mark-whait

IMDb member since November 2009
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Reviews

Zelig
(1983)

The Flawed Genius of Allen
Woody Allen has long been considered a genius of cinema, and here again is another example of how he has always been ahead of his time. The story is about Leonard Zelig (Allen), who when in the company of academics or famous people can morph himself into them, regardless of race, colour or creed. Allen cleverly superimposes himself onto newsreel footage so that he appears on screen with such recognisable figures (for example, there is a scene where he is seated just behind Hitler at a Nazi rally). Yes, the intelligence of this kind of footage was explored to huge commercial success with films like Forrest Gump, but, as that film was released well over 10 years after this one, it again shows how Allen was trailblazing a path in cinema long before others. Most of the film is naturally therefore in black and white, and told in a documentary style, and there are numerous clever sequences that uphold Allen's reputation as a master film maker. For me, there is no doubt that the quality of the piece is visible pretty much from the first frame of film, but conversely, this for me is also the problem. You can't slate the film because it is obviously something very unique and well made, but I fidgeted, because I think the germ of the idea was not (in my humble opinion) strong enough to extend over a feature length movie. To be honest, the mood and feel of the picture got on my nerves, and that is my problem with it, but I cannot doubt the obvious work of genius that is going on underneath.

Treacle Jr.
(2010)

Astonishing
Treacle Jr is an astounding film from writer / director Jamie Thraves. It tells the story of upstanding family man Tom (Tom Fisher) who walks out on his wife and young child in Birmingham and takes a train to London to begin a new life. It's an interesting exploration of what makes a person finally break - Tom can't handle the rat race anymore and walks away in a kind of neurotic trance. He's bordering on a breakdown. Once in London, he reflects on religion and tries to find answers to reconcile his actions. But most of the time he just wants peace and mental shelter from the life he has left behind. After an unfortunate incident in a park, Tom finds himself in A&E where he is befriended by Aidan (Aidan Gillen), a mentally backward Irishman who nevertheless is a sheer force of nature by his personality. He talks constantly, cannot sit still and seems to enjoy every minute of his life, even if he is being beaten up by foreign cafe owners or being punched and sworn at by Linda (Riann Steele) with whom he shares a flat. As the two men forge an unlikely friendship, their chemistry blossoms and rarely does a movie so effectively bond a partnership like this one. We've probably all been approached by the strange-man-at-the-bus-stop character like Aidan - a bit backward, machine gun chatty and irritably jolly, and, like Tom, we've probably all backed away and tried to shake them off. But we learn to see behind the obvious external barriers and Gillen's performance is utterly astonishing. Riotously funny and heartbreakingly naive in turns, its what pins the whole movie together, and the acute observations by Thraves of innocent people with their own personal problems getting swallowed up and spat out by a cold, cruel, vicious and callous world is riveting. Fisher plays his part with expert subtlety, and the strength of the script and direction is also apparent with Riann Steele's Linda - a street wise whore who mercilessly exploits Aidan's personality, there is more than a hint of the troubles she too has faced in life, to go some way to explaining the person she has become. The central theme around the three main characters is that circumstances dictate people's lives and shape them, and this is a masterly crafted piece of motion picture gold. Funny, warm and feelgood mixed with hard hitting, terrifying drama, Treacle Jr is highly recommended, with Gillen at the centre of three towering lead performances.

Once Upon a Time in America
(1984)

Leone classic will live on for decades
Master of the Western Sergio Leone swapped Clint Eastwood for Robert DeNiro, Cowboys for Gangsters and the Wild West for an even wilder New York, with this seminal masterpiece. It was Leone's last film before his tragically early death at just 60, and although he was working on a big budget World War II film at the time of his demise, in a way that is tragically fitting as no film could have topped this one. Of course, whilst Leone naturally made his name in the sixties with the infamous Spaghetti western, the sheer sprawling grandeur of OUATIA is an unforgettable experience that attacks the senses. From the opening image of Robert DeNiro's opium filled body to the final scene some 229 minutes later, the sensation carries on throughout and hits home more powerfully than any cheroot-chewing Clint or twanging Morricone soundtrack ever did. DeNiro plays 'Noodles', a young man who grew up with his compatriots in Prohibition America, who then returns to his old haunts three decades later to reflect on his life as a hard-bitten gangster. Every scene is pitch perfect, and whilst there are some caps doffed to the likes of The Godfather, Leone doesn't hold back with scenes of rape, murder and brutality that give the film an edge sharper than a month's worth of Eastwood stubble. It's amazing in that Leone was returning to the helm of a movie for the first time in over a decade - there is no let up in the brilliance and certainly no signs of rustiness. And legendary collaborator Morricone is also back in tandem. Morricone delivers one of his most mesmerising scores and it was reported that DeNiro demanded some music be pre-written for scenes and then played back whilst they were being shot just so he could pitch the mood of his character. It's hard to say that this is Morricone's best work because his career is generously decorated with brilliant soundtracks, but it's also the case that 'Deborah's Theme', for example, is even played at funerals these days, such is the power of the music. Even Lennon and McCartney's 'Yesterday' gets an airing. James Woods and Elizabeth McGovern provide faultless support from the cast, but this is a movie of colossal brilliance and will rightfully live on for many decades to come.

