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Columbus Day (2008)
Try boring day
2 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I guess the reason Columbus actually had a day is because he made the prescient career move of actually arriving somewhere. If you want to see Val Kilmer wondering al fresco for forty minutes then this is the movie for you. I say forty minutes because that's about as much as I could take. Incredibly, the script won some sort of award for being in the top thirty scripts read by some film body. I can only cower in fear at the quality of the other twenty nine. And what about the rejects? It was already ominous that Val Kilmer showed up in a recent Orange commercial, the graveyard of has-been movie stars. There is a jarring moment early in the picture when Kilmer shoots someone then disappears off camera. The next shot someone has a bag pulled over his head. We're not sure to whom this is happening at first but subsequently it looks like someone bearing a vague resemblance to Kilmer. So I guess it must be Kilmer. He is ambushed by a gang which he fells quite easily despite being somewhat milquetoast for the "rest" of the picture. It turns out this scene was added by a producer for the straight to video market, a sort of Columbus Cheap-Day return. So it wasn't Kilmer. It was someone dressed up to look like Kilmer. Which is confusing because sometimes in films characters dress up to fool each other or the police. Only this wasn't one of them. So maybe I should shut up. Sorry, not your day.

Kilmer then wanders into a park on a hot day dressed inconspicuously in a heavy overcoat so as not to attract the attentions of bad guys, cops and half pint coloured stick up artists. But I'll get to that. Call it following in the footsteps of Columbus. Like him, I harbour lofty ambitions; unlike the producers of this flick who are conspicuously having an off-day. Anyway, to get back to Columbus Day, which is sinking fast without even the benefit of a ship to bail out from. In a stunning piece of every day realism, a school kid follows Kilmer around and engages him in conversation. In a further astounding piece of racial profiling, the kid attempts to hold him up as kids are want to do alone in a confined space with a possibly dangerous felon.

With straight to video you take your chances. I guess this just wasn't my day. Kilmer may be difficult to work with. Trouble for him he's getting even harder to watch. Perhaps he knows this, hence his attempts to look as much like Jeff Bridges as possible, only on a bad day. Maybe Clint will make my day. It's called Gran Torino and not an Orange phone in sight. Have a nice day.
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Britz (2007 TV Movie)
Blown to britz
1 November 2007
This was portentously long and teeth grindingly slow. This is to signify that it wants to be taken VERY seriously and to do so, make you SERIOUSLY suffer. It forced me to watch bits and pieces of Jeremy Paxman just to get to the end, which should define for you what boredom really means.

Apparently the guy who wrote it couldn't find any bomber types to research his story. So he decided to "draw on his own experiences." Must have been his experiences waiting at the bus stop. That is, back in the days before Channel 4 sent a limo to pick him up.

Suffice to say, the best way to cast light on a serious issue in British society is to come up with the most corny Hollywood plot contrivance. Reverse the obvious gender roles (Gosh, how ironic, how cutting edge) and have two members of the same family but on opposite sides end up chasing each other's tails. Brilliant!

No idea what the ending was meant to signify. The ambivalence of the Muslim in British society today? I've no idea. Trouble is, neither did the writer/director if he had been honest with himself in the first place.

I don't know what's more frightening. Islamic terrorism or the money wasted on this project.
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Banged up again
24 October 2007
I'll probably get kneecapped for saying this but these films are starting to suffer from predictability.

You sit there knowing that there will soon appear the foul-mouthed guard who will indulge in a random beating for no reason. You will also know that the same guard will spend the duration randomly bursting out laughing in a sleazy manner. There will be the baby-faced officer who is a family man. There will be the sympathetic who is then cruelly taken out and shot.

One after another you tick these boxes in grim succession to the final frame. So what actually is the point? Why masochistically go through being told what one already knows, so that one can patronize oneself that this is "serious" cinema and we are all true humanists for dutifully sitting through it? Well maybe.

