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screenman

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637 reviews in total 
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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Scorchio!, 27 February 2011
9/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Gosh - remember when Britain produced really great movies? 'The Day The Earth Caught Fire' is without question a classic of the sci-fi genre. If you can get your head around the scientifically preposterous lead that mighty Earth can be knocked over by 2 piddling little nuclear bombs, when the Chixulub asteroid of 65 million years ago didn't even make it flinch; then the rest is plain-sailing.

The central character, Stenning, is played with amazing panache by Edward Judd for his first starring role. He's a big, handsome bloke in the classic British way, and brings a commanding, masculine presence that's not unlike youthful Richard Burton. But Stenning is a mess. He's an almost-washed-up good guy fractured by divorce and separation from a son who (as is so often the case) is being used as revenge collateral by his ex-wife. Evidently an established bruiser as a journalist, he is also a very talented writer, but who's talents are almost eclipsed by bitterness and frustration. He is teetering on the edge of alcoholism and dismissal. Actually he reminds me of the Mike Hammer portrayal in 'Kiss Me Deadly' - very much the anti-hero, but with just enough virtue left for redemption. Being big and obnoxious, like so many bad guys, he is irresistible to real women.

Stenning is just about kept from falling over by Leo McKern's science correspondent. McKern surely needs no introduction, and brings a solid lump of gravitas to any role he plays. Here, he's a kind of indulgent pre-Rumpole uncle figure and a joy to watch and hear.

Third of the central triumvirate is 'the girl' played with feisty zeal by Janet Munro. She will be Stenning's redeemer - if they survive.

These three are core to many sound British character players that include cameos from Bernard Braden and a juvenile Micheal Caine.

Climate effects are kept simple, which makes them all the more stark and harrowing. Production hasn't been dumbed-down by the usual miniature-work, buckets or water thrown over dolls' houses. At the same time, stock newsreel of equal quality has been seamlessly grafted in. The spell is never broken by crass editing.

But the real topper here is the script. Val Guest has brought us a sharp and witty dialogue that never lets up. It is surely the cleverest script of any sci-fi movie ever, and compares with those of the very best film-noir.

Also unusual, and more plausible, is the fact that the story unfolds from the standpoint of the media. Traditionally, Movies of this kind are presented from the view of political, scientific or military experts - who, in truth, and as the movie makes clear, would actually tell us nothing if they could.

This movie is what 'The Day After Tomorrow' should have been if Hollywood hadn't sold out to blockbuster special-effects and schmaltz. As it stands, despite its modest budget and lack of jaw-dropping CGI, 'The Day The Earth Caught Fire' is superior in every way.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of the adult content in this production is the fact that, despite its vintage, and despite an absence of any explicit sex, or graphic violence, it still carries the same '15' rating as the Coens' much more recent and far more bloodthirsty 'No Country For Old Men'.

Very highly recommended both as a thriller and human drama.

The Fallen (2003)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
A Failed Effort, 22 January 2011
5/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

'The Fallen' offers a take on the fractured loyalties of men when things start to go wrong in war.

Set in Italy, and supposedly filmed on location, a struggling German defence is being held, as the Italian army teeters on the edge of collapse. Those Latins still wearing uniform are becoming riven with doubt. Some still have a sense of duty and national pride, others now obsess over their survival and welfare of families. Many are ready to surrender or dessert and are only discouraged from either by their 'band of brothers' psychology. Meanwhile Italian partisans who never supported Il Duce or the war are growing in numbers and audacity. Yet even here there are conflicting regional, religious and political ideologies.

This would be a very difficult canvas to paint even in the hands of a director who can really handle 'the big picture'. And for me, at least, it doesn't succeed. All of the characters are just a little too ordinary. The script is simplistic - which may well be true to life - but doesn't really hold the attention.

Some of the filming is nicely accomplished and there is a modern-day realism to the combat and firefight sequences. But the clumsy, confused and amateurish soldiers also lend a clumsy, confused and amateurish appearance to the movie. Some of the editing is choppy, which only adds to the appearance of amateurishness.

The blurb lists a run-time of 106mins. I don't know how much I watched, but it was a fair chunk, yet I simply couldn't be bothered to see it through. The blurb also quotes something called 'The Reeler' claiming it is 'Saving Private Ryan, only better'. Yeah - In yer dreams.