The Whistle Blower
(1986)

Caine unmissable in low budget British thriller
The Whistle Blower is not generally a great favourite of the critics, and is one of those small budget films that BBC2 used to show late at night - a typical Caine schedule filler, in fact. I recall seeing the movie some time in the early nineties, but to be honest I have always been fond of it. Caine's performance here is brilliant, and if this movie really is classed by many as one of those typically weak eighties Caine features, then surely the critics will acknowledge that in the bulk of those films, a fifty-something Caine was pretty much without blame. The most powerful example of this is when Caine is informed of the sudden tragic death of his son. As he plays a hard edged ex-serviceman, he is of course made of the proverbial stiff upper lip, but his reaction to the untimely news about his loss is a real lesson in reaction acting, which Caine has always favoured over the years. I always liked the parts Caine played throughout his fifties - I felt he displayed a real maturity and as an actor appeared to reach the peak of his career. I suppose this is why it's even more impressive that he continued - if not bettered - that fact in his sixties and seventies. So, this is typical eighties-Caine territory. Low budget British movie peppered with familiar faces from the British acting fraternity, all of them seemingly amazed at the chance to appear in a proper movie alongside the guv'nor. Set and filmed around Cheltenham, Caine really does carry this movie. Nigel Havers (as Caine's son) looks like a Harry Palmer love child, but is not challenged in his role, whilst Gordon Jackson and James Fox stereotype their way through the picture as high ranking secret servicemen. John Gielgud and Kenneth Colley are also used sparingly, but such is the quality of the supporting cast, they all beef up what could easily have been a terribly dull escapade. And let's not forget Barry Foster, 'victim' of being done up like a kipper by Caine in one of the infamous 'drunk' scenes. By 1986, no-one played drunks better than Caine, and he seemed to be so good at it that a number of his movies became worth watching just for their scenes where he successfully played a character pretending to be drunk one minute then stone cold sober the next. He pitches his performance perfectly here, and fortunately everyone seems to deliver - the potential pretentiousness (that doesn't roll easily off the tongue) of the movie is identifiable in most scenes - like quiet flames licking their way at the edge of each frame, but the calibre of the Caine inspired cast make this film easy on the eye. True, there are some highly corny moments, and many spy clichés are rolled out mercilessly (usually involving a traitor declaring his love for Russia) but the chief protagonists are clearly giving it their all, and I just happen to like this movie a lot. I think it's really because Caine is so accomplished at his task, that his confidence on screen carries you with it, and whilst it's obviously made on a budget of about eight quid, that still doesn't mean it can't deliver.

Victory
(1981)

Ridiculous but essential Victory a must for footie fans
This film is best viewed through the eyes of either a) an eight year old boy or b) an England football fanatic. So if you are neither of those when you either saw this movie or have yet to see it, then that is pure bad luck but not something I will account for. As I was very much an 'a' then it is my prerogative to like this movie when many do not. I even believe it gives me the right to smirk at some of the cheesier moments with ease because when all is said and done I am still very fond of this presentation and always will be. Right. Happy? So where shall we start. Well how about John Huston? One of the most legendary cinematic monoliths ever to come out of Hollywood, ends up directing a movie about football or, as Huston would have said at the time, 'so-ccer'. It's akin to Martin Scorcese directing a Tom And Jerry episode or Clint Eastwood appearing in Celebrity Big Brother. Quite how much 'direction' Huston had over the football scenes is highly debatable, but that is the first shock over with. The plot is utterly ludicrous of course. An allied Prisoner of War camp just happens to house some of the worlds most infamous footballing legends, and they put together a team to play a German side, with much of the outcome designed to further progress Nazi propaganda. Inevitably, the Germans punch, kick and cheat their way through the game whilst 'our boys' look on helplessly. The sub plot here is that during half time, the Allies will make a daring bid to escape and not return for the second half. But you guessed it, whilst still believing the game can be won, the English led team decide not to take an ideal opportunity to escape from a POW camp and instead return to the field for the honour of a football match. Given that they entertain the crowd so much with their football that it sparks a pitch invasion at the end which precipitates their escape anyway, this gives the wafer thin plot even more ridicule. But do you know what? I don't care. This is how football movies should be made. I don't care that 'we' have Sylvester Stallone in goal. I don't care if a pushing-fifty year old Michael Caine mixes it with the football heavyweights like Booby Moore and Pele. I don't care if every sporting cliché is visited shamelessly to great effect. We even get 'Nazi' softie Max Von Sydow eventually applauding the breathtaking football skills of the Allies to the evident brow furrowing of his superiors. It's just a good romp through a genre we've seen so many times before. In fact, giving a war film a footballing theme could be seen as being dynamic and ahead of its time. Actually, I've just thought of an idea - how about a war film set in a POW camp that gets visited by ruthless aliens? Steady on now, I'm in full flow. This is popcorn cinema at its best - nothing to take very seriously and all good fun. Yes, that seems ridiculous even now when you consider the backdrop the movie is set against, but it is the case that nothing more preposterous yet at the same time compelling came out of Hollywood in the eighties. Then again, there's always The Hand.

