Half a dozen perfectly orchestrated, near silent set-pieces married to a magisterial David Mamet script. Every scene is quotable as fuck, every overwrought moment an operatic masterclass. Morricone’s enticingly grand score that makes you feel part of the action. The Giorgio Armani eye catching costumes that define the film’s enticing luxurious palette of oaky browns and whisky ambers. Connery spitting up blood demanding to know “What are you prepared to do?” Andy Garcia dead eyed taking a gangster in one shot. Bobby’s mugging. “You’re nothin’ but a lot of talk n’ a badge. Nothin’ but a lotta talk n’ a badge!” Costner, a movie star is born! Absolute entertainment.
Barry Levinson directs Kevin Bacon, Jason Patric and Robert De Niro in this nostalgic New York crime thriller where a group of boys are sent to an abusive reform school in the late Sixties only for two of them to find themselves in court for the murder of a guard a decade or so later.
Sleepers is a problematic film where the great far outweighs the inherent flaws. Based on a quite unbelievable and publicly contested memoir, the torrential flow of the story would definitely be fleshed out into a mini-series these days. As a feature length release that shifts gear awkwardly from coming of age drama to gruelling prison movie to subdued courtroom caper – all the while borrowing tonally from both Goodfellas and the director’s own Diner. Levinson somehow blending it all together, Sleepers manages to coalesce rather than explode. There’s wonderful support acting from Dustin Hoffman, Bobby De Niro, Vittorio Gassman and Bruno Kirby. Kevin Bacon obliterates the middle act as the irredeemable pederast prison warder. His greatest performance and the EE adverts haven’t referenced it once?! Yet Brad Pitt, Jason Patric, Billy Crudup and Ron Edlard make little impact as the grown up composites of the boys. Leaving the movie for a huge later swathe without a workable protagonist. Luckily the unlikely legal con job they have orchestrated has teeth and grips. Like most of the outstanding original and borrowed elements swirling around in Sleepers, we don’t get quite enough game time with this clever concept. Echoing many better films and standing on the acting shoulders of giants, this is too classy and sincere an affair to dismiss. I watched the shit out of it as a teenager. It still fills an evening nicely. You can’t say that about many movies where systematic sexual abuse is the key driver.
Patrice Chéreau directs Isabelle Adjani, Daniel Auteuil and Virna Lisi in this gory period adaptation of Alexandre Dumas where various historical figures attempt to survive massacres and assassination attempts after a Catholic princess is forced to marry an embattled Protestant king.
Best to just let the first hour of La Reine Margot wash over you rather than register everyone intently. We are introduced to scores of real life figures. They insult, fight, flirt and grope each other. You’ve never witnessed shots quite so packed with principal players. Every early scene is a squirming incestuous crush. Then they start murdering each other. Then fucking each other. Then more murders and intrigue forge a few heartfelt relationships and tender feelings. Once you get used to the packed nature of the characterisation and plotting, this is quite the blast. Full of sexy bodies (the alive ones) especially when they aren’t covered in muck and crimson. The ladies stand out. Adjani is ethereal. Virna Lisi perfectly corrupt and joyless as puppet master Catherine De Medici. Dominique Blanc and Asia Argento appeal as sexed up ladies in waiting. A kinky, brutal, epic French history lesson.
Nicolas Roeg directs Anjelica Huston, Mai Zetterling and Jasen Fisher in this Roald Dahl adaptation where a boy and his grandmother find themselves trapped in a hotel full of child murdering witches.
The strange and playful works of Dahl were my gateway into proper reading… I graduated from the speech bubbles of Beanos and Dandys to 100 page plus tales of thieving foxes, marvellous medicine and warring grotesques. The Witches was the closest his children’s books got to full blown horror. A primer for little minds before they stepped up to Stephen King and Dean R Koontz. The most chilling moments of Dahl’s novel are perfectly realised here. An ageing child caged within the painting above her distraught parents’ mantelpiece. A ‘never talk to strangers’ masterclass of unease as our protagonist refuses to be enticed down from his treehouse by a persistent witch. The later FX work where kids are turned into mice and witches reveal their true visages have nothing on these earlier understated vignettes. In fact some of the Jim Henson FX work is poorly edited, no doubt by studio execs and censors trying to keep this as family friendly as possible rather than the caring hands of a professional. This The Witches feels like the last hurrah of risky nightmare freak outs mass marketed as kids movies. Return to Oz. Flight of the Navigator. Young Sherlock Holmes. After 1990 the poppets themselves became the horrors unleashing violence on burglars and foster families alike. The Witches under Roeg’s slightly subdued direction and Huston’s commanding unhinged villainy is the last time it wasn’t guaranteed safe to watch a PG film. The tone is however lightened somewhat by the presence of British alternative comedy stalwarts Rowan Atkinson and Jane Horrocks.
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger direct Eric Portman, Sheila Sim and Sgt. John Sweet in this wartime mystery where a land girl, a G.I. and British sergeant stop off at a small town outside of Canterbury and try to figure out just who is pouring glue into the local women’s hair.