It's the old story: I wasn't induced to care about the characters. And if you don't care about the characters, then you don't care what happens to them, ergo there is no story.

Not recommended.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Slow-Burning Thriller., 15 January 2011
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie is long. It runs for some 2hrs 15mins. That's more than enough time to flesh-out a good story.

At the outset it is pretty slow, almost tongue-in-cheek at times. But very gradually tension is ratcheted-up as the cat-and-mouse stand-off between the conniving cleric, Hugh O'Flaherty, and gestapo officer Kappler, comes into direct conflict. The - at first - superficial characters become increasingly three-dimensional and interesting as the plot deepens.

By the time the movie is over, a genuine emotional experience has been offered.

An ageing Gregory Peck still gives an excellent turn as the obdurate priest, whilst Christopher Plummer succumbs manfully to the charms of Nazi ideology that he sung his way into oblivion from in 'The Sound Of Music'. John Guilgud is unflinching as Pope Pius VII.

There's great location-work amongst the fine old architecture of Rome, though I think more could have been done to emphasise the transience of individual pride and ambition measured against the ancient structures. I also think that the mechanics of Catholicism and The Vatican power structure could have been better explained for the benefit of non-Catholic audiences. There were moments when the editing seemed heavy-handed and slightly chopped. Script was adequate, but nothing special. Otherwise technical elements were up to snuff.

If there is one matter I do take issue with it is the theme and incidental music. Many great (and not so great) movies have instantly recognisable tracks. 'The Dam Busters', 'ET', 'Get Carter', '633 Squadron', 'The Taking Of Pelham 123', 'Star wars' and so on. Just a few cords and you're there. And with no less than Ennio Morricone listed amongst the credits we should have been in for something really special. Just listen to the scores behind 'Once Upon A Time In The West', 'Fistful Of Dynamite', 'The Thing' or his magnum opus 'The Mission'. Morricone is a man who can write music for a fleeting few seconds or to literally encompass the big picture. But he fell down completely flat here. There were so many elements to play for, too: the Wagnerian bombast of Nazism, the subtle meditations of religion, quite apart from suspense, heroism and fear. Instead, what we were offered was a crass, shallow piece of martial tempo that might have been penned while its composer was having a tea-break. It failed to capture anything of the elements described and for me actually detracted from the viewing experience. One of the stars I've deducted was for this reason. The right music would have made this good movie great.

Otherwise it's a long though still worthy watch.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Murder Most Horrid., 13 January 2011
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Denzel Washington plays a crippled detective who is planning his suicide, when the details of an unusual murder case come his way. Angelina Jolie plays the young cop who finds the body and collects the forensic details. Washington's character is so impressed that he makes her secondment a condition of his assistance with the crime. At first she begrudges the idea; she had a nice safe desk-job lined up.

But - it's a movie. She quickly gets a taste for the criminally exotic and a bit of a crush upon our hero.

We join our dynamic duo as they pursue a series of clues in an attempt to anticipate each subsequent crime and save the victims from very gruesome deaths.

This is a pretty formulaic thriller which carries a hint of de-ja-vu because there are so many in the genre. Helicopter flights around night-lit sky-scrapers? No CSI would be complete without them. The ambiance in particular reminds me of 'Silence Of The Lambs'; the murders are about as diabolical, there's a lot of Gothic imagery; even the theme and incidental music sounds like it might have been cloned from the earlier movie. The ending smacks of 'Rear Window'. That said; it's extremely intelligently filmed with some very nice set pieces. The leads give good turns with some excellent support from the likes of Queen Latifah and Luis Guzman. There's a solid sound-effects/incidental music track with plenty of deep, visceral tones.

I found the denouement a little confusing. Washington's character accuses the villain of deliberately planting evidence in criminal investigations. The villain insists that isn't so. It is not made clear exactly who is telling the truth, and there was scope for an interesting little twist here that was never taken up. There's a cheesy and not very believable epilogue.

When you see how much money is to be made in media and fashion, a good-looking woman like Ms Jolie's character would hardly seek out the uncertainties of a police career when she might otherwise 'not get out of bed for less than £10,000'. Anybody know any gorgeous cops? Jolie's just too pretty to be true.

