Luc Besson directs Christopher Lambert, Isabelle Adjani and Jean Reno in the magical realist thriller where a safe breaker moves into the Parisian Metro system to blackmail a beauty he has fallen for and start a pop band.
Cinema Du Look – Ultimate Edition. Very freewheeling in its plotting but this gifts Besson room for his two best assets to be captured adoringly. The walkways, tunnels and secret passages of the underground system become a brutalist playground for on-location roller skate chases, rendezvous and robberies. Adjani gets a series of fierce fantasy looks to try out, culminating in her Iroquois hair gel showstopper. Sure, Lambert as ever proves a jarring big screen lead – that fallback smug grin doesn’t help. But his off kilter plan to become a music manager with his haul, amidst all this gunplay and strangeness, actually grows into neat final act thread. The band he forms from the buskers and workers among the subterranean squatters he sides with have a couple of absolute earworm bangers in them. Mid 80s europop with a garnish of Peter Gabriel and Talking Heads. A supercool night in!
James Cameron directs Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn in this sci-fi classic where a killing machine from the future is sent back to execute the mother of the leader of the human rebellion against the robots.
How do I write a précis of one the most formative movies of my life?
A brilliant slambang actioner – absolutely relentless and immersive, heroes scramble between uzi bursts, shotguns momentarily subdue, motorcycles evade explosives in high speed chases.
A nightmarish realisation of us Cold War kids’ fears – a fallout devastated future of rubble, skulls, gargantuan tanks and chrome skeletons covered in bodybuilder’s flesh. I genuinely grew up expecting mutually assured destruction to leave either this or Mad Max as the world I might be an adult in.
The time twisting romance that adds a bold emotional through line to all the violence and SFX – “I came across time for you Sarah. I love you; I always have.”!
The greatest movie sex scene ever – urgent, desperate, hands gripping clean sheets, tenderness and raw humanity snatched in a rare respite from the chase.
Cameron’s clean and confident direction – frames are invaded, a detailed world with zero clutter, convincing whether gritty street guerilla shots of LA life or high fantasy.
Brad Fidel’s perfect score – pneumatic and highly hummable as the bookending theme, chaotic and overloaded when danger closes in.
The slow reveal of T-800 inhuman form – sure, these FX have dated in places but I remember being a highly inappropriate age (6?) and watching / not watching Arnie remove his eyeball at my uncle’s house and it being a watershed moment in my awareness and love of cinema.
Arnie – a supernova is born, his only true villain role, terrifying and convincing as the unstoppable predator.
Michael Biehn – scrabbling around a civilisation he barely understands, stealing cool kicks and going commando in tramp pants, looking awesome in his sawn-off concealing trenchcoat, convincing as man who’ll put himself between you and a gargantuan, as a man who has eaten rat and witnessed genocide yet still retains his decency.
Linda Hamilton – Sarah Connor: Phase One, big hair, awesome t-shirts, shifting from shell shock to grizzled survivor in the space of a weekend.
I’ve always preferred this over T2. The punkish pulse of it appeals more. I’d love someone to release a soundtrack of all the forgotten New Wave pop that permeates the first act. Love how Cameron’s bank breaking world vision of fatalistic humour, perilous action and macho romance is so well defined this early on. We were spoilt as children. No other generation had their gateway movies quite so savage yet exquisite.
Norman Tokar directs Jodie Foster, David Niven and Leo McKern in this missing heiress con-kid caper from the Mouse House.
Light and fluffy except when McKern isn’t. He’s a right rotter here, a strong Disney villain. It has a very Victorian idea of what Seventies England was but plonks Jodie’s streetwise tomboy into that fake milieu efficiently. Doesn’t exactly exploit the culture clash well, but Niven butler / master of disguise is a charming plate spinner. Fine.
Jane Campion directs Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo and Jennifer Jason Leigh in this erotic thriller where an English professor gets involved with the cop investigating a serial murderer; yet the closer their intimacy, the more she suspects he is the man of violence.
Hazy and woozy… more interested in being a sensual immersive experience than a nuts and bolts thriller. It works almost in spite of its pretentions. The attraction between Ryan and Ruffalo is palpable, he delivers his most starry and machismo driven turn. Both the sex and violence have a boundary pushing rawness. Campion and cinematographer Dion Beebe turns post-9/11 Manhattan into a dirty dreamscape. The streets perspire and the air fogs up like an backseat car fuck. Every man is a big bad wolf, claws and teeth bared. Potential killer, possessive rapist, cornered cheater. It pushes the same feminist buttons Campion explored in Top of the Lake. This is the fairytale dry run.
