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Pánico en el Transiberiano

Spammer, like Spanish Hammer
With Lee and Cushing headlining, you'd be forgiven for thinking you're in for Hammer horror antics, but this is something much more primitive. Telly Savalas has an inconsequential cameo late in the film, and familiar Euro-Latin faces de Mendoza, Rigaud, Pena and Line fill out a glamorous supporting cast as passengers aboard a trans-Siberian train whose lavish journey is thrown into chaos when Lee's supposedly fossilised neanderthal discovery returns to life.

A sharp screenplay and intricate set design are a distinct cut above the genre, but the storyline rather meanders without a solid purpose, the mystery of the supposedly inert artefact solved much too quickly leaving the rest of the film as a sort of Euro-horror version of the The Thing aboard the Orient Express. It's quirky and occasionally macabre in its contemporary context, although the laser-beam special effects become a little tedious during the film's chaotic climax.

Produced by Philip Yordan, Mrs Yordan - Faith Clift - has a prominent supporting role as the only other native English speaker in the cast, hence the ubiquitous Robert Reitty dubs the male voices in post production. The confined staging aboard the moving coffin and supernatural plot twists generally makes for a watchable thriller, though things sometimes get monotonous with occasional lapses in pacing perhaps designed to pad out the thin plot.

Overall it's distinguished by a capable cast who've plenty of physical plot devices with which to contend, and consequently achieves just a little north of average for its earnest efforts 👍🏻


Lord Grade Caribbean Caper
A truly epic cast of Hollywood heavyweights descend upon the idyllic backdrop of St Lucia, in a meandering action-thriller concerning a widow (Loren) who hires reputable mercenary Coburn to search for those responsible for her husband's assassination.

A galaxy of mega-stars blur the lines between allies and enemies, the intricate plot twists hatch an array of ruses, red herrings and cross and double cross subplots with which it's sometimes difficult to keep pace. Apparent continuity errors don't help the situation, but the undeniable charisma of the cast is hard not to like. OJ and Coburn make a watchable pairing, whilst boba fide stars Wallach and Mature are largely confined to bit parts, or in Mature's case, a solitary cameo lasting little more than 30 seconds. Bad guys Franciosa and Grizzard are potentially the highlights in the deep and diverse international cast.

Winner's trademark quick cuts, comic-book characters, pyrotechnics and opulent set design allied with Lord Grade's penchant for big names and lavish locations, create a colourful 70s aesthetic which admittedly is pure hokum, and yet never dull nor tedious.

Scream Blacula Scream

I am Blacula!
Surpasses the original (which itself was a good yarn) thanks mainly to the charisma of William Marshall (reprising his role), and the effective plot formula employed by horror specialist director Bob Kelljan.

Lovely Pam Grier co-stars as a modern voodoo cultist, whose estranged brother (Lawson) threatens to end her reign after he's overlooked as cult leader following the death of their mother. He instead unwisely awakens the long-dead spirit of Manuwalde (aka Blacula), a move he'll soon regret.

Director Kelljan's experience in the genre shows, and fans will instantly recognise the plot structure lifted from his earlier Count Yorga Vampire and it's sequel, the Return of Count Yorga.

Scary, witty and well-acted, it's a fun and frightening way to spend 85 mins and despite its obvious low-budget, still manages to provide a shock or two kudos to Marshall and his commanding, Shakespearean eloquence (which is on-par with that of Robert Quarry's sophisticated portrayal of Count Yorga). Another enduring AIP master-stroke well worthy of a look.

Game for Vultures

The Rhodesian Bush Wars from both sides
Convoluted plot concerns SAF expatriate (Harris) whose loyalty to his homeland begins to cloud his business affairs leading to a near-fatal brush with the self-described 'freedom fighter' Gideon (Roundtree), himself dedicating his service to the emancipation of Rhodesia. Despite the two men's attempts to galvanise their respective side's strategic position in the increasingly bloody conflict, they each lament the heavy human toll it inflicts on their countrymen, beginning to question the end-game and (somewhat prophetically) whether the future state can endure its violent past.

