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The Long Ships (1964)
Fabulous rip-off of 'The Vikings'
Richard Widmark is excellent in the Kirk Douglas role, Sidney Poitier cast very much against type as the villain and Gordon Jackson as a cowardly Viking providing comic relief many years before he became the authority figure made famous by his roles in The Professionals and Upstairs/Downstairs.
2 things that really stand out about this film, the revelation of the giant bell (which seems to float very well considering it's supposed to be solid gold?)and the 'Steel mare' torture device which really is the stuff of nightmares, like the Tarzan film where his African porters would be ripped apart by being tied to criss crossed palm trees. Even though this is all implied and you don't actually ever see anything it's still amazing that this is a PG? The way Poitier's ruler casually sacrifices the life of one of his men to prove a point is horrifying. Unusually he's portrayed quite nobly and the relationship with his head harem girl is interesting and multi-layered, eventually when she dies for him you totally buy it.
Really you couldn't make this film today, the blonde and blue eyed Vikings defeating an Islamic enemy not to mention their lusty raid on the harem girls. You also have the extremely beautiful Viking princess being given to the delighted harem girls as their new plaything before being presented primped and pouting to her new master as his latest slavegirl, scenes that probably launched a 1001 historical romance novels.
So all told not as powerful as The Vikings but possibly more fun.
The Professionals: Stopover (1979)
By golly, if you like action this is the one for you with no less than 4 gunbattles in the ep.
Cowley doesn't think about dying. He tells Bodie and Doyle they are his top men which is unusually giving of him.
Bodie and Doyle have 3 rounds of drinks and drive off to a gunfight, all for under £5! Bodie drinks Harvey Wallbangers and Skol lager, how 70s. Molensky compares CI5 to the Soviets and the way they treat him he's not far wrong. Both Bodie and Doyle demonstrate a rather professional handgrip.
Must say I'm still a little puzzled by the overall plot? The best I can figure is Ruduk was genuinely on the run and Meredith and Kodai were in it with him. They needed money to get away and everything else was a ruse to convince Cowley they were genuine. Kodai meanwhile has a grudge against Cowley and decides to kill 2 birds with one stone by offing him at the airfield?
An ep much better than I remember it being
Some great British character actors in this one, Chris Fairbank, Bill Treacher, Simon Rouse. You'd think a secret organisation such as CI5 would have better security at their base, people seem to just be able to walk in and out at will, they seem to change it every so often as a security measure.
CI5 have a black and a female agent which puts them one step ahead of The Sweeney although the unabashed brutality they show to everyone they meet rather goes against political correctness (as does the fact they have to comfort her at the scene of the bombing). We lose 3 agents which must be a record and catch a glimpse of the wider CI5 organisation, I think one of the ways to improve the series would have been to have more recurring villains and regular members of CI5 (Murphy aside). Love Bodie's flat with the Figure 11 target and the lingerie clad women in the posters.
How incredibly plummy do all the other CI5 agents sound, no wonder Cowley depends on Bodie and Doyle. we learn that they weren't part of the original selection for CI5, the organisation was up and running before they joined. We see the same railway carriages that later recur in Operation Susie (watch how the supposed stone cold corpse flinches when Doyle smashes the glass).
The bomb disposal scenes are tense but you shouldn't use a walkie talkie near a bomb, it can detonate it through RF hazard. Nice to see that Cowley is so hard he can actually take out the villain with one hand.
This one is rated pretty highly on IMDb, I'm not sure I agree but it's pretty good.
Interesting but enough with the hero worship
I found this a good film, certainly very grown up (I was flicking between this and Rambo 3 which may have added to the impression). I especially liked Sharon Stone as the scorned wife, practically unrecognisable here and Christian Slater set up as the obvious bad guy but showing much more depth than that, William Macey's character going to help him in the end is a satisfying moment as is his reconciliation with his wife in the face of tragedy. The hotel is an analogy for the US at the time and it's laid on pretty thick ('A city within a city'), there's so many characters it gets overwhelming. You get the impression that when Emilio Estevez put the word out all of liberal Hollywood came knocking at his door for a part.
For the record this isn't a documentary, none of the characters are real except for Freddy Rodriguez's waiter who really did cradle the dying Bobby Kennedy. All of Sirhan Sirhan's other victim's not only survived but thankfully recovered fully (good thing he only had a .22). We learn nothing about the assassin and his motivations, he was actually outraged by RFK's support for Israel and his intention to boost military aid to it. But then that would rather ruin the image of Bobby Kennedy as a liberal messiah? We must be grateful there are no conspiracy theories here and rightly so.
Ashton Kutcher is just absolutely godawful and I've no idea why they left his character in. Given Demi Moore's reputation in recent years her turn as a fading star is oddly prophetic.
