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Lucky Jo

Lucky Jo - He's Not Slow
Lucky Jo is directed by Michel Deville and adapted to screenplay by Nina Companeez and Michel Deville from the novel "Main pleine" written by Pierre-Vial Lesou. It stars Eddie Constantine, Pierre Brasseur, Georges Wilson, Christiane Minazzoli, Jean-Pierre Darras, Françoise Arnoul and André Cellier. Music is by Georges Delerue and cinematography by Claude Lecomte.

Lucky Jo (Constantine) and his three friends are petty criminals who try to get by from small burglaries. But they never seem to have any luck, with the source of misfortune usually accountable to Jo. While Jo is in prison once again, they decide they'd better do without him in future, but he decides to help them from afar - with less than successful results - again!

As most serious film noir lovers will tell you, the French continued making film noir movies throughout the 1960s - with outstanding rewards. What is evident here with Lucky Jo, is that a French production also managed to achieve that rare old skill of making a crime/noir/comedy that works.

To emphasise the comedy aspects is kind of under selling the pic, for it has great drama, action, tragedy and fulsome characterisations. You may find upon viewing this one that you be laughing uneasily for darkness is never too far away. The initial capers at pic's start have a splendid hapless whiff to them, but once the trajectory of Jo's bad luck starts to take shape, the narrative ups the ante for dramatic purpose with that devilish noir trait of coincidence biting hard.

Sure enough, our main protagonist ends up in all sorts of trouble, hunted for ghastly crimes purely because noir has dealt its crafty hand. Cue great punch ups, cool moments as Jo (Constantine is great) goes about trying to prove his innocence, even gathering a smart and loyal canine partner (hello "High Sierra") in the process. Hell, he even has time to rescue a bar dwelling dame (Anouk Ferjac) from drunken male suitors.

There's a clinical turn of events that belies the comedic strands that drift in and out, and it's here where the Jo character comes alive. All of which leads to a finale that doesn't disappoint. Hugely enjoyable pic for like minded genre/style fans, that is on proviso it is ultimately an odd blend of genres that will not appeal to the casual film fan. 7/10

Dial M for Murder

No, I'm afraid my murders would be something like my bridge: I'd make some stupid mistake and never realize it until I found everybody was looking at me.
Middle tier Hitchcock it may be, by his own admission, but it's still one of the finest mystery thrillers around. Ray Milland plays Tony Wendice, a former tennis player married to Grace Kelly's Margot, who is the source of his wealth. Fearing his lifestyle is about to come to an end due to her dalliances with American mystery writer, Mark Halliday (Robert Cummins), Tony hatches a plan to have her murdered by an old acquaintance whom he has over a barrel with blackmail. However, the plan backfires and a whole new strategy is needed to save Tony from suspicion.

Based on the popular and successful play by Frederick Knott (who adapts for the screenplay here), Dial M For Murder was a film Hitchcock had little time for. In fact, having already started work on Rear Window, Hitch treated Dial M For Murder as a jobbing assignment. His mood was further darkened by Jack Warner's insistence that the film be shot in 3D, with all the camera restraints that such a production brings. Perhaps unsurprisingly though, the restraints and general mood of the director brought about very pleasing results. Choosing to go for a claustrophobic single set shoot, Hitchcock resisted the urge to launch things around for 3D effects, instead he used the process to highlight props and angles of the Wendice home. His use of colours here first rate, particularly around his new found favourite actress, Grace Kelly.

Having never seen the 3D version (who has I wonder?) I can't say what impact, if any, the gimmick had. But regardless of Hitch's grumblings and general disdain towards the film, he rose to the challenge by challenging himself and actually produced a fine and technically sound picture. Ray Milland is icy cold yet debonair, while John Williams as Chief Inspector Hubbard strides in and walks off with the film. Kelly is adequate enough, it's her least effective turn for Hitch, so early in her career, she was a bit free with her physical love on the set (source "A Life in Darkness and Light"), but this highly appealed to (and amused) Hitch and he of course would use her for better rewards post this production. Sadly Cummings is awfully bland and threatens to lose the film momentum when things start to spice up in the last quarter.

Hugely entertaining picture though, one that is ripe with characterisations and of much interest to Hitchcock purists in how he works around the 3D format for his own filmic senses, Dial M For Murder holds up well today as a disquieting mystery thriller. 8/10

The Hard Way

Will you open up? I just want to know what it feels like to be inside your skin.
The Hard Way is directed by John Badham and collectively written by Lem Dobbs, Michael Kozoll and Daniel Pyne. It stars James Woods, Michael J. Fox, Stephen Lang, Annabella Sciorra, Luis Guzman, LL Cool J and Delroy Lindo. Music is by Arthur B. Rubinstein and cinematography is by Don McAlpine and Robert Primes.

An action movie star researching a role is allowed to tag along with a hardboiled New York City policeman, who is less than enamoured with his company as he looks to stop the serial killer known as "The Party Crasher".

Given John Badham's CV, The Hard Way looked to be right up his street, his career containing solid if unspectacular buddy buddy action comedy pictures. This is just above average thanks to the Woods and Fox pairing and some nifty dialogue one liners. The concept of a Hollywood star tagging along with a grizzled real copper is smart, but the pic ends up over stuffed, even if the action and comedy - courtesy of some high energy set-pieces - rewards enough to stop tedium setting in.

