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636 reviews in total 
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Amistad (1997)
3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
I Suppose It Had To Happen, 22 September 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

So now Big Stevie gets to give his take upon Negro slavery. And true to form it's a cheese-fest.

Able Anthony Hopkins sets aside his liver & Chianti to play the role of advocate in a movie based upon a 'true story' of shipboard slave mutiny. It's all in a good cause.

The Yanks demonstrate that they really are the true advocates of civil liberties (not the Brits), and defy the old European colonialist ways of Spain, France, England et al. It's wordy and well-intentioned. But it's schmaltzy in a way that can only come from a Jewish director, and whilst that may suit the sensibilities of an American audience, it doesn't cut half so well across the pond.

Spielberg has an eye for detail and both sets and costumes are nicely presented. Script is adequate. The best bits are supposed to be uttered by British Tony, but he brings a rather bumbling personification to his character that rather spoils the enunciation and emphasis. I just don't think he cuts it as a Yank. Maybe Chas Heston should have tried his luck. Other technical issues are up to snuff.

We all come away suitably chastened for our past disgraces, but redeemed by our repentance. Slavery is abolished - hurrah! But just try telling that to the Negroes in the American south long after the civil war. Even up to the 1960's they were being murdered with impunity.

And here's the culminating irony: those very races and tribes for whom we abolished slavery, still carry on enslaving each other to this day, just as they did long before Whites ever set foot in Africa. It's a funny old world.

If you fancy a bit of moral flagellation this may hit the spot in a rather tedious and self-righteous way. But once is definitely enough unless you're a masochist.

2 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Something For The Monkeys, 18 September 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

'Sands Of The Kalahari' appeared in the same year that brought us 'Flight Of The Phoenix'. Any who query why the former is less well known should simply listen to the scripts. 'Sands' is crap.

The idea is interesting enough. Though it's hardly new. In 1954 'The Purple Plain' featuring Gregory Peck presented a similar scenario in the Burmese wilderness.

This work has second-rate movie stamped all over it - despite having a character cast-list to die for. Stanley Baker heads (and directs) other British stalwarts Harry Andrews and Nigel Davenport. There's posh totty on offer in the form of Susanna York, International flavour is added by Theododore Bikel, whilst Hollywood fans are awarded the B-and-half-lister, Stuart Whitman. And - my - what a fine set of pects he's got.

It's rather the oppostie scenario of the 'Phoenix'. A tatty plane crashes in the desert. But this time it burns-up. The survivors have little food and water, and no German genius to turn to. They soon find a spring so water's no problem. Now food remains the issue. One man wanders off in search of help. Whitman's character turns ruthless survivalist anti-hero, and begins whittling the others down. Ms York's character plays true to her gender and sells out to the highest bidder - ie, strongest, most ruthless and most cunning.

This story had all the elements and characters of first-rate entertainment. However, it's completely let down by a lack of competent direction, poor character-realisation, sloppy editing and a script that fails to elicit any conflict or quotable dialogue worth hearing. There isn't a single one-liner in the whole show. The most believable exclamations come from baboons.

Both 'The Purple Plain' & the first 'Flight of the Phoenix' knock this into a cocked hat. And there's plenty of other much better lost-in-the-desert movies as well - 'Ice Cold In Alex' for example. This belongs in the 'Ashanti' bran-tub.

Not recommended.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Sure-Fire Classic, 13 September 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Outrageously handsome Sidney Poitier plays Negro cop, Virgil Tibbs, stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There's murder afoot in the deep south. Tibbs finds himself arrested for audaciously being black and a stranger. He is hauled before the bigoted town sheriff, expertly played by Rod Steiger.

Even those good ol' boys can't frame a black detective. But what's more; his speciality is homicide. Desperate to clear-up the crime, Steiger's man is doomed to swallow his pride and plead assistance from this 'niggra'.

Every scene is played to perfection. Every confrontation between the two polarised psyches is beautifully presented. You find yourself longing for every next scene in which they appear together. There's a very creditable supporting cast featuring Warren Oates, but they're completely eclipsed by Poitier & Steiger.

There's so many nicely presented details of small-town USA, as well as imaginative use of lighting, camera and editing. This movie won 5 Oscars including 'Best Picture'; even the later and more flamboyant 'Mississipi Burning' cannot trump Norman Jewison's thriller.