The Wrong Box
(1966)

Star studded comedy cast fail to inspire
It has never been lost on me that Caine's first 'big three' movies were as good a trio of introductory pictures as you could get. This was the triple whammy that set his career off onto a higher plane, and I cannot think of another actor before or since that has been fortunate enough to star in three such monumental films one after the other to launch a career into another stratosphere. The only other modern day actor that I could think of that came close was Ewan MacGregor, whose double duo of Shallow Grave and Trainspotting were phenomenal - however, sandwiched in between these was the rather forgettable Blue Juice. (Incidentally, despite the British media's attempts to turn Jude Law into the 'new' Michael Caine for the modern generation, for me Ewan MacGregor is the better bet, and for my money a better all round actor). I then looked at actors like Harrison Ford and Sean Connery - but even their breakthrough movies were interspersed with lesser known titles - Ford may have become an instant success following Star Wars, but there was still the fact that Heroes and Force 10 From Navarone came along before The Empire Strikes Back - hardly ground breaking titles that live long in the memory to this day. Similarly, despite Connery having the considerable clout of starring in Dr No and From Russia With Love back to back, his next release was Woman Of Straw before the next Bond episode hit us. Timing, release dates, whatever the cause, Caine's big three provide an insurmountable fact that moviegoers back then were hit between the eyes with a trio of films designed to leave them reeling at their sheer quality, as well as the growing stature of the very man who starred in all three. So it is reasonable to suggest that with such firepower already behind him, Caine would inevitably star in a picture that would be, not exactly a flop, but a damp squib compared to what had gone before. And that damp squib was The Wrong Box. It's a perfectly good natured light comedy, but is another example (like The Bulldog Breed) of a Caine fan suffering for his art - this film is really a showcase for the considerable talents of Ralph Richardson and John Mills. Caine's contribution is perfectly acceptable here, but overall the film is dated and tiresome, and is actually one of Caine's rarer known movies. Throw in the fact that Tony Hancock, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore were also in the cast, and it is fair to say that gives you an idea of the type of movie this was. There are even turns from John Le Mesurier and Irene Handl who would of course be reunited again with Sir Michael by the end of the decade in The Italian Job.

The Muppet Christmas Carol
(1992)

Timeless Muppets hit the high spots in cheerful classic
This movie gave Caine credence with a whole new market audience - the child / family one. Prior to this, Caine's movies weren't exactly family orientated, at least not for an age group below five, so this is a welcome addition. The 'story' needs no introduction, and as well as being a Christmas classic, has also been remade and redone countless times for the cinema. What will remain unique about this version without doubt are the muppets. I think the muppets still work well, despite advances Hollywood continues to make in terms of animation and new technology. There's just something unique about them and therefore they don't even fall between the two stools of Pixar and the classic Disney style. The muppets will forever remain timeless and a source of fixation for young children, essentially because the cleverness is having them appear in scenes opposite real life actors which gives them credibility and clout. So, what of this movie? Well, Caine is sufficiently nasty and cold hearted as bad old Ebeneezer, perhaps not as menacing as Jack Carter but distinctly unpleasant nevertheless. Caine himself has said in the past that the scripts that interest him the most are when the main character undergoes a huge change, so in that respect he wouldn't get a better one than this. Caine skilfully displays the changes needed, and he is a joy to watch. Unlike most Scrooges, Caine's post-ghost Scrooge is actually more convincing than the original, and his happiness in the final scenes of the movie are heart warming, and yes, he even tries his hand at singing, surely a first. There is also a delightful in-joke, as when Caine / Scrooge makes his way to Bob Cratchit's house on Christmas Day, he passes a shop called 'Micklewhites', which, was, of course, his original surname. Two final things I must share here. I recall when this was first shown on terrestrial television, the Radio Times movie review summed up its piece by using the phrase 'Caine hasn't been this good in ages'. Well, perhaps I am naïve, but nearly twenty years later it was shown on television on Christmas Day and once again I came across the exact same review. I know I shouldn't really expect resident publication film critics to come up with different reviews time and again for movies that are on all the time (The Mummy anyone?), but it really did make me gasp. Well, I did say I was naïve. Oh, and now for the second piece of sacrilege. It's Miss Piggy. Is it just me, or is anyone else irritated by this character? I nearly said 'her' but that would be falling into the trap. I'm talking about the countless times this 'creature' appears on chat shows and the audience and fellow guests whoop in faux delight, regularly claiming to be in the presence of a superstar. Er…no. You're not. She / it is a puppet (ok, muppet). It isn't real! Get over it, and stop this ridiculous myth. I feel the same way about Dame Edna Everage (get over it, it's a bloke dressed up in womens clothes) and don't seem to find anyone prepared to share the same view.

