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636 reviews in total 
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Shane (1953)
Still A Great Watch..., 9 April 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Alan Ladd heads a fine, mostly B-list, cast in this iconic western from the golden age of operatic presentation.

He's the mysterious stranger 'Shane' riding out of oblivion. Shane might be a lethal man to confront. Yet he's a basically good man, too - one for whom bad decisions in youth have tainted his destiny with bleakness. He is fearless in a fight, and peerless with a gun. These qualities enable him to behave with restraint and modesty. The insecurities that cause most of us to feel threatened don't influence him. And here he comes, a distant horseman exquisitely filmed in the golden sunlit, broad sweeping vistas of Americas west.

Shane is handsome, youthful and amenable, yet there's something mysterious about him too. That combination of fearlessness and modesty make him enigmatic. You can tell there's more to him than meets the eye. Something hitherto undisclosed sustains that quiet confidence.

He's the perfect character for a child's hero. And young Joey, watching his arrival will soon worship him. Van Heflin is the able rancher called Joe Starrett. He's a match for Shane in most ways but a gunfight. Not so handsome, perhaps; yet Joe is just as stout of heart and sound in character. Each have taken their decisions and applied their skills to life. There is an immediate bond of mutual respect. Joe's wife, Marian, also admires him. She finds him attractive in a way that any woman would. Yet she's a good wife who would never willingly compromise what she has. And Shane wants to outrun his troubled past; he would never lead her astray, out of respect for them both as well as their son.

Yet a man may be doomed to accept his destiny. Shane's arrival is apt to the moment; there's trouble between the smallholders and a baron who wants them out. Ony killing will resolve the issue.

This movie sets-up and quietly runs the plot of classic western opera at a pace that's near perfect. The littleness of human purpose seems etched into the vast wilderness. Characters are simple, but neatly described. I particularly like Elisha Cook Jr's character as the prickly former Confederate. Script is equally straightforward and believable. It's a treat to watch.

Good and bad in conflict, goodness prevails at a price.

There is nothing particularly outstanding about this movie. No one element outshines another. The result is just better than its parts. Clint Eastwood re-made it as 'Pale Rider' as part of his western revision. His was also an excellent work, but not better.

The slightly languid pace of 'Shane', epitomised by the lines 'Someone's coming pa,' 'Well, let them come,' may not suit the impatient, but those who are willing to set a spell gain a handsome reward.

Highly recommended.

0 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Sorry Spanner In The Saccharine Works, 5 April 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Well, I'm clearly out of kilter with the public mood on this one.

I thought WWATCC was the most boring kids' movie I've ever seen. It was slow, patronising and contrived from the outset. Unfortunately; if you'd read the book, you knew pretty well what was coming next. And the trouble then was that the sets and props never lived up to the imagination.

Tempo inside the choc-works didn't improve. The 'Oompa Loompa' song just about saw me dozing off. As to Gene Wilder's Wonka; I couldn't mesh with him at all, not even as a fantasy character. His mood-swings were actually a wee bit scary. And when he was being meaningfully nice, it really made me rather cringe. Much too sweet for my tastes.

The sets were as colourful as a kids' fantasy movie could be, but they never stopped looking cheap and stagy. The dialogue was trite, the surprises unsurprising. Frankly; I think 5 stars is a generous award.

The ancient 'Wizard Of Oz' could kick this into a sweet-vat with a glass slipper. It is superior by any evaluation. At first, I thought this was because I'm not a Wilder fan, but there's been a recent remake employing Johnny Depp in the Willy Wonka role. Sadly, that one didn't do anything for me either.

I dunno; everyone seems to love it but me. I'm an outcast and a pariah. But I won't apologise for thinking it's crap.

Peter Cooke & Dudley Moore should have starred in it. Then again; maybe not.

Can't Recommend A Purchase.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Sturdy Little Adventure, 4 April 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Youthful, handsome James Garner plays a womanising frogman. He is seconded for a solo-mission to penetrate Japanese security on an occupied Pacific island and clandestinely copy their radio-codes. Secrecy is paramount.

