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Humongous (1982)
Quite interesting if rather bloodless little slasher
19 November 2006
Humongous has been largely forgotten amongst the glut of 80s slasher flicks. However,that is a shame. It's certainly no masterpiece,not even of the slasher genre,but it's quite interesting and better than quite a few of the other,similar films released around that time.

It opens with a brutal rape,and it almost gets the movie off on the wrong foot as although not that graphic it's hard to watch. Then we jump forward to the usual small group of young people discovering an island. Much time is spent of them wondering about,which does make the film a little slow,but there is a fair amount of suspense,sometimes underlined by the synthesizer score,which shouldn't work but does. As has often been said before,the film is too dark,but some of the photography is pretty good,which makes one wonder if the darkness was a deliberate experiment which didn't quite come off.

This movie was obviously {well,in the versions I've seen} heavily cut,during the killings we cut away just before we think we'll going to see something nasty. There's just about enough suspense to almost compensate,and the acting isn't too bad,but gore hounds will probably be disappointed. The climactic scenes are pretty exciting though and even though you still don't get much of a look at the monster,this is actually quite effective.

There's a underlying element of sadness to Humongous which is provided by the film's back story,and it's perhaps this which most sticks in the mind. Nothing in the film is especially remarkable,but it does have it's interesting elements. It certainly deserves a proper,uncut DVD release,and far more than some of the other films of this type which already have been!
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Casino Royale (2006)
Daring experiment for the Bond series which mostly succeeds very well
16 November 2006
I'll admit something first up. I enjoyed the much-criticised Die Another Day, Yes,the Madonna song and CGI were awful,but as a ramped-up,escapist action movie it certainly did the job. However,Casino Royale is a different beast altogether. The opening sequence is is black and white and shows Bond shooting a man,with flashbacks to Bond's first,decidedly messier,killing interspersed. Both the violence and Daniel Craig's intensity are quite shocking. After the eye-popping title sequence,cleverly based around cards,and a perhaps unusual but good title song which does grow on you,we are thrown into quite simply the most stunning action sequence done in years,as Bond chases a man up and down scaffolding,on top of a crane and through an embassy. It's undoubtedly over the top,but really is thrilling,and seeing Bond fall and get hurt a bit is refreshing and helps maintain,just about,believability.

It's possible that action wise the film never tops that scene,but the other three action sequences are all excellent and have superb editing that is fast,furious yet still lets you see what is going on,a lesson to some of today's other action directors. It's almost a throwback to the 60s Bond editing,only quicker. There was a sense in the 80s and 90s that maybe the Bond style of action was a little outmoded,it had certainly been imitated to death. Here,Bond becomes leader of the pack again,and the other upstarts need to keep up.

Daringly,the two and a half hour running time is not devoted to more action but chiefly two other things. The lengthy poker game IS long but maintains suspense even of you're not sure what the rules are and is broken up every now and again anyway. Then there's Bond falling in love. The World Is Not Enough and The Living Daylights had flirted with genuine romance for Bond but On Her Majesty's Secret Service up to now is the only real Bond love story. The time given to Bond's romance with Vesper Lynd is unusual but it needs the time allowed it to become convincing ,and,eventually,moving. After all,the main thrust of the film is not Bond fighting bad guys,or even playing an important poker game,but Bond becoming Bond,and this is brilliantly conveyed throughout.

It is this aspect in which Craig really succeeds. Yes,he is rough and ready at first but that is the film's character. He grows and matures throughout the film,and when he puts on the tux he's earned it and certainly carries it off better than Timothy Dalton,whom Craig is probably closest to. Perhaps the film's villains and girls are not as memorable as one might hope for,but here it's Bond whom you remember,whom the film revolves around,and for this film that's exactly as it should be.

Possible Casino Royale might be embraced by die-hard Bond fans more than general action movie goers,what you won't get here is constant action,silly gadgets,corny laughs {though there is humour,and in exactly the right places,such as during the otherwise horrible torture scene}. What you do get is an artistic triumph,a daring experiment that almost completely pays off,that takes us closer to the character of James Bobd than any other film. Roll on the next one,and definitely with Craig....
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Spiders (2000)
Undoubtedly poor by most standards,but taken as a simple B-Movie more enjoyable than you may have read
2 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Not many people have much to say about this movie that is good,which is maybe to be expected. However,what do they really expect from a tiny budgeted movie about killer spiders starring nobody you've ever heard of,which went straight to DVD? I bought this film for £1 from my local Tesco. I knew what I was going to get and got it. Solid B-Movie fun,no more,no less.

Most of the first hour is set in an underground base,which obviously saved on the budget,but the endless scenes of the heroes creeping around or running from something get monotonous and make the film resemble a very old Dr Who episode padded out to feature length. Still,the actual mechanical spider effects are pretty good and in some ways no less realistic than some of the CGI you see everywhere in big budget films. As for the dreadful CG explosions in the film,I've definitely seen worse in recent films where there is probably less of an excuse for them to be bad. Somewhat disappointingly,there are only two spiders {my DVD back cover at least implies there are loads}.

