Movie Review: Moving Violation (1976)
Fri, 20 Sep 2019 03:48:00 +0000

A basic car chase action film, Moving Violation lives down to elemental expectations.

Laidback Detroit autoworker Eddie (Stephen McHattie) is hitchhiking through the south and wanders into the small town of Rockfield, where he quickly tangles with redneck Sheriff Rankin (Lonny Chapman). Eddie meets local ice cream parlour girl Cam (Kay Lenz), and together they witness the corrupt Rankin shooting dead his deputy on the estate grounds of oil tycoon Mr. Rockfield (Will Geer), whose family built the town.

Eddie and Cam realize they are in deep trouble and speed off in their van, with Rankin labelling them police-murdering terrorist fugitives. Wild chases ensue with multiple police cars joining the pursuit. The befuddled Eddie and Cam eventually seek the help of lawyer Alex Warren (Eddie Albert), but clearing their names will not be easy.

Produced by low-budget master Roger Corman and his wife Julie but backed by some studio money from 20th Century Fox, Moving Violation is 90 minutes of car chases and stunts interrupted by a few awkward scenes of attempted acting. The film looks reasonably slick and meets all expectations of B-movie drive-in level "beware the hick South" themed entertainment from the era, including horrid acting, childish dialogue and cartoonish villainous characters.

The chase scenes are often comically sped up except when director Charles S. Dubin introduces slow motion shots to better highlight the key stunts, and most of the fast motoring unfolds to hillbilly banjo music and plenty of repetitive tame cussing. The drive for humour occasionally collides with Sheriff Rankin's uncompromisingly evil stance and moments of abrupt shotgun violence.

Stephen McHattie and Kay Lenz often look embarrassed, confined to grim-faced close-up reaction shots while holding onto steering wheels with no actual lines to say. Moving Violation barrels down the highway seeking every possible crash opportunity, a mind numbing but efficient demonstration of scrap metal production.

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Movie Review: The Hindenburg (1975)
Wed, 18 Sep 2019 04:07:00 +0000

A disaster drama, The Hindenburg offers a few impressive visuals but is an otherwise a turgid exercise in waiting for the inevitable to happen.

It's May 1937, and Colonel Franz Ritter (George C. Scott) is recruited by German officials to be the head of security for the airship Hindenburg. One of the symbols of pride for the ruling Nazi party, the Hindenburg is about to embark on the travel season's first journey across the Atlantic from Germany to the United States. A woman from Milwaukee has written a letter predicting the destruction of the vessel, and Ritter, who is still recovering from the death of his son, is asked to keep an eye on the passengers and deal with any possible sabotage threats.

After rigorous security checks the journey proceeds with Captain Pruss (Charles Durning) in command. The passengers include Ritter's acquaintance The Countess Ursula (Anne Bancroft), whose property has been seized by the Nazis, as well as an assortment of businessmen, tourists, entertainers, charlatans, crewmembers, government types and possible spies. Ritter and Gestapo officer Vogel (Roy Thinnes) try to keep tabs on all possible suspects, and eventually Ritter determines that crew member Boerth (William Atherton) may be the saboteur.

With the tragic ending of the Hindenburg rendered as one of history's most well-known disasters by the presence of multiple television cameras, any and all cinematic drama would have to be generated by character-generated stories. Unfortunately director Robert Wise and a trio of writers adapting the 1972 Michael M. Mooney book fail miserably in creating anyone or anything to care about. Despite some beautiful scenic shots of the Hindenburg majestically floating across the sky, Wise's attempts to enliven the journey across the Atlantic fly into severe headwinds. One contrived mid-flight emergency repair job is far from enough to maintain interest, and the film is a listless affair, singularly lacking in personality, meaningful events or any compelling interpersonal drama.

The sabotage plot is one of the more far-fetched and unsubstantiated theories as to why the Hindenburg exploded during the docking process at New Jersey's Lakehurst Naval Air Station. Setting aside the fact or fiction debate, the movie manages to reduce the entire evil plot to one tiny bomb and one nondescript crew member, and adds layers of convoluted implausibility by meandering its way to portraying Ritter as the clumsiest of plot enablers.

George C. Scott affixes a single stern expression throughout the film, his Ritter caught between heroism and incompetence, while Anne Bancroft overacts her way through the role of the Countess. The rest of the cast members are a bland assortment of character actors (among them Gig Young, Burgess Meredith, Richard Dysart, René Auberjonois and Peter Donat) playing distinctly forgettable and interchangeable travelers.

The Hindenburg starts with fake but effective black and white newsreel footage summarizing the history of hydrogen powered airships, and switches back to black and white for the dramatically calamitous climax, juxtaposing real and recreated footage of the crash. Regrettably, all the coloured bits in-between also represent their own special brand of disaster.

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Movie Review: The Medusa Touch (1978)
Tue, 17 Sep 2019 13:01:00 +0000

A supernatural psychological disaster horror film, The Medusa Touch delves into the human capacity to cause harm through the story of a brain refusing to die.

In London, author John Morlar (Richard Burton) is bludgeoned nearly to death in his apartment while watching live television coverage of a space mission to the moon going wrong. Confined to a hospital bed in a deep coma, his brain remarkably shows continued activity. With London recovering from the shock of a jumbo jet crashing into a highrise causing hundreds of casualties, French police detective Brunel (Lino Ventura), part of an exchange program, starts to investigate the assault and connects with psychologist Dr. Zonfeld (Lee Remick).

Zonfeld had been treating Morlar for years, as he believed himself responsible for multiple deaths through sheer willpower dating back to his childhood. Flashbacks reveal incidents involving his nurse, parents, and schoolmaster. As an adult Morlar practiced as a lawyer and was convinced his mental rage caused harm to a judge and a neighbour. With no shortage of potential suspects seeking revenge, Brunel realizes that as long as Morlar's brain is still active, worse is to come.

An interesting hybrid tapping into multiple 1970s film trends including The Omen-style horror and large scale disaster epics, The Medusa Touch does not quite fit into any one category but nevertheless carries its own impact. The John Briley script adapts the 1973 Peter Van Greenaway book with clarity, allowing director Jack Gold to elegantly balance events between Brunel's investigation and Morlar's troubled past, all set against the context of catastrophes still smoldering and about to occur.

Scenes of brooding, supernatural death build up to satisfying punctuation marks, and intermingle with light psychology, telekinesis and a theme of helplessness and self-doubt. And in the final act the film works its way to a larger scale altogether, the mayhem expanding from personal to brutal.

As a British / French co-production the main detective was rather clumsily changed to a Frenchman, but Lino Ventura takes the role and runs with it, bringing a welcome air of frumpled French pragmatism to the otherwise prim and proper English surroundings. Richard Burton sits in his gloomy comfort zone as John Morlar, Gold deploying plenty of extreme close-up shots of the actor's eyes but thankfully reining in his more bombastic tendencies. Lee Remick is adequate but cold, while the supporting cast includes Harry Andrews, Gordon Jackson and Alan Badel.

The film features decent special effects as detective Brunel's dogged delving into the past reveals the carnage left behind by Morlar's brain willing bad things to happen. A runaway car hurtles down a hill all on its own, a fire burns through a large school, and later on, the death and destruction expand to a larger scale, some of it difficult to watch from the more modern perspective tainted by global terrorism.

Which only serves to highlight The Medusa Touch's main theme. Morlar's remarkable story is a metaphor for the capacity to imagine and then act upon the worst possible outcomes through the red mist of rage, a fatalistic stance on humanity's ability to ever evolve past solving conflicts by violent means. One man may die, but the deep-seated readiness to cause death and destruction lives on.

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Movie Review: McQ (1974)
Mon, 16 Sep 2019 03:06:00 +0000

A crime action movie, McQ attempts to contribute to the genre's increasing grittiness but achieves only modest success.

In Seattle, two beat cops are shot dead by police detective Stan Boyle, who is then himself gunned down by a mysterious assailant. Stan's long term partner Detective Lon "McQ" McHugh (John Wayne) chases away a thief breaking into his green Pontiac Firebird, then returns fire and kills a hitman. McQ connects with Stan's wife Lois (Diana Muldaur) and starts to investigate the murders, convinced that local drug lord Santiago (Al Lettieri) must be behind the killings.

