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The Artist (2011)
C'est magnifique! 91%
As we hurtle yet again towards the Oscars, I always try to make the effort to catch previous winners. I find it's easier to fully judge a film once the hype has died down and dissenting voices can be fully heard, rather than dismissed as being deliberately controversial. With this in mind, I really had no idea what to expect from this successful revival of a long-dead format. But I'm happy to report that the numerous awards it received are fully justified - not only is it a loving homage to the magic of cinema but also full of genuine humour, shed-loads of charm and wonderful performances from the cast. Looks like silence really is golden.
Hollywood in 1927 and silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is happily promoting his latest hit "The Russian Affair" alongside studio producer Al Zimmer (John Goodman) and his ever-popular canine sidekick. Bumping into enthusiastic fan Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) outside the theatre, George encourages her to become a star herself and soon, Peppy's career as a dancer and actress takes off. But within a few years, the silent movie is replaced by 'talkies' and George finds himself on the Hollywood scrapheap while Peppy's career takes off. As George hits rock bottom, Peppy realises that she cannot deny her feelings for him - but will tragedy strike before she can tell him?
I cannot begin to tell you how much personality is contained within "The Artist", a film that flies in the face of modern convention by being largely silent and black-and-white. Each performance is beautifully portrayed on screen, largely through the lost art of acting with the face - Dujardin in particular and Bejo both look like they could have stepped off the silver screen themselves, looking and feeling every inch like early cinema stars. But they are the cherries on top - Goodman and James Cromwell lead a fantastic supporting cast who utterly convince. The screenplay, taking its inspiration from several silent stars who couldn't cross over to talkies, is believable and charming while director Michel Hazanavicius has a good eye for the era - even the opening credits look authentic for the time while some of the scenes are reminiscent of silent movies of the time. I loved the scene between Dujardin and Bejo on the stairs of what looked like the Bradbury Building (from "Blade Runner"), shot side-on and instantly recognisable to anyone who's had the good fortune to watch "Metropolis". But because it's a modern silent movie, it can play with convention - the dream sequence is a prime example, twisting our expectations of what the movie is and what it's capable of.
The musical soundtrack is also first class, complimenting the action on screen without being too intrusive. Really, I'm struggling to think of anything not to like about "The Artist" and God knows that I can be really picky at the best of times. There will be many viewers who won't like it, put off by the near-total absence of audible dialogue or the black-and-white visuals. These are the same people, presumably, that didn't enjoy "WALL·E" because it had no audible dialogue to begin with. But that fault lies with them and not with "The Artist", a wonderfully winning film that really can be watched by everyone. I spent the whole movie with a broad smile on my face, entranced by the beauty and magic of it. And even though I was born in 1980, it made me nostalgic for when cinemas brought excitement and romance into peoples lives, where films were enjoyed the way they are supposed to be - on a big screen in a sumptuous setting instead of downloaded onto a tablet the size of a mouse mat. And what better reason is there to recommend a movie besides the rarely-uttered statement "It made me happy"?
Source Code (2011)
An imaginative and high quality science fiction blast - 87%
I might be inclined to argue that of the many things George Lucas introduced to cinema-goers back in 1977, the slow death of intelligent science-fiction is one. Nowadays, sci-fi is associated with the likes of the "Transformers" franchise and (more chillingly) conventions full of nerds. I find this a real shame - when I watch a film, I want to be able to think about it instead of gawking at the latest fancy visuals animated on a computer somewhere. But sci-fi is not dead yet as this proves that there is some life left in a long-stagnant genre. Directed by someone with only one other feature under his belt and scribed by the man who brought us "Species 3", you might be forgiven for ignoring this when it came out. Shame on you because this pulsating thriller offers a gripping story, a mind-bending mystery and Jake Gyllenhaal in fine form.
US Air Force soldier Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) wakes up on a crowded train to Chicago but things are not what they seem. The beautiful woman opposite him (Michelle Monaghan) calls him Sean and he appears to be inhabiting a different body entirely. Eight minutes later, the train blows up killing everyone on board but Colter finds himself alive and at a mercy of a secret military project. Gleaning what little information he can from his handler Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), he is forced to relive the previous eight minutes in order to identify the bomber before he can strike again. But what is the truth of his predicament and which reality can he really trust?
Like a cross between "Quantum Leap" and "Groundhog Day", "Source Code" is a wonderfully rare blend of exciting thriller and genuinely imaginative science-fiction. The hunt for the bomber on its own gives the movie a tension (together with the soundtrack) that money can't buy but as the first run finishes and it appears that something else entirely different is going on, the movie takes on a unique vibe that I enjoyed very much. Gyllenhaal is surprisingly brilliant in the role, his best performance since "Donnie Darko". At first bewildered by the experiences, he understands his mission and the implications of where he is and what he's trying to do. Like all great science fiction, the movie forces you to ask questions of the film's themes and for those of you who miss such movies, this is a welcome return. Directed with confidence by Duncan Jones ("Moon)) and superbly written by Ben Ripley, I honestly wasn't expecting to enjoy the movie as much as I did. It also disproves the theory that sci-fi needs to have aliens, superheroes or giant robots stomping all over Shia LaBeouf's face. Although, thinking about it...
I digress. "Source Code" is probably the first proper science fiction film I've seen since "Minority Report" and is much better than that. It can feel a bit depressing at times, which I imagine it would be if you were forced to die horribly in eight minutes time over and over again. But for sheer quality, there's not much released these days that can touch "Source Code" for class, imagination and entertainment. I'm reassured that I'm not alone in wanting to be challenged at the movies, that there are others who are fed up with being patronised and bombarded with endless CG. If this is you then this movie will be a shot in the arm and feel like settling down with a good book. However, if you want see Megan Fox in denim shorts then you know where to go. And if we ever met in person, please don't mention how much more "Transformers" makes at the cinema compared to decent, intelligent thrillers like this one. I'm depressed enough as it is, thanks...
The International (2009)
A cracking old-school thriller let down by a couple of issues - 76%
Are bankers the new Nazis for the 21st Century? I only ask because the faceless, shadowy corporations they work for seem to crop up in an inordinate number of thrillers, making bankers the pin-striped version of Nazi soldiers. Only with a briefcase instead of a machine-gun. Nevertheless, they are still not to be trusted - the financial crash of 2008 made sure people wouldn't forget that in a hurry. It's little things like this that make "The International" an enjoyable watch because what might have seemed implausible before is now suddenly very real. This classy thriller is a little different to the sort of material director Tom Tykwer is drawn to and is actually very well shot indeed. Its globe-trotting location shoots and intense soundtrack make it feel like an old-fashioned spy thriller but hidden within is arguably one of the best shoot-outs I've seen since the famous Lobby scene from "The Matrix".
Interpol agent Salinger (Clive Owen, looking like he's just woken up in someone else's bed) has been investigating suspicious dealings at the International Bank of Business & Credit for over two years. Just as a lead appears, his partner is possibly murdered and the lead disappears. Working alongside Manhattan Assistant DA Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts), Salinger believes that the IBBC is responsible for a high number of arms deals to rogue nations, money laundering and terrorist funding but is unable to gather enough evidence. After an Italian arms manufacturer and presidential candidate (Luca Barbareschi) is assassinated by a contract killer (Brían F. O'Byrne) working for the IBBC, Salinger and Whitman follow him to New York. Can they successfully bring him in or will the IBBC get to them first?
If one ignores the subtext about killing all the bankers, "The International" is a first-rate thriller that has both the intellect and firepower to really entertain. For the most part, it's a slow-burning conspiracy film that doesn't do Owen or Watts many favours - neither imbue their characters with much personality. The only things that liven the pace up are occasional chase sequences (Tykwer was responsible for the excellent "Run, Lola, Run" way back when) and brief moments of intrigue. It's as though Tykwer was saving all his energies for the shoot-out at the Guggenheim gallery which is a magnificent piece of action cinema, one of the best. Noisy, brutal and beautifully shot, it makes a mockery of most recent action films with much bigger budgets. But all too soon, it goes back to the story although you just want more gun play. The film's sentiments that the world is governed by organisations investing our money in political upheaval with nothing we can do about it is rammed home in a manner reminiscent of a Michael Moore documentary so it's a shame that Owen and Watts couldn't make me care more. What we're seeing here, I suspect, is the reason Daniel Craig was chosen to be 007 rather than Owen.
I'm a little annoyed because I feel that "The International" could have been much better. It's a rare thriller that never patronises the viewer and treats them to a positively electric action sequence. It's also remarkably topical and beautifully shot - characters are dwarfed by the vast urban landscapes and cold, sterile buildings they enter. But it lacks a couple of things, namely a more engaging lead duo and a more urgent pace to the editing. Despite the action, it feels a lot slower compared to something like "The Bourne Identity" which was fast, frenetic and jam-packed with blistering action. "The International" manages intrigue by the bucket-load and just the one brilliant action scene. But it can't quite bring it all together - I still had questions at the end and personally, I hate it when that happens. The ending also felt an anti-climax although the film utilises the same rooftops of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul that Sam Mendes did in "Skyfall" and sadly, I saw that film first. I so want to score it higher than I have but I just can't. It's a great little thriller that captivates as well as it entertains and if you can forgive the faults then you'll enjoy it too.