The Honorary Consul
(1983)

Consul decent enough movie but no classic
This is an average pot-boiler from the Graham Greene novel, and although it was better than I originally remembered when watching it again recently, it certainly isn't at all memorable. That said, there are some welcome production values and the cast are worth watching. It's essentially a Richard Gere vehicle - at least in terms of the American market, and he plays an English-born Paraguayan called Dr Eduardo Plarr. Gere is an intriguing actor, or at least certainly was in the eighties. Bear in mind this performance came just a year on from his breakthrough role in An Officer And A Gentleman and you can still see the raw, almost nervous tension in his execution, and he certainly favours the minimalist approach. It's almost as if he's determined to become more than the beefcake Hollywood obviously wants him to be. Despite this assumption, however, Gere still has the obligatory love making scenes although I'm convinced when he first beds Elpidia Carrillo's character Clara, his helpful grunts are way out of sync with his theatrical pelvic thrusts. If Gere does seem to be a little uncomfortable in front of camera, then it's probably because in most scenes (the bedroom ones aside of course) he is either facing Michael Caine or Bob Hoskins. In his position, I think I would have stayed as quiet as possible, and it must have been a daunting scenario for the then 34 year old just fresh from box office success. His accent as well is all over the place. At times there is a distinct English twang to it, but then it slips into Amercian and even flirts with South American when faced with scenes with the locals. Bob Hoskins, of course, shows everyone how it should be done. Hoskins has never been afraid to take on any accent, and here he is the local chief of police, with successful results. Some critics have said that Hoskins was miscast in this film, but I strongly disagree. His demeanour throughout and the convincing accent I think contribute to an all round excellent pitch, although this is probably helped by the comfort of teaming up with director John Mackenzie again, just four years on from The Long Good Friday. The reason I think that Hoskins is so convincing here is that as he is, in physical terms, not the tallest actor on screen, he nevertheless carries weight because of his position and the corruptibility it potentially brings with it. And then there is Michael Caine. Yet again, Caine is playing a drunk, whose only passion in life seems to be the whisky bottle. As already explained earlier, Caine's legendary depiction of 'drunks' was peerless in the eighties. As an exercise in this very matter, I looked into how many 'drunk' roles he has played, and counted post-Zulu, no less than seven (I am counting Last Orders as many of the scenes were set at closing time in a pub). The best scene in this entire movie comes when Caine is at the wheel of his car whilst the US Ambassador (George Belanger) has stopped to take in the local scenic backdrops. He looks up aghast when spotting Caine sipping from a hip flask. Realising he has been rumbled, Caine swiftly raises a coke bottle to his lips within seconds, expertly switching beverages in the same take and without a blip. Ironically, this scene also has great resonance regarding the second part of the movie. I think the film is also pitched right at 102 minutes. Any longer and the plot would have become drawn out and the audience would fidget. Not a classic then, but a decent enough attempt by all concerned.

The Man Who Would Be King
(1975)

Caine and Connery the perfect mix as Huston hits the high notes
Legendary director John Huston had kept the desire to make The Man Who Would Be King burning away for two decades before Sean Connery and Michael Caine finally brought it to life, and the result is a wonderful movie that, despite its quality, has often been overlooked when discussing the careers of the two leads. Caine and Connery play Peachy Carnehan and Daniel Dravot, two quick witted rogue soldiers who desert the army at the time when the British empire ruled the world. Based on the Rudyard Kipling story, Christopher Plummer plays the author who first encounters the two men when the decide to set themselves up as rulers of the tribal Kafiristan, and plunder fame and fortune along the way. Plummer is merely a foil for the central duo, and is used sparingly, only really appearing at the beginning and end of the movie. Probably because of his hideous Graeme Souness moustache. Huston's masterful direction brings the best out of Connery and Caine, and as a double act they sparkle and fire off each other in every scene, almost in a brotherly, telepathic way. Indeed, it's Caine's early scenes, where he delivers quick fire lines in his broadest Cockney, that work exceptionally well, and as mentioned earlier, I often think this is some of Caine's best work that gets scandalously overlooked. People do refer to this movie once in a while, but always seem to just mention Caine, Connery and Huston. View it objectively, and from a Caine point of view you will see he totally nails the part and perhaps the great friendship he has endured with Connery off screen brings the best out of his performance on it. The turning point of the story is when the native tribesmen mistake Connery for a God when a stray arrow strikes him but he does not bleed. In fact, the arrow gets embedded in his bandolier which the locals do not realise. There is a masterful change of direction in the movie when Connery begins to lap up the total worship that suddenly befalls him, and his character's ego becomes swept along with disastrous results. But at this stage, his relationship with Carnehan changes from equal partners to one of attempted superiority, and here as well the ability of Huston to so successfully convey this between the two men is seamless and masterful. The chemistry between Connery and Caine is as good as Newman and Redford at their best (Newman was allegedly approached for the role but recommended Caine) and the stunning location work in Morocco is simply beautiful, especially the backdrops when Connery is on his way to see the local high priest. And of course, no review of this picture would be complete without mentioning the one and only movie appearance of Caine's good lady wife Shakira. Despite the well documented story behind Shakira's role, she only has one line to deliver (in fact, actually just one word - 'Roxanne'), and for the record plays Connery's wife, who also famously refers to her (in the script of course) as a slut who has bitten him. That's one for the pub quiz champions of the future.

