Clash-of-the-Titans

The Good (60 – 69)

The Good (60 – 69)

Title Director, Genre, Year

Rating

American Gigolo
Richard Gere plays a high class gigolo, Julian, who spends his days and nights escorting rich women around Beverly Hills until he becomes involved in a murder case and his clients begin to evade him. A film very much of its time, American Gigolo is Schrader’s most visually accomplished directorial project. The set design, lighting, staging, and exterior locations all combine expertly to capture the comfort and skill with which Julian navigates the vivid world of 80’s Los Angeles. Gere is strong in the lead role and with reasonable subtlety gives us glimpses of his character’s growing disenchantment with his lifestyle even though he still clearly enjoys the money and gifts that come with it. Lauren Hutton provides able support as the one client Julian seems to have genuine feelings for.
Schrader, Thriller, 1980

69.8

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Three Days of the Condor
From the opening scene of this spy classic you know you’re in 70’s heaven. Sidney Pollack crafts an evenly paced and quite gripping film that has all the paranoid hallmarks of the 70’s political thriller. Robert Redford plays a CIA analyst who uncovers evidence of a shadow organisation working within the agency. However, his discovery immediately puts his life in danger and he must go on the run to both evade his pursuers and figure out who is behind the conspiracy. The scenario may have dated but it’s no less exciting. Faye Dunaway (as a civilian who shelters him) and Cliff Robertson (as his untrustworthy section chief) provide good support. Some might argue the ending is less than satisfying but it reflects the sentiment of the times relatively well.
Pollack, Thriller, 1975

69.8

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Wag the Dog
The president is about to become embroiled in a scandal only a couple of weeks before the election. Enter Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro), a political spin doctor who together with a Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman), engineers a fake war to distract the public’s attention. Barry Levinson’s satirical comedy says some interesting things about how politicians and the media can change not only the opinions of the populace but their actual knowledge as well. However, the film’s real strength is its acting and wit so just sit back and enjoy the well-timed banter between Hoffman, De Niro, and a host of great actors in well placed cameos.
Levinson, Satire, 1997

69.8

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American Gangster
First off, American Gangster is not even close to being in the same bracket as Goodfellas (as some over-zealous critics exclaimed on its release) and Ridely Scott does seem to benefit from fan-boy movie ratings more than most but this movie is actually a good showing from a director that blows hot and cold these last 30 years or so. Russell Crowe stars as a New Jersey narcotics officer, who after becoming a pariah to his peers for turning in a million dollars in drug money, is given the opportunity to set up his own squad of straight-shooting undercover operatives. The man he targets as the king-pin of the east coast drug rackets is a seemingly self-made African-American gangster Frank Lucas, who modelled his organisation on the mafia, so successfully in fact that he became the Italians’ biggest supplier. Denzel Washington plays Lucas and as usual brings all his charisma to the role while Crowe handles his role of the good cop with an assured touch. The story zips in many directions (with the best sub-plot undoubtedly being that which involved Josh Brolin’s crooked New York cop) but Scott keeps it together despite the somewhat rushed ending. American Gangster is a long film at 2 hours and there are threads that could’ve been dispensed with all together but, that said, it’s worth looking at the extended edition (what? Ridley Scott releasing an extended edition? never!) for Clarence Williams III’s decent turn as Bumpy Johnson.
Scott, R., Gangster, 2007

69.8

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The Drop
When a bar is robbed, the bartender (Tom Hardy), who is simultaneously being drawn into a strange game of cat-and-mouse with a local psychopath, begins to betray his understated appearance by taking control of both situations in contrasting ways. It’s a complicated plot made nicely ambiguous by Hardy’s outwardly soft character and nervous demeanour. But it’s the dissolution of that ambiguity which ultimately gives The Drop its cutting edge and ties the disparate plot strands together in intimidating style. Ultimately, Belgium director Michaël R. Roskam’s film spins a dark and unforgiving yarn that forges new ground in the crime genre but repels as much as it seduces. Nicolas Karakantsanis’ bleak photography dull with pitched yellows and browns sets much in the way of tone but, like Dennis Lehane’s screenplay, it lacks heart. As the movie progresses, it intrigues beyond any initial expectations but struggles to carry us. As with its visual profile, the personalities are just too harsh. Naomi Rapace’s would-be love interest threatens to turn things around at a couple of junctures but ultimately she, like the story’s potential for genuine emotional resonance, is a little wasted.
Roskam, Crime, 2014

69.8

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Planet Terror
Robert Rodriguez has always had fun with his films but never so much as he had here. Part of the Grindhouse double feature (of which Tarantino’s Death Proof was the second feature), Planet Terror is a tongue in cheek homage to the Grindhouse horror movies of the 70’s. Don’t look for story here (town becomes infected by chemical weapon that creates flesh eating slowly dissolving zombies is about it), just enjoy the collage of set pieces one wilder than the other. Rose McGowan shines in an impressive cast as the one-legged go go dancer and Freddy Rodriguez does well as the hero. The rest of the cast amounts to a series of cameos the most welcome of which surely must be Michael Biehn’s as the town sheriff.
Rodriguez, Horror, 2007

69.7

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Slither
Thoroughly enjoyable creature- feature with the always likeable Nathan Fillion in fine form as the sheriff of a small town that has been invaded by alien parasites that take possession of their human hosts. Sound familiar? Of course, but that’s not the point. This is escapism at its best so just sit back and enjoy the smart script, the many funny moments, the outrageous special effects, and the various nods to great sci-fi classics.
Gunn, Horror, 2006

69.7

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The Town
Ben Affleck’s follow up to his excellent debut Gone Baby Gone is not as good as that film but its nonetheless a thoroughly entertaining and original heist movie set in an area of Boston remarkable for its preponderance of bankrobbers. Affleck and Renner are excellent as the hardcore thieves with the latter being particularly watchable in the scenes he’s given. Rebecca Hall is fine if a little dull as the conflicted love interest while salty dogs Chris Cooper and the late Pete Posthelwaite add some extra grit where needed. Affleck proves yet again he can keep an audience engrossed for 120 minutes and, despite the overt soppiness of the last scene, The Town is a worthy addition to the crime genre.
Affleck, Crime, 2010

69.7

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Sea of Love
Al Pacino’s return from his self imposed (post-Revolution) exile was in this highly effective thriller about a cop who gets romantically involved with a suspect in a series of murders. Pacino’s old colleague Harold Becker handles the drama well and Ellen Barkin (as the suspicious love interest) and John Goodman (as Pacino’s partner) are in great form. For his part, Pacino is superb and reminded us all of what we were missing during those five years of abstentia. Sea of Love is made the way thrillers are meant to be made with a great story, gripping tension, and top actors playing well rounded characters.
Becker, Thriller, 1989

69.7

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Out of Time
Cracking thriller about a police chief of a small community in the Florida Keys who finds himself conned out of evidence money and framed for the murder of the woman he was having an affair with. As the murder investigation progresses in brisk fashion, he must stay ahead of the detectives (one of whom is his estranged wife) while trying to uncover the truth. Denzel Washington brings his usual assuredness to an interesting role. His Chief Whitlock is a flawed individual who proves to be both very naive at times and very clever at others. Eva Mendes and Sanaa Lathan do well as the women in his life and John Billingsley and Dean Cain provide strong secondary support. As he did with the excellent One False Move, director Carl Franklin handles the multiple threads to the story admirably and keeps the action ticking over at a steadily increasing pace. The result is completely engaging and will have you on the edge of your seat at numerous points throughout. As with most movies that move this quickly, there are a few logical errors here and there but nothing which stops the film from being enjoyed.
Franklin, C., Thriller, 2003

69.7

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Box of Moonlight
Charming and quirky comedy about an uptight engineer (John Turturro) who takes a detour on the way home from a job and encounters a man (Sam Rockwell) whose free-spirit attitude to life is in direct contrast to his own. There’s nothing new here story-wise but it all plays out quiet perfectly thanks to the quirky script and the great chemistry between the two leads. Turturro is his usual excellent self while Rockwell gives us a glimpse of the scene stealer he was about to become. In fact, it’s his performance that lingers longest after this unusual but satisfying little film comes to a close. Catherine Keener is also on hand to round off a strong cast.
DiCillo, Comedy, 1996

69.7

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Totally original and hugely enjoyable tongue in cheek teen vampire flick that began a television phenomenon. Kristy Swanson stars as the ditzy high school cheerleader who discovers she’s destined to be a slayer of vampires while Donald Sutherland stars as her crusty old mentor. The two play off each other well and it’s great fun listening to your typical 1990’s LA teenager trying to make sense of this new world through her crass but charming rich girl mentality. Luke Perry is very good as the layabout who falls in with the slayer and Rutger Hauer’s typical eccentricity is perfect for the role of the nasty head vampire. However, everyone is outdone by Paul Reubens as his hysterical henchman whose death scene alone makes this worth the watching. The film comes off a little clunky at times and it’s clear that the director Kuzui and writer Joss Whedon were new to the game but you can’t hide natural writing talent and the latter has it in spades. The script is laced with wit and with a cast who got every bit of what Whedon was trying to do, the result is a movie every bit as playful as the television series that followed it. “You ruined my jacket! Kill him a lot”.
Ruebel, Horror, 1992

69.7

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
After the success of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, he was always going to find The Hobbit a tougher project not simply because of the difficulty in living up to the reputation of the earlier movies but because many a critic was just waiting for him to slip up. Not surprisingly, therefore, his decision to stretch the adaptation of that one book into another trilogy of three hour movies left those critics salivating and some would say with good reason. After all, what are you going to fill the movies with? The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey picks up decades before the events of The Lord of the Rings, and follows the adventures of Frodo’s uncle Bilbo and his efforts to help a motley group of wandering dwarfs reclaim their old kingdom from a nasty dragon Smaug who, years earlier, decimated their people and forced them to flee their homeland. This first installment is dedicated to the necessary exposition of the backstory and the early stages of the journey and, as a movie in its own right, it’s reasonably enjoyable if taken on its merits. Yes, there’s an extremely protracted buildup but if such a buildup is dedicated to the construction of character and relationships then it can be eminently watchable. Jackson and company make a modest attempt to do just that although it’s nowhere near as in-depth an introduction as we were treated to in The Fellowship of the Ring. Part of this is down to the source material which lacks the backbone and rich characterisation of the Rings trilogy. Simply put, it’s too lean a book and not as inspired to support same class of story telling. However, the real concern when it came to The Hobbit was whether or not Jackson could imbue this new film with the same magic and sense of distinct mythology that The Lord of the Rings trilogy was imbued with. In this respect, he was considerably more successful. An Unexpected Journey very much feels like the Middle-Earth we were introduced to 10 years earlier. There is of course a prevalence of more child centric manifestations of danger and wonder but this is an extension of Jackson’s integrity concerning the material because the book was aimed at younger audiences in the first place. But whereas many predicted this is where The Hobbit would fail, Jackson and his team of effects wizards (no pun intended!) use the more fairy-tale like material to give the movie a distinct personality and strengthen its connection to its audience. The concept design behind the various nasties and the visual effects are so rich and original in imagination yet governed so implicitly by archetypes that one can envisage them not only resonating with younger generations’ nascent notions of evil but coming to flesh out and further define those notions as they evolve through adulthood. Few films in the history of motion picture have done this and so, The Hobbit could even join the original Star Wars trilogy and the likes of Harryhausen’s ingenious incarnations in the echelons of keystone fantasy for this achievement alone. But like Harryhausen’s films in particular, An Unexpected Journey also caters to the appetites of older audiences for there is much darkness implicit in the actions and words of the characters. Actions and words that skirt the edges of cannibalism and subtly disturbing indications of murder (the shot of Sting losing its glow as Gollum dispatches the Orc off-screen is particularly uncomfortable and must surely count as one of the more chilling devices to the depict something that Hollywood has – if truth be told – immunised us to). And actions and words that plumb more sophisticated ideas of inner torment and personal damnation. The Hobbit scores big on the technical front too. As it was in the previous trilogy, Jackson’s action direction is superb, juggling fast and slow zoom and tracking shots into a whirlwind aesthetic which seem to ebb, flow, and grow intuitively to Howard Shore’s magnificent score. Needless to say, the tapestry of visual effects (and sound effects) are equally astounding and while not coming close the pinnacle of those served up in The Two Towers or The Return of the King, criticism should be reserved because this is the first story of a new trilogy and The Fellowship of the Ring wasn’t defined by any major set piece extravaganzas either. Thus, for all the negativity surrounding its release, An Unexpected Journey isn’t nearly as bad as most have suggested. There are a few contrivances towards the end, their sole purpose to manipulate us into big emotions and it’s true that such cheap tricks were not typical to the first two instalments of The Lord of the Rings. They were however a feature of The Return of the King and this raises a salient point for those critics who fulfilled their latent ambition to take Jackson down a peg or two with The Hobbit. The final installment of the LotR’s was the one that garnered all the awards and most acclaim yet it was by a distance the weakest of the set. An Unexpected Journey with all its problems isn’t deserving of mention in the same breath as Fellowship or Towers but it’s certainly good enough to be compared to The Return of the King at least as far as telling a story goes.
Jackson, Fantasy, 2013

