Jordan Peele directs Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer and Michael Wincott in this sci-fi horror where a horse ranch is terrorised by something in the clouds.
I trust Jordan Peele. I know his first two films work better on rewatch. He doesn’t leave plotholes or skipped stitches. There are always intentional mysteries unresolved but tantalising no matter how closely you peer into his curious death traps. Nope is very ambitious – it really is three or four thinly connected narratives that do not alway gel tonally. The stuff involving animals in the entertainment industry is the most compelling but also the most superfluous to the big picture. But I’m happy for Peele to take big wayward swings when the results are this cinematic. There’s a little bit of Signs here, a lot of Tremors and a soupçon of Werner Herzog. When it lurches into horror it is genuinely fucked up yet it stands out most as a strange adventure. Daniel Kaluuya is, along with Maika Monroe and Hailee Steinfeld, my favourite star under the age of 35. He is physical, laidback and cool as fuck. Now Keke Palmer I have less time for, her but her character is supposed to Ying to his Yang here and that works. A big screen blast, intricate enough that I cannot wait to enjoy it on the telly also.
Marty Callner directs Aerosmith, Alicia Silverstone and Liv Tyler in this trilogy of iconic music videos.
Cryin’, Amazing and Crazy – a trio of MTV promos for ageing but undefeatable rock band Aerosmith was where and when Silverstone first became an underage household name. Cryin’ is the most fun – Silverstone dumps Stephen Dorff, steals his ride, pierces her bellybutton, dropkicks Sawyer from Lost and escapes the fuzz by leaping off a freeway. Amazing feels like a fascinating 1990s artefact. A young fan of that first music video uses CD-Roms, VR headsets and that newfangled internet to insert himself into an adventure with the Aerosmith girl à la Weird Science / Lawnmower Man. While it might seem 32-bit and laughable to Gen Z-ers (but are they ever going to watch it anyway?) Amazing actually predicts Deep Fake technology quite accurately. Crazy, in my mind, is the most iconic but now awkward. Catholic school girls Silverstone and Liv Tyler go on the run in a soft Thelma & Louise romp. Strange seeing two underage girls quite so sexualised, big knickers and all, especially when one was the lead singer’s estranged daughter. As a teen, quite close to the stamp of the computer nerd in Amazing, it was absolutely fine for me to watch these pubescent fantasies on rotation on The Box channel for an entire afternoon but whatever the adults making this thought they were up to is anyone’s guess? The budgets on these things must have been ludicrously high. The stunt work that closes the first two mini-epics are worthy of Cameron or Bigelow.
The Crush (1993)
Alan Shapiro directs Cary Elwes, Alicia Silverstone and Kurtwood Smith in this yuppie-in-peril thriller where a journalist moves into the guest house of a rich family where the teenage daughter quickly develops an unhealthy attraction to him.
Making an erotic thriller with the 14 year-old from hell was always going to be problematic. This sometimes feels less like a suspense piece and more an excuse to swap bikinis on Silverstone. There’s even nudity but thankfully quite glaring butt stand-ins are used. And as much as this has a deliciously strong sense of paranoia, you realise about 60 minutes in that it also doesn’t have the guts to go the whole hog and kill any characters off. Injury and threat are the order of the day. This must have worked out adequately enough for a YA / Point Horror sleepover crowd back in the day. The ending is delightfully bonkers, involving a carousel in an attic and quite the left hook punch. An absolute juvenile cheesefest but, in its defence, I really don’t think anyone who greenlit The Crush was thinking they were going toe-to-toe with The Silence Of The Lambs.
Blast From The Past (1998)
Hugh Wilson directs Brendan Fraser, Alicia Silverstone and Sissy Spacek in this fish-out-of-water comedy where a young(ish) man emerges from a nuclear bunker with Kennedy-era values looking for a wife in pre-millennium L.A..
