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The Wire (2002)
Quite simply awesome possibly the best TV show ever?
I'm lucky enough to have just discovered the Wire I caught the 1st series on FX in the UK and immediately had to buy all the box sets. This is without doubt the finest Police drama ever shown on TV and quite possibly the finest TV show ever. Rarely does a series come along without a single weak episode in its entire run, not a single weak performance. Even when considering great shows such as CSI, The Simpsons, X-Files, Frasier etc all had weak episodes or characters that weren't up to the standard of the rest of the show.
The shows subject matter is downbeat and dark, the drugs and corruption in the city of Baltimore, but the show also has some dark humour to it and is not without it's laugh out loud moments. All the characters are well aware of their absurd situation on both sides of the law. The show has moments of touching compassion as well as brutal violence, comradeship and betrayal in such a mix that it draw you in and makes you care about each and every character not just the main ones. Its a tribute to the show that it involves you so much you begin to worry about what will happen to the characters. As such it's impossible to wait a week for another episode and a box set is the only way to go.
I think the strongest feature of this show is how it makes you see the situation from all points of view. For example the character Bubbs is a drug addict and a petty thief but after being shown his world its impossible not to feel some compassion for him and his situation. His good side and his bad is there for all to see as are the police characters who are not all sweetness and light. While some characters such as Omar could be seen as an anti-hero to be lauded but then other points of view will be shown and you have to choose how you see the character - a predator feeding off the bigger criminals in a way sticking it to the man or nothing but another criminal the show makes no judgements but gives us enough to make our own.
Congratulations should go to everyone involved in this show its challenging, intelligent, entertaining, shocking and informing all in equal measure. My only problem with it is I wish they could have gone on a few more seasons but then again maybe the show would have weakened as it is like all the greats they've left us wanting more. 10/10.
Fun with some good action and shockingly a plot!
Jean Claude Van Damme stars in this action tale of a Legionere gone AWOL to sort out his families financial problems (by way of bare knuckle fighting of course). This is probably J C Van Damme's best film in terms of overall pace and plot although the dialogue and acting are still fairly clunky at times.
The action is good although I found the final fight rather disappointing, as the end opponent wasn't really that good and had some ludicrous side burns that just made me laugh (this movie is worth seeing to laugh at this guy alone). If this film had had someone with the presence of say Bolo Yeung who stared with Van Damme in Bloodsport it would have improved the movie no end as some of his opponents are a little bland. But to be honest thats just nit picking in what is a pretty fun piece of action cinema. Support acting is good Harrison Page as the manager with a heart and Lisa Pelikan as the hard up sister do well with little material. Deborah Rennard is OK as the hard nosed promoter super b**ch who just happens to look fantastic in the tiny skirts she is given to wear (does every fight promoter turn up to meetings in a bikini!?).
Overall there's not a lot to say about this movie if you like action films you'll like this, it's not ground breaking but it does what it needs to good action, reasonable plot and Van Damme's best acting performance to date. 6/10 Note - In the UK this is known as AWOL but it variously known as Lionheart and the full AWOL: Absent With Out Leave in other regions
Raw Deal (1986)
Not good, not good at all
Arnie was the action movie superstar of the 80's films such as Commando, Predator, Conan The Barbarian and of course the Terminator made him a global mega star. Raw Deal however was a misfire, even by action movie standards the plot and acting is laughable. The set up is the usual renegade cop against the evil crime overlord which should be a lot of fun but to many times this film descends in to unintentional comedy. Gunfights are poorly staged and thought out the sets look exactly what they are cardboard to be blown up cheaply, clichéd bad guys, poor script need I go on? Even Arnie isn't the presence he was in his other 80's films he must have know how poor this was going to turn out.
