Luc Besson directs Jean Reno, Natalie Portman and Gary Oldman in this action thriller where a loner assassin takes in the neighbour’s twelve year old daughter when her family is killed by dirty D.E.A. agents.
Like Miller’s Crossing, this is a film I fell in love with when I was hardwiring my movie tastes and obsessions to the point where it felt undeniably like my own, sole possession. I know this movie back to front, left to right, beanie hat to bullet casing. The perfect movie for a quiet teenage boy – the action is crisp and impactful, the plotting clean and purposeful, the emotional content relatable and spellbinding, the visuals iconic and believable, the backstreet Manhattan location work exotic yet recognisable, the relationship between Léon and Mathilda is both Tarantino fairy tale wish fulfilment and bubbling with nascent sexual tension.
I think it is fine to give the riskier moments of attraction between the man child and streetwise Lolita a pass if you are a teenager watching this. You know Léon is a hulking innocent, more paternal than predatory… so the precocious child who is playing with sexual fire is completely safe to crush on and flirt with her saviour. And yes, I know Besson was impregnating an underage girl at the time of the movie’s inception (she even appears as a hooker… ugh!) but that creepiness and queasiness can be separated by the sheer class of the pure hearted hyper violent adventure as it unfolds. Besson the man may be a questionable character but Besson the storyteller here wisely defines separate sleeping areas for his unlikely leads and an unspoken but strictly imposed line that his adult killer will not cross. If only he did that in real life, hey? Too many words on a footnote about this masterpiece…
What makes Léon: The Professional god tier is four superb performances. Danny Aiello’s complex mob organiser… exploiting our Léon but clearly with a fatherly affection that goes beyond manipulation. Jean Reno’s wonderful innocent hitman… believable both as an artist for destructive death and an illiterate naïf in all other matters. Natalie Portman’s orphaned protégé… take out the lurches into kink and what bullied kid would want to train with the greatest contract killer in Little Italy? Like I say, wish fulfilment. She matches the adults scene for scene, line for line. A star is born. But maniac of the match is Gary Oldman’s pill popping, Beethoven loving Stansfield… a beautifully attired, utterly quotable bastard man. He dominates every frame, often those poor frames cannot contain him, in an performance that is delightfully hammy as it is unpredictably lethal. The stuff of genre movie dreams. “Death is… whimsical… today…”
Christian Petzold directs Franz Rogowski, Paula Beer and Godehard Giese in this period-bending WWII thriller set in modern day Marseille, where refugees try to gain passage, visas and transits on ships before occupying forces “cleanse” their port.
A cracking thriller / romance with the existential attitude and atmosphere of a Camus story. Though based on Anna Seghers’s 1944 novel (and I would assume relatively faithfully), this is filmed as though set in 2018. The clothes and props are often period, the technology and locations unashamedly current, the dialogue and political backdrop ambiguous. Rather than taking you out of the human drama and the oppressive fatalism of the refugees’ plight, it actually makes you engage with parallels of today’s geopolitics and the tragedies of the past. Rogowski and Beer make for a pairing almost as attractive and alluring as Rick and Ilsa in Casablanca. Effective and gripping.
Dominik Graf directs Herbert Knaup, Katja Flint and Hansa Czypionka in this German police thriller where a special forces cop gets dragged into a world of corruption and conspiracy when he recognises his dead partner on a raid.
A decent police thriller that might have been more praiseworthy if it were a four part miniseries or an airport novel. As a feature film, Graf brings it in terms of its set pieces, savagery and explicit sex. But there’s something quite pedestrian about the unravelling plot, paranoid tropes and soapy revelations. More Prime Suspect than The Wire in it sophistication and depth. The version we watched had “lost” video grade footage spliced back in that was excised at time of release. The glaring reinstated scenes mainly consist of laddish banter between the SWAT colleagues, these add little to the overall story or milieu but maybe were enough to at least justify a re-release and reappraisal. Not a terrible way to spend a Saturday night but no overlooked classic either!
Alfred Hitchcock directs Paul Newman, Julie Andrews and Lila Kedrova in this espionage thriller where an American scientist defects over to the Soviets… only for his unwitting girlfriend to follow him beyond the Iron Curtain.