Lang's maniacal villain is over the top, though he seems to be enjoying himself, while such is the brisk pace for the most part, when it sags into its quieter periods it strains the patience - the blend uneasy. Yet the finale rewards on basic action terms, with suspense intact, to ultimately give us a just above average pic of its type. 6/10

Personal Shopper

Well, how's within that, that the soul, continues to exist, after death?
Personal Shopper is written and directed by Olivier Assayas. It stars Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz, Anders Danielsen Lie, Ty Olwin and Hammou Graïa. Cinematography is by Yorick Le Saux.

A personal shopper in Paris refuses to leave the city until she makes contact with her twin brother who previously died there. Her life becomes more complicated when a mysterious person starts to contact her via text messages.

Personal Shopper is a film that's impossible to recommend with any confidence, even if I personally liked it well enough. It was booed on first showing at Cannes, yet upon the second main screen viewing of it, it got a five minute standing ovation. If you look at the reviews on sites such as IMDb you will see plenty of 1/10 reviews mixed with high scoring ones, evidence of the divisive nature of Assayas' picture. A lot of people went into it expecting a "Paranormal Activity" type of film, but it's far from that.

It's a meditation on grief and the complexities of the mind and the human condition under duress. Stewart gives her all for the director, a real bravura performance. Yes, the ending is either going to make or break your faith in what you have just witnessed, but if you buy into, and think about the narrative's trajectory, this has haunting and ethereal rewards. 7/10


Oh my god, you've made the tower of Twinkie! Is that in a stalker's handbook somewhere?
As the all mighty great and powerful Hollywood continued to mine "Hitchcock's" works for inspiration, they landed upon the idea of re-imaging "Rear Window" for a modern audience. Directed by D.J. Caruso, Disturbia actually turns out to be a solid suspense thriller. The first half of the pic is all jocular with hormonal character introductions that come with giggly slices of humour, and then there's the big shift to the thriller that most viewers were expecting, as the makers manage to pull it off with a great final act that is edge of the seat viewing.

There's nothing new on offer here, the formula has been (and will for ever more be) done a zillion times, but the two fold splicing of genres works well and the makers aren't trying to fool anyone with their approach work. Cast are fine, Shia LaBeouf's follows on from his enjoyable turn in "Transformers" with this pleasing on the eye show, he shows signs of some good acting chops around some rougher edges. Sarah Roemer is solid enough, and nails down that teen love interest characterisation, whilst Carrie-Anne Moss puts a bit of meat onto the adult bones of the Mother character.

Unfortunately, in what is one of the key roles, David Morse is underused, he does OK with what he has to work with, and convinces in a two layer role, but one feels his talent doesn't quite come to the fore here. Still, it's a minor complaint, for this is a solid genre entry with both halves of the film never less than entertaining - even if you might find yourself yearning for some "Hitchcock" genius afterwards. 7/10

Looking for Mr. Goodbar

We're all hurt someplace and we're all looking for a painkiller.
Looking for Mr. Goodbar is directed by Richard Brooks and Brooks adapts the screenplay from the Judith Rossner novel of the same name. It stars Diane Keaton, Tuesday Weld, William Atherton, Richard Kiley, Richard Gere, Alan Feinstein and Tom Berenger. Music is by Artie Kane and cinematography by William A. Fraker.

Theresa Dunn (Keaton) is a dedicated schoolteacher to deaf children by day, but at night she cruises bars looking for abusive men with whom she can engage in progressively violent sexual encounters.

First off it should be noted that the Judith Rosner novel is based on the real life case of the 1973 murder of New York City schoolteacher Roseann Quinn. Also of note is that Rossner was not enamoured with this filmic adaptation.

What we have here is a tragic tale set in the promiscuous pre AIDS era of 1970s America. It's a bleak observation of the swinging singles scene of the era, providing caution of patriarch pressures, religious suffocation and the dangers of casual encounters for sexual gratification. Is it any wonder the big hitting critics of the time were nonplussed by it?...

The pic generated a lot of buzz for handsome new actor, Richard Gere, even if he does overact, it actually works in context to the brashness of the period. It also introduced Tom Berenger, in what is a frightening portrayal of a very sexually confused man. Tuesday Weld got a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for playing Theresa's sister, which was richly deserved, so much so one wishes she was in the film more.

Yet it's Keaton who absolutely shines here, lifting an overlong picture to greater heights. Proving she had more in her armoury than merely playing kooks, Keaton imbues Theresa with a desperation and loneliness that is shattering for viewing purpose. The whole narrative bites with a crushing inevitability, that the nihilistic back drop can only bring pain and misery, and so it proves.

Richard Brooks should have sliced at lest thirty minutes from the run time, especially given that the "Theresa fantasy sequences" just come off as pointless and take one out of the heartbeat of the story. Yet this is still a fine movie, not one to be cheered up by of course, but poignant, relative and with the real life story at the core, important. 7/10

G.I. Jane

Listen, you moron! I am here to stay and if you don't wanna be in my life, you've got two choices. Move out or Ring out! That's it! End of File!
G.I. Jane is directed by Ridley Scott and written by David Twohy and Danielle Alexandra. It stars Demi Moore, Vigo Mortensen, Anne Bancroft, Jason Beghe, John Michael Higgins and Kevin Gage. Music is by Trevor Jones and cinematography by Hugh Johnson.

A female Senator succeeds in enrolling a woman into Combined Reconnaissance Team training (Navy Seals) where everyone expects her to fail.

