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Rita, Sue and Bob Too

Gritty, grim but frustrating
This is a film that does some things very well. For example, as others have said, the portrayal of working class life in the North in the 1980s is very well done, and some of the acting is extremely good. Unfortunately, it is a far from flawless piece.

The whole relationship between the three main characters is puzzling. It starts out as a sex comedy, then degenerates into something more tragic, covering domestic abuse, jealousy, divorce and miscarriage. The characters' actions change them forever... or so you think. At the end, suddenly, the three get back together and everything's good.

Then there's the infuriating stereotyping. The Asian characters make for particularly uncomfortable viewing. And then there's Sue's dad. An unemployed Northern man, and therefore in common with all unemployed Northern men in 1980s drama, an abusive drunk. Not even a well done abusive drunk- he reels and sways like, well, a guy pretending to be drunk.

Overall, it just feels like yet another "it's grim up North" film in which character development is sacrificed in favour of just making things as unpleasant as possible. A distinctly average British film.

The Village

Shyamalan confuses "atmospheric" and "soulful" with "slow" and "boring".
This was a film that I came to with high expectations. After the awful 'Signs', this looked to be Shyamalan back on form. Unfortunately, I found it a huge disappointment.

This film is an attempt to capture... what? It mainly deals with life in an isolated village in the 19th century. But then Shyamalan throws in elements of Gothic horror with the knowledge that there is something nasty in the woods. There are two major twists, both of which are fairly predictable.

In fact, one could say that this film looks like someone else trying to emulate M. Night Shyamalan. So on top of the predictable twists, there are lots of... slow... sequences... and pauses... to add atmosphere... which become... frustrating... after a while. Add in the "I like the language in The Crucible" style of period dialogue, and the whole thing starts to look pretentious and smug.

Better than 'Signs', but still far from M. Night Shyamalan's best work.

Astérix et Cléopâtre

Not bad...
This is the second Asterix film and, frankly, it's much better than 'Asterix the Gaul' (the first Asterix movie). Partly, I think this is because it's actually less faithful to the book than the first film. As a result, there are jokes that work far better on the screen than on the page, there are new scenes and there are even some fairly decent musical numbers.

I only have one real complaint about this film, and that is that a lot of the jokes lack subtlety- they are carried on beyond the point at which they remain funny.

That aside, not a bad film. More for the kids than the adults, but fairly entertaining nonetheless.

Astérix le Gaulois

For devoted Asterix fans only
This is the first of the Asterix films and, I would say, the weakest. It is a very faithful translation of the first Asterix book. What this means is that many of the hallmarks of later Asterix books- the satire, the anachronisms, the well-developed cast of regular characters- are not present.

Such humour as survives is rather weak. Excruciating pun names, such as Romans Phonus Balonus, Marcus Sourpuss and Petroleum Pumpus, are much in evidence, and attention is drawn to them wherever possible. There is a lot of cartoonish violence, but this becomes repetitive.

There seems to have been a problem in translating this into English, as much of the dialogue seems to have been simply chopped up and fitted in wherever there is lip movement in the original. The result is that sentences are often rushed or split awkwardly, so one is presented with odd lines like, "He wanted to... become emperor!" and "What a brilliant... idea that is!"

To add more translation confusion, there is an opening segment with pictures of the characters and their names. Unfortunately, this has been left in French. So the bard Stopthemusix (remember those awful puns?) is introduced as Assurancetourix at the beginning, and so on.

While it's faithful to the book, it's not a film that you should watch unless you really, really like Asterix. And then only for curiosity value.

I, Robot

Nice film, shame about the star
I could only give this movie 5/10. I desperately wanted to like it. It's directed by Alex Proyas and based on stories by Isaac Asimov. In fact, it remained reasonably true to Asimov's stories, given that some distortion is inevitable for the transition to film. But the problem I had was Will Smith. Despite some attempts to add depth and emotion, he plays the same character he has played ever since he started out. A wise-crackin', butt-kickin', idealised version of himself. It's irritating, because if he could just turn it down a little and start acting for the script rather than having scripts written for him, he could have made this excellent.

Oh, and the product placement is deeply annoying. The worst example has to be Smith's Converse shoes (which, we are reminded, are "vintage 2004"- you can get them right now, kids!), which the camera never misses an opportunity to dwell upon. All right, Smith's character is a Luddite, but I don't see why that means everything in his home has to be conveniently available in 2004.

