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Entertaining and moving, but with its flaws.
2 March 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Dreamwork's latest offering draws its inspiration from a series of cartoon sketches featured in "Bullwinkle and friends" from the 1950's. Mr Peabody is the smartest being in the world (who just happens to be a dog) and Sherman is his human adopted son.

"Mr Peabody and Sherman" is an enjoyable romp through history as the principal characters time travel their way through the past, by use of Mr Peabody's invention "the WABAC". The main purpose of this invention was to help Sherman learn first hand about the events of history under the protection of his adopted father. Rather predictably, things go wrong when unqualified persons use the WABAC and begin to cause havoc with the space-time continuum. But can the Nobel prize winning canine repair the damage and save the day ?

A sub-plot has Sherman coming up against bullying at school for being super intelligent and mockery for having a dog as an adopted father. When Sherman defends himself, the evil school counsellor "Miss Grunion" (who is clearly jealous of Mr Peabody's intellect and achievements) threatens to take the boy out of his custody. She also further humiliates him by treating him as nothing more than a dog that belongs in the pound.

Most of the characters the time travellers encounter in history are very "Americanised" and "Agamemnon" especially sounds like he belongs in New York rather than Troy.

On one level, this film is a light hearted piece of children's entertainment, but it certainly has something for adults as well. Central to the story is Mr Peabody's genuine love for Sherman and the trials and tribulations of being a good father to him. Its touching to see how far he will go to protect him and educate him properly throughout. The "beautiful boy" montage was especially moving.

A cut above many modern children's movies.
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A low budget vanity project that misfires.
23 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
"Intimate with a Stranger" is the kind of film that can only really be described as someones wish fulfilment put onto celluloid. Producer and leading man Mangin turner has invented for himself here an interesting fantasy world where he is a college professor turned Alcoholic Gigolo due to relationship troubles.

Turner does a bit of a "Hank Moody" turn as the frustrated intellectual who is satisfying women in which ever way they ask for, mentally or sexually. Unfortunately he never convinces you that he is anything other than a man on an ego trip in a role that he dreams of playing in real life. Perhaps he did.

Many low budget movies make up for their lack of finance by giving you a central message and sharp dialogue to underpin it. I'm afraid this does neither. The film is filled with talky scenes and where it badly falls down is the lack of credibility in the execution. Fine, he's drinking heavily presumably out of self loathing, but there is no sense of the inner turmoil coming from him or frankly that what he's doing really bothers him at all. The basic premise that he has become a man whore on the back of a rocky relationship, is absurd. If he wanted to sleep around, he could. I don't really think a college professor would go the whole hog and set up a "knocking shop" as way to ease his troubles. At least it gives the leading man an opportunity to strip off for the camera.

All the scenes take place indoors other than a few shots of Miami beach side roads where our hero motorcycles up and down in tight jeans and lays the foundation for his image. The supporting cast is OK, but with any film of this nature, they are given little to work with but their lines.

At the films conclusion, he gets his girlfriend back even though she knows he's been a rent boy (catching him at it in one scene) for some time. The final screen shot of them smiling away is particularly cringe worthy.

Ultimately a disappointment and not a film i would recommend.
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Will Penny (1967)
Touching and faithful adult western
24 August 2010
If any western that I have seen feels authentic to the old west it is "Will Penny". The Inyo County, California locations are wonderful and the cowboys at work scenes are refreshingly honest.

The basic storyline serves as a template to work more on character development and the cast (full of western stalwarts) do not disappoint.

Charlton Heston as Will Penny is on great form as the vulnerable, middle aged man of the plains. He is a little backward but unfailingly truthful and decent. He and his friends "Blue" and "Dutchy" represent the best principles of old west comradeship and his approach to Mrs Allen and her son "H.G" shows with tenderness what he has craved to have all his life but knows it is too late to embrace.

I found Donald Pleasence a bit over the top as the evil "Preacher Quint", but his portrayal is entertaining if nothing else. Ben Johnson, Slim Pickens and Lee majors all do a good job in support and Joan Hackett is completely convincing as the lone mother in search of a better life.

Very much a film for those viewers who like to experience, feel and be touched by a well written story and its characters.
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Boston Legal (2004–2008)
Denny Crane and Alan Shore .... enough said !
24 August 2010
Boston Legal is one of the best takes on a TV legal drama that I have seen. It manages to mix drama and comedy pretty well for the most part and introduces us to Alan and Denny who are magnetic characters, played to perfection by James Spader and an incredible William Shatner. To review this whole 5 season series (which i have steadily worked through on DVD over the last 2 months) would take forever, so let me highlight a few good and bad points as i see them.

