Film Reviews by TB

Welcome to TB's film reviews page. TB has written 18 reviews and rated 244 films.

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Young Adam

An atmospheric and perfectly acted masterpiece

(Edit) 18/07/2020

Before I write this review, I first have to lay my cards on the table: I am a massive Ewan McGregor fan. Since Shallow Grave, he has made some of my top 10 films of all time. He consistently takes chances, tackling roles many actors wouldn't even consider. Even films which are not great as a whole (Deception,) still are interesting because of his work. Young Adam is a film which doesn't feature in many people's top 10 lists of his films, but which absolutely should, because in many ways, to me it is a masterpiece. 

It is a film which depicts a tough, poor Scotland, filled with people who are not cardboard cut-out stereotypes but completely believable: hard working, short tempered, determined, intimidating. The streets are filled with mist and people walk with their heads low, the grime hanging in the air and the coldness of the winter coming out of the screen, which then gives way to the sleazy and treacherous underbelly. It is a world which the author Alexander Trocchi knew well. In many ways Young Adam is a biography of his life, although you could say that even the film is restrained compared to his experiences, notably his pimping out of his wife to fund his deteriorating and destructive heroin addiction. 

One of the best things about this film is how it emphatically pulls no punches. This is a film in which deeply unsympathetic people scam, cheat, lie and sleep with each other; there are no winners in this world and the film never shies away from that. The sex is graphic and honest, the dialogue hard edged and raw. The young son, in many ways the only innocent in this film, is destined to a life of hard graft, with little reward. You feel sorry for what you know he will have to adapt to. 

Ewan's character, Joe, may be the protagonist, but he is an antihero to the extreme. Prone to long silences, deep in thought, he may come across as an intellectual, but as the film goes on, his immorality and complete disregard for anyone and everyone is laid bare. This is a man who moves into a new property and immediately sleeps with his landlord's wife, compromising their family. But he also knows what he is and does not shy away from the consequences. When faced with the potential to get a family with a decent and hard working woman, he tells her "I am not someone you want to marry."

Adding to this excellent performance are superb supporting ones. Whilst Tilda Swinton got high praise and a Scottish Bafta for her role, Peter Mullan and Emily Mortimer also do some of their best work. As the brooding Les, Mullan is perfect, his ability to bring an underlying threat and violence second to none. Whilst at first almost a father figure who takes Joe under his wing, he then has his life casually destroyed by the very person who he has opened it up to. Emily Mortimer is perfectly cast as the innocent but eternally hopeful Cathie and Tilda Swinton is brilliant as well, as the tough as nails Ella.

For some, (including a friend of mine who I highly recommended this to and tried watching it on a Sunday afternoon expecting a fairly light-hearted watch,) this film will be heavy going. But I cannot recommend it enough. If you want a brilliantly made, perfectly acted and atmospheric film, rent this.

A masterpiece

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The Town

A very good film (Theatrical Cut reviewed, not Extended)

(Edit) 01/07/2020

When I first watched The Town many years ago, after about half an hour I turned it off, as I was in the wrong frame of mind to watch it and at that time, it wasn’t gripping me. But after seeing it re-released on 4K and also having watched both Argo and Gone Baby Gone, I wanted to give it another shot and I’m really pleased I did.

The film is really good, with moments of high tension, as well as great performances. The robberies were all staged excellently and the smaller, quieter moments also hit home as well.

Ben Affleck is great in the central role, and the supporting cast are also excellent. Chris Cooper turned up for one scene and made more impact in 5 minutes than some actors manage in an entire film. For me, there were 2 stand-out performances; Jeremy Renner as psychopathic Jem, who rightly was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars, ratcheted up the tension whenever he was on screen and you never knew what his character was going to do.

And finally, Pete Postlewaite as Fergus “The Florist.” This was a poignant and sad moment for me as not only did he, like Chris Cooper, only have a very small amount of screen time which he did wonders with; but this was one of his last performances before his death and it was clear how ill he was and deservedly he was nominated for a BAFTA.

