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The Ugly

The Ugly/Guilty Pleasures (60 – 100)

Title Director, Genre, Year

Rating

Piranha
Joe Dante’s tongue in cheek horror flick might have spawned an often tedious sub-genre of knock-offs but this is the original and best. Piranha is a wonderful yet respectful parody of a genre that has been always in danger of taking itself too seriously. John Sayles penned the screenplay and together with Dante they create a smart and playful B-movie which nods lovingly towards the conventions of its genre. The characters are all fresh and interesting, the set-pieces are highly entertaining, and on a whole, the film is just great fun.
Dante, Horror, 1978

69.7

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Arachnophobia
This film about nasty South American killer spiders on the loose in a small American town might have a hissing, screaming spider in it but it’s great fun nonetheless. Jeff Daniels and John Goodman are in terrific form with the latter adding most of the funnier moments. As you would expect from director Frank Marshall and producer Spielberg, this film is a perfect blend between top notch production values and light-hearted entertainment.
Marshall, Family, 1990

68.9

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Coma
Entertaining medical thriller in which Genevieve Bujold plays a doctor who begins to suspect foul play in her hospital when a number of surgeries leave the patients permanently comatose. As he later did with ER, Michael Crichton brings a level of technical authenticity to the script which helps to elevate the dramatic tension. Michael Douglas offers strong support as Bujold’s politically motivated colleague and partner and there’s a nice chemistry between the two. The whole thing plays out with the ease of those great 70’s thrillers which makes it a very engaging and satisfying watch. However, the film pushes the boundaries of believability so far (in terms of premise and the actions of its characters) that regardless how engaging it is, an “Ugly” (guilty pleasure) warning must be attached.
Crichton, Thriller, 1978

68.7

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Anaconda
A documentary crew sail deep into the Amazonian rain forest in search of a hidden tribe only to be hijacked by a madman and pursued by a giant anaconda. If it weren’t for the screaming snake, some preposterous aerodynamics of said snake, and some serious ham acting by John Voight, this creature feature might have made it onto the Good list. The production was well funded so the CGI was first rate (and still stands up), there are some decent actors on show (Eric Stoltz, Jennifer Lopez, Owen Wilson, Ice Cube, and Voight of course), some nice set-piece action scenes, and Luis Llosa takes his time with the build-up. This gives the film a very enjoyable vibe. Alas, the snake does scream (and not really in a tongue-in-cheek manner) and Voight’s performance is so outrageous that we must treat this as a guilty pleasure. But a pleasure it definitely is.
Llosa, Horror, 1997

68.7

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Lethal Weapon
Ludicrous dialogue and plot aside, this 80’s detective thriller was all about the chemistry between Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as the now famous Riggs & Murtaugh. The action is straight out of the top drawer and the jokes will never fail to bring a smile to your face. Richard Donner zips the story along – which is just as well lest you be given time to spot those gaping plot holes – and with the exception of a couple of rushed moments, the movie’s pace alone could pull you through. Gibson never had the widest range to his acting but Riggs was prefect for his comedic talents. Glover on the other hand is the true stalwart of the franchise as his long suffering and ageing partner.
Donner, Action, 1987

67.7

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Miami Vice
It may have a god-awful clunky script, the chemistry between Crockett and Tubbs (referred to here only by their first names Sonny and Ricardo) might be flat as a pancake, and Colin Farrell may talk like Christian Bale’s Batman but this big screen adaptation of the seminal 80’s television show by its legendary creator Michael Mann still counts as a very good action film in its own right. The story focuses on the vice team led by Sonny (Farrell) and Ricardo (Jamie Foxx) who typically pose as high-end drug smugglers (you must understand this to know why they drive the cars they do – and can fly planes – on a cop’s salary) and who go undercover to infiltrate a Colombian drug cartel selling to amongst others some nasty white supremacists who killed some federal agents. The film seems to overtly avoid showing the two leads relating to each other as friends and only ever really gets into their personal lives to indulge Mann’s only weakness as a film maker – his insistence on pointless sex scenes. The result is a dispassionate and sometimes cold look at the impressive and skilled manner in which the vice team operate. What is certain though is that as a look at the technicalities of undercover work, this film is a tour de force of slick actioneering. It looks and sounds spectacular and John Murphy’s soundtrack works a treat playing behind all the sublime sound effects. Like Mann’s earlier Manhunter, the film moves relatively slowly in favour of giving you a flavour of the meticulous craft of the professionals it’s focusing on, peaking in the third act with some of the most sublime action sequences since, well, Heat. For those technical reasons, Miami Vice is worth the watch but treat it as a stand alone film because fans of the show will not like the coldness between the two main protagonists.
Mann, Crime, 2006

67.7

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Enemy Mine
Hell in the Pacific retold in sci-fi mode with Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett Jr. starring as two enemies stranded on the same planet. Quaid is the human fighter pilot and Gossett is the alien Drac who after an initial period of hostility, begin to work together and ultimately form a bond of friendship. Enemy Mine is one of those enjoyable movies which many of us grew up on and were happy to do so. It came from an era in science fiction writing when good old fashioned story telling was at the heart of the genre and as a result the movie works despite some minor issues. The two leads seemed to be having great fun working together and it pays off well given the nature of the story. Quaid was always charismatic and solid in these types of roles while an unrecognisable Gossett (thanks to some excellent make-up) gives a considered and nuanced performance.
Peterson, Sci-Fi, 1985

67.5

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The Breakfast Club
It may be pure cheese but John Hughes’ most famous movie had a popular appeal to a whole generation of teenagers which developed into a nostalgic appeal as they entered adulthood and began to use it as a reference point for their adolescence. It focuses on a single Saturday morning detention and the five very different kids whom it forces together. All the high school movie archetypes and cliches are present. Emilio Esteves plays the jock, Molly Ringwald the spoiled princess, Judd Nelson the rebel, Anthony Michael Hall the nerd, and Ally Sheedy the troubled kid. There are some cringe-worthy moments particularly the stoned dancing scene and the painfully melodramatic heart-on-your-sleeve moments but in between all that are some genuinely funny escapades peppered with interesting and witty dialogue. Everything about this movie screams 80’s from the seminal soundtrack to the soft lighting to the messed up fashion sense but that only adds to its charm. Watch it with an open and forgiving mind and it just might suck you in.
Hughes, Comedy, 1985

67.4

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Days of Thunder
Tom Cruise top lines as the hot shot speedster laden with daddy issues who, after rocketing to stardom, develops a crisis of confidence after he barely survives a crash. It’s the Top Gun story right down to the grinning nemesis (Cary Elwes as opposed to Kilmer) but a tad less maudlin and with two special additions. First is presence of Robert Duvall, the seasoned mechanic who reluctantly takes the Cruiser under his wing. It’s his nous that lifts the entire drama by lacing the movie with grizzled sentiment and wise humour. Second is the drafting of Robert Towne to write the screenplay which gives the characters and their dialogue the kind of traction that rarely grace such hot air storytelling. Nicole Kidman offers strong support in an equally capable female role and though it resulted in one of modern Hollywood’s more atypical romances, she and Tom share a rather solid chemistry as the driver and his doctor girlfriend. In a nice twist on the intimidating rival trope, Michael Rooker scores terrifically as the older driver who, after being knocked off his pedestal by the cheeky Cruise, forms a tentative friendship with him – their wheelchair race alone makes this dramatic tangent worthwhile. As you’d expect from Scott, the driving sequences are wisecrack funneled and testosterone charged but thy’re shot and cut with a more coherent style than his films often exhibited.
Scott, T, Sport, 1990

