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Profile for J. Rottweiller Swinburne > Reviews

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Reviews Written by
J. Rottweiller Swinburne (Cardiff, UK)

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Shoot 'em Up [DVD]
Shoot 'em Up [DVD]
Dvd ~ Clive Owen
Price: £1.30

5.0 out of 5 stars Tremendous fun, 11 July 2016
This review is from: Shoot 'em Up [DVD] (DVD)
This is a hugely enjoyable, totally over-the-top, utterly unrealistic actioner that only the crustiest old curmudgeon could fail to enjoy. Clive Owen plays a mysterious loner (as it turns out, ex-SAS/Black Ops operative - why are these characters always SAS or SEALS? Why aren't they ever ex-Cardiff Parks Department or ex-West Bromwich Urban District Council?) who interrupts the attempted murder of a baby-toting woman being chased by a bunch of goons. She ultimately stops a bullet with her head but he rescues the baby and runs to a lactating prostitute (played by Monica Bellucci, who spends the whole film trapped in the wet paper bag that she couldn't act her way out of) who assists him in keeping the baby - the real target of the hoods - out of harm's way until we find out why they want the baby.
This reason (the MacGuffin powering the whole bullet-crazy plot) is totally irrational and self-contradictory, but IT DOESN'T MATTER - it's just an excuse for endless gunplay, wonderful acrobatics and a cinematic tour-de-force from Paul Giamatti, playing against type as a psychotic assassin determined to get the baby at all costs. As another reviewer has pointed out, he's Elmer Fudd to Owen's Bugs Bunny, and makes the whole film even more enjoyable than it would otherwise have been.
How they all managed to keep a straight face doing this pic is beyond me - it must have been a riot, and I'd love to see the out-takes. Like "The Replacement Killers" (q.v.,which it strongly resembles), it's not a film suitable for critical analysis in Cahiers du Cinema. It's just a great excuse to hang your brain up for a couple of hours and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!

A Father's Revenge [DVD]
A Father's Revenge [DVD]
Dvd ~ Brian Dennehy

3.0 out of 5 stars Far better than you might think, 10 July 2016
This review is from: A Father's Revenge [DVD] (DVD)
I hesitated before buying this, since some of the reviews on this site, about a film I knew nothing of (and I generally trust reviews here, since most of them are pretty sensible) seemed distinctly off-putting. However, I'm a sucker for anything featuring Brian Dennehy, and I'm pleased to be able to say that I was pleasantly surprised by how good it was.
Briefly - Dennehy plays the father of an American air stewardess kidnapped in Berlin by West German terrorists (remember, this was made before the Wall came tumbling down) - the Oktober group (a thinly-disguised Baader-Meinhof/Red Army Faction type of crew). He and his wife (played by Joanna Cassidy - the replicant Zhora in "Blade Runner" and, incidentally, another good reason for watching the film) go to Berlin and, becoming frustrated by the apparent indolence of both American and West German authorities, hire a mercenary group (led by Anthony Valentine as an ex-SAS freelance) to find and release their daughter. Inevitably things don't go quite as planned...

Certainly the film isn't flawless. Some of the second-string actors are below par and the pace drags a bit here and there, especially towards the beginning, before everyone gets into the swing of things. The sound production occasionally falters, and I hardly think that a crew of top-line mercenaries would tolerate Dennehy insisting on joining in the operation on the strength of his having been in the US Army cooks and bottlewashers thirty years previously. And, compared to today's blockbusters, the action and violence is fairly tame. However, once you accept these limitations - and they're not so bad as to make the film unwatchable, as some commentators have said - you find yourself watching a pretty good little actioner. The plot has quite a few twists and turns, the tensions between husband and wife are quite realistically illustrated, with Dennehy and Cassidy bonding well together to create and maintain a good level of tension, and the rest of the main cast deliver good value. The Oktober group are convincingly cold-blooded, Valentine is utterly believable in his role (playing right against type for a change), and Ron Silver is spot-on as the journo who joins in the hunt for both self-interested and altruistic reasons.

So, while I wouldn't try and convince you watch it as if my life depended on it, I'd recommend it as a good way to pass ninety minutes if you fancy a well-paced little thriller, and don't mind a bit of 1980's production shortfall here and there (which is the main reason I've given it 3 rather than 4 stars). Not anyone's finest hour, but not a disgrace to anyone either.

