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Miss Vicky's Loyal and Willing Slave

Year of release

Directed by
Andrei Konchalovsky

Written by
Djordje Milicevic
Paul Zindel
Edward Bunker
Akira Kurosawa (based on a screenplay by)

Jon Voight
Eric Roberts
Rebecca De Mornay
Kyle T. Heffner
John P. Ryan

Runaway Train


Plot - Oscar 'Manny' Manheim (Voight) is a ruthless bank robber and a skilled escapist of prisons. He is also a hero to all his fellow inmates at the Stonehaven Maximum Security Prison in Alaska. Not everyone loves him however. The prison's brutal warden, Ranken (Ryan), wants him dead and will do whatever he has to in his bid to accomplish this. Realising this, Manny decides to once again break out of the prison, this time with a young prisoner in tow. That young prisoner is Buck (Roberts), one off Manny's many admirers. Together they survive a gruelling trek through the winter wilderness, eventually arriving at a remote rail yard. They are able to hop on a train and seem homeward bound to freedom. Until that is the train's engineer suffers a heart attack, leaving the train unmanned and out of control. Speeding towards certain disaster they seem to be doomed, until they find that they are not actually alone on the train. They come across Sara (De Mornay), a railway worker who informs them of a way to stop the train, one that comes with a lot of risk however. And as if this wasn't enough they also find themselves being pursued by the relentless warden Ranken.

SPOILER WARNING - Big spoilers in the final paragraph for anyone who has not seen it.
An absolutely first rate thriller where everything, including the performances, really is turned up to 11 to produce an excessively entertaining film chock-full of nerve-shredding thrills, which also holds a surprise or two up its sleeve in terms of the direction it takes as it nears it conclusion. The film actually mimics the nature of the titular train immensely closely; it crashes along at an unrelenting pace, moves forward in a taut and incessant fashion and barely wastes a speck of unrequired energy.

The film is very much a hybrid of Escape from Alcatraz and Speed; kicking off as a prison break/on the run film, before moving into the territory of something resembling a disaster film as three individuals find themselves trapped on an out-of-control train with no way of stopping it. The opening stretch of Runaway Train is set within the confines of the prison walls of Stonehaven Maximum Security. To be honest its made up of fairly standard prison movie cliches, but its done well and with a real vigor to the scenes. You can already sense a potency and a fervor to proceedings. The only problem with this section however is that for a maximum security prison which is meant to be almost impossible to escape from, it was actually pretty damn easy for them to get out. It hardly requires a plan of great genius.

When we move onto the train the film becomes an intensely riveting experience, constantly escalating in terms of the risks and the thrills. The moments of action are just absolutely incredible. We see characters climbing along the side of the train as they are buffeted by wind and snow, we see them struggle to find their footing on its icy exterior, we see them get thrown about as the train crashes through any obstacle in its path and we watch men suspended in the air from helicopters as they attempt to apprehend the escaped prisoners. While such stunts obviously took a great deal of skill, coordination and planning they don't feel rigid or rehearsed as can sometimes be the case. They look absolutely real. There's no sense of 'oh they'll be ok. It's just a stunt after all, they know what they're doing.' Just completely edge-of-the-seat stuff. And Konchalovsky captures it superbly, adding an immense degree of raw energy and wild vitality to the action. While I was also a fan of the way the film was shot. With the majestic snow-covered scenery all around them the film has a very bleak and cold appearance to it that really allows the monstrous black train to pop off the screen in contrast.

Film Trivia Snippets - Akira Kurosawa co-wrote the original script and planned to direct it in upstate New York. The project was cancelled however as a result of snowstorms so severe that the crew were unable to work. At the time Kurosawa had originally planned to cast Henry Fonda as the railway-man and Peter Falk in the role of the escaped convict. /// Kurosawa's original screenplay was apparently inspired by an actual incident in the Northeast, when an unattended locomotive allegedly throttled up by itself and took off down the line. /// Tom Berenger was originally cast in the role of Buck but dropped out to shoot Platoon instead. Jeff Bridges also declined the role which eventually went to Eric Roberts.
The performances of the film's two stars, Voight and Roberts, are quite something to behold. I certainly wouldn't say they were 'great' performances from a technical, actorly point of view; they are however brilliant in terms of how viscerally and unabashedly entertaining and effective they are. Both men really go for it full-tilt, completely leaving the world of subtlety and nuance behind, to go head long into the territory of melodrama and scenery chewing. And its a style that works in this instance. It fits alongside the rest of the film's high concept and extravagant nature. And let's be honest, if you're going to be sharing the screen with a massive runaway locomotive, you need to do something to make sure you get noticed, that you don't just disappear into its shadow. As the prison legend Manny, Voight is a vicious and bullying presence, spitting fire and fury. He really is like a wild animal as he growls and bears his teeth throughout the film. There's a fantastic scene where he is given a tremendous speech to impart to Roberts' character. Buck is a clueless kid talking about his plans of crime and how wonderful it will be when Manny sets him straight. He tells him that he can make something of his life. That career criminals like Manny are the way they are because they don't know how to do anything else; they can't hold down a job or take orders from another man. He has too much misguided pride.

