0-9 A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

The Naked Gun (1988).
Starring: Leslie Nleisen, Priscilla Presley, George Kennedy.
Director: David Zucker.
Synopsis: The Police squad! team uncover a plot to assassinate the queen.
Dean's comments: 'Police Squad!' was a very short-lived TV series made back in the 70's, but even now it appears as fresh, funny and challenging to convention as it probably did back then. This movie is an attempt to resurrect that genre on to the big screen, in the wake of the success of Zucker's 'Airplane' they do a pretty good job. Most of the best jokes are visual, such as the various portraits on the walls of the police station, everyone thinking Drebin is Enrico Pallazzo and the exchange of money between Drebin and the shoe-shiner. There is plenty of comedy for all ages too, the film just about manages to strike a balance that 'The Simpsons' always gets right (that there is always something for the kids to laugh at even though they miss the adult humour). I'm not a great fan of gratuitous slapstick comedy, and I feel that sometimes they rely on it a bit to much. The opening scene shows that the film is very much stuck in the 80s too. It's because of this that 'Naked Gun' isn't really in the same league as 'Airplane'; it's still a very funny film though.
Rating: 6/10.

The Naked Gun 2 1/2 (1991).
Starring: Leslie Neilsen, Priscilla Presley, George Kennedy, Richard Griffiths.
Director: David Zucker.
Synopsis: The Police squad! team try to stop an eminent scientist from being replaced by a double.
Dean's comments: A lot of the gags and jokes are the same as before but in a slightly different context. I enjoy the way that the film is anti-oil corporations but in truth there isn't anything new here. Once again, and over-reliance on slap-stick drags it below the 'average' grade.
Rating: 3/10.

Napoleon Dynamite (2004).
Starring: Jon Herder, Efren Ramirez, Jon Gries, Tina Majorino.
Director: Jared Hess.
Synopsis: A nerd helps his equally nerdy Mexican school mate run for class president while fending off the attentions of his insane family.
Dean's comments: This is one of the funniest films that I've seen in a long time. Napoleon Dynamite is a fairly ordinary kid at school, ostracised by the 'cool' kids, ashamed of his family and struggling to keep his head above the mire of 'popular' culture. Napoleon is an amalgamation of all the things we all were but didn't want to admit to being at school. The best thing about the film is that the 'nerdiness' of him and his mates is not the driving force of their characters, unlike in other films the director clearly understands the mindset behind trying to be independent at school and in the world as a whole. The film is full of genius comedy moments, most of them revolve around Napoleon's relationships with the various members of his family, his 30-year-old geek of a brother who meets a strapping great woman on an online dating service, his ludicrous grandma with her pet llama and, of course, his Uncle Rico. Rico fancies himself as a star quarterback, betting Napoleon he can throw a ball over a mountain range and filming himself taking snaps before slinging a steak square in Napoleon's face as he cycles home. All these people seem to eat is steak and potatoes, in my mind this is the definition of small town USA odd people who have never seen the outside world and probably don't care if they ever do. Napoleon eventually finds what some would refer to as 'cool' by being as nerdy as ever. He intricately learns a dance set and performs it to the class, after which he promptly runs off. In the words of Napoleon himself "That was sweet!"
Rating: 8/10.

Natural Born Killers (1994).
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr.
Director: Oliver Stone.
Synopsis: A serial killer couple become celebreties.
Dean's comments: Oliver Stone's spectacularly violent black comedy about a husband and wife serial killer couple is often hailed by cult film fans as a superlatively hard-hitting commentary on the media feeding frenzy that surrounds any terrible act or person.  The main characters are turned into cult heroes, they are celebrities with fans who wave placards outside their trial, all because of their ruthless exposure on television and America's counter culture of the 1990s having no decent role models.  Stone is having a dig at the media and their responsibility in creating monsters by eulogising them and allowing them - and those who bring them to justice - to seek the limelight.  Since this is a parody it is clear that Stone decided to take an extreme route with everything, from Tommy Lee Jones' absurdly vicious prison warden to Robert Downey Jr as the laughably ratings-conscious television producer, it is not a surprise to discover that the level of bloody violence is ratcheted up to the limit of what the censors would allow.  In fact the film was originally banned upon its VHS release in the UK in the early 1990s.  Although the comic and overly violent deaths of so many characters and extras is in step with the film and its themes, I don't think it is strictly necessary.  Worse still, it plays into the hands of the Mary Whitehouse brigade because it isn't sufficiently clear whether the films makers are on the side of the media, the criminals or someone else entirely.  Rather than coming down against the media frenzy and those who exploit it, the film ends up falling in love with its serial killer leads and waving them off into the sunset.  In the end, the film achieved ts success from the very fetishisation of violent behaviour that it seeks to parody.  Thus it's rather a conceptual failure.
Rating: 4/10.

