Labyrinth (1986)

img_1895

Jim Henson directs Jennifer Connelly, David Bowie and Brian Henson in this fantasy adventure about a teenage girl who has to complete a surreal maze to rescue her baby brother from a seductive villain. 

The kitsch pleasures of an underage Connelly and a rampant Bowie facing off against each other in a battle of sexual wills somewhat overshadows the keen practical effect work, moments of whipsmart craftmanship (the kidnapping of the babe and existential peril in the junkyard are as sharply effective as any pair of sequences in an adult horror of the same vintage) and the charming, jaunty finale. It is a camp, inappropriate meander first and foremost with daft songs and overly revealing costumes but there’s enough quality components embedded throughout that you can still appreciate Labyrinth without having to elbow the person next to you in the ribs every five minutes. Makes a fine triple bill with Return to Oz and Willow.

8

Film of the Week: Die Hard (1988)

img_1864

John McTiernan directs Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman and Bonnie Bedelia in this Christmas Eve action thriller about an off duty cop trapped in a skyscraper with some financially motivated hostage takers. 

I really don’t need to sing Die Hard’s praises, I’ve never met anyone of any stripe, age, creed or colour who does not love it. And I wouldn’t want to. We all know it is something special – the golden crown of modern Hollywood filmmaking studded with jewels of blisteringly involving action, whipsmart black comedy, a mature romance and a blanket of cynicism not in anyway managing to cover a whole mountain of ancillary festive cheer. I first watched it on pirate video, at one point concurrently owned the official widescreen VHS special edition and a taped version off TV with break for the News at Ten slapbang in the middle, have burnt through various DVD copies and presently have the Ultimate Die Hard collection boxset sitting proudly in my BluRay stack. I’m not going to rush now and pick it apart… no doubt I’ll do a big franchise overview at some point soon… but if I could just put my finger on why what should be just another orgy of mindless violence works quite so well… In my opinion, it is the unusually indepth attention to character. Not just in the cinematic icon that is John McClane (“He’s an easy guy to like, but a hard man to kill” as the gravelly trailer voice man sold him to us as… McClane is just ordinary guy right down to his maybe-has-been-in-a-few-drunken-bar-brawls fighting ‘technique’, we all know this bloke), but all the dramatis personae has been cast, named, lavished with a semblance of real humanity so that even Terrorist #12 has a quirky sweet tooth, the electricity worker his own shit he’s dealing with and we can read years of backstory between a hack journalist and an anchorman in one simple foul mouthed exchange. Die Hard is like a stick of rock in that care runs through it consistently from tip to toe, a Christmas pudding in that all manner of tasty stuff is crammed throughout it so it never gets dull or predictable. Typing this, I really want to just watch it again right now.

Marco: No more table! Where are you going to go now? Let me give you some advice: Next time you have the chance to kill someone, don’t hesitate!
John McClane: (Kills him) Thanks for the advice.

And I never even mentioned Rickman’s Hans Gruber…

10

 

My Cousin Vinny (1992)

MSDMYCO FE007

Jonathan Lynn directs Joe Pesci, Marisa Tomei and Fred Gwynne in this fish out of water comedy about a wise guy from New York’s first case as a qualified lawyer being the trial of his cousin for a murder in Alabama.

I owned this on VHS as a teenager so watched it plenty… and then seemingly abandoned it for 20 years. Which is a shame as it still holds up remarkably well. Both the trial and the comedy are tightly plotted and well executed with Pesci, Gwynne and Austin Pendleton eking out extra chuckles wherever they can. Marisa Tomei, wins man of the match though, with all the best lines, outfits and a near-merciless rhythm in her argumentative patter with the eponymous lead. She deserved that Oscar she won (back when they gave awards to fun support performances in hits, rather than most prestigious piece of support casting in trophy bait productions) and it’s a shame she got relegated back to wife and girlfriend roles so quickly again after this brilliant breakout role.

7

 

 

Species (1995)

img_1862

Roger Donaldson directs Natasha Henstridge, Ben Kingsley and Michael Madsen in this Earth set sci-fi about a team tracking a hot woman made with deadly alien DNA. 

I remember Species being schlocky fun, full of tits and violence, with a decent cast… after revisiting its dawdling, exposition heavy nonsense though I regret to report there were only trace levels of nudity, action, cheese and chunks. The concept and the creature design deserve a better, or at least a more enthusiastic movie, and once an affecting young Michelle Williams goes into her adult birthing chrysalid to turn supermodel killer the pace droops to sputteringly laconic. Poor.

