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Star Wars Episodes IV-VI
Indiana Jones 1-3
The Thing (1982)
Lord of the Rings trilogy
Back to the Future 1-3
James Bond series
Evil Dead 2 & 3
Star Treks 2, 3, 4, 6, and 10
Generally I tend to follow a lot of popular trends.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Francis Ford Coppola's ambitious Vietnam War epic based on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness is my all-time favourite war movie. It can be a bewildering experience perhaps on first viewing, it isn't a perfect movie, less so in the Redux version, but at the end of the day, it is a masterpiece that shines through.
The opening sequence is an immediate attention-grabber, a series of hallucinatory images set to The Doors, and in itself, almost a brief short summary of the film itself, and a hint that we're not about to enter generic war film territory, but something else entirely.
From the start of his journey on a Navy PBR, we see the warzone almost entirely as Captain Willard - Martin Sheen - sees it. And we are treated to an increasingly bizarre series of images, scenes of a land where insanity prevails. A meet-up with the gun-ho Kilgore, a helicopter raid on a village with Ride of the Valkyries playing, a USO show, a base constantly trading fire with the enemy, and the trip into Cambodia, journeying ever further into 'the heart of darkness'. While many had misgivings about the Redux' additions, with another meeting with the Playboy Playmates, and the bizarre encounter with a French plantation, they do add to the sense of madness permeating the land.
Where the film often draws fire is the final act, when Willard meets Marlon Brando's character, Colonel Kurtz. It is true, this sequence is quite slow-going compared to the rest of the film, but it does stay true to the growing sense of senselessness, with Marlon providing the final touches with his rambling speeches, the film slipping further into cerebral territory.
Obviously, this is not a film to watch if you want just explosions and gunfire, though it does provide some of that. This is a magnificent achievement, and deserves all the acclaim bestowed upon it in the years since it's release.
Band of Brothers (2001)
A masterful mini-series
Executive produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, this miniseries clearly shows the influence of Saving Private Ryan, but provides an even richer experience.
Like Private Ryan, this takes the viewer into the middle of the battles, often chaotic, bloody, brilliantly filmed, and all the more impressive that this was made for TV.
The cast are excellent, though if there's a flaw, it can sometimes be hard of keeping track of who's who among the supporting characters.
The most heart-wrenching episode brings us more in the vein of Schindler's List, as Easy Company discover a concentration camp.
There is not a duff episode in the 10-part series. Even the final episode, taking place after Germany has surrendered, ends the show on a high.
Entertaining as popcorn fodder, laughable as history lesson
U-571 irked many in Blighty, and with good reason. Seeing Hollywood give credit to the US for British actions goes beyond disrespectful. Sheepishly, the film even admits it's all bogus by telling us so with a caption at the end.
Even if we took it as a fictionalised World War II story, it's still difficult to take seriously, as it trots out the usual submarine clichés, and throws realism to the sharks.
But, if we view this as simply a throwback to flag-waving propaganda films, and as popcorn fodder, it does entertain on that level. It's well-paced, the effects are impressive, production design is impressive, and some scenes will have you on the edge of your seat.
Under Suspicion (2000)
Toys with greatness, but never quite gets there
Under Suspicion centres almost entirely on an interrogation with a prominent American lawyer in Puerto Rico, who is key suspect in rape-murders of two young girls.
Morgan Freeman as the cop, and Gene Hackman as the lawyer, are the sole reason to watch this, as they provide plenty of sparks as they play off each other, Freeman gradually breaking Hackman down.
Too often though, it's as if the director has no confidence in his audience, and frequently turns to arty-farty sequences that become increasingly irritating.
The ending will infuriate many.
The 13th Warrior (1999)
Good bloody fun
This blend of historical adventure and horror maybe somewhat incoherent at times, but it's hard not to be caught up in this tale of an Arabian nobleman recruited to be 'The 13th Warrior' by a band of Norsemen who have been called on to defend a village from apparently supernatural flesh-eating creatures.
Antonio Banderas is effective as our audience identification figure, a cultured civilized poet, in a fish-out-of-water scenario with the uncouth Norse folk he's with.
The battle scenes are impressive, with Antonio and co taking on the monstrous marauders. Jerry Goldsmith's score is one of it's key strengths, providing the epic feel the film needs.
