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Madam Secretary: Carpe Diem (2019)
Carpe Diem. What a brilliant episode!
Madame Secretary is aired in the UK about 7 weeks after it is screened in the US. How fortunate Imdb reviewers had not previously written chapter and verse about this episode. One of the very best this incredible series has produced. Surely Madame Secretary is surely the the pick of all the American TV series that come to Britain. Absolutely entranced, and at times we were holding our breath! May there be many, many more episodes of Madame Secretary to look forward to. Rating? Easily... 10/10
Three Identical Strangers (2018)
This could not happen again
Rave reviews are given to this unusual story but for present-day psychologists or geneticists this subject is nothing new.
As a film goes its high ratings are unjustified. The first 50 minutes involves telling the audience using endlessly repeated clips, the same message again and again. If the audience fails to pick up the first 37 times that three individual strangers suddenly found out in New York at the age of 19 they are not only estranged brothers but triplets - then nothing will convey that point.
Around the halfway point the film's most interesting real-life character is introduced. Natasha Josefowitz, now a distinctly elderly lady, with a warm disposition and exceptionally sharp mind, adds depth and amazing clarity to proceedings in her description of events. She is someone who lends gravitas to what had been lightweight. Close friend of President Obama, Robert Redford, Al Gore and more all of whom she is proudly photographed with socially. As research assistant to Dr. Peter Neubauer (who passed away in 2008) she threw timely light in the documentary on his investigations.
One needs to understand that until the 1990s ethical considerations were not de facto in ad hoc psychology experimentation. The infamous unethical prison studies concerning Nazism and the role of authority conducted by Millgram, and subsequently by Zimbardo are known to every first-year psychology student. Back in the 1950s, and 60's ethics played little or no part in experimental design on people or other species. Deceiving subjects was commonplace too.
Records of the study are sealed at Yale University until 2066. Journalists and twin subjects of the study, according to this film, have all failed to obtain the records of their participation and the purpose behind deliberately separating the triplets at birth. As the documentary strains to hammer home, if you were separated from your siblings at birth and found out later, you'd want to know why.
The way to find out is indirectly, by looking back at the preponderance of other twin studies of the time, circa 1950s to early 1970s. The crucial question of that era was to determine the precise role and effects of 'nature versus nature' - in the development of newborns, infants and children far into adulthood. In other words are we all the product of heredity or our individual unique differences? To rule out the genetic differences such studies were always done on identical twins, who were separated early in life and had different upbringings. Samples sizes tended to be small (often a cause of criticism) as few separated twins can be found.
To save everyone time - the answer came later, from the 1990s onward - we emerge as one-third developed by genetics, and two-thirds by our unique environmental experiences. This revelation is supported by genetic evidence, particularly the relatively new field of epigenetics.
Investigative journalist Lawrence Wright, author of book-turned-TV series 'The Looming Tower' questions the value of an immoral study that its 'victims' cannot see, and no legal right to access. It's a striking question.
A clinical psychologist who was transiently in the 20 year longitudinal study for only ten months as a junior researcher had kept his field notes and also shed light on past events. Comparisons were made of monozygotic (same embryo) twins or triplets, separated at birth and raised in separate environments by adoptee parents. Therefore, the question arises would the triplets show identical traits in their behaviours (they did), reasoning and other social abilities - throughout their development to reveal whether they posses free-will? Were they the products of nature or nurture, essentially? It's all there in the documentary.
Ultimately the only absolute way to know for certain prior to 2066 is to gain access to Yale University Library Adoption Study Research - for which current US law would have to be overturned.
The "remarkable coincidence" that each of the triplet brothers had an adoptee older female sibling by 2 years - reveals that was no coincidence but was part of the design used by Dr. Neubauer, who was aided by the placement company 'Louise Wise Services'.
As a film it was far too repetitive ... 'look at these three guys folks, separated New York triplets who found each other aged 19.' How many times does that statement stun viewers? So this film will probably remain shocking to the general public, but not to psychologists or geneticists already familiar with the ways of unethical experimentation back then. On a brighter note, ethics is now fortunately at the forefront of science and repetition of those dark and psychologically damaging studies would not be allowed in today's western universities.
Film rating: 6
Par excellence. Pay attention!
This high quality drama is an edgy political thriller throughout, and directed brilliantly by Yoon Jong-bin. The cinematography, the strong cast, the pace, minimalist score and crafted camera work dovetail beautifully to produce a fictional re-telling of a story largely based on truth. The ideologies of two opposed political systems rooted in sister countries of North and South Korea confront one another through the actions of Kim Jong-il (Leader, General and King of the North) and the National Intelligence Service of the South. The quest of the NIS is to determine by whatever means they can devise whether the North is developing nuclear capability, and how close that may be to full militarization. Itself no simple matter! The answer the Director of the NIS is instructed to follow is: send one of his prized assets, a soldier Park (Hwang Jung-min), first to China in the guise of a greedy businessman to build a network of contacts, then if possible, eventually move on to Pyongyang, and Seoul to get close to and manipulate General Kim. Assessing the nuclear threat is agent Park's foremost priority.
That said, the already apparent complicated plot is made more so by believable lucrative and labyrinthine business dealings that have to be set-up and we follow in real time. Agent Park, now businessman Park, is under suspicion from the off and continually tested by an ever cautious communist security service chief. Any mistake by Park in his new persona will lead to exposure and imminent death. The tension and austere nature imposed by DPRK security is palpable, and makes very edgy viewing indeed.
However, while Park progresses and begins to infiltrate into the top echelons other complications arise in his home country. The longstanding ruling Party of 50 years faces a general election in which a new opposition Democrat candidate (allegedly a covert communist sympathiser) wants to reaffirm friendships and form closer trade relations with the North. That level of uncertainty (or as seen by some NIS members, a 'threat' that the South dare not tolerate) compels many of the principle protagonists to either switch their allegiances or change their modus operandi, compounding the cinematic intrigue.