While opposite him Eric Roberts is electric as Manny's partner and sycophantic admirer Buck. It's a crazed and twitchy performance with Roberts barely pausing for breath or staying still for an instant. He rather reminded me of a shark; just constantly on the move. And despite the fact that he's a convicted criminal I actually came to care about him in a way because Roberts has such a naïve, simple-minded nature to him. Despite how captivating their performances are however I was stunned to discover that both men had been nominated for an Academy Award for their performances here. It's certainly not the typical fare that the Academy usually go for. Also throwing his overblown stylings into the mix is John P. Ryan's sadistic warden, consumed by a need to stop and defeat his nemesis Manny. In fact his ruthless warden does whatever he can to ensure that Manny is actually able to attempt an escape again, just so that he can justifiably kill him. While Rebecca De Mornay proves an important factor in exposing the true characters of the escapees in an admirably unglamorous performance.

Despite its high concept and fairly bombastic nature the film actually attempts to produce something deeper and even existential. It's a film concerning the great desire for freedom, for control of your life. And not just to be free from prison. Towards the film's conclusion Manny apparently begins to cross the line into insanity as the fate of the characters appears sealed. If he can't have control over his life, he will have control over his death. He will decide how and when it will happen. And this becomes symbolised with a powerful image that closes out the film. After choosing to rescue Buck and Sara, he makes the decision to call time on his own life; after all it's better to die free than to die in prison. He has done one decent thing in his life and now he has chosen to die with dignity and honour. He reverses the power vacuum with the warden by imprisoning him this time, and then he climbs onto the top of the train and struggles against the wind just to stand up. An apt metaphor for his life. With a stirring piece of Vivaldi scoring the scene I found it to be a truly powerful and poignant image as the film fades out with Manny riding to his doom. Perhaps this existential bent to the film shouldn't come as a great surprise however given Akira Kurosawa's involvement in the film. Kurosawa was part of the team that worked on the initial script back in 1970, and he was slated to direct the film. As a result of various creative and scheduling issues however the project never came about under his stewardship, and it would remain on the shelf for another 15 years.

Conclusion - It's a got a simple premise, is over-acted to the absolute hilt and doesn't always hit the mark when trying to find metaphysical meaning but the resulting package is an absolutely thrilling breakneck ride to the end of the line, complete with a surprising amount of depth and characterisation. The acting style means that it certainly won't be for everyone but I ate it up. The script is taut, the action is incredible and Voight is monstrous. Just a complete adrenaline rush.

Bright light. Bright light. Uh oh.
Really should be seen on the largest screen possible and very loud. I wanted to break Roberts' neck early on with all his whining about needing shoes, but I gradually deigned to allow him to survive.
It's what you learn after you know it all that counts. - John Wooden
My IMDb page

I didn't. I'd have killed him long before. I didn't like the film very much as I found him far too annoying and nothing else grabbed me. Maybe another day.
5-time MoFo Award winner.

Great review of course i own it
Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.

Miss Vicky's Loyal and Willing Slave
I need some warning signs myself.
Never has a truer word been spoken on these forums!

I didn't like the film very much as I found him far too annoying and nothing else grabbed me. Maybe another day.
I'd certainy say it's an acquired taste of a film. However I've got Mark and Roger Ebert on my side so I'm comfortable with my position. Ebert gave it 4/4, film critic Michael Phillips called it the most underrated film of the 80s and most importantly Mark gave it a
. At least he did in the past when I searched the forum but I think I noticed just recently he watched it again and gave it
. Any particular reason you dropped the score Mark?

I watched it a couple months back for the first time in years. Glad to see your review; I didn't know if I would ever hear anyone else mention it again.

We've gone on holiday by mistake
I always say that this film doesn't quite live up to it's legendary ending as opposed to the other way around.

I still find myself going to You Tube every couple of months to watch the haunting last few minutes. Brilliant performance by Jon Voight.