The film is competently acted and respectfully directed although I do wish "shaky cam" would hang up its coat. But the necessity of another such film is a big question mark for me. There, I've said it. Do I feel better? Not much.
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Control (2007)
No thanks
5 October 2007
I thought this was a dreadful film but then I've never liked Bio-Pics because they can never capture the charisma of the original performers. I did like the Glenn Miller one and the Buddy Holly Story but even with that, Holly's wife said their courtship was laughably inaccurate in its portrayal. So what's the point? Is this social realist/ kitchen sink drama? In which case, why all the inaccuracies? I remember us all listening to that EP where Joy Division first appear (I think as Warsaw.) We kept playing the opening: "You all remember Rudolf Hess?" over and over again as it sounded so dodgy, what with the band's alleged "reputation". I'm pretty sure the song that follows is "A Later Date", not "Leaders of Men." But maybe that wasn't the case in reality. And I seem to remember the bassist telling the story of how Rob Gretton became their manager and it was nothing like the macho confrontation depicted. Just the opposite, to an amusing degree. And the band confessed the "blood letter" was apocryphal. Does any of this matter? Well, according to the critics you would think "Control" is the second coming of Tarkovsky. But there is no such poetry here as the director is a photographer turned director. Film is another discipline altogether, and the crucial failing is that Joy Division arguably have that mysterious mojo called "artistic talent", while the director's lack of it sticks out like a sore thumb on the screen. Why did he want to make this film? I was left none the wiser, and I heard yawns around me.

Do we need art? Is it in any way essential? Maybe the film is not interested in the question. The really uncomfortable aspect of "Control" is we know the outcome, and the songs are merely box after box to be ticked as they bring you ever closer to that event. Really quite dreadful to sit through. The whole minute by minute depiction of the tragedy was unpleasant and unnecessary, at least to me. Yes, it was sad but is this helping?

The final shot was particularly repulsive and seemed to allude to the controversy of their name and image, hardly touched upon in the film itself. Sadly, this is a trite little film and definitely made by a fan.
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Outlaw (2007)
Dubious fun!
22 July 2007
Warning: Spoilers
FIRSTLY, lazy plotting:

1) If you are threatened on a high profile case you are given protection. This is standard.

2) During the hanging scene didn't someone say to the Barrister: "He killed your wife and kid and you want him to live?" In which case, having ears, the bad guy would have come after the Barrister. He didn't.

3) Kneecapping your fellow outlaw. Risking him shopping them all to the police out of revenge?

4) Lewis shows the unmasking of Bryant to the outlaws to warn them of the dangers of exposure and then doesn't destroy the footage? He stores it in his flat to be found by the bad guy and broadcast to the media?

5) Dekker is approached by the ex-outlaw of doubtful loyalty who reminds him of the huge reward waiting for him if he shops Bryant. Yet he trusts him with information about the location of the crime Boss?

SECONDLY, camera-work made to look like "footage sent in by member of public who caught the moment." Very NOW concept, but an utter headache to watch.

THIRDLY, in the extras, Love and cast seem to echo the sentiments of the characters, talking up alleged leniency of paedofile sentencing, etc. This is disingenuous as the film suggests that becoming an outlaw makes you even more stressed, alienated from the workplace and in greater physical danger than ever before. Despite the solemn atmosphere, you don't get the impression Love cares about any "message." It is the means to an end to make a "Lad's Mag" film and tongue never strays far from cheek. Also, was Love joshing when he called Sean Bean a "movie star"? He is a respected journeyman, not a star. That is why he is in your film, Nick, and not "War of the Worlds." Bean does his usual Major Sharpe routine competently enough.

FOURTHLY....there isn't a fourthly because I found it impossible not to be entertained by this film. I didn't expect much when seeing the words "OUTLAW" and "NICK LOVE" together, but it does what it says on the tin. It is gripping and ends on a real belly laugh. I would watch it again. What he did get right is the fact that not all men are macho in real life and are more often than not afraid of confrontation.
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NO ESCAPE? Try the door marked "EXIT"
12 May 2007
The opening scene plays like the climax, as if they muddled the reels. It is so terrifying that you know they cannot possibly follow it. Unfortunately, it is also confusingly shot, which did not bode well for the rest. Like SUNSHINE, I had no clue what was happening most of the time. Why do filmmakers do this?

Another miscalculation is the characterization. The original saw the world through the eyes of one individual. The sequel begins with one individual who is not sympathetic then shifts to Jurassic park kids who are less relatable. These children are forced to witness such brutal scenes, not least an unnecessarily explicit torching, that it is a turn off. The original actually had only two really violent scenes. Danny Boyle wisely pulled his punches for the rest of the picture so as to let the human drama breathe. His film had a heart. The sequel parades its heart in a token way before plonking it on a blooded sideboard so as to get on with gratuitousness. Apparently, a sequel has to have more, more, more. I think less is always more. The producers think we want another eye-gouging, but that worked in the original because it was delivered to someone unsympathetic to the audience. The sequel is about nastiness for the sake of it.

