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Mr. Ja McLaughlin "Tony mac1" (Dunfermline)

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Skyfall (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy)
Skyfall (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy)
Dvd ~ Daniel Craig
Price: 14.99

1 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pretty good, but not a classic, 6 Nov 2012
Even by the standards of Bond movies, the hype around Skyfall has been pretty overwhelming. A four year wait is partly responsible, plus the whole Sam Mendes, stellar cast thing. The general responses have been overwhelmingly positive, but I can't help but wonder what hindsight will make of this entertaining, intriguing but sometimes flawed entry. I would rather have given it 3.5 stars but have erred on the positive with 4.

It's very much a movie of two-parts. All the glamorous, globe-trotting action-packed stuff is in the first part, which I think is the films strength. Craig's bruised, beaten muscularity is very much to the the foreground here. He already looks pretty lined and careworn by Bond standards but the script cleverly turns this into a strength by pointing it up rather than hiding away from it. For the first hour or so the film expertly mixes action, exotic landscapes and some great production design with strong characterisation and a clean story with forward momentum. The direction is consistently polished and inventive and there is great work from DOP Roger Deakins.

However the second half, set entirely in the UK is a different story. Things become a lot more psychological as Javier Bardem's Hannibal Lecter-like baddie gets all clever and Oedipal and the relatively simple plot starts to both run out of steam and lose credibility. I mean if he just wanted to kill M could he have gone about it in a more complicated way? All right, he wanted to humiliate her first, but there are limits. Gradually the film becomes less a Bond entry and more a standard, gritty Spook drama, watchable enough but apart from a few big budget stunts looking more like something that would be at home on TV. The 50th anniversary tributes start to look seriously out of place here too.

Overall it's still a better than average Bond film, genuinely trying to do something different within the formula even if it doesn't quite pull it off. but the classic people are already saying it is? I don't think so. I suspect reflective comment will tip it more in the category of flawed but interesting.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 22, 2014 10:03 PM BST

Goldfinger [Blu-ray] [1964]
Goldfinger [Blu-ray] [1964]
Dvd ~ Sean Connery
Price: 6.70

3.0 out of 5 stars Fun, but a little over-rated, 3 Nov 2012
Probably the most iconic of all the Bond films, but time hasn't been as kind to the movie as it has to some of the others in the Bond canon. Sure, it has great villains, the most iconic car, great panache and humour, but the fact is it was directed by a bit of a hack in Guy Hamilton, who proved himself to be even more of a hack in subsequent Bond films. Some sequences, like the gassing of Fort Knox, are very poorly handled. Even the ejector seat moment is clumsy, probably to hide the fact that a dummy was used, and the back projection work is very poor, though this was pretty commonplace in the early Bond films.

Yes it's still enjoyable, still in many ways the quintessential Bond film, but no longer in the very top rank.

Anna Karenina (Blu-ray + Digital Copy + UV Copy) [2012] [Region Free]
Anna Karenina (Blu-ray + Digital Copy + UV Copy) [2012] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Keira Knightley
Price: 8.00

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Uneven but full of imagination, 10 Sep 2012
It doesn't really matter how many big stars you get in a Joe Wright film, the real star will always be Joe Wright. He never has been a shrinking violet of a director, shamelessly if largely successfully mapping up big, technically complex, 'look at me' moments in all his films. Noticably however, he seems increasingly unprepared to let the story do the talking. In 'Hanna' he felt compelled to play up the action with heavy-handed fairy-tale metaphors, and now in 'Anna Karenina' he decides that the best way to tackle this literary classic on film is to make it literally theatrical.

So the action mostly takes place in a traditional theatre. This is meant to highlight the claustrophobic, artificial nature of big city society in Moscow and St Peterberg, where everyone is on show and everyone is watching everyone else. To contrast this, scenes set in the more tranquil countryside are filmed in a more traditional manner on location, presumably to emphasise the greater purity of life here. As a stylistic concept it's neat, and as always it's hard to criticise a director working for mainstream studios in modern cinema who is prepared to be so unapologetically experimental. Wright isn't just prepared to be theatrical, he choreographs most of this film like pure ballet, his actors having to dance almost as much as act. This is tough on the performers, whose acting is often entirely at the mercy of the director's pyrotechnics. Fortunately, rather like Baz Lurman's Romeo and Juliet, Wright has enough respect for the story not to overdo it (just about!) and he keeps things simple enough in the biggest dramatic moments to give the script and the actors a chance to shine. But for all that his experimentation doesn't always succeed. A key society ball sequence that brings together lovers Anna and Vronsky in balletic union is almost rendered unintentionally funny by (literally) hand-wringing choreography bordering on the bizarre.