Poor script, acting, and unforgivably in a movie of this type poor action scenes 4/10
To long and too dull
Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap's Sam Beckett) and Kris Kristofersson (Blade, Pat Garett and Billy the Kid) star in this below average TV movie. It seems quite a lot of money (for a TV movie) has been thrown at this but the pace at times is down to a crawl and Bakula's character seems to have become head of Netforce with a total lack of any computer knowledge. It's dated fairly badly but all movies about computers do that look at Wargames or Tron! But it's main problems are down to a flabby script, pedestrian direction and lack of tension as for the ending i'm not even going to go there! Let's just say it ain't great, I gave this film a 4/10 as it's not a total lost cause but i cant recommend spending 2+hours watching this when there are better films out there. If you want a hacker movie War Games (Mathew Broderick) or Sneakers (Robert Redford, River Phoenix) are better movies in the same sort of area or for a more MTV friendly teen hacker movie then go for Hackers (Angelina Jolie & Tommy Lee Miller).
4/10 - If there's nothing better on a rainy Sunday it might pass the time but thats about all, we can only hope the Quantum Leap movie gets off the ground to save Scott Bakula!
Jumpin' Jack Flash (1986)
Born in a crossfire hurricane
In my humble opinion at 5.3 this movie is horribly underrated it's a fun, colourful, exciting hour and a half of a movie. Whoopi Goldberg plays the quirky and livewire Terri Doolitle a low level bank employee who gets involved in a dangerous spy game involving the CIA, British Secret Service and the KGB (made in the 80's the cold war was still in full swing).
Contacted via her computer (the computer geeks out there will love seeing this earlier version of the internet) by a secret agent codename 'Jumping Jack Flash' (Jonathan Pryce) Terri must use her street smarts and attitude to save the day against rogue agents, KGB the police and while not being fired from her own job.
The only drawback to this movie is it is quite profane those adverse to the occasional swear word should probably steer clear. It's similar in the level of language used to Beverley Hills Cop, so probably not one for the small kids. But fun for everyone else.
7/10 - Good honest fun probably Whoopi Goldbergs funniest movie and certainly no Sister Act thank god!!!
Vice Versa (1988)
Fun but it's no Big
One of the many 80's comedies to deal with kids ending up in an adults body (the genre that recently saw a resurgence with Freaky Friday etc) and it has to be said one of the best. Judge Reinhold was a good casting choice and he is pretty convincing but perhaps a bit to over the top and not as subtle as Tom Hanks in Big. Fred Savage is excellent playing older and he probably has as many funny lines if not more than Reinhold.
It's easy to be cynical about a film like this but if you watch it for what it is a bit of bright breezy escapism it succeeds in what it set out to do. Personally I'd recommend it most to 80's nostalgia fans or those looking for a fun film for the family as it's fun for the adults and the kids. For the 80's fans out there this is probably in 2nd tier of 80's films not a classic like Big, Ferris Bueler or the mighty Breakfast Club but certainly fun and a bit of a guilty pleasure like Mannequin etc.
6/10 - Funny, entertaining and doesn't overstay it's welcome.
To Catch a Thief (1955)
Engaging and stylish
To Catch a Thief is a pure piece of escapism set amongst the rich and beautiful socialites living in the south of France an ex jewel thief (Grant) must clear his name of a crime he says he didn't commit. When you look at Hitchcocks list of films this has to be seen as a lesser Hitchcock not as ground breaking as Vertigo or as suspenseful as Rear Window. But it is highly entertaining as it is a piece of escapism its easy to see in Grant's performance here why he was originally considered for the role of James Bond. Suave, cool under pressure and irresistible to women Grant has it all and in Grace Kelly also the prefect romantic partner.
The films moves along at a fair pace the opening 'chase' scene is superbly shot particularly when you consider the technology of the time. There is also a vertigo inducing finally as the cat burglar duels on the roof with his adversary. But overall there's not as many jumps and suspense as other Hitchcock movies and this seems to be more about style than content at times. But when a movie entertains as this does it's difficult to complain about that.
7/10 - Shows how good a director Hitchcock was that this can be considered one of his lesser films still an entertaining roller coaster from possibly the greatest director of all time?
Darker then I remember
Bryan Brown and Brian Dennehey star in this tale of an FX man hired to fake the death of a mob boss. But when the 'hit' is carried out was it really a fake? Our hero is left to find out using his FX skills to investigate.
I hadn't seen this movie for a number of years but caught it on TV a few nights ago and the first thing that struck me was how dark and serious this movie is in places. I won't spoil it but there are some surprisingly violent scenes and there are a couple of fatalities you just don't expect. Its a gripping movie and the suspense keeps up through out Bryan Brown makes an engaging and down to earth hero the FX tricks are pretty cool if a little silly at times. Brian Denehhey is as ever reliable in the supporting role whats surprising is that I didn't realise how little time Brown and Denehhey appear together on screen in this film.