Where it falls down is in its' deification of RFK himself who is just goodness and hope personified and would have solved all the world's problems practically single-handed. Truth was he was no saint and his murder was probably a symptom of the troubles in American society rather than it's cause (he justly condemns the rise of violent crime in the late 60s but then again he was the Attorney General during the period it occurred?). It's very unlikely he would have beaten Hubert Humphrey to the Democratic nomination and even less likely that he would have beaten Nixon to the presidency. Even the IMDb Trivia section for this film is really an unrestrained RFK love fest.
So all told a good film but it doesn't need such sycophancy.
13 Rue Madeleine (1946)
Excellent, hugely realistic WW2 thriller
A truly remarkable film for its' time when WW2 was still yesterday's news and its' grim realities were still universally accepted. You wonder if today's audiences would be prepared to accept the extreme subterfuge, moral ambiguities and agonising judgement calls such a conflict would demand? Should they simply arrest the Nazi agent or use him to feed false information to the Germans about the liberation of Europe even if this means endangering the other agents working alongside him? Should the French resistance fighters trust Cagney's character in his claim to be an Allied agent or simply execute him as a quisling? How far should they go in collaborating with the Germans to maintain their cover against helping the Allies? To judge by some of the controversy surrounding the 'War on Terror' I would venture no?
James Cagney is excellent here, probably happy to ditch his gangster persona and be able to demonstrate his martial arts prowess as a judo black belt during the training sequences. Of the supporting cast the Nazi agent is very good, really convincing you by his ingenuity in the theft exercise sequence, maybe they should have left his real identity a mystery until later in the film? The clean cut all American boy by contrast is unceremoniously killed off-screen, plummeting to his death due to a sabotaged parachute line, in a lesser film he would have been the hero but the cynical message here is that his sort of naivety is fatal as is the romantic attachment of the French agent to her missing husband (you really suspected her of being the Nazi spy, blackmailed by threats to him into working for them).
The training sequences at the OSS are very realistic and whilst they may seem clichéd now you must remember they must have been a revelation to the audiences of 1947 (as the intro explains the OSS was a revolutionary departure for the US intelligence services, achingly liberal America hugely reluctant to create the same sort of spy agency as other countries, it taking Pearl Harbour to jar the wider population from their complacency and understand the necessity).
Very ruthless for its' time, Cagney gives a big speech about how the Queensberry rules are out the window and that this is a fight to the finish. When he is later captured (his enemy prying the suicide pill from his hand) his erstwhile pupil reminds him of that speech as he is tortured. Cagney practices what he preaches, even killing men with his bare hands and later ends up being killed by his own side just to shut him up. EVERYONE dies, even the heroine which must have been very rare at the time.
So all told a realistic and impressively accurate representation of what the OSS got up to during WW2.
Cambridge Spies (2003)
Good but misleading, too sympathetic to traitors
Well made and acted but I'm afraid it didn't have the guts to show the reality of the result of their treason. Why did we not see the suffering and death of the agents whom the Cambridge spies betrayed? Why did they never confront the hypocrisy of helping a regime which sides with Hitler, imprisons its' population and regularly executes their KGB contact agents? It tries to be sympathetic to men who put their loyalty to their friends above their loyalty to their country, their colleagues and those they're supposed to be protecting. What's more even that is incredibly flawed, Blunt abandons the rest of the group to their fate, Philby sleeps with McClean's wife and sends Burgess to accompany him into exile behind the Iron Curtain unaware that he's never coming back to the UK (and will quickly drink himself to death in Moscow).
What's more it only seems to tell half the story, concentrating disproportionately on the recruitment process and the influence of the Spanish civil war on the group. We get none of the fallout from the defection which was a revelation in Britain at the time or Philby's infamous press conference which is still cited today as a classic example of how to lie, we never get Philby's flight from Beruit or McClean and Caincross' plea bargain. Perhaps the most sympathetic character in the whole story is James Jesus Angleton who appears to be the lone voice in the wilderness.
So all told a great series but do some research first.
Best TV movie ever!
Utterly horrifying in every way, the mistakes of the past seem so obvious now with the benefit of hindsight and experience. Perhaps the saddest fact is that the cops, social workers and prosecutors in this case weren't actually bad people but genuinely believed that what they were doing was right, that the had uncovered monstrous child abuse, that children couldn't lie about such subjects and that they had to be subjected to coercive interviews in order to bring the truth to the surface. When they eventually began to study the evidence in detail they begin to develop that nagging doubt that they may have been mistaken but by then its almost impossible for them to admit their error in the face of public and media hysteria. I think the most revealing scene is when Mercedes Rheul's character talks about them trying to find one photograph, one drunken confession, one piece of corroborative evidence to back up the kid's increasingly fantastical and unreliable testimony. When they find nothing of the sort she desperately resorts to citing the lead suspect's reading of Playboy, interest in Pyramid power and unsatisfactory sexual encounter with an adult woman as proof of his guilt? When it emerges that the original accuser was mentally ill she still cannot give up the case, its gone so far there's no turning back now. That is perhaps the real tragedy, that of human nature.
James Woods really rules this film, he's playing the same sleazy lawyer we've seen him play so many times before, accustomed to defending guilty as sin drug dealers but this time finds himself unexpectedly on the side of the angels with genuinely innocent clients. It really is a tremendous tour do force from him.
