating and rather charming movie about finding your own voice that's worth a watch for pretty much anyone, gay or straight.

2014, dir. David Thorpe. With Dan Savage, George Takei, David Sedaris, Margaret Cho, Tim Gunn, and Don Lemon.

Dr. No

The first James Bond movie. Connery plays Bond, a role he was to become very familiar with. And most of the elements we became so familiar with over the years were there: suave hero, hot women, evil world-destroying conspiracy, even one or two awful puns. But this has the least action of any Bond movie I've ever seen - that's been ramped up considerably as the series progressed.

1962, dir. Terence Young. With Sean Connery, Joseph Wiseman, Ursula Andress, Jack Lord, John Kitzmiller, Lois Maxwell.

Doctor Strange

Cumberbatch plays the incredibly arrogant surgeon Steven Strange - very intelligent, an excellent doctor and a horrible person. Ten minutes into the movie he has a brutal car accident that damages his precious hands so he has the shakes and can never operate again. Looking for answers, he ends up in the East: from Kathmandu he finds his way to Kamar-Taj, where he learns from "The Ancient One" (Swinton). Instead of conquering his shakes as he'd hoped, he becomes a successful sorcerer. The villain is Kaecilius (Mikkelsen, a good actor typecast as evil in English productions), a former student of The Ancient One who wants eternal life for everyone.

Cumberbatch is good as the titular character, and Swinton has a lot of fun as The Ancient One. The special effects are very good, and the movie is often goofy fun. I enjoyed it, but didn't think it holds up as well as the best of Marvel's movies. (Which would those be? I guess "Iron Man" and "The Avengers.")

2016, dir. Scott Derrickson. With Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins.

Dodsworth

Sam Dodsworth (Huston) sells his very successful automobile plant in the U.S. to retire and go on a long vacation to Europe with his younger wife Fran (Chatterton). She's all about nights on the town, which doesn't appeal to him - so she goes off with a string of various young friends.

Dodsworth is more or less a prototypical practical American: a good and intelligent man who understands the value of what he has. His wife is pretty, flighty, and obnoxious, but he loves her. The movie is a portrait of a disintegrating marriage - although somewhat more positive than that would imply.

Highly recommended: superbly written with exceptionally well-drawn characters, the movie will stay with you.

1936, dir. William Wyler. With Walter Huston, Ruth Chatterton, Paul Lukas, Mary Astor, Kathryn Marlowe, David Niven, Gregory Gaye, Maria Ouspenskaya, Odette Myrtil.

Dogma

Smith's brutal attack on the Catholic Church. The irony of it, and what makes it so good, is that he is clearly still a man of faith. But that faith is in God, not the Church.

The cast is incredible, and, for the most part, well used. We start with a woman (Fiorentino) who works at a Family Planning clinic. While she still goes to church, she's lost faith. She's shortly visited by an angel (Rickman, hysterical) and sent on a quest to prevent two angels (Damon and Affleck, also hilarious - and rather threatening) from returning to heaven - and in the process un-making reality. Jay and Silent Bob are of course present and ever-helpful.

Highly recommended for anyone with a sense of humour about religion.

1999, dir. Kevin Smith. With Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Linda Fiorentino, Alan Rickman, Chris Rock, Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, George Carlin, Salma Hayek, Jason Lee, Janeane Garofalo, Alanis Morissette, Bud Cort.

Don Juan DeMarco

The story of a soon-to-retire psychiatrist (Brando) and his last patient, a young man who claims to be Don Juan (Depp). Depp is just about the only person who could have sold this story in the title role, and he's great. The tale he tells is absurd, funny, and romantic, and the script is sharply observant of the state of love and our view of reality today. This is a really wonderful movie.

1995, dir. Jeremy Leven. With Johnny Depp, Marlon Brando, Faye Dunaway,

Doom

Based on the video game of the same name, includes big nasty marines running around sticky dark corridors trying to clear them of horrible monsters level by level.

The awful plot and bad acting reminded me considerably of "Resident Evil," although, bad as it is, it isn't that bad. Urban and Pike raise the general level of acting from awful to mediocre. Johnson is squarely holding down the awful end of the scale - he's made it to "passable" in recent years, but definitely not in this movie.

2005, dir. Andrzej Bartkowiak. With Dwayne Johnson, Karl Urban, Rosamund Pike.

Dope

"Dope" opens with three definitions:

  1. noun: a drug taken illegally for recreational purposes
  2. noun: a stupid person
  3. slang: excellent. Used as a generalized term of approval

Appropriate to a movie that's so much about words, and a guy who concerns himself with them.

Moore plays Malcolm Adekanbi, who with his two buddies Diggy (Clemons) and Jig (Revolori), bike the streets of Inglewood California as they try to survive their bad neighbourhood, graduate high school, and make it to college. As geeks, it's par for the course for them to get hassled and beat up at school, but the primary plot motivator occurs when they attend a party and a drug dealer puts five bricks of powdered MDMA and a gun into Malcolm's bag (Malcolm didn't know) to smuggle it out when the police arrive. This leads them to a series of absurd and scary adventures.

The writing is quite good, stereotypes are avoided in the best way (the drug dealer Dom who causes them so much trouble matches Malcolm in his geekiness about 90s hip-hop groups), and it's very funny. Unlikely to qualify as a classic, but it's fun and of its time.

2015, dir. Rick Famuyiwa. With Shameik Moore, Kiersey Clemons, Tony Revolori, Chanel Iman, Zoë Kravitz, A$AP Rocky.

Dorian Gray

Based on Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, the director and screenwriter apparently didn't believe that Gray's off-screen acts of depravity in the original novel were sufficient: they load on the on-screen hedonism, depravity, and violence to levels Wilde never even imagined. They also lost a lot of Wilde's wit and social commentary in the process.

Barnes is adequate in the lead, as are most of the cast. Firth is a stand-out, stealing every scene he's in. Every step away from Wilde's version made this a poorer film (and there are a lot of those steps): even if you haven't read the original, this will probably look a pretty shoddy piece of work.

2009, dir. Oliver Parker. With Ben Barnes, Colin Firth, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Ben Chaplin, Rebecca Hall.

Double Indemnity

If the interviews on the DVD are to be believed, this movie single-handedly launched the entire Film Noir genre. Certainly it's a very good movie. An insurance agent (MacMurray) falls for a married woman who convinces him to help her kill her husband after taking out a lot of insurance on him. The three leads are all excellent, and the story falls into place, and then back apart again, with style and an elegant inevitability.

1944, dir. Billy Wilder. With Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Jean Heather, Byron Barr.

Dragon Fist

Early Hong Kong Chan - before he developed a sense of humour and started directing his own movies. It looks initially like a standard "you killed my master" revenge tale, but turns out rather differently. Not that that's as much of a blessing as it sounds - the script is as useless as the acting. The martial arts are okay, but very traditional.

1979, dir. Lo Wei. With Jackie Chan.

Dragon Pearl

I'm going to claim I watched this because Sam Neill was in it. Trust me - that's not a good enough reason.

The movie is a Chinese-Australian joint venture, with the language being mostly Australian-accented English with some subtitled Chinese. Our main characters are Josh (Corbett) and Ling (Jin), each the child of an archaeologist on a dig in China. Neill plays Josh's Dad. Ling turns out to be "The Chosen One," destined to help a Chinese Dragon imprisoned beneath a nearby temple. She and Josh tangle with Wu Dong, the rather quirky keeper of the temple. And then, with his help, try to do right by the dragon, except that there's this evil man hiding behind an unassuming facade ... (I had him pegged 30 seconds after he appeared on screen - that's how bad/blatant the writing is.)

The movie never reaches beyond the level of a "what I did on my summer holidays" kids TV movie, with bad acting, bad writing, and bad effects. Avoid.

2011, dir. Mario Andeacchio. With Louis Corbett, Li Lin Jin, Sam Neill, Wang Ji, Robert Mammone, Jordan Chan.

Dragon Wars: D-War

In 1507 in Korea, the Dragons had their last uprising. But the heroine and her hero fell in love, and denied the necessary sacrifice. Now the dragons, the hero, the heroine, and the protector have all been reborn in ... Los Angeles. So much of the same mythology will play out in 2007, in the modern-day United States.

The acting is mediocre, the special effects are visibly CGI but remarkably good given the budget. Still, it's a good thing I like the occasional movie with a side of cheese, because this isn't very good.

2007, dir. Shim Hyung-rae. With Jason Behr, Amanda Brooks, Robert Forster, Elizabeth Peña.

Dragons Forever

A silly movie that provides a showcase for Chan, his two former Chinese Opera buddies Yuen and Hung, and his sometime conspirator Urquidez to have an awful lot of fights. Pretty much the same crowd that made the likewise very silly "Wheels on Meals," and with very similar results. Lots of Chan/Hung humour that's mildly amusing at best, and a bunch of truly spectacular martial arts fights that should absolutely not be missed by fans of the genre. Chan, Yuen and Hung were pretty much at their peak, and the set pieces are utterly brilliant.

1988, dir. Sammo Hung, Corey Yuen, Fruit Chan, Alexander Chan, Wan Faat. With Jacky Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Deannie Yip, Pauline Yeung, Yuen Wah, Benny Urquidez.

Dralion

A DVD of Cirque du Soleil's show "Dralion." A wonderful acrobatic show, with the occasional rather odd cutting decision - ie. some fantastic acrobatics going on centre stage, and they decide to show you the singer. Overall pretty good.

2000. Dir. David Mallet. Cirque du Soleil.

Dreadnaught

What the title has to do with anything, I don't know. Classically bad Hong Kong chop sockey. I hoped for a bit more from Yuen Woo-ping and Yuen Biao, one of Jacky Chan's classmates. Biao is incredibly acrobatic and Woo-ping is the best fight choreographer in the business, but this movie doesn't do much. It's mildly humorous, but overall not even worth the rental.

1995. dir. Yuen Woo-ping. With Yuen Biao, Tak-Hing Kwan.

Dredd

The 2012 reboot of the notoriously awful 1995 Sylvester Stallone flick ("Judge Dredd"), both based on a long-running comic book series. This one stars Urban as Judge Dredd, Thirlby as probationary Judge Anderson, and Headey as the very nasty drug lord Ma-Ma. Right at the beginning of the movie during Urban's introductory voice-over describing the extremely corrupt Mega-City One that everyone lives in, we actually see the back of his head for a moment, complete with hair. But then he puts his helmet on and all we see of him for the entire rest of the movie is the helmet, the tip of his nose, and his mouth and chin.

Anderson is a psychic, able to read people's minds - but has narrowly failed her initial Judge tests. She is nevertheless sent out for a trial with Dredd. Dredd lets her choose their first port of call for the day, and she predictably chooses the three homicides that leave the two of them locked in a massive apartment building battling a gang of 300 plus run by the extremely unpleasant Ma-Ma.

The similarities to "The Raid: Redemption" are remarkable: "the law" (including corrupt elements) comes to a huge apartment building riddled with crime, complete with a drug lab, a lethal boss at the top of the tower with video surveillance throughout the building, and charming P.A. system announcements about how people should just kill the cops.

Someone did a pretty good job with the cinematography of the "Slo-Mo" moments in the movie: "Slo-Mo" is the drug of choice in this modern city, and it makes time move very slowly. The movie is very violent (although perhaps slightly less so than "The Raid: Redemption"). Urban spends most of his time scowling, but it would have taken a very good actor indeed to do much with most of his face covered. Thirlby was good, Headey was really good. Overall, not bad if you like that kind of thing.

2012, dir. Pete Travis. With Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Wood Harris, Lena Headey, Domhnall Gleeson, Warrick Greer, Deobia Oparei.

Drinking Buddies

Kate (Wilde) and Luke (Johnson) work at a small brewery. They're best friends, and are both in relationships with other people. When one of those relationships falls apart, things get a little ugly.

Rotten Tomatoes lists this as "Drama, Comedy," but I would list it as "someone else's boring life." The acting is really good, but why would I want to step inside such an accurate recreation of a couple other people's very mundane existences?

2013, dir. Joe Swanberg. With Olivia Wilde, Jake M. Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston, Ti West, Jason Sudeikis.

Drive Angry

Our protagonist is John Milton (Cage), brutally interrogating people who know about a kidnapping. As he causes mayhem across the state, he acquires a travel companion named Piper (Heard) and her fine ride (a black Dodge Charger). We find out that Milton is after Jonah King (Burke), a Satanist who killed Milton's daughter and intends to sacrifice Milton's granddaughter. Milton doesn't like that - in fact, it appears he's returned from Hell to take care of business. He's pursued by "The Accountant" (Fichtner), who's enjoying his time on Earth - and is even harder to kill than Milton.

There's swearing, lots of sex, an incredible amount of violence, and more stupidity than you can imagine. It's all kind of entertaining, if you like that kind of thing.

2011, dir. Patrick Lussier. With Nicholas Cage, Amber Heard, William Fichtner, Billy Burke, David Morse.

Driving Miss Daisy

A quiet little piece about some old people getting older ... Funny and enjoyable. Doesn't talk about racism much, and yet manages to say a fair bit about it.

1989. dir. Bruce Beresford. With Jessica Tandy, Morgan Freeman, Dan Ackroyd.

Drunken Master (orig. "Jui kuen")

My second favourite early Chan movie, bettered only by "Snake in the Eagle's Shadow" (which contains all the same actors and stunt men). Chan plays an obnoxious and talented Kung Fu student, who, after causing too much trouble, is forced by his father to study with the titular drunken master. After much brutal training and some typically Chan humour, he bests the evil enemy. So what else is new? But the fights are among his best. Highly recommended for fans of the genre.

1978, dir. Yuen Woo-Ping. With Jackie Chan.

Drunken Master II

As with many Chan sequels, there's a nominal connection to the previous movie - but not a substantial one. Chan has retained his character's name (Wong Fei Hung), his drunken boxing style, and his rather contentious family dynamics. Pretty much all of the staff are different - but then, the original was 16 years prior.

Most of what goes on is family shenanigans, but there's a sub-plot about Chinese treasures being smuggled out of the country by the British consulate who also happens to own the local steel mill and treats the workers poorly. These parts lead to the spectacular finale in the steel mill, one of Chan's best fights - including some truly insane stunt work.

1994, dir. Lar Kar-Leung, Jackie Chan. With Jackie Chan, Ti Lung, Lau Kar-Leung, Andy Lau, Anita Mui, Ken Lo, Ho Sung Pak, Felix Wong, Hoh Wing Fong.

Due South Season 1 (TV)

"Due South" is fine Canadian content about a Mountie (an RCMP officer, played by Gross) named Benton Fraser who works at the Canadian consulate in Chicago. He was described by a friend who reads Terry Pratchett as "a Canadian Corporal Carrot," a description so accurate it's given me nearly as much amusement as the series itself. Of course Fraser works at the consulate, but somehow we always see him hanging out with his cop buddy (Marciano) helping solve cases - usually by extreme attention to detail, and sometimes by sniffing, licking, or tracking. The ideas covered are quite varied, and they manage to keep the episodes fairly fresh and enjoyable.

1994-95. With Paul Gross, David Marciano, Gordon Pinsent.

The DUFF

Bianca (aka "B," played by Whitman) is an honour student with two beautiful (and intelligent) friends. But she throws it all over when hot football star, childhood friend, and neighbour Wesley (Amell) casually mentions she's "the DUFF," or Designated Ugly Fat Friend. Which leaves her with no support group in high school, not an ideal situation. She asks Wesley for guidance on de-DUFFing herself. This leads to the worst section of the movie as Wesley has her trying on clothes - she strikes idiotic poses in fantastically ugly clothes. And then he has her approaching random men in the mall to "learn how to talk to men." And after all the idiocy in the mid-section of the movie, Bianca suddenly delivers this incredibly calm and perfectly worded monologue to her enemy at the climax of the movie ... one of these characters wasn't her. But in classic movie style, the writer and/or director made her both in the name of humour.

There are some scenes between Whitman and Amell that are very funny, but for the most part the movie finds its humour in humiliating people - and then ultimately claims to be about respect for individuals and their differences.

I have to give credit to Whitman though: my jaw dropped when I found out where I'd seen her before. She was Roxy Richter in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," and it's hard to imagine two less similar characters than Roxy and Bianca.

2015, dir. Ari Sandel. With Mae Whitman, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Bianca Santos, Skyler Samuels, Ken Jeong, Allison Janney, Nick Eversman, Romany Malco.

Dummy

Let's be clear from the start: this is a Romantic Comedy. The outcome is completely inevitable, the only thing that makes it worth the journey is Brody's excellent performance. He plays a shy and rather emotionally battered 28 year old who quits his job and takes up ventriloquism - and begins to find his voice. The end credits are quick to assure us that Brody did all his own ventriloquism - I'm sure he did, he's just that way. Jovovich plays his misguided and flat out crazy friend "Fangora" with a great deal of energy but not a lot of talent, and Farmiga plays his incredibly sweet and charming love interest.

2002, dir. Greg Pritkin. With Adrien Brody, Milla Jovovich, Illeana Douglas, Vera Farmiga, Jessica Walter, Ron Leibman.

Dune (2000)

I never did see the infamous 1984 movie by David Lynch: I loved the book too much to see it slaughtered like that. While this has many problems, it was an earnest attempt at bringing the entire novel to the screen.

Let's start with the problems: The effects are poor, constantly using massive amounts of blatant CGI. Everybody in the production is from different countries, and the accents vary enormously. The acting is often mediocre. Very heavy use is made of colour tinting throughout. The run-time is four and a half hours (the director's cut is five hours).

And now the good stuff: the run-time is four and a half hours. This let them develop most of Herbert's characters, and bring in very nearly the entire plot as he wrote it - something you couldn't do in less time than this. Hurt is good, although he doesn't stay around long. Newman as Paul Atreides is quite good - and that's a major plus given that he's the centre of the entire mini-series. And the movie as a whole is gripping and disturbing. I highly recommend it.

2000, dir. John Harrison. With Alec Newman, William Hurt, Saskia Reeves, Ian McNeice, Julie Cox, P.H. Moriarty, Giancarlo Giannini, Uwe Ochsenknecht, Barbora Kodetová.

Dylan Dog

"Dylan Dog" is based on a graphic novel of the same name by Italian author Tiziano Sclavi who placed his titular (anti-)hero in London. The movie puts the action in New Orleans - that at least was a good choice. The idea is fairly good: Dylan Dog (couldn't they have picked a better name?) is human, but the supernatural creatures in the city had accepted him as an arbitrator and helper ... until the death of his wife a few years prior to the beginning of the movie. Since then, he's been working as cheating-spouse-chasing private eye among humans. But the supernatural world drags him back in.

The effects aren't bad, but what really kills the movie is bad writing and seriously poor choice in actors: Routh is handsome and extremely weak in the lead, Briem is just bad, and Huntington is weak ... A measure of how bad the acting is can be seen by who doesn't look bad: Stormare phones it in and still looks okay doing it, Angle (with his professional wrestling pedigree) looks almost like an actor, and Diggs steals the show. That's just scary (and not in the way horror movies are intended to be).

The story opens with Dylan being called to the scene of a murder and asked by the daughter of the murdered man to investigate. When it becomes clear that the killer was supernatural, he declines. But when his assistant is murdered and it's clearly related to the other killing, Dylan throws himself into the work.

The movie also falls down because of poor character interactions: Dylan's voice-over make it clear that Gabriel (Stormare) was his best friend: while they could have used Dylan's long disappearance as a reason for the animosity between the two, instead they frame it as being related to "that thing he did" which remains unexplained for the surprise value later ... and which it turns out that if Gabriel was really his friend, they would have talked. This is only one of many failings in the writing.

It turns out that there was another movie loosely based on "Dylan Dog," 1994's "Cemetery Man" starring Rupert Everett (only appropriate given that the graphic novel artist based Dylan's appearance on that of Everett).

2011, dir. Kevin Munroe. With Brandon Routh, Sam Huntington, Anita Briem, Peter Stormare, Taye Diggs, Kurt Angle.


E

Eagle Eye

Works on our paranoia about the staggering level of observation that's possible in modern society, and what could happen if that was blatantly misused. LaBeouf and Monaghan both get phone calls from a mysterious woman who orders them to do illegal things - forcing them to do so with threats and physical coercion. A large number of expensive cars are totalled in the early car chase - and the action editing is so choppy and blurry you can't see a bit of this million dollar spectacle they've put on. So what was the point? Logic also falls by the wayside, a casualty of sloppy plotting. As usual LaBeouf's acting is like a beacon for viewers desperate for a moment of quality. Could have been a good movie, but blew it all on sloppiness and sensationalism.

2008, dir. D.J. Caruso. With Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Billy Bob Thornton, Rosario Dawson, Michael Chiklis, Anthony Mackie.

Earthsea

This is based on Ursula K. LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea and its sequel, The Tombs of Atuan. I've read the former about ten times, the latter perhaps four. It's kind of hard for me to look at this without thinking of the source material, and believe me, it doesn't hold up well. They didn't want it to be like Harry Potter-lite, or so the director said in the interview - and yet we have sorcerers throwing fireballs at evil soldiers, and horrible looking flying monsters, and a whole bunch of other stuff that didn't come out of LeGuin. Her stories are slow and contemplative, but the producers or the director felt the need for action. So there are large elements from her story, but there are also huge sections that definitely weren't hers. The acting is uniformly mediocre and the story they end up with is fairly bad. Not much to recommend here.

2004, dir. Robert Lieberman. With Shawn Ashmore, Kristin Kreuk, Isabella Rossellini, Danny Glover, Sebastian Roché, Chris Gauthier.

East is East

Listed as a comedy, and highly regarded by the critics. I suppose there is a fair bit of humour, but the emotional content is intense and the humour is frequently quite black. Portrays a lower class Pakistani-English family living in England, with the Pakistani father trying to arrange marriages for his sons, who aren't interested. The ending is pretty mixed - rather more like real life than most movies. I liked it.

1999. dir. Damien O'Donnell. With Om Puri, Linda Bassett, Jimi Mistry, Archie Panjabi.

Eastern Promises

Cronenberg's follow-up to "A History of Violence" - the two movies share a lot in common. Not least of which is Mortensen. This time we're looking at a Russian crime family in London. Mortensen plays the driver, Cassels the irresponsible son to the ruthless father played by Mueller-Stahl. And Watts is a midwife in possession of the child of a very young - and dead - girl who has dubious ties to that family. While the story is significantly different than "A History of Violence," the feel is quite similar - the same sorts of questions about violence and loyalty, and this one is nearly as good (which means it's very good).

2007, dir. David Cronenberg. With Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Mina E. Mina, Sinéad Cusack, Jerzy Skolimowski.

Easy A

Stone plays Olive Penderghast, a sarcastic A student at a high school in California. She makes up a story of a sexual adventure and ends up with a reputation. Figuring it can't get any worse, she fakes sex with a gay friend so that his reputation will be improved. As rumours and unkind words fly, she starts wearing trashy clothes with a red "A" sewn on them to match the book they're reading at school, The Scarlet Letter. Stone is good, Tucci and Clarkson are good as her eccentric, intelligent and supportive parents, and Hayden-Church is good as her favourite teacher. I even enjoyed the several direct references to Eighties teen movies. But somehow the movie as a whole just never grabbed me. Should work for most people - definitely better than most teen flicks.

2010, dir. Will Gluck. With Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Thomas Hayden Church, Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci, Cam Gigandet, Lisa Kudrow.

Easy Living

Screwball comedy with poor working girl Mary Smith (Arthur) caught up with the extremely rich Ball family in the most ridiculous possible way. Typical of the Depression (and Preston Sturges, who wrote it), we have a poor girl suddenly thrown into the midst of wealth and romance. The product is silly but charming and funny, and Arthur, Arnold, and Milland are all very good. I'm usually not a fan of screwball comedies, but I enjoyed this one: better, more believable characters.

1937, dir. Mitchell Leisen. With Jean Arthur, Edward Arnold, Ray Milland, Luis Alberni, Mary Nash.

Eat Drink Man Woman

About the lives of three Chinese women and their master chef father who has trouble communicating with them. Plays out across several months and all their lives get turned around in various ways. Food plays a central part. Very funny and a great view of a family.

1994. dir. Ang Lee.

Edge of Tomorrow

Cruise plays William Cage, a PR wonk for the army in the near future. They're fighting an alien invasion in Europe. For reasons that are only partially explained, Cage is suddenly assigned to the front lines of the next attack. Being a coward (and, in his defense, totally untrained), he attempts to decline the offer and then runs away - so he's tasered and shipped unconscious, waking the next day at the front of the attack. He dies almost immediately in the attack ... and awakes the morning of the same day, at the front of the attack. Essentially a cross between "Groundhog Day" and a war movie (specifically Second World War, the D-Day beach landings) - with a bit of the feel of grinding a video game campaign (ie. die, respawn, get a little further, die, respawn, etc.). Well presented, great effects, although I was somewhat frustrated by the Cage character: little justification was given for his transformation from coward to grim war hero (he likes the girl, but it didn't seem enough?). The ending was kind of wrong too. Despite which, I still quite enjoy the movie: it's very well presented.

3D BluRay: Having seen the movie in flat form, I bought the 3D BluRay. This was a significant mistake, as it's the worst 3D presentation I've seen: whenever people are in motion (and this is an action movie), the blurring and artifacting around them is absolutely brutal. It's horribly distracting. This problem doesn't occur with the 2D BluRay, and I'll only be watching that in future. 3D was a complete waste of money on this one.

2014, dir. Doug Liman. With Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Paxton, Noah Taylor.

EDtv

Similar to "The Truman Show," except that the main character (Ed, played by McConaughey) is aware he's the centre of a live 24 hour TV show. Very funny, well developed.

1999. dir. Ron Howard. With Matthew McConaughey, Jenna Elfman, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Hurley.

8 Mile

To understand this movie, it helps to know a bit about Detroit. I've been there a lot over the years. Back in the Nineties (just before this film was made, in 2002), the core of Detroit was a burned out husk, and anything south of 8 Mile Road was a wasteland of abandoned buildings and horribly run-down neighbourhoods. The core - right across the river from Windsor, Ontario - has since gentrified to a certain extent, but there's still this massive donut of space from one mile from the river all the way to eight miles out where sane people simply don't go at night. And there's very little reason to go there during the day - unless you're a photographer: there are some gorgeous hundred-year-old civic buildings that were abandoned 50 years ago. According to Wikipedia's entry on the film, 8 Mile is also the divider between the poorer black neighbourhoods and the richer white neighbourhoods to the north.

Detroit was (may still be, I have no idea) a hot-bed of rap, and Eminem came up through their vicious system of rap battles, a white guy in the midst of an almost entirely black crowd. In this movie, he plays a slightly different version of himself - just split up from his girlfriend, back living in a trailer with his impressively trashy Mom (Kim Basinger) and four year old sister, working at a metal stamping shop and trying to make it as a rapper with his friends. He has the talent but not the confidence, and one of the first scenes shows him on stage with the mic ... unable to speak. We get a good look at his friends, his family, and his life, all leading up to a climactic final scene back on stage.

Eminem turns out to be a decent actor, at least when he's playing himself - I don't think that's as easy as it sounds. The supporting actors are also good, and the writing is excellent. The movie also brought us what I think is Eminem's single best song, "Lose Yourself," which is effectively a rap retelling of the life of his character. A very good movie.

2002. dir. Curtis Hanson. With Eminem, Kim Bassinger, Mekhi Phifer, Omar Miller.

84 Charing Cross Road

Bancroft plays Helene Hanff, an American writer in New York looking for out of print British books. She strikes up a business relationship and correspondence with Frank Doël in Great Britain, buying books on an irregular basis. The correspondence lasts 20 years, and through it we trace both their lives. A very quiet and charming film based on a true story.

1986. dir. David Jones. With Anne Bancroft, Anthony Hopkins, Judy Dench, Mercedes Ruehl.

Elektra

"Elektra" as a character makes her first live-action film appearance in the 2003 movie "Daredevil." In which she dies. And yet, this isn't a prequel, it's a loosely tied follow-up. See, Elektra (played in both interpretations by Garner) is raised from the dead by her sensei/teacher, "Stick," played by Stamp. After that (or is it before? it's hard to tell), she gets an education in "Kimagure," a combination of martial arts and anticipating the future. But none of this is told linearly: it's all flashbacks. This might have been workable, but is considerably confused by many of them being involuntary flashbacks for Elektra herself, who even occasionally mistakes them for reality. After being booted out of Kimagure school for being too violent, she becomes an assassin. We see her at the beginning of the movie on what will turn out to be her last assignment. She meets and saves a father and daughter (Višnjić and Prout), and then gets involved in their rather complicated lives which turn out to overlap her own.

Ultimately a very confused and confusing movie with all its unclear flashbacks and supernatural superpowers.

2005, dir. Rob Bowman. With Jennifer Garner, Goran Višnjić, Kirsten Prout, Terence Stamp.

Elementary, Season 1

Following shortly after the BBC's re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes, this is another take both similar and radically different. Miller plays Sherlock Holmes, a British drug addict now living in modern day New York city. He lives in a brownstone owned by his father with his "sober companion," Dr. Watson (Liu) (also paid for by his father). Watson is a former surgeon, having left the profession when a patient died on the operating table. Holmes acts as a consultant to the New York Police, and Watson is frequently drawn into his work.

Our two other main characters are Quinn as Captain Gregson, Holmes' liaison at NYPD, and Hill as Detective Bell, Gregson's assistant. Everyone plays well, and I was surprised to greatly enjoy the series. I thought it would suffer in comparison to the recent BBC series, but it's different enough and well done enough to stand entirely on its own. Very good.

2013-09: re-watching the first few episodes, I'm astonished at how well constructed these are: it's a very well done series.

2012-3, with Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy Liu, Aidan Quinn, Jon Michael Hill, Ato Essandoh.

Elementary, Season 2

Not as consistent as the previous season, three or four episodes had me wondering if it was going to jump the shark the next week - but they pulled it back every time. When you add it all up, it's not as good as the first season, but still enjoyable and worth watching. (Until the last three episodes, see below.)

The last three episodes brought back Sherlock's brother (and Joan's love interest) Mycroft. The number of reversals ("he's an idiot, he's a genius, he's a good guy, he's a bad guy") is truly staggering and incredibly tiresome. If they had approached it in a more straight-forward manner, Mycroft and the involvement of his superiors could have been good, with possibly one reversal. But instead I'm seriously questioning if I'm going to pick this up next season.

2013-4, with Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy Liu, Aidan Quinn, Jon Michael Hill, Ato Essandoh.

Elizabeth

I'm told by those that have read about the history of Queen Elizabeth's reign that this is ... inaccurate. Period dramas like this are usually shot in a very straight-forward manner, but there's some use in this one of unconventional cinematography, including bleach-to-white and blurring, which feels a little out of place. But the performances are superb, and the story is excellent. Highly recommended.

With Cate Blanchett, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffry Rush.

Elizabethtown

After creating a financial catastrophe of epic proportions, the main character (Bloom) is stopped from committing suicide by a phone call telling him of the death of his father. His visit to the titular hometown of his father introduces him to a talkative flight attendant (Dunst) and quirky family members. Has some embarrassing moments (Sarandon tap dancing is right up there), but overall a bizarre and bizarrely enjoyable ride. Second time around I was more impressed: Dunst and Bloom are excellent. Dunst is both annoying and charming, as she's supposed to be. The movie is a mess, the characters are brilliant creations, but Crowe pushes everything a little too far.

dir. Cameron Crowe. With Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin.

Ella Enchanted

Hathaway plays Ella, "blessed" with obedience. She must obey every command given to her. When her father remarries and she acquires some new and unpleasant stepsisters, it comes time for her to set out on a quest to find the fairy godmother who so kindly cursed her.

Unfortunately what we have here is in many ways a live-action version of Shrek 1 + 2. No obnoxious-but-somehow-charming animated ogre (although there are ogres ...), we have instead a beautiful and intelligent but cursed young woman as our heroine. Also on a quest. Also through medieval settings with anachronistic jokes about malls and modern life in general. Also with bad musical numbers set to anachronistic rock music. Unfortunately, they over-applied the "cute," dumped the vast majority of the plot kindly provided by Gail Carson Levine (author of the book of the same name), and wasted the acting talents of several really good actors. A few clever jokes don't come close to covering the other massive flaws.

A related note: the BluRay disc of this movie is the most stripped out production I've ever seen in my life: no subtitles (in any language), no extras, it doesn't even have a menu. You drop the disc in the drive and it plays: that's it.

2004, dir. Tommy O'Haver. With Anne Hathaway, Hugh Dancy, Cary Elwes, Minnie Driver, Eric Idle, Steve Coogan, Patrick Bergin, Joanna Lumley, Vivica A. Fox, Lucy Punch, Jennifer Higham, Aidan McArdle, Parminder Nagra, Heidi Klum, Jimi Mistry.

Emma (A&E, 1996)

An A&E product, this was made for TV. Despite that unpromising beginning, this is a superb production. The dialogue is great, it looks good, Beckinsale is very good, and she gets great support from the entire cast. I really enjoyed this one. Skip the other productions of "Emma" out there and watch this one.

1996. dir. Diarmuid Lawrence. With Kate Beckinsale, Mark Strong, Prunella Scales, Olivia Williams, Samantha Morton.

Emma (McGrath, 1996)

I expected to like this better than the A&E version, but was surprised to find it worse. The thing is ... while Emma (played here by Paltrow) is indeed irritating and manipulative, she's also quite charming. The A&E script brings that out, this one completely loses sight of the charming part - which leaves very little for Northam's Knightley to convincingly fall in love with. The production values on this one are far superior, but that's about it: the acting is about equal, and A&E got its hands on a much better script.

1996. dir. Douglas McGrath. With Gwyneth Paltrow, Greta Scacchi, Alan Cumming, Jeremy Northam, Toni Collette, Juliette Lewis.

Emma (Garai, 2009)

I'm a fan of Jane Austen and have read several of her books, including "Emma." I've also seen many of the movies that have been made from her books over the years. I tend to think of them - particularly versions of "Emma" - in terms of who played the title role. This is Garai's "Emma," and the two others I've seen are Gwyneth Paltrow (1996, American film) and Kate Beckinsale (1996, British TV film). There's a significant trick to "Emma:" she's both obnoxiously meddlesome and very charming, and the trick is to balance it to the point that the viewer will believe that a man as sensible and practical as Mr. Knightley would love her. Paltrow's version failed spectacularly: her Emma was distinctly unappealing. Beckinsale (somewhere in between her vacuous turn as Hero in Much Ado About Nothing and becoming an almost full-time vampire) is my measuring stick here: she tramples peoples lives and charms in equal measure, so much so that Mr. Knightley could not help but love her.

This version has a number of things going for it: Miller as Mr. George Knightley, a nearly four hour running time that allows the inclusion of all the subplots and characters, a very good supporting cast, and a very good writer (who took some liberties with Austen's text, but generally did a good job of it). It's a fairly good production, but I have to admit I'm not a huge fan of the rather pouty Garai herself, which is a bit of a problem as she's on screen most of the time ... Ultimately I was left feeling somewhat ambivalent to something I know intellectually is quite a good production.

2009, dir. Jim O'Hanlon. With Romola Garai, Jonny Lee Miller, Michael Gambon, Tamsin Greig, Rupert Evans, Robert Bathurst, Jodhi May, Louise Dylan, Laura Pyper, Blake Ritson.

The Emperor's New Groove

One of Disney's best efforts. A little annoying in places, but very funny. They manage this by stepping outside of standard film conventions in some odd ways (think of a voice-over narration that's a little too self-aware). Spade plays Emperor Kuzco, in the only role in which I've ever liked his work. Kuzco is turned into a llama by his advisor (who meant to kill him), and the story revolves around his regaining the throne and becoming less arrogant in the process (that's a surprise).

2000. dir. Mark Dindal. With David Spade, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt, Patrick Warburton.

Empire Falls

Made for TV, but that's a good thing: they had an excellent cast and got to make it as long as they needed (about three and a half hours). From Richard Russo's Pulitzer Prize-wining novel about a small town in Maine. Centres around Harris's character Miles Roby, a good man who's a little too passive and is under the thumb of the town's ruling matriarch. Plays out ... just like life in a small town. I haven't been much of a fan of Newman, but he was great as the tiresome, annoying Max. A very good movie.

2005, dir. Fred Schepisi. With Ed Harris, Helen Hunt, Paul Newman, Robin Wright Penn, Aidan Quinn, Joanne Woodward, Dennis Farina, William Fichtner, Estelle Parsons, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Theresa Russell, Danielle Panabaker, Lou Taylor Pucci.

The Empire Strikes Back

The second "Star Wars" movie (contrary to Lucas's revisionism) and the best of the series. The darkest of the lot, with the best character development (such as it is). Retains the mythic proportions of the first movie and really develops the universe. Definitely benefits from a new hand at the helm.

1980, dir. Irvin Kershner. With Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker.

Enchanted

The premise is simple: in the animated world, the wicked step-mother (not even hers) launches the charming, singing, naive princess-to-be into the real world to get rid of her. Our world: Times Square, to be exact. Where she (Adams) behaves exactly like a Disney character: singing, charming animals and people, and - with the assistance of our hunky and cynical hero, Dempsey - finding out about "dates." Her prince (Marsden) follows her through and proceeds to take on a bus, which he skewers with his sword. Then the incompetent assistant (Spall) to the evil step-mom (Sarandon) follows them through, etc. etc. You get the idea. Adams is particularly good as an authentic cartoon princess who believes in "forever and ever." I think the movie would have been better if they had skewered the initial naiveté of the cartoon world some (a la "Shrek"), but they chose to go for a faithful and irony-free version. But the result is nevertheless quite charming.

2007, dir. Kevin Lima. With Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden, Timothy Spall, Susan Sarandon, Idina Menzel, Rachel Covey.

Encounters at the End of the World

Herzog's voice-over starts this documentary about Antarctica by telling us "The National Science Foundation invited me even though I made it clear I would not be making another movie about penguins." Indeed, he does not. I still think the man is insane, and he does make some weird choices, but overall this is a fascinating movie. He goes to Antarctica, shows you not only the pretty scenery but also the ugliness (McMurdo Station, which looks like an Alaskan social housing project) and talks to the people. Who are all intelligent and more than a little bit weird. Most are travellers, many have PhDs and operate forklifts. You've never seen anything like this about Antarctica before - and you should.

2007, dir. Werner Herzog.

Endeavour

"Endeavour" is a Masterpiece/ITV TV series, being the early adventures of the ever-popular Inspector Morse (created by British author Colin Dexter). This is a review of the 90 minute pilot episode for the series, which shows the young Detective Constable Endeavour Morse returning to Oxford where he started (but didn't finish) university, to help investigate the murder of a 15 year old girl.

Morse is considering quitting the force, but gets wrapped up in the case in Oxford. His intensity, attention to detail, and honesty are noticed by the station head Detective Inspector Fred Thursday (Roger Allam) who is direly in need of not-corrupt employees.

It's slow-paced, interesting, thoughtful, and fairly dark. It also nails its time period, but the British have always been better at that than the Americans. A pretty good watch.

2012. With Shaun Evans, Roger Allam.

Ender's Game

Based on one of the best known SF books in the world (with the same name) by Orson Scott Card. I'm a huge fan of the book and couldn't write a separate review of this if I wanted to. The story incorporates a number of elements: the primary motivator for the story is an alien invasion of Earth that happened 50 years prior and was (barely) repelled. Now Earth's military forces are training a new group of soldiers to fight the aliens - all of whom are children in the 10-14 age range. Ender Wiggin is one of the last recruited, and one of the best. Ford plays Colonel Hyrum Graff who deliberately isolates Ender and makes his life more difficult.

To my surprise the child actors were for the most part better than the adults: I'm not a fan of Ford, and he didn't change my mind here. Anderson is poor, and Kingsley doesn't have much acting to do (under a very distracting Maori tattooed face - true to the book, but hard to see past). Butterfield does a very weepy version of Ender: not his fault, the script compresses the story down to the emotional high-points (or low-points, depending on how you look at it). He was okay. Breslin, usually reliable, didn't seem to be working too hard as his sister Valentine. I thought "the Battle Room" was very well done, which was a real surprise - although its importance in the story is diminished by the movie script. All together too compressed a version of the story to come close to carrying the weight of the original book, although I have to admit it's a bit better than I expected given the difficulty of the story.

2013, dir. Gavin Hood. With Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis, Aramis Knight, Suraj Parthasarathy, Moisés Arias, Khylin Rhambo, Conor Carroll, Nonso Anozie.

Endless Night

Bennett plays the main character, Michael Rogers. Having drifted from job to job for a while, a couple major occurrences change his life: he meets the famous, and terminally ill, architect "Santonix" (Oscarsson), and he meets a young woman named Ellie Thomson (Mills) at a particularly beautiful place where he'd like to build a house - if only he had money. As it turns out, she has a great deal of money, and loves him.

They hire their architect friend to build their dream house on the land - but there's a rumour the land is cursed, and problems and death follow. It is Christie, after all. The sets, particularly the dream house and casual clothing, are incredibly Seventies. I felt the ending was a terrible cheat: yes, we had a couple clues, but I wasn't happy with it.

1972, dir. Sidney Gilliat. With Hywel Bennett, Hayley Mills, Per Oscarsson, Britt Ekland, George Sanders.

Enemy

Villeneuve's "Enemy" stars Gyllenhaal as two identical men who meet after one notices the other in a bit part in a movie. Their interactions do not go well. The movie is based on the book The Double by José Saramago - Wikipedia's plot summary suggests they're fairly similar, but Villeneuve has moved it from Portugal to Toronto, and addded spiders.

It's weird and creepy and doesn't make a lot of sense. Neither of the versions of Gyllenhaal are particularly sympathetic. It's filmed in black and white and yellow, with all the other colours muted. And my hometown (Toronto) has rarely - if ever - been made to look so ugly and alienating. For all that I have to admit it was kind of fascinating in an unpleasant way. One good touch was that, while the two guys are different in character, we're not given significant outward signs and have to occasionally work it out ourselves (doppelgänger movies sometimes get too blatant about helping the audience separate the different versions of the performer).

2013, dir. Denis Villeneuve. With Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini.

Enemy Mine

Based on an excellent novella of the same name by Barry Longyear, the story is about two fighter pilots, one human and one Drac (ie. "the enemy") stranded together on an abandoned planet. The story follows their hostilities and eventual co-operation over a long period of time.

The story in the movie diverges further from the novella as we proceed. I'm not sure it would have mattered if they'd followed the original story: most of what goes on, what's important, is the growing acceptance between the two enemies. This is an old, old story: just imagine them as both being human, in any previous war. Longyear told the story well, but trying to bring it to the screen was a bad idea: it just ends up looking silly as they try to mix in aliens and a culture completely unknown to our representative human. The end result is ... not good.

1985, dir. Wolfgang Petersen. With Dennis Quaid, Louis Gossett Jr., Brion James, Bumper Robinson.

The English Patient

Based fairly loosely on Michael Ondaatje's famous novel of the same name. Ondaatje wrote things that couldn't be put on film, and Minghella does things on film that would be impossible to describe in a book. An extremely badly burned patient is cared for in an abandoned monastery in Italy in the second world war. His history unfolds in flashbacks. A brilliant movie (nine Academy awards), but don't watch it if you're looking for a mood-lifter.

1998. dir. Anthony Minghella. With Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas, Juliette Binoche, Willem Dafoe.

Enigma

The thing that struck me the most watching this movie was the slavish accuracy of the recreation of Bletchley Park (the code-breaking centre in the U.K. during the Second World War, whose existence was only acknowledged by the British government in the 1970s), and how astonishingly similar it felt to the Bletchley Park portrayed in Neal Stephenson's fantastic book Cryptonomicon. For me, the movie was worth seeing just for this: it's a fascinating episode in history (perhaps more so to a computer geek). The main story revolves around one of the code breakers, a mildly unstable mathematical genius (played by Scott) obsessed with a woman he went out with for a short time. When she disappears, he and her roommate set out to find out what's going on.

2001, dir. Michael Apted. With Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet, Saffron Burrows, Jeremy Northam, Tom Hollander, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Matthew Macfadyen.

Enlightenment Guaranteed

A low budget German movie about two cranky brothers who set off to Tokyo and a Zen monastery together, for very different reasons. It reminded me considerably of "Lost in Translation," not just because of the Tokyo setting, but also because the two brothers seem so lost in not just Tokyo but their own lives. The two main characters are incredibly irritating right up until near the end, when the monastery has finally had its effect on them and they find some peace.

2002, dir. Doris Dörrie. With Uwe Ochsenknecht, Gustav-Peter Wöhler.

Epic

The title is something of an overstatement if you think first of Gilgamesh or World War II, but if you think first of the expression of pleasure then you're good. This is a lot of fun.

Our heroine Mary Katherine ("I go by M.K. now, Dad," voiced by Seyfried), moves in with her father (Sudeikis) in the country - it was unclear to me if her mother had died, but that's how I read it. Meeting her father again after many years she is thoroughly unimpressed: he's obsessed with finding the "Leafmen," 50 mm tall humans who he claims live in the forest. MK decides to leave, but is transformed to the size of the Leafmen where she has to take up the battle of good vs. evil.

The story is one you've heard many times before - coming of age, reconciliation with family - but the animation is lovely, the characters charming, and the jokes very funny. There's even a bit of tragedy to give some weight to the story (without traumatizing the children). Recommended.

The 3D BluRay version is the poorest of the three 3DBR productions I've seen as I write (the others being "Finding Nemo" and "The Wolverine"). With fast motion of the characters or the camera (there's a fair bit of both), the 3D effect goes a bit sideways. On steadier shots it's great. They give you full 3D when the video is paused: very cool. But I prefer this movie in 2D.

2013, dir. Chris Wedge. With Amanda Seyfried, Colin Farrell, Josh Hutcherson, Christoph Waltz, Aziz Ansari, Chris O'Dowd, Beyoncé Knowles, Pitbull, Jason Sudeikis, Steven Tyler.

The Equalizer

Washington plays Robert McCall, who initially appears to be nothing more than a Home Mart (essentially an even bigger version of Home Depot) employee with a very tidy apartment and an inability to sleep at night. That inability leads him to an all-night diner, where he comes to know a very young Russian prostitute (Moretz). When she's severely beaten for wanting to get out of her enforced lifestyle, he calls on his old skill-set to take care of the city's crime lords. His main enemy is the Russian enforcer "Teddy," played by Csokas. Loosely based on the 1980s TV series of the same name.

The movie is meticulously produced and fairly well acted. Unfortunately the plot is dull as dishwater and completely predictable. Hugely disappointing from the director of "Training Day" - not that he's been exactly consistent.