The script has not an idea in its head, even resorting to a redundant lift from "The Silence of the Lambs". I presume the inclusion of so many Americans is due to the original's success in the States. I like the idea of America colonizing Britain but nothing is really done with the idea. Only the opening scene lingers uncomfortably in the memory. This really is a poor film.

If you see Dick Wittington outside the cinema, tell him: "Turn back, Turn back!"
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Sunshine (2007)
Confusing mess
6 April 2007
This is a disappointingly dire effort from Danny Boyle, although the real culprit is the script which reminds one of those cheap, straight to video eighties Sci-Fi exploitation movies in terms of plot credibility. The constant references to other classic (or moderate, in the case of "Pitch Black") Sci-Fi movies frustratingly takes you out of the picture (Kubrick's monolith even turns up) and is a major miscalculation by the director. A little less trainspotting and a bit more sun shining out of your backside next time.

Can ANYONE tell me what was happening in the last twenty minutes of this film? Bueller? The production designer may be aware of the layout of the ship and what goes where and how to drop the bomb, but you have to let the audience in on the secret. Not helpful is impossibly blurred and wavy impressionistic camera work.

The most annoying aspect was that you didn't believe the people on board were astronauts. Buskers, maybe, but professionals? As two crewmen go outside the spaceship to do critical work, we hear them addressed: "Okay, guys, listen up." You just need to listen to the original moon landings or the crew of Apollo Thirteen saving themselves from disaster to shake your head. Obviously, for the purposes of drama on screen you are allowed a little leeway, but punch up's in the corridor before they're even half way there, vulgar language and put-downs, suicidal and unstable personalities and inexplicable loss of bottle at unhelpful moments makes for an eye-rolling experience. Okay, so a couple of these slackers do eventually produce a bit of "the right stuff", but by then we're too bored (not to mention confused) to care.

It's a pity, because inside this rambling mess is a germ of an idea trying to get out. We see the sun as our friend - "what a lovely day" - and the beginning of the movie captures a terrifying vulnerability as it becomes our powerful, lonely nemesis.

If you're going to "Sunshine", take at least a twenty five sunblock to guard against blistering, skin peeling clichés. Splash it all over, Henry (or Henrietta.)
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Fallen Angel (2007)
A load of rubbish
27 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Watched "the making of" documentary with an interview with the original author talking cobblers. No, it is not common for serial killers to have partners. It is rare. Most are loners. The author made his killer a woman because of an anecdote by a worker in a psychiatric ward who claimed they were most afraid of the female inmates. Not a good enough reason to make his character a serial killer, which is very rare on the distaff side, let alone in the middle to upper classes. Add to that some banal observations on the moral deception of beauty and hey Presto.

This is in fact the usual middle class wankery, enjoying the frisson of playing with "dark" subject matter. Once again, the murder of children is nauseatingly paraded. Aren't we all sick of this? In one stupid scene we are expected to believe a five year old could commit a violent murder with a knife like the beginning of "Halloween". I hope it was computer faked because it would be pretty reprehensible to stage the whole thing with a kid for real.

The silliest moment is the sex scene between a wrinkled old priest and a gorgeous young girl with pneumatic breasts. Typical writers fantasy that. In the real world he'd be lucky to get it on with a bag lady in his congregation, if that.

On the plus side, I have a thing for Emilia Fox. Just as well, as she's in bloody everything.
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Witty and moving drama
22 September 2006
Papers of transit? A city under the jackboot and a furtive underground? A man who sticks his neck out for nobody but has an idealistic past? Well, Clive Owen, here's looking at you, kid. The man has aged like fine wine. I don't share the negatives about him doing the rounds on these boards. He is a gorgeous man with a charm that while not Bogey, is certainly winning. And you get two leading ladies for the price of one.

I do wish the trailer had not given away the shock opening. It made me jump anyway. Those expecting a bleak drama from said trailer will be surprised by how funny the film is, although the writer often wipes the grin from your face with a wallop to the jaw. There is some grinding agitprop to get through but it is the director's eye for the little details of life that wins you over in terms of authenticity, although there is one glaring cliché when a man is about to meet his maker.

