Film Reviews by LR

Welcome to LR's film reviews page. LR has written 20 reviews and rated 28 films.

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Ludwig

The long goodbye

(Edit) 16/03/2021

Visconti's film about Ludwig, the mad King of Bavaria, has many interesting episodes within it, for example, the story of Ludwig's excessive admiration for Wagner and his music, admiration which inspired him to fund Wagner recklessly, to the extent that the Government of Bavaria became alarmed. Visconti uses a lot of Wagner's music on the soundtrack, which is entirely appropriate, given the heroic dimension to Ludwig's life and the operatic melodrama of its highlights. The reconstruction of the period is well done, as one would expect after The Leopard.

So it is a shame that the film is quite tedious in places. Visconti takes four hours to tell the story and there is nothing to justify that length. I felt that David Lean could have achieved the same positive effects much more economically. Part of the problem seems to be that Visconti is not sure what point he is trying to make - something about class, inequality, aesthetic elitism, sexual repression, aristocratic integrity versus bourgeois penny-pinching, etc. The lack of thematic focus results in a flabbiness of narrative. Not a magnificent failure, nor a flawed masterpiece. Just a potentially interesting story badly told.

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The Seagull

A treat. Perfect casting and excellent performances.

(Edit) 04/12/2020

Quite often in a Chekov story nothing much happens. The centre of interest is not the plot but the characters and the interactions between them. That is true of The Seagull. There are moments of 'action' but they are isolated moments which are only interesting for their consequences. The main interest lies in the wide range of characters and the changing emotions which nourish or impede their relationships. We become aware of different emotional currents - unrequited love, lust, fear of growing old, family bonds, desire to impress, etc - and it is a tribute to the fine acting in the film that so much is conveyed so economically.

Annette Bening is brilliant as the ageing actress Irina who likes to act the grande dame but is undermined by her doubts about her younger lover, Boris. She is a truly credible character - clever, articulate, proud of her acting career, and yet volatile, prone to doubt and given to harsh judgments which she has to retract. I name Bening because I think she was perfect for the part, but the other roles are equally well played by a strong cast of accomplished actors - Billy Howle as Konstantin, Saorirse Ronan as Nina, Corey Stoll as Boris, Elisabeth Moss as Masha, etc.

The time and place are somewhat remote from us today - pre-revolutionary Russia of the 19th century. Chekov was dead long before that way of life was overturned by the revolution. You might even suspect that the advice to Konstantin - do not mope, get a job, do something - could be addressed to the whole landed class. But the interest for us is not so much in political matters as in the shifting currents of emotion which sometimes lead people to do their best, but often lead them to do their worst, saying and doing things which they regret. That is a timeless aspect of the human condition.

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Doubt

Doubting the author's intentions

(Edit) 04/12/2020

Is it possible that the attentions of a paedophile priest would bring some benefit to the child being targeted? That is the unspoken question which lurks in the background of this film. It seems that the author of the script would like to make us doubt our normal moral judgment that paedophiles are bad people and that their activities should not be condoned. Since the author creates the whole situation he/she is able to stack all the details in favour of the paedophile - thus the moral opposition comes from jealous, sexually frustrated nuns; the boy's mother is glad he found a friend in the priest; we never know for sure if the priest committed any physical sexual acts with the boy; the priest himself is a charming, humorous, liberally-minded person and the boy is sad and lonely. In this way the story is rigged to make us doubt our normal moral attitudes.

If this was a plea for mercy for paedophiles, it would be better if it had stated clearly that sexual acts were involved. When the film refuses to say what is supposed to have happened as far as sex is concerned, it is evading the central question. In the real world, as all the cases of paedophile abuse have shown, there is no doubt about the sexual acts taking place. So it is troubling that the film is coy about the main issue. Why is it not frank and open about it? Take away the excellent performances by A list actors and you are left with a rigged story which makes us feel queasy with its indulgence towards paedophiles.

