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R. J. Lister (UK)

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The Rover [DVD] [2014]
The Rover [DVD] [2014]
Dvd ~ Guy Pearce
Price: £19.99

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mad Max via Cormac McCarthy, 19 Aug 2014
This review is from: The Rover [DVD] [2014] (DVD)
Arriving late to the post-crash malaise, David Michôd's follow-up to his masterful Animal Kingdom is absurdly bleak. Grim to the point of parody. At least The Road - the Aussie-directed adaptation which this post-"collapse" road movie often resembles - had a beating sentimental heart inside it. The Rover's is less of a heartbeat and more of a posthumous twitch.

Guy Pearce is Eric, a steely-eyed loner who stops for a mope, only to witness his beloved car being stolen by a roaming group of ne'er-do-wells, among whom is Henry (Scoot McNairy). Eric vows to chase Henry down. As fate would have it, Eric stumbles upon Rey (Robert Pattinson), Henry's brother. Rey knows where Henry can be found, so an awkward alliance is formed between Eric and Rey, and the pair begin a journey into darkness and revenge.

All for a banged up old Rover? Not quite. Like Blue Ruin earlier this year, the automobile is a MacGuffin for some far greater thematic quest. An exquisitely art-directed glimpse into the abyss, it turns out. The minimalist script leaves a lot of room for vast vista visuals. It's beautifully ugly, yet there's something ploddingly predictable about these scorched Earth tribulations. A handful of memorable moments - an encounter with old lady who just wants to know Eric's name; a poignant moment involving caged dogs - are subtly electric, but so much time between is spent grumbling at roadsides that it all melts into a single, sparse nightmare.

It's brave to tackle a subject as inherently uncinematic as meaninglessness, where even modest attempts at redemption are doomed to fail. Pattinson's character mumbles beside a campfire: Things needn't have meaning; they can still matter. But like every whisper of hope, it disappears from this nihilist sandbox as quick as a rising ember. This is the kind of film where if a character survives a conversation without being shot in the head it feels somehow euphoric. What starts tense becomes wearying. Ultimately the film provides a similarly negative and phony depiction of human nature as the recent Purge: Anarchy, albeit delivered more persuasively and stylishly.

At the centre is a fierce, impenetrable turn from Pearce, and an affected, detailed performance from Pattinson. Their drama is in the way they share each other's eyes. There's reliable support from top character actor McNairy. Needless to say, women are largely an afterthought in this hyper-masculine world.

With its Australian road-stop settings, some nameless time after some nameless catastrophe, comparisons with Mad Max are inevitable. It makes you realise how emotionally urgent and vibrantly melodramatic George Miller's classic was. How distinctive. The Rover will have a harder job distinguishing itself in 35 years' time. Its bleakness is its weakness, giving us a world so uncaring that it's easy to admire but hard to care.

Deer Hunter [Blu-ray]
Deer Hunter [Blu-ray]
Dvd ~ Robert De Niro
Price: £9.63

4.0 out of 5 stars While the storm clouds gather far across the sea., 5 Aug 2014
This review is from: Deer Hunter [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Which actor has the best filmography in the world? Robert De Niro? Al Pacino? Perhaps - but Rocky & Bullwinkle and Gigli would say otherwise. No, the award goes to John Cazale, who before his early death featured in five great American movies, starting with The Godfather and ending with this flawed anti-war gem, directed by Michael Cimino. Cimino famously brought the roof down on the American Wave of the 1970s with his colossal western Heaven's Gate. The reason he was given that sort of clout and that sort of cash was because of The Deer Hunter, which nabbed Best Picture in 1979.

It's a story of friendships and broken friendships in industrial Pennsylvania. Two best buddies, Mike (Robert De Niro) and Nick (Christopher Walken) finish work at the steel mill and prepare for the wedding of their friend Steve (John Savage) to Angela (Rutanya Alda). The Jewish ceremony plays out virtually in real time before we're off to a raucous reception, where various rivalries and barely repressed desires play themselves out - specifically in the love triangle between Mike, Nick, and Nick's fiancée Linda (Meryl Streep). An early morning hunting trip culminates in the male friends, including John (George Dzundza) and Stan (Cazale), sharing a quiet moment in a bar. The whump-whump of helicopter blades breaks the silence. Suddenly we're in Vietnam.

