CinemaSerf

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Reviews

Poseidon
(2006)

I had a sinking feeling about this...
Now some things really are best left alone - and a remake of the "Poseidon Adventure" (1972) is one of them. Just because you stick a diamanté earring onto Richard Dreyfuss and put Kurt Russell into a suit does not mean that you can recapture the drama created by Gene Hackman and Shelley Winters back in the day. Make no mistake, this doesn't! The visual effects are state of the art (or ought that to be ark?) but there is precisely no sense of peril throughout the entire film as the motley collection try to get to the hull, and safety from their recently capsized ocean liner. Josh Lucas is in his best action eye-candy mode, as is Emily Rossum but the dialogue, pace and whole style of the film relies far to heavily on the CGI and not through on anything more tangible. There are puns a-plenty to pick about this being shallow, having a fishy plot that really does plumb the depths of disaster thrillers - and they'd all be true. Should just have left well alone.

Die Hard 2
(1990)

I'll never criticise a baggage handler again...
If anyone were ever to need to write a training manual for terrorists that demonstrated how to maximise the chaos and destruction at a facility; then they could do a great deal worse than engage the services of Bruce Willis. In this cracking action adventure film, he is "Lt. John McClane" who finds himself amidst a hijacking - but this time it's not the plane that's being hijacked, it's the whole airport - and all so a drug-dealing general can escape justice with the help of some rogue highly trained military types. Willis has bags of charisma, and he needs it as he has to persuade sceptical authorities and other cops of the critical risk - and all before an incoming flight carrying his wife (with quite a fun little sub-plot of it's own) runs out of fuel. The dialogue is sometimes quite pithy, and Tom Bower is fine as "Marvin" (the janitor who gets roped in too). It does lack menace, maybe Willis' style of characterisation is just a bit too laid back; the smile and the glint - but it's still an end to end action thriller with plenty of pyrotechnics and near misses to fill a couple of hours in a world of mindless cinema. It's not quite as good at the first one, but there's not that much to it.

Midnights with Adam
(2013)

Self-indulgent navel gazing.
Paul Yen is "Harper" a young man who is completely infatuated with his straight best friend "Danny" (Ben Whalen). It all comes to a head (or, perhaps not) at a party when he loses it with his friend - when he sees him chatting up "Alice" and says plenty of things we suspect he may later regret. His first resolution is to call his sex buddy for some rough and ready respite in a car park, then off to his BFF Amanda Kathleen Ward ("Annie") who didn't know he was gay, but nonetheless offers him an unconditional shoulder to cry on as he engages in a rather maudlin, introspective emotional dump. He's not at all an engaging character, and his bitterness towards both "Danny" and his situation is quite tiresome to watch enfold in front of you. I'm sure it does happen in real life, but as a piece of cinema it's all just a bit dull.

1992
(2016)

Coming to terms with quite a lot...
There's a hell of a lot crammed into this 25 minute story of "Martin" (Louis Duneton) who falls for his hunky teaching assistant "Dominique" (Matthieu Dessertine - think Rafa Nadal ten years ago) and they embark of a fairly lively, affectionate, fling. Snag is, young "Martin" is a bit of an introvert who tends to live his life vicariously via his video camera, and when his dad happens to take a look at some of his racier home movies, things get complicated. Alain Beigel works well as his father, a single parent (I assume) who is naturally concerned for the welfare of his 17 year old son with whom he really just wants to bond and the complex, natural, threads of the story tie up interestingly at the end. It is a well hung together production with some subtle touches that deal with infatuation delicately, but honestly. The script is a bit dodgy, though - and I felt it could have been doing with just a little more intel on what created their domestic scenario in the first place

En malas compañías
(2000)

Living his life his way...
This is quite a fun look at a young man whose attitude to cottaging puts him at odds with his parents and, occasionally, the authorities. He's just like any of the rest of us, at that age, sex mad and permanently horny - only he likes variety and a certain degree of risk with his fun, even to the extent of shagging his English tutor. It's a simple and engaging production that states the bleeding' obvious - but that's what gives it quite a fresh feel to it.

Blind Chance
(2019)

Who to trust?
A very brief glimpse of a non-sexual encounter in an hotel room between two young men who had each recently told a parent of their sexuality. They arrive in the throes of passion but that quickly evaporates as one of them feels sick, thereafter nothing specific happens of note, beyond the fact they appear to have been the first the other has told of the parental reactions they received. The dialogue is sparse, but it's got a certainly intensity about it which is quite impressive given we have less than 3 minutes of performance to appreciate.

