State of Play (2009)
Kevin Macdonald’s 2009 film is an adaptation of the British TV series but changes the setting to the US and condenses the story down. The film opens with a series of deaths, including a young woman who is killed by a Washington Metro train in an apparent suicide. The woman is Sonia Baker, a member of the research staff for Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck). Collins is investigating a company known as PointCorp and ruffling feathers as he does so. Suspicious of Sonia’s death, Stephen turns to college friend and reporter, Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe), who begins an investigation of his own. State of Play has an intricate plot and not everything is as it seems as the narrative begins to unravel. Affleck and Crowe play off one another well while the likes of Helen Mirren, Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman provide good support too.
Luis Bunuel’s adaptation of the novel by Beinot Perez Galdos stars Catherine Deneuve as Tristana, a young woman whose mother has just passed away. With no family to look after her, she becomes the ward of an older nobleman Don Lope (Fernando Rey) who is well respected in society. Though seemingly honourable, Don Lope cannot resist Tristana and soon seduces her. He insists that she is free and Tristana complies to his demands but as time passes she yearns for greater freedom. Bunuel’s drama has a small but strong cast with Deneuve’s character developing greatly from a naive and innocent young woman to a hardened and independent protagonist. It’s quite a transformation. Rey is also good as the controlling Don Lope. A strong effort from Bunuel but not his best one.
Rogue One (2016)
Directed by Gareth Edwards, Rogue One was released with the tag of being a Star Wars story, so a kind of spin-off if you like. It actually slots into the Star Wars canon, chronologically taking place between Episodes III and IV in the original saga. The story focuses on a scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) who is in hiding from the Empire but is located at the outset. The Empire wish for his expertise in their latest project – the Death Star. Though Galen’s wife is killed and he is abducted, his daughter Jyn survives. When the story is picked up years later Jyn (Felicity Jones) is on the wrong side of the law but comes into contact with the Rebel Alliance that defy the Empire. With the Death Star being an imminent threat can Jyn locate her father and convince him to turn against the Empire? I actually preferred Rogue One to Stars Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. The latter had more of a feel of Star Wars but Rogue One keeps a lot of the cherished ingredients in there as well. You are in the company of different characters here, no familiar faces as such, but that is one of the film’s strengths, the chance to stretch the series and do something different. Felicity Jones does a great job in the lead and is ably supported by the likes of Diego Luna, Donnie Yen and Forrest Whittaker.
Rocky IV (1985)
Sylvester Stallone directs and stars in this fourth instalment of the Rocky series. This one sees Rocky face a new opponent in the form of Soviet boxer, Drago (Dolph Lundgren), who arrives in the US looking to demonstrate his superiority. The Cold War was still going on at this time and there is that tension between the US and Russia running throughout the film. Drago first defeats Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) before Rocky decides to face the Soviet. Can he prevail? Rocky IV follows the same pattern as the previous films and as you go through there will be an air of familiarity and predictability about it. It’s not a bad film but has little of the charm of the first film.
Sanshiro Sugata: Part 2 (1945)
The sequel to Akira Kurosawa’s film debut sees Sanshiro Sugata now established as a judo warrior. He is still striving to master his craft and now faces increasing rivalry, this time from conflicting disciplines of karate and boxing. Sanshiro is told to keep his focus and not stray into high profile duels but can he resist and stay true to his path? This second part once again hints at the greatness of Kurosawa’s later works. It’s inferior to the first film which explored the origins of Sanshiro Sugata. This one has him established and the plot feels weaker than its predecessor as a result. It’s still an interesting insight into the legendary director’s early accomplishments on what is impressive CV.
The Way Ahead (1944)
Carol Reed’s 1944 World War II drama stars David Niven as Lieutenant Jim Perry. He is charged with training new recruits for the Duke of Glendon’s Light Infantry, following heavy losses at Dunkirk. Perry has to ready the recruits for a future posting to North Africa where Rommel awaits. Reed’s is a film of two halves with the first section focusing on the soldiers’ intense training and the second half follows those that make it to Africa. Niven ties the whole piece together as the tough Lieutenant that the recruits initially resent then grow to respect. It’s not the best war film you will ever see but there are some good moments in here.
