Sunday, 31 August 2008

No.53 : War Dance

IMDb Link :

‘War Dance’ is an Oscar nominated documentary about the civil war in Uganda and, more specifically, about a group of children trying to win their National Music Championships despite their horrific ordeals.

Although it lost the Oscar to ‘Taxi to the Dark Side’, ‘War Dance’ was a worthy contender; possibly too worthy as it is heavy going. The film follows a group of mostly orphans who live in the town of Potongo, Northern Uganda. The children are introduced separately and they each talk to the camera in turn recounting their own experiences of the civil war.

All the tales are terrible with one young lad recounting the night he had to bludgeon a farmer to death with his hoe to save his own life. Others had similar treatments of kidnap and abuse. Juxtaposed against theses horrors were their present day trials in a government camp, such as one girl who was almost a slave to her bitch of an aunt.

All of the children have the same ambition - to win the regional qualifier so that the can go to the National Championship in Kampala. The road is long and arduous but with the help of some seasoned professionals they up their game and get to the big city. The contest is a major event and the kids feel marginalized as being from the north they are seen by some as inferior. Given what they have experienced it’s not surprising that they shrug off such slurs and put on a top show. Will it be enough to win the cup and heal their community at the same time?

This is a hard film to enjoy. The triumph of the human spirit is one thing but it’s depressing to hear so many horrific tales. It beggars belief that the government put so many resources into a song contest when rebels are freely raping and killing anyone they choose. Obviously the kids don’t mind as their focus and determination is admirable.

With the best will in the world I found it hard to enjoy the singing and dancing and when that is at least 50% of the film you know the marks are going to suffer. It’s not that the people aren’t talented, I’m sure they are, it’s just people yelling and stamping in endless similar songs isn’t my thing.

It would be churlish to say this film is nothing short of a triumph and the spirit and message of it can’t be ignored. I just didn’t really enjoy it. Sorry kids!

Best Bit : The grim tales were jaw-dropping

‘W’ Score 13/23

Saturday, 30 August 2008

No.52 : Wheels of Terror

Wheels of Terror at the IMDb

All you fans of Ollie Reed out there have no doubt tracked down this film and been disappointed by it. Despite featuring prominently on the poster he doesn't show up until there are only 7 minutes left and slurs his way through half a dozen lines at most. No doubt he was only on set for one day but what the hell let’s stick him on the box and lure a few suckers in.

This film from 1987 is truly awful despite a well known cast and good source material - it was based on the book of the same name by Sven Hassel. The film is set in the latter stages of WW2 and an American sounding voice over man tells us that the Furher has started ‘Penal Battalions’ for dangerous missions - a bit of a Nazi ‘Dirty Dozen’ if you like. The motley crew have a few scraps before they bond after a dust up in a brothel.

Evil Colonel David Carradine has a mission for them - blow up a Russian supply train 150 miles behind enemy lines and they can have some time off and have their records cleared. Our guys set off, first having to steal explosives from the dozy Soviets before heading to the train depot in Red Army gear. After a brief encounter with a group of deserters from both sides and sexes they head off to blow up the oldest and smallest train you’ll ever see.

The initial attempt is a failure but can they succeed and at what cost? Will the Colonel keep his word and will there be anyone left for Ollie to pin a medal on?

This is a strange film - most of the cast is American yet they are all badly dubbed. I can only imagine the film was shot in English for the foreign market and then dubbed. Seeing how great it was someone must have then re-dubbed it back into English using mostly different voices. Crazy!

The film looks totally false and nothing like the Eastern Front it’s supposed to portray. The bright sunny days are a clue that we are not in Russia and it was no surprise to learn that the whole thing was actually shot in Yugoslavia. In 5 days. Probably.

I remembered some of the characters from the book like Porta and Tiny but they were nothing like the blood thirsty criminals I remembered. The lead is the guy who got filled with water in ’X-Men’ and he’s ably assisted by the leader of the Rogues out of ’The Warriors’. ’Script come out to play ay ay’ he should have said.

David Carradine is obviously miscast as the baddie German being of Eastern decent as he is. No one seems to notice but they are probably all mesmerised by his fake scar and funny, oh so tough, lines. The cheapness of the whole production is apparent throughout with the same tanks used for both sides with justification lines such as ‘they've stolen our tank let’s steal it back’ used to repel suspicious viewers. You also see nothing destroyed, with direct hits being nothing more than some petrol set alight on the tank’s bonnet.

The bottom line is that this film is rubbish with nothing to recommend it. It shamelessly cashes in of some star names who have little input to the actual film, and is so bad and unrealistic in places that it’s almost funny. But not quite.

Best Bit :Ollie as the mean General raises a smile

‘W’ Score 5/23

No.51 : Wagons East

Wagons East at the IMDb

Before we begin a word on the title. Although the poster has it as ‘Wagons East!’ the title card on the film doesn't have the exclamation mark. I’ll go with what the movie says and attribute the exclamation mark to an over zealous marketing man who may have thought that the added bit of punctuation would suggest extra zest and excitement. He was wrong.

‘Wagons East’ is notorious, both for being a bad comedy and for being John Candy’s last film - he died on location and his scenes had to be re-cut or finished with a stand in before the film was excreted by the studio.

The film opens with the familiar western map, but sadly, unlike ‘Bonanza’ it doesn't catch fire and give us all an early night. The frontier town of Prosperity has a few disgruntled citizens. John C. McGinley’s gay bookseller can only attract customers for toilet paper and Richard Lewis’ cattle baron aspirations are being thwarted by bare faced rustlers. After sharing their concerns with other bar patrons they decide to head back east - if they get a sign from god. This is duly delivered in the shape of an east pointing weather cock and a collapsing John Candy, who was foretelling his own fate without knowing it.

The feeble group, who include the town’s well covered prostitute, abandon their town the next day to begin their perilous journey. Their choice of guide in Candy is quickly questioned when he gets them lost and then sets up camp in the dark in what turns out to be an Indian village.

Meanwhile the corrupt railroad chief is unhappy - this exodus back east may endanger his fat grants to extend the line. With this in mind he dispatches his best hit man to disrupt the group and as a back up plan enlists the help of the US cavalry. In predictable Wile E Coyote fashion the hit man is caught in all of his own traps and even the Indians help our clan, seeing the exodus as a way of reclaiming their own lands.

As the ends draws close a previously forgetful trail member recalls Candy’s shady past, just as the cavalry are sent in to repel the traitorous reverse pioneers.

I tried really hard to like this film, bearing in mind its history and top ensemble cast. Sadly I couldn’t - its stinky reputation is well deserved. The first concern, and with a comedy it’s a big one, is that there are no laughs at all. There are loads of fart and pissing jokes as well as pratfalls and slapstick. None of them are funny - they don’t sit well and are heralded a mile off. Richard Lewis, who is always Larry David’s whiny pal on ’Curb Your Enthusiasm’ to me is totally miscast as a pioneer doctor . John C. McGinley, who I normally like, is cringey as the overtly gay bookseller complete with a fancy wagon and stylish line in frontier tea sets.

Candy himself is a pale shadow of his ‘Uncle Buck’ persona but is given nothing to work with. The revelation that he lead the cannibalistic Donner party is as believable as some of the later scenes where Candy is replaced by a blurry guy shot at distance. This is the ‘”two orange whips” guy for Christsakes and here we have him dying a death, sadly literally, talking a lot of unfunny rot and killing a poor horse by sitting on it.

After ‘Blazing Saddles’ it’s obviously hard to do a non-derivative comedy western but surely someone somewhere should have looked at the script and though ‘Hmm, jokes would be a good idea’. A sad end for John Candy but at least no one will remember him for this unfunny, poorly made gag free zone of an effort.

Best Bit : Get back to you on that.

‘W’ Score 5/23

Friday, 29 August 2008

No.50 : Who Dares Wins

IMDb Link :

The whole world watched as the S.A.S. stormed the Iranian embassy in 1980 killing terrorists and freeing hostages. Considerably fewer people watched ‘Who Dares Wins’ which is a crappy 1982 cash in starring Lewis ‘Bodie’ Collins.

The film starts with a ‘Ban the Bomb’ demo that has some really catchy slogans “5-6-7-8 we don’t want to irradiate” they chant. A man is the killed by a crossbow (very environmentally friendly there) and we learn that he is a government plant who had been discovered by the radicals. The Brass now have a problem - they know the Peoples’ Front have a high profile target, but what can it be?