The only frustration was that the 4K Blu-Ray did not have the Extended version, which is meant to completely change the dynamic of the film and also has a completely changed ending, which is Affleck’s preferred one.

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Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

A stunningly shot film but not much substance (4K Ultra-HD Blu-Ray 60fps)

(Edit) 01/07/2020

I had been wanting to watch this film for a while, due to my interest in cinematography coupled with Ang Lee’s very public endorsement of super-high frame rate shooting. Amusingly enough, even though this is at 60fps (frames per second) for the 4K Blu-Ray disk, the actual released film was 120 fps, which only a few cinemas in the world were able to show.

Whilst some people have criticized the film for looking more like a computer game than a film, due to the hyper-reality quality of it, I absolutely loved it. I can see exactly what Lee was trying to achieve and for me this film totally works in terms of how it is shot. Compared to Public Enemies, which was shot in the same hyper-real way but looked absolutely stupid due to it being set in the 1930’s, this absolutely clicked for me.

It’s a shame that the film itself wasn’t the home-run I wanted it to be. There is nothing much wrong with the premise; the performances, especially from Vin Diesel, Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart are great, and the staging of scenes, especially in Iraq, are brilliant. But it just didn’t work as a film, it felt disjointed. And although that may have been the point, for me as much as it is a technical marvel, unless you’re watching the 4K UHD Blu-Ray, less-violent films like this play every weekday during the afternoon slot on Channel 5 and have pretty much the same impact.

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True Detective: Series 3

Better than series 2, but not by much

(Edit) 30/06/2020

After the disappointment of series 2, I had heard good things about series 3 and was also excited by the casting not only of Stephen Dorff but of course Mahershala Ali, who had just come from winning his second Oscar for the magnificent Green Book.  

But despite all the critical elements being in place, (great cast, returning writers and musicians, generous budgets,) for me, it just doesn’t work. For one thing, there is no major action scene in any of the 8 episodes, which after the masterpiece of the single cut in series 1 and the flawed but still exciting shootout in series 2, is a glaring omission. The closest we get is a bar brawl that lasts 30 seconds, which has great humour and good fight choreography, and leaves you wondering why they didn’t put a standout sequence in.

The chemistry between Ali and Dorff, and also the relationship between Ali and Carmen Ejogo is well acted, but again not enough to overcome the key issues with the series. 

The squandered potential here is the worst thing, as it’s almost like there’s a fantastic series in this one, trying to get out. And at times it shows these glimmers, but doesn’t ever really progress from there. Better than series 2, but not by much. 

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Benjamin

Insufferable watching

(Edit) 14/06/2020

Despite having stellar reviews from the major film publications, I have to agree with the thoughts of pretty much everyone who has posted here: this film is dire.

I originally rented this as I'd watched one of Simon Amstell's stand-up shows (Do Nothing,) which was funny in parts, even though the angsty shtick gets a little wearing after a while. But when you compare that show with the film, the angst is almost subtle at the live gig.

The lead character is just insufferable. Pretty much every sentence he says, he either immediately says something to make you think "Why did he say that?" or "Please shut up, I'd rather go and talk to a plant." Couple that with the fact that when Benjamin interacts with anyone else, he will keep interrupting them, or start talking over someone then when they stop, he stops, then when they resume their sentence he will interrupt them again.

I think that Amstell believes that that is where the comedy comes from, but when you get half an hour into a film and you are at the stage where you don't want Benjamin to open his mouth, there isn't much point in continuing watching.

The only shame for me was that some of the interactions and small intimate moments had the potential to, had they been directed by someone else, be beautifully realised. But instead, we get a protagonist with verbal diarrhea, who incessantly worries about ruining situations which he then sets about ensuring comes true.

My score has no bearing on the actors technical ability, as I blame the directing and screenplay.

