Tag Archives: Michael Caine

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Interstellar (2014) 3.7/5 (8)

 

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Rating: The Good – 71.5
Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure
Duration: 169 mins
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Michael Caine, Matt Damon

An elegantly directed sci-fi adventure considerably undermined by yet another painfully flat Nolan screenplay, Interstellar charts the epic attempts of a small group of scientists and astronauts to locate a planet capable of supporting the human race as its Earthly sustenance quickly dries up. Mathew McConaughey heads the cast as the mission’s pilot desperate to get back to the children he left behind before they age beyond the point where he can help them while Ann Hathaway’s stiffish scientist and a couple of nicely conceived robots keep him company on board the spacecraft. Back on Earth, Michael Caine is the brains behind the mission, Jessica Chastain is the grown up version of McConaughey’s equally clever daughter, and Casey Affleck is his son who, like the majority of remaining humans, is attempting to farm what’s left of their desertification-headed planet.

Regaining his 2008 Dark Knight directorial form, writer-director Christopher Nolan composes a quite beautiful and thrilling action thriller that achieves a perfect balance between mood and energy with no small help from Hans Zimmer’s sublime score. Making the deftest use of Hoyte Van Hoytema’s stark and striking cinematography, he avoids overplaying the CGI card keeping the story front and centre. The story isn’t bad either and, predictable as its key moments are, it serves Nolan’s grand ambitions for a Kubrickian like space epic. More the pity then that the screenplay does not. Bloated with expositional dialogue and artificial sentiment, it bungles its way towards a gargantuan mishandling of a straightforward (“save the world before it’s too late”) premise with the kind of overblown piece of psycho-physical drivel that plagued Inception. Co-penned with his more adept writer-brother (Jonathan sat Inception out), this script at least shows more restraint than that 2010 monument to tedium but not nearly enough to engender its protagonists nor their dilemmas with the depth and cadences that the premise deserved. The well conceived drama emerging from the astronauts ageing more slowly than their loved ones back home is an exception to this and proves to be the movie’s one successful appeal to the audience’s emotions.

Ultimately, the problem with Interstellar is yet again one of Nolan reaching beyond his capabilities by attempting to match the work of masters who simply operated at a level higher than his own (that’s not an insult Chris, most filmmakers toil in the shadows of Kubrick and Tarkovsky!). The innumerable references to 2001: A Space Odyssey eventually feel less like a homage and more like an attempt to disguise that failure, proving far more imitative than emulative. That said, the couple of HAL-inspired robots (the Bill Irwin-voiced “TARS” in particular) work fantastically within the confines of this story, coming alive in a whirl of mechanised motion during the best of the action sequences and adding most of the humour outside of them. And, thankfully, it’s these such lighter more grounded touches that sees Interstellar passing muster as a sci-fi thriller even while failing as an attempt at something more profound.

Dressed to Kill (1980) 2.15/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 76.4
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 105 mins
Director: Brian De Palma
Stars: Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen

When a woman is murdered after a one night stand, her son, psychiatrist, and the only witness become embroiled in an unusual game of cat and mouse. For a director who always enjoyed paying homage to Hitchcock, Dressed to Kill is arguably Brian De Palma’s greatest ode to the Maestro. A classic MacGuffin followed by the inevitable genre switch, voyeurism, a mesmerising murder sequence, and two blond female leads, Dressed to Kill is laced with touches old Hitch would’ve been proud of. Throw in some of De Palma’s penchant for deep perspective, split screen, and perfectly lit tracking sequences knitted together with precision editing and you have one seriously slick thriller on your hands. As is typical with his films, the story takes second place to the set pieces and while the story does make for a fine thriller in its own right, it’s certainly elevated by De Palma’s style.

Angie Dickinson gives a somewhat shockingly sensual but nonetheless excellent performance as the married woman searching for something else. Michael Caine is terrific as the psychiatrist while Keith Gordon adds another interesting portrayal of a slightly atypical teen to his acting catalogue. De Palma regular Nancy Allen is equally good as the prostitute who witnessed the murder and it’s nice to see her play a relatively straight character as opposed to a ditsy red-head or malevolent teen villain. Overall, Dressed to Kill is a movie fan’s delight shaped into a top notch thriller. Watch it from either point of view and you won’t be disappointed.