Having made a telling feminist mark with his excellent Thelma and Louise in 1991, Ridley Scott picks up the lady baton once again only to drop it half way through. This is a film of confused messages, what starts out as a worthwhile story involving a woman trying to overcome extreme prejudices in one of America's elite fighting forces, ends up as a gung-ho hoorah movie with Jane having "manned" up.

Things aren't helped by the sheer ridiculousness of the treatment meted out to Jane by her superior in training, Master Chief John James Urgayle (Mortensen suitably vile), so much so you would like to think if that sort of stuff goes on then arrests should be made. Daftness also comes by way of the superior officers prancing around training camp in the world's tightest shorts, one would think they must be on their way to "The Blue Oyster Bar"...

Things are further compounded by the fact that as committed as Moore is in the title role, and she is and gives it her all, one can't buy into the characterisation because you simply are watching Demi Moore the actress. Shaved head and beefed up she may be, but this is still one of the highest paid actresses of her era, the characterisation thin on the ground with no depth. The political machinations at work barely get time to breath in fact the key mid-point tonal political shift is given short shrift.

Stylisation as one would expect from Scott, is super, as is his control of top draw action sequences. But the cock-eyed view of a woman in a man's world is hard to swallow, and although it mostly entertains, it's ultimately a shallow exercise. 5/10


Super Thriller.
Breakdown is directed by Jonathan Mostow and Mostow co-writes the screenplay with Sam Montgomery. It stars Kurt Russell, J.T. Walsh, M.C. Gainey, Kathleen Quinlan, Rex Linn, Jack Noseworthy and Ritch Brinkley. Music is by Basil Poledouris and cinematography by Douglas Milsome.

When his SUV breaks down on a remote Southwestern road, Jeff Taylor (Russell) lets his wife, Amy (Quinlan), hitch a ride with a trucker to get help. When she doesn't return, Jeff fixes his SUV and tracks down the trucker -- who tells the police he's never seen Amy...

Sometimes all you need is an unflashy thriller that soars because it keeps it simple. Mostow's thriller is a nail biter, preposterous at times for sure, but with Jeff (Russell superb) frantically trying to find what has happened to his wife - out in the desert landscape of America - we get a guy we can totally root for. As the cards get dealt we come to be aware of scumbag predators in his midst, the suspense gets ramped up and we are never quite sure how it's all going to pan out.

This has no ideas above its station, and as the heat gets turned up bit by bit, come the thrilling finale you may find it's time to breath easy again... 8/10

The Oblong Box

Curse of the Crimson Hood.
The Oblong Box is directed by Gordon Hessler and adapted to screenplay by Lawrence Huntington and Christopher Wicking from the short story written by Edgar Allan Poe. It stars Vincent price, Christopher Lee, Rupert Davies, Alister Williamson, Uta Levka, Sally Geeson and Peter Arne. Music is by Harry Robertson and cinematography is by John Coquillon.

Aristocrat Julian Markham (Price) keeps his disfigured brother, Sir Edward (Williamson), locked in a tower of his house. Occasionaly Sir Edward escapes and causes havoc around the town.

Edgar Allan Poe's work had already been mined for consistent rewards, normally with Price in the lead role, unfortunately this one became a step too far (it's loosely adapted). It was blighted with the original director, Michael Reeves (Witchfinder General), committing suicide during production. In came Hessler, whose subsequent directing CV smacks of a lack of quality, and here it's a flat production straining to gain any horror momentum.

Thematically there's interest, with witch doctors, drugs that simulate death, double-crosses and a crimson hooded murderer on the loose. There's also the whiff of British Colonialism pulsing away in the mix. Sadly the "unmasking" of the killer is a damp squib of poor make up, the twin horror greats of Price and Lee don't share screen time together, and the finale drifts aimlessly into a nothing worthwhile twist. Not a dead loss as such, but really it's bottom tier of the Poe horror adaptations. 5/10

The Gun Runners

A man can't turn bad if it ain't in him to be bad. And it ain't in you, Sam.
The Gun Runners is directed by Don Siegel and adapted to screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring and Paul Monash from the Ernest Hemmingway novel, "To Have and Have Not". It stars Audie Murphy, Eddie Albert, Patricia Owens, Everett Sloane, Richard Jaeckel, Paul Birch and Jack Elam. Music is by Leith Stevens and cinematography by Hal Mohr.

It's The Cuban Revolution and boat owner Sam Martin (Murphy) finds himself unwittingly mixed up in gun running...

The Hemmingway novel had already been adapted with considerable success twice previously (To Have and Have Not (1944)/The Breaking Point (1950)), so why another variant on the source was commissioned is a bit of a mystery. As it happens, it's no dead loss without pulling up any trees.

Thematic heart comes by way of Sam Martin's moral compass, which is jarred when he learns he is quite simply in over his head. With an adoring wife at home (Owens) and his alcoholic best friend in tow (Sloane as usual good value), the human interest factor is above average. Albert gives quality villainy, with henchmen by his side, and the pic stands out for the moments of violence that take one by surprise.

