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Way out western
17 September 2018
One of the funniest and best of the Carry On series, as ever the team picking up on a popular genre of the day in this case, obviously Westerns, for a laugh-a-minute spoof. "The Magnificient Seven" had recently been a big success and no doubt Messrs Rogers and Thomas took some inspiration from it.

With almost the perfect Carry On cast present and correct (only Barbara Windsor and Kenneth Connor are absent) and a script full of gags, of single, double and occasionally triple entendre, you're never far away from the next rib-tickling joke or situation.

Jim Dale is the improbably named Marshall P Knutt, the innocent sanitation engineer accidentally sent to clean up Stodge City but not in the way he planned. Sid James is in great form in one of his best roles as the gun-totin' Rumpo Kid, while there's the usual strong support from Joan Sims obviously relishing her part as the Kid's jealous moll, Charles Hawtrey as the weedy hooch-loving Indian chief and Kenneth Williams, just about the only cast member to adopt an accent as the inept mayor, while future regulars Angela Douglas, Peter Butterworth and Bernard Bresslaw all make their series debuts. The film nods to almost every Western cliche together seen, to a Red Indian attack on the wagons, a barroom brawk, a catfight between Sims and Douglas and a very funny showdown scene at the end when Dale outwits the Kid and his gang. Naturally the humour is way out west as far as today's P.C. standards are concerned with sexism probably the most abused "-ism" on display, but it's all harmless fun and very amusing. I'll certainly doff my Stetson hat to it.
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Good choice
17 September 2018
Before he went all location on us, David Lean made a number of notable films in his U.K. which helped establish his reputation and presumably provide a platform for the many epics he created in his later years. Rather like Hitchcock before and after Hollywood, some Lean admirers prefer his former output to the latter and on the strength of this and the likes of "Great Expectations" and "Brief Encounter" I think I myself probably cleave more to his British made black and white years.

Ironically "Hobson's Choice", being a film adaptation of an established play in the theatrical repertoire may be his most set-bound film, with the action concentrated largely on interior sets, most usually the inside of old man Hobson's family shoemaking business or the "Moonrakers" tavern where Charles Laughton's title character spends most of his free time.

A gentle farce involving widower Hobson's till now shopbound three grown-up daughters' different ways and means to get themselves married and extract a sizeable dowry for their husbands-to be, it's a lightly humorous piece which derives much of its from the contrasting performances of the main players. Obviously, there was no way Charles Laughton was going to pass up the chance to romp and bluster about as if to the manner born and he doesn't disappoint, while John Mills role as the aspiring simpleton boot-maker who is the unlikely target of Hobson's almost old-maid eldest daughter (at 30!) who grows into a savvy businessman by the end demonstrates his versatility and skill in equal measure.

However, as no doubt intended by the original writer and current director, this is undoubtedly set up as a woman's feature with the little-known Brenda De Banzie leading the way as the any oldest sister who cannily plays her father, bending him to her will to benefit herself and her sisters both matrimonially and financially.

There are several amusing scenes, particularly Hobson's celebrated "moondance", Maggie's brazen usurping of her already engaged prey from his intended and her mother to fit her own ends and the sweet coyness of their wedding night.

Nicely shot in crisp monochrome and nicely paced by director Lean, this is another fine entry in the latter's catalogue before his globe-trotting doppelgänger took over.
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The Avengers: The Cybernauts (1965)
Season 4, Episode 3
Amateur robotics
16 September 2018
One of the most celebrated of all the Avengers episodes and confirmation, if any were needed, that the series was ready to embrace the challenge of American shows like "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.", "The Wild Wild West" and "Mission Impossible" in the escapist adventure stakes.

Yes , "Dr Who" got there first with the creation of the Cyberman, but the automated assassin here, a hulking, karate-chopping machine-mountain seems infinitely more threatening, capable of breaking its victim's neck with one blow.

Steed and Peel as ever strive to divide and conquer, following their own separate leads to try to track down the cybernaut controller, with Steed's hunch proving to be the right one and Emma as usual the intended pre-ordained victim at the climax. As ever Steed devises a simple but cunning way to extricate the duo from danger as the tables are turned on the evil, wheelchair-bound professor , played with gusto by Michael Gough.

A terrific episode, so good that it spawned a follow-up episode later in the show's run and indeed also in "The New Avengers" in the 70's.
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Declaration of war intent
16 September 2018
Hitchcock's second Hollywood feature and much more down his strasse you suspect after the Gothic-tinged melodrama of "Rebecca", well done as it was. Here Joel McCrae (as opposed to say Gary Cooper or Cary Grant) is Hitch's innocent abroad, a troublesome news reporter who gets his paper's foreign correspondent to report on the impending World War 2.

Of course it's not long before he finds himself at the centre of the action, finding himself a witness to the apparent assassination of an important Dutch diplomat who has a key role in peace negotiations and being trailed and on the trail of obviously German espionage agents with an insider link to U.K. intelligence. Unsurprisingly he falls for a girl, played by Laraine Day (as opposed to Barbara Stanwyck or Joan Fontaine) the daughter of a senior British diplomat also the leader of a world peace movement, with an important role to play in proceedings. They're joined by a smooth British Intelligence agent played by the suave George Sanders as they race against time to foil the nefarious plot, although by the movie's end, it's somewhat irrelevant as Britain is by then already at war and gpfighting for its life.

The tone of the film starts in a humorous vein, almost like a Preston Sturges but once the feckless McCrae, under an assumed name, finds himself directly involved in proceedings as opposed to just reporting on them, the movie picks up pace and becomes altogether more serious.

