Futureworld (1976)

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Richard T. Heffron directs Blythe Danner, Peter Fonda and Arthur Hill in this sequel to the iconic sci-fi blockbuster Westworld.

OK… so in set-up, look and philosophy it may be wearing the better known movie’s hand me downs but I actually think Futureworld is slightly better than its more famous progenitor. Fonda and Danner are bigger stars (the latter excelling in a thankless Lois Lane role), there is a ton more action and paranoia, even the score is more energetic. So it’s all a bit cheesier… I love cheddar… And who exactly is watching either film in 2016 for their artfulness? Personally I can’t wait to revisit this version of Delos, got my return ticket booked.

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The Power of the Witch (1971)

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Mike Bakewell directs himself, Mollie Moncrieff and Doreen Valiente in this even handed but charming look at “modern” British witchcraft.

A lost treat currently available to stream if you have a quick google… a BBC special taking in covens, lapsed witches and zealous Christian objectors. The whole endeavour has a fascinating echo from the past feel, revealing a time when people were both less hyper aware and not falsely open with filmmakers. Whether your interest is in pagan culture or 70s attitudes, this proves a genuinely captivating peek through the temporal peephole.

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An American Haunting (2005)

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Courtney Solomon directs Rachel Hurd-Wood, Donald Sutherland and Sissy Spacek in this colonial curse chiller. 

Everything but the kitchen sink is thrown at you in the jump scare stakes meaning this “true” ghost story never calms down anywhere near long enough to build an involving sense of dread. The decent cast seem lost, the sets distractingly cheap, the stylistic flourishes random and the final twist feels like a bad taste character assassination on people long dead… just to add a bit of justification to a litany of unoriginal and laughable carnival tricks. Avoid.

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Film of the Week: Dirty Dancing (1987)

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Emile Ardolino directs Jennifer Grey, Patrick Swayze and Jerry Orbach in this sixties set summer camp romance with backstreet abortions, incongruous Eighties music and a questionable age difference between a dim middle aged dance instructor and a forward thinking kid. 

I’m not going to justify my love of Dirty Dancing. You don’t have to either.

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Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)

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Edward Zwick directs Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders and Danika Yarosh in this sequel to the ex-military drifter takes down a conspiracy time waster. 

A step in the wrong direction for a series already put on warning. While the first one celebrated, tongue firmly in cheek and pleasurably so , the Reacher / Cruise uberhuman, this one dials everything comic book right down to a whisper so our unstoppable force becomes someone who just dashes about a lot and survives the occasional one storey fall. Nothing to write home about. The mystery is superfluous, the baddies one note. We had a Richard Jenkins, Rosamund Pike, Robert Duvall, Jai Courtney and Werner Herzog in the last one. This one just contains TV faces… a sequel that makes you yearn for the days Jai Courtney was in the cast… what is the world coming to? The one interesting plot wrinkle is that Reacher picks up a makeshift family of a temporary Mrs Reacher and Junior Reacher. Even this feels like a subversion better saved for a fourth or fifth entry when we are completely comfortable with the concept being skewered. And the action is meh. Any third entry might want to ignore this rare dud from the TC brand and look back to the opener’s ridiculous but self aware strengths.

3

Westworld (1973)

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Michael Crichton directs Richard Benjamin, Yul Brynner and James Brolin in this robot populated theme park gone awry science fiction thriller. 

Whisper it… but the original Westworld can actually be quite a trudge when you are watching it. Little happens, slowly… and with asides to subplots that matter less and less to the main thrust. Yet give it a day or so after viewing to percolate and any dawdling narrative and cheap set dressing is easy to ignored. You remember Yul Brynner’s relentless killing machine pursuing you. You remember the excitement of arriving at Delos. You remember the terror as the robots reveal themselves. From Terminator to Jurassic Park to Inception it is an irremovable block of the modern blockbuster’s DNA; wonder gives way to danger gives way heroism. As essential as Star Wars.

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The Mask (1994)

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Charles Russell directs Jim Carrey, Cameron Diaz and Peter Greene in this tale of a put upon bank clerk who uses a magical mask to become a chaotic cartoon character who wins the girl. 

Cameron Diaz’s boiling hot debut introduction and the joy of seeing Jim Carrey at his box office peak mean this will never be forgotten but maybe it should. The jokes, though well rendered and enthusiastically delivered, are at best snort-a-little smart rather than laugh-out-loud funny. While the near ubiquitous smoking of fags in a family film make this seem like a relic compared with classmates like Jurassic Park or Mrs Doubtfire. The kinda colourful and energetic film that exists better in your head as a distantly remembered concept than as an actual experience to sit through again with modern, adult eyes.

5

The Bourne Legacy (2012)

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Tony Gilroy directs Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz and Edward Norton in this parallel-quel to the incomparable Matt Damon spy on the run series. 

At the cinema this was marred by a draggy middle section and a schizophrenic lead performance from Renner. He’s given a thankless task really, and not just in filling Matt Damon’s gargantuan shoes. Aaron Cross is painted as a wiseass, a clucking for a fix junkie and a former walking vegetable throughout the narrative, hardly the kind of soulful killing machine we can root for even if we eventually settled on just one personality. Weisz does some of the heavy lifting in the likability stakes, she can sure boost a blockbuster with her committed input (see Chain Reaction or Constantine)… yet even her character’s intellect seems to slalom between genius and jughead as the plot demands it. On second viewing, with expectations lowered, the action stands out. The elongated Eiger Sanction style first act, the conspiracy shoot outs in research labs and woodland mansion are the stuff that most top end actioners would proudly home. And the final chase reaches the intensity of a similar sequence in Terminator 2. That’s a high enough bar to reach for even if we were expecting the franchise to at least stretch for its blood relatives revolutionary standards instead. Perfectly watchable.

6

Basket Case (1982)

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Frank Henenlotter directs Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith and Beverly Bonner in this cult horror classic about a wide eyed boy who takes his tumorous, muderous detached siamese brother to the Big Bad Apple… in a basket. 

One of those small but select band of VHS covers that kept me terrified of my videoshop as a kid but has since grown by near legendary proportions in my imagination, this one actually even lived up to my long gestating mind hype. It is a great little quirky horror in the ReAnimator mould –  with daft but spirited performances, message in a bottle guerrila location shots of recession Times Square… plus madly ambitious and inventive creature and gore work. The edges are charmingly rough but the end result (while as about as scary as ET) is as accidentally soulful as King Kong. Kevin Van Hentenryck and Terri Susan Smith’s weirdo lovers are laugh out loud funny to boot. A treat.

7

Ransom (1996)

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Ron Howard directs Mel Gibson, Gary Sinise and  Delroy Lindo in this prestige thriller about a NYC millionaire who turns the tables on his son’s kidnappers. 

An achingly classy thriller from the Mel machine when it was churning such perfect blockbuster product out three times a year. Top to bottom the cast is impeccable, almost a Who’s Who of genre actors from the 90s. Surprisingly emotionally involving and risk taking, the current spate of Takens and the like owe a lot to this more lavishly crafted entertainment.

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