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Armed and Dangerous (1986)
Barely passable entertainment at best
This picture is barely passable entertainment at best, with Candy and Levy as disgraced cop and solicitor respectively sniffing out corruption and murder in the security firm which they have both joined to forge new lives. Candy is given meagre opportunity to display his undoubted skills in a picture which relies too heavily on sight gags and chases (most of which fail to come off, and many of which are, in truth, distasteful), and too little on verbal comedy at which Candy often excels. Levy is lightweight and inconsequential in a role which is too underwritten to warrant the buddy status for which the film would have you believe it hankers. Robert Loggia does his best to instil some menace into his part as a crooked union leader cum gangster, but the strictly formulaic nature of the plot and character development and the unfortunate attempts at comedy, suffocate the best efforts of all involved to lend credibility and accomplishment to the production - one which Candy could hardly have looked back upon with affection.
A delightfully unique film
A delightfully unique film which explores a historically researched image of Lewis Carroll as a man with a fixation (albeit merely platonic) on young girls, and expands the premise to consider the effect that his obsessions may have had on the later life of his model for Alice. Holm's impersonation of Carroll is of a gentle but, at times, pathetic figure whose passion for the company of Alice Liddell is matched only by that for the development of his characters and narrative that were to become the "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass" classics, for which Alice Liddell was his model. The young Alice is sweetly and endearingly played by Amelia Shankley in the flashback sequences with Holm, but the film is also centred around the attendance at a celebration of the centenary of Carroll's birth of the now 70-year old Alice, portrayed by Coral Browne. This older Alice is shown as a woman who has been shackled by her long celebrity as the role-model for the famous literary character and who has lived her life in a way which ensured that she was always seen to live up to that pure public image of her. As she travels to and arrives in America for the celebrations, various factors conspire to force her to acknowledge her symbolic insularity - the contrast between the brashness of the New World and the strictures of a society in which she has lived - the love affair which breaks out between her travelling companion and one of the reporters who meets her ship on arrival, an affair which initially brings to the surface strong but automatic emotions of aversion and disapproval. Gradually, she starts to question and, ultimately, to reject her past and all the values implicit in it. This is symbolised most vividly in the dream sequences in which she interacts with some of the characters from the "Alice" stories. Whilst created by Jim Henson's Muppet workshop, these images of Carroll's creations are not the cuddly, friendly visions reminiscent of, for instance, the Disney adaptation or other mainstream productions, but are much more darkly drawn, much more foreboding, much more, in fact, like the original illustrations of Carroll's work by John Tenniel. Rather than in the interests of authenticity, it seems that this depiction is chosen in order to represent the powerful hold of constriction in which these characters have held Alice. In the dream sequences, the creatures begin by continuing their overbearing influence over Alice but she gradually comes to question their power and their very existence as the circumstances unfold which cause her to evaluate her own life, until, in the final dream sequence, she ultimately rejects them completely, thus releasing herself to live out the rest of her days free of their restrictions and of the constraints of her whole past life. Throughout all these tribulations and inner examinations, Corale exudes a haunting and ever-calm aura in one of the most subtle examples of underacting it is possible to imagine.
The Woman in Red (1984)
Lacks the life and zest of the French original.
The fact that many critics found this to be Wilder's funniest film for a long time has more to do with the paucity of quality in some of his earlier films than any greatness here. Wilder directs himself in a film which he also adapted from the screenplay for the French film "Pardon Mon Affaire", but is unable to bring the same life and zest which are the hallmarks of that production, despite adequate performances from a good ensemble cast, particularly the ever-reliable Grodin. The reality of the situation is that only the French appear able to make these gentle sex comedies with the flair which they deserve - witness, for instance, the vast chasm which exists between the entertainment values of Depardieu's "Mon Pere Ce Heros" and the straight Americanised remake starring the same actor.
Two hours of film replete with entertainment.
This movie has all the hallmarks of the Spielberg blockbuster production - a small-town suburban family setting, fantastic special effects, fast-paced action and a liberal smattering of Spielberg's own brand of natural humour. It falls short of his other fantasy adventures, probably because the rumours that he wrested the direction away from credited director Tobe Hooper are unfounded. The influence and style of Hooper (director of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre", amongst others) are evident and, rather than detracting from the considerable input of Spielberg, complement it in a way which results in a picture of subtle originality. The combination of the genuinely frightening nature of some of the scenes with Spielberg's eye for spontaneous comedy is remarkably effective throughout the film, and Spielberg's penchant for setting his films in an easily-recognisable family environment somehow helps to bring a sense of reality to the otherwise absurdly unbelievable premise on which the story is founded. All this contributes to nearly two hours of film replete with entertainment in which the special effects, good as they are, do not usurp the other fine qualities of the production - and, again, Spielberg and his team achieve all this without the employment of big-name stars.