Buffalo Bill and the Indians or Sitting Bull's History Lesson
(1976)

Buffalo Bill a sitting duck
A film that divides critics equally, Robert Altman's 1976 offering is a clunky movie that fails to sparkle and delivers far less than it should. Flowing haired Paul Newman plays the titular hero, and the premise centres around his Wild West sideshow and his attempts to lure the legend that is white-American nemesis Sitting Bull into the show ring. Meanwhile, the great red Indian chief secretly has his own agenda, and the stand off comes in Newman sacrificing historical fact for blatant commercialism whilst Sitting Bull wants his opportunity to put the record straight on behalf of him and his people. Altman went on record and denied any deliberate political allegory, but there is certainly plenty of evidence to suggest otherwise. The main problem with the movie for me is that a Wild West sideshow with the chief protagonists turned into circus acts just doesn't work. And whilst Gerladine Chaplin is highly watchable as Annie Oakley, with her breathtaking shooting skills ready to go wrong at any minute, there is little to engage the viewer here and it doesn't rise above the mediocre. Newman delivers his lines admirably, and, for such a consummate professional is not inconvenienced by the fact that the movie misfires, but it's too slow in places. He was very similar in WUSA, where he was perfectly able to display his skills with ease whilst all around him was uninspiring, but there are a few too many movies like that in the Newman cannon. This is probably for strict Newman or Altman fans only (unless you really want to spot a youthful looking Harvey Keitel) but you won't be rushing to see this one again and again.

Casino Royale
(2006)

Bond back with a bang as Craig dazzles
The problem with the longest running franchise in cinema is that after nearly half a decade, originality should be in short supply. After nearly 10 years playing James Bond, Pierce Brosnan was allegedly dropped due to contractual problems (i.e. he supposedly wanted more money than the producers were prepared to give) so in comes Daniel Craig. Certain Bond aficionados were audibly heard groaning with disbelief once Craig was announced, but anyone who has followed his fledgling career since the days of Our Friends In The North a decade earlier would not have had any concerns. Craig is arguably the most talented 'actor' to take on the role of Ian Fleming's legend, and coupled with an incredible physical presence, is easily the best Bond actor since Connery. And it is here that Casino Royale wins hands down. Craig reportedly did a lot of his own stunts, and, just like Connery, he has the pumped up physique coupled with a touch of elegance that makes his Bond so believable. The numerous hand-to-hand combat scenes are thrilling and totally convincing. Going back to Fleming's original source material is also a canny idea from the producers - let's face it some of the Brosnan story lines were getting frankly ridiculous (ice palaces anyone?), and not even the late great Cubby Broccoli tried to take on this novel in his heyday - probably because the David Niven spoof was around at the time. This is a tremendous entry into the Bond annals - fast paced, stunning and absorbing. Throw in the raw theme song of Chris Cornell's 'You Know My Name' and the irresistible Craig and you have the best Bond film in 20 years.

Lethal Weapon 2
(1989)

Return of Gibson and Glover bogged down in the Afrikaans
Even though Lethal Weapon 2 is a must see film, it doesn't come close to the breathtaking originality and raw entertainment of the original. This is almost certainly because Mel Gibson and Danny Glover nailed their roles so well in the first movie, that the impact during another outing is diluted somewhat. We now know that Glover is the warm, respected family man whilst Gibson is the loose cannon who will shoot first and ask questions later. It is perhaps a mark of the success of the original that the sequel doesn't quite paper over the cracks of the set pieces that stretch credibility - we've seen it all before, basically. That said, this is still an entertaining movie. Patsy Kensit is a puzzling piece of casting that plays our Mel's love interest, whilst the choice of villain this time, equally strangely, are the South Africans. Given the imminent demise of the Cold War at the time, it was a strange choice, but this in turn gives the movie an easy target of apartheid - especially with the scenes when Glover's character is abused. This sequel also went much more for comedy - and again strangely Joe Pesci is bought in to ramp up the comedic value. Not an automatic first choice for a comedy part, but Pesci does deliver admirably well, even though his character becomes more than a little irritating by the end. Good movie, well worth watching, but not a patch on the original of course.

