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All reviews - Movies (44) - TV Shows (2) - DVDs (4) - Games (30)

Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares (UK) review

Posted : 7 years ago on 6 July 2011 11:50 (A review of Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares (UK))

The show is alternatively entertaining and, based on the cooking spaces of some of the restaurants featured here, horrifying. I was worried it would simply be a showcase for Ramsay's renowned temper and excessive profanity but, while there is plenty of that, most episodes do a good job of making you root for the recovery and success of the establishments featured. There's a surprising amount of heart here.

The only complaint I have is that they would artificially extend the earlier seasons by including revisit episodes as standalone episodes. This means you would have to sit through 35 minutes of exact repeated material to get 10 minutes of new material. Thankfully they dropped those episodes later on in the series.

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One of the Best Documentaries...ever

Posted : 7 years ago on 4 July 2011 09:34 (A review of Gimme Shelter (1970))

1969 was a big year for the Rolling Stones. They headlined their first U.S. Tour in three years and played to sold out arenas including world famous Madison Square Garden in New York City. They were joined on the road by renowned documentary filmmakers Albert and David Maysles. The result of this collaboration was 1970’s rock doc Gimme Shelter.

Gimme Shelter shows 18 year-old Meredith Hunter being stabbed to death by a Hells Angel at a free concert (held at the Altamont speedway in Northern California) organized by the Stones. It can’t, and doesn’t try to, give viewers the simple answers as to why pool cue wielding Hells Angels are policing the event or why Hunter made the fatal mistake of pulling out a revolver. Those answers didn’t come easy in 1969 and, in the successive 40 years, have been buried beneath half-truths and outright lies. Instead it takes its audience on a vivid trip through the dizzying highs and horrifying lows that marked that ‘69 tour. In the process it probably shows us more about the mindset of that era then a dozen academic texts could.

Gimme Shelter is largely broken into sections. The films begins as your basic concert documentary, showing The Rolling Stones play to enraptured crowds in New York City. It shifts to the planning of the Altamont concert and ends with that chaotic December 6, 1969 night. Its broken up by visits to the recording studio and the editing room, where the filmmakers play footage from Altamont to Stones band members.

The style of the film is steadfastly direct. The viewer is given no graphics, talking heads or narration. The events simply unfold before you. There is some time-line jumping which can be a bit disconcerting but the meat of the film – the planning and execution of the Altamont concert – is largely chronological. The true success of the film is in the visual style and camera work. The Maysles and their cadre of camera operators seem to always be in the right place at the right time. They do a wonderful job of capturing those perfect emotive moments; a slow motion pan over entranced audience members in New York City or a woman crying as she experiences the chaos of Altamont. It’s beautiful and ugly and succeeds at capturing the personal moments and mass conflicts that marked the tour.

It captures a moment in time; weeks before the calendar would turn over on 1969 and the freewheeling 60s. It shows the unparalleled joy of throwing caution to the wind, doing what feels right and indulging in a fantasy world of sex, drugs and the Rolling Stones. Their live performances showcase the transforming power of music matched with an electric stage presence. The Stones bewitch the New York crowd with their unmatched blend of blues and oozing sex.

As the planning for the Altamont concert gets underway Gimme Shelter also captures the opposite side of that coin - the very real consequences of living without fear of consequence. There are dozens of bright red warning signs that any sane person would read as “STOP” but the Stones and their brass push ahead despite last second venue changes, woeful facilities and reports of hundreds of thousands of acid-heads descending on Altamont Speedway.

On the morning of the event we are introduced to the enormity of the chaos. There are thousands of cars parked on the highway and the camera captures dozens of blitzed individuals wondering around the site. By themselves they would cause a SWAT response in a suburban mall but here they simply add to the seething, spaced out piles of humanity. When Mick Jagger steps out of his helicopter he’s promptly punched in the face and the arrival of the Hells Angels (to jeers from the crowd) brings the potent mixture to a boil. Then it’s essentially a trip into one of the levels of hell sound-tracked by Jefferson Airplane, The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Rolling Stones. The Maysles capture it all; Hells Angels beating crowd members unconscious with pool cues, naked spaced out women charging the stage, even a dog. Above all they make that thick sense of impending doom pervasive. It is alarming, terrifying and sets the spectacle up for its natural conclusion. Then, there is is, caught on tape. A gun comes out, a knife comes down and a man lies dead.

