Brian De Palma directs Craig Wasson, Gregg Henry and Melanie Griffith in this bonkers erotic thriller where a claustrophobic actor gets over his hang-ups by stalking a doomed woman and then trying to hire a porn star for a fake project.
Listen, Body Double is a ride. Try and overthink it… or pick it apart and it falls apart. Doesn’t mean it isn’t thrilling. Approach it as a four cheese pizza and Penthouse fuelled wet nightmare where the geography constantly shifts and the waking moments are dirty meta jokes and you’ll get off. The whole thing is a dirty meta joke really. But I take my sleazy genre entertainments seriously and I reckon De Palma does to. He is serious about his hard-on for Hitchcock. Serious about VHS porno. Serious about how actors and women should be put through the ringer because of all his personal hang-ups about them.
The mutating plot melds Rear Window, Vertigo and Dial M For Murder together. The solution to the gimcrack mystery is guessable from the first act. Just follow the meandering horny, nasty journey. De Palma hobbles himself in the casting of sitcom nobody Wasson. He can’t hold a candle to the ladies we never get within touching distance of. His performance is maybe weak by design, unattractively bland in a movie popping with spicy flavour? De Palma might be ultimately saying that movie actors are interchangeable, bodies to be swapped, the auteur is the mastermind and all that matters. Look at the early bar scene where just about every principle and extra has a look-a-like sharing the frame. Look at that last, daft over-the-end-credits gag. An obtrusive musical number to Frankie Goes To Hollywood! Look at the chat show porn star who accidentally mistakes the word exposition while she delivers the exposition that actually shunts the story ahead to its final unlikely section!
Once you accept that everything ropey about Body Double is take-it-or-leave-it unreality intentional, my only true gripe is we do not get enough Melanie Griffiths. As she is baby-voiced glorious here as the sex worker dream girl. Pino Donnagio’s dreamy electronica score also bumps this way up. The set pieces are marvels: mall stalk, drill kill, risky hitchhiking, burial. After the promised titillation, these luxurious traps are the true reason to indulge in De Palma’s chaotic doodling. Saturday night madness.
Craig Brewer directs Terrence Howard, Taryn Manning and Taraji Henson in this drama where a pimp builds his hopes up about a chance to start rapping again.
A surprisingly likeable slice of poverty porn fairy tale with a strong soundtrack. Terrence Howard has never been better but there’s as much here that feels like a Seventies kids film as a hard hitting drama. It is a one-watcher but a very solid one-watcher.
Todd Field directs Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson and Marisa Tomei in this drama where a couple deal with the violent death of their teenage son.
Patient, sensitive and consummately acted… until the third act. The extended finale is still as finely crafted but feels like a tonal shift too far, ultimately unsatisfying when compared to what has gone on before.
Alfred Hitchcock directs Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor and Jessica Tandy in this disaster horror where a murmuration of birds attack a bayside town in increasing waves.
Outwardly this looks like a classical, smoothed, technicolour entertainment. Yet there are very few movies out there like The Birds. The first hour is a teasing rom-com then it eventually “From Dusk Till Dawn”’s us with the first lone bird attack… but even after a couple of set pieces where eyes are pecked out and school kids are chased (and the tension is ramped way, way, way up) we are still focussing on the seething sexual mania of all the women in the town. I know all about Tippi and Hitchcock’s dark backstory. But The Birds does feel a touch misogynistic even taken at face value. Every woman is willing to make their life a misery over that plank Rod Taylor!? The hysteria over a new fertile female in town means nobody can even think rationally over the apocalyptic threat they are facing. And that feels just as creepy as the feathered crowds amassing in the lulls between invasions. As a horror, when it hits… it hits hard… you just wish Hitch slapped us about a bit sooner into the runtime. Works better at midnight, in the house by yourself… And Hedren, unfortunately in her last major role, is excellent. Imperfect but iconic.
Max Ophüls directs Charles Boyer, Danielle Darrieux and Vittorio De Sica in this tragic romance where an aristocratic wife sells a gift to pay some taxes on a dress… starting a chain reaction of infidelity, jealousy, mistrust and sadness.
Beautiful and brutal – this is my favourite Ophüls so far. Three complex yet clean performances from the principles – your sympathies shift but eventually you realise that the nameless Madame De… is traded, valued and passed off just as much as the totemic earrings that cause all the drama. The camerawork by La Grande Illusion’s Christian Matras glides elegantly about, giving the surface impression this is all a light frippery, but he captures the ornate splendour of this world of diplomats and generals like the cage it truly is. Wonderful.