Boasting a number of classic Hitchcock scenes, in particular the murder of Van Meer in the pouring rain under umbrellas which is reminiscent of Eisenstein, the remarkable plane crash into the sea at the climax and the rousing "wake up, America" message McCrae broadcasta as the bombs fall in London, this is a pacy, contemporary thriller, which keeps you on your toes throughout. Despite being served by actors who weren't his first choice, McCrae and Day perform well in my opinion, believable both as an engaged couple and as intrepid investigators.

The only thing I found hard to swallow was Edmund "Kris Kringle" Gwenn in the role of a would-be assassin and perhaps the film could have been edited down by 15 minutes or so to reduce some obvious padding, but with this film Hitchcock further enhanced his reputation in Tinseltown and indeed landed Grant and Fontaine as the stars of his following feature.
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James Paul McCartney (1973 TV Movie)
Part appealing, part a-"Paul"-ing
15 September 2018
As had already been demonstrated before ("Magical Mystery Tour") and after ("Give My Regards To Broad Street"), I think it's fair to say that Paul is better with a bass in his hands than a movie camera.

Offered the chance by TV impresario Lee Grade to make his own hour long (including advert space) special, McCartney jumped at the chance seeing it as an ideal opportunity to highlight his recent music and more particularly his newly established band Wings.

The songs are mostly very good with McCartney obviously by now regaining his writing chops, which in fact was to culminate in his solo career high album "Band On The Run", just months after this TV film was aired, although ironically by then, two of his Wings had been shorn, which sort of gives the lie to the jokey band questionnaires put up at the start of proceedings.

After starting with a studio performance in front of myriad TV screens, there's an odd narcissistic segment with McCartney strumming and singing some of his acoustic numbers (including the then unreleased "Bluebird") on a studio stool as a fawning Linda takes up close and personal snaps of her man, okay Paul we get it, you're the singer, she's the photographer.

After that we're returned to a band studio performance with accompanying orchestra which handily come in on cue on the dreamy string-soaked ballad "My Love" before a brief pastoral interlude with the band playing alfresco, surrounded by sheep, naturally for his much derided hit single of the time "Mary Had A Little Lamb" and an awkward promo film with Macca dressed up as a reporter in an office pool for the hit single from "Ram", "Uncle Albert" / "Admiral Halsey".

The whole piece then lurches alarmingly as Paul sees fit to remind us all where he came from by returning to his Liverpool roots by taking his band down the local pub where he mingles in very staged fashion with the locals indulging in a pub singalong as of course happens in every local every night in old Liddypool. Really embarrassing.

It only gets worse as it's followed by McCartney giving full-vent to his old-time music predilection with his 30's styled new number "Gotta Sing Gotta Dance", replete in the white tails we hoped he'd thrown away after "Your Mother Shoukd Know" from "Magical Mystery Tour", complete with a cast of Victor Victoria-garbed dancing girls.

Thankfully, things improve with a live band rendition of his dynamite Bond theme "Live And Let Die", (including insert sequences from the Roger Moore movie) an encore number in his live set even today.

The very worst part follows with vox-pop renditions of various Beatles songs by universally out-of-tune members of the public, the funniest being the city guy who mangles the words as well as the tune of "Yesterday" which then cuts abruptly cuts into a live Wings gig, in front of a grooving audience, where the band performs fine if ragged versions of one of his best and least known rockers "The Mess", the magnificent "Maybe I'm Amazed" and the high-energy set closer "Long Tall Sally". I think I'd rather have had an hour of this whole concert as the band really cooks but then I was hardly the target audience I think.

The last number is an embarrassingly promoted solo-version of "Yesterday" with Paul apparently encouraged to do the number by the band who meekly look on, sat on their hands.

I guess the thinking for this mixed-bag production was to demonstrate McCartney's all-round entertainer status, but in the end it comes over as confused and unfocused.
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No flames without fire
15 September 2018
One of the rare Tracy - Hepburn vehicles which plays as a drama, rather than their more usual light comedy fare and even though it was directed by their pet director George Cukor, none of them can rise above the rather stolid material they get to purvey here.

Made not long after America's entry into the Second World War, it has a credible message to sell in putting out a warning to any lingering isolationist waverers, especially if egged on by a national hero, recalling the America First movement of the time led by transatlantic pilot Charles Lindbergh as well as pointing up the importance of a free press, especially in times of war.

It's just that the story itself moves so slowly as Tracy's ethical, high-brow reporter Steve O'Malley, alone in these traits, it seems of all the media circus which descend on the household of the widow of national hero Robert Forrest to report on his death after his car crashes to the bottom of a ravine where the bridge has failed in a storm. O'Malley, an admirer himself of Forrest, doesn't want to write about the great man's death however but his life and example but gets inveigled into murky waters as he gets closer to the truth by tracking down his grieving wife, played by Hepburn, naturally, who has otherwise made herself incommunicado to the encroaching press.

Tracy seems disinterested in his part, rarely displaying the conviction his role demands while Hepburn on the other hand seems to over-compensate by trying too hard at times as she occasionally gazes away from the camera and recites her lines in full "calla-lilies' mode. There's a suggestion of romance between the two but too little too late and you're left thinking that maybe their vaunted screen chemistry only comes to life in comedies.

They're not helped by weak sub-plotting and a selection of supporting characters which vary from the insipid to the overdone, the former category including the father and son of the deceased man's gamekeeper, the latter, his faraway, in more ways than one, mother, his conniving male P.A. and worst of all a masticating, drawling cab-driver who does all he can to build up his part.

By the time we reach the conclusion, the heightened drama of which itself is at odds with the pedestrian pace of what precedes it, you sense the actors are glad to reach the end too.

