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A Christmas Carol

A Glorious Version
There have been oodles of adaptations of A Christmas Carol, and not just to film. Ballet, opera, a Broadway musical, even a Marcel Marceau mime version. Basically if you've hung a decoration on a a tree, chances are you know the story. And so when a film version comes out it needs to stand out from the crowd. It needs to do it *well*.

This was a made for TV version, but doesn't suffer for that. Who ever cast the supporting actors was smart enough to realise that Scrooge needs to be surrounded by believable characters, and so we find some fantastic actors populating good old London. But as with any version of this classic story, the emphasis is on Scrooge himself. And Scotts performance drives this version.

George C Scott presents us with a far more complex character than we often find. One of the most striking scenes for me was the interaction between Scrooge and his nephew Fred. I am used to a jovial, bubbly Fred, full of smiles and Christmas cheer, and a wizened, scowling Scrooge. But here we find Fred talking in earnest. solemn, almost sermonising about the good Christmas has done him. Scrooge meanwhile laughs. He laughs at the idea of merry Christmas, laughs at the thought of boiling those who wish others a merry Christmas and laughs at how much more clever he is than his fellows, seeing Christmas for the true humbug it is. But this laughter never reaches his eyes. It's scornful, wicked and mocking, with no joy or love at all. And as we watch it becomes clear what a clever choice this is. This self satisfied smugness places transforms Scrooge, who can be seen often as a victim even from the first act, on a much higher pedestal. He's not just shutting the world out, defending his views when he's challenged, but he openly mocks and enjoys doing so, and so as we see his world view shift it's even more satisfying, even more gratifying to us as an audience and to him as a character as well.

I've already touched upon the supporting cast, but standing out amongst a field of giants is the always watchable David Warner as Bob Cratchet. He's warm, loving, put upon, the perfect, downtrodden everyman. As an aside, can I just say how happy I always am when Bob steps out of the office, as he does here, wearing a white 'comforter'. It's just nice when details like that are kept in.

Now for my Christmas Carol bugbear. If you read any review of this movie by me you'll see the same thing. TINY TIM! Gah!? Why do the other Cratchet children like him? Surely when we see the future and the wee lad is dead the others are thinking 'finally, now father will love US instead'. That coupled with the fact that he's a very young child makes it amazingly hard to cast. To young and the kid can't act. To old and he's hardly going to be 'tiny'. In this version they have erred on the side of tiny, and let acting talent be damned! The issue with this is that it means lines that are frankly trite and would never really be said in the actual world sound even less believable coming from the lips of an inexperienced child actor. Don't worry Anthony Walters, you'll go onto to much better things in the fut… Oh… A quick mention should be made about The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. I became rather smitten with the eerie sound made when it 'spoke'. Frankly, I loved it. Just the right level of creepy to keep the hairs on the back of my necks dancing. I vaguely remember having to drink a can of toughen up as a child during those moments, which is exactly as it should be.

With a stand out cast, surprisingly good production values and a script that's pretty close to Dickins this is a version that's pretty close to the original, and yet is well paced enough to not bore the pants off of younger family members.

Deck the Halls

Note from Father Christmas: John Whitesell gets coal this year!
E = mc2

a2 + b2 = c2

Π = c/d

See, sometimes a formula can be fantastic. Really, really useful. Not necessarily a bad thing at all. I'm pointing this out so that when I start talking about how formulaic I found Deck the Halls you'll hopefully realise that doesn't mean I'm going to dismiss it out of hand.

Movies can be very formulaic, and Christmas movies possibly more than any other type. It's what you do with that formula that matters. I'm not talking about creating a film and just setting it at Christmas (Gremlins, Die Hard, Lethal Weapon) or films that play with the genre (Go, Rare Exports, Eyes Wide Shut) but ones where you pretty much know the story, but it's done so well it doesn't matter. Something like Love Actually, Scrooged or National Lampoons Christmas Vacation.

I mention National Lampoons last as this is kind of what Deck The Halls seems to want to be. Matthew Broderick is Steve 'Mr Christmas' Finch, who's obsessive management is designed to create the perfect Christmas but really just frustrates his family. Danny DeVito is Buddy Hall (Remember the title? Cleve, huh?), a fast talking, wise mouthed Look, he's Danny DeVito but not being the bad guy for a change. So, surprisingly these two collide when Buddy, in his brash, carefree manor attempts to put so many lights on his house it can be seen from space. This is because he's never accomplished anything. Or something. I don't know. Ignoring just how criminally inane this basic premise is, let's just keep going shall we?

What follows is one up-man ship as zany stunt leads to wacky happening leads to hilarious mishap leads to catastrophe. The two mean loose their wives (Kristin Chenoweth and Kristin Davis) due to their bickering but put aside their differences to win them back. Steve learns the value of Christmas, Buddy learns his family was his greatest accomplishment, and there is no real consequences from them burning down their houses or spending all their money on fairy lights.

Actually, I have no real issue with any of that, as I said formula can be good. (Though it takes me 15 minutes to untangle my tree lights every year even if I put them back carefully. The rate at which these guys can work is AMAZING!) However if you are going to do run out a plot we all already know, then your set pieces need to be TOP NOTCH. Ooops

Some bits are OK, I did giggle when Steve woke up naked next to Buddy, who had stripped him down so they could share body heat. And when Chenoweth breaks into song at one unbelievable point, she is staggering, but the rest is just far to run of the mill to make this a holiday favourite for me. I just don't think it's all that funny.

The Muppet Christmas Carol

One of the Gangs best
Quite possibly the most beloved Muppet movie of my friends circle, this is an absolutely barn storming take on the Dickens classic. Every element of this screams class. Even from the opening shot as the camera pans over a model of Victorian London crafted to a level of detail I'd expect from some modelling fetishist you know that you are in very safe hands. With Gonzo taking on the role of Charles Dickens and Rizzo the rat taking on the role of Rizzo the Rat, the pair act as our guides through want is one of the most charming Christmas movies I know.

Trying to talk about this film is like trying to decide which packet from a box of Options to have first. It's all so good! OK… The music. I'll start with the music. From the opening number (Scrooge) we're treated to hearty, well written tunes that you can join in with by the second chorus. It's genuinely difficult to highlight a stand out number as they are all utterly charming. From Statler and Waldorf as Jacob and Robert Marley, to Scrooge regaling us with 'Thankful Heart' via the Ghost of Christmas Present singing 'It Feels Like Christmas' every song is fantastic. Disclaimer: That's not actually true. In the original cinematic release and the VHS version there is a song sung by young Scrooge and Belle called 'When Love is Gone'. While it still exists on the closing credits – in a inferior version sung by Martina McBride – it has been cut from the widescreen DVD release. OK, the song wasn't great, but I don't agree with the cut, mostly because now the scene is rather jarring, with Belle rather softly accusing Scrooge of no longer loving her and then suddenly departing, leaving Rizzo in tears. It feels like the hack job it is.

Golly I hate finding flaws in this film, so lets move onto the acting. Pleasingly it's mostly the Muppets here, but with them is Michael Caine as the man himself: Scrooge. Now it might be easy to forget that, back in 1992, Sir Michaels career hadn't exactly been shining for the past decade. In fact he had been in some tosh and hadn't really done himself any favours with his performances. However this movie was, far and away, his best in ten years. He is stupendous! Something else great that this movie does is make Tiny Tim likable. I don't know about you but in most versions of a Christmas Carol I just want to punch the kid. They are normally either not that tiny, or to young to give a convincing performance and, no matter what, I almost always feel sorry for the other Cratchet children as they are forgotten in favour of their saintly brother. But because in this version Tim is a Muppet well… it's OK! It actually works! Though I do get frustrated when I see the Cratchets living in a nicer house than I have… This movie is a crafted piece of Christmas merriment. With so much going on in each shot you do not get board with repeated viewing, a 'must' for an annual favourite, it stays fairly true to the book, which again is good as, in my opinion, if you're going to start messing around with a work of genius you want to be *really* sure you can improve on it. And finally, like a favourite Christmas jumper, this film will warm and comfort you and is guaranteed to put you in that Yule spirit. Watch it.

It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie

Only 86 minutes? Why wouldn't you?
While the Muppets have been known to parody well known popular culture, in this movie they reach almost Abrahams, Zucker and Zucker levels of referencing as they plough through Christmas themed movies and TV Specials Before I really start I'm going to 'fess up. It's very hard for me to write a non-biased review of this film. I enjoy it far more than I really should. For some reason a part of me just adores this movie. I think it's probably because it's this film that made me fall in love with Peppe and rediscover The Muppets.

So, let's talk about the plot. What we have here is, in essence, Frank Capras 'It's a Wonderful Life'. The Muppet theatre is in trouble as the bank is set to foreclose midnight on December the 24th. That's right, Christmas Eve! (As the villain says, it's funny how one day can mean so many things.) Despite working their socks off, pulling together and being one big family, the Muppets fail, due mainly to Ms. Bitterman (Joan Cusack) altering the contract. Despairing Kermit leaves, regretting he ever met the Muppets and wishing he had never been born. And so the angel Daniel from accounting (David Arquette) shows Kermit what the world would be like without him. And yes, in the end it's all OK.

With a surprisingly mature piece of storytelling involving a non chronological story arc and multiple realities this is a far more ambitious story than many made for TV movies. And it works, holding together well in a way that doesn't confuse. And the references just come thick and fast. Obviously there is 'It's a Wonderful Life', but we also see 'Moulin Rough', 'Star Wars', 'The Grinch', and 'A Christmas Story' as well as various references to other holiday specials. It also nicely references past Muppet movies, one great scene showing a branch of Doc Hoppers that Kermit had never been around to stop becoming so popular.

Though this film does have cameos it relies on them far less than some other Muppet features, instead letting the fun plot and fantastic Muppet performers entertain. Which is all to the good if you ask me.

Unlike many Muppet Movies this one isn't really a musical. It has a couple of numbers in, one during the Moulin Scrooge scene and one sung by Kermit and Gonzo. This second song, "Wonderful Christmas", is actually pretty good, and I feel that it's slightly underused here. Were this a bigger budget general release I believe that this song would have become something special. Never mind.