67.4

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Piranha 3D
Remakes are not something we here at themoviesyndicate tend to endorse but given that Piranha has been remade by countless (straight-to-Sci-Fi-channel) cheese-fests over the years, Piranha 3D gets special consideration for being one of the few that managed to be as much fun as its predecessor. In fact the movie references come so thick and fast that you’d swear Dante and Sayles were behind this one as well. There are some fine cameos, most notably that Richard Dreyfus/Matt Hooper one, and even some decent actors on show such as Elizabeth Shue, Ving Rhames, and Jerry O’Connell (with the latter being particularly hilarious). These factors along with a fresh screenplay and some fun direction help raise the quality of this film well above average.
Aja, Horror, 2010

67.1

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Innerspace
As one of the more entertaining actors out there, Dennis Quaid was always going to work well in a Joe Dante film and neither disappoint in this original concept movie. Quaid stars as a test pilot who agrees to be miniaturized in a high-tech ship designed to travel through the human body. Things go awry when a spot of industrial sabotage sees him injected into the body of unwitting hypochondriac Martin Short. Considering that Quaid and Short don’t have any actual face-to-face scenes together until the very end of the movie, the chemistry between the two is remarkable and is a testament to their skill as both serious and comedic actors. Short has most of the fun scenes which involve all sorts of mayhem from dangling out of trucks to outrageously funny facial reconstruction scenes (don’t ask). Meg Ryan works very well as the feisty reporter/love-interest and Dante regular Robert Picardo steals the show as ‘the Cowboy’. As you’d expect the set-pieces are terrific and handled wonderfully by Dante but it’s the overall sense of fun that typifies all of Dante’s films that makes this so enjoyable.
Dante, SciFi, 1987

67

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Evolution
A meteor hits the earth and brings all sorts of nasty single-celled organisms with it, which quickly begin evolving into ever more complex creatures bent on human destruction. David Duchovny plays a former military scientist turned community college professor who together with his colleague (played by Orlando Jones), begins studying the creatures until the nasty military show up and take control. Lots of fun is had winking to Duchovney’s X-Files persona but most of it ends up adding to the plot. Ivan Reitman is a dab hand at these types of comedies and he always builds his films around great screen chemistry. Evolution is no different in that sense.
Reitman, Comedy, 2001

67

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Red Dawn
John Milius’ uneven film has been criticised for being jingoistic and yes, there are some grounds for such criticism. There are also some spectaular leaps of logic and Harry Dean Stanton screams “Avenge me boys” without even a hint of humour. However, for the most part Red Dawn is actually a well orchestrated and even epic depiction of a fictitious invasion of the 1980’s United States by communist forces. Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen play two brothers who take to the mountains and form a rag-tag resistance behind enemy lines. It shouldn’t work but somehow this becomes an entertaining and sometimes touching examination of how life could’ve changed in such circumstances. Swayze and Sheen are charismatic in the lead roles and are supported by a number of young and, at the time, promising actors one of whom being Swayze’s future Dirty Dancing co-star Jennifer Grey. Milius’ and Kevin Reynolds’ screenplay can get clunky in parts but holds up for the majority of the film and there are some decent action scenes throughout.
Milius, War, 1984

66.8

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Deadly Pursuit/Shoot to Kill
Sidney Poitier stars as an FBI agent who tracks a ruthless killer to the mountains of the Canadian border where he enlists the reluctant help of mountain guide Tom Berenger whose girlfriend (Kirsty Alley) has been kidnapped by the killer. Poitier is comfortable as the cultured city man out of his element and he and Berenger play off each other to great effect. The action is exactly what you’d expect with lashings of humour thrown in but it’s that great 80’s vibe that makes the whole things so damn satisfying. Clancy Brown and Andrew Robinson are amongst the excellent support cast and Brown in particular puts in yet another fine display.
Spottiswood, Thriller, 1988

66.8

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Godzilla
A big budget attempt to rectify Hollywood’s attitude towards Toho’s most famous monster shows the right intentions and some of the right ideas but is ultimately crushed under their own weight.
Edwards, Action, 2014

66.8

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Capricorn One
Decent conspiracy-based film about NASA faking a mission to Mars, the reaction of the astronauts forced to take part in the charade, and the reporter who gets wind of it. Despite being made in the 1970’s, this film isn’t on the same level as the great conspiracy films of that era. Jerry Goldsmith’s score is the only aspect of the film that does reach that level. There are plot holes galore and who knows what Peter Hyams thought he was doing with that ending. However, for the most part this film works probably down to the interesting premise and the watchability of Elliot Gould as the reporter, James Brolin and Sam Waterstone as the astronauts, and the always excellent Hal Holbrook as the sinister NASA scientist.
Hyams, Thriller, 1978

66.7

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Cliffhanger
A truly awful screenplay meets some of the hammiest acting straight on in this entertaining action romp about a group of mercenaries who co-opt a couple of mountain climbers into their attempt to locate briefcases full of money lost in a mountain wilderness. John Lithgow adds yet another impossibly over the top turn to his catalogue as the merciless leader of the bad guys, Stallone is actually a little better than usual as the burly yet modest climbing expert, Michael Rooker offers sound presence to the mix but Janine Turner is much too bland to matter. Where Cliffhanger succeeds is in giving us a veritable kaleidoscope of nastiness in the bad guy department. From Rex Linn’s crooked treasury agent and 24 carat asshole to Caroline Goodall’s murderous vixen and with a couple/three very punchable faces thrown in between, these guys are the best bunch of venom spitting henchmen since Die Hard.
Harlin, Action, 1993

66.5

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Deep Cover
Lawrence Fishburn plays a deep cover operative recruited by a self serving superior (played with gusto by Charles Martin Smith) to infiltrate a drug racket from the ground up. Jeff Goldblum is the crooked lawyer turned financier whom Fishburn hooks up with and through a combination of the latter’s street skills and the former’s business savvy, the two rise up the ranks. Duke brings a competent yet somewhat derivative style to the movie but he was clearly limited with location and production design possibilities. At times, the understanding between director and cast gets lost (such as that strangely acted limousine scene) but for the most part he gets the best out of Fishburn’s burly presence and Goldblum’s idiosyncratic manner. For their part, they make a good duo even though the sometimes wooden script could’ve done then more favours in that respect. The remainder of the cast range from good to goofy. Smith is in top form and the always splendid Clarence Williams III puts in a great turn as the one properly decent cop. Victoria Dillard as the love interest unfortunately counts as one of the poorer performances but again the script fails to properly integrate her character. Deep Cover is an interesting crime movie garnished with two tidy central performances and steeped in the style of the early 90’s. It’s by no means perfect and it’s often realised in clunky fashion but for the most part, it holds up as an enjoyable thriller.
Duke, Crime, 1992