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A Bridge Too Far (1977) 3.57/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 78.1
Genre: War
Duration: 175 mins
Director: Richard Attenborough
Stars: Sean Connery, Gene Hackman, James Caan, Michael Caine

Richard Attenborough’s WWII epic counts as a spiritual sequel to The Longest Day by providing a sprawling account of Montgomery’s overambitious Operation Market Garden. The film moves forward at a beautiful pace taking its time to develop each of the several main characters. It eases between the various divisions and units that are responsible for leading the different elements of the attack and it’s a testament to Attenborough’s direction and William Goldman’s screenplay that it never loses the audience’s attention. The cast of A-listers are too numerous to account for but like any good military campaign they all do their bit. The action scenes are in the main sensational and on a scale rarely seen in even the biggest and most modern of films. In fact, in many ways A Bridge Too Far is a case of art imitating life as the logistics involved in the production of this film must have rivaled those that went into the actual battles themselves. It isn’t all perfect as some of the close-shots during the fighting come off a little rushed and a small few of the battle sequences are a tad uninspired. There are also a couple too many subplots crammed into the 175 minutes and dispensing with the weaker ones (such as James Caan’s attempts to protect his fragile young lieutenant) would have given the film a more streamlined feel. That said, what makes A Bridge Too Far so special are the moments in between the battles that don’t quite add up to subplots but just a series of vignettes that acknowledge the personal dimension to soldiering. And on that criteria, there are few that can rival it.

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The Dark Knight Rises (2012) 3.15/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Bad – 57.8
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Comic Book
Duration: 165 mins
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Morgan FreemanMichael Cain

Stunning but only in its capacity to underwhelm, The Dark Knight Rises may have had an army of fanboys defending its name on (and even before!!) its release but this supposed movie extravaganza is nothing but a damp squib. Christopher Nolan’s final contribution to the Batman franchise sees Gotham being held for ransom by a formidable foe named Bane (Tom Hardy) who hijacks the city under the threat of nuclear destruction. Set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, a physically weakened Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) who has hung up his cape these last few years poses little threat to the savage Bane and must rediscover his zest for life in order to defend the city once again. Along for the ride are the usual assortment of characters from Michael Caine’s Alfred to Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon as well as a few newcomers, namely, Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a boy wonder type, and Mathew Modine as a bigwig in the police department.

After struggling with the coordination and overall pacing of the multiple subplots in Batman Begins yet seemingly mastering them in the The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises is a return to the hectic, rushed, and just plain muddled film-making of Nolan’s first installment. Side stories are merely introduced and with no time to let them nor the characters they’re built around develop, they’re accelerated, truncated, and fleetingly revisited all with the intention of bringing them together at the end. Unfortunately, given their slipshod construction we could care less about any of those characters by the time they get there. Even Batman elicits little in the way of the audience’s concern as the interminable final act plays itself out.

The character who suffers the most in this is Hathaway’s Catwoman as her early sequences showed some promise as the potentially treacherous nemesis of the Caped Crusader. But like every other character in this movie, the tension she offers peters out and the treachery becomes jarringly ordinary. Yes, it doesn’t help that Hathaway is operating in the shadow of Michelle Pfeiffer’s seminal turn in Batman Returns wherein she came to embody the very essence of feline treachery but in truth she was never even given a chance to compete. Tom Hardy puts in an interesting shift as the bad guy and Nolan sets up his character and introduces him effectively. However, because his brooding menace culminates in nothing more than a bunch of physical beatings he dishes out, the character ends up stagnating and even diminishing in threat.

On the technical front, Wally Phister’s cinematography, Lee Smith’s editing, and the visual effects are undoubtedly spectacular but with such an insubstantial story underlying them, the movie begins to feel like nothing more than a slideshow of striking images. This becomes rather jading and the film feels more and more like a visual marathon. The set pieces are elaborately set up but such is Nolan’s tendency to truncate every aspect of this film that, with the exception of the reasonably impressive opening sequence, they’re never allowed materialise into anything like what we saw in either of the first two installments. In fact, if it wasn’t for Hans Zimmer’s thrilling score we would barely notice the tepid action that this movie repeatedly serves up.

In the end, the abiding memories of The Dark Knight Rises are of the endless yet entirely nondescript hand-to-hand battles (somebody finally teach Nolan how to direct a fight scene, please!) and of Batman flying very slowly away from those fights in his nebulously shaped flying machine (don’t ask!). In fact, one desperately struggles to comprehend why so many have raved about the movie. It’s true that Nolan hires the cream of the industry’s technical talent and so his films have a very shiny gloss indeed but with such confused and unfocused writing and direction it’s all just a bottle of smoke.

