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638 reviews in total 
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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Yet More Zombies!, 9 April 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

By now (2012) I've grown pretty weary of flesh-eating zombie types. They've become a whole genre to themselves. From the endless 'Resident Evil' to Big-Ears' 'I am Legend' on to the no less eternal 'Walking Dead' TV serial-thon. Why do they have to eat flesh all the time anyway? It's clear that they don't actually need it because they can go for weeks without so much as a nibble. Why can't they have a positive fixation like painting & decorating or flower arrangement?

Well, this 2004 remake takes Romero's original and gives the cadaverous ones an Olympian turn of speed. The result is much more dramatic. Chases are truly hectic and confrontations are more in keeping with werewolves or Aliens.

The movie takes a pretty dystopian view about the consequences of social breakdown. There's very little heroic stiff-upper-lip stuff and a lot more looking out for number one. Against such dire consequences, it's probably much nearer the mark. It's one thing to go to the guillotine for someone, but quite another to be eaten alive or changed into one of them yourself. Methinks Sidney Carton would take a raincheck here.

Most of the takes are pretty solidly put together. Looks like the directors hired a genuine shopping-mall for the weekend. There's lots of believable conflict between the survivors and plenty of extremely tense action sequences when zombies turn up, fast, furious and very ravenous. Editing is sharp and well observed. Lighting & sound do the business. There's no happy ending.

Character development is more detailed than the usual slash & gnash offerings. Most of the dumb things people do are plausible, even though I often found myself saying 'oh-no; you don't want to do that' or 'why don't you try this?' At least I was drawn into their dilemma. But having said as much; I wasn't particularly inclined to empathise with any of them either, which left the story with a shallow texture.

Altogether it's a decent watch. Certainly I would recommend a viewing. It's at the top end of the zombie market, for what that's worth.

Avatar (2009)
0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Aliens Never Poop, 1 April 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Anyone else notice that? They can rip your head of, hatch out inside you, devour humanity alive, spray the ground with our blood, destroy our planet, serenade us on mountain-tops and even get drunk and phone-home - but they never take a dump. Not ever. America's diffidence to toiletary frankness is a comedy in itself. Hollywood's directors should watch more 'Carry On-' movies.

Here we have director King Cameron once more. And if 'Avatar' leaves you with deja-vu moments, that's because it resembles just about every other sci-fi movie there's ever been. And Cameron should know. His 'Aliens' was such a blatant rip-off of the 1950's bug-fest 'Them' as to justify the accusation of plagiarism. Originality is definitely not his strong suit.

There's trouble on another planet. Some ruthless corporation is mining its assets and the locals are getting a raw deal. An agent is sent to infiltrate them in disguise. If you've seen 'Total Recall'; you already know the plot.

Cue the special effects. There's big, CGI flying creatures that smack of 'Dumbo', but lack his grace. There's a psychotic military-type intent on blowing the other-worldly ones to hell, just like (Cameron's) 'Abyss'. There are propeller-driven hovering/flying machines straight from (Cameron's) 'Terminator 2'. There's big walking robots with men inside straight from ('Cameron's) 'Aliens'. Crikey - even Ripley - er..I mean Sigourney Weaver pops up! There's mass battles in the woodland like the Empire versus the Ewoks. And there's more than a hint of 'The Emerald Forest' in which corporate greed has precedent over environmental degradation.

But where's STORY? In other words: something happening to somebody I care about. Sadly; it's nowhere. Even the humans are as two-dimensional as the CGI creatures. This might have been filmed in 3-D, but the plot was as 2-D as ever.

A lot of thought went into special-effects. And 'if you like that, your're gonna love this' (that's from 'Aliens'). But no thought whatsoever went into zoological or botanical rationale. And Darwin didn't get a look-in. Where was the the bio-diversity? I think I spotted 6 different species in the whole forest.

The trouble with cinema is that in order to maximise bums on seats, movies need to appeal to kids as well as adults. The result is that they are often excessively violent for children, but too crass for adults. They're over-simplistic in their evaluation of life.

I didn't watch this in much-vaunted 3-D, so maybe I missed something (like a headache). But what I saw was a very elaborate montage of just about every other sci-fi movie there's ever been and then some. And the earlier ones were better because they were original, even if their effects were not so grandiose. And they weren't always dumbed-down to satisfy juvenile appetites.

If Cameron really wanted to be earth-shattering, all he had to do was break the ultimate Hollywood taboo and show us an alien taking a dump. I'd have applauded that even in black & white!

Creeping Madness, 25 March 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A comparatively youthful Robert DeNiro plays lead in the role that might be said to have 'made' him.

