Film Reviews by Alphaville

Welcome to Alphaville's film reviews page. Alphaville has written 398 reviews and rated 346 films.

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Galveston

Drawn-out bore

(Edit) 06/11/2019

Gritty, poorly-shot drama has little going for it, not even a music score to add drama to proceedings. Filmed mostly in dark interiors by a director who has no sense of what to do with a camera. The two leading characters – a killer and a prostitute on the run – are deeply unappealing and uninteresting. Cut to under 90 minutes, it still feels like a drawn-out student project.

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Shazam!

Children’s comic superhero film

(Edit) 06/11/2019

After a long-winded opening 35 minutes, a 14yo boy is transformed into superhero Zachary Levi. After that the plot moves along pacily enough as he explores his new powers, eventually to face off against supervillain Mark Strong. It’s kids’ stuff, with the usual superhero cgi and generic orchestral score, plus suitably right-on messages about family and empowerment, but it’s watchable enough in an undemanding way.

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Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Winning biopic

(Edit) 06/11/2019

Biopics rarely reach the level of cinematic masterpiece, but there are some engaging ones around at the moment (Colette, Stan & Ollie) and this is another winning one. Melissa McCarthy plays a down-on-her-luck writer who begins to forge letters from literary greats to make money. It’s a gentle film with a plot that becomes increasingly involving, has great dialogue and is well-acted by McCarthy and Richard E. Grant, in his best part for ages as her louche drinking buddy.

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Stan and Ollie

Winning biopic

(Edit) 25/10/2019

Affectionate biopic of Laurel and Hardy touring Britain 16 years after their peak. Lovingly observed and impeccably acted by Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly. You’ll find no great cinematic highs here, but it’s an irresistible wallow in nostalgia. As director John S. Baird says on the DVD Xtras, “If you’ve got a heart you’re gonna love this film”. As well as loving the subject, film fans will also find the VFX breakdown on the DVD Xtras fascinating.

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The Sisters Brothers

Travesty of a Western

(Edit) 25/10/2019

Don’t be misled by the trailer, which shows all the action that there is to an exciting score. If only the film matched up. This is a self-acknowledged “re-imagining of the cinematic Western”, with one uncinematic, dreary, stagey, interior, score-free scene after another. Expect few sweeping vistas, dramatic gunfights or stirring drama. Much of it is in darkness. The opening scene sets the tone. It’s played out in pitch-black so that we can’t see any of it. You might as well watch radio.

French-speaking director Jacques Audiard seems to be unable to direct the American actors, who speak their lines without emotion, as though reading them at a pre-production meeting. Even the film’s title smacks of desperation. The whole project gives Westerns a bad name. Judging from a Q&A on the DVD Extras, Audiard hasn’t a clue about the possibilities of the Western. Watch a John Ford film again instead to see what the genre can really do.

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Arctic

Absorbing survival tale

(Edit) 25/10/2019

When a film or a performance is described as a “tour de force”, it usually indicates a lack of plot or scope and doesn’t bode well. Arctic is an exception. There are some moments early on, as downed pilot Mads Mikkelsen goes about his daily survival routine, when it looks like the viewer might be in for a long haul, but the pace soon picks up, with plenty of incident to keep the plot moving along as Mads is faced with one predicament after another.

It develops into an absorbing tale set to stirring music amidst stunning wide-screen snowscapes. The scene where he has to haul a sled up a precipice is enthralling. The scenery and the bears evoke memories of The Revenant and Touching the Void. It’s the first feature film of co-writer/director Joe Penna and he is obviously a name to watch.

AT ALL COSTS AVOID THE TRAILER, which is basically a precis of the whole story. The blurb will tell you Mads isn’t the only person in the cast and that’s all you need to know to get the most out of the film.

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Us

Classy horror-thriller

(Edit) 18/10/2019

Perplexing story racks up the tension for the first half-hour thanks to beautiful direction from writer/director Jordan Peele. Smooth Kubrick-style camera movements and tense music raise expectations that in a lesser thriller would have someone jump into shot from the side for a cheap scare. This is a much superior film that has you aching for understanding and resolution. And when it breaks out… expect action at a pace that never lets up, laced with black humour. Those of a nervous disposition may wish to look away. The only downside is the unconvincing climax, but that should not detract from what has gone before.

Get Out and Us show that Jordan Peele is a filmmaker to watch. As he says in an interesting bucket-load of Xtras on the DVD, he wanted to make a film that is both terrifying and fun. He has succeeded.

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The Kid

Western drama

(Edit) 18/10/2019

Actorly Western drama directed by actor Vincent D’Onofrio. Despite the concentration on performance, it holds the attention with a plot that sees a sister and her younger brother go on the run from their villainous uncle (Chris Pratt) after they kill their brutal father. They get help from Sheriff Pat Garret (Ethan Hawke) and his prisoner Billy the Kid (Dane DeHaan), with whom their lives become entwined. There’s little Western action, but it’s a well-observed and effectively shot film that makes for a watchable hour-and-a-half. Ethan Hawk especially gives a standout performance as Pat Garret and the tense final showdown between him and Chris (here playing his first villain) is worth the wait.

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John Wick 3: Parabellum

A startling improvement

(Edit) 18/10/2019

Well, whadyaknow? After the first two execrable films in the fight-heavy Wickiseries, the third actually comes up with an unexpectedly promising concoction. It helps that this time Keanu is the target rather than the avenger. Although still little more than one combative set-piece after another, characterisation and plot have improved and the hand-to-hand combat scenes are expertly choreographed and directed in sets that are imaginatively designed and lit. There are still a couple of those boringly overlong shootouts in which our Keanu makes every shot count against hordes of henchmen who have been hand-picked for their inability to shoot straight. And it’s still too dog-heavy for those of us who are less than captivated by Keanu’s canine accessories. Nevertheless, if it’s exciting mayhem you’re after, this delivers, with some cinematic images that are really rather beautiful.