So, in summery I found this to be a thoroughly enjoyable movie, showing the potential the Muppets still had to amuse and entertain. It's only a pity it took almost ten more years before they were finally given the money to make a proper film.

A Muppet Family Christmas

It actually is special.
OK, it's very likely you're sitting down already. Which is a good thing. This TV Special has got the Muppets. With the Sesame Street Gang. And the Fraggles. Oh, and the Muppet Babies. Plus a cameo from Jim Henson.

I need to write more? Oh… If I must.

Fozzy and the guys descend on his mothers house for Christmas. This comes as a surprise to Ma, who has rented out the house to visiting Doc and Sprocket and is herself heading off for a Christmas spent surfing. Still, never mind.

This special feels more like a prolonged episode of the Muppet Show than any other Muppet Christmas movie. Or, rather, it feels more like scenes from the collected Muppet Studio family, with a slightly odd interlude where Kermit and Robin discover the Fraggles who proceeded to gift them with a song and a yellow stone. It made sense at the time… Actually, no it didn't. But it was a pretty catchy tune.

One of the more conspicuous things here is just how similar the different characters from the different franchisees sound. Now if you're me you find this cute and endearing, and frankly it's something you get used to watching the Muppets. Still, it is noticeable… Highlights are the annual 'Carol Sing', with plenty of stand out bits, especially Robin and Kermit singing 'It's in Every One of Us', a song from a previous Christmas album featuring John Denver and which is a personal favourite of mine. Also, I assume, of Jim Henson as it was sung during his memorial service only three years after this special was shot. Another lovely moment comes when Bert and Ernie, who have confused Doc by commenting on the first letter he uses during each reply with line's like "Yes? Yes is a Y letter". The pair obviously understand his confusion and explain why first letters hold so much attraction to them. "This is small talk where we're from." It's hard to describe why this holiday special is one of the few I've watched to actually deserve that moniker. The Muppets manage to pull off sentiment without ever being to sentimental. They are warm and happy and loving without ever feeling the need to wink at the audience due to embarrassment. When they sing about family it doesn't feel like schmaltz, because you feel that they are a family and, more than that, they want you to be part of that family.

This special, with it's oddness, kooky moments and shear stupidity (Seriously, Two Headed Monster as Father Christmas!? As Sam asked 'Is nothing sacred?') is one that everyone in your family will be able to enjoy. I recommend it heartily.

A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa

Pretty good actually.
What can I say, this is a fairly fun bit of hokum. Kermit and the gang have to get a few undelivered letters to Santa on Christmas eve as the post office is closed. Wackiness ensues.

Seriously, that's the story. That's it. There is nothing else to see here and cue an excuse for a series of cameos and musical numbers. But personally I have no problem with that. With some fairly recognisable faces cropping up and a frankly movie stealing performance from Nathan Lane these make the film watchable enough. As an aside, a little game I've started playing when ever I see Jane Krakowski in something these days is pretending she's actually Jenna Maroney, the actress she plays in 30 Rock, playing the character in the movie I'm currently watching. You know, now that I'm typing that I'm not sure it's such a cool thing… So anyway, the cameos are fun, how about the songs? Not to bad I suppose. I don't expect another 'Rainbow Connection' anytime soon, but I'd like to at least be able to hum them to myself the next day. Other than 'My Best Christmas Yet' the songs are just a little to forgettable. The only one that really sticks out is actually the 'miming' the Muppets do to 'Things we said Today', which runs over the closing credits, as does a bunch of 'gaff' takes. It seems that Kermit and Co. have been taking lessons from Jackie Chan because we get to see them fluffing lines, missing cues and generally just messing about a bit. Which is a whole heap of fun. It's quite obvious that the performers are having an absolute blast here and love their work and the characters they are creating. Considering it's the Muppets, that is only as it should be.

The writing is nice, with some great one liners and fun word play. I like this movie, there just isn't a whole lot I think I can say about it other than it's enjoyable.


Don't read this review, watch the film instead!
I like action films. I resent the implication that they are, by definition, artless. I like action movie stars. I'm loving the nostalgia movies we're getting at the moment (Red, The Expendables) and I've always had a bit of a soft spot for Jean-Claude Van Damme. In all honesty, I'm not quite sure why. I never enjoyed his martial arts as much as Chan, Lee or even Snipes. He never managed to do the big explosion flicks like Stallone or Schwarzenegger and he never had the charisma of Willis. In all honesty I always felt like he took himself to seriously and was obsessed to a frankly unhealthy extent with his own bottom.

But I still liked him! It started with Bloodsport, the movie to watch when I was all of 9. Then Cyborg, A.W.O.L, Kickboxer... It was great. I even forgave him Double Impact as we got Time Cop and Hard Target. But then Street Fighter happened. That was bad. And, frankly, it was all a bit down hill. Let's be frank, the last decade was not kind to Jean Claude. But I stuck with him! Through all of his straight to DVD adventures. I always felt he wanted to do more than keep churning out the same, derivative stuff. Let me rephrase that, as I imagine many straight to DVD stars want that. I always felt he was capable of doing more. And then this happens.

The plot? Pretty simple really. Van Damme, playing himself, gets mixed up in a post-office robbery that goes a bit wrong. The police think he's done it and blah blah blah... The plot is important to the film, it carries it along, but it's the sub plots that make it golden. Van Dammes deteriorating relationship with his daughter (in real life he has a son), his need to be polite and kind to strangers, no matter how inconsiderate they might be, lest he offends them and his struggle to simply make ends meet. At one point, without even knowing it, he has his luggage searched by the police, all while a fan takes photos of his personal belongings. And then there is the characterisation. Each of the other cast members plays a pitch-perfect role, utterly believable yet not quite real. From the harried cop trying to keep control of a spiralling situation to a crook who is also a massive JCVD fan, every actor excels.

But it really is Van Damme who is the star, and rightly so. The forth wall has already been scuffed somewhat - JCVD pointing at the camera at one point and asking if he is on candid camera - but it is only for a split second and can go by unnoticed. However, towards the end director Mabrouk El Mechri doesn't just break the fourth wall, he amputates it, ties it up in a bin liner and chucks it from the window of a fast moving car. JCVD is literally lifted up, the camera moving up with him, revealing that he is on a set. He then begins to deliver a monologue directly to the camera.

And man, what a monologue. It's spine chillingly honest, with JCVD making references to his numerous wives as well as drug addiction. It's touching, impassioned and delivered with a sense of frustration, honesty and fear that when the character declares that he '...Thinks the movie is real' it's almost heard not to believe him. Yes, the fourth walls broken, yes we know we're watching a film but no the character actor is telling us that he thinks it's real. It's a master stroke of self-referential audience enlightenment.* Some people don't like action movies. That's OK, this isn't one. Apart from a gloriously tongue in cheek opening sequence and a few punches here and there, this movie is a comedy-drama that can be enjoyed by anyone at all. Watch it, please. You will be pleasantly surprised.

*And I don't say that often!

The Wonderful World of Disney: Home Alone 4: Taking Back the House
Episode 14, Season 5

I Watched This So YOU Don't Have To!
I'm a fan of Home Alone. I'm a fan of Home Alone 2. I even didn't find home Alone 3 that bad. But this? Really, what is going on here? This was designed as a TV spin off. It shows. It's lazy, badly paced and the direction is rotten.

The joy of the first movie, for me at least, was the way in which Kevin dealt with the crocks. I watched it and could kid myself that I could do that. Paint cans on ropes and ice on the steps were things I could relate to. These were things that little sherbetsaucers could do. But why should a writer bother with ingenuity or imagination when they can riff on a story that's already done well in the past? You've got gadgets to exploit and iconic scenes you can steal, you don't need to both with THINKING about the story!

And just in case the writers Debra Frank and Steve L. Hayes were at all confused, putting a kid in a mansion and surrounding him with willing servants and all he wants does not make it easy to relate to him. Don't do it!

Oh, and the cast are a disgrace too. I'm a big fan of Erick Avari who plays the butler Prescott. The first shot we see of this character is of him fast asleep. It's truly a shame he doesn't bother waking up at any point in the film, though with direction this banal and a story so predictable, who can blame him? The rest of the cast sleep walk through this turgid affair too. French Stewart is kind of watchable as Marv, though that may be fond memories of 3rd Rock talking, but Missi Pyle as Vera his partner in crime and wife is about as likable as a verruca. Maybe if her character had had some… Well… Character. I guess she hasn't got a lot to play with here. Still, she took the pay check and I'm writing this for free, so I'm sure she can take the criticism too.

Normally I spend a lot more time on my reviews, but I really can't bring myself to care enough to type much more. Just please, don't watch this. Remember, there is no such thing as 'so bad it's good!' The correct phrase is 'so bad it's awful!'

This movie has none of the joy, whimsy or imagination of the original. In fact, this movie has none of the joy, whimsy or imagination of a used tissue.

In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale

It could have been worse, but it SHOULD have been better!
Before I start, let me state I enjoy fantasy movies. Hawk the Slayer? Great fun. Lord of the Rings? Winner. Krull? makes me want to vomit. But other than that give me a sword, a peasant on a quest and a few extras covered in a splash of claret and I'm happy.

Saddly I just cannot excuse sloppy direction and lazy editing. Which is what the problems with this film really are. I have no real issue with cheesy dialog - A new Hope anyone? - and the occasional dodgey prosthetic won't destroy my movie experience if the story has drawn me in. But this film is so riddled with holes and confusing bit's of information that I just could not bring myself to enjoy it.

I've not played the game that it is based on, but I assume that the reason for such bomb shells of 'a magus' power being linked to the king they serve,' or weird tree women dangling upside down in some forest comes from the source, but these concepts feel crowbarred in here, and jar uncomfortably.

Unlike many reviewers I wasn't disgusted by the acting. Here is a handy hint regarding films. If you want to see great acting, you do not go and see a movie with a subtitle following a colon. (Jack Sparrow does mess this rule up a little) Seriously, did anyone really see the fact that this was staring Jason Statham and Burt Reynolds, notice it was directed by the man who thought that BloodRaye deserved a sequel rather than a prison sentence and spotted that it is also based on a computer game and yet still thought they were about to watch a film acting master class? In short the actors all do what their paid to do here, though the accents do grate from time to time.

Re-reading that last sentence I do like both Reynolds and Stratham, but I'm not sure I would call them great actors.