Rocky V (1990)
This fifth instalment in the Rocky series is directed by John G. Avildsen and is considered a low point in the series, to the point that even Sylvester Stallone finds it regrettable. The film focuses once more on Rocky who is now retired from boxing but falls on hard times when all his money is lost. Convenient. He becomes coach to Tommy “Machine” Gunn and looks to turn him into a star but can he do so? Rocky also has issues with his son who is struggling to adapt at a new school. What can be done there? Rocky V isn’t as bad as Stallone suggests but compared to the other instalments it pales in comparison. The change of narrative with Rocky as coach doesn’t work as well as it did in Creed and the whole thing comes across more as slapstick rather than a serious venture. A forgettable entry in the series.
Before Sunset (2004)
Richard Linklater’s sequel to Before Sunrise (1995) is set nearly a decade after the original film. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) from the US and Celine (Julie Deply) from France previously met in Hungary and vowed to meet again. In Before Sunset their paths cross once more in Paris where Jesse is promoting his novel. Will they rekindle the romance of nine years before or will it be a bitter reunion? As with Before Sunrise, there isn’t a great deal that happens plot-wise here. We take a leisurely stroll around Paris with the characters as they try to reconnect and they talk a lot, that’s it in a nutshell. Hearing their different perspectives and experiences is as absorbing as it was in the first film. This kind of film won’t be for everyone, of course, especially if you prefer a more action-packed narrative but, for me, this was a worthy sequel and I’m very much looking forward to the third instalment – Before Midnight – asap.
Rocky Balboa (2006)
Sylvester Stallone returns to the director’s chair for this sixth instalment in the Rocky series. With Rocky V (1990) being a great disappointment this sixth film, coming 30 years after the original, looked to give the series a better conclusion. Rocky (Stallone) has long since retired and now owns a successful restaurant. He is in mourning for his late wife, Adrian, and is estranged from his son (Milo Ventimiglia). In the boxing world the current champion is Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver), who is unpopular for not having fought anyone considered a worthy challenger. Could Rocky be roused from retirement to take on the champion? This is a much improved instalment in the series with Stallone capturing the ageing and weathered Rocky really well. Though a gifted boxer, Rocky is also depicted as fragile especially in dealing with relationships close to him. Though the story takes a somewhat predictable turn it’s hard not to be cheering Rocky on once more in the ring. That’s quite a feat Stallone has achieved three decades later.
A Scanner Darkly (2006)
Richard Linklater’s animated sci-fi is set in a dystopian future where drug abuse is out of control in the US and one particular drug – Substance D – is particularly prevalent. Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is one of many undercover agents that are looking to infiltrate the drug networks and to hunt down the big suppliers. Operations are so clandestine that Bob and other law enforcers wear scramble suits that constantly change their appearance and protect their identities even from each other. One of Bob’s contacts is a dealer named Donna (Winona Ryder) who he is hoping will lead him to a key supplier but he has two problems. Firstly, he is falling for Donna. Secondly, Bob is now addicted to Substance D that his grasp of reality is slipping away. Linklater filmed the actors’ scenes first before a technique was applied to recreate the scenes as animation. It’s a terrific effect and a great cast is here to boot: Reeves, Ryder, Robert Downey Jr and Woody Harrelson as well. As with other Linklater films, there are a lot of ponderous moments with the characters chatting about life and the universe but it never detracts from the main story which can often be intricate.
Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)
Directed by Carl Reisner, this silent comedy focuses on William Canfield Sr (Ernest Torrence), also known as Steamboat Bill, captain of an old paddle steamer. His rival on the river is John James King (Tom McGuire). William is looking forward to the arrival of his son, William Jr (Buster Keaton), who he hasn’t seen since the boy was a baby. Suffice to say, William Jr isn’t quite what his father was expecting but he has to make use of him on his boat regardless. Add to that the issue of King’s daughter, Kitty (Marion Byron), who is in love with young William and you have all the ingredients for a crazy comedy. A great cast, some impeccable comic timing and never a dull moment makes Steamboat Bill Jr another classic from Keaton and comparable to some of Chaplin’s best films.