The main cast returned for a sequel which was entertaining but not as good as the first.
Definitely worth a watch 7.5/10
Harlem Nights (1989)
Stylish, funny in places better than it's IMDb rating for sure
As I write this the film rates a lowly 4.9 on IMDb which is rather surprising as this isn't a bad film and I have to say Eddie Murphy makes a decent film in his first (and at present) only stint in the directors chair. He certainly got his casting spot on with a host of character actors in main roles and casting Richar Pryor alongside himself as the stars.
The film takes place in stylised Harlem of the 1930's as two small time crooks make a living running a night club but success soon brings the big time crooks calling can our hero's make it out alive and in profit? The film looks stylish and the direction soaks up the lavish elegance of the period and it's refreshing to see black characters represented in a period film as more than token characters. I think where this films slight problem rises is that it tries to bridge two genres the straight gangster movie and the comedy movie. Overall its a good film and I think it's a shame Murphy hasn't stepped into the directors role again.
Pretty good 7/10
Up the Chastity Belt (1972)
Dull spin off
A dull spin off of Up Pompei is what we get here Howerd plays Lurk-a-Lot (Get it?) in his usual persona (titter ye not etc.) which would be fine if the jokes weren't so predictable (men charging door with battering ram door being opened, men crashing through window etc.) and plain not funny in places. Up Pompei always worked best as a half hour blast the spin off film failing to maintain the gag count through feature length. This film suffers from being the left overs of what wasn't a great idea for a film in the first place.
The usual cast from the other Up... films (Up Pompei and Up the Front) put in appearances in this as well as a guest roll from Eartha Kitt but none really stand out as that good. I'm a big fan of classic British comedy but this is far from classic, if your looking for Howerd at his best then you have to look to his original TV series or in film one of the two Carry On's in which he appeared Doctor and Up The Jungle (not to be confused with this series of films it was a Carry On where Howerd presumably replaced the unavailable Kenneth Williams in a rare film of the series in which he doesn't appear).
Of the three Up..... films this is the weakest, watch the original TV series of Up Pompei and avoid this spin off even the biggest Howerd fans will i think struggle with this 4/10
Up Pompeii (1971)
Titer ye not
Spin off from the 70's sitcom of the same name this film spins out the same gags over an hour and twenty minutes run time and gets away with it but only just. Frankie Howerd is again Lurcio the roman slave in ancient Pompeii getting involved in the evil machinations of the emperor Nero (Patrick Cargill) and the evil Brutus and his henchmen (Lance Percival).
If you liked the TV series you'll like this is the basic rule here, to a modern audience I doubt it would play well, Frankie Howerds routine is very much of it's time and place. But its very entertaining some of the gags are sign posted miles away but Frankie's personality, playing to the audience and comic timing are what make this entertaining.
The movie feels too much like a stretched out episode to be a classic like many TV shows spun off into movies in the 70's (On the Buses, Rising Damp, Porridge etc.) but its certainly worth a look for Up Pompei or Frankie Howerd fans.
Mostly funny, occasionally hilarious 7/10
Hak hap (1996)
A mixed bag
Jet Li stars in this wire-fu actioner effort as a super trained commando type unable to feel pain or emotion who escapes from an evil master to live a normal life. Drawn into using his skills once more to defeat his old squad he must also protect his new found friends.
I liked this movie it's not the best Jet Li has done but it's good entertainment and has some good if slightly outrageous fight scenes. The bad guy is good value for money and seems to have stepped right out of a comic book, Francoise Yip is also very effective is Li's one time comrade. However Li's friends sometimes get in the way of the action and the Tracy character is fairly irritating (how often did i wish she'd get shot so we could move on with the movie!). The tough guy cop is quite funny in places but overall its about a 7/10 movie.
7/10 - Good action solid plot and overall a fun film for any martial arts fans.
