Film Reviews by NC

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

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Conspiracy of Hearts

All Heart. Pity About The Rest.

(Edit) 24/10/2018

First thing to say about these hearts is that they are 100% in the right place. I'm afraid that is the only positive point in its favour, for even the most perfectly made cherry pie becomes inedible if gallons of thick treacle are poured over it. No cloying sentiment is left unsaid. No cliched character is left uncast. No predictable situation is left unexplored. Gorge cannot help but rise after the umpteenth time the children are called 'angels' or 'cherubim'. It may be argued that this was a product of its time, (1960), when a high level of sentiment was a more common trait. But directors like Karoly Makk and Konrad Wolf were around then, and O how one wishes someone of that standing could have been at the helm.

No actor can be singled out, as no-one had the ability to rise above the saccharine script.

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The Cow

Harbinger Of The Greatness To Come.

(Edit) 24/10/2018

'A landmark of world cinema', the Iranian actor and comedian Omid Djalili says, and he is right. Seen by many as the first great Iranian film, it certainly contains the ingredients of all the colossal masterpieces which were to follow right up to the present day. Astonishing camerawork, the long take, the perfect pace of each shot, an eye for what will make a breathtaking image. Most important of all, the one thing that elevates iranian cinema above the rest of the world: the humane element. Ordinary people trying to work out a problem that becomes extraordinary to them precisely because they are ordinary. It's a simple device, but Iranian directors have made it work so many times, and somehow they do it far, far better than film-makers from other nations.

'The Cow' is not quite on the same stratospheric level as, say, the films of the Makhmalbafs or Jafar Panahi. It doesn't have their concision. Very rarely, when watching an Iranian film, does it seem slow, but I couldn't help thinking it would be a better film at 15 minutes shorter. And it doesn't have their simplicity - the other essential component which makes Iranian cinema unique. I feel there is some deeper meaning behind the story of a man so in love with his cow that when he loses it, he becomes the animal. Rather the cow lives than he himself. I couldn't, and still can't, work out what that deeper meaning might be.

Nevertheless, this is, for by far the most part, a superb work of art. 'A landmark in world cinema'.

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The Broken Horseshoe

Little Good Luck In Watching This.

(Edit) 24/10/2018

Ho-hum piece about unearthing the secret organisation and catching the killer. All the more disappointing in that it was penned by Francis Durbridge, who wrote some pretty nifty mysteries. He also wrote some seemingly in his sleep, and this is distinctly one of the soporific ones.

Essential to the enjoyment of these films is a suspension of disbelief. So when a surgeon, after just a few minutes acquaintance with a beautiful woman, is prepared to lie through his teeth to the police investigating a murder, you know you're not in for a classic.

Ferdy Mayne is good as a hit-and-run victim in hospital, of whom there is more to than meets the eye. Roger Delgado is as devilish as ever. The rest of the cast, Robert Beatty, Elizabeth Sellars, etc, turn up and speak their lines.

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Beyond the Hills

After The Orphanage.

(Edit) 24/10/2018

After the compulsive '4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days' Cristian Mungiu has made another film concentrating on the bond between two young women that goes way beyond friendship.

Right from the start we see there is something wrong with Alina as she clasps Voichita too tightly, too long. Alina needs help, both socially and medically, but every road she travels towards salvation is blocked. Her previous relationship with Voichita (there is a hint it may have been sexual, or at least sensual) cannot be resumed as Voichita is now a nun in a rigid Orthodox order. Erstwhile refuges such as the orphanage and foster parents can no longer look after her. When her condition deteriorates and she is taken to hospital, the health service is quick to free its hands of her. The last hope is the convent, but in a world where love and understanding is reserved solely for people who follow the Father's word without question, that hope is doomed.

Mungiu seems to deliberately distance us from the characters. Fragmentary information about the past give some clues, but not all. How has Alina managed to live with her condition till now? It is obviously a society of very few options for orphanage girls, but did Voichita enter the convent willingly, or because it was either that or the streets? Voichita appears to have no personal relationship with God, but simply parrots the Father. A rule book with over 400 sins which must not be transgressed is read so quickly its content becomes meaningless.

