Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The Eagle

An enjoyable but ultimately frustrating tale which falls short of the high standards it sets itself. The plot is a classic adventure yarn, and the setting, in the Scottish Highlands is spectacular. Director Kevid McDonald, whose credits include "Touching the Void" knows how to use a landscape to dramatic effect. But somewhere along the way the screen play fails to join up the dots, so although there are a number of very good set pieces the whole fails to satisfy. The American speaking actors are the invaders, the British the locals, whether this is supposed to have any wider geo-political significance, I don't know.

Fundamentally an adventure story the plot unfolds in highly episodic form. The opening is outstanding. A remote Roman outpost receives a rookie new commanding officer, Marcus Aquila, played by Channing Tatum, haunted by his father's disappearance as commander of the 9th Legion and determined to learn of his fate. The garrison initially regard him with suspicion , distrust and as a bad omen. Yet he wins them over in leading the defence of the fort against a local uprising in by far the best scene of the movie. It is the classic "cowboys and Indians defence of the fort" scene. But from this promising start, the energy levels drop.

A gladiatorial combat scene then follows with the purpose of introducing a native slave, Esca, played by Jamie Bell, whose life he saves from death, and who is thus indebted to him. Oddly, so concerned is McDonald with using this as a plot device that the considerable dramatic potential of the amphitheatre is largely wasted.

Esca then becomes Aquila's scout, as well as guide, as he resolves to venture past Hadrian's Wall to find out what fate befell his father and Legion and recover their standard the eponymous "Eagle". This quest seeking 20 year old news is the least satisfactory section. They survive an ambush and wander around a lot, and that is about it. The intrigue as to whether Esca is being true in his interpreting with the locals is all that keeps things going. The dynamic of the relationship between Esca and Aquila beyond the debt of honour lies unexplained. McDonald with "State of Play" and "last King of Scotland" has shown himself to be very adept at displaying relationships on screen, but the unevenness in the characterisation of Aquila and Esca prevent that success here.

After stumbling on a naturalised Legionaire survivor, the two of them are taken to the tribal Seal camp for the second high spot of the film. Esca's loyalty is brought further into doubt, the Eagle is revealed and Esc and Aquila escape with it. The camp, a coming of age warrior ceremony, the theft and escape, are brilliantly realised. But for the final act it all becomes a bit of a mish-mash.

Two men in the wilderness escaping from an entire village is only likely to have one outcome, and although wonderfully photographed it lacks dramatic tension. To compensate for this we have a truly preposterous climax. Esca miraculously rounds up a dozen or so hitherto unknown 9th legion survivors, all anxious to put right the dishonour of their original defeat, all of whom look 40 plus, who then proceed to wipe out the entire warrior population of the chasing village. Although several of the themes echo Michael Mann's classic version of "Last of the Mohicans" it fails to scale those heights.

Aquila returns triumphant, his father's honour is restored and he slave Esca is set free. If that all sounds a bit twee it is because it is. The authentic Gaelic style music, becomes a bit grating after a while with lots of "Clannad" style female warbling and wailing. Furthermore the dynamic of the story is lopsided as Jamie Bell in a supporting role has a far more nuanced character to play than Channing who has to look pretty, tough and worry about his father's reputation. The British/ Seal natives also speak in a subtitled dialect resulting in the characterisation of the "enemy" being limited, so the good versus evil dynamic is given little space to breathe. This is compounded by the problem that the natural sympathy of a neutral observer to a tale of invader seeking to subjugate a local populace is with the native population, not the invader. Yet Aquila is the hero. The scenes with indeterminate Roman officials ( amongst them Donald Sutherland) are uniformly embarrassing and superfluous.

In conclusion, worth seeing, but it fails to meet the standards it aspires to, and should have achieved

Sunday, 20 March 2011

The Lovely Bones

An Unlovely Mess, 19 March 2011

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

There are occasions when you watch a film, understand its merit, but simply reflect that it doesn't work for you. This is one such film. The book by Alice Sebold is much acclaimed, Director Peter Jackson is hugely experienced and vastly accomplished, as is executive producer Steven Spielberg, so what is it that doesn't work?

The premise, of a murdered girl, Susie Salmon, played by Saorise Ronan, leading her parents, Jack and Abigail, to her killer from a spiritual nether world is an intriguing one. The cgi and staging of the girls scenes in spiritual limbo are fine, it's the ones on terra firma that disappoint.

The planning and execution of the murder are understated which weaken the drama, there is no sense of horror about what has happened. Parents Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz convincingly portray grief stricken parents, but this in turn is undermined by an almost comic turn by Susan Sarandon as a grandmother Lyn.

Attention soon focuses on the real killer as Susie Salmon leads her family towards the clues, but for little obvious terrestrial reason. This is no Revenger's Tragedy ,and by the end, I found myself simply willing the end, which when it did come, was pretty unsatisfactory. Prior to this, Susie's father is beaten up by a teenage lad who has his romantic assignation with his girlfriend disturbed as Jack charges through the high crops in a field in a grief stricken frenzy reprising the actual voyeurism of the real killer. But so annoying has his role become that instead of sympathising with him for his injuries , the viewer is tempted to think he deserved it for being so irritating.

There is a gripping opening to the final act when Susie's sister breaks into the killers house and steals a notebook containing vital evidence causing the perpetrator to flee. But the climax wholly ignores the police, and presumable family ,chase to catch up with him, to cut to a very strange, anti-climactic final scene.

Shorn of visceral action, and with much of the film set in Susies' dream world, the reality sequences are simply not enough to carry the story over the line of credibility. Brian Eno's score is excellent, but its surreal ambiance only further distances the viewer from emotionally connecting with the story. Ronan's performance of Susie is anaemic, and bad guy George Harvey, played by Stanley Tucci, simply isn't sinister enough to really generate much viewer ill will. Investigating officer Fenerman played by Michael Imperioli has a cruelly underwritten scene and the end result is a film that goes nowhere in particular. Massively over-hyped watch on no-pay TV or borrow someone's DVD only.

Battle: Los Angeles

Mindless but Satisfactory Popcorn Fun, 13 March 2011

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is the first time that Director Jonathan Leibesman has been given a big budget – and it shows. A deeply conservative movie, "Battle" is overflowing with CGI special effects, and bankrupt of original story. Hero Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz, played by Aaron Eckhart, is the personification of the John Wayne archetype, chiselled, patriotic, questioned, but made of the right stuff. He leads a small band of brothers against an alien enemy, and naturally triumphs.

An enormous amount of US military hardware is on show here. The co-operation of the Pentagon depends upon a suitably patriotic script, and they will have had no complaints on that score. Frequently you could be forgiven for thinking that you were watching a Marine Corps training film. The stars and stripes flutter, sacrifice in Iraq is quoted, blacks, Hispanics and women fight heroically side by side, and phalanxes of helicopters swoop and soar whilst jets zoom overhead. Retreat? Hell no!

You want cliché? You get it. Nantz is a twenty year old veteran who has just handed in his resignation papers when the call to rescue his country comes. The brother of a man who has died under his command in a failed previous mission now comes under his command. The woman may not be able to kick ass as well as the boys – bur she is clever. A civilian who is being rescued rallies to fight the invaders- and sacrifices his life. His young son is comforted by a female vet who is on hand to be both motherly, and identify a wounded alien's vital weak spot. And the dog survives! The running time of almost two hours is a little long, and the noise relentless. If there are lulls in battles, Leibesman forgets this. Which is not to say that the film is not without any merit. The cravenly contrived script works because the devices are so well worn, and the script is barely noticeable as most of it is shouted. If in doubt, they are saying "cover me", "watch my back" or "hostiles 6 0'clock". Visually, it is hugely impressive and plays like a gigantic computer game, and with no bad language kids will love it.

But despite heroism and spectacle the story fails because of a fundamental flaw. The classic conflict stories are about good versus evil, and the aliens have no voice. It is speculated that they have come to colonise and take earth's natural resources, but this is presented as an aside. So there is no personal struggle. The destruction of the alien command and control module is the symbolic victory, but a disintegrating hovering heap of junk is no substitute for a fallen defeated figure.

The overwhelming sense is of similarities with British WW2 propaganda films to rally morale at home . Afghanistan, Iraq, Al Qaeda, Bin Laden and Libya might be tricky, but our Marines can still whip alien ass!

Fair Game

A Fair Film, 17 March 2011

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

It is impossible to separate the artistic merits of this film from the politics. The core story is of a CIA agent whose husband exposes flaws in the Bush policy on Iraq but who suffers the consequences herself. It is anti – Bush, but tries a little too hard not to appear anti-patriotic by presenting itself as being pro core American values. Naomi Watts plays the CIA Agent Valerie Plame, Sean Penn her husband, ex diplomat and US Ambassador Joe Wilson. Plame is a field agent for whom duplicity comes with the job, ex- Ambassador Wilson's job would have entailed him being a realpolitik expert. But what prompts Wilson to turn whistle-blower, with the inevitable disastrous consequences for his family, and why Plame acquiesces, is never adequately explained, despite this being based upon a true story.

The screenplay itself works well. Watts must have been delighted to win a lead ,serious role, and she excels with Sean Penn playing in secondary support. She convinces in her part , and the fieldwork scenes abroad are pacey and well staged. The dialogue is wry, sharp and authentic too. Ironically, the problem for the film comes when Wilson exposes the Governments misrepresentation of Iraq's WMD programme. From that point on the drama doesn't really work, when things should be speeding up. I found myself checking my watch on a film I was enjoying with 20 minutes to go.

The inevitability that the Presidential machine will win takes the sting out of this tale. We know that "the good guys" don't win, and the consequences for Plame are hardly unexpected, so there is very little space for the story to move in. Wilson's figure earnestly tries to compensate by making worthy declarations of truth, honour and justice and even summons the spirit of Franklin Roosevelt but the scenes look increasingly desperate. Director Doug Liman with credits in two of the "Bourne Trilogy" films is at home in Iraq, Cairo and Kuala Lumpur but simply does not have enough to work with in the final act.