69.5

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Matchstick Men
Nicholas Cage and Sam Rockwell star in this original and clever take on the con-men story. Cage plays the OCD suffering mentor of young buck Rockwell whose carefully controlled life is turned upside down when he discovers he has a teenage daughter. Ridley Scott’s film looks great and Nicholas Griffin’s screenplay (based on Eric Garcia’s book) is disciplined and full of wit. The two leads put in interesting performances with Cage doing quite well portraying one of the many variations of OCD and with Rockwell stealing every scene he features in. Alison Lohman hits all the right notes as Cages precocious daughter and there’s nice on-screen dynamics between both Cage and Rockwell and Cage and Lohman.
Scott, R, Crime, 2003

69.5

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Someone’s Watching Me
It might be a made-for-tv movie but this early offering from John Carpenter is a chance to see him hone his skills as many of his trademark shots and scares can be seen for the first time here. On top of that, the story of a television director who moves to LA to start anew but finds herself the victim of a patient and clever stalker is a compelling and well told one. Lauren Hutton is mostly very good as the strong lead but can be a little irritating at times. Adrienne Barbeau is good in support. The film’s style and look are clearly inspired by Hitchcock. For example, there is an excellent North by Northwest inspired title sequence and some obvious nods to Rear Window. This is interesting in its own right because while much of Carpenter’s later influences were more overtly coming from Howard Hawks, his Hitchcockian influences persisted albeit in more discrete ways. Thus, in addition to being a cracking little thriller, Someone’s Watching Me offers us some nice glimpses into the shaping of Carpenter’s style.
Carpenter, Thriller, 1978

69.5

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The Final Countdown
A cracking sci-fi thriller starring Kirk Douglas as the captain of a 1980’s aircraft carrier which gets pulled into a vortex during routine manoeuvres off Hawaii and gets sent back to December 6th 1941. The premise is compelling to say the least and it’s tapped for all its worth as the crew of the massively advanced ship weigh the moral and philosophical implications of intervening in the Japanese sneak attack which is about to be launched against Pearl Harbor. The film is set up wonderfully with plenty of time dedicated to substantially introducing the various characters and establishing their various political and moral positions and whatever relationships which will become relevant later on. The scenario is made more interesting with the inclusion of Martin Sheen as a civilian consultant who provides an unpredictable counterpoint to the hardened military personnel. As two of the most professional actors to ever grace the screen Douglas and Sheen are great either on their own or together and they each bring an abundance of personality to the film. Katherine Ross and the always excellent Charles Durning offer equally interesting points of view as 1941 civilians (Durning playing a wily old senator) rescued by the aircraft carrier after the Japanese attacked their boat. Director Don Taylor is to be commended for his handling of the large scale logistics which include shooting everything from live action fighter jets, helicopters, the carrier itself, to the infamous Japanese “zeros”. The various action sequences are elegantly shot and edited and would rival any dedicated war film from the time. Furthermore, Taylor shows real panache in how he shoots the time-travelling sequence and imbues the moment with a real sense of primordial menace. This is particularly important because if captured in the wrong manner, the tenuousness of the story’s premise could be exposed (for example, just imagine how a “Time Tunnel” like shot of the carrier spinning two-dimensionally into the past could’ve undermined its credibility). It all builds up to a fitting climax and there’s even time to tie some mind bending logical time-loops into the story in the vein of the best time-travel movies. The Final Countdown is exactly what a war/time travel sci-fi should be. It’s entertaining and reasonably stimulating and it really should’ve been remembered better.
Taylor, Sci-Fi, 1980

69.5

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Fracture
An unconventional thriller starring Ryan Gosling as a brash young prosecutor whose last case before he changes sides becomes more than he bargained for when the defendant, a highly intelligent engineer (Anthony Hopkins) accused of attempting to kill his wife begins dismantling Gosling’s case. Gosling’s fresh approach to his role makes for an interesting film in its own right but it’s the unpredictability of the story’s progression that raises it above more orthodox thrillers. Hopkins is only fine as the clever bad guy but like David Strathairn he’s not given much to do. There is a seriously unconvincing romantic relationship crowbarred into the story between Gosling’s character and his new boss (no doubt to appease the innane box-ticking movie executives) but for the most part, this is worth the watch.
Hoblit, Thriller, 2007

69.5

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Mimic
Mia Sorvino stars as an entomologist responsible for curing a dangerous cockroach-spread disease by releasing a genetically modified predator (a cross between the termite and the mantis) into the New York underground. However, three years later people begin disappearing and she begins to suspect that her bug or some evolved progeny is the culprit. Mimic is an interesting and honest attempt to give us something different from the sci-fi/horror genre. It favours an X-File like set up where the creatures are less intuitively obvious in their conception and where much of the film is dedicated to finding out exactly what they are. The early stages are genuinely gripping thanks to Guillermo del Toro’s clever direction and general teasing of the audience. In the same way that Cronenberg forged the notion of “body-horror” from his own original and idiosyncratic imagination, del Toro has tended to do the same with insect like incarnations or “things-that-go-click”. Mimic is an excellent example of this (though nowhere near his Cronos best) and he uses the general ickiness of bugs to only heighten the chill factor. Sorvino is strong in the lead and Jeremy Northam is decent as her husband and CDC big wig. The movie resists the temptation to go formulaic for longer than most and never descends into the “hero-shepherding-crowds-of civilians-out-of-harms’-way” scenario. However, it does seem to run out of ideas in the final sequence and fall back on the time honoured showdown. However, for the most part, Mimic is a dark and atmospheric horror that will keep most horror fans interested throughout.
del Toro, Horror, 1997

69.4

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Go
Doug Liman’s frenetic night-in-the-life-of young people in their late teens and early 20’s as they attempt to drink, gamble, do drugs, sell drugs, pay debts, and escape crazed pimps. This type of scenario could easily grate but it actually works quite well thanks to Liman’s slick direction and a host of actors all performing well above their typical level. There’s some neat dialogue sprinkled throughout and some very funny and well executed set-pieces (most of which involving Desmond Askew’s wild-boy Simon). In the comedy stakes, William Fichtner steals the show as the over-familiar undercover cop but Scott Wolf and Jay Mohr play off him well.
Liman, Crime, 1999

69.4

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Used Cars
Used Cars is one of those low-key wacky comedies which Hollywood flirted with in the late 70’s/early 80’s and often to great success. Jack Warden takes on dual responsibilities by two playing two elderly brothers and rival used car salesman. When the meaner wealthier brother has the nicer and more modest one killed off so that he can inherit his business, the latter’s employees (led by Kurt Russell) hide the body and begin a game of advertising hardball which severely impacts the nasty brother’s business. This is a cheeky yet charming comedy built around some excellent performances and madcap comedy set pieces. The various advertising stunts which Russell and his cronies pull are brilliantly put together and will have you in fits of laughter. Warden is terrific in both roles and it’s very satisfying seeing him with a more juicy and important role(s) to play with than he was typically getting at that time. Russell was actually quite good at this type of madcap comedy and so while adding strongly to the charm quotient of this movie he also elevates the humorous moments. The support players are just as good with Gerrit Graham and Frank McRae particularly shining during the advertising stunts. Used Cars also counts as an interesting opportunity to see the Back to the Future partnership of Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale honing their crafts. In fact, much of the playfulness that defines the Back to the Future franchise graces this movie too and as is the case with the aforementioned trilogy, that’s primarily what makes this film such an enjoyable watch.
Zemeckis, Comedy, 1980

69.3

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The Boys from Brazil
The premise which Ira Levin’s novel worked off was that a group of exiled Nazi’s attempted to create another Hitler not only by cloning him but by ensuring that the clones experienced the same chronologically synchronised socio-environmental and personal episodes as Hitler himself did. This was and still is a fascinating premise. However, it’s also very far-fetched and to prevent any film adaptation from seeming slightly absurd, some very clever adapting was needed. So did director Franklin J. Schaffner (him behind Planet of the Apes and Patton) and script-writer Heywood Gould pull it off? Well, yes and no. The script is economic and tight so while the movie is playing, the audience isn’t given much time to dwell on some of the logical stretches. There are also a couple of genuine heavy-weight actors on show with Lawrence Olivier as a famous Nazi hunter and Gregory Peck in an against-type turn as Dr. Mengele and that presence alone adds an air of credibility to the movie. On the other hand, Olivier (being a theatre actor first and foremost) does over-act in many of his scenes and because Peck is so far away from his most famous roles, his performance seems all the more conspicuous. Moreover, there’s the clunky performance of Steve Guttenberg who drags the drama down to the level of goofy in the earlier parts of movie. That said, when the film really clicks it’s quite thrilling such as when the boy clones are on screen, or when we catch glimpses of the local Brazilians whom Mengele was experimenting on, or during that final showdown between him and Olivier’s Nazi hunter. Overall therefore, this is definitely worth watching whether you are fan of science fiction movies or those paranoid thrillers the 70’s produced so easily.
Schaffner, Sci-Fi, 1978

69.3

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The Yakuza
With Sydney Pollack behind the camera, Paul Scrader and Robert Towne co-writing the script, and Robert Mitchum in front of the camera this film had all the right ingredients to be a classic example of vintage Hollywood. Although, it perhaps didn’t scale to those heights it is a first rate 70’s thriller. Mitchum plays a retired soldier, Kilmer, who returns to Japan to repay a debt. Ken Takakura plays the Japanese ex-yakuza Tanaka who himself is honour-bound to help Kilmer. The Yakuza perfectly blends the hard-edged action of 70’s American cinema with the samurai sword-play of the jidaigeki genre to produce a rather original film for its time. Such a blending has been attempted many times since with most new attempts more jarring than the last. The Yakuza avoids the pitfalls of those later films by showing genuine interest in the Japanese psyche and how westerners operate in a world dominated by their sense of honour and respect. Richard Jordan as usual scores well as Kilmer’s right-hand man.
Pollack, Thriller, 1974

69.3

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Fort Apache, The Bronx
This minor gem about two cops working the South Bronx has seemingly been forgotten or perhaps it was never remembered as well as it deserved to be. Paul Newman plays the veteran officer Murphy whose compassionate approach to his job is in contrast to the cynicism and heavy-handedness of many of his fellow officers. Ken Wahl plays his slick young partner whose ambition lets him look past all of the corruption that beleaguers Murphy. The film plays out more as an Altman-like series of vignettes that are threaded together from the beginning by a murderous hooker played with a disturbingly quiet menace by Pam Grier. The result is an easy flowing and original police story which is really quite enjoyable. There’s also an authenticity to the film which is sadly missing from many more modern police dramas that is partly due to the many location shots and partly due to the terrific performances from all concerned. Standing out as always is the effortlessly brilliant Newman who gives the Irish cop genuine personality and humour but equally handles the more dramatic scenes with aplomb. If you like the lighter crime dramas of the 70’s & 80’s then this is definitely for you.
Petrie, Crime, 1981

69.2

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Cypher
Cypher (or “Brainstorm” as it was released in Europe) is an interesting attempt at intelligent science fiction that looks and feels different to most other efforts. Jeremy Northam is a corporate spy who is employed by a technology company to spy on its competitor. However, it soon becomes apparent that he’s involved in something much bigger where the walls of reality are obscured and where his life as he knew it is in jeopardy. It’s difficult to describe this one without giving away too much of the plot but, suffice to say, there are definite shades of The Parallax View here. Strangely enough, the major strength and weakness of this movie both lie in its look. The cold grading of the picture particularly in the first act gives everything an edgy and impersonal tone and when juxtaposed with the more bizarrely shot latter stages it works a treat both in helping the narrative and grounding the shifting perspective of Northam’s character. However, this also makes the earlier parts to the film rather inaccessible on an emotional level as there is nothing to entice the audience into the story beyond the mystery. The scenario Northam’s character finds himself in precludes us from getting to know him and while that is definitely the point, it alienates us from the lead to some degree. On top of that, the story over-complicates itself to the point where the ultimate revelation is clearly evident before it happens simply because it’s the only resolution that makes sense. Despite these reservations, hardcore sci-fi fans should really enjoy the intellectual roller-coaster ride but unfortunately it fails to be anything more than a good genre film.
Natali, Mystery, 2002

69.1

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X-Men 2
Even better than the original due to a darker script that involves the X-Men working together to fight a common enemy in the form of a secret government project that is designed to get rid of the mutant threat once and for all. The relationships are developed further than the original as they head into more interesting territory. Singer ups the ante on the action front also so get ready for some nicely choreographed fight scenes which provide a better opportunity to showcase the various mutants’ abilities.
Singer, Fantasy, 2003

69

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The Italian Job
”You must have shot an awful lot of tigers Sir”, “Yes, I used a machine gun”. Few films have captured the spirit and carefree vibe of the Italian job and it’s a real shame because this movie is just 100% fun. Michael Caine plays Charlie Croker, a playboy/thief just out of prison who is made privy to an ingenious plan to rob the city of Turin of four million dollars by engineering the biggest traffic jam the world has ever seen. Once Charlie gets the backing of the big boss Mr. Bridger (played by Noel Coward) it’s off to Italy with his crew as they plan and execute one hell of an audacious and enjoyable heist. As the three Mini Coopers whiz through (and under) Turin we are treated to a unique, playful, and hugely impressive series of set-pieces that have become iconic in their own right. Caine is in his element as the charming crook and Coward is excellent as the criminal even his prison guards defer to. However, the entire cast do their bit to make this the charming ensemble piece it is.
Collinson, Crime, 1969

