Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them 2016 ***

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There’s no reviews for Harry Potter films on this blog; they may have been huge at the box-office, but cinematically, they’re all pretty much the same. So Fantastic Beasts seemed like a welcome proposition; take away the familiar characters, but keep the imagination of the JK Rowling world. David Yates’s film is certainly more interesting for its steam-punk NYC aesthetic, and an unfamiliar storyline as Newt (Eddie Redmeyne) arrives in town with a suitcase full of trouble. The CGI is cute enough, and the idea of a city divided by belief in magic has some charm. But even with a few old-stagers like Jon Voight thrown into the mix, some flat performances (Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell, Katherine Waterson) suck out a lot of the goodwill. While Fantastic Beasts is pleasing enough as a time-passer, there’s a lack of engagement on offer that bodes ill for an extended five film franchise. But for now, Yates’s film has enough energy and expense to be a painless if uninspiring watch for those undazzled by Harry’s magic.

Runaway Train 1985 ****

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The talent pool behind Runaway Train is a strange collection; Andrey Konchalovskiy directs, but the screenplay was originally by Akira Kurosawa, and actor Edward Bunker (Reservoir Dogs) is amongst those who worked on the script. Featuring footage shot on the Alaskan railroad, Runaway Train is about Manny (Jon Voight) a convict who escapes alongside Buck (Eric Roberts), but their getaway vehicle, a train, proves to be unstoppable in the worst possible way. An attempt at an existentialist thriller, Runaway Train has a palpable grit in the brutal action scenes, and Rebecca De Mornay provides good support as a railway worked inadvertently long for the ride. An action film with brains it’s a hard, gripping ride from start to finish.

The Odessa File 1974 ***

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Following up on the success of Frederick Forsyth adaptation The Day of The Jackal, Ronald Neame’s 1974 thriller opens with John Voight driving through the Christmas snows listening to Perry Como’s Christmas Dream. Having established journalist Peter Miller’s penchant for Andrew Lloyd Webber, the plot thickens as Miller is drawn into a conspiracy protecting former SS officer Eduard Roschmann (Maximillian Schell).  The 1963 setting is sparingly evoked, but the performances and excellent and the intent serious; the uncovering of WWII secrets is handled with commendable gravity, and Voight’s wide eyed-horror is palpable as he discovers his own complicity. Support from the glamorous Mary Tamm and an early film role for Derek Jacobi.

The Revolutionary 1970 ***

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Jon Voight followed up Midnight Cowboy with this sober and politically of-its-time drama, set in suburban London and following the progress of an aspiring revolutionary. Voight dons spectacles and trench-coat to play A, a man sickened by the capitalist system, who decides to rebel through such subversive gestures as removing his trousers in a meeting, or by taking over a pawnshop and returning the contents to the needy. A’s flirtation with work lead him to meet such improbable ordinary British working types as Robert Duval, and to a dalliance with the pretty daughter of a bourgeois oppressor. Paul William’[s film is unusually serious in its contemplation of raging against the capitalist machine, leading to an ambiguous ending, but The Revolutionary manages a solid portrait of an angry, disempowered young man.