The film is clearly and deliberately episodic in structure. In order to understand the effects of the Vietnam War, both individually and socially, we first see these individuals in their social element. We see what they have to lose, how they lose it, and finally the way the loss affects the community. The before, during, and after conceit is simple and brutal, and contains great truth - even if the middle section can't be taken to be literally accurate. Yet it's this middle act, involving Russian Roulette, evil captors, and "three bullets", that has fallen not only into infamy but into the classic images of cinema. The sequence is troubling, but I wouldn't call it racist. Its purpose is to depict the dehumanising effect of war on both perpetrator and victim - roles which can be reversed in an instant, as they are here on a North Vietnamese riverbank.

The aesthetic of the film is gritty, almost realist, yet the themes are mythic. The three conscripts are archetypes of the aftermath of war. Steve embodies disability and shame; Nick becomes addicted to the thrill of danger, and the arbitrariness of death; and Mike returns home a bag of post-traumatic stress, grieving for a nation. The Deer Hunter is sometimes criticised for turning the Vietnam War into an American tragedy. Well, it was a tragedy - not for the politicians who started it, or the politicians who broke their promise to stop it, but for the boys who were conscripted to fight someone else's enemy.

Where the film is indisputably a masterpiece is in its performances. The interplay between these Pennsylvanian pals is so natural that it's as if Cimino brought his cameras to this unassuming community 30 years after they'd met. Sandwiched between the grander gesticulations of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, this is De Niro's most subtly affecting performance. In one scene we watch for minutes as he strides a hotel room, restless in his skin like it's burning from napalm. It's pure understatement. He's matched by Oscar-winning Walken (another actor now arguably resting on his laurels), whose speech about "the trees" is even more heartbreaking once we know his fate. Then there's Streep, in her first great film role - a performance made all the more remarkable by the fact that the 29-year-old wrote many of her own lines.

These days, Apocalypse Now gets the plaudits. Francis Ford Coppola's mega-movie may have been challenging to make, but Cimino's is the greater challenge to watch. By the end, The Deer Hunter is done asking questions. All that remains is a community broken and a generation undone. The ironic strains of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" at the close equal the condemnatory power of "La Marseilleise" at the opening of Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory. Neither film is in doubt of whose side it's on: the people, the hidden people, incinerated from history. The ones who die and the ones who have to live with death.

Earth to Echo [DVD]
Earth to Echo [DVD]
Dvd ~ Teo Halm
Price: £14.00

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Built from bits of better movies, 2 Aug 2014
This review is from: Earth to Echo [DVD] (DVD)
There's no getting away from it. The spectres of E.T. and Super 8, and a host of small town boys-and-bicycles adventure stories in-between, hang over this spirited but frustratingly flawed family movie. It's about a trio of young teenage friends whose home town is about to be bulldozed to make way for a freeway. On their last night together they investigate some strange signals picked up on their smartphones, which lead them to a tiny alien named Echo. It takes a plucky female recruit, Emma (Ella Wahlestedt), to work out that Echo is attempting to build a gigantic spaceship to take him home. However, there are government officials fussing about and they have other ideas. Sound familiar?

The three main child performers are engaging. Okay, Teo Halm as foster child Alex is a bit bland, but Reese Hartwig as the hapless Munch has the energetic appeal of early Sean Astin or Corey Feldman, while X-Factor's Brian Bradley carries the movie confidently as the fearless Tuck. If only they stopped remarking on how "Insane!" or "Amazing!" events are (something Spielberg managed in five simple notes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind), we might have a chance of experiencing some of that wonder ourselves. Despite the subject matter, one is left with the sense that this was simply a pretty awesome childhood summer rather than a world-changing experience. Tuck, as the verbose narrator, attempts to provide some thematic guidance at the end, but I was still never really clear what the film was about. There's talk of loss and friendship and communication - but it's mostly just talk.

Echo is sidelined. This is Major Issue #1. He's cute as a button, sure, and has an amusingly chaotic way of grabbing spaceship parts (without maiming anyone, somehow), but what's he really there for? Perhaps he's the fulcrum for the kids' friendship; a symbol of the love that means they can never be truly parted. I'm not sure. I'm sure the young ones won't be any surer. Do not expect Wall-E levels of profundity and heartache. Even if it felt at any point like Echo were under threat, he or she hasn't imposed him or herself on the narrative enough for us to notice.