This movie would score more highly but that there is so much competition in the crime-thriller genre. Definitely worth a watch - but then most of them are. They remind me of new cars; all very competent but so much alike.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Ultimate Satire., 9 January 2011
9/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Before 'Spitting Image' there was Mike Yarwood.

'Nuff said. He was great as impersonators go. But in the clearer light of the 1980's, nowhere near cynical or cruel enough. By then; we were beginning to see just what creepy, crooked liars our politicians really were, and what shallow, vain-glorious humbugs our celebrities. Cheerful lampooning was not enough.

And latex was the answer. Puppets could accomplish something that human impersonators could not. Oddly, it was something that our ancestors knew all along, and was practiced in the old Punch & Judy shows. Unlike impersonators, puppets have no intrinsic personality. Instead they are original mockeries, and can get away with the kind of ruthless abuse that would undermine the career of any human impersonator.

Margaret Thatcher's term in office was an ideal time. Politicians had become outrageously arrogant. Two of her tribe (Archer & Aitken) were ultimately sent to prison, whilst celebs thought they could do as they pleased. 'Spitting Image' changed all that. The puppets and script-writers took no prisoners. From the spittle-fountain of Hattersley and the semi-senile Reagan, to the neo-fascist Tebbit and the pocket-pet of David Owen; if you were visible on the spitting-radar prepare to squirm.

Some actually liked their puppet - or at least, claimed to. But then there was nothing else they could do except lump it, if they didn't. Others genuinely hated theirs, and it is a matter of record that careers were affected by this uncompromising satire.

There is no better proof here that a good puppet is better than human impersonators, cartoons or even CGI. Tony Blair's entire crooked regime escaped the well-deserved lambasting that the 'Spitting Image' team could have provided. No regime was more image conscious that his, nor indeed ultimately more arrogant. In this regard he far exceeded even Margaret Thatcher. And because his gang were composed mostly of lawyers, they knew how to be crooked and yet circumvent accountability. Who knows; if 'Spitting Image' had been around in the late 1990's, to worthy effect, we might have been spared 2 disastrous, costly and illegal wars.

A class act, sadly missed by the public, and gratefully avoided by the over-weening creeps of this world.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Peerless, 8 January 2011
10/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I couldn't match 'BJJManchester's detailed and well-presented resume of Britain's (indeed the world's) finest comedy duo, but I couldn't pass and say nothing.

Eric & Ernie brought so much 'sunshine' into the lives of a generation that it is nothing less than a disgrace to find their memory so neglected. We Brits really do not value our assets. If they had been American, a university campus would probably have been named after them at the very least.

Their golden decade at the BBC saw them co-opt a host of stars & personalities into hilarious and sometimes slightly surreal sketches. These sketches have now passed into a pantheon of unimpeachably classic comedy entertainment. Andre Previn, Shirley Bassey and many more almost queued-up to lay their careers on the line. Christmas certainly was not complete without their Christmas specials.

When they passed into history, something irreplaceable was lost for ever. Television has never been so funny. Yes; there's been 'Red Dwarf', 'Father Ted' and so on. But these tended to have a cult appeal. they were one-dimensional sit-coms, though hilarious even so.

Eric & Ernie were not just comedians; they were sophisticated show-business personalities. They didn't just tell gags; they were performing clowns who could sing. And they were harmless. Nobody was insulted, their was no foul language. They were professionals through and through.

Look at the present crop of what passes for comedians and weep. Sharp and funny as they may be as stand-up gags-men; that's all most of them can do, and usually with a poisonous string of victimising bile that isn't fit for kids to hear. Eric & Ernie could do everything, cleanly and cleverly.

'Bring me sunshine'; that's exactly what they did.

Frantic (1988)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Not Very Frantic, 8 January 2011
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Harrison Ford plays a doctor who is caught-up in a got-the-wrong-bag scenario.

The first he gets to glimpse that serious implications await the careless traveller is when his wife simply vanishes from his hotel room. Curiosity turns to perplexity and finally fear. The build-up to this stage is handled quite believably.

