Film Reviews by GI

Welcome to GI's film reviews page. GI has written 1233 reviews and rated 1821 films.

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Major Dundee

One of The Great Unsung Westerns of the 1960s

(Edit) 07/11/2023

Sam Peckinpah was a visionary director and is often misunderstood today or relegated to just a man who made violent films. But looked at closely Peckinpah's films reveal a genius at work. Major Dundee was a big budget almost epic western and Peckinpah had a unique vision for the film but like much of his work it was savagely interfered with by a misguided and panicked studio. Columbia Pictures was expecting a Fordian style Cavalry vs Indians action film but what they got was a serious study of two complex men, pitting themselves against each other and involving battles with French lancers, extended scenes of character angst and a narrative that required some real thought and understanding. As a result they ruthlessly cut the film and Peckinpah disowned it despite star Charlton Heston's personal backing. Luckily a restored Peckinpah cut has reached us and it's a flawed masterpiece. Heston is the titular Major Dundee, a cavalry officer who's stubbornness has earned him a lowly command of a fort cum prison camp in New Mexico in the closing months of the Civil War. A marauding Apache and his band massacre the troop Dundee sends to suppress them and so Dundee, against orders, gives chase into Mexico. To achieve this he has to bargain with the Confederate prisoners to help him and their leader is Ben Tyreen (Richard Harris). Dundee and Tyreen have history and their relationship is the centre of the narrative. It's a complex one, and despite a romance with Senta Berger thrown into the tale, it's the journey, that takes place over several months, that irons out the brotherly love/hate relationship that these two men have. Peckinpah had a cinematic love affair with Mexico, many of his finest films take place there, and he was also a great screenwriter managing to simplify language but add gritty realism to it at the sametime. In Major Dundee can be seen the seeds of his masterpiece The Wild Bunch (1969) and his unique (for the time) depictions of violence. Major Dundee is mostly restrained in that regard, we only see after the opening massacre is over for instance, but the final river crossing battle is brutal and exciting. But like all Peckinpah's films it's the flawed heroes that stand out, in all his films they are deeply contradictory in nature and drive and Heston's Dundee stands out as such a hero. A complex character driven by human frailty and emotional dysfunction; it's certainly rare for a film 'hero' to woo the beautiful woman only to turn to a lowly prostitute very soon after. Dundee does just this. He's one of Peckinpah's great anti-heroes and Heston is to be applauded for taking on such role. This is a film that is worth your time to seek out and to watch with care. Indeed, it's one of the great westerns of the 60s.

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Magnolia

Original And Clever Drama of Intertwining Stories

(Edit) 07/11/2023

After his brilliant study of the American porn industry of the 1970's with Boogie Nights (1997) Paul Thomas Anderson followed up with Magnolia. A complex drama that sets itself up with three introductory stories as a film about coincidence when in fact it's a film about connection, pain and regret. The action takes place over one day in the San Fernando Valley as several lives become intertwined and, for the most part, hurtle towards a final cataclysmic collision the like of which is completely unexpected. This is an ensemble piece with some quite remarkable performances. Jason Robards is Earl Partridge, a TV magnate, who is dying of cancer and has deep regrets over his past treatment of his first wife and the love of his life and their son from whom he is now estranged. Philip Seymour Hoffman (an actor that always raises the game when he appears in any film) is the nurse tending Earl and the only character that doesn't seem to be suffering from self-loathing. Then there's Linda (Julianne Moore) Earl's younger second wife who married him for his money but who has since fallen in love with him and feels no joy only utter anguish. Earl's TV company produces a tacky quiz show where children are pitted against adults. The host is Philip Baker Hall who loathes the job and is also dying but harbours a dark family secret which he hides from his living wife, Melinda Dillon but which involves his cocaine addicted daughter Claudia (the wonderful Melora Walters). To top all of these Tom Cruise excels as the slimy Frank TJ Mackey, a loathsome man who runs motivational speaking engagements called 'Seduce & Destroy' to teach weak men how to get sex by basically being downright misogynistic to the women in their lives. It's a brave performance with real depth. Linking all this together is a very profound narrative that is complex and very powerful and with biblical references liberally sprinkled throughout for the keen viewer to spot. This is a highly original film and on first viewing it may baffle but it's worth repeated looks as the thrust of the ideas soon start to reveal themselves. The surrealistic ending is certainly unique in a film like this.

