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More of the Same., 29 March 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Perhaps the biggest surprise about this belated sequel to Disney's 1996 picture, 101 Dalmatians, is the fact that it took them 4 years to get around to making it. The story is pretty much the same, with Cruella De Vil returning to her evil ways after the sound of Big Ben's bells undoes all Dr. Pavlov's good work with her. That's about as subtle as the film gets, although it is still a shade better than the original, with a lot less time devoted to slapstick comedy. Most of the original cast have been replaced, with only Glenn Close reprising her role as the evil Cruella. Gerard Depardieu joins the cast, and it's a shame the writers couldn't have thought of something more substantial for him to do. One thing from the original movie that its sequel hasn't improved upon is the over-the-top musical score which never lets up so that the impression that it is feeding us musical cues as to how we're supposed to be responding to what we're seeing on the screen slowly becomes overwhelming.

Leaves a sour taste..., 23 March 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Brought to us courtesy of Messrs Clark, Nicholls & Coombs of London, this informative little movie provides us with an insight into the astounding amount of labour that was required to produce a box of Christmas crackers back in 1910. There's an incredible amount of work involved, with close to a dozen different stages in the production processes, for what seems like such a simple product. Naturally, every stage requires an incredible amount of repetitive, mind-numbing work that would drive most people close to the edge of insanity today, but which was pretty much standard for the working classes of yesteryear.

The film has something of the feel of a promotional film for the manufacturers involved as the final scene has a happy middle-class family prancing around a huge Christmas tree before the children pull an oversize Cracker in which Father Christmas is hiding. But it leaves a strangely sour taste in the mouth when you consider all those hours of grinding labour undergone for the sake of a few seconds pleasure.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
The 30-Year-Old Delinquents, 22 March 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Book-ended by the type of pious speeches that belong solely to school education films for those from troubled backgrounds (with learning difficulties), The Delinquents is a surprisingly good film from a Robert Altman at the beginning of a career. As you'd expect from a young novice filmmaker, the pacing is uneven to say the least, and the editing leaves something to be desired, but the story does create a certain amount of tension in its final act.

Tom Laughlin plays Scottie, a decent young man who is prevented from seeing his 16-year-old girlfriend Janice (Rosemary Howard) by her worried father. You'd think her parents would be pleased she was going steady with a clean-cut young man instead of seeing lots of other boys (which her mother helpfully suggests she might do when they prevent her from seeing Scottie) but there's no talking them around. A heartbroken Scottie takes himself off to the local drive-in where he falls in with the local delinquents led by the charmingly psychopathic Cholly (Peter Miller). Cholly offers to collect Janice from her home and deliver her to Scottie under the pretext of being her new date, but it isn't long before their friendship goes awry when jealous gang member Eddie (Richard Bakalyan) falsely accuses Scottie of squealing to the police about an illicit party the gang have staged.

Most juvenile movies from the 1950s are pretty dire. They were designed to appeal to the very people they pretended to condemn, so production values were usually low and the quality of writing poor. Altman wrote as well as directing and producing, so the dialogue is a step above the ordinary, and for the most part the acting is very good. Laughlin, in particular, gives an impressively natural performance. Sadly, his performance isn't matched by his on-screen girlfriend Howard, who gives a truly excruciating one. It's no surprise this role is the only one on her resume, and it's a shame Altman couldn't find a better actress for the part. Richard Bakalyan, a regular on US TV, is also good as the weaselly Eddie, who takes an instant dislike to Scottie. As was usual with these movies, the entire juvenile cast is made up of actors who were all around 30 years old, and some of them look even older.

1 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
The Trouble with The Trouble with Angels, 22 March 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is the kind of film that doesn't age well, and which would perhaps have even been a touch outdated when it was released had it not combined its dull grey convent school milieu with the mischievous youthful exuberance of young Hayley Mills, who, fresh out of a contract with Disney, was at the height of her popularity when this was made. Ironically, it's exactly the kind of inoffensive, family-orientated fluff that Disney might have produced.

Mills plays Mary Clancy, reluctant boarder at a Catholic convent school run by Rosalind Russell's Mother Superior. Russell is driven to distraction by the mischievous antics of Mary and her partner-in-crime Rachel (June Harding), but as time goes on, Mary begins to develop an understanding and respect of both the Mother Superior and the Catholic Church.

