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It's very easy to figure out why The New Professionals was a dud, at
least in New Zealand: it didn't just follow in the footsteps of the
original, it followed Bodyguards, which out-Professionaled the show
considerably with its boss-and-two-agents formula. Cmdr McIntyre was a
latter-day George Cowley: tough on his team, but one who would defend
them to the death against others. The shadow the show cast was huge.
Well, not as huge as it should have been in the UK. Here, it was networked in prime-time. It was even marketed in the promos as, 'They are the professionals.' Someone else obviously noticed the difference. We were fortunate enough not to have this show released in different regions at different time slots.
It was the high production values that sealed the deal for me. As other reviewers have noted, it followed the great British tradition of the one-hour actioner, but blended in personal elements at the same time. There's a slight undercurrent of something developing between Liz and Ian, though that never distracted one from the real plot. Most episodes were based around inflammatory diplomatic incidents, the sort of thing that helps Spooks along from time to time.
Unlike many 2000s shows, the plot was not sacrificed at the expense of fancy-pants photography or over-stylish direction. Directors like Christopher Young kept the pace up and did their job. They made use of good locations, making Bodyguards slicker than if it had been shot on back roads and alleyways. It was contemporary, it would still stand up beautifully today, and it was one of the better examples of the British actioner in the 1990s, showing that the UK can still do them better than anyone else.
Maybe except for the Germans and their Cobra 11.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Danny Bilson and Paul de Meo had made their names combining
cartoon-style story lines with live action, evidenced with their
earlier collaborations, The Flash (1990) and Rocketeer (1991). These
were the rage in the early 1990s, probably in the wake of the
big-screen version of Batman; meanwhile, television cartoons themselves
were becoming more adult-oriented.
Viper was born into this era, and admirably filled the gap between the cartoons and the big-screen adventures. Bilson and de Meo's original pilot for a series had an all-too-familiar storyline that Knight Rider fans might recognize: a man is given a chance at a new life after being given plastic surgery, working for an organization that stands slightly outside official legal channels. But where Viper differs is in its forward-looking style and its script, which could be said to be a scaled-down version of one of Bilson and de Meo's feature films.
A unit within the police department has developed an ultimate weapon: a Dodge Viper with a host of non-lethal gadgets designed to stop villains. But they need a driver, and the only one, according to its designer, Julian Wilkes (Dorian Harewood), appears to be a criminal.
The protagonist begins as Michael Payton (James McCaffrey), a wheel man for organized criminals. He changes sides after a car chase, which results in an accident, and a chip is planted in his head to erase his criminal past. Despite plastic surgery and a new identity, one of his old gang recognizes the reborn Joe Astor as Payton, and forces him to steal the Viper.
Certain eventsnotably the murder of his girlfriendcement Astor's decision to stay on the side of good, but with this darker history. The cartoon influence was obvious from this, complemented by outstanding (for its time) special effects that saw the regular red Viper turn into the 'Defender', a special armoured mode accomplished by individual hexagonal pieces in the bodyshell flipping over. The idea was revolutionary at the time.
The production design also contributed to the cartoon feel. Tim Burton's Batman mixed eras: 1940s clothing with a futuristic Batmobile and computers in the Batcave. Here, the Viper is a 1994 model, but on the streets are Chrysler concept cars; in one scene, car spotters will be able to spot modified Dodge Monacosthese, in fact, were prototype "mules" on the then-unreleased Chrysler LH platform. (It was probably the only time such prototypes were destroyed on a TV show.) While shot for television, Viper's production values were so high that it could pass for a cheaper big-screen movie. While no Batman, lacking its complexity and depth, it ranked above the run-of-the-mill TV movies showing as an NBC Movie of the Week.
It's been a decade since the first Mission: Impossible film, so by now
any resemblance to the TV series, theme music and opening sequence
aside, is purely coincidental. Mr Cruise and his team have managed to
create, successfully, a new world with very little resemblance to the
original idea from Bruce Geller.
In fact, the story is told in reverse: it opens with an event that does not take place till much later in the film, before cutting to the story's true beginning after the match-lighting credits.
This time out, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is at his engagement party when he receives a telephone call from his immediate superior at the Impossible Mission Force, Musgrave. He's urged to get out of training agents and into the field for a rescue mission, an event that leads Hunt and his team (Ving Rhames returns as Luther Stickell, while Maggie Q and Jonathan Rhys Meyers join the cast) into the usual double-crosses and red herrings.
The rescue scene near the opening is indicative of the new Mission: Impossibles: Hunt et al have to use weaponry and gadgetry to rescue an agent, Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell), rather than trickery and intelligence. From that point on, this is an action spectacular that will wow mainstream audiences.