The Maysles and editor/director Charlotte Zwerin framed their narrative by having Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts sit in on the editing process. After viewing the footage of the Hunter stabbing Jagger seems almost reserved. He pauses before responding, “terrible”. The true beauty of Gimme Shelter is that it doesn’t’ tell you what to think. It shows you the video evidence of that fateful day and lets you draw your own conclusions. Whose fault was it? Jagger? The Hells Angels? Meredith Hunter? The concert promoters? Or, was the whole free love, drugs and rock n’ roll movement predestined to end like this? The only sure thing is that Gimme Shelter is a perfect encapsulation of the continual drug trip that was the carefree 60s for many. No matter how great the high there is the inevitable crash. It is a thought provoking, gripping examination of a glorious decade coming to a grisly end.


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Goya's Ghosts (2006) review

Posted : 7 years, 1 month ago on 13 June 2011 09:33 (A review of Goya's Ghosts (2006))

Though it certainly looks like your run of the mill period piece, Milos Forman's Goya's Ghosts is a strange beast indeed. Its successes lie in some fine performances by Stellan Skarsgard and Javier Bardem but the story meanders through vaguely defined periods of Spanish history. It's often disarmingly funny - carrying a vibe that doesn't fit the costumes and high drama of the depicted period and Natalie Portman borders on brutal at times. Its a movie that never really finds its way and never really seems to have anything particularly important or interesting to say. It is gorgeous to look at and entertaining in a vaudevillian kind of way but never reaches the peaks of Forman's finest work.

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All Quiet on the Western Front review

Posted : 7 years, 3 months ago on 24 April 2011 08:26 (A review of All Quiet on the Western Front)

There are war films that celebrate our men in uniform and then there are films like All Quiet on the Western Front - the so called anti-war film. Despite its age All Quiet is one of the stand-outs in the genre - at least in terms of its depiction of the brutality of war. Even through a modern lens the trench warfare shown here is shocking and the rapid camera pans that give a sense of the immensity of carnage on a battlefield will stick in your mind.

The plotting and characterization lack the impact of the battle scenes but there is some success in giving a face to the generally faceless victims of war. All Quiet on the Western Front is bleak, disturbing, horrific but still resonant today.

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Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness (1927) review

Posted : 7 years, 3 months ago on 24 April 2011 08:18 (A review of Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness (1927))

A strange docudrama that is probably a pretty accurate representation of what Caucasians thought life in foreign (non-European) countries was like. Some interesting footage that was shot on location but Chang is definitely a product of the times. Not essential viewing by any stretch of the imagination.

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Wings (1927) review

Posted : 7 years, 3 months ago on 24 April 2011 08:17 (A review of Wings (1927))

The battle scenes in this silent film about a love triangle between two World War One airmen and an army nurse are a clear highlight of the first Best Picture winner. They are gory, thrilling, blessed by the lack of sound (it allowed Wellman to attach cameras to the wings of the planes as they performed their aeronautical manuevers) and often spectacular.

The rest of this film is a bit of an uneven melodramatic mishmash about love during wartime. Too much effort is spent on overly descriptive title cards and the Buddy Rogers and Richard Arlen (the two leads) have limited screen presence.

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Cropsey review

Posted : 7 years, 8 months ago on 14 November 2010 12:08 (A review of Cropsey)

A great documentary only needs one thing to be successful. It needs to have a hook, a story that is worth filming and worth sitting through long periods of shaky camera work and muddled dialogue. Fantastic editing and copious amounts of background work can are feathers a great documentary can stick in its cap but if there's no hook then there's no real point.

Cropsey, regrettably, falls into a sort of gray area. The film technique here is wonderful - the opening menus and contextual interludes look great - and the filmmakers effectively utilize first and third person sources in telling their selected story. The problem is the story itself. On paper Cropsey sounds intriguing. It promises to explore the dark, dirty secrets of Staten Island as it uncovers the truth behind a series of child abductions. Indeed the documentary lays down a solid foundation as the filmmakers give us a good sense of place by exploring numerous sites of ill repute dotting the woods on the island. Even the possibly tedious background information regarding the area's numerous kidnappings works in building up the stakes.

Unfortunately the central arc of the story, regarding the incarcerated child abductor accused of the crimes, seems largely pointless. This is a big issue when almost three quarters of the film is devoted to a scruffy old man and his involvement (or apparent lack thereof) in the larger Cropsey mystery. The documentarians did an admirable amount of footwork scoring interviews with the victim's families, eyewitnesses and even striking up a jailhouse correspondence with the accused himself but it all feels pointless. The identity of the accused is revealed early on and its hard to tell what the filmmakers hope to accomplish. They veer all over the place. One moment they're talking to a random guy who describes being kidnapped by the accused from the local YMCA with a busload of children the next they're talking to a guy who insists the accused was wrongfully arrested. They even attempt to inject some mystery to the story by introducing a mysterious second kidnapper and picking some holes in the official story.