I guess every day has its dog and for Spencer, Katherine and George, each so good in so many other things, this is definitely one of those.
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Video Newton John
15 September 2018
Video albums were very briefly in vogue as the MTV boom got underway at the start of the 80's with record labels happy to shell out for expensive looking music videos to promote their artists' product. With more singles being released from albums, culminating in Michael Jackson's "Thriller" album where 7 out of 9 tracks were so extracted, it must have deemed like a good idea to make a video for each track, as here behind Olivia Newton-John's hit "Physical" album. The only other acts I can think of who did similar video albums are Paul McCartney for his group Wings' "Back To The Egg" album and M of "Pop Muzik" fame. Olivia's album at 53 minutes in length is much longer than both of those and has obviously had more money thrown at it too.

It helps that the songs are almost all high-level pop, crafted in the main by her principal writer / producer of the time John Farrar although he ironically didn't contribute to the massively successful title track, which is represented here by the humorously camp, if not exactly P.C. video which must be universally known by now.

Some of the tracks just put Livvy in a shiny glittery outfit in front of a new-wavey type band to deliver before a disco-type crowd "live" takes of previous hits like "A Little More Love", "Magic" and "Love Make Me Strong" as well as the hit-to-be "Make A Move On Me".

Of the set piece videos, some just place the singer in front of a camera either provocatively or demurely, but the story songs work best as in "Recovery" where Olivia seems to be undergoing hypnotherapy for multiple psychological personality disorder, "Stranger's Touch" with its B and W film noir femme fatale vibe, the futuristic take on the ecological plea "Silvery Rain" and the female fantasy slant on "Landslide". The last number is a straightforward representation of her old "Grease" soundtrack hit "Hopelessly Devoted To You".

Ms John acquits herself well in all these roles and sells each song well.

Nice to listen to, nice to watch.
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First born star
14 September 2018
I came to this vintage classic after previously watching the 1970's version with Streisand and Kristofferson (not great), and the 1950's version with Garland and Mason (very great), but had never seen this original non-musical version with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. I really liked it and was struck by how much the Judy Garland and James Mason film copied the storyline of its predecessor.

Filmed in low-key but still warm technicolour, it moves quickly from Gaynor's lowly farmhouse background as a rather mousy-looking country girl, obsessed with movies and matinee idol Norman Maine in particular but with a dream of her own to make it to Hollywood as an actress. With the emotional and financial encouragement of her wise and rebellious old grandmother she gets on a train for the bright lights only to find out that it's a long slow journey to the top. Her life changes however when she fortuitously crosses the path of her actor hero Maine at a party, where she learns, besides falling in love with him, that he's a worsening alcoholic whose career is already on the slide.

Basically, the film is a two-hander and for it to work there has to be a chemistry between the leads which I have to say I got straight away. Both are completely credible, Gaynor initially as the starry-eyed youngster who matures fast and March as the self-indulgent prima-donna battling his demons in vain and the best scenes in the film are when they're together on screen.

Just occasionally perhaps March is allowed too much solo screen-time and I also didn't think his offensive, self-destructive streak was put over forcefully enough, certainly insufficiently to justify Lionel Stander's long-suffering P.R. man laying him out just when he's recuperating after a spell in a sanatorium, but there are several classic scenes, like when Maine drunkenly arrives at Vicki's Oscar ceremony presentation, Maine's sacrificial walk into the sea and of course one of the great finishing lines to any movie ever.

Caustically written, one suspects by an insider, stylishly directed by William Wellman and with fine support playing by Stander and Adolph Menjou in particular, this is Golden Age Hollywood story-telling at its best.
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The Avengers: The Town of No Return (1965)
Season 4, Episode 1
New assembly Avengers
13 September 2018
This is where I came in with the Avengers. As a young child, I don't recall any of the Honor Blackman / Cathy Gale, so from the black and white Diana Rigg / Emma Peel must be where I first watched what turned out out to be one of my favourite TV shoes of the 60's or indeed any decade.

Immediately you sense a change in style, from the bright, new Laurie Johnson theme tune, the complete change in Patrick MacNee's John Steed character to a sophisticated English gentleman in bowler and umbrella, both like him, with a steely edge and the introduction to Rigg as his new partner, the sexy, smouldering and very athletic Mrs Peel. It's as if the show had finally caught with the rest of swinging England in the mid 60's, with the future colour episodes even more memorable as I recall.

The interplay between the two leads is arch and occasionally risqué - check the racy dialogue between the two as Steed unties Peel from her bonds in a stable - but never crosses the line into knowing vulgarity. The storylines are sharper too, nodding to the influence of the Bond movies as the narratives become lighter, more escapist and at their best, almost surreal.

This episode of introduction for Mrs Peel works a treat, penned by the excellent Brian Clemens and gives equal lead-time to both. The story here involves impersonations murders and subterfuge in a little town in the middle of nowhere, as was so often the case in the show, with many a twist and turn along the way. The fight scenes could do with some work, but otherwise most of the constituent parts that made the show such a success are present and correct here. Rigg's fashionable outfits are also in place as is the show's use of first rate supporting actors, like Terence Alexander and Juliet Harmer here for instance.

Really wonderful show, probably the best of the many stellar ITC series of the mid and late 60's.
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Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Breakdown (1955)
Season 1, Episode 7
A little Hitch
11 September 2018
Rather like a novelist diverting into short stories, Hitchcock here uses the medium of his 25 minute TV series to knock off this excellent short-order production. Reunited with the worthy Joseph Cotten for the first time since his classic portrayal of Theresa Wright's serial killer Uncle Charlie in "Shadow Of A Doubt" 14 years earlier, we see the Master stretching himself in a similar technical way as on say "Lifeboat" where he constrained his set to one fixed locus by this time focusing his camera on Cotten's immobile, eyes-open face after suffering a horrendous car accident.

Immediately recognisable as one of the few Hitchcock -directed episodes of the show, Hitchcock injects a little moral into his story by making Cotten's hard-nosed big-boss deride an elderly employee's tearful reaction to being fired down the phone in the prologue only for his own later nightmare predicament to be relieved by showing emotion of his own.