Just Ask My Children (2001)
Great and disturbing film
Odd now in these days of such professional police investigation to see the portrayal of the dark days of the 80s when the art was just in its' infancy. The story really falls down on whether we believe the children and can they lie about this? If the kids are telling the truth then the parents deserve everything they get but if they are lying...?
In one scene the mother (the ever gorgeous Virginia Madsen) asks can the police just come into your home and take your kids away? And the answer of course is that if they have reason to believe you're abusing them then of course they can. But this was at a time when it was considered that children couldn't lie about such things and people didn't realise how they could be easily lead and influenced during interviews. It's also a good example of the importance of independence in the judicial system, the prosecutors desperate to please public opinion by getting convictions and then reconsidering when public opinion shifts in the opposite direction. Perhaps the scariest thing is when the prosecutor receives the court order to give the defence access to the boys and he just chooses to ignore it? Surely the judge should order HIM to be arrested for that?
Another film I'd recommend in the same vein is Indictment which is excellent.
Kids Don't Tell (1985)
Terrific but now go watch 'Indictment' and' Just ask my children'
Watched this film many years ago and it was terrific. Rewatched it recently and was disappointed because it was the PG version and missed out many of the most intense and important scenes, the interview with the arrested paedophile, the rows between the husband and wife because the memories his research is bringing back have put her off sex, the plight of the child street hooker, the shocked mother relating how she discovered incest in her family, the paedophile support group meetings in which we see the human side of the offenders and not just the victims. In fact if you watch the PG version so much is missing it is quite baffling. Great performance from Michael Oatkean (and how HANDSOME he was!)and nice to see Jean Bruce Scott who was one of my favourites from Airwolf.
BUT.... Then we have that scene where we see the social worker interviewing the kid using puppets and anatomically correct dolls and the warning flags go up. Nowadays such techniques are totally discredited having been shown to induce false testimony from children, especially with zealous investigators like the detective portrayed here. Watch 'Just ask my children' and 'Indictment; The McMartin Trial' to see what happened AFTER this film was released, the hysteria coupled with flawed investigative techniques leading to families ripped apart and innocent people spending years in prison.
So yes, watch this terrific film but then watch 'Indictment' and 'Just Ask My Children'.
I always thought Rocky Balboa was the perfect end to the series, that it was a truly satisfying ending and we didn't need another Rocky film after this (you think of the aged boxer poster gag in 'Airplane 2'). But Creed pleasantly surprised me, its a pretty mature film, neither Rocky nor his protégé are down and out in this film, their lives are pretty good, they both just need a new challenge to fulfil themselves. Equally his opponent is no Clubber Lang, his performance and motivation are hugely credible although you wonder what American audiences will make of the scouser accent?
Great performance from SS, very brave for him to now play someone so age appropriate, the love story between Adonis and his girlfriend is also fine, very believable and if they make another film I'd like to see where it goes, a budding music star going progressively deaf is a great dramatic concept. The fight scenes are good as always, Hollywood exciting in a way real boxing can never really be but also not shying away from the brutality of it all, when they're spitting blood out or when Adonis' eye swells up you really wince for them. Equally the cancer subplot really works and doesn't shy away from the reality of it, you understand Rock's reluctance for treatment having seen his wife go through the same.
If I had a complaint I would have liked to have seen Rocky's son in this film. In the last he was trying to escape his dad's legacy, as Rocky comments it can't have been easy trying to have been Rocky Balboa's son on the streets of Philly. Here we have Adonis trying to live up to his father's legacy. But I guess with the death of Sly's son from a heart attack that would have been to painful for him. Reputedly the director had to persuade Sly to let him use the picture of him from Rocky 5 and the film is dedicated to his memory. Maybe if they make a sequel?
Interesting if a little disappointing
Oddly enough I came to the Alien films in a very roundabout way, I watched Aliens first and thought it was the greatest thing ever then went back and watched Alien which was also superb (the greatest sci-fi action film and sci-fi horror film ever respectively). Alien 3 was the worst film of all time, not only god-awful in itself but ruining your enjoyment of the first 2 films, Alien Resurrection was decent and for the most part rescued the series (thanks Joss) but was still a long way down from the first 2 classics. AvsP are popcorn movies, better than 3 but that's really not saying much. So I was intrigued to see if Ridley Scott could restore the greatness of the series and also to solve the mystery of the 'Space Jockey' which was an essential part of the lore.
Certainly a film that doesn't lack for spectacle and gore, the 'abortion' scene was really out there. The ending was pretty surreal too, be interesting to see how Liz and Michael's relationship develops? The revelations are satisfying, I must say I never suspected that the Space Jockey's facial features were simply a mask, I always thought it was a facehugger that had binded with its' fossilised host over time.
