Trying to consistently review all the films, books and TV that I read or watch, while doing a degree in Film and Literature. Twitter: @SkruffReviews for much shorter reviews or my
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) - Film directed by Steven Speilberg
* * *
Really, really creepy. There is nothing else to describe this film as, other than creepy. A family decide to create a unique robotic child, to replace their one who is in a coma. The robot child is too human with his emotions but not human enough with his understanding of the world. This causes problems within the family so he must be abandoned. After this, he partners up with a robot prostitute and robot teddy bear to return to his human mother.
The boy is terrifying, obsessed with his mother and doesn’t make me think of robots as humans but rather things to be avoided at all costs.I think they were trying to create a character who had very strong emotions, the opposite of what we would expect a human to have, but because they exaggerated the emotions too much it became unappealing and rather than feeling empathetic I just wanted to shut the boy up.
Jude Law, as the robot prostitute, was really interesting. Towards the end of the film, as his character was developed, he became more cheesy and unlikeable, but in the beginning he was very good. The makeup/styling of him was brilliant because he looked perfect for a robot trying to look human. He also moved in a very distinctive way which was well managed to create the idea of a robot but still very humanistic.
The film looked quite good, unfortunately it is 12 years old now so the graffics are not the best in today’s standards but they are still impressive. It seems to be trying to emulate Blade Runner in the look of some of the cities, but it just can’t compare.
The story was, again, creepy. It followed the obsessed little boy, who became less and less likeable as the film went on. The unhealthy obsession with his mother screamed of Freudian traumas in the writer’s past and it made for slightly uncomfortable watching.
It’s an interesting film and worth watching because it looks good, but the story could have been made much less disturbing and the main young, robot character could have been shown to be more relatable human, because then you could empathise with his plight more. When watching it you were very aware that he was not human and there were key points when he was meant to appear human but because throughout he had appeared so inhuman an audience would not be affected.
Secret Diary of a Call Girl (2007-2011) - TV series staring Billie Piper
* * * *
Story follows Billie Pipers character, Hannah/Belle, as she goes about her life trying to juggle being a normal 20-something year old and a secret high-class prostitute. It deals with her family, professional and friend relationships and is an interesting look at life with the added element of her being a rather unusual girl.
Firstly, Billie Piper is brilliant. Most of the cast are, but Billie has the difficult task of making a prostitute sympathetic and likeable. The programme, because it’s based off a diary, gets Billie to talk to the camera, which is a good idea because it means that she is much more relatable because we see into her mind.
The programme, although there are sex scene, isn’t overly sexualised. They deal with the inevitable, you can’t have a prostitute as a main character and not show them at their job, but at least 90% of the programme she is fully clothed and not with a client.
The secondary characters are all interesting. Her best friend is a likeable character and their relationship seems genuine. There are a few characters that are simply annoying, like her sister, but they are necessary evils because not every character can be enjoyable to watch. Without the extra cast member this could become gratuitous but they add a normality.
It’s well made and enjoyable. Billie carries the show well and is surrounded by interesting characters. It doesn’t alienate the audience or overly glamorise prostitution, as some people claim. It shows a pleasant middle ground where you can respect her job but not necessarily feel as though you want to get involved.
Letters from an Unknown Woman - Film directed by Max Ophuls
* * * *
An interesting film because it can be seen as demeaning towards women. It follows an infatuated girl, who is obsessed with a talent pianist. He doesn’t know she exists, except for one night, and finds out more about her infatuation with him through a letter she sends him when she is dying. Sounds like a strange premise for a film but actually works very well.
Joan Fontaine and Louis Jourdan are both really good in this film. I normally find old Hollywood actors oddly stiff, it must have been the style back then, but these two seemed fairly naturalistic and suited their roles really well. It was slightly annoying that the 31-year-old actress was meant to be playing a teenager for most of the film, and highly unbelievable, but she did her best and I understand that they wanted a star, not a child actor.
The plot is quite ridiculous and frustrating. Her obsession is bordering on psychotic, rather than romantic, and his indifference to everything is quite shocking. When he didn’t remember who she was I was really confused, I expected a typical Hollywood love-story and instead I got quite a sad story with very much unrequited love. It seems to demonise both genders, women for being fantasists and men for being uncaring.
