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Fast Five
Following
Four Lions
From Beyond the Grave
From Russia with Love
Frost/Nixon
Full Frontal



Fast Five
(2011)

I've only seen two of the previous Fast & Furious films, but this is far and away superior to those. Gravelly Vin Diesel and ex-cop Paul Walker plan a heist in Rio with the massive Dwayne Johnson in pursuit. 

As expected, the characterisation is pure cardboard, but there's a spark to the direction and a bit of pep to the plotting. Far better than it has any right to be.

***1/2







Following
(1998)

S'alright, I suppose. But the acting is strictly am-dram and while the idea is solid enough, it's also kind of sub-Mamet.

**1/2

Four Lions
(2010)

Some very funny sequences, particularly during the London Marathon finale. And almost every line uttered by the white Muslim convert. But it's essentially a one-joke premise, and no matter how cleverly Chris Morris dresses the film up he can't really disguise that.

***


From Beyond the Grave
(1973)

Ian Carmichael's story gets top marks ("There's an elemental on your shoulder"), and David Warner gives his dramatic weight. Only Ian Ogilvy's tale falls a bit flat, but it does have Lesley-Anne Down. As a whole, the film is very effective at achieving a kind of '70s-gothic tone.
***

From Russia with Love
(1963)

A massive step-up from Dr No, partly due to the quirky characterisation and casting and partly down to a plot that becomes more intriguing due to the addition of Smersh. If I've a criticism, it's that the climax is really the fight with Red Grant 20 minutes from the end (although there is a certain symmetry, since it's that long from the beginning until Bond appears). 

The action after that is well-staged, but lacks the personal touch of a real opponent (well, until Klebb turns up). Robert Shaw lends the piece weight, despite hardly speaking until they're aboard the Orient Express. The chess sequence at the beginning is great (and Vladek Sheybal's supporting turn is lovely; he has a face for spy movies).

****


Frost/Nixon
(2008)

It's Ron Howard, America's most anonymous filmmaker! He's at least better suited to character pieces, since his blandest-of-the-bland approach to filmmaking allows the actors to come to the fore here. 

That said, Michael Sheen is too smarmy to do a really good job as Frost; he's more Blair, and you forget how Frost was actually appealing in his dry delivery, rather than ingratiating. Good support from Oliver Platt and Sam Rockwell (in an untypical straight edged turn). Frank Langella rules, though.

***

Full Frontal
(2002)

Not totally without merit, but it's a willfully inaccessible, experimental outing for Steven Soderbergh (he wanted to make a film without a plot). This feels like a chance for stars to indulge themselves and an increasingly mainstream director to claim that he hasn't lost his art. 

What's really damaging is that none of the characterisations are particularly involving; Julia Roberts and Blair Underwood, who have the largest roles, are utterly bland. The best moment is Curb Your Enthusiasm's Jeff Garlin doing a Harvey Weinstein impression.

**

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