Film Reviews by BW

Welcome to BW's film reviews page. BW has written 17 reviews and rated 18 films.

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Computer Chess

Thoughtful, very subtle comedy with a dark side

(Edit) 11/07/2019

Computer Chess is an odd film for sure. The premise is simple enough: this is a mockumentary focused upon a computer chess conference set in the mid-eighties. This is computer chess as in AI - the machines compete. The film effortlessly portrays and parodies the idea of ‘geek’ computer programmers from the eighties era. Everything down to the bland hotel (shared here with a couples counselling convention) is spot on. The acting is first rate. The characters are hilarious and very different - paranoid, shy, autistic, cocky. And when it wants to be Computer Chess is very funny but, despite the set-up, the film is not really played for laughs. The sinister menace of AI (a more contemporary concern) takes over the film more and more (the film shares much in common, at least thematically, with Charlie Brooker’s later ‘Bandersnatch’ episode of Black Mirror). Shot almost entirely in black-and-white and archly conveying a lo-fi aesthetic, this is a uniquely original and technically accomplished feature.

It’s a movie for fans of intelligent, thoughtful film-making. While Computer Chess is a witty comedy the humour is very subtle and I anticipate a few reviews of the ‘I was mystified and bored’ persuasion. Good, though.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Paprika

A fun, psychedelic anime hit

(Edit) 29/08/2018

A decent anime feature. What is dream and what is reality? A team of Japanese engineers prototype a therapeutic tool for getting into people's dreams. Then the machine gets stolen and a lot of chaos begins to unfold. There are some exhilarating scenes here with some marked references to Japanese movie history and classic film technique.

I really enjoyed it. The film is a whirlwind of colour and spectacle. The plot is convoluted and challenging. I was lost but really it's kind of 'whose dream are we in now?' all the way through. Christopher Nolan's 'Inception' is a later, better known film which has the same premise or plot. Paprika is our guide through these strange dreams and she is a bright and flirtatious anime girl, a bit of a Peter Pan figure. There's a reference to 'Tinkerbell', actually, while at another point she takes on the costume of 'Monkey' (as in the Ming dynasty novel and 70s TV series), which is cool.

Paprika is a lot of fun. You're more likely to get lost (and potentially even bored) by the plot than have your view of reality profoundly transformed, I suppose, but that could be said of many films. If you enjoy animated features Paprika should be a joy.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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The First Day of the Rest of Your Life

Silly, poorly written, dull take on family life

(Edit) 17/05/2018

The opening credits (which I quite liked) set the film up as a sort of soap opera charting a young family growing up. The film then tries to subvert that photo-album cutesiness by exploring some of the hurts and emotional tensions in the lives of the five family members. The stories of the three teenagers were more successful than the parents' chapters for me.

I didn't warm to the film. I thought I might. There are a few humorous moments. Largely the film doesn't seem credible. The characters manage to be boring and not very likeable. Even given this might be showing the most dramatic moments of a family's timeline it still seems quite a violent family. The daughter understandably reproaches her mother for breaking the lock and reading her diary. The father responds to the daughter challenging her mother by slapping the girl across the face. In a different section, the mother, concerned that she is no longer desirable to her partner, visits her son who is working as a plastic surgeon. Unprompted, in her son's office, she removes her bra and requests his advice on cosmetic surgery. Such moments as these make the drama seem unrealistic and the characters dislikeable at the same time.

Ultimately there's not much to like about the film. At the end it just drags while the very obvious conclusion plays out.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Nocturnal Animals

Challenging and resonant movie

(Edit) 11/05/2018

Nocturnal Animals is a very harrowing film and I think a very good film too. I found it to be meaningful and a thoughtfully written work. It's adapted from a 1993 novel 'Tony and Susan' by Austin Wright. There have been some strident attacks on the movie including accusations of misogyny. Victoria Coren Mitchell was particularly scathing in one review. It is the sort of movie that film theorists could argue about at length but it didn't strike me as misogynistic and I've not read anything to significantly change my perspective.

There are some stylish set-pieces. Director Tom Ford does not use sheen and gloss sparingly but he isn't afraid to show you the shit and flies easier films might photo-shop out of life. The acting is top-rate from all of the cast here. I wasn't so much gripped throughout as alarmed and terrified. The ending is perhaps slightly muted but I liked the way it rounded off the tale in a wholly contrasting tone to what had come before. I think it's a deep, concerned and thoughtful movie which asks difficult questions of society and the viewer.

3 out of 5 members found this review helpful.

