Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Robot and Frank

Robot and Frank (2012)

Starring Frank Langella and (the voice of) Peter Sarsgaard

Directed by Jake Schreier

Set in the town of Cold Springs in upstate New York in "the near future'" (I like it when film makers do this instead of putting a particular, often unrealistic date) the story sees aging former cat-burglar Frank leading a solitary life.  Long-divorced after going to prison, his daughter Madison (Liv Tyler) is off travelling around the world taking pictures, and his son Hunter (James Marsden) lives 5 hours drive away; his weekly visits to his Father are becoming increasingly frustrating for him as Frank's faculties start to desert him.  In desperation, Hunter buys Frank a robot - the VGC-60L - to act as a butler of sorts, a general medical and domestic assistant.  Initially met with testy resistance by Frank the robot sets about trying to instill a sense of routine and regularity to Frank's life, improve his diet and give him something to occupy his mind.  All Frank wants to do is meander into town where he visits the local library to flirt with the librarian, Jennifer (Susan Sarandon) whose library is being modernised and has a robot helper of its own.  His other hobby is petty shoplifting from a store which occupies the site of his former favourite restaurant - items of little or no use to him, such as bars of lavender soap, much to the consternation of the shopkeeper.  But gradually Frank starts to thaw; he reveals that in addition to a 6 year stretch for jewelry theft, he also went down for 10 years for tax evasion.  Eventually he gives in to the robot's insistence that he take on a project of some sort, and his excitement for his former career is re-ignited.  He teaches robot lock-picking, and starts planning a final caper.

To say that this is rather off-beat is putting it mildly.  But virtually every detail is spot on.  Langella is his usual reliable self, turning in a strong, moving performance as the elderly former criminal given a new purpose in life to combat his failing wits, delicately balancing the total control he claims to have, with various degrees of absent mindedness.  The nameless robot is credible in appearance, looking only slightly different from some of the technology around today, with a big dome of a head, a large black visor, and jerky movements.  He's ably and archly voiced by Peter Sarsgaard, joining "2001: A Space Odyssey"'s HAL9000, "I, Robot"'s Sonny and "Moon"'s GERTY in the ranks of great onscreen robotic voices.  The rest of the environment is suitably futurized.  It is recognizably our world but with modest tweaks here and there.  The cars look slightly different everyone uses big-screen videophones.  Robot shows remarkable aptitude for breaking and entering, yet all the while urging caution against actually carrying out a theft.  What starts with a relatively modest theft of a rare copy of "Don Quixote" from the library, intended as a gift for Jennifer, soon escalates into something altogether more serious when Frank sets eyes on the diamonds around the neck of the girlfriend of slimy library "consultant" Jake (Jeremy Strong), scornfully dismissed as "yuppies" by Frank.  He begins, with robot, to "case" their home.  Ripping them off arouses the interest of the local Sheriff Rowlands (Jeremy Sisto)...

The film deals with some weighty issues - love, loss, dementia, crime, family, and the relationship between humans and technology - but does so with a refreshing deftness.  It straddles the boundaries of the disparate genres of drama, humour, science-fiction and crime (even an element of farce towards the climax) with no jarring.  Jake Schreier's direction, from a screenplay by Christopher D. Ford, is unflustered and effective, imbued with a warmth and affection for the characters.  It's amusing, often sharply so, rather than laugh-out-loud funny.  One priceless moment sees Frank emerge from the library to find a gaggle of children hassling robot.  Frank tells him that next time that happens, to "say 'self-destruct sequence initialized, and start counting down from ten"!  Another standout moment sees Frank encourage robot to try starting a conversation with the library robot, aka "Mister D'Arcy".  Watching two robots trying and dismally failing to make small-talk is quite the thing to see.

