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Vertical Limit

Fun enough bit of nonsense
The plot of this film is a load of tosh that occurs in a logic vacuum. Few would dispute this. Experienced climbers do things that I wouldn't expect rookies to do. Actually every character in this does the stupid thing at most opportunities. Having said that, movies like this are made to appeal to audiences who have never climbed a mountain in their lives and just want to see explosions and people making death defying leaps (even if there is no reason to make them).

Bell end Texas Billionaire Elliott Vaughn (the late Bill Paxton in a rare villainous role) tried and failed to climb K2 4 years before the events of the film. Something went wrong and people ended up dead, with Elliott surviving. Leader of the doomed expedition was Mayama Wick, who we later learn was left for dead on the mountain by Vaughn who had stolen her Dax needles to prolong his own survival. Her husband Montgomery (Scott Glenn), a master climber, goes to the base camp every climbing season to search for her body and confirm his suspicions that Vaughn was responsible for her death. While this fun is going on, Wick's old climbing buddy Royce Garrett dies in an accident while climbing with his son Peter (Chris O'Donnell) and daughter Annie (Robbin Tunney). Peter is forced to cut the rope to prevent his father's weight from pulling them all off a cliff face.

As fate would happen, Vaughn returns to the mountain for Round 2 and gets Annie to assist him on his trek at the same time that Peter randomly visits base camp. Turns out this climb is part of a publicity stunt by Vaughn who has just opened an airline and wants to wave at the inaugural flight as it flies over the mountain. Now common sense will tell you that anyone who would agree to lead an expedition like this would be the worst person possible to lead an expedition: enter Tom McClaren (Nicolas Lea) who will show us how correct that thinking is.

At 24'000 feet and a 30% chance of weather coming in McLaren's not going to take control and explain that 30% chance of death is far too high to continue. Nope, he'll be manipulated by Vaughn, not once but twice, into continuing. By the time he does turn around they are walking into a blizzard. Annie falls into a cavern, an avalanche then ensues, and Annie, Tom and Vaughn get buried in the cavern. Vaughn tells the audience that they have 36 hours of resources to keep them alive. Peter hears about his sister's plight and enlist the help of Wick (who wants to kill Vaughn), yow generic Australians and a French Canadian nurse who "couldn't climb a ladder," to load up their climbing bags with volatile nitro glycerin ("1 million sperm and you were the fastest" asks one of the aussie climbers with some justification) to charge up Hamburger Hill with Colonel Stupid on his suicide mission.

And that's your plot. How will it all work out? Well, you can probably guess.

This is stupid, but fun if you allow it to be. Some nice set design (oh yeah, most of this is on sets) and the effects are good enough. There are many worse ways to spend a couple of hours than with this generic disaster flick.


Decent Show, if too long
Well, Ronda Rousey made Steph tap, Nicholas had a Big Day Out and Brock retained to widespread apathy at a 5 hour WrestleMania that burned out the crowd long before the end came.

I'm skipping the pre show which included a men's battle royal won by Matt Hardy,a women's battle royal won by Naomi and a Cruiserweight Championship match won by someone you've probably never heard of and don't care about because no one watches 205 Live (though the show is quite good these days).

The night proper started off very strongly with two excellent matches. First was a Triple Threat match for the Intercontinental Title, the champion (and new father: congratulations!) Miz putting the belt on the line against Finn Balor and Seth Rollins. They have a fast and fun match that went for 10-15 minutes and was won by Seth. Perfect opener. Next up saw Charlotte Flair retain the SD Women's Championship in a great match, arguably the best of the night, against Asuka, ending her 200+ match winning streak in the process. A few people annoyed by Charlotte ending the streak, but personally I've always felt that you need to end long winning streaks before you put the belt on someone. It just detracts from the title reign otherwise. Case in point: Bill Goldberg. And Charlotte has earned her spot as the top woman in the company and lost the title to Carmella two days later on SD, so stop complaining.

In a comedy piece, John Cena, who'd made a series of challenges to the Undertaker coming into the event and was sitting in the crowd, not officially booked for a match, gets a message from a referee and sprints out the back. Looks like Taker is in the building.

Next up we have a 4 way match for the US Title, Champion Randy Orton putting it on the line against Bobby Roode (whose WM debut this was) JInder Mahal and Rusev. They have a short match to calm the crowd down. Mahal pins Rusev and that's about it.

Next we have the real Main Event and it delivered big time as former UFC fighter Robda Rousey made her in ring debut teaming with Kurt Angle against triple H and Stephanie McMahon. This. Was. Great. All 4 looked great and Rousey's greenness was well hidden. Satisfying end as she hits a brutal looking arm bar on Steph forcing het to tap.

Next up we had another calm-the-crowd match as the Bludgeon Brothers squashed New Day and the Usos to win the SD tag titles. Then we had our comedy piece as John Cena came to the ring for his match with Taker. Lights went out Elias came out instead. After a brief concert from the Drifter, Cena kicked his ass, Then out comes Taker and Cena spends the nest 3 minutes bumping around like a cartoon character, complete with doubling back in shock and falling over after the Undertaker sat up following his only offensive move of the match, This was a match you would expect Bobby Heenan to have with the Undertaker, not John Cena. Complete waste of time.

Next up we have Daniel Bryan coming back after 3 years out with injury, teaming up with Shane McMahon against Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens. This was a good match, but they made a bad mistake with the booking with hurt the crowd reaction. Bryan was taken out early and the crowd died for 10 minutes as Shane went 1 on 2 against the heels. And, while Bryan got a nice reaction when he tagged in and ultimately forced Zayn to submit to the Yes Lock, it was not what it could have been.

Next up Nia Jax defeated champion Alexa Bliss to win the RAW Women's Championship in a perfectly acceptable match. AJ Styles and Sinsuke Nakamura than had what was, technically speaking, the best match of the night, though I feel it should have gone at least 3 minutes longer with a few more bear falls to really build to the finish. The match was criticized for not living up to their Wrestle Kingdom classic, but I question how many in WWE's audience know what Wrestle Kingdom is, let alone what type of match they had there. Anyway, Styles wins with a Styles Clash. Nakamura then turns heel, low blowing Styles after handing him the belt. This was awesome.

Next we had a waste of time, Braun Strowman picking a kid out of the audience named Nicholas to team with him so he could win the RAW Tag titles from Sheamus and Ceasaro on his own. Both guys deserved better.

Brings us to the main event in which Brock Lesnar, in a big surprise, retained the RAW Championship against Roman Reigns in a good match. But the real story was the crowd's utter apathy to what was going on. Chants of "Bring Back NIcholas", "This is Awful" and "We Want Beach Balls" rang out. No one reacted at all when Reigns kicked out of an F5 for the first time, a spot they'd been building for a year. Like I said though, it was actually a pretty good match. Reigns bumped like a mad man and got busted open by an elbow. Lesnar's frustration at Reigns' resilience was well conveyed. This crowd wanted none of Reigns and then popped big time for Brock's eventual win. And they were smart about it. Rather than booing him, they just ignored him and ruined the match, which creates a lot more issues for the WWE aesthetically and may actually force a rethink about how they're using Reigns.

Decent show, went downhill after the mixed tag. They killed the crowd at the start of the Daniel Bryan match and never really won them back from there on.

The Other Boleyn Girl

The (somewhat) true account of two women rooted in history
Let's face it. There are two main reasons why people went to see this movie when it came out. Nobody was expecting wonderful British wit (from two Americans and an Australian), people were not expecting to see a thought provoking look at a significant period in British history. Nope. People either wanted to see a pretty looking period piece, or two of the most beautiful women in the world trying desperately to get a man in bed for two hours. Don't get me wrong, I think this movie does provide more than that, but admit it: that's why you came.

It's a time of upheaval in England as King Henry VIII gets increasingly stroppy with his french wife's infuriating inability to give birth to a male (on a serious note the queen was pregnant several times with boys, but for various reasons, none survived to reach primary age). It would be catastrophic for England to have a weak female heir, so in comes the sleazy Duke of Norfolk (David Morrisey who would play Gordon Brown later in his career) who colludes with his brother in law Thomas Boleyn, to use his hot daughter Anne (Natalie Portman-solid) to seduce the king, become his mistress, produce a male, and help them climb the social ladder. Unfortunately, the king is more interested in that Other Boleyn Girl, Mary (Scarlet Johannson), who is married to Sherlock Holmes. Long story short, Sherlock dies while working overseas and ends up falling for the King, much to the chagrin of her sister Anne.