That Saddam was a bad man and a destabilising influence in the Middle East is beyond reasonable doubt. That the French were right that the UN sanctions had worked and were working is an uncomfortable truth which the neo-con element of American politics has never faced up to. It is here that again the film falls short. There was a heavier blow to land – but it stops short of doing so. At some point popular US opinion will ask whether the sacrifice of so many young American servicemen and women were worth it – and a film will answer that question, but this is not that film.

Nonetheless, Watts will look back on this film as her best performance to date, and Penn will savour another finely nuanced role which questions the establishment. Although those with well tuned political antenna will be frustrated by some elements of the historical context of the story, those just seeking a straight forwards political thriller should be satisfied.

I Love You Phillip Morris

Bold Comedy Drama, 12 March 2011

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

A brave, non-mainstream, story which comes off against the odds. Jim Carrey plays a regular married policeman, Steven Russell, struggling with his sexuality, who has a near fatal car crash, reappraises his life, and survives to embrace an outrageous, excessive, unsustainable gay lifestyle. Fraud leads to prison, where he meets Phillip Morris, played by Ewan McGregor, whom he falls in love with.

The strength of this film is that a gay love story is told in a conventional way. Carrey gives his finest acting performance since The Truman Show, Ewan McGreggor is superb as his fey, effeminate lover. When Russell is released, he then turns his slick talking con-man skills to secure Morris's freedom in an amusing, clever and fast paced plot.

The central gay theme and scenes may alienate a sector of the ordinary film going public, which is a shame. Co –Directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra have written a sharp, enjoyable screenplay which twists and turns, but is essentially about a con man who finds truth in a love affair. Highly recommended.

One Hour Photo

A Neat Compact Thriller, 13 February 2011

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A well crafted, low budget, psychological thriller that succeeds because of its' restraint. Robin Williams stars as a middle aged single loner, Si Parrish, who works in the photo development lab at a supermarket. He lives his life dealing with memento's of events which others wish to remember, their photographs. But is it to replace that which he wishes to forget? Williams is terrific. Quiet, creepy, with just a hint of menace and violence he insidiously works his way into the lives of a perfect couple, possibly replacing his own less than perfect past life, past and present, with theirs.

Connie Neilsen and Michael Vartan play as husband and wife , Nina and Will Yorkin whose superficially attractive life collapses as Parrish finds the cracks. The sets are limited, mainly a shopping mall, the Yorkin's home, and a Hotel giving the feel of a stage play, and it is the script, the words, the dialogue which dominate.

The final act is strong, yet still Director and writer Mark Romanek pulls his punches. The sexual dimension which could easily have been gratuitously exploited, isn't. The violence which simmers under the surface is not fully realised. The only truly unexplored element is why he surrenders everything in a Pyhrric victory. Photographic, framing and picture allusions abound both obvious, and subtle, and the one and a half hour running time is perfect for the story. Romaneks previous work has been mainly with Music Video which will have helped with the stylised presentation and limited sets, but to his credit he also shows an ability to tell an extended narrative outside of his milieu.

Although this falls short on the sex and violence and edge of your seat tension stakes, it is nonetheless satisfying in its own right and can be looked back on with pride by all involved.


Enjoyable Nonsense, 22 January 2011

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A far- fetched, but action packed, knockabout spy yarn that defies rational analysis but is entertaining enough. Angelina Jolie stars as Salt, the CIA operative who is ostensibly outed by a Russian defector. What follows is an increasingly preposterous series of stunts and plot developments saved by some very good action scenes.

Director Phillip Noyce knows his way around the spy/action genre through the Tom Clancy conceived Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, and also The Saint. The opening scene has a suitably lascivious shot of Salt being tortured in her underwear. Thereafter she dispatches America's and Russia's finest with ease.

The Russian stereotypes are lazy, and the sacrifice of realism for action ludicrous. Yet it is all well done, the story zips along going from one set-piece action sequence to the next. Jolie struggles with the script, a small part of it is trying to be a bona fide spy yarn, but for the rest she is Lara Croft, a fantasy indestructible Amazon.

Not to be taken too seriously.

127 Hours

An Honourable Failure, 11 January 2011

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I am a huge fan of Director Danny Boyle's work, but this time around he tried something different, and didn't quite succeed. Tackling a story which centres on a largely motionless man deep in a ravine is a big challenge, and is not one which he successfully overcomes. Lead actor James Franco as Aron Ralston does well enough but there is not an awful lot to go on.

Based on a true story the film opens up with shots of him as an adrenaline junkie, mountain biking in the Utah desert and canyoneering, long distance running across it. Curiously, in real life he was an able graduate in Mechanical Engineering and French, although that intelligence is never revealed to counter some fairly reckless behaviour.

The scenery is fantastic, and the opening act when he chances upon two girls and leads them part of the way is Boyle at his best, playful, pacey and eventful, if a little unlikely. But inevitably once Ralston is trapped, the dramatic options are a bit limited. To his credit, Boyle eschews "faction" scenes of encounters with cougars, snakes, near misses by passing helicopters and half heard voices of walkers – but in fact that does not leave much. We have a storm scene whose dramatic and cinematic potential is underplayed, and then the inevitable self-mutilation.

Flash backs pre-dominate and hallucinations unfold, but we never really know enough about Ralston to really care. Then when he does escape from the boulder, a demanding 20m descent is dealt with in a perfunctory manner, he stumbles across some walkers, a helicopter arrives – and that is it. No denouement, no context. It all feels a little unsatisfactory, a bit like the Billboard Poster which is an invention and depicts no physical part of the film.

The music is also poor. Discordant and jarring, it's use as a high octane accompaniment to the biking works, but otherwise it does not work well to try to crank up some artificial excitement. The self-amputation is gruesome and graphically depicted in all of Boyle's gory glory, but that isn't enough in a running time which at 94 minutes feels simultaneously long, and incomplete.

Little Fockers

An Amusing Third Instalment, 8 January 2011

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

I thoroughly enjoyed the first two Fokker films and took in this third offering purely on that basis, despite some critical reviews. I was not disappointed. Yes it does now assume the characteristics of the old " Carry On" or "Confessions of...." series, stock well established characters, in jokes, running gags and predictable humour. But it entertains, and that is no crime.

Dustin Hoffman and Barbera Streisand are sparingly used this time, whilst Owen Wilson pretty much steals each scene he is in. The plot is pretty thin and is really a thinly disguised attempt to squeeze the best out of the jokes from the previous two films. But it is light, frothy, and does not outstay its welcome. Jessica Alba is sassy and sexy as Andi Garcia and adds a slight, but welcome, new dynamic to the Fokker Family dynamic.

Inevitably Ben Stiller, as Gaylord Fokker, is getting past the new Dad, lowly nurse stage, and the plot tries to move things along a little, whilst at the end there is a shameless platform established for the next instalment. Will there be another? Should there be another? On the one hand the existing gag opportunities seem to have been well – plumbed now. But on the other the characters are great and everyone still seems to be enjoying themselves. With the help of an inspired script writer to create fresh adventures and challenges – why not?

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin' Down a Dream

Tremendous Documentary, 8 January 2011

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

A sprawling, glorious, epic documentary of one of American Rock's survivors and veterans which at almost four hours, is probably only about fifteen minutes too long. Commissioned by Petty, Director Bogdanovic has produced a classic in the genre. It's success is due to Petty's long and productive career, Petty's wry and lucid reminiscences , access to some excellent archive footage, and shrewd editing. The running time works out at about an hour per ten years of musical career which in that context is fair enough.It is particularly strong in covering the formative years pre-Heartbreakers.

As a long standing fan from the Heartbreakers first album, it was a sweet trip down memory lane. Played out chronologically, there is abundant rehearsal, live and promotional footage from pretty much every era with thoughtful and insightful commentary from Petty and band members throughout. Yet this is a vanity project, albeit a very good one. And although as a testament to a fine career it is about "Best in Class", inevitably there are some critical holes in it.

Their "break" in England, which launched their career is sketchily explained. The eponymous first album, launched as Punk/New Wave was about to overwhelm England, is a deeply conservative and derivative, traditional American Rock record. The only concession to the time was that no song was longer than four minutes, and four of the ten were under three. That they prospered was down to the fact that without those short songs, they would never have been played on the radio, that this was no "new band"- it was a road tested and honed unit with fine musicians, and that they had an "anchor song" in "American Girl" which is still played as the highlight of their set 34 years later.

When "You're Gonna Get it" came out Punk/New wave ruled. Again Petty trimmed. This time six of the ten songs were under three minutes, the cover shot was a broody, moody menacing one, and single choices "You're Gonna get it" and "I Need to Know" were consistent with the musical zeitgeist. How much of this was down to Producer Denny Cordell, how much Petty and how much unknown figures at Shelter Records was unexplained, but it worked.

The Knebworth appearance, which I saw, in 1978 is strangely missed out. It was the moment they came of age. Headliners were Genesis, they were third on the bill behind Jefferson Starship, but ahead of Devo, Brand X and the Atlanta Rhythm Section. In front of 120,000 fans they played a sharp convincing 45 minute set which demonstrated that they had the songs, and presence, to make it. How they got the gig and their recollections of it, would have been fascinating.

As a fan, I am a huge admirer of Petty's music, but it is curious how few crossover great songs he has produced. Beyond "American Girl" you are struggling outside of the converted, and none of his albums really earns "classic" status. Is he a poor man's Southern Springsteen? Yet his pedigree and longevity are undisputed? Howcome? This is not explored. I believe it is down to Petty's ability to absorb and then reinvent familiar sounds. You get recognisable, clever well crafted songs, but never anything truly original. He is a synthesiser of musical styles not an originator.