Wait, yes I do, because that's good publicity.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Good idea, bad execution
I think the most important thing to say about this movie, having read other reviews, is this: it's not based on the original graphic novel. What they have effectively done is bought the rights to the name and the idea of assembling a league of fictional C19 adventurers. Beyond that, forget Alan Moore. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing in itself. There are deeper themes to this film if one is prepared to look- the political struggles in Europe, for instance. The influence that C19 characters had on our modern heroes. And the design and mood of the film captures the sense of a fin-de-siecle world on the brink of collapse well. The basic plot is not bad for a popcorn film. It's a shame, then, that these deeper themes are hidden beneath layers of rubbish. The characters are wooden and the dialogue terrible. One of the joys of the original graphic novel was spotting subtle literary references- the equivalent in this movie is to have Sean Connery comment that while he arrived quickly, Phileas Fogg would have been quicker (just in case you don't get the reference, he then adds that said character circumnavigated the globe in 80 days). The fictional heroes offer the potential for some amazing character interaction, but become standard Hollywood archetypes- the tough old guy, the devil-may-care young buck, the cheeky cockney and so forth. With a better script, this could have been fantastic. Shame it didn't have one.


I don't hate this as much as I should.
I used to be a massive, massive fan of the original Thunderbirds TV series. I'd seen every episode and both the movies, I had all the comics, I even knew Brains' real name (Homer Newton III). I went into this movie expecting to hate it. But despite the fact that it was a total blasphemy against the original, I loved it. Basically, this is a deeply silly film. It's not intellectually challenging, but then it doesn't really want to be. It's a popcorn movie that you watch to keep your kids quiet. There are some things in there for the benefit of the original fans (one or two bits actually seem to be taken directly from the series), but it's not slavishly devoted in a way that alienates the fans. I appreciate that you have to make changes to bring the series to a new audience, otherwise you might as well just show them the old episodes. So, good things. Well, they've kept the gadgetry in there, which was always one of the big attractions of the series. There are some fun characters, Lady Penelope and Parker being my personal favourites. The Hood is genuinely menacing, far more so than he was in the TV series (although he does seem to be a bit of a Magneto knock-off). The action sequences and SFX are truly superb. And the vision of 2010 actually looks reasonably plausible ("Yes, Madam President!"). Bad things. Well, speaking as a fan of the original, far too much emphasis was put on the new characters (e.g. Fermat, Transom) while most of the Tracys were either bland or wooden. Brains seemed utterly useless and Jeff could have been replaced with a cardboard cut-out. The family subplot seemed unnecessary. And the product placement for Ford could not have been much more blatant without actually painting "BUY FORD" across the screen. Overall, I would recommend this movie, but don't expect a cinematic classic.

By the way, am I the only one who found Transom disturbingly attractive? Therapy beckons.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Good movie, but padded out.
First of all, let me just say that I love this film. But I'll admit it does have its faults. First, the good points. It's a spot-on spoof of those terrible old B-movies, from the terrible special effects to the ridiculous story to the wooden characters. Yes, it's pointless and dumb, but it's meant to be. Watch 'Plan 9 From Outer Space' or 'The Blob' and you'll see what the makers were getting at. It's funny in the same way- ridiculous lines like, "This sonic transducer- it is I suppose some kind of audio-vibratory physio-molecular transport device?" and "Throw open the switches on the sonic oscillator- and step up the reactor power input three more points!" that can't possibly be taken seriously abound. The look of the film is unique. Apart from the costume and makeup, the background is full of references to art, film and history while at the same time looking wonderfully cheap. There is an unsettling confusion over time and place (it takes place on a "late November evening", yet Nixon's resignation speech is playing on the radio) and this is helped by the editing- is it deliberately bad? And there are some excellent musical numbers which are definitely a triumph of style over substance- not that this is a bad thing. Unfortunately, the film does run out of steam towards the end. It feels very heavily padded- the Criminologist seems to fulfil no function other than to state the obvious, and the last two musical numbers go on too long without being very memorable. And if you're not open minded, you may find the film's frank portrayals of homosexuality, transvestism, incest and S&M disturbing. To quote about nine hundred reviewers before me, "you either get it or you don't". If this sort of thing is not your bag, you won't enjoy it. Simple as that.

