Film Reviews by Rod

Welcome to Rod's film reviews page. Rod has written 10 reviews and rated 9 films.

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They Fought for Their Motherland

A Soviet writer's work turned to the silver screen

(Edit) 04/04/2019

Mikhail Sholokhov wrote 'They fought for their Mother Country' and was later awarded the Nobel Prize for literature for his various books about the Don region of Russia. Having read them all, I was expecting a storey of intense characterisation, sweat, toil, privations and gritty camaraderie - and the film delivered a real flavour of Sholokhov. The central character played by Vasili Shukshin was the authentic "muzhik" or 'one of the lads'. A few sections of the film's translation were a little stilted and wide of the mark, but the story and character interactions were compelling.

For anyone interested in Russian cinema and Sholokhov - a valid and entertaining watch.

( As a Russian speaker I was interested to note that a few four-letter words did not come through the translation - which would have made it even more authentic! )

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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The Square

Quirky, contemporary Scandi take on life..

(Edit) 04/04/2019

An film for the box marked: "odd, but stick with it..."

For me, it was a story with some similarities to 'Bonfire of the Vanities' - where the upper echelons of society have a fragility that can come unstuck very easily, when interacting by chance with the underclass - in this case, via the robbery of the leading character and his persistence in following it up. I had an abiding feeling of insecurity in that there was always a chance that Christian (and his daughters) could come to a sticky end - see the film to find out.

There was an interesting style to the cinematography - where speakers and 'noises off' were substituted by views of the listeners reactions (or lack of). The film also had a kind of abiding 'chill' about it, where the outward sophistication of those in the world of arts were subject to a degree of murkiness and sleaze, always just below the surface - maybe a reflection of real life?? Overall, were they speaking Danish or Swedish? I could never quite tell....

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Spacewalker

Zariya?? Ya Almaz-Dva !!

(Edit) 28/02/2019

Like the first reviewer, I was big childhood fan of space travel and especially of the less-known stories of the cosmonauts. And from my readings about Alexei Leonov, the events of Voskhod 2 are well-portrayed...especially around his hazardous space-suit inflation and his touch-and-go return from the space walk.

While some moments of the film script were a little stilted (especially from the stern General Kamanin - no oscars for him), and made me think of Soviet-era films, there was more than enough hard-bitten reality and suspense to make this a really compelling fillm. Examples were - director Korolyev's hard-bitten cynicism always just below the surface, the continual struggles with faulty equipment, and the cosmonauts' frozen wait in the snows of the Urals. In fact, the last half-hour unexpectedly became a gruelling story of endurance.

As one who speaks a little Russian, I found the banter between the crew-mates particularly realistic and the quieter moments in the ship were well-acted, so that I could really identify with the cosmonauts. I admit that I watched it for a total of at least 5 hours on replay to catch snippets of the conversation.

We sometimes forget that the Russians have produced some fine film directors in earlier times (Tarkovskiy, Kozyntsev) - and while this film may not be a classic, it's a very well-told story that depicts history accurately and is among the best in 'real events' space movies, certainly as good as 'Apollo 13'.

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Entebbe

Entebbe - a film of some promise that left me wanting...

(Edit) 28/02/2019

Yes, a grimly [and indeed grimy] suspenseful build-up that gave a compelling atmosphere of the initial events and the fears of the hostages... the Israeli cabinet meetings were realistic and no doubt just as smoke-filled as in the film. Eddie Marsan played Shimon Peres in a suitably dry, philosophical way that made me smile. But the film seemed to run out of steam in the crucial stages of the flight to Uganda and the fleeting skirmishes on the ground. This all left me rather underwhelmed. And while there was some good characterisation of the German terrorists, there was a lack of an equivalent story for any of the hostages (maybe some, but not enough on balance). And don't ask me why the modern dance sequences were included !! Maybe the director thought this was worthy art-house stuff, but with interruption of the plot, it was downright irritating!!

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Hostiles

A gritty depiction of the Old West that could become a classic

(Edit) 19/01/2019

Excellent casting of Christian Bale as the hard-bitten, laconic and bitter army captain on one final mission, compared with his charge - a similarly laconic, but serene Cheyenne chief who has dignity and acceptance of his fate. The film slowly and sparingly portrays the acquiescence of the captain to the differences that had separated the two of them and a recognition of the chief's quiet dignity. Somehow, the captain's use of his fluent knowledge of the Cheyenne language led me to conclude early on that respect would grow between the two characters - a true bigot might never have conceded the use of a foreign tongue.

By comparison, the part played by Rosamund Pike is well-acted in showing how the sheer horror of the murder of her family and repeated examples of violence throughout the story can beat a person's character into near silence, with recovery only to be knocked back once more. Nearly all the travellers were carrying some - by modern standards - unimaginably heavy mental burdens, through the brutality of their lives and their environment. For all that, I found the violent scenes, while gory, to be 'plausible' and not gratuitous, as in some 'shocker' westerns from the past.

