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637 reviews in total 
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Contact (1997)
0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Involving But A Bit Daft, 29 May 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Nice Mr Sagan's plodding science-faction novel gets the full treatment by Hollywood. Starring plainest of the Janes, Jodie Foster, as a scientific muse, and Tom Skerritt as her less-than-honourable boss (a hint of 'Silence of the Lambs'); her team discover an incoming signal from outer-space. It is clearly coherent.

What follows is an interesting though rather predictable interplay between science, religion and the apparatus of security as to how the thing should be addressed. A maverick billionaire with terminal cancer issues, adds a little spice, as does some Loonytune terrorist who destroys the first machine. The trouble with the movie and indeed the book, is that nobody seems quite sure how to deal with the subject. To make 'Contact' a plausible concept is the need to think like an alien, whilst Hollywood barely knows how to think like an adult human. As a result; the ending is such a made-for-kids cheese-fest that all of the comparatively grown-up stuff which the movie moguls could actually understand from Sagan's original story is pretty-well set at nought.

There's a decent cast, which includes John Hurt, who - being the first person to have an 'Alien' burst out of him - seems to have been perennially remembered and short-listed for SF roles ever since.

There's plenty of good effects. Sound and vision are well addressed; but ain't it always the case? The moral, political and security issues presented by Sagan are dealt with adequately. Acting, directing and other technical issues are up to snuff. The first 90% is well worth a watch. It's the last 10% that vanish down a cheese-hole.

It's a shame: a perfectly decent movie meal has been spoilt by a thick slice of Wensleydale.

2 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Pity It Ain't Last Of The Dog Movies, 29 May 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Tom Berenger, Babs Hershey & Kurtwood Smith get wasted in this sub-Dances-With-Wolves flop-out.

Three escaped convicts run off into the wilderness. Berenger's retired tracker (with all the usual bereavement & drink issues) is hired by Smith's sheriff to reluctantly go get 'em. The baddies vanish. But there's enough evidence left to convince our man that they're dead. However, a stray arrow sets him thinking...

He co-opts the assistance of a sassy, archeo-bore played by Hershey. He shows her the arrow, which she dismisses as a cheap souvenir (she, an expert, apparently can't tell the difference!) After some more silly dalliance they head off into the wilderness to search for the 'lost tribe'. They find 'em. And now they must protect 'em, from those bad, bad white people all over again.

There is some excellent location photography of the great outdoors. There's a romantic music score, heavily weighted with strings, that's just a little too over-the-top for the circumstances. And from then on, it's downhill all the way. Script is as daft as a box of brushes. The gender/culture issues between mis-matching Berenger's and Hershey's characters are so banal as to be embarrassing. Most of the conflict/resolution dilemmas are inferior set-piece 'homages' to other, better movies.

This could have been a really great watch. Most of the boobs seem to be script & direction. But they're enough to undermine its worth. If there's a goof-ball calling the shots, no amount of money, scenery, music or right-on message can save it from the bran-tub. Here's the proof.

Unless you're as fond of cheese as Wallace, just about every other movie of the genre will knock this into a ten-gallon hat, even those with Disney's dabs on 'em.

4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Better Than Its rating, 21 May 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Although often caned for not being truer to the event it presumes to depict, taken as a war movie in its own right, 'Heroes Of Telemark' has plenty to offer.

It's typical of Hollywood, both then and now. Kirk Douglas places America centre-stage, but with a great British, German & Scandinavian support. Script is good, scenery is magnificent, location and set-pieces are all up to snuff. The movie is long but well-paced. There's plenty of decent tension. Music and effects play their part well. Base cords relating to the railways are nice and meaty despite the movie's vintage. A sub-woofer is well-rewarded.

Downside; the Germans are depicted as being dafter brushes than usual. From time to time I find this jarring. Always they are seen rushing around with a kind of furious impotence, or depicted as schemingly stupid. It's stereotypic that comes close to 'Allo, Allo'. And some times Kirk Douglas's character seems a little too heroic for a scientist.

Otherwise, forget its inspiration; this is just a roistering wartime tale after the fashion of 'Where Eagles Dare' or 'The Guns Of Navarone'.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
It Ain't 'Alf Noisy, Mum, 15 May 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

We're in Africa. And there's bloody turmoil. The Blacks are misunderstood, repressed and exploited. The whites are either sleazy, oppressive exploiters or moralistic, meddlesome do-gooders.

Every black seems to own a Kalashnikov. And almost very black seems to be an utterly amoral, ruthless butcher. Except for the occasional saint, who even manages to shame the west by the whiteness of his conscience. How does such relentless savagery manage to give rise to such paradoxical paragons? This movie doesn't explain. And I, for one, wish it did.

The violence is relentless. And the sound-score is excessively LOUD. The movie moves from one set-piece shoot-em-up to another, with intervals of discursive calm between. DiCaprio et al seem to spend much of the time miraculously fleeing from one 'Saving Private Ryan' style hail of light ordnance to another, in progressively shabby vehicles. During the calms, this hero keeps (or loses) our attention by constant flights into furious rhetoric, mostly directed at his black associate.