Basically no, it's not a great movie, but I'm finding it hard to slate as I feel that this is like an abused child who's father has ignored and left it to go about it's day unloved. So shame on you Mr Boll! Take better care or I'll call social services on you next time.

When We Were Kings

Watch It!
Some people see boxing as nothing more than two people standing in a big square that for some reason is called a ring, hitting each other very hard until one of them falls over bleeding onto the floor. Others see it as a tough, graceful sport that can be elevated to an art form. If any one person has ever exemplified the idea of boxing as an art, surely it is Muhammad Ali.

Mostly shot in 1974, When We Were Kings follows the circus that was the famous 'Rumble In The Jungle', the fight between Ali and George Foreman that took place in Zaire – now the Democratic Republic of the Congo - in 1974. However to say that this movie is about that match is to do it an injustice. Really this is a movie about Ali himself, and what the man has come to represent.

The title actually refers to the time when black people were kings of Africa, yet it is interesting to note that the only reason the fight took place in Zaire was the massive amount of money offered. Indeed Zaire, under the rule of Presedent Mobutu, was hardly a place where the common person thrived. Much is made of President Mobutu. He is described as a 'closet sadist', and there is discussion of detention rooms and prisons for thousands for people under the stadium the fight was take place in! The most frightening accusation aimed at the president is the idea that he rounded up all of the dangerous, high ranking criminals in the country, randomly killed 100 of them and released the others, just to ensure that, while the eyes of the world were on Zaire, there would be no criminal trouble. Whether or not that is true, there certainly was little trouble at all.

In 1967 Ali lost the world title because he had refused to go to Viet Nam, famously saying 'no Vietnamese ever called me Ni**er', but began a comeback in 1970. In 1971 he had a shot at the title but lost to Joe Frazier. This is very important to remember as in 1974 Ali was fighting Foreman, a person who obliterated Frazier in a couple of rounds. Nobody really thought Ali was going to win this fight, a fact made clear by the documentary. Nobody, from his training staff to the commentators, believed that the former champion could stop 'Big George', no one except the people of Zaire. Everywhere Ali went there were cheers of 'Ali, Bomaye!', which means 'Ali, kill him!' I found it quite interesting when in one interview Foreman says that he wouldn't want people shouting that - a chant encouraged by Ali - but rather that the people would shout 'George Foreman loves Africa!' However in the eyes of the people of Zaire, Foreman represented America, while Ali was their champion.

As well as interviews with the fighters and those associated with them there is also a lot of coverage of the massive amount of hype that went along with the match. Don King ensured that this fight was massive, and the hype that surrounded the fight, with artists such as James Brown and B.B. King performing bought anticipation to a fever pitch. Called the 'Black Woodstock' music festival, I found the emphasis the film placed on these artists and what they did just as compelling as the information about Ali.

Of course there is also the fight. I must say that this was the one point of the documentary that worried me. It depicted Ali as taking a huge amount of damage during the match, on his last legs before taking the fight to Foreman. I feel that this was simply for dramatic effect. Even during the fight it was noted that Foreman was tiring himself out and Ali's tactics seemed obvious to everyone except his opponent in the ring. But this small criticism cannot overshadow what an amazing feat it was for Ali to floor Foreman in the eighth round. The final punch Ali lands is amazing, as is his performance throughout the fight.

This film may not appeal to people who find boxing offensive, yet in truth the fight itself is not the main interest. Here we see people talking abut a man who during a time of massive social upheaval was a leader for his people. As Spike Lee says towards the end of the movie 'These kids, they are missing a whole lot if they don't know the legacy of Muhhamad Ali because no matter what era you live in you see very few true heroes'.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Pure Magic
It is a little known bit of trivia that, in the early 20th century, General Motors, Standard Oil and Firestone Tires allegedly formed the National City Lines holding company in order to purchase and then dismantle streetcar systems, replacing them with buses and increase the publics reliance on automobiles. Somehow, this tid-bit became the genesis of a movie which was a run away success at the box office, is still widely regarded as the best of its kind and created a renaissance in the way cartoons were made. It's all a little loony.

Who Framed Roger Rabit follows the story of Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins), a washed up P.I, and Roger Rabbit (Charles Fleischer), a cartoon rabbit. Obviously. Roger, framed for the murder of Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye) goes to Eddie for help because, as the Rabbit says, "Everyone knows that when a toon's in trouble, there's only one place to go: Valiant & Valiant." Unfortunately there is one Valiant too many in that sentence, Eddie's brother having been killed by a toon a few years ago. So Eddie, once a happy chap, can no longer stand toons. But like so many heroes in the past his sense of morality will not let him watch an innocent rabbit take the fall, and so he and Roger set out to find out who killed Acme, as well as locate his missing will. Along the way they meet a foul-mouthed, cigar-smoking baby (Lou Hirsch), a smart-talking taxi-cab (also voiced by Fleischer) and Rogers femme fatale wife, Jessica (voiced by an uncredited Kathleen Turner). They also manage to bump into almost every animated star from the first half of the 20th century. The finale sees Eddie taking on Roger's hunters; Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) and his goons. We learn that Doom is actually the toon responsible for the death of Eddie's brother, but it's OK, because he dies in a particularly gruesome way in the end.

It boggles the mind just how much love and attention must have gone into the making of this movie. It has constant references to other cartoons (a Tex Avery style opening, citizens of Toontown singing 'Smile, Darn You, Smile'), references to classic movies (an invisible rabbit called 'Harvey', a Maltese Falcon hatstand) as well as a brain-melting number of cameos throughout the movie. This coupled with a huge number of in jokes - my favourite being a sign saying "Porkys: All Beef Sausages" - and you have a movie that has so many hidden gems that you could watch it a hundred times and still not have seen everything. Yet just because it is a cartoon fan-boy's dream that does not mean it is actually any good.

Luckily the quality of the animation, acting, script and direction DO mean it is good. This is the movie that finally took the crown of best combination of live action and animation from the head of Mary Poppins.. The effects are superb, each shot is one of pure quality. Lakfjsoasjfoasj doesn't cheat either, the camera constantly moves, changing the perspective of the animated characters, yet they still hold up perfectly. The live action characters are also a joy. Hoskins plays the part of the gumshoe perfectly, and his cartoonish movements and actions at the end of the film are superb. Lloyd has a field day. An actor who very few would ever accuse of being unafraid to go over the top, here he gets to actually play a live action cartoon, and every moment he is on screen is wonderful. Joanna Cassidy, as Hoskins' love interest Doloris is also fantastic, getting to play the kind of smart talking character made so famous by Mae West all those years ago.

Yet the real stars all all of the characters we love from our childhood. Here on screen are creations from Disney, Warner Brothers and MGM. Highlights for me include the fantastic Donald and Daffy duelling pianos scene, Droopy Dog, whom I adore, and Mae Questel actually voicing Betty Boop. Even as a child in the cinema I was so happy to see both the Warner Brothers ending (Tha-tha-tha-tha that's all folks!) and the Disney Ending (Tinker Bell the fairy) together on screen.

A movie that can appeal to all members of the family, except possiably late teens who take themselves FAR too seriously (an original screen test of 18-19 year olds saw most of the audience walk out) this is a truly masterful film, and one that is yet to be bettered despite todays far superior technology.


A Proper, Low Budget Documentary
What happens when the biggest name in the fast food world decides to crush two insignificant protesters using England's surprisingly strict libel laws? Why, old Ronald gets a black eye of course! This movie charts the events surrounding the 'McDonald's Restaurants v Morris & Steel' court case - which has become known as the McLibel case - an action filed by McDonalds in protest against a pamphlet being given out by a small group called London Greenpeace. In the past McDonald's have threatened legal action against some massive names, including The Guardian, BBC, Today Newspaper, Channel 4 and of course that giant institution, Hatfield Polytechnic. Every one of these people backed down and apologised. Helen Steel and David Morris didn't.

This film really expresses three different things. Firstly it obviously follows the trial, and thus highlights some of the nastier practices indulged in by McDonald's. This documentary does not try to remain impartial, but neither does it do anything more than report on what went on. In the 2005 documentary there is no voice for McDonald's, but considering that executives at McDonald's would now rather be seen eating at Burger King then comment on the record about the McLibel trial, this isn't a surprise! As an insight into the frankly despicable practices McDonalds have gotten away - and continue to get away - with, it is absorbing. It shows the kind of cynical marketing practices McDonald's get up to, the most disturbing being the targeting of children. I personally have never been a member of the 'clowns are scary' club, but very few things that I have seen in my life unsettled me more than the sight of Ronald McDonald leading innocent children to chant his name as loudly as they could The fact that McDonalds actually hired private investigators to infiltrate the local campaigning group is actually quite amusing. (The investigators learned that a group of campaigners banked at the local branch of the Co-Operative Bank… Really… These people sometimes charge by the hour!) Another fascinating moment was the recorded 'secret' meeting that McDonald's had with Helen and David once they realised that the case was really beginning to hurt them. Interestingly in the 2005 release the voices are simply 'Mr. X' and 'Mr. Y', however in the 1998 movie they are identified as Shelby Yastrow, Executive Vice-Presdent, and Dick Starman, Senior Vice-President. However the most telling piece came when Geoffrey Giuliano, a former Ronald McDonald no less, actually compared himself at the time to Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. This is not a nice person to be comparing yourself to! Secondly the movie looks at the political views of Helen and David. This takes a back seat to the action of the trial, and rightly so. The pair are socialists and some of their ideas and ideals are interesting, but the facts that they are socialist and that they also fought McDonalds are to my mind very separate things. I am not agree with all of their political views myself, but I definitely agree with the action the pair took.