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Avengers: Endgame

Jaw-droppingly awful

(Edit) 13/09/2019

A surfeit of silly superheroes fight for screen time in this overlong 22nd film in the Marvel franchise. It’s said to be the last. We can but hope. If you’ve not seen any previous, forget it. As a stand-alone film this would be incomprehensible. First the superheroes have to kill cgi baddie Thanos (from a previous instalment). He’s got the infinity stones, you see. Don’t laugh, this isn’t meant to be funny. But no, he hasn’t got the stones, he’s destroyed them. They kill him anyway. Now he’s out of the way we can get to the film’s opening titles and jump 5 years into the future for the superheroes to spend the next hour moping around bemoaning their lot to mournful music. Who wrote this script? Did no-one suggest it might be a dud?

Even if you accept all this as typical Marvel guff, the film loses all credibility when the superheroes eat their sandwiches in white bread. Surely any superhero worth their salt would use wholemeal? Unfortunately there are still another two hours to fill out, so the superheroes decide to invent a time machine and go back in time to get the stones. Yep, it’s those stones again. And – oh no! – now cgi Thanos is alive again!

Cue seemingly endless scenes of the usual biffing and bashing. None of the superheroes has any character, the plot’s an utter mess, the drama completely non-existent, the Tom and Jerry music as awful as ever. Most horrific moment? Robert Redford turns up for a very brief cameo, as if to administer the coup de grace to a Hollywood that really has run out of ideas.

4 out of 9 members found this review helpful.

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Welcome to Marwen

Easy-going, technically interesting watch

(Edit) 13/09/2019

Having lost all his memory after a vicious attack, Mark (Steve Carell) spends his days staging and photographing Second World War scenarios with dolls and action figures. It’s based on a true story and the real Mark still exhibits in galleries. He is the hero of the scenarios and the fantasy village he lives in (Marwen) is populated by dolls representing the real women who look out for him.

Expanding on the photographs, the film brings the action figures to life with animated action scenes based on motion capture of the real-life actors acting out the scene. Renowned director Robert Zemeckis is brilliant at this kind of thing. To ensure that the expressions of the dolls and action figures are more realistic than ever, he has even pioneered a step forward in motion capture. The eyes and mouths of the real-life actors are retained on the animated dolls. Watch the DVD extras and be impressed.

Given this, it a tad disappointing that the two-hour film ambles along without any highpoints, but it remains a gentle, easy-going, well-meaning piece that’s worth catching.

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Domino

Disappointing De Palma

(Edit) 05/09/2019

This Euro-based thriller from Brian De Palma was reportedly hacked down to 86 minutes by the producers and is one of his most disappointing. It’s hard to see how it could ever be any good, with a dud of a screenplay that sags irretrievably in the middle as the good guys drive endlessly around Europe. They’re after an Islamic terrorist in a plot that feels totally at odds with De Palma’s trademark lush camerawork and an equally lush soundtrack that could have been composed by Bernard Hermann himself (which some reviewers here don’t seem to get).

The opening set-piece at least is vintage De Palma, with a rooftop chase paying homage to Hitchcock’s Vertigo, but it’s downhill from then on. Even the book-ending set-piece at a bullfight is drawn out to little effect, despite a Bolero-type orchestral crescendo intended to build up tension. Perhaps the reportedly low budget didn’t help. Every De Palma film has his beautiful camerawork going for it, and it’s good to see him still working well into his 70s, but this is nowhere near his best work.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Colette

Captivating biopic

(Edit) 05/09/2019

If you’re in the mood for a period piece with a touch of scandal, this is a very watchable film about the early life of French writer and performer Colette. It’s not the kind of film that has any great cinematic moments, but it works well as a high-class bigger-budget Sunday night TV drama. Keira Knightley and Dominic West carry the film as Colette and her husband, who fronts as the author of her books. Both are such charismatic characters that, after following their escapades through turn-of-the-century Paris, you may well want to read the books.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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The World Is Yours

Dull hokum

(Edit) 05/09/2019

Lacklustre lead Karim Leklou is on one last drugs transportation job for money to set up an ice lolly franchise in Morocco, but good luck to you in following the scattergun plot. Billed as an action comedy, it’s more of a madcap drama that’s too piecemeal to care about. Goodness knows what Isabelle Adjani and Vincent Cassel are doing in it as support characters. Adjani, once such a magnetic screen presence, is a camp caricature as Leklou’s blowsy mother. Cassel is his usual charismatic self and the best thing in the film, but he only plays Leklou’s dim partner. The film has a certain madcap charm and a rocking soundtrack, but that’s about it.

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Vox Lux

Not just boring, irritating as well

(Edit) 24/08/2019

It opens with a shock but from then on it’s downhill all the way. Celeste becomes a pop singer. Fortunately we don’t have to sit through too many of the ditties she warbles, but unfortunately there’s little else going on except tons of pointless dialogue shot with bog-standard over-the-shoulder camera positions. Part I, with a teenage Celeste, is bad enough but, when Natalie Portman takes over for a thirty-something Celeste in Part 2, it’s awful. She acts her socks off in a grating voice while bonding with her teenage daughter and preparing for a concert.

Jude Law goes through the motions as her cliché of a manager, and Stacy Martin, so good in Redoubtable, is wasted as her sidekick sister. Only Raffey Cassidy, playing both the teenage Celeste and the older Celeste’s daughter, comes out of this with reputation enhanced. As for the songs, provided by Sia, well let’s just say that if you haven’t hit fast forward by the final concert, you will then.

3 out of 3 members found this review helpful.
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