'Children of Men' may not be a keeper, post-apocalyptic dramas being a dime a dozen nowadays. But it is definitely worth putting your coat on for once. I wept buckets.
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Play for Today: Penda's Fen (1974)
Season 4, Episode 16
Somewhat gruelling
23 April 2006
I *loved* Artemis 81 but struggled a bit with Penda's Fen. Artemis risked charges of meretriciousness due to its risky combination of high and low brow culture, but was ultimately sincere. Rudkin is one of these individuals who appears to have a vocation or higher calling to the services of art, which is always nourishing to experience but there is a certain problem of drama with Penda, that is the conflict is largely metaphysical. It is concerned with moral questions and the ending with Penda pontificating on his throne may be overly portentous or even risible for some. Tarkovsky's 'Nostalgia', with the self immolation of the 'madman' on the statue of the horse, seemed to express similar sentiments to Rudkin, so perhaps it's a timeless theme amongst artists the world over. Not being an artist myself, I wouldn't presume to know. I do question whether corporate man is necessarily spiritually bankrupt. Maybe he or she goes to sleep with a Herman Hesse paperback tucked under the pillow, who would know? Maybe Penda.
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A View from a Hill (2005 TV Movie)
Great to have it back
16 April 2006
This was clearly made for the fans, with 'nods' towards Lawrence Gordon Clark. It would be churlish to complain about the production being too respectful. It does fit nicely into the old series and the formulaic aspect can to some extent be laid at the door of James himself. Having said that, If the BBC were to make more I hope they don't fall into the trap they did before by moving away from MR James to contemporary stories that fail to resonate. There are plenty of his works still left to adapt.

Some have complained of the modern editing of this new edition to the series, but I liked the way it made me jump. It is beautifully shot and kudos to Pip Torrens as the supercilious Squire Richards, who in looks and words reminded me of Hugh Laurie's great turn in 'Sense and Sensibilty' as Mr Palmer.
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Artemis 81 (1981 TV Movie)
Sci-Fi masterpiece
13 April 2006
Okay, so Artemis gets off to a dodgy start with Asrael sounding like the decapitated Dr Hill in 'Re-animator', followed soon after by the dreaded hubcap shot (although that may have been a deliberate spoof, you never know with this epic.) However, intrigue soon captivates and the production becomes enthralling. Surprisingly, as homo-erotica is not my first choice viewing, nor am I a devote of crosswords, Suduko and puzzles in general. It takes a little adjusting to because the characters speak in elliptical and metaphysical terms, occasionally lapsing into jarring movie speak such as: "what the hell is this place?" although purposefully, I suspect. It's not always clear what is real or imaginary, for instance, how the two protagonists got from what appeared to be a polluted East-European country to Wales, but you always want to know what happens next. The Bela Lugosi/Hitchcock references may be over-literal for some. For instance, I exclaimed: "oh, look, a Hitchcock blonde!" only to find the actress listed as 'Hitchcock Blonde' in the end credits. But the playfulness helps offset any pretensions.

Artemis would have made a great widescreen feature, not that it would have made a penny at the box office. For something done with such obvious love and commitment, it is woeful that it has never been repeated or released retail. It really is beautifully done. Those who like the children's sci-fi serial 'Sky' may like this, although Rudkin is ideologically opposed to interventionist supreme beings. Brazil also springs to mind, although Artemis is diametrically opposed to that film's freneticism. A rum concoction for sure, but I for one can't wait to see it again.
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Witchcraft (1964)
Absolutely petrifying!
17 March 2006
It's funny how a B-movie like Night of the Demon will achieve cult status while Witchcraft, although boasting a less original storyline, is ignored despite having some equally memorable visuals.

When we were kids, I remember my sister and I being allowed to stay up late to watch Witchcraft as a special treat, if that's an appropriate way of describing it. It scared the heebeejeebees out of us. As the camera slowly panned up Vanessa Whitlock's body after she has risen from the grave, my sister whimpered: "oh, please make her pretty", which didn't make a lot of sense then but sort of does now. As it turned out, she was semi-relieved as she probably expected worms in empty eye sockets.

I've never forgotten the main set pieces - Vanessa appearing in the bedroom, the spellbound car journey and Granny Lanier's heroic exodus from her sanctuary - so the director was doing his job. What surprised me is how well this ancient movie stood up. Yes, the soundtrack is occasionally overbearing and the Devil doll and Devil worshippers running around in robes somewhat hokey, but there are some effective moments, such as the telephone call by the open door in the Lanier's living room. There is an eerie sense of foreboding as the camera pans to reveal the hall and you catch glimpse of a shadow on the stairs, at the same time as the door begins to mysteriously close.

