Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck direct Ryan Reynolds, Ben Mendelsohn and Sienna Miller in this buddy road comedy where a gambler who can’t win and a charmer who can’t lose try to build up the buy-in money for a big poker game.
My kinda movie! Often hitting the grainy, scuffed energy and visual look of a Seventies New Hollywood classic. I like gambling movies. I like road movies. I like buddy movies. This has edge but still keeps you grinning and hooked despite the lurches into darkness and predictability. Mississippi Grind is probably the best use anyone has ever put Ryan Reynolds to, I’d happily see his gorgeous, cherry cheeked overconfidence be deployed more often in films about super losers rather than superheroes.
Ronald Neame directs Walter Matthau, Glenda Jackson and Ned Beatty in this chase comedy espionage movie where a disgruntled CIA veteran leaves the agency and writes his memoir; a book full of secrets that no nation wants to see him finish.
I find it hard to believe I didn’t half watch this one afternoon as a kid. It is so familiar and TV friendly, very much a beast of its pre-VHS era. There’s no sex or violence or swearing… just flirting and location stunts and wit. A passable low key vehicle for Matthau’s crumpled, baggy-one upmanship. It globe-trots like a Bond adventure but really only dazzles when Matthau and Jackson are trading cosy innuendos in their living rooms. Inoffensive, forgettable fun.
Scott Derrickson directs Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance and James Ransone in this horror where a true crime author moves his family into the site of a massacre and discovers 8mm footage that suggests those grisly murders were not an isolated incident.
One of the rare instances where watching a film on your Ipad, resting on your chest in bed, with your wife asleep next to you in the dark, and your headphones on, is the optimum experience for squeezing full value out of a movie. Genuinely better on second watch. In the cinema I didn’t share Hawke’s growing mania and paranoia, his unwavering scopophilia for not looking away from the foreboding vintage snuff. This time, with the terror a mere unavoidable half foot from my face, and my setting very similar to the lead’s match conditions, I was compelled. Constantly on edge and fearful. Even though I know this is just conjuring all the trendy tricks in a slightly different order. The use of negative space and lurking wraith children is excellent. Whisky quaffing, chunky cardie clad and ruffled beard, this is peak Ethan Hawke. An actor who always delivers in genre cheapies, blockbusters, indie darlings or experimental one-offs. He is just brilliant.
Sam Raimi directs Cate Blanchett, Keanu Reeves and Giovanni Ribisi in this wet Southern Gothic thriller were a single mother with psychic powers becomes embroiled in a scandal involving sex, murder and abuse.
Wildly overrated in its day this was boring and predictable and overacted then and it is boring and predictable and overacted now. Raimi fights his instincts to amp up the ghoulish aspects of the script. Billy Bob Thornton based the screen story on his mother’s fortune telling abilities. Katie Holmes does a late in the runtime nude scene that is still glorious – the Dawson Peaks of her acting career. Everyone else is plainly better than the unruly, blunt, lackadaisical screenplay and it is hard to fathom why the far superior A Simple Plan exists in The Gift’s shadow.
Alex Thompson directs Kelly O’Sullivan, Ramona Edith Williams and Max Lipchitz in this comedy about a dropout nanny who is ill prepared for caring for her ward yet begins to connect with the various women around her.
Saint Frances begins like most slob bro comedies – a feckless loser in arrested development hitting rock bottom in terms of finances, employment and relationships. The lead could be Bill Murray or Seth Rogen if it wasn’t for this is a project written by its female lead Kelly O’Sullivan as a breakthrough vehicle. As a showcase for her talent and star power it works a treat. Bridget is a messy, unpredictable and often emotionally frustrating character – torn between her feminist leanings and her erratic often selfish desires – who you very much bond with and relate to. The plotlines that takes in hook ups, abortions, vaginal bleeding, postpartum depression and raising a child may seem low stakes and a little too pointedly seminal but the dealing of them is never gentle or whimsical. It confronts various issues head on, auditing these various trends in modern womanhood sympathetically, without losing O’Sullivan’s naturally humorous voice. To enjoy a mainstream accessible film that consistently gives airtime to matters that Hollywood has traditionally shied away from is pleasing in the extreme. Warm, and only very occasionally didactic, Saint Frances is a minor triumph.
Tony Maylam directs Brian Matthews, Leah Ayres and Jason Alexander in this bog standard rip-off of Friday the 13th.