Performance-wise Keira Knightley, though occasionally looking a little too lightweight to play this classically doomed Russian icon, does manage to register strongly in her most dramatic scenes, especially when up against Jude Law as her decent but stiff husband. The main casting problem is Aaron Johnson as Vronsky. He looks way too young at times, even beside the relatively youthful Knightley, and his performance often seems posturing and lacking in the virility expected of the role. However in fairness to Johnson he is the actor most affected by the director's complex staging, and as the film progresses you become aware that his rather shallow impact is actually quite consistent with the character's development.

When all is said and done you have to ask yourself if this highly stylised, theatrical approach actually suits the story better than a more traditional costume drama telling. Frankly I'm not sure it does, though it certainly kept me interested and cannot be faulted for originality. I suspect this will be a film that will always split audiences and be open to much debate. Still, nothing wrong with that.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 4, 2013 1:47 PM GMT

Manon Des Sources [DVD] (1986)
Manon Des Sources [DVD] (1986)
Dvd ~ Yves Montand
Price: 6.69

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful epitaph for Montand, 27 Aug 2012
Not so much a sequel to 'Jean de Florette' as a continuation, as it was filmed at the same time. Satisfying to have the same continuity of cast, style and production, though I would suggest that the screenplay is a little clumsy and underdeveloped in places, especially with regard to Manon herself who is somewhat underwritten and her romance with the schoolteacher barely sketched in. It's almost as if Claude Berri is so entranced by Emmanuelle Beart's beauty that he is content to mearly photograph her. The film also misses Gerard Depardieu's larger than life presence, even if he was somewhat hammy in the first part. However, step forward Yves Montand. He was excellent in the first film but here he is simply brilliant. Watch his work in the closing sequences and you will never see a better bit of raw, controlled acting. He almost single-handedly elevates this film from serviceable to good.

The Dark Knight Rises (Blu-ray + UV Copy) [2012] [Region Free]
The Dark Knight Rises (Blu-ray + UV Copy) [2012] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Christian Bale
Price: 7.41

8 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A few problems, but a strong ending, 23 July 2012
Christopher Nolan's films can never be faulted for a lack of ambition and this conclusion to his Batman trilogy is no exception. As always, the writing is a bit over-cluttered and episodic, with a tendacy to wander down ill-defined sub-plots and introduce pointless minor characters (hello Juno Temple). But the decision to work to an overarching theme of A Tale Of Two Cities keeps it fairly coherent and fits into the operatic bombast of Nolan's directing style (this guy really should do a Wagner opera).

Shame it doesn't have a villain of the Joker's magnitude, or a tragic figure like Harvey Dent. Tom Hardy is a good actor and does what he can with Bane, but he's never more than a glorified heavy and I'm not sure about the Nazi Central Casting accent either. Selina Kyle is nicely conceived and played by Anne Hathaway, who winds down her usual eager beaver routine, but the character is too often peripheral to what is going on.

Still, the action sequences are as strong as ever and there's a satisfying intelligence behind the whole thing. Unlike the previous two films, which had a stand-alone quality to them, this one really does require a strong understanding of what went on before, which gives the film it's emotional core and the sense of an epic story reaching its conclusion. Nolan both provides an ending and gives the studio the opportunity to continue the franchise. It will be interesting to see what direction they take. In the meantime let's thank the man for putting a real stamp on an iconic comic book hero, and redefining how superhero movies are expected to look.

King Kong (1976) (Blu-ray)
King Kong (1976) (Blu-ray)
Dvd ~ Jeff Bridges

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Better than its reputation but poor visual effects let it down, 11 July 2012
In an era when many Hollywood blockbusters are criticised for an over-reliance on sophisticated special effects to the detriment of everything else, this poorly remembered remake stands as a cautionary example of what can happen when a basically decent film gets let down by low-tech back up.

Producer Dino De Laurentis both cheated and deceived his audience here; selling the film on the hype of a state-of-the-art, full-size hydraulic ape that would re-define the effects landscape. Instead, what we got was the tired old fallback of the man in a monkey suit waddling bow-legged around some highly unconvincing sets.

Its such a shame because this film actually has a lot going for it. The screenplay is sprightly, good-humoured and faithful to the original while updating it with some then-topical issues like fuel crises, the advance of feminism and burgeoning celebrity culture. The makers also have a whale of a time with endless phallic imagery and self-referential quips more common to movies of the 90s than 70s.

