Edith Carlmar directs Liv Ullmann, Atle Merton and Rolf Søder in this teen romance where an upright young man takes his delinquent girlfriend away to a remote country cabin, only for the adults to interrupt their idyllic getaway.
Future arthouse royalty Ullmann kickstarts her career in this piece of cheesecake fluff. You can broach it as a low energy drama but it clearly has been made with at least one eye on the international exploitation circuit. The quick scenes of frolicking nudity are innocent enough as Ullmann romps through the Norwegian countryside starkers. But the endless lingering shots of her in her scanties and tight hotpants have clearly been lensed with the dirty mac brigade in mind. The Soho regulars must have struggled through the lengthy interludes where the kids make daisy chains and steal a sheep during its two week run at the Cameo-Royal on Charing Cross Road in the early Sixties. They probably breathed a grunting sigh of relief when the enigmatic older drifter turned up at the halfway mark to lead our eponymous protagonist astray again. Once he moves in with our temporary Adam & Eve the sexual tension rises steadily.
Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz direct Zack Gottsagen, Shia LaBeouf and Dakota Johnson in this road movie where a down syndrome wrestling fan and a down on his luck fisherman go on the run in North Carolina.
A sweet and low stakes riff on Rain Man and Midnight Run. The leads all give far better performances than you’d expect, respective genetic conditions and awful back catalogues withstanding. Two thirds of the cast spend nearly the entire runtime tops off… sadly Johnson is the fully clothed spoilsport! Doesn’t really reinvent the wheel but a pleasant watch… even with some lurching, not entirely necessary, swings into brutality.
J. Lee Thompson directs Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum and Polly Bergen in this neo-noir where a lawyer’s family are harassed by a sociopath recently released from prison who blames the straight laced man for his incarceration.
Explicitly cruel and nasty for a mainstream release of its era, up there with Psycho. Mitchum’s beating of a good time girl and his lingering looks at little Lori Martin’s underage body are creepy and taboo breaking. He’s a compelling and strangely attractive monster. Always one legal step ahead and happy to toy with his prey in a series of atmosphere heavy set pieces. The monologue where he talks Peck’s staid white hat through the merciless sexual destruction of his ex-wife’s happiness is a masterclass. It is hard for Peck to really share top billing with such bristling behemoth of a star turn. The river boat finale is a drawn out, murky treat. You’ll be utterly gripped. Bernard Herrman’s score is an urgent doom laden elegy that really gets under your skin. Sam Leavitt’s B&W cinematography ups the contrast the further into the deadly mire we wade. By the time Mitchum’s definitive Max Cady is snapping necks in the swamp the screen is engorged in darkness. Features strong support work from Martin Balsam and Telly Savalas.
Charles Frend directs John Mills, Kenneth More and Harold Warrender in this big screen recreation of Scott’s doomed expedition to reach the South Pole.
An Ealing Studio classic that left me cold. The fundraising and team recruiting first hour is flat, filled with stiff upper lip acting. The more visually impressive Antarctic scenes do still have some power but the dwindling men are given so little to do but stoically suffer in silence as bad decisions and the elements seal their fate.
Fritz Kiersch directs Kathy Long, Andrew Divoff and Ginger Lynn Allen in this action movie where a vengeful blonde rides into town to take down a biker gang.
A modern day DTV remake of High Plains Drifter with background goon roles for Danny Trejo and the gnarled guy who Arnie steals his clothes from in T2. Meant as a vehicle for former Kickboxing champion and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman stunt double Kathy Long. She’s no Gina Carano, proving too stiff with her minimal dialogue and low stakes brawling. And a lot of this is cool posturing rather than ass whupping in a desert town. We do get a sex scene that somewhat surprisingly doesn’t involve porn star gone mainstream actor Ginger Lynn Allen. She actually gives the best performance as the town harpie. I watched this to try out something else in Tuff Turf director Fritz Kiersch forgotten movie back catalogue. Looks like the teen gang movie treat was an outlier.