I've docked a star because I don't think the sheer brutality of racism is adequately depicted, though it probably went about as far as sensibilities would allow at the time. Even so; it's a cracking bit of drama.

Very highly recommended.

A Fine Cerebral Movie, 12 September 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

For some 75 years, the over-conservative scientific community left an issue unresolved - the legality of teaching scientific truth.

Darwin was himself largely untrammelled by the conflict between scientific revelation and religious dogma. The revolution appeared to have been very much a velvet one. It wasn't until the mid 1920's that the ascendancy of evolution over creation would finally be tested in court.

'Inherit The Wind' offers an excellent all-round presentation of the ambiguity and hypocrisy of human nature. Many conflicting issues are at stake. There's the status of religion (and its appointed spokespersons) as well as interpretation of state law. But there's much more; individual and cultural credibility, for one thing, and not least the chance to make a fast buck.

Spencer Tracy is on cracking form as advocate for the defence. But songster Gene Kelly also excels in a rare straight role as a cynical journalist out to make his name. Fredric March makes the case for the prosecution. Donna Anderson - who also featured in Stanley Kramer's 'On The Beach' - turns in another good performance as a young woman with divided loyalties. They, and many others, spar away with a lively and imaginative script that is the primary entertainment in this movie. It's a work that benefits those who can listen and think.

The issue here, ultimately, is not whether Darwinian evolution is true or false, but whether it is legal to teach it in Tennessee. It isn't - and the miscreant teacher is duly found guilty.

A good courtroom drama is always entertaining, and this work by Kramer simmers away nicely. My only grumble is the way in which March's character is presented as someone on the threshold of a nervous breakdown. The presentation has more than a hint of pro-evolution prejudice and I think greater latitude should have been afforded to the advocates of creationism, bearing in mind that theirs was a lost cause. This would have given a more detailed analysis and provided further subtle discussion. The deliberate enfeebling of the prosecution both in body and mind rather spoilt the conclusion for me.

Otherwise it's a sterling effort and well worth a watch, regarding a battle that is even today far from won.

You've Gotta Laff., 6 September 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It's hard to see how this movie got made as anything but a comedy. You can't imagine such a laughably hokey monster bird being brought on set and actors and crew alike not falling-about with laughter.

Yet here it is - like the most lugubrious refugee from Sesame Street.

It's flown in from outer space. Which is quite clever because there's no air in outer space so it couldn't even breathe let alone fly. And in any case it would be as rock solid as any frozen chicken. But let's not dwell on science.

It's undetectable by radar and can't be killed by conventional means because it's somehow surrounded by anti-matter. Why the anti-matter only repels weapons and not the atoms and molecules of Earth's atmosphere - well let's not dwell on that either.

After this Punch & Judy projectile has whizzed about a bit damaging terrestrial collateral, heroic boffins work out that they can spray nuclear particles at it from an aeroplane mounted cannon and neutralise its force-field. Sorted.

As I say; it beggars belief. The fact that it was intended as a serious movie is the basis of its entertainment value. If you ever get the chance; watch in awe. It's hilarious.

3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Science Fantasy, 5 September 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Stephen Boyd leads an eclectic cast starring Donald Pleasance and Raquel Welch into places even Heineken would struggle to reach.

They crew a miniature submarine that becomes very miniature indeed.

Some bigwig has a life-threatening condition, and this is the only means to treat it. They are made microscopic and injected into the patient's blood-stream. But - inevitably - there's a saboteur on board.

The big bucks got spent on special-effects which were top-drawer at the time. Even today, some of them are quite impressive, especially the laboratory sets. Inside the human body is just an oil-bubble extravaganza. There's adventures galore, as our heroes visit all the different parts of anatomy. Sometimes it's a bit daft - but fun too.

Oh - and they're up against the clock, as well. They have to get out before the miniaturisation process wears off. A phagocyte threatens to engulf the crew even more dangerously than Ms Welch's bosom. And mind those anti-bodies!

Still well worth a watch - if only to see Ms Welch and her ample charms squeezed into a wet-suit. It's available as a double DVD with similarly-vintaged 'Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea'.

Ghost Town (2008/I)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Supernatural, 4 September 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

'Ghost Town' engages the premise that a 'near death' experience can endue its subject with supernatural insight.