The basic drama is hampered by Major Issue #2: the found footage format. As usual, the conceit starts fresh and inventive but rapidly becomes a hindrance, with crucial drama softened or elided because it wouldn't make sense, or the emotional impact of a scene drained by the irreconcilable to-and-fro between naturalistic camerawork and heightened performance. Action scenes play out confusingly rather than involvingly. Events barrel into events without coherent connective tissue between. Sometimes this conveys the dizzying thrill of youth; most times one is scrabbling for sense.

It's a pity because there's stuff to admire in Earth to Echo. The smartphone thing is a neat way of bringing the sub-genre bang up to date. The performances are great. Certain scenes - particularly those where Echo is at his most magnetic - are well-staged and thrilling. And there's obviously an affection for earlier movies of its type, present not least in Joseph "Tron: Legacy" Trapanese's stirring synth `n' strings score. If only the film hadn't ridden that much-travelled old path so slavishly. And if only it hadn't taken a damned camcorder along for the ride.

Hercules [DVD]
Hercules [DVD]
Dvd ~ Dwayne Johnson
Price: £13.50

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The joy of pecs, 2 Aug 2014
This review is from: Hercules [DVD] (DVD)
Remember the masculine action heroes of the late eighties and early nineties? Predator, Die Hard, Lethal Weapon et al: a fallible bunch fighting a human foe. Then Spielberg and Emmerich came along and the human heroes were up against monstrous, catastrophic odds. Nowadays our heroes themselves are super, matching the enemy and often boasting superiority from the start. The Marvel generation is more about wish fulfilment than relatable thrills.

Hercules is supposedly "just a man" - albeit a solid one with a kick-ass PR team. It's a conceit that gently prods the issue of modern celebrity, although in practice he's still a victim of the threat-free malaise of the modern action movie, insofar as there isn't a single foe capable of standing toe-to-toe with him. When the main face-off is between Dwayne Johnson and John Hurt, you put your money on The Rock.

But look, it's The Rock versus the Elephant Man! It's a cast to elevate the material above the average. Hercules' team includes Ian McShane and Rufus Sewell, with convincing support from Ingrid Bolso Berdal and Aksel Hennie. For the baddies, Joseph Fiennes pops up as King Eurystheus, while Peter Mullan prowls and scowls as General Sitacles. With an ensemble like that, even a trash script can pretend to be Shakespeare. As it happens, the writing is decent: efficient and breezy, containing the sorts of anachronisms that repeatedly return tongue to cheek.

The plot confines Hercules' 12 Labours (you know, the Nemean Lion and all that) to a series of vignettes, the truth of which are placed amusingly in doubt as the feats are embellished by his nephew, Iolaus (Reece Ritchie). The bulk of the action takes place some time after Hercules has gained his heroic rep and lost his family. It's a merciful alternative to the drab origins tale which has bogged down many a recent blockbuster and bloated many a running time. Hercules clocks in at an appreciable 98 minutes - an hour shorter than Michael Bay's latest Transformers.

So, Hercules & Co is a mercenary outfit, in the game for the cash. When a roving band of baddies led by the supposedly evil Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann) starts burning villages, Hercules is hired by King Cotys (Hurt) to squash them. But not all is as it seems. In the least surprising twist in film history, Cotys isn't the well-meaning monarch he makes himself out to be. It's a dramatically satisfying mirror for Hercules' own image control. A showdown beckons. Natch.

In terms of characterisation and dramatic sophistication this is closer to Conan than Game of Thrones, even if it does share the latter's reluctance for all things high fantasy. It won't loiter long in the memory, but it's kind of blast while it's happening. Johnson is a natural lead - a far cry from Sam Worthington's super-bland turns in Clash and Wrath, or Jake Gyllenhaal's awkward presence in Prince of Persia. And there's less of the weightless CGI that blights those movies. Hercules feels big but mostly grounded - up until the predictable floaty graphics climax, at least. Brett Ratner won't be the subject of an AFI retrospective anytime soon, but he gets the best (and most rambunctious) out of his esteemed cast, and the action is pleasingly clear.

In a summer of disappointing blockbusters, this is an enjoyable and unashamedly silly alternative to those moody Apes. Quality nonsense.