Silver Linings Playbook
(2012)

What's all the fuss about...?
This is the fourth time I've seen this, now, and it does two things for me. Firstly it presents two super performances from Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence - acting that is energetic, visceral and wholly authentic. Then it bombards me with half a dozen reasons why the angry, relentlessly recycling plot is not deserving of those skills. Is being Bi-Polar just the latest iteration of the "Rainman" philosophy - let's take a serious mental illness, immerse it in as caustic an environment as we can, then "expose it" to the public so we can discuss, empathise, sympathise, investigate further? If so, then it didn't work. Cooper and his largely loving but eternally frustrated family - Jacki Weaver and Robert de Niro seem to perpetuate the circumstances in which his condition thrives, and boy for the most part does it really thrive - despite the best efforts of his doctor (Anupam Kher) and the seemingly omnipresent policeman assigned to try and keep him out of mischief (Dash Mihok). When Lawrence arrives on the scene, she initially exacerbates his syndrome before the happiness merchants in the script department kick in and though certainly bumpy, our path to the sunlit uplands is lit up - robbing the plot of any real uncertainty or jeopardy and at this point the hitherto excellent Cooper started to remind me of Adam Sandler. The heart of it's problem may well be that it is very difficult to sustain the degrees of intensity that it initially offered for two hours - there are bound to be lapses, but I felt that after the first forty minutes I had largely lost interest in this story that had such an inevitability about it.

Horror Island
(1941)

Maybe should have been called comedy island - not much horror to be had, but fun nonetheless
Dick Foran is "Bill" who sees an opportunity to start selling treasure-hunting tours to a nearby island he has recently inherited, where there are rumours of a great hoard buried by the famed pirate Sir Henry Morgan. He and pal Fizzy Knight ("Stuff Oliver") recruit a few gullibles and off they set. When they arrive, they get a lot more than they bargained for as things really do start to go bump in the night; folks start turning up dead and a mysterious. malevolent voice haunts their old mansion house repeatedly telling them to leave. The script is fun and well paced, though the humour is a touch too slapstick for me at times, and the photography and lighting help create just a little bit of suspense in what is essentially an episode of "Scooby Do" with shadows. Until the end it's as much of a whydunit as a whodunit, and though the plot doesn't really matter - it sustains the hour well enough.

The Mummy's Hand
(1940)

There could be a market for Tan leaves in the morning...?
Ultimately, this spawned three sequels that develop the tales of "Kharis" (this time Tom Tyler) as he is raised from his perpetual living death to reconcile with his "Princess Ananka". By far the best of them, this film starts off with Dick Foran ("Steve Banning) and Wallace Ford ("Babe Johnson") as two hapless archaeologists who accidentally discover and defile the tomb of "Kharis" who, together with his menacing, megalomanic High Priest "Andoheb" (George Zucco) are not best pleased. Revived by his potent elixir of Tan leaves, the mummy sets off to wreak vengeance on his desecrators - and, of course, to find his long lost gal whom he hopes will buy into his new "been in a terrible fire/hospital" look. The production is a bit basic - there is plenty of repetitive use of the same shots but the cast/writing in this are quite decent - Cecil Kellaway and Eduardo Cianelli are quite effective at keeping the story moving along between strangulations and it's got quite a good conclusion too. No relation to Karloff's 1932 version, but still quite an enjoyable development go the them that I rather enjoyed.

The Mummy's Curse
(1944)

Luxor comes to Louisiana
This proved to be the final instalment in the series of the adventures of poor old "Kharis" (Lon Chaney Jr.) as he continues to try and reunite with his "Princess Ananka" (this time Virginia Christine), and is actually one of there better ones. A group of workmen are draining a swamp when one of their number is found strangled. Rumours of there being mummies buried there are rife, much to the chagrin of the boss "Pat Walsh" (Addison Richards) who just wants to get on with his tasks. His frustration is compounded by the arrival of a couple of boffins who are ostensibly seeking the mummified remains for a museum but have, of course, a devilish ulterior motive that ends up with them finding an ancient monastery (in Louisiana!?). There, the High Priest (Peter Coe) concocts the elixir from the tan leaves that empowers our embalmed enforcer to once again search and all hell breaks loose. It's a straightforward recycling of the other stories, but is still quite fun to watch and it's lit in a fashion that - just about - lends itself to the tiniest bit of peril.