But what really makes the film is Yvette Rees's uber-freaky performance as the resurrected witch, Vanessa Whitlock. She's not on the screen often but when she is, boy, does she make an impression. With her rictus grin and studied attempts to coordinate herself through rigor mortis, the effect is quite grotesque. Lon Chaney also appears intermittently to bellow lines, and is sadly less distinguished.

Those who liked BBC's Ghost Story for Christmas series (The stalls of Barchester springs to mind), may like Witchcraft. I'm not trying to talk it up to being a masterpiece or anything, but the impressionistic lighting of black and white is so right for this material and it's a shame it is long since out of vogue; Michael Almereyda's Nadja being a rare exception. The director of Witchcraft went on to direct Psychomania, an unfortunate attempt to come to terms with changing social mores. Set in a middling period of transition with more traditional material, Witchcraft is more successful.
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A Cold Night's Death (1973 TV Movie)
Monkey do see
31 December 2005
This vintage TV movie offers profound insights into the human condition and the implications for our exploration of outer space. NOT! What it does have is a darker buddy buddy relationship than we have come to expect from Spelling and Goldberg and good production values, probably because it was a two hander with more room to spend elsewhere.

The problem is the audience guesses quickly who-dunnit, thus stretching credulity to the limit when the scientists are less quick off the mark. Okay, so fans of the genre automatically look for the sinister, whereas the characters in the 'real' world are reacting as events unfold. Nevertheless, when Dr Enari is forced to apologise to Dr Jones, the penny should have dropped there and then. Altitude is blamed to a certain extent, but professionals in the same field will probably be niggled at the near basket cases presented here before any real investigating gets under way. Funnily enough, although the who was obvious, the why never really entered my head. The out of left field answer will either amuse or frustrate. Culp gives a strong performance as a man pushed to mental and physical limits and I actually winced when his head took a dunk into some frozen water.

Although daft, this movie haunted me for several hours after I saw it so I give it a qualified thumbs up.
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Killdozer (1974 TV Movie)
Loose talk
29 December 2005
A bunch of construction workers are marooned on a deserted island with a crazed closet case. Oh, and there's also a killer bulldozer on the loose. But it's Dutch whose the major cause of concern to the boys, as he gives heart-felt odes to his fallen chum, Mack (the midnight snack?), and how he misses those after hours swims with him. He tries to get the company cynic Dennis to take a dip with him. Soon his every remark is pregnant with meaning: "Pretty soon, Chub, you and me is going to be stretched out side by side on the beach..." Getting more and more desperate, Dutch tries to get Dennis to pair off with him on the spurious grounds that it will shorten the odds against the metal marauder. Dennis, the existential loner of the piece, is faced with something of a dilemma. Go it alone or stick together with the others. He decides on sticking together. Just not THAT close.

My goodness, could that bullish bulldozer be a metaphor for something else entirely? Like the love that dare not speak its name? "What does it want? It seems to be out there...just waiting."

Nah, it's a killer bulldozer. I sleep easier that way. And one side of me to the wall.
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King Kong (2005)
The Peter Principle
19 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Not content with lecturing us on class and colonialism, Peter Jackson wants to make The Passion of the Kong. It wasn't beauty that killed the beast, he wags his finger at us, but you the audience, in the name of entertainment for the price of a ticket. The crucified ape!

Beastiality the only escape for Anne Darrow from a world of venality, weak men and rough traders.

This gives rise to not only a problem of drama, but many choice moments such as the crew risking their lives to save 'beauty' and all she cares about is Kong. "No! Don't shoot him!" She protests, while all and sundry are being crushed by the behemoth. How's that for gratitude? They should have chucked her into the sea and told her to swim to the boat.

Critics have lionized Jackson's 'skills as a story teller', but I've always found the results autistic and cartoon like. Artless. But this was the same style used in Lord of the Rings, which plenty of ordinary punters liked. Kong ultimately collapses under the sheer weight of so many back to back miscalculations and revisionism. It politically corrects itself out of any suspense or drama, aside from the punishing length.

It is not as big a disaster as Ang Lee's Hulk, a movie that should never have been released in that condition, but it is dreadful.