66.3

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Rush
Rush tells the story of two of the 1960’s greatest Grand Prix rivals, the Austrian metronomic rationalist Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) and the English playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth), as they push each other past all concern for safety in a hair-raising duel for the title. As he did in Frost/Nixon, Howard, with the help of his DP Anthony Dod Mantle, gets the era’s palette of colours just right and combined with the costume and props, he transports us back to the heyday of motor racing. However, a quiet Sunday drive down memory lane is not what Howard was primarily aiming for. This movie is a popcorn extravaganza wherein the two leads respond with charismatic glossy turns in between some breathlessly staged races and various token moments of “is-it-worth-it” type reflection. In the edn Rush works because of the presence and overall watchability of both Brühl and Hemsworth and the way in which Howard successfully frames the racetrack as their playground and indeed battlefield. You won’t spend much time thinking about it once it’s done but those aspects alone will draw you in willingly while you’re watching it and raise those goosebumps whether you like it or not.
Howard, Action, 2013

66.2

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Oblivion
Tom Cruise and Andrea Riseborough play a couple of technicians entrusted to maintain the drones and water harvesters of a post-apocalyptic Earth so that the remnants of the human race can build a new life on the moon Titan. When the Cruiser happens across (literally) the woman from his dreams one day, he begins to suspect that all is not what it seems with his life and incurs the wrath of who or whatever has been issuing him his orders these last few years. Though highly derivative, Joseph Kosinski has certainly made a beautiful looking film , a crisp fusion of old school cinematography and CGI punctuated with wide angle moments of grandeur worthy of the writer-director’s overall ambition. But while Riseborough manages to make her character work with a wonderfully creepy turn as Cruise’s paramour, the antiseptic nature of his character gives him little room to shine.
Kosinski, Sci-Fi, 2013

66.1

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Jaws 2
As a sequel to a landmark in American cinema (no pun intended), Jaws 2 was never going to live up to its predecessor especially considering that Spielberg (the man whose vision made Jaws what it was) and Dreyfus (whose chemistry with Scheider was perfect) weren’t featuring. However, Roy Scheider did return (only because of a contractual obligation with Universal), so did Lorraine Gray as Brody’s wife and John Williams even chipped in with another score. The result is actually quite entertaining as we reacquaint ourselves with the beautiful Amity Island (though not nearly as lovely as it was when Spielberg shot it) and its colourful inhabitants. The story is more of the same beginning with a series of incidents at sea which Brody believes are shark related but no one else does and culminating in a dramatic showdown. The set pieces are obviously different and reasonably entertaining though nowhere near as terrifying as the original’s. Scheider is as terrific as ever as the near-iconic Chief Brody and let’s be honest, two more hours of watching him play the no-nonsense everyman police chief makes this film worth the watch on its own.
Szwark, Horror, 1978

65.8

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Another Stakeout 
Richard Dreyfus and Emilio Estevez are back as the two irreverant Seattle cops who are again given stakeout duties, this time to watch the home of a couple who are friends of a missing federal witness. Given the wonderful on-screen chemistry between Dreyfus and Estevez in the first film, it’s not surprising that a sequel was attempted. Thankfully, the two leads were just as comfortable in each other’s presence as they were in that first film but unfortunately they had the third presence of Rosie O’Donnell to deal with. This constantly interrupted their easy back and forth and gave the film more of a slapstick dimension. Having said that, it’s still a thouroughly enjoyable watch and on the occasions when Dreyfus and Estevez do get going they’re just as enjoyable as ever.
Badham, Comedy, 1993

65.4

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Eraser
Arnold Schwarzenegger top-lines as a specialist US Marshall who is charged with hiding government witnesses by erasing all traces of their identity. When his latest charge is targeted by the defence contractor she’s blown the whistle on, he finds the threat to her life comes partially from within his own agency. At first blush, Eraser could seem like a cynical attempt to cash in on an “Arnold” formula which True Lies insinuated might be ripe for exploiting. And let’s not kid ourselves, it is…..and a poor man’s True Lies it is at that. Tight plot and clever dialogue are replaced by gaping plot holes and logical errors. The special effects are slightly above average for the mid 90s but were never close to those of Cameron’s movie and have consequently dated (effects which see crocodiles double in size before our eyes included). Characters with and motivations as laughable as they are contradictory. Moreover, it’s not as if this is a completely carefree tongue in cheek action comedy. There’s comedy but it’s much more a straight laced actioneer. But despite all this, Eraser works! Maybe it’s the easy momentum which carries us through one somewhat novel action sequence after another. Or maybe it’s the fact that when it does go for the comedy, it hits every time (the “you’re luggage” one-liner notwithstanding). Maybe, it’s all these reasons together but what’s for sure, is that Eraser is very easy to forgive, very easy to watch, and very easy to like.
Russell, Action, 1996

65.4

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Red State
Red state tells the story of three adolescent males who travel to a remote town for a spot of group sex with an apparently willing older woman only to find themselves taken prisoner by a bunch of Christian fundamentalists. After a foiled escape attempt the local sheriff and ATF led by John Goodman’s initially interesting Agent Keenan are called in and a Waco style stand-off ensues. Red state marks a departure for Kevin Smith as he turns his hand to the action/thriller genre and for the first hour or so he does an excellent job. The script is tight and Smith’s usual edgy dialogue, while dialed down, adds touches of humour in the early exchanges between the boys. He moves the story forward in disciplined manner steadily building a palpable sense of terror and he expertly handles the initial shift in dramatic tension. Some viewers might expect a Kevin Smith film about a southern fundamentalist cult to be defined by the witty insight of Smith’s earlier films that touched on religion. However, just when you think it’s taking off in that direction the religious angle takes second place to the action. And it’s at this point in the film where other problems emerge. However, in the final analysis, these problems will be for some made moot by the inimitable Michael Parks who yet again gives us a spellbinding performance as the nasty preacher Abin Cooper. Parks has been doing the rounds for years now yet has never really managed to hit the mainstream save for a couple of show-stopping cameos in Tarantino and Rodriguez films. In Red State, he’s finally given the lead role he so richly deserves and he doesn’t disappoint as he greedily devours every last bit of scenery. If anything, Michael Parks’ sinister preacher is worth the price of admission alone.
Smith, Action, 2011

65.4

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Savage Streets
A glossy 1980’s exploitation flick which has Linda Blair in firecracker mode and taking on a local gang after they raped her deaf sister. Savage Streets is marked by a protracted build-up wherein it seems happy to follow Blair and her girlfriends around as they go to school and get involved in nudity resulting cat-fights or party around town and commit disco and fashion crimes while also running afoul of the local punk gang called the “Scars”. There’s no deep character construction here nor is their much in the way of plot set-up but there’s a broad sense of fun to it, which sets the tone for the remainder of the film. This of course takes the edge off the darker side to the story (which by itself should be intensely disturbing) giving the ensuing vengeance a more frivolous feel.
Steinmann, Action, 1984