Pudding-faced Ricky Gevais is Dr Pincus. He's a British expat living and working as a dentist in New York. But he's so anti-social that it's hard to imagine him even getting a green-card or whatever, let alone finding a job. But there he is. During a routine operation of his own, he inadvertently flat-lines for several minutes and afterwards is able to see and speak with ghosts. They have every appearance of being normal human beings. Things happen.

There's comedy, romance, conflict etc, in this lightweight piece of work. What also happens is such a comprehensive 'homage' to so many other movies that the viewer is likewise left with a feeling of extrasensory perception. 'Ghost' immediately comes to mind. But so does 'Sixth Sense', 'Final Destination' and others that simply leave a lingering frisson of de-ja-vu.

I have to confess that I am the only person in the galaxy who is not a Gervais fan. And that must inevitably colour my judgement. The best that I can say is that it works well enough. It has plenty of funny moments, but I think that is simply down to the script and and situations. I don't think our Ricky actually advances the humour, though his unflattering face and downbeat personality provide an unusual anti-hero element.

It's a perfectly adequate light romantic comedy. But there's one British actor who could have made this great and who - in my opinion - was absolutely made for the part. That was the late, great Leonard Rossiter. It was almost as if I could see him in the movie.

Well worth a watch, but not collectible. And certainly not worthy of 10 stars.

2 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Lacklustre Sequel, 3 September 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Not even Walter Matthau's presence could save this tacky, lacklustre sequel of the 1950's movie 'Mr Roberts'. The original starred Henry Fonda, James Cagney, and featured Jack Lemon as Ensigh Pulver. Non of them feature in this sequel and it pretty well founders before you very eyes.

It just doesn't flow like the original. The gags are contrived and the cast have an appearance of knowing that they are competing against a successful precursor and try a little to hard. The result is a bit hammy.

Not recommended.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Off-Beat Comedy, 3 September 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A great cast bring this unpromising idea to life. Henry Fonda does his moral-man-in-crisis routine as the titular Mr Roberts. He's the capable cargo officer on board a US naval auxiliary vessel in the Pacific during WW2. Unfortunately; he's too good. Although he's bored to hell and desperate to fight at the sharp end, his tyrannical skipper - played by James Cagney - means to keep him secure and won't endorse his transfer requests. He disavows the crew any shore leave, raising frustration and enmity aboard.

Jack Lemon adds a little variety as laundry officer, Pulver. He's idle, mostly pretty spineless, and looks out for number one.

The movie has no particular plot. Almost all of the drama takes place in or on the confines of their little cargo vessel. There's arguments, conflict and small victories. The story and characters seem a little inconsistent at times, but the actors themselves keep the viewer entertained.

It's not a work of genius, but it's certainly entertaining. A lacklustre sequel in 1964 called 'Ensign Pulver' isn't worth the time of day.

Still A Worthy Watch, 3 September 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The 1970's was a curious decade. Movies from that period have a particular 'look' that's hard to define but quite clearly dates them. 'Soylent green' is no exception. Yet despite having aged, there are still plenty of details to admire in this work.

Charlton Heston, who risked typecasting so many futureshock movies did he make, plays policeman Thorn. His beat is a world in which the population has grown without let, resources are diminished and the environment ruined. Global warming has set in. It's always hot. Edward G Robinson plays Sol, his ageing assistant. They share a cheap, shabby apartment. Sol works as researcher, records-clerk and general dog's-body. There is great chemistry between these two old Hollywood pros. They're a pleasure to watch and hear.

Thorn is as ready to loot a crime-scene as investigate it. He's not bad. Times are hard and every little helps. Some wealthy bigwig is murdered. And as well as a curious case to solve there's choice pickings to be lifted, including soap, booze and real beefsteak.

The investigation takes an unusual turn, ultimately throwing up a very grisly discovery.

Most of this movie still stands-up to the test of time. Yes; it is blatantly 70's but the starring leads and a host of interesting issues and details still make for a very entertaining watch. If I have a grumble, it is that the investigation was a tad too formulaic. I would have liked to see a few more twists and turns with a sudden shock or two leading up to the final denouement. Like the later and much more lavish 'Blade Runner' a basic story in spread pretty thinly and packed-out with detail instead. 'Soylent Green' still has a lot more believable plot, though.

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