To Petty's credit, tensions within the band are laid bare. Jimmy Iovine's scarcely disguised contempt for Stan Lynch's drumming is starkly exposed as is bassist Howie Epsteins fatal drug addiction. The mystery of the arson attack on Petty's home remains just that. The mutual love-in between Stevie Nicks and Petty is another delight. Her obvious infatuation with the band is lavishly covered, and the soft focus shots of her in interview suggest that Petty was at the very least flattered.

The Travelling Wilbury's era with Jeff Lynne gives the film a lift although it is a shame that Dylan could not have been persuaded to say a few words. That notwithstanding, Dave Stewart, George Harrison, Dave Grohl and Johnny Depp ensure that Petty is never light of celebrity endorsement.

A delight, and essential viewing for fans, and an education for all music buffs interested in American Rock post 1970's.

Butterfly on a Wheel

Better Than The Reviews Suggest, 20 December 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

This film went pretty much straight to DVD/TV with the associated stigma that accompanies that. But although there were obvious shortcomings, it still has a fair bit going for it. The three star actors, Gerard Butler, Maria Bello and Pierce Brosnan are a strong trio, and the story is fine. What goes wrong? Probably that Director Mike Barker's credentials as predominantly a TV Director glare through with a lack of big screen vision or continuity.

The plot twists limit what can be said about the story, but the core revolves around a "perfect couple"( Butler/ Bello) whose daughter is kidnapped by a mysterious psychopath (Brosnan) who looks to deconstruct their lives. The element which is always fragile is the extent to which the couple choose not to escape or contact the Police simply because the kidnapper, who is with them, has their daughter.

If you can get over that, the story is tense, gallops along, and has a series of good set-pieces. Bello is hot, and Brosnan suitably menacing, albeit with a wavering accent. In the hands of a more accomplished Director, this would have been pretty good, but the episodic construction clunks, and the final twist, whilst compelling again requires a giant leap of motivational faith.

St Trinian's 2: The Legend of Fritton's Gold

A Horrible Misfire, 18 December 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

The St Trinians stories are good ones. I feared the worst with the first remake, and was pleasantly surprised. I watched this second "reimagining" - and was very disappointed. So, what went wrong? Three things, Russell Brand was missing, Sarah Harding is not good enough to carry a female lead, and too much of the action was out of school.

I suspect that the budget was bigger for this one, but it was wasted off premises. The charm is "the school" in the broadest sense, and this was lost in a bizarre plot focusing on lost pirate treasure. No St Trinians story is complete without "Flash", yet he is missing. David Tennant is lost in the strangely written role of Lord Pomfrey, Rupert Everett and Colin Firth reprise their roles in the first film, but to much less effect.

Previously Stephen Fry was brought in to boost the final act- and it worked, together with Girls Aloud as the School Band. This time around there is no such imagination or stardust. To mess up what is fundamentally such a strong concept takes some doing – but that is exactly what Directors Oliver Parker and Barnaby Thompson do. Most damning for a comedy – it isn't funny


An Action Classic, 16 November 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

Anyone looking for cerebral entertainment should avoid this film. But if you like the action/disaster genre this is top drawer fare. It is a classic in that it draws upon staple ingredients, you know exactly what you are going to get, and there are no surprises, but it still entertains because all the ingredients work so well.

The plot is very simple, a crew less, passenger less freight train leaves a depot through human error and careers towards the conurbation of Stanford with an explosive cargo on board. Fortunately an old lag of a train driver ,in Denzel Washington ( a black modern day Casey Jones) ,and the greenhorn, Chris Pine, are on hand to save the day.

Director Tony Scott does not mess around, the runaway freight train is the star of the show, appears early, and a few minor sub-plots exist purely to allow us to catch our breath. Of course children and animals are put in jeopardy, of course helicopters buzz, police cars crash and a shoot out (of sorts) is even squeezed in. You want heroics as the stars walk across the top of a train travelling at speed? You get it! There are some good one-liners, Corporate Greed is trounced and the humble working man triumphs, what more do you need?

With no bad language, and a tight 98 minute running time, this really is vintage entertainment to simply enjoy- not think about. The most enjoyable film in its class since "Speed".


A Conceptual Triumph, 20 October 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

An incredibly difficult film to rate objectively and review. The story is that of Paul Conroy, played by Ryan Reynolds, whom we find entombed, in darkness, somewhere in Iraq, held hostage. This is a one-hander shot on a single set. The ultimate low budget conception. So you can forget cinematography, location and supporting actors. What you are left with is one man's performance, a compelling story, excellent camera work (it has to be!) and THE question- will he escape? This is a Spanish made and financed film with distribution in Europe, Japan and the USA. I do not think this will be to American tastes. There is no big budget, no special effects, no chases and no shoot-outs. Furthermore, Reynolds' claim that he is "just a truck driver" helping to reconstruct Iraq is shamelessly exposed to his captors riposte that the Americans shouldn't have wrecked the country in the first place. The ambush and fire fight which resulted in his capture is mentioned but not shown – guaranteed to send Hollywood executives into apoplexy.

"Buried" takes its inspiration from cave-in and submarine disaster films of the past- and then ratchets up the tension to the maximum. You are alone, you don't know where you are, you can barely see, you can barely move, you can barely breathe, and you are running out of air. The skill of the screenplay by Chris Sparling is that it identifies our dark primeval fears, and then plays them out through Reynolds. It is that Everyman connection which works.

Once the audience understands the situation, it then begs a subliminal challenge. How much drama can you get from a man in a box? The answer is plenty. As Reynolds starts to get to grips with his surroundings, so do we. A mobile phone whose charge is waning as Reynolds prospects wane, is his only contact with the outside world , to his would be rescuers, and his captors. But all we hear are their voices. And what he does hear is not good. His captors want an impossible ransom, his employers have sacked him due to an alleged affair negating insurance monies to his family, and contacting his family his family is fraught with problems. All we hear is voices, of hope, love, rejection, alienation, isolation and threat. We hear what Reynolds hears, we see what he sees, crucially we imagine what he imagines drawing us in.

Although well plotted, with skillful story development, the dialogue itself is workmanlike, rather than inspired. The scenario provided for inspiring monologues, instead we get staccato bursts of communication with the outside world. How intentional this is, is unclear. The advantage is that this depersonalises Reynolds and externalises his dilemma, the disadvantage is that we don't really care about his fate as a person. Yet ironically neither do his employers, the kidnappers or maybe even the rescuers. He really is on his own.

What defines "Buried" is the courage of the film makers to have an idea, and see it through. It must have been so tempting to introduce some exterior shots and to show some flashbacks to ease the claustrophobia. They didn't. Artistically that is brave and pays dividends. All were wisely eschewed in favour of the stark, austere but pure compelling vision which makes this film such a success – on its own terms.

The Town

Above Average Heist Movie, 19 October 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

An above average "Heist" movie confidently directed by Ben Afleck who also takes the lead. Set in Boston, Affleck plays a career bank robber, Doug Macray, from the run down district of Charlestown, which is home to the criminal fraternity in general, and bank robbing aficionados in particular. The generous running time of 125 mins contains only three raids because, wisely, the story based on the Chuck Hogan novel "Prince of Thieves", concentrates on character rather than action and takes time to enjoy the location sets in Boston itself.

Charlestown is a tight knit community to which Affleck's gang return after a brilliant, visceral opening Bank raid. To English ears, the dialogue is sometimes mumbled and difficult to follow, but when a hostage is freed who it emerges also lives in Charlestown, the plot bites as MacRay starts to date the hostage and is easy to follow. Time worn themes of criminal codes of honour, redemption, justice and revenge are explored with a blue collar authenticity which just begs Bruce Springsteen to step out of the shadows at any time.

Rebecca Hall as Claire skilfully unfolds the role of bank official turned unwitting girlfriend ,delivering a compelling, but understated performance even though her own back story is somewhat under written. Pete Postlethwaite is wonderful in a cameo as the local godfather in a ballsy performance, in every sense of the phrase.

No such story would be complete without the Cop determined to bring the hoodlums to justice and John Hamm is convincing as FBI agent Hawley whose task in racking down the offenders is not that difficult. Why both he and McCray have to sport unshaven beard growth is never quite explained.

A gripe is the Hollywood obsession with over the top shoot-outs. Although the opening bank raid, and subsequent security van raid are brilliant, the finale at the Boston Red Sox ' Fenway Park becomes ridiculous and unconvincing, and is wholly unnecessary to a well plotted story. Fortunately an action free, but engrossing and satisfying denouement save the story from the ridicule it risks at Fenway Park.

Strong, and atmospheric, with several nods to "Heat" this movie succeeds and delivers in spades suggesting that in the future Affleck will make a film that scores excellent, and not just the "very good" plaudits which this story has rightly been credited with

Made in Dagenham

Entertaining Social History, 17 October 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

A light, but solid account of the women's strike at Ford's Dagenham to secure equal pay for women. Director Nigel Cole's last big success was "Calendar Girls" and his eye for place and dialogue is much in evidence once again.. A very good cast performs a good script well, in a confident running time of one hour and three quarters.

Sally Hawkins shines as strike leader by default, Rita, ably supported by Bob Hoskins as shop steward, a part he plays with relish and aplomb. Yet unlike "Calendar Girls" ,this story has an epic sweep about it which the screenplay struggles with. Although set on the outskirts of London, in 1968, very little period music is used, depriving proceedings of nostalgia and mood music, even the fashions are slightly out of sync with the year. Equally, the all female workshop's predilection for stripping to their underwear in the un air –conditioned heat eschews the obvious option of plenty of shots of pretty girls in nice bras, for matronly women in passion killing foundation wear. These easy "hits" are missed, for better or for worse. Yet there are the "London Trademark" shots of Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Double Decker red buses – but without a Beatles and Kinks soundtrack.