68.9

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Stripes
Bill Murray and Harold Ramis team up as two layabouts who join the army in order to get some discipline only to find it a lot more work than they had figured. Directed by Ivan Reitman, the humour is very much of its era with lots of wacky scenarios but there are still many laughs to be had here. Murray has been much better but even at half steam he’s still the funniest man on the screen. Ramis is a good foil for Murray but does well on his own also. This is one of those films that is very easy to watch particularly if you’re already in a good mood so just sit back and let it happen.
Reitman, Comedy, 1981

68.9

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The Joneses
A fresh drama with touches of genuine thoughtfulness. Duchovney and Moore play specialty salespeople who pose as husband and wife and together with their”children” form a showcase family in order to sell a particular lifestyle and the consumer products that go with it. Despite a predictable enough ending this is a film that hits all the right notes due to a clever script, some slick production values, an excellent on-screen chemistry between the two leads, and uniformly excellent acting. Duchovney is as watchable as ever in a role tailor made for someone as intuitively funny and dry as he is while Moore turns in her best performance in years. Glenda Headly and the always excellent Gary Cole are also on hand to add solid support.
Borte, Satire, 2009

68.9

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Predators
As it is with the Alien fans, many of the Predator fans can be a precious bunch, always eager to show people how much they know by mindlessly critiquing everything and anything that even skirts the universe as established in the first film. Thus, despite what some of the fans have said, Predators is a hugely enjoyable sequel to the ’87 McTiernan film and easily stands along side Predator 2 in both class and execution. Like Danny Glover was in that film, Adrien Brody is a revelation as the action hero as he assumes command of a band of heavy hitters who have each been abducted from Earth and parachuted into a jungle on a small moon as prey for three Predators. Nimrod Antal’s film looks great and the many lucious jungle locations provide the backdrop to some seriously impressive action set-pieces. The script is smart with some humour here and there. There are a few too many references to the original predator and alien films (as the characters spout familiar lines throughout) to the extent that at times it’s as though the script is serving those references as opposed to the other way round. There’s also some unnecessary exposition in the early scenes. Other than those weaknesses, the film hits all the right notes. Brody’s sensationally good tough guy performance is well supported by a series of strong actors with Alice Braga in particular standing out. As in the first two films, the special effects are used sparingly but to good effect and the decision to introduce a new even more vicious race of Predator proved inspired (despite the aforementioned fan’s opinions to the contrary) as it reinvigorated the scariness of the 20+ year old screen monster.
Antal, Sci-Fi, 2010

68.9

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Nightmare on Elm Street
Wed Craven’s seminal horror piece involves a group of teens who are terrorised in their sleep by a hideous and murderous stalker Freddy Krueger where the wounds he inflicts can manifest in real life. This film along with others such as Halloween and Friday the 13th helped to define the horror genre of the early eighties (and beyond) thanks to a great concept and some genuinely terrifying set-pieces that to this day work a treat in the ‘scaring the hell out of you department’. Robert Englund’s performance is now the stuff of horror legend and is as sinister as it is scary. The special effects are decent and also hold up well. Heather Langenkamp deserves special mention for carrying the film (after a Hitchcockian switch of the female lead early on) and poses a worthy adversary for the nightmarish Freddy.
Craven, Horror, 1984

68.9

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Telefon
One of those cracking 70’s thrillers that got lost in the mist of time, Telefon tells a Manchurian-Candidate like story about a rogue Russian operative (Donald Pleasence) who begins activating US based sleeper agents who have been conditioned years before to set in motion a series of attacks on military institutions. Charles Bronson stars as the agent who is sent to the US to track down and eliminate him. Telefon is based on an interesting and well realised premise benefitting from some solid direction, writing (Peter Hyams co-penned the script with Stirling Silliphant), and acting. Bronson is very well suited to the role and Lee Remick is your typical sassy 70’s female sidekick. Over all, it’s a highly entertaining watch and those with keen movie senses will enjoy spotting its influence on Tarantino’s recent Death Proof.
Siegel, Thriller, 1977

68.9

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Killing Zoe
Roger Avery’s solo run begins with safe-cracker Eric Stoltz arriving in Paris to help his deranged childhood friend (played wonderfully by Jean-Hugues Anglade) to rob a bank on Bastille Day. This is pure Avery so expect graphic scenes of hardcore drug abuse, sex, and violence. Happily though his witty repertoire is as sharp as ever which raises the entertaining story above the level of your typical heist film.
Avery, Crime, 1993

68.8

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The Winning Season
Delightful little independent feature starring Sam Rockwell as a washed up basketball coach given the chance to coach ladies varsity basketball. It starts off as a standard if not predictable comedy but quickly takes a turn for the softly dramatic and that’s when the film sinks its hooks. Rockwell has been funnier but it’s his natural charm and the rapport he develops with the young girls (played ably by amongst others Rooney Mara, Emma Stone, & Shareeka Epps) that keeps this movie ticking over.
Strouse, Comedy, 2009

68.8

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Criss Cross
Burt Lancaster and director Robert Siodmak revisit The Killers territory in a not too dissimilar plot involving a double crossing vixen and a complicated heist. As he did in The Killers, Siodmak seamlessly blends back story with present tense so that narrative plays out with a comfortable flow. However, the polished touches of noir which are found all over the aforementioned classic are largely missing. The writing too is missing much of the swift momentum of that picture but given the differences in the source material that’s understandable. Lancaster for his part is strong as ever in a role that wasn’t as physically intimidating as the Swede but just as emotionally vulnerable. Yvonne DeCarlo is a worthy femme fatale and Dan Duryea adds an interesting menace to his role of mobster but in truth he’s underused. Cross Cross is a fine yarn and solid crime flick but it doesn’t rank with the greats of the era. It carries all the overt touches of the classic film-noir but none of the subtle marks that so defined them.
Siodmak, Film-Noir, 1949

68.7

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Tape
In Richard Linklater’s drama, part-time drug dealer Vince (Ethan Hawke), arranges for his old friend (Robert Sean Leonard) and ex-girlfriend (Uma Thurman) to reunite for the first time since high school in a cheap motel room. The relationships are as complex as Vince’s motives and it’s not long before the conversation takes a dark turn. Shot in DV, using just the one set, and taking place in real time, the film provides an interesting study into perceptions of truth and fully engages the audience in doing so. The three actors don’t miss a beat and frugal set decoration and lack of any trimmings serve to sharpen the audience’s focus on the story. The stark DV shooting will not to be everyone’s taste and some may be tempted to turn it off in the first few minutes due to the low production values but if you stick with it, it’ll sink its hook.
Linklater, Drama, 2001

68.7

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Jerry and Tom
Sharp black comedy starring Joe Mantegna and Sam Rockwell as a hit man and his protege. In his first outing as director, Saul Rubinek proves a deft touch behind the camera as the story casually spans the ten year relationship between the two eponymous characters. Rubinek stays faithful to its stage plays origins by situating most of the action in small unassuming interiors. Within this more personal environment, Rubinek achieves a nice balance between the humour and the tension which ultimately gives the film a real edginess. Mantegna is superb as the increasingly disillusioned Tom and Rockwell again shows his depth as he quite expertly captures Jerry’s sad and creepy transformation from a young naive man to a cold-blooded killer. A host of great cameo appearances from the likes of William H Macy and Ted Danson round off this wonderful little film.
Rubinek, Comedy, 1998

68.6

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Welcome to Colinwood
An original, quirky, and very witty caper movie about a group of hapless criminals who attempt to pull off a complicated robbery. This film was badly received on its release as throngs of George Clooney fans were left disappointed that his part amounted to nothing more than a cameo. That really shouldn’t disappoint anyone though as the ensemble cast is excellent throughout. The characters are well developed and the film is littered with lovely turns of phrase. Sam Rockwell is the standout performer as the failed boxer who falls for the girl they’re trying to scam but he is well supported by the likes of William H Macy and the always enjoyable Luis Guzman. There are some genuinely hilarious moments and some great set piece scenes to keep you entertained for the full 90 mins. If you’re in the mood for something different you could do a lot worse.
Russo, Crime, 2002

68.6

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Hanna
Saoirse Ronan stars as a young girl raised in isolation and trained by her father (Eric Bana) for a fateful showdown with a dastardly secret agent (Cate Blanchett) who they’ve been hiding from all the young girl’s life. Hanna is an elegant, off-kilter, and daring action film with a unique Chemical Brothers infused style which is highly entertaining to watch but ultimately lacking in substance. There’s a strange life to the script which carries us through Hanna’s unusual encounters and frenetic fights with a bemused smile.
Wright, Action, 2011

68.5

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The Purge
A nifty little horror set in a future America that limits its social violence to one night of the year when the citizens are encouraged to purge their anxieties via any means or crimes necessary, no questions asked. Ethan Hawke is the family man trying to protect his family from a group of well mannered teenagers intent on killing a homeless man who they’ve given shelter to. Against a backdrop of live media commentary on how the Purge is progressing, Hawke and his wife (Lena Heady) are sucked into a full-on battle with the masked enthusiasts while a creepy bunch of suburbanite neighbours wait in the wings. If The Purge deserves any credit, it’s that it celebrates the 90 minute format that big budget movies have turned their backs on in favour of the bloated meandering 150 minute format of the 21st century. It’s fast, lean, and easy to watch. However, it goes beyond that by, firstly, serving up a couple of blinding action sequences and, secondly, offering a sardonic, playful extrapolation on modern right wing politics.
DeMonaco, Horror, 2013

68.5

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The Sentinel
After moving into a New York apartment, a young model (Christina Rains) seemingly begins to lose her grip on reality. However, once her boyfriend (Chris Sarandon) investigates the building’s history, he learns she isn’t crazy at all and her apartment is, in fact, the gateway to hell. Though rather eclectic in his abilities, Michael Winner was in many ways well suited to the horror genre given his oblique directorial style. Thus, it’s not surprising that, with The Sentinel, he furnishes Jeffrey Konvitz’ novel, rich in premise as it was, with the type of atmosphere that can rival the best of the genre. It’s a gleefully creepy old horror that fully engages thanks to a familiar but compelling mythology and a litany of colourful characters played with relish by some of the best in the business. In fact, the cast is a veritable who’s who of that era’s up and comers (such as Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Walken, and even a very young and fleeting Tom Berenger) and old-timers (such as Ava Gardner, Martin Balsam, Eli Wallach, Arthur Kennedy, José Ferrer, and Burgess Meredith as the boogeyman man himself).
Winner, Horror, 1977

68.5

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Vamp
Vamp focuses on two frat pledges who head into the city to hire a stripper to meet their initiation rites. Fate takes them to a deserted part of town and an unusual strip club where they come across a captivating performer whose more that she appears to be. In a Dusk-til-Dawn-like transition, the movie shifts from quirky college comedy to even quirkier comedy horror. Like Fright Night, Vamp seems content to forge its own mold as it very much has its own style. It proceeds in an “After Hours” manner where scenes are linked through a series of curious and compelling characters who appear, disappear, and reappear capriciously throughout its duration. Sharp, clever, mercurial dialogue is enriched through the interested performances which the lose plot scatters up. Grace Jones in a role with no dialogue is fine for what she’s given to do but Robert Rusler and Dedee Pfeiffer really seem to be enjoying themselves. They even make up for Chris Makepeace who is a little weak in the lead. The show stealer is Sandy Baron with a wonderfully sarcastic and creepy performance as the nightclub host.
Wenk, Comedy, 1986

68.5

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The Last King of Scotland
James McAvoy plays a young Scotsman and recently qualified doctor who heads to Uganda on an indulgent whim. Initially volunteering his services to a rural clinic, he accidentally catches the eye of the Scotland obsessed dictator, Idi Amin, who promptly makes him his personal doctor and partial confidant. As he becomes part of the president’s social scene, the glamour of 1970’s Kampala eventually begins to fade as the young doctor begins to see Amin for the paranoid butcher he really is. For all the praise this movie got on its release, The Last King of Scotland is a preposterous piece of fiction. Not only is McAvoy’s character entirely made up but by making him so central to many of the real life incidents involving Amin, their significance becomes obscured and somewhat less real. The attempt to use McAvoy as a lens through which we see “Amin the man” does work to some extent but, as the doctor’s own fictitious story is the primary focus, the device falters as one continuously wonders where the fiction ends and the truth begins. If one can overlook this substantial flaw, the movie can actually be quite entertaining (and therein lies one explanation for those flaws). There’s a fun momentum to the earlier scenes which is effectively quickened once the horror begins. Furthermore, in addition to MacDonald’s rugged documentary like direction, a cool retro ethnic soundtrack, and some lovely photography, The Last King of Scotland also offers two rock solid lead performances.
MacDonald, Thriller, 2006