On the bad side what was the point of the zombie attack sequence except to add a little action into a film which rather lacked it? We almost have a few too many characters so it's hard to distinguish between them which is very different to Alien/Aliens, Charlize Theron is pretty much wasted and killed off arbitrarily and anti-climatically and why do we have Idris Elba putting on an American accent, what was wrong with his British one?
So not really up there with Alien/Aliens but easily head and shoulders above all the other films, you rather think that maybe they wanted to do a 2001 style sci-fi epic and used the Alien angle to sell it to the studio/audience?
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
The kitchen sink, the working surface and the whole damn dining room!
Wow, you really thought that Mad Max 2 was the ultimate chase film but it really has nothing on this! It got to the point that it was utter sensory overload but never boringly so (because you cared about the characters, the ultimate secret to any action film)
Okay, first off I see this as a reboot occurring just after the original Mad Max. We see Max with his iconic 'last of the V8 interceptors' police car at the beginning and as that was destroyed in Mad Max 2 we must assume that Hardy's Max and Gibson's Max one day came to a fork in the road and one went one way and the second went another. Therefore Gibson's Max is happily living out his life with the feral kids after returning to them at the end of Beyond Thunderdome, staying right there, living a long time and being grateful. Hardy's Max by contrast is still looking for redemption before finding his new family and purpose (at the end he walks away from the celebration in true cowboy style, just as Gibson's Max chooses not to go with the settlers to form their new colony 'The Great Northern Tribe' at the end of Mad Max 2, he isn't done yet). We see the beginnings of Max's moral comeback here, choosing to risk his own life when he could have walked away, finding in Furiosa and her sisterhood something worth fighting for and living for. When he finally reveals his name to Furiosa it shows that he is beginning to remember who he once was and who he might be again, no longer just a nameless drifter.
All credit to some extremely brave stuntmen who made this film, really beggars belief that no one was killed in the filming. Amazing special effects too, the idea that Furiosa's missing arm was created using purely CGI is staggering.
A feminist film? I guess so, we have both the 'brides' and the 'milk cows' rebelling, we have the motherhood taking over at the end. In the previous Mad Max films we'd had rape, a formidable female warrior who was then killed off and Aunty Entity, in many ways an admirable figure but also the quasi villain. Staggering that this got a 15 rating, the caesarean scene made me cringe like nothing else.
All told pretty damn brilliant and definitely up for another sequel.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Joss should really go back to TV
Went to see it, liked it better than the first one, some great touches like Thor's little double take when Cap America is able to move his hammer by about a millimetre. Quite surreal as my train to work takes me past Hendon Police College in London and you can see the tower blocks and other buildings they used for the Russian town. I'm not sure what Sir Robert Peel would have thought about his statue was transformed into Lenin for the length of the filming? It lacked the magic of Joss' TV shows though but I couldn't help but think that the Vision's line could have easily have been said by Giles'.
Some good stuff and there's no denying that. The Vision's 'I was born yesterday' line was classic Joss and no mistake. It was very interesting to see the Avenger's greatest fears, especially Captain America's. I always though Cap's worst fear would be the Nazis goose-stepping along Pennsylvania Avenue or being a irrelevant nothing during WW2. But instead what he really fears is an end to war, he justified everything to himself by the moral conflict but with it gone what is there for him to do? (don't worry Cap, we'll never run short of wars). Black Widow's horrific memory of being sterilized in order to make her the perfect assassin is just beyond disgusting.
And the ending? Well am I the only one who thinks that the figure is going to be inevitably Galactus?
Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974)
Terrific show despite the obvious men in monster suits
Saw this in the 90s when it was repeated on late night BBC2 and recently bought the boxset out of sheer curiosity. Didn't disappoint, a thoroughly entertaining and in many ways groundbreaking.
Really is Darren McGavin's show, he breathes such life and likability into the in many ways morally reprehensible Kolchak, the sleazy, loner, workaholic reporter who works his way through life bribing and tricking the gullible to get the story. He is heroic but at the same time you get the idea if he was around these days he'd be tapping Hugh Grant's phone. His closest friend seems to be his editor but even they're constantly rowing, their relationship one of the highlights of the show.
It's interesting to see the bygone era of print journalism with rolls of quarters for payphones, stories being put out on 'the wire' and journalists researching with books and banging away on typewriters, not to mention the brutal, trigger-happy and corrupt Chicago police of the 70s. Love his car too, a classic Mustang convertible complete with police scanner whilst his outfit is a weird mixture of the formal and down at heel.
Some good guest stars, Erik Estrada, Phil Silvers in what must be one of his last roles, Tom Skerrit. You can see the inspiration for Altered States here and the robotic company named the Tyrell corporation.
Where the series falls down is its' lack of decent villains, once you get to Helen of Troy they're really scraping the barrel whilst The Sentry is blatantly a guy with a cardboard crocodile head mask. The series treatment of women, inevitably belittled and/or killed is also a little hard to take.
Sapphire & Steel (1979)
A classic of its' time
Treated myself to the DVD boxset and it was certainly a treat, commentaries on the first and last episodes of the series (although the writer and producer seem to have fading memories) and a lovely documentary with both Lumley and McCallum.