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The Italian Job (1969) 4.29/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 68.9
Genre: Crime, Comedy
Duration: 99 mins
Director: Peter Collinson
Stars: Michael Caine, Noel Coward, Benny Hill

“You must have shot an awful lot of tigers Sir.”, “Yes, I used a machine gun.” Few films have captured the spirit and carefree vibe of the Italian job and it’s a real shame because this movie is just 100% fun. Michael Caine plays Charlie Croker, a playboy/thief just out of prison who is made privy to an ingenious plan to rob the city of Turin of four million dollars by engineering the biggest traffic jam the world has ever seen. Once Charlie gets the backing of the big boss Mr. Bridger (played by Noel Coward) it’s off to Italy with his crew as they plan and execute one hell of an audacious and enjoyable heist. As the three Mini Coopers whiz through (and under) Turin we are treated to a unique, playful, and hugely impressive series of set-pieces that have become iconic in their own right. Caine is in his element as the charming crook and Coward is excellent as the criminal even his prison guards defer to. However, the entire cast do their bit to make The Italian Job the charming ensemble piece it is.

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The Dark Knight (2008) 4/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 77.5
Genre: Fantasy, Action
Duration: 152 mins
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Michael CaineMorgan Freeman

Gotham’s self-appointed avenger dons the cape once more when a psychotic villain with a painted face begins taking over the city’s underworld with a view to “introducing a little anarchy”. If the biggest problem with Batman Begins was its pacing (and for the first 40 mins, it was!), then Christopher Nolan made up for it in spades with this follow-up as it’s a veritable master-class in that respect. Clocking in at almost two and a half hours, this film starts out at a reasonable pace and gets steadily faster never letting up for a second. The set pieces are bigger and better than those in Batman Begins, the script is tighter, and the story is the most ambitious yet for any of the Batman films. In the previous films, Batman skirts the line that separates his good and dark sides. In this film, he walks it as The Dark Knight attempts to shine a light on the very concept of Batman. The result is an enthralling action thriller.

As with Batman Begins, this movie is littered with heavy hitters who each give reasonably layered performances. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Gary Oldman are again solid in their respective roles of Alfred, Fox, and Commissioner Gordon. Aaron Eckhart is very good as Harvey Dent/Two-Face, while Christian Bale repeats his solid turn as Wayne/Batman. But no matter how good the aforementioned are, they are all battered off the screen by Heath Ledger’s utterly sublime portrayal of the Joker. His incendiary performance is as captivating as you’ll ever see in a comic-book film and worth every word of praise that was written about it. Nolan’s ambition to give the comic book universe a gritty realism was always going to be a difficult task given the fantastical nature of its villains and heroes and, while putting in a good effort in Batman Begins, he didn’t really achieve that aim. As such, The Dark Knight was somewhat of a make-or-break installment in his Batman project and thanks to Ledger’s inspired turn, he was able to convincingly inject a searing realism into the proceedings. In fact, one might say that it was entirely Ledger’s doing but we should probably give Nolan some credit.

Having said all that, The Dark Knight is not perfect. There are quite a few plot holes (albeit minor) and a few broad strokes made in the development of the story and some of its characters. There are several redundant and exceedingly tedious fight scenes which are just as formulaic as the fight-by-numbers scenes of the first film (and most of Nolan’s films) and Bale’s Batman-voice is as grating as ever. But these are minor quibbles in what is the most refreshing super-hero movie in the last 15 years and one superb film in its own right.

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Batman Begins (2005) 3.52/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 72.1
Genre: Fantasy, Action
Duration: 140 mins
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Christian Bale, Michael CaineMorgan Freeman

Last 90 minutes excellent, first 40 awful. Batman Begins is a case of director Christopher Nolan trying to do too much in one film. It begins with Bruce Wayne in some prison camp – cue token action scenes – and proceeds to tell his story through the use of flashbacks that are completely out of pace with each other. In fact, the overall pacing of those 40 mins is erratic as Nolan attempts to get all the exposition out of the way. So the “more than a man” speech comes far too early and the dialogue in general is wooden, clunky, bombastic (“What you really fear is inside yourself. You fear your own power. You fear your anger, the drive to do great or terrible things”) or outright cringe-worthy (“you’re not the devil, you’re practice”). The action is nothing we haven’t seen before and if anything it’s old hat. The ninja scene is straight out of the opening scene of Rambo III which was already lampooned by Hot Shots Part Deux so why Nolan tried to have a serious stab at it is a mystery. There are some good ideas in the opening act though. Wayne becoming a criminal and witnessing the ambiguity of crime, Tom Wilkonson’s speech that prompted Wayne to disappear are all original and thought-provoking.