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37 Days: The Countdown to World War I

History brought to life

(Edit) 27/05/2020

This is an excellent series. The acting is first class and you feel the events unfold with a terrible inevitability. Of course, nothing was inevitable and war could have been avoided. But it wasn't and this series gives a convincing explanation of why it wasn't. The countries of Europe had the technology of the twentieth century, but their politics was still grounded in earlier centuries. Kaiser Wilheim dreams of conquest and glory in a time-worn way and unfortunately some of his military command are as gung-ho as he is. If you think of bellicose leaders in power today, then this series will give ample food for thought.

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Attack

Good character portrayal adds to war action film

(Edit) 08/05/2020

This film is very well cast. Jack Palance is excellent as a decisive, courageous Lieutenant answerable to an unstable, cowardly Captain, also very well acted by Eddie Albert. Lee Marvin fits his role perfectly as the calculating General, keeping his eye on the advantages to be accrued for his political career when the war is over. So there is drama of the straight-forward kind as GIs fight Nazis, but there is also drama of a different kind as tensions simmer between the officers. An engaging story well told.

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The Lunchbox

Hope flowers in unlikely places

(Edit) 08/05/2020

This is a gentle, humane story about two lonely people who accidentally make contact through a note inside a lunch-box. The contact develops as they exchange notes, even though it is a relationship of words only, since they do not see each other. The film has a slightly melancholy mood as the leading man is a widower, quite old and about to retire, whereas the woman is much younger, with a husband who neglects her and a young daughter who is at school most of the time. The setting is contemporary India and it is realistically conveyed with lots of people thronging the streets and crowding the trains. The office where Saajan works is large and people work side by side. We feel the relief when he gets home in the evening and simply stands on his balcony alone, having a smoke. The exchange of notes enlivens both Saajan and Ila because they both realise that another life is possible. In that regard the film is about hope and how even the most routine existence can be transformed by a hope for something better. Well worth catching.

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Winter in Wartime

Living under Nazi occupation

(Edit) 02/05/2020

The wartime setting in Holland is well recreated. Living under Nazi occupation the Dutch people are forced to co-operate, or collaborate, or resist.

This can cause tensions within families and it is at the core of this story. The characters are well acted and the story unfolds at a good pace. Some plot developments concerning the uncle are less credible, or this would be 5-star material - but they are really minor flaws. Well worth catching.

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The Battle of Neretva

A war film which shows the human cost

(Edit) 02/05/2020

The film deals with an important campaign in the Balkans in WW2. The Germans, with their allies the Italians and Chetniks, invaded Yugoslavia and were determined to eradicate all resistance. They had superior equipment and more soldiers, but the Partisans were fighting for their country and won several battles against the odds. The film recreates the scenes of battle very effectively, showing the desperate struggle of the Partisans with their backs to the wall. What distinguishes the film, however, is the way it keeps the human cost in full view. We see the long lines of refugees, thousands of them, forced to flee by the invading armies. We see the children, the ill and the elderly, homeless and displaced, limping onwards to whatever shelter they can find. The scale of the devastation brought by war is made clear. At times the film is overly emotional when old friends or family are killed, but those are momentary excesses in what is otherwise a compelling account of historical events.

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Return of the Hero

Witty and light-hearted comedy set during the Napoleonic Wars

(Edit) 14/09/2019

The casting of this film is first class. Jean Dujardin fits the bill as the flakey hero Neuville and Melanie Laurent makes an excellent contrast with her keen-eyed, sharp-tongued Elisabeth who could have stepped out of a Jane Austen novel. The story is well told, with many moments of comic suspense and some wonderful, unexpected developments in the plot. The whole business of Elisabeth concocting a heroic military career for Neuville in order to console her despairing sister, and then having to deal with the real Neuville whose return means the end of her fictional hero, is a great comic scenario which the film skilfully mines for our entertainment. Everything about the film works as it should - the script is witty, the acting is colourful, the pace is brisk and the story is told with a deft lightness of touch. This is an amusing yarn to brighten any dull day. Highly recommended.

