Shock Waves (1977)

Sort-of-zombie SS super soldiers rise from the ocean depths to terrorise shipwrecked holidaymakers in an enjoyable low-budget schlocker.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

This review was written 38 years too late.

ANY film that opens with black and white footage of Nazis and an ominous voiceover intoning about super soldier experiments and SS brigades that “no one knew what became of SHOCK-WAVES-1977them” is off to a flyer in my book.

Part of the micro zombie Nazi genre, “Shock Waves” is one of the earlier films to address the idea of Europe’s most hated coming back to life.

Horror veteran John Carradine skippers a barely seaworthy cruiser in the Bahamas that includes holidaymakers Brooke Adams in a bikini, a James Caan lookalike, and a few other zombie-fodder characters not worth mentioning here. A strange sunset triggers supernatural goings-on and soon their ship is crippled by a mysterious wreck, the captain’s vanished and they all row to the safety of an apparently deserted island.

We couldn't afford James Caan. Or Jared Martin.

We couldn’t afford James Caan. Or Jared Martin.

They meet Peter Cushing living alone in an abandoned hotel. He’s an old Nazi who sank the wreck after the war, burying the Nazi super soldiers it was carrying. But now, for no apparent reason, the soldiers are back. He urges the holidaymakers to escape, but do they heed his words? Do they shite.

Gore-hounds, forget about it. There’s barely a drop of blood to be seen here. The super soldiers favour drowning to biting, tearing and eating, and spend most of their time in water slowly submerging or emerging. Ayran-blond, their goggled-eyed faces ridged and weathered after decades locked in a hulk, they look like a union between Andy Warhol and David Bowie’s Thin White Duke.

But what’s lacking in claret is made up, partially, in atmosphere. A handful of shots possess a creepy, unsettling feel, and the underwater photography is rather effective.

Might as well jump

The same can’t be said for the story, cast or editing, but you can just about forgive that if you’re a B-movie aficionado.

There’s no explanation for the sudden return of these undead soldiers, and Peter Cushing’s ten minutes of exposition screen time don’t convince. He and Carradine have the only screen presence; while the cutting is clumsy, both from a continuity perspective and story as characters die but no one seems to be that upset or even aware, probably due to the poor assembly of scenes.

brooke adams in Shock Waves

You can take my butt from your cold, dead hand

Still, director Ken Wiederhorn gives his film just enough to make it watchable. Just.







Push (2009)

Chris Evans demonstrates non-Captain America super powers in an X-Men variation that gets muddled in its own mess.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

This review was written 6 years too late.

It’s a world where among us normal folk are those blessed/cursed with various abilities including seeing the future, telekinesis, mind control and, er, shouting really loud. Needless to say, a shady government organisation called Division has been capturing and experimenting on these mutants to create an army and then, well, they don’t actually say what.

Hiding out in Hong Kong is Nick (Chris Evans), a low-level “mover” earning money by trying to manipulate dice games with his powers. When he meets precognitive Cassie (Dakota Fanning), he gets embroiled in a race to find a suitcase that contains a power-enhancing drug. But Nick and Cassie are not the only ones after it, as the bad guy Djimon Hounsou‘s Division want it too, while a gang of empowered Triads are also in the chase.

And a chase is all “Push” really is. The facets of different powers don’t really distinguish it, and in fact, serve to muddle it. Take Pushers, who can push thoughts and emotions into minds and control people. All this delivers to us are a series of bluffs – did it really happen or am I being tricked? – that quickly become tedious and undermine motivations. Or Watchers, who see varying degrees of accuracy in their predictions depending on what the script demands. The slightly seedy Sniffs, meanwhile, can locate a person simply by smelling something that once belonged to the target, but the dimensions of this ability are cloudy and, like Watchers, suit the plot more than anything. Sploshers I won’t even go into, while the intensely irritating Bleeders and their glass-shattering shrieks are unintentionally comic.

Too many action scenes are devoid of logic: a gunfight between two movers making pistols hover not only looks cheesy (weapons clearly on CG-removed strings) but is just plain silly. Why have the guns slowly move up on their targets, taking cover, and shooting to get closer? Me, I’d send the gun straight across the room and blow my adversary away. Job done. It’s a visual equivalent of monologuing as described in “The Incredibles“.

