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The Long Ships (1964)
Fabulous rip-off of 'The Vikings'
Richard Widmark is excellent in the Kirk Douglas role, Sidney Poitier cast very much against type as the villain and Gordon Jackson as a cowardly Viking providing comic relief many years before he became the authority figure made famous by his roles in The Professionals and Upstairs/Downstairs.
2 things that really stand out about this film, the revelation of the giant bell (which seems to float very well considering it's supposed to be solid gold?)and the 'Steel mare' torture device which really is the stuff of nightmares, like the Tarzan film where his African porters would be ripped apart by being tied to criss crossed palm trees. Even though this is all implied and you don't actually ever see anything it's still amazing that this is a PG? The way Poitier's ruler casually sacrifices the life of one of his men to prove a point is horrifying. Unusually he's portrayed quite nobly and the relationship with his head harem girl is interesting and multi-layered, eventually when she dies for him you totally buy it.
Really you couldn't make this film today, the blonde and blue eyed Vikings defeating an Islamic enemy not to mention their lusty raid on the harem girls. You also have the extremely beautiful Viking princess being given to the delighted harem girls as their new plaything before being presented primped and pouting to her new master as his latest slavegirl, scenes that probably launched a 1001 historical romance novels.
So all told not as powerful as The Vikings but possibly more fun.
The Professionals: Stopover (1979)
By golly, if you like action this is the one for you with no less than 4 gunbattles in the ep.
Cowley doesn't think about dying. He tells Bodie and Doyle they are his top men which is unusually giving of him.
Bodie and Doyle have 3 rounds of drinks and drive off to a gunfight, all for under £5! Bodie drinks Harvey Wallbangers and Skol lager, how 70s. Molensky compares CI5 to the Soviets and the way they treat him he's not far wrong. Both Bodie and Doyle demonstrate a rather professional handgrip.
Must say I'm still a little puzzled by the overall plot? The best I can figure is Ruduk was genuinely on the run and Meredith and Kodai were in it with him. They needed money to get away and everything else was a ruse to convince Cowley they were genuine. Kodai meanwhile has a grudge against Cowley and decides to kill 2 birds with one stone by offing him at the airfield?
An ep much better than I remember it being
Some great British character actors in this one, Chris Fairbank, Bill Treacher, Simon Rouse. You'd think a secret organisation such as CI5 would have better security at their base, people seem to just be able to walk in and out at will, they seem to change it every so often as a security measure.
CI5 have a black and a female agent which puts them one step ahead of The Sweeney although the unabashed brutality they show to everyone they meet rather goes against political correctness (as does the fact they have to comfort her at the scene of the bombing). We lose 3 agents which must be a record and catch a glimpse of the wider CI5 organisation, I think one of the ways to improve the series would have been to have more recurring villains and regular members of CI5 (Murphy aside). Love Bodie's flat with the Figure 11 target and the lingerie clad women in the posters.
How incredibly plummy do all the other CI5 agents sound, no wonder Cowley depends on Bodie and Doyle. we learn that they weren't part of the original selection for CI5, the organisation was up and running before they joined. We see the same railway carriages that later recur in Operation Susie (watch how the supposed stone cold corpse flinches when Doyle smashes the glass).
The bomb disposal scenes are tense but you shouldn't use a walkie talkie near a bomb, it can detonate it through RF hazard. Nice to see that Cowley is so hard he can actually take out the villain with one hand.
This one is rated pretty highly on IMDb, I'm not sure I agree but it's pretty good.
Interesting but enough with the hero worship
I found this a good film, certainly very grown up (I was flicking between this and Rambo 3 which may have added to the impression). I especially liked Sharon Stone as the scorned wife, practically unrecognisable here and Christian Slater set up as the obvious bad guy but showing much more depth than that, William Macey's character going to help him in the end is a satisfying moment as is his reconciliation with his wife in the face of tragedy. The hotel is an analogy for the US at the time and it's laid on pretty thick ('A city within a city'), there's so many characters it gets overwhelming. You get the impression that when Emilio Estevez put the word out all of liberal Hollywood came knocking at his door for a part.
For the record this isn't a documentary, none of the characters are real except for Freddy Rodriguez's waiter who really did cradle the dying Bobby Kennedy. All of Sirhan Sirhan's other victim's not only survived but thankfully recovered fully (good thing he only had a .22). We learn nothing about the assassin and his motivations, he was actually outraged by RFK's support for Israel and his intention to boost military aid to it. But then that would rather ruin the image of Bobby Kennedy as a liberal messiah? We must be grateful there are no conspiracy theories here and rightly so.
