Film Reviews by Paul Roffey - Writer

Welcome to Paul Roffey - Writer's film reviews page. Paul Roffey - Writer has written 12 reviews and rated 96 films.

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Scarborough

Worth a look; if only for the sheer stupidity of some of the characters

(Edit) 19/12/2020

Scarborough is quite possibly the lowest budget film that I’ve ever seen, and at times I wondered if it had been made by students. But that takes nothing away from what is a quirky, stylish film, with some great twists and turns that you will be mulling over for a while after it’s finished; if only for the sheer stupidity of some of the characters. It does, in fact, make uncomfortable viewing at times.

A seemingly unconnected married man and woman check into a hotel in Scarborough, a seaside resort in the north east of England. They then ‘pretend’ to bump into their partners, with whom they are having an affair. The story follows the two couples’ passions and angst as they discuss, contemplate and argue about whether they are right for each other. It’s not until the end of the film that we discover that all had not been as it seemed.

The film only has four characters—the two couples—with the occasional appearance of a sleezy hotel receptionist who knows exactly what’s going on.

Jessica Barden, Jordan Bolger, Jodhi May and Edward Hogg all play excellent parts. Jessica and Edward especially. Both are better known from television than films; Jessica for The End of the F***ing World; Edward for the very good Taboo, and Harlets.

Paul at paulroffey.co.uk

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The Invisible Man

Entertaining enough, but Hitchcock it certainly isn’t.

(Edit) 28/10/2020

This is an entertaining psychological thriller with an interesting plot, but Hitchcock it certainly isn’t. Although the thought of placing the H. G. Wells classic into the hands of the genius of suspense is an intriguing one.

Cecilia, played very well by Elisabeth Moss, is probably best known as the handmaiden in the TV series of Margaret Atwood’s wonderful dystopian tale. A show that Margaret didn’t earn a bean for, having sold the film rights decades ago. As an aside, Margaret has pointed out that sales of The Handmaid’s Tale always increase around election times. Interesting.

Anyway, back to the film. Cecilia is trapped in a controlling and bullying relationship. This is implied by a dramatic first scene in which she flees home, having felt the need to drug her partner, and to then climb walls to escape. In attempting to stop her he punches a hole through Cecilia’s sister’s car window. She goes into hiding, terrified to go out, terrified that she will be discovered. There is relief, however, when she is told that her ex has committed suicide. However, knowing him as she does, she suspects that all may not be as it seems.

This is confirmed when mysterious happenings begin to occur. She goes for a job interview at an architects and, when requested to show some work, she opens her portfolio case to find it empty. She knows, and we know, that she would not have forgotten to put work in there. She wakes in the middle of the night to find the duvet on the floor at the end of the bed. When she tries to pull it back over her it won’t move; seemingly pinned down. Noises in the night, strange texts — the suspense grows.

But, if he is still alive, despite photos and a police report to the contrary, then how is he planting these incidents on her?

Yeah, OK, the title is a bit of a give away. As is the speed in which we find out. A racing storyline is the opposite of suspense, and we don’t need to wait long before the answer bursts onto the scene.

And there lies the disappointment with this film.

If only the film had been given a different title; if only we were fed the clue, early on, that he was a genius in optics; and if only there was a better storyline, then this could have been an intriguing, suspenseful, phycological thriller. Instead, it descends very quickly into just another violent, gunfighting, smashed windows, smashed cars, dark rooms, screaming and shouting thriller.

It is slickly done, and there are twists in the tale, but overall a tad underwhelming.

However, after spouting all that, the finale is clever, and poignant. And it leaves just a little bit of doubt in the viewers mind.

Had everything always been as it seemed?

Just about worth a watch.

Paul Roffey - Writer at paulroffey.co.uk

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Slick, bizarre and mesmerising

(Edit) 16/10/2020

The latest Quintin Tarantino film is slick; as you’d expect. It’s a tad bizarre at times; as you’d expect. And it’s a very entertaining way to spend nearly three hours.

Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an ageing actor with a serious drinking problem. His best days, when he stared in top TV shows such as a The Bounty Hunter back in the early ‘60s, are behind him. Times are changing.

Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is Rick’s stunt double, and almost his valet. He drives Rick everywhere, ever since Rick lost his licence for drink driving, and does various odd jobs around Rick’s house, situated in an upmarket area of Los Angeles. Other than that Cliff lives in a caravan behind a drive-in cinema with an extremely well trained dog; the love of Cliff’s life; aside from, platonically, Rick.

There are various other storylines woven into the film.

One involves the actress Sharon Tate, who lives next door to Rick with Roman Polanski. Played beautifully by Margot Robbie there is a lovely scene where Sharon goes into a cinema to watch herself in The Wrecking Crew (1968) clearly overawed by seeing herself up on the silver screen. Tragically the real Sharon Tate will go on to be murdered by members of the Manson family not long afterwards.

There’s also a side plot involving a group of hippies living in the hills above Los Angeles, on the ranch where Rick and Cliff used to shoot The Bounty Hunter. Some of the more disturbed members of the group will merge with the main plot line in the finale to the film.

Leonardo DiCaprio is superb as the burnt out, stuttering, depressed alcoholic. One scene in particular stands out. He is shooting a pilot, as the villain; a sign that career options aren’t good. And, in this scene, he keeps forgetting his lines. Afterwards, he goes back to his trailer and trashes it, promising never to drink again. It’s quite interesting watching a brilliant actor playing a bad actor.

Brad Pitt was also good, but not a patch on his performance as Roy McBride in Ad Astra (2019).

I must also mention Julia Butters, playing an eight year old child actress in the pilot mentioned above. Only 11 years old in real life, Leonardo DiCaprio has compared her to a young Meryl Streep. One to keep an eye on.

The film moves along fairly sedately by Tarantino standards, and at one point I began to wonder why is was even an 18 certificate. But then, the finale. A very typical Tarantino finale; violent, brutal, non-sensical — but, at the same time, mesmerising and compelling viewing. The scenes in Rick’s house, which involve, amongst other things, a stoned Cliff Booth, his dog, a can of dog food, a gun and two knives are quite amazing. Oh, and there’s also a flame thrower—thrown in for good measure.

But, for me, the final scene is the one that has stayed with me. After a typical Tarantino style frenzy, Rick is finally introduced to Sharon next door. Sharon’s friends, and Rick, then proceed to walk calmly up the driveway chatting away as if it had been just another day at the office.

Great film.

Paul at paulroffey.co.uk

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Vita and Virginia

Vita and Virginia (2018)

(Edit) 25/09/2020

Vita and Virginia is a fascinating and moving film about the passionate liaison between Vita Sackville-West, a wealthy aristocrat, and Virginia Wolfe, a genius, during the late 1920’s.

Vita, played by Gemma Arterton, is a predator; think Gentleman Jack—Anne Lister—but with far fewer moral scruples. Despite the scandal that would have befallen her, and her husband, if her ‘preferences’ had become known she relentlessly pursued Virginia, a happily, though barely and rarely consummated, married woman. Vita’s marriage, in contrast, was a pretence and a convenience , both to her and Harold Nicolson, a gay man at a time in history when that not only would have ended his diplomatic career, but would have seen him serving prison time.

For me, the most intriguing aspect of the film was that Virginia, played wonderfully by Elizabeth Debicki, would go on, from the emotional trauma of her affair, to produce one of the finest pieces of 20th century literature; Orlando. A genuinely ground-breaking piece of work; a story that spans the centuries between the 1500’s and the present day; a story of a man who becomes a woman who becomes a man. As Orlando says when ‘he’ looks in the mirror for the first time and sees ‘herself;

‘Different sex, same person’.

The film is a slow starter, and in fact for the first twenty minutes it wasn’t working for me. The script, I believe, is trying to hard to fill in backstory, leading to the impression of watching a lecture, rather than a drama.

However, once the characters are in place it’s a rollercoaster of desire and fear—from the point of view of Virginia—and an out-and-out stalk—from the point of view of Vita.

The film was researched and written mostly from the correspondence between Vita and Virginia while Vita was away with her husband in Tehran and Berlin. The director filmed some scenes with each actress staring, almost expressionlessly, at the camera while reading from each other’s letters. It makes for a most personal experience, as if seeing back in time to the real women.