Miss Vicky's Loyal and Willing Slave
Sorry for the longer than normal delay between reviews, been caught up by a few things. Anyway following on from my Phantom Menace review we now have part 2 of the Star Wars sequels


Year of release

Directed by
George Lucas

Written by
George Lucas
Jonathan Hales

Ewan McGregor
Hayden Christensen
Natalie Portman
Ian McDiarmid
Christopher Lee
Samuel L. Jackson

Star Wars Episode II - Attack of the Clones


Plot - The film is set ten years after the Battle of Naboo, when the galaxy is on the brink of civil war. Under the leadership of renegade Jedi Master Count Dooku, thousands of systems threaten to secede from the Republic. When an assassination attempt is made on Senator Padme Amidala (Portman), the former Queen of Naboo, Jedi apprentice Anakin Skywalker (Christensen) is assigned to protect her, while his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) is assigned to investigate the assassination attempt. Soon the Jedi are drawn into the heart of the separatist movement, and the beginning of a new threat to the galaxy: the Clone Wars

I certainly don't think that Attack of the Clones is necessarily a better film than Menace, but with so much action thrown at the screen at least it's a good degree more interesting. The vast amount of action really is the saving grace of the film, even if it rarely exhibits any great creativity or substance it at least keeps you awake. In fact much of it comes across like levels of a video game, not just in their visuals but also their storytelling nature; with Obi-Wan and Anakin chasing the assassin and Anakin and Padme on the conveyer belt being the most obvious. They do provide a couple of fun moments though, as does the fight between Obi-Wan and Jango Fett. I especially liked the moment in the asteroid field with the seismic charges being well realised by the CGI and some great sound design. And while they perhaps didn't achieve the levels that Lucas intended some of the action towards the film's conclusion delivers some thrills. It delivers probably the largest scale set-piece yet seen in the Star Wars films and finally we are able to see Yoda get in on the action. The moment where the little hobbling near-cripple puts down his cane and picks up his lightsaber put a little smile on my face. And finally after five films we finally get to see a whole slew of Jedis enter into battle side-by-side. I think it was actually quite important in helping to re-establish the Jedis as kick-ass. I felt that they had been rather demystified and turned rather dull up until this point both as a result of the midi-chlorian revelation and the fact that for the majority of the time all they seem to do is sit around in Council talking. They were made to look more like politicians or bureaucrats. And not all that bright either considering the way they are getting completely hoodwinked.

Unfortunately Attack of the Clones retains pretty much every single problem that made The Phantom Menace such a woeful experience, with Lucas having to take the blame for the large majority of them. Yet again his writing and dialogue are just lamentable. They are just so clumsy and obvious, completely disposing of any subtlety in favour of clear exposition. Particularly bad are the occasions where Obi-Wan and Anakin all of a sudden talk to each other as if they are complete strangers, ignoring the fact they are constantly together and know everything about each other's lives just so they can move the story along. Oh and some of the painfully unsubtle dialogue? “You're the closest thing I have to a father.” Yet again George also seems totally dedicated to his special effects to the great detriment of the performances of the cast. Pretty much every performance is so lifeless and stiff, with only the odd exception to be found. I can just picture George on the set anytime an actor actually attempted to convey some emotion or show some talent, “No! No! No! You're upstaging my precious, precious effects. Act with less emotion! Look like you couldn't give a damn!” And why the hell did George Lucas feel the need to try and connect everything and everyone in the Star Wars universe and give it a deeper meaning. So many of the little links between characters feel so forced. And then there's the fact that Jango Fett is introduced as the source of the clones. Maybe I'm wrong on this or perhaps it's been addressed elsewhere (the Clone Wars film/series or books) but does that mean that all the stormtroopers we see in the original trilogy are clones of Jango Fett or versions of him? If so that really doesn't work considering that from memory the stormtroopers were different heights and had different accents etc. Either way by making Jango, and eventually Bobba Fett, so vitally important to the whole story it makes Bobba's pathetic, throwaway death in Return of the Jedi even worse. And as with the Jedi it also demystifies the character a great deal.