SPOILER WARNING: Although I was wrong in one aspect of my predictions: I assumed (and hoped, as it would be appropriate and he seemed quite willing) he would die at the end. You know, one guy against ten or so of the Russian mob's best killers? Hardly a scratch on him, and placing an ad online for people in need of help so that there can be a sequel.

2014, dir. Antoine Fuqua. With Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloë Grace Moretz, Melissa Leo, Bill Pullman, Johnny Skourtis, Haley Bennett, David Harbour, David Meunier.

Equilibrium

Low budget science fiction morality tale. A couple people said it was "like 'The Matrix.'" I wouldn't say so: it had several gun battles and it's SF, but the similarities end there. Set in a world where everyone takes drugs to prevent emotions and it's a crime to feel anything. I'm interested to see he went on to do "Ultraviolet:" that makes a lot of sense.

2002, dir. Kurt Wimmer. With Christian Bale, Taye Diggs, Emily Watson, William Fichtner.

Ernest & Célestine

Célestine is a mouse who lives underground with the other mice. But unlike the other mice, she's not afraid of the bears who live up above. When she's trapped above on an expedition to collect teeth (mice like bear teeth), she meets the bear Ernest and they slowly become friends.

The animation has the look of hand-drawn watercolours, which is the media Célestine herself works in whenever she gets a chance, and it looks pretty good. The ideas are reasonably clever and the dialogue quite funny: it's a fun movie.

2012, dir. Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner.

Escaflowne

Maybe this would have made sense if I'd seen the TV series ... although the notes claim it's a "retelling" rather than an extension. It made sense in places, except for the parts that didn't. Like why a 16 year old Japanese school girl is suddenly in an alternative universe, and a goddess. Or why everyone in the alternative universe is at war, or why there are enormous suits of armour that can magically be called up to wreak havoc on the landscape. Very nice animation in places, but the story doesn't make much sense.

2000, dir. Kazuki Akane, Yoshiyuki Takei.

Escape From New York

A 1981 near future science fiction action film written and directed by Carpenter, which should tell you all you need to know.

It's 1997 and Manhattan Island has been converted into a maximum security prison. Going to the island is one-way, and ex-Special Forces soldier Snake Plissken (Russell) is about to make that trip for his part in a robbery. But Air Force One is hijacked and crashes in Manhattan. Plissken is told to go get the President (Pleasence), who is still alive - and he's given a medically implanted death sentence if he's not back in 24 hours. He finds out that the President is a hostage of the Duke of New York (Hayes), and has to get the President and try to fight his way back out.

Russell had been known prior to this as a staple in Walt Disney's films: this was a huge departure for him, even if it was something as cheesy as Carpenter. But he's remarkably good: Plissken is a gritty and not particularly likeable character who doesn't look or sound like anything Russell had done before, and presaged his more interesting roles through the 80s and 90s. Not that this is a good film: it's at best mildly amusing.

1981, dir. John Carpenter. With Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Frank Doubleday.

Escape Plan

Two aging action heroes of the Eighties get together to make one more (I'd love to say "one last," but I very much doubt either of them will quit) blow-em-up action movie together. Stallone plays a penal system expert whose means of employment is getting incarcerated in high security jails and breaking out. He's offered an extremely lucrative but non-standard contract that his two trusted advisors want him to decline, but his boss wants the money and his ego says he can do it, so off he goes. Things go sideways immediately, and he finds that the contact he expected on the inside isn't there - and he's in this brutal private enterprise jail for the long haul. Inside, he meets Schwarzenegger, and they work together on an escape.

Not as bad as I expected and mostly fairly enjoyable, I would have felt better about it if Schwarzenegger hadn't insisted on recreating the action movies of his youth near the end by picking up a massive tripod-mounted machine gun in his hands and slinging it around like it weighed the same as a guitar. Still, a fairly good diversion for fans of the genre.

2013, dir. Mikael Håfström. With Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Caviezel, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, Vinnie Jones, Vincent D'Onofrio, Amy Ryan.

Escape to Witch Mountain

Two young children (Richards and Eisenmann) are brought to an orphanage, where it's quickly established to the audience that they have psychic powers - telekinesis, telepathy, premonitions. In fact it's a premonition that gets them in trouble after they save the life of Deranian (Pleasence) who then decides their powers could be used to make his employer (Aristotle Bolt, played by Milland) wealthy. Deranian adopts the children under false pretences, and they decide to escape. They're assisted by their powers, several animals they talk to telepathically, and the owner of a Winnebago (Albert) while being chased by Bolt, Deranian, and a bunch of other unpleasant people.

I watched this mostly to see how it compared to the 2009 remake. The children are similar, as are the origins of their powers and their pursuit by unpleasant people, but that's where the similarities end. This one is very Disney 70s. Not very good, although better than the remake.

1975, dir. John Hough. With Kim Richards, Ike Eisenmann, Eddie Albert, Donald Pleasence, Ray Milland.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Weird, weird movie. Very good though. Takes you a while to figure out what the hell is going on, but once you do it's fascinating. Carrey plays a man who decides to get his last relationship erased from his memory. During the process he has second thoughts and tries to fight it off. Pay attention and you'll be rewarded.

2004 dir. Michel Gondry. With Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson.

Everybody Wants Some!!

Should perhaps have been called "Mi amigos de fuckwittery," as the protagonist refers to his new college friends at the end of the movie. The movie shows us the first three days of life on a college baseball team in 1980 - with the credits rolling just as our protagonist and one of his buddies close their eyes to sleep in their very first lecture.

Blake Jenner is Jake, a pitcher just arriving at university to join the baseball team. His introduction to his new house is to be ordered to turn off the water supply filling the water bed on the second floor that looks like it's just about to drop through to the first floor. What follows is most of two hours of macho athlete posturing, absurd dialogue, cruising for sex, and even a little baseball. Glen Powell as "Finn" got many of the best lines: very intelligent, he supplies a running commentary about the social foibles of his teammates and everyone around them. He's a charming guy who will do anything to get laid (one of his less attractive characteristics).

Evokes its time period very well, and has a very good soundtrack. Very funny, but about as deep as a puddle.

2016, dir. Richard Linklater. With Blake Jenner, Zoey Deutch, Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin, Glen Powell, Wyatt Russell, Temple Baker, J. Quinton Johnson, Will Brittain, Juston Street, Forrest Vickery.

Everything is Illuminated

Wood plays Jonathan Safran Foer, the main character in the novel the movie is based on and the name of the novelist himself. Foer collects things - family things. He puts them in ziplock bags and sticks them on his big wall. We meet him as he sets out for the Ukraine to find the woman who rescued him from the Nazi extermination of their Jewish village. He has purchased the services of a translator and driver, who both turn out to be eccentric in the extreme - their several days together turn out to be "illuminating" for all of them.

The movie has a number of really beautiful moments, and all of the actors are good, but the movie frequently staggered on the edge of surreality and/or magic realism. I thought at first what they needed was to get more surreal, but the extras show that they had tried that, and they were right to avoid it. Perhaps what they needed was to always walk the line instead of straying back into mundane reality occasionally. Definitely an interesting movie.

2005, dir. Liev Schreiber. With Elijah Wood, Eugene Hütz, Boris Leskin, Laryssa Lauret.

Ex Machina

Gleeson plays Caleb Smith, a programmer who's just won a contest to go spend a week with the reclusive founder of the very successful company Caleb works for. Isaac plays the manipulative and extremely intelligent company founder Nathan Bateman. Their initial encounters aren uncomfortable, even creepy. They're isolated a long way from anywhere on Nathan's huge estate, the only other person a Japanese woman who speaks no English at all - "so I can talk trade secrets around her and not worry." But there's one more ... person. There's Ava (Vikander), the artificial intelligence in a human-like body on the other side of a pane of glass that Caleb finds out he's here to test.

The movie moves slowly and there's almost no action, but this is a movie to give your full attention to: the writing is fantastic and brain-twisting ideas about intelligence and behaviour come thick and fast. You will NOT be bored. This is the polar opposite of Million Dollar Arm which I watched yesterday: while charming, it required no thought whatsoever and in fact actively encouraged you to believe their views on how people should behave and change. This one wants you to think. It seems they've decided that AI isn't a very good thing, but the movie encourages you to reach your own conclusions. This is what Science Fiction should be: superbly done and incredibly thought-provoking.

2015, dir. Alex Garland. With Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, Sonoya Mizuno.

Executive Suite

The movie starts with a voice-over about how the people at the tops of those business buildings you see in major cities are exactly like us normal people: "you'd be surprised" the voice says. The movie then shows us one of those executives - but first person POV, which is very rare in movies ("Hardcore Henry" is extremely unusual even today, and "Executive Suite" was shot in 1954!) ... who promptly dies of a stroke. It then shows the political manoeuvrings that follow after his death, the cult of personality he'd built around himself, and finally emphasizes how different, unusual, special, even exalted a man must be to be the CEO of a company. Not exactly "just like us."

The writing is quite good, and a lot of thought went into the complexity, political wrangling and personal problems of all the people fighting at the top of the heap. And most of the acting (except possibly Stanwyck) was quite good too. Which made most of the movie reasonably enjoyable. But I guessed - correctly - that the good guys would win, and the whole "not actually just the same as us" thing left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth as they exalted the new CEO. It's also a bit dry - you get their passion for the business (or for money in some cases), but it doesn't quite get transmitted to us, the audience, in the way it does in the best movies. Not a great movie, won't consider rewatching it.

1954, Robert Wise. With William Holden, Fredric March, Walter Pidgeon, Paul Douglas, Barbara Stanwyck, Louis Calhern, Dean Jagger, Nina Foch, Shelley Winters, June Allyson.

eXistenZ

A mental exercise in keeping track of layers of deception, but don't forget the pounds and pounds of animal internals and the penetration. I found the repeated and mostly unrelated switchbacks made the movie less and less involving and ultimately I just didn't care anymore. And of course it was completely disgusting, but then it's Cronenberg. It doesn't matter if it was meant as a commentary on the dangers of video games, bioengineering, or both.

1999, dir. David Cronenberg. With Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Ian Holm, Willem Dafoe, Don McKellar, Sarah Polley.

The Expanse, Season 1

A 10 episode first season produced by the Syfy Channel, based on the novels of James A. Corey (who turns out to be Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). The series is set two hundred years in the future (according to Wikipedia - I guess I wasn't paying attention), and humans have populated most of the Solar System. But tensions are running high between Earth, Mars, and the Belt. Not that this is anything new: Corey is just using the politics of Colonialism to create a higher tech political drama. Our main characters are Earth politician Chrisjen Avasarala (Aghdashloo), a charming lady who will betray or torture anyone if she thinks it will prevent a war, Josephus Miller (Jane), a drunken Belter police detective slowly finding purpose, James Holden (Strait), an intelligent but responsibility-avoiding Earther who works as an ice miner in the Belt, and Naomi Nagata (Tipper) who is Holden's very sharp Belter crew mate.

One of the first things that happens is that the mining ship Holden and Nagata are on is blown up while they're out on a rescue mission ... but the attacking ship doesn't blow up their shuttle. Why not takes several episodes to clear up. At the same time, Miller has been assigned to find Julie Mao (Faivre) - a job that starts to straighten him out. She was flying on the ship Scopuli, which is the one that Holden and Nagata were trying to rescue when their ship was blown.

The characters are exceptionally good. They could be accused of being too broad, but I was amazed at how distinctive they were without (generally) being over-the-top. The story is ... well, just politics. It's quite well done, but this could as easily have been set as some form of colonial war between Europe, the U.S., and Africa (had such a thing happened). But they're also mostly getting the science fiction elements right (discussing military threats in the form of approaching ships that are two days away, flipping ships to thrust in the other direction ... are we finally going to lose swooping in space forever?!). An absorbing if somewhat dark piece of work, I'll definitely check out the second season when I get the chance.

2015. With Thomas Jane, Steven Strait, Shohreh Aghadashloo, Dominique Tipper, Cas Anvar, Wes Chatham, Florence Faivre, Shawn Doyle.

The Expendables

There were a lot of complaints about this movie online, about it being "old school" or having too many characters. Certainly it's for fans of stuff like "Die Hard" and "Lethal Weapon" - if you stick those in the DVD player for a bit of mindless fun occasionally, you'll enjoy this too. Yes, there are a lot of well known action stars, but they're drawn larger than life - how much time do you need to get to know their characters? Things blow up, moral compasses are rediscovered, the good guys win ... What, you expected high art? It's well done in the genre and I enjoyed it.

2010, dir. Sylvester Stallone. With Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, Terry Crews, Eric Roberts, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, David Zayas, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Expendables 2

Bigger and even stupider than the previous movie, and with more 80s matinee action stars. Schwarzenegger and Willis play larger roles, Norris shows up to help out the good guys (at age 72, the oldest of the crew - although a couple of the others, Stallone included, are in their 60s), and Van Damme plays the lead villain (whose name is "Vilain"). Things blow up real good. I was surprised to find myself longing for Stallone's direction - it seems positively restrained compared to West. There's plenty of action for fans of 80s action movies, but don't expect a lot of logic.

2012, dir. Simon West. With Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Yu Nan, Liam Hemsworth, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jet Li, Scott Adkins.

The Expendables 3

Continues almost exactly as the previous two movies have, but each iteration has a little less grace ... After one of his crew nearly dies, Barney (Stallone) dumps the remainder of his team and gets a new one of younger mercenaries to fight Stonebanks (Gibson), a former Expendable who is now a conscience-less gun runner. All irony about a mercenary judging a gun runner is completely ignored, because of course Barney has killed thousands of people only with the best of intentions. The new team and the old team eventually assemble for the finale and shit gets blown up.

The action is okay, but there's too much of it for it to carry much weight or have us worried about any of the main characters dying. The acting ranges from appalling (Stallone and Statham yelling at each other when Barney breaks up the team is full-on laughable, as is most of Ford's screen time), to decent (Grammer, Banderas), to disturblingly good/wasted-on-this movie. The latter is provided by Gibson, who, hand-cuffed and in the hands of his enemies, is still genuinely frightening. It's not nearly enough to rescue this messy dud.

2014, dir. Patrick Hughes. With Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Mel Gibson, Wesley Snipes, Kelsey Grammer, Antonio Banderas, Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Jet Li.

Explorers

I decided to watch "Explorers" because it was a well reviewed (77% on Rotten Tomatoes) science fiction movie (I like science fiction) very much of my generation that I'd totally missed.

The first half is a voyage of discovery for three young boys (Hawke, Phoenix, Presson) as the smartest of them builds electronics components from the dreams of one of the others. The device they create allows them to create an inertia-less flying machine, which they eventually find out can function as a spacecraft. The second half of the movie degenerates into a really bad variety comedy show with aliens. It would have seemed weak in 1985 - in 2015 it's jaw-droppingly awful.

It was interesting seeing the very young Hawke and Phoenix and the first half of the movie actually felt like it was headed somewhere interesting. But that doesn't redeem the awfulness.

1985, dir. Joe Dante. With Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix, Jason Presson, Amanda Peterson, James Cromwell, Dana Ivey, Robert Picardo, Dick Miller, Mary Kay Place.

Exploring the Deserts of the Earth

A documentary of a 900 day trip by motorcycle across nearly all of the deserts of the entire planet. Wallner is a very good cinematographer who produces some excellent footage, whether she's pointing the camera at people or landscapes. The 357 minute running time is broken up into 12 segments, two DVDs. If this were all deserts and nothing but, I might not have made it through: but it's broken up by the stories of their travels, which are occasionally quite fascinating. In Turkmenistan (? not sure it was that country, but one of the former Soviet republics) they were required to take two government watchers with them. The government watchers followed them into the dunes in a very old minivan, which got stuck. Over and over. Until Martin and Wallner hired two senior citizens in a very large truck to travel with them and periodically rescue the government watchers. Utterly bizarre.

2006, dir. Michael Martin, Elke Wallner. With Michael Martin, Elke Wallner. English narration by David Ingram.


F

The F Word

Radcliffe plays Wallace, a medical school drop-out with a lousy job who lives with his sister (Rooper) in Toronto. His last relationship ended badly a bit more than a year ago. On one of his first social outings since then, he meets Chantry (Kazan) who seems wonderful ... but has a boyfriend. They become close friends while struggling with their attraction to each other.

The movie is based on the play Toothpaste and Cigars, and was released in "some countries" (per Wikipedia - I think they mean mostly the U.S.A.) as "What If." Director Dowse's record is interesting: with two "FUBAR" movies, "It's All Gone Pete Tong" and "Goon" behind him, he's never done anything remotely resembling a romantic comedy before (and maybe that's a good thing).

It's a real pleasure to see Toronto being Toronto: it's my home town, it appears in hundreds of movies, but always as "New York," or "Chicago," or Anonymous, U.S.A. So for once it gets to play itself.

I've said this before, but of the "Harry Potter" crew, Radcliffe is definitely the most interesting: he's been getting out there and doing different projects (some of them distinctly weird, like "Horns"), trying and stretching his acting skills. He's not (yet) a brilliant actor, but he's not bad at all and he's charming here. And Kazan - I hadn't seen her before. Also charming, as required. Again, possibly not a great actress (yet), but what a legacy she has: her grandfather was Elia Kazan, one of Hollywood's most famous directors, both her parents are well-established screenwriters, and she herself is also a screenwriter and playwright. A very entertaining story-in-a-story.

The final product is perhaps a little more scatological than I would have liked - mostly, but not exclusively, in the form of Wallace's friend Allan (Driver), but clever and funny writing combined with such appealing leads produces one of the best rom coms I've seen in a long time.

2013, dir. Michael Dowse. With Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Megan Park, Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis, Rafe Spall.

F/X

Rollie Tyler (played by Brown) is a special effects man for the movies, one of the best. He's approached by the Department of Justice, who convince him to stage a false public assassination of a crime boss so he can be put into a witness relocation program. The "assassination" goes beautifully, but suddenly he's on the run for actually committing the murder. He uses his skills to outwit his pursuers and trap the people who set him up.

Watching in 2010, the movie looks very "Eighties" - but it's clever and well done. For a movie that's primarily about special effects, continuity falls down rather badly in one or two places, but good performances and a solid mystery keep it interesting.

1986, dir. Robert Mandel. With Bryan Brown, Cliff De Young, Brian Dennehy, Jerry Orbach, Mason Adams, Diane Venora.

Fahrenheit 451

Based on the Ray Bradbury novel, and showcasing not one but two wooden performances by Christie (two different roles). Werner seems determined to save face for Christie by turning in a performance so wooden it comes with splinters. I was disappointed because the script was actually a good interpretation of Bradbury, although painfully Seventies.

1966, dir. François Truffaut. With Julie Christie, Oskar Werner, Cyril Cusack.

Fahrenheit 9/11

Moore takes a look at the events surrounding September 11th, 2001. He looks closely at a lot of things that the news media have ignored. This is his best movie yet. The word "objectivity" simply isn't in his vocabulary, but, as biased as this is, it's deeply affecting, depressing, thought-provoking, and definitely worth seeing.

2004. dir. Michael Moore. Starring a whole bunch of politicians.

Failure to Launch

Rom com, based on McConaughey's failure to leave his parent's house by age 35. Parker is the woman hired to "simulate" a relationship with him and thus get him to leave. Has its moments, but a wide array of well-acted caricatures couldn't save bad dialogue and a bad plot. The biting animals got particularly tiresome.

2006, dir. Tom Dey. With Matthew McConaughey, Sarah Jessica Parker, Zooey Deschanel, Justin Bartha, Bradley Cooper, Terry Bradshaw, Kathy Bates.

The Fall

I have such mixed feelings about this movie I don't even know where to begin. Possibly the most visually stunning movie I've ever seen. Singh is incredibly pretentious, billing himself simply as "Tarsem" as writer, director, and producer ... and the movie went straight down the tubes, with a worldwide gross of $3.6M (as of 2012-02): he's not using big name stars here, but the locations and cinematography were breath-taking and all over Asia, Europe and Africa. In fact, quite a few of the scenes recreated my visit to India - the Red Fort at Agra, the Taj Mahal, and Jantar Mantar. Plus the Charles Bridge in Prague and the Hagia Sophia, which I've also visited. (The movie went a lot more places besides - Wikipedia has an extensive list.) But he's removed the dirt, the crowds, any modern elements, and all distractions - the focus, simplicity, and beauty of the shots, every single one, is astounding.

But the story kind of sucks. It reminded me considerably of Gilliam's "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" - with better cinematography and a poorer story. Sure, I could see what he was trying to do and it was a very grand vision, but the writing was sophomoric at best. Fans of cinematography must watch this, but possibly with the sound down. It's kind of heart-breaking to see such brilliant work in the service of such a poorly realized story.

2006, dir. Tarsem Singh. With Lee Pace, Catinca Untaru, Justine Waddell, Daniel Caltagirone, Marcus Wesley, Robin Smith, Jeetu Verma, Leo Bill, Julian Bleach.

The Family Man

Cage plays a business man who turned his back on the love of his life 13 years ago. On Christmas day he finds himself living the life he would have had if he'd stuck with the woman of his dreams (Leoni, who is luminous - as the harried mother of three, more beautiful here than any other woman ever put on film). Cage channels Jimmy Stewart pretty much the whole way, but despite reasonably good acting the silly premise causes the movie to fall apart.

2001, dir. Brett Ratner. With Nicolas Cage, Téa Leoni, Jeremy Piven, Don Cheadle.

The Family Stone

Is it a comedy? A drama? It's a big, fat mess! Parker plays an incredibly uptight business woman brought into the midst of a laid-back, wacky, and slightly unforgiving family by her new boyfriend (Mulroney). In the script's scramble to cover every possible comedic, political, and dramatic note, a complete car wreck of a movie is assured. The romantic ... re-alignments that occur toward the end of the movie are far too pat, and too politely achieved. And yet there is some satisfaction in watching a large ensemble cast of very talented actors going to town with this mess of text and actually pulling out some moments both touching and funny.

2005, dir. Thomas Bezucha. With Sarah Jessica Parker, Claire Danes, Luke Wilson, Dermot Mulroney, Craig T. Nelson, Rachel McAdams, Diane Keaton, Tyrone Giordano.

Fanie Fourie's Lobola

I saw this on the library shelf and became curious about what "Lobola" meant. It turns out to be the price the groom pays the bride's family to be allowed to marry the bride - and the price is traditionally paid in cows. I watched this at least in part as an education in South African culture - and I certainly got that. I was also to learn that "Fanie" is in fact the male involved, not the woman as I'd expected. Fanie (played by van Jaarsveldt) is a decent guy, but also a bit of a goofball, a bit of a redneck - he lives and works in his mother's very large garage, creating car art with the help of the family employee Petrus (Masiteng).

The dialogue veers between English, Afrikaans, and Zulu throughout the movie - and the producers decided that they would subtitle the Afrikaans and Zulu (whether you wanted it or not - it's burned in), and not the English (whether you wanted it or not). Which was unfortunate, as some of the English was heavily accented ... But that's a minor issue with the DVD.

Fanie isn't very good with women, and at his brother's bachelor party he's dared to ask a girl out. That girl is the beautiful Dinky (Dlomo), who initially rejects him but returns with a counter-proposal: she'll go as his date to his brother's wedding if he'll come to lunch at her place to act as a date in front of her father.

This is a romantic comedy, so you know where this ends up. But they have a pretty tough road ahead of them as his family is staid (and somewhat racist) Afrikaans, and hers is Zulu (and not much more welcoming to a white boy). I was surprised how much I enjoyed the humour: I expected to miss some of it because these are two cultures I haven't got a clue about, but either I didn't miss much or there was just a lot more to enjoy. I found the acting decent, and the movie incredibly charming and quite funny. I hesitate to recommend it only because it's going to be hard to find for most people: if you can find it, watch it: it's great.

2013, dir. Henk Pretorius. With Eduan van Jaarsveldt, Zethu Dlomo, Jerry Mofokeng, Marga van Rooy, Motlatsi Mafatshe, Chris Chameleon, Yule Masiteng.

Fantastic Four (2005)

Not the best of the superhero movies, but not the worst either. The script and acting were both mediocre, with the exception of Chiklis, who did more with a lump of rock (as "The Thing") than any of the others managed with their own faces. Gruffudd managed a credible American accent, but spent his time on that - not acting. But it's an enjoyable movie.

The commentary on the BR with Alba, Gruffudd and Chiklis is okay. Alba is deeply concerned about having to walk around in heels (sure, it's a pain, but 15 minutes of commentary on that isn't interesting), and Chiklis thought everyone on the entire project was a fantastic person (but was otherwise pretty interesting). Sounds like Evans ad-libbed half his spoken lines: if so, he's pretty good.

2005, dir. Tim Story. With Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon.

Fantastic Four (2015)

One of the review blurbs on Rotten Tomatoes said that this stirred fond memories of the 2005 version - while acknowledging that that was quite an achievement. It does, and it is: as shaky as the 2005 version was, it was at least kind of fun. This one has almost no action, clichéd dialogue, and weak acting, and is no fun at all. It's a very nearly identical origin story, with Johnny (Jordan) and Sue Storm (Mara - Sue was adopted), Reed Richards (Teller), Ben Grimm (Bell), and Victor Von Doom (Kebbell) being exposed to some weird form of radiation. It just takes longer and there's lots of bad dialogue.

Trank - who directed the fairly decent but "alternative" and rather dark super powers movie "Chronicle" - was never going to deliver a movie in the classic Marvel mold. He's complained loud and long since the movie came out about studio interference. But the poor dialogue and poor acting - that's the choice and product of the director.

Marvel would love to have their first family of superheroes up and running to bring the entire Marvel Universe together ... instead they have an even worse stinker on their hands than the first attempt. When should we expect the next reboot?

2015, dir. Josh Trank. With Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathy, Tim Blake Nelson.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

Considerably worse than the previous one, which at least had some character development. This one just rips into not particularly good action. Alba looks more like plastic than the CG Surfer and the gags aren't funny.

2007, dir. Tim Story. With Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon, Kerry Washington.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox

A stop-motion animated version of Roald Dahl's children's novel of the same name. I didn't like the style of animation much, particularly when there were close-ups on animal faces and they seemed to be caught in a wind storm (although I seem to be in the minority on this). The story is fun and the plot moves along fairly swiftly. Mr. Fox (Clooney) is a former chicken thief - "former" at the request of his wife Mrs. Fox (Streep), as it's a dangerous line of work. He now writes a column for the paper. But having moved into a new house near some very tempting farms, he returns to his old ways without telling his wife. The farmers are upset and fight back: escalation ensues.

The dialogue is quite witty and well delivered by the high-powered cast, often being quite philosophical about why Mr. Fox does what he does, or why their nephew Kristofferson (Eric Anderson) behaves that way. Huge chunks of it will go right over kid's heads, but will definitely entertain parents. The kids on the other hand will still enjoy the movie for its various "heists," occasional low-brow humour, and fast pace.

2009, dir. Wes Anderson. With George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, Michael Gambon, Robin Hurlstone, Hugo Guinness, Eric Chase Anderson, Wallace Wolodarsky.

Fantastic Planet (orig. "La Planète sauvage")

We see a world where humans (called "Oms," a play on the French "Hommes") are seen by the dominant species the Draags as both a pest (at 1/50th the size of the Draags) and a pet. Our human commentator is raised in captivity, but his keeper enjoys keeping him around so much that he starts picking up a significant amount of Draag education. Eventually he escapes with a Draag education device and joins the wild Oms (who are constantly in danger of extermination).

Based on Oms en série by the French author Stefan Wul.

I kind of liked the illustrations, but didn't like the animation (if that makes any sense). Wikipedia's description explains it to me, anyway: "cutout stop motion." There are a large variety of incredibly freaky animals and "things" that we see during the film - our reaction was "someone was taking some good drugs." Really, really weird. The vision of humans as a minor annoyance to be periodically stamped out (sometimes literally) was quite disturbing. I'm reluctant to say I "liked" the movie, but it was both interesting and thought-provoking.

1973, dir. René Laloux. English voices by Jennifer Drake, Eric Baugin, Jean Topart, Jean Valmont.

Far From Men

Set in Algeria in the 1950s, a school teacher (Mortensen) is unwillingly made to take a military prisoner (Kateb, whose character apparently killed his cousin with a billhook) from his back country school house a day's travel to the military outpost. What they don't bother to remind you of at all is that Algeria was right in the midst of a long and ugly rebellion against French rule at the time (and it definitely helps to know that). You're going to need subtitles: even if you speak French, a good portion of it is in Arabic(?). The movie in fact spends no time whatsoever on explanatory text, possibly less than I've ever encountered: you'll discover who these people are by watching and learning, just as they learn about each other. In principle this is proper film-making: this is how life is. In practice I find I might prefer at least a little more explanation. My father, not known for praising movies or TV series, praised this one to the skies: he thought it was the best movie he'd seen in the past four years. I found it less enchanting than that, although well drawn and very well acted characters and a good story arc (which goes absolutely nowhere you thought it might) did make for a good movie.

2014, dir. David Oelhoffen. With Viggo Mortensen, Reda Kateb, Djemel Barek, Vincent Martin, Nicolas Giraud, Jean-Jerome Esposito, Hatim Sadiki.

Farscape, Best of Season 1 (TV)

This set of (supposedly the "best") six episodes from the well known science fiction series is absolute proof that there's no justice in the world. The far superior "Firefly" series was cancelled before it had run an entire season, and this one went on to multiple seasons.

"Farscape" looks good, with production quality oozing out all over. And the acting isn't bad. But the scripts suck and the meaningless "out of the frying pan into the fire" in every single episode became exceedingly tiresome.

1999. With Ben Browder, Claudia Black, Virginia Hey, Anthony Simcoe, Gigi Edgley.

Fast Five

I watched "The Fast and the Furious" back around the time it came out in 2001. I wasn't terribly impressed, and avoided the rest of the series. But "Fast Five" and "Fast & Furious 6" have both received very good reviews (77% and 69% respectively on Rotten Tomatoes as of 2013-09), so I decided it was time to take another look. I like my dumb action flicks.

Domenic Toretto (Diesel) is on the jail bus as the movie starts, but Mia (Brewster) and Brian (Walker) are there in their fast cars to crash the bus and rescue Dom. The team ends up in Rio de Janiero where an apparently simple car theft gets them tangled up with THE drug lord in the city. Things are further complicated by the arrival of DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Johnson), determined to bring the team down.

Their defiance of the laws of physics wasn't quite as bad as I expected - although towing a vault through the streets of the city with a couple of cars was pretty ridiculous. As unbelievable as it was, it was all hugely entertaining. The series has a very weird combination of hot cars, heists, and family values. This one is worth a watch if you like your action movies.

2011, dir. Justin Lin. With Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Matt Schulze, Sung Kang, Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot, Joaquim de Almeida, Elsa Pataky.

Fast & Furious 6

Picks up, reasonably enough, where "Fast 5" left off. We see a robbery by another team of Hot Wheels thieves, and our new favourite law enforcement officer (Johnson), reviews what happened and decides the only way to catch this world class team is to employ the other world class car thieves, namely Dom (Diesel) and his crew. Dom and company risk life and limb for full pardons ... and they really are risking their lives, because one of the good guys dies! But that's okay, because another crew member we thought was dead is resurrected, so apparently "death" is less permanent than we thought if you live "Fast."

I watched this after passing over F&F2-3-4 because I watched and quite enjoyed "Fast 5" - silly, charming and very entertaining. But this one fell apart for me: one of the virtues of the previous movie was that the villain was a really well drawn character, you felt like you understood him. Not the case here: the villain (Evans) is one dimensional evil. And his team is essentially an evil clone of Dom's team. This cloning is pointed out by one of the good guys, but I'm sorry, that doesn't make it better. And finally, the characters don't play as well and the script isn't particularly funny - not an essential trait, but one that helped a lot in the previous movie.

[SPOILER ALERT:] I was also seriously annoyed by the cliffhanger at the end, in which Jason Statham (presumably the bad guy in the next movie) offs one of our more likable characters. But a friend of mine who's a big fan of the series assures me that if you've seen "Tokyo Drift" (I haven't), then this is completion, a form of closure fans have been waiting three movies for.

2013, dir. Justin Lin. With Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Sun Kang, Gal Gadot, Luke Evans, Elsa Pataky, Michelle Rodriguez, Gina Carano.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Penn has always been the literal poster boy for this movie, although it's Leigh is arguably the most central character. Written by Cameron Crowe, the movie remains something of a cult classic - I didn't see it until 2008. I'm at a loss to see why it's a "classic." Yes, it's a passable representation of school in the Eighties, exaggerated for humour, but ... it's very episodic and I wasn't too crazy about the gags.

1982, dir. Amy Heckerling. With Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Sean Penn, Robert Romanus, Phoebe Cates, Brian Backer, Ray Walston.

Faster

This starts out looking like a slightly better produced violent revenge flick, but gets more complicated as it goes. The Rock (Johnson) is actually pretty good, and several of the characters get rather more personality than you expect from the genre. The end is total fantasy - unfortunate given that they made other parts of it unexpectedly real, but overall a pretty decent film for fans of the genre.

After a second watch, I'd say that this is an intensely frustrating film. The Rock really is surprisingly decent. Oddly, the man is actually better at being charming - but here, he's asked to play a reasonably decent man with a ruthless lethal streak a mile wide and single-minded murderous determination ... and he does it pretty well. It has moments of sheer cinematic brilliance - the plot line about the preacher in particular, but it's not the only bit - and moments of utter stupidity. Could have made it beyond the genre if it had had a better plot - too bad.

2010, dir. George Tillman Jr. With Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino, Moon Bloodgood, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Maggie Grace, Mike Epps.

Father Goose

2011 reviews of this movie point out that Grant was merrily playing against type after decades of being suave and debonair - although the movie is still a comedy (and romantic, more or less). In this case he plays Walter Eckland, bumming around tropical islands and getting drunk whenever he can. Unfortunately, the Second World War interferes, and he is involuntarily recruited as an island watcher. Things get more complicated when a school teacher (Catherine Freneau, played by Caron) and her seven charges wind up on his island and interfering with his already messed up drinking schedule. Caron is too young for Grant and their characters falling in love is a little contrived, but Grant does look remarkably good and a lot can be forgiven when the movie is this funny. Recommended for people who like this generation of movies.

1964, dir. Ralph Nelson. With Cary Grant, Leslie Caron, Trevor Howard, Jack Good.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

I love Gilliam, but this is exceptionally weird, even for him. Depp plays Hunter S. Thompson, accompanied by del Toro as his severely drugged-up lawyer.

dir. Terry Gilliam. With Johnny Depp, Benicio del Toro.

Fearless (aka "Huo Yuan Jia")

Li claims this will be his last martial arts film. Certainly it's one of his better ones. He plays Huo Yuanjia, a martial artist with a burning pride that eventually drives him to go too far, and ruins his life. The recovery offers us something akin to drama - Li isn't a brilliant actor, but he's likable and does a reasonable job. Of course there must be a reconciliation and a final fight (or vice versa, it doesn't really matter). I continue to be thankful for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" which raised the bar for martial arts movies and allowed movies like this - with real cinematography, good action, and occasionally decent acting - to exist.

2006, dir. Ronny Yu. With Jet Li, Shido Nakamura, Yong Dong, Nathan Jones.

La Femme Nikita

Not an easy film to watch, but worth the effort. Nikita is a drug addict who kills a cop and is put to death without a trial. She awakes to find herself in a government training program for assassins. Excellent acting, nerve-wracking.

1990. dir. Luc Besson. With Anne Parillaud, Tcheky Karyo, Jean-Hughes Anglade.

Fever Pitch (2005)

I don't like the Farrellys, I don't like Barrymore, and I'm not crazy about Fallon. Which makes me wonder why I would watch this in the first place, and made it a pretty big surprise when I actually liked the movie ... Based on a Nick Hornby novel that's already a successful British movie starring Colin Firth, the Farrellys changed football to baseball and relocated to Boston. Fallon is one of the Red Sox's most dedicated fans, and Barrymore the woman he falls for - and who falls for him. Can they balance his obsession with their love? Teeters on the edge of gross, but but for once the Farrellys resist the urge to fall into a huge heap of shit for a laugh. In fact, it's almost ... charming.

2005, dir. Bobby and Peter Farrelly. With Drew Barrymore, Jimmy Fallon, Jack Kehler, Ione Skye, Evan Helmuth.

A Few Good Men

Daniel Kaffee (Cruise) is a young and intelligent JAG corps lawyer who's mastered the plea bargain but never really been to court. He's teamed up with good investigator/mediocre lawyer JoAnne Galloway (Moore) to deal with the death of a Marine in a hazing gone wrong at Gitmo (before it became infamous).

From an early play by Aaron Sorkin, with all the good and bad that implies - fortunately before he decided the walk-and-talk was a major form of communication. A very sharp screenplay. On the other hand, there are places where it's too self-consciously clever, and there's a staggeringly clichéd salute (both metaphorical and physical) at the end of the movie. But the mystery, the courtroom battle and the personalities involved are all very well played, so overall quite good.

1992, dir. Rob Reiner. With Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Kevin Pollak, Kevin Bacon, Jack Nicholson, J. T. Walsh, Kiefer Sutherland.

Fido

Imagine prototypical Fifties suburbia - with the undead for servants. And occasionally the zombies just ... do what zombies do. Social satire and a chunk of nasty humour. Even though Nelson did what he always does, I thought it was an excellent fit for the movie. And Connolly was great as the titular zombie - the main character who never has a single word of articulate dialogue.

2006, dir. Andrew Currie. With Carrie-Anne Moss, Billy Connolly, Dylan Baker, K'Sun Ray, Tim Blake Nelson, Henry Czerny.

Field of Dreams

Costner plays Ray Kinsella, who hears a voice when he's standing in his cornfield in Iowa. Eventually he concludes that what it's telling him to do is build a baseball field in the middle of his property. As his reduced corn acreage drives him and his family toward bankruptcy, the voice returns to send him on another quest, to recruit author Terrence Mann (Jones, wonderful) to help his cause.

I'm not a huge fan of baseball, but this is one of the most charming and entertaining movies I've ever seen. I've seen it several times and it remains a favourite.

1989, dir. Phil Alden Robinson. With Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, Burt Lancaster, Frank Whaley.

The Fifth Element

This is a very silly film. The first time I saw it I thought it was supposed to be serious, and was very disappointed. Adjust your mind to a full-bore science fiction parody, and it's a complete blast.

Willis plays an ex-Special Forces major, now a down-on-his-luck taxi driver. Who suddenly has the perfect woman (Jovovich) - who also happens to be the fifth element, the key to defeating ultimate evil - drop, literally, into his taxi cab.

1997, dir. Luc Besson. With Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, Chris Tucker, Brion James.

56 Up

In 1964, Granada Television had a movie made called "Seven Up!" with a view to showing the children who would be leading the world in the year 2000. Apted revisited those children when they were 14, and has continued to do so every seven years, resulting in one of the worlds' longest running and most interesting documentary series. I've followed it since "28 Up," and always been fascinated by it as they're all eight years older than me, and give a window into what my life may be like in a few years - although it's also giving me a view of people in Britain, and I'm not British.

I think for me a part of the pleasure of these movies was that they were showing me people somewhat older than me - and I was seeing, every time, that life was still getting better. But that's finally reached a turning point for some of them: poor health and the British economy has effected several of them rather badly (including the librarian, Lynn). But on the plus side, both my favourites - Nick (the engineer) and Suzy - returned, although Suzy had stated in "49 Up" that she thought she wouldn't. Both intelligent, charming people that I'd like to know, who seem to be getting on well with life.

In the previous movie there was some discussion of the notoriety all of them had required as a result of the series - they're frequently recognized, despite their only celebrity being from this one series. And of course it affects their lives - quite strongly. I suspect this is also detracting from my enjoyment of the series, although it's totally unavoidable. Another thing that came up a lot was how people seem to think they know the participants, although our window into their life is hearing them talk for ten minutes once every seven years. It's a well-taken point - but again, discussion of that (although legitimate) takes away from time hearing about what they're actually doing.

The end product is, for the first time, one I enjoyed less than its predecessor. Still a good and fascinating movie, and a project I hope he continues (although Apted himself is, as I write, 74 years old).

2012, dir. Michael Apted.

Fight Club

Violent, yes, but with reason. Excellent social commentary, funny in a very twisted way. Highly recommended. Superbly structured and detailed, stands up to multiple viewings.

1999, dir. David Fincher. With Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter, Meat Loaf Aday.

Filière 13 ("File 13")

A Quebecois movie, I borrowed this from the library because it was directed by Huard who also did "Bon Cop, Bad Cop." I was pleasantly surprised: there's a bit too much awkward-situation-mugging and slapstick, but Lemay-Thivierge is pretty good at it. And Lemay-Thivierge and Legault both act quite well - good, given that the movie rests on their shoulders.

Legault plays Thomas, one of Montreal's best cops brought low by a permanent debilitating headache. Lemay-Thivierge is the police public relations officer who starts having crippling anxiety attacks. They're both assigned to a boring, dead-end observation job - which they mess up. But they get a break in solving another stale case (which ties into the Gomery Commission of all things), and, despite a suspension, insist on pursuing it while trying to pull their lives together again. Not a bad film.

2010, dir. Patrick Huard. With Claude Legault, Guillaume Lemay-Thivierge, Paul Doucet, Jean Pierre Bergeron, Elisabeth Locas, Marie Turgeon, André Sauvé.

The Final Cut

Near future science fiction, with Williams as a "Cutter," an editor of life stories from an implant that records everything. An interesting look at the ethics (particularly relating to privacy) of such an enhancement. Unfortunately the ideas are a lot better than the plot or the central actor.

2004, dir. Omar Naim. With Robin Williams, Mira Sorvino, Jim Caviezel.

The Final Member

Iceland has a Phallological Museum (it really does: this is a documentary). To translate, that would be a "Penis Museum." Sigurour Hjartarson started collecting penises in 1974, and opened the museum in 1999. The movie is mostly about his quest to have a human penis in the collection. He finds two men who are willing to donate (Aranson, Mitchell), and both of them are - as you might imagine - unusual characters. The movie is eye-opening, hilarious, thought-provoking, and just generally fascinating. We paused the movie repeatedly for fits of laughter and debates about the sanity of the people in the movie, the filmmakers, and our society as a whole.

2012, dir. Jonah Bekhor, Zach Math. With Sigurour Hjartarson, Pall Aranson, Tom Mitchell.

Finding Dory

I saw this sequel to "Finding Nemo" on the plane to Beijing. Movies are occasionally edited for content (or even for length) on planes, so who knows if I saw the whole thing. It's a children's movie, so probably. It's also a LOT smaller than it would have been in a theatre or even at home: seat-back screens are what, 10 inches? Maybe even less.

Dory starts having flashbacks to her childhood - which is a big deal for her since she can't even remember breakfast. Determined to find her parents, she sets out on a quest - with Marlin and Nemo involuntarily in tow behind her, as they try to keep up. Dory tries to find her family, Marlin and Nemo try to find Dory.

Degeneres was good as Dory. Marlin and Nemo aren't exactly minor characters, but they've been reduced to something less: they understand what Dory is trying to achieve, and they have no great emotional story arc to follow ... all they need to follow is Dory. It seems rather inevitable after the last movie that there will be tanks and captured fish involved, but I thought they went too far - particularly the grand finale with the truck. Seriously, this seemed like a good idea to you?

Hank the Septipus (he's renamed by Dory who notes he only has seven arms instead of an Octopus's regular eight) is the stand-out new character ... and they know it. As good as he is, he doesn't carry the entire film. It's sweet and funny, it's not bad, but it's neither as good looking nor quite as emotionally rewarding as "Finding Nemo."

2016, dir. Andrew Stanton. With Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O'Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy.

Finding Nemo

Another fantastic movie from Pixar. I wasn't as in love with this the first couple times I saw it, but it's grown to be one of my favourite Pixars. The animation (particularly in the 3D version) is utterly dazzling, and the story is a very funny and charming coming-of-age story - not just for the young clownfish Nemo (Gould), but also for his insecure and over-protective father Marlin (Brooks). Marlin is assisted in his travels by Dory (DeGeneres, hilarious), a fish with incredibly bad short term memory (used to great comedic effect).

The 3D BluRay version is glorious - although Disney made a very odd and annoying decision at some point: when you press pause, the on-screen image flattens and the time-based menu pops out at you. So 3D is achievable in pause, but they've broken it to display the menu. Bizarre.

2003. dir. Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich. With Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe.

Finding Neverland

I saw this one on a plane so I may have missed some content, but it claimed it was only edited "to fit the screen." A story based on the events in J.M. Barrie's life leading up to the creation of Peter Pan. I was really frustrated with some of the absurdities in the movie (I'm not talking about the flights of fancy with the children either), but both Depp and Winslet are excellent.

2004. dir. Marc Forster. Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Dustin Hoffman.

Finding Vivian Maier

John Maloof is around 30, and has spent much of his life going to garage sales and buying up the contents of storage lockers. In 2009(?) he bought a storage locker lot that included a large quantity of photographic negatives, hoping for images of Chicago for a project he was working on. That didn't work out, but what he got instead were some brilliant photos: photographic negatives are the kind of thing you usually throw out when you find them in the storage locker, but not these ones. So Maloof went and bought up the other lots from the same locker, and began inventorying everything. The photographer in question was Vivian Maier. Maloof convinced one gallery to show her work - I doubt he needed to do any convincing after that, because her posthumous rise to fame has been explosive. And with good reason: she was a brilliant photographer.

Much of the film follows Maloof as he interviews various people who knew her, and even ends up taking an excursion to a small town in the French Alps where she had travelled and had some cousins. She was employed as a nanny - photography was something she did all the time, but she never showed her images to anyone during her lifetime. Highly recommended.

You can try a sample of her photography with a Google Image Search.

2013, dir. John Maloof and Charlie Siskel.

Fire Dragon

I found this movie while looking for anything involving Jackie Chan. He's a minor character in this third rate, non-sensical piece of trash. I've been unable to find any significant record of the existence of this movie, although there are a couple references on the internet.

The plot seems to revolve around a superhuman agent of the ATA who is pursuing some evil Chinese Nazis. He's looking to track down a woman outlaw and her band of weird cohorts who are all introduced as being at ease with ghosts - although ghosts never figure in the story again. Jackie gives our agent some directions to the girl, and does some fighting (in which it's quite clear that he's substantially more talented than anyone else in the film). In the end, very nearly everyone except the agent die in a massive bloodbath in one of the two Nazi camps.

Footage is borrowed directly from the opening of "The Fearless Hyena 2" (all I ever watched of that film, which looks every bit as good as this one) and undoubtedly several other films. The information "Jackie" gives the agent is given while we see the back of his head or pictures of him on the wall, which suggests that he wasn't present for that particular discussion.

1987?

