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The Last Drop (2006)
Pure cack down to the last drop
A pointless mishmash of war movie and heist movie. This sort of thing has been done so much better in movies like "Kelly's Heroes". There is nothing of any quality in "The Last Drop". Actors put their best pantomime accents on. Laurence Fox's stock Nazi villain sports the obligatory duelling scar on his cheek. American talent Billy Zane emails in a performance from somewhere near San Francisco. Uniforms look like fancy dress. Vehicles are mostly postwar Eastern Bloc.
Everything about this movie screams "Cheap"! "The Last Drop" is proof that the most talented actors are prepared to do pretty much anything for money.
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Thinking Person's Blockbuster
It's been said that in "The Dark Knight" the forces of darkness spent as much time behind the camera as they did in front of it. Well, fair enough. Christopher Nolan doesn't direct light romantic comedies. If you're looking for a standard comic book franchise movie, there's loads of thinly-veiled toy adverts out there. "The Dark Knight", however, follows the graphic novel trend of the 80's & 90's, catering for a sophisticated adult audience. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to sit through a 2-hour toy advert (even "SpiderMan 3") and walk out humming the theme tune, but I've reached a stage in life where I also like to be treated as an adult rather than a source of revenue when I go to the cinema.
The Bunker (2001)
"The Bunker" features a cast of fine British character actors and Charley Boorman. That's not to say that Boorman isn't good in his role, just that this film is more his level. Guys like Jason Flemyng, Jack Davenport, Christopher Fairbank and even TV regulars Eddie Marsan and Andrew Tiernan could do this sort of film in their sleep, although they all pitch in to "The Bunker" with enthusiasm.
Well, I say "enthusiasm" but I mean war-weary cynicism. The film is set at the nadir of the Third Reich and all the actors in "The Bunker" portray German soldiers in varying degrees of despair or denial. This was what kept me watching the film, as the men stuck in the bunker were forced to face some unknown evil and ended up tearing themselves (and each other) apart.
It's a variation on the standard "Old Dark House" horror theme and it works quite well, but "The Bunker" brings very little that's new or exciting to the screen. There aren't many shocks - more a sense of creeping dread as events unfold, and what could be referred to as "The Twist" at the end has been regularly signposted all the way through the story with grainy flashback scenes.
You may enjoy it but this old couch potato won't bother with "The Bunker" again. It's a quality production let down by a 6-bob screenplay.
A Classic (Just not sure why)
I wouldn't say that "Desperado" is unwatchable but it didn't merit a second viewing for me. I saw that it was on TV and stayed up to watch it, then wondered why I bothered. It beats "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" into a cocked hat in terms of plot but it does rely on the screen presence of Antonio Banderas, Steve Buscemi and others to keep the viewer interested.
The gunfights are ludicrous, with villains spraying rounds about like hose sprinklers and the good guys knocking them down with shot after shot. It reminded me of the "A Team" TV series, although Hannibal and co shared the poor aim of the bad guys.
One word sums this film up. "Overkill". Too many guns, too much casual killing and not enough snappy dialogue. It also has a disappointing climax that makes it look like the producers couldn't afford another bloody and spectacular set piece to finish it off.
A Finely Crafted War Movie, But...
There is a lot to recommend "Black Book" to international audiences but the scale of the movie eventually works against it. The screenplay is based on actual events within German-occupied Holland during WWII, but Paul Verhoeven and his co-writer Gerard Soeteman have over-egged their story.
Despite some fine acting from Carice Van Houten and her supporting cast, there are moments in "Black Book" where you may begin to wonder how one person copes with so much tension and bad luck. Rachel Stein is (I assume) a composite character and this is the film's main weakness. Verhoeven and Soeteman, it seems, couldn't bear to leave anyone's anecdote out of their original screenplay and the result strained my credulity quite badly. I don't think that I would bother buying "Black Book" on DVD because, for all its atmosphere and tension, it's at least 20 minutes too long.
Whilst trying to portray what German occupation was like for Dutch people, Paul Vehoeven's otherwise admirable film tries to cram too much incident into one person's lifetime. The film does deliver quite a satisfying twist at the end but slides alarmingly toward the "Showgirls" end of Verhoeven's movie scale on the way on the way to its climax.
Having dissed it for 3 paragraphs, I would like to finish off with a recommendation to give "Black Book" a try if you like war films. It's better than a lot of recent efforts in this genre.
Transporter 2 (2005)
Having enjoyed the 1st "Transporter" movie, I was severely disappointed by this sequel. Jason Statham and the rest of the cast go through the motions in a tired Miami-based 007 retread, all guns and gadgets and very little of what made the first film so entertaining. The car chases and fight scenes all look stagey and the use of CGI is too obvious.
It's hard to believe that Luc Besson would even think of lending his name to this grubby little film, but there he is in the credits. The man clearly has no shame.
Someone else with no shame is Kate Nauta, who plays a sub-Bond villainess with all the sexiness of a hatstand, despite spending most of the movie semi-naked, tricked out in high heels and some sort of combat body harness. All I can say about her role is that she must have been offered a lot of money.
