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Dan August

Correcting a previous poster...
'The House on Greenapple Road' was the original pilot for this series, and in fact starred Christopher George as Dan August, not Burt Reynolds. The was never an episode called 'Once is Not Enough', let alone it being the pilot episode 'introducing us to the character of Dan August'. For goodness sake, there is an episode list alongside the subject! It's so easy to verify your facts. People use the IMDb as a source of reliable information, so unreliable information such as that previously posted on this subject, and many others I might add, should not be allowed to find its way here. I thought the IMDb personnel vetted these postings?

Riviera Police

Theme Music
This 1965 series has an excellent theme by Laurie Johnson. Laurie was no newcomer to writing for the screen. In 1959 he had written the theme for the successful British police TV series 'No Hiding Place' and scored 'Tiger Bay', a thriller starring John Mills, his then young daughter Hayley and Horst Buchholz (later to find fleeting fame in 'The Magnificent Seven'). Aside from writing for TV in the sixties he would score 'The First Men in the Moon', Ray Harryhausen and Charles H. Schneer's cinematic working of the H.G. Wells novel, Michael Winner's comedy 'You Must Be Joking', Stanley Kubrick's 'Dr. Strangelove (or – How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)' and 'Hot Millions' featuring a bizarre cast which included Peter Ustinov, Bob Newhart, Dame Maggie Smith, Caesar Romero and Karl Malden. He also composed the themes for the British TV series 'Animal Magic', 'Echo Four-Two', 'Freewheelers', 'Whicker's World' and 'This is Your Life' and most predominantly 'The Avengers', 'Jason King' and 'The Professionals'. The original title of the tune was Latin Quarter, and the original recording can be found on numerous, cheap CD compilations under either of the titles, usually Latin Quarter. They don't write 'em like this anymore!

The Wicker Man

An atmospheric, unique and memorable film...
If you've never seen or heard of The Wicker Man you're obviously an inhabitant of some remote island not dissimilar to that featured in the film, a Scottish isle upon which lands our hapless hero, Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward), a mainland copper in search of a reported missing child. "Have you lost your bearings?" ask the islanders on his arrival, and, considering the mess he gets into during the course of the story, he obviously had. Howie, you see, is a devout and still virginal god-fearing Presbyterian. He practises his religion as he does his job – strictly by the book (or The Book) and is appalled to discover that the island's community is still practising pagan rituals, and even worse, still teaching these rituals in the local school. So now, as well as conducting his investigation, he also feels duty bound to lead these heathens on to the path of righteousness. Thus begins a cat and mouse game as Howie pointlessly tries to pit his wits, and his religion, against the passive yet manipulative islanders, led by the charismatic Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), who are completely in control of their environment, whereas he is a man alone, a fish completely out of water, in a place where mainland laws, and his own Christian beliefs, no longer apply, his only companions being his Bible and his God.

Sounds heavy doesn't it? And so it is eventually, but in the meantime we are treated to a nice travelogue of a fictitious Scottish island community, accompanied by a Celtic folk music soundtrack (no other score is involved), that yet has a simmering threat forever in the background. Howie is witness to several blasphemous goings on that you certainly wouldn't organise as part of a church fete, he is given the runaround by the villagers in his search for the child, and even his own chastity is put to the test by the pub-cum-guesthouse landlord's daughter (a dubbed Britt Ekland).

Arguably a problem with the film is that Howie is not a bloke you'd get along with. He's not likable. In fact he's a pain in the arse. He is as much a zealot in his own beliefs as the islanders are believers in theirs. Also they enjoy their religion, barbaric as it sometimes transpires to be, whilst he is almost puritanically strapped into a straightjacket and almost flagellates himself with his in such a blinkered, intransigent and intolerant way that you can't help feeling that in the end he gets everything that's coming to him. But of course this is the ambiguity of the film – Who's side, in the end, do you find yourself on? But of course, that's for you to decide. Or not.

The UK DVD release features two versions of the film: the theatrical version of the movie running at 84 mins, and also the extended "Director's Cut" running at 99 mins. The extra footage (easily spotted by the change in picture quality as it has been sourced from an original 1" analogue telecine master 'the best element known to exist') includes scenes on the mainland before Howie leaves for the island (and consequently different opening titles) and which establish early on his anally retentive character; more footage of Lord Summerisle which develops his character and influence on the islanders a little more, and footage which establishes more clearly that Howie actually spends two nights on the island, not one, which is a little vague in the original theatrical release (or one of them – let the purists rant!).

The special features include a theatrical trailer; TV and radio spots, a 25 minute American TV interview with Christopher Lee and director Robin Hardy and a 35 minute documentary 'The Wicker Man Enigma'. The animated menus are also beautifully presented with each scene selection panel featuring footage from that scene. There are also talent biographies and a special CD Rom feature providing you with the original Theatrical Press Brochure for the film. Also, exclusive to the UK release, there is a full-length commentary (on the Director's Cut version) by Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee and Robin Hardy, and moderated by British film broadcaster Mark Kermode. Mostly it's very informative, but Christopher Lee comes across as such a bolshie individual, perhaps it's his age. He keeps trying to dominate the conversation with poor director Robin Hardy eventually managing to cut in with 'Would you like me to tell you what really happened?' with Lee indignantly responding with 'Well I don't remember it being like that at all...' and also deliberately cutting the others off in mid-flow with lines like 'Can I just point out that that chap on the left worked in the Glasgow Hippodrome...' and then going off on another tangent. Then he keeps harping on about how disgraceful it was that the 'greatest British movie of all time' was deliberately hacked to pieces by the distributors, something he goes back to again and again in his best, brooding, ominous curse-ridden tones straight out of Lord of the Rings. He may well be right but hey, Chris, we got the point the first time you ranted about it. Add to that some of Robin Hardy's comments, which are often vague, confused and contradictory, and which set the ball rolling back into Lee's court again. Edward Woodward meanwhile tries uneasily to keep the mood a little lighter, change the subject and not lose his cool. Mark Kermode does well to keep it moving and in check. If you listen between the lines it's actually very entertaining. It's an atmospheric, unique and memorable film with an equally haunting soundtrack and is available on this UK release from StudioCanal in what is probably it's definitive version (but I'll let others continue to argue over that. Cue Christopher Lee…).

Lola rennt

A definite, definite must see...
'Jeden Tag, jede Sekunde triffst Du eine Entscheidung, die Dein Leben verändern kann' ('Every second of every day you're faced with a decision that can change your life') Publicity

Franka Potente (THE BOURNE IDENTITY, BLOW) plays the flame haired Lola, a streetwise Berliner who has just twenty minutes to come up with a plan to save her boyfriend Manni's life. Manni has done a deal with a local hood to whom he must deliver 100,000 Deutsche marks, but stupid Manni has left the money on a subway train, where it has been discovered by a tramp. Manni knows if he turns up without the cash, in twenty minutes, he's a dead man. His phone call to Lola sets her off on a frantic race across the city to come up with the cash. She meets various obstacles, characters and scenarios during her flight including her Bank Manager father who refuses to give her the money. She finally arrives at the rendezvous too late to stop the now panicking Manni from robbing a nearby store. The police turn up on the scene, armed and in force, with disastrous results for the couple – especially Lola.

Then the phone rings again. It's Manni. He's got just twenty minutes to come up with 100,000 Dm or he's a dead man. The race starts once more.

This frenetic and original film is a fascinating and absorbing study of cause and effect where we see the events of those twenty minutes unfold three times with three radically different outcomes. Characters rise and fall in prominence, and we as the audience learn more about almost everyone through watching the three alternate stories than the characters actually know about themselves from their own single perspective.

Potente as Lola is mesmerisingly heroic and director Tykwer's use of frenzied and chaotic live action mixed with clever cartoon animation and rapid still photography galleries, accompanied by a pulse pounding techno beat, shows us, in what is only his third feature, that he is totally at home with and in control of his medium.

This is a movie you need to watch more than once to pick up all of the all important threads and is one of the best and most innovative German films, if not one of Europe's, to come through in recent years. For those of you averse to subtitles there is an English dialogue track, but to get the real spirit of the movie and feel of the locale you should watch it in the original German, and to be honest, the dialogue plays a minor role in this fast paced visual roller coaster ride.

Nominated in 1999 by both the British Academy and the National Board of Review as Best Foreign Language Film and #2 Best Foreign Film of the Year respectively, it will be much imitated and simply cries out to be remade Stateside.

This folks is a definite, definite must see.


A great kids movie with a few titbits thrown in for us old 'uns ...
I deliberately waited until this came onto DVD before I wrote a review as I wanted to be able to study it in detail and give it a thorough examination. I had long imaged a live action version of the series and knew that the time, and the technology, was now right to achieve it. I deliberately avoided any pre-publicity as I wanted to review it on an 'as seen' basis.

So, with an open mind, I settled down to watch.

