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Yes Man [DVD] [2008]
Yes Man [DVD] [2008]
Dvd ~ Jim Carrey
Price: 2.75

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No, No, No...Maybe...Oh Alright, Yes!, 3 Aug 2013
This review is from: Yes Man [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
In 'Yes Man', Jim Carrey stars as a bank worker who is in need of a spiritual and motivational revival. The answer comes along in the form of a guru, brilliantly portrayed by Terence Stamp, who teaches his followers simply to believe in the power of saying 'Yes' to life. The trials and challenges subsequently endured by Carrey's character are akin to those of Bill Murray's in 'Groundhog Day'. However, while Murray's film stands as a likeable classic, I thought I'd dislike 'Yes Man' and end up as a 'No Man', or a 'Maybe'. I did find the initial scenes a bit awkward. Jim Carrey is a very funny comedic actor, with a background as a stand-up comedian, but the comedic approach used here at the beginning didn't work. Thankfully, the clunkiness soon gave way to a more meaningful, absurdist film that makes good use of the other, more subtle, side of Carrey's talent: his ability to be light-hearted but with a sense of seriousness. The material is neither deep nor blessed with profundity, but this film is fun to watch as Carrey gets into his stride and we see his character over-compensate for his past coldness by applying the guru's message in some pretty extreme ways. And the central message is true. Life isn't about 'maybe'. Life is about 'Yes'. Not quite a cure for ennui, this is just old-fashioned, harmless entertainment - but I enjoyed it, Yes.

The DVD has some good featurettes, including songs by what appears to be a fictitious band fronted by Zooey Deschanel's character.

The Producers [DVD] [2005]
The Producers [DVD] [2005]
Dvd ~ Nathan Lane
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: 4.33

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Useless Fact #94: Adolf Elizabeth Hitler, 28 May 2013
This review is from: The Producers [DVD] [2005] (DVD)
Not many people know this, but the Führer was descended from a long-line of 'English Queens', hence his middle-name: Elizabeth. This is just one of many useless facts you will learn if you watch The Producers.

Aside from a few amusing interludes like that, this semi-musical is not particularly funny. The main reason I decided to watch it is the presence of Will Ferrell, who really is funny, but for me his talent and humour are smothered here by the general silliness of the whole thing. That said, Gary Beach is hilarious as Hitler in the scene depicting the first night of the fictive Broadway show.

This is the first time I have seen The Producers in any format. I am aware of the background to it as a Broadway production and that it is more popularly known as a musical. I can't comment on the 1968 film version as I haven't seen that. Unfortunately, this (2005) filmic format, with its mixture of absurdist dialogue and music, doesn't seem to work. Maybe aficionados of the musical version or fans of Mel Brooks will like it, but otherwise my advice is give this a miss. Most of the sketches resemble the average Catskill comedy and I was just left waiting for the whole thing to finish.

The basic plot idea is actually very good, with great humour potential. Whoever made this film version should have focused on that strength and kept it simple, with the jokes and funny moments fewer in number so that it would translate better to the screen (always a tricky thing to do, admittedly). As it is, it's all too elaborate, I quickly lost track with what was going on, and I got the feeling that the actors were trying too hard to be funny. Poor Will Ferrell seemed embarrassed by it all. This is really an example of how comedy can be rendered unfunny when it becomes too silly.
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Back to the Future [DVD]
Back to the Future [DVD]
Dvd ~ Michael J. Fox
Offered by MusicnMedia
Price: 2.88

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Back To The Past, 28 May 2013
This review is from: Back to the Future [DVD] (DVD)
'Back To The Future' is a hard film not to like. It's directed by Catholic-American Robert Zemeckis and is really just an innocent movie about time travel. A likeable but unfocused teenager travels back in time and meets his parents. There is very little, if any, foul language. The few scenes of violence progress the story and are not gratuitous. The protagonists are essentially harmless: the worst villain is just a school bully. One or two PC tropes are wheeled-out - for instance, we have a black man we must admire because he intends to run for mayor: an example, no doubt, of Spielberg sticking his oar in - but otherwise nothing too strong. Watching this film is almost a journey in itself back to the past of film-making, when everybody was a little nicer and film producers did not harbour creepy social agendas or try to pollute our minds with violence and sewerage.

