Reviews

1,006 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
4/10
Surprisingly dull despite the cast and the locations
17 January 2018
No-one would ever accuse "Fire Down Below" of being a good film but photographed in Cinemascope and Technicolour on location in the Caribbean it's certainly a handsome one, Throw in Robert Mitchum, Rita Hayworth and Jack Lemmon and it becomes a film with star quality as well. The plot is as old as the hills as pals Mitchum and Lemmon fall out over Hayworth, the woman they are transporting 'from nowhere to nowhere'. The film generates a little excitement, (though not much), when Lemmon gets trapped in a ship that is about to blow up. The terrible dialogue is courtesy of Irwin Shaw from a book by Max Catto and director Robert Parrish was hardly the man to turn a pig's ear into a silk purse.
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6/10
A decidedly minor affair
13 January 2018
Closer to Agatha Christie than to Boileau-Narcejac who wrote the original story and collaborated with Franju on the screenplay, "Spotlight on a Murderer" is a decidedly minor affair, entertaining for what it is but unlikely to set the cinematic world on fire. For starters, it's got a fairly ridiculous plot, (even Christie would have balked at this one); an old count, about to die, hides himself away in a secret room in his chateau so that his relatives won't find his body and will have to wait 5 years for their inheritance. Naturally the corpses soon start piling up. Poiret or Miss Marple would have sorted it out in no time.
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5/10
Not nearly as clever as it thinks it is.
12 January 2018
The blatant miscasting of both Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway is one reason why the heist movie "The Thomas Crown Affair" doesn't work for me. He's a high-class entrepenurial criminal and she's the insurance investigator who's on to him; they're like Ken and Barbie playing at being grown-ups. It was directed by Norman Jewison, hot from his success with "In the Heat of the Night" and this time he's aiming at cool. Dunaway and McQueen are cool alright but they are also all wrong. It's a clever picture that revels in its own cleverness, (and use of the split-screen), and it was a huge success but it's also not nearly as clever as it thinks it is.
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Irma Vep (1996)
8/10
A brilliant addition to movies about movies
4 January 2018
As much a homage to Truffaut's "Day for Night" as it is to Feuillade's "Les Vampires", the movie within the movie that is being remade with Maggie Cheung playing herself as "Irma Vep" and, of course, no homage to Truffaut would be complete without Jean-Pierre Leaud, here cast as the director. It's great fun and a worthy addition to films about films though it makes me glad, for any fame or fortune it might have afforded me, I never ended up working in the industry which comes across here as an asylum that the inmates have taken over. Playing herself, Cheung is wonderfully self-effacing and director Olivier Assayas draws beautifully naturalistic performances from his entire cast. Never likely to achieve the international success of Truffaut's classic "Irma Vep" makes for a first-class cult movie.
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Breakdown (I) (1997)
8/10
Cult movie status beckons
3 January 2018
Once upon a time "Breakdown" would have been considered nothing more than a B-Movie but the kind of B-Movie that might have gone on to become a classic. It's a very simple little suspense movie and it's beautifully directed by Jonathan Mostow. It's also something of a road-movie which, like Spielberg's "Duel" generates a good deal of suspense from its use of great open spaces and the interplay between a guy in a car (Kurt Russell) and a guy in a truck (J. T. Walsh). Russell is perfect as the slightly arrogant hero and Walsh is suitably menacing as the guy who may or may not be behind the disappearence of Russell's wife. Cult movie status beckons.
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6/10
Minor Lumet.
1 January 2018
Apart from an unpleasant whiff of homophobia, exemplified largely by Martin Balsam's appallingly stereotypical gay character, "The Anderson Tapes" is a mostly excellent heist movie from Sidney Lumet, the heist here being that of a fancy New York apartment building and it's organized by Sean Connery's recently released jailbird. The twist, for want of a better word, is that Connery's every move is being filmed or recorded by someone. The robbery itself, which takes up most of the film, is very well handled and there is a good supporting cast that includes a young Christopher Walken in one of his early roles. Ultimately, though, this is minor Lumet, entertaining certainly but hardly memorable.
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The Sunchaser (1996)
8/10
The work of a maverick director
27 December 2017
Michael Cimino's final film "The Sunchaser" bombed but I suppose after "Heaven's Gate" Cimino was lucky to get any kind of gig. Consequently, the film virtually disappeared without trace and is, of course, now ripe for rediscovery. It's no masterpiece, (unlike "Heaven's Gate" which I firmly believe is a masterpiece), but it's no turkey either and is sufficiently 'strange' to be of more than passing interest.