Cotten for the most part just lies there wide-eyed and immobile, voicing over his ever more desperate commentary, again something only a director of Hitch's stature could ask of such a respected actor as Cotten. Superbly edited, with some distinctive Hitchcock grace-notes such as Cotten's subjective gaze up from his gurney as he's wheeled into the morgue, this is the old master flexing his muscles in a new medium and effortlessly at that.
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Back to the Egg (1979 TV Movie)
Eggs up over easy
29 August 2018
To promote what turned out to be the final album bearing the Wings moniker, (the group imploded in the wake of McCartney's drug bust in Japan), Paul McCartney, just because he can, assembled this mini video-album of a selection of tracks from the set.

The album wasn't hugely successful on initial release although it did make the top 10 in the UK and US, but I think it's an okay album and somewhat underrated without being close to his post-Beatles best "Band On The Run" .

The top and tail of this video set takes off from the record's album sleeve with the group, including new members guitarist Lawrence Juber and drummer Steve Holly, meandering to an observation deck on some sort of spaceship which silently opens and closes after the selected videos play below.

Not that the videos are world-class, Michael Jackson certainly needn't lose sleep, mostly just showing Paul and the group in different settings miming to the recorded track.

The best song is the set opener "Getting Closer" a blistering slice of power pop hindered by a fake live audience backing track, while other medium-lights are the attempted heavy-weight nonsense rocker "Old Siam Sir", the punk-ish (he wishes) "Spin It On", the 30's pastiche "Baby's Request" with the group in Army fatigues, the insipid ballad "Love Awake" to a wintry castle backdrop and the pristine synth-pop of "Arrow Through Me".

Only the bloated hyped-up superstar sessions for the bloated Rockestra and Denny Laine's weak "Again And Again Again" really let the side down.

Obviously for Macca fans only, this is a reasonably engaging half-hour of decent songs reasonab!y staged. His video outings would improve in the 80's with "Pipes Of Peace" and "Say Say Say" to name but two but this is okay for starters.
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Interstellar (2014)
Interstellar Underdrive
28 August 2018
I understand that director / producer Christopher Nolan was reaching for a sort of genre-busting, cross-cultural, auteur-imprint sci-fi blockbuster like "2001" or "Close Encounters" and so establish himself in the cinematic firmament alongside the likes of Kubrick and Spielberg. Well I'll start by saying that those two particular films are far from my favourites by Stan and Steve and that I struggled to maintain my interest throughout this very long, very sciency movie.

It takes an age to get going for one thing, over-developing in my opinion, the relationships between widower Matthew McConaughey, his grounded, land-loving son and reach-for-the-sky genius daughter, at the same time, establishing his own credentials as a brilliant maverick space-pilot, setting us up for the meeting with old prof Michael Caine in another predictable feet-under-the-bed casting by Nolan and his eco-warrior daughter, played by Anne Hathaway, where he learns of the secret plan to reach out to other worlds for possible solutions to the dust-storm crisis on our earth which if unchecked will see the planet's extinction.

And so McConnaughey, Hathaway and their small band of brothers hop on a big space rocket to seek out the three most promising of the twelve missions previously undertaken to this end but the only meaningful encounter they have is with Matt Damon's stranded scientist. After an Apollo 13-like miraculous return to Earth, McConaughey gets all discombobulated in the space time continuum as he tries to go back to the original moment he left his daughter to leave her a message to save all the future bother. This circular-time folding-back-on-itself skit has been done before more than once (I can even remember it in a Harry Potter film), thus reducing its effectiveness for me at the climax and whilst I can otherwise see Nolan projecting big issues like faith, forgiveness, guilt, hope, survival, family and of course love, I found the film to be slow-moving and clunky in construction.

I wasn't engaged by the main characters and frankly got lost in all the science too while as regards the acting Caine and Damon are badly miscast in my opinion and as for the android which looks like a clothes peg and all that Dylan Thomas "Do Not Go Gentle..." guff - we all know it's a great poem anyway.

Of course it may just be me remembering my thoughts on its two big-name antecedents but if people out there want to put this on a similar level to those they can be my guest. Not my type of film perhaps but then Nolan didn't do anything like enough here to change my preconceptions either.
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Impossibly good
26 August 2018
I was glad to watch this summer blockbuster in the iMax format it deserves. Raising the bar not only for its own franchise but for action movies in general it's a real adrenaline rush as it sets its big, and I do mean big, set-pieces in firstly two familiar locations, Paris and London, before climaxing in an extended sequence in Kashmir where we basically witness a chicken run between two fully airborne helicopters.

There are brief moments of scene-setting, plot progressing calm but don't dwell on these too much as before you can cogitate the motivations and machinations of the baddies, you're hurtled into the next white knuckle ride segment. So don't look for much in the way of character development or psychological insight, just strap in and watch the IMF team race to stop a planned nuclear explosion by the skin of the skin of their teeth.

The same team as finished the last mission re-assemble here with Tom Cruise as leader Ethan Hunt, Simon Pegg's Benji and Ving Rhames' Luther fairly soon re-joined by Rebecca Ferguson's Black Widow Ilsa and forcibly augmented by Henry Cavill's CIA Inside operative Walker. Pegg and Rhames as before provide the light relief and pathos, Ferguson the female all-action counterpoint to Hunt's daredevil persona.

The trick of course to making a film like this still work six movies in is to ramp up those amazing stunt sequences, from a near-fatal double sky-dive over Paris, a brutal punch-up in a toilet, car and motor cycle chase also in Paris, an extended pursuit across the London skyline, yes including that scene where Cruise breaks his ankle on one roof-leap too far and culminating in the duelling 'copters scene at the end and a to-the-death final fist-fight on a sheer rock face about a million feet up.