In this sense, 'Back To The Future' is something of an aberration. If the 1970s was the decade of the exploitation film and cult horror, then the 1980s was the decade when this low morality (perhaps that should be 'amorality') moved into the mainstream. In the 1980s, casual savagery and violence was almost ubiquitous in film while violence and disorder rose to epidemic proportions on the streets. Perhaps 'Back To The Future' expressed a prescient regret, and a longing to go back to a better past of relative innocence. No doubt central to the film's 'hygiene' is the focus on the 1950s, an era that is largely portrayed romantically. It seems the only thing 'George McFly' (the main character's father) has to worry about is the archetypical school bully. There's always at least one high school bully in these types of American movies, isn't there, and he nearly-always appears opposite the prototypical 'wimp' who eventually reveals himself to be a manly hero. It's these 'small town' stock characters that Zemeckis/Spielberg and the film's scriptwriters will have grown up with (and which, incidentally, other writers like Stephen King attempted to subvert). Perhaps another reason for the film's cleanliness is the relentless focus on the human story, a correct decision by the film-makers. This is 'soft' sci-fi with very little emphasis on science or hardware at all. In fact, the only science character is an archetypical 'batty old man'/'nutty professor'. The real heroes are a wimpy school kid who writes sci-fi in his spare time but truthfully knows nothing about science, and 'Marty McFly', who looks and talks like he skipped one too many science lessons.

I have to say, while this remains a terrific movie and a classic (rarely for a 1980s film, a decade that was otherwise a cultural desert), the special features on the DVD are a disappointment. For instance, one featurette is billed as a 'director's commentary', but in fact it's just a recording of a rather boring interview the director gave to some audience and is not a commentary on the film.

Public Enemies [DVD] (2009)
Public Enemies [DVD] (2009)
Dvd ~ Johnny Depp
Price: 2.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Overlooked Gem, 25 April 2013
This review is from: Public Enemies [DVD] (2009) (DVD)
'Public Enemies' is a widely-overlooked 'true crime' biographical film that dramatises the classic conflict between hunter and hunted. In a similar vein to his 1990s classic 'Heat', director Michael Mann pits the wits of an able criminal mind, John Dillinger (a real-life Depression-era bank robber), against a talented, slightly obsessive, law enforcement officer, Melvin Purvis, another real-life figure who was close to leading federal law enforcement official, J. Edgar Hoover.

The story in both the film and the non-fiction book of the same name is set in the 1930s and looks at the emerging American response to organised crime, spearheaded by Hoover and Purvis. I have some interest in Hoover, who is a fascinating character. The film subtly draws comparisons between "the war against crime" of that era (as Purvis calls it at one point) with the fight against organised crime and terrorism today, though this allegory is worn light and isn't central to the film.

I like films such as this that are brilliant but uncomplicated and respect the intelligence of the viewer in that they concentrate solely on plot and character rather than getting side-tracked with gratuitous violence or some social agenda. It's not challenging viewing, but it's interesting enough and provides a bit of escapism, which is what movies are supposed to do. No doubt this is largely because of who steered this: Michael Mann is a high-calibre film director who never fails in terms of production values.

The A-Team [DVD]
The A-Team [DVD]
Dvd ~ Liam Neeson
Price: 2.48

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The B-Team More Than The A-Team, 5 April 2013
This review is from: The A-Team [DVD] (DVD)
This film version of 'The A-Team' is nowhere near as good as the original. Whereas each episode of the TV series was strongly plot-driven, if a little formulaic, The A-Team of 2010 is basically just a crude mash-up of fantastical (but largely harmless) violence, guns and hardware, with very little actual storyline to speak of. This film is also marred by constant background musical accompaniment, an annoying feature of so many movie thrillers today and always a sure sign that we are watching something meant for the brainless. Certainly, anyone with an attention span of 10 seconds or less will probably like this, or at least not mind watching it. Others should give it a miss.

Liam Neeson is a surprising choice to portray 'Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith', and I found him unconvincing in the role. Neeson is a good actor but he has a quiet, passive orientation to his craft, whereas 'Smith' is a strong leadership character. Think of George Peppard, the actor who portrayed the original Hannibal, and you should get the picture. Among contemporary players, it's a role better-suited to an actor like George Clooney. Similar observations could be made about the other members of this 'B-Team', for they are colourless, lifeless and anonymous. 'Howlin' Mad Murdoch', a wonderful invention of the original series, didn't raise a laugh with me here. The actor who portrays 'Face' is better cast, to be fair, but even so he still comes across as tepid to me and sorely lacking the easy charm and charisma of Dirk Benedict. And the B.A. in this movie is definitely Beta, not Alpha. In short, we are watching the B-Team. They should have stayed at home and left it to the real A-Team - this film should not have been made.

