Film Reviews by NC

Welcome to NC's film reviews page. NC has written 85 reviews and rated 194 films.

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Into Great Silence

Blessedly Beautiful.

(Edit) 28/12/2018

If you like the films of Angelopoulos or Tarr; or if you like the Renaissance masters of light and shadow such as Vermeer, De La Tour and El Greco, then you'll probably love 'Into Great Silence'. The photography and imagery are of the highest possible order. And, when added to that, there is an engrossing look through the window onto a group of people whose lives and lifestyles are a thousand miles away from the push and rush of modern western society; then I for one found the running time of nigh on three hours drift by with ease.

The film offers no history of place, individuals or the denomination. There are no explanations given. (Why are there seemingly so few monks in such an enormous complex of buildings? The occasional intertitles appear to bear little relevance to what follows). The meditative, contemplative atmosphere of the monastery is captured by long, silent shots of cloisters, candles, gardens, monks at prayer, the unhurried work of the lay brothers. The one regular, exterior sign of a 21st Century universe is a jet silently streaming across the sky.

I began by wondering by what journey did each monk arrive at the monastery, but realised this was missing the point. Each man must relinquish his character, his individuality, along with all earthly possessions. When a novice is introduced, each monk flicks back his hood to greet his new colleague, then pulls the hood up, as if to retreat into anonymity. A monk will flick his hood back to read a lesson, then pull it up when finished.

I am not praising this film as a Christian, or someone who approves of the religious life in any way. I'm a dyed-in-the-wool athiest. But I found myself supporting these monks. They choose to do no harm to anybody - or anything for that matter, as Carthusians do not eat meat. If you want to play devil's advocate you might ask what these people, in their cells for most of the day, are contributing to society. The response could be that the vast majority of people, no matter how unwittingly, are responsible for enormous damage to the environment. These monks are responsible for very, very little. That's contribution enough, surely. It's the kind of life I've often thought I'd like to live - except for the religious bit. A plausibly substantial sticking point.

At the end of the film I was left wondering whether, when the rest of humanity has blown itself to smithereens, there will still be monks in the Grande Chartreuse, pondering on the Infinity.

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The First Grader

Could Do Better.

(Edit) 12/12/2018

A well-meaning film, with several ticks in its final report, but one which ultimately left this viewer disappointed - and I can't help deducing it was because it was made by the British, for the British.

English language films have to ensure any lesson is learned by rote. So whenever any poignant bit comes up, so does the orchestra. When the music starts to beat along, you know a highly charged scene is on the way. The flashbacks to the British colonial barbarity inflicted on the Kenyan people, though undeniably shocking, are akin to a teacher telling us "This is how it was. Get it?" There were moments in the film, like brief footnotes, which could have been made into something special: when Maruge has individual contact with one of the children: when there is an attack on the school by the villagers: these moments are allowed to come and go in an unimaginative, undramatic dash.

One piece of history we are taught is that the 'Free Education For All' call that Maruge decides applies to him just as much as any child, has become possible only because of people like him. No-one had a greater right. It is a pity this couldn't have been shown in a more subtle way.

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The Hireling

Driving Without Due Care And Attention.

(Edit) 11/12/2018

There have been a few bizarre winners of the Cannes Palme D'Or (Friendly Persuasion!!) and 'The Hireling has to count as one of them. It's a perfectly good film - but then so are hundreds of others. Yes, the photography is superb. Yes, the acting is good. But it is a struggle to see what else may have impressed the judges so much.

We are in L.P. Hartley country - he may have been a part of the landed rich, but plainly had little time for the ignorance and atrocious manners of many of the people he saw around him. There are withering depictions of Lady Franklin's mother, and the family's friends and neighbours. It's been so long since I read the book that I cannot recall if the severest scorn is reserved for Ledbetter, the car-and-chauffeur-hire firm owner, but the film lays into him with a stick. While he's the epitome of polite correctness with his clients, if there is anyone he can possibly treat like dirt, (i.e. those he figures his inferior), he does so - with bells on.