68.5

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Intolerable Cruelty
Some lazy criticism declared this film as a poor show by the Coens when in fact it’s an often hilarious, goofy comedy about a successful and clever divorce lawyer (George Clooney) who gets romantically and professionally involved with a scheming and just as clever divorcee (Catherine Zeta Jones). The plot has some of the twists and turns of a typical Coen brothers’ film (though they are definitely dialled down) but much of the charm thanks mainly to Clooney’s fantastic slapstick performance and his chemistry with the thoroughly watchable Zeta Jones. The Coens are no doubt at half speed where the wackiness/zaniness is concerned but that itself is a welcome change of pace and reveals yet another more disciplined side to their film-making. That said, there are some great moments in this film with the showdown with Wheezy Joe being a particular standout. Their long-time collaborators, Carter Burwell (score) and Roger Deacons (cinematography) as usual contribute richly in their own respects.
Coen, Comedy, 2003

68.5

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The Hidden
The Hidden is a straight up sci-fi thriller built around good old fashioned character construction and solid dialogue, acting, and directing. Kyle Maclachlan stars as an eccentric FBI officer (no wait, give it time) who shows up to help a hot-shot young detective (Michael Nouri) capture an elusive killer who seems to be switching bodies. The scenario is well worn and the production is relatively low budget but there’s a compelling personality to the film. Maclachlan and Nouri are great together and their fluctuating relationship is as equally watchable as the manhunt. Somewhat formulaic and at times over the top, the action is only passable save for the outstanding opening sequence which itself opens in a manner evocative of Carpenter’s classic They Live. There are some goofy and rushed moments such as the scene involving the senator’s address but nice touches sprinkled throughout as well as a morally ambiguous ending ensure The Hidden is well worth a watch by all true Sci-Fi fans.
Sholder, Sci-Fi, 19987

68.5

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Boiler Room
Boiler Room is a surprisingly good tale of a young man seduced into the slick world of illegal stock-brokering only for it to inevitably blow up in his face. There’s lots to admire about this film. It has all the energy of a film aimed at a 20’s-something audience but with a more mature dramatic tension and subject matter. In fact, Boiler Room could quite justifiably be regarded as a spiritual sequel to Wall Street, at least far more so than the disappointing 2010 Money Never Sleeps. Its cast is replete with a who’s who of turn of the century up-and-comers led by the excellent Giovani Ribisi proving he does indeed have the chops to carry a film. Vin Diesel and Nicky Katt are equally good as the highflying brokers that take him under their ring and Ron Rifkin is his usual brilliant self in the role of Ribisi’s disapproving father. Writer/director Ben Younger deserves most of the plaudits though for not only crafting an edgy and riveting script but also for pulling off a rare blending of film-making styles in shooting it.
Younger, Thriller, 2000

68.4

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Draft Day

Kevin Costner is the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, desperate to make his mark on the team by using his number seven pick in the NFL Draft pick to acquire a prodigious defensive prospect in the face of pressure from his owner to go for the quarterback everyone wants. Bowing to the pressure, he makes a deal for the number one spot that his entire staff balk at only to change his mind and try something even more bold. The drama unfolds over the course of “Draft Day” and sweeps us around the country as one franchise after another attempt to make some magic happen for their teams. But with Costner and his Browns at the centre of it all. Whether it’s the quick pacing or the fascination with team strategy or just the quality of the drama, director Ivan Reitman manages to build a wholly engaging tension that peaks several times across the final act. Opting bravely to mirror the theatre of the event itself, he shoots shiny graphics across the screen, splits it, and litters it with brand advertisement. Thankfully, a cast full of good pros, either making telling cameos or playing more substantial roles, adds a touch of solidity to the all these bells and whistles.

Reitman, Sport, 2014

68.4

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Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Tom Cruise takes charge of his IMF team on its fourth cinematic outing and despite its watery plot, there’s enough thrills and cleverly worked out set pieces to justify its existence. Joined by Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, and Paula Patton as he tracks down a “nuclear terrorist” bent on destroying most of the world, this adventure whisks us around the near east from Moscow to Dubai to India in one breathless sequence after another. Brad Bird’s installment isn’t going to incur much in the way of second or third viewings but the cast are just engaging enough to compensate for yet another generic bad guy and over-familiar plot. One would think the impossible mission scenario would offer a variety of jeopardising circumstances and, to be fair, such is the tradition since De Palma’s original big screen adaptation (and before). However, the plot to this one was grabbed straight off the shelf marked “Stock Plot: 21st Century Action Movie”. What’s even more unforgivable is that despite the franchise’s history of wonderfully colourful and nefarious bad guys – from John Voight’s reptilian traitor to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s terrifying arms dealer – writers Josh Applebaum and Andre Nemec serve up an even blander villain. Ultimately that, even more than the story, is the great let down here. Thankfully, a back to form Cruiser is on hand to elevate things and his scaling of the world’s tallest building not to mention the accompanying caper set inside it is a peach.
Bird, Action, 2011

68.4

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Insomnia
Al Pacino is excellent as a LA detective sent up to Alaska to aid an investigation into the murder of a teenage girl. While there he accidentally shoots his partner who he was at odds with over their involvement in a corruption investigation and fearing he might be charged with purposefully killing his partner he blames the shooting on the suspect in the murder case (Robin Williams). This is a complicated story handled very capably by Christopher Nolan and Pacino in the lead. Like other films have done so successfully before them, they make the location a central element to the story’s atmosphere: in this case Pacino’s character is prevented from sleeping due to the month of daylight the town is experiencing at that time. Thus, as he attempts to simultaneously deal with his feelings of guilt yet stay one step ahead of the local police and the killer who soon begins blackmailing him, we see him becoming increasingly distraught and unwound. This is a terrific performance from Pacino and one that harks back to his earlier days when scripts of this caliber were the norm as opposed to the exception.
Nolan, Thriller, 2002

68.4

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Ali
It seemed like a big departure from most of his recent work but Mann delivers the goods with this biopic of the great fighter. Focusing more on the personal events in Ali’s life from the time he broke into the scene to the end of his relationship with Malcolm X, Mann successfully brings his slick visual style to the film and crafts a compelling drama. The fight sequences are few but also very memorable thanks to Mann’s unusual focus throughout – this is seen particularly in that key first fight with Sonny Liston. The acting on all fronts is tremendous with Will Smith doing surprisingly well in both his imitation of the pugilist and dramatic acting. Overall, Ali is a triumph which Mann fans and Ali fans alike should respond positively to.
Mann, Biography, 2001

68.3

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The Hunter
Independent cinema is to be praised for much but one thing in particular is producing though piece films like this which for the most part balance somber reflection with tense, disciplined, and well conceived action. Willem Dafoe stars as a mercenary hired to travel to the Tasmanian wilderness and track and obtain samples from a Tasmanian Tiger. Though this species is thought to be extinct, recent reports suggest one might still be alive. The only problem is he may not be the only one looking for the valuable animal and after walking into the middle of a dispute between loggers and environmentalists, he is immediately mistaken as one of the latter by the financially threatened loggers. The premise sounds bizarre but through timely moments of exposition, it’s made more plausible and quite gripping. The Hunter is the type of film we just don’t see that often. Hollywood wouldn’t fund it in a fit and independent cinema is littered with lofty yet failed attempts to inject art house ideals with the adrenaline of the action thriller. There are many things which allow this one to work, primary among which are its intelligent character development, acting, and direction. The mystery behind Dafoe’s steely hunter is preserved through the entire film. Whereas Hollywood action films would be bursting to tell us how he’s the guy brought into train the best of the best of the best, writers Alice Addison and Wain Fimeri (adapting Julia Leigh’s novel) are content to give only wispy strands of background information. His psychological makeup and personality is revealed to us only through his actions and since many of these occur when he’s on his own deep in the wilds, much is left to infer. That enigmatic quality tantalises the audience and its integrity gives the film a strong backbone. This is crucial because the film would be otherwise dominated by its heavy spiritual tone and the audience would be left with little to hang their hats on (the crippling blow to many an art house feature). Though the character development is inspired, it would mean little if Dafoe didn’t endeavor to gain a deep understanding of who his hunter is and remain that person til the end. He did and he does. Dafoe is stunning in this. Avoiding every action-man cliche in the book while shaping a unique personality (how often have we come across a mercenary hunting an extinct animal in Tasmania) isn’t easy because you must start from square one. But Dafoe pulls it off and the result is the attribution of real traits, habits, contradictions, and motivations to a highly atypical character. His most interesting qualities are exposed through his interactions with two children and their mother played well by Frances O’Connor. As the hippy family of a missing environmental activist, they represent a not altogether convincing subplot to the story but they do provide an emotional platform for Dafoe’s character to grow. Morgana Davies as the young girl provides a cheerful presence to the otherwise gloomy film and a fine bit of acting too. Sam Neil’s equally mysterious local guide who seems to have a finger in everyone’s pie, pops in and out to maintain a level of tension and, through well placed squints and cautious glances, he does it well. Director Daniel Nettheim shoots the film with a bleak gracefulness, a style which intuitively complements the physical and emotional terrain the hunter is navigating. Robert Humphreys’ cinematography is stunning in an uncommonly understated fashion as the wilderness action is repeatedly backdropped against overcast rain-soaked skies. Dafoe’s canniness and dangerousness are revealed in only a few brief sequences but that only adds to his heroic allure. The Hunter revels in the blurred lines of the real world. Hunters are prey, killers are saviours, allies are foes, and all motives like the skyline are grey. However, as admirable as this is, the philosophy is applied to rigidly and the third act is left crying out for some clear plot development. Unfortunately, we don’t get it and the inferences that made those first two acts so captivating are forced to continue giving us a palpable lack of closure. That said, The Hunter stands apart from most films and best of all, it’s adorned by a truly intriguing central character and accompanying performance.
Nettheim, Thriller, 2012

68.3

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Clockers
Clockers is a fresh and stylishly shot film about a drug pusher and the hierarchy he operates within partly by his own choice and partly because of the influence and fear the gangster he works for holds over him. Mekhi Pfifer plays “Strike”, a conflicted character whose no push over but still suffers (both physically and mentally) from the anxiety that comes with the way of life he has chosen. Delroy Lindo is the dangerous and uncompromising criminal he works for who charges him with the murder of a local rival pusher. Whether Strike obeyed these orders is unclear even after that pusher shows up dead the next day and veteran cop Harvey Keitel is determined to find out one way or another. Clockers is a complicated and multi-threaded story that is very different from much of what we’ve seen before in this genre. Richard Price co-adapted his own novel along with director Spike Lee and was more interested in the inner consequences of Strike’s way of life than the outer ones. Lee brings his signature style to the proceedings and so infuses what could otherwise be a slow moving story with a slick and dangerous coolness. The acting is first rate with the three leads each impressing in very different ways. John Turturro and the always watchable Keith David offer weighty support.
Lee, S, Crime, 1995

68.3

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Heist
David Mamet’s film work is somewhat of an acquired taste as he often writes in a manner more typical of the stage. Heist, being the strongest reflection of that writing in his filmography, therefore, might come across as a little self-indulgent but once you get used to it it becomes quite lyrical. The story (a master thief – Gene Hackman- forced to take one last job) is not new but how he gets there is. The heists are clever and there are enough twists and turns to keep you guessing to the end. There’s some terrific support provided by Rebecca Pidgeon as Hackman’s wife, Delroy Lindo as his partner, Danny DeVito as the gangster they work for, and Sam Rockwell as his shady nephew.
Mamet, Crime, 2001

68.3

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Panic Room
This dark and moody thriller sees mother and daughter (Jodie Foster & Kristin Stewart respectively) engaging in a battle of wits with three home invaders from the dubious safety of their panic room. As he demonstrated in Seven, Fincher is a master of atmosphere and suspense and he hones that talent to a fine point here as the relentless tension keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout.
Fincher, Thriller, 2002

68.2

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Presumed Innocent
One of the very best courtroom dramas of the 1980/90′s, this film is populated with some of that era’s best scene stealers and Harrison Ford in one of his best performances as a prosecutor on trial for the murder of a colleague. Pakula allows the drama to unfold at a steady pace moving it forward by interlacing the murder investigation with a series of conservative flashbacks that successfully tell the back story without overly intruding on the present. Brian Dennehy, John Spencer, Paul Winfield, and Bonnie Bedelia are all on hand to offer great support. However, great as the aforementioned are it’s the arch scene stealer, the late great Raul Julia, as the suave and erudite defence attorney who gives this film its defining touch of class.
Pakula, Mystery, 1990

68.2

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The Man From Earth
This low budget, low tech science fiction drama is built around an interesting premise: a close friend tells a group of friends, learned academics all, that he has been alive for 18,000 years. The film unfolds in real time as the friends quiz him to decide whether he is mad or telling the truth. Despite its low production quality (e.g., poor lighting and sound) this film reels you in and keeps a hold of you for the best part of 90 mins. However, in taking the mored ifficult route and basing the premise on the trust of friends rather than some climactic demonstration of proof it feels as though the writer (Bixby) and director (Shenkman) never figured out how to end this fascinating tale and so it seems to fizzle out in the closing scenes. Well worth a watch for sci-fi fans with a taste for something different (shouldn’t that be all sci-fifans then?).
Schenkman, Sci-Fi, 2007