Director Fargo's plot requires serious concentration to follow, suffering too many impassioned political commentaries, and a complex array of characters whose sole purpose is to achieve martyrdom in the name of their respective cause.

Aside from the main protagonists, Denholm Elliott plays a shrewd, hard-drinking PI, Ken Gampu a militant ZANU officer who unlike Roundtree's more sophisticated approach, willingly accepts collateral damage as a price of the conflict, and sultry Joan Collins shows up for dinner and cocktails every 20 mins or so to lighten the mood. Ray Milland is also on-hand in a recurring role as a covert investor of the arms trading affair.

As other reviewers have remarked, the scenery is pleasant, the soundtrack is contemporary and catchy, and the international cast has considerable depth. If only the myriad sub-plots could've been condensed, the ingredients are there for a much more coherent film.

La morte risale a ieri sera

Vigilante vengeance
Widower (Vallone) searches for his missing daughter with the aid of committed inspector (Wolff) leading to a complex web of exploitation and deceit.

Probably more a polizioteschi than strictly giallo fare, the pacing sometimes suffers and the plot twists more than it needs to, but despite some issues with momentum, the overall result is still satisfying.

Aside from the two leads who are both excellent, German leading lady Eva Renzi lends support as Wolff's highly invested wife, Beryl Cunningham has a sizeable supporting role as a reluctant informer of sorts, whilst Gabriele Tinti shows his disdain for criminals as Wolff's highly-strung detective partner.

It's a rather bleak tale which Director Tessari handles with care and compassion, another interesting contrast to the usual giallo in which victims are typically discarded with a casual contempt. Better than average, but don't expect razor blades, black gloves and blood-splatter - this is a complex mystery which takes its time to strike.


Weekend warriors
It feels more like a telemovie than a feature film, and yet the performances of Robertson and Borgnine in particular are still very watchable, even if somewhat uneven.

Robertson's unravelling happens too abruptly, and Borgnine's moral compass seems to be all over the place; one minute he's in, the next he's out, it's hard to keep pace. At least you know where you stand with Henry Silva, so no surprises he's the trigger man whose initial marksmanship either saves or condemns the hunting party to their fate, depending on your perspective.

Aside from a key scene-stealing performance by distinguished stage actress Kate Reid, Helen Shaver makes a brief sultry cameo perhaps just to further emphasise Robertson's immorality, and familiar Canuck thespian Les Carlson is also on-hand for some added firepower and Gung-Ho machismo.

The messages are fairly overt, there's no 'hidden' agendas here so you'll either agree or disagree with the treatment depending upon which side of the 2nd Amendment you camp. There's reasonable tension, and plenty of 'human drama' which some reviewers have labelled tedious, it's just a shame there wasn't a bit more time spent on the action which could've reduced those heckles.

Other reviewers have compared this with Deliverance, and I'd also throw "The No Mercy Man" in there for similar themes at a similar scale. Well-made, but overall impact is disappointingly average.

Death Is a Woman

The Maltese Beatnik
Jazzy, beatnik themed 1965 time capsule from British Pathé with secret agent Mark Burns attempting to solve a murder in which he finds himself implicated. Joined by fellow agent Wanda Ventham posing as his fiancée, the pair must outsmart the seductive yet sinister Trisha Noble and her brawny bed partner Shaun Curry, before they pull-off a daring crime and disappear into the sunset. The frantic pace set to a frenetic bongo arrangement and colourful Mediterranean scenery, almost compensate for a relatively thin plot, in which enchantress Noble's bronzed and bikini-clad rig saunters from scotch on the rocks, to scuba-diving into underwater caves leaving a trail of destruction in her voluptuous wake. It's a visually attractive postcard light on sense, but somehow entertaining in spite of its plot weaknesses. Noble is better than you might think, and the set design and location work is all first-rate at depicting the mid-sixties Maltese tourist culture, its buzzing basement nightclubs, and azure blue sun-drenched coastline. A highly stylised cultural artefact worth preserving.