Tale of the Mummy
(1998)

Shocking nonsense...
Ok, straight to the point.... Why? What on earth was Russell Mulcahy thinking when he decided that this was ever going to work? Aside from an all too brief appearance from Christopher Lee (though easy enough to explain if he'd actually been sent the entire screenplay) the thing is an ensemble of some seriously C-rated British bit-part actors who support eye-candy Jason Scott Lee as the visiting detective "Riley" on a desperate mission to thwart a curse that will release "Talos" (a Greek bronze man, methinks - but, hey ho!) and bring devastation to all mankind. The special effects seem to consist of lots of bits of bandage blowing about in an attempt to create some semblance of peril, or menace - or maybe just a draft? The dialogue is just silly and what Honor Blackman is doing here is anyone's guess. Sorry this is just dross - and fans of mummy films (that's me, too) ought to consign this to a place where even the book of the dead can't help it.

The Mummy's Ghost
(1944)

Kharis comes to California...
This film belongs to a suitably maniacal John Carradine as "Yousef Bey" who has been charged by the gods to empower the mummified body of the High Priest "Kharis" (Lon Chaney Jr. but it might as well have been anyone) to reunify with the Princess Ananka who appears to have reincarnated in the guise of "Amina" (the glamorous but terribly static Ramsey Ames). Who can stop this? Well that task falls to Robert Lowery ("Tom") who has to thwart the increasingly ambitious plotting of Carradine and his embalmed enforcer. I quite enjoyed it, but it has little of merit to recommend it; the action scenes are as lumbering as Chaney doing the cha-cha; the dialogue likewise and but for Carradine's eyes and a few scenes from George Zucco as the modern day High Priest, it would fall entirely by the wayside.

Deadfall
(1968)

A crime caper with quite a lot going on under the bonnet.
This is quite a curious film from Bryan Forbes. On the face of it, it's just a well produced "Topkapi" (1964) rip off without the humour or the style; but if you give it a chance it's a bit more sophisticated. Michael Caine is on good form as a petty thief who is recruited by the enigmatic Giovanna Ralli and Eric Portman (Fe and Richard Moreau) to carry out a heist that will net them millions of pesetas from a safe in Spain. This does't quite go to plan, indeed it's at time quite comical - but they then move on to an even more daring challenge and that's when the characterisations start to make more of an impact on the rather ordinary plot. Eric Portman is the star here for me. Even though his delivery can be a bit annoying at times, this was probably the only time I ever saw him playing a part that reflected his own personality, and as we discover more about the rather quirky, shall we say, nature of the marriage between the two then things begin to make a bit more sense and the film a bit more intriguing. It is way, way, too long - lots of beautiful photography that advances the story not a jot, and I didn't love the conclusion, that seemed unnecessarily finite, but for a film I'd never heard of until yesterday, I think it is well worth a watch.

The Limping Man
(1953)

The limp conclusion...
This is actually quite a decent story until the ending - which, I have to say, rendered the whole thing pretty pointless. The plot centres on Lloyd Bridges ("Frank") who comes to London to resurrect a long since dormant romance with Moira Lister ("Pauline"). Any ideas he has that this might be a straightforward process is soon put from his mind when the fellow he gets off the plane with is shot by a sniper at the bottom of the aircraft steps! It transpires that "Pauline" and the deceased had some history and both the couple and the police want to get to the bottom of it all, before the aforementioned howler of an ending that you really do have to see to believe. Bridges never was a great actor, but he is adequate in this - Lister and a young Leslie Phillips do most of the heavy lifting - and the pace, plot and dialogue keep the attention for much of the 75 minutes quite well.

No Highway
(1951)

Good little drama - not for aerophobes, though!
James Stewart is on great form here as an aeronautical engineer ("Mr. Honey") who is travelling on a flight to Vancouver when he is offered a tour of the plane. He asks just how many miles the crate had done, and when he is given his answer he immediately becomes terrified that the tailplane is going to fall off as they fly over the Atlantic. The next half hour, in which he befriends the stewardess Glynis Johns and a very practically minded travelling actress - Marlene Dietrich ("Miss Teasdale") - are genuinely quite tense. No special effects, noises or flashes - just a slowly ascending degree of tension managed well by the three of them - along with Niall MacGinnis as the wary captain - until "Honey" has to take some pretty drastic steps. It runs out of steam a bit towards the end as romantic and family concerns appear and clutter up the otherwise quite well paced drama, and the ending is rather poor, I thought. Still, a good cast of familiar faces - a very newly knighted Sir Felix Aylmer, Maurice Denham, Dora Bryan, Kenneth More and the smallest of cameos from Wilfred Hyde-White all keep it ticking along well enough to enjoy for 100 minutes. Well worth watching.

