Film Reviews by JB

Welcome to JB's film reviews page. JB has written 5 reviews and rated 259 films.

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Little Women

Utterly charming - ignore the negative reviews here

(Edit) 06/08/2020

Gerwig's take on Alcott's classic work of American literature is a jewel of a film. Complaints that it does not follow the chronology of the of the source material and that there is a modern, more overtly feminist tone to this version seem to miss the point. It is not a the job of a film adaptation to slavishly reproduce the work it is based on, but to mould it to the cinematic form and offer a fresh interpretation - like a good cover version it should be both recognisable and different to the original. Let's face it, many of the greatest film adaptations of literature play fast and loose with the plots, tones and even messages of their inspirations - 'Jaws', 'Vertigo', 'The Shining' and ''Bladerunner' all being good cases in point.

Gerwig's choice to deliver the narrative in a non-linear form has clearly frustrated many, but in choosing this approach the film is able to inject a more nuanced suspense into the story - shifting the focus from 'what' will happen in the lives of the sisters to 'why' these things have occurred. The device allows Gerwig to engage with Alcott's novel in a more modern way, exploring the constraints on women's freedoms and the impact these have on the trajectory of their lives in a way which is deft and revealing. The film is certainly interested in using its narrative to explore feminist issues, but this is by no means a feminist rant as some reviewers might have you believe. There's a real lightness of touch to the film's politics and the genuine love for the source material is evident throughout. Anyway - in the modern context it would seem faintly ridiculous not to engage on some level with gender politics in a text called 'Little Women'!

The film also has much to offer both in terms of visuals and performances. The cinematography here is beautiful and is cleverly calibrated to help you instantly understand where you are in the chronology - there's a richness to the colours and light of scenes related to the girl's earlier lives, while a colder palette suffuses the portions of the film dealing with them as adults. Shot compositions are also often very beautiful - particularly in the beach and attic-space scenes.

All the female leads are excellent, but it is really Ronan (Jo) and Pugh (Amy) that stand out. Their characters become flip-sides of one another- both are intelligent, talented women struggling to find a voice and win recognition in a world which seeks to silence women and render them invisible. Through this Amy's character is given the space to be more than the selfish brat of the family and we are allowed to understand the pressures and frustrations which often drive her less admirable decisions and actions.

Finally it is worth noting how well Gerwig does at balancing the sentimental elements of the novel (and so many of its previous cinematic adaptations). Alcott's work is undoubtedly mawkish and arguably previous film versions (especially LeRoy's '49 version) get rather bogged down in melodramatic/synthetic emotion, but Gerwig always avoids veering into a saccharine tone - no mean achievement. The audience is frequently moved, but the film never wallows in its emotions.

This is a timely, loving and charming film - full of compassion, visually rich and full of freshness, energy and intelligence. Definitely give it a go.

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Downsizing

Messy but interesting

(Edit) 18/07/2018

Alexander Payne has a great track-record as a smart, incisive, witty and sensitive filmmaker - 'Election', 'Sideways' and 'Nebraska' all being particularly strong examples of his work. 'Downsizing' is all these things, but it lacks the cohesion and sense of purpose of Payne's earlier work. The film divides in two rather ill-matched halves. The first section of the story is essentially a satire on home ownership and the post credit crunch pressures on the middle classes. This part of the narrative feels tightly focused, but in the second half of the narrative the film almost entirely forgets this part of the story and veers off into a much more shapeless examination of a huge range of themes - the emptiness of first world lives, immigration and political oppression, class division and exploitation, the moral failings of modern (perhaps especially Trump's) America and much more. As a result none of the ideas feel really resolved because (despite the running time) the film simply doesn't have time to develop all these issues satisfactorily.

Still, this is well worth a watch, there are plenty of smart jokes and as always Paine has a keen visual sense. Performances are also excellent on the whole, especially those of Hong and the always reliable Waltz. Check it out, but if you're a big Payne fan then adjust expectations - this is not a master work.

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A Fantastic Woman

Trite and and certainly not fantastic

(Edit) 03/07/2018

A film much vaunted by critics and the award ceremonies, but having watched it I'm struggling to understand why. Marina's story of discrimination and ostracisation in the face of a society that struggles to deal with her gender identity is worthy enough in terms of where its sympathies lie and what it's trying to critique, but there's so little real depth here. So being a transgender woman draws a great deal of prejudice and intolerance from other people - it's hardly an earth shattering revelation. The central performance is also rather wooden and unconvincing. It's hard to really sympathise with Marina, because she never comes across as a real, three dimensional person - instead she simply seems to be a rather crude mechanism through which to deliver laudable but simplistic messages.

A missed opportunity which I suspect gleaned so many awards and positive reviews because of its 'brave' subject matter and admirably liberal intentions - sadly these things are not enough to make it a good film. Perhaps in a world obsessed with virtue signalling most critics felt duty-bound to tell everyone else how great they thought it was!

5 out of 6 members found this review helpful.

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Atomic Blonde

Stylish and Vacuous

(Edit) 29/01/2018

Good to look at and a great soundtrack - but otherwise there really is nothing on offer here. An empty experience so entirely in love with its own glittering surface that it fails to spot the huge void at its heart. This left me only too aware at the end that I'd just lost two hours of my life I'm never going to get back.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Ghost in the Shell

Glittering Surfaces and Not Much Else

(Edit) 12/09/2017

Yet another dystopian sci-fi about someone who discovers they've had their memory erased so an evil corporation can exploit them for nefarious purposes. Remember Robocop, Total Recall, Paycheck and The Matrix? The problem here is that it's become such a tired plot-line by now that it's hard to become involved, and there's little real tension about what's going to happen because it's obvious from the outset where this is going. The visuals are generally very impressive (if derivative - see Blade Runner and The Fifth Element), though the CG suffers a little from the overly-busy look that so often dominates films like this. Visual style just isn't enough though. Even Johansson, who's such a safe pair of hands, can't really make this work because her character is so off the peg - even if she is essentially naked for half of the film!

Another bloated wasted opportunity from Hollywood - not awful - but only for real fans of science fiction and/or Scarlett Johansson. If you really want to see an interesting science fiction film about identity, that also stars Scarlett Johansson in a state of constant undress then give Jonathan Glazer's 'Under the Skin' a try instead - a genuinely thoughtful, disturbing and visually original piece of filmmaking.

1 out of 2 members found this review helpful.

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