Where it falls apart somewhat is the introduction of characters and subplots that prove to be totally irrelevant, and pointless, and seems merely a way to pad things out a bit.
Still, it's a definite must-see for blokes.
Last Action Hero (1993)
Under-rated, but not flawless, gem
Last Action Hero has got a lot of bad mouthing over the years, but it seems a lot of critics were just jumping on the bandwagon, afraid to say something positive.
It is difficult to see why no-one would like it at all. While a tad heavy-handed, the constant riffing on typical macho action flicks is spot-on, always amusing, and yet at the same time the film delivers saw awe-inspiring, sometimes deliberately implausible action set-pieces. Arnie sends himself up fine, while Austin O'Brien often says out loud what most often think watching these kinds of films. Charles Dance makes a menacing villain, and provides some dark amusement of his own - I JUST SHOT SOMEBODY, I DID IT ON PURPOSE.
Where the film begins to falter is when the fictional characters, plus Danny, enter the real world. Until this point, it had been going along at a roaring clip, constantly amusing. Perhaps it was necessary to show a dose of reality to those brought up on mindless action flicks, but it starts becoming a little more serious and darker in tone, more sentimental, and consequently less fun. That doesn't make it bad though, and it does provide some food for thought, with Arnie-in-character ranting about how he's fed up of shooting people in films, and blowing things up.
Not a masterpiece perhaps, but deserves to be ranked high on Arnie's filmography.
The Sum of All Fears (2002)
With Harrison Ford out, it was decided the Jack Ryan series, which had so far proved very profitable at the box office, was to be rebooted, with Ben Affleck taking over. While the film was a financial success, it proved to be far less successful than the previous films, and it's telling that 11 years later, they're attempting another reboot of the series.
Affleck is likable, but he doesn't have anything close to the presence Alec and Harrison had. He is far outclassed by costars such as Morgan Freeman, Alan Bates, James Cromwell, and taking over from Willem Dafoe, Liev Schreiber as John Clark. It's interesting to note how Clark is introduced, a lone mysterious figure standing in the rain - it's fair to assume Clark, a regular and very popular character in the Ryan books, was to appear in further movies.
To accommodate Ben as Jack, the book has undergone an extensive change, with Jack now a young rookie analyst, yet to be married to Cathy. While the simple premise remains the same - terrorists build nuclear device from Israeli weapon left over from Yom Kippur War and use it to provoke nuclear war between US and Russia, Jack is forced to end the crisis himself by going directly to the Hot Line - one can't help feeling extremely cynical about the change of villains. In the book, the main villains are Palestinians, helped by a former left-wing German terrorist, and an American Indian extremist. In the film we get....neo-Nazis. As good as Alan Bates is as the megalomaniacal fascist Austrian politician, it is difficult to take seriously the scenario.
In fact, the film's biggest problem is this - they are trying to present it as a more-realistic-than-usual thriller, yet at the same time, the film has cartoonish villains, and there are a great number of moments that take us out of realism and into pure fantasy.
As problem-riddled as the film is, one area it does not fail at is entertaining the viewer. If one distances themselves from the previous films, the books, it is still a pretty good thriller that always keeps your attention glued to the screen. It's pace goes along at a fair clip, and there are some standout sequences. The best sequence is obviously when the nuke goes off. No last minute stopping the bomb here, it does indeed go off, and it marks the point where the film changes direction, presenting us with an intense doomsday scenario that keeps worsening by the minute.
Deeply flawed, but satisfying entertainment.
Clear and Present Danger (1994)
The better of Harrison's Jack Ryan films
While less believable than the book by having Jack involved in almost every plot point - in Tom Clancy's novel he only properly comes into the main story in the last third - it's a more satisfying experience all round than Patriot Games.
Some patience is required as much of the first half is spent introducing new characters, setting up plot, etc. The investigation of a hit on a businessman and his family on a luxury yacht by a pair of hired muscle reveals connections with a Colombian drug cartel - the businessman was skimming money from them, and he and his family paid for it with their lives. The money skimmed is located, and the US government seizes it which angers the drug baron who was being scammed, Ernesto Escobedo. Escobedo's intel man, former Cuban DGI colonel Felix Cortez, sees an opportunity to seize power by having the US Ambassador, and the visiting FBI Director assassinated. Meanwhile, the CIA, without Ryan's knowledge, is running an illegal covert operation against the drug cartels, with covert troops deep in Colombia staging hit and run raids on drug factories, and secret airports used for aircraft smuggling drugs. The assassinations provoke the President into ordering things to be taken to a new lever. An aerial strike is ordered against a drug baron's mansion while he is meeting with several others, and attempts are made to pass it off as a car bombing by angry cartel members. But not only is Jack growing suspicious that his own country is doing something illegal, Cortez also is becoming alert to the fact the US government is running a secret operation in a supposedly friendly nation.