The Purge: Anarchy [Blu-ray]
The Purge: Anarchy [Blu-ray]
Dvd ~ Franco Grillo
Price: £13.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Colonically cleansed of dramatic interest, 26 July 2014
For one night a year, all crime is legal across the United States. The rationale is that the citizens have an opportunity to release the murderous frustration that's built up during their dull, safe existence the other 364 days of the year. A kind of cleansing of the base drives. Philosophically, psychologically, and practically, it's an idea that doesn't hold water, making some boldly cynical (and just plain wrong) assumptions about human nature. The result last year was a far-fetched house siege thriller with an effectively grim John Carpenter vibe but a smorgasbord of lethal flaws.

This time around the Purge Night action shifts from a single abode to the mean streets, with three subplots streaming into one. There's a bickering young couple (Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez), whose car breaks down in dirty downtown; the hard-working single mum (Carmen Ejogo) who supports her suicidal daddy and her whipsmart daughter (Zoe Soul); and finally there's Mad Max - AKA Barnes (Frank Grillo) - cruising in his bruise-mobile, carrying a bag of guns. Once these folks cross paths, no contrivance goes unturned to keep them together. It's the glue of movie fatalism.

While The Purge focused on a wealthy family, tossing around a few questions about the relationship between the elite and the 99%, Anarchy flips the equation, watching events from street level, with the down-and-outs. This could be an interesting reversal but in reality it just means that the writer-director James DeMonaco's reactionary assumptions about Western society find a new target. There's potential for satire in the setup, but too frequently we're expected to take this near-future arrangement at face-value, as if it's presenting some kind of truth, if only we were brave enough to admit it. But nah - it reads more like the ranting of a failed Sociology student who's turned his head to screenwriting.

DeMonaco's direction benefits from being more expansive this time out. Combined with a new editor this means there are fewer occasions this time around where it's unclear what's happening to who, where, and how. Yet the question "Why?" remains foremost in the viewer's mind. Why, as the Purge alarm hails, would one stand unarmed in the middle of a major crossroad? Why, even with a heavily armed bodyguard in tow, jog down the middle of brightly-lit streets? Why not consider remaining in one isolated place and wait it out while Barnes does his business? Why didn't Barnes simply head over to his target's house an hour before the Purge and wait in the next street? Plausible human motivations be damned; the characters are slaves to the A-B-C narrative, and all along the way their dialogue arrives stillborn.

The film is best when throwing logic to the wind and letting weirdness take centre stage: a nightmare house party and a bizarre domestic incident; machete-wielding snobs purchasing "martyrs"; a climactic Hunger Games-style game show presentation. But these moments are reference points only, dotted between bland action scenes full of grue but empty of invention. Worse still is the lack of invention in the plot. The satisfying inevitability of characters colliding gives way to wearying predictability. For a movie called Anarchy the narrative itinerary is pretty conventional.

The ending hints at another installment in a year's time. The profit ratio on this dumb franchise is enough to drive it, like Saw and Paranormal Activity of yesteryear, into the realm of endless sequels and diminishing dramatic returns. We can only hope Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes undergoes a thorough purging before then.

Some Like It Hot [DVD] [1959]
Some Like It Hot [DVD] [1959]
Dvd ~ Tony Curtis
Offered by The Happy Zombie
Price: £4.45

5.0 out of 5 stars As hot as ever, 19 July 2014
Seven decades on and funnier than ever. While the appeal of The Apartment - Billy Wilder's more challenging, bittersweet collaboration with Jack Lemmon - seems to wax and wane with audiences over the years, Some Like It Hot is always hot. It's simply a masterpiece of the medium; a triumph of screenwriting, direction, editing, and performance. It's an easy sell to anyone with even a modicum of interest in film as an artform.

The plot is preposterous. Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) are struggling big band musicians who happen to witness the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. So, naturally, they flee Chicago for Florida as part of the all-woman outfit "Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopaters". Amongst the troupe is Sugar (Marilyn Monroe), with whom both men fall head over heels, but with whom Joe is willing to go the extra scheming mile, adopting the seductive, Cary Grant-esque persona of a fictional magnate named Shell Oil Jr. Meanwhile, Jerry finds himself swooning over millionaire playboy Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown). But it just so happens that the gangsters are in town for a mob meeting masquerading as an opera convention, and Joe & Jerry/Josephine & Daphne must make their escape once more.

