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Review: Ransom

Mel Gibson stars as a multimillionaire husband (to Rene Russo) and father (to Brawley Nolte) whose son gets kidnapped and held for ransom. FBI man Delroy Lindo is on hand to help resolve the situation, but runs into a stumbling block: Gibson, who fearing that his son will die either way, refuses to pay the ransom and instead heads to the media to place a bounty on the heads of the kidnappers. Neither the law nor the kidnappers – nor wife Russo for that matter – are happy about this. Then there’s this business in Gibson’s recent past about potentially dodgy business dealings and a currently incarcerated former associate (Dan Hedaya).   ***** SPOILER-FILLED REVIEW. PROCEED WITH CAUTION ***** Since the big twist isn’t really a twist, and is revealed quite early in the piece I probably don’t need to provide spoiler warnings but if ever you read a review after seeing the film, this is probably a good occasion to do so. Ye hath been warned.   This Ron Howard ( “Splash” , “Parenthood

Review: The Death and Life of John F. Donovan

Eleven years ago, a young boy (Jacob Tremblay) secretly corresponded with troubled TV star John Donovan (Kit Harington). Said Mr. Donovan was apparently a closeted gay man who eventually died of a drug overdose. Now the young fan has become a grown man (and played by Ben Schnetzer), and he has written a book about the whole experience. Thandie Newton plays a hard-nosed reporter who interviews Schnetzer, though feeling the story is gossipy tabloid trash and beneath her. Natalie Portman plays the boy’s mother, with Susan Sarandon turning up as Donovan’s mother. Kathy Bates and Michael Gambon have small roles.   This 2019 flop is the English-language debut of French-Canadian director Xavier Dolan ( “Mommy” ), who co-writes with Jacob Tierney (writer-director of “Good Neighbours” , co-starring Dolan). It’s a dreary, pretentious mess that wildly overestimates the charisma and acting ability of lead actor Kit Harington. The first twenty minutes alone are dreadfully repetitive, it’s time-

Review: Sabata

Lee Van Cleef is the title character, who is investigating a bank robbery in a small Texas town. The bank was heavily guarded by Army soldiers, all of whom were gunned down. Sabata finds and kills the robbers and returns the money. What Sabata doesn’t yet realise is that the robbery was actually orchestrated by corrupt town officials like the effete governor Stengel (Franco Ressel). They’re not happy with this, and put up a reward for anyone willing to kill the man. William Berger plays a smirking banjo player whose instrument hides a deadly surprise, and whose allegiance is largely to himself. Ignazio Spalla plays the town drunk, essentially a chatty, chubby counterpart to the lithe, monosyllabic Sabata.   One of Lee Van Cleef’s better spaghetti westerns, this 1969 film from director Gianfranco Parolini and co-writer Renato Izzo is pretty damn cool, just like its star. Cool from moment one, Van Cleef was truly versatile, able to play either side of the fence with ease and macho co

Review: The Current War

The true story of the rivalry between arrogant inventor Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and industrialist George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon), in their race to provide electricity to the masses in the 1890s. A subplot involves Edison’s involvement in the creation of the Electric Chair for criminal executions. Nicholas Hoult turns up as Nikola Tesla, a genius thinker but a dreadful money manager who at various points works for the two men.   Beware a film with a troubled journey to the screen when it comes with two well-known actors, a potentially fascinating subject, and a director with good previous work. So it is that this 2019 film from director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon and screenwriter Michael Mitnick ( “The Giver” ) ended up gaining a release after being shelved in 2017 due to creepy Harvey Weinstein’s…er…issues (It was actually filmed in late 2016). After a not-so great premiere at the 2017 Toronto Film Festival, the director ended up reshooting and retooling it before its

Review: The Beguiled

The American Civil War is coming to a close, and wounded Union soldier John McBurney (Clint Eastwood) is reluctantly taken in by the residents of a nearby girls’ school, headed by the repressed and distrustful Miss Martha Farnsworth (Geraldine Page, as a woman who has a rather kinky past seen in lightly suggestive flashes throughout). They nurse him back to health, but this school is full of repressed and/or horny women and girls, and McBurney’s the only one with a penis around. For his part, McBurney (who lies about his role in the war among other things) starts to take advantage of being the only stud in the building as his wounds start to heal. He has fun lying to and manipulating the girls, thinking nothing of it since he’ll soon be healed and free to alleviate himself of their company. However, McBurney’s behaviour soon breeds jealousy within the women and girls as they vie for McBurney’s affections increasingly indiscreetly. McBurney might just wish he hadn’t been saved in the fi

Review: Ford v Ferrari

Set in the 1960s, the real-life rivalry between car manufacturing mogul Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) and Enzo Ferrari, as Ford executive Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) comes up with the idea of Ford building a race car to enter the Le Mans. Enter former Le Mans winner Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) who is tasked with building the car. He brings along his usual crew (including Ray McKinnon), but insists on bringing in Brit driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to not only consult but ultimately be lead driver. Miles is known for being tempestuous, ‘difficult’, and the antithesis of a ‘team player’, which doesn’t impress gutless Ford executive Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas), but Shelby is unwavering in his support of Miles, as he believes he is Ford’s only chance of winning the big one.   I’m not a car guy in the slightest, I find Christian Bale a bit hit-and-miss, but I normally like Matt Damon and eclectic director James Mangold ( “Cop Land” , “Walk the Line” , “3:10 to Yuma” , “Identity” , “Logan” ).

Review: Quigley Down Under

American sharpshooting cowboy Matthew Quigley (Tom Selleck) travels via boat from America’s wild west all the way to the other side of the world, outback Australia. He has been enticed by a job offer from English rancher Marston (Alan Rickman), but when he finds out what the job actually involves, he’s repulsed. Now he has made an enemy of Mr. Marston, a very powerful individual who wants Quigley dead. Laura San Giacomo plays a displaced American who mistakes Quigley for her beloved. Tony Bonner (quite good) and a young Ben Mendelsohn play two of Marston’s men, Chris Haywood plays a British Major who attempts to arrest Quigley at one point.   All the ingredients for a fun light-hearted western are potentially here in this 1990 Simon Wincer ( “Snapshot” , “The Lighthorsemen” , “Lightning Jack” , the underrated “Harley Davidson & The Marlboro Man” ) film, but that fun light-hearted western never actually materialises on screen. Tom Selleck is a good choice for the displaced Ameri