Film Reviews by Philip in Paradiso

Welcome to Philip in Paradiso's film reviews page. Philip in Paradiso has written 182 reviews and rated 183 films.

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The Package

A solid and well-made Cold War political thriller

(Edit) 04/10/2023

Johnny Gallagher, a US Army Green Beret Master Sergeant (Gene Hackman), is in charge of a unit on patrol in West Berlin, while the US President and the Soviet General Secretary of the Communist Party are starting talks for mutual nuclear disarmament. However, some within the military are against such negotiations, and the film develops from there into a vintage political thriller. The setting is the Cold War, c.1980-1985. (The Soviet leader looks rather like Mikhail Gorbachev.) As the story progresses, J Gallagher is ordered to escort an Army sergeant, Walter Henke (Tommy Lee Jones), from West Germany back to the USA for court martial. But who is, precisely, W Henke?

This is a good film, well-made and full of suspense, structured around an alleged conspiracy at the highest level, within America's 'deep State'. In some ways, the film follows a well-trodden path and it would be excessive to call it a masterpiece of the genre. Having said that, it is very enjoyable entertainment, more particularly if you like that kind of storyline, and both Gene Hackman and Tommy Lee Jones are excellent, as always.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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A Royal Affair

A masterpiece set in late 18th-century Denmark, mixing political drama with romantic intrigue

(Edit) 25/09/2023

The story takes place in late 18th-century Denmark (the film is in Danish with subtitles). Princess Caroline Matilda of Great Britain (Alicia Vikander) marries Christian VII of Denmark (on the throne from 1766 to 1808). Christian is an eccentric and difficult character, who is widely considered to be mentally deranged. The situation is difficult for the British princess at Court, in Copenhagen, where the atmosphere is very conservative, stifling and fairly insular. The status-quo is called into question when a part-German doctor, Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), is hired to be the King's personal physician. Struensee is a man of the Enlightenment. The idea is that he will be able to help the King cope better. Struensee and the King soon become very close. The story develops from there. It takes place from the late 1760s to the mid-1770s.

The film is remarkably good for 2 main reasons. First of all, the story is amazing and fascinating in its own right, and so are the key characters. What is even more striking is that the story is entirely true: the movie is historically accurate, from what I have read about the chain of events in Denmark at the time. Second, the film re-creates the events and the context in a truly remarkable way. It is not only that the acting of all the characters is excellent and the story rings true from start to finish. It is also that the film manages to re-create the atmosphere at Court in Copenhagen at the time so well, with the political and the personal factors overlapping in subtle ways. It is very rare for a period film to do this so successfully, more particularly when dealing with historical dramas set in Europe prior to c.1850.

Within the parameters of the genre, this is a truly memorable and superb film. If it were not a Scandinavian production in Danish with subtitles, it would be far better known. I would say it is one of the best movies I have seen in the past 10 years, and one of the best period films of this kind, ever.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Scandal

An excellent film depicting the Profumo Affair in 1960s London

(Edit) 10/09/2023

An excellent film depicting the Profumo Affair in 1960s London — An English osteopath, Dr Stephen Ward (John Hurt, spot-on), who is also a socialite and a libertine, well introduced in various circles within the upper-class of 1960s England, is besotted with a very young showgirl who works in a slightly louche cabaret in Soho, Christine Keeler (Joanne Whalley, excellent right through). Dr Ward invites her to live with him. He becomes a friend and mentor to her. Through his very wide range of contacts and the parties he is invited to, C Keeler and her young female friend (met at work) meet and date various members of the Conservative Party.

The movie follows closely and accurately, from what I can see, the string of events that led to the downfall of John Profumo (Ian McKellen), who is a minister in the government and gets involved with C Keeler. This is known as the Profumo Affair, which rocked the Establishment in Britain in 1961-1963.

The film is very good: it recreates the atmosphere of Swinging London in the early 1960s very, very well, without ever indulging in clichés; the actors/ actresses are all very good, and the acting performance by J Hurt and J Whalley is excellent; minor characters (e.g.: the police officers who become involved in the case) are also played very well. This should be considered a classic of the genre and, given the subject matter and the parameters of the story, the film could not have been made better.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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All Quiet on the Western Front

A very raw depiction of the First World War as seen from the German side, in France

(Edit) 21/08/2023

The film is a German adaptation of the famous novel by the same name. It starts in 1917 (WWI has been going on for 3 years), when Paul Bäumer, who is 17, decides to enlist in the Imperial German Army alongside his 3 friends, Albert Kropp, Franz Müller, and Ludwig Behm. Once deployed on the Western Front, in an infantry regiment, they find themselves in Northern France near La Malmaison, facing French troops on the other side of no man's land. They are befriended by an older soldier, Stanislaus 'Kat' Katczinsky. The film shows us what subsequently happens to them, as they are involved in frontal attacks on the French defensive lines. Life in the trenches is hellish and death is all too common. The German general in charge of the troops along this segment of the front expects the soldiers to behave heroically and be prepared to sacrifice their lives for their Kaiser and their country.