Season 1 & 2 had a sharper edge and better dialogue than subsequent seasons. It felt almost as if they were searching for better ratings from season 3 onwards and chose to introduce characters and plots which would deliberately jazz things up a bit. In my opinion the show suffered because of this.

The characters Jefferey Coho, Claire Simms, Lorraine Weller and Clarence / Clarice Bell added virtually nothing to the show that wasn't there already (other than the cross dressing element) and as they failed to perk up ratings its almost as if David E Kelly thought "well... tried some new faces, didn't work, lets write them out and try something else."

I also felt that the writers seemed to ignore the more obvious direction that they could have taken, which would have been to flesh out the Denny and Alan characters even more. You are treated to some glimpses of their past when they are discussing their lives on the balcony, but Dennys brilliant former career is never seen first hand and Alans many previous painful issues are only represented in the narrative. Perhaps if even more screen time had been given to these two instead of trying to continually bolster up the supporting characters, the show would have been more successful.

The recurring theme of the lawyers in the show standing trial for their various indiscretions and always getting away with it was an over used plot and began to wear a bit thin. Similarly, I can only recall one trial verdict of any kind that didn't go in favour of Mssrs Crane, Poole and Schmidt.

There were flashes of poetry with this show that i felt genuinely moved by. To name a few .....

  • Alans closing argument to allow Shirleys father the right to a dignified death

  • Dennys dominant yet tender legal confrontation with his "son" Donny.

  • Alans arguing against the death penalty in front of the supreme court

  • Paul's fatherly approach to everyone at the firm.

  • Alans good and honest heart (which he tries hard to conceal)

  • The brilliant portrayal of Jerry Espenson by Christain Clemenson

  • The unbreakable friendship between Denny and Alan, and subsequently between most of the characters at Crane, Poole and Schmidt.

In summation (may as well use the legal terminology), despite the shows many lulls and obvious flaws, I absolutely loved it. William Shatner is a revelation in his role and James Spader is Perfect in his.

On a personal note, I have lost count of the times my wife has gone ballistic because I have responded to a situation or question by simply saying in the appropriate tone ................. "Denny Crane!"
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Absolute garbage of the lowest order.
30 March 2010
I have just sat through "Inglorious Basterds" which i bought on DVD today. The only thing that made the two and a half hours viewing bearable was the amount of wine i was drinking.

If Tarantino has to resort to parodies, homages, ripping off old theme music ( did anyone else remember the music from "Kelly's Heroes" used in the cinema scene near the end ?) and boring us all S***less with pointless dialogues in foreign languages that neither enhance the characters or stories, I suggest he quits now.

There is little character development, totally over the top violence (meaningless), a preposterous story, wooden acting (pitt in particular), Continuity errors a-plenty and holes in the script that you could drive a Nazi staff car through.

When is he going to get it through his head that he doesn't have Carte Blanche to do what ever the hell he wants with a new offering just because "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction" broke new ground in the early 90's ? He follows the same format, breaking the "story" down into chapters and mixing up scenes, because thats all he knows but fails miserably. If a film isn't credible or entertaining then the audience is being conned, pure and simple.

Having watched Quentin Tarantino descend from the most original film maker around to someone who churns out crap like "death Proof" and "Inglorious Basterds" I can honestly say that I'm not going to give him another chance with my viewing money.

I suggest he takes his head out of his posterior and remembers that the viewing public will one day bury him if this shameless self indulgence continues.
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Harry Brown (2009)
Michael Caine still has the class to carry a film.
14 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Daniel Barbers disturbing vision of life on a South London Council estate was filmed in and around the Elephant and castle where leading man Michael Caine actually spent his formative years.

As the film's protagonist, the titular "Harry Brown" Caine plays a retired ex-marine who loses his wife to illness in the opening stage of the film. Clinging to his old moral values, disciplined and always wearing a tie, he is an example of the post war generation who are becoming fewer and fewer on the estate. His only enjoyment seems to be having a drink and a game of chess in his local pub with his friend Leonard. When Leonard reacts to the increasing violence on the estate by confronting the gang responsible, he is brutally murdered. Harry is informed by the police of this incident and it hurts him terribly, telling the police that they are powerless to do anything about it. Slowly and almost imperceptibly, Harry snaps and decides that he is going to sort it out the old fashioned way.