So Henry knocks up Mary and an unimpressed Anne marries an Earl without the King's consent. Anne tells her brother George, who tells Mary, who has Anne exiled to France so as to not bring trouble down on the family. Mary nearly miscarriages so they call back her sister, who talks herself into the King's bed, forcing him to forsake Mary. Mary has her child, but the King has already turned his back on her, as any red blooded male would when Natalie Portman is the Other Woman. Anne won't sleep with Henry until they are properly married, so Henry establishes the church of England (along with various other significant structural changes) so he can get a divorce and marry Anne. From there we have rape, incest and an execution as Anne proves herself a woMan For All Seasons (and degradations).

This is a pretty film to look at and features strong performances from Bana and Portman and Johannson does well enough to be more than a third wheel. If you want to look at this time in history more closely you should probably do some reading (Simon Sohama would be a good start), because what we see here barely scratches the surface.

But I'm going to give this movie a pass, not only does it give you what's promised on the label but it does this with good acting, great costume and set design, and a story that genuinely engages. I was outraged, angered, amused and yeah occasionally turned on. C'mon guys, you don't have to be that teenager telling your mother you only picked up that Playboy issue she found in your bedroom to read the articles your whole life. It is OK to find one of the most beautiful women in the world playing a seductress arousing.

Ultimately, the Other Boleyn Girl is more than the sum of its parts and does more than is promised on the DVD cover. This is not an accurate look at history, but it is a well made, well acted production with a decent story, which is probably helped by its narrow focus. It's above average, but far from essential. Let's leave it at that.

Royal Rumble

Close to a legit Supercard
The First PPV of the McMahon-Helmsley Era is actually the best for quite some time. It features a classic title match, a decent Royal Rumble, and a weird throwback match.

The night starts off with the still undefeated Kurt Angle taking on a mystery opponent. Hmmm, seen this set up before But it's not the Honky Tonk Man who comes out, it's actually Tazz, who'd just come over from ECW. He and Angle go back and forth a lot more than I expected before Tazz chokes Angle out. It was early in Angle's run, but he was a quick learner and was doing a serviceable job of getting himself some good heat, but few could have predicted exactly how far he would end up going by the end of the year. After Angle comes to he points out that if he was choked out, it wasn't a legitimate win and he's still undefeated. Tazz then brags about how he's going to run through the whole WWE roster. Not quite Tazz. While, he wouldn't go far as a competitor, but hung around for a long time as an announcer.

On my DVD listing it says the second match on the card is Undertaker vs IRS, but I'd say that's a misprint because there is no Undertaker or IRS on this show. Sorry for all the Mike Rotunda fans out there.

Brings us to a pretty sweet match, the first ever Tables Match between the Hardyz and the Dudleyz. The object here is to put both your opponents through a table. Dudleyz were weird trailer trash table fetishists and this was one of those matches that was supposed to favour them. However the Hardyz win after some nice action. There's a nice moment when both Hardyz end up going through tables after the Dudleyz are able to get out of the way. It's then announced that the Dudleyz have to physically put their opponents through the table, rather than their opponents doing it to themselves. I like that kind of detail. The match culminates in Jeff Hardy's iconic senton bomb off the balcony and through a table that had the MSG crowd in raptures.

I'm skipping the bikini contest as I don't particularly care what happens or who wins. Might have caught it had Sable still been around.

Next we have Chyna and Chris Jericho, currently sharing the Intercontinental Championship due to shenanigans, and just for fun Hardcore Holly's thrown in. This is the only time in Holly's career I connected with him at all, but I still didn't want to see him in anything other than hardcore matches. Jericho really ups his game here, and they were right to have him go over and take sole possession of the belt.

Next we see The New Age Outlaws successfully defend their tag team belts against the APA after interference from X-Pac. The APA had won their title shot at the previous month's Armageddon PPV. The Outlaws had more important things to attend to in the next match, in which their DX stable leader Triple H (and virtual CEO of the company after Vince walked out 4 weeks earlier) put his WWE Championship on the line against Cactus Jack. Foley had reverted back to the Cactus gimmick after Mankind was fired by Triple H for standing up to him and then losing a "pink slip on a pole" match to the Rock on RAW. The Rock and the whole roster threatened strike action if Foley wasn't reinstated. Trips let him back in and Foley challenged him to a street fight for the WWE Championship, before revealing he was back to being cactus Jack. This is one of the great title matches, despite featuring interference from both The Rock and DX. Triple H eventually wins a brutal match after dropping Cactus on thumbtacks. On the DVD release there is footage of Trips requiring a segment of wood to be pulled out of his lower leg after the match.

Brings us to the main event. I can tell stats fans that D Lo Brown was #1, X-Pac was #30, Test (#10) spent the longest amount of time in the ring (27 minutes-hardly impressive), Rikishi (#5) had the most eliminations (7) and the final four were The Rock, Big Show and feuding former tag partners X-Pac and Kane. The Rock throws out X-Pac, but the refs are distracted so he comes back in and throws out Kane. Kane does a really poor looking bronco buster on Show, who throws him out of the ring. Show gets Rock down and lifts him on his shoulders, but Rock is able to grab the top rope as Show attempts to throw him out and uses the momentum to lift Show out of the ring. The Rock is able hold the top rope and so wins the Rumble. Even at the time I was looking at the ending and it occurred to me that either the Rock had stuffed up, or the ending was supposed to be screwy, because it looked a whole lot to me like the Rock's feet hit the ground before Show landed. There's probably an interview somewhere where someone talks about whether this was a screw up or just how its was intended to go down, but I couldn't be bothered looking to find out.

Anyway, this was a nice PPV. Most of the big matches delivered and there was nothing really bad. Moving forward, we get the inevitable Rock vs Triple H match for WrestleMania. Wonder what they'll do with that filler February PPV> Surely there's no loose ends here with WrestleMania implications...

WWF Armageddon

Overloaded card, but set up 2000 well
Haven't done one of these PPV summaries in a while. Survivor Series 1999 was, in many ways, the end of an era. It was the PPV where Austin was written out, supposedly hit by a car so he could take time off for long needed neck surgery. Filling in the void at the top of the card was freshly crowned WWE Champion the Big Show, though he was not the main focus of this PPV. In the couple of months leading up to this, McMahon had allied himself with Austin, and become a fan favourite as a result. When evil heel Triple H interrupted Stephanie's wedding, revealing that he had drugged and married Stephanie at a Vegas wedding chapel, and then consummated the marriage several times (because date rape jokes were quite funny in 1999....), Vince was understandably incensed, and so challenged Triple H to a street fight. If Vince wins, the Triple H/ Stephanie marriage is annulled. If Triple H wins he stays married to the boss's daughter and gets a WWF Championship match.

There's a lot of undercard matches to get through first and some other shenanigans, so without further ado, the night began with a bit of a cluster as 8 tag teams: th APA, The Headbangers, The Hardyz, the Dudleyz, The Mean Street Posse, Too Cool, Edge and Christian and Mark Henry and the Godfather met in a battle royal for a shot at the WWE Tag Team Championship at the Royal Rumble. Without getting into too much detail, it comes down to Jeff Hardy and the APA's Faarooq. The ref is distracted during Faarooq's elimination, so Faarooq is able to jump back into the ring and eliminate an unimpressed Jeff. Too many people in the ring and too much happening to really get into this one. In spite of the finish, the 1997 Royal Rumble it wasn't.

Next up we had Kurt Angle, then undefeated, continuing his streak with a win over Steve Blackman in an unremarkable match. Maybe I was being a little harsh on that last match calling it unremarkable, as the next match featured a 4 corners evening gown match won by the Kat over Ivory, Barbara Bush (if you'd forgotten about her short lived WWE career, you're not alone) and Jacqueline. the object is to strip your opponents down to their underwear.

Next up we saw the Holly Cousins (the late Crash Holly and Hardcore Holly) defeating Viscera and Rikishi. You can probably guess the quality of that one. Next up the British Bulldog defended his European Championship belt against Val Venis and D Lo Brown. Venis pinned the Bulldog after a Money Shot (remember that finisher?) to win a match I wasn't particularly into.

The next match, which again isn't great was one they'd at least built up, as former tag team partners and friend Kane and X-Pac met in a steel cage match. The New Age Outlaws are able to get some weapons to X-Pac which he uses to keep Kane grounded for a lot of the fight. Kane's girlfriend Tori interferes, getting an X-Factor for her troubles, only for Kane to finish X-Pac off with a tombstone and then tend to Tori. We again saw a woman finish on her back in the next match as Chris Jericho defeated Chyna to win her Intercontinental Championship. Chyna had won the championship at Unforgiven, basically to humiliate Jeff Jarrett who was leaving the company. She'd get another run with it as part of a storyline with Eddie Guerrero.