68.2

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Savior
There’s no two ways about it, this film grabs a hold of you. In a story about an American military agent who after his family are killed in a terrorist attack turns into a rabid anti-muslim and enlists in the Muslim-Serbian war on the Serbian side, the writers were always going to have to take risks in the depicting the main character’s darker actions. Whether it attempts to justify or even forgive some of those actions early on is difficult to tell but given that the audience have to throw in with that character for the entire film it perhaps becomes less important. Either way once that pretext is got out of the way, the story of redemption kicks in wherein he attempts to shepherd a young Serb mother and her newborn to safety across a country that has descended into murderous madness. Dennis Quaid is exceptionally good in the lead role as he has to carry most of the film on his own with little extended dialogue with the other characters. There’s not much action because this is a more pensive war film and it pays off as it allows you to engage with Quaid’s character all the more. In fact this film is all about the emotional pay off. No cloying soppiness, just proper direction and Quaid putting the most delicate of touches on an all-round smashing performance.
Antonijevic, War, 1998

67.9

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Jagged Edge
Classy thriller in which Glenn Close plays an attorney charged with defending a charming newspaper editor (Jeff Bridges) on trial for the murder of his wealthy wife. This is a good solid traditional thriller the type of which defined 80’s mainstream cinema. Close was reaching the height of her popularity and she carries the film with ease. Bridges is as excellent as ever while the always steady Robert Loggia and Peter Coyote are on hand to provide some decent support. Director Marquand (him that was behind Return of the Jedi) finds just the right balance between the tension and romance. If you’re in the mood for some entertaining courtroom drama you could do a lot worse.
Marquand, Thriller, 1985

67.9

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The Wedding Singer
Down and out and recently left at the altar 1980’s wedding singer, Adam Sandler, befriends a sweet co-worker in the form of Drew Barrymore as she herself prepares for her wedding. Naturally, a guilty love blossoms as the jilted crooner attempts to pick up his life and nab the girl from her ridiculous Miami Vice obsessed fiancé. This one largely comes down to its two stars. The low key self-deprecating humour of Sandler’s character seems to suit his screen presence better than most of his roles and he very much drives the comedy from every angle with boyish charm and bone-dry delivery. Barrymore too is perfectly cast as the girl of his dreams, in who’s mouth, butter wouldn’t melt and the chemistry between the two leads is palpable. The 80’s gags are gentle but for the most part will bring a smirk to your face, there are a few hilarious musical contributions from Sandler, and the soundtrack nails the era with affectionate humour.
Coraci, Comedy, 1998

67.8

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Predator 2
Following up on an action classic is never an easy task but Stephen Hopkins and Danny Glover do more than a decent job. The setting is LA sometime in the not too distant future (for 1990!) when the city is run by two competing drug cartels and the cops are struggling to keep up. Into this carnage steps the eponymous alien who continues its trophy collecting until it gets the attention of tough cop Glover – or until he gets its attention. Glover excels in the role and gives us a different type of action hero than we normally see. His tall bulky frame provides all the physical presence he needs but he complements it nicely with a varied personality that is at times both hostile and quite genial. There are a number of always enjoyable support players on show from Bill Paxton’s smart talking detective (making this a hat trick of classic sci-fi nasties he’s faced) to Gary Busey’s military scientist. The action does not come close to that of McTiernan’s gem but it’s still ahead of your typical Hollywood actioneer. The Predator visual effects are really impressive but unfortunately they don’t pay much attention to the way it sounds which was a key strength of the first film. The last half hour is pure action and there’s some decent humour thrown in to good effect such as the old lady attempting to fend off the Predator with her broom. In the main, Predator 2 is a worthy addition to the franchise that gives us everything we want from the action sci-fi genre.
Hopkins, Sci-Fi, 1990

67.8

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Dark Passage
Escaped prisoner, Vincent Parry (Humphrey Bogart), maintains he has been wrongly convicted of killing his wife and finds shelter with a woman (Lauren Bacall) who has taken a peculiar interest in his case. To stay hidden he pays a backstreet doctor to surgically alter his face but, nonetheless, various unsavoury characters begin to suspect who he really is. Bogie and Bacall paired up for four films-noir and three of those (To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, and Key Largo) ended up being among the most celebrated and respected movies of the genre. Dark Passage was their third outing of the four and it’s the runt of the litter given a lack of directorial punch in the latter scenes and a slack script overall. Delmer Daves opens the film with an interesting use of a handheld camera which he uses to simulate the first person perspective of Bogart’s Parry (strong echoes of The Lady in the Lake here). He persists with this until Parry gets the facelift (at which point it shifts to traditional perspective) but it still works rather effectively. Daves also presents us with a reasonably sophisticated looking film that utilises the noir friendly ambience of San Francisco and complements it with some beautifully lit interior and exterior shots. But as the story progresses, he allows much of the tension to spill. As such, the second-third act transition labours forward. This isn’t helped by his adapted screenplay (of David Goodis’ novel) which consistently fails to generate the romantic tension necessary to drive the plot nor (not to mention) make Bacall and Bogart sizzle. The dialogue has its moments but, for the most part, it runs off a little flat compared to the aforementioned classics. It just lacks the snap that defined the interchanges between Slim and Harry or Vivian and Marlowe. The two leads do attempt to compensate for this and their natural screen presence both alone and together helps substantially in this regard. While weak in plot at certain points, the story plays out in a manner that fans of The Shawshank Redemption will find very familiar and appreciate but yet again it lacks the layers that defined the classic noirs, especially those that were usually built around the class of Bogie and Bacall. It’s that class that ultimately makes Dark Passage a worthy watch but one is left wondering what a tighter script and more polished direction would have produced.
Daves, Film-Noir, 1947

67.8

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Adventureland
Quietly endearing comedy set in the 1980’s about a grad student (Jesse Eisenberg) who takes a summer job at the local amusement park to pay for his tuition. Nothing about this film is in your face and that’s exactly what’s so refreshing about it. The comedy, the romance, the drama all unfold naturally giving the audience a legitimate sense that we’re following Eisenberg’s character throughout his summer. Even the retro setting seems incidental. Any other film set in the 80’s would be hitting you over the head with references to the era but in this film it’s just part of the background. If anything this approach actually heightens the nostalgia, the drama, and the comedy leaving us with a film that’s very easy to like. Eisenberg is terrific as usual and in playing yet another geeky college kid it’s a testament to his acting ability that he gives this character a distinctly different personality to all the others.
Mottolla, Comedy, 2009

67.8

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So I Married an Axe Murderer
Mike Myers unique comedic style turns a decent idea into a delightfully quirky comedy about Charlie, a man who finds fault with every woman he dates until he meets Harriet. Harriet is everything he wanted in a woman with the slight exception that she may or may not be an axe murderer. Like many great comedies, the real fun here is to be found between the lines in the way the various characters play off each other and particularly in how Myers’ extraordinary talent for improvisation dominates the tone and feel of the movie. Travis is spot on as the secretive yet charming Harriet, Anthony LaPaglia is terrific as Charlie’s well-meaning best friend, and Brenda Fricker is a hoot as his forward mother. There are a host of great comedy names all combining wonderfully with the lead players in hilarious and well thought-out cameos (best of which must be Steven Wright’s stoned pilot). Though Myers ultimately steals the show, it’s not by playing Charlie but rather his Scottish father, the Bay City Rollers/Celtic fanatic who spends his days shouting obscenities at his large-headed younger son. Priceless.
Schlamme, Comedy, 1993

67.8

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Memoires of an Invisible Man
Probably the least John Carpenter-like John Carpenter film, Memoires of an Invisible Man is a highly enjoyable re-telling of an old fable. Chevy Chase stars as a slightly world-weary executive who nips out of a boring science seminar into an adjoining office to sleep off a hangover. Unfortunately, whilst sleeping the building is evacuated when a physics experiment goes haywire rendering him and the building invisible. It’s not long before nasty government agent, Sam Neill and his band of specialists find out about him and set about capturing him for their own nefarious purposes. Memoires is a witty and easy going movie that explores the concept of invisibility in some neat and memorable little ways. Chase narrates us through the film in an old-fashioned 50’s noir style that is both eminently comfortable and amusing. His dry wit is still very much present but he appropriately plays the role at a more sedate level to tie in with his character’s increasing disillusionment with life and feelings of anonymity that predate his accident. Daryl Hannah is great as his love-interest and the two of them do the invisibility thing very well even when the audience is allowed to see Chase. Sam Neil is a terrific baddie and the always funny Michael McKean is on hand for some support in the light comedy department. A last word should go to Carpenter who shows that he is as comfortable with the more mainstream action comedy genre as he is within his preferred sub-genres. He allows this one to play just right and like most of his catalogue, Memoires has been shamefully underrated over the years.
Carpenter, Comedy, 1992

67.8

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The Cassandra Crossing
Terrific old school disaster movie about the attempts to contain a carrier of the pneumonic plague on board a Swiss train bound for Scandinavia. Richard Harris top-lines as a famous doctor trapped on board the train who together with his ex-wife (played by Sofia Loren) take control of the situation until such time that the military show up with an altogether more extreme solution to the potential epidemic. This is really a nice little film from an era which specialised in such movies. There is an interesting array of characters all of whom are nicely rounded and the action on the train is well juxtaposed with the colder more clinical efforts of the commanding colonel (Burt Lancaster) as he attempts to contain the situation from an office in Geneva. Harris, Loren, and Lancaster are in fine form and Martin Sheen offers his usual presence in support. Cosmotos handles it all well and shows some genuine clever touches such as giving the eponymous bridge an ominous character of its own.
Cosmatos, Disaster, 1976

67.8

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Scream
The only one of Wes Craven’s Scream trilogy that’s worth a look is this first instalment. It has all the fun of the best self-referential/postmodern genre with plenty of catchy lines and watchable characters to boot. Neve Campbell plays the would-be victim of a knife-wielding masked stalker that has been picking off her classmates one by one. She’s plenty tough for the role in a convincingly feminine way and she is surrounded by some of the era’s quirkiest young actors (e.g., Rose McGowan, Mathew Lillard, Jamie Kennedy) that give the proceedings a very fresh and energised feel. The movie references come thick and fast but Craven plays with them well while still managing to maintain the shock and thrill factor of many of the movie techniques he’s lampooning.
Craven, Horror, 1996

67.8

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Risky Business
Terrific coming of age drama about a college bound teenager who figures out a quick way to make a buck while his parents are away. Cue prostitution, crazy pimps, and car chases in his father’s Porsche. This had the potential to become a zany comedy more in the mode of the later Ferris Bueller but it’s to director Paul Brickman’s credit that it plays out as a slightly less light-hearted and much more contemplative piece. As with most films they’re involved with Tangerine Dream’s score becomes a dominant force in setting the tone and pace of the film. More than anyone TD give their films a dreamlike feel and this is nevermore pronounced than in this film as they carry the viewer seamlessly from one scene to the next. Tom Cruise was perfectly cast in the lead role and it remains one of his strongest roles to this day. De Mornay is equally good as the call girl with all the answers while Joe Pantaliano is in his usual scene stealing form.
Brickman, Comedy, 1983

67.8

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Transformers
Terrific adaptation of the popular cartoon that, like all the great blockbusters, works not as much due to its special effects but due to a smart script, good actors, and great chemistry between the leads particularly between Shia LaBeouf, Kevin Dunn, and Julie White as Sam and his parents. The special effects that bring the Transformers to life are marvellous so long as the robots aren’t moving too much. As soon as they start fighting, Bay employs the old ‘tight-shot’ trick that makes it difficult for the audience to see what’s going on (with the exception of the underpass scene which is fantastic). Check out that desert battle sequence culminating in the ariel shot of a heavy bomber blasting the crap out of the enemy site. It’s fairly spectacular.
Bay, Sci-Fi, 2007

67.8

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Village of the Damned
Ok, so it’s not as good as the original, it has some seriously laughable creature effects, and it kind of looks like a TV movie, but John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned has much going for it that makes it an interesting and often enjoyable watch. Firstly, the slow, tempered style that defines all of Carpenter’s movies is there in spades, and as such, shocks never come when you expect them. This keeps you on edge throughout, and when the shocks do come, they’re paired with those piercing sounds that Carpenter has always used so well and you get that great startle response every time. Carpenter has always been the undisputed master at evoking said response and for that reason alone, VotD is good value. It also gives us one of Carpenter’s best scores (co-written with Dave Davies) and combined with that final shot it gives us a classic Carpenter ending reminiscent of The Thing. The casting is fascinating given that we have three of the most type-cast actors in the business (Christopher Reeve, Kirstie Alley, and Mark Hamill) all holding major parts and all eschewing any residue of those career-defining roles. Such a feat is not only a testament to the acting ability of said actors but also to the way in which Carpenter introduces and continues to use their characters throughout the picture. John Wyndham’s story is given time to breath (with a few leaps here and there) and the children often (but not always) reach the levels of creepiness experienced with the first film. Of course, the production values aren’t amazing but that is where a maverick like Carpenter found himself if he wanted to make films his own way. Once accepted, VotD is a fun movie and if nothing else a chance to visit the John Carpenter dimension one more time where everything is just a little off-kilter.
Carpenter, Horror, 1995