It's a kind of road movie/buddy movie in which a 16 year old prisoner, (26 year old Jon Seda, excellent), who happens to be dying of cancer, escapes taking his doctor, (a miscast Woody Harrelson), hostage. It veers wildly between black comedy and some high flautin' philosophizing, bypassing the conventions of the thriller on the way. It's an ambitious picture that makes you wonder what audience Cimino had in mind, (did we really need the dotty Anne Bancroft episode), and you could say it's certainly the work of a maverick director, being closer in tone to the American films of the seventies than what was being turned out in the nineties and for all its faults you can tell it's the work of a major filmmaker, one whose real potential was never fully realized. Seek this one out.
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6/10
Good old-fashioned fun
23 December 2017
Extremely minor it may be but it's also a lot of fun thanks in large part to Margaret Rutherford's performance as Miss Marple. We may have had several Miss Marple's since but none could top the slack-jawed Rutherford. In keeping murder at the forefront they changed the title from "Mrs McGinty's Dead" to "Murder Most Foul". This one has a theatrical setting and the tawdry milieu of the touring company is nicely captured while that old ham, Ron Moody, is excellent playing, naturally, an old ham and there is a decent supporting cast of British character actors to round things off.
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1/10
Avoid at all costs
23 December 2017
Atrocious and proof, if proof were needed, why movie franchises aren't always a good thing; indeed, if this is anything to go by, sequels and franchises of any kind are mostly to be avoided. In fact, the only resemblance "The Magnificent Seven Ride!" has to Sturges' classic is in having seven so-called 'heroes' fighting some Mexican bandits and in stealing the title. Otherwise this is truly inept.

Lee Van Cleef is now the leader but apart from Michael Callan you can forget trying to recall the names of the others. The dialogue is woeful, (or is it just Van Cleef's line readings?), the revenge element unpleasant and the 'direction' of one, George McCowan, virtually non-existant. This is a travesty which should be avoided at all costs.
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9/10
A cult classic
2 November 2017
Too dark and off-the-wall to be a mainstream hit Carl Reiner's comedy "Where's Poppa" has become something of a hard-to-see, (at least here in the UK), cult classic. George Segal is the long-suffering attorney whose biggest problem is his mother, (Ruth Gordon), who lives with him and who he'd be happy to see six feet under. However, his efforts to get her there all backfire so he hires sexy nurse Trish Van Dervere to take care of her.

The film unfolds like a series of extremely tasteless sketches, the kind of thing Mike Nichols and Elaine May might have done, and it's very funny. Segal and Gordon are superb though it is Ron Leibman who steals the movie as Gordon's other son and there are excellent cameos from the likes of Rae Allan and Barnard Hughes. The critics loved it but audiences didn't know what hit them. Now it feels like a key seventies movie and one of the great comedies.
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9/10
Almost on a par with Melville's "Le Samourai"
1 November 2017
This strange movie about a Japanese hit-man stranded in Taiwan and saddled with a young son he didn't know he had would probably sit comfortably on a double-bill with Cassavetes' "Gloria" though this is a lot more enigmatic. It was the second film in what became known as Takashi Miike's Shinjuku Triad Trilogy and it has a slightly mystical quality you may not associate with the director. Personally there were times I found it hard to get a handle on the plot and if you are looking for a typical Miike picture you will probably be disappointed. The title, "Rainy Dog" is certainly apt since it rains here more than in almost any movie I can think of. As the mostly silent, philosophical killer Sho Aikawa is excellent and his performance should remind you of Alain Delon in Melville's "Le Samourai", (this movie is almost in the same class). It is certainly sufficiently unusual to command attention and is far from the usual run-of-the-mill Yakuza flic.
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Della (1964)
1/10
Beyond bad.
31 October 2017
Terrible. Made as a pilot for a television series that never materialized "Della" cast an over-the-hill and obviously down on her luck Joan Crawford as a rich widow holding out against some property developers who want to buy her land, (her close-ups all seem to be photographed through gauze). Although she's playing the title role she's billed as a 'Special Guest Star', the actual 'stars' being Paul Burke as a hotshot attorney and a hardly seen Charles Bickford as his father. Others involved in this rubbish are Diane Baker as Crawford's daughter who has the hots for Burke and Richard Carlson as Burke's older brother, (blink and you might miss him). The director was the hugely untalented Robert Gist. Actually, it's almost too weird to be a total right-off; at times it feels closer to 'The Twilight Zone' than it does to 'Peyton Place'.
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9/10
Gorgeous, mysterious and unmissable.
30 October 2017
A film of great charm, beauty and invention and yet it's almost totally unknown, Ildiko Enyedi's debut "My Twentieth Century" is ripe for rediscovery. It's the story of twin girls, Dora and Lili, (both played by Dorotha Segda), born in Budapest in 1880 but separated in early childhood, one growing up to be an anarchist, the other a courtesan. It's also the story of the inventions of one Thomas Edison and it's wonderfully shot in black and white, with nods to the silent cinema, by Tibor Mathe. Darting all over the place with no concessions to reality it feels, at times, like it could have been made by Max Ophuls early in his career and at other times like something from the Czech New Wave and you might even be forgiven for thinking that Miguel Gomes may have seen this before making "Tabu". Gorgeous, mysterious and unmissable.
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Parkland (2013)
7/10
No matter how often this story has been told it is still very moving
23 October 2017
Parkland was the name of the hospital that President Kennedy was taken to after being shot in Dallas and Peter Landesman's film deals with the events of that day and the days that followed. It's a somewhat better film than the critics gave it credit for though it doesn't add anything to either the truth or the legend and prefers instead to concentrate on how the assassination affected the people on the ground, the hospital staff, the secret service agents, the Oswald family etc.

