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Battle of Britain
(1969)

One of the great achievements in WWII is also a major achievement in filmmaking
In May 1940 as France falls to the advancing German army, the Luftwaffe prepare for the oncoming invasion by conquering the skies. They begin by attacking the airfields and radar stations, but are met by a determined and gritty adversary in the RAF.

By the late 1960s and early 70's Hollywood studios were spending a good deal of money on big budget, ambitious and big star appeal roadshow productions. Yet there is a problem in raising the finance for this very British story of heroism for producer Harry Saltzman in that there wasn't much of an American angle or American hero. Nevertheless, Saltzman did find the money and the stars to appear in it.

As with many films like this one that work well, it took THE LONGEST DAY (1962) approach in making a war movie, in that rather than having a central set of characters to create the plot, it instead relies on the event itself for the story. Therefore such major figures as Christopher Plummer, Laurence Olivier (as Air Vice Marshall Dowding), Michael Caine, Kenneth More, Ralph Richardson or Trevor Howard starred alongside such relative newcomers as Ian McShane, Robert Shaw, Edward Fox and Barry Foster. Each strand and aspect of the film is perfectly balanced within the framework of the action and the narrative of events. Only Susannah York stands out, albeit effectively, as the only woman in the story strands.

The action is brilliantly handled by director Guy Hamilton, a director familiar with action having already directed GOLDFINGER (1964) and would go on to direct a further three James Bond blockbusters, as well as having directed the PoW escape movie, THE COLDITZ STORY (1955) handled making BATTLE OF BRITAIN like a campaign itself. One of the biggest achievements in the film, something that could never be done now is gather together all the British Spitfires and Hurricanes and German Messerschmidt 109e's and Heinkel 111's (adapted from the Spanish CASA bombers and filmed in Spain). Only the Stuka dive bombers were either modelled or adapted from other aircraft. The aerial seuqences are exceptional, with even the models used working really well with real live action aircraft. The aerial sequences are perfectly captured by William Walton and Ron Goodwin's scoring. Of course these sequences could never be made to day for a whole number obvious reasons and would instead use CGI; even the use of back projection is fairly well done. On the ground too, the scenes of the Blitz of London (using the now disused Aldwych underground) and filmed in parts of Docklands where the council were clearing for redevelopment the filmmakers were able to use this in the film to good effect. In addition many of the sequences were shot at RAF Duxford which had changed little since 1940 and were even able to blow up a hangar for the film. Additional sequences for France were filmed in Spain.

This film is often given decent but not glowing reviews by critics, though it stands out as one of the main war movies of the decade, even if the subject had been done before in ANGELS ONE FIVE (1951), though it has a greater sense of distance in time and might have been a little outdated as a subject in the late 1960s. The film did good business in Britain and Europe on its release, although fared fairly poorly in the US, perhaps for the reason stated above. However, whenever it was first shown on British TV in 1974 it achieved very high viewing figures and over the years its reputation to home audiences has grown to cult status as the Spitfire especially, as well as the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight continues to have widespread iconic support.

49th Parallel
(1941)

It might look a little dated today, but at the time a film that would have resonated with audiences
Set in 1940, a U-boat has been sinking merchant shipping in the bay of St. Lawrence in Canada. 6 crewmen led by their fanatic lieutenant (Eric Portman) are ordered to raise the Nazi flag over a trading post. However, when thing go wrong thet attempt to make their way across Canada.

The 49th Parallel refers to the then largely unprotected Canadian-US border and made in an effort to convince the United States they were not immune to the effects of the war while also showing the importance of Canada in the war effort.

The third collaboration of Michael Powell and Hungarian emigree Emeric Pressburger, they saw this film as an important project in the propaganda war effort. It was a unique film in that it was one of the only films that was in part financed by the Ministry of Information and paid for Powell to go to Canada with Rank stumping up the rest.