Less believable is the way he goes to pieces in order to appease the 'Frantic' title. There are times when I am almost reminded of the preposterous 'Flightplan'.

The French police are, inevitably, depicted as unhelpful and gormless. To be fair, so are the American authorities. Our good doctor is left to unravel the mystery for himself. He follows a series of clues that lead him to a dead fence. From there, he encounters the courier of the other bag. I should say suitcase. She's an amoral French slut who is more or less game for anything, played by Polanski's squeeze of the time, Emmanuelle Seigner. She makes a more than convincing effort. Together, they play a sort of Holmes & Watson, and crack the case together. He wants his wife back (can't think why); She hasn't been paid for her work. It's the anciliary players who actually give the most convincing turns.

The plot has a number of convoluted twists, as a number of different interests are eager to lay hands on what she has smuggled. It's not drugs, but a small piece of nuclear-weapon hardware.

Sometimes the turns become a bit silly. The doctor's indiscriminate rifling of the suspect suitcase and its contents, for instance. Once again, it answers to the title of the movie, but you just think an academic would be a little more level-headed. How would he deal with arterial bleeding? On another occasion he is struggling across pitched roofs beneath which is the girl's apartment. She is, unbeknown to him, being interrogated by a couple of unidentified thugs. Along the way he falls heavily, smashes a TV aerial, drops the case, which spills its contents, loses his shoes, scrambles into her bedroom through the skylight, strips and climbs into bed, and all the while the villains apparently hear nothing. Gimme a break! Then he spins a load of bunkum stories to both the hotel staff and the police that even a child wouldn't believe.

In the denouement; he gets his wife, the baddies come a cropper, whilst the slut catches a cap and gets wasted. Serves her right, all things considered. There's a cheesy conclusion.

There are some nice filming touches - Polanski always does those well. Back street Paris is shown to believably sleazy effect. There are some nice moments of ambiance, especially the chill light of dawn and deserted streets. Sound is par, with an adequate music score.

It's the 'Frantic' inconsistencies that ultimately let the movie down. But if you can live with them it's not a bad watch.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Classic High-Adventure, 8 January 2011
9/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It's been said before, but this is one of those 'Boys Own' rollicking adventure yarns that they did so well in the 1950's. And I, for one, love 'em.

The natives are revolting. It's left to a British Army Captain and a mixed group of other bravehearts to rescue and escape with a young princeling who is the sole survivor of a massacre that includes his family. Their means is an old steam engine and a short train of wagons and carriage. With this, they run a blockade and must escape from the 'Northwest Frontier'.

Set at the turn of the (20th) century, Kenneth More is, as usual, perfectly cast as the thoroughly decent and honourable Brit. He's Second-Officer Lightoller but on rails instead of the sea. The cast in a shrewd mix of popular characters. Lauren Bacall provides an unlikely American love interest for More as the boy-prince's governess (it'd never work out!). Wilfred Hyde-white does a great dithery bachelor inclining to old-age. Herbert Lom is a scathing mixed-race reporter, and something else besides. Eugene Deckers does well as an arms dealer. Ursula Jeans is the modestly authoritative MemSab with a bottomless Dorothy bag. She's everyone's ideal grannie, full of matronly wisdom with an answer to everything in her handbag. I S Johar plays 'Gupta' the Indian engine driver, with humorous and sympathetic panache.

Along the way, there are adventures. But no less entertaining is the spirited dialogue between the passengers, each of which has a conflicting or complementary viewpoint as the conversation waxes.

Although a tongue-in-cheek adventure movie, it doesn't shy away from the darker elements of human nature. These are explored in the intelligent dialogue, but exposed in the circumstances too. At one point, they encounter an earlier train which has been intercepted by bandits. Everyone aboard has been slaughtered. It is very simply but grimly presented. No needless gore; just a sad pensive silence broken by the buzzing flies and caw of vultures. Lom's character isn't the impartial observer he pretends. As a Muslim, he sympathises with the insurgents, and means to murder the boy himself if he can.

As high adventure movies go, this is a class act. Easily a match for 'Journey To The Centre Of The Earth' or 'The Pride & The Passion'. We get to spend a lot of time with the small ensemble; their weaknesses and strengths and now-outdated foibles, as well as their good manners and consideration become very endearing. These are characters we can really care about. And THAT is STORY.