I still appreciated the nods to the classic TV series from which it first sprang, most obviously the use of a not-too-different version of the classic theme tune, the pre-highlights reel and "Your mission, should you decide to accept it" prologue even as it's obvious that from there it's the original show on super-steroids.

Anyway, it was a blast of a way to spend a Saturday afternoon and left you at the end wondering just how Cruise and his creative team could top this next time out.
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Abba 'nother one
6 August 2018
Okay so this one I took for the team, accompanying my wife to this second film featuring the music of one of her favourite groups. My opinion of Abba's music is that when they're good they're very good but when they're bad they're dire. Obviously the first movie, based on the stage show, employed all the mostly very good "Abba Gold" greatest hits while here there are quite a lot of second division tunes only their most devoted fans will know. "Kisses Of Fire", "Andante Andante", "When I Kissed The Teacher" anyone?

The producers seem to acknowledge this weakness by repeating some of their biggest hits which had obviously already been in the first movie such as "Waterloo", "Knowing Me Knowing You", the inevitable "Dancing Queen" and snippets of many others too.

The storyline is as flimsy as before and really just a contrivance to get all the original characters reunited in front of the cameras in bright outdoor settings. A few new characters do show up most notably Cher who delivers a surprisingly good version of both "Fernando" and "Super Trouper " to give the film a lift at the end.

There are some neat and inventive camera tricks which help the flow of the film whilst the humour is as girlie and occasionally risque as you'd expect - clearly the film makers know their audience.

Anyway it's all very bright , tuneful, happy and entertaining in a lightweight sentimental way, as you'd expect and my wife, well she absolutely loved it.
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Saul fia (2015)
Hell on earth
2 August 2018
Warning: Spoilers
I found this film almost as difficult to review as I did to watch. I guess many of us might fail to imagine the horrors of trying to survive Auschwitz on a minute by minute never mind hourly or daily basis but this film puts you almost literally on the shoulders of one man in the camp as the camera only rarely changes perspective from his subjective viewpoint to a more objective position so that you see what he sees and experience what he experiences. Immediately you sense the dehumanization of the individual as with him and his specially chosen fit and able fellow POW's he performs the task of removing, burning and disposing of the remains of the hundreds of daily gas victims there. When he sees a young boy somehow survive the gassing only to be even more cruelly murdered by suffocation by the German doctor on the scene, he impulsively decides to take the boy's dead body and have it consecrated by a rabbi.

Along the way he gets involved in a mass escape attempt by his fellow inmates but even then carries the boy's corpse with him as he moves.

As I said, the movie was excruciating to watch at tine. Think of all the famous (or infamous) cultural or artistic depictions of hell by the likes of Dante, Hyronemus Bosch Picasso, Goya and others.
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A bridge too far
31 July 2018
I watched this film on the recommendation of a friend and wasn't disappointed. Although the main action is told in an extended flashback set in civilian life during the First World War, the bookending of the movie with Robert Taylor's middle-aged army colonel's long reminiscence on Waterloo Bridge of the love of his life is set in present day 1939 just after the outbreak of World War 2, making it one of the first films reflecting the new, even more devastating conflict. That said seeing the characters in contemporary clothing and hair-styles you might be forgiven for thinking it is a WW2 movie but one shouldn't forget the likely underlying aim of the film to interest and influence the watching American public on the side of the British as they initially stood almost alone against the German Army so perhaps the familiarity engendered was deliberate.

There is no military action in the film however although the fact of Taylor's Captain Roy Cronin being an army officer does otherwise play a big part in proceedings, as it's a bomb raid which first throws he and Vivian Leigh's ballet dancer Myra together where they immediately spark and fall in love. Their whirlwind romance sees him attempt to marry her before he's posted overseas in two days only to be thwarted in this by his posting being brought forward a day. An unforeseen consequence of this is that Leigh loses her placing with the ballet corps which employs her, falling foul of the tyrannical old Madame who runs the company for missing a performance by rushing elsewhere to see Taylor off. Although she's accompanied in this departure by her rebellious friend and fellow-dancer Kitty (played by Virginia Field) who resigns herself in support of Leigh, when they find no work elsewhere for either of them, they resort to the oldest profession to survive, becoming streetwalkers, ironically to services personnel.

Sure the plotting is highly melodramatic and the ending despairingly sad, but with two excellent star turns, fine supporting work by the rest of the well chosen cast and polished direction by Mervin Le Roy it's a very satisfying entertainment and must have been even more so to its original wartime audience.

I've occasionally let my perception of Robert Taylor be clouded by the unsavoury part he played during the Communist witch hunt in Hollywood immediately after the war ended but he's undoubtedly handsome, charming and sincere here while the camera which so loved Leigh in the glorious technicolour of the immediately preceding "Gone With The Wind" continues its affair with her here in black and white. She really did have a most expressive face as we see her character run the gamut of emotions as her fortunes rise and fade time and again.

Most impressive for me though was the skill with which it was directed by Mervin Le Roy. As well as helping the film leave behind its theatrical origins and keeping the occasionally improbable narrative going, there are lovely touches of flair exhibited which had me purring with pleasure. Some examples would be the dolly shot which picks out Taylor from the crowd at the train station, another high tracking shot of the pair dancing away from the crowd at a party to a private balcony, the dramatic focus on Leigh's face as she makes her fateful choice on Waterloo Bridge (I wonder if Hitchcock remembered it for Grace Kelly's trial scene in "Dial M for Murder") and the couple's first rapturous, silent dance together by candlelight. There's even a very modern shot with a double close up of Field and Leigh with the one in the foreground out of focus.

All in all, a really fine film the like of which as the cliche has it, they don't make anymore.
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Working class antihero
29 July 2018
I recently read the John Brain novel and so was keen to see this celebrated adaptation of it. It was the debut feature of director Jack Clayton, two of whose relatively small number of succeeding films I've seen and enjoyed ("The Innocents" and "The Great Gatsby"). I'm a fan of the British realist cinema movement of the late 50's and early 60's and see this movie as a trailblazer for other important films which followed.