There's some poor back projection work, but this is offset by some lovely location photography, with Mohr (Phantom of the Opera/The Lost Moment) also bringing some nifty monochrome shadings to key character interactions. Yet ultimately the plus point is with Murphy, who really pushes himself for Siegel, his performance deserved a better film, but as it is he lifts it above average and makes it a must see for his fans. 6/10

Reap the Wild Wind

Ripping Yarns!
Reap the Wild Wind is directed by Cecil B. DeMille and is adapted collectively to screenplay by Alan Le May, Charles Bennett and Jesse Lasky Jr. from a Saturday Evening Post story written by Thelma Strabel. It stars John Wayne, Ray Milland, Paulette Goddard, Raymond Massey, Robert Preston, Susan Hayward and Lynne Overman. Music is by Victor Young and cinematography is shared between Victor Milner and William V. Skall.

The Florida Keys in the 1840s, hurricanes are rife and the salvagers of Key West rush to the frail schooners to claim salvage rights...

Whilst not up with the best of DeMille's epics, this is however a joyous romp of a high seas adventure. A top notch cast line up for some period flavours that is unfurled in glorious over saturated Technicolor. We have a rocky love triangle, dastardly villains with dishonesty poring from every bead of sweat, sword play, fisticuffs, fogs and a giant squid! and it even has time to be a court room drama as well. In short it is a ripping sea faring yarn.

The budget was considerable and DeMille ensures it was lavishly spent, and thus the pic was a box office winner and an Academy Award Winner for special effects. It's a touch too long, and gets a little bogged down in the mid-section, but entering the home straight it pulls itself back up and ends briskly, with Duke Wayne splendidly rounding off an interesting characterisation. 7/10

Final Analysis

Pathological Intoxication and the Freudian Flower Arranging Theory.
Final Analysis is directed by Phil Joanou and written by Robert Berger and Wesley Strick. It stars Richard Gere, Kim Basinger, Uma Thurman, Eric Roberts, Keith David, Paul Guilfoyle and Robert Harper. Music is by George Fenton and cinematography by Jordan Cronenweth.

A psychiatrist becomes romantically involved with the sister of one of his patients...

There comes a time in every film fan's life - those who commit to writing reviews, starting blogs etc - where you happen upon a film that you find oneself very much going against the general consensus grain, Final Analysis is one such film for myself. Not that it's a great under appreciated gem or anything like that, but revisiting some 25 plus years later I have found it to be far better than I found it back in the day.

Alfred Hitchcock is my absolute number one favourite director of all time, but I'm never closed off as many often are to any sort of homage or thematically charged movie in lieu of the great man. In fact I'm encouraged that he still influences modern day directors this way. It also helps me that for fifteen years I have buried myself in all things film noir, which has given me opportunities to pick out fine noirish traits in otherwise reviled films of the neo-noir type. Case for the defence closed then!.

Final Analysis is very Hitchcockian but lite, so much so it plays as "Vertigo's" illegitimate offspring. In fact it's even De Palma lite, who was one of the best exponents of Hitch type suspensers. It's a little clumsy at times and trips itself up, with director Joanou failing to build on the promise of his neo-noir of 1990 - the blistering "State of Grace". While stretching it out to a two hour run time by throwing twist after twist at it - when the writing isn't good enough to veer away from Hitchcock conventions, is a bad move.

However, the core basis of a film noir world painted here is quite vivid, with two femme fatales, Freudian splinters and many trawls down a murky dark lane of mystery. The look is terrific (various Calif locations), this does after all feature the work of the cinematographer who photographed "Blade Runner". There a numerous gorgeous shots, light filtered through slats, up tilts into spiral golds, sublime primaries, while the court room sequences are magnificently akin to something that "Roger Deakins" would achieve further down the line.

Cast performance wise it's not something to shout from the rooftops about, but nothing that hurts the pic. I'm a big fan of Gere, but here he's on auto-pilot, which is where Joanou should have earnt his corn. Basinger sexes it up and does good enough crafty, but it's a turn that doesn't come alive till late in the day, likewise Thurman in the sister role. David isn't in it enough and just seems to serve as a point of reference at various junctures, but faring much better are Roberts (super smarm charm with deadly heartbeats), and Guilfoyle as the lawyer balancing court determination with private yearnings.

I couldn't recommend with utter confidence, but I would suggest that neo-noir/Hitchcock fans may find a revisit more beneficial when picking through the bones of it. 7/10

West Side Story

Why do you kids live like there's a war on?
West Side Story is directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise. It stars Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, Simon Oakland and Ned Glass. Music is by Leonard Bernstein (lyrics by Stephen Sondheim) and cinematography by Daniel L. Fapp.

In the less affluent areas of the upper West Side of Manhattan, New York, a gang of Polish-American teenagers called "The Jets" are in conflict with a rival gang of immigrated Puerto Ricans called "The Sharks". They each thirst to own the neighborhood streets, but with tensions reaching peak point, two kids, one from each rival gang, fall in love...

A Multi Oscar winner, West Side Story is a musical update of Romeo & Juliet. Set in the 50s in a steamy gangland New York, pic unfurls in a blaze of booming colour and scintillating choreography (Robbins). It has very much become a film that musical lovers can rejoice in, for even though it has problems, when it soars it soars far and away.

Problems come with the crossed gang lovers played by Wood and Beymer, the actors dubbing is poor, their dialogue delivery also itchy. It doesn't help that the film's quality noticeably dips when this fall in love axis of the story (as key as it is) shows up - stretching the run time to a nearly unbearable and unjustified length.