In order to infiltrate the gang S.A.S. Captain Peter Skellen fakes some brutality on his men and is kicked out. Acting (term used loosely) all disaffected Skellen meets and instantly beds the terrorist leader who, to be frank, is a bit easy - but he is wearing his good blazer. Now on the inside Skellen starts to feed info to his contact but isn’t trusted by Triffid botherer John Duttine, who plays Red Rod.

When he is spotted snogging his wife and chatting to men on boats Skellens’s cover is blown but when his family is kidnapped he has to play along with the terrorists’ plan. They seize the American ambassador and a room full of brass and make the reasonable request that the government nuke Holy Loch for their release. Can Skellen help the impending rescue attempt from the inside using all his specialist training?

When I first saw this film when 12 I thought it was pretty cool and Lewis Collins a God, but sadly it isn’t and he’s a tosser. The whole set up is ridiculous for a start. Why is an S.A.S. captain being used as a covert operative? M.I.5 and C.I.5 all busy? I suppose this does explain why Skellen is a rubbish agent, getting made by everyone as soon as he shows up.

The scene where he seduces the lady terrorist is a laugh as blazer clad Lewis opens with “I want to take you to bed” and gets an immediate ‘OK‘. This hard as nails bitch basically gets all her pals killed as the next day Lewis is moving in and calling the shots. As a feminist radical Judy Davis’ character is a joke and she must have cringed when directed to fawn over Lewis and then simper up to him, asking advice.

The back up crew of Edward Woodward as the head copper and Richard Widmark as the ambassador basically show up for the paycheque. There is one laughable scene where Widmark debates the situation with the terrorists under gunpoint and still has them running off in tears - one up for the good guys!

The rescue is basically a straight steal of the real life event, even down to the trooper getting set on fire by flaming curtains. Only one gung-ho hostage bravely dies for a return of every terrorist including the black Scottish guy out of ‘Porridge’.

You obviously can’t take it too seriously with its caricature Red baddies and desperate acting, especially in a career ending performance from Collins, but it is OK as throwaway entertainment. The attempts at politics and commentary were heavy handed with a nasty Arab handing over fat cheques and dining with pinkos at parliament.

Another childhood memory tarnished thanks to the ‘W’ quest! That said, the two hours passed quickly and I still got a thrill when Lewis lead the troupe through the embassy with his Uzi. Just don’t tell anyone I said that.

Best Bit : Lewis smooth talks the knickers off the baddie

‘W’ Score 14/23

No.49 : Woman in the Dunes (Suna no onna)

IMDb Link :

This 1964, black and white film in Japanese may not be everyone’s cup of sake but it is well worth a look, and certainly something different.

A Japanese bug collector decides to spend his three day holiday scouring the sand dunes of a remote area in the hope of going fame as the discoverer of a new species. Big mistake! When he misses his last bus home some friendly villagers suggest he stays over with them. He is slightly surprised when he is ushered down a rope ladder in the dark, and even more so when the ladder is gone next morning.

He finds that he has been left in a shack, in a big hole, in the desert with only a naked widow for company. Sounds like a good deal? Not really when you find she’s a bit mental and that you have to dig sand for food. The man initially tries to escape, using some elaborate ruses and eventually gets free only to fall into quicksand and be recaptured. The villagers believe that if the shack gets swallowed by the desert they‘ll be next, and they also have a sideline in selling the sand to construction companies, despite its inferior quality.

After a while Mr Bug succumbs to his situation and begins to mine sand and plough the woman. When he sets a trap for a crow, so that he can use it to send a message, he inadvertently finds a way to gather water - can this discovery help the villagers in their plight?

When the woman falls pregnant the rope ladder is left by the villagers who have taken her to a doctor. Will our man escape or has he become institutionalised?

The premise here is ripe for nit picking but to do so would be missing the point. Of course the idea of living in a shack in a hole in the dunes is ludicrous, as is mining sand when you live in a desert. I won’t go into the metaphors employed, but basically you have a man in a desperate situation having to carry out pointless tasks. The sand itself is relentless like time and the man has to make the best of his bad lot. Basically if you are married and in a job you’ll appreciate what’s going on!

The film is really hypnotic, with dialogue sparse and a jangly soundtrack that fills in the blanks. The sand is of course a major player and it is shot so well and so differently that you feel that it is a character in its own right. The man’s plight is so frustrating and ultimately pointless that you can’t help but be drawn in.

I’m not a great follower of Japanese B&W cinema but this one was great. The whole thing is so evocative and moving that it’ll stay with you for years - a bit like getting sand in your trainers after a day at the beach.

Best Bit : Ladder quandary - should he stay or should he go?

‘W’ Score 18/23

Thursday, 28 August 2008

No.48 : We Dive At Dawn

IMDb Link :

John Mills stars as the captain of the submarine ‘Sea Tiger’ whose perilous mission is to sink the German’s new battleship ‘Brandenburg’ before it becomes fully functional.

The first half of this film is all about introducing the crew, who are returning from an uneventful tour of duty. Most of the crew have seven day passes and set off for their various assignations and problems. Captain Mills has an armful of lovelies on the go and a servant to arrange his appointments, whereas the other crewmen have to make do with an estranged wife and a bag of chips.

Their fun is cut short when they are recalled to duty with an urgent mission to locate and sink the enemy’s prize asset a super destroyer, obviously styled on the real life Bismarck. The crew capture a downed German aircrew and learn that their quarry may already be out of reach and in the Baltic Sea. Undeterred our heroes go beyond the sub’s range to engage the ship and its escorts. They get their torpedoes in the water but are soon hunted down in a fashion familiar to anyone who’s ever seen a submarine film.

After a narrow escape the Captain readies the crew to surrender, as they’re out of fuel but one troubled seaman may have a chance at redemption with a daring plan to raid a German held Danish supply depot.

I really enjoyed this film, with it’s cast of salty sea dogs and thrilling action sequences. To be fair most of the ship and depth charge shots were stock footage but what do you expect - there was a war on! Given the time of filming it’s a credit to the production that the captured Germans were shown fairly and not as the monsters the propaganda department may have wanted.

The plot kept me guessing and the rousing raid on the base was edge of the seat stuff. It’s true that all the favourite submarine movie standards were trotted out such as the silent running and the jettisoning of debris to fool the enemy, but it’s films like this that came up with the in the first place.

The camaraderie of the group was well done with the practical jokes and minor disputes set aside when team work was needed. The final revelation may have tided things up somewhat conveniently , but I’d have been disappointed by any other ending. Seeing as clichés have been granted a seven day pass of their own I’ll say ‘We Dive At Dawn’ is gripping ‘Boys’ Own’ stuff.

Best Bit : Danish Harbour Raid

‘W’ Score : 18/23

No.47 : Wild Roomies

IMDb Link :

Reno is having a hard time of it - he has a crappy job and comes home to find his roommate getting friendly with his girlfriend. He resolves never to have roommates again, but is soon on the hunt for more when he inherits a house and its mortgage in L.A. After screening out the obvious undesirables, Reno and his new girl choose a guy and a girl who seem great but are also really hot.

Suspicions soon fester, along with leftover food in the fridge, as the new set up begins to drive a wedge between the couple. When Reno’s business idea is stolen he heads back to Texas for a few days leaving his three roommates home alone - can they all behave, and what will be learned from the experience?

This was a pretty forgettable film with nothing really happening for the large part. It was like an episode of ‘Melrose Place’ with lots of beautiful people arguing and making up for the full running time of the film.

It starts badly with Reno losing his crummy job only to beat up his manager to the cheers of his co-workers. But no, it’s that tired old cliché of the revenge fantasy, from which he is awoken to his surprise, but certainly not ours. Things don’t improve when he gets left a large house and car in an Uncle’s video will. You only really get video wills in the movies, and this device to put our man back in the housing market was both lazy and clumsy.

The sequence of potential roommates being interviewed was stolen in its entirety from ‘Shallow Grave’, except they left out the laughs, decent acting and the ginger one from ‘Taggart’.

The sub plot about Reno designing a bag that look like a corn dog was undeveloped and uninteresting and the sexual tension between the leads was non-existent. The big surprise towards the end was very poor and nothing that had gone before it gave it any credibility whatsoever. I’ve no idea what we were supposed to learn from this film but ‘all women are sluts’ seemed to be the only message.