It is 1923, and the country is a long way short of 'a land fit for heroes'. Prospective M.P.'s still see the job as nothing but personal ambition and a way of getting rich. The class barrier is as rigid and impervious as ever (Lady Franklin watches the poor through the window of the Rolls Royce). And all the patriotic bull of the war has had its effect: a short scene in a pub shows Ledbetter to be a moronic racist thug.

As the film starts it looks as if we are in for one of those familiar roles from Sarah Miles:- nervy, slightly unbalanced, a voice so quick and quiet it's difficult to register. Her character, Lady Franklin, has had a nervous breakdown after the death of her husband. It turns out that Ledbetter is the only person she has contact with that treats her with respect and courtesy - to begin with because he's paid for it. As she recovers, mainly due to the drives and conversations with the chauffeur, so Sarah Miles displays real acting skills: becoming more confident, clearer in speech, upright, walking with assurance. It's a very fine performance. Robert Shaw's career veered between the serious ('The Birthday Party', 'The Caretaker') and the less than serious ('From Russia With Love', 'Jaws'). He's good at the stiff, stolid demeanour he shows to 'milady'; less so when his ambitions, both personal and professional, go off the rails, and repressed emotions boil over. Alan Bridges, director of many television programmes (episodes of 'Play of the Month' and 'Play for Today') conducts with a sort of arid, or at least parched, efficiency.

'The Hireling' almost feels like a good episode of 'Armchair Theatre', extended and broadened out into a full feature. Maybe it is the opening out of what is essentially a chamber piece that is its weakness.

A good film, but first prize at Cannes? it must have been a poor year of submissions.

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Guilty?

Proven Guilty Of Being A Worthwhile Watch.

(Edit) 05/12/2018

A race against time to save the beautiful Madame Martin from a miscarriage of justice. Can lawyer Nap Rumbolt and his reporter friend Pierre Lemaire discover who really murdered the dastardly father of the accused's child, and why? Actually it is not as Bulldog Drummond-ish as all that sounds, and the film does generate a fair degree of excitement here and there. The lawyer's adventures in France as he pursues his investigation, followed by both the police and the bad guys, are especially good. Unfortunately there are scenes of such lack of sophistication, even clumsiness, that they spoil what would otherwise have been a really good watch. One flashback to an incident in the war is long and totally pointless. It's as if there were two directors at work, one who knew what he was doing, and the other a bit of an amateur.

The cast also comprises a marked inconsistency. The uncharismatic lead is John Justin, familiar from B movies. Andree Debar is the accused, who does little more than stand in the dock, answering questions. Barbara Laage is a mysterious shadower of the lawyer's peregrinations, who has to give the impression of a femme fatale, presumably for no other reason than that is what crime dramas must have. Donald Wolfit and Sidney Tafler are the more recognisable faces.

'Guilty' seems to have been released simultaneously in France as 'Je Plaide Non Coupable', whether with the British actors speaking French, or being dubbed, I don't know. One thing that has got better in modern times is the predilection for subtitles rather than the silly foreign accents so prevalent in old black and white films.

Another puzzle: there are all the hallmarks of a cheapie here, with a less than stellar cast; so many scenes shot in the dock of the Old Bailey; etc. Yet there are also scenes in and around what definitely looks like the French countryside.

It is easy to forgive the negatives and enjoy a real curio.

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Diabolique

Class Act.

(Edit) 04/12/2018

On many a person's favourites list, and it's easy to see why. What film lover can say no to a well-made suspense thriller with more twists and turns than a wormery. Add to that a cast to die for under one of the world's most acclaimed directors, and it's no wonder this is so famous and so well liked.