It is obvious that this film owes much to Michael Winners "Death Wish" (1974) but this story is so much more bleak and depressing. The young actors who play the gang members are so realistic that they are uncomfortable to watch. The story shows you failings in society at every level and a police division run by a superintendent who is content to put up token resistance and little else. Harry Brown does what most people would like to do deep down inside and take the fight to the criminals.

Michael Caine does a great job of getting the best out of a poor script that doesn't give enough dialogue to flesh out the characters properly. He makes the transition from pensioner to vigilante credibly and without becoming a totally different character. The limited sets add an effective touch of claustrophobia but I found the unrelenting depictions of sleaze and urban decay a bit tough to take. There are some very uncomfortable scenes of drug use and violence also, particularly the climactic shoot out in the pub. The supporting cast are competent enough with Ben Drew standing out in his role as the particularly nasty young scum bag "Noel" . Emily Mortimer as DI Frampton is fairly inert and has only one facial expression and a vague attitude throughout the whole film which puts you off feeling much for her character.

"Harry Brown" is not a pleasant film to watch, but it is certainly an experience which will pull on every one of your your emotions and is impossible to ignore.
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A Cult classic of 70's cinema.
10 September 2009
I'm always fascinated by some of the wonderful and lesser known cult films from the 1970's. The Grainy film stock, the reliance on character and story rather than effects. "Rolling Thunder" is an excellent noir / revenge example of how atmosphere and the "less is more" style can propel a movie along in such a gripping way. With a screenplay by Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver) and a haunting theme song by Denny Brooks, this is a quality example of the genre.

Major Charles Rane (William Devane) is a man who has been pushed beyond his limits during an eight year incarceration in the Hanoi Hilton. Returning home with his friend Sergeant Vohgel (Tommy Lee Jones)and being a minor celebrity to his home town, He is presented with a new Cadillac car and a briefcase full of silver dollars (one for every day he was a POW) He tries to adapt to civilian life with his wife, who is now engaged to another man, and his son who doesn't remember him. Any chance at healing his soul is destroyed when a gang of thugs show up at his house to steal the silver dollars. After trying to torture the location (unsuccessfully) of the briefcase out of the Major, his son reveals where it is in an effort to spare his father any more pain. Once in possession of the money they kill his wife and son as they witnessed the crime and leave him for dead. Big Mistake.

This is a complex film which shows you a traumatised and quiet protagonist who is emotionally dead inside. Having suffered so much already , he can barely show any emotion over losing his family. When he decides to hunt the killers down, there are no outbursts just a cold resolve to do what he must.

Devane and Jones are excellent as two men who share an unbreakable bond of camaraderie and are both destroyed by the horrors they suffered in Vietnam. Its interesting how neither fear conflict but are both uneasy in their own homes. Linda Haynes gives good support as a waitress who is attracted to Rane and his celebrity but then realises he is psychologically existing on a different level.

One of the most interesting "revenge" films that i've seen due to the complex nature of the characters and the total lack of glorification involved in the scenes of violence. There are similarities to "The Wild Bunch" (1969) and the final shootout is a scene worthy of Peckinpah himself.

(At time of writing, this film is only available on a Spanish import DVD or rare VHS copies which you might be able to track down on e bay. Lets hope for a studio DVD release soon.)
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One of the best "bad" movies you'll ever see !
28 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This cheesy 80's classic with it's awful continuity, dreadful script, half baked story and wooden acting still rates as one of my favourite films of its kind.

The plot is loosely based around Dolph Lundgren's character "Kenner" setting out for revenge on the Yakuza Oyabun "Yoshida" who killed his parents when he was a child. Years later Kenner is an LA cop and crosses paths once more with Yoshida when he comes to the USA to set up a drugs syndicate.

As you'd expect, you get to watch Dolph and his side kick played by Brandon Lee kicking ass and shooting holes in everything that moves. There are a bevy of good looking, half naked women on display, the most delicious of which is a young Tia Carrere.

My personal favourite in all the filming errors has to be when Kenner sustains a gunshot wound and immediately clasps his shoulder in pain followed by the words ..."Its OK, it went straight through". A moment later the camera views him from the rear and there is no exit wound ! Even better though, a few moments later the camera re-focuses on Kenners naked chest and the bullet wound is no where near his shoulder, its actually in the left lung / heart region ! I don't think he would be in any state to carry on fighting with that injury !!!