White Christmas (1954)
They don't make them like this any more - 72%
In this time of year when tradition becomes so important, there are few things that say Christmas more clearly than old Bing Crosby crooning out "White Christmas". Originally performed by Bing in the 1942 film "Holiday Inn", it wasn't long before Hollywood realised that the song was a sure-fire winner and it has become the most recorded Christmas song in history. So it's only natural to produce a film based around the song, right? Well, not exactly - this glitzy musical does indeed feature Bing and the rest of the cast singing the song but it offers lots more besides such as unexpected comedy, a suitably schmaltzy romance and more Irving Berlin numbers than a Michael Ball compilation.
Teaming up during World War 2, singer Bob Wallace (Crosby) and entertainer Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) form a highly successful double-act touring the US with a variety of shows once the war has finished. After meeting fellow double-act and sisters Judy (Vera-Ellen) and Betty Haynes (Rosemary Clooney) and helping them escape from their landlord, they move to Vermont and unwittingly stay at a hotel ran by their former commanding officer, General Waverly (Dean Jagger). But due to a lack of snow, the hotel's future is under threat and Bob hatches a plan to help his old buddy out. Phil and Judy, meanwhile, begin to hatch a match-making plan of their own...
It's easy to forget that musical movies like "White Christmas" are part of a long-ago era where the films would stop altogether for a song and/or dance routine. Watching it today, I was amazed at the leading cast who were so incredibly versatile - Crosby and Clooney were amazingly talented singers, Kaye had a subtle but effective sense of comic timing while Vera-Ellen was an astonishingly flexible dancer but all of them could do so much more. Having never seen a movie with any of them in before (I know, shoot me!), it was a stark reminder that Hollywood today is a much less talented place than it was back then - hard to imagine who could be recast if a remake was forthcoming. But it shouldn't - the film's enthusiastic cast and exuberant musical numbers make this film a winner. The plot might be little to write home about and the obvious homage to the aforementioned "Holiday Inn" might be lost on most modern viewers today. And call me soft but the relationship between Crosby (who was in his fifties) and Clooney (still in her twenties) felt a little icky, given the obvious age difference. I guess some things in Tinseltown never change...
But despite being cornier than a Jim Davidson joke, "White Christmas" just about pulls it off through a combination of old fashioned talent and unadulterated festive cheer. It lacks the magic of my favourite yuletide film "It's A Wonderful Life" and if you've got younger viewers with you then I suspect the film's pace might make them wish for the likes of "Elf" or "Frozen". But if you've grown up with it, I can see why this holiday staple has bowled you over. If "Chicago" was a bit too stagey for you (and frankly, I didn't enjoy it at all) then settle down and enjoy this nostalgic slice of vintage Hollywood glamour. They just don't make 'em like this any more...
A rare intelligence and blistering performance from Hanks - 82%
There's a part of me that will, I suspect, forever dislike this movie. Having seen it when I was much younger, I suspect a lot of that comes from the overly scary fortune-telling machine that is the source of the story in this relatively early Tom Hanks vehicle. But being a critic is all about taking the rough with the smooth (why else would anyone subject themselves to the likes of "The Room" and "Santa With Muscles"?) and as it happens, this was one of my better revisits. Driven by my wife's excited reaction upon discovering it in the TV schedules, I sat down to reacquaint myself with what turned out to be a surprisingly deep and intelligent film driven by a fantastic turn by its future star.
12-year-old Josh Baskin (David Moscow) is tired of being a kid - the girl of his dreams remains out of his league, his parents (Mercedes Ruehl and Josh Clark) make him share a room with his infant sister and he's too short to ride a roller-coaster at the fair. Despondent, he stumbles across a mysterious fortune-telling machine and uses it to wish himself big. The next morning, he is astonished to find that he now lives inside the body of a 30-year-old (Hanks). Fleeing from his frightened mother, he is forced to rely on his best friend Billy (Jared Rushton) and makes his way to New York to try and survive as an adult. Against the odds, he gets a job at a toy company alongside repressed owner Mr MacMillan (Robert Loggia) and ambitious corporate-ladder climber Paul (John Heard). Can Josh's childlike-mind cope in the often unfathomable world of adults, particularly given the growing attraction to fellow employee Susan (Elizabeth Perkins)?
"Big" is an unashamed fairy-tale about the dangers of getting what you want and the innocence of childhood being lost. Without doubt, Hanks is the best thing about the movie as he perfectly encapsulates the mannerisms and thinking of Moscow and is utterly convincing. A little too convincing at times as I felt more than a little awkward during the improbable romantic scenes. But just as good are Moscow and Rushton who feel like actual kids rather than the sugary version we normally get in movies. "Big" doesn't work too hard on a practical level but as a fable, it is a sure-fire winner. However, I didn't feel it particularly effective as a comedy. Oh it has its moments but generally, it feels like a gentle reflection on the difference between generations instead of playing for belly laughs like a lot of Hanks' films did at the time. The movie's stand-out scene, the famous Walking Piano sequence, is rightly highlighted as a classic - a rare moment when you can't help but smile as Loggia & Hanks jump around playing Chopsticks.
As much as it may pain that part of me still scared by the creepy Zoltar, "Big" is a fantastic watch for kids of all ages. It has a unusual degree of intelligence in the script without it being overly preachy (even if it is slightly predictable) and captivating performances from Hanks, Rushton and Moscow. I didn't reckon it was an outright laughter-fest and at times, it does feel excessively sentimental and sugary. I also felt bad for the family left behind - Ruehl had little to do besides mourn for her missing son while Josh's father disappeared altogether from the movie. But really, I'm being picky due to my long-held reluctance to watch it again from my own childhood. I feel that I owe "Big" and Hanks an apology because this isn't anything like as terrible as I recalled. It's fun, smart, subtle and written and performed with a genuine heart and soul. And remember kids, never play with slot-machines that nobody else is interested in!
Unsettling but compulsive viewing - 74%
Other than spawning a franchise of Aussie-themed pubs/clubs in the UK, the only thing I associate this movie with was the sudden (and it has to be said, sustained) interest in Jenny Agutter in male viewers across the land. But "Walkabout" is like many of the dramas that emerged during the early Seventies in that it's well made but doesn't always make a lot of sense. It reminded me, weirdly, of "Vanishing Point" although there's less that happens here - the minimal cast, largely improvised script and uncomfortable setting makes for a much more visceral experience. And while its tale of cultures clashing makes for compulsive viewing, there is a sense of unease about the thing that might put you off.
Driven by their father (John Meillon) into the Australian outback for a picnic, a teenage girl (Agutter) realises that he has other motives on his mind. As her father opens fire on her and her younger brother (Luc Roeg), they both run for cover before she sees her father shoot himself in the head and set fire to their car. Stranded in the desert and surrounded by the creatures that live there, they slowly wander through the terrain hoping for rescue. But they encounter a Aboriginal boy (David Gulpilil) on his walkabout - a rite of passage where they must live off the land before becoming a man. Aided by their mysterious friend and his survival skills (despite not sharing a language), the children's hopes for a return to civilisation increase.
"Walkabout" can, at times, be a brutal watch as animals are seen speared, shot and dismembered in graphic detail. It offers an unflinching look at a land and people largely untouched by our civilisation, one that often seems as alien to us as anything from outer space. But the film doesn't shy away from turning the spotlight on us, asking you questions that you might not like the answers to. Are we any better than the Aborigines because we hunt for sport with rifles and jeeps as opposed to spearing animals for food? Despite the lack of anything really interesting happening, the film is a compulsive watch thanks largely to the young cast. Agutter leads in a fearless performance as the bewitching schoolgirl although little Roeg (director Nicholas Roeg's son) also does well as he seems to have most of the dialogue. In between scenes, close-up shots of endless bizarre animals add to the unusual atmosphere while Gulpilil's performance feels frighteningly authentic.
It can feel a bit of a head-trip but "Walkabout" is a good example of a movie working despite having little behind it. I wouldn't call it entertaining - it's much too bleak for that - but it's certainly interesting, both from a narrative and production point of view. With no effects, very little music other than what can be heard from the transistor radio the children have with them and little to explain what is actually going on, the film has to work hard to hold your attention and it succeeds, just. It's an unsettling attempt to compare our society with one that will be utterly foreign to 99% of its audience and while it's a brave thing to look in the mirror, it might have been nice with Nicholas Roeg wasn't using one he'd borrowed from a circus tent.
A superhuman effort from Reeve rescues this picture - 85%
There isn't much more to be said on Richard Donner's epic salute to America's most enduring hero. Without it, the superhero genre as we know it today would be confined to either TV or crummy B-movies (I'm looking at you, "Fantastic 4"!), Marvel would be nothing like the entertainment colossus it is today and poor old Stan Lee would be a half-forgotten figure from history instead of the cultural icon most fans revere him as. But why is this film so successful, a film still worthy of a watch even today especially given the character's recent bad run of form? The effects look a little rough around the edges these days and the script lacks a decent sense of cohesion, meaning that it sometimes doesn't make sense. It even plays fast-and-loose with the characters origins, straying from the source material whenever it feels like it. But it has a real gem in the form of its leading man, an actor so obscure at the time that nobody could foresee the level of brilliance he would bring to the part and how closely associated he would become with the role, even in death.
On the distant planet Krypton, the great Jor-El (Marlon Brando) is forced to send his infant son to Earth to escape the impending destruction of their home-world. Barely leaving in time, Kal-El spends three years travelling through space before crashing in a field in Kansas where he is taken in by the Kents (Glenn Ford & Phyllis Thaxter) who name him Clark. As he grows and understands his unique powers on Earth, Clark (Christopher Reeve) heads to the city of Metropolis and gets a job at the Daily Planet alongside ace reporter Lois Lane (Margot Kidder). Fighting his growing attraction to her, Clark unveils his powers as Superman but doesn't reckon on the schemes of eccentric evil genius Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) putting the world in jeopardy.