In answer to a few Imdb reviewers who suggest that this movie is slow, they could not be more wrong! To enact the largely historically truthful story in all its glorious intricacies any less accurately by going faster, while maintaining such a superb level of entertainment would be nigh on impossible. This movie is acted slickly and make no mistake is superbly directed. The long build-up in the first half seems necessary to make the story intelligible. Without giving away how the story pans out in the latter half, suffice to say, it makes for an enjoyable, entirely satisfactory, time well-spent coherent watch. Director Yoon Jong-bin especially, and others, particularly the scriptwriters, and supporting cast deserve nominations in the Best Foreign Film category at the Oscars. This film comes highly recommended.
What could prove limiting to its worldwide box office appeal is that for English-speaking audiences the dialogue requires subtitles, and that usually reduces audience figures. Don't let that put you off. 'The Spy Gone North' (aka Gongjak) merits 10/10.
Their Finest (2016)
Before describing the film it is worth remarking this effort deserves ten and a half out of ten; unfortunately, Imdb's rating system is too mean to allow such uniqueness, so we'll have to settle for a miserly 10 out of 10.
The casting is simply perfection, as is the direction (Lone Scherfig), and the period setting, capturing every nuance of how Britain once was; a way of life long since replaced by the era of Thatcherism and its disciples. That British-ness does still exist today in upper crust society and in educated rural circles but for the mainstay of Britain's public those are days gone by, superseded by present consumerist values and the uncomplicated, uneducated Brexit-loving class.
While a throwback to wartime Britain the story is nuanced throughout with humour, sensitivity, a multitude of surprises, and is unquestionably creatively satisfying. All the cast, especially Bill Nighy, probably the UK's finest male actor, the impressive Sam Clafin (as Tom Buckley), the bewitching Gemma Arteton (as scriptwriter Catrin Cole), both sets of twins, Henry Goodman (as Gabriel Baker), Paul Ritter (as the unassuming Parfitt, who utters the wonderful line "God! The American's teeth, can they be real?"), Jeremy Irons (Government Secretary of War), and Richard E.Grant (Roger Swain) are developed beautifully as characters. Comic sequences are also gently woven into scenes, even the odd Mr Bean type moment requiring Catrin Cole to slide into a space too small to access her desk. There are witty one-liners aplenty, and much poignancy. Even a 'token' American is essential, one of the clever twists... because this is a story that starts off with a film studio deciding to make a movie about 'real life' twin sisters who daringly set out to rescue soldiers stranded in France during the Dunkirk evacuation. However, by degrees the studio's intended British morale booster (during the darkest days of the blitz) becomes integral to the British wartime effort, and crucially, the ensuing decision by the Government to appeal more importantly to American movie-goers to win their hearts and minds. To achieve that end, the story is stolen by the Government propaganda machine, and the 'token' American, a highly successful decorated air force pilot Capt Lundberg / Brannigan (played by Jack Lacy) is reluctantly conscripted to participate. The problem for the studio, is this handsome dashing hero, is unable to act. The American Government knows but insists on his participation regardless. The film crew, are no longer just making forgettable low budget entertainment for the British audience alone, it must become a blockbuster to thrill 90 million move-goers across The Atlantic Ocean. And in colour no less. Superb!
No celluloid masterpiece could ever be complete without piquancy and dollops of tragedy. 'Their Finest' offers that in abundance. Twists and unexpected turns keep the well-paced story alive. Even a love sub-plot or two for good measure. By the end of the film only the most emotionally unintelligent, or the long-since dead, will be left unmoved. If you haven't seen this film, yet, do please. Two hours well spent.
Crisis Point (2012)
Competent and engaging
Rhona Mitra adds a touch of class, as hostage negotiator-turned-lecturer, to director Adrian Wills' movie ostensibly about a bank robbery that swiftly goes awry. The robbers find themselves in a situation they cannot escape and must resort to holding bank staff and customers hostage. The police call in Caroline Grainger (Mitra) their regular negotiator. Superficially it appears that straightforward to the police, only we soon discover the plot is more labyrinthine. One of the robbers Eric Sanders (Zack Peladeau) has contrived the situation because he has a score to settle with the negotiator. From there on, this develops into a battle of wits between the two lead protagonists.
The story is neatly laid out by Wills, events move along at a brusque pace; including finding sufficient time to reveal the angst felt by everyone. The robbers are in a desperate fix, the terrified customers in equal peril, the police face a dilemma, the inevitable swat team arrive twitchy and unpredictable, while Grainger realises she is personally involved at the core of proceedings in more ways than the police are comfortable with.
In a nutshell, it makes for a compelling view. Rhona Mitra's charismatic presence, as an intelligent, calm, canny, confident woman is what makes this tale work well. She really ought to be an A-listed star.
Premium Rush (2012)
An adrenalin-pumping, hair-raising fun ride... around Manhattan
Imagine you have an original story for a movie that you are about to pitch to the umpteenth financial backer you meet. When they ask what the film is about, you say a thriller, an action-busting crime story with an odd dash of humour ...... all set on bicycles in Manhattan! Before the executives finish laughing security kicks you out of their office. Raising finance for such an idea would present a challenge and an accomplishment in itself. Yet it happened. A visionary at Columbia Pictures took a risk. Though 'Premium Rush' initially made a modest box-office loss, from ensuing worldwide distribution and subsequent TV deals it thankfully turned a profit.
New York boasts 1,500 bicycle dispatch riders, all daily risking life and limb, hour-by-hour... hand-delivering documents across the City. In the lead role, Wiley (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a law-school dropout prefers the harum-scarum rush of life on the road speeding past heavy traffic on two wheels. Other messengers use brakes, Wiley has none, and he never stops at junctions. We see his imagination work overtime (in CGI) to instantly determine the best paths to avoid fatal accidents, or injury. Vanessa (Diana Ramirez) his girlfriend is also a messenger, and we intrude on their relationship as it falls on rocky ground. They converse via headsets while zipping about town, arguing. Enter Vanessa's flatmate Nima (Jamie Chung). She has a deeply important personal issue, and entrusts a valuable envelope to Wiley to be delivered to Chinatown within two hours. Without knowing why the contents are vitally important Wiley promises to help her. From that moment the story becomes a maelstrom of events.