The film could have been episodic in the way the Germans run into different sets of people, but the beauty of Powell's direction and Pressburger's writing cleverly avoids this. Most of the name actors come and go in the plot, with Portman the only constant through the film, itself a risk given that this was a big feature role. Laurence Olivier as the trapper has something of a silly French Canadian accent, while Anton Walbrook has the best role in one of his great performances as the leader of a Hutterite commune. Others include Leslie Howard and at the conclusion Raymond Massey as the desserter. It does feel towards the films conclusion that there is a scrabble for an ending and some of the propaganda elements date the film. However, at the time of the films release this would have resonated very strongly with its audience, both in Britain and Canada, with Walbrook having the best speech. The film took over a year from inception to release and by the time it was released in the US (under the title THE INVADERS) the US had already entered the war.

Pale Rider
(1985)

Eastwood's stylish western is in danger of accusations of a SHANE copy cat
During the late Californian gold rush, a stranger who claims to be a preacher (Clint Eastwood) rides into a town and helps a gold prospector (Michael Moriarty) from being beaten by a group of men. The man is with a small settlement of gold prospectors who are being violently threatened by a larger corporation and under the threat of violence to be forced out. The Preacher helps them defend themselves.

The plot greatly mirrors the classic western SHANE (1953). Set in California, but filmed in Idaho, it of course also invites parallels with a similar Eastwood western, HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973), but with more clearly defined good guys and bad guys. Here the bad guys representing corporate business trying to crush the little guy are greedy boss Coy LaHood (Richard Dysart) and his sadistic son (played by a young Chris Penn), while Carrie Snodgrass as one of the prospector's gals perfectly captures the look of the frontiers woman. Then there is the mysterious band of guns for hire led by Stockburn (John Russell) that mirror that of Jack Palance's sadistic killer in the aforementioned SHANE.

Nevertheless, like HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, the Preacher has an air of almost supernatural mystery while there is a natural reality to the Old West as though from period westerns, seldom seen in 80s westerns. Again Eastwood felt like a lone voice in making high quality westerns and this is a standout until Eastwood's next one, UNFORGIVEN (1992).

The Outlaw Josey Wales
(1976)

A flawless Clint Eastwood classic that warrants high praise
During the American Civil War, Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood), a Tennessee farmer's wife and child (Kyle Eastwood) are killed by Red Legs, renegade marauders fighting for the Union side. Josey picks up a gun from his burnt farmhouse and joins a Confederate band. When the war ends his fellow soldiers surrender and are massacred by the duplicitous Fletcher (John Vernon) and Union soldiers. Wales fights back and escapes with another young trooper (Sam Bottoms) who is fatally wounded. He goes on the run, vowing revenge and is joined up with others along the way, including an old Indian (Chief Dan George).

This is the first film in which Eastwood truly showed his worth as a director and a maturing style as a filmmaker. Shot in various locations around the US, this post-Civil War western is atmospherically shot by regular cinematographer Bruce Surtees and captures the fall really well. It has an unusually large significant name cast for an Eastwood film and marked the first appearance of his long-term girlfriend Sondra Locke as a settler. His character also has a good deal more personality, emotion and back story than in any of his previous films and certainly more than his Man With No Name films or in HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973). Where it does have a similar theme is that of vigilantism and as a cool sure shot killer. The added element of a good deal of sympathy for the Native American is another strong element to the film, especially the support by 75-year old Chief Dan George as his partner, Will Sampson (fresh from his portrayal as the mute Indian in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, 1975) as the Comanche chief Ten Bears and Geraldine Keams as Little Moonlight, the squaw that had been kept as a slave by a trader Josey had saved before she tags along with him.

The story was adapted from a novel by Forrest Carter, with the pro-South somewhat toned down. Carter was an odd character who was somewhat irrascible and also considered something of a fraud. This is a film that is great on first viewing and improves with further viewing. A flawless western and Civil War story.

High Plains Drifter
(1973)

Eastwood's first western as director, he clearly has brought with much of the style of the Italian westerns
One day a stranger (Clint Eastwood) rides into the newly constructed small desert town of Lago. He promises the townfolk that he will defend and rid them of a band of three men who had killed a sheriff (Buddy Van Horn) and give him whatever he wants. He makes a little person (Billy Curtis) the sheriff, trains the townsfolk how to defend themselves and seeks his own unknown punishment on the townsfolk.