Of course a film like this relies heavily on the way tension is maintained throughout, and it is pretty unlikely the man who made 'The Wages Of Fear' is going to make a botch job. For all that 'Les Diaboliques' does feel a touch long, with some scenes having a slightly repetitive tinge to them. The other cavil i have is that near the start there is a heavy hint of what is going on. In the end though the sheer class of the whole thing sees it succeed with ease.

You would never know from watching it that Simone Signoret had major ructions with the director over contract issues, amongst other things. Ultra-professionalism personified.

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Bag of Rice

A Sack Full Of Bliss.

(Edit) 30/11/2018

A young girl and her elderly neighbour set off to shop for a bag of rice. True to form with Iranian films, a simple journey turns into an odyssey of small adventures, offering both delight at the invention, and insight into a country and its people (a very different view from that some powerful people around the world would have us believe).

A recurring motif in Iranian films is the way complete strangers will stop and help people (especially children) who need assistance. In a poor society, so the message implies, the best way to survive is to stick together. The girl and the old lady could not possibly accomplish their mission without the kind intervention of numerous passers-by along the way. What a lesson to so-called 'civilised' countries, where the rushing masses have little time for anyone but themselves.

A small boy crawls under a covered gutter to retrieve a coin and a pair of glasses; a busload of ladies, each fish out a small bag from their shopping baskets in order to help pick up spilled rice; a long line of schoolboys, each holding one of the small bags, cross a bridge and march to the bus-stop. All scenes beautifully done and all scenes archetypal of Iranian cinema.

The nearest parallel I can think of from a British perspective, are some of the products of the Children's Film Foundation from the '50's and '60's; the small problems which are mountainous when looked at through a child's eyes; the need to band together to have any hope of coming through; the help forthcoming from strangers, willing to spend their time and their energy; the innocence and simplicity of a gentle story, gently told. The West has lost the ability to tell such stories now, or at least they are told in such a flashy, brashy manner, with child actors that appear the very opposite of innocent, that watching them is torture rather than a pleasure. Iranian cinema has retained the magic.

The film doesn't seem to be available for rental, at the time of writing, but is on Youtube. On no account should you miss it.

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Destiny

Death And Remembrance.

(Edit) 25/11/2018

Memorable more for its imagery and masterful manufacturing of mood than its disappointingly slack storyline, 'Destiny' may not be Lang at his best, but still manages to catch the breath several times over.

There is a gaping hole in the middle, filled with three stories set in, respectively, Arabia, Venice and China. These are the kind of centuries-old tales about star-crossed lovers thwarted by caliphs, emperors, and so on. The first two are not particularly satisfactory, and make the clock tick quite slowly, but the third, revolving around a magician in a fantastically created Far East, is a tour-de-force of imagination and special effects.

The personification of Death, as performed by Bernhard Goetzke, will be remembered long after the film's viewing. That, and Lang's unsurpassed eye for what will arrest the attention, make up for the deficiencies.

3 out of 3 members found this review helpful.

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Twice Round the Daffodils

Once Is More Than Enough.

(Edit) 24/11/2018

It actually starts off quite well. A group of disparate men are thrown together in a T.B. ward, with no escape until they can walk twice around the daffodil garden. There's Kenneth Williams, slightly more subdued than his frenetic Carry On roles, chess-obsessed but with no-one to play with, eager for letters and visits from his sister (Joan Sims) whilst making out he couldn't care less. There's Ronald Lewis, in love with his childhood sweetheart, whilst her feelings for him have cooled, but she lacks the courage to tell him so. There's Donald Sinden, playing the part he's played a hundred times. Lance Percival isn't really given much of a character - he seems to be there to make the numbers up, and for others to use him as a sounding board. There's Andrew Ray, weak, sickly, lonely, shy. The most interesting character is Donald Houston's Welsh miner, with archaic convictions of what a man should be, refusing to countenance his illness, and constantly goading Andrew Ray's 'lack of masculinity'. Juliet Mills is an impossible angel, never off duty, always saying exactly the right thing - and did nurses ever wear high heels?