The Other Side of the Wind (2018)
Released on Netflix in 2018, The Other Side of the Wind was directed by Orson Welles who was also involved in production, writing and editing, which was typical of him. Welles spent decades working on the film and it was never finished. What we have here is a cut as close to Welles’ vision as possible, taken from hundreds of hours of film he gathered. The story focuses on ageing director, Jake Hannaford (John Huston), who is hosting a party for friends and peers which includes a screening of his unfinished film, The Other Side of the Wind. We have a narrative within a narrative as the film shifts from the party to the footage of the film itself which is a series of different scenes centring around a man (Bob Random) and a woman (Oja Kodar) whose roles are silent as he pursues her through various settings and their encounters are frequently erotic. It’s not an easy film to make sense of but that is part of the story as Hannaford seeks funding to complete it. As Welles’ final project this is a must-watch. It gave me a feeling of Fellini’s 8½ for some reason and boasts a rich array of cast members, well led by Huston. It’s no Citizen Kane but it would be unfair to measure all of Welles’ films against that masterpiece. With The Other Side of the Wind being unfinished we’ll never be sure what Welles fully intended but that doesn’t stop me appreciating what is here.
Jaume Collett-Serra’s 2009 psychological horror is the story of parents Kate (Vera Farmiga) and John Coleman (Peter Sarsgaard). Their third child, Jessica, was stillborn and both parents are grieving, especially Kate who is also recovering from alcoholism. To heal some wounds, they decide to adopt a child and from the local orphanage and choose a nine year old Russian girl, Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman). Though Kate and John’s daughter, Max (Aryana Engineer), welcomes Esther, their son, Daniel (Jimmy Bennett), is wary from the start. The family takes Esther into the fold but as time goes by, Kate begins to share her son’s reservations that Esther is not as sweet and innocent as she appears. Orphan could have played as a standard horror film but there are some elements that make it stand out. It plays more like a family drama at times with Farmiga and Sarsgaard both great in the leads as the tortured parents haunted by the loss of a child. Fuhrman steals the show though as Esther, a volatile pendulum swinging from childhood innocence to malevolence in a heartbeat. The story unravels at a steady pace and an unexpected twist waits in the wings. Unfortunately, the denouement subsides into standard horror fare but overall the film deserves a lot of plaudits.
Ron Howard’s 1999 satirical comedy sees TV producer, Cynthia (Ellen DeGeneres), looking to rescue the station she works for by pitching the idea of a 24/7 show following a random member of the public. When the show gets the green light, Cynthia chooses Ed Pekurny (Matthew McConaughey) who has to endure cameramen following him around all day and recording everything. What starts off as dull TV suddenly becomes interesting as various relationships unfold. Ed’s relationship with his brother, Ray (Woody Harrelson), is tested by his feelings for his brother’s girlfriend, Shari (Jenna Elfman). There’s also Ed’s family who augment his personal problems. The question is will Ed want this 24/7 show to continue or will he want out? There are some good moments in Edtv which make it worth consideration, not to mention a great cast which adds to the fun. Perhaps its biggest problem is it came a year after the superb Truman Show (1998). Although Jim Carrey’s story was different in that he wasn’t aware he was part of a TV show, it made for a more intriguing storyline. If there had been no Truman Show then Edtv would have fared better. As it is, we have a good film but an inferior one.
Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (1992)
Shinya Tsukamoto’s 1992 cyberpunk horror is a sequel to the disturbing but impressive 1989 film, Tetsuo: The Iron Man. Businessman, Taniguchi Tomoo, has his son kidnapped by a group of skinheads. In rescuing him he is forced to be injected with an unknown substance that sees him turning into metal, this time in the form of a weapon that extends from his body. When Tomoo’s son is killed, he seeks out revenge against the skinheads who are partaking of some peculiar experiments. Filmed in colour and clearly boasting a bigger budget than its predecessor, Tetsuo II revisits some of the elements from the first film and at times it feels like a rerun. It’s disturbing again, confusing at times and the effects are pretty good. However, despite a better budget it pales in comparison to the original which had a more intriguing storyline and was an impressive budget on the shoestring it was made. If you love the first film, give this one a try but if you have to watch one, stick with the predecessor.