Next up we had the New Age Outlaws retain the tag team titles after they lost by disqualification to The Rock and Sock Connection. This match happened more to advance a storyline whereby Mankind is betrayed by his former tag partner Al Snow. Snow brought about the DQ by interfering with a pin attempt by the Rock, and then got a people's elbow.

Next up we have the WWF Championship match which sees the Big Show retain the title in a short, bad, match against the Big Boss Man. Boss Man had been taunting Big Show about the ailing health of his father for several weeks, but this is still a weak championship match-up.

Finally brings us to the main event, which is actually not a bad match. They use the military props near ringside as well as the street fight stipulation to good effect. Vince is aided by Mankind and looks like pulling out the win when Stephanie comes out and stops Vince from decking Triple H with a sledge hammer. Trips capitalizes on the distraction and wins the match, only to turn around and start canoodling with Stephanie?! The Million Dollar Princess was in on it all along! The following night Vince and Shane walk out and Triple H and Stephanie were running the company. The McMahon-Helmsley era had begun!

This isn't really a great PPV. There's no outstanding matches, though the main event is memorable. It did a good job of setting up the year ahead, with Triple H in the ascendancy, but the Rock, Mankind and Big Show there as potentially serious foils. There would be life after Stone Cold after all.

Wyatt Earp

Just turn it off after he leaves Dodge City and watch Tombstone
It's a well known cliché of Hollywood that they tend to release things in twos. Remember Deep Impact and Armageddon hitting at about the same time? How about Volcano and Dante's Peak? Red Planet and Mission to Mars (OK, no one remembers that one). Well in 1994 there were two films made looking at the life of famous lawman Wyatt Earp. The first, George P Cosmatos' Tombstone, looked only at Earp's time spent in the city of the title, focusing on the events leading up to and following the Showdown at the OK Corral. This film, a labour of love from Lawrence Kasdan, fashions Earp's life into an epic story of love and the binds of family in a lawless land.

There is much to admire about the first half of the film, the part of me that is still a young boy who grew up watching John Wayne westerns with his father loves the shots of a herd of wild Buffalo, row after row of corn fields, cowboys riding on horseback through parched desert, and saloon shootouts all happening to a suitably grandiose soundtrack. This part of the film is pure western film making. It's nice to see Earp (Kevin Costner) interact with his father (Gene Hackman), see him go from a young law student who "never killed anyone" to a widower horse thief on the lam who bumps into the Masterson brothers, Ed (Bill Pullman) and Bat (Tom Sizemore) while hunting Buffalo. We see him work as a card dealer for his brother James (David Andrews) and then unwittingly become a lawman after taking down a gun toting drunk. It's kind of cool to meet his other brothers Morgan (Linden Ashby) and Virgil (Michael Madsen), but around now, we are starting to get weighed down by too many characters. I'm still on board as we see Earp get banished from Dodge City and becomes a bounty hunter, meeting Doc Holliday (Dennis Quaid-very good) and then returning to Dodge City with his brothers to clean it up after the Sheriff is killed.

And this is really where you should turn it off and watch Cosmatos's film. In the second half, Kasdan gets bogged down trying to maneuver around far too many characters, which is further exacerbated by placing Earp into a love triangle that takes up far too much time and focus, just as the movie is headed towards the climactic showdown at the OK Corral. Following said showdown, things continue to go fairly slowly, we get yet more time donated to Earp's love life while there are far more interesting things going on. From there it's a slog to the finish line, where we get a great flashback scene of Earp talking down a lynch mob. These are the scenes we want to see, not a girl drinking herself to death because her common law husband is sleeping with a prettier woman. Cosmatos was able to convey this without using up as much screen time.

It's a shame the film get bogged down in its second half because Costner, Quaid, Sizemore, Hackman, Cinematographer Owen Roizman, and Composer James Newton Howard are all up for this and in fine form. Ultimately though, the film suffers from having too many characters, too much of a bland ,love triangle and being in the shadow of the more action oriented Tombstone, which took a more economical look at the same events. For its first half however, Wyatt Earp is both gorgeous to look at and an entertaining origin story of one of the most heavily mythologized figures of the American Wild West. Costner gives us an Earp that, if not capturing what the actual man was like, captures what he should have been like, while Quaid is not as memorable as Kilmer, but still excellent as Holliday.

Wyatt Earp is something of a missed opportunity due to a weak second half, but is far from worthless. Helpfully on the DVD release I own, the first disc ends right when Earp cleans up Dodge City. For viewers this is a pretty good time to take it out and watch Cosmatos' Tombstone instead of disc 2. As a matter of fact, I may do that right now...

Point Break

Never really understood its guilty pleasure status...
... not because I think it's a bad film, but because I think it's freaking awesome! It came as a genuine surprise to me that the film is viewed by many as a film so bad it's crossed the border into good. I'm not going to waste letters critiquing other people's critiques, but I will give my own two cents.

I think whenever you talk about a film that is 25+ years old, it's necessary to talk about your own personal context. I believe I was 11 or 12 years old when I saw this on VHS (some of you young'uns may have to google that one). Keanu Reeves at this stage was best known for playing Theodore Logan in the Bill and Ted series, there was no Speed or Matrix movies to go by. I had seen Ghost and I think Roadhouse, but I didn't have any clear memories of Patrick Swayze, apart from thinking he was "da man." Gary Busey was not a part of my life and I honestly had no idea who he was. I had never seen a surfing movie (especially not Big Wednesday, Busey's entry into the genre and well worth a look for being IMO far more deserving of this film's reputation) or a sky diving film, but I found both pastimes quite fascinating (and have indulged in both as I got older).

Point Break is the story of FBI Agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) who is trying to track down a group of bank robbers. Believing the theory of an older agent, Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey) that the gang of robbers are surfers, Utah decides to go undercover and infiltrates a tight knit group of surfers, headed by serial risk taker Bodhi (Patrick Swayze, awesome). Utah takes a liking to Bodhi and his life philosophy, but eventually learns that Bodhi's gang are the bank robbers he's looking for, and has to fight his feelings of kinship with Bodhi to try and bring the gang down.

As an 11 year old I had never seen anything like this. The great surfing and sky diving action, the brilliantly filmed chase sequences, the bank robbery. Ted Logan in a serious role? Patrick Swayze as a gun toting wise man? This was film making on a different level to any of the movies I'd seen to that point.

Coming back as an adult, I choose not to care about inconsistencies and illogical happenings in the story for a very simple reason: I am entertained by what's happening in front of me. The action sequences in this are breathtaking. Patrick Swayze's sheer presence in this is off the charts. And even in 1991, Reeves has the look and presence of a star. I think as time has gone on we've gotten more and more guilty of breaking a film, or anything for that matter, we are critiquing into various parts and trying to come up with a sum total. But something as experiential as watching a film doesn't lend itself to that. Does Keanu Reeves give, in many ways, a wretched performance? Probably, but does it take me out of the film at all? Gotta say no. Is there some really dopey dialogue at times? Yes, but it's not out of place with the message or flow of the film and again doesn't take me out of it. Do things happen in this that would never and could never happen in the real world? Yes, but I can buy that they are happening in the universe the film exists in. I am willing to give this film a lot in the way of suspending disbelief because I am enjoying the ride.

I don't come to this as some old fogey who thinks "they don't make them like they used to." I love modern cinema. I really enjoyed the Fast and the Furious, which riffs heavily on this film, and its various sequels; I liked the Hunger Games films, hell, I even liked Transformers and do the occasional Harry Potter marathon. But it is baffling to me that this film has become so maligned and the butt of jokes when it is easily the equal of any action film made today.

For its well directed action sequences, for Swayze's presence and for the whole message and feel of the film, it deserves to be remembered as one of the 90s best action flicks. They really should have known better than to try and remake it and we really should know better than to dismiss it so easily.

Jackie Brown

Elmore Leonard meets blaxploitation
I'll start with a confession. When I first saw this movie I was 16 years old, I had no idea about Foxy Brown and the only film I'd ever seen Pam Grier in was Escape from LA, where she played a trans-gender character. The names on the marquee I was interested in were Quentin Tarantino, Michael Keaton and Samuel L Jackson. That's what brought me here. Elmore Leonard I knew as the writer of Get Shorty, but he was hardly a name I was looking to follow around, unthinkable in hindsight given that he was the author who wrote the Pulpy novels that three of the best flicks of the 90s (this, Get Shorty and Out of Sight) were based on, but I was 16 and there was no smart phones with google apps on them to find this stuff out. We didn't even have DVD special features to learn this kind of stuff kids. Hell, we didn't really have DVDs in any meaningful way, so give me a break to start with, OK?

