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Scrubs: My Bad Too (2008)
The worst Scrubs episode ever!?
Quite possibly the worst, most tedious and uninteresting Scrubs episode I have seen (Seasons 1-7).
No funnies, no storyline to speak of, no anarchic comedy..... no nothing in fact. This is a poor poor episode and a series that is already fighting for life.
I got the impression the writers just couldn't be bothered putting a decent story together; and the main cast looked bored, going through the motions, probably realising the show was on the verge of being canned.
Season Six is when the decline started imo, even though there were still quite a few gem episodes scattered amongst a sea of averageness. But S7 so far, has been a terrible disappointment: which doesn't say much for my hopes with S8 & 9 Anyway, this particular episode should be buried and forgotten about: it's just too embarrassing & tedious to bother with 2nd time round.
Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
A Total Delight
I haven't read the books; and neither am I a big fan of rom-coms and other "girly-flics". So I approached this movie with some supreme caution, reluctance and even dread.
However, some 90 odd minutes later, I have to say what a joy it was!
Lonely Girl (Bridget): identity crisis, getting old before her time, a dreamer, but scared of getting left behind as a cranky old spinster.
Total Cad of the Highest Order (Cleaver, Bridget's boss): womaniser, lier, betrayer of naive women's hearts; handsome, a weaver of words and irresistible to Bridget.
Boorish Barrister (Darcy): lives in a suffocating world of vacuous, society, people, boring jobs, boring lives; and shackled to the most hideous wife-to-be imaginable.
All three are inextricably linked, yet who will Bridget ultimately find true love with?
Yes, this kind of story has been done to death, Yes, it had a very predictable storyline, Yes, it was dreadfully clichéd, Yes, it stretches realism hugely, Yes, it yet again gave a rather stilted & blinkered view of jolly old upper-middle class England, Yes, it had a very telegraphed ending.
But you know what? I couldn't care a jot!
For it was pure, simple entertainment: I cared not about any of the above; I cared not how the film didn't live up to the expectations of the book; and I really cared not whether a "plump" Bridget Jones could really hit it off with a two very handsome men!
Just take the film at face value and leave the cynicism on the doorstep.
My wife loved it, and I was very entertained by it, especially with its light humour & slapstick; and of course the rather feel-good ending.
For a person who prefers far more weightier genres & more thought-provoking scripts, I didn't think I would ever enjoy a rom-com. But on this occasion, I am happy to admit I was totally wrong! Bridget Jones, is a total delight.
The Actors (2003)
The actors in The Actors, failed to Act!!!
We saw this in a bargain basket at the local Asda: £1.50 for the DVD. reading all the hype plastered all over the cover saying how "hillarious" it is, and it also had a really good, established cast, we thought this must a great film.
So we bought, took it home, shoved it in the DVD player, sat back and waited for the funnies to begin.......and waited.......and waited.....and waited a bit more.
Some 90 minutes later, although it felt more like 3 hours, the credits rolled, and that was the end of that.
What a letdown - even paying £1.50 seemed a con. God knows what Caine, Richardson and Gambon were thinking when they said 'yes' to this tosh. And as for Moran: well much as I enjoyed Black Books, Shaun of the dead, and his comedy tours, I felt he was out of his depth in this film. He tried too hard playing for laughs, probably thinking that if retaining the characteristics from his Black Books character, would work here.
Sadly it back-fired. The gags fell flat after awhile, and then he became just an irritation. Which is a shame because I believe given the right part he could be a very good film/character actor.
Anyway, to sum up: the actors in The Actors, failed to Act!!!
Von Ryan's Express (1965)
A Train Too Far
An overlong WWII "prison escape" actioner, starring the singer-turned-actor Frank "My Way" Sinatra and stout, dependable Brit, Trevor "It will never work!" Howard.
Coming very much on the heels of the more famous "The Great Escape", Von Ryan's Express (VRE) is very much style over content compared to its more involving & character-driven bigger brother.
For Steve McQueen, we now have Frank as, Jo Von Ryan, an America POW encamped with a load of Brit POWs in deepest Italy. The first half of the film concentrates on the grimness & harsh reality spent in the sweltering prison camp, where living conditions are unbearable and the Italian guards (led by a wasted Adolfi Celi) brutal.
But, unlike The Great Escape, very little time is spent fleshing out the lead characters into people we can care about. Instead, director Mark Robson, just touches the edges with the usual stereotypical characterization that simply doesn't work at all.
Sinatra is your typical New Yorker with attitude, and Howard, is your typical British Stiff-Upper-Lipped cynic who doesn't like been told what to do by a Yank. And that's about it as far as characterisation before Robson, moves the film up a couple of gears to an all-out actioner.
Some of the action sequences are quite well done, even though the majority of the shots are taken on board a train on its way to Switzerland. But to me, Robson, fails to capitalise on turning each key sequence into something really memorable. He first sets a scene up, but then fails to develop it other than to resorting to a hamfisted shootout that's all over in a matter of minutes.
Compare this style to that of The Great Escape, when the sequences are developed and ratcheted up gradually, resulting in a very satisfactory pay off at the end of each one.
None-the-less, VRE does have its moments, but I think the choice of Sinata as the action hero just doesn't quite ring true somehow. Every time disaster strikes I keep on thinking he is going to grab the nearest microphone and burst into song with "My Way" or something.
Even the direction and script is only moderately well done, the cinematography is quite excellent, especially with some very good exterior shots of the Swiss Alps. The music, also, is quite useful, and helps pace the movie without drowning it too much in pathos, especially the rather shocking (by Hollywood standards)finale
That said, VRE still falls way short in the suspense & entertainment stakes of any comparable film of its era such as The Great Escape, Guns Of Navarone or the truly excellent Where Eagles Dare.
Dad's Army (1968)
....keeps marching on and on!
Dad's Army has been repeated on the BBC many many times over the last 30 odd years, and its easy to understand why.
The scripts were rich, simple, entertaining, inoffensive, gentle & above all, very very funny. Veteran writers, David Croft & Jimmy Perry, excelled themselves with this show, that lasted nearly 10 years from 1968 to 1977.
Of course, having a good script is all very well, but you need quality actors to make those scripts come to life. Step forward, then, a host of relative unknowns, thespians and bit-part actors.
Arthur Lowe (blunderbus,Captain Mainwaring), probably takes most plaudits and was certainly a very good versatile actor. It was felt back in the early days of Dad's Army (DA), that the sitcom was perhaps a little below his considerable acting talents. But like all good actors, he stuck with it through the first hesitant series and was rewarded with major audience ratings which would invariably lead to more and more episodes coupled with an appreciative following and critical acclaim that would bring its own rich rewards.
John Le Mesurier (the softly spoken Sgt Wilson), another experienced film and theatre actor with almost 100 films in his CV prior to taking on the part of kindly Sgt Wilson - very much everyone's favourite "uncle" figure.
Clive Dunn (Corporal Jones), surprised us all by looking considerably older for his part as local butcher, veteran WW1 soldier, Jones. He was only in his late 50s when he took on the part of a soldier who looked well into his 70s. But for all that he was perhaps the funniest and most endearing character of them off, especially when he went off on one his "Don't Panic" attacks, telling everyone to calm down, when in actual fact there was nothing at all to worry about!
John Laurie (the Scottish undertaker, Fraizer), had a very distinguished theatre career coupled with some major films parts during the early part of his career in the 30s and 40s. Again, like Lowe, it was felt Laurie had too much quality to be seeing doing something as apparently "lowly" as a sitcom. It was even rumoured that during the first couple of series he criticised the scripts and some of the actors around him for being "amateur". Although by Series 3, and a consistant 16 million TV fanbase, coupled with a better salary, Laurie soon changed his mind and genuinely began to immerse himself in the part.