Mississippi Burning (1988)
Alan Parker’s 1988 crime thriller is set in 1964 and based on a true story. Based in fictional Jessup County, Mississippi, three civil rights workers – one black and two Jewish – go missing. FBI agents (Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe) arrive in town to investigate and are met with suspicion and even hostility from the locals, the police and also the Ku Klux Klan which operates in the area. The question is can the FBI solve the mystery or will they be driven from Mississippi as the unwelcome guests they are? The film was met with some criticism upon release due to its portrayal of the true story, but as a standalone piece it has many great elements. Hackman and Dafoe are excellent in the leads while the ever reliable Frances McDormand offers a moving performance as the wife of one of the local police. The depictions of a divided America and the brutal treatment of black Americans is often hard to watch but the authenticity is there, as painful as it is.
The Infiltrator (2016)
Brad Furman’s crime drama is based on a true story and follows US Customs Service special agent, Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston), who takes on an undercover assignment to expose drug lords laundering money. Such assignments don’t come without their risks, of course, but the deeper Mazur goes the bigger the prize on the horizon that appears in the form of drug king, Pablo Escobar. The question is can Mazur keep his cover or will he be found out? This is another solid showing from Bryan Cranston who has enjoyed a new lease of acting life post-Breaking Bad and continues to show his talent. The storyline is decent but the danger of Mazur’s situation on a constant basis isn’t as well conveyed as say, Johnny Depp’s predicament in Donnie Brasco. A good cast keeps the interest here but it could have done with a slight polish to make it an outstanding work.
Based on the unfinished play of the same name by Georg Buchner, Werner Herzog’s Woyzeck is set in mid-nineteenth century Germany. It tells the story of Franz Woyzeck (Klaus Kinski), an insignificant soldier who has a child with his mistress Marie (Eva Mattes). To earn money for his family, Woyzeck performs many tasks for his Captain and is also taking part in some experiments for a Doctor including a solitary diet of peas. The strain begins to tell on Woyzeck and his mental health starts to deteriorate while back home he has the added problem of Marie starting to admire a Major in the army. Herzog’s collaboration here with Kinski is not as memorable as the excellent, Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972), but it’s an enthralling piece nonetheless. Kinski is great in the lead as the crumbling Woyzeck while Mattes complements him as the beautiful Marie. Recommended.
Directed by Ari Aster, Hereditary is labelled as a horror film but is actually a lot more than that. It focuses on the Graham family comprised of parents Annie (Toni Collette) and Steve (Gabriel Byrne) and their children Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro). When Annie’s mother dies the family begin to experience peculiar occurrences and strange visions all around them. Does it have something to do with Annie’s mother or is something else going on? Sprinkled with horror elements, Hereditary is also a family drama which boasts some excellent acting especially from Toni Collette who continues to show her versatility. The horror goes into overdrive towards the end but the build up and dynamic of the family is worth it.
The Wife (2017)
Directed by Bjorn L. Runge and based on the novel of the same name by Meg Wolitzer, The Wife is set in 1992 and tells the tale of celebrated author, Joseph Castleman (Jonathan Pryce) who is delighted at the outset to learn he has been chosen to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. Invited to the ceremony in Stockholm, Joseph brings along his wife Joan (Glenn Close) for what should be a key moment in his life. However, as the couple arrive in Stockholm and the award ceremony approaches, their relationship with each other and with their son, David (Max Irons), begins to unravel and many pent up feelings threaten to come out. The film jumps around in time with us in the company of Joseph and Joan in the present but also going back to the 1950s when they first met and how Joseph’s career took off. To say anymore is to risk spoiling what is an excellent drama and for a book lover and once aspiring author myself, the subject matter was of particular interest. Pryce is great as the arrogant and entitled Joseph, but Oscar-nominated Glenn Close is a revelation as Joan. Loyal, dutiful, supportive, always smiling, but behind that kind face is something waiting to be unleashed.