Eastwood's directorial debut of a western shows he has clearly learnt some lessons from Sergio Leone's Italian westerns and has brought them with him including the almost haunting images of the stranger riding in to town and mysteriously riding out again. Where this has developed is in the almost supernatural element to his character that smartly does not reveal his identity or his connection to the town. It is revionist of the genre, even if it brings many tropes and stylistic qualities of the European western.

His look is cool, rough and ready and almost comic book like, cooly handling all comers and using his trademark economy of words. You can almost smell the wood of the newly built town constructed by Lake Mono in the desert of northern California with the sense of the heat and barreness of the locale coming through in Eastwood regular cinematographer Bruce Surtees as the stranger appears in the town through the heat haze.

There is also a good deal of character in the supporters and marks the first appearance of Geoffrey Lewis in an Eastwood film, although other than Verna Bloom's character who sees the light, there are few genuinely sympathetic characters. HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER is in many respects a simplistic western film that has enough mystery and a good deal of style that carries it through, even if it is perhaps not his best western.

How to Be Single
(2016)

Young professionals living in fancy SoHo apartments traverse love and relationships
After 20 something Alice (Dakota Johnson) breaks her steady long-term relationship with her boyfriend (Nicholas Braun) to move to New York to learn how to be single. There she befriends other similar girls living the single life.

A standard self-help BRIDGET JONES type of 'chick flick' with Rebel Wilson thrown into the mix to add more in the way of physical and adult comedy and provides the majority of the laughs.

The Manhattan settings are glossy and it should come as no surprise that the film is based off a novel by Liz Tucillo who wrote many of the scripts for 'Sex and the City' as well as being the author of 'He's Just Not That Into You'. But as is typical of these films, as much as the characters are wanting to be single they of course find and traverse love. It does its best to avoid the influence of social media, but falls into the usual trap of young professionals living in fancy SoHo apartments. I'd love to know what their secret is!

Red Line 7000
(1965)

Exciting on the track, dull off the track
After a Nascar driver (Anthony Rogers) is killed in a race at Daytona, fellow team racers gather round his mysterious new girlfriend (Gail Hire) and together they have trials and tribulations on and off the track.

Late Howard Hawks film is exciting on the track, but makes for dull drama off the track, but with little in the way of characterisation. This is unfortunate in that the action is well done and could have been an interesting time peace, but is instead dated. There were exploitation films made in the period that handle this subject matter better such as PIT STOP (1969).

Honest Thief
(2020)

It even has a "I will find you, and I will kill you" moment.
A slick thief (Liam Neeson) has been robbing safes for years in the Boston area and has become known as the 'In-out bandit'. He decides to go straight and hand himself in and give all the loot back after he meets and falls in love with a woman (Kate Walsh) who runs the lock-up where he keeps his loot. He calls the FBI and a couple of crooked agents (Jai Courtenay and Anthony Ramos) who decide to keep the money for themselves and set him up, putting him and his gal in danger, but he goes to ground and after them.

Another standard TAKEN type of action film for Neeson following the likes of UNKNOWN (2011), RUN ALL NIGHT (2014), THE COMMUTER (2018), as well as two TAKEN sequels. It is slickly enough made to get away with it, but also feels a bit cut and paste from those previous films. As such it provides some reliable and exciting action and enough violence to be a guilty pleasure. However, the central relationship doesn't have enough chemistry to be convincing, despite a decent performance from Walsh.

The Beguiled
(1971)

A deadly gothic civil war set battle of the sexes
Coporal John McBurney (Clint Eastwood) of the Union Army has been wounded in battle behind enemy lines in the Deep South in the American Civil War. He is helped by Amy (Pamelyn Ferdin), the youngest pupil of a young ladies school run by Martha Farnsworth (Geraldine Page). Most of the girls are wary of this enemy soldier and while he is being treated are unsure as to whether hand him over or help him. In the meantime, both the girls and teacher and McBurney try to take advantage of their situation.

Once again the partnership of Eastwood and director Don Siegel proves its worth and what a successful collaboration it was. There are no distinct heroes and villains here as both McBurney and the women try to using sex as power - McBurney seduces the eldest girl and most sensible, if sexually repressed (Elizabeth Hartman), the most sexually provocative (and manipulative) of the women (Jo Ann Harris) and the Headmistress (Geraldine Page).