Firefly (TV)

Like all of Whedon's products, both funny and depressing. This was a very good show. Unfortunately, despite its good qualities, it was cancelled after only fourteen episodes (that's what's on the DVDs - not sure all of them got airtime). The premise is simple: Mal Reynolds, the captain of "Serenity," a Firefly class spaceship, takes jobs of dubious legality and tries to stay away from the eyes of the Alliance. It's essentially a Western in space, but with immensely more thought put into it than the majority of that genre. Because of its short run, it never encountered the stagnation that many long TV series get bogged down in. It also doesn't feel much like other SF series or movies ... although it occasionally goes awfully Western.

2002. Created by Joss Whedon. With Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Summer Glau, Morena Baccarin, Jewel Staite, Adam Baldwin, Sean Maher, Ron Glass.

Firewall

Just not a good movie. Ford looks remarkably like a 63 year old trying to be an action hero. The plot twists and turns to no particular end, except to leave the viewer feeling incredibly uninvolved. Ford plays a bank computer security expert, Bettany the criminal who uses Ford's family to blackmail him into stealing from the bank. While the details are somewhat unpredictable, the whole comes out exactly as you'd expect it and the unpredictability adds no interest at all.

2006, dir. Richard Loncraine. With Harrison Ford, Paul Bettany, Virginia Madsen.

The Fisher King

Bridges plays an obnoxious radio DJ who, through an off-hand remark on air, precipitates a shotgun killing spree in a bar. A couple years later his depression has driven him to the edge of suicide, but he meets a homeless man whose life was also changed by that shooting. I found the allegory and path of redemption too blatant and heavy-handed, although they were intended to be that way. Nevertheless, very funny and quite fascinating to watch, because it's so weird.

1991, dir. Terry Gilliam. With Jeff Bridges, Robin Williams, Mercedes Ruehl, Amanda Plummer.

A Fist Full of Dollars

Take "Yojimbo," replace swords with guns, and you have "A Fist Full of Dollars." The movie that set Leone and Eastwood on the road to fame is very much a Kurosawa film - without the humour. Pretty good for a western.

1964, dir. Sergio Leone. With Clint Eastwood, Gian Maria Volanté.

Fist of Fury

Alternative title in North America "The Chinese Connection." I have a huge respect for Lee as a martial artist, but he's a staggeringly wooden actor and the martial arts aren't presented in an interesting way. If you have to watch Lee, go for "Enter the Dragon" or "Return of the Dragon."

1972, dir. Wei Lo. With Bruce Lee.

Fist of Legend

Jet Li remakes the Bruce Lee movie "Chinese Connection"/"Fist of Fury." 1937 China, Li returns from Japan because his kung fu master has died. An unusual period, but a very traditional setup. Lots of enmity toward the invading Japanese, including Li's girlfriend. That at least was a bit different. Unfortunately, they lost me when they sped up the fight scenes. I accept well-done wirework, although I'm not generally keen on it, but speeding up fights seems to me an implicit acknowledgement that they just weren't interesting or well enough done at their normal speed. And since you don't watch martial arts films for the acting ... I have to consider this one a loss. Too bad.

1994, dir. Gordon Chan. With Jet Li, Billy Chan, Yasuaki Kurata.

5 Centimeters per Second

Possibly the slowest-paced movie I've ever seen in my life, I nevertheless found it utterly mesmerizing. Makoto Shinkai (who produced, directed, and wrote) has a way with images and the philosophy of teenage love and angst that's just amazing. The images are a very strange blend of Anime with occasional touches of photorealism, and manage to make things like train schedules and power lines look stunningly beautiful (and sunsets and cherry blossoms even more beautiful than that). The movie is mostly about Takaki Tōno and to a somewhat lesser extent his middle school companion Akari Shinohara. The movie is divided into three segments - when Takaki is about 12, 16, and 22. The first 20 minutes consists of Takaki riding a train, with his voice-over and flashbacks about the girl he's going to meet. And the train delays - we spend a lot of time watching and hearing about train delays. It's great (and no, I'm not kidding.)

I suppose the movie is about longing and what-could-have-been. Philosophical, down-beat, and short (only about 60 minutes), it's not for everyone, but fans of the genre should absolutely see this as it's very good and it's already clear in 2017 that Shinkai is a rising star.

2007, dir. Makoto Shinkai. With Kenji Mizuhashi, Yoshimi Kondō, Satomi Hanamura, Ayaka Onouei.

(500) Days of Summer

Gordon-Levitt plays a young man who falls hard for a young woman (Deschanel). He thinks she's "the one," she's not looking for anything serious. Which, predictably, gets ugly. But the movie is extremely non-sequential: every section of it is prefaced by a (488) number letting you know what day of the relationship you're on. Some of the days you see several times, through different filters. Extremely funny in places and quite clever, but I found the ending somehow mildly unsatisfactory.

2009, dir. Marc Webb. With Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Chloë Moretz, Geoffrey Arend, Matthew Gray Gubler, Clark Gregg, Minka Kelly, Richard McGonagle.

Flags of Our Fathers

Shows the American side of the Battle of Iwo Jima, the making of the incredibly famous flag-raising photo, and how that propelled three men (with varying degrees of reluctance) to fame and "heroism" - for the simple fact of being in a photo. I found the structure perfectly understandable but unnecessarily complex - starting as it did in the middle, flashing back, moving forward, then flashing back some more. I'm not sure much was gained by that, but the characters are very well played, the battles are incredibly well staged (and invariably devastating), and the questions the movie raises about "heroism" are thought-provoking. Rotten Tomatoes short summaries are usually pretty good, and the one for this movie is particularly apt: "Flags of Our Fathers is both a fascinating look at heroism, both earned and manufactured, and a well-filmed salute to the men who fought at the battle of Iwo Jima." I hope to see Eastwood's companion movie, "Letters from Iwo Jima" (which shows the Japanese side of the battle) soon.

2006, dir. Clint Eastwood. With Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, Adam Beach, John Benjamin Hickey, Barry Pepper, Jamie Bell, Paul Walker.

The Flash (TV, 2014)

This review is based only on the first episode.

This series was launched by implication on "Arrow" during Season 2, when Barry Allen (Gustin), pre-Flash-ification, turned up in Starling City and helped out Arrow's team fighting crime. This series starts by showing him at work with the police as a forensic investigator: he's really good, but he's also a bit unfocused due to his obsession with his mother's death when he was a child, and his father's unjust conviction for that death. He's also a bit obsessed with the new particle accelerator in his hometown of Central City coming online ... but when it does, it melts down and causes a city-wide ... event. Barry is struck by lightning and goes into a coma for nine months. When he wakes, he can move incredibly fast. Guess what he does? He uses his power for good, along with his mentor Dr. Harrison Wells (the man behind the failed particle accelerator, played by Cavanagh) and new friends Dr. Caitlin Snow (Panabaker) and Cisco Ramon (Valdes).

Gustin is charming as Allen, and they've set up a nice group of characters around him, but by the end of the first episode we're already seeing massive elements of the soap-opera-like structure evident in "Arrow" (also by The CW) with his mentor having hidden talents and apparent evil intent and Barry being in love with his best friend who is dating someone else (and apparently that someone else is identifiable as the Flash's arch-enemy by the character name alone if you know your DC comic characters).

UPDATE: episodes 2 and 3 cemented my opinions: like "Arrow," emotional points are brought home with a sledgehammer, and character development is equally as subtle. Gustin remains charming, but the writing is awful.

2014. With Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Danielle Panabaker, Carlos Valdes, Tom Cavanagh, Jesse L. Martin.

Flash Point

Yen produced and starred in this movie about a cop who's perfectly at ease with beating the shit out of anyone he doesn't like. But when a gang of Vietnamese brothers (Chou, Lui, Xing) threaten the life of his partner, what was left of the regulations go right out the window.

Quite violent and not particularly good. There are lots of fights and they're fairly long (generally a good thing in a martial arts movie), but the choreography is only so-so. Yen was happy to bring a lot of MMA and groundwork into this one, and I suppose it does add some realism, but I don't find it as fun to watch.

2007, dir. Wilson Yip. With Donnie Yen, Collin Chou, Louis Koo, Ray Lui, Bingbing Fan, Yu Xing, Kent Cheng.

Flight

Washington plays Whip Whitaker, an airline pilot showing his rather dissolute life (sex, alcohol, cocaine) immediately prior to boarding a plane. The plane has a massive mechanical failure, and Whitaker manages, through impressive calm and spectacular flying skills, to land the plane. But during the massive investigation that follows, his life and problems unravel.

The movie starts off as something of an action flick with Whitaker landing a severely disabled plane - but the rest of the movie is an intimate portrayal of an unpleasant man in denial, complete with an ending that I didn't think really fitted the rest of the movie. Either way I didn't like it much (although Washington was very good).

2012, dir. Robert Zemeckis. With Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood, Don Cheadle.

Flight of the Phoenix (1965)

I actually saw this after the 2004 version. This one is better. What particularly stood out was Krüger's performance as the brilliant, egotistical, and viciously proud aircraft designer ... and Giovanni Ribisi's channelling of that performance in 2004. Ribisi's replica was note perfect. Same idea: transport plane crashes in the desert far off course, and after several days of reducing their water supply the aircraft designer suggests they attempt to build a new plane from the pieces left of the old plane. No one has any idea if it will work, but it's better than waiting to die.

1965, dir. Robert Aldrich. With James Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Peter Finch, Hardy Krüger, Ernest Borgnine, Ian Bannen, Ronald Fraser.

Flight of the Phoenix (2004)

This is a remake and I'd dearly like to see the original, which is supposed to be better. This is ... not bad, but hardly a great film - even given that all it wanted to be was an action flick. Simple premise: a transport plane crashes in the Chinese or Mongolian desert (they're not sure which) and it looks like their only way out is to put the bits of the plane back together into something that'll fly. It's blessed with good cinematography matched by a beautiful chunk of desert that's their primary set, but the acting is mediocre. The extras suggest that part of the problem was an obnoxious and not particularly good director.

2004, dir. John Moore. With Dennis Quaid, Tyrese Gibson, Giovanni Ribisi, Miranda Otto, Tony Curran, Sticky Fingaz, Jacob Vargas, Hugh Laurie, Scott Michael Campbell.

Flightplan

A comment at IMDB called this "'Panic Room' at 40,000 feet." There's a great deal of truth to that. Foster puts on her stressed out behaviour for most of the hour and a half, and it's all about her daughter. Unfortunately, the movie is just as tedious as her monotonic performance. The cinematography is deliberately very isolating, and in the process it doesn't so much raise tension as leech the life out of the movie.

2005, dir. Robert Schwentke. With Jodie Foster, Peter Sarsgaard, Sean Bean.

Flipped

So not what I expected from Reiner. Fortunately, mostly in a good way. The film is excessively sweet, but it's also (mostly) a kid's movie with none of the nastier humour I've come to expect from Reiner.

Juli (Carroll) falls in love with Bryce (McAuliffe) the day he moves in across from her as they're both starting second grade. She dogs his footsteps until things get flipped in seventh grade (set in 1963): she loses interest in him and he falls for her. We see it as a he-said-she-said with alternating points of view between the two of them.

There aren't really any laugh-out-loud jokes in this one, but it's charming from end to end, well done, and likely to keep you both smiling and chuckling quietly. Worth a watch. And, if the Wikipedia summary of the book is correct, it's very accurate to its source material (Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen).

2010, dir. Rob Reiner. With Callan McAuliffe, Madeline Carroll, John Mahoney, Aidan Quinn, Penelope Ann Miller, Anthony Edwards, Rebecca De Mornay.

Flushed Away

The action never stops - and that's a bit of a problem. Action and gags go by so fast you feel like you've missed half of it. For the first time, Aardman and company (think "Wallace and Gromit") have gone for computer animation - but they kept the exceptionally wide and toothy mouths. There are endless jokes about singing slugs - which are surprisingly funny. But I didn't really start laughing until three minutes before the closing credits, when they got their best gags in. The story follows a pampered pet mouse (Jackman) who has an unexpected sewer rat visitor who flushes him down the toilet. This leads him to a number of adventures, most of which involve Winslet as the captain of her own mouse boat (pun not intended). Ultimately, this seemed to me to be a waste of a huge amount of talent (just look at the cast list).

2006, dir. David Bowers, Sam Fell. With Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Ian McKellen, Bill Nighy, Jean Reno.

Flyboys

I got pissed off at this one early on because the characters are flying Nieuport 17s ... with radial engines rather than rotaries. If you're going to go to the trouble of getting so many replica planes and using so much CGI, then make the engines rotate. And then they were always flying against red Fokker triplanes, and that's just not how it happened. Yes, I know more about WWI aircraft than most people, but ... make the effort.

Mediocre acting and mediocre dialogue pretty much do the film in, although I thought that the portrayal of life in an air squadron during the first World War did seem fairly accurate - extremely short life expectancy, rejection by squadmates until you've proven yourself, visits to the whorehouse, living in abandoned mansions, partying wildly after the death of friends ...

2006, dir. Tony Bell. With James Franco, Martin Henderson, Jean Reno, Jennifer Decker, David Ellison, Tyler Labine, Abdul Salis.

Flying Swords of Dragon Gate

Set several hundred years ago in Chinese history - in the time of swordsmen who could fly through the air - the movie is mostly about a group of bandits fighting a spying and repressive government. The first half of the movie, about the evil spy bureaus being attacked by Zhou Huai'an (Li) and an escaped pregnant concubine rescued by another person claiming to be Zhou Huai'an sets up a huge confrontation in the desert in the middle of a sandstorm.

This isn't so much Li's movie as an ensemble cast. And sadly, it's not a martial arts movie - it's a wirework movie. More leaps are made through the air than dialogue is exchanged. I found the wirework distracting ("Iron Monkey" is the baseline for wirework, and this isn't nearly as good). There are disjointed pieces of surprisingly decent drama stuffed in between the crazy fights and around the hard to follow story, but the end product is a mess.

2011, dir. Tsui Hark. With Jet Li, Zhou Xun, Chen Kun, Li Yuchun, Gwei Lun-mei, Louis Fan, Mavis Fan.

Focus

Smith plays Nicky Spurgeon, a life-long con man. He meets the gorgeous and talented but inexperienced Jess (Robbie). She convinces him to train her, and eventually they have an affair. There's a hell of a time-jump in the middle of the movie, but the movie is mostly about the increasingly risky and emotionally dangerous cons that they pull.

It's nice watching Smith and Robbie work (and I mean acting, not conning). But every time "Farhad" (Martinez) walked on screen, we were treated to several minutes of sex humour: he was fairly funny, but it really didn't fit with the rest of the movie. The movie is uneven and not particularly good.

2015, dir. Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. With Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro, Adrian Martinez, Gerald McRaney, B.D. Wong, Brennan Brown, Dominic Fumusa.

Fools Rush In

A romantic comedy pitting Mexican culture against American. Fairly amusing. Perry has only one role he can play, but he does it well enough and Hayek is charming.

1997, dir. Andy Tennant. With Matthew Perry, Salma Hayek.

For a Few Dollars More

All the humour that was in "Yojimbo" that they didn't put in "A Fist Full of Dollars" was stuffed in this nominal sequel. The story's not nearly as good though, and the dead villain from the last movie is resurrected as a different villain in this movie - very weird. I thought the previous movie was better, but at least this one was funnier - and the showdown at the end is both cathartic and funny.

1965, dir. Sergio Leone. With Clint Eastwood, Gian Maria Volanté, Lee Van Cleef.

The Forbidden Kingdom

Not precisely the Jackie Chan-Jet Li match-up martial arts fans the world over have been hoping for for decades. Among other things, both are known for avoiding wirework, and this is all about wirework. And it combines Disney channel cheese with Hong Kong cheese, not exactly an appetizing platter. Nevertheless ... I kind of enjoyed it. Angarano (star of "Sky High") plays a martial arts obsessed underachiever who is transported to another dimension where he's made to live out something akin to one of his favourite M-A movies tutored by Chan and Li. It's pretty bad, but still quite fun.

2008, dir. Rob Minkoff. With Michael Angarano, Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Yifei Liu, Collin Chou.

A Foreign Field

A BBC Masterpiece Theatre production about a bunch of people arriving at the D-Day beaches 50 years after. Cyril (McKern) is a British vet who has the mentally damaged Amos (Guinness) in tow. Waldo (Randolph) is an American vet with his daughter (Chaplin) and her husband (Herrmann) in tow, and Lisa's (Bacall) brother was lost in the battle. Both McKern and Randolph are trying to locate Angelique (Moreau), a French woman they both had an affair with.

Unfortunately the structure and beats of the movie are very TV-movie-of-the-week. Guinness is good as the charming but imbecilic Amos, and McKern has a monologue to bring tears to your eyes, so it's not all bad. And Bacall ... even in a role like this she commands attention - damn, what a voice. It's also a good reminder of the war - something that's slowly being forgotten.

1993, dir. Charles Sturridge. With Leo McKern, Alec Guinness, John Randolph, Lauren Bacall, Jeanne Moreau, Edward Herrmann, Geraldine Chaplin.

Forever Young

Captain Daniel McCormick (Gibson) is a young test pilot just prior to World War II who's found the love of his life (Glasser), only to have her yanked away by fate. His best friend (Wendt) is working on cryogenics, and McCormick insists on becoming a human test subject. Through another accident he's left in hibernation for 53 years rather than just one, and awoken by accident by a couple kids, one of whom is Nat Cooper (Wood), playing in an old warehouse. Once he's thawed out (which takes a while) he becomes entangled with Nat and his mother (Curtis).

There was a time when Gibson used to be funny and charming, and he manages both well here. Curtis is very good, and Wood (at age 10) is doing a pretty respectable job. The story is ridiculous but quite sweet, and I really enjoyed it.

1992, dir. Steve Miner. With Mel Gibson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Elijah Wood, Isabel Glasser, George Wendt, Joe Morton.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Far too much of Segel's penis in this movie. And who wrote it in? Segel, who penned this not-very-funny comedy. Not titillating for anybody (this isn't a particularly attractive man) and not particularly funny. Segel plays Peter Bretter, a TV music composer devastated by the loss of his long-time girlfriend, the gorgeous TV star Sarah Marshall (Bell). He takes off for Hawaii to forget her only to find out she's staying at the same resort with her new rock star boyfriend (Brand). Apatow didn't direct, but his influence is still clear from the producer's seat. Except they're funnier when he's directing. It should be noted that I'm in direct conflict with the majority of critics on this movie.

2008, dir. Nicholas Stoller. With Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Russel Brand, Bill Hader, Maria Thayer, Jack McBrayer.

49 Up

One of the longest running projects ever done in film, and certainly the most fascinating. Apted started with the film "Seven Up!" for Granada TV in London in 1963, and every seven years has returned to visit the lives of each of the school children he first interviewed in 1963. I've seen them all from "21 Up" onward, and I love them. This one took me a while to get into, I suppose because I'm not a fan of Tony and Jackie who he started with. But then he got to some of the people I really like - Nick and Suzy particularly. The reason for the success of the movies is in large part Apted's not pursuing an agenda (he and Granada had an agenda in '63, but that died when it became his project), just letting them talk. At 49 they all seem happier than they've ever been, and it's great to see that. Highly recommended, all of them.

2006, dir. Michael Apted.

47 Ronin

"47 Ronin" got really bad reviews. As I write (early 2015) it's sitting at 14% on Rotten Tomatoes. And they're not wrong: it's ponderous and pedantic. Consider what the bad guy says to the ronin early on: "You're ronin now - masterless samurai" ... and he's saying that because it's for an American audience who may not be aware that that's what ronin has always meant. The actors are almost uniformly Japanese, but they're being made to speak English. And some of them just aren't very good at it. And they've taken this very famous, even revered, Japanese story about the 47 Ronin (Wikipedia) (there was a historical event this was based on) and grafted on a "half breed" (Reeves' character Kai) and witchcraft. Neither of which fit terribly well. And then there's the acting. If you can call it that. I really liked Hiroyuki Sanada (who plays the leader of the Ronin) in "The Last Samurai" as the grim master swordsman, but apparently that's all he's capable of. Of course when the other lead actor is Reeves, no one is getting upstaged - in fact, it's safe to say no one did any "acting" on this set.

And yet, and yet ... Perhaps it comes from watching years (decades?) of martial arts movies. With some bad movies I'm able to see through what they were doing to what they were actually trying to do, and enjoy that. My tolerance for bad movies has been going down, but decided to make a resurgence just in time for this movie, and I quite enjoyed it. Go figure.

2013, dir. Carl Rinsch. With Hiroyuki Sanada, Keanu Reeves, Tadanobu Asano, Rinko Kikuchi, Ko Shibasaki, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa.

Found Memories (orig. "Historias que so existem quando lembradas")

Possibly the most glacially paced movie I've ever seen. The movie first introduces us to Madalena (Sonia Guedes) and Antonio (Luiz Serra), two elderly people living in a nearly abandoned town in Brazil (Wikipedia claims the town name is Jotuomba, although I'm not sure where they got that - but then, the movie is in Brazilian Portuguese so I watched it with English subs). She brings her bread to his coffee shop, they put the bread away, he makes coffee, they sit on a bench and drink the coffee, all somewhat ritualistically while occasionally casually insulting each other and demonstrating a friendship of many years. And to make sure you get it, the scene is repeated with minor variations the next day. The town population is approximately 10, and life there is set in a series of rituals: baking bread early in the morning, morning coffee, Mass at the church, a meal at the Church. Slowly, so slowly. Although the director had a superb cinematographer on hand to somewhat ease the pain of the molasses-in-winter pace: more than half the shots in the film are static works of art, just beautiful to look at. After 20 minutes of this, a young woman (Rita, played by Lisa Fávero) walks into town along the abandoned rail line: she's a photographer, and takes up residence at Madalena's house. Unsurprisingly, her presence causes an upset to the rhythms and relationships of the place. But don't expect the scenes or plot to pick up speed just because someone young is in frame.

The conclusion is one of those sad/appropriate/beautiful things, a surprisingly satisfying (and unexpected, at least by me) ending to a slow journey. Although it was significantly marred by the lack of English subtitles on the final sentence of the film. Given that it was the only sentence in the scene AND the final line of the movie, it was intensely frustrating and left me wondering what I'd missed. Was it nothing but "thank you," or was it some deeply moving statement, or was it something that completely changed the meaning of the movie? I have no damn idea.

I can't whole-heartedly recommend the movie because it was so damn slow. But if you don't have a problem with that it's a really beautiful movie to look at and has a plot that will leave you thinking.

2012, dir. Julia Murat. With Sonia Guedes, Lisa Favero, Luiz Serra, Josias Ricardo Merkin, Antônio Das Santos.

The Fountain

Jackman and Weisz play a pair of lovers in three different time periods, the most comprehensible of which is set in our time. Jackman is Tom Creo, and Weisz is his wife Izzi, who is dying of a brain tumour. Tom, rather than spending time with his dying wife as she'd like, spends his time at the lab trying to find a cure for brain tumours. Our other sets of people are set 500 years before with Queen Isabella (Weisz) of Spain losing her territory to the Inquisition, and Conquistador Jackman who loves her going to Central America to find the Tree of Life for her. The final and weirdest setting is future Jackman in a biosphere bubble space ship on his way to the Xibalba nebula with a tree that represents Weisz's character.

If it sounds weird, well, it is. Very weird. And filmed entirely in a colour palette of white, black, gray, yellow, and brown - which means that Tom and Izzi's house is dark and creepy, an unpleasant side-effect of the chosen colour palette. All so we can have an explosion of GREEN at the end. Some of the cinematography is brilliant, but the limitations are significant and problematic. The actors give it their all, but it comes off more silly and crazy than noble and romantic as I think it was intended to be. I don't regret watching it because it was kind of interesting, but it was kind of a slog to get through and not really worth it.

2006, dir. Darren Aronofsky. With Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn, Mark Margolis.

Four Brothers

The primary conceit of this movie is the mixed race brothers: two white and two black, who grew up together adopted by the same mother. This idea holds together remarkably well - if the movie falls down, it's not because of this. In adulthood, the brothers are brought together again in Detroit (filmed in Toronto and Hamilton apparently) for the funeral of their mother. This leads to them investigating the death and seeking revenge. I didn't like this initially, but it improved immensely in hindsight, and it's now kind of a favourite movie of mine - very odd. The main problem is the villain, Ejiofor being incredibly abusive and humiliating to his underlings: it's hard to believe he could hold a crime empire together when he alienates his staff as much as he does. On the other hand, his downfall revolves around his nastiness.

It's a gritty movie, violent, nasty and realistic. Nobody's a hero (except perhaps mom) - they try, but they're human, and they're scared (or bastards). The acting is very good, and the realism is amazing in this kind of movie and a real treat (but be prepared for violence and blood).

2005, dir. John Singleton. With Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese Gibson, André Benjamin, Garrett Hedlund, Terrence Howard, Josh Charles, Chiwetel Ejiofor.

The Four Musketeers

Originally filmed as part of the 1973 version of "The Three Musketeers," this is a direct sequel to that movie split off by the profit motive and the fact that the run-time would have been around 210 minutes. See my review of that movie as I watched them back-to-back and any comments I made about it apply to this as well.

The plot of this movie revolves peripherally around the siege of La Rochelle (in which the Musketeers fight in a humourous way), but is primarily about Milady de Winter's attempts to kill d'Artagnan for crossing her in the previous movie, and Constance because she's d'Artagnan's lover. The action - having been filmed at the same time as the previous movie - is in very much the same style.

Between Milady and Athos' back-history and the deaths near the end of the movie, this is definitely the darker of the two movies. And probably because of that I prefer the first (the humour works better along with the somewhat lighter plot). But the two movies are quite similar and both very good, and should be seen together.

1974, dir. Richard Lester. With Michael York, Oliver Reed, Frank Finlay, Richard Chamberlain, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Geraldine Chaplin, Charlton Heston, Faye Dunaway, Christopher Lee, Simon Ward, Raquel Welch, Spike Milligan, Roy Kinnear, Michael Gothard.

Four Weddings and a Funeral

I remembered MacDowell being bad from a previous viewing. But I didn't really do her justice: she's appalling. If they had cast almost any other female actress in the lead role, this would have been a much better movie. Too bad: it's otherwise pretty good. A note for fans of "Love Actually": the song "Love is All Around" first appeared here.

1994. dir. Mike Newell. With Hugh Grant, Andie MacDowell, Simon Callow, Kristen Scott Thomas, Rowan Atkinson.

Foxy Brown

Oh. My. God. Primo Seventies blaxploitation trash still available on DVD in 2004 because Quentin Tarantino says it's awesome. I'm going to blame him for my watching it, and it's no wonder he loves it - the violence is staggering for the period. People shot, maimed, going through propellers ... And Pam Grier. She's a beautiful woman. She establishes early on that she wasn't hired for her acting talent - she has none.

1974. dir. Jack Hill. With Pam Grier.

Foyle's War, Series 1

Kitchen is Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle of Hastings on the south coast of England in May 1940. He's a quiet and observant man, left in the police (although he wanted to help with the war effort). Nearly all the crimes shown in the series are related to the war: anti-German and anti-Italian violence, food hoarding, draft dodging, crimes of passion involving soldiers. Foyle is assigned a female driver (Sam Stewart, played by Weeks) from the MTC (Mechanised Transport Corps) in the first episode, and acquires an assistant in the form of Paul Milner (Howell): he was a police officer, joined up, and lost part of his leg early in the war.

The episodes are in the 95 minute range, roughly movie length, with four to a season (this varies in later seasons). The acting is pretty good, the budget is relatively low (I bet getting four Supermarine Spitfires in the air cost them!), and there's very little action. It's a great portrait of a country at war, and the mysteries are reasonably good. This season was something of a who's who of those about to become famous in Hollywood, with the first episode including both Rosamund Pike and James McAvoy, the second Charles Dance (he's been in British theatre and TV for years, but this predates his great fame in "Game of Thrones"), and the third has David Tennant (pre-Doctor Who) and Sophia Myles.

2002, dir. Jeremy Silberston, David Thacker. With Michael Kitchen, Honeysuckle Weeks, Anthony Howell.

Foyle's War, Series 2

We're still in 1940, but Foyle's son shows up some more: he's been assigned near Hastings, and occasionally comes to stay with his father. I had the vague feeling that this season was better than the first. Although when I look back over the episodes, I don't seem to have been too keen on any particular one. And the proximity of Foyle's son to not one, but two significant crimes in two different episodes seemed statistically improbable (albeit convenient for the plot). Emily Blunt shows up in one of the episodes, but the season wasn't as studded with future stars as the previous one.

2002, dir. Jeremy Silberston (2), Giles Foster (2). With Michael Kitchen, Honeysuckle Weeks, Anthony Howell, Julian Ovenden.

Foyle's War, Series 8

The discrepancy between "Series 8" (the British labelling) and "Season 9" (American) stems from the American splitting of one of the British Series: I think it was Series 4, which had a "Part 1" and a "Part 2" in the U.K.

Series 6 was post-war. Series 7 saw Foyle recruited by MI5, and he continues to work for them in this, the final series. And that's a problem for me: I felt these two series were well done, but I enjoyed him much more as a detective that as a spy - even though he spends most of his time as a spy solving murder mysteries. These episodes are more tense, in that there's more personal risk for Foyle as he sticks his nose into the business of large organizations or governments that are very much alive (unlike his previous "clients," who were generally quite dead). But I also found them less personal: people were killed for convenience, not for reasons of passion or personal plans. And I don't like either of these aspects as much as his police work, although I understand that a change was probably needed.

It was mildly amusing (although not very happy) to see the series go out with a literal "bang" - a hand grenade, not something we'd really seen at any other time in the series (explosives once, but that's all - and not a hand grenade). Literal "bang" or not, my disappointment at the end of the series is tempered by the fact that it's probably best it ended, and the fact that I hadn't been liking the series recently anyway ...

2015. With Michael Kitchen, Honeysuckle Weeks, Daniel Weyman, Ellie Haddington, Tim McMullan, Rupert Vansittart.

Frailty

Strange movie. Psychological thriller verging on horror, about a man convinced that God is showing him demons that walk the earth, and he must destroy them. They look exactly like humans, but they must be destroyed. The movie manages to be fairly creepy, but overall I didn't like it much. My standard in this category is "Silence of the Lambs," and this doesn't compare.

dir. Bill Paxton. With Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton.

Fracture

Gosling plays a District Attorney taking on a very clear cut murder case just as he's about to move on to corporate law. The case looks easy: a signed confession, a murder weapon, no problem. But it turns out that the killer (Hopkins) has effectively gamed the legal system by stacking the circumstances in such a way that denying his own confession will work. It's clever, it's very well acted, but I didn't like it much.

2007, dir. Gregory Hoblit. With Anthony Hopkins, Ryan Gosling, David Strathairn, Rosamund Pike, Embeth Davidtz, Billy Burke, Cliff Curtis.

Frank

I admit it - I don't generally like movies where there are no appealing characters. And that being the case here, my review is suspect.

"Frank" starts with Jon (Gleeson), a passable musician but aspiring and horrible songwriter, who finds himself taken on as the keyboard player for the Soronprfbs (sic), a band led by Frank (Fassbender). Frank is the leader of the band, and he wears a papier-mâché head - all the time (including sleeping and in the shower, where he bags it). Jon then joins them to record their new album, an epic undertaking full of broken personalities. Jon's postings on Twitter and YouTube net them something resembling an audience, and a trip to SXSW, where everything comes to a head.

You can make a movie - many have - with a bunch of unpleasant people doing obnoxious or unpleasant things. And that's pretty much how I see this movie. I really didn't like it ... but the person who watched it with me loved it. And so did the critics.

2014, dir. Lenny Abrahamson. With Domhnall Gleeson, Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy.

Freaky Friday (2003)

I haven't seen the original 1970s original, so I can't make a comparison. Curtis and Lohan play mother and daughter forced to spend time literally in each other's bodies. The climactic concert is the least entertaining thing in the whole movie, but aside from that the movie manages to be both funny and touching a lot of the time. No great piece of art, but better than I expected.

2003, dir. Mark Waters. With Jamie Lee Curtis, Lindsay Lohan, Mark Harmon.

Frida

Hayek turns in a good performance as Frida Kahlo, the Mexican painter. Molina turns in a better performance as her sometimes husband, Diego Rivera. Almost everybody sports a fake accent (they were playing to the English speaking market - they should have been filming in Spanish), some good, some bad. They recreate a lot of Kahlo's paintings in film, in fascinating detail.

2002. dir. Julie Taymor. With Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush, Antonio Banderas, Ashley Judd.

Friends With Benefits

Timberlake plays Dylan, drawn from L.A. to New York for a job by executive recruiter Jamie (Kunis). They get along, and start hanging out. Eventually they decide that sex without emotions or commitment is a good idea - so lots of sex and a developing friendship.

Given the amount of talk about sex, it's amazing how little we see. Heaps of blankets with bumps in them, some gasping. I didn't particularly like either character, but they worked together very well and had a very believable chemistry. And I laughed, a lot. It's a pretty funny (if conventional) movie.

2011, dir. Will Gluck. With Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Patricia Clarkson, Richard Jenkins, Woody Harrelson, Jenna Elfman, Brian Greenberg, Emma Stone, Andy Samberg, Nolan Gould.

Friends With Money

Aniston stars as a stoner maid and former teacher whose friends are all exceedingly rich. If the scriptwriter is to be believed, most relationships are rocky all the time. When their big revelation is that a man can dress well and be polite without being gay, I guess I shouldn't have expected too much. No one is particularly likable, and the movie is a dull way to pass an hour and a half.

2006, dir. Nicole Holofcener. With Jennifer Aniston, Joan Cusack, Greg Germann, Jason Isaacs, Catherine Keener, Simon McBurney, Frances McDormand, Bob Stephenson, Scott Caan.

Fried Green Tomatoes

Based on "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe" by Fannie Flagg.

1991. dir. Jon Avnet. With Kathy Bates, Jessica Tandy, Mary Stuart Masterson, Mary-Louise Parker.

Fright Night (1985)

Charley Brewster (Ragsdale) has a loving girlfriend (Bearse) and a slightly over-protective mother. One day, someone moves into the atmospheric house next door ... including putting a coffin in the basement. When people start to disappear, Charley comes to believe that the charming guy next door (Sarandon) is in fact a vampire - although he's unable to convince his "Vampire Slayer" TV hero (McDowall) of this.

I saw this after the 2011 version. The effects are a little on the cheesy side even for the period, featuring the extensive use of blatant prosthetics. The movie is somewhat amusing, but I'd say the remake both looks better and works better as a whole.

1985, dir. Tom Holland. With William Ragsdale, Chris Sarandon, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall, Stephen Geoffreys.

Fright Night (2011)

Yelchin plays Charley Brewster, the teenager living next door to a vampire (Farrell) in this 2011 remake of the well-known 1985 movie of the same name. Fortunately, it manages to bring both the "horror" and the "comedy" to the overworked "horror-comedy" designation. Farrell is charming, creepy, and very nearly indestructible as the new neighbour who appears to be eating his way across the suburb of Vegas in which they all live. Tennant is hilarious as Charley's "vampire slayer" TV hero.

2011, dir.. With Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, Imogen Poots, David Tennant, Toni Collette, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Dave Franco, Reid Ewing.

From Paris With Love

This all makes a lot more sense when you notice that Luc Besson is one of the producers. An American-style action film made in Paris with a French director? No common sense at all? Yup, Besson.

Rhys Meyers plays James Reese, an extremely efficient aide to the U.S. Ambassador in France, who has a loving and beautiful French fiancée. But what he really wants is to be a spy. And that happens when Charlie Wax (Travolta) comes to town. Wax blows shit up, kills people, and generally causes mayhem wherever he goes. And it's a long time before it becomes clear whether he's after people selling coke, or maybe he just wants to snort it, or maybe he's chasing terrorists. All of which is supposed to be funny.

Travolta is mildly amusing in his role, and Rhys Meyers is fairly decent, but the action is dull and the humour misses its target repeatedly. What's really sad is that there were a couple moments where it's clear that both the two actors and the two characters could have been in a great movie together if the script hadn't sucked so hard.

2010, dir. Pierre Morel. With Jonathan Rhys Meyers, John Travolta, Kasia Smutniak.

From Up on Poppy Hill

Studio Ghibli's latest, directed by the junior Miyazaki - a coming-of-age tale set in Yokohama in 1963. I watched it with the Japanese voices and English subs, although I'm sure the English dub is very good (Ghibli gets big releases in North America, which means big money, which means good voice work).

Umi Matsuzaki (Nagasawa/Bolger) is a 16 year old high school student, who runs a boarding house in the absence of her mother - a medical doctor who is studying in the U.S. Every morning she raises signal flags for the ships - not out of necessity, but from dedication to her dead father. At school, she meets and eventually falls for Shun (Okada/Yelchin), but there's a somewhat rocky road ahead for them.

It's a very low key movie with no fantasy elements whatsoever (worth noting for those familiar with Miyazaki senior's work). Miyazaki's animation isn't quite as smooth or imbued with as much personality as Miyazaki senior's, but it's nevertheless quite beautiful and up to the task. After "Tales from Earthsea" I wasn't sure he was ready for the big time, but I'm happy to be wrong. It's an enjoyable movie.

2011, dir. Goro Miyazaki. With Masami Nagasawa/Sara Bolger, Junichi Okada/Anton Yelchin, Yuriko Ishida/Christina Hendricks, Shunsuke Kazama/Charlie Saxton, Teruyuki Kagawa/Beau Bridges.

Frost/Nixon

A somewhat fictionalized but reasonably historically accurate look at the Frost Nixon interviews interspersed with documentary-like talking-head commentary from the various participants. Howard shows remarkable restraint here, giving us an almost unemotional view of the events - thus making it more exciting because the discussions and the talking heads bring home, piece by piece, just how incredibly important these interviews were. And here's Howard, master of the overbearing emotional gesture, operating with restraint. I didn't know he could do it, and I think the end result is magnificent. How did it come about that this party-animal British TV celebrity interviewer end up facing off with Tricky Dick and turn out compelling TV? Watch the movie and find out, it's a good one. Sheen is fantastic as Frost, and Langella likewise as Nixon.

2008, dir. Ron Howard. With Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Sam Rockwell, Kevin Bacon, Matthew Macfadyen, Rebecca Hall.

Frozen

Lovely animation, a Disney musical, more than usually simplistic. The animated snowman Olaf kept being under threat of melting ... and I desperately wished he would, because of all the overly simplified and annoying characters, he was definitely the worst. Although the cutesy trolls weren't that far behind. The critics loved this one, which has me mystified: "Tangled" was so much better. But credit where it's due: Menzel's performance of "Let It Go" was incredibly good - man, she can SING. (Yes, yes, it's been horribly overplayed.)

2013, dir. Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee. With Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk, Ciarán Hinds.

Fruitvale Station

Starts out with the poor quality cellphone footage of the punchline you probably already know if you know anything about the movie: Oscar Grant, pinned face down on the platform at San Francisco's Fruitvale Station is shot by a BART police man. The movie then backs up from that reality to show us a recreation of Grant's last day of life.

Jordan is very good as the volatile 22 year old ex-convict Grant who loves his daughter and is trying to do right by his family. Not a happy movie, but a good one - and even more timely that the director intended with the recent non-conviction of George Zimmerman for the shooting of Trayvon Martin in the news.

2013, dir. Ryan Coogler. With Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz, Ahna O'Reilly, Kevin Durand.

The Fugitive

I saw this in the theatre when it came out and really disliked it. I saw it again in 2009, because a friend really liked it and wanted to watch it again. What we both really noticed was that the continuity crew must have been on a work-to-rule campaign, because the continuity sucked. Ford plays Dr. Richard Kimble, a respected doctor convicted of killing his wife - an act he did not commit. When he's offered an opportunity to escape and search for the real killer, he takes it - and is hotly pursued by a Marshall played by Jones, and his crew. There's some humour, some action, some detective work ... and none of it felt real or enjoyable to me. Ford's acting left a lot to be desired, and no one else was there to take up the slack: Jones is a good actor, but he seemed to have been told to be loud, authoritative, competent, and emotionless. Not particularly good.

1993, dir. Andrew Davis. With Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pantoliano, Andreas Katsulas, Joseph Kosala, Julianne Moore, Sela Ward.

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Curse

One of the best known anime TV series imports, justifiably so. Two young brothers (Edward and Alphonse Elric) with an extraordinary talent for alchemy (this being an alternate earth where things are otherwise similar to our own) try to use their powers to bring their recently deceased mother back from the dead. Their mother remains dead, but for tampering with nature one loses an arm and a leg while the other loses his entire body - both end up with "automail" (robotic) replacements. The writing actually addresses real human issues and desires (ie. bringing back those we love from the dead) in a compassionate way - I'm enjoying this considerably more than the other anime series I've seen.

This disc includes the episodes: "Those Who Challenge the Sun," "Body of the Sanctioned," "Mother," and "A Forger's Love."

Fullmetal Alchemist: Scarred Man of the East

The second disc, episodes 4-8 of season 1. More formulaic than disc one, and the transitions between humour and philosophizing are more abrupt, often like throwing a switch. Alphonse bemoans being trapped in a suit of automail a couple times, but politely. It's often tragic: they're losing nice people at the rate of about one an episode, and maybe it's a particularly obvious shot at at the oft-quoted "Principle of Equivalent Exchange." To gain something, they lose something.

This disc includes the episodes: "The Man with the Mechanical Arm," "The Alchemy Exam," "Night of the Chimera's Cry," and "The Philosopher's Stone."

Fullmetal Alchemist: Equivalent Exchange

Episodes 9-12 of season 1. Settling into a formula: Ed and Al are on their search for the Philosopher's Stone to return themselves to full human form, but wherever they go they encounter greed and problems. Ed is always temperamental and touchy about his height but always does right in the end. It's still better than most anime, but it's getting a bit old.

Includes "Be Thou for the People," "The Phantom Thief," and "The Other Brothers Elric" parts one and two.

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Fall of Ishbal

In this disc Dr. Marko is introduced - as Oppenheimer was to Hiroshima, so Marko is to Ishbal. He created a tool that was used to massacre thousands (hundreds of thousands? We don't know) of innocents. And the alchemists fight some more with Scar, introduced in "Scarred Man of the East."

Includes "Fullmetal vs. Flame, "Destruction's Right Hand," "The Ishbal Massacre," "That Which is Lost."

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Cost of Living

Surprisingly human and intelligent, the series continues to be good. "Scar" continues to be a problem, and the "Homunculuses" are introduced a bit more. They're annoying, but everything else about it is good.

Includes "House of the Waiting Family," "Marcoh's Notes," "The Truth Behind Truths," "Soul of the Guardian."

Fullmetal Alchemist: Captured Souls

While the series has always had a sequence that has mattered, I don't think I'd seen a cliffhanger before - they did that between "The Cost of Living" and this disc. And most of the episodes on this disc are quite strongly connected. Alphonse and Ed go to "Lab 5" in the last episode of the previous disc, and much of this disc takes place there. Unfortunately, they also spend a great deal of time expanding the list of "enemies" for Al and Ed by releasing prisoners from the lab and introducing a new "Homunculi." Obviously they aren't planning on ending the series soon. At least they humanized Scar some. I thought this was the most uneven of the discs so far: it's very bad in some ways, and has some of the best moments on it as well.

Includes "The Red Glow," "Created Human," "Fullmetal Heart," and "Bonding Memories."

Fullmetal Alchemist: Reunion on Yock Island

The cover of this disc has a damaged-looking Edward Elric getting his automail arm exploded. I thought "oh god, not again!" Because that's been happening about once a disc for the last three discs. Fortunately the choice of image didn't reflect the content. Unfortunately, it's becoming more and more clear that the Elric's quest will be going on for a very long time. On this disc, they spend a lot of time with Winrey, and are re-united with their childhood Alchemy teacher.

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Altar of Stone

Disc 8, Episodes 29-32. Here we heap on the new villains at a furious pace: several new homunculi, a couple state alchemists turned bad, a difficult showdown with the Ishbalan refugees. This is a tedious and unrewarding disc, and may even be the end of my viewing of Fullmetal Alchemist.

Includes "The Untainted Child," "Assault on South Headquarters," "Sin," and "Dante of the Deep Forest."

Fullmetal Alchemist: Pain and Lust

Disc 9, episodes 33-36. At this point the introduction of new characters and the stretching out of content as the authors see that they have a success and they need to make it lllaaaaaassssttttt ... is becoming more than a little annoying. MAJOR SPOILER WARNING: The fights with the homunculus Greed are too long and become quite tedious. And yet, as obnoxious as he is, they manage to make his death quite tragic: in part because Ed kills him, and Ed has hardly killed anyone and really doesn't want to be killing people, but also because he says some things in his death scene that put him in a more sympathetic light and because his troops are so staggeringly loyal. This is spoiled by fairly clear evidence that we're going to have another homunculus called Greed in fairly short order.

Includes "Al, Captured," "Theory of Avarice," "Reunion of the Fallen," and "The Sinner Within."

Fullmetal Alchemist: Journey to Ishbal

Disc 10, episodes 37-40. Contrary to what I said about Disc 9, I've found out that FMA wraps up at the end of this, the second season. This is good.

The first episode on this disc is essentially a comic interlude with essentially no reference at all to the Elric brothers. The other three are more development of problems in Ishbal, which are clearly going to come to a head soon.

Includes "The Flame Alchemist," "The Bachelor Lieutenant," and "The Mystery of Warehouse 13," "With the River's Flow," "Secret of Ishbal," and "The Scar."

Fullmetal Alchemist: Becoming the Stone

Disc 11, episodes 41-44. The first word that comes to mind for the episodes on this disc is "sloppy." They're wrapping up some plot lines, and clarifying some mysteries, but this disc is more annoying than enjoyable. MAJOR SPOILER WARNING:Scar dies of acts both noble and vengeful, and in the process turns Al into the Philosopher's Stone. Ed and Al's Dad finally reappears, and it becomes apparent that he's probably not entirely human and is responsible for a lot of the problems going on. Major revelations, but ... not too well set in the context of the FM universe.

Includes "Holy Mother," "His Name is Unknown," "The Stray Dog," and "Hohenheim of Light."

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Truth Behind the Truths

Disc 12, episodes 45-48.

Includes "A Rotted Heart," "Human Transmutation," "Sealing the Homunculus," and "Goodbye."

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Disc 13, episodes 49-51. All is revealed and most business concluded in the final three episodes. I found the conclusion pretty damn unsatisfactory. SPOILER WARNING: It's a little bloody late to be introducing alternative universes to solve problems - even if it is our own Earth. But that's not the only issue: the brothers, having struggled through 51 episodes in pursuit of returning themselves to flesh and blood, are left with another, possibly even more massive, quest. I don't know if this was a deliberate lead-in to the follow-up movie or not.

Includes "The Other Side of the Gate," "Death," and "Laws and Promises."