Yet it remains a joyous experience even today, you can forgive it for its ills when you get songs like "America" (Moreno the best thing in the film by far) that transport you up there on the screen. Or that the choreography is like a ballet version of circus acrobatics in full effect. In short, if you have any kink for musicals in filmic form, this is a must see. 8/10

The Usual Suspects

Keaton always said, "I don't believe in God, but I'm afraid of him." Well I believe in God, and the only thing that scares me is Keyser Soze.
The Usual Suspects is directed by Bryan Singer and written by Christopher McQuarrie. It stars Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Spacey, Kevin Pollack, Stephen Baldwin, Benicio Del Toro, Chazz Palminteri, Pete Postlethwaite, Giancarlo Esposito and Dan Hedaya. Music is by John Ottman and cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel.

Held in an L.A. interrogation room, Verbal Kint (Spacey) attempts to convince the feds that a mythic crime lord, Keyser Soze, not only exists, but was also responsible for drawing him and his four partners into a multi-million dollar heist that ended with an explosion in San Pedro harbor - leaving few survivors.

It sort of sidled into movie theatres in 1995 with no fanfare or heralded notices. Yet it wasn't long before word of mouth got around that The Usual Suspects might actually be the must see film of the year. Fledgeling director and writer - Singer and McQuarrie - produce a masterclass of crime/mystery/noir plotting in a whirl of intricate plot shifts and deft sleights of hand.

The core essence of the story is simple, just who is Keyser Soze? His reputation is one of utter fear, he may even be the devil himself. What transpires throughout the film is a number of scenes told in flashback form and narrated by Kint as the cops put the heat on him.

We are introduced to the five criminals who make up the suspects of the title, where dialogue pings with machismo laced humour. The addition of Postlethwaite's Kobayashi character, one of Soze's harbinger's of doom, further ups the ante of the story's deliciously corkscrew intrigue.

It all builds to a climax that - has you pondering just what you have watched previously. Yet here's the key as to why the pic still holds up on repeat viewings, we have been outsmarted, for as we dive in and enjoy the across the board great perfs, we have been privy to something that will stand the test of time for the genre it sits in. The repeat viewings factor still, some decades later, is as strong as ever.

The advent of time and home format releases etc have only improved the pic's own mythical status. Behind the scenes egos and dislikes on set only add further strength to the characterisations, as does one main man thinking he himself must be Soze when in fact he was way off. There's a trail of clues in the film that will reveal who Soze is - who knew!? - and on it goes. The Usual Suspects is the filmic gift that keeps on giving. 10/10

The Butterfly Effect

You can't change who people are without destroying who they were.
The Butterfly Effect - Directors Cut

The Butterfly Effect is directed by Eric Bress and Bress co-writes the screenplay with J. Mackye Gruber. It stars Ashton Kutcher, Melora Walters, Amy Smart, Elden Henson, William Lee Scott, Eric Stoltz and Ethan Suplee. Music is by Michael Suby and cinematography by Matthew F. Leonetti.

The title refers to the butterfly effect, the chaos theory of a popular hypothetical situation that illustrates how small initial differences may lead to large unforeseen consequences over time. The plot pitches Kutcher as Evan Treborn who suffers blackouts during during critical mments in his life. When older he finds that through reading the journals he has written since a child, that he can go back in time to the significant events and change what happens. Unfortunately each time he does it comes at a great cost...

It was mercilessly kicked by the pro critics upon release, not helped by coming at a time when Kucher was something of a kicking post to critics. To compound the misery for the makers, they released a theatrical cut that featured a quite apalling ending. Inspite of these trevails at the time of release, the pic made a pot load of cash at the box office. Once the Directors Cut surfaced, with a key scene added to cement the different - quality - ending, time has seen the stock of the pic rise considerably. So much so that it currently sits at a 7.6 rating on IMDb and a 75% rating on TMDB, wile there are some critics who have come out and admitted they were too quick to judge the first release back in 2004.

What we have is a time travelling corkscrew narrative that is immensely sombre in telling how ones actions can have far-reaching consequences. It's a compelling and often thrilling picture, one that can spark hearty debate about the thematics at work - notably we the audience being forced to contemplate our own actions in life. The pic demands the utmost attention, switching off for a few minutes is a definite no no. Some scenes linger long in the memory as we trawl through the evil that kids and men do, right up to the unforgettable finale.

There's plot and logic holes, that are small irritants, and even though this definitely could have been better cast with more senior actors, none of the youthful cast members hurt the picture. It packs a punch, that is on proviso you only see the directors cut. 7.5/10

The Departed

The only one that can do what I do is me. Lot of people had to die for me to be me. You wanna be me?
The Departed is directed by Martin Scorsese and written by William Monahan, Alan Mak and Felix Chong. It stars Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, Anthony Anderson, Mark Rolston and Alec Baldwin. Music is by Howard Shore and cinematography by Michael Ballhaus.

An Irish gang in South Boston becomes aware there is a rat in their midst, whilst the police force has a mole to contend with - with each one trying to out each other before the other does...

Martin Scorsese remakes Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs (2002) for the English speaking world, and promptly bagged his first Best Director Oscar in the process. It's a thrilling picture packed with suspense and edginess, a psychological gangster picture driven by two men leading double lives that is leading them to the abyss. When the violence comes it erupts in thunderous strokes, all while the narrative pulses with paranoia. There are some irksome contrivances, but with a uniformly strong set of turns from the cast, great musical accompaniments, and a director returning to gangster form, The Departed is a sure fire winner. 8.5/10

No Country for Old Men

I always figured when I got older, God would sorta come inta my life somehow. And he didn't. I don't blame him. If I was him I would have the same opinion of me that he does.
No Country for Old Men is directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, and the Coen's adapt the screenplay from Cormac McCarthy's novel of the same name. It stars Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harelson, Javier Bardem and Kelly Macdonald. Music is by Carter Burwell and cinematography by Roger Deakins.