A compelling theme that held me throughout the film was the doggedness with which the small party plodded on quietly despite the regular decimations that befell it. Some films would have given voice to the breath-taking scenery - but trhe travellers were oblivious to anything other than sheer survival, while that modern travellers would have stopped for 'selfy' opportunities and a Starbucks flat-white.

Just a small point: I found the contrast interesting between the wilds (ever-present threat of savagery from behind every rock and tree) and the clean orderliness of the military outposts with a sure indication of the encroachment of modern life. This was especially evident in the final scenes of modest but burgeoning urbanisation in Butte, Montana... for one to catch a train all the way from Montana to Chicago surely indicated that the settlers were arriving and were people of means ($$$).

I'm not sure how this film has featured in terms of awards, but it certainly deserves to go into the annals as one of the best and most authentic westerns of the 21st Century. It was well-acted, and with a riveting story. I had no problems with the length of the film, which allowed the weight of the characterisations and what befell the travellers to develop well in a savage landscape.

2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.

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Suburbicon

A curious tale of violence in suburbia

(Edit) 19/01/2019

Like some other reviewers, I found this to be an outwardly light weight and sometimes whimsical depiction of the burgeoning of the suburban lifestyle in early-mid Fifties America. It quickly led me to intuit that there were at least several parallel stories untold, once the menace and violence started to unfold and grow and grow - and grow. The persecution of the neighbours made me think that this would become a central theme in the story line, but it only proved to be a side issue.

With the increase in violence in the final third of the film, I did ask myself whether it was meant to be a thriller, or just a black comedy. The latter because the characters seemed to be piling on so much implied evil moment by moment, that I could not take them seriously. Example: why was Matt Damon such a shit? What made him that way? This lightweight treatment of the story and the rapid accumulation of violence prevented the film from being suspenseful, or any kind of cliff-hanger - result: not something you could call a 'thriller'.

Hmm.. I do wonder... whether an extra hour would have helped give the story more depth and turn this from a good film into a great one.

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Cloud Atlas

Are some books simply not meant to be filmed ??

(Edit) 07/12/2018

Hmmm.... Hmm again...

I enjoyed the book a couple of years ago - it was chunked to set out a series of different stories sequenced through time with a definite, detectable but tenuous thread between them. With the film, I was anticipating a clever, intriguing story-line that would envision for me pretty much what the book chapters would "look like", with the interpretation of the futuristic episodes most interesting of all..... I was disappointed after about 20 minutes

So, the chopping of sequences was rapid-fire and seemed quite unlike the book. And, apart from the different characters' comet-shaped birthmark [ big deal! ], I didn't detect a strong-enough link between the stories. I persevered for about 90 minutes then hit fast-forward for much of the rest of the film. With the continual darting backward and forward in time, I would have much preferred one story at a time. Then about the futuristic peasant-speak ( I assume these folk were 'peasants') I wondered whether sub-titles would have helped, but then it might have looked word-for-word just the same (sorry guys, a bit flippant there). All in all a clever book, but a translation to film that seemed too turgid and 'worthy' for its own good.

Maybe, as said by another reviewer, some books are best left to the imagination and thus unfilmed ! But... I will now read the book again ... and hire the film again in say 6 months time....

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The Mountain Between Us

Another snowy landscape, another happy ending...

(Edit) 05/12/2018

While the acting was good from two seasoned performers, the plot did lack danger and any real 'cliff-hanger' suspense... will she / won't she. In the one literal cliff-edge scene, they just turned back and walked elsewhere. I wanted to see bruised, frozen finger-tips almost giving way under unbearable strain. Then later, when the lovely Kate fell under the ice, our Idris simply scooped her out like a salmon and laid her in a comfy bed...and where did those clean orange pillow cases come from - John Lewis ??

Now if you want a really chilly snowy landscape that makes you shivery and suspenseful - try The Revenant instead... see what I mean?

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The Dinner

'The Dinner' - painful!

(Edit) 03/12/2018

The Dinner was cast with a group of indisputably fine actors and I was looking forward to watching it for that reason alone - though tinged with slight suspicion because I had never heard of it before.....

Films about family issues are as worthy of being in the global canon of cinema as any other subject areas - but this example was just lacking in a clear and compelling story line that lacked any intrigue or cleverness. Those last two attributes can validly be attached to films about family issues, not just to say thrillers and psycho-dramas. The central character taken by Steve Coogan was well acted, but his descent into neurosis just left me fatigued and bored. I'm happy to watch films that tax my emotions and make me 'exhale' with satisfaction at the end, but, in short: this film simply did not entertain me !!

So... here's a fundamental question about film (other than say documentary) - is its objective...to 'entertain' ??

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Jungle

Daniel Radcliffe emerging as a fine actor in adulthood

(Edit) 03/12/2018

Overall, I thought this was a fine film - showing Daniel Radcliffe to be emerging now as a skilful and versatile actor. The film developed Daniel's solo efforts to survive the hardships of the jungle with superb realism and the later stages of the film were all the more riveting for that. The fellow travellers that Dan pitched in with were a bit irritating - but maybe that was a deliberate aspect of the casting! All in all, one of the better survival films I've seen.

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