The climax of the almost Kong-sized second spider rampaging through Los Angeles really isn't badly done considering the budget the filmmakers had to work with. The silly climax,with the heroine hanging out of a helicopter with a bazooka,is quite exciting. Obviously,script,direction and acting throughout are mediocre. There is little real atmosphere,in fact most of the film looks flat and TV-like. But honestly,as I've said before,what did people really expect from this? Watch it for what it is,a B-Movie for the uncritical,and you might quite enjoy it.
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Dawn of the Dead meets The Mummy? Hardly,but passable trashy fun if you lower your expectations considerably
2 August 2006
The title of this very low budget Egypt/US co-production suggests a melding of the mummy movie with the zombie movie that was extremely popular around the time of the film's release. Dawn Of The Mummy only partially fulfills this expectation. After a gory flashback opening to ancient Egypt and a somewhat amusing scene where people stagger out of the mummy's tomb with gored-out faces {and who exactly committed this dastardly act is left unexplained,because the mummy has yet to be awoken},very little happens for nearly an hour. The dialog and acting is pretty poor and it's obvious that much of is to to pad out the running time,although there is a little bit of tension at times.

Then at last the mummy and his zombie followers are awoken and it's mayhem typical of Italian horror potboilers of the early 80s-eye gougings,flesh eating,etc,although nothing that would probably shock today's viewer. The mummy,who looks a lot like the one Christopher Lee played,seems to show up all over the place so much that one wonders if he teleports himself,and the film's geography is really screwy. Still,there is a little bit of {intentional} humour,such as somebody asking why do some clothes on a market stall possess Made In Hong Kong stickers, and the climactic bloody rampage through a village is well staged,after which the film abruptly stops,as it they ran out of film.

Director Frank Agrama doesn't show much skill and fails to make the most of some scenes,like the zombies rising out of the sand as the sun sets-just think how good some other directors of zombie movies like Lucio Fulci would have made this scene. Dawn of the Mummy is not a very good film,even on a fun trash level,and it really show how good something such as Fulci's Zombie really is. Still,there is some fun to be had....if you're patient.
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Potentially deep and involving drama partially dissipated by over length
9 July 2006
The Man In The Gray Flannel is one of those films that would work very well at around two hours. However,at two hours and a half,it feels stretched out and much of the emotional investment is lost. Which is a shame. The basic idea,of a man who has to decide which is more important to him-his career,or his family,is one which is probably important to a great many people,as is the secondary plot element,which is guilt over something done in the past.

Indeed for the first hour the film does work very well,as introduces Gregory Peck's character,his family,and every now and again flashes back to events in the Second World War which made him the troubled man he is now {shades of Peck's starring role three years before in The Snows of Kilimanjaro!}.Bernard Hermann provides some especially beautiful music for Peck's affair with an Italian girl. The transitions are well done although one battle scene looks rather unconvincing these days.

However,the rest of the movie is something of a slog,as Peck wrestles with what is important in his life as he begins a new,high-powered job. It's not quite boring,because of the often superb acting-the best is Fredric March,as Peck's new boss,who has chosen success in business at the expense of everything else,and who barely notices he has a family. Shades of Citizen Kane maybe-what may it profit a man if he gains the world but loses his soul? However,far too much time is spent on certain things-a document Peck is involved in drafting,for instance,and a completely unnecessary subplot about who has the legal rights to a large home. All this only succeeds in dispersing the drama,and when the wartime romance subplot is briefly re-introduced right neat the end,it is dealt with far too abruptly.

Some re-editing would really have improved this movie-if not cutting,than maybe spacing the flashback sequences more evenly through out rather than in the first third. As it is,there is a lot that is worthwhile here,and it does make one think about what is important in life. Question though-were we really made to dislike Jennifer Jones' character so much?
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The War Zone (1999)
Uncomfortable but brilliantly acted and directed drama on a difficult subject
9 July 2006
The War Zone is a shattering,powerful film dealing with a very difficult subject. It's not exactly an easy film to like,but than incest is not a nice subject,and it's easy to see why generally it's still not a subject that is portrayed often in cinema.

Set for the most part in one house and revolving for the most part around it's four inhabitants,one might expect a dull,uncinematic kitchen-sink kind of movie,but any worries are almost immediately dispersed by the beautiful and bleak shots of the Devon locale,the rocks and waves especially seeming to comment on the film's story and characters. Throughout the film,director Tim Roth lets many scenes play out in almost silence,aware that a look can say as much as five pages of dialogue.

Immediately one is grabbed by the film,the tension is extraordinary as you know things are not right in the family. Although there is one main plot thrust which builds up to a truly shocking scene,throughout there are other hints about about other things which may or may not be going on. For example does the son actually have sexual feelings for his sister? Does the mother actually suspect from the beginning? Did the father,well,I won't spoil one especially disturbing suggestion at the end. The important thing is these are things that were put there and sometimes only register on an almost unconscious level. Roth and his writer treat the viewers of the film as intelligent adults,and one person's interpretation of one thing might be different to another persons's.

Ray Winstone,who sometimes seem to get by on just grunting and swearing,gives a marvellously complex characterisation-those who think he is too 'normal' and nice miss the point. Tilda Swinton isn't really in the film enough,but perhaps the biggest kudos would go to the two children,playing extremely difficult roles. Which brings me to the central 'rape scene' in the film. It's not the sort of thing which anyone should want to watch,and maybe the point could have made just as well with the camera just focusing on the character who is witnessing the event. Still,Roth deserves credit for having the guts to go ahead and not compromise.

Despite the central main subject matter,there are moments of love and compassion in this film,although don't expect a happy ending. Some things are resolved,but one gets the feeling other unpleasant things could easily take root,may have already done so,in the characters. Essential viewing,but be warned-you may feel like you need a good wash afterwards! And please Tim Roth-make another film!
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The Professor (1986)
The great Guiseppe Tornatore's somewhat forgotten cinema debut,an effective if familiar gangster saga
18 March 2006
The first feature from Cinema Paradiso man Guiseppe Tornatore,this is quite unlike his other films. It's a fairly generic but solid gangster saga along Scarface lines,and is loosely based on fact. There's little of the beauty and lyricism you would expect from Tornatore,but he proves himself perfectly adequate to the demands of the mob genre.