Just as good as I remember it, great mood, writing, acting, terrific premises all around. If I were to have one complaint it would be that some episodes go on for far too long and would have been much better if they'd been cut to nearly have their length, especially adventure 2. But it's still great fun and shows what you can do without big special effects and graphic sex and violence. Would love to have seen more especially if they could have expanded their universe, we could have got to see other members of their community and understood a little more but then one of the appealing points was that it was never all explained, we were always left wondering.
And the ending? On face value Sapphire and Steel are trapped in the café in 'nowhere' forever whilst Silver's fate is unknown. However rather than being trapped by their opponents it seems they have been imprisoned by the higher authorities of their own organisation who resent their 'independence'. When Sapphire looked into their future she saw this fate as 'thousands' of years and not eternity. In adventure 3 Steel observes that it would be better if 'operatives' were in place before time crises erupted rather than being dispatched when they had already occurred but Sapphire points out that no one would volunteer to wait for hundreds of years, including him. It is possible that they have actually been put on ice for just such an occasion.
American Sniper (2014)
Quite a good film but possibly the most polarising of all time?
Judged as a film alone this is a pretty good story. Clint Eastwood directs well, the cast do a fine job, the action sequences are exciting and it walks a fine line with it's tone, veering effectively between 'war is hell' clichés and celebrating Kyle's undoubted skill and bravery. It doesn't depict war as anything but brutal and horrific and the traumatising effect it has on its' participants is plain for all to see. Having read the book my main complaint was that we don't get to see the beach-ball story (a group of 16 insurgents using beach-balls as flotation devices to attack a US position via a river, Kyle letting them get midstream then shooting out the beach-balls and letting them drown, killing sixteen enemy using only four shots) or what he actually earned his medals for, rescuing wounded Marines on a couple of occasions. If I was a to pick a favourite scene it's him killing an insurgent and his spotter not even acknowledging it, so routine has this become or him winning his future wife's hearts by holding her hair up when she drunkenly vomits on their first meeting (who says romance is dead?).
What's amazing about this film is the visceral reaction to it from its' opponents who simply cannot accept it because it differs from their own viewpoint, Kyle derided as a bloodthirsty racist killing machine monster of big oil war criminals who wish to poison the children of Iraq with depleted uranium and re-establish colonialism, the entire film a work of slanted propaganda and wishing they could give it less than one star as a rating. The only conclusion you can reach is that left-wingers are deeply intolerant people who don't countenance views different to their own or that possibly they heard the hype and hadn't seen the film? I wonder if Audie Murphy or Alvin York ever had to put up with this kind of disgusting abuse?
For the record Kyle never claimed to have shot looters after Hurricane Katrina, he merely discussed rumours of other special forces soldiers doing that with another SEAL. No one has ever been able to substantiate the story of shooting 2 car-jackers one way or the other nor the facts of his drunken brawl with Jesse Ventura, Kyle being dead before the case came to court so not being able to give his side (I'm happy to put it down to alcohol and PTSD on both sides).
So, ignore the American Sniper bashers, it's a great film, see it with an open mind and decide for yourself.
Deep in the Valley (2009)
Surprising fun for such a cheesy concept
Quite liked this, very entertaining and not just in terms of the plentiful softcore cheesecake on display. The porn world is so riven with clichés that it's obviously fit for satire as Boogie Nights so ably proved. Really like Chris Pratt's character and his ideal porn girl is surprisingly sweet, so happy that they end up together in the end. Also liked the porn cop who speaks in nothing but meaningless porn film law enforcement clichés, complete with the 2 hulking, nearly mute cohorts you inevitably find in such films.
And Kim Kardashian and Denise Richards as guest stars? Wow! Surprised they didn't have some real porn stars taking part too although maybe I just missed them? Needless to say loads of tasteful nudity from some incredibly beautiful women, actually watched this on YouTube, surprised they allowed it as they don't normally permit any, even if this was a 15 certificate? Perhaps because virtually no one actually has any sex despite the risqué subject matter?
Two more things I'd like to have seen, firstly Chris Pratt's porn star girlfriend adapting to the real world, finding out what you can't do in a non-porn reality. Secondly a better ending. Chris Pratt's beautiful but shrewish ex-girlfriend staggering drunkenly into the liquor store and bitchily demanding more tequila after her break up. Shift to Scott Caan's ex-porn star cop who is now the liquor store clerk raising an eyebrow to the camera. Back to some sexy cheerleaders dancing and then finish the film with Scott Caan and the ex-girlfriend coming out of the storeroom breathless, sweaty and putting their clothes back on.
"Can I have some tequila please?" she asks, now much more subdued. He passes it to her but grips her hand as she receives it.
"If you ever want some more you know where to come!" he tells her. She raises a saucy eyebrow "Count on it!"