Fullmetal Alchemist: Conqueror of Shamballa (orig. "Gekijô-ban hagane no renkinjutsushi: Shanbara wo yuku mono")

The production values didn't change since the TV series, just the length. SPOILER WARNING: if you haven't seen the TV series, you shouldn't read this or see the movie. The movie wouldn't make any damn sense anyway. So we left Ed on Earth and Al back on their world. This leads to two wildly disjoint stories running in big separate blocks. It's not that it's hard to follow, but it doesn't work particularly well. As always, they are dogged by "equivalent exchange:" everything they do has side effects, often tragic. At least there's something resembling closure. This isn't a particularly good movie even if you've seen the TV series, and would truly be completely meaningless without seeing the series.

2005, dir. Seiji Mizushima.

Funny Face

Let me start by saying I don't like musicals. But it would have helped if they had chosen a romantic lead to stand opposite Hepburn who wasn't thirty years her senior and didn't look like a cadaver by comparison. Of course, they did exactly the same thing to her in "Sabrina." And the romantic chemistry was just as non-existent. There are one or two decent dance numbers, and the music by George and Ira Gershwin offers some minor redemption, but I was pretty unimpressed.

1957, dir. Stanley Donen. With Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Kay Thompson, Michel Auclair.

Furious 7

If I have to listen to Dominic Toretto say "We're Family" one more time, I'm going to kill someone. Probably the person who makes me see another "Fast" or "Furious" movie. Possibly Diesel (who plays Toretto) - if he was on the set of "Fast & Furious 8," he might let me kill him. Apparently he hates these things even more than I do, but he hasn't figured out any other way to write himself a billion dollar check to payroll the things he actually wants to do ... like that god-awful sequel to "Pitch Black." I inflicted this movie on myself in part because the fifth in the series was actually fun. The sixth was bad, and this is considerably worse.

I'm not going to bother describing the plot, beyond saying that Statham is the bad guy and we get another massive dose of family values squeezed in between vehicular insanity (this is the one where they parachute their cars out of planes), extensive and bloodless violence, and the occasional dose of jiggling young women in bikinis. It really doesn't make much more sense than that.

The script is so badly written I knew exactly when Letty would remember everything. Literally, I had time to say "Oh Jesus, here it comes." And she did.

And that ending. I realize that it's meant to be a tribute to Walker, I appreciate that, but all I could think as Diesel and Walker smiled blissfully at each other was "when's the wedding?" Yeah, brothers are supposed to love each other, but that was a bit much.

2015, dir. James Wan. With Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Jason Statham, Jordana Brewster, Djimon Hounsou, Kurt Russell, Nathalie Emmanuel, Tony Jaa, Ronda Rousey.

Futurama: Bender's Big Score

I admit that I've seen less than half of an episode of the TV series. So jumping in on the movie that followed the cancellation of the TV series may seem a bit weird. But I thought I'd give it a shot. And I totally and completely failed to see the humour in it. I know the series had a lot of fans, but I didn't laugh once for an hour and a half. I smiled maybe twice. The plot was barely cohesive and the humour was a dead loss. Not much left.

2007, dir. Dwayne Carey-Hill. With Billy West, John Di Maggio, Katey Sagal, Lauren Tom, David Herman.

Futureworld

The sequel to "Westworld," a movie that was something of a landmark in science fiction films. The good news is that they've come up with a different and interesting twist on the whole idea, the bad news is the end product isn't as compelling as the original - in part because the simplicity of the original and Brynner's iconic gunman made the first one so memorable and scary.

Several years after the disaster portrayed in "Westworld," the Delos corporation has redesigned and rebuilt their incredibly expensive multi-"world" resort, but attendance isn't as good as they'd like. To improve it, they've offered passes to the press in the hope of getting good reviews. Our eyes are Chuck Browning (Fonda) who wrote the major newspaper exposé on Westworld, and Tracy Ballard (Danner) a TV reporter from the same syndicate. They reluctantly team up for a visit to the new addition to the Delos resort, Futureworld. Last time it was a horrible malfunction that brought down Westworld: this time everything works correctly, but there's a horrible scheme in the works at Delos.

I'd say that the idea was a good one, and some of the dialogue is fairly good, but the movie is derailed by unnecessary digressions (in particular the magically appearing samurai warriors and the chase scene that ensues). And nothing about it is as memorable as the gun slinger from the previous movie. Mildly interesting and actually a bit better than I expected, but I wouldn't recommend this to anyone - probably not even hardcore fans of SF, as it's often rather dull.

1976, dir. Richard T. Heffron. With Peter Fonda, Blythe Danner, Arthur Hill, Stuart Margolin, John Ryan, Yul Brynner.


G

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

You know it's going to be a great movie when, right at the beginning of the movie among all the logos, you get a huge sparkling Hasboro sign. That's right: this is a movie based on a toy franchise.

Duke (Tatum), his buddy "Ripcord" (Wayans), and their troop are delivering a nasty new nano-tech weapon for NATO when they're viciously attacked by a group of nasties led by Duke's ex-fiancée (Miller) (now called "The Baroness") and armed with all kinds of advanced weaponry. They're rescued by another interestingly equipped group - "the Joes." Who also have great names, like "Snake Eyes" (Park), "Breaker" (Taghmaoui), "Heavy Duty" (Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and "Scarlett" (Nichols). Duke and Ripcord are recruited and end up fighting the nasties.

I was optimistic when I saw the Motion Picture Rating warning that said "... Mayhem Throughout." Lots of violence, no blood. Lots of effects, not much interest. Lots of decent actors, no decent acting. Lots of plot twists, although none too advanced for a 12 year old. All resulting in a movie that's pretty damn bad, but not bad enough to be funny. An all-around disappointment.

2009, dir. Stephen Sommers. With Channing Tatum, Sienna Miller, Christopher Eccleston, Marlon Wayans, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rachel Nichols, Ray Park, Lee Byung-hun, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Dennis Quaid, Said Taghmaoui, Jonathan Pryce.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation

Even bigger and stupider than the original, but bizarrely also occasionally cleverer. Mostly stupider. This time Roadblock (Johnson) leads a reduced set of Joes who are working to clear their name after being framed by ... the President of the United States. But being undercover doesn't stop them from getting in fights and blowing shit up. Or taking DNA samples off the president. The goofy humour occasionally (but too rarely) hits home. Johnson, normally charismatic, somehow fails to bring it - and Willis steals every scene he's in (which I suppose is okay given that he's supposed to be the general who started the G.I. Joes).

2013, dir. Jon M. Chu. With Dwayne Johnson, Jonathan Pryce, Adrianne Palicki, Channing Tatum, Byung-hun Lee, Ray Park, Elodie Yung, Ray Stevenson, Walton Goggins, Arnold Vosloo.

Galaxy Quest

The best Science Fiction parody ever made. The most obvious target is Star Trek, in all its (pre-1999) incarnations. Allen plays an actor whose defining role occurred 18 years ago, the captain of a starship on a long dead TV series. He and his "crew" live out a sad existence attending conventions and doing low end commercial appearances. But Allen is approached and recruited for an "appearance" by people he assumes are fans ... and we're down the rabbit hole as they turn out to be aliens in need of leadership believing that he actually is a starship captain. His crew are pulled in, and a bunch of actors try to lead a starship through a space battle. Brilliant casting and hilariously funny.

1999, dir. Dean Parisot. With Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub.

The Game

To me, this is Fincher taxiing on the runway before he went on to make "Fight Club." Douglas is signed up for "the game" by his brother (Penn). Douglas plays a soulless investment banker caught up in a series of weird events that may or may not be "the game," and there's some question as to whether or not "the game" is a good thing. Not bad the first time, doesn't hold up to a second viewing.

1997, dir. David Fincher. With Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, Deborah Kara Unger, James Rebhorn.

Game of Thrones, Season 1

Several friends told me I should read George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series, but I've been reluctant to do so for a couple reasons: I don't like series, and this series is particularly infamous for killing off characters, including "heroes" and the ones you like. I have no problem with the latter in principle: he's writing a civil war and that's just the way it goes. But I'm not crazy about reading it. But when the HBO TV series came out, it garnered rave reviews and I thought I might be okay with the story in that form.

It all comes together here: superb writing, excellent production values, and really good acting. I expect production values to be high in an American series, but the other two parts ... well, in Britain they do it the other way 'round: excellent acting, good script, crap special effects. But this has it all.

The setting is essentially medieval, but there are left-overs from a previous age of essentially dark fantasy: dragons, magic, "White Walkers" who can raise the dead. But the majority of the ten episodes of the first season focus on the political intrigue surrounding the throne and the lead-up to a very nasty civil war. Our main players are the Stark family who rule the North, the incredibly rich and ruthless Lannisters who mostly control the throne, the Night's Watch in the far north who protect the rest of the country from the Others on the far side of "The Wall," and the rebel Targaryens who used to hold the throne and now live in exile beyond the Narrow Sea.

The Stark family are noble, loyal, and likeable ... unfortunately they're not always aware enough of the effects of the political intrigue surrounding them. They also have a hellish temper. Bean plays the head of the house, Fairley his wife, Madden his senior son, and Williams his younger tom-boy daughter. Heady, Coster-Waldau, and Dinklage are the three Lannister siblings - Dinklage plays Tyrion "The Imp," the only one of the three who seems to have retained any humanity. It's fantastic to see Dinklage in a role worthy of his acting skills. Clarke and Lloyd play the exiled Targaryens.

This is a superb series. See it.

2011, dir. Tim Van Patten, Brian Kirk, Daniel Minahan, Alan Taylor. With Sean Bean, Mark Addy, Michelle Fairley, Richard Madden, Peter Dinklage, Lena Heady, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Rory McCann, Aidan Gillen, Harry Lloyd, Emilia Clarke, Iain Glen, Maisie Williams, Kit Harington, Alfie Allen.

Gamer

Butler plays a convict in the near future, playing in a first-person-shooter game ... in which he's the equivalent of the on-screen character while someone else controls him. He's won 26 games without dying, utterly unheard of, and if he wins four more he'll be released. But there's more going on behind the scenes with politics and the game creator.

The filming is incredibly frenetic, with rapid POV changes, angled shots, broken up "signal," etc. etc. The directors throw up a number of fairly interesting moral questions about bio-engineering and about gaming and the people who play, but then don't address them at all. "Hey, here are some naked breasts. Maybe it's blatant titillation, or maybe it's because gamers are repugnant: but we're not going to discuss that because we're making an action movie and we wouldn't want to force you to think." And yet it's not a terribly good action movie either.

2009, dir. Neveldine/Taylor. With Gerard Butler, Logan Lerman, Michael C. Hall, Amber Valletta, Terry Crews, Kyra Sedgwick.

Gandhi

Impressive work for Kingsley, and a good bio, but far too long.

1982. dir. Richard Attenborough. With Ben Kingsley, Martin Sheen, John Gielgud.

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

I thought I had read The Count of Monte Cristo, but perhaps not - maybe I've only seen one of the previous movie versions. Having read the Wikipedia summary of the original Alexandre Dumas novel, I have to admit this is a surprisingly accurate interpretation of the plot - if not the setting, as this takes place in the year 5053. We start out on "Luna" (Earth's moon), but the majority of the story takes place in Paris. Some of the speech is in French, but the large majority of it is in Japanese. Cars look surprisingly similar to our cars (or at least French cars of the 1960s), but the rich ride around in carriages drawn by horses. And everybody drives on the left side of the road - I suppose so as not to mess with the heads of the target audience (the Japanese). But the most immediately obvious thing about the whole proceeding is the visual style: clothing is provided for most characters by making a cut-out in the shape of the character to a background pattern that doesn't necessarily move in quite the same way the character does.

This is an anime series of 24 episodes, 25 minutes each.

Our protagonist is the young Viscount Albert de Morcerf, who we first see on Luna with his friend Baron Franz d'Épinay, where they meet the Count of Monte Cristo. His introduction into their life is shown to not be as accidental as it appears to be, but Albert doesn't notice and happily introduces Monte Cristo into Paris society, where Monte Cristo pursues his revenge on Morcerf's father as well as the father's associates Villefort and Danglars. The biggest change apparent near the beginning is that Edmond Dantes, during his stay in prison, has somehow merged with Gankutsuou, some form of alien.

Albert is charming, but unbelievably naive. I don't use the word "unbelievably" simply for emphasis: his naiveté was so extreme that it made the willing suspension of disbelief impossible on more than one occasion.

And the ending didn't make much sense and was more annoying than satisfying (it also deviated farther from the original plot than any other part of the story). So ultimately, occasionally interesting but silly and definitely not worth the time invested (~9 hours).

2004, dir. Mahiro Maeda. With Joji Nakata, Jun Fukuyama, Daisuke Hirakawa.

Garden State

Written and directed by Braff (best known previously for leading the cast of "Scrubs"), exceeds expectations. Braff also stars in the movie, playing a young would-be actor in L.A. who goes home for the first time in nine years to attend the funeral of his mother. He meets up with some old friends, makes some new ones, and takes a "vacation" from the mood-numbing drugs he's been on for 16 years. The content doesn't sound extraordinary, but the presentation is: the cinematography has some truly brilliant moments, the soundtrack is great, the characters are both hilarious and touching. Comes with a large side order of farcical comedy.

2004. dir. Zach Braff. With Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Ian Holme.

Gen-X Cops (orig. "Dak ging san yan lui")

Inspector Chan (Tsang, a prolific Hong Kong actor usually seen over here in pathetic-comedic roles like this one) is a failure as a police officer. He gets permission under dubious circumstances to work on a big case, and recruits three police academy rejects - Jack (Tse), Match (Fung), and Alien (Lee) - to help him out. They're not good with authority, but smart and good at fighting. Aided by Y2K (Yip), they fight effectively a war with two fronts: one against the gangsters, the other against a police department that doesn't want to accept or support them.

Tsang's humour has never really been my thing, and the plot is typically HK-over-the-top. But there's some good moments: the three reject cadets have a surprisingly decent rapport, there's some funny stuff not involving Tsang and some decent fights. Jackie Chan produced and has a cameo toward the end, qualifying this movie as one of his better choices. Although I'm not sure I'd recommend this even for fans of the martial arts ...

1999, dir. Benny Chan and Alan Mak. With Nicholas Tse, Stephen Fung, Sam Lee, Grace Yip, Eric Tsang, Moses Chan, Toru Nakamura, Daniel Wu, Francis Ng, Terence Yin, Jaymee Ong.

Gentleman's Agreement

Peck plays Phil Green, a widower and journalist moving to New York City with his mother (Revere) and his young son (Stockwell). Green picks up a story about anti-Semitism, and decides the best way to break the story is to be Jewish himself for a few weeks. As this is going on, he's falling for Kathy Lacey (McGuire). I found that side story rather annoying, probably because I wasn't too keen on McGuire's acting. Rather better were Garfield as Green's Jewish friend Dave Goldman, and Holm as Anne Dettrey (Holm won a supporting Oscar for the role, well deserved).

This was based on the best-selling novel of the same name, and it's a blistering indictment of not only anti-Semitism, but also those who don't like anti-Semitism but keep quiet about it. It was hugely successful at the box office and at the Oscars. Unfortunately, it drew several of the people associated with the movie into the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings for those nasty liberal tendencies that they exposed by choosing to be involved with this movie (most actors carefully avoided this movie for that reason). Because it was controversial and successful, it's very likely it was as socially important as the extras on the DVDs suggest.

1947, dir. Elia Kazan. With Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire, Anne Revere, Dean Stockwell, Celeste Holm, John Garfield, June Havoc, Jane Wyatt.

Get Him to the Greek

After Aaron Green (Hill) suggests that the way to kick-start the income stream at his employer's record label is to sponsor a ten-year anniversary concert for his hero Aldous Snow (Brand), he's assigned to get Snow to the theatre and to a pre-show interview. There are several problems: Snow is severely drugged up, his last album was an abject failure, he's desperately pining for his ex-, and Green is totally unused to the rock-and-roll lifestyle.

You don't need to know much more about the movie, except A) it's a comedy, and B) it's incredibly crass and crude. In case that's not clear: this is Apatow/Segel/Hill all the way. I wasn't particularly crazy about the level of humour on display, but Brand and Hill sell their characters fairly well, and there are some very funny moments.

2010, dir. Nicholas Stoller. With Jonah Hill, Russell Brand, Rose Byrne, Sean Combs, Elisabeth Moss, Colm Meaney.

Get Low

Duvall plays Felix Bush, a hermit in the American South around 1930. He comes out of 40 years of seclusion to plan his own funeral party - despite the fact that he's quite evidently not dead yet. Murray plays Frank Quinn, the desperate and broke funeral parlour manager who takes on the party planning job, and Black plays Buddy Robinson, the funeral home assistant who spends more time with Bush. Spacek plays Mattie Darrow, who had a short fling with Felix 40 years gone.

Brilliantly acted by pretty much everybody involved. Both extremely poignant and very funny, an excellent movie.

2010, dir. Aaron Schneider. With Robert Duvall, Lucas Black, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek, Bill Cobbs.

Get Smart

I was expecting this to be really bad, but I thought I might enjoy it anyway. As it turned out, it's not too bad and I laughed - a lot. Carell plays Maxwell Smart, and they play Smart as a slightly clumsy, maybe accident-prone, but very intelligent doofus. Definitely preferable to "complete idiot," which I was expecting. Not an intelligent film, but it's got quite a few good gags while still retaining a plot and only aiming for humiliation humour once or twice. Fun.

2008, dir. Peter Segal. With Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Dwayne Johnson, Alan Arkin, Terence Stamp, Bill Murray, Patrick Warburton, Terry Crews, David Koechner, Masi Oka, Nate Torrence, Ken Davitian, David S. Lee, Dalip Singh.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

Headstrong widower Mrs. Muir insists on renting a cottage, despite it being haunted. On her first night, she encounters the ghost of the foul-mouthed (only by the standards of a century ago) sea captain who haunts the place. They make a deal and eventually become friends, but real life interferes with her ethereal romance.

A bizarre cross between a romantic comedy and a ghost story, with distinctly limited, "mannered" acting by all the leads. Manages "cute" but not much more.

1947, dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz. With Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison, George Sanders, Edna Best, Natalie Wood.

Ghost in the Shell

With the exception of "Akira," this was the first major American release of an anime movie. They spend a lot of time on visuals: there's one point in the movie where the director takes about three minutes just to show bits and pieces of the city. The visuals are stunning. The story is an interesting one too: in the future when each of us has a computer in our head, can we be hacked? Beautiful to look at and thought-provoking. Possibly the best unknown science fiction movie out there, a hell of a lot better than many better known SF movies.

1995. dir. Mamoru Oshii.

Ghost In the Shell 2: Innocence

1995's "Ghost in the Shell" was a very intelligent and disturbing movie about the near future that made you really think about what it meant to be human when your body is enhanced (or even fully replaced) with prosthetics and your mind is augmented with computers and extra storage. What happens when someone hacks your mind, and changes your memories of your life - makes you do things to save the wife and daughter you don't even have? I think it was, and still remains, one of the best SF movies in any form.

"Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence" looks to follow that up with a slower-paced and more philosophical contemplation on a similar subjects. I can't really elaborate without giving stuff away, although it's still very much about being most or all machine and still having a human soul. Batou (I've seen his name spelled "Bato," "Batou," and "Bateau") and Togusa return from the previous movie, with Batou questioning his own humanity now as much as Major Kusanagi did in the previous movie. But this time they're investigating the multiple malfunctions of gynoids (turns out that's a legitimate word - androids modelled on the female form) - that are killing people and then themselves, which doesn't really make sense.

The previous movie was (I think) entirely hand drawn, but this one makes heavy use of fairly blatant - but often stunningly gorgeous - CG graphics. And just like the previous movie, this one takes a break exactly at the mid-point for a three minute exercise in jaw-dropping art, showing the city with beautiful music, no speech, and almost zero plot advancement.

As mentioned, this movie is even more philosophical than the last - and with a script loaded to the gills with the quoting of literature and proverbs, what you're going to make of it depends very heavily on the quality of the translation. I think the first time I saw it, less of the quotes had actually been put in quotes in the subs. And I think that's actually better, because - just like listening to an actor speaking your native language - you either recognize the quote or you don't: it's not stuffed in your face that it IS a quote. It's marginally interesting to know that they're playing a reference game with each other, but it would be better if it weren't so blatant, as with the English subs I saw this time.

This isn't as good a movie as the first one, but it's still very good and very thought-provoking (although it would be meaningless without seeing the first one). It's even more visually beautiful - which is saying something.

2004, dir. Mamoru Oshii.

Ghost In the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (Season 1)

"Ghost In the Shell" is one of the best known and most highly regarded of all science fiction anime movies. It's intensely cerebral (to the point that a few people find it too concentrated on ideas and boring or hard to follow ... or both), but it was a property that I absolutely loved. The movie has stood up to multiple viewings, and always leaves me wondering how many of the ideas represented are going to be in our future.

The movie and manga were very popular, and led to this spin-off TV series called "Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex." As Major Motoko Kusanagi was both the star of the show and the most popular character, they chose to completely ignore what happened in the movie (Kusanagi joining with the Puppet Master and leaving Section 9) to focus on Section 9 with the set of characters they wanted, centring around Kusanagi, Batou (or "Bateau" or "Bato" depending on your translation), Aramaki, Togusa, and Ishikawa. New members of Section 9 are added in the the form of Paz, Borma, and Saito - although none of these play a large part in the first season.

The season splits its time between Section 9's pursuit of the Laughing Man (a hacker with an incredible skill for avoiding appearing on screens, taking over people's ghosts, and even hacking people's eyes so they see what he wants them to see) and stand-alone - often comedic - episodes. Much of the comedy (such as it is) comes in the form of the Tachikomas, seven or eight AI-equipped tanks that support Section 9. They have annoying voices and no faces, so the animators compensate by having the Tachikomas wave their arms and move wildly when they're talking - I found it quite off-putting. Some episodes were quite political and/or philosophical, and for the last eight or so episodes they retired the Tachikomas and concentrated on the Laughing Man story line. That stretch was definitely better than the very uneven stuff that proceeded it, but overall wasn't all that great.

2002-2003, 26 episodes of ~24 minutes each, dir. Kenji Kamiyama.

Ghost In the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (Season 2)

Niihama (the fictional city where our show and Section 9 are based) and Japan are under attack by a group of terrorists called "The Individual Eleven." While Section 9 re-formed after its disbanding near the end of the prior season, its clear there are still elements in the government that aren't particularly happy about its continued existence, so they have a fight on that front as well. While World War III and World War IV are mentioned, not much is said about what happened - but a lot of refugees landed in Japan. And they're a political problem that seems to be tied in to "The Individual Eleven." The season concentrates on moving the season's story arc forward in every episode: there's very little in the way of filler (there was a lot more in the first season).

Not that it doesn't have its flaws: the series is prone to convoluted plots by the bad guys, and fairly regular wild leaps of logic by the authors who take it as a given you'll accept what you're told as a fait accompli even though they didn't really lay the ground work for it ... and despite the fact that a good portion of the series is asking you to think and use your deductive reasoning ... At least this season Kusanagi isn't quite as obviously wearing a one piece bathing suit as a "uniform," although they haven't stopped the fan service ...

Overall, a better season than the first.

Two movies were released around the time of these two seasons: "Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - The Laughing Man" and "Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd GIG – Individual Eleven". The first appears to be the first season cut down to focus on the material about the Laughing Man, with a run-time of 2h40m, and likewise the second is the second season focused on the political events and the "Individual Eleven," also running roughly 2h40m. Wikipedia says they have some original content, but I skimmed both and saw so little that wasn't in the TV series that I ignored them.

2003-2004, 26 episodes of ~24 minutes each.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - Solid State Society

A 2005 made-for-TV movie following the two seasons of "Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex." The events happen a couple years after the end of season 2, with the Major having left Section 9. Aramaki has promoted Togusa to replace her as the leader. The primary problem they try to deal with is the systematic abduction of hundreds - or maybe thousands - of children ... and possibly by a government agency.

While it's not disastrously bad, it's the weakest entry in the series so far. Kusanagi's motivations have always been opaque, but seemed to have some logic: now they seem opaque and lacking any sense. And the logic gaps the writers leap freely over (mentioned in my review of season 2) seem to exist in particular abundance in this movie - perhaps because of the relatively short run-time of 1h40m.

Ghost in the Shell: Arise

"Ghost in the Shell: Arise" was aired in 2015, but is set before the 1995 movie and the 2002 "Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex" TV series. It's about the formation of Section 9, or at least Section 9 as we knew it in the movies and GitS:SAC. Everyone looks younger: this makes sense for Aramaki and Togusa (who are almost fully human), but not for anyone else as they're almost entirely cyborgs. By making them look younger, it implies they would deliberately age the appearance of their cyborg bodies - which seems improbable. My guess on seeing their appearance was that we were about 15 years prior to GitS:SAC, but I was way off: according to Wikipedia, "Arise" is set in 2027, GitS (the movie) is in 2029, and GitS:SAC is in 2030 (which makes NO sense, as Kusanagi pretty much left this mortal plane after the movie - not entirely ... it's a long story, but she wouldn't have been working with Section 9 anymore. However that's a failing of GitS:SAC, not "Arise"). And Aramaki's hair went from solid brown to solid white in two years??

We find out that Motoko Kusanagi never had a real body: her mother died while Kusanagi was still in the womb, and the only way to save her was to completely cyberize her at birth. And in the first episode she's still in the military because it owns her very expensive body. By the second episode she's gained both Aramaki's interest and her freedom, but she spends the whole thing fighting with a military unit that includes Batou, Borma, Saito, Ishikawa, and Paz. Prequels are BAD: in this case, they insist on condensing recruiting of "the team" to all come from one place (except Togusa from the local police), which seems extremely unlikely. Especially after they all tried to kill her. And let's not forget the Tachikomas - apparently so popular in GitS:SAC that they had to be re-incarnated as an earlier version, the Logicomas. They're only less annoying than the Tachikomas because they aren't called on to talk so much.

The most unfortunate change in character was Saito: in this series he swaps sides twice for money (do we really think the Major would hire him after that?), and he sleeps through everything, meetings and guard duty alike. This is very different than the character we see in GitS:SAC, who is both alert and reliable.

Kusanagi herself is an obnoxious bitch that no one would want to work for. In the movie and GitS:SAC she's a mystery, not terribly friendly, and she often does stuff unexpectedly, but she always has her reasons and it's clear why they follow her. Here ... she's just too distant, unpredictable and unpleasant.

The series consists of four one hour episodes: "Ghost Pain," "Ghost Whispers," "Ghost Tears," and "Ghost Stands Alone," followed by a particularly crappy two-part 50 minute episode: "Pyrophoric Cult," which is hardly more than a setup for the closing 100 minute episode "Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie" which - while not great - was possibly the best of the lot.

Overall not a particularly good series, but at least an interestingly different take on characters I like.

2015, dir. Kazuchika Kise.

Ghost Rider

Wow. Just ... wow. How you can pump this much money, special effects, and star power into a movie and get a turd that stinks this bad, I don't know. Fonda slums it as the devil - and doesn't even do it particularly well. Cage is a good actor, but you'll never know it from this movie. Mendes looks pretty and acts dumb, willingly believing that it's okay that her boyfriend's head turns into a flaming skull occasionally. Logue offers a bit of relief. But if you're going to watch psuedo-religiosical camp, "Constantine" is an order of magnitude better.

2007, dir. Mark Steven Johnson. With Nicholas Cage, Eva Mendes, Peter Fonda, Matt Long, Raquel Alessi, Donal Logue.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Neveldine/Taylor take over for this unnecessary sequel - well, "necessary" in the Hollywood sense as the original made money despite being trash. Plot, common sense and consistency with the previous movie all take a back seat to STYLE. Looking the movie up after seeing it, I note that it was originally released in 3D (I saw it on DVD in 2D) - which explains the frequent use of in-your-face flying chains. Directors with class and sense have already learned that 3D works best as a background, but Neveldine/Taylor still think getting in your face is really cool.

Johnny Blaze (Cage, even more over-the-top than last time) has been hiding out, trying to keep "the Rider," his murderous flame-skulled alter ego, under control. But he's sought out by a French priest-of-action called Moreau, who encourages/pushes him into protecting a young boy that the devil wants ... and who has more in common with Blaze/the Rider than any of them know. As I write out the plot summary, it comes to me that in the hand of any half-way competent screen writer, you could have had a really good moral-dilemma drama with some wicked action, but Neveldine/Taylor are every bit as subtle as the massive scale mining equipment they break out in the second act. Morality? Good dialogue? WTF, let's blow it out with great action and forget the rest. I mean, come on: they gave Lambert a part, and I don't think they even had irony in mind. I thought the action was actually better than the previous entry, if you don't mind staggeringly ludicrous and totally over-the-top. Enjoy.

2012, dir. Neveldine/Taylor. With Nicholas Cage, Idris Elba, Johnny Whitworth, Ciarán Hinds, Violante Placido, Christopher Lambert, Anthony Head.

Ghost Town

Gervais plays a misanthropic dentist, who, during a routine operation at the hospital, dies for seven minutes and returns with the ability to see dead people. As the tagline says, "He sees dead people ... and they annoy him." Remind you of another movie? This is the comedy version of "Sixth Sense," with similarities well beyond the basic premise of seeing the dead people. Kinnear plays his most persistent visitor, with Leoni being Kinnear's widow and a resident in Gervais' building.

Gervais tones down his regular comic shtick somewhat, and puts enough humanity into his character to make this pretty good. The biggest problem is the amount of change we see in him in a short time: I think "Groundhog Day" set a watermark for assholes changing into better people, and this one doesn't make it. But nevertheless fairly charming and quite funny.

2008, dir. David Koepp. With Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear, Téa Leoni, Aasif Mandvi.

Ghost World

Two teens graduate from high school and find that real life is just as disillusioning as high school. Not a very happy movie. Still not sure if I liked it, but it's fairly memorable.

2001. With Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi.

The Girl from Paris (orig. "Une hirondelle a fait le printemps")

A woman in her early thirties from Paris decides to stop teaching computers and the Internet, goes to farm school and buys a farm way out in the country. With it (for a year and a half) comes the grumpy, bitter old man who originally owned it. She goes to work with her energy, and he complains and causes problems.

Serrault was quite good as the old bastard, but I didn't like Seigner in the slightest: I thought she acted poorly and was really annoying. And while the story did move forward some in the hour and forty minutes run-time, I didn't really feel like we'd gotten anywhere. There were lots of goats.

2001, dir. Christian Carion. With Mathilde Seigner, Michel Serrault, Jean-Paul Roussillon, Frédéric Pierrot.

The Girl in the Café

Lawrence (Nighy), a shy and lonely British career civil servant, meets the very much younger Gena (MacDonald) in a café, and after a couple dates asks her if she'd like to join him at the G8 summit in Reykjavík. Once there, she pays more attention to his hopes for the summit than he has allowed himself to, and she wakes him up out of his very limited life with both painful and hopeful results.

I'd never much liked Nighy prior to this (I'd mostly seen his turns as a villain, in which he gives new meaning to the term "chewing the scenery"), but he's absolutely brilliant here. And MacDonald inhabits her character completely. I wasn't entirely satisfied with the ending, although I'm not entirely sure where I think it should have gone. But the ending is decent, and the rest of the movie is excellent, so give it a look.

2005, dir. David Yates. With Bill Nighy, Kelly MacDonald.

Girl, Interrupted

Based on Susanna Kaysen's book about her stay in a mental ward in the late Sixties. Comparisons to "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" are inevitable. While Goldberg isn't Ratched, and Ryder isn't McMurphy, the echoes in the structures and character are too much to ignore. The acting is good, the story is good, the movie is good, but you'll probably enjoy it more if you haven't seen or read "Cuckoo's Nest."

1999, dir. James Mangold. With Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie, Whoopi Goldberg, Vanessa Redgrave, Brittany Murphy, Jeffrey Tambor.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

Makoto Konno is a high school student. Unsure of what she wants to do with her life, she spends her time outside of school tossing a baseball with her two best buddies, Chiaki Mamiya - math whiz and goofball - and Kosuke Tsuda - who initially seems overly serious, but has many redeeming features. Makoto discovers she has the ability to leap through time, which she uses for things like not being late, acing a pop quiz, and avoiding social awkwardness. But her aunt, who she has confessed her abilities to, points out that there may be unfortunate side effects, and indeed those do begin to crop up.

The movie is anime, aimed at younger teens and based on a very popular Japanese teen novel of the same name (although the storyline is apparently significantly different). The animation is uneven - but the variation is between traditional/good and, in places, dazzlingly beautiful. The story is a bit goofy and eminently predictable (our heroine learns about herself and ultimately goes back and lives the day in question over again, but does it right), but the characters and the charm of both the story and animation make this an eminently watchable film.

2006, dir. Mamoru Hosoda. With Riisa Naka, Takuya Ishida, Mitsutaka Itakura, Sachie Hara, Mitsuki Tanimura.

Girl With a Pearl Earring

Firth plays Johannes Vermeer, the well-known (now, anyway) Dutch painter. Johansson plays Griet, a new servant in his house. They develop something of a relationship because she has something of the painter's sight. In need of money, he paints her at the request of his patron Van Ruijven (played by Wilkinson, always good), with pearl earrings - leading to what is possibly his most famous painting. Murphy plays a butcher's boy down the market, the only man courting her who might be able to offer her something worth having. Murphy is a good actor, but I've always found his face harsh and cold, and not convincing as someone attractive or charming. Both Vermeer and Griet are closed off and fairly uncommunicative, so what we know of them often comes through their faces ... which gets a bit old, even though they're both pretty good. A good but not great film.

2003, dir. Peter Webber. With Colin Firth, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Wilkinson, Judy Parfitt, Cillian Murphy, Essie Davis, Joanna Scanlan.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

The Swedish version of this film, based on the very well known book by Stieg Larsson. American version to follow shortly. Literal translation of the Swedish title: "Men Who Hate Women."

Mikael Blomkvist (played by Nyqvist) is a journalist who published a major whistle-blower piece on a big industrialist. We first meet him as he's convicted of libel after all his contacts and evidence evaporated. We also meet Lisbeth Salander (Rapace), an extremely good computer investigator with a left-over Goth look, a substantial attitude, and a legal guardian because she's on probation. Blomkvist is going to have to serve a prison sentence, but in the time before that happens, Henrik Vanger (Taube) (another industrialist) asks him to investigate a forty-year-old disappearance. As this is going on, Lisbeth's new guardian is hideously sexually abusing her. Eventually, she and Blomkvist end up working together.

The movie is often hard to watch - forced oral sex, rape, lots of bodies, horrible crimes. Gritty and often unpleasant, but a good mystery at its centre, and a couple good characters. Particularly Rapace as Lisbeth - I can't imagine anyone stepping into those shoes, Rapace owns the character ... it'll be interesting to see what the American production does.

2009, dir. Niels Arden Oplev. With Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Sven-Bertil Taube, Peter Haber, Björn Granath, Ingvar Hirdwall, Peter Andersson.

The Glass Key

Early 1940s, this movie usually gets filed under period Noir. But that's not entirely accurate: yes, it's a mystery, there are criminals and sleazy deals. But "Noir" requires a relatively dark ending, and this one has a lightweight ending that doesn't even particularly fit with the movie. It was frustrating because the dialogue and characters were pretty good, but they were sent off in the service of a plot that didn't make a lot of sense.

Brian Donlevy plays Paul Madvig, a crooked political manipulator. His second in command is Ed Beaumont (Alan Ladd) who's incredibly loyal and the brains of the operation. Which is a problem when Madvig falls for Janet Henry (Veronica Lake) who's the daughter of Reform candidate Ralph Henry (Moroni Olsen). It's more of a problem because Madvig decides to back Ralph Henry because of his infatuation for Janet, against Beaumont's advice. Then Beaumont and Janet fall for each other, and Madvig gets in serious trouble with the local crime boss.

All of which makes sense, but it all stumbles to a surprisingly sunny ending that makes zero sense in relation to the beginning of the movie (or even the middle). Not bad, but quite a mess.

1942, dir. Stuart Heisler. With Alan Ladd, Brian Donlevy, Bonita Granville, Veronica Lake, Richard Denning, Joseph Calleia, William Bendix.

Glory Road

Surprisingly decent movie staggering between several classifications: it's an inspirational sports movie, it's about racial equality, it's sports history, it's occasionally sickly sweet. A Disney product, and more or less what you'd expect from them, but the surprise is that it's good. The movie follows basketball coach Don Haskins (played by Lucas) as he fields the first ever all-black starting lineup in NCAA history (1966). The movie was pretty good, but the icing on the cake was the interviews with the real players that ran with the end credits (and are filled out further in the DVD extras).

2006, dir. James Gartner. With Josh Lucas, Derek Luke, Jon Voight.

Go West (1925)

Keaton stars as a young man (called "Friendless" in the opening credits) of limited skills who we see first selling all his possessions at a general store and then losing all the money as he has to buy some food and his own razor and toothbrush.

After failing to find a job in that town, he hops the rails to New York where he finds the crowds overwhelming and eventually decides to go west. There he gets a job as a cowboy, although it immediately becomes evident he knows even less about animals than movie viewers raised in the city. He becomes very fond of a particular cow that follows him about. He rides a donkey rather than a horse. And eventually he saves the ranch owner from financial ruin - but then, you weren't watching this for the plot, you were watching it for Keaton's humour. It has some spectacularly funny moments, but not to my mind enough funny stuff overall. But enjoyable.

1925, dir. Buster Keaton. With Buster Keaton, Howard Truesdale, Kathleen Myers, Ray Thompson.

God of Cookery (orig. "Sik san")

Chow plays "The God of Cookery," whose name is ... "Stephen Chow." He's a pompous ass, and bad choices in friends bring him down. Typically, he finds friends and dedication in low places, and begins the journey back up - perhaps learning a little humility along the way.

All of which is rather missing the point, which is endless opportunities for Chow to do ridiculous slapstick. I think I prefer this to "Kung Fu Hustle," but "Shaolin Soccer" was really his masterpiece. Lots of special effects and craziness as always.

1996, dir. Stephen Chow, Lik-Chi Lee. With Stephen Chow, Vincent Kok, Tats Lau, Karen Mok.

Gods and Monsters

Based on the book Father of Frankenstein, a novel about the last months of Frank Whale's life. Whale directed "Frankenstein" and "Bride of Frankenstein," among other movies. I suppose it's about friendship, as the very gay, intellectual, and old Whale follows an odd path to befriending his straight young gardener. McKellen is superb - his behaviour was so disturbing at times I found it difficult to watch, and yet the character is ultimately sympathetic. Fraser and Redgrave do well in their supporting roles.

1998 dir. Bill Condon. With Ian McKellen, Brendan Fraser, Lynn Redgrave.

The Gods Must Be Crazy

How a movie that takes so much material from the playbook of the Keystone Cops has become an immortal comedy, I don't know. But I do know that despite my disbelief at that achievement, this remains a favourite movie of mine. Weyers is very good at slapstick, "The Antichrist" (their problematic Land Rover) gets them into all sorts of trouble, and N!xau is great at both looking innocent and doing slapstick. Uys also sticks in a lot of animals "watching" the characters and reminding us of the absurdity of their actions. The end result is much more than the sum of its parts, and absolutely a must-see for comedy fans.

1980, dir. Jamie Uys. Starring Marius Weyers, Sandra Prinsloo, N!xau, Louw Verwey, Michael Thys, Nic De Jager.

Gods of Egypt

Aside from the humans, about half the costumes, and some furniture, what was NOT computer generated in this movie? Not much. And given that a number of the characters on screen are "gods" (who are nearly a metre taller than your average human), even some of the people are sometimes CG. All this CG is somewhat distracting. And even though the CG is often pretty obvious, it's generally fairly pretty. But much more distracting than that is a bad script coupled with some amazingly hammy acting, some of it from otherwise good actors.

The premise sees us in Egypt several thousand years ago, a country ruled by gods. Bek (Thwaites), a human thief, doesn't care much about the gods: all he cares about is making a good life for himself and his true love, Zaya (Eaton). But Horus (Coster-Waldau), son of Osiris, is about to be crowned king of Egypt - this is a really big deal that Zaya cares about, even if Bek doesn't. So they attend the coronation - where Osiris's brother Set (Butler) puts in an appearance, killing Osiris, blinding Horus, and crowning himself. He's not a very good king, and Bek is convinced to aid (exiled, blind, and sulky) Horus.

Thwaites has a certain amount of charm as Bek, although he's not doing a great job. And the big names aren't exactly leading by example: Rush's "I'm the god of the sun and I'm an idiot" performance is probably the worst (particularly given that he's the best actor on set). Butler used to know how to act, but for the last decade he's been letting it slide - I blame "300," because with so many fanboys telling him how awesome his totally over-the-top performance in that was, he's stuck with that roaring, swaggering model ever since. And Coster-Waldau is definitely capable of better than he delivered here - although the script is bad enough that I can't entirely blame the actors. I imagine that trying to fight and act on stilts may also somewhat reduce the quality of your performance. I suspect the director (Proyas, who once looked like he'd go on to be great ...) spent a lot more time on the imagery than the performances. I'm a little surprised this thing made it as high as its current (2016-08-07) 16% on Rotten Tomatoes.

2016, dir. Alex Proyas. With Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Brenton Thwaites, Gerard Butler, Chadwick Boseman, Élodie Yung, Courtney Eaton, Rufus Sewell, Geoffrey Rush, Bryan Brown.

Godzilla (2014)

I saw one or two of the original "Godzilla" movies when I was a kid. MILD SPOILERS FOLLOW. Now we have a modern update, in which a "M.U.T.O." or "Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism" surfaces and starts eating nuclear power plants and nuclear submarines. They destroy human cities and our weapons can't touch them. But Godzilla is on the case: he's heard their deafening electromagnetic cry, and will destroy them.

Taylor-Johnson (as Ford Brody) carries the majority of the film as a military ordnance expert whose father (Cranston) turned into something of a conspiracy theorist after he lost his wife (Ford's mother, Binoche) to a previous MUTO attack that the government of Japan won't acknowledge. Hawkins seems to have been hired entirely to cover her face with her hands and look scared: she appears in multiple scenes doing precisely that. There are nuclear bombs and massive destruction and lots of sobbing. It's really pretty silly.

2014, dir. Gareth Edwards. With Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, David Strathairn, Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins.

Going Postal

Another British TV production of a Terry Pratchett novel. Moist von Lipwig (Coyle) is a rather good con man, but is ultimately caught by The Guard of Ankh-Morpork and sentenced to death. He awakes after his hanging to find the Patrician (Dance) offering him a choice between restoring the Post Office or a rather more permanent death. Being a sensible man, he chooses the Post Office.

I read the novel several years ago and didn't think it was one of Pratchett's best. They've come up with an acceptable adaptation, but, like the source material, it's simply mildly amusing (and I rather wonder if it would work for non-Pratchett fans). Pratchett himself puts in a short speaking cameo at the end of the film as a postman.

On second viewing my take is a bit different. I still don't think it's a particularly good movie, but I quite enjoyed it anyway.

2010, dir. Jon Jones. With Richard Coyle, David Suchet, Claire Foy, Charles Dance, Marnix Van Den Broeke, Jimmy Yuill, Steve Pemberton, Andrew Sachs, Tamsin Greig, Adrian Schiller, Ian Bonar, Terry Pratchett.

The Golden Compass

There are huge chunks of information missing in this translation from the famous book of the same name by Philip Pullman. I enjoyed the movie immensely, but I had read the books. And I enjoyed it despite the blatantly CG animals - they were good, but still obviously CG. There were a lot of complaints when this came out that it was confusing and didn't make sense: I didn't have that problem, but I can certainly see it. Weitz just needed to slow down, allow that it was going to be a longer movie, and do a bit more description mixed into the constant flow of action. The visuals are gorgeous, and some of the characters come across very well despite the lack of time to get to know them. I look forward to the other two movies.

UPDATE: the movie was incredibly expensive and tanked something fierce at the box office: sequels are unlikely.

2007, dir. Chris Weitz. With Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Dakota Blue Richards, Ben Walker, Freddie Highmore, Ian McKellan, Eva Green, Tom Courtenay, Ian McShane, Sam Elliot, Christopher Lee, Kristin Scott Thomas, Kathy Bates, Derek Jacobi.

The Good German

Clooney plays a newspaperman (in uniform, although why is never entirely clear) returning to Berlin at the same time Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill are there deciding how to carve up Europe, while the Second World War rages on against Japan. The movie is black and white, and Noir all over. Clooney came looking for a woman he knew before the war ... and encounters her immediately. He wonders how that happened so quickly and conveniently, and that's only one of many questions he has to answer. It was intelligent, and you have to think and pay attention, and yet when you're done only about half the puzzle pieces fit: there were a bunch of places in the background where the logic fell down if you tried to reassemble it all afterwards. The ending is a huge and blatant tribute to "Casablanca," but with a lot less hope. Not a good enough movie to be as depressing as it was.

2006, dir. Steven Soderbergh. With Cate Blanchett, George Clooney, Tobey Maguire, Tony Curran, Ravil Isyanov, Beau Bridges, Don Pugsley, Robin Weigert, Christian Oliver.

The Good Girl

Stupid people and their unhappy lives. I guess I like my characters a little brighter than the ones in this movie. Maybe if there was some insight, something clever about the movie, I would have had some hope of liking it. Despite good performances by Aniston, Gyllenhaal, and Nelson, the meaninglessness of the whole thing leaves the viewer numb.

2002, dir. Miguel Arteta. With Jennifer Aniston, Jake Gyllenhaal, John C. Reilly, Tim Blake Nelson.

Good Night, and Good Luck

History replays - Edward R. Murrow takes on Senator Joseph McCarthy. Clooney takes a look at the events at CBS during the McCarthy era. All talk, but definitely thought-provoking and probably extremely accurate as they're using extensive footage of McCarthy and I would expect any broadcasts by Murrow were verbatim (Strathairn was excellent in the role).

2005, dir. George Clooney. With David Strathairn, George Clooney, Jeff Daniels, Frank Langella, Robert Downey Jr., Patricia Clarkson.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The last of Leone's three spaghetti westerns (along with "A Fist Full of Dollars" and "For a Few Dollars More," they defined a new genre), and the most highly regarded. I liked this one the least of the three - it was overly long (especially in the recently released English version with older footage added in - it runs to about 2:40) and abrasively unfunny. Wallach and Eastwood form an uneasy partnership in an attempt to track down a fortune in gold coins. They stumble through the Civil War and are pursued by Van Cleef, who also wants the money.

1966, dir. Sergio Leone. With Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach.

The Good, the Bad, the Weird (orig. "Joheunnom nabbeunnom isanghannom")

A Korean tribute and / or parody of Spaghetti Westerns, set in Manchuria in the 1930s. We have three main characters, Yoon Tae-goo (Song), Park Chang-yi (Lee), and Park Do-won (Jung), all pursuing a treasure map and then trying to find the treasure. The cinematography is often excellent, and some of the gags are pretty funny. There's also lots and lots of action. The story ... makes sense, but ultimately isn't particularly cohesive.