With a very strong performance from the erratic Ben Gazzara as the anti hero of the title {especially good in the latter sections when he starts to lose his mind},it's your basic rags-to-riches-to-comeuppance story,and indeed there is much that is very familiar. Nevetheless,there are a few original touches,such as having Gazzara's character rise to the top using his brains rather than violence and do it mostly while he is stuck in prison. Having his sister co-run the business with him is also a novel touch,and politicians are shown to be as crooked as the gangsters. The surprisingly low key ending is also very well judged.

Moving at quite a fast pace despite it's two and a half hour length,there are plenty of the expected brutal stabbings and shootings,well staged if a little repetitive. One very bloody murder in a shower is especially memorable,yet here as in some other scenes,we actually don't see all of the gory detail,just enough to make it effective.

Il Camorrista is a little choppy and has the odd awkward edit,as if it had been cut down from a much longer film. Still,gangster movie fans will find plenty to enjoy,and the film deserves more than the current UK DVD,which has shoddy picture quality,is badly dubbed and fullscreen!
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Neglected Biblical spectacle is great fun for fans of the genre
11 March 2006
Sodom and Gomorrah was a big flop when it was released and has been almost forgotten since then. This is a shame. It's certainly no classic like Ben Hur or Spartacus,and it has the obvious flaws many films like this share-corny dialogue,women's make-up and hair which betrays the decade the film was made in,to name but two-but if you like this kind of film it's very entertaining and worth a watch. At times you could swear De Mille directed it,but it was actually directed by Robert Aldrich,a real curio in his career.

The first hour does dawdle along a little,but the middle of the film contains a very lengthy battle sequence which is extremely impressive. In these days of CGI,it's great to see hundreds of REAL people fighting on the screen,and it's great the way the battle is in stages and shows various tactics by the two sides instead of just being a chaotic mess. The climatic destruction {well,it's based on a well known Bible story, so I don't think this is a spoiler!} of the twin cities of Sodom and Gommorah {although we only seem to see Sodom} is still quite a well achieved spectacle,in fact technically the film still generally holds up,except for a few very unconvincing shots when an army is engulfed in water.

Those who find some of the film a little heavy can enjoy the odd touch of vivid sadism {people on a wheel lowered into fire,a prisoner threatened by a blind man whose armour produces spikes when he breaths} and plenty of references to the 'sins' of the Sodomites-nothing is explicit,but things such as incest,sexual servitude and lesbianism are certainly hinted at. Yet the Hebrews,by comparison,are such a dull humourless lot,one might occasionally sympathise with the Sodomites,and this was maybe intended. As with most of Aldrich's films,it's actually quite cynical,and doesn't take easy sides.

Stuart Granger is fine as Lot but it's the underrated Stanley Baker,as the scheming Astorath who chases anything in a skirt, who gives the stand-out performance,memorably corrupt. One should also mention Miklos Rozsa's superb score which ranks along side his other classic scores for related films like Ben Hur and El Cid. He superbly evokes the period and setting whilst providing a gorgeous love theme and a number of other great themes. Of course it's very melodramatic,but it suits the film!

Sodom and Gomorrah exists in several heavily cut down versions which may quicken the pace but are extremely choppy,often cutting into scenes when they are obviously half way through. The full 155-odd minute version is sometimes shown,and is available in some countries on DVD,but really demands a proper,remastered,etc. release. It's really worth seeing,as long as you like this kind of stuff of course!
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Moon Warriors (1992)
Impressive pre-Crouching Tiger fantasy action and romance hindered a little by......Free Willy
22 February 2006
When Crouching Tiger,Hidden Dragon came out,critics fell over themselves praising it as being new and fresh. Whilst it is undoubtedly a good film,the fact is that they had been making films like that in Hong Kong for many years,with warriors jumping around the screen in tales of romance and honour. Moon Warriors is a good example. It has it's flaws,with one element rather laughable,but it still demands quite a bit of respect.

The action is really as good,maybe it's a bit more obvious the characters are on wires,but in terms of martial arts skill it's actually better, and just as visually great to watch. Highlights include a display of kites that suddenly somehow turns into a ninja attack,a possibly Macbeth-inspired 'moving trees'sequence,and gorgeous Hong Kong babes Maggie Cheung and Ania Mui battling it out with swords.

Despite what you may have heard about films like this,it certainly isn't all fighting. A great deal of time is given to the love element,and there are perhaps too many montages to the sentimental theme song {as usual,the translated words on the subtitles don't really work}. Howvever,the film retains that melancholic romantic feel present in many other Hong Kong fantasy movies of the time {such as The Bride With White Hair and Saviour of the Soul}.

Unfortunately there is a subplot of a WHALE which is the hero's best friend,and it's just laughable. Some versions of the film even have outtakes at the end of star Andrew Lau with the thing. Still,there's plenty in the film which is worthwhile. It's really quite extraordinary what Hong Kong filmmakers used to conjure up on what were usually tiny budgets and rushed productions.
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Fine fantasy adventure for all the family,and a worthy adaptation of the book
22 February 2006
Although sadly considered by quite a few to be just a kid's movie,a kind of juvenile Lord of the Rings {and mind you,what's wrong with that?},this is a terrific fantasy epic that may feature children as the protagonists but is certainly not childish. Whilst C.S Lewis did indeed write his books for children,the makers of this film adaptation of what is not the first but easily the best known book have carefully steered the film away being simply for children to it being a great film for all the family. Of course if you're the sort who would laugh as talking animals and the like,it's not worth you seeing this film,but do you hear many adults say,for instance,The Wizard of Oz is rubbish and just for kids?