Not being your typical Hollywood story, it is also not your typical style of film. The couple were never really presented as being alone, there was almost always someone there serving them and it made their relationship seem staged, which was interesting. This also plays on the idea of women being obsessed with an ideal, an ideal which can only be achieved with a lot of help/planning/action rather than just circumstance.
Possibly one of the stand-out films that I’ve seen from this time period. Great cast, directing and, even though it is quite far-fetched, an interesting and unique plot. I think this film can be watched by most people, whether you like romantic films or not.
A very surreal film with an unsympathetic main character, which is acknowledged by the rest of the characters, and a quite boring plot. A man, whose face is burned off in a chemical accident, seeks the help of a doctor to put a new face, a mask, on top of his scarred one.The new face causes identity problems and affect his life. There is also a sub-plot with a young girl who has a burn scar on half her face and wishes to be found attractive.
The new face is then meant to take over his personality, but to be honest, it doesn’t actually seem to. They keep talking about whether he is ‘the face or the man’ but their personalities aren’t distinct enough to distinguish them. As I said before the man was horrible before he got his face and he was horrible after, he was just never happy.
The film had interesting stylistic techniques, which on first watch made it quite bizarre but on reflection can be seen as a positive if that is what you like to see in a film. The oddness of the plot is reflected in the oddness of how the film is made but two odds just make a film more nonsensical rather than interesting.
I can’t say that I enjoyed the film because I am more interested in plot and character than technique but I can understand how someone else would enjoy this.
A beautiful and interestingly shot film, however it has one major flaw in my opinion which I find odd that more critics have not picked up on. Be aware that there might be spoilers although I’m going to try to avoid them as much as possible.
Sandra Bullock was surprisingly good, I normally am not a fan, but she carried the film well. There was a token Indian character and I should have realised that the film was going to become very Hollywood cliché after this token character was killed off in the first 20 minutes. Clooney is also good but he plays himself, a likeable and charming character. There is an appearance of his character which made me angry because he basically saved Bullock’s character and it was frustrating.
The film was stunningly beautiful, not as good as my favourite Life of Pi, but still incredibly well done. From the stars to the earth I was staring at the beauty of the background and not really aware that it was CGI. The main difference between Life of Pi CGI and Gravity that I noticed was when the two main characters were in water. In Pi, when he fell in during the storm, the water was calming and beautiful. In contrast when water was use in Gravity (desperately trying to not give anything too much away) it was incredibly sinister and threatening.
The friend that I was with said that the plot seemed to be a secondary thought, and I completely agree. I even wonder if they had a different ending and then some idiot came along and asked them to change it. The ending was too Hollywood. 70% of the film was brilliant and innovative but then in the last 30 minutes everything suddenly fit into place and became a typical Hollywood. I was disappointed by the ending and how it came about and I think it seriously affected the film.
It is well worth a watch and worth the attention it has got because it is good and beautiful. It has flaws which mean that I don’t think it should be as highly praised as it is but I suppose Hollywood films are the most successful because that is what people want.
The Way Way Back (2013) - Film written by Jim Rash and Nat Faxon
A film for fans of Perks of Being a Wallflower, unfortunately I am not one of those people.It’s slow and despite the great cast it’s not enjoyable. There are some funny moments and Jim Rash is on good form as normal but it’s not worth watching the film for the tiny amount of good in it.
Steve Carell plays a difficult character to his normal self and it’s nice to see him acting as someone other than a goofy/nice guy. The rest of the cast, despite being good, all play fairly typical characters for them and it’s quite boring.
I’m sick of seeing films/reading books that like to present the idea that if you’re a little bit awkward or introverted all you need to do is find some friends and that’ll fix you. The passiveness of the main character is excruciating; he seems so unhappy (which is how many people who are introverted are portrayed and that’s not how we are) but he does nothing to change his life. Instead people talk to him, engage him. It’s this ‘kindness of strangers’ rubbish, waiting for a prince or a friend to save you. Films should teach you how to save yourself, not wait for others to do it for you.
Some people may like this film but it’s just another in a cannon of films that I hate. I would just like to see a film with someone who is happy being alone.
Love Affair (1939) - A film directed by Leo McCarey
* * *
This is the first in a cannon of films, two remakes and several films clearly influenced by it. The story follows two people who meet briefly and fall in love so arrange to meet a short time in the future on New York’s Empire State Building. Obviously the path to love, or the Empire State Building, does not run smooth and events transpire.
