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Rob (Oxford, UK)

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World War Z [Blu-ray] [Region Free]
World War Z [Blu-ray] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Brad Pitt
Price: £3.93

104 of 131 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic in the making, 2 July 2013
An extremely impressive entry in the zombie genre and for me easily the best such since 1977's Dawn of the Dead. WWZ may break one of the supposed rules of the genre in its almost complete absence of gore but Brad Pitt's film more than compensates with an efficiently plotted linear storyline that remarkably shows no obvious signs of its troubled production, a spectacular sense of scale, a satisfactory balance between action and emotion rare in summer blockbusters and an often intense breakneck pace.

There's a lot that I liked about WWZ, from the way the film utilizes its fast moving zombies as a symbol of the often frightening speed and density of everyday life, to supporting characters who are introduced only to be killed off without any of the bombast you'd have had to endure had the movie been directed by a Zack Snyder or Michael Bay. The emotional heart of the story - UN hotshot Gerry Lane's (Brad Pitt) relationship with his wife and kids - feels refreshingly damped down rather than overblown, believable without being schmaltzy. Rich and famous he may be but there's an interesting grounded quality to Pitt. Casting him as an Everyman sort of character doesn't seem like the kind of stretch it would if you had the likes of DiCaprio or Tom Cruise starring.

The story is a ground-breaking amalgamation of zombie horror and one of those plague stories in which the hero is charged with finding a cure. The plot, which sends Gerry from Philly to South Korea, to Israel and then Wales in pursuit of the infection's source, never feels like it's just marking time. Each location holds a clue and by the time Gerry figures out the ingenious solution en route to the film's climax the story tops even that by forcing our hero to make a virtual life or death decision. The payoff includes what might be the most well earned and enjoyable onscreen drink since Ice Cold In Alex.

The action sequences are sensational with the (rightly) much talked about Israeli siege a standout. The chaos which leads to a hectic chase through narrow streets covered by a wire fence over which swarm countless zombies leads to an even more claustrophobic showdown inside a jumbo jet. The film is genuinely unnerving, often tense - especially the final third - and sometimes jump out of your seat scary. All without any bad language or explicit gore. There's a lesson there.

Littered with unexpected touches - the viewer's shock at a would be suicide jump by a certain character who fears he's been infected and can't bear to see his family in danger, a female Israeli IDF soldier who becomes an unexpected ally of Gerry's and who isn't saddled with a lame romantic sub-plot between her and the star, a nuclear blast viewed from the cockpit of a plane in which no words, no explanation are offered and don't need to be (at this point in the movie it truly looks like game over for mankind) and a last act that eschews the empty spectacle of so many summer blockbusters and goes instead for a tense, low-key and genuinely intimate climax that I'm happy to acknowledge had me on the edge of my seat.

But perhaps best of all is the film's underlying message, epitomized by an Israeli who tells Pitt's character that 'For every life we save, it's one less enemy we have to fight.' This is a movie about the end of the world that unlike so many other zombie films shows people refusing to retreat into small survivalist groups but instead doing their best to save as many lives as they can. It does not surprise me in the least that World War Z has defied months of hostile online sniping to become a big box office hit and I'm very happy it has. Highly recommended.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 3, 2014 1:39 PM BST

J. Edgar - Triple Play (Blu-ray + DVD + UV Copy) [2012] [Region Free]
J. Edgar - Triple Play (Blu-ray + DVD + UV Copy) [2012] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Leonardo DiCaprio
Offered by encorerecords
Price: £5.81

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love, frustrated, 21 Jun. 2012
Eastwood's excellent film is a typical example of his preference for working within genre while at the same time creating refreshing variations on its basic themes. J Edgar comes on like a standard issue biopic as an elderly Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) dictates his memoirs to a succession of young agents about the founding of the FBI and its early triumphs under his leadership. But late in the game Eastwood and writer Dustin Lance Black spectacularly pull the rug out from under us by having Hoover's close friend and confidante Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) declare that everything we've seen thus far has been a pack of lies. The question then becomes why and it's here that the point of Eastwood's film becomes clear. This isn't actually a biopic at all, it's really a tale of unrequited love, of Edgar's unrequited love, and of what happens when that love is denied and has to find another outlet.