Because "Showdown in little Tokyo" refuses to take itself seriously, much in the same mould as John Carpenters "Big trouble in Little china" did, all you have to do is relax and enjoy the total self indulgence that this film allows you !

Great fun. 7 out of 10.
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Revenge (I) (1990)
Atmospheric and well acted, a bit of a sleeper.
15 May 2009
Kevin Costner in his early days managed to convey a rawness to his characters that was seldom seen after he made "Dances with Wolves" and became a successful producer. Films such as "No Way Out" (1987), "Bull Durham" (1988) and of course "Revenge" (1990) showed him when he was trying to establish his career and you could feel the actor at work rather than the movie maker.

In "Revenge" Costner plays US Navy pilot Michael "Jay" Cochran who is retiring after 12 years in the service. He seems to have lost direction and wants to take some time out for himself. He plans first to go and see his old friend and Tennis partner Tiburon "Tibby" Mendez (Anthony Quinn) who is a powerful mob boss in Mexico. Exactly why they are friends is a little unclear but it seems that Tibby owes Jay a debt for saving his life at some point in the past. Once Jay arrives at the Mendez Hacienda he meets Miryea (Madeleine Stowe) Tibby's wife. Instantly attracted to one another and although initially fighting the chemistry between them, they begin an affair, which comes with massive consequences.

This film has elements of "The Wild Bunch" (1969) to it and the location shooting in Mexico adds so much to the atmosphere and tensity of the story. There are seamy and claustrophobic qualities to many of the situations which are enhanced beautifully by the background. The acting is nicely understated, Costner manages to display a barely restrained anger throughout the second part of the film and Anthony Quinn is convincing as the superficially charming but totally ruthless mobster. Madelaine Stowe is OK as the female lead but struggles with a Mexican accent and seems a bit uncomfortable with the innocence that her character is supposed to portray.

"Revenge" was commercially unsuccessful but is one of those movies that deserves to be seen. Costner, being an actor of limited range, was always best at these type of roles. When he behaves rather than acts, you get to see the best of him.

If I have any complaints, I believe the denouement of the story, although certainly interesting, doesn't quite fit. The build up to it promises something more of a violent showdown and the character of Jay would seem by this point to be poised to take his "revenge". Perhaps the downbeat finish was done to avoid "going Hollywood" with a big finale and as i mentioned it is certainly effective, but leaves a general feeling that there is business still to be done.

An interesting and entertaining movie that is well worth viewing.
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Se7en (1995)
A dark and disturbing masterpiece.
6 May 2009
It is a rarity for a film to be completely unsettling and yet unrelentingly gripping.

David Fincher's story takes place in a bleak and constantly raining city (never named) where urban decay and sleaze in all forms are rampant. Coming up to his retirement from the police force is Detective Lieutenant Somerset (Morgan Freeman) who is tasked with breaking in his replacement, Detective Sergeant Mills (Brad Pitt) before leaving. Somerset is world weary, under no illusions about the futility of the daily role he plays and (initially) wants nothing more than to escape the grime and violence of the city. Mills on the other hand is convinced that he is going to make a real difference having voluntarily transferred to this precinct, bringing his wife to the city with him. Before Somerset can move on, a homicide comes in which he and Mills are assigned to investigate. But its only the first of a string of ritual murders that will be committed by a killer who is basing his crimes on the seven deadly sins as depicted in Dante's "The divine comedy".

To begin with, Se7en appears to be a standard "cops on the trail of a killer" story which shouldn't be too difficult for the audience to get comfortable with. But as we descend along with the characters into the merciless, brutal world without hope that they inhabit, you are left reeling at the events that unfold.

The two detectives enjoy an uneasy relationship with no real friendship ever striking up between them. The older Somerset is educated, astute and gives the impression of being emotionally burnt out. Mills, who has no respect for Somersets methodical investigating gets excited at the thought of solving a murder and firmly believes that the good guys will win eventually. The further we get into the action, the might of the evil that they face pushes both men beyond their limits.

This film draws heavily on biblical themes and you can certainly see similarities with such films as "The Seventh Seal" (1957). Both films show the price that good men have to pay when they fight evil and the unsettling truth that the rule book goes straight out the window when you are dealing with something so diabolical that it has no boundaries or limits at all.