However, none of these loose ends are tied together and, at the end of it all, I felt no more enlightened about the child abductions of Staten Island than I did going in. Rather, it felt like I read a bunch of random newspaper clippings and was simply left to sort it out for myself. There's no denying that these were some talented people that made this film but talent can only take you so far in the documentary world. Choosing interesting things to film is the real key to making a documentary...well interesting.

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Ace in the Hole review

Posted : 8 years, 1 month ago on 2 June 2010 08:56 (A review of Ace in the Hole)

When speaking of the great old time directors Billy Wilder is often one of the first names thrown out there. After all, he created some of the most famous and most widely renowned films of Hollywood's bygone era - from Some Like it Hot, to Double Indemnity and, even, to something like The Apartment. Rarely mentioned among those classics is the 1951 drama Ace in the Hole.

Ace in the Hole tells the story of a down on his luck yet still amazingly egotistic journalist Charles Tatum (played by Kirk Douglas) who stumbles into small town Albuquerque looking for a second (or maybe its third) chance to prove his lack of journalistic integrity. Promising to increase circulation through his sensationalistic articles - even if he has to manufacture the news himself - he is hired by the paper's straight laced editor.

The real action kicks off when Tatum stumbles into the story of a lifetime. He encounters Leo Minosa, a man trapped in an unfortunate cave-in and, with the help of that man's rather disinterested wife (Jan Sterling), exploits the situation for all its worth. This is where Ace in the Hole truly shines. Wilder begins with a rather simple situation but, through a rather disturbing chain of events, turns that situation into a full blown circus complete with ever increasing admission prices.

Wilder is almost prescient in the world he creates. We, in the modern world, tend not to look twice when seven media outlets converge on the site of a tragedy. In that way Ace in the Hole is perhaps more resonant today then when it was originally released. It takes a now rather commonplace occurrence and forces the viewer to thoroughly examine their own perspective on the media. By telling the Minosa story through the journalist's lens Wilder is able to personalize what is now seen as an impersonal art. Wilder creates a disturbing situation in which all of the societal elements that should be helping Minosa achieve freedom (from law enforcement to local politicians), instead milk his entrapment for all its worth.

It helps that Douglas' portrayal of Tatum is mostly fantastic. As Tatum realizes just how rotten his actions are (not only is he purposely prolonging the extraction of Minosa but he is also romancing his wife) his inner shame bubbles up until it boils over in a frenetic ending segment. There are elements of his character that are rather unbelievable (the final denouement, while a showcase of impressive acting, seems a bit rushed) but Douglas has the rare ability to grab the watcher by the neck and say take in my character, no matter how repulsive he can be. Unfortunately the side characters are mostly forgettable with rather boring character arcs and average acting performances but its hard to criticize the film for that when it is almost wholly focused on Douglas' turn as Tatum.

The romantic elements also feel rather tacked on, but I think its a testament to Wilder's skill that the relationship between Tatum and Minosa's wife comes off as repugnant. Despite the little screen time devoted to their coupling it is still a memorable part of the story and it still carries a hefty emotional impact. The ending as well feels a bit rushed and conventional - as if Wilder had a direction he wanted to take but was forced down a different path due to stringent Hollywood morality codes.

However, even with those drawbacks, Ace in the Hole is a wonderfully written and deep expose of the seedier side of our media driven world and is filled with singular, memorable moments that define it as an unsung classic. Sticking out in my mind is an effective series of establishing shots that show a filled to the brim ferris-wheel rotating slowly, Minosa's mountainous prison looming in the background and then a group of workmen, taking a lunch break on top of the mountain, gazing out in amazement at the chaotic carnival like scene unfolding below. The story Wilder tells is rather simple, but it is moments like these that make it unforgettable.

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Bad Boys review

Posted : 8 years, 2 months ago on 21 May 2010 08:53 (A review of Bad Boys)

If you like explosions, shoddy dialogue and plenty of race-themed humor than it is likely that Michael Bay's Bad Boys is one of your favorite movies. If you like a sensible plot, well constructed action scenes and acting performances that rise above the level of a cereal commercial then my question is...why the hell are you watching a Michael Bay film?

Released in 1995 Bay's Bad Boys follows two detectives (played ably by Martin Lawrence and Will Smith) as they attempt to recover a bunch of drugs that disappeared from the evidence locker at their police station. Since that is, apparently, not enough impetus for an action-packed comedic farce Bay decides that suave talking ladies man Smith and whipped homebody Lawrence should switch roles halfway through the film (with Smith pretending to be Lawrence and vice-versa). It's a completely unreasonable setup, yes, but there is indeed the possibility of comedic gold here. Oh, and explosions. And car chases.