65.3

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Species
Ben Kingsley, Forest Whitaker, Michael Madsen, a HR Giger designed alien, and Roger Donaldson directing. Ok, Species should’ve been better but its great fun nonetheless. A government program is set in motion when SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) receives an alien message with instructions on how to create a clean burning fuel and how to create a human-alien hybrid, instructions which they (naturally!) follow to the letter. When that hybrid  escapes & begins grusomely killing people in search of a mate the program leader (Kinglsey) assembles a team consisting of a wet-work specialist (Madsen), an anthropologist (Alfred Molina), a biologist (Marg Helgenberger), and err.. a psychic (Whitaker) to hunt it down and kill it. Though the dialogue isn’t brilliant the cast is undeniably great and despite said dialogue it’s still great fun watching them coast nonchalantly through the movie. Natasha Henstridge has been much maligned for her sci-fi performances but like Ghosts of Mars, she actually handles it quite well and is an interesting and worthy lead. The special effects are in the main really impressive and while there are some similarities between the alien in this movie and Giger’s most famous creation, it’s sufficiently different and expertly crafted to warrant individual praise. The action sequences are standard enough which is disappointing given that Donaldson has been responsible for some great set pieces in the past (e.g., No Way Out). However, as a package, Species is very easy to watch and extremely enjoyable in a very guilty pleasure sort of way.
Donaldson, Sci-Fi, 1995

65.3

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Fletch Lives
This Chevy Chase sequel does everything the first one does in blending the comedy and mystery genres. It’s just as ludicrous but Chase’s intuitive improvised humour is spot on the money and carries this film through to the end. Switch the brain off, put up your feet, and let Chase’s unique brand of comedy and that electronic score transport you back to the 80’s.
Ritchie, M., Comedy, 1989

65.2

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Alien: Resurrection 
200 years after she threw herself and the alien growing within her into a molten pit, military scientists genetically re-engineer Ripley and her parasite back to life in order to harvest the alien embryo. Fortunately for the surviving crew of the inevitably doomed ship, the mingling of the two species’ DNA left her with a few special abilities. First things first. Alien: Resurrection backtracks on the finality of Alien 3. It introduces an overtly comic-bookish plot and a host of caricatured personalities into a series of movies which were always defined by tight plots and layered characters. The genre defining set-pieces of Alien and Aliens and the admirable attempts of Alien 3 are replaced by contrived, blockbuster, slow-motion explodathons. The most interesting aspect to the story, writer Joss Whedon’s notion of Ripley’s ‘rebirth’, is completely misinterpreted by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The incisive dialogue of the first three instalments replete with its organic wit and charm is replaced by a one-liner infested script which plays to the sound bite. The lavish production design jars completely with the more elegantly simple aesthetic of the first three. Similarly, the sleek and dark naturalism of H.R. Giger’s creature design is ultimately replaced with a quasi-surrealist Cronenberg-esque body horror. And lastly, and perhaps most unforgivably, the steely fear and breathless tension that so defined Scott’s, Cameron’s, and Fincher’s movies is relinquished in favour of gore, gore, and more gore resulting in yet more outlandish events that feel so ‘alien’ to the series. With all this in mind, if one is going to enjoy Alien: Resurrection, one must take it entirely on its own merits and treat it as a standalone feature. For those who can do that, there’s a fairly enjoyable action/sci-fi/horror romp lurking beneath the ashes of the great series. Sigourney Weaver is back in her darkest Ripley incarnation and she eats up the opportunity to play with the well worn role.
Jeunet, Sci-Fi, 1997

65.1

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Blue Thunder
A police helicopter pilot (Roy Scheider) becomes embroiled in a military conspiracy involving a hi-tech offensive surveillance helicopter called “Blue Thunder”. Consequently, he takes to the skies above LA in Blue Thunder in order to bring the conspirators to justice. Despite the story being pure nonsense, this film works due to the good actors on show (in addition to the great Scheider, Warren Oates, Daniel Stern, and Malcolm McDowell also have prominent roles) and the excellent chemistry between them. There are some really excellent aerial stunts and the shots of the helicopters flying around LA at nighttime feel real and provide an original setting for many funny moments and some decent action.
Badham, Action, 1983

65

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Crank 
With all its flashy “CSI”-ish editing, any self-respecting movie fan should hate this film but its free-form action hilarity is liable to best even the most hardened of movie snobs. Jason Statham is a hit-man who wakes up to find himself poisoned with a drug that is slowly shutting his system down until he’s brown bread. Not the kind of guy to take things lying down, he immediately sets out on the trail of his poisoners while using any means possible to keep his system fired up with adrenaline. As wild as the premise is, it undeniably makes a great platform for a comedy-action movie and there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments of madness along the way. Don’t think too much about this one, simply give in to the sublimely ridiculous.
Neveldine/Taylor, Action, 2006

64.4

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Major League II 
More of the same but the first time round was so much fun, that’s no bad thing. All the main players are back except for Wesley Snipes whose character Willie Mayes Hayes is played by Omar Epps and Rene Russo who makes nothing more than a cameo. The most interesting twist on the first film is Sheen’s Wild Thing going tame which gives heckler Randy Quaid the material for his utterly hysterical rants. “Wild Thing, you make by butt sting”.
Ward, Comedy, 1994

64.3

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Omega Man
Boris Sagal’s adaptation of Richard Matheson’s seminal novel “I am Legend”. Charlton Heston plays the seemingly sole survivor of a plague that either killed everyone else or turned them into deformed head cases who only come out at night. First off, this film has dated drastically in terms of the makeup (what little there was of it) that went into portraying the deformed humans as beastly. Not only are they not scary but it’s difficult to see how they aren’t anything but light sensitive, pale skinned, scarred humans. In which case, Heston’s character Neville, who spends his day exterminating them comes across as a homicidal maniac. They also refer to Neville as “him of the wheel” (in a reference of disgust to the technology that brought this plague upon them) – as they wheel up a catapult to destroy him! However, despite these issues this is still really enjoyable. Sure, it’s of its time but that seems to make it all the more memorable. Moreover, Heston was always great in these roles and he carries the film with ease on his square shoulders. The production design is seriously impressive in so far as they quite realistically bring the deserted LA of the story to life. It’s nowhere near as slick as the more recent Will Smith film nor as sinister as the book but it’s a decent effort all the same.
Sagal, SciFi, 1971

64.3

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Logan’s Run
A great concept (futuristic underground world where the population is controlled through a form of mass suicide) is brought to life with some impressive production design and a real nasty performance by the late great Richard Jordan. Michael York (Logan) and Jordan (Francis) play two ‘Sandmen’ whose job it is to track down ‘runners’, those who try to escape their social obligation to kill themselves at 30. Logan and Francis are suitably arrogant given the power they have and are quite content with life until Logan himself is betrayed by the artificial intelligence that runs his underground city. All of a sudden the hunter becomes the hunted as Logan and another runner Jessica-6 must stay ahead of his former partner and the rest of the sandmen. Logan’s run is a thrilling film and conceptually it was years ahead of contemporary science-fiction thrillers. Unfortunately, it has dated immensely since its release and together with York’s sometimes cheesy performance not even Jordan’s excellent turn can warrant this being anything more than a guilty pleasure movie.
Anderson, Sci-Fi, 1976