A protracted strike does not make for entertaining viewing so wisely Cole focuses on the domestic melodrama's of the striking women. It is when it reaches beyond that the story suffers. Ford, and their Chairman, are shown in vignette in a fairly unfavourable light, such that a notice appears at the film's end to say what a model company they now are. The all male Union bosses fare little better and are largely shown as self centred misogynists. In the same way that the story tells how many of the male workers were not behind the strike, equally male viewers may feel that the male view point is shown in shorthand.

A very contrived relationship between Rita, and the wife of a local Ford Manager, played by the impossibly gorgeous Rosamund Pike grates a little, whilst Miranda Richardson makes the best of a ridiculously underwritten role as Barbera Castle. The comic bumbling duo of her under secretaries should have been left on the cutting room floor. John Sessions turn as Harold Wilson is hopelessly misconceived.

Yet for all the flaws when the film over stretches itself, it is at home, "at home". Dagenham domestic life, and tragedy, is fondly evoked with Geraldine James as Connie, particularly good, and the feel of the era is authentically re –created. This isn't a comedy, nor is it a social history, but as light drama it entertains and satisfies.

Winters bone

Chilling Brilliance, 9 October 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A slow burning tale of a young woman's fight to save her family's home from the Bondsmen. Set amongst the mountain people of the Ozark mountains in Missouri, USA, Jennifer Lawrence stars as Ree Dolly, the seventeen year old leader of the family by default, tending a young brother and sister, and a mentally ill mother as homelessness looms.

The remote location is reminiscent of "Deliverance" and "Southern Comfort", but the story is shorn of the visceral action which characterised them. We witness a young woman assuming responsibility when all around her abandon theirs. Her mother is a pathetic mute figure, her siblings wholly dependent ,her grandfather is hostile, her grandmother savagely beats her, and indifference or self interested hostility abounds. Only her uncle, grudgingly, ends up helping her in her search to find her father, who is immersed in drug culture,and avert the impending loss of their home if he fails to show for a Court appearance.

At the heart of this story is amorality, right and wrong are uneasy bedfellows. Ree's father has let her, and the family down, and has betrayed his friends. The Bondsman, who could easily be stereotyped as the Bad Guy, comes good. Her grandmother obstructs her, leads a shocking female gang assault, but also finally offers closure to her quest. The Police are ambivalent peripheral figures, showcase in a tense roadside car stop stand off towards the end. The women are cowed wives, complicit in violence, but offer self-less assistance when the chips are down.

The pace is overwhelmingly laconic, atmospheric and menacingly hillbilly making the climax of the film when Ree discovers her fathers fate all the more gruesome and shocking. Inevitably the final act falls a little flat thereafter. This is not for adrenaline junkies, and lovers of snappy dialogue or fast editing. Instead this is a film which allows the characters to breathe, to be nuanced and not to be defined by action, but rather by their actions. Bravely, the magnificent scenery backdrop is not allowed to dominate, instead images of tumbledown shacks, car wrecks and drug dens dominate.

Easily one of the best pictures of the year, and a triumph for Director Debra Granik whose previous debut feature, "Down to the Bone" explored some similar themes of female resilience and deprived drug culture. The unexpectedly upbeat ending is delightfully uncontrived and neatly wraps up a fine offering

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

Affectionate but Edgy, Period Drama, 2 October 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

Viewed in 2010 this is a difficult call. It's status as being a slice of cinematic social history is undoubted, as is the fine performance of Albert Finney. However as a stand-alone piece, the impact and power that it had at the time has dissipated with age.

The mechanics are very simple. A bleak drab setting, Finney as angry young man, Arthur, conventional love interest in Shirley-Ann Field as Doreen, and illicit love interest in married Rachel Roberts as Brenda who falls pregnant by Arthur.

The social commentary is finely observed by Director Karel Reisz and writer Alan Sillitoe. Reisz's subsequent stage work with Pinter plays and his realisation of "The French Lieutenant's Woman" both showcase his ability to deal successfully with character which is much in evidence here. Several supporting roles are vital to the story's success with the bruising matriarchs of the time joyously in evidence.

At the time a story which told of marital infidelity, abortion and changing attitudes to sex, anticipating the teenage rebellion that was to surface as the decade wore on, broke the shackles of cinema which was still wedded to the conventional morality of the "War Spirit". Now it seems staple dramatic fare. At 90 minutes it does it's job well. Yet it lacks the raw spirit of "Kess", the pain of "Brassed Off" or the dramatic sweep of the earlier "How Green Was My Valley" in its depiction of British Working Class life.

So ultimately an important slice of cinematic history, but by no means a timeless classic

The Bravados

Strong – but not spectacular, 16 September 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A solid western from veteran Director Henry King starring Gregory Peck as Jim Douglass and a very young Joan Collins. King has over 200 Director and Acting credits and the experience he gathered is evident throughout this picture. The opening Act was oft copied by the later Spaghetti Westerns. A man with no name arrives at a remote town for a hanging, and slowly the story unfolds. The presence of Lee Van Cleef in a supporting role reinforces that aura of what was to come when Van Cleef secured lead roles.

Peck is very good in the lead role and was surely in part the inspiration for later similar performances from Clint Eastwood. The mystery of his motivation is well handled, as is the lead up to the gang break out. Initially this looks like a standard tale of revenge as Douglass joins the Possee to catch the escapees. But after some early killing Douglass is given cause to question whether he is gaining revenge on the right people, and whether revenge is what he wants at all, and it twists into a story of redemption. Collins has little to do other than look beautiful, which she succeeds in doing rather well.

A curiosity is the way that women are portrayed in the film. The "hangman" unashamedly asks for evening "entertainment" on arrival, and Emma, played by Kathleen Gallant, is kidnapped for sexual services. The starkness with which this is referred to on a number of occasions is quite unsettling as are her screams form within a shed when she is finally assaulted.

The scenery, in Mexico, is wonderful, but the closing Act's "redemption" morality tale is a bit clunky for modern tastes. A strong, atmospheric film whose formula is just a little too obvious to take it into the realms of greatness.

The Far Country

A Rocky Story, 5 September 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

A "Western" dominated by the magnificent North West scenery, and little else. A movie Directed by Anthony Mann and starring James Stewart, its claims to greatness are vastly over stated. Filmed in Alberta and set around Gold Rush Dawson, it has little historical accuracy, which would be fine if there was a great story. But there isn't.

Stewart plays the part of reluctant hero Jeff Webster taming Cattle Rustlers and Mining bullies, fronted up by Jim Gannon, in the ubiquitous black hat. There is no dramatic tension, and the compulsory climactic shoot out is farcical. Ruth Roman and Corrinne Calvert offer some love interest in horribly underwritten roles.

The Canadian Rockies provide a stunning backdrop to all the outdoor scenes, and Dawson itself is quite well recreated, but the drama, and the dialogue, simply are not good enough

Knight and Day

Light, Frothy, Summer, Fun, 13 August 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

This is no classic, nor will it feature on the lists of the involved party's best work, yet as a straightforward popcorn pic, it's quite a lot of fun. Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz dominate, and do a good job at carrying the picture. The action sequences are good, but the story is awkward, and the dialogue frequently terrible. That nine writers were involved in a series of rewrites is no surprise.

Although billed as a comedy ,laughs are in short supply. But this is more than compensated for by a series of excellent set piece action scenes, the best of which is set in Seville, Spain. Indeed it is the locations and action which save the story from a slow death, combined with the energy and brio of the leads.

The plot is simple enough, spy Cruise involves an unsuspecting Diaz in a swirl of danger, mystery intrigue, and excitement, and they fall romantically for one another. The running gags are cringe worthy, and the humour forced, but is not intended to be taken seriously and an early shoot out on a plane, of which Diaz is apparently unaware, does raise a smile. Director James Mangold has done some good work previously in the Chair with "3:10 to Yuma" and "Walk the Line" and as a writer with "Copland". Here he scrapes respectability by the skin of his teeth.


Outstanding 21st Century Sci - Fi Thriller, 29 July 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

A brilliant film, and Director Christopher Nolan's best to date. Once in a while a good original idea, an intelligent script, and a fine cast come together. "Inception" is one of those occasions. Any story that takes two and a half hours to tell on screen had better be good – and this is. The basic premise is fairly straight forwards. A mind invasion expert, Cobb, played by De Capprio, is hired to persuade the heir to a global conglomerate to break up the Corporation by a business rival .In return that rival promises that his influence will ensure that charges against Cobb in the US will be dropped.

The opening act is disorientating as reality and dream are introduced to the viewer non-sequentially. Although the narrative does not initially make sense, the action is compelling enough. Then slowly the plot unfolds in a device that Nolan first explore in "Memento". Gradually the story makes sense via a young student, Ariadne, played by Ellen Page, who is hired to assist in the project .Yet just as we are getting to grips with a "mind theft" plot a parallel plot emerges. That of Cobb's deceased wife, and the part he had to play in her death.

Essentially, Nolan is playing with a device popularised in Shakespeare's "Hamlet". The play within the play, and he has a lot of fun with it. The opportunity it presents for non-linear action and narrative is exploited to the full, especially as he chooses to introduce the concept of three levels of dreaming. As a consequence, the viewer is forced to pay attention, simultaneously trying to make sense of the on screen action whilst reflecting how action in our own dreams works.

There is little to find fault with. Pete Postlethwaite and Michael Caine relish minor roles and Marion Cotillard exudes mystery and beauty as Cobbs' wife. The myriad "dream within dream" sequences provide multiple mini-action climaxes which do disrupt a conventional film narrative, yet the ending is a good old fashioned device of keeping the audience guessing.The handling of illusion and reality will delight "Matrix" fans, whilst a shoot-out at a snowy mountain hideaway is pure Bond circa "On Her Majesty's Secret Service". So whilst Nolan explores the cerebral dimensions of the plot in a way that would have delighted Stanley Kubrik, he also relishes an action sequence as much as Jerry Bruckheimer.