Deon Taylor directs Michael Ealy, Meagan Good and Dennis Quaid in the yuppie in peril thriller where a rich couple buy their dream home in the country… only for the former owner to keep popping by with malevolent intent.
A revival of all the old tropes which makes its lead couple far too unlikeable for us to ever care about them. Now part of the joy of these class war home invasions always used to be us serfs seeing the upwardly mobile have their success torn apart by a psycho… but Good and (especially) Ealy are such bimbos that you wish the screws started turning a lot sooner and even more viciously. Quaid is hammy and OTT, it is such a relentless spin of tics and glaring he almost saves the film. The fact he does half his leering and lashing out in a red cap will mean this rote release will find itself being picked apart in a fair few “Cinema in the Trump era” dissertations. More of interest is that The Intruder shares a big twist with a far superior, celebrated movie of the same year. One final criticism, the incongruously hard hip hop soundtrack is misguided and disruptive. Imagine if someone decided to include continual blasts of Slipknot and Insane Clown Posse in a Matthew Broderick & Julia Roberts thriller following a white couple of vanilla suits who buy the wrong house in the 90s?!
David O. Russell directs Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale and Amy Adams in this 1990s set boxing biopic where struggling undercard fighter Mickey Ward must overcome his own lack of confidence and the distracting influence of his brother / trainer’s spiral into crack addiction.
Bale’s most layered acting tour-de-force and Amy Adam’s sexiest role orbit Wahlberg’s generously blank, sweetly lunkheaded lead turn. From its rousingly unhip jukebox soundtrack to its video camcorder lensed bruising fight sequences, everything about The Fighter just chimes wonderfully. It is a broad film, self consciously gritty and maudlin… and it is one of those movies I could watch on endless repeat. Like Moneyball, I can’t quite figure out why me, someone who cares little for sport, can’t seem to get enough of this perfect production. Like an ear worm rock anthem, maybe the simplicity and unfussy confidence of Russell’s technique here is what keeps bringing me back. The cinematic equivalent of Boston’s Don’t Stop Believin’ or Bon Jovi’s Livin’ On A Prayer!
Patty Jenkins directs Gal Gadot, Chris Pine and Pedro Pascal in this superhero sequel where the DC queen faces down a greedy society corrupted by a malevolent dreamstone while being reunited with her lost love.
Bad Boys For Life. Tenet. Mulan. Blockbusters were certainly rationed in 2020. With cinemas still closed in Scotland, we rented, downloaded, played WW84 twice hungrily this weekend. First time I was swept up with the magisterial populist stylings and storytelling. Second time I just wished we could be watching all this on the big screen. A near perfect afternoon devourer… as optimistic and bright and sincere as Richard Donner’s Superman. If you bought a ticket to see Gadot and Pine’s perfect romantic chemistry reignited this provides in spade. All their interactions are sweetly funny, the fish out water comedy dynamic reversed as this time the hunky old school star has to figure out the 65 years he missed. The always charming Pine is a self effacing treat. If you came for the titular wonder then we regularly harness the lightning, fly through the fireworks and shrug off shimmering golden wings like it ain’t no thing. Indulgent sequences of colourful visual splendour.
The one thing the film lacks is the instant gratification of Marvel movies. It isn’t a conveyor belt of wisecracks, teases and posturing. It actually delivers a plot, emotional character arcs, involving spectacle, resolution, hope. Lets it all play out at an absorbable, measured, pleasurable pace. Imagine being a small child taking in those opening tag team of action sequences. Child Diana competing in the super Themyscira olympics to the heavenly percussion of Hans Zimmer… followed by adult Wonder Woman saving the wide eyed shoppers of a mall from some incompetent armed thieves. Gadot may not be the finest actress in the world, her command of the English language may not be particularly nuanced, but she exudes a heroism that matches only Arnie or The Rock. She may be in a violent setting but you know the kids are safe with her, she’s unwaveringly on the side of good, conspiratorial that the tough stuff is all part of the adventure. She’s a truly family friendly cape. The fact she looks as glamorous and radiant as an Ava Gardner or a Claudia Cardinale is the cherry on top.