The contents of that package also concern corrupt detective Monday (Michael Shannon), who will go to any lengths to retrieve it, however illegal or brutally. Shannon plays the dirty cop very convincingly, always ready to lie, intimidate or assault those standing in his way. He must obtain the envelope before 7pm, or his life is in jeopardy. In essence that's the plot. Can Wiley deliver? What is so vital to Nima about the envelope? And why is the NYPD cop hellbent on doing anything to obtain it for himself?
The story plays out with crazy complications, cops on bikes chasing messengers, and stunt after stunt on the streets. Many stunt crew were involved, some of whom were injured during filming, as was lead star Gordon-Levitt.. the daring action is relentless. Detective Monday is increasingly desperate and in their efforts to elude him our heroes take ever more perilous hair-raising risks.
If this feature movie was only about the adrenalin rush it could be boring. During rare calmer moments Wiley and Vanessa warm to each other. The repartee between messengers is authentic, as is camaraderie between them all, a genuine fraternity. Sporadic humour adds to the interaction. The cyclists look the part, lean athletes forever on the move. But it's Nima who, in a very surprising twist, steals the show. Her secret issue lends pathos key to the plot. All-in-all this film is original. How many adrenalin-thumping thrillers have been made before about city dwellers on bicycles? None! In truth this isn't a cinematic masterpiece, but because this film is unique I heartily recommend you watch.
Des fleurs pour Algernon (2014)
A fine performance by Gregory Gadebois in a touching tale
This film is a French remake of the 1968 original film 'Charly' (starring Cliff Robertson and Claire Bloom); also the 2000 version of 'Flowers for Algernon' (Mathew Modine, and Kelli Williams), and several adaptations since... The title role is closely based on Daniel Keyes' moving novel "Flowers for Algernon."
Here, the Gregory Gadebois, the film's only actor depicts the life of an ordinary but simple man, Charlie, whose low IQ, of 68, prevents him from having more than a superficial understanding of other people. He works as a school caretaker, yet his work colleagues make him the butt of their jokes. Charlie is a warm well-meaning, individual lacking insight, and can barely read or write. Under the supervision of two surgeons Charlie undergoes innovative though speculative brain surgery based on the transformation of a research mouse 'Algernon'. If the treatment is successful, Charlie is informed, he will become super intelligent, his IQ will triple.
"I didn't know I had an IQ" Charlie exclaims!
The film moves slowly up to this point, then moves apace. True to their promise, post-surgery, Charlie's mind transforms gradually at first, then supremely fast. He reads the classics and sciences prolifically, learns languages, how to play a cello, and for the first time... to court a woman and form a first relationship with his counsellor. Life is rosy at last. Charlie becomes Charles, and is transformed. His knowledge of neuropathology surpasses that of the two surgeons - until they the day they tell him that the health of Algernon, the research mouse, is deteriorating.
It falls upon Charles to find a cure before potential disaster strikes. Is this possible? To find out you must watch this curious tale, deftly directed and co-written by Yves Angelo, along with writers Gerald Sibleyras, and Daniel Keyes the story's original author.
Me and Luke (2006)
'Me and Luke' - A watchable TV movie.
Based on a book of the same name, 'Me and Luke' also goes by the title 'A Dad for Christmas'. As the alternative title suggests, this story unapologetically centres on family issues, in a wholesome way.
Well-crafted family dynamics focus on the lives of a newborn baby Luke and his young parents. Each main character shines sufficiently to make their motivations clear. Matt Bessing (Kristopher Turner) is the young 19 year-old student father. However, Megan Eubanks (Emma Taylor-Isherwood), the mother, decides college and career is her destiny, not the newborn whom she alone now chooses to give away for adoption. People's lives forever change, and Pam (Lindsay Ames, of Metropia; Gossip; and The Vow) steps into Matt's life. She too has mapped out her own future, away from the small American town where the events unfurl. Louise Fletcher and Jack Shepherd feature as doting grandparents Glennie and Bert (a retired attorney who warmly gives Matt encouragement to do the right thing) amidst a major legal problem concerning Luke's custody.
There are no fireworks, just healthy family interplay – of the kind often missing in busy modern life – though the film's only rogue, Benson, has other devious ideas. Under Eleanor Lindo's directorship warmth wins the day without allowing the film to nosedive into unnecessary cheesy schmaltz. Lindo's entire directorial career is in TV movie-making. Consequently, the situation and characters are always believable and draw you right in. Both titles are somewhat misleading, as the film would be better called 'Pass the Baby' and Christmas is incidental.
Begins well, develops at a steady pace, ends suitably, and makes a worthwhile watch.
A lame film
Set in the 2017 run-up to Christmas centring on a young woman who pines for love. Sarah (Ashley Newbrough) has only ever lived in her small home town. In her sheltered environment she seldom meets suitors, romance never sparks. A pact is made with her childhood best friend Nick (Adam Hurtig) to build a snowman every Christmas until she finds the man of her dreams - oblivious to Nick's dreams. Their snowman pact and strong friendship continues for twenty years, into adulthood. Yet Sarah remains utterly blind to what the audience knows; ever since that pact Nick has deeply loved Sarah. Believable thus far, however, the next part is not. You are supposed to believe a red scarf, once belonging to her deceased mother, if placed on the snowman will bring Sarah a man specifically named Cole, and love. Worse follows.