Heat [DVD] [1995]
Heat [DVD] [1995]
Dvd ~ Al Pacino
Offered by MusicnMedia
Price: 3.54

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Cops Need Robbers, 5 April 2013
This review is from: Heat [DVD] [1995] (DVD)
'Heat' is a 90s classic that, arguably, rejuvenated the flagging careers of the two leads, and unlike most films of that era, it will endure. I am something of a fan of director Michael Mann and this film is, in my view, his best work. It's lengthy (perhaps a little too long, to be fair), but it is well-directed and well-acted - with a true ensemble cast. The story is a classic confrontation between an obsessive LAPD detective (Al Pacino) and a ruthless organised criminal (Robert De Niro), whose forte is robbing banks. The motor of the story is the need for Paino's character to guess De Niro's next-move, and the need for De Niro always to be one step ahead. As the latter's character says: "Do not let yourself get attached to anything that you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner." He comes close to betraying this maxim, close but not quite.

There is a famous scene in a coffee shop, in which the two iconic lead actors appear together in the same shot for the first time in their careers. I actually tend toward the view that Pacino is rather an overrated actor, but in 'Heat' we see him actualise his promise and talent. This was his best work since 'Serpico' and 'The Godfather' in the early 70s. There are also some spectacular action sequences in this movie - including a famous bank robbery scene - however, 'Heat' is not a typical Michael Mann filmic experience. Yes, we have the dramatic music and the spectacular set-pieces, but there is also much depth in this film. In 'Heat', the cops and robbers are shown to occupy a symbiotic space in which they depend on each other, and are perhaps closer than they might care to admit. There is also poignancy in that the thieves - the criminals - are not presented in the usual obtunded way, but in fact have complex lives and desires that might, just might, one day take them from criminality to normalcy. Still, they remain professional thieves and the singular, driving motivation of De Niro's character is to steal enough to retire. Life happens in the meantime, and his own feelings and sense of loneliness cause him to compromise the '30 seconds' protective code and begin a meaningful relationship.

What's fascinating is how Michael Mann balances the two sets of production values, moving skilfully between in-depth character exploration and major action sequences. This is done by offering the viewer a juxtaposition between the 'normal' aspects of the criminal's lives and their 'work', conveying the point that, for these criminals, it's a lifestyle, a habit, and a pattern of living that in some ways has its own appeal and is difficult to escape from. Even for De Niro's more experienced and level-headed character, 'one last job' is just too tempting a prospect. The grim consequences of this failing are told here with weary inevitability: a fatal confrontation between law and criminality is on the cards. What this film reminds us is that these two communities are equal sides of the same coin. The glimpse this film gives us into their lives is a pastiche, but in a way it is no more unreal than the weirdness and tragedy that pass for reality.

Hidden Agenda [DVD] [1991]
Hidden Agenda [DVD] [1991]
Dvd ~ Frances McDormand
Price: 5.25

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Northern Ireland Out Of Focus, 3 April 2013
This review is from: Hidden Agenda [DVD] [1991] (DVD)
'Hidden Agenda' is a political thriller about terrorism in Northern Ireland. The director is Ken Loach. This is not really Loach's best work, but it is still a good film. One of the things I do like about Loach's methods is a tendency to use real people in minor roles instead of actors and to get them to 'act real', i.e. behave in a realistic way rather than an acting way. This 'social realist' method works quite well here. This film is tense, atmospheric and, above-all, is a realistic depiction of Northern Ireland and its people. Central to the plot is a British police officer, 'Jim Kerrigan', who is sent across the Irish Sea to investigate the assassination of an American civil rights lawyer. Kerrigan's real-life counterpart is assumed to be John Stalker, a senior Greater Manchester police officer who was asked during the 1980s to investigate allegations of a unofficial shoot-to-kill policy in operation within a covert unit of the then-RUC.

'Hidden Agenda' could be considered a very rough filmisation of the eponymous Stalker Inquiry, albeit with a large amount of licence in that the director assumes a conspiracy. The story has great potential but could really use some focus. The basic premise that British forces were essentially terrorist is believable. I would certainly liken the Troubles to a kind of organised violent destabilisation of the type that was seen, for instance, in 1970s Chile. Terrorism is a friend of governments as it is a way to keep order. Loach should have focused more on this narrative, which has resonance even today. Instead, he confuses things by extending the 'conspiracy' to include allegations of a right-wing coup in 1970s Britain against the then-Labour government that was supposed to have brought Thatcher to power. There is no evidence to support that conspiracy theory and it's likely apocryphal. Its inclusion here just confuses things and, in my view, smothers would could have been a much more compelling film.