After the post-Clueless stumbles of Batman & Robin and Excess Baggage, you could say some of the shine on the idea that Silverstone might be the next big box office draw had been rubbed away. It also didn’t help that a lot of dross made just before Clueless hit big was pumped out direct to video before she could find a workable vehicle. Hideaway with Jeff Goldblum is dark but cheap, while borderline soft porn (without much nudity) The Babysitter has to be one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. But if any project might have kept Silverstone in the game it would have been Blast From The Past. In the U.K. it was released without much fanfare. It is more a Brendan Fraser flick with “And Alicia Silverstone” playing the romantic interest. She’s actually a neat foil to Fraser – spiky, cute and with a decent degree of agency. It might be Fraser’s show,and the star of Encino Man, George Of the Jungle and Dudley Do-Right can do this man baffled by modernity shit in his sleep, but she adds value. Blast From the Past is the most solid example of him doing what he does. Sincere, blocky, naive goofball. He throws himself into his out-of-time nerd Adam with a decent aplomb and creates sweet vibes between himself and Silverstone. You want them to end up together right from the off and if this found its audience it might have positioned her as the natural inheritor of Meg Ryan and / or Julia Roberts’ mantle. Similar in tone, to Pleasantville with Reese Witherspoon but noticeably less focussed and often shoddily made and edited. This needed a more consistent director than the guy from the Police Academy movies… especially when it makes a lengthy hash of the first act. It feels like a considerable amount of time before this finds its groove and just is a gentle, light watch. Still, there’s enough good stuff here that it fills an evening with no real pressing demands on the viewer.
Gavin Grazer directs Alicia Silverstone, Rachael Leigh Cook and Woody Harrelson in this crime caper where three disgruntled bank employees all separately decide to rip off their branch on the same weekend.
Very much a poor man’s Go, let’s not even mention Pulp Fiction. None of the three minor heists ever reach an individual crescendo and there is minimal overlap, which is mad, given the pregnant with possibilities elevator pitch. Silverstone is underserved but has a nice chemistry with the himbo she hooks up with for her score. Given a bit more room to breathe, and anything resembling peril, her segment might have been quite a lark… but you could say that about Woody Harrelson’s subplot also. Underwhelming, unfunny and only memorable when it is being brightly obnoxious. This was never going to course correct her career.
Gus Van Sant directs Matt Damon, Robin Williams and Ben Affleck in this Oscar winning drama about a working class orphan who cleans the floors at Harvard, and proves to be an advanced mathematics genius.
One of the finest non-genre movies ever made. Working class protagonist, and very much a closer representation of what its like to be on the cusp of adulthood as a young man than any other film has achieved. To wit, I cannot think of many that attempt it. The drinking, the driving around, the fights, the banter. That’s just a small part of the overall story but the sequences with Damon, Affleck, Casey his brother and Cole Hauser ring so true to me. Pubs used to close bang on 11 in West London. So me and my first real group of boozing buddies used to drive over to the local multiplex and keep drinking, stay out at whatever the midnight movie was showing. Boogie Nights, There’s Something About Mary, this. This… many times. Surprisingly There’s Something About Mary was the only one we got into a fight during.
Ben and Matt, then relative unknowns, childhood pals, wrote a script by ping pong-ing email drafts to each other from hotel rooms while on-location in indie features and sixth billed roles in forgotten studio product. The script became feted around Hollywood, passed across between Michael Mann (he wanted to make them car thieves), William Goldman (he advised them to drop a conspiracy thriller subplot, they listened), Kevin Smith and that dreaded Harvey Weinstein. Thanks to the beast they got to star in it, not that unusual, but this made them overnight A-Listers and perhaps the least likely Oscar Winners of their decade. Yet their movie is a modernist fairytale, any actors’ dream, romantic yet authentic, intelligent yet droll. It contains a forlorn yet magical score by Danny Elfman plus showcases some beautiful, mournful cuts from indie singer song-writer Elliot Smith. It is a glossy, flawless piece of cinema that retains an indie vibe and a wounding sense of reality. Probably closest in strange variety and overlooked prestige to The Shawshank Redemption… it is a work of art that somehow encompasses all the many flavours of big screen emotion without ever feeling like a discombobulated mish-mash of themes.
