Steven Spielberg directs Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in this sci-fi adventure movie where a theme park with resurrected dinosaurs as the main attractions runs amok.
The game changer. I was more excited about Last Action Hero that summer… and adamantly stuck to my guns for at least a decade over which was the better blockbuster. But now I concede… Spielberg’s mastery, John Williams’ rousing score, Stan Winston’s amazing physical creature design, Phil Tippet’s go motion dinosaurs, Goldblum’s eccentric sass. All add up to a beautiful, lively concoction, one that still marvels after dozens upon dozens of revisits. If I was picking nits, I’d suggest that the wonder of seeing dinosaurs dominates over the action. Aside from the iconic Tyrannosaurus-Rex escape, the set pieces are minor cliffhangers; an electric fence being turned on, a race down a dark hallway, getting the computerised door locks to work. The movie just ends abruptly with the survivors somehow escaping into the credits yet seemingly no safer or with any less lethal creatures to deal with at the end of the third act than the shit they were in at the start of the third act. Not that this really matters as we came for dinosaurs and thrills, Spielberg delivers breathlessly. Delivers in a way that would have been impossible to achieve any decade earlier, and of a class that studios seem unconcerned about in the decades since.
Daniel Wolfe directs Sameena Jabeen Ahmed, Conor McCarron and Gary Lewis in this British thriller where a young couple must outrun the Pakistani relatives of the girl and their hired white thugs who intend to perform an “honour killing.”
I usually score movies on how much I would want to rewatch them. This is so unrelentingly grim and seedy that I had to change the metric slightly. Apart from one incongruous breathless caravan dance sequence to Patti Smith’s Horses there is scant here to enjoy on a second watch. The dark, misty depiction of the North is a little too extreme but certainly captivating, the constant bearing down of the threat utterly gripping. Race, religion, poverty, crime is given a callous review in passing. The lead performance by Sameena Jabeen Ahmed is convincing, you do have to wonder why the British film industry hasn’t further capitalised on such an outstanding debut? The saddest part of this very miserable film is the lovers on the run seem on to the final ebb of their affair, in less heightened circumstances they probably would have broken up and returned to their families without threat or coercion by the doomed night we enter their lives. Whatever thrill and happiness has been used up.
Jan De Bont directs Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt and Cary Elwes in this disaster movie where scientists chase tornados hoping to test a new gizmo that will help them predict their destructive movements better.
Twister was the big one of the summer of 1996. And while it never was going to win any acting gongs or screenplay plaudits, it delivers on its trailer’s promise in spades. For two hours you get to see apocalyptic weather from some dizzyingly close perspectives. Coming from the director of Speed, he engineers sequences where vehicles race and pursue and escape massive, swirling behemoths of devastation over and over again. Twister is a one trick pony that loves performing its impressive trick. Even though it as an FX extravaganza, De Bont doesn’t push the CGI to breaking point like many of his mid-nineties peers. It was a new technology that had severe limitations as to what it could convincingly recreate on the big screen. Spielberg and Cameron knew it was better to augment practical FX that survive at the forefront in the spotlight for prolonged periods with this new magic wand. But swirling masses and crazy debris actually fitted well within the burgeoning effects method’s wheelhouse. So here we get hurricanes and flying cows a plenty. It is a testament to the calculated orchestration of the set pieces that De Bont manages to put us in the path of danger again and again, every time making us squeeze our palms tighter as the peril unfolds. A rare lead role for Bill Paxton in a blockbuster, here the usually quirky scene stealer plays things straight and square jawed. He makes a fine fist of being a budget Kevin Costner or cut rate Harrison Ford… Meanwhile, lots of recognisable faces drive the other jeeps and RVs, none of them making quite as indelible an impression as Bill might have in a showy support.
Hou Hsiao-hsien directs Fong Fei Fei, Kenny Bee and Anthony Chan in this Taiwanese romantic comedy where a city girl avoids meeting her arranged suitor by taking a trip to the country, there a civil engineer catches her eye.
The disowned debut of a revered arthouse director. I haven’t watched any of his later ‘classics’ yet. This was a vehicle for the pop star and TV presenter known as The Queen of Hats. She wears plenty of hats, her outfits are pretty sweet. It is cute and girly, the only way this frippery stands out from every romcom ever is the two male suitors actually get along quite nicely when they eventually cross paths.
Chia Yung-Liu directs Cynthia Rothrock, Kiu Wai Miu and Ken Tong in this Hong Kong martial arts comedy where an FBI agent and two inept policemen find themselves keeping tabs on a diamond smuggler.