Violent, visionary, intelligent sci-fi of the type they don't seem to make anymore
Watched this as a kid and was totally engrossed in the game, really wanted to play Rollerball for real although I'm a lousy skater (maybe I could have ridden one of the motorbikes?). Reputedly the cast and crew actually did play Rollerball (presumably with penalties, substitutions and time limits rather than the ultimate no holds barred version we see at the end?) in between takes and really got into it. I wonder if there's any film of that? In the 70s 2000AD magazine had a comic strip 'inspired' by Rollerball where the players wore jetpacks which is about the only way you could make the game more exciting.
What makes it special though is that it's not just a glorification of a brutal futuristic sport but a study of the role of the individual in a civilized society. Thomas Mann would recognise the concept although he probably wouldn't have included motorbikes in it. The future is depicted as a quasi-benign dictatorship as Plato always advocated. We have no wars, no crime, no poverty, corporations run the show and conflicts are confined to the boardroom and stock exchange. People are free within the system as long as they don't question the established order. Some have described it as fascist but actually it strikes me as more communistic, the individual sublimated for the sake of the greater good. However mankind never changes so an outlet is needed for aggression and populist entertainment. Hence we have Rollerball. Problem is in a society which values conformity Jonathan E has become an individualistic superstar and that threatens the whole nature of society.
Great performance from James Caan and equally great from John Houseman who isn't exactly the villain, it's very subtle on his part, you can't really be sure who's right or wrong in all this (noticeably Houseman's character doesn't want Jonathan to have an 'accident'). Also like Shame Rimmer as the team manager, the obedient corporate stooge who tells it as it is but still cares about his team, trying to prevent an injured Jonathan E from going back out to probable death during the final game (the New York manager noticeably succeeding in doing the same for one of his players). Fantastic music too, the classical influence contrasting with the sheer brutality of the game. And it is still shocking after all these years, the scene where the injured player slides down the rink leaving a bloody trail behind him still makes you cringe. You're so happy that Jonathan spares the final New York player and then goes on to score the final point, to him it's still all about the game rather than the violence.
No offence to Star Wars but it rather killed the more thoughtful sci-fi we had in the 1970s, Silent Running, Dark Star, Logan's Run, THX 1138, Westworld, Solaris, The Omega Man etc.
The only bad thing is Jonathan's trip to the the computer bank in Geneva which is utterly baffling.
X the Unknown (1956)
Interesting British b-movie which reflects the concerns of its' age
Apparently this was supposed to be the fourth instalment of the Quatermass series and you can definitely see the influence here, British location, American scientist character in order to give it some transatlantic appeal, bumptious military types, disbelieving bureaucrats (Dr Beeching?) and young and handsome earnest assistants. This time however the threat does not come from outer space but in a neat twist from inner space, a prehistoric creature that feeds on radioactive energy and has now emerged as the development of nuclear power/weaponry has finally provided it with enough food source to return to the surface. A great concept which unfortunately the special effects can never live up to, I envisioned something more akin to Morbius' creature of the 'Id' from The Forbidden Planet.
Speaking of which this must have been quite shocking in its' day, the sight of the creature's victims melting away must have been truly disturbing to a 50s audience. They also kill the kid which must have been taboo at the time. One thing that stuck in my craw a little was the nurse who was rendered mute after witnessing her lover's death, I half expected someone to exclaim 'Well of course she's hysterical, she's only a woman'.
Underpinning this all is an early form of environmentalism, atomic energy had been sold to the masses as the great white hope but now people were beginning to have second thoughts as the grieving father's rant against the scientist illustrates. That the creature resembles an oil slick may also be a metaphor of sorts.
The ending is somewhat underwhelming, the creatures defeat depending on a tyre getting out of a rut and you wonder if there wasn't supposed to be another scene before the titles run but all the same it's an interesting and entertaining film.
Magic Mike (2012)
A surprisingly fun male version of 'Striptease'.
Watched this largely out of curiosity, male strippers not really my thing (to say the least) but I don't disapprove, if guy/gay girls can have Spearmint Rhino then straight girls/gay men can have male strippers. That being so I guess a film dealing with the subject would be treading on some pretty thin material. Glad to say I was actually mistaken and this has a pretty good story and some excellent performances in between all the rippling six-packs and thrusting pelvises. You wonder nowadays could mainstream Hollywood make a similar film about female strippers and their motivations without being branded as sexist?
A few criticisms, there seems to be a lack of gay characters, couldn't there have been at least one homosexual couple amongst the strippers? Also couldn't we have had a bit more depth to some of the clients? I would have liked a gay special night and some older ladies in the audience. It would have been a funny scene for one of their mothers to be spotted amongst the screaming fans.
Ultimately it is a very traditional story of the man who thinks he has it all (money, casual threesomes with sexy bimbos who can't even remember one another's names, getting paid to work out all the time and have everyone fawning over you nightly). But eventually he sees the pitfalls, that it's shallow, the perils of drugs and that it is essentially a younger man's game and that you have a very limited shelf life as a career. I wouldn't call it a moral film exactly but it certainly is a film with a moral.
End of Watch (2012)
Best buddy cop movie since Colors!