Romeo & Juliet Soundtrack
Romeo & Juliet Soundtrack

1.0 out of 5 stars Not what it should be, 26 May 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Romeo & Juliet Soundtrack (Vinyl)
I bought this hoping to have the MUSIC soundtrack of this famous film - I heard the whole musical soundtrack a few years ago on radio 3 and was spellbound by it. Up to that point I'd only heard that syrupy love-theme played over and over on the radio 1 programme that tells true-life love stories, and so hadn't thought anything about it; only when I heard the whole thing did I realise what a fine composition it is.
However, I think what I must have heard on radio 3 was a recent-ish recording reconstructed from the music score, which only has the music and nothing else. THIS is the original - but unfortunately it consists principally of extracts of the DIALOGUE, with the music merely floating around in the background. Needless to say I was profoundly disappointed.
If you want dialogue with a bit of music, then fine - but in that case you might as well just buy the film. If you want the music and not the dialogue, avoid this and get the recent CD release.

"Vampyr" (BFI Film Classics)
"Vampyr" (BFI Film Classics)
by David Rudkin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.20

5.0 out of 5 stars Through a Glass Darkly, 25 May 2016
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I have long admired the work of David Rudkin: probably most famous for his seminal TV play "Penda's Fen", which seems to haunt everyone who has seen it, he has also been responsible for very experimental and avante garde plays such as "The Saxon Shore", "Ashes" and "Afore Night Come", plays so challenging that they are very rarely performed, as well as better-known and more accessible work such as "Artemis 81", the BBC Christmas Ghost Story "The Ash Tree" and the magnificent "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" of 1973. He is also a scholar of considerable merit, having translated many classic texts for stage and screen.
It comes as no surprise, then, that this excellent little monograph, in the famous BFI Film Classics series, punches way above its weight for such a slim volume. Less than 80 pages long, it gives you a potted biography of Carl Theodore Drayer, a synopsis of the film's literary, cultural and cinematic antecedents (and of the provenance and fate of the three different versions made for British, French and German cinemas), a breakdown of its somewhat mystifying plot and chronology, and an interpretation of how it taps into the subconscious of those who see it.
Sometimes, much as I admire it, it becomes a little too analytical and academic for its own good. Here's an example of what I mean -

'...(the Doctor) is in the Vampire's service , and we know it. We can 'derive' him from 'Carmilla' if we see in him, like father and daughter and vampire, a reversal of his 'source': in his case, a 'negative' danger re-tuned to the darker extreme of the spectrum of menace, and made positively deathly...'

However, most of the time it's not like that. Perhaps its most involving aspect is the way in which Rudkin analyses the film shot-for-shot, pointing out inconsistencies of time-line, eye-line and other anomalies that don't make sense, so that you feel that you want to watch the film with Rudkin's book on your lap, and go through it scene by scene, checking the film against the text as you go. And, the book is full of interesting little snippets of information that I didn't know. For instance, most films have a character, when he or she first appears, entering the shot from the left and moving from left to right, just as we read a book from left to right; apparently it's psychologically discomfiting to have it the other way around (I wonder if this applies to Arabic films?). And one of the heroines (played by the German actress Sybille Schmitz) had a long career but a tragic ending, inspiring Fassbinder to make a film - "Veroniker Voss" - which was based upon her life-story.

So, minor caveats notwithstanding, I can't praise this book highly enough. If you love Vampyr/Danish Cinema/Dreyer/Rudkin, or any combination thereof, you'll be engrossed by it. Thoroughly recommended.