The Children Act (2017)
Directed by Richard Ayre and based on the novel by Ian McEwan, The Children Act stars Emma Thompson as Fiona Maye, a UK judge that works in the Family Division of the High Court. Devoted to her work, Fiona’s marriage to Jack (Stanley Tucci) is struggling and he is considering an affair. When Fiona is faced with the case of 17 year old Adam (Fionn Whitehead), a Jehovah’s Witness with leukaemia that needs a blood transfusion, she finds herself deeply affected by the young man’s plight and it begins to consume her life. The premise to the film was good and with Emma Thompson in the lead you are confident of an acting masterclass. However, despite a great cast it doesn’t quite reach exceptional heights but it is worth watching for compelling performances from both Thompson and the impressive Whitehead.
King of Thieves (2018)
James Marsh’s 2018 crime comedy drama is based on the true story of the Hatton Garden safe deposit burglary in 2015. Brian Reader (Michael Caine) is a famous thief who decides to band together an ageing crew for one last heist, the proverbial once in a lifetime opportunity if you will. All of the crew are in their 60s/70s save one but the question is can they pull off the heist or will the authorities catch up with them first? King of Thieves has a terrific cast with Michael Caine supported by Jim Broadbent, Tom Courtenay, Paul Whitehouse, Michael Gambon and Ray Winstone. Such a rich gathering of talent should point to something memorable but sadly it doesn’t. The film isn’t particularly funny even though it tries to be, there are few thrills with the planned heist and the aftermath fades into insignificance rather than being an exciting denouement. There was the potential for great things here but sadly this one falls far short of being memorable.
Winter Light (1963)
Ingmar Bergman’s 1963 drama follows the story of Pastor Thomas Ericsson who has a small congregation attending his sermons but he is devoted to his community and looks to help everyone even though he questions his own faith. He has the unwanted attentions of a former lover, Marta, while a morose fisherman named Jonas, who has heard China is building an atomic bomb, needs counsel. Wrestling with his own faith, can Jonas resolve all of these concerns? Bergman’s film is beautifully shot, carefully paced and boasts a good cast to complement the setting. It’s a day in the life of a small village. If you are looking for something action-packed then you won’t find it in Winter Light but as a delicate study of a religious community and the struggle of retaining one’s faith it has a lot going for it.
The Red Turtle (2016)
Dutch animator, Michael Dudok de Wit, collaborates with Studio Ghibli for this fantasy drama. It boasts 80 minutes with not a single line of dialogue on offer and tells the story of an unnamed man who is shipwrecked, ending up on a tropical island. With only birds, crabs and turtles for the company, the man continually builds rafts looking to sail back to civilisation. Each attempt ends in failure and his cause seems hopeless. One day the man meets a red turtle and an incredible story unfolds. To say anymore would ruin this quite simply stunning and beautiful film. The animation may not touch the dizzy heights of Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpieces but you’d need a heart of stone not to get involved in this one. In the end it’s a poignant, wonderfully told story, a real experience and without a single word in those 80 minutes that is some achievement.
Notebook on Cities and Clothes (1989)
Wim Wenders’ documentary focuses on fashion designer, Yohji Yamamoto. Yamamoto is preparing for an exhibition in Paris and through a series of interviews we gain an insight into his career, preparation for the upcoming show and musings on many aspects of life and cities. Wenders listens in and as the documentary unfolds he begins to consider some of his own perspectives. It was interesting to learn about Yamamoto and given any taste of Japan – my no.1 most desired travel destination – is always going to gain my interest. This isn’t Wenders’ best work by a long shot but the interviews are still insightful though I continue to be perplexed by the world of fashion.
John Cassavetes’ 1968 drama is a portrait of a married couple – Richard (John Marley) and Maria Forst (Lynn Carlin). Their marriage is crumbling and at the outset Richard informs Maria that he wants a divorce. The film traces an unspecified trial separation as they each go socialising with a different circle of friends and both come across temptation away from the marital bed. Filmed in black and white and taking on a documentary style aka cinema verite, Faces delves deep not just into a failing marriage but into the onset of age and the unwanted position of feeling undesirable. Maria questions her beauty while Richard longs to be a young and virile man again. Often ponderous with a heavy dose of dialogue, Faces is a detailed study that requires focus and patience but is rewarding for one’s time.
