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Robin and Marian (1976)
Another ham-fisted Lester adventure
ROBIN AND MARIAN is another comedy adventure from director Richard Lester, the man who brought us THE THREE MUSKETEERS and its sequel. As ever, the goofy direction is the worst thing about this, an otherwise engaging version of the Robin Hood story with a neat twist: all of the characters are now middle aged and suffering from the weight of the years upon them.
That twist is the best thing about an otherwise bog-standard adventure which otherwise isn't all that funny; that, and that the producers have assembled an eclectic cast for this one. Sean Connery makes for a fine, gruff Hood, and it's nice to see Audrey Hepburn come out of retirement to play an ever-graceful Marian. And the supporting cast are particularly fine: Robert Shaw is the Sheriff, battling Connery again years on from From Russia with Love; Nicol Williamson is an imposing Little John; Denholm Elliott and Ronnie Barker make up the Merry Men; Richard Harris is Richard the Lionheart; Ian Holm Prince John, and there's a brief but wonderful cameo from Peter Butterworth in the opening scenes.
The action scenes are over the top and rather silly, as in THE THREE MUSKETEERS, but the script is better. Scenes of the characters reminiscing about times past feel wistful and nostalgic, and the cinematography captures the autumnal landscapes very well. The twist ending is a choice reminder of just how dark and downbeat cinema in the 1970s really was.
Jack Said (2009)
Apparently JACK SAID is the middle part of a trilogy, although after watching this misfire I have to say I'm in no hurry to watch the other instalments. This is Cockney gangster film-making at its very worst, a tired mess of a storyline propping up a film chock-full of bad acting and worse.
The lead actor here, Simon Phillips, is undoubtedly the worst thing about this production. Watching this chubby guy wandering around attempting to do 'presence' and 'attitude' is frankly an embarrassment. His supposedly quick-witted humour is even worse, and I was hoping one of the other characters would lamp him before long. Needless to say that they never do.
The narrative is all over the place. Danny Dyer features heavily as a friend of the lead, but is off the screen for long periods of time and doesn't really contribute much when he's on it. Instead we get the usual low-rent gangster hokum nonsense, and whoever decided to put Ashlie Walker as the main villain needs their head examined; an average episode of HOLLYOAKS would be a better fit, I think. At least David O'Hara has the sense to only appear in a scene or two of this nonsense.
Wild Weed (1949)
The IMDb ratings for WILD WEED (which I saw in a version entitled SHE SHOULDA SAID 'NO!') might be low, but this is actually a pretty fun movie that's a lot better than the other sensationalist dramas I've been watching recently (like GAMBLING WITH SOULS and THE WILD AND WICKED for example). The handling of the material is just so over the top that it makes for a highly entertaining viewing experience.
The central character (played with relish by Lila Leeds, who in real life was busted for possession of marijuana alongside Robert Mitchum) is the usual innocent type who falls in with the wrong crowd and ends up finding herself in prison as a result. However, there's a twist, and in the second half of the production things really pick up as this turns into a low budget crime thriller with police, bad guys, and the like.
Compared to leading Hollywood productions of the era, like the ever-popular film noir genre, SHE SHOULDA SAID 'NO!' is pretty tame and silly, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The heavy-handed preachiness of the anti-drug message is always fun to watch, and the cast are certainly game; we get the ever-dependable Lyle Talbot in support, alongside Jack Elam in his film debut.
SNITCH has a decent story at heart but in the end it turns out to be just another star vehicle, this time for actor Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson. I appreciate that this is a thriller that eschews tired action sequences to concentrate on suspenseful storytelling, but for the most part the film-making on display here is distinctly average. Two previously watered-down thrillers I watched with Mark Wahlberg, CONTRABAND and BROKEN CITY, were much, much, better.
Still, there's much worse than SNITCH out there, and if you're a fan of any of the main actors here then you'll probably enjoy it, because this is an actor's film at heart. Johnson is tough and stoic as the lead, but the supporting cast really shines: Susan Sarandon brings energy and vitality to only a few minutes of screen time, while Barry Pepper is an ever-kooky presence. Better still is Jon Bernthal, of THE WALKING DEAD, who brings much of the same brooding intensity to the role as he did as Shane in that TV series. TV fans will be in their element with the additional casting of Michael Kenneth Williams, aka Chalky from BOARDWALK EMPIRE, as a drug dealer. The film itself and the story might be distinctly forgettable, but it's the cast that makes this worthwhile.
Gwai wik (2006)
Trust the Pang Brothers to come up with something unique and unsettling all in one go. I've been a fan of the directors even since I saw THE EYE, and RE-CYCLE continues in the same sort of style, albeit with a twist. The central character is a tormented novelist who finds that her apartment is haunted by a long-haired female ghost, but it turns out to be merely the precursor to an even weirder storyline...
RE-CYCLE begins as a traditional ghost story in the vein of THE GRUDGE before turning into a dark fantasy that has more in line with SILENT HILL. The storyline is very slim and rather stretched to fill out the running time, and the central character is rather unlikeable. However, both these things are secondary to what is an almost entirely visual experience, and one quite unlike anything you've seen before.
RE-CYCLE transports the viewer into a weird kind of afterlife populated by forgotten things: the forgotten dead, forgotten toys, even aborted babies in a political sub-plot. Aided by some not-bad CGI effects, the main character wanders through this weird landscape, trying to make sense of what she discovers. The twists may be obvious, but for a film filled with ghosts this has many scare scenes. The ghosts look frightening, even if they're CGI, and this film manages a lift set-piece that's very nearly as scary as the one in THE EYE; not quite, though.