Romanian orphanages were headline news a few years ago. But what happened when the kids grew up and left? With preparations for life at a bare minimum, tragedy will always be looking over the shoulder.

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Defence of the Realm

Elliott Shines - But Too Briefly.

(Edit) 23/10/2018

The cast brought me here. Any film with Denholm Elliott, Ian Bannen and Bill Patterson can't be all bad. Add to that the ultra-reliable Frederick Treves and Fulton Mackay and surely there must be something worth watching. Alas and alack, all that talent have bit parts only. Elliott, immense when on the screen, is killed off early, and the film becomes far less watchable from then on. I can't help thinking that an almighty trick has been missed by making the film a vehicle for the younger, lesser talent of Gabriel Byrne rather than one of Britain's finest ever actors.

Slickly done, and there are brief moments of joy at the start when Elliott and Bannen are together, but ultimately it's a conspiracy thriller which fails to thrill very much, involving people you're not given a chance to care about very much. Greta Scacchi appears presumably because someone realised there was such a thing as females on the planet, and so hastily concocted a role for one.

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Cleo from 5 to 7

Nearly Great.

(Edit) 22/10/2018

Half great, half boring, this is one of those films where hopes and expectations exceed the actual product. Wonderful passages such as Corinne Marchand as Cleo walking through the streets of Paris, or in a taxi with her maid/companion, or in a car with her friend, alternate with tedious scenes such as a song rehearsal, or the watching of a silly silent comedy. Worst of all are the final scenes, when Cleo meets a man in a park, and they strike up what may become a relationship - if she survives her illness and he survives Algeria. The pick-up and subsequent conversations are unbelievable and wearisome.

'Cleo From 5 to 7' has examples within it of the best and the worst of French New Wave. A focus on the person inside the outward show (when Cleo takes off her wig she becomes a very different person to the recording star); a focus on the moment, when what has gone before and what is to come is left to the viewer to question (if they want to); all this depicted by innovative camerawork. But there is also a predilection for philosophical blather, and the conviction that this blather is important. 'Cleo' doesn't have as much of this as, say, Godard, and is thereby a better film than any of his, but cameo appearances from some big names of the New Wave adds an annoying private party slant to the proceedings.

Marchand glides beautifully through the film, not having to emote much (her worry overshadowing all) - but when she does, it's unconvincing.

The best bits live up to all I hoped for from such an acclaimed film. The worst bits ensure it will not go on the favourites page.

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Colonel March Investigates

A Nonentity.

(Edit) 23/10/2018

For Karloff fans and vintage film buffs only. Innocuous enough, and there is a modicum of amusement in seeing a young Joan Sims and Richard Wattis, but the solutions to the mysteries are a let-down, and it is all done without a lot of enthusiasm. Give it a miss if you've got something better to do.

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Cash on Demand

Bank On This One.

(Edit) 22/10/2018

'Cash On Demand' is a smashing little heist film, a vault full of script and acting riches. Cushing plays against type as a self-important, nitpicking bank manager, overlooking his own faults all the more to find them in others. Morell is excellent as a suave thief whose meticulous plans to empty the bank take up most of the film's running time. Even better is the ever-reliable Richard Vernon, a humble chief- clerk, seething with indignation at his treatment by Cushing.

Set almost entirely within the bank, it has a theatrical, claustrophobic feel, enhanced by tension, not just of the robbery, but between characters.

Holes start appearing if you think about it too much, but that doesn't stop it being a very enjoyable way to pass the time.

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Ballad of Narayama

Saving Face.

(Edit) 22/10/2018

A kabuki-inspired telling of a story about the end of life may not inspire many to sit down and watch. They are missing out.

Dying atop Mount Narayama when the age of 70 is reached has become a tradition for the local people, saving resources and saving face. Though why should Granny be bothered about saving face amongst villagers who mock and jeer her? Perhaps the way her neighbour, past 70 and refusing to ascend the mountain, is scorned and spurned by his own family, provides the answer.

Kinoshita expertly catches the conflict of emotions within Granny's family as her time nears. His pace is slow, but riveting and beautiful. Painted backdrops give a theatrical, and therefore intimate, sensation. The story is further explained to the audience via a kabuki-style singer, much in the same way a Greek chorus works.