Very few war films depict war as it really is. Usually, there is a certain romantic element or a certain distance between what is shown and what the reality was (or must have been like). A good example is the British film, '1917', which is a good movie, but not one that depicts the experience of the common soldier in the trenches. This German film is far more realistic and unforgiving. As you watch it, you feel that it is telling it as it is, i.e. as the conditions really were. And, of course, it is hell on earth - a relentless, bloody carnage in the mud, which shows how absurd war can be, and how dehumanizing the butchery of WWI turned out to be. We see the war through the eyes of a small group of soldiers, who are friends and stick together as best they can. The bigger story is told through their own personal stories. The film is also very good when it shows the peace negotiations taking place between the Germans and the French (the war ended in 1918), and the concerns of the senior officers and politicians on both sides.

This is an important film and, given how rare it is to see such a war film, an excellent one. Having said all this, don't expect heroics and easy entertainment in the conventional sense: the film is very raw, very graphic, powerful, shocking, relentless and hard-hitting. Some scenes are hard to watch and to stomach. Nothing is watered down or made easy for the viewer. And we identify with this small band of brothers in the front line: we feel what they feel and hope what they hope, to the end.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Breach

A captivating spy thriller taking place within FBI headquarters

(Edit) 07/08/2023

Eric O'Neill, a young and ambitious FBI employee who is starting in his career at the Bureau, is instructed to work undercover as a clerk to Robert Hanssen, a senior agent who was previously in charge of the Russia Desk within the FBI's Intelligence Division. R Hanssen (Chris Cooper) is suspected of being a sexual deviant. Hanssen is close to retirement age and seems disenchanted with the bureaucracy and mentality at the FBI. He never fails to underline the importance of his Catholic faith. E O'Neill struggles to find anything remotely concerning in his work but is told to investigate further by those he reports to within the FBI.

The film is, essentially, about R Hanssen: who is he, really, and what is it that makes him tick? Is he a threat to the FBI, or is he merely misunderstood and undervalued, because he has never wanted to play office politics during his long career at the FBI? The film is also about the ambiguous relationship that develops between R Hanssen and E O'Neill: the junior 'clerk' turns into a hunter, whose mission may have huge implications for his 'boss'.

The movie is well-constructed. It is entirely focused on E O'Neill's investigation. There is something of a game of chess going on between E O'Neill and R Hanssen, as each one is trying to outsmart the other, eventually. Who can you trust? And R Hanssen does not trust anyone. There is a lot of suspense in the movie, which is entirely based on historical events. (You can read about R Hanssen on Wikipedia after watching the film.) The film is almost cerebral in some ways: there are no fireworks to speak of. It is not an action film. It is a subtle and ruthless game of cat and mouse.

Overall, it is a very good film I would recommend.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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La Piscine

Four characters in a villa near Saint-Tropez, in the middle of a hot summer: a gem of a movie

(Edit) 24/07/2023

The film is a sentimental/ psychological drama centred on a couple, Jean-Paul (a taciturn Alain Delon) and Marianne (a radiant Romy Schneider), who are holidaying at a friend's villa near Saint-Tropez, in South-Eastern France. They have been together for a couple of years and seem to be very much in love. They are spending their time sunbathing, swimming (in the villa's swimming-pool) and having sex. Their bliss is interrupted, however, when Harry (Maurice Ronet) turns up with his 18-year-old daughter, Penelope (Jane Birkin). Harry is an old friend of Jean-Paul's. The simmering tension between the 2 men is at the heart of the story: it would appear that Harry was Marianne's lover before she met Jean-Paul. As for Penelope, she is not as passive and innocent as she may seem. The movie develops from there.

This is an excellent film. The story is plausible from start to finish. There is nothing dated about the plot or the actors' performance (the film was released in 1969). The psychology of the characters is captured in a manner that is both sharp and subtle. Inexorably, the tension between the characters rises. There is a question that you could ask yourself after seeing the film, and it will keep you thinking for a few days: To what extent are the various characters responsible (or not) for their actions, and for what unfolds? There is no simple answer.