The opening PINK PANTHER/WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT style graphics are pretty good and give you a sense of the way the movie is going to be handled. Also a nice touch is the inclusion of the traditional countdown and a nifty arrangement of Barry Gray's famous theme. One thing I didn't like was that now the characters and not just the machines are called the Thunderbirds, but maybe this is a PC thing as there really is now an organisation called International Rescue (inspired by the original series of course) which helps out at various disaster areas around the globe. This brings me to another point – these disasters throughout the film are referred to as 'the accident area' or 'disaster site' or similar. What happened to the series catchphrase of 'Danger Zone'? Not once is it used. Also didn't like the way they kept pronouncing Jeff Tracy's manservant's name as K'eye'rano as opposed to K'ee'rano in the original. Even Parker says it. Of course the major changes in format are that Alan Tracy and K'eye'rano's daughter Tintin are now young teenagers and are joined by Brains' son (?) Fermat. Alan (Brady Corbet), who longs to 'be a Thunderbird' i.e., part of the team and not a hulking great lump of flying metal, is not yet taken seriously by either his father Jeff or his brothers and is going through the sulky teen stage we all know so well.

Basically the plot is that an evil (yet not very imaginative) villain (Ben Kingsley), who has monikered himself as 'The Hood' (see what I mean?), plans to steal the International Rescue machines and rob the world's major banks (I rest my case). To do this he lures Jeff and the older Tracy boys away from their secret island base by launching a missile attack on their orbiting space station Thunderbird 5. He has not counted however on the kids who remain on the island. SPY KIDS type slapstick ensues for a while but then the Thunderbird craft, which is after all what we really want to see, come back to the fore, but all too briefly. Finally the good guys win and Alan gets the recognition he craves.

It was OK. I did go through all the purist nitpicking (as you've probably gathered from my comments so far) like old farts like me are supposed to do when someone has the audacity to interfere with something held so dear, and ultimately I felt disappointed, as if I'd seen a missed opportunity to bring the old series literally to life.

And this is how my opinion would have remained if I'd seen it at the cinema. But this was a DVD. So - I watched it again.

This time I had now purged myself of the old Thunderbirds universe and embraced the new and it was actually a fun movie. I was no longer looking for errors or nitpicks and could concentrate on and enjoy the new format. Lady Penelope and Parker are great to watch in roles with wisecrack dialogue that hark back to another 60s series THE AVENGERS. The Tracy Island base, the Thunderbird craft and their launch sequences are lovingly visualised with suitable homage to the original designs and in fact reminded me greatly of Frank Bellamy's stylised renditions of the craft in the 60s comic book versions of their adventures and which were my first glimpse of the Thunderbirds in colour (and incidentally the only other place the Hood's name is mentioned – it never was in the series). There's also a lot of humour in there, particularly a 'blink and you'll miss it' close up shot of a hand at the controls of one of the Thunderbird craft – it has strings attached – exactly the opposite of what you'd see in the series. There the close up would be of a real hand.

My only remaining gripes are that for an International Rescue organisation, they do very little in the way of rescuing anyone. There's an initial oilrig fire where the rescue is shown on a TV monitor and then the rescue mission to Thunderbird 5, and these have both been staged by The Hood. Also the older Tracy brothers are given very little to do except have there names barked at them by father Jeff (Bill Paxton). Finally the Thunderbird craft, though they look terrific, convey very little power or weight and are a little too swift and feather light - more or less the same problem I found with THE HULK. Maybe these will all be addressed in future.

However, it's a great kids movie with a few titbits thrown in for us old 'uns – which is exactly how it should be, and if I, as a die-hard fan of the original, can accept it I see no reason why no one else should.

One more thing - Regarding the suspension of disbelief – I could accept the Thunderbirds flying up the Thames and under Tower Bridge, but all that clear blue sky and sunshine? In London? Come on….


Great Performances: Music for the Movies: The Hollywood Sound
Episode 3, Season 24

A must for any self respecting cinephile.
This is a fascinating blend of archive and movie footage and a modern day recording session where the eminently qualified John Mauceri explores the importance of the music of the great film music composers Max Steiner, Erich Korngold, Franz Waxman, Dimitri Tiomkin and Alfred Newman.

To me this was sheer delight, simply to hear someone voicing sentiments that I had always known and propounded myself. This presentation goes to the very roots of classical Hollywood movie scoring, its links with the scoring for silent movies and the developing technology which came as a result including, before music was added as an actual soundtrack on the movie itself, having the projectionist play records that were synchronized to the images on the screen.

Mauceri also conducts the orchestra in front of the cinema screen showing scenes from the various movies and analyses what the music was actually doing in and for the scene, something you are usually, and rightly, unaware of when watching the movie, notable examples featured are the late night scene between Bogart and Bergman in CASABLANCA, and the famous and fabulous final swordfight between Rathbone and Flynn in THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, both of which cut back and forth from the screen to the musicians and their instruments.


Interviews include veteran Fred Steiner and notably a large contribution from David Raksin, composer of LAURA, and who also restores his own music of 50 years ago and takes part in the recording session.

With so many scores of the American west being written by the Russian Dimitri Tiomkin, and the Viennese Erich Korngold practically inventing the swashbuckling hero for Hollywood, a style which persists to this day, and American born but descended from Ukrainian-Jewish émigrés Alfred Newman utilizing an Irish melody in a movie set in Wales (the list goes on), as John Mauceri states, if anything can be called 'World Music', it is the music of Hollywood.

Speaking of Korngold, David Raksin also comments that 'Without such music I don't think that he (Errol Flynn) would have been quite so brave.' This is all wonderful stuff and a marvelous insight into the Hollywood industry of the 30s and 40s, the composers, their music, their legacy and their influence on the film music composers that would follow.

Director Joshua Waletzky's Music for the Movies documentary on Bernard Herrmann was nominated for an Oscar in 1993.

Very highly recommended and a must for any self respecting cinephile.

Game of Death

An abysmal affair and certainly no final fitting tribute, yet...
Following the completion of 'Enter the Dragon', Bruce Lee returned to Hong Kong to resume work on a long time project: 'The Game of Death'. A simple premise, designed to illustrate his philosophy and teaching of martial arts, Lee would lead a daring raid on a heavily defended pagoda. Inside the pagoda a lone martial artist guards each level. Lee must fight his way to the top, pitting his own fluid, flexible and adaptable style (Jeet Kune Do) against the rigid, unbending styles of other forms of martial art. It would have been the ultimate, and most personal, Bruce Lee movie. But then he died. He never saw or enjoyed the success of 'Enter the Dragon', nor was able to complete 'Game of Death'. Whichever conspiracy theory you subscribe to, if any, it was a great, great tragedy. Not wanting to let go of the goose that had laid the golden egg, and obviously thinking that five years was long enough for everyone to grieve, in 1978 Robert Clouse, director of 'Enter the Dragon', was brought in by producer Raymond Chow to helm a new movie using footage that Lee had completed in 1972 and bringing in big name American co-stars like Dean Jagger, Gig Young and Hugh O'Brian, and music by Bond movie maestro John Barry. Sounds like it can't go wrong. Sadly it did. The new story has Lee playing the part of Billy Lo, a martial arts movie star. This of course allows the makers to incorporate footage from Lee's previous films into the story. The film actually opens with the climactic fight in the Colosseum in Rome from 'Way of the Dragon' (US: 'Return of the Dragon') thus enabling the makers to add Chuck Norris's name to the already star-studded cast list without actually having to employ him. Anyway, back to the 'story': Basically some gangsters want Billy to join their syndicate, which he refuses, but when 'accidents' start to happen on set and they threaten his girlfriend, Billy decides to take them on. To do this he conveniently uses large sunglasses, various disguises, and ultimately plastic surgery to change his appearance (and also to disguise the fact that it is not Lee at all - in fact the only Bruce Lee footage is about 11 minutes worth at the end of the film, with the rest being padded out with obliquely lit and filmed-from-behind look-alikes and close-ups of Lee's eyes or face clearly lifted from previous films. Also, though it is not explained why, after undergoing plastic surgery, Billy's face is therefore back to normal for these last minutes of the film). But the ultimate insult is this: in order to put the gangsters off his scent Billy fakes his own death, and yes - unbelievably, the makers actually use footage of Bruce Lee's funeral as part of the movie! To be honest it could have been a good Kung Fu movie, if only they hadn't tried to make it a Bruce Lee movie. The fights, choreographed by Sammo Hung, are terrific, marred only by the fact that they are constantly trying to hide the face of the actor playing Billy Lo. As it is it is an abysmal affair and certainly no final fitting tribute to, if not yet a great movie star (outside south east Asia), inarguably a great and charismatic movie martial artist. It is presented here in it's uncut, digitally remastered and dubious glory, the plus being the insightful feature length audio commentary by Bey Logan, avid martial arts film buff and editor of two UK publications, Combat and Impact magazines, also publisher of Hong Kong Action Cinema, one of only two exclusive and notable books on martial arts film published in the West. Yet, despite the awfulness of this movie, for some reason the image of Lee in the striking yellow and black catsuit has become his most enduring, to which the Tarantino feature 'Kill Bill' is a testament. I think this is simply because of those last 11 minutes, where the fights are stunning, and fans knew that this would be the last they would see of their hero. But that was where they were wrong, and this is what makes this two disc set worth the money. If this set has given us the worst of the genre, it makes up for it by providing us with some of the best. The three hours of special features on the second disc are presented with lovingly designed animated menus guiding you through five floors of a digital pagoda, which not only include the usual photo galleries, biographies, textual retrospectives, trailers and TV spots, but also interviews with George Lazenby, Taky Kimura (both proposed co-stars) and Dan Inosanto (who was Lee's senior instructor in Los Angeles at the time and with whom he has the incredible nunchaku fight in the movie); a Jeet Kune Do seminar with Dan Inosanto; documentaries on Bruce Lee and Dan Inosanto, but last, and certainly far from least, and quite rightly only when you eventually reach Floor Five, an edit of the final 40 minutes (or as near as damn it) of the original film envisioned by Lee, using original footage re-discovered in 1999 by the aforementioned Bey Logan in Golden Harvest Studios, based on Lee's original script and directions, where he and his companions (not he alone as in the '78 debacle) fight their way past the final three floors of the pagoda. Just this sequence alone is worth the purchase price and truly gives you a feel of what his initial vision of the project was. The disc also features out-takes from these original recording sessions.