There is dramatic tension too though, especially when the fiercely anti-robot (or pro-human) Madison arrives unannounced, deactivates robot, and takes on cooking and cleaning duties, much to Frank's intense irritation.  All the while, Frank tries to throw Jake and Rowlands off his tail.  These scenes are entertaining, funny and suspenseful - as we know Frank committed the burglary, but we're not sure what he's done with the loot.  A revelatory scene towards the end of the film between Jennifer and Frank plays out wordlessly, is beautifully acted and emotionally affecting.  The climax, in which robot pays a dear price for the friendship is sad and poignant.  It's worth noting the use of music as well.  The soundtrack sees contemporary synth-pop sitting along side two or three pieces of Mozart, and is particularly suited to what's playing out onscreen.

Overall "Robot and Frank" is a highly unusual but thoroughly engaging, magical little film, coming totally out of leftfield.  An odd mix of genres, telling a unique story, played utterly naturally and therefore believably.  It was clearly a labour of love; IMDB lists the budget at "just" $2,500,000 and the end credits contain more "Thank yous" than probably any other film I've seen.  Do leave the movie running for the end credits, as they play over a compilation of footage of real robots, which suggests that what has gone before isn't quite as far-fetched as we might have believed. Ultimately it's charming, warm and heartfelt, but also melancholic, and will live long in the memory.  It's a shame it wasn't more widely distributed and viewed on its original cinematic release, but that in no way detracts from its quality;  further evidence though, perhaps, of the ever-widening gap which has developed between massively-budgeted blockbusters and "event-films", and ultra-low budget independents.  Full marks to all involved.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013


Robocop (1987)

Starring Peter Weller and Nancy Allen

Directed by Paul Verhoeven

Given the impending, dreaded, re-make / re-boot of this 80s classic, it might be time to revisit the original.  Remember how well the "Total Recall" remake went... I'm saying nothing.

"Part man, part machine, all cop.  The future of law enforcement." ran the tagline.  And boy didn't it do what it said on the tin?!

The story is simple - although it's worth noting that a huge amount of plot is depicted in the 100 or so minutes of the movie's run-time...Honest cop Alex Murphy, family man, celebrated law-enforcer is transferred to Detroit's ultra-violent Metro West area.  Three men from the precinct have recently been killed and another is in critical condition... The running of the Police Department has recently been taken over by a corporate giant, OCP (Omni Consumer Products) and the officers aren't happy...

As Murphy partners up with tough-as-nails veteran Anne Lewis and heads out onto the streets, we see something of the workings of OCP.  VP Dick Jones has a new scheme for sweeping the streets of crime: the ED-209 droid - a robotic killer which will take no prisoners in the face of offenders.  A demonstration in front of the OCP board, sees ED-209 malfunction, brutally killing an innocent executive in the process. It's a horrific scene, but one which drives the plot forward, as it allows another executive, Morton, to pitch his own project to the big boss ("The Old Man" as they call him).  That project is Robocop...We find out (extremely graphically) that Murphy, in pursuit of the criminal gang run by Clarence Boddicker, has been killed.  But this makes him the ideal subject for the Robocop project...

We then see a procession of scenes of Robocop dealing with the crime he finds on the streets of Detroit, from petty theft at convenience stores, to rape attempts, to hostage situations to gas station robberies. We discover that the metallic marvel has some pre-programmed directives to monitor his behaviour... 1) Serve the public trust 2) Protect the innocent 3) Uphold the law and 4) Classified... we'll find out...Here the two storylines come together.  Despite the efforts of his programmers, Robocop retains vague memories of the man he was.  And Lewis knows who he is. So the two begin on a campaign to restore truth and justice to the city...Boddicker's gang, it transpires, has been working for Jones all along... Most importantly, Robocop is able to access his own memories, and is gradually able to put together the pieces that made up his life before he was transformed...

What ensues is all out war between the criminal underworld run by Boddicker but overseen by Jones, and the relentless drive for justice shown by Robocop. After alot of violence - and I mean alot of violence - it climaxes at a showdown at OCP headquarters.  Robocop defeats ED-209 and has his finger on the trigger to expose all when we discover Jones has a trick up his sleeve...