4

The End of the Tour (2015)

img_1861

James Ponsoldt directs Jason Segel, Jesse Eisenberg and Joan Cusack in this recreation of weekend long interview between the guarded author of Infinite Jest and a concieted Rolling Stones journalist.

Essentially a series of verbal sparring rounds between a self aware man and a jealous journalist, who clearly shouldn’t be trusted, in various wintery diners, hotels and passenger seats. We are supposed to see David Foster Wallace’s actions and mood swings as eccentricities but in all honesty, when stuck with Jessie Eisenberg’s typical take on the needy, petulant and insidious interviewer, his reactions seem perfectly valid. The two actors’ chemistry shines through, both retaining enough mystery in their motivations to keep you intrigued, and the dialogue is never less than intelligent and insightful. It made me want to give Infinite Jest, the author’s doorstop breakthrough, a try… so mission accomplished. A humorous and touching look at creative success and failure.

7

Kindergarten Cop (1990)

img_1857

Ivan Reitman directs Arnold Schwarzenegger, Penelope Ann Miller and Pamela Reed in this comedy about an inappropriately tough city cop who goes undercover teaching five year olds.

Although I watched it a lot as a kid I never ever thought of Kindergarten Cop as a good movie. It lacked the spunk of Twins and the mania of Last Action Hero and the calculated perfection of True Lies. I never thought I would watch it again as a balding, greying man man. But sometimes you are stuck in a hotel room at the mercy of a TV schedule… And it was very watchable; the cast work hard, no scene exists without a punchline or a narrative point and I was taken back to that wonderful feeling of easy, colourful pleasures that an Arnie flick all but guaranteed growing up. It was undemanding fun and I enjoyed it again.

6

The Hateful Eight (2015)

img_1856

Quentin Tarantino directs Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell and Walton Goggins in this cabin set mystery where strangers waiting out a blizzard eye each other up for potential threats. 

A new QT movie’s biggest hurdle to leap will always be the mountain of expectation, and I hate to admit it, but like Jackie Brown and Inglorious Basterds, my initial cinema trip to this left me a mite disappointed. A chamber piece, essentially an Agatha Christie novel in bearskin and coon cap, at first run through it all seems like a reduction of what Quent can easily bring to the big screen. A year’s gap, and forearmed with more knowledge as to where some of the more pigheaded narrative choices are eventually headed (many of the repetitions are more frustrating than rewarding, the pace is purposefully way, way off) and I enjoyed The Hateful Eight for what it is; a brilliant cast blasting out a fruity script in colourful Western grab. You get second wind Samuel L Jackson front and centre at long last for a movie entire, satisfying bits from Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tim Roth too. But it is Goggins who walks off with the film as the Aw Shucks, enthusiastic Good Ole Boy, one step behind the plotters and players, and therefore audibly as excited as we are with each revelation. So it’s not Pulp Fiction with six shooters… it is a fine and captivating diversion.

7

Northern Soul (2014)

img_1855

Elaine Constantine directs Josh Whitehouse, Elliot James Langridge and Antonia Thomas about a lad who gets into a scene of 70s kids who like decade old Soul music.

Every Christmas my Dad decides we should watch a film about Northern Soul. It is a newish tradition and I’m not entirely sure how it came about. He’s Irish, was living in London and happily married when this scene had its day. This one wasn’t as good as Soul Boy which had better dancehall sequences and a sweeter storyline. Still someone needs to churn out a third one of these in time for us next year please.

4

The Revenant (2015)

img_1693

Alejandro G. Iñárritu directs Leonardo Dicaprio, Tom Hardy and Will Poulter in this sublime Western about a frontiersman left for dead, who climbs out of his grave and crawls across country in pursuit of his transgressors. 

A film of arduous moments that indelibly mark you. The lengthily maintained one shot horror of the first native attack totemically sets the tone for a series of haunting encounters filled with wounding violence, desperate self preservation and the melancholy of humanity pushed to its limits. Leo deservedly won the Oscar with this committed but often silent central showcase, yet both the ever excellent Hardy and notably Poulter more than hold their own against his admirable work. Whether you’d want to regularly brave The Revenant’s often artier pretensions and constantly gruelling trials remain to be seen but I felt myself warm to it all just a little bit more on this second small screen viewing. And it had already impressed me mightily.

8