The movie is beautifully filmed, with great vistas of wilderness and excellent colour. Train-spotters will enjoy the railway details.

This is highly recommended family viewing that - like so many of those 50's adventure tales - can stand muster with most anything being produced today.

Great actors, good script, fine views, bags of excitement, a villain in the party and moral messages. What more do we need from a movie?

Licence To Snoop., 8 January 2011
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

'This Is Your Life' began in 1952, but the second incarnation in 1955 featuring Eamon Andrews as host is the earliest I remember.

Andrews had a curious Aglicised Irish accent. His pronunciation sometimes sounded slightly drunken. The phrase 'this is' sounded normal enough, but it then slurred into 'yur-lyfe. I'm surprised he wasn't voice-coached in those days. The BBC were so 'proper' in every other way.

During the late 50's and early 60's, strangely, he became the ubiquitous face of BBC presentation. 'This Is Your Life' was one of their flagship programmes, appearing on prime-time Sunday evenings, when TV audiences were supposed to be at their most numerous. He also chaired 'What's My Line', a celebrity quiz show about employment. It was much less popular and faded in the 1960's. He was also frontman on BBC's flagship kids' show 'Crackerjack!', where he was as square as a shoebox. There were other outings too.

'Life' struck me both as child and adult, as a piece of the most outrageous impertinence. Here were these people, fishing and snooping about behind someone's back, unearthing all manner of personal and private material, contacting relatives, friends and workmates alike, and then trapping the subject without the least warning by some shallow ruse, and compelling them to endure its public exposure.

Being usually famous, especially in the media, they had little option to put on a brave face. Temper tantrums were simply not the done thing in 50's-60's Britain. Especially on stiff-necked Auntie Beeb. Yet it was patently obvious from their expressions that many found the experience uncomfortable if not downright harrowing. With very good reason.

Humans being inherently nosey and not particularly nice, the programme prospered and ran for many decades. At the time of writing, it is no longer available, but I wouldn't write its epitaph just yet.

Occasionally it featured someone in whom I had an interest, and if I was indoors I might have watched it. But otherwise I found the whole format a stinker.

If I'd been famous and found myself cornered by Andrews and his red book and creaking camaraderie, I'd have embellished that fame by smacking him in the gob and walking off. It's a pity no-one ever did. Though I suspect that as part of their research, they made sure to only ensnare 'tame' celebrities.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Leonidas Invites You To Joyous Slaughter, 1 January 2011
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Richard Egan brings some solid manly resolution to the role of King Leonidas in this comparatively faithful re-telling of the famous doomed defence.

As a sword 'n' sandals epic it's quite nicely done, though clearly lacks the seemingly unlimited budgets of 'Spartacus' or 'The Fall Of The Roman Empire'. There are times during battle when the 300 look more like thirty, and thousands of Persians more like a few hundred. But everybody does their bit with convincing gusto and 'the pass' looks suitably authentic. It's colourful, nicely-paced and there's a reasonable script. A side story of a son disgraced by his father, trying to win acceptance adds a little extra depth.

Ralph Richardson lends some suitable gravitas.

The style of the movie and its telling reflects the social mores of the time (1962). By most historical accounts, the Spartans were a seriously unpleasant bunch. From infancy onwards, their kids were brutalised with constant military training and indoctrinated into an almost sociopathic minimalism. 'Spartan' is still used as a term to describe the barest of necessities over 2000 years later. They were not well-liked by other Greeks. A similar system employed by the Nazis was still comparatively benign by comparison, yet their SS were expected and willing to fight to the death.

For this reason, the seeming bravery of Spartan defence is misconstrued. These people simply did not have the same social values or attitudes to life and suffering that we have today. Surrender simply wasn't on the agenda. For this reason, I would like to see a remake in which the lives of Spartans were more accurately represented, with brainwashing and brutality shown to be the real fuel of their dedication, and not some idealised defence of democracy. Fear was simply hammered out of them. And without fear, there can be no courage.

Still; pontificating aside, it's a nicely worked little tub-thumper for Greek heroism. They are just heroes that modern Greeks would not want as neighbours, however much reverence they might bestow upon the event.


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