Pure Rage: The Making of '28 Days Later'

Not enough of anything
I think that there is a lot to be said about 28 Days Later, as this documentary makes clear. The creation of a deserted London, the military training the actors went through, the camera-work and the special effects, the inspiration for the story- but this documentary just touches on these things without going into any depth. It spends a lot of time on the possibility of a killer pandemic breaking out in a way that is utterly undisturbing. There have been plenty of terrifying disease outbreaks in the world that have been a genuine cause for concern, and this one concentrates on... foot-and-mouth, a disease that is only frightening if you're a farmer. There are lots of very clever people talking about biology pointlessly. The bits dealing with the film itself are equally shallow. We get a few "this movie is great, go see it" bits from the cast and crew (in which Christopher Eccleston ends up looking extremely luvvieish). The bits on the making of the movie tell you very little. What they tell you is enough to make you curious, but is ultimately unsatisfying. Example: we are told the cast playing soldiers went through a military boot camp. But there is very little on the boot camp itself. We learn that the makeup effects were complicated, but we get nothing beyond the standard "gruelling six hours in makeup" anecdotes that all actors tell whether you want them to or not. Then add to that the overuse of clips from the film that are only vaguely relevant to the documentary. Mention of the military intervention in the foot-and-mouth crisis is followed by Major West's "We must be a disappointment to you" speech. Mention of hospitals is followed by Jim awaking from his coma. This is pointless filler if you've seen the film and spoils a lot of the impact if you haven't. Really, this should have been an hour-long documentary on the film itself. As it is, it's rushed and frankly dull. Don't waste your half hour.

28 Days Later...

Frightening Britflick that plays with all expectations.
This is definitely a film where you have to think. This is a drawback if you're expecting a brainless zombie flick, as many of the reviewers on here clearly were. In response to some of the questions people have posed in previous reviews: - London is empty because it has been evacuated, save for those who have come under siege from the Infected. There are no cars about because frankly, if nobody was coming into work, seeing the sights or going clubbing, there would be nobody in Central London (hardly anyone actually lives around Westminster these days). - Why do the zombies only come out at night? Well, they don't (see Mailer). They prefer the night because they can catch people more easily. - Why the jet fighter? It might not have come from Britain. There are British soldiers elsewhere in the world. Anyway, the movie itself. This is one of the finest examples of the post-apocalyptic genre I have ever seen. The writer, Alex Garland, is not a sci-fi man, and this works in the film's favour. Like 'Night of the Living Dead', there's relatively little gore and the focus is on the actual people. Garland and Boyle give us a world of real people, with their good and bad qualities (SPOILER: An outstanding example of this is Jim's sadistic rampage towards the end). You really care for the characters and, thanks to the death of one sympathetic character early on, you really fear for them. The film plays with your expectations throughout (SPOILERS COMING). The animal rights protestors break into a research complex with good intentions and cause the outbreak. Our heroes make it to the safety of the military complex only to discover that the soldiers are basically planning to rape Selina and Hannah and execute anyone who stands in their way. The Infected help our heroes to escape. The world has apparently ended, but then Jim sees a jet fighter that suggests Britain is alone. To those who believe the ending of the film to be overly sweet, let's not forget that so far nothing has been as it seems- the airforce might be planning to come round and gun them down as a disease hazard. And then there's the images that will have particular resonance to anyone living in Britain- London deserted, the M1 motorway traffic-free and blockaded, Manchester burning. The images are both recognisable and unrecognisable. The camerawork and lighting gives the film a feel that is closer to 'Trainspotting' (another Boyle film) than 'Dawn of the Dead', which is more effective than any big-budget sci-fi blockbuster in conveying the chilling nature of the crisis. If you want lots of gore, put a camera in a bucket of blood for two hours. This film is more than a dumb slasher flick. There are three problems with the film (aside from nitpicks). Firstly, I find it difficult to believe that any disease could be so effective in 10-20 seconds. Secondly, some of the dialogue feels a bit clunky, relying too much on speeches to explain events. Thirdly, the image of Manchester burning is only there for a couple of seconds at the top of the screen, which feels like a cop-out after the bombshell of deserted London. Overall, I'd agree that this is a thinking person's horror movie. 9/10, with a point only deducted for the above points.

