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White Men Can't Jump (1992)
More troughs than peaks...
White Men Can't Jump could have been very good, but it was instead only very average. The story centres on a highly talented white basketball player (Woody Harrelson) who hustles a cocksure black guy (Wesley Snipes) on his own court. The two then team up and hustle the local courts, raking in some big dollars. There is plenty of wisecracking, but the "your mama" jokes wear a bit thin. One of the film's biggest irritations is Harrelson's on-screen girlfriend: she moans endlessly in a very, very nauseating high-pitched whine, at one point bitching that Harrelson has brought her a glass of water when she complains of thirst. She is truly one of THE most annoying female characters ever to appear in cinema and ruins the film beyond redemption. There is a side-plot in which Harrelson has to clear some debts to two gangsters, but they are "off-the-shelf" lifeless caricatures. The film concludes with Harrelson having lost his girl (a blessing, to be honest) and asking Snipes for a job. Not quite the action-packed conclusion you might have expected. A shame, because Harrelson and Snipes have both appeared in some excellent films. White Men Can't Jump wasn't one of them...
Now and then ITV actually broadcasts a decent programme
Injustice is exactly the kind of well-written drama series that ITV should be making more of. The plot centres on a seemingly high-flying lawyer, William Travers, who enjoys the trappings of wealth and is known for his success in court. The 5 episodes, however, show that his life is far more complex. Feeling guilty that one of his clients was acquitted of murder but later confessed privately to him that he had actually killed a young boy, Travers kills the man. We then follow the police investigation, as the moody and emotionally unstable DS Wenborn begins to track the killer. Worlds are about to collide, but Wenborn's life unravels more dramatically than could be expected. Travers, back in London defending an old university friend from a charge of murder, has deja vu when it emerges that his 'friend' is really a sick killer...the show finishes with Travers seemingly let off the hook.
The Event (2010)
fails to deliver on early promise
The Event started off with a bang, with an excellent pilot which promised plenty of action and intrigue in the series to come. Sadly things faded. The basic plot revolved around a group of human-like aliens detained in a security facility in Alaska and their efforts to be freed, via negotiation and then by force. The series followed a myriad group of characters, with set piece scenes in the White House and with an ordinary Joe everyman character called Sean stumbling into the conflict between aliens and humans. The problem was that things became very stringed out, 22 episodes seemed too many. Perhaps 13 episodes like Mad Men would have allowed greater focus and lack of repetition. By the end of it all, I was pretty tired of the show, but had stuck with it based on early promises and the hope that the finale would reveal a suitably good Event. The aliens arrive in great force from their dying planet and it looks like humans will be doomed. Or will they? Who knows? To be honest, who cares anymore? The show was cancelled after a series and I don't think there is enough gas in the tank for any more episodes. Some good actors and a fairly decent overall plot were not exploited. This series is no Lost or 24, as it aspired to be...
Friday Night Dinner (2011)
very weak "comedy"
On paper, Friday Night Dinner should work well, particularly on account of its strong cast. Sadly, though, the whole show falls rather flat. I've seen the first three episodes now and the standard hasn't improved from the debut. The "jokes" are predictable, the dialogue forced and the whole tempo quite slow. It also has a very odd pseudo-dance soundtrack which doesn't fit in with the show's themes. The basic premise of two sons going round to see their parents every Friday for dinner could be exploited far better: instead, the show was already repetitive by episode 2. The Inbetweeners and Peep Show have nothing to worry about competition-wise...
genuinely chilling horror
I don't tend to enjoy horror films, but 1408 was absolutely stunning. The plot was simple, but well-executed. John Cusack plays a writer who churns out populist 'haunted house' books which expose the myths and hearsay of hotel owners eager to pull the wool over tourists' eyes. He receives word that room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel has a blood-curdling past and is eager to stay in the room to prove that it is all made-up. He arrives at the hotel and the manager, played by Samuel L Jackson, does everything he can to talk him out of staying in 1408, but Cusack persists and gets his way. As Cusack is taken up to his floor by lift, the anticipation builds and Jackson offers one final warning, but his advice is rejected. Cusack checks into room 1408 and has no idea what is in store for him. At first glance, he is totally unimpressed and believes the room is just like any other. His cynicism lulls him into a false sense of security. Hereafter, the film really starts to get tense, as small oddities begin to occur and you get the sense that Cusack isn't alone in the room. Before long, Cusack himself grows concerned and his early swagger is replaced by mounting fear. The suspense of the film increases and increases, with Cusack coming under siege from numerous evil spirits and ghosts. He seeks in vain to escape the room, but to no avail, before a few red herrings indicate it was all a dream. He wakes up on a beach and is seemingly free from a vivid nightmare. Yet this is all an illusion and he finds that he never escaped. Ultimately, it becomes plain that he will never leave room 1408 and he goes out with a bang, destroying it in a haze of flames. There were so many genuinely chilling moments, that this has to rank as one of the best horrors for many years. It had echoes of the Shining. Definitely a film worth watching.