The characters are far more quirky and idiosyncratic than you normally get in this sort of fare; a hippy academic, a star-struck, dipsy blonde and a buttoned-up corporate shark. Lange has gone on to become one of the most honoured and respected actresses of her generation, yet her career almost died right here. She was actually so good at playing the shallow, D-list airhead that critics and public alike thought it a reflection of her real self and dismissed her out of hand. Yet looking at her performance in hindsight she just oozes skill and star quality.

The film hardly puts a foot wrong until Kong himself appears. The production is smooth, the photography impressive, the locations superb and the story and characters engaging. But a fantasy adventure stands or falls by the suspension of disbelief achieved at the crucial moment. The first act of the 1933 Kong drags interminably until the King himself appears - then it soars. The reverse happens here; Rick Baker turns up in his ape suit, knocking down plastic trees and fighting a big rubber snake and the spell is shattered. The result is that the film lacks the other-worldly conviction and sheer imagination of its predecessor. Audiences instantly feel short-changed and the film gives itself no chance to even compete with the ambition of the original. The problem is also compounded by the screenplay's only serious error; making Kong sympathetic and pitiable far too early. The original Kong was always awesome and scary, even when you began to feel sorry for him. Here he is just a bit too likeable, too quickly.

That the film remains just about watchable after this point is a testament to the performers and the strength of the story, but ultimately this effort has to go down as a missed opportunity to make a quality remake of a legendary film.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 10, 2013 5:25 AM GMT

The Lord Of The Rings - The Return Of The King (Theatrical Version) [Blu-ray] [2003]
The Lord Of The Rings - The Return Of The King (Theatrical Version) [Blu-ray] [2003]
Dvd ~ Elijah Wood
Price: 9.98

4.0 out of 5 stars A fitting (if exhausing) end, 11 July 2012
All things gather to a climax as Tolkien's long-suffering heroes drive towards their eventual fates against the unleashed forces of the Dark Lord Sauron. Peter Jackson's amazing, exhausting vision of the fantasy heavyweight certainly doesn't disappoint in its final chapter - testament to the will and energy of its creators and the continuity benefits of filming the whole trilogy at once.

Somewhat ironical, therefore, that `King' still inadvertently follows the traditional `bigger is better' path of most sequels. We know of course that this is mostly co-incidental; `King' is not a calculating `lets top that' offshoot of previous hits - it couldn't be, it was filmed at the same time. It is simply following the course of the novel (in many ways it is the most faithful adaptation of the whole trilogy) which piles on spectacular climax after climax.

This breathless, overwhelming, epic scale is both `King's' blessing and curse. Visually, the film is a marvel. By now we are familiar with the sweep of the New Zealand valleys and mountain ranges. But here - on the Frodo and Sam journey inparticular - Jackson cranks up the heat on the studio sets and miniatures to create a Mordor which is like something out of a painting by Bosch - all brooding watch towers, cliff-hugging stairways, dizzying heights, smouldering mountains and lurking dangers.

CGI effects and wonderful miniatures create the most ruthlessly fantastic world yet of winged beasts, trolls, tiered cities and ghost armies. This is no film for the resolutely literal minded - buy into the illusion or avoid at all costs is my advice. Eye-popping action, spectacular vistas and pyrotechnic wonders dominate throughout. It could have ended up as little more than an exercise in technical virtuosity, but as usual Jackson knows how to ride to the rescue. Not for him just leaving it to the effects boys; he is right there in the thick of it, his direction bold and aggressive, keeping his cast to the forefront with big close-ups and stirring (if often rather arch) speeches.

However there are times in this very long movie (200 minutes without a break) when its sheer size and relentless, steam-rollering plot make you hanker for the slightly more tranquil, character-friendly fare of `Fellowship'. You wish people would sit down for a moment, light up a pipe, have a bit of a chat and generally appraise the situation. In fairness to Jackson he tries to insert a few pauses for thought and consideration whenever he can, but with so much plot to get through there just isn't much time. He finally gets his chance to apply the brakes near the end, which is basically just a series of extended farewells and resolutions that are done quietly and reflectively, allowing time for breath and a welcome subtlety and enigmatic quality to the acting, especially from Elijah Wood.

Whether `King' is the best of the three movies is debatable and also rather meaningless. `Lord of the Rings' is ultimately one long, monumental film and surely one of cinema's most astonishing achievements. These are not perfect films, they have faults, they have some weak moments; but then many of the flaws come from the book - itself a word-heavy and structurally suspect tomb that Jackson and his collaborators have, overall, done an impressive job of adapting. The films have been critically and commercially lauded and have been embraced by the public in a way only a handful of films do in every generation. They have affected millions around the world and have reached the popular conscious in a way that will be culturally influential for years to come. To that extent they have practically gone beyond criticism, for this generation anyway.