Blackadder Goes Forth

What all sitcoms should be
Blackadder has always been regarded as one of the best British sitcoms of all time. But in this final series it took on a satirical edge which led to a truly shocking finale.

The premise is that Captain Edmund Blackadder is a soldier on the Somme during the First World War. He is accompanied by the dimwitted Private S Baldrick and the posh twit Lieutenant George and hindered by the insane General Melchett and the snidey office boy Captain Darling. Blackadder is the only one who realises that he and his companions will almost certainly be killed if they remain and so hatches a number of escape plans which range from joining the Royal Flying Corps to feigning insanity.

It is arguable that tragedy makes for the best situation comedy, and it certainly does not come any more tragic than the First World War. With the incompetence of the generals, the ridiculous ideas of warfare and the woefully distorted propaganda, it is a wonder that such a sitcom had never been done before. A lot of the jokes (spoiler alerts to end of paragraph) seem to reflect our attitude to the war with hindsight, such as General Melchett's claim that the last thing the Germans will be expecting is for the British to use the same tactics they did seventeen times before. And there's Blackadder's assertion that escape will mean, "No more bombs, guns, shrapnel, whizzbangs or those bloody awful songs that have the word "whoops" in the title". There is also a fair share of slapstick, much of it befalling Baldrick. Never enough to lower the tone, but enough to be funny. Even the war stereotypes are dealt with, such as Rik Mayall's performance as the gloriously sexist pilot, Lord Flashheart ("Always treat your kite like you treat your woman. Get inside her five times a day and take her to heaven and back!").

What really shocks, though, is the ending. I won't give it away, but suffice it to say that it always comes near the top of British polls for the greatest moment in television history.

In a word? Sublime.

Red Dwarf

Sci-fi comedy as it should be
Red Dwarf is a rarity: science fiction that is funny. Although it never takes itself too seriously, the episodes stand up well enough on sci-fi virtues alone. Yet at the same time, you don't have to be into science fiction to enjoy them. The jokes are good, the characters are well-plotted. Although it was low-tech and low budget, this became a virtue- the writers couldn't rely on special effects to carry the episodes (although the special effects that they did put in were excellent).

This was a constantly changing show, so I'll analyse it season by season.

I & II- These were definitely the bleakest series. Lister is the last human being alive, marooned three million years into deep space with Rimmer (a hologram of the most hated man on the ship), a creature who has evolved from his pet cat and Holly, the now-senile computer. The episodes were primarily based on character rather than adventure, giving them a credible dramatic base.

III, IV & V- Fans tend to think of this as the golden age of Red Dwarf. Everything was beefed up. The crew gained the admirable Kryten, a useful mechanoid. The characters now got to go out, have adventures, fight monsters and crash on distant planets. Yet at the same time, they managed to maintain the balance of character and humour.

VI- The writers bravely chose to get rid of Red Dwarf itself and Holly, trapping the crew in the shuttlecraft Starbug. This gave a dangerous edge to the series, and some of the best episodes are in this series, notably the Emmy-award winning 'Gunmen of the Apocalypse'.

VII- Things started to slip here, it has to be said. Rimmer left and Kochanski, whom Lister had a major crush on, arrives. This series is often slated by fans, but it was not without its moments. The insane adventure sequence at the beginning of 'Stoke Me A Clipper' was hilarious, and the Rimmer Munchkin Song is so silly it's superb.

VIII- Oh dear. Too much special effects, no jokes, poor storylines- this is not a good series to start with. I reviewed this in more detail elsewhere on this site.

If you ignore the later seasons, this is a series that could stand alongside even serious science fiction without flinching. Superb.

Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens

Funny and gratuitous... just don't try to understand it.
There are some films that are entertaining, thought-provoking and well-made. There are some that try to attain these qualities but fail. And then there are films like this. Technically, this film should be awful. The acting is poor, the storyline totally throwaway and there is more gratuitous nudity than... well, anything else in this movie. It's about as politically incorrect as you can get. But on the other hand, it's unpretentious. It's as if Russ Meyer said, "Okay, let's get this straight. This is a sex comedy, now let's get down to the sex and comedy."

