Film Reviews by RP

Welcome to RP's film reviews page. RP has written 481 reviews and rated 482 films.

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Silverhide

Very poor. Avoid

(Edit) 23/03/2018

I was looking for a 'proper' werewolf film to rank alongside 'An American Werewolf In London' or 'Dog Soldiers', or perhaps even 'Ginger Snaps'. Well, this isn't it.

I suppose it has some interesting elements, but unfortunately the script is poor, the acting is poor, and the film is such a low budget effort (no budget?) that the lighting and sound are so poor that you can barely see the awful low budget effects or hear the awful script.

2/5 stars, but only because I have seen even worse. Avoid.

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Contact

'2001: A Space Odyssey' updated to the 1990s. Recommended.

(Edit) 10/05/2016

I seem to have watched rather a lot of sci-fi films recently - and here's yet another...

'Contact' covers a lot of ground: first contact with an alien civilisation, conflict - or at least tension - between science and religion, the role of women in science, personal loss and family, political / military machinations, and the power and influence of rich, powerful men in control of multinational corporations.

Fitting all that lot into a 140+ minute film was always going to be tricky and a script that avoids the ridiculous even more so. But somehow it works - and that seems largely down to the very excellent cast (Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt et al) and the directing skills of Robert Zemeckis. Even Bill Clinton gets a look in as the US Prez, using gently doctored live footage.

It's all quite slow moving, tension builds slowly (but it is there) and there are some mawkish moments, but these come across as moving rather than (as happens too often in American for this viewer's taste) sick-making. Yes, the 'first contact' theme has been tackled many times before in pulp SF novellas from the 1940s onwards and of course in film, examples including Steven Spielberg's 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' and 'ET'.

I'd describe it more along the lines of '2001: A Space Odyssey' updated from the 1960s to the 1990s. Of its type it's rather well done - I'll give it 4/5 stars. Recommended

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Dune

I enjoyed this cult classic - but it's a film for fans

(Edit) 10/05/2016

I seem to have watched rather a lot of sci-fi films recently - and here's yet another...

Frank Herbert's SF novel 'Dune' and its five sequels are to science fiction what Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings' is to fantasy. 'Dune' is perhaps the world's best selling SF novel and the scope of vision, the complexity of the future it depicts and the richness of the characters and life on planet Arrakis make a filmed version a tricky proposition.

And so it proved. I first read the book at school in the 1960s - and was captivated. I saw the film at the Odeon, Leicester Square in super wide-screen 70mm Todd-AO way back in 1985 - and was seriously disappointed. Although accurate to the book in many ways, the vision of Arrakis and particularly of the central character Paul Atreides (played by a too-old Kyle MacLachlan) was simply out of line with my own imagination.

'Dune' was directed by David Lynch, known for his almost surrealist vision. At the time he had made only two films, 'Eraserhead' and 'The Elephant Man', so it was a bold and (with hindsight, given his later work) an inspired choice. While neither myself nor the critics nor indeed many 'Dune' fans were over-impressed by the film when first released, it has since become somewhat of a cult classic.

The film can be criticised in many ways, from the over-the-top characterisation of Baron Harkonnen, the poor casting of Gordon Sumner aka Sting, the too-often repeated 'Prophecy Theme' portion of the soundtrack, and the changed ending (rain on Arrakis would have destroyed the unique ecosystem of the planet). But watching the film again on disc - not having seen it for over 30 years - I'm somewhat more forgiving. Yes, by today's standards the effects are clunky, the acting a tad unconvincing (isn't that always the way with an ensemble cast?) but other than that I rather enjoyed it. And - again with hindsight - Lynch's vision of the mutated Guild Navigators, while bizarre, is rather good and quite effective, as is the depiction of the stillsuits.

I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. 4/5 stars, but it's a film for fans.

[Aside 1: If you enjoy SF, I encourage you to read 'Dune', preferably before watching the film. It will certainly make it easier to follow! And if you've read the book, I also recommend that you seek out a copy of the hard-to-find 'Dune Encylopedia', a fan-written guide to the Dune universe. But do avoid the (IMHO) awful sequels and prequels by Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert]

[Aside 2: Both the single disc DVD and the Blu-ray versions are poor. The best version is the 2-disc UK Special Edition DVD; this has a restored 2.35:1 widescreen version of the film and 5.1 sound (but regrettably no subtitles). You should be able to pick up a 2nd hand copy from the usual places...]