In a lot of ways this is my favourite Tarantino film to watch, not because it's his best, but because it's the one that seems the least like a Tarantino film. The story, not just the characters, are given time and room to flow and there's a certain feel to this film and the performances given by the main cast that is tangibly different to any other work he has done before or since. Jackie Brown seems to be a lot more similar to Get Shorty and Out of Sight stylistically than it does Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs. It's fascinating to see a Director like Tarantino adapt someone else's work and make a high quality film.

Pam Grier stars as the Jackie Brown of the title (a superb performance that carries the entire film), a flight attendant for a South American airline smuggling money into the country for gun runner Ordell Robbie (Samuel L Jackson). Unfortunately for Jackie, another one of Ordell's smugglers Beaumont Livingstone (Chris Tucker before Rush Hour) gets arrested and rats her out. For his sins, Beaumont is executed by Ordell. Jackie is then arrested at the airport by Ray Nicolette, (Michael Keaton), who I assume is an FBI agent due to a funny cameo Keaton makes as the same character in Out of Sight, and Detective Mark Dugas (Michael Bowen), who want her to wear a wire and help them get Ordell. Aided by bail bondsman Max Sherry (Robert Forster, superb, Oscar nominated) Jackie hatches a plan they might just get her out of this alive while Ordell has some funny scenes with his stoner associate Louis Gara (Robert de Niro in a pitch perfect stoner haze) and equally stoner girlfriend Melanie Ralston (Bridget Fonda). It all comes together into a satisfying final act with Jackie outsmarting the lot of them.

Jackie Brown doesn't try too hard to emulate Tarantino's earlier successes, but he does still play to his strengths, eliciting strong performances from a stellar cast. Grier and Forster were never this good again, while Fonda has rarely been this fun to watch ever. De Niro and Keaton effortlessly capture their roles, while Jackson's nuanced, sometimes menacing, performance is one of the triumphs of the film. He's said since that this was his favourite role in a Tarantino film, and it's easy to see why.

Well, there you have it. I've always enjoyed this film for its story, its strong performances and just its whole feel. Its a great companion piece for the equally excellent Out of Sight and another reminder of just how good it was to be a film fan in the mid-late 90s.

Saw 3D

Bit of a mess really
The Saw series ends with a whimper rather than a bang in this underwhelming final installment which simply fails to take the time to set up its various twists and turns.

For instance, we have a man who's lied about surviving a Jigsaw Trap who gets put in a trap for real, fair enough. But what actually happens to him? It doesn't look like he dies. Does he end up discredited? Does he end up a depressed and isolated man? Then we have this Jigsaw survivors group. Great idea, but, what happens to them? What's the end game? And finally we have the returning Dr Gordon (Cary Elwes). What a waste! Yes, I understand that he needs to be a Jigsaw disciple and that this makes sense, but surely they could have set this up better. He is in the opening scene and shows up at the Survivor Group, but what happened to his family? Did they break up? Did he disappear for a few months? Come on guys, if you're going to bring back a character after 5 movies, explain something.

The one thing I do like in this movie is Detective Hoffman's ramboesque rampage. He is bug eyes crazy and I love his character. I didn't really care about him in Part 5, but in 6 and 7, I buy him as an interesting and dangerous psycho killer. There's also a nice trap with three corners of a love triangle and circular saw, but when is that happening? Who set this trap: Jigsaw, Hoffman or Amanda, or hell, was it Gordon? In the end this a poor final installment. It rushes through things, doesn't explain enough and looks cheaper than the previous ones. I didn't see it in 3D, but it's obvious which scenes pander to it. Hoffman tries to keep us interested, but his bonkers rampage isn't enough to save this. A poor ending, which causes me to fail the whole series. 3 good films out of 7 with a crap ending does not a worthwhile series make. Could have been better but oh well. It is what it is.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The Green VHS that I can quote line for line
Well, my 250th review for this site, so I'm going to try to talk about a film it's simply impossible for me to be objective about. Along with Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (RIP Alan Rickman), this was one of the films I watched obsessively as a child. The VHS came coloured green and I liked it oh so much better than the cartoons. This movie made me a fan of Elias Koteas. That's right: my watching The Prophecy, Fallen and Thin Red Line all started here. This was the first movie soundtrack I owned and I listened to it repeatedly, going into random, and usually unwanted, renditions of 9.95 and MC Hammer's "This is What we Do." Watching this movie for me is like having a wave of nostalgia washing over me, every line of dialogue in every scene is like meeting up with an old friend. Later in life I lived with a flat mate who was equally obsessed with it growing up. We could re-enact every line of dialogue in the film.

The movie introduces us to a dark New York City, being vandalized by an increasingly large ninja Klan known as The Foot, led by the mysterious Shredder. We get a nice montage showing just how widespread and organized their crime wave is as journalist April O'Neal (Judith Hoag) reports these happenings on the news. April's attempts to expose The Foot Clan draws their ire and the Turtles come to protect her as the baddies attack, kicking their asses. But Raphael loses a Si, but don't worry, it ain't gone. He CAN GET IT BACK man! Raphael is the brooding loner of the group and decides to go to the movies (Critters 3, Leonardo DiCaprio's first movie) where he is unimpressed with what he sees, but ends up meeting a vigilante Casey Jones (Elias Koteas) and getting his ass kicked by him after revealing he doesn't understand either crumpets or cricket, two of the best things in life. Raph then gets his Si back after saving April from another Foot Clan attack and he's forced to take her back to their sewer hide out where Splinter can reveal their backstory. The Turtles go to check out April's house where The Foot attack again. Raphael gets severely wounded during the attack while at the same time the hideout is ravaged by The Foot and Splinter kidnapped and tortured. This leaves the Turtles to escape into the country along with April and Casey and train themselves up for the final showdown with Shredder.

OK, I can see flaws in the story, but really, it satisfies me on just about every level. The Turtle puppets are reasonably convincing and mainly kept in darkness. The main cast put around them are all adequate at worst, and Hoag and Koteas are both good. We also have a young Sam Rockwell on screen for a couple of scenes as one of the Foot leaders. The film flows effortlessly from scene to scene and never feels slow or bogged down. It just rollicks along at a good clip, mixing fun, action and some nice messages for the kids. I've heard people say it's too dark, but it never bothered me either visually or in terms of atmosphere.

In the end, I can't view this objectively, no matter how hard I try. This is more than a movie, it's an old friend, and like any friend, you accept it faults and all. That old, worn green VHS that gave me hours of enjoyment as a youngster and is still worthwhile more than 25 years later. That's a rare type of connection that only films can give us, and the reason we continue to love movies well into our dotage.

Saw VI

Fun? Oh yes. There will be fun...
Oh look, all you need to know about this film is that Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) runs around with the severed hand of the late Agent Strahm trying to leave Strahm's fingerprints everywhere. Look, I lost it when he pulled out the hand. I was sitting in the theatre and burst out laughing. And he doesn't stop using it! he just keeps going. This is the film where they let go of any pretensions of being some serious gritty horror film, and it is all the better for it, as the past two have been about as torturous to watch as some of the traps have been. In this one you will actually have some fun watching it.

What else happens? Who cares! Well all right, we have some douchey people (insurance assessors, predatory lenders) put into traps, who we are supposed to want to see die. We have Hoffmam taking out some agents who have worked out who he is and we have some more crap about Amanda and Jigsaw that I stopped caring about 2 or 3 films back.

Look, if you must keep making these movies, please make silly ones like this with a genuine cliff hanger and some fun to be had. Jigsaw died in Part 3. I don't want to know what was written in a letter Amanda read in Part 3. I don't want to see Saw trying to channel Fight Club by "making people feel free," and I really don't want to have a whole movie wasted by trying to explain Hoffman's back story while a group of people not even connected to the main story kill each other in a trap. I want to see Hoffman use a severed hand to leave fingerprints (think about how stupid that really is) and kill some people who've found him out. I want to see a predatory lender cut their arm off with a meat cleaver. I want to see an insurance assessor get pumped full of acid. And at film's end I really want to see what Hoffman does next after escaping from that Bear Trap Jill put him in.

It's better than the last two, more than incrementally, and that's the main thing you can ask for. Well, on my score sheet, that's three good, one boring and two bad. Looks like this series is going all the way down to the last installment to see if it works as a whole.

Masters of the Universe

Fun 80s schlock for a rainy afternoon
Of all the things to admire about Frank Langella, and there are many, one of the more obscure is that his role here, as the villain Skeletor, is one of his favourites. Here's man who's been nominated for Oscars, been picky with the roles he's selected over a long career, and one of his favourite roles was playing a masked Shakespearean villain in a movie made on the cheap for kids that few people saw. Gotta respect that.

