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When your main cast is Christopher Walked, Morgan Freeman, William H Macy and Marcia Gay Harden, you have to ask – why have more people not heard of this film? It’s certainly very entertaining throughout and gave us plenty of laughs. Walken, Freeman and Macy are three security guards at a Boston art museum, who are devastated when they learn that their favourite pieces of art are to be transferred to an art gallery in Denmark, and they hatch a plan to steal the pieces for themselves…

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Year of release: 2009

Director: Peter Hewitt

Writer: Michael LeSieur

Main cast: Christopher Walken, Morgan Freeman, William H Macy, Marcia Gay Harden

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Genre: Comedy, crime caper

Highlights: Everything! Lots of comedy, and a superb cast

Lowlights: None

Overall: Give this a watch – I can’t imagine you will be disappointed

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This film is a remake of the 1968 film of the same name, which starred Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway (Dunaway has a small role in this film also).  Pierce Brosnan plays the millionaire playboy Crown, who steals an extremely valuable painting from the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Rene Russo is Catherine Banning, the morally ambiguous insurance investigator who knows that Crown is responsible and determines to bring him to justice, but is hampered by her own attraction to him.

Having seen both this version and the 1968 film, I would have to conclude that the original is the superior movie, although on paper it would not seem to be the case.  In the 1999 version, Crown steals a painting which he loves, rather than simply stealing money, and this is an improvement on the original film.  However, despite the obvious flaws in the 1968 film, it did have one huge advantage, and that is Steve McQueen.  I like Pierce Brosnan, but he doesn’t have an ounce of the natural charisma that McQueen had.  I also felt that there was absolutely no chemistry between Brosnan and Russo – and Russo, who is normally such a reliable actress, seemed to be really over-acting here.  I’m sure she was channelling Faye Dunaway (who played her counterpart in the original), but she doesn’t really pull it off.

Another thing that was made clear to me by this film was that lots of sex does not equal sexy.  Both Brosnan and Russo (or maybe body doubles in some scenes; who knows?) both flash a LOT of flesh, and there is a pretty explicit sex scene, and….it’s just not sexy.  The suggestion of sex, or the sexual tension which was so obvious in the chess scene in the first movie (and I’m sorry to keep comparing the two, but it’s hard not to), was much much more sensual, without a breast or buttock in sight.

This film wasn’t all bad though – it was glossily shot, and at least dispensed with the nauseating split-screen effect of it’s predecessor.  The heist at the beginning of the film was far better executed, and there was a terrific further scene in the Museum of Modern Art at the end of this film, as well.  I won’t say more for risk of posting spoilers, but I did think that it was very cleverly done.

Also, Denis Leary was in this film, playing the Police Detective investigating the theft, and he was probably the best actor in it.  It’s strange, but for all the flaws of the original film, I still rooted for Crown to get away with it – in this version, I was rooting for the Police to come through.

Basically, this movie is something that can be watched and enjoyed, but it is definitely a case of style over substance.  Worth watching once, but if a good heist movie is what you’re after, there are plenty better out there.

Year of release: 1999

Director: John McTiernan

Producers: Michael Tadross, Pierce Brosnan, Beau St. Clair, Bruce Moriarty, Roger Paradiso

Writers: Alan R. Trustman, Leslie Dixon, Kurt Wimmer

Main cast: Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo, Denis Leary, Frankie Faison

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Click here for my review of the 1968 film.

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Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway steam up the screen in this drama/thriller.  McQueen is the eponymous anti-hero, an incredibly rich, charismatic man, who organises a bank heist, not for the money, but just for the kicks.  Dunaway is Vicki Anderson, an insurance investigator, who has about as many morals as Thomas Crown – that is to say, very few.  Although they both know that she is trying to expose him as the man behind the heist, they are very attracted to each other, and start a relationship…but with one of them trying to catch out the other, just how far can such a relationship go?

