The Lady Vanishes (dir. Alfred Hitchcock) 1938

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The Lady Vanishes is a 1938 comedy/thriller classic of the British Film Industry. It was Hitchcock’s breakout success and convinced David O. Selznick to offer him a seven feature deal in Hollywood. It was Michael Redgrave’s first movie part. Margaret Lockwood was already a leading lady, but this was her biggest film to date. It is also notable for being the first appearance of Charters and Caldicott a cricket obsessed comedy duo who were very famous throughout the 1940s.

The film was a huge hit, not only in the UK but also in the US, where it won the New York Times award for best film of 1938. The crime/suspense element of the film is very good with a very clever intricate story. The comedy is genuinely funny, the leading couple have great chemistry and their bickering is arch and witty. The supporting characters add to the entertainment, whether its the whimsical humour of Wayne and Radford as Charters and Caldicott, the slapstick of  Emile Boreo as the Hotel Manager, or even the awkward situational comedy of “Mr and Mrs” Todhunter.

This movie is almost 80 years old, so there are parts which seem unsophisticated from a modern perspective, but for me, this adds to its charm. I love the opening scene, where the avalanche has delayed the train. To our refined eye, it is patently a set up model, but although we know this, it works perfectly well and sets the stage to start the story.

It is one of the films that contains the traditional Hitchcock cameo, very near the end of the film, he appears on Victoria station. Although he was nominated at the Academy awards, as best director, five times, he never won any of them. So this movie was his only award for best director, he won the New York Times award in 1939. This film is a significant piece of British cinema history as well as being a very enjoyable watch.

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (dir. David Fincher) 2011

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This is the Hollywood film adaptation of a hugely successful 2005 Swedish book. It follows a highly regarded 2009 Swedish movie of the same story. It is a brave undertaking to attempt the third retelling of a story that has already been done twice, so well and so recently.  However “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” acquits itself admirably – it is different enough to be interesting and stylish enough to be enjoyable.

The film is a thriller and it stars Daniel Craig, so comparisons are inevitable. He says that he worked hard not to be seen as James Bond in this film and the thrills are more psychological than action, but it still comes across as a more thoughtful installment of the 007 genre. If the film company did not want comparisons with that franchise, they should have avoided using the, admittedly very good, opening credits. Once you imagine  “What James Bond does on his holidays” at the start, the thought stays with you throughout the film.

I loved Rooney Mara as Lisbeth. She was nominated for an Academy Award as best actress and it was well deserved. The original title of the book in Swedish was “Men Who Hate Women” and Lisbeth is almost the woman who exacts revenge. In this version she is quite different from the character written in the book but she manages to keep the same attitude and demeanour.  The violence is pretty full-on, but it is an angry and aggressive story, so although I am generally not a fan of shocking brutality in films, there is a good argument here, that it is relevant to the narrative.

The acting throughout is admirable, Stellan Skarsgard is excellent as Martin. The scenery is gorgeous. The cinematography is lovely, this received an Academy Award nomination too.

The film is polished and sleek, beautiful to watch and directed with a cold detachment which adds, both to the climate in which it is set and to the chilling story it relates. It was nominated for five Oscars, it won the one for best film editing.

This is a professional, well made, efficient Hollywood movie. Recommended.

 

 

Sense and Sensibility (dir. Ang Lee) 1995

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Sense and Sensibility is a good film, but I believe that it is almost false advertising to call it by that name. The story is so changed from the book that, although the characters have the same names and the final result is the same, it is totally unrecognisable in places as the same story. Some quite major characters have been killed off.  John Middleton is now a widower and their young child no longer in the story.  Lucy Steele’s sister, who blabs the whole story if the illicit engagement, is not in the film. Hugh Grant is far too affable in character for the grumpy Edward Ferrars in the book. Alan Rickman too easily wins Marianne over after her disappointment in Willoughby.  In fact, in this film, almost the least charming character is Willoughby, who in the book wins over Marianne, and her mother, by his easy false charm.

The acting is good, Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman are very good playing the romantic leads in a costume drama set in the 18th century. Emma Thompson is full of repressed emotion and Kate Winslett is fine as an impulsive teenager falling in love easily and recovering easily. Imelda Staunton and Hugh Laurie are wonderfully funny as Mr and Mrs Palmer.

There are some great moments of humour, the script has some wonderful lines. It is visually very attractive and there is much to admire in the period detail. A great deal of care and attention went into the making of this film and it shows throughout the movie.