McQ resigns from the police force when he runs afoul of Captain Kosterman (Eddie Albert), although detective Toms (Clu Gulager) tries to mediate. McQ partners with private investigator "Pinky" Farrell (David Huddleston) and shakes down informants Rosey (Roger E. Mosley) and Myra (Colleen Dewhurst) for information. He learns Santiago has assembled a small army of henchmen to steal a shipment of seized drugs from under the noses of the police, but not everything is at it seems.

With Bullitt (1968), Dirty Harry and The French Connection (both 1971) redefining what a star-driven police action film looks and sounds like, director John Sturges and John Wayne trade in horses for cars and attempt to join the fun. With a brass-heavy Elmer Bernstein music score, impressive weaponry, and no shortage of roaring American muscle cars chasing each other across Seattle, McQ is not a bad effort, but it lacks verve and originality.

After a solid opening featuring multiple murders and an intriguing set-up, the film settles down to long stretches of mundane, television-level tedium, the flabby script by Lawrence Roman lacking a cutting edge and is unable to capitalize on the early momentum. Sturges does not contribute any notable directorial touches, and at 67 years old Wayne is well past convincing as a police detective.

The title character is also too faithful to Wayne's stand-up persona to be effective in the new reality of cops pushing boundaries and encountering walls of conspiracy. Sure McQ throws a few illegal punches and slams his badge on the table in disgust, but there is never any question which side of the line he is on, where he stands in the conflict between good and bad, and therefore which side will prevail.

But not all is lost. The story of police corruption and double-cross is actually decent, and in the final third the film finally latches on to its purpose as the action kicks out of second gear towards an acceptable if ultimately safe climax. In sharper hands and with more of the plot holes filled, McQ could have been elevated beyond merely average.

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Movie Review: To Live And Die In L.A. (1985)
Sun, 15 Sep 2019 17:28:00 +0000

A police investigation action thriller, To Live And Die In L.A. takes a conventional story and twists it into a compelling dark journey into the soul's abyss.

Secret Agents Richard Chance (William Petersen) and Jimmy Hart (Michael Greene) foil a terrorist attack in Washington D.C. The duo are reassigned to Los Angeles where Hart is gunned down days away from retirement while investigating the elaborate money counterfeiting operation run by Rick Masters (Willem Dafoe). Chance tells his new partner John Vukovich (John Pankow) he will stop at nothing to bring down Masters.

Chance controls the life of parolee informer Ruth (Darlanne Fluegel) with sex and money, and she leads him to crooked lawyer Max Waxman (Christopher Allport), a buyer of fake currency. His death yields a notebook with more details about the counterfeiting business. The agents arrest Masters' courier Carl Cody (John Turturro) and connect with his disillusioned lawyer Bob Grimes (Dean Stockwell). When Chance and Vukovich impersonate potential clients but are stymied by a lack of money to catch Masters in the act, Chance turns to methods well outside the rule book to pursue the investigation.

Director William Friedkin chose the novel by former secret agent Gerald Petievich for his return to form. Working with a limited budget and with a cast of relative unknowns, he crafts a nihilistic police thriller intent on breaking conventions and subverting expectations. To Live And Die In L.A. amplifies The French Connection themes of rampant corruption and the lost battle against crime. But this time Secret Agent Chance is more honest about his willingness to operate all the way outside the lines, resulting in a brilliantly disconcerting narrative running on unstable energy fragments.

Chance is an unforgettable and unsettling character. A cocky risk-taking thrill seeker, he believes in his own indestructibility, his version of justice, and fierce loyalty to the memory of his murdered partner Hart. He callously takes advantage of informant Ruth, using her for sex and information while threatening her with a return to prison. And when it's time to close in on his prime target Masters, Chance circumvents the bureaucracy by launching a rogue mission to secure the funds he needs, placing in jeopardy everyone he should care about but providing him with the ultimate thrill ride.

And Friedkin translates Chance's thrill into a seminal car chase scene, at least equalling the heart-stopping action of The French Connection and here featuring a sojourn through the iconic LA river then an astounding and incredibly staged high speed crash-filled manic race traveling the wrong way against freeway traffic.

In addition to bursts of violence and some effective gore, Friedkin infuses the movie with an undercurrent of unconstrained sexuality, both the predator Chance and the prey Masters stripped bare in several scenes and coldly engaging in emotionless sex as confirmation of their mirrored explicit personalities and rotting cores.

Other highlights include an elaborate and seemingly authentic recreation of the counterfeiting process, a vivid visual style inspired by television's Miami Vice, and a singular music soundtrack featuring English new wave band Wang Chung.

Petersen was plucked from the Chicago theatre circuit and his obscurity works in his favour. With no screen persona to adhere to, Petersen has a blank canvass to create Chance upon, and he succeeds in combining edgy cool with barely concealed combustible emotional tension. In one of his earliest prominent roles Willem Dafoe provides an aura of violent arrogance as Masters.

A gripping disruption of the familiar, To Live And Die In L.A. creates its own exhilarating set of rules and consequences.

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Movie Review: Push (2009)
Sat, 14 Sep 2019 14:33:00 +0000

A science fiction superhero thriller, Push crashes into an incomprehensible plot and burns on the fuel of witless character definition.

Various people who have enhanced psychic abilities are hunted down by an evil government group called The Division, made up of baddies who also have psychic powers. Nick (Chris Evans) a "Mover" who can manipulate objects with his thoughts, is hiding out in Hong Kong having been hunted all his life by Agent Carver (Djimon Hounsou). Now Nick is approached by young Cassie (Dakota Fanning), a "Watcher" who can see and draw snippets of the future.

Cassie needs Nick' help to locate Kira (Camilla Belle), a Pusher who escaped the Division after proving resilient to the strongest experimental injection. Kira and Nick have a history, but now she in possession of a case with mysterious contents that can bring down the Division and save Cassie's captive mother. In addition to Carver and his goons, a Chinese family featuring the intimidating Pop Girl (Xiao Lu Li) and men who can scream their enemies to death is also chasing the action.

Pushers, Watchers, Movers, Sniffers, Shifters, Wipers, Bleeders, Stitchers, Shadows...whatever. It takes no longer than 10 minutes for Push to collapse in a heap of nonsense overload, writer David Bourla and director Paul McGuigan clueless as to how to assemble a coherent story out of assorted hokum. Some of the visuals are impressive, but the film's style and good use of Hong Kong locations don't come close to saving the inept story.

Among the barely explained core elements are the reasons behind the prolonged war between two groups of psychics, the types of experiments being conducted by the Division, and why anyone is supposed to care. If weaponization is the objective, the current abilities on display by all sides, including stopping a hail of bullets with bare hands, influencing enemies to kill each other in a blink of an eye and predicting enemy movements, appear quite effective already.

Meanwhile, the film is riddled with internal inconsistencies related to how and when the psychic superpowers can be deployed. The case everyone is chasing takes pride of place as a most boring MacGuffin, and the bewildering revelation that it contains a serum already developed by the Division adds to the confusion. How or why a single syringe of a drug already in use will change the world order is a mystery abandoned for another day.

Chris Evans and Dakota Fanning are defeated by the material, while the other cast members don't even try and surrender quickly to superficial overacting. All the characters are dropped into the action with barely any background or context, with the notable exception of Cassie's mother, who is evidently central to the plot but never makes an appearance. She was doubtless being saved for the sequel, which was mercifully never pushed out.

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Movie Review: 17 Again (2009)
Sat, 14 Sep 2019 13:29:00 +0000

A body transformation high school comedy, 17 Again is a surprisingly breezy exploration of second chances and rediscovering priorities.

In 1989, 17 year old star high school basketball player Mike O'Donnell (Zac Efron) abandons the game of his life to be with his girlfriend Scarlet after she surprises him with news that she's pregnant. Twenty years later, Mike (Matthew Perry) is a jaded and depressed salesman, emotionally ignoring Scarlet (Leslie Mann) and their two teenagers Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg) and Alex (Sterling Knight). After they separate and Scarlet initiates divorce proceedings, Mike encounters a mysterious spirit guide and finds himself back in his 17 year old body.

Mike re-enrolls in high school with his nerdy and wealthy best friend Ned Gold (Thomas Lennon) helping out by pretending to be his dad. Now in his kids' environment, Mike learns Maggie is being pressured into having sex by school bully Stan (Hunter Parrish), while Alex is the victim of bullying and hesitant to express his basketball skills. Meanwhile Ned sets his eyes on wooing Principal Jane Masterson (Melora Hardin), who has a policy against dating parents. Mike has to try to be a father and reclaim Scarlet's love, all while navigating the hazards of high school.

