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And introducing Batgirl for more "crooks" to spoil the broth., 29 September 2014

Batman & Robin have to not only tackle Mr Freeze & Poison Ivy, but also inner fighting, Alfred's health problems, and a fledgling Batgirl! Director Joel Schumacher couldn't believe his luck with the success of Batman Forever, so much so he kept the campy formula and upped the ante big time, the result was - until Christopher Nolan's reinvention in 2005 - the death of the franchise, going out in a whimper and a hail of stinging verbals.

It starts off quite promising, our heroes in a slam bang corking action sequence fighting the monstrous Mr Freeze, and then we are tantalised by the sexy transformation of Uma Thurman into Poison Ivy who is accompanied by the beast that is Bane, but then...

Well it goes down hill fast, stupid puns and gimmicks at every opportunity instead of character building, with Batman producing a Batman Credit Card on the 45 minute mark sounding the death knell. Crashes and wallops at every possible turn make the head spin in a bad way, and then we have Alicia Silverstone as Barbara Wilson, Alfred's niece and of course the afore mentioned fledgling Batgirl. She forgets the character is meant to be English (probably Schumacher forgot it as well?), she can't fight for toffee, and, well, she looks uncomfortable saying the basic moronic dialogue. It comes to something when you are making a blockbuster comic book adaptation and Arnold Schwarzenegger is badly miscast, and he is, a simply awful for the money performance from the usually reliable action meat head.

I will however give George Clooney a tiny bit of support, perhaps a bit too underplayed as Bruce Wayne, he still looks good in the Bat suit and at the very least convinces as a charming caped crusader; even if ultimately he is wrong for the part, something which he himself would agree with later on down the road. Overall it's a big misfire that is rightly reviled in most quarters, the best I can say for it is that my then 4 year old nephew thought the crash bang wallops were fun, and there my friends you have the target audience. Probably... 3/10

The Boddies in the Barrels Murders., 28 September 2014

The press junket and first wave of critical notices built Snowtown up as a throat ripper that will cause you nightmares. That didn't do it any favours as per expectation levels for the horror enthusiast. However, this is a superb piece of film making, a real gritty and grainy deconstruction of the human condition gone sour. As with all films of this type that are based on real life incidents, it pays to read up on the facts if you be so inclined.

Debut director Justin Kurzel doesn't shirk from the horrors of the case, but skillfully he doesn't bang everyone over the head with shock tactics to grab the attention. It's a relentlessly bleak picture, there's a continuous build of impending dread, of human devastation wrung out by a master manipulator (Daniel Henshall as John Bunting superb), the depressing story told through the eyes of the simple and confused Jamie Vlassakis (Lucas Pittaway).

Not to be watched if one is looking to be cheered up! But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be sought out as essential cinema. It's a strong and potent film, worthy of inspection by adults who understand that not all film is about entertainment. 8.5/10

Not sleeping like a log., 28 September 2014

There once was four lads who met each other, picked up musical instruments and created a phenomenon to the point that their influence is still being felt in the music industry today. This film is a day in the life of The Beatles, The Fab Four, The Mop Tops from Liverpool.

The soundtrack itself is enough to ensure that Richard Lester's film is something of a requisite for anyone interested in the history of Rock "N" Roll. As it happens, it lets the lads be loose and free, to get away with biting the hand that feeds them, with Lester using a whole bunch of film making techniques that wouldn't be out of place in some Pernod sodden production from an independent studio in the alleyways of Montmartre.

Slapstick, homage or just a chance for the lads to blow off steam without fear of repercussions? Either way, it rocks, wholesale. 8/10

Happy Face Killer (2014) (TV)
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The Jesperson Temper., 23 September 2014

Happy Face Killer is directed by Rick Bota and written by Richard Christian Matheson. It stars David Arquette, Gloria Reuben, Daryl Shuttleworth, Stefanie von Pfetten and Josh Blacker. Music is by Hal Foxton Beckett and Marc Baril and cinematography by Adam Sliwinski.

This is an interpretation of the real life events surrounding the workings – hunt for – and capture of Canadian serial killer Keith Hunter Jesperson.

It's one of those bone of contentions with adaptations to screen of real life serial killers, with poetic license etc, that invariably many feel cheated of not getting the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The story of Keith Hunter Jesperson, who would become known as the Happy Face Killer, was not known to me, but when it caught my eye in the TV listings, with Arquette in a serious dramatic role, I had to take a look. Crucially for someone like me who was unaware of the case, it helped me to get more from the viewing experience by reading up on Jesperson after the viewing. I would urge any potential first time viewers to do the same.