67.7

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HouseSitter
Another charming little comedy from Frank Oz has Steve Martin playing an architect who enters into a fictitious marriage with pathological liar Goldie Hawn in order to convince his ex-girlfriend to get back with him (or something). The film is very easy to watch and it will keep you chuckling throughout. As is the case with most Steve Martin films from that era, it is elevated by Martin’s utterly superb comic timing. Two scenes in particular will have you howling. One involves a fireplace and the other a ridiculously funny rendition of Tura Lura Lural.
Oz, Comedy, 1992

67.7

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Night Shift
Henry Winkler and Michael Keaton make a great comedy duo in this goofy comedy about two morgue night attendants who decide to run a pimping operation from their deserted offices during the small hours. Winkler continues his attempt to eschew his Fonz persona (and does quite well) as the reserved and timid Chuck who is intimidated by everyone including his fiancé. That is until he meets Bill (Keaton) a free spirit with lots of harebrained ideas and Belinda (Shelly Long) as the plucky working girl next door, who together get Chuck involved in a lucrative but dangerous business of prostitution. Cue wild morgue parties, fights with rival pimps, and other such mayhem. The most important thing is that it all works wonderfully. Ron Howard’s direction captures the spirit of Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel’s witty script well and the various characters are all fleshed out in interesting ways. The chemistry between the three leads is spot on and each of them adds substantially to the humour levels. Not surprisingly Keaton leads the charge in this respect as the lovable doofis but this is a team effort from start to finish.
Howard, Comedy, 1982

67.7

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49th Parallel
Ahh, WWII propaganda films! There’s nothing like them. The partly humorous/partly earnest manner in which the Germans and their “confused” ideologies are dismissed with a moral lesson or two and then a swift kick up the arse by a self-proclaimed champion (or champions) of the free world. Michael Powell’s 49th parallel counts as one of the more romping and expansive given it follows the trials and tribulations of six U-boat sailors who are left stranded on the north east Canadian coast and have to work their way across the country in an attempt to secure passage to the then neutral USA. Eric Portman is the Hitler cheering, model A nazi who follows the teaching of Mein Kampf to the letter and has nothing but contempt for what he sees as decadent western customs and attitudes. His rabble consists of a couple more true believers and some working men soldiers who find much to admire in the ways of the various settlements they encounter. Each encounter provides the pretext to consider the moral, political, geographical, and economic implications of the war from the Canadian’s perspective and, for this reason alone, it’s quite original amongst these types of films.
Powell, Thriller, 1941

67.6

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Outbreak
Wolfgang Peterson’s star-studded thriller proves yet another mainstream success for 1990’s cinema as Dustin Hoffman’s USAMRID Colonel attempts to stay ahead of a lethal virus which is laying waste to a small California town. With former wife and CDC big-wig (Rene Russo) in tow alongside his own team (an Oscar-laden Kevin Spacey and Cuba Gooding Jr.), they go about town disobeying orders from their shadowy superiors, breaking quarantine, and any number of other drastic measures in the hope of manufacturing an antibody before Donald Sutherland’s nasty General destroys the whole town – simply to keep the virus for his own biological weapons programme! It’s a sweeping popcorn movie expertly crafted to draw every bit of tension out of an old plot and infused with all manner of personality, chemistry, and light humour by that glittering cast. Hoffman, in particular, seems to be enjoying himself no end while Russo shows yet again that she can not only hold her own next to any A-Lister in the business but enhance both of their performances with that endearing rapport she seems to so easily generate.
Peterson, Thriller, 1995

67.6

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Sherlock Holmes
Very entertaining adaptation of the old Conan Doyle classic has Holmes and Watson (played with wonderful chemistry by Downey Jr. and Law respectively) attempting to solve an apparently supernatural case involving cults, the houses of parliament,and an old adversary who has returned from the grave. Running just under two hours long, the film can drag but for the most part that is adverted due to Ritchie’s stylish return-to-form direction and the performances of the two leads.
Ritchie, G, Action, 2009

67.6

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Crossfire
”Hating…can end up killing people who wear striped neckties”. A standard enough murder plot involving three off-duty soldiers is elevated due to some prescient social analysis and even a forewarning of where the anti- communist witch hunts (still in their infancy) were heading. Robert Young plays the insightful detective, Robert Mitchum the good-hearted sergeant, and Robert Ryan the surly soldier who may or may not have something to do with the murder. Dmytryk shot the film in a film noir style for convenience and in truth that’s where its connection to the genre ends. The plot is much more basic than your typical noir and the characters nowhere near as ambiguous. That said, the film remains one of the clearest explanations of hate and bigotry and is worth watching for that alone. As an interesting side note, this is the film that supposedly drew the attention of the House of Unamerican Activities towards liberal Hollywood.
Dmytryk, Film-Noir, 1947

67.6

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Clash of the Titans
As is the case with the vast majority of remakes, the original is by far the better film. In this case it wouldn’t be difficult because the remake is so poor but there are also plenty of good things about the original Clash of the Titans. If you’ve seen it when you were younger then you’ve got the nostalgia factor but even if you haven’t, you’ll appreciate the more cohesive story line as well as the craft and ingenuity that went into making the nasty creatures on show so scary (Davis’ use of shadows and sound during the Medusa and three witches scenes are particular standouts). There are quite a few moments where the creature effects come across as dated but for the most part this film still stands up as an epic Greek mythology movie.
Davis, Fantasy, 1981

67.5

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The Firm
Star studded legal thriller with a still fresh faced Tom Cruise as the brash young attorney whose dream job at a Memphis law firm turns into a nightmare when he discovers they’re a front for the Mafia. Throw in a meddling FBI and a largely unseen Chicago mobster and the scene is set for some old school thrills and a nice spot of running for the always eager Cruiser. As usual for a John Grisham adaptation, an array of cracking characters lie at the base to this movie played by no one but the cream. Hal Holbrook, Holly Hunter, Wildord Brimely, David Strathairn, Ed Harris, Gary Busey, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and Paul Sorvino are all in top form while Cruise puts in a strong shift as he was, at the time, just emerging from the shadow of his late 80’s “pretty face” status. However, it’s Gene Hackman as Cruise’s incorrigible yet charming mentor who steals the show. The movie comes alive the moment he shows up and he adds much needed droll to the otherwise stiff suited side to the movie.
Pollack, Thriller, 1993

67.5

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The Amityville Horror
A family’s new home becomes not just the setting but the cause of their physical, emotional, and psychological unravelling as the father shows signs of repeating the murderous activities of the house’s previous occupier. Though not operating in the rarified air of The Exorcist, this one remains a refreshing example of how to tell a standard possession tale in the absence of Friedkin’s visionary talent. What distinguishes Stuart Rosenberg’s movie from the mire of recent possession stories (including the tedious remake of this movie) is the patience it takes in the buildup and the manner in which it pays more than just lip service to the normal family dynamic at the centre of the spiritual corruption. It’s not rocket science, it’s simply old school film making or, in other words, paying attention to the fundamentals. Yes, the scares are familiar and the plot formulaic (though in 1979, this was more forgivable) but the fresh faced nativity of the protagonists (and in this regard James Brolin and Margot Kidder don’t put a foot wrong as the husband and wife), their dialogue, their actions, and fear gives the film a resonating factor.
Rosenberg, Horror, 1979

67.5

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Dreamscape
There have been many attempts to get the dreamscape scenario right in film and television (including some much vaunted and ridiculously overhyped recent efforts) but this obscure little sci-fi thriller from the 80’s has probably come the closest. Dennis Quaid is a charming young psychic who has left a life of experimentation where he played guinea pig to a group of curious scientists to instead use his abilities to make a quick buck. Convinced to return to the program to help out with a government funded project involving “dreamwalking”, he finds himself tied up in a national conspiracy involving psychopaths and sinister CIA operatives. Despite its relatively flat dialogue, the characters and the actors who play them along with some perceptive direction raises Dreamscape above most of the low-budget sci-fi thrillers of its time. Quaid is a great lead and full of his usual charm and personality while David Patrick Kelly is deliciously creepy as the villain. Kate Capshaw is a vibrant co-star while Max Von Sydow and Christopher Plummer add some welcome gravitas to the lineup. Furthermore, director Joseph Ruben ensures the dreams are caught in a wonderfully hazy style that mimics the randomness of the genuine phenomenon (far from the slick contained and utterly unrealistic dreamscapes of Inception). Better still, the more nightmarish scenarios are really quite terrifying reinforced by some nasty incarnations of fear and Kelly’s cleverly written and nicely played character. Moreover, rather than some clumsy notion of dream purgatory, the jeopardy within the dreams is realised much more directly as it becomes the fear itself. Of course, they do also fall back on the life-death reality-dream conflation but even here they work it into the plot centrally so that it seems more reasonable than it has in the countless Star Trek and Inception like attempts where it was always an indirect possibility that was tacked on to compensate for a distinct lack of drama that their pretext for dreamscaping produced in the first place (i.e., helping a colleague overcome a deeply rooted and life threatening conflict and spying on the dreamers’ innermost secrets). Ultimately, the best thing you can say about this one is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It just sets out to be a good thriller and doesn’t get caught up in deluded notions of cleverness. After all, dreamscape scenarios are themselves always teetering on the comic book end of the sci-fi spectrum and don’t suffer earnestness too well.
Ruben, Sci-Fi, 1984

67.5

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Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
As original a spin on the Santa Claus fairytale as you can get, Rare Exports is a wild and crazy Finish movie where a bunch of miners find the real Santa trapped in a block of ice. Soon kids start disappearing & the local inhabitants discover that Santa is far from the jolly old St Nick legend and more a demonic punisher of bad children. However, after catching one of his creepy elves, one of the children and his father attempt to stop this evil Kris Kringle. Rare Exports has a great premise and the first 45 minutes are fascinating as we attempt to figure our what’s going on while continually suppressing our expectations. The pacing of the first two acts is wonderful as is the photograph and, in particular, the editing. Unfortunately, they kind of run out ideas in the last act and save for its deliciously quirky close, it fails to live up to its early promise. It’s still worth a watch though if only to appreciate the ambition of the whole thing but be warned – this one ain’t for the kids!
Helander, Horror, 2010

67.5

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Pacific Rim
Guillermo del Toro’s big budget adaptation of the successful comic book series essentially tells the story of giant man made robots defending the earth against giant inter-dimensional monsters. Picking up seven years into the war and then quickly jumping another five years, much of the backstory is narrated or told in flashback or glimpses of news footage. This would make sense if the writers had one hell of a plot in mind for the climax of this war but alas, they really hadn’t. Charlie Hunnam stars as a hot shot pilot who is brought out of ignoble retirement to help former commanding officer Idris Elba destroy the inter dimensional tunnel and end the increasingly savage “Kaiju” attacks once and for all. As you’d expect from the man and team behind the stunning Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim looks incredible and while its monsters don’t reach the imaginative heights of the aforementioned classic, its robots or “Jaegers” are an example of what the Transformer movies should’ve offered. Most importantly, they look man made and not computer generated. The action set pieces are impressive in energy and scope and often breathless producing some of the most cracking monster battles we’ve seen on screen. On top of that, the futuristic production design that brings Hong Kong to bustling life is spectacular and with strong influences from the likes of Blade Runner, it’s among the best the genre has offered up in some time. So far, so good but amid these bonanza set pieces and visuals lies a problem. Like the action, the story seems to progress at lightning speed as characters are whisked in and out of frame rattling out techno centric dialogue that we can barely keep up with as they go. With so much frenzied action you can’t afford a manic collision of plot and subplot but that’s exactly what you get here. There’s a burning originality to the whole thing but not enough focus and control. Yes, there’s an anarchic comedy to the strand involving the two mad scientists and Ron Pearlman’s typically colourful black-marketeer that almost excuses it as a zany action comedy but the overall level of earnestness to the story precludes that. The direction remains slick and composed during these dramatic interludes but del Toro definitely needed to hit the brakes every now and then so that we could savour the action scenes when they come along. Instead, they’re on top of us before we know it and there’s nowhere we can catch a breath. Within this whirlwind of action, the cast have little to do but Elba is at least watchable while Hunnam is fine. It’s not the most intellectually stimulating of del Toro’s films but Pacific Rim serves up a stomping feast of action for fans of the genre and anyone who’s in the mood for two hours of non-stop monster carnage.
del Toro, Sci-Fi, 2013