Price: £3.79

3.0 out of 5 stars Psycho, 10 May 2016
This review is from: Bindon (Kindle Edition)
I've seen John Bindon in a few minor parts in film and TV productions, and was always struck by how very wooden an actor he was, so when I came across this biog I bought it to see what all the fuss was about. It was an interesting, if usually very unpleasant, read - unpleasant mainly because he seemed to be such a very repugnant character who surrounded himself with people of a similarly loathsome nature.
It became very clear to me from pretty early on that Bindon was (pace David Niven) a five-star, silk-lined, ocean-going psychopath. From the earliest age he displayed violent, highly anti-social behaviour, bunking off school and displaying no regard or respect for any authority other than his father. He never had a steady job, or undertook any training for such, but instead lived from hand-to-mouth, getting cash payments or goods in kind for torpedo work of one sort or another. Despite his violent tendencies he was often
highly popular - the sort of person who meets someone and instantly becomes their best friend for life (provided they helped him out with a bit of the readies or gave him a place to crash/hide from the Police). He constantly proclaimed his determination to leave his life of crime and become a full-time, professional actor - except that he always went back to his criminal roots and, once he'd done a bit of acting for a while, got bored with it and left it alone for a while, until someone wanted a convincing heavy to fill up the screen for a bit-part in some "Sweeney" or "Get Carter" type of thing. He developed a good line in chatting up the ladies, mainly because of his total self-confidence (and his 12" schlong, of which he was very proud), and had a string of girlfriends who, though superficially glamorous, were in the main little better than prostitutes and almost always addicted to one drug or another. As he got older he became more ruthless and violent (Clarkson describes several occasions when people who hired him to be a bouncer or peace-keeper described him as becoming "a liability", implying strongly that he was prone to causing the trouble that he'd been hired to prevent)
until he was involved in a particularly nasty gangland killing. Though acquitted of murder (mainly, it seems, because Bob Hoskins
appeared as a character witness and charmed the jury in to believing how cuddly and affable Bindon really was), his acting career was over. If Clarkson's account is accurate, it seems probable that he was only guilty of self-defence against someone even nastier than him; but the mud stuck, and afterwards nobody wanted to know him. He was dead by the age of 50.

He displayed all the hallmarks of the psychopath - unable to learn from his mistakes or plan ahead, poor impulse control, superficially charming, manipulative and plausible when he wanted to be but with zero concern for the feelings of others, and with no compunction about inflicting violence, justified or not, as and when it suited him. Clarkson, although he doesn't shy away from uncovering this side of Bindon's character, usually tries to show him more as a sort of misunderstood Robin Hood, which he quite clearly wasn't (unless it suited his book so to appear). He skates over the circumstances surrounding Bindon's early death (he states abruptly that he died of liver cancer and leaves it at that, though other sources point at AIDS or heroin addiction as being the real culprit) and goes into hardly any details of what passed for an acting career. He is also quite careless about details, for instance consistently calling the Irish Police the "Guarda" (it is GARDA), and with a photo included of the criminal "Mad" Frankie Frazer (but absolutely no mention of him in the text, which makes me wonder why there was a picture of him there in the first place). Written in the style of a blokesy nod-and-a-wink, the book has no auxiliary information such as an index or filmography, and an implication that he can't/won't go into too much detail because, if he does, he'll end up wearing a pair of concrete wellingtons at the bottom of the Thames - all of which leads me to believe that the book is light on veracity, heavy on sensationalism and written for a quick buck.

Overall, this book is an interesting if repellant glimpse into the savage reality of the South London underworld during the 1960-70s, and into the empty soul of one of its more unpleasant denizens. It left a nasty taste in my mouth, and I won't be reading it again. Be warned.

Rachmaninoff:All Night Vigil [Phoenix Chorale; Kansas City Chorale , Charles Bruffy] [CHANDOS : CHSA 5148]
Rachmaninoff:All Night Vigil [Phoenix Chorale; Kansas City Chorale , Charles Bruffy] [CHANDOS : CHSA 5148]
Price: £11.58

5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect, 2 May 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I've known and loved Rachmaninov's All-Night Vigil/Vespers for ever, but for odd reasons have not had a copy of it for years. Then, recently, I heard a fragment of it on Radio 3, discovering afterwards that it was the Chandos recording featured here. So I bought it. Only then did I discover that it was recorded in America, with the Kansas City and Phoenix Chorales. My God! I thought, America, and the Mid-West to boot... they'll be using banjoes...
However, I can confidently report that this is among the finest recordings of this atmospheric work that I've ever heard (including Russian ones recorded in Orthodox cathedrals). The sound balance is perfect, without that trace of an echo that sometimes occurs to their detriment on such recordings; the voices are rich and lustrous, the tempo exactly judged, the sound density perfect. I can thoroughly recommend this fine recording to any fan of this marvellous work, without reservations of any kind. And no banjoes.