It sounds like something by Alistair McClean or an early 'Mission Impossible'. He has to be taxi'd to his destination by submarine. And there are issues between himself and the sub's commander played by reliable Edward O'Brien. The seas are shallow and he risks discovery, but there are limits to how far Garner's frogman can swim.

That's about it. The rest of the movie is made up of adventures along the way and the stealthy secret mission on land against the Japanese. There's no particular surprises. It's nicely filmed in colour. Most of the sets are believable. The story and moments of tension are well paced. It's a sturdy little matinée adventure with some decent submarine footage. Good support cast features an equally youthful Warren Oates.

Just remembered, I saw this at the flea-pit as a kid!

Pal Joey (1957)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Great Songs..., 3 April 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I hadn't seen this movie for decades. But it was remembered (pretty vaguely) with affection. However, I recently purchased the DVD, and whilst even a large-screen television doesn't really do justice to some of the more expansive older movies, I confess to being a tad disappointed even so.

The songs were great, pretty much as I remembered them. Frank Sinatra was on top-drawer sparkling form. Hayworth and Novak were all you could expect from the so-called screen-goddesses of the 1950's. Yet something was missing. There were shortfalls in between songs, during story development, that seemed to cause the whole plot to languish briefly. I confess to finding myself bored. It didn't happen very often. But it happened. Maybe the director imagined that the three leads, and the great songs would be enough to carry the production and so it wasn't necessary to try too hard with anything else. I don't really know.

'Pal Joey' isn't remembered half so well as some other 1950's musicals. And perhaps there's a reason for that. I suspect it needed a couple more songs - good songs - and maybe a bit more excitement to the story-line. Fans of 'ol blue eyes will still be enchanted, but without him and the songs this would have been a complete non-event.

"Kung Fu" (1972)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Original and Daring, 30 March 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

My 9-star vote represents the series in context. As someone who had been interested in Karate for several years before, I found this programme to have been extremely thoroughly researched. It was quite a revelation.

It was also highly original, employing the flash-back denouement technique that Sergio Leone 'borrowed' in most of his spaghetti westerns. The programme was, in truth, as much a celebration of the philosophy of keeping peace as the practice and teaching of martial arts. Plots were simple, maybe predictable, but they unfolded with as slowly choreographed a ritual as the teachings themselves.

A shaven-headed David Carradine was ideally suited to the role of mixed race Kwai Chang Kane, graduate monk of the Shao-Lin priesthood and fugitive murderer exiled in the wild-west USA. He brought an entirely-believable persona to his character whilst, in turn, acting as ambassador to the art. Bruce Lee was the obnoxious opposite.

Kane's tranquil and undemonstrative resolution of problems, only employing force as a last resort, would make an interesting counterpoint if screened today, at a time when resolution by force is considered a moral imperative.

There's a great deal more to be learnt from this series than from a game of 'Grand Theft Auto'.

Recommended viewing, at least of the pilot movie.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Staid But Steady, 30 March 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Kenneth More plays Richard Hannay, the victim of circumstances who finds himself inheriting the job of solving a crime whilst being its chief suspect.

Our Ken is a solid, reliable actor who brings a lighthearted touch to most every role he plays. Basically a decent British bod, whether sweating it on the 'Northwest Frontier' or shivering on the Titanic; I don't think he's ever played a baddie.

This 1959 version is one of several that includes an earlier, and arguably superior, Hitchcock release. As a More fan, I prefer this one. But that's only my bias talking. Here, he does just look a wee bit bored at times.

It's not particularly violent, easy on the drama, with no sex to speak of. There's nice location-work in London and Scotland, good photography, steady editing and adequate sound. Although filmed in colour, most of the time it looks like a deeply-sepia'd black & white. You might need to adjust your settings.

Well worth a matinée punt if you're off sick, skiving or unemployed.