Opening dramatically if a little discertainly with planes bombing WW2 London,the film proceeds at a leisurely place,introducing the young protagonists and us to the land and denizens of Narnia gradually,but the pace gradually gets faster and faster until the final battle,an eye-popping sequence featuring more mythical creatures than you can imagine.

Worried readers of the book have nothing to fear,the film is quite faithful and even,dare I say it,improves on the book at times. The children are characterised better,and a few sequences are added in the middle section of the story to bump up the pace. Only one major scene from the book near the end,where a spell is cast and 'things' come to life {I can't say more as I try to avoid spoilers} is disappointing and falls far short of it's potential.

The acting of the children is excellent,although Tilda Swinton gives the stand out performance as the scary but oddly sexy White Witch. The special effects are mostly great. I say mostly,because while the effects team have pulled off a few miracles such as with the talking lion Aslan {a CGI creation so convincing he cane almost be mistaken for a real lion},there is the odd element which appears to have been rushed,such as two instances of DREADFUL back projection {how could they?} and a scene involving a frozen lake and falling ice {one of the 'invented' scenes} which also suffers with poor direction. Al Adamson {of Shrek 1 and 2} sometimes shows his inexperience with live action,although he generally does an okay job.

While the action is conspicuously bloodless,there is quite a bit more darkness in the film than one might expect-very young kids may be scared by things such as the Witch's wolf servants,and the ritual killing of one of the film's characters three quarters of the way through is surprisingly disturbing. Some may even see disturbing sexual elements in the scenes between Edmund and the Witch who is trying to seduce him to what George Lucas would have called 'the dark side'.

Generally though,this is a fine fantasy adventure movie that certainly bodes well for any future films of Lewis' books and,despite complaints to the contrary,is no more 'Christian' then Lord of the Rings. Don't expect Lord of the Rings or,indeed,Harry Potter,and you'll find much to enjoy.
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Somewhat unpromising but effective mixing of WW2 spy fare with an intense romantic thriller works superbly
22 February 2006
Eye of the Needle is an oddly structured but nonetheless extremely effective film which in many ways is quite old fashioned in tone and feel,with the addition of a little 'modern'sex and violence. For almost the first half,the film is a fairly conventional but quite gripping spy thriller,as a German agent causes havoc in World War 2 England. There are few surprises,but Donald Sutherland is mesmerising to watch {even if his accent wavers} and the plot at least sounds almost plausible. The keen eyed,however,may spot mistakes in the period detail.

Then Sutherland is washed up on a Scottish island inhabited by a crippled man and his frustrated wife,and the film changes into an incredibly tense mixture of romance and thrills. Sutherland and Nelligan's affair may be basically sexual,but there is real chemistry between them and a real sense of desperation,of two lonely people throwing themselves together. The last half hour is real edge-of-the-seat stuff,perhaps almost bordering on psycho-thriller,but it really works.

Throughout the film Sutherland remains the villain and does do some nasty things,but it's a measure of his performance that occasionally we do come close to sympathising with him. Acting-wise though the film really belongs to Nelligan,a tragically underused and beautiful actress who has to go through the motions of loneliness and frustration,than lust,then fear,and eventually heroism,and does so superbly.

Aided tremendously by the last ever score from the legendary film composer Miklos Rozsa,who provides a moving love theme and some especially thrilling music for the last section of the film,Eye of the Needle perhaps shouldn't really work as well at it does,but that's a measure of it's quality.
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Uneven cop comedy enlivened by terrific fighting from a Bruce Lee-inspired Samo Hung
19 February 2006
Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon is an average cop comedy thriller raised to a higher level by some superb fight action. It's not really one of Samo Hung's classics,and sometimes comes across as being little than plot elements or scenes from lots of other cop thrillers,American or otherwise. There's the gangster's moll and her shady,crafty lawyer who the hero wants to beat up {Police Story],the lengthy section of the film where our two cops go on holiday,meet up with two girls and consider leading a more peaceful life {Running Scared},the main villain brutally killing an employee at dinner {The Untouchables and many others}and many others. Samo Hung and his co-star Karl Maka are two cops but their behaviour is as bad as the leads in Freebie and the Bean.

Much of the comedy does not really travel too well,it's generally mildly amusing rather than funny,and Maka's manic persona can be a little irritating. Still,you have Hung's fighting skills in full flow,and he does a superb imitation of Bruce Lee during some moments. Fans of Lee will enjoy the way that,rather than copying scenes wholesale from Lee's movies,he mostly sticks to his own style but drops in little blink-and-you're-miss-them bits of Lee,for instance the tapping of the two sticks from Game or Death or the stomping of the sniper from Way of the Dragon.

There are a few interestingly touches,such as the transvestite killers,and sections {such as the afore-mentioned 'holiday' sequence}where the film almost grinds to a halt. Still,the film is generally OK fun as long as one doesn't expect a classic of Pedicab Driver or Magnificent Butcher proportions.
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Jackie Chan's failed US debut is quite fun and better than it's reputation
19 February 2006
This Jackie Chan vehicle,his first attempt to break into the American market,generally has a bad reputation. Jackie himself hated myself the film,one of the reasons being that he had little to no control over the action. It was also a box office flop,despite it regrouping some of the team that made Enter The Dragon.