Thirdly and, to my mind most importantly, the film highlights the inherent injustice within the English Libel laws. The very fact that McDonald's, an institution as American as Mount Rushmore, used this country's laws to oppress opinions that would be constitutionally protected in the United States is hugely interesting. Keir Starmer, a barrister who chose to give the pair legal aid for free, seems utterly affronted by the lack of support available to those people being sued, with no legal aid being offered at all. He also implies that, had the two had the same resources that McDonald's had to spend on the case then some of the findings against them would have been different, most notably the claim that the destruction of the Amazonian rainforests was in part due to McDonald's demand for cattle. Shockingly during the case it arose that McDonald's had used contacts within the Metropolitin Police Force to get information about the defendants. Scotland Yard were sued, ordered to pay Helen and Dave £10,000 and give a full apology. In fact the case itself , which was technically a victory for McDonald's, was brought to the European Court of Human Rights, who in 2005 gave an absolutely devastating verdict, ruling that the case had breached Article 6 (right to a fair trial) and Article 10 (right to freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

I cannot over-emphasise how badly McDonald's come across during this movie. Ironically the majority of it isn't because of editorial bias. The real reason is a gentleman called Paul Preston. Throughout the film he is the face of McDonalds, being President and Chief Executive Officer of McDonald's UK. Perhaps it's because of my British upbringing but the sight of a rather sweaty, middle class American in an expensive suit just screams the words fat and cat. He had all the charisma of an underdone chicken nugget and managed to personify every stereotype of corporate greed I can imagine.

Batman Begins

HE'S Batman
Dark, moody and exciting. But enough about me… Back in 1991 Tim Burton clobbered any vividly coloured, spandex-wearing pre-conceptions we had of Batman for good. He created a vision that could only have been gother if each copy came with a free snakebite and black. However time did not treat the caped crusader well, frankly the franchise began to get a little out of hand once they started adding nipples to the Bat-Suit. So could Warner Brothers breathe new life into the Black Knight? The world of Batman is not our own. It is a fantasy. A twisted vision of what we know is the truth. The perfect examples being that Liam Neeson is a bad guy and Gary Oldman a good guy. As if that wasn't disturbing enough it is also a world where Gotham City (think New York but more so) is overrun with corruption, greed and crime. Actually it is very much like New York. Young Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has a harrowing experience and becomes Batman in order to clean up the place. Frankly, if you don't know what a Batman movie is going to be about but are old enough to legally watch the movie you are not going to be in the least bit interested anyway, so that's it for plot summary.

Christian Bale as the millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne and his dark alter ego Batman is inspired casting. He's good looking and stylish enough to play Wayne, but his physicality and almost animalistic movements make him perfect to portray Batman as well. He's helped in the fact that his costume is clearly more flexible than the versions we have seen on our screens since 1989. He is ably supported by an outstanding cast. While I am still reeling from the idea of Liam Neeson playing bad guy Ra's al Ghul it was another fantastic choice. Neeson's turn as Qui-Gon Jinn, as well as many other roles makes him the perfect person to play tutor/father figures, making his betrayal all the harder hitting (and unexpected). Katie Holmes shines in a role that could have fallen very flat, though personally I am getting tired of the number of women that end up discovering Batman's identity in these movies. Michael Caine as the third father figure Alfred (after Ra's/Henri and Bruces ACTUAL father) is heartwarming, showing true love for Wayne, as well as a warm sense of humour. I still haven't mentioned screen legends Morgan Freeman and Rutger Hauer, the always good Tom Wilkinson and always great Gary Oldman, as well as the unfortunately underused Cillian Murphy. But to talk about each outstanding performance in this amazingly cast film would result in me wearing my fingers down to the second knuckle joint, and I just don't want to give up my dreams of playing the banjo in front of the Queen one day. Suffice it to say that not one of the actors is miscast, and not one of them is wasted.

The massive sets look wonderful. With an almost Film Noir lighting set up, and the ever beloved dry ice, the run down areas of Gotham feel like some kind of dirty nightmare. Unsurprising given that the director, Christopher Nolan, also directed the Noir masterpiece Memento. All of the love and attention is captured on film, and is superbly supported by the use of CGI, rather than completely suffocating it.

I think the best way to describe Nolan's direction is confident. He shows a willingness to take chances with the camera that many others wouldn't. He also clearly has a deep understanding of the world he is portraying, with many shots looking like the covers of comic books. The use of flashbacks throughout any movie can be confusing, yet with Nolan's assured direction each one makes sense and brings together a story that takes place over many years. Warner Bros took a bit of a gamble with him directing. What a great one it was. The idea of this movie was to re-launch the 'Batman' franchise after Joel Schumacher decided to take Tim Burton's Goth out of Gotham. It well and truly succeeded. Everything abut this movie feels like the comics now - as opposed to the more campy 60s stories - and for a modern, cinema audience that is the key to creating movies that people are going to truly rave about. Many of the set pieces in the 1997 film Batman and Robin are actually very impressive and yet the movie almost finished off the series, but Nolan proves that you do not have to make a Batman movie with your tongue in your cheek. At no time does he feel embarrassed or apologetic for creating this world. This may well be because of the success of more recent, post X-Men, superhero movies, but whatever the reason Nolan manages to re-launch this franchise without once needing the Bat-Copter.

In choosing to focus the action on Bruce Wayne becoming Batman the film gives Bale the chance to make the part his own. Did he succeed? Who is this Michael Keaton you talk of?

Time Bandits

My Gosh But It Looks Splendid!
Long before Kevin Costner became Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, John Cleese gave us Robin Hood, Prince of Wales. Greeting people like a royal dignitary and handing out goods to the poor ("Oh you must meet them. I'm sure you'll like them. Of course they haven't got two pennies to rub together but that's because they're poor.") and then looking a little confused as one of his merry men punches said peasant in the face, Cleese's insane take on Hood would seem out of place in most movies. But not in Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits The story is at once complex and really very simple. Simple in so far as it is just a coming of age story. Complex because it involves time travel, fantastical elements and even the concept of Evil itself. In summary, the plot involves Kevin (Craig Warnock) entering a portal through time and space due to the fact that 6 dwarfs appear in his bedroom, and rather than face the big scary head that is chasing them, he decides to join them. The big scary head turns out to be that of the supreme being and the dwarfs turn out to be his assistants. They have taken a map showing all of the holes in the universe, and using this valuable artefact, have decided to make their fortune. Kevin, who frankly is ignored by his gadget-obsessed Mum and Dad, is happy to go along with the insanity, which leads him from Napoleonic Italy, to Ancient Greece, from Medieval England to the deck of the Titanic. Yet all of this fun comes at a cost. The group are tricked into going to 'The Time Of Legends' by Evil (David Warner), who wishes to steal the map and recreate the world in his own image: a modern world, without useless things such as butterflies and daffodils. Luckily in the end all is set to right, apart from the fact that Kevin's parents are both killed in front of him in a horrific fashion and his home and almost everything he owns is burnt to a crisp. Still, mustn't grumble… Considering that it is written by two former Pythons it is not surprising that this film is of both the zany and the funny ilk. It is also really rather dark, with a large number of brutal deaths occurring on screen, as well as some adult concepts. Just because it is a comedy fantasy, do not be fooled into thinking it is designed for children. While it has a PG rating I think that this movie is more enjoyable to people over the age of 12, simply because many of the ideas within the movie are intellectually abstract.

At times watching this movie is much like watching one of Gilliam's animated interludes come to life. A giants foot coming down on a hut while we hear a couple bicker, the fantastic settings of Evil's lair, and even the slightly surreal home of Kevin and his parents, remind us of the slightly skewed vision of the director. However skewed it may be it is, ultimately, compelling viewing.

Does it really happen or is it all in the mind of Kevin? Frankly there are arguments for both ideas. All of the places visited can be seen around Kevin's bedroom. From the obvious pictures of Napoleonic armies and the tank seen at the end of the movie to the less obvious Lego model that becomes Evil's domain. Also Kevin is clearly a child with great imagination and very little outlet, with two ghastly parents living in a shrink-wrapped sofa world. On the other hand, after all of his adventures are over and he has returned to normality, there are still photos of his adventures in his knapsack. So, who is to say if it was all a dream or not? Certainly not me. And, frankly, it doesn't matter either way.

On a personal note this review has been a hard one for me to write so far. Not because I don't like this movie - I do - but because I don't actually know what to say about it. Like many movies of Gilliam's it is the visual splendour that leaves its mark and there are really only so many times I can say that things do really look rather splendid.

The Three Musketeers

Best Adaptation Of The Book Yet
Originally conceived as a vehicle for the Beatles by Richard Lester, it is hard to imagine this movie working in the way that it does had the 'Fab Four' been given the roles of Athos, Porthos, Aramis and D'Artagnan. Indeed, central to this movie is the casting of the four leads. Who better to play the brooding, often-drunk Athos than Oliver Reed, at that time possibly the biggest star England had. The pompous, preening Porthos is portrayed magnificently by Frank Finlay, a man who only the year before had portrayed a disturbingly chilling Adolf Hitler, yet here gets to show off his comic chops, not only as a musketeer but also cropping up as a wizened jewler. Dr. Kildare himself, 60s teen heart-throb Richard Chamberlain plays the suave, womanising Aramis and finally, rounding out the quartet Michael York plays D'Artagnan, part man, part whippet. (It really is unbelievable how lean the man is in this movie!) The four of them play off each other so well it feels like they have been friends for years, each one getting a chance to shine.