He is Travis Bickle, a former Vietnam marine turned misfit. Unable to sleep, he resorts to nocturnal taxi-driving in New York. As a character in decline, he is almost a classic example and maybe even voice for all of those similar loners who gradually lapse into psychosis, only to impact upon public consciousness when they decide to correct what's wrong in the world instead of what's wrong in their heads.

Bickle has all of the symptoms. He lives in squalor, he's obsessed with physical fitness, he's a gun-freak, he can't make it with women, and all he sees is depravity. But he has a Walter Mitty complex, with preposterous fantasies about himself and some personal destiny for which fate is grooming him. A week never seems to pass when we don't read about just such a case in the papers, with all of the tragic consequences.

Much of the movie is inevitably filmed at night with harsh contrasts of darkness and artificial illumination. People and places are imperfectly seen. Sometimes just a flash of expression or a vignette of drama is all we glimpse and must infer the rest, even as Travis Bickle does. Scorsese has worked hard to present nocturnal New York as a sort of hell-on-earth, a breeding-ground for anger, resentment, disappointment and distempered fantasy. Though it's really no different from most major cities today.

Like so many people of his stamp, Bickle accumulates an arsenal of guns. At one point, whilst shopping, he interrupts a robbery and shoots - perhaps fatally - the young black culprit. We never know. He departs leaving the furious shop-keeper beating the prostrate robber's body with a baseball bat.

At last, in an attempt to 'be somebody' he attempts to rescue a young whore. In the course of it he takes his arsenal and enters the tenement brothel. Without ceremony he begins shooting. It's violent and bloody.

But Scorsese clumsily attempts to rescue the fat from the fire. Towards the end, we see a series of newspaper cuttings in which the media have depicted Bickle as some 'hero', engaged in a shoot-out with mobsters. Finally, we encounter him in his cab once more, seemingly balanced and peaceable. It's a highly implausible caricature. The media have often shown themselves to be very quick at pre-judging heroes and villains, but truth eventually comes out. The police could hardly have failed to determine from his handprints on the discarded (and unlicensed) firearms as well as the various holsters and knife-sheath on his person, that they were dealing with a vigilante. The young hooker may have spoken in his favour, but the evidence would've made it pretty clear that he went to the premises tooled-up for serious trouble. As the girl was still a minor, he could and should have just called the police.

It's still a very engaging analysis of an outsider on the skids even so.

Hell Boats (1970)
4 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Unmemorable, 4 March 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It's not a good sign to see a former manager of the 'Crossroads' motel running any British WW2 enterprise in Malta.

This movie began with a naval clash in the English Channel. British MTB's pitted against German E-boats. The latter both more heavily armed and armoured. Unfortunately, someone forgot to take the lens cap off or used the wrong aperture-setting, as practically nothing could be observed. Later, we encounter an American commander who has somehow got into the Royal Navy on account of having a British mum. So even here, we depend upon the Yanks. He's given a certain-death mission to do in Malta.

To the maker's credit, filming does actually take place in Malta. There's some nice location choices and the colours of the Med are beautifully captured. Sadly; that's about it. Most of the movie entails conflicts of a more human kind. There's a failing marriage and we squander a disproportionate amount of time over the agonising and recriminations. The plot's a bit silly - '633 Squadron' on water (only sillier). The script is formulaic, the acting wooden. As to the 'Hell-Boats'; blink and you'll miss 'em.

A great opportunity to show these versatile little warships powering through the waves and generally blazing a trail was completely missed. If we'd spent half as much time seeing them smashing through white-caps as we spent with the commander's philandering missus, it might've been worth an extra star or two. But even then, the daft plot, mediocre drama and soap-opera script would doom this to the unmemorable list.

Check out 'The Ship That Died Of Shame', John Wayne's 'They Were Expendable' or 'PT109'. This could've been just as good if not better, for no extra money but a bit more thought.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Too Daft To Watch, 4 March 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I had the dubious good fortune to miss the beginning of this tripe on some freeview channel. I tuned-in to find a beautiful sloop-rigged yacht of about 60ft in length and worth at least a million dollars, with its entire crew in the water and no apparent means of getting back aboard. How such a preposterous scenario could develop was revealed by the fact that the entire cast of characters didn't appear to possess a single brain cell between them. Then what followed in the water was an equally implausible and contrived load of tosh, whereby one after the other they are winnowed down.

Movie-makers seem to be engaged in a kind of conspiracy against young people. Almost without exception anyone between the 18-28 age range is depicted as a selfish, egotistical, hedonistic, irrational sex-obsessed dimwit. How on earth do they gain university degrees and doctorates? STORY is about something happening to a person or persons who we have been moved to care about. So; characters have to appeal to us. They need to show some strength or virtue or other characteristic likely to make them endearing. If they're a load of tossers, you won't care a toss what happens to them - so there's no story. It's that simple.

I've given 2 stars for the smashing yacht. nothing else is worth the time of day.

4 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
The Dregs Of The Day, 22 February 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Anthony Hopkins does the repressed Englishman (and "American") so well that I find him a pleasure to watch. I have seen 'Remains of The Day' several times and find it absolutely riveting. Although set in the USA I was hoping for something similar from 'Legends'.

But, Oh-dear. I knew there was trouble from the outset. All those violins going full blast - this was going to be an emotional workout. But not in the understated minutely-observed Merchant Ivory style. Nope; this was Hollywood. Emotions must be in-yer-face.

And so it went. Towering chords of high-string excess, bursting over your eardrums like waves on a flat beach. Endless backdrops of rugged American wilderness - seemingly always filmed in a mellow sunlit evening, a solid all-American family of 3 strapping sons & their father, all pitted against the changing times and star-crossed destiny. And if that were not enough; an American-Indian voice-over, righteously moralising about life and family. After you with the peace-pipe.

But its early 20th century and the lads fancy a bit of adventure in it'll-all-be-over-by-Christmass's famous WW1 mudfest. You know what's coming; high-spirits turned to disillusionment. Adventure dissolved in slaughter. The recreation of WW1 conflict was the most unresearched piece of twaddle I've even seen. Its directors had evidently never explored the effects of mustard gas. The last episode of 'Blackadder Goes Forth' was streets ahead of this in accuracy, poignancy and hilarious too. After watching two Germans busily setting-up a machine gun to shoot just one bloke (a brother) trapped on barbed wire, instead of just popping him with a rifle, whilst another brother went dashing about the battlefield, ranting like a maniac, but apparently immune to gunfire - I gave it up.

The photography of the great American outdoors was splendid. But the rest? Frankly: garbage. Dunno how it ended, couldn't care less.

The Ruins (2008)
0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Little Crop Of Horrors, 21 January 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Well - it's another teen horror movie, so leave your brain at home.

There's trouble with weeds. Ain't they a nuisance? They're just so-o-o persistent. Here, instead of checking into homicidal hostels, waxworks, or places inhabited by dream-demons and sundry psychopaths, our group of adolescent schmucks have wandered off into the jungle somewhere in central America. It's so dangerous being a teenager that I wonder any survive to keep our species up and running! And you just know this bunch are for the chop because there's pouting babes and macho guys. Hell; one of 'em's even wearing a baseball cap back to front, so you know his cards are marked from the start.

The titular 'Ruins' are a single Mayan pyramid affair that's got a lot of weeds growing on it. But the weeds are polite, because they've left a gap on the staircase for doomed schmucks to ascend. The ruins are also surrounded by an even bigger bunch of Latino rednecks who force our schmucks onto the monument and won't let them leave on pain of death. As they would. In doing so; the movie sets itself up as a blatant piece of racist crap. Basically; if you're a central-American redneck; you're only good for superstitious terror, irrational behaviour, and murder. And if you're a Yank abroad, you're victimised innocence. Yeah; right. It's the underlying psychology to the USA's foreign policy.

Up on top, there's been others. And it gradually becomes evident that the weeds have made a meal of them. So; you're either vegetable fodder or you get shot. And you can't afford to sleep or the plants will get you. Cue The Bodysnatchers. So now we spend some time going through all of the set-piece adolescent nonsense mixed with scenes of gratuitous horror and a whittling-down to one.

Questions like - Where do the weeds come from? Why do they only live on the ruin? Why don't the rednecks drain a few gallons of fuel from their trucks and burn them up? Why not pop into town and get a couple of gallons of Paraquat instead of murdering itinerant tourists? Well; these belong in the same bin as - Why did I bother watching this movie? In my case, the emphasis is on 'watching' because the script is so banal and predictable that I just muted the sound for the last third. That's the way with teen movies; they might as well be silent for all the script is worth.

It's said that the budget was just $8m, so I suppose in that regard it was at least value for money. But that's about the only thing that can be offered in its favour. I've heard it said also that adolescents actually think differently from the rest of the human race, and watching this movie is powerfully persuasive. Especially if they find it entertaining.

The moral of the story is: if you're going in the jungle keep a 'flit-gun' handy, and keep away from rednecks of any persuasion. Better still; if you're adolescent, don't be a pouting babe or a macho dude, always keep in the company of sensible grown-ups, and never, ever wear you baseball cap back to front. Avoid these vices and you may grow up to join the long-term unemployed. Blessings upon you.