67.4

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Sunshine
A team of astronaut scientists on board a unique spaceship are charged with carrying a gigantic nuclear bomb to the heart of the fading sun so as to replenish its energy. But as they make their final approach, one disaster after another places a severe test on the crew and their fragile partnerships. Danny Boyle’s high concept sci-fi was much touted on release and it certainly sets its stall out as an intriguing genre piece. In the early exchanges, intense personalities are introduced and complex relationships are alluded to and all the while the film looks a treat. However, problems surface relatively soon into the second act as Boyle rushes into the action in favour of a slow build up. If you freeze frame any part of this non-stop rollercoaster, you’re likely to see rich set design and highly complementary visual effects. However, when watched in real time, the frenetic editing ensures too many of these lovely shots remain on screen for no longer than a fraction of a second. Within this sensory carnage, any semblance of narrative is flushed out as one disaster after another besets the mission. And with Boyle’s signature penchant for quick cuts and sharp angles, the mayhem is amplified to fatiguing levels. Thus, as is so often the case with Boyle’s work (sometimes for better, sometimes for worse – this time for worse), experience takes precedence over story. Luckily, most of the noteworthy cast are given just enough room to make their personalities count. Cillian Murphy and Chris Evans add edge and soulfulness respectively while Michelle Yeoh reminds us why Hollywood should’ve made more of her post Crouching Tiger bankability. In the end though, this film is a little too much about its director. There are plenty of well crafted set pieces and John Murphy’s score exhilarates like few other sci-fi scores can, but one can’t help feeling like Boyle and company left something behind here.
Boyle, Sci-Fi, 2007

67.4

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The 6th Day
The 6th Day is a tidy and modest attempt to embrace the qualities of the science fiction action blockbusters of late 80’s/early 90’s. Like many of those those films, it’s set in the near future and plays on seemingly plausible but morally ambiguous advancements in contemporary biotechnology. In the case of The 6th Day, that advancement is cloning and its technical facilitation and sociocultural and moral implications are handled in a creepy yet still light-hearted manner. In this future, cloning of animals including pets (by a company called “RePet” – laughs are encouraged) has become commonplace but human cloning on the other hand has been outlawed due to some disastrous early attempts and the moral quagmire an issue like that dredges. On top of the well handled premise, The 6th Day has got the undisputed king of the 80’s sci-fi Arnold Schwarzenegger in the lead role and more than one Arnie at that! Throw in a top actor like Robert Duvall and give him a generous subplot through which the central themes to the film most clearly surface and one begins to wonder why this film suffered a mediocre financial and critical return. Arnie plays a helicopter pilot who ferries rich executives and party goers back and forth from the nearby mountain ski slopes. When a rich biotech exec is assassinated on one of these trips, a series of misunderstandings results in a cloned duplicate of Arnie being let loose on the world. It might sound daft but to say any more would give away one of the more interesting aspects to the story. But fret not, because it all adds up to a relatively neat basis for some futuristic action as not before long Arnie and Arnie set about trying to figure out what’s going on and then rectifying the mistake. The set up to The 6th Day is quite skilfully crafted by Roger Spottiswoode as he allows the central characters plenty of time to tour the audience through their futuristic world. The cloning issue is introduced humorously with the subject of “repetting” taking prominence in the early exchanges and in its own way preparing the ground for the more weighty human related questions which arise later. Thus, the character dynamics and philosophical quandaries that pop up during these early stages are playfully realised, more than likely in an attempt to balance them with the unrealistic physical action a Schwarzenegger vehicle demands. Unfortunately, it’s the action element that lets the film down as its really quite pedestrian and uninspired compared to the films that made Arnie famous. Arnie’s character/s are also a little undercooked and as the movie progresses the subplots tend to take over the film. Given one of them involves Duvall that’s not the worst thing but it’s just not what one would expect from this type of film. The 6th Day is still worth a look for fans of the genre or those who like to chew on some interesting concepts while firmly remaining in popcorn mode. However, given the flatness of the action, it’s clear that this was the beginning of the soon to be Governator’s slide from all out action hero-status to something more tame. For those of us who grew up on his movies, that offers a whole other level of reflection.
Spottiswoode, Sci-Fi, 2000

67.4

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Time Table
This modest little noir begins in supremely engaging fashion and with no small amount of flair behind the camera. When a passenger takes ill on a train, another passenger who happens to be a doctor is called to the patient’s cabin. What unfolds (no spoilers proffered) is an audacious caper pulled off as precisely as it is shot. It’s a riveting beginning made even better by Wesley Addy and his trademark panache and when the thieves disappear all we are left with are an insurance investigator, a determined railroad detective and a few scant clues. But the twists and turns aren’t nearly done and for the next 30 minutes, Time Table edges forward in a controlled but tantalising manner. Director Mark Stevens takes the lead himself as the inwardly turbulent insurance investigator and King Calder as the railroad cop fills the gaps in conversation which his surly counterpart necessarily leaves. Marianne Stewart as the insurance man’s wife and Felicia Farr as the complicit temptress are given less to do in these early exchanges but with the promise that both their intertwining subplots will be fleshed out later on. Unfortunately this promise isn’t kept and, thanks to some loose direction, Time Table runs out of momentum in the final act with a last artificially hard push required to energise the finale to the levels typically required. It’s a real shame too because this was heading into classic thriller territory but as it is, it’s strictly for genre fans. The latter will get a lot from the first 50 minutes or so and given the whole thing is only 79 minutes long, the rest is more than tolerable. Better yet, it’s public domain so the full film has been linked to below.
Stevens, Film-Noir, 1956

67.4

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The Couch Trip
The late eighties was a great time for Hollywood comedies, as there was a sense of ease and good fun about them. This underappreciated gem is one such movie. It stars Dan Aykroyd as a small time fraudster who escapes his mental hospital, assumes the identity of his psychiatrist, and heads to LA to cover for a well known radio therapist. Along the way he picks up legitimate looney Walter Mathau and begins working his magic on the rich elite of L.A in particular the his new assistant Donna Dixon. Charles Grodin is a howl as the radio therapist recuperating in England from his mental breakdown while Richard Romanus and Ayre Gross are suitably slimey as his agents. Michael Ritchie (director of Fletch) plays this one just right allowing his cast plenty of room to find their characters’ level while still managing to zip the drama along. The gags are actually quite funny and some of the radio calls are classic. If you’re in the mood for some easy comedy, this will not disappoint.
Ritchie, M, Comedy, 1988

67.4

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Best Seller
John Flynn’s thriller about a psychopathic hit-man (played with typical gusto by James Woods) who asks a cop turned writer (the always excellent Brian Dennehy) to write a book exposing his life and the gangster he worked for would be little more than an above average 80’s thriller if it wasn’t for the terrific performances of the two leads and the steady, assured pacing of one of that era’s most underrated directors. On top of that, Flynn’s soft pallets and Jay Ferguson’s interesting score (reminiscent of Tangerine Dream at their height) give the film a quintessential 80’s vibe which adds a nostalgic quality to the movie for those who grew up in that decade.
Flynn, Thriller, 1987

67.3

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Contagion
Steven Soderbergh has recently announced his intention to retire from directing and given the rate at which he has been churning them out over the last few years, one can understand his desire to step back. The calibre of these films is also impressive with every one of them proving interesting in their own way. Contagion is certainly no exception as it’s a uniquely sleek take on the “outbreak” movie. It follows the outbreak of a lethal hybrid strain of the swine and bird flus from “patient 0” to the point of near apocalypse with specific focus on the attempts of the various scientists and experts to culture, sequence, and kill the virus. Contagion has many admirable qualities. Laurence Fishburn and Elliott Gould give standout performances as a government and private scientist respectively working on their own end of the problem. Kate Winslet is even better as Fisburn’s “person on the ground” while Matt Damon as the beleaguered husband of Gwenneth Paltrow’s “patient 0” is strong despite the movie’s overall problem with personal subplots (more on this below). The film is also full of striking imagery such as Jude Law’s subversive blogger wandering through the deserted streets tacking his propaganda flyers to walls and lamp posts while kitted out in an oxygen suit which evokes memories with Bruce Willis’ sample gathering expeditions in Twelve Monkeys. Contagion tries its best to show snippets of the wider “outbreak” story. That is, it covers both the technical and medical efforts to contain the virus and the personal trials of the average Joe Citizen. The problem is that Soderbergh’s quasi-documentarian direction and Scott Z. Burns’ (the Bourne Ultimatum) slick writing style are both excellent at capturing the former but not always great at the latter. A better balance was needed on this project to prevent the sharp procedural and dispassionate quality of the scientific investigative scenes carrying over into the subjective drama thereby neutralising it. Thus, despite a considerable amount of time looking at the changes and stresses to the domestic life of many of its protagonists, there’s a distinctly impersonal feel to the story. This is particularly the case with Damon’s subplot which is almost entirely emotionally framed. The film would be better served if they had of discarded the personal stuff and focused exclusively on the technical and bureaucratic drama which in truth the film needed more of. A second major issue concerns Law’s greedy blogger. Though there are some nice attempts to invert typical notions of conspiracy caricatures (including a nice nod to 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers), it’s not entirely clear exactly what Burns and Soderbergh were trying to do here. As such, this potentially fascinating subplot feels a little out of kilter with the rest of the film and only serves to distract from the extremely clear and even surgical focus of the main drama. Contagion is a laudable effort from a great director and top cast and it deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Fukasaku’s Virus and maybe even Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain. As it is, it will probably please most mature science fiction fans though it certainly feels like it tried to do too much and got caught between two stools. Thus, those with a broader interest in film appreciation will be frustrated by the missed opportunities.
Soderbergh, Thriller, 2011

67.3

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Superbad
Michael Cera and Jonah Hill play two best friends who before they part company and head off to different colleges go out for one wild night on the town. There’s nothing really new here but it all comes together wonderfully due to the superb chemistry between the various characters. Seth Rogan (co-writer) and Bill Hader provide great support as two slightly deranged, fun-lovin cops and Christopher Mintz-Plasse plays the now famous “McLovin” who they take under their wing. It’s all completely mad of course and there are a couple of flat moments humour-wise but for the most part Cera’s awkward flirtations and Hill’s clueless sex obsession will keep you laughing.
Mottola, Comedy, 2007

67.3

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The Rules of Attraction
Roger Avary’s adaptation of Brett Easton Ellis’ novel is a case of the borderline gratuitous times two. What makes the film worth watching is Avary’s genuine talent for finding the comedy in those most debasing moments of self-obsessed human depravity. It won’t be to everyone’s liking and there are times when this film goes over the line simply for the sake of doing so (such as in that appalling suicide scene) but it’s an interesting project in its own right in that it that shows the do’s and don’ts of filming in equal measure.
Avery, Comedy, 2002

67.2

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Under Fire
Above average war-drama from Roger Spottiswoode and starring Nick Nolte, Gene Hackman, and Joanna Cassidy as war correspondents who rush from one third world country to another in order to get the scoop on the latest skirmish between despot and the poor. Landing in Nicaragua in time to document the final days of the Somozoa regime, the three find themselves caught up in a love triangle, bombings, and the political machinations of spies and government officials alike. Not quite as subjective and daring a film as Missing or as cavalier a film as Salvador, Under Fire falls in between as a safer and more mainstream examination of the South American political climate of the 70’s/80’s. That said, it’s an interesting story with solid performances and some decent action thrown in to boot.
Spottiswoode, War, 1983

67.1

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Soylent Green
If you’re in the mood for one of those old style sci-fi’s where Charlton Heston runs around some dytopian future knocking eight bells out of nefarious bad guys then this will fit the bill nicely. It has dated considerably and the action is a little underwhelming but it does have an interesting premise about a future where food shortages have led the authorities to seek new and not quite transparent means of feeding the public. Heston is his usual charismatic self and there’s one hell of a twist at the end (if you’ve managed to avoid hearing about it).
Fleischer, Sci-Fi, 1973

67

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Lake Placid
There’s nothing new here. Something nasty lurks beneath the surface of a peaceful lake and a motley group of experts and law enforcement types are called in to investigate. What separates this one from the rest is its lighthearted approach and the decent cast of Bill Pullman, Brendan Gleeson, Oliver Platt, and (err!) Bridget Fonda who play off each other to often hilarious effect. Platt and Gleeson are particularly good together. Switch your brain off and enjoy the banter.
Miner, Horror, 1999

66.9

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The Sure Thing
Very 80’s, very nostalgic (even if you haven’t seen it before), and highly enjoyable comedy about a college freshman (John Cusack) who travels across the country to hook up with a ‘sure thing’ only to get stuck travelling with the girl who has most recently rebuked his advances (Daphne Zuniga). Some of the jokes are dated but for the most part the film still works. The chemistry between the two leads is excellent and Cusack, who was one of the kings of the 80’s teen comedy, owns the camera when it’s on him. Great support from Anthony Edwards and Cusack’s long-time buddy Tim Robbins.
Reiner, R, Comedy, 1985