64.2

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Lifeforce
Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce is one of those movies that truly has to be seen to be believed. Set sometime in the near future, the film begins with a US/British shuttle detecting an alien craft in the tail of Halley’s comet. Upon boarding this craft, the crew discover a cavernous chamber containing desiccated bat-like creatures and three life pods. It’s not long before we learn that these pods contain the vampire like aliens who suck the life force out of human beings so that they can survive. Nor is it long before the strongest of these creatures (Mathilda May), appearing as a beautiful naked female, makes her way to earth and starts wreaking havoc in London city. Seemingly undefeatable, the special forces operative charged with containing the problem (Peter Firth) comes to believe that the key to the defeating her might lie in the soul survivor of the shuttle who discovered her in the first place (Steve Railsback or Duane Barry to you X-Files fans). Outright genre crossovers such as this one (and John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness) where a science fiction staple (alien parasite) is directly grafted onto a horror staple (vampires) are not easy to pull off because we’ve been trained to see them as stand alone premises all our movie going lives. If bodies are showing up drained of life, it’s either aliens or vampires but not both and adding one to the other could seem superfluous. That is unless the mythologies are tied into each other in an interesting and intuitively sensible fashion. Prince of Darkness definitely did that but Lifeforce didn’t really. Its token explanation offered towards the end of the movie nods in the direction of such a synthesis but it’s hardly enough to add sincere credibility to the premise.
Hooper, Sci-Fi, 1985

64.1

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Drop Zone
John Badham’s film shamelessly attempted to exploit the appetite for sky-diving action that Point Break exposed and not one of those sky-diving scenes came anywhere close to being as good as the handful of sky-diving scenes in Point Break – in fact those scenes which used the fake backdrop are simply laughable. That said, this film is a lot of fun. Wesley Snipes plays the federal marshal trying to track down the elite sky-diving team of drug smugglers who killed his brother in a daring mid-air prisoner snatch. As usual, Snipes does the funny and tough thing very well and he even has a little fun with the role by making his character a tad whiney. Gary Busey (yes, him from Point Break) typically does the bad guy thing better than most journeymen actors and he doesn’t disappoint here either. Don’t think too much about this one, just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Badham, Action, 1994

63.9

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Cabin Fever
Five teenagers head off to a lakeside cabin for a wild weekend only to have the festivities cut short by the attentions of a homeless wanderer with a highly contagious flesh-eating disease. With gaping plot holes and characters that take the illogical behaviour of horror flick victims to a whole new level, this quirky little film still manages to carry you along and give you a few decent laughs in the process.
Roth, Horror, 2002

63.9

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Some Kind of Wonderful
John Hughes’ films are great nostalgia fare and usually deliver some seriously funny moments which hold up to this day. Some of them (i.e., Sixteen Candles and Ferris Bueller) were almost if not totally flawless while others were weighed down with contrived story lines where poor and rich kids play out West-side-story-type melodramas. Like The Breakfast Club and (to a lesser extent) Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful is one such story. Eric Stoltz plays an 18 year old high school kid who has designs on one of the more glamourous girls in his class (played with a confident vulnerability by Lea Thompson). When he makes his move, he not only attracts the unwanted attention of her rich boyfriend but he also ostracises his tom-boy best friend, the equally outcast Mary Stewart Masterson. The three leads are great together and Stoltz’ sometimes understated presence is helped by Masterson’s boisterousness and Thompson’s maturity. John Aston and Elias Koteas steal the show as Stoltz’ father and tough-guy classmate respectively. The actors get in the spirit of the film and all do their bit and, while the pretext to the plot and scenarios are sometimes laughable, the film comes off as really quiet charming. This is largely down to Hughes’ ability to write interesting teenagers, parents, teachers, etc. and the cast he had playing them. Howard Deutsch’s contemporary direction and that great soundtrack contribute strongly also.
Deutsch, Romance, 1987

63.8

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Mr Majestyk
Richard Fleischer behind the camera, Charles Bronson in front of it, and Elmore Leonard penning the script. What could go wrong? Well it’s hard to say. The acting is completely out of synch with the momentum of the movie and the dialogue often comes across as clunky because of it. That said, it’s a cracking little story of a gritty melon farmer, some local racketeers, and a dangerous hit-man out for revenge. Bronson plays the titular melon farmer and is responsible for most of the wooden acting but his presence just about makes up for it. Al Lettieri (Sollozzo from The Godfather) is suitably nasty as the hit-man and there are a host of vaguely familiar faces giving sub-par to average performances. The action and progression of the story are somewhat idiosyncratic but that only adds to this peculiar little film’s charm and the finale packs a tremendous punch.
Fleischer, Action, 1974

63.8

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The Raid 2
After escaping the infamous apartment block of The Raid: Redemption, police officer Rama is manipulated into a deep cover assignment designed to expose corruption at the highest level of the Indonesian underworld. But as he gets close to the son of a powerful gangster he finds himself fending largely for himself amid a gang war. The Raid 2 counts as a mildly enjoyable sequel to the surprise Indonesian hit of 2011 that in the absence of a similarly neat premise suffers under some pretentious efforts at compensation. That said, Iko Uwais makes for a solid lead yet again finding that perfect balance between fresh faced charm and a flurry of fists and feet. The movie always picks up with his presence and the fight sequences are at their most balletic when he’s at their centre. So it’s more the pity they didn’t build the entire show around him. More often than not it seems, we traipsing after the gangsters and their enforcers of which there are just too many littered about. The “colourful bad guy” is a staple of the great action film and the one or two that tend to populate them should be pillars of the movie’s personality. With so many popping up and disappearing through the course of this movie, they fade into nondescript references of the script’s confusing allegiances. Though letting himself down on his script writing duties, Gareth Edward still manages to prove himself an able director with an eye for scene composition. But he needs to learn discipline so he can tell when to hold back with the visuals and when to deliver them with punch. With too many striking set ups and bold colour contrasts, it all just whites out after a while. He’s shown he can handle action, and then some, and he’s given us glimpses of more but he didn’t properly deliver it with The Raid 2.
Evans, Martial Arts, 2014

63.4

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Strange Days
Ralph Fiennes stars as a former vice cop turned black marketeer who deals in “playback”, a futuristic digital voyeurism that allows the user to experience what others have gone through so long as they recorded themselves doing it. When he receives a clip of someone being murdered he finds himself not only the target of that same killer but neck deep in a high profile case of police brutality that threatens to turn the city into flurry of millennial riots. Returning to the director’s chair four years after the sensational Point Break, Bigelow largely underwhelmed her eager fans with a visually solid piece of future fiction but an overall uneven movie. The idea of an illicit form of digital recreation was an interesting and even prescient premise but there’s just too much confusion in the writing of this movie to allow any of it to breathe. It quickly gets lost in a patchwork of big ideas which Cameron was clearly attempting to develop into as many profound sociocultural statements regarding mid-90’s L.A. as possible.
Bigelow, Science Fiction, 1995