Engaging Black Comedy, 19 January 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Few other than Tim Burton could have realised such grand, brooding, black comedy as 'Sleepy Hollow'. It's filmed on a sumptuous scale and positively oozes Gothic terror.

This movie could be said to have 'made' Johnny Depp, who gives an excellent turn as the would-be Sherlock Holmes, a police detective dedicated to the logical evaluation of crime, only to be dispatched to the hamlet of Sleepy Hollow, where everything BUT logical crime prevails. There's a hint of 'Edward Scissorhands' in some of the style and characterisation, but Burton makes this movie unique in its own right. Filming is highly evocative. There's tremendous depth of focus in some takes, when the whole world seems to be minutely observed. At other times, night and mist are used to excellent effect. Under the phantom horseman's dire spell, the village is drained of colour, there's a damp, eerie sunless gloom even to the daylight. Architecture is imaginative, set-pieces highly detailed and well chosen. Close observation is rewarded, as indeed is repeat viewing; the makers having slipped all manner of sly details that may go unnoticed first time around.

I would have liked a slightly clearer development of the plot; there were moments when it seemed a bit haphazard. And the otherwise excellent theme and incidental music was occasionally too strident for my ears. But these are small enough whinges. The cast do a decent job with an adequate script. There are plenty of familiar faces, with Chris Walken as the phantom and Micheal Gambon as a conspirator.

This is how Hammer should have made their vampire, werewolf & Frankenstein movies, Though neither the imagination, creativity or budgets were available in those days.

Engaging, unique and well worth a watch, though lacking that essential WOW factor.

2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Humdrum Stuff, 16 January 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie arrived in the year following 'The Dirty Dozen'. The latter focuses upon a small team of misfits, each one a recognised Hollywood actor representing a typical characteristic. Lee Marvin plays the officer-with-attitude who must lead them on a suicide mission. It's a laugh, but it's pretty formulaic.

The Devil's Brigade embarks upon a much more lavish production of what is basically the same idea. Many of the faces from 'The Dirty Dozen' reappear in this production, but there's a whole host of other blink-and-miss nobodies who are evidently inserted in the plot for the express purpose of dying dramatically.

It's a do-or-die mission, yawn. And as I say, it's on a more lavish scale. But it doesn't seem to have learnt anything from its earlier inspiration. 'Based on a True Story' is a common excuse for making a turkey, and there's a few feathers lying around here. It's hard to decide what actually distinguishes a good movie from a mediocre one. If the formula could be isolated, then they'd all be good. This one's distinctly mediocre. There's a decent cast starring William Holden. Sometimes, he can be really great - check him out in 'Sunset Boulevard' or 'The Bridge on the River Kwai' - but here he's pretty wooden and unsympathetic.

There's some great location choice, but camera-work is very unimaginative. The script certainly has nothing to recommend it. And the characters are all by-the-numbers. Plenty of pyrotechnics & slaughter, but the combat sequences are generally unexciting.

All in all, it's a flat, formulaic and largely unengaging movie. Can't recommend it myself, though it clearly has fans.

True Crime (1999)
2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Weak & Formulaic, 14 January 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Directed & starring Clint Eastwood is usually a sign of decent entertainment, but not here. From start to finish, Eastwood takes us through a series of set-piece clichés that you'd think even he would have been bored with by now.

I'm so tired of the fallen-hero-propped-up-by-booze whilst being indulged by others on the basis of his past achievements that I think I could play the role myself. Eastwood doesn't miss a single crock in either the role or the plot.

It's a race against time to save some schmuck from execution. Our hero slowly begins to grasp that he may be innocent and the challenge to prove it begins to wean him from his vices. The ending is such contrived & silly nick-of-time nonsense as to be a complete anti-climax. There's no shocks, no surprises, no interesting script or conflicts, nor even imaginative use of camera.

If anything, this seems to be an advocacy against the use of capital punishment. The in-prison scenes in which the accused is permitted family visits from his tearful wife and doting little daughter are almost nauseously self-indulgent, and resemble the sort of mawkish schmaltz more typical of Spielberg. Eastwood is of course free in matters of conscience, but I reserve the right to decide for myself. If he means to use a 'thriller' as a morality vehicle, I for one reserve the right to both reject and resent his presumption. The fact that a death sentence brings tragedy to the murderer's family is a matter for the murderer, not the state. This individual may have been innocent, but the vast majority who are executed get what they deserve - in my opinion.

Even beside this gripe, it's very inferior work by any standard, never mind Eastwood's, more like a matinée made-for-TV piece.

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