It has to be said, straight out, that "Robocop" is an all-time-classic. This is why I fear for the remake.  The brilliance of the story is in telling us a semi-believable futuristic world in which we can believe, and then spinning away with the story.  "Robocop" is all too believable - if you want to cast your mind forward a few years.  But likewise it's 25 years old and things haven't happened yet... although that's not to say they won't.  
To be noted, the film is extremely violent (even by my standards)  - it's why I loved it so much on VHS in the late 80s...I loved the violence but missed the satire... that came later. The film is punctuated by News-Bulletins and fake advertisements, which may date the film technically, but hit the mark satirically in an almost unprecedented manner...The Nuclear War driven board game "Nuke 'em" is a particular highlight... Verhoeven made three science fiction films (if you can call them that) which make an excellent trilogy's viewing.....  Start with "Robocop" move on to (the original) "Total Recall" and finish with the awesome "Starship Troopers".... that's an evening and a half...


Play Dirty

Play Dirty (1969)

Starring Michael Caine and Nigel Davenport

Directed by Andre de Toth

This gem of a film was made in the late Sixties when Caine was at the peak of his coolness powers, coming after "Zulu" "Alfie" "The Ipcress File" and just before "The Italian Job" and "Get Carter"; so it's something of a surprise that it is not better known.  Produced by Harry Saltzman (of the Bond series fame), directed by Andre de Toth from a script by Lotte Colin and Melvyn Bragg (yes, that Melvyn Bragg), "Play Dirty" takes a hundred war film staples and twists them into a unique, memorable, refreshingly cynical epic.

The plot, seemingly echoing that of another "Dirty" WW2 picture of the late 60's, "The Dirty Dozen", sees a squad of disparate reprobates and criminals selected to undertake a dangerous mission behind enemy lines.  However this is much more than a simple remake or British take on that Robert Aldrich Hollywood classic.  In this instance we find that in the North African sphere of the war, Colonel Masters (Nigel Green), operator of subversive operations units, has been singularly unsuccessful for a number of missions, and is given one last chance by commanding officer Brigadier Blore (Harry Andrews) to prove his worth. The latest mission is to destroy a Nazi fuel depot, in order to cripple the supply lines of the German army under Field Marshal Rommel.  A squad is selected, but the powers-that-be insist it be led by a British officer with expertise in the relevant field; enter Caine, whose Captain Douglas is a BP employee with the requisite skills.  Teamed with mercenary Leech (Nigel Davenport), whose contempt is evident from the outset, Douglas sets off on the mission. "War is a criminal enterprise.  I fight it with criminals",  says Masters.  Leech has been given an incentive - bring Douglas back alive and he gets a two thousand pound bonus.  Unknown to all aboard is that this patrol is intended as a decoy, ahead of a better equipped unit.  The Command's thinking is that if there's any flack to be taken along the way, let it happen to this rag-tag group first, to clear the way for the real soldiers following. 

What ensues is a fairly episodic but remarkably tense adventure.  Douglas tries frequently to exert his authority on the basis of rank and mission briefing, but his lack of experience in the field is often exposed by Leech, to the amusement of the collected band of "operatives" with them.  Disguised as Nazis in order to infiltrate enemy occupied territory, a chance encounter with a local tribe ends in disaster when Douglas inadvertantly gives away his true identity, forcing Leech to have to murder the locals.  Finding themselves trapped in a valley with no way out other than ascending the steep slopes, the team has slowly to pull their vehicles up to the higher ground.  An extended, but nail-biting scene sees them do so, culminating in a disaster which escalates the tension between Douglas and Leech.  From their eventually entrenched position atop the ridge, they witness the ambush and complete destruction of the convoy which was following them.  So, the completion of the mission is solely up to them.