The setup is ideal for a perfect balance of physical comedy, wisecracking, and social satire. Given the context of Hays Code Hollywood, some elements are amazingly risqué for the time - not least Miss Monroe's dresses. Monroe was famously hell on set but what matters is she's heaven on film: magnetic, charismatic, genuinely funny and impossibly sexy. Her character is a stumbling romantic, appearing drunk on the dream of love (notably, Sugar gives up bourbon the moment she believes she's snared her man), still holding onto the hope that the hairier sex isn't entirely comprised of louses and "grabbers".

The script is sharp enough to cut steel: the perfect antidote to today's hit `n' miss improvised gross-outs. At times the banter flows like notes on a symphony stave. This is largely thanks to the genius odd coupling of Curtis and Lemmon. Both Joe and Jerry are confident in their own way, the former with boldness and swagger and the latter with adorable puppy dog eagerness. Wisely, the script rarely acknowledges the fact that they look nothing like women or that Curtis is built like a boxer. This incongruity is a simply another stream of wit running in the background.

Beneath the silliness is the serious theme of human sexuality, revealed in its absurdity like a naughty silhouette behind a dressing screen. The script plays on our assumptions about heterosexuality, homosexuality, asexuality, and any other arbitrary label with which we categorise love. "Why would a guy wanna marry a guy?" asks Joe. "Security!" answers Jerry. The fact that such exchanges still sound like satire today is testament to how progressive this film was and how timeless it remains.

Some Like It Hot opens with a masterful example of visual storytelling (a police chase, a coffin filled with booze, and a title card reading "Chicago 1929") and ends with the greatest line in comedy history. In the two hours between there's scene after classic scene of highly detailed precision comedy performed by some of the best comic actors of their day. What's not to like?

Gimme Shelter [DVD] [2014]
Gimme Shelter [DVD] [2014]
Dvd ~ Vanessa Hudgens
Price: £17.97

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Preaching to the converted, 10 July 2014
This review is from: Gimme Shelter [DVD] [2014] (DVD)
On one hand a well-meaning poem to sisterhood, motherhood, abandonment, and forgiveness, on the other a facile and sentimental slice of Bible `n' Babies propaganda, this sort-of-socio-realist construction, crafted carefully from a true story, is destined to be a simultaneous critical punchbag and a defiant people's favourite. From the first gruesomely colour-drained close-up to the inevitable real-life photos over the end credits it's straining to be accepted as a Serious Movie.

"I want out of the system!" cries Apple (Vanessa Hudgens), providing the film's agenda and what to expect from the screenwriting from practically the first scene. She's just run away from home, from her horrorshow mother (Rosario Dawson), and made her way to daddy's doorstep. Her Wall Street-based father (Brendan Fraser) is at the opposite end of the socioeconomic spectrum, and he and his wife wear the permanently sympathetic expressions of people who possess plenty but have no idea what to give. Apple is pregnant. Dad and stepmother want to abort the child, but this plucky young mom is having none of it. She runs away again, this time falling into the arms of the divine Kathy (Anne Dowd), church-crawling founder of a home for troubled teenagers-with-child.

The opening act is the most effective section. Apple's volatility and catastrophising are convincing, and the idea that her unborn child represents her last and only hope is tragically believable. Hudgens is impressive, even if she has a tendency to act for us rather than for her character. Later, there's dignified support from James Earl Jones as a holy man preaching gently from his twilight station. Dowd is decent, if slightly too school ma'am-ish, sometimes striking the wrong note and straining credibility. In one scene she rather boldly calms a violent visitor by clasping the woman's face and neck. The visitor is that Dawson woman again, chewing the scenery as part of a memorably rabid performance.

Christopher Lennertz's score is subtle and melancholy for the most part, before it gives way to bleeding heart piano chords - which kind of encapsulates the flow of the film overall. Tonally, it falls somewhere between The Blind Side and Precious. While it mercifully eschews the soft focus of the former, it doesn't have the tension or rawness of the latter. The language is oddly sanitised: nary a cuss word emerges from the mouth of this feral child or her abusive mother.