2008, dir. Ji-woon Kim. With Kang-ho Song, Byung-hun Lee, Woo-sung Jung, Seung-su Ryu.

The Good Thief

Addiction, recovery, redemption (and luck). Based (very loosely according to Jordan, I haven't seen it) on The old movie "Bob le Flambeur." The end result is pretty good - intelligent dialogue, a heist movie that's primarily about the characters. Nolte was excellent.

2002, dir. Neil Jordan. With Nick Nolte, Tcheky Karyo, Said Taghmaoui, Emir Kusturica, Nutsa Kukhianidze.

Good Will Hunting

No psychologists or mathematicians were hurt during the filming of this movie. And neither discipline was permanently damaged. I don't think either the math or psychology is particularly accurate in this film, but in the end it doesn't really matter. It's just an enjoyable story about personal recovery. Damon plays a young mathematical genius with an ugly past and a fear of change. Skarsgård plays the math professor who tries to help him, Williams the psychologist brought in when no one else can deal with him, and Ben Affleck his best friend. The script was written in large part by Damon and Affleck (don't let that put you off).

1997, dir. Gus Van Sant. With Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Ben Affleck, Minnie Driver, Casey Affleck, Stellan Skarsgård.

A Good Year

Based on the book of the same name by Peter Mayle, which itself was based on an idea cooked up by Mayle and Scott - who are good friends. So we find Scott directing ... a romantic comedy?! A love letter from Mayle and Scott to their home neighbourhood of Provence. Crowe plays a high powered stock trader whose uncle dies. Crowe is a self-proclaimed "asshole" who lost touch with this uncle he loved. Now he's forced to spend time in Provence on the huge estate he's inherited. Slapstick, life lessons, and romance follow. Not a particularly brilliant movie, but charming, and Crowe is actually pretty damn funny as well as being a good actor.

2006, dir. Ridley Scott. With Russell Crowe, Marion Cotillard, Freddie Highmore, Albert Finney, Didier Bourdon, Abbie Cornish, Tom Hollander, Archie Panjabi.

Goon

Scott stars as Doug Glatt, a Jewish boy from a good family who doesn't have the brains to follow his father and brother into medicine. But he does have a talent: he can fight, and after he's caught on film thrashing a minor league hockey enforcer, he's offered a job on a hockey team despite his complete inability to skate. The inevitable showdown is set up relatively early on, with a lot of footage shown of the veteran, soon-to-retire Ross "The Boss" Rhea (Schreiber, good as always, and possibly the most convincing character in this mess).

Glatt's family is over-the-top obnoxious Jewish, and his best friend (writer-producer Baruchel) is incredibly obnoxious as a fantastically foul-mouthed hockey fanatic who aspires to be the next Don Cherry (not mentioned by name). Scott is charming, although the character is played about as dense as any of us would believe without being institutionalized. Pill, as Doug's would-be girlfriend, is fairly good, but again a bit over-the-top. Ultimately, the movie comes across as surprisingly light-weight. It's enjoyable, it's very violent and bloody, it's funny, it's the new "Slap Shot," but ... it just doesn't carry a lot of heft. And the glamorization of the enforcer role is kind of questionable, particularly as they manipulated Scott's appearances so that he was always a "force for good," ie. he's defending his team-mates, not intimidating the opposing team.

2012, dir. Michael Dowse. With Seann William Scott, Liev Schreiber, Jay Baruchel, Alison Pill, Marc-Andre Grondin, Eugene Levy, David Paetkau, Jonathan Cherry.

Gorgeous (aka "Bor lei jun")

Chan plays C.N., a rich playboy. He meets the staggeringly naive (but innocent and charming) Bu who slowly brings joy back into his life. But he simultaneously has to deal with his obnoxious old friend Howie who is determined to see C.N. lose a fight. Since Howie can't fight, he hires Alan (Allan) to fight C.N.

Chan wrote and produced this fairy tale romance. Hong Kong produced, no violence, no inappropriate behaviour, environmentally friendly, and no tension. Even the fights have almost no tension because there's nothing riding on them except the fighter's pride. Qi Shu is beautiful, and Jackie Chan can't act.

1999, dir. Vincent Kok. With Jackie Chan, Qi Shu, Tony Leung, Bradley James Allan.

Gorky Park

Three bodies are found frozen in Gorky Park in Moscow. Arkady Renko (Hurt) is investigating the murders, but it reeks of a KGB killing so he wants to dump it. But his superior assures him he'll have full support and be protected. Renko is very good, but there's a lot going on: KGB, an American that probably did the killing, and one of the victims was American as well.

The first two thirds of the movie was utterly wonderful: a carefully paced movie that demands you pay attention because they're not going to dumb it down for you at all. I found the finale a little overblown (lots of guns, lots of people die), but this is still a really nice piece of work.

1983, dir. Michael Apted. With William Hurt, Lee Marvin, Joanna Pacula, Brian Dennehy, Ian Bannen.

Grace is Gone

This appears to be very much Cusack's project, producing and playing the lead role. And this isn't Cusack like you've ever seen him: there's usually some Cusack-isms to his performance, but that's all gone this time. His face moves differently. His body moves differently. And his whole performance is superb.

Cusack plays a man married to a soldier named Grace: not surprisingly (if you've seen the trailer or read the DVD box), as soon as they've established what his life is like with her away, two neatly dressed army officers arrive at his door with the news of her death. He doesn't know what to do and isn't able to tell their two daughters (O'Keefe and Bednarczyk) what's happened, instead bundling them into the car for an impromptu road trip. Not surprisingly, they have no idea of what's going on.

Both of the young actresses are very good, Nivola is very good in his short appearance as Cusack's brother, and the dialogue is realistic and affecting. And yet somehow the movie as a whole never adds up to much more than a sad story. A memorable one, but not a great work of art.

2007, dir. James C. Strouse. With John Cusack, Shélan O'Keefe, Gracie Bednarczyk, Alessandro Nivola.

The Graduate

I expected a more conventional movie ... It's strange and uncomfortable, but very good. Dustin Hoffman plays a recent university graduate confused about what to do with his life. Having an affair with his father's business partner's wife and then falling for her daughter doesn't help any.

1967. dir. Mike Nichols. Dustin Hoffman, Catherine Ross, Anne Bancroft.

Gran Torino

I joked to a friend before I saw this that it was "a Western in suburbia." After I saw it, all I did was change that to "a Western in suburbia with a touch of Borat." Eastwood's character is massively racist, and spouts racial epithets throughout the length of the movie. I suppose I laugh at him and not at Borat because "he's just like that" whereas Sacha Baren Cohen is doing it deliberately to provoke people. Not that it's a comedy: there's a lot of humour, but it's also thought-provoking and sad.

Eastwood's character lives in a somewhat down-at-heel neighbourhood somewhere in the mid-West, where we open on the burial of his wife. He's a Korean war vet retired from working on the Ford assembly line, he's a racist, and his kids don't know how to talk to him (and he doesn't know how to talk to them). He finds himself involuntarily befriended by the Hmong family who've moved in next door. His sense of "right" overrides his racial discrimination when his neighbours are threatened by a local gang.

2008, dir. Clint Eastwood. With Clint Eastwood, Christopher Carley, Bee Vang, Ahney Her, Brian Haley, Geraldine Hughes, Dreama Walker, Brian Howe, John Carroll Lynch, William Hill.

Grand Budapest Hotel

I think Anderson's "The Royal Tenenbaums" is a superb movie. I've watched every movie he's directed since, and none have come close to that one. Until now. Anderson has done a great job with this one, although without the brilliant work of both Fiennes and Revolori, he might not have succeeded.

The movie starts with a young woman at the memorial for "The Author," and then switches to "The Author" himself (Wilkinson) talking about his inspiration (such as it was). Then we switch yet again, this time to the story in the book, a man (Law, probably meant to be a younger version of "The Author") in the decaying Grand Hotel Budapest. But we're not done yet: he hears the story of how Zero Moustafa (Abraham) became the owner of the hotel, and that story comprises the body of the film. Monsieur Gustave H (Fiennes) is the extremely dedicated concierge of what was then a very grand hotel, and young Zero (Revolori) is his new lobby boy. Monsieur H takes very good care of his patrons - in fact disturbingly good care. I had thought by the trailer that events at the hotel would be what the film was made of, but in fact a great deal of it takes place away from the hotel. Fiennes is hysterical as the charming and foul-mouthed concierge, and Revolori brings surprising presence to a role that mostly calls for him agreeing with Fiennes' and following orders. The cinematography is the peak of Anderson's obsession with symmetry, and looks absolutely stunning. Ludicrously crazy, the movie is nevertheless touching and hugely entertaining. Highly recommended.

2014, dir. Wes Anderson. With Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Jude Law, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Léa Seydoux, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban.

The Grand Seduction

The town of Tickle Head, Newfoundland is direly in need of a doctor. When they find one in Paul Lewis (Kitsch, whose character is evidently blackmailed into going), they have a month to convince him Tickle Head is the perfect place to stay. So the entire town, led by Murray French (Gleeson) and assisted by his friend Simon (Pinsent) set out to find out everything he loves and try to make it available in the town.

I think they were aiming for "charming" but have hit squarely on "mean-spirited," as the entire town lies and humiliates themselves and their potential doctor. There are a few brilliant jokes, mostly delivered by Pinsent, and the scenery - being Newfoundland - is often gorgeous. But as a whole the movie is a bit unpleasant to watch.

2013, dir. Don McKellar. With Brendan Gleeson, Taylor Kitsch, Gordon Pinsent, Mark Critch, Liane Balaban, Peter Keleghan.

Gravity

We start the movie floating above Earth, with Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) in her spacesuit working on the Hubble Telescope, and astronaut Matt Kowalski (Clooney) swooping about on a prototype (and very successful) jet pack. Houston shortly warns them of a substantial debris field coming their way and to get back inside the shuttle. They don't manage to do so before the debris strikes, breaking everything loose from everything else and hurling Stone off into space where she spins and hyperventilates (a pretty reasonable reaction to my mind).

This is the first time I've seen a really convincing freefall effect in a movie. All the tech in the movie is essentially current day stuff, and the two main actors (in essence the only two in the entire movie) are superb. One of the tensest movies I've ever sat through, incredibly effective. Recommended.

Cuarón has charted a hell of a course for himself: "Y Tu Mamá También," "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," "Children of Men," and now this. This is a director to watch.

2013, dir. Alfonso Cuarón. With Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris, Paul Sharma.

Grand Canyon

What did Kasdan do after "The Big Chill?" Here's the answer. It has its moments, but not very good.

dir. Lawrence Kasdan. With Kevin Kline, Danny Glover.

The Great Dictator

Chaplin's satire of Hitler and Nazism, released in 1940. Chaplin really went to town on Hitler, mocking him for the entire duration of the movie. He also makes it very clear that the Jews don't deserve oppression (nor does anyone else). As Wikipedia points out, the U.S. was officially neutral at the time, so Chaplin's stance was unusual. Chaplin later said he would never have made the movie if he had known how serious the Second World War was going to be. But he did make it, and it has some very funny moments. Also his first real talking picture.

Chaplin plays a Jewish barber-turned-incompetent soldier, and also plays "Adenoid Hynkel," the dictator of Tomania. His parodies of Hitler's speeches are simultaneously horrifying and hilarious.

1940, dir. Charlie Chaplin. With Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Jack Oakie.

The Great Race

"The Great Race" stars Lemmon, Curtis, and Wood (and Falk, younger than I've ever seen him) in what amounts to a live action Roadrunner vs. Wile E. Coyote. Lemmon is the dastardly black-clad Professor Fate, Curtis is charming to all, dressed in white, and has a smile that sparkles, and Wood is the epitome of a Suffragette determined to prove women are equal in all things. Pies are flung, mud pits are fallen in, a melting iceberg is ridden. And in the middle, we have a significant "Prisoner of Zenda" interlude in which political intrigue surrounds one of our main characters who looks identical to a prince.

Sequential sketch comedy reminiscent of Mel Brooks, although less crude. All in the service of a ludicrous plot about an automobile race around the world, it delivers some laughs, but to me the failure to deliver the slightest drama, plot, or even marginally realistic characters is a failing. Given that it's a slapstick comedy, this is a rather silly requirement and the movie may well work for others: but I didn't think it entirely delivered in the comedy department either.

1965, dir. Blake Edwards. With Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood, Peter Falk, Keenan Wynn, Arthur O'Connell, Vivian Vance, Larry Storch, Dorothy Provine.

The Great Wall

William (Damon) and Tovar (Pascal) are adventurers/mercenaries/bandits in China during the Song Dynasty, in search of "black powder" (gunpowder, not available in the West at the time). They speak modern American English - a little odd in 1050 AD. They end up on the Great Wall, which turns out to be defending China against the Taotie (evil, intelligent lizard-like creatures much larger than a man). The very large army along the wall is "The Nameless Order," consisting of colour-coded troops of warriors. Yimou's obsession with colour really lets him down here: the colours are anachronistic (they couldn't possibly have been created in the time period), far too consistent, clearly computer-generated, and make the troops look as if they're wearing plastic.

If you can get past that, and the odd need for the Chinese to find a white guy to help save them (or did they just want his help at the North American box office?), it's just an epic war movie with a not terribly interesting plot. The characters are both overblown and weak - partly because the writing is bad but mostly because the concentration is on the spectacle of it all. Don't waste your time.

2016, dir. Zhang Yimou. With Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Zhang Hanyu, Eddie Peng, Lu Han.

The Greatest Game Ever Played

Good acting almost carries the day, but it's overwhelmed by a staggeringly clichéd storyline about golf. The parent who disapproves of the impossible dream, nearly does the child out of it for life ... but is inevitably redeemed by some small act at the end of the picture. And let's not forget the woman - the upper class woman whose heart he touches despite his lower class origins. LaBoeuf is excellent as usual, Dillane is very good, Marcus has fun and looks good, and Flitter is entertaining. But the storyline sinks the whole thing (don't give me this "based on a true story" crap: the writer and director choose what to include). Too bad with so many good people on board.

2005, dir. Bill Paxton. With Shia LaBeouf, Stephen Dillane, Stephen Marcus, Josh Flitter, Elias Koteas, Marnie McPhail, Peyton List.

Greedy

Joe McTeague (Douglas) is the old, manipulative, and verbally abusive matriarch of a family of money-grubbing bastards. Danny (Fox) is the son of the estranged sibling, who left to get away from the back-stabbing. When he's introduced to the family he never knew, he looks for a time like the only decent person in the lot.

SPOILER WARNING: Fox is initially charming as Danny, but his conversion from decent person to money-grubbing bastard and back again is unconvincing. And the repeated switch-backs in Uncle McTeague's behaviour are too frequent and become less and less plausible - and less and less endearing. Has a few laughs, but mostly pretty annoying.

1994, dir. Jonathan Lynn. With Kirk Douglas, Michael J. Fox, Nancy Travis, Olivia d'Abo, Phil Hartman, Ed Begley Jr., Jere Burns, Colleen Camp, Bob Balaban.

The Green Mile

Based on a not-actually-horror novel by Stephen King, "The Green Mile" stars Hanks as Paul Edgecomb, the supervisor at a death row block in a depression-era prison. The first half hour of the film (it runs three hours, so they take their time) is taken to show that Edgecomb and three out of his four employees are dedicated humanists, doing their best to make their prisoner's last days as peaceful as they can manage.

They receive a new inmate, John Coffey (played by Duncan ... and notice his character's initials) an enormous black man convicted of raping and killing two very young girls. It rapidly becomes clear that Coffey may not be entirely there mentally: among other things, he's afraid of the dark. And as time progresses, they find that Coffey just doesn't seem like a murderer ... and in fact may even be capable of performing miracles.

The movie is perhaps too long, but the time is used to create powerful characters and take a really good look at them. Hanks is excellent as usual, but he gets great support from Morse, Pepper and DeMunn as his employees, and particularly Duncan - whose brilliant and heart-breaking performance really makes this movie possible. The current-day frame story is totally unnecessary and detracts from the film as a whole - but happily doesn't break it. A great and thought-provoking movie about morality and man's inhumanity to man.

1999, dir. Frank Darabont. With Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan, David Morse, Barry Pepper, Jeffrey DeMunn, Doug Hutchison, Bonnie Hunt, Dabbs Greer, James Cromwell, Michael Jeter, Sam Rockwell, Patricia Clarkson, Harry Dean Stanton, Gary Sinese, Graham Greene.

Greenfingers

Owen plays a British convict, recently moved to a minimum security prison where he finds himself with a very old and very ill roommate. The warden believes in work therapy, and soon the former murderers are growing a lovely flower garden. The lessons are laid on with a trowel, but the acting is good and it's very funny. Worth a watch.

According to Wikipedia, "It is loosely based on a true story about the award-winning prisoners of HMP Leyhill, a minimum-security prison in the Cotswolds, England."

2000, dir. Joel Hershman. With Clive Owen, Helen Mirren, David Kelly, Natasha Little, Warren Clarke, Danny Dyer, Adam Fogerty, Paterson Joseph, Lucy Punch.

Green for Danger

Filmed just after WWII, the movie is about a murder (or two) in an improvised British hospital during the war. I'm getting a little tired of the idea that a murder mystery has to be as complex as humanly possible to "keep it interesting." Four or five different people all had motive and opportunity. And in this case it's hard for the viewer to solve as the primary motivator is only given to you at the end by the inspector. The characters are at least entertaining.

1946, dir. Sidney Gilliat. With Sally Gray, Trevor Howard, Rosamund John, Alastair Simm, Leo Genn, Judy Campbell, Megs Jenkins.

The Green Hornet (2011)

My views on this movie should be taken with a grain of salt as I fast-forwarded through chunks of it.

Rogen plays Britt Reid, the party animal son of respected newspaper publisher James Reid (Wilkinson). After his father's death, he discovers his father's very talented assistant (and martial arts expert) Kato (Chou). Somewhat accidentally, they start fighting crime.

What I'm leaving out here is Reid being a dick for the full 108 minute run-time. He's a talentless idiot who's only good at offending people ... but he's very rich because of his father. If you like Rogen's humour (he helped write this abomination) you may enjoy this movie: but believe me, this is probably going to be too much of Rogen-being-an-asshole even for his biggest fans, because that's what they concentrate on. This is a strange choice for Gondry - his stuff has always been bizarre, but usually more intelligent and better than this.

2011, dir. Michel Gondry. With Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Christoph Waltz, Cameron Diaz, Edward James Olmos, Tom Wilkinson, David Harbour.

Green Lantern

Reynolds plays military test pilot Hal Jordan, selected to be the Green Lantern guardian for Earth and the rest of our galactic sector after his predecessor, Abin Sur (Morrison) is mortally wounded by the evil being Parallax. After the first act of the movie on Earth - setting up Jordan's character and circumstances - the ring that selected him hauls him off to space for his Green Lantern training.

One of the more far-fetched superhero stories, and certainly no great work of art, but it's pretty entertaining and I didn't ask more than that.

2011, dir. Martin Campbell. With Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Angela Bassett, Tim Robbins, Temuera Morrison.

Green Zone

Damon plays Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, chasing after WMDs in Iraq. The intel his company is fed is constantly wrong, and through a series of events he begins to doubt the source of the intel, and then try to chase the person down. The movie is filmed in what one reviewer referred to as "vomit-cam," similar to the Bourne films which Greengrass also directed.

It was fun to watch but something of a fantasy - a depressing fantasy about a very determined and honest man caught in a situation he doesn't like and doesn't control in the middle of a war. Damon does a pretty good job and gets fairly good support from the other actors, but ultimately the movie slides together into a muddled memory of running firefights.

2010, dir. Paul Greengrass. With Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Brendan Gleeson, Khalid Abdalla, Amy Ryan, Jason Isaacs.

Gridiron Gang

I was astonished by the trite platitudes fired off throughout the movie. So much so that I nearly quit at half time. And then I was more astonished (and a bit relieved, I suppose) to hear the clips from the documentary this was based on that are interspersed with the credits: the real Sean Porter truly is a platitude-spouting machine. But I guess it works: when you're working with 16 year olds, they haven't heard all of them before (just most of them). But it did have some good moments: "I love sacking the quarterback. I still can't believe that's legal." It's heart-warming in a clichéd way: Johnson plays Porter, a teacher at a juvenile delinquent facility in California who decides that discipline through football will reduce recidivism. Apparently he was right.

2006, dir. Phil Joanou. With Dwayne Johnson, Xzibit, Jade Yorker, David V. Thomas, Setu Taase, Trevor O'Brien.

The Grifters

Frears heads out to look at the lives of con men. He seems to think that having a conscience that flops about like a fish out of water is a bad thing. The three stars are all various types of grifters, although we only find out about Bening well into the movie. Sleazy, nasty, and it all ends badly. Well done, well acted, and I didn't like it much at all.

1991, dir. Stephen Frears. With John Cusack, Annette Bening, Anjelica Houston.

Gringo Trails

I found this movie at the library. As a frequent traveler, I was interested in their take on the advantages and disadvantages of tourism. Most people travel to see (touch, taste, smell, hear) new places, to experience different cultures. But what if you were simultaneously destroying that place?

I took exception to their implicit logic early on: the movie had a text panel that said "as tourism has risen [in this South American location], the number of Anacondas has steadily declined." Wait, what? They don't actually say it, but the implication is clear: tourism is destroying the snakes. But the reality is a lot more nuanced than that: I don't doubt the Anaconda population is declining, nor do I question that tourism is increasing. But (and why do people utterly refuse to remember this?) correlation does not imply causation. Anacondas are probably dying off because of habitat destruction. Tourists are visiting to see the Anacondas in their natural habitat: tourists aren't the cause of habitat destruction, in fact they're pouring money into keeping the snake's habitat (nearly) pristine. It's slash-and-burn farmers who are destroying the snake's habitat. So, if anything, the tourists are helping the snakes. My logic is based on zero research (so you shouldn't put any faith in it), but I believe the filmmaker's was as well: show me science-based causation and I'll buy your premise.

They certainly manage to show a number of places where tourism has had a destructive effect - I've been to some of these places, and I know they're right about that. The final play was to hold up Bhutan as a model: travel is regulated by the government, it's $250US a day, and you can only get in with a tour group. This has meant that they get old rich people who are there to actually see the place, not to party. And limiting the number limits the effect on the environment and culture.

For the most part I agree with this, although it would have severely shortened my trip in southeast Asia. I was paying maybe $15US a day for a hotel room and food on that trip for six months: at $250US a day, I would have been there less than two weeks on the same budget. The movie as a whole was at best mildly interesting, and at that I think you'd have to be a fairly dedicated traveler to find it even that appealing.

2013, dir. Pegi Vail. With Costas Christ, Yossi Ghinsberg, Pico Iyer.

Grosse Pointe Blank

John Cusack plays a professional hit man returning to his hometown for his ten year high school anniversary ... and a hit. A very funny script, some action, and Cusack's very good acting make this a really enjoyable movie. Driver is great as the love interest.

1997, dir. George Armitage. With John Cusack, Minnie Driver, Joan Cusack, Dan Aykroyd, Alan Arkin.

Groundhog Day

Murray plays Phil Connors, an obnoxious TV news reporter sent to Punxsutawney with his camera man (Elliot) and new producer (MacDowell) to report on the groundhog's weather prediction. After the report, a blizzard forces them to stay in Punxsutawney overnight, and when Murray wakes up in the morning he finds it's Groundhog Day again. In fact, he lives the day over thousands of times, and the movie shows his progression through hedonism, depression, suicide (he still wakes up the next day), love, and good will. Murray is absolutely at his best here: extremely funny and acting very well. MacDowell is surprisingly charming (I've never been a fan). Overall, an excellent movie.

1993, dir. Harold Ramis. With bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Chris Elliott.

The Guard

Gleeson plays Gerry Boyle, a lose cannon asshole cop in Connemara, Ireland. Drug dealers and an American FBI agent (Cheadle) show up pretty much simultaneously, and he doesn't get along with either of them. It's initially unclear if he's genuinely racist, or he simply enjoys pissing people off. The movie reminded me of "In Bruges," what with both being black comedies with lots of guns, Gleeson, and brother directors. But this movie suffers in the comparison, as it's not as funny and doesn't have any greater dramatic depth to compensate. Which isn't to say it's a bad film: it's quite enjoyable. But "In Bruges" is better.

2011, dir. John Michael McDonagh. With Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Liam Cunningham, Mark Strong, Fionnula Flanagan, David Wilmot, Rory Keenan, Dominique McElligott, Sarah Greene.

Guardians of the Galaxy

The story starts in 1988 with a Walkman and a dying mother: the young Peter Quill is then abducted from Earth. We shortly find out that Quill (Pratt) has grown into a galaxy-traveling tomb-raider, fighter, and thief. Several people are after the same prize Quill wants, and a couple of them are after Quill himself for the bounty on him. After they're all put in jail, they're forced to team up to break out. As they begin to realize that the device Quinn stole will be used to destroy entire populated planets, they start to consider fighting together.

Goofy but very entertaining, an enjoyable ride. Some parts are utterly extraneous, like the appearance of Thanos - but that's just Marvel building up their ultimate villain for a later film (freely acknowledged by Gunn in the director's commentary). Amazingly, Bautista has moments where he looks like he might be capable of acting, and his comedic timing is actually pretty good. Some great action sequences, a lot of comedy - some of which is utterly brilliant. Good soundtrack that's well used in the context of the movie. Just fun.

The 3D on the BluRay release is fine. Acceptable. I didn't follow too closely, but the movie actually varies between 16:9 and at times much wider: when it's wide, we get black bars at the top and bottom, and the spatter from on-screen events actually sprays into the black bars. The transitions between the two modes weren't obvious: maybe I'll go back sometime and see how it's done ... But the effect isn't as well used as one would hope - enough so that I'll probably watch this mostly in 2D in future.

2014, dir. James Gunn. With Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

"Guardians of the Galaxy" was one of Marvel's more obscure comic book titles, and not many people thought that Marvel could make it fly - particularly not "Rocket Raccoon." But Marvel invested big in the 2014 movie, and it was a smash hit because it's funny as hell and the characters (including Rocket) are great. This is the 2017 sequel.

We open with scene-setting: the Guardians are fighting a huge inter-dimensional beast that's coming to eat a power source that they've been paid to protect. The credits roll on Baby Groot dancing to music as his motley group of "parents" fight this beast in the background. Then the Guardians are completely impolitic as they collect their payment, and Rocket steals shit because that's what he does - so now they're in even more trouble. And then the biggest plot point drops: they meet Peter "Starlord" Quill's father (Kurt Russell). And accept his invitation to return to his world, where many discoveries are made and most of the rest of the movie plays out.

The movie follows one of Marvel's standard patterns in that it brings back the cast of the previous movie (not just the Guardians, but Yondu and Nebula), adds a couple new major characters (Quill's father and his servant Mantis), and several minor ones hinting at appearances in further movies (more Ravagers played by big names: Sylvester Stallone, Ving Rhames, and Michelle Yeoh).

The movie is mostly about grand action set pieces and comedy, but between those scenes it offers a surprisingly deep (for Marvel) - although very chopped up - meditation on the nature of family.

Drax is abusive and obnoxious to Mantis throughout the movie - in the name of humour, of course. He was fantastically obnoxious for the sake of humour in the first movie, but in that case the insults were spread across many people and it was funny. This time it was all targeted at one person and ended up being quite unpleasant. I was unimpressed by the absolute slaughter Yondu and Rocket inflicted on an entire ship full of Ravagers: while I understood the motivation, having them smiling and laughing throughout made them feel a lot less like "heroes." (Deadpool gets away with that kind of behaviour because he's an anti-hero, but the Guardians aren't: they're more "reluctant heroes.") Typical of Marvel sequels, there's less character development than the initial movie - but then, this one is mostly about Quill and his Dad, with both of them getting plenty of time.

The soundtrack included some good tunes from the Eighties, but they didn't try to recreate the R&B and Funk aesthetic of the original movie. Which was probably a good choice, but the Vol. 1 soundtrack was an absolute masterpiece of music selection, and this one can't compare.

Overall an entertaining movie, although not the equal of the original.

2017, dir. James Gunn. With Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Kurt Russell, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone, Michelle Yeoh, Ving Rhames.

The Guest

The Peterson family lost a son in the war in Afghanistan. One day, they're visited by David Collins (Stevens) who fought with their son. Hoping for some connection to their son, they invite him to stay for a few days. He's charming, polite, very good looking, and - being a friend of their son - has only their best interests at heart. His casual violence is okay because it's only used to do the right thing, right?

Well received by critics, I thought it was better than your average action movie but not exactly outstanding, and the "he was part of a special program" excuse is getting more than a bit stale. Not to mention the high school Halloween labyrinth finale, which was painfully, blatantly stagey to no good end.

2014, dir. Adam Wingard. With Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Lance Reddick, Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser, Chase Williamson, Ethan Embry, Joel David Moore.

Gunga Din

A rip-roaring comedy adventure in colonial India. Or at least I think that's how the movie sees itself. Seventy years after its release it looks more like the three good looking stooges take on the men in shoe polish. All the Indians were played by white actors covered in gunk, and the Grant / Fairbanks Jr. / McLaglen characters are a bunch of brave but obnoxious soldiers out to cause each other and everybody else problems. But of course they'll also win the war ... The three of them worked well together and were occasionally charming or mildly amusing, but the blatant racism means the movie doesn't play well these days.

1939, dir. George Stevens. With Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Joan Fontaine, Eduardo Ciannelli, Sam Jaffe.

Guinevere

A particularly unsatisfying and irritating movie. We are to believe that Polley is an exceedingly insecure (but incredibly beautiful - she is, after all, Sarah Polley) girl from a family of overbearing extroverts, and that she would fall for a wheezing old photographer played by Rea. I've heard much of Polley's acting, and she did well later in the picture (by which time I'd decided the story was a complete write-off) but I found her initial insecurities overplayed. The voice-over finale is painfully cheesy.

1999, dir. Audrey Wells. With Sarah Polley, Stephen Rea, Jean Smart, Gina Gershon.

Gulliver's Travels (1996)

A three hour Hallmark TV package that pretty much manages to capture everything of Swift's original vision that still makes sense today. I didn't think Danson and Hallmark were the crew to do this, but I was wrong: I loved this production. They've modified the structure considerably: we start with Gulliver arriving home after eight years in a rather bad state, to find that his wife has been reduced to the state of housekeeper in what was their home for the doctor who replaced him, and she has to constantly fend off proposals of marriage from him. He also has a son he didn't know about. But this is only the beginning of his problems: he rather involuntarily relives all his adventures in his mind, and, in trying to tell the tale, is soon committed to an insane asylum. So we have the two stories in parallel: his current incarceration, and his bizarre journeys from the past. The effects are relatively straight-forward, but work exceptionally well. Danson is good in the lead. And, best of all, they kept most of Swift's vitriolic commentary on the state of humanity (while losing his contemporary political commentary that wouldn't make sense to a modern audience).

I've always been amused that Gulliver's Travels has become a children's story: it was certainly never intended to be. But giants, little people, and talking horses ... That's how it's often interpreted these days. This production is ... borderline kid-safe. But they're definitely not the target audience. Highly recommended. Give it time: the beginning is okay, but it improves greatly as it goes.

1996, dir. Charles Sturridge. With Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, James Fox, Ned Beatty, Geraldine Chaplin, Edward Fox, Sir John Gielgud, Robert Hardy, Shashi Kapoor, Nicholas Lyndhurst, Phoebe Nicholls, Kristin Scott Thomas, Omar Sharif, Alfre Woodard, Edward Woodard, Peter O'Toole.

Gunless

I wanted to watch this for several reasons ... A Canadian comedy western starring Gross and Guillory? Sounds good! But the reviews were poor and, as it turns out, they're pretty much right. Gross plays "The Montana Kid," a violent American gunslinger who finds himself in a small Canadian town after an attempt to hang him goes wrong.

The movie fails on several levels, not least of which is the title: there are a very large number of guns in the movie. The problem is, the Montana Kid (Gross) feels he's been insulted by one of the Canadians (Mane, playing the smith), and won't shoot the guy if he's unarmed - it's his "code." And he can't find a functional revolver in the town to arm his opponent with. So he has to stick around until a gun is available. He gets to know the locals, etc. etc. Guillory acts well as well as being charming and beautiful. Gross is good, but unfortunately much the same as usual - he's not breaking any new ground. The movie has a number of small laughs and is kind of charming in an understated way (how very Canadian of it), but overall it's kind of disappointing and fairly unbelievable.

2010, dir. William Phillips. With Paul Gross, Sienna Guillory, Tyler Mane, Dustin Milligan, Callum Keith Rennie.


H

Hacksaw Ridge

I heard about this around the time they started filming and immediately went to look up the character it's based on, Desmond Doss. I was just as fascinated with him as Mel Gibson was. Doss was a Seventh Day Adventist, a pacifist, and a conscientious objector during the Second World War. Despite which, he joined up with the American military because he believed their cause was right. He refused to carry a gun and went into the medics. He dragged something on the order of 75 men out of an active battlefield, an act of bravery so great he was given the Medal of Honor.

Garfield plays Doss. We see him from an early age, including his often difficult relationship with his father (well played by Weaving), a First World War vet with (as yet unnamed) PTSD. The movie is somewhat hagiographic, but they do manage to put a human face on the man. Gibson said in the attached "Making of" movie that he was trying to make a movie about faith rather than religion - a fine line to walk, but one he seems to have pulled off. The movie doesn't preach, it just shows Doss in action. The battlefield is brutally bloody and nasty, with people blowing up and entrails all over ... and Doss just keeps wading back in to rescue "just one more." It's ironic to hear in the "Making of" that Gibson actually backed off from the reality (Doss's life is very well documented, despite his being a very retiring man): he was afraid that some of the things Doss did were so over-the-top that people wouldn't have believed it. I had read about Doss finally being injured: when they put Doss's stretcher down beside another injured man, Doss got himself out of the stretcher and put the other guy in because he knew this guy was more in need of help. Gibson deliberately passed on that - and I'm inclined to think it was a good decision. But ironic, when Hollywood is so known for its love of over-the-top gestures.

Another irony is to be found in the form of the nationalities of all the "Americans." The majority of them are Australian (Weaving, Worthington, Bracey, Palmer), and the main star (Garfield) is British. Vaughn is the only major character who is actually American. And Gibson himself ... used to be Australian. I was 15 minutes into the "Making of" before I realized that Gibson shouldn't sound flatly American. Apparently he talks that way all the time now.

A very good movie. Not for those who are uncomfortable with bloodshed, but at least it's mostly a war movie about the heroism of saving lives rather than taking them.

2016, dir. Mel Gibson. With Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Vince Vaughn.

Hail Caesar!

Brolin plays Eddie Mannix in 1951 Hollywood. Mannix was a real person, a Hollywood studio fixer who took care of drunk stars, covering up pregnancies and all manner of indiscretions, arranging the appearance of romance ... whatever the studio needed. In this case, he's got a rodeo star (Ehrenreich) who's being asked to act in a parlour drama, a big name (Clooney) kidnapped by communists, an unmarried pregnant starlet (Johansson), and a pair of twin gossip columnists always on his tail (Swinton).

I don't know what it is about the Coen brothers. They have an unerring knack for humour to suit most of the world while simultaneously absolutely ensuring I don't laugh at their films. I've watched several, because people are constantly telling me how incredibly good they are. Like "Hail Caesar!" It's well produced, and Brolin does a good job as Mannix, but I truly did not get the humour - I think it wrung one laugh out of me. Coen Brothers - so not my thing.

2016, dir. Joel and Ethan Cohen. With Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand.

Hancock

I love the superhero movies, so take my review with a grain of salt. That said, this is a pretty weird one. Smith plays an alcoholic and very lonely superhuman whose acts of retribution against criminals, and methods of saving people, tend to cause staggering amounts of damage. When he saves Bateman's character Ray Embrey, Embrey decides to apply his public relations skills to bring Hancock back into favour with the public.

The movie is different from other superhero movies in that Hancock is initially seen as a complete drunken asshole. It's also different in that the explanation of his powers is more mythic than the pseudo-scientific explanations of the Marvel universe - and perhaps both of these things lost them some of their audience. Personally, I found it a great change of pace. The big dénouement at the end is incredibly clever, and spectacularly heroic. Really good.

2008, dir. Peter Berg. With Will Smith, Jason Bateman, Charlize Theron.

Hang 'Em High

Eastwood's first English language, non-Leone Western. Before the beginning credits even roll Clint has been strung up from a tree by a vigilante mob for a crime he didn't commit. They leave, and after the credits he's cut down by a Marshall who takes him into custody to check his story. The judge who lets him go promptly hires him, as Clint's character used to be a "lawman" himself. As you might imagine, he's a bit upset with the nine men who tried to kill him, and so hangs the tale.

I'm pleased to say that it didn't go anything like the way I expected it would. Unlike the Leone movies, who's good and who's bad is anything but clear-cut, and you may not be cheering for Clint to kill the vigilantes quite as much as you thought you would. A Western about justice that involves Eastwood and that actually provokes a bit of thought: not bad.

1968, dir. Ted Post. With Clint Eastwood, Pat Hingle, Inger Stevens, Ed Begley.

The Hangover

The film opens with three guys in the middle of the desert. They and their car are beat to shit, and Phil (Cooper) is calling to explain to a waiting bride that, well, they don't know where the groom (Doug, played by Bartha) is. We backtrack, and see the four guys setting out for Las Vegas for Doug's bachelor party. They party a bit, and then we see them the next morning in their suite ... which is totally trashed, and contains both a live chicken and a tiger (fortunately in different rooms). None of them have any memory of the events past about 10 PM the previous evening. So we follow their process of discovery.

The set-up is nuts, and they don't really let up: it's crazy. But somehow it adheres to a bizarre internal logic that mostly works, and, better yet, it's both totally unpredictable and funny. It's ridiculous. And you will laugh (although you may be embarrassed that you did). For me the movie doesn't start until 23 minutes in when they wake up in the morning - unfortunately the 23 minutes lead-in is essential to understanding the characters of our four leads.

2009, dir. Todd Phillips. With Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Justin Bartha, Heather Graham, Ken Jeong.

Hanna

Hanna (Ronan) is a 16 year old girl raised completely alone by her father (Bana) in the woods in Scandanavia, just south of the Artic Circle. She speaks multiple languages fluently, has memorized large chunks of the encyclopedia, and loves Grimm's Fairy Tales. Her father has also trained her as an assassin, pretty much from birth. After a short introduction to her incredibly isolated (and bizarre) home life, her father turns her lose on the world - although he's aimed her at just one person. The story follows Hanna as she tries to adjust to a world full of people and places she's never seen before, as her life history is unfolded for us.

While getting Daft Punk to do the score for "Tron: Legacy" was a brilliant idea, Wright's choice of the Chemical Brothers to do the score here doesn't really work despite Wright's occasionally quirky visuals. The movie as a whole is quite emotionally cold - although perhaps the Chemical Brothers fit with that ...

2011, dir. Joe Wright. With Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hollander, Olivia Williams, Jason Flemyng, Jessica Barden.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Good scripts can be sunk by terrible acting, and good actors can be sunk by a terrible script. I don't think I need to tell you anything about the plot, because any familiarity at all with the Grimm Brother's original story will lead to a pretty good imagination of the plot outline. And Renner and Arterton were very fine choices for the leads, but the plot and dialogue just suck. Not to mention that the weaponry used by the siblings make Hugh Jackman's repeating crossbow used in "Van Helsing" look like a sane and reasonable device by comparison. Violent, bloody, and not particularly funny even when it was trying to be. A not-bad idea gone right off the rails.

2013, dir. Tommy Wirkola. With Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare, Pihla Viitala.

The Happening

Shyamalan has outdone himself: yes, this is actually worse than "Lady in the Water." Long lingering shots of Wahlberg looking confused or upset (it's hard to tell), Deschanel - pretty and bad, and the most absurd of all his premises yet (the plants are out to get us) all add up to a really poor movie. Wahlberg is actually a fairly capable actor, I'm not sure if it was disinterest or poor direction that left him looking so foolish. Not that it would have mattered: the script was so poor and the reliance on overly drawn-out "scares" meant the best actor in the world couldn't have saved this.

2008, dir. M. Night Shyamalan. With Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo, Ashlyn Sanchez, Betty Buckley, Spencer Breslin, Robert Bailey Jr., Frank Collison.

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai

My second Miike movie in a week (the other being "13 Assassins"), both good, both flawed. This is more traditional, less grotesque.

An impoverished samurai comes to the House of Ii, and says he wishes to commit hara-kiri in their courtyard. The people of the house try to talk him out of it by telling him the story of another ronin who came to them some months before, making the same request. He says he will proceed, and he will tell them a story too ...

Given that it's about honour and ritual suicide, I expected it to be depressing. I wasn't wrong. However, about half way through it becomes entirely clear what's going to happen to several people in the movie: mostly because you already know that this man is sitting in their courtyard talking, but intuition and inevitability play a part in it as well. So you spend half an hour watching depressing crap to which you already know the outcome: if I'm going to watch a depressing movie, it had damn well better bring something interesting to the table, not follow a script I figured out 30 minutes prior. So, while it's very well done, the movie is also incredibly ponderous and I wasn't overly impressed. Should work for fans of the genre, but nothing particularly unexpected happens.

2011, dir. Takashi Miike. With Ebizô Ichikawa, Eita, Hikari Mitsushima, Kôji Yakusho, Takehiro Hira, Munetaka Aoki.

Hard Boiled

Yun-Fat plays "Tequila," a Hong Kong cop (and occasional jazz musician) who sets out on a vendetta against the gun-runners who killed his partner and friend. Leung is one of the gangsters with more of a sense of loyalty than most, and as much talent for killing as Tequila. You don't need to know much more about the plot than that - in fact there isn't much more plot. In a two hour and seven minute run-time, I think 90 minutes is given over to gun battles, the last one at the hospital taking up (literally) more than half of the movie. One of the beauties of gun battles in movies (if you like that kind of thing) is the adrenaline rush they provide: that being the case, brevity is called for. Balletic mayhem can only go so far, and in this case, it went way too far. And when we got to the "save the children" section (getting 50 or 100 babies out of the baby ward in the exploding hospital), I just shook my head in disgust. The body count is breath-taking, and yet ALL the good guys survive. Yep, I believe that.

1992, dir. John Woo. With Chow Yun-fat, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Teresa Mo, Philip Chan, Kwan Hoi-Shan, Anthony Wong.

I don't know what the right word is ... "Mockumentary" implies the aim is humour, but while there's definitely humour in the movie that's not really what it's about. It's supposed to be a tour movie of the punk band "Hard Core Logo" - a reunion tour of five cities in Canada. They fight, they do drugs, they drive a van thousands of miles and smoke thousands of cigarettes. And the ending is a 16 tonne weight dropped out of nowhere that leaves you just staring. Not that it's wrong: it works. But I sure as hell didn't see it coming.

1996, dir. Bruce McDonald. With Hugh Dillon, Callum Keith Rennie, John Pyper-Ferguson, Bernie Coulson, Julian Richings.

A Hard Day's Night

Surreal, funny, and charming. Showed the Beatles as they were just coming into their true fame, running from hordes of screaming fans, and just generally being silly. The script and direction were very good, and Lester probably deserves the credit he was given as possible father of MTV with the concert footage filming style.

1964, dir. Richard Lester. With John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Star, Wilfrid Brambell, Norman Rossington, John Junkin.

Hardball

Reeves plays Conor O'Neill, a man with a gambling addiction and the resulting debts to the wrong people. Direly in need of money, he takes (is shoved into) a job coaching a bunch of kids from the Chicago Projects to play baseball. He has every intention of leaving as soon as he can.

You'll be unsurprised to hear that he helps the kids and the kids help him, and there are a number of warm and fuzzy moments. But. While it does have some surprisingly touching moments, Reeves really didn't manage to sell either of the two sides of his character: the asshole-gambler or the reluctant-but-warm-hearted-helper. He wasn't helped by the script, which went out of its way to emphasize both. The kids were fairly well chosen for their roles. But don't watch this movie.

2001, dir. Brian Robbins. With Keanu Reeves, Diane Lane, John Hawkes, Bryan C. Hearne, Julian Griffith, Michael Jordan, A. Delon Ellis Jr., Kristopher Lofton, Michael Perkins, Brian M. Reed, DeWayne Warren.

Harold and Kumar go to White Castle

Some of it is insanely grotesque (the character "Freakshow") and it aims really (really) low, but quite a few of the gags are extremely funny. It's a good thing I didn't know this was directed by the guy who did "Dude, Where's My Car?" because I never would have rented it. Who knew he could actually produce something funny? Much of the credit here goes to the two leads (Cho and Penn as Harold and Kumar respectively) who are funny and work well together. And of course Neil Patrick Harris as a totally drugged up version of himself - hysterical.

2004. dir. Danny Leiner. With John Cho, Kal Penn, Neil Patrick Harris.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

The first of the Harry Potter movies. The young stars are fairly poor actors on their first try, and Columbus's direction is pedestrian, but the product is enjoyable. The wizard chess at the end is positively inspired.

2001. dir. Chris Columbus. With Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

As Rowling's writing gets worse, the direction and acting in the series of movies is improving. Dark, tense, funny, and action-packed, this is very well done. Both Radcliffe and Watson turn in good performances, although Grint doesn't seem to be improving much.

2005. dir. Mike Newell. With Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

The main actors have grown into adulthood and have learned something of the craft they've been stumbling through previously. That and the best writing and directing yet make this the best of the series so far (although the dénouement, typical of Rowling, is weak). Also the darkest of the series, but we can expect it to get even darker in the sixth and seventh instalments. Oldman manages to be more charming than I've ever seen him before, and Lynch is great as Luna Lovegood. The latter two are what made it worth watching for me.

2007, dir. David Yates. With Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Brendan Gleeson, Gary Oldman, David Thewlis, Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, Bonnie Wright, Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Evanna Lynch.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Another very dark entry in the series, with lighter moments revolving around the principles' attempts to find love. Filming is good. Despite a passable story arc it still felt like a bunch of connected vignettes and didn't flow terribly well. Still, a reasonably good job this time out.

2009, dir. David Yates. With Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Bonnie Wright, Jim Broadbent, Alan Rickman, Tom Felton, Helena Bonham Carter, Natalia Tena, David Thewlis.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1

Harry Potter and crew finally leave the school of Hogwarts: not because they've completed their last year, but because Harry is in hot pursuit of Voldemort and the school is under the control of Voldemort's Death Eaters. Unfortunately, this is only half a film, or more correctly, half a book. It's plenty of film with a run-time of 146 minutes (on par with the others). But the movie doesn't finish out the year: that's being left to Part 2. It's well done for what it is, much on par with the others in the series. Sadly, none of the three main characters have grown up to be great actors.