Follow That Camel (1967)
Bilko meets Carry On
Another of the historical/costume Carry On's see's Phil Silvers join the Carry On team as a guest star. This was the first time one cast members name had been allowed to headline over the others and this was undoutbly done to increase the series appeal in America. However this is rumoured to have caused friction amongst the regular cast members which is possibly one reason for Kenneth Williams even more over the top than usual performance trying to out do Silvers.
The plot line follows Beau (Jim Dale) and his Butler (Petter Butterworth) join the foreign legion in the 1800's their they meet the conniving Seargent Knocker (Silvers). Seargent Knocker is pretty much just Seargent Bilko in the 1800's which is fine by me as Silvers creation of Bilko is a great character and funny even now over fifty years after the series was broadcast. However the problem being at times this does feel like the Phil Silvers show rather than a carry on. The rest of the cast do OK but it has to be said other than Dale and Breslaw they are either not on their usual high form (Williams and Hawtry as the commanding officers) or underused (an excellent Joan Simms who only appears for less than 10mins in total).
Follow that Camel is a funny film but not as funny as the best of the series Silvers adds star power but it hasn't got enough killer lines. There's not one joke that makes you remember this film like the best Carry On's for instance the daffodil in Nurse, Infamy infamy.... in Cleo or the diner scene in Khyber.
Out of 10 I'm giving it a generous 7 as I'm a big Bilko and Carry On fan. 7/10
The Three Musketeers (1993)
It's not a bad movie its just average in so many ways
Disneys interpretation of the Three Musketeers was always going to be a watered down version which is fine in a swasbuckling family film but did it have to be so bland? The main problem for this it has to be said is the casting of O'Donnel as D'Artaignion he doesn't have the screen presence to pull it off.
The other problem is that the story has already been done fantastically in Richard Lester's Musketeer films comparing the Musketeers across films it shows just how good the 70's cast were. Sheen is no match for Chamberlains Aramis and how can anyone compare to Oliver Reed as Athos? Certainly Sutherland doesn't here. The films main successful cast member is the always excellent Oliver Platt who steals every scene he's in and is the only truly memorable feature of the movie.
Of the bad guys Curry is by turns brilliant in one scene and hopelessly over the top in another, Michael Wincott is menacing as Rochfort but again comparing it with the 70's version not as good as Christopher Lee.
This isn't a bad film , it's average and why make an average movie of a story thats been done brilliantly before by a far superior cast? Rather than seeing this check out the Richard Lester version which is a family film that both kids and adults will enjoy leave the Disney version for now.
Average - not bad, but not good either 5/10
Don't Lose Your Head (1967)
Sir Rodney Effing with two f's!!!
This probably ranks as one of the better carry ons certainly in the top 10 but not quite in the top 5. Its from the period when the team were making the historical/costume carry ons that yielded so many of the classic carry on's Cleo, Cowboy and of course Up The Khyber. This time its the turn of the Black Fingernail (Sid James) to ride to the rescue of the French Aristocracy able assisted by Lord Darcy Pugh (Jim Dale) opposed by Citizens Bidet (Petter Butterworth) and Cananbert (Kenneth Williams).
James is on top form and clearly relishes the chance to play the swash buckling hero much as he did in Cowboy he steals the show in this one as Williams isn't in the fine form he was in other historical carry ons such as Cleo and Kyhber. Dale provides able support as does Butterworth who began to become a more regular cast member through this period. Jaqueline Biset looks sumptuous as the love interest but some of the best lines go to the supporting characters of Joan Simms and Charles Hawtry.
If you love Carry On's you'll adore this if not this one probably wont be the one to convert you. Overall a good carry on not up there with Cleo and Up the Khyber etc but well worthy of a 7.5 out of 10.
Singin' in the Rain (1952)
The musical for people who don't like musicals
Generally speaking I really don't like musicals but I guess it shows if you make a great film it doesn't matter what genre it's in everyone can enjoy it. Singing in the Rain is simply put perfect I can't think of any element I didn't like the singing, dancing humour and characters are all bright breezy and uplifting. The affectionate lampooning of 20's Hollywood is spot on and my favourite scene goes not to the the most famous piece of musical history but to Kelly's dignity always dignity speech with visual highlights of how he's character really made it as a star. I must have seen this movie about 20 times now and I can always sit through another screening and find a new favourite line or scene and that's the mark of something special.