63.4

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Weekend at Bernie’s II
Say what you want about this but unlike a host of lazy sequels, it doesn’t attempt to rehash the original. Whereas Weekend at Bernie’s was a madcap comedy of outlandish proportions, the funniness of its premise was tied to the parameters (albeit extreme) of the real world. Weekend at Bernie’s II goes a different direction entirely employing a supernatural premise in order to squeeze every last bit of comedy juice out of the original idea. Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman are back as the hapless duo toting the voodoo animated corpse of their former boss around the Virgin Islands until he leads them to some buried loot. We’re into cartoon level buffoonery here (as the intro credits attest to) and the script is full of uninspired humour which is executed flatly and with none of the wit of the original. That said, the great chemistry between the two leads is still present and Terry Kiser’s show-stopping turn as Bernie is given new lease of (err…) life due to a hysterically funny plot device which sees him dance towards the loot whenever music is playing. Stop your eye rolling, it’s freakin hilarious!
Klane, Comedy, 1993

63.3

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Another 48 Hrs.
The two boys are back together again after convict Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy) is targeted by a drug dealer who detective Jack Cates (Nick Nolte) has been tracking for two years. The story is predictable enough and rehashes most of the first movie. However, the chemistry between the two leads which made that movie so popular is still there in abundance and combined with two interesting villains and some decent action from one of the great action directors Walter Hill, Another 48 Hrs. maintains a certain charm.
Hill, Action, 1990

63.2

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The Beast
William Peterson plays an old school fisherman trying to make a living in fished out waters who begins to suspect that a giant squid with a taste for people has staked a claim off his peaceful island. Joining up with local coast guard lieutenant Karen Sillas, he sets about proving it but a local business man in the form of Charles Martin Smith thinks he sees a profit to be made. As was often the case for a TV miniseries back in the 1990’s, the production values are low and so any thrills The Beast delivers are largely a function of Benchley’s concept which, on the scale of marine monsters, features quite highly. The cast are solid so, beyond the production quality, you won’t be constantly reminded that you’re in the “bargain basement” of movies and with an always watchable and safe pair of hands in the lead, there’s even a bit of charm there too.
Bleckner, Horror, 1996

63.1

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Betrayed
Above average thriller starring Debra Winger as an undercover FBI agent who gets close to a farmer (Tom Berenger) suspected of leading a white supremacist terrorist network. Costa-Gavras does a good job contrasting the homeliness of life on the farm with the darker side to the backward community while the two leads are superb. John Heard and Ted Levine offer strong support. The film is somewhat let down by a ridiculously cheesy ending and a rather ludicrous scenario involving a black man being hunted for sport. Furthermore, the script could’ve offered a better insight into the motivations of its lead characters. However, for the most part Betrayed is a solid and entertaining thriller.
Costa-Gavras, Thriller, 1988

62.8

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Men at Work
Okay, the story is complete hokum and some of the jokes fall flat on their face, but if you let it, this can still be one hell of an enjoyable and quirky caper comedy. Emilio Esteves directs and stars alongside his brother Charlie Sheen as a garbageman constantly aspiring for better things. On probation and under the watchful eye of the hilarious Keith David, Esteves and Sheen become embroiled in a madcap murder involving the mayor and some chemical polluters. Throw in an attractive neighbour, a kidnapped pizza delivery guy, rival garbage men, and two ridiculous bicycle cops and you have the basis for some comedy mayhem. The real star of the show however is Keith David as the slightly disturbed Vietnam vet with a short fuse. It’s his interventions that are the most memorable and his penchant for tying up his prisoners in the strangest of positions will have you in stitches. “You need help”.
Esteves, Comedy, 1990

62.7

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Deep Blue Sea
A sea-based research centre where sharks are genetically bred larger and more intelligent – so that their brain cells can be harvested in a bid to find a cure for Alzheimer’s (or something) – becomes a giant smorgasbord for the mutant fish when a storm gives them the opportunity to turn the tables on their captors. Ok, the scenario is a bit of a stretch and some of the dialogue is a bit clunky (although not always unintentionally) but there is plenty to enjoy here. There is an array of colourful characters ranging from Thomas Jane’s terrific shark wrangler to LL Cool J’s philosophical cook while Samuel L. Jackson’s plays the money man with an interesting past. The action is thrilling and, for the most part, it will have you on the edge of your seat while the special effects (also for the most part) are impressive. Renny Harlin was definitely having fun with this one and the tongue is planted firmly in the cheek. As such, this is very easy to enjoy and as pure brain candy goes, you should be quite satisfied.
Harlin, Horror, 1999

62.4

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Commando
It’s not easy to fully describe how utterly stupid this movie is. From the beyond lame opening montage of Arnie and his (on screen) daughter feeding deer and frolicking in slow motion to the willful buffoonery of what is passed for the plot, the ham-fisted dialogue to the cardboard characters, the shabbiness of Schwarzenegger’s still unpolished acting to Vernon Wells’ outrageous turn as the chief villain, this movie is a case of the ridiculous being piled on top of the ridiculous. Of course, as a pure action vehicle straight out of the mid eighties (when Hollywood had the genre down to a fine art), it works despite all of this! Cheese it may be, but nostalgic high octane cheese it remains. Everyone involved dives in head first and there’s a genuine sense of fun to the proceedings. The set pieces are great bang for their buck and although Wells’ Bennett counts as the most ludicrous villain in movie history, it’s an undeniably addictive performance. All this makes Commando one of the ultimate guilty pleasure movie experiences. So do like the cast and crew does and just dive in head first and start laughing.
Lester, Action, 1985

62.2

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Father of the Bride
Steve Martin found himself the king of the family comedy in the 1990’s and this was the best of them. He and Diane Keaton are the married couple, George and Nina Banks, whose house is turned upside down when their daughter returns home from college with a fiancé in tow. Cue all the anxieties of the modern father amplified as only Martin can as their house is turned upside down in preparation for the wedding. The characters are well written with George’s somewhat endearing pettiness and stinginess creating the pretext for many funny scenarios. They really are quite funny considering the natural restraints the family comedy genre places on such material. Keaton is a terrific foil for Martin as she plays her hand just right. There’s a nostalgia factor in play too for those who grew up on these types of comedies so prepare to be transported back to a more innocent time midst all the modest and comfortable laughter.
Shyer, Comedy, 1991

62.1

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Deliver Us From Evil
Laudable effort at a modern possession story starring Eric Bana as a New York cop who gets involved in a case that has spiritual and demonic overtones. As his life begins to crumble around him, he teams up with an atypical priest (Édgar Ramírez) in the attempt to get his head around the evidence. There’s not much in the way of originality here but Bana always adds a level of class to his movies and together with some deft touches from its writer-director Scott Derrickson along the way, Deliver Us From Evil should keep you invested despite the overall familiarity.
Derrickson, Horror, 2014