Ian Lavender ("Stupid Boy", Private Pike). It was a very shrewd idea by Croft & Perry, to include a very young soldier into the mostly elderly Home Guard. Pike was very much the "Mother's Boy", a soldier equiped with a rifle, a bannet and a wooly scarf knitted by his mom and wrapped tightly round his neck to keep out the cold. Lavender, was perfect for the part. It wouldn't be far from the truth if the majority of the female TV audience of DA were mothers, grannies and aunts simply begging to look after this young, innocent young man fighting to protect his home and country alongside a bunch of pensioners. Of course his Captain, Manwaring, wasn't quite so sympathetic, and would often call him a "Stupid Boy" for behaving like a reckless teenager weened on too many comics.
Then of course there are the support actors such as the Cockney spiv, Private Walker (James Beck), the soppy vicar (Frank Williams) and the antagonistic ARP Warden (Bill Pertwee), who clashed with Manwaring and his rabble of pensioners throughout the lifetime of DA, often resorting to calling the Captain, Napoleon for his arrogant and amateurish behaviour.
There were many excellent episodes throughout the history of DA and many many more "very good" ones. Only rarely was there a poor episode, and these seemed to crop up during the last couple of years of the show, when one or two of the actors such as James Beck had died, leaving huge gaps that were never really successfully filled.
By today's standard the sfx and stunts, such as they were, were often very poor & obvious, but this was downside never really handicapped the show. Today's audience is far more sophisticated in its viewing habits than those of 20 or 30 years ago. But what is consistent through the decades is the quality of the stories and its endearing appeal that can only mean Dad's Army will be continually repeated throughout the decades as a piece of warm & friendly humour during the dark months and years of WW2.
Later... With Jools Holland (1992)
Now This Is What I Call Music
In a media world full of fluff, triviality and mindlessly produced & manufactured pap-music, comes a polished diamond in a sea of plastic baubles.
"Later..." has been delighting a more mature & sophisticated music audience for a decade and long may it continue to do so.
Using a very standard but successful studio set our host, the very easy on the eye, Jools Holland introduces perhaps 3 or 4 groups or singers positioned almost adjacent to each other throughout the studio.
The set arrangement is complete with perhaps an audience of around 150 people in the mid 20s and above group, who seem to understand and appreciate fine music.
The choice of music is not themed, and neither does the show play "populist" music that would only really see light of day on MTV, Top of the Pops or children's TV programs where quality-music just isn't an option.
Instead the majority of artists are real musicians with a backing band who play real instruments. There are no over-dubs, no miming, no boy/girl bands prancing about like moron-fodder to a witless tune no one with even a iota of intelligence really gives a fig about.
Thus a typical show might open with a hard rock riff say Jeff Beck and then the next group will play some World Music, or Folk music or just a simple ballad before moving on to the next invited group on the show.
In all an artist will get to sing perhaps 2 or 3 songs in each 40 minute show, coupled with a brief but very informal chat with the lead.
All in all it makes for a very satisfying show that is easy on the eye as well as the ear. There are no fancy gimmicks, graphics, menus or other stupid video sfx here. Holland, is just a natural talent to host a show like this, and on a few occasions he actually gets his piano out and gets involved with a song or two from one of the bands.
"Later...." is a quality tv show, a cultural oasis in a desert full of averageness. If only it had a longer runtime rather than the 40 minutes it gets now.
Let The Good Times Rock (and Roll)
Black Adder the Third (1987)
Majestic Comedy on a Regency Scale
Edmund Blackadder (Rowan "Mr Bean" Atkinson) is now butler to perhaps the most stupidist royal in English history, for this is now 1792, Regency England, King George is a looney in all but name, and his son, the Prince Regent (Hugh Lawrie) is the King-in-waiting and Blackadder is his servant.
Not only does Edmund have to look after the welfare of the Prince but also has to tolerate his own servant, the mouse-brained dogs body, Baldrick (Tony Robinson), who hasn't got two brain cells to call his own. Blackadder is not only frustrated with the fact that he, by his own admission, is wasted amongst this pair of backward imbeciles and tries to trick, threaten, bribe or steal as much money as he can so that he can seek an escape from this lifetime of drudgery.
We are treated to six wonderfully scripted episodes from Blackadder's diary and what a pleasure it is too (very mild spoilers):-
SENSE & SENSIBILITY.
The Prince Regent survives an assassination attempt by an anarchist. Disappointed by this recovery Blackadder suggests the Prince write a speech sympathetic to the poor of his land in order to win popular favour again.
To help his cause, Blackadder hires two very amateur but egotistical actors to train the Prince in being stately, civil but also compassionate to his people. However, the Prince is also very irritated with his butler and insults him once to often before Blackadder decides enough is enough and walks out, leaving the dopey Baldrick in charge. Moments later Baldrick learns that the actors are planning to kill the Prince behind his back. Can the dumb servent save the day without Blackadder?
INK & INCAPABILITY
The Prince wants to expand his mind and become one of the great intellectuals of the time. However, in order to do this miraculous achievement he decide to invite the great wordsmith, Dr Samuel Johnson around for tea in order for the Prince to review & patronise the Doctor's new book.
However, the Prince hasn't quite grasped the fact that the book is in fact an English dictionary. All the Prince is really interested in is if there are any juicy murders in it.
The arrival of the great intellectual is also a source of irritation to Blackadder, who has penned his own auto-biography crammed with "sizzling gypsies" and feels his own book is far more worthier than a tiresome dictionary. So the great Blackadder goes out of his way to mock not only the Doctor's book (which took him 10 years to compile) but also the Doctor himself. Irritated & impatient by these two buffoons, the Doctor stomps out in a huff, forgetting to take his dictionary with him.
When Blackadder learns that Baldrick has burnt the dictionary and there is no copy he panics and decides to follow one of Baldrick's "cunning plans" and rewrites the entire book. The only trouble is that he has only the weekend to write it before the Doctor returns with some of his most admiring friends all swearing bloody murder if the book is not returned.
DISH & DISHONESTY
Remarkably the Prince is on the verge of bankruptcy from a hostile Prime Minister, Pitt The Younger. The only way to avoid this embarrassment is to make sure all the serving MPs vote in favour of retaining the Prince and ignoring the PM.
To be sure of winning an overall majority Baldrick is made an MP but rather than voting for the Prince the dopey Baldrick votes the other way. Only the House of Lords can save the Prince from ignominy and Blackadder's luxury lifestyle off ripping off the Prince. So Blackadder decides to become a Lord himself and hopefully save the day.
AMY & AMIABILITY
The Prince is almost broke thanks to a total misunderstanding in how to play a game of cards for money. As a consequence the only way out is for the Prince to marry a wealthy lady called Amy. Blackadder arranges a blind date but the thickish Prince isn't all that bothered about charming the young girl with sweet nothings, all he wants is to give her some his "German Sausage".
Blackadder learns that Amy is a bit of a thicky herself and her father isn't quite so wealthy after all. The plan of marriage goes badly wrong and so Blackadder has no other choice but to turn to crime as a dashing Highway Man, in order to stave off the wolves(and squirrels) from the Prince's door.
NOB & NOBILITY
Much to the irritation of Blackadder, there is a new hero in town. The great Scarlet Pimpernel, who is saving the heads of all the French aristocrats from the chop as the peasants have revolted against their king.
Denouncing the Pimpernel Blackadder accepts a challenge from some of the Prince's friends. He has to sail to France, rescue an aristocrat and bring him home in order to win the bet.
However, Blackadder has other ideas of rescuing a Frenchie, and it doesn't involve sailing to the "hugely dangerous" country of France.
DUEL & DUALITY
The Prince really puts his foot in it by spending the night with the nieces of the greatest swordsman England has ever seen, the Duke of Wellington.
The Prince thinks the Duke is still at war and will thus never know. But Blackadder reminds him that the war with the French ended six months ago and put it about town that he will duel to the death with anyone who takes advantage of his two nieces.
In a panic the Prince offers Blackadder everything he owns if he will only fight the Duke instead of him. After some thought Blackadder agrees but to complete the masquerade they have to swap clothes and jobs in order for the deception to work.
Six great episodes, all superbly written and performed. The only slight disappointment is the absence of both Stephen Fry & Tim Macinnery. It is true they appear in an episode each here, but unlike Series 2 & 4 where they were regulars, this series somehow isn't quite so complete and thus the comedic jousting between Blackadder, Baldrick and the Prince is rather restricting and repetitive.