2010, dir. David Yates. With Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, Bonnie Wright, Imelda Stanton, Toby Jones.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2

And finally, the close to probably the most financially successful film series ever. It had been a little while since I'd seen the previous movie, so I was a bit disappointed when they gave no reminders whatsoever of where we'd stopped in the previous one. The last two thirds of the movie is essentially "The Battle of Hogwarts," and three much-beloved characters (and several others of course) die in the fighting. Too much of a battle, but a reasonably satisfactory conclusion.

2011, dir. David Yates. With Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, Bonnie Wright, Imelda Stanton, Toby Jones, Evanna Lynch, Ciarán Hinds.

Harvey

Jimmy Stewart plays the very amiable and frequently drunk Elwood P. Dowd. His best friend is a 6'3-1/2" tall rabbit named Harvey - who's invisible to everyone else. His sister and nephew are horrified when he comes home and scares off their friends by trying to introduce Harvey, so his sister attempts to have him committed. Accidents, misunderstandings, and comedy ensue.

I loved it in 2007, saying "A very goofy movie that doesn't say much or do much, but is immensely entertaining." It's still fun, but it's not one of the best of the old movies. I think my mild annoyance with it this time is that I don't particularly like Elwood P. Dowd - he's incredibly polite, but still a bit irritating.

1950, dir. Henry Koster. With James Stewart, Josephine Hull, Charles Drake, Cecil Kellaway, Jesse White, Victoria Horne, Wallace Ford, Peggy Dow.

Haywire

A vehicle to put model and MMA fighter Carano at the centre of an action movie. The movie starts in a diner, where Aaron (Tatum) meets Mallory Kane (Carano) and after a short talk Aaron starts beating her up. She fights back, but only escapes through the aid of Scott (Angarano), another man at the diner - who she then more or less carjacks. The next two thirds of the film is told in flashback as she fills Scott in on what's led up to this.

They've lined up an incredible crew of actors to back Carano - Fassbender, McGregor, Paxton, Banderas, Douglas - and she's pretty, fit, and a capable fighter. Unfortunately, she's not a very compelling star. The fights are alright, the action mediocre. The final product is surprisingly flat and uninvolving.

2012, dir. Steven Soderbergh. With Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Michael Angarano, Channing Tatum, Bill Paxton, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, Mathieu Kassovitz.

He Died With a Felafel in His Hand

Every bit as surreal as the title suggests. Danny (played by Taylor) wanders from shared house to shared house. Obviously intelligent and articulate, but unable to write the novel he thinks he wants to write he's more than a little adrift. Constantly surrounded by insane roommates he slowly starts to figure things out. Bizarre but entertaining.

2001, dir. Richard Lowenstein. With Noah Taylor, Emily Hamilton, Romane Bohringer, Alex Menglet, Brett Stewart, Sophie Lee.

He Never Died

Rollins plays Jack, a middle-aged guy who spends a lot of time sleeping, rarely knows what time it is, and goes to play Bingo whenever he can. He doesn't appear to have a job, and is both very uncommunicative and exceedingly blunt when he does talk. But things go kind of sideways as the intern he visits at the hospital to supply him with his fixes (we don't find out what it is he's buying for a while) unintentionally gets him entangled with some local gangsters. And his 19 year old daughter he didn't know he had shows up uninvited to stay with him.

Rollins, when he's on stage, is a brash, obnoxious motormouth. Jack is about as far from that persona as you can imagine, and it's a hell of a performance. While it's a spoiler, it's in the trailer so I'm going to say it: if he can be considered a reliable narrator, he's Cain. You know, from the bible? His punishment for that murder you may have heard about is to live forever (he's literally unkillable). And he's kind of addicted to eating human flesh: his isolation is an attempt to control that. But events just don't go his way ...

This is listed as "Horror Comedy," but that just doesn't seem to adequately cover it to me. Rollins' acting is above and beyond anything called for in that genre. And his character both has a moral compass and is at least somewhat sympathetic, which doesn't seem quite right in "horror." As for "comedy ..." There are some very (darkly!) funny jokes, but I found it more thought-provoking than funny. I was mildly frustrated by the ending, which offers little closure for anyone involved. So I have no damn idea how to classify this one, but I really enjoyed it. Not for everyone, but if "Horror Comedy" normally works for you and you don't mind having to think about a lot of unanswered questions ... it's pretty damn interesting.

2015, dir. Jason Krawczyk. With Henry Rollins, Booboo Stewart, Steven Ogg, Jordan Todosey, Kate Greenhouse.

Head of State

Rock plays a down-on-his-luck alderman who is (after the death of both the candidate and his running mate) set up to run for president and lose. I have to admit that it actually did have several good laughs, but they were pretty far apart and what came between was predictable and tedious.

2003, dir. Chris Rock. With Chris Rock, Bernie Mac, Dylan Baker, Lynn Whitfield.

Heart and Souls

After dying in a bus crash, four very different people find themselves tied (although they're not sure why) to a boy born nearby the instant of the bus crash. Not the greatest premise, and the execution is distinctly cheesy, but Downey's performance - as the adult young man who is occasionally possessed by any of the four - is something to behold. Intermittently very funny, foundering in schmaltz and cheesiness, but still quite possibly worth seeing for (excessive) good-heartedness and Downey.

1993, dir. Ron Underwood. With Robert Downey Jr., Kyra Sedgwick, Alfre Woodard, Charles Grodin, Elisabeth Shue, Tom Sizemore, David Paymer.

Heart of Dragon

Chan plays Tat Fung, an elite S.W.A.T. cop with a developmentally challenged older brother (Hung) that he cares for. The movie lacks the comedy typical of this period of Chan and Hung's movies, appearing to be an attempt to gain them both some respectability as actors. Unfortunately, this is not where their skills lie. To cover their bets, Chan and friends (but not Hung) have a massive set piece fight at the end of the movie on a construction set, although I didn't feel the action was really on par with any of Chan's other movie fights of the period. It's also the only real fight in the entire movie. Don't watch this.

1985, dir. Sammo Hung, Fruit Chan. With Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Emily Chu, Lam Ching-ying.

Heartbreak House

Unutterably silly, even for Shaw. As it's Shaw it does have some amusing moments, but damn it's silly. He's poking fun at the conventions of society ... but then, when isn't he? A young woman turns up at the house of a friend where she's greeted by her friend's very eccentric father and the mildly off help. The young woman's secret crush turns out to be her friend's husband, the sisters, both married, flirt with everyone, and everyone has their illusions stripped away (if they had any to start with). BBC "Play of the Month."

1977, dir. Cedric Messina. With John Gielgud, Lesley-Anne Down, Siân Phillips, Barbara Murray, Daniel Massey.

The Heat

Bullock plays Sarah Ashburn, an uptight, incredibly irritating, and very effective FBI agent. McCarthy is Shannon Mullins, an effective but obnoxious Boston Police officer. The two are inevitably forced to work together trying to track down a drug dealer, and gee, they hate each other, they bond, they save the world. So obnoxious and over-the-top it's occasionally mildly entertaining, but the characters are massively over-played - and not just Ashburn and Mullins, but Mullins' family, the drug dealers, the other cops, everyone. While Feig refrained from using fart jokes in the movie, he went straight to it in the extras, and that's kind of the level of the humour throughout.

2013, dir. Paul Feig. With Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Demián Bichir, Marlon Wayans, Spoken Reasons.

Heaven Can Wait (1943)

Henry van Cleve (Ameche), age 70, finds himself at the entry to Hell where he's greeted by "His Excellency," who decides to listen to the story of van Cleve's dissolute life, for van Cleve is sure Hell is where he belongs. He tells of his privileged and directionless upbringing and his elopement with the woman of his dreams ... You get the idea. Overly sentimental in places, it's nevertheless charming and occasionally very, very funny. Quite good.

1943, dir. Ernst Lubitsch. With Don Ameche, Gene Tierney, Laird Cregar, Charles Coburn, Louis Calhern, Spring Byington, Allyn Joslyn, Eugene Pallette, Marjorie Main.

Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison

The movie opens with a marine (Mitchum) floating in a rubber life raft, where he's clearly been for a long time. When he lands on a tropical island with a few thatch huts, he approaches cautiously with his knife drawn - only to find the area abandoned. He eventually finds there's only one other person on the island, the nun Sister Angela (Kerr). She's also there because of the actions of the Japanese. The two start to figure out how to live in their primitive surroundings. But then the Japanese take over the island, and they hide in a cave for days.

The movie is a character study of our two leads, Marine Corporal Allison and Sister Angela of the Roman Catholic Church. There are a number of Japanese on screen in short bursts, but they have no significant interactions with our two main characters - despite which, they're shown as human rather than being demonized. The acting by the two leads is great, and the film is beautifully constructed: a very good movie that deserves to be better remembered.

1957, dir. John Huston. With Robert Mitchum, Deborah Kerr.

Hector and the Search for Happiness

Hector and the Search for Happiness started life as a book. Specifically, a French book called Le Voyage d'Hector ou la Recherche du bonheur by François Lelord. I read it in English translation, and it's an utterly marvellous book. Hector, like Lelord, is a psychiatrist. He's become dissatisfied with his life, and very abruptly departs on a world-spanning journey to find out what happiness is. The book is written in the rhythms and language of a children's book, a conceit to tell us that these are simple answers to things we need to know ... but the content definitely isn't for children - including, as it does, sex, cheating in a relationship, kidnapping, and a significant threat of death. The "children's book" presentation is almost impossible to bring from page to screen: they try, with animations, flashbacks, and a papier-mâché plane. It's more successful than I expected, but less than ideal.

Peter Chelsom, who directed this film version, faced the same problem others have faced: he's taking an internal voyage of discovery and trying to convert it into a visual format. Think of the highly successful (and also quite wonderful) book Eat, Pray, Love, and how badly the conversion of that to a movie went. Taking an internal journey and making it into a movie isn't impossible, but it takes an extraordinary director.

The book verges on magic-realist, with crazy events happening almost back-to-back and Hector drawing lessons from each one. But we process things very differently as a movie, and they've packed in nearly all the crazy events of the book in the short span of the movie, which becomes slightly overwhelming. It also doesn't allow you time to sit and contemplate what any given lesson would mean in your life. Pegg does fairly well as Hector, and gets good support from the other actors. Ultimately I quite enjoyed it with a number of really beautiful moments, but I'm not sure someone unfamiliar with the book would find it so successful. (The critics didn't think so: it's currently at 35% on Rotten Tomatoes.)

2014, dir. Peter Chelsom. With Simon Pegg, Rosamund Pike, Toni Collette, Stellan Skarsgård, Jean Reno, Christopher Plummer, Barry Atsma.

The Hedgehog

A French movie loosely based on Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I'm told by a reliable source that the spirit of the book is most definitely there.

Paloma (Le Guillermic) is 11 years old and extremely intelligent. Her family is very rich, living in an exclusive apartment building in Paris. She has decided to kill herself on her twelfth birthday as all adults are horrible hypocrites (and her parents are played as pretty twitchy people). In the meantime, she videotapes her family. When one long-time building resident dies, an elderly Japanese gentleman (Igawa) moves in - and promptly takes up with Paloma and the grumpy concierge (Balasko) that no one else talks to.

The movie is hilarious and the characters are wonderful. Look out for the kick at the end.

2009, dir. Mona Achache. With Garance Le Guillermic, Josiane Balasko, Togo Igawa.

Heights

Set in New York, the movie takes place across 24 hours. Close plays a famous actress, Banks her daughter, Marsden the daughter's fiancée. The movie revolves around the relationships between the central characters and others I haven't mentioned. The level of co-incidence is extremely annoying, and the unnecessary split shots equally so. Close, Banks, and Bradford are pretty good, but the acting overall was mediocre.

2004, dir. Chris Terrio. With Elizabeth Banks, Glenn Close, James Marsden, Jesse Bradford, John Light, Matthew Davis.

Helen of Troy

Hollywood is crawling with gorgeous young actresses and the movie-going public doesn't like to look at unattractive people, so I was somewhat impressed that they found someone they could make stand out as much as Guillory does as Helen. Perhaps they "protected" her some, not putting in Sienna Miller or Megan Fox or any others of that ilk ... but for beauty alone, Guillory was a good choice. Too bad she's only a passable actress, and the only decent actor in there is Skarsgård (in a too-short appearance). Sewell does his usual over-the-top intensity and nastiness. The leisurely pacing, blatant CGI, logical failures, and mediocre plotting made the 180 minute running time painful.

2003, dir. John Kent Harrison. With Sienna Guillory, Matthew Marsden, Rufus Sewell, John Rhys-Davies, Stellan Skarsgård.

Hell on Wheels (orig. "Höllentour")

A documentary that shows you everything about the Tour de France (2003) that you've never seen before: the cars and trailers following the riders, the buses, the masseurs, the reporters, the cameramen, the advertising, the fans, even the pee breaks. And the pain: the spills, the scrapes, the people riding with broken bones (coccyx, collar bone, and rib were mentioned). The director followed mostly Zabel and Aldag from Germany - Lance Armstrong is mentioned a couple times, but they don't even bother to tell you it was him who ultimately won ... I guess they assume you already know that.

2004, dir. Pepe Danquart, Werner Schweizer. With Erik Zabel, Rolf Aldag, Andreas Klöden, Alexander Vinokurov, Steve Zampieri, Dieter "Eule" Ruthenberg.

Hellboy

Based on a comic book series about a demon brought to earth by a Nazi experiment and raised as a normal human. In modern day America he works with others with paranormal powers to keep paranormal threats to the U.S. at bay. If you can swallow the basic premise, it's a pretty entertaining movie. Perlman is good in the title role, and the effects are impressive.

2004, dir. Guillermo del Toro. With Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Jeffrey Tambor, Karel Roden, Rupert Evans, John Hurt.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

After del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth," I had high hopes for this movie. I didn't like "Pan's Labyrinth," but it was visually stunning and emotionally wrenching, showing del Toro as a very capable director. The trailers showed "Hellboy II" with much of the visual sensibility of Labyrinth, and indeed, it's very pretty, but it has even less emotional depth than the first "Hellboy." Characters are mocked and parodied rather than developed, the beautiful effects stand front and centre, and everything blows up real good. Quite a disappointment.

2008, dir. Guillermo del Toro. With Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, James Dodd, Jeffrey Tambor, John Alexander, Luke Goss, Anna Walton, Seth MacFarlane, John Hurt, Brian Steele.

Helvetica

"Helvetica" is a font that came out of Switzerland in the 1950s. It's considered very readable and simple, and its use became extremely widespread. The movie talks a bit about the origins of the font and shows a lot of its uses on signs, ads, letterhead, and store windows. And it spends a lot of time with typographers, font designers, and graphic artists, who argue about why it became the powerhouse it is, why it's great, or why they hate it and it should die.

With a relatively short run-time of 80 minutes, I still found this one way too long. If you like listening to these people talk and rant their opinions about fonts, you might enjoy it. But to me the only thing that appealed was the origins and design of the original font, which occupied perhaps five minutes of the movie. The rest was just ... opinions.

2007, dir. Gary Hustwit.

Henry V (1989)

I saw this first when it came out, and again in 2013. It didn't quite stand up to my memory of it, but it's a good interpretation of the play. This was Branagh's first directorial hack-and-slash job on Shakespeare - I say that rudely, and I have problems with his habit of cutting out huge chunks of the play, but in this case he managed to make the play more accessible by focusing on the parts of the play that are more understandable to modern English speakers. While his editing can be problematic, his interpretations of various scenes are often really good: watching Henry's small and tired army struggle through the rain from battle to battle and a final very muddy confrontation at Agincourt was an excellent decision. And the acting was uniformly good. So overall, despite my complaints, it's a very good production.

1989, dir. Kenneth Branagh. With Kenneth Branagh, Derek Jacobi, Brian Blessed, Simon Shepherd, James Larkin, Stephen Simms, Jay Villiers, Fabian Cartwright, Paul Scofield, Michael Maloney, Richard Easton, Emma Thompson, Geraldine McEwan, Christian Bale (age 15).

Hercules (2014)

One of Rattner's better outings - which hardly makes it a masterpiece but it's quite entertaining. You are, perhaps, familiar with the central character? A Greek by the name of Hercules who's very strong. There are a number of nice touches in this version of the story: Hercules is a legend in his own time, but does he live up to it? He has several companions, and they're mercenaries. Is he the son of a god, or just a strong man? I found the big plot twist at the 2/3rds mark more annoying than rewarding, but despite that, good performances by most of the players and writing that was intermittent but occasionally very good made this an enjoyable watch.

2014, dir. Brett Ratner. With Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, John Hurt, Aksel Hennie, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Reece Ritchie, Joseph Fiennes.

Here Comes the Boom

James plays Steve Voss, a high school teacher and "Teacher of the Year" ... ten years ago. Now he's routinely late and doesn't make any effort in class. But when the principal announces that monetary constraints mean that they're going to be cutting the music program and the music teacher, Voss gets into an argument with the principal in front of all the other teachers over the budget, eventually saying that "we" (meaning the teachers) will raise the needed money. We find out soon enough that the only people who respond to his call are the music teacher (Winkler), and the school nurse Bella (Hayek) who Voss is constantly hitting on ... and we find that Voss has no plan. But eventually he discovers through one of his citizenship class students (Rutten) that losing in MMA fighting pays pretty well, and a plan is made.

James is reasonably likable. The humour is scattershot, but happily not as crude as I expected, and occasionally quite good. The movie could be argued to be inspirational, encouraging people to fight for the things they care about, but it could also just be a money grab by James (who starred, wrote, and produced) - it's hard to tell. Whatever it is, it's pretty heavy-handed.

2012, dir. Frank Coraci. With Kevin James, Henry Winkler, Salma Hayek, Bas Rutten, Mark DellaGrotte, Charice Pempengco.

Hereafter

Posits that people who have died and been revived will see a place, the "Hereafter," where the dead go for some amount of time before moving on. And if you die several times (as Damon's character did), you may develop a significant connection to that place and the people in it.

Marie Lelay (de France) dies, and is revived, in the tsunami in Thailand. While she's dead, she experiences a place of lights, floating, people - an image she pursues back home in Paris, digging into the idea of near-death experiences. We're also introduced to a genuine psychic in San Francisco George Lonegan (Damon) who abandoned a lucrative career reconnecting the living with their dead relatives as he couldn't deal with the emotions involved. His brother Billy (Mohr) sees only the lost money, not the pain the skill has cost George. And we have a pair of twin brothers in London, struggling to deal with their loving but heroin-addicted mother (guess what - there will be a death).

Parts of the movie are good - particularly Damon's performance, and the initial introduction to the twins and their mother - but the incredibly co-incidental meeting of the three principles all at once toward the end of the movie is typical of the poor construction of the plot. The movie just doesn't come together.

2010, dir. Clint Eastwood. With Matt Damon, Cécile de France, Frankie McLaren, Thierry Neuvic, Jay Mohr.

Hero

Li plays an assassin on a mission to kill a warlord who is slaughtering his way across China in the process of unifying the country. The story is assembled in pieces from flashbacks told by different characters, each segment filmed with stunning colour-coded cinematography. The martial arts is completely over the top, surpassing even its prototype "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." It's a parable with ludicrous martial arts action, occasionally excellent acting, and breath-takingly beautiful cinematography that truly deserves a full theatre screen.

2002, dir. Yimou Zhang. With Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung, Ziyi Zhang, Dao Ming Chen, Donnie Yen.

Heroes, Season 1

23 episodes, each running a "TV hour." What made this season good was the character driven plot, the ensemble cast, and the very not-black-and-white characters. As the action increased through the season to the climax in the 23rd episode, the logical fallacies increased exponentially. Despite which I really enjoyed it. I've heard a great deal of bad about season 2 and even more so season 3 (which is still airing as I write), and I think I'm just going to quit here. There are a couple threads that were deliberately left open, but the end of season 1 is a good conclusion.

2006, Tim Kring. With Masi Oka, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Hayden Panettiere, James Kyson Lee, Jack Coleman, Milo Ventimiglia, Adrian Pasdar, Ali Larter, Greg Grunberg, Zachary Quinto, Noah Gray-Cabey.

Hidalgo

Over-long paean to the American Mustang (the horse, not the car). Mortenson plays Frank Hopkins, a Mustang rider who enters a 3000 mile race across the deserts of the Middle East. If you like horses (or deserts) you'll love this one - I wasn't so impressed.

2004, dir. Joe Johnson. With Viggo Mortenson, Omar Sharif, Zuleikha Robinson.

Hidden Figures

The movie portrays the rise of three African-American women within the ranks of NASA around the time of the first space launches (roughly 1959 through 1962). The character names - all real women - were Katherine Goble (played by Taraji P. Henson), Mary Jackson (played by Janelle Monáe), and Dorothy Vaughan (played by Octavia Spencer). Blessed with superb technical minds, they struggle with institutionalized racism and sexism. Vaughan is working as a supervisor: the supervisor role has been vacant for months and she has the skills but isn't paid for it. Goble and Jackson are "computers" (people who do complex mathematical calculations), with Goble being the most skilled in the building and Jackson clearly both skilled enough and intelligent enough to be an engineer - a position she wants but which clearly couldn't be done by someone with the double disability of dark skin and female gender. Happily, she doesn't accept this valuation. All three work hard and fight for what they want.

The casual racism and sexism is horrifying when viewed from Canada in 2017, but I guess that was the point. The characters are well drawn and well acted, and it's a really interesting window into a piece of American history - as odd as the juxtaposition of science history and race relations history may seem. This particular aspect of it finds three very intelligent women struggling for the right to be allowed to be the best, and to be acknowledged for it.

There's some slight irony that the worst of their fight seems to have been over by the time the space launches of the movie happened: the historical accuracy section of the Wikipedia entry about the film is definitely worth a read, although preferably after you've watched the movie. I find it an acceptable compromise to show their struggles and achievements in parallel with the great moments of technical achievement they were involved in - all wrapped in a two hour movie. If anything, after reading that section in Wikipedia I felt the movie may have somewhat understated their achievements ... Definitely worth a watch.

2016, dir. Theodore Melfi. With Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monáe, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Glen Powell, Olek Krupa.

The Hidden Fortress

I was interested in "The Hidden Fortress" for two reasons, and I'm a little embarrassed to admit that George Lucas's use of elements of this movie in the original "Star Wars" movie was the greater of the two. The other was of course Kurosawa. This is a "jidaigeki" film - means the same thing "period drama" does here.

The movie opens on two peasants trying to make their way home near the end of a war. They were forcibly recruited for grave-digging, and now that they've been released they haven't eaten in a couple days. The plot certainly doesn't seem like "Star Wars" ... But when you look at it from a different angle - two lowly comedic characters caught in the machinations of a war they don't understand - you get R2D2 and C3PO stumbling about on unwanted adventures. Plus a powerful general in exile and a strong-willed princess ...

The peasants Tahei and Matashichi are a couple of petty, greedy, and cowardly men who are pushed about by circumstances around them. They're forcibly recruited a couple more times, most notably by General Makabe Rokurōta (Mifune - who else stars in Kurosawa's films?) to help him smuggle gold and a princess (although they don't know about that part as she's disguised) to another clan's territory.

Much of the movie consists of them whining or fighting each other. This was apparently comedy gold in Japan, but didn't raise a single laugh from me. And as a dramatic work ... it kind of seemed that there were two movies running in parallel, the "comedic" one with the two peasants that occasionally intersected the warring clans movie with Mifune's character. And the second movie wasn't very good either.

I know many people consider Kurosawa to be among the greatest directors who have ever lived, but several of his movies have left me indifferent or even annoyed. This is one of those. I did, however, completely fall under the spell of "Seven Samurai:" that one's so good I'll buy into the worship he gets.

1958, dir. Akira Kurosawa. With Toshiro Mifune, Misa Uehara, Minoru Chiaki, Kamatari Fujiwara.

High Crimes

Judd plays an attorney whose husband is accused of killing civilians 12 years prior while he was a soldier. She doesn't know military law, so she hires Grimes (Freeman), an alcoholic (but very good) military lawyer. Judd's fairly good, Freeman is very good, but Caviezel is as confused about his role as the audience, and the plot holes and coincidences (particularly at the end) pile up and kill the picture.

2002, dir. Carl Franklin. With Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, James Caviezel, Adam Scott, Amanda Peet, Juan Carlos Hernández.

High Fidelity

John Cusack is the owner of a record store. He's not very successful in love, and spends the movie talking to the camera about his problems in that department and tracking down ex-girlfriends. Based on the Nick Hornby novel. Very funny, even a little romantic. Much better than average "deleted scenes" on the DVD.

2000, dir. Stephen Frears. With John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Todd Louiso, Jack Black, Lisa Bonet, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Joan Cusack.

High Noon

Classic Gary Cooper western. So many other films owe a debt to this one that you should see it even if you aren't big on westerns. A town marshal is forced to face a crew of killers alone when all of the townsfolk decline to help him.

1952, dir. Fred Zinnemann. With Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Lloyd Bridges, Lon Chaney Jr., Lee Van Cleef.

Highlander

Immortals walk among us, and the final show-down is on the streets of New York City in 1986. We learn this from flashbacks to the life of Connor MacLeod (the Highlander, played by Lambert in the role that launched his career), and see his education by Ramirez (Connery). We also find out that "the Kurgan" (Brown) is the ultimate enemy, very strong and very nasty - and if he wins the final battle, all will not be well in the world.

The movie is cheesy, and the soundtrack (by Queen) overbearing, but it remains a really enjoyable movie. Of course it makes sense to make the Scotsman (Connery) play the part of an Egyptian/Spanish gentleman, and the Frenchman (Lambert) play the Scottish Highlander. Both of them with untameable accents. It makes no sense that this is a good movie: and yet it's not just good, it's great. And it inspired a series of sequels (none of which you should watch, just this one), a TV series, and apparently an upcoming remake. Definitely a lot of fun.

1986, dir. Russell Mulcahy. With Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Clancy Brown, Beatie Edney, Roxanne Heart, Sheila Gish.

Highlander: The Search for Vengeance

The movie is done in very low rent anime - stills, pans across still shots, only one thing moving, repetition, that kind of stuff. It's written by David Abramowitz, who had a hand in some of the other "Highlander" properties. It opens in the year 2187, with Colin MacLeod (oh those MacLeod boys) visiting a post-apocalyptic New York City (or maybe he only went to NYC later - I didn't find that terribly clear). Before the opening credits roll (admittedly several minutes in) he's disposed of one immortal, while making it clear that the person he killed wasn't the one he was looking for. We find out that there's an incredibly deadly virus working its way through NY, and the only way to get the cure is to join the very authoritarian above-ground society. Colin helps the freedom-loving sewer-dwellers, but only because it's convenient to him and he wants to get at Marcus, the leader of authoritarian society - who we find out in flashbacks is someone he's hated and been trying to kill for 2000 years. In fact, that's been his entire life: hunting this guy down, and getting his ass handed to him every time he catches Marcus. In the mean time, he's developed (or found) the spirit of a druid who hangs around him and acts as what's left of his conscience by talking to him at inconvenient times. So the movie is kind of about him finding purpose, but it's a damn long time in coming. I found it mildly enjoyable as a fan of the original movie, but it's not particularly good.

2007, dir. Yoshiaki Kawajiri.

His Girl Friday

Walter Burns (Grant), a newspaper editor, learns that his ex-wife and former star reporter Hildy Johnson (Russell) is about to marry bland insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Bellamy). Burns tries every trick in the book (and there are a lot in his book) to pry them apart and win her back. He throws Hildy a fantastic newspaper story, he has Baldwin arrested multiple times on trumped up charges ... and he talks. Dear god he talks. And Hildy keeps up with him (although she's eventually out-manoeuvred).

Most everyone in this screwball comedy talks incredibly fast - and often overlapping each other. Burns is simultaneously charming and despicable, and Hildy is more or less his match for wits: it's fairly clear she wouldn't be happy with a plain insurance salesman, but it's also fairly evident that resuming her previous life with Burns isn't going to make her any happier ...

Don't expect a moment of believable drama out of this mess, but if all you want is comedy ... this delivers.

1940, dir. Howard Hawks. With Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy, Gene Lockhart, John Qualen, Alma Kruger, Clarence Kolb, Billy Gilbert.

A History of Violence

Canadian content for me, when I badly needed it (I had been in southeast Asia for several months when I first saw this) - better yet, Cronenberg (the Canadian) wasn't grotesque, as he often has been in the past. Still, the violence is graphic and in no way heroic.

Tom Stall (Mortensen) is a respected and happy small town businessman whose life is disrupted when he becomes an unintentional hero saving his diner from a robbery/hostage situation. His picture in the news attracts the attention of people who believe he's a retired thug.

Very well done, a good movie full of excellent performances from all the leads. Holmes surprised me in the role of the teenage son, really good.

The story differs immensely from the graphic novel it was based on, primarily in being much more ambiguous about Stall's motivations.

2005, dir. David Cronenberg. With Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt, Ashton Holmes.

Hitchcock

"Hitchcock" is a fictionalized version of Stephen Rebello's book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, starring about as good a cast as it was possible to get: Hopkins as Hitchcock, Mirren as his wife, Johansson, Collette, Huston, and Biel.

Hitchcock had just released his very successful "North by Northwest," and wanted to do something different. Predictably, the studio wanted him to do something very similar. When he chose Robert Bloch's Psycho, the studio abandoned him and he was forced to self-finance - including mortgaging their very large home. There's a big subplot about Hitchcock's wife Alma working as a screenwriter with a dashing younger man (Huston) and Hitchcock's suspicions about that.

Hopkins is almost unrecognizable under all the prosthetics they've applied. I also think it's possibly his worst acting in years (which is to say it's adequate ... just not brilliant as I've come to expect). Johansson is locked into a very polite-little-actress role as Janet Leigh - she does almost nothing. James D'Arcy is surprisingly good as Anthony Perkins, although he doesn't have a lot to do either. While the movie is ostensibly about the making of "Psycho," it's primarily about the relationship between Hitchcock and his wife, who - according to this (I don't know if it's accurate or not) - was his biggest collaborator across decades.

2012, dir. Sacha Gervasi. With Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Toni Collette, Danny Huston, Jessica Biel, Michael Wincott, James D'Arcy.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

If you've read the books, this is a rehash that misses out on a lot of the best jokes (they simply don't have enough time to play them out in full, but they also missed some opportunities) and adds very few new ones. If you haven't read the books, this is a frenetic and nonsensical exercise in absurdity, nearly impossible to follow. So where's the audience? Nighy was a stand-out as Slartibartfast.

2005, dir. Garth Jennings. With Martin Freeman, Stephen Fry, Mos Def, Zooey Deschanel, Sam Rockwell, Warwick Davis, Alan Rickman, John Malkovitch.

Hitman (orig. "King of Killers")

Comedy action from Hong Kong, starring Li. He plays a low rent Triad hitman who's kind-hearted and doesn't like to hurt people. He just wants one big score to buy his mother in mainland China a nice house. When the $100 million U.S. kill comes up, his boss just insults him rather than sending him in. But Li sneaks in anyway, and ends up with his own "agent," a loud-mouth con man (Tsang).

Between lousy subs and cross-cultural failures of communication, I didn't get most of the humour, and the fights were mostly disappointing. Kind-hearted, but not Li's best.

1998, dir. Tung Wai. With Jet Li, Eric Tsang, Simon Yam, Gigi Leung.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Jackson made a rather good version of "The Lord of the Rings" in three movies: long, but they fitted the original books, and he dropped the particularly long-winded Elven poetry and the like. But I failed to see how he could turn the slightest of Tolkien's books into another nine hour epic across another three movies. I wasn't reassured when we started the movie with a three minute plate-juggling scene and a song, all highly reminiscent of an old Disney movie. It got a bit better after that, but twelve guys in extensive and absurdly braided facial hair and an incredibly plodding pace gets very old. Oh, let's ratchet up the tension by having our heroes impossibly outnumbered (you'll be shocked to hear they ALL survive - repeatedly). Boring and heavy-handed.

2012, dir. Peter Jackson. With Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Dwarves and Bilbo proceed toward the Lonely Mountain, pursued by vengeful Orcs. Gandalf leaves them to go visit Radagast and the evil Necromancer.

Jackson is stretching his content very thin indeed, and mixing in omens and portents about the "Lord of the Rings" cycle that weren't in the original text of The Hobbit. Over the excessively long 2h40m run-time, I had plenty of time to think about Jackson and his proclivities: I decided to call him "The Prince of Improbable Physics." Orcs live and die by normal physics, but elves, dwarves, and hobbits (at least the ones who are plot drivers) exist in a world of Improbable Physics - where dwarves in barrels on a raging river can arm themselves by grabbing weapons off the orcs who are trying to kill them from the shore, and then throw weapons to each other and no one ever drops one. And then Legolas leaps from head to head of the dwarves in their barrels, shooting orcs with his bow and arrows with 100% accuracy and leaping to the shore when it suits him. Suspension of disbelief can only cover so much - and that's only the tip of the improbable physics iceberg. At least there weren't any mournful dwarvish songs or plate juggling.

2013, dir. Peter Jackson. With Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, Benedict Cumberbatch, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Luke Evans, Lee Pace, Aidan Turner, Dean O'Gorman, Sylvester McCoy.

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies

The third, final, and least bad of the three "Hobbit" movies - and not co-incidentally the shortest of the three (although the running time is still 144 minutes ... and the movie is still bad).

I can't discuss the plot without creating multiple spoilers for anyone who hasn't seen the first and second movies, but it's easy enough to tell you what's wrong with the movie without saying much about the plot. You already know it's full of elves, dwarves, and humans - and Gandalf, a dragon, and a hobbit. The movie suffers from endless and surprisingly dull battle scenes and ponderous dialogue, and I wasn't too crazy about Jackson making Bilbo even braver and more battle-worthy than he was in the book: he's a hobbit, not a warrior.

Like the more recent Star Wars series (the ones George Lucas is claiming are "Parts 1, 2, and 3") I struggled through these mostly because I'm eternally hopeful, but also a little out of a sense of dedication to the story. Don't do it to yourself: read the far superior book. Watch "The Lord of the Rings" series if you want, it's not bad, but this ... <shudder>.

2014, dir. Peter Jackson. With Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ken Stott and James Nesbitt.

Hogfather

BBC TV production of a Terry Pratchett Discworld novel. Typically twisted and mildly chaotic, with Death spending most of Hogswatch Eve imitating the Hogfather (Pratchett's stand-in for Santa Claus) in the Hogfather's ... absence. Death also manages to get his granddaughter (the inimitable Susan, played by Dockery) to investigate the disappearance - although she was trying to get out of the business and Death isn't "allowed" to involve her. Seems he likes humans: "Human beings make life so interesting. Do you know, that in a universe so full of wonders, they have managed to invent boredom." Only one of several very good quotes. But Pratchett is meant to be read, and an accurate translation to the screen doesn't guarantee the same kind of humour the books provide: the movie was mildly enjoyable, but not a great success. Pratchett has a cameo as a toy-maker.

2006, dir. Vadim Jean. With Marc Warren, Michelle Dockery, David Jason, David Warner, Tony Robinson, Nigel Planer, Peter Guinness, Stephen Marcus, Craig Conway.

Holes

Based on the famous children's book by Louis Sachar, who also did the screenplay. Whenever I see a children's movie, I hope for the kind of sly adult humour that Pixar slides into things like "Finding Nemo" or "Toy Story 2." That's not present here at all, but the movie is so bizarre and entertaining in its own right that adults should be happy with it too (kids will certainly be). LaBeouf plays Stanley Yelnats IV, born into a cursed family - except that no one believes in curses in this day and age. Nevertheless, he ends up in a youth camp for a theft he doesn't commit. Very entertaining.

2003, dir. Andrew Davis. With Shia LaBeouf, Henry Winkler, Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight, Tim Blake Nelson, Khleo Thomas.

The Holiday

What I remember most about this movie is that it's unrelentingly sweet. The good news is that it's leavened with humour so you don't go into sugar shock, but it's not a great movie. A lot of good actors have a good time, and the script has enough good stuff in it that this produces many enjoyable moments. The best humour is already blown if you've seen the trailer - Winslet talking to her brother (Law) and her house guest (Diaz) in a beautifully set up bit of telephone hold tag. But Wallach gets no airplay at all in the trailer, and the whole subplot with him is ... well, sweet, but it does have a bit of bite and a great deal of charm. Black plays Black, and that was neither a surprise nor a pleasure.

2006, dir. Nancy Meyers. With Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Jack Black, Eli Wallach, Edward Burns, Rufus Sewell.

The Hollywood Librarian

The DVD case claims that the movie is about the presentation of librarians by Hollywood, and there is some of that in the first 45 minutes of the movie. There's a lot of material to mine in that category, but instead Seidl gets completely derailed telling you how great librarians and libraries are, how great "Story Time" is, and ends with a long bit on the closing of the Salinas, California libraries, and their eventual re-openings.

I really wanted to like this movie: I'm a librarian, and I've always been fascinated (and occasionally offended) by movie portrayals of librarians. But this movie isn't about that - or at least not for very long. In fact, it doesn't know what it's about - and that's a major problem. Yes, libraries are great, and the librarians who staff them are knowledgeable and often helpful, but in the movie a good premise became a puff piece for librarianship. Sorely disappointing.

2007, dir. Ann Seidl.

Hollywoodland

Brody plays a low rent private investigator looking into the death of actor George Reeves (most famous for playing Superman on TV, played here by Affleck). The acting is excellent all around, but I found the ending (which was accurate to Reeves's life) somewhat unsatisfying. Brody is possibly my favourite actor working today: there's nobody better.

2006, dir. Allen Coulter. With Adrien Brody, Ben Affleck, Diane Lane, Bob Hoskins, Robin Tunney, Lois Smith, Molly Parker.

Home

The Boov are an alien race on the run from another alien race, the Gorg in this children's animated movie. Led by Captain Smek (Martin), they choose Earth as a new home world - and relocate all the humans. But our view of the world after the alien invasion comes through "Oh" (Parsons), a member of the Boov who is always making mistakes and is a social reject, and Tip (Rihanna), a human who wasn't relocated properly and is searching for her mother. It's typical buddy comedy: they meet, they hate each other, they're forced to work together, and they bond.

When you choose a formula that time-worn, you need to really, really do it well. And choosing Rihanna and Parsons as your two primaries isn't a good first step. Parsons has simply taken his "Sheldon" character from "Big Bang Theory" and cranked him up to 11 (the new "11" since arguably Sheldon was already at 11). Rihanna is at best a mediocre actress, and the jokes just aren't that great. For me, the presence of a soundtrack made almost entirely by Rihanna was a definite minus as well.

For all that, I somehow ended up kind of enjoying the film. It's got limited re-watch value, but it's colourful, inoffensive, and mildly amusing.

2015, dir. Tim Johnson. With Rihanna, Jim Parsons, Steve Martin, Jennifer Lopez.

Homicide: Life on the Street

I only managed to sit through the first two episodes of this show. I thought "Law and Order" was depressing. This one is a parody as well: all the characters are parodies, so broadly drawn as to be completely ridiculous - and that's in the first two episodes.

Hope Springs (2003)

Makes me think Firth is having a go at being the new Hugh Grant, the intelligent, charming, quiet, romantic British leading man. Kind of a waste, really: I still think his best role prior to this was his relatively minor but extremely effective part in "Shakespeare in Love." This movie places him in the town of "Hope" in the United States, running away from a betrayal by his ex- (Driver), and into the arms of Graham. Humiliation and comedy ensue. Has some very charming moments, but it's a serious mess.

2003, dir. Mark Herman. With Colin Firth, Heather Graham, Minnie Driver, Mary Steenburgen, Frank Collison.

Hope Springs (2012)

Kay (Streep) and Arnold (Jones) are a couple married 31 years whose marriage has got into a rut so deep they can't even see out. But Kay wants to try to fix things, and drags Arnold, very much against his will, to a one week intensive marriage counseling session. We quickly find out they're deeply uncomfortable talking to either the counselor (Carell) or each other about feelings or sex.

This movie had me thinking about the various numerical ranking methods used to measure the success of films. Number of thumbs up, number of stars, number of bombs, number of "N"s (if you live in Toronto and read Now magazine). This one was, for me, measured in number of cringes, which passed ten. A huge amount of credit goes to Streep and Jones, because I was cringing at what the characters went through or had to do as part of the counseling - but I was cringing for the characters, not for the actors, because I didn't see the actors. The ending is incredibly charming (it's a Hollywood movie, complete with incredibly schmaltzy music - I'm not giving anything away by saying it had a "good" ending), but even great performances by the actors didn't really make 75 minutes of cringing worthwhile for me.

2012, dir. David Frankel. With Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell.

Hopscotch

Matthau plays Miles Kendig, possibly the CIA's best operative, suddenly retired (involuntarily) to a desk job. Rather than accept this fate, he destroys his own file and vanishes - although not from the view of the camera, which follows him as he teams up with an old friend (Jackson) to provoke and embarrass the agency he once worked for.

While Matthau is under threat of death for his actions, there's not really a lot of menace in the movie - it's a comedy. Myerson (Beatty) is Kendig's former boss, and the person losing the most face. Cutter (Waterston) is Kendig's former protégé, and a lot brighter than Myerson - but still unable to catch Kendig. As a whole the movie is amusing.

This stands out to me as the first Criterion DVD I've actually enjoyed: I don't usually like their choices.

1980, dir. Ronald Neame. With Walter Matthau, Glenda Jackson, Sam Waterston, Ned Beatty, Herbert Lom, Lucy Saroyan, David Matthau, Mike Gwilym.

Horns

Radcliffe plays Ignatius "Ig" Perrish in a movie based on Joe Hill's book of the same name. The movie quickly establishes that Ig and his lifelong girlfriend Merrin Williams (Temple) were deeply in love. "Were," because we also find that Merrin was murdered, and the entire town thinks Ig did it. Even Ig isn't entirely sure: he was extremely drunk that night and doesn't remember it.

About ten minutes into the film, Ig begins to grow horns from his forehead. He soon finds that people don't seem terribly surprised by this ... and generally start acting on their worst instincts around him. He decides to use this to find out who really killed Merrin. This part of the movie is heavily interspersed with flashbacks to Ig's childhood, in which we find out about the long-standing connections between him and the people he's dealing with in their small town.

When Ig started sprouting horns and people started getting crazy around him, the movie was for a while hugely entertaining: twisted and bizarre, and really enjoyable. Radcliffe put in a good performance. Unfortunately, the back story of Ig's childhood - while probably necessary - was significantly weaker ... and then the movie went all boringly traditional with punishment meted out in a thoroughly snooze-worthy manner. I don't know what they needed to do to hold onto the really great twisted sensibility that made the first half current-day parts of the movie so entertaining, but I know they didn't manage it ... Almost worth seeing for the first half, but most people will find the final act a significant let-down.

2013, dir. Alexandre Aja. With Daniel Radcliffe, Max Minghella, Joe Anderson, Juno Temple, Kelli Garner, James Remar, Kathleen Quinlan, Heather Graham, David Morse, Mitchell Kummen, Dylan Schmid, Jared Ager-Foster, Sabrina Carpenter, Laine MacNeil, Erik McNamee.

Horse Feathers

Groucho is the new Dean at a not-very-good college, where his son (played by Zeppo) is on the football team. There's a lot of antics on the football field, involving all four brothers. Kind of amusing.

1932, dir. Norman Z. McLeod. With Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx.

The Horse Whisperer

Redford directs and plays the titular character, a cattle rancher with a particular talent for working with horses. The movie starts with Grace MacLean (a very young Johansson, around age 13) and her friend out riding. After a horrible accident, her mother Annie (Thomas) takes her injured daughter and injured horse from New York to Montana to see Tom Booker (Redford), even though Booker didn't initially agree to see them. The mother and daughter end up staying for weeks (or possibly months, it's not clear).

To no one's surprise, the healing process extends far beyond the horse. There's a lot of good stuff in here: the script is decent, and Redford, Scott, and Neill all turn in good performances (Johansson wasn't up to the standard she holds in 2012). But at a run-time of 170 minutes, there's a really good 100 minute movie hiding inside waiting for a much better editor than the film actually got. Lingering shots of horses and Montana scenery are nice, but the cinematographer unfortunately had only the right idea, not the real skills needed to make it as breath-taking as it should have been.

1998, dir. Robert Redford. With Kristen Scott Thomas, Robert Redford, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Neill, Dianne Wiest, Chris Cooper.

Hostage

Willis plays a police hostage negotiator from L.A. who takes a chief-of-police position in a very small town after he's unable to save a small boy in a hostage situation. Since this is an action movie and not a psychological drama, by the time you're ten minutes into the movie that first family is dead and a second family in his new hometown are under threat in a similar situation. It all gets even uglier when it turns out that the father of the new family has mob ties and soon Willis's family comes under threat as well. The acting is mediocre at best and there are dozens of loose ends (Willis's marital problems? but it's not the only one) and logical inconsistencies. And the ending is appropriately over-the-top and unbelievable.

Willis produced, and his daughter in the movie is played by ... his daughter.

2005, dir. Florent Emilio Siri. With Bruce Willis, Kevin Pollack, Jimmy Bennett, Michelle Horn, Ben Foster, Jonathan Tucker, Marshall Allman, Serena Scott Thomas, Rumer Willis.

Hotel Transylvania

Given that the cast is led by Sandler, I was actually expecting worse. And had I known that Tartakovsky's previous work showed that he thought an anvil to the head was high art, I wouldn't have watched it at all. I can't blame Sandler for the script, and what he does as a voice actor is actually reasonably good. He plays a vampire, over-protective father to a young (she's just turning 118) vampire daughter (Gomez). To protect her, he's built a hotel for monsters where they (many are his friends) can be safe from the evil and destructive humans. One of whom (Samberg) inevitably finds his way to the hotel just before the big party. I got a huge laugh in a couple places, but for the most part found it terribly predictable and flat.

2012, dir. Genndy Tartakovsky. With Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Kevin James, Fran Drescher, Steve Buscemi, Molly Shannon, David Spade, Cee Lo Green, Jon Lovitz, Luenell, Chris Parnell, Brian George.

Hot Fuzz

Pegg plays a star cop so good he's exiled to a small town for being too good. This is very much the same crew that brought us "Shaun of the Dead:" both written by Pegg and Wright, both directed by Wright, and both starring Pegg and Frost - although this time out Pegg plays it pretty much entirely straight ... and manages it very well. Ludicrous and hilarious, takes shots at dozens of different movies - draws heavily on Westerns, police procedurals, and even horror. Great outtakes on the DVD. And it was almost worth the price of admission to see Dalton slumming and having a great time doing it.