Evans is acceptable in the lead role. Fanning’s tween Cassie is irritating, and making the character a young adult serves no purpose. Her drinking alcohol or wandering the mean streets of Hong Kong alone late at night are pointless scenes that only serve to undermine an already stretched credibility.

Only one thing to do with this movie: Push the off button.



Play Dirty (1969)

Michael Caine goes fuel-dump a-raiding with a bunch of cynical irregulars led by Nigel Davenport. Quality war adventure.

Rating: ★★★★☆

This review was written 45 years too late.

p_82592Frequently mentioned alongside Robert Aldrich’s classic “The Dirty Dozen” (1967), “Play Dirty” comfortably sits alongside the daddy of WW2-guys-on-a-mission films, albeit dragging a little in places. But it’s a film that lives up to its title, right up to the final scene as the cynical, expendable nature of war is highlighted superbly.

It’s the second world war, north Africa, and British special forces want to blow up German fuel dumps to hinder Rommel’s progress. Despite having failed numerous times, an irregular unit made up of prisoners is placed under the command of Caine’s Captain Douglas, though in reality the team actually follow the orders of Nigel Davenport’s Colonel Leech, also an ex-con.

The motley crew are, of course, the usual selection of thieves, rapists and ne’er-do-wells, all expendable, and all played by euro actors who learned how to grin and say little from watching too many spaghetti westerns. As a result, there is not much of the camaraderie found in, say, “The Dirty Dozen” as these fellas are here strictly to behave badly.

Plum roles are for Caine and Davenport, and they do a good job antagonising each other, with Davenport especially creating the cynical, moustachioed template for Robert Shaw’s Quint in “Jaws”. Caine leaves his Cockney accent behind and tries to be all proper-like and let Leech know who the boss is. One of the enjoyable things of “Play Dirty” is seeing Caine’s captain repeatedly overruled and saved by the criminal Leech.

As they plod through the desert, they witness massacres, commit their own, overcome booby traps and generally live up to the film’s title.

One-eyed director André de Toth handles things well, and scenes that are initially tedious have a neat habit of developing tension. Example: towing trucks up a rugged hill. Sending up the last truck overloaded, there is still tension to be had despite having watched the last two make it to the top successfully. (De Toth, incidentally, also directed “House of Wax” (1953) in 3D, despite not being able to see the effect himself missing a mince pie.)

Elsewhere, his experience doing 2nd unit work on “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962) clearly pays off as his deserts (actually shot in Spain), look daunting and harsh, while the explosions and carnage have an impressive sense of scale.

Co-scripted by Melvyn Bragg, but don’t let that put you off.

Watch a rather good fan-made trailer:

Non-Stop (2014)

More Liam Neeson late-middle age macho movie madness, this time on a plane.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

This review was written 1 year too late.

I don’t know why Liam Neeson suddenly started making one action movie after another about eight or nine years ago but I am glad he did. His ageing, world-weary agents/marshals/hunters/crooks generally forced into situations not of their doing have proved enjoyable fare, and “Non-Stop” is another addition.

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who was also behind the camera for Neeson’s “Unknown” and his recent “Run All Night”, “Non-Stop” moves the action to the skies.non-stop-2014-02

Neeson is Air Marshal Bill Marks who receives a mid-air text threat that people on the plane are going to start dying every 20 minutes unless a few quid (well, $150m) is transferred to a secret bank account. And yes, after 20 minutes, someone does indeed snuff it.

And there we have our setup, ladies and gentlemen. All that remains for Liam is to dive into the mystery of who is doing what, why, stop the plane being down, and clear his name after being framed for everything. Oh, and not have a drink either since he has a bit of a booze problem.

He’s assisted by Julianne Moore, who, frankly doesn’t have a lot to do but pick up her cheque and good luck to her for that. Liam, meanwhile, kicks some passenger arse when they start to think he’s behind the whole thing, discovers a bomb and some poison darts (poison darts!), and generally does a lot of his trademark growing at folk as he seeks to keep control of an increasingly unstable situation.

It’s enjoyable, by-the-numbers stuff. The plane, like all planes in airborne thrillers, seems to be Tardis-like in its size, providing endless repositories for dead people, nervous people, tied-up people, and all manner of things. A Ryanair 737, this ain’t.