Apart from that minor grumble this third series is quality comedy, although I personally rank it third behind series 4 and series 2 respectively.
Take the Money and Run (1969)
One of Allen's best films from his early comedy era
Very much fresh off the stand-up comedy circuit Allen stretches his wings a great deal in this gag-a-minute movie that centres on a useless criminal who can't even steal gum from a gumball machine without something going wrong.
His character, Virgil Starkwell, is pretty much useless at everything, he can't play a musical instrument despite having his own tutor; he is no good at school;he can't get a decent job and he doesn't know how to date girls successfully. Its no wonder, therefore, that when his parents are interviewed in this moc-doc movie they disguise themselves in front of the camera for the shame their son as brought them.
This is Allen's first real movie that is nothing more than slapstick comedy, one-liner jokes, a lot of visual humour coupled with the tell-tale self-analysis of his life. He not only co-wrote the screenplay but also starred and directed the film and it shows too.
The acting is very better than the directing but the script is better than both. The film is uneven at times as Allen tries to feed us too many talky jokes and visual jokes at the same time. It seems as if he is afraid audiences might start to lose interest if he doesn't include at least one gag every few seconds.
However, it was a brilliant idea to turn this movie into a moc-documentary with a superb narration by Jackson Beck whose voice fits the slightly serious tone & mood of the film perfectly. This helps a great deal because the monotone narration acts a kind of picture frame to the lunatic goings-on within the film itself and helps bring a sense of control to proceedings.
Allen, the actor, is as you would always expect him to be. He portrays himself as the wimp all bullies dream about. Those trademark glasses and helpless eyes only make the Virgil character ever more realistic, charming & helpless that you simply cannot but cheer him on even though he is useless at almost everything.
This film is far better than the rather disappointing Bananas but lacks the maturity and writing sophistication of his latter films such as Play It Again Sam and Sleeper. I think between 1968 and 75 was very much Allen's slapstick era, and some would say he directed some of his best films before going all serious & morose by the late 80s and early 90s.
Take The Money And Run, is just another experimental vehicle for Allen to sharpen his considerable writing and acting talents while at the same time making himself well known through a large audience by using the kind of flat-line comedy he used during his stand-up years.
As I mentioned earlier what spoils this film is the reliance by Allen to cram as much mirth into every frame as possible without trying to develop the story just a little more so that we could absorb ourselves not just with the humour but also the characters themselves. Allen soon managed to get this combination just about right with Play It Again Sam and thereafter.
This film is very funny for all that. It doesn't propose to be clever or sophisticated, this is the birth of Allen Humour and for a lot of his fans remains one of their most cherished films of all.
Overlong But Very Absorbing.
Zulu is perhaps one of Stanley Baker's greatest achievements in his relatively short movie career. So impressed was he with the real battle of Rorke's Drift between the indigenous Zulu warriors and the British Army during the reign of Queen Victoria, that he financed the entire movie project more or less on his own.
Baker not only produced but also starred alongside the young, fresh-faced Michael Caine. Baker plays Lt John Chard, Officer Of Engineers who marginally out ranks the rather pompous & arrogant Lt Gonville Bromhead (Caine).
Chard is very much a military man brought up through the ranks and therefore has plenty of military experience & tactical knowledge. However, his young rival, Bromhead is very much a blueblood, with a family tree full of colonels, captains & generals and therefore he assumes that he too will follow in their footsteps based purely on his standing & lineage.
The first 50 minutes of this film centres on this rivalry and as the film unravels further and the various battle sieges are played out under the command of Baker, we get to see Caine's gradual fall from grace as he comes to terms with the fact that he has no head for tactics or military command during battle conditions. And by the end of the film he more or less confesses that the battle of Rorke's Drift is in fact his first.
The battle scenes (and there are very many of them) are very well choreographed although the end result is less than satisfying. There are many shots of men being "stabbed" with spears under armpits or falling over covering bullet wounds even though there is no telltale holes visible on their tunics.
I also felt the presence of Jack Hawkins as a pacifist missionary pleading with Baker & Caine to hand over their sick & wounded before the attacks begin, was irritating. I don't doubt that there were missionaries during the real battle but somehow Hawkins didn't convince me at all, especially when it turns out they he is also an alcoholic and general trouble-maker (when the film was first premiered, Hawkins hated the final depiction of his character and didn't attend its opening).
The music is also exceptionally good, very much in keeping with the soul & vast presence of the Zulu army and their warrior-like chanting throughout the mountains encircling the small British Army at Rorke's Drift.
The film does seem to go on forever. There is a problem with the pacing from Cy Enfields assured direction. He develops the lead characters very well and the battle scenes are generally well done, but he also spends too much time identifying the support characters, which of course is always important but in this case he covers too much ground with too much talk and not enough action. And as a consequence the film out stays its welcome by about 20 minutes.
But for all that Zulu is a very good, film, totally absorbing at times, and both Caine & Baker do exceptionally well with their characters. Although to be honest Caine's rather snooty upper-class accent felt so awkward & grating because most of know that Caine has a trademark Cockney accent in most of his films.
The Middle-Aged Ones Scrape the Bottom Of Good Taste
Perhaps not the most intellectually challenging of sitcoms, but Bottom did represent a rather unhealthy underbelly of British society during the early 90s.
Both Edmonson & Mayall more or less reprise their roles from previous comedic incarnations such as Filty Rich & Catflap and of course, The Young Ones. But on this occasion they are both unemployed layabouts living in a room above a corner shop somewhere in the rougher area of London.
Eddie (Edmonson) is a drunk hooligan, who spends all his time either watching TV, avoiding any work at all, getting drunk or beating up his room mate, Richie.
Richie (Mayall) sees himself as the intellectual of the two; ever the optimist but terribly rude & crass with it. He is the "house-husband" and tries to keep some order although he too fails miserably at even this trivial task. He is for ever arguing with Eddie, or trying to chat up women with his blatantly sexist one-liners.
In essence both men are the lowest of the low and yet they seem to be dependent on each other since they don't have a lot of friends and hardly much of a future. But somehow they get by although an episode doesn't go by without at least one punch-up between the two.
A lot of the episodes relied too much gross & vulgar scenarios that although mildly funny hardly ever enriched the show's quality of scripts on a higher intellectual level similar to The Young Ones 10 years earlier.
Only a handful of episodes really stay in the mind if only because the scripts on these occasions are broader and expansive and not quite so tedious or repetitive as is the norm.
Bottom fails in many ways because the episodes are as boring as the two people's lives we're supposed to be watching. I even went to see the live theatre versions when both Edmonson & Mayall toured the country several years ago, and again most of the laughs from the audience derived from bad language, violence or lavatorial humour from the two gormless morons on the stage. Which I think really sums up Bottom completely.
Blackadder Goes Forth (1989)
A True History Lesson
This forth and final series is perhaps the best of all the Black Adder episodes; it is also more of a tragi-comedy than just plain old slapstick perhaps because at the time (1989) the events of WW1 were very much in the minds of a lot of people, whether it be surviving soldiers or relatives.
As such there was some controversy when it was first broadcast by the BBC for its apparent lack of respect to those who fought and lost their lives for the sake of freedom & democracy.
However, in retrospect, this isn't strictly true because even with Episode One there is a tangible shift in tone from previous Black Adder series. Yes some of the slapstick tomfoolery is still there, mainly at the expense of poor gormless Private Baldrick. But in addition a lot of the supposedly funny lines do have quite serious undertones, and bely the real truth of the sheer lunacy & farce that went on during the real war.
For those that know their 20th Century history, WW1 was seen as a complete disaster for all and sundry, especially for the British soldiers in the trenches, primarily because they were being commanded & told how to fight a war by the most repulsive upper-class morons that call themselves Generals that ever wore a uniform.
This was plainly represented by the bumbling fool, General Melchett (a wonderfully bemusing performance from Stephen Fry). Melchett simply has no idea of what life really is like for the troops on the front-line while he prattles on 35 miles behind the front-line in some safe palatial mansion where the most dangerous hazard to his life is whether he can unscrew a cork out of a champagne bottle without it hitting him in the face.