2007, dir. Edgar Wright. With Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Bill Nighy, Martin Freeman, Jim Broadbent, Paddy Considine, Timothy Dalton.

Hot Pursuit

In "Hot Pursuit" Witherspoon plays Rose Cooper, a police woman who is the daughter of one of the most respected cops in the city. But she had a spectacular (and comedic) fall from grace that's left her working in the evidence room. She's also a bit ... intense. But her boss gives her a break, and sends her out to pick up high profile witness Daniella Riva (Vergara). Things go entirely sideways and our two heroines end up on the run together - with Vergara playing the emotional, curvaceous Latino stereotype and Witherspoon doing the up-tight, controlling White stereotype. Which is a pretty tasteless start for a "Midnight Run" knock-off, but could have produced something worth seeing if it was actually funny. But the script proceeds to insult its characters, its actors, and its audience in equal measure. I'm embarrassed to say that despite all that, I actually rather enjoyed it. It's a terrible movie that includes almost as much wincing (and not where they intended you to) as laughing, but Vergara and Witherspoon are fairly good and do occasionally land some of the jokes despite the idiocy of the script.

2015, dir. Anne Fletcher. With Reese Witherspoon, Sofía Vergara, Jim Gaffigan, Robert Kazinsky, Joaquín Cosio, Michael Mosley.

Hot Tub Time Machine

Three mildly alienated friends and an unenthusiastic nephew find themselves in the 80s after a dip in a disreputable hot tub, re-living a critical day in their lives. Similar in spirit to the almost concurrent "The Hangover," it's not quite as funny and it goes for somewhat grosser humour - but still an entertaining ride. Partly pulled out by decent performances by the four leads.

2010, dir. Steve Pink. With John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, Chevy Chase.

House of Flying Daggers

Plans within plans, betrayals within betrayals. "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" brought us the new genre of upscale martial arts movies, and Zhang has cashed in big first with "Hero" and now with this movie. The cinematography isn't quite as breath-taking as it was in "Hero," but the same touch is clear.

2004, dir. Yimou Zhang. With Ziyi Zhang, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau.

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

"How to Humiliate a Guy in 10 Days," "How to Humiliate Yourself in 10 Days." Two fairly decent actors can't save this festival of embarrassment. Hudson and McConaughey are partnered: she determined to destroy the relationship by doing every clichéd horrible thing a woman could possibly do, and he determined to hold it together no matter what to win an advertising account. If you like humiliation humour, this may be your thing: it's certainly not mine.

2003, dir. Donald Petrie. With Kate Hudson, Matthew McConaughey.

How to Steal a Million

Hepburn plays the daughter of a very good art forger who doesn't approve of her father's hobby. She tries to discourage him, but finds herself needing to remove one of the family forgeries from its very well guarded place in a museum before it's tested for insurance purposes and the family's secret is let out. To this end she recruits O'Toole after she catches him apparently trying to steal another forgery from her house. Hepburn and O'Toole are quite charming, and the movie is amusing - I think some of the humour has been lost in the years between, but it's still very enjoyable.

1966, dir. William Wyler. With Audrey Hepburn, Peter O'Toole, Hugh Griffith, Eli Wallach.

How to Train Your Dragon

Our hero is Hiccup, the son of a Viking and reluctant heir to a history of killing dragons. Dragons raid their island for food, and he wants to kill a dragon to impress everyone ... he's just not cut out for it. And when he finally comes to the killing part, he can't do it. The dragon he frees instead of killing is injured, and when he helps it a friendship develops.

An incredibly charming film, visually wonderful, and with humour to keep both the parents and the kids laughing. Hiccup says of the island he lives on "The food is tough and tasteless, the people even more so." It's a blast in 3D, but it remains thoroughly entertaining in 2D as well (I've seen it both ways).

2010, dir. Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois. With Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jonah Hill, America Ferrara, Craig Ferguson.

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Let's start with this: I LOVE "How to Train Your Dragon," and I couldn't imagine a sequel being as good. While this is better than I expected, I'm sorry to say that I was essentially correct. I loved that they'd moved the characters forward as much as they had, so the kids of the previous movie are now about 20 years old. There are a lot of very funny jokes, and the artwork is nearly as good as last time. Blanchett's wobbly Scottish accent didn't help at all, and seemed to throw off her otherwise excellent acting. I was also a bit annoyed with their unwillingness to kill anyone: yes, a couple characters of significance do die, but off screen - you've moved all the characters forward 5-7 years, why not assume the audience's tolerance and emotional depth has advanced at least a little as well?

UPDATE: After watching it a couple more times, I'm willing to say it's actually really good - very nearly as good as its predecessor.

2014, dir. Dean DeBlois. With Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, Djimon Hounsou, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig, Kit Harington.

Howard's End

One of the later Merchant and Ivory movies. Won some awards and has good people in it, but I didn't like it much - not particularly compelling.

1991. dir. James Ivory. With Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham Carter.

Howl's Moving Castle

Miyazaki, but somewhat atypical: this one is based on a Diana Wynne Jones novel, and the main character isn't exactly a young woman. But it's still Miyazaki: gorgeous images backing an entertaining story about a young woman turned into an old woman who takes up company with a magician in the pseudo-Victorian age. I didn't feel it had quite the depth of "Spirited Away," but still excellent and I've bought the DVD because the art is astonishingly beautiful.

2005, dir. Hayao Miyazaki. English voices by Emily Mortimer, Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, Billy Crystal, Jean Simmons.

The Hulk

I watched this (despite negative reviews) because it was directed by Ang Lee. Unfortunately, even his skills weren't enough to save it. Or perhaps they were what sank it. It's sad when the most interesting thing in a movie is shot-to-shot transitions - but at least they're cool.

2003. dir. Ang Lee. With Eric Bana, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Connelly.

Hugo

Scorsese's first children's movie and a huge tribute to Georges Méliès, one of the pioneers of motion pictures. There are clips of other film pioneers (Douglas Fairbanks, Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin), and a tribute to Lloyd's famous clock-face scene.

Hugo is an orphan who lives in a railway station in Paris sometime between the World Wars. This is a very odd Paris with trains, but without cars or horses. Stranger still, everyone has French names and reads French books, but they speak English. Even when they're reading a French book out loud. Hugo tends to the clocks in the station, but his big dream is to fix the automaton left him by his father. It's a mechanical man that's built to make drawings, but it doesn't do much without the heart-shaped key that Hugo doesn't have ... until he meets Isabelle, the god-daughter of the mean toy store owner who Hugo has occasionally stolen from.

The movie is lovely to look at and of course well done and well structured (it's Scorsese). I enjoyed it, but I didn't think it lived up to the hype that's surrounded it since its release.

One fascinating aspect of it is that it seems to be entirely true to the life of Georges Méliès (except for the children in his life).

2011, dir. Martin Scorsese. With Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Chloë Grace Moretz, Sacha Baron Cohen, Emily Mortimer, Jude Law, Richard Griffiths, Frances de la Tour, Christopher Lee, Ray Winstone.

The Human Stain

Don't be fooled by the top billing of Hopkins and Kidman: half the film is flashbacks to Hopkin's character's youth, as important a story as what's going on in the present day. Unfortunately, constant flashbacks defuse any immediacy in either story line. Excellent performances (especially by Harris in a relatively small role) make an otherwise thoroughly disorganized film worth watching.

2003, dir. Robert Benton. With Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris, Gary Sinise.

The Hundred-Foot Journey

Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) and his family lost their restaurant and home in India, and are traveling across France when their van breaks down. Their father decides to buy a local building and start a restaurant pretty much on the spot. There's a slight technical problem: there's a Michelin star restaurant directly across the street in their tiny town, and the owner of that restaurant (Helen Mirren) is less than welcoming of competition. Hassan is a brilliant chef, but will the other chef ever acknowledge it?

This is elevated above movie-of-the-week territory both by the good acting and the charm of the whole affair, but the heavy-handedness of the plot points as it plods to an inevitably happy conclusion made the Producer list including the name "Oprah Winfrey" less surprising than it might otherwise have been. I enjoyed it, but it's definitely manipulative and obvious.

2014, dir. Lasse Hallström. With Manish Dayal, Helen Mirren, Charlotte Le Bon, Om Puri, Amit Shah, Farzana Dua Elahe.

The Hunger

Long before the current (2009) adoration of vampires, there was "The Hunger," based on Whitley Strieber's novel of the same name. Deneuve plays a millennia-old (but still young and beautiful) woman, and Bowie her companion of several centuries. The downside of their arrangement is the need to feed on human blood once a week.

Bowie begins to age extremely quickly - decades in a matter of hours - and seeks out a specialist on ageing, played by Sarandon. Sarandon, meeting him only for a minute, thinks he's a crank. Having evaded him for several hours, she sees him again and realizes that he was telling the truth about his condition. Upset at her behaviour, he leaves. Etc.

There's more to the plot, but I'm already giving it too much credit: this movie isn't about plot, it's about atmosphere and style over all else. Worse, it's 80s style. There were a couple good things about it: it introduced me (when it came out in 1983) to the great song "Bela Lugosi's Dead" by Bauhaus, and it put Deneuve and Sarandon in bed together - back then, that was shocking, and probably a first in main-stream cinema.

MAJOR SPOILER WARNING (ie. stop reading if you plan on seeing the movie): the best thing about watching the DVD was the 20-years-later voice-over by an older and wiser Scott, and Sarandon - who was willing at that remove to state a pretty strong opinion against the ending. I was fascinated to learn (I'd wondered for over twenty years) had Sarandon's character intended to commit suicide, or was she trying to usurp Deneuve? She was trying to commit suicide, being unwilling to be immortal if it came at the price of being an addict. And Sarandon signed on to the movie because she liked that about the character - who in the original script stayed dead. Sarandon was pissed with the new ending.

1983, dir. Tony Scott. With Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon, David Bowie, Cliff DeYoung.

The Hunger Games

Based on the very popular young adult book (now a series) by Suzanne Collins, the movie visualizes a future where 24 teens from various areas are put in a huge televised arena to kill each other until there's one victor.

Our heroine is Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) who lives in the very poor District 12. She hunts (with bow and arrow) in the off-limits grounds between districts to provide extra food to her family. When her younger sister is chosen as the female "tribute" to the Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers to go in her place (it's in the trailer and in the first fifteen minutes of the movie, I'm not destroying it for you). The male tribute is Peeta (Hutcherson), someone she knows - already a problem when you consider that 23 out of the 24 tributes have to die. Katniss and Peeta are taken to the capital where the games are held, and on the way they're introduced to their inebriated and disillusioned mentor - and past winner of the Games - Haymitch (Harrelson).

Lawrence was excellent as Katniss, and it was a pleasure to see Harrelson really acting - I forget sometimes how good he is as so many of his roles call primarily for scenery chewing. I have to admit that while I like Sutherland, it's been a while since I've seen him in a role where I thought he was acting well: he's superbly, calmly repulsive as the president here. I didn't even recognize Kravitz is Cinna until the credits roled - he was surprisingly good. The shakycam cinematography is ... fashionable, but incredibly annoying.

I said to a friend after the show "Was that a damning indictment of reality TV?," and he said "it could just be a story."

2012, dir. Gary Ross. With Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Donald Sutherland, Liam Hemsworth, Amandla Stenberg.

The Hunt for Red October

I saw this back when it came out and wasn't particularly taken with it - probably because of the Scottish-accented commander of the Russian submarine (Connery as Marko Ramius). Admittedly somewhat distracting, but on seeing it again in 2013 I have to give it good marks for thought and tension - and even its relative lack of action, which is both refreshing and warranted. But it is tense: Ramius essentially steals Russia's top-of-the-line stealth submarine and appears likely to nuke the east coast of the U.S. - from a sub so quiet that the U.S. won't be able to track or intercept it. But analyst Jack Ryan (Baldwin) thinks otherwise: he's been studying Ramius and is now convinced that Ramius and his senior officers want to defect. So there's a hell of a chase and an awful lot of political manoeuvring. Quite good actually.

1990, dir. John McTiernan. With Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Scott Glenn, Sam Neill, James Earl Jones, Courtney Vance, Joss Ackland, Stellan Skarsgård.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

A film out of New Zealand about 13 year old juvenile delinquent Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) and his very reluctant adopted uncle Hector (Sam Neill) going on a long trip into the bush together. I'm not much of a fan of director Taika Waititi's sense of humour - and the low point of the movie was his five minute appearance as a confused and confusing (and most importantly, unfunny) minister early in the film. But I suspect that most of the humour in this film is derived from the source material, the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump. What makes the movie work is the surprising chemistry between the 65 year old Hector and Ricky: Hector was himself a juvenile delinquent, and he hasn't totally outgrown it ... even if it's mostly morphed into him being a grumpy old codger. Of course they don't immediately connect, and their journey to understanding each other is a bumpy (but funny) one. Charming and very entertaining, I highly recommend it.

2016, dir. Taika Waititi. With Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Rhys Darby, Oscar Kightley, Taika Waititi.

The Hunted

I didn't see the full movie, saw the second half on TV.

del Toro plays a former Special Forces soldier who kills a couple hunters. His former instructor (Jones) is called in to track him down. What follows is a fairly poor update of "Rambo: First Blood." Even the locations are similar, using Oregon while "Rambo" went north of the border into British Columbia.

2003, dir. William Friedkin. With Tommy Lee Jones, Benicio del Toro, Connie Nielsen.


I

I Am Bruce Lee

This is only one of several movies that claims to tell us about the short life and astonishing legacy of Bruce Lee. I was quite fond of "Dragon: the Bruce Lee Story," a fictionalized account of much the same thing (although I haven't seen it in many years).

While this movie covers well trodden ground, it does a good job and brings a lot of interesting interviews to build up a good picture of the incredible effect the man had on both the movies and the martial arts. There was some debate among those interviewed about whether or not Lee was the father of the mixed martial arts, although no debate that he was influential. And no debate at all about Lee's influence on martial arts films - or millions of people's lives. I'm not sure the movie brings much in the way of new information about Bruce Lee's life to the table, but it assembles an interesting group of people to paint a fascinating portrait of the man. Too hagiographic, but still a very good film.

2012, dir. Pete McCormack. With Linda Lee Cadwell, Mickey Rourke, Dan Inosanto, Gina Carano, Kobe Bryant, Diana Lee Inosanto, Shannon Lee, Ray Mancini, Manny Pacquiao, Ed O'Neill, Robert Wall, Taboo.

I Am Legend

The third movie version of Richard Matheson's 1954 book of the same name, the first to use the name of the book. I didn't think I would like this, but their vision of a post-apocalyptic New York was brilliant, and Smith was great (as he so often is). Smith is a military doctor in an utterly deserted New York, three years after a human-made virus has wiped out about 99% of the population of the world. He has a dog, and a major fear of the dark. Recommended.

2007, dir. Francis Lawrence. With Will Smith, Alice Braga, Charlie Tahan, Salli Richardson, Willow Smith.

I Am Number Four

The reviews were correct, this isn't a particularly good movie. Several aliens (who look remarkably human) hide out on Earth, and numbers 1, 2, and 3 are all killed. We follow number 4 (Pettyfer, who's not a brilliant actor). It's a fairly typical coming-of-age/superhero film: he's hunted down by the bad aliens while learning about his powers and finding friends (McAuliffe, Agron, Palmer). The special effects are reasonably good, it's heart is in the right (albeit manipulative) place, and I like a good dumb-ass SF movie, so I kind of enjoyed it.

According to boxofficemojo.com, the production budget was $60,000,000. As the gross so far (2011-09) is more than double that, I'm guessing the hot young stars can expect a call-back for the implied sequel. (Not to worry if you haven't seen it, it wraps up fairly nicely with only very minor loose ends.)

2011, dir. D.J. Caruso. With Alex Pettyfer, Dianna Agron, Timothy Olyphant, Kevin Durand, Callan McAuliffe, Teresa Palmer.

I, Frankenstein

Eckhart plays the titular monster, created in 1795 with an initial story arc that will sound familiar to anyone who knows Shelley's story: the Doctor, horrified by his own creation, the murdered bride, the eventual death of the Doctor. But in this version, even as Frankenstein buries his "father," he's attacked by demons and saved by gargoyles. He spends 200 years in the northern wilds, eventually returning to civilization ... and the movie can be set in the modern day. The demons want him because reanimating corpses is cool, and the gargoyles (who, by the way, are on the side of God) are more than a little concerned about Frankenstein falling into the hands of the demons - even if Frank is really fond of killing demons.

I was interested in the movie because Grevioux, who wrote the original comic, had a hand in the story, and acted in the movie, was the primary writer behind "Underworld," which I quite enjoyed. Okay, not a great movie, but well thought out and I found it very entertaining. This, unfortunately, is not so well done. I enjoyed it, but I also have to admit it's ham-fisted idiocy whose only possible audience is die-hard "Underworld" fans. Everyone else should pass.

2014, dir. Stuart Beattie. With Aaron Eckhart, Bill Nighy, Yvonne Strahovski, Miranda Otto, Socratis Otto, Jai Courtney, Kevin Grevioux.

I Heart Huckabees

This is a deeply weird movie. Unfortunately that's pretty much all it is: it isn't very good. I found that it got funnier towards the end as they spent more time mocking Zen Buddhism rather than Existentialism, and that's a philosophy I know a lot more about. But I almost didn't make it - if "nothing matters," as the movie insists on telling us, then ... why bother watching the movie? For the most part it comes off as a bunch of not-very-funny nonsense. A waste of a lot of good actors.

2004. dir. David O. Russell. Jason Schwartzman, Jude Law, Mark Wahlberg, Naomi Watts, Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin, Isabelle Huppert.

I Married a Witch

The movie opens at the Salem witch burnings, where Jonathan Wooley (Fredric March) explains to his mother and fiancée that the witch who just burned cursed him and all his descendants to unhappy marriages. And we see this through the first few minutes of the movie, as various Wooleys (all played by March) have horrible wives (with comedic effect, although one wonders how the bloodline stayed alive?). Until in 1942, Wallace Wooley (still March) is about to marry another unpleasant woman (Hayward) when the witch (Lake) and her father (Kellaway) are released from their captivity by lightning striking the oak tree that bound their spirits. They set out to cause more unhappiness in Wooley's life, although the two take different tacks and come into conflict. The reincarnated witch determines to destroy Wooley by making him fall in love with her. Slapstick comedy ensues.

Light-weight even by the standards of the time, March and Lake have a lot of fun with their characters and make the movie a pleasure to watch.

1942, dir. René Clair. With Fredric March, Veronica Lake, Cecil Kellaway, Susan Hayward, Robert Benchley, Elizabeth Patterson, Robert Warwick.

I, Robot

It's 2035, and Smith plays Detective Del Spooner of the Chicago Police. He really, really doesn't like the U.S.R. robots that are everywhere now. He's called - specifically him - to investigate the apparent suicide of Dr. Alfred Lanning (Cromwell) at U.S.R. The murder appears as if it might have been committed by a robot - which should be impossible as robots are programmed above all to not injure people. Spooner teams up with U.S.R. employee Susan Calvin (Moynahan) to try to figure out what's going on.

The line "Suggested by the short stories of Isaac Asimov" at the beginning of the film should stand as a warning to SF fans expecting a literal interpretation of Asimov's famous stories. You won't find it here. With that understood, this is actually a very good, thought-provoking movie with a punchline that revolves around Asimov's "Three Laws" - right up until the end when they blow it out with totally preposterous action. But an interesting story and it sure looks good (hey, it's Proyas).

2004. dir. Alex Proyas. With Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, Alan Tudyk, James Cromwell.

I Sell the Dead

Monaghan plays Arthur, a convicted trafficker in corpses. The movie plays out with him being interviewed about his career by Father Duffy (Perlman). We learn how he apprenticed in the trade with Willie (Fessenden) and the two of them competed with "The House of Murphy", another gang of grave robbers. Mildly amusing, well acted, but not as clever as it wanted to be.

2008, dir. Glenn McQuaid. With Dominic Monaghan, Larry Fessenden, Ron Perlman, Brenda Cooney, John Speredakos, Alisdair Stewart, Heather Bullock, Angus Scrimm.

I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK

Full disclosure: I watched the first 25 minutes of this movie and gave up. I only made it that far because I have a massive respect for Park.

Young-goon (Im) works in a factory making radios. One day, she slits her wrist, inserts two wires, and sticks the other end into an electrical socket (she believes she's a cyborg and needs to power up). She ends up in a mental institution, which is where the movie really lost me: every single patient is over-the-top crazy. I find that improbable - and it also makes its characters very hard to sympathize with.

2006, dir. Park Chan-wook. With Im Soo-jung, Rain, Choi Hee-jin, Lee Yong-nyeo.

I'm Not There

I watched only bits and pieces of this bizarre analysis of Bob Dylan's life, trying to see as much of Blanchett's performance as possible. Short of watching actual Dylan footage, I don't think you'll ever see as good a reproduction of him as she managed. Unfortunately I'm not enough of a Dylan fan to do the movie justice and watch the whole thing ... it looks quite weird.

2007, dir. Todd Haynes. With Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger.

The Ice Harvest

I didn't find a laugh in this entire movie. It was trying to be a black comedy/film noir, but the attempts at humour left the noir aspect crippled so all we see is a bunch of unlikeable people bungling a big crime.

2005, dir. Harold Ramis. With John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Oliver Platt, Connie Nelson.

The Ice Storm

A painstaking recreation of the Sixties ... okay, it's supposed to be 1973, but the Sixties were alive and well in suburbia. The interactions, the children, the adults, the appearance of all the minor props and backgrounds ... Affairs and family problems surface on Thanksgiving weekend during an ice storm. Lee does great work, but I'm not terribly fond of this one. Depressing without being gripping.

1997, dir. Ang Lee. With Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Elijah Wood, Christina Ricci, Tobey Maguire.

An Ideal Husband

Written by Oscar Wilde, with slightly more substance than "The Importance of Being Earnest" - more teeth, anyway. Blackmail, and the possibility of the ruin of a gentleman's life. Proves again that Everett was born to act in Wilde's plays, although "Earnest" was better. But Julianne Moore has the stand-out performance, staggeringly slimy - she made my skin crawl, quite an achievement in a Wilde play.

dir. Oliver Parker. With Rupert Everett, Cate Blanchett, Jeremy Northam, Minnie Driver, Julianne Moore.

Identity

A psychological horror movie of sorts. Several people arrive in a motel together in a rain storm with the roads around washed out. They are killed, one by one. There's a big twist near the end, but to me it felt like a cheat that wasted the work of some fairly good actors. I wouldn't recommend this one, despite the presence of Cusack who is one of my favourite actors.

2003. dir. James Mangold. With John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, Alfred Molina.

Idiocracy

I was interested in this movie because it was Judge's first movie after "Office Space," a personal favourite. Wilson plays an average guy in the army who is volunteered along with a prostitute (Rudolph) to take part in a one year human hibernation project. Through bureaucratic incompetence they are forgotten, and end up sleeping until a garbage slide unburies them in the year 2505. At which time they discover they are by far the smartest people on the planet. This sets us up for a very long string of stupid jokes, a few of which are funny. Not up to "Office Space," and not worth your time unless you're an extremely dedicated fan of Judge.

2006, dir. Mike Judge. With Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph, Dax Shepard, Terry Crews.

Igby Goes Down

Fucked up. Perverse. Pretty good - just about everyone puts in a good performance, particularly Culkin in the lead. Culkin plays a young man with a seriously messed up family: pill-popping mom Sarandon, schizophrenic dad Pullman, brother Phillippe that he (mostly) hates. He's not exactly a charmer himself.

2002, dir. Burr Steers. With Kieran Culkin, Claire Danes, Jeff Goldblum, Jared Harris, Ryan Phillippe, Bill Pullman, Susan Sarandon, Rory Culkin.

Igor

Our main character is an "Igor," born with a hunch on his back and thus required to act as an assistant to one of the many mad scientists in the country of "Malaria." The main job of an Igor is to say "Yes, master" and pull levers. But our hero (Cusack) aspires to be an inventor himself.

Computer animated in a style that's very reminiscent of Tim Burton, and loaded with movie and pop culture references that don't really produce laughs. The movie starts out with Igor madly trying to be evil. Child or adult, you know he's going to turn out good. Bizarre without being particularly interesting to look at, and definitely not funny, with the possible exception of Buscemi this one misses the mark entirely.

2008, dir. Tony Leondis. With John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Jennifer Coolidge.

Il Mare

I really wanted to see this because it's the movie that "The Lake House" was based on, and I'm a big fan of "The Lake House." While the initial layout of the movie is essentially identical (young woman moves out of a lovely house on stilts over the water, young man moves in, letter box does weird things with time), the feel of the movie is radically different. Both of our heroes are incredibly isolated, sad, and lonely. The house in "The Lake House" seems like a refuge, a lovely place to get away from the frantic pace of modern urban life. But in "Il Mare," it's a place of isolation and sadness. It's also by the sea, and instead of being over the water all the time, it's occasionally over the water and frequently over rather nasty mud flats.

In general, when Hollywood does a remake of a foreign film, the original is superior. For once, this isn't the case. This has some occasionally excellent cinematography, but the plot is mediocre to poor, our main characters both look like damaged goods, and the whole tone of the movie is depressing without any particular rewards.

2000, dir. Hyun-seung Lee. With Jung-Jae Lee, Gianna Jun.

The Illusionist

The movie is set in Vienna around 1900, filmed with a yellow/orange/brown cast intended to make it feel older - it's a bit of a conceit, but a nice feel. The screenplay is based on "Eisenheim the Illusionist" by Steven Millhauser. Eisenheim (played by Norton) is a stage magician from the lower classes in love with a countess (Biel) that he knew when they were both young. But now that he's found her again, she's engaged to the ruthless Prince (Sewell). The Prince uses chief inspector Uhl (Giamatti) to run a lot of his errands, particularly in respect to Eisenheim. Director Burger meant this movie to be a study about what we can see, what can we believe in - and as a result there's a fair bit of ambiguous material. Norton plays his character so controlled that you don't get much from his performance. Sewell was better than I expected (although still chewing scenery), Giamatti was typically very good, Biel was decent. The ending was ambiguous. But the movie rewards a second viewing as there are a lot of well-worked-out details that you won't catch all of the first time.

2006, dir. Neil Burger. With Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel, Rufus Sewell.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Pure Gilliam, featuring Ledger's last screen role. Plummer is Doctor Parnassus, with his travelling side show that doesn't fit in particularly well in the modern world. He's accompanied by his daughter Valentina (Cole) and two assistants, Anton (Garfield) and Percy (Troyer). There's a deal with the Devil (Waits) to be dealt with, and the outsider Tony (mainly played by Ledger, but also Depp, Law, and Farrell in the imagination ...) alternately saving the day and causing trouble. It's a weird, weird movie. Not his best, but pretty good and enjoyable.

2009, dir. Terry Gilliam. With Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Verne Troyer, Lily Cole, Andrew Garfield, Tom Waits, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, Jude Law.

Imagine Me & You

Mediocre rom com about a young bride who meets her perfect girlfriend ... on her wedding day. The three leads are all very attractive and well acted, the supporting roles are too broadly drawn to even think about, the script and plot are middling, and the movie ultimately redeems itself through its wickedly funny one-liners.

2005, dir. Ol Parker. With Piper Perabo, Lena Headey, Matthew Goode, Celia Imrie, Anthony Head, Boo Jackson, Darren Boyd.

Immortals

Singh has borrowed from Greek history and mythology (mostly the latter - Theseus, the Minotaur, the Titans) to create what he hoped was an epic story. As usual, he's half succeeded. And unlike most directors, his success and failure within the film are sharply divided between the visual and the story. This is a blazing visual masterpiece with a story that's just kind of traditional and dull (which is arguably better than some of his films, where the stories are occasionally staggeringly awful - The Cell, The Fall, Mirror Mirror).

Cavill is Theseus, a peasant educated as a warrior by an old man (Hurt) who eventually turns out to be Zeus (Evans). Rourke plays the king Hyperion, who is searching for "The Epirus Bow," a weapon of the gods that will allow him to unleash the long chained Titans as vengeance on the Gods. In the process, his army is laying waste to Greece - most notably Theseus' village.

Hyperion is played as a remorseless man who kills and tortures without the slightest pang of conscience. And in case you didn't get the point the first time, he's shown doing horrible things multiple times. All the plot points are delivered with this kind of subtlety. But the images accompanying this painfully poorly presented story are dazzling: the film is delivered almost entirely in gold and black - sort of black and white, but gold has replaced the grays. And then there's the occasional gorgeous red highlights. And the forms on screen ... always perfect, exactly as Singh wants you to see them, nothing ever mars his images. And they ARE beautiful.

Fans of cinematography should rush out and see this one yesterday (although perhaps with the sound down a bit). Everyone else should probably just skip it. Doesn't much change Singh's record: this is what he does. As poorly constructed as they may be, I'm going to continue to watch his movies: they're that good visually.

2011, dir. Tarsem Singh. With Henry Cavill, Frieda Pinto, Stephen Dorff, Mickey Rourke, John Hurt, Luke Evans, Isabel Lucas, Kellan Lutz.

The Importance of Being Earnest

Oscar Wilde's most famous play. Everett was meant to perform Wilde - not to put down anyone else in the movie, the whole ensemble was excellent. It feels like a movie rather than a play moved to the screen. Very good interpretation.

2002. dir. Oliver Parker. With Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon, Rupert Everett, Judi Dench, Frances O'Connor, Tom Wilkinson, Anna Massey.

The Impossible

Tells the story of a young family, off for a nice vacation together. At a lovely seaside resort in Phuket, Thailand, just before the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. Based (apparently with some accuracy) on what happened to a Spanish family, although the family are English in the movie. Massive waves swept ashore on December 26, along thousands of miles of coast. Maria (Watts) finds her eldest son Lucas (Holland) in the raging waves, and they keep each other safe and sane - although Maria has been seriously injured. They are fortunate enough to be assisted and she's taken to an overtaxed hospital with Lucas in tow.

There's a great deal more to the story, and it's devastatingly well told (although I thought they got a bit heavy on the symbolism and tears toward the end - but it didn't detract significantly from an otherwise superb story). Bayona puts a lot of the story on Holland: I think he was supposed to be 12 for the role, perhaps 14 in real life when they were filming. And he was superb: you couldn't ask for a better child actor, he was heartbreaking to watch. Watts and McGregor as her husband were of course excellent, but it's much more of a surprise to see such a compelling performance from someone so young. A very good movie, highly recommended - but expect to be a bit shaken by the end.

2012, dir. Juan Antonio Bayona. With Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oakley Pendergast, Marta Etura, Sönke Möhring, Geraldine Chaplin.

In America

The story of a poor Irish family trying to get their life together in Hell's Kitchen, New York. This isn't about immigrants, New York, or even living in poverty: it's about recovery from loss. Before they arrived they lost a son, and, while the movie is relatively positive overall, that's not all they're going to lose. I found the characters were painted with too broad a brush in places, and the whole E.T. doll thing near the beginning kind of lost me for the rest of the film. It certainly has some very touching moments, but it stumbles along rather unconvincingly a lot of the time.

2002, dir. Jim Sheridan. With Paddy Considine, Samantha Morton, Djimon Hounsou, Sarah Bolger, Emma Bolger.

In Bruges

Two British hit men are sent to Bruges (in Belgium) to spend a few days, for reasons they don't understand. The older of the two (Gleeson, who's great) wants to get out and see the sights, the younger (Farrell) is utterly disgusted with the town and just wants to go to the pub. When the boss calls, things get ugly. Travel porn, lots of swearing, assassins, and black humour - done well. Politically incorrect, hysterically funny, eminently quotable (but not at the office), and depressing. A very good movie.

2008, dir. Martin McDonagh. With Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Clémence Poésy, Jérémie Renier, Thekla Reuten.

In Good Company

The surprise here isn't that Johansson is excellent, or that Quaid can do gruff and charming, but that Grace is actually really good. Coming from "That Seventies Show," it was awfully hard to tell before this. He plays a very young executive for Globecom who displaces Quaid's character in a buy-out. Johansson plays Quaid's daughter, tightly connected with both men. One of the most interesting comments Weitz made in the extras was that he wanted to look at the problems and traumas inherent in a functional family - after all, we've all seen dysfunctional families onscreen hundreds of times. An underrated, funny, and charming movie.

2004, dir. Paul Weitz. With Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid, Scarlett Johansson, Marg Helgenberger, David Paymer, Clark Gregg, Philip Baker Hall, Selma Blair.

In Her Shoes

"Shoes like these should not be locked in a closet! They should be living a life of scandal and passion, and getting screwed in an alleyway by a billionaire while his frigid wife waits in the limo ..." "Please tell me you just made that up." This pretty much encapsulates Maggie and Rose, the sisters at the centre of this wonderful movie. Maggie the tramp is played by Diaz, Rose the successful and unhappy lawyer is played by Collette. Their recently rediscovered grandmother is played by MacLaine. Hanson takes a novel to a good screenplay to a very good movie, no small thanks to Collette (who is excellent) and MacLaine (who is so good it's breathtaking). The beginning finds Maggie kicked out of her parents house, staying with her sister where she causes worse and worse problems until Rose kicks her out, whereupon Maggie goes to Florida to sponge off their grandmother. The resolution is a little convenient and emotionally manipulative, but it's carried so well by the cast that you're likely to forgive them. Besides, there's a great deal of emotional truth to it.

2005, dir. Curtis Hanson. With Toni Collette, Cameron Diaz, Shirley MacLaine, Mark Feuerstein.

In Search of Shakespeare

A documentary that tries to reconstruct the life of Shakespeare, particularly the parts that aren't as well known. Wood (who wrote and starred) freely admits that big chunks of it is speculation - but does manage to back up most of his ideas fairly well. He takes his time and kind of plods along in places, to the point that this could probably have been done in two hours instead of the four it ultimately took, but worth seeing for fans of Shakespeare.

2003, dir. Gregory Doran. With Michael Wood, the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Inside Out

The movie opens with a voice-over by Joy (Poehler), who is our narrator throughout the film. She's one of the five emotions (the others being Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear) that control the behaviour of the star of our other story line, Riley (Dias) - who is an actual human child. When Riley is 11, her family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco - triggering the events in both our story lines (ie. "Inside" and "Outside"). Externally, Riley is unhappy with the move, missing her old home and disliking her new one. Internally, Sadness keeps touching joyful memories and turning them sad, putting her in conflict with Joy. That conflict leads to the two of them getting into a struggle that sees them accidentally ejected from "headquarters" and dumped into the massive long-term memory storage area and then trying to find their way back as their absence causes turmoil in Riley's mind.

I first saw this movie on a 9" screen on an airplane seat back, which is a terrible thing to do to any work of art. I bought the movie as soon as it came out on BluRay, complete with 3D version. There is, of course, immensely more detail in the artwork than I could see on a 9" screen. It's a beautiful movie, full of exceptionally vivid colours. Both the story lines are good, and the joining of the two is a miracle of structure: both story lines become more tense and reach a peak simultaneously, and events in one reflect events in the other. There's an immense amount of well applied humour, including Pixar's trademarked humour-for-watching-parents slyly inserted where the kids won't mind it. According to Wikipedia, the movie went through years of development and massive and repeated changes of plot during the process - including director Docter fearing he was going to be fired over development problems (which actually led to an epiphany about the story). I can believe it was tough to develop, but they got it right in the end.

The quality of the 3D experience is fairly good: I noticed slight artifacting around quickly moving characters, putting this into the second tier of 3D movies (the first tier, with essentially flawless 3D, is occupied only by Pixar's "Finding Nemo"). The only important assessment is whether or not I would watch it again in 3D: some movies, most notably "Edge of Tomorrow," flatly fail this test - it's a very good movie, but the 3D is so bad it's unwatchable and I'll only re-watch it on standard BluRay. But "Inside Out" looks good (if not perfect) in 3D and passes the test.

BluRay Extras include "The Women of 'Inside Out'," "Lava," "Riley's First Date?," and the director's commentary. "The Women of 'Inside Out'" had women from the movie team talking about what they were like as kids and which movie characters they most associated with - it's ... okay. "Lava" was the short that was shown before "Inside Out" in theatres - easily Pixar's worst short, featuring an incredibly creepy singing volcano with a crap song and no particular plot. "Riley's First Date?" has us peering into the minds of the four involved parties when the first boy ever shows up at Riley's house to go out with her. In contrast to "Lava," this one is hysterically funny and beautifully summarises the crisis of emotions going on in the parents' and daughter's heads as this small scene plays out. This alone was worth the purchase price of the BluRay.

The movie commentary mostly consists of directors Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen talking about some of the more technical aspects of the development of the movie, very infrequently referencing what's going on on screen at the time. There are some moments of insight, but for the most part I found it remarkably dry and actually destructive to some of the magic of the film.

2015, dir. Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen. With Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Richard Kind, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan.

In the Line of Duty 4

Cheesy martial arts flick, $5.50 in the Walmart bin. I enjoyed it, although it's pretty bad.

2003. dir. Yuen Woo Ping. With Donnie Yen.

In the Loop

A spin-off from the BBC TV series "The Thick of it," which I haven't seen. An ensemble cast of American and British actors play politicians on both sides of the Atlantic wrangling over the possible invasion of some unnamed country (Wikipedia suggests that it's in the Middle East).

While there was a comprehensible plot, it seemed more like a glue to hold together a series of incredibly black comedy vignettes, featuring a whole bunch of incredibly unpleasant people abusing each other and the trust of their constituents. I got a couple laughs from it, but spent most of the movie feeling like I was pushing through a sludgy sea of filth. Just not my kind of humour. (The critics absolutely loved it: I'm alone on this one.)

2009, dir. Armando Iannucci. With Peter Capaldi, Chris Addison, Tom Hollander, Gina McKee, Mimi Kennedy, Anna Chlumsky, James Gandolfini, David Rasche, Steve Coogan.

Incendies

The movie opens with the reading of a will, in which the Marwan twins Jeanne and Simon (Désormeaux-Poulin and Gaudette) discover that not only is their father still alive, but they have a brother they didn't even know about. But the will doesn't explain who these people are, and requires that they be found. Jeanne sets out from Montreal to an unnamed Middle Eastern country based at least in part on Lebanon, where she begins to discover her mother's violent and incredibly unpleasant past.

The movie is well done - well acted and well filmed - but about half way through it completely lost me. Partly the emotional (and physical) brutality - I suppose they were believable, but I failed to believe that a single person could survive all of that. After the assassination, she would have been dead in seconds. Weeks at most. But that's not how the story plays out. I also had major problems with the time-line: yes, it could work, but the children aren't young enough when we see them for it to be convincing. The constant switching between the voyages of the mother and the daughter, with two very similar looking women in the same places, was also confusing and annoying - and probably intentional.

The friend I was watching it with pointed out that it was structured as a modern myth - thus the brutality, and the tie-ins to Oedipus. Apparently it worked as such for critics - but not for me.

2011, dir. Denis Villeneuve. With Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette, Rémy Girard, Abdelghafour Elaaziz.

Inception

Near future SF, with DiCaprio as Cobb, who specializes in "extraction," pulling information out of the minds of dreamers. It's not a particularly safe past-time, and a previous job has left him locked out of the United States, and thus permanently away from his children. One final job will solve all these problems ... and we all know how well those final jobs go. This being a Nolan movie, it's extremely complex as we travel through level after level of dreams and try to keep track of how the hell Cobb and his team are going to get back out ...

The visuals are spectacular, but I found I was spending so much time sorting through the details of the different layers of deception and dreams that I wasn't as emotionally involved or as interested in the characters as I would have hoped to be.

2010, dir. Christopher Nolan. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao, Tom Berenger, Michael Caine.

The Incredible Adventures of Wallace and Gromit

This DVD is a compilation of the three Wallace and Gromit episodes, "A Grand Day Out," "The Wrong Trousers," and "A Close Shave." The first episode was nominated for an Oscar but lost to Park's own "Creature Comforts," and the other two won Oscars (Best Animation). They're extremely funny and I highly recommend them. The extras on this DVD are very nice too.

1989, 1993, 1995. dir. Nick Park.

The Incredible Hulk

Not the disaster the Ang Lee version was, but I can't rate it much higher than "not bad." This is a "reboot," not a sequel, meaning we start the story again from the beginning. Norton plays the long-suffering Dr. Banner, who turns mean, huge, and green whenever he gets pissed off. Oh - and he drops 90% of his IQ points. We get a quick intro to the back story of the failed experiment that left him with this problem during the credits, but the story really starts with him living and working anonymously in Brazil, while still trying to work out how to fix his own problem. He's in Brazil because he's avoiding the American military, and one general in particular and ... I'm rambling on about the story, and should be covering why this is or isn't good. Norton's not at his best, and all the other actors are just a little bit too emotional. There's no elegance to the plot, although it makes sense. The effects are heavy-handed.

My greatest pleasures in the movie came from the small things: Lou Ferrigno got a small (but speaking) part as a campus security guard. Blake Nelson put in what was, for him, a rather muted performance - and thus more enjoyable. Culver University was actually my alma mater (the University of Toronto), and I had about fifteen minutes to identify half the buildings on campus. And the big final confrontation is on Yonge Street in downtown Toronto (standing in for New York), where you can clearly see the huge neon signs of Sam the Record Man about three times. All of which should tell you, "if that's the good stuff, this movie wasn't keeping his mind on the important stuff like the plot."

2008, dir. Louis Leterrier. With Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt, Tim Blake Nelson, Ty Burrell.

The Incredibles

Another superb movie from Pixar. A family of superheroes are forced into a superhero relocation plan after a bunch of lawsuits take superheroes off the streets ... This is an adult movie disguised as a kids' movie - both will find a lot in it, but adults will particularly appreciate the ruminations on trying to fit in when you don't really. Very funny and incredibly clever. The DVD has some good extras, and now that I own it I have to say this is one of my favourite movies ever.

2004. dir. Brad Bird. Voices of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Jason Lee.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

The second and possibly worst movie in the series. "Crystal Skull" is just as stupid, but at least the sidekicks aren't quite as moronic. Here we have "Short Round" (Ke Quan) a 12 year old kid, and Willie Scott (Capshaw), an obnoxious and whiny night club singer - who is romantically linked to Indiana Jones simply because they thought it was a good plot device, not because the two would have the slightest interest in each other.

Rough outline of the plot: Indiana gets in trouble in Shanghai, where he's poisoned, doesn't get paid for the job he did, and escapes on the wrong plane with two new sidekicks (mentioned above). The pilots leave via parachute while our hero slumbers. They survive the crash, and find themselves up against a revival of the Thuggee religion in India.

Watch the first movie, it's a blast. Avoid this.

1984, dir. Steven Spielberg. With Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Jonathan Ke Quan, Amrish Puri, D. R. Nanayakkara, Roshan Seth, Philip Stone, Raj Singh, Roy Chiao.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

The movie starts with a 12 year old Indiana Jones (Phoenix) on a Boy Scout trip in Utah, where he inevitably gets into an archaeology-related adventure. Back in his present reality (1938), he sets off on a quest to simultaneously rescue his father (Connery) and find the Holy Grail. He's accompanied by his friend Marcus Brody (Elliott) and Dr. Elsa Schneider (Doody).

Even more action packed than the first movie, and not nearly as bad as the second, this one is quite entertaining.

1989, dir. Steven Spielberg. With Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, River Phoenix, Alison Doody, Denholm Elliott, John Rhys-Davies, Julian Glover, Michael Byrne.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

The fourth Indiana Jones movie. Not as bad as "Temple of Doom," but that's not saying much at all: this is still a very bad movie. Ford is too old to be an action star, and they would have made a better film if they'd simply acknowledged he was 65 years old and had him "win" by being knowledgeable and devious. But that's not the style of the movies, and probably not what audiences wanted. But what they wanted they weren't likely to get from an "action" star that old. Everyone looked like they had a blast making the film, which always helps, but the plot was incredibly stupid. Indy survives being pretty much at ground zero of a nuclear blast, physics is ignored at every turn, and in the end the mystery is solved with "interdimensional beings." Give me the religious hokum of "Raiders" any day.

2008, dir. Steven Spielberg. With Harrison Ford, Shia LaBeouf, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, Igor Jijikine.

Infernal Affairs (orig. "Mou gan dou")

We start with a triad gang boss sending a bunch of young brothers (gang loyalty rather than blood) to become police recruits. We follow one of these as a cop, kept undercover by the police for ten years ... Apparently he's gone over to the police point of view, but finds himself up against a gang mole in the police department. An ugly game of cat and mouse ensues. Well done with very good acting by the two leads (Leung and Lau).

2002, dir. Wai-keung Lau, Siu Fai Mak. With Tony Leung, Andy Lau, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Eric Tsang.

Inglorious Basterds

The movie opens with Waltz as SS Colonel Hans Landa - aka the "Jew Hunter" - politely grilling a French farmer about the Jewish refugees Landa already knows are hidden under the floor boards. This ends badly for the Jews, although one escapes.

The movie then turns to Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Pitt) recruiting Jewish American soldiers for the Basterds, a guerrilla group that fights behind enemy lines in France. Their aim is to slaughter Germans in vicious and inhumane ways to strike fear into the German soldiers. The Basterds are then shown in action, torturing and killing and laughing.

The last member of the Jewish family under the floor boards is now living in Paris and running a cinema. She becomes unwillingly entangled with a German private and the movie Goebbels made about the private's heroic escapades.

That's the majority of the pieces. The movie is surprisingly long on talk for a Tarantino movie: long periods of people trying to pretend to be German and the tension that generates, partially dissipated by talking for too long. And then a minute of extreme violence.

Watching Tarantino movies always makes me feel dirty - this one isn't as bad as "Django Unchained," but having seen "Django" before this, I notice the stylistic cues and ideas he's carried over (and in fact has been carrying with him for years, a burden he cannot put down). In particular the "look what a sleazeball this person is, so we can have a graphic righteous kill later." It's a revenge fantasy film, with anyone in a German uniform automatically being worthy of horrendous torture and slow killing. It ends up amounting to excessively talky torture porn, with top shelf actors. If that's your thing, go to it, but I'm done with Tarantino. (Some day I plan to actually watch "Reservoir Dogs," but every time I watch one of his newer films, that day gets pushed further into the future ...)

2009, dir. Quentin Tarantino. With Christoph Waltz, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, Daniel Brühl, Til Schweiger, M&eaute;lanie Laurent.

Inkheart

Evidently my memory of the book was highly inaccurate: I thought this movie version wasn't accurate, but in most respects it's right with the book. I think the large number of elements from The Wizard of Oz series of books may have been an addition specifically for this American production (the author, Cornelia Funke, is German).