Kinuyo Tanaka once more demonstrates why she was, and remains, one of cinema's great talents. The film is worth watching just for her performance alone. Everyone else is superb. The final climb up the mountain, and the snowfall at the top, must rank as one of the most memorable moments in all of film history.

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Freedom Radio

Of Much Academic Interest.

(Edit) 02/10/2018

I guess there was very little room for subtlety in 1941. 'Freedom Radio' may be a flagrant, black-and-white tub-thumper, and, watched today, it suffers because of that, but no-one can deny the verity of its message nor its importance at the time. There is a reasonable cat-and-mouse thriller element, and a bit of fun catching familiar faces, some of them in their younger days (Joan Hickson, for instance); but the overriding interest is in seeing a good example of British wartime propaganda.

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Day of Wrath

The Extraordinary Being Here Is Carl Theodor Dreyer.

(Edit) 01/10/2018

An old woman is accused of witchcraft. The pastor writes "Having been tortured, to the glory of God, she voluntarily confessed." An old man dies. His young wife and his son from a previous marriage are lovers. "He stands before God and accuses us", the son says. "No, he is pleading for us because he sees how we suffer", the wife replies. God, Christianity, and the Devil are who individuals think they are. God and the Devil have very little to do with it.

The young wife thinks she may have the power of calling, as her mother was said to possess. On the two occasions she tries it, it works, but there are causes in each case far less supernatural than the Devil's work. But this is a time of witch-hunts, fevered suspicions, betrayal of neighbours, friends and even family; and coincidences are not considered at all. Burn first, and don't bother asking questions later. (The film was made in 1943, under German occupation. The parallels hardly need to stated).

Dreyer doesn't just give us a powerful story and characters of complexity, he produces camerawork of stunning vision and beauty. The ascetic interior of the pastor's house is in complete contrast to the Garden of Eden outside, where the lovers meet. A tree, leaning over the water is "bowed in sorrow for us" according to the son. No, replies the wife, it is "in longing for its reflection - we can be no more parted than the tree and its reflection". The silhouettes in these scenes are reminiscent of Lotte Reininger's animation, and become darker, shrouded in mist, as love nears its doom. There are also tracking shots , particularly one which follows a line of choir boys - watch in wonder.

The pursuit of witchcraft, and the persecution of witches (nearly all women, obviously) was seen at the time as God's work. Today, those who believe in God and the Devil should by rights lay the blame on the Devil. Dreyer is surely pointing the finger, both in the time of burning witches, and the time of the Nazis, solely at humanity, or at least a large section of humanity (and not just men, as the pastor's mother exemplifies). To repeat, God and the Devil have very little to do with it.

Performances across the board are so good there must have been sorcery in it.

There are those who place Dreyer's 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' as number one on the list of greatest films ever made, and they have good reason. Every one of his other films is suffused with genius, even down to the short 'They Caught The Ferry'. 'Day of Wrath' is a gaunt, haunting masterpiece.

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Life in Danger / Cover Girl Killer

One O.K. The Other Great.

(Edit) 30/09/2018

Two B films, one adequate, the other a heck of a lot more than that.

To start with the lesser, 'Cover Girl Killer' has Harry H. Corbett as a psychopath knocking off pin-up girls in the name of purity. Nothing much is made of this as most of the story revolves around the run-of-the-mill police investigation rather than the mind of the murderer.

Interesting for its time - the age of X certificates, bawdy shows and top-shelf magazines. Try to hide everything like this from minors and the innocent, but don't try too hard - after all there's good money to be had. Unfortunately it's a film where all what could have been is underexplored. The finale isn't worth waiting for.

Corbett is quite good. The rest of the cast just go through the motions.

'Life In Danger', however, is on a different level entirely. There has been an escape from the local asylum. A stranger appears in the village seeking shelter. To describe more gives the game away. Suffice to say this is a superbly aimed arrow at the much deserved target of small-minded, Empire-proud, slow to think quick to act, shoot anything that moves mentality.

There are shades of the wonderful 'Whistle Down The Wind' here, and its a mark of how good 'Life In Danger' is that it doesn't suffer from the comparison.