[Aside 3: If any viewer wonders why the future appears largely mechanical, with nary a computer to be seen, even as an aid to space navigation, this is as a result of the Butlerian Jihad during which all computer-based technology was destroyed. I told you that you needed that 'Dune Encyclopedia'!]

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Oblivion

It's a post apocalyptic earth after an alien invasion. Only Tom Cruise can save the world (again).

(Edit) 16/11/2015

It's a post apocalyptic earth after an alien invasion. Only Tom Cruise can save the world (again). Err, that's it.

I've recently seen Tom Cruise in 'Edge of Tomorrow' and now here I am watching him in another sci-fi film and (of course) Mr Cruise yet again takes it on his shoulders to Save The World.

The film is - as perhaps we should expect these days - visually spectacular, but humans are a bit thin on the ground and the film is essentially a two-hander with Tom Cruise doing the action things and a well-groomed, very English Andrea Riseborough staying home in her tower and telling him what to do.

That is until the sleep/crew module from an old spaceship crashes, Tom rescues one survivor and begins to doubt who and what he is. There's also a bit part for a criminally underused Morgan Freeman.

Tom Cruise isn't one of my favourite actors. The roles he chooses are often too goody-goody, too good looking, too straight - and in this film, even in the supposedly romantic moments, too wooden.

The film is very derivative and reminded me very much of 'Moon'. The 'twist', such as it is, is obvious and easily guessed. The film is derived from a graphic novel (a posh name for a comic book) by director Joseph Kosinski. It's 2 hours long, slow to get going, it's quite pretty to look at - but it's stodgy stuff.

After seeing Mr Cruise in 'Edge of Tomorrow' which has more action, more aliens - indeed more people - and which I quite enjoyed, I found this very average indeed. On that basis I might have given it 3 stars, but unfortunately the 'twist' is so obvious that I'm going to mark it down to 2/5 stars.

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Edge of Tomorrow

It's an alien invasion. Only Tom Cruise can save the world!

(Edit) 14/11/2015

It's an alien invasion. Only Tom Cruise can save the world. Err, that's it.

But this one is much better than many other 'alien invasion' sci-fi action films. Tom Cruise isn't one of my favourite actors. The roles he chooses are often too goody-goody, too good looking, too straight. And here's yet another one, in which he plays a US Major who is killed on the battlefield while fighting aliens, only to live the day again in a sort of 'Groundhog Day' time loop until he becomes expert in fighting the aliens. He teams up with Brit actress Emily Blunt who plays another alien fighting expert and together they take the fight to the big boss alien...

The acting is so-so, Emily Blunt doesn't convince me as a soldier - but the effects are quite good and the film is laced throughout by much humour. And it's the humour that carries the film.

The film was made in Britain and the action is set in Europe; for a US produced film it's quite unusual for the focus to be Europe and for Paris and London to be the invaded cities rather than New York, so it's worth an extra star for that.

It is very derivative but the clichés all seem to be there for added humour. I enjoyed it despite the fact that it's yet another Tom Cruise vehicle, so I'll give it 4/5 stars.

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Mr. Holmes

Ian Mckellen's acting appears effortless. I rather enjoyed this, but with reservations...

(Edit) 13/11/2015

I rather enjoyed this, although it is (perhaps as befits Mr Holmes' advanced years) very slow moving.

Here, Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, has himself been written out and an alternate reality imposed, one in which Sherlock Holmes is 'real' and living in retirement with only his bees, his housekeeper and her son to keep him company. In this 'reality', the stories were written - and embellished - by sidekick Dr Watson, who changed certain details of Holmes' final case which Holmes, by reason of failing memory, cannot now fully recall. And it's the hunt for the accurate details of this final case which forms the core of the story, nicely interwoven with Holmes' discovery of a less clinical, more human part of himself rather than the grumpy, too-direct obsessive he has always been.