It is atmospherically shot in Louisiana, complete with Spanish moss hanging trees by Eastwood regular Bruce Surtees. However, the dark tone of the film meant that it was not a box-office success, yet has become one of the most interesting and psychological of Eastwood's films in the 1970s. It is also a strong performance by the star, and perhaps his best performance up to that point, though soon he would start taking more of a direct role as a director.

Joe Kidd
(1972)

Not one of Eastwood's most memorable westerns, but nicely filmed in the High Sierras and Arizona.
In turn of the century New Mexico, Joe Kidd, a tracker (Clint Eastwood) is hired by a ruthless land baron (Robert Duvall) who goes after a Mexican bandit (John Saxon) who is refusing to accede and has gone on the run with his band of men. Joe soon regrets his decision and decides to help the bandit so long as he agrees to lawfully surrender himself.

An Eastwood Western that is not the best known western for the star. Based off a novel by popular western writer Elmore Leonard, it isn't one of director John Sturges's best films either. The director of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960) and THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963) seems to have sleeped walked his way through the film. The different characters are not well fleshed out and are types, though Duvall's wicked land baron adds some dimension to his performance, if there is little essence to who really is, though he does pre-empt Gene Hackman's Little Bill Daggett in UNFORGIVEN (1992). Meanwhile, Eastwood's Joe Kidd character seems to change throughout the film from a drunk in jail who is disfainful of the law to the man who wants to lawfully bring the bandit to fair justice. It's good to see Don Stroud (COOGAN'S BLUFF, 1968) as one of Duvall's henchmen in another energetic performance.

The action in the film is well handled, though the spectacular scene with a locomotive engine riding through a saloon seems there purely to provide more action and quickly close the film.

Beautifully shot in the Californian High Sierras and Arizona by Eastwood regular, Bruce Surtees with music provided by the diverse Lalo Schifrin, there are many strong elements to the film, but doesn't feel it is as good as it could have been

Goodbye Emmanuelle
(1977)

The third installment still has plenty of nudity, but is less erotic and more about the dynamic of relationships
Emmanuelle (Sylvia Kristel) and her husband (Umberto Orsini) now live in the Seychelles and continue with their polyamorous relationships. However, when a young director (Jean-Pierre Bouvier) has an affair with Emmanuelle, her husband at last displays jealousy.

The third Emmanuelle film offers more of the same, with a slight twist from the previous films in that their sexual liaisons show more relationship conflict and in that sense perhaps demonstrates a bit more normal human behaviour. Although there is still plenty of nudity, it feels less erotic in tone than the previous two films with a little more psychology behind it. Kristel meanwhile, seems bored with the role by now.

Color Out of Space
(2019)

A fascinating adaptation of a classic H.P. Lovecraft story
After a strange meteor lands near a farm house in mid-West America, strange things begin happening to the family from witnessting strange lights, behaviour changes and blackouts.

One of the better adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft with a genuine eerie sense of oddness is the first directorial effort from Richard Stanley since he had been sacked from the 1996 THE ISLAND OF DR MOREAU.

Prolific B movie actor Nicolas Cage once again puts in a suitably quirky performance in an often unpredictable film from a quirky and unpredictable writer whose work has sufficiently been satisfactorily brought to the screen. For some straight horror fans, despite shock moments, its arty style might be off putting.

La maschera del demonio
(1960)

Mario Bava's first important film is pure gothic
A witch is put to death in an iron maiden and over the centuries has her revenge by rising from the dead as a doppelganger.

Mario Bava's foray into horror film (after I VAMPIRI, 1957, and CALTIKI, 1959) was something of a game changer in Italian horror cinema. Based off a story by Gogol, Bava, with the aid of some superbly atmospheric cinematography (shot by Bava himself) gives this film a genuine and unique sense of the gothic. As with Bava's later films, it is pure atmosphere.