The script is a blunt instrument, sometimes effective but more often whiny, worthy, or preachy. There are powerful individual scenes, such as when the girls find their files and read aloud their personal list of life ailments, or when Apple is convinced that her stepmother has abandoned her at the abortion clinic. But repeatedly the mallet of Christian ideology comes down, until we've no option but to give in or tune out.

Surrender to the agenda and you may be moved. Tears may even flow freely in the moment. Only afterwards will you feel irritation and outrage - not for Apple's predicament or the system that perpetuates it, but at having been manipulated by a movie that starts strongly before drifting sinisterly into the realm of the disingenuous.

Belle [DVD]
Belle [DVD]
Dvd ~ Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Price: £13.00

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Love in the time of bigotry, 1 July 2014
This review is from: Belle [DVD] (DVD)
Forget The Fault in Our Stars - here's a romance for all ages, complete with a strong moral core, a blazing humanism, a muscular feminism, and a tidy history lesson to boot. It's more than simply a little sister to 12 Years a Slave. Both are based on remarkable true stories; but while Steve McQueen's film depicted the Atlantic slave experience on the ground, Amma Asante's puts slavery, and the start of the end of slavery, in the long shot context of British legal history.

In terms of setting this is as far removed as possible from Solomon Northup's Deep Southern hell, set in the stately rooms of a London society home whose servants are free and paid. The patriarch, William Murray (Tom Wilkinson), has an adopted daughter, Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who is of an age where a lady would "come out" and find a suitor. Here the phrase has a double meaning: in "coming out", the Murray family are publicly acknowledging the existence of their exotic novelty. Reputation is everything, and the 1st Earl of Mansfield has everything to lose.

The concurrent storylines concerning the potential marriage of Belle and the trial of the slave ship Zong are well-balanced, carefully avoiding crassness, with the former acting as a mirror against which the outcome of the latter is reflected. At times the film does succumb to the fallacious Hollywood notion that history has been defined by individual "Eureka!" moments. The sight of William overhearing an impassioned John Davinier (Sam Reid) spelling out the concept of equality is fanciful, although I suppose as a shorthand way of depicting changing attitudes it works. Are we to believe that William was ultimately swayed by the force of Davinier's love for Belle? Well, let's believe for 100 minutes, and consider afterwards what it tells us about humankind and its capacity for change.

Of all the cast, Wilkinson has the toughest task. While others' minds are already made up, William's must change before our eyes. We feel the weight of responsibility upon this man. Too often Wilkinson falls into the category of Solid & Reliable, so it's a pleasure to see him really entrenched in a role. The relationship between William and Belle is the film's fulcrum, and it's movingly and convincingly portrayed. Mbatha-Raw matches Wilkinson, capturing the shyness and ambivalence of a girl too high in station to be disregarded but too low in race to be properly included. Her plight is further complicated by her inheritance: in all but biology she would be amongst the most eligible of all the ladies of Europe. The absurdity of her situation is agonising, and it's testament to the script and performances that we despair at that absurdity and feel that agony.

Sadly, not all the performances are up to the same standard. Sarah Gadon, as Belle's BFF and surrogate sister Elizabeth Murray, is sometimes wooden, while Tom Felton undermines his own menace by playing James Ashford as a flame-eyed monster rather than the vicious, bigoted schemer from which the story might benefit. He represents the bigotry of the culture of the time, but the impotence in his outrage means we don't get a sense of what the abolitionists were really up against.

Sometimes stagey, often obvious, and by its nature predictable, but also heartrending, intelligent, and bold, Belle is high-quality issue cinema with an inspiring conscience. The faults in its stars are greatly outnumbered by its qualities.

The Fault in Our Stars [DVD]
The Fault in Our Stars [DVD]
Dvd ~ Shailene Woodley
Price: £10.00

10 of 35 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The faults in this film, 23 Jun 2014
This review is from: The Fault in Our Stars [DVD] (DVD)
In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Cassius is saying to Brutus that the fault is not in our stars - that is, we are not gods but men. It's about the absence of fate. So the reversal of the sentiment in this very crass film's title is rampantly romantic. The opening voiceover insists this isn't a soppy Hollywood love story, but something "truthful". Yet the ensuing film turns out to be a soppy Hollywood love story - one in which competent performances and efficient direction are powerless against the screenwriters' flow of aphorisms. It's a film not so much about death as denying death.