Network (1976).
Starring: Faye Dunaway, Peter Finch, William Holden, Robert Duvall.
Director: Sidney Lumet.
Synopsis: A news reader goes mad on live television, and ratings rocket.
Dean's comments: What must have looked like an outlandish and excessively ominous prediction of the future of television in the 1970s, in the 21st century 'Network' looks like a frighteningly accurate premonition. A film that is as much a satire on the state of television and news as it is a comedy or political polemic, 'Network' somehow manages to predict the rise of all sorts of modern televisual inventions. If one didn't know it was made in 1976, one would be convinced that it is a direct lampooning of the Fox News Corp (Howard Beale: “... when the 12th largest company in the world controls the most awesome goddamn propaganda force in the whole godless world, who knows what shit will be peddled for truth...”) and a denouncement of the excessive power that organisation holds. Somehow the film manages to predict the rise of reality TV, the conflation of opinion with news, the cynical manipulation of events by the media and even the phenomenon of 'happy slapping'. The image of Howard Beale standing on a stage and yelling “I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!” to an unbelieving yet willing audience is a powerful one, more powerful still is the way that his bosses manipulate and him and his obvious psychosis in order to improve ratings. This cynicism even extends into dealing with terrorist organisations, persuading them to film themselves committing crimes for television. In fact, the only bit of the film that hasn't come true is in the final scene, one wonders how long it will be until that happens too.
Rating: 10/10.

Night of the Living Dead (1968).
Starring: Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Keith Wayne, Judith Ripley, Karl Hardman.
Director: George Romero.
Synopsis: A group of people are chased into a house and trapped there by mindless zombies.
Dean's comments: In this intense and surprising film George A Romero wrote himself a place in the cinematic history books by not only creating an entirely new genre, but by producing a fantasy that is as effective as an allegory for the breakdown of society as it is startling as a horror. The most important thing about ‘Night of the Living Dead’ is that it is not just a zombie movie, it’s the zombie movie with enough metaphors for the human condition and modern civilisation running through it to put the rest of the fantasy genre to shame. Romero’s effective use of long shots and well-timed cuts bring his shuffling slow zombies to life and endow them with a distinct menace. The director also tells the story in the style of a documentary, allowing the viewer a glimpse of the big picture as well as entering into the individual lives of the characters. The heroes of the film are a group of varying numbers of men and women who are trapped in an isolated building as zombies surround the area. As the situation becomes worse, each of the characters reacts in a different way and reflects the manner in which society rapidly begins to breakdown in the light of a disaster. Some are interested in fighting to the death, some look to the government for leadership; others try to lead themselves while one simply retreats into her own mind to seek comfort. The film demonstrates and discusses the panic and confusion associated with a disaster as the government run televisions struggle to provide pointless information and re-assure people that something is being done. When the inevitable collapse comes the film is as shocking in a modern context as it ever might have been back in 1968. Everyone who has ever enjoyed a horror film should watch ‘Night of the Living Dead’, its influence on cinema is easily matched by the classiness of its production.
Rating: 8/10.