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Last Life in the Universe

Forgettable

(Edit) 20/04/2018

There are some beautiful interiors and imagery here but little else to recommend about this film. it's another 'thin on plot' drama I've picked. The film is very slow-paced and seems quite arthouse at times, reminiscent of Hal Hartley in its dry and deadpan approach. Some screwball comedy involving unrealistic villains with guns is drafted in to the picture to help stop viewers falling asleep. It feels like a movie made by young film-makers and is pretty unfocused, especially in plot. A big failing, I think, is that the main characters are just too distant and aloof. I didn't enjoy this movie.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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The Levelling

Subtle, with great acting, but frustratingly thin on plot

(Edit) 17/04/2018

The review by JH here echoes many of my sentiments on this film. The Levelling didn't leave me cold. I did find it quite moving actually but there was something lacking here. I get what JH means by a very British film. I watched it on a Mark Kermode recommendation and it's a worthy, British, very Mark Kermode sort of film. Not a cheerful picture by any means. The three lead performances are standout, powerful and moving. There's a gritty, genuine quality to this movie but it was definitely missing something for me. Narrative development is very limited.

4 out of 4 members found this review helpful.

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From the Land of the Moon

Slow, sensitive, subtle human drama

(Edit) 07/04/2018

This French film, somewhat strangely re-titled for English language viewers, is based on a novel by Milena Agus. The movie is certainly a slow-burner but, while many reviews have criticised its pedestrian pace, I found it progressively more engaging as it went on. 'Stick with it' would be my advice. There is a remarkable twist in the plot towards the end. The sets, wardrobe and accoutrements are lovingly vintage and quaint. I felt some emotional distance from the characters and was never fully involved, but it's a human drama with something to say. The film finds its way and is delicate, sensitive and subtle.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Locke

An intelligent, emotional gem

(Edit) 20/03/2018

I'm surprised by such poor reviews here! The film is really cool and impressive. I was really gripped by Ivan's story which we learn about through yes, a series of phone calls told from the inside of his car. Tom Hardy puts in a splendid performance as do an equally accomplished cast of actors on the phone to this somewhat stressed lead character. It's a movie about people and real life. It's not your usual thriller but it really is tense and very watchable. Some beautiful cinematography too, the motorway rendered in some glorious colours. Very good.

4 out of 4 members found this review helpful.

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Tokyo Story / Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family

Slow essay drama exploring post-war Japanese culture is not, for me, 'the best film of all time'

(Edit) 09/02/2018

Toyko Story is one of the most critically acclaimed films. In a 2012 poll of film directors conducted by Sight & Sound it was voted the best film of all time. I find it difficult to understand such high opinions of the movie. I quite like this essay-type film which explores its subject matter with clarity, focus and a thoughtful, inquiring approach. Ostensibly the central theme of the piece is of grown-up children having little time for their parents. In the increasingly urban and westernised Japan of the 1950s, the siblings in this film have moved to Toyko and a metropolitan life that contrasts quite sharply with the traditional Japanese culture of their parents.

The brief review accompanying the copy I watched called the film a 'finely nuanced' drama but I see it very differently. The difficulties between the elderly parents and their grown-up children are repeatedly foregrounded and emphasised. It's not a slight thing glimpsed in gestures and tone of phrase but the basic narrative focus of the script. Similarly, the characters come across as quite plain and one-dimensional. There is acting here but it is of the Brechtian kind, as you might expect of a film-as-essay where ideas and arguments are being methodically explored by the drama. Other admirers of Toyko Story comment on the objective approach that the direction and camera takes - steady and unobtrusive, aspiring to a cinema of non-attachment in the Buddhist sense. I wonder if the polite and formulaic Japanese customs, manners and tatami mat gatherings often portrayed by the drama may amplify this idea of a similarly detached film-making approach.

Toyko Story seemed over-long but it does come alive in the final third of the movie. In scenes towards the end some of the characters uncover a depth and passion hitherto unseen. At the end, Toyko Story comes across as a film concerned with deep existential matters along with the cultural debates it either hints at (the Westernisation of Japanese culture) or boldly covers throughout (the difference between generations). It is a film that asks questions without providing shallow answers or polemics. I am a viewer who enjoys slow, thoughtful films and can rate black-and-white classics too but ultimately Toyko Story took too long for me to come alive and generate interest.

2 out of 7 members found this review helpful.

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Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten

Bold, passionate documentary on the life of Joe Strummer

(Edit) 08/01/2018

Julian Temple's trademark cut-and-paste collage style of documentary, seen to great effect in such films as The Filth and the Fury (2000) and Oil City Confidential (2009), here captures a portrait of rock 'n roll icon, John Mellor, better known as Joe Strummer. Strummer's tale makes compelling viewing. The editing of archived interviews of the singer, spliced against footage of protest from old Pathe newsreels mixed with people retelling their memories of Joe, makes for a film full of heart.