Lethal Weapon
(1987)

Gibson and Glover chemistry the best since Sundance
One of the most compelling and entertaining movies to come out of Eighties Hollywood was Lethal Weapon. It cemented the superstar status of Mel Gibson - already essential casting following the success of Mad Max, and also turned Danny Glover into a household name. But crucially, the script - despite being a typical 80s action thriller that stretches credibility to its most unlikely point - actually works because of the mesmerising chemistry between Gibson and Glover. The two bounce off each other and the dialogue sizzles in between the breathtaking action sequences. It's the best on screen partnership since Newman and Redford in Butch Cassidy, and rarely can two characters have been so neon-lit as being 'the good guys'. The set pieces are tremendous - from Gibson's attempts to bring down a suicidal man from the top of a tower block to his hilarious yet unmissable brush with a gang of drug dealers early on, this top the buddy-movie genre onto another level. Of course the movie spawned another 3 sequels and became one of the most recognisable franchises in modern Hollywood. But this is entertainment at its very best, and Gibson has rarely been better. His psychotic, crazed cop blessed with martial art and sharpshooting skills most of his colleagues don't have made him the perfect rampaging crusader and his star status was assured after this.

Deadfall
(1968)

Dreary Deadfall instantly forgettable
I have only ever seen Deadfall twice. There was at least a decade between both viewings, and it was only when watching it for the second time that I realised that I remembered absolutely nothing about the movie whatsoever. Not a single scene. And as I decided to watch for a second time for the purpose of writing about it, I knew why. Deadfall is dreary, dull and monotonous. Caine struggles manfully to make some sense of it all, and whilst his dialogue is delivered reasonably well, one gets the distinct impression that, coming four years after Zulu, he was still agreeing to roles such as this one for fear of his elevation to stardom suddenly ending. The irony of course is that many more roles in films such as this one and that would have been the very thing that did happen. There was one mildly amusing piece of dialogue. When asked why he doesn't like dogs, cat burglar Caine replies: 'Because they remind me of the last time I worked. I had a paper round'. Although quite what non-European audiences made of that remark remains to be seen. So, what's wrong with Deadfall? Caine plays a highly intelligent burglar Henry Clarke, who is persuaded by ageing criminal Richard Moreau (Eric Portmann) and his strangely youthful yet delectable wife Fe (Giovanna Ralli) to steal diamonds from a local château owned by a millionaire playboy. Fine so far. But after the 18 minute scene showing the heist which is interspersed with a concert performance conducted by John Barry (in person no less), the film falls apart badly. Directed by Brian Forbes, there are far too many pointless scenes which fail to inspire. The continental location (in this case Spain) almost reminds one of the similar backgrounds in The Magus, and we certainly don't want to go there. As already mentioned, the film is scored by John Barry, and virtually every note feels like it is about to turn into the theme from You Only Live Twice. There is even a title song by Shirley Bassey to try and turn the movie into something it clearly won't ever be. It's almost as if Forbes has found a load of film on a cutting room floor from one of the Bond movies and pieced it together to make Deadfall. Caine aside, the rest of the cast just look hopelessly out of place. Leonard Rossiter inexplicably pops up in just one scene, and Portmann hams it up like a failed Shakespearian. But it's Ralli that must shoulder some of the blame here. She is mind numbingly awful as Caine's lover, and whilst her appearance is certainly easy on the eye, her delivery is deadpan and dreadful in equal measure. Forbes even casts his wife Nanette Newman in the film, and it sums it all up when her character in the cast list at the end is referred to as 'The Girl'. She is cringingly bad and serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever, although in fairness, she, like Ralli is certainly pleasing on screen until she's given something to do or say. Difficult to know what this films wants to be, and perhaps it is that lack of identity that does for it. Thank goodness Caine made The Italian Job the following year.

The Meaning of Life
(1983)

Python riot is hit and miss but will live on
Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life never quite reaches the heights of its superior stable mate The Life Of Brian, but is another riotous romp through bad taste and jaw dropping humour by the team. This film resembles much more the original TV sketch shows, and, like its small screen origins, is very much hit and miss. As with all the old Python sketches, some are tiresome and slow, but it is the stunning brilliance of any given sketch that can hit you at any time that lifts this movie well beyond the mundane. I vividly recall watching this as a schoolboy and thinking it was one of the best movies ever made. Given another viewing as a (hopefully) maturer adult, it falls a lot more flat than I first remembered. Indeed, in some places it looks like patched up Python, made up of stuff originally on the cutting room floor. However, the saving grace of the film are the strongest points that hit between the eyes: the uproariously funny 'Every Sperm Is Sacred' song and of course the infamous Mr Creosote restaurant sketch, which is perhaps the best remembered part of the entire film. Enough in here for fans to relish, but this was perhaps evidence that the Python's celluloid timeline was coming to a discreet end.