North by Northwest (1959).
Starring: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock.
Synopsis: A man is mistaken for a spy and becomes embroiled in a murder plot at the UN.
Dean's comments: 'North by Northwest' is one of the best thrillers ever made. Alfred Hitchcock always had a talent for spotting what made the audience jump, and in this film he puts Carey Grant in the audience's position, setting up a twisting mystery with adrenaline-fuelled chases and conspiratorial plots. Carey Grant plays the archetypal 'ordinary guy' becoming embroiled in a murder plot and struggling to avoid being the patsy, he figures that the best way out is to go deeper into the mystery and work out what's going on before the police can get to him. From the moment that Carey escapes kidnapping in the opening half hour and returns with the police the next day to find an empty house he is on his own. This feeling of loneliness and incomprehension is expressed in no better way (in the whole history of cinema perhaps) than when he is stranded out in the plains after taking a bus out of town. After a shady stranger ignores him and several cars pass him by, he begins to wonder if he has been duped, no such luck as a small plane bears down on him from the distant horizon. These scenes, along with the final chase across Mt Rushmore, rightly deserve to be awarded the status of classics. Grant is at his acting best playing the confident and at times annoyingly-righteous Thornhill, his equal is Eva Marie Saint, cool, controlled and aloof as Grant's confidante in his escape from the law. Like I said, one of the best thrillers ever from one of the most thrilling directors ever with one of the best actors ever.
Rating: 9/10.

Nói Albinói (2003).
Starring: Tómas Lemarquis.
Director: Dagur Kári.
Synopsis: A teenager in a small Icelandic village dreams of a better life.
Dean's comments: There is a lot of rather charming (and at the same time dark) humour in this film set in the wilds of Iceland. The opening gag, which involves Nói's Mum waking him up by firing a shotgun out of the window particularly sticks in my mind. The trouble is that the film never particularly follows up on this promise of black comedy, preferring instead to stick to a more formulaic portrayal of a child genius being thwarted by some adults while others struggle to nurture his promise. The film's final shot is an interesting one, the picture of a tropical beach which Nói has dreamed about visiting for his hole life suddenly springs to life. Does this mean we've jumped forward 20 years and he's living his dream or that he has finally been taken over by his delusions because of tragedy? It's never quite clear. Anyway, the film isn't too long and it's quite funny in places, I recommend it.
Rating: 5/10.

Notes on a Scandal (2006).
Starring: Judi Dench, Cate Blanchet, Andrew Simpson, Bill Nighy.
Director: Richard Eyre.
Synopsis: A friendship between two teachers becomes dangerously complex when one of them is caught sleeping with a 15 year old student.
Dean's comments: Two superb performances from two great actresses turn this film from an interesting story into a character study of surprising depth. Judi Dench in particular – who plays a lonely woman looking a little too hard for friendship in her final days – seems to have astonishing empathy with her character. This is not to take anything away from Cate Blanchet, who deals with her incredibly complex role with what looks like ease. I suspect that character acting like this can never be easy, but a wonderful supporting role from Bill Nighy as Blanchet’s husband clearly helped. The great thing about the story that is told in this film, is that there is very little moralising on the part of the writers. A crime is committed out of an act of passion, the rights and wrong of this are not really in dispute, the guts of the film come from watching these characters react to what they know is wrong but cannot help themselves from doing. Be it Dench’s vulture-like obsession with being part of someone else’s life or Blanchet’s inability to control her lust for the boy in her class. You should watch this film.
Rating: 8/10.

Notorious (1946).
Starring: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock.
Synopsis: A woman with a dubious past is asked to prove her loyalty to post-war America by spying on friends of her father's.
Dean's comments: In 'Notorious' it's all about the cast and the crew. With two of the biggest names in the history of Hollywood and one of the industry's most influential directors of all time, this should be enough to make anyone want to see this film. This is why I ordered the DVD, and I wasn't upset with my decision. The film itself is a wonderful thriller in the Hitchcock tradition; a lone heroic man and his resourceful blonde sick-kick are thrown into a conspiracy in which old elements of the Nazi regime are hiding out in South America after world war 2. Grant is an agent trying to bring the Nazis down while Bergman is the daughter of a man who was involved with the Nazi conspiracy. A complex emotional game is played out between these characters as Grant convinces Bergman that she has to turn against her father's friends for the good of her adopted country; all the while the sexual tension builds as they slowly grow in respect, admiration and finally love for each other. As well as this, there is the spy game aspect of the film; an aspect in which secret meetings are played out between Grant and Bergman, in which the dastardly matriarch convinces her son to poison his wife and in which conspiratorial Nazi sympathisers are as ruthless to their own as to their enemies. 'Notorious' seems to have a bit of everything without really diluting any of its own strengths, and with it Hitchcock has given the film-making world another master class in how to produce a top class thriller without any telegraphed 'jump' moments or tired clichés.
Rating: 7/10.

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