I could go on but all I really need to add is just see it 10/10.
Flash Gordon (1980)
Overblown, trashy, loud.......and totally fantastic!!!!!
Whoever got Queen to do the soundtrack to this movie was a genius pure and simple it adds the cherry on top of the brightest, sweetest sci-fi movie cake ever made. It's difficult to review this movie as the dialogue is hilarious the acting over the top the effects ain't great and to be honest its just plain stupid in places but thats it's charm it is a moving comic book. Having said all that this film is far from poorly made the director obviously know what he was doing but I doubt if anyone else did at the time. I'd love to have been in the 1st screening of this to the studio executives! The film is about fun and wish fulfilment pure and simple what schoolboy wouldn't want to be Flash, Zoltar or Baron? Their may be other Sci-Fi movies with better effects and more to say but I doubt their are any as fun 8/10
The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)
Intrigue and drama
I caught this movie the other day on Film Four and was pleasantly surprised I was expecting a rather dated swashbuckler but it comes across as more of a character piece. In fact there's not a great deal of action through out the movie apart from a chase at the beginning and a small burst of action at the end. The film chooses to focus instead on the intrigue aspect of the Scarlet Pimpernel, his relationship with his friends, the masquerade he must maintain and how he deals with the possibility his wife may be a traitor.
Both Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon are superb as is Nigel Bruce (who you may remember as Watson from the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Solmes B-movies of the 40's). The badies fare equally as well Raymon Massey's Citizen Chauvlin comes across as a despicable and unscrupulous adversary for Sir Percy Blakney to match wits with. The period settings are well realised, costumes and backgrounds are sumptuous. Although it has to be said depending on your point of view the politics of the film could be viewed as morally dubious (after all should we be siding with the aristocracy who were living in luxury while the common people starved?). There is also a little overacting in places for my liking but this was the style of the time and the plot does drag in places in the middle section of the film.
Overall I enjoyed the film and would recommend it to most people not adverse to the older style of film making. 7/10
The Scarlet Blade (1963)
Swashbuckler from the renowned Hammer studio who are more famous for their classic horror movies. This movie suffers from some poor casting decisions and a general lack of dynamic action to set the pace in a genre that demands excitement. Jack Hedley just doesn't suit as the hero and Oliver Read is much more interesting as the bad guy I think Reed could have done a better job in the lead role (he did go on to play Athos in Richard Lesters production of the Three Musketeers).
The script is generally poor and no one comes out to well in the acting stakes but this could have been excused had there been some great set pieces but action is another element somewhat lacking in what is a fairly disappointing movie by any standards 4/10
Huo yuanjia (2006)
Jet Li's Last Marshal Arts Epic
If this is to be Jet Li's last martial arts epic he has signed off on a relative high note. It's not his greatest film but certainly worth a look for the fight scenes alone which manage to be both graceful and brutal in equal measure. The story is fairly basic and I get the feeling that some minor nuances are lost in translation to English.
Apart from the fight scenes where this film really scores is in showing the nature of those whose life is defined by combat. Overall this is a worthy effort and while it doesn't scale the heights of Hero it's certainly worth checking out for any fan of the genre.
Not quite up there with the best of its genre but an entertaining and thought provoking piece of martial arts cinema 7/10
Oscar For Sure
Well it's that time of year again for Hollywood to go all sincere and provide earnest performances, inspirational stories and the usual Oscar bait. Dreamgirls certainly ticks all the boxes necessary and for the first hour it provides a lot more. The opening is superb and draws you in straight away and all the Dreamgirls are charismatic and likable, Murphy is superb as Jimmy Early, Foxx as the devious manager and Glover as an old school promoter also play their part. But after a bright and breezy 40 mins the film starts to drag, issues are skipped over. Race issues are touched upon, the tangle of relationships of the girls is also given a bit of time but nothing seems to come into focus. Add to this what is meant to be a rousing conclusion and I cant help but think that Dreamgirls is a plastic Oscar product.
Having said that the songs are superb and all performed extremely well and anyone into the Motown sound will get a kick out of spotting the sound a likes. But for a film that focuses on singers with real soul its a quality surprisingly lacking in the film itself.