Alice in Wonderland [DVD]
Alice in Wonderland [DVD]
Dvd ~ Johnny Depp
Price: 3.00

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Carnival Of The Imagination, 3 April 2013
This review is from: Alice in Wonderland [DVD] (DVD)
In 'Alice in Wonderland', Tim Burton has created a carnival of the imagination in the best tradition of Lewis Carroll. On its own terms, this combined adaptation of the two books, 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' and 'Through The Looking Glass', is a filmic triumph, bringing together two of the greatest-ever character actors, Johnny Depp and Crispin Glover, with perhaps the greatest fantasy film director. Depp and Glover are first-rate, as ever, and Burton once again delivers with a vivid and original re-imagination of a timeless literary classic. What this film does lack is that bit of heart, and that is why I have to give it a slightly lower rating than I would like. There is an over-reliance on special effects and CGI, though these are executed with tremendous skill. And though I greatly admire Burton as a director, I am not a fan of the gothic interpretation.

This film makes evident the limitations of the medium. Lewis Carroll's famous books were full of wit and fun. They portrayed an inversion of logic and madness as the norm, but they were not dark or depressing and really nothing to do with the gothic literary style. That's a kind of academic quibble I suppose, but this is the first film adaptation of Carroll's work that I have seen, and now that I have, I am more convinced than ever that it's better to just read the books. So although this is a creditable film, I think it would be a sad thing if new generations rely on this and deny themselves the imaginative enrichment of Lewis Carroll's original work.

Flightplan [DVD] [2006]
Flightplan [DVD] [2006]
Dvd ~ Jodie Foster
Price: 2.71

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Off-Plan Thriller, 20 Mar 2013
This review is from: Flightplan [DVD] [2006] (DVD)
I can select only a handful of films in recent years that leave me with unmitigated admiration for the filmmakers. 'Flightplan' is one of them. I had not heard of director Robert Schwentke before, but after watching 'Flightplan', I will now be looking out for his other films. His direction here is adroit and has that high-value European feel to it, reminding me very much of some of Roman Polanski's work, which I feel Schwentke must have studied carefully. His sense of atmosphere and his attention to detail are terrific and just the thing for a film of this type. Having said that, I think the really prodigious talent here is with the screenwriters. 'Flightplan' is a taut, coherent and original thriller that combines all the appealing attributes of the genre tradition within the unusual setting of an airliner. In an interesting gender role reversal, we have a heroine in the form of Jodie Foster's character who works as an aerospace engineer in Berlin. She has recently lost her husband and decides to take his casket back to the United States. She is accompanied for the trip by her daughter, Julia, who then inexplicably goes missing on the plane. The story centres around the efforts of Foster's character to solve the mystery of how she can lose her daughter on a transatlantic airliner, mid-flight. The great gift of the filmmakers here is the logical resolution of this apparent logical impossibility. In the process, Foster adopts the mantle of the action-intellectual, fire and ice, as she has to think, act and kick her way out of trouble.

Foster is of course famous for 'The Silence of the Lambs', but I have not seen her in much else and so in a sense she is a 'new' actress to me. I was impressed with her performance here. Admittedly, the notion of a female character in an action role is not normally very realistic, but in fairness the use of a female action hero 'type' is not wholly unprecedented. Maybe it was deployed here as a dramatic device, to add interest. The problem is, it can never completely convince, no matter how well done. Yet despite this opening disadvantage, Foster's talent enables us to suspend any inkling of disbelief. It's impressive because there are several compelling reasons why this must have been a difficult and challenging lead character role. The gender type reversal I have touched on. Another is the conflicted persona of Foster's character. She is not a typically helpless, clueless or blissfully ignorant 'damsel'. To the contrary, she is this film's dynamo. Her aerospace engineering knowledge is a crucial plot device. This is a film that, perhaps uniquely, relies for its story development on an astute and intelligent victim who can anticipate what will be the next move by the bad guys, yet at the same time can still very much act-up as the victim. That said, while hers is not a passive or distressed role in events, Foster's character is also far from the archetypal disimpassioned logician: in fact, the trope of the angry and hysterical mother is very much evident. Foster revels in this creative tension and Schwentke superintends it expertly. In the hands of lesser talent, the sense of suspense would be blunted and the viewer might have been left with a sense of confusion, but in the skilled hands of Schwentke and Foster, the main character's insight enhances the caper and her whirl emotional swings are the leitmotif for the drama.