State Secret
(1950)

Good story well told.
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is "Dr. John Marlowe", lauded by the largely unknown state of Vosnia after he develops an unique form of medical procedure. When he travels there to collect his gong, he finds himself amidst a plot in this totalitarian state to prolong the life of their leader "General Niva". Regardless of what happens, he cannot be left alive to tell a tale, and when this dawns on him, he must escape. Fortunately, he alights of Glynis Johns - an English speaking cabaret dancer and with the help of the suitably sleazy Herbert Lom, they make for the border with Jack Hawkins and his soldiers hot on their heals. I enjoyed this, at times it is a suspenseful drama with enough intrigue to sustain it as they face a few perils on their escapade to safety. There's a fun chemistry between the two stars and it builds nicely to an ending with a teeny, weeny twist. Well worth a watch.

The Seekers
(1954)

Who knew there was an international trade in shrunken heads...?
Neither Jack Hawkins nor a rather simpering Glynis Johns can make much headway with the plodding direction and really poor script in what was a potentially interesting tale of early British settlers in a New Zealand still populated by Maori tribes as yet untroubled by colonial types, or Christians. It's a colourful story - Ken Annakin did some of the filming in the aptly name Bay of Plenty, and there is some decent support from Noel Purcell but what little (actually quite exciting) adventure there is comes very late in the day, with most of it not much better than a rather plodding, dreary, melodrama cluttered up with unrequited love and a truly wooden performance from Hawkins. Good haka at the end, though... .

A Star Is Born
(2018)

Really entertaining first hour that loses it's way a bit afterwards....
The inherent advantage with this 1937 story is that "re-imaginings" need have nothing at all to do with any previous iteration of a very simple story - each can start pretty much from scratch and make it's own way. In this one, the waning star (Bradley Cooper) stops off in a drag bar after a gig and discovers Lady Gaga doing a reasonable impression of Edith Piaf. The rest of the plot follows the standard yellow brick road formula as her star gradually eclipses his, and he continues on a path of drug-fuelled self destruction despite them falling in love. For me, it's a film of two parts.The first, by far the more engaging. Their performances gel really well and in the beginning are honest, edgy and visceral - their music (performed by both, and Cooper has a certain talent, too) is great - there is an integrity to it. Then, she meets Rafi Gavron, a manager who promises her the stars... To be fair, he delivers but at what price? This second part, if you like, is much more sterile. The performances lose their vitality, it all becomes overly staged and that quite negatively impacts on the traditional melodrama of the story as Cooper's character well and truly comes off the rails and the story begins to drag. The music does likewise too - the earlier, emotionally charged elements replaced by largely forgettable pop songs and a finale that could only dream of the effectiveness of the Streisand one from 1976. Lady G delivers a performance to be proud of - she reminded me a lot of Scarlett Johansson; and Cooper with a guitar in his hand does well too - just a shame they couldn't sustain that level of intensity for the whole film.

The Crooked Web
(1955)

Runs out of steam really quickly...
This is just a bit too convoluted for it's own good. It's all about a scheme to retrieve some gold from Germany buried at the end of WWII by Richard Denning ("Frank"). Frank Lovejoy ("Stan") and his gal Mari Blanchard ("Joanie") are the pair trying to manoeuvre their mark into taking them back to find the loot, but they also they have an ulterior motive of which poor old "Frank" is unaware. It's got a few twists and turns to keep the plot moving, but much of the story seems to exist in order to perpetuate itself, rather than offer us anything to get our teeth into and after a while it becomes a bit dull. The performances are weak, the dialogue really wordy and I found the music got on my nerves a bit, too. Director Nathan Juran usually had a good eye for a story and phototography at his best; this isn't it.

The Hat Box Mystery
(1947)

The box is the star!
Pamela Blake is "Susan", the assistant to PI Tom Neal ("Russ") whose business has rather hit the skids. Whilst he is away, she takes on a case trying to prove infidelity and using a hat box that, ostensibly, conceals a harmless camera she follows her target. Unfortunately, her snaps have a fatal consequence and she is charged with murder. It falls to "Russ" and his hapless helper "Harvard" (Allen Jenkins) to get to the bottom of it before "Susan" is toast. It's all just a routine B-drama with little jeopardy or menace, but it does have quite a few quite engaging scenes between "Harvard" and waitress "Veronica" (Virginia Sale) who offers him her body but he'd rather have a goose-burger.... It's short and sweet, and though pretty unremarkable, it does pass 45 minutes easily enough.