I've never been a fan of DiCaprio but I must concede that here he gives a compelling and sympathetic performance as J Edgar in a time period spanning the best part of five decades and it's a testament to the humanism of both the script and his performance that as monstrous as the character often is we never entirely lose our sympathy for a man whose loving instincts (his date with the young woman who ultimately becomes his lifelong secretary is an absolute hoot) are crushed by a domineering mother (Judi Dench) and the strictures of the time which made an open (and not necessarily physical) same sex relationship impossible. As the object of Edgar's affections Armie Hammer upstages the star with a touchingly heartfelt performance as Clyde Tolson and there are brief but strong supporting performances from Judi Dench as Mother and Naomi Watts as Edgar's loyal secretary Helen Gandy.

For all its epic sweep - we see the young Edgar fighting communists in the early 1920's and his involvement in the Lindbergh kidnapping of the 30's - and the beautifully conceived flashback/forward structure (at one point the elderly Hoover and Tolson shuffle into a lift only to emerge from it as their younger dynamic selves 40 years earlier), the way these events are yoked to Edgar's psychology make this an almost suffocatingly interior film. Fatalistic, wreathed in shadows and unreliable memories, suffused with loss and shot through with a haunting, melancholy feel, it's a long way from your standard Hollywood biopic.

At one point in Edgar's self-aggrandizing version of history a young black agent asks him which is more important, the organisation or the man who founded it. Edgar's reply is that there's no difference between the two and that's the tragedy of J Edgar. That prevented from developing a loving relationship he gave his all to the FBI with himself as its only permitted star. The result for Edgar was power, fame and fear, but never love (a stroke of genius here is the way Hoover's FBI bureau reflects that isolation. It seems like a hermetically sealed environment cut off from the outside world, even from the rest of Government, and unchanging even across the best part of fifty years).

When Melvin Purvis shot John Dillinger, Hoover was so enraged at the prospect of the man's fame that he had him sidelined instantly. The film reveals that Hoover appears to have co-operated with Hollywood and commercial interests quite happily just so long as he was the beneficiary. One especially memorable moment has Edgar humiliated before a senate committee as one wily politician demands to know in light of Hoover's endorsement of umpteen commercial properties (everything from G-man movies to cereal boxes) how many arrests he's actually made (the answer: none). This comes as a real shock since up to this point we had no idea Edgar was so involved in promoting his own image. Eastwood is in his element here. The theme of image vs reality is one of the perennial themes of his work and runs through the likes of Flags of Our Fathers, Unforgiven, Invictus and many more.

Of the wiretappings, illegal recordings and secret files Edgar amassed the film implicitly suggests they were the product of Edgar's own repressed impulses, his inability to express his love turned poisonous and fueled his abuse of power - his attempted blackmail of Robert Kennedy, President Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, his hatred of longhairs, progressives, communists, blacks, hippies and all the rest.

One thing I particularly liked is the way that as Edgar gradually succumbs to his demons it's Tolson who becomes the voice of his conscience. In a key scene he warns Edgar away from an attempted blackmail of Martin Luther King. Ultimately it's too late to save Edgar but as the man ascends the stairs to his bedroom for the last time in his life there's a recognition from him that of all the things in the world, love is the strongest and most enduring of all. It's a very moving moment and topped in the scene following as Tolson weeps for the man he loved.

This could be, in another director's hands (Oliver Stone for example,) incredibly salacious but Eastwood directs with real sensitivity - the attraction between Hoover and Tolson is instant and magnetic but avoids being exploitative or prurient. Indeed the 'was-J Edgar-gay?' question is much more open to interpretation here than you might suppose. This is about love, it's not about being gay and it most emphatically is not about sex. There's also a lovely nod towards those rumours about Edgar's supposed fondness for cross-dressing. The production values and sense of period are utterly believable and a remarkable achievement on a budget of some $35 million.