Melchett is a complete buffoon but only Captain Blackadder realises this; everyone else thinks the General knows what he is doing purely because of his rank & social standing. So it is no wonder that Blackadder wants to mutiny because it's a hard choice deciding who the real enemy is - the Germans or his own Generals.
General Melchett: Are you looking forward to the big push?
Private Baldrick: No sir, I'm absolutely terrified.
General Melchett: The healthy humour of the honest, Tommy. Don't worry my boy, if you should falter, remember that Captain Darling and I are behind you.
Edmund Blackadder: About thirty-five miles behind you.
This dark humour is wonderfully interwoven with the usual witty lines thanks largely to the writers, Richard Curtis and Ben Elton. It is typically anti-war but with good reason, as Blackadder declares in one episode:-
"with 50,000 men being killed every week who is going to miss one dead pigeon!"
The madness of this war also draws our attention to those very same front-line troops such as Blackadder, Baldrick & Lieutenant George. Their living conditions are disgusting & the fear of being shot or bombed out of their trench a very real possibility.
The humour is just an adjunct to the real horrors that are going on in their lives, and this is beautifully concluded in the very sad finale. No longer did the critics argue this series lacked any respect because come the final few minutes of Episode Six we were treated to the sad demise of all those soldiers fading into time and replaced by the infamous poppy fields that strewn Northern France.
Blackadder Goes Forth is far more intelligent than a lot of sitcoms; the writing and acting is exceptionally good, and also underpins the true human sacrifice the millions of soldiers gave to their King & country while the smug & arrogant Generals went home to more medals, honours and riches than ever before.
School children of today find reading about history boring & not very relevant. But thanks to this series I am sure young & old alike will find this far more interesting, absorbing, damming & shocking than any written word on the subject could ever say.
War Is Hell!
A Chilling Reminder of Carpenter During His Prime!
Contains Spoilers!! John Carpenter's best years for movies were in the 70s when he was very much an unknown working the independent-studio circuit and making films as cheaply as possible with limited finances but without sacrificing the quality that goes into such superb film.
And as a consequence from 1974 to roughly 1986 Carpenter offered us such classic indies as, Dark Star, Assault On Precinct 13, The Fog, The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China. All of them had their cult following and all of them had a lot of film critics buzzing with praise & plaudits but only Halloween became perhaps one of the most influential movies in movie history.
Although a generally simple concept of a maniac-on-the-loose, that had done before in lesser films previous to Halloween in '78, a lot of them lacked the style and above all, the sheer terror of this Carpenter offering.
Even the opening titles were enough to set the mood in no uncertain terms: a halloween pumpkin with a rather threatening "smile" slowly coming into the camera's focus while a pair of synthesizers pound out one of those nerve-jangling & ominous film scores that really sets the mood.
Then we see a POV of our killer stalking the house of his sister who is making out with her boyfriend late at night. He then makes his way into the house when the boyfriend has left, enters her bedroom and then stares for what seems like forever before killing her.
So far, so normal. This kind of thing has been done a few times although never quite so calculating or sucessful. But what really makes this scene so shocking is that we then get to look at our killer, but instead of expecting some cruel & twisted adult, it is in fact the 6 year old boy of the sister he has just stabbed to death. And not only that but when the police arrive and capture him we find he was wearing a hockey mask throughout the entire murder.
An absolutely shocking first few minutes that totally unsettles its audience right from the very first note of the film score to the removal of the hockey mask some 6 minutes later. Carpenter is clearly very influenced by the works of Hitchcock but he succeeds where other lesser directors failed and packaged an opening with such calculating menace that lets the audience know we're going to be in for a roller-coaster 90 minutes of terror.
Throughout the film the lingering threat never seems to go away, even during the daylight scenes. Most horror films only really come alive when all is dark & sinister, but not so with Halloween. Carpenter uses everyday things to play hide & seek with our wits. One of the best examples is the escaped killer hiding behind a line of white bed sheets as he stalks the unsuspecting Jamie Lee Curtis. We get to see him only for an instant thanks to a sudden gust of wind that reveals his identity as the bed sheet tosses in the air. But for that one moment is just as terrifying as anything that goes on during the night, when an audience is expecting something horrible to happen.
Carpenter, very much like Steven Spielberg's Jaws, likes to tease us and tantalise us with never revealing the presence of the "monster" too early. He likes to play mind games with us so that we ourselves feel like we're been stalked in the same way.
Another highlight in the film is the way Carpenter unsettles us even more with the treatment of the dead people the maniac has killed. Perhaps the best example is the corpse of a murdered girl lying on her bed with her throat cut and the real tombstone of the killer's first victim at her head. Such simple little devices that work so well in Carpenter's hands.
Another similarity with the shark in Jaws is that this particular monster simply will not die as any normal person would do. Not even bullets, knives or falling out of first floor windows have any desired effect until perhaps the very ending. And as a consequence neither the audience or the potential victim in Curtis is allowed off the hook with a standard good-guy kills bad-guy finale.
The acting, chiefly, from old master Donald Pleasence and newcomer, Jamie Lee Curtis, is to be honest the weakest part of the film, although Curtis just does enough to make us care enough for her welfare.
Its also interesting that most of the killings that take place throughout the film occur usually straight after the eventual vicitms have had sex. I guess a lot of psychiatrists watching had a great deal to say about that.
It is not surprising, therefore, that this film became one of the biggest box-office successes in the horror genre ever, and by itself created a whole new industry of what is now somewhat unkindly called "slasher movies" but spawned some great films like "Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Friday 13th", and both of those films had their own franchises as well.
As for Carpenter, well he hasn't hit the high notes ever since "Big Trouble In Little China" back in 86 and even that film wasn't all that great. Ever since then he has had a succession of poorly directed or poorly received horror movies that simply don't have those key ingredients so evident in Halloween, which is a great great shame.
The logic of Halloween doesn't stand up to close scrutiny but back in the late 70s this film set the world alight and Halloween nights were never quite the same again!
Steptoe and Son (1962)
Classic Comedy That Hid A Terrible Truth
Steptoe & Son (SS), was a national institution back in the 60s & 70s. There were huge TV audiences all clamouring to watch the latest episode in the lives of two lonely but dependent rag & bone men in Sheperds Bush, London.
So big were the audience figures at around 7pm at night that even the-then Prime Minster, Harold Wilson, had to postpone a General Election campaign because it clashed with this hugely popular show.
Harold is the middle aged son, frustrated with his boring job as a "totter" and being constantly tied down by his irritating and manipulating father.
Harold is a dreamer, a person who sees himself as an intellectual, a poet, an classical actor, a gentleman, a ladies man and sucessful businessman....and yet this is just his little dream, the kind of dream we all wish for. But in Harold's mind only his father is really holding him back from making those dreams a reality.
Albert, on the other hand, has seen it all. He is a bitter old man who was brought up in a poor family and life was tough, especially having to suffer going through two world wars. He also realises that he never made a success of his life in a business sense. After decades of being a rag & bone man he is still no richer than his own father was.
But to add to this bitterness, he is also scared of being left totally alone in an uncaring modern world. He no longer has a wife, no daughters, hardly any family at all to fall back on. The only person he can really trust & depend on is his son, Harold. And Albert will do anything to ruin Harold's chances of either bettering his own life elsewhere or making sure he never leaves him to fend for himself.
And so for the next 12 years British audiences peeked into the daily lives & scrabbles of this odd couple with Harold trying to escape to a better world and Albert making sure he doesn't.
The scripts remained consistantly good throughout this era of new comedy. Boundaries of acceptable taste during this time were pushed ever further and the onset of moderately bad language from these two gents became common place.
Some purists saw it as vulgar, crude and the thin end of the cultural wedge, while the majority felt it was nothing more than how life in the real world is portrayed, and that is probably one reason why it was so successful, because we could all empathise with the two characters as they struggle for their own particular hopes & dreams.