Once you've got over the fact that this is a Dumb Movie And Proud Of It, this is a funny film. There are some sophisticated bits of satire- the very matter-of-fact narrator who links what is basically a series of sex scenes is reminiscent of those very moral public information films. There are also some jokes that are just plain stupid (the gay marriage counsellor is funny, if stereotypical).

Of course, what Russ Meyer films are most famous for is naked busty women. Although I must admit that although the aim of the movie is clearly tittilation, after a while the nudity frankly becomes boring. We basically know that every woman who appears will get 'em out, whether for a sex scene, to sunbathe or, what the hey, just because she's a woman with large breasts. There's only so much you can take before it gets tedious.

Otherwise, the movie is pretty much what you'd expect from a Russ Meyer movie of this era. Lots of desert locations, the same actors and actresses that appear in all of them, some truly perverse sex scenes (necrophilia, incest, paedophilia and the list goes on) and a sex scene involving someone babbling on in a foreign language.

Broadly speaking, you'll like this if you like Russ Meyer films. If not, you'll be bewildered and confused.

Thomas and the Magic Railroad

You'll like it if you're under seven
Being nineteen years old (too old to be a child, to young to be a parent), I might not be the best person to review this. But I was a huge fan of the books and television series when I was young (still am, I suppose), so I went to see this movie out of nostalgia.

Frankly, it's a bit of a mess. The story is that Sir Topham Hatt is away from the Island of Sodor on holiday and Mr Conductor (Alec Baldwin) is taking over for the time being. Meanwhile, an evil diesel (named Diesel 10- what happened to Diesel 9, I want to know) who, for some reason, has been built with a hydraulic grab, is planning to take over. Also there's a girl called Lily, her grandfather, Mr Conductor's cousin, a mysterious lost engine with a Magic Railroad, something called gold dust which has some kind of magical properties and is running out... and it goes on like that.

First point, the books upon which the original series was based were always grounded in reality (all right, a reality where trains can talk, but still). That is totally abandoned in this film- Sodor is no longer an island off the coast of England, but some sort of magical realm which can only be reached using a lost magic railroad or "gold dust" (which doesn't explain where Diesel 10 came from or, indeed, where Sir Topham Hatt went on holiday). Apart from the main characters, there are no humans at all on Sodor. The new characters are totally wrong for Thomas and the old ones have been rewritten and sugared to the point of nausea.

Other flaws? Well, if you live in Britain, you'll have no idea who half the characters are. Over here, we have no Mr Conductor, Stacey Jones, Billy Two Feathers or any of the other Shining Time characters. Also, as I said before, it's far too complicated. It's almost entirely padding, in fact. And there are too many plot holes, too many to list without ruining the film. And whereas some TV franchise movies rely too much on knowledge of the series upon which they were based, this movie keeps referring to events that haven't even happened (characters talk about Diesel 10 being "back"- when was he there before?).

The acting is pretty horrible. Peter Fonda makes the model engines look emotional; Mara Wilson is just confusing, looking twelve years old and acting like a four-year-old; Britt Allcroft's thankfully brief voice-over as the lost engine seems to be just an ego trip. The engines speak in a variety of awful pseudo-Brit accents, ranging from Percy's bad Cockney to Toby's bad Alec Guinness impression.

Strangest of all, given that he is nominally the star, Thomas seems to do nothing for the plot. He is basically an assistant who looks on while Peter Fonda, Mara Wilson, Alec Baldwin and Diesel 10 move the plot forward.

All in all, small children will enjoy it, but everyone else will be praying for the pain to end within half an hour. I must admit, though, I did like the bit when Diesel 10 was threatening to hurl Alec Baldwin off a viaduct. Summed up my feelings perfectly.

Star Trek: First Contact

A great film, even if you don't like Star Trek
***SPOILERS*** ***SPOILERS*** First off, let me say that I'm not a huge fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I'll watch it, but I find the characters are just too straight-up and unrealistic- you know that they're always right and they always win. Which was partly why this made such an excellent film. The character of Captain Picard was properly explored (is he fighting for what is right, or merely what he perceives as right?), as was that of the android Data (far removed from the comic relief role he had in the early years of the television series).