However you look it, the film belongs to Reeve who is simply perfect as both Clark & Superman. The shifts in character whenever the glasses go back on is astonishing - even his body shape seems to change. He easily outshines the rest of the cast who seem to vary between "indifferent" and "comical". Hackman is a weak baddie as Lex, coming across like a guest villain on the old "Batman" TV series in his ridiculous underground lair. He isn't helped by Ned Beatty as typically inept henchman Otis or Valerie Perrine as random buxom bombshell Eve. Kidder does better as Lois but personally, I preferred Teri Hatcher's interpretation in the 90's TV show. As for the film itself, it is a ambitious epic covering both Krypton and the US and blows you away with sweeping vistas of Kansas countryside alongside angular crystal formations in the Fortress Of Solitude. Sadly, the script cannot string all the pieces together - feeling like the work of many typewriters (which it was), it feels disjointed and left many questions at the end. Speaking of which, the film's climax was a let-down as though the writers were backed into a corner they couldn't get out of.
But all of these minor niggles cannot distract from the performance of Reeve. He would struggle to escape the cape for the rest of his career, cut tragically short though it was. But as legacies go, it's not a bad one - "Superman" remains an iconic picture and one that isn't just for geeks. Who cares about the effects or the miscasting or the dodgy storyline when you believe the film wholeheartedly? The moment Clark tears open his suit to reveal the famous S motif or the stirring soundtrack that could only be by John Williams or even the first time you see Reeve fly off into the sky - these are moments that cannot fail but capture your imagination and cheer for the film until the credits roll. I went into this thinking it would be corny and half-arsed but I was wrong - it might be a bit overblown at times and occasionally descends into parody but I'd recommend this film over any of the others out there. And if nothing else, Reeve also reminds us how much of a schmuck Dean Cain was...
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Bloody stupid fun - 70%
Part of me thinks that because it's Halloween, I should just bite the bullet and watch one of my least favour genres - horror. Trouble is, how do you pick a film to watch when most horror films have no interest to me whatsoever? But where there's a will... This Robert Rodriguez effort is very much a film of two halves but one which has attained a cult following over the years. It's not big or clever but if all you're after is a lot of fun mixed in with liberal amounts of gore then you could do much worse. It is delightfully silly and assuming you don't take it seriously then the movie actually offers a pretty decent diversion from fending off those pesky trick-or-treaters.
Brothers Seth (George Clooney) and Ritchie Gecko (Quentin Tarantino) are racing for the Mexican border after violently robbing a number of banks and taking a hostage (Brenda Hillhouse). But Seth has a better plan - instead, he hijacks the RV of former preacher Jacob (Harvey Keitel) and his two children (Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu) and together with the terrified family, sneak over the border to rendezvous with Seth's contact Carlos (Cheech Marin) at a biker's bar called the Titty Twister. There is just one small problem - they are unaware that the bar is home to a vampiric cult who feast on the unfortunate patrons and it's going to be a long night...
For a film with a clearly limited budget (which is why I assume Marin plays three different roles), "From Dusk Till Dawn" is another example of Rodriguez putting every dollar on screen. The action, when it does come, feels very reminiscent of his earlier "Desperado" (which is never a bad thing) but man, does it take a while to get there. The first half of the film feels like a different picture altogether - it's tense and perhaps more interesting than the second half which is explosive, gloriously over-the-top and as seedy as the Titty Twister itself. It makes you forget the excessive amount of set-up in the same way that anyone who watches the original "The Italian Job" can only remember Minis racing around Turin. Clooney and Keitel are typically charismatic as Seth and Jacob respectively and I enjoyed their battle of wills while Tarantino delivers probably the creepiest performance of his career. Lewis is also good but underused and the same can be said of the smoking hot Salma Hayek who proves that no-one can do sexy Latino as well as she can - even when she tries drinking your blood.
Anyone looking for subtlety or context will be disappointed with "From Dusk Till Dawn" which is as stupid as sticking a pumpkin on your head and igniting your hair. But sometimes stupid works and there's no question that the movie is much greater than the sum of its parts. It's a lot like "Tremors" or "Bubba Ho-Tep" - movies which don't so much scare as amuse with its otherworldly beings chasing our heroes. If I were being picky then I could say that a bit more scope would have been nice and the two sequels seem completely unnecessary. It also isn't remotely frightening - which doesn't seem in keeping with the Halloween spirit but then again, neither is a toddler dressed like a Minion asking for sweets. It's too slow to be a full-on action flick and not scary enough to be a proper horror but "From Dusk Till Dawn" finds an interesting middle ground to occupy instead of disappearing between the cracks. It's bloody, bonkers and quite unlike anything else out there but it's worth the watch if you're not a genuine horror fan like me.
Solid but not as good as I remembered - 65%
I can't escape the notion that Mel Brooks never quite fulfilled his potential as a director. After early successes with "The Producers" and "Blazing Saddles", he settled down into lazy parodying of Hollywood blockbusters of the time which this clearly is. It isn't his worst film and as a kid, I loved the goofiness of it all very much. But time and advancing years have weakened my once-high opinion - it has its moments and at times, is quite inspired. But the whole thing feels juvenile and low-brow and not as smart as Brooks is capable of.
In a strangely familiar galaxy far far away, the peaceful planet of Druidia is about to celebrate the forthcoming nuptials of Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga), who sadly runs away at the last minute. Blasting off into space, she runs straight into villainous Spaceballs intent of draining Druidia of its precious air supply. Led by Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) and President Skroob (Brooks), Vespa and her droid valet Dot Matrix (voiced by the late Joan Rivers) are captured and her only hope lies with two space adventurers - the rugged Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) and his half-man, half-dog companion Barf (John Candy).
"Spaceballs" is not the most sophisticated of parodies but it certainly has its share of moments. Candy is brilliant as Barf, complete with a wagging tail that has a penchant for trouble and flopping ears. Moranis probably steals the show as the epically incompetent Dark Helmet but Brooks is disappointing as Skroob and the mystical mentor, Yogurt (no prizes for guessing who he's a parody of) and Rivers feels sadly underused. The effects, for all the madness going in within the movie, are also pretty good for its age - model shots of flying Winnebago's and the vast Spaceballs vessel look detailed and almost plausible, if you can ignore the comic bumper stickers ("I *heart* Uranus!"). But I'm afraid the film does have one or two issues. The majority of the humour is largely based around funny names and ham-fisted mickey-taking. Yes, the endless parade of Spaceballs merchandise is amusing and used to good effect but it feels clumsy and lacking the wit we all know Brooks possesses. The endless Jewish jokes didn't come as a surprise and didn't make me laugh either and the camp sexual shenanigans of various buxom bit-parts felt very out-of-date even then.
But the film's biggest problem is that, like a lot of Brooks' films, it raises a smile but rarely any belly laughs. "Spaceballs" is a good effort but the quality of the writing lets it down, making it feel like a childish version of "Star Wars" and frankly, one that only a child would enjoy. It feels wrong to be this harsh on a film I once enjoyed but like "Caddyshack", I missed the magic the second time I watched it once I'd grown up. Parody films are hard to get right and to be honest, no-one has done anything better than the brains behind "Airplane!" - Jim Abrahams and the brothers Jerry & David Zucker. Brooks always felt like he was teasing us - his talent for comedy is unquestionable but sometimes, he seems to take things easy. "Spaceballs" is a case in point - despite flashes of brilliance, it remains a solid but unspectacular watch that would only appeal to those viewers sick of any version of George Lucas's space opera. I just wished that I could have switched my brain back to my ten-year-old self and enjoy it much more.
Point of No Return (1993)
As empty as a spent casing - 64%
As a general rule of thumb, most action films can be improved if the lead character is female - the more vulnerable, the better. There are literally dozens of films a year where some beefcake gets to blow sets up and shoot hundreds of faceless extras but girls-with-guns films are a bit less common. When Luc Besson was invited to America to remake his smash hit "Nikita", he stepped out of the directors chair and handed the reins to John Badham but personally, I'd have liked to have seen Besson in control. As an adaptation, it sticks fairly closely to the original so if you've seen that then this probably won't float your boat. But if not, what "The Assassin" (or "Point Of No Return" for US readers) remains is a faintly plodding thriller with hints of tortured romance and explosive action bubbling beneath the surface.
Street-kid Maggie (Bridge Fonda) is involved in a violent robbery that goes horribly wrong whilst high on drugs. Imprisoned and sentenced to death after she kills a policeman, Maggie wakes up after her apparent execution in the care of the enigmatic Bob (Gabriel Byrne) who offers her a second chance. Training to become a hit-man under Bob's tutelage, Maggie's feminine side is brought out by fellow recruit Amanda (Anne Bancroft) and soon, she's released into the world with a new identity and a codename to be called when her skills are required. But away from the bloodshed, she falls for photographer JP (Dermot Mulroney) and soon, she must be forced to choose which of her two new lives must end.
However you know the film, "Point Of No Return" is a cold-fish of a thriller has plenty to recommend but remains a bit of a cold fish. It doesn't involve you very much as though it wants to keep you at a safe distance. A pity because Fonda delivers during a rare lead part for her - her turn from spunky street urchin to refined, urbane killer is believable although it does feel a bit rushed in terms of screen time. I felt that there was too much story for the film and what was there was a little slow, never more so than when Maggie is out in the real world. In order to spice things up a bit, we're treated to a few thoroughly good action sequences with improbably big guns which are typically Besson - everything explodes and all guns sound like .44 Magnums. Byrne and Mulroney are pretty substandard but Harvey Keitel delivers a brief but brilliant performance as Victor the Cleaner while it's good to see Bancroft still producing the goods.