This has become a cult item more out of some ‘before they were famous’ notoriety than any real qualities. You get to see George Constanza’s butt… and when he’s not mooning, he has a full head of hair. Baby faced Helen Hunt plays a background character. Prog wizard Rick Wakeman does an intrusive score. One of the producers, Brad Grey, ended up CEO of Paramount. Two of the other producers are The Weinstein. They co-wrote it… or at least watched Friday the 13th and made notes. The two notes they forgot to make were have a regular killings… nothing happens for a very long time… And to not make nearly all the young men quite so default rapey. But hey… what more could you expect from Harvey? The aggressive sexual politics are murky even for a cocaine era slasher. Only Tom Savini’s underused gore FX are worth remembering.
Ivan Reitman directs Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and Warren Oates in this losers join the army comedy.
The opening twenty minutes of Stripes have barely anything to do with basic training and are among Murray’s funniest work. He has an electric chemistry with Ramis. There’s not a throwaway line or improvised expression he doesn’t rinse for maximum value from. And then they sign up and the comedy becomes pleasingly rote… undeniably sexist for sure… but good formulaic crowd-pleasing fast food. And it was 1981, give it a pass, my man! The problem I had with this viewing is the DVD I ordered is an “Extended Cut”. Someone has edited back in two extra scenes and a long sequence that Reitman sensibly knew in post-production just did not work. Sitting through 18 minutes of Cheech & Chong cast offs aren’t the end of the world but they consequentially make the less joke orientated action finale also drag after all that extra weight. More annoying is the DVD doesn’t offer the option of just watching the theatrical version. Still there’s plenty of bad taste fun to be had, sardonically undercut by Murray’s expertly non-committal commentary. Stripes has the right amount of boobies, pratfalls and pranks to fall on the safer side of the Police Academy border. And I have a massive nostalgic yearn for it.
Recruiter: Now, are either of you homosexuals? Winger: You mean, like, flaming, or… Recruiter: Well, it’s a standard question we have to ask. Russell: No, we’re not homosexual, but we are willing to learn. Winger: Yeah, would they send us someplace special?
Cutter’s Way (1981)
Ivan Passer directs Jeff Bridges, John Heard and Lisa Eichhorn in this thriller where a Vietnam vet and a drop-out become embroiled in a murder involving an oil magnate.
I say ‘thriller’, this neo-noir is far more preoccupied with the characters going about their abrasive, boozy and horny days than bringing any resolution to the mystery. It is very much a piece with The Long Goodbye. We see John Heard’s blow hard cripple self destruct, the alcoholic wife he is dragging down with him give up and their mutual himbo friend who doesn’t particularly care about the crime he was tangentially a party to. There’s a very melancholic love triangle and weary indictment of the free love movement. Ten years on, these guys don’t stand for much more than failing to admit they want to feel like heroes or get paid by a half arsed blackmail scheme. We are left to figure out whether their motivations are mercenary, whether justice is just a self delusion for them to rail against “the man” one last time with an aggressive shrug. The ensemble acting is decidedly full fat but often very affecting and Passer’s diagnosis of America contains the same bile as Peckinpah at his scabrous best. One thing Cutter’s Way gets bang to rights, that so few thrillers do, is just how inaccessible the One Percent are, they really can break the law with little risk of avengers getting in the same room as them. A forgotten gem for fans of moody wallows.
Hell Night (1981)
Tom DeSimone directs Linda Blair, Vincent Van Patten and Peter Barton in this slasher where four hazed undergraduates must stay the night in a cursed mansion as part of a Frat initiation.
A favourite of Quentin Tarantino’s for reasons that only QT really knows. It starts with some potential; a solid gothic setting, the idling victims’ fancy dress outfits are pleasing, the added wrinkle of the outsiders pranking them gives the first few stalks a bit of ‘is it or isn’t it’ tension. Yet the acting is atrocious and only the final five minutes really gets you sitting up. Colourfully filmed by former gay porn helmer DeSimone, this is more galling than a The Burning in that you can see that Hell Night has all the elements and technical know-how to be a lot better than the end product really is. Rather than being a soulless rehash cash-in, a bit of love and inspiration was put into this, but the results are almost as poor.
The Beyond (1981)
Lucio Fulci directs Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck and Cinzia Monreale in this Italian demonic horror where a woman renovates an old hotel that houses the entry into the Seventh Circle of Hell.
Unrelenting nasty. Some of the most elaborate prolonged deaths this side of torture porn. Tarantulas chew faces, bodies melt, guide dogs savage. Histrionic, discombobulating, nonsensical. Fulci abandons plot and drags us through a nightmare plot. We are in hell and Fabio Frizzi’s demented, ornate score is our only salvation. So the dubbed performances aren’t good, and the whole enterprise is held loosely together by your desire to see every character die in some fetid Grand Guignol, The Beyond hits a spot with some late night boldness.
