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Dog Soldiers (2002)
"If you go into the woods tonight...."
I will admit to being somewhat sceptical when I sat down to watch this, but within about twenty minutes the auditorium was chuckling to the witty banter of Sean Pertwee and his squad of soldiers who find themselves stuck on an exercise in a remote Scottish forest when they'd sooner be in the wardroom sinking a few beers while watching Germany beat England at football. When their fireside banter is ruined by a missile shaped like a dead cow; things start to liven up and what ensues is a race against time for their very survival - there are more dangerous creatures in the forest than red squirrels! Kevin McKidd keeps the troop focussed at they face their foes with grim determination and their black humour prevails pretty much throughout their ordeal. The special effects are a little bit "Dr. Who" but Neil Marshall ensures the lighting and sound folks do their level best to keep the suspense going for a long as possible and at no stage does it hang about: it's end to end action with a tinge - a soupçon - of horror as the story builds to an enjoyable denouement! On the big screen again now in late 2020 - not sure why - but if you get chance, and you like your horror unsophisticated and funny, then this is definitely for you.
All My Life (2020)
The things you see in red speedos when you haven't got an harpoon....
This film reminded me a bit of one of those "X Factor" episodes where the contestant has a really sad back story that you immediately sympathise with, but who then goes on to have precisely no talent whatsoever with their chosen song. Well, this is a sort of cinematic equivalent. Jessica Rothe is Jenn, quietly having a beer in a sports bar with her two girlfriends when three lads come to chat them up. One of them, slightly embarrassed by this, heads to the bar and she duly tags along. Immediately, they seem to hit it off and soon she and Sol (Harry Shum Jnr - "Glee" - shouldn't/couldn't sing but could dance a bit) are an item; love blossoms and wedding bells start to ring - until, that is, he becomes seriously ill and it becomes evident that the couple's yellow brick road might be tragically short. This true story is horrible - a grim realisation of a how sickness is no respecter of age or aspiration - but the acting is almost as horrible. The sentiment is gloopy and neither lead offers any real depth of character to their roles. The script is, itself, straight out of an episode of "Glee" (there is even some singing to Oasis' "Don't Look Back In Anger"!) and overall, I found this depiction of the whole subject just too weak to do justice to the theme or to sustain 90-odd minutes on a big screen. It's an engaging enough story but one that really belongs on the telly.
The Flying Missile (1950)
This submarine only has one speed - slow ahead!
I don't know about you, but I always found Glenn Ford a rather dull actor to watch. He wasn't bad, just unremarkable - and this maritime adventure sort of confirms that. He is a determined (bolshy) US Naval Commander who is convinced of the merits of launching missiles from submarines - despite scepticism from the upper echelons - and so sets out to coax, cajole and bulldoze his theories through. Viveca Lindfors "Karin" provides the love interest, and indirectly some of the conflict as her father is a devout pacifist. The end result is never in jeopardy and to a certain extent the film smacks of willy-waving at the Soviets in the immediate (1950) aftermath of WWII - with scant regard to fact. I tend to like submarine adventure films (usually because they are exciting and there is normally an absence of slushy love scenes) but this doesn't really satisfy either of my criteria and so whilst it's not rotten, it's almost as bad - it's bland.
Été 85 (2020)
Love's young dream hits the skids...
Félix Lefebvre (who reminded me, here, of a young Charlie Hunnam in "Queer as Folk" (1999)) is sixteen year old "Alex" who takes his friend's dinghy out for a sail and gets caught in a thunderstorm that capsizes his boat. Luckily for him, Benjamin Voisin ("David") is nearby and tows him ashore and into his mother's recuperative bathtub! The next six weeks are now depicted in a cleverly interwoven mix of current and recent storylines as we realise that a tragedy has occurred and that the two young men had something of a relationship during the intervening period. On the face of it - it's just a gay coming of age drama, but Levebvre has an intensity and innocence about him. His performance as the young man who falls so completely and utterly in love is heart-rending, sincere and stylishly captured by the photography - and must remind all of us of that first, inexplicable, "love" that we may well still recall to this day. To be fair, it is easy to see why he fell for the charismatic, exciting "David" - who offers him profound changes to his life, and to the rather linear options that most of us faced at 16 - job or school - but the story is more nuanced than that and though it is certainly not without some fairly substantial holes and inconsistencies, it sort of works. The Cure's "In Between Days" and an oddly effective "Sailing" from Rod Stewart provide a remarkably potent soundtrack that resonates not just the moment, but the sentiment too. Not, maybe, Ozon's finest work but I suspect we may see more roles from his young star in the future.
Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (1988)
Beautiful cinema in every respect.
I saw this again on a big screen yesterday and wow - what a magical piece of cinema it is! Beginning in post war Italy, we are in the small Sicilian town of Giancaldo where young "Totó" ( a magnificent Salvatore Cascio) hangs about the local cinema, entranced by what it has to offer and badgering his tolerant friend, the projectionist "Alfredo" (Philippe Noiret) in the process. His father went off to fight on the Russian front and has yet to return, leaving him at home with his mother and younger sister and their relationship, though loving, is lively as the young boy neglects his school work - and frequently falls asleep during mass, not ideal when he is supposed to be an altar boy - and his mother tries to make do in time of considerable austerity. The cinema - and his friend there - soon become an obsession that gives the boy's life diversion, meaning and fulfilment - and induction that leads to a successful movie career in the present day from which this reflection is told when his modern day self learns of the death of "Alfedo" and he lies in bed reminiscing. It's divided, roughly, into three phases, my favourite being the early story featuring the younger character which is full of humour and pathos. The priest acting as censor, ringing his bell any time anyone got even remotely near a passionate clinch (Heaven only knows what he'd have made of "Game of Thrones"!) shows us just how the influential the Catholic church was in the evolution of the cinema - not just Italian made, at that - and thereby in the evolution of society and attitudes towards love and sex in a poignant but comical fashion. The story continues with the developing relationship between the young boy, his mentor and his cinematic passion with joy and tragedy ensuing as he reaches his early manhood and discovers girls, love, rejection and his National Service... Cascio is a revelation - and I am rarely fond of child actors. He carries off the characterisation of the mischievous, enquiring and ultimately loyal young boy to perfection; Noiret is fantastic as is Leopoldo Trieste as "Father Adelfio" and the photography from Blasco Giurato does wonderful justice to an excellent, gentle, story from director Giuseppe Tornatore that is superbly accompanied by a rather different style of Ennio Morricone score that subtly and generously envelops the whole thing. A thing of beauty, this is. Truly.
Teacher's Pet (1958)
Gable and Day have some chemistry here....
Clark Gable is great here as the hard-nosed newspaper editor who lives his life by the seat of his pants and doesn't usually care whom he offends as he gets his paper out each day. Imagine his horror when his boss tells him that he must work with a university professor - and a female one at that - to help her run her journalism class. Instead of going in all guns blazing, he decides to enter her class incognito and soon we have quite a charming little battle of the sexes as the two - Doris Day being the professor "Erica Stone" vie for the upper hand as, despite themselves, they begin to bond... It's got plenty going for it, a tight script and two good, strong, performances augmented by a few fun contributions from Gig Young. Nothing too unpredictable here, but a good example of stars being exactly that - well worth a watch.
The Forty-Year-Old Version (2020)
Just like life: 90% dull and boring; 10% magic and sparkle...
Radka is a playwright who has somewhat fallen from grace since her first success and as she approaches 40 is having a sort of mid-life crisis - what is she about? What's it all for? How can she become fulfilled? Well - indefatigable, she goes about setting herself up as a rapper and it becomes quite clear to "D" - the young base track layer that she has some skill at it. He even presuades her to do a live gig so perhaps her rather hum-drum, routine, existence might be about to change for the better... ? Well, simultaneously her agent "Archie" (Peter Kim) is trying to get the rather seedy, gay casting-couch merchant "J Whitman" (Reed Birney) to produce her play and the film juggles her rapping and writing aspirations set against her day-job teaching a disparate bunch of students with attitude and talent - but both need to be controlled! At it's best, this is great - the rapping is potent and poetic; the comedy can be funny - if somewhat predictable; and she is an engaging and likeable character. It is, however, far too long and auteur Blank struggles to maintain the pace and focus of the film for much of what just turns out to be a fairly ordinary tale of a single woman trying to recalibrate. I enjoyed it, but it really could have been doing with a more objective hand at the helm.