As if by magic, a handsome stranger called Cole (Jessis Hutch) knocks on her door next day at 9am, returning the red scarf that had blown away. Sarah is invited to lunch, and out on a date. Meanwhile, lovesick, spurned best friend Nick obsequiously accepts the intruder into Sarah's, and his life. Cole, weirdly obsessed by all things snowy, behaves peculiarly, yet charms Sarah into potentially leaving with him to Europe on Christmas Eve. Will she travel with him? That is the rub in the 90 minute runtime you'll never get back.
Tension in the movie is absent. The three main characters do not carry the film sufficiently for this to be more than a long, slow yawn. A dozen supporting characters are unaccredited; one of whom, Sarah's father, catches the attention most. Kind, tolerant, understanding, he has all the best lines and steals the show! None of Sarah's work colleagues are remotely realistic. Always late, she chatters about love, eats nonstop and eventually deigns to open her laptop. How exhausting! Her boss praises Sarah for all the non-existent work. Anything Sarah does is sycophantically praised. Doubtless romantic movie buffs will watch. But this made-for-TV-movie is simply wasting precious time.
La clinique du docteur H (2015)
A fine romp
'The Cradle Will Fall' is actually known by three titles. On British TV the original title 'La Clinique du docteur H' is contracted to 'Le docteur H', making this movie hard to locate on IMDb.
A strong cast and superb direction gives this implausible story credence. Numerous strands develop throughout adding depth and twists, which intertwine neatly as the plot thickens. Nicolas Marie (well known as the principle character, President of France Alain Marjorie in the thriller 'Spin') plays Detective Serge, chief of the police department. Serge has a much younger wife. He suspects her of infidelity, but rather than risk direct confrontation and losing her, he sets out to dispose of her lover in a convenient but convoluted manner, by seizing the opportunity to pin the murder of a young woman on him. In his predicament, the truth to Serge is irrelevant.
Meanwhile, a young reporter, who wonders why the death happened, sets out to investigate and discovers that the victim was receiving fertility treatment. She tracks down other women also receiving fertility treatment at the same clinic. One of whom is Serge's wife. The reporter requests an interview with the clinic's director, gynaecologist Docteur H. All seems perfectly in order. The medical doctor answers her questions with aplomb, such things happen, the victim was a normal young woman who wanted to conceive, c'est la vie. It soon becomes apparent that hyper-intelligent Docteur H (Aurelien Rocoing) is not only hiding a great many secrets, but he is as mad as a hatter. Rocoing hams up his character to great effect. The archetypal mad movie scientist whose chief mission in life is to further his medical research at any cost, completely disregarding his Hippocratic oath 'to do no harm'. Docteur H kills his patients incompassionately. This element of the story bears an uncanny similarity to the real life British mass murderer Dr.Harold Shipman, who took the lives of at least 200 victims before being caught.
So, the police should catch wicked Docteur H right? That's how movies go? Wrong! Not in this movie. Beset by insane jealousy and anxieties, Serge cunningly pins the murder on his wife's lover! Fortunately, another cop Cathy (played by the beautiful Elodie Franck) realises events are not as they appear. While deeply confused by her boss's certainty as to whom the murderer is - she suspects that Docteur H is implicated. But how? Excellent detective work leads her to the discovery Docteur H has a criminal record in Canada, has been skipping prosecution, taking on false identities and working in country after country - implanting foetuses into infertile women. I did allude to this tale as implausible. Rejection alone would render this improbable, but, of course, this is a movie. The suspension of one's disbelief is quickly glossed over, the key art of movie-making.
More deaths happen. In haste Docteur H takes events, extreme events, into his own hands, making serious mistakes that spiral out of control. Cathy, is the one character who unravels the truth, yet Serge steadfastly stands in her way. Serge has much to lose if she exposes the unlikable doctor, and is not above planting evidence. And so it continues!
If you followed the machinations thus far the film is for you. Olivier Barma's direction is tight, producing a gripping story that easily holds the attention. While the score is unobtrusive, the direction and script give the main characters plenty of material to bite on. The only downside, Rocoing is seemingly an impossible figure in real life, but wait, the equally insane Harold Shipman was too. Final verdict? Worth watching!
En amont du fleuve (2016)
A slow story in every sense
Normally most French movies are full of intrigue, superbly relevant dialogue, where tales unfold amidst compelling tension, against beautiful backdrops. More often than not central characters win over the audience and we care about them in no time at all. The main part of this story is certainly set against picturesque scenery; a Croatian river and fjord. Unfortunately the usual impeccable standard of French cinematography ends right there.
Two French speaking fifty-something half-brothers meet and decide to go on a long boat trip and trek deep into the Croatian countryside. Their mutual quest - to learn about each other, and more pertinently, what happened to their father - to see where and why he had mysteriously died in a remote mountainous region.
Much of the film concentrates on revealing what the personalities of the two non-verbose men are like as they initially travel alone in the boat along a winding river. Joe (Sergi Lopez), the more genial of the pair, is an author; a man who had spent time in the great outdoors of Alaska. He is patient, tough in a non-threatening way, but quiet. The other half-brother who had been raised without his father, Homer (Olivier Gourmet) seems similar ....at first. As they spend time bonding, drinking, manning the boat, and caring for a puppy they have with them, we see them gradually share experiences of fishing, cooking, sleeping and hiking. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary. In fact, though the film ambles slowly along in a beautiful setting it is practically devoid of tension or intrigue. We are led to believe that their father may have committed suicide. Could that be true? The brothers are unsure but sceptical. Homer's disposition starts to emerge. He has a short fuse. If anything happened, he would surely be the one to resort to violence. But what would cause him to explode? Devoid of any tension director / producer Marion Hansel presumably realised that as half the film was over she needed to inject a change of pace. At that point, by chance Joe and Homer stumble across an Irish conservationist ranger, Sean (John Lynch) and strike up a conversation. Sean reluctantly accepts a fee to take them to a hard-to-find Monastery where their father had died. Homer becomes suspicious of Sean and thankfully some conflict erupts. All too late, all too brief. If your curiosity is peaked to learn what fleetingly happens then you should watch.
