Film Reviews by Alphaville

Welcome to Alphaville's film reviews page. Alphaville has written 408 reviews and rated 357 films.

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Spider-Man: Far from Home

Surprisingly likeable superhero film

(Edit) 29/11/2019

Set amongst the beauty spots of Europe (Venice, the Alps, etc), this fairly zips along without the usual Marvel baggage. The up-to-the-minute plot revolves around deepfake technology and gives rise to some imaginative surreal sequences, making even the cgi battles against monsters less boring than normal.

It works even better as a superior high-school comedy as Peter Parker (Spider-teen) and his classmates go on a European school trip. JB Smoove (Larry David’s house guest in Curb Your Enthusiasm) is a riot as their teacher. Instead of yawnfest superhero angst and soul-searching we get fun set-pieces and punchy dialogue. Sample: when Peter tells the girl he fancies that she’s pretty, she replies haughtily “And therefore I have value?”. Marvel nerds may be disappointed, but for those who find most superhero films a waste of screen time, this one’s impossible not to like.

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Along with the Gods

Spectacular fantasy

(Edit) 29/11/2019

After a startling, giddily shot opening on a burning skyscraper, our hero fireman is killed but can be reincarnated if his life has passed seven moral tests. Unfortunately this results in an episodic, over-acted melodrama, with relevant episodes from his life shown in flashback. Despite this, the film’s well worth watching purely for its many and varied other-world action sequences. These are truly spectacular, having an immediacy and kinetic energy lacking in glossy Hollywood superhero films.

The sets are dazzling, the soundtrack is storming and the chase sequences, with a frenetic camera picking out protagonists as they fly in and out of reality, are a visual feast. A top-grossing film in South Korea, there’s a sequel in the can and more planned. If you get bored with the melodrama, fast-forward to the next action sequence and wallow in the gorgeous sights that only cinema can produce.

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A Dangerous Method

Lo-key historical drama

(Edit) 29/11/2019

A dialogue-heavy drama about the relationships between Freud, Jung, Jung’s wife and the female patient he becomes involved with. Some emotional jumps in character are hard to take and, like most David Cronenberg films, it’s in no rush to get anywhere. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a solid, efficiently-told Sunday-night drama with interesting subject matter, this will fit the bill for 95 minutes.

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Anna

Stylish action thriller

(Edit) 26/11/2019

With Luc Besson writing, directing and even holding the camera, you know you’re in for a film that’s going to zip along cinematically, with visual interest in every frame. This one harks back to Nikita, with model Sasha Luss as a Russian government assassin. The elliptical plot constantly surprises with twists that make no sense until Besson backtracks to reveal what’s really going on. His intention (as he says on the DVD Extras) was for the plot to resemble a nest of Russian dolls, which are revealed one by one.

Given that, there’s nothing here we haven’t seen before, with an indestructible hero/heroine fighting insuperable odds. If only Besson could invest more in character he’d be making brilliant films. This one is instantly forgettable, with a lead actress who should stick to modelling, but it’s bold, brash, beautiful and great fun to watch. After watching the current crop of British social-realist films, mired in miserabilia, it’s a pleasure to sit back and wallow in a film made by a director who’s in love with the visual possibilities of cinema.

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Final Score

Naff but fun

(Edit) 26/11/2019

In this “Die Hard in a football stadium”, Dave Bautista is the latest over-beefed Hulk to masquerade as a leading man (he nearly gets stuck in a turnstile). He’s even saddled with the usual annoying teenage daughter-in-peril. Ray Stevenson also lacks charisma as the leading badass Russian rebel who’s got West Ham’s stadium in lockdown during a “soccer” match and is going to blow it up.

On the other hand, there’s some neat dialogue, some black humour that works, a feisty bad girl, a good fight in the confined space of a lift and a bog-standard boring motorcycle chase made interesting by choreographing it to Jonathan Pierce’s match commentary (he’s very good as himself). All told, Final Score is not as good as Gerard Butler’s Fallen franchise, but there are many worse actioners around and it’s hard not to like a film that has an American character punched for calling football soccer.

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Burning

Intriguing but unsatisfying

(Edit) 26/11/2019

What’s it about? If you can figure that out, well done. It begins as boy-meets-girl, becomes a sort-of love triangle then eventually introduces the element that gives the film its title (but don’t expect any combustible drama). It’s intriguing to begin with and even looks promising, with realistic sex scenes that you rarely see in South Korean cinema. But it doesn’t go anywhere interesting at all. It’s based on the director’s short story, is full of tell-don’t-show and can’t possibly sustain its 140-minute run time. It has been vastly overrated for its opaqueness, causing some critics to say it must be seen twice, but once (if that) will be more than enough for most viewers.