You could point to this craftsman or that technician to diagnose the how and why of Good Will Hunting’s qualities. Yet I suspect the script the boys slaved over was the golden ticket. It attracted talent. Top billed Robin Williams gives his finest performance. Better even than the genie in Aladdin. Pretty much everyone is given room to stun, breathe, stand-out. No character is without their moment of humanity or foible. There’s three iconic scenes. A preppy douche gets his ass handed to him when Will recites his course bibliography at him in a bar. A chat on a bench that is devastating. And, of course, “It is not your fault, Will.” All the beats in between the highlights have a literary energy, the kinda moments lesser movies would kill for.
There’s a constant unspoken homoeroticism to the movie. Obviously, Gus Van Sant was one of Hollywood first openly gay directors. This could be seen as gun-for-hire work. And maybe knowing his usually more transgressive cinema well means you look for clues of an auteurist vision a little too hard. But it is definitely there. There in a playground fight that lingers on the flexed muscles of young men. There in the sad, unspoken backstory of Robin Williams bereaved psychiatrist and Stellan Skarsgård’s pushy professor. Van Sant brings a masculine intimacy to the melodrama. Intimacy rather than maths, class, genius or trauma proves the ultimate theme. Will doesn’t just use his supernatural intelligence to improve his life. He is too self destructive for that. He uses it as a shield, a battering ram to protect him from growing to close to anyone. After a childhood of abuse and toughening up, it isn’t just the lofty academic world of M. I.T. he proves a fish-out-of-water in. It is everything. Relationships, romance, therapy. Good Will Hunting on the surface is the tale of the smartest kid in the room being the unlikeliest. But really its is about a violent young man, learning to open up to humans who might hurt him but won’t, and living a life less risk averse.
Dan Trachtenberg directs Amber Midthunder, Dakota Beavers and Michelle Thrush in this stealth prequel to the Predator franchise where a Comanche warrior proves her worth against the alien hunter.
I’ve perversely enjoyed all the Predator sequels so it might shock you to say I found this competent, adequate, maybe a little too classy. The untrained doggie who they just shot coverage of and found his performance in the edit, him I loved. The CGI animals I hated. Amber Midthunder carried her story successfully, relying on physicality. Yet the final showdown didn’t match that wild feeling of all hell breaking loose that has become the Predator hallmark even in the weaker episodes. Everything else hit the spot but didn’t light me up. Maybe I was a little overly tired to watch this on launch night, a subsequent revisit will tumble everything that is praiseworthy into position. I was entertained, I like the fact that the 18th century setting gave this episode a clean slate to work with, a sincere space to do its own thing. But in my heart of hearts I want cartoon yardies, comic book yakuzas and buddy movie Section 8s going up against the slime green blooded, one ugly muthafucka. Native Americans and colonial trappers feel a little too real world. Pirates? Yeah, now that’s an alternative history lesson I’m all ears for. As solid as Prey is, it lacks the carnage this particular franchise has primed me for. The best set piece involves a mire and a tomahawk yet I felt even it skipped that one last ratchet of desperation that truly makes these types of smaller scale salvos memorable. I know people are hard gushing on Prey, who admire its consistency, see it as a belated heir to the Arnie original. But I enjoyed Shane Black’s utterly incomprehensible attempt to rejig the mythology just as much. So I’m off to film jail, aren’t I?
Blistering on initial taste. Teenage Bobby Carroll had a blast going to see this. My fingernails were cutting into my palms by the all-out finale when I first watched it. It became a mainstay of my VHS and then DVD viewing habits for the next ten years. The colours pop, the cast is rammed, the biggest set-pieces totally OTT. As a jaded adult you realise there are problems, the script doesn’t really know what to do after it has fun getting all its pieces spectacularly on the board, for every good chunk of carnage there’s an undercooked excuse of action that feels like filler, you’d hardly be able to state in a court of law that the three lead performances gel. Connery is the winner, leaning into the “what if 007 had be incarcerated by the yanks for three decades” vibes with minimal grimacing. Cage is off the chain and you wouldn’t want him any other way. The totalitarian score by Hans Zimmer gets the heart thumping. So… it’s the over eager runt of the litter compared to Con Air and Face / Off… it still has the Friday Night Goods. “Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home and fuck the prom queen.”
