Federico Fellini directs Magali Noël, Bruno Zanin and Pupella Maggio in a semi-autobiographical tale about Titta, an adolescent boy growing up among an eccentric cast of characters in the village of Borgo San Giuliano in 1930s Fascist Italy.
A lunatic uncle shouts from a tree. A gramophone fights Mussolini. Erotic encounters at the movies and in the tobacconists. A big mosaic of a movie – obvious influence on the form of Richard Linklater’s Dazed And Confused. Starts and ends in the hustle bustle of communal ensemble. The vignettes inbetween are more personal. Shifts from the sitcom to ribald to grim accounts of everyday Fascism. Feels like Fellini’s most fun, least pretentious work (that I’ve seen so far). Might be my favourite of his.
Corey Yuen, Louis Leterrier and Olivier Megaton direct Jason Statham, François Berléand, Shu Qi, Matt Schulze, Amber Valletta, Kate Nauta, Matthew Modine, Natalya Rudakova and Robert Knepper in this trilogy of action movies where a military trained driver begrudgingly takes on missions that break his strict rules of business.
Never change the deal.
Never open the package.
The is The Stath’s key franchise. Sure, the fly-by-nights love a bit of Crank…. but for us pure actionheads The Transporter series delivers it ridiculous formula of cars, babes, martial arts, Easyjet settings and Eurotrash baddies with a more refined sense of flair, wit and class. Jason looks the tits in his mortician black suit and tie get up, his sullen character, Frank Martin, is always in control of the situation whether laying out his code of conduct with a gun to his head, handling the cops, navigating a high speed chase or taking on 30 henchmen with whatever comes to hand. Sillier than Bourne but more spectacular than most DTV fodder, this really delivers the beer and pizza thrills. The first one is pretty flawless when held up in comparison to, say, early Arnie flicks like Commando. The Stath’s physicality and steely resolve are the tough sell that makes it all work, no matter how cartoonish or cliched. There are other strengths to the initial entry has that have never been bettered. Frank has genuine chemistry with his female lead here (a charming Shu Qi) and the ridiculous topless oil slick rumble sets a very high standard that all future entries struggled to reach.
2 is more of the same with a slightly starrier supporting cast. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. The plot rips off Man On Fire and adds a dash of Mission: Impossible 2. Kate Nauta makes for a memorable bad girl secondary antagonist. The action relies on CGI a bit more which is a shame, the whole thing looks like it has been lensed through an ugly oil slick. Very much a visual product of its time. Budget Jerry Bruckheimer. But ultimately it delivers loopy action (Frank Martin uses watermelons for boxing gloves) and gives The Stath plenty of moments of glowering intensity.
3 equally avoids fucking too much with the formula but the rot has noticeably set in. There’s too much of that weird ‘French tries to do American’ humour that cheekily stinks out many a Luc Besson produced Europacorp factory unit. The damsel in distress this time is played by an untrained Russian teenage model Luc “plucked” from the streets of New York. Possibly the less assumed about that business transaction the better. And she ain’t the best actress in the world despite being gifted more screentime than previous Transporter girls. On the plus side, Robert Knepper is probably the most menacing villain of the series. The movie openly jokes about its plotholes in real time. And the rollicking Train Vs Audi finale has the goods. There’s certainly far bigger budgeted threequels out there that deliver a lot less bang for your buck. It is the only entry that doesn’t exceed expectations.
Charles Laughton directs Robert Mitchum, Lillian Gish and Shelley Winters in this thriller where two children are pursued by a misogynistic serial killing preacher who wants their dead Daddy’s loot.
Once seen not forgotten. Every frame is like a stark pop-up book, from your Southern Gothic nightmares, come to life. Society falls apart. Mitchum broods, seduces and then descends into a howling beast – closer to Wile E. Coyote than Max Cady. The kids trundle through this depressed fantasia. The ending could be a notch tighter. More a mood than a thriller.
Kasi Lemmons directs Naomi Ackie, Stanley Tucci and Ashton Sanders in this biopic of the troubled pop mega star Whitney Houston.
Not exactly sanitised but, let’s just say, very generous to the living. The Whitney Houston story was never going to be boring but maybe a Spencer or Jackie approach that slotted in the hits into itself would have been better than the whistle-stop tour of each Wikipedia paragraph. The music and good acting save this but it doesn’t make you feel like you were there on the stage of the biggest performances. Certainly not like the derided but daft Bohemian Rhapsody did.
Kathryn Bigelow directs Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett and Juliette Lewis in this cyberpunk thriller where an ex-cop trades people’s first hand experiences, including sex and murder, on the eve of the millennium.
