Film Reviews by HW

Welcome to HW's film reviews page. HW has written 45 reviews and rated 45 films.

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Anne of Green Gables

Don’t make fun of redheads

(Edit) 08/04/2024

A sweet and surprisingly moving coming-of-age story about an orphaned girl growing up and finding her place in rural Canada. Strong, amusing performances and gorgeous scenery. Also great to see the loveable sheriff from ‘Misery’!

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The Missing

A spooky ‘Searchers’/western ‘Terminator 2’

(Edit) 29/03/2024

This may not have the full emotional scope or complexities of the beautiful Thomas Eidson novel. However among the ranks of film westerns, this one still stands out for its originality and poignancy. Both Tommy Lee Jones and Cate Blanchett excelled as estranged father and daughter: both tough western characters hiding their vulnerabilities. I loved that they kept the young girl Dot in the film as well and the actress playing her was faultless. For western fans, this is worth seeing for its dark, supernatural atmosphere; its emphasis on strong female characters (a western rarity); its exploration of the clashes between races and beliefs in the West; and, of course, its moving message on family and blood ties overcoming these barriers. There’s also some decent action, especially at the end. Do read the novel as well: it may be the best western novel ever written. 

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Saw III

Just nasty.

(Edit) 15/02/2024

I worry this is the point where the ‘Saw’ franchise started relying heavily on gore and shock factor rather than psychological tension and plot twists, which arguably made the first two films fairly decent horror-thrillers. Admittedly the plot twists at the end of this bruiser were shocking and it makes some attempt to create sympathy for the characters trapped in Jigsaw’s horrendous games. It even asks some interesting questions about the nature of revenge, justice, and forgiveness, and whether violent revenge is ever justified. However I have seen more subtle depictions of these themes. In my book, sheer brutality over atmosphere and suspense does not a good horror film make. 

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Suspiria

Don’t go to ballet school

(Edit) 12/02/2024

An entertaining 70s horror, with sumptuous sets, a thrilling synth-rock score and stark use of sound, colour and violence in certain scenes. I was actually surprised by how simple the plot was, when you’ve got such an original and cultured setting for a horror film as a dance academy. Witchcraft is simply presented as a destructive, controlling force of evil. At least the medley of beautiful young actresses aren’t overly sexualised, as you’d expect for a horror. I’d be interested to see what the remake did with this film’s material. 

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Saw

Inspiration for Escape Rooms?

(Edit) 25/01/2024

Nice to be reminded years later of how fairly decent the first ‘Saw’ film was as an intense thriller. This first film was definitely more about the twists and the psychological tension rather than the gore (although some scenes are still fairly gnarly. Don’t watch this if you don’t like saws and feet mixing). The killer’s motivations also remain very original and disturbingly understandable. Also I had no idea Cary Elwes was in this. His career really took a dark turn! 

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Saw II

Don’t watch if you don’t like needles

(Edit) 25/01/2024

A horror sequel that could be better than the original? Surely not! The plot somehow has been turned up more for intensity: a detective has to bargain in person with Jigsaw himself when it turns out the copper’s son has been locked in a house with a whole bunch of alarming adults; all trying to work their way out through Jigsaw’s fiendish, deadly puzzles. Also I never saw the twist coming, where the film messes with your sense of time and plot structure. Even more surprisingly, despite there being more screen deaths the franchise was still relying on plot and tension over gore. 

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The Wicker Man

Fancy watching Christopher Lee dance in a wig?

(Edit) 09/01/2024

I saw this film years ago and didn’t fully appreciate it. Having rewatched it following its 50th anniversary, I agree with anyone who says it’s one of the most original and imaginative British horrors of all time. Not only does this film mix several genres seamlessly (mystery and folk musical along with horror) but it offers relevant and insightful comments on the nature of faith and belief, while adding tension to an already suspenseful, believable plot. Both hardcore Christian Sergeant Howie (Woodward) and the pagan Summerisle community he clashes with are blindly, arrogantly confident in their beliefs (the Summerisle lot dangerously so). Was this film predicting the one-sided, mostly internet-fuelled arguments of the 21st century? Regardless of its message on religion, this film remains a unique, disturbing and bewitching experience. The ending has to be one of the best-shot and visually stunning scenes in horror cinema, along with scenes from ‘The Shining’. Arguably the ending is more harrowing than anything from ‘the Shining’. The traditional folk soundtrack is triumphantly enchanting, despite the bizarre, horrific events the jaunty songs accompany.