An impressive cast, including Richard Pearson. Carmel McSharry and Howard Marion-Crawford are on top form. Julie Hopkins may be little known but, on the basis of this performance, should have been a much bigger name. Derren Nesbitt plays the wary, exhausted stranger perfectly. This is a real find.

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Mystery Road

Outback, And Out Of Patience.

(Edit) 28/09/2018

Maybe this film would have been better if the cast didn't whisper and mumble inaudibly throughout. Maybe if the characters were individuals, and not just interchangeable rotten eggs (even the hero postures as a he-man, despoiling the environment with broken glass as he shoots bottles with a prized high-powered rifle). Maybe if the subplots meant anything instead of disappearing as if those responsible hoped no-one was taking too much notice. Maybe if the final shoot-out wasn't of 'Deputy Dawg' ludicrousness.

There is a bit of an effort here and there. The harshness and hardness of life in outback towns; the vicious primitivism and prejudice which may be a consequence but certainly not an excuse; the well-caught scenery within and without the town.

Reading a synopsis afterwards I realised I had not only got two of the houses mixed up, but also two of the characters. The fact that it didn't matter says more about the film than it does about my inattentiveness.

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Ashes and Diamonds

Not Much To Celebrate

(Edit) 16/09/2018

1945 meant the beginning of freedom for some countries, but for Poland it only signalled a shift of power from Nazi to Soviet - hardly something to celebrate. Ironic then that much of the film revolves around a party to mark the end of the war, and a local dignitary's promotion. It's a heady cocktail: political expediency by such people as councillors and the military anxious not to rock the boat with their new masters, mixed in with continued resistance, as young Maciek keeps on killing, and thinking little of it, until he meets Krystyna.

Only an expert hand could blend the two contents into a winning formula. There are quite a few reasons for thinking Wajda comes up short. First of all, it's too specialist and particular. Much of what is said in irritatingly long conversations can only be wholly understood by a native audience, or someone learned in Polish history. The rest of us are left to grasp the gist and cling on. There are too many of these longueurs. Secondly, the acting. Maciek needs to show two contrasting sides of his personality: an insouciant assassin, and a young man hitting the wall of an emotion he never before knew existed. Zbigniew Cybulski is nowhere near up to the task. Unbelievably he isn't the worst actor in the film. Bogumil Kobiela, the Danny Kaye lookalike, unfortunately also acts the fool like Kaye, much to the detriment of the serious meaning trying to be conveyed. The lovely Ewa Krzyzewska shows up best, a barmaid hoping to find a chink of light in a drab town and a drab future.

So what's left? There are about half a dozen brilliantly realised, exquisitely photographed scenes worthy of Angelopoulos at his best. But even then, whereas the Greek would dwell on the images, allowing the viewer to float in their beauty, Wajda almost throws them away in next to no time.

Some call this one of world cinema's great films. What a massive disappointment to find it is nothing of the kind.

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Straw Dogs

Straw Film.

(Edit) 20/09/2018

'Straw Dogs' is remembered as being one of the films which tested the limits of the old X certificate. The violence and (especially) the lingering rape scene were the talk of the pubs and the sixth-form playground of 1971. There is precious little else in the film to talk about.

Peckinpah may have a point that people are just as nasty, and just as prone to extreme behaviour in rural England as they are in urban America, and he has a very serious point in depicting humiliation being one of the drivers of conflict, but he needs characters who are much more than cardboard stereotypes, he needs a script that isn't laughably banal, and he needs actors who do not look as if they wish they were anywhere but on the set.

Peckinpah has Hoffman one minute standing up and acting the lad in an open top car, passionately kissing Susan George in full view of local workers, the next minute he's a repressed fuddy-duddy, interested in nothing but work. His wife, of course, wants all of the former and none of the latter. Told you this was a film of stereotypes. Everything is just a perfunctory prelude to the rape and the bloodbath.

Hoffman gives his usual nervy, mumbling performance. George could easily win many awards for beauty, but absolutely none for acting - though she is unfairly given the worst, most excruciating lines from a writer who presumably had never heard a woman open her mouth before. The suggestion that women may actually enjoy rape is the lowest point of this crass, nasty piece of work.

The film only becomes remotely watchable when the two greats Peter Vaughan and T.P. McKenna come on the screen. How they must have regretted appearing in such tripe.

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