Even though it's based on a novel, The Trouble with Angels is very episodic in structure, with many of the episodes seeming to serve no useful purpose in terms of character development other than to show us what a pair of mischievous tykes Mary and Rachel are. The antics they get up to are pretty tame: smoking in the toilets, guided tours of the nun's living quarters, soap powder in the sugar bowls, that kind of thing, and the two girls pay the price for committing each and every one of them. Russell pretty much makes the film as an outwardly stern, but fair and loving matriarch whose patience eventually outlasts Mary's propensity for mischief.

The Trouble with Angels provides undemanding old-fashioned family entertainment, and there's nothing wrong with that. But that episodic structure means its nearly two hour running time is too long, and not enough of what has taken place before prepares us for - or makes believable - young Mary's abrupt change of outlook.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
"Men in Search of Beaver.", 22 March 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Although Across the Wide Missouri comes across today as somewhat disjointed and episodic, it's survived the injudicious editing imposed on it by the executives at MGM at the time quite well to provide a forgiving viewer with an acceptable tale containing colourful characters and breathtaking location cinematography.

Clark Gable plays pioneering beaver trapper Flint Mitchell. As his name suggests, he's a rugged, no-nonsense type who's afraid of no man. He takes an Indian squaw (Maria Elena Marques) for his wife, and although neither of them speaks the other's language, a close and abiding relationship is quickly established. All would be right for the world if it wasn't for the antagonistic relationship between Mitchell and Indian chief Ironshirt (a buff Ricardo Montalban), one of whose braves Mitchell killed when being hunted down by Ironshirt's tribe.

It's clear that there were high hopes for this movie when it was conceived. The sprawling location photography complements the film's epic subject matter which is played out by a cast that's considerably larger than you'd expect from a 78-minute movie. It's obvious, though, that much of the story's coherence was lost when the film was cut, which is why so much of it is narrated by Howard Keel, and why it has such an episodic feel and so many of the secondary characters feel under-developed.

As you'd expect, Gable gives a typically polished and professional performance. He's a little too old for the role, perhaps, but personifies the pioneering spirit of his character with aplomb, and despite the age difference, creates a believable chemistry with his co-star Maria Elena Marques, an established Mexican actress whose sole attempt at breaking into Hollywood this was to be. He's ably supported by an accomplished supporting cast which includes Adolphe Menjou, J. Carroll Naish and John Hodiak. Perhaps the only thing that prevents the film from maintaining the action-filled pace the producers were probably hoping for when they went to work in the editing suite is the fact that all of the conversations between Gable and his screen wife have to be translated by one of the other characters.

3 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Embarrassing for all involved..., 21 March 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Donald Pleasance plays Gilbert, an alcoholic deer trapper in partnership with down-on-his-luck helicopter pilot Barney (80s pin-up Ken Wahl). When Barney accidentally drops him into a lake from his helicopter, Gilbert stumbles upon the remains of the eponymous US aircraft, lost since the war and loaded with gold ingots. As Gilbert and Barney attempt to persuade Gilbert's daughter, Sally (Lesley-Anne Warren) to release some of Gilbert's money to pay for a search and rescue mission for the gold, the villainous Theo Brown (George Peppard) also makes plans to claim the treasure for himself.

It's not a bad idea for a movie, but director David Hemmings handles it so ineptly that The Race for the Yankee Zephyr comes close to excruciating to watch at times. He isn't helped by a dull, pedestrian script (step forward, Everett De Roche) which flatly refuses to provide any dimension to its characters. There's no real back-story to any of them - in fact none of them possess any kind of character to speak of, meaning it's impossible for generally competent actors to create any kind of chemistry. Hemmings seems to be aiming for a kind of rollicking adventure movie, but comes up short when it comes to creating, boisterous bar-fights or high speed chases. The stunt actors perform some credible stunts, but little attempt is made to make them actually resemble the actors for whom they are standing in, and stunts can only go so far towards providing entertainment to hold an audience for the entire length of a film.

Donald Pleasance is a capable enough character actor, but he's badly miscast as the rough-and-ready drunken adventurer, Gilbert, while George Peppard makes the ill-informed decision to play his cartoon villain as a camp Brit (at least, he appeared to be trying for a British accent, but it could have been Australian - Americans have trouble telling the accents apart), and just ends up embarrassing himself. In fact the two of them would probably both have fared better if they had swapped roles. Even then, this woeful movie is so bad that even that would have done little to spare the embarrassment of all involved.