Spielberg's third TV movie is an engrossing thriller in which the burgeoning young director masterfully builds up the suspense to a spectacular climax. The simple premise of man versus machine and the plot through which it is explored are based on Richard Matheson's screenplay from his own story, and Spielberg brilliantly uses the claustrophobic environment of the motor car and the lack of support players to emphasise the tension that builds up in Weaver's mind.
How to Murder Your Wife (1965)
Entertaining and enjoyable comedy
Entertaining and enjoyable comedy which unfortunately is too long for the premise on which it is based, although Lemmon gives his usual faultless comic performance in the lead role of a successful cartoonist who wakes up one morning to find himself married following the previous drunken evening. However, the high point of the movie is undoubtedly Terry-Thomas' pivotal but underwritten performance as Lemmon's gentleman's gentleman whose concern for his employer's changed circumstances is as much as a result of his genuine desire to protect Lemmon's well-being as it is to avoid his own obsolescence.
The Day of the Triffids (1963)
A cut above similar pictures of the time.
This honest and faithful adaptation of the classic John Wyndham science fiction novel is a cut above most of the similar pictures of the time partly as a result of its origins and partly arising from the superior well-written screenplay and the overall contribution and influence of writer/producer Yordan. Whilst the special effects are basic by modern standards, the build-up of suspense in certain key scenes has the effect of making the otherwise laughable triffid creations genuinely fiendish and frightening. The playing throughout is adequate without being remarkable or particularly memorable.
The Great Lover (1949)
A superior piece of Bob Hope work.
I've always found it difficult to write anything lengthy or analytical about straight comedies. This is not because I don't enjoy them - nothing could be further from the truth, especially in the case of any offering which includes the talents of the great Bob Hope, with or without Crosby. The reason, I believe, lies in the fact that such pictures generally work only by reference to the viewer's direct involvement in them - rather like the experience of belly-laughing continuously for 45 minutes at the comedian's turn at a sportsmen's evening, but without being ever able to remember one gag afterwards. So often, the plot is all too familiar and holds no major surprises. The performances of the stars are generally what you would expect from them, and differ purely in the level of quality from picture to picture, and, for screen comics, the writing is invariably geared to their own particular talents.
All this is true of "The Great Lover". Bob Hope is close to his very best as a scout leader returning by boat to America from Europe with his troop and drawn as Roland Young's stooge into murder, intrigue and, of course, romance. As in so many of his pictures of the forties and fifties, he plays a reluctant hero, a role which enables him to display the whole range of his trademark features - the mock cowardice, the way he controls his overheating in the romantic scenes, the witty asides and the cheeky but innocent double entendres.
So what makes this picture different or special? In order to answer that, I watched the movie again before writing this review, but I still couldn't come up with a reason. Sure enough, the support playing is more than adequate, the plot simple but still interesting, and Hope is - well - Hope. He just does those things which you associate with him, but somehow the gags and his delivery always seem fresh and unforced and, despite the similarity in content, he always makes the material appear original. I can only therefore come to the conclusion that I like the film because it is a superior piece of Bob Hope work - and I like Bob Hope's work. That is the best recommendation I can give it.
The Jewel of the Nile (1985)
Worthy sequel to "Romancing the Stone".
This is a worthy sequel to "Romancing the Stone", although not as polished, with the featured actors already a little stilted after the first outing. It is probably significant that the following 15 years have not yet seen a further addition to the series, despite the star quality and charisma of the two leads who do play comedy well together, both in this truncated series and in the blacker "War of the Roses". The film suffers from a disjointed plotting, which appears to serve only to link together both some admittedly fine action sequences (a ground-based escape in an F-16 fighter plane, among them) and also the interminable arguments and subsequent reconciliations between Douglas and Turner.
Whilst certainly not reaching the heights of style of the original film, "The Jewel of the Nile" nevertheless provides a good rounded slice of action/adventure/romance entertainment, with some witty one-liners for DeVito delivered in his own inimitable style and featuring an endearing cameo from Avner Eisenberg as the mystical `Jewel' of the film's title who delivers his religious and philosophical pronouncements in a curious combination of the spiritual world and western pop culture.
Uncompromising study of the dangers of scientific research.
We live in a time when, regretfully, pieces of cinematic art are too often judged by the quality, innovation, spectacle and quantity of the special effects and action sequences, rather than by reference to their overall content. Unfortunately, these current criteria are also often used, subconsciously or otherwise, in reviewing the films of a very different time past - a time when technical advances were in their relative infancy and when the production budgets of most movies were meagre at best.