The Rockford Files: The Four Pound Brick
Episode 20, Season 1

Rock in the hock for PI favour
Good to see Stuart Margolin as 'Angel' even if it's only incidental to the story of Jim investigating the apparent accidental death of a rookie cop as a favour to his father on behalf of Edith Atwater's character.

Paul Carr has an integral supporting role as a could-be crooked cop, whilst the senior Campanella brother- Frank- plays his usual kingpin outline. John Quade is also in typically fine form as a smart-mouth heavy, and Tom Atkins makes his second appearance in the series as another hard-nosed detective with little time for Jim's casual interference. The action is relatively taught with a decent car chase, and some modest suspense.

It's a predictable caper, but the actors are becoming more relaxed in their characters, and the chemistry which was such a standout of the series is starting to become apparent, especially between Santos and Garner.

The Rockford Files: Exit Prentiss Carr
Episode 4, Season 1

Suicide scam
Decent early instalment and I agree with an earlier reviewer who commented that Garner was still maturing in the character. Corinne Michaels plays a former love interest (reckon Jim Rockford's love resume would rival Wilt Chamberlain's claims) whose husband is found deceased under sinister circumstances leading Jim down a deadly path of infidelity and blackmail. Highlights for me included Warren J Kemmerling and Mills Watson as a pair of detectives none too pleased with Rockford's speculation and interference, and whilst she doesn't have a single, solitary line of dialogue, the always alluring Roberta Collins playing a key role as a blackmailing madam. Overall it's a coherent, straightforward early episode, showcasing the usual array of glamorous gals and fast cars, and a glimpse of the trademark Jim Rockford sarcasm beginning to emerge as Garner starts to find his groove. I'd probably give it a 5/10, although my Roberta Collins bias attracts another star.

Street Killing

Average public prosecutor procedural
Andy Griffith charisma can't quite redeem this tepid tale of a mobster (Loggia) being tried for the murder of a gem merchant (Hammer). Undoubtedly a pilot which failed to launch, its talky and lacking any real tension or suspense although the cast is excellent. Dillman, Guardino, Don Gordon and Stan Shaw supporting the amiable yet assertive Griffith as the assistant DA, whilst Loggia is a stereotypical Mafia villain (lots of pasta eating and posturing). The grand jury scenes and eventual court case feature some interesting brinkmanship and tactics between the defence (Sadoff) and prosecutors, but its still very tame and predictable. Overall it's no surprises, nothing ventured, and really nothing much gained from watching.

The Longest Night

Taut kidnap drama telemovie
Great cast and performances headline this virtual biopic, economical at less than 75 mins head to tail which still produces the nail-biting tension the premise promises to deliver. Director Jack Smight made a similar telemovie "The Screaming Woman" around the same time which I'd also recommend. Farentino is the standout here, and his partner in crime played by Skye Aubrey is also pretty convincing as the well-prepared kidnappers attempting to extort half a million from wealthy businessman (Janssen) for the safe return of his adult daughter whose trapped beneath the ground in a purpose built tomb with limited resources to survive. Smight keeps a lid on anything hysterical, a highly process-driven police response led by an ultra-conservative FBI team which includes Mike Farrell as the principal agent, whilst John Kerr and Jason Bernard (uncredited) are prominent and equally stony-faced in support. Overall this was an engaging and taut telemovie, no-nonsense with a very solid cast and safe-hands approach, worthy of a viewing.

A Cold Night's Death

Human experiments
Entertaining thriller set in a remote Arctic scientific base where strange goings on cause the crew (Culp & Wallach) to suspect they're not alone, though Wallach is initially unwilling to accept the ravings of the more pragmatic Culp causing tension to compete with their survival.