Sophisticated animation that has stood the test of time well...
A bit like looking back and wondering why "Space 1999" didn't quite work out that way - "Akira" is a film that it seems odd to watch one year after it is set, and thirty odd years after Tokyo is supposed to have been decimated by WWIII. The chronology doesn't really matter, though - the standard and complexity of the storyline is detailed and the characterisations remarkably engaging. When "Tetsuo" is injured in a motor bike accident he is taken to a top secret facility where he begins to comprehend the extent (and responsibilities) of his newly discovered awesome telekinetic powers. His friend "Kaneda" runs a violent gauntlet of risks in order to try and rescue his, by now, rather wayward friend and soon the battle lines are drawn for a momentous struggle between him and the ambiguous, mysterious, long since buried, "Akira". It is over 2 hours long, but none the less compelling for that - the story moves along speedily and is not without some humour and even a smidge of romance as it builds to a wonderfully colourful denouement. The standard of synchronisation between the dialogue and the animation is noticeably perfect and the definition is equally pristine. One for the big screen, if you can, definitely....
Emergency Call (1952)
"Your blood could save the child's life".... "To take it now, though, could possibly kill you..."
It's quite tough to be objective about this - it is a well made feel-good film with a worthy cause and sterling efforts from all concerned as they try to track down a blood donor who can save the life of a desperately ill child. Simultaneously, the police - Jack Warner and Bruce Seton - are on the trail of a dodgy boxing promoter who is trying to manipulate the career of "Tim Mahoney" (former World Light Heavyweight Champ Freddie Mills) and also of some other recalcitrant miscreants. It's got the smallest of budgets, but a surprisingly solid cast of British stalwarts from Dandy Nicholls and Anthony Steel - the well meaning doctor - to Sid James, Thora Hird and Eric Pohlmann and they all combine to make this a perfectly watchable tug at the heart strings mixed in with the usual detective yarn. If you come across it, then you ought to spare it 90 minutes - you'll feel better afterwards.
The Ten Commandments (1923)
Stylish silent spectacular...
Essentially two separate stories, this shows well the aspirational brilliance of Cecil B. De Mille as well as his complete inability to condense anything! The first part depicts the Exodus and Leviticus books from the Old Testament - the story of Moses leading the slaves from their somewhat brutal existence in Egypt and the passing down of the Ten Commandments to the people as they build the great Tabernacle. The second part modernises the application of the Commandments and applies them to a family in 1920's America with two brothers who vie for the affections of the same girl whilst one seeks fame and fortune, the other a more contented existence. Both stories exhort the import of the Commandments as the basic tenets of human decency and values - and shy not from visiting severe punishments on those who transgress. The former story includes a wonderful score and, for the time, some pretty impressive special effects - especially the parting of the Red Sea. The second story is less impressive - more a slightly over-moralistic tale of greed and avarice that was hardly unusual then (or is now). The budget - some $1.8m was enormous for the time and the scale of the cinematography, extras etc. in phase one is impressive and convincing; the acting comes into it's own a bit more in the second act - with Richard Dix and Rod La Rocque playing the brothers well, and Nita Naldi shining as the Eurasian temptress "Sally Lung". As with so many silent films, it's all in their faces - and this one doesn't disappoint - even if there is a little too much theatrical gesturing and posturing now and again. On balance I probably prefer the 1956 iteration, again by De Mille, but there is little in it and if you do get a spare 2¼ hours then this is certainly a superb example of grand cinema from a visionary director.
A genuine jumper...!
This is the first horror film I've seen for ages that actually sent the occasional shiver down my spine. I'm not quite sure why it's been re-released onto the big screen late in 2020, but I'm glad I made the effort. Ethan Hawke ("Ellison Oswalt") made his name ten years earlier as an author who wrote a book "Kentucky Blood" which dealt with the murder of an entire family and uncovered evidence overlooked by the police - much to their chagrin! Ever since, though, he has never managed to replicate his success and so now, together with wife "Tracy" (Juliet Rylance) and their two kids, takes up residence in a bungalow that was previously owned by a family found hanged from the bough of a tree in their own garden. Now, I don't know about you - but that would probably have been my cue to skedaddle, but he perseveres and when he discovers some really intriguing home movies in the attic, then starts hearing things go bump in the night the mystery deepens as does his dependence on the whisky bottle. Scott Derrickson uses light and sound eerily well and manages to create a genuine and ascending sense of peril here; Hawke is on form and as we gradually see the pattern emerging - with the help of the seemingly dozy, but actually pretty savvy local deputy James Ransone - the film gathers quite a decent pace to it. I liked the ending too...