Perfectly paced at 105 minutes and riding on the energy of a willing cast, 17 Again deftly combines a middle age crisis with a wacky second shot at rebooting a stalled life in an often edgy package. The film is as restless as a high school cafeteria at lunch hour, bustling with multiple intersecting stories of parents, offspring, schoolmates and one dorky but unimaginably rich and randy friend.

The film wisely does not dwell on Mike's shock at finding himself in a teenaged body, and avoids the tired body fluid jokes. Instead writer Jason Filardi and director Burr Steers find good laughs in high-risk areas, where a dad now has to witness at close quarters the burgeoning sexuality of his daughter while fending off the aggressive advances of her classmates, and a middle-aged husband who looks like a 17 year old has to romance his skeptical wife.

17 Again refreshingly does not immediately telegraph where it wants to go, and Mike is left without instructions on how to reassemble his life. His high school redux could be about seizing the opportunity to become a basketball star, understanding the pressures faced by his kids, learning what it means to be a parent, or making amends to his wife, but succeeding at anything will not be easy with the mind of a jaded adult and the body of a hunky teen.

The film rides on Zac Efron's shoulders and he delivers a winning performance, channeling with some devious cunning the spirit of a frustrated middle aged man solving his destiny puzzle. Efron handles a couple of soapbox scenes with aplomb. Leslie Mann brings her brand of laidback sarcasm to the role of Scarlet, first quite tired of her husband's defeatism them mystified by the attractive young man hovering around her.

17 Again is teen-oriented humour that refreshingly also works for adults. The body may be jumbled, but the entertainment is smooth.

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Movie Review: Sunshine Cleaning (2008)
Fri, 13 Sep 2019 02:58:00 +0000

A quirky dramedy, Sunshine Cleaning delves into the lives of working class America through the story of two sisters struggling to get by, and finds good intentions mixing with bad decisions.

In Albuquerque, single mom Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams) works hard as a maid while raising her eight year old son Oskar, and carries on an affair with police detective Mac (Steve Zahn). In high school she was the cheerleading team captain and he was the star quarterback, but Mac chose to marry someone else and Rose's life never recovered. Meanwhile, her younger sister Norah (Emily Blunt) cannot hold a job, and has not yet processed the sudden death of Rose and Norah's mother. Their father Joe (Alan Arkin) is kindly but always in pursuit of the next misguided business venture.

When Rose has to raise money to place Oskar in private school, Mac suggests she gets into the lucrative biohazard cleaning business, mopping up body fluids at scenes of accidents, crimes and suicides. Rose drags Norah into the business she calls Sunshine Cleaning. Gradually they learn the proper procedures with help from supply store owner Winston (Clifton Collins Jr.). Meanwhile Norah finds artefacts left behind by a suicide victim, and goes looking for the woman's daughter Lynn (Mary Lynn Rajskub), a blood bank technician.

Striking the perfect chord between poignant and peculiar, Sunshine Cleaning is a non-judgmental view of lives sidelined on the difficult side of the tracks. Elegantly written by Megan Holley and directed with understated charm by Christine Jeffs, the film avoids emotional high and lows, instead achieving a steady and internally consistent ascent towards messy personal growth.

Holley starts from a place of deep loss for all her characters: Rose lost her high school sweetheart to another woman, Norah never got past the childhood trauma of losing her mother, and Joe lost his wife a long time ago. Winston has lost an arm in suitably unexplained circumstances, and Lynn lost her mother but, as far as Norah can tell, may not even know it.

For Rose, Norah and Joe the losses create internal barriers and promote self-defeating actions such as Rose's affair, Norah's could-care-less attitude, and Joe's pursuit of futile middleman deals. The film then charts an enjoyable, unlikely and bumpy path towards self-betterment built on the icky premise of cleaning up splattered blood and dead body fluids. Rarely has a film about mopping up the messes of the past found such an apt metaphor.

The sisters' journey towards confronting their internal demons and emotionally relocating to a better place is far from smooth sailing. Rose has to juggle her burgeoning new business with confronting her continued dependency on Mac caring for an out-of-school Oskar. Without quite knowing why, Norah pursues Lynn in a quest that softly veers into unexpected territory. And while Joe does his best to support his daughters, his wacky business ventures and propensity for overpromising and under-delivering cause mounting frustration.

Sunshine Cleaning enjoys sparkling performances from two of the finest actresses of their generation. Amy Adams and Emily Blunt humanize Rose and Norah and stay true to their flawed origins, grounding the film in the rough and tumble world of every two forward steps being met with at least one misstep. With the right tools every stain can be cleaned or disposed of, but sometimes the mess can be inadvertently made bigger before the cleanup begins.

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Movie Review: The Tamarind Seed (1974)
Tue, 10 Sep 2019 12:46:00 +0000

An international espionage romance, The Tamarind Seed attempts to create a personal human drama within the Cold War context but suffers from excessively lackadaisical pacing.

British Home Office assistant Judith Farrow (Julie Andrews) is vacationing in Barbados to recover from a botched love affair with a married Paris-based diplomat, which followed the death of her husband. Soviet military attaché Feodor Sverdlov (Omar Sharif) is vacationing in the adjacent bungalow. Honest about being married, he initiates a friendship that blossoms into a romance, but Judith insists they do not sleep together. They return to Europe, Sverdlov promising to reconnect.

In London, British intelligence officer Jack Loder (Anthony Quayle) and his assistant MacLeod (Bryan Marshall) take a keen interest in the burgeoning relationship between Judith and Sverdlov, sure that the suave Russian is attempting to recruit the naive assistant. Also worried is British minister Fergus Stephenson (Dan O'Herlihy) and his wife Margaret (Sylvia Syms), who hold secrets that may be revealed with any Russian defection. Judith and Sverdlov pursue a romance while both the British and Russian governments are deeply suspicious that something more nefarious is afoot.

A laudable attempt to create a more cerebral and character-centred story about the human cost of the Cold War, The Tamarind Seed falls into the cracks between too much plot and not enough momentum. Director Blake Edwards (Andrews' husband) adapted the Evelyn Anthony book and should have streamlined the narrative and jettisoned more of the clutter. The central romance is often suspended in time and space as marginal characters and events swirl around the lovers, too many conniving agents, officials, diplomats, wives, girlfriends, ex-lovers and henchmen getting in the way.

The Cold War's disruptive impact on the most basic of human pleasures is an intended theme, but the love affair proceeds at a glacial pace and along a ponderous and repetitive path. Both Andrews and Sharif are game for their roles and advance a welcome photogenic maturity into the discourse, but their conversations too often spin in the same cycle of Sverdlov seeking to advance to the lovemaking stage and Judith resisting.

On the margins they veer into unconvincing and muddled compare-and-contrast debates about capitalism versus communism, Sverdlov often tediously pontificating about the essence of the Russian character. The legend of a condemned Barbados slave and the shape of the Tamarind tree seed take on profound symbolism of the eye-rolling variety.

When the discourse evolves to the possibility of an actual defection, the multiple layers of lying and deception render all commitments suspect, undermining any investment in the characters' real motivations. By the time some action sparks to life late in the third act, intelligence officer Loder essentially becomes the most influential character with Judith and Sverdlov reduced to pawns in their own game.

Bond series veterans Maurice Binder and John Barry contribute the classy title sequence design and evocative music score. Both promise more than the film can deliver, as this Russian spy is licenced to merely talk, love, and philosophize.

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Movie Review: The Shallows (2016)
Sat, 07 Sep 2019 14:54:00 +0000

A survival horror film, The Shallows pits one brave woman against one angry shark in a tense battle of endurance.

Still grieving the loss of her mother to cancer, Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) vacations in Mexico on her own and considers quitting medical school. She heads out to surf at an isolated beach that used to be her mother's favourite. Towards the end of the day Nancy is attacked by a huge great white shark when she inadvertently gets between the predator and its dinner in the form of a whale carcass.

The attack destroys her surfboard and causes a deep gash in her thigh. Nancy takes refuge on a small rock outcrop a few hundred metres from shore, and does all she can to stem the bleeding. The shark never stops circling, and as Nancy's calls for help go unheeded her situation grows ever more desperate.

Following in the footsteps of recent one-person survival dramas like Buried and 127 Hours (both from 2010), The Shallows preys on the fearsome reputation of sharks as ruthless killing machines. But here at least director Jaume Collet-Serra and writer Anthony Jaswinski attempt to provide some justification for fish aggression by having Nancy interfere with dinner plans, and also revealing that the shark is carrying a wound, and was therefore maybe attacked first by another human.