Apart from Michael C.Gwynne who appears briefly in the first five minutes, the film is virtually exclusively a two-man act - that is if you exclude the monkeys/chimps on whom the scientists experiment and who may know the identity of the mysterious intruder.

Taut and suspenseful, Culp & Wallach depict their isolation and emotional disintegration convincingly albeit at different trajectories. Creepy, claustrophobic and mature time-filler demonstrates what you can achieve with solid storytelling on a network TV movie budget; well worth a look.

Murder by Natural Causes

Secrets and sleight of hand
Very crafty thriller has adulterous wife Ross plotting celebrity clairvoyant husband's murder to ostensibly inherit his fortune and live happily ever after with her obeying younger suitor Bostwick. But there's more to the plot than meets the eye.

Holbrook gives an energetic performance to match the wit and wile of his scheming vixen wife, a rare quality role for Ross as her career began to decline in the late 70's. Dependable second lead Richard Anderson is very good in the important supporting role as Holbrook's loyal friend and attorney, whilst former Hollywood almost-a-star Jeff Donnell has a curious role for someone of her status, as Anderson's faithful housekeeper. The ensemble cast are all terrific and their appreciation of the timing and delivery needed to keep the plot tight and the audience guessing is pitch perfect.

This is one of those TV movies they used to make in the halcyon era of the 70's/80's that you'd want to seek out and find on DVD to keep for posterity; not only a great whodunnit- style mystery, but a reminder of the quality of TV movies before networks apparently abandoned the concept for sitcoms and never-ending procedural dramas. Vale TV movies, especially when they're made like this one, an absolute pearler.

The Strangler

Terrific Buono madman matinée
Very watchable thriller featuring the rotund funny-man Buono in a decidedly unfunny portrayal of an unhinged mummy's boy and daytime lab scientist whose over-bearing mother leads him to commit a series of murders of young women placing the city in the grip of fear. Buono essentially reprised the role several years later in the Italian black comedy "The Mad Butcher", his MO virtually identical albeit in a more farcical manner.

Rugged Marlboro Man David MacLean is the tired, dairy devouring (was the milk drinking scene a product placement ad?) detective under pressure to make the city safe again, whilst a plethora of female victims include Jeanne Bates, Mimi Dillard, Davey Davison and the defiant Diane Sayer set up as bait to lure the killer as his crimes escalate to more brazen opportunism and flagrant audacity. James B.Sikking (Hill Street Blues) has a bit part as a police sketch artist.

The film is nicely photographed in B&W whilst the set decor is detailed and the pace and plot neatly executed. All round, it's a coherent little thriller (loosely inspired by events of the time), taut, economical and well worth watching more than once.

The Shallows

Soul surfer meets 127 hours
A true shark movie that threatens to be better than the rest, and whilst to some degree it out performs most of its peers, it just can't overcome the CGI scourge that ultimately spoils its authenticity. Blake is lively though not expansive enough in her acting range to carry a thriller on her own. The behemoth that pursues her looks good in close ups and stock footage, but yet again just when you've suspended disbelief and in the grip of fear, the juxtaposition in the animation effects lets you off the hook and back to the safety of your seat.

A superior shark movie imo (e.g. 12 Days of Terror, The Reef, Dark Tide) doesn't lose your trust the way The Shallows relaxes its grip when it's antagonist fails to seamlessly synchronise with the environment. Unfortunately as a result, the attack scenes mostly miss the mark and don't appear natural (when does one shark attack and devour multiple people in quick succession?), though the suspense is certainly present in the pacing and timing.

The idea of the rogue shark stalking prey in the isolated cove is explained (or perhaps contrived) and so the survival match at least has a plot basis on which to unfold. From this survivalist perspective, the film works and keeps you engaged as Lively employs her limited resources to countenance the great white terror whose scale is by the way, not unrealistic (though still of school bus proportions) . Overall, pleasant scenery, decent sound & visual effects (notwithstanding the CGI) but it doesn't rise beyond B-grade to beckon a second viewing.