Prince of the City (1981)
Sidney Lumet directs Treat Williams, Jerry Orbach and Lindsay Crouse in this police corruption epic where a dirty cop begins wearing a wire, under the promise his investigation will not touch his partners.
Solid but maybe my expectations were a little too high. Treat Williams gives a variable performance that usually feels a setting or two off from what the scene truly needs. His ‘Daniel Ciello’ is an amalgamation of a real cop who got trapped in the same process… not the most likeable character – crooked, vain, seeking danger and consistently weak willed. Much like Serpico, you kinda wish the whistleblower wasn’t quite the fucking emotional screwball. We are on his rollercoaster for three hours and the first hour is quite indirect and unsettling. We are chasing junkies and breaking down, coming in and then acting like cock of the walk. Eventually he starts wearing a wire and the plot sharpens and grips. Then he is stuck in an almost Kafka-esque nightmare where as star witness to over 40 separate court cases, the entire legal establishment of New York tries to crucify him for perjury. This last hour is the juicy meat, as you really have no idea who to trust. An extended sequence where ten prosecutors discuss the rights and wrongs of charging Ciello now his value has been used up echoes the rare high verbal intelligence of 12 Angry Men. At three hours, it is a definite schlep after the rocky, uncertain start but the summit is worth reaching. Eye-catching and accomplished character actors like Jerry Orbach and Lindsay Crouse pop in and out, giving relatively complex parts depth and mystery but never stick around long enough for you to get a true fix on their strange moralities. Natalie commented that these days it would be a mini-series. In that format you wouldn’t care that for every scene that is dynamic, there’s two others that seem to retread the same ground over and over again. While nowhere near Lumet’s apex, it has all the qualities of one of his five star classics, just over indulged.
Nicolas Winding Refn directs Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas and Vithaya Pansringarm in this Thailand set gangster revenge thriller.
I know this is not a popular film and many find it boring. For me it is a satisfyingly absorbing, unpredictable mood piece. Refn impregnates every scene with a lurid, illicit sense of unavoidable doom. It is sensual. Visually distinct. Sounds like a heart attack. Unsettling. Cool. The bursts of violence have an almost orgasmic impact. The boldly sketched characters are Shakespearean and pulp novel nightmares. There was every chance this wasn’t going to hold up on a second viewing, away from the cinema, away from the shock of the new. Really sure now, on revisit that I think Refn outdoes Lynch and De Palma at their most depraved and playful.
François Truffaut directs Jean-Pierre Léaud, Marie-France Pisier and Patrick Auffay in this mini-sequel to The 400 Blows, originally part of the international anthology film Love At Twenty.
Antoine Doinel matures (slightly) from disillusioned little rebel to lovestruck gawky independent. He works at Philips Records, goes to concerts and stalks a hottie who just wants to be friends. More great Paris location photography and some attention grabbing nebbish physicality from Léaud.
Sam Raimi directs Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz and Marcus Gilbert in this horror comedy where Ash is transported back to medieval Britland to fight the Deadites.
As much a dry run to Xena and Hercules as an Evil Dead sequel… the focus here is very much on heroics and silliness over scares and gore. Really the cast list should read Bruce Campbell, Bruce Campbell and Bruce Campbell the Chin fights so many incarnations of himself. Evil Ash, Diddy Ashes and conjoined Ashes. Raimi gets full value out of his matinee idol gurner, allowing him to ham it up regally. This is the Ash everyone remembers when they think about Campbell… well above taking the fantasy adventure cliches seriously, out for himself and full of looney catchphrases. The character is finally set in stone, ready for the eventual joyously daft TV series. After a lot of larks, the final siege goes on forever and there’s clearly a point in filming that epic sequence where the FX budget was suddenly tightened. The Deadite quality level noticeably drops before the finish line. But I enjoyed this as much as its ever growing cult reputation suggested. Probably haven’t seen it since I was a teenager and it was funnier and pacier and more cheapo spectacular than I remember. I chuckled my sweet butt off. “Gimme some sugar, baby.”
Chinatown writer Robert Towne clearly thought he was making the next Casablanca and while the star power is certainly there it all pours out flat like tainted champagne. Everyone looks beautiful but you could only hand on your heart say Raul Julia manages to make the words of the script come to life. I get the feeling Towne didn’t allow his top billed beauties to do anything more than recite his precious but clunky dialogue as accurately as possible. It doesn’t ignite and the lengthy marina ending goes around in circles. Some strange sex scenes and classy cocaine era fashions save this forgotten misfire.