Cheap and with some very sexist and homophobic humour, this still manages to come alive when Rothrock is allowed to kick ass. The warehouse finale is something to behold, until it arrives you’ll just have to sit through a very bad taste, tone deaf mash-up of Lethal Weapon and Stakeout.
More romantic than Arnie, more sensitive than Bruce, wilder than Clint. Here’s an action movie star that always delivered in my teens, whose directorial career in as enviable and unique as any great auteur.
Bryan Singer directs Hugh Jackman, Anna Paquin and Ian McKellen in this Marvel superhero adventure that introduces a near future world of mutants with unique powers and the human society that rejects them.
The general consensus on this franchise starter is it is more a prologue used to establish all the players for future entries than a fully fledged movie in its own right. All I know is I’ve had an absolute blast each and every time I’ve watched it. Bizarrely me and my mum went to see it together at the cinema on opening weekend. I think we wanted to go do something while I was visiting back from Edinburgh. The brevity of it all is very appealing. The storytelling is so fat free and confident. The script feels gently wittier and more emotionally astute than its peers. Magneto, Rogue and especially Wolverine are given neatly iconic introductions. Singer does an excellent job marshalling his busy but talented cast and bringing some real world grit to an adaptation that could have easily been a day-glo hyper colour car crash. Instead, with a palette of leather blacks and varnished browns, he pre-empts Nolan’s Dark Knights by 8 whole years. The fantasy bursts come from a fixed recognisable stance, feet firmly in reality. The smaller scale action finale on the Statue of Liberty is only underwhelming if you need every superhero film to close with a world destroying nebulous vortex. Luckily McKellen’s Magneto is up there with Hackman’s Luthor and Nicholson’s Joker as one of the finest big screen antagonists. You don’t need an alien apocalypse if your villain is this efficient and charismatic. So it doesn’t feel epic or OTT… X-Men 1 still delivers a lot more excitement remaining relatively grounded and compact.
Adam Wingard directs Millie Bobby Brown, Alexander Skarsgård and Brian Tyree Henry in this monster movie where the two titans fight when King Kong leaves the safety of Skull Island to lead a group of scientists to the kingdom of Hollow Earth.
When it is massive lizards and grumpy gorillas scrapping or even just going about their day, I’m in. LET THEM FIGHT!!! The human stuff… plot, exposition, character arcs is given a little too much game time. I came for the bunting not the string. Wingard delivers a film almost as beautiful and almost as chaotically exciting as Godzilla: King of the Monsters. It certainly is the neon pinkest movie I’ve ever seen. Kong for Best Actor 2022!
Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz direct Janelle Monáe, Jack Huston and Jena Malone in this suspense movie where modern day black Americans find themselves captured as slaves on a pre-Civil War plantation.
The opening half an hour is genuinely unsettling. We watch the horrors of American slavery replayed and note the few needle skips that suggest we maybe are not in the 1850s as would initially seem to be the case. What happens after we leave the plantation is pretty uninspired. Janelle Monáe is saddled with a character who can’t help but do the wrong thing every time she has a shot at freedom, and eventually her continued survival just does not ring true. It also doesn’t help that Gabourey Sidibe (usually very watchable) is playing perhaps one of the rudest, most annoying characters put up there on screen as ‘hero’ in a long old time. It is a problem when one of your good guys is less sympathetic than the psychotic kidnapping, raping racists. Wastes a potentially transgressive premise by going down the most predictable, fruitless and stupidest route with minimal excitement. The kinda film that feels like its making a statement about black identity and racial politics but really is just wallowing in cartoon suffering. The production values are strong, I’d give Monáe a second chance in a better movie.
Atsushi Yamatoya directs Yūichi Minato, Miki Watari and Noriko Tatsumi in the Japanese pink film where a hitman must find the yakuza who are holding a businessman’s girl hostage and keep sending him films of her being raped and tortured… I think?
Around 15 years ago, the NFT did a season of Japanese exploitation movies that I gobbled up. Atsushi Yamatoya wrote two of the best features I saw in the retrospective; the already famous Branded to Kill and Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter. The former shares a similar plot and vibe as this film; duelling hitmen, fetishes, lurid desires. The latter was a more obvious pink film: featuring nudity and or sex every 10 minutes. Inflatable Sex Dolls of Wastelands is one of Yamatoya’s rare self directed efforts. The plot is near incomprehensible – a kinda wet dream nightmare that pre-dates 8MM and Anomalisa. There are lurches into surreal horror and traditional hard boiled noir. Some of the imagery has genuine flair to it. But at the end of the day it still just a film that mechanically returns to rape and forced nudity every 10 minutes. While you get lost along its strange and artful back alleys you always find yourself back at the same unpleasant crossroads.