61.8

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The Bodyguard 
Stoic protector Kevin Costner is hired to mind diva movie star Whitney Houston when her life is threatened by an anonymous maniac. With his client growing increasingly unhappy with the new restrictions on her life and everything happening in the midst of an entourage, the methodical minder gets more than he bargained for, especially when he inevitably falls for the women he’s supposed to be protecting. Nauseatingly hyped on its release, The Bodyguard is one of those movies which the world seemed happy to forget in recent decades. However, as a straight up thriller, we’ve seen a lot worse than a relatively original premise being executed with enough twists and turns to keep its audience guessing. The problem lies in the romantic angle which, at all times, seems at odds with characters who are written fit for purpose with the movie’s plot.
Jackson, Thriller, 1992

61.7

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Eight Legged Freaks 
Exactly what it says on the can. A town full of giant mutant spiders, wise-cracking and/or fleeing humans, and paper thin plots. The result, a totally enjoyable and sometimes genuinely funny horror spoof. David Arquette leads the cast as a man who has recently returned to his hometown only to find it being overrun by a swarm of creepy giant arachnids. Kari Wurher is the town sheriff with whom he has some history and a young Scarlett Johansson is knocking about also. The CGI is fine but this movie is all about the the well conceived and executed set-pieces in which the spiders find new and imaginative ways to kill the blundering townspeople.
Elkayem, Comedy, 2002

61.3

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Grand Canyon
This is the type of film that could only be made by rich people who live in LA. Self obsession, lots of talk of emotions, life changing experiences, mystical signs, putting life in perspective, and inevitable happy endings. And somehow it works! Kevin Kline stars as a wealthy lawyer looking to repay a favour to a tow-truck driver (Danny Glover) who saved his life. Mary McDonnell plays his wife who combats empty nest syndrome by taking in an infant she finds discarded in the bushes (seriously). The whole thing would be pure saccharine if it wasn’t for Steve Martin who pops up as Kline’s film producer friend who himself undergoes similar life changing experiences but reacts a little bit more realistically and with some genuine humour. The chemistry between the actors as well as their individual performances are what bind this together into an overall pleasing and enjoyable experience. It’s not a big film as its name would suggest. It’s a small film that for the most part hits the right notes.
Kasdan, Drama, 1991

60.9

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Midway
An interesting but problem ridden account of the decisive WWII battle of the pacific sees Carlton Heston, Henry Fonda, Glenn Ford and others go up against their Japanese counterparts in the form of Toshirô Mifune and James Shigeta. The strength of the this film lies in its honest attempt to capture the ebbs and flows of the battle as tactics, mechanical and human error, courage and above all luck played their respective hands. This goes a long way in recreating some of the anxiety and panic that defined the days events. The cast is littered with big names from the aforementioned to Hal Holbrook, Robert Webber, Robert Wagner, Cliff Robertson, James Coburn, and most exciting of all Robert Mitchum. Though they all bring their presence in different ways most of them are mere cameos and so there’s a tendency to feel rather hard done by as the film continues. But that’s only a minor issue compared to major problems which beset this film. First off, the Japanese characters either speak English in American accents or in most cases they are dubbed by Americans making no attempt to disguise their accents. While this reduces the authenticity which films like Tora! Tora! Tora! achieved so easily it also makes it difficult to discern which sides the various pilots belong to as they radio back to their ships. Even more unfortunate is the shooting of the battle sequences themselves. Pedestrian at best, laughable at worst, they lack any proper coordination and involve bargain basement visual effects. The director Jack Smight is most culpable here and one suspects his decision to incorporate actual dog fighting footage into those scenes was to compensate for the poorness of those effects but in the end, they only destabilise them further. All this is a shame because the Battle of Midway is an important and critical moment in WWII and no other film before or since has brought the necessary scale to do it justice. That this is what hardened WWII movie fans are left with is frustrating especially give that it could be avoided. However, for those fans alone, Midway’s successful attempt to give a methodical blow by blow account of the day should prove enough reason to give this one a watch.
Smight, War, 1976

60.5

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Grizzly
It’s the height of camping season when a couple of campers get killed by what the local ranger and his naturalist friend are convinced is a grizzly even though they’re smack in the middle of brown bear country. Naturally, nobody believes them, especially the owner of the mountain resort whose business would be threatened by a rampaging grizzly. Familiar? You bet. The production values are as low as the mid 70’s could get and the acting is straight out of the bottom drawer. The script provides the bare minimum of dialogue they could fit in between bear attacks and when those attacks do occur, we see nothing more that flashes of fur and what we must assume are claws. That said, there’s plenty of gore thrown about and it’s not entirely unrealistic. Despite these major shortcomings, Grizzly remains an enjoyable piece of exploitation cinema. Maybe, this is merely a testament to the strength of Benchley’s rehashed plot but there have been plenty of similar imitations over the years that can’t be enjoyed on the same level.
Girdler, Horror, 1976

60.4

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The Perfect Storm
Dramatised account of “The storm of the Century” that hit the north eastern sea-board of the US in the early 90’s and that focuses on the crew of a swordboat’s attempt to traverse the monster lead by its salty captain George Clooney. The dialogue is cheesball city but the sea-based scenes, particularly once the storm gets going, are a sight to behold.
Peterson, Adventure, 2000

60.4

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Vision Quest
Matthew Modine stars as an introspective high school student who decides to make his mark in his final year and so proceeds to drop down two wrestling weight divisions so that he can challenge the best and most feared champion in the state. His steely focus is ultimately jeopardised, however, when his father and him take in a sultry lodger in the shape of Linda Fiorentino. Vision Quest is as cheesy as the 80’s teen movie got with the dialogue, romantic plot, and direction being the most guilty in that respect. The story is eminently predictable in structure, progression, and conclusion. Furthermore, somewhere along the way in the development of the script, the relevance of the title “Vision Quest” got lost because it has almost entirely no bearing on the story. However, the acting does a lot to pull this one back from the edge. Modine always had that priceless boyish charisma and it’s used perhaps better than ever in this type of over-flowingly positive underdog story. He adds a glowing and irresistible naïveté to the proceedings and when counterbalanced with Fiorentino’s well struck performance it gives the hack story some real thrust.
Becker, Drama, 1985

60.3

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Celtic Pride
Dan Aykroyd and Daniel Stern play Boston sports fanatics who kidnap the Utah Jazz’s pre-madonna star player (Damon Wayans) in order to get their Celtics through a play-off series with the Jazz. It’s a great premise and although it could’ve been exploited better by a young Judd Apatow, there are some nice moments that stem from it. Of course, the film will speak to you on a whole other level if you’re a sports fan with a tendency to get a bit nuts about your team and that’s why it’s such a pleasure to watch. All the actors do their bit with Wayans turning in a watchable performance as yet another egotistical sports superstar.
DeCerchio, Comedy, 1996