very weak sketch show
Frankie Boyle's stand-up is often very funny and his stints on various panel shows like Mock the Week were always worth watching. But with Tramadol Nights, he has now descended into epic self-indulgence. I think somebody at Channel 4 needs to have a word with him and let him know just how poor his 'comedy sketches' are. His show is part stand-up, part sketch show. The stand-up is pretty funny, if typically offensive. But that's his trademark and if people don't like it, turn over. The sketches, however, are absolutely dire. I have genuinely not even come close to laughing at any of them. For a start, some of them are ridiculously long-winded and seem to drag on for an eternity. Also, the themes are highly repetitive. Frankie should stick to stand-up in future...
something good to watch around Christmas
The first two Narnia films were very entertaining and well-made. The third installment kept up that form. The two youngest children from the earlier films return to Narnia, accompanied by the irascible, irritating and whingeing Eustace. They have to help Prince Caspian find seven swords to reverse a terrible spell which has afflicted Narnia. Cue a voyage on-board the Dawn Treader, with plenty of interesting encounters with weird creatures along the way. The film's star was Eustace, who starts off as a snotty little oik, turns into a dragon, learns about courage and helps save the day. Simon Pegg voiced the daring little mouse, replacing Eddiz Izzard from the second film. The special effects were pretty good, esp. the giant sea serpents at the end. I watched it in 2D as I've seen a few duds in 3D. Avatar was spectacular in that format because it was filmed with the technology: Narnia was absolutely fine in 2D and a few quid cheaper! Great film for Christmas!
Burke and Hare (2010)
Disappointing, but still had a few good moments
I tend to go and see any new Simon Pegg movie when it comes out at the pictures and Burke and Hare was no exception. Given Pegg's past form, I was expecting a really good laugh, but sadly this film just didn't hit the spot in the same way that some of his earlier movies did. The plot was ripe for comedy: two hard-on-their-luck chancers become body snatchers in 19th century Edinburgh and come up against a motley crew of militiamen and local gangsters. Yet the film seemed to drag despite being around an hour and a half, which is hardly lengthy. I think the major problem was that the main stars spoke with unconvincing Irish accents. It just distracted me and I couldn't believe in the characters as a result. There were some decent set-pieces now and then, but the romance between Pegg and his actress girlfriend was a bit dull and predictable. Maybe this is a film that I'll give another go when it pops up on TV, but I wouldn't recommend paying to see it at the cinema, sadly.....
lots of plot holes, but harmless entertainment
Malice is one of those films you might catch on TV late at night when there's nothing else on and you give it a try. It's a fairly ludicrous film, but entertaining nonetheless. The storyline concerns an elaborate scam perpetrated by Nicole Kidman's character on her husband, played by Bill Pullman. The scam involves a ruse with her surgeon, Alec Baldwin, whereby she is rushed into emergency surgery, apparently with life-threatening issues in her reproductive organs. Baldwin quickly puts pressure on Pullman to give the go-ahead to remove her ovaries and, in the heat of the moment, Pullman seemingly has no choice. Kidman then pretends to be devastated that she can never have children and disappears, only reappearing to push for a $20m settlement from Baldwin's hospital. Baldwin seals the deal by revealing a God-complex and arrogance of such breathtaking proportions that the big payday to Kidman seems inevitable. Turns out, the two of them were in cahoots and plan to split the cash...but Pullman uncovers the truth! Kidman turns on Baldwin and shoots him dead when he suggests paying off Pullman, before she falls prey to a sting set up by Pullman and his cop friend. There was also a side story concerning a rapist, but it didn't make a great deal of sense. This was totally ridiculous and far-fetched, but had its moments. Not one worth buying on DVD, though...
Robin Hood (2010)
totally ridiculous, but strangely entertaining
Let me make one thing clear from the start: Ridley Scott and his team of writers have created a totally fictional history of England and viewers would be advised to treat this film as something of a fantasy fiction, any resemblance to persons living or dead entirely coincidental etc etc. Yet despite the at times frankly ludicrous alternate history that is presented, I did enjoy the film rather a lot. Put simply, there is plenty of good action and a rollocking storyline. The old Robin Hood tale, with Richard the Lionheart returning at the end of the film, is ignored in this new version. Instead, the Lionheart dies in France and Robin Hood, complete with a small group of soldiers, makes his way back to England to deliver some trinkets to Bad King John. There is then a nod to modernity with discussions of the rights of the people etc, a clear reference to Magna Carta. Now in reality, Magna Carta was a baron's charter, with those who drafted it having little or no concern for those at the bottom, but the film presents a typical Hollywood 'power-to-the-people' charter. The film's plot sees a French invasion briefly uniting King John, Robin Hood and the rebellious barons. The writers obviously draw upon the actual invasion at the end of John's reign by Louis of France and bring it forward 15 years...so hardly accurate, but in this alternate reality let's just accept it! Anyway, long story short, Robin sees off the French, soon provoking John's jealousy and being forced into hiding with his 'merry men'. That sets up a sequel. The film did have a few weaknesses, not least a dull performance by Cate Blanchett as Maid Marion. Late 12th/early 13th century women did not have the freedom to express 'sisters doing it for themselves' views. As for Russel Crowe's accent as Robin Hood, it was ridiculous. At times he sounded Scouse, sometimes Irish, sometimes vaguely Scottish and the rest of the time a kind of hybrid northern England/Yorkshire twang. He should have wheeled out his Maximums voice and we would all have been happy. Overall, though, despite many failings, I did enjoy the film and wouldn't mind a sequel, if only to see what liberties they take with English history!