Se7en shows us a world which has been destroyed by its own sins, a wasteland in which values are minimal. The killer, having nothing but contempt for this world, sees it as his mission to expose the faults and show everyone what they have become. It is a fascinating twist that when the killers motives become clearer, Somerset with his greater understanding actually feels some degree of empathy with him. This is lost on Mills though, whose level of clarity never reaches the same point.

A previous reviewer mentioned that you begin to expect the unexpected whilst watching Se7en and i completely agree. Eventually if you think of the most obvious outcome in any situation and predict that the opposite will happen, it usually does. Even the finale itself became kind of predictable because by then you are conditioned not to have any hope. This is a minor flaw though because the story is so well and so shockingly told.

Director David Fincher didn't pick up another script for 18 months, such was his exhaustion and frustration following the completion of Alien 3. Apparently he agreed to direct se7en after one reading of Andrew Kevin Walkers screenplay because he was drawn to its hard hitting delivery about inhumanity. He stated: "It's psychologically violent. It implies so much, not about why you did but how you did it". For the camera work specially altered film stock was used to make the visuals look as dark and unsettling as possible which is complemented well by Howard Shores music score.

The Most disturbing message that Se7en puts across, is that the fight against evil is destined to be a Pyrrhic victory. But regardless the only thing we can do is fight on whatever the cost. We have no other choice.

"The World is a fine place and worth fighting for." I agree with the second part.
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Mutual Friends (2008– )
"Thirty / Forty Something" from a Stereo typed BBC point of view.
25 March 2009
The story essentially revolves around the events that follow the suicide of one member of a group of friends and the subsequent revelations that come to light about his true self and the other members of the group as the story unfolds.

At face value this is a reasonable BBC production which attempts to be a comedy with a conscience about youngish Brits living in the South east of England (the series was filmed in Henley on Thames.) I certainly found quite a bit to laugh at whilst watching this show but also a lot to find quite irritating. The problem with the majority of BBC shows such as this, is that there are so many stereo types and "Politically correct" characters and situations in the script. From the hopeless wimpy lawyer with a wife far sexier than he deserves to the token black family to the brain dead widow removed from reality in every sense. It all adds up to a "hotch-potch" of what the writers think is the norm these days.

The saving grace in the whole proceedings is Alexander Armstrong who does a great job as Patrick the entrepreneur / Lothario of the gang. He is concerned mostly with losing his business "cucumber" which acts as a media agency to his arch rival ( the rival also happens to be after his girlfriend Liz.) As animated as his character is, his reactions to the issues faced come across as the more realistic and he alone keeps the show fun.

The best jokes and ideas come in the first half of the series after which you noticeably see the script and story run out of steam. The finale, which is largely concerned with which of the two suitors Liz will choose (Patrick or his business and personal rival Harry) is not particularly satisfying and whilst it provides you with a resolution of events, it isn't the fireworks that you'd hoped for.

I'd be surprised if the show is renewed for a second series.

(21/10/09 - "The show was not recommissioned by the BBC due to low ratings. Anil Gupta also attributed the demise of the series to the departure of Peter Fincham, the controller of BBC One, in 2008." - Wikipedia.)
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Routine and overlong cop drama.
9 December 2008
"We Own the night" is the story of Bobby Green (Joaquin Phoenix), a nightclub manager who has chosen a life of partying, drugs and gambling which is in stark contrast to his police captain brother (Mark Wahlberg) and police chief father (Robert Duvall). As the film progresses, Bobby is forced to choose between staying loyal to his drug dealing Boss or siding with his family.

The greatest problem with this film is that its been done so many times before and with much better results. "Mean Streets" (1973), "The Departed" (2006) to name but a few. Director James Gray is obviously trying to do a Scorsese type feature here but it falls far short of expectations.

Joaquin Phoenix mumbles his way through the story with a one note performance and shows that he isn't capable of being a credible lead. The change his character goes through is implausible and Phoenix never gives you any reason to believe the metamorphosis as he doesn't act any differently through the whole process. The Script gives Robert Duvall (one of my favourite actors) little to do other than get angry at someone or something whenever he's on screen and Mark Wahlberg underplays his part so much that he's actually boring. The stunning Eva Mendes doesn't seem to do anything significant other than get groped in the opening scene by Phoenix. After that she seems to be there to provide the "eye candy" only.