The problem seems to be about diamonds. But it isn't really; it's about global Monopoly and how Africa was last in the game to throw a double-six, and been left with just the water-works. DiCaprio plays a man on a journey of discovery to a Damascus moment that seems to take forever arriving. Frankly, by the time it does, you will have experienced such a monotonous parade of brutality and slaughter that motives will have become lost in the fires, trampled underfoot, or washed away by blood.

It's a moral movie - like so many others - that seeks to point a simplistic finger of blame at the west for much of the dark continent's woes. Presumably, the west were to blame for what happened in Rwanda as well. And like so many others it fails to make its point with anything like the requisite intelligence and subtlety, relying too much upon graphic slaughter, moral cliché, and the popularity of its post-Titanic star. I actually preferred 'Tears Of The Sun', though all of these movies seem to suffer from weak endings.

Don't be fooled by the Oscar nominations, there are far more coherent movies in this genre that won't leave you suffering from tinnitus.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Classic Comedy, 29 April 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Just out of curiosity, I clicked-up the 'Hated It' section; it came up 'no matches'. Well - after all, who could hate it? Ian Carmicheal plays the underdog, Palfrey, with no confidence in himself yet a steadfast belief in following the rules. He is the sort of bloke who gave Britain its reputation for being 'decent' whilst simultaneously contributing to its downfall in a world where decency has no place.

His circumstances are brought into provocative contrast by Terry Thomas's caddish Delauney who will do almost anything to win out. But when a lady is in the game; Palfrey has cause to rethink. He signs-up for a course in 'Lifemanship' at a Yeovil college, and soon begins to turn the tables.

This is the kind of quietly subtle comedy at which Britain used to excel during the 1950's & 60's. There's not a wasted second, word, or expression. Terry Thomas plays the cad-extraordinaire; he was surely born to the role and featured in it frequently. His lingering and impoverished death was all the more tragic.

This movie is a great comic watch, but also has a great deal to teach. Notably, it's a warning; don't be too good in a world that doesn't value goodness.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Of Its Day, 29 April 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Eric Sykes was a popular TV comedian when TV comedians were very much at a premium.

He starred in the post-50's sit-com series 'Sykes And A ...' there being some new object or scenario with which he was implicated each week. Already in early middle-age, he played a stay-at-home bachelor living with his spinster sister; she played by voluptuous Hattie Jacques. Together they occupied what looked like a typical 1930's terrace or semi, in the what-had-been-in-their-day, the 'new' suburbs. Sykes and his sister represented the lower middle-class, which the BBC seemed to consider its principal audience.

Beginning on the cusp of the 60's, the program was safe, sanitised and predictable. It was quite funny in its time, and as I say - popular. Contemporary competitors were 'The Charlie Drake Show' and 'Steptoe & Son'.

Richard Wattis made cameo appearances as a snooty and intolerant neighbour - a typical junior civil-servant. The show ran its course and even staggered into the 1970's, by which time it was long since out of fashion. Charlie Drake never outlived the 1960's. 'Steptoe' on the other hand has proved itself to be a much-loved classic that has crossed generations and still appeals today. It was working-class, cruder and more irreverent.

Sykes was a creature of his generation. He was a nice, unassuming, amiable bloke who could be funny. But he never had the stamp of a 'professional' funny-man - not in the way that Cooper, Morecambe & Wise, or Ronnies Barker & Corbett had. Perhaps that was his appeal. But it was date-stamped - 'Early 60's Comedian'.

Today, he wouldn't get a look-in.

Apocalypto (2006)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Bouncing Heads, 21 April 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I've grown a little cold towards Mel Gibson. His 'Patriot', 'Braveheart', and 'Galipoli' have a barely-disguised anti-British seam running through them. That said; all of his movies are at least vigorous, there's just a great deal of blood and guts in them.

'Apocalypto' seems to be very much his baby. The name of Gibson features several times amongst the credits. But the man does like to paint a BIG picture. Most of his movies are epic in scale, and it seems a bit unfair to knock 'em just on the grounds of historical inaccuracy. Most movies are entertainment, not academic presentations.

With this in mind, 'Apocalypto' delivers a violent, gory and visceral experience. It is not for the gastrically-challenged. But there's plenty more going for it too. Filming is absolutely sumptuous. I didn't think there was that much rain-forest left. Camera-work is exciting, with a nice mix of types, and styles, making full use of furious conflict and forest stillness. The sound track is right on the money.

Most of the characters are unknown to me, but I still found myself empathising with their various plights - no mean feat when the entire script was 'native' with subtitles beneath.

Of course, there was daft stuff - like the total solar eclipse that went from first incursion to Bailey's Beads in the space of about one minute and the human hearts that were neatly removed from their sacrificial victims in even less time - and still beating!

The collapse of the great indigenous civilisations of central and south America are a much-neglected subject in cinema, and though Gibson's effort sometimes has a hint of campiness in the violence and blood-letting department, it's a very brave and involving effort even so. It certainly kept me watching. I felt that the earlier 'The Mission' was a more mature effort, but that may just be down to its A-list stars and Morricone's magnum-opus score.