There is a minor twist, but in all honesty, it does not save this film from being drab, uninteresting and at times dreadfully slow. Other cameo characters are largely irrelevant to the story. Perhaps, had there been a more generous dialogue it may have saved the film. It's always preferable to glowingly review films, especially French films. However, the truth is, the two brothers are entirely forgettable, as is this film.
Aïcha: La grande débrouille (2011)
'Aïcha: La grande débrouille' - is well worth watching.
This made for TV French drama about life in a tower block is entertaining. A thriving oddball community lives in an 18 storey tower block where the lives of all are blighted by non-working elevators. At first residents hold impromptu meetings that lead only to discontent with one another. No plans are agreed on how to force the tower block company to make the required repairs. However, the key character, Aicha (played by Sofia Essaidi) gains everyone's attention and disgruntled residents start to listen.
Aicha works closely with Ginette (Firmine Richard) her boss, and has a love interest in Patrick. Gradually, Aicha involves more people, while others form a media pressure group 'Elevators for All' who decide to film weary residents climbing the stairs. Patrick gives an ultimatum to Aicha.... their mothers, one of whom is French the other Arabic, must meet or their relationship ends. The mothers do meet though that turns into a calamitous situation when Aicha's father (Amidou) returns home unexpectedly. The elevator parts needed are from Romania, so in steps Ionescu, Romanian ex-lover of one of Aicha's friends. By hook or by crook, the story and the elevators come together well.
Patrick disappears for a time but returns and also finds a way to speed up the elevator repairs, to Aich'a delight. The plot is gentle, witty and unusual in that there are no real dramas except in the daily lives and mishaps of the characters, including one man's dog, too sick to negotiate eighteen flights of stairs, and dies. Even that leads to love when a neighbour many floors below empathises and mourns with him. Well made, with a frenetic dialogue at times and chilled in places too – this story has an unmistakable feel-good factor.
La petite chambre (2010)
Heart warming ~ and a joy to watch ... (rating: 10)
The Little Room (2010) delivers a heart warming story in no nonsense terms without fanfare. The entire concept is elegant. The central character, Rose, a nurse (Florence Loiret Caille) prematurely returns to work after a personal neonatal tragedy. On her rounds as community nurse one of her new patients is Edmond (Michael Bouquet) now in his eighties. Circumstances bring the two into closer contact more frequently so that an unlikely rich bond of friendship gradually but steadily ensues.
Far from being the easiest of clients for Rose, Edmond is a man, who having lost his beloved wife some 40 years earlier, has only his unloving and unsupportive son Jacques (Joel Delsaut) to call 'family'. For Edmond, a diabetic, life holds few surprises or joys and understandably he is undisturbed at the idea of giving up on the will to live. Somewhat cruelly, Jacques intends his father be taken into care so that he may start afresh in New York. That is Edmond's likely fate until the encounter with Rose.
While Rose is portrayed as neither glamorous nor affected she possesses a warm heart and clear mind. She encourages Edmond to do the simplest of things such as eating, and to accept insulin shots. Few words are exchanged but her presence and willingness to regard Edmond as a man, and as a real human being has a profound effect that slowly restores his will to live little-by-little.
A small cooker fire transpires in Edmond's home. Rose is there and deals with it - though black smoke chars the kitchen. The son enters, sees the state of the kitchen and along with Rose's boss they both blame her for allowing the fire, while also accusing her of becoming too involved. Her boss decides Rose is not yet ready to return to work so soon after losing an unborn child, compelling her to take a lengthy "vacation".
Marc (Eric Cavayaka), Rose's live-in partner, chooses to leave her to work abroad. After their separation Rose finds she has ample time available to care for Edmond whom she then takes to her own apartment where he stays. It becomes apparent Rose feels a need to substitute for her lost child by caring for Edmond ~ in a wholesome way. An undoubted friendship develops. They start to talk, dine together and go out. Edmond takes an interest in Rose once he realises that she miscarried and still grieves long after her tragic loss. Rose takes Edmond to her child's cemetery; where at the graveside he shows her which plants will last longest. While this may sound sombre or slow it is incredibly touching – the pace of events seem real, there's little music - it just comes down to immaculate acting by the two principle leads so that this story works brilliantly.
Edmond stays with Rose, which they enjoy keeping as their secret, while Jacques unaware of this situation eventually reports his father as a missing person. Marc returns to Rose and also forms a bond with Edmond.
Dramatically, the story picks-up apace when Edmond chooses to go on a mission and journeys alone to where memories of his deceased wife are strongest. The effect of Edmond's sudden unannounced disappearance stirs the deepest emotions in Rose.
Unfortunately, to avoid spoilers this where descriptions of the story stops!!! As so often the case with French cinema a human story is told in a fascinating and gripping way. Stéphanie Chaut and Véronique Reymond co-direct and co-write with empathy, immaculate timing, without interference of intrusive sound tracks and cleverly involve viewers in every characters' situation. This tale is about humanity, compassion, dignity, and life's unexpected events; and not for a moment does it drag. A remarkable thing... in Florence Loiret Caille's portrayal of a ordinary dowdy community nurse she plays the part with undeniable charisma and subtly oozes sex appeal. If you can catch this film it should not be missed. It's a treat.
Comme chez soi (2011)
A pleasing French comedy and worth seeing
This is such a funny film the most perplexing thing hinges on how so few IMDb film buffs have awarded it votes - at time of writing this review it had just 14.
The story hinges on the idea of a holiday house swap between a French family Cecile Chirol (played by Elise Tielrooy) her husband Marc (Phillip Lefebvre) and their Turkish counterparts Burhan and Banu (Ozz Nujen and scriptwriter Sedef Ecer) plus their accompanying teenage children. As with all great comedy things go awry from the outset.