Along the way there is another lengthy but extremely tense scene in which Douglas inadvertantly steps on a mine, and needs one of his team to diffuse it.  They then encounter a German Ambulance and kill the drivers.  "You're learning" says Leech, archly, to Douglas.  A nurse, riding in the back of the ambulance provides some resistance - "It's alright, it's only a nurse" says Douglas, but he couldn't be more wrong.  Fierce fightback ends in a thankfully avoided rape attempt.  Under cover of a sandstorm the team proceeds to infiltrate and destroy the fuel depot - ignorant of the fact that ironically the powers that be had subsequently decided it should be left intact for when they pushed back the German lines...

There is a fantastic and suitably unexpected cynical twist at the end of this film.  It stands out for me because as mentioned, "Play Dirty" takes a number of elements from different films but melds them into a beautifully unique, dark take on the politics of war.  It is never pleasant, and as the men on the mission treat badly their surroundings, so they are treated badly by their superiors.  The film conjurs memories of many desert-set films and war films, from "Ice Cold in Alex" to "Lawrence of Arabia" to "The Dirty Dozen".  But it does so in a wholly original manner.  Caine, needless to say, is fantastic in the role of Douglas; initially aloof, but gradually letting his pride drip away as he realises the necessity of being out on the road on a real-life mission.  This is an understated and brilliant performance.  Davenport too is wonderful, his initial and long-lasting contempt gradually giving way to a begrudging respect for his valuable charge, and the double act with Caine is a constant pleasure.  The direction is tight and suspense-fuelled.  There's a possible argument that the particular scorn it pours on the very idea of warfare could be seen as a comment against the American involvement in Vietnam, which was in full swing at the time of this film's release.  I think that is valid, although I'd rather still consider the film in isolation and on its own merits.

All said, this is a fantastic film, which should be much more widely viewed than it has been.  I'd thoroughly recommend it for any fans of Michael Caine, World War 2 films, 60's films, or thought-provoking films...


Sunday, 22 December 2013

Solaris x 2

Solaris (1972) 
Starring Natalya Bondarchuk and Donatas Banionis 
Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky 


Solaris (2002) 
Starring George Clooney and Natascha McElhone 
Directed by Stephen Soderbergh 

Tarkovsky's 1972 adaptation of Polish author Stanislaw Lem's enigmatic sci-fi novel is widely revered as a classic of Soviet cinema, and perhaps rightly so.  Certainly it is ambitious, epic in scope (and length) and reflects many of the philosophical ideas evinced in the source material.  The story sees widower psychologist Kris Kelvin sent to investigate the crew of a space station orbiting the eponymous planet Solaris, of which the strange, swirling sea seems to possess psychotropic properties.  The crew have all experienced disturbing visions of deceased loved ones; not long after his arrival there, Kris begins to see visions - or manifestations - of his wife Hari (named Rheya, in the novel) who committed suicide some years previously.  As Kris struggles to understand who or what this entity really is, Hari too struggles with where she came from and why she has no memory of coming into being.  Are these visions ghosts, or beings somehow conjured by Solaris itself in an attempt to understand humanity?  Could the sea of Solaris be a giant brain?

Natalya Bondarchuk is ethereal and beautiful as the desperately curious Hari, and Donatas Banionis suitably disturbed and conflicted as Kelvin.  It's a boldly grandiose film and is often (incorrectly) thought to be something of a riposte to Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey".  But for my money, whilst it has some considerable highlights - Kelvin's attempt to "dispatch" Hari is one - for long stages it is somewhat, dare I say it, plodding.

At close to three hours in running time, it's not in any hurry to get where it's going.  It takes an absolute age at the start for the film for anything actually to happen - long shots of rain falling into ponds abound, and the "driving through the City of the Future" scene is particularly pointless.  Yes, I understand Tarkovsky is implying points about the relationships between man and nature, and man and technology, but it's ladled on too thickly; the driving scene was only left to run so long to justify the expense of sending the film crew on location to Japan.

So, this is an interesting film, for sure, but not quite the masterpiece many people make it out to be.