66.8

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The Village
An isolated village of people, hiding from the cruelty of the towns and cities, share an uneasy truce with a species of carnivorous creatures living in the surrounding woods. When one of the young folk breaches the border, the creatures begin entering the village to seemingly offer a fresh warning. However, when that same man is injured, his fiancée decides to cross those same woods in the hope of reaching a town and bringing back medicine, an action that challenges the village elders’ reasons for their isolation in the first place. The Village is a deeply curious film that arguably defies its ultimate betrayal thanks to remarkably polished direction and a story that bears all the texture and resonance of a hardened mythology. First thing that needs to be said here is that M. Night Shyamalan initially concocts an elegant fairytale that comments on society and its traditions with the same grace and primal fear that has defined the classics. Strongly influenced by the folk tales of his Indian background, his creatures in this film are inspired devices in both conception and depiction. The sounds they make and the half glimpses that we are treated all promise to add richly to the lexicon of horror, a genre in desperate need of new form lest we be left with the continued flogging of the vampire, werewolf, and zombie staples. Being savage and monstrous, yet possessing the outward trappings of a society or culture that has emerged in parallel to human culture, these creatures play so delicately on our archetypes of terror and so deeply in the recesses of our minds that they invigorate in a manner that recalls the chills of Harryhausen’s Medussa. All clicks and unbearable hideousness. The corners and bends to the mythos realised in striking colour contrasts upon Roger Deacons’ otherwise starkly painted canvas. In the haunting violins of James Newton Howard’s softly beautiful score. A remarkablly visceral piece of filmmaking. Unfortunately, at the final hurdle this undeniably talented filmmaker falls victim to his reputation and quite literally undoes the entire fabric to his film. In the end, storytelling is paramount and he appears to betray that for no other reason than to add a fairly insipid twist. It’s feels like body-blow to the audience, counting surely as one of the more disappointing reversals ever and if you’ve managed to avoid hearing of this twist, you’ll probably guess it far in advance.
Shyamalan, R, Horror, 2004

66.8

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The Pelican Brief
Julia Roberts plays the determined law student and Denzel Washington the hot shot journalist who compile and investigate the dangerously accurate theory of why two Supreme Court judges were killed while dodging bullets, car bombs, and anything else the assassins who are pursuing them can come up with. The plot unfolds in a way that adds colour to the story and keeps the audience guessing which is exactly what you want from a thriller. Pakula’s direction of the tenser moments is fine if a little underwhelming but his ability to build tension through pacing and framing works its usual magic in the earlier sequences.
Pakula, Thriller, 1993

66.7

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Twister
Jan de Bont’s second directorial effort after the smash hit Speed upped the ante on the action by following a bunch of storm-chasing scientists through tornado country as they attempt to figure out the secrets of the twister. Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton lead the ragtag pack of adrenaline junkies as the estranged married couple competing with a highly financed rival scientist (a slithery Cary Elwes) who stole their methodology. The action is everything you’d expect from the man who shot Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October and the relatively early CGI effects still hold up to this day. The tornado sequences themselves range between formidable and unlikely as writer Michael Crichton takes his usual liberties in adapting science for the screen. Hunt and Paxton are more than comfortable with each other and add an understated charm to the movie while a young Philip Seymour Hoffman puts in a memorable shift as the “crazy guy”.
de Bont, Action, 1996

66.7

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Fatal Attraction
If you’re looking for an edge-of-the-seat thriller that eschews the traditional conventions of cops and robbers or murderers and victims this could be the film for you. Michael Douglas plays the cheating husband, Anne Archer the wife, and Glenn Close the raving lunatic who refuses to go away after Douglas gives her the boot. There is a patient but engaging build-up of tension in this film and the acting from all parties is excellent. The standout scene remains the bunny-scene for its shock value but its the way it was shot and edited that gives it so much power. Hitchcock himself would’ve been proud.
Lyne, Thriller, 1987

66.7

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Executive Decision
Cracking good thriller with charismatic performances and great set pieces to keep you entertained from minute one throughout. Kurt Russell plays a Middle East expert who along with an elite special forces team executes a daring mid-air boarding of a passenger jet that has been commandeered by some nasty terrorists. The excellent supporting cast includes Hale Berry, Oliver Platt, John Leguizama, Joe Morton, and a well used extended cameo by Steven Segal. Highly enjoyable.
Baird, Action, 1996

66.7

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The Eiger Sanction
Clint Eastwood directs and stars in this classy espionage thriller about a mountain climbing classics professor who moonlights as an assassin for a shadowy government agency (don’t worry, it works!). When one of his colleagues is murdered he is sent on a climbing expedition to identify and eliminate the culprit. The only problem is they’re climbing a particularly dangerous mountain. This is quite a sweeping film switching back and forth between Europe and the US as the story progresses. The mountain climbing stunts are spectacular with Clint doing all of his own. There are a couple of nicely interwoven sub-plots and lashings of dry humour throughout. George Kennedy stands out in an excellent supporting cast and Clint is in fine form as the man of many talents.
Eastwood, Thriller, 1975

66.4

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L.A. Takedown
Michael Mann’s TV-movie dry run for Heat is in its own right a thrilling and edgy crime thriller that is sufficiently different to warrant an independent viewing and appreciation. The story is identical in that we have a crack cop and a master thief attempting to outfox each other on the streets of LA while developing a mutual appreciation for each other’s expertise. However, though far leaner and with fewer subplots, the script is burning with Mann’s trademark über-slick dialogue much of which never made it into the remake even though it further elucidates several key sequences.
Mann, Crime, 1989

66.4

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Spider-Man
Credit to Sam Raimi. At a time when dark superhero movies were very much the in-thing, he not only bucks the trend but also his own traditionally darker leanings (Evil Dead, Darkman, etc) and makes a colourful, cheerful, John Hughes like version of the web shooting hero. And most surprisingly it worked – thanks to a clever script, good young actors, good older actors, and some real electricity between his two romantic leads. Tobey Maguire is perfect as the dorky kid turned dorky superhero while Kirsten Dunst does the girl next door better than any other modern actress. The film even manages to survive Willem Dafoe’s ham-fest and even thrive on its funniness. The special effects are a little CGI obvious in parts but that is off-set by the startlingly authentic and almost hypnotic movement of Spider-Man as he swings through the city.
Raimi, Fantasy, 2002

66.4

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Basic Instinct
Given its notoriety for what at the time was a relatively high level of sexual explicitness (and probably still is), Basic Instinct was quickly labeled as “controversy for controversy’s sake” and few saw the film as being anything more than gratuitous and shallow. However, when one takes into account Paul Verhoeven’s previous film’s such as Soldaat van Oranje, RoboCop, and Total Recall, one might be tempted to give him and his Basic Instinct project the benefit of the doubt. Basic Instinct is an admirable and often entertaining attempt to play on the rules and traditions of the thriller genre which ultimately fails to reach the heights it aspired to. Michael Douglas stars as a troubled homicide detective investigating Sharon Stone’s deviously clever writer when her boyfriend is murdered in a manner she described in her previous novel. The early parts to this movie are quite engaging and a tantalising game of cat and mouse between Stone and Douglas offers many possibilities. The first one and a half acts are quite efficiently driven by a sexually and psychologically charged suspense even if the efforts to generate that suspense were overt and indelicate. There’s a distinctive visual style to the film as Verhoeven orchestrates his lighting, framing, and production design to successfully produce a soft and enticing noiresque vibe. The detail of the plot and the many intertwined subplots complement that vibe and gives the director and his much maligned writer Joe Eszterhas plenty of opportunity to expose and jauntily probe the rules by which studios market their films and the related rules by which audiences form expectations. Unfortunately, the film struggles to get through the latter stages of its second act and as it does so, all that moderately sophisticated jibing gets dialled up to increasingly ridiculous and blunted levels. The final act is too drawn out and with it, the relevance of Verhoeven’s statement gets lost. The supporting cast (George Dzundza in the form of Douglas’ partner and Jeanne Tripplehorn as his on-again/off-again love interest and psychiatrist) don’t help this either through a combination of poor writing and confused acting. On the plus side, Douglas is strong throughout and coming as it did in close proximity to films like Fatal Attraction, Falling Down, and Disclosure, the sense of edginess which defined his career at that time can still be perceived in this performance. Stone for her part is in devilish form and despite all the controversy it caused, it’s one of her better performances. She really does command the screen when she’s on it independent of the help which Verhoeven was giving her. Overall, Basic Instinct is an interesting little thriller that tries to rise above its genre in a playful style. That it fails to do so because of a lack of delicacy and focus certainly reduces its impact but doesn’t full negate its strengths.
Verhoeven, Thriller, 1992

66.3

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Niagara
A couple holidaying at a hotel on the Niagara Falls become involved with a sultry and flirtatious woman (Marilyn Monroe) and her beleaguered and unstable husband (Joseph Cotten). Monroe and Cotten might be the stars but this neat little thriller centres on Jean Peters as the straight-laced young women who together with her husband is roped into the fiery drama of the former marriage. Director Henry Hathaway sets a lovely pace to the story and he skilfully constructs the various scenarios in which Peters discovers the infidelity of her counterpart. It takes a while before events take a murderous turn but the drama in the lead-up is intriguing enough to make it an easy wait. Hathaway also makes excellent use of the setting throughout the course of the film but particularly in its climax. The performances are all solid and there’s plenty of humour sewn into the plot. All in all, Niagara is a classy thriller and entertaining thriller.
Hathaway, Thriller, 1953

66.3

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Layer Cake
A fair if slightly forced attempt to replicate Guy Ritchie’s magic formula for slick gangster action and sidewinding cockney slang. Daniel Craig stars as a yuppie drug dealer who, on the eve of his early retirement, gets dragged into dangerous negotiations between a kingpin and a gang of loudmouth wideboys. The plot is multi-tiered but coherent enough to withstand the numerous diversions that director Matthew Vaughn and writer J.J. Connolly take in an effort to woo us with amusing anecdotes about London gangsters and their rules-of-the-street type lessons. Ultimately, however, that effort is why this Layer Cake collapses because whereas Ritchie sewed such vignettes seamlessly, adroitly, and effortlessly into the fabric of his plot, Vaughn labours to manufacture them. That said, there’s a tidy cast on show to add a sheen of polish and give the more comedic and dramatic moments their legs. Craig is more than comfortable as the suave and erudite crook (foreshadowing his later 007 transformation), Colm Meaney is terrific as the old enforcer, and Michael Gambon pops up for his usual bit of scene stealing as the big bad boss at the top of the heap.
Vaughn, Crime, 2004

66.1

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The Dark Corner 
Mark Stevens stars as a private dick picked as a fall-guy by Clifton Webb’s ruthless art dealer when he decides to knock of the man stepping out with his wife. Leo Rosten’s cracking story is every bit on the level of the genre’s classics but a litany of rewrites and imported screenwriters does it no justice as the dialogue struggles dismally for the lyrical wit and cynicism of the hardboiled greats. Stevens too turns in a typically flat performance and while Lucille Ball adds personality, her lines are just as weak as the rest. The villains fare a little better with William Bendix giving us another memorable version of his rough-house henchman and Webb, though not spitting nearly as much venom as his Waldo Lydecker, is fittingly acidic.
Hathaway, Film-Noir, 1946

66.1

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Headhunters
Headhunters or “Hodejegerne” is an interesting Norwegian thriller based on the Jo Nesbø novel. Aksel Hennie plays a recruitment specialist who moonlights as an art thief in order to keep his wife (Synnøve Macody Lund) in the luxury she’s become accustomed to. Unfortunately for Hennie, his latest theft turns out to be a lot more tricky than he planned especially when the owner of the painting, Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, turns out to be an ex-special forces operative and begins hunting Hennie with intent to kill. Headhunters starts out in intriguing fashion. We are introduced to the the central character and we learn the tricks to both his trades. Macody Lund and Coster-Waldau are set up equally well with lots of room left for mysterious motivations and desires. When the action does get going, it’s nearly impossible to anticipate because the story is constructed in such a way as to make a number of possibilities likely. Moreover, when a film involves a chase sequence where the lead character, naked and encrusted with human waste, drives a tractor with an impaled pit-bull hanging from its front, you can be fairly sure the film could go anywhere.
Tyldum, Thriller, 2011

66

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Terror Train
Starring in three slasher films in one year, all of which went on to become cult favourites, earned the already star of Halloween, Jamie Lee Curtis, the deserved tag of “scream queen”. One was an outright classic (The Fog), the other two (Terror Train and Prom Night) were proper b-movie material but with plenty of high points and even made with touches of skill. Terror Train is certainly less cheesy than Prom Night and with Roger Spottiswoode directing it’s relatively slickly made compared to most other b-grade slashers too. Curtis stars as one of six college kids whose New Year’s Eve party on board a party train is crashed by a fellow student left deranged by one of their previous pranks. As one of the only sober bodies on board, Ben Johnson’s seasoned old train conductor is burdened with the task of tracking down the maniac before his murderous revenge is complete. Terror Train has a nice polished feel to it. It moves smoothly through the gears building the pretext to the killings and establishing the characters reasonably well as it does so. There are some nice ideas threaded into the story like the presence of a pre-megastardom David Copperfield playing a disgruntled and sinister magician hired for the party. Better still is the party’s fancy dress theme which allows the killer to walk among his prey and also assume the identity of his most recent victims. This last device is particularly effective because the creepiness of some of the costumes adds to the killers’ overall menace. The acting is above par for the sub-genre too with Curtis proving even more comfortable with the role than in any of the aforementioned appearances, with the exception of The Fog. Johnson is sturdy in his duties too and provides a terrific foil to the wild partying kids he’s minding. Hart Bochner (eight years before he found action cult status as Ellis) also throws in with a deliciously nasty performance as the gang’s arrogant ringleader. Unfortunately, despite all this, Terