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1480 reviews in total 
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One of the better Carry Ons..., 24 February 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

There's no real plot to speak of in this early entry in the Carry On franchise. The smut is nowhere near as prominent in these early films as it was to be in the later entries, but it's still there. Sid James plays the owner of the Helping Hands Agency, which provides labour for any job, no matter how unusual. His employees include Kenneths Williams and Connor, Charles Hawtrey and Joan Sims, among others, and their antics are pretty funny. Connor probably gets more screen time than the others, which is a bit of a shame as his brand of comedy isn't my favourite, while Charles Hawtrey seems to be strangely under-used. His one big scene - a boxing match against an over-sized opponent - looks as if it's copied from a couple of Stan Laurel's fight scenes. Funniest moments are probably supplied by someone who isn't a regular member of the team: dear old Stanley Unwin, whose brand of gobbledygook makes little sense but is curiously almost understandable. Goodly-bye-load.

Socio-Political Metaphor, 23 February 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

An overweight Oliver Reed sports a walrus moustache and convincing German accent in this tepid Italian crime drama that makes only half-hearted stabs at commenting on the fact that the motivations behind anarchists and capitalists aren't really all that different.

Reed plays a bank robber who, with his fellow robbers, a young man and a feminist woman, kidnaps businessman Marcello Mastroianni and his mistress Carole Andre who are en-route to their eponymous dirty weekend. The robbers have killed a policeman after their robbery goes wrong, so it isn't long before the group are being pursued by a convoy of police and media reminiscent of that seen in Spielberg's Sugarland Express. Upon discovering that Mastroianni is a wealthy industrialist, Reed is quick to demand a hefty ransom for his safe return.

The film is essentially a metaphorical examination of the Italian socio-political scene of the time, with both extremes of the social strata at odds with one another. In the middle is Carole Andre's free-spirited mistress, who is disgusted by both her lover's acquiescence to Reed's demands, and by Reed's bullying dominance of those around him. Despite this enmity, she sleeps with both of them, and her expression at the end of the film, when one man survives and the other perishes, is deliberately ambiguous. Whatever your interpretation of the story, the final scene undoubtedly observes that these brief disruptions to the uneasy status quo will ultimately change nothing.

Dirty Charlie..., 23 February 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Crumple-faced Charlie Bronson is a tough, no-nonsense cop who finds himself drummed out of the NYPD after shooting dead a teenage suspect trying to leave the scene of a crime. He's hired by the LAPD and finds himself, by convoluted means, on the trail of a Mafia boss (Martin Balsam) planning to use disillusioned Vietnam vets to rub out his Mafioso rivals in revenge for a similar massacre forty years before.

I usually enjoy these tough 1970s crime flicks, but this one left me cold. The story was unnecessarily convoluted, which only served to make the story drag between action set pieces. While these action scenes are well-directed, Michael Winner seems to be trying too hard to prove his creativity and dynamism during the quieter scenes. His misguided ambitions manifest themselves in dramatic angles or gimmicky shots that prove a distraction. Do we really need to see Bronson's boss filmed between the narrow columns of his desk lamp? It's common practice for something to be placed in the foreground of a shot to provide a sense of depth, but Winner goes overboard, having telephones and cheap busts occupy a third of the screen and squeezing his characters into the rest of the frame for confined interior shots in which an angled position would have served just as well.

The film is clearly influenced by Dirty Harry, and although this isn't necessarily a bad thing The Stone Killer suffers by comparison. It has a nice gritty 1970s feel about it, and is populated by dozens of familiar faces, but it all feels a bit dated today - especially when the action briefly visit's a hippie commune. Amusing to see Ralph 'Pa Walton' Waite playing a racist cop, though.

What a Package., 22 February 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is one of the last half-decent Carry On movies made just before it began its rapid decline. While it's not as good as the films made when the series was at its peak in the 1960s, it's still pleasingly better than you might expect. Most of the cast regulars are in attendance, with Sid James taking the lead as a randy pub landlord whose plans to take his 'bit on the side,' busty Barbara Windsor, on a dirty weekend to the resort of ElsBels backfires when his wife (Joan Sims) decides to tag along. All the regulars play to type, and young 'dolly birds' Sally Geeson (who played Sid's daughter in Bless This House, if I remember rightly) and Carol Hawkins are on hand to provide eye candy. It's no great shakes, but possesses that typically British saucy seaside postcard humour that has all us Brits of a certain age sighing wistfully over our Horlicks.

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Not so magnificent anymore..., 22 February 2012

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The big name cast is no longer available - due presumably to a vastly reduced budget, which also means that nothing remains of the epic sweep of the original Magnificent Seven. Chris, the leader of the seven, has been transformed from a striking, bald-headed, vaguely Eurasian looking man clad in black into an entirely ordinary blonde man portrayed by George Kennedy, one of those solid, dependable second-strings who never let you down but never surprised you either.

Instead of protecting a village from bandits, the new Seven are hired to free a politician, the leader of a peasant rebel movement, from unjust incarceration so that he can take his place at the head of a rebellion. They're an ordinary bunch, this seven. Monte Markham, whom we first meet at the end of the rope, has nothing to do and goes into battle wearing a bright orange shirt, so we all know what's going to happen to him; James Whitmore's the older Seven, a master knifes-man who isn't quite as successful at farming; Joe Don Baker's a disabled gunman who feels emasculated by his useless arm; someone else, whose name I don't know, has a nasty cough with not a bottle of Covonia in sight.

The story is determinedly routine, capturing none of the excitement of the original movie, but it does boast some memorable images: a group of peasants dragged to their deaths by a troop of soldiers riding their horses in circles, another group hanging from telegraph-poles, yet more peasants buried up to their heads in the sand, awaiting a trampling from their captor's horses. It's all designed to put the audience firmly on the side of the mercenaries, but Michael Ansara, one of the few bright spots as a dastardly Mexican army officer, manages to do that all on his own.

