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

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…

Prepare the Heathen’s Stand! By order of purification!

Apostle (2018)
(SPOILERS) Another week, another undercooked Netflix flick from an undeniably talented director. What’s up with their quality control? Do they have any? Are they so set on attracting an embarrassment of creatives, they give them carte blanche, to hell with whether the results are any good or not? Apostle's an ungainly folk-horror mashup of The Wicker Man (most obviously, but without the remotest trace of that screenplay's finesse) and any cult-centric Brit horror movie you’d care to think of (including Ben Wheatley's, himself an exponent of similar influences-on-sleeve filmmaking with Kill List), taking in tropes from Hammer, torture porn, and pagan lore but revealing nothing much that's different or original beyond them.

You can’t just outsource your entire life.

Tully (2018)
(SPOILERS) A major twist is revealed in the last fifteen minutes of Tully, one I'll happily admit not to have seen coming, but it says something about the movie that it failed to affect my misgivings over the picture up to that point either way. About the worst thing you can say about a twist is that it leaves you shrugging.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

No one understands the lonely perfection of my dreams.

Ridley Scott Ridders Ranked
During the '80s, I anticipated few filmmakers' movies more than Ridley Scott's; those of his fellow xenomorph wrangler James Cameron, perhaps. In both cases, that eagerness for something equalling their early efforts receded as they studiously managed to avoid the heights they had once reached. Cameron's output dropped off a cliff after he won an Oscar. Contrastingly, Scott's surged like never before when his film took home gold. Which at least meant he occasionally delivered something interesting, but sadly, it was mostly quantity over quality. Here are the movies Scott has directed in his career thus far - and with his rate of  productivity, another 25 by the time he's 100 may well be feasible – ranked from worst to best.

Well, you did take advantage of a drunken sailor.

Tomb Raider (2018)
(SPOILERS) There's evidently an appetite out there for a decent Tomb Raider movie, given that the lousy 2001 incarnation was successful enough to spawn a (lousy) sequel, and that this lousier reboot, scarcely conceivably, may have attracted enough bums on seats to do likewise. If we're going to distinguish between order of demerits, we could characterise the Angelina Jolie movies as both pretty bad; Tomb Raider, in contrast, is unforgivably tedious.

If you want to have a staring contest with me, you will lose.

Phantom Thread (2017)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps surprisingly not the lowest grossing of last year's Best Picture Oscar nominees (that was Call Me by Your Name) but certainly the one with the least buzz as a genuine contender, subjected as Phantom Thread was to a range of views from masterpiece (the critics) to drudge (a fair selection of general viewers). The mixed reaction wasn’t so very far from Paul Thomas Anderson's earlier The Master, and one suspects the nomination was more to do with the golden glow of Daniel Day-Lewis in his first role in half a decade (and last ever, if he's to be believed) than mass Academy rapture with the picture. Which is ironic, as the relatively unknown Vicky Krieps steals the film from under him.

This is it. This is the moment of my death.

Fearless (1993)
Hollywood tends to make a hash of any exploration of existential or spiritual themes. The urge towards the simplistic, the treacly or the mawkishly uplifting, without appropriate filtering or insight, usually overpowers even the best intentions. Rarely, a movie comes along that makes good on its potential and then, more than likely, it gets completely ignored. Such a fate befell Fearless, Peter Weir’s plane crash survivor-angst film, despite roundly positive critical notices. For some reason audiences were willing to see a rubgy team turn cannibal in Alive, but this was a turn-off? Yet invariably anyone who has seen Fearless speaks of it in glowing terms, and rightly so.

Weir’s pictures are often thematically rich, more anchored by narrative than those of, say, Terrence Malick but similarly preoccupied with big ideas and their expression. He has a rare grasp of poetry, symbolism and the mythic. Weir also displays an acute grasp of the subjective mind-set, and possesses …

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.