Film Reviews by Alphaville

Welcome to Alphaville's film reviews page. Alphaville has written 535 reviews and rated 487 films.

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Battle of Jangsari

Well-meaning buy hackneyed

(Edit) 16/06/2021

Flag-waving South Korean movie about an heroic battle against the communists during the Korean War. One hates to be churlish when it’s based on true events, but this is like a throwback to a 1950s film about a bunch of stereotypical untried squaddies becoming heroes. The fighting is filmed in shaky-cam and, to further alienate the audience, the acting is too hammy to relate to. Judged purely as a film, it’s a poor memorial to the real combatants.

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The Little Things

Tired and disappointing

(Edit) 01/06/2021

Cop Denzel Washington is on the trail of a serial killer in LA. It’s got to be good, right? Wrong. Everything about this film is dull – the script, the direction, the soundtrack, even Denzel’s performance. His partner Remi Malek’s mannered performance doesn’t help, while even chief suspect Jared Leto succumbs to the general malaise. When the three of them exchange meaningful looks it’s more laughable than tense. Perhaps all concerned should have had a good sleep and started all over again.

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Persian Lessons

Tense thriller

(Edit) 01/06/2021

Tense thriller about a young Jewish man who, to avoid execution by the Nazis, pretends to be Persian in order to teach the camp commandant the language. The problem is: he knows no Persian. Inspired by a true story, it’s an intriguing concept. Many concentration camp films are well-intentioned but clichéd. This is something different that grabs from Scene 1. No set-up scenes, back stories or screeds of stagey dialogue. This is fast-paced and exciting.

Unlike in many films set during WW2, the Nazis here are real people with problems of their own. The commandant himself, cruel but complex, is a wonderful creation that ranks alongside Ralph Fiennes’ SS Officer in Schindler’s List.

Our hero has to invent the language as he goes along. To begin with, the commandant wants only four words a day, but that soon adds up to become a lot to remember. It makes you wonder if you could do it yourself. Then one day the commandant asks for 400 words…

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Jackpot

Quirky but dull

(Edit) 26/05/2021

Would-be humorous thriller about a shooting involving four idiots who fall out over a pools win. It tries so hard to be quirky and unrealistic that it destroys any interest in the plot or the characters, so ironically it ends up just being dull. With TV aesthetics and a plot that darts back and forth in time to explain the shooting in retrospect, it’s hard to care about any of the goings-on. The ad campaign makes a lot of it being based on a Jo Nesbo thriller, as was the excellent film Headhunters, but this is a dud.

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Jack Strong

old-fashioned cold war drama

(Edit) 20/05/2021

This is a true story about a Polish colonel spying for the CIA during the Soviet era. Billed as a ‘gripping thriller’ (aren’t they all?), it’s more of an old-fashioned, stagey, actorly drama. It’s a story worth telling but over 2hrs the film rarely produces any dramatic highs.

NB Ignore the crass ‘review’ by the lowbrow who has no time for foreign-language cinema. If you're dumb enough to restrict your viewing to English-language or dubbed films, you're missing out on most of the best films ever made.

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Tell Me Something

Lethargic thriller

(Edit) 16/05/2021

Korean thriller about the search for a serial killer who surgically cuts up and mixes the bodies. With an exciting concept, intriguing plot developments and a strong climax it’s worthy of a Hollywood remake, but this lacklustre version is just disappointing. It’s let down by a slow pace, lack of action, impassive male and female leads and some poor directorial choices.

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Joint Security Area

Soporific drama

(Edit) 13/05/2021

Although billed as a thriller, this is a slow-paced drama about an investigation into a border incident between North and South Korea. It’s theme is the futility of war, but the main impression you’ll be left with is the futility of making such a soporific drama. Filmed with a mostly static camera, and with no score to highlight any of the stagey scenes, it’s hard to maintain interest.

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Blood Wedding

Brilliant dance film

(Edit) 13/05/2021

If you think flamenco is all about stamping around with castanets, this film will be a revelation. If you find films about dance boring, this film will be a revelation. If you’ve never seen or heard of Antonio Gades, this film will be revelation. It’s a kind of acted/danced documentary in which rehearsals for the Blood Wedding of the title become so intense that we forget they’re rehearsals and become involved in the action itself. Perhaps the closest film to it in spirit is West Side Story.

Ditch the castanets for starters. This is flamenco ballet like you’ve never seen it. Gades is a such a mesmerising presence that you can’t take your eyes off him. The climactic knife fight is brilliantly executed in slow motion, beautifully shot in real-time by Carlos Saura’s prowling camera.

At a brief 80mins, it’s worth giving it a shot. It was such a success at the 1981 Edinburgh Film Festival that Gades brought his company to Edinburgh the following year for an equally stunning live performance, and a year later he and Saura reunited for a film version of Carmen.

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Skylines

Tedious space shoot-em-up

(Edit) 08/05/2021

After 2010’s terrific Skyline, the sequel Beyond Skyline, by a different director, was a disappointment. This third film in the series, again directed by Beyond Skyline’s Liam O’Donnell, hits rock bottom. The SFX are good enough but soon pall with nothing of interest happening on screen.