It could have been a nice little film, with the varying personalities meeting and colliding in an inescapable space, and to begin with that is what happens to a mildly competent extent. But then about half-way through, for some reason, the interesting issues are either resolved or put on the back burner, and the film becomes one of those boring, predictable British comedies about stuttering romances, (between patients and nurses), along with sexist scenes involving Jill Ireland.

Gerald Thomas and the scriptwriters manage to turn a pleasant bed of flowers into a bit of a midden.

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Father Brown

Hell Having To Endure This.

(Edit) 20/11/2018

Alec Guinness as Father Brown - sounds as if at the very least it could be a passable way to waste the time? Don't bother, because this is spiritless fare.

The first half has a sub-Ealing feel to it, as Father Brown is introduced to us as an exasperating thorn in the side of the bishop (Cecil Parker) because of his unorthodox way of doing the right thing. The second part is more sober, with light touches, as Father Brown and master thief Flambeau (Peter Finch) play their cat-and-mouse games.

The main problem is that impossibilities pile on impossibilities until any dramatic intention the film may have had vanishes like incense smoke, leaving only the frivolity - and as the film clearly intends to be more than that, the whole enterprise is a failiure.

At the very start Father Brown is arrested, caught red-handed by a safe that has been cracked open. He says he is putting the booty back in, having persuaded the real crook to repent his sinful ways. The police hardly believe him. Yet when they find out he really is a clergyman they let him go without further question. Why? When plain-clothes policemen, following Father Brown and Flambeau in Paris, need to chase a bus the two have boarded, they first of all fail to commandeer a taxi because a canoodling couple are on the back seat; then flag down a black maria (with bells clanging!). For some reason the driver stops and lets two strangers climb in the back, (the doors are open!!), letting them out where they want. The black maria, bells still clanging, must have been going slower than the bus. The prisoners in the back, instead of getting out when it stops and the doors are open, wave the two policemen off and shut the doors on themselves!!! The same two hapless policemen, again following Father Brown, run out of fuel only yards from a garage! Father Brown beats them to it by a minute or two and informs the attendant that he is being chased by two criminals. When the policemen push the car to the garage, the attendant refuses to help them. Instead of enforcing him to help them in the name of the law, or even putting fuel in the car themselves, they let the man take off in his own vehicle, (with Father Brown in the back), and decide the best way of pursuit is to walk!! Perhaps the silliest impossibility is left until the final scene. I guess it would be called a spoiler if I divulged what happens, but how can this mess be spoiled?

An impressive cast look unhappy (Bernard Lee particularly) at having to mouth inanities. Guinness fails to show a smidgen of his renowned quality.

I confess to disliking G.K. Chesterton. His snooty and didactic attitude seem typical of his time and his sort. Perhaps because of this the Father Brown stories cannot really be ever successfully adapted. The series with Kenneth More soon grew stale, and the actor appeared to get bored with the role quite quickly. The less said about the later series with Mark Williams the better.

It is said Guinness converted to Catholicism shortly after making this film. "Mysterious ways" and all that, I suppose. No doubt he thought he would attain Paradise one day. Personally speaking, watching this unholy rubbish I thought my time had come and I'd gone to the other place.

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All Quiet on the Western Front

A Lesson Never To Be Learned.

(Edit) 13/11/2018

I so much wanted to enthuse and give this five stars. If any film, because of the right messages, deserved to be 'great', then this is one. And indeed there are great passages here:- the opening is spot-on, with a shameless teacher rallying his pupils to abandon learning, and join the slaughter (don't think, just die). The main character,Paul, sees the same teacher spouting the same slime, four years later, and sees it through completely different eyes, for what it is. A scene in a crumbling dug-out, as the young recruits await the order to fight, some of them already suffering mentally from the constant bombardment. A scene in a hospital, where the mortally wounded are taken to 'the dying room', and their vacant beds are remade in swift, clockwork fashion. But it is the battlefield scenes which stay in the mind. There is depictions of such chaos and confusion, and such horror as bodies are mown down and blown apart, that it is hard to believe first of all it was made in 1930, and secondly that such scenes of barbarity could ever be rendered more powerfully.