The film is basically a three-hander, with Ian McKellen in the lead, Laura Linney (trying hard but failing to mask a USAnian accent) as his housekeeper and young Milo Parker as her son. Despite the excellent photography, the English locations and the lead actor, this is very much an American film and it seeps through - can't we have a proper British Holmes again?

Ian McKellen is excellent and his acting appears effortless - and in so doing it shows up the other performances, particularly that of Laura Linney, who despite assorted awards and Oscar nominations is quite frankly weak and out of place. I know the film is US produced, written and directed - but couldn't they have found someone this side of the pond?

Recent Sherlock Holmes films - this, the Guy Ritchie efforts with Robert Downey Jnr and the BBC re-inventions with Benedict Cumberbatch have all been good in their way but I have had reservations about all of them. Personally I'm torn between Basil Rathbone, deerstalker, pipe and all and Jeremy Brett as the only 'true' Sherlocks for me...

Despite my reservations and its glacial pace I did rather enjoy it, so I'll give it 4/5 stars.

2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.

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Jurassic World

Dinosaurs in a theme park escape. Err - haven't we seen that somewhere before?

(Edit) 23/10/2015

Dinosaurs in a theme park escape and threaten and/or eat people. Wait - haven't we seen that somewhere before? Yes - I remember, it was 'Jurassic Park' way back in 1993...

'Jurassic World' is both a reboot and a sequel to the earlier 'Jurassic Park' series of films. That means that it's not going to be very original - and so it proves, as the 'new' theme park is built on the site of the original, has compounds and fences separating the (newly minted, genetically engineered this time) dinosaurs from the visitors and surprise, surprise - one breaks loose and causes havoc.

The computer-generated dinosaur effects are very good and the film looks great. The acting is so-so and the storyline is very similar to the original, although that was set on a preview trip, in this one the theme park is fully operational - so more tasty snacks for marauding dinosaurs. The male lead Chris Pratt isn't bad despite his name, but the rest of the performances are pretty wooden.

If you've not seen the original, see this one instead. If you have seen the original, this is so similar as not to be worth your while.

Not bad, good effects, but I was hoping for something original - but it isn't this. I'll give it a very average 3/5 stars.

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Prime Suspect: The Complete Collection

Has aged remarkably well and is still gripping today. Great stuff!

(Edit) 20/10/2015

The 'Prime Suspect' TV series has been repeated many times now, but I hadn't seen any of the repeats until almost by accident I recently caught a showing of the final 'Prime Suspect 7'. While that one wasn't quite up to the same standard that I remembered of the original, I thought I'd order up the box set and watch them again...

The first 'Prime Suspect' is perhaps the best police procedural Brit cop drama made in recent times. First screened in 1991 it has aged remarkably well and is still gripping today. Helen Mirren (a well known actress even then) plays DCI Jane Tennison, hard-bitten but with a vulnerable core, trying to survive in a sexist, male-dominated career as she heads an investigation into a serial killer whose victims are predominantly prostitutes. She is great.

The other roles are well acted, particularly by John Bowe as the 'prime suspect' George Marlow, by Zoe Wanamaker as his partner and by Tom Bell as DS Otley. All are really good and John Bowe could lie for England. There are also parts for Craig Fairbrass, who has since played many roles on both sides of the law and a small but really well-acted part by then newcomer Ralph Fiennes as a victim's boyfriend.

Excellent stuff, highly recommended. 5/5 stars.

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Mad Max: Fury Road

It's a chase movie, set in a post apocalyptic world. Err, that's it.

(Edit) 11/10/2015

It's a chase movie, set in a post apocalyptic world. Err, that's it.

Directed by George Miller, who directed Mel Gibson in the first three 'Mad Max' films, this is a reboot with the wooden Tom Hardy in the lead role. He's as charismatic as a cabbage :(

Like all reboots/remakes, by definition it isn't very original. OK, a few things have changed - now it's water that has value, rather than gasoline, but it's simply more of the same.

This time the story goes like this: The Citadel is a desert-bound city ruled by Immortan Joe. His power comes from control of the water supply. Joe keeps a bevy of beautiful brides. But Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) helps them escape and attempts to reach 'The Green Place' - and a chase ensues...

There's lots of crash-bang-wallop, loads of supercharged V8 muscle cars, cross-desert racing, gunfire, flame throwing, assorted weaponry and bizarre imagery all set in a desert landscape (it was filmed in Namibia).

