Andrew Davis directs Arnold Schwarzenegger, Elias Koteas and Francesca Neri in this action thriller where a firefighter hunts the terrorists who killed his family in a bombing.
Made when Arnie was eyeing up retirement and a move into politics. Made before 9/11 but released after. This feels pretty bog standard. Doing nothing wrong but nothing particularly memorable. The role stretches Arnie a little – he needs to portray grief and helplessness. You can see him making the effort to meet the task head on. This leaves the humour to fun actors like John Turturro and John Leguizamo, who are deft at making colourful little cameos. Picking up a paycheck for a short week’s location work. Collateral Damage does the basic job on a Saturday night but never reaching, or even particularly aiming for, the top blockbuster standard. Competency isn’t exactly a huge selling point.
John Dower directs Jo Weber, Duane Weber and Tina Mucklow in this documentary looking at the various suspects considered in the unsolved lone bomber airplane piracy case that occurred in 1971.
A pretty unsensational true crime retrospective that benefits from avoiding making any definitive conclusions or relying on forced cliffhangers… a bane of the sub-genre in recent years. The unique crime itself and the strange menagerie of living room obsessives still trying to promote their own solutions make this extremely watchable.
Lee Tamahori directs Anthony Hopkins, Alec Baldwin and Bart the Bear in this adventure movie where, after a plane crash, a bookish billionaire and the man he suspects is sleeping with his supermodel wife are chased through the wilderness by a ferocious bear.
Hopkins trying to dial back the ham + a fantastic animal performance x David Mamet script = Hopkins eventually exploding “Today, I’m-a-gonna-kill the mutha fucka.” Daft and pretentious in equal measures yet in its purest moments, very engaging.
Howard Hughes directs Jane Russell, Walter Huston and Jack Buetel in this western revolving around a sexy Mexican peasant caught up in a three way rivalry between Billy the Kid, Doc Holliday and Pat Garrett.
Infamous for Russell’s heaving bosom and a few taboo breaking kinky scenes that restricted it from appearing with mainstream exhibitors – the only shocking thing about The Outlaw these days is how naive it is. There’s a rich seam of barely unspoken gay love and jealousy between the three men and this fuels all the impressive shoot outs, face-offs, brawls and chases. Poor sexy Russell hardly gets a look in, passed around like a chit between the antagonists… desired less than a pretty horse that changes hand more often and with more dramatic consequence. Very watchable.
Erle C. Kenton directs Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen and Leila Hyams in this horror adaptation of H.G. Wells’ Doctor Moreau.
Still stands as the best adaptation set in this mad scientist and his tribe of freakish experiments world. You can see its obvious influence on next year’s King Kong in the build-up at sea and in the ports, the set-up is similar yet what horrors each island holds divergent. Once we are on the island it is Charles Laughton’s show, although Bela Lugosi does make an impression as the near unrecognisable Sayer of the Law. The heroes are a little less stiff than you’d expect from a production of this era. Though being “pre-code” they are allowed to have flaws, desires and lusts so there’s actually more for them to do than listen to a ranting megalomaniac monologue and plot. It plays far less creakier say than Dracula or The Most Dangerous Game, probably would make a fine double bill with the equally vibrant and unsettling Tod Browning’s Freaks. The monsters on the rampage finale is still surprisingly intense. Lugosi’s furry face and desperate eyes glaring at you right through the camera genuinely is the stuff of nightmares.
The Coen Brothers direct Steve Buscemi, Frances McDormand and William H Macy in this “true” crime thriller set in the Minnesotan winter.
This has never been my favourite Coen Brothers’, for all its hidden warmth I find it a little off pace and distant. Like a deadpan joke where the punchlines are a corpse in a wood chipper and a crying schmo on a motel bed. It has grown on me over the years, and seeing it on the big screen for the first time really opened up the mythic elements of it. Carter Burwell’s score, pregnant with ominous warning, does as much of the heavy lifting as Frances McDormand sweet but sharp central turn.
John Badham directs Richard Dreyfuss, Emilio Estevez and Rosie O’Donnell in this action comedy sequel where the buddy cops are back on assignment spying on a house next door.
Is there anything less inspired than a sequel that has the word “Another…” as the prefix of the title? An open declaration this is just going to try a rerun the fun of the original, moment for moment if it can. Only problem is the returning leads clearly see this as a bonus paycheck, lazily attending the motions while a grating Rosie O’Donnell and the always welcome Dennis Farina take big swings at stealing the game. Fair to say the charm of the first film is in short supply even if familiarity does breed a certain amount of contentment. Badham at least blows his bigger budget on a pretty ballsy opening splurge of action. Another Alien. Another Schindler’s List. Another Groundhog Day. Just doesn’t get the juices flowing, does it?
Damian Harris directs Goldie Hawn, John Heard and Tom Irwin in this yuppie-in-peril thriller where a rich wife discovers her husband is not everything he seems.