Honest Thief (2020)
Solid crime caper from Liam Neeson.
Liam Neeson has a voice that could melt chocolate - but that really isn't enough to overcome the fairly fundamental plot holes in this Swiss cheese of a film. Having successfully robbed provincial American banks of some $9m, he goes to a storage facility to rent some space to store his ill-gotten gains whereupon he falls for the rather feisty Kate Walsh ("Annie") who runs the establishment. Skip forward a year and he determines to buy a home and settle down with her. To ensure a clean start, he calls the FBI to own up to his criminal past, return the money and to do a deal. When he eventually manages to convince them he isn't a crank, he discovers that the calibre of the agents sent to treat with him are less than J. Edgar might have required, and soon he and his girlfriend are on the run from agents Jai Courtney and Anthony Ramos who have other plans for his loot. It's a fairly bog-standard action adventure with little in the way of jeopardy - of course Neeson is an ex-Marine with loads of ninja skills that actually make you wonder just how many ordinary American citizens have a better military training than those who actually wear an uniform! Courtney always seems to appear to have been poured into his clothes, and whilst easy enough on the eye he is a terrible actor and his conscious-troubled sidekick Ramos adds little to this either, but I still quite enjoyed it - just don't ask me what it was all about next month.
The Last Witch Hunter (2015)
"Try doing that with an iPad"
Following the defeat of their wicked queen many, many years ago, an uneasy truce exists between witches and man - the former being permitted to co-exist so long as they don't use their magic. Vin Diesel is "Kaulder" the last of a breed of witch hunters; their job being to enforce this truce and to bring to justice any transgressors. Aided by a "Dolan" - a human priest - he has managed to survive for over 800 years until his 36th one - Sir Michael Caine - is attacked and cursed. Now he must try to break this curse and free his friend before it kills him. As his investigations deepen, he discovers that the race is now on to stop the evil witch queen for resurrecting and wreaking havoc on all humanity! It's quite a fun fantasy adventure held together fairly well by Diesel and Rose Leslie ("Chloe") with the odd intervention from a curiously cast Elijah Wood as the 37th "Dolan" and, of course, Caine. The story is pretty formulaic, and there is practically no doubt about the outcome - but the effects are quite decent, as is the imagination of writer Cory Goodman in weaving some less obvious threads into the story. There are far more sophisticated, better crafted, fantasy adventures out there, but this one is perfectly watchable nonetheless.
The Dark Tower (2017)
Harry Potter meets Clint Eastwood!
What a pity! This is a good, solid Stephen King story that this film - despite two potentially strong lead actors - simply fails to ignite. To be fair to the young hero "Jake" (Tom Taylor), he tries quite hard as the youngster troubled by vivid and terrifying dreams of a tower and a mysterious man in black, but once we get past the establishing psycho-babble, the adventure story featuring Matthew McConaughey ("Walter") and Idris Elba ("Roland") relies too heavily on some mediocre special effects and some even worse dialogue. There is practically no menace or even the mildest of threat, and all too often it sort of hovers in the realms of a fantasy western lacking in jeopardy and style. I suspect Taylor has more to give, and we know the other principals do - but this is just an unmemorable film for the telly at Christmas.
An inheritance nobody would want...
Every now and then I watch a film and wonder how on earth the writer (in this case Matthew Kennedy) could ever come up with the story... This is undoubtedly one of those films! Lily Collins is "Lauren", a high-flying Assistant District Attorney whose wealthy father dies of an heart attack. He leaves the bulk of his fortune to his wife (Connie Nielsen) and cute Congressman son (Chace Crawford) but she receives a surprisingly derisory sum and a mysterious key. When she goes to investigate, nothing can prepare her for what she will find; nor for the consequences of this, frankly preposterous, discovery. For any mystery to be successful, it must have some anchor in plausibility, and boy does this not. The supposedly intelligent, savvy, daughter makes such a surprising series of choices - risky, naive and downright stupid at times - that her character is compromised from way too early on to make this much more than a muddle of a film with Simon Pegg as an extremely unlikely, and unconvincing, protagonist. Worth a watch on a dark, wet, winter's night I suppose - but aim low.