While I've seen a lot worse, I wasn't too impressed. It simply doesn't seem as fresh as the original films, and Mr Hardy's Max isn't a patch on Mel Gibson.

Given the pre-release hype, I was expecting something rather good. The visuals are good - see it on the biggest screen you can. But I was disappointed - the content is very average indeed. 3/5 stars.

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Lark Rise to Candleford: Series 4

An excellent final series

(Edit) 07/10/2015

This is/was the final series of the BBC production of 'Lark Rise to Candleford'. It is 6 episodes long rather than the longer runs of 10, 12 and 12 episodes for the earlier series and it was cancelled afterwards, despite continuing popularity. I have heard that the reason was that the series' originator, Bill Gallagher, had become interested in 'other things' and without him there was no appetite for yet another series.

It's still pretty good, although after 40 episodes in total things do seem to get a bit 'samey'. This time round, the coming of change to the countryside and the way of life becomes more obvious as mechanisation is seen to creep in and Alf Arless has to choose between a steady job and continued work on the land. And having watched every episode of every series back-to-back in several mammoth viewing sessions (thank you Mrs RP!) the character of Dorcas Lane has become more than a little annoying...

The production values are high (no-one does period costume drama better than the Beeb), the acting and characterisation are good, the locations are good - what more can I say other than that it is yet another excellent drama series. 5/5 stars.

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Far from the Madding Crowd

Good - but just not as good as the 1967 Julie Christie version or 1998 TV version

(Edit) 08/10/2015

Cary Mulligan is one of my favourite Brit actresses so I was looking forward to this latest screen version of Thomas Hardy's classic novel. But unfortunately I'm a bit disappointed...

'Far from the Madding Crowd' has been filmed several times; perhaps the best known is the 1967 version directed by John Schlesinger with Julie Christie in the lead role as Bathsheba Everdene, Alan Bates as the loyal Gabriel Oak, Terence Stamp as the dastardly Frank Troy and Peter Finch as lonely gentleman farmer William Boldwood. Julie Christie is an iconic 1960s actress and made few concessions to period drama and played Bathsheba as a somewhat flirty, girlish woman complete with 1960s eye makeup.

So, does Cary Mulligan appear more authentic? In a word, no - this time there is more than a hint of modern day feminism about Bathsheba, something that would have been unheard of at the time. There feels something 'wrong' with all the characters - Tom Sturridge as Frank Troy never comes across as tempting enough to snatch Bathsheba's hand, Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak seems too stolid and Germanic (yes, I know he's Belgian...) and as for Michael Sheen as William Boldwood, I can never rid myself of the image of him playing Tony Blair in 'The Queen'...

Of the variants of Hardy's tale that I have seen, the 1998 Granada TV film with Paloma Baeza comes closest to the book and is long enough at over 3¼ hours to have details that are missed particularly in the 2015 version which is under 2 hours, for example Sgt Troy waiting at the church for Fanny Robin. The 1967 version is over 2¾ hours.

Of the versions, my preference is for the 1967 one. Yes, it has its faults, but it has that amazing score, it has 'proper' swordplay by Frank Troy against the background of Maiden Castle - and it has Julie Christie. My second preference is for the 1998 TV film - if you've not seen it, it's well worth seeking out. And third is the 2015 Cary Mulligan version. It's not bad - in fact it's good - it's just that it pales in comparison to the others. Sorry, Carey - I can only give you 3/5 stars.

[Aside 1: also released in 2015 is a digitally remastered version of the 1967 film. Unfortunately it's still censored and the cock-fighting scene is still missing. However, this is present in full (together with the Overture and Entr'acte music) on the US Region 1 Warner Home Video DVD. Note also that in the 2015 version Frank Troy gambles on bare-knuckle boxing rather than cock-fighting]

[Aside 2: if you like the song 'Let no man steal your thyme' sung by Carey Mulligan, check out the version by Jacqui McShee on the 1968 album 'The Pentangle' by err, Pentangle]

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Cinderella

Cinderella played straight. An excellent family film

(Edit) 08/10/2015

I'm generally not a fan of Disney films and their frequent Americanisation of European fairy tales. But my opinion comes way behind that of the intended audience - children. And here, the children (in my case, grand-children) have given their verdict: they loved it. I watched it with three girls aged between 3 and 17 and they all really enjoyed it.