George Lucas has been criticised for a lot of stuff following the release of the prequels. In one respect though he actually caught quite a lucky break. If it hadn't been for the release of the Twilight films surely it would have been his romance between Anakin and Padme that would have become the go-to example for dreadful, cheesy young romances. Had Attack of the Clones merely been an extravagance of action and special effects it could have been quite entertaining. In between the moments of action however we are lumbered with one of the worst romances I've ever seen committed to the screen, that of Anakin and Padme. Watching their love blossom on Naboo is a truly painful thing to behold. It's poorly written, acted without an ounce of emotion and contains zero chemistry between Christensen and Portman. When Christensen is talking about his deep love for Padme the viewer, just like Christensen apparently, feels absolutely nothing. And Lucas' dialogue? Some of the worst I've ever came across in a major Hollywood movie. Ever! You want an example? “I'm haunted by the kiss that you should never have given me. My heart is beating... hoping that kiss will not become a scar. You are in my very soul, tormenting me.....” Apparently Anakin and Padme are 17th century poets. And s*it ones at that! I don't believe that I have ever cringed so much in my life. It also seems strange that after dedicating so much time to this inane romance the film then rather glosses over their actual wedding at the film's conclusion. Still at least Portman looked adorable. So that's something I suppose.

Film Trivia Snippets - A number of young actors, including some of Hollywood's hottest young actors at the time, auditioned for the role of Anakin. They included Ryan Phillippe, Paul Walker, Colin Hanks and Jonathan Brandis. In the end Christensen was chosen, largely down to the simple fact that he and Natalie Portman “looked good together.” /// Attack of the Clones has the undesirable accolade of being the only Star Wars film not to be the top earner at the US box office for the year it was released. It came in 3rd place, trailing behind Spider-Man and Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. /// In response to the great deal of hatred that was directed at the character of Jar-Jar Binks following The Phantom Meance, the original scripts for this sequel had the joking working title of 'Episode II – Jar-Jar's Big Adventure.' /// There have been 12 Star Trek films released theatrically, and 6 Star Wars films. Only on one occasion however have both franchises released a film in the same year. That was in 2002 when both Attack of the Clones and Star Trek: Nemesis were released. /// Throughout the history of the Star Wars films it had been a tradition that actors who would wield a lightsaber where able to choose their own design of lightsaber. In Attack of the Clones however Hayden Christensen became the only actor not given that chance. He was stuck using a samer that was the same design as the one that Obi-Wan presented to Luke in A New Hope.
Lucas has received (quite rightly) a lot of criticism over the years for his casting decisions. However in Attack of the Clones he pulled off an absolutely tremendous piece of casting in the form of Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker. You would have imagined it would have been impossible to find an actor who could possibly live up to the wooden, emotionless and completely untalented performance of Jake Lloyd in Menace, but Christensen pulled it off, ensuring a seamless piece of transition in the character. Stunning vision from Lucas. And yes I'm being sarcastic! Christensen is absolutely dreadful here. Though the character and dialogue he got lumbered with didn't exactly provide him with much support. As I already detailed the romance is just dreadful, while the scene with his mother is so overwrought. After surviving for a whole month she decides to croak mere seconds after Anakin arrives, unable to finish the sentence “I love....” no matter how many times she tries. And instead of being heartbroken and grief stricken his reaction seems much more in the realm of throwing a childish little tantrum. The whole character of Anakin is so disappointing in relation to him eventually becoming Darth Vader. I mean for the love of god where is the darkness that should be residing within him? Instead all we get is this whiny little emo bitch who sulks his way through the film. There's no way this guy is going to become one of the greatest screen villains of all time. At most all he seems capable of is running up to his room (which is painted black of course), slamming the door, listening to some My Chemical Romance while pouting. And probably writing in a journal about how nobody likes him.

The first Star Wars sequel was shown up by The Matrix, while in my eyes Attack of the Clones, released between The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, is deep in the shadow of Lord of the Rings. Both franchises are attempting quite similar stories in the epic fantasy/sci-fi stakes but the Lord of the Rings films did it so, so much better. The story, the dialogue, the acting, the direction - on every level this is vastly inferior. And visually too this is just so second rate, the effects are still very ropey here when it comes to creating characters and attempting to give them life. Particularly bad is any occasion where a character either makes a large leap upwards or jumps down, they just look so cartoonish. George Lucas' constant fiddling with the Star Wars films is quite legendary these days, and not for positive reasons. Well the next time he feels himself getting an itchy trigger finger perhaps the films he should revisit are these first two prequels. If any special effects need ironed out it's those to be found here.

One of my main gripes with the prequels so far has been Lucas' penchant to always go for a cheap laugh, robbing scenes of any drama, emotion, tension etc. It's as if it's an addiction, like he has to do it. So little things like interrupting the chase after the assassin with a 'hilarious' reaction from an alien pilot, or Obi-Wan's alien friend having to pull up his trousers to cover his ass crack, or the dreadful fart humour from The Phantom Menace. Although Attack of the Clones did actually provide me with my first genuine laugh of the prequels, not including the unintentional ones of course. And it only took about three and a half hours! But I actually did allow myself a little laugh at the predicament C3PO finds himself in when his head is switched with that of a droid. I found it gently amusing and a nice callback to his troubles of the original trilogy. Although this time out it's almost ruined by some groaning puns - “this is such a drag!” and “I'm quite beside myself.”

