Film Reviews by TE

Welcome to TE's film reviews page. TE has written 317 reviews and rated 327 films.

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Windom's Way

Messy account of colonial failure

(Edit) 15/09/2021

The setting for 'Windom's Way', the British exploitation of Malaya and the eventual revolution against it, is intrinsically interesting. However, the film doesn't do the subject matter justice. It comes across as hastily edited and uncertain as to where its sympathies lie.

Peter Finch's popular, liberal-minded doctor is caught between the pressures of Empire, local bureaucracy, aggressive British plantation owners, and the needs of the impoverished local population. He also has to contend with a brittle marriage and a friendship with a young worker who joins the communist rebels.

The doctor, like the film itself, ends up failing to negotiate a credible path through all of this.

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Beauty and the Beast

Freshening up an ancient tale

(Edit) 10/09/2021

Excellent version of the Beauty and the Beast theme.

The aesthetic here is very much in the origional tradition of the darker 'fairy tales', much more Angela Carter than Walt Disney. Czech New Wave films are always well worth watching and range from sassy comedies to insightful political allegories. And then there is the strain of inventively filmed borderline horror fables, like this one.

Transfers to blu-ray do not always seem to work well when a film's predominant lighting is very subdued. This is an unfortunate feature of this disc, but it doesn't detract from the engaging energy of the overall experience.

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Merrily We Go to Hell

Ahead of its time

(Edit) 10/09/2021

Despite a hastily contrived ending, 'Merrily We Go to Hell' stands out from the conventional crowd of early 1930s movies. Arguably the earliest and most successful female director in Hollywood history to date, Dorothy Arzner, gives an honest and challenging account of alcoholism, adultery and the power balance in heterosexual relationships (Arzner herself was a very 'out' lesbian).

The most interesting aspect of the film is the tension surrounding the point at which the loving wife finally accepts that the man she has married is a hopeless drunk and womaniser. After an initial period of grief, she decides to drink and have an affair herself.

In keeping with conventional morality (the infamous Hollywood Code was just around the corner) the wife is punished for her behaviour, so the interest is in the journey rather than the destination!

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Sex and the Other Woman

Bawdy museum piece

(Edit) 05/09/2021

Worth 2 stars for the non-stop hilarity (most of it unintentional). Soft porn at its softest and silliest, as only the Brits could do it in the 1970s.

Director Stanley A. Long went on to make several 'Confessions of...' films, which says it all.

Somehow or other (money talks) Richard Wattis was recruited to give introductions to each of the four segments of 'Sex and the Other Woman'. These introductions are the most offensive part of this dumb time capsule.

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The Driver

Driver or crash test dummy?

(Edit) 05/09/2021

Ryan O'Neal's acting ability is well suited to playing the wooden, lifeless character of the film's title. Things only come to life when the excellent Bruce Dern is on screen as the obsessed detective. The crazed glint in Dern's eyes even overcomes the horror of his late 1970s Afro-bouffant hairstyle.

The movie is a poor Hollywood attempt at a French 'noir'. Unfortunately it is not dark enough or hard-edged enough. Lengthy sequences of fast driving cannot disguise a plodding narrative or the predictability of the ending.

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The Charge of the Light Brigade

Class warfare at its worst

(Edit) 28/08/2021

They don't make 'em like this any more (and maybe that's just as well). Tony Richardson clearly had a huge budget to work with on this epic portrayal of the disastrous cavalry charge during the Crimean War. The bill for the extras alone must have been huge.

The film is good at exposing the criminal lunacy of the aristocratic generals who thought nothing of sending hundreds of brave men to certain death. Trevor Howard is good as the inflexible, vindictive Lord Cardigan, though his performance verges on a rehearsal for his crusty old fogey in 'Sir Henry at Rawlinson End'.

As in 'Zulu Dawn', the arrogance of the British class system is revealed as the main reason for military disaster.

Even the more sympathetic characters are little more than caricatures. It almost comes as a relief when the strident, egotistical Captain Nolan (David Hemmings) is cut down at the start of the fateful charge.

The film's main weakness is the mystifying decision to include chunks of light-hearted animation. The animation sequences are by the excellent Richard Williams, but they are horribly misplaced here. The cartoons devalue the seriousness of the gory incompetence and waste of human life that the film portrays.

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The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band: 40th Anniversary Celebrations

Return of the Urban Spacemen

(Edit) 28/08/2021

An enjoyable enough gig, but it's a pale version of the original Bonzo Dog live experience. Viv Stanshall was quite simply irreplaceable.

The old band members do their bit in messy fashion, but it's the guest star turns that work best. Phil Jupitus steals the show at the end with a fine rendition of 'Canyons of Your Mind', but Stephen Fry and Ade Edmondson are also good value.

The best that can be said about this film of the gig is that it sends the viewer back to the brilliant, hilarious original albums.

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The Whalebone Box

Expanding the boundaries of film

(Edit) 24/08/2021

The combination of Andrew Kotting and Iain Sinclair places this film very much within the psycho-geographic movement, and the resulting movie has the merits and de-merits of that genre.

On the positive side, the journey towards the Isle of Harris is the crucial aspect, and it is a trip full of memorable images and Kotting's trademark playful raiding of an apparently random array of cultural connections. The best sections are those which combine visual and aural collages to conjure up a teasing mystery about the whalebone box.

On the down side, too many passages are clearly of personal significance to the team behind the film, without the essential element of letting us in on the relevance.

Overall however, this is an intriguing film-poem that succeeds in telling a fine, pseudo-mythic tale.