Marc has to abandon the vacation and return to work immediately when a sudden Chinese takeover of his company nears completion. Thus the French family must change plans quickly and stay home, but before they can figure out how handle matters the Turkish house guests duly arrive. Burhan and his wife are unimpressed but remain calm and stoical ....initially. There isn't sufficient space to accommodate all eight people. Inevitably tensions arise in any number of ways from the off, together with intolerance and a preponderance of misunderstandings – all of which are utterly hilarious.
In no time, and within minutes of their arrival, Burhan's daughter Defne (Shemss Audat) is holding hands and giggling with the French's family's son Victor (Maxime Coggio). Something suspicious is in the offing which takes both sets of parents nearly the entire film to wise-up to.
Marc Chirol loses his job, the wives wonder if they are being deceived, the children engage in a little nefarious blackmail orchestrated by Betty (Camille Verschuere), friendships form, and there's more than one unexpected love match to keep things bubbling at fever pitch. So much goes on the storyline develops very pleasantly, along with many glorious mix-ups between all members of both families. The pace seldom slackens, but on occasion it does the story is enriched, while twists and humour vary in light and shade to the extent each characters' concerns are fully developed so well each of them feels like a familiar old friend as the story unfurls.
No-one makes this sort of film better than the French, who excel in family situation comedy. Lorenzo Gabriele directs superbly, and the cinematography never misses an opportunity to reveal France at its picturesque best. The co-written script delights too. I give this movie my strongest recommendation. Sit back and enjoy!
Windsor Protocol (1997)
Give 'The Windsor Protocol' a very, very wide berth and see something else.
The Windsor Protocol, made in 1996, surfaces from time-to-time on TV networks' It is strongly recommended giving this dud a wide berth. The story penned by novelist Jack Higgins centres on the notion that a new dawn for the Nazi era will result in the coming of The Fourth Reich. This secret Nazi ring squirreled away "billions" to finance their forthcoming rise to power. The architect of the Arian movement is the dark, wizened man who goes by two names Gerhardt Heinzer / Albert Greenfield (John Colicos). Heinzer is a megalomaniac, letting no-one come between himself and the quest for world domination. The slightly mad plot thickens as he possesses a secret document – 'The Windsor Protocol' – apparently authorised by Hitler, to commence killing with abandon. The document also contains names and numbered bank accounts. One might assume that with "billions" in secret global accounts Heinzer would have armies at his disposal, but in this film, all his dirty deeds are conducted by one henchman.
Meanwhile, the Protocol plan is to install Senator Joplin Hardy (Alan Thickle) as the dark regime's puppet President. Through him they intend to control the world. Heinzer has a hold over the Senator, using blackmail, and unless he plays the piper's tune his financial misdeeds and hand in illicit black ops will be exposed. Heinzer also tells the Senator he must agree to his "unsuitable" leggy fiancé meeting with a terminal accident. The weak willed Senator agrees – apparently she is disposable. His desire for the Presidency being greater than having a new wife.
In steps the 'hero', a ruff, roguish British spy agent Sean Dillion (Kyle MacLachlan). As is the norm with these sort of films we are led to believe only Dillion can save the day. There's little he cannot find out in two seconds flat: who the bad guys are, where they hang out, the very existence of the secret Windsor Protocol, endless information, all without effort (because his doting tech-literate secretary Lenny does it all!). To demonstrate his toughness Dillion is frequently beaten up, and causes mayhem wherever he goes. He follows Heinzer, supposedly in disguise but conspicuously in residential areas, amateurishly wearing dark glasses and leather jacket, standing out like a beacon – but manages to fail when his quarry walks around the first hedge and disappears! How incompetent for a hero. The story is incredibly muddled. Quite honestly, by this stage you may think lifelong catatonia is preferable to watching the rest of this movie.
None of the characters are engaging. Whilst they deliver their lines competently, speak clearly, are supported with unobtrusive music, the camera work is actually solid – nothing makes this film gel or take off. It hardly bodes well when the good guys fall dead and one thinks, 'oh good!' One farcical scene in the film involves the henchman chasing assistant Lenny into a cul-de-sac where the only cover is Dillion's van. Totting a gun and ready to shoot he looks inside, and under the vehicle but doesn't occur to him the only place left for her to hide is on the van's roof. He walks away and Lenny does a visible 'Whew'.
The honest conclusion is . despite Director George Mihalka's filmmaking experience (40 films on his CV) – the direction of this celluloid nonsense is woeful.
Dillion personally outwits the baddies, resulting in the Windsor Protocol being burned for good measure. However, in a well told story all the loose ends should be tied up but no-one seems to care that those "billions" are not recovered. Well, if you catch this film you deserve them as compensation for watching this mindless pap! To movie buffs out there intent on catching this dud, please don't say you weren't warned.
Earth Story (1998)
Earth Story - If only all new (science) programmes were like this
A bold statement must follow about the quality of 'Earth Story' and is given at the end of this review.
As the handful of other reviewers have rightly alluded this is an eight-part series dealing with the entire geological history of our planet over the 4,600,000,000 years or so of its existence, combined with how natural life processes occurring over three thousand million years of bacteria (initially they were stromatolite colonies) interacting with atmospheric and geological processes such as the formation and spreading movement of the continents (known as plate tectonics), together with how numerous meteorological, natural chemical and physical processes have come to ultimately shape the world in which we recognise and live in now. This fantastic televised feat is accomplished with great clarity and alacrity by narrator Aubrey Manning, himself a biologist, in only 8 hours! At no time is the viewer patronised.
Over a decade on all the science explained in the series remains current, and is all but unanimously regarded as wholly accurate by the international scientific community.
To unravel a vast web of once unconnected strands of Earth's natural processes that took humans thousands of years to piece together, and do so coherently is a true masterpiece of programme making. We join Manning's quest as he himself attempts to unravel Earth's history across the eons. It's a huge journey, across the vastness of geological time, so different from the perspective of a human lifespan, and is brought home with ease. Visual aids, such as: viewing our planet's oceanic sea-floor spreading by satellites from space orbit, or, the demonstration of the compression and (future) collapse of the Himalayas by means of a simple tilted board and a viscous sticky fluid falling upon it, reveal a tremendous imagination in conveying the scientific principles involved to the viewer.