Lord Of The Rings - The Two Towers (Theatrical Version) [Blu-ray]
Lord Of The Rings - The Two Towers (Theatrical Version) [Blu-ray]
Dvd ~ Elijah Wood
Price: 6.70

4.0 out of 5 stars Still terrific, but some editing problems, 11 July 2012
Director Peter Jackson wastes no time with prologues or resume's in this breathless, no nonsense, but problematic mid-point to his ground breaking trilogy. Apart from a brief reprise of Gandalf's fate to deliver a rousing opening, its straight on from where the original story left off as the Fellowship, now divided into three clear factions, pursue their individual fates.

Clearly a nightmare to write, film and edit, `Towers' takes a lot of liberties with the original book; transferring many of its key scenes to `The Return of the King' and radically changing some characters and situations. On reflection, the fact that it turns out as well as it does is something of a miracle.

In following different strands and being denied both a beginning and an end, the film is inevitably more episodic than its predecessor and the story is less clearly defined and progressive. New characters are hastily introduced without the time or care afforded in the first film, and many of them disappear with little explanation for long periods. There is evidence throughout (but particularly in the first hour) of hasty editing and the need to inject pace and action to cover up a lack of real narrative drive. Indeed, after three exhausting hours of spectacle it remains pretty obvious that the story has not moved on in any significant way.

Jackson compensates for this by delivering a full-blooded action adventure, more grounded in genuine fantasy than 'Fellowship'. No compromises are made on the more fantastic elements of Tolkien's imagination, such as giant elephants, winged beasts and the tree-like Ents, which might have been by-passed by a less confident director worried about straying into Neverending Story territory. The actors continue to get plenty of opportunity to show their worth, particularly Sean Astin and Viggo Mortensen, whose heroic, leading man status is cemented here. Ian McKellan and Christopher Lee are disappointingly underused this time around and even Elijah Wood becomes more marginalised; but these are all reflections of the book and Tolkien's decision to fragment his story.

The real star of the show, however, is Gollum; CGI created but based on an actual performance by Andy Serkis, who also supplies the rasping, reptilian voice. An entirely convincing character, more multi-faceted and subtly shaded than anyone else in the film, Gollum steals every scene he is in and along with everything else in the picture, represents yet another quantum leap forward in digital technology.

For all its faults, `The Two Towers' remains fascinating entertainment and a true example of film operating at the absolute boundaries of the possible. You just have to admire the work of Jackson himself; ceaselessly inventive, bold, uncompromising, relishing the detail and sheer mad imagination of Tolkien's text, he still manages to deliver a exhilarating spectacle, if not quite as satisfying or emotionally involving a journey as `Fellowship'.

Lord Of The Rings - The Fellowship Of The Ring (Theatrical Version) [Blu-ray] [2001]
Lord Of The Rings - The Fellowship Of The Ring (Theatrical Version) [Blu-ray] [2001]
Dvd ~ Elijah Wood
Offered by thesaverdeals
Price: 4.75

5.0 out of 5 stars It raised the bar, 11 July 2012
I think the consensus from practically everyone in relation to the largely unknown Peter Jackson's risky epic was `my God, he's actually pulled it off!' It has the `wow' factor - the sheer breadth of imagination and awe that only comes to the cinema once every decade or so. It is also that rare breed of epic; an intelligent, intimate one, carefully crafted and with clear purpose. In an era of brain-dead action movies on CGI overdrive its visuals not only impress in their excellence but also in their restraint. You admire and wonder at them, but they never overwhelm.

Everything about this film just works so well, and from a source novel most people thought was unfilmable. The production detail is remarkable, convincing and clearly a labour of love. The New Zealand landscapes spectacular and agreeably other-worldly. The special effects, delivered by New Zealand based Weta Workshop, not only take on and match the Hollywood big boys but actually exceed them. Imagination and poetry are at work everywhere in this film. Some shots are so beautifully composed that you wish you could apply freeze-frame in the theatre and just gawp at them; yet the film is never self-conscious or seeking to linger on its own beauty - there is too much at stake here, too many reputations to be earned, too much plot to advance - and the pulse of this film is that the story always comes first.

Character is the film's key to greatness. For all the wonderful images and breathless action sequences, it is the people and story who are unswervingly given centre stage. You get to know them quickly but thoroughly, thanks to excellent writing and a brave 3-hour running time. And for all the fantasy setting, strange creatures and weird magic going on, these characters seem real and believable; the whole middle-earth milieu entirely grounded. Casting is crucial to this - everyone seems absolutely right for the part they are playing. You wonder for a while whether Sean Bean and Viggo Mortensen might have swapped roles but then eventually become won over by Mortensen's subtle charisma and magnetism - he is Aragorn.