The movie's biggest problem is that it doesn't have so much a "plot arc" as an incredible mess of loops and bumps. People are captured, escape, captured again, escape again ... you get the idea. The underlying concept is fun: Fraser's character Mortimer is a bookbinder who's a "silvertongue:" when he reads a book out loud, the characters he reads are drawn into our world (and someone from our world goes into theirs). He pulled a couple villains (and the rather dubious Dustfinger) out of a book called "Inkheart" when his daughter was three, before he realized what was going on. He hasn't read to her in the intervening nine years. But now, his villains (and Bettany as Dustfinger, quite good) have located him, and his daughter's life is in danger.

It's pretty and the idea is good, but - as mentioned - the plot structure doesn't work well on screen. Passable as a kid's movie, doesn't have much to offer adults.

2008, dir. Iain Softley. With Brendan Fraser, Eliza Bennett, Paul Bettany, Helen Mirren, Rafi Gavron, Andy Serkis, Jim Broadbent, Sienna Guillory.

Insurgent

Tris and Four are back, only five days after the end of the previous movie . They're hiding out in Amity (one of the factions), but get in trouble when Peter (Teller) deliberately provokes Tris into a fight - Amity believes deeply in non-violence. They end up looking for the Factionless and the members of Dauntless who left Dauntless after the Abnegation massacre (which is weird, because the whole point of the previous movie was that Tris and Four just barely prevented that massacre ...).

The writing is better in places: Veronica Roth (the author of the original books) was trying to write characters in the first movie who were morally ambiguous, but it wasn't very effective. This time it's working better. But the action sequences - even if some of them are "in a sim," are often way stupid and over-the-top (but you have to wonder if that's the fault of the author, the screenwriters, or the director). And Woodley's acting is starting to get on my nerves. She's doing a fine job of the sobby teen girl with too much weight on her shoulders, but she's not bringing much depth to it. And you need some depth when you're running for three-plus movies. So it's a wash - still mediocre SF.

2015, dir. Robert Schwentke. With Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Octavia Spencer, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoë Kravitz, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Maggie Q, Naomi Watts, Kate Winslet.

The Intern

De Niro plays Ben Whittaker, a 70 year old retiree who gets bored of retirement and takes a place in a senior citizen intern program at "About the Fit," a fast-growing internet clothing company. He's assigned to their CEO and founder, Jules Ostin (Hathaway). She has no time for him, but inevitably they spend time together and grow on each other. Ben is practical and intelligent, and Jules is over-worked and stressed.

The movie is a comedy, and to that end pretty much all of the characters around the two leads are drawn in broad strokes - they're not particularly believable. But when De Niro or Hathaway are on screen - particularly together - the movie works. It's a gentle and charming comedy, a pleasure to watch when you want a break from depressing movies.

2015, dir. Nancy Meyers. With Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Rene Russo, Anders Holm, Andrew Rannells, Adam DeVine, Zack Pearlman, Jason Orley.

The Interpreter

In some ways this is a very successful film, and in other ways, it's pretty crappy. It's biggest drawback is its complexity: you spend too much time figuring out what's going on and not enough caring about it. And once you put it all together, it's still kind of hard to care. I'm also getting really tired of Kidman in her "edgy and nervous" role, which she takes on here as a U.N. interpreter who overhears a conversation threatening the life of a visiting politician. As the movie unfolds, her involvement becomes suspect for various reasons. Kidman was okay, but Penn's performance was superb.

2005, dir. Sydney Pollack. With Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn.

Interstellar

Nolan's latest opens on a near future world with technology much like ours, but with "the Blight" slowly wiping out every food crop man has. Cooper (McConaughey) is an engineer and ex-pilot, a reluctant farmer raising a couple of extremely intelligent children. Until a poltergeist leads him and his daughter to the location of the remains of NASA, where he gets re-hired.

Telling you more would A) blow a lot of the plot, and B) cause your brain to melt at the staggeringly bad science. Apparently Nolan went to a huge amount of trouble to ensure he had a as realistic-looking a black hole as is known to modern science ... This sits rather poorly with one of the themes of the movie, that love transcends time and space. I was watching the movie with a friend, and we got into a big argument about emotional truth in movies (she felt this was what Nolan was going for) and scientific rigour (which I felt the movie lacked, in truckloads ... and anyway why can't you have both?).

I felt the movie was over-long and unsuccessfully philosophical. It is, I suppose, the spiritual successor to "2001," although not as good (I was never a huge fan).

2014, dir. Christopher Nolan. With Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, John Lithgow, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, David Gyasi, Matt Damon.

The Intouchables

French, English subtitles. The story is nothing new: two men of radically different backgrounds and ages become good friends. That it's based on a true story is very sweet, but doesn't change the fact that we've seen this many times before. But you should see it anyway, because they did it very well indeed and it's one of the funniest movies I've seen in months - perhaps years. It's broken box office records in France.

Sy plays Driss, a young offender no longer welcome in his mother's home in Paris. He applies for a job as a caregiver to the very rich tetraplegic Phillippe (Cluzet) simply to placate the legal system and get a signature. Phillippe promptly hires him, having become disgusted with all the other applicants with their advanced degrees and pity.

Most of the humour is drawn from the clash of cultures - man who loves high art vs. man from the projects - and they also draw heavily on quadriplegic jokes. It sounds awful, but it's done with such charm and naiveté that it just works - it feels as if this is how it would (or did) happen.

I had the good fortune to be at the Toronto premiere, attended by Nakache and Toledano. Someone asked them about the title, and their explanation didn't really make any sense to me: something about not wanting it to be a comedy or a drama, and also somehow invoking the Indian Untouchable cast. They had worked with Sy before - he wasn't an actor at all when they first hired him - and wrote the movie from the ground up for him, knowing his behaviours. They also claimed to have little choice for a man of "that generation" for the Phillippe character. Regardless, both characters are played very well indeed. Although I'm not sure I understand Sy winning the César for best actor, as good as he was. The directors are a couple of very funny guys, and I look forward to seeing their future movies. They chose the subject based on a 2004 documentary they saw on late-night TV, and went to visit the man in question. He told them they were welcome to make a film about his life - but that it had damn well better be a comedy. And it is.

2011, dir. Oliver Nakache and Éric Toledano. With Omar Sy, François Cluzet, Audrey Fleurot, Anne Le Ny.

Ip Man

Yen plays the title character. Ip Man is a Wing Chun practitioner in the town of Foshan: the movie opens by showing that while Foshan teams with martial arts schools, Ip Man (who has no school) is the best martial artist. We then move forward to the arrival of the Japanese with their 1937 invasion, and the various fall-out from that.

The movie is loosely based on the life of Ip Man, who later went on to become a very famous martial arts instructor - including teaching Bruce Lee. Yen plays fairly well in the lead, but is somewhat unbelievably noble - possibly the result of having living members of the Ip family consulting and on set. The fights are fairly good, choreographed by Sammo Hung and emphasizing the Wing Chun style. Production values are high and the story is ... well, perhaps not accurate to Ip's life, but a good historical recreation. Nevertheless, I didn't find it very involving.

2008, dir. Wilson Yip. With Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Lynn Hung, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, Gordon Lam Ka-tung, Fan Siu-wong.

The Ipcress File

Written by Len Deighton. The central idea is a psychological attack on a person that just looks silly 40 years later, but if you can get through that part it's a very decent British spy movie. Definitely 60s, and the music sounds like a James Bond movie from the period.

1965, dir. Sidney J. Furie. With Michael Caine, Nigel Green, Guy Doleman, Sue Lloyd, Frank Gatliff.

Iron & Silk

Based on Salzman's book about his experiences teaching English in China for two years. Salzman plays himself (with a different name, "Mark Franklin," why?) - he's incredibly wooden, but where do you find a decent actor with martial arts skills like that? Master Pan also plays himself - mostly good, since he's portrayed as a grumpy old guy and he does that well. This is not a fast-paced movie, but the cultural education embedded in it is wonderful, and the Wushu lessons he took are interesting. Worth seeing.

1990, dir. Shirley Sun. With Mark Salzman, Vivian Wu, Jeanette Lin Tsui, Qingfu Pan.

Iron Man

Another of Marvel's comic franchises brought to the screen, and done well. Downey is perfect as the obnoxious, impulsive, and extremely intelligent Tony Stark. Bridges and Toub were really good too, the special effects were excellent, and the story is one of the better ones - particularly the first 45 minutes with Stark and Yinsen (Toub) in the cave, working on the first Iron Man suit. I bought the DVD as soon as it came out - but then, I'm a sucker for superhero stuff.

2008, dir. Jon Favreau. With Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Leslie Bibb, Shaun Toub, Faran Tahir, Clark Gregg.

Iron Man 2

Cumulatively, the critics are right: this isn't as good as the original, but it's not bad. This movie finds Tony Stark (Downey) slowly dying from blood poisoning brought on by the palladium reactor in his chest that's theoretically keeping him alive. His behaviour becomes erratic, and it doesn't help when Anton Vanko (Rourke) shows up as Whiplash - a guy with an Iron-Man-like suit, electrified whips, and a very bad attitude. Then Rhodey (Howard rather unfairly got the boot, replaced by Cheadle ... admittedly a better actor) steals one of the other Iron Man suits and there are fights. Several, in fact. If it wasn't the sequel to one of the best superhero movies ever made, no one would ever have complained about this. So: not bad, but not great.

2010, dir. Jon Favreau. With Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell.

Iron Man 3

Tony Stark (Downey) is having trouble sleeping after the events of The Avengers (possibly as a result of PTSD) - and his latest Iron Man suit is a little buggy. When he issues a direct challenge to a terrorist (The Mandarin, Kingsley), his house is blown up and he nearly loses Pepper Potts (Paltrow), possibly the only person in the world he cares about. He goes on the run, trying to figure out what's going on and how he can fix it.

There are so many flaws of logic the movie makes me want to cry. Simultaneously, it's got a great story that sees Tony Stark really struggling with his demons - a story very nearly as good as the first movie, which I think set something of a gold standard for superhero movies. It's a strange combination: go in knowing that you're going to find some failures of logic, but enjoy the excellent story.

2013, dir. Shane Black. With Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Jon Favreau.

Iron Monkey

I first saw this years before its North American release as an extremely poor quality bootleg rented at a speciality video store in Toronto. Despite the quality issues, I really enjoyed it. So much so that I purchased the DVD when it became available. The wire work is way over the top (in the manner of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"), but wonderfully done. The fights are hugely entertaining, and the plot ... well, it's not as bad as most martial arts movies.

1993, dir. Yuen Wo Ping. With Donnie Yen, Rogguang Yu, Jean Wang, Sze-Man Tsang.

Iron Sky

A Finnish B movie (the dialogue is English or subtitled German) with a concept that entertains the hell out of most SF fans. Many of the Nazis left the Earth after the Second World War, and set up a base on the dark side of the Moon. In 2018, after an American manned mission to the dark side, the Nazis are returning to take over the earth.

The riffs on "Dr. Strangelove" and "Downfall" ("Der Untergang") were mildly entertaining, but not particularly successful. And their mockery of the American presidency (and pretty much everything else American) was too heavy-handed to actually be effective. The effects are reasonably good, retro in a manner reminiscent of "Sky Captain." Unfortunately, bad acting and dialogue are the order of the day, and the nonsensical plot in particular sank the endeavour.

2012, dir. Timo Vuorensola. With Julia Dietze, Christopher Kirby, Götz Otto, Peta Sergeant, Udo Kier.

Ironclad

The story is primarily about the defence of Rochester Castle by a small group of rebels against King John (Giamatti) in 1215. There is some basis of fact in these general details, but that wasn't really what they were going for in the movie. Purefoy plays Templar Knight Thomas Marshall who leads the defence, our main character. And what's with the title? It has no connection with the history at play here, no mention is made of it in the movie, and "Ironclads" were a very well known type of warship used during the American Civil war, making the title staggeringly misleading.

The film is already notorious for the amount of blood spilt. If they'd spent as much time on the fight sequences as they did on the splatter, at least they would have had a decent action movie. But instead most of the sword and axe swings look a lot more like "I've got to be careful not to hurt my fellow actor" than "I'm fighting for my life." The castle group is made up of walking clichés: noble Templar knight, spunky young wife married to unloving older lord, and the dialogue reflects this same problem. I was disappointed in Purefoy, who seemed to have brought his glower from "Solomon Kane" and not much else, and Giamatti was decent but even he was struggling to bring life to a shoddy script. I thought Flemyng was surprisingly decent in his clichéd role of "angry mercenary," and it was a pleasure to see Crook doing a straight role instead of playing "comedic weird-looking dude." Mara looked pretty, but showed no particular talent - although I don't know if I should blame this on her or the awful script.

At least it had trebuchets. But even that was kind of messed up because, sure, you stone the castle to wear down the defenders, but when your attacking army actually makes it over the walls, you STOP hurling stones because you don't want to kill your own people. Typical of the movie: "it looks cool so let's use it, never mind practicality or historical accuracy."

2011, dir. Jonathan English. With James Purefoy, Paul Giamatti, Brian Cox, Kate Mara, Aneurin Barnard, Vladimir Kulich, Derek Jacobi, Charles Dance, Jason Flemyng, Jamie Foreman, Mackenzie Crook, Rhys Parry Jones.

The Island

Different critics see different source material, but most of them, myself included, see something highly derivative of its predecessors. Take "Logan's Run," add a big chunk of Larry Niven's organ banks, add a touch of "The Matrix" for spice, plus action, action, action (hey, it's Bay) and you have this mildly entertaining and unoriginal movie with big stars and stuff blowing up all over.

2005, dir. Michael Bay. With Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi, Sean Bean, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Clarke Duncan.

Island Etude

A Taiwanese movie about a young man with very bad hearing heading out on a bike right around the island of Taiwan. It's very low budget, and seems to mostly be an effort to show off the culture of the island, couched as the kind of oddball stories you encounter when you travel. He encounters a directionless young biker, and ends up staying a night at his house - where he finds out just how messed up the man's family life is. He helps a young Lithuanian woman figure out what train to take, without ever speaking the same language. He meets - a couple times - a movie crew making a fantastically ridiculous-sounding movie. He visits his grandparents, and walks with his grandfather in a religious ceremony as a goddess is moved. He spends a night at a school, and talks to a retiring teacher. He meets a group of retired women on a discount bus tour. And he meets another bicyclist doing an around-the-island tour, whose best friend and cycling buddy had died a couple years prior. And when he gets home, the director of the weird movie gets in touch and says he wants to do a movie about the cyclist's trip around the island - closing the loop and making the movie painfully self-referential.

The movie is surprisingly charming, and an interesting tour of the country of Taiwan. The cinematography is intermittently excellent, although the rest of the time quite pedestrian. Not particularly gripping, and I don't think I'd ever want to revisit it.

2006, dir. Chen Huai-En. With Ming-hsiang Tung, Danny Deng, Saya, Tender Huang, Darren, Hsui-hui Chen, Ruta Palionyte, Li-Yin Yang, Nien-Jen Wu.

The Island of Dr. Moreau

Based on the novel by H.G. Wells, starring Brando as Moreau, Kilmer as his assistant, and Thewlis as the visitor through whose eyes we see. Despite the fact that Thewlis is the main character in the movie, the DVD found no room for him on the cover because of course Brando and Kilmer were the bigger draw. And I have to admit, they both did a fine job of being completely and totally psychotic. Thewlis is a good actor, but here he seems to be trying to live up to seriously conflicting instructions: being the central character in something that gets characterized as "horror," he never does anything sensible (although he's painted as a sensible guy). Not good as horror, not good as anything else, this is a pretty poor movie.

1996, dir. John Frankenheimer. With David Thewlis, Val Kilmer, Marlon Brando, Fairuza Balk, Ron Perlman, Marco Hofschneider, Temuera Morrison, Daniel Rigney.

It Could Happen to You

New York policeman Charlie Lang (Cage) finds himself unable to provide a tip at a diner and promises waitress Yvonne Biasi (Fonda) half of whatever he wins in the lottery that night. When the ticket he picked up actually wins $4 million, his wife (Perez) is mightily unimpressed that he intends to carry through on his promise.

The core of the story has some basis in truth: cop, waitress, splitting the lottery winnings. But the relative ages of the players, the divorces and romances, those are Hollywood fictions for our entertainment. Cage and Fonda are over-the-top sweet, giving away money at every turn to make other people's lives better. Perez and Tucci (as Biasi's estranged husband) are over-the-top money-grubbing horrible people. But Cage and Fonda manage to show a certain joy in life that brings considerable charm to the movie and makes it fun to watch. Overall, a sweet urban fairy tale.

1994, dir. Andrew Bergman. With Nicolas Cage, Bridget Fonda, Rosie Perez, Isaac Hayes, Wendell Pierce, Stanley Tucci, Seymour Cassel.

It Happened One Night

Newspaper reporter Peter Warne (Gable) has a rather adversarial relationship with his editor, and the most recent round has got him fired. On the bus back to New York he meets spoiled millionairess runaway newlywed Ellen Andrews (Colbert) who he alternately insults and assists. Their ride back to New York is turned into an epic adventure by missed buses, lack of money, and washed out bridges. Ellen is ditzy and naive, but also quite smart. Peter has an incredibly acerbic tongue, but is basically a decent person.

Somewhere between a romcom and a screwball comedy, I found large chunks of it silly or annoying. But there are a couple scenes (particularly their flight of fancy as a squabbling married couple in a hotel room) that had me in stitches. One of the better films of the period. Reminded me a lot of "My Man Godfrey," a similar movie made two years later.

1934. dir. Frank Capra. With Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert.

Italian for Beginners (orig. "Italiensk for Begyndere")

The structure and acting of this Danish film are a little uneven, and it looks like it was occasionally shot hand held for no particular reason, or perhaps because of lack of funds. It starts with several deaths, introduces us to a group of Danes taking a weird Italian class, and ends with relationships. Not bad, but rather forgettable.

2000, dir. Lone Scherfig. With Anders W. Berthelsen, Anette Støvelbæk, Ann Eleonora Jørgensen, Peter Gantzler, Lars Kaalund, Sara Indrio Jensen.

The Italian Job (2003)

An enjoyable and action-packed heist film, this remains possibly my favourite in the genre. Some clever ideas and a memorable set of characters make this worth seeing.

2003, dir. F. Gary Gray. With Mark Wahlberg, Donald Sutherland, Jason Statham, Edward Norton, Charlize Theron, Seth Green, Mos Def.

The Italian Job (1969)

I saw this a couple years after seeing the 2003 version, but I think my reaction would have been similar had I seen it first. The humour is ... well, there's a lot of it but pretty much none of it works in 2006. The Minis are fun, and, along with the main character's name, are nearly the only thing to survive into the new version. I found the movie irritating in the extreme - see the new version instead.

1969, dir. Peter Collinson. With Michael Caine, Noel Coward, Benny Hill.

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

A dying escaped convict tells a few people where he buried some cash, and they all rush to try to recover it. It's very long, and the humour was definitely not my style. If you have an urge to see this, I'd recommend you see "Rat Race" (2001) instead. The idea is virtually identical, but the humour is more ... up-to-date. It's equally forgettable.

1963. Dir. Stanley Kramer. With ... a cast of thousands.

It's a Wonderful Life

One of the most famous movies ever made, now indelibly associated with Christmas because that's when it's always shown on TV (although the association within the movie is quite strong). Stewart plays a compassionate business man locked into a small town life not of his choosing, and when financial difficulties hit his small firm he considers suicide. A mildly incompetent angel is sent to help him, and ends up showing him what would have happened if he'd never been born. Stewart is good, Reed is luminous. 60 years of glittering fame has left the movies something of a cliché, but it's still enjoyable and very touching.

1946, dir. Frank Capra. With Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore.

It's Kind of a Funny Story

Gilchrist plays Craig, a 16 year old stressed out about his life and contemplating suicide. He checks himself into a psychiatric hospital - where he finds himself housed with the adults as the teen wing is "under renovation." He finds himself taken under the wing of Bobby (Galifianakis) and falling for fellow patient Noelle (Roberts).

Much of the story is narrated by Craig, and we see some chunks as fantasy flash-backs. It's fairly clear that while he's pretty badly stressed, he's not really that badly off. On the other hand, the stay in the ward offers good psychiatric care and some life lessons (plus weird fellow patients). It's all a little too light-hearted, but passably well done.

Gilchrist is excellent as the uncertain Craig. Roberts is beautiful, but should have been played with more of an edge given what she was in for - this could be the director's fault rather than Roberts'. And it was nice to see Galifianakis in a role that required some dramatic skills rather than straight comedy: it turns out he actually has the skills.

2010, dir. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. With Keir Gilchrist, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Roberts, Viola Davis, Zoë Kravitz, Bernard White.

I've Heard the Mermaids Singing

I picked this up because I really liked Rozema's "Mansfield Park" and because it was very well reviewed. I was destined to extreme disappointment. Very surreal, a morality play in a distinctly Canadian style, and our guide is a clueless child in an adult's body (McCarthy).

1987, dir. Patricia Rozema. With Sheila McCarthy, Paule Baillargeon, Ann-Marie MacDonald.

iZombie

Rob Thomas's most noted follow-up to Veronica Mars - he's done other stuff, but this one got some hype. It's an adaptation of comic book series of the same name. NOTE: My review is based on watching the first two episodes only.

Liv Moore is a medical resident, who within five minutes of the first episode, has gone to a party, seen a zombie outbreak, been bitten, died, and returned to something resembling a normal life as a secret zombie. We're shortly set up with her new job at the morgue, the morgue attendant who has guessed her condition but is very supportive, her need to eat brains and her resultant ability to see into the lives of the dead, her new cop buddy with whom she solves crime, and the suave, intelligent and evil nemesis zombie. All of which is bothersome in its incredibly traditional and blatant set-up of an attempt at a long-running show, but the big failure in my view was the writing, which is mediocre.

Accusations have been levelled at the series that it's not just a mash-up of zombie and detective series, but specifically a mash-up of "Veronica Mars" and "Dollhouse." I haven't watched "Dollhouse," but with Liv taking on aspects of the people whose brains she eats, I can see it. And I wasn't seeing good enough writing to pull this thing out of its derivative state.

2015. With Rose McIver, Malcolm Goodwin, Rahul Kohli, Robert Buckley, David Anders.


J

Jack Reacher

Cruise plays the title character, a former military police man and investigator. When a sniper kills five people and is arrested, the sniper is arrested - and Reacher appears remarkably swiftly after the sniper requests his presence.

Based on a Lee Child novel, this is definitely an above-average action film. I hesitate to call it a detective/mystery film as there's too much action, but there are major elements of that too. Reacher's investigation triggers retaliation of increasing virulence, and he fights back while assisting the sniper's attorney (played by Pike). Well constructed and enjoyable.

2012, dir. Christopher McQuarrie. With Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, Werner Herzog, David Oyelowo, Robert Duvall, Alexia Fast, Vladimir Sizov, Joseph Sikora.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

I have friends who adore Lee Child's "Jack Reacher" stories: they refuse to watch Cruise in the role as he doesn't capture the essence of the character. If nothing else, Jack Reacher is 6'5", and Tom Cruise is 5'6" - not quite the commanding presence that Reacher is supposed to have. After two movies, I'd say it goes deeper than that: Cruise has created a competent and amazingly non-descript and uninteresting guy.

This time, he's rescuing Major Susan Turner (Smulders) - very nearly as competent as he is, but nevertheless over her head trying to figure out a series of mysterious killings in the military apparently caused by one of their external contractors. There's also a mildly interesting subplot about a young girl who may or may not be Reacher's illegitimate daughter.

The movie goes for action and tension, and achieves neither - the action is nothing new, and the characters just aren't appealing enough to invest in. They're fine, but the whole thing is too generic to appeal.

2016, dir. Edward Zwick. With Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger, Holt McCallany, Austin Hebert, Robert Catrini, Robert Knepper, Jessica Stroup.

Jack the Giant Slayer

Singer looked at one point like he was going to be one of the world's great directors. Instead, he's become one of the world's biggest purveyors of high budget dull cinema.

The story is familiar to all ... although Wikipedia points out it isn't quite what I was thinking, instead combining two fairy tales: "Jack and the Beanstalk" and "Jack the Giant Killer." Young Jack loves the story of King Erik and the giants. When he grows into adulthood, he comes into possession of magic beans. They grow into beanstalks that lead to a kingdom of giants, and Jack must help some of the king's men rescue the princess.

Singer does absolutely nothing interesting with the ideas involved, relying purely on spectacle to power this high budget bonanza of special effects. It does look pretty, but, aside from the special effects, nothing at all will surprise you and you'll probably leave yawning. Hoult is dull in the lead, Tomlinson does little to help, even the normally reliable Tucci was surprisingly lame as a sleazeball prince ... McGregor stole the scenes he was in - not because he was brilliant, but because nobody else was even trying. A sleeper.

2013, dir. Bryan Singer. With Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane, Bill Nighy, John Kassir, Eddie Marsan, Ewen Bremner.

The Jacket

"The Jacket" didn't do particularly well in theatres, and didn't do terribly well with critics. It's been classified as a "horror thriller," which seems a bit of an overstatement to me. I think this is the third time I've watched it: the creepy and claustrophobic atmosphere combined with good acting make it highly memorable.

The story of a Gulf War veteran (Brody) accused of murder during an event he can't remember and put into an insane asylum. There he's experimented on by a doctor (Kristofferson) who injects him with a drug and stuffs him in a straight jacket and into a morgue drawer repeatedly. While in the titular jacket he has visions of the past - and the future, although it's less than clear if they're visions or he's actually there. Weird, very frenetic in a retro-Seventies kind of way, loaded to the gills with good acting. Includes an early American appearance by a little known actor called "Daniel Craig," who was excellent. Knightley and Leigh were very good, and Brody was outstanding.

One of the reasons I don't accept the classification as "horror" is that the ending, while sad, is also surprisingly positive - not the type of ending you see on horror films. The whole thing is creepy and disorienting in a way that really forwards the ideas of the film. Not for everybody, but if it's your kind of thing I highly recommend it.

2005. Dir. John Maybury. With Adrien Brody, Keira Knightley, Kris Kristofferson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Brad Renfro, Daniel Craig.

Jackie Chan's First Strike (orig. "Jing cha gu shi 4: Zhi jian dan ren wu")

Jackie Chan's second major North American release after "Rumble in the Bronx." A bit of a James Bond ripoff, complete with multiple locations, crazy stunts, gunfights on skis, evil Russian agents, and nuclear weapons. More importantly, it includes some of his best fights and stunts ever.

1996, dir. Stanley Tong. With Jackie Chan.

The James Bond Story

It's important to place this in context: a TV movie filmed while "The World is Not Enough" was in production, the third of the four Brosnan Bonds. It's clear that Apted, who directed "The World is Not Enough" was trying to make huge changes to the franchise and the relationship of the character to the world, but they come off as relatively small ones - particularly as seen after the release in 2006 of "Casino Royale." But it's an interesting documentary about the series, and what the directors, writers, and actors thought they were doing. Sexism, explosives, women, gadgets, murder, and bad one-liners: how we love it. Or so their box office receipts say.

2000, dir. Chris Hunt. With Sean Connery, Roger Moore, George Lazenby, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, Jane Seymour, Maud Adams.

The Jane Austen Book Club

A group of women - and one man who's never read Austen before - get together for six months to discuss Jane Austen's books. Swicord resorts to the practise of over-emphasizing neuroses and quirks for the first half hour to introduce us to the characters. Things even out after that and get better, although I felt they worked too hard to fit the Austen story lines into the participant's lives. But for the most part it works, and is quite enjoyable. I thought Dancy was quite good.

2007, dir. Robin Swicord. With Maria Bello, Emily Blunt, Hugh Dancy, Kathy Baker, Amy Brenneman, Maggie Grace, Jimmy Smits, Marc Blucas.

Japanese Story

Geologist/programmer Collette is co-opted into taking a visiting Japanese gentleman into the Australian desert in the hope that he will buy her company's software. In the nature of this type of buddy/romance movie, they at first hate each other. Then things proceed much as you'd expect in your average Hollywood movie, until halfway through when everything goes sideways. It's unusual, it's different, it's remarkably long-winded for a short movie, and I didn't like it much. Collette's acting was good, as you'd expect. Tunashima wasn't bad.

2003, dir. Sue Brooks. With Toni Collette, Gotaro Tunashima, Matthew Dyktynski, Lynette Curran, Yumiko Tanaka.

Jason Bourne

The movie became somewhat infamous on release because Matt Damon (who is playing Jason Bourne for the fourth time) speaks something like 12 lines of dialogue in the entire 123 minute runtime. Other people talk (it's not devoid of dialogue), but dialogue just isn't that important in this movie.

The movie starts with a voice-over from Bourne saying "I remember everything." In the unlikely event that you haven't seen any of the previous movies, this is a big deal because all three of the previous movies have centred around chunks of Bourne's life he doesn't recall, a problem created by his induction into the covert program that made him what he is. In the first movie, he couldn't remember his entire life. Having opened with "I remember everything," they then make the movie about something he can't remember. And you'll also be unsurprised to hear that there's another covert program that Bourne unwillingly gets entangled in: this time it's called "Iron Hand."

The entire movie is one chase after another, through streets, malls, squares, and hotels. I'll give it credit: it did a good enough job that I got tense watching it, but the whole thing is a complete recycling of every previous Bourne movie (perhaps not "Legacy" ... maybe they should have, at least it was different).

If you want to see the same crap that you've seen three times before re-arranged into a slightly different order, here you go. This is for you. But I'm considering going back to re-watch the first Damon/Bourne movie to wash the nasty taste of this recycled tripe out of my mind.

2016, dir. Paul Greengrass. With Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Julia Stiles, Riz Ahmed.

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back

If you've seen Smith's previous four movies, this is intermittently amusing. Otherwise (unless you have a huge love of dick and fart jokes) you might want to pass. On the plus side, the movie is blessed with a staggering number of amusing cameos. "Restricted for nonstop crude and sexual humour, pervasive strong language and drug content." Not that I have a problem with that - if it's funny.

2001, dir. Kevin Smith. With Jason Mewes, Shannon Elizabeth, Kevin Smith, and many more.

Jazz - Swing: Pure Pleasure

Part 5 of Burns's epic "Jazz" documentary for PBS. Covers the likes of Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holliday, Glen Miller, and Artie Shaw. He certainly takes his time, stretching stuff out with more photos and music than were strictly necessary. Good if you're up for the leisurely pace, but I found it a bit tiresome in spots. Good information though.

2001, dir. Ken Burns.

JCVD

Van Damme plays himself, or perhaps a very unfortunate version of himself. Short on money, making B movies, and losing the custody battle for his daughter to one of his ex-wives, he stops at a post office/bank in his home town of Brussels where he gets embroiled in a robbery in progress.

The movie is proof positive that the man can actually act, and because it got much wider distribution that his previous martial arts flicks, it could yet save his career. It's a truly bizarre and extremely self-referential film: I'm not sure I'd want to watch it again, but it's fascinating and pretty good. Van Damme's six minute monologue was done in a single take, and was worthy of Ralph Feinnes rather than a B movie action star.

2008, dir. Mabrouk El Mechri. With Jean-Claude Van Damme, François Damiens, François Beukelaers, Liliane Becker, Zinedine Soualem.

Jerry Maguire

Jerry Maguire is a sports agent suffering from an attack of conscience. In a moment of clarity he writes a mission statement for sports management, suggesting a number of changes to the business model to improve client relations (and incidentally cutting income). He's fired, and finds himself with only one overbearing client (Gooding), and one employee (Dorothy Boyd, played by Zellweger). Things get more complicated when Jerry and Boyd have a night together.

Everyone is a little (and occasionally a lot) over the top in this one. I have no doubt sports agents are occasionally almost as loud and obnoxious as they're portrayed here, but it did get tiresome: I was disappointed in that aspect of the movie. But it's funny and it's intelligent, and worth a watch.

Quotes: "Show me the money!" "You complete me." "You had me at hello." Sound familiar? Every one of them originated here.

1996, dir. Cameron Crowe. With Tom Cruise, Renée Zellweger, Cuba Gooding Jr., Bonnie Hunt, Jay Mohr, Jerry O'Connell, Beau Bridges, Kelly Preston.

Jessica Jones, Season 1

Let's be clear: my review is based on viewing episodes 1-5, reading Wikipedia summaries of 6-12, and watching episode 13 (the final one) of the first season.

Jessica Jones (Ritter) is an alcoholic private detective with super powers and a bad history. She's also a Netflix series and a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the first episode we find out that she's immensely strong, and that she's still trying to deal with the weeks or months she was under the control of "Kilgrave," another "one of them" as one of the more human people in the series puts it. Kilgrave controls people's minds simply by speaking to them, and Jessica is horrified to find out he's still alive.

Her fight with Kilgrave (Tennant) is the primary element of the series, but there are a number of other people who are (or become) involved: her foster sister (Taylor), Luke Cage (Colter - long-time comic fans will be unsurprised to hear he has impenetrable skin), a cop (Traval), a university student (Moriarty), the drugged-up neighbour (Darville), and a sleazy but very effective lawyer (Moss). But after five episodes I found the darkness and unremitting paranoia (anyone she meets may be controlled by Kilgrave, and may try to hurt her, her friends, each other, or themselves - whatever entertains Kilgrave at the time) too much - especially given the relatively modest skills of the script writers. The writing's not bad ... it's just not particularly good. It's a good idea, but I don't like stuff that unendingly dark. Thus the truncated viewing experience.

2015. With Krysten Ritter, Mike Coulter, Rachel Taylor, Wil Traval, Erin Moriarty, Eka Darville, Carrie-Anne Moss, David Tennant.

La Jetée

I wanted to see this because it's the movie that "12 Monkeys" was based on. I expected it to be weird, and it was: a short (28 minutes), a sequence of black-and-white photos, told in voice-over. After World War III the remnants of humanity form a totalitarian government underground (under Paris in this case), and our hero is thrown into a time travel experiment. This is something of a classic - it must be, Criterion put it on DVD ... The format may sound very limiting, but the movie is both remarkably disturbing and very memorable. Highly recommended.

1962, dir. Chris Marker. With Jean Négroni, Hélène Chatelain, Davos Hanich, Jacques Ledoux.

Jet Lag (orig. Décalage Horaire)

Eminently forgettable cookie-cutter romantic comedy. In the first half Félix (Reno) and Rose (Binoche) - trapped in a crippled airport - wave their neuroses and problems about like flags, making each hate the other. Incidentally, the audience probably loses all interest in them too. In the second half they soften and get interested in each other, show each other the way to a better life. We're supposed to believe that the influence they have on each other in a 24 hour period will change them forever?

2002, dir. Danièle Thompson. With Jean Reno, Juliette Binoche, Sergi López.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

A documentary about Jiro Ono and his tiny little sushi restaurant in a shopping mall attached to a subway station in Tokyo ... a tiny little sushi place with three Michelin stars. That's the top rating from possibly the most prestigious restaurant guide in the world.

Jiro is 85 years old and still works all day every day at the restaurant with his older son. His younger son was thrown out of the nest a decade previously(?) to start his own restaurant - the elder son is ready to run a restaurant, but is expected to inherit Jiro's.

The movie makers talked to a bunch of Jiro's suppliers, both his sons, two or three of his apprentices (current and former), and one Japanese restaurant reviewer who thinks Jiro walks on water. Not a single unkind word is said about Jiro, except by Jiro himself he acknowledges that he wasn't much of a father. The sushi looks absolutely mouth-watering, but the whole thing read like a hagiography. I enjoyed it, but wouldn't suggest anyone rush out to see it.

2011, dir. David Gelb. With Jiro Ono.

Jodorowsky's Dune

Jodorowsky became infamous in the early 1970s for his violent and incredibly weird surrealist movies "El Topo" and "The Holy Mountain." After that, he got the rights to Frank Herbert's Dune. This movie details the extensive work he and the crew he assembled did on the movie. I knew before I even saw this movie that I would have hated Jodorowsky's Dune had it actually made it to theatres (because of the extensive and incredibly bizarre changes he made to my favourite work of science fiction), but it was fascinating to hear how he went about it. The man drew some of the world's best talent around him with remarkable ease. Where it all stalled out was that Hollywood studios weren't interested in making the 6-to-20-hour weird vision that he'd created because of the cost and the fact that it wouldn't sell. The latter point didn't particularly concern him: the artistic vision must be followed. Jodorowsky saying "I am raping Frank Herbert" seemed to best represent his view of how to translate the book to the screen.

Weirdly mesmerising: Jodorowsky is bat-shit crazy, but utterly fascinating. It also has a bit of the appeal of a car wreck: you can't look away. And the argument made in the movie that his treatment of the movie was influential in Hollywood despite never making it to film does carry some weight.

2013, dir. Frank Pavich. With Alejandro Jodorowsky, Michel Seydoux, H. R. Giger, Chris Foss, Nicolas Winding Refn, Amanda Lear, Richard Stanley.

Joe

Those who've watched movies for many years are aware that Nicholas Cage is fully capable of acting ... it's just that he does it so rarely. He usually prefers to chew the scenery, a thing for which he's often very well paid. It's probably easier than real acting too. But occasionally he does put in the effort, and we get a movie like this one. Joe (Cage) is a pretty ordinary guy. He lives somewhere in the Southern U.S., running his own small business, and most of the time manages to keep his rage issues under control. But when he hires and eventually befriends a young man (Tye Sheridan) who's sometimes beaten by his alcoholic father, things get a little messy.

Not exactly a ray-of-sunshine movie (although there's some hope), it's well acted and a decent character study.

2013, dir. David Gordon Green. With Nicholas Cage, Tye Sheridan, Gary Poulter, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Heather Kafka, Brian Mays, Sue Rock, Adriene Mishler, Dana Freitag.

Joe Versus the Volcano

I saw this when it came out and didn't quite "get it." Watching it again in 2012 I wouldn't say I loved it, but it's a pretty entertaining film. Surreal and absurdist, but entertaining.

Hanks stars as Joe, a bit of a hypochondriac, who works at a miserable job in the advertising department for a medical company that makes anal probes. When he's diagnosed as having an incurable disease and about five months to live, he quits his job in spectacular fashion and asks out the coworker he's liked for years. The next day he's offered a great deal of money for jumping into a volcano to appease a tribal god.

Hanks is hilarious, Ryan is amusing, charming, and sexy in her three roles. I think part of the reason this movie doesn't entirely work (it was a box office flop, but Wikipedia claims it now has a cult following) is because, despite its surrealism, parts of it still seem exactly like our world - most notably to me when Hanks is out shopping for clothes. It should either have been more surreal, or more real - but got stuck in between. Still, a decent attempt and entertaining.

1990, dir. John Patrick Shanley. With Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Dan Hedaya, Meg Ryan, Lloyd Bridges, Meg Ryan, Abe Vigoda, Ossie Davis, Robert Stack.

John Carter

Based on the long series of novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Carter is a soldier who fought on the losing side of the American Civil War, and lost his wife and son (although it wasn't clear to me if that was to the war or an accident). We encounter him first as a rich man sending a telegram. Shortly thereafter, he's dead and his nephew - "Edgar Rice Burroughs" - has come to visit and finds himself inheriting Carter's very large estate. And reading Carter's story (which we see re-enacted) of living on Mars, where Carter found himself immensely strong and an unwilling warrior in the middle of a planet-wide war.

The special effects are excellent, and Kitsch is actually fairly decent in the title role, although perhaps a bit more "brooding" than it really called for. The movie is visually spectacular and I enjoyed it, but the story arc made a series of hops in trying to get off the ground and never managed to fly: I totally get why Disney lost $100 million on this one. Still, very pretty to look at and kind of interesting.

2012, dir. Andrew Stanton. With Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, Dominic West, James Purefoy.

John Dies at the End

The movie starts weird and gets weirder, never particularly interested in making any sense at all. Wikipedia classifies it as "dark fantasy science fiction horror," and it has elements of all these things. If the name "Don Coscarelli" means anything to you, this lack of sense will probably be unsurprising: this is kind of how he makes movies (although at least "Bubba Ho-tep's" plot was mostly coherent). Our narrator is David Wong (who isn't Asian), who works with his friend John as a psychic investigator. They've taken a drug called "Soy Sauce" that makes them become unmoored in time, and also able to cross to alternate dimensions.

I was never clear whether "Soy Sauce" was the cause of the problems or the solution, or possibly both. It was apparently supplied by the aliens as precursor to invasion, but it was also what let David and John solve the problem. Or maybe they solved a different problem entirely. Coherence really isn't a critical part of the story structure here.

I can't really recommend watching it, and yet I don't regret watching it: it was kind of fascinating. If Coscarelli ever gets his shit together about narrative coherence, he already chooses decent actors and makes his subject matter bizarrely compelling. He still wouldn't have a genuine "hit" on his hands (his stuff is just too damn weird), but he might break even at the box office.

2012, dir. Don Coscarelli. With Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown, Glynn Turman, Doug Jones, Jimmy Wong, Jonny Weston.

John Wick

Reeves plays the titular character in an almost perfectly constructed revenge flick. Wick is a mob assassin, who retires for a woman. When she dies of an unspecified disease, and someone kills the dog that was his last link to her, he goes on a rampage. A spectacularly choreographed rampage of epic proportions. I'm losing my taste for action movies, but I have to say ... this one is pretty damn good. If you have to watch bloody action/revenge, this is the way it should be done.

2014, dir. Chad Stahelski. With Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Bridget Moynahan, Dean Winters.

John Wick: Chapter 2

"John Wick" was one of the surprise hits of 2014, a violent action flick that brought a good action character using a fun-to-watch new form of action (occasionally referred to as "gun-fu") to the screen. It was an absurd world and an absurd story line, but its considerable success guaranteed us a sequel. The critics of Rotten Tomatoes rated this one even more highly than the original (89% as compared to 85%). But when you look too closely at an absurd world (as a sequel inevitably does), the inconsistencies and problems are magnified and drawn out into plain view.

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is attempting to settle down again after the events of the last movie, but Santino D'Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) shows up, demanding a favour he's owed (which ties into the mythology of the previous movie). Wick refuses, but is eventually forced to assassinate someone - someone he knows. And then of course he has to fight his way out. And it just goes on and on. And the last twenty minutes are set-up for "John Wick 3," while I sat there wondering why they didn't just finish "John Wick 2," but that's Hollywood for you.

The movie brings nothing new to the table and exposes all the cracks and flaws in the previous movie. One of those really terrible sequels that's not only really bad, but makes the previous movie look worse as well.

2017, dir. Chad Stahelski. With Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane.

Johnny Mnemonic

Reeves plays Johnny, a courier in the year 2021 who carries large quantities of data in his head when customers are unwilling to trust the data to the internet. The story has him trying to get out of the business: to this end, he's taken a dangerous job and severely overloaded his implants. In fact, it's likely to kill him if he doesn't get the data back out soon, and an awful lot of people want him dead. Based on a short story by William Gibson who also wrote the screenplay.

As promised, the movie is pretty bad (I was further frustrated by really bad subtitles done in ALL CAPS (really) on a full screen DVD ...), but interesting nevertheless. Wikipedia quotes Gibson and Longo claiming they made a very funny film that was later hacked into a really bad action movie ... it's hard to know the truth of that. Recommended only for hardcore fans of science fiction and/or Gibson.

1995, dir. Robert Longo. With Keanu Reeves, Dina Meyer, Beat Takeshi, Dolph Lundgren, Henry Rollins, Ice-T, Udo Kier.

Joint Security Area

The film opens with two North Korean soldiers being killed in a guard house along the North-South border. Alarms sound, a lot of gunfire is exchanged. Things settle down enough so that a Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission officer (Lee Young Ae) can be sent in to do an investigation in the hope of avoiding war. The story unfolds slowly and with a certain inevitability. Lee Byung-hun and Song are good as the soldiers on opposing sides of the border where the incident occurred. Lee Young Ae was okay, but not great: fortunately, less is required of her. While it offers a considerable lesson about the Korean border to non-Koreans, much of what happens is typical of wars everywhere, and utterly heart-breaking. Recommended.

2000, dir. Park Chan-wook. With Lee Byung-hun, Song Kang-ho, Lee Young Ae, Kim Tae Woo, Shin Ha-kyun, Herbert Ulrich.

Jonah Hex

Jonah Hex (Brolin, playing a DC Comics character) was a Confederate soldier until he crossed General Quentin Turnbull (Malkovich) who then killed his wife and child, and left him scarred for life. We first meet Hex after the war as he works as a bounty hunter. He believes Turnbull is dead, but we find otherwise soon enough - setting Hex on the path of revenge again.

One scene has Hex drinking in a bar. Another guy we've never met before says to the bartender "he doesn't look so tough." There's another short exchange, the guy steps toward Hex saying something about how ugly he is, and Hex blows him through a window with a hidden gun with no further discussion. This is how the entire script delivers its points: subtly. Much of it is incredibly predictable, and the remaining parts are just stupid. For once justice has prevailed: this thing tanked horribly at the box office ($47M budget, total intake as of mid-2011 of $11M).

Fox is in as eye candy ... perhaps she was also meant as comedic relief, but that didn't work out terribly well. Fassbender does a passable turn as Turnbull's psychotic sidekick - I didn't even recognize him. The movie is staggeringly violent ... but only by implication. Hex buries his hatchet (literally) in several people, heads come off ... and the camera cuts away just before every time.

2010, dir. Jimmy Hayward. With Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Megan Fox, Michael Fassbender, Will Arnett, Michael Shannon.

Jonathan Creek

Jonathan Creek (Davies) is a creative consultant and trick creator for magician Adam Klaus (played in the first episode by Head, after which the character vanishes from the screen, and is played by Milligan from the second season on). Jonathan and the investigative reporter Maddie Magellan team up in the first episode and work out how a seemingly impossible murder was committed. This sets the template for the first three seasons, with Maddie and Jonathan sorting out various implausible crimes. The pattern is fairly strict as Maddie or Jonathan stumble upon an inordinate number of crimes, Maddie does a bit of illegal reporting (often break-and-enter), Jonathan assembles the facts in his head - but doesn't tell Maddie or us - and finally does a big reveal at the end. The special between the third and fourth season brought in Sawalha as Carla Borrego, a theatrical agent and later TV reporter, to replace Maddie. They also changed the pattern somewhat, with Jonathan and Carla stepping into the middle of existing crimes that were sometimes still active, involving some threat to them. But the big reveal at the end of the show didn't change.

Jonathan is occasionally mildly annoying, although not so bad as Maddie or Carla. The mysteries are often interesting, although we're rarely given enough information to solve them in full ourselves. No great work of art, the series was nevertheless enjoyable enough to watch four seasons of six episodes each and three longer specials.

1997-2010. With Alan Davies, Caroline Quentin, Julia Sawalha, Stuart Milligan, Sheridan Smith, Anthony Head.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

I approached Susanna Clarke's 2004 book Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell with some trepidation: the thing is 700 pages long and, while many people read and loved it, many others started but could not finish. I had trouble at times with the slow pace, but it's a beautifully realized world and I was sorely disappointed to leav