They're a Weird Mob

You'll be bloody right
Delightfully light-hearted look into Sydney pre-Vietnam attitudes, still brimming with confidence straddling 50's conservatism and the beginning of the counter culture movement that emerged in the latter part of the decade. It was a very good time to be a ten pound Pom, or indeed any number of European immigrants who accepted the invitation, as Walter Chiari's character (Giovanni 'Nino' Carlotta) experiences, though not without comic incident as he tries to right his cousin's business debts. As other reviewers have remarked, a sort of humorous propaganda promo for Australian immigration.

The beer flows like rivers of amber nectar in a Gold Top commercial, the formal bars and building site where Nino comes to learn the Aussie vernacular; Ed Devereaux (pre- "Skippy"), John Meillon (who almost steals the show), Chips Rafferty, Anne Haddy was there much younger obviously than her later soapy salad days. Obviously the movie needs to exaggerate reality to create humour and I reckon you'd need to be *bloody* churlish to be offended, it's pretty harmless (self-deprecating in fact) when viewed in context.

A wonderful time capsule and source of nostalgia from Rank, perhaps a little bittersweet too when you consider how much of that beloved character we've since abandoned.... worth watching, should bring a smile to your face.

Rogue One

Expanded Universe becomes official spin off
The Star Wars canon has been revived (following earlier tangents for the Ewoks), with miscreant Felicity Jones recruited by the rebellion to help locate the Death Star's famous weakness which is the spine to the climax of the original episode A New Hope (ANH). In the Star Wars lineage, Rogue One occurs between Revenge of the Sith and ANH.

Reckon Flick Jones is going to be crowned most feisty/sexy Star Wars female character in the galaxy once this goes viral, such are her cherub-like facial features tempered by the grit and attitude of a space cowboy. She's no princess, but a package of galactic goodness all the same. Aussie Ben Mendelsohn is also inspired casting, a menacing Director Krennic whose tactical positioning in the Empire hierarchy adds another layer to a character that could easily have just become another cliché. The remaining cast has depth and there's a couple of surprises in supporting roles which might evoke some fond memories of the original trilogy, though I'm not too sure the CGI character was such a good idea, despite perhaps being well intentioned.

Overall I was pleased with this retrospective; it wasn't as derivative as TFA, Flick Jones really stands-out from the new breed acting crowd, and was a good balance of homage and originality. Whether the franchise has enough original material to crank these out in annual procession til 2020 is seriously debatable, but Rogue One is a pretty decent benchmark on which to start a new generation of spin-offs.


Love and imminent parenthood across the ditch
Unorthodox romance tells the story of an estranged couple, who briefly reconnect following an overseas fling that results in pregnancy, with the door left open for a more enduring reconciliation after a weekend spent rediscovering their mutual affection. The two leads really carry the entire story which is surprisingly effective despite having really very little actual plot. It's somewhat unconventional in that the story begins several months post an intense holiday romance, with the characters now at their lowest ebb in the relationship, re-building trust and forging bonds as prospective parents sober following their torrid affair.

NZ location work showcases the multi-textured city of Christchurch, it's picturesque beaches, parks and gardens contrasting the demolition of modern ruins, a reminder of the earthquake devastation inflicted only a few short years ago. There's an occasional misfire in the situations (i.e. the dial-a-rap song and Gondala strip both seem a little unnatural even allowing for their context) but otherwise, the story seems very sincere.

Probably could've developed a couple more characters and scenarios to pad out the 70 minute run time (e.g. perhaps some more meat in the flashbacks which are relayed like silent memories), but overall if you can appreciate a well acted independent movie in which character is gradually revealed at a deliberate pace, then this sensitive, atypical romance should keep you engaged.

Kommando Leopard

Box set please
Kommando Leopard is chapter 2 in the Dawson-Collins jungle war trilogy, and whilst baring no real relation to the others, is essentially the same film with a few plot variations. This instalment finds the intrepid mercenaries being pursued by contract killer Klaus Kinski whilst holed up in a Church hospital run by mysterious priest Manfred Lehmann.