Karel Reisz directs Albert Finney, Shirley Anne Field and Rachel Roberts in this British kitchen sink drama about a bolshy factory worker who carries on with his foreman’s wife.
Some stunning location work here of post-war industrial and boozing life. Finney delivers an iconic performance but it is Rachel Roberts’ stepping-out housewife who puts in the best shift. Alan Sillitoe adapts his own Angry Young Man novel, retaining a lot of the tough poetry and authenticity of his writing. That does mean the characters and dialogue can be a little forced and didactic at times but at its freest Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is still stark and vibrant cinema at 60 years old.
Paul W. S. Anderson directs Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill and Joely Richardson in this sci-fi horror hybrid where an intergalactic rescue team board a ghost ship with a hyperdrive that has opened a gateway to hell.
The Shining in space. Hellraiser meets Alien. Event Horizon is full of promise in its lovingly cadged visuals and its potent, eerie set-up. Caring not a jot for originality in a way that actually warms the cockles in its blatant, unashamed pilfering. Anderson makes a genre flick for the VHS generation who grew up on exactly this kinda hardcore world building, fantasy visuals. Yet the extreme dismemberments and mindfucks are far too rushed, Event Horizon is almost subliminal in its deaths and gore. Part of that comes from studio interference. Titanic was delayed and they needed a summer blockbuster. Event Horizon seemed to be the back cover advert for every comic I bought that summer. Paramount knew how to sell it, just not how to allow it to be good. This went from greenlight to released in the time it takes to render a digital floating tooth. Last minute re-edits after test screenings neutered its power. You get stunning FX work sitting side by side with glaringly unfinished CGI shots. You get a peep show glimpse of a very transgressive NC-17 torture-fest. Maybe these extreme shock moments work better when only glimpsed? The acting is variable – Neill and Fishburne are wasted with choppy arcs while some other characters are very jarring late 1990s creations. Event Horizon isn’t better than you remember or worse than its reputation… just an average film with maddening peaks and dips of quality. There’s both a fantastic movie and a terrible movie fighting for dominance.
The Coen Brothers direct Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney and Jon Polito in this gangster drama where Leo, the political influencer in a bootlegging town, finds himself at war with the Italians against the advice of his smarter, younger second, Tom.
Pre-teen Bobby Carroll. I was too young to unravel Miller’s Crossing when I rented it on video. I knew it was good… powerful and mythic… but I couldn’t fathom what I had just watched. Every exchange of dialogue felt like a puzzle, every scene tightwalked in tone between gritty, dense mystery and earthy dream sequence. You could tell the pastiche noir was about more than it was letting on, get lost in that period accurate lingo and see every twist and turn layed out in front of you like a never-ending deck of cards so you pretty early on could not keep up.
So I watched it again the next day before returning it to Selecta Video. Possibly missed church to wander around that distinct corkscrew verbiage and its “Mister Inside-Out-ski” narrative one more time. Even the Coen Brothers got bamboozled by all the threads they started here and at midway point of creating a first draft took a three week break to bang out the script for Barton Fink to clear their minds and steady their typewriting hands. You need obsessions like this when you are young. Films or book you explore until you know every shot, every word. Creatives you support like a football team or a flag. Miller’s Crossing and The Coen Brothers were mine. I listened to Carter Burwell’s mournful Irish lullaby of a score on repeat. I bought the screenplay and picked over the words. I even thought for a little while Gab Byrne was my favourite actor!
He’s wonderful here as the hollowed out soul who plays all the angles against each other. Smartest guy in the room but only just one thought or lie or scam ahead of the deadlier criminals who surround him. They don’t need to triple cross like him, they’ll just take you out into the forest and put one in the head. He spends much of the movie as a punching bag, eating boot or bleeding on the floor… the passion of the yegg. And the whole cast of shopworn faces is fantastic… Finney, Polito, John Turturro, Marcia Gay Harden, Steve Buscemi and J.E. Freeman all breathe life into their off-kilter stereotypes. They relish the old school bandiage and the hinge-like natures of their well attired hustlers and blowhards. Impeccably dressed and gloriously filmed through a haze of whisky soaked sepia by Barry Sonnenfeld. Who wouldn’t want to be playing in this? Every set-up you get your hands on a clanking revolver or a hellraising line! Every varnished surface and polished car looks fabulous. What a world to be invited into. A loving parody of the days of Bogart, Cagney and Robinson.