The Wrestler
(2008)

Rourke triumphs over adversity in astonishing movie
The Wrestler is one of the most poignant and powerful movies to come out of Hollywood in the past decade. Micky Rourke gives a quite astonishing performance as the ageing, broken hearted (and boned) fighter living on past glories desperately patching up his abandoned body to keep eking out a living doing the only thing he knows how to. His life is turned on its head when he suffers a heart attack in the aftermath of a brutal fight, yet wonderfully the picture fails to fall into the clichés of fight movies and avoids all the pitfalls that are invariably attached to a vehicle of this kind. Never before have we see seen so graphically and movingly just what the fighters have to go through in the name of entertainment and to give their fans what they want. We see the wrestlers discussing their moves before each fight, but this doesn't detract from the bone crunching punishment they take even if their bouts are elaborately stage managed. There is no better fight scene in the movie than when Rourke secretly cuts his own forehead with a concealed razor blade to get the crowd believing his injury has been caused in the ring. Rourke then has to try and achieve a reconciliation with his distant daughter, and also tries to build a relationship with lap dancing Marisa Tomei. The parallels between the two leads are obvious - Tomei's character also recognises the degradation and humiliation attached to her job as she tries to maintain a body 'fit for purpose' in a job that she has to do to pay the bills. Rourke is the colossal star of the show here - he underplays his depair with a magical touch and we root for him 100% despite him not wallowing in his vulnerabilities. The Academy Award voters must hang their heads in shame as never has an actor been more deserving of an award as Rourke. This is a phenomenal movie, and is highly recommended.

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
(1992)

Carbon copy fails to find its feet
Whilst John Hughes did an admirable job in reuniting virtually the whole cast for this remake of the 1990 smash hit, that it about the only positive thing to take from this lame sequel. What is remarkable is that this is virtually a scene-for-scene remake of the original, without any discernible attempt to revisit any new ideas or conceptions. Perhaps given the box office success of the original, the producers were at pains not to stray from the well beaten commercial path of success. Not even the idea of setting the movie in New York does enough to breathe fresh life into the same old premise. Culkin's career never recovered from this, and although the film was yet again inevitably a smash hit, audiences will feel a little short changed and certainly think they've seen it all before (which of course they have).

Home Alone
(1990)

Hughes hits the mark with seasonal hit
Home Alone will long be remembered as a seasonal, workable hit comedy that will stand the test of time. The huge hit of 1990 - amazing to think it is nearly 21 years old - spawned 3 sequels that came nowhere near mastering the original, but John Hughes is in top form here and delivers a worldwide global hit. It was the movie that made Macaulay Culkin an overnight star, and thankfully for him his cutesy acting is pitched perfectly well. It would be easy to side with Joe Pesci and Stern as the bad guys when faced with an obnoxious smart ass kid, but Culkin shows us his vulnerability through the loneliness of being left at home, and it is this that works well. The humour is decent, the slapstick almost painfully real, this is a good movie with heart that deserved the success bestowed upon it at the time.

Grand Canyon
(1991)

Kasdan's Grand Project has scope
Lawrence Kasdan's Grand Canyon is a movie trying to go places, and isn't quite sure how it gets there. Set in 1990s Los Angeles, it follows the fortunes of half a dozen citizens whose lives are intertwined by fate and fortune. There are some memorable scenes that will live long in the memory. Take Kevin Kline being rescued by pick up truck driver Danny Glover when he breaks down in one of the most undesirable neighbourhoods around. I found that the first half of the movie rolled along at a cracking pace and was watchable, even though many of those scenes were laden with doom and gloom and the chaos theory that we all live through in every day life. Indeed, Kasdan seemed to relish every single opportunity to tell us that modern day life - especially in LA - is fraught with danger, despair, injustice and anguish. After a while, the message gets laborious, but Kasdan then shows us that despite all that, we cannot cheat fate and that there are immeasurable pleasures to be had in life despite the surface appearing to be rotten and hard. The ending is a little too neat and doesn't sit kindly after what has been shown before, and the second half of the picture does start to sag, but all in all this is a decent movie well worth a revisit. Not sure what Steve Martin is doing here - he seems hopelessly miscast in a straight role, but Kline and Glover, in particular, are excellent.