An excellent film, close to being a masterpiece in my opinion, within the parameters of the genre.

4 out of 4 members found this review helpful.

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Robbery

A solid British crime film based on the notorious Great Train Robbery

(Edit) 17/07/2023

Essentially, this is a fictionalized version (1967) of the Great Train Robbery of 1963, in the UK, whereby a Royal Mail train transporting large amounts of cash was targeted by a well-organised gang. The story starts, in the film, with the gang targeting a jewellery dealer transporting high-value diamonds across London: the car chase is very good and perhaps the most spectacular sequence of the movie. With the money from this robbery, the gangsters can fund the setting-up of the attack on the train. The leader of the gang is Stanley Baker as Paul Clifton, who is both tough and charismatic. But not all goes according to plan...

Overall, it is a good film, but somewhat predictable in its narrative form (and not only because it shadows the true story it is based upon). It is nice to see Central London in the mid-1960s, and the film has a very British feel to it. Other than that, it is not a masterpiece, but worth watching if you like this kind of thriller and vintage films, so to speak. And you realise how much Britain has changed in the past 60 years: no one uses firearms in the film, for instance, even though there certainly is violence...

For the real story, go to this Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Train_Robbery_(1963)

2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.

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The Marriage of Maria Braun

Post-war Germany through the eyes of a woman who will do anything to survive

(Edit) 03/07/2023

The film starts in Germany: we are in 1943. Maria (Hanna Schygulla, remarkably beautiful and charismatic) marries Hermann Braun, a soldier. After "half a day and a whole night" together, Hermann Braun goes back to the front the next day. Following the end of WWII, Maria is told that Hermann has been killed. Maria is the central character: without Hanna Schygulla, the film wouldn't exist. She is the focus of attention and her sure-footed performance underpins the entire story, which is about her, first and foremost.

The historical context is important, here: Maria needs to survive in the wake of the Nazi regime's collapse, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to feed herself and those closest to her, including her mother. She refuses to lose hope and keeps on believing that Hermann, her husband, will reappear at some stage in the future. The film is interesting on various levels. First of all, the atmosphere in Germany at the time is re-created in a way that seems convincing and compelling. Then, Maria herself is a complex character, a non-conformist who has no scruples, or so it would seem. Finally, the story unfolds in a captivating manner.

This could have been a masterpiece but I feel there is something missing and it is hard to pinpoint what it is. The story is not entirely plausible, more particularly towards the end, in my view. Also, the style of the narrative is surprisingly dated, and not that this is a major issue in itself: the story takes place in the 1940s and 1950s, and it does feel like a 1950s film, or perhaps even a 1930s type of movie (it was released in 1978). Maybe R W Fassbinder did this on purpose. This creates a strange impression, as if there was some kind of distance between us and the story as well as the characters, as if the narrative was stilted, as Maria herself can be. On balance, I would still recommend the film, which is very good.

2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.

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Stars at Noon

A turkey of a pretentious movie that won't fly

(Edit) 03/07/2023

Trish (Margaret Qualley) is a young US journalist and travel writer. She is stranded in Nicaragua during the COVID 19 pandemic, having to resort to part-time prostitution in order to survive, in the capital. The Nicaraguan authorities have confiscated her passport following articles she wrote that were critical of the Sandinista regime. Trish is at a low point when she meets Daniel, a mysterious British consultant, in one of the city's posh hotels. The story develops from there.

The film had everything to be captivating and interesting: the political backdrop (Central America, revolution, repression, etc.) and the sexual tension (including the interaction between Daniel and Trish), not to mention an exotic atmosphere. Unfortunately, the pace of the story, which is overlong, is sluggish in the extreme. Most of the time, not much happens and the dialogues between the main characters are laborious. It is as if the film director had all the right ingredients to produce a masterpiece, and she ends up serving us a tepid, dull and tasteless ready meal. The movie is full of clichés, from start to finish. It is not so much implausible as it is boring.

Claire Denis probably is vastly overrated as a film director. The film is an indigestible turkey. I recommend you avoid it.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Burning Days

A tense psychological thriller set in Anatolia

(Edit) 03/07/2023

Emre, a young prosecutor who is starting in his career and wants to make a difference, is newly appointed to a small town in Anatolia which is hit by a water crisis. When Emre tries to curb illegal practices in the town and decides to investigate the causes of the town’s chronic water shortage, he ruffles the feathers of the local worthies. The story develops from there.