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The Body

In the Hitchcock tradition

(Edit) 01/03/2018

El Cuerpo (The Body) is a modern film noir. As we learn more about the characters, every one of them seems to have something to hide. We don't know who to believe. The film moves at a good pace and the story has many unexpected twists. In a way this is an old-fashioned thriller, like a Raymond Chandler story, which holds your attention with its tough characters, suspect motives and surprising plot twists.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Finland 1944

Falling short of the target

(Edit) 01/03/2018

Finland 1944 (also known as The Midwife) sometimes succeeds in conveying the brutal chaos of WW2 and the arbitrariness of death in such conditions, but at other times the film fails because characters fail to convince. Most unfortunately, the central character, the Midwife of the title, is one of the unconvincing aspects of the film. She looks more like a 60s hippy than a hardened survivor of WW2. In many of the scenes in the Nazi camp she is able to come and go without question, which makes an escape child's play. Also unconvincing is the romance between the midwife and the German soldier with the stylish haircut.

Possibly someone who is more prepared to be indulgent than I am would get more out of the film. There is an element of the subjective involved in judging aspects of the film 'unconvincing'. But I know that I am not alone in that response. I also know that the film has been hugely popular in Finland, which is hardly surprising since few films have dealt with WW2 in that area. Two and a half stars.

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Zero Days

A gripping thriller - and it is fact!

(Edit) 01/02/2017

Alex Gibney has made some excellent documentaries (eg Silence in the House of the Lord) but this one is outstanding. It tells the story of a cyber attack by the USA and Israel against Iran, using the Stuxnet computer virus. The attack sabotaged centrifuges in the Iranian nuclear industry, causing them to run amok. The attack worked. But then the retaliation began and it is still ongoing. This is a powerful story of great political importance - all the more so because the effects are still being felt today. Cyber warfare can be as destructive as a bombing raid and countries all over the world are arming themselves with cyber attackers. See the film and see the threat looming before us.

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The Cazalets: The Complete Series

Excellent production - but .....

(Edit) 12/11/2015

As you would expect from BBC period drama, the Cazalets is an excellent production. Acting, casting, direction, décor, period detail, etc are all first class. I have not read the source novels by Elizabeth Jane Howard, but I am assured by those who have that the adaptation is also first class and conveys the spirit of the books throughout. But .. (and this is a major flaw, in my opinion) the drama is often ruined by intrusive, hackneyed background music. Tinkling pianos and lush strings are forever intruding on the drama as if to emphasise the soap opera dimension of the narrative. It is as if someone in the production team though that the audience would need a lot of emotive prodding to get the point in various scenes. What a blunder! The scenes which have no background music play well as straightforward drama and fortunately there are lots of them. It is a pity that someone decided to pour sugary custard over so many other scenes. And that is how a five star drama ends up as three star.

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Ridicule

En route for the French Revolution

(Edit) 10/03/2015

This is an excellent historical drama. The setting in pre-revolutionary France, when the monarchy and the aristocracy were still in place, is beautifully realised. The arrogance and complacency of the old order presents a huge obstacle to a well-intentioned young man from the provinces who wants to drain a swamp and thereby save many local people from fever. He thinks that the good sense of his scheme and the detailed plans he has drawn up will carry all before him, but then he encounters the reality of the court and discovers that rationality has no status in their world. As befits a representative of the Enlightenment, there is something light and optimistic about this story - a certain cheerfulness - but the sullen, brutal authority of the aristocracy and the monarchy is also clearly conveyed. Well acted, well directed, intelligent script, effective drama - hence the five stars. It is almost a companion piece to A Royal Affair (about the Enlightenment coming to Denmark) but without those dark hues and tragic undertones.

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A Royal Affair

The Enlightenment gets a cool reception in Denmark

(Edit) 10/03/2015

Excellent film-making. The historical setting is beautifully recreated and the drama which unfolds is as gripping as a thriller. Denmark in the 18th century was still an old-fashioned monarchy. King Christian was psychologically disturbed and unfit to rule, but the system was not designed to cope with such cases. The result was a struggle between the aristocrats who wanted to exploit the king's weakness for their own purposes and some representatives of the Enlightenment who coax the king along the path of democracy and concern for his subjects. The acting is first class, creating truly believable characters, and the script is intelligently written to produce a wide variety of moods and scenarios - the pathos of the young queen, the drama of court scheming, the beginnings of an illicit romance, the optimism of Enlightenment ideas, etc. The film is in the same category as Ridicule (by Patrice Leconte?) which, by my standards, is very high praise indeed.

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