The Rite (2011)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
No head-turning, no pea soup., 17 March 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Demonic possession must be the second most over-populated horror sub-genre after the stalk-and-slash, which means anyone deciding to add yet another entry has to have either devised something unique or found a new way to spice up the over-familiar ingredients already in the mix. Sadly, Mikael Hafstrom, who directed the immeasurably superior horror flick 1408 (2007) delivers on neither score, and Anthony Hopkins' Welsh Jesuit priest Father Lucas Trevant expels any unrealistic expectations his sceptical apprentice Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue) - or we the audience - might have by referencing the film that started it all with a warning not to expect 'head-turning and pea soup.'

Kovak, on the cusp of being ordained as a priest, is suffering from a crisis of faith that has seen him threatening to abandon the church. The fact that he previously worked as a mortuary attendant for his father (Rutger Hauer) and has therefore seen his share of gore, is enough to convince his superiors that he is perfect material for hunting demons, and sees a veiled threat to turn the $100,000 the church has spent on his education into a student loan as an appropriate measure to ensure his doubting pupil agrees to visit Rome for training. Kovak's scepticism is also obvious to his tutor in Rome (Ciaran Hinds) who sends him to Hopkins' Father Lucas in the hope that some first-hand experience will alter his views.

Most moviegoers would expect what, up to this point, has been a rather turgid and unconvincing drama to heat up a little once the story gets amongst the thick of the exorcisms, but its at this point that Hopkins deliver his 'pea soup' line, and all hopes are quickly dashed. The plot continues to unfold at a frustratingly slow pace as the two religious men become involved with a pregnant teenager who may or may not be possessed by a demon, and fails to create any kind of tension or suspense. It might be that Hafstrom was aiming more for atmosphere than in-your-face scares, but the near-slum locations are depressing, and the use of darkness merely makes it difficult to see what's going on rather than creating any sense of menace.

You can forgive O'Donoghue for appearing in a disappointment like this - he's a young actor still striving to make a name for himself - but Anthony Hopkins' involvement is questionable. It's tempting to believe he simply turned up for the pay-cheque, but perhaps it was the finale, which permits him to grandstand unashamedly, that proved irresistible. By then, though, the audience is beyond caring, defeated by the funereal pace and the confusing storyline.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Routine Western., 16 March 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Former idol Robert Taylor's best years were behind him when he made this routine B-western for MGM. He hadn't aged well - because, perhaps, of a 3-pack-a-day smoking habit that would result in death from lung cancer in 1969 - and looks much older than his age of 52. He plays Sam Brassfield, a cattle rancher who locks horns with fellow cattlemen over his decision to fence off his land. Chief amongst his opponents is cattle baron Clay Matthews (Robert Middleton), who employs a hired gun (Richard Devon) to stir up mistrust between Brassfield and his neighbours.

Made in 1963, Cattle King is something of a throwback to the early/mid-fifties when movies like this were churned out by studios big and small at a rate of dozens per month. It certainly adds nothing new to the genre, although it does contain a few things worth mentioning. The cast includes a young Robert Loggia, sporting a full head of hair as Johnny Quatro, Brassfield's loyal right-hand man, and Robert Middleton as a big fat grinning Cheshire Cat of a villain. Middleton's good, but Robert Devon fails to convince as his hired gun; he looks like an accountant in fancy dress, and his character is ineffectual, if not incompetent. The only thing he manages to achieve is to accidentally shoot Sharleen (Joan Travers), the woman Brassfield has his eye on. She dies an odd death, falling backwards with a carefully neutral expression, like a cartoon character who has just run into an invisible wall.

Taylor could always be relied on for a professional, if unimaginative, interpretation of any role handed to him, and no doubt his fans won't be disappointed by him here. The film is capably directed by Tay Garnett whose career never seemed to amount to as much as could have been expected after producing such classics as The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946). The plot seems a little laboured at times, and may have benefited from a shorter running time.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Finding a Voice., 16 March 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Midway through Bruce Robinson's loosely plotted adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's long unpublished semi-autobiographical novel The Rum Diary, Thompson's alter-ego Paul Kemp (Johhny Depp) bemoans to Chenault (Amber Heard), the gorgeous girlfriend of sleazy PR rep Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), that after a decade of writing he still doesn't have a writing voice. It's a key moment that goes some way to explaining the rambling, episodic structure of the film, which resulted in it receiving lukewarm reviews from the majority of critics. This isn't so much a story about a disillusioned journalist's rejection of a style of life (sadly recognisable today) which places more importance on materialism than truth, but about the jumbled, disconnected events that conspired to mould a man, and thus enable him to find that elusive voice.