Regardless of the motive, this shark is a relentless hunter, willing to outwait Nancy and unleashing a variety of attacks to try and knock her into the water. Nancy finds herself stranded on a tiny rock island that only gets smaller during high tide, tantalizingly close to the shore but far enough to make any attempt to outswim the shark impossible.

With only a perky but injured seagull as a companion, Nancy has few resources at her disposal, and has to improvise using her jewelry and surf top to stabilize her wounds in a couple of gory and pain-filled scenes. Otherwise the film settles down in its second half to a fairly routine survival conundrum, Nancy gradually coming to the realization she will not be rescued and will need to conjure up her own escape plan. In the meantime, relatively undefined tertiary characters fall victim to the shark to keep the tension and horror elements on high.

A backstory helps, as the opening scenes sketch in Nancy's gloomy emotional state. She is questioning the wisdom of pursuing a career in medicine after the difficult death of her mother, a tragedy that has also cast a pall on her relationship with her father. Whether or not to fight ferociously for life like her mom did in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds becomes a useful if somewhat obvious hook for the film's climax.

In a physically demanding performance Blake Lively throws herself into the role and capably carries the drama on her shoulders. Collet-Serra deploys a combination of location and water tank shots plus decent CGI (the shark is entirely digital) and some gorgeous cinematography courtesy of Flavio Labiano to create a wet prison around her. The water may be shallow, but for this stranded woman the murderous rage of one rogue shark runs deep.

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Movie Review: Duck, You Sucker! (1971)
Thu, 29 Aug 2019 15:36:00 +0000

A sprawling spaghetti (or more specifically, Zapata) western about reluctant revolutionaries, Duck, You Sucker! is Sergio Leone's most complex commentary on the futility of chasing a cause.

In Mexico circa 1913, Juan Miranda (Rod Steiger) is a peasant bandit leading a gang made up of his family members in robbing and raping society's elite. Juan meets John (Seán) Mallory (James Coburn), an ex-Irish revolutionary wanted for murder back in England. John is an explosives expert, a skillset that appeals to Juan, who dreams of robbing the Mesa Verde bank. The two men initially clash, Juan driven by personal greed and John haunted by memories of his failed exploits in Ireland.

Although neither man is interested in the rumbling Mexican revolution, they team up with Pancho Villa supporters led by Dr. Villega (Romolo Valli). John cajoles Juan into freeing a large number of political prisoners, and Juan becomes a hero of the revolution. With their friendship growing, the two men ambush a convoy of government troops commanded by the stone-faced Colonel Reza (Antoine Saint-John). Retribution is swift and Juan pays a high price as the countryside is soaked in the blood of massacres and reprisals, which only leads to more violence.

An awe-inspiring yet flawed and sometimes awkward 157 minutes about friendship, regret, cynicism, and small personal agendas caught up in bigger events, Duck, You Sucker! (also known as A Fistful Of Dynamite and Once Upon A Time...The Revolution) marks Leone's first departure from the warmth of western mythology. This time war is a useless and bloody hell, and no individuals can escape the horror. A friendship can be forged under fire, but ultimately countless poor people will be slaughtered, and not much will change.

After having directed four films in the five years between 1964 and 1968, Leone took three years off and returned with a new and ambitious agenda to juxtapose the ideological winds of change sweeping through the streets of 1960s Europe with the brutalist Fascist imagery of the 1930s through the story of a simple friendship. Choosing a more modern western setting of early 20th century Mexico also brought Duck, You Sucker! closer to modern themes of struggle against corrupt regimes, and Leone set out to de-romanticize the concept of revolution.

Opening with a quote from Mao Tse-tung through to an impassioned speech by Juan asserting that the poor die and nothing really changes in revolutionary upheaval, Duck, You Sucker! is a jaundiced view of political change. The enemies of Juan and John in the form of Colonel Reza (Antoine Saint-John) and Governor Don Jaime (Franco Graziosi ) are poorly drawn and barely defined, either as a narrative weakness or intentionally because the real enemy is the resilient system of corruption where the faces and names at the top can be replaced but the suffering of the masses continues.

Again either as harsh cinematic shorthand or as an intentional intellectual challenge, Leone counteracts the film's length with several jarring scene transitions, jumping from the epic bridge ambush to the aftermath of a devastating cave massacre and then an act of gross betrayal overworking a firing squad under the rain. Each one of the three scenes is a tense emotional steamroller delivered with lyrical barbarism, and they mercilessly follow each other, demanding that viewers actively and quickly fill the gaps between the euphoria of victory and ravages of reprisals.

And just when it seems there is no more emotional toxicity to unleash, Leone conjures up a scene straight out of Fascist hell. Impossibly fluid overhead camera work witnesses soldiers slaughtering hundreds of peasants in a series of parallel concrete death channels. By all means have your revolution, but please witness the large scale butchery unleashed against the innocent.

But at its heart Duck, You Sucker! is also a story about an unlikely friendship between two men brought to life by fine if chequered performances. One or both of the two lead actors are in every scene, and they create two enduring characters. Rod Steiger channels his inner Tuco and over emotes his way through the film as the talkative and frequently sputtering Juan, struggling as much against excessive sweat as he does against poverty. James Coburn provides balance with a laid back performance as John, but both men struggle with inconsistent accent application.

The turmoil of Duck, You Sucker! is set to one of Ennio Morricone's most innovative music scores, the main "Sean, Sean, Sean" (John's Irish name) theme melding into a soulful and regretful melody carrying the echo of lost idealism. Throughout his Mexico adventure John has soft-focus flashbacks to his time in Ireland, where a convoluted romance and friendship turned sour, with outcomes that forever changed his attitudes about honour and sacrifice.

Fed up with the high personal cost of chasing causes, now he just wants to simplify his life's work to blowing up whatever obstacles come in his way. As John is inexorably drawn into his next revolution, this time he is under no illusions. He will dispassionately help others make progress towards upheaval and agony using the biggest explosions he can wire up, his soul already blissfully exhausted.

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Movie Review: Cross Of Iron (1977)
Wed, 28 Aug 2019 15:02:00 +0000

A World War Two epic, Cross Of Iron examines German class warfare on the bloody front lines of the global conflict.

It's 1943 on the Eastern Front, and on the Crimean Peninsula the German Army is retreating under pressure from Russian forces. Sergeant Steiner (James Coburn) is a legendary and decorated platoon leader, one of the few remaining hopes for some battlefield success. His commander Colonel Brandt (James Mason) along with the jaded Captain Kiesel (David Warner) give Steiner plenty of leeway, but all this changes when Prussian Captain Stransky (Maximilian Schell) arrives at the front having requested a transfer from France.

Stransky is from a privileged background and knows nothing about combat, but covets the Iron Cross for bravery in the field. He immediately clashes with Steiner, who does not hide his disdain for the entitled officer class. A Russian assault and German counterattack end with Steiner wounded and sent to a rehabilitation hospital, while Stransky falsely lays claim to the medal, further straining the relationship between the two men. But with the German front disintegrating, personal conflicts will merge into a chaotic retreat and improvised rearguard action.

An adaptation of the 1955 Willi Heinrich book The Willing Flesh, Cross Of Iron is a stunning condemnation of war and an unrelenting front line experience. For 133 intense minutes director Sam Peckinpah recreates what it means to be under a continuous barrage, with almost every scene taking place either in forward command posts under the regular thud of landing mortar shells or right on the chaotic and gruesome front lines, the vicious battles often culminating in hand-to-hand combat.

Even when Steiner is wounded and dispatched to a hospital for recuperation, the war travels with him. His concussion and shell shock result in disturbing hallucinations, the images of war flashing through his head and distorting reality. He is surrounded by soldiers who have lost limbs and parts of their faces, and the condescending visits to the hospital by high-ranking officers only add to Steiner's sense of disgust.

Between the frequent and brilliantly conceived scenes of combat, Cross Of Iron settles down for conversations about class, politics, manipulation and the futility of war. Ironically Steiner and Stransky share a hatred for the Führer, Steiner because of his natural unease with authority while Stransky cares much more for power derived from historical privilege than race-driven nationalistic politics.