But, like Ireland’s much maligned airline, “Non-Stop” gets you there on time, is not entirely unpleasant, and you know what you’re getting. And, like Ryanair, it made money: $200m+ off a $50m budget, so it must have something to pack the punters in.


Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Not-as-bad-as-you-thought Cruise big-time SF actioner

Rating: ★★★½☆

This review was written 1 year too late

You’ll love Edge of Tomorrow if you don’t love Tom Cruise. Watch him die, die and die again. As William Cage, a slimy army PR man pressed into frontline service in a losing battle between earth and invading aliens, he drinks alien blood by mistake and suddenly finds himself living every day over and over again.

BiP_iDVD 2357 slipcase

I’ll let you make up a Groundhog Day reference. I can’t be bothered.

With each repeat, he learns more and more about how to survive and manipulate events. Eventually, he connects with Emily Blunt’s uber-warrior Rita (Rita? Sounds like a dinner lady) who’s had the same experience and offers advice and training. Eventually, he dies enough times to figure how to beat the aliens. No surprise there, then.

What does surprise is the film’s predominantly London setting, with Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5 transformed into a vast military base, Tom being accused of cowardice by an old geezer in a boozer, and alien thingies racing up the Thames.

We’re so used to grand invasion disaster to happen Stateside, this really was refreshing. It also has enough humour, with Cruise seemingly aware that more than a few people in the audience will enjoy his repeated demises, and playing subsequent deaths with a resigned irritation – squashed rolling under truck wheels until he gets the timing right. Need I say more?

PH0M3v7s9Z5929_1_lBourne” director Doug Liman gets the pace spot on, cutting the repeats perfectly so we don’t get bored of watching too much of the same stuff over and over. Emily Blunt delivers in spades as the kick-ass talisman of the army and PR people. FX are pretty neat too.

Give it a whirl. But once is enough.



Thunder Point (1998)

A lost Nazi secret is found – and everyone wants it. Well, duh. Enter Sean Dillon, IRA enforcer turned British 51QLO29a1wL._SY300_ secret agent, as created by veteran thriller writer Jack Higgins.

Rating: ★½☆☆☆

This review was written 17 years too late

Jack Higgins has spent best past of a lifetime churning out a thriller a year, and good luck to him for doing so. After a decade of doing this, he hit literary pay dirt with “The Eagle Has Landed” back in the 70s, which was swiftly filmed with Michael Caine. Films of his other books have been sporadic. Mickey Rourke hammed it up as a guilt-ridden IRA gunman in the “A Prayer for the Dying” (1987), while in 1972 his “The Wrath of God” saw Robert Mitchum and Rita Hayworth up to revolutionary mischief in 1920s South America. More adaptations have been made as TV movies, and it is this dread category that “Thunder Point” falls into.

Made-for-TV usually means a pilot or a mini-series (remember them?). “Thunder Point” is a bit different in that it is not particularly TV friendly, with its mild violence, a spattering of bad language and sufficient T&A to keep the pervs happy. It features Kyle MacLachlan as Higgin’s literary hero of the past 20 odd years, Sean Dillon. Reformed terrorist, he now somewhat unlikely helps a discreet branch of the British government sort out unpleasant messes.

The mess in this case is the discovery of Hitler’s plans for a Fourth Reich, despatched from the Führerbunker just before his suicide then lost on a submarine. When an explorer finds them decades later, he entrusts them to his daughter, but the bad guys come after her. Enter Sean Dillon.

It’s pretty poor stuff, made on the cheap by moving the book’s Caribbean location to low-overhead Canada. MacLachlan does not attempt an Irish accent, which is a relief, while the rest of the cast are unremarkable except for dear old Kenneth Welsh (MacLachlan’s “Twin Peaks” alumni) doing his usual evil boss thing.

MacLachlan had played Dillon once before in 1996’s “Windsor Protocol” and shared the role with Rob Lowe who was Dillon twice as well, in “On Dangerous Ground” (also 1996), and “Midnight Man” a year later. I don’t know if any of these are connected and I couldn’t give a toss either after sitting through this turgid mess.

Watch the trailer, just for the line, “I’m not here about your toilet.”