Still not as good as 'Heat' but that's not a buddy movie (in fact it's more or less an adversarial film). Lot's of very good stuff here, we have one of the most accurate and honest depictions of everyday police culture that we shall ever see, the conversations between the various characters are totally believable and naturalistic and if they sometimes stray close to cliché that's only because the stuff men talk about between one another at work tend to be clichéd, they're blue collar working guys rather than philosophers. They both come across as extremely tough men but likable and professional (as opposed to Woody Harrelson's LAPD bashing in 'Rampart'). Their wives/girlfriends are refreshingly true to life, perhaps starting off as 'Badge Bunnies' but then becoming real people and you feel for their loss. Their superiors are well portrayed too, neither pen pushers out to further their own careers or just one of the boys, falling somewhere in between. The 'other team'(as Simon Pegg would put it) of Hauser and the 'Boot' are well rounded and even though you barely get to know them the sight of her beaten and him surviving a knife in the eye is still extremely shocking. Interesting to contrast this with Colors which was essentially a gang movie to now the creeping infiltration of Mexican organised crime into American society.
One thing I did wonder about was 'Xena and Gabby', the female 'partners'(?) on their shift, was there supposed to be some sort of history between Xena and the foul mouthed Latino gangbanger?
Good action scenes realistically staged. If I was to have one complaint we never see them do enough paperwork or deal with the myriad of trivial yet time consuming calls which make up a police officer's real workload. We hear that they stand for 2 hours on the crime scene but get no sense of the time spent.
Clever ending scene when we find out one of our heroes actually survived but I would like to have had a better final shot, maybe a zoom in on the fallen officer's LAPD badge followed by a pull out to reveal it on the side of a cruiser going on a call?
Les femmes de l'ombre (2008)
Had the potential to be great but just fell short
Always been fascinated by the world of SOE ever since growing up watching Secret Army as a kid. This is one of the best films I've ever seen on the subject, much better than Charlotte Gray or TV series like 'Wish Me Luck' which were distinctly mediocre.
Was actually unaware that this was a French language film although this doesn't detract from the action at all. It also made sense that French speakers would practice their language exclusively before returning to their homeland so that they don't accidentally lapse into English by mistake or speak British accented French. I would very much have liked to have seen more detail in terms of the commando training which has always been one of the more fascinating aspects of the story (they all seem to be mysteriously parachute qualified virtually instantly?). The story isn't bad although you wonder that they would give such priority to killing a single SS Colonel even if he was given Rommel's ear by the 3rd of June 1944 it would be too late for them to do anything about it.
From a military perspective it isn't bad although everyone falls into the shoot from the hip tradition. When the Colonel is giving his briefing I kept expecting the interviewing officers to ask him if the geologist couldn't have been the diversion, intended to draw German forces away from Calais. You also wonder that the French officer tells him the truth about the Mulberry harbours rather than try to buy time by bluffing, saying they're for protecting the landing craft from underwater attack or something?
Obviously there's a lot of torture here but it's never gratuitous, you still feel for the captured religious agent who cannot bare to kill herself as she's supposed to and breaks under extreme pain as anyone would.
The ending despite the Allied victory is downbeat and maudlin, you'd have liked the sole survivor to have a big family and name her kids after her fallen comrades but things don't always work out that way (presumably she lost her baby due to the torture and may not have been able to have any more?). Her looking through the photos and coming across her friend who has been tortured to death is heartrending although couldn't she have come up with a less drastic 'diversion' at the railway station?. What's perhaps even more interesting is the fate of the young French collaborator who switches sides and becomes the hero of the Resistance, we last see him capturing the SS Colonel's assistant (and what happens to him? Shot as a war criminal or recruited by the West to help in the Cold War?).
All told a good film but I'd have liked a little more
War Horse (2011)
The Great War spelled out through the experiences of an animal
Watched this in an open air screening of this film in Histon, Cambridgeshire. Pretty damn wonderful and people actually stood up and clapped at the end. I was always cynical about the depiction of the UK (and Europe in general) before 1914, the Edwardian age was not a time of prosperity and tolerance but of creeping nationalist extremism, colonial exploitation and grinding poverty for the working classes(although it pales in comparison with the Victorian era, the European's a potato famine, neglect of the poor etc). It's a nice touch that the landlord's son turns out to be a good decent man on the battlefield, not that his father is actually a villain, he's just a ruthless capitalist. I would have loved a scene where we have a flashback to the Boer War and we find that one man stopped to help his wounded fellow soldiers and the other walked over them to take the enemy position and saved countless lives in the long term.