Recently I saw The Guns of Navarone again, which coincidently has a scene in which a boat tries to navigate treacherous rocks, and was struck just how modern cinema has lost that ability to simply tell a moral story coherently and involve us in the characters.
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Trial & Retribution: The Lovers: Part 1 (2005)
Season 9, Episode 1
Rip off
11 November 2005
Warning: Spoilers
According to the endless conveyor belt that is British 'drama', there are so many serial killers dropping citizens in the UK, you wonder why the authorities are even worried about bird flu. The lack of imagination is depressing. "Viewers may find some scenes disturbing." Then why make it? Do you really think anyone has a pressing need to see distressing scenes of victims crawling in their own excrement and having to drink their own urine? Well, yes, but it's usually a minority taste, not prime-time audience.

Lynda La Plante has just become another hack. Her overrated hit 'Prime Suspect' borrowed from the film 'No Way To Treat A Lady' (the mother and her lipstick). Here she tastelessly uses the Ted Bundy case but with sloppy plotting. Why would the killer put his plaster cast on a different hand on a previous occasion? Where on earth would he park in Covent Garden? It couldn't be miles away if he needed to ask someone for help and with that many people around somebody would see something. You might be able to knock out a girl, but a man? How did he kidnap the two girls without one of them screaming while the other was attacked? Or maybe he kidnapped them separately on the same day which is an even more tasteless appropriation from the Bundy case. Also, none of the victims appeared to die of instant suffocation, just the opposite. You can't just suddenly will a fit body to die, it is ludicrous. Especially a young fit body.

La Plante also shamelessly plagiarised the film 'The Vanishing'. Did she think we wouldn't notice? Come up with your own ideas, preferably without recourse to serial killers, it is nauseating.

To cap it off, the ending is laughably preposterous and drearily right wing. Don't bother with this one.
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Benighted remake
26 September 2005
In Austen speak, I can but hope that the circumstances in which I found myself during the film did nothing to bring ill favour upon my good opinion of it. The blue rinse brigade talk more in the cinema than your average teenage hoody. "Who is that?", "his cousin" , "look at that dress", "oh, a pig". At least you can threaten kids. Any filmmaker that wants to make The Great Octogenarian Chainsaw Massacre will get my ticket stub. As it turned out, there was plenty to irritate by the film's own account.

My main curiosity in seeing P&P again is whether it could possibly live up to my favourite scenes in the 95 Beeb production. Liz bennet's blistering refusal of Darcy's proposal and Lady Catherine De Bourg's incendiary assault in the apple orchard. As for the former, Darcy's opening words were drowned in thunderclaps. That's it, let's not bother with the dialogue. It's not important in an Austen production. IT'S THE TEMPEST OF THEIR INNER FEELINGS!!! Go, director. GO BABY! As for the latter, let's cut Lady Catherine's classic punchline. Who needs it?

This version is curiously under-populated. It's use of passing light and shadow, mirror reflections and window blurrings suggests love as a waking dream of anticipation and uncertainty (no surprise when Darcy's big scene occurs at daybreak.) Although Austen's P&P has been said to be a comedy of manners, love as a moral force, in its ultimate sense as sacrifice, must also be of equal importance. The Wickham affair is central to it as Darcy is prepared to seriously humiliate himself before this man in order to win his true love. Without this he appears out of focus in the film, and the film without true gravity.

The cast is okay although Hollander and Knightley appear to be using a certain production as a crib sheet. After the failure of Thunderbirds, perhaps hard nosed economics was the motivation behind Working Title's remake. Whether fair or not, that's why you leave the picture not really caring.
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Strictly rental
24 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Based on a graphic novel. Whatever happened to literature? Did everyone's pens run out of ink after Catcher in the Rye was written? This portentous stinker is graced with the usual crass direction from David Cronenberg. An opening scene in which a violent act cuts to a domestic scene will have your eyeballs rolling early. There's even the dreaded hubcap shot, stalwart of second rate directors the world over. And the world is getting smaller every day.

Not one scene rings true. My favourite is the son who through the wonders of DNA suddenly becomes the junior karate champion of America and later suffers not a jot of post traumatic stress syndrome after a bout of participatory violenomics with his old man. In fact, he's swiftly forgotten about and placed into the cupboard helpfully marked 'plot device'. However, those who like to polish their behinds on staircases will not be disappointed by the depiction of violence throughout, no matter how preposterous.

A rather wonderful performance from Viggo Mortensen deserves a better screenplay.
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Revolver (2005)
22 September 2005
According to Ritchie this is not a complicated film, the concept is quite simple. That's nice to know. He acknowledges that an intellectual concept needs to be presented in an entertaining manner. This is his strangest remark, for clearly five solid minutes of his lead actor having a therapy session in a lift cannot be described as stimulating or entertaining, at least for me. The film makes you feel embarrassed, like having to show a genital wart to a nurse or something.