The Big Red One (1980)

Rating: ★★★★☆

This review was written  35 years too late

bigrSamuel Fuller‘s “The Big Red One” is a sort of autobiographical war film following the fate of four US 1st Infantry Division (the One of the title) rookies led by veteran Lee Marvin as America enters the war in late 1941.

Fuller, like Marvin, actually served. Fuller’s story is compelling, watchable and bold in ambition. Marvin brings real credibility to his role as the wise head shaping a handful of cannon fodder.

It’s an epic journey, taking in North Africa, the invasion of Sicily, the Normandy landings, the Battle of Hürtgen Forest, and the horrors at Falkenau concentration camp among others.

Marvin’s Sergeant Possum brings his core group through all of these fights mostly unscathed. One of the really interesting things about the film is how the nervous group don’t grow more cynical with each new battle, but rather start to believe in their own immortality, an immortality that’s preserved. Comrades die all around them, but never them.

It’s a curious, surreal viewpoint for a war film since, almost to a man, they focus on loss among brothers-in-arms. If this was Fuller’s own experience, then he does a splendid job of realising it on screen. Add to this soldiers hiding in holes dug in the ground as tanks roll over their heads, a misjudged shootout in a mental asylum, and a curious, smokey tree-splintered Hürtgen Forest to really go somewhere different.


Mark Hamill does his best to be someone other than Luke – some bad language and sex are attempts to move beyond a virginal, over-excited space boy – but “Red” and his other film outside of “Star Wars” during this period, “Corvette Summer“, didn’t untypecast him.

Often called one of the best war movies ever, Fuller’s epic certainly belongs up there. Its battles are a little tame compared to modern day depictions (the Normandy landings have none of the visceral, verisimilitude of “Saving Private Ryan“), but that’s just its time. And anyway, it doesn’t need spectacle to show war’s horrors – just a soldier killing another unaware peace broke out a few hours earlier.

Make sure you see the 162m restored cut to get the full experience.


Strange Invaders (1983)

Enjoyable sci-fi homage about aliens hiding out in small-town America. Goofy effects make it all the better.

Rating: ★★★½☆

This review was written 32 years too late10924144_800

Strange Invaders” sees lecturer Charles Bigelow (Paul Le Mat) go to the small town of Centerville, Illinois in the US to find his ex-Mrs, who has not been seen there after visiting for her mother’s funeral.

In fact, no one has ever been seen there since 1957. No people, that is. Because Centreville was taken over by aliens hiding in human form and the townspeople vanished away. Bigelow investigates, his dog goes missing, the locals attack him, and by the time he escapes and tries to tell his tale of aliens up-to-no good, no one believe him.

Not even tabloid reporter Betty Walker (Nancy Allen) initially despite running a photo and story about the ETs. That changes when they come to the big city to clear up the evidence of their presence, and Walker and Bigelow determine to get the truth.

This delightful SF yarn that remembers its forebears from 30 years before will probably leave today’s cinema-going audience in silent-mouthed what-the-hell-is-this-shit? bewilderment. [Author admits to being 45 years old at the time of writing.]strangeinvaders1

For those of us of a certain age however, “Strange Invaders” has the same low level charm (and budget) of, say, “House” (1986). It’s lightweight froth told with affection for its genre.

Co-written by future Oscar-winner Bill Condon, “Invaders” was the second part of a planned trilogy by director Michael Laughlin (following on from 1981’s “Strange Behaviour”. Alas, it didn’t perform as planned so that was that.

“Strange Invaders” is a comfy film, it’s the best way to describe it, and once you are settled in, you are happy to forgive the dodgy acting and awkward dialogue.  Alien effects are well done – lots of skin being torn to reveal non-human features beneath – while visual effects such as lasers have that cheapo Battlestar Galactica look you’d expect. Elsewhere, there are some really lovely mothership Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 17.15.52models deployed, with coloured skies and absorbing clouds. It all mixes together very well, providing a satisfying 94 minutes.


Watch the whole movie

Passion (2012)

Familiar De Palma fare in a tale of escalating professional jealousy. Apparently an erotic thriller.Passion-589

Rating: ★★★☆☆

This review was written 2 years too late

Passion” sees Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace as boss and junior respectively of a Berlin-based ad agency. McAdams is your typical tough, career climber while Rapace is her meek yet talented underling who may just usurp her.