Because it was the original I cannot say that it is an overused plot, but because I’ve seen some of the later movies it seems to be. It’s quite an annoying story because it’s typical Hollywood: the couple fall in love in a couple of days, adultery is simply brushed over because this is true love and dramatic events happen within which the characters act irrationally. You’re meant to be able to put yourself into a rom-com situation but this dispelled belief too much to be taken too seriously.
The characters were quite good, which is surprising for a rom-com. The male lead was French and quite charming, although he had the normal amount of sexism for that era. The female lead was a fairly rounded character and quite likeable. Often, because you are meant to project yourself into the film, the female character can become annoying because she is seen as a threat, but this one was pretty good. Some things she did made no sense, there was a secret she kept for no reason, but often they were to advance the plot rather than because she was a ‘silly woman’.
The film was good but very typically a classic Hollywood film, it didn’t feel timeless and that probably explains why so many people felt as though it should/could be remade. There were good and bad moments but on the whole it was just an ok film with a overly simplistic idea of love.
I would recommend this film because it was extremely entertaining but for the wrong reasons. It is about two brothers who fall in love with the same (married) woman. The woman loves the younger, inexperienced brother but sleeps with the older, experienced one. This relationship drives the brothers mad and desperate.
This film attempts to be dramatic but it just isn’t at all. It’s silly. There are moments when you literally just want to laugh because they are so awkwardly done or drawn out too long. Maybe drama and suspense is a learned thing so, from a modern western perspective, this style seems odd but to the audiences of the time it worked. You can see on the poster how awkward one of the main characters is and I think that this is down to bad acting, rather than the character.
The story is quite silly. The boys are annoying because it is the typical testosterone, Cain and Abel type stuff which is quite boring. The main female character is also bizarre because she seems to do so many things without motivation. She is ‘enticed’ by the bad-boy older brother who sees to repeatedly rape her. She is married to an older American man and this relationship is never explained. She also likes the naivety of the younger brother and yet also likes the maturity of the older brother, so she just likes anything.
Normally Japanese films are at least well filmed, they’re interesting and beautiful. This film was even awkwardly filmed. There were really odd close shots of some of the characters when they were talking, and not during key scenes or anything, just randomly. There also wasn’t a lot of the landscape except the sea, because a lot of things happened within houses or bars. It just seems pointless to make a rubbish film and not even make it pretty.
Over-all it was entertaining and could be watched with a few friends to laugh at, but I would suggest a different film unless you really want to try something different. It is just too different from what we are used to from Western films and from what I would expect from a Japanese one.
Ernest and Celestine (2012) - French animated film
* * * *
Really sweet film about a mouse and bear who live in a world where mice live in the gutters below the bear filled streets. The mice only venture up to the world above to gather teeth to replace their lost ones. Ernest, the bear, befriends Celestine, the mouse, and they both do each other several favours involving food or teeth and end up each being ousted from their worlds and having to live life together in hiding.
Firstly it is beautifully animated. I think it’s done in water-colours which are amazing and, although it means that the animation was not as detailed as we are used to now it looks good enough to over-look the slight lack of mise-en-scene. Despite the minimal backgrounds and simplistic look of the characters they all move around exceedingly well and they do not appear to be hindered by the fact they are drawn.
The story is really familiar, it reminds me of BFG or Up, and more than being a familiar plot is a very common one amongst children films so it’s double the cliché. Despite this it doesn’t really suffer hugely because there are some original touches which distinguish it a lot from other versions of this tale. It’s just a shame that when the film industry seems to be constantly making remakes or sequels that every corner of the industry is running out of ideas and just recycling the old-faithfuls.
It’s a very enjoyable film and great for adults or children. There are light-hearted/funny moments but it isn’t happy all the way through so it doesn’t become boring. The ending, not to give anything away, is actually quite dramatic and scary but really interesting and well animated. Definitely worth a watch if you are an animation fan.
Mr Smith goes to Washington (1939) - Film directed by Frank Capra, staring James Stewart.
* * * *
An interesting political comedy/drama which deals with corruption within the US senate. Stewart plays a naive, small-town man who is brought into the senate by powerful men who believed they could control him for their corrupt gains. Obviously Stewart’s character isn’t as manipulatable as they believed and everything some differences of opinions ensue ending in a climatic filibuster.