So let's go back in time to the 1980s, and He-Man, subtle homosexual overtones and all, was King of Cartoon Land. "I have the POWER!!!" If you were young at the time, you know exactly what I'm talking about. So it was only a matter of time before a Hollywood studio got hold of the property and made a movie. Enter Cannon Films, makers of such masterpieces as Superman 4, The (ex)Terminator, and The Happy Hookers, to try and milk this cash cow.

As the hero of the film we have Dolph Lundgren, just off the boat from Sweden and speaking his lines phonetically. And that will make a lot of his performance in this make sense. Poor guy literally has no idea what he's saying. He-Man is trying to save the kingdom of Eternia from Skeletor (Langella) who's forces have captured the Sorceress of Gray-Skull (Christina Pickles-nice name). Old Skull boy wants to take the Sorcerer's power and add it to his own while making some awesome Shakespearean monologues to his henchmen. To make matters worse Grinners has also stolen the mysterious "cosmic key" off a Dark Crystal reject. The key enables Skels to travel wherever he wants to in the Universe by playing a tune, which makes me wonder where he will end up if he plays Sweet Dreams by the Eurhythmics. Luckily He-Man is able to steal the key, and not wanting to get his ass kicked by the baddies at Castle Gray-Skull (including Evil-Lyn, played by Meg Foster, who I really need to introduce somewhere in this plot summary) He-Man and some offsiders cosmically leg it to Earth. Joining He-Man we have Man-at-Arms (a likable turn from Jon Cypher) his daughter Teela (Chelsea Field-The Last Boyscout), and the afore mentioned Dark Crystal reject Gwildor (Billy Barty, Nope, me neither).

Once on earth they lose the key and it's found by Kevin (Robert Duncan McNeil of Star Trek Voyager fame) who thinks it's some darn fangle new Synthesizer. He has a girlfriend Julie (Courtney Cox) and eventually they get sucked into the main plot as the Laughing Langella and his forces come to earth to retrieve the key. Also dragged along is Detective Lubic (James Tolkan, the Principal from the Back to the Future films) and they all end up in Eternia to listen to another Langella monologue and eventually see He-Man save the Sorceress and kick Skeletor's ass.

This movie is made on the cheap, and has a star who literally doesn't know what he's doing, or saying, or what anyone is saying to him. But what it does have aside from that is a surprising amount of fun. And I don't mean laughing at the movie, though there is certainly opportunity to do that in spades, but I mean the type of fun that is just you, as the viewer, enjoying yourself watching these guys. Front and centre of the enjoyment is Langella who relishes the opportunity to use his theatre training to run off on some truly glorious monologues. But I like a lot of the minor players in this too O'Neill and Cox get into this, as does Cypher. Foster, who apparently was sweltering in her costume for most of the filming, gives a perfectly acceptable portrayal of a villainess/ evil lackey.

Masters of the Universe has a hero and a story who, apart from the homo-erotic subtext, are far removed from the cartoon. It's cheap, and obviously so, and has a lead actor giving a performance that has to be seen to be believed. It's no surprise at all that it bombed, and bombed huge. But that doesn't mean you can't enjoy this. This is the type of film that, if you were switching through channels on your TV on a rainy afternoon, you could put on and be pleasantly diverted, and sometimes that's all a movie needs to be. By no means Masterful, but hardly embarrassing. Ultimately, to summarise: not good, but it'll do.

Saw V

Explains Hoffman without offering anything of value
I was very unimpressed with the previous Saw film, so much so that in my review I went into no detailed plot analysis. In the case of Saw V, there is no real plot to summarize. The film attempts to explain how Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) became entangled with the Jigsaw killer.

It turns out he decided to impersonate Jigsaw's method to create an unwinnable trap in order to take revenge on the man who killed his sister. Jigsaw, who somehow knew in the third movie that a woman who has never come forward witnessed a crime, uses his God powers to find out Hoffman impersonated him and tries to convert him to Jigsaw-ism. In the meantime FBI Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) turns out to have a history with Hoffman. The dim witted Strahm gets played like a harp from hell by Hoffman and ends up getting himself crushed to death in the trash compactor from Star Wars.

We also have a reasonably likable group of thinly connected victims being put through a group trap, but the script cares so little about this group, it doesn't even connect their story to the main plot. If the makers of this film don't care about this group (one of whom is Julie Benz) than neither do I.

And that's this movie's biggest crime. There is no one. Absolutely no one in it that the audience is given to care about, and the film doesn't even care enough about what it's showing us to offer us the thinnest of connecting fiber between the A story and B story. Mandylor would improve in the next, but the plotting wouldn't get any smarter. I guess this can just about be satisfying if you're in the mood for a Saw film, but any time put into thinking about what this film tells you to swallow will wreck the mood pretty quickly.

Saw IV

Pointless continuation
This is going to be the shortest review I've written for a Saw film, as this is the one with the least merit on every level...until 3-D. Not only does this fail utterly as a stand alone movie, but it also fails to advance the Saw series as a whole. The only meaningful thing to happen in this movie, apart from some Jigsaw flashbacks and the introduction of his ex-wife Jill (Betsy Russell) that could frankly have been used in any of the next three films, is that we learn Detective Mark Hoffman was in cahoots with Jigsaw and is actually going to take over his work as the Jigsaw killer and, as we're told at the end of the film by a tape retrieved from Jigsaw's stomach "his test will come.". We also see Jeff from the previous film get shot. Matthews finally dies (one of the best deaths of the series) and Jeff's daughter is saved by Hoffman.

What to say about this film? It happens simultaneously with the third film, a cop out in and of itself as one of the main reasons I saw this movie was to find out what direction they would take the series in after Jigsaw's death. There's a new character, Rigg, who is being tested to be put in situations and not intervene. The film kind of hints that Jigsaw is trying to convert Rigg to his cause, leaving messages like "See what I see" and "Hear what I hear. Either that or simply make it look like Rigg is in cahoots with Jigsaw. There's an FBI Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson), who was the late detective Kerry's contact, who buys into the possibility that Rigg is either being tested or in on it. He's accompanied by Agent Perez (Athena Karkanis), who would go on to become important in later films in the series. And did I mention Rigg has been obsessed with saving people since Matthews disappeared, kind of like Kerry suffering from depression in part III? So basically, the Rigg story would have worked better if they hadn't killed off Kerry in Part 3 and just put her in the role in this film. A character we had seen in multiple movies in the series and was just thrown away in the opening 20 minutes of Part 3 with no build-up. This certainly would have made the film more satisfying, but I'm not convinced it would have saved it. More successful are the flashbacks of Jigsaw's origins, but like I said, these could have come in any of the films of the series, and this will be a continuing problem as the series progresses. Trying to add interest by introducing new background information on Jigsaw. Ultimately, the characters we're seeing caught in his traps and acting out the story in front of us is where the interest should come from, not in adding increasingly convoluted information to the backstory of characters whose story has already been told.

Saw 4 is a lazy retread of a bunch of stuff we've already seen in the series, It puts off the inevitable problem of explaining what happens after jigsaw dies by happening while he's still alive. Worst of all, it fails to be a satisfying experience in its own right. The worst in the series so far, but it wouldn't take long for company to arrive.


Dumb, but interesting
Well, Robert the Bruce is our hero, Donnie Wahlberg escapes...kind of, Amanda goes even more bug eyes crazy and Jigsaw buys the farm in this third Saw movie, that is vast improvement over the second installment and benefits even more from the viewer not thinking too hard about what's happening.

We begin with Detective Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg), showing considerably more intelligence than Doctor "I'm-going-to-saw-my-foot-off-with-a-hacksaw" Gordon from the original, breaking his foot in order to get it out of the chain that's holding him. He limps down the hallway and... into oblivion apparently because the film fast forwards six months and not a soul has seen him in that time (this is explained in the next film).

Jigsaw has returned and he would appear to have changed his method and is now setting unwinnable traps to torture people to their inevitable demise. For instance, some poor unfortunate has to pull out chains that are attached to his body in order to escape a bomb, but even if he had got the chains loose, the door was welded shut. At the crime scene we get reacquainted with Matthews' former partner Detective Allison Kerry who is inspecting the crime scene with her new partner Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor of Picket Fences "fame"). We feel kind of sorry for Kerry as mopes around all depressed about Matthews' disappearance. I wonder if the story will give us more insight into this interesting character who's been around since the first film of the series? Of course not! She gets abducted from her house and gets killed by another unwinnable trap, having her rib cage torn off after burning her hand in acid. We find out it's Amanda (Shawnee Smith) who's setting these unwinnable traps and...Good Lord. I'm already three paragraphs in. Better wind this up.