As you can probably guess I wasn’t a fan of ‘Wild Roomies’, a film originally called ‘Roomies’. No doubt the addition of the ‘Wild’ and suggestive cover will make for a few more rentals, but it is essentially the polishing of a turd. The name change did however allow it on this list, so well done for that at least!

Best Bit : A few saucy ladies kept me off the FF button.

‘W’ Score 7/23

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

No.46 : White Mischief

IMDb Link:

Greta Scacchi, or The Lovely Greta Scacchi to give her her full name, stars in this true story of infidelity and murder in 1940’s Kenya.

The film opens during the blitz in London as Greta tells Hugh Grant that’s she’s leaving his love for the money of Joss Ackland and the safety of Africa. Joss, although wealthy, is facing harder times and his lack of skill on the horses and his free spending new wife are unlikely to help matters.

In Kenya the time is spent wife and clothes swapping, a swinging circuit that Greta soon joins. She quickly falls for the dashing Charles Dance and despite warnings from Joss the pair carry on their scandalous affair. When Greta and Charles announce their plans to be together they get Joss’ blessing, but when Dance is gunned down by a mystery assassin Joss is in the frame.

After a trial Joss is acquitted, but the mystery of the murderer remains and, as his money problems mount, Greta has to weigh her options.

This is a great period film that I always enjoy, not least for Greta’s spirited performance. The African plains are beautifully shot and the evocations of the colonial era are great. The secondary cast is filled with familiar faces and it’s no surprise when Joss’ cattle all die seeing as he employed Rab C. Nesbitt as his farmer.

The mystery element is somewhat slight as we are in no doubt that Joss was the culprit despite some ambiguity employed during the murder. The fact we see him feigning drunkenness prior to the murder somewhat undoes the later revelation about the socks.

Greta gives a career best showing as the free spirited and needy Diana with her passions free for all to see. Towards the end it’s hard to figure her feelings for Joss and new suitor ,John Hurt, but this is a deliberate showing of her character’s uncertainty.

With great settings, acting and music you’ll do well to find a better portrayal of colonial Africa during the war, and seeing as Greta loses her clothes on a regular basis it’s hard to find fault.

Best Bit : Greta’s swimsuit malfunction

‘W’ Score 21/23

No.45 : Watermelon Man

Watermelon Man at the IMDb

Jeff Gerber is a white middle aged insurance broker who lives with his wife and two kids in an affluent white suburb. He works out every morning and gets his kicks racing the bus to the office, to the annoyance of his fellow commuters. He is also a little bit of a racist. Not in a Ku Klux Klan sense, but he likes ribbing the black bus drivers and lift attendants that they may be rioters and gun toting hoods.

He is somewhat surprised when he wakes up as a black man, almost as much as his wife, who although sympathetic to blacks is less keen to be married to one. Initially Jeff is in denial and tries all sorts of potions to bleach himself white again. He also consults his doctor and thinks of suing the company who made his sun lamp.

He soon accepts the situation and has to learn to live with the sort of prejudices that he once ladled out. Things come to a head when he starts to get threatening phone calls and then a delegation from the neighbourhood requesting he leave lest their house prices suffer. It’s not all bad, as the previously standoffish Swedish secretary becomes a lot more sociable when Jeff gets some colour.

With his wife leaving him and the neighbours buying him out of his home Jeff decides to move on with his life and embrace his new heritage.

If you don’t get the message behind this film you have clearly underwent a frontal lobotomy. The characters are all such vivid shades of black and white, pun intended, that you can’t but fail to see that racism is a bad thing. When we meet Jeff he’s an amiable and likable soul but our goodwill is soon eroded as he encounters people of colour. He’s not bad as such, just crass and ignorant. When he transforms the boot is on the other foot and Whitey, to a man and woman, becomes a total bigot. It's kinda like a bit racist to say all white people are racist, isn’t it?

The film’s agenda from the off is pretty clear, and it isn’t that we’re all equal, it’s that black people are downtrodden and the whites are all bastards. This may have been fair currency when the film was made in 1970 but now it seems stupid and offensive.

There is no reason given for the transformation, although repressed genes and soy sauce are mooted as possibilities. Like ’Groundhog Day’ you just have to accept that’s how things are and not bother looking for a reason. The ‘white’ Jeff looks a bit odd and it’s obvious from the off that it’s the black actor ‘whited up’. There was probably no other way to make the film but it is certainly no surprise when the big reveal takes place after 20 minutes - the guy just looks the same. Maybe that’s the hidden message!

There were a few funny scenes such as the black Jeff walking into a shop and the assistant immediately sticking his hands up. It was also funny when Jeff went on his usual run only to be stopped by cops asking what he’s stolen.

Apart from the odd laugh the film’s message is too relentless to call this entertainment, and the jaded one sided viewpoint turned me off entirely. Jeff seems to accept his position with no trouble at all and by the end he’s training up for a revolution. If the message had been one of integration and acceptance the film would have been a lot more worthwhile. As it was it came across as bitter, nasty and just a little racist itself.

Best Bit : Chasing the bus
‘W’ Score 11/23

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

No.44 : War of the Buttons

IMDb Link :

A bit of family fun now with ‘War of the Buttons’ a gentle tale of boys growing up in Ireland and discovering all the usual stuff you get in films like this, you know, responsibility, girls, killing wildlife etc.

Set in contemporary Ireland the film tells the story of a rivalry between two groups of boys from neighbouring villages. Things start off in minor fashion with the odd bit of vandalism but soon escalate into all out war. Not tough guy war, more of a girly slap fest kind of conflict.

When a rival boy is captured our heroes cut the buttons from his clothes as a battle trophy, hence the title. These are piled up in jars at their new HQ, where their schemes are devised. After a few retaliatory strikes our guys save their clothes by fighting in the nude in a Glittertastic scene.

Things come to a head when a rabbit gets injured (!) and the boys realise that they have more in common than they first thought - an affection for rabbits for one. After a pivotal battle things seem settled but one boy excluded from the fray decides to get a bit of revenge with his dad’s new tractor.

I quite enjoyed this film although the diddley-dee soundtrack made it made it sound like Riverdance’s backing tapes were on a constant loop. The mostly young cast were fine and it was good to see that they weren’t the usual crop of stage school kids. Of course being an Irish film Colm Meaney showed up, as required by Irish law, apparently. He gave good value as a booze offering loud mouth especially in a closing scene where we learn that the inter-village tensions are nothing new.

The themes of loss of innocence and empathy for the enemy were well explored and, in X-Factor parlance, they all went on a journey through the course of the film. Some scenes, such as the killing of a fox, were a bit upsetting but as the death blow happened off camera I’m sure Foxy came out of it OK.

The general feel of the film reminded me of those old Children’s’ Film Foundation films of the 1970’s, but since when was a slice of nostalgia a bad thing? The film wasn’t hard hitting, nor tried to be. It’s a decent bit of gentle family fun that is probably quite forgettable but strangely affecting at the same time.

Best Bit : Tractor Attack!

‘W’ Score 15/23

No.43 : Wild Country

IMDb Link :

When Glaswegian gym slip mum Kelly is pressured into giving up her baby for adoption she decides to go on a camping trip to cheer herself up - big mistake!

The group of three boys and two girls set off on their hike in the wilds of Scotland as their randy priest escort (Peter Capaldi) checks into the local B&B. Their first night under canvas is interrupted by the sound of a baby crying and they find the tot in an abandoned castle - along with the head of the local peeping Tom. They quickly realise that a monster is on the loose and try to flee, losing two of their number in the process.

They head back to the castle to set a trap for the monster and succeed in killing it, unaware that it’s got a friend - and now it’s pissed! We are now down to the single mum and her erstwhile partner and Dad is about to have his ticket punched! After another encounter that sees a farmer cut down to size our heroine makes it back to the B&B and to the disbelieving priest. He quickly changes his tune when the beast shows up and, it’s not looking good for the ever depleting cast.

This Scottish film looks like it was financed by the director taking back his empty Irn Bru bottles. The creature, a sort of big shaggy pig, looks ridiculous with its rubber face and is as about as scary as a 20p tax demand. The cast do try to play it straight, but many scenes raise an unintentional chuckle as the daftness level is cranked up. The young actors are uniformly awful, with the cheesy dialogue spoken as if it were a bible reading.

The big twist as the end made no sense at all and was only trumped by the sepia toned closing sequence, where the survivors head off into the sun set.

The one saving grace is the weedy 64 minutes run time - you may be short changed by the content but at least it’s not a waste of too much of your time.