When a hunter stumbles upon the bloody aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong, he decides to make off with cash left at the scene, that violence and life threat will follow from here on in...

Not quite the genius masterpiece some would have you believe, this is however and decidedly dark, sombre, gothic type thriller with noir shadings. The ultimate message slowly pulsing away is one of how making a fateful decision can shape the course of many people's lives, with fate ready at various junctures to trip you up.

The Coen's and McCarthy are not in it to offer hope for a better world, this really is a life stinks and is evil narrative, none more so than portrayed by Bardem's chilling psycopath. The unpredictable nature of the story keeps things on the high heat, even as Deakins brings beauty via his colour photography, his teaming with the Coen's brings visual smarts.

The screenplay is tightly formed, giving the actors something great to work with, and as they respond in kind, while we the audience are drawn in close to the slow burning madness. It definitely finds the brothers Coen returning to their best, as they take McCarthy's melancholic machismo and drip their self aware irony over proceedings.

The finale lacks a punch, and in fact it's a little boorish, while this narrative has been done well before in film noirs of the original wave - so it's not as fresh and exciting to us more mature film lovers. Yet it's still a great piece of film making, the like we could do with more regularly. 9/10

The Dark Tower

The Mesmerising Menace.
The Dark Tower is directed by John Harlow and is adapted to screenplay by Brock Williams from the play George S. Kaufman and Alexander Woollcott. It stars Ben Lyon, Anne Crawford, David Farrar, Herbert Lom and William Hartnell. Music is by Jack Beaver and cinematography by Otto Heller.

A failing circus employs a mysterious hypnotist to boost the coffers, which with his skills working superbly makes the show a huge success. However, as Torg (Lom) begins to realise his worth to the show, and starts to make designs on the leading lady of the high-wire act, things quickly turn nasty...

The play of the same name had already been adapted to the big screen in 1934, where titled as "The Man with Two Faces" it was directed by Archie Mayo and starred Edward G. Robinson. Here this version differs, but on core principals the story remains thematically the same.

It's not a particularly strong plot, with it being a variation on the Svengali story, it never really breaks free of safe narrative projection. Yet it's well constructed by Harlow and in fourth billed Lom (the acting highlight by some distance) the pic has a character to really boo and hiss at.

Comic relief comes in the form of Frederick Burtwell and Elsie Wagstaff as a married couple dominated by the wife, while all the various circus acts we see, notably Crawford's high-wire hypnotised balancing act (well shot for breath holding rewards), are hugely enjoyable - even if some come off as padded filler.

Having the talents of Heller on photography duties is a plus point, he knows how to light a scene for atmospheric gain, though he would be seen at his noirish best in "Queen of Spades (1949)". While of note is that ace Hammer Horror director Terence Fisher is on editing duty here, though he certainly was a better director than an editor...

It's no must see unless you be a fan of the stars, mainly Lom in this instance, but in spite of a daft revelation at pic's end, this is above average and holds its own as a competent circus based thriller. 6/10

The Running Man

You love it, don't you? I mean, you love taking risks and teasing him because you think he's trying to catch you.
The Running Man is directed by Carol Reed and is adapted to screenplay by John Mortimer from the novel "The Ballad of the Running Man" written by Shelley Smith. It stars Lee Remick, Laurence Harvey and Alan Bates. Music is by William Alwyn and cinematography by Robert Krasker.

Miffed about missing out on an insurance pay out due to a financial technicality, Rex (Harvey) decides to get his own back. He takes out a massive policy and fakes his own death, which subsequently sees his gal Stella (Remick) get the pay out and they run off to sunny climes to live it up. However, when insurance investigator Stephen (Bates) turns up, the deceit and personality shifts begin to hang heavy on the situation.

You see the names Reed and Krasker as a pairing and it instantly conjures up images of truly great film noir in magical monochrome. So watching The Running Man in booming colour makes it something of a first time viewing curio. It looks terrific, no problems on that score, the Andalucía locations sparkle and Remick is positively ravishing. Narrative is pretty much a straight three hander, where Rex and Stella try to keep Stephen from finding out the truth of their swizzle, but as Rex becomes more agitated and gruff, Stella begins to wane as Stephen likewise appears to be attracted to her.

Sadly, with the pic in booming colour, there's a lack of peril like menace in the atmosphere, it's all too pretty. As a story this would have had a greater impact in moody monochrome. This is never more felt with the midsection of the piece, where the cat and mousery of the deception becomes a bit too meandering, it lacks an edge. Yet the final quarter saves the pic, as things pick up a couple of gears and truths start to will out, we get taken on a thrilling ride that rewards those who stayed the course.

It's lower tier Reed and Krasker, and even though it's Hitchcock like in plotting, it doesn't have the wherewithal to reach great suspenseful heights. However, it's a good film, with interesting characterisations, beautiful locales and a finale that has dramatic worth - nifty opening title credits as well! 7/10


Talk about a TV show fraud!
I would urge everyone who thinks they have just witnessed a representation of the case to do the following - watch the actual episode of "Millionaire" - read the transcript of the trial - and latterly read Chris Tarrant's response to this show and how it has missed so much out and loaded it to slant the Ingram's as being innocent.