J Edgar got a lukewarm reception from viewers and critics - liberals disliked its even-handed portrait of J Edgar while conservatives resented the implication that Hoover may have been gay and most viewers had little to no interest in such an obscure historical figure - but the intelligent and perceptive script, the powerhouse performances and Eastwood's direction, mean, I suspect, that the reputation of J Edgar will only grow as the years go by. This is the kind of intelligent, mature film that Hollywood has all but given up making and if it wasn't for Eastwood's clout it likely never would have gotten made. Cautiously recommended then but don't go in expecting some standard Hollywood biopic. It really isn't that.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 23, 2012 7:51 PM GMT

Sanjuro [1962] [DVD]
Sanjuro [1962] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Toshirô Mifune
Offered by A2Z Entertains
Price: £6.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific film ..., 28 April 2011
This review is from: Sanjuro [1962] [DVD] (DVD)
.. that vaults into the first rank of my favourite Kurosawa's alongside Ran, Rashomon, High & Low and Rhapsody in August. Toshiro Mifune is an absolute delight here as the scruffy, lazy, but-light-years-ahead-of-everyone-else warrior who rescues a bunch of witless samurai and then cleans up their corruption difficulties in local government. Two things I loved about his character; 1) That he'd rather use his brains than rush in and kill everyone (an attractive trait that undergoes a brilliant & scary reversal when the rash actions of the samurai he's befriended forces him to slaughter an entire roomful of enemy soldiers in one breathtaking sequence), and 2) Mifune's marvellous physical presence, constantly yawning & scratching himself, his battery of fed up facial expressions hilariously well deployed and with a marvellously indolent manner. He's purposeful when needs be but otherwise he's like a cat that just wants to go off & snooze. For me one of the most delightful moments in the film is the scene where the other samurai run in and out of his room in a panic as an irritable Sanjuro moves from one corner to another trying to get some sleep.

Mifune's performance - even if it owes something to the previous years Yojimbo is a great creation and I love that the one thing that rattles his otherwise invincible demeanour is the presence of women - specifically the elderly wife & daughter of the kidnapped Lord, the former of whom admonishes Sanjuro about using too much violence(!) and puts a distinctively feminine spin on the final rescue. All of this in ways that only serve to underline that under that scruffy, bad tempered surface Sanjuro is a thoroughly honourable individual. And as good as Mifune is he's matched here by a splendid villain in the great Tatsuya Nakadai (Sword of Doom, Goyokin). Even if you haven't seen Sanjuro you may have heard about the final duel between them, about how it may well be the briefest ever filmed (it must certainly be the bloodiest) and it's a truly show-stopping moment (just as well it comes right at the end).

Elsewhere Kurosawa gets great performances from the actors playing the naive samurai as well as the villains of the piece. Best of all is just how tight the story is. From the opening scene everything just clicks with the kind of ease & clarity that one suspects could only have come from a great deal of hard work. Perfectly paced at 95 minutes there isn't one shot that feels wasted. Sanjuro seems to get dismissed by some on the grounds that because it has so much humour it's therefore 'lightweight'. I think this is very unfair because hard as it is to make a great drama it's even harder to do so in the guise of a comedy. To deal with serious themes in a light hearted manner, to be able to pivot from comedy to drama as Kurosawa does so effortlessly here, seems to me the mark of a real master. I think Sanjuro is a pretty great film and it would make the perfect intro for those new to Kurosawa.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 19, 2015 12:06 PM BST

Hereafter - Double Play (DVD + Blu-ray)
Hereafter - Double Play (DVD + Blu-ray)
Dvd ~ Matt Damon
Offered by figswigs
Price: £6.24

110 of 123 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is getting to be a habit, Clint!, 3 Feb. 2011
Hereafter is a European art-house movie with Hollywood production values.
It's yet another Eastwood movie that ranks as the best American film of the
year because it engages both heart and mind with its tale of three individuals
in different parts of the world disconnected from life by a brush with death.