The storyline is not exceedingly original: a young man, who is a bit idealistic and has come from the city, is pitted against the locals and their traditional ways, who do not want things to change. Each side has to learn how to live with the other, and with the other's expectations. What the film shows, in a way that is both remarkably powerful and very subtle, is what happens when, gradually, a conflict develops in such a context. The movie is full of tension and suspense, as we see, little by little, the looming, inexorable confrontation getting more threatening and sinister every minute. This is an excellent film, as the subject is treated in a very intelligent and effective manner, from start to finish: it is what good cinema is, or should be.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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The Fourth Protocol

An implausible, yet predictable, Cold War spy drama

(Edit) 04/06/2023

The title of the film relates to what is claimed to be, at the time, an East-West agreement (between NATO and the USSR) established to prevent runaway nuclear proliferation. One of its clauses is known as the Fourth Protocol and is secret: it bans the non-conventional use of a nuclear weapon against any target. At the start of the movie, taking place in 1968, John Preston (Michael Caine), an MI5 officer, establishes that George Berenson, an official in the British government, has been passing on top-secret NATO documents to a foreign power. The film develops from there.

The story involves Soviet agents sent to Britain to cause mayhem; intrigue and infighting within the various agencies and personnel involved on the Soviet side, but also on the British side; and, finally, a plucky, no-nonsense counter-terrorism agent (Michael Caine) who will do what it takes to save the country - and the world. On the Soviet side, an elite intelligence officer is his opponent: a cold-hearted and homicidal Pierce Brosnan, as Major Valeri Alekseyevich Petrofsky (AKA James Edward Ross).

The film is not bad but it is not that great. The suspense is somehow a bit limp. The plot is riddled with implausible twists and turns, and yet bizarrely predictable (it manages to be both, in other words). The characters are cartoonish, to a large extent. It is a B-movie, in the last analysis: it feels as if it was made in the 1970s (the story is supposed to take place in 1968 but it was made in 1987). In fact, it almost feels like a run-of-the-mill TV drama. In conclusion, I would pass on this one, even though it is enjoyable enough to watch and is not boring as such: it simply is not necessary.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Quo Vadis, Aida?

The Srebrenica massacre dramatized in a hard-hitting film that feels like a documentary

(Edit) 15/05/2023

The film is a dramatization of the tragic events known as the Srebrenica massacre, during the 1990s war in the Balkans, perpetrated by Serbian troops led by Serbian leader Ratko Mladic (since caught and convicted as a war criminal) at the expense of Bosnian Muslim (Bosniak) men and boys, in July 1995. The massacre was part of a broader and systematic genocidal policy of so-called 'ethnic cleansing' targeting the Muslim population.

The film is a piece of fiction but it follows the events in such a hyper-realistic way that it feels like a documentary, which only increases its impact, somehow. We follow the events through the eyes of Aida Selmanagic, a teacher acting as an interpreter working for the Dutch battalion of the UN, based at Srebrenica. As the chaos unfolds when Serbian troops enter the town, Aida tries to do her best and to save her own family, consisting of her husband and her 2 sons.

The film is very good but it does not offer any real insight into the causes of what happened at the time. It does not give any detailed explanation as to why the UN, and the Dutch troops more particularly, acted in the way that they did, although we get some elements of appreciation. The movie is purely factual, in a low-key and dignified way: it shows us what happened, and how the tragedy unfolded, step by step, inexorably. It does not try to be spectacular: the facts speak for themselves or, rather, scream for themselves. It is a deeply moving film. If we thought such tragedies could not happen in Europe again, Russia's invasion of the Ukraine in Feb 2022 has, alas, proved otherwise.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Tár

A study in those who have power and fame, and how easily they can lose both

(Edit) 30/04/2023

This is a psychological drama focused on the world of classical music. The central character (Cate Blanchett, remarkable, as always) is Lydia Tár, who is a talented American conductor. She does not hide the fact she is a lesbian. She is at the peak of her career and has become universally praised and famous. L Tár is the first female chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. On a day-today basis, she relies on Francesca, her personal assistant, and Sharon, her wife and concertmaster, for support. She often travels to the USA (and other countries); when in Berlin, she lives with Sharon and her young daughter.

The film is about Lydia Tár - a career-driven, narcissistic and self-confident artist who is obsessed with classical music and her role as a conductor. Music and her job are everything to her. What the film shows is what happens when things threaten to unravel, both on a personal and a professional level. (I do not want to say any more not to spoil the film.) As a successful artist, internationally appreciated, L Tár is on a pedestal, but she has also made many enemies along the way, and there may be some secrets that can come back and haunt her.