Easily amongst the best films of the 21st Century and destined to be a classic.

The Cellar Door

Depressing, Dire, Fare, 25 July 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is the Directorial debut for Matt Zettell, and Christopher Nelson's first screenplay- and it shows. There is a rich and honourable tradition of " captured women at the mercy of depraved men", but this does nothing to add to it. The premise is fine, and familiar. A loner pervert abducts young women for lewd purposes. But crucially, beyond that, Zettell loses his way.

It isn't a sexploitation movie. There is no overt sexual violence and hardly any nudity, so voyeurs will be disappointed. This isn't a standard "slash & splash" movie, the body count is too low. Nor is it a psychological thriller, the Direction and writing isn't good enough. The shame is that the two lead actors, abductor Herman, (James Dumont(, and abductee , Rudy, (Michelle Tomlinson), do a decent job with what they have, which isn't very much.

There are some decent scenes, the pre opening credits chase across a deserted storm drain is solid, the supermarket scenes where Herman buys self consciously for his captive well observed if under exploited, and the dispatch of some pesky Jehovas witnesses quite amusing. But overall it is a long 85 minutes.

The film's flaw is that Zettell does not know what to do with the story. The characterisation is weak, so we don't really bond with any of the characters. Herman's creepy and perverted desires are not played on enough, and the violence requires a level of suspension of disbelief in the final act which is laughable. This film really is not very good.

Funny Games

Original and Thought Provoking, 18 July 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A genuinely creepy take on the "terrorised at home" genre which is both inventive, and scary. The conceit of remaking your own film after only ten years exercised by Director Michael Haneke is a debate all on its own. But its transposition from a mid European backwater to affluent USA works.

The premise is simple, a wealthy couple (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) and their eight year old child arrive at their holiday home and are then attacked terrorised and murdered by two teenage assailants. What makes this film different is that we are asked to watch this knowing that we are a crucial part of the film dynamic as the audience. At some points we are addressed directly, and at another the story is rewound. So as this tale of gratuitous violence unfolds, the audience cannot "enjoy" it, they are asked to question how they could, or why they would, enjoy it.

The "rules" of cinema are gleefully trashed. The dog doesn't survive, it "gets it" first, the cute kid doesn't survive, he is blown away with a gun, the mother is told to strip, but we don't get to see her naked, the Dad is not a hero he is an impotent spectator. And all of the time as this horrific violence is unleashed, it is always off screen. The message is that if you thought that you as an audience were going to get off on some sex and violence, you are mistaken, it is for the participants only. And the assailants themselves are never less than perfectly, and absurdly, polite.

Funny Games prides itself on the surreal. The bad guys are dressed in white, and wear white gloves. The setting is peaceful. The psychotic teenagers initially ask for eggs, which are deliberately broken in extended scenes. The metaphor of the fragility of suburban life, decency and everything around us gruesomely exposed.

It isn't perfect, and it probably is too long. But it is also original and a thought provoking antidote to the standard home invasion slasher fare most recently reincarnated with the remake of "Last House on the Left" and "The Strangers", and is a more successful examination of popular culture's fascination with violence than say Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers", it's natural bedfellow is probably "A Clockwork Orange". Perversely, those who enjoy slasher, horror gore are likely to be disappointed by this film whereas those who don't like it are likely to enjoy it.


Lacks Bite, 18 July 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

An entertaining enough cheesy monster flick which suffers a bit from an identity crisis. As a straight forwards action, adventure, cod- horror, it isn't bad, but when it tries to move into a fully blown monster pic it fails miserably. The setting and scenery however are magnificent, Director Greg McLean, previously of "Wolf Creek" knows how to make the most of the magnificent Australian landscape.

It opens with strong overtones of "Black Water", a previous "Crocs after tourists" tale, but with a much bigger budget. Radha Mitchell, played by Kate Ryan, provides the glamour interest and the tourist boat which sets out to explore a salt water gorge is laden with satisfyingly diverse characters. The initial croc attack is well handled, and the jeopardy of them finding themselves on a tidal island soon to be flooded by the incoming tide works well. The drama and tension exceed that of "Black Water" – but then it all goes wrong in the final act.

A showdown occurs in the "Crocs lair" where the bodies of its victims have been dragged. It becomes preposterous. The set is expensive and well staged, but the premise is ridiculous and the genuine tension that previously existed on the tidal island dissolves into disbelieving laughter. At the heart of this is a truism, and that is that "rogue croc" stories probably only have around 60minutes worth of entertaining screen time in them, and by trying to stretch them out to a feature length 90 minutes, the material is inevitably stretched too thinly.

McLean foolishly denies us the customary horror genre "underwear shot" of the lovely Kate and the tenor of the film generally is more suited to a children's matinée than adult horror with some salty language actually jarring. Sam Worthington plays , Neil Kelly, the male hero, very well in a part which is curiously underwritten by McLean. But there is a limit to how well you can act opposite a mainly submerged rogue crocodile.

So overall it's a bit of a dud, but with some redeeming features

Paul Blart: Mall Cop

Grossly Disappointing, 14 July 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Trite, banal, unfunny , sentimental and predictable, this film also has some bad points. Kevin James plays Mall Cop, Paul Blart in the lovable loser fat guy role so beloved of the late John Candy. Director Steve Carr has failed to distinguish himself in previous comedies such as "Daddy Day Care" and "Dr Doolittle 2". This will have done nothing to enhance his reputation as a comedic director.

Comedy requires love for character. But Carr ladles so much syrupy schmaltz into this script that the viewer is reaching for the sick bag way before any fond laughter is reached. Blart's role as a fat failure borders on the offensive, his failure with girls is cringe worthy, and his heroic efforts to thwart a gang of Mall Robbers unconvincing. Naturally, his daughter plays the cute kid rooting for her single parent Dad to come good – and get the girl.

A formulaic sub plot underpins proceedings. The good guy can overcome the odds to succeed. Being fat and hopeless doesn't stop you getting the girl- so long as you have a good heart. The bad guys always get their comeuppance, even the old school bully. Aimed squarely at a family audience the violence is comic book, and no-one actually gets hurt. Yet the pantomime charm of "Home Alone" is missing, mainly down to an awful script, and a lamentable supporting cast.

The idea of the unsung hero coming good against the bad guys is fine, and the dramatic possibilities of action in an empty shopping mall have been exploited before to good effect, not least in Zombies films. But Carr simply does not have the expertise, or the script, to exploit the raw materials. James isn't bad as Blart – but everything else is, in a film which is a very long 90 minutes. A big fat dud


Predator Survives, 14 July 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The original "Predator" with ,Arnold Shwarzenegger, is now 23 years old, its sequel 10 years old. So reinventing the premise of the story had the advantage that a whole load of new sci-fi monster movie fans will be unaware of its existence, and could be sold to afresh, and the disadvantage that its original audience had long since left it behind. This third effort succeeds because the basis of the story is still good, and has been modernised ,with even better special effects. Although formulaic in plot, it does still deliver, and stays just the right side of kitsch.

Adrian Brody convincingly takes Arnie's place as a mercenary who finds himself mysteriously parachuted into an unknown jungle with assorted desperadoes . He quickly discovers that the jungle is not friendly in a pleasingly thoughtful , and understated performance. Disconcertingly the open quarter of an hour seems like an out take from "Lost", but as soon as the monsters appear we return to familiar action ground.

An early mini-dinosaur attack nods to Jurassic park, a derelict spaceship is reminiscent of Aliens, and the showdown with THE Predators is an homage to the original. Innovation is in short supply here, but the genre themes are well explored and well executed. The studiously diverse multi-racial cast is a bit too knowing for my liking with snapshots of lazy racial stereotyping marginally irritating. The first half works better than the second, with the break point being when they discover a human survivor holed up in a wrecked spacecraft. At that point the "Chase" finishes, and the story suffers, even though the action ramps up.

The cinematography is excellent throughout, and the musical score is traditional, but superb. The idea of an alien planet upon which a technologically superior race predates on humans for fun has more mileage in it which will no doubt be explored in the fourth of the series which must surely come after this

Paths of Glory

Strong Early Kubrick Anti-War Film, 4 July 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I watched this, some 53 years before it was made, without knowing anything about it. It transpires that this was a huge advantage in making an objective assessment of a film which has historically divided opinion. The context is important. Made in 1957, it was part of the double feature era when people went to the cinema to see two films, both under 90 minutes. The demand was that a full story be told in that time meaning that far more storytelling ground was often covered then than in modern day films. Certainly here, a longer running time or reduced content would have been a benefit.

It was also made forty years after the end of the First World War in which the film is set. The mass slaughter was being objectively assessed against a backdrop of a "just" second world war, and a futile Korean War which had ended where it started, but at a cost of a million miles. Although essentially an anti-war film , it does not succeed in having universal sentiments which transcend the time.

The first awkwardness is that although the story is set in French lines, a stoutly English and American cast speak and act English. There is always a debate to be had about sub titles, but here the problem is greater than that. Virtually no attempt is made to make the characters, and their setting, feel French. This is so acute that on occasion it is easy to forget whether we are in French, British or America lines.

George Macready is good and well cast as General Mireau, but a donkey leading lions. Yet the opening act offers a crude short hand of a venal, incompetent self-seeking command prepared to sacrifice their men for personal advancement. Kirk Douglas then appears as a more junior commander, Colenel Dax who is cajoled into undertaking an impossible assault on German lines. Dax's lines have no French reference at all, they are the words of an American Hero juxtaposed against a seemingly corrupt, ineffective French Military hierarchy, a narrative which would probably have played well at the time.