Perfect Double Bill: 13 Hours The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2013)
Martin Lund directs Jonas Tidemann, Elli Rhiannon Müller Osbourne and Saara Sipila-Kristoffersen in this Norwegian teen drama where a popular boy begins to fall for the troubled outcast at his school.
Well made and with a noteworthy performance from Elli Rhiannon Müller Osbourne. At the midway point she moves out of the foreground and the movie solely focuses on the outwardly perfect Jonas Tidemann’s dilemmas. He’s a wet and makes some awful choices. Imagine if you had to watch all of Pretty In Pink from Andrew McCarthy’s point of view? No, thank you. Shame as there was some real spiky energy in that first half, the snowy setting was particularly eye catching.
Ian Samuels directs Shannon Purser, Kristine Froseth and RJ Cyler in this teen romcom re-wriggling of Cyrano De Bergerac.
Exists in it own light fantasy world, Barb from Stranger Things makes for a sympathetic lead. It is all nice enough, maybe a bit forgettable. But then it shits the bed by making our likeable protagonist do something completely out of character, just for some third act jeopardy that a movie like this really doesn’t need.
James L. Brooks directs Holly Hunter, Albert Brooks and William Hurt in this serious romantic comedy set in the world of television news reporting.
“Network! Only with less ranting and more meet-cutes.” This should be right up my street. Imperfect characters, in a believable jerky love triangle, set in an intellectually stimulating and robust world. The pull between looks and intelligence, sex appeal and connection, sizzle and facts, corporate needs and public service. Yet it is also a bit of a cold fish, people like Hunter’s producer and Brooks’ journalist rarely take centre stage in mainstream Hollywood for a reason. Flinty, capable, arrogantly smart people. People a bit like hopefully you and hopefully me. But that doesn’t exactly mean they fit the frothier needs of a rom-com satisfactorily. I’ve probably seen the even-handed, slightly melancholy little epilogue for Broadcast News twice as many times as the film entire. It is sad, believable, real. And the complete opposite of what any of us desire from a big budget wide release. I’m not saying it ain’t admirable but you do wonder what Jack Nicholson’s up to in the background? Whether you’d rather be watching his flawless seduction of the new network owner or a recently widowed first lady…
6 (But I really want to score it higher every time)
Tay Garnett directs Lana Turner, John Garfield and Cecil Kellawayin thisclassic film noir where a drifter falls for a gas station owner’s wife with murderous consequences.
Both the simplest idea for a plot in the world and the most bonkers treatment of said plot. Anything can happen and often does. Maybe this is more about atmosphere than logic but it makes for a laughably wobbly watch throughout. Cats interrupt, model cars tumble, judge’s have, what can only be described as, a “power saving mode” day. The esoteric title isn’t explained until the final scene, and when it clunkily is you feel like saying “Run that past me again please.” The movie’s strength is three fascinating performances but they all have to prop up a weak central one by Garfield. I’ve seen him be well cast elsewhere but there’s something about the torrid madness of this that swamps him. Cecil Kellaway and Hume Cronyn are really a cut above in their untrustworthy support roles. Yet this is Lana Turner’s BBQ thoughout. She oozes fuckability. Only ever dressed in pure radiant white or deep inky blacks. Iconic, but iconic in a hot mess. James M Cain’s novel has been adapted a surprisingly frequent number of times, this is probably the most famous iteration but also the one least worthy of your two hours.
Paul Thomas Anderson directs Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams in this period drama where a WWII veteran drunkenly searches America for a place he’ll fit, and finds himself taken in by the charismatic leader of a gentile cult.
Choppy. Undefined. A series of fine scenes, and a few pointless ones. Two great performances but in the service of what? PTA assembled this from script ideas he couldn’t find a home for in other projects, great American novels he couldn’t afford to do a whole adaptation of. This bitty nature adds to the characters sense of displacement. Looks fantastic, wastes Amy Adams, compelling in fits and starts. They can’t all be winners, kid. Let’s call it a draw.