Happily, once Wayne returns to Gotham, this film really takes off and it becomes quite excellent. Everything becomes more focused. The pacing settles, the score comes into its own and we are treated to one outstanding set-piece after another (with the rooftop sequence particularly standing out). Even the dialogue tightens up and becomes much more effective because of it. The cinematography throughout is splendid but peaks as the night-time cityscapes provide the backdrop to the originally executed action sequences. The seriousness of the film is also counter-weighted in the second act with Michael Caine’s light-hearted portrayal of “Alfred” providing some genuinely funny moments. With the calmer pace, the actors are given room to breathe and Christian Bale starts to show us a much more interesting and charming Wayne (though here too the ‘millionaire playboy’ scenario was rushed). Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman become relevant to the story and add great support because of it. The contrast between the first and final two acts is so stark that one wonders why Nolan just didn’t begin at the 40 minute mark The backstory could’ve been subtly sewn into its fabric with a series of unspoken shots like in Marathon Man (the type of which Nolan did briefly employ in the final act) and the film would’ve been much more fluid because of it. That said the final 90 minutes definitely make it worth wading through the first 40.

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Zulu (1964) 3.93/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 87.1
Genre: War
Duration: 138 mins
Director: Cy Endfield
Stars: Stanley Baker, Michael Caine, Jack Hawkins, Ulla Jacobsson

Cy Endfield’s hugely impressive account of the battle of Rorke’s Drift where 100 British soldiers stood up against thousands of Zulu warriors and held their position. Among a top cast of wonderfully fleshed out characters, a debuting Michael Caine is excellent as the privileged and somewhat effete Lt. Bromhead who must cede authority to Stanley Baker’s more dynamic Lt. Chard. Baker for his part is tremendously stoic as the film’s centre of reason, a man caught between the rougher side of life’s tracks and the first world’s notions of civilisation. The movie sits philosophically on that divide and steadily chips away at the latter by asserting the former. An early sequence in which the young Zulu men and women are mass-married in front of the a religious missionary and his daughter capture this one-sided primal dissonance rather elegantly and the film, not to mention the nature of the actual battle, continue to tease it out until its inevitable conclusion.

Zulu is, thus, defined by the steadily built tension of the battle scenes and the desperate interludes of waiting that came between them. The execution of the battle sequences is simply sublime and out-muscles anything the modern CGI battle can offer. No flashy cuts or ridiculously close close-ups either. Just plain old-fashioned choreography and steel-handed camerawork. Speaking of the latter, Stephen Dade’s glorious cinematography works a treat and is amongst the most spectacular ever to grace a war movie. Moreover, when combined with the foreboding sound of the unseen Zulu forces it becomes truly captivating. In the end, it’s the sound of this movie that lingers longest, a piece of inspired production that fits hand-in-glove with John Barry’s seminal and rousing score and guarantees Zulu’s place in the echelons of classic cinema.

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Battle of Britain (1969) 4.19/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 77.3
Genre: War
Duration: 132 mins
Director: Guy Hamilton
Stars: Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Christopher Plummer

“Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.” A spectacular account of the first entirely aerial battle in history as well as the first significant defeat for Hitler’s war machine. Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer, Robert Shaw, Ian McShane, Laurence Olivier (as the Air Marshall), and a host of other big names play the various representatives of one of the most valiant displays of skill and fortitude ever displayed in battle. All the actors involved do their shift with nobody really getting the opportunity to stand out due to short amount of screen time each character gets and the fact that everyone was playing second fiddle to the aerial battles.

Guy Hamilton ties it all together impressively allowing the audience to grasp the scope and magnitude of the various air strategies and logistical requirements that were employed on a day by day basis. The momentum does drop at points which in some ways reflects the contrasting lulls and hysteria of combat but it doesn’t make for the best film viewing. That said, the splendid choreography and stunt work of the planes, once the fighting does get going, offsets those minor issues. The climactic battle in particular is elegantly captured in a suitably rousing and operatic style and even by today’s standards, it’ll have the audience quietly astounded.

The fact that the German approach to the battle is depicted in detail (not to mention in actual German) is a real boon to the tone of the film for it not only bolsters the technical angle taken in the movie, but it also gives us a more fleshed out human perspective. Overall, Battle of Britain is an admirable and nicely spirited WWII movie that does justice to the technical and human effort that went into Britain’s lone fight against the Germans in 1940 while also offering great entertainment to anyone who loves a great film spectacle.

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Hannah and her Sisters (1986) 4/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 75.5
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Duration: 103 mins
Director: Woody Allen
Stars: Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, Michael Caine

A love triangle involving two sisters and one of their husbands, a third sister trying to get her post drug-addiction life back on track, and a hypochondriac ex-husband searching for a deeper meaning to his life all colliding in this colourful and witty Woody Allen tale. Mia Farrow and Barbara Hershey are, as usual, solid in their roles and Allen is particularly funny as the beleaguered TV producer, but it’s the performances of Michael Caine and Diane Wiest and the outstanding writing behind their characters which gives this film its defining charm. Less innovative than Woody’s earlier Annie Hall but just as smart, this romance for grownups never gets predictable and will have you laughing out loud.

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