I found this film flawed, but nonetheless enjoyable.  To get the major gripe out of the way first, there is excessive use of a split-screen in this film, and I found it annoying after a while.  I could see the need for it in some instances – for example where it was showing what five separate characters were doing at the same time, but there were times when it was completely unnecessary.  (For example, in one scene, Vicki is watching Thomas play Polo, and the screen divides up into multiple little boxes, all showing the same picture.  To compound the problem, occasionally one of the boxes would shrink and take up a corner of the screen while the rest of it was black.  In 1968, this may have been innovative, but in 2013, it was just annoying! (For this viewer anyway).

As for the story itself, it was wildly implausible, but a lot of fun for all that.  The soundtrack does date the film somewhat, but doesn’t diminish the enjoyment.  Steve McQueen just oozes charisma, in a role that was something of a departure for him. No matter – he was excellent, being one of those actors who you just can’t take your eyes off when he’s on screen.  Faye Dunaway too, looked stunning, and was fine as Vicki Anderson.  They definitely made a beautiful couple!  The most famous scene in this film is probably the chess sequence, where the sexual tension between Thomas and Vicki is almost palpable.  Although by today’s standards its fairly tame, I can imagine the reaction it caused when the film came out!

The ending was something of a surprise as well, and rounded it off satisfactorily.  I would recommend this film to fans of 60s movies, and/or fans of either McQueen or Dunaway.

Year of release: 1968

Director: Norman Jewison

Producers: Norman Jewison, Hal Ashby, Walter Mirisch

Writer: Alan R. Trustman

Main cast: Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, Paul Burke, Jack Weston

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Click here for my review of the 1999 film.

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In 1973, Robert Redford was one of the stars of the fabulous heist movie, The Sting.  The Hot Rock (aka How To Steal a Diamond in Four Uneasy Lessons) pre-dated The Sting by a year, and dare I say it, I found it equally entertaining.  Yet The Hot Rock has never gained the fame and popularity of The Sting.  That’s a shame, because there is a lot here to enjoy.

Robert Redford (who is so beautiful in this film that it almost hurts to look at him!) is Dortmunder, a perpetual thief who, together with his brother-in-law Kelp (George Segal) and two other small time crooks, Murch and Greenberg (Ron Leibman and Paul Sand respectively) is tasked with stealing a diamond from a museum.  What they don’t realise is that stealing the diamond is only the start of their troubles.

I had never heard of this film before watching it, but I saw that it was on television and that it starred Robert Redford, and decided to give it a go.  I discovered a hidden gem (no irony intended, given the storyline of the film).  The story is very funny, with plenty of action and some great throwaway one liners.  It’s really Redford’s film – he definitely plays the biggest part, but Segal is excellent support, and both Leibman and Sand are great as well.

There are plenty of twists and turns, but things never get too serious for the viewer, and I found that when I had finished watching the film, I had a huge smile on my face.  Perfect light entertainment, which deserves to be better known.  I would highly recommend this film.

Year of release: 1972

Director: Peter Yates

Producers: Hal Landers, Bobby Roberts

Main cast: Robert Redford, George Segal, Ron Leibman, Paul Sand, Moses Gunn, Zero Mostel

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This review relates to the original 1955 Ealing Comedy The Ladykillers, and not the 2005 Coen Brothers remake. In this film, Alec Guinness heads up a team of robbers who pose as musicians. He rents a room in a house owned by a sweet elderly lady, from where the robbers plan their heist. However, they have reckoned without their feisty landlady Mrs Wilberforce, who unwittingly threatens to scupper their plans…

What a very charming film this is! It’s casting is pretty much perfect – Katie Johnson, who plays Mrs Wilberforce, darn near steals the whole show, which is no mean feat when you have a cast that includes Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers and Cecil Parker! Guinness himself is perfect as the sleazy but somehow still charming ‘Professor Marcus’, and Parker and Sellers are among the excellent supporting cast. There are some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments, and I found myself smiling throughout the whole film.

Interestingly, Katie Johnson was 76 when she made this film, and nearly lost out on the role as the producers thought she might be too frail to cope with the filming. They cast a younger actress in the role, but the actress died before filming began, and Johnson ended up with the role anyway. She balances her character’s shrewdness and confusion perfectly, and gives a note-perfect performance.