Best Bit : Peter Capaldi is always good value

‘W’ Score 14/23

Monday, 25 August 2008

No.42 : White Chicks

IMDb Link :

When you undertake a worthy endeavour like watching 100 ‘W’ movies you have to accept that there will be some clinkers along the way. When the list was compiled ‘White Chicks’ was tarred with the shitty stick, and although it isn’t a classic it still offered more in the way of mirth than ‘Welcome to Mooseport’, for example. My lack of tolerance for the film is all the more shameful when its message is ‘let’s all not prejudge each other’. Well it was that or something about farting; I got a bit confused half way through.

The Wayans brothers play the Copeland brothers a pair of hapless FBI agents. After a bust goes wrong they are on their last warning and readily accept an assignment involves babysitting a pair of spoiled rich white girls, whom intelligence states are about to be kidnap victims. After a minor road accident which sees the girls horribly disfigured, to their minds at least, our men have to form a plan that can save their jobs and the case.

Strangely without any discussion and after only one phone call a team of make up artists rush round and make our two black cops into plausible facsimiles of the white chicks. The rest of the film has virtually no plot and is just a series of set ups that see our heroes in various fish out of water scenarios such as going shopping, a trip to the beach, to a night club and to a fashion show. Towards the very end the cards are laid out and the baddie revealed. Can our men chase him down in high heels and will the various relationships be reconciled in time?

Clearly this is no high art but ‘White Chicks’ is a likable film that doesn’t take itself to seriously. Many of the jokes are of the lowest order and that’s probably what appealed to me, but who can resist prolonged scenes of toilet noise and dinner table farting? The make up was remarkably good and although the cast had to make an effort to pretend the doppelgangers were identical it was a pretty good effort.

The race card wasn’t played too often which again adds to the appeal, and it was good to see rich white folks not portrayed as a bunch of bigots. There was plenty of supporting talent on show and I particularly liked Terry Crews as the randy sports star with the hots for our girls.

On the downside the plot was non existent and many of the conflicts were shoe horned in when a word of explanation would have cleared everything up.

This could have been a film built around a make up effect but some funny scenes and winning characters made it well worth the effort.

Best Bit : The changing room scene with the disbelieving wife on the phone

‘W’ Score 15/23

No.41 : White Palace

IMDb Link:

The cynic in me wanted to describe ‘White Palace’ as middle age chick wish fulfilment but being a soppy sentimentalist I have to admit I quite enjoyed it.

James Spader plays a young Jewish widower, Max, who is struggling to come to terms with the death of his wife in a car crash two years earlier. He is temped out for George out of Seinfeld’s bachelor party and agrees to pick up 50 burgers on the way - a classy do you understand. When he finds out he’s been diddled out of six burgers from the titular retaurant he goes back to complain and gets a grudging refund from brassy waitress Nora (Susan Sarandon).

Later , he stops in at a bar and again meets large breasted Nora who is most friendly. He is about to leave when he learns Nora is grieving too, for her son whom she says died of leukaemia. After giving her a lift Max beds down for the night on the sofa and has sexy dreams of his wife when in fact it’s Nora who is doing him the real life favour. Despite her hairy armpits and floor littered with sandwiches he begs for more and has a decidedly good night.

When he leaves next morning he says it’s for good but is soon drawn back by Nora’s filthy home and charms. As the relationship deepens Max has to juggle his growing affections for Nora and his tight circle of Jewish friends who are trying to pair him off with someone they think more suitable. When Nora objects to being sidelined Max takes her to a family dinner with cringe worthy results. With the rift deepening Nora takes flight and Max has to decide who, and what sort of life he wants.

Although not perfect ‘White Palace’ is a pretty good film. Spader and Sarandon play their polar opposites well, and although the chemistry isn’t quite incendiary between them, there is still the odd spark. His motivations for choosing Nora aren’t clear (apart from the spectacular blow jobs - as if that isn’t enough!) but the troubles of choosing the one you want over the one society thinks you should have is well addressed.

The scenes at the family dinner were well handled with Nora’s over defensive attitude being the cause of the troubles, not her preconceived ideas of peoples opinions of her. Both characters are the fish out of water in the other’s environment and the only thing they have in common is each other - but sometimes that’s all you need.

The support cast who were basically all playing stereotypical Jews were adequate but this is basically a two person show. Although she looks better scrubbed up Sarandon is still attractive in Nora’s dated wardrobe and if she could sort out that depilatory problem she’d do fine. Spader also impressed in an early role for him as the uptight and mercurial ad man and although I didn’t quite buy his eternal love for Nora he gave a good show of having the hots for her.

If you like a bit of romance where everyone isn’t beautiful and living the highlife ‘White Palace’ may just be what you ordered.

Best Bit : “I bet you don’t”

‘W’ Score: 17/23

Sunday, 24 August 2008

No.40 : Walking Tall


IMDb Link :

The Rock comes home to his town and finds it a crap hole. He cleans house. Er. That’s it.

Well I never thought ‘Walking Tall’ would be plot heavy and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. It was quite good fun though, and at 73 minutes you could watch it while making love to a beautiful woman and still have an hour to fill.

The Rock is an ex-special forces man and heads home after 8 years away. The town looks perfectly nice but we know it’s a stink hole when he walks past a pawn brokers and a dirty book shop. He has a belligerent Dad who doesn’t like guns (remember that for later kids!) and a nephew who is about to go off the tracks.

He meets up with his pal Johnny Knoxville, who has a record and sleazy acquaintance Neil McDonough who inherited the good old mill only to close it and build a casino instead. Sounds like a solid business plan but The Rock doesn’t agree, possibly due to a lacklustre lap dance they give him. After getting conned at dice he wrecks the joint but is carved up by some baddies who bushwhack him - didn’t he learn anything in the WWF?

After his nephew nearly overdoses on casino brand drugs The Rock heads over and beats the crap out of everyone. Unsurprisingly he gets charged but in an OJ style verdict he not only gets off but elected sheriff too! When he goes after the casino boys they take umbrage and try to kill him, his family and his now girlfriend lap dancer. After some carnage the final showdown is arranged at the Old Mill which is now the Old Crack factory. Can our man win the day? Or will the baddies triumph with the aid of dirty tricks and a folding chair?

It’s hard to criticise ‘Walking Tall’ as it does what it says on the tin. Yeah, the shades of black and white are absolute and the violence ridiculous but it’s good snappy fun with a likable cast of heroes and villains. Why the bad guy wants to run a rigged casino when he has a guaranteed money making machine anyway is anyone’s guess, but if it was me I’d let the guy try and roll a six - you’ll be ahead more often than not. The love interest was pretty forgettable but give her her dues, she looked fine shooting guns in her red bra.

The conclusion was a bit too pat for my liking with no real casualties on the good guys side and a wealth of lawsuits, no doubt lined up by the baddies’ many orphans. It’s a lot of old cobblers but at just over an hour it’s a fun load of old cobblers that you won’t regret having watched. Unless you’re one of those ‘I like quality films’ people, then you’d be disappointed.

Best Bit :Get me my plank!

‘W’ Score 15/23

Saturday, 23 August 2008

No.39 : When We Were Kings

IMDb Link :

‘When We Were Kings’ is a 1997 documentary focusing on the famous ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ in Zaire in 1974. The fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman has attained legendary status and this documentary features footage unseen until now owing to copyright issues.

The fight itself is something of a footnote with the action not starting until an hour into the film and lasting barely ten minutes of its running time. That’s fair enough as the boxing is only one aspect of a ground breaking event that captivated the world.

The film opens with a then youthful Don King announcing a $10 million purse and that the fight is going back home to Africa. It’s quickly revealed that this isn’t due to any worthy cultural reasons but due to the president of Zaire agreeing to put up the massive bank roll.

The footage follows both fighters through their preparations including the injury suffered by Foreman which delayed the action for six weeks. Interspersed between the clips are various worthies such as Norman Mailer, who talks about the fight, and Spike Lee, who predictably talks about it’s cultural impact on the oppressed black community.

The footage of Ali especially, is cracking with his ready wit and bristling personality at its height. The talk of the time was of his bravado as Foreman was highly fancied to win, but it was good to see him prevail using tactics that Rocky Ballboa would later employ in his rematch with Clubber Lang.

Added to the jamboree was the inclusion of both James Brown and BB King, and we are treated to short bursts of both their sets. Brown is especially pleasing with his short lived moustached and topless dancers.

The film has a pretty short running time with a montage of photos over the title track used to pad things out. This isn’t a criticism as such, as I’d rather it be short and sweet than bloated and worthy.