I knew what was coming in the week before part one aired, director and lead actor's were at pains to say they have made a show with balance, then in the next breath telling us they think they may be innocent. While naturally spending time with the real Ingram's proved a rewarding experience for one of the actors. Give me a break please!

Half of Ingram's full stint in the "Millionaire" chair isn't even shown, and the same goes for the prosecution case in court, a prosecution that produced an overwhelming guilty verdict from the jury who in real life were given facts not shown in the show. Balance is fine, I myself try and review with balance, but nobody should be producing TV shows when missing out key instances to suit "artistic licence" for viewing figures.

Tech wise it's fine, nothing wrong with the main cast performances. Michael Sheen once again morphs splendidly into a well known character (Tarrant), Matthew Macfadyen and Sian Clifford as the Ingram's give emotional depth to hook views into the web, Mark Bonnar good value as the show's overlord Paul Smith, and Helen McCrory as the Ingram's lawyer is clearly the best thing in it.

Then there is Stephen Frears in the directing chair, where unsurprisingly he has a handle on tense scene staging and getting his actors to provide depth as written. Yet it's still hard to believe that a talent such as he would be privy to a lopsided factual story telling, because well you have to have the element of doubt, right? Right?

The Ingram's were not murderers, armed robbers or the lowest of the criminal low, so they didn't deserve the treatment meted out to them by some scumbag members of the public post the news of the fraud breaking. But, and it's important, we need our TV/Film producers offering up full disclosure when dealing with real life crimes and the legal shenanigans that follow. 1/10

Mad Max: Fury Road

George Miller brings us the fourth Mad Max film - Ultimate Carmageddon!
An apocalyptic story set in the furthest reaches of our planet, in a stark desert landscape where humanity is broken, and most everyone is crazed fighting for the necessities of life. Within this world exist two rebels on the run who just might be able to restore order.

George Miller directs and co-writes the screenplay with Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris. It stars Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoë Kravitz, Josh Helman and Nathan Jones. Music is by Tom Holkenborg and cinematography by John Seale.

Well it was a long time in the making, but finally a fourth Mad Max movie was made and it proves to be worth the wait. Undeniably light on plot, this essentially is a two hour chase movie played out to an apocalyptic backdrop of green skies, scorched orange and red vistas and the sort of storms that usually only come in nightmares.

Hundreds of crazily designed vehicles do untold damage to each other and to the barely human contingent - both goodies and baddies, the weaponary on show is vast and brutal, while the stunt work is breath taking. There's some narative stabs at redemptive force between Furiosa (Theron excellent) and Max (Hardy rightly restrained), but really this about high octane action and it's absolutely thrilling as Miller's camera work rarely sits still and brings all the carnage vividly to life.

A petrol head's love poem in live action form and an action junkie's wet dream, Mad Max is back, and this time there's also a glorious female side-kick of considerable tough substance. 9/10

The Pledge

There can't be such devils out there.
The Pledge is directed by Sean Penn and adapted to screenplay by Jerzy Kromolowski and Mary Olson-Kromolowski from Friedrich Dürrenmatt's novel, "The Promise". It stars Jack Nicholson, Robin Wright Penn, Aaron Eckhart, Sam Shepard, Patricia Clarkson, Helen Mirren, Tom Noonan, Benicio Del Toro, Mickey Rourke, Dale Dickey, Vanessa Redgrave and Harry Dean Stanton. Music is by Klaus Badelt and Hans Zimmer, and cinematography by Chris Menges.

Police chief Jerry Black (Nicholson) is literally on his last day before retitement. But during his leaving party news filters through that a young girl has been brutally murdered. Talking his chiefs into letting him tag along to the crime scene, Black ends up breaking the dredful news to the girl's parents. There he pledges to the mother that he will find her daughter's killer.

Dürrenmatt's source material has been mined a few times for other filmic ventures, where the best of the other bunch is "Es geschah am hellichten Tag" ("It Happened in Broad Daylight"). It is here, though, in Sean Penn's hands, that we get the version that got two thumbs up from the author, mostly because of the ending staying true to his work.

It should be noted from the off that this is not police procedural detective piece. This is a slow burn, moody and edgy picture, the kind that Penn excells at as an actor. Thankfully, in spite of it losing money at the box office, it shows Penn the perfect director for such material.

It obviously isn't a film for everyone, more so if not prepared for it being a picture about one man's tumbling emotional descent. As Jerry Black searches for the perpretrator of heinious crimes, he also is faced with a moral judgement call and a major affair of the heart.

The trick of the screnplay here is not in the red herrings and the little dangles of clues that appear to be on offer to Jerry, it's that we are never quite sure if Jerry is actually right in his belief of a child serial killer at work. Is it the product of a man so driven by the pledge he made, that he isn't thinking straight? Or worse losing his grip on sanity? The answer will only will out with the clinically daring finale.

Lead actors Nicholson and Wright Penn turn in some of their finest work, both responding to Sean's probing of troubled souls in search of an exit. There's an array of quality support actors in small parts, which is a testament to the pull that working with Penn did appeal. The musical score is nervy and sits smartly with the ethereal tones that Menges brings via his photographic lenses.