However,The Big Brawl is not all that bad. Indeed at first it seems that it does not at all deserve it's critics. Lalo Schifrin's main theme is exceptionally groovy,the 1030s Chicage setting is reasonably well evoked and there is one early fight scene,in which Jackie defeats three baddies seemingly by accident,that,although a little slow,does come across as being classic Jackie,combining fighting and slapstick typically well. As the film goes on it loses interest somewhat,especially as the final third is just Jackie fighting a bunch of wrestler types in the Big Brawl of the title. Nonetheless, if you don't expect much and/or have not seen many other of Chan's movie fights,they are fairly entertaining,as he defeats his opponents with his skill and agility, and despite the slow choreography,he does perform a few great moves and dangerous moments.

Elsewhere Mako is great fun as Jackie's uncle/teacher and his training scenes with Jackie are fun. It's also interesting to see Jackie in a supposedly sexual relationship with his girlfriend {something he normally shied away from}and here are also a few good laughs involving some inept gangsters. The Big Brawl is seriously flawed,but it really isn't bad. It's certainly better than The Protector!
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Titanic (1997)
Despite some glaring faults,Cameron's mixing of romance with real life disaster is still impressive and occasionally brilliant
28 November 2005
It's really quite odd. When Titanic first came out,the reviews were mixed but the public generally loved it,those who disliked the film were definitely in the minority. Over the years,it has became somewhat fashionable to slag Titanic off,even if a great many of those people who did so were probably amongst those who made it such an enormous hit in the cinemas. Titanic is flawed,definitely,sometimes greatly so. However,it's also a tremendous achievement for it's director James Cameron. Mixing a real disaster with romance is harder to do than some might think. Maybe he did have a right to say "I'm king of the world" when the film won Best Picture at the Oscars. Just once.

The modern day opening is excellent,making effective use of some of Cameron's real footage he took of the sunken Titanic. There is a real sense of mystery. Than we flash back to the Titanic being boarded,and the film stalls just a little for around two hours. The attention to detail is amazing {even all the cutlery matched,you know} and there is nothing wrong with an extremely slow build up to action-think of The Seven Samourai. However,the central romance between Leo and Kate is often badly written and unconvincing. For a start Kate's Rose would certainly not have done two things she does in the film as quickly as she did {Obviously thousands of teenage girls seeing the film in 1997 would disagree with my views}. We also have to suffer Cameron constantly labouring the point that the poor people on the ship are better than the rich people.

However,the final 80 or so minutes,detailing the sinking,is simply brilliant film making. The suspense is built expertly,even though we know what will happen,and climaxes with some technical shots which are still impressive. Perhaps there is a little two much emphasis on the central couple,but there are some truly moving moments,and it really feels true,although of course Cameron did play with the facts a little here and there,as at least one descendant of one of the survivors has pointed out. The following sequence involving the boats is extremely haunting,with some especially good use of sound. As for the final scene,it does manage to be pretty moving,it's schmaltzy but it works {though hardly original,think of Somewhere In Time and various 40s romantic fantasies}.

Titanic has some excellent use of CGI {watch out for the transitions from present to the past on the sunken ship} and one glaringly bad special effect-the iceberg which looks like polystyrene. James Horner's best selling score is really quite poor and only occasionally brings the emotion it should do. Performances are generally excellent and sometimes succeed in overcoming some thin characterisation {such as Billy Zane as Rose's fiancée,who even has to suffer with far too much eye make up!}

Overall Titanic is still worth seeing,and sometimes it really does hit the heights that it should. It succeeds more than it fails,which is impressive in a film as ambitious as this.
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Somewhat feeble conclusion to the Blind Dead series just about saved by it's monsters
23 November 2005
The last of the four Blind Dead films is possibly the weakest. That title is normally given to The Ghost Galleon,but at least that mustered some originality. This one mostly seems content to rehash things from the first two films {The Dead besieging a house,a flashback depicting a sacrifice,you get the picture},and the few original ideas are full of holes,such as the periodic sacrifice of virgins to the Dead in a TINY village that never seems to run out of them. Just wait for the 'explanation' for the seagulls flying at night!

Still,the first half of the film does have quite a good atmosphere of dread,and Ossorio again shows how well he can build suspense. The Blind Dead,who appear less in this instalment than in the previous two,are still effective menaces,but all the scenes they appear are considerably weakened by what is probably the most pathetic day-for-night shooting ever. The scenes just look like they are taking place in the early morning.

The film's last half hour is fairly exiting,but it's almost as if Ossorio didn't really care about this one,and just concentrated on odd little details,such as the crabs which crawl over the Dead's victims,a good and grisly touch. The Blind Dead remain classic movie monsters though. How about a Hollywood remake featuring slightly improved versions of the Blind Dead and a budget to do them justice?
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Quite effective and eerie third Blind Dead film does the best it can with it's obvious limitations
23 November 2005
Although one wouldn't know by the title,this is the third entry in the Spanish Amanda De Ossorio directed Blind Dead series,and as usual doesn't really have anything to do with the others except the Blind Dead themselves,those scary skeletal Templar knight zombies. This film is often considered the worst of the series,and it's certainly the tamest in terms of gore,but it's actually a very underrated film.

Skillfully exploiting it's main setting-a ghostly ship,Ossorio really manages to turn somewhat unpromising material into something quite effective. Yes,the plot hardly exists-some people are stranded on a ship inhabited by the Blind Dead,and that's really it,but the build up is ominous,the interior of the ship is made into quite a frightening place even without the Dead,and the Dead themselves,even shorn of their horses,are extremely creepy. Ossorio doesn't really get round the problem of the Dead being extremely slow moving yet able to catch their victims,but the climax of the film features the most effective shots of the Dead in the series,rising out of the water,looking truly spooky.