The core essence of Jesperson's crimes and his mindset is correct, but motives and means, and crucially childhood traumas, are sketchy at best. If able to accept the poetic license factor, this is still a very detailed and skin itching take on a man who it is confirmed killed 8 women. The murders are staged expertly by the makers to get the required impact to stun the viewers, the procedural aspects of the investigation, led by FBI Agent Melinda Gand (an excellent Reuben) are insightful and gripping, and Arquette, in spite of not remotely fitting the physique or profile of the real Jesperson, works very hard to convince as a man who could turn murderous by the slightest provocation.

In the pantheon of serial killer movies this is hardly essential stuff, but it is well worth a look and worthy of inspection by those interested in the topic to hand. 6.5/10

Ass Blasters R Us!, 23 September 2014

The third movie in the Tremors series of films is adequate entertainment for the fans. Michael Gross returns as Burt, who in turn returns to Perfection to find it a tourist haven of Graboid fans. Into the mix is a nefarious real estate deal that threatens the very existence of the townsfolk. But of course, the Graboids and their mutated offspring don't care about such things.

If not expecting too much then this serves up some good straight to video fun. The formula remains the same, with Burt the paranoid saviour of Perfection getting some good lines, while the return of characters from the first film is a splendid bonus for the fans. There's some snarky asides to the perils/cheats of tourist traps, and the real estate rape of the land angle is driven home without over kill. Safe if undemanding creature feature fare. 6/10

The Zombie Unit., 23 September 2014

Extreme Prejudice is directed by Walter Hill and collectively written by John Milius, Fred Rexer, Deric Washburn and Harry Kleiner. It stars Nick Nolte, Powers Boothe, Maria Conchita Alonso, Michael Ironside, Rip Torn, Clancy Brown, William Forsythe and Matt Mulhern. Music is by Jerry Goldsmith and cinematography by Matthew F. Leonetti.

Well it's a good day for a killing.

Walter Hill homages and parodies the splinter of action cinema that encompasses the grizzled law enforcer tracking the bad guy, who in this case, was once a friend. That's the basic set up for Hill's brooding and bloody Extreme Prejudice. Action takes place down on the US/Mexico border, Ranger Jack Benteen (Nolte) is hunting his one time pal - and the man he shares his woman's love with – Cash Bailey (Boothe), who has taken up drug smuggling as his employment of choice. Complicating matters is that there is a gang of ex-forces specialists in the town ready to raid the bank for some funds and documents to nail Bailey. Loyalties are tested, twists, turns and bloody shocks do follow.

Much of the film's strength is gained from the casting, it's a roll call of macho performers who combined make up a CV with enough beef to feed the third world. Even Alonso as the sole female of note fits the requisite toughness exam (she would do The Running Man this same year and go on to star in Predator 2). Much of the narrative involves brooding and tough talk, a slow burn approach from Hill who adds some meat to the bones of the main characters. Photography is pleasing, with actual locations shimmering on the screen, and Goldsmith's score is a pulser that is a fore runner to his score for Total Recall 3 years later.

At times it's offbeat, at others it's gripping in its sweaty intensity, and then there is the balletic violence which Hill has proved himself to be an astute purveyor of, crowned here by his homage to Peckinpah's glorious finale in The Wild Bunch.

Lean and tough with bodies and butchness everywhere. 7.5/10

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Love is like a butterfly, as soft and gentle as a sigh., 29 August 2014

The Clouded Yellow is directed by Ralph Thomas and written by Eric Ambler and Janet Green. It stars Trevor Howard, Jean Simmons, Sonia Dresdel, Barry Jones, Kenneth More and Geoffrey Keen.

Taut British spy thriller with Hitchcockian flavours, The Clouded Yellow finds David Somers (Howard) as an ex-secret service operative working as a butterfly cataloguer who finds himself neck deep in a murder plot. Set in the North of England, with some good locations to be spotted by the keen of English eye, the story revolves around the murderous goings on at the stately home where Somers now works. With Sophie Mairaux (Simmons) the chief suspect, Somers comes to believe she is innocent and sets about proving so.

It follows a reliable formula, where the set-up introduces the main players, the hero in waiting takes it upon himself to use his skills to prove he's right, which builds to an odd couple on the lam final quarter of film. The strength is in the characterisations, particularly Somers with his past hanging heavy on his mind, and Mairaux and her current predicaments which involve her being surrounded by vile people. Thomas directs assuredly, mixing the drama with humour and affection, and the suspense and mystery elements are maintained up until the dramatic conclusion. Cast are suitably in good tune with the material, with Howard and Simmons making a compelling and complex coupling. 7/10

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Hah Hah! Murder Will Out., 29 August 2014

The Voice of Merrill (AKA: Murder Will Out) is directed by John Gilling who also adapts the screenplay from a story written by Terence Austin and Gerald Landeau. It stars Valerie Hobson, James Robertson Justice, Edward Underdown, Gary Marsh and Henry Kendall. Music is by Frank Cordell and cinematography by Monty Berman.