The Addams Family
(2019)

Animated version which doesn't do too much other than give a standard story about trying to fit in
Chased out of their Romanian homeland, the ghoulish Addams family settle in a small New Jersey town and try to not be noticed, until a local conservative busy body (Allison Janney) tries to turn the town against them.

An animated family version of the 1960s TV show and 1990 feature film. The story is a bog standard one of just trying to fit while also trying to retain individuality which the film does a decent enough job with.

La momia azteca contra el robot humano
(1958)

Dull third AZTEC MUMMY film
A mad scientist (Ramon Gay) is after Aztec treasure buried among an Aztec priestess. Her tomb is protected by Popoca (Angel di Stefani), an Aztec mummy, so builds a robot to fight it.

The third of the AZTEC MUMMY saga of Mexican B movies and is a poor effort. As well as being over talkative, it is slower than a lumbering mummy and over relies on footage used in previous films. There are a couple of effective moments though, including the sound of a shuffling unseen mummy's feet heard.

City on Fire
(1979)

Lots of pyrotechnics in this disaster movie as poorly constructed as the city it burns down
A disgruntled employee (Jonathan Welsh) working at an energy plant starts several fires that rage out of control that threaten to burn down the nearby city, including a newly opened hospital, foolishly located near the combustive plant.

A pretty dreadful by the numbers disaster movie that came towards the cycle of a number of similar films in the 1970s. It is a little more gratuitous than many in how it shows its victims burning, but there are lots of pyrotechnics on display, obvious sets and an all star cast that look righty more than a little embarrassed.

Inquest
(1939)

A rather dull quota quickie with a courtroom setting
A woman (Elizabeth Allen) is accused of the murder of her husband several years before after the discovery of a gun and her life is in the balance at an inquest in a coroner's court.

An early quota quickie from the Boulting brothers (Roy directed and brother John produced). It makes for surprisingly dull viewing despite its short length.

The Meanest Man in Texas
(2017)

A little blandly handled literal interpretation of the man branded as the meanest man in Texas
In rural Texas in 1928, teenager Clyde Thompson (Mateus Ward) is caught in a situation gone wrong and kills a man. He is convicted and sentenced to death, but when the sentence is later commuted to life he grows into a hardened inmate, kills again and earns a reputation as the "meanest man in Texas" before later finding the Bible.

Based off a real story, the film tells a literal description of events. It is adequately done and well intentioned, though it is blandly handed while Thompson never seems to age in the film.

The Man Who Laughs
(1928)

Iconic piece of macabre cinema with Conrad Veidt's pre-Joker make-up equalling that of a Lon Chaney classic
In the 17th century, a band of gypsies are disfigured by carpaccios (who disfigure folk to sell to freak shows according to Victor Hugo) and sold off as freaks. One such boy escapes in the snows and saves a blind girl. Together they are taken in by Ursus (Cesare Govina), a philosopher and mountebank. When they are older, the disfigured Gwynplaine (Conrad Veidt) is in love with the blind Dea (Mary Philbin) and they perform at inns and travelling fairs, he as "the Laughing Man" due to his disfigured smile. A wicked jester (Brandon Hurst) kidnaps Gwynplaine for the service of Queen Anne (Josephine Crowell) and makes him into a Lord, taking him away from Dea.

Based off a novel by Victor Hugo, the film remained little seen for many years , but has now been restored in all its glory. It is not really a horror film as it is often classed, despite its macabre story and imagery and sense of the grand guignol. Directed by Paul Leni, a director formerly known for several classics of Weimar cinema including WAXWORKS (1924), this was the third film in Hollywood for the German director, having also made the classic haunted house horror thriller THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1927). The film also stars German actor Conrad Veidt who replaced the unavailable Lon Chaney Snr. Of course Veidt had previously played Cesare, the somnambulist in the classic THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1919). Like Chaney, Veidt undergoes some incredible and iconic make-up transformation in a look pre-cursing that of DC Comics the Joker.

The film is also atmospherically shot by Gilbert Warrenton with Leni adopting many of the wonderful shadows of German Expressionism aided by some fantastic art design. Sadly the film did not fare so well at the box-office, nor was it especially praised by critics at the time, but in recent years has had something of a fresh assessment.