Hardly a classic,and there's no getting away from the unconvincing models of the ship,but this film really works very well within it's limitations.
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Less interesting but more enjoyable and exciting follow-up to Tombs Of The Blind Dead
23 November 2005
The first of the three sequels {well,perhaps 'follow ups' is a better word,since there is no continuity running between the four films except the monsters} to Tombs Of The Blind Dead is in many ways a more enjoyable {if not necessarily better} film. The pace is a lot faster,with the scary Templar knights from the first film appearing after about ten minutes,the acting is better,there are more characters,some of whom we actually get to like,and there is even a bit of humour. Because there is far more action,director Amanda De Ossorio doesn't have to take the silly diversions the first film sometimes took {i.e.the lesbian flashback}. For gorehounds,there's a lot more blood and brutality too,with a particularly graphic heart removal followed by some very nasty eye burning standing out.

However,having the Blind Dead on screen far more often robs them of their impact a little,and at times the action gets rather repetitive,with endless shots of the Dead swinging their swords down on villagers. Also,Ossorio could have attempted a BIT of continuity with the previous film. For a start the way the Templars are executed in the obligatory flashback is different. The best way to enjoy these films is to treat them as four different handlings of the same basic idea.

There is the odd really tense scene,such as when one person uses a young child as bait to escape the Blind Dead. Tombs of the Blind Dead was more interesting,but this first sequel is probably the most entertaining film of the quartet. No real surprises,but generally good fun
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Uneven,padded chiller redeemed by terrific suspense and horror sequences
19 November 2005
Tombs of the Blind Dead is the first of four films by Spanish director Amanda De Ossorio featuring some of the creepiest,most effective living dead in horror film history. None of the films are brilliant,but when the skeletal,hooded Blind Dead are on screen,moving in slow motion to the chilling accompaniment of religious chanting and weird clicking sounds,they really soar. This first episode has many flaws,but still deserves minor classic status,because when it's good,it's very good.

De Ossorio shows tremendous skill in the build up and execution of the Blind Dead sequences. Especially good is an early scene of a girl camping for the night near where the Blind Dead sleep,the tension is dragged out and dragged out in a masterful way. However,only having it's title creatures only in the first and last half hour,and hardly anything resembling plot,means that Ossorio feels obliged to make some unnecessary diversions,including a tame lesbian flashback and a somewhat gratuitous rape scene which leaves a bad taste in the mouth. A flashback scene showing the Templars 'jousting ' at a poor female victim has a real Sadean quality and is hard to watch but is at least more important to the story.

Acting is rudimentary and one gets the feeling that the filmmakers only really cared about the few Blind Dead sequences {although one unexplained episode in the middle featuring a zombie girl is well handled}. Nonetheless,those sequences make the film well worth watching for horror fans.
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Beautiful historical romantic drama which cries out to be saved from obscurity
15 September 2005
It's sad that I'm the first one to review this film,which appears to have been entirely forgotten even by those few who have actually seen it. It's an interesting combination of factual historical epic and romantic drama that really deserves to be rescued from obscurity. Taking place over about 20 years,it's about the Greek inventor Archimedes,who lives on the island of Syracuse and is promised to be married. However,he falls in love with a gypsy dancer. When she is kidnapped and taken to Rome,a knock on the head causes her to lose her memory and she marries a Roman general. I'll not reveal any further plot twists,so to keep some surprises,but the turns are many and often strange.

For what initially seems like a historical actioner there is very little action until the final quarter,which has some impressive scenes on probably a limited budget,especially a scene where Archimdes uses sunlight and mirrors to burn the Roman fleet. Despite showing some historical events which probably did happen,it's more than anything a love story,oddly reminiscent of Random Harvest in it's amnesia theme. Despite being pretty unbelievable,it really works in a old-style,corny way if you surrender to it. Towards the end,a powerful sense of sadness and loss pervades the film and it's ultimately quite moving. Perhaps the final scenes are a little rushed though.......In fact there is the odd awkward edit every now and again,as if the film had been cut down somewhat.

Rosanno Brazzi convinces as the love-struck inventor,and there is some beautiful photography {such as when Archimedes first sees his love swimming in a pool},but probably even more notable is the great score from the neglected composer Francicso Lavagnino,which contains a truly gorgeous love theme. Indeed there are so many good things about this film that it's near invisibility beggars belief.

I first saw this film nearly 15 years ago on British television {in a season of mainly rather dull Italian sword and sandal movies}subtitled,and it left a great impression. Luckily,I managed to find somebody who had taped it and copied it. I've since managed to obtain a DVD,but this film demands a legitimate release on DVD with English subtitles so more people can know of this movie.
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Masterly drama,a fascinating though frustrating and possibly even upsetting warning against sacrificing one's personal life for one's job
15 September 2005
The Remains Of The Day is a masterly,superbly crafted film,and this is coming from someone who generally dislikes the 'Merchant Ivory' school of British 'heritage cinema',which usually looks pretty but lacks any real emotion,depth or understanding. With this film,this approach is the perfect one,centering as it does around a man who gives his entire life to service in a great house as head Butler.

As expected,the film moves at a very slow pace,but it is quite fascinating right from the start,detailing the workings of 'Darlington Hall' in minute detail. However,it is also a very Frustrating film,because Antony Hopkin's character is so rigid,so seemingly devoid of emotion,so steadfast in his refusal to do anything that might alter and better his life,that one feels like giving him a slap and shouting to him "sort yourself out!".