Ashton Kutcher is just absolutely godawful and I've no idea why they left his character in. Given Demi Moore's reputation in recent years her turn as a fading star is oddly prophetic.
Where it falls down is in its' deification of RFK himself who is just goodness and hope personified and would have solved all the world's problems practically single-handed. Truth was he was no saint and his murder was probably a symptom of the troubles in American society rather than it's cause (he justly condemns the rise of violent crime in the late 60s but then again he was the Attorney General during the period it occurred?). It's very unlikely he would have beaten Hubert Humphrey to the Democratic nomination and even less likely that he would have beaten Nixon to the presidency. Even the IMDb Trivia section for this film is really an unrestrained RFK love fest.
So all told a good film but it doesn't need such sycophancy.
13 Rue Madeleine (1946)
Excellent, hugely realistic WW2 thriller
A truly remarkable film for its' time when WW2 was still yesterday's news and its' grim realities were still universally accepted. You wonder if today's audiences would be prepared to accept the extreme subterfuge, moral ambiguities and agonising judgement calls such a conflict would demand? Should they simply arrest the Nazi agent or use him to feed false information to the Germans about the liberation of Europe even if this means endangering the other agents working alongside him? Should the French resistance fighters trust Cagney's character in his claim to be an Allied agent or simply execute him as a quisling? How far should they go in collaborating with the Germans to maintain their cover against helping the Allies? To judge by some of the controversy surrounding the 'War on Terror' I would venture no?
James Cagney is excellent here, probably happy to ditch his gangster persona and be able to demonstrate his martial arts prowess as a judo black belt during the training sequences. Of the supporting cast the Nazi agent is very good, really convincing you by his ingenuity in the theft exercise sequence, maybe they should have left his real identity a mystery until later in the film? The clean cut all American boy by contrast is unceremoniously killed off-screen, plummeting to his death due to a sabotaged parachute line, in a lesser film he would have been the hero but the cynical message here is that his sort of naivety is fatal as is the romantic attachment of the French agent to her missing husband (you really suspected her of being the Nazi spy, blackmailed by threats to him into working for them).
The training sequences at the OSS are very realistic and whilst they may seem clichéd now you must remember they must have been a revelation to the audiences of 1947 (as the intro explains the OSS was a revolutionary departure for the US intelligence services, achingly liberal America hugely reluctant to create the same sort of spy agency as other countries, it taking Pearl Harbour to jar the wider population from their complacency and understand the necessity).
Very ruthless for its' time, Cagney gives a big speech about how the Queensberry rules are out the window and that this is a fight to the finish. When he is later captured (his enemy prying the suicide pill from his hand) his erstwhile pupil reminds him of that speech as he is tortured. Cagney practices what he preaches, even killing men with his bare hands and later ends up being killed by his own side just to shut him up. EVERYONE dies, even the heroine which must have been very rare at the time.
So all told a realistic and impressively accurate representation of what the OSS got up to during WW2.
Cambridge Spies (2003)
Good but misleading, too sympathetic to traitors
Well made and acted but I'm afraid it didn't have the guts to show the reality of the result of their treason. Why did we not see the suffering and death of the agents whom the Cambridge spies betrayed? Why did they never confront the hypocrisy of helping a regime which sides with Hitler, imprisons its' population and regularly executes their KGB contact agents? It tries to be sympathetic to men who put their loyalty to their friends above their loyalty to their country, their colleagues and those they're supposed to be protecting. What's more even that is incredibly flawed, Blunt abandons the rest of the group to their fate, Philby sleeps with McClean's wife and sends Burgess to accompany him into exile behind the Iron Curtain unaware that he's never coming back to the UK (and will quickly drink himself to death in Moscow).
What's more it only seems to tell half the story, concentrating disproportionately on the recruitment process and the influence of the Spanish civil war on the group. We get none of the fallout from the defection which was a revelation in Britain at the time or Philby's infamous press conference which is still cited today as a classic example of how to lie, we never get Philby's flight from Beruit or McClean and Caincross' plea bargain. Perhaps the most sympathetic character in the whole story is James Jesus Angleton who appears to be the lone voice in the wilderness.
So all told a great series but do some research first.
Best TV movie ever!