I have yet to see "Nikita" but it is on my To Do list, primarily because of this movie. It's a decent enough action thriller, making the most of its ludicrous premise (why did Bob pick Maggie, out of all the condemned prisoners?). But I couldn't help but wonder how different it would have been with Besson directing - probably would have breathed some life into the material instead of the impassive movie that was on my screen. It was trying too hard to be cool which, those of you who know, means that you are no longer cool if you have to try. Despite the action and Nina Simone soundtrack which is something I definitely approve of, "Point Of No Return" is an average film at best but with slight hints that it could have been better. It's not a blast-a-minute action movie, nor is it a gripping thriller. It's as middle-of-the-road as a zebra crossing and lacking the kinetic energy it deserved.
Like a bag of sweets, kids will get more out of it than grown-ups - 64%
Many accuse me of being a Pixar snob, biased towards the originators of feature-length CG films and dismissive of the works of others. On the face of it, this would appear to be sound. But there are Pixar films that are weaker than others ("Cars 2" springs instantly to mind) while many studios are catching Pixar up with efforts like "Despicable Me" and "The Lego Movie". It isn't as cut-and-dry as they might imagine and lo, here was another film I was told would be a challenge to Pixar's previously unimpeachable dominance. While it might be a technical tour de force, it veers wildly from emotive family issues to a kung-fu kicking roast chicken and frankly, there is a lot of stuff that doesn't stick.
In the sleepy Atlantic island haven of Swallow Falls, wannabe inventor Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) has been testing his latest venture - a machine which can turn water into whatever food is programmed into it. But like his spray-on shoes and rat-bird hybrids, the prototype goes wrong and ends up blasting itself into the upper atmosphere. But to Flint's amazement, it begins raining food which delights the residents and the mayor (Bruce Campbell) in particular, who sees the bizarre climate as an opportunity to relaunch the island as a tourist destination. But Flint isn't happy - his disapproving father (James Caan) wishes Flint would simply work in his fishing tackle shop while Flint's attempts at wooing weather reporter Sam Sparks (Anna Faris) are as disastrous as his inventions. As the greedy residents demand more from Flint's creation, the town is swamped with food falling from the sky and before long, Swallow Falls is in danger of being wiped from the map altogether and only Flint can save the day...
"Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs" may be food-based fun for the little 'uns who love the idea of their house covered with ice-cream and burgers covering their school but where the film disappoints is when it comes to keeping adults entertained. And aside from casting Mr T as a cop, it did little to put a smile on my face. Most of the humour is derived from the madness on screen and to be honest, a lot of it doesn't look great either. Flint is a mass of hair, nose and flowing lab coat while his father is all eyebrow and meat. The whole thing looks like a cartoon which sounds obvious but compared to Pixar's output at the time ("Up" and before that, "WALLE"), it looks quite primitive at times. Busy, full of colour and hyper-kinetic certainly but still primitive. The voice casting are also a let down - why do studio insist with flooding the cast of animated films with recognisable stars who never appear on screen and aren't right for the part? Only Campbell and Mr T shine as the rest of them fade into obscurity and to be honest, could have been anybody.
Anyone can make a film that kids would enjoy (although an alarming number still get it wrong). Going to the pictures should be an occasion, seeing as decent family time is increasingly rare these days. The huge screen and volume, the enormous bag of pick-n-mix sweets and the giant Slushee you can dunk your head into - why shouldn't kids be entertained in cinemas? Trouble is, only Pixar seem to be able to create true family entertainment. A good family film will keep the kids quiet for a hour or two but a great one will hold the entire family in the palm of its hand and make you want to watch it together again. "Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs" isn't that great a movie, offering kids plenty to watch and probably some freaky dreams (I suspect I'll be dreaming about being chased by a giant hot-dog rolling down the street tonight) but next to nothing for the grown-ups. If you want a great family movie that isn't Pixar then feel free to watch Gru in "Despicable Me" which still feels like a cartoon but at least Mum & Dad can have a laugh as well. As for me, I'll stick with... yep, those guys...
Ghost Busters (1984)
Spookily good - 86%
Like many other films from the Eighties, it's easy to make assumptions about "Ghostbusters". But if you forget about the sequel, the animated TV show that I and many others grew up with and, of course, Mr Stay Puft then what's left behind is actually one of the best movies of the decade. It is funny for both kids and adults, genuinely frightening at times (especially for younger viewers) and offers something quite unlike anything else seen before. It's easy for effects to dominate a film but here, the effects lift the film to another level by being both believable and ahead of their time.
Disgraced parapsychologists Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) and Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) are booted off their university campus, bringing an end to their research into ghosts. Forced to go into business, they launch a unique service offering to rid the citizens of New York of whatever spectral forces are haunting them. Which is good news for harassed cello player Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) and her neighbour Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) who are visited by demonic dogs and a mysterious presence called Zuul. Strapping on their experimental proton packs, the Ghostbusters head off to do battle with an ancient evil threatening the whole of New York City while pencil-pushing EPA agent Walter Peck (William Atherton) tries to put them out of business for good.
Most films that try to straddle genres end up being neither but here is a happy exception. "Ghostbusters" works as a comedy, mainly due to Murray's usual deadpan delivery of some truly wicked lines, but it also works as a mild horror story. The ghosts themselves look wonderfully ethereal, prompting me to wonder exactly how they did it even after all this time. There are other moments as well such as when Dana floats over her bed with no obvious wires attached and naturally, the climax of the film when the giant, bizarre Marshmellow Man starts rampaging through Manhattan. Amid the havoc, the cast sometimes struggle to impose themselves on the story but Murray delivers a classy performance as Venkman, as sleazy and cynical as only he can be and is a good contrast against Aykryod, Ramis and Ernie Hudson as the rarely seen fourth member of the team, Winston Zeddmore. The story, while clearly nonsense, does enough of a job to link the scenes together and provides plenty of opportunity for the cast to go for the funny bone. And along with Murray, Moranis and Annie Potts as the Ghostbusters typically New York secretary Janine provide plenty of moments that relieve the undercurrent of supernatural tension.
But the thing I really like about "Ghostbusters" is how the various component parts - the ghosts, the comedy, the effects and that iconic theme music - all combine to be greater than the sum of its parts. It's easy to overlook a film that has become as iconic as "Ghostbusters" has but looking at it again afresh, it remains a brilliantly conceived comedy that is genuinely rewarding. Of course, it looks a little dated in places but ignoring the blue-screen, this is still one to watch despite being thirty years old. And even if you have seen it before, you can still enjoy feeling nostalgic over a film that is rightly remembered fondly. I'm gonna call this one of the best horror-comedies ever seen.
A tailor-made family film for a unique talent - 80%
Waking up this morning to the tragic news of Robin William's passing, a little piece of my childhood was also gone. Being too young to remember his "Mork And Mindy" TV show, it was his electric performance in this movie that remained resolutely in my mind and in the minds of millions of new fans around the world. Before "Aladdin", Disney were content to chug out endless adaptations of fairy tales voiced by relative unknowns. Now, thanks to Williams, every feature-length animation has a whole host of Hollywood stars and arguably, the genre is stronger now than it's ever been. Going back to "Aladdin" today felt a pleasure and a privilege as it remains a solid watch today, lifted by the sheer magic Williams brought to the picture.
In the desert land of Agrabah, street urchin Aladdin (voiced by Scott Weinger) and his faithful monkey friend Abu (Frank Welker) eke an existence out by thieving from the various market traders peddling their wares. Then one day, by accident, he crosses the path of beautiful Princess Jasmine (Linda Larkin) and falls hopelessly in love. The trouble is, Jasmine can only marry a prince and her father, the Sultan (Douglas Seale), has only three days to find her a suitor - one that she doesn't reject! But that is the least of the Sultan's problems as his villainous adviser Jafar (Jonathon Freeman) seeks a mysterious lamp containing a powerful Genie (Williams) as he seeks to control the land and soon, Aladdin finds himself thrown into conflict with Jafar over who can control the Genie, marry the Princess and rule Agrabah.
If we take Williams out of the picture for a second, "Aladdin" is actually a pretty bog-standard family movie. Being one of the old-school animation pictures, it obviously lacks a little definition that today's crisper CG pictures possess but nevertheless looks quite stunning at times, particularly the views over the city or during Aladdin's midnight magic carpet ride. The songs are top-notch, however, and I personally feel that Genie's number ("Friend Like Me") is a much better song than the film's theme, "A Whole New World". The principal cast do an adequate job - Freeman's Jafar is a baddie for the ages and is assisted by a brilliant Gilbert Gottfried as the talking animal sidekick Iago but as for our love-bird leads, they feel a bit stale. I also couldn't help but notice how all the other characters have exaggerated physical features (not necessarily positive ones either) while Aladdin and Jasmine look like a couple of wholesome characters from "Glee" with perfect teeth, hair and complexion. There is also an overtly sexual look to the female characters - Jasmine is almost impossibly thin and many other background women wear seductive veils and belly-dancing outfits. Was this really necessary, Disney?