Overall ‘When We Were Kings’ is a cracking example of the sports documentary and a rare insight into the world of true legends.

Best Bit : The fix is in - oh it isn’t!

‘W’ Score : 18/23

No.38 : Winchester ‘73

Winchester '73 at the IMDb

James Stewart stars in this 1950 western that follows the exciting history of the titular rifle.

We meet Stewart in the midst of a man hunt that has gone on for many years. He eventually catches up with his quarry in Dodge City but is denied a shoot out by Wyatt Earp who enforces a strict no guns policy. Typically in America this doesn’t preclude massive gun contests and our man enters one in the hope of winning a Winchester 1873 rifle - the ‘one in a thousand’.

Everyone in town really sucks at shooting so it’s between James Stewart and his nemesis, Dutch, for the prize. After several ties Stewart wins the valuable weapon by shooting a stamp out of a washer. The fact that he later can’t hit a man with 20 shots isn’t mentioned. Sadly for Stewart his enemy is a sore loser and gets knocked over the head and the prize weapon stolen. Just as well really as the thing is plainly cursed.

The thief has to trade it to a gun dealer after losing at cards and he in turn is tomahawked off screen by an Indian who takes a fancy to it. The Indian is then shot by Stewart who doesn’t know the rifle is lost nearby. The gun then falls in to other ill fated hands before winding back with Dutch just in time for the final shoot out.

This was a pretty decent western with the rifle being a good narrative device for advancing the story. James Stewart plays himself as usual and is helped along by love interest Shelly Winters before she ate all those pies. Young versions of Tony Curtis and Rock Hudson also show up but neither had much to do.

The baddies in the shape of the Indians and a gang of outlaws offer a slight distraction but neither represented much in the way of character or danger. The Indians, who just rode around whooping a lot - they can’t blame anyone but themselves for losing the continent on this evidence!

No one really raised the issue of why no one just bought the rifle from a shop rather than kill all and sundry for it. It was also shown to be less than effective as I don’t think it registered a single kill throughout the film. A case of be careful what you wish for - as everyone else wants it too.

A really enjoyable, fast paced western with great characters and a couple of surprises. Well worth your 90 minutes.

Best Bit : The shooting contest - I thought they would be going for a gnat’s baw hair next!

‘W’ Score : 18/23

Friday, 22 August 2008

No.37 : Wild Wild West

IMDb Link :

Given its stinky reputation (a meagre 4.2 on IMDb) I wasn’t looking forward to ‘Wild Wild West‘, a rare beast of a summer blockbuster that I hadn’t seen before. Although it was no classic I still enjoyed it more than its score would have suggested.

Based on an 1960’s TV series, which I also missed, ‘Wild Wild West’ follows the adventures of Jim West (Will Smith) a government agent in the period just after the American Civil War. The world presented is not the one we know, with this one being steam-punked to the Nth degree. Jim’s mission is to investigate the disappearance of several top scientists, a job he is assisted in by Kevin Kline’s inventor and Salma Heyek’s eye candy.

The main baddie is played by Kenneth Branagh with an annoying Southern accent and a steam powered wheelchair. He has plans to use his mental machines to kidnap the president and break up the newly formed United States.

There is precious little done in the way of detection, with one mechanical led set piece crashing into the next one. Kline and Smith don’t have any rapport at all and all the laughs come from the fantastic gizmos and stunts. When the President (also played for no apparent reason by Kline) is captured by Branagh’s giant mechanical spider our men have to get him back, save the day and throw in as many bad jokes and costume changes as the running time will allow.

I did quite like the film but given that it’s so patently awful I’ll have to class it as a guilty pleasure. The effects and machines are great but so unbelievable that any sense of reality is quickly lost. Smith and Kline are both likable guys but they don’t gel here, especially given the weak dialogue they are given to interact with. The support form Hayek and M. Emmet Walsh was underused and, although hamming it up for all he was worth, the largely CGI Branagh was miscast.

The film had enough to keep my interest and the effects were great, but over all the poor script and rudderless direction means that its reputation and low status are fully deserved.

Best Bit : Definitely not Will Smith in drag.

‘W’ Rating : 15/23

No.36 : Who Made the Potatoe Salad?

Who Made the Potatoe Salad?

Sorry pedants everywhere, that’s really the correct spelling of the title. I don’t know why, unless they are implying that the person posing the question can’t spell, but the issue is never raised in the film, although the identity of the potato salad creator is requested.

I’d be frankly amazed if anyone reading this has heard of, never mind seen this film. I found it on a random trawl through the internet and managed to find an unloved and clearly unwatched copy.

The film stars Jaleel White, who seemingly is the ‘Urkel’ Homer Simpson talks about, as a policeman in San Diego. He isn't good at his job, losing a pair of criminals and his trousers in the opening sequence. Things are looking up however, as he plans to propose to his infeasibly beautiful girlfriend. After accepting the girl invites him to her parents’ for Thanksgiving so that he can get permission from her father.

Predictably the visit is a disaster for both our man, Michael, and the viewing public who have to watch over an hour of humourless housebound ‘hilarity’. Michael’s fiancée has a family full of stereotypes from the cranky dad who hates cops to her pimpy drug dealing brother. Various fissures open up from Michael’s reluctance to eating pork to him having a boner at breakfast.

Hoping to salvage the situation Michael stages a fake burglary so that he can save the day. Unfortunately for the burglar, the family get to him first and beat the crap out of him. With his deceit exposed Michel is expelled from the family home and sent home in disgrace. Can the obstinate Dad be turned around and can the marriage proposal get back on tracks?

This was a gawd awful car crash of a movie. It’s basically a sub-par black version of ‘Meet the Parents’ only without the laughs but with more racial slurs. N-bombs are dropped all over the place with virtually all the black cast being shown as stupid and prejudiced. If the script had been written by the Klan I wouldn't have been surprised.

I'm sure the humour was ironic and playing on the stereotypes used but it was handled so poorly that it just looks like a load of offensive trash. The characters were so thinly drawn they were transparent and the only time I laughed was when someone got stuck to a sofa that had been covered in plastic. My bad, I know. It’s not that I don’t like this sort of humour with ‘I’m Gonna Git You Sucka’ one of my favourites, it’s just that this was a lazy, pale imitation of something half decent and worthwhile.

The title ,for some unknown reason, came from a sequence at a family dinner where Michael enquired about the maker of the potato salad. In reply came a two minute salvo of abuse and swearing and I’ve no idea why. Is it a black thing? I doubt it, what I do know is that it was an unfunny thing.

Best Bit : Eddie Griffin shows up, on tape, but is sadly all sweary and laugh free.

‘W’ Score 5/23

Thursday, 21 August 2008

No.35 : War, Inc.

War Inc. at the IMDb

In the near future the American government puts the fighting of its wars out to private tender. When a local politician, for some reason called ‘Omar Sharif’, upsets their plans a middle eastern country, troubled hit man Brand Hauser is sent over to take him out.

Clearly things can’t be that simple so Brand is given the cover of an Expo organiser where he has to juggle the attentions of a precocious pop star (Hilary Duff) and an investigative reporter, Marisa Tomei. Brand has issues of his own that need the regular attention of his stroppy PR (sister Joan - again), his shrink and his suitcase full of hot sauce.

Things develop somewhat as he begins to doubt his motivations and gets conflicting emotions for the women in his life. All the while sinister forces are at work, all of which may affect the bottom line.

Despite a stellar cast that also includes the likes of Dan Ackroyd and Ben Kingsley this film had a ‘DVD Premiere’ in the US and it’s not hard to see why. Although some of the blurb describes it as a ‘satire’ it’d be more accurate to say ‘here is the war in Iraq through our Liberal viewpoint’. From the Halliburton like conglomerate orchestrating the war to the PR spin put on the news, not a obvious target is missed and then battered into nothingness with a sledgehammer.

Having Cusack as a hit man with his sister looking after his back is as lazy casting as you can imagine and why it wasn’t called ‘Grosse Point Blank 2’ can only be attributable to its complete lack of laughs, spirit or ‘80s soundtrack.

The big reveal at the end was pretty obvious as was Ben Kingley’s fate after we saw him in flashback getting squashed. They should have brought him back in the style of the real Omar Sharif in ‘Top Secret!’, but that would have been too funny and not preachy enough for this self righteous twaddle.