I've always maintained that when two separate films are adapted from a single source ("The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", for example) it's not right to label the latter version as a remake of the former. They are two distinct adaptations and interpretations of the original material. As such then, Stephen Soderbergh's 2002 "Solaris" should not be viewed as anything like a remake of Tarkovsky's film.  But it is inevitable that they will be compared and contrasted.

The plot this time round is essentially the same as described above, which is to be expected, but stylistically the two films are poles apart.  The first thing to notice is that this version is much punchier, cutting straight to the chase.  Clooney is summoned to Solaris in a message from his friend and former colleague Gibarian, who is on the station.  The next thing we know, Kelvin's craft is approaching the station.  Interestingly, the novel also begins with Kelvin's arrival.  We are spared the 50-or-so minutes of wandering around the garden in the rain and watching old videos.  Kelvin discovers that Gibarian has taken his own life, presumably driven mad by the apparitions.

There are also significant divergences - also to be expected - both in plot and characterisation.  Whereas the other scientists on the station in the 1972 version, Doctors Snaut and Sartorius, were older, stiff, and rather dry, here we have a wonderfully vibrant, paranoid turn from Viola Davis as Gordon, and Jeremy Davies doing his unsettling-bonkers-thing as Snow.  In the lead role, Clooney bears a wearied sense of melancholy and grief totally missing from the former incarnation, and McElhone exhibits more passionate desperation in her faithfully named take on the character.  Both are fantastic performances.  A key area where this version has one over the original is in Special Effects.  Tarkovsky's film, through no fault of its own, was made in the early 1970s, and it looks every bit like it.  On the station the decor looks the same everywhere.  The design gives off a very cold feeling.  Jump forward 30 years and we are presented with a much more realistic environment.  Planet Solaris itself is a mesmerising, swirling, pulsing, neon thing of beauty. It's a shame there aren't more shots of it.

Unfortunately, Soderbergh's take was mis-marketed and / or widely dismissed as simply a love story in space, but it is much more than that, as indeed both films are.  Undeniably the love and marriage between the two protagonists is the core of the story, but essentially the themes are mystery, grief and regret.  Soderbergh expertly builds up this relationship using his trademark cross-cutting / time-jumping editing, culminating in the tragic reveal of the reason for Rheya's suicide.  It can hardly be said that grief and self-doubt make for a feel-good love story - although that's what love sometimes brings.  I'm not one to prefer an English language film over a foreign language one simply because it's in English.  I genuinely believe that the 2002 film is the better one.  It's tighter, more interesting, and more emotionally engaging.  Misunderstood, but well worth investigating.


Saturday, 14 December 2013

A Field in England

A Field in England (2013)

Starring Michael Smiley and Reece Shearsmith

Directed by Ben Wheatley

On first viewing of "A Field in England" I wasn't quite sure exactly how I felt about it. Watching it for a second time, I was entranced.

I can certainly understand the content and volume of negative reviews for this film, because, frankly, this is a very "difficult" movie. The plot (for what there is of it) is minimal and abstract, and it required effort at times to keep up with the dialogue so as to understand which character was doing what. However, if one is open to it, this is a fascinating, absorbing, engaging, brilliant, enigmatic and unsettling gemstone of a movie. From the director of the even more disturbing "Kill List", we should expect no less; I have yet to catch Ben Wheatley's "Sightseers" but will be doing so forthwith, and am sure that Wheatley is fast establishing himself as the foremost exponent of creepy, challenging and memorable British cinema.

Set against the backdrop of the English Civil War in the mid 17th Century, the story sees Reece Shearsmith (whom you may know from "The League of Gentlemen") on fine form as befuddled emissary Whitehead, sent to track down and arrest Michael Smiley's utterly bonkers O'Neil, perceived perpetrator of crimes against Whitehead's alchemist master. Smiley's creation is equally idiosyncratic, and seems genuinely unpredictable without ever resorting to scenery chewing hamming. O'Neil declares that there is treasure buried in the field, and what ensues is best (cheaply) described as a battle of wills between O'Neil, the Royalist Whitehead, and the naive Roundhead soldiers also fleeing the battle, albeit set against the suitably hallucinogenic experience of an unfortunate trip on some dodgy mushroom stew consumed by the starving protagonists as they escape from a battlefield early on in the film, in search of the comfort of the nearest Ale House. All the "action" as it were, takes place unsurprisingly in A Field In England, but most of it takes place in the mind. Unease and violence abound.