But the movie is easily carried by Williams and remains a film you should definitely watch. It feels like he was born to play the part which perfectly utilises his 100-mph delivery and can veer off into any direction at any time. From zipping around as a game show host to impersonating the likes of Jack Nicholson and Peter Lorre, it gives "Aladdin" such a burst of energy that his scenes simply fizzle with life and humour to the detriment of the others. But quite frankly, Robin Williams IS the picture and that's why we all went to see the movie all those years ago. For me, this remains one of his best performances and one that, sadly, we will never get to see again. But he leaves one hell of a legacy - his influence over modern comedians cannot be understated while his body of work - from family comedies such as this to more serious roles in the likes of "Insomnia" and "Good Will Hunting" - would be something anybody would be proud of. But like many of you, he will always be the Genie for me and makes "Aladdin" one of Disney's very best.
Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
Amusing enough but lacking the depth of the original - 67%
Now here's a blast from the past and a real milestone for me personally, being the first film I ever recorded onto VCR. OK so maybe not that important but a long time ago, this movie kept me entertained for many a month. Looking at it now, I'm pleased that the anarchic sense of fun remains and it's still a surprisingly solid watch. But the humour has dated somewhat, making it feel older than it is and some of the satirical moments in the picture ended up more like predictions. Don't worry if you haven't seen the first film because it doesn't matter too much - it does spend a long time getting up to speed before the chaos is unleashed.
Having moved away from small-town Kingston Falls, young couple Billy (Zach Galligan) and Kate (Phoebe Cates) move to New York and both find jobs working for media mogul Daniel Clamp (John Glover) - Billy as an architect and Kate as a tour guide for Clamp's enormous skyscraper. Meanwhile, cute mogwai Gizmo (voiced by Howie Mandel) is captured by two researchers based in Clamp's building under the sinister leadership of Dr Catheter (Christopher Lee). When Billy discovers Gizmo is in the building, he quickly rescues Gizmo from the genetic scientists and plans to keep him safe before he spawns any more monsters. But fate has other plans and before long, the building is awash with thousands of gremlins which create havoc for the occupants. Can Billy and Kate save the day along with their old neighbour Murray (Dick Miller) before the gremlins escape the building and create chaos in the Big Apple?
While nowhere near as dark as the first film, "Gremlins 2: The New Batch" is considerably more inventive as the different types of gremlin seem to number in the hundreds. There's the brainy, talkative one who appoints himself leader, there's a spider-based one, another who is merged with a bat and has built-in sun-block, a disturbingly feminine one... the list goes on. A pity, then, that we have to wait a while before anything of interest happens. But when it does, the movie kinda goes off the rails in the same way the Clamp building does. Take the moment when it appears the Gremlins have actually interrupted the showing of the film itself, making shadow puppets on the silver screen in front of you, before Hulk Hogan (no less) restores order and the film continues. It must have looked good on paper but it doesn't translate that well. It's as though director Joe Dante couldn't keep a lid on the sheer number of ideas and monsters on screen, letting the imagination get the better of him. Galligan and Cates are every bit the sweetheart couple they should be but credit to Glover for his performance, creating a hideous hybrid of Donald Trump and Ted Turner and playing it for laughs. And that is probably what saves the picture - this time around, the comedy is ramped up while the horror element is reduced to a couple of scary scenes. It is fun without being side-splittingly funny although viewers used to seeing Robert Picardo as the bald holographic doctor in "Star Trek: Voyager" will be amused to see him with a full head of hair.
The film's true strength lies with the actual making of it. Seeing the lobby awash with gremlins, swinging from the lights and indulging in a shameless song-and-dance routine is a sight to behold - the mechanics of so many puppets must have been mind-boggling. You really sense that they went to town with what was possible and even these days in the era of near-constant CG, it has an old-school charm to it that I suspect any remake would lack. But "Gremlins 2" is an amusing watch that is much smarter than it initially appears, despite the slapstick violence and comic creatures. It knows that it's a sequel and that it is focused solely on making a profit, instead of telling a one-off story. So it designed to be a throwaway movie, entertaining for its duration but not exactly hanging around in the memory once the credits have finished. Part of me wishes a modern Gremlins movie would appear, given how far technology has advanced (and imagine how happy Andy Serkis would be!) but another part of me says no. Once you've gotten the joke, it wears pretty thin after a while and outstays its welcome. My advice? Stick with the first one.
A sliver of interest but otherwise, pretty forgettable - 51%
Sharon Stone is an actress I have a lot of time for. Not because she's frequently naked in her films but because she broke the usual Hollywood stereotype of actresses finding fame early in their careers and then spend the next forty years filling themselves with Botox in order the delay the inevitable aging process. And after the success of "Basic Instinct", Stone found herself firmly on the A-list after performing as the femme fatale for the Nineties, Catherine Trammell. The problem is, studios were keen to try and repeat the success and thus, I suspect that this movie hastily found itself into production. A pity because with a much tighter script, this might have matched her earlier success. Instead, it's a badly written thriller that lacks the shock value it wanted to have.
Single book editor Carly Norris (Stone) moves into her new apartment, recently vacated by a young woman who threw herself off her balcony overlooking New York. As Carly gets to know her new neighbours, she discovers that accidents and unusual deaths are nothing new but regardless, she finds herself drawn to frustrated writer Jack Landsford (Tom Berenger) and enigmatic owner of the building Zeke Hawkins (William "Not Alec" Baldwin). Amid ill-timed power cuts and occasional visits from Detective Hendrix (CCH Pounder), Carly finds an unnerving connection between herself and the aforementioned jumper and she begins to suspect that she may be next...
I realise that I'm not exactly the smartest cookie but even I wished that "Sliver" would offer me a bit more than two suspects. As such, the mystery element isn't really that much of a mystery so there are no surprises when the ending arrives (although there are plenty of plot-holes). Stone does the best she can with the material and easily outshines her two male co-stars but the complete lack of chemistry with Baldwin kinda hinders the film on the erotic front as well. Nothing about the film feels natural - if I moved into a building where people come a cropper at regular intervals, I'd pack my bags again and ask for my deposit back! The dialogue is hideously clunky to the point of being unforgivable - the ridiculous scene in the restaurant being almost laughable. At times, I felt sorry for Stone who must have realised that this is a lame and cynical attempt at cashing in on the success and notoriety "Basic Instinct" by being a seedy and exploitative erotic thriller in the exact same mould.
There is enough to suggest that "Sliver" could have made much more of its premise. Take the CCTV network in the building - it might have argued whether it was morally wrong or not if the information gleaned from it was used for good. We get the faintest whiff of this subplot before descending into the usual routine about how watching other people have sex is a turn-on for our characters. "Sliver" is derivative of so many films that it cannot help but imitate the likes of "Basic Instinct", "Fatal Attraction" and "Body Of Evidence" during the erotic thriller explosion of the early Nineties. Trouble is, it's also crippled with such a bad script (sticking rigidly to the Joe Eszterhas formula) that falls into the usual trap of being neither erotic or thrilling. Stone provided further proof that she can carry a movie but even someone of her abilities can only carry this film so far.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Not the best there is - 51%
It's been over a month since I last watched and wrote about a recently seen movie and I sincerely wish that I had got back into the game with a film somewhat more memorable than this laboured outing for that most popular of mutants, Wolverine. I can appreciate that, being an origin story, it must spend some time going over the back-story and setting up a climatic battle with a long-standing bitter rival. But there are a number of issues I cannot ignore, no matter how much my idle brain tells me to. The film has numerous plot holes and inconsistencies with the source material, dialogue is composed of little more than shouts, threats and plot explanation and it is stuck with some pretty awful effects at times. Not every Hugh Jackman's sweaty performance or a number of interesting fight scenes could divert me from the fact that this is a long way short of the standards set by the earlier X-Men movies.
Back in the 19th Century in the Canadian wilderness, a young James "Logan" Howlett (Troye Sivan) flees from his father's murder after learning that he is actually the brother of the older Victor Creed (Michael-James Olsen). But neither are normal boys and as the decades go by, both become supreme warriors due to their regenerative abilities, lack of aging and animalistic claws. After serving in Vietnam, both are approached by Major Stryker (Danny Huston) to serve in a top secret division of fellow mutants known as Team X but Logan, now calling himself Wolverine (Jackman), gets disillusioned and heads off to the Canadian wilderness for a quiet life. But his past is never far behind and soon, Victor (Liev Schreiber) comes calling and it isn't a social call...
I can't fault Jackman who gives the role his all - indeed, he has to as this is his character's story although I don't see why it's necessary for Jackman to bare his chest as often as he does. Schreiber is a decent enough foil during the few scenes they seem to share together but there's simply too much going on in the background to leave much screen time. One minute, you are wondering why will.i.am is on the cast because he only ever comes across as will.i.am. The next, you've got your head in your hands as to how they got Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) so wrong (no mask, no wisecracks). The plot is also uninspired and the movie is so filled with cliché that I'm surprised the credits aren't read out by that "In A World" trailer guy. Take the moment when Wolverine walks away from an exploding helicopter and doesn't flinch (I don't ever think his hair moves) or look over his shoulder. I flinched - I enjoyed a really good yawn at this point, having seen such moments in many other movies.