Gibson was its director, and like all others takes huge liberties with history. But viewed without prejudice as an interesting piece of artistic entertainment, it's both a technical tour-de-force with an involving storyline. whether or not the violence is excessive is much a matter of taste.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
B-movie in fancy-dress, 17 April 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Morgan Freeman leads an otherwise lacklustre cast through a sci-fi brantub.

Endowed with the kind of eyebrows that could only be a spare prop from Hogwarts, he is some kind of unbelievable army bod with special insight into some aliens. These beasties are pretty grisly, and high marks are offered for their visual impact. There are also some nicely-realised set-pieces.

That's that. The rest is as daft as a barrel of brushes. The flow is broken by stupid flashbacks relating to the childhood of several characters in the story, when they were school-friends. These arrive at exactly the wrong time, when the horror story proper is just beginning to smoulder (it never actually ignites). It seems they have special powers. I've no idea what they are; junior airbenders or something. The whole contrivance limps along like a cross between 'Dark Skies' and Terry Gilliam. The scenes in which an alien is having arguments with the mind of a body it has taken over are particularly crass.

The best horror bits are creepy and shocking. The rest is laughably bad. The director should have made his mind up even if Stevie King couldn't.

Not recommended. Though it could easily have been quite good.

5 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
The Walking Plot..., 12 April 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Well, last night I watched the pilot feature, and... there were zombies.

I don't quite know what the big thing is with zombies. There's never been a vampire, or a mummy or a werewolf series - has there? I mean, apart form the Hammer franchise. The wild card about zombie movies is the shock-surprise, horror-gore-fest. But really, there's been so many feature films of this genre by now that the novelty has worn out, the idea really has nowhere to go. Yes; it's apocalypse. Yes; there's squillions of walking dead, eager to gobble you up. Yes; it's a race against time/battle for survival situation. And yes; we've seen it over and over again.

So the pilot had plenty to live up to. I'm afraid that I missed the beginning, but then again; I've seen so many staggering stiffs that maybe I actually missed nothing at all.

What I did see was very well made. Both visually and aurally, the presentation was right on the money. But is that really necessary for the stuff of B-movies? Survivors were shooting zombies yet again. There was one particularly bizarre and morbid scene when the policeman was talking to a half-zombie that was crawling across the grass. It was a pretty one-sided conversation. Then he shot it. Later, he rode a horse into the big city. Which is just the sort of daft thing survivors do in B-movies. And - needless to say - he's soon surrounded by the ravenous blighters. Bon apetit, bye-bye Dobbin.

As I say; the technical issues were fine - much better than 'I Am Legend'. The ambiance of a lifeless city was chilling, and the sets - real or CGI - seemed genuinely believable. But I just can't imagine how this is going to sustain interest for a whole series. Even in this first outing it was patently obvious how many scenes were drawn out just to fill time, when a feature film would cut and cut again. I'm also a bit tired of this stylised 'monochrome' colour presentation. It's turning-up in more and more future-shock and SF features. Either give us full colour or B&W.

I'll probably wait to see how the twit gets out of the abandoned battle-tank, but I can't see much mileage beyond that. It's hard to empathise with a hero so daft as to ride a horse into zombieville. You might as well walk down Oxford Street, London, wearing a suit made out of money. Personally, I think it will go the same way as 'LOST'. Fans will stay the course, sensible viewers will quietly look elsewhere.

Seven stars for now, at any rate.

Gosh - I'm hungry.

1 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
The Zombies Keep Staggering On..., 12 April 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I can't deny that the 'Resident Evil' franchise is a well-made package. The first one was quite intense with some seriously creepy moments, to say nothing of horrific beasties. But - my goodness - it's been milked for every dollar.

In this latest and limpest episode, the techno-beasties are absent. Now it's just 'Dawn Of The Dead' meets 'Matrix'. And if that sounds like a very favourable comparison - it isn't. 'Extinction' doesn't come close to Romero's classic old sequel in terms of tension, plot or simple black humour. And Jovovich's pasty-faced plain-as-a-plank heroine could never be a 'Trinity'. The Zombies versus superwoman plot just wanders into set-piece snarl, leap, kick, snarl, leap, shoot hokum. She's even immune to their 'vampire' bite so it's no contest for the rotting ones. Otherwise there's a big bunch of survivors speeding around in trucks with needless abandon who get progressively wasted by recurrent zombie attacks.

The next old idea to be recycled is Hitchcock's 'The Birds'. Crows have been feasting on the double-dead stiffs and getting infected. Suddenly, they are gathering around the survivors by the hundred, just like Hitch's classic. Zombie crows? big deal. What about the zombie rats, and the zombie flies? Maybe they'll arrive in the next instalment.

This is the fourth course in the dead-flesh menu, and if you ain't replete by now; you'll never be. For me, the hors d'oeuvre was feast enough, and whilst it gave plenty to chew on, even that seemed a bit over-done.

I've given it 6 stars because what I saw (about 90%) was well made in most technical aspects. I just couldn't be bothered to watch the end because I've already seen it in the first three instalments.

First is best, otherwise the franchise is strictly for the game-fans.

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