If only the script and the acting weren't so abysmal. There is one scene where Paul stabs a French soldier who has fallen into the same foxhole. Thereafter Paul, in anguish, desperately tries to aid the dying man. "I want to help you", he shouts. Yes, we can see that, we do not need to be told. It's done too melodramatically. How much more powerful would the scene be if no words were spoken - just Paul frantically trying to stem the bleeding and find water? So many scenes which presumably are there to depict life outside the trenches, are a waste of time because they are so badly done.

It's such a shame. So much is in place to make this one of the most memorable anti-war films. So much so, in fact, that Lew Ayres was to become a conscientious objector in the Second World War, partly through his experience in making 'All Quiet'. But the words the actors are made to utter just can't be forgiven, nor the exaggerated manner in which they say them.

Full honours to anti-war films set in the First World War go to later efforts like Richard Attenborough's 'Oh, What A Lovely War' and Christian Carion's 'Joyeux Noel', but for all that 'All Quiet' certainly puts to shame the sick John Wayne type of film about 'heroes'. There are no heroes here - just boys impelled to enlist, dying in mud and rain and blood, for a reason they can't figure out.

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Dandelion Dead

Dead Good.

(Edit) 09/11/2018

It;s a familiar story: man decides to solve personal and professional problems by following the murderous route. If you've seen the very fine 'Murder Aforethought' with Hywel Bennett you'll feel as if you're treading over old footprints, but some productions are so good it doesn't matter, and 'Dandelion Dead' is one of them. The photography is splendid, the script is electric; but over and above everything, the acting. When Sarah Miles is in the grip of arsenical poisoning; when Bernard Hepton and Peter Vaughan have quiet, heated discussions; when David Thewlis in turn pursues Major Armstrong, and then endeavours to evade him, we can only watch in admiration at craftspeople of the highest order at work. And then there's Michael Kitchen. It's hard to know what to say without dropping into Trumpean hyperbole. If today's big name stars had a fraction of this man's talent I wouldn't need to rent or buy DVDs of programmes and films from the past to see how it's done. They don't and I do. A flicker of the eyebrows, a small turn of the head, the voice rising or falling by half a tone, the timing of when or when not to speak. Relax, sit back, you're in the hands of a master.

'Dandelion Dead' is based on a true story, and I can't help thinking that the film-makers have made Major Armstrong a more winning personality than he really was. There are intimations of his weak, even craven character hiding behind the smiles and polite confidence, but the cynical nature of a very rich man, used to prominence and privilege, who believes that murder is preferable to abandoning his position, is hardly touched on.

There are minor problems too with subplots such as the courtship and marriage of David Thewlis's character and Connie, played by Lesley Sharp. These scenes may be well done, but add nothing to the main story, and even make the second part drag slightly.

There was once a time when British television was the envy of the world. Creeping Americanisation (screaming audiences; noisy quiz shows with stunningly stupid pauses before the answer supposedly for dramatic effect; cop programmes with sound effects and background music so loud it's impossible to hear the words mumbled by the woeful actors; who can bake the best jaffa cakes; celebrities of astonishingly inept talent appearing everywhere and anywhere; the eating of rainforest wildlife for infantile entertainment) has ensured this is no longer the case. 'Dandelion Dead' is a very late (1994) example of why such esteem was once held.

2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.

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Hotel Salvation

The Old Man And The Ganges.

(Edit) 04/11/2018

Family resentments have set in stone, laid buried, until an old man and his son bring them to the surface at the Hotel Salvation. As the old man prepares to die we find out he wasn't always so wise, and that the son has inherited generational mistakes by in turn wanting to disallow his own child's heart to influence her life.