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Fire Will Come

Where there's smoke...

(Edit) 24/08/2021

Oliver Laxe succeeds in taking us right into the inner life of a remote Galician community in this quietly remarkable film.

The close-quarter images of blazing forests feel very relevant to the increasingly serious wildfires around the world. However, we don't know if Amador started the terrible fire that closes the film, with Laxe giving various hints in the direction of both guilt and innocence. The prevailing impression is one of humanity just about co-existing with the powerful forces of nature in an unforgiving landscape, just as Amador's crime has not been forgotten or forgiven.

At the heart of the film is a wonderfully natural performance by Benedicta Sanchez as Amador's mother. Her small, indomitable frame carries her through a hard-scrabble life with humane dignity and presence.

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Mike Leigh at the BBC: Who's Who / Grown-Ups

'Grown Ups' is vintage Mike Leigh

(Edit) 18/08/2021

Another excellent disc in the Mike Leigh collection.

Of the two titles here, 'Grown Ups' is by far the best. It showcases Leigh's ability to tread the fine line between comedy and tragedy, and to use his characters' mannerisms and behavioural quirks to good effect. This often involves exaggerating the behaviour and the mannerisms to a point just beyond our expectations. Brenda Blethyn gives a memorable performance as the unravelling Gloria, and there is great backing from a list of actors who have gone on to become household names: Lesley Manville, Lindsay Duncan and Phil Davis especially.

The other television play on this disc, 'Who's Who', holds plenty of interest but feels like a series of sketches rather than a complete work. The focus is on the British class system, a subject that Leigh was to tackle much more effectively in later films.

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Barbara

More style than substance

(Edit) 07/08/2021

Flashy, stylish version of the time-honoured storyline of an artist who sells his soul for temporary inspiration from a destructive muse.

The destructive muse is "Barbara", a rampant alcoholic, nihilistic young woman with an evil spirit for a mother. Barbara's character is in direct contrast to the writer's secretary and his sister, both of whom try to rescue him.

The director, Macoto Tezuka, apparently made this film as a tribute to his Manga artist father (the story is based on one of his father's books) and there are many Manga tropes throughout the film.

The jazzy soundtrack is a redeeming feature, but Tezuka pushes too far into transgressive territory (graphic necrophilia anyone??). He seems more interested in shock tactics than in delivering on the film's early promise.

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Time

Powerful prison drama

(Edit) 06/08/2021

Very fine tv 3-parter, well written by Jimmy McGovern and brought home by a top-notch cast, including Stephen Graham, who never puts a foot wrong, no matter what parts he takes on.

We see prison life through the experiences of a teacher (played with real subtlety by Sean Bean) who has no previous criminal record and who has killed a man via drink driving. The harsh realities of prison life for both inmates and staff are brilliantly conveyed.

'Time' boasts a good strong narrative, but it also goes beyond that into a nuanced examination of moral issues, such as remorse and forgiveness. A recurring theme is the way that awareness of the impact on victims grows within some of the prisoners (at least those who do not end up addicted to drugs having had no drug history before incarceration). McGovern also presents the moral issues within families when a loved one commits a crime.

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Mike Leigh at the BBC: Hard Labour / The Permissive Society

Hilariously funny and painfully sad!

(Edit) 01/08/2021

'Hard Labour' is a crystalline example of the various facets of Mike Leigh's genius. It's an early work but it's all in there: the dark humour, the social commentary, the use of plain, terse, ordinary speech, and the courageous mix of comedy and tragedy.

It is also a wonderful time capsule in its depiction of raw sexism, racism and class differentials. All such things are still with us, even if in slightly more refined form.

Leigh also shows the other side of the coin in the mother's patient support of an Indian woman in the launderette, and in the daughter's relationship with an Asian taxi driver.

The Catholic church also comes in for some much deserved satire: the bullying nun and the bored, irritable priest in the confessional show the reality behind the mother's blind faith.

There are many memorable scenes and moments, but the prize has to go to the Elliman's Rub massage that the mother has to give to her husband's grotesquely hairy shoulders and back. Leigh was honing his talent for testing the boundaries between humour and desolation.

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Homeward

It's a man's man's world

(Edit) 01/08/2021

A grim Islamic-Ukrainian take on an old Western movie theme. It's all about "a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do", which means that the men do all the important stuff, like fighting and bullying, whilst the women just weep somewhere in the background.

The younger brother, Alim, bonds with his violent, embittered, fundamentalist father during their road trip back to Crimea to bury the older brother's body. Sadly, that bonding process dehumanises Alim and the implication is that he is going to become like his father. The problem is that the director, Nariman Aliev, appears to represent this as a good thing, with lingering shots of the bleak landscape and the forlorn graves that are meant to sum up the family heritage.

One star for the landscape photography and minus four stars for the outdated machismo.

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The Crossing Guard

Not vintage Nicholson

(Edit) 29/07/2021

'The Crossing Guard' is sometimes referred to as one of the better later period Jack Nicholson films. That is perhaps more of a comment on a lot of his other movies from that time rather than a vote of confidence in 'The Crossing Guard'.

The cast is good, and David Morse gives a nuanced performance as the remorseful drunk driver who killed a child. And Nicholson is fine, though his character is unlikeably bitter and callous. Herein lies the problem with the film, the script is woefully weak and ponderous. Instead of a humane drama it ends up as a grotesque melodrama that simply fades out into predictable schmaltz.

The film's director, Sean Penn, slips in a dedication to Charles Bukowski in the closing credits. If only the screenplay could have had half Bukowski's originality and verve!

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