Trying to write a one line synopsis of Strange Days is an impossible task. The Rodney King inspired cop conspiracy that motors the plot is the least fascinating aspect of this sprawling “what if?”. Only really setting up the game pieces for a compulsive finale. There’s tons of paranoid pre-millennial tension. A pretty sleazy OTT backdrop of the exploitative world of being a rock star. The hook of the first person “clips” recorded on a “squid” device. Chases, robberies, orgies, showers, rape, murders, sexy dates… all recorded then traded to be experienced like cerebral crack cocaine. Bigelow spent a year planning some of these standout POV steadicam ballets and the results are visceral. Having said that you are exhausted by the third act, wiped out by the convoluted plot and all the sideshows. Even the big conclusion trundles a good 10 minutes past when it hits a peak. That peak though is amazing. Bassett chased by the killers through a NYE Y2K countdown rave that takes up an entire area code, drowned in massive confetti, the whole event teetering on a riot and the police seeing just another black face causing trouble. Tension overload. Beyond the spectacular set pieces this works best as an edgy hang-out movie. Fiennes is fun as the squirmy fuck up with a heart of gold. Bassett iconic as an angel in a warrior’s body. Lewis performing punkish covers of PJ Harvey in barely any clothes. Michael Wincott, Tom Sizemore, Richard Edson as untrustworthy types – full of clues and misdirection. When I originally saw this it was at a free preview organised by Empire magazine. You showed up stupid early on a Sunday morning and they issued you a ticket the size of a paperback book. As a teenager I was bound to be blown away by a James Cameron scripted sci-fi with a Skunk Anansie soundtrack. The movie became part of my rotation of steady rewatchers until I abandoned VHS, cemented Bigelow as one of “my” directors. Now, as an adult, I’ll concede it probably is too messy and too sprawling to deserve the adoration I used to give it. But I’d be interested to see what younger, first time viewers make of all this wild wallop.
Peter Sasdy directs Michael Bryant, Jane Asher and Michael Bates in this TV movie horror where a technology firm moves into a haunted country house and begins experimenting with the apparition.
Very Nigel Kneale this. Sinister without being bombastic. Almost as if he knows approaching the irrational rationally lends it more power. Watching the one note characters test the haunting like a technological problem that needs to be decoded, suppressing their natural instinct and the pressure that puts in their sanity is quite powerful. How many times can you hear a bodiless blood curdling scream and not react to it?
The Stone Tape is a Seventies BBC TV production though so the sets are wobbly. It isn’t a million miles above the production standards of a Rent-a-Ghost episode. The acting is variable. Hammy, stilted, capital ‘M’ Manic. But the divergent styles add to the tone. This feels like an intellectually rigorous, psychologically weaponised episode of Dr Who or Quatermass. Only without a familiar paternal loon to hold our hand through the teatime madness. The safety net has been put to bed after the watershed.
The ideas that Kneale churns up in the margins add to the bleak atmosphere. The toxic masculinity of the scientists seems pointed and stifling. Kudos for recognising the computer programming was mainly a female profession until your Bill Gates rumbled onto the scene. The casual racism suggest the erosion of the British dominance in technology and business is being palpably felt. The strange, never seen, homelife of cad executive Michael Bryant lingers creepily. His corporate rival with his strangely coloured hands and celtic background… well… Kneale always seems to have a sore spot about the Irish. It all brews up to something more than the sum of it parts. The Stone Tape might be dated as a shocker but these enigmatic qualities stay with you. Just what exactly is this ancient artefact trying to tell us? Trying to warn us about? As it echoes through time…
Clyde Geronimi, Les Clark, Eric Larson and Wolfgang Reitherman direct Mary Costa, Bill Shirley and Eleanor Audley in this Walt Disney classic fairytale about the princess who pricks her finger and falls into an eternal slumber.
Maleficent – nasty, threatening, sexy. The three fairy godmothers – nearly always onscreen, driving forward the action, obsessed with colour. The backdrops – geometric, experimental, iconic. Briar Rose – a bit lost in the mix, caught sleeping.
Les Mayfield directs Robin Williams, Marcia Gay Harden and Christopher McDonald in this mad scientist invents a super bouncy substance family comedy.
Ted Levine. Clancy Brown. Raymond J Barry. There are so many top villain actors listed in the opening credits it is almost a surprise they all actually play thugs. Williams is subdued. Not nearly enough flubber focus.
Karyn Kusama directs Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand and Marton Csokas in this sci-fi actioner where a rebel super assassin finds herself unravelling a greater conspiracy.
There’s an action set piece where our slinky anti-hero has to outfox some organic security devices in an ornate garden. Like everything here it just runs like a cut-scene. Flat, weightless, stripped bare to the point where it has no life. There is some fascinating production design lost in the background – there’s little glimpses of a future society that might feel genuinely unfathomable. The plot has been gutted in the edit and uncertain reshoots have panel beaten this into something that is both overly complicated and vapid. This feels very indebted to The Matrix / Equilibrium but makes them seem sophisticated and gritty. I’m aware this adaptation is a waste of a much loved anime that preceded the trend. I chanced Aeon Flux belatedly for Theron and she seems dead inside – not an acting choice. There is one memorable bit of business involving a fight over two dimensions… but that is not enough to rehabilitate this stinker’s duff reputation.