The script is fairly weak and the plot does not justify the running time, 30 minutes less could easily have been achieved. There are also many situations that the characters get themselves into which no sensible adult would allow themselves to. This really stretches credibility and suspension of disbelief. Also, you'll particularly enjoy how inept the Hit-men are in this film ! The final showdown itself feels contrived and unexciting which caps off an uneven and somewhat thrown together production. I don't understand the rapturous applause that other reviewers have given this film, its been done so much better elsewhere.

"We own the night" is a misfire in my opinion.
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Hope Springs (2003)
Such a Shame.
1 December 2008
My girlfriend has this movie on Video and has hammered on at me to see it for some time. Last weekend I finally watched the shambles that is "Hope Springs." The Plot is fairly straight forward, English artist (Colin Firth) has his heart broken by his fiancée so goes to a small American town in the middle of no where to get over his pain. Once there he meets a care nurse of sorts (Heather Graham) and they begin to have feelings for one another. Then.... the ex turns up (Minnie Driver) and the "fireworks" begin.

To echo previous reviews, I think this film fails on every level. The story is so achingly simple that with the right actors and a sharp, witty script this could have been a hidden gem. However, it just plays like a movie that should have been shelved by the studio. Its that bad.

Colin Firth seems to still be "dining out" on the fact that he made an impression in the publics mind as Mr Darcy in the BBC version of Pride and prejudice in 1995. He keeps playing the same half arse bumbling Brit no matter what role he appears in. The audience is supposed to believe that Minnie Driver and Heather Graham are desperate to snag this man. Ridiculous. The afore mentioned ladies do a reasonable job with what they're given, Driver coming across as smolderingly sexy in a few scenes which stands out amongst the other very average performances.

Mary Steenburgen and Oliver Platt are absolutely wasted in their supporting roles which is criminal given that they would both have been capable of saving this mess with more to do. The editing is poor, certain plot points are introduced and left dangling without resolution and the continuity is puzzling. The events that unfold feel so stage managed and preposterous that you'll be left shaking your head in disbelief.

I wish I could find something positive to say about this film, but how can you praise a "romantic comedy" that neither tugs at your heart strings nor inspires laughter.
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The Swimmer (1968)
Way ahead of its time film about the falseness of the American Dream.
4 November 2008
Warning: Spoilers
"The Swimmer" is a one of a kind movie, adapted from a John Cheever short story.

The Film opens with the sound of footsteps moving through the woods accompanied by a low eerie music. Occasionally animals and scenes of nature both in daylight and at night come into the cameras focus. The camera moves along looking at trees, a lake and the wildlife clearly representing what someone is seeing as they walk along. Eventually, a man clad only in a pair of black swimming trunks emerges from the woods, skips up to the edge of a suburban swimming pool and dives in. Having swum a couple of lengths he is greeted at one end by the owner of the house holding out a drink and welcoming him to come and join his guests. The Swimmer is Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster) and it soon becomes apparent that everyone at the house knows him and is happy to see him. He is charming and charismatic with the male guests and flirtatious with the females who obviously find him attractive. The other guests have not seen him for quite some time and when Ned is asked where he has been he evasively states "here and there." When further questioned if he has had a good summer he replies "sure, just great." The guests then begin to look puzzled when he gives answers to further questions that just don't seem to make any sense. They exchange confused looks and clearly know something that we don't. Ned, whilst looking out over the Connecticut valley begins to get an idea that he could swim in stages back to his house by using briefly the pools of several of his neighbours. he boldly announces that today he plans to "swim across the county !"

As Ned visits each house and swims in each pool something more is revealed about his life and how he has behaved towards others in the past. Some people are pleased to see him, others are contemptuous of him and a few downright hate the sight of him.

What becomes clear (SPOILER AHEAD) is that Ned has been away for a long time and re emerges into the life he once knew believing that it is about two years earlier than the present. He appears to have been a high flying Manhattan advertising executive who had the house, the car, the wife and the money but lost it all by living a life of pure selfishness. We are told that he married into the upper middle class and seems to have been given most of the success he enjoyed. At the various different pools he is revealed as a cheating husband, a bad father, a crook and a "fair weather friend". The result of his behaviour was that his wife either kicked him out or he was fired from his job or both.

It is possible that Ned's fall from grace brought about a nervous breakdown which has led to his memory loss and distorted view of reality. He may have even been hospitalised for the period that he is absent from the neighbourhood, but the absence is never explained. It is also unclear what became of his wife and daughters. They might simply have left him, but there are hints that they may actually be dead.

The final scene where Ned eventually arrives "home" and his disillusionment is brought crashing back to reality is a great piece of symbolic storytelling.