The story really needs a more experienced hand at the tiller (one can only relish the thought of what Ray would have achieved with it) for Bhutiani falls into the trap of oversentiment and stock characterisation. Even so, it is a promising debut, with beautiful photography, decent acting throughout, and an assured control over pacing.

If you're expecting an illuminating essay on life and death you'll be disappointed, but it is a reasonable story reasonably told, and Bhutiani is someone to keep an eye out for.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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James Bond: The World Is Not Enough

Good Enough.

(Edit) 29/10/2018

Deep analyses of Bond films are pointless (though some people give it a go). There are simply good ones and bad ones and some which are O.K. 'The World Is Not Enough' is a bit of a cracker. Chases are top-notch, locations are exotic, girls are stunning, and Brosnan is Bond at his best.

Robert Carlyle is the villain in this one, and it's a curiously underplayed part, as if the film-makers weren't too sure of how to fit him into the story. Something is always missing from a Bond film when the villain is not a full-powered Beelzebub, but as the action fizzes along, the deficit in this case is not too serious.

So who is/was the best Bond. For me the last three: Dalton, Brosnan, Craig, are all excellent, with little or no difference between them. Brosnan was made the scapegoat for the atrocity that was 'Die Another Day'. I wonder if the fool who sanctioned an invisible car, John Cleese, and backdrops that would have embarrassed a '60's episode of 'The Saint' was told his/her services were no longer needed?

3 out of 3 members found this review helpful.

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The Green Man

A Misfire.

(Edit) 29/10/2018

Alastair Sim as a hit-man. The mouth positively salivates at the thought. Wouldn't you know it, the anticipation is the best part. For 'The Green Man' is one of those old British comedies (there seems to be hundreds) which have dated badly. Fraught predicaments are forced, comic lines no longer raise a smile, let alone a laugh, Terry-Thomas plays Terry-Thomas, George Cole plays George Cole, and even Sim himself plays his character as if he's become rather jaded with having to carry a poor film time after time. Not awful, but the non-event makes it seem so.

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A Master Builder

A High Achievement.

(Edit) 25/10/2018

One more ascent up the towering edifice that is 'The Master Builder'. Another attempt to reach one of the highest peaks of western civilisation. this is a very fine, very brave translation/adaptation/production which throws out new insights and new talking points, whilst crucially respecting the original.

Wallace Shawn is on form as Solness, capturing the transition from an all-powerful, never-to-be-argued-with demigod, to an acolyte of the mysterious Hilde, agreeing with and agreeing to every word she says, even when it heralds his own demise. Being asked to believe beautiful women lay themselves at his feet risks credibility - but let that one go. Lisa Joyce plays Hilde for the most part with great skill, but for some reason I cannot understand she is asked to emit bursts of hysterical laughter. This is all the more puzzling as in this production she is not a 'real' character, but a mystical, angelic being, someone in the mind of a dying Solness.

A shelf-full of books could be written about this one play. Facets ripe for discussion include whether Solness did in fact sexually assault Hilde when she was only twelve years old, and how may that have affected her mentally since. The deterioration of Solness's marriage may have more to do with his own selfishness and ambition than with the death of young twins, and how he thinks his wife has borne this loss. Is Solness THE Master Builder, the Creator, who no longer builds churches, and has one last palace in the sky to erect, for Hilde, for himself, before Ragnarok- the end of the world. (His apprentice, who is ready to take over from him, for whom he is asked to step aside, is called Ragnor). There is a slice of social history to consider as the rise of humble Solness is at the expense of his wife's family estate. And then there is Hilde - one of the most difficult characters in literature to pin down: real or imaginary? Someone who forces herself into the master builder's home like a whirlwind, but is just as unattainable.

Ibsen was one of those rare wonders, far greater than the average genius. To put on a play like 'The Master Builder' is a daunting prospect. This, with just one or two reservations, is a brilliant venture.

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