It's well cast and well played by some very talented players, (Marcia Gay Harden as a nurse, Billy Bob Thornton, Ron Livingston and David Harbour as secret service men, Paul Giametti as Abraham Zapruder, Jackie Weaver and James Badge Dale as Oswald's mother and brother; even Zac Efron as a young doctor who fails to save Kennedy's life is excellent). Landesman shoots it in a semi-documentary style which is fine though perhaps the editing is a little on the busy side; he doesn't seem to like to hold a frame for more than a few seconds at a time. I don't know, of course, how close any of this is to the facts but presumably the film was researched to within a few inches of its life and no matter how often this story has been told on screen it continues to be very moving.
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2/10
Something of a travesty.
23 October 2017
If Maurice Pialat's "Under the Sun of Satan" reminds you thematically in some small way of Bresson's "Diary of a Country Priest" perhaps it's because both of them are based on novels by Georges Bernanos and both deal with a priest's lack of faith but whereas "Diary of a Country Priest" was rooted very much in a terrible reality Pialat's picture is largely phantasmagorical, you might even say supernatural. Gerard Depardieu is the doubting priest and Sandrine Bonnaire the misguided, possibly 'evil' girl whose soul he tries to save and it's so dour and po-faced it feels like a parody.

It's obvious were are meant to take it all very seriously but this is the worst kind of intellectual tosh; at least those dire exorcist horror movies involving priests don't have any pretensions to being anything other than what they are on the surface unlike this nonsense which controversially won the Palme d'Or but was booed by a large section of the audience who obviously saw through it. There are those who think it's a masterpiece but when set beside the Bresson picture it seems to me to be something of a travesty.
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Supercop (1992)
8/10
Great fun
21 October 2017
Jackie Chan is the "Supercop" of the title in Stanley Tong's martial arts caper. Forget about the plot and just sit back and enjoy the spectacular stunts, broad comedy, (it's even funnier in this dubbed version), and first rate action sequences including an absolutely terrific climatic chase scene involving a train, a helicopter and a rope ladder between the two while the redoubtable Michelle Yeoh proves to be every bit Chan's equal when the chips are down. Not a Chan classic perhaps but hugely entertaining nevertheless.
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The Outsider (2002 TV Movie)
6/10
Conventional but entertaining
21 October 2017
We've been down this road before and to better effect but "The Outsider", a made-for-television variation on both "Shane" and "Witness", isn't at all bad. Naomi Watts, (excellent), is the Mennonite widow who takes in a wounded gunfighter, (Timothy Daly), who in turn helps her in her battle with the men who murdered her husband and naturally they fall in love, much to the displeasure of her family and community. It's fairly conventional but it's well acted and it's entertaining. The director was Randa Haines, who made "Children of a Lesser God", and a good supporting cast includes the Carradine brothers, David and Keith.
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Police (1985)
8/10
Forget this being a 'thriller'; Pialat has other ideas.
20 October 2017
You know "Police" isn't going to be a conventional policier simply because it's directed by Maurice Pialat and Pialat doesn't do conventional. Yes, there's a 'thriller' plot involving drug dealers but the plot is secondary to the way both the police and the criminals are seen to go about their business which in many ways is much the same, (a crooked lawyer, nicely played by Richard Anconina, moves between them with seemingly consummate ease).