But the common ground between the two men ends there. Steiner's core belief is that men create their destiny by their own actions, while Stransky's entire being is governed by family status, and the resulting schism between the two men cannot be reconciled. Steiner defines himself with battlefield heroics and true leadership, and Stransky lives down to his reputation by quickly exploiting the secrets of men around him (in this case, homosexuality) for his own malevolent purposes.

Meanwhile Brandt is caught in the middle, a pragmatic officer all too aware of Germany's doomed near-future, and Kiesel is a would-be intellectual caught in the wrong place at the wrong time in history, duty-bound to serve but no longer able or willing to conceal his dark mood of resigned self-pity.

The performances match the grandeur of the production. In the lead role James Coburn has rarely been better, and brings to Steiner a confident arrogance flowing from steely self-belief. Maximilian Schell is the perfect foil, and ensures Stransky's inner sleaze oozes easily to the surface.

With interpersonal tension raging and a front line collapsing, Peckinpah finds poignant moments and images of despair. Steiner's platoon adopt a captured Russian boy soldier, and his fate is all the confirmation Steiner needs for the madness of war. Later, Steiner's platoon is betrayed and lost behind enemy lines, and after an arduous journey through Russian lines, including a bloody tangle with an all-female group of Russian army nurses, their worst enemy will prove to be their own army.

Steiner gets his revenge the only way he knows how, by grabbing his foe, grabbing his rifle, and marching out to "where the Iron Crosses grow". If wars have to be fought due to the delusions of the ruling class, the only alternative for men like Steiner is to join the insanity with honour intact.

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Movie Review: My Name Is Nobody (1973)
Tue, 27 Aug 2019 15:51:00 +0000

A comedy spaghetti western, My Name Is Nobody explores the passing of the old west through the story of an old gunslinger being helped into a legendary retirement by a mysterious admirer.

Jack Beauregard (Henry Fonda) is the undisputed fastest gun in the west, but tired of all the killing and seeking to sail to Europe and a quiet retirement. After fending off killers from the Wild Bunch gang, he meets a stranger calling himself Nobody (Terence Hill) who claims to idolize Jack and wants him to confront and kill all 150 Wild Bunch members in an epic showdown as a career exclamation point.

Beauregard is not interested, but Nobody persists, shadowing the older man's every move and demonstrating knowledge of Jack's gunfight history. Meanwhile, the Wild Bunch are the enforcement arm for a criminal money laundering operation centred on a fake golf mine managed by Sullivan (Jean Martin), who used to be partners with Jack's now-dead brother Nevada. Fearing revenge, Sullivan wants to either kill or buy-off Jack.

Among the final batch of decent spaghetti westerns, My Name Is Nobody bolts together the sub-genre's late-cycle penchant for slapstick-level comedy with more serious epoch-defining themes. The results are decidedly mixed. The quest for a definitive showdown to draw the line under the era of hard men taming the land and each other is admirable. But between defining the goal and achieving it the film spends an inordinate amount of time in childish prank territory, and some of the jokey scenes are interminable.

The concept was devised by Sergio Leone, who also directed a few scenes, although the bulk of the film was helmed by his former assistant Tonino Valerii. My Name Is Nobody often looks gorgeous, and Valerii achieves some astounding shots of the 150 Wild Bunch riders galloping across the terrain, in wide angle and towards the camera. With Ennio Morricone providing a playful music score featuring the rousing theme from Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries, these scenes are spine tingling in their beauty, but also repeated often in an admission of the minimal narrative content besetting the film.

The money laundering fake gold mine scheme is supposed to underpin the plot, but is mysteriously under changed. Between bouts of sometimes admittedly funny comedy (Nobody having fun with a town fair rotating statue is an on-point literal re-interpretation of slapstick), Fonda and Hill debate the destiny of the old men of the west and gradually converge to a time and place where legends are confirmed then confined to history. Both actors are fully invested in their roles, and the film works best in the scenes when Fonda and Hill as the past and future share the screen with no distractions.

Both in the name of the outlaw riders and in a reference to a graveyard headstone, My Name Is Nobody tips its hat to Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, one of cinema's ultimate references to the west's transition. Once the legends ride (or sail) away, only the nobodys are left to succeed them.

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Movie Review: The Eagle Has Landed (1976)
Tue, 27 Aug 2019 03:55:00 +0000

A World War Two fictional adventure, The Eagle Has Landed imagines a far-fetched German covert mission to kidnap Britain's Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

As the war draws to a close and Germany's defeat appears inevitable, Colonel Max Radl (Robert Duvall) is asked to study the feasibility of a mission concocted by Adolf Hitler to kidnap Churchill, with the intention of suing for more favorable peace terms. Radl learns Churchill will be passing through a lightly defended Norfolk village a few miles from Britain's east coast, and Heinrich Himmler (Donald Pleasence) secures Hitler's blanket authority to proceed with the plan.

Radl recruits Colonel Kurt Steiner (Michael Caine), a maverick commander of elite paratroopers, to lead the mission. With IRA sympathizer Professor Liam Devlin (Donald Sutherland) inserted as a covert agent, Steiner and his men infiltrate the target English village disguised as Polish commandos. But the nearby presence of American troops led by Colonel Pitts (Larry Hagman) and Captain Clark (Treat Williams) will complicate the mission, as will Devlin unexpectedly falling in love with local girl Molly (Jenny Agutter).

An Anglo-American production relatively uniquely adopting a German perspective, The Eagle Has Landed is an adaptation of a Jack Higgins novel directed by John Sturges (his final film) and written by Tom Mankiewicz. Despite the production talent and a stellar cast, The Eagle Has Landed sputters and disappoints.

The better World War Two fictional mission movies like The Guns Of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare succeed because of the investment in the likelihood of success or failure in achieving an objective which could have been real. Winston Churchill is simply too prominent as a fictional target to enable the suspension of disbelief, especially when The Eagle Has Landed spends no time with the British side until late in the movie.

What remains is a messy narrative about German paratroopers descending on a quaint village, distracted by a lukewarm romance for Devlin, an unconvincing turn by Michael Caine as an independent-minded commando leader, and an ill-conceived and unnecessary comedy interlude courtesy of Larry Hagman's bumbling Colonel Pitts.

Robert Duvall disappears from long stretches of the film, and the plot's weakness is best exemplified by the notion that Churchill would continue to travel towards a town where a major firefight has erupted with enemy forces. Of course there is a twist in the end, but due to the preceding plot weaknesses it arrives with minimal impact.

Sturges handles the action scenes reasonably well, and some impressive countryside visuals entertain the eyes while Caine, Sutherland and Duvall struggle to elevate the material. Although the eagle did land, it also laid an egg.

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Movie Review: The Hate U Give (2018)
Sun, 25 Aug 2019 18:47:00 +0000

A Black Lives Matter drama, The Hate U Give delves into the virulent issues and racial schisms tearing away at the American social fabric.

16 year old Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg) lives with her family in the rough and underprivileged black neighbourhood of Garden Heights, which is awash in drugs distributed by the network of crime lord King (Anthony Mackie). Her father Maverick (Russell Hornsby) is a convenience store owner and proud of his black heritage. He previously served prison time for drug dealing but extricated himself from the crime world by not snitching on King.

At the insistence of her mother Lisa (Regina Hall), Starr and her two brothers attend the predominantly white Williamson private school. In this milieu Starr does her best to blend in and hide her neighbourhood roots, including from her school besties Hailey and Maya and boyfriend Chris (K.J. Apa). But when she witnesses a brutal police shooting involving her friend from childhood Khalil (Algee Smith), Starr finds it increasingly difficult to live in two worlds at once.

With the prevalence of seemingly unprovoked police shootings of black men plaguing the nation, The Hate U Give dives into the deep end of the churning pool and asks questions about causes, accountability, and the search for solutions. But this is also an adaptation of a 2017 Young Adult book by Angie Thomas, and so while the film registers an often fearsome impact, it does suffer from an overload of dramatic events and a relatively pat ending inconsistent with the most of what preceded it.

Directed by George Tillman Jr. from an Audrey Wells script, The Hate U Give makes for a suitable if purely fictional companion piece to 2013's Fruitvale Station. By taking the perspective of a young woman trying to fit into two different realities located in adjacent neighbourhoods but an entire world apart, Tillman is able to tease out the contradictory forces, moral conundrums and crosscurrents at play in one community and throughout the country.

Compelling dilemmas abound. Starr's own parents cannot agree whether to stay in or leave Garden Heights. The white students at Williamson want to support the Black Lives Matter movement, but through Starr's eyes the activism of her white privileged classmates smacks of cause-of-the-week opportunism to cut classes. Her friendships are tested when naive moral equivalencies are drawn between the black and white experience.