In Asia, famous French TV reporter Marie (a luminous Cecile deFrance) briefly
dies during a horrific natural disaster and has a vision of what she suspects
may be the afterlife. Back home she can't get the experience out of her mind
and her obsession threatens her high-flying career and friendships. In San
Francisco, lonely, middle-aged factory worker George (Matt Damon) can apparently
talk to the dead but his 'gift' makes it impossible for him to form relationships
with anybody. Finally, on a grim housing estate in South London, young twins
Marcus and Jason (George & Frankie McClaren) try to fend off social workers from
taking their druggie Mum (Lyndsey Marchal) away. But when tragedy strikes, Marcus
loses the brother he always depended on and that need drives him into the arms of
charlatans promising contact with the dead.

This is Eastwood's quietest film and one of his very best. The director has
always exhibited a fondness for emphasising character over plot but here he
goes further than ever before, luxuriating in the lives and surroundings of
these three very different people. Hereafter has almost no plot, a third of
it is subtitled, there's no villain, the film asks questions without supplying
answers, the actors don't 'act' in any showy Hollywood sense of the term, the
most spectacular sequence comes right at the start instead of at the end, and
death is the starting point for both the characters and the story rather than
the climax.

All things that are clearly going to alienate a section of the movie-going
public simply because they're so unaccustomed to experiencing that. And yet
the same film features three ordinary people - not the buffed up superheroes
of so much contemporary American cinema - the mood isn't one of overriding
anger or self-pity (again, as so much modern American cinema tends to be) but
compassionate and thoughtful, kind of contemplative, and in its quietness
remarkably compelling. As the American critic Roger Ebert said, it induces in
the viewer something akin to the feeling of a reverie.

The actors are extraordinary. Matt Damon gives the best performance I've ever
seen from him. His lonely factory worker who aches for human contact and goes
to sleep listening to Dickens audio books is so heartfelt you find yourself
completely rooting for him but at the same time it's a totally unshowy
performance. That same low key quality applies in fact to the whole cast.
Cecile deFrance, looking a little like a young Julie Christie, is simply
terrific here, both intelligent & vulnerable, and the McClaren twins
have a rawness and authenticity that just works.

The craft side is equally impressive with the film moving smoothly between the
three story lines in 15 min chunks thanks to Eastwood's ace editors Joel Cox
and Gary Roach. Tom Stern's excellent photography gives each setting - Paris,
San Francisco and London - a distinct look and on the musical side Eastwood
himself contributes a lovely and sparingly used piano piece.

Those fearing some sort of preachy Hollywood confection about the afterlife
needn't worry. Even the exact nature of George's talent is ambiguous. We never
see him talking to an apparition, nor does he convey any warnings or
premonitions from beyond the grave. There's none of that. In fact if you watch
carefully you'll note that George tells his subjects nothing they don't already
know or could have imagined themselves. Revealingly, what messages he does
deliver all reinforce screenwriter Peter Morgan's key point; that there's no help
to be had from the dead, we're on our own and what matters are the love and the
connections we forge with others in this life.

Morgan's script gives short-shrift to both organised religion and the network
of New Age frauds who profit from people's misery. One of the more amusing
sequences shows Marcus visiting a succession of con men 'psychics' each of
whom offers increasingly ludicrous methods of contact with the dear departed.
Yet if all that sounds coldly secular and atheist Eastwood's film is deeply
sympathetic toward the need for those who've lost loved ones - who've ever
wondered what happens when we die - to voice their thoughts, and skewers a
materialistic western culture that fears and sidelines anyone who does.