The Prestige
(2006)

No illusions as Nolan's piece hits the mark
The Prestige is a unique thriller that works very well thanks to the slick direction of Christopher Nolan and a terrific contribution by a stellar cast. A movie that revolves around the acts of Victorian magicians is perhaps not at first glance the most obvious backdrop to set the story to, but Nolan delivers a powerful, engaging and compelling piece that is thoroughly enjoyable. Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale play two rival magicians, who through fate and tragedy, become competitively obsessed with the success of each others' acts. The sense of illusion is perfectly pitched throughout by Nolan, and it even gives the audience a wide appreciation of the world of magic (one almost can't wait to get home a try a few card tricks!). Jackman and Bale are magnificent, and are ably supported by the usual brilliance from Michael Caine. Quite how David Bowie pops up is anyones guess, but the whole movie is well made and will rightly be regarded in years to come as a superior picture.

Sleuth
(2007)

Another Caine remake but worth the wait
Of all the vast titles of Sir Michael Caine's work, Sleuth would not have been an obvious choice ripe for a remake, but Kenneth Branagh decides to dust off Anthony Shaffer's original stage play and bring in Harold Pinter for a new version. Anyone who has seen the 1972 original will know that the plot is very heavyweight for an actor as the whole story is virtually a double header. Caine, of course, played Milo Tindle in the original, opposite the great Laurence Olivier as Andrew Wyke. This time round, Branagh casts Caine in the Olivier part and Jude Law takes the Tindle role. It's worth watching, only to see if in this day of CGI and the dazzling Hollywood blockbuster, what is essentially a stage play can carry its own weight as a modern thriller. The result is surprisingly good - given that most other Caine remakes are woefully short of the quality of the originals - think The Italian Job, Get Carter and Alfie. The modern revamp of Sleuth works well, and the running time of 85 minutes suits the format of the presentation. Of course, in the original, Caine was considered to have beaten Olivier at his own game in terms of acting. Unfortunately here for Law, he can't usurp the grand master - Caine is exceptional here, and there is no danger of an upstage. I've never quite been convinced by Law - and his casting here (and in Alfie?) - suggest that some think he will be a future 'Michael Caine' - but there is only one Caine. In my opinion, Law has neither the off screen charisma or acting range to get close to the Guv'nor, but he does hold his own here. As with all recent Caine films, the man just seems to get better and better and this is well worth a look.

The Hangover
(2009)

A Cure For The Hangover
The Hangover is an enjoyable, laugh out loud movie that will go down as one of the better comedies to come out of Hollywood in recent years. There isn't much needed in terms of plot as four friends head to Vegas for a stag party and subsequently wake up 'the morning after' with only strange mementos of the night before to leave them wondering what they did. The fact that the clues include a real life tiger in their bathroom and a baby in the cupboard only add to the intrigue. Cue a series of set pieces and some glittering one liners and it's easy to see why this film was a big hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Anyone that has suffered the agony of not knowing what happened the night before, and then the acute embarrassment when you gradually realise just what you did will identify with this movie. And watch out too for a great turn from Heather Graham and a hilarious appearance by Mike Tyson - yes, THE Mike Tyson.

Max Payne
(2008)

Flat fantasy falls foul of plot Payne
Movies derived from computer games are always likely to fail - by their very nature. How can game-inspired characters become more than just one dimensional? And that is where Max Payne suffers. Whilst Wahlberg puts a brave face on for the duration, there is a mountain of unlikelihood to overcome here, and the plot suffers immensely. Setting such an impossible series of events in real time means there is never any credibility, as Payne becomes a hunted man following the death of a Russian acquaintance (played by Bond girl Olga Kurylenko). These movies should be set in a fantasy land from where they are conceived. There are plenty of fast paced action set pieces which are easy on the eye, but ultimately this is just well meaning nonsense.

Hitman
(2007)

Lively thriller sees Hit-man hired
Despite its origins steeped in video game history, Hit-man - the movie - is a well made, taught thriller, which is kept just the right side of ridiculous by some well paced action and good performances all round. Timothy Olyphant is very good as the all-action Agent 47, but Dougray Scott arguably steals the show with a subtle yet heavyweight performance as the Interpol chief desperate to get his man. Throw in the pre-Bond beauty of the stunning Olga Kurylenko, and there are enough components here to avoid all the usual clichés. Olyphnat's Agent must find out who double crossed him and use all his skill and expertise to stay alive as he fights through virtually every scene with the odds stacked way against him. A glossy film with substance that, like its titular hero, reaches its target with ease.

Le serpent
(2006)

The Serpent wriggles out of mediocrity
Despite a raft of clichés and see-it-coming plot twists, French movie The Serpent is an intelligent and stylish thriller, which delivers its intentions without popcorn gloss. Yvan Attal is the anti-hero photographer who is framed by a beautiful model and thereon in blackmailed by and old boyhood 'friend' who is, surprise surprise, a psychotic killer (Cloris Cornillac) out for revenge after a traumatised youth perpetrated by his old pals. For good measure, he is still obsessed with his recently deceased mother, and regularly visits her glass coffin to pay homage (just in case we really wanted a big neon sign as to who the psycho is or will turn out to be). Yet for all that, the movie still delivers with an assured confidence, and the cast do well and lift it to very decent heights.

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