60.3

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Blue Steel
Kathryn Bigelow and Eric Red teamed up so perfectly on Near Dark that it seemed a cinch they’d do it again but unfortunately this uneven story about a female police office who is targeted by a deranged stalker falls well short of the mark. There are too many sub-plots most of which are rushed and some of which are laughably realised and at times Ron Silver really hams it up. However, the main story which pits Jamie Lee Curtis and the always excellent Clancy Brown against Silver’s lunatic obsessive is actually quite interesting. Thus, despite its massive failings, one feels strangely compelled to forgive it – but only barely.
Bigelow, Thriller, 1989

60.1

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Death To Smoochy 
Edward Norton and Robin Williams do battle as children’s entertainers with very different ideas about how to go about their business. Norton is a clean cut and innocent do-gooder whose alter ego Smoochy the Rhino is given the chance to be the lead star in a children’s show when its previous host, Rainbow Randolph (Williams), is fired for taking payola. Not taking it lying down, the increasingly deranged Randolph sets in motion a series of plans designed to kill Smoochy and get his old job back. Death to Smoochy is an enjoyable romp that constantly threatens to live up the the potential of its premise. However, it never quite gets there due to some slightly detached directing from De Vito. That said, it’s great fun for the most part and gives us a chance to see Edward Norton in a different light.
DeVito, BlackComedy, 2002

60.1

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Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Kevin Smith’s film starts off great as Zack and Miri, two plutonic friends living together since high school, attend their 10 year high school reunion. Seth Rogan (Zack) is his usual character but watchable as ever while Elizabeth Banks (Miri) equally pulls her weight on the comedy front. On deciding to make a porno to pay off their unpaid bills things remain funny for a time but the sex jokes wear thin after a while and the lines become overpopulated with curse words as if to make up for their repetitiveness. In the end it all comes apart as Smith takes the easy/cheesy way out. That said the first half is so enjoyable and there is such a good array of actors on show (including Smith regulars Jeff Anderson and Jason Mewes) that it remains worth the watch.
Smith, Comedy, 2008

60.1

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Wanted
It might seem redundant to state that a movie about a secret cult of weavers turned assassins is at best a guilty pleasure but so derivative is this one that it really does need saying. With its comic book premise that itself was cobbled together from dozens of better sources and with a sprinkle of madcap mayhem, James McAvoy stars as a painfully ordinary nobody who, after Angelina Jolie shows up to repeatedly beat the crap out of him, discovers his birthright is to be a super-assassin and avenge his similarly employed father. Absurdly obscure superpowers considered and colourless bad guy aside, this one kind of skirts along of the far boundaries of tolerance thanks to the rollercoaster of fun it serves up. So detached is it from making sense that you’ll gladly just give in and absorb the bullet-bending, car-flipping carnage and chuckle at the few decent jokes they manage to cram in between. McAvoy’s boyish charm helps a lot and when Jolie isn’t doing her smug “I-know-something-that-you-don’t” face, she cuts another fine action heroine. Together, they are fine but don’t expect the chemistry of Ford and Fisher. Noteworthy in his presence is Morgan Freeman who pops up in a (not atypically) curious cameo too but to little effect because Wanted is McAvoy and Jolie’s bag.
Bekmambetov, Action, 2008

60

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Sabotage
A cracking premise, a cast loaded with talent (or at least personality), and a director coming off the back of an action classic, what could go wrong? Well, put Arnold Schwarzenegger in a role he was never going to be able to pull off and let it unravel from there. Such is the way of Sabotage. Arnie plays a renowned badass leader of a crack DEA unit who are being assassinated one a time after they ripped off a cartel. Olivia Williams (in top form) is the investigating detective who gets caught up in the politics of the unit and the DEA to whom the unit are now pariahs. But the closer she gets to the case the more curious the actions of Arnie and his team become. David Ayer was never brilliant at writing plot and this one, though rooted in a worthy premise, is all over the place. Choosing to reveal it gradually, he lets the movie meander forward with no hint of what’s to come. In the absence of a single star name, the tantalisingly cast team of Terrence Howard, Sam Worthington, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, and Max Martini might’ve been able to carry the film until the plot crystallises, but Arnie’s ubiquitous presence and the tendency for Ayer to follow him exclusively, is like a wet rag on a fire and douses the potentially riveting cast dynamics. All we’re left with are some barely coherent testosterone fuelled exchanges and some interesting action sequences. At a number of points the movie threatens to break free of its problems and turn into an entertaining actioner but the the lack of a clear plot stops even the most basic narrative from gaining traction. With less than clear directing, the cast led by the utterly manic Mireille Enos (what were they thinking?) implodes and the movie spirals. The makings of an excellent action movie lie within the carnage though and those moments (mostly those told in flashback) when the ICE team are doing their thing (expanding on a premise introduced in End of Watch) are worth the watch thanks mainly to the characters and dialogue of those moments (Ayer’s strong-point). In the end, however, it’s all a bit like Michael Mann’s (2007) Miami Vice. Great ideas, lousy execution.
Ayer, Action, 2014

60

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Lone Survivor
Highly dramatised account of a Navy SEAL team’s desperate attempt to escape dozens of Taliban during a compromised mission in Afghanistan. Peter Berg is a curious director. A glance at his CV and he could look like simply another journeyman director. But every now and then he pops up with a film that seems uniquely his. The fact that Lone Survivor counts as one such movie is both good and bad for Berg. Good because we have a movie with its own personality but bad because the cheesiness and fundamental idiocy of the plot must therefore reflect largely on him. Far from being an unashamed propaganda movie, Lone Survivor is a badly veiled one. It doesn’t focus on the skill of the soldiers as a more straight up propaganda piece would. Instead, it’s an attempt to appeal to the emotional bonds that exist between the them. By placing them in a hopeless situation and having them shepherd each other to safety, bullet-ridden and broken… but never beaten. Of course, most propaganda films will play on the audience’s heartstrings aiming for emotional resonance. But Berg doesn’t simply play on them. He bounces on them – trampoline style. Some action fans will forgive this. Many won’t – and the truly awful dialogue during these gut wrenching moments won’t help them to in the slightest.
Berg, Action, 2013

60

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Contraband
Ben Foster and an always enjoyable Mark Wahlberg star as a couple of drug smugglers with Giovani Ribisi’s slightly deranged wannabe tough guy attempting to pull their strings. Yes, the plot swings between predictable and confused and, yes, it’s bloated with the contradictory ideas of a script writing committee but there’s some fine gunplay and car chasing to complement the cast’s chemistry. If you’re stuck for something to watch, this one will fill the void adequately.
Kormákur, Action, 2012

60

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The Punisher
Standard enough action fare as Tom Jane does the best he can with a fairly unadventurous interpretation of comic book hero Frank Castle aka “The Punisher”. There are some good actors on show here with Travolta and Patton playing the bad guys and the late great Roy Scheider in a cameo appearance as Castle’s father. Ben Foster in an early appearance gives a good turn as Castle’s nervous neighbour. The story is predictable enough and the tension slips around the beginning of the final act but it nonetheless remains an entertaining watch.
Hensleigh, Action, 2004

60

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