Robert Zemeckis directs Michael J Fox, Christopher Lloyd and Mary Steenburgen in this cowboy finale to the teen time travel trilogy.
I realise this is beloved by many and while it still is a superior summer blockbuster it rarely, for me, hits the giddy time looping heights of it predecessors. 1 & 2 took risks and explored the edges of family entertainment with an effortless air, while this sets it sights just a little lower and aims for a simple rerun of past pleasures in John Wayne’s cosplay… Sorry… Clint Eastwood. The Wild West setting allows for set-pieces to actually be life and death propositions for once and the production design is faultless. Someone had a lot of fun regressing Hill Valley into a timber and steam settlement. Christopher Lloyd’s excellent Doc Brown gets to be the romantic lead and man of action this variation, and Steenburgen is a sweet foil to that twist as our first new character in half a dozen Delorean rides. It is a rousing spectacle to end one of the best Hollywood franchises ever on… just a little safer, a little less mind blowing, than you might have expected after previous episodes rewrote the rule book twice. By the point where Marty and the Doc are dangling off an exploding steam train, their only chance to return to 1985 racing up on them… who cares if this just wants to be a gunslingin’ retread of past glories? Familiarity breeds contentment.
Lloyd Bacon directs Robert Mitchum, Jean Simmons and Arthur Hunnicutt in this screwball comedy where a young heiress tries to anonymously reward a two horse town for a good turn the community did her in her youth.
Not particularly funny nor romantic nor compelling but Mitchum and Simmons’ sexy star power keep things watchable. A dated no-brainer.
Oliver Stone directs James Woods, James Belushi and Elpidia Carrillo in this true story of a sleazy photo journalist who travels back to El Salvador during a violent period of American backed civil unrest.
There’s no way this wasn’t going to be heavy handed. What is surprising, considering this is Oliver Stone’s first attempt in his genre of choice; the political drama, is how silly and accessible the first half is. Woods and Belushi drive down to the country of death squads and geopolitical corruption like they are Hunter S. Thompson and Dr Gonzo. I’m pretty sure they are supposed to be exactly that. Belushi’s character is called Dr Rock and he spends the entire movie boozing, fucking and scamming as if all the tragedy is happening a 1000 miles away and not at the table next to him. He literally gives his character the same scuzzball energy as his work in buddy cop films like Red Heat or K-9. Woods, obviously, is the far better actor and has the goods in his back pocket once all the assassinations, rapes and pits of dead innocents starts to niggle at his conscience. But even then his photo-journalist remains admirably unadmirable… hustling for drinking money, trying to get his girlfriend a passport and generally looking terrified when the war he’s come to photograph comes into focus. No white saviour narrative here, though it does become quite one note horrific in its second half.
Sion Sono directs Ami Tomite, Mariko Tsutsui and Fujiko in this erotic pop art exploration of feminism and exploitation.
The first twenty minutes is a very trendy softcore porn film where a flamboyant artist bullies her older assistant. Then someone yells cut, a wall disappears and we witness the all male crew filming the all female cast and everything changes. We are now in the psyche of one of the female performers. We are raced shrilly through a hypercolour dream state of flashbacks, fantasy, nightmare and self-realisation. There is unerotic nudity and unusual erratic sex. There are bukakkes of paint and character warps. In the main though, it is often didactic sequences of fetished young women screaming non-sensical gender politics statements at you with lots of commitment but very little deep though. Looks fantastic, plays out gratingly.
Chantal Akerman directs Juliette Binoche, William Hurt and Paul Guilfoyle in this romantic comedy where a New York therapist and a Parisian flake swap apartments.
Stilted, detached performances and a cliche-only script consign this to oblivion. Genre directors often struggle when they ambitiously attempt to make art but this implies arthouse directors should never be allowed near pure entertainments. Embarrassing for all involved.
Joel Schumacher directs Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland and Katie Holmes in this thriller where a New York yuppie is held hostage in a phone booth by a sniper.
(This review was originally written for Kamera.co.uk when I was 23 years old)
Small time publicist Stu Shepherd (Colin Farrell), spends his day glued to a cell phone, and avoiding those he has lied to on the same device. His only break from mobile dishonesty is to call an aspiring actress at a phone booth, thus gaining some privacy from the hustle-bustle of New York’s streets and his wife’s prying into his phone bill. There’s just one hitch. Someone else rings him back and convinces him there is a high-powered rifle aimed at his head. If he leaves the booth he dies. If he fails to make amends for his dishonest ways, someone he cares for will die. And if he doesn’t hang up, the police swat team, who suspect him to be the killer of one of the sniper’s victims, will terminate the call permanently.
Phone Booth’s writer Larry Cohen is a hero to those who grew up with chunky VCRs. His scuzzy but imaginative brand of cinema have given us late night classics like Q (1982) and The Stuff (1985) which showed up a sterile corporate Hollywood with a verve, irreverence and scumbag brand of humour. They were true B-movies, the kind that don’t get made any more. Cohen’s formula is to take a concept and create a ride. Phone Booth is a rollercoaster that never moves, where verbal threats fill in for the hurtling speeds, and where the red dot of an unseen weapon become the explosions.