On the last two counts Bad Boys does indeed deliver. The plot is poorly paced and overly complicated with most of the nonsensical action packed into the tail end of the movie but it mostly looks good. Sure the next set piece is often obviously telegraphed (there can't be a shootout here...there's no explosive barrels!) but as long as the explosions are pulled off well who cares. Sometimes the sequences go on too long and it seems as if Bay is grasping at straws to increase the variety of objects that are exploded or crashed into and sometimes the quick cuts are frustrating and obscure more than they show but, for the most part, the action is competently done.

Sadly, despite what the commercials and flame-tinged promotional posters may make you believe this really only qualifies as half an action movie. The main chunk of the movie is devoted to the comedic, buddy cop interplay between Smith and Lawrence and the flimsily constructed premise that they must pretend to be each other in order to fool a state's witness (Tea Leoni is excruciating in this role). I'm not expecting Shakespeare (after all he wasn't very funny) but the humor here is mostly non-existent. There are moments of levity, like when Lawrence tries to explain the homo-erotic self-portraits of Smith that are hung in what Leoni assumes is Lawrence's apartment or when Smith and Lawrence engage in witty racially fueled banter with the Italians on the force but I generally found more humor in the idea that Lawrence must assume Smith's characteristics to fool a state's witness that knew neither of the cops prior to the proverbial drug deal gone bad.

Smith and Lawrence are mostly charming (except when they're ad-libbing) but, like a watch salesman hawking Drolexes, that charm can only carry the dialogue so far. Also if, God forbid they're forced to do a scene with any of the other actors in this movie, then you're better off simply fast-forwarding a few minutes. The central plot is non-sensical enough that you won't miss much.

Ultimately, Bad Boys is stuck in the purgatory of the action comedy world. It's action is sometimes entertaining but there's nothing here to show off that new 55 inch plasma you bought after remortgaging your house and the writing sometimes elicits a chuckle but there's nothing here that's belongs in the annals with the great buddy cop films of the past. It's like a second-rate Lethal Weapon for the ritalin generation - something you can put on the the background while working on spreadsheets or something. Sure that explosion will make you look up but don't worry - you didn't miss a thing.

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Bus 174 review

Posted : 8 years, 2 months ago on 10 May 2010 11:07 (A review of Bus 174)

The directorial debut of Jose Padilha the 2002 documentary Bus 174 examines the hijacking of a Brazilian transit bus, paying particular attention to cause and effect relationship of Brazilian society.

It does this through a thorough examination of the life and actions of the hijacker, Sandro, in an attempt to give reason to an unreasonable action.

The strongest part of this story is that of the hijacking itself. Told through archival footage, security tapes and numerous interviews with police, hostages and family the saga of the bus itself is gripping and emotional. When properly integrated into the story of Bus 174 the larger tale of a country that abandons and mistreats its impovershed citizens is truly impactful. For instance, when Sandro yells out his window about the massacre of Candelaria the film uses that cue to explore that tragedy. This is an effective way to flesh out Sandro's origins and, perhaps, give the viewer some insight into his twisted actions.

However, there are also numerous moments where Padilha takes the viewer out of the story of Sandro and bus 174 and plops us in front of sociological talking heads that bemoan Brazil's mistreatment of its underclass and plea for the recognition of the invisible children. This, decidedly, doesn't work. Forcing this information down the viewer's throat out of the context of the tragedy of bus 174 is the film's biggest weakness. The biographical sketches of Sandro that are directly tied into the narrative of the bus hijacking gave me more than enough insight into the cultural considerations that led Sandro down the criminal path. Hammering on those considerations repeatedly, especially near the beginning of the story when Sandro hasn't been properly fleshed out, made the film feel manipulative, obvious and left a bad taste in my mouth right from the outset. Subtlety is key, and when Padilha is subtle it works perfectly.

There are times when the story seems a bit biased to the plight of the hijacker and the interviews with the favela kids - probably intended to flesh out Sandro's background - seem a bit staged and strangely translated (a 16 year old from the slums of Rio de Janeiro says "ruckus?") but, for the most part, Bus 174 is an effective and fascinating tale of a divided country. As the film closes and we hear the citizens of Brazil - the mother, the hostage, the policeman, the gangster, the social worker - mull over the events of that fateful day the film's intended portrait of Brazil becomes crystal clear (and without a 55 year old sociologist telling me what to feel!). It is a country with a wide division between the general populace and those that many feel should simply disappear and, when one of the latter acts out in such a shockingly public fashion no one really knows what to do. It becomes a tragedy for many.

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