John Patton Ford directs Aubrey Plaza, Theo Rossi and Gina Gershon in this indie thriller where a minimum wage worker with minimal options takes up credit card fraud.
A very promising directorial debut. Keeps both its dramatic and genre plates spinning without ever showing too much distracting effort or jarring wobbles. Feels a part of the Breaking Bad mood where the rigged American system of wealth allows very few pathways apart from risky crime to get ahead. There’s a palpable threat in every transaction, you feel the power imbalance whether it is a mall car park or corporate office. Plaza stretches herself with a purely serious role (no deadpan gags here) and she is excellent. More movies like this please.
Harold Ramis directs Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell and Stephen Tobolowsky in this timewarp romantic comedy where a conceited weatherman relives the same day over and over and over again.
Gwyneth Paltrow x2 Tim Allen x 2 Charles Bronson Julia Stiles Andie MacDowell Stephen Baldwin Sarah Jessica Parker Helena Bonham Carter Chris Tucker Eric Idle
Ten movie stars I cannot stand who somehow have prominent roles in FIVE STAR favourites… and I can overlook their existence in these rare circumstances. Still, it says something about how honed, hilarious and (otherwise) flawless Groundhog Day is, that MacDowell could be the prize at the end of misanthropic Phil’s infinite journey and still I love it completely.
Steven Spielberg and Joe Johnston direct Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite, Sam Neill, William H Macy and Téa Leoni in these sequels to the biggest hit of the early Nineties, where a second island chock full of cloned dinosaur is discovered.
There is a reason the original blockbuster ends abruptly. You either start killing the dinosaurs or the park gets back on track. Spielberg knew that. Then went and betrayed his instincts for dollars he didn’t need. “I beat myself up, growing more and more impatient with myself. It made me wistful about doing a talking picture, because sometimes I got the feeling I was just making this big silent-roar movie. I found myself saying, ‘Is that all there is? It’s not enough for me.” The result was a wobbly shoot with an unfinished script, where characters vanish at the end of the second act so we can have a third act where a T-Rex takes on San Diego just because the wunderkind knew he at least wanted to shoot those gags but was never going to direct a Jurassic Park 3.
The Lost World doesn’t really work in spite of a robust cast, a nastily dark tone and three top set pieces. The cliff edge dangle of the motor base might be the tensest sequence of the entire franchise. The raptors in the long grass retains plenty of pure danger. T-Rex chaos in a populated city is rushed, silly but memorable. Goldblum looks just as surprised and disappointed to be back as the auteur must have.
III is actually a cheaper, schlockier, less sophisticated, less original flick. But it works more effectively as a summer entertainment as it is short and sweet. Neill is a refreshing comeback as he is pure hearted, old fashioned heroic. As much a welcome dinosaur as the creatures we have come to see resurrected. Johnstone might not care about the humans (see again: that unfinished script) but he introduces us to new scary dinosaurs and had plenty of joy in making them as chaotic and as deadly as possible. The sustained escape through the pterodactyl aviary is what this series thrives on. A much needed return to animatronics and… abrupt endings.
Brandon Cronenberg directs Alexander Skarsgård, Mia Goth and Cleopatra Coleman in this sci-fi nightmare where a holidaying author discovers a gruesome loophole when he admits to manslaughter in a developing country.
I wasn’t that big a fan of Possessor. This still tastes very much like a movie wearing Dad’s big shoes but they fit a bit more snugly. The new flesh here is truly unpredictable, scary and shocking. A holiday from hell with crushed skulls, arrests, home invasions, orgies and a punishment that feels spiritually worse than the crime. Cronenberg runs with the idea that a fine for a crime, no matter how high, merely puts a price tag on evil if you are rich enough. But then he packs it with transgressive imagery… a child performing an execution, masks made up of papier-mâché injuries and a pool of red gloop that swallows your soul whole. Obviously the highlight of the film is unhinged sex goddess Mia Goth. In a year of fantastic horror performances from her, Infinity Pool’s Tyler Durden in a sarong is a masterclass of gleeful nastiness.
Stewart Handler directs Briana Evigan, Leah Pipes and Rumer Willis in this slasher flick.
Both extreme and smooth, this horror flick doesn’t work but seems to hit notes that nothing of its sub-genre does. A bare midriff filled horny sleazefest, an obvious whodunnit and some kinda OTT kills. The opening prank gone wrong… goes really hard. Yet around that unpredictable sequence it plays out like an extended trailer and has more loose ends than satisfying conclusions. Weirdly expensive.