Noose for a Lady (1953)
Dennis the detective
Rona Anderson ("Jill") is convicted of poisoning her husband and with only days to go before she faces the drop; her cousin Dennis Price "Simon" arrives on the scene and determines to prove her innocence. The story is incidental to a couple of decent performances from Price and Ronald Howard ("Dr. Evershed") as well as a solid supporting cast - Esma Cannon and Charles Lloyd-Pack amongst them - who keep the rather standard plot moving along towards it's rather predictable conclusion. One for fans of Mr. Price.
Burnt Evidence (1954)
Jane Hylton is "Diana" who is cheating on her husband, the struggling carpenter "Jack" (Duncan Lamont). He finds out and when his workshop mysteriously catches fire, the police aren't exactly sure whose body is found amongst the ruins. Sadly, the plot moves glacially slowly, with some seriously verbose dialogue and neither lead offers much to get our interest going as we trundle on through a pretty formulaic investigation that reveals that none of these characters are particularly attractive. The production is clearly at the lower end of the budget scale; with little much of merit to recommend it. I'd give this one a miss, I'm afraid.
Really poor title for a superior British crime noir.
I reckon this has to be the best outing for Ann Todd ("Frankie") that I've seen. Here she plays the girlfriend of Eric Portman ("Eddie") who is really a hangman, but who doesn't want her to know so pretends to be a salesman to explain his frequent, and often overnight, absences from their home on a barge he has inherited. It's during one of those absences that she finds herself the focus of the unwarranted attentions of the rather uncouth "Olaf" (Maxwell Reed) and... Compton Bennett has created a clever piece of cinema here; we are given much of the bones of the story but have to come to a few of our own conclusions as tragedy ensues. According to the BBFC, the film wasn't cut at the time but it doesn't look like it - there are gaps that sort of make sense, but there are quite a few that clearly don't and that disjoints the narrative and occasionally spoils what is otherwise a complex tale. Well worth a gander.
Chance of a Lifetime (1950)
Out with the old and in with the new - well, sort of!
Basil Radford ""Dickinson" runs a small foundry that makes farming implements in post-war Britain that has it's fair share of disgruntled employees. When they threaten a walk out after the stroppy "Bolger" (Geoffrey Keen) gets the push, he offers to let them try their hand at running the business instead. What ensues is a depiction of their valiant attempt to make a go of it, and what makes it interesting - aside from some characterful performances from Radford, Niall MacGinnis, Kenneth More and a smartly paced dialogue - is that Bernard Miles doesn't present us with a rose-coloured "co-op" success story. They have plenty of glitches, contretemps and the ending is clever and fulfilling, without being cloyingly sentimental. It's emblematic of the start of a new era of industrial relations peppered with some good comedic lines and a genuinely plausible, collaborative, perspective. Definitely worth watching.
Hell Is Sold Out (1951)
Hell has been remaindered....
Regrettably, there is precious little going for this rather shallow story of a writer "Valerie" (Mai Zetterling) who publishes a book in the name of an author long thought to be deceased. When he - "Danges" (Herbert Lom) shows up, not best pleased, at his home in which she now lives, she has to placate him and that's where the thing falls apart a bit. Lom just isn't a credible romantic actor - and when pitched up against a very young, butter-wouldn't-melt Richard Attenborough ("Pierre") the credibility and storyline starts to stretch just a tad too thin... Michael Anderson seems undecided as to what genre this film aspires to - it's neither funny nor dramatic - it just, well, is....
Daughter of Darkness (1948)
Misunderstood or malevolent - or both?