I quite liked it too - it wasn't the over-the-top, too-Hollywood film I was expecting, but played straight for a change and with the always competent direction of Kenneth Branagh. The only comment I would make is that the 'ugly sisters' weren't at all ugly (except inside!) - but perhaps I've seen too much panto :)

An excellent family film. 4/5 stars.

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Last Resort

There's a lot about this drama that rings true

(Edit) 06/10/2015

Paddy Considine is one of my favourite Brit actors - and I keep coming across films of his that I wasn't aware of. This one is from 2000 - a BBC film so excellent production values - and Paddy certainly looks somewhat younger than he does today! The director is Oscar-winning Pawel Pawlikowski.

The film tells in quite a sparse way the experiences of a young Russian woman who flies into this country with her son - but her fiancé doesn't turn up at the airport to meet her. Questioned by immigration staff, she says she is a refugee. This is not a good move as she + son are immediately shipped off to an asylum-seekers dispersal area, and a dismal existence in a run-down flat in a tower black with no money (just vouchers), no job (she has no work permit), no contact with her 'fiancé' (because there's a single public call box and frankly he's not interested), no escape (constantly watched by CCTV and returned by police) and threatened with prison if she does abscond to London.

So far so grim. But she is befriended by Paddy Considine as the operator of an amusement arcade who helps her find her way round the system, fixes up the flat, plays with her son etc. Clearly he is hoping for more, but you'll have to watch the film to see how this plays out...

There is an offer of easy money working for a sleazy on-line porn operator and the film does indeed show something of a life of an asylum-seeker excluded from mainstream society. Clearly it's a drama but there's something about it that rings true.

[Aside: It was filmed in Margate (although the dialogue refers to 'Stonehaven'). I recognised the semi-derelict Dreamland amusement park, eventually compulsorily purchased after a court case, at last renovated and reopened in 2015 although I understand parts of it remain fire damaged]

Recommended. 4/5 stars.

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Black Coal, Thin Ice

Noir-ish Chinese crime drama - a bit depressing, but well worth a watch

(Edit) 28/08/2015

I quite enjoyed this Chinese film that won two award at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival.

It's an atmospheric, noir-ish crime drama set in a bleak, unnamed northern Chinese city apparently in the throes of a perpetual winter. A disgraced cop is now working as a security guard and fast descending into alcoholism when he comes across something reminiscent of a crime scene from 5 years before. Assorted body parts are found in the coal feed to a power station. It seems the victims are all connected to the same beautiful woman who works in a local laundry. The ex-cop stars a relationship with her, his ex-partner (still in the police) doggedly continues the official investigation - and suffers death by ice-skate. In the end, the baddie is found and the film ends with a somewhat pretentious firework display.

It isn't a bad film but I confess that I found it all very depressing, perhaps literally too noir. If you haven't seen any modern Chinese cinema this is well worth a watch. I'll give it 3/5 stars.

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The Dead 2: India

See it if you like the genre, but it's not a patch on the first one

(Edit) 28/08/2015

It's a follow-up to the rather good zombie film 'The Dead'. That was set in Africa; this one is set in India.

The good thing about the original film was that it was a 'proper' zombie flick, with hordes of shambling, flesh ripping, entrail eating creatures. This one has more of the same, but this time round they seem a bit boring. And unfortunately, like most films that attempt to capitalise on a successful formula, it's just not as good.

The story, such as it is, has an American electrical engineer working on a wind farm who has to make it across a zombie-infested Indian landscape to rescue his pregnant girlfriend and along the way picks up a little orphan boy.

There is a small sub-plot about how falling for a Westerner isn't as good as an arranged marriage, there is some really excellent photography and the aforementioned flesh-eating critters to avoid, but it's a bit of a let-down after the first film. And sad to say, I found the small boy so annoying I would gladly have seen him become zombie fodder...

It is better than many zombie films I have seen but that's not saying very much. See it if you like the genre, but it's not a patch on the first one. I'll give it an over-generous 3/5 stars.

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