The only slight disappointment was Sean Bean, who I think is generally a very overrated actor. He was specially unconvincing here. He attempts a dramatic turn as a laconic, coolly authoritative captain, but he just seems out-of-place to me. This is another example of how the ability to speak with a plummy English accent does not make for an adroit or apt performance. I wish American film producers would stop casting English ham actors just for their accents. As an English person myself, I honestly do not find it appealing. Actually, Bean was very good in 'When Saturday Comes' and 'Patriot Games', but that is because both those films played to his strengths, both physically and dramatically. Unlike the theatre, film can be a forgiving medium, and it is possible to make an average performer like Bean 'look' good and so fool the audience, but only some of the time. The problem is that some actors (Judi Dench is another, Anthony Hopkins also had this problem early in his career) are treated too forgivingly. I suspect Bean is very adroit on stage (though I have never seen him in that medium), but in front of the camera there is an over-reliance on superficial attributes and he is cast poorly here in my view.

There are lengthy special features with this DVD. It's a trend now that DVD special featurettes contain fairly bland material, and unfortunately 'Flightplan' is no exception. Watching it was almost as harsh an ordeal as Jodie Foster's on the plane. Seriously, I wish for a filmmaker who would produce special featurettes that are actually original, interesting and add something unique. The features on this DVD aren't and don't. Still, a very good film and certainly among the top ten of the Noughties.

The Hound of the Baskervilles / Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror [DVD]
The Hound of the Baskervilles / Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror [DVD]
Dvd ~ Basil Rathbone
Price: 8.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Elementary, My Dear Watson!", 4 Mar 2013
There are few things better than settling down on an evening with a mug of warm cocoa to watch an old black and white film. Starring Basil Rathbone as the eponymous detective, this little instalment of Sherlock Holmes films is superb. 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' is a story that will be familiar to most, so a quick précis only: an aristocratic family is terrorised by a mythical beast on Dartmoor. After the suspicious death out on the moor of Sir Charles Baskerville of Baskerville Hall, his son, Henry, arrives from Canada to assume the family seat. Fears mount for Sir Henry's safety, and so the great Sherlock Holmes is called in to investigate. The other film, 'Voice of Terror', is based loosely around the original Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle story 'His Last Bow', and concerns a Nazi invasion plot which is ultimately frustrated by the investigative genius of Sherlock Holmes.

'The Hound of the Baskervilles' is the better of the two features, but I enjoyed both and I think the acting was first-class throughout, with a number of interesting and amusing minor characters. I was particularly taken by the actor in 'Baskervilles' who portrays the lawyer, Mr. Frankland, and I was also deeply impressed by the actress in 'Voice of Terror', Evelyn Ankers, who portrays 'Kitty'. I do think it is important to have read the original stories first before tackling these films. Simply to jump straight into a filmic adaptation of a classic story usually has a dulling effect on the senses and a viewer who does so may be left with a rather flat impression. These old movies are quite subtle and, unlike modern films, require active engagement from the viewer. Knowledge of the stories will heighten your awareness of what is going on.

My only criticism would be of 'Voice of Terror'. It was released in 1942 and is obviously a war propaganda piece, and for this reason it does come across as a little crude to say the least and the viewer might feel manipulated. From a purely literary point-of-view, I would have preferred it had the film-makers stuck more closely to 'His Last Bow' and settled on a drama around the First World War, rather than the Second. That would have been more interesting. Still, it's a good film and most people will enjoy it.

Having watched and admired Basil Rathbone in the title role, I set about trying to find illustrative depictions of the fictive character that were contemporaneous with Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle's day. Sure enough, the Sherlock Holmes imagined in the illustrations of Sidney Paget in The Strand magazine that serialised the original Sherlock Holmes stories is uncannily close to the personage of Basil Rathbone. His portrayal of Sherlock in these films and the other Hollywood productions has, rightly, shaped our perception of the character. I am slightly ashamed to say that Rathbone has been neglected in my viewing and I am now determined to seek out his other films, not just the Sherlock Holmes productions. He was clearly a major talent. Nigel Bruce is also excellent as Dr. Watson, having just the right sense of studied bemusement essential to be Holmes' foil.

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