A fascinating experience that the above précis nowhere near covers. The amateur detective aspects are half hearted and relaxed. We spend just as much time with our three present day pilgrims as they adapt to their new, possibly temporary lives. Much discussion is given to their previous employment before war displaced them. I guess just as Chaucer defined each of his storytellers by their station in life, here The Archers unspool each character while their lives are in flux, their old existences left behind. Maybe the message is we must all adapt and embrace the positives of change, no matter how drastic and forced. We enter the fictional hamlet of Chillingbourne by steam train (the cinematic icon of time travel and progress) and leave the plot relatively unresolved in the cloisters. The setting is a timeless village, where horse and cart dominate and little boys dream of wars they thankfully are too young to take part in. Once we get to Canterbury itself in the final act, the historical interiors of Medieval cathedrals and Georgian tea rooms stand resolute but beside them are bombed out streets lined with the signage of new businesses that will rebuild the thoroughfare, the plots resemble a seeded vegetable patch that has yet to sprout. The acting is uniformly marvellous, even from real life yank trooper Sweet, and maybe the mystery we are solving is who these people truly are during this pastoral moment of stasis – their old lives and new aspirations, dreams and romances unfolding to us as they pursue the trivial but bizarre case of a nighttime menace. A beautiful time-out from the war and ever encroaching modernity.
Clint Eastwood directs himself, Tommy Lee Jones and James Garner in this sci-fi adventure where four rejected test pilots from the Fifties get an improbable chance to finally be astronauts in their dotage when a Soviet satellite needs fixing in the 00s.
A blockbuster of two halves. The bulk of the movie is a pleasurable breeze as the four wrinkly but spry stars assemble, train, cheat on tests, flirt, settle ancient scores and even are a hit on the late night talk show circuit. The quartet have a lovely energy, the steady flow of jokes gently hit the right notes and we get a far classier retread of the best moments of Armageddon. Then we go into space. FX takes over. The banter dries up. The spectacle is solid and anyone who’s bought a ticket is going to feel they got all their popcorn bucket’s worth of mid-level thrills and spills. Yet watching the old school boys (including Donald Sutherland) lark about on the NASA training program is the gold.
Delbert Mann directs Cary Grant, Doris Day and Gig Young in this romantic comedy where the CEO millionaire wants a dirty weekend, while the girl wants marriage.
Cary Grant infamously tried LSD in the 1960s. I’m guessing during the production of this clunker as you feel like he’s drifting somewhere else most of the time. He had more chemistry with his cardigans than he does with Day. It looks a million bucks but the “playful” attitude to the new permissiveness of the era must have felt mouldy even by the time That Touch of Mink was released.
Jesse Peretz directs Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke and Chris O’Dowd in this British romcom where a recently separated museum curator starts a flirtatious correspondence with the enigmatic rock legend her ex obsesses over.
While not revolutionary, this mature love affair is witty, flinty and quirky enough to always entertain. Set in a pleasingly familiar world where people have jobs, commitments and passions – it would make a fine triple bill with previous high profile Nick Hornby adaptations like Fever Pitch and High Fidelity. Hawke is a lot of laughs as the feckless but sweet natured indie legend who barely anyone remembers except a small cabal of middle aged white dudes. Imagine Kurt Cobain or Nick Drake if they survived the Nineties and healthily retired from the spotlight instead. Enjoyable.
Franco Zeffirelli directs Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith and Cher in this ensemble wartime drama where the elderly ex-pats in Fascist Italy rally around an abandoned young bastard and raise him.
Not my cup of tea. For starters… I don’t like tea. Silly old birds make terrible decisions in the eye of war that we are supposed to see as feisty defiance. Beyond the fact that this type of affair holds little attraction for me, the repetitive narrative falls apart for three key reason; 1) Just how unlikable ageing British poshos are. Especially when en masse and bickering. 2) How soft and forgiving the Nazis and their Italian counterparts are… these are clearly not the cunts who ran Auschwitz or fought the Blitzkrieg into Russia. The biddies should be lined up against the wall after their first infraction. 3) The idea that Cher is some kind of irresistible, luminescent beauty that would drive a young lad to sexual jealousy! Risible pap for a niche matinee market. Positives: Lily Tomlin is in it and Florence looks nice.
Cameron Crowe directs Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson and Patrick Fugit in this semi-autobiographical road movie of a straight laced 15 year old who finds himself on tour with a rising 70s band as a journalist for Rolling Stone magazine.
Also featuring fine work from Noah Taylor, Jason Lee, Zooey Deschanel, Philip Seymour Hoffman and especially Frances McDormand… the fantastic ensemble is both the strength and Achilles heel of this likeable comedy drama. Any film that gives you juicy glimpses of such brilliant personalities (and also somehow wastes Anna Paquin) and instead focuses on the rather insipid Hudson and blank Fugit is hard to fully be seduced by. Only Brad Pitt replacement Crudup shows his burgeoning star power as the charismatic but slippery lead guitarist of Stillwater, a wobbly dude who acts a part mentor and romantic rival for our lead. Crowe indulges… it is a long movie but his instincts to subvert expectations in nearly every scene and take light material down dark paths are still there. There are a dozen little embellishments that lesser filmmakers would never risk: the jock ex boyfriend who climbs through a window just to sit on a girl’s bed and reminisce, the ever lurking presence of rival local groupies, the hotel staff being matter of factly prepared and capable to deal with a penthouse suite overdose. It is a movie I enjoy a lot but struggle to see exactly why so many consider it a modern classic? Maybe those perennially uninvited to the party critics and journalists secretly craved a three hour movie where they were the hero and what they do was given the veil of shamanistic power? For the casual viewer it is a gentle, well observed journey, full of neat cool moments, that gives you a hundred little tastes of exquisite flavours you’d rather feast on.