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Gotti

Nowhere near as bad as it has been portrayed

(Edit) 15/06/2020

The first things I heard about Gotti were all negative. The critical pile-on, with many reviewers proclaiming it to be one of the worst films ever made; the 0% score on Rotten Tomatoes and the connected fall-out. To me this was quite strange, because unlike a film like Dirty Grandpa (which got bad reviews and with good reason,) there was almost nothing in the story which would warrant that kind of derision. And notable film critics like Mark Kermode have acknowledged that there is this kind of perceived action by them, even though he disagrees with it.

But I was curious to see what the fuss was about, so I rented Gotti and watched it with a friend of mine, who also like me has strong opinions on films and doesn't appreciate rubbish. And by the end of it, we both had the same reaction: to say that this is one of the worst films ever made is idiotic. It absolutely is not. You can lament the fact that it is in many ways a copy of Goodfellas and doesn't do anything new with the genre, or that if it had been made when Joe Pesci was the lead and Scorsese was muted to direct, the result would have been quite different.

But this is a solid 3 star film, which was never boring, with a cast who were absolutely committed to what they were doing. I thought Travolta was really good as Gotti and from a behind-the-scenes viewpoint, he poured vast amounts of his own money into the project, such was his belief in it. His real-life wife Kelly Preston played his on screen wife, and the chemistry was great between them.

There was plenty wrong with the film, I don't shy away from saying that, but nothing which warranted the reaction it got. For me the most unedifying point was the end credits, where news footage was played with people lamenting the passing of what was a violent and nasty man who caused huge problems and carnage in his community.

The fairest thing I can say about this film is that it is great for a Friday night, when you get a takeaway and want to watch something which doesn't require too much attention, has some laughs, then at the end you think "Yeah, that was worth a look."

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True Detective: Series 2

After the brilliance of series 1, this is a massive let down

(Edit) 04/06/2020

The first series of True Detective has often been sighted as the time when major Hollywood A list talent went from working on films which tell a story in a (relatively short) space of time to long, detailed TV series where characters were able to be fleshed out and the tension slowly being allowed to build. The first series to me is perfection in every way: acting, directing, script, cinematography and soundtrack. Cari Joji Fukunaga deserves every single plaudit he has been given, as the whole series was in many ways shaped by him. The reason I mention him in this review is that, even though he is given an executive producing credit, he is on the record as saying that he had absolutely nothing to to with series 2 and boy does it show.

Series 2 has all the right elements: a talented cast, Nic Pizzolatto returns and writes or co-writes all the episodes, the budget is clearly substantial and T Bone Burnett returns to do the soundtrack. But none of it really works. It is all a mess of ideas and poor direction, with characters that you could be interested in, had they been written better. The only person who managed to me to really stand out and ironically take what is often a thankless role (a mobster’s wife) and turn it into a character who shines is Kelly Reilly as Jordan. Reilly is a very skilled actress (Eden Lake) and she brings an emotional punch to the scenes.

I have high hopes for season 3, as it stars Mahershala Ali (who after seeing him in Moonlight & Green Book, is a flawless actor) and Stephen Dorff, who has been great in everything I have seen him in. But as much as I’m glad I watched season 2 to continue the “world” the True Detective started, I cannot recommend it.  

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Dirty Grandpa

Like swimming in a sewer...

(Edit) 04/06/2020

The worst comedy show I have been to was a Frankie Boyle gig. This was after he had left Mock the Week (no, he wasn’t fired as was inaccurately reported) and had also just won a libel case after being accused of being racist (the newspaper took the joke out of context and Boyle is not racist.) With this legal victory and clearing of his name, Boyle came out on stage and seemed to have written this show to be as revolting and disgusting as possible, as if to really hammer home how rancid his comedy can be. The reason it was the worst comedy show I’ve seen is that none of it was in any way funny...

And that, times by 20, is what Dirty Grandpa is like...