Hereafter doesn't say there is an afterlife. On that point it is ambiguous but
in that ambiguity resides a genuine sense of mystery. It doesn't pretend to
have answers but simply asks the questions and it does so with intelligence and
compassion. It tells a story about lonely hearts under the shadow of death yet
comes down on the side of life, love and simple human connection - not with
ghosts - but with each other. I loved it.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 20, 2013 2:34 PM GMT

The Road Home [DVD] [2001]
The Road Home [DVD] [2001]
Dvd ~ Ziyi Zhang
Offered by HalfpriceDVDS_FBA
Price: £22.98

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just great, 17 Dec. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Road Home [DVD] [2001] (DVD)
An exquisitely crafted, emotionally overwhelming experience, The Road Home ranks as one of the all time great cinema love stories & one of the greatest of modern Asian films. It really blew me away! The tale is simplicity itself being essentially the story of how an illiterate teenage girl named Di (Zhang Ziyi, astonishingly good from her facial expressions to her body language) falls in love with Luo (Honglei Sun), a young man sent from the city to teach the local kids in her poverty-stricken town in 1950's China. One of the things that is so impressive here is that this is a love story in which little is said between Di & Luo & neither character gets to even physically touch the other, as cultural & political pressures contrive to keep them apart. Yet the film brilliantly evokes that sense of longing & the pain of being separated from the one you love with a poetic realism that is stunning. It's a world in which the gift of a hairpin can seem life-changing & its loss equally so.

What we have here is a beautifully rendered courtship through spring, summer, autumn & winter & one reliant on the repetition of actions in specific settings (the road of the title) that ultimately turn out to link the past with the present in ways that are profoundly moving. Di's first actual meeting - when Luo is walking his class home - is nothing more than an exchange of glances between the two & yet it feels like the most joyous thing in the whole wide world. When, later on, Luo is summoned back to the city for some perceived infraction & fails to return on the date promised it is Di who nearly dies waiting on the road in a terrible snowstorm for the man who has captured her heart. Yet so persuasive is the attraction between these two that any other action on her part seems inconceivable to us.

With a stirring score & outdoors cinematography that captures the seasons with a startling beauty (eat your heart out Terry Malick) Ymou's film also comes through with its modern day framing device in which the couples son (Hao Zheng) arrives from the city, having received news of his father's death, to comfort his mother & make the funeral arrangements. But he finds her obstinate in wanting her husband's coffin hand-carried several miles along the main road to his grave. Given that this involves literally dozens of people, plus food, drink & a procession of vehicles in freezing temperatures the son understandably wonders how any of this can possibly occur in a town bereft of its young. It's here that Yimou pulls off his greatest coup in bringing back all those former pupils - the infant boys & girls that are a delightful yet background presence in the flashback that comprises the bulk of the film - who never forgot the man who came to teach them & married one of their own. And as they come marching down the road in a dreadful snowstorm, having travelled from all over China, with people running from the back to push those at the front aside so they can have the honour of carrying Luo's coffin it's completely emotionally overwhelming. Personal, family & communal love all fused into one & a powerful affirmation of the value of education to boot. If you didn't already have tears streaming down your face you will when it gets to this bit.

Drop everything & go get yourself a copy of The Road Home. I can pretty much guarantee you won't regret it.

Changeling [DVD]
Changeling [DVD]
Dvd ~ Angelina Jolie
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £2.68

67 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Takes its place amongst the first rank of Eastwood's work, 6 Feb. 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Changeling [DVD] (DVD)
Changeling is a gripping movie for adults - 'manna for grown ups' as one reviewer rightly called it. Angelina Jolie turns in a terrific performance as Christine Collins, a demure single mother in 1920's Los Angeles whose missing son becomes a rallying point for the oppressed citizens of LA, suffering under the boot of a ruthlessly corrupt police force and mayoralty.