If you are a fan of Bruce Lee, or Hong Kong Cinema in general, then, the final finished film aside, this is a 'must have' and probably the best record we're ever going to get of a planned movie that would have kicked 'Enter the Dragon' into a cocked hat. Now there's another conspiracy theory

Black and White

A well put together movie featuring a classic underdog vs. establishment scenario...
Adelaide, Australia, 1958 and a 9 year-old girl is found brutally murdered and raped. The police quickly, perhaps a little too quickly, find a suspect: Max Stuart, a young illiterate and heavy drinking half-caste Aborigine man (Ngoombujarra – CROCODILE DUNDEE IN L.A.) from out of town who, once in custody, confesses to the crime. As it's a legal aid case Stuart is appointed lawyers in the shape of local team Carlyle (THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, FULL MONTY) and Fox (THE GATHERING, THE POINT MEN). Prosecuting is arrogant, experienced and privileged-class Crown Solicitor Dance (ALIEN 3, LAST ACTION HERO). Stuart's story is that he is innocent and that the police beat the confession out of him, but faced with a bigoted community and the overwhelming skill and legal connections of Dance's character, the odds prove too overwhelming for the young, inexperienced duo.

Stuart is predictably found guilty and sentenced to be hanged.

Carlyle's character however does not give up that easily and, helped in his quest by the prison priest (Friels – DARK CITY, THE MAN WHO SUED GOD) and a young newspaper publisher called Rupert Murdoch (Mendelsohn – VERTICAL LIMIT), he continues to discover new evidence and witnesses, and proceeds through the hierarchy of appeal procedures, ultimately speaking before the Lord Privvy Council in London, resulting in seven stays of execution over the following year.

Based on real events, this is a well put together movie featuring a classic underdog vs. establishment scenario, not just in Stuart, who is regarded as just an ignorant savage by 1959 white Australian society, but also in Carlyle's lawyer who is thwarted at every turn by an archaic legal system and a superior foe, and who is risking his reputation and livelihood in the pursuit of justice. The film makes no final judgement and presents both sides of the case equally leaving the audience to come to their own verdict. The audience will of course take the side of the underdogs, but there is an unnerving dénouement where we catch up with the real Max Stuart who makes a very ambiguous comment on his innocence.

The era is well captured and the acting is solid throughout, though the characters are rather obviously drawn.

Not worth owning but well worth a watch.

Calendar Girls

'We're going to need considerably bigger buns…'
CALENDAR GIRLS is the poignant, funny and basically true story of a small group of women in a Yorkshire branch of the Women's Institute who decide to do something special for their annual calendar. W.I. calendars traditionally feature craftwork, baking, flower arranging, that kind of thing, and their calendar will be no exception. There will be one big difference however. They're going use local members in the photographs - and they're going to do it naked.

Needless to say this idea not only causes quite a stir in their small Yorkshire village, but also in the W.I. itself, but these are feisty women and not ones to be put off by the disdain of others.

Annie (Julie Walters – HARRY POTTER, BILLY ELLIOTT, EDUCATING RITA) has recently lost her beloved husband John to Leukaemia and wants to use the calendar to raise money to buy a sofa, in his memory, for the waiting room in the local hospital. Her old friend Chris (Helen Mirren – PRIME SUSPECT, GOSFORD PARK, THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE & HER LOVER), a rebellious member of the local W.I., comes up with the idea of doing it naked after she spots a girly calendar at her local garage.

Remember these are all middle-aged and elderly ladies and the idea of stripping off in front of a camera doesn't come easily to some of them. As Annie says at one point when one of the other girls expresses her concern: 'None of us have been here before, love. I mean, for God's sake, my John didn't see me naked until the spring of 1975.' 'Why, what happened in the spring of 1975?' she's asked. 'A lizard ran into the shower cubicle…' Eventually, after facing numerous obstacles, i.e.: convincing the W.I., finding a suitable photographer, winning over their husbands and kids, and not least overcoming their own inhibitions, the calendar is published.

Once the media get hold of the story, the girls become nationally, then internationally, famous. The calendar starts to sell out worldwide and the girls achieve celebrity status, even to the point of eventually finding themselves on the Jay Leno show. Chris loves this. Not only will it raise huge amounts of money but also she actually likes the lifestyle, even though it is causing problems on the domestic front. Annie however is not so happy, as all she wanted to do was raise a little money to buy a sofa. Now it all seems to have gotten out of hand and everyone seems to have forgotten why they did the thing in the first place: Her husband's memory. As she says to Chris: 'I'd rob every penny from this calendar if it would buy me just one more hour with him'.

This is a lovely film that skilfully plays with your emotions. The lush, green rolling hills and stone cottages of Yorkshire are captured beautifully and create a great contrast to the later scenes when the girls are in L.A. Truly two different worlds. There are some great lines too, like the elderly couple chatting over breakfast: 'You're nude in The Telegraph, dear. (Beat) Can you pass the bacon…' and when they're setting up a baking photo where the model is being helped by the other girls to hide her modesty behind some buns, Chris finally tells the photographer: 'Lawrence, we're going to need considerably bigger buns…'

The performances are perfect throughout, as you would expect from such a stalwart and experienced cast, and the roles are underplayed just to the right degree. It's a case study, not in acting, but reacting.

The 'Naked Truth' documentary on the DVD introduces you to the real life calendar girls upon whom the story is based and the other doc shows the actresses creating a second calendar for 2004 which was sold for the same good cause as the original. The deleted scenes, though interesting, were wisely cut.

If you're a FOUR WEDDINGS, NOTTING HILL, FULL MONTY or LOVE ACTUALLY fan then this is for you.

Mission: Impossible III

By far and away the best of the MI movies to date...
By far and away the best of the MI movies to date, the first having the gall to make the character Jim Phelps from the original TV series into the villain (what were they thinking, and what quicker way to alienate an established fan base?) and the second abandoning the old MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE team formula completely, making it a one-man show and just cashing in on Cruise and the title.

Here the formula is re-established. Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is now the IMF team leader, having been coaxed back into the field from the training of potential new IMF agents. A team is assembled, with photos and bios a little more hi-tech from the 60s presentation perhaps, and each rightly having their own distinct personality and expertise. Not only that, they are given three (appropriately) Impossible Missions to perform, namely rescuing a fellow agent (and one of Hunt's students) from captivity in Berlin; kidnapping the world's no. 1 villain and arms-dealer (Hoffman) from inside the supposedly impregnable, security-wise, Vatican City itself, and also, as a bonus, leaving the world, and more importantly his buyers, to believe he's dead, then a daring raid atop the nighttime skyscrapers of Shanghai to steal the mysterious and much sought after weapon 'The Rabbit's Foot', the nature of which is never disclosed, and therefore which, like NORTH BY NORTHWEST and many other Hitchcock movies, becomes the 'MacGuffin' of the movie. Hoffman's character sums this up best with the line "What I'm selling and who I'm selling it to are the least of your problems". Added to all this is the fact that that Hunt is now romantically involved and his spouse consequently becomes the target of Hoffman's villain's revenge, and also adds a much needed humanity to Cruise's character.

The wit and wiles of TV's IMF squad are admittedly replaced here by ridiculous yet riveting stunts, but when these are beautifully realised and executed under the direction of veteran 2nd Unit director and stuntman/co-ordinator Vic (Bond) Armstrong, you can't go far wrong, especially with a budget that Eon would cry for.

British actor Simon Pegg (SHAUN OF THE DEAD - see my review in the archives) makes a welcome appearance as a 'Q' like computer boffin at IMF HQ, and eventual reluctant inside man to rogue agent Hunt. As I know of Simon's love of cult 60s TV this must have been a dream of a job. He's also appeared in the new BBC DR. WHO series and narrates their accompanying 'Behind the Scenes' documentaries. Good man Simon.