Yet it is not just these four who make the movie, indeed every part is expertly cast in what really is an ensemble piece. The two main female leads of Lady de Winter (Faye Dunaway) and Constance de Bonancieux (Raquel Welch) are delightful, and for my money two of the sexiest stars working in Hollywood around the late 60s, early 70s, and here Welch gets a chance to play a slapstick role, and ends up picking up a Golden Globe, a marked highpoint during a very lean time in her career. The male villains, Rochefort (Christopher Lee) and Cardinal Richelieu (Charlton Heston) clearly have a wonderful time, never quite falling into the trap of playing their characters as camp, pantomime villains, one not so easily avoided. If you don't believe me watch other versions of the story! Finally we have two British actors whose comic skills are unforgettable. Roy Kinnear, in the role of Planchet, once again shows his talent for being the jovial Everyman. With a roll of the eyes he brings a very human reading of the swashbuckling heroics going on around him, enduring abuse from his master and others around him with a good natured devotion that never wavers. Of course he tragically died filming the sequel The Return of the Musketeers in 1989, a very real loss for British acting. Then there is the wonderfully odd-ball performance of Spike Milligan as M. Bonancieux, husband to Constance. I'm still not sure what on earth possessed the casting director to put him in this role but it was a master stroke. His bumbling and blinkered actions are truly comic, yet we never quite feel sorry for him as his wife, whom he clearly adores, happily cuckolds him. While viewing, the remark 'I'm just trying to imagine Spike Milligan and Charlton Heston on stage when the cameras weren't rolling' was made. Perhaps the casting director had the same moment of mad whimsy? The direction is assured and striking. Paris is almost two different cities. The rich live in a kind of glittering idyll, carefree and further away from reality than many science-fiction movies I have watched in the past. At one point Queen Anna (Geraldine Chaplin), who is enjoying a carousel powered by two servants, utters the phrase "Oh, why can't they go faster? Somebody whip them or something". This is coming from someone who is supposed to be a goodie! In stark contrast is the poverty of the city itself. You almost feel grubby watching it, with bloody dentistry on the streets, chamber pots being tipped over unlucky pedestrians and general filth and squalor being the order of the day. But it is the fight scenes that really shine. It is almost sad to think that in these days fight choreographers seem to find it hard to make a lively scene without the extensive use of wire work and quick editing. Here, like the characters themselves, the fight director (William Hobbs) uses every trick in the book. Yet none of it seems tired or clichéd. This is because of the imaginative use of not only props, but location. The first big fight at the convent is, of course, in the novel. Yet the decision to fight amongst the drying linen was inspired, creating a kind of visual maze, with people using the ropes and sheets in the battle. With the heroes just as likely to use a fist, knee or even a bar of soap as they are their swords, each fight is imaginative, enjoyable and vicious. Reed received a vicious wound to his throat at one point that was nearly fatal.

I've already touched on the humour of this movie, but it really is the finest triumph. Whilst managing to stick broadly to the original story, George MacDonald Fraser, writer of The Flashman has injected some wonderful moments and comic beats. Much like Abrahams and Zucker later did in their movies, much of the comedy is in the background, though here it is often in the background dialogue. My personal favourite moment is D'Artagnan jumping through a window only to be confronted by a number of slightly bemused palace guards. Quick as a flash he bends down and, in classic swashbuckling mode, pulls the large rug out from under them. Only he doesn't and simply manages to tear a bit. There is a moment of confusion where, if you listen you can hear a rather aggrieved voice state "He tore our carpet" before D'Artagnan flees. OK, so visual gags work better on screen but really, it's fantastic. There were literally shrieks of laughter as we all watched this movie.

The Rock

Great Example Of The Genre
I'm… whispering now as… just in front of me we can see that most… glorious of creatures, the Action Movie, or Carus Spectaculum. This, noble creature is often the prey to… the critic. Often we find this… lumbering yet majestic beast… devoured, picked apart by the savage predator, all that remains left… for scavengers of… little intelligence to enjoy. Ironically the voracious critic is… unable to digest the Action Movie, often tearing it apart… simply for the fun of it. Confused by the… vivid colours and… often loud displays of prowess performed by this… simple creature… the critic reacts with hostility… Don't get me wrong, I don't think that spending 20 million dollars on petrol and a box of matches is good enough, an action movie needs some kind of plot and some level of acting, but on the other hand a well crafted action movie is just as hard to make as some kind of art-house flick about lesbian Jews in the Nazi party. Much like movies are viewed with a great deal of snobbery by certain people, so are action movies viewed with a great deal of snobbery by certain critics. In the case of The Rock, those critics need to shut up.

When General Hummel (Ed Harris) decides to hold San Francisco hostage by bringing 15 rockets containing the very nasty VX gas to Alcatraz, it falls down to science-wiz Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage), ex-SAS officer John Mason (Sean Connery) and a handful of soon-to-be-killed Navy Seals to go there and deal with the threat. Neither Stanley or Mason want to go to Alcatraz but one is the only man who the government trust to be able to disarm the rockets containing the nasty poison, the other is the only man ever to escape from Alcatraz. I'll leave you to work out which is which. It seems that Mason has spent the last 30 years of his life in prison because in the 60s he stole a lot of very secret information about the U.S. government. He's a dangerous man. Hummel, by the way, isn't doing this for the money. He has taken this drastic course of action because he is tired of the way the U.S. military and the U.S. government conduct themselves. I think we can all empathise. However honourable his intentions may be, he did unfortunately choose The Candyman as one of his henchmen, so we know it's going to come to no good. After many seriously gruesome deaths, the fate of the world is saved, Goodspeed and Mason gain a respect for one another and we leave, picking the popcorn from between our teeth.

This is a Don Simpson/ Jerry Bruckheimer action movie. We know that the good guys are going to win. We know that the bad guys are all going to die. We know that a car will explode/ overturn at the slightest provocation, unless driven by the hero. What we don't know is how well the action is going to be pulled off or if the plot and acting will carry us from one set piece to the next. My friends, The Rock delivers. It has a thoughtful villain, someone who is trying to right an injustice. The two heroes are not your typical action movie characters, one is a chemist who is more at home at the office rather than the shooting range, the other a pensioner. In fact let me dwell upon Cage and Connery for a moment here. Cage seems to me to be one of the finest leading men in Hollywood. He is highly versatile, good looking and not afraid to make himself look silly. Anyone prepared to sit in a pair of swimming trunks to play the guitar in a scene deserves your respect. As for Connery well… in The Rock the former Mr. Universe contestant still looks pretty big. Lets be frank here, he's basically playing a version of James Bond who has grown old, he even uses a Bond response when Goodspeed tells him his name. ("But of course you are".) Ed Harris is fantastic, giving Hummel just the right level of intensity and sheer righteous indignation. The supporting cast also seem to know exactly what is expected of them, doing their jobs of getting beaten up by the heroes or standing around looking concerned by the bad guys with great aplomb.

Interestingly for an action movie the set pieces do not really stand out. I do not think that this is because they are not any good, but more because the cast are so great that when you leave you think about them more than the stunts. Yet I know I've watched an action movie, it FEELS like an action movie. The stunts are all good, the fight scenes are enjoyable and the gun battles suitably… explosive. But when you have two actors who have won Oscars and one who has been nominated four times you have to expect some distractions from the F-18s, explosions and gun-toting sociopaths. I mean that in a good way.

Every now and then one of the cast will come out with some blinding lines, the kind which seem designed simply to be spliced into trailers. A few examples are: "Now Womack, you're between The Rock, and a hard case." "What's it gonna take to equip a flight of F-18s with thermite plasma within the next 36 hours?" "An act of God." And my personal favorite: "Get the Pentagon. And call the San Francisco Office. It seems Alcatraz was just reopened." Saying that The Rock is one of the best action movies made in the 90s seems like faint praise when one of it's main rivals consisted of Keanu Reeves on a fast moving bus. But it really is a good film, with all the right parts in all the right places. Shame it hasn't got a bunny too.

Independence Day

At Least America Saved The World
When I first decided to watch this movie I had a very clever idea. Why not, I thought, invite around some friends, and rather than watch this movie quietly, absorbing all of the pathos and dramatisation on screen, encourage them to talk through it, recording what they say and picking the highlights out to use as the bulk of this review. A fantastic idea with but one draw back. You couldn't understand a word on the Dictaphone. All I was left with was my friend Carole saying "At last, Will Smith" as 24.29 minutes into the movie we see the star, Jeff Goldblum being told that the thing they are sticking on the ship he is about to fly in is "…the strongest radio transmitter we had. It'll tell us when you've uploaded the virus." my friend Dean proclaiming 'that looks like a big metal d***o' and my good self booing loudly at the line, spoken by British officers, '"It's from the Americans. They want to organise a counter offensive." "It's about bloody time! What do they plan to do?"'. Come to think of it that may well have been the witty highlight of the night… Let us move to the plot. *Takes a deep breath* Actuallyicantbebothered. *Gasps* I decided when describing the plot it was best not to waste time with spaces, besides it already has enough gaps in it, and I could plunge right into talking about the cool special effects and set pieces.

Actually, that's not totally fair. For a start the version I watched had 8 whole extra minutes of footage, which translates as Independence Day: Now With Added Trailer Trash. However, I enjoyed the added trailer trash. Suddenly I find myself actually caring about the family in their mobile home. There are also some added scenes with Jeff Goldblum, which is never a bad thing in my opinion. Thanks to adding in this extra footage, a few bits of the movie make more sense. Although no, they still don't explain that whole computer uploading thing. I can't get mine to notice my printer, and these are Aliens for crying out loud! So… special effects. Wow. They still look amazing. The blowing up of the White House is now part of movie history but the amount of love and attention that Joseph Viskocil, head of mechanical effects puts into destroying things is a joy to behold. Not only the special effects but also the visual effects as well. My favourite being the canyon chase with the F-18 and the Alien space craft. Roland Emmerich had the guts to shoot the entire chase in daylight. There really is no margin for error here and yet it still rips along at a fantastic pace, not once giving the audience a chance to really question what they are watching. This movie set out to be a summer block buster, and it really, truly is.

Amazingly enough, the acting isn't too bad either. Will Smith gets to finally take on the part of action lead hero but having done his time as The Fresh Prince his timing for those oh-so-important one liners is spot on. Jeff Goldblum, who in my eyes can do no wrong, does no wrong. Unfortunately, their better halves in the film suffer from the fact that they are, well, women in an action movie. Margaret Colin, who initially seems independent and feisty gets to basically keep the home fires burning (though the Aliens also do a pretty good job of that one) and look all impressed when her man comes back having done the job and chomping on a stogie. Vivica A. Fox also has very little to do as her exotic dancer, despite driving around in a big truck at one point and picking up survivors. The fantastic Mary McDonnell gets to die and that's about it for female roles. Judd Hirsch in support as Goldblum's father is hilarious, while Randy Quaid, the washed up bum of previous note, is just a bit annoying. However, Bill Pullman as President Whitmore is perfect. I want to like him, I want to believe in him and, after he gives his speech (I don't think Thomas would mind being paraphrased) I want to follow him to the gates of hell. I would like to point out that I think it is Pullman who manages to make me like that speech. Read it on it's own. It could not be any more bombastic if it tried. I would like to point out that that statement comes from someone pretentious enough to use the word bombastic.