And most fundamentally, Starr can testify against the police officer involved in the shooting, but this will unveil her two-identity existence and endanger her family by incurring the wrath of drug lord King, who employed the victim Khalil as a street-level drug dealer.

While Starr and her family are subjected to a few too many tense moments during the course of the film, Amandla Stenberg rides out the drama with admirable subtlety. Her performance is filled with tender perception and an awakening to the worst the world has to offer. As ever more difficult options open up to Starr, Stenberg creates the time and space for her character to genuinely struggle with what it means to lose the comfort of dual identity but find a voice.

With the twin evils of drugs and racism presenting a formidable continuum of violence, The Hate U Give Little Infants F**ks Everybody (Thug Life) is the film's formidable theme (inspired by Tupac Shakur). The circle of life can easily be perverted into the circle of hate, and the Starrs have to shine for any progress to be made.

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Movie Review: Going In Style (2017)
Sat, 24 Aug 2019 21:37:00 +0000

A geriatric comedy, Going In Style is a stodgy story about three desperate old men plotting a bank robbery.

In New York City, retirees Joe, Willie and Albert (Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin) are stunned to learn that after a lifetime of blue collar work, their company pension is disappearing due to a corporate takeover and offshore relocation. Facing financial ruin, Joe concocts a plan to rob a bank, inspired by having recently witnessed a hold-up.

Willie reluctantly agrees to participate, but Al, who is pursuing a romance with Annie (Ann-Margret), is unsure and needs more convincing. After a botched training run to steal from a local supermarket, the trio reach out to Joe's connected former son-in-law Murphy and shady pet store owner Jesus (John Ortiz) for help. The three friends proceed with planning and training for the heist, but FBI Agent Hamer (Matt Dillon) will be a challenging foe.

An imminently forgettable remake of a 1979 George Burns film, Going In Style is a flimsy excuse for three veteran actors to parade across the screen. With no laughs and no edge to be found in the Theodore Melfi script, director Zach Braff resorts to basic juvenile and unconvincing antics to try and squeeze some entertainment out of an exhausted premise.

While Caine, Freeman and Arkin are dependable performers, they essentially sleepwalk through the movie by leaning on their pre-established screen personas to compensate for missing character depth. The story meekly attempts and miserably fails to stoke the flames of seething anger against faceless corporations and greedy banks padding their bottom lines at the expense of the little people.

Instead, Going In Style settles for a mundane plot consisting of hapless wannabe crooks bumbling their way to an unconvincing heist against a backdrop of constant bickering to simulate friendship. A serious disease, strained family dynamics and a tentative romance are predictably thrown in as sub-plots to activate when convenient.

Neither smart nor stylish, Going In Style has nothing going for it.

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Movie Review: Runaway Bride (1999)
Sat, 24 Aug 2019 19:18:00 +0000

A middling romantic comedy, Runaway Bride reteams Julia Robert and Richard Gere with surprisingly lacklustre results.

Without any fact checking, New York newspaper columnist Homer "Ike" Graham (Gere) writes a dismissive piece about a woman called Maggie Carpenter who has apparently left a succession of men stranded at the altar. He is fired for sloppy reporting, but a magazine editor offers him a chance to pursue the real story.

Ike travels to the quaint small town of Hale, Maryland, and finds Maggie (Roberts) engaged to be married to football coach Bob Kelly (Christopher Meloni), her fourth attempt to get hitched. Her three previous engagements did indeed end with her fleeing the wedding ceremony. As a result of her romantic misadventures, all caught on video, Maggie is a local punchline, with her family joking about her exploits at every opportunity. After initially resenting Ike's intrusion into her life, a romance blossoms between them, much to Bob's disappointment.

After the success of 1990's Pretty Woman, reconnecting Julia Roberts with Richard Gere in another Garry Marshall-directed romantic comedy must have been considered a fail safe idea. But while the stars provide the necessary energy for Runaway Bride, the sparks just don't fly as may have been expected. The story is competent and strives for some level of originality within the confines of the genre, but overall the film just ambles along in safe and predictable territory.

The blame for the missing fireworks needs to be shared. Roberts marginally overacts her way through the film, never settling down into any kind of comfort zone as a real person. Gere oscillates awkwardly between cavalier newspaperman and dreamy romantic. The script by Josann McGibbon and Sara Parriott lacks wit and cutting edge, while Marshall allows the film to bloat to an unnecessary 116 minutes.

The secondary cast members do their best to enliven proceedings. Meloni as Maggie's latest experiment in love, using trite football coaching tactics to help her over the line, is joined by Joan Cusack as Maggie's grounded best friend and Paul Dooley as her frequently inebriated dad. Rita Wilson and Héctor Elizondo lend further depth and talent.

Runaway Bride tries to reach for some weightier conversations about knowing yourself before committing to couplehood, but any profound statements are well beyond the capabilities of all involved. This bride is just content to gallop across nondescript fields.

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Movie Review: Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Wed, 14 Aug 2019 12:54:00 +0000

A musical comedy drama and romance, Moulin Rouge! adopts a manic ostentatious style and anachronistic music to recreate the avant-garde flair of the famous nightclub.

It's Paris in 1900. Starving writer Christian (Ewan McGregor) falls in with a group of Bohemians including  Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo) and helps them write a musical. They try to pitch the show called Spectacular, Spectacular to Harold Zidler (Jim Broadbent), the owner of the Moulin Rouge, the hottest nightclub in town. In the process Christian meets and falls madly in love with Satine (Nicole Kidman), a courtesan and the Moulin's star performer, who is suffering a serious illness.

But wealthy investor The Duke of Monroth (Richard Roxburgh) also sets his eyes on Satine, and will only invest in expanding the club and financing the show if she becomes his own. As preparations for the show progress, an illicit love affair ensues between Satine and Christian behind the Duke's back, but it all comes to a head on opening night.

A deliberate investment in flair over content, Moulin Rouge! is more about the experience than the story. Director and co-writer Baz Luhrmann pushes the cinematic form as close as possible to an overwhelming sensory experience to recreate what it must have been like in Paris' most celebrated social venue. After a slow start the film hits its stride and enjoys strong second and third acts, although every audacious scene dances on the line between triumph disaster, with a few slipping over to the wrong side.

Nothing in Moulin Rouge! looks real, even by the standard of cinematic musicals. Frenzied editing, teeming crowds, disorienting close-ups, restless camerawork and outlandish set designs are both the foundations and unapologetic essence of the movie. Luhrmann drives for a surreal aesthetic on claustrophobic sets over-stuffed with extras, and an overall mischievously playful vibe inspired by troubled dreams.

The theme is as simple as love conquers all, the love triangle between Christian, Satine and the Duke the most basic of plot devices to hang all the jangling accessories on. Subliminal echoes of classic tragic romances such as Camille and La Boheme reverberate within all the theatrics. While the narrative is traditionally familiar, the music riffs on modern material from Madonna to Nirvana passing through Queen and Bowie and whatever else can be stuffed in between, lyrics from various sources often combined to convey a thought.

Kidman is in fine form and fully buys into what Luhrmann is selling, often to exaggerated extremes. She is ably supported by Jim Broadbent as impresario Harold Zidler, joining the ranks of Joel Grey and Gig Young in creating disturbingly memorable movie masters of twisted ceremony. In contrast Ewan McGregor never quite settles down into the role of Christian, and in the performance scenes remains a hesitant presence.

Madly fluctuating between magically joyous and utterly insane, Moulin Rouge! may not bring the house down but earns a standing ovation.

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Movie Review: Bengazi (1955)
Tue, 13 Aug 2019 02:42:00 +0000

A clunky treasure hunt for buried gold combined with a romantic triangle all set in a desert milieu, Bengazi is derivative bottom-of-the-barrel adventurism.

In the Libyan town of Bengazi, surrounded by desert, Inspector Levering (Richard Carlson) represents law and order. He starts to investigate the mysterious theft of a heavy duty transport lorry equipped with a machine gun from a British Army compound, and his suspicions rest on John Gillmore (Richard Conte), a shady businessman and the partner of the jovial Robert Donovan (Victor McLaglan) in running the local canteena.