This is a bizarre and avante guarde film. Mark Strong's conscience afflicted hit man is probably the only accessible element. The rest probably falls outside the boundaries of criticism such as 'good' or 'bad', whatever those ever meant in the first place. Ritchie either has a very high IQ or is nursing one hell of a personality disorder. Maybe both. One is minded of seventies rock aristocracy, emerging from one's estate to make a pretentious double concept album, divorced from reality. It does surprise me that a family man would make a film in which a little girl, in some distress, has a gun put to her head or is made to listen to her father's gruesome torture. Perhaps society has become so morally bankrupt that he didn't even question it.

There are a couple of funny lines, one about a watch and a funeral. Also, a bit of visual humour involving, yes, you guessed it, an over weight gangster which is vintage Ritchie. Other than that, I'm sorry I can't be more helpful.
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The Descent (2005)
Don't sit too near the front
16 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Like I did. Despite horror films being a touch old hat, the jumps in The Descent are by no means as predictable as expected. I was too old to see this movie but I bribed the management into giving me a ticket. It is about some girls who go potholing in the Apelican mountains. There are no pelicans, I just can't spell Appalachian. The director's last film failed because the budget did not extend to actually having special effects. A hairy dummy which I took to be a werewolf was jigged up and down by a window by a prop person while the camera was flung about in attempt to fool us into thinking the wolf was something other than an inanimate object. By that point I was nodding off causing even more jitters. This time the director was able to afford monsters but made them look like Orcs from Lord of the Rings. What is Lord of the Rings? Well it's about a mythical kingdom called Middle Earth that is populated amongst other things by little people called Hobbits and a wizard called Gandalf and there's this ring…no, best not. Anyway, it is one of a curious number of decisions, such as beginning the opening scene with quick cuts like his last film. This meant I almost entirely missed a plot point about an affair which I only 'got' when belatedly reading a review. Confusingly he has also hired two actresses with identical boat races. It was also unwise to pull the rug on sympathy for his lead actress. A film this bleak really needs someone to unambiguously root for, rather than frown upon for moral reasons. I also noticed the odd out of focus shot and the climatic fight was botched to say the least. None of this is ruinous, however. I would say that the only glaring fault is the running time. Eighty five minutes tops, please, for movies that have the intellectual content of a grape. The enigmatic ending seemed contrived to create a buzz for the film on Internet message boards. Mission accomplished.

So to sum up, The Descent is slightly above average. It is depressing and pointless but then so are the last few Woody Allen films so it's Hobson's choice really. Anyone wishing to corner the director into explaining the ending should look for a bald gentleman with fangs standing in an airport departure lounge, clutching a one way ticket to LA. I'm not jealous.
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Battle of the bouffants
15 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
There are some subtle moments in this self styled 'true' re-telling of Mary Shelley's celebrated novel. Anyone notice how Victor's bride to be appears to give his brother the evil eye at the film's opening scene? Also when Victor tries to prevent the creature from throwing himself off the cliff but then notices that there is no one around to see if he did so, and the monster picks up on it? Perhaps the film should have ended there. Instead, it introduces a pantomime villain grandstanding on a set straight out of Fu Manchu with assistants to match, rather too knowing dialogue and even the immortal "well, at least things can't get any worse!" (Cue creature and Tom Baker hamming it up, not to mention the dodgiest skeleton special effect I've ever seen.) This is a pity, because there is a nuanced and heart breaking performance from Sarrazin as the creature and some splendid production design, not to mention diaphanous women.

The central absurdity we are expected to swallow, is the rather unlikely convergence of so many people wanting to raise the dead. The script anticipates this reaction with the scene where Mrs Frankenstein bluffs the local magistrate. Unfortunately, her dogged belief that her husband is still mister right stretches what little credibility the film has left to the outer limits.