Jackson's direction never puts a foot wrong; the film has flair and meticulous technique throughout. Characters are kept to the forefront, never just dropped in on scenes designed to show off sets or special effects (George Lucas take note). The story progresses confidently and smoothly, helped by the fact that this was always the most linear and cohesive of Tolkien's three volumes; something the other films will have to overcome. Action sequences are spectacular yet have a strangely intimate feel - not the giant battles expected of future instalments.

The only quibble is that the pace falters a little after Gandalf's departure. In a uniformly fine cast Ian McKellen still stands out and the film is inevitably the poorer without him, but this is a minor point. You leave the theatre knowing you have seen a modern masterpiece, a film which raises the bar of film making and lifts the fantasy genre to an entirely new level.

Heat [DVD] [1995]
Heat [DVD] [1995]
Dvd ~ Al Pacino
Price: 3.65

4.0 out of 5 stars Terrific, intelligent thriller, 22 Jun 2012
This review is from: Heat [DVD] [1995] (DVD)
A Master cop and master criminal play cat and mouse through a series of robberies and pursuits in downtown Los Angeles.

Michael Mann is the antithesis of landscape directors like Terrence Mallick or John Ford. Even his outdoor epic `Last of the Mohicans' seems determined to treat its forests like urban back alleys. Is there another director around who paints the functional steel and glass landscapes of Los Angeles so vividly? Can anyone else make cold grey suits on two short, middle-aged actors look so stylish? Can anyone else make neon nightscapes in one of the world's ugliest cities so seductive and beguiling?

There is a night scene mid-way though this film where Robert De Niro's character and his girlfriend lean on a balcony and talk quietly while gazing out over the tungsten-splashed sea of LA. It is one of the most beautifully photographed scenes I have ever watched, forever forcing me to pause the DVD to take it all in. And yet it is so simple; a two-camera shot involving no pyrotechnics, just the recording of an extraordinary artificial landscape, functional and smog-filled by day, mysterious and elusive by night. Through Dante Spinotti's lens you could happily stay on this balcony forever, transfixed by these lights which appear to float in neat, geometric grids as far as the eye can see. It makes you think about stories of old whalers fascinated by tricks of the light on the dark seas.

That's the thing about Mann; he makes hard-boiled thrillers involving dangerous characters indulging in serious mayhem, but he has an ability to make his movies shine in the most industrial and soulless of settings. The beauty may not be gritty and may not even be realistic - but its still beauty.

Anyway enough of the lyrical stuff. `Heat' is a cop thriller that manages to be vaguely derivative yet entirely original at the same time. It is a remake of a TV movie Mann made some years earlier about a steadily evolving confrontation between two driven, highly professional men. One is a master thief who leads a crack, disciplined team on a round of violent, clinical robberies. The other is the cop tracking him down, a workaholic social misfit forever throwing himself into failing marriages he doesn't have the strength to properly commit to. Though on different sides of the law these men are essentially the same; loners married to their jobs to the exclusion of everything else. Al Pacino, as the cop, cannot stay home nights, despite the pleas of a prozac-sustained third wife and emotionally fraught step-daughter. De Niro barely has a home to go to at all - an empty shell by the ocean with no furniture from which he has never bothered to unpack. His life is deliberately spartan so that he can walk away from it in seconds should the law come calling. Their eventual showdown comes as a direct result of two ironies; De Niro allows someone to get close to him, thereby breaking his own cardinal rule, while Pacino's stubborn resistance to domesticity means he will always be on the streets ready for the pay-off when it comes.

Heat is superb for three basic reasons. First, the script takes its time - characters are carefully established and developed, relationships are complex and shifting, the plot is focused and clearly structured. Second, the action is believable, expertly staged and purposeful; not just chucked in for the sake of it. Third, top-notch stars and character actors are allowed to develop multi-faceted personalities whose natures and motivations are gradually revealed as the film develops, keeping them fresh and surprising.

Of the two mega-stars on show De Niro takes the honours. This is one of the best, and probably most controlled performances he has ever given; his stillness, discipline, economy of words and methodical habits barely concealing a violent rage which occasionally and electrifyingly bursts out. Pacino is equally good most of the time but sometimes lapses into the histrionics which have tainted some of his later performances. He's supposed to be the good guy, but we end up caring more for De Niro. Significantly, in their one big scene together, he underplays just as much as De Niro, and holds his own as a consequence.

Heat is a long but compelling thriller which will surely take its place as a classic film noir for the 90s. Just give it time and let its characters grab you.

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