This is a film where Zac Efron walks in on De Niro’s character Dick (you see what they did there?!?) pleasuring himself and this isn’t just a quick fleeting moment, but a long drawn out scene. And this kind of toilet humour is just repeatedly endlessly, in different contrived set ups for the whole film.

I don’t want to list too much more of the film’s content, as the official Cinema Paradiso review is absolutely brilliant in conveying how not just revolting but also unfunny this film is. The only thing I want to add is that I am a big fan of edgy, dark and what some people call controversial humour and jokes. I believe that when you have something/a subject which difficult or upsetting for any number of reasons (such as sexual abuse,) one way to remove the power and horror of this is to find ways to ridicule and undermine it. Whether it’s edgy comedians like Jim Jefferies or even black comedies like Elle or American Psycho, there is amongst the horribleness real, funny, biting humour.

But watching Dirty Grandpa, you don’t laugh or find anything in it funny, you just feel disgusted for having been a witness to it.  You get to the stage where you think, how many different ways are there left to talk about sex and genitals in the worst and most disgusting ways? The best metaphor I can use to describe this film is the dirty old man everyone will have seen at some stage in their lives when out and about, and turning and walking in the other direction so you don’t have to hear or see what he is doing. 

This film is disgusting. For some people, that is reason enough to see it. But save yourself the time and know your life is better having not watched it.  

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Holiday

An extremely unsettling and provocative film, but absolutely one that should be watched

(Edit) 04/06/2020

Films that have anti-heroes can often go two ways: the characters themselves (Hannibal Lecter, Mark Renton, Tyler Durden, Jordan Belfort) become icons and are instantly identifiable and loved for their characters, or are such abrasive characters that people just dislike them and become alienated. Then when you have to spend sometimes 2 hours or more with them, this hatred will really set in and the movie cannot work for you as the viewer. I speak from experience as I am one of it seems very few people who hated and hates Jake La Motta, so Raging Bull was a very long film for me. Conversely, I love Ewan McGregor’s character Joe in Young Adam, who for most of the film is just a duplicitous and unloveable person in almost every way.

This film has at its center an extremely unsympathetic character, who whilst at first you feel sorry for, slowly you just don’t care about and in the ending, you question her entire outlook and ethos. If I was to summarise the film in a short sentence, it’s a film about a group of horrible horrible people who do horrible horrible things to each other. 

But the journey, the slow ratcheting up of tension and the way that this world is portrayed, kept me hooked. Unlike many other films which I have turned off because I wasn’t interested to stay with the characters, even if I did like them, never once did I consider that with this. This film makes you feel many different things and at the end, you do feel genuinely unsettled and thinking about it for a long time afterwards. 

This film has become somewhat infamous due to an extremely upsetting and graphic sexual assault, which has not been cut by the BBFC in this country, a decision which I fully agree with. It is there to show the depravity of the characters and also is not in any way exploitative. Whilst many feel it overshadows the film or is a gimmick, I completely disagree with this. Also for the record, the director, Isabella Eklöf, went to enormous lengths to protect the actors and shoot the scene as safely as possible. 

Finally, for a small independent film/Blu-Ray, the range of special features is a welcome sight. There is a fantastic interview with the director, who goes into great detail about the various elements both in front and behind the camera, plus also a film festival interview and other features.  

4 out of 5 members found this review helpful.

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American Woman

Sienna Miller is incredible in this hard-hitting but redemptive film

(Edit) 05/05/2020

When looking at films to watch, one thing which will always interest me is actors trying new things and really stepping out of their comfort zones, whilst being in films with an amazing script/crew to help them soar. The most obvious one that comes to mind in recent memory is Dallas Buyers Club, where Matthew McConaughey went from being the guy in every rom-com Hollywood released for years, to transforming into a scared, AIDS afflicted man who refused to be cowed. Although much of the focus at first was on his transformation, within 5 minutes his previous roles were forgotten and you were completely immersed in the film.