Gillmore intends to join forces with hardhead ex-convict Selby (Richard Erdman), who claims to know the whereabouts of a gold treasure buried in the desert. Donovan gets in on the deal, but the treasure hunt plans are threatened by the sudden arrival of Donovan's estranged daughter Aileen (Mala Powers), looking to reconnect with her Dad. Both Levering and Gillmore are quickly entranced by the new arrival and make advances to win her heart.

Driven by greed, Gillmore, Selby and Donovan use the stolen lorry and make their way into the desert towards the ruins of a mosque where the treasure may be buried, but then find themselves besieged by hostile tribesmen.

A no-budget remix of Casablanca and The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre directed by John Brahm for RKO Radio Pictures, Bengazi is beset by bargain basement production values and fails at everything it tries to do. Any ambitions to combine a plot about greed with a sweaty romantic triangle are quickly thwarted by derivative and unimaginative scripting and barely enough ideas to occupy the paltry 79 minutes of running time.

Most of the ponderous action takes place in the desert ruins with the main characters surrounded by unseen enemies. This makeshift compound is undefended on three sides, and all that needs to be said about the dreadful script is that the hostile forces only ever choose to attack from the fourth side which happens to be fortified by a machine gun.

Meanwhile, Richard Conte and Richard Carlson, in addition to looking too similar, struggle mightily on four fronts: crummy material, limited acting talent, undefined characters and unexplained accents. Bengazi never decides on a central character to park its loyalties with, and so Aileen appears to fall in love with both men for no reason and in next to no time, creating a most unconvincing love triangle.

The dead are buried under the stars and love flourishes amidst the corpses, but nothing saves Bengazi from being hopelessly swallowed by the shifting sand dunes.

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Movie Review: Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
Mon, 12 Aug 2019 01:12:00 +0000

A cross-dressing comedy, Mrs. Doubtfire showcases the talents of Robin Williams but otherwise relies on obvious humour and simplistic emotional hot buttons.

In San Francisco, Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams) is a fun-loving actor married to interior designer Miranda (Sally Field). Daniel adores his three kids, teenagers Lydia (Lisa Jakub) and Chris (Matthew Lawrence) and the younger Natalie (Mara Wilson). After a raucous birthday party all but wrecks the house, Miranda decides she can no longer tolerate Daniel's juvenile antics and initiates divorce proceedings. He loses child custody and is heartbroken.

When Miranda advertises for an after-school housekeeper Daniel adopts the elaborate disguise of an elderly British nanny, calls himself Mrs. Doubtfire and secures the job, gaining the opportunity to see his kids a few hours each day. Ironically, Mrs. Doubtfire is tidy and responsible, and both Miranda and the kids are thrilled with her presence and homely advice. But life gets more complicated when Miranda starts to explore a romance with rich client Stu Dunmeyer (Pierce Brosnan), and Daniel pursues a real career opportunity as a children's television show host.

A comedy tailor made to unleash Robin Williams' comic excesses, Mrs. Doubtfire is two hours of accents, impersonations, and unconstrained and barely filtered jokiness. Most of it is funny, but little of it is sophisticated. Director Chris Columbus is happy to allow Williams to run loose, and makes no attempt to rein in his star.

The result is a broad and vivid comedy riding on the coattails of a simple concept, Williams in drag pretending to be a prim and proper English nanny. The plot evolves marginally to Daniel's determined efforts to disrupt ex-wife Miranda's new romance while scrambling to land a real job. Without ever getting serious about anything other than a father's love for his children, the film waves in passing at several themes including the devastating impact of divorce and the evolving nature of couplehood.

It all comes to a climax at a restaurant scene where Daniel has to be in both his real and adopted personas at the same time, and Columbus rumbles through this interminable sequence with the elegance of a dancing bear.

Nevertheless, there is no questioning Williams' talent to extract laughs out of any situation, nor his commitment to the role. He disappears under layers of clothes and makeup to bring Mrs. Doubtfire to life, and once he inhabits her bodysuit, wig and face, Williams creates and sustains a memorable and convincing dotty housekeeper. But despite all the juvenile physical humour and flapping of arms, the running time is too long, and the primary gag of Daniel having to frantically change clothes in short order to fool the right people at the right time is overused.

Mrs. Doubtfire sets the energy level at eleven, but it flares in all the obvious directions.

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Movie Review: The Aftermath (2019)
Mon, 12 Aug 2019 00:00:00 +0000

A drama and romance set in the immediate aftermath of World War Two, The Aftermath explores the fresh scars of war at a personal level against the backdrop of wide scale destruction.

A few months after the Allied victory, Rachael Morgan (Keira Knightley) joins her husband Colonel Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke) of the British Army in Hamburg, where he is stationed to help in the rebuilding process of an essentially destroyed city. They take over the intact suburban mansion of local architect and arts lover Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård) and his daughter Freda. Lewis invites the Luberts to stay and live in the attic rather than sending them to a camp.

Rachael and Lewis' relationship has been strained since the death of their young son Michael during the Blitz. Equally, Stefan and Freda are grieving the loss of his wife, who died in the 1943 firebombing of Hamburg. With Lewis frequently away chasing down Hitler's last loyalists, Rachael and Stefan develop a mutual attraction and start a torrid affair. Meanwhile Freda falls in with a group of youth intent on continuing the war with hit-and-run strikes on Allied targets.

The Aftermath is old-fashioned in a generally admirable way, and looks gorgeous in creating a sense of time and place. A bombed-out Hamburg populated by hollow-eyed and near-starving war survivors put to work clearing up the rubble is juxtaposed with the eloquent Lubert mansion, decorated with the latest architectural delights available to the upper echelons of 1940s German society.

But the film's weakness is also strongly associated with its sense of nostalgia. Absent a couple steamy sex scenes, The Aftermath could have been produced by the Hollywood of the late 1940s or early 1950s. The pacing is slow, the dialogue repressed, and the emotions, once they emerge, are theatrically overclocked. Director James Kent is unable to tease out much narrative sophistication from the Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse adaptation of Rhidian Brook's novel.

The story is just about strong enough to stand on its own, the sense of personal loss within both families echoing the greater calamity of a world war that left entire cities in rubble. Flashes of victor's triumphalism and the resoluteness of the vanquished are evident, but quickly confined to the shadows of a greater common tragedy.

Kent does find a few scenes with palpable resonance, one highlight featuring the piano as a unifying instrument of soulful loss bringing Rachael and Freda closer together.

The romance elements combine classic misery-loves-company and neglected wife themes, with Keira Knightley better than Alexander Skarsgård at finding and selling the internal emptiness, in her case stemming from a husband who took refuge in emotional neglect rather than face the loss of his son.

As elegant as it is predictable, The Aftermath laments the intimate and immense carnage of a devastating conflict.

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Movie Review: Stockholm (2018)
Sun, 11 Aug 2019 17:11:00 +0000

A crime drama, Stockholm recreates the bank robbery at the origin of the condition known as the Stockholm Syndrome.

It's 1973, and an armed man who might be Kaj Hansson (Ethan Hawke) storms a large bank in central Stockholm. He takes a few hostages including tellers Bianca (Noomi Rapace) and Klara (Bea Santos), and demands the release of his friend Gunnar Sorensson (Mark Strong) from prison, a Mustang and $1 million. Police Chief Mattsson (Christopher Heyerdahl) handles the negotiations, and with widespread live television coverage, the event becomes a national crisis.

Bianca, a married mother of two children, establishes an unusual connection with Kaj. She tries to keep him calm and he promises not to kill her, despite his uttered threats to Mattsson. Gunnar is delivered to the bank to appease Kaj and potentially help in the negotiations. Prime Minister Olof Palme (Shanti Roney) insists the hostages be freed before the criminals are allowed to leave the bank, further inflaming the crisis, but the bond between the bank robber and Bianca only grows stronger.

The Stockholm Syndrome refers to hostages gaining sympathy for their aggressors, a phenomenon that first came to light due to the widespread media coverage of the 1973 bank hold-up. Loosely based on the actual event, Stockholm treads lightly into the terrain of psychology as assailants and hostages are placed under duress. Canadian director Robert Budreau orchestrates an uneasy melange of tension, humour and provocative romance, all fuelled by the unstable but undoubtedly charismatic bank robber.

Budreau's script brings the dynamics between Kaj and Bianca to the fore, and finds the seeds of affinity germinating in their humanity. She is an even-tempered employee, wife and mother, desperate to survive the ordeal and see her children again (her husband, not so much). He carries the weapons without really ever being in control of the situation, but senses her strength. The hostage-taking drags on for several days, allowing their relationship to evolve from survival codependency to something more.