But as Christine struggles with an impostor son that a disinterested LA police force has preposterously tried to fob her off with as her own there's a big twist when another young boy is arrested in a routine deportation case and does he have a story to tell. A tale so horrifying that it would instantly qualify as any parents worst nightmare. When I saw this film in the cinema the packed out audience gasped - literally gasped out loud - during the confession scene between this kid and the police officer.

Jolie has never been quite this good and though she stays commendably in character as a demure mother who doesn't want to make a fuss, she brings a fantastic larger than life movie star presence to her role that she seems able to turn on and off at will. She's a terrific actress in the body of a goddess and watching her evokes so much of the spirit of a Rita Hayworth or a Joan Crawford in their luminous prime. But she's not the only star here. One of the great pleasures of Changeling is watching so many unknown character actors given the chance to strut their stuff and, boy, do they take it. So take a bow Jason Butler Harner as Gordon Northcott, Eddie Alderson as Nothcott's in-fear-of-his-life nephew, Jeffrey Donovan as a pig-headed Oirish cop and Michael Kelly as seemingly the only honest policeman in LA. They're all fantastic.

The script is just as outstanding, moving effortlessly from one genre to another - part period crime thriller, part psycho ward drama, part serial killer movie, part courtroom procedural. It begins small and then expands to take in political corruption, the status of women in the 1920's, the way children and adults view the same event, and the satisfaction (or not) of capital punishment. What's most impressive is the way Clint Eastwood orchestrates all of this because Changeling shifts gears so smoothly that one remains completely transfixed, indeed amazed, throughout.

Changeling represents a notable development in Eastwood's evolution as a filmmaker. Never before has he handled such a sprawling, multi-stranded story with such ease or confidence.

There's also a real sense of anger as Eastwood leaves us in no doubt how he feels about the way Collins - and the other female victims of the pernicious Code 12 which allowed the police to toss anyone they disapproved of into the madhouse - were treated by the authorities. Indeed, the endless parade of true life stories in which police and social services are found to have victimised single mothers in order to cover up their own incompetence means that Changeling carries a genuine contemporary resonance as a cautionary tale.

Amazon's editorial review suggests the film goes on to long and sags in the final stretch. I couldn't disagree more. In fact I think this is one of the best edited movies I have seen in a long while. The multiple storylines and shifting emotional moods are so well captured by Joel Cox and Gary Roach's editing that they deserved an Oscar nomination in themselves. The technical aspects are also top notch throughout and how pleasing it is to see a period piece in which the sets and costumes never once overwhelm the characters or the story. Eastwood's lovely score is the icing on the cake.

Changeling was the first of two masterful Eastwood movies in 2008, the other being Gran Torino. Both come highly recommended for those hungering for movies the way they used to make 'em (and I mean that in the best possible sense).
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 21, 2011 10:26 PM BST

Flags of our Fathers & Letters from Iwo Jima (4 Disc Special Edition) [DVD]
Flags of our Fathers & Letters from Iwo Jima (4 Disc Special Edition) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Ryan Phillippe
Offered by HarriBella.UK.Ltd
Price: £18.99

38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eastwood's best films - one about the battle, one about the postwar, 21 May 2007
Flags of Our Fathers took some undeserved flak from a few teenage blowhards & armchair generals because it wasn't the straightforward recounting of the battle of Iwo Jima they imagined. Well it's their loss because seen back to back with its brilliant companion piece, the Japanese language Letters from Iwo Jima, it becomes clear what a twin masterpiece the 77 year old Eastwood has made.

In Fathers the three American flag-raisers come back to the States to be hailed as heroes for having done nothing more than raising a pole. Haunted by horrific memories of combat, surrounded by Government spin that excludes one man who was there & falsely credits another, the Marines just have to bear it as best they can. Eastwood's thoughtful, reflective, melancholy rumination about the gap between combat reality & combat glory is complemented by Letters from Iwo Jima. Evoking amazing emotional power the film takes us deep into the lives of men ranging from a lowly private to a noble General. If Flags was haunted by the sad memories of old men then Letters is all about giving voice to the unknown soldiers sent to their death in a futile cause & denied by their culture even the possibility of surrender.