Roland Emmerich’s 2015 drama is set in 1969 in the build up to and inclusion of the Stonewall riots, a fierce clash between the police and a gay community in New York City. Emmerich weaves in a fictional character, Danny Winters (Jeremy Irvine), who flees his conservative home in Indiana and makes for New York where he is embraced by a warm but struggling gay community. Having been castigated for his homosexuality back in Indiana, Danny has found a safe haven in New York but the country isn’t overly forgiving of the gay community, especially the police. Something has to give. The Stonewall riots are a key moment in US LGBT history but unfortunately the magnitude of this moment isn’t given full justice here. There are a range of characters in the community we spend time with and they don’t feel fully fleshed out and lack substance. The riots themselves feel like a mere flicker in the narrative and although their significance is addressed it’s a moment that deserves a better film.
Land of Silence and Darkness (1971)
Werner Herzog’s 1971 documentary takes an intimate look into the world of the deaf-blind community in Germany. The focal point is Fini Straubinger who lost her sight and hearing at a young age and during the documentary she visits numerous people to gain an insight into their lives and to share her own experiences. On the one hand, the documentary offers a heartwarming study of a community that bands together and enables disabled people to live as fulfilling lives as possible. On the other hand, the film also looks at the many challenges for people with visual/hearing impairments and emphasises how much more needs to be done in society. A fascinating documentary throughout and among Werzog’s best work.
Gareth Evans’ horror film is set on a remote Welsh island where a cult community is thriving. A young woman named Jennifer is being held captive there for a substantial ransom. Her brother, Thomas, makes for the island to rescue her and encounters the religious cult inhabiting the island, led by Malcolm Howe. The question is can Thomas rescue his sister or will he fall prey to the violent cult that awaits him? This is a pretty standard horror film with some gruesome moments thrown in. The outcome is a little predictable but my main bugbear with this one is the running time of 2+ hours. It feels like a slog and although Thomas’ arduous journey is one you’ll feel with him, a condensed story would have been better here.
The Butler (2013)
Lee Daniels’ biographical drama is loosely inspired by the true story of Eugene Allen, an African-American butler that worked in the White House for many decades. In the film we follow the story of Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) who begins life with his parents on a Georgia cotton plantation but grows up to become a butler in the White House where he works for decades under multiple presidents from the 1950s to the 1980s and witnesses significant change in America as appalling racism and segregation is finally challenged head on. Cecil must balance his work with his marriage to Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) and their two sons – the politically rebellious Louis (David Oyelowo) and the more dutiful Charlie (Elijah Kelley). The sheer scope of the film is a lot to take in as we work our way through different presidents and witness key moments, especially the civil rights movement which impacts on Cecil and his family closely. Not all presidents can be covered in the time frame but we do see the likes of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Reagan during the journey. Whitaker tends to be great in whatever roles he takes on and is excellent here as well. However, he is equally matched by a superb Winfrey. A great supporting cast complements the lead actors and it is hard not to be moved by the film’s tearful conclusion.
The Most Beautiful (1944)
Akira Kurosawa’s 1944 film was made during the Second World War when the great director has stated that censorship of film was ripe and the only features that were permitted were either celebrations of past heroes or propaganda pieces in support of the Japanese cause. In The Most Beautiful Kurosawa gives us the story of an optics factory where managers have set the men a 100% increase in production and the women have been asked for a 50% increase all in support of the war effort. The patriotic women are unhappy with this target and insist that they will go for a 75% increase instead. The film follows their efforts as they work gruelling hours to meet their targets and face the danger of reduced output from illness and injury to the workers. Can they meet their target though? Reading the context to the film limits it immediately in the Kurosawa canon with the director deprived of the freedom of creative expression. As a standalone it’s an interesting watch but its wartime influences are there for all to see. Kurosawa would thrive in post-Second World War Japan with numerous masterpieces to follow in the next decade. I’m glad to have seen this one but, unsurprisingly, it is nowhere near the maestro’s best work.