As a writer I find biopics of authors fascinating, if done well. To see the thought processes and writing habits is interesting. Virginia and her husband founded and ran Hogarth Press between them in 1917, and Virginia wrote in a room at the end of the workshop where they ran their printing presses. If the door to the writing room had a white chalk cross marked on it then she was writing, and wasn’t to be disturbed.

As an interesting aside (at least I think so) Eva Green was originally cast to play Virginia but dropped out to star in Dumbo (2019). An interesting career choice that appears to say more about money and exposure than finding challenging roles. She was OK in Dumbo, but Danny de Vito starred. Although, thinking back on Vita and Virginia now I believe that she would have been better suited cast as the manipulative and passionate Vita. But we shall never know!

Well worth a watch.

Paul at paulroffey.co.uk

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The Personal History of David Copperfield

A whimsical delight

(Edit) 09/09/2020

The Personal History of David Copperfield is a fun, feel-good film; the kind of film that lightens the heart and smooths the roughest of days. It’s a riot of colour and eternal optimism, a whimsical delight.

Is it twee? Absolutely.

Is it a tad nauseating at times? Absolutely.

But I didn’t care about that, and I suspect you won’t either.

It’s the story of Dickens’ David Copperfield, told by David Copperfield as a recital in a theatre. An original, if not a slightly peculiar way of presenting a film. But it works, it makes the tale much more personal, and it wraps it up nicely at the end.

For those who don’t know the story, David was born into a rural household consisting of his mother and a maid, Peggotty, a bubbly, blustery, wonder of a woman. David grows to, I would say ten or so , in a bubble of love and apparent security.

However, this is the early Victorian era, and David’s father died before he was born. David’s mother is a woman alone. Recently I reviewed on my blog an excellent book called The Five, by Hallie Rubenhold, which covers, amongst other things, the precariousness of a Victorian woman's life. So, queue the wicked step father and, for good measure, the wicked step-aunt—played bizarrely, as I only watched her on Game of the Thrones the night before, by Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth).

David is sent away, first to Peggotty’s relatives in Great Yarmouth who live in an upturned boat and then, after his step-father wants rid of him, to lodge with Mr Micawber in London and work in a child labour bottling factory run by, you guessed it, his wicked step-father. The landlord, played by Peter Capaldi, is a jolly ‘something will turn up’ man permanently out of work (although I doubt that he was ever in it). And permanently on the sponge for money.

From there the tale weaves its way through an aunt, then boarding school, then work, then first love, then happy ending.

There are many parts played by some great actors.

For me Tilda Swinton was the best, just. She played David’s aunt, Betsey Trotwood who, for some strange reason, has a thing against donkeys.

Hugh Laurie plays Mr Dick, an extremely confused man who can’t rid himself of the internal monologue of Charles I, the Stuart king that was beheaded by Cromwell, unless he flies a kite. A role he won a BIFA for.

Morfydd Clark, Mina in the BBC Dracula, I thought wonderful as the heart-of-gold natured, but a little soppy Dora, David’s first love. This love provoking a wonderful scene of David seeing all things Dora in all places in London.

And finally, Ben Whishaw (Q, amongst his many other fine roles), as the fawning, slimy, rogue Uriah Heep.

You’ll watch better films, more thoughtful films, films that will make you cry and films that will make you hide behind the sofa. But you’ll struggle to watch one that is just such good fun.

Well worth it.

Paul Roffey - Writer - paulroffey.co.uk

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Us

What was that all about?

(Edit) 01/09/2020

This is a strange film.

Us is the story of the Wilson family; wife, husband, little boy, little girl. They have a nice beach house, they drive a Mercedes; stereotypical middle class America. They return from the beach one afternoon after spending some time with the Tyler family; very cliché rich, selfish, not quite friends. That evening the Wilson’s youngest son spots a family standing hand in hand at the end of their driveway. As they approach the house it becomes obvious that they are clones of the family themselves. However, they each carry very sharp scissors and turn out to be the extreme dark side of happy families.