But for a story about people more than events, Stockholm is limited in scope to what happens in the bank. Although a few scenes of dialogue attempt to invest in background depth, the characters' actions are undermined by insufficient definition. Ironically Bianca emerges as the slightly better rounded person, Noomi Rapace grabbing hold of Bianca's spirit and personal frustrations in a phenomenal scene where she gives cooking instructions to her wobbly husband. Ethan Hawke has less to work with, and resorts to stock nervous gunman mannerisms.

Just as the real incident was a messy and often bewildering affair, Stockholm enjoys ups and downs as a small group of people are forced into a vault, trigger fingers at the ready but with plenty of haphazard planning and wayward targeting.

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Movie Review: Stakeout (1987)
Thu, 08 Aug 2019 03:02:00 +0000

A police buddy comedy with action and romance, Stakeout benefits from star charisma but remains a shallow exercise in lightweight entertainment.

Violent criminal Richard "Stick" Montgomery (Aidan Quinn) breaks out of prison with help from his cousin Caylor Reese (Ian Tracey). In Seattle, police detectives Chris Lecce (Richard Dreyfuss) and Bill Reimers (Emilio Estevez) are assigned to stake out the house of Montgomery's ex-girlfriend Maria McGuire (Madeleine Stowe) on the chance he may try to reconnect with her.

Chris and Bill try to fight off boredom by trading juvenile pranks with fellow stakeout detectives Pismo (Forest Whitaker) and Coldshank (Dan Lauria). With his wife having just left him, Chris starts to get attracted to Maria, and finds excuses to get into her house pretending to be a phone repair technician. They start a romantic relationship without Maria knowing who Chris really is. Meanwhile, Montgomery evades law enforcement and makes his way ever closer to Seattle.

A prototypical 1980s high concept blockbuster, Stakeout relies much more on glitz and magnetism than plot and logic. Written by Jim Kouf and directed by John Badham, the film sketches in characters and events with the broadest brushes, then relies on Richard Dreyfuss and to a lesser extent Emilio Estevez to deliver the laughs and thrills.

The premise of spying on an available beautiful woman then falling in love with her is a young boy's voyeuristic dream scenario, and Badham is happy to exploit the juvenile opportunities on offer. Maria undresses and showers on cue as demanded by prying eyes, and falls in love quickly with the mysterious telephone repair man who appears at exactly the right moments.

The villain Montgomery is the extreme definition of ruthlessly one-dimensional, and as such a good catalyst for danger to coalesce around him. When it comes time for action Badham delivers the requisite jolts of adrenaline, including a couple of over-the-top car chases and a climax at a lumber processing plant with lethal machinery at work.

Despite the dreadful soundtrack filled with lame 1980s pop rock, the movie is delivered with slick proficiency augmented by banter and comic touches courtesy of inter-police prankterism. And at the middle of Stakeout is Dreyfuss, a long way from his classic roles but infusing much needed doses of quality. Neither the actor nor the movie aim for much beyond basic fun, and both do enough to maintain active surveillance.

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Movie Review: The Great Santini (1979)
Wed, 07 Aug 2019 04:37:00 +0000

A social drama about life with a military man, The Great Santini explores the creeping agony of a warrior without a war struggling to fill the void in his life.

It's 1962, and Lieutenant Colonel Wilbur "Bull" Meechum (Robert Duvall), also known as The Great Santini, is a proud ace fighter pilot with the Marines. After completing a training mission in Spain he returns to the US and relocates his wife Lillian (Blythe Danner) and four kids, including eldest son Ben (Michael O'Keefe), to his next assignment at the Beaufort, South Carolina military base. Although he is often loving and supportive, Meechum treats his family as an extension of his career and demands authoritarian respect and strict military discipline at home.

The children are used to a life of annual uprooting, and Ben soon makes the basketball varsity team at his new school and befriends the family housekeeper's son Toomer (Stan Shaw), who stutters and suffers racist slurs from local goon Red Petus (David Keith). Meanwhile Meechum grows frustrated with the years passing him by and no war to call his own. He turns increasingly surly and violent, poisoning the family dynamic.

The Great Santini delves into the dangers of living life by a single code and no differentiation between career success and home serenity. Author Pat Conroy wrote the book partially inspired by personal experience with his own father, and director Lewis John Carlino (who also penned the screenplay) creates a reasonably engaging character study but with uneven patches.

As a hard-drinking, prankster-loving but revered pilot, Meechum comes across as a personification of Jekyll and Hyde in his home environment. The jarring transitions from loving husband and father to a man who loses all sense of perspective when beaten by his son at basketball induce whiplash, Carlino resorting to binary good or evil modes and unable to introduce nuance.

The theme of a proud man trained and educated for war struggling to thrive in a time of peace (the events are set before the Vietnam War ramp-up) is worthwhile. The military machine produces hard and cocky men like Meechum to fight and win battles, and in the absence of a real war, the home front becomes a proxy battleground.

In addition to imposing rigid expectations about his son's future in the military, Meechum is hardwired to find trouble and come out ahead. From the opening scenes he instigates chaos to disrupt the calm of diners at a swanky restaurant in Spain, and later at the Beaufort base he abuses one soldier and physically tussles with a commander.

Robert Duvall dominates the film and makes the most of what he has to work with in terms of Meechum's definition. A few too many scenes portray him succumbing to alcohol and suffering the consequences. Better are his conflicts with Ben and Lillian stemming from his declining influence and lessened ability to exert authority. Ben's subplots featuring advances into adulthood and the friendship with Toomer are cinematically flat and often appear to belong in another lesser movie.

Caught between a higher purpose and a mundane reality, The Great Santini erratically fluctuates between good and awkward.

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Movie Review: Captain Fantastic (2016)
Sat, 03 Aug 2019 16:00:00 +0000

A drama about alternative fatherhood, Captain Fantastic enjoys moments of familial grit and humour, but backs away from challenging discourse.

Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) is the middle-aged father of six children, living off the grid in a forest, home schooling the kids while teaching them wilderness survival skills and espousing a left-wing, anti-establishment life philosophy. The gangly and socially awkward eldest son Bodevan (George MacKay) is accepted to top colleges but hesitant to broach the topic with his dad.

Ben's wife Leslie is bipolar and commits suicide in the hospital. Another son, Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton) blames his father for her death and is least convinced by his parents' lifestyle choice. Leslie's parents (Frank Langella and Ann Dowd) do not want Ben at the funeral, but he decides to crash the event anyway, setting out on an epic road trip with the kids on the family bus.

Carrying an echo from 1986's Mosquito Coast, Captain Fantastic explores the value of disassociating with what society has to offer and reverting back to an organic, waste-free, close-to-nature upbringing. Director and writer Matt Ross explores the fragility of fatherhood and creates an intriguing dynamic featuring a mostly close-knit family, a sensitive and ironically modern approach to parenting in rough surroundings, and children arriving at crossroads and forced to start making independent choices.

For the most part, Ross plays fair. This is neither a celebration nor condemnation of Ben's approach to life. In so much as his kids are better educated, physically fit and able to live off the land, they are also social misfits and deprived of interaction with friends. The eldest Bo is tongue-tied in front of girls, and in a funny sequence, disintegrates when an attractive girl flirts with him at an RV park during the road trip.

Along the way to the funeral Ross draws stark contrasts with a more traditional family as Ben makes a stop at the house of his sister Harper (Kathryn Hahn), her husband Dave (Steve Zahn) and their two kids. The two families may as well be from different planets, as neither the adults nor the children are able to communicate and function as an extended family.

The clash of cultures reaches a zenith with the deceased Leslie's parents, her wealthy father Jack in particular representing everything Ben stands against. The grieving father now wants his revenge by banishing the widowed husband, but Ben's peacefully rebellious psyche means he will not back down easily.

For all the good work created in establishing the premise, Captain Fantastic takes the wrong turn in its final act. Just when Ross appears to have built a sturdy foundation for a soul-searching conclusion, he takes the easy way out, completely jettisons two characters, and goes looking for a pat feel-good finale that avoids all difficult conversations.

Viggo Mortensen holds the film together in an understate performance, conveying the quiet anguish of loss and the creeping self-doubt as seemingly for the first time, Ben starts to witness the potential negative ramifications of his core beliefs. As he walks a fine line between hero and villain to his kids, Captain Fantastic is different in his approach but grappling with conflicts familiar to most dads.

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