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Stonehearst Asylum Review


An arch approach makes this bonkers thriller rather enjoyable, even if it never quite cracks the surface. The story comes from the Edgar Allan Poe story The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, written in 1845, so director Brad Anderson (The Call) has fashioned the movie as bit of riotous Victorian mental institution nuttiness. Cue the mad-eyed acting, gothic production design and ludicrously batty plot. But if you take it for what it is, it's pretty entertaining.

It takes place in December 1999, as the new century is about to dawn and young doctor Edward (Jim Sturgess) arrives at Stonehearst Lunatic Asylum in a freakishly isolated corner of England. Instantly smitten with the inmate Eliza (Kate Beckinsale), Edward struggles to concentrate on the tasks given to him by his sinister boss Silas (Ben Kingsley), while being constantly watched over by the glowering groundsman Mickey Finn (David Thewlis). Silas' revolutionary system of treatment involves indulging the patients in their specific delusions, which has created a deranged sense of community in the sprawling hospital. Then one night stumbling around in the darkness, Edward discovers a group of people locked in prison cells in the basement, and their leader Benjamin (Michael Caine) claims to be the true head doctor. Yes, the inmates have taken over the asylum!

This premise allows the cast to indulge in a variety of hilariously shifty performances, hamming up every scene with constant innuendo. There isn't anyone in this place who looks remotely sane. Sturgess is fine as the dull Edward, while Beckinsale keeps her character's madness just out of sight, so both of them pale in this colourful company. Kingsley and Caine camp it up marvellously, while Thewlis adds a strong sense of menace and Sophie Kennedy Clark almost steals the film as an amusingly sex-mad virginal nurse. It's also worth watching the background players, as each has a ball his or her brand of craziness.

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation [aka: Get The Gringo] Review

With echoes of everything from Mad Max to Payback, this grungy thriller rampages through Mel Gibson's back catalogue. But all of the swaggering attitude is just too much for a film that has absolutely no point to it.

After a breathless car chase on the US-Mexico border, an outlaw (Gibson) is thrown into a Tijuana prison known as El Pueblito, which is more like a run-down favela than a jail. His criminal mind immediately kicks into gear as he finds ways to survive by causing as much mayhem as possible. Soon he befriends a 10-year-old kid (Hernandez) whose mother (Heredia) is being exploited by the power-mad top-dog prisoner Javi (Gimenez Cacho). And our unnamed protagonist will need to use all of his wits to get out of here alive.

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Push Review

In the first minute of Push, a character utters a line that's all but verbatim: "Save the cheerleader; save the world." With the film's unapologetic intent to lift freely from Heroes and its progenitor X-Men firmly established, we're then treated to virtually nothing new in the ordinary-folks-with-extraordinary-abilities subgenre.

Opening credit narration explains that there exist people born with special powers they don't necessarily want, and since the '40s an entity called Division has been trying to round them up and turn them into super-soldiers. There are a handful of abilities, and if you have one, you get a catchy name. Watchers can see the future. Pushers can put thoughts in your head. Sniffers can find out what you've been up to by smelling your stuff (really). And so on.

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Romance & Cigarettes Review

John Turturro's dream project Romance & Cigarettes is a gutter-style jukebox musical with chutzpah to spare and which doesn't know when to quit. It's all here: Singing garbagemen! Catfight in a SoHo lingerie store! Hot-to-trot Kate Winslet as a scorchingly foul-mouthed Irish hussy. Toe-tapping Christopher Walken in full strutting peacock mode, driving an old Detroit beater with a license plate reading "BoDiddley." A wife screaming at her husband, recently discovered cheating, "I trim your nose hair!" Family, infidelity, and a basketful of pop tunes for everyone to sing along to -- Ute Lemper to Connie Francis to Bruce Springsteen to James Brown to Tom Jones to....

