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Reviews Written by
Aidan J. McQuade (Ireland)

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Casablanca [1942] [DVD]
Casablanca [1942] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Humphrey Bogart
Price: £4.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The greatest movie ever made, 18 April 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Casablanca [1942] [DVD] (DVD)
Washed up in Casablanca early in the Second World War, Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), a veteran of the Spanish Civil War, runs a bar and tries to forget his previous political commitment. All this changes when Elsa (Ingrid Bergman), a woman from his past, turns up in town with Victor Laslo (Paul Henreid), a Czech leader of the Resistance, both on the run from the Nazis and in need of help to evade them further.

If you don't fall in love with the movie Casablanca when you see it there is, in my humble opinion, something wrong with your soul. It is a film that has just about everything: some great humour, some great songs, a poignant love story, political commitment, and it is a cracking wartime thriller to boot. It is one of the most quotable films in movie history ("Round up the usual suspects!"), but the wise cracking does not overshadow some powerful emotion: the La Marseilles scene, when the refugee clientele of Rick's bar, many of them Jewish in real life, drown out the singing of the German soldiers, I still find one of the most electrifying in cinema history. To add another level to this, the villian of the movie, Major Strasser, was played by the great Conrad Veight, himself a German and a committed anti-Nazi who fled Germany with his Jewish wife to continue the struggle, raising funds for the war effort by making movies such as Casablanca.

The movie began as just another run of the mill production but somehow, not least through great casting and superb writing, it turned into something magical. It is brilliant at just about every level, and like any classic bears up to repeated viewing. It is a sublime piece of work, possibly the most joyously brilliant film ever made.

Gone Baby Gone [DVD]
Gone Baby Gone [DVD]
Dvd ~ Casey Affleck
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £2.70

5.0 out of 5 stars A masterful exploration of the dark side of Boston, 16 April 2012
This review is from: Gone Baby Gone [DVD] (DVD)
This is a dark, morally complex movie, which doesn't let the weighty themes it explores stop it from being a cracking thriller. In his directorial debut Ben Affleck seems much more assured and in command of his material than he has been in front of the camera (though I think he remains an underrated actor as his performances in Good Will Hunting and Shakespeare in Love show).

Here Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan play romantically involved private investigators asked by the family of a girl who has disappeared to assist in the police investigation. The case takes them first into some of the rougher areas of south Boston before leading into the nightmarish world of child abuse and corruption.

The movie is based on the fourth of Denis Lehane's Kensie/Gennaro novels, but the story stands well on its own and the movie is superb as a version of the story and as an evocation of the underside of Boston. Affleck and Monaghan are excellent as tough, smart investigators slowly realising they are, nevertheless, in over their heads. They have a glittering supporting cast including Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, and the sublime Amy Ryan.

Not everyone may agree with me, but I think the final scene is one of the best in recent cinema history.

There are, at my last count, 6 Kensie/Gennaro novels. One has to hope that the brothers Affleck and Ms Monaghan can be persuaded to commit a few more to celluloid before too long.

The Debt [DVD]
The Debt [DVD]
Dvd ~ Sam Worthington
Price: £3.98

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When the legend becomes fact, print the legend, 15 April 2012
This review is from: The Debt [DVD] (DVD)
In 1966, in an operation reminiscent of the taking of Adolf Eichmann from Argentina, an Israeli unit is sent into East Berlin to kidnap a suspected war criminal. Years later the unit are still hailed as heroes and a book by the daughter of two of the unit is published, cementing the public perception. However on his way to the book launch one of the unit members kills himself. Perhaps all is not as it seems.

The premise of this movie is intriguing, and the 1966 section dealing with the unit's Berlin operation is riveting viewing. Particularly engaging in this section is the nascent romance between two of the unit members beautifully played, particularly given the underwriting, by Sam Worthington and Jessica Chastain. The denoument in the 1990s is probably less intellectually satisfying, and some of the underlying themes, both political and personal, most poignantly that of lost love, are only sketchily dealt with.

Nevertheless the movie as a whole is a decent thriller and an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours, even if it does underuse the great Ciaran Hinds.