Set in the immediately post-war period as witness the bomb-site locations which appear throughout as backdrops, the film unquestionably speaks to societal attitudes of masculinity, marriage, class snobbery, provincialism and morality still prevalent at its time of release in 1959.

I was pleased to see in the credits that the director of photography was the great British cameraman Freddie Francis and he doesn't disappoint with typically imaginative and memorable set-ups and portraits. In one tracking shot I'm sure I detected a hand-held camera tracking shot long before it became the vogue.

The story of a young working class accountant on the make is gripping and grittily portrayed, although perhaps this distinctly non-working class occupation with a taste for amateur dramatics belies the underlying class-war which underpins Lawrence Harvey's Joe Lampton character's cynical path up the greasy pole - namely to bed and wed the virginal young daughter of the monied industrialist with influence everywhere in the Northern town where his factories are based.

What he doesn't count on is falling sideways into a steamy affair with older woman Alice Aisgill herself the put upon wife of her obviously philandering husband, when they meet at the local theatre rehearsing a play. At first she's just a bit-on-the-side while he works out his plan to entice sweet young Susan but Alice's worldliness and maturity speak to Joe far more than Susan's perkiness and naïveté.

Of course Joe's balancing act has to fail and it does so after he cynically deflowers Susan, getting her pregnant in the process and bringing himself into the line of fire of the seemingly omnipotent father and so inadvertently gets what he originally wanted, an easy path to the upper classes and all the wealth, comfort and privilege that go with it, only when he gets up close to it, the grass is far from the verdant green he believed it would be.

Clayton's direction is assured and stylish. There are many memorable scenes, perhaps none more than in the climactic scene where a newly-engaged Joe learns at his office of Alice's fate with a clever piece of overlapping dialogue. The movie is decidedly adult in its attitude to sex, not only the extra-marital affair between Joe and Alice, but also in the cold calculating way Joe takes away the too-trusting and adoring Susan's virginity. Even the language is more direct and abrasive than you'd expect, especially the tirade that Alice's flat mate Elspeth lets rip at Joe after he dazedly returns to the flat where he and Alice shared their trysts.

As regards the acting, I'd have to agree with those critics who contend that Harvey just doesn't seem quite working class enough for the part. Possibly the movie came just too early for actors who would have carried off the role better like Albert Finney or Richard Harris, although their time would soon come. Simone Signoret was good value for her Oscar as the doomed Alice, but the casting all the way down the credits is uniformly good.

An epochal British film, blazing a trail for the kitchen sink dramas of the next decade, but one which still stands up today on its own merits.
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Jack Reacher (2012)
Out of Reacher
22 July 2018
I'm not familiar with the Lee Childs' novels on the Jack Reacher character but I do remember the media hoopla over the rather diminutive Tom Cruise being cast as a plus 6' male. The other just-as-important matter for consideration is whether he can carry off such a tough-as-nails persona. I know you could argue that Ethan in the Mission Impossible franchise is similarly indestructible but I don't think even that characterisation calls for the sheer cussedness of Reacher here and in the end I think he falls short (no pun intended).

The film starts off with an intriguing set-up as a lone assassin, in a scenario too sadly familiar from real life, ruthlessly guns down five apparently random people. However a series of perhaps too obvious clues leads to an ex-military marksman being arrested for the crime who breaks his silence only to reach out (sorry!) for Reacher to come to his aid.

From there though it goes down a rather predictable set of paths which I personally doubt would be as written in the novel, like the way Reacher takes down five toughs sent to scare him off the scent in the now familiar ninja-style from any number of Marvel / DC movies or even TV series or the inevitable car chase through the night streets of Pittsburgh. I had also guessed the killer's M.O. too although there's a satisfaction of course in so doing.

I also felt that the conclusion in the driving rain as Reacher, with the unlikely help of mean and ornery target range owner Robert Duvall faces off against the Mr Big, his right-hand man and assorted henchmen, as you'd expect taking them down one by one until there were none as the saying goes. Personally I felt a little awkward seeing Duvall's trigger-happy character being lionised as he was, in this day and age.

In the final analysis I felt I'd have probably preferred to read the source novel more than watch this Hollywood blown-up version. I was entertained but too many of the situations and characterisations seemed hackneyed, repetitive and derivative for me to really savour what I had hoped would be a grittier detective drama and not just the outsized actioner it proved to be in the end.
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Left for dead by Ed
20 July 2018
This retelling of the death of young Kennedy entourage "Boiler Room" secretary Mary Jo Kopechne and the involvement therein (or lack of same, arguably) of rising US senator and last surviving brother of the Kennedy family dynasty, Edward Kennedy, holds back little as it nails its accusatory colours to the mast.

I re-read as much background as I could on the tragic incident and it's difficult not to come to the same conclusion as the writer and director of this movie, that Kennedy firstly failed to attempt to rescue the stricken girl immediately after he escaped the sinking car, then got two of his slavishly obedient underlings to repeatedly dive into the river to try to save the girl, didn't report the matter immediately to the authorities where we learn that if he had, Mary Jo might even have made it out alive, before most shamefully of all, he played down and indeed lied about his role in the matter to go along with the abhorrent advice of the supporting Kennedy machine, a phalanx of important Democrats, including former Secretary of State Robert MacNamara, to cover up his part and so keep alive his future eligibility for the presidency.