Hollywood fiction can contain plenty of truth. But the fault in The Fault is that it's monotone and mono-dimensional. It's ostensibly clawing for answers but provides only a blandly idealised, aspirational depiction of grief. As the elegant oxygen tubing on the poster connotes, this is a film about cancer. Or, more accurately, it's about Hollywood cancer, which amounts to an exquisitely made-up elf with a boyish haircut getting out of breath easily while tastefully decrying the unfairness of the cosmos.

It actually starts quite nicely, with Shailene Woodley's Hazel being shunted by her mother (Laura Dern) into a support group for cancer sufferers like it's the first day of school. There Hazel meets Gus (Ansel Elgort), an ego-beast with a "cyborg leg". Snaring Hazel Grace (he gratingly insists on referring to her by two first names) with his creepy stare and smug smile, she falls hormonally head over heels. It was while I still held onto the hope that there may be some darker edge to this relationship that the movie had potential. But alas, despite his flagrant self-importance and alarming absence of any ability to stay with his girlfriend's sadness, we really are meant to be seduced by him also.

The characters keep referring to beauty, specifically how beautiful Hazel is, to the point where it becomes the core moral of the story: Appreciating beauty is second only to maintaining it in oneself. It's consistent with the film's puritanical undercurrent, beginning with Hazel's high-and-mighty horror as Gus produces a cigarette from his pocket, and ending with her spitting rejection of her childhood hero, Van Houten (Willem Dafoe), due to his being a grieving alcoholic. Personally, I was begging Van Houten to stay; he's the most interesting character in the movie, and dare I say the only one who comes close to proposing any convincing "truth".

Solipsism reaches breathtaking new heights as visitors to the Anne Frank Museum set aside their quiet thoughtfulness to break into applause for the faulty star-cross'd lovers' first kiss. It's the climax of what felt like a massively misjudged sequence. If the intention was to compare Hazel's fate to that of the Frank family then this would seem to equate genocide to genetics, suggesting death itself is an anomaly, implicitly letting the Nazis off the hook. Maybe I misunderstood. Maybe this particular setting was just another shortcut to a generalised sense of pity.

My mind kept returning to the scene in Kenneth Lonergan's brilliant Margaret in which Anna Paquin's Lisa is told she must drop the delusion that life is her opera and she's the main player. Sounds harsh - but it became depressingly apparent that The Fault's currency is not empathy or insight but sympathy; that the purpose of all this grace and loveliness is to convince us that Hazel really is less deserving of cancer than others in the world, because she's so damn lovable. Would she be less deserving of a cosmic favour if she were ugly and unlikable? Humanism be damned, it seems.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 24, 2014 7:38 AM BST

22 Jump Street [Blu-ray] [2014]
22 Jump Street [Blu-ray] [2014]
Dvd ~ Jonah Hill
Price: £13.00

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Jump Street 2: Laugh Harder?, 12 Jun 2014
If 21 Jump Street - based loosely on a kind of forgotten 1987 TV series - was the surprise comedy hit of 2012, then expect no surprises from its sequel. In fact, 22 Jump Street positively revels in its sameness, starting with Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) ordering the hapless duo to "do exactly the same" - except this time graduating to college.

The constant self-references to the staleness of sequels carries the film for large parts. It's a joke that wouldn't work third time around - and judging from the very funny end credits, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have no intention of returning for another shot. Lord and Miller are fresh off the rip-roaring Lego Movie, while the stars of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill are peaking. This combination of talent feels utterly comfortable, with comedy chemistry fizzing in most scenes.

The script has moments of situational genius, particularly those concerning Ice Cube's Captain Dickson, and in the Austin Powers-esque action setpieces. The thing about Tatum being buff and Hill being flubby is drilled to breaking point, while jokes drawing attention to generational disparity are surprisingly few and far between this time around. Where the humour falls down is when scenes drift into improvisational territory - but thankfully such moments aren't as agonisingly indulged as recent ilk such as This is the End and Anchorman 2.

The plot - concerning Schmidt and Jenko's investigation into the death of a college girl from a drug named "WhyPhy" - is no more than a vehicle for "too old for this" gags, homoerotic humour, and bumbling Police Academy slapstick. Which is a good thing. Police procedural this ain't. It's a movie whose raison d'être is to entertain, and it does so almost - but not quite - as well as its predecessor. A typical sequel, then.

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