Recent multi-award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman's (CAPOTE) villain is wonderfully underplayed and just plain arrogant and mean. He's great in this, and I couldn't help but feel there was a little, perhaps deliberate, touch of the Bond/Le Schiffre frisson (in the notorious wicker chair sequence in the original CASINO ROYALE novel) in the attention grabbing teaser which may foreshadow that forthcoming movie. The final and inevitable punch-up between him and Cruise is particularly, and necessarily, brutal and satisfying. The rest of the cast also pull off some top notch performances, considering the material.

On top of all that there's more of Lalo Schifrin's glorious original MISSION music, notably the militaristic 'THE PLOT', which underscores the team's preliminary preparations, as it should. Okay, the identity of the inevitable double-agent/sneak within the IMF organisation is a bit telegraphed, but that's okay. At least it gives you the satisfaction of thinking you've sorted one of the plot points out ahead of everyone else.

Considering that the spy TV series of the 60s were spawned by the Bond movies, this one has surpassed its progenitor. This is Ludlum meets Fleming, i.e.: Bourne meets Bond, and both of those franchises are going to have to go some to beat this.

This one also puts the floundering Cruise firmly, and literally, back in the picture.


Target audiences and horror fans will love it...
This movie has had some bad press, so, as you can imagine, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying it and actually wondering what was going to happen next.

Underworld, as a little too lengthy a prologue tells us, is set in a world where humans unknowingly share the planet with two other warring species – the Vampires and the Lycans (Werewolves). The war has lasted for centuries and the Vampires are winning – or so they think. The Lycans have got a few little genetically modified tricks up their furry sleeves and some moles in the Vampire camp (now it's not often you can string that kind of a sentence), and when a romance starts to develop between a Vampire and a prospective Lycan, all the old wounds are opened - and eagerly chewed at. Sorry.

The plot is reasonably, but not too, complicated and has a few nice twists. The imagery is suitably dark and Crow-like (Brandon, not Russell) and being mostly filmed in Budapest the architecture is decidedly Anton Furst/Gotham City Gothic.

The action too is derivative of many other films: there's plenty of John Woo double-fisted gunfire; Lots of Matrix leaping around in long coats and tight leather; American Werewolf transformation scenes (sometimes a little jerky), and a fair share of Blade-style bloodletting.

And this is why I think it got the negative reviews it did. It is shamelessly derivative. Fortunately though the story and some good performances make up for this, and it's hard to see how else they could have told such a story without these style graphics, and after all, if something is proved to work well, then use it, and I think audiences have now come to expect it.

Also enjoyable to watch is the usually light comedy actor Bill Nighy (Love Actually) who obviously felt it was time to (literally) get his teeth into something a bit meatier, as he revels in the role of the Vampire Lord Viktor.

Target audiences and horror fans will love it, though there will be uproar when they see Vampires casting reflections in mirrors. But Kate does look good in that leather. Move over Trinity


It was a strange film when it came out in 1974. Now it's strange and dated....
Sean Connery, replete with bare chest, crossover bandoliers, pony-tail and loincloth (yes, loincloth), plays Zed, a 'Brutal' in a future world divided into two societies. In a reversal of the Eloi/Morlock world of The Time Machine, here the namby-pamby cissies are the clever ones. We have the aforementioned Brutals, primitive savages and killers who occupy a desolate realm 'laid waste by war and pollution', and the Eternals, immortal scientists and intellectuals, clad in the standard Logan's Run/Eloi pastels, who live in a lush garden paradise called the Vortex (you'll have by now noticed the amount of imagination used in naming these people and places) which is protected from the Brutals by a powerful invisible force field (represented by pressing your face up against some glass). The Brutals worship, and are ruled over by, Zardoz, a fearsome God who manifests himself as a gigantic floating stone head (no, honestly, I'm not making this up) and who provides them with rifles and compels them to keep the population down by killing the weaker members of the tribes and forbidding procreation. "The gun is good- the penis is evil!" the stone head/Zardoz bellows. The Brutals also have the role of overseeing the farmers (read 'slave labour') to produce grain (how anything grows in a world supposedly 'laid waste by war and pollution' is never explained) which in turn is fed into the mouth of the floating head, and then carried back through the force field into the Vortex. Zardoz has of course been created by the clever Eternals as a way of controlling the stupid Brutals. Oh yes, and getting the crops in. Zed however is not so stupid. One day he stows away aboard the floating head and manages to get into the Vortex where he of course upsets the whole applecart. Now it seems that the Eternals have intellectualised themselves into decadence and decay. They're bored. They're also sterile and stagnant, and Zed, who initially is looked upon as an amusing oaf, yet still a welcome breath of fresh air in their otherwise mundane existence, and who also has the brains to behave himself in polite society, at least for now, is soon perceived as a threat to that very existence.

It's a real curio of a piece. Filmed in Southern Ireland (in fact near John Boorman's home), the scenery is pretty, as the commentary explains, the picturesque lake and surrounding countryside featured is the same as that used in Boorman's Arthurian flick Excalibur, but as I said earlier it now seems dated and ponderously slow. The Eternals come across as aging pastel clad hippies with their drapes and wind chimes etc., certainly not as 'intellectuals and scientists', and the Brutals are clichéd savages who gallop around on horseback firing their rifles in the air like the gorillas in Planet of the Apes (made six years earlier). Apart from that the story makes little sense, and, as they're both equally detestable, you don't really care what happens to either the Brutals or the Eternals, so it's a depressing and pointless watch and at times just looks cheap.

It was interesting to note that when Boorman was made a Fellow of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts at the Orange Film Awards, Zardoz was not included in the selection of movie clips shown.

Boorman himself was the model for the floating head and at one point also appears in the film as a farmer who is shot dead by Zed. Sean Connery shooting his director is quite ironic and appropriate given the end result.

I won't spoil it by giving away the origin of the title, which is revealed near the end of the film. Needless to say it's predictable and stupid like the rest of the movie.

The ladies, and no doubt some of the gents, may like the scantily clad, hairy and Manly Scot running around the countryside, but otherwise it's strictly for curio seekers and movie masochists only. But I suppose it's worth seeing once just for the sheer silliness of it.

The Illusionist

Like the movies themselves, all smoke and mirrors...
Movies are like buses. You wait for ages and then two come along at once. Take, for example, DEEP IMPACT and Armageddon (cobbled together these two would have made a decent movie, which separately, neither of them did), or ROBIN HOOD PRINCE OF THIEVES and Bergin's ROBIN HOOD. Strangely, or perhaps magically, it's the same with movies about late 19th century magicians. In September/October 2006, within ten days of each other, we had THE ILLUSIONIST and THE PRESTIGE, both tales of rivalry, revenge and the quest to discover the secrets behind the magic.

Childhood sweethearts Eisenheim and Sophie, peasant's son and aristocrat respectively, are forbidden to meet because of the class difference between them. Eisenhiem travels the world and returns to Vienna a world renowned stage magician. Sophie by this time is betrothed to Crown Prince Leopold. Leopold is fascinated by Eisenheim's 'tricks' and orders a private performance so that he might demonstrate his cleverness to his peers by exposing Eisenheim. The magician however turns the tables during this 'demonstration', and, having been made a fool of in front of his colleagues, and especially Sophie, Leopold enlists Inspector Uhl to discover the secrets behind Eisenheim's magic and/or shut him down. Tragedy eventually and inevitably strikes and Eisenheim turns his skills toward the thwarting of Leopold's political plans and his complete downfall.

The film is beautifully shot and the period is captured superbly. There were a few slow passages but the ensemble cast work well together, particularly Sewell and Giamatti. Norton does have moments of looking spaced out rather than enigmatic, but the ending was totally satisfying and, to me at any rate, completely unanticipated, which makes a pleasant change.

A superior film in my view to THE PRESTIGE, which veered into Mary Shelley/science fiction territory, whereas the magic in THE ILLUSIONIST is simply that – illusion. Like the movies themselves, all smoke and mirrors.


Whale Rider

The film is a delight...
Based on the best-selling novel by Witi Ihimaera, this 2003 film from CLASS ACTION director Niki Caro tells the compelling story of a young New Zealand girl's struggle against ancient Maori tradition to prove that she is worthy to be the next leader of her tribe.

12-year-old Paikea is the survivor of twins born to the son of the tribal leader Koro, her brother having died at birth. Her brother would have automatically been chosen as the next tribal leader, being the first-born son according to Maori tribal lore, Pai however, being female, is denied this honour. Koro, her grandfather, decides to train the young boys of the village to see if another leader can be found. Pai tries to join these sessions but is barred because of her sex. She trains in the old tribal ways anyway, aided by her wayward Uncle. Koro's search for a new leader proves fruitless and when a school of whales gets stranded on the beach he sees this an omen prophesying the impending doom of the tribe. Pai's affinity with these creatures finally proves to Koro that she really is destined to be the next leader of his people.

The film is a delight, immersing you in the contemporary Maori world and culture, and Keisha Castle-Hughes is stunning and very moving in her portrayal of Pai. Also noteworthy is Rawiri Paratene's role as the grumpy grandfather Koro. He clearly loves Pai, shown by his daily escorting her to and from school on the cross bar of his bicycle. She too adores him and is desperate to win his approval, and the strain that her apparent rebellion against tribal traditions places on their relationship is beautifully handled.