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The Fast and the Furious

Fast Paced Action Film That Spawned a Popular Series

(Edit) 06/11/2023

Hi-octane action film that is for the gaming generation with a fairly routine cops and robbers narrative wrapped around testosterone speed junkie gangs who get their kicks racing the streets of Los Angeles in specially adapted race cars. A hugely popular franchise gained its roots with this, the first film, which is bright, noisy and pretty clichéd throughout. The story, for what it's worth, is that a highly organised gang of hijackers using super speed cars, forces big trucks off the road and steals their loads. Into this world is sent undercover cop, Brian (Paul Walker), to try and find out who is behind it. He manoeuvres his way into the gang of Dom (Vin Diesel), falls for his sister, and eventually loses sight of whose side he's on! But really the story matters not because this is just really a showcase for muscled guys with their harem of female followers racing cars, having fights and occasionally shooting each other and generally having a good time. It's a popular series but this the first is a routine affair and if here had been no others I'm sure this would be quickly forgotten.

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Killers of the Flower Moon

Epic Tale of Murder & Corruption

(Edit) 06/11/2023

Director Martin Scorsese presents a really remarkable story here that echoes the genocide of Native Americans in a sordid tale of corruption, greed and murder, themes that Scorsese has repeatedly returned to in his films. This is epic in structure and has a quiet, deliberately slow pace that makes it all the more powerful. Based on real events in Oklahoma in the 1920s on the reservation of the Osage tribe who have become rich on the discovery of oil on the land. This brings about a serious anomaly for American culture where the whites are subservient to the wealthier Indians but still operate a control with corrupt laws that forces the Osage to have white financial overseers to control their money. Into this mix returns Ernest (Leonardo DiCaprio), a needy and stupid man, freshly demobbed from the Army, who is given a job by his uncle William (Robert De Niro). William is one of Scorsese's most abhorrent villains, a man of deep resentment of the Osage but to whom he outwardly presents himself as a friend and benefactor all the while plotting to gain their wealth. He manipulates the useless Ernest to court and marry wealthy Mollie (Lily Gladstone), an Osage who along with her family are oil rich, to then control her wealth. Members of the tribe including Molly's family are gradually being murdered with little if any intervention by the local authorities. But eventually the newly formed Bureau of Investigation intervenes to get to the bottom of who is behind the deaths. The scenes of casual murder are shocking, all the more so by them being presented as almost idle chores by the odious white men under William's control. The racism exhibited here is central to the film's message and Scorsese does not hold back on his condemnations and in this I was reminded of the similar power of Mississippi Burning (1988). This true crime drama is a powerful film, a story of the bloody birth of modern America that is quite horrific. DiCaprio is excellent as the easily controlled weapon of De Niro's William Hale. Ernest is a man of complex emotions he cannot understand in himself, he carries out Hale's bidding without compunction but equally appears to really love and care for Mollie. Hale and Ernest' eventual downfall at the hands of the FBI (with Jesse Plemons excellent as the lead agent) is a mix of betrayal and conflicted loyalties. De Niro, DiCaprio and Gladstone are all superb here. An utterly absorbing film despite its length and certainly one of Scorsese's triumphs as a filmmaker.