Time Table
(1956)

Twisty plotted crime movie with the assigned insurance investigator investigating his own robbery
After robbers steal $50,000 from a train, an insurance investigator (Mark Stevens) is assigned to investigate, who in fact one of the ring leaders of the train robbery and needs to make the investigation seem credible.

Produced, directed by and starring Stevens, this is an interestingly plotted crime thriller written by Aben Kendel that contains plenty of twists and turns with some decent changes in direction with Stevens' character trying to double cross his co-thieves.

Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum
(1940)

Charlie Chan mystery that deliberately stops short of being among the canon of wartime horror movies
An escaped convict (Marc Lawrence) plots to carry out his revenge on Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) who had him locked up. A surgeon (C. Henry Gordon) alters his looks and hides out in a wax museum where he plans his murder after he invites Chan over.

This entry in the Charlie Chan cycle has a nice eerie horror style with some quality chilling cinematography by Virgil Miller. It feels as if it deliberately stops itself short of being a horror film as it wants to retain it's family audience.

Hacksaw Ridge
(2016)

Heroic biopic of pacifict Medal of Honor winner Desmond Doss is sentimentally handled by Mel Gibson but with plenty of action too
Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) is brought up in rural Lynchburg, Virginia by a loving Seven Day Aventist mother (Rachel Griffiths) and an at times violent and abusive father (Hugo Weaving). This, his religious upbringing and almost killing his brother (Nathaniel Buzolic) in a play fight informs his views on violence. At the outbreak of WWII he joins the US Army but refuses to fight, carry a rifle or learn rifle shooting. The army fail to drive him out and he eventually earns the Medal of Honor for bravery during the Battle of Okinawa in May 1945.

Mel Gibson's directorial style does not differ in style from many other similar hero biopics, but does contain the right amount of emotional sentiment and plenty of action. However, it doesn't give much away of Doss's interior life or what interior struggles he may have had. The first part until he finds himself in boot camp also plays out a little slowly, but once the film gets moving it becomes very engaging.

So Long at the Fair
(1950)

An interesting thriller mystery set during the 1889 Paris World Fair
During the opening of the 1889 Paris World's Fair (Exposition Universalle), an English brother (David Tomlinson) and sister (Jean Simmons) check into a Paris hotel. The next morning she wakes to find that her brother has bizarrely disappeared with no trace of him having been at the hotel, nor even his room where she said good night time having existed.

This very different mystery draws the viewer in pretty fast and keeps the audience guessing most of the way through right to the end. Well acted with much of the film shot on location in Paris, it has elements to it that recall the silent German film, EERIE TALES (1919), as well as THE LADY VANISHES (1938). It is well acted throughout with a convincing performance by Simmons and able support by Dirk Bogarde. Honor Blackman also appears in an early role

Jawbone
(2017)

A downbeat, tough and rewarding boxing drama
A once promising boxer (Johnny Harris) has become an angry alcoholic struggling to get by. He becomes homeless, but takes up training again when he gets an offer to go back into the ring in an unlicensed boxing match.

Scripted by Harris himself, this tried and tested sporting storyline again proves to work well in this downbeat British sports drama. Harris is more than believable in this personal pet project for him, while Ray Winstone provides another tough guy performance as does usual Ben Wheatley regular Michael Smiley as the coach.

Saraband for Dead Lovers
(1948)

An early costumer from Ealing Studios that was designed to challenge Gainsborough with Stewart Granger typically dashing
In the 17th century Sophie Dorothea (Joan Greenwood) is married off to the boorish Elector George Louis of Hannover (Peter Bull) in an arranged marriage to that makes her miserable. He is set to become the future King George I of England when she begins an affair with the dashing Count Philip Konigsmark (Stewart Granger).

This first Technicolor film for Ealing attempts to challenge the market of costumers that was dominated by Gainsborough in mid-1940s British cinema. It is a little gloomy in places and alas performed poorly at the box-office. Significantly it was co-scripted by Alexander Mackendrick with Granger is in his by now familiar dashing swashbuckler role.

There was a scene that had featured a very early role for Christopher Lee that was allegedly cut out for being anti-Semitic.

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