The likelihood is no other programme or series made for the small screen has ever been able to explain so much, or deal with such infinite complexity, so competently and concisely. BBC, Discovery and National Geographic take note. Earth Story sets the gold standard which has yet to be equalled by you. The best material TV can offer. Earth Story did not require overbearing unnecessary intrusive music (often no more than psychotically repeated single piano notes), nor endless micro-second gimmicky flashing images viewed from irrelevant camera angles, nor an over simplistic dialogue that leaves your viewers puzzled and frustrated. Comparatively, these are the substandard methods of docu-TV making of the early 21st century.
Therefore, taking every genre of TV programmes (produced in English) since the dawn of television, whether fiction or fact, EARTH STORY emphatically stands today as the BEST television programme and series ever made.
Gracie's Choice (2004)
An exceptional production
It is probably true that in the U.K. practically no-one will have heard of "Gracie's Choice". However in time, that situation will surely change. A good movie is a good movie, and this one is exceptionally acted, scripted, produced and directed.
It's also pleasant to find that the director Peter Werner (who is new to me) treats his audience with the utmost intelligence, crafting this incredible true story into an unforgettable experience. It's probably impossible for any emotionally well-adjusted person to fail to empathise with the main character's plight. Kristen Bell, who holds the screen beautifully throughout, plays the eldest sibling Gracie in a large dysfunctional family. Responsibility for her half-siblings falls at an early age upon her shoulders. Gracie's mother Rowena (Anne Heche) is self-abusive, a druggie, probably alcoholic, and a neurotic nightmare. Any money that comes into their home needed for the children disappears on Rowena's indulgences, while her children are severely neglected. A succession of men (uncle's) enter and stay with Rowena, some of whom are in turn abusive to her, and also to young Gracie. Rowena moves from one chaotic relationship to the next.
Gracie's world becomes a long unrelenting nightmare, yet she provides the only strand of strength and determination that keep the young family together. Time passes and her awareness of Rowena's life-style and inability to cope with the children leads to irreparable damage and irreconcilable differences between daughter and mother. Having built that platform Peter Werner then leads the film along a new path, where the captivating Gracie gradually attempts to build a new life for them all. Without giving the game away this painful quest eventually comes at a price.
2004 has been a good year for film-goers. This wonderful film deserves to be up there alongside the likes of Million Dollar Baby. But one wonders whether film critics write-off new films without seeing them. In Britain, the influential Radio Times meanly awards this film two stars (out of 5). Impossible - it's doubtful they have ever seen this! For without a shadow of doubt "Gracie's Choice" merits nothing less than 10 out 10. And happily for film buffs, Kristen Bell is destined for a long acting career at the very top.
Zero Effect (1998)
The true mark of successful celluloid work
is whether it can withstand a subsequent viewing. Zero Efect does. The only tragedy concerning this uniquely styled mystery will be if its Director (Jake Kasden) and scriptwriters never produce a sequel.
In TV reviews this film is accurately billed as a - wickedly quirky detective comedy thriller. It is safe to say the old cliché they-don't-make-them-like-that-anymore applies, and in truth, they probably never made them like this beforehand either! The one resemblance to other filmmakers work is that there is a Coen-esquire; vibe to it. A true compliment indeed.
Usually, American movies often high on gloss, glitter and noise lack the essential ingredient that compels viewers to become completely engrossed: that of depth. Or more precisely, the hook is depth and complexity. Here, offbeat quirkiness provides the humour. A non-format story pans out to provide novelty. A moderately paced detective story throws up one surprising twist after another, backed musically where appropriate to support the flawlessly acted evolution of an ever-deepening plot. All of which combine to unravel a charming, cogent mystery.
The problem this finely balanced inventive film creates is that by comparison it brings home the paucity of run-of-the-mill who-dun-its. Given the summary above Zero Effect, and films of this ilk, may prove more suited to European than American audiences. Films that make the viewer do some work ultimately tend to be the most absorbing and successful (e.g. recall - The Usual Suspects).
The five central characters each achieve the professional actors quest of being thoroughly and seamlessly believable, subtly injecting humour, pathos, unpredictability and sensitivity. You can easily empathise with them as their characterisations play out. Kasden's film excels as what must be the definitive comical mystery in all respects, perhaps setting the benchmark for future detective films to surpass.
La vingt-cinquième heure (1967)
This film is timeless
Unlike the majority of movies from the 1960's which date quickly - 'The 25th Hour' - is as fresh as if it had been made yesterday. It withstood being watched recently (late in 2003) and was as good, if not better, than any blockbuster films released that year. A seriously commendable tribute - thirty-six years on. Normally, Quinn is an actor that I find hard to watch, however, this role was tailor-made for him.
'The 25th Hour' is unlikely to ever find a large audience in the future, or be re-released. Such a pity. Anyone undertaking media studies now or in future years would surely find a wealth of cinematic technique and craftmanship contained in this epic story. One of the other reviewers, here on IMDb, has rightly classed this timeless film as "a forgotten gem". Spot on. It's refreshing to find an original slant on anything from WWII. This movie is totally unique. Well Done to all those involved in its making.
Johnny's Girl (1995)
A forgotten little gem
Considering this film was released in 1995 it is very likely that, after its middle-of-the-night airing on British TV in 2003, a handful of extra filmbuffs may finally have had the pleasure of finally seeing this miniature gem.
All the way through I was moved by the compelling story and superbly (understated) subtle acting. I'd not realised before that Treat Williams is a good character actor, while his young co-star, Mia Kirshner, stole the film. I'd not heard of her before but boy she can act.
All I wish to say about this film is, if you have the chance to see it - do so. This is not a movie you'll forget in a hurry.
Du rififi chez les hommes (1955)
An ingenious film!