Kemp arrives in 1960 Puerto Rico a pickled souse of a man - although even in his late 40s, Depp looks too well-preserved to convincingly portray a dedicated soak. He has won a job with the San Juan Star under the editorship of bewigged Lotterman (Richard Jenkins), a typically hard-bitten and cynical newsman who is more interested in delivering his readership a sanitised version of life in Puerto Rico than the truth. This ideology manifests itself in the shambolic nature of the newspaper's staff, primarily staff photographer Sala (Michael Rispoli) and Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi), who rarely surfaces long enough from a narcotic-induced haze to provide any copy (a character, perhaps, which ironically foreshadows Thompson's own tenure at Rolling Stone in his later years). While he fights - but not too hard - his own alcoholic habit, Kemp is approached by Sanderson to write positive reports on the plans of a business cartel to turn a paradise island into a holiday resort filled with high-rise hotels.

Kemp's story is told with only passing regard to any kind of narrative thrust, so that few of the events depicted are directly related, or combine to provide a cumulative influence on Kemp's eventual literary maturation. Many of the episodes are extremely funny. Some, such as his and Sala's flight from a bunch of angry locals, some of whom were earlier ejected from Sanderson's private beach, do serve to coalesce Kemp's opinion on the exploitation of the people's land, while others, such as his and Sala's reaction to mind-bending eye drops ('I have fear!' an hysterical Sala bellows in response to Kemp's hallucinatory belief that his friend's tongue has grown to gargantuan proportions) seem to be there purely for comical effect. A little more focus might have provided us with a more concise insight into what made the man, but it would not then have identified so closely with Thompson's own personality.

Perhaps the film's only real flaw is in the characters of Sanderson and Chenault. He's too much of a stereotypical big-business villain, fashioned more by post-1960s films like Wall Street than the era in which he operates. His character seems at odds with a film that otherwise seems to go to great lengths to anchor itself in a specific era - to the point that even the style of cinematography mimics that of the mid-20th century, it's camera remaining fairly static in comparison to the predominant techniques in practice today. Chenault also seems to have no place in the story other than to provide Kemp with some love interest - and the males in the audience with some eye candy amongst a predominantly male cast. The recreation of the period is fine and the sun-baked Puerto Rican scenery is idyllic.

The Rum Diary is a film that will appeal only to a relative few. There are no real heroes to speak of, no Important Life Lessons to be learned, no neat tidying up of loose ends (even though the 'hero' sails off into the sunset). But if you like a film to provide an insight into what makes a man into the man that he is, you just might get something out of this one.

'It's Alive!' (1969) (TV)
Breathtakingly Bad, 15 March 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Larry Buchanan belongs to a select group of filmmakers who have carved a placed in cinematic history by virtue of their sheer ineptitude. He makes films like a man who has never actually seen a film or knows how one is constructed. It's Alive - one of a clutch of movies he was commissioned to make by AIP - is a prime example of the kind of rubbish he churned out, and should be avoided by anyone who values their sanity.

Shirley Bonne and Corveth Ousterhouse play a bickering couple who find themselves at the mercy of crackpot farmer Greeley when they run out of gas in the Ozarks. Greeley tricks them into exploring a cave in which he has constructed a cage. Once he has them locked inside, it's only a matter of time before the prehistoric lizard who lives in the cave grows peckish. Luckily for Bonne (sadly for Ousterhouse, he's first on the menu) friendly palaeontologist Tommy Kirk is on hand to help her escape.

It's difficult to know where to begin to describe the true awfulness of this movie, simply because it has absolutely no redeeming features. It has a typical 1950s b-movie plot, but finds it so difficult to fill out its thankfully brief running time that about fifteen minutes is devoted to a flashback in which mad Greeley's housekeeper recalls how she was captured and forced into a life of servitude by him ('He beat me,' she querulously remembers. 'I had become one of his… animals.'). The monster is a guy in a rubber suit with fangs and ping-pong balls for eyes. Even a barely adequate director would have realised such a shoddy monster required the use of lightning-fast cut-aways in order to diminish its comical potential, but Buchanan presents us with lengthy head shots so that we can examine its awfulness in detail.

I mean, really: what did we ever do to him?

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