The Train Was Late., 28 March 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The train was late and frankly, the way this movie dragged out, I wasn't surprised. Probably the wrong kind of baddies were on the line.

Its original 1950's version never struck me as being a classic by any definition. More a poor man's 'High Noon'. But this remake tries to do better, and for the most part succeeds. Though it does this by robbing a few ideas from other westerns. To begin with, there's a raid upon an armoured stage-coach with a reverse-mounted Gatling-gun. It's an idea straight from 'The War Wagon'.

Russell Crowe is Wade, captured leader to a bunch of outlaws. Christian Bale is Evans, the down-at-heel rancher with cash-flow issues who accepts a job too many. Taking pattern from Eastwood's revival, there is a lot more attention to period detail and authentic ambiance - oil-lamp lit interiors, scruffy attire and so on. Which makes for a believable but all too gloomy view. Crowe trades his Roman or nautical trappings for those of a western outlaw and offers-up his stock character delivery. It could just as easily be 'LA Confidential' with horses. Somebody needs to tell him that there's more to acting than just putting on clothes. It would also help if he discovered a voice. Another 2 hours of General Maximus Gruntus gets a bit too much for my ears. Bale, on the other hand, is as Baleful as ever: Believable, but not exactly likable. He needs to laugh once in a while. I grew up with westerns that were almost operatic in their presentation - a concept even Sergio Leone endorsed despite his many modernisations. This 'new realism' needs a very careful hand to make it work as well. Eastwood managed the transition, but this one throws a shoe.

A lot of the movie entails a chase. The small posse escorting Wade overland to catch the train is seldom more than a couple of steps ahead of his gang, now led by a second-in-command about as homicidally-disposed as 'The Terminator'. Along the way, there are various 'issues' and psychological 'conflicts' most of which are scarcely believable. You just don't let a dangerous villain have his hands free, to attack his escorts, snatch guns and shoot them. It would be daft enough once - but 3 times? I mean; c'mon! And if he talks too much (hints of Hannibal Lecter) - you just gag him.

Towards the end, the gang catch up whilst they're waiting for the train, and there's the sort of preposterously over-the-top and frankly unbelievable shoot-out that made 'The Wild Bunch' so memorable. Even here it's taken to excess. The ending is also turned on its head.

I never understood the psychology of a hardened villain facing life imprisonment at the very least - and more likely the gallows - suddenly experiencing a 'Damascus episode' and assisting the man who would take him their. It seemed implausible in the first movie and no less so here.

What the movie does well is commendable. But it's basically a hodge-podge of other ideas shunted together to make an over-long, excessively violent melodrama. It's like a fantasy staged in a museum.

Worth a watch for the good bits, but not exactly collectible. Try 'Last train From Gun Hill'; it's a similar theme but in the grand 1950's operatic style.

5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Quantum Of Humdrum Tedium., 27 March 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Daniel Craig is James Bond, shaky and un-stirring.

In this effort, the franchise seems to have descended towards the lowest common denominator of crash-bang shoot-em-ups.

It more-or-less began with a completely unbelievable car chase, filmed at such a tempo that would defy the best efforts of a computer-game geek. Things happened so fast that there was barely time to observe, let alone digest them. Images began smearing even on my humungous old Trinitron obelisk. There was hardly time to anticipate tension and consequence; very quickly it grew tedious, dis-involving and frankly repellent. I kept wanting 'story' but all I seemed to get was 'action'. And it was LOUD.

So the movie went on. Short, humdrum interludes of 'exposition' became punctuated by explosive bursts of utterly preposterous and boring special-effects. Movie makers, nowadays, seem not to be testing the frontiers of CGI so much as the limit of viewer gullibility. I have to say that they've long since discovered and exceeded mine, and this piece is well into implausibility land. Quite honestly; 'The Wizard Of Oz' is more believable, even as a story.