The battle scene itself is well handled and convincing as the French launch an attack which is beaten back by the German positions. Yet the pivotal moment when x orders his gunners to fire on their own positions as troops refuse to leave their trenches under withering fire is crassly handled, and a little naive. The tradition of men refusing to follow orders facing death by their own side dates back at least to Roman times and was well practised in the first and second world wars by the Russians and Germans. Absolute obedience to orders IS a military imperative, yet instead we are invited to sympathise with those men who cowered in their trenches letting down those of their comrades who DID follow orders. The artillery officer refuses the order.

Mireau orders that a body of men are summarily shot in the interests of discipline, and Dax, a qualified lawyer, provides his services in defence of the three accused. This act is undoubtedly the strongest as the folly of war is forensically dissected, transcending the moment. But then it falters again as Mireau is threatened with exposure by y for ordering French Artillery to shell their own lines to the Press. The reality is that there was no mass French Press then, the press that did exist was strictly establishment, and there was no chance that the story would have found its way into the paper. Late 1950's mores of American Press practises is superimposed wrongly in time and place.

The summary execution of the token "Cowards" is grandly set, and poignantly portrayed and perhaps the story should have ended there. But instead there is a denouement ( the only thing French about this film!) where Dax's soldiers take some rest and recreation to be entertained by a captured young German woman, later to be Mrs Kubrick in real life. Initially there is a suggestion that she will be gang –raped, but then she sings and unifies then all in a cloying, sentimental ending at odds with the ambitions of the film , but wholly consistent with a commercially acceptable close.

The story is well told, and well acted, and is satisfying with numerous hints of the greatness to come. Its shortcomings, as only Kubrick's second feature are wholly excusable. But the madness of war is more completely explored in "Dr Strangelove", it's visceral side more effectively explored in "Full Metal Jacket" so this is no masterpiece, but a strong part of the Kubrick canon nonetheless.

The Fugitive

Superb Action Thriller, 16 June 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Probably the greatest modern post Hitchcock action thriller. A terrific cast led by two towering performances from Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones makes the most of an intelligent script and superb direction. The 60's television series provided a firm base for the story, but this feature length, densely plotted movie, takes proceedings to new heights of drama, and excellence.

The central premise is as old as the hills. "The wrong that must be righted". Ford playing Dr Richard Kimble is falsely accused of murdering his wife and the forces of good, the Police, become the agents of bad, in trying to recapture him after he escapes in a spectacular train and bus crash, as good an action sequence as you will ever see at the cinema.

Tommy Lee Jones is imperious as Marshall Sam Gerrard charged with tracking him down. Wonderfully gnarled and taciturn, Gerrard starts out simply doing his job, but things change as he not only comes to respect his quarry, but also starts to have doubts about Kimble's guilt.

The first half is all action, particularly the magnificent scene where a cornered Kimble dives down the face of a dam to escape his pursuers. The second half becomes a detective movie as Kimble returns to Chicago to find the real murderer- and clear his name. Full of twists and turns, there is an inevitable showdown at the end, and a text book ending as to how you wrap this sort of story up.

Director Andrew Davis's previous work gave no hint of his ability to deliver such a masterpiece, although his previous effort "Under Siege" will have sharpened up his action skills. And subsequently, he never quite scaled these heights again.


Terrific Action Movie, 16 June 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is no cerebral or arty thriller. It is an old fashioned mix of a great story, good acting, great action and an imposing setting. Director Renny Harlin cut his teeth on big budget movies with the adequate "Die Hard 2". But here he excels, getting the maximum out of every part of this picture to create a hugely satisfying entity.

The opening scene is like a James Bond pre-credit opener. Sly Stallone revels in the part of Gabe Walker as he reluctantly comes out of retirement to assist with a climbing rescue. The scenery is staggering and provides an awesome backdrop to a climbing accident which results in Gabe dropping a fellow climbers girlfriend to her death from a rope between two towering stacks much to the displeasure of her boyfriend. These two are then thrown together when a bank heist goes wrong and they are forced to help the criminals recover the loot which has been scattered across a mountainous landscape which Gabe is uniquely placed to assist them with.

John Lithgow does the evil as the lead criminal, with Craig Fairbrass from English Fire Station Soap "London's Burning" pleasingly villainous as his side-kick, Delmar. Avalanches, shoot outs, white-outs, helicopter rescues and cliff-face peril thrill throughout as the baddies try to get away with their ill-gotten gains. Yes the scenes are set-pieces, and the scene in which Gabe lets his would be female rescue slip through his fingers clichéd in the way it is shot. But it doesn't matter. Without exception the action scenes are riveting and entertaining which is surely what a good slice of cinema going should be about

Robin Hood

Bold But Flawed, 15 May 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The title alone is pretty much all that connects this incarnation of Robin Hood with it's predecessors. A prequel, it could be described as the longest opening credits sequence in history, as it ends pretty much where the conventional story starts. This in itself is not a problem, yet despite much which is commendable ,somehow the end result fails to convince. With Ridley Scott in the Director's Chair, and Russell Crowe leading the line, quality is not in short supply, but this is no "Gladiator".

It opens in France with Richard the Lion Heart besieging a castle and starts well. The action is terrific and Robin is introduced as a humble archer. Scott and Crowe are on firm territory. But once Richard is killed, and Robin assumes a Knight's identity the story starts to lose focus. Strangely, villain and traitor Sir Godfrey, assuredly played by mark Strong, gets back to London comfortably before Robin, Eurostar perhaps? We then have a strong dose of Court Intrigue as King John assumes power and Sir Godfrey plots a French coup. However, although well acted, the epic sweep which I suspect Scott was aiming for fails to convince.

Up in Nottingham , Cate Blanchette is a feisty, if somewhat awkward Maid Marion. 41 in real life, when we first see her ,she appears to be more plausibly the wife of Sir Walter Loxley, rather than his son. And although she is a reasonable match for Crowe, the absence of a traditional youthful Marion lowers the glamour quotient considerably. Friar Tuck, Will Scarlett, the Sheriff of Nottingham and Little John all appear in very minor roles only, which is a pity, as the story would benefit from some more light and shade.

The final act is rushed. Robin suddenly changes from unknown knight to a leader of Northern Earls and Barons in a scene which pretty much parodies Mel Gibson's "Braveheart" speech. They then appear to make a 250 mile dash, unsupported, to rout a French invasion, just as they are landing, in scenes which appear to parody the D- Day landings in "Saving Private Ryan". Bizarrely the English troops are augmented by half naked Nottinghamshire forest children and maid Marion in full face visor to avenge the death of both her father and first husband.

All this is not to say that the film is without merit. The cinematography is superb and the creation of a new back story for Robin is no bad idea, complete with regret for a Christian massacre of Muslims. But ultimately the characters lack warmth and Scott tries too much in the 2hr 20 minute running time. Half that time neither does justice to Robin or King John.

Four Lions

Brave Black Comedy, 10 May 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

Home grown Asian suicide bombers are not an obvious choice for Comedy. But Director Chris Morris makes a surprisingly good job of it in a work which is skilfully written and performed. The best humour has a ring of truth about it. And so it is true here. The plot moves from satire, to slapstick to straight forwards storytelling, and back, at quite a pace leaving the audience to make its own mind up about whether certain bits are intended to be funny, or just turn out that way. That ambiguity is probably the film's strongest suit.

A strong cast of Jihadists struggle to get a team together, struggle to get to a Training Camp in Pakistan from which they are sent home in disgrace, indeed they struggle to complete any task successfully. Yet they are not portrayed as buffoons. Never before has Muslim culture been lampooned like this, yet Morris shows it in such a way that they are Everyman jokes and should not cause offence to anyone.

The fact that this is low budget works to its advantage. The script and acting win and the documentary style filming gives it an authenticity which is vital for the humour to prosper. Riz Ahmed stars as Chief Jihadist Omar, but Nigel Lindsay steals the show as a Caucasian Muslim convert. Preeya Kalidas has a frustrating, underwritten role as Omar's wife. A nurse, and a mother we never really get her insight into the prospect of her husband, and father of her son, embracing martyrdom, even though she pokes fun at an over zealous cleric when he visits their home.

At 100 minutes, the film ends when it needs to, in dramatic and compelling style and does not out stay its welcome. For some this will not be funny enough, for others it will simply be in poor taste. But we should be proud that this sort of comedy simply could not be made in America, and is the first cinematic attempt to deal with a relatively new, and disturbing, social phenomena.

The Harder They Fall

Solid Entertainment, 2 May 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A solid, if unspectacular screen farewell from Humphrey Bogarde as a washed up sports writer, Eddie Willis, drawn into Boxing Match Fixing. Director Mark Robson had a fine reputation before this film in a career which was to go on to enjoy further critical success. He knows how to tell a story, and much is crammed into the running time of 1 hour and 49 minutes.

The area where the film does struggle is in what genre it is operating. It's not really a sports film, as the focus is on match fixing. As a thriller it offers few surprises, and it scarcely scrapes over the line as a Noir. It is at it's best as a straight forwards drama, well acted, and well told.

Bogarde was to die within 18 months of making this film, and his drawn appearance adds a poignancy to his portrayal of an out of work journalist, down on his luck. The mechanics, and dynamics, of boxing chicanery curiously are unchanged half a century later. The same story could be told now. Mike Lane plays Toro Moreno, a Latin American man mountain, who can't fight. Rod Steiger plays Nick Benko the callous leader of the Match Fixing ring.

A few period characteristics stand out to the modern viewer. The detail of the fixing is shown almost documentary style as though it needs to be explained to the viewer. And although the callousness of the fixers is exposed, Willis gives his corrupt earnings to a beaten Moreno at the end in an act of moral atonement, evil cannot be seen to wholly triumph. And women are either briefly portrayed as good time girls, or incidental to proceedings.