Devil May Call (2013)
It's the pits
DEVIL MAY CALL is another entry in the long-running sub-genre of "blind women in peril" movies. Highlights of this sub-genre include the likes of WAIT UNTIL DARK, BLIND TERROR, and many others, but this insipid piece is even worse than the recent cheese of PENTHOUSE NORTH. The grey, washed-out cinematography is the perfect accompaniment to the blandest of story lines. A hotline operator finds herself stalked by one of her clients, a deeply disturbed guy with murder in mind. He turns up at her place of work one night, and murders ensue...
Where to start with this film? Everything's wrong about it, from the forgettable acting to the one-dimensional characters (including much of the 'cannon fodder' supporting cast), poor script, silly kill scenes, and an almost entire lack of menace throughout. Corri English is acceptable in the central role - playing a blind character is never easy - but everyone else is poor. This includes B-movie starlet Traci Lords and Tyler Mane (X-MEN), the latter playing the rather uninteresting killer. Despite the short running time, this goes on and on for what seems like an age, until an ending which cuts things off abruptly just when it was getting interesting.
Mad Youth (1940)
Sleazy morality story
MAD YOUTH is another morality fable which looks at the plight of young girls caught up in vice and prostitution. As usual it tells the tale of an innocent young girl who, through no fault of her own, ends up being imprisoned inside a brothel. Who can save her and will they manage to do it in time?
This film has a slightly different angle to the rest in that the focus of the drama is on the relationship between mother and daughter. In fact, it's the mother's actions - in particular her cavorting with male prostitutes (!) - that causes the daughter to flee from her familial situation and fall into something even worse. Thus the film's erstwhile moral question is whether parents are responsible for the behaviour of their offspring.
There's some cheesy, heavy-handed moralising here, alongside the usual low-rent production values common in such sensationalist dramas. The acting is fairly average, although a little better than I've seen elsewhere. The film also picks up in the last twenty minutes, becoming something of a suspense thriller, and it even offers up some fun fight scenes; sadly it's not enough to make this a good film overall.
Columbo: A Bird in the Hand... (1992)
A lesser investigation
A BIRD IN THE HAND... is one of my least favourite COLUMBO TV movies thus far, and I blame that on the quality of the writing. Although this episode is unique in terms of the intricacy of the murder - the actual murderer's plans go awry when his intended victim is in fact killed by somebody else - the execution is strictly so-so, and disappointing considering the quality of the detective's other stories.
What we get here is Peter Falk on autopilot, going through the motions rather than getting to the heart of his character as he does elsewhere; he's good in the goofy humour scenes (like the car showroom highlight) but elsewhere nothing special. Even worse is the supporting cast: there are two 'guest stars' here, and both are poor. The moustachioed Greg Evigan is an unpleasant scheming villain, while Tyne Daly's performance as a horny drunk is, frankly, embarrassing.
It turns out that the complexity of the opening murder(s) is the best thing about this story, which is otherwise unfocused and somewhat strained. The clue-solving stuff is simplistic and things particularly fall apart in the final act, ending in a most ordinary fashion. Columbo could do better, and he frequently did.
The Man in the White Suit (1951)
Top-tier Ealing comedy
THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT is my favourite of the Ealing comedies after THE LAVENDER HILL MOB; just something about the simplicity of the storyline and the satire of capitalism appeals to me. It also features an excellent turn from Alec Guinness as the oddball lead, an inventor whose new-fangled creation - a fabric which can never be stained - leads to all manner of chaos in the manufacturing industry.
This film works well because it's so unusual; there's nothing else quite like it, and yet it all hangs together very well. The central storyline of the oppressed outsider performing a miracle and then being pursued by those he's tried to help is a very clever one, as are all the undertones about class divides and politics. This also happens to be a very funny film, albeit subtly so.
Aside from Guinness, there's a fine supporting turn from the lovely Joan Greenwood, and appearances from a couple of horror stars old and new: Ernest Thesiger (from BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN) and Michael Gough (of HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM).
Pompei, ieri, oggi, domani (2007)
Cheesy beyond belief
An Italian TV miniseries chronicling the life and times of Roman citizens in the brief-run up to Mount Vesuvius erupting. This miniseries is bookended by an absolutely pointless modern-day scenario involving a couple of researchers who fall in love and go to bed together. Parallels are drawn between ancient and modern life but seriously, this junk just needed ejecting in order to focus on the historical stuff.
Sadly, TV viewers will have been spoilt by the quality of TV'S ROME which makes POMPEII look like amateur hour by comparison. And, indeed, POMPEII is cheesy indeed; the version I watched has been dubbed into English from the original Italian, dubbed too by the most monotonous and stilted dialogue actors ever. It makes the whole effort a near unwatchable mess, and something impossible to take seriously.
Not that the story is good to begin with. The writers make the error of having their historical characters act in completely modern ways which would have been alien to the times. Thus Christian characters are portrayed ultra-sympathetically as are the female characters. The running time is padded out with boring love stories, ultra-cheesy gladiator scenes, and lots of back and forth stuff. The acting is bad, with the main character a gladiator who looks like a male model off the cover of a Mills & Boon book; wooden isn't the word. The cast is Italian with a couple of familiar faces (like Tomas Arana from THE BOURNE SUPREMACY) mixed in. When the volcano finally erupts in the second episode, the viewer is subjected to many dodgy CGI effects which definitely aren't worth the wait.