Skip to main content

Reviews Archive - B


FEATURING:

The Bank Job
Batman Begins
Battle: Los Angeles
The Battle of the River Plate
Bee Movie
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Be Kind Rewind
Black Dynamite
Black Narcissus
The Black Sheep of Whitehall
Black Swan
Blood Diamond
Blue Valentine
Bridge to Terebithia
A Bug's Life

The Bank Job
(2008)

There's some rather lacklustre dialogue and acting on display here, but the plot holds the interested. I knew nothing about the robbery it's based on, but the murky machinations involved made me think that a much better film could have been made based on this story (Clement & Le Frenais wrote the screenplay).

***1/2

Batman Begins
 (2005)

An uninspired storyline isn't helped by Neeson's somnambulant turn, nor Katie Holmes’ miscasting. Nevertheless, the film ends up in the positive due to some strong individual elements. 

Bale is outstanding as Batman and adequate as Wayne, while Cillian Murphy and Michael Caine merit the other performance honours. Nolan really seems to kick into gear whenever he's dealing with the Scarecrow, making it a shame he's not more central.

***1/2

Battle: Los Angeles 
(2011)

Aside from the occasionally involving sub-Black Hawk Down urban melee this is woefully turgid, clichéd material. Aaron Eckhart appears to have taken Harvey Dent too seriously, and plays some kind of ultimate patriot, while the rest of the cast spout unexpurgated drivel. 

The ability of the marines to evolve from being torn apart by one alien to five of them taking out the entire invasion force is just one of the film's many insults to intelligence.

**

The Battle of the River Plate 
(1956)

Powell and Pressburger's rather stodgy tale of allied cruisers up against German pocket battleships. Significant amounts for footage of actual ships is married rather obviously with studio-bound material. 

There's not a lot to engage here; notably Peter Finch's German captain is a good egg (P&P never went down the route of overt nationalism) and there are small roles for Patrick Macnee (being Patrick Macnee), Roger Delgado and Christopher Lee. John Le Mesurier also features but I probably wasn't applying enough attention to notice him.

**

Bee Movie 
(2007)

Not even close to vintage Seinfeld, but it's much funnier than most non-Pixar CGI animations. 

His dry humour remains intact, even if the story becomes run-of-the-mill in the last half hour. There's some good voice casting, particularly Patrick Wharburton and Chris Rock. My favourite line: "Erghhh! Poo water!"

***

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead 
(2007)

Sidney Lumet misfire. Ethan Hawke is a turgid non-presence, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Albert Finney are wasted. 

The story jumps around in time because it isn’t interesting enough to tell without gimmickry while aspirations towards tragic dimensions fail because none of the characters are identifiable with or remotely sympathetic. Marisa Tomei strips off in the name of artistic integrity; unfortunately it was for a project without merit.

*

Be Kind Rewind 
(2008)

On the evidence of this and The Science of Sleep, Michel Gondry should stick to directing other people's scripts. This is all very lightweight and twee. There are bags of inventiveness but not enough to justify a 90-minute film. I liked the 2001 and Robocop "swedes", though.

**

Black Dynamite 
(2009)

Michael Jai White blaxploitation spoof. It's received a number of raves, but I thought it was only sporadically effective. 

The high-water mark for spoofs in the last decade has to be Cairo: Nest of Spies. This has the right look, but sticks too rigidly to the blaxploitation template to really break out into surreal laughs. It's no coincidence that the best scene has Black Dynamite coax his group into uncovering the plot by making them recall their in-depth knowledge of Greek myths.

**

Black Narcissus  
(1947)

A stunning piece of work with Powell & Pressburger on peak form. Jack Cardiff's cinematography and Alfred Junge's Art Direction are so extraordinary that it remains hard to fathom that it was nearly all filmed at Pinewood. Sister Ruth makes Jack Torrance look like an ickle fluffy bunny rabbit.

*****


The Black Sheep of Whitehall 
(1942)

Possibly Will Hay's finest hour (this, or The Goose Steps Out) sees him attempting to foil a Nazi kidnapping plot with John Mills. Hay dons numerous disguises (police inspector, ticket inspector, nurse). 

My favourite scene has him eavesdropping on a conversation whilst hoovering in a gasmask. Each time he breathes in, the gas mask makes a honking sound.

*****

Black Swan 
(2010)

The last third of this was outstanding; my rating's only tempered by having reached the half way point and thinking it was going to be a well-made but rather obvious Polanski rip-off. 

Portman gives a performance far-and-away beyond anything she's done hitherto, while Aronofsky's direction moves from (like the plot) rather unsubtle to the utterly compelling. The sound design is sublime.

****

Blood Diamond  
(2006)

This struck me as very similar to other films from Ed Zwick, with its "white man makes accessible an unfamiliar world" approach (Glory, Last Samurai). Di Caprio is solid, and it as a whole it is watchable enough, but the hackneyed atonement storyline keeps any aspiration to depth at arm’s length.

**

Blue Valentine 
(2010)

Charting the disintegration of a couple's marriage in the present, and how they arrived where they are through flashbacks, this features fine performances from Michelle Williams and (particularly) Ryan Gosling. 

But there's nothing especially new or vital in the content, suffused as it is with a bleak inevitability, even though the narrative structure manages to wrong foot you occasionally.

***

Bridge to Terebithia 
(2007)

Surprisingly mature kids' film about an escape into a fantasy world. Solid supporting turns from Robert Patrick and Zooey Deschanel.