There is no over-sentimentality in this film. The island is actually quite a bleak locale, and the troubled relationships between the characters, troubles caused by the conflict between tradition and changing times are realistically dramatised.

Highly recommended.

Batman: The Movie

"Men Die! Women Sigh! Beneath that Batcape- He's All Man!" (publicity)
It is the mid sixties and while most studios were trying to emulate the success of the Bond franchise with shows like Mission Impossible, The Man From UNCLE, and The Wild, Wild West, one studio took another direction.

Batman was one of those TV shows you either loved or hated. There was no in between. Bat-purists despised it. Most women didn't like it – it was stupid. Most men liked it because it was stupid and appealed to that side that all men have i.e.: that part that won't grow up. Kids took it all very seriously whilst the grown-ups tittered at the absurdity of it, and at the jokes that only the adults would get:

"Batman, we're trapped by some kind of invisible magnetic grip!" "Yes Robin! It's got us by the… metallic objects in our utility belts!"

I loved it. I was nine. A common line in my house at the time was "Hey dad, stop laughing. This is serious!" as Batman and Robin were trussed up inside a giant coffee cup and about to have scalding hot liquid poured over them. But the villains would always leave them unobserved and always with enough time to make an escape. But not until the next episode "Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel…"

"We wish to express our gratitude to the enemies of crime and crusaders against crime throughout the world for their inspirational example. To them and to lovers of adventure, lovers of pure escapism, lovers of unadulterated entertainment, lovers of the ridiculous and the bizarre...to fun lovers everywhere this picture is respectfully dedicated. If we have overlooked any sizable group of lovers, we apologize." (Acknowledgement shown at the beginning of the movie)

Batman The Movie took the TV formula and did it bigger and better and of course the majority of us had only ever seen our heroes on a small black and white screen, now here they were in full and garish colour, and colour the makers took full advantage of. Also now the Dynamic Duo didn't just have a Batmobile; now they had a Batboat, a Bat Cycle and a Batcopter to aid in their relentless fight against the brightly coloured costumed forces of evil. The stars of the series all reprised their respective roles, except Catwoman who in the movie is played by Lee Meriwether, the TV series' Julie Newmar being unavailable. In the audio commentary Burt Ward states this is because she was filming MacKenna's Gold, which doesn't ring true as that movie was released in 1969 and also featured Burgess (Penguin) Meredith. However, now we had four super-villains all at once:

Commissioner Gordon: Penguin, Joker, Riddler...and Catwoman, too! The sum of the angles of that rectangle is too monstrous to contemplate! Batman: We've been given the plainest warning: they're working together to take over... Chief O'Hara: To take over what, Batman, Gotham City?! Batman: Any 2 of them would try that! Commissioner Gordon: The whole country?! Batman: If it were 3 of them, I would say yes, but 4?! Their minimum objective must be... the entire world!

I won't bother going into the plot as it's superfluous. This is pure pantomime. The heroes played it dead straight and the villains of course were always over the top and filmed at weird angles because they were crooked, not on the level. The once 'Latin Lover' Cesar Romero's Joker has his moustache powdered white because he refused to shave off the feature that had made him a star. Other big stars of the day were queuing up to appear in the show. Guest villains in the series included Vincent Price, Otto Preminger, George Sanders, Eartha Kitt, Victor Buono, Maurice Evans, Liberace, Cliff Robertson, Ann Baxter and a myriad of others made cameo appearances through an open window during the weekly wall walk. Robin: When you think, Batman, with people in weird outfits, like those 4 supercrooks hanging around here, it's amazing somebody hasn't already reported this place to the police! Batman: It's a low neighbourhood, full of rumpots. They're used to curious sights, which they attribute to alcoholic delusions. Robin: Gosh, drink is sure a filthy thing, isn't it? I'd rather be dead than unable to trust my own eyes! I now laugh at the stuff my dad used to laugh at, but I still remember the thrill that nine year old felt when the Bat theme started up and Desmond Doomsday started his narration: "Meanwhile, atop the umbrella factory…"

Robin: You risked your life to save that...riffraff in the bar?! Batman: They may be drinkers, Robin, but they're also human beings, and may be salvaged. I had to do it!

The DVD release of the movie restores all the gaudy colour and the animated menus are presented in appropriate Bat-Style.

Happy memories.

Deja Vu

If you can work out the resolution, then congratulations...
Have I seen this before? Sorry, an obvious blundersome and unworthy introduction, probably brought about by my recent viewing of another of Val Kilmer's movies, TOP SECRET, where he meets a French Resistance operative named Déjà Vu who introduces himself with the line "'Ave we not met before monsieur?".

As part of their investigation, Doug Carlin, Agent Andrew Pryzwarra and Jack McCready, investigators of a post Katrina New Orleans ferry terrorist attack in which over 500 persons are killed, are viewing on screen the events of four and a half days previously. Initially, Denzel's character thinks he's watching simple enhanced satellite and CCTV footage, but then realises there's more to it than that. He then at one point flashes a penlight at a supposedly four day old image of a girl on the screen and she reacts to it. It turns out that this is a system which, through the bending of the oft-taken-advantage-of space-time continuum, enables them to actually watch, live, the events of four days previously and that the observers can also interact with the observed. So, the premise goes on, if we can watch the said events, can we influence those events? Denzel's character's motivation is the simple fact that he has already seen this girl's body in the morgue, and now he may have a chance of saving her life. And she's cute. First they send a document back, then, inevitably, they send Denzel himself back.

There's an interesting chase sequence where, with the aid of some hi-tech jiggery-pokery head-set jobby (a goggle-rig they call it), Washington chases a four day old image of the suspect's vehicle, with the current-day world in one eye, and four days previous in the other. It is admittedly imaginative.

As with all films of this type though, there is the problem of the paradox. If the motivation for changing things in the past is removed, then those events will not be interfered with and will therefore occur. It's not a spoiler, but if you have to go back in time to save someone's life and succeed, then there is no reason to go back in time, so you don't, and therefore they will die, so you have to go back in time… etc… etc. It's a no-win scenario. Also there is the problem that if, as the technos tell us in the movie, that nothing can be sent back, why have they got a chamber constructed, that will hold something the size of a man, in order to do just that? However, as I've said, it is imaginatively done and will keep you hooked from start to finish, and Washington gives a great and easy looking performance, which is a skill in itself.

And if you can work out the resolution, then congratulations.

Bubba Ho-Tep

Destined to become a cult classic...
How can you not love a movie that pits the King of Rock and Roll and an iconic President against an undead mummy? Especially when the King is played by the EVIL DEAD trilogy's Bruce Campbell and JFK by Ossie Davis? How can you not want to watch it?

The simple facts are these: Elvis didn't die in 1977. Prior to this, tired of the fame and the lifestyle, he swapped lives with an Elvis impersonator, Sebastian Haff. So now, old, cranky with a dodgy hip and a 'growth on his pecker' (which he's thinking of calling Priscilla), and unable to prove his identity, the King spends most of his days lying in bed in the Mud Creek Shady Rest Home in East Texas, where nobody believes he's Elvis, just another old fool who thinks he is. After all, in the same home there's a guy (known as Kemosabe) who wears a white Stetson and a black mask and sports two cap-firing six-guns and who keeps asking for Tonto. And also there's Jack, an 80+ year-old black guy who says he's John F. Kennedy and that he has a bag of sand in his head instead of the part of his brain he lost in Dallas.

Elvis: No offense, Jack, but President Kennedy was a white man. JFK: They dyed me this color! All over! That's how clever they are! Can you think of a better way to hide the truth than that?

When some of the residents of the Rest Home start dying prematurely Elvis and Jack begin an investigation. They find ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics inside a toilet cubicle and one night Elvis hears a strange sound and rushes, well hobbles with his walker, to Jack's room to find Jack face down on the floor. Fearing the worst he tries to rouse him. Jack slowly comes round.

Elvis: Uh, Mr. President... You're on the floor. JFK: No sh**? (Rising) He had me on the floor - had his mouth over my a**hole! Elvis: A sh**eater? JFK: I don't think so. He was after my soul. Now you can get that out of any major orifice of a person's body. I read about it. Elvis: Oh, yeah? Where, man? Hustler?

The culprit it transpires is an Egyptian mummy that went missing a while back while on museum tour of the provinces and it needs souls in order to survive. Dressed in snakeskin boots and a battered Stetson, the wandering cadaver has found easy prey at Shady Rest Home. Elvis decides on firm action.

Elvis: What do I really have left in life but this place? It ain't much of a home, but it's all I got. Well, goddamnit. I'll be damned if I let some foreign, graffiti writin', soul suckin', son of a bitch in an over-sized cowboy hat and boots take my friend's souls and sh** 'em down the visitors toilet!

Thus their bizarre adventure begins.