Nobody’s favourite Hitchcock. The set-pieces are actually pretty awesome – an arduous drawn-out murder, a bus ride con, a chase against a sea of escaping bodies! All these wonderful burst of extended tension are expertly orchestrated. The plot that strings them loosely together is wayward and unfocused. A few more drafts of the screenplay might have wrung a bit more mileage out of Newman and Andrews’ mistrust of each other’s motivations. Instead we often tread water – with Newman avoiding letting his beloved in on the grand scheme and her waiting in reception areas until the great escape picks up pace. Neither star feel particularly stretched in their bland roles and they certainly don’t generate any heat as a potential red hot pairing. Torn Curtain still fills an afternoon neatly, the now unknown faces who populate the film make up for the mismatched leads. If anything Torn Curtain reminds one most of Hitchcock’s Thirties thrillers where couples jauntily evaded the continental saboteurs and the double agents of a totalitarian regime. Maybe this style of thriller had its day back when the Allieds took Germany? It certainly feels creaky sitting between Marnie and Frenzy.
Just Jaeckin directs Corinne Cléry, Udo Kier and Anthony Steel in this softcore Eurotrash adaptation of the classic anonymous work of erotic literature.
Corinne Clery is very attractive on the eye, comfortable with her near constant nudity and the often ridiculous S&M contortions she has to make. The secret cabal of subs and doms world of hidden chateaus and cultish rituals is essayed quite convincingly. But Jeackin’s direction is uninvolving, the characters all remain insipid blanks and there is very little for the ladies in terms of beefcake or nudity to make it a workable “couples film”. A dirty mac museum piece with a nice visual language all of it own.
John Boorman directs Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson and John Vernon in this classic thriller where a left-for-dead career criminal stalks the partner, the wife and the organisation who have his $93,000.
Richard Stark’s The Hunter is one of my favourite novels. A focussed, resourceful and amoral individual taking down a syndicate that is too big to fail. It is the template for a fantastic thriller and has had many incarnations over the years. Mel Gibson’s Payback is probably the most popular. Robert Duvall’s The Outfit is probably the most faithful adaptation, even though it is based in name on a different novel. But when I read a Parker novel, I see Lee Marvin. I see Lee Marvin marching like an invading army of one. I see Lee Marvin in his immaculate suits. I see Lee Marvin like a vengeful otherworld wraith that barely acknowledges his adversaries existence unless he is killing them or demanding what is his. Sure, the artier aspects of Boorman’s direction befuddle the purity a little bit. This 80% pure Siegel or Fuller, 20% Swinging Sixties mustard. Those elliptical flashbacks and allusions to the supernatural are cream for critics but sour for those of us who just want to see a brutal man take down the suits. Three last words: Angie Dickinson – smoking!
Frank Marshall directs Paul Walker, Bruce Greenwood and Moon Bloodgood in this Disney adventure where a team of huskies are abandoned to fend for themselves through an Antarctic winter.
A solid kid’s adventure movie that imbues the dogs with definable personalities and does not sugarcoat the peril or human culpability. If you’ve come just for cute dogs in a triumphant story of survival you might need to brace yourself. Genuinely thrilling at times, though do watch out for the terrifying Leopard Seal’s close-up!
Tony Richardson directs Albert Finney, Susannah York and George Devine in this period adaptation of Henry Fielding’s riches to rags romp.
An unlikely and now unloved Best Picture Winner, this is a lot of bawdy fun. Playing like a lighter, more madcap Barry Lyndon, I really enjoyed it. Showcasing fine support from York, George Devine and in particular Joan Greenwood. There is some dated animal cruelty that holds it back.
Werner Herzog directs The Dalai Lama, Lama Lhundup Woeser and Takna Jigme Sangpo in this documentary witnessing the Buddhist ceremonies and pilgrimages at Bodh Gaya, India.
The camera gets right in the mix here and captures some immersive footage. Herzog’s deadpan and doom laden narration adds an unintentional humour to the proceedings. Hearing the disembodied voice of the sinister and ominous crackpot auteur interview the living embodiment of wisdom and serenity has its pleasures.
Rob Zombie directs Scout Taylor-Compton, Malcolm McDowell and Tyler Mane in this slasher horror remake that re-explores the backstory and psychology of Michael Myers.
About as good as modern day reboots get, Zombie takes everything that works about Carpenter’s revered original and puts his own extreme, sleazy and unsettling stamp on it. Is it as expertly composed as its canonical source? No. Does it deliver an unrelenting, heart stopping alternative take? A lot of the time… yes. Not for faint hearts (or haters of helium voiced scream queens), this is a very nasty, decent budgeted piece of genre fanfic from a unique cinematic visionary.