I like a film which comes out of nowhere and engages you with the unexpected, although I fully understand that many prefer a movie where the boundaries are more clearly defined and the narrative flows smoothly from A to B to C. "A Field in England" is a trip; it's a surreal, dreamlike immersion which is to be experienced rather than necessarily to be enjoyed. Laurie Rose's widescreen black and white cinematography is beautiful, which is no mean feat given that it's all set in one location, so little opportunity for variety is afforded. Wheatley's direction is tight and measured; he injects just the right balance of surrealism and credibility, and elicits great performances from his cast, not just his main leading pair but also from the actors playing the three beleaguered Parliamentarian soldiers. Crucially, it's hard to predict exactly where it's all going, for which reason I loved it.

I get that this isn't for everyone, but I thought it was superb, haunting and captivating. As an interesting aside, it was released in the UK on the same day across multiple formats - cinema, DVD, blu-ray, download, and shown on TV on the Film 4 channel. I think this might be a viable model for film distribution in future. I for one am increasingly frustrated when, on my limited visits to an increasingly expensive cinema auditorium, I find that watching the film is disrupted by some kid's 8 visits to the bathroom and interminable attempts to get every last bit of ice out of that giant bucket of Coke. If I can see a brand new film on my HD LCD, I'll happily forgo the "communal experience". This is a film that demands ones attention, after all. So, not for all by any means, but I rated it.

If you're up for something unusual, this might be for you.


*NB this is an amended version of a review I originally published on IMDB.  The sentiment remains the same! 

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)

Starring Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley
Directed by Lorene Scafaria

A giant, 70 mile wide asteroid is heading our way, and the final attempt to destroy it has failed. In three weeks it will hit, and all life on Earth will be wiped out. With the utmost certainty you can say that you have 21 days left to live. What do you do in that time? How do you react? Such is the somewhat far-fetched premise of "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World". But the film isn't about story, it's about character.

The character in question is Dodge, played with an unerringly straight bat by Steve Carell. With the clock ticking down on life on Earth, he discovers that a letter from his teen sweetheart and first love has accidentally been delivered to his skittish British neighbour Penny, Keira Knightley.  So the two of them set off on a cross country mission to find the lady in question, picking up a charming dog, whom Dodge names "Sorry", along the way.  Needless to say things don't go as intended...  There are three distinct movements to this movie. In the first, we see people trying to come to terms with their newly imposed death-sentence with varying degrees of success. In the second there is a slightly unreal road-trip as Dodge and Penny make their way away from the city, and in the third we are met with an emotional resolution on several levels.


In the first act, most people abandon all hope and tend towards anarchy. Some, bizzarely, cling doggedly to their routine, still showing up for work and pretending nothing is going to happen. In these scenes there's a brilliant, severely dark humour in evidence. In one scene at Dodge's office the HR manager offers out senior management jobs vacated by those who have fled, "So, anyone want to be Chief Financial Officer?  CFO?  Anyone?" Dodge himself seems numb to the inevitable future, and carries on turning up to his job as an Insurance officer. A brilliant moment sees him on the phone to a customer discussing the intracies of the "end-of-the-world" policy offered by his company... "Premiums are pretty high"... This surreal refusal to accept the inevitable is illustrated perfectly in the actions of Dodge's domestic help. She vows to see him next week, as he desperately tries to force her to go home and spend time with her family, but she just doesn't undestand, and keeps appearing week after week. It's as funny as it is heart-breaking. Dodge himself at this point just seems like a man with nothing left to give. He trudges into work each day, counting down the days to his death, but wondering what he can do to make any sort of difference in the meantime. A couple of genuine jump-out-of-the-seat shocks punctuate these scenes, but this just adds to the sense of unease.