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Barbie

‘Do you ever think about dying?’

(Edit) 09/01/2024

I found this film more interesting and funny than I thought it would be. The line above made me cackle; it was so beautifully timed. This film isn’t simply a fluffy promotion of a legendary toy, as I initially suspected. It works as a satirical sci-fi comedy that uses the Barbie doll as a springboard for comments on gender expectations, imbalances of power in society and just generally succeeding and existing. Although the film is a fist-pump for feminism, it does at least suggest that Barbie’s world isn’t any better than ours, as it’s the Ken’s who end up as the neglected, patronised citizens in their feminine world. Perhaps the film suffers from trying to do too many things, so that not each topic is fully explored. But you can’t deny this is dazzling and unique. I may even have preferred this viewing experience to ‘Oppenheimer’. At least ‘Barbie’ was more original and imaginative. And funnier. 

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The White Reindeer

Beware the were-deer!

(Edit) 09/01/2024

You’ll never see a film quite like this. A Nordic horror set in snowy Lapland, where the wife of a reindeer herder misses her husband so much that she makes a deal with a crazy old shaman. Not only does she become irresistible but she can transform into a white reindeer and lure hunters away. When alone with them in Evil Valley, the woman turns human again but with vampire teeth and, though we’re not shown it, we assume she feasts on the men! So arguably this is a feminist horror, with a witch using her desirous beauty both as a woman and a deer to prey on unsuspecting men, while at home she keeps up appearances as a good wife. At 68 minutes, however, this is not a deep psychodrama. Enjoy this as a visual, creepy fairy tale, with astounding frozen scenery, an unearthly score and a dread atmosphere. Utterly unique and compelling. 

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Crock of Gold

Best rockstar doc?

(Edit) 19/12/2023

Of course I had to watch this again after the recent death of this punk rock, London-Irish, songwriting legend. Parts of it were painful. To see how much MacGowan’s health had declined a few years before his death was surely a warning against excess. However Julien Temple (who also directed a similarly energetic doc on the Sex Pistols) tells MacGowan’s crazy story in such a fascinating, exhilarating manner, allowing the man to speak for himself on all his musical and life influences; from Irish history to punk rock. Archive footage and animation are combined to dazzling effect and we are left in no doubt that Macgowan was a unique, imaginative artist; an articulate intellectual who defied his legacy as a mere drunkard. Just be glad this film comes with subtitles! Do yourself a favour and listen to some Pogues albums. 

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American Psycho

I have to return some video tapes

(Edit) 19/12/2023

A blackly comic and subtly horrific adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s satire of 1980s excess. Surely the greatest performance of Christian Bale’s career, as a literal wolf of Wall Street whose misogyny runs to more savage extremes than his colleagues and whose violent rage could be awakened by mere jealousy of a colleague’s business card or his continuous inability to get a reservation at the most fashionable restaurant.  

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Elvis

The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll Biopics

(Edit) 19/12/2023

The only Baz Luhrmann film that didn’t annoy the hell out of me, as his flashy style and sense of excessive romanticism doesn’t get in the way of a great story. In fact, the excessive life of the world’s first pop star actually fits the director’s style. Luhrmann’s portrayal of Elvis as a music-loving rebel being exploited by his slimy manager (Tom Hanks shining in a villainous role for once) is maybe simplistic but certainly raised my sympathy for the icon and made me want to read up on his history even more. Austen Butler gives an electrifying, uncanny performance as the troubled rockstar. A legendary rise-and-fall epic story told in an energetic, entertaining manner. 