The Pledge is a haunting and disturbing character study that refuses to cop out. It achieves its aims and wasn't going to pander to any crowd pleasing bums on seats tactics. A dark thriller for grown ups who have the patience for such a telling, and perhaps more crucially are prepared to have their emotions tested with the finale. 9/10


Be prepared for the worst, but hope for the best. Pray for the best, but prepare for the worst.
Prisoners is directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Aaron Guzikowski. It stars Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Terence Howard, Maria Bello, Melissa Leo and Paul Dano. Music is by Jóhann Jóhannsson and cinematography by Roger Deakins.

When Keller Dover's (Jackman) daughter and her friend go missing, he takes matters into his own hands...

At first glance of the plot synopis, one could be forgiven for thinking this is yet another revenge thriller filled out by police procedural side-bars. How pleasant to find that Prisoners has more to offer than a simple who is the criminal? And just how far will a vengeful father go to satiate his grief?.

Prisoners is such an apt title because all the main players here are trapped by either mental fragility or victims of their innocence, guilt or chaotic impulses. It's a multi stranded character piece that poses many questions, while of course it has a big mystery element. The narrative features a whole host of clues that might be something, or not, unanswered questions dangle throughout until the finale reveals thge edgy secrets.

It's safe to say that the themes at work here are dark and upsetting, with the core abduction thread siddling up against horredous back stories, torture and religious mania. Gruzikowski's screenplay is quality, mesmerising even, there's no lazy filler or extranous sequences, even as the jigsaw pieces are put together in the last quarter, you may find yourself wondering how you missed something so simple?.

This was Villeneuve's first English language picture, and it's not hard to see why he was highly touted as one of the next big director beings - his output that followed subsequently bears this out. His control of mood and pacing is superb, his garnering of high quality perfs from his cast (notably Jackman and Gyllenhaal) is impressive, and his teaming with the great Deakins is a match made in photographic heaven.

This is adult film making, a thriller designed to illicit emotional responses from the audience. Relentless and powerful, a troubling examination of the human conditioning in various guises - and we are witnesses. 9/10

Mary Queen of Scots

We have a scourge upon our land. 'Tis worse than pestilence and famine. 'Tis a woman with a crown.
Mary Stuart's (Saoirse Ronan) attempt to overthrow her cousin Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie), Queen of England, finds her condemned to years of imprisonment before facing execution.

Mary Stuart's (Saoirse Ronan) attempt to overthrow her cousin Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie), Queen of England, finds her condemned to years of imprisonment before facing execution.

Directed by Josie Rourke and written by Beau Willimon and John Guy, Mary Queen of Scots is the latest in a long line of historical costumers that fudge history to suit heir own ends. From a technical standpoint it's top draw, design, costuming and lead acting performances are quality - though Mary herself ends up being more cartoonish than anything resembling a tragic historical figure. Sadly, though, the narrative goes round and round in circles and ends up in a politically correct fog.

The pace is laborious, which makes the two hour run time something of a chore to get through. There's little dangles of spice, with attempts at gay acceptance and oral pleasure etc etc, and things hit an upward curve in the latter stages, there's even some smarts in the narrative where obsession with rites and rules of succession threaten to turn the pic into exciting politico/religio waters. Alas, it's a false dawn, to the point where the costume design becoming the best thing in a production speaks volumes about a badly - on the page - historical drama. 3/10

The Ten Commandments

His God "is" God!
The Ten Commandments is at the top end of Hollywood historical epics. It was to be Cecil B. DeMille's last ever directing assignment and he bows out with a gargantuan epic that to this day stands as a testament to his brilliant talent as one of the masters of epic film making.

The story cribs from a number of biblical sources, some of which are hokum and not to be taken as a religio lesson, but basically it tells the tale of Moses (Charlton Heston) and how he came to lead the Israelites to their exodus from Egypt - culminating in his delivering of God's own Ten Commandments to the people.

No expense is spared, with a top line ensemble cast being joined by over 25,000 extras. The wide-screen special effects work dazzles the eyes, the direction of ginormous crowd sequences impressive, and an ebullient spectacle is never far away in what is a picture running at three hours thirty minutes (add ten for the glory of an intermission).

It would have been easy for the cast to get lost amongst such a large scale production, but the principals shine bright and make telling characteristic marks. Heston was born for the Moses role, Yul Brynner absolutely excels as Moses' silky and sulky nemesis - Rameses, Anne Baxter gives Nefretiri a beauteous and villainous twin arc, which in turn is counterpointed by Yvonne De Carlo's sultry yet homely Sephora (wife of Moses).

Elsewhere we get Debra Paget filling out a trio of gorgeous lady stars, where as Lilia she does determined and heartfelt oomph as a woman yearning to be freed from male dominance. Edward G. Robinson (Dathan) and Vincent Price (Baka) camp it up and have a good time, while Cedric Hardwicke (Sethi) turns in a heartfelt old Pharaoh and John Derek as Joshua, Moses' underling, does surprisingly well given the enormity of the character trajectory.

As the music (Elmer Bernstein) swirls and thunders we are treated to Loyal Griggs' colour photography that pings out the screen and brings to life expert costuming. John Fulton's special effects work won him the Academy Award, and even though a couple look creaky these days, they all still today hold great entertaining spectacle worth. While the sheer gusto of the performances overcomes some less than stellar dialogue.

Lavish yet vulgar, hokey yet magnificent, this maty not be the greatest historical epic ever made, but it booms loud and proud and is an utter joy for like minded fans of the genre's output. 9/10

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