Quality scale miniature sets are used in abundance but generally to good effect, whilst the personnel is also much the same as the predecessor with Lehmann, Kinski and Collins re- joining Thomas Danneberg and veteran Alan Collins (aka Luciano Pigozzi) whilst American ex-pat Mike Monty and British ex-pat John Steiner join the franchise for their first appearances. Kinski does arrogant bad-ar$e better than anyone and this is a masterclass of his less-is-more approach though it's debatable whether his bored exterior is acting or genuine contempt.

As with the others there's a fair amount of pathos on display, mourning those lost and lamenting the sacrifices and collateral damage made in the name of cheque-book war - all of which is unnecessary and pure guff. But if you like it when stuff explodes, catches fire or just enjoy massive machine gun recoil and spent cartridges flying in all directions whilst the hero nonchalantly mows down his incompetent opponents, then Kommando Leopard will be very adequate - though brainless- escapism.

Der Commander

Flirting with cult status
Average Euro-styled jungle action flick is the third of the trio that was borne of the Anthony Dawson- Lewis Collins mid-80's partnership, Der Kommander is essentially the same as its predecessors with a few plot tweaks.

Good use of miniatures again, lots (emphasis) of things blowing up, people of SE Asian appearance dressed in military fatigues being catapulted in the air doing somersaults, that sort of a spectacle which you either tolerate or fall asleep watching.

Collins is again wasted in a one dimensional role as the suave kick-ar$e mercenary with the eternal 5 o'clock shadow, whilst the supporting cast though lacking a principal female lead, does have some surprising depth with Lee Van Cleef, Donald Pleasance, Brett Halsey, Paul Muller, Romano Puppo, Bobby Rhodes, Mike Monty and John Steiner (as well as series regulars Manfred Lehmann & Thomas Danneberg). That's an impressive cast assembled for a very average jungle war pic, even by Euro-trash standards; had Klaus Kinski returned for this final instalment, the acting chops would've been in the cult movie stratosphere. Van Cleef sadly does not look well and so it's perhaps regrettably no surprise that he died shortly after this film's theatrical release.

If you've seen Codename Wildgeese or Kommando Leopard, then you've essentially seen Der Kommander (sans Klaus Kinski of course). Lots of old and borrowed, but nothing new. Would be nice to have these three movies as a box set for an evening of cheesy goodness, especially now that most of the cast have left the mortal coil, all much too soon.

All Is Lost

Ocean, wind & fire
Whether it's loosely based on Steven Callahan's harrowing 76-day journey or otherwise, this one-man survivalist movie is possibly the very best of its breed. Robert Redford plays the ageing yachtsman with pragmatism, stamina and an undertone of bitterness as he contends with a seemingly endless array of catastrophes that lead to eventually becoming stranded at sea.

Virtually no dialogue or soundtrack, just the howls of the ocean and creaking of ropes and wood, this is a masterclass of the less is more concept. Always engaging, at times suspenseful, it's without peer of its ilk, the closest you'd come to this standard is the always riveting "I Shouldn't Be Alive" docu-dramas which are consistently high calibre.

Unlikely to engage all audiences, it should appeal to the fans of shipwreck adventures, something akin to Robinson Crusoe on the water. The plot slowly constricts its hapless victim, gradually wearing down his mind, body and resources with every cruel blow. It's like death is destined and he's forced to endure it slowly compounding with each setback. A real man vs nature ordeal perfectly cast and great viewing. This is the best thing Redford has done in thirty years.

The Mad Bomber

Fear city
Uptight ultra conservative (Connors) decides to get even with the world after it fails him, using his bomb making skills to put the city in the grip of fear. Only tired-looking detective Vince Edwards and suspected rapist Neville Brand can stop his murderous reign of terror in this reasonably taut time filler.