Green Eyes
(1934)

I'm sure that's Max von Sydow in the kimono....
Do you know what - if the cast had just been a shade better, this could have been really quite a gripping little whodunnit, but neither Shirley Grey ("Jean") nor Charles Starrett ("Michael") really shine as they investigate the brutal murder of their party host, and her grandfather (Claude Gillingwater). Richard Thorpe certainly has plenty to work with adapting Harriette Ashbrook's fast paced and frequently pithy novel, and the plot does have a few plot twists that keep us guessing for much of it, but the performances don't really gel and but for a few timely scenes with the charming Dorothy Revier and Aggie Herring & Elmer Ballard as the dead man's gossiping domestic staff, the thing just falls a bit flat. Pity, it's a good story and the production standards are high.

Algiers
(1938)

Run of the mill romance with some lovely photography.
This is quite an enjoyable pairing of Charles Boyer ("Pepe") and Hedy Lamarr ("Gaby"). Filmed on location for some of it, Boyer is a jewel thief who arrived in Algeria a few years earlier and governs the Casbah area of the city much like a Mafia Don. The French authorities are determined to bring him to justice and "Slimane" (Joseph Calleia) is just biding his time. He's given quite a helping hand when "Gaby" arrives and "Pepe" falls for her - she reminds him of times gone by in Paris - and also causes quite a stir with his girlfriend "Ines" (Sigrid Gurie). It could certainly be doing with some additional wattage - but even so, the film is stylish to look at, and the performances from Boyer, Gurie, Gene Lockhart and Alan Hale as a sort of prophetic grandfather kind of character add a quite a lot of richness to Henri La Barthe's pretty nondescript, very dialogue heavy, 1931 novel. It's certainly worth a watch if not for the story, then for the performances.

Front Page Story
(1954)

Life imitating journalism...
Jack Hawkins in on good form as the news editor of the "Daily World" who is subsumed by his job to the neglect of his marriage with "Susan" (Elizabeth Allen). When he abandons a planned holiday to stay at work, she must decide whether to go alone or not... Meantime, director Gordon Parry uses the guise of the newspaper to take a look at an ongoing High Court case of a woman being charged with murder after she openly administered a lethal dose of morphia to her dying husband - a very early, and quite poignant media presentation on the very much taboo subject on euthanasia in the UK. There are also a few other quite interesting sub-plots featuring some stalwart British regulars to keep the pot bubbling along nicely. The romantic melodrama drags it down a bit - especially when it transpires "Susan" isn't exactly blameless either - but generally speaking, Hawkins is a good fit for the part and I found it quite an interesting story of how a busy daily newspaper might well have been run in the 1950s.

Conquest of Cochise
(1953)

Where's Jeff Chandler when you need him...?
John Hodiak is an odd choice to portray famed Apache chef Cochise in this run-of-the-mill retelling of the battles between the native American tribes and the encroaching white men. This iteration focusses on the attempts by the governments in Mexico City and Washington to carve up areas of the border with scant, if any, regard for the people who had lived there for generations. Robert Stack is the soldier who tries to convince the Chief of the honourable intentions of the blue coats, and the plot follows his attempts to stop war. It's been done on the cheap, with little depth to the story or the characters - and Joy Page ("Consuelo") makes for the rather a wooden object of both men's attentions. There is also a distinct lack of action here, indeed it is more of a romantic melodrama that skirts around some historical fact that left me with a feeling that I'd seen it all before, and better, too.

The Next of Kin
(1942)

Even the walls have ears....
This isn't so much an action film, as a series of scenarios that convey a message to the watching public that "careless talk costs lives". It started out life as a training film and you can tell by the rather clunky editing that director Thorold Dickinson was thinking on his feet as this project aimed at the military grew into a very important, and effective, counter-espionage tool. It's got quite a formidable cast of serving (or reservist) soldiers including Mervyn Johns, Jack Hawkins, Stephen Murray, Basil Sydney as well as Torin Thatcher in his typical role as the baddie; and the narrative weaves threads that cleverly expose just how easily the enemy got hold of information and capitalised on it. It uses actuality from time to time, and has a strange sort of excitement especially as the climaxes to each thread are not always favourable to the British which also lends it a considerable authenticity. There is a bit of wartime black humour to enjoy too, and though a curious film to watch, it has an unique plausibility which I found interesting, and to an extent, quite enjoyable.

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