OK, a doctor, Lynn Denlon, who has marriage issues revealed in a conversation with a man who "wants a divorce," is abducted from the hospital and wakes up with a bomb strapped to a collar on her neck that's going to blow up if Jigsaw dies before another victim finishes their test. The other victim is Jeff, a man who lost his son in a drink driving accident 3 years ago and became bitter and damaged, leading to him neglecting his daughter and all but leaving his wife. Jeff is going to have to learn to forgive as part of his test and at the end he will meet "the man responsible for the death of his child." So Jeff has to forgive a silent witness who never came forward at the trial of the drunk driver (try not to think about how stupid that is, unless Jigsaw is either telepathic or God), the judge who let the driver off lightly, and of course the driver himself. His results are mixed to say the least, but he does take the opportunity to forgive the driver. Mission accomplished I guess.

In the meantime Amanda is acting more and more crazy as Lynn struggles to keep Jigsaw alive. Then we get two twists. Firstly Lynn is Jeff's wife, the man at the start who "wanted a divorce" was her lover. Secondly, this is also Amanda's test. He wanted to see if she was willing to let people live, which she isn't as she first refuses to take the collar off Lynn and then shoots her, just as Jeff comes in, who takes out Amanda with one bullet. Then we get another twist as Jeff, remembering that this movie is called saw, slices Jigsaw's throat with a power saw, killing him, but not before he plays one last game from his little tape recorder. Remember how Jigsaw told Jeff he would "meet the man responsible for the death of his child?" Well he wasn't talking about the drunk driver who ran over his son, he was talking about himself and the fact he had kidnapped Jeff's daughter and was the only person who knew where she was. Good one Jeff. You can forgive the man who killed your son, but you can't stop yourself from slicing the throat of a dying man and now your daughter's going to die. As Jigsaw dies, the collar on Lynn's neck detonates, and Jeff's left to freak out just like Adam and Matthews in the first two films as credits role.

Of all the Saw movies, this probably has the victim I sympathize with the most in Jeff (Braveheart's Angus McFayden). Jeff is probably the best realized character in the whole Saw series apart from Jigsaw himself. I also for the first time was able to somewhat buy into Jigsaw's method. Jeff is being taught a positive lesson. For the first time I wonder of maybe Jigsaw is more than a crazy wannabe zen master who gets kicks out of torturing people to death and uses the delusion he's teaching people life lessons to justify it. However, that good will is lost at film's end. The last 5 minutes seriously just kills it. The guy learns nothing. Jigsaw is a very bad teacher with a very ineffective method.

Saw 3 is a relatively satisfying film, and, in spite of all the threads left hanging, comes the closest of the sequels to standing up as a film in its own right. This was the last installment still involving the original creative team of Wan and Whannell, and I think they were probably expecting the people they handed the ball off to, to run a lot more creatively with it than they do.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

A chastening rewatch
I typically used to give myself credit for being fairly smart when I was younger. I remember when this came out on VHS in Australia in 1989 I was really excited and I also really enjoyed it. But the Video Ezy in the Lithgow Valley Shopping Centre lost their copy in 1990 and so I was never able to see it again. Believing that I was missing some magical piece from my child hood, I went out to buy the 2006 Collector' Edition box set, with the 5 theatrical Superman films, and Supergirl. Knowing this film's reputation, I watched it first to find out whether it was the treasure I remember it being. Not only did I sit through one of the most atrociously made movies I've ever seen, but I also realized that when I was 8 and loved this, I must have been a moron.

There's a famous story from on the set of this movie that Reeve walked up to one of his co-stars on their first day filming and said something along the lines of "this is going to be rough, but just grin and get through it." Reeve, like so many of the people working on this, knew it was a dead movie walking before they got there. I've no idea of the budget, but I'm guessing it wasn't much, and most of what was there was probably spent getting Reeve and Hackman to appear. The most distressing thing about watching this is the deteriorated condition of Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), who we now know was suffering severe mental issues at the time.

Hackman returns, and gives his usual solid performance as Lex Luthor, who in this one makes Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow. Yes. Pillow. And after sitting through this, his only film credit, you'll need one), a hair metal reject with long fingernails, to fight Superman, a clever idea seeings as Superman has become obsessed with ridding the world of Nuclear weapons. My understanding of this part of the story is that Reeve was anti-nuclear and so wanted the message in the film and this may have been the main reason he signed up to do it. This may be why Reeve appears to try a lot harder than I would have to make the most of this horrible script. But I can't really talk about the plot. I was overcome by numbness. The greatness of the first two films, Reeve's presence, John Williams' uplifting score: It's all gone. Where had it gone so wrong? How had they squandered a hugely profitable franchise in just 5 or 6 years? It would be 18 years before anyone got another Superman movie off the ground.

This is a cheaply made 83 minute funeral dirge. Reeve was right, this was rough, and all he and the cast and crew could do was grin and get through it. Fortunately, as viewers we have another option: turn the damned thing off and never watch it again.

The Paper

One of the films that inspired my career choice
Knowing a lot of other journalists, I can assure readers I was not alone in watching this 1994 Ron Howard film and thinking "that's what I wanna do!" Looking at this as someone who's worked at newspapers both small and big, and recently back to small again there are scenes in this that perfectly capture the base insanity of those who catch the journalism bug. It's a strange profession. When you are in a groove and rolling there is no job like it. The diversity and breadth of people you meet, stories you cover and publications you have the opportunity to work for are simply incredible. When you are in a rut and struggling to string two paragraphs together, it can be the very definition of hell.

The film belongs to Michael Keaton, who is having the type of day that anyone who's been in the job for more than a few months can relate to. He has the story, knows what really happened, but is banging his head against a brick wall looking for someone to confirm it. I love that I recognize some of the other characters in this. The guy with the comfy seat, the guy who wants to know if "there's a better word for....," the frustrated boos who just wants you to get to the damned editorial meeting on time, and the cynical secretary "you're honest, ethical and I want you out of this building." And it is that editorial meeting which captures the actual process so well.

There are so many great actors and performances in this movie. Glenn Close as a woman in what was then a man's world (three of my first four editors were female so it's less so now, but city papers definitely have a ways to go), trying to be taken seriously, Randy Quaid as a typically useless columnist. Marissa Tomeii as a pregnant woman who really can't handle taking time off from the job (which reminds me of many a colleague who would make their way to the office as far into their pregnancy as 9 months).

This is a comedy first and foremost, and so it has license to go over the top, but Keaton's journey, apart from punching his editor in the face in the final scene, is entirely authentic for anyone who's ever felt that frustration of having a story written and ready to go and trying desperately to get confirmation without which it can't be printed. "I need it! Right. Now! TO. NIGHT!" I guess if you worked in saner papers than the ones I have (I hold out hope that somewhere there are some) or have never worked in a paper before, some of the stuff in this may come across as odd, but I loved watching it when I was young and was shocked to find how close to reality some of this was. There's a reason why they play the editorial meeting scene from this film in first year university media classes. Of course not all of it rings true, and some of it is just plain naïve, but it tries. Just sit back and enjoy a fun, engaging and at some points, accurate, look at a profession like no other. Enjoy a superb performance from Michael Keaton supported by a fully functioning ensemble. The Paper isn't a perfect story, but would make Page One most days.

Batman Returns

You want to get Nuts? C'mon! Let's get Nuts!!!
Well, a mutilated circus freak runs for mayor, Bruce Wayne learns that fishy swirl is supposed to be cold, Michelle Pfieffer becomes the leather fetish fantasy of a million school boys and Christopher Walken acts like he has no idea why he's here in this insane Batman sequel that is completely bonkers, but still awesome.

After delivering a monstrous hit in 1989, Tim Burton was lured back in 1992, and despite McHappy Meal tie ins and big plans to make lots and lots of toys, he went and made a movie that was about as un-toyetic (a term I heard coined by Joel Schumacher) as you can get. We have a dirty joking sewer dwelling circus freak living with an army of penguins in the remains of Artic World, we have a woman wearing skin tight leather giving herself a bath by licking her suit and putting live canaries in her mouth (no seriously, Michelle Pfieffer actually had a live canary in her mouth during one of the scenes in this movie), we have Christopher Walken throwing secretaries out of the top story of his department store building and then offering to be covered "up to his eyeballs in raw sewerage." Then there's Michael Keaton tying bombs to people's chest and then laughing at them before punching them in a hole to explode. While I love this movie, it is not hard to see why the film company was a little annoyed with what they got given by director Burton here.

We open 30 years in the past with Pee Wee Herman (Paul Ruebens) and Simone (Diane Salinger) as the Cobblepotts, an upper class Gotham City couple who give birth to a deformed son who, as well as having conjoined fingers resembling flippers, is also able to kill cats and eat them while a toddler. Not wanting the burden of raising a child with a lot of problems, they decide to dump him in a freezing river where he eventually gets discovered and raised by penguins.