This is the same reaction I had watching American Woman. I had seen Sienna Miller in Foxcatcher and American Sniper and been surprised when I found out this was the same woman who had been the love interest in Layer Cake. But she excels in American Woman and this film is hers, from the moment you first see her bonding with her daughter over the right outfit to go out on the town in, then following her over the next 11 years as her life goes through great highs and terrible lows. 

Miller is also surrounded by a great cast, foremost of which is Christina Hendricks who plays her sister. The chemistry between the two, as they go from animosity to anger, to the bond that siblings who have come through hell have is perfectly realised. Special mention must also go to Will Sasso, who plays the husband, bringing emotional wallop and gravitas to what is usually a thankless role.

I look forward to what Sienna Miller does next, and hope that now people have seen what she can do when given the right material, will be queuing up to work with her.  

2 out of 3 members found this review helpful.

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Only You

A frustrating film (Star rating given for story/film theme, NOT acting or direction)

(Edit) 10/11/2019

I was interested in Only You after hearing very positive critical reaction, and also for the casting of Josh O'Connor, who was incredible in God's Own Country (If you haven't seen it, put it on your rental list once you've finished reading this.)

I want to get the positives out of the way, because I had a very big problem with this film, but it has nothing to do with and is not the fault of the actors. The performances, especially Laia Costa, are great. The direction as a whole and the cinematography are also brilliant, and the soundtrack is discreet but powerful.

But I have a massive, massive problem with this film: (slight spoiler, but after reading the blurb, not a big revelation) The whole thrust of this film is centred around the difficulty of Elena trying to conceive a baby; you see the ups and the downs, coupled with the frustrations which they then take out on each other. But nowhere in this film in any way, shape or form, is adoption of a child even considered or mentioned.

And the reason I have such a problem with this is because there is an adoption crisis in this country, with hundreds of thousands of children who desperately want a loving home/parents who are being left in care. So to sit and watch one definitely vacuous character, and another who becomes it over time; constantly talking about having children/a family and the importance they attach to it, yet not making any effort after not conceiving naturally to transform a non-biological child's life, is actually quite sick-making.

I hope that Harry Wootliff, who is absolutely a talented filmmaker and from the technical aspect of this film is a woman to watch, will maybe look at this subject in a different light that does involve adoption. Because after watching this, whilst I feel sympathy and compassion for any woman who has gone through the difficulty of not being able to naturally have children, to not even try to change an already living child's life is not something I can recommend

1 out of 3 members found this review helpful.

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Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

A beautiful film with pitch perfect Ewan McGregor/Emily Blunt chemisty

(Edit) 20/10/2019

Being a massive Ewan McGregor fan, this was one of his films which I hadn’t seen but wanted to. The inclusion of Emily Blunt as well as Amr Waked (who had a brief but very effective and powerful role in Syriana) added to this.

Within 5 minutes of starting, this film had me completely engrossed in it. Ewan’s performance, which openly references at one point his character’s Asperger’s/autism, is perfect and he manages to make you at all times feel the emotions his character does. How you slowly see him go from being an utter cynic with limited social skills to someone who openly cheers as his project comes to fruition is a joy to witness.

But special mention must go out to Emily Blunt, whose chemistry with Ewan is as good as Nicole Kidman’s was in Moulin Rouge. Blunt is a fine actress and her positivity at all times against Ewan’s character’s negativity and how she slowly wins him round is worth the price of admission on its own. Their chemistry is one that hopefully will be seen again soon on screen.

Much has been made of Kristen Scott Thomas and her against type role, which again was enjoyable, although she was mainly regulated to shouting down a phone for much of it. 

A big mention must go out to Dario Marianelli, whose soundtrack, much like for The Brave One, fits like a glove. Cinematography and direction are also flawless. 

The only part which did rankle slightly was the inclusion of a plot device in Blunt’s character arc in the last third which, after the perfectly performed build up, didn’t sit well. The main reason for this was it took the focus away from the partnership of Ewan/Emily, which the whole film perfectly sat round.