The film is powerful, intense and almost cerebral in some ways, as the central character is, and as the Mahler symphony that she has been working on with the Berlin Philharmonic also is. At 2 1/2 hours, the movie is perhaps a little bit too long, but it is never boring, as the story and its central character hold our attention. It is a very good and memorable film, but it is so restrained in some respects, with things and issues touched upon but never fully explained, that it, perhaps, misses an element of sensational melodrama, although towards the end there certainly is an element of that. So, it is an excellent movie, but not quite the great film it could have been, even if it is hard to pinpoint the precise reason for that. Overall, you should enjoy it, more particularly if you like classical music.

5 out of 7 members found this review helpful.

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Mountains May Depart

An ambitious film that fails to deliver

(Edit) 24/04/2023

In 1999, in the Chinese city of Fenyang, a 25-year-old shopkeeper called Tao finds herself caught between two men who are both keen on her: the 1st one is Liangzi, a good friend, who has a low-level job in the local coal mine, while the 2nd one is Jinsheng, the owner of a petrol station in the town, who is your typical, ambitious spiv. The love triangle is at the heart of the story in this dull town dominated by the coal industry. The movie (released in 2015) covers 3 separate periods: 1999 (when the story starts), 2014 and 2025. The storyline in the first 2 parts takes place in mainland China, in Fenyang essentially; the 3rd part takes place in Australia, as some of the characters central to the story have emigrated over there.

The film is ambitious in its scope: it would want to be one of those family sagas that cover a quarter of a century, showing the social and economic changes that China has been going through over the past decades. Unfortunately, the film has many flaws and fails to live up to its ambitions. The first 2 parts are interesting enough, but not that exciting; the 3rd part of the story, which takes place in Australia, as other reviewers have rightly said, feels stilted and fake, with characters sounding like the cast of a sentimental TV series. Right through the film, the dialogues can feel laborious, particularly in the first 2 parts of the film, with long silences and frequent pauses, but that is probably, I suspect, due to the fact the film is Chinese, i.e. cultural differences - presumably, that is the way people express themselves in such a context in China, unless it is a device used by the director. The story moves forward somewhat slowly, and feels a bit contrived and predictable at times.

Overall, the first 2 parts of the film make sense and are of (relative) interest; the 3rd part is a mess. Therefore, one must admit that it is not a particularly good film, despite the raving reviews it got in many quarters, and God knows why. Unless you have really nothing better to do and/or you are fanatical about Chinese films, I cannot quite see why you would want to inflict this movie on yourself. I must say I expected something far more interesting overall.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Rebellion

An excellent political drama focused on the French territory of New Caledonia

(Edit) 05/04/2023

'Rebellion' (in French: 'L'Ordre et la Morale') is a 2011 French historical film and political drama directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, who also stars in the lead role. It is based on true events that took place in the French overseas territory of New Caledonia, in the Pacific, in 1988 (it was filmed in Tahiti, in French Polynesia). The movie presents a dramatized version of the hostage taking that took place at the Ouvéa cave: 4 policemen (gendarmes) were murdered by Kanak separatists and 30 more were taken hostage. The Kanaks are the indigenous, Melanesian population of New Caledonia, and there has been discontent with French rule for many years among them. In the face of this major crisis in the territory, the French government sent out the élite police unit known as GIGN, made up of highly trained gendarmes, to go and deal with the situation. The GIGN unit flies in from France, headed by Captain Philippe Legorjus (Mathieu Kassovitz): he wants to negotiate with the group's leader, Alphonse Dianou, and only use force to free the hostages as a last resort. In parallel, the French authorities deploy 300 French troops, who are ready to intervene and crush the attempted separatist uprising.

The film is quite subtle in that it shows the interplay between military leaders and the gendarmerie officers, whose approach is different and less brutal; also, it puts in perspective the role of officials and politicians, and how the military and police personnel on the ground find themselves under pressure to get results quickly. The Kanaks, meanwhile, unwittingly risk becoming pawns in a game that is bigger than they are. It should be pointed out that what happened in 1988 has never been clarified fully and remains controversial in France and New Caledonia. It would appear that the movie has taken on board the interpretation of events put forward by Captain P Legorjus once the drama had come to its conclusion: this interpretation is disputed in many quarters in mainland France, but also in New Caledonia, it would appear.

Having said all this, it is an excellent film, in the great French tradition of political thrillers with plots and sub-plots, when all is not what it seems. There is no gratuitous and glorified violence in the film: it feels realistic and very real. It is no surprise it caused great controversy in France, when it came out: as denunciations of colonialism and neo-colonialism go, this is hard-hitting, explicit and graphic.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.
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