Jenkins seeds another half dozen rousing action sequences among her extensive take on the “be careful of what you wish for” narrative. Would I have preferred one extra face off between Kristen Wiig’s Cheetah? Of course – the comedy actress is great value in the serious villain role but does leave you craving more. Do we need quite so much focus on Pedro Pascal’s misguided Maxwell Lord in the third act? Probably not, but Jenkins admirably tries to give all four of her principles dramatic space to be human rather than mere counters on an ever shifting game board. It is a generous tale… ultimately more satisfying and rewatchable than the more slam bang, empty calories entertainments of recent years. Wonder Woman 84 feels like you’ve experienced a complete story rather than a mid chapter of an ongoing saga. And a really gleeful one at that. It even has a respectable moral… the selfish desires of individuals don’t necessarily work for the greater cohesion for all society. No wonder the whiny, entitled, self important echo chambers of Twitter instantly hated on it.
Fritz Kiersch directs James Spader, Robert Downey Jnr. and Kim Richards in this teen gang movie where a preppy rebel moves to a tough neighbourhood where the kids are felony level threatening.
Rebel Without a Cause remade with an MTV aesthetic and a severe ADHD level of distraction. Swings schizophrenically from sweetly poppy to violently razor edged. There are musical dance numbers and hardcore street crimes within a scene change of each other, Beverly Hills Cop inspired visits to country clubs and lethal warehouse rumble finales. It is fair to say you wouldn’t be surprised if Señorita Cocaine didn’t get her own Executive Producer credit. Little Robert Downey Jnr is definitely dripping in narcotics sweat and twitching like a junkie in a stand out best friend role… And yet somehow it all joyfully coalesces into a blast of Saturday night entertainment. Like The Lost Boys or Labyrinth you can approach it as a cheesy cult item but that doesn’t really hide the fact that Spader is captivatingly awesome in this early lead role; all aloof but sincere. Genuinely surprised this doesn’t have a larger rep among hipster retro heads and fans of movies where taxi driver sad dad’s turn out to be able take three street punks on bare knuckled. Awesome New Wave soundtrack too!
Steven Spielberg directs Eric Bana, Daniel Craig and Mathieu Amalric in this true story thriller about the Mossad agents who retired from the Israel security service to hunt down the masterminds of Munich Olympic murders and execute them.
Made in the shadow of 9/11, Spielberg delivers his most mature and disturbing storytelling within the first 90 minutes. Surveillance, assassinations, safe houses. We are immersed in the paranoia, ethics and practicalities of being a globe trotting death squad. Like a lot of the ageing blockbuster genius’ projects in this period he rushed through the shoot and the edit. An academy award qualifying date needed to be hit, this was the go project out a dozen others in development potentials he could of received the greenlight for. Shot for shot you’d never tell, the compositions are flawless, but as a narrative feature the final act falls apart. We watch a sturdy Bana psychologically disintergrate on a dime, a man warped by his own shadow life and methods (with an obvious debt to Coppola’s The Conversation). We are lost in a malaise of an incomplete mission and a man left without a country. We flashback to the instigating terrorist incident during sex scenes. Spielberg shouldn’t be allowed near fucking, as this is possibly one of the worst sex scenes in mainstream cinema. He sees making love as a dark, transactional, lethal experience. He actively avoided it for the first thirty years of his career for good reason. Here, and in Minority Report, screwing feels like the equivalent of sticking your genitals in a bear trap. He just doesn’t seem to understand intimacy or passion. Nudity has a cold, vulnerable, sweaty shiver in Steven’s vision of the world. He’s on surer ground with the tense set pieces, the looping discussions on the ethics of geopolitical revenge and the mysterious French intelligence traders who take his group of orphaned killers under their untrustworthy wing. A few more months in the editing room and Munich might shaken off its later weird indulgences and found perfection. Frustrating that he was churning them out with such blunt ferocity during this decade instead of taking a breath and sculpting a bit of resolution and prudence into his projects. This could have been a definitive cinematic heat check on the concerns of early 21st century. Instead it now plays out like a mere retro stepping stone on a game Craig’s path to 007 stardom.