It should be added that in real life both lead actors, Wilfred Brambell & Harry H Corbett slowly began to hate each other just as much as the characters they portrayed in the show. Brambell was very much a refined gentleman in real life and usually was very dismissive of the poor and working class (which is the great paradox of his own character).
At the same time Harry H Corbett felt he had become for-ever typecast with this Harold Steptoe millstone. He was desperate to do serious acting or to return to the theatre, but the roles he recieved were little more than Harold Steptoe by any other name. And as a consequence Harry would never get the chance to try new challenges and would always be associated and thought of as Harold.
So there was lots of real bitterness in the latter years of the show, in fact some of the episodes were too close to the bone for some. There was an episode, for example, where Harold was given the starring role in an amateur play and for once he had high hopes of breaking away from the shackles of his present employer, only for the ever sceptical Albert to tell him that he will never be a real actor because he has no talent, no class, no skill, nothing at all in fact. You could almost sense the real hostility behind those masks when Albert confronted Harold.
But for all that, SS on its own, is still a much loved show and often repeated and still remains as fresh & funny as ever. The less said about the two movie spinoffs the better.
Fast Food Shocker In Outer Space!
Alien follows all the usual shocks & horrors from your typical spooky haunted house movie. Lots of dark rooms, creepy dark corners and paranoid & scared-witless humans all dancing a merry tune trying to stay alive from the hungry monster that lurks just out of sight.
Alien turned the cosy, sterile world of sci-fi on its head when it first hit the screens back in 79. Until then most of the popular movie-going public had either viewed the sheer escapism and good guy Vs bad guy scenarios of Star Wars or the intellectualism of Close Encounters. But Alien was really the first haunted house movie in space where lots of people could hear you scream!
Although the film isn't really all that intellectually challenging and the script is very much lightweight, the film does benefit from a great collaboration of component parts.
First there is Don O'Bannon's wonderfully inventive screenplay coupled with a superbly scored movie sound track by the ever-dependable Jerry Goldsmith, that really sets the mood & tempo for the film right from the eerie opening.
Then of course some of the lead character/actors must get a mention since they were largely unknowns both here and in the States. Sigourney Weaver in particular, is outstanding and carries the film very well, and which later improved even further with Aliens.
But special mention must also go to the support, including a bold performances from Ian Holm, John Hurt and Yephet Kotto.
Then of course there is a the set design and the construction of the Alien itself - truly the stuff of nightmares and a very inventive mind thanks to people like H. R Giger, Nick Allder and Terry Rawings.
It made a pleasant change to see a space ship so untidy, messy and dirty compared to what our usual expectations of a futurist space ship should look like (ie, all bright lights, sterile white walls and not a coffee cup or half-eaten doughnut in sight).
Admittedly the opening scene of the Nostromo panning overhead to emphasise its huge bulk is a definite steal from the classic opening from Star Wars, but from there any further similarities end.
Then of course to complete a good film one does need a good director, and this is where 20th Century Fox took a big gamble in the relatively unknown Ridley Scott. Before this big break Scott was a director for tv commercials in the UK, and to be honest some of that 30second trickery of getting a message across is visible in Alien at times too.
However, Scott is also a man of vision. Anyone who went on to see BladeRunner will testify to that. Although it can also be said that the handling of a good story in both these films left something to be desired. Scott is very much a style over content director especially when it comes to either SF (BladeRunner, Alien) or great epics such as 1492.
But for all that he does a very good job scaring the wits out us with Alien coupled with some very fancy photography & characterization. He builds the tension very slowly. He knows what the audience are thinking in what is about to happen, so he hoodwinks them with false shocks and other distractions that let us off the hook when we expect the worst to happen.
But then when he does choose to shock us he does so on his own terms and when we expect it least. Of course the chest-busting (or alien birth) not only shocked us but also most of the other actors in the film as well, because Scott simply loves playing jokes on us.
The only disappointment is the real shallowness of the characters. We don't get to know them all that well before they end up being picked off by the Alien. Its only Ripley that really stands out and her character becomes far more fleshed out in the excellent Aliens.
Although I must say I was rather disappointed at the way she was exploited at the end of the film: was there really any need to have the camera see her undress and stare at her panties close up for more than what was really needed to be tasteful?
Ian Holm plays his "unusual" character just right, with a good combination of calculating charm & menace. But Harry Dean Stanton is wasted in this movie. To my mind he is more a character actor who only really shines with a good script and much more rounded character, such as his superb role in Paris Texas. But in this movie he is just Alien Fodder with a dopey fixation of searching for the Ship's Cat all alone with the hungry little Alien is in hiding waiting for its first meal.
In fact the cat proved to be the linchpin throughout the film, especially near the end when for whatever reason Ripey goes in search of it with the clock ticking and the Alien chasing her for a bit more fast food.
A lot of people feel Aliens is the better movie, but I don't agree. Alien succeeded on a relatively small budget and an old concept of shock/horror movie making but set in space and which proved to be a huge box office success.
Aliens was therefore made on the back of this success, but all that was needed to make it even more better was a bigger budget, better special effects and a deeper more fleshed-out story line and characterisation. Which Aliens did in spades.
But for all that is big & flashy in Aliens I still feel Alien is superior, perhaps not in story-content or sfx, but certainly in atmosphere, originality and concept design.
The Italian Job (1969)
Hang on lads, I've got a great idea for a film
A film remembered very much for its quirky ending and amazing car stunts in the middle of Turin, Italy, The Italian Job does a half-decent job to entertain us with light hearted comedy, thrills, spills and average story.
However, I rather think the film would've disappeared had it not been for the charismatic weightiness of the relatively new British actor, Michael Caine. Already well known in the UK from previous films such as Zulu & Alfie, and it particular for his portrayal of Harry Palmer in a succession of spy movies (Ipcress File and Funeral In Berlin) Caine was still largely an unknown on the internation circuit, particularly in Hollywood.
The Italian Job offered Caine the opportunity to shine across the world and move him into super stardom as the cheeky Cockney with a heart of gold and roguish character. Caine has a very interesting presence on screen, a kind of British version of Robert Redford. He looks very self assured, perhaps a touch arrogant but he has the capabilities of either lifting a poor film into a competent one or dragging a goood film down to an average one based purely on his own strengths & weaknesses.
The Italian Job, therefore, is very much an average film even if one includes the stunts & chases. But Caine's marvellous character lifts the movies to a more pleasing one because his character is so large & rounded that even though we know he is very much a dodgy criminal by nature he isn't really a nasty evil man and so we can relate to him and cheer him on all the way through the movie.
I didn't really like Noel Coward's role at all as the Mr Bridger, the highly respected prisoner/criminal overlord that even the prison Governor has to respect. To me it was an embarressment and only served to distract the viewer and slow the pace of the film right down. Coward is far too pompous & boorish and added nothing to the movie at all.
Some of the supporting characters, Benny Hill, Robert Powell, Irene Handl & John Le Measurier are quite familiar to the great majority of UK tv viewers but don't really do themselves much justice in this film, with the possible exception of Hill and his passion for "large" ladies, which would in future years develop into his own TV show "Benny Hill Show".
Although the story is ok it soon becomes bogged down with too many distractions & seems to take for ever to get moving. And of course because this is primarily a British made film with a lot of UK actors the largely Cockney accent from most of the cast does irritate, even to other UK ears.
But again Caine's presence makes us forget about these little faults and all of a sudden the film becomes interesting again. But really this film is far too dependent on those car chases and "that" ending to really make for an enjoyable experience.
What the 2003 version of this film will look like I have no idea, but I suspect it will fall flat on its face very much in the same way the Hollywood remake of another British classic, Get Carter, died a quiet death two years ago.
The Italian Job is ok for a boring Sunday afternoon viewing, but take away Caine and you don't have much to think about.
The Good Life (1975)
The Good Life, Good Show!
The Good Life has been repeated many many times on the BBC ever since it first aired back in the mid to late 70s and for good reason too.
Back then Britain was going through years and years of industrial strikes culminating in 78/79 with the so-called "Winter Of Discontent" when National Strikes crippled the country. During the 70s there were many situations when most of the country had its power cut off for nights on end by striking energy workers.