For a film where the talk does a lot of the walk, there are half a dozen eruptions of perfectly orchestrated action too. Finney’s Leo survives a hit through a good sense of smell and some artistry with a Tommy Gun to the strains of Danny Boy. You can see the meticulously planned storyboards come to life. The Coens design their violence like domino rallies allowing chaos and unpredictability to enter what would in other, lesser films just be a loud exchange of bullets. A bar being obliterated in a hail of lead takes on balletic grace under their playful yet dictatorial hands. Their violence is lethal yet slapsticky, cartoonish only in that you chuckle at the neat nastiness unleashed by the human puppets they pull around gracefully and determinedly.
So dozens on dozens of watches later… have I figured what Miller’s Crossing is all about? What does the metaphorical hat blowing in the wind mean? Why did my brain latch on to it so fanatically? It is no longer my favourite film but will always live beloved in my top 10. Is it about friendship lost? I’d like to think so. But as you experience more of the world you can’t discount the queer reading too. Maybe it is all about heart. Heart making the man. Byrne’s sharp, cold Tom is often told how heartless he is… the intellectual in a world of violent men driven by emotional swings. When his best friend Leo walks away through the woods at the end, matching the dream shot of his fedora blowing away, his last truly human relationship is disappearing off screen. What is Tom without the trust and love of his friend? A mouth nobody listens to. A gun for hire who avoids killing. A man who held himself to a higher standard who now has blood on his hands. Jon Polito’s snarling Jonny Caspar starts the film telling us its about “loyalty! Ethics!”. What is Tom now he has neither and no one?
David Gordon Green directs Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch and Lance LeGault in this Eighties-set throwback where two immature men work the roads, isolated out in the Texas wilderness.
Slight and pretentious. There are a couple of nice tremors of magical realism, you chuckle occasionally at the sight of Rudd in dorky tight shorts. These things do not a feature film’s worth of entertainment make. A lowlight for the usually dependable comedy star.
John Ford directs Ben Johnson, Joanne Dru and Ward Bond in this western where a hodgepodge of horse traders, Mormons, whores and thieves journey across the wilds together in search of a new life.
Gentle and poetic, this favours community over violence. When the bad guys force themselves into the burgeoning coterie they don’t just feel like a ticking time bomb to the peaceful cohesion of the travellers but a hangover from the days of Civil War and land taking. Their way of the gun needs to be rejected as an ill of the past. To while the time away until they show their true colours and strike, we have hoedowns and courting. Johnson’s flirtation with Dru is done in fine romantic shorthand. The scene where she has a memorable adverse reaction to his proposal of settling down is a stunning bit of cinema, should really be consider an iconic moment of the genre. But Wagon Master was only recently reassessed as a classic, seen at the time of release as Ford at his most uncommercial.
Louis Morneau directs Jim Belushi, Kylie Travis and Shannon Whirry in this woman caught in a timeloop with a Texan psycho killer she hitches a ride with.
Groundhog Day. Triangle. The Endless. More often than not a hero stuck on repeat for 90 minutes makes for pretty glorious popcorn. I’m gonna make a few bold statements. While nowhere near as gold standard as the Bill Murray classic, this is an action thriller variation on that theme which sits comfortably on the silver podium. In my experience the best direct-to-video release ever. I remember renting it from Variety Video in Greenford and it was well worth the £3.50. Sexy ladies, dusty road mayhem, high octane explosions, Outer Limits-style sci-fi trappings. It is a film that marinated in my memory banks as a low budget blast ever since. And half my life further down the line it actually exceeded my fond expectations. A couple of great 90s character actors pop in and out. Shannon Whirry, queen of the VHS Basic Instinct rip-off, here keeps her clothes on for once and is just as hot and unpredictable. Kylie Travis lacks star power but is equally pleasant on the eye, her de-facto heroine making things hella worse every time she gets another shot at trying to make things right. The script evolves the peril and the urgency with neat twists each respawning. But man of the match is Jim Belushi. Yeah… I know… unqualified praise for the lesser Belushi sibling! Often an obnoxious comedy presence in middling fare, he kinda settled into being a DTV big fish with hokey thrillers like Traces of Red and Gang Related once his box office power dwindled. This though is his finest hour as an unctuous man in black, ready to kill and quick to temper. He proves a constant threat for our pneumatic avatar… the kinda villain you love to hate. 88 Films are selling this on Blu-Ray currently and if you like B-Movie carnage of the stamp of The Hitcher or Hard Rain then Retroactive is a tenner well spent. A risk I concede as nobody seems to sing this forgotten gem’s praises but I’ll vouch that it genuinely is a supercool night in!