Best Bit : Kissy face with Marisa
‘W’ Score 11/23

No.34 : Wild Rovers

Wild Rovers at the IMDb

William Holden and Ryan O’Neil star in this underseen western (Less than 400 IMDb votes!) directed by Pink Panther helmer Blake Edwards. It’s not hard to see why it hasn’t caught the imagination like some of its contemporaries as it’s a bit forgettable.

Our two heroes play a pair of cattlemen who dream of having a ranch but can’t save a dime when the booze and hookers hove into view after a long time on the plains. When a cow poke dies in a needless accident they decide to rob a bank rather than continue with their dangerous and poorly paid profession.

Rather than go down the exciting route of a traditional stick up, they decide to kidnap the bank manager’s family and get him to hand over the cash. Things go smoothly and they score $34,000, but predictably their problems are only just beginning. They are forced to double up in the saddle when a cougar takes a bite out of one of their horses and they have an extra mouth to feed in the shape of a new born puppy - awww.

After some decent haggling which swaps the puppy for a mule they set off with the posse in hot-ish pursuit - leaving trail leader Karl Malden a bit short handed, especially as some gits are open ranging sheep on their land.

The ‘Wild Rovers’ title is more relevant as the film progresses are our men try to rope some wild horses and generally rough it, but you’re never convinced that their luxury trailers are more than 50 feet away. When a town looms up on the horizon they decide to have one last blow out before heading to Mexico and their new life. If the diversion sounds like a bad idea wait until O’Neil decides to get involved in a high stakes poker game!

With the posse now close by and one of our team injured it’s anyone’s guess who, if anyone, will make the promised land.

I didn’t actively dislike this film but it doesn’t have anything to recommend it either. The two leads are usually watchable but they are given precious little to work with here. The idea of breaking away from the daily grind is a familiar one, but is tempered with the ‘crime doesn’t pay’ message. The usual life on the range clichés are trotted out and despite some stunning Monument Valley locations it has little to set it apart from 100 other films.

Holden’s wise old timer is set against O’Neil’s hot headed youth but they never really get into what you’d call conflict or great camaraderie. With the cast and locations available a great film was a definite possibility but instead we get a mediocre one, that deserves its relative anonymity.

Best Bit : Poker Shoot Out!
‘W’ Rating 12/23

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

No.33 : Working Girl

IMDb Link :

‘Working Girl’ is an 1988 chick flick in which all men are sexist buffoons and the women are sassy and undervalued - or complete bitches. That said, it’s decent enough entertainment if you can stomach the girl power message.

Melanie Griffith plays a downtrodden secretary who despite having more smarts that the rest of the office combined, fails to rise above her station. After rebuffing a chance to progress with a strangely hairy and heterosexual Kevin Spacey, she finds a new job as Sigourney Weaver’s assistant. At first the new boss is nice enough but when our girl rakes through her personal papers she finds that a business idea she had is being passed off as Sigourney’s own. Luckily the boss breaks her leg and is out of action, so our girl masquerades as a high flyer and attempts to broker the deal herself.

She enlists a bumbling Harrison Ford to help out and, of course, falls in love with him. Unfortunately Harrison is Sigourney’s boyfriend, a reveal that is so obvious to call it a twist would be a disservice to twists, wrong foots and gimmicks. When Sigourney comes home she uncovers Melanie’s many duplicities and tries to get back both her man and deal. Things come to a head in a boardroom showdown, with the outcome rarely in question.

I quite liked this film but I’m sure most woman watching would love it and be shouting ‘Go girl’ at regular intervals. Her downtrodden position with a cheating husband gave her a great platform to spring from, but if she’s so smart how did she end up there in the first place? Her character was too whiney and sneaky for my liking and although she was set up as a brave chance taker, she came over as a reckless and conniving chancer.

Her massive 80s hair looked mental but when she wandered about in her suspenders it was less of an issue. Joan Cusack provided her usual support as the grating pal and Alec Baldwin started a long career of specializing in sleazebags. The big business man they were trying to impress was unbelievably affable towards all the scheming and I think Sigourney’s character was hard done to. Harrison Ford just doesn‘t do romantic and his ‘I love yous‘ were as emotional as flushing the toilet

The message of forget the system steal your bosses ideas and man will clearly inspire some people but alas only to a career in jail or the morgue. The film was a decent distraction and a funny time capsule to the 1980s, but there were no laughs and one too many annoying women and inspirational speeches for my full enjoyment.

Best Bit : Melanie does the vacuuming

‘W’ Score : 14/23

No.32 : Wanted

IMDb Link :

‘Wanted’ is a 2008 film based on the comic book series of the same name by former 2000ad scribe Mark Millar. Prior to going to the cinema to watch ‘Wanted’ I read all the comics in one night and they left me eagerly awaiting the film. The comic sees a young office drone learn that he is the son of a super villain and plots his progress to the pinnacle of the underworld. The comic is populated with horrific murders and mental villains and although I knew it’d be toned down for the film I felt the premise was ripe for a top notch Hollywood outing.

Sadly it wasn’t to be. Apart from a couple of lines lifted intact from the comic and the general framework of the story, very little of the source remains. James McAvoy plays Wesley who learns of his father’s secret identity and is inducted into an assassins’ guild who take their orders form a loom of destiny. This loom, by way of its weave patterns, indicates who is to be bumped off by our mysterious cadre of weaver assassins. No one seems to question this ridiculous set up, possibly because it’s administered by the reverential Morgan Freeman, who deserves an award for keeping a straight face whilst delivering some laughable dialogue.

In a ‘Rocky’ style montage sequence our man is trained up in the arts of getting a kicking from a bloke off ‘Hustle’ and bending bullets around Angelina Jolie. Pretty soon he is on a mission but with some reservations and a rogue assassin on his case. Questions about who are the good guys and who’s running the loom keep the interest level ticking over but in general it’s throwaway stuff.

Of course this isn’t an exercise in cerebral film making and it certainly delivers its promise of action, stunts and elaborate kills. The special effects, that mostly involve car crashes and magic bullets, are all dripping with CGI but if you disengage your brain and drink up the spectacle you won’t be disappointed.

Best Bit : Angelina’s ass

‘W’ Rating : 16/23

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

No.31 : Wildcats

IMDb Link :

Goldie Hawn stars in this formulaic sorts comedy/drama which sees a woman try to overcome the usual hurdles of sexism and prejudice to lead a team of misfits to an American football championship.

The titles include a helpful photo montage of Goldie growing up so we know she’s a football genius even if all those stupid men can’t see her potential. When the school coach retires Goldie asks for the job only to be denied by the douche bag Head who’d rather have the gay home economics teacher take over than a woman. Goldie is indignant and agrees to switch jobs to a scummier school with an even worse team to show them she’s got the goods.

Predictably she finds acceptance hard at the new school but manages to win their respect when she out runs the whole football team. With the team now on her side she has to juggle a custody case and the fragile egos of her charges if she’s to take the team to the championship game against, yes you’ve guessed it, the school that wouldn’t give her the job.

If you’ve seen any underdog sports film you’ve seen ‘Wildcats’. The formula of moulding a team of losers into greatness is such a cliché that you know the ending before ten minutes have passed. All the men are shown as boorish sexist pigs while Goldie is a superhuman mixture of great mum and ballsy coach. Her husband is an odious slime bag, and it of course begs the question of why she married him in the first place. The childcare resolution is so pat and unconvincing that his character must have had a brain transplant off screen if what’s offered is to be believed.

The team are the usual mixture of jocks and underachievers with debut performances coming from both Woody Harrison and Wesley Snipes, who manages to get his cock out for no good reason. It is strange that in an otherwise twee family film there are scenes of gratuitous nudity and swearing, seemingly shoe horned in for effect. Maybe they wanted a higher rating to get the blokes interested, but they shouldn’t have bothered - it just looked like they were trying too hard to be tough and edgy.

The game sequences were pretty poor with every score a field length pass and miracle catch, and the scoring predictable - our guys are 14-0 down at half time, can they do it? Duh!

‘Wildcats’ isn’t a bad film really it’s just too safe and predictable to have any real merit. It does however get one extra point for having Goldie in the bath - Goldie by name and by nature it would seem!

Best Bit : Splish-splash she’s having a bath

‘W’ Score 13/23

No.30 : White Hunter Black Heart

IMDb Link :

In this thinly disguised account of the shooting of ‘The African Queen’ Clint Eastwood plays an indebted director on a quest to shoot an elephant whilst on location in Africa.