Buffalo Soldiers [DVD] [2001]
Buffalo Soldiers [DVD] [2001]
Dvd ~ Joaquin Phoenix
Price: £1.26

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bilko on acid, 14 April 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Joaquin Phoneix is always worth watching in just about anything he does. Here he plays Ray Elwood, a profoundly anti-heroic American soldier in late 1980s Germany, trying to keep himself amused through a combination of drug dealing and selling off army stores on the black market. Life starts getting difficult when a hardass new sergent, Robert Lee (Scott Glenn), arrives on post determined to put an end to Elwood's criminal activities, particularly when Elwood decides to seduce Lee's daughter (Anna Paquin) to mess with Lee's mind. The ensuing cold war between these two plays out as the blackest of comedies, intensifying out of control just as the actual Cold War comes to an end.

There is a strong echo of Phil Silver's Bilko in this movie, both in Phoneix's nefarious activities and in his relationship with his dim and trusting commanding officer (Ed Harris). The movie eschews the secular beatification of the military to show them as an ordinary bunch of young people, with, perhaps, a dangerously violent and anti-social streak that becomes turned inward in the absence of an external enemy. Many may find this an uncomfortable, even objectionable, view of military life. However for those who approach this movie with an more open mind it is an out of the ordinary, occasionally unsettling but always entertaining story of criminals and idiots in uniform.

Ben-Hur [1959] [DVD]
Ben-Hur [1959] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Charlton Heston
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £4.92

5.0 out of 5 stars Redemption, even for spurned lovers!, 13 April 2012
This review is from: Ben-Hur [1959] [DVD] (DVD)
The terms "epic" and "spectacular" have been cheapened by overuse these past decades, but here is a movie that really deserves them. The story is well known, written by a former Civil War general, Lew Wallace, while he was governor of New Mexico and otherwise preoccupied with the shennigans of Billy the Kid: Judah Ben Hur (Charlton Heston), a Jewish nobleman, is unjustly sentenced to the galleys by his childhood friend, Messala (Stephen Boyd), now a high Roman official in Palestine. Years later he manages to escape and returns to Palestine to find his mother and sister, condemned to prison with him, and to exact revenge on Messala. In paralell with Judah's travails a young Jewish rabbi from Nazareth starts to preach a message of peace and justice.

The movie is rightly celebrated for two of its great set pieces - a sea battle, and even more spectacular, a chariot race. Legends abound around the race; allegedly the director William Wyler, insisted that Heston drive the chariot through the extended, hair-raising sequence: "You just stay in the chariot, Chuck. I'll make sure you win the race!"

The more intimate scenes between the characters also resonate. Wyler and Boyd agreed that Messala's motivation for turning on Judah was that on Messala's return to Jerusalem Judah, his former lover, spurns a contination of their relationship. This is how Boyd plays the scene. Both Boyd and Wyler agreed however that the deeply conservative Heston would not be impressed with this reading and so didn't deign to tell him. As a result Heston's performance is solid mahogany in all his scenes with Boyd - accentuating, one can see, Messala's hurt and frustration.

Its an amazing piece of work, all the more so for being achieved without the sort of computer generated imagery that is now commonplace in cinema. It will always remain a great way to spend an afternoon in front of the telly, but is even better if you get the chance to catch it in all its proper cinematic glory.

LINCOLN AND HIS GENERALS BY Williams, T. Harry( Author)Paperback on Jan-11-2011
LINCOLN AND HIS GENERALS BY Williams, T. Harry( Author)Paperback on Jan-11-2011
by T. Harry Williams
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Lincoln as war leader, 12 April 2012
This is a fine and concise introduction to Lincoln and the course of the American Civil war. The focus, as the title indicates clearly, is on one of the major themes of the war - Lincoln's efforts to obtain an effective commander for the Union armies, and Lincoln's own role as chief Union strategist and Commander in Chief.

In the course of this there is some notable insight into the necessary qualities of good generals, and generalship and war-making in the context of a democratic state. Many of the wider issues of the war including the experience of slaves, emancipation, and the actual experiences of the the fighting for the ordinary soldiers are only lightly touched upon. Nevertheless this remains a fine overview of the war and a good introduction to some of the key controversies of the war.

Warsaw 1920: Lenin's Failed Conquest of Europe
Warsaw 1920: Lenin's Failed Conquest of Europe
by Adam Zamoyski
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What is past is prologue, 10 April 2012
This is a fine, concise account of the war between the Soviet Union and Poland in 1920 and particularly the climatic battle of Warsaw. The book focuses primarily on Józef Pilsudski, the Polish head of state who commanded Polish forces in the war and was architect of the victory, conceiving of a manoeuvre, highly reminiscent of Hannibal's tactics at Cannae, that led to the Soviet rout. However the author also recognizes the pivotal role played by General Wladyslaw Sikorski, Poland's Second World War leader until his (probable) assassination by the Soviets, in the defeat of the Red Army on the Vistula.

