Back in 2002, the espionage genre must have felt a little like Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne at the start of this trilogy, floating unconscious in the Mediterranean Sea with a bullet in the back after the abysmal CGI tsunami of Die Another Day and the shallow, clichéd hotchpotch of Mission Impossible 2, although they may have envied Bourne’s lack of memory. Thank the heavens then for the metaphorical fishing vessel of star Damon, director Doug Liman and writer Tony Gilroy for bringing this energetic affair to the screen, both setting up Damon as a bona fide action star and throwing the gauntlet at the feet of Bond and Ethan Hunt to step it up a gear (both of whom willingly accepting the challenge with Casino Royale’s gritty realism and MI3’s intelligent action).
Overshadowed by the more successful, identically plotted yet inferior St. Elmo’s Fire for its starrier cast (back then anyway), this follows six friends as they joke, laugh, date and above all talk through their situations and lots in life as one of their number gears up to get married in a few days time. The cast of then near unknowns includes Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, Mickey Rourke, Paul Reiser, Tim Daly, Kevin Bacon and Ellen Barkin, most of whom are fine in their roles, particularly Guttenberg as Eddie, the highly-strung groom-to-be who insists his fiancé must pass a football test or he’ll cancel the ceremony, and Stern’s Shrevie, the sensible, married member of the group who has discovered he has nothing to talk about with his wife (Barkin). Only Reiser is left without much of a character of story arc, left merely to pop up now and then with a well timed joke or put-down, something the comedian is more than equipped to do. Some of the dialogue seems to have been lifted from an unused Steven Seagal script (“I’ll hit you so hard I’ll kill your whole family”), but the 50’s soundtrack, featuring such artists as Bobby Darin, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry help to make this an 80’s classic, even if it’s set in December 1959.
Choose film 6/10
With my pre-existing knowledge of Italian horror auteur Dario Argento – admittedly mostly garnered from watching Juno – I watched this apprehensively, ensuring the girlfriend – who scares easily – was out of the flat, and a sick bucket and towels were close to hand, lest the television begin leaking the copious flow of blood that would soon inevitably be filling up the screen. It is with a relieved sense of disappointment that I can confirm this is not a horror, more a suspense thriller, following a down on his luck American writer seeking inspiration in Italy, who witnesses an attempted murder whilst he is trapped between two sheets of glass. Discovering the attack was the handiwork of an active serial killer, he becomes obsessed with the case, up to the point where he is hunted by those who’d rather the killer remain unknown. Mostly following the standard crime whodunit formula, this effectively cranks up the suspense, but the goriness and brutality of the occasional murder jars with the largely sedate tone of the rest of the film. There are nice comedic touches – tracking down the man in the yellow jacket – and a collection of memorable oddball supporting characters including a stuttering pimp and a reclusive cat eating art collector, but this is little more than a sporadically bloodier version of A Touch of Frost.
Choose life 5/10
Anyone seeking a straightforward musical, like Grease or Chicago, as was expected by this reviewer, would do well to seek elsewhere. A semi-autobiographical tale from director/writer/choreographer Bob Fosse, this shows musical director/writer/choreographer/everything else Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider) as he discusses his life with angel of death Jessica Lange. There are occasional songs and dance numbers, and parts of his life are exaggerated and dramatised on stage. To use the description given to one of Gideon’s own performances (a very surprising sequence referred to as Erotic-Air), this film is “interesting, very interesting…unusual, very unusual.” It is difficult to decipher which parts are really from Gideon’s life and which are distorted and rewritten via his own limitless, unburdened imagination, from his own growing up in a burlesque house, being teased by barely clad women from an early age, to becoming a pill-popping, heavy smoking, heavy drinking perfectionist self-proclaimed liar who is “generous with his cock,” through to ruthlessly directing himself on his death bed. This ambitious, and possibly achieves what it set out to do, yet you leave the film unsatisfied, unsure of what you’ve seen and what to make of it.
Choose life 4/10
In the summer of 1984 some of the biggest names in rock music, including Whitesnake, Bon Jovi and the Scorpions all performed at the Super Rock festival in Japan, to vast audiences of screaming fans. Also playing was a band that has proven to be an inspiration to a pantheon of rock and metal bands since, such as Metallica, Motorhead, Anthrax, Slayer and Guns ‘n’ Roses, yet you’ve probably never heard of them, unless of course you’ve seen this real-life Spinal Tap rock-doc, in which case sacn to the end and move on, you’re done here. The band in question is a four piece Canadian metal outfit known as Anvil, still performing with two of their original members; singer Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner, but instead of basking in huge mansions, making records with big name producers or performing sell-out tours to millions, they are working dead end jobs and playing gigs at tiny sports bars, occasionally not even getting paid. This brilliant film tells their story, directed by their former roadie Sacha Gervasi, and tries to ascertain why such a talented, influential band could have failed so fantastically, and follows their attempt to relaunch their stalled careers in a music industry where the landscape has changed.