Only thing is, even die-hard Mission: Impossible TV fans like myself come in expecting the sort of action set down by the first Brian de Palma film now. In fact, M:I III resembles the first actioner more than the John Woo-directed second outing, with a question mark eventually over whom within the IMF agency is a mole.
J. J. Abrams' touch as a co-writer and director is felt. Any fans of Alias will not be disappointed: the movie comes off with more of that flavour, but with far more explosions and cameras encircling walking actors than one might expect. Michael Giacchino's music works well with the action for the most part and the re-arrangement of the Lalo Schifrin themes sound spectacular with a full orchestra. The musical surprise is an updated version of 'It's Impossible' over the end credits.
The mask-making process is shown more clearly this time aroundthe use of electronic gadgetry once againas is the learning of an enemy's voice (no more Rollin Hand here; this is high-tech voodoo, too).
The script holds up reasonably well; certainly it is infinitely superior to the previous outing. For an action spectacular, there is sufficient plot, though it is used to hold action sequences together. The mole's motive is not that clearly explained, while the main villain, Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman), also disappoints as a baddie who prefers using guns and fists to brains.
Mission: Impossible III has taken over from the James Bonds in certain respects. The spy actioner theme is the most obvious. Secondly, the films go to more exotic locations, with Shanghai being the setting in the second half. The film-makers have used the Chinese city to good effect, showing it as a futuristic metropolis hanging on to some traditiona 1,000-year-old fishing village and some of Shanghai's back streets are also shown. Some Ford Motor Company (Land Rover, Lincoln) and DHL product placement is evidentanother cue taken from the Bonds.
If audiences seek a "bigger" Mission: Impossible, then Cruise and co. have delivered. It's quite a ride, enough to set it apart from other Hollywood action flicks, but not quite enough to make it a supremely satisfying movie. Still, it is worth parting with your money to get the action on the big screen, particularly those Shanghai sequences.
I caught this on television after the opening credits rolled, so I came
in to it without any preconceived notion of a 'Dolph Lundgren movie' or
a 'John Woo movie'. My initial impressions were positive: Lundgren,
whom I didn't recognize, is actually not a bad actor, as much as I
surprise myself writing this. His Jack Devlin role gives him a chance
to show a softer side as a caring uncle as well as a considerate
bodyguard. And, the cinematography was very goodnice lighting, given
that it's a cheap TV movie, keeping me drawn in.
However, a good movie needs a good storyline. It also needs to be cohesive. Even when drawn into the movie's own world, it needs to be logical within itself. Blackjack has so many plot holes that it frustrates any viewer, from mystery motorcyclists who aid the assassin, who is supposedly 'working alone', to a willing bad guy who hesitates from killing the hero so the hero gets a chance to find where he's hiding.
It's a huge surprise to learn that this was a John Woo film, given that his direction tends to be solid. This must rank as one of his duffers. Avoid at all costs, especially if you would like to keep a positive image of Mr Woo in your mind.
There are TV chefs who try to involve their audiences (like Martin
Yan), or go for a quirkier presentation (like Jamie Oliver), but Hudson
and Halls beat them all.
While the pair were able to create some great dishes, Hudson and Halls was ostensibly light entertainment. They did interact with their crew and a very limited selection of special guest stars, but from my recollection of the 1970s, they spent quite a bit of time arguing, usually humorouslythough one time food was thrown in angerwith one another.
More conservative commentators might complain that Hudson and Halls lacked the decorum of Julia Child, who stood dutifully behind her kitchen; Halls and Hudson did what came naturally, even if that made life hard for heavy, fixed studio cameras.
Thinking back to 20 to 30 years, the 1970s and early 1980sthe Muldoon erawere a more politically correct time. Today, there would be a song and dance about the men being a gay couple, and weren't we doing well giving them air time? Back then, New Zealanders did not care. I don't remember their homosexuality being discussed in the media. Hudson and Halls got a prime time slot, not the late-night slots given to "openly gay" programmes (Queer Nation, The L Word) in New Zealand today.
We call ourselves a more understanding society today while politicizing every little difference in sexuality, race and religion. Hudson and Halls, as a show, is a reminder of how far we have fallen behind in tolerance. Back then, we practised it. Now, we just say we practise it.
Fallout will probably be remembered for its high production values, its
more than able cast, and excellent direction that managed to heighten
the sense of drama that took place in New Zealand politics in 1984.
But as a story, one has to wonder about its accuracy. Fallout is more accurate than Hollywood blockbusters in its attempt to re-create recent history. Here, it is about the downfall of the Sir Robert Muldoon-led National Government of 197584, but with one of the scriptwriters known for lampooning the then-Prime Minister in his contemporary cartoons and commentaries, it was bound to further his ideas. Post mortem documentaries on Muldoon, which included viewpoints from this mini-series' co-writer Tom Scott, painted a grim figureone which family members and associates proclaimed was biased and false. Fallout needs to be considered in that shadow, produced at a safe distance after Muldoon's passingand dead men, of course, cannot sue for defamation.
New Zealand mainstream media tend to regard the late 1970s and early 1980s as dark days, conveniently forgetting the nation's advances; and Sir Robert Muldoon is easily portrayed as a villain. In a nation that prefers the collective to individual endeavour, Muldoon's independent nature became increasingly at odds with the mass media at the time. His opponent, the Labour Party's David Lange, is regarded as a hero, a man who liberated the New Zealand economyand whose failings are seldom exposed by film-makers, even though his own departure from the premiership would make for equally gripping television. That story remains untold dramatically.
One irony is that such productions might have received greater funding from the government had Sir Robert Muldoon prevailed in 1984, and more stories about New Zealand might have been told.
The premise set, Ian Mune plays Muldoon with little sympathy and great menace. Mune rightly stayed away from lampooning Muldoon's crooked mouth, preferring to concentrate on characterizationand as one of New Zealand's finest character actors and directors, his portrayal is strong and powerful.
Australian comedic actor Mark Mitchell, better known for his outings as Con the Grocer in The Comedy Company, plays Lange as more of a gentleman who takes advantage of National's increasing dissatisfaction within its ranks. Mitchell's nice-guy looks contribute to thatafter all, he once did play Santa Claus.
Both actors have voice and accent down pat, and acclaim should be levelled at Mitchell for perfecting his New Zealandisms.
The story centres around the fall of Muldoon and the rise of Lange, and his party's desire to make New Zealand the first sovereign nation to declare itself nuclear-free through legislationthereby destroying its defence alliance with the United States. Having been made in 1995, when there was still a great deal of support for the move, the story tows the party line; but in that respect it comes across now as a period mini-series that kowtowed to government demands. One would expect that more in a communist régime, not a democracy.
And fair play to the script: it does move events on at an acceptable pace, while the mid-1980s settings are realistic (perhaps not hard 10 years after the events). The Parliament and Government House sets, in particular, deserve mention.
However, director Chris Bailey does his best with what he is given, and stays faithful to the script. Bailey excels when directing drama, not comedyand this is no exception. He is an underrated television director, and Fallout serves as one of his finer works.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Operation: Cougar, or Daihao Meizhoubao in its original Mandarin, had
one redeeming feature: a more hopeful future between the People's
Republic of China and the Republic of China. It's written in the
script, but other than that positive note, the movie fails on most
After a botched hijacking attempt, a plane is forced to land in the middle of the Red Chinese countryside. Chinese special forces, coupled with a Taiwanese expert, cooperate to rescue the hostages.
However, the film smacks of cheapnessthe editing is some of the worst I have seen, high-level meetings in Taipei and Beijing are shown with series of still photos, while the script has very obvious plot holes. One, in the middle of the film, involves one of the hijackers' collaborators, stationed outside the plane and keeping tabs on the Red Army. Since no one knew where the plane would land, how could the collaborator be conveniently based there? The stand-off is implausible for the most part, with numerous attempts at rescues failing. But they are almost designed to fail from the start: one soldier going it alone atop the plane's fuselage without a real plan; or, when special forces advance, none of them return fire when fired upon by two hijackers.
But at least the movie does not attempt to glorify the mainland, so it could not be seen as veiled propaganda. Both Beijing and Taipei have parts to play in securing the hostages' release.
Gong Li has a role as a stewardess, and director Yimou Zhang has since gone on to make motion pictures that have been exported to the west. Cougar perhaps can be seen as both parties' genesis, and has curiosity value for their fans, but little more.
If you were a child of the 1970s, then you will probably remember this
as the definitive Avengers, and find the original rather odd. It's not
to say I dislike the original, but when I watched The New Avengers in
the 1970s, it had that sense of realism and style that was very
formative in my younger days.
Technically, the 1970s saw lighter cameras and greater use of location filming, two things that made The New Avengers different from its forebear. These enabled the series to be grittier, in keeping with the mood of the time. Preserving the fanciful, "British Batman" ideals of the 1960s' series would have gone sharply against the realism that viewers demanded in the 1970s. Britons (and plenty of people worldwide) wanted to see Britain, not a studio mock-up of it. And car chases were de rigueur. On these counts, The New Avengers delivered.
Purdey, not Emma Peel, was the first strong female character I knew on television. Columbia Pictures Television's Police Woman seemed phoney with Angie Dickinson getting her gun out of her handbag; it was Joanna Lumley's willingness to do her own action sequences that made her Purdey character more convincing. The fact she did her high kicks while wearing Laura Ashley, and not encased in PVC, did not seem strange; it was more her short hair that naice girls on telly did not have.