At this point I was intrigued, especially as the film began with some narrative sentences about how many tunnels there are in the US, and how a large number of them have an unknown purpose. In other words, what could have been going on down there?

The film then continues as a relentless, bloody, violent and at times remarkably senseless killing spree—by both families—the soulless doppelgangers and the American dream. And, at one point, that’s where I thought the film was going; in the direction of a morality tale of the modern day America, a tale of the haves and the have-nots. And the have-nots have risen to overthrow the haves. This was hinted at early in the film by the dark mother figure. She bemoaned how hard a life they had been forced to live, underground, spliced from themselves, and pointing out that they too were ‘Americans’. Interestingly the film is called U.S.

But that’s as far as I got in understanding this convoluted film. To be fair there is a fabulous twist near the end, but even after that I didn’t understand what I’d just watched.

All films, and books, look for resonance in their endings. All creators of art, in fact, want viewers or readers to walk away from their creations still digesting, still wondering. I just walked away confused, and like many a French film I‘ve seen, left wondering what the point was. In defence of French films, they are usually superbly written and shot. The characters are three dimensional, the dialogue sharp and engaging.

This film is poorly written. At times the dialogue is corny, when it should have been nervy and cutting. However, the cast is excellent, especially as each actor is playing both sides of itself, the ego and alter ego. Many times in close combat. Lupita Nyong'o, brilliant in the wonderful 12 Years a Slave, pretty much holds this film together. A mention must also be made of the very good Evan Alex, who played the youngest child. Only 11 years old in real life when the film was released.

If you want fast moving, violent action, then by all means. But if there is anyone out there who can explain to me what the plot is, I’d love to hear it.

paulroffey.co.uk

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Midsommar

An interesting and gloriously styled film

(Edit) 18/07/2020

This is an interesting and gloriously styled film that, despite running to nearly three hours, holds your attention with a clever blend of beautifully shot scenes, tense atmosphere and never-entirely-sure-what’s-coming-next storyline.

Dani has problems and issues. Her sister commits suicide at the beginning of the film, taking both their parents with her. That, together with being in a relationship with Christian, a man who seems not to know what honesty and commitment are, adds to her frequent panic attacks and paranoia. Then, out of the blue, she discovers that he’s off to Sweden for the summer and, almost as a guilty afterthought, he invites her along; making it a party of four men, and Dani.

It transpires that one of his college friends, Pelle—played very well by Vilhelm Blomgren—was raised in a commune tucked away in an extremely remote corner of this heavily forested country. And this year is a once in a 90 year chance to participate in a very special midsummer festival. We will discover just how special that turns out to be!

From the start all is not as it seems. The festivities begin harmlessly enough in bright summer sunshine with flowers, food and dancing. If that sounds a little twee, there is, throughout the first half of the film, an undercurrent of tension. And, like a dripping tap, the tension is released little by little, drawing you in as the film gradually grows darker and darker. And it does become very dark indeed. This is not a film for the faint hearted, and one most definitely not for the children of the house.

I thoroughly enjoyed the cinematography; wide sweeping scenes of Scandinavian beauty, the colours bright and vibrate. At one point a winding forest road was slowly rotated until the sky became the highway, winding through the tops of endless pine.

Florence Pugh, best known for playing Katherine in the excellent Lady Macbeth (2016), was superb as Dani. I felt that Jack Reyner, playing Christian didn’t entirely convince; considering what was going on around him he was a little underwhelming.

Overall I enjoyed the slow burn effect of the film. You knew that something was around the corner, that the idyllic nature of the setting and the ever-so-polite community were too good to be true. But what? Then it arrived; the scene that awakened the narrative. You’ll know exactly what I mean. From there the film picks up it’s pace, racing you along to a quite amazing and visceral finale.

It’s certainly a long film, but stay with it. The ending is intriguing. Does she? Or doesn’t she?

Paul Roffey - Writer at paulroffey.co.uk

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Ad Astra

A cleverly crafted science fiction film

(Edit) 17/07/2020

This is cleverly crafted science fiction film that immediately gets our attention with a stunning, vertigo inducing, opening scene.