The rest of the supporting cast fill their rolls admirably, and surprisingly enough you never feel that any of the cast are ever fighting for the screen. Unlike many 'modern' high effect movies (it was made way way back in 1996) the live action actors are never upstaged by what is happening around them, and here I think lies the true strength of this movie. If a viewer doesn't care about the people on the screen then they cannot connect with their plight enough to have any real suspension of disbelief. When you go to Alton Towers you know you're not going to fall out of The De-atomiser, or what ever attraction it is you chose to loosen your bowls: however, while you are riding it, there is still that fear, that adrenaline rush. You get that because you connect with the moment. In Independence Day you connect with the characters. You care about them and so you care about the fate of the world. It's because of this that all these years later the effects still bring a grin to your face.


They Mostly Come Out AT Night. Mostly.
How do you follow up a movie that is possibly the best example of a sci-fi/horror movie ever? Simple. Make what is possibly the best sci-fi/action movie ever. Eminently quotable and totally enthralling, Aliens burst onto our screen seven years after the original movie was released. At the helm this time was the relatively unknown director James Cameron and didn't he do well? The plot is a simple one. After being cryogenically frozen for 57 years, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), is found floating in space. She is woken up and finds out that the planet they first found the Alien on is now inhabited. Despite her impassioned pleas that her crew was killed by a massive alien that burst out of a man's chest, had acid for blood and two sets of teeth, for some reason she isn't believed. Her pilot status stripped away, she is left to fend for herself, until earth loses contact with the colonists. Then Ripley is talked into joining the Marines assigned to find out what went wrong in an advisory roll. The Marines are cocky, brash, over-confident and wielders of immense amounts of firepower. In short they're dead meat. Also along for the ride are Bishop (Lance Henriksen) - an android, and Burke (Paul Reiser) - a sleazy corporation guy. Upon entering the colonists' facility the Marines find signs of a massive firefight, as well as a remarkably cute little girl generally called Newt (Carrie Henn). Eventually they find where the colonists appear to be. All in one area so it's a simple matter of going down there and finding out what's going on.

After the majority of the marines have been killed and their main way off the planet wiped out it's up to the survivors to – basically - continue to survive. Eventually, after a few more casualties, they escape. Except… ooops, Newt didn't make it. Happy to leave behind Marines and corporate stooges by the bucket-load, Ripley, who frankly hasn't been the best mother in the world to her own daughter, decides to go back for Newt. An encounter with the Alien Queen and a whole room full of eggs and her finding Newt later and we're back on the space ship, finally safe. Until, of course, in a fantastic fake-out involving more milk and yoghurt than ever before seen on film we see Bishop ripped to shreds by the Alien Queen we thought was left behind to die. The final showdown of these two protective mother figures is a lot of fun, the Queen is sucked out into space and everyone is happy in the end. OK, so maybe the plot isn't all that simple.

Many people may have heard me call this a Vietnam War movie and, once again, I stand by that. The Marines, despite their high-tech weaponry look like a unit in Vietnam. This was a conscious decision by Cameron, he went as far as getting the actors to decorate and customise their own costumes. The scenario itself (high-tech army against low-tech but numerically superior forces), vents doubling for tunnels, the heat, the loud Sergeant Apone (Al Matthews) the oppressive atmosphere: all of it feels like Vietnam. You even have Hudson (Bill Paxton) talking about being a short timer! This allows the audience to connect with the characters. By making the distant future feel like our recent past (the war had only finished 11 years previously) we are able to identify with their plight. These aren't super soldiers or men in battle suits. These are grunts who are just doing their job.

The acting is generally pretty good, with the supporting cast not given that much to do other than portray a group of Marine stereotypes. Paxton is possibly the most standout of all of the marines, though he does generally get most of the best lines. Michael Biehn as the dependable Cpl. Hicks, Ripley's love interest, is also very good. Both Henriksen and Reiser give great performances, with memories still strong of Ian Holms android going postal in the first movie, Henriksen plays every moment for all of its sinister value until the very end when we realise Bishop is a good guy, and Reiser is so slimy he practically leaves a trail.

The best performance of the movie is easily that given by Weaver. The fact that in 1987 a performance in a sci-fi/action movie should be nominated for an Oscar is testament enough to the quality of her acting. The mother-daughter bond that grows between Ripley and Newt is central to the movie, and one that allows Weaver to develop her character even further. Of course Cameron cannot resist mirroring this with the maternal instincts of the Alien Queen. These themes of motherhood and the nature of the difference between the two species are continued in the next two movies, although never as subtly.

What can I say about the direction? It's James Cameron, so there is a lot of blue or red on the screen. Here it leads to a truly atmospheric feel, the tension building up as things just go from bad to worse for the marines. With clever use of camera angles, quick cuts, lighting and good old fashioned dry ice, Cameron never once gives away too much about the aliens, and manages to make it feel like there are far more on screen than there really are.

This is a movie that does not give you a break. Cameron is either piling on the dramatic tension or the adrenalin pumping action. Everything about this movie is sheer class and it is rightly considered one of the best of its type ever made. If you don't like this movie then the problem is your taste in films, not the film itself. If you have not seen it, not only am I surprised, I recommend you do so when you're in the mood to have a roller-coaster ride but Blackpool is too far away.

The Way of the Gun

Well... It's Not Bad
Opening with intrusive, loud music and grabbing your attention straight away Way Of The Gun is definitely a movie that intends to hold your concentration and not let go of it no matter what you might do to try and wriggle free. Not that I did much wiggling, I rarely do these days, must be something to do with my hips.

Starting with our two leads Parker (Ryan Phillippe) and Longbaugh (Benicio Del Toro) (if ever the term anti-hero was to apply to anyone it's them), we straight away realise that neither of these men really care about much in general. We're able to guess this by the way that one punches a woman in the face and head a couple of times, though really she did deserve it, and the other decided to kiss a perfect stranger, before stamping hard on her foot when she let him know just how much she didn't enjoy being kissed. This odd attitude is further re-enforced by the voice-over where we learn that while leads Parker and Longbaugh may believe in some kind of destiny, they have no intention of letting it rule their life. So we find ourselves, as so often we do in these situations, at a sperm bank. Here the pair overhear a doctor talking about a surrogate mother who is working for a very rich couple, and so a fiendish kidnapping plan is made.

What follows is a shoot-out you don't see and a high-speed car chase involving very slow moving cars. The car chase itself is a particular highlight for me. Still, once they have the kidnapped girl, Parker and Longbaugh quickly realise that they are in way over their heads. It appears that when kidnapping it's sometimes a good idea to find out who you are kidnapping from. Our two anti-heroes are not going to give up, culminating in a particularly slick final shootout. For those of you who may have noticed, the names Parker and Longbaugh are actually the real names of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Hands up anyone who thinks their final stand is going to go well? Coming from the very complicated shaped pen of Christopher McQuarrie, writer of The Usual Suspects we can obviously expect plot twists and turns that will very quickly have us dazed and confused. In ancient Greece it was believed that the sun obviously goes around the earth. Assumptions can be wrong. Apart from one 'surprise' that wasn't all that surprising and a bombshell at the end that, while unexpected also wasn't all that explosive. Having now gained the enmity of McQuarrie for all eternity can I also say that the script itself is well written. The dialogue, while not realistic, is very well written and believable and each of the characters have something about them that we latch onto.

But of course writing isn't anything without decent performances to bring it out. Toro and Phillippe are both very, very cool and slick, despite the fact that they are also portrayed as being inept criminals, (two aspects that I didn't find gelled so well). Taye Diggs and Nicky Katt as the bodyguards/general mooks Jeffers and Obecks get to look very good throughout the movie, Diggs especially impressing with his double-crossing villain. However the two stand out performances come from James Caan and Geoffrey Lewis. Both of these men give fantastically understated performances, with their final scene together in the car being at once very poignant and close to hysterical. They both have a world-weariness about them that is a fitting counter-point to the slick and stylish actions of the world around them. Caan is obviously reluctant to kill the two men he has been sent to deal with, indeed he clearly likes them far more than the people he is being forced to work with.

I do need to make a special mention of the action sequences. The way that the actors move with and handle their guns just feels right. Apart from a couple of insane shots with a pistol the gunplay is very realistic and heightens the feeling of tension and danger throughout the movie.

This is a movie that tries to balance comedy, action and thriller elements. For the most part I think it manages admirably and is generally worth watching. This is definitely one that I enjoyed more halfway through once a friend had arrived and started watching it with me. Now and then you want to be able to grin at a friend and just nod, acknowledging that something you just watched was very cool, gruesome or cool and gruesome.

12 Angry Men

1000 Words Is Not Enough
This movie has been more influential than any other in the way I see the world. Any person who watches it and is later called to jury service cannot help but have visions of themselves fighting for justice. A true ensemble piece, each actor has a chance to truly shine in what must be considered one of the finest courtroom dramas ever made. It is certainly the finest courtroom drama ever made where we only see the courtroom for a minute and a half.

Each of the jury members is almost a stereotype. Each of them is an aspect of ourselves: Juror number one. He seems to let his duties preoccupy him somewhat, and in fact puts more interest into them than in the actual reason he is there, blinded by the system.

Juror number two is mild mannered and good natured. However he is unlikely to ever make a stand himself. He is the everyman.

Juror number three is an emotionally damaged father. He has become a revenger, seeking to punish the defendant because of the anger he has towards his son.

Juror number four is rational and logical. However his devotion to logic is pointless, as he has not been passionate enough to discover all of the facts. Rather than questioning, he accepts.

Juror number five comes from a violent background. A young man, he reminds us that just because a person lives in a certain neighbourhood that is no excuse for breaking the law or violent behaviour.

Juror number six is a working man. He is strong, but respectful and also highly principled. This character is the 'Working Joe', the people who just get on with their jobs and do them.

Juror number seven is ambivalence personified. One might almost call him the id. Continually throughout the movie he makes jokes, at the beginning his wise-cracking nature is amusing but it soon begins to grate. He is more interested in satisfying his own petty desires than doing a good job.

Juror number eight is decency. The lone dissenter. The only person who initially questions all that they have been told. Throughout the movie he pushes his fellow jurors to see past what has been so easily presented and to search for the deeper possible truth.

Juror number nine can be summoned up in one word: Understanding. While number eight may be the first person who questions, without number nines support he would have failed. It is nine that, more than anybody else, truly empathises with the witnesses. It is his initial insight into the human condition that sways a number of jurors, including juror number four.