When Cortez blackmails a senior US official into giving him the locations of the US troops in Colombia, Jack, with the help of a shadowy field agent called John Clark - Willem Dafoe - takes matters into his own hands.
Convoluted to be sure, but a thoroughly intriguing political thriller, with great action sequences, particularly the RPG attack on the convoy in Bogota. The climactic rescue sequence is rather weak compared to the more epic version in the book, more akin to a 12-rated Rambo movie, but it works well in itself. The showdown with the President provides plenty of sparks - I AM THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES - though the ending departs considerably from the book.
Patriot Games (1992)
Decent thriller, arguably better than the book
Tom Clancy's novel is actually set before The Hunt for Red October, showing how he came to be in the CIA. While it makes for entertaining reading, there are moments of unintentional hilarity that really spoil it when it comes to passages involving the Royal Family.
This film, set after The Hunt for Red October - a necessity with the older Harrison Ford playing Jack Ryan - has it's moments of silliness. Some serious off-key location shooting for scenes in Britain provide amusement, particularly a scene clear showing the Transporter Bridge in Middlesbrough which I've seen up close and personal. Rather out of the way considering Sean Bean's character was being transported from London to the Isle of Wight... Then there are the usual national archetypes.
While the film does cop out a bit by inventing a Royal Family member for the bad guys to target, and doing away with the black militants in the book who help out the bad guys, on it's own terms, it manages to be an effective thriller, with some standout moments that will have your heart in your throat. The best part of the film depicts an SAS raid, as seen by infrared satellite, and we see some of the CIA guys not even bat an eyelid, giving dry commentary while watching real people being killed on live transmission. The climactic boat chase maybe more appropriate for a Hollywood action film than a Tom Clancy thriller, it does get the blood pumping.
The Hunt for Red October (1990)
We shail into hishtory
Easily the best film ever about a Russian sub captain with a Scottish accent.
Actually he's of Lithuanian ancestry, but still...
The first movie adaptation of a Tom Clancy novel, an adaptation of his very first one, this is also the first to feature his regular protagonist, Jack Ryan, played here by Alec Baldwin, who plays him quite well as the out-of-his-depth intelligence analyst.
It is Sean Connery who dominates the film however as Red October's captain, Marko Ramius. Despite the accent, he is on excellent form throughout. The supporting cast are no slackers either - Sam Neill as Borodin, James Earl Jones as Ryan's mentor Admiral Greer, Scott Glenn as Bart Mancuso, Courtney B Vance as Jones.
Underwater scenes often provide pacing problems, and while the models used never actually saw any water, there are a few moments when the pace threatens to sag. Fortunately, it never does, with some hair-raising moments such as the Dallas stalking Red October without the latter even aware they're there, and the climactic battle with the Alfa-class V K Konovolov. There are many other great scenes too such as Ryan's set-to with a saboteur, and the Red October's evasion of a torpedo launched from a 'Bear-Foxtrot'.
Basil Poledouris' score is fantastic, lending the film an epic feel, while also ominous in more tense scenes.
The film is not without flaws. Some of the effects weren't convincing even in 1990. There are moments when the Red October looks every bit a model, an external shot of a 'Bear-Foxtrot' never looks anything less than one. It would appear a bit of corner-cutting went on with the budget. Witness an F-14 about to crash suddenly turn into vintage footage of an old 50s Grumman F9F. The same shot of a torpedo being dropped from into sea is used twice, once for the Bear, and another for an SH-60 Seahawk.
While far more believable than most spy thrillers, a few changes take away from the realism that the book's author is often praised for. The manner in which Jack concludes what Ramius is up to for instance seems awfully contrived - the evidence he bases his conclusion on in the book was actually more simple and perfectly reasonable.
Caveats aside, this remains a high point in Cold War cinema, coming out just as that era was effectively over.