Thus millions of families would be cast in darkness huddled round candles, talking or trying to read under the gloom. It also gave thought to our total independence on eletricity and the power it provides us at the simple flick of a switch.
And so The Good Life came to light (bad pun I know). However, the writers decided not to make a comedy about people suffering darkness at the hands of militants and strikers. Instead they decided on taking a typical middle-class couple into the realms of voluntary self-sufficiency.
So enter, Tom & Barbara, our selfless & willing guinea pigs who decide the rat race and huge bills is not a world for them. And for the next 4 years we seem them struggle & succeed in their attempts at going their own self-sufficiency way at the bemusements of their neighbours.
This kind of environmentalism was a relatively new concept to British audiences in the 70s and perhaps underlined why the show was such a great & enduring success. But it also raised lots of questions both for us the viewing audience and Tom & Barbara themselves.
Generating electricity is no easy thing as Tom found out when the Electricity Board finally cut their power for not paying their bills. Both Tom & Barbara had to adapt really quickly and get used to the idea that nothing was going to happen any more by simply clicking on a light switch, opening a fridge or turning on a tv.
All these creature comforts we take so much for granted are all gone for Tom & his wife. And trying to build his own little power generator in his celler using the effluent of his pigs to create some form of electricity not only makes for a great episode but also shows us how much hard work & self sacrifice is involved by going the Green Route.
Two major questions that surfaced during the show involved the keeping of animals in Tom's back garden and the hard work, noise, odours etc that this creates and the problems it causes to the neighbours; the difficult matter of having to kill their own chickens bare handed rather than simply going to the shops and buying frozen foods killed by other people.
Interestingly the Goods (Tom & Barbara) were childless which was probably intended by the writers otherwise the show could have suffered if children were involved.
As time went on some of the episodes looked very "samey" from earlier episodes and the laughs were becoming just a little desperate. So to learn that the series would finally end in 1978 was the right choice. Its always best to finish on top than try to stretch a joke too far.
Even though the topicality of the show was popular at the time, I don't think it set a trend with the British in reality. Self-sufficiency was good & funny providing someone else did it, but for the majority of the population it was just too damned hard to even contemplate.
Where Eagles Dare (1968)
Great Escapist Entertainment
Perhaps one of the best war films ever to come out of Hollywood, WED, is typical Boys-Own, escapist adventure, where our heroes (Burton, Eastwood et al) can do no wrong and the action comes thick and fast.
But this isn't total mindless violence (see Rambo 2, for that kind of rubbish). WED does have a decent story and nice little plot twists, that although not totally plausible do make the film a bit more thought-provoking than just watching 148 minutes of gun fire, explosions, decapitations and soldiers being thrown off cable cars at great altitude.
Even though both Eastwood & Burton hog most of the show (and rightly so), they are ably supporting by two women (Mary Ure & Ingrid Pitt). Both women don't have chunky roles but its significant to see any females play such positive parts in what is mostly a male arena when it comes to war films.
Some of the photography is absolutely stunning even though some of the stunts are clearly filmed in the relative safety of a studio, and it shows too!
The acting, although not as po-faced, talky & self-righteous as the film's nearest rival, The Guns Of Navarone (see review), is good by most standards. Burton looks perhaps little old for this kind of all-out hero roll, but he manages to pull it off with his fierce determination and calm disposition.
As for Eastwood, well it meant a uniformed departure from his poncho, gun holster & cowboy hat from his day with Sergio Leone. He is still playing the same kind of character as The Man With No Name, and is still killing hundreds of bad guys while looking suitably cool & reserved, the only difference is the era - from the Wild West to WW2.
But surprisingly the combination of Burton's classical approach to acting & Eastwood's brash new-kid-on-the block 60s adaption works quite well and make for a good partnership as they go about kicking German Butt in their usual inimitable ways.
Brian Hutton's direction follows the pace & temperament of Alistair MacLean's sparkly screenplay although I do feel the film is a tad too long and I think about 15 minutes could've been cut without really upsetting the balance of the story.
WED doesn't challenge the brain, it is thought-provoking in its own little ways and probably bares little or no resemblance to how life was really like during the real WW2. But for all that WED is great entertainment. It doesn't insult the intelligence but then again it was never meant to. But what we are left with is a very enjoyable romp with a great cast and superb scenary.
It doesn't take itself too seriously as Guns Of Navarone does; and neither is it just mindless violence (Rambo 2). This film dares to be different and succeeds in spades.
Father Ted (1995)
Drink + Feck + Arse + Girls + 3 Priests = Quality Comedy.
I must admit to never getting round to watching this masterful comedy series when it first aired on Channel 4 way back in the mid 90s. I guess it was because I couldn't see how they could make a sitcom using three Catholic priests and a manic housekeeper without having to tone down the religious content for fear of offending someone.
As a consequence Father Ted passed me by for all that time until Ch4 repeated the 3rd series a few months ago and I just happened to tune in by accident, and the rest is history as they say.
I wouldn't go as far as saying this is the best ever comedy series to come out of the UK (for me I would opt for Black Adder, Only Fools & Horses, Fawlty Towers & Yes Prime Minister), but it certainly ranks in my top five.
Each episode is so skillfully written without any excess fat to slow or detract from the main storyline. But even a great script counts for nothing if you don't have quality actors to bring that story to life using their own masterful interpretation.
I guess we all have a our favourite character. Some people prefer Father Jack (Frank Kelly), the dirty old priest with a fixation for girls & booze and brought into the public consciousness the rather abusive but highly amusing "feck & arse".
Other people love Mrs Doyle (Pauline McLynn), the housekeeper and general dog's body to the three dippy priests. But she has a heart of gold and a certain innocent charm for this rather naive & skitty middle aged lady.
It came as quite a shock to the system to learn that Dermot Morgan (Father Ted Crilly) died just one day after shooting the final ever episode. But in spite of the sorrow we should be thankful to him for entertaining us & making us laugh out loud so many times with his rather bumbling & frustrated character.
But for me I would have to say that Ardal O'Hanlon as Father Dougal McGuire takes the honours as the most hysterically funny priest ever. His character reminds me of a Homer Simpson - a kind of naive charm, very slow on the uptake, innocent & childlike and yet from time to time comes up with the most amazing lines, ideas & suggestions that just take my breath away with laughter.
Im glad, in a way that only 3 series were ever made (it was agreed between the actors and writers that series 3 would be the very last despite the death of Morgan shortly after completion). Had he lived the pressure to produce another series at some latter stage would be too great and I personally feel would not have been in the same league as the previous three.
As the old saying goes, once you reach the top the only way is down. Three series, therefore, was just right to maintain the quality for the sake of quantity.
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
A Classic Death Of Four Salesmen
Very much a film adapted from the theatre but don't let that put you off for this is an excellent film from start to finish and the top notch actors seem to be enjoying themselves hugely in this male-only, testerone-filled screenplay.
I can't say I'm much of a David Mamet fan. He is a very tedious and lazy author when it comes to adding more than the basic one dimension to a character or scene. And this isn't helped by his lack of imagination on the intellectual front, often resorting to vulgar language & confrontation.
Having said that Director James Foley fleshes out the characters on Mament's behalf, although to be fair the casting for this film is exceptional when one considers the high quality of acting made available to him and thus making his job far more easier in the rather constrained & shallow Mamet screenplay.
Foley really didn't have to get his message across too hard with people like Pacino, Lemmon, Arkin, Baldwin, Harris & Kevin Spacey at his service. Most of these actors learnt their trade walking the boards in their pre-Hollywood days, so this film often a gentle return to the confines of a pseudo-theatre environment.
The tension & claustrophobia that eminates from this film is really evident and only makes the story even more finely tuned & edgy. You almost feel as if you're watching some kind of reality-show or docudrama as these men fight for their lives getting people to buy their real estate and sign on the dotted line and finish king of the castle at the expense of his colleagues.