The film uses the power of suggestion to show when something bad is going to happen (but make no mistake, this is not a thriller; it’s played for laughs), and is very typically British (I’d be interested to see the remake purely for comparison purposes, and to see how it was adapted for an American audience). It ranks high on the British Film Institute’s Top 100 Films, and deservedly so. Well worth watching!

Year of release: 1955

Director: Alexander MacKendrick

Producers: Seth Holt, Michael Balcon

Writers: William Rose, Jimmy O’Connor

Main cast: Alec Guinness, Katie Johnson, Cecil Parker, Peter Sellers, Herbert Lom, Danny Green

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Click here for my review of the 2012/2013 stage production.

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This film is rightly regarded as a classic in the comedy/crime genre. It stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford in their second pairing (the first being Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), as grifters Henry Gondorff and Johnny Hooker. When their friend Luther (Robert Earl Jones) is murdered, they seek revenge upon the man responsible by setting up a plan to con him out of a huge amount of money…

I really enjoyed the film. It is full of good humour, courtesy of the wise-cracking stars (and ladies, it should be noted that there is ALL KINDS of hotness going on in this picture, with Newman and Redford arguably at their best!). The off-screen friendship of the two stars really comes through on-screen, and is no doubt part of the reason for the huge success of both of the films in which they co-star. As well as lots of laughs, there is also plenty of tension, and as a viewer, you are never sure who exactly you can trust.

Robert Shaw is perfect as Doyle Lonnegan – the object of Gondorff and Hooker’s sting – bringing a great amount of menace to his role, and I also particularly liked Harold Gould’s role as another member of the grifters’ team, named Kid Twist (yes really).

The influence of this film can be seen in more modern films and programmes (‘Hustle’ was certainly influenced by this movie), and I hope that it’s appeal continues to endure for many many more years to come. Overall, a very enjoyable film indeed.

Year of release: 1973

Director: George Roy Hill

Producers: Tony Bill, Robert Crawford Jr., Julia Phillips, Michael Phillips, David Brown, Richard D. Zanuck

Writer: David S. Ward

Main cast: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw

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Harry Bosch has recently retired from the LAPD, but he is still haunted by a case of a young woman’s murder, which went unsolved, and which may or may not be connected to the robbery of $2 million dollars from the movie set where the young woman worked. 

As Harry delves back into the case, he finds himself warned off investigating it, both by his former colleagues, and the FBI.  But this only serves to heighten his interest, and make him more determined to find out the truth.  However, Harry no longer has the protection and back-up of a Police badge, and this investigation is going to lead him to some dangerous places…

This is the first Harry Bosch book I have read, although it is the ninth in the Bosch series.  The previous books feature him in his role as an LAPD detective, with this one apparently being the first one where the character is retired.  Although I normally like to read a series in order, I did not feel that not having read the earlier books was any kind of disadvantage. 

I liked the character of Bosch a lot – a problem I find with a lot of crime fiction is that there are often so many cliches applied to the main character (he’s usually a loner, who gets on the wrong side of his bosses, often with a drink problem and an attitude problem to match).  However, Bosch is altogether more believable.  He is stubborn and tenacious, but he’s basically a decent man, with morals.  His has an ex-wife, with whom he is on good terms (and who clearly, he is still in love with), he likes a drink but isn’t a drunk.  He does irk his ex bosses though!

The story itself was full of twists and turns, and I was never able to predict what the outcome would be until it happened.  However, it didn’t rely on deliberately leading the reader up the wrong path; rather it just showed the investigation through Harry’s eyes, and we progressed through it with him.  It was suitably complicated, but still easy to understand and read, and was exciting enough for me not to want to put it down.

The story is told in the first person, which (I believe) is not the case in the other Bosch novels.  Why Connelly deviated from his usual third person narrative is not known, but it worked for me. 

Los Angeles is shown as a glamorous and exciting place, but which has a sometimes murky truth lurking just beneath the surface – the perfect setting for the murder and robbery on a Hollywood movie set! 

Definitely one to recommend for fans of crime fiction – I would like to go back to the beginning of the series and read the other Bosch books.  This was an exciting, pacy and unpredictable read.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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