As usual in dramatisations of real life happenings, some dramatic licence appears to be taken with events. For example was Ted Kennedy really so scared of his elderly, paralysed father, the family patriarch Joseph (played by an unrecognisable Bruce Dern) and so ashamed of himself as the underperforming last son of the family to justify acting in this deplorable spineless way? Then, was there anything sexual between Kennedy and Kopechne on the night - there are cryptic but inconclusive flashbacks shown hinting at something and Kennedy, whose wife hadn't made the trip, was a known womaniser. Did he really contemplate resigning the Senate right up to the last minute before caving into the surrounding peer pressure and instead turn his live TV broadcast into the contemptible self-serving speech it turned out to be, including his horrendous assertion that this was the infamous "Kennedy Curse" working on him - this just in Senator Kennedy, you didn't die, Miss Kopechne did - and in so saying, trying to bathe in the reflected glory of his two slain brothers? I also thought it was a major mistake to fail to mention the substantial payment that was made to the dead girl's parents, presumably to hush them up.

Only one person knows what happened on that fateful night and I concur with the film-makers' assertion here that Kennedy not only acted in a selfish, cowardly way at the scene - he even tried to weasel out of this by faking a medical report that he was concussed in the crash which affected his actions and then compounded the felony by "wearing" a neck brace for effect at the funeral.

This as I said is a brave film, justifiably, I believe, taking a side and having the courage of its convictions to stick to it. Jason Clarke is excellent as Kennedy while the rest of the lesser known cast give him credible support. The direction could have done with less of the voguish drone shots which seemed at odds with the realistic approach adopted elsewhere plus I found the soundtrack dull and again lacking affinity with the era portrayed.

I doubt this film will gain wide distribution but hope it does. It's an excellent drama, the tragedy of which is how realistically it depicted a tragically avoidable real life accident.
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Suddenly (1954)
Frankie my dear doesn't give a damn
13 July 2018
Once you get past the cliche one-joke title, this is a taut little thriller with Frank Sinatra diversifying his range by playing a near psychotic soldier-of-fortune, who with his rather simple-minded gang-of-two seeks to collect a big payday from an unknown employer by assassinating the unnamed and unseen President of the United States when the presidential train makes a need-to-know stop at a typical small-town U.S.A.

Over a brief 75 minute duration, a fair amount of tension is built up as Sinatra and his gang take over a house containing a young war widow, her slightly brattish infant son and cantankerous old father in law because it apparently provides the perfect vantage point for the kill-shot though how they know that in advance I couldn't say. Also on the scene is a new suitor for the young mum, Sterling Hayden's straight-arrow peacetime cop who unfortunately gets caught up in the hostage situation when he accompanies the incoming FBI chief on a routine check of the house.

What's surprising is the sheer viciousness of Sinatra's character, killing the FBI chief in cold blood, brutishly aggravating Hayden's injured arm, smacking the plucky kid about and even threatening to kill the boy. An innocent young TV repair man also finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time as he too is inveigled into the action. The plot denouement is signalled well in advance as the countdown to the fateful train arrival of the train at 5 p.m. nears.

It was certainly unusual to see Sinatra play such an unredeeming character with any resemblance to Richard Widmark's early psychopathic roles no doubt being more than coincidental. It's a pity that much of the rest of the playing by the cast is rather wooden and under-rehearsed looking. The direction is rather stolid and set bound too but none of these things can stop the inexorable rise of tension as the story progresses.

Frank was to make a markedly superior movie about a presidential assassination around 10 years later but this B-movie feature would have made for a watchable second feature alongside that following masterful political thriller, "The Manchurian Candidate" of course.
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The Jeremy Thorpe Scandal (2018 TV Movie)
Truth will out
3 July 2018
I was one of those who immediately switched channels, as prompted by the BBC continuity announcer, the minute the three part drama "A Very English Scandal" ended, to watch this shelved "Panorama" special from 1978, expected and scheduled to be aired the day of the original verdict in the actual Jeremy Thorpe trial. To the BBC reporting team here and indeed most of the public at large, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the ex-Liberal Party leader would be found guilty with his confederates of the attempted murder of his former lover Norman Scott. However, even in the hallowed British justice system, it appears, rather like the later trial in America of a well-known football star, the seemingly guilty can walk free.

And there's little doubt, going by the content here, that Thorpe was guilty of organising the botched hit on Scott. Motive and opportunity were clearly outlined with revealing interviews with almost every party to the plot, Thorpe excepted of course. The programme also demonstrated that the preceding dramatisation starring Hugh Grant as Thorpe didn't stray too far from the likely facts, although it did show Norman Scott to be a more robust character than the way Ben Whishaw portrayed him.

This hour long documentary, updated by its original presenter 40 years on and featuring yet more new revelations only further confirming the almost certainly correct presumption of guilt of the accused, was fascinating to watch, the better for its concentration on the known background events and was even more compelling than the TV drama.
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Frankie and Shelley were lovers
26 June 2018
Firstly, I like the directness of the title. Apparently one of those films Sinatra made when he was on his career downward curve before "From Here To Eternity" on screen and Capitol Records on vinyl set him aright a couple of years later. Me, I really enjoyed it and wouldn't wonder it might have gotten a better reception and been better remembered if it had been made after 1953 and all that.

The story's pretty far fetched as Sinatra, Alex Nicol, Raymond Burr and a young Shelley Winters play out a love-rectangle if you will with surprisingly, Nicol being the one who gets the girl. Burr is the mobster with designs on her after he employs her as a singer at one of his clubs and who then takes singer and pianist duo Nicol and Sinatra on as their agent but at a hefty 50% cut of their earnings. Nicol is the nice guy, older than Frank's Danny Wilson and obviously some sort of mentor / father figure to him which is just as well as Frank's clearly going through his wild years (thanks, Tom Waits) always one misheard remark or misunderstanding away from a fist fight, from which Nicol usually extricates him.

How the intertwining love stories and the duo's situation with Burr resolve themselves are a little rushed and pat into the bargain, but there's enough grit and drama to see it through to a satisfactory conclusion.