Both movies are immaculately crafted with memorable performances, beautiful burnished photography that is almost, but not quite, black & white, filled with great scenes both on & off the battlefield & memorable music scores, principally by Eastwood & his son Kyle.

Letters is about the battle & the more emotional of the two as well being the more conventionally told, whilst Flags is about the postwar, is non-linear in it structure & the more intellectual. Both films are less interested in overwhelming the viewer with scenes of battle (although there are astonishingly well done battle scenes in both) than they are in exploring the demands each culture made of its men. Each is impressive on its own but what is so fascinating is that seen back to back they fill in the gaps in the others story & together constitute one of the great cinematic portraits of men in war.

Flags of our Fathers (2 Disc Special Edition) [DVD]
Flags of our Fathers (2 Disc Special Edition) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Ryan Phillippe
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £1.26

14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars American cinema's greatest living director scores again, 17 May 2007
Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers is the directors third great movie in a row after Million Dollar Baby and Mystic River. Unlike many other war movies (notably Saving Private Ryan) Flags does not offer war movie conventions or patriotic rhetoric but a thoughtful, reflective and melancholy look at the true story behind Joe Rosenthal's famous photograph of the young marines who raised the US flag on Iwo Jima, were brought back to the States as heroes before being hustled off to raise millions for the war effort.

The performances by Ryan Phillippe, as Navy Corpsman John 'Doc' Bradley, Jesse Bradford, as Rene Gagnon (a good looking stiff who joined the Marines because he liked the uniform and who never actually got to fire his weapon) and Adam Beach, as the tormented Indian Ira Hayes, are restrained & subtle with Beach's anguished performance the standout. There are strong supporting roles from John Slattery as Bud Gerber, a hard talking Government spinmeister and Barry Pepper as Mike Strank, a charismatic Marine Sgt adored by his men. Also noteworthy are the small but forceful roles played by the mothers of the flag-raisers. The shattered expression of one as she learns the truth about her sons involvement, after having accepted the Media/Government version of events, cuts deeper and sadder than any amount of war-is-hell battle footage.

Beautifully crafted, Flags jumps back and forth in time whilst telling three stories. These include our introduction to the main characters - brief scenes of training & boot camp humour shot with Eastwood's trademark economy - the story of the bond tour & the truth behind the flag-raising, plus a framing story of Doc's son interviewing surviving veterans (as old men) about his Dad. Also of note are the extraordinary invasion scenes of Iwo Jima. Shot in virtual black & white (apart from the orange bloom of muzzle flashes & explosions) & on a scale never before seen in a WW2 film, these astounding images function in a completely different way to the ones in most war movies. The point here is not the mission of rescuing somebody behind enemy lines, or the strategy of holding a bridge until the cavalry arrives but the way war fractures not just flesh & bone but time itself. Past & present smash into each other in Flags & become all mixed up because for Doc, Ira & Rene that's what it felt like. That Eastwood succeeds in conveying this whilst never making the story hard to follow is testament to the talent both of himself & his crew.

So there's a lot to admire & enjoy about Flags yet it arguably has a few minor flaws. For example when a passive, shadowy figure introduced in the first act suddenly steps centre stage & begins narrating events in the third the shift may feel mildly jarring to some. And a blunt restatement of the movies theme over the closing scene seems unneeded. Nontheless these are, I think, minor nitpicks.

One of the things that most impresses me is how Fathers, despite its wide ranging scale, never loses its intimate focus on the three flag-raisers required to shoulder the burden of being called 'heroes' - nor the toll the frenzied adulation took on them. And under Eastwood's masterful direction the film plays fair with its real life story, presenting convincing arguments for the necessity of the Bond tour. The film concludes with a scene that makes it perfectly clear how we should remember these men if we wish to honour their sacrifice. It's an elegaic image that stands in marked contrast to the one Doc, Ira & Rene found themselves a part of.