6/10 - Probably an Oscar winner but in a few years it will be long forgotten.
The 13th Warrior (1999)
Good movie but needed a longer running time
Antonio Banderas stars in this action filled re-telling of Norse legend. As an Arabian warrior he is taken with 12 Scandanavian warriors to do battle with a mysterious foe deep in the wilderness in order to save a village from extinction. Filled with action what this film lacks is some more time on character and story development to give it that epic feel. Performances and direction are good but it feels like you never really get to know anymore than one or two of the heroes so consequently you never feel involved when they are in peril and ultimately when some die. The ending is also confusing and doesn't make to much sense when you think about it.
Overall this is an enjoyable movie that with a little more could have gone from a 6/10 to an 8 or 9.
Not in the same league as Lord of the Rings or even Conan! But fantasy and epic fans will have a lot of fun with this and everyone else will find some enjoyment from the action scenes 6/10
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Possibly Pacino's best performance and simply a great film
Dog Day Afternoon is the story of Sonny an incompetent bank robber and his partner Sal as they bungle their way through their first heist to an ultimately tragic conclusion.
Pacino is at his best in this film in a career filled with legendary performances (The Godfather, Serpico etc) this ranks for me as his best. Some how from the outset he makes us feel sympathy for Sonny who more than likely isn't actually a very nice guy (he is after all robbing a bank!). Backed up by by a similarly excellent performance by John Cazale (a tragedy he died at 43 leaving only five performances on film) as Sal his un-stable partner. Veteran Charles Durning is perfect for the role of the in over his head Policeman who has to deal with the media storm as well as the hostage situation.
As the heist spirals out of control all involved lose the plot with the highlight being the arrival of Sonny's 'wife' to the scene. It's then we find out his true motivation and how his struggle to break free from the everyday mundane life he leads has lead him to such a drastic course of action.
Direction and script are superb with everything just right always serious in tone but there are moments of laugh out loud madness. That it's based on a true story makes it's emotional punch even stronger.
Entertaining, involving and thought provoking everything a serious movie should be 9/10
The Scorpion King (2002)
Great idea for a fun movie but the magic doesn't happen
I enjoyed the Mummy films they were just feel good throw away fun. So I was quite looking forward to another instalment and was hopeful that the Rock could carry off a transition from wrestling ring to movie screen smoothly. Unfortunately what happened is an insipid script, some dire acting and third rate special effects which leave the audience cold. The fun is just not here and it's a real shame it just didn't happen. On the plus side Kelly Hu looks amazing but thats about all that can be recommended from this.
Although one funny thing is people on message boards pointing out historical accuracies in this and the mummy films, gee because I thought they were real! Better luck next time guys if Mummy 3 ever happens it better be better than this! 4/10
Duck Soup (1933)
Amazing still funny more than 70 years on
Surely one of the most famous if not the most famous comedy team ever the Marx Brothers star in whats considered their masterpiece. This was the first Marx Brothers film I ever saw and it made me want to see all the others. But when I came to this movie I really wasn't sure what to expect, as such i'll write this comment for those of you who have never seen a Marx Brothers film and hopefully it will encourage you to see it.
First off yes of course it looks a bit dated (being over 70 years old!) but the restored DVD is better quality than expected. The humour however has lost nothing in fact some lines are delivered so dead pan and quickly that you find something new to laugh at nearly every time you watch. Each Marx brother has a distinct personality and type of humour which sparks off the others, Groucho has the one liners, Chico the zaniness and Harpo the physical comedy and just plain weirdness, Zeppo is the straight man (who barely features in this his last film with the brothers).
The plot is at times seems irrelevant just a framework to hang the zany gags off, but strangely there can be seen some definite commentary under the humour. At times it feels like a Loony Toon cartoon come to life and this is just as timeless. The one liners hit the mark every time the slapstick is hilarious and the zaniness never overpowers. If you've never seen a Marx Brothers film before please do as it really will make you laugh like no other. It's also fun to see just how many people this has influenced, just about everyone who followed was inspired by the antics of the Marx Brothers 8/10 - Possibly the best comedy ever? Maybe it's up there with the best, Monty Python and The Holy Grail, Airplane etc.