For example,when his father dies,he simply carries on with his duties. He seems to not have an opinion on anything,such as the pro-Nazi goings-ons in the house.Most notably,there is his relationship with the housekeeper,Emma Thompson. Obviously deep down he feels something,and he reads romantic novels {a particularly poignant scene,Antony Hopkin's performance being particularly brilliant here},but he will seemingly not say anything,let alone act. It's painful to watch.

Of course it's part of the film's genius that one feels such a reaction to the character. Throughout,we seem to learn bits and pieces about him ,yet by the end we seen to have learnt hardly anything about him at all. The film has an appropriately cold and distant feel,choosing to observe events rather than comment on them,just like Hopkins' character. However,right near the end,there is a devastating shot of one of the film's characters receding into the distance and filled with tears,which is all the more poignant because of it's restraint. Get the hankies.

The Remains Of The Day is superbly acted,written and photographed,and yet it's a hard film to warm to. Nevertheless,the fact that it inspires such powerful and conflicting emotions raises it well above many others of it's ilk.
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The Party (1968)
Helarious comedy,a minor masterpiece of slapstick and observation
15 September 2005
Most people have several films or TV programs which never fails to make them split their sides in laughter. For me,one of those is The Party. It must be said right now that comedy,as everyone knows,is a very personal thing-what some may find funny others others will not and just stare at the screen in boredom!

Conceptually The Party is very simple-an Indian bit-part actor is accidentally invited to a posh Hollywood soirée and proceeds to create havoc. There are some who might be offended at the very idea of a 'white'actor 'blacking up to play an Indian actor,Hrundi V. Bakshi,but unlike Peter Seller's Inspector Clouseau,his character in his film is never made out to be a fool. He may be accident-prone,but he's a much better person than all the Hollywood agents,producers,starlets,etc.he meets at the party,with the exception of Claudine Monet's starlet who begins to see his qualities. Indeed,there is quite a bit of savage satire at the expense of these people.

Of course one watches this for the comedy,which starts immediately with Sellers refusing to die in front of the camera and than accidentally blowing up a film set. Once we switch to the party,director Blake Edwards lets the action build gradually,with a great deal of observation. Gags are not thrown at the audience,they are gently dealt out. Take a dinner scene,for instance,Edwards lets us hear the idle chatter and for a while we are seduced into this facile world,and might even miss Sellers being given a chair which is far too small for him so you can just see his head,the waiter getting ever more drunk and finally the climax of the scene involving a piece of food. The Party does require patience,to be sure,but watch closely and there are laughs almost everywhere. Take note also of Henry Mancini's terrific background music which plays almost constantly and comments subtly on the action.

Towards the end the film does seem to run out of steam,after side splitting gags involving everything from out of control toilet roll to a shoe on the waiter's tray,it seems to run out of ideas. The only way the filmmakers can climax the film is to make the party more and more wild,with Russian ballet dancers,'hip' youngsters with an elephant,lots of foam,etc. However,the film's final scene between Sellers and Monet is truly charming and beneath all the satire and slapstick there is a great sweetness to the film. It seems that these days comedy filmmakers aim to get laughs just by being ever more shocking. In 1968 they didn't need to.
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Not simply the greatest of gangster movies,but one of the greatest movies ever,a multi-layered,melancholic masterpiece that demands repeated viewings
13 September 2005
Once Upon A Time In America is the crowning achievement of director Sergio Leone. It's nearly four hours long,and demands total concentration from beginning to end. However,those willing to submit will find it more than worth it.

Reminiscent at times of some very old gangster films such as The Roaring Twenties,one will find almost every gangster movie cliché one can find-one can imagine Leone half remembering bits and pieces from films he saw as a youth. However,he never glamourises his protagonists-he may dare us to like Robert De Niro's 'Noodles'-a murderous thug and rapist who always seems to make the wrong decisions-but that's different from glamourising him. The notorious rape scene is all the more hard to watch because its painful to watch Noodles try to destroy himself and his girlfriend by going through with it.

What really makes this film different is it's overwhelming melancholy. Leone's favourite loyalty/betrayal theme is there,but the film is also a study of memory,of a lost soul coming to terms with his past. Therefore,starting in mid-plot in the 1930s,than flashing back and forth in time,was the right choice {if initially confusing!}. This is the culmination of Leone's increasing interest in the flashback structure-think especially of the parallel story told in A Fistful of Dynamite's flashbacks.

There is action,but it's mostly quick and brutal,and there is also humour,such as a very funny scene set to Rossini's Thieving Magpie where the gangsters are loose in a hospital filled with babies. However,the broody,melancholic tone never really goes away,and towards the end,the film grinds to a virtual halt. Be warned,there is no action climax,just a series of somewhat oblique dialogue scenes and revelations.

The expected Leone flamboyancy is hardly to be found,but the film still often soars most when dialogue is kept to a minimum and Ennio Morricone's gorgeous music takes over. Some of the most brilliant scenes just consist of Noodles seeing and reflecting. In one especially effective and poignant scene near the end,an old Noodles is leaving his love Deborah as her achingly sad theme plays,and he sees her son,who is the spitting image of,well,I try to avoid spoilers! As the music changes into the still sad but more majestic main theme,the camera slowly zooms,as it often does,into Noodles' sad eyes. We go to what is initially a blur,until we realise it's curtains. The person who holds the key to all this appears,like a ghost,through the curtains and goes onto a balcony,from where he sees the same 'son' with a girlfriend. Sheer brilliance,and not a gun in sight!

Of course De Niro is great,but he's obviously very restrained and reflective. It's James Woods who really dominates,so dynamic here,this should have made him a big star. One must also mention Tonni Delli Colli,who photographs three time periods with slightly different hues but still subtly.