The depiction of British society pre-1914 was interesting, it was by no means a golden age and whilst it was horrific the Great War would sweep away many of the inequalities of Edwardian society. Tom Hiddleston as the cavalry officer who takes care of Joey is great, appearing for all the world like the stereotypical upper class villain but actually extremely heroic, the scene where we witness the end of an era as the cavalry versus machine guns is heartrending, you're so glad his friend with the soft cap survives. The tale of the 2 brothers is awfully conflicting, you can only think it would have been better if they had been killed/wounded in action rather than shot as deserters together (all credit to Steven Spielberg for the masterful shot with the windmill sails obscuring their execution). Interesting how we have the gradual evolution of the war from Napoleonic style cavalry charges (their end signified by the sabre plunged into the ground in 1914) to the mechanized hell of tanks, mud and artillery we see by 1918, Joey jumping the tank and the scene with him being caught in the barbed wire showing that humanity still prevails in the most extreme of circumstances. Not that this film shy's away from the horror of the Great War, the sequences where the troops are enveloped by gas or take out a machine gun nest with grenades, shooting the enemy soldiers manning it, shows the brutal reality of trench combat, kill or be killed, walk past the dead or dying for the sake of the greater good. I'm surprised they missed a scene where they bayonet someone? By the time we get to 1918 your heart is in your mouth, seeing the snowflakes and knowing that the war will end at 11am 11th November 1918 and just praying that the characters will live to see the Armstice.
The ending cannot fail to raise a tear, Johnny comes marching home to his mother and father's arms with his warhorse as silent witness is a scene which is always great (Celia Emrie magnificent as ever). Just wish the belligerent goose was there to see it all. The real tragedy of it all is the little French girl and her grandfather, you hope that they will both survive the war but he does and she doesn't, it really brought a tear to my eye, you so wanted her and the hero to get together and live happily ever after but they don't, the Great War robbed so many of their loved ones whether deserving or not, it's as though Heidi were killed in the Franco-Prussian War. I would also liked to have known what happened to the German private who took care of Joey and his companion during their wartime service.
All told a wonderful film and one that bears repeated viewing.
The Expendables 3 (2014)
Should definitely finish it here
I thought this was a passable way to spend a couple of hours but really I think Sly Stallone has very much run out of ideas at this point. The new team was a good concept but was so poorly fleshed out that they were practically indistinguishable from one another except for the Lady Jaye character who is undeniably hot (and remains refreshingly unraped or even threatened with it by the end of the story which must be unique for an attractive female character captured in an action film). Harrison Ford is good in his role, what Jack Ryan would look like today if he'd stuck to the part. Mel Gibson was also surprisingly fun as the bad guy although you'd think that people as tech-savvy as the new team would have thought to check him for a GPS tracker? The sequence in the back of the van was actually very well done and quite affecting, the realpolitik behind the mercenary business. Also finishing him off by simply shooting him seemed a bit anti-climatic. Very, very disappointing that Robert Davi, one of my favourite character actors was given so little screen time, even less than Jet Li. A few nice refs to other films, Schwarzeneger yelling 'Get to the chopper', his iconic line from Predator and 'I lied' from Commando. Wesley Snipes genuinely appealing and funny with his tax evasion line. You wonder that Jason Statham's character would mind retiring if it meant being able to play house with Charisma Carpenter (who is sorely missed here)? Would it have killed them to have some actual memorable bad guys and not just endless waves for indistinguishable cannon fodder?
But somehow we've just seen it all before (especially the endless shootouts in grey and crumbling former Soviet bloc buildings) and it doesn't hang together. Sly should definitely end it here although I wouldn't mind seeing his proposed all female version 'The Expendabelles' with action stars like Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hamilton, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Eliza Dushku.
The Dead Pool (1988)
Life in the old dog yet but they were right to end things here
So, Dirty Harry's final adventure and a great deal has changed since 1971. But some things haven't and Callahan's 44. Magnum is still the best solution to a surprising number of problems.
Every Dirty Harry film deals with some hot topic and this is no exception, here we have the power of the media and the influence of violence in entertainment on real life. Addressing of course all the criticism of the violence in Dirty Harry films and in an interesting sidebar featuring the murder of a female film critic just like a certain disparager of the first Dirty Harry film.
Good partner this time around and we're all happy that he survived, one of only 3 out of 7 to do so (remarkable that we'd never got to San Francisco's Chinatown before?). This means that the survivors are in the first and last of the series. The gym scene is genuinely funny. Harry gets a likable and believable love interest and unlike his previous girlfriends there may actually be a long term future for them, maybe he won't have to be 'God's lonely man' any more? Remarkable cast in hindsight with an almost unrecognisable Jim Carrey (here listed as 'James') and a remarkable extended cameo from then practically unknown 'Guns and Roses'.
Bad stuff? Liam Neeson's accent is HILARIOUSLY bad, I mean Keanu Reeves in Dracula bad. The plot is unnecessarily convoluted, the villain forgettable and the remote control car pursuit an interesting idea that never really comes off.
As suggested by the ending of Sudden Impact Harry seems to have changed his mind since Magnum Force about the benefits of vigilantism, shooting an unarmed and fleeing Mafia assassin in the back and killing the villain in the end with his harpoon when he knows that the man's pistol is out of bullets.
So what happens to our boy in the end? He's certainly eligible for retirement so I like to think he marries his reporter girlfriend, starts a family and maybe does some PI work on the side.