The Mercenaries
The Mercenaries
by John Harris
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Blatant Theft of a Great Writer's Work, 24 Mar. 2016
This review is from: The Mercenaries (Paperback)
This book, published (if my memory serves me correctly) back in the mid-'70's, deals with the doings of mercenary pilots in China after the Great War.
Others have covered the plot sufficiently; my reason for doing a review is that no-one else seems to have noticed that the book plagiarises Cecil Lewis's magnificent autobiographical memoir of the Great War and after, "Sagittarius Rising". There are sequences in the "China" section that lift whole passages verbatim from Lewis's book, quite the most outrageous example of bare-faced theft I've ever seen in any fiction. How he escaped prosecution I don't know - he certainly deserves to be done for it. I feel very strongly that this book should be boycotted, its blatant plagiarism be fully publicised and its author named and shamed.
If you read it, beware - you are reading a stolen article.

Q Planes [DVD]
Q Planes [DVD]
Dvd ~ Laurence Olivier
Price: £5.90

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Cracking Romp, 9 Mar. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Q Planes [DVD] (DVD)
Made in 1939, when the storm of war was about to burst over our heads, this Boy's-Own adventure story is made and acted with real brio.
The story, briefly - Major Hammond, of the S.I.S. ( Ralph Richardson, playing - as another reviewer has pointed out - a sort of prototype John Steed) is convinced that top-secret aircraft the world over are being brought down and their secret apparatus stolen by an un-named foreign power (obviously Germany, though this is never explicitly stated). The latest disappearance is of a British aircraft equipped with a new supercharger. The boss of the aircraft company, an obstinate northerner straight out of the pages of an Arnold Bennett novel, refuses to believe this espionage tale, but his top test-pilot (Tony McVane, played by Laurence Olivier) does, and he and Hammond conspire to unmask the spy working for the company, solve the mystery of the disappearances, and save the world from everything (remember, the war had yet to start).

There is excellent support from Valerie Hobson (playing McVane's love interest) and George Curzon (playing the spy). The film is beautifully made, with excellent photography and, for anoraks such as myself, film of several interesting aeroplanes - Tiger and Gypsy Moths and, above all, the lovely Airspeed Envoy, surely one of the most beautiful aircraft ever to take to the air, and shown here in all its glory, both on the ground and in the air.
A short film of less than 90 minutes duration, this is a light-hearted and enjoyable romp that only the most stony-hearted could fail to enjoy.

The Best Years of Our Lives [DVD] [1946]
The Best Years of Our Lives [DVD] [1946]
Dvd ~ Fredric March
Offered by babsbargains *Domestic, EU & International Shipping*
Price: £24.36

5.0 out of 5 stars The Parade's Gone By..., 8 Mar. 2016
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Released in 1946, when the reverberations of the War were still beating in everyone's ears, this film deals with three returning U.S. servicemen who all happen to live in the same town - Fred (Dana Andrews), a B-17 Bombardier, Al (Frederick March), an infantry sergeant, and Homer (Harold Russell) a sailor who lost both hands during a naval action in the pacific (there were no false prosthetics here - Russell was a real double amputee). Once the euphoria of getting home wears off, all three have to adjust back to the "real" world. Friction arises at home and among the three friends as life in the stifling town gets to them...
This film was a massive success on its release, grossing more than any film (in both the U.S. and U.K.) since "Gone With the Wind", and collecting a sheaf-load of academy awards. It's easy to see why. Quite apart from the sheer accuracy of how it dealt
with the problems of adjustment for returning servicemen, it used the inversion of the three protagonists' lives to great dramatic effect.
Fred, a highly decorated USAAF Captain, suffers from PTSD, feels humiliated by his comedown (he finds that his wartime exploits count for nothing and he is forced to return to his old job as a soda-jerk at the local drugstore, like he'd never been away) and by the behaviour of his slatternly wife (played with brio by Virginia Mayo). Al has the opposite problem - a high social echelon figure (he was a banker before the war) with a close and loving family, he spent the War as an N.C.O. and now gets into trouble with his banking
superiors by identifying with the ordinary Joes he once would have frozen out of his bank. Homer has to contend with the reality of his armless existence, is unable to believe that his childhood sweetheart can still love him, while all the time tormented by the reminders of his pre-War glory days as a sports jock and local hero.
Clearly the film had massive resonance with countless thousands of returnees, much as "Brief Encounter" did for wives and husbands separated by the same events. It's interesting to contrast both those films with the novel "Three men in New Suits", by J.B. Priestley,
a pompous piece of political rhetoric which addressed the same issues at the same time, but which has since sunk out of sight (read it and you'll see why).