Journey to Italy (1954)
Roberto Rossellini’s 1954 drama sees English couple – Katherine (Ingrid Bergman) and Alex Joyce (George Sanders) take a road trip to Italy for a break from a busy life back home. What should be a relaxing break soon deteriorates into a crisis as incessant arguments and misunderstandings put their marriage on the line. Is it all over or will Katherine and Alex find a way through the maelstrom? This celebrated work from Rossellini isn’t one that would be accessible to everyone. It’s slow in places, ponderous and even uneventful, shining a mirror on the couple’s fragile marriage and how their love for each other has wilted in the unforgiving passage of time. It’s well-acted and never dull but my biggest issue was the deus ex machina conclusion which I found ultimately unsatisfying but it would certainly be seen differently by others.
The Merchant of Four Seasons (1972)
Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1972 drama is the story of Hans, who has returned home from the Foreign Legion and is now trying to support his wife, Irmgard, and their daughter by working as a fruit peddler. Though he works hard, Hans is unfulfilled, tempted by the prospect of infidelity and drinking heavily to get through each day. When an unexpected change in his health forces Hans to make changes in his life he has to rethink his priorities. Can he change for his family’s benefit or is Hans doomed to an early grave? Fassbinder’s intimate portrait of working class family life is hard-hitting in places as Hans battles continued maladjustment with life and society. It’s carefully paced and well-acted, its denouement poignant but also apt.
A Few Good Men (1992)
Rob Reiner’s military courtroom drama centres around the case of two marines who are facing murder charges for the death of a fellow marine named William Santiago. Naval investigator and lawyer, JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore) wants to lead the defence of the two men, believing they are guilty only of following orders, but the case is given instead to Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) who is an inexperienced rookie lawyer. Kaffee and Galloway end up working together and must get to the bottom of Santiago’s death. The problem is many in the military are tight-lipped, not to mention the imposing figure of Santiago’s Base Commander, Colonel Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson), who is carefully monitoring the case. The question is can Kaffee and Galloway get to the bottom of Santiago’s death or will they lose the case? This is the first time I’ve seen this one though have heard plenty about it, especially the most famous quote which I won’t mention here because I can’t handle it. A strong cast and careful writing keep this one ticking along nicely with Cruise and Moore ably supported by the likes of Kevin Bacon and Keifer Sutherland, but it is Oscar-nominated Hollywood veteran, Jack Nicholson, that steals the show with every scene he is involved in.
Martin Popoff – Pink Floyd: Album by Album (2018)
In this detailed and fascinating study, Martin Popoff sits down with journalists, musicians and other music enthusiasts to dissect every single Pink Floyd album in chronological order. Popoff leads the questioning on each album, taking us through where the band were at that particular time in their creative journey, the frictions that would ultimately tear them apart, and a careful consideration of individual songs. We even have that awful question of which Floyd album is the best one. A tough choice you will not be surprised to hear. I have yet to start my Floyd journey into the individual albums, having sampled many songs on their own up to now, but knowing full well that the entirety of an album is the best way to experience their work. I’m excited to begin but at the same time nervous for once I’ve had that moment, I’ll never savour be able to replicate that first listen. Popoff’s book has made me all the more eager to start my own path through the Floyd wilderness though. As well as the in-depth discussions the book boasts dozens of terrific photographs of the group and you can witness how they grow and change along with each album. Pink Floyd were something very special. I’m finally coming to appreciate that now, despite being painfully late to the party.
Jim Ottaviani & Leland Purvis – The Imitation Game (2014)
This graphic novel written by Jim Ottaviani and illustrated by Leland Purvis focuses on the life of Alan Turing, a key figure in the development of computer science and pivotal to breaking German codes used in the Second World War that aided the Allies in gaining the upper hand against the Nazis. The extent of Turing’s achievement in the war cannot be fully grasped but it is estimated that many millions of lives were saved by his work. This novel offers a brief summary of Turing’s life through his education, to working for the government and on the Enigma machine that would break the German codes, to the tragic final years of his life. Turing’s celebrated genius is here but also his conviction and sad demise in a British society that saw homosexuality as a criminal offence. My only issue with this novel is it just felt too brief to completely capture the remarkable life and career of Alan Turing. What it does achieve is to remind us that Turing was more than a code breaker; his Turing machine formed the basis for the computers of today. Though Turing was posthumously pardoned in 2013, this book and the film of the same name are a permanent reminder of the potential decades of genius the world was deprived of.