For a film that has such a dark view of the US government there are a lot of comical moments and characters, which is pleasant surprise. There were genuinely funny moments that caused laughter but also the characters weren’t just there for gags and were quite endearing. Stewart’s in particular was delightfully awkward and relatable because he was a little fish in the ocean. There were a diversity of characters, women and men (although considerably more men) and although it did seem to pit everyone against each other a lot there were also nice relationships formed between characters.
A David vs Goliath plot which is quite a familiar trope in Hollywood but in the 1930s this was quite a controversial film. As a Brit I saw the film as incredibly patriotic towards America, because the hero seemed to stand for everything America likes to project to the world, however at the time there was a lot of back-lash because they showed the senate as a corrupt place. For a modern audience it is an almost daily that we are reminded of the corruption of government and big-business but it is interesting to watch this film and remember that it wasn’t simply following normal customs of the day.
Despite the film being made over 70 years ago it doesn’t really feel dated. Stewart gives a performance that is matchable to today’s style of acting rather than the stiffer style I’m used to seeing in older films. Modern audiences probably watch this and take away very different messages from the film than they did 70 years ago but it is still thoroughly enjoyable. Political dramas are difficult to manage and make interesting but the use of comedy was well worked in and made this a really good film.
Pacific Rim (2013) - Film directed by Guillermo del Toro
* * * * *
Amazing. I was literally sitting in the cinema taking moments every few minutes to think ‘This is amazing!’. The CGI is flawless and although many may think that robots vs aliens would be stale it isn’t because both are uniquely created; I’ve never seen robots or aliens created the ways these were. The plot is pretty good and on the way back my friend and I couldn’t find the usual plot holes you get in films like this.
The aliens were awesome because they were really interestingly designed. They weren’t typical looking aliens but they also weren’t simply dinosaurs, they had their own essence. It was also good how they were all unique to each other because it made the fighting sequences much more interesting because you never really knew what the people were up against.
The robots are also awesome. They’re less original because I’m pretty sure I’ve seen something somewhere where people are connected mentally and have to work together but it ties in nicely with the story. The sheer scale of the robots is really interesting though and I think anyone watching the film would want to have a go in one.
The characters are good because you genuinely care about their different stories (which are all very different). Each character has one other who they have a strong bond with, be it parental or love or friendship, and so you want to see them both ride through the adventures together. The main character’s acting I sometimes found slightly questionable but it didn’t detract from the rest of the film and most of the cast was so strong that the guy probably just looked poor in comparison.
I could go on and on about the film because it was really good. I couldn’t recommend to anyone watching it online because part of what makes it good is how it looks. Watch it in a cinema if possible or wait for DVD but watch it and love it!
I have watched this programme from the beginning and I have loved this programme from the beginning. There is much tension in creating the perfect cakes, bakes and oh so many mistakes! It’s funny and light-hearted but you can also see how clearly people care about what they are doing and that is nice to see because often shows like this seem to be for people who want fame or money and these contestants just want to bake.
The basic format of the show is good because in every episode there are three challenges so we get to see an array of deliciousness. There is also a historical portion when a baked good’s origins is explained and that is actually often fairly interesting (though unnecessary). The challenges also get more and more difficult so anyone believes they could be a contestant at the start and slowly begin to realise that baking is much harder than just making Victoria sponges.
There are two hosts and two judges. The judges are nice but I think they do take it a little too seriously. It’s quite good because they are the straight people in the brilliance that is the Bake-Off, so while everything else is crumbling around them they remain obstinately serious. Mel and Sue, the hosts, make a complete mockery of the show in the best way. They make puns and tell awful jokes, they help people with their bakes but also help to destroy some people’s work accidentally. The four as a group work well to balance each other out.
Possibly the strongest aspect of the Bake-Off is the integrity of the contestants. TV programmes like Come Dine With Me have slowly descended into a freak show where eccentric people go to display their eccentricities. Bake-Off doesn’t do that, instead they get completely normal people who have too much time on their hands to bake ridiculously wonderful things. The contestants all seem to genuinely like each other and enjoy the competition. Although there are a few tears occasionally it is generally due to stress than anything else.
It is one of the best TV shows ever. It’s funny, dramatic, riveting, slightly educational and either inspires you to make or eat more cake. It’s best to watch it in a group and then you can discuss the bakes and compare your opinions. But even if you are watching it alone it’s just amazing and I hope it never ends.
Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) - Film directed by John Ford
* * 1/2
I personally found this film one of those special ones that was a good because it was so bad. It was racist, sexists, inaccurate and repetitive. It is based on the American frontier where some good white Christians are just trying to have a peaceful life when the evil Native Americans come to burn their houses without just cause! (Literally at one point the characters discuss why the Native Americans are attacking them and do not know what they have done wrong to deserve it.)
The blatant racism in the film is actually excusable because it’s probably a fair depiction of the time, however the film should have proved the characters’ perceptions wrong rather than validating them with seemingly unprovoked violent attacks. It’s based on an important time in American history, when they got their independence from Britain, and so it is understandable that they strongly promote American values within the film but it is just too potent for modern audiences.
There was one really interesting character, played by Edna May Oliver, who was an empowered widow. She was very likeable, funny but also strong willed. She’s almost the definition of a good ‘strong female character’ because she is her own person and happy with that. Most of the other women in the film are rather flimsy. The main star faints too often and only seems to find strength when she is looking for her husband, which demonstrates a dependence on men as a source for strength. Most war films depict women badly because the men go off to fight and the women wait at home but this one did a particularly bad job because the women literally sat by the window at home rather than doing anything productive.
There are some funny moments in the film, although the funniest are unintentionally so, and humour can make any film slightly more endearing. Watching a remastered version makes the film appear so much more beautiful (there is a purple sky at one point which I particularly liked) however this is not a film to watch online because it’s cinematography was probably the main thing going for it.
It’s a very American film depicting very archaic American ideas and to most modern audiences that can cause offence. It’s entertaining because it seems so unaware of how bad it is but you find yourself laughing at the film, not with it.
Tokyo Story (1953) - Film directed by Yasujirô Ozu
* * *
Considered one of the greatest films made by one of the greatest directors, however I didn’t really understand why. Watching this film slowly lulled me to sleep but I was determined to stay awake hoping that there would be a point which would make me realise why people love it so much. The plot follows an elderly couple as they visit Tokyo and their grown-up children only to realise that their children have grown up and left them behind.
The plot is actually quite sweet because it is very relatable to many people, there is family and love and I think depending on the age that you watch it will change your perception. If you are a parent it would be very different than watching it as a child/teenager but also being married/in a long term relationship would also alter your view of the message. Personally I took the message to be one of treasuring your parents and those you love in life while they are alive.
The film, I think, is meant to be shot carefully and with Ozu’s particular style however I found the style stilted and awkward. He used angles that were interesting but seemingly pointless other than to add dimension to a fairly dimensionless piece. The dialogue was repetitive and I’m sure it had some hidden meanings but I did not notice them and therefore they were hidden too well and became redundant.
Overall I think that this film had a nice plot but it was a plot for a short film, not a film that stretched over 2 hours. The director’s style didn’t interest me and the film wasn’t interesting looking enough for the hype that I had heard about how good the cinematography/camera work is. Possibly with explanations hidden depths can be revealed to improve the film but on first viewing it just seemed quite slow and pointless.
The Graham Norton Show (2007 - ) - Chat show created for the BBC
* * * * *
This is the only chat show I watch because it is the only one, from the British and American ones that I have watched, that seem to be more about the guests than the hosts. A lot of times the host asks a loaded question to the guest and then waits for a short answer before delivering a punchline, the best thing about Graham Norton is he has comedians who make some of the jokes for him and relaxes the guests so that they can also be humorous. The dynamic of having huge Hollywood celebrities with British comedians and often musicians is amazing because often the Americans have no idea what is going on.
It’s difficult to review a show that is so changeable because a lot of the time it depends on the guests and how interested in them you are. Generally the guests are really good, to be honest I prefer the lesser known acts rather than the big stars because the bigger ones can sometimes take themselves too seriously. The atmosphere is so relaxed because all the guests are close together and there isn’t a table between them and the host. The dynamic can make for some really awkward situations but also some lovely crossing of different people.
Some of the additional elements of the Graham Norton Show are the best and the worst. I personally dislike his monologue at the beginning, but pretty much all the TV hosts do them and they’re rarely interesting. The musical acts can also be hit or miss because sometimes they’re really good (Will Smith comes to mind) and other times they’re just filler. The best element of the show is the Red Chair which flips people over who don’t tell an interesting enough story. This is enjoyable for the guests and audience and can produce some really hilarious stories.
In summation the show is really good because it has a little bit of everything. The guests are almost always good and the host brings out the best in them. I prefer it to the other British shows such as Jonathan Ross or Alan Carr so if I had to recommend a British chat show it would be this one.