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Schindler's List

Powerful but too happy an ending?

(Edit) 25/03/2023

I liked seeing a different Spielberg to the director of ‘Indiana Jones’ and ‘Jurassic Park’ (which incredibly came out the same year as this). I preferred the unflinching realism of the movie’s first half, where Spielberg didn’t shy away from the dehumanising horror of the Holocaust. The film is anchored by great performances as well. Liam Neeson delivers a performance a cut above what he’s known for, as a German businessman going through powerful character growth: from an exploiter to a saviour of the Jewish people. Ralph Fiennes’s performance moved me even more, as he effortlessly portrayed the callousness of a camp commandant in possibly the performance of his career. I also approve Spielberg’s decision to shoot this in black-and-white, making this arguably the most visually pleasing movie of his in spite of the trauma on screen. 

I did read Terry Gilliam’s criticism of this film having too happy an ending before seeing the film and I am inclined to agree with him. The second half of the movie devolved into simplified sentimentality. Personally I still prefer Polanski’s ‘The Pianist’, which while never showing any concentration camp scenes still had a more brutal and merciless depiction of tragedy. Nevertheless there is still something moving about Spielberg telling a story about some light or hope to come out of one of humanity’s darkest chapters in history. 

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The Nightingale

Brutal but brilliant - more than a revenge film

(Edit) 03/12/2023

I love how many good western films have been coming from Down Under these last few years. This one especially stands out, being set during a brutal period of Tasmania’s history and featuring an Irish heroine: Clare, a young convict woman tracking down the monstrous Brit soldiers who destroyed her life. In order to find her way through the maze-like Tasmanian forest, she enlists the services of Aboriginal tracker Billy. Their relationship grows from outright distrust to powerful understanding and care: the only beam of hope in this bleak, bloody film. 

This epic had a lot in common with the more recent Australian western ‘The Flood’. Both were directed by women, both feature avenging heroines and both draw attention to atrocities against the First Nations. They also both explore redemption as well as revenge. But while ‘The Flood’ was dream-like, ‘The Nightingale’ opted for a more ‘Proposition’ style in its merciless, realistic depiction of history and trauma. There are a few hard-to-watch rape scenes and you are almost numbed to the amount of Tasmanian native characters being callously killed. Both Clare and Billy realise, as an Irish woman and an Aboriginal man, that they are both victimised outcasts of the savage colonial system sweeping through Tasmania. Even in the wilds they aren’t safe from roving packs of armed white men ‘civilising’ the wilderness. 

The cast is phenomenal. Aisling Franciosi as Clare teeters between grief, madness and rage in an absolutely captivating, emotionally exhausting performance. Baykali Ganambaar is an absolutely convincing first-time actor, depicting the hurt and anger of an entire race. Brit actor Sam Claflin gives a terrifying performance as one of the most despicable villains I’ve ever seen: a one-man representation of the exploitative, violent colonial system.  

So this is not an easy watch but an essential one. Director-writer Jennifer Kent uses western conventions to expose unknown history that’s relevant for all oppressed people around the world in whatever age. It serves as a history lesson and a warning, as well as giving some small hope that within the most horrific circumstances, unlikely friendships and connections can grow and overcome barriers of race, gender and misunderstandings; in this case, the relationship between Clare and Billy. 

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The Passion of Joan of Arc

The power of expression

(Edit) 26/11/2023

This is certainly a demonstration of how much silent films relied on the expressions of their performers to tell a story. The tearful, passionate and desperate expressions of the incredible actress playing the saintly martyr Joan contrast with the leering, outraged and callous faces of the male judges and priests. This silent film also proves that you don’t need audible dialogue or sound to tell a complex, moving (if biased) story of faith, hypocrisy and betrayal. Is Joan a heretical madwoman or a true believer? The film doesn’t fully answer this question for the audience and leaves us with a frantic, brutal, raging ending that declares even Medieval history will always be relevant; should the sheer quality of this cinematic marvel fail to stand up in the 21st century. 

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