Lemmon is the old hand, who more or less invented the art of cold-calling and knows all the scams like the back of his hand. And yet for all his success in the past it means nothing now, as he finds himself deeply in debt with medical bills, a more cynical public who are no longer interested in what he as got to sell, coupled with a more brutal and hardnosed management team that don't really care for his personal problems & frailties but demand more from him in better sales revenue.
Pacino is the relatively young turk in the sales tea: succesful, cocky, self assured, confident, crafty and a person with an experienced eye & gift of the gab at spotting vulnerable members of the public in getting them to sign on the dotted line of a real estate contract the mug never really wanted in the first place.
Ed Harris as the arrogant and scheming salesman, who feels very aggrieved at having to work for other people. He doesn't like the idea of his bosses taking away huge slices of his commission for themselves while he works himself into an early grave. He doesn't have many friends in the office and remain aloof & vulgar in his speech. He is frustrated, childish and ever closer to his first heart attack.
Spacey as the young, relatively inexperienced, sales manager. He is clearly out of his depth at trying to "marshall" his sales force. Lemmon & Pacino in particular ridicule him & show him little or no respect because he has never done the kind of footwork they did when he was younger.
And then there is the cameo from Alec Baldwin, as the champion salesman invited by the chairmen of the company to give the office a bit of a shakedown and reality check in the arts of being a good salesman and getting people to sign those contracts.
The story is excellent, the acting right across the board is a treat, although it could be argued that Pacino went a little over the top during times of anger and resorted back to his usual Pacino traits of lots of swearing, barging and confrontation but don't let that put you off.
A very rewarding & absorbing film, that comes highly recommended
Competent but flawed
James Woods plays a stressed-out but determined detective on the hunt for a serial killer who has a vendetta against some former female college students.
Not only is he stressed with his crumbling marriage, but is also ham strung by his boss at the police precinct who is a born-again Christian and won't allow Woods the kind of resources he demands in order to trace the serial murderer before he strikes again.
By the end of the film Woods has been suspended from the force for repeatedly over stepping the mark, but at least he has his prey in his sights and won't let something as the Law get in his way.......
Not a particularly original script and it sometimes stalls & loses emphasis and a sense of direction. But for all that Woods hold the story together quite well in his customary man-on-the-edge way.
Woods has always been one of my favourite actors, he plays his characters with a great deal of intensity, passion and understanding (especially in the Oliver Stone movie, Salvador). And as a consequence his part as Lloyd Hopkins in this film is well suited & crafted for Woods' considerable depth.
Hopkins is arrogant & difficult not only to work with but also to live with. He is pushy and very confrontational and insists he gets his own way now rather than later, very much like Clint Eastwood's "Dirty" Harry Callahan character.
In particular he hates to see women ill-treated and so this particular murder mystery is to his liking and won't rest until he has tracked down the "scum ball" that murdered these students.
He has a heart of gold when he is with his little daughter. But he is also scared & concerned about her future and hopes that she will learn right from wrong and not fall into the shadows of crime & sleaze that he witnesses every day where he works.
But for all his morality & self-rightousness, he is also a cheat, a womaniser & just as sleazy as some of the scum that walk the streets that he so detests. So he is a man of contradiction, compassion and anger all rolled into one, which is just the kind of role best suited for Woods.
Unfortunately, none of the supporting actors are blessed with such dynamic or rounded characters, most of them are predictable & stereotyped, so we soon learn or hazard a guess as to what will happen to them during the unravelling of the movie.
There are a couple of cameo roles from Charles Haid (typecast again from his days as a cop in Hill Street Blues), Lesley Anne Warren and Charles Durning. But none of these characters are strong enough or offer any dimension to the film.
A lot has been said about the unusual ending. I guess in one respect it could have been done better although the very final scene (the fade to black and the sound of fired bullet casings clinking off the floor) is excellent and quite shocking.
Overall then, Cop is a routine thriller with only James Woods lifting it from the mediocre and into a competent drama. Woods does a fine job as always but there's not much else going on and is perhaps 20 minutes or so too long.
French Connection II (1975)
A Poor French Connection
To this very day I still don't understand why a sequel was ever considered following the superb & totally absorbing original. Even though this film is far more darker, sinister & depressing in its subject matter I just couldn't really relate to it as being from the same stable as the original & superior French Connection some four years earlier.
Hackman does a very good job as the harressed & vengeful cop, Popye Doyle. But he resorts more to the method way of acting, letting the audience empathise with his character far more than he ever did in the first film, which to me was a mistake.
I just wonder if there was any need to be so brutal with his character development? Was there any real need to pad the mid-section of the film with a long, drawn out and tedious "cold turkey" which added nothing to his characterisation and neither to the pace of the film itself.
The direction seemed very sporadic & indecisive, never letting the viewer fully absorb himself into the movie and never really letting the story unravel in a satisfactory or a naturally occuring way either. The tempo of the film lumbered between comatose and barely a trot. The suspense also was sadly lacking and poorly defined with a very unsatisfactory climax.
I think the film missed the presence of Popye's buddy from the first film, Roy Scheider as Cloudy. With Hackman very much centre-focus and carrying most of the emotional baggage throughout the film I feel it proved to be more a of a burden because neither we as the audience or the Popye character himself had no one else to relate to when Hackman wasn't on-screen.
There were some good moments, but they don't stick in the mind in the same way as the car/train chase, the car jacking, the drugs bust etc from the first film. We all remember Popye getting intentionally overdosed on heroin and then going through the cold turkey process shortly afterwards; and there was the gun battle in the dry dock, but that's really about it. The final chase scene was very poorly thought out and a bit of damp scrib compared to the shocking conclusion in the first film.
On a technical level, the sound quality was poor, the colours felt washed out & lifeless; camera work and special effects were nothing special and the direction, as discussed earlier, very poor & ham-fisted.
Overall then, a poor film even on its own merits, and a pretty terrible film in the context of its predecessor.
A film for Hackman fans only.
First Blood (1982)
In town you're the law, out here it's me. Don't push it!
First Blood is undeniably the best of the three Rambo films. In fact it is perhaps one of the best action films ever to come out of Hollywood and basically created a new genre of survival/loner/action films during the 80s.
It also signaled another nod towards memories of Vietnam and Hollywood's gradual acceptance that the US didn't do very well over there (this was ultimately highlighted in more dramatic films such as The Deer Hunter, Coming Home & Platoon).
Although this film doesn't delve very deep in the Vietnam nightmare (brief flashbacks & bitter memories are all that we get to see) what we do see is the after-product of a Vietnam vet who has "come home" not so much a hero but a vagrant touring small little town after small little town with only the clothes he wears to call his own.
Rambo, therefore, is not only disillusioned by the events of the war, coupled with finding out his best friend for that era is dead he now sees an America that really doesn't respect him as a soldier who did his duty for his country.
Such bitterness only really culminates in the final few scenes when he lets rip regarding his feelings towards the America that turned its back on him and his friends during his time of need.
It is not surprising, therefore, that when the local sheriff arrests him for obstruction and carrying an offensive weapon he fails to appreciate he is in trouble with the law and shows little or no emotion until they force him to take a dry shave (and thats when his flashbacks of him being tortured take hold), and only then does Rambo unleash his anger and sees the police as an enemy just like the Vietcong he fought against in the war.
There are many good scenes, stunts and special effects. The action takes a head start over the rather hackneyed script & rather poor acting from all and sundry (especially the rather wooden Richard Crenna as Rambo's commander from Vietnam).
Scenes that stay in the mind are the cliff hanger (literally!), the hunting & wounding of some of the Sherrif's deputies in the deep forest and Rambo's dark & dangerous journey into the bowels of an underground cavern.
Rambo's erratic speech at the very end is rather unconvincing & hammy, which is a great shame because for once Stallone does a very good job adding a second dimension to his character.
The direction & editing are a delight (and to be honest I thought I was watching a John McTiernan movie such was the pace & edge-of-seat excitement. But the actual director, Ted Kortcheff does an exemplary job and should be applauded for his efforts.
Overall then, First Blood, is a great great movie. Ok so the dialogue is pretty ropey and some of the acting has more wood than the forests Rambo roams through, but its a great rollercoaster ride of escapism, thrills & spills.