The horror and science fiction films of Roger Corman in the latter half of the fifties and the first half of the sixties were low budget cinema in this category. During that period, he produced and directed many trashy pulp movies which gave rise to the term `exploitation cinema'. But, in the early sixties, his output included many of his most acclaimed films, including "X : The Man With X-Ray Eyes" and his several Edgar Allan Poe adaptations. These particular pictures transcend the paucity of the budget by headlining with a proven performer - here and in "The Premature Burial" employing Ray Milland, in the other versions of Poe with Vincent Price (in some of the best work the latter ever did). Their contributions replace the need for spectacular (and expensive) special effects with performances which effectively evince the suggestion of fright, revulsion and horror.
In "X : The Man With X-Ray Eyes", Milland plays the part of a devoted research medical scientist who develops a serum (in the form of eye-drops) which has the effect of enhancing the vision. When the research institute pulls the plug on the funding of his experimentation, he continues it by using the serum on himself, with ultimately disastrous consequences. Milland is convincing because he uses his undoubted acting skills to make the viewer feel that his devotion to his work is based on a real desire to do good and that the actions he takes to continue the scientific experimentation on himself are totally in tune with the nature of his character, despite the fact that the shortness of the film gives little time for the development of character, even that of its main protagonist. Whilst the visual effects are primitive by today's standards, their lack of realism is tempered by the fact that Milland more than adequately depicts the range of emotions which his increasing capacity for physical perception forces upon him - the initial realisation of the powers of his discovery, the schoolboyish reaction to his ability to see beyond the clothes of the guests at a party, the anguish and anger when he acknowledges that he is no longer able to control what he does and doesn't see.
The film itself is certainly a lot more thoughtful than any other science fiction subject that Corman attempted. He steers clearly away from the sensationalism of his exploitation projects to deliver a uncompromising study of the dangers of the application of scientific research, but from a different perspective to most others. Unlike other formulaic productions of the genre, Milland does not subject his experimentation upon unfortunate human guinea-pigs (as with Dr. Frankenstein, for instance) - instead, his innate decency and honour leads him to carry on the research by subjecting himself to the treatment. He is not the mad scientist who ultimately finds a modicum of sanity from the tragic results of his experiments on others - he is, rather, an erudite and intelligent man who is himself pitched into tormented madness through daring to experiment on himself. The moral of the story would appear to be that it doesn't matter whether a scientist is mad and power-crazed or well-intentioned and humanitarian, the experimentation into grey and uncharted areas of science will almost inevitably result in tragic consequences.
Road to Rio (1947)
Only a notch down from "Road to Utopia"
Although Hope, Crosby and Lamour were teaming together for the fifth time in a Road movie, the format and style remain fresh, with a greater emphasis on song and a more rigid plot-line than in its four predecessors. The interplay between the three stars continues to be a delight, and Gale Sondergaard makes for a wonderful villain, whilst the Wiere Brothers almost steal the show as a trio of Rio street entertainers whom Bing and Bob persuade to impersonate the last three members of the five-piece all-American band that they have promised to deliver into Nestor Paiva's nightclub. There are a number of hilarious set-pieces, particularly with Hope cycling on a tightrope, and a rousing and manic climax. As a result of all these fine features, "Road to Rio" is only a notch down from my favourite Road picture, "Road to Utopia".
In Society (1944)
Visual set-pieces are performed with a great vivacity.
Made towards the end of their first contracted stint with Universal Studios, "In Society" is possibly the last eminently watchable Abbott and Costello feature until they initiated their horror spoofs with "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein", the picture which has probably survived the sands of time better than any of their others. In "In Society", the emphasis is very much on the physical and visual side of the pair's vaudevillian humour and there is little in the way of the verbal routines or snappy one-liners which are dotted around many of their other movies. But the visual set-pieces are performed with a great vivacity and enthusiasm for which Costello's apprenticeship as a stuntman in some pictures of the late twenties had prepared him well, and it is refreshing to find an unexpected but heart-warming tribute to W.C. Fields, including shots taken directly from the master's 1941 "Never Give a Sucker an Even Break".
No-holds barred but realistic dramatisation.
Just as much of the controversy over the political rights and wrongs of the Falklands War had dissipated, the BBC managed to bring them back very much into the public domain with this no-holds-barred but realistic dramatisation of the experiences of Royal Scots Guard Lieutenant Robert Lawrence, covering his military training, the fateful action he saw in the Falklands conflict and the aftermath of the terrible injuries which he sustained.