Hounded from her home by suspicious, gossiping church-women, "Emily" (Siobhan McKenna) - who has quite a mesmerising effect on men - arrives at an English farm where she immediately causes problems; especially with "Bess Stanforth" (Anne Crawford) whose suspicions really take off when "Dan" (Maxwell Reed) is found dead in a barn. The story is well paced, it touches on religious bigotry, jealousy and the fickleness of men and decent supporting contributions from Honor Blackman, Barry Morse and Liam Redmond make this a better than average B-feature well worth a watch.
Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)
Nobody likes a clever-clogs!
This is an enjoyable Holmes-ian tale depicting how the young, frankly, arrogant and supercilious "Sherlock Holmes" (Nicholas Rowe) is sent to school where he alienates just about everyone except the rather geeky "John H. Watson" (Alan Cox) and his fencing master "Rathe" (Anthony Higgins). Narrated, stylishly, by Sir Michael Hordern in the guise of the older "Watson" they are soon involved in an intriguing investigation into the mysterious deaths of folks who might be caught up with an ancient Egyptian curse - the cult of Rametep - as well as one of the few scenarios where our sleuth has any sort of love interest - in this case Sophie Ward as "Elizabeth Hardy". The characters have almost Dickensian names - "Cragwitch" (Freddie Jones) and "Waxflatter" (Nigel Stock) and Barry Levinson keeps the adventure moving along well with plenty to keep it interesting (though I think it's just a shade - 15 minutes - too long). Good costumes, sets and a jaunty score from Bruce Broughton all add to this fun, feel-good film for youngsters.
Women of Twilight (1952)
There's no such thing as a good turn...
Dora Bryan's voice always appeared on screen at least half an hour before she did - and she's just as personable here in this gritty tale of a pregnant chanteuse, "Vivianne" (Rene Ray) who rents a room in a house while her lover - the crooning Laurence Harvey ("Jerry") is being tried for murder. It doesn't take long for her to discover that their landlady "Nelly" (Freda Jackson) has a pretty sinister ulterior motive and habitually preys on women down on their luck - and she determines she is not going to be her latest victim. Gordon Parry has done quite an efficient job with Sylvia Rayman's play - and for the early 1950s, the rather sordid subject matter is probably more remarkable than any of the performances - though Jackson is quite menacing and Lois Maxwell delivers quite strongly too. It's certainly worth a watch as, embellished or not, it does depict a seedier side of life that is pretty unpleasant. You may also recognise the song "I Can't Believe that You're gone", too.
Enola Holmes (2020)
Engaging tale of sleuthing with a twist.
This is quite a fun Holmes-ian adventure story that reminded me a bit of "Young Sherlock Holmes" (1985). Millie Bobby Brown is "Enola Holmes" the younger sister of her famous sleuth of a brother. When her mother unexpectedly absconds, she finds herself destined for a finishing school and abhorred by the prospect escapes and heads to London to search for her mother. On the way, she encounters the young "Lord Tewkesbury" (Louis Partridge) who is on a different sort of, and far more dangerous, adventure - together they must unravel a dangerous conspiracy that goes straight to the heart of the Kingdom. It's got plenty to enjoy, the two leads gel well and together with Helena Bonham-Carter as her mother, the occasional appearance from Henry Cavill and Sam Claflin as her elder brothers as well as a seemingly much shorter (than in "Goblet of Fire" (2005), anyway) Frances de la Tour as the young peer's grandmother it moves along quite nicely with a certain charm, albeit it a slightly precocious one. This is a good looking yarn that also takes us on a journey that helps "Enola" discover a little bit more about herself - a clever, intuitive,15 year old girl in an all male world she is determined not to be trampled by.
Not a hint of Hitch...
I reckon we ought to set up a panel of worthy people to whom producers must apply when they want to make a remake of a classic - "King Kong" or "Psycho" or... "Rebecca". If they cannot convince them that there is any point in a "reimagining", then they don't get to make it...! That way, we might be spared sterile, charm free efforts like this from Ben Wheatley. True, the camera loves both Lily James and Armie Hammer, and Dame Kristin Scott Thomas is always a formidable screen presence; but this just lacks any sense of suspense or menace. The costumes and scenery are all beautiful, but these depictions of Dame Daphne du Maurier's torn and tortured characters are as flat as a flounder with the dialogue frequently over-forced to the point that I wanted to cringe. The effects are really pretty poor - especially at the end, too, and all in all it has straight to tv written all over it!