It's unusual to have dual plots/villains and the presence of Brand in such an understated yet critical characterisation cannot be diminished. His scenes are amongst the best and most gripping as he leverages a chance encounter with the mad bomber to his advantage (and much to Edward's chagrin).

Solid cast includes Hank Brandt, Royce Applegate and Jeff Burton in minor roles, whilst Ilona Wilson has a quirky cameo as Brand's defensive wife. Good momentum, special effects and committed acting elevate this minor movie to something more substantial - and check out the graphic ending for a shocking conclusion!

Grand Prix

Going the distance
Epic soap opera combines the elements of tragedy, courage and competition to document the trials and tribulations of the elite motor racing fraternity. James Garner stars as the subdued track star, his rivalry with former team mate Brian Bedford not only confined to the cockpit with Jessica Walter's sultry influence pitting the pair against one another following an acrimonious split. Yves Montand and Antonio Sabato provide solid, watchable supporting performances as Garner & Bedford's nearest rivals, the ageing Montand beginning to question his place in the sport, whilst the brash, youthful Sabato seeks to shine in its luminosity.

Diverse cast and some compelling race sequences just manage to go the distance (3 hrs) as our heroes make sacrifices for the obligations of their sport, becoming increasingly disdainful of its commercialisation at the expense of their safety in what has become a familiar rhetoric for these types of movies since.

You won't need to be a fan of formula one to enjoy Grand Prix, though it's epic duration and moments of melodrama and romantic interludes sometimes stifle momentum. Though dated, Grand Prix is colourful, picturesque and tells a rather straightforward if bittersweet tale of professional racing that is long overdue for a decent remake.


Friday the 13th in a row boat
The oversized antagonist of this run of the mill creature feature isn't a bad specimen and definitely looks like something out of the River Monsters alumni, not too far beyond realistic proportions. But that's about all I can praise in this otherwise irritating labour as six high school seniors try to stay afloat a sinking row boat as they're stalked by the voracious lake monster whilst tensions amongst the group threaten their survival.

Most of the characters are clichés (the nerd, the jock, the outsider) and some are plainly irritating, not to mention uneven as the plot meanders from one fatality to the next. It doesn't take long for this lemon to lose its zest, the brittle relationships deteriorating into ridiculous scenarios that accelerate the attrition rate beyond I'm sure even the appetite of the assailant. Aside from the abysmal acting and puerile dialogue, the key weakness in the plot is the fact that the riverbank is clearly visible in almost every shot, yet despite their obvious proximity to shore, these directionless debutantes never seem to get any closer to it. Had they been depicted further from land in a vast lake, the situation would've been more believable.

Unlike the typical monster movie, there's a rather morbid conclusion to this aimless outing, though it doesn't necessarily redeem the previous 80-minutes which even by B-movie standards is pretty mediocre.

John Q

ER meets PR
I really wanted to be sympathetic to the plight of these characters, their son denied a life-saving transplant due to complexities of insurance and the avarice of private healthcare providers, but I just couldn't tell where the political advertisement ended and the film actually started. Director Cassavetes seems to be flirting with an expensive commercial for a means-tested healthcare model which is fine (Hollywood jingoism is nothing new), though it's usually more subtle.

Washington seems to have the right amount of despair and Woods plays the schmoozing cardiologist with aplomb; his characterisation brought more depth to what could've been a very one-dimensional part. Heche on the other hand as the cold, heartless 'system' personified, epitomised the hollow cliché that Woods somehow managed to avoid (by acting). The Liotta vs Duvall contest is also pretty shallow and unimaginative.

Overall, despite the capable cast, it's difficult to distinguish ad from movie which I'd attribute mostly to the banal dialogue and overly clichéd approach taken. Could've had more tension, action and entertainment if they'd gone with Mel Gibson (a la Ransom, Payback) alas, the makers opted for a dramatic pose and the result is consequently extremely superficial and underwhelming.

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