The X-Men movies were always about more than fancy effects and decent action sequences but "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" can only aspire to such heights. Yes, it is well made (although there are a couple of times when Wolverine's trademark metal claws looks suspiciously CG) but the film offers little beyond a couple of decent scraps and lots of Hugh Jackman's naked torso. The script needed a lot of polishing and the cast needed less recognisable faces while the film overall needed to be much darker than it is. You can tell that it's been edited for a more family-friendly audience instead of the more adult film it should have been. I wanted it to be bloodier, meaner, nastier and not treat me like a teenage fanboy. Maybe die-hard fans of the character will get more from this than I did but I simply had too many questions, too many gripes and not enough to enjoy from this. There was just too much going on and the film couldn't keep a lid on every plot strand. I like my superhero flicks - "The Avengers" was the most fun I've had in a long time while the Dark Knight trilogy is a prime example of a superhero film that embraces the character's dark side. But "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" is as cumbersome as its unwieldy title and to be honest, I just wanted the rest of the X-Men to show up and turn the film into a proper X-Men movie instead of a glowing tribute to Jackman's abs.
Punisher: War Zone (2008)
A proper, adult Punisher movie but little to recommend - 52%
Not everyone in the Marvel cinematic universe is a hero, some ungodly villain or Stan Lee. In a dark, repressed corner sits Frank Castle who murders hundreds of anonymous bad guys however he can as the gun-toting Punisher. This is actually the third movie to have a crack at the character and like a hoodlum with an AK47, it somehow contrives to miss the target. It comes a lot closer than the 2004 movie did but still lacks that macabre sense of humour Castle has. It also glorifies in the ultra-violence the licence allows but at least it attempts to get the tone and feel of the comics right, even if there is little you'd call fun anywhere in the picture.
This time, Ray Stevenson is called upon to play Castle whose one-man crusade against organised crime now involves his friend and armourer Microchip (Wayne Knight). After a brutal shootout which kills almost the entire Russoti mob family, only enforcer Billy (Dominic West) escapes but Castle soon tracks him down to a recycling plant where Billy ends up face-first in a glass crushing machine. During the assault, Frank ends up shooting an undercover FBI agent who has stolen money from Billy and spirals into guilt. Meanwhile, the hugely disfigured form of Billy emerges as the scarred mob boss Jigsaw and he releases his psychopathic cannibal brother Loony Bin Jim (Doug Hutchinson) from his asylum cell. Together, they go after Castle for revenge and also the widow of the deceased FBI agent (Julie Benz) to recover the missing money.
Die-hard fans of the Punisher comics will feel that they are getting their money's worth - "Punisher: War Zone" is crammed with excessively gory head-shots, almost cartoony levels of violence and more swearing than is probably necessary. It is, in short, the first 'proper' Punisher movie, even though I took a great deal of umbrage at the fact that his trade-mark skull motif is barely visible throughout. His usual supporting cast are also present and correct which is also an improvement over the 2004 version (although I'd like to have seen Kevin Nash return as The Russian, one of the few highlights from that movie). Sadly, the movie's cast badly let the side down. Stevenson does OK as Castle but he lacks the charisma or bite of the character. Knight is underused and West overacts as much as he can beneath the prosthetics but by far the worst of the bunch is Colin Salmon as FBI agent Paul Budiansky - crushed beneath an awful American accent, he comes across as faintly silly as he cusses at the background actors which I can only assume is something that doesn't come naturally. He fits in like a Goth at Eurovision, almost to the point of distraction. The story doesn't help the cast out much either - characters come and go (usually permanently) in a handful of scenes while Stevenson continues grimacing and blasting anyone that moves.
It might be as gritty and hyper-violent as the fans demanded but "Punisher: War Zone" is not a pleasant experience. It is better than 2004's film (chiefly because John Travolta is nowhere to be seen) and makes appropriate use of Marvel's darkest 'hero'. But it is a soulless outing - the film doesn't have a single point which sticks in your mind, just one moment that makes you stop and take notice or believe that you're watching a quality product. It feels, like 2004's film, like it was made on a budget as CG-blood flows like Cristal champagne in a hip-hop video, heads are digitally removed and Castle doesn't seem to feel pain, let alone give the impression that he is in mortal danger at any time. I wanted to like this more than I do - the Punisher is one of the few Marvel characters I've actually read from time to time - but without that famous skull, this could have been anybody shooting the place up. As it is, it remains probably the best Punisher movie so far but given the competition, that's not saying much. And compared to the rest of Marvel's current output, it's still a long way behind the likes of Iron Man, Captain America or Thor.
Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Never mind the script, just enjoy the music - 63%
For readers still in their early twenties, it might be puzzling to ponder exactly why John Travolta is such a legend. Oh sure, he was Vincent Vega from "Pulp Fiction" but that was just a comeback. Back in the day, Travolta became a cultural icon in this disco-infused cult classic which came to define an era and launched Travolta into the stratosphere. Like most musicals, it follows a well-trodden storyline but this movie has an edge to it I didn't expect. It's much more dark, gritty than I expected and not particularly optimistic – a sort of anti-"Grease", if you will. It's also remarkably crummy in places but Travolta's blistering performance makes up for most of the film's shortcomings.
Travolta plays Tony Manero, a young guy in Brooklyn who dreams of escaping to the big city to escape his dead-end job in a hardware store and his tumultuous relationship with his family. His only release comes every Saturday night at the 2001 Odyssey nightclub where he burns up the dance-floor in front of his admiring friends and occasionally dashes off to the parking lot with a girl for a bit of backseat action. One such girl is Annette (Donna Pescow) who longs to dance with Tony but he has eyes fixed on the aloof Stephanie Karen Lynn Gorney) and the forthcoming dance competition's cash prize and soon, they begin practising. But Stephanie's moves aren't the only thing Tony practises for and soon, he finds himself questioning his loyalties to his friends, his dreams and his girls
"Saturday Night Fever" is one of those movies where not much happens for the longest time and when it does, it comes as a bolt out of the blue. Tony and his cronies are a frankly unlikeable bunch, screaming around Brooklyn in their beat-up Chevy and treating every girl in the club as a potential conquest and nothing more. The film only really comes alive on the dance-floor as Travolta is as electric as the famous under-floor lighting. He really can move and combined with arguably the greatest soundtrack ever compiled, suddenly you find yourself wishing you were there with him. It is a heady one-two punch that still works today but then the music stops and its back to the familiar territories of gang warfare, teenage pregnancies and unspoken sibling rivalry in the form of Tony's brother Frank Jr. (Martin Shakar) and his crisis of Catholic faith. The film doesn't lack subplots (indeed, it probably has too many) but it doesn't see any of them through, meaning that these people come and go without influencing Tony's quest for disco glory too much. Take the chaotic fight sequence against the Barracuda gang – the only real effect of this bust-up is Tony wearing a crude plastic on his face for the final reel. Even the car, driven through a window, seems to survive unscathed.
"Saturday Night Fever" is a curious film, one that strides generations like a true classic but doesn't stand up too well under closer scrutiny by today's standards. Besides Travolta (who is simply far too good for a film of this calibre), most of the cast seem to talk over each other about nothing in particular and the plot is both far-fetched and misogynistic. It's a difficult movie to love until you get to the disco scenes when suddenly, it opens up and comes alive with colour, glamour, sex appeal and that fabulous soundtrack featured mostly Bee Gee's numbers but also KC & The Sunshine Band, Tavares and the Trammps, among others. If you can forgive the tired "rags-to-riches" tale of Tony and his desire to leave Brooklyn behind then "Saturday Night Fever" will be right up your street. Personally, I'd just fast-forward to the disco scenes, watch Travolta boogie and enjoy some quality tunes.
True Grit (2010)
Shock horror! The Coens have made a perfectly decent, ordinary film - 86%
Having seen both this and the original, I'm probably one of the few reviewers my age to be in a position to compare them both. And as much as John Wayne is almost synonymous with the character of one-eyed Marshall Rooster Cogburn, the brothers Coen have done a fine job of remaking "True Grit" - certainly, they've done a much better job than they did with "The Ladykillers". The thing that puzzles me that this is possibly the most conventional picture the Coens have produced. There are no quirks and little of their trademark darkness that permeates their films. What this film remains is a surprisingly solid, old-fashioned Western that's much more violent and gritty than the original.
Determined to avenge the cold-blooded murder of her father, 14-year old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) sets off to the nearest town in order to hire someone to pursue and kill the man responsible, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). After having Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) recommended to her, Mattie's determination (and offer of a reward) win Rooster over and they set off together towards the Indian Territory that Chaney is believed to have fled towards. Cogburn is convinced that Chaney is working alongside Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper) and his gang but Chaney has someone else on his tail, enigmatic Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) and Mattie doesn't take too well to LaBoeuf's desire to take Chaney in alive.
Closely mirroring the first film, "True Grit" is another modern western that continues to convince that there is life for the genre yet. Dispensing with the traditionally glamorous portrayal of life in the old west, the film is a hard-hitting adventure across a variety of vistas - no endless deserts here as snow falls and mountain trails wind their way between tall long-dead trees. It is a film filled with scenes that remain in the mind long after the credits have run. Not only that but the film is also stuffed with quality performances, none more so than Steinfeld as Mattie. Not only is she closer to the character's age than Kim Darby was in 1969 but her Mattie is every inch as tough as Damon's LaBoeuf (who feels much more dangerous than Glen Campbell did) or Bridge's Cogburn. Take the great scene between Mattie and Colonel Stonehill (Dakin Matthews) when the miserly trader is almost afraid to haggle with the single-minded girl in front of him. Bridges, by contrast, takes the character in a different direction to Wayne by playing up the character's flaws instead of making him into a fading hero. And the characters make the film different from your usual shooter, forcing them to ask questions of themselves and not necessarily liking the answers.