I suspect that when this was first released, it was a shocking expose, to 21st Century viewers the corruption is routine. But the story is sufficiently fast paced and tight, and the acting, particularly by Bogarde sufficiently strong ,for it to still stand squarely on its own two feet now

Cemetery Junction

Dead Boring, 20 April 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A deeply disappointing second feature from Ricky Gervais. As a Gervais fan, a veteran of the era, and a champion of British Films, I had high hopes for this film. They were misplaced. At the core is a lack of confidence from both Gervais and co-writer Merchant as to what the film is.

It certainly does not succeed as a comedy. Neither I, nor anyone else, laughed. It does not work as a "kitchen sink " social drama either, the casual racism is awkward and lacks context, and the sexism is stilted. The "coming of age" theme fails. It is clichéd, hackneyed and devoid of youthful spark.

That Gervais and Merchant don't know what to do with the story is evidenced by the fact that it feels like a long 95 minutes too, even though it is about the ideal running time for a film. As for the location, it is supposed to be 70's Reading, it could be anywhere. It has little sense of place. The opening shot has a London Red Double Decker bus ( they were not red in Reading, but it fits for an American release) wending its way along the high street of what looks like an upmarket Oxfordshire Village, not the monochrome monotony of Reading. Some of the Council Houses have modern Upvc windows painfully evident.

The characterisation is dreadful. We have the three young musketeers. A good looking one trying to make something of himself in an Insurance company, a good looking bad boy working in a factory, and a geeky fat kid who makes everyone else laugh – but gets the girl in the end. Bearing in mind that the plot is wafer thin, if the characterisation is not strong you are in trouble. And that is what happens here.Gervais is ineffectual in his fatherly acting role, insurance hot-shot Ralph Fiennes is hopelessly miscast.

An inspired sound- track makes the 90 minutes slightly less painful, but the song selections add nothing to the film itself. The language does not feel authentic and the attitudes and social mores are more 1950's than 1970's. Apart from the music, deciding when this was set would be difficult. A horrible misfire.

The Ghost

An Atmospheric Delight, 16 April 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A solid piece of old fashioned film making by veteran fugitive Director Roman Polanski. A modern noir interpretation of the Robert Harris book, this is a cerebral, rather than visceral, thriller. A 15 certificate in the UK, although Polanski is sure it was 18...............................

The plot is solid. A ghost writer is hired to complete the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister after the previous writer died in mysterious circumstances. From there the "ghost" becomes no longer the recorder of the past, he becomes a dynamic part in it. Pierce Brosnan plays ex Premier Adam Lang in a manner deliberately echoing real ex British Prime Minister. Physically there are similarities, the style is similar, and Lang is facing the threat of War Crimes resulting from his close co-operation with the Americans. Brosnan's performance is adequate, his lurching from an English to mid- Atlantic accent is not.

Ewan McGregor stars as the ghost writer and carries the part well. The overtones of Hitchcock for his part are unmistakable as an innocent man stumbles upon events which are much larger than him. Ironically he doesn't get the sexpot, Lang's "personal assistant" Amelia Bly, seductively played by Kim Cattrall, but does get to bed Lang's wife Ruth, played by Olivia Williams,whose supporting role as the suppressed wife is nicely handled.

Hand held "bucket" shots and fast editing are out. Placing the camera in the right position to let the story unfold is in with the generous running time of 128 mins giving each scene time to breathe and develop. The script is neat and witty, the prospect of a second ghost writer being killed is dismissed on the basis that "they aren't kittens". BMW must be pretty pleased with their product placement too as a key scene unfolds like a promotional shoot for their X5, and it's satellite navigation system in particular.

Polanski's legal difficulties mean that some of the American scenes are not set on location, with Lang's island hideaway there easy to replicate. Instead the strong contrasting urban scenes are set in London. His strength as a Director has always been his ability to tell a story with atmosphere and "Ghost" is strongest on these points. No scene is wasted, the bits all fit together, and a satisfying whole is the result. A real return to form.


Retro Disaster Kitsch, 11 April 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

With Director Roland Emerich you know what you are going to get. Explosions, tidal waves, crashing buildings and catastrophe are his lingua franca. He delivers. Yet as many have pointed out, this is a deeply frustrating film. The storyline is fine, and ambitious, and there is a budget to match. The actors are solid, and the ample two and a half hour running time is more than enough to get the story told, so why the carping? In short, the story is not told well enough.

The trailers allude to Mayan prophesy of the destruction of the world in 2012, yet in the film it only just gets a mention. There is no sense of ancient foretold doom. When the world starts to "turn hot" the global meetings are little more than an excuse to provide location shots to sell the film in different countries, and a sub plot involving the state execution of whistle-blowers poised to reveal all to an unsuspecting public appears, then disappears, to little purpose.

John Cussack is a convincing hero, Danny Glover is hopelessly miscast as the American President in a horribly written role and Thandie Newton is wasted as an incidental love interest for co- hero, Chiwetel Ejiofor. Woody Harleston has a bizarre cameo as a hippy dj who knows what is going on and has the secret map that reveals all, and appears to be the sort of person to keep the kids well away from.

The action scenes themselves are tremendous, but there appears to be little holding it all together. Clunkily episodic, each scene seems riddled with cliché and seems to demand it's own disaster sequence. The characters get insufficient time to win us over and the human interest ephemera like the hero's daughter 's bed wetting are grindingly forced. Worst of all the biggest Disaster Movie Cliché of all – that the dog always survives, is alive and well.

The climax of the film is grotesquely drawn out as man-made arks are launched to save civilisation. Incredibly this causes Emerich to then go into "Poseidon Adventure" mode, in an exercise of wholly unnecessary self indulgence. Inside all of this there is a decent film waiting to get out. The discipline, a word which Emerich does not know the meaning of, of delivering a 90 to 105 minute picture would have produced a much more satisfying, and impactful result.

The end result is closest to 1950's style world disaster / Alien movies, but without the charm.

88 Minutes

A Rare Pacino Dud, 23 March 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A curious offering. The premise that the film's star, a hot-shot forensic psychiatrist, Jack Gramm,is given 88 minutes to live by an unknown assassin on the end of a phone, is a good one. Pacino is a fine actor. The plot twists and turns, is fast paced, and has a dramatic conclusion as the dead ends disappear, and the "reveal" in the final act unfolds. Add in some salacious sado-masochistic sex scenes and you should have the ingredients of a "gritty" psychological thriller. But for some reason the total is considerably less than the sum of the parts.

Part of this is due to the fact that although Pacino is convincing as an experienced psychiatrist, his dyed hair isn't, nor is his ability to womanise with females around a third of his age. Furthermore, Pacino's strength is as an outstanding cerebral actor. Yet he slips into "action-cop" mode on a number of occasions in ways which seem out of character, and inappropriate.

Even the 88 minute premise is played around with as attempts are made upon his life within that time frame. I cannot imagine that the plot will be too popular with feminists either. The gruesome sado-masochistic sexual torture of one victim makes for uncomfortable, and explicit viewing, and the female characters around Pacino serve as little more than eye candy . At 108 minutes overall, the 88 minutes run in real time, the story only just stays within its welcome too. A sure sign that the characterisation has engaged with the audience.

The finale is dramatic, if preposterous, and the action scenes exciting enough. But ultimately this is fairly standard formulaic fare with Pacino having to work far too hard to make up for both the shortcomings of the screenplay, and the underwritten roles of those around him

Shutter Island

A Satisfying Beautifully Crafted Psychological Thriller, 23 March 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A fine psychological thriller which sees both Director Martin Scorsese and lead actors Ben Kingsley and Leo Di Caprio on fine form. The fact that this film was released almost a year after it was finished gave rise to rumours that something was amiss with the artistic merits of this project. Those rumours were misplaced.

The plot is somewhat formulaic. Although the screenplay and direction hint broadly at what is coming next, the delivery and impact of the twists and turns is always compelling. Federal Marshall Daniels, Di Caprio,and sidekick Chuch Aule, played by Mark Ruffalo, arrive on Shutter Island , a secure psychiatric facility, to investigate the escape of a patient as storm clouds gather in the sky. Yet as his investigations advance, so questions about why he is there, what is happening at the facility and what his role is mount. Scorsese reprises his use of the weather, nature and scenery, which he skilfully exploited in his remake of Cape Fear to great effect.

Kingsley is superb as Psychiatrist Dr Cawley. His measured and assured tones perfect for the role. Even when Daniels blows up his car he simply remarks that he was "quite fond of that car", one of the few moments of humour in what is quite a dark film. Set in 1954, and with flashbacks to both wartime, and personal , trauma, there is an air of "other worldliness" about proceedings ,which has an insidious cumulative effect of all pervading paranoia. Robbie Robertson's foreboding score excels in supporting that discordant atmosphere.

The two hour and twenty minute running time never, drags and climaxes with a convincing and powerful final act with directing and acting talent at full throttle. All is revealed, contributing to a satisfying finale whilst still leaving a few elements of doubt. Recommended.

Green Zone

The Best Iraq Film To date, 18 March 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A tremendous Iraq thriller with a brave and contemporary storyline. It is a story, and not a history. Yet it does skilfully blend a number of important political and historical themes into a fiction. Director Paul Greengrass delivers the tale superbly, Matt Damon shines as the soldier who learns too much. Brendan "In Bruges" Gleeson is marvellous in a supporting role as a CIA officer. When Baghdad is "secured", the hunt for WMD's start, and as that search proves consistently fruitless, questions start to be asked, and it is Damon who is the literal and figurative means for asking them.

The plot revels in upsetting conventional stereotypes. The Americans are the good guys AND the bad guys. The Iraqis are simply trying to survive. And the press are neither good nor bad, just innocent dupes. Baghdad is convincingly portrayed as an anarchic hell-hole, the soldiers as decent men simply trying to do the job. However the Politicians fare less well.