In short, this is one of the finest movies of 2006. Highly recommended. Just don't go in expecting a 'conventional' war movie & for full effect make sure you watch Flags back to back with Clint's companion piece, the brilliant Letters from Iwo Jima.

Million Dollar Baby [DVD] [2005]
Million Dollar Baby [DVD] [2005]
Dvd ~ Hilary Swank
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £2.92

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most powerful movies I've ever seen, 4 April 2005
There's an old movie trailer cliche in which the anonymous voiceover used to promise an audience that 'You'll laugh! You'll cheer! You'll cry!' Of course that was never really the case but as applied to Million Dollar Baby for once that cliched voice turns out to be telling no more than the simple truth. For Million Dollar Baby is a magnificent example of powerhouse moviemaking that leaves you emotionally exhausted.
'Baby' boasts a trio of well developed and engaging characters, a memorable story about a wannabee boxer seeking her shot and a unifying theme about love, sacrifice and the meaning of life. Working from a brilliant script by Paul Haggis, Clint's confident, understated direction doesn't put a foot wrong and the noir-ish lighting evokes a tremendous atmosphere, a sense in which simple acts of friendship and kindness between the characters are the only thing keeping back the darkness. The score (also by Clint) is minimalist and haunting and the actors performances are off the scale.
Watching Hilary Swank as Maggie Fitzgerald you have to kick yourself to believe that you're watching an actress. As a big-hearted girl seeking her chance Swank is 100% persuasive and her boxing scenes are frighteningly convincing (it's with a mild sense of awe that one learns that prior to this Hilary was best known as a skinny underwear model for Calvin Klein!). Equally as good is Morgan Freeman as Scrap, a former boxer of Frankie Dunn's (as played by Eastwood) and Frankie's best friend. Scrap narrates the film in voiceover (ala 'Shawshank Redemption') and one of the many pleasures of this movie is the collective 'Aha!' on the part of the audience when the receipient of his voiceover is finally identified.
All of which brings us to 74 year old Clint Eastwood who not only directed, co-produced and wrote the music but also played the lead role of gym manager Frankie Dunn. Quite simply, Eastwood gives the best performance of his career here and I'll give you an example of how great he is. When I saw the film at the cinema a lot of people around me were quite evidently crying. As for me, although upset and deeply moved by events, I wasn't quite there. What finally did it was a scene between Frankie and his priest. As Frankie wrestles with a terrible dilemma the priest tells him that 'If you do this thing - you'll be lost forever'. I won't give anything else away except to say that the depth of Eastwood's response was so powerful that it was enough to move me to tears as well. Great movie, simple as that.

The Ipcress File [DVD]
The Ipcress File [DVD]
Dvd ~ Michael Caine
Offered by HalfpriceDVDS_FBA
Price: £8.47

24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Digitally remastered in anamorphic widescreen - Fantastic!!, 27 Feb. 2004
This review is from: The Ipcress File [DVD] (DVD)
There appears to be considerable confusion over this Carlton release. I recently purchased the version shown above and can assure prospective buyers that this edition is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. In addition the picture has been digitally remastered and looks far sharper and colourful than any previous version you will have seen on television showings or, indeed, the R1 DVD. I guess the other reviews are referring to earlier versions released by Carlton in similar packaging. This new version can be identified because it says 'Digitally Remastered' on the front and mentions 16:9 and Letterbox on the back cover. The film itself is a marvellously enjoyable London-based thriller with a lot of familiar faces and a spine-tingling score by John Barry (one of his very best). Caine is excellent as the downmarket spy whose insolent, cheeky manner conceals a tough nut with a first class brain. He's supported by two marvellous character actors in Nigel Green and Guy Doleman who play his superiors (both of whom have agendas of their own). The only extra is the films original theatrical trailer but it doesn't really matter because the film's the thing and The Ipcress File is a cracking 60's movie. This is the version to go for. Don't miss it.

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