Zamoyski argues that Stalin, who was part of the Soviet Army devastated by the Poles in 1920, developed a pathological hatred of the Poles as a result of this that culminated in his massacre of Polish prisoners of war in Katyn. Interestingly this is the motive that Putin also ascribed to Stalin when he finally publicly acknowledged Soviet responsibility for the Katyn atrocity. Hence the book reads, ultimately, as a prologue to an even greater tragedy, when many of the actors in this drama were cruelly murdered and Poland itself dismembered by the Nazi-Soviet alliance.

In spite of that this is a gripping work on a pivotal and ill remembered aspect of history.

1776: America and Britain at War
1776: America and Britain at War
by David McCullough
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Times that try men's souls, 10 April 2012
This is an exceptionally gripping work of narrative history. Written as a companion to McCullough's John Adams this book focuses on Washington from his appointment as commander of the Continental Army to his crossing of the Delaware at Christmas 1776 to mount a surprise attack on the British forces that had routed him from New York. What makes that story so remarkable is its consideration of the leadership of Washington, most particularly how he turned around his fortunes, and those of the American Revolution, from their nadir following his poor generalship in New York which led many of his closest lieutenants to lose confidence in him.

McCullough conveys in his narrative the extraordinary steeliness of Washington when faced with this crisis and which was core to his historical greatness. President Obama in his inaugural address cited Washington's crossing of the Delaware in mid-winter as an example of the sort of courage in the face of adversity that was necessary to deal with America's current travails, and this story can be inspirational to non-Americans (such as myself) or anyone faced with personal or professional reversals.

This is a compelling work, beautifully written, deeply exciting and a great introduction to this period of American history.

21 Jump Street  [DVD] [2012]
21 Jump Street [DVD] [2012]
Dvd ~ Channing Tatum
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £2.07

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Getting in touch with your inner Justin Bieber, 9 April 2012
This review is from: 21 Jump Street [DVD] [2012] (DVD)
An exceptionally funny reboot of the eighties series (that brought Johnny Depp to fame) about young looking cops sent undercover to bust crime in high schools. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum play the cops - a mismatched pair of former jock and former nerd. They find their coolness quoitents reversed in the post-Glee age when they are sent undercover to a high school to investigate a lethal drugs ring.

Both Hill and Tatum are excellent in their roles, but Tatum is a particular revelation, demonstrating both a gift for light comedy and self parody of his previous "beefcake" roles, such as in "The Eagle". Ice Cube, in a supporting role, is also very entertaining as an Angry Black Police Captain, who has embraced his inner stereotype.

Overall the movie offers a delightful mixture of knowingness, profound silliness, warmth, a bit of grossness, and a couple of fine action sequences, with a few excellent surprises and surprise appearances to deliver a great comedy thriller (with a strong emphasis on the comedy). Lovely stuff!

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists [DVD] [2012]
The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists [DVD] [2012]
Dvd ~ Hugh Grant
Offered by wantitcheaper
Price: £2.81

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Joyous genius!, 9 April 2012
After years of disappointment the Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) resolves to finally win the Pirate of the Year competition and so embarks on a series of raids on passing ships in the hope of earning sufficient booty to compete with the his rivals Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) and Black Belamy (Jeremy Piven). However he is still plagued by bad luck with the best produced by a succession of raids being the capture of Charles Darwin (David Tennant). Still at least Darwin is able to identify that Pirate Captain's beloved parrot Polly is in fact a dodo, supposedly extinct for over a hundred years. This gives them both an idea...!

Now I think that anyone who does not find a smile brought to their face by that set up has lost their joie de vivre. Hence I am surprised at some of the one star reviews for this movie posted on Amazon. (It takes all sorts I suppose, but some people should probably immediately suck a lemon to ward off scurvy and perhaps cheer up in the process)

Pirates! is a gloriously hilarious, exquisitely produced movie. Its very much a children's movie but with plenty of sly asides to keep adults on their toes as well. The sets are stupendous and almost beg a second viewing in themselves to allow the viewer to try to aborb all the teeming detail. Both the voice performances of the cast, and the painstaking detail of the stop-motion animation are flawless.

I thought it as close to perfect a piece of film-making as I have seen in many years and I hope for more adventures of the Pirate Captain and his crew in the not to distant future.

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