Not to be missed.
Steptoe and Son Ride Again (1973)
Steptoe & Son Are Flogging A Dead Horse here!
As usual both Albert & Harold are deep in debt, and this is made worse when Harold gets ripped off buying a short-sighted greyhound from the local gangster instead of buying a decent horse for their rag & bone business.
Harold comes home from the business deal drunk to the eyeballs and Albert isn't at all impressed, especially with the dog and his rather large appetite for steaks & eggs.
Harold tries to placate Albert by telling him the greyhound is a born winner on the track and that with a bit of training the dog should be able to win enough races to make them a nice little profit.
Unfortunately the plan doesn't quite work out and the same local gangster is threatening violence if they don't repay him the outstanding loan for the dog.
With nothing else worth selling Harold decides the only thing left of any value is is father's insurance policy. The only fly in the ointment is that Albert has to die in order for the insurance company to pay up and thus free Harold of his dangerous debt.
For those who grew up on the BBC TV series of Steptoe & Son, you will probably be quite disappointed at this rather flimsy little story that is far too long for the movies and the comedy always feel forced & contrived.
The humour is often very black or vulgar, which in truth is no different from the TV show. But the real difference between the two is the movie version lacks the comedic polish & spontinaity of a live audience. Both actors seem to revel & interact far better in front of TV cameras and a bunch of people than on location with a film crew and a succession of takes & breaks.
The film has its moments, especially involving the training of the adorable little greyhound, but the bulk of the film is relatively forgettable. The acting is ok but the direction is very jagged & irritating to the point of being almost unwatchable at times.
For all the criticisms however, its still quite good for a Sunday afternoon's worth of entertainment when there's little else to do. But for purists I would opt for episodes of the TV series everytime.
Mississippi Burning (1988)
Symbolic Burning Crosses and Simplistic Storytelling
Three civil rights activists (2 blacks, 1 white) go missing & presumed murdered by white racists (the Klu Klux Klan) in some small town in the heart of Mississippi during the race protests of 1964 .
Enter two FBI men from the North - Hackman (the bad cop, who used to be a town sherrif in the area many years ago but now hunts bigger fish whether it be within the law or otherwise ) and Willem Defoe (the good cop trying to set the world to rights with the belief that even racists can't be all that evil to want to kill).
They investigate the case using the rules laid out by the pragmatic and by-the-book Defoe. But the townsfolk aren't quite so co-operative or helpful and the two agents seem to spend more time arguing with each other over tactics or visiting burnt out homes, farms & churches belonging to the oppressed blacks in the area than getting any nearer to solving the crime.
Even with a hundred other FBI agents brought in to help out both Defoe & Hackman find it hard to get witnesses to speak up and offer any leads regarding the three young missing persons.
Eventually Hackman befriends the wife of one of the town's police officers (and suspected KKK member), wonderfully played by the ever-dependable Frances McDormand (of Fargo and Blood Simple fame). Through her Hackman learns that most of the police officers and leading townsfolk are KKK members and that the 3 activists were murdered & buried in a nearby quarry pit.
With the bodies exhumed all Hackman & Defoe need to close the case are the murderers, but to get what they want they have to play by Hackman's rules this time.....
A highly controversial film for its day (1988). Initially it was a certainty to win a host of Academy Awards for its virtuous storytelling. But various black groups protested that the film was flawed,uneven and possibly even racist. They also argued that the film portrayed the black townsfolk as defenceless, ignorant & backward, having to rely on two white FBI agents from out of town to help them win them justice.
It is fair to say that they have a point. It struck me that for most of the time the blacks portrayed in the film were blatantly stereotyped as either churchgoers, gospel singers, cotton-pickers or ignorant illiterates.
This major complaint coupled with protests from white Southerners angry at being seeing as just a bunch of hick rednecks, ended any realistic chance the film had of winning any award at all.
British director, Alan Parker took a very simplistic view of some true events the film is supposedly based on. It is true to say that the acting from both Defoe and especially Hackman is top notch, the photography and film score excellent coupled with the overall pace of the film makes for a very entertaining viewing. However, it is to the content of the film that counts most and this is where Parker's limited knowledge of the civil rights protests in the Deep South during the early 60s is painfully obvious.
I would guess that if the film was remade today one of the leads would go to a black actor of the quality of Morgan Freeman (replacing Hackman's character) or Denzel Washington (replacing Defoe's preachy, peace-loving act). At least this would've added far more balance & realism to the film without making it too overtly politically correct. Afterall why should cynical black townsfolk ever want to co-operate with white FBI agents. In their eyes all whites are just the same and to be mistrusted in equal measure.
This film could have been better perhaps from an American director rather than from an "outsider" looking in. Parker is very much like Ridley Scott at times: all style over content without really understanding what it is he is trying to portray, which is a great shame.
If one can forgive these flaws Mississippi Burning is a very good drama. Special mention has to go to the ever-dependable Gene Hackman who returns to form as the no-nonsense former sherrif who knows how the locals tick and isn't about to be fobbed off in the same way as the rather naive & clean-cut Defoe.
Overall then, Mississippi Burning, fails to get its message across but entertains us nonetheless. The acting is good, the screenplay stilted and the characterizations are pigeon-holed. But for all that this film is worth a look because even though it is very uneven the main theme of apartheid, oppression & racism between black & white Americans is a good lesson for us all to think about and realise that over the last 30 years nothing much has changed.
The Wild Geese (1978)
These Geese Act Like Lame Ducks But The Film Is Cool.
WG is very much an action-fest for young boys and aspiring teenagers who spent too long playing with their Action Men at school.
But even though the acting is pretty dreadful, coupled with a story full of loopholes and a fairly dull direction, Wild Geese does deliver what it always intended, and that is Blood, Guts, Action, Violence.
This film is no different from its US cousins such as Die Hard, Black Hawk Down, Rambo et al. A convoluted plot is not required here. All we want is to know who the good guys are (Moore, Harris, Burton & co) and who the bad guys are (Granger, Allen and a bunch of Simbas from Central Africa).
In this case, therefore, a high-flying businessman, Granger offers Burton and his company of British Mercenaries a contract to overthrow a naughty dictactor and release the imprisoned Opposition leader so as to win democratic freedom for his country.
The deal is agreed and Burton's Army succeed in their task, but just when they think their plane is about to land in order to pick them up and take them hope, Granger makes a phone call..........
From that point on the story moves from "complicated double-dealings" to a out-and-out fight for survival as the troops battle their way through the hostile environment of Africa and renegade armies such as the feared Simbas.
It would be true to say that this film was very much an easy payday for the elderly statesmen of the acting world. In reality it would be unlikely one would see a bunch of old men in their late 40s and early 50s trying to recapture their youth as crack SAS-quality soldiers.
But for all that I got the impression that Harris, Burton & Moore were enjoying themselves immensly, especially Harris & Burton, who were both womaniser & boozers in real life, and seemed to be doing a little parody of themselves in this film.
Harris probably took the Ham Acting Honours, while Moore recieved the Wooden Acting Award 1978 by a wide margin.But for the most sickeningly PC Award must go to Hardy Kruger plays a racist South African mercinary who signs up with Moore & co and during the rescue of the black Opposition leader, it is Kruger that has to carry him away from danger even though he hates him because he is black. But after only a few hours of banal conversation between the two regarding "look under my skin and you'll see I'm no different from you...etc etc." and all of a sudden they're the best of friends. YUCK!
But if you take the acting for what it is, coupled with a poor script and appalling dialogue you still have a very fine action film, that is well-paced, full of stunts, explosions, guns, grenades (and crossbows) and above all lots of dead bodies.
Director McLaglen does a goodish job keeping the film interesting, but doesn't quite fall in the same footsteps of John "Die Hard" McTiernan. True he does try to add some humour, drama & pathos into the film but doesn't quite pull it off all that well. This is very much action action action with a touch of drama here and there to make it interesting.
There were one or two sequels but not worth mentioning here or anywhere in fact. This is perhaps one of the best British action films to date and is well worth a look when you don't have much else to do.