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The Magnificent Seven

Still Magnificent

(Edit) 02/11/2023

It's surprising that this classic western was a box office failure in the US on first release and only its success in Europe gained it the reputation it still has to this day. Based on Seven Samurai (1954) this is an unpretentious pure genre 'professional' western with a great cast, a very famous rousing soundtrack and a full on action story. A poor Mexican village is plagued by a gang of bandits led by Calvera (Eli Wallach - fantastic with his gold tooth, wry and menacing) who regularly arrive and steal their precious food stocks. Desperate the village hires seven down-on-their-luck gunfighters led by Chris (Yul Brynner - a strange piece of casting but one that he exploited for years afterwards - see Westworld (1973) as an example, and including Steve McQueen in a role that pushed him into stardom, Charles Bronson, James Coburn and Robert Vaughn). As the fight against the bandits hots up the villagers have second thoughts and betrayal follows. The 60s and the 70s were the decades of the 'professional' western, stories of gunfighters whose skills and desperate nature drive the narrative. This is not a story about 'the West', or conquering the frontier, nor about Indians or the Civil war; this is a simple tale of mercenaries who lead a sort of non-existence, a life of violence and with no future nor hope and it set a standard for westerns for the future. It's a classic piece of American cinema and it holds up brilliantly today (unfortunately the 2016 remake was a poor film).

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Mad Max: Fury Road

Ignore Naysayers - This is Action Cinema At Its Best A Great Mad Max Film

(Edit) 31/10/2023

This is part sequel and part reinvention of the Mad Max series and it's a hi-octane thrill ride that doesn't disappoint in any way. Tom Hardy brings the character back to life and emulates Mel Gibson's hint of madness in a great physical performance and subtle facial acting that sets him apart from most action actors today. Set again in a scorched wasteland, made here extremely vivid in contrast to the washed down colour palette you often find in post apocalyptic movies, and warlord Immortan Joe, (Hugh Keays-Byrne returning as a baddie) controls the water and enforces his rule with a tribe of vampiric like warriors including a great performance from Nicholas Hoult as one. When one of his most trusted lieutenants, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron in fantastic role) steals his precious harem of beautiful women Joe gives chase but she is aided by Max who has been forced along for the ride! The Mad Max films are built on chases, the lack of a decent one in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) is why it's the weakest of the films, and Fury Road is essentially one huge, exciting chase. The action barely lets up and it can be a drain on the senses but boy is it good. This is a film to redefine action cinema, it's full of marvellous detail in it's depiction of a wasteland and the people left to inhabit it. Hardy could take the character into some brilliant new adventures so here's hoping we get more. Director George Miller has released a black & white edition of the film which is most interesting and worth checking out. It gives the film a more abstract, artful look and works superbly. A film that will become a cult favourite and recognised as a modern masterpiece.

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No Hard Feelings

Ok RomCom

(Edit) 01/11/2023

There's no doubt that Jennifer Lawrence can do comedy and can do it well. This is clearly a star vehicle for her and she clearly relishes the chance to be the sexy, older woman tasked with seducing a younger lad and get to fight naked on a beach - a particularly hilarious scene. Yet this film seems to have difficulty with itself. The very premise of Maddie (Lawrence), a thirty something, aimless woman, being hired by the silly parents of a quiet, introverted young man to seduce him and bring him into the world as it were, lends itself to a narrative that looks into the issue of sex for money (Maddie needs the car that the parents are offering as payment for the deed and she need it to earn money as an Uber driver). But this film doesn't explore that and simply goes for a romcom type story as the relationship between Maddie and 19 year old Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) develops in ways that she is unprepared for. Don't get men wrong this has its moments but it's an inconsistent and slightly disappointing film and ultimately quite predictable and it's all done with a sheen of unreality to the concept. I like Jennifer Lawrence and enjoy her films but I was left a little underwhelmed by this.

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Maggie

Thoughtful and Interesting Horror

(Edit) 30/10/2023

Maggie is a horror film that aims at emotional effects rather than gore or scares. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Wade, in a surprising gentle performance considering his action credentials, who goes in search of his wayward teenage daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) when a worldwide pandemic spreads rapidly. Finding her infected he takes her home to his new family with second wife (Joely Richardson) to spend her final days protected despite the insistence of the authorities that she must go into quarantine. The narrative fits into the zombie sub-genre but the very description can cause a false idea of how this film plays out. Certainly the disease gradually renders the sufferers as uncontrollable and obsessed with meat resulting in attacks on unaffected people. But this is a family drama with Breslin very convincing as the young girl who sees and feels herself changing but equally fearful of being taken from her family. But the big surprise here is Schwarzenegger showing a range that you could be forgiven for thinking was beyond him. He plays the loving and protecting father extremely well. A horror film with a difference and certainly one that is worth your time.