Surprisingly, and somewhat disappointingly, the film is nowhere near as claustrophobic as Die Hard (1988) or Speed (1994), in spite of the physical location of the crisis being under a metre squared in area. This has much to do with Schumacher’s typically manic style and Cohen’s coal-black humour. The ample performance of the disembodied voice (all mocking, reptile condescension), and the long-awaited emergence of Colin Farrell as a credible star, both allow the audience to avoid the yuppie-in-peril’s claustrophobic fate.
Farrell’s ascension to the A-list was built on filling roles vacated by the likes of Edward Norton, Matt Damon and Jim Carrey on projects which were tailored for them, but which they eventually turned down. The buzz around him has seen publicists working overtime to convince us that Farrell is the next big thing. Yet this much delayed thriller is the first film he’s headlined where the moviegoing public actually have some idea of who he is. His last six roles spent standing in for absent names have invariably been commercial failures. Despite showing plenty of onscreen presence in the overlong Minority Report (2002), this is the first venture which justifies the hype. The spotlight (and a rifle’s laser sight) is pointing at Farrell, and it’s time for him to prove his worth.
He does so admirably. Wearing other stars’ shoes for so long has meant that any Colin Farrell persona has been nondescript at best. Here he plays an alternative Tom Cruise; the top gun in the little league, the grinning hunk who has already failed. It took the Cruiser 15 years of success to realise that people might actually want to see him disappoint, and we got the fantastic Jerry Maguire (1996). It has taken Farrell just eighty minutes.
We watch him grimace and sweat, realising his life means nothing and has only detracted from those of other people. His sin may be relatively minor – kerb-crawling towards an affair with a hopeful – but his penance is overwrought and thoroughly enjoyable. He discovers the very technology he uses to conduct his misdeeds has become his prison, and his dishonesty may save him from the cops, but not from the sniper. Hollywood may crave tales about winners, but critics love the losers. Whether it is Charles Foster Kane dying alone with only a distant childhood memory to comfort him, or overweight ex-contender Jake La Motta punching at the jail cell wall, the fallen make for great drama. The only thing that upsets Cohen and Farrell’s otherwise good work is the cop-out ending. Watching Phone Booth rapidly shut down, it’s clear that (at least) two denouements have been filmed: one where our loser in a nice suit takes the redemptive bullet, and another where all is forgiven, good triumphs over evil and the reunited husband and wife get to ride an ambulance into the sunset. I’m not going to tell you which makes the final cut, but it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Hollywood can’t take too many new ideas at once.
Sidney Lumet directs Henry Fonda, Lee J Cobb and E.G. Marshall in this courtroom drama where a murder trial jury debate an ‘open and shut case’ when one man decides to go against the room and vote “Not Guilty”.
Juror No.1 – Martin Balsam: Just trying to be the foreman, no one wants the job, a decent sort, he thinks the kid’s guilty but happy for procedure to run its course. He’s most of us – affable, quietly intelligent, takes responsibility grudgingly but dutifully, just don’t insult his hard work trying to keep some order and rationality to the debate.
Juror No.2 – John Fiedler: Whiny, weak willed, possibly gay. The least masculine of the men, unsure of himself, struggles to gets his point across among all the machismo and chest thrusting, even when correct. An idiot with cough drops who works only off his own mundane experiences.
Juror No.3 – Lee J Cobb: A blowhard, authority figure, hates youth because of his poor relationship with his son. He’s brought more than just some emotional baggage to the case, knowing he could be the murder victim… the father who “disciplines” his son too much. Quick to anger, but never actually loses the support of the room… the other men would follow such a man (he probably represents a lot of their own volatile fathers) if the reasoning and heart of Juror No. 8 didn’t eventually outfox and obliterate his black and white view of the world. Exemplary piece of screen acting.
Juror No.4 – E.G. Marshall: DOES. NOT. SWEAT. Strange how your favourite performance swaps around on every rewatch. This time (possibly my twentieth??) it was the stone cold stockbroker, the man of unwavering logic who really caught my eye. He commits to Guilty based on the evidence and its going to take a lot more than conjecture and wobbly theorising to alter his view. He’s also an assassin with the deadpan zinger. When he talks, arguments end. Fantastic bit of holding back from Marshall amongst all the grandstanding and fist shaking.
Juror No.5 – Jack Klugman: Grew up in the slums, knows how a flick knife is held. Not much else to say except he is mirror for various jurors prejudices to be reflected and deflected off of.
Juror No.6 – Edward Binns: The quiet man, decent, grafter. An Italian American house painter; he could be Joey Tribiani’s great uncle. Be rude to the elderly and he’ll knock your block off. I like him. He and Martin Balsam are probably the only characters you’d have a beer with.
Juror No.7 – Jack Warden: Brash salesman, impatient to get to the baseball game, always joking and bullying to get his own selfish way. You meet a lot of these pricks in life… they’ve figured overconfidence and fake geniality gets them exactly what they want in nine out of ten situations but they have no morality or code. In many ways their willingness to go with the flow as long as it benefits them with no care for the negative effect on others makes them just as evil as your racists and fascists. These are the people who allow evil to happen as it is more convenient than engaging with good.