The central character is Gerard Depardieu's charming, brutalizing inspector who thinks nothing of beating up suspects to get a confession and both he and the film may remind you of Kirk Douglas in "Detective Story" and it's a beautiful piece of acting. Equally good, as the drug dealer's girl that Depardieu falls for, is Sophie Marceau. Ultimately the 'thriller' plot is all but jettisoned as Pialat digs deeper into the lives and backgrounds of his characters which is just as well as the plot becomes both very complicated and a little ridiculous. Still, this is a Pialat picture; mean, melancholy and fiercely intelligent.
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À nos amours (1983)
9/10
One of Pialat's finest films
19 October 2017
On the surface Maurice Pialat's "A Nos Amours" is about a promiscuous young girl and the film deals with both the dynamics of her sex life and her home life. You may say not much happens conventionally; the girl sleeps around and her life is observed episodically but you might also say the film is about the dynamics of acting. As the girl, Suzanne, 16 year old Sandrine Bonnaire, making her film debut, is virtually never off the screen and in her extraordinarily naturalistic performance it's almost impossible to know where Bonnaire ends and her character begins.

Pialat himself plays the father with a world-weariness that makes you wonder how much of himself he had poured into the part or why he hadn't chosen another actor for the role. As Suzanne's mother and brother Evelyne Ker and Dominique Besnehard are equally brilliant and make for a very realistic and dysfunctional family. It is, of course, very 'French', full of amour fou and Gallic passion and is certainly not the kind of film a British or American director might have made and for a film full of characters you are unlikely to empathize with or like it nevertheless holds you in a vice-like grip. It is also one of Pialat's finest achievements.
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2/10
A load of rubbish
19 October 2017
By the time John Frankenhimer made "The Holcroft Covenant" his star had already waned. It's a terrible picture and it's hard to believe it was directed by the same man who made "The Manchurian Candidate". It's another Nazi conspiracy thriller adapted from a Robert Ludlum novel by three of the best writers in the business, (George Axelrod, Edward Anhalt and John Hopkins), so what went wrong? Well for starters it could be a case of too many cooks for there isn't a believable line of dialogue in the entire film which zooms all over the place at great speed but goes absolutely nowhere; the budget obviously allowed for some nifty location shooting and Gerry Fisher's cinematography is one of the film's few saving graces.

It's also preposterously plotted and atrociously acted. Michael Caine, (dreadful), is the lead and Anthony Andrews, Victoria Tennant, Michael Lonsdale and Lilli Palmer are among the others who are wasted in this rubbish. That fine British character actor Bernard Hepton manages to come out of it smelling of roses which is really something of a miracle. Of course, perhaps it was meant to be a comedy but if it was it isn't a particularly funny one.
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Last Night (I) (2010)
3/10
Very very dull
18 October 2017
"Last Night" is an intelligent, well-acted, written, directed and photographed film that, in the end, amounts to absolutely nothing. It's a 'will they, won't they' scenario; commit adultery, that is. She's Keira Knightely and he's Sam Worthington and he's left town for the night on business with a female colleague, (Eva Mendes), he fancies and who fancies him right back leaving Keira alone to casually and very co-incidentally run into old flame Guillaume Canet. Nothing very much happens; there is a lot of talk, some of it good but mostly inane, the kind of small talk people engage in when they have nothing to say. It might have helped if the characters were more attractive but frankly these are people I would leave town to avoid. It may be well done but it is also very, very dull.
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Mimosas (2016)
9/10
This heralds the arrival of a major player in world cinema.
2 October 2017
It is said by some that "Mimosas" is a 'contemporary Moroccan western' and why not. Over the decades we have come to learn that the Western is as much a state of mind as it is a genre and that it is not rooted in any particular time or place. The Western tropes apparent in "Mimosas" are a journey on horseback through mountainous terrain, in this case by three men tasked with taking the body of a dead sheik to his place of burial, (Tommy Lee Jones covered similar territory in the much more traditional "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada"), together with a few gun attacks and a couple of killings. Indeed, were it not for an early sequence in a city or town involving a fleet of taxis we might be back two centuries and, if not in the American West, at least in recognizable 'Western' terrain and in one scene near the end of the film we could even be back 2,000 years.