This is a very funny and warm film. It doesn't matter whether our heroes are, or are not, Elvis and JFK: They think they are and that's all that matters. They have a great bond of friendship in a world where the old are cast aside and thought of as worthless. Now they have a purpose and it doesn't matter whether anyone believes them or not, and, refreshingly in our youth orientated society, here we have a movie with two geriatrics as the heroes.

Shot on a shoestring budget (a little over half a million dollars) the production values belie this. Don't expect the in-your-face action of the EVIL DEAD trilogy; here the pearls are in the script, the performances and the characters. Bruce Campbell is terrific in the role and if this weren't an Indie movie it would have been worthy of an Oscar nomination. Campbell disappears into the character and, if for one moment you lose that suspension of disbelief and think of him as an actor, the person who comes into mind, if anyone, is Kurt Russell. The late, great Ossie Davis, at 86, is also wonderful in this and gives his role such dignity and gravitas that you believe he really could be JFK. He also has some great comedy lines:

JFK (Studying the hieroglyphics): Now this top line translates into, "Pharoah gobbles donkey goobers," and the bottom line, "Cleopatra does the nasty." Elvis: Say what? JFK: Well pretty much, that's the best I can translate it.

And later:

JFK: Hey, I'm thinking with sand here!

Add to all this a pulsing EL MARIACHI style guitar score from Brian Taylor (not a single piece of Elvis's music is heard in the movie – the fees would have been too great), this is a fun film with extensive extras, the best of which is the audio commentary by Campbell, in character as 'The King', and watching the film for the first time. He eats popcorn, drinks beer, answers calls from his agent and struggles to get his head round what kind of a film it's meant to be. A hoot.

Expect some strong language but this is highly recommended and destined to become a cult classic.

Elvis: Never, but NEVER, f*** with the king!

The Man Who Sued God

A clever, simple premise you wish you'd thought of yourself...
Scottish stand up comedian Billy Connolly (recently featured in The Last Samurai) plays divorced and disillusioned ex-lawyer Steve Myers, who now whiles away his time on a fishing boat in New South Wales, Australia. One afternoon his boat, which is now basically his life, is destroyed by a bolt of lightning, which also results in a chard of the hull being embedded in his foot. On crutches he approaches his insurance company who refuse to pay as the incident is deemed an 'Act of God'. Connolly's traditional Celtic brand of outrageous, yet amusing, expletives result in his being carried unceremoniously out of the building. Undeterred by this he decides to challenge the very meaning of the term 'Act of God', which by it's very nature determines that someone (in this case God) is responsible, and if someone (God) is responsible then they (or He) can therefore be sued… or at least their (or His) representatives can. The subsequent court case generates a media storm as Myers, a not unaccomplished and uncharismatic courtroom tactician, initially runs rings around his opponents. Thus begins the David and Goliath battle between the little man and the formidable powers of the Church and the massive legal and insurance firms in their employ. Myers also gathers 800 or so co-plaintiffs, all victims of the 'Act of God' clause, to support him in his case. It eventually gets to the point where it looks like the only way the church are going to win their case is to prove that God doesn't exist. It's a clever, simple premise and one you wish you'd thought of yourself.

It's no coincidence that Connolly's character is a fisherman, or even a fisher of men, and that his beef is with the corrupt insurance companies representing an apparently corrupt church. If it was suddenly discovered that Christ was Scottish, then it would have been Connolly calming the storm out on the Sea of Galilee, and Connolly who threw the moneylenders out of His Father's house, and, hirsute and ranting as he is in this movie, impressive he would have been too. Billy Connolly as Christ – now that would even give Mel Gibson a run for his money… I bet he'd be great at parting the Red Sea… oh, no, that was Moses wasn't it. Never mind, he could play that role too (nobody seems to worry about accents in movies anyway) and in fact he almost pleads to the court on behalf of his co-plaintiffs 'Let my people go', or rather 'Give my people their money you bastards', but with a smile and a twinkle in the eye that only Connolly can get away with – well, him and Sean Connery. Why haven't they been teamed up in a movie? It seems like a match made in Heaven to me.

There are many storms brewing toward the end of the film; Religious zealots surround the courthouse hurling abuse at the blasphemer Myers; Myers can't afford to lose the case; the lawyers can't afford to either, nor can the church, and there's also a mighty wind storm approaching the town bringing forest fires and floods (and no doubt frogs, plague and locusts) with it. Needless to say it's a happy ending, the lawyers and the church get their knuckles rapped, the image of God remains untarnished (of course), Myers gets the girl and the zealots go home sulking and dragging their large wooden cross with them in another Christ reference.

It's a refreshing film, as most Australian movies are. There's great attention to character and background detail. Connolly (Water, Mrs. Brown, Muppet Treasure Island, Boondock Saints, Timeline), undoubtedly a talented actor and comedian, is obviously cast for distribution purposes (Myers isn't a particularly Scottish name after all) and seems a little out of place in the Australian backdrop, but his rants are very funny. Veteran and versatile Australian actress Judy Davis (Deconstructing Harry, Celebrity, Absolute Power, The Reagans), as Myers' journalistic co-conspirator and love interest, is subject to some slapstick humour as a drunken and literally legless Myers wrecks a restaurant, and the excellent supporting cast are all the more convincing for their unfamiliarity.

Training Day

Edge of the seat entertainment...
Denzel Washington plays Detective Alonzo Harris, a hardnosed, street savvy narcotics cop given charge of rookie cop Jake (Hawke). As Jake's 'Training Day' progresses he learns that his Police Academy rules don't apply in Alonzo's world, and with increasing concern, not to mention personal jeopardy, finds that Alonzo, some of his fellow detectives and even higher officials in the LAPD, have distinct rules of their own.

Not an original premise, but here the delivery is bang on. Washington plays on his past comfortable screen personas, initially coming across as the experienced, tough, no-nonsense, but well meaning, detective. We of course, like Hawke's character Jake, a rookie eager to please, are initially taken in by this, but it is not long before doubts about Alonzo's true nature and agenda start to kick in.

There are many disturbing things about this film, not least of which is the fact that no-one has come forward to say that it ain't really like that on the streets of LA – in fact they endorsed its accuracy by giving Washington an Oscar for his portrayal.

However, Washington's performance is electric and worthy of its Academy Award. Alonzo is charismatic, persuasive, powerful, dangerous and downright scary. Ethan Hawke compliments this with a portrayal that runs the gamut from initial naivety and respect, through wary tolerance, to disbelief, terror and finally rage, in a performance necessarily powerful enough to counter Washington. The two are equally compelling to watch and provide edge of the seat entertainment in a gripping, raw and violent tale of lies, betrayal, corruption and abuse of power (sorry to use the old maxims there, but here they actually apply).

Highly recommended.

Smokin' Aces

Ah, the best-laid plans of mice and men
The premise of this movie is a good, albeit not a new, one. 'Aces' Israel, a Vegas cabaret magician, has performed one trick too many. He has decided to turn State's evidence against the mob. Mob leader Primo Sparazza puts a million dollar price tag on his head, an offer which drags a myriad of would-be assassins out of the woodwork, all bent on 'smokin' Aces' in his Lake Tahoe casino penthouse. 'Aces' is under the protection of FBI agents Messner and Carruthers, but even they are not prepared for the barrage of gunmen that come toting for 'Aces' blood and the million dollar prize. And these are not your run-of-the-mill assassins either. There are whacked out punks with chainsaws, hot babes with high velocity rifles, and imported European hit men. Sparazza also has other reasons for Aces' demise, as do others, and I will not spoil the reveal here.

As I said, a good premise punctuated with a few surprise twists, and the whole thing moves along at breakneck speed. Needless to say, with all these hit men and FBI agents around they get in each others' way and many of their carefully laid plans go awry. Sadly the same was true of the movie.

Convoluted plots don't faze me, quite the opposite; I like to give the little grey cells a workout, but this was just a mess, and a rushed one at that. There was no character development; no back-stories for anyone (except the one required for the final pay-off); the acting was makeshift with lines almost being delivered by rote between the shouting and the hectic action scenes, and at times the movie didn't seem to know whether it was an action-drama or a comedy.

Do I care what happens to 'Aces'? Do I care what happens to anyone in the movie? The answer to both is no. Sure, it's exciting, dramatically framed and shot (a little like some of the characters) and well plotted, if somewhat unbelievable, but it has no soul.

Shaun of the Dead

I really can't recommend this highly enough to both horror and Brit-com fans...
What's that? A British comedy you say? Hugh Grant is it? No? Well, at least Richard Curtis will have written it so it should be o.k. What? He's not involved either? Surely you jest! No I do not. Thank God there are some courageous people out there or this would never have been given the green light, which would have been a tragedy because it's one of the most original, refreshing and downright funny British films for years.