Based on the 2010 French thriller “Crime d’amour“, “Passion” is a pretty basic thriller about competitive people taking one-up(wo)manship to its extremes. As each tries to steal the advantage, the other resorts to increasingly severe tactics culminating in, dare I say it, murder!

Filmy-noiry-thrillery stuff

Filmy-noiry-thrillery stuff

If you know De Palma’s work, you’ll recognise the format – the blurring of sexuality, surveillance and voyeurism, distrust and uncertainty, and visual set-pieces.

What works is the updating of surveillance and communication to have some relevance to today – in-phone video capture and Skype replace the hand-glued film/sound editing of “Blow Out” (1981) or the time-lapse photography in “Dressed to Kill) (1980).  In addition, De Palma delivers a number of stylish eye-candy moments, one featuring a strangely compelling split-screen sequence of a straight-to-camera ballet performed on the left while the film continues on the right. Sounds weird, but it works.

Split-screen madness ahoy!

Split-screen madness ahoy!

On the down side is the acting, with both McAdams and Rapace never convincing in their roles, McAdams especially trying to be an über-bitch but just not making the grade. Nor do they generate any erotic sparks, seeing as “Passion” seems to want to be an erotic thriller. It’s just too flat.

Overall, it’s a lot better than De Palma’s last mainstream works – the forgettable “Femme Fatale” (2002) and disappointing “The Black Dahlia” (2006) – but you can’t help wondering who keeps putting up the cash for his welcome visual indulgences but less welcome unlikely plots and cardboard acting?


Enemy at the Gates (2001)

4af8dbd8a6Impressive take on WW2 from a different perspective as two snipers go head-to-head in 1942 Stalingrad.

Rating: ★★★½☆

This review was written 13 years too late

Vasili Zaytsev (Jude Law) is farm-trained sharpshooter who finds himself in the middle of the defence of Stalingrad – and political propaganda – as his marksmanship makes him an inspiration to demoralised Soviet troops.

All the time he is egged on by the Commissar he saved, Danilov (Joseph Fiennes), who sees him as the man to lead the morale in the defence of the city. Meanwhile, beautiful Tania (Rachel Weisz), is in both mens’ hearts.

It’s all true. No, really. There really was a Russian sniper called Vasili Zaytsev. He did record hundreds of kills. The Germans did try to take Stalingrad. There was a love triangle between Zaytsev, Danilov and Tania. There was a German “king” sniper called Konig, there was a little boy double-agent called Sacha who… But yes, you know. There’s but a fraction of truth in these frames of film.

Jude lays down the Law with his rifle

Jude lays down the Law with his rifle

Thankfully, the frames of the film are entertaining and well put together. At least, for about 75% of the movie. Vasili’s journey to the front lines and what he finds there make for compelling viewing, while his emergence as a sniper and subsequent propaganda pin-up give the film additional dimensions. The arrival of Ed Harris as his German equivalent sent to kill him is also good stuff.

It’s a terrific looking production, capturing a war-torn city and full of brutal combat sequences. What lets “Enemy at the Gates” down however is the poorly executed love triangle between Law, Weisz and Fiennes. In fact, it’s barely a triangle. Fiennes ogles Wiesz from afar and offers to bring her into his family’s not inconsiderable influence for a better life. She barely acknowledges him, and instead her and Law ride themselves silly in silence.

Nifty, stylish credits

Nifty, angled credits in a Soviet-stylee

Fiennes never quite gets jealous enough, nor Weisz infatuated enough with him to create any tension. Fiennes is more simpering on the sidelines as Weisz and Law get it on.

Weisz – and it’s not her fault – has really nothing do in this film other function as an object of affection. You could take her character out along with the luvey-dovey stuff, and the film would have benefited from a tighter focus on the duelling snipers and a battle ravaged city. Ed Harris doesn’t really get enough to do either, but the late Bob Hoskins excels as a badgering Nikita Krushchev. Law is passable enough as sniper hero Zaytsev.

Despite all that, “Enemy at the Gates” is a still a sniper film worth scoping out. (Sorry.)