But this is a minor complaint about a film which, as the credits rolled, left me with a big smile on my face as well as a sadness that the story had come to an end. Very gentle but highly recommended viewing for pretty much all ages. 

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Saving Private Ryan

One of the most influential films of my earlier life given a stunning refresh on 4K Blu-Ray

(Edit) 20/10/2019

When Saving Private Ryan first came out, it not only kick started my love of WWII history, but also showed a side of war which had not been put on film in a way like it before. Far from battles which mainly occurred off-screen with no focus on slaughter, in the first 2 minutes of the beach scene opening, most of the nameless men you see on screen have been slaughtered. And this is what Spielberg gets across in those 20 minutes more than anything: these individuals, some of the bravest men who have ever lived, don’t even get a chance to fight. The waste and wounding which is burned into your brain and onto your eyes never leaves you.

Using hand held cameras to make this up close and personal, you are in the thick of action. Whether on the battlefield or simply watching the chosen men for this mission interact, you are alongside them, sharing the horror, humour and grief they all have to deal with.

Although Tom Hanks is the A lister at the centre of the movie, the character who made the most impression on me was Edward Burns: Reiban was someone who, although a big presence in the group and quick to anger, also was the one who had the most difficulty trying to understand the situation he was in, as well as trying to survive. And the brief moment between him and Ryan before a battle, (a look which says a thousand words, with no dialogue) shows that even when there are no guns firing, the drama can be just as hard hitting.

But the 4K remaster made me see the film in a completely different way. Everything was more visceral and the washed-out look of the film makes the contrast even more stark. This was a perfect 4K remaster of a classic. 

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Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

An average sequel to an excellent film

(Edit) 17/09/2017

The first Jack Reacher film was a big surprise. Despite the endless criticism about Tom Cruise's casting because of his height (get over it, people) the first film was a great thriller. Cruise was great, the stunts/combat and car chase were excellent and Werner Herzog was one of the best villains in recent memory. Although there was some doubt about whether a sequel would appear, due to the fairly moderate box office, we now have Never Go Back.

In many ways it tries to improve on the first film and to flesh out the character of Reacher. This has mixed results and although it starts strongly, by about halfway the only real verdict I came to was "Average." It's not your standard action schlock and it must be said that the scenes in New Orleans are shot beautifully, proving that Ed Zwick (who also worked with Cruise on The Last Samurai) is a skilled film-maker.

But after so much promise from the first film, its disappointing that this is what follows it. And after this film's box office takings (significantly lower than Jack Reacher's) it's highly unlikely we will see the character either played by Cruise or appearing again soon.

3 out of 3 members found this review helpful.

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Spotlight

A difficult but must see film

(Edit) 17/09/2017

When Spotlight won the Oscar for Best Picture and also Best Screenplay, it once again shed light on the horrendous and disgusting abuse of children by priests in the Catholic Church, and rightly so.

There have been documentaries about this, most notably Deliver Us From Evil, which interviewed one of the clergyman and saw him openly admitting to what he did and also his feelings about minors in general. Although a difficult watch, it was compelling to see his victims trying to get the justice they deserved.

Spotlight takes a very different tack. It never shies away from the events, but rather than presenting them in a documentary style, it instead goes at a slower pace, creating more tension and traction in its approach. It also has an incredible cast: Michael Keaton, who was red hot after his success with Birdman, here becomes the strong axis the film spins on; Mark Ruffalo as the lead journalist, at times exploding in anger but motivated by the horror of what he discovers; Rachael McAdams as an equally tenacious journalist who uses her disgust to keep pushing for the truth; and finally Stanley Tucci as the lawyer whose refusal to be cowed and intimidated by the Church despite repeatedly threats ensured that the victims had their stories heard.

The film is never boring and completely absorbed me for the entire runtime, never once outstaying it's welcome or straying from the events. Amazingly directed and acted, with a great soundtrack, this film is essential and difficult viewing. A worthy Oscar winner

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.
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