The storyline is this: the Borg, cybernetic hive organisms who specialise in assimilating entire species and turning them into single-minded drones, have travelled back in time to prevent humanity from making first contact with alien life and plan to take over the Earth. Picard, who has "previous experience" of the Borg, goes against his orders and follows them back to the twenty-first century. There, humanity is recovering from the Third World War and Zephram Cochran is about to make the first ever flight in a faster-than-light vessel. The crew of the Enterprise have to fight the Borg off and still ensure that the flight goes ahead in accordance with history.

The Borg are excellent villains in this film. Virtually immune to almost every weapon, silent and ruthless, they are a genuinely menacing threat. In contrast to the smooth and clean Enterprise crew, they are dark and dirty. Alice Krige as the Borg Queen exudes a seductive cruelty.

Zephram Cochran is a particularly interesting component- someone who deflates the pretensions of the twenty-fourth century and also raises the question of what our heroes were really like- were they really as great as we think they were?

All in all, this is a movie which manages to combine action, intelligent concepts and good characterisation. This is rare enough in cinema; to see it in the eighth entry of a movie franchise based upon a TV series is a revelation. You won't like it if you hate science fiction, but you'll like it even if you aren't a Trek fan.

Best line? "Assimilate this!" A few complaints: (spoiler alert)

1. If the Borg are so fearsome, how come they're such bad shots?

2. Lieutenant Hawk. Here is the regular crew, and here is Lieutenant Hawk, whom we have never seen before. Which one do you think gets assimilated?

3. All the Borg drones die when the Queen is killed- now, that can't make much evolutionary sense.

Dark City

Existential genius sci-fi
This film is an example of a genre that is all too rare these days: science fiction that is based upon intellectual questioning rather than flashy special effects. The film begins with our hero, John Murdoch, waking up in his apartment with a dead body and no memories of who he is or how he got there. A broken syringe adds a further strange element to this scene. I have heard three major complaints about this film: the special effects are unrealistic, the voiceover at the beginning gives too much away and the ending is pretty lame. I would disagree with all these comments.

The special effects are, it has to be said, unrealistic. But then, so were the ones in 'Moulin Rouge'. The whole film is shot in a stylised and atmospheric manner which is wholly in keeping with the story. To criticise the film for this, you would also have to criticise 'Batman', 'The Crow' and 'Moulin Rouge' for the same crime. As for the voiceover at the beginning, this is perhaps a little redundant. But it is not a spoiler, as some people have suggested. Watching the film will show that, in fact, there is a catch to it. As for the ending, it may appear to be something of an anticlimax, but after the revelations of the events of the film it makes perfect sense. The characters are superb- we have the doctor who claims to have betrayed his race (who is a good guy, though acting in the manner of the mad scientist), the hard-bitten police inspector (who seems to veer between hero and villain) and the hero's wife who finds herself washed away on the tide of events beyond her understanding. The story is excellent with some genuinely unexpected plot twists and, for once, it actually asks serious questions about the nature of humanity- to what extent is a human made up if his or her memories? Only one complaint from me (spoiler alert). I thought the old sci-fi cliche of the Maniac-Who-Turns-Out-To-Be-Right was used unnecessarily- he supplies little information that we did not already know and, since it's science fiction, it's a fair bet that he is speaking the truth whether you know the story or not. Maybe someone should make a sci-fi movie where the maniac is just a maniac.

Judge Dredd

Could have been so much better...
As a fan of the original comics upon which this movie was based, I have to say that I found this a major disappointment. The movie took the intelligent, satirical and unique ideas behind the comic and turned them into another production line science fiction action movie. The premise of the movie (and indeed the comics) is that in the future, most of the world has been wiped out by nuclear war, leaving the enormous Mega-Cities as the only major centres of population. To keep the peace in these overpopulated, high-crime, high unemployment cities, a new type of lawman has been introduced: the Judges. Possessing the right to try and execute criminals on the spot, the toughest of them all is the ice-cool Judge Joe Dredd. The story is the basic hero-accused-of-a-crime-he-didn't-commit with a science fiction twist. Potentially, this could have been a great movie. But issues that really needed to be examined, such as Dredd's character, are skipped over. The intelligent satire of the comics is abandoned in favour of pointless violence and a romantic ending is tacked on. As a brainless action movie it's fine, but as thought-provoking science fiction it's a failure.

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