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

Damn prairie dog burrow!

Tremors (1990) (SPOILERS) I suspect the reason the horror comedy – or the sci-fi comedy, come to that – doesn’t tend to be the slam-dunk goldmine many assume it must be, is because it takes a certain sensibility to do it right. Everyone isn’t a Joe Dante or Sam Raimi, or a John Landis, John Carpenter, Edgar Wright, Christopher Landon or even a Peter Jackson or Tim Burton, and the genre is littered with financial failures, some of them very good failures (and a good number of them from the names mentioned). Tremors was one, only proving a hit on video (hence six sequels at last count). It also failed to make Ron Underwood a directing legend.

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

I hate natural causes!

Body Bags (1993) (SPOILERS) I’m not surprised Showtime didn’t pick this up for an anthology series. Perhaps, if John Carpenter had made Coming Home in a Body Bag (the popular Nam movie series referenced in the same year’s True Romance ), we’d have something to talk about. Tho’ probably not, if Carpenter had retained his by this point firmly glued to his side DP Gary Kibbe, ensuring the proceedings are as flat, lifeless and unatmospheric as possible. Carpenter directed two of the segments here, Tobe Hooper the other one. It may sound absurd, given the quality of Hooper’s career, but by this point, even he was calling the shots better than Carpenter.

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

Hey, my friend smells amazing!

Luca (2021) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s first gay movie ? Not according to director Enrico Cassarosa (“ This was really never in our plans. This was really about their friendship in that kind of pre-puberty world ”). Perhaps it should have been, as that might have been an excuse – any excuse is worth a shot at this point – for Luca being so insipid and bereft of spark. You know, the way Soul could at least claim it was about something deep and meaningful as a defence for being entirely lacking as a distinctive and creatively engaging story in its own right.

I’m just glad Will Smith isn’t alive to see this.

The Tomorrow War (2021) (SPOILERS). Not so much tomorrow as yesterday. There’s a strong sense of déjà vu watching The Tomorrow War , so doggedly derivative is it of every time-travel/alien war/apocalyptic sci-fi movie of the past forty years. Not helping it stand out from the pack are doughy lead Chris Pratt, damned to look forever on the beefy side no matter how ripped he is and lacking the chops or gravitas for straight roles, and debut live-action director Chris McKay, who manages to deliver the goods in a serviceably anonymous fashion.

You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012) The final finale of the Twilight saga, in which pig-boy Jacob tells Bella that, “No, it's not like that at all!” after she accuses him of being a paedo. But then she comes around to his viewpoint, doubtless displaying the kind of denial many parents did who let their kids spend time with Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter during the ‘70s. It's lucky little Renesmee will be an adult by the age of seven, right? Right... Jacob even jokes that he should start calling Edward, “Dad”. And all the while they smile and smile.

I want the secret of the cards. That’s all.

The Queen of Spades (1949) (SPOILERS) Marty Scorsese’s a big fan (“ a masterpiece ”), as is John Boorman, but it was Edgar Wright on the Empire podcast with Quentin “One more movie and I’m out, honest” Tarantino who drew my attention to this Thorold Dickinson picture. The Queen of Spades has, however, undergone a renaissance over the last decade or so, hailed as a hitherto unjustly neglected classic of British cinema, one that ploughed a stylistic furrow at odds with the era’s predominant neo-realism. Ian Christie notes its relationship to the ilk of German expressionist work The Cabinet of Dr of Caligari , and it’s very true that the picture exerts a degree of mesmeric immersion rarely found in homegrown fare.