Clint’s character, John Wilson (nee Huston), is a single minded idealist who is happy to stand up for the natives and Jews while simultaneously living high on the hog off his producers. An initial interest in big game hunting becomes an obsession as a large tusked elephant keeps avoiding his sights. Elsewhere the production begins to flounder due to the weather and his indifference.

As the film draws to a close the stars are on set and ready to shoot, but an elephant has been spotted nearby and tragedy is sure to follow.

It’s unusual that you can summarise the plot of a two hour film in little over a paragraph, but the beauty of this production is that it is character and not plot lead. Clint goes against type as the bombastic Jones who talks ten to the dozen and picks the odd fight on the side of justice. To temper him we have Jeff Fahey’s screenwriter who sees the director as selfish and obsessive, but also his access to Hollywood.

The sweeping vistas and wild life are beautifully shot and the evocation of 1950’s colonial Africa is great. The secondary cast is mostly British and it was fun to see who was going to pop up next - I counted at least two from both ‘Auf Wiedersen Pet’ and ‘Our Friends in the North’ and one from ‘Taggart’.

It was strange, and possibly diverting, that everything was one step removed from what you would expect with ‘The African Queen’ becoming ‘The African Trader’ and Bogie and Hepburn dead ringers, in all but name. Whether this was due to copyright or artistic reasons I don’t know but it did reduce the effect somewhat.

It’s always tough to see Clint as anything but Blondie or Dirty Harry but he made a good attempt at his character’s affected English accent, and despite all his faults he succeeded making him a likable yet flawed person.

This is one of the few Clint Eastwood films I’d missed first time around possibly because I supposed it was about hunting, a subject I have no interest in. I’m glad this quest drew me too it, as although it is about hunting hardly a shot is fired and the recreation of the classic ‘African Queen‘ was first rate. Give it a go; it certainly hits the target. Oh dear.

Best Bit : The monkey stealing the script was a hoot.

‘W’ Score : 20/23

Monday, 18 August 2008

No.29 : WarGames

IMDb Link :

A youthful Matthew Broderick stars in this 1986 film, that sees a teenage hacker nearly kick start world war 3. When this was made the Cold War was at its height and the scenario depicted wasn’t as far fetched then as it may seem now.

The story follows teenage computer wiz, David, who accidentally breaks into a government computer when seeking some secret video games from a nearby company. After starting a game called ‘Thermonuclear War’ he forgets about it until the news reports a NORAD security breach. Things deteriorate fast when the computer insists on playing the game for real, mistaking David for its presumed dead creator. The Feds are soon on the scene taking David into custody, while the clock counts ever closer to doomsday.

The usual array of stuffed shirts try to address matters but of course only our man can help avert disaster with the help of his limber school chum Jennifer (Ally Sheedy) and the reclusive master programmer, whose demise has been somewhat exaggerated.

I hadn’t seen WarGames since a cinema trip more than 20 years ago, and I was surprised to see how well it stood up. A lot of it has stayed in my memory and I could even remember the password to the school’s computer (pencil) - more brain cells unnecessarily filled! Obviously the technology is a bit dated, as our man impresses his girl friend with his big floppy, but apart from that the story still seems quite plausible with the techno babble kept to a minimum. The pace is maintained throughout using a classic ticking clock approach and although the pay off is a bit preachy, it’s still a ride worth taking.

The cast is excellent apart from the red neck General who must have found his rank in a cereal box and Dr Falken whose whole range appears to be looking enigmatic. I especially liked nerdy Malvin who managed to be both rude and insensitive to order and the lovely Ally who despite playing a school girl was 21 when this was made, so it’s OK to ogle her yoga outfit!

Some of the tech was a bit ropey, such as hot wiring a call box with a ring pull, but overall it was one of the few childhood favourites that has held up to further scrutiny.

The film has spawned a straight to DVD sequel ‘The Dead code’ and we may have a look at that later if nothing else more promising shows up.

Best Bit : The visit to the Nerds‘ lair - ”You’re doing it now”

‘W’ Score 19/23

No.28 : Waxwork 2 : Lost In Time

Waxwork 2 : Lost in Time at the IMDb

I’ve not seen the original ‘Waxwork and I doubt I’ll bother looking it up after watching this lackluster sequel. We do get a recap of the original in the opening scenes and it seemed pretty straightforward stuff. As far as I can gather there was an evil waxworks and a couple escape after burning the place down. The sequel takes things off from there, although the actress changes mid flight.

Although the wax nasties have been defeated a disembodied hand manages to cling onto their escape taxi. The hand, which is a total rip from ‘The Addams family’, manages to kill the girl’s stepfather with a hammer before it is dispatched in the waste disposal. The police pin the death on the girl and her defence looks shaky at best. Unusually she’s free to walk the streets during her trial and the pair decide that they need to gather some evidence if she’s to be spared the electric chair.

They head over to Steed out of ‘The Avengers’ house and although dead he’s left a message and a handy time travel device. Our pair then travel through time and fiction (!) visiting the likes of Dr Frankenstein, Jack the Ripper and Dr Jeckyl. Their quest for evidence seems a bit random, but eventually they get a zombie arm from the cast of ‘Dawn of the Dead’ and try to head home. With various ticking clocks and lost time machines can things possibly be sorted out in time for the verdict, and will a zombie arm impress the jury?

This is a strange film, a sort of genre splicing horror comedy. It stars Zach Galligan (Gremlins) and a decent roster of ‘B’ list celebrities such as Councillor Troi, Martin Kemp out of Spandau Ballet and the always watchable Bruce Campbell. The cast seem to be having a great time raiding the dressing up box, although the special effects are ropey at best. The director switches filming styles for the different genres and it’s quite good fun, jumping from an ‘Alien’ style space adventure to a medieval sword fight straight to a zombie invasion.

Some scenes were dragged on beyond their entertainment value with Bruce Campbell’s a real master class in flogging a dead horse. It was fun waiting to see which familiar face would pop up next with the likes of David Carradine appearing in a single scene, presumably because he wandered onto the set. The episodic nature of the film meant it was hard to get fully invested but at least when a dull bit came along you could be sure something different was not far away.

It’s clearly all very tongue in cheek but that can’t be used as an excuse for some dreadful dialogue and risible acting. There is enough to like to keep you watching but the outlandish and nonsensical plot make it an unsatisfying experience.

Best Bit : Dawn of the dead reloaded
‘W’ Score : 12/23

Sunday, 17 August 2008

No.27 : Wall Street

IMDb Link :

Charlie Sheen stars as Bud Fox, an ambitious Wall Street broker, in this 1987 morality Tale.

Bud is struggling to make ends meet and spends his days cold calling punters to offload stocks. He dreams of working for major player Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) and after a lot of effort he gets his chance. Gekko plays hard and fast with scant regard for the rules and Bud has to put his own concerns aside as he chases the deal.

After a successful hustle at the expense of English corporate raider Sir Larry Wildman (Terence Stamp) Gekko entrusts his protégé with more responsibility. The cash starts flowing and Bud upgrades both his girlfriend and apartment and his moral concerns are put to one side. When some inside information put Blue star Airlines on Gekko’s radar Bud has to decide whether his loyalties lie with the slick braces wearer or with his union leader Dad who works at the airline.

This is a cracker of a film that must be regarded as one of the iconic movies of the 1980’s. The ‘greed is good’ philosophy is expertly assessed with Bud’s new line in materialism taking us in as well as him. The film is eminently quotable with the dialogue crackling along with memorable sound bites piling up like cabs at a rank.

Michael Douglas gives a career best, and Oscar winning, performance as the slick and sleazy Gekko and he is ably assisted by the Sheen family and a great Terence Stamp. You also get James Spader, Hal Holbrook and the always worthy John C. McGinlay for your money.

The best bits are the inside looks of how the market works with a single rumour being followed through the dealing rooms and trading floors as the stock prices yo-yo around. Director Oliver Stone uses, and appears, in some great montages with split screens used to convey the speed and multiple threads of the deals being done.

Gekko is a great character and despite being a total bastard you can’t help but like him. The scene where he tears up the board meeting of Teldar paper is cracking and he talks a lot of sense exposing the fat cats with their expense accounts and benefits.

The film does well not to paint capitalism as a bad thing, with only the excesses and criminal acts frowned upon. The checks and balances of the system are shown to be well placed as they close in on the bad guys in double quick time with all the right people held out to dry. The final sting is well executed but I don’t think Terence Stamp would have got involved so readily especially as the deal was based on blatant insider trading.