This is where Penny comes in. Dodge meets her one night when she is out on the shared balcony, deeply upset as she has missed the last flight back to the UK, so believes she will never see her family again. Dodge brings her in and she sleeps on his sofa. She has just split up with her boyfriend and is an emotional wreck; still , the emotionally numb Dodge doesn't try to take any advantage... he just lets her sleep there. In the aftermath of this encounter comes the revelation that the Postman had occasionally delivered mail to Penny which should have gone upstairs to Dodge. Amongst the "lost" mail is a letter from Dodge's sweetheart, which Penny neglected to pass on. An angry and distraught Dodge decides he must track his girl down, and Penny, guilt-ridden, vows to help him.  When she discovers this her first reaction is "Now I feel bad" (!)  Dodge replies "at least you won't have long to live with it."  Thus a rather grimly humourous first act gives way to the "road trip" second act.


It would be so easy to look at this and think it was going to retreat into a typical "couple on the road" rom-com. Whilst it follows that form, it certainly doesn't conform to that standard. The standout moments from this section of the film are meeting a man who has paid for assisted suicide (despite the inevitable oncoming apocalypse), an excessively happy wait-staff at a diner along the way, and getting arrested - the lunacy of which is laid bare when Penny says to the cop, just give us the fine and we'll appear in court... oh, never. But having said all that, it's in these scenes that the relationship between Penny and Dodge starts to grow. She is so vivacious that she starts to draw him out of his shell. The beauty of the film sits in the "will they won't they" facet. He is ostensibly on this road trip to see the woman of his dreams, and she is getting over several boyfriends and desperate to have seen her parents. There is an age difference too. So one thinks there is no attraction. Or is there?

The final act sees them reach their destinatiton and there are varying degrees of fulfillment. Some have said that there were at least three or more moments where this film could have ended but didn't. I understand this;  I can see five potential end points. However, for me, none of them would have been as satisfying as the one we eventually get. It's a marker of how greatly understated this film is that it surprises the viewer with each of these momemts. In one, Dodge arrives to meet his Father, whom he has not seen for 25 years, and who left early in his life; one would typically expect a reconcilation scene to involve tears and apologies on both sides, but we don't get that. We get a highly emotional scene, but with none of the histrionics.

The eventual climax is both beautiful and devastating. Dodge has made a character choice to be alone, but still there is a twist. The scene where he lies in his appartment listening to his stereo and the power finally fails, and he is utterly alone in the dark, is so bleak and affecting. And then there are the final minutes, which pack perhaps the greatest emotional punch of all...

The main things to be said of this film are that the direction is tight and effective. The cinematography is beautiful without being flamboyant. Steve Carell is outstanding - I've often felt that one can be a great actor without being a great comedian, but to be a great comedian one has first to be a great actor; and that's what we see here - a great actor giving a great semi-comic performance. From his measured dullness of the early scenes to the tender melting of the final moments, this is a great screen character embodied. Keira Knightley too is fantastic; I never liked those "Pirates" films at all so I probably had an in-built bias against her, but here she is outsanding, and contributes every bit towards this beautiful love story. On top of the amazing "Never Let Me Go", I've got a whole new respect for her.

In summary then, this is a film I'd heartily recommend. Certainly not for everyone, and certainly it's almost impossible to pigeon-hole. But, I think it's full of wonderful things and great performances, and perfect little moments. And hopefully it will make you think - what would you do?




In an effort to show that I don't only watch James Bond films, I decided I would have a separate blog to write about any film I have recently seen.  There is no order to this; no top fives or countdowns.  Some will be new releases, most will be older films.  Some will be contemporary, some vintage.  Most, hopefully I will view positively, but some, possibly, I will not like so much.  It's just going to be my thoughts.  I hope you find something interesting herein...

Bonus points if you can recognise the movie reference in the title of this blog.