Utterly horrifying in every way, the mistakes of the past seem so obvious now with the benefit of hindsight and experience. Perhaps the saddest fact is that the cops, social workers and prosecutors in this case weren't actually bad people but genuinely believed that what they were doing was right, that the had uncovered monstrous child abuse, that children couldn't lie about such subjects and that they had to be subjected to coercive interviews in order to bring the truth to the surface. When they eventually began to study the evidence in detail they begin to develop that nagging doubt that they may have been mistaken but by then its almost impossible for them to admit their error in the face of public and media hysteria. I think the most revealing scene is when Mercedes Rheul's character talks about them trying to find one photograph, one drunken confession, one piece of corroborative evidence to back up the kid's increasingly fantastical and unreliable testimony. When they find nothing of the sort she desperately resorts to citing the lead suspect's reading of Playboy, interest in Pyramid power and unsatisfactory sexual encounter with an adult woman as proof of his guilt? When it emerges that the original accuser was mentally ill she still cannot give up the case, its gone so far there's no turning back now. That is perhaps the real tragedy, that of human nature.
James Woods really rules this film, he's playing the same sleazy lawyer we've seen him play so many times before, accustomed to defending guilty as sin drug dealers but this time finds himself unexpectedly on the side of the angels with genuinely innocent clients. It really is a tremendous tour do force from him.
Just Ask My Children (2001)
Great and disturbing film
Odd now in these days of such professional police investigation to see the portrayal of the dark days of the 80s when the art was just in its' infancy. The story really falls down on whether we believe the children and can they lie about this? If the kids are telling the truth then the parents deserve everything they get but if they are lying...?
In one scene the mother (the ever gorgeous Virginia Madsen) asks can the police just come into your home and take your kids away? And the answer of course is that if they have reason to believe you're abusing them then of course they can. But this was at a time when it was considered that children couldn't lie about such things and people didn't realise how they could be easily lead and influenced during interviews. It's also a good example of the importance of independence in the judicial system, the prosecutors desperate to please public opinion by getting convictions and then reconsidering when public opinion shifts in the opposite direction. Perhaps the scariest thing is when the prosecutor receives the court order to give the defence access to the boys and he just chooses to ignore it? Surely the judge should order HIM to be arrested for that?
Another film I'd recommend in the same vein is Indictment which is excellent.
Kids Don't Tell (1985)
Terrific but now go watch 'Indictment' and' Just ask my children'
Watched this film many years ago and it was terrific. Rewatched it recently and was disappointed because it was the PG version and missed out many of the most intense and important scenes, the interview with the arrested paedophile, the rows between the husband and wife because the memories his research is bringing back have put her off sex, the plight of the child street hooker, the shocked mother relating how she discovered incest in her family, the paedophile support group meetings in which we see the human side of the offenders and not just the victims. In fact if you watch the PG version so much is missing it is quite baffling. Great performance from Michael Oatkean (and how HANDSOME he was!)and nice to see Jean Bruce Scott who was one of my favourites from Airwolf.
BUT.... Then we have that scene where we see the social worker interviewing the kid using puppets and anatomically correct dolls and the warning flags go up. Nowadays such techniques are totally discredited having been shown to induce false testimony from children, especially with zealous investigators like the detective portrayed here. Watch 'Just ask my children' and 'Indictment; The McMartin Trial' to see what happened AFTER this film was released, the hysteria coupled with flawed investigative techniques leading to families ripped apart and innocent people spending years in prison.
So yes, watch this terrific film but then watch 'Indictment' and 'Just Ask My Children'.
I always thought Rocky Balboa was the perfect end to the series, that it was a truly satisfying ending and we didn't need another Rocky film after this (you think of the aged boxer poster gag in 'Airplane 2'). But Creed pleasantly surprised me, its a pretty mature film, neither Rocky nor his protégé are down and out in this film, their lives are pretty good, they both just need a new challenge to fulfil themselves. Equally his opponent is no Clubber Lang, his performance and motivation are hugely credible although you wonder what American audiences will make of the scouser accent?
Great performance from SS, very brave for him to now play someone so age appropriate, the love story between Adonis and his girlfriend is also fine, very believable and if they make another film I'd like to see where it goes, a budding music star going progressively deaf is a great dramatic concept. The fight scenes are good as always, Hollywood exciting in a way real boxing can never really be but also not shying away from the brutality of it all, when they're spitting blood out or when Adonis' eye swells up you really wince for them. Equally the cancer subplot really works and doesn't shy away from the reality of it, you understand Rock's reluctance for treatment having seen his wife go through the same.
If I had a complaint I would have liked to have seen Rocky's son in this film. In the last he was trying to escape his dad's legacy, as Rocky comments it can't have been easy trying to have been Rocky Balboa's son on the streets of Philly. Here we have Adonis trying to live up to his father's legacy. But I guess with the death of Sly's son from a heart attack that would have been to painful for him. Reputedly the director had to persuade Sly to let him use the picture of him from Rocky 5 and the film is dedicated to his memory. Maybe if they make a sequel?