It was nominated for seven Oscars. It won the one for best adapted screenplay. It was hugely popular and led to a revival of sales of Jane Austen’s novels and for these reasons it must be celebrated. I would probably have liked it more had I not read the novel itself so recently.

The film itself is most enjoyable but do go to see it as a Hollywood representation of upper class England in the late 1790s and not as a  faithful adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, the book.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (dir. Gareth Edwards) 2016

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I quite like the Star Wars franchise. I see all of them, but there are so many now and they are released in such a weird order that I don’t know whether this was a prequel to the first or the sequel to the third. Whatever it is, it is a very enjoyable stand alone movie.

I watched it in 3D in the I-Max in Waterloo. This is the largest screen in the UK, as they kept telling us, and although that may have enhanced the experience, the special effects are excellent.

Disney have taken over the series, so the aliens have become one level cuter, but this is a war film, so expect battle scenes. It’s not quite The Muppets remake Apocalypse Now, but a few more episodes down the line…. who knows.

I loved the strong female lead, Felicity Jones is great as Jyn. The storyline is simple yet strong, and the whole cast are very engaging. There are some funny moments in the film and the battle scenes had an interesting 1980s retro feel.

It has even been nominated for two Academy Awards, I hope it wins the one for best visual effects, they are very well done.

A very good addition to Star Wars canon.

La La Land – Damien Chazelle (2016)

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I am almost loathe to review this because so much has been written about it over the past few weeks, nevertheless here is my two cents worth.

I understand why this movie has had such mixed reviews. The plot has holes, the storyline is unlikely, the dialogue is stilted on occasion, the music is not quite jazz…..

However, I enjoyed its inventiveness, the cinematography is amazing, the soundtrack is pretty and the ending is perfect and touching. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are likeable and fully committed to their roles. Their singing and dancing is good too.

The opening sequence sets the scene well, if you don’t like that, you can leave early, because you won’t like the rest of the film – it has the best dance routine and it lets you know that you are going to touch reality only intermittently.

I particularly loved the complexity of the final scene, a definite homage to “An American in Paris”. This finale was never going to be universally acclaimed and Damien Chazelle must have realised this and decided to go for it anyway. It was a brave decision and this final song gives the film a  new depth and intensity.

The good parts of this film are so good that you want to overlook the less good bits. All in all it is one the best films that I have seen in years.

I hope it wins some Academy Awards; definitely best cinematography, probably best original score, possibly even best director and best film.

Requiem for a Dream (dir. Darren Aronofsky) 2000

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I really liked this film. I really disliked this film. They say about good art; it invokes strong feelings.

I found the story preachy and two dimensional. There was no suspense and you will foresee the end, before you are five minutes into the film. It made me think of the 1930’s movie “Reefer Madness” or the 1970’s “Go Ask Alice” – remade for the 21st Century.

However….it is very well made. The acting, writing, direction and soundtrack are all very good.

Ellen Burstyn was nominated for an Academy Award for her part in this and she is wonderful. Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly and Marlon Wayans are very good too. All four characters are beautifully written and we genuinely care about what happens to them. The direction is clever, Darren Aaronofsky illustrates the circuits of addiction elegantly, so it is compelling to watch – even as you tell yourself that you shouldn’t be watching.

Finally, the soundtrack is fantastic. Clint Mansell and The Brodsky Quartet, have created a hypnotic and immersive soundscape that fits perfectly with the mood of this film.

This is a great movie. I didn’t enjoy it. I don’t think it was made for enjoyment, but it is still good art.

Jaws (dir. Stephen Spielberg) 1975

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This was on at the BFI as part of a Spielberg retrospective. The 450 seat auditorium was full on a Friday night for a 41 year old movie. That fact alone testifies to the strength of this film.

It was my first time seeing it and I was surprised at how well it has stood the test of time. It is a thriller that delivers thrills. It is the first time that I have heard gasps from the audience in a movie theatre in a very long time, the face in the boat is a genuine, jump back in your seat, moment. The character development is good and the script is excellent, it has some very funny moments to lighten the mood. The music is possibly the most famous film score ever and it matches the action perfectly. The only part of the movie that shows its age is the shark itself, but even this is interesting to see from a history of cinema perspective.

Jaws won 3 Academy Awards; editing, score and sound. The only surprise is that it didn’t win more. It regularly appears in lists of all-time best films. Having just seen it, 41 years late, its inclusion in those lists is fully justified.