Juror No.8 – Henry Fonda: Watching him take a minute to centre himself and collect his wits before he takes his seat at the jury table is a masterstroke. He’s about to stand alone. He is about to make 11 disparate but convinced personalities change their way of thinking. He needs to find a way to be heard when there’ll be 11 conflicting opinions struggling for attention. Some men will listen, others cannot. He is going to have to grind them down with facts, conjecture and logic. Take a deep breath Juror No.8 and patiently show us your blueprint for reasonable doubt. In his immaculate white suit, I question whether any of us could really ever be a Henry Fonda. He’s an angel of reason, decency and emotional intelligence.
Juror No.9 – Joseph Sweeney: Observes and recognises the humanity in all, looks like a turtle, will stand by your side in a pinch.
Juror No.10 – Ed Begley: The feckin’ racist! Strange to think 63 years down the line that prejudiced stains like this still think we all secretly share their nasty, harmful views. The moment where the entire jury room turns away from his crumbling bluster and ignore him is a classic… but definitely liberal wish fulfilment back then. Now… probably still… sadly. White people have to stop politely enduring hateful bellends like this. THERE I SAID IT! 😉
Juror No.11 – George Voskovec: The immigrant who escaped European fascism, the one who understands how democracy works better than those born into ‘freedom’, the one who speaks English better than those who spout it out with overconfidence. Very likeable and well utilised character. The watchmaker. He appreciates Fonda’s well structured and well timed salvos to attack the prosecution’s case. He’d probably appreciate just how well Lumet directs this amazing piece of cinema. The script rehearsed weeks before cameras started rolling so every actor knows their lines and arc intricately. The walls closing in as tempers fray. The gripping varied voting sequences. The claustrophobic study of masculinity and resolve and democracy and social responsibility. 12 Angry Men is a hothouse of how Western males interact. Exposing how politics, business and friendships operate under male egos, overconfidence and upbringing.
Juror No.12 – Robert Webber: The advertising dick in a sharp suit. A weaker willed variant on Jack Warden’s cocksure weathervane. Note how he likes the presentation rather than the substance of the prosecutor’s case. It is the vapid, surface based currency he himself trades on. He’s the type of slick customer we now elect or promote. Looks great on paper, can hold his own in an interview, has very little of value beyond that to add to society. He’s the reason Western capitalism is going to the dogs. First against the wall… CLASS WAR!…. Sorry… 12 Angry Men remains one of the most unimpeachably marvellous movies ever made.
David Cronenberg directs James Spader, Holly Hunter and Elias Koteas in this adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s controversial novel following a community of car crash fetishists.
An undeniably cold and unsettling experience. Did I watch this on release? It all feels so familiar, but maybe that’s just as its a physically precise narrative. Every scene flows smoothly into the next, you couldn’t imagine any alternative for dark route it cruises down. That magnetic, propulsive pull matched with a sleazy, unapologetic vision kinda just overwhelms you. There’s very little entertainment value, and the acting stays admirably poker faced. You gasp into a strange sexual oblivion like it is an alien culture. One completely foreign to your own desires but fascinating. Masterfully calibrated, difficult to recommend – this is one of Cronenberg’s finest.
Howard Deutch directs Molly Ringwald, Jon Cryer and Harry Dean Stanton in this teen romance between a wrong side of the tracks girl and a haircut posho.
Watched as part of Natalie’s Birthday James Spader Double Bill. He’s a yuppie scumbag with a hall pass here as Steff. A monster with access to too much cocaine and too much hairspray. It is quite the ‘Do. He holds his slimy own against scene stealers Cryer, Stanton, Annie Potts and Andrew Dice Clay. A proper boo hiss nasty. The film itself is motored by an excellent as standard John Hughes soundtrack and Ringwald being right in her element. Her sparkle manages to smooth over the formulaic nature of the set-up and the fact that Andrew McCarthy’s spineless romantic interest is the least understandable option on offer. The fairytale ending was notoriously reshot and that shit dress she makes out of the two superior prom dresses needs to have a word with itself. Flaws aside this is an easy watch. Fluffy romance with solid class commentary.
Adrian Lyne directs Jeremy Irons, Dominique Swain and Melanie Griffith in this remake of the Kubrick and Nabokov classic where a professor falls for his landlady’s underage daughter.
An unnecessary movie. I can understand seeing the 1962 version, the compromises and the focus on comedy, and saying there’s a purer version of the source novel to be had. Who wants to really see a sexually explicit Lolita? This isn’t exactly that. A Lolita that humanises Humbert more? That isn’t really achieved. A better acted Lolita then? Well… yes… Irons and Swain are far more convincing, sophisticated pair of leads but there’s a dullness to even their brief chemistry. James Mason bless him held a whole enterprise together. At its best, this feels like a prestige TV mini-series commissioned as a perennial book hasn’t been adapted in the last decade rather than anyone had an exciting new spin. Kubrick’s version isn’t perfect but it has more barbed life and playful wit than this glossy pudding.