There are a lot of contradictions on show, a lot of punk's battles glimpsed and reported on. Nothing as shallow as a polemic is ever pushed. The strands of celluloid twist and confuse. So we recoil at the hypocrisy of the status quo but often flinch at the idiocy and vicious edge of a punk scene constantly being remade for capitalist gain.

Joe Strummer's passion is remarkable. He clearly had a lot to say. This film is as much about life and love and having a good time as it is about pop music. It's a very bold, passionate and inspiring film, full of feeling, that I recommend.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Buena Vista Social Club

Enchanting, soulful documentary of Cuban jazz musicians

(Edit) 02/01/2018

Buena Vista Social Club is an enchanting documentary by Wim Wenders of the Cuban music group that became a surprise global phenomenon in the late nineties. The film follows guitarist Ry Cooder and his musician son as they travel through Havana to meet some renowned jazz and samba musicians of the Cuban music scene. These musicians are 'getting on a bit' but as they regroup for recording their music glows with youth and energy. The shots of Havana are extraordinarily colourful as are the characters and faces of the musicians we come to meet. Watching this film years after its initial success, it can be seen as something modest, poetic and beautiful, a tribute to all concerned, not least director Wenders whose presence is so quiet here. A tender film for lovers of life and music.

2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.

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Diva

Youthful artistic noir thriller from Paris, 1981

(Edit) 16/12/2017

Sophisticated Parisian thriller. Released in 1981, Diva retains much of its freshness today. There's a bold originality to the design of this film, particularly with the stylish interiors of the warehouse apartments of two of the principals here. I liked the naivete and pretentious cool of the young protagonist. As thrillers go, the plot is probably not high on originality. It draws from the sketchbook set by seventies American detective-gangster noirs. A subway chase scene here is well executed but rather blatantly lifted from The French Connection. There are flaws. The film is too long and the convolutions of the plot lost me towards the end (not unusual). Diva takes its title from an operatic diva whose singing is wonderful but this seems a little superfluous to the plot. Paris looks beautiful in a film that really captures the feel of the city and milieu. It's a well filmed piece with some beautiful scenes. The acting stands up. Diva has enough charm and energy to make it of interest for the contemporary viewer.

2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.

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Downfall

A disturbing and gripping portrayal of the last days of WWII in Hitler's bunker

(Edit) 16/12/2017

A contentious choice of subject matter finds Downfall heading into Hitler's bunker as Berlin falls at the close of WWII. Horrific, brutal and insane as you might expect but strangely gripping. The film is based on first-hand historical accounts and this intensely claustrophobic movie has quickly become something of a classic. There might be an argument that the film falls short in condemnation of the Third Reich but the somewhat dispassionate treatment only highlights the flagrant insanity of the Nazi leaders more. Bruno Ganz's portayal of Hitler is incredibly convincing. A powerful and traumatic work carefully composed for the screen.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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The Last of the Mohicans

Tarzan dressed up in Merchant ivory finery. Dim.

(Edit) 16/12/2017

Michael Mann's 1992 'Last of the Mohicans' displays much that is wrong with blockbuster film-making of its time. The period costumes and scenic photography may be celebrated. The script is terrible. Daniel Day-Lewis articulates some fine leaps through jungle but gets little chance to act. Madeleine Stowe deploys a bemused 'sad, and wistful' countenance with grace throughout. Such are the roles for men and women: man leaps; woman looks wistful. Those Americans native to the country before the English and French arrived are a pretty bad bunch but for these three mohicans who go out of their way to aid the white settlers. One story-line in here, reminiscent of a certain Dickens tale, is allowed to occur without the audience even noticing it. 'Last of the Mohicans' hints at subtlety early on but progressively worsens before reaching an ending that might be from a b-movie. Dim.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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The Duchess

Good historical 18th C period piece

(Edit) 29/11/2017

Fine really. Gently paced, not over-long; watchable for the sumptuous costumes and sets, though never really gripping as a story. Ralph Fiennes is brilliant as the terrifyingly messed up husband and there are some finely acted cameo roles. Comparisons between Georgiana and Princess Di are strongly apparent. Something of Georgiana's aloofness and distance, neccesary to survive the barbed conventions of this repressed aristocratic environment, make her a little hard to completely engage with. It's a good film with nothing especially stand-out. Based on a highly succesful book by Amanda Foreman.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.
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