Glossy trash. The twists are guessable, downright predictable at times. Goldie only really comes to life in one scene… a moment that would work best in one of her comedies. Also her protagonist seems way more disgusted about the hidden poverty of John Heard’s background rather than the fact he might have blood on his hands?! I’m pretty sure this was the first 15 certificate VHS I rented without the beard of a parent to complete the transaction.
Ivan Reitman directs Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis in this supernatural comedy smash where three failed New York scientists go into the business of catching ghosts like exterminators.
We used to have a shit brown corduroy sofa in the first house I remember living in. When my Dad got home from work, after he had washed up from whatever graft he had done, the childrens’ programming would be switched over to BBC Two and we would watch whatever western or Laurel & Hardy or Star Trek was on. Me, my sister and my Dad crammed on a two seat sofa, us slotting in between his laid out body. I was only six or seven when Ghostbusters was brought into the house. Video rentals were a weekend treat but in my recollection this was after school, after work, on that sofa. Was it a pirate video borrowed from a work colleagues at the parts factory? Or had Mum and Dad rented it on Sunday – made sure what we wanted to watch was not too scary for sensitive, horror averse little me – and then allowed us to view it quickly the next day before it had to be returned to SelectaVideo down the road? The former makes more sense but the latter is a possibility.
I wonder how much debate there was in allowing me to watch Ghostbusters that first time considering my childish propensity for nightmares. As the spectral effect work in Ghostbusters still holds up (I genuinely don’t know how they achieved some these phantasmagorical tricks of light) and they’d be effective in any 18 certificate full fat horror. Perhaps being a family friendly comedy with proven stars gave the matte artists and visual technicians an unprecedented budget to play with that allowed them free reign to perfect. The spook work is consummately executed, iconic and breathtaking. From the librarian to Slimer to the explosion of the undead when the containment grid is shutdown. Just WOW!
You have to approach this silly scary adventure as a workplace comedy. The streets are real, the characters shabby and the music feels like a time travelling radio station broadcasting lost one hit wonders through a portal to modernity. It isn’t “cool” but I listen to my vinyl of the soundtrack a lot: Ray Parker Jnr. to Elmer Bernstein to Laura Brannigan. There’s something about the grit of New York location shoot and the deadpan authenticity of the supporting cast and extras that make this feel almost timeless. Fantasies either happen in space or misty fields or comic book ideals of suburbia. Here you can smell the hotdogs and BO, dodge the rats and litter and know everything costs a dollar more than it should.
That approach towards the true bolsters the humour. The context has a verisimilitude that elevates it above sitcom or parody, frames the outlandish glowing poltergeists in a near documentary setting. The movie makes sure everyone but Bill and Rick Moranis play things straight. Dan and Harold’s super uptight nerds get laughs from their inflexible tunnel vision towards the paranormal as a meaningful scientific endeavour. They are boyishly excited by terminology and evidence, their convincing dedication and education bouncing devilishly off of their less professional frontman horndog Peter Venkman. The chemistry between Murray, Aykroyd and Ramis is nuclear. Everyone respects a precise script, the gags only work in context, you have to love these characters and this situation to rinse the nuances. A very quotable film but the quotes only ring funny is you now the set up and delivery. “I collect spores, molds, and fungus.” “Yes… It’s true… This man has no dick.” “Ray, when someone asks you if you’re a god, you say “YES”!” These jokes land as the comedians stick to script finding humour in the wording and then delivering it as if were their own improvised riff. This tightness is lacking from modern Hollywood comedies. That’s what makes Ghostbusters unique… its professionalism.
I love Stripes and Scrooged but it is fair to say one is sloppy and the other to enamoured with excess. Ghostbusters dances gracefully within the thin line the separates the two modes of blockbuster comedy. It feels loose but is expertly calibrated. It feels like an outlier while being so of its time… a childhood memory that lives up to scrutiny. Just a seamlessly made product of the imagination. The little boy who hid away from certain jump scares and didn’t understand the more adult gags got just as much out of this as the jaded movie buff who has seen it all a thousand times before. No matter how many times I watch Ghostbusters it impresses, entertains and feels like complete diamond in the rough to its 1980s peers.
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson directs Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone and Tony Lawrence in this documentary arranging and contextualising the “lost” footage from the Harlem Cultural Festival, a series of weekend concerts celebrating black music that were free to any resident who could fit into the local park.
A frankly amazing assemblage of live performances, enthused crowd shots and outlandish fashions. The movie tries hard to work as a cross section of the black experience in 1969. Exposing the political, societal and cultural shifts that occurred among the predominantly African American population of uptown Manhattan that summer. Mission accomplished, although there is possibly one moment too many where the talking heads interrupt the toe tapping stage show we bought a ticket for. Added bonus: The Harlem locals vox pop reactions to the Moon Landing are priceless but pointed.