‘Wall Street’ is an excellent and informative film that is well acted and paced. Buds rise and fall is chronicled expertly by Stone and the moral message is in no way ambiguous - greed is good, but not that good.

Best Bit : Gordon enlivens the shareholders’ meeting.

‘W’ Score 20/23

No.26 : Waiting For Guffman

IMDb Link :

The small town of Blane, Missouri is celebrating its 150th anniversary and the local amateur dramatics group plan the highlight - a play showcasing Blaine’s colourful history.

This film from Christopher Guest follows the same formula of other films he’s done such as ‘Best in Show’ and ‘For Your Consideration’ albeit in a less successful manner. The film follows Corky, (Guest) a wannabe Broadway star as he casts, produces and stars in his production ‘Red, White & Blane‘ . His hopes of taking the show to Broadway are enhanced when he gets a memo stating that top critic Mort Guffman will be attending the opening, and closing, night.

The usual ensemble cast are present, with Fred Willard and Eugene Levy shining brightest for me as a pair of aspiring show men. Most of the laughs are gentle in nature with the players‘ obvious and oblivious lack of talent the main source of fun. It was a bit grating when some of the numbers ran long as clearly they were meant to be awful, I just didn‘t need two minutes of screeching to hammer home the point.

The script is mostly adlibbed within a predetermined structure, and while you admire the casts‘ talent and ingenuity it doesn‘t excuse the sparse number of actual laughs provided. Yes they are deluded and untalented and the town is dull but what‘s so funny?

I also feel that the title was a mistake, as the ending will be no surprise to anyone with a passing knowledge of Beckett, and even then there is hardly any waiting done anyway ; for Guffman or anyone else for that matter.

Despite the few nits I’ve picked I still enjoyed the film. It is the weakest of Guest’s recent comedies but the cast are likable and there are some smiles, but no laughs, along the way.

Best Bit : David Cross’ U.F.O expose

‘W’ Score 15/23

Saturday, 16 August 2008

No.25 : Wag the Dog

IMDb Link :

‘Wag the Dog’ is a 1997 political satire that boasts a host of stars including Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman and Woody Harrelson.

The film opens eleven days before a presidential election and there’s trouble at the White House ; the President has been caught with his pants down. Before the story breaks spin doctor DeNiro hires Hollywood producer Hoffman to invent a war which will keep the scandal off the front pages. This task is successfully completed with the US’s phoney war against Albania helping the incumbent’s ratings no end.

Unfortunately William C Macy’s CIA agent hasn’t picked his new boss yet and details of the fiction are leaked to the opposition candidate. When he declares the war over the stakes are raised and a hero has to be found to save the day. He comes in the shape of Woody’s ‘Old Shoe’ - but have our guys bet on a lame horse?

With the election imminent the lost hero of the Albania conflict has to be showcased but the plane is going down and Woody’s record starts with ‘raped a nun’ and there’s an ‘and’ after that…

This film is a rare beast - a political satire that manages to be both witty and funny without hammering home some obvious message. The fictitious war and media spin seem so credible, even more so given recent events. The President who is never seen is portrayed almost as a puppet, happy to spew out any old story his agents give him.

The highlight of the film for me were the ‘Old Shoe’ scenes where packs of willing celebrities are happy to endorse and sing for a totally invented hero who has a less than distinguished past. I was slightly let down with the blacker than black finale, and I found it less than credible that Hoffman’s character would act with such, albeit self serving, integrity. That said in a film where the message is ‘image is everything’ maybe it wasn’t so far fetched.

Fast moving and without an ounce of fat on the plot or dialogue ‘Wag the Dog’ sets the benchmark for all political satires in the modern age. Just a pity Bill Clinton came along and made it look like a documentary!

Best Bit : Woody’s mental turn

W’ Rating 19/23

No.24 : Welcome To Mooseport

IMDb Link :

Small town Mooseport, Maine is excited when outgoing two time President Monroe ‘Eagle ‘Cole chooses to live there following his messy divorce from the posh one out of ‘Mamma Mia’. So star struck are the local town council that they ask him to replace their recently deceased mayor. Cole agrees as he feel the magnanimous gesture can only help his lucrative book and lecture deals. Unbeknown to all, local plumber ‘Handy’ Harrison had also applied for the post meaning an election is needed.

Handy agrees that a high profile mayor would be good for the town and is about to step down when he sees the President wooing his on off girlfriend, Sally. The pair then engage in an escalating battle of dirty to tricks to win the election and then to lose it when they both realise that it isn’t worth the effort. After a frankly exhausting and unfunny campaign the votes are about to be counted and there’s not going to be much in it.

With the talent on show here it can’t fail to be a top notch comedy, but fail it does in desperate fashion. The idea of a David versus Goliath battle was a decent one and they could even have made some points on the cult of celebrity and local values ahead of unrealistic aspirations. Instead it was a bit twee with nice guy Handy (Ray Romano) singularly unengaging on any level. I’ve never watched his sitcom ‘Everyone Loves Raymond’ but on this evidence they only love him as he buys the do-nuts or something. He may be able to carry off a sitcom but he is no leading man, a point justified by his flop rich movie CV.

Gene Hackman is a bit better as the egotistical President but he doesn’t really do comedy as ‘Get Shorty’ proved, and as a love rival he simply wasn’t at the races. The ensemble cast also included the Fred Savage and Rip Torn who again do well in small screen comedies but lack the spark to carry a full 110 minutes (!) of comedy. Maura Tierney whom I liked in ‘Newsradio‘ is still a dish, but the love triangle was hopelessly imbalanced in her favour. Marcia Gay Harden has an underwritten role as an aide that defies belief with the final twist. Ah well at least everyone‘s happy - except the audience!

The film was as bloated as Gene’s belly and consisted of a never ending sequence of dull speeches and talking heads and show downs and tete a tetes. There were no big set pieces, just an endless cycle of minor set backs and weak twists. Understandably the film bombed at the box office and was cause enough for Gene Hackman to retire after its dismal showing. Romano hasn’t had a hit since and appears to have gone back to TV and cartoon voice overs - maybe he should run for mayor? He’d get my vote if he promised to stay away from the movies!

Best Bit : The golf match was least bad

‘W’ Score 10/23

Friday, 15 August 2008

No.23 :Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?

IMDb Link :

Porn moustached and burger eating documentary maker Morgan Spurlock returns to find the titular bad guy and explore the motivations of those who are happy to lay down their lives for his cause.

The film opens with Morgan’s somewhat spurious reasons for going on an Osama hunt. His partner is pregnant and he wants to see what kind of world he’s bringing a child into. The more likely motivations of needing the cash and escaping a pregnant partner are not touched upon.

As in his previous documentary a potentially dry subject is dressed up with fancy graphics and sound bites lifted from TV shows. We see Morgan as a stop motion animation running around and then as a video game character, taking on Osama ‘Tekken’ style. I felt these bits were a touch self aggrandizing, almost as if we should be chortling along as our good pal Morgan indulges himself. I wasn’t laughing and had more of a ‘what a self important prick’ kind of reaction.

The first part of the five part mission was the best as Morgan undergoes training to help in his mission. We learn how to deal with being kidnapped and how to survive a grenade attack. These sequences lead me into a false sense of security - I thought this would be a dangerous and exciting journey into the heart of darkness. But it wasn’t.

The next four sections are essentially the same as Morgan visits Egypt, Morocco, Afghanistan and Pakistan to ask the same questions and get the same shoulder shrugs in reply. To add a supposed element of humour Morgan dons full Arab dress and point blankedly asks scared locals of Osama’s whereabouts. Obviously they don’t know but we get a cheap laugh at intimidated foreigners, so that’s OK.

As the film draws to a close Morgan approaches the point of no return - will he enter Pakistan’s notorious tribal region to seek his quarry or will he scarper off home, having learned nothing?

It’s the second one.

This was a wasted 90 minutes for the viewer and a wasted opportunity. Morgan had cracking access to the military and the higher echelons of middle eastern government but delivered a puff piece that may serve well as a home movie for the Spurlock clan but no one else. His conclusion that we should win the “hearts and minds” of the people rather than pointlessly pursue terrorists was a real revelation - in 2004 when the US military appropriated the term.

Obviously he was never going to find Bin Laden, but so half hearted was this attempt that he’d of had as much success looking for him in his fridge and save us all some bother in the process.

Best Bit :Tough guy training school

‘W’ Rating : 9/23