No-hoper Shaun (Pegg) is stuck in a rut. His life is on hold, much to the frustration of his girlfriend Liz (Ashfield). The situation is not helped by the ever-present Ed (Frost), Shaun's best friend, but who sadly is a lazy, computer game playing slob with the tendency to drag the devoted Shaun down with him. Shaun's life revolves around (apart from Ed that is) his local pub, the Winchester, but Liz wants him to motivate himself, to be more adventurous and more ambitious. She fails however and finally gives him the elbow. Shaun is gutted. He drowns his sorrows with Ed and in doing so misses out on the overnight takeover of the planet by undead zombies ('don't use the 'Z' word!'). The next morning, in his hung over state, he routinely walks down to his local shop but is totally oblivious to the carnage and the aforesaid walking dead all about him, only finally noticing when two turn up in his garden. After trying to dispatch them by throwing various kitchen appliances and long-playing records (selected – not the good stuff), Shaun finally discovers that a good whack about the head with a cricket bat does the job. After this rude awakening from their booze induced slumber, Shaun and Ed decide to rescue girlfriend Liz, Shaun's dotty mother and a stepfather he's never gotten along with and take them somewhere they know is safe and secure – the Winchester of course. Easier said than done… The origins of the title are obvious and, billed as 'A Romantic Comedy - with Zombies' or a 'Rom-Zom-Com', this is exactly what it says on the can. The Zombies are suitably Romero-ish and deadly serious; the action is as graphic as it gets with guts being ripped out and limbs ripped off (but still handy for beating zombies over the head with) and, although there's plenty of humour along the way to keep the mood light, there is genuine anxiety when these touchingly drawn dysfunctional characters are in jeopardy, which stops it short of being an EVIL DEAD 2, which was funny but plain silly.

The entire cast is excellent, particularly Pegg (who also co-wrote the script) and Frost, who virtually reprise their roles from the comedy series SPACED, which also starred Jessica Stevenson and Peter Serafinowicz who have smaller roles in this also. The rest of the cast consists of other luminaries from recent Brit-com series BLACK BOOKS and the award winning THE OFFICE, plus the terrific Penelope Wilton (CALENDAR GIRLS) and Bill Nighy (LOVE ACTUALLY, UNDERWORLD) as Shaun's mum and stepfather.

The special features are extensive, in fact more than I think I've seen on any other DVD, and include, as well as all the usual stuff, the full length spoof TV spots and news bulletins that we only see snippets of in the movie, a video diary of two extras who played a couple of zombies, four different audio commentaries and lots more.

I'm still chuckling at single lines from the movie ('I don't really think it's in me to shoot my flat-mate, my mother AND my girlfriend all on the same day…') and I really can't recommend this highly enough to both horror and Brit-com fans.

Nuovo Cinema Paradiso

classic cinema analysing its own roots...
After 30 years of success in the big world, Salvatore, now a famous film director, is summoned back to the Sicilian village of his birth to attend the funeral of an old friend and mentor. Before his departure, in a series of poignant, very funny and genuinely tragic flashbacks, he reminisces about his life in the village, his family, his initial fascination and introduction to the wonders of film in his local 'flea-pit' cinema (the 'Cinema Paradiso' of the title), early friendships and life-lessons, and last but by no means least, a lost love.

This is one of those films you hear made reference to many times and think, yeah, I must catch that one day. People who have seen it can't believe that you haven't, so you tell yourself again, yeah, I definitely must catch that one day. Unfortunately that day kept passing me by, but I now believe this was meant to be, for when I did finally catch it a week or so ago, it was a very different film than everybody had been going on about. I was invited by two ardent fans of the film to watch it with them and we opted to watch the Director's Cut, with a whopping 50 minutes plus of extra footage, which they had never seen. Normally when you see these boasts of extra footage, they tend not to make a great deal of difference to the end result (here I cite Dances With Wolves as a prime example). Not so with this little beauty. I sat watching absorbedly but also listening to the occasional gasp of 'that wasn't mentioned before', and 'they didn't tell you that in the other version' etc., etc., and apparently there's almost an entire third act reinstated which delivers several revelations about some of the main characters that adds a darker edge and considerably more depth to events depicted in the version released theatrically. My friends were unsure about this new/original version. I of course knew no other (apart from the large hints given by their commentary) and was entranced.

The most enjoyable moments to me were the scenes with the child Salvatore (real name in fact Salvatore), or Toto as he is known in the village. A little acting marvel, his face truly lights up brighter than the cinema screen with which he is enraptured, and his scenes with Philippe Noiret as projectionist Alfredo are touching and magical without being overly sentimental (Spielberg could learn a lesson here). I could also have easily believed he would grow up to be the older Salvatore (French actor Jacques Perrin) who returns to the village. The adolescent Salvatore (Marco Leonardi) however bears no resemblance to these two whatsoever and, if I have a complaint, this is it, and so my disbelief was unsuspended for a while. This notwithstanding, the film is beautifully framed, lensed, and is enhanced immeasurably by an exquisite score by the Morricones which has become a favourite soundtrack for collectors. As with many of Morricone's scores it was composed based simply on the script and before any filming took place, so that the actors could perform and react to the music and tempos being played in the background of their scenes, a la theatre. According to Tornatore 'Some of the themes that are now in the film were composed right in front of me during those first few days. His music was an inspiration to everyone', whilst Morricone himself states 'The music was born of my collaboration with Giuseppe. It reflects how I was inspired by the story of a boy, in love with a beautiful woman and coming of age in a small town in Sicily. After reading the script I attempted to write music that would aid the film in its slow transformation from comedic and ironic to heavily dramatic'. He succeeded beautifully.

The story goes that the original 1988 release received a poor reception with test audiences in Italy and producer Franco Cristaldi insisted, to director and writer Tornatore's displeasure, that cuts be made. But Tornatore, as a relative unknown, was indebted to Cristaldi and complied by coming up with a two hour version of his story, and it is this version which won the Cannes, Academy and Golden Globe accolades.

Moments to watch for (and there are many) include Leopoldo Trieste's wonderfully measured performance as Father Adelfio, a fastidious local Priest who piously previews upcoming films to be shown at the early Cinema Paradiso, and who rings a bell as an indication to projectionist Alfredo as to which scenes are to be excised from future public screenings, invariably an on-screen kiss (or anything approaching it), and the powerful and emotional film dénouement where Salvatore receives and views his bequest from Alfredo – a reel of film containing all of these censored screen kisses.

This is classic cinema analysing its own roots and its effects on its audience and I could go on and on about this rich, gorgeous and vibrant film, but I'll take a tip from my friends, who finally decided that less is more, and preferred the version they had originally seen, but with the reservation that the extra footage had thrown new light, and in one case a form of closure, on various relationships. Whichever version you choose to watch, which of course you can with this particular presentation, you are assured of viewing a great film (and I don't use that term loosely).

Romeo Must Die

A lively but by-the-numbers film...
In what is hyped as the first hip-hop Kung Fu movie, Jet Li plays Han, a disgraced Chinese police officer incarcerated in a Hong Kong prison for refusing to spill the beans on his Chinese gangster family. His family have fled to Oakland, California, where they are now engaged in a bitter gang war with Black-American mob family, the O'Days. When Li receives news that his little brother has been murdered, he breaks out of prison and heads to the States to track down his brother's killer etc., etc. Once there he steals a cab, and who should jump in the back but Trish O'Day (who'da figured?) who, like Han, despises her family's criminal activities. When Trish's brother also turns up dead, presumably in a revenge strike against the O'Days, the two team up to find out what's going on. Oh yeah, and there's some big property scam going on with some white guys about buying up waterfront properties to build, of all things, a football stadium. It's pretty much run-of-the-mill-stuff, but as usual, Jet Li's fight scenes, aided by veteran Corey Yuen's choreography, are enormously watchable.

Although not completely unfathomable, the choice of title is an odd one. Okay, we've got two rival families and the son of one family (Li) fancies the daughter of the other (Aaliyah). Fine. A Romeo and Juliet scenario, but if you expect any further Shakespearean allusions, forget it. At no point, unless I missed it, is Li's character referred to as Romeo, and I don't think there is any desire expressed anywhere in the movie that he must die, except maybe in the climactic fight. No-one is even looking for him (except presumably the Chinese Police, though strangely there is no evidence of this either. Nor is it explained how, after breaking out of a Chinese prison, he can just board a plane and fly to, and enter, the United States).

It's a lively but by-the-numbers film, with some VERY obvious wire-work (which Li doesn't need), and is notable only for marking the directorial debut of cinematographer Andrzej Bartkowiak, the cameraman behind SPEED, LETHAL WEAPON 4, and THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE, and for being Jet Li's first lead role in a US movie following his supporting appearance in LETHAL WEAPON 4. It also introduces a charming X-Ray special effect where we get to see Li's victims' bones breaking. Whoever dreamt that one up needs therapy.

Most touchingly it features the first and only movie appearance by hip-hop star Aaliyah. Undoubtedly talented and beautiful, she shows great promise and screen presence and is the only bright note in the movie. The movie showcases her musical and more than passable acting talents and she even gets involved in a fight scene with Li, who says he cannot hit a girl and uses Aaliyah's limbs to fight a female opponent. Tragically she was killed in a plane crash the following year.


A product of its time...
It is the near future. Britain struggles with the collapse of civilisation and violent bands of urban guerrillas rule. Also Earth is being harvested. Ancient sites of gathering all over the globe turn out to be the focal points of a blinding and powerful ray from outer space that leaves a pile of ash where thousands once stood. Various elements of Homo sapiens are essential to an anonymous alien race, and once again the time is, or rather we are, literally, ripe. It falls on the now retired Professor Bernard Quatermass, veteran of weird goings on long before Fox Mulder, to basically save the planet. Again.