Fast forwarding to Modern Gotham, the little Cobblepott has grown up to be The Penguin, villainous leader of the Red Triangle Circus gang who start conducting series of raids on Gotham. In the meantime corrupt and opportunistic business man Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) is trying to get council approval to build a new power plant, that will actually act as a capacitor that sucks power and stores it (?)... Anyway, his secretary, Selina Kyle, a shy wallflower who lives in a crappy apartment and has relationship issues, finds out this confusing information and then attempts to black mail Shreck, who throws her out of the top story of his Department Store building, where she is revived by cats and goes insane, becoming Catwoman. After the accident, Selina meets Bruce Wayne and the two embark upon a much weirder, but somehow more engaging romance than Wayne had with Vicki Vale in the first film.

Anyway Catwoman and the Penguin eventually work together to take on Batman while Shreck tries to get Penguin elected mayor. Everything goes wrong and the three of them end up trying to kill each other as they all converge upon Arctic world along with Batman for a final showdown which involves rockets strapped to penguins backs, a woman being shot 4 times, a man being electrocuted to the point of becoming a charred corpse, and another one with sewerage (or some other type of unpleasant green goo) oozing out of their mouth before dropping dead.

Yeah. Kid's movie folks. Anyway, apart from being way over the top for the intended audience this is a wonderful world that Burton has created and he has populated it with some fascinating characters brought to life by great performances. Michelle Pfieffer is utterly fearless as Selina Kyle/ Catwoman. Hers is a riveting creation, dripping with sexiness and cynicism that we see echoes of in Anne Hathaway's Dark Knight Rises Selina Kyle 20 years later. In the case of De Vito, he is aided by a script that plays to his strengths, giving him all types of crudity and innuendo to spout, but it's worth nothing without the menace he brings with the way he carries himself and his line delivery. Michael Keaton approaches Wayne with the same brooding he did in the original, but once again gives frequent winks to the audience. Christopher Walken isn't really needed here, but he still brings something to the film by acting like you'd expect a normal person to act in these circumstances. He greets most of his scenes with a confused look on his face and a determination to dead pan and take it all in stride.

There's so many other things that can be talked about here, I haven't even got into the look of Gotham or the minor players, but this is such a dense vision, so brilliantly realized in such a bonkers way, we'd be here all day.

This is nuts. Absolutely nuts, but at the same time it's bloody brilliant. It's a shame Burton's vision alienated studios to the point this was the last time we would see him, or Keaton, but what a fun ride they gave us for two films! Batman Returns may not make a great deal of sense, but it is a rich, brooding, compelling and infinitely watchable film that I appreciate more and more as it ages. Arguably the best in the series and well worth a look more than twenty years on.


Readers, let's Broaden our Minds
It was with considerable excitement and great fanfare that the Caped Crusader returned to movie screens in this 1989 Tim Burton effort. Aided by the darkest tone yet seen in a superhero film, a brooding Michael Keaton and an enormous performance from Jack Nicholson, it was a big hit and spawned a franchise.

Unlike the only other really successful superhero film we had to go at the time, Richard Donner's Superman, Batman does not get bogged down in origins. We learn, through flashbacks well into the film's run, that Bruce Wayne saw his parents murdered by Jack Napier when he was a child, and this led to him becoming a vigilante. How he learned martial arts, developed weapons, and ended up with a bat obsession is anyone's guess. The police and media are trying to work out what to make of stories of this weird guy jumping around wearing a batsuit, kicking ass and killing criminals, and so are we.

What Burton does focus on is Nicholson, understandable given that some estimates have Nicholson being paid upwards of $60 million for his appearance by the time all the box office and merchandising receipts were cashed. This is the Joker's origin story, a sleazy mob enforcer, horribly disfigured and driven mad after being betrayed by mob boss Carl Grissom. Nicholson is equal parts menacing and funny. He is a sadistic, unstable force of nature who commits atrocities and then laughs about it, including one scene where he makes a TV commercial featuring people he has killed promoting a poison he's unleashed on the public. Not a light character, but a lot of fun to watch.

Against this kind of insane evil, we need a hero to get behind, and playing off Nicholson's enormous performance, Keaton provides a strong adversary. Disturbed, brooding, but driven, this is a man who will kill for the greater good and hold evil accountable. He's no Elliott Ness, but by the time the final confrontation unfolds, we know where he stands and can get behind him.

The supporting cast, while somewhat wasted, are all welcome. Specifically Michael Gough as Alfred, the Wayne Family Butler. Kim Basinger is a typical damsel in distress as Vikki Vale, Billy Dee Williams is criminally wasted as Harvey Dent.

I've often heard people say of this film that it is not dark and doesn't have Batman in it enough. I'm not certain they watched the same film I did. Nicholson's Joker is a frightening creation, perhaps even more frightening for the humour he indulges in as he commits acts of considerable evil. And, while this is Nicholson's film, Keaton is too good to simply fade into the background.

One can argue that the Batman in this film is not the one from the comics, I'd disagree, but it has been argued. But one can't argue that the film itself isn't an entertaining and timeless entry into the superhero genre.

Final Destination

Effective and engaging thriller
Given the self aware nature slasher movies took in the late 90s following Scream, it was a logical progression for a movie to come along where death itself is the slasher. This is the idea driving this effective, well made and well acted, entry to the slasher genre that was a big hit in 2000 and spawned a successful franchise.

The once promising Devon Sawa stars as Alex Browning, a high school student who is about to fly to France on a school excursion, but has a premonition in which he sees the plane explode, killing everyone on board. Once on the plane, incidents from the vision start to occur. Alex panics, resulting in him, some classmates and a teacher getting thrown off the plane. The plane ends up exploding just as Alex saw in his vision.

Cue a creepy cameo from Tony Todd (better known to horror movie fans as the Candy Man) to explain to Alex that he has cheated death and now death is coming for the survivors. And that's the plot of this one.

The film contains a big variety of kills, from elaborately set up accidents to sudden decapitations. One of the more enjoyable things in this movie is working out exactly how the various scenarios are going to converge to achieve death's design. Death is one driven and creative entity.

Devon Sawa is great in this film, gradually going further and further off the deep end as he tries to stay a step ahead of death. His performance and the ability of Director James Wong to draw the most out of the premise are the main strengths of the film, while Kerr Smith, Ali Larter and Sean William Scott all do exactly what is asked of them as death's other targets.

The idea of Death stalking a group of people who have cheated him of his wages is an interesting one and this film doesn't waste its promise. Best to watch this on its own, and not think about later sequels. A good idea done well.


Not funny enough, sexy enough or bad enough to be remotely memorable
It was with some surprise a few months ago that I read a list of worst movies ever made and this one was mentioned. This was surprising for a couple of reasons: the first one being that I'd forgotten the film existed, the second being that I struggled to remember any details from it that would lead to me to feel strongly enough about it to say it was the worst movie I've seen.

And so, for some reason, I opted to watch this again. As I suspected, it was a waste of my time that achieved nothing of any value and took the cumulative total of minutes this film took away from me that I will never ever get back to 234. I can only assume director Andrew Bergman met Satan at an abandoned fork of a road in the deep south for this one to bring in $113 million world wide.

Striptease is not good, not at all. The performances are bizarre, the script is not funny or sexy and even the soundtrack just doesn't fit. Demi Moore seems to have got her money's worth on highly publicized breast implants and is in fine physical condition, but still somehow unwatchable. Having said that though, this is no trainwreck. The actors all know what they're doing. The scenes are all strung together in a coherent narrative. This may not be any good, but it isn't incompetent either, and that makes things even worse.

At the end of the day, unless you have a Demi Moore fetish, you will remember nothing about this movie. You'll forget that Burt Reynolds or Robert Patrick are in it. You'll forget that Moore's character had a child. In time you will forget the film exists. It's simply not bad enough to be entertaining or memorable, or worthy of any thought, positive or negative. And that is the film's biggest crime. Ultimately, Striptease is a giant black hole of nothing.

Best Laid Plans

Competent but not overly clever attempt at noir
Well, Reese Witherspoon is in this, Josh Brolin looks more nerdy than he ever has before or since and Pollax Troy (Alessandro Nivola) talks like a normal human being in this wannabe noir that is not quite as clever as it thinks it is.

If I went through the whole plot, we could be here for a while, so, in a nutshell it's about a young couple Nick (Nivola) and Lissa (Witherspoon) who try to blackmail their friend Bryce (Brolin) into allowing them to steal a rare Abraham Lincoln signed "Bill of Release" from a mansion Bryce is minding. The path the film takes to get us into the mansion, and then out and to the finish line is particularly convoluted and, while the resolution doesn't insult the viewer's intelligence, it will leave many asking "is that it?" The film has the typical late 90s indie style, with a lot happening in darkness and little lighting. Some of the staging is obvious, but is in general effective at establishing mood and maintaining the desired atmosphere.