I managed to sit all the way through "Transporter 2" but it was more in hope than due to any entertainment value. 'Surely it'll pick up soon,' I kept telling myself, but this was a forlorn hope. I still recommend the first "Transporter" as high-octane entertainment, but stay away from this diesel-powered golf cart of a sequel.
Nochnoy dozor (2004)
Impressive Dark Fantasy
What makes "Night Watch" so good is the fact that it's not a Hollywood movie. Yes, it's clearly been influenced by Hollywood movies like "The Matrix" but there's no doubt that it was made approximately 9,000 miles from Tinsel Town and that it was paid for in roubles, not dollars.
The story is pretty simple but it's the entangled relationships between the characters that keep you watching "Night Watch". Well, that and the bravura action sequences. There are some bone-crunching fight scenes in this film. I'm not normally a fan of CGI but "Night Watch" manages to integrate it into the story pretty well. There are only a few CGI scenes in the movie that look patently fake and they aren't dwelt upon for very long anyway.
If this is the sort of cinema that we can expect from Russia in future, I can see myself becoming a big fan.
Hot Fuzz (2007)
No-one can doubt the huge cultural impact of "Hot Fuzz". My work colleagues and I frequently blow raspberries, flick the Vees and invite each other to "Jog On".
Just as they did with "Shaun of the Dead", Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg have taken a fairly stale movie sub-genre, fed it a few drinks and filmed it making an ass of itself in public. People expect UK comedy movies to be gently mocking, middle-class tales about Hugh Grant falling for an unattainable American or a bunch of Northerners who form the world's only nude brass band. "Hot Fuzz" manages to combine traditional British whimsy with a healthy dose of American Action Steroids and the result doesn't so much break the mould as blow up the mould factory.
Is it any good? You bet. "Hot Fuzz" is a high-octane blend of running gags, snappy one-liners, clever observational comedy, fine acting, gunplay and messy murder scenes. "Hot Fuzz" is the perfect antidote for anyone who's overdosed on one-too-many Brit gangster flicks, American cop-buddy movies or Richard Curtis's so-called comedies.
Guest House Paradiso (1999)
An Overlooked Classic (Sort Of)
"Guesthouse Paradiso" is a typical low-budget British movie. You've seen most of the cast on TV dozens of times and everything about it screams that no expense has been spent in its production. There are dozens of movies like this languishing on the shelves at BlockBusters so why pick up "Guesthouse Paradiso"?
Only because it's pretty much the last hurrah of anarchic comedy duo Adrian Edmondson and Rik Mayall, who have spent the best part of 2 decades getting laughs out of bodily functions and cartoon violence. Anyone who is a fan of their "Bottom" TV series will know just what to expect.
"Guesthouse Paradiso" is as deep and complex as a puddle of vomit but has a high content of laughs, wince-making fight scenes and stunts. Ignore the thin plot and concentrate on Mayall and Edmondson as they have a laugh and try not to injure each other too seriously.
Two Men Went to War (2002)
Dad's Army Reloaded
The UK TV premiere of "Two Men Went to War" was shown directly after a vintage episode of "Dad's Army". This was clearly a BBC progamme scheduler's attempt at mind control. The story of a has-been sergeant's personal invasion of wartime France shares a lot of territory with "Dad's Army" but "Two Men Went to War" is a pale shadow of the classic TV series.
Despite being based on true events, the movie portrays its protagonists as a sort of Laurel and Hardy double act. The real Sergeant Peter King and Private Leslie Cuthbertson were a tough and resourceful duo who managed to survive on their own in enemy territory and commit several acts of sabotage before returning to home soil.
Kenneth Cranham portrays his character well, despite the fact that he is in his 60s and the real Peter King was 26 in 1942. Not only this, but saddling the character King with a medal for changing a car wheel under fire in WWI cheapens the efforts of the real King, who won a Military Cross in 1944 and the DSO in Korea.
Leo Bill matches Cranham in the acting stakes but plays his character as a Londoner when the real Cuthbertson was from Tyneside. I don't blame Bill for not attempting a geordie accent but it's another jangling note of inaccuracy in a story that's supposed to be "Mostly True". Cuthbertson is portrayed mainly as boyish and inept, but in reality he served as a soldier in the Durham Light Infantry after his adventures in France.
I doubt that either King or Cuthbertson would have been very happy with this movie if either were still alive. While its premise is comic, too many liberties have been taken. In the movie, the 2 men are saved from being branded as deserters by an intelligence officer who credits them with the destruction of a Freya radar array. By coincidence they manage to wreck it in parallel with a British commando raid on nearby Wurzburg radar dishes. Trying to tie King and Cuthbertson's ad-hoc sabotage operation in with a bowdlerised version of the Operation Biting raid on Bruneval is simply too much.
"Two Men Went to War" may be based on fact but pitching it as a "Dad's Army" - style comedy was a mistake. Surely the true story of 2 army dentists who invaded German-occupied France in 1942 was worthy of a more embellishment-free screenplay?