As was the case in The Phantom Menace Ewan McGregor continues to fare the best, doing an excellent job to overcome the dialogue, direction and character development (or lack thereof) which has torpedoed just about every other performer so far. He gives Obi-Wan Kenobi a gravitas, making him both wise but also very arrogant on occasion. The other individual who I felt made an impression this time out was Christopher Lee, a very welcome addition as Count Dooku, bringing a nice weight and similar gravitas to his performance.

Conclusion - After the disaster that was The Phantom Menace you would have expected that surely the only way was up for Lucas. Well he did his damn best to make sure that wasn't the case. This is another extremely poor film that fails to address hardly any of the problems that plagued Menace. There are really only a couple of reasons as to why I would give this the nod over Episode I; the significantly reduced role of Jar Jar Binks and the increase in the action levels. Even if the action is not of the most thrilling standard it is at least more interesting to behold than the constant political conversations of Menace.

"Attack of the Clones has the undesirable accolade of being the only Star Wars film not to be the top earner at the US box office for the year it was released. It came in 3rd place, trailing behind Spider-Man and Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. "

In their defense, both of those movies were big deals. Certainly leagues better than Attack of the Clones.
Here, if you have a milkshake, and I have a milkshake, and I have a straw. There it is, that's a straw, you see? You watching?. And my straw reaches acroooooooss the room, and starts to drink your milkshake... I... drink... your... milkshake!
-Daniel, There Will Be Blood

I've seen it once, but I remember Attack Of The Clones being like a very long advert for the videogame which, I'm sure, followed it which, again I'm sure, looked exactly like the film and allowed you to do exactly the same things. In other words, it felt like watching someone do a walkthrough for Attack Of The Clones for 2 hours and whatever it was. That said, the dialogue in the cut scenes for the game were probably better than the film.

I want to defend Attack Of The Clones, I can't. By far the worst of the six films for me and the only one I have only seen twice. Even my six year old has not asked to see this one again.

If you haven't seen it Jaydee I think you may like episode three. The only one of the prequels that I truly care for.

Of all the ***** sequels, this is the one I hate the most. Odd since I have watched it the most. But the points you made are spot on. The acting sucks, the chemistry is non-existent with Padme and Anakin, and Hayden Christensen is easily my most despised actor. Not only does this wooden schmuck have the charisma and personality of a cinder block, but he did it to one of the greatest villains EVER! Turning Vader from uber badass, to whiny bitch. What they needed to do was get an actor who made the character likable, but also with the ability to show that there was a darker side. Something hate filled and angry. The prequel gave me the sci fi equivalent of stupid high school BS! If they had cast Jessica Alba as Padme, I might have gone on an arson spree of Skywalker Ranch. And the amount of CGI is ridiculous! And not very good for that matter! At least Jar Jar had very few lines in the movie, but the fact that Hayden "worst thing about the prequels" Christensen is in it, automatically makes it the worst for me. Even with some of the mindless action.

We've gone on holiday by mistake
Nice review JD. Particularly about Hayden Christensen.

What I think happened with the original trilogy is that Lucas had a lot of very, very good help. The sort of help that would throw away Lucas stupid ideas and fix the mess he was probably going to make, he even gave up the Director's chair for Empire and Jedi. As the years go by Lucas probably began to believe his own legend forgetting that he was simply the inventor of Star Wars and one of many people who came together to make it so fabled among film fans. So forgetting this he decides to crack on with the Prequels,even writing them hiself, now a billionaire corporate heavyweight who does he have around him to challenge his ideas, or dare tell him things he's doing badly. Emperor's new clothes type scenario.

great review jaydee!
attack of the clones is almost like a How-To tutorial on how to make an atrocious Star Wars movie

Step 1: make young Darth Vader sound like a whiny girl? --- Check!
Step 2: have Yoda flip around like a ninja and totally contradict Empire's 'wars not make one great'? --- Check!
Step 3: enact a run-of-the-mill romance where young Vader and Padame recite bogus poetry to each other? --- Check!
Step 4: crappy looking flying ant bugs? --- Check!
Step 5: what else? i've done a pretty good job of blocking this movie from my memory