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Emily

A Gothic period Story - Worth Your Time

(Edit) 31/10/2023

Visually beautiful and a stunning central performance by Emma Mackey in an imagined story of the life of Emily Brontë. There's a gothic vibe to this film that dips into surrealistic ghostly atmosphere and portrays Emily as an either misunderstood and gifted person or maybe a slightly disturbed one. The two mixes combine to make interesting biopic style narrative which has an all consuming passionate romance thrown in for good measure. Set in the Brontë's Yorkshire home dominated by their patriarchal father (Adrian Dunbar) the three sisters and the wayward brother have a complex relationship with one another. Sister Charlotte is portrayed as a somewhat severe and certainly jealous one constantly disappointed and critical of the sister she refers to as 'the strange one'. But it's Emily's relationship with her opium addled brother (Fionn Whitehead) and eventually her passionate affair with a high minded curate, William (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) that is the focus of the story. This all surrounds her final decision to write the one novel for which she is famous and her early death. Much of the narrative is not based on true events and first time director Frances O'Connor seems to be more interested in using the central character as a theme for creativity and 'otherness' and there is certainly an unearthly and strange feel to the film. Worth checking out.

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The Fabelmans

Spielberg's Passion Film

(Edit) 30/10/2023

There's no doubt this is a passion piece from Steven Spielberg, a semi-autobiographical melodrama that ebbs and flows in its narrative making it at time absorbing and others as a tad tedious. Drawing on his own memories this is a coming of age story focused on the son of Mitzi (Michelle Williams) and Burt Fabelman (Paul Dano) growing up in 50s America. Sammy becomes an early cinephile and gravitates to making ever increasingly good home movies. It's through making a holiday film that he uncovers his mother's affair with a family friend, 'Uncle' Benny (Seth Rogan). The breaking up of the family is a device that drives the young Sammy's life as well as dealing with bullying and anti-semitism at his school. There's a quite marvellous episode where Sammy makes the main bully look super cool in a film he makes of the school day out to the beach effectively countering the bully's attitude and rendering him weaker. My main issue with the film is it's overly long and I found it dragged somewhat especially in the early parts of the film but there's a great scene at the films ending where Sammy meets the iconic director John Ford played brilliantly in a cameo by David Lynch. Definitely a film to see as there's much to admire here and in many ways you can see the roots of Spielberg's choices over the years.

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Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome

Not As Good As 1 & 2 But.....

(Edit) 28/10/2023

The third film in the Mad Max series lacks the hi-octane energy of the first two films and suffers from the increased production values that occurred owing to the injection of Hollywood money. Hence the film has become considered as the weakest of the Mad Max films. The story was not originally conceived as a Mad Max film at all and the intention was to make a post apocalyptic film about a man who finds a group of tribal children in the wilderness - a sort of a Lord Of The Flies narrative - but director George Miller suggested making Max the man who finds the children and hence we have a Mad Max film. So what we have is set about fifteen years after the events of Mad Max 2 (1981) and former cop Max is still roaming the wastelands of nuclear war destroyed Australia. His supplies are stolen (by a returning Bruce Spence as another devious aviator) and Max finds his way to a sleazy desert based den of iniquity called Bartertown run by Aunty, played by Tina Turner who turns in a commendable performance. Max makes a deal with her to rid Bartertown of her rival's bodyguard, he gets double crossed and ends up stranded in the desert to die where he is rescued by a bunch of tribal children. Where Mad Max 2 utilised myth and legend so well to enhance the story Thunderdome attempts to to do similar with religious iconography and this doesn't fully work. The climactic chase scene is a poor copycat of the previous film's and Max is left without a fulfilling story arc. Having two directors can't have helped but as a fan I can see that in there is an interesting film trying to get out and it certainly has some moments. As part of the Mad Max cycle it can't be ignored but you sort of have to tolerate it's cackhanded story and weak action.