Most of "The Swimmer" was shot in 1966 and finally released in 1968. Maybe back then audiences weren't ready to question the themes that are raised. Central to the story is the falseness of the American dream and how if you're not "somebody" you're not only a nobody, but you're also not even welcome. The film "American Beauty" made in 1998 takes the same swipe at society and is a great film in its own right, but "The Swimmer" made thirty years earlier, is so much more effective at exposing the corrupt underbelly of the professional suburban existence.

Burt Lancaster played many memorable roles and was certainly in much more enjoyable movies, but I think he does his finest acting in "The Swimmer." He is perfect as the arrogant yet vulnerable and bemused Ned who cant work out whats going on. The movie does appear dated today and the musical score is very sixties, but any serious film fan should definitely see this at least once. It really is unforgettable.
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A brilliantly told tale of a family falling apart .
3 November 2008
The title "Shoot the moon" refers to a move that can be made in a card game where the highest possible outcome can be obtained by the risky strategy of achieving the lowest possible score. This description symbolises the events that happen as the story unfolds.

Director Alan Parker (Midnight express, Angel Heart) made one of the most haunting movies about human reaction to a domestic crisis ever done with "Shoot the Moon." Featuring a beautifully written script by Bo Goldman (one flew over the cuckoo's nest) and well measured performances by a solid cast.

The film begins with George Dunlap (Albert Finney) and his wife Faith (Diane Keaton) attending an awards dinner. It is clear from the outset that the marriage is in trouble. George is sarcastic and snaps comments at his wife, whilst Faith is distant and preoccupied. The early scenes, brilliantly underplayed by the two leads, show a couple who keep up appearances for their children and colleagues but who privately have lost their way.

When it is revealed that George is having an affair with another woman, the ensuing sequence of events depict a complete breakdown in the family unit with each member of the house reacting differently to the drama.

The scene where Diane Keaton is soaking in the bath and manages to convey a dozen different emotions with her facial expressions whilst singing "If I fell" is incredibly moving. Perhaps even more powerful a scene though, is where George turns up to the family home unannounced to give his eldest daughter her birthday present, only to be shut out of the existence he used to be a part of and treated as an unwanted outsider. It is a sequence shown with characters displaying desperate and raw emotions completely without sentiment as the gravity of what George has done becomes evident.

Finney and Keaton are on top of their game here as is a young Dana Hill (who tragically died prematurely from diabetes) whose scenes with Finney are heartbreaking. Peter Weller also gives good support with a subtle performance as the new man in Faith's life.

A scene where the two leads have a fight over dinner in a hotel feels a bit out of place with the somber tone of the rest of the movie and was probably added to give some comic relief to the audience after so much depression. The film makers also seemed to go "Hollywood" with the ending which seems out of sorts with the rest of the story.

When Oscar time came around in 1982, "Shoot the Moon" was ignored. The film's depressing story was certainly out of character with the main stream features of the day, but more significantly a factor perhaps was that Robert Redfords "Ordinary People" had already covered the family falling to pieces story in 1980 and the academy had honoured the film heavily. There was likely a reluctance by the academy voters to recognise a similar film in the same way so soon.

"Shoot the Moon" is a harrowing tale of how decisions have tragic consequences for others and how sometimes you only realise what kept you going in life, after you've thrown it away.
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"I had to go see about a girl"
29 October 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This is one of those films that you cant help walking away from without being touched in some way. All of the central themes to adult life are explored and exposed by a very good cast. Friendship, love, pain, the past holding back who we could be in the present, acceptance (or not) of our place in society.

"Good Will Hunting" is the story of Will Hunting played by Matt Damon. He is a young man who is a mathematical genius but has no formal education and who is so traumatised by his past that he will not allow himself to be the man he could with his talents. Will works as a Janitor, but chose the Massachusetts institute of technology (the finest mathematical institution in America as we are told) as the place to work in order to be close to an outlet for his brilliance. Early on in the story, the resident Maths guru Professor Gerry Lambeau sets a problem for his students to solve which should take the whole semester for the average mind. When this problem is solved and written on the faculty blackboard the very next morning, he sets another that took him personally two years to solve. The following day he is conversing with a colleague when he witnesses Will writing down the perfect solution on the blackboard again. The Professor realises he has a genius hiding in his midst.