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The Mule

Gentle thriller

(Edit) 16/11/2019

Clint Eastwood directs himself as an old-timer who, to make money, starts working for a drugs cartel, ferrying packages around in his beat-up old truck. He’s a complete innocent, oblivious to the increasing peril he’s in as the gangsters and the cops (led by Bradley Cooper) close in. He looks so fragile that you’ll be rooting for him all the way as we follow his trips through the colourful desert landscapes of the American South-West.

If ever there was a warm-hearted thriller, this is it. Even approaching the age of 90, Clint knows what to do with a camera and how to make an intelligent and enjoyable film. Expect no fireworks, but if you liked Gran Torino, you’ll like this.

DVD Xtras Fascinating Fact: All the clothes Clint wears are from the various movies he’s made over the years.

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Tulip Fever

Laughable potboiler

(Edit) 16/11/2019

An historical potboiler set in 17th century Amsterdam, making best use of its one-street outdoor set by filling it with local colour. It bowls along pacily enough, but the downtrodden-wife-strays plot is all too familiar and the characters have no depth. With no convincing characters, the sex scenes are unrealistic and the background of the tulip market (the dotcom boom-and-bust of its time) is little more than a distraction. The increasingly farcical plot spirals out of control and becomes reliant on a number of laughable coincidences. It may work in the original book, but it just seems silly in the more immediate medium of film. It keeps you watching, but it’s all a bit ridiculous and inconsequential.

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Maquia

Ambitious but soporific

(Edit) 16/11/2019

Grossly overpraised animation in the Ghibli mode. The fantasy landscapes are imaginative, colourful and gorgeous, but the blank-faced characters lack the Miyazaki touch of realism. As for the silly coming-of-age plot, surely it’s aimed at young children. Watch the trailer first, with its whispering voices and anodyne muzak, to see whether you can sit through two hours of it.

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Gwen

Woe, woe, thrice woe

(Edit) 16/11/2019

Fancy a couple of hours wallowing in miserableness? Set in the poverty-stricken North Wales of the 1800s, this is the film for you. Teenager Gwen lives near a quarry. Her mother is ill, her father’s away, the mining company is ruthless… As for the weather, it’s bleak (who’d have thought?). Although praised for its acting and atmosphere, it’s a complete downer, more suited to television than cinema (although you’d soon switch channels). Yet another example of depressing small-ambition British cinema miserabilism. Do watch the trailer first.

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Galveston

Drawn-out bore

(Edit) 06/11/2019

Gritty, poorly-shot drama has little going for it, not even a music score to add drama to proceedings. Filmed mostly in dark interiors by a director who has no sense of what to do with a camera. The two leading characters – a killer and a prostitute on the run – are deeply unappealing and uninteresting. Cut to under 90 minutes, it still feels like a drawn-out student project.

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Shazam!

Children’s comic superhero film

(Edit) 06/11/2019

After a long-winded opening 35 minutes, a 14yo boy is transformed into superhero Zachary Levi. After that the plot moves along pacily enough as he explores his new powers, eventually to face off against supervillain Mark Strong. It’s kids’ stuff, with the usual superhero cgi and generic orchestral score, plus suitably right-on messages about family and empowerment, but it’s watchable enough in an undemanding way.

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Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Winning biopic

(Edit) 06/11/2019

Biopics rarely reach the level of cinematic masterpiece, but there are some engaging ones around at the moment (Colette, Stan & Ollie) and this is another winning one. Melissa McCarthy plays a down-on-her-luck writer who begins to forge letters from literary greats to make money. It’s a gentle film with a plot that becomes increasingly involving, has great dialogue and is well-acted by McCarthy and Richard E. Grant, in his best part for ages as her louche drinking buddy.

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Stan and Ollie

Winning biopic

(Edit) 25/10/2019

Affectionate biopic of Laurel and Hardy touring Britain 16 years after their peak. Lovingly observed and impeccably acted by Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly. You’ll find no great cinematic highs here, but it’s an irresistible wallow in nostalgia. As director John S. Baird says on the DVD Xtras, “If you’ve got a heart you’re gonna love this film”. As well as loving the subject, film fans will also find the VFX breakdown on the DVD Xtras fascinating.

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The Sisters Brothers

Travesty of a Western

(Edit) 25/10/2019

Don’t be misled by the trailer, which shows all the action that there is to an exciting score. If only the film matched up. This is a self-acknowledged “re-imagining of the cinematic Western”, with one uncinematic, dreary, stagey, interior, score-free scene after another. Expect few sweeping vistas, dramatic gunfights or stirring drama. Much of it is in darkness. The opening scene sets the tone. It’s played out in pitch-black so that we can’t see any of it. You might as well watch radio.

French-speaking director Jacques Audiard seems to be unable to direct the American actors, who speak their lines without emotion, as though reading them at a pre-production meeting. Even the film’s title smacks of desperation. The whole project gives Westerns a bad name. Judging from a Q&A on the DVD Extras, Audiard hasn’t a clue about the possibilities of the Western. Watch a John Ford film again instead to see what the genre can really do.

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