Leone's original cut was five hours and if you want to be picky there are holes in the plot. Leone leaves a great many things ambiguous,but shouldn't all great art ask questions? Once Upon A Time In America is not necessarily easy viewing,but it IS great art,the final statement of one of the best filmmakers of all time.
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Not quite as interesting and more conventional, but also more fun than the first movie
14 August 2005
The first sequel to A Man Called Horse {there was another one a few years later which turned out to be something of a disappointment} is a much more conventional adventure movie. This does not mean it's bad,not at all,in fact it's probably more enjoyable. There's more English language dialogue,The Sioux dialogue is subtitled instead of just being incomprehensible to those who don't know Sioux,and it follows a familiar action movie structure and scenario. It just lacks the originality and edge of the original,where we were exploring an unfamiliar culture and weren't sure all the time if we liked everything about it. Disappontingly,none of the Sioux in the first film appear to return.

Well directed by Irvin Kershner,generally a journeyman director who occasionally excelled himself {i.e.The Empire Strikes Back},it has a fantastic cut early on from violence in the wild west to fox hunting in England,a different kind of savagery. The early scenes do a really good job of showing the film's hero,again well played by Richard Harris,as a man who appears to have everything-a title,a big house,a wife,etc} but inside is empty because he was only truly himself when he was with the Sioux. The first half of the film is leisurely,and has a re-run of the Sun Vow ritual of the first film,but longer and more graphic. But it's essential to the film,especially the vision Harris has of meeting himself as an old man.

The film's second half is mostly conventional if well staged action fare,although Harris looks out of place riding with the Sioux in western clothes-surely he would have dressed like one of them? Laurence Rosenthal's soaring score is wonderful and,in contrast with the more authentic sounding music of the first film,is more evidence that the filmmakers were generally going for a more romanticised approach. On that level,this sometimes rousing follow up works well.
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Probably the most realistic Hollywood depiction of Native American life
10 August 2005
Although undoubtedly a great achievement,Dances With Wolves was definitely NOT the first major film to depict Native Americnas in a sympathetic light. There was Apache and Broken Arrow in the 50s,and quite a few in the 70s. This one,although not really a great film like the same year's Little Big Man,is nonetheless a very interesting watch.

Containing very little dialogue,and not really much action,a Man Called Horse is maybe not the most entertaining film,but the almost documentary style depiction of Native American life is fascinating and convincing. In some ways,it's more honest than Dances With Wolves. Whereas that film had a somewhat overly 'nice' view of Sioux life that seemed almost simplistic,this one doesn't say away from the less pleasant side. Look at the way they treat their elderly in this film! A shame they couldn't find more Native Americans for the cast though.

Most famous for it's 'Sun Vow' scene,where Richard Harris {in definitely one of his best roles}hangs by hooks through his nipples in a ritual to prove himself as a man,this is a dour and downbeat film,but it's familiar story of a man alone in an alien culture trying to prove himself is occasionally rousing ,such as in the battle near the end,and does have it's touching moments,such as when Harris and his future bride first tentatively notice each other.

Maybe not for all tastes,but essential viewing if you're interested in the subject.
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Walkabout (1971)
Haunting,poignant and thought provoking study in culture clash disguised as a simple adventure story
10 August 2005
Warning: Spoilers
One of those films that initially seems quite simple but is actually very complex and asks many questions,Walkabout is a stunning piece of cinema. The actual plot is pretty straight forward and can be described in a sentence,but it deals with important issues and leaves the viewer to ponder on things. It also features some of the best photography {by it's director} ever,so that even if you're not interested in thinking and questioning what you have just seen,you can just sit back and let the images wash over you.

Indeed,many of the best sequences in the film emphasise image and music above dialogue,such as the {slightly controversial} scene where Jenny Agutter takes a nude swim in a lake,intercut with shots of the protagonists journey,while John Barry's simply heavenly theme plays {his score is one of his most evocative}.It's beautiful and soothing,and not gratuitous,Agutter's nudity is there to make a point,to empathise her character's sense of freedom,brief though it might be. The scene also contrasts the behaviour of the Aboriginal in the film {who despite being not 'civilised' goes nowhere near Agutter during her swim} with a group of male scientists in the desert {who ogle and leer at the one female around}

Other imagery in the film is more jarring,with the director Nicolas Roeg perhaps overdoing the amount of shots of slaughtered animals,and equally the use of sound is occasionally forced,such as the oft heard sound of a radio being tuned. One is sometimes unsure of what Roeg is trying to say.

However,the major themes of the film are unavoidable and pertinent. It contrasts 'civilisation' with 'savagery',and asks us to decide which is best. No Noble Savage clichés here,the harshness of the Aboriginals life {look at all the flies that buzz around him}is not avoided. There is the way that 'civilisation' encroaches on nature and often ends up just exploiting it. Perhaps however the film is more about communication between cultures,or lack of,and it ends up being very moving,a possible romance that doesn't happen because of simple lack of understanding,in fact Agutter doesn't really bother to communicate properly with the Aboriginal at all {but note how her young brother and the Aboriginal do understand each other}. The final scene is extremely sad and poignant,but watch it again and decide if it isn't just idealised memory rather than real memory. Even right at the end,Roeg gets us to think about what we are being shown.

The acting by the three leads is astonishing,especially by Lucien John {Roeg's son} as the young boy. Perhaps a few of Roeg's stylistic quirks may annoy,and it's certainly not a film for those after action.However,Walkabout is an fascinating and rewarding experience that will probably linger long in the memory long after many other films have faded.
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