It remains a mystery as to why America, a country which has been the economic and technological powerhouse of the world for a century, is so hopeless at Diplomacy and Foreign Affairs. The backdrop of an Administration which went to war with little appreciation of the country it was dealing with, and no appreciation of what to do once the war was over, is witheringly parodied . A puppet Iraqi leader who "less than ten Iraqis had ever heard of" is installed, and the American administrative presence is headed by a cynical functionary with no sympathy for the country at all "and a handful of Washington interns". The brutality of the American Military, replacing the brutality of Saddam makes for unsettling viewing.

Unsurprisingly, with Greengrass at the helm the action sequences are dynamic, realistic, and authentic. The hand held camera work is used effectively, unlike in the "Hurt Locker" where it is used because nothing else interesting is going on. Damon, as Chief Warrant Officer Miller, has to perform a role in mechanical plot terms which requires suspension of disbelief to great length, and for War Film purists, this will rankle. It is true that his freedom of action, movement and access bears no relation to the day to day reality of that role in real life. But hey, it's a story, and a good one.

I doubt that this film will play well to an American audience which is neither particularly bothered about Iraq, or is bothered about finding out much about it anyway. It's natural constituency is the more sophisticated British and European markets. But it is to the enormous credit of both Universal that they made this, and Matt Damon that he fronted it. It took a long while before America was prepared for verite stories about Vietnam, and subsequently it is those that are remembered. No doubt that same cycle will have to be lived for Iraq too.

Death Wish

A nasty, shallow, base film., 27 February 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

I saw this, on release, 36 years ago. Time has not been particularly kind to it, with Director Michael Winner's career having been ultimately defined by this work. It was about the first, and certainly the most prominent, modern Revenge story transplanting a formula which was well worn in Western Films into an Urban setting.

It neatly tapped into justified contemporary fears that some major cities, particularly in America, were degenerating into lawless cesspits. Furthermore , sexual mores were loosening with the widespread success of Pornographic Movie blockbuster "Deep Throat" relaxing public attitudes to what sexual content was acceptable on screen. The ten minute rape scene is still amongst the most harrowing in mainstream cinema, and is there to shamelessly attract the voyeuristic as is the frequent violence.

Where the movie succeeded was in tapping into the prevailing zeitgeist that some cities were spiralling out of control "and something needed to be done", whilst delivering a level of physical and sexual violence as entertainment which was at the bounds of what was permitted purely to attract an audience. No doubt this irony was lost on the makers. It also explored the mob "eye for an eye" ethos, as confidence in the authorities waned ( the Vietnam War was limping to a humiliating ending for the United States).

It fails because the acting is poor and the story clunky in the extreme. Winner is not a good Director. He is an upper class aesthete who thinks that he is pandering to the "mobs" taste by presenting the film in the way he does. But crucially he does not like people and lacks the common touch. In the equally violent "Dirty Harry" series Director Don Siegel and lead actor Clint Eastwood wade through a similar body count, but succeed. Why? Because the characters feel real. Winner simply uses characters as a means to deliver a product.

That frequent and graphic revenge violence and a graphic rape are big pulls for many is confirmed by the commercial success of "Death Wish" and the subsequent three sequels. But beyond that there is nothing. Charles Bronson, as Paul Kersey, shoots people, and that is about it. Hope Lang, as Joanna Kersey is shown in her nightwear, and then being beaten to death. Their daughter, played by Kathleen Tolan is the rape victim, and that is your lot for women in this picture, a misogyny which is a trademark both of Winner as a persona and a film Director.

That the three assailants themselves get away, whilst sundry other bad guys "get it", is an attempt at some form of deliberate moral ambiguity to temper the natural audience enthusiasm for Paul Kersey's actions. But it is no device to question his actions, more a vehicle for saying that all bad guys "deserve it" anyway.

A nasty, shallow, base film.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Bloody Brilliant, 20 February 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

A stellar ensemble delivers a cinematic delight as Director Tim Burton delivers his trademark unique twists to this traditional tale. The dark cinematography, and cartoon like CGI, creates a wonderfully chaotic, and grim 19th Century London. The music and lyrics are the work of veteran songs smith Stephen Sondheim, in a production where a significant part of the plot is sung through, which may put some people off. However I found it a joy to have a high quality musical score underwriting a good story, well told.

Johnny Depp plays the eponymous role and is fast becoming the leading actor of his generation. His London accent is quite good, if alarmingly close to that of Jack Sparrow, from Pirates of the Caribbean. His charming, but deranged Barber is a wonderful creation, which he has much fun with. His Mistress is played by a sleazily over the top Helena Bonham-Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen has a marvellous cameo as a cod-Italian travelling snake oil salesman. Judge Turpin, the "baddie" is inevitably played by Alan Rickman who excels in a small role, ably assisted by the portly Timothy Spall, his sidekick.

Essentially a Musical Horror film, Burton revels in the blood drenched plot with plenty of humorous visual gags to assuage the slaughter which unfold before us. The macabre and gory detail might be too much in less experienced hands but the artificial dreamlike quality of the Cinematography steers the audience away from the verite which if portrayed in a realistic setting would have been very uncomfortable.

A fine effort from one of the most original and imaginative Directors working today.

Green Street Hooligans 2

Dire, Dismal, Drivel, 18 February 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

As a veteran of the heyday of the English Football Hooliganism era , I found the original "Green Street" lamentable. Watered down, ill-advised, inaccurate, it was a shameless attempt to introduce the subject specifically to an American audience. Nothing though quite prepared me for this sequel, as cynical an exercise in film making it would be difficult to imagine apart from, "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakwell".

Only one original cast member remains, and the story is set in a prison, which provides the confined space for West Ham and Millwall hooligans, doing prison terms, to confront each other. It unfolds as a 94 minute cage fight with multiple attacks, revenge attacks, one-on-ones, firm on firm etc. If it had been packaged as a sort of 18 rated WWF Bout, then it would have some reason for existing, but it is not, and does not.

The English prison is clearly an American one, with no sense of an English Institution at all, so it loses any authenticity as a "Prison Film" with both British and American audiences. Decent Prison Warder is played by Arthur Mason, a fine actor, who had a long stay in the British TV Series about the London Fire Service, "London's Burning". He spends almost the entire film with his mouth agape, presumably at the dross which is swirling around him.

Actrss Marina Sirtis plays a corrupt Head Warder in a curiously written role, the cod script almost demands some raunchy "prisoner on screw" sex action, but it never comes. A mass football match and fight at the end is so formulaic and contrived, it is pretty much unwatchable. So, not a prison or football hooligan film, the market for this is restricted to those who simply enjoy watching people getting beaten up, but is devoid of any other merit.


A Musical Joy, 7 February 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

A hugely enjoyable screen musical telling the story of the rise of all female, all black singing trio, "The Dreamgirls". An affectionate pastiche of the story of the "Supremes", a stellar cast portrays several characters contemporary to that era. For Berry Gordy see James Foxx, for Diana Ross see Beyonce Knowles, for James Brown see Eddy Murphy and for an Etta James / Florence Ballard/ Aretha Franklin composite see Jennifer Hudson. Director William Condon was shrewdly picked acknowledging his previous success as the writer for screen musical success "Chicago".

An overwhelmingly black cast tells the story, set in Detroit, in two acts. Pre 1970 as the Dreamgirls struggle to make it, and post 1970, when the pitfalls of stardom bite. Adapted from the musical which was "sung through", this version is predominantly spoken with the original songs as stand-alone pieces. The songs themselves are superb, penned by Henry Krieger, predominantly with Tom Eyen. They effectively recall the sounds , songs, and themes of the time whilst updating the arrangements to resonate with a more contemporary idea of R&B. And all this is played out against a backdrop of Race Riots and racism.

Danny Glover is wonderful as the manager who gets the group noticed only to be out hustled by smooth talking James Foxx as Curtis Taylor Jnr. But it is Jenifer Hudson as Effie White who steals the show. Her raw talent has to defer to the svelte good looks of Beyonce's Deena Jones, and her portrayal of the angst of first losing lead vocal, then her place in the band and her livelihood is compelling.

Although the social context of this story is well made, it is the music and performances which dominate. Anyone with a love of the Motown / Philly sounds will love this.

Edge of Darkness

An Effective Re-Make, 7 February 2010

Author: gary-444 from United Kingdom

As an aficionado of the British TV Series I approached this with some trepidation. But as a feature film it works well, and is head and shoulders above standard Hollywood fare. At 117 minutes it is just over a third of the running time of the TV series, inevitably a dense twisting tale is dramatically simplified. The Americanisation of the story is crass, with lazy stereotypes inserted, but the fundamentals work well enough.

Director Martin Campbell worked on the original series, with subsequent credits for the likes of Goldeneye, Casino Royale, Mask of Zorro, Legend of Zorro and Vertical Limit. That experience provides some memorable set-pieces which define this film, as opposed to the series which was defined by the plot twists.

Mel Gibson stars as Police Officer, Thomas Craven who unravels the mystery of why his daughter was murdered as she visited his home. His performance is full of ambiguity. The role demands that the father uncovers the story by determination and skill, not by brute force, but Mel cannot resist disarming a man half his age with his bare hands, and kicking his way out of a toilet block to shake off a "tail." And all this from a man who looks clearly past the retirement age for a Police Officer.

The heavily abridged narrative plot changes the ambiance of the original from taut and brooding ,to action packed and pacey, some key aspects of the original are devalued as a consequence. The leader of the mysterious "peoples" group, some of whose members have been killed in action, is reduced to a baffling minor role, and the establishment cover up is functional rather than compelling. Ray Winstone is superb as a shady Secret Service Mr Fixit.

Nonetheless the story still strikes a chord a quarter of a century on, Governments who cannot be trusted, and venal amoral multi-national corporations still abound. "Edge of Darkness" succeeds because despite all the drawbacks, you cannot keep a good story , well told, down.