Roy McBride is a decorated and highly qualified U.S. military astronaut, sometime in the mysteriously near future. A straight-faced, highly strung individual who doesn’t believe in enjoyment, relationships, or anything that will distract him from ‘the mission’. It appears that life is ‘the mission’.

Roy’s father, H. Clifford McBride, is played by Tommy Lee Jones, who I’m amazed to have just read is 73 years old, and who was brilliant in, amongst many other films, The Fugitive, along with Harrison Ford.

H. Clifford is the most decorated astronaut in history and led a team, decades ago, on a mission to Neptune. Obsessed with finding evidence of life outside our solar system he believed that with less interference from the sun’s energy the search would be easier. Communication, however, had been lost and it was assumed that they had perished.

Back to the present. Intense energy bursts are breaking down the electrical systems on Earth, causing death and destruction on a global scale. And they’re getting worse, leading to eventual Armageddon.

Yes, the usual sci-fi apocalypse tale, and at that point I was beginning to switch off, seeing not much variation on your regular screwed up soldier and end of the world stuff.

But the source of the energy surges is Neptune, and Roy, so tightly bound by his own emotions that I’m surprised that he can breathe, is told that his father may be alive. And the bonds begin to loosen. The tale turned, then, into one of a father, son relationship. An extremely intense and multi-layered relationship, as a fairly constant Brad Pitt voiceover keeps intimating. A slightly annoying voiceover which made me wonder why they couldn’t have just written a better script that showed us why, rather than just told us.

And, unsurprisingly, Roy is sent out to find him.

The near future is an interesting concept in this film. They still use rockets that look like our 21st century ones, i.e. the ones that blast off from Cape Kennedy. They still use 21st century electronics, like our phones, tablets etc. From that there isn’t much to differentiate it from now; other than the fact that there is a permanent colony on the Moon—one that resembles a giant shopping centre; and an underground base on Mars. There is an amusing bit of product placement. The landing gate for the flight to the Moon is Virgin Atlantic. Obviously planning to branch out over the coming years.

Overall I enjoyed the film. It had a 2001 A Space Odyssey vibe about it; low lighting, ‘70’s décor, and a slow meandering feel, as if no one was in a hurry—even when they were in a hurry. It raised questions as I watched it, a characteristic I like in any film. There’s an interesting and grim scene when they pick up a mayday in space and rendezvous with a ship that’s being used for animal testing. Also, the military colonisation of the Moon and Mars. It gave me the impression of a future that was somehow harder and bleaker than now. Not in the same league as The Blade Runner, for example, but not as clean, tidy and safe as we would hope the next, say, fifty years would bring us to.

Worth a watch.

Paul Roffey - Writer at paulroffey.co.uk

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Horrible Histories: The Movie: Rotten Romans

Dreadful

(Edit) 09/06/2020

Flat, cheesy, '70s gags, painful script. The musical numbers were embarrassing. I struggle to think of a worse BBC production.

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Laura

OK, but poor quality DVD capture

(Edit) 14/12/2018

The quality of the recording onto the DVD is very poor. The DVD itself is fine, it's the recording onto it.

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The Greatest Showman

Good, but not Moulin Rouge

(Edit) 21/08/2018

I must say at the outset that I'm not a musicals fan, Moulin Rouge and Grease are about it. The thought of watching Mama Mia leaves me cold.

Saying that I did enjoy this much more than I expected. It was fast, feelgood, and the choreography seemed slick. But it's not Moulin Rouge. The characters aren't as deep, the plot not as interesting, and the music not as good.

The Greatest Showman just about gets there, for me, by being fun.

The best summary I can make is that I'd watch Moulin Rouge again and again (and Grease for that matter), but not this. Once was enough.

Paul

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Blind

Explicit but thought provoking film

(Edit) 17/08/2018

This film does begin with some very explicit pornographic scenes, but I do hope that that doesn't put people off. It is an intelligent, interesting film that touches on loss and loneliness in a thought-provoking way. There are times, during the film, when you aren't sure whether what is happening is real or in the protagonist's head and that gives the film an almost fairy-tale feel.

It is well worth watching, and has some good relationship discussion points. Just keep it away from the kids!

Paul

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