And because I was introduced to the Avengers' mystique through this series, I have always been used to the idea of Patrick Macnee's John Steed being the elder statesman. The suggestive nature of his relationships with his female partners in the 1960s seemed inappropriate when I viewed The Avengers in re-runs (and Macnee once quipped that he felt John Steed did consummate his relationships 'continuously and in his spare time'). The Gambit character played by Gareth Hunt was more my idea of the action-oriented British gent who had spent time in the military, though I recall both being relatively wooden, save for a few episodes.
The spy story lines were entertaining, and I understand the original series' fans being less than impressed. But they were a clever differentiation from the typical cop shows of the decade, and even though there were some corners cut (using old footage of Diana Rigg in one episode), I never felt cheated by The New Avengers. The thriller style that Brian Clemens and his team introduced to this series kept viewers on the edge of their seats, and it must have been good enough to warrant a second season at the timeeven if the latter was partly made in France and Canada. Even then, the episodes were not as bad as some have made outContinental filming, in particular, gave me one of my earliest impressions of Europe. I don't think I had seen anything made in Canada prior to The New Avengers.
In many respects, The New Avengers was more a forerunner to The Professionalsone of the greatest British TV actioners madethan a successor to The Avengers. It had the same producers and very similar crews. By coincidence, The Professionals' Lewis Collins and Martin Shaw guest-starred together in one episode. And, like The Professionals, it gave the sense that after an hour, you got great value. The same could not be said for most TV series of this genre today, made to please a network and an accounting firm rather than the audience.
Coming to America is harmless funthough at the time of the release I
remember some AfricanAmerican groups being less than delighted about
it. I can't remember the reason, and being neither black nor white, I
saw the film without any politicization surrounding race. And when
viewed in that vein, this is a charming, traditional, popcorn love
story, with the mainstream laughs you would expect from a 1980s Eddie
It's the old tale of the prince in an arranged marriage who wishes to seek, instead, an independently minded woman. And he meets her on his first night in Queens, New York, the place that seems the farthest from the mythical Zamunda, a wealthy African nation where zebras and lions roam outside the royal palace and James Earl Jones is king. The courtship is fairly speedy as the movie has to finish within two hours; though I'll hold back on whether Prince Akeem gets the girl or not due to IMDb rules.
However, this was produced by Eddie Murphy and he came up with the original story, so there are suitably naughty bitsin the day when Murph wasn't a Dad and wasn't making kid-friendly fare. The opening scenes of a pampered prince are enjoyable, not to mention an early appearance of Garcelle Beauvais; Madge Sinclair, as the queen of Zamunda, plays her role with such class she could pass for royalty. Murphy's and Arsenio Hall's multiple roles are memorable, including Murphy's (white) Jewish character, Saul, and singer Randy Watson. Eriq la Salle gives a convincing portrayal of a spoilt heir, in direct contrast to the conscientious princethere is meaning behind these roles.
Despite these characterizations, Coming to America breaks little new ground, but it is largely satisfying. It is what it says it isa romantic comedyand succeeds on both those counts.
I was so disappointed with The Spy Who Shagged Me, this film's prequel,
that I did not see Goldmember till it played on network television. And
I'm regretting I didn't pay to see it uninterrupted at the time, back
This is an Austin Powers movie, not a Dr Evil movie like its predecessor. Austin doesn't look lost, but is back in his element. It doesn't give too much focus on the villains. With Michael Caine as Austin Powers' father, the scenes seem to have more sparkleperhaps knowing they would attract someone of Caine's calibre, everything was that much more polished. Even the toilet humour seems tolerable compared with the previous outing.
The sets are more expensive; the jokes are less repetitive; and there are more cameos than before, including those of Tom Cruise and Gwyneth Paltrow in a clever film-within-a-film sequence. While Myers penned this idea in his original script for Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, it was nice to see it realized here.
Beyoncé Knowles is a surprisingly good actress, and at no time does it appear this is her first film role. And rather than be directly inspired by a James Bond film, Myers has charted a more original, and highly entertaining, course. In fact, the Michael Caine references are plentiful: the use of a Mini as a getaway car, a sequence where the stars sing a version of 'What's It All About, Alfie' (edited out, though the song is still heard in the end credits), and even old footage of Caine. The Nigel Powers character's spectacles are a take-off of Caine's Harry Palmer's, from the 1960s. And not a lot of people know that.
One disappointment is the lack of screen time for Robert Wagner, and Mr Bigglesworth, the cat, is hardly seen except in a flashback sequence.
Goldmember nearly had the sort of impact its predecessors did. Just as fingered "air quotes" became commonplace after the first film, many people will have the idea that a Dutch accent is the bad one Myers adopted for his Goldmember persona.
The finalé is a surprise, and that's hard for a movie series that has prided itself on self-referential humour and parody. And while it gives a reasonably satisfying conclusion, it leaves open the opportunity of a very different fourth Austin Powers movie.
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