Somewhere in all Turturro's chaos is a story about Nick Murder (James Gandolfini), a blue-collar schlub with a stolid wife, Kitty (Susan Sarandon), and a trio of slightly cracked daughters -- Constance, Baby, and Rosebud (Mary-Louise Parker, Aida Turturro, and Mandy Moore, respectively) -- who function partially as a junior set of Furies but are mostly there to bash out songs in the backyard as part of the three-piece bubblegum garage band they've formed. In short: Nick's a two-timing bastard who's stepping out on the wife with Tula (the previously mentioned Irish hussy), a fact Kitty doesn't take to overly well, and numerous friends and family get dragged into their scuffle and forcing everyone to occasionally bust out in song.

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187 Review

Stand and Deliver with attitude. And not much else. If you learn anything from 187 it should be this: Don't become a teacher. And if you chain your dog up outside, make sure the chain is shorter than the distance to the fence.

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Payback Review

"Nobody likes a monkey on their back. I had three. I was going to have to lighten the load"

Its dialogue like that that makes Payback the first great film of 1999. Everybody likes to watch jerks on screen. They walk around with a cockiness and lack of respect for anything and everyone that you can't help but love to watch them. In this movie, I think everybody falls into this category.

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Immortal Beloved Review

My pick of the week goes to Immortal Beloved, a limited-release movie about the life and times of Ludwig von Beethoven. Gary Oldman plays the Maestro with finesse and style, filled with all the emotion and angst Oldman is becoming famous for.

In an effort to create another Amadeus, the film chooses to use Beethoven's will, wherein he leaves his estate to a nameless "immortal beloved," as the starting point for delving into Beethoven's past. Consequently, much of the film is interested in Beethoven's supposed relationships with the women around him. Here, the film somewhat takes leave of reality, playing fast and loose with the facts of Beethoven's life. In fact, the film's final claim of a certain woman as Beethoven's immortal beloved is considered absurd by most historians.

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An Ideal Husband Review

Get ready from Romance... British style.

The Victorians were well known for keeping a stiff upper lip about everything, and their romance was absolutely no exception. Their entire world was constructed around subtlety, and, in tune with that, the one word that can be used to describe An Ideal Husband is subtle.

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Braveheart Review

Mel Gibson deserves a lot more credit than I've been giving him. A few years ago, no one could have conceived that the action star could pull off the lead role in a dazzling, epic, historical adventure-thriller-romance, let alone direct it. But he does, making Braveheart a vastly entertaining and powerful film.

Gibson plays Scottish hero William Wallace, a Scotsman with simple roots who finds himself thrust into a role as leader of the Scottish revolt against England in the late 13th century. After the despicable King Edward the Longshanks (Edward I) decrees that English nobles will have the right to sexual relations with all newly-wed Scottish women, the revolution is set in motion. Wallace takes up the cause, only to find himself facing incredible odds against a superior English army and fighting Scottish nobles who want to negotiate peace instead of fight. In fact, it's the nobles who turn out to be the bigger obstacle.

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We Were Soldiers Review

Post September 11 cinema has seen its share of war movies designed to evoke and sustain a sense of American patriotism. In the last few months, we've re-visited the war in Kosovo (Behind Enemy Lines), the war in Somalia (Black Hawk Down), and most recently, World War II (Hart's War). We Were Soldiers is the latest in the onslaught, a story based on the true accounts of the first bloody battle of the Vietnam War. With so many war films recently released, We Were Soldiers has a difficult task as it tries to ride the patriotism express.

We Were Soldiers is based on the book We Were Soldiers Once...And Young written by Lieutenant Colonel Harold Moore and Joseph L. Galloway, the only journalist willing to go into the front lines to capture a first hand account of the war. In the film, Mel Gibson plays Harold Moore, a down-to-earth officer who is responsible for leading a group of innocent, naive young men into the area of Vietnam known as "The Valley of Death." But not soon after Lt. Col. Moore and his troops touch down, their position is compromised and they find themselves outnumbered almost 5 to 1. The American soldiers engage in a deadly battle for control of the area.

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