***1/2


A Bug's Life 
(1998)

Not top-tier Pixar, but some enjoyably nasty humour from Spacey's grasshopper and some big dollops of faecal material regarding the insect world. 

The caterpillar steals the show. Antz is probably the superior CGI insect toon (certainly the more cerebral) but the confidence on display here belies that it was only Pixar's sophomore effort.

***1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Trouble’s part of the circus. They said Barnum was in trouble when he lost Tom Thumb.

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
(SPOILERS) Anyone of a mind that it’s a recent development for the Oscars to cynically crown underserving recipients should take a good look at this Best Picture winner from the 25thAcademy Awards. In this case, it’s generally reckoned that the Academy felt it was about time to honour Hollywood behemoth Cecil B DeMille, by that point into his seventies and unlikely to be jostling for garlands much longer, before it was too late. Of course, he then only went and made a bona fide best picture contender, The Ten Commandments, and only then pegged it. Because no, The Greatest Show on Earth really isn’t very good.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

What lit the fire that set off our Mr Reaper?

Death Wish (2018)
(SPOILERS) I haven’t seen the original Death Wish, the odd clip aside, and I don’t especially plan to remedy that, owing to an aversion to Charles Bronson when he isn’t in Once Upon a Time in the West and an aversion to Michael Winner when he wasn’t making ‘60s comedies or Peter Ustinov Hercule Poirots. I also have an aversion to Eli Roth, though (this is the first of his oeuvre I’ve seen, again the odd clip aside, as I have a general distaste for his oeuvre), and mildly to Bruce when he’s on autopilot (most of the last twenty years), so really, I probably shouldn’t have checked this one out. It was duly slated as a fascistic, right-wing rallying cry, even though the same slaters consider such behaviour mostly okay if the protagonist is super-powered and wearing a mask when taking justice into his (or her) own hands, but the truth is this remake is a quite serviceable, occasionally amusing little revenger, one that even has sufficient courage in its skewed convictions …

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

Monster? We’re British, you know.

Horror Express (1972)
(SPOILERS) This berserk Spanish/British horror boasts Hammer titans Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing (both as good guys!) to its name, and cloaked in period trappings (it’s set in 1906), suggests a fairly standard supernatural horror, one with crazy priests and satanic beasts. But, with an alien life form aboard the Trans-Siberian Express bound for Moscow, Horror Express finishes up more akin to The Cassandra Crossing meets The Thing.

Countess Petrovski: The czar will hear of this. I’ll have you sent to Siberia. Captain Kazan: I am in Siberia!
Christopher Lee’s Alexander Saxton, anthropologist and professor of the Royal Geological Society, has retrieved a frozen corpse from Manchuria. Believing it might be the Missing Link he crates it up to transport home via the titular train. Other passengers include his colleague and rival Dr Wells (Cushing), an international spy, and an antic monk called Father Pujardov (Alberto de Mendoza, strikingly lunatic), who for some rea…

You had to grab every single dollar you could get your hands on, didn't you?

Triple Frontier (2019)
(SPOILERS) Triple Frontier must have seemed like a no-brainer for Netflix, even by their standards of indiscriminately greenlighting projects whenever anyone who can’t get a job at a proper studio asks. It had, after all, been a hot property – nearly a decade ago now – with Kathryn Bigelow attached as director (she retains a producing credit) and subsequently JC Chandor, who has seen it through to completion. Netflix may not have attracted quite the same level of prospective stars – Johnny Depp, Tom Hanks, Will Smith, Tom Hardy and Channing Tatum were all involved at various points – but as ever, they haven’t stinted on the production. To what end, though? Well, Bigelow’s involvement is a reliable indicator; this is a movie about very male men doing very masculine things and suffering stoically for it.

I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
(SPOILERS) There isn’t, of course, anything left to say about 2001: A Space Odyssey, although the devoted still try, confident in their belief that it’s eternally obliging in offering unfathomable mystery. And it does seem ever responsive to whatever depths one wishes to plumb in analysing it for themes, messages or clues either about what is really going on out there some around Jupiter, or in its director’s head. Albeit, it’s lately become difficult to ascertain which has the more productive cottage industry, 2001 or The Shining, in the latter regard. With Eyes Wide Shut as the curtain call, a final acknowledgement to the devout that, yes, something really emphatic was going under Stanley Kubrick’s hood and it’s there, waiting to be exhumed, if you only look with the right kind of eyes.

Poor A. A. Milne. What a ghastly business.

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
The absolutely true story of how P. L. Travers came to allow Walt Disney to adapt Mary Poppins, after 20 years’ persistent begging on the latter’s part. Except, of course, it isn’t true at all. Walt has worked his magic from beyond the grave over a fairly unremarkable tale of mutual disagreement. Which doesn’t really matter if the result is a decent movie that does something interesting or though-provoking by changing the facts… Which I’m not sure it does. But Saving Mr. Banks at least a half-decent movie, and one considerably buoyed by the performances of its lead actors.

Actually, Mr. Banks is buoyed by the performances of its entire cast. It’s the script that frequently lets the side down, laying it on thick when a lighter touch is needed, repeating its message to the point of nausea. And bloating it out not so neatly to the two-hour mark when the story could have been wrapped up quite nicely in a third less time. The title itself could perhaps be seen as rubbi…