Bearing in mind the year this masterpiece came out, 1955, it must rank as one of the all time greats of cinema history. I was perpetually on the edge of my seat when first seeing this a decade ago. If it is ever re-released this film deserves to be viewed as first class entertainment.
The film merits its place in the movie Hall of Fame for what was an innovation in film making back in the 1950s. During the most intense part of the story, the brilliantly conceived daring raid on the bank - not a word is spoken by any bank robber, or indeed any actor - for around twenty minutes. The action takes place in near silence. This is so gripping that it makes the unique method of conducting bank robbery last enduringly in one's memory, and is the key cinematic feature that made the film famous.
The Amazing Howard Hughes (1977)
Driven by vision
that just about sums up this compelling portrayal of Howard Hughes. William Graham's direction presents a ruthless, cold and single-minded world of Hughes the entrepreneur. However, for all Hughes' shortcomings when relating to others, Graham allows Tommy Lee Jones to reveal the multi-billionaire had a heart of gold. Whereas people surrounding Hughes saw the coldness he projected, often to their own personal cost, Hughes would repay kindness in ways they never dreamt of.
Such was the enigmatic nature of Hughes and his story has been told countless times by book or film the exact truth is never likely to be known as to the reasoning behind his complex and often contradictory actions. In his lifetime Hughes made fortunes in many ways, although the fact that his massive wealth was initially inherited is not glossed over. Nor are some of the more bizarre practises Hughes utilised - such as hiring people to sit by a telephone that would never ring; or the highly imaginative pointed sacking of a film director by sending the unfortunate man on a location hunt only to remove the entire film set, cast, crew, props, the lot, during the director's absence!!
This work is well acted by Jones and the supporting cast. If you are looking to find out for the first time about one of the world's richest ever men then this is a good place to start as any. Effectively, this turns into a celluloid biography. You'll be fascinated by Hughes' pragmatic working methods but after seeing this its doubtful you'll come away liking the man. Graham's careful direction shows its not hard to see why once someone has accrued such vast wealth (to the point where money almost has no meaning) it becomes harder and harder to trust the people around you. On that basis its possible to see where Hughes' personal life fell apart, how he failed in love, and even to feel a tad of sympathy for him!
This is a mysterious celluloid epic.
If I am completely honest with you having seen this on three occasions I am still unsure what this beautifully photographed film is about. The backdrops are colourful and remain as mesmerising and captivating as Jeremy Irons is with Fanny Ardant. The plot centres in part around an English dynasty which has some of its fortune based in the Australian wool industry during the 1920/30's. The textile business has less to do with the plot than the intriguing interaction between the two leading actors. Flashbacks occur, intermingled with their present day roles as parents, business people and travellers... and all the while leaving the viewer to decide where this story is going. In other words, you have to work quite hard to glean an appreciation of the deep intrigue involved.
The first time I saw this film, although having enjoyed, and felt deeply moved I had little or no idea even what this was about and felt totally baffled. That's a challenge! In order to crack it... you are compelled to watch this more than once. How often does a film withstand multiple viewing and remain as much a pleasure to watch each time as it was the first? In my experience, rarely. I recommend this to anyone, regardless of gender, age or background. There are many levels to 'Australia' not least the beautiful cinematography, and this is unbelievably distracting.
The acting is effortless, perfectly directed and the script is admittedly sparse but extremely well-timed and thought out. If you watch this with someone you are bound to end up discussing what exactly you've just seen. So buy it! I guarantee you'll watch this more than once, and you'll probably feel you'd like to have lived as they did... A genuinely timeless film.
Meet the Parents (2000)
What a let down
'Meet the Parents' turned out to be. The basis for my disappointment was the few recommendations from friends had led me to believe this was going to be the funniest experience I'd ever had in the cinema. Well, Duck Soup it was not!
On the whole I tend to like slow studied movies that leave things unsaid so as to make the viewer do some work. It certainly is slow, and studied, overly so. In fact, for the most part you can see the 'jokes' coming a mile off. The Art of Humour works when the unexpected occurs. Most of hilarity surrounding De Niro's plodding, sceptical overprotective nature as a prospective father-in-law gave a one paced, one dimensional feel to what ought to have been very funny. A good attempt all the same. The film kept itself above the level of pure slapstick. One or two moments generated sighs of sympathy rather than laughs. Still, as humour goes this was infinitely better than 'Police Academy' slapstick. There was a plot. The young man was on a mission, to win the consent of the de Niro for his daughter's hand, only it might have faired better with a little more complexity and depth.
The one really bright spark to emerge from this film was Terri Polo who, while being new to me, is someone I shall look out for in future movies. She brought a believable air to the proceedings, and the fact she is breathtakingly beautiful was not lost on me either! Had she been the girl who lived next door to me I've a funny feeling I'd actually be the one prancing around on Robert de Niro's roof instead!!
Smilla's Sense of Snow (1997)
One of the all time great movies!
In the UK this fabulous unusual film had little hype, and was shown in cinemas as 'The Director's Chair' for intellectuals! However, this was incredibly unfair to the movie going UK public who, in the main, will have missed this original and breathtakingly photographed and thoroughly well pieced together gift to the cinema age. Who would have imagined our heroine could turn detective, an extremely clever one at that, purely by looking at snow!! This film is a masterpiece of the imagination. It stands the acid test - of withstanding being watched more than once. In fact, second and third viewings bring out more of the nuances you would perhaps miss first time around.
Bille August's direction is faultless. Julia Ormond was the perfect person to cast as Smilla. I really have no criticism of this film except I wish it had gone on a lot longer, or that some sequels would follow in due course. The general idea lends itself admirably to Ormond who gave a compelling and commanding performance treating cinema goers to a spectacular film like this. Well Done to everyone who had a part to play, no matter how small, because together you produced an unforgettable celluloid gem. Many thanks. Please, purrleeeeze.... make another 'Smilla' film sometime soon!