The chief problem is the science. A severed arm moving without instructions from a brain? The re-animated corpses, the script suggests, are not expected to change physically, as if rendered immortal by the processes they have been subjected to. But flesh is flesh, so how can a heart go on beating when stabbed, or lungs not fill with water when floating mouth agape and seemingly alive in a liquid aquarium? The creature, for instance, retains twenty twenty vision while the rest of him falls apart and his strength remains undiminished. This lack of internal logic soon causes the film to degenerate into something of a witless farrago. It is puzzling as to why Victor does not merely bring his recently deceased colleague back to life rather than transplanting his brain (without misplacing a hair on the creature's head, you'll notice.) After all, Henri Clerval's dodgy ticker would no longer be an issue, as this new race are supernaturally powerful. Likewise, Dr Polidori's despair at the loss of Prima makes little sense. Plop her head back on her body and submerge her in the tank again. The spinal cord issue doesn't appear to be a problem on either monster.

There is also a very sloppy bit of directing when Agatha encounters the horse and cart. Watch it, and tell me how it makes sense. Not a great film then, but it does have an unequivocally great ending.
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The Norliss Tapes (1973 TV Movie)
Scooby Dooby do!
2 March 2005
Yes, it's easy to mock. Hang on, it IS easy to mock. Why didn't I think of that before? Okay, now....yikes, that made me jump! I didn't see it coming at all. David Norliss's hideous tweed jacket, that is. It's a pretty scary production, after all. In fact, the sartorial Saville Row ensembles we are used to seeing Roy Thinnes wear in 'The Invaders' are entirely absent here, neatly delineating the career difference between an architect and a struggling writer. The smooth Aryan that was David Vincent replaced by a grey tousle haired muppet with *groan* jumper over cheap shirt. And as for that long raincoat....darling, get yourself on a make-over show pronto! No wonder it was never made into a series. Do you want to spend that many weeks with a fashion disaster zone like Norliss? He wouldn't be able to find any monsters because they would be a hell of a lot more frightened of him. And if he did catch up with and grapple with a monster, the cops would show up and shoot him.

This is one of those those shows that you remember fondly as a kid but are pretty laughable now. But in a strange way you can see them with both eyes. Love the cod Chandler-esque dialogue. "It was Monday. I drove down to the mansion with the smell of three day old tequila on my breath and a boot polish orange tan. Yeah, I had seen better days. The dark clouds hung over me like a bad omen. Tonight there was going to be a dead reckoning, and I had a hunch the corpse ain't gonna be whistlin' Dixie!" That sort of thing. I defy anyone to keep a straight face at the ending. Mind you, today's WWF bouts are more bizarre. My favourite shot of the film is the Cort's burning studio. It's obviously the director's favourite shot too as he pointlessly decides to linger on it for about ten minutes. It's almost avante-guarde, sweety.

People tend to forget that Dan Curtis didn't direct the first Night Stalker movie, it was John Llewellyn Moxey. He directed the so-so sequel. The truth is he's not a great director and this movie was a bit of a shambles. There may have been production problems, I don't know. Anyway, check it out. The plot is shamelessly lifted from guess where, even down to the reprise of the shows 'top scary moments' at the end, but it's a lot of fun if viewed in the right frame of mind. Which is no frame at all and sporting a dire wardrobe.
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The Ash Tree (1975 TV Short)
"No sweet babes shall mine be!"
30 January 2005
And the witch ain't whistlin' Dixie!

Legendary (because I say so) entry in the long running Ghost Story For Christmas 'series'. Another little gem from Mr Clark, meticulously and subtly weaving past with 'present', in this case around the time the novel Tom Jones was published, as it is mentioned in one scene. Don't ask me the date, my history is terrible, and I can't even blame modern schooling! Like all the previous ghost stories, you have to concentrate a little to follow the plot.

The poor chap in this evil little rustic tale is the most unfortunate in the series, being that he is haunted by both his ancestor and the women he had wronged. He has a portent of his own doom, and is his own marionette, leading himself to a fate you wouldn't wish on your worse enemy. Well, maybe. Signalling the past through echoing voices is a little hokey, but the ending is juicy.
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30 January 2005
Formula had by now set in. Perhaps this is the fault of James? I've only read one of his stories, which was short. 'Treasure' is a bit boring, truth be told, although blessed with the meticulous direction of the great Lawrence Gordon Clark and his gift for the off beat observation. Special mention to the photography in this series, which is never less than resonant of both past and pastoral heritage.

Once again a member of clergy or academia, through detective work, is after some buried treasure which will have some sort of supernatural guardian attached. I think in Lost Hearts (my favourite of all time), it was arcane knowledge that was sought after, leading to hubris and eventual downfall.

Nothing new here then, and a rare miscalculation from Clark in having a cackling Abbot at a moment of cloying terror. However, the ending is one of the best. Chilling indeed!
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