The story goes that Sinatra and Winters didn't get along on set, but you wouldn't really know it here as they make a feisty and watchable couple. I don't recall seeing Nicol in a movie before but liked his work here, the straight man to firecracker Frankie. Burr actually isn't much on camera but conveys a credible sense of malevolence when he does.

The main attraction for Sinatra aficionados is the chance to see the still young Francis Albert looking good and sounding great rendering a nice selection of well known songs in fine style, including "All Of Me", "When You're Smiling", "That Old Black Magic" and "I've Got A Crush On You". He also has a knockout duet with Winters singing "A Good Man Is Hard To Find".

Other things to like were the New York settings, although much of it was probably recreated I'd guess, a one-line cameo by Tony Curtis and there's a cute scene where Sinatra effectively invents the first flash-mob at the airport to try to stop Winters leaving him, just after she's reluctantly become engaged to him.

So there you have it, part musical, part drama, part thriller, an unusual cocktail of a movie but these shaken up ingredients settle well together and made for a good 90 minutes well spent.
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Rabbit punch
23 June 2018
I am a fan of Danny Kaye and have been a long time tracking down this, one of his first starring features. Sad to say it wasn't really worth the wait. The constituent ingredients are there, a fine supporting cast of Virginia Mayo, Vera Ellen and Lionel Stander, Marx Brothers director Norman Z MacLeod at the helm, the filming is in glorious colour, the songs by Jules Styne and Sammy Cahn, even the story of Kaye's 98 pound weakling being set up for a world title fight based on his ability to avoid rather than actually throw a punch all augured well.

Somehow though it doesn't come together. At 1 hour 50 minutes it's way too long and you can see the padding, the songs are mediocre and even Kaye himself becomes somewhat irritating in his puffed-up swell mode.

I also don't think I've seen such an odd and prepossessing start to a feature as the Goldwyn Girls singing an advertising ditty around a full-grown cow and it doesn't really get much better from there. Sure, Danny boy clowns and mugs his way through the film but you can almost see him being directed in this, which can't be a god thing. Vera Ellen comes off better with her elfin appearance and dancing exuberance, Virginia Mayo can't do much with her part of the pretty singer who in rather unlikely fashion falls for Kaye's clutzy character but Walter Abel and Eve Arden make a good team as the manager on the make and his acid-tongued P.A. The comedy mainly centres on Kaye's antics in the boxing ring but I've seen funnier skits in silent movies on the same subject.

The same team of Kaye, Mayo and Macleod would soon reunite for Kaye's next feature, the classic "Secret Life Of Walter Mitty". Let's just say that with this inconsistent film they were sparring for the main event further down the line.
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The Commuter (I) (2018)
Off the rails
14 June 2018
Another action movie promoting Liam Neeson as an O.A.P. where the initials stand for Over-the-top Action Pensioner. The film starts nicely and cleverly, establishing Neeson as an ordinary average guy who commutes to work on the same train to central New York every working day for 10 years, getting to know the regular staff and passengers in the process. Unfortunately this particular day is going to go badly for him as he promptly gets sacked from his life insurance sales job just when he's meant to pay his children's expensive college fees.

After a consoling drink with an old buddy he worked with years ago on the police force, he boards his return train still not having broken the bad news to his wife. No sooner is he sat down when he gets propositioned by a literally well-heeled female who runs by him her version of the law of unexpected consequences, at the same time playing on his need for ready cash.

So much I could accept in a sub-"Die Hard" manner but from there on the plot gets derailed by a series of ever more predictably unpredictable events, if you catch my drift, as Neeson embarks on a "and then there were none" process, whittling down all the passengers to the one he's meant to pick out for imminent elimination, a witness to the apparent suicide of a whistle-blower at a mega-corporation.

It's a shame that all the effective build up is thrown away on a ludicrous narrative which sees Neeson get into not one but three brutal life-threatening fist fights (he's over 60 remember!), lie down next to a corpse under the floor of the train, throw himself unharmed off the train and finally derail said train but somehow uncouple the last carriage just before the main train crashes. Oh and of course he succeeds in his 100 to 1 task of identifying the targeted party before there's an overlong hostage situation played out in the final scene with a predictable twist as to whose instructions he's been following.

I liked how the action was contained in the train and how the train destinations acted as a countdown for the action to climax but really, despite Neeson 's best efforts he can't stop this trainwreck of implausible plotting hurtling to nowhere.

This train you can let go by.
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The Associates (1979–1980)
Law-ra laughs
12 June 2018
I'm basing my review of this short-lived John-Charles-Walters produced U.S. sit-com on the first two episodes which have recently, as if by magic re-surfaced online and on my original memories of watching it nearly 40 years ago.

From the same stable as big-hit series employing the same talented directors and writers - the latter principally including the likes of David Lloyd and Earl Pomeranz with long term MTM pedigrees, this was a very funny half-hour comedy which managed to even make the grey-suited legal profession funny. Unlike the more working class backgrounds to say "Cheers" or "Taxi", this programme focused on the other end of the employment scale, young, aspirant lawyers at the old-established legal firm of Buss and Marshall, run by benevolent despot Wilfred Hyde-White as its elderly patriarch, Mr Marshall. In truth he steals almost every scene in which appears, although this is usually because he gets the best !ines. That said, Martin Short, Alley Mills, Joe Regalbuto and the rest of the cast get a good sprinkling of laugh-out-loud lines too in time-honoured James Burrows-directed ensemble fashion.

Sure you can read across characters to their counterparts in the two other shows I've mentioned above, but the different setting and like I say consistently high quality writing helped make it a firm favourite of mine and sorry to see it cancelled after only one series. It's a shame it didn't find an audience and I can I only hope I get to see the remaining episodes some time soon.
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