The themes running through the film have been dealt with many times before and many since - the futility and barbarity of war, the way in which jack-the-lad trainees react to the true horrors of battle, the notion that the atrocities of war are very much the result of the reaction of its protagonists to the death of colleagues around them, the `kill or be killed' reality. What most war films have failed to do, though, and which is effectively achieved here, is to marry the harsh realities of the battlefield with the equally harsh realities of the social readjustment of the returning soldiers, particularly the seriously injured ones. Unlike the early Marlon Brando vehicle "The Men" or the highly-acclaimed 1946 drama "The Best Years of Our Lives", we are actually party to the battlefield horrors, both physical and mental, from which the subjects must recover, as a result of which we have fresh understanding of the traumas from which recovery is required. Those aforementioned films deal only with the ways in which the veterans deal with the problems of readjustment to everyday life within the constraints of their injuries, states of mind and social and economic rejection. On the other hand, the classic "All Quiet on the Western Front"and Oliver Stone's "Platoon" deal only with the realities of war on the battlefield. The picture that comes closest to achieving the wider effect of "Tumbledown" is undoubtedly "Born on the Fourth of July", a film also based on a real-life case (that of Vietnam veteran Ron Kovik), whose responses to his experiences and injuries (a campaign to end the war in Vietnam) are much more widely-based than the more personal agenda of Robert Lawrence.
There is no doubt that Lawrence (and, indeed, writer Charles Wood and director Richard Eyre) vehemently believes that the fight over a barren and distant group of islands was not worth the price paid in terms of life and limb. But Lawrence is (and remains through all his adversities) a devoted and loyal professional soldier. He lays the burden of blame on everybody (the politicians who instigated the conflict, the heirarchy of the armed forces who persistently fail to recognise their responsibilty towards him and, unjustifiably in this case, the medical professionals who try to mend his mind and body) - all except the sniper who shot him. His bitterness towards all of these is because he perceives them as failing in their duty to him. His lack of bitterness towards the sniper is by virtue of the fact that he acknowledges him as a true professional soldier was was merely doing his job. He had done the same in similar circumstances, to which his bayoneting to death of the Argentinian soldier in a particularly nasty battle scene attests. Why couldn't everybody else have acted with the same professional attitude and with the same honour that he, his colleagues and the enemy had done? It appears that the only honour a soldier can have is to die gloriously on the battlefield - not to suffer horrendous woundings that leave him as a liability and embarrassment to the military, political and social leaders that had sent him to battle.
Lawrence is not a particularly likeable chap, either during his training, during his difficult rehabilitation or in his bitter recounting of his experiences to his friend's parents - here Firth does an excellent job in portraying an individual with whom he has accepted in interview he would have found it very difficult to have made friends on a personal level. What makes his performance all the more remarkable is that, despite the brashness, self-righteousness and downright insolence of the character at times, the viewer still feels genuine sympathy for the circumstances of Lawrence's plight, if not for Lawrence himself.
The format of the film also helps to drive home the points that it attempts to make. The events unfold in the form of apparently random flashbacks whilst Lawrence relates the story of his experiences to the parents of a close colleague. These flashbacks cover the Guards' training and the build-up to their despatch to the South Atlantic, the injury to Lawrence and his subsequent removal from the battlefield,through the various stages of his treatment, recovery and recuperation to the reactions of his family and friends and the battle scenes which culminate in his injury. Each linking flashback is chosen to increase the impact of the previous or forthcoming sequence, a technique which may appear to give rise to a disjointed narrative, but which is nevertheless highly effective in retaining the viewer's attention and making him wonder what the next fade will bring.
Through all this, Colin Firth's portrayal of Robert Lawrence shines out like a beacon. His performance is truly remarkable in its range and its ability to provoke emotional response in the viewer. It was a part which undoubtedly increased his profile as a serious actor capable of producing credible and powerful pieces of acting and which lifted him to close to star status in both costume drama (BBC TV's "Pride and Prejudice" and the Oscar-winning "Shakespeare in Love") and contemporaneous tales ("Fever Pitch" and "Hostages"). Around him, there are some equally impressive support performances, particularly by the quietly reliable David Calder as Lawrence's father and Paul Rhys as his army colleague and closest friend. And director Eyre excels in his treatment of both the dramatic scenes and the action on the battle fields. Lastly, any critique of the piece would be incomplete without a tribute to the terrific screenplay of Charles Wood who has adapted Robert Lawrence's story with style, intelligence and brutal honesty to provide, through the personal experiences of a badly injured war veteran, an intense insight not only into the highly-publicised controversies surrounding the circumstances of the Falklands conflict, but also the more easily overlooked background issues at stake.