Juror number ten is blinded by his bigotry. Unlike any other jury member he seems to have no real endearing qualities, having an annoying way of speaking, a rude manner, even an intrusive cough.

Juror number eleven is an immigrant. He has come to America because of all that it represents. Because of this it is ironic that he is the one who seems to remind others of what it means to be part of a democracy.

Juror number twelve represents hesitant behaviour. He is the only jury member to change his mind more than once.

Within these twelve characters there is a lot of symbolism involved. Juror number eight falters only once. When talking with six he is forced to question the full implications of allowing a guilty man to go free. Despite all of the passion and and reasoned arguments given by other jurors, it is this simple man who is the only person who makes number eight question himself. Juror number twelve, the unsure character, actually works in advertising. Though he can tell others what to want he is unsure himself. Juror number nine, who supports number eight more than any other, is also seated next to him. The most symbolic figure is, of course, number eight.

Unlike any other jury member he does not offer a single piece of personal information about himself throughout the entire movie. Anything we do learn about his personal life or background we learn because other jury members have asked him. He is concerned only with finding out what is relevant to the case. He is an architect. He is a man who helps others realise their dreams, helps other build something great. Of course he is also dressed in white, like a lone paladin, a night in shining armour slaying the evil dragon. Fonda played Wyatt Earp in My Darling Clementine, a role he was deservedly famous for. Who better than a mythological law man to fight for justice now? We know right is on his side.

However it is not just the acting that shines. The direction is superb. Initially Lumet cleverly places the camera above eye level, using a wide angled lense. Throughout the movie this gradually changes until we are finally seeing the action from low down with the focal length of the lens having been increased. This leads to a greater feeling of claustrophobia, with tight zoom-ins causing sweaty, angry faces to fill the screen. The most notable exception to this is the scene where all of the jury distance themselves from the racist views of number ten. Here we see him isolated and alone, and indeed it is the one time we see the entire room on the screen, further enhancing the feeling of his loneliness.

In the end only juror number three is left voting guilty. He is put in the same situation as number eight was earlier. However, unlike number eight he does not have the conviction of his beliefs and so quickly crumbles, unable to stand against the other eleven.

12 Angry Men remains an important, much beloved movie. It shows us many facets of humanity, the highs and lows, and also what one man can do if he truly believes he is right.

Kôkaku Kidôtai

Man, I Missed The Bus With This One
I must admit I do not know much about animé. When talking to an animé buff recently about this project and my comparative lack of knowledge of the genre, the conversation of what I had seen and what I owned rolled around. I declared that I did own a few things, one of them being Ninja Scrolls. 'Which version?' I was asked. Blinking for a moment I thought… Luckily I realised I had the box set with two versions on it, the Japanese and English versions. I told him this, also pointing out that I had only watched the Japanese dub. That kind of thing always goes down well with geeks. (We can smell our own). However I was looked at with a mixture of pity and despair. No, that was the wrong version of Ninja Scrolls. I was ashamed.

So it was with some trepidation I dipped my toe into the hugely complex world of animé That feeling was off-set however with a certain amount of anticipation. I'd always been told how great Ghost In The Shell is, by many people whose views I respect, and so I looked forward to this movie. Unfortunately I'm still trying to work out what is so great about it.

Set in a cyberpunk future where the whole world is connected by a vast network of electronic data, the hero, Motoko Kusanagi Atsuko Tanaka - or 'The Majour' as she is known - is part of Section 9, a high-tech crime fighting unit. The plot itself involves concepts such as AI and 'Ghosts', a term meaning a persons consciousness. We are asked to consider ideas such as what constitutes life, humanity and death itself while Section 9 deal with a hacker known as The Puppet Master, who is wanted by the highly suspect Section 6. (Hmmm… 9, but reversed…) Needless to say there are layers of intrigue and suspense and we are also given the chance to watch some pretty impressive animation. The core of this movie, what Shirow really seems to emphasise, are the ethical and philosophical questions raised by this brave new world.

With the title itself clearly referencing the term Ghost In The Machine - a phrase first used by Gilbert Ryle and a concept later expanded on by Arthur Koestler (basically a refutation of Descartes idea of dualism) - I expected a large amount of philosophy. I have no problem with large amounts of philosophy. Unfortunately the philosophy I was given wasn't (to me) all that exciting. It is important to realise that I am watching this now in 2007 and the concepts may have seemed new in 1995, especially to an audience not overly familiar with the works of people such as Koestler and such. Yet for me the ponderings of the cybernetic humans are vaguely reminiscent of the kind of conversation had at about 10.54 down the pub, when people often say things like 'Yeah, I know what you're saying, but you're not thinking about it like this…'. The most interesting concept was the idea of reproduction as a form of immortality, and that a computer program may want to do this. The further idea of two different beings creating a new life, one that links human and AI consciousness and creates a new and different being, perhaps the next step of evolution, was also interesting. Sadly the fact that these concepts and ideas do not occur until the end of the movie meant that I found the movie difficult to really enjoy.

The director spends a lot of time between scenes simply showing us the city this is all set in. There is much use of simply driving by the landscape. Again this was very beautiful but as I personally had been unable to invest myself in the movie, I didn't really enjoy these parts, and instead found them distracting, wanting to get onto the next bit of something actually happening.

The realisation of the cyberpunk world is outstanding, the art fantastic and attention to detail something to revel in. Although as I am not the biggest cyberpunk fan that the world has ever seen, this wasn't enough to make me fall for this movie.

So I was left with the action scenes. Having now watched this movie I can see just how much it inspired The Matrix visually as well as stylistically. The action scenes are amazingly well conceived and directed, the feeling of movement on screen is particularly well done. Yet they are few and far between, not really allowing me to enjoy this movie on a purely action-based level either.

So I am left feeling vaguely disappointed, not just in the movie but with myself as well. When mentioning this movie to a friend a few nights back he nodded enthusiastically and told me "Yeah… it's great!" When I simply asked why, he seemed a little confused. I want to like this movie more than I do, but I simply cannot. I know that it is part of a series of movies, and that there is also a television series based within the same universe, and as is so often the case, this is all based on an original graphic novel. Perhaps I'd find one of these to be great?

Dirty Dancing

Do Ya Love Me?
Growing up there was a movie I loved. Star Wars. I wanted to be Han Solo, I wanted the X-Wings and lightsaber. I wanted to live a dream. A little while later I became vaguely aware of something called girls. Now that I've learned to talk to them without pulling their hair and running away (generally) I've discovered that for many of them the reverence I hold for Star Wars they hold for Dirty Dancing. Why? I'll come back to that later.

Dirty Dancing is a simple movie. Baby (Jennifer Grey) and her family go to an upper middle class holiday resort for the summer. She is only seventeen, naive and something of a Daddy's girl (Her nickname is Baby, this is not a subtle movie). Once we reach the resort we realise that amongst the staff there is a very distinct class system at work. It is acceptable, even encouraged that the waiters 'show the daughters a good time' but the dancers, led by Johnny (Patrick Swayze) are to keep well away from them. And why not I ask you, after all, he wears tight fitting t-shirts and a leather jacket. He's a wrong 'un and no mistake. Still, as is the nature of these things Baby and Johnny are thrust together due to circumstance, and decide to continue thrusting together due to them both being attractive and young. He teaches her how to dance and she teaches him that he can be anything he wants to be. Unfortunately their love is a forbidden love and Baby's father, Dr. Jake Houseman (Jerry Orbach), cannot see past Johnny's working class roots, assuming that he is the one who got his own dancing partner pregnant. Of course it wasn't, it was that no good, rich waiter who is now making moves on Baby's sister! Still, Baby continues to see Johnny, this is after all true love, but of course they are eventually discovered, Johnny is sacked and Baby is miserable. Luckily her father knows she'll get over it. However, Dr. Houseman had not counted on the big finish. Inspired by Baby's belief in both himself and her ideology in general, Johnny returns to the resort and dances the last dance of the season with Baby in front of all the guests. The evil waiter is discovered, Dr. Houseman accepts Johnny, and the classes are united through the medium of dance. Huzzah! The performances here are absolutely fine. Grey is suitably cute and sunshine-filled, and it is actually hard to believe that she is ten years older than her character is supposed to be. Swayze looks fantastic and I can absolutely see why every girl I knew growing up wanted to be Baby. Orbach is suitably fatherly, giving what is actually a very subtle and real performance. Many parts of the story are contrived, but if you are going to believe that the boy from the wrong side of the tracks and daddy's princess are going to end up together in the end, I think we can accept that.

Like many people I really enjoy the soundtrack to this movie. Mixing fantastic early 60s rock'n'roll with mid-80s ballads it starts your toes tapping straight from the start and doesn't give up until the very end. Then of course there is the dancing. I remember at the tender age of nine being at a friends house and having a feeling of pure horror when it was suggested that I be Johnny while she danced as Baby to 'I Had The Time Of My Life'. For a start I didn't think I had a hope in pulling off the lift. I mean, we had never even set foot in a handy, nearby lake.

So, back to my original question. Why is this movie so popular, especially with women? Apart from the fact that Baby has a pretty amazing life, I think it is because she is the knight in shining armour. In Star Wars Princess Leia is no slouch but lets be honest, it's up to Luke and Han to rescue her. In Dirty Dancing it is the princess who rescues the lovable rogue. There is no need for a blaster or a lightsaber, here she is able to do it through simply believing in other people and believing in love.

This movie will never mean as much to me as Star Wars or Indiana Jones, but I don't think it's awful, I don't even think it's bad. In fact I think it's quite good. It is an unpretentious, feel-good romance movie. I may not have had the time of my life, but it was certainly a pleasant enough hour and a half.

Jerry Maguire

Not Just A Chick-Flick
Once, long ago, before Renée Zellweger was British or Cuba Gooding Jr. was famous, the two of them starred in a movie with Tom Cruise. That movie was called Jerry Maguire.