On the acting side, Nivola is a long way from Face/ Off and a lot more at home as our down-on-his-luck loser protagonist. He manages to keep his character sympathetic throughout, in spite of being a deeply flawed human being. Josh Brolin is deliberately cringeworthy as the unlikeable, socially inept Bryce, while Witherspoon is decent as Lissa, a character I had a hard time connecting with at all through no fault of hers. Every actor seems aware of the type of movie they've signed on for.

Best Laid Plans is a pretty small movie, and not essential viewing, but it does do enough right to be an enjoyable viewing experience, if a little light upon repeat viewings.

Anywhere But Here

Great lead performances lift an otherwise unremarkable story
Natalie Portman and Susan Sarandon play off each other beautifully in this easy going mother/ daughter drama that pulls a switcheroo on the traditional roles.

Sarandon stars as Adele, a fairly wild, out of control dreamer, who decides to leave Bay City, Wisconsin with her daughter Anne, a grounded realist, in order to try and get a teaching job in Beverly Hills.

If one was to summarize the script to this film in one word, it would be under developed. I mean, it's all there, a mother-daughter relationship with a role reversal, a love interest for both, a struggle between the two with a resolution, but this film just seems to happen and then end.

You'll find yourself wondering what any of the side characters are doing in this story apart from making up numbers. The big strength is the performances from Sarandon and Portman and the way they relate to each other. The two play off each other beautifully, with Sarandon giving a fearless performance as an irresponsible, out of control, immature mother that allows Portman to make the most of her role as a responsible, careful young woman growing up and maturing with considerable dignity. This film earned Portman her first Golden Globe nomination, and is an interesting watch for any of her fans. The highlight in the film of the two together is the scene where Portman has to comfort her mother after a painful break-up with the realization written all over her face that this is an absurd reversal of the natural order.

Most of the supporting cast are wasted, with Hart Bochner a particularly grievous waste. So big is Sarandon's performance and so arresting is Portman these characters would have dissolved into the background anyway, but it is frustrating that the script doesn't put the time into developing the side characters. While the film explores sex, death and small town boredom, we don't really know any of the characters these issues are effecting.

Anywhere but Here is worth watching for the excellent performances from the leads, and its easy going tone. Probably not one to go out of your way to track down, but certainly worth watching on cable.


Satisfying movie from a simpler time
This film came out in 1978, 3 years before I entered the world, and yet was as much a part of my child hood as Star Wars and ET. This is a film that aspires to be what movies are all about: creating an image and a product that has the viewer staring at the screen in awe for two hours, and it largely succeeds.

The key to the success of this film, despite it's obviously fake (by today's standard) flying effects and slow pace, is the way the film chooses to portray Superman. If you want to watch Superman fly around like an emo teenager for two hours struggling with great power and great responsibility, this is not your film. If you want to watch a man shunned by society because they are different, or struggle with a secret identity, again this is not your film. If you want to watch a quintessential American hero flying around with a big "S" on his chest saving people and lifting heavy things while he tries to juggle a romance with Lois Lane (and by God, who doesn't?} this is your movie.

This film is straddling a line between Adam West Batman silliness and fish out of water family fare handled with the innovative special effects and story gravitas that was then a part of summer blockbusters. Superman is able to take its story seriously without ever losing sight of the absurdity of the premise and its function as entertainment.

So what, it doesn't take the subject matter seriously? Hell yes it does. We have the Godfather himself Marlon Brando, playing Superman's Kryptonian father in dead serious mode, explaining to Superman who he is, where his power comes from, and that he has been sent to earth because of our "capacity for good." We also have Gene Hackman as an over the top and enjoyably malevolent Lex Luthor with a plan that is absolutely bonkers. But the best thing about this movie is Reeve's portrayal of Superman/ Clark Kent. He plays the absurd happenings completely straight, He remains the best flesh and bones version of Superman from TV or film. No one else has encapsulated the character as well or totally as Reeve, which contributed sadly to this under rated actor never really emerging from the character's shadow.

Superman takes Lois Lane on a joy flight, improvs himself into a train track, shifts the Earth's tectonic plates and reverses time before the movie's over.

This is the type of Superman film the world wanted in 1978. Earnest, light and lacking even the vaguest hint of cynicism. Sadly it's also the type of Superman movie the world will never see again. We've become jaded, entitled and cynical. We're no longer interested in a character who is all powerful and pure. We want ambiguity and weakness in our heroes, and I don't personally believe this version of Superman has a home in our universe in 2015, and the world is poorer for it.

But it's well worth returning to this piece of cinematic magic that showed us a pure, powerful alien faster than a speeding bullet, leaping tall buildings in a single bound and fighting for truth and justice in the American way. RIP Christopher Reeve: there was never another Superman like you.

Saw II

Plodding, but effective continuation
Well, Amanda (Shawnee Smith) returns and gets thrown into a pit of syringes, Donnie Wahlberg joins the fray as a corrupt cop, and Lucy Camden (you watched that show, admit it) has become a convicted criminal in this plodding continuation of the Saw franchise.

For those who came in late, this movie series is based on a serial killer (and in spite of his protests, yep, he IS a killer) who uses his skills as a civil engineer to try and teach people life lessons by putting them in traps that will kill them if they can't escape in time. We find out in the first film that this serial killer John Kramer, dubbed 'Jigsaw' by the media, is a man dying of cancer. We also see a drug addict named Amanda who is able to solve one of his deadly puzzles. To recap my own misgivings with the film, which I liked, Jigsaw IS a murderer and his traps are inconsistent in intent. In what would become a tradition in Saw films, this one starts with a trap. Some guy has to cut his eye out to retrieve a key that will release him from a deadly mask. He can't do it and dies. Turns out the guy was a police informant working for Detective Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) a New Kid on the Block (oh, you just try not to use that pun) in the Saw series, who receives a phone call to come down to a warehouse where they have found Kramer. in Kramer's lair they don't find his diorama from the original but do notice (I'll go on record right now as saying the cops in the Saw series are, generally speaking, the most inept and unobservant police officers ever put to film) some huge TV screens showing 8 people in a house. Amongst the group are Amanda, (at this stage we are told she is Jigsaw's only Survivor but by the last film I think they've forgotten all about this and plenty of people have survived his traps), and Detective Matthew's son Daniel. In the house is a nerve gas that will kill them all in two hours, with various antidotes hidden around the house. In the meantime Matthews is asked to play a game: talk to Jigsaw for the next two hours and his son will be safe.

The film goes back and forth between the house and the mind game between Kramer and Matthews as we learn that everyone in the house, apart from Daniel, is a con who was put away on doctored evidence by Matthews. We get to see these cons get burned alive, bled dry, thrown into syringe pits and run around like maniacs trying to kill each other. With his son in peril, Matthews eventually loses it and starts whaling on Kramer and forces him to take him to the house where all this is happening.

Spoilers!: upon reaching the house, Matthews learns that it is the house from the original Saw film, with Adam's dead body still in the basement. He also learns that the footage he was watching, and we were seeing, had all happened earlier and he had been watching a recording. His son was out of the house, locked in a safe that opened once the two hours expired. We also find out Amanda has been working with Jigsaw, and has essentially become his apprentice. At the end she chains up Matthews in the same room the original film started in and says "Game Over" as she slams the door shut, but doesn't lock it, a fact that would become important in the later films. I must admit this movie got me twice, I wasn't expecting the taped footage, or Amanda being a nutcase, though I probably should have as I'd seen Shawnee Smith in Becker.

The kills in this are more elaborate than the previous film, in typical sequel style they've upped the death count and number of lives in peril. As is often the case though this is done to the detriment of character development and story. We never really learn properly what some of these cons are supposed to have done, and with the exception of Daniel and perhaps Amanda, we are given no reason to care if they survive or not. I thought the twists worked better here than the original, in the sense they weren't as dumb. I was unimpressed with the veteran actors in the first film, I thought only Tobin Bell as Jigsaw really did himself much credit here. Donnie isn't a bad actor, and as we've seen in Blue Bloods, his deficiencies are easy to hide in an ensemble, but he's not given much to work with either. Shawnee Smith does alright as Amanda. All the rest I can take or leave.

Saw II seems to make more sense than many films in the series, particularly the later ones, but the pacing is slow and the characters not likable. They try and compensate for this by having some creative kills at regular intervals, but it still left me a little cold and a bit bored. Effective in what it set out to do, but the third installment really needed to pick it up. Could they find a good veteran actor, characters the audience could engage with, an effective mix between an elaborate game with grisly traps and true character development; and a genuinely unsettling twist for the third part? You won't believe how close they came...

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