"True Grit" might be little more than a lazy remake but the Coens have taken a half-forgotten gem and turned it into a glittering jewel. The film feels authentic and exciting when the plot begins to get going. Yes, it is a little slow at times and occasionally, there are moments and scenes that feel like padding like the encounter with the unknown man hanging from a tree, for instance. But on the whole, this is an excellent picture fuelled with decent acting, quality direction (as if the Coens would accept anything less than perfection) and a good story at the heart of it all. It isn't as gripping as "No Country For Old Men" but it's still a film that deserves your attention. Maybe should have won at least one of its ten Oscar nominations, though...
Dizzying heights - 95%
For forty consecutive years, the respected BFI publication 'Sight & Sound' had listed "Citizen Kane" as the greatest movie ever made. But two years ago, it was replaced at the top by this classic Hitchcock thriller which, frankly, puts me in a bit of a quandary. You see, asking whether any film is the greatest ever made is a daunting and almost unfair question to ask, one that's reserved for only the most iconic, legendary and timeless films. So is it fair to pose the question this time? Absolutely - this is one of those films that critics love because it works on unseen, philosophical levels and they can poke their glasses up to the bridge of their noses and discuss the film's themes. However, regular viewers like you and I are, for once, still able to enjoy the film which offers a thoroughly complex and dark mystery that never lets go of your attention for a second.
After a traumatic chase across the rooftops of San Francisco ends with the death of a colleague, detective John "Scotty" Ferguson (James Stewart) develops a severe phobia of heights and suffers from vertigo if he gets too high up. Deciding to leave the force, he meets up with his old friend Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) who asks a favour of him. His wife Madeleine (Kim Novak) has been acting strangely, appearing distant and possibly suicidal. Pleading him to follow her movements, Gavin persuades John to go along with it and with nothing else to do, John follows Madeleine to various places and soon discovers that she is obsessed with a long-deceased woman named Carlotta Valdes. But John has no idea of the mystery he has been thrown in to or what price the truth will cost him...
I said that "Vertigo" works as both a critic and a crowd-pleaser, something easier said than done. For the masses, the film provides an utterly absorbing mystery to ponder that is further enhanced with Hitch's trademark tension and a wonderfully atmospheric score by Bernard Herrmann. Both Stewart and Novak give fantastically understated performances as does the underused Barbara Bel Geddes as John's former fiancée Midge Wood. Like "Citizen Kane", it also innovates with imaginative camera-work and shots that almost don't look real at times such as the aerial shot of the church with two characters divided by the church tower. And then there are the famous "vertigo shots" themselves, which work brilliantly well at making any sort of height dizzyingly terrifying. But on the other hand, the film also works from a critical perspective. Consider the fact that vertigo sufferers get dizzy from heights - the soundtrack has a hauntingly circular feel to it and even whole scenes feel as though they repeat themselves. There's even an animated dream sequence halfway through which would have been unusual even then and lighting is hugely important too, illuminated characters in vivid hues of green, blue and red. It is, in short, magnificently impressive.
The question I keep coming back to is whether it's the best film ever, worthy of toppling "Citizen Kane" from its lofty perch. Personally, I don't think there's much value in separating them. Whether you get me mint chocolate or rum & raisin ice cream, I'm still gonna enjoy a sweet and tasty treat - the same goes for these two films. But while "Vertigo" is a stunning and essential movie for anyone with at least half a brain, "Citizen Kane" felt like a revelation to me. It blew me away and remains my highest scoring film to date. Having said that, I maintain that deciding a "best film ever" is a futile exercise. Opinions are, of course, subjective and even my tastes get confused - "Citizen Kane" may score higher but I would rather watch something more entertaining like "WALLE" or "Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels". Even IMDb can get it wrong - as much as I respect "The Shawshank Redemption", I wouldn't consider it in my top ten or even top twenty films. "Vertigo" is a rare exception - it's a film that I respect and admire but also one I'd happily sit down in front of again and again.
Above the Law (1988)
Below the standard of "Under Siege" - 55%
Having given a couple of Steven Seagal film a right good kicking recently, I felt kinda bad for him and sought out this, his debut feature film. My reasons? Well, I figured that he would be in the prime of his youthful exuberance and not the overweight has-been he is today. He also has a respected action director in Andrew Davis (who would later helm "The Fugitive" and Seagal's best film "Under Siege") and Blaxploitation legend Pam Grier as co-star. The signs were good that this might not be a total bust along the lines of "Hard To Kill" or "Half Past Dead". Sure enough, it's a refreshing change to see Seagal do what he was meant to do as he looks and sounds every inch the legitimate tough guy. Sadly, the film's overly complicated plot tends to get in the way of the action and makes the film strangely dull. This is the first time in ages I've seen a film to fail my patented Nokia test (ending up playing games on my phone halfway through) which isn't a good sign for any action film.
I'm gonna have to refer to other sources for this synopsis because I simply couldn't follow the film well enough but Seagal plays Nico Toscani, a Sicilian living in Chicago with his wife Sara (Sharon Stone) and infant daughter. Nico was recruited into the CIA by agent Nelson Fox (Chelcie Ross) during Vietnam but quit upon witnessing a torturer named Kurt Zagon (Henry Silva). Fifteen years later in Chicago, Nico works as a cop alongside his partner Delores Jackson (Grier) and arrest local drug pusher Tony Salvano (Daniel Faraldo). To Nico's disgust, the Feds get involved and release Salvano, citing an existing investigation and warn them both to stay away. But Nico doesn't take no for an answer and soon begins his own independent pursuit of Salvano and those involved, especially when his family are threatened by dark forces...
There is also something else about immigrants living below a church and Nico's friend and pastor Father Gennaro (Joe V. Greco) being blown up during Mass. In truth, "Above The Law" crams in far too much story for a film of this type that I reckon if they stretched it out a bit, you could have had enough for a trilogy. Thankfully, they kept it to just the one. It's not that the film is a bad one as action movies go. Seagal moves much faster and smoother than he does in his later work and for once, he is impressive in the film. His acting style and delivery aren't so much of a distraction here as they usually are and he works well along with Grier and Stone (who are both criminally underused). But for a movie about a go-it-along cop taking the baddies down, it loses its focus by introducing more and more elements into the story. For example, is it not a huge coincidence that the very man who made Nico distrust the CIA is the same man who is behind the numerous schemes happening around Chicago? And when some two-bit hoodlums are thrown in with the CIA, the FBI and the Mafia were probably in there as well (he's Sicilian, remember?) then what you end up with is a series of shoot-outs and fist fights that don't really seem to have any connection or cohesion with the plot. At some point, I completely lost track of whether Fox was a good guy or a baddie. To be honest, I still don't know and I have the film's Wikipedia page open as I write.
"Above The Law" might not change the world but like most of Seagal's back catalogue, it is a macho and meaty action flick that satisfies the undemanding fan but leaves most viewers wanting something more. In his debut picture, Seagal acquits himself far better than he normally does - he even throws in a nod to the story about how he broke Sean Connery's arm on the set of "Never Say Never Again" as a stuntman. But "Above The Law" is a largely unmoving experience, devoid of any real charm or substance but at least it has some ambition behind it instead. It isn't as dumb as many of Seagal's later films ("Half Past Dead" is a prime example) which seem to specialise in rounding up anonymous thugs so Seagal can do his martial arts on them or shoot them dramatically. Sadly, it simply isn't as engaging as an action film can be - take "Die Hard" where you cared about McClane's struggle against Hans Gruber or "Terminator 2" when the future of civilisation was at stake. You neither care about the story (even if you could follow it) or the characters who merely perform to genre stereotypes (the partner who needs protecting, the "Godfather" impersonator at the family gathering, the nun who doesn't say much, etc). "Above The Law" might be a faintly boring cop film and compared to his later films, one of Seagal's better efforts but it certainly isn't above the standards we have today.
The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)
Welcome to the Val Kilmer Show, sponsored by Magic Mushrooms and Jack Daniels - 40%
It might be tempting to think that modern film-makers have a God-given right to remake whatever they wish simply because we have better tools with which to make films. From incredible CG characters like Gollum to Keanu Reeves dodging bullets in slow motion, it would be easy to remake a much earlier film and throw every digital trick in the book at it, expecting success and critical acclaim. Of course, it doesn't always work like that as there are any number of things that can scupper a production from backstage fighting, studio disagreements and lead actors' egos clashing. And when you have all three then you get "The Island Of Dr. Moreau", a film so mired in issues that it's a miracle it was released or even finished. What's really tragic is that it had a really promising opening and could have been so much better. Instead, it descends into an absolute farce of a film with very little to recommend.
David Thewlis plays Edward Douglas, a survivor of a plane crash drifting alone and almost dead at sea. Picked up by a man named Montgomery (Val Kilmer) and slowly nursed back to health, Douglas is taken to a remote island and made a guest of reclusive scientist Doctor Moreau (Marlon Brando). But the island hides a multitude of Moreau subjects - inhuman creatures that are monitored and kept under Moreau's control through implanted pain receptors. As Douglas desperately tries to escape the island, one such creature (Daniel Rigney) discovers the doctor's secret implant and removes it. As the mutants begin to rise up against Moreau and the others, Douglas realises that he must fight for his life before all hope is lost.