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Champions

Delightful Sports Comedy

(Edit) 29/10/2023

A sweet natured, likeable comedy that is totally predictable with the odd surprise. It's just a pleasantly entertaining film and even if you don't like sports films or basketball it will still give you the intended warm hearted feel. Woody Harrelson is minor league basketball coach Marcus. After being fired from his job he gets arrested for drunk driving and to avoid prison accepts community service where he has to coach a team of adults with learning disabilities. Of course he starts out resenting the job and feels its beneath his skills but gradually comes to a life affirming change as the bond between him and the team forms. He's helped along the way by a romance with Alex (Kaitlin Olsen - in a funny and clever performance). You know exactly how the plot will progress but that takes away nothing from the feel good nature of this film. The script avoids over sentimentality for a hilarious realism that has the result of making everyone involved seem very real, the film is a remake of a Spanish film that itself was based on a true story. Great soundtrack too.

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Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

Absolute Classic

(Edit) 26/10/2023

One of the best examples of where a sequel is superior to the original film. Set after a nuclear holocaust and former cop Max (Mel Gibson) now roams the Australian wasteland forever in search of precious fuel, the new gold. He helps a struggling band of survivors who have refined a large amount of petrol but who are besieged by a horde of violent thugs intent on stealing it. Director George Miller had a bigger budget after his first film became huge in Australia although failed to find an audience in the USA (it was a modest hit in the UK though). With an interesting vision of a post apocalyptic future and incorporating mythological storylines Mad Max 2 (also known as The Road Warrior - the American title) is the ultimate action movie, probably only surpassed by 2015s Mad Max: Fury Road. The final chase sequence itself lasts 13 minutes and with a downbeat ending this is a film with little dialogue but builds on legend by utilising western genre tropes. This certainly launched Gibson's international career and has become an example of narrative structure in film analysis. It's a mini masterpiece and remains as exciting as it was on initial release.

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The Beta Test

Flawed Satirical Drama

(Edit) 25/10/2023

A satirical drama that kicks off with a shocking domestic murder setting the bar very high and peaking your interest but then ultimately heading down some wrong roads. As a condemnation of a branch of American society where sycophantic executives essentially prostitute themselves to get a good deal or secure a promotion this, for the most part, hits the mark. But when it eventually drifts into mystery story territory it loses its way and the conclusion is disappointing. Jim Cummings, co-director and co-writer, stars as Jordan, a shallow executive constantly putting on airs and graces to ingratiate himself with clients and bosses but who carelessly puts down his employees. He's engaged but still becomes increasingly interested in a strange letter he receives inviting him to a mysterious sexual encounter in a hotel room. Eventually of course he weakens and goes along for a bit of illicit sex but soon the experience has him obsessing over who arranged it all and who was the mystery woman. As an attack on the 'system' and those in thrall to it this has some interest but it's a flawed film that pushes the reactions to infidelity a little too far and deviates into a plot that is unsatisfying.

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Mad Max

Small Budget - Great Film

(Edit) 24/10/2023

What with the success of Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and the critical acclaim of Mad Max 2 (1981) it's easy to forget the brilliance of the low budget first film. It's the ultimate in action car chase movies, now rightly a cult film, it sets up a deliriously simple yet effective world where law and order has broken down and society is on the brink of collapse (it's never stated why but the next film references a nuclear world war), nomad bikers roam the Australian outback terrorising local folk while a few tough cops in high speed pursuit cars chase them down. The film boasts the start of Mel Gibson's career, has a great villain in Hugh Keays-Byrne as The Toecutter and has that gritty realism that makes Aussie cinema so unique. When cop Max chases down and kills an escaped prisoner known as the Nightrider he becomes a target for his gang led by the psychopathic Toecutter. With the stylish and unique cars, loads of gritty chases and its comic book stylings this is a marvellous little dystopian set film.

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