When Will is later involved in a fight, he is eventually given the choice between a short prison term or working with the Professor on a daily basis and also attending psychiatric therapy sessions. Will chooses the latter but uses the therapy sessions as a chance to mock the Psychiatrists assigned to him and show off his knowledge. When no one else will work with him, Professor Lambeau turns to his old room mate at college, Sean MacGuire (played by Robin Williams on Oscar winning form.) who manages to reach the boy emotionally and start to repair the damage that has been done to him.

It is widely known that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck co wrote the screen play as a reaction to their slow progress in establishing Hollywood careers. It is a testament to their talent as writers that they came up with so many touching scenes and passages of dialogue. In particular, Williams monologue to Damon when sat on the park bench is sublime. Wills relationship with "Skylar" (played by Minnie Driver) is perfectly believable and as the story unfolds the viewer can see the change in Wills character from the cocky kid, pushing everyone away, to the young man who understands who he could be with the right encouragement.

There are very few flaws to be found in this film, largely because the story is so well told and Robin Williams performance is worth the entry price alone. It is a genuinely touching experience which relates to so many people and is easy to empathise with in real life. The characters are richly written and they are all interdependent in the telling of the proceedings. You really care what happens to these people.

I could "nick pick" and draw attention to the psychiatrist scenes in Robert Redfords "Ordinary People" (1980) which bear close resemblance to the ones in "Good Will Hunting" but I think Damon and Affleck just took the bar up another notch with their interpretation of the Doctor / Patient working relationship.

All in all an uplifting and worthwhile movie going experience which will stay with you long after you leave the cinema.
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Passenger 57 (1992)
A small winner of a film all round.
28 October 2008
"Passenger 57" is one of the many films that followed in the wake of the action film that re invented the genre, 1988's "Die Hard" with Bruce Willis in the lead. When I first saw P57, rented on video in the mid nineties, I wasn't expecting a re-run of Die Hard, but i was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable an action flick it was.

Wesley Snipes and Bruce Payne spark well off each other as the troubled hero and psychotic villain. They are given competent support by the rest of the cast, although one of my small complaints is how under utilised the other actors are. That said, Ernie Lively does a nice turn as the local police chief and Robert Hooks (father of director Kevin Hooks) is good as an FBI Agent.

Essentially, Passenger 57 is a solid little action movie which is well paced and has enough intriguing characters and good action scenes to keep you interested right through to the finale. The story is perhaps a little thin and the script could have used a bit more depth to develop the characters, but it's very enjoyable none the less.

Don't view this expecting a great movie, but if you have an hour and a half to kill this film is well worth a watch.
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Open Water (2003)
No where near as good as the marketing hype.
24 October 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The first time I became aware of "Open Water" was driving home one night in 2003 stuck in the usual traffic jam when i noticed a huge bill board advertising the movie. "Blair witch meets Jaws !" was the slogan above an image of two petrified characters in the ocean with a large shark fin in front of them. Being a big fan of Jaws and having been impressed by the Blair witch project I decided I would see it when released. I was further intrigued when i read the premise for the story. After I finished college i spent some time in, among other places, Cairns, Australia where I have family. There was a great deal of talk about the Outer Edge and the peace core workers Tom and Eileen Lonergan who had disappeared. Armed with all the details I had learnt from the locals in Cairns two years before Open Water was released, this became a must see for me.

Unfortunately it was a huge disappointment. The movie omitted most of the interesting elements of the real story. You are presented with two unlikable characters who we are given no background to and very little reason to care about what happens to them. More than half of the screen time is devoted to watching the two of them bob up and down in the Ocean.

I have read many reviews here that state how fantastic this piece of independent cinema is. I'm afraid I disagree. It is a boring, uninteresting and inaccurate piece of movie making. I have done some diving myself and there are many inaccuracies in the Ocean scenes. To name a couple, sharks do not tend to have the courtesy to wait until you are actually dead before they start consuming you and trying to drown yourself in a wet suit is damn near impossible.

This movie would have been so much more interesting if they had incorporated some of the real story into the drama. Did they fake their own deaths? Were their diaries an indication that this was done deliberately? Was the divers message slate with a plea for help genuine or a hoax? Sadly, none of this is included.

The real genius of the production was the marketing team that Lions gate films employed to promote the film. The advertising campaign was vast and guaranteed that public interest would be sufficient to make a profit on their investment.

When the credits rolled and the lights came up the night i saw this movie, I heard one man behind me shout "Is that it?" which drew great laughter from the rest of the audience. That was the most entertaining part of the whole experience.
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