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Disaster, 22 February 2012

Dear, oh dear. It's not difficult to see where the estimated $70,000,000 budget was spent on this action dud - the spectacular stunts are quite impressive, but couldn't they have done with just one less big kaboom and spent the money on a decent storyline instead? Because, let's face it, no matter how good the stunts are, when they're simply trotted out every couple of minutes with only the bare bones of a story in between, things get very dull very quickly. Banderas sleep-walks through his role, as if he was already somehow trying to disassociate himself from the movie as it was being filmed. Another member of the cast - who out of a superhuman generosity of spirit I'll refrain from naming - has only a limited number of lines to deliver but seems unable to understand the context in which they are supposed to be spoken so that his voice rises when it should fall, etc., and it becomes quite excruciating to listen to.

Changing Friends..., 21 February 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The Big Lift takes place during the Berlin Airlift of the late 1940s, and was filmed on the streets of Berlin, which were still largely rubble-strewn wastelands even five years after the end of the war. The film is heavily propagandistic, calling on the American people to cut the Germans a little slack now the war was over. Messages about the Russkies are a little mixed: while they're obviously responsible for the blockade, the Russian spy in the movie is actually a highly likable chap who prevents one of our heroes from doing something he would undoubtedly later regret.

The story was actually more accessible than I expected, given that it was made when the events it depicted were still fresh in the general public's mind, and even manages to inject some decent humour throughout. The scene in which the aforementioned Russian spy cheerfully discloses to Monty Clift's US airman how the Russian spy system works is a minor classic. Paul Stewart plays Clift's friend, and between them the two airmen present opposite ends of the spectrum in relation to the allies attitudes towards the defeated German people. In the end, they kind of have a meeting of minds somewhere in the middle.

Priest (2011)
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Comic Book Vampires, 21 February 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie adaptation of some popular graphic novel (which are comic books for grown-ups who would otherwise feel foolish buying comic books at their time of life) wasn't quite as bad as I thought it was going to be. That's not to say it's particularly good, because its not. The story creates this future in which the world is ruled by a kind of neo-Catholic religious order who have successfully colonised a breed of beast-like vampires, but then goes nowhere with it. Instead, the film chooses to be a semi-remake of The Searchers for much of the time before suddenly becoming distracted by Spaghetti Western sensibilities.

Bettany plays the titular priest, a bit of a maverick who defies his boss (Christopher Plummer - not God) to venture into the wasteland to find his niece after his brother and wife are killed by the aforementioned vampires, who are planning to recommence their war on humans. It turns out that the vampires are now led by one of his former comrades - whom he failed to save from a vampire attack - who was subsequently turned into a human-vampire hybrid by a vampire queen, which enables him to move around in daylight but also has him believing he's The Man With No Name.

There's plenty of action, lots of explosions and a few hundred vampires - all CGI, of course, and the film has a stylish look about it. But it lacks originality and fails to develop its characters beyond their comic book - sorry, Graphic Novel - roots. Its short running time serves as both a warning that it contains little of any value and as a relief that it will all soon be over.

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Stealing the Stolen..., 21 February 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Renee Zellweger, as far removed from her Bridget Jones persona as it is possible to get, plays Starlene, the girlfriend of small-time robber Watty Watts (Gil Bellows). Watts never takes a loaded gun into a robbery, but his druggy partner Billy Mack isn't quite so careful and ends up shooting dead his girlfriend when she recognises him during a hold-up. Forced to go on the run after wounding an increasingly flaky Billy Mack, Watty and Starlene encounter a host of quirky characters during their flight.

It's sort of ironic, the way other reviewers accuse C. M. Talkington, the writer and director of this admittedly over-derivative lovers-on-the-run sub-genre, of ripping off Tarantino, given that the self-aggrandising Mr. T. has hardly had one original idea in his whole career. Tarantino's gift is injecting his own distinctive style into other people's scenarios and passing off the result as an homage. It's quite incredible to think this has been working for him for twenty years now with hardly any dent to his reputation…

Anyway, Love and a .45 is clearly inspired by the kind of thing Tarantino does, but it at least has its own unique style and an identity separate from QT's oeuvre. Despite all the violence, the film has a likability about it that is unexpected and possesses a manic energy that enables the audience to overlook some character inconsistencies. It's a cartoon-ish kind of world, inhabited by larger-than-life characters who thoughtlessly use violence as a handy device to get them what they need, and as such it's a world that couldn't survive for long outside the confines of a Hollywood movie, but while we're in it we are at least taken on an enjoyable ride and supplied with a vicarious thrill while remaining safely in front of our screens.

Fled (1996)
Bubble Gum Movie, 20 February 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

As other reviewers have noted, the first half of this film is effectively a semi-remake of The Defiant Ones (without the racial overtones) as we see chained together computer hacker Stephen Baldwin and undercover cop Larry Fishburne flee from a chain gang. Their bid for freedom is complicated by the fact that Baldwin and his partner hacked into the computer system of a Mafia mobster who is now desperate to get his hands on the disk they have containing the information. The odd couple are aided in their escape by an accommodating Salma Hayek.

Fled is highly derivative of other action movies, but also has the kind of momentum that prevents you from disliking it too much. Just when you're starting to dwell on the pedestrian dialogue, the clichéd situation or the plot holes, another action set piece comes along and makes you forget them all for a while. The characters are also constantly referencing other movies throughout - a clue perhaps that the screenwriter Preston A. Whitmore has allowed himself to be influenced by too many of the films he has seen and liked while penning this opus.

Best viewed as bubble-gum for the brain when you're tired of thinking and just want to sit back and sink a couple of beers in front of the TV.

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