A British Who Done It? Thriller Out of Tempean Films, The Voice of Merrill begins with the murder of a pretty lady, the perpetrator unseen of course, and thus begins a tale of blackmail, illicit affairs, dastardly plotting, sleuthing and the vagaries of fate. It's a complex screenplay in many ways, perhaps unnecessary so, and Gilling strains to make all the threads amount to anything akin to suspense. However, once the momentum builds, and the net closes in on the suspects, the makers unleash some genuine surprises that in turn lead to a dramatic climax of some memorable impact. The acting is only OK, though it's always fun to see Robertson Justice doing one of his big bluff cantankerous acts. 6.5/10

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These Gentlemen are indeed extraordinary., 29 August 2014

The League of Gentlemen is directed by Basil Deardon and adapted to screenplay by Bryan Forbes from the novel written by John Boland. Forbes himself stars alongside Jack Hawkins, Nigel Patrick, Richard Attenborough, Roger Livesey, Kieron Moore, Terence Alexander, Norman Bird and Robert Coote. Music is by Philip Green and cinematography by Arthur Ibbetson. Splendid old chap, darn fine British entertainment as a roll call of Brit thesps and grafters enact a crime caper full of drama, sexual suggestion, humour and action.

Plot is simple, Lieutenant-Colonel Norman Hyde (Hawkins), embittered after his decades of service to the army has counted for nothing, gathers up a band of not so merry men to enact a daring bank robbery. The men, all gentlemen scallywags with chequered pasts, have been selected for their various skills that were acquired during their own service to the forces. If they can pull it off, they will be made for life…

Once the initial build up of character introductions and their respective lives has been cemented, film kicks on with a tale of men from different walks of life trying to bond together as one. They have to trust each other immeasurably, all the time while adhering to the regimental regime laid out by Hyde. The planning is intricate and fun, and this as some of the men try to balance matters of the heart back in their own homes, then it's on to the action (which is two-fold Dirty Dozen style) and the subsequent aftermath. All of which leads to a bittersweet finale that's simply joyous.

There's funny asides to army life and the food that dwells in the service! There's machine gun etiquette and dangerous dames, choice dialogue and even an Oliver Reed cameo where he gays up! Older British movie fans will rejoice at seeing some of the location shots, and the use of the BSA motorcycle, while it's always great to hear the word clot used as an insult. It's a terrific caper movie awash with excellent character playing by a stoic and committed bunch of Briters. 8.5/10

Crime Wave (1954)
Once you do a stretch, you're never clean again! You're never free!, 16 August 2014

Crime Wave is directed by Andre De Toth and adapted to screenplay by Bernard Gordon, Crane Wilbur and Richard Wormser from the story "Criminal's Mark" written by John and Ward Hawkins. It stars Sterling Hayden, Gene Nelson, Phyllis Kirk, Ted de Corsia, Charles Bronson, Jay Novello and Timothy Carey. Music is by David Buttolph and cinematography by Bert Glennon.

Ex-convict Steve Lacey (Nelson) finds himself reluctantly dragged into illegal activities when old criminal associates come calling and hold his wife Ellen (Kirk) hostage. Driven and unmerciful Detective Lieutenant Sims (Hayden) doesn't believe criminals can reform and goes after Steve with hard-nosed prejudice, putting the Lacey's well being in great jeopardy.

Tough as old hobnail boots, Crime Wave is a noir caper awash with moral ambiguities and reformation quandaries. Set to the backdrop of a sweaty Los Angeles populated by grizzled coppers and psychotic thugs, de Toth marshals a fine cast through a screenplay ripe with interesting characters afforded quirky and beefy dialogue. The director, backed by top cinematographer Glennon, utilise the L.A. locations to the full, giving the plot a gritty realism that was often missing in other 1950s caper movies.

Ace card in the pack is Hayden, given full license by de Toth, he stomps around like a toothpick chewing bear with a sore head, you do not want this Sterling Hayden on your case! Kirk deserves plaudits as well, as the fulcrum femme, she has to contend with not only Hayden's bullying of her husband, but also the mucky attentions of de Corsia's gang, headed by a wonderfully leering Bronson, she shifts through the emotional gears without histrionics and the characterisation is more believable because of it. Truth is is that all the cast work well under their director's guidance, even Carey's hyper attention seeking sits well in the context of the film's noir peccadilloes.

A well stocked noir stew, boosted considerably by fine direction (why didn't de Toth do more noir?) and Hayden being on iconic form. 7.5/10

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