Tom Cruise plays the title role, a part originally written for Tom Hanks. Maguire is a professional sports agent, a self confessed 'Shark in a suit'. Unfortunately for him, one night he develops a conscience, which leads to him typing up a mission statement which contains the rather foolish line 'Fewer clients. Less Money.' This rather unorthodox approach is not appreciated by the company he works for, who promptly fire him. Maguire manages to take with him Dorothy Boyd from accounts (Zellweger), a fish, and one client, the Oscar winning Gooding, who plays a rather annoying American Footballer. He leaves everything else, including his friends, most of his dignity and his fiancée behind, though this last one is no bad thing as Zellweger has admired him from afar for a long time and now is her chance. By the end of the movie Maguire has realised what's important in life, and the audience all know it's going to be alllllll right.

Now, I can be as cynical as the next man, unless I'm on a coach full of estate agents, but this movie really gets me. Yes, we know exactly what's going to happen, there are no real surprises, but in a Romance like this the destination isn't the point, the journey is. And what a journey.

The first pleasant sight we can see to our left is that Tom Cruise is actually a very good comedy actor. I've never really been a fan of insulting Mr Cruise, and it's movies like this that reassure me that the man can actually do something other than look very pretty. Then of course there is Jonathan Lipnicki as Zellweger's son, Ray Boyd, who at the tender age of 6 manages to steal every scene he is in. It's like someone put the Milky Bar Kid, Shirley Temple and a baby puppy into a blender, hit go, poured the pulp into some kind of child star mold, put it in the freezer for a while to set, then got these big electrodes and attached them…. OK, not sure where I'm going with this, but the kid is cute and lovable and not all that bad, OK? Renée Zellweger appears, (well done her). However her sister, played by Bonnie Hunt, actually gets something to do other than make the appropriate face at Tom Cruise (adoring, understanding, mournful and adoring) and so gets a chance to really shine, and believe me she does. This woman should be a bigger star than she is though I get the feeling she may well be more suited to a television format.

The real revelation is, of course, Cuba Gooding Jr. His portrayal of Rod Tidwell, which deservedly won him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, is key to the movie. Despite his 'family motto' being the now famous "Show Me The Money", it is Tidwell who shows us that the pursuit of money is not a bad thing, just that it is not the most important thing, which is in essence the message of the whole movie. Further underlining this is the voice of Maguire's old mentor, Dickie Fox, played by an amazingly convincing Jared Jussim (who!?), a character who finally tells us that "I don't have all the answers. In life, to be honest, I've failed as much as I've succeeded. But I love my wife. I love my life. I wish you my kind of success." Testify brother Fox, testify.

So what Crowe has given us here is a romantic movie where love is indeed the most important thing, but not just love towards the object of your desire, but to everyone around you. It's about reaching out, realising how important other people are, and realising that if you do not love yourself then you really are never going to make it. Oh, and that you should love black people. Apparently.


They DO Make Them Like That Anymore
The reason I love movies is my father. Because of him I grew up watching westerns and war movies, his two favourite genres. While I loved the fact that a huge number of things generally blew up in war movies, I always found the westerns to be more to my taste. The sun glaring off the sand, worried townsfolk scurrying indoors and the single gunman facing down the bad guys. Tombstone is a fantastic tribute to these movies.

Leaving historical accuracy aside, the plot is fairly straightforward. Wyatt Earp (Kurt Russell) brings together his two brothers, Virgil (Sam Elliot) and Morgan (Bill Paxton) and their respective spouses to seek their fortunes in the mining town of Tombstone. Personally I would have chosen the sister town, Happyland; still, what's in a name? There they meet old friend Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer) and set about making money. Unfortunately, lawless gang 'The Cowboys' ruin everything by being loud, obnoxious, spitting, and shooting the occasional town sheriff and curse-laying priest. Wyatt gets involved though he doesn't really want to, and then Virgil takes the place as the new town sheriff, forcing the two brothers to become deputies. One thing leads to another and suddenly it's all guns blazing as the Earps and Holliday head to the OK Corral.

The Earps and Holiday kill three Cowboys. In retaliation the women folk are shot at, Virgil is crippled and poor Morgan killed. Earp decides enough is enough, becomes a US Marshall, and accompanied by his good friend Doc and three other companions, goes to seek bloody vengeance. We see the descent of Earp into vengeance-reaping killer, a man who loses himself until, at the end of the movie, he finds true love.

This is a movie of the myth of the Earp story, rather than some kind of Hollywood biography. Accept it as such and then we can talk.

Stylistically this movie owes a massive debt to the classic westerns of the past, and is in many ways a homage to them. However, please don't think that this makes it some simple movie. Although the good guys and the bad guys are clearly defined, there is still plenty of symbolism to look out for. The priest at the beginning curses the Cowboys, saying that death would come on a pale horse, which initially is incorrectly translated as death riding on a sickly horse. Then Johnny Ringo shoots the poor priest in the forehead. As the Earps first go to face the Cowboys for the showdown at O.K. there are four of them, like the four horsemen heralding the apocalypse for the cowboys. Behind them we see fire. Now, it may just be a fantastic opportunity to make a great looking movie poster, or it may well be the fires of hell that Wyatt talks about following him later as he and Holliday begin their vendetta ride.

Of course it is this vendetta ride where the priests curse/prophecy comes true. Wyatt being death and the pallid Holliday could easily be called the 'sick' horse. Finally Johnny Ringo is shot and dies in the same way he killed the priest, one shot in the forehead.

The performances in this movie are generally good. The supporting cast are very supportive, and throughout the movie faces pop up that are unexpected. Charlton Heston is the most obvious, but Billy Bob Thornton, Terry O'Quinn, Billy Zane and Michael Rooker all appear in relatively small parts. Kurt Russell is totally convincing as Wyatt, at times doing what appears to be a fine Clint Eastwood impression, but he's believable and looks good. The person who really shines of course is Val Kilmer. Playing the consumptive 'Doc', he's the cowboy all the little Goths want to grow up to be. He delivers every line with panache, his natural charisma turned up to eleven, and no matter what, there is always a look in his eye that says 'You may be holding four of a kind, but I know I've got me a royal flush. Call me, I dare you.' No, this isn't the greatest Western ever made, but it's probably been the most popular for the last 20 years. Give it a go if you're in the mood for some good old-fashioned gun slinging.

The Longest Day

It's SUPPOSED To Be In Black And White!!
Opening with a shot of an upturned helmet on a beach, The Longest Day drops us straight into the middle of a dizzyingly complex series of events; quick scenes involving a number of high ranking officers of many nationalities whizzing past us. This is a gathering of stories that combine to paint the big picture of what happened on the 6th June. And this in itself is the movies great strength. It allows us to see the many faces of this historic day, without focusing on one group of soldiers overly much.

In doing so this movie also gives us such massive scope. We are constantly reminded of the sheer scale of what was involved as if reminding us that yes, this really happened and yes, it was very, very big. This sense of scale is continued with some amazingly shot scenes of battle. One of my favourite is when the remnants of the once great Luftwaffa make a strafe on the troops on one of the Normandy beaches. We see two actual working Messerschmitts fly over 3,000 extras, as well as vehicles and equipment. Another extraordinary scene is when the Free French commandos attack Ouistreham. It is a sweeping helicopter shot that starts tight in and then just moves out, once again showing the sheer scale of the production and, indeed, hinting at the scale of the war itself. The word breathtaking does not even begin to cover it.

Yet amongst all of this grandeur the moments of intimacy are not lost. Richard Burtons jaded pilot is a particularly interesting character. The lone survivor of his original squadron and now shot down over Normandy, he finds himself finally having to deal with death face to face: his former melancholy mood becoming one of introspection. Earlier we see two American soldiers talking on a troop carrier. They're discussing how one of them has received a divorce request from his wife, how he does love her and that he wants to do the best he can for her, his friend doing his best to advise and comfort him. It's not until later, when he's gone, that we realise that the two had never even met before.

Another way of helping us understand the vastness of the events happening around us is to let us view it through the eyes of the common soldier. This is best typified by the characters of Flanagan (Sean Connery) and Clough (Norman Rossington), their commentary of what is happening about them reminiscent of the best traditions of Shakespeare.

Something that this movie gets across so well is just how lucky the Allied invasion was. It seems that their best weapon was the lumbering German bureaucracy and their inability to believe that the Allies are actually invading. Even 2 hours and ten minutes into the movie Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt (Paul Hartman) cannot truly believe the invasion is happening in Normandy. The failure of the German army is summed up so well by Major General Gunther Blumentritt (Curd Jürgens) 'This is history. We are living an historical moment. We are going to lose the war because our glorious Führer has taken a sleeping pill and is not to be awakened. Sometimes I wonder which side God is on.' This is particularly interesting, as earlier an Allied general had been wondering just whose side god was on as well, thus showing us that there is really little difference between the two enemies.

This is a movie that acknowledges many factors. Many British people feel slightly miffed with a lot of American-made war movies about what feels like the downplaying of our role during the second world war. This isn't a recent phenomenon. Objective, Burma! is a fantastic re-telling of history with the Americans suddenly playing the parts of the British and Australians. However in The Longest Day you have John Waynes Colonel telling off one of his subordinates for talking about wanting to have a crack at the enemy. Yes, everyone's impatient, including the British who have just been bombed for a good many years. It's almost hard to imagine anyone in an American movie saying 'I don't think I have to remind you that this war has been going on for almost 5 years. Over half of Europe has been overrun and occupied. We're comparative newcomers. England's gone through a blitz with a knife at her throat since 1940. I'm quite sure that they, too, are impatient and itching to go. Do I make myself clear?' Especially from a country that talks about the '1942-1945' war. Yet here is The Duke saying this, and it actually made me feel good.

Why was this movie filmed in black and white? With a budget of $10,000,000 and an all-star cast, you would think that the studio could spring for some colour film? So it is clearly a stylist choice. This is a movie that is about a book that documents the D-Day assault. The word 'document' is key here. By choosing to film in black and white Zanuck was clearly trying to give this movie a more 'documentary' feel, a classic feel.

This is a movie that could never be made again. The planes flying are actually of the time, the locations are where the action really happened and many of the extras and technical advisers were actually at the D-Day landings. The actors were able to talk to their real life counterparts, indeed many of them were given items to wear/use from the people they were portraying. It's a movie that was made with a huge amount of passion, everyone in front of and behind camera giving it everything they can. With a cast that is beyond belief and characters speaking in their native language this is a one off, a classic, and one of the best war movies ever made, yet it does not feature in IMDBs top 250 movies. Sometimes I weep.

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