Choose film 7/10
As the title suggests, this predominantly covers Batman’s origin story, from the death of his parents after he becomes scared at the theatre, through his training by Liam Neeson’s Ducard, his development of a crime-fighting persona and his confrontation with his former mentor in a city ridden with toxin-crazed criminals and madmen. This is arguably the most realistic, or at least vaguely plausible comic book movie ever made, with the only real superpowers on display being a gas that makes people insane and a ridiculously vast fortune to funs Bruce Wayne’s double lifestyle. Granted, the secret passage in Wayne Manor is operated by hitting a coded sequence of piano keys, but this can be forgiven, and is at least a variation from the classic sliding of a secret book on a shelf.
Never has a film been more squarely aimed at the nerds and outsiders of the world (OK, maybe Revenge of the Nerds), the guys with the smarts but not the brawn, good looks, athletic bodies and hot girlfriends. Fortunately, this description neatly encapsulates the majority of the superhero genre’s existing fanbase.
Tobey Maguire is Peter Parker, the afore-mentioned science nerd with a prolonged crush on Kirsten Dunst’s girl-next-door MJ, but lacking the confidence, wealth, strength and social standing required to do anything about it. After being bitten by a radioactive spider during a class field trip, he acquires some of the spider’s abilities, including wall crawling, mild precognition, shooting webs from his wrists, a vastly improved body and the ability to dangle from the ceiling into your mouth while you sleep. In real life, spider’s shoot the webs from an aperture closer to their posterior. This would have made for a much stranger film, I feel. Unfortunately, Parker’s transformation occurs around the same time as Parker’s lazy rich kid best friend Harry’s businessman father trials a new super serum on himself, with predictably disastrous results, transforming him into a suped-up madman, terrorising the city in the form of fan favourite villain the Green Goblin.
I’ve finally offered myself up to the Gods of Lovefilm, kneeling at their alter and pledging my sacrifice of hard-earned readies and how am I rewarded? With a Romanian abortion film. Brilliant. Shot with an unflinching, rarely moving style, after the initial tracking shot around a dormitory in search of Kent cigarettes and black market Tic-Tacs, this shows the totalitarian regime of Romania in the late 80s, where abortions were banned for women under the age of 40 who hadn’t already had four or more children. The three main characters; the timid, fearful, naive and unexpectedly pregnant Gabita, her capable and confident roommate Otilia and the man found to perform the illegal termination, the callous, barbaric yet business-like Mr. Bebe are all played admirably, but some of the shots and topics discussed – the proper disposal method of an aborted foetus, whole or chopped, don’t always make for entertaining viewing.
Choose film 8/10
100th film! Although really I’d have preferred it to have been the 50th, seeing as it’s about a bus, rigged with a bomb that activates once the bus reaches 50 miles per hour, detonating should the buses speed drop below 50. The planter of the bomb is Dennis Hopper’s vengeful psychotic ex-cop Howard Payne, angry at Keanu Reeves and Jeff Daniels’ foiling of his first elevator-based hostage situation and eager for a paycheck he feels he’s been cheated. But you don’t care about the motive or who’s behind it, as Payne tells Reeves’ Jack Traven, “Your concern is the bus.” Whenever the film detracts from this central conceit, be it following the non bus bound cops trying to track down Payne or Hopper himself watching the action unfold on the ever present media, the pacing immediately slackens, so enticing is the central plot.
It’s easy to forget just how impressive Silence of the Lambs is as a film; receiving the ‘Big 5’ Oscars (Actor, Actress, Picture, Director, Screenplay) back in 1992, an accolade since rusted by the diminishing returns of the sequels/prequel. When remembered, the image brought to mind is of a motionless Anthony Hopkins stood eerily in the centre of a jail cell, awaiting Jodie Foster’s FBI student Clarice Starling, the conversations that ensue regarding Hopkins’ incarcerated Hannibal Lecter assisting the FBI with psychological analysis of an active serial killer, and certainly Hopkins’ aggressive, manic yet restricted delivery of oft-quoted and even more so parodied dialogue. Admittedly Hopkins turn, equal parts refined and ruthless, educated and insane, psycho-analytical and psychopathic, is remarkable, before Ridley Scott’s Hannibal turned him into some kind of dandy rogue (albeit one who feeds Ray Liotta his own brain), but it is so overpowering that it overshadows the rest of the film, feeling his absence whenever he’s not on screen, staring directly into the soul of the viewer. Not to diminish the rest of the production, with Jodie Foster being another highlight, her twig-like rookie about a foot shorter than all the other male recruits, all of whom have no problem checking her out as she walks by, seeing her not as an equal, but simply as a girl. Ted Levine (Monk, Heat) is also incredible as the killer Buffalo Bill, keeping his victims alive in a well before skinning them to make himself a suit. Criminally he was not even considered for a supporting actor nomination, yet his portrayal is arguably more chilling than Hopkins’, delving deep into a twisted, scarred psyche and throwing the shattered remains at the screen. The third reel reveals, both examples of fine editing and cinematography, also deserve mentioning, keeping you guessing long after you thought you knew what was happening.
Choose film 8/10