If you like this brave new world of CGM's (Computer Game Movies), then you'll likely give this a high score. Maybe you'll even win a replay. But if you were brought up on STORY and CHARACTER, then - like me - you'll begin to lose interest shortly after the credits have rolled. It was the suave and sophisticated elements that raised Bond above the other macho types. Here, he's just another homicidal thug.

Can't Recommend A Purchase.

Criminal (2004)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Passes The Time., 27 March 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It's a movie about criminals. So; you can't trust 'em.

In a pretty formulaic buddy match-up; an experienced world-weary cynical grifter finds himself an amateurish young trainee. Richard (the elder) is played by J C Reilly, who is blessed with the sort of unmemorable features that make him ill-fitted as a movie lead, yet perhaps ideally-suited for the profession his character represents. He's not quite the criminal big-wheel he fancies himself to be. Rodrigo, the ill-fitting Hispanic rookie is played by Diego Cumo. He's a punk, a loser. Or so it seems.

As the movie progresses, we gain some insight into the ruthless mentality of Richard, both by his actions and his confessions. He's not particularly likable. But then neither is Rodrigo, who is evidently smarter than he looks.

You can see that this is gonna be a twist-in-the-tail story. The question is, simply: how? In fact, there are several little twists that develop in a rapidly tightening plot. Eventually, I was left wondering - was this gonna be a bloody-awful-shock type ending, or an ironic, humorous morality tail. You can find out for yourselves.

Most of what you see has been done before. 'Grifters' is the ultimate hard-edged bloody-awful-shocker, whereas 'The Sting' is probably the most memorable tongue-in-cheek morality scenario. In between there are others - 'Ocean's' several, 'The Score' and of course, this.

Don't buy into the detractors too heavily; they may be selling you short. The technical issues of camera-work and sound score, editing etc, are all up to snuff. The players give good turns and the script is more-or-less believable. Watch it without a wallet filled with expectations and you shouldn't come away feeling fleeced.

Thank Heavens For Mobile Phones, 23 March 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

If Hitchcock were alive today he'd be kicking himself that he never thought of this simple but terrifying premise. Because it's definitely him. The good news is; it's unlikely that he'd make a better job of it.

Bizarre psycho murderers have become so common on the movie menu that I'm inclined to give a big yawn whenever they show up. And I made a start with this one. But I stopped.

An arrogant young snot walking past a phone booth when its phone starts ringing, steps inside to answer and finds it's for him. The caller is a stranger who knows all about his life. But the real bad news is that he has a sniper-rifle with a telescopic sight, pointed right at him. If he steps outside - he's dead. Moreover, if he doesn't do pretty well anything he's told to do - he's also dead. Terrifying, definitely bizarre, but it's oh so simple.

Our schmuck is put through seven circles of hell as all manner of peripheral events impose upon his plight. The psycho at the other end of the line just plays him like a tune.

The most disappointing element of the movie is that the only person we get to know well is the schmuck in the booth, and he's a ruthless, two-timing, spineless snot. It's very hard to empathise with him. Everyone else, including his wife, girlfriend, sundry police-officers, hookers, pimps and the like just fit certain predetermined character profiles and nothing else. They're competent, but they're not people we get to care about.

The premise of this movie is so simple, and allows for such an economy of scale in terms of movie creation that the idea is a piece of genius. More alarming, however, is that this could actually happen. Even if the loony-on-the-line didn't know all about you and wasn't an electronics wizard; reprising this plot in the real world would be just as easy and economical. All that would be needed would be to know the number of a phone booth within line-of-sight, ring and wait till somebody - anybody - answered. Then give them a real bad day. I'm surprised there hasn't been a copycat.

This is tense, suspenseful, often unpredictable in detail, highly original, and dead simple. If character development had been more detailed and sympathetic; it would have been a classic. Otherwise that is its fatal flaw.

At least for an interim, I suspect this movie did for telephone boxes, what 'Fatal Attraction' did for one-night stands. I found it ultimately predictable in denouement and a wee bit disappointing, but it was a brave effort nonetheless.

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