In some respects you could say not a great deal happens, at least not conventionally, in Oliver Laxe's film, (it's only his second), and yet this is so much more than a beautifully photographed travelogue, (Laxe shot the film on location mostly in the Atlas mountains). There is an almost profound sense of both joy and sadness in the relationship that develops between the three men and their strange cargo as well as genuine sense of mystery, (many events are left unexplained). Laxe also gets wonderful performances from Ahmed Hammoud as the man who agrees to take the body in the first place and from Shakib Ben Omar as the little runt who proves to have a lot more going for him than meets the eye, (neither men are professional actors though Shakib did appear in Laxe's first film). There are also scenes here of such pure physicality that they almost rival those in "Aguirre, Wrath of God". I have yet to see Laxe's earlier "You are all Captains" but "Mimosas" certainly heralds the arrival of a major player in world cinema.
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5/10
Decidedly second-rate
1 October 2017
Robert Mitchum was a bit long in the tooth when he played Philip Marlowe in this deliberately artificial remake of "Farewell, My Lovely" which, by the mid-seventies, seemed incongruously like a fish out of water. Despite an excellent cast that included Charlotte Rampling, John Ireland, Harry Dean Stanton, an Oscar-nominated Sylvia Miles and, in his only acting role, the novelist Jim Thompson the film looked and sounded like something of a museum piece. Maybe it needed someone other than the merely workmanlike Dick Richards to breathe some life into it in the way Altman did with the vastly superior "The Long Goodbye". When set beside Polanski's "Chinatown", which appeared the following year, or even the original 1944 version of the same story, this is decidedly second-rate; a fancy dress parade of character actors in search of a story.
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8/10
One of Martin Ritt's best films
20 September 2017
Not as great as its reputation might suggest but damn good nevertheless. This was the film that basically introduced John Le Carre to an international audience. Richard Burton was perfectly cast as Alec Leamas, "The Spy who came in from the Cold" and his mission was to act as a double-agent and worm his way in with the East Germans and incriminate a spy from the other side so they will shoot him themselves.

The plot is complex, the characters beautifully realized and the performances all brilliant. As well as Burton at his near best, Oskar Werner was, as always, remarkably good as another Communist spy, Claire Bloom very nicely cast as the left-wing librarian Burton gets involved with and Cyril Cusack was a perfectly cool and ever so cynical Control. George Smiley even pops up in the form of Rupert Davies. The director was Martin Ritt and this remains one of his best films while Oswald Morris did the brilliant black and white cinematography.
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8/10
This goes down a treat.
19 September 2017
Last year it was ethnicity that dominated the Oscars and this year it could well be longevity. I recently predicted that, at the age of 91, Harry Dean Stanton could be Oscar's oldest ever Best Actor and even now there is every chance he will be posthumously nominated while Dame Judi, a mere 82, should have no worries in being a sure-fire contender for her performance as Queen Victoria in "Victoria & Abdul". It's a part she has already played in "Mrs. Brown", (losing out to Helen Hunt in "It's As Good as it Gets"), and to be fair, this is something of a walk in the park for her.

We are told the movie is 'mostly' based on actual events but I think we have to take a lot of what we see with a pinch of salt. It's certainly an entertaining picture, if a little twee and whimsical at times, but there is also a little more heft to it than meets the eye. As written by Lee Hall and directed by Stephen Frears this is no mere sentimental, historical romp. It is, of course, the story of the Queen's friendship, in the years before her death, with her Indian servant Abdul Karim, (Ali Fazal, an actor new to me), which until recently was something kept very much under wraps and which was very much opposed to by the Prime Minister, her son the Prince of Wales and the entire royal household and Hall makes this another post-Brexit movie, (I have a feeling we are going to see a lot of post-Brexit movies in the next few years).

What we have here is a film about racism and about empire and it's quite as relevant today as it was back in Victoria's time. Not that you have to take it too seriously; there's a lot of low comedy on display and Frears has assembled an outstanding cast of British character actors. Eddie Izzard is an obnoxious future king, the late Tim Piggot-Smith is quite wonderful as the toadying head of the household, Michael Gambon is the befuddled Prime Minister and Paul Higgins practically walks off with the picture as the Queen's concerned doctor; concerned, not with her health, but with the number of Indians about the place. As a piece of film-making there is, naturally, a large dose of Masterpiece Theatre on display but that, in itself, isn't such a bad thing. "Victoria & Abdul" goes down a treat.
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