Believe me when I say that this film really does start off well - the film offers a tempting mystery behind the enigmatic Moreau's jungle paradise and everything looks suitably ramshackle and intriguing. Then Brando himself appears, lording it up and caked in weird snow-white make-up and it's at this point that the film tanks like the Exxon Valdez. It goes from a promising sci-fi mystery with a slight horror element to a drug-fuelled "Twin Peaks" tribute, populated with dwarfs and jobbing actors covered in excessive amounts of make-up, prosthetics and facial hair. The only exception is Fairuza Balk as the pretty cat-hybrid 'daughter' who is there solely to provide a possible love interest to Thewlis. The cast do what they can with a dodgy (and hastily rewritten) script but none can hold a candle to Kilmer who, like the film, goes utterly off the rails halfway through. It also forgets what the story has established already - for example, the primitive and feral beasts call guns "the fire that kills" but within half-an-hour, they've learnt the word for guns but also can drive jeeps and reload an AK47. With claws and hooves. Riiiiight.
"The Island Of Dr. Moreau" will probably ensure that this particular H.G. Wells tale won't be remade for quite some time. It isn't a long film but it feels like it, especially once the madness begins and Kilmer's character acts like a junkie mid-relapse. The only real aspect of the production I can applaud is the creature effects which are convincing enough, to a point. Certainly, they made me wonder whether Brando was wearing prosthetics as he looks grossly overweight and acts like a mere shadow of his previous self. I know that sounds harsh but his performance is not his finest hour, one of many that people had during this movie. But this is undoubtedly the Val Kilmer show and frankly, I'd like to know exactly what he was on at the time. As I understand, hardly anybody had a good time on set but never before has that despondency appeared on screen so spectacularly than it did here. "The Island Of Dr. Moreau" is the worse kind of movie, the sort that builds up your hopes and then knocks them back like that glamorous woman out of your league at the bar. It's more disappointing than it is bad, throwing away its promising potential and settling with being a stupid and moronic action blast.
Per un pugno di dollari (1964)
Ground-breaking... at the time - 71%
You know where you stand with certain actors, don't you? For instance, you know that Jason Statham is going to have a heavy Cockney accent or that Nicholas Cage will over-act like his life depended on it. But with Clint, you know you're getting a man with a face that has seen it all and doesn't mind doing it again. He made his name in the saddle and this low-budget Western is exactly the sort of material the big man enjoys, when he isn't having a conversation with a chair on stage. But fifty long years have passed and this film is one in serious need of restoration. Crippled with technical problems, this cult shooter has a magnetic central performance but a patchy script based on the Japanese film "Yôjinbô" that's tricky to follow.
Somewhere in America's vast dusty nothingness, a stranger (Clint Eastwood) arrives in a town dominated by two warring families - the Baxters led by John Baxter (Wolfgang Lukschy) and the Rojo family, headed by the bloodthirsty Ramon (Gian Maria Volonté). Ignoring the pleas of the town's bartender Silvanito (José Calvo) to leave town quickly, the stranger senses an opportunity to make some money by playing each side off against the other. But can he hope to survive when the lead starts flying in a town where he is almost completely out-gunned?
Arguably the first so-called 'spaghetti western' that garnered any success at the box office, it's perhaps easy to see why "A Fistful Of Dollars" came to define a sub-genre. It took long-established traditions (Westerns were hugely popular back in the silent era, after all) and challenged them in ways that aren't immediately obvious. Simple things like camera angles, close-ups and cinematography were adjusted to present a well-known setting in a different way. And then, of course, there was Eastwood's iconic performance as The Man With No Name. Looking and acting very different from his predecessors, Eastwood's impossibly cool character easily holds the film together and outshines everyone else on screen. It is worth noting that the dubbing is appalling compared to other films of the time, which does detract somewhat from their performances, but also makes the actors kinda look and sound fairly similar. Halfway through, I'd lost track of who was doing what to whom and why (much like I did in another version of the story, "Last Man Standing") and this made the plot almost unfathomable.
Although it doesn't quite float my boat, I do understand why "A Fistful Of Dollars" is held in quiet reverence. It may be hokey, low-budget and poorly scripted but the sheer charisma of Eastwood's lone hero meant that a sequel or two was inevitable. It was also ground-breaking in its way, forging a separate path from the well-worn clichés of traditional westerns and heading off in a more entertaining direction. But its very success and legacy weaken it for viewers today as we have become used to the things that were shown here for the first time, in the same way that anyone who listens to rock music today would listen to The Sex Pistols for the first time with reverent indifference - thankful for its existence but not getting excited in the same way as listeners did back in the day. "A Fistful Of Dollars" looks a lot more quaint in its old age than it did fifty years ago but at least it's brave enough to break free from the shackles of its inspirations. Think of it this way - will "The Matrix" still blow you away in fifty years time in the same way it did when you caught it at the cinema? I very much doubt it.
Super Size Me (2004)
McBrilliant - 93%
Despite being European and nowhere near as obese as some shown here, I have a horrible feeling that this hard-hitting documentary is designed exactly for people like me. I don't go to fast-food joints that often and never McDonalds because I've never trusted them and don't like their food - give me KFC any day! But like tobacco and alcohol, the dangers of saturated fat, excessive calorie intake and the media's current target of sugar have been talked about for years and the truth is that people don't like being told that they're fat, lazy and/or eating too much junk. The real strength of "Super Size Me" lays not just in presenting an extreme argument against such food and the industry but in how it forces you to look at your own life and reassess your lifestyle.
Morgan Spurlock discusses the ever-expanding obesity crisis, focusing on the US in particular and the number one provider of fast food, McDonalds. He decides to ignore the pleas of his vegan girlfriend and indulge in a 30-day diet of eating nothing but McDonalds three times a day, monitoring the effect on his health throughout. During his ordeal, he interviews those involved in the food industry and various regulatory bodies in America who all seem in agreement that McDonalds presents a challenge to the waistlines of ordinary people in a number of ways from persuading children into their restaurants with that damn clown to filling their products with numerous additives to encourage an addiction to their Big Macs. But the effects of Spurlock's crazy experiment take a drastic toll on his mind and body, effects that not even his doctors could have predicted...
"Super Size Me" somehow maintains an irreverent tone throughout discussing a serious issue, feeling almost like heavyweight documentary-maker Michael Moore's "Bowling For Columbine". This is no bad thing - humour and satire are powerful tools when presenting an argument and Spurlock's assertion that McDonald's are acting in a morally negligent manner is pretty much irrefutable. Granted, the Golden Arches don't get much in the way of counter-argument as they repeatedly decline Spurlock's attempts at securing an interview with anyone. But there are other issues besides the number of chicken McNuggets one consumes - exercise is quickly disappearing from schools in the US (and what is there simply isn't enough) while adults don't have the time to work off those killer calories. The other problem is choice - how likely are people to choose healthier options when the nutritional information they need is hidden, the advertising budget for fruit and veg is dwarfed by those like McDonald's and Hersey's and even the "healthy" options available are still loaded with sugar?
It may feel one-sided and slightly derivative when the film uses cartoons to illustrate certain points (much like Moore does) but "Super Size Me" is essential viewing, if a little graphic at times. It shines a spotlight on an industry that works hard to keep its business obscured in shadow but also the responsibilities of those in Government supposed to protect consumers, swayed by lobbyists on behalf of the same manufacturers as well as the responsibilities of you, the viewer. At the end of the day, only you can decide what to eat and how often and take it from me, I shall be thinking long and hard next time I get the hankering for a Bacon Double Cheeseburger from Burger King. As Spurlock himself asks, who do you want to see go first - you or them? If a documentary was measured on the strength of how it affects you and informs your future decisions then "Super Size Me" is a certified success. Whether it will make me lose weight and eat healthier, I believe I'm too stuck in my ways but at least I'm thinking about it.
Different, unique and utterly bewitching - 90%
Personally, whenever I think of Disney films then I tend to associate them with endless adaptations of fairy tales and lazy, direct-to-video sequels to films to do become hits like "Aladdin" and "The Lion King". Of course, back in the day, they were innovators in the same way that fellow animation studio Pixar are these days and this is arguably their most experimental offering. Ditching all but their biggest and most recognisable character as well anything like a cohesive story, this long musical journey feels like a twisted dream fuelled with colour, humour and noise. It is also utterly bewitching and almost unique but what I find most amazing is how brave it is, given its age and how challenging it remained until the first half of "WALL·E" 68 years later.
"Fantasia" is actually made up of eight short films, each one set to music. The idea, as described by the narrator Deems Taylor, is to portray the thoughts and inspirations of the composer in each piece - whether it's a mythical landscape populated with cherubs and centaurs, dancing toadstools or Mickey Mouse working as a sorcerer's apprentice. The musical pieces vary from Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite and the epic Night On Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky. All music is played on screen by the Philadelphia Orchestra and is conducted by Leopold Stokowski.
It would be tempting to suggest that "Fantasia" is like a love letter to two art-forms perceived to be dying: classical music and hand-drawn animation. Certainly, it is a reminder of just how pretty and intricate old-style animation could be as the film is stunningly beautiful at times. There are also some classic pieces of film included here from Mickey's classic image as the Sorcerer's Apprentice to a truly terrifying demon atop of Bald Mountain summoning the dead to do his dark bidding. But in truth, "Fantasia" is still as fantastic and relevant as it's always been. Classical music is enjoying something of a resurgence while hand-drawn animation remains in use today (take Disney's own 2009 film "The Princess And The Frog"). It does last too long and younger viewers will be bored stiff as I was when I was a nipper watching this for the first time many years ago. But for adults and fans of films that are a bit different, this is a real treat. It might not be for everyone but for me, it is a beguiling way of passing the time. A shame the music isn't more relaxing at times but "Fantasia" is a rare film, one that lives up to its name.