The usual motley crew of stereotypes that populate this type of film are sent to an alien planet to fight aliens. It plods along leaving no cliché unturned with on-the-nose dialogue that even Dr Who writers would have rejected: ‘Let’s go!’, ‘Watch our back!’. If the long, drawn-out scenes were re-edited to reduce the overlong 2hr run time, at least some pace might have been injected into it. The fight scenes, on the other hand, are ruined by rapid-fire editing. And why does this planet never have any sunlight to brighten the dour look of the whole affair? There’s so little drama, tension or excitement that it’s difficult to keep your finger off the FF button. And if you want to be put off even more, watch lost-in-Hollywood starlet Lindsey Morgan telling us on the DVD Xtras how wonderful everyone is.

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Tenet

Impenetrable but mesmerising

(Edit) 05/05/2021

A big-scale Christopher Nolan movie is an event and Tenet is no exception. It has a great concept, features spectacular set-pieces and is beautifully directed. The plot zips around the world with John David Washington and Robert Pattinson playing James Bond-type agents attempting to prevent the end of the world. No expense or location is spared. Where to hold a meeting? On a racing catamaran of course. How to get to the top of a skyscraper? Bungee jump from the adjacent one of course.

What makes it different is that their adversaries are ‘inverted’ villains moving backwards through time. Yep, you read it right. And therein lies the film’s major problem. It’s almost impossible to make sense of. The characters become mere tokens to propel the plot. Chief villain Kenneth Branagh seems almost a sideshow and his abused wife Elizabeth Dembecki (the film’s only engaging character) gets stuck in a pointless subplot about her son.

The converging and competing timelines, and the explanations we’re given of them, become increasingly confusing, as do the characters themselves when they’re forced to wear oxygen masks in an alternate timeline. So not only do we not understand what’s going on, we’re sometimes not even sure whom we’re looking at. Consequently the spectacular OTT climax (will the world survive or not?) is as likely to provoke as much bemused humour as dramatic tension.

In short, it’s a confusing, flawed and irritating film that teems with imagination, chutzpah and sheer cinematic mastery. A nonsensical 4-star film? Even that’s nonsensical in itself. Watch and wonder. And give suave agent Robert Pattinson a film of his own.

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The Wolf of Snow Hollow

Little gem

(Edit) 05/05/2021

With Thunder Road and now this, Jim Cummings is carving out quite a name for himself as a writer/director/star. And unlike many a writer/director/star, he does not indulge in vanity projects. This is a proper film that re-invigorates the tired old werewolf formula. Sure, people are torn apart at full moon, but this is more of a murder mystery set amidst the Rocky Mountains of Utah. It also has a nice line in sardonic humour as Jim (a local police officer) is beset by a whole world of problems both personal and professional. He flatly refuses to accept the existence of a mythical werewolf, unlike his deputy, but then “he thought Men in Black was a documentary”.

At a taut 81mins there’s not a frame wasted, right up to the satisfying resolution of the mystery. And if, amidst the action and the humour, you can’t quite put your finger on the supporting subtext that tackles nothing less than the human condition, watch the short DVD Xtra. It will add to your admiration of what is a small but unexpected gem.

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Novo

Amateur film-making

(Edit) 27/04/2021

The scatter-gun approach to film: an arbitrarily edited jumble of disjointed scenes shot by waving a camera around. Add a charisma-free leading man and exploitative female nudity to reel in the saddos and you have a film that is virtually unwatchable.

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Anti-Life

The pits

(Edit) 22/04/2021

After a boring opening full of talking-heads in close-up it’s downhill all the way. Where to start? The script’s awful, the acting am-dram and the direction abysmal. To make it even worse, it’s filmed with a shaky-cam in claustrophobic interiors. The plot concerns an alien on a spaceship (yawn, yawn). To avoid the need for any special effects, it takes over humans and turns them into zombie-like crazies. There’s not an iota of imagination in the whole thing. Feel very sorry for Bruce Willis that his career has come to this.

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Synchronic

Disjointed and silly

(Edit) 17/04/2021

Benson and Moorhead’s best film yet, with the added bonus that they’re not acting in it as well as writing and directing it, but it still has all the faults of their previous work. For half the film we’re subjected to disjointed scenes of two paramedics (Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan) dealing with the effects of the drug of the title. Then a sci-fi element kicks in and things become more interesting as Mackie himself explores the drug’s effect. Dornan, meanwhile, is wasted in a thankless part as his moaning mate.

It’s all nonsense, of course, and becomes increasingly so. To give away the silly sci-fi premise would be a spoiler (NB Avoid spoiler-heavy Cinema Paradiso review before viewing), but at least the film’s second half becomes more engaging and less wearing to watch than the first half. At the end, there’s even some emotional engagement with the characters, which is unusual in Benson/Moorhead films. A thrilling score, featured heavily in the excellent trailer, only serves to expose the film’s ridiculous premise more.

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Seberg

What a waste

(Edit) 09/04/2021

You know how bad films seem even more disappointing when they have a wonderful subject matter to work from? Well here’s a prime example. In films such as A Bout de Souffle (Breathless) Jean Seberg was a muse to the filmmakers of the 1960s French New Wave. So what does this bio do — concentrate solely on the few years when the FBI’s men-in-suits investigated her for her involvement in the Black Panther movement in the US. It’s a dull tale. Did the filmmakers learn nothing from the films of Godard, Truffaut and other greats who showed how imaginative and exhilarating cinema can be?

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