The idea of a fourth Quatermass serial was kicked around the BBC for three years before being finally commissioned in 1971, and then later dropped by them as being too expensive. The production was picked up by Euston Films, Thames Television's TV film-making subsidiary (their most famous production at the time being the uncompromising and controversial police drama 'The Sweeney'). Euston increased the budget to £300,000 per episode with the criterion that the final product be produced in two versions: four fifty-minute episodes plus a single, shortened version for theatrical release and overseas markets in order to recoup some of their production costs. This created a writing dilemma for original creator and writer Nigel Kneale who now had to come up with two scripts for the same story. He neither wanted the theatrical release to be an edited version of the series, nor the series to be a padded out version of the film. Both had to work in their own right, and, thanks to Kneale's skill (he was an experienced screenwriter and at one time 'script doctor' for the BBC), they do. Unfortunately with the story having been written in 1972 and reflecting the political and economic concerns of that time, by the time it reached the screens in 1979, with it's new-age hippy type characters, it was already out of date (though it is still superior to the recent and dreadful '28 Days Later').

Euston also wanted a big name to play the lead, hence Sir John Mills, who is badly miscast and clearly looks as uneasy as he reportedly was with the role. Gone is the bombastic, resourceful yet flawed character played in the '50s BBC serials by Reginald Tate and brilliantly by Andre Morell, and later more famously by Andrew Keir in Hammer's 1967 'Quatermass and the Pit' (American actor Brian Donlevy had played the role in the first two Hammer Films but Kneale so hated him in the role he withheld permission to make a third Quatermass film for ten years). Here Mills plays him as a semi-senile, despairing, doddering tired old man. He is as much Quatermass as Peter Cushing was Dr. Who, but he fulfilled the need of the 'big name' at the time, being not only an already established British film dignitary and household name, but also then still familiar to TV audiences as having recently appeared in the popular 'Zoo Gang'. But it is hard to believe this is meant to be the same Quatermass we have seen in previous incarnations.

The plusses though are in the production values. At that time most British TV drama series tended to be controlled environment, studio bound affairs with the odd bit of grainy location footage (a la 'Dr. Who', 'Doomwatch' etc.) but 'Quatermass' was, strikingly for the time, shot entirely on location on 35mm Panavision, with great expense being laid out particularly on Joe Kapp's radar facility and home. It was also intended that Stonehenge would be one of the main locations. Permission to use it was however withdrawn by the British Tourist Board because it had become very popular with tourists and they didn't want anyone, or anything, even by inference (in the script several thousand people get fried simply by gathering there, so I suppose not a good selling point from their point of view), jeopardising their little earner.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy film and TV buffs will enjoy early appearances by Simon MacCorkindale, later of the short lived series 'Manimal'; Brian Croucher (the second 'Travis' in 'Blake's 7'); Declan Mullholland (the original, later CGI'd out, actor who played 'Jabba the Hutt' in 'Star Wars') as a TV Studio guard; David Yip, who would be Indie's ill-fated accomplice in the 'Club Obi-Wan' in the opening sequence of 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom'; and, talking of Indie, a major role played by Margaret Tyzack, who would later become the young Indie's long-suffering Oxford tutor in 'The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles'. Also featured in an early role is Brenda Fricker, later to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 'My Left Foot'. Executive Producer Verity Lambert was already well known to fans of this genre for her involvement with 'Dr. Who' and 'The Avengers'.

If you are a Quatermass fan, a fan of British Sci-Fi, or even a budding screenwriter wanting to pick up a few tips, then this is an essential addition to your library. The set is nicely presented and is released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of 'The Quatermass Experiment' in 1953. The package folds out to an 18" picture of (ironically) Stonehenge. The two discs containing the four episodes, simply called 'Quatermass', feature extensive production notes, animated menus, the opening and closing titles for each episode with each episode having a spectacular cliffhanger ending, making you eager to watch the next, and the hours pass swiftly. The third disc contains the theatrical version, retitled 'The Quatermass Conclusion', and a previously unseen Sci-Fi Channel interview with Nigel Kneale. Also enclosed is a booklet on the Quatermass history.

Overall it is an engrossing watch, but as Nigel Kneale himself says: "It was a product of its time."

The Last Hangman

Spall is mesmerising as Pierrepoint...
Capital punishment in Great Britain was abolished in 1964. Prior to that date there were many Home Office appointed Hangmen, none more prolific than Albert Pierrepoint, who served from 1932 to 1956, during which time he hanged an estimated 433 men and 17 women.

Following his father Henry and uncle, Thomas, into the family 'trade', Pierrepoint became the number one hangman in Britain and his career brought him into contact with many notorious criminals including "Lord Haw-Haw" ("Germany Calling"), real name William Joyce; John George Haigh, the famous "acid bath murderer"; Derek Bentley, still a controversial case and the subject of the 1991 film LET HIM HAVE IT; Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain, and again the subject of a movie, DANCE WITH A STRANGER (1985); gangster, Antonio "Babe" Mancini; Theodore Schurch, the last person to be executed for treason in Britain. Perhaps the most controversial case in Pierrepoint's career was that of Timothy Evans, whose wife and baby daughter had been found murdered at their home at 10 Rillington Place, also the home of one John Reginald Christie. Evans was executed in 1950. Christie was later charged with the murders of seven women and hanged in 1953. Evans was eventually granted a posthumous pardon in 1966. Evans was played harrowingly by John Hurt in the 1971 movie 10 RILLINGTON PLACE, with Richard Attenborough as a chilling Christie (according to John Hurt on the DVD commentary for 10 RILLINGTON PLACE, Pierrepoint himself actually offered his services, under an assumed name, as technical adviser for the hanging scene in that film as the actual method was covered by the Official Secrets Act and, ever the professional, Pierrepoint wanted it re-creating accurately, and nor would he have wished his work to be misrepresented).

Pierrepoint's body of work (if you'll forgive the expression) was greatly affected by World War II, and he worked all over Europe including Germany, Cyprus, Gibraltar and Austria. It is believed that in 1945 he hanged 190 men and 10 women war criminals at Hameln prison in the British controlled sector of Germany, including Irma Greese, Elizabeth Volkenrath, Juana Boreman and the "Beast of Belsen", Josef Kramer. During the war itself he had assisted his uncle Thomas in the execution of 16 American soldiers, condemned by Court Martial for murder and rape, at a military prison in Somerset. The movie carefully portrays Pierrepoint the man, not Pierrepoint the executioner. When he does his work he leaves Albert Pierrepoint outside. He is totally professional: he doesn't care who they are or what they've done, all that matters to him is that they are human beings who have to die and he will achieve that as quickly and humanely as possible. All that matters to him is height, weight and physical condition. He is also portrayed as compassionate. When organising the order of the hanging of the German war criminals he selects a girl, who has just accused him of doing the Jews work for them, to be hanged first. His army assigned assistant agrees as she's an 'arrogant bitch'. 'No,' says Pierrepoint, 'she's the youngest. She'll be the most frightened.' And after the deed he insists that the remains be treated with due reverence: 'They've paid the price. They're innocent now. D'y'see?' The publicity surrounding the Nazi war criminals disturbs Pierrepoint, as people applaud him in the street and buy him drinks in the newly acquired pub owned by himself and his wife. This isn't right to him. What he does, his job, is private, he does not even discuss it with his wife. All this attention isn't right. Also there is now an ever growing movement opposed to capital punishment. To some he is a national hero, to an increasing number of others he is a murderer. He starts to question his role. Timothy Spall, known as a dry, comedic actor on British TV (AUF WIEDERSEHEN, PET) and usually the slimy, slightly dopey, comic villain in movies like HARRY POTTER and LEMONY SNICKETT, is mesmerising as Pierrepoint. He portrays a quiet, gentle man, and one who regards his profession with honour and pride. He is appointed by the Government; he is the best in the land. His is not to question the law or the decisions of the lawmakers; his is to do his duty to the best of his ability. And he does. Only when his own notoriety, the hanging of his friend and the changing mood of the country toward capital punishment creep into the melting pot, does his resolve start to falter, and only when the various prison authorities start haggling over payments for his services, something he sees as an insult to his position as Chief Executioner, does he consider resigning, which of course he finally does. There are a few historical inaccuracies and inconsistencies (such as the main fact that he was not the last executioner. Capital Punishment continued for another eight years after Pierrepoint's resignation) but this is the norm for this kind of movie, and on the whole the film is as accurate as any film covering over 20 years in 90 minutes. The acting is excellent in all quarters, particularly Juliet Stevenson, though Spall leads by a length. The period is very well captured and is a close cousin to VERA DRAKE in this respect. The main thing about this movie is that it lingers with you and makes you want to think and learn more about its subject. With Pierrepoint's 'clients' having played such a large part in cinema history, it's time we had a movie about the man himself. And this is it. Recommended.

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