There is much else to commend the film - the photography (by Greg Tolland, of "Citizen Kane" fame) is lustrously beautiful, all three lead actors give great performances
(especially the often-wooden Andrews, in a career-best effort), and the atmosphere is sometimes profoundly haunting. Near the end of
the film there is a wide-pan view of Fred walking through a graveyard of the bombers he once flew, awaiting reduction to scrap; nothing happens, but you feel as if you're looking at a lost soul wandering through the circles of Hell, a scene that makes me go cold every time I see it. The three corresponding female leads (Myrna Loy as Al's wife, Theresa Wright as his daughter and Cathy O'Donnell as Homer's sweetheart) all give moving, deeply-textured and convincing portraits. And, for anoraks such as myself, there are some nice aeroplane shots - a DC-4 at the beginning, the very rarely-seen Vultee BT-13 and, of course, the majestic B-17 (seen both in its element as one flies the three men home and, later, in a probably conscious irony, lined up en masse awaiting disposal, their glory days past, like "The Fighting Temeraire" (and Fred himself). In this scene, too there are rows of P-39 Airacobras, a plane you don't see every day, awaiting the same fate).

In an era when we have many servicemen returning to this country (and to the U.S.) ending up on the street or in prison, this film (like
Clint Eastwood's magnificent "Flags of our Fathers", which deals with a very similar theme) should be required viewing for everybody. It
is a timeless treasure. Don't miss it.

Icons in the Fire: The Decline and Fall of Almost Everybody in the British Film Industry
Icons in the Fire: The Decline and Fall of Almost Everybody in the British Film Industry
by Alexander Walker
Edition: Hardcover

2.0 out of 5 stars Sniffy, 23 Feb. 2016
This, Alexander Walker's final publication, is unusual among his books as being uncommonly remote and inaccessible. It deals, as its title suggests, with the decline and fall of the British Cinema industry at the latter end of the 20th century; yet it does so in a rather impenetrable way, enlivened only infrequently by the style, wit and insight that typifies his other works. In many ways it reminded me of Jack Ebert's work about the demise of Goldcrest, "My Indecision is Final", another book I had to struggle to get through (and to which Walker frequently refers); he writes about the inner workings of the industry and the activities of its people in a way that suggested to me that he assumes that I, the reader, already know a lot about the subject - whereas I was reading the book precisely because I DON'T know much about it. I felt with Ebert's book that you needed to be an accountant to follow the labyrinthine workings of the Goldcrest story; here, I felt that you had to be an industry insider to make much sense of it. Walker skates over the subject using jargon and recherche references which did little to inform me but much to baffle and bore me. He also exhibits a rather sniffy attitude to "commercial" cinema, demonstrating a pronounced bias in favour of "Art" - though, to me, films that start out as Art are usually insufferably pretentious, while what I regard as True Art usually emerges from Commercial origins, and despite itself.
For all that, the book is worth reading, because occasionally he lets his sense of the "Superbe" slip and, probably accidentally, lets real information out. For instance, I didn't know that Lottery funding actually went a long way to undoing the Cinema, since large amounts of it ended up being used to mass-produce films that were effectively Quota Quickies and unwatchable, so much so that more than 50% of them never made it to the screen. I also treasure the little anecdote about Steven Dorrell's visit to the Cannes film festival in 1995 - when asked about the French actress Jeanne Moreau, he responded by mentioning "the distinguished Frenchman, Jean Moreau" - thus getting himself removed as National Heritage secretary and replaced by Virginia Bottomley (who, the following year, was mistaken variously by French attendees as either Vanessa Redgrave or Emma Thompson). For long after, "Do you know who Jeanne Moreau is?" became THE question to answer accurately when you were appointed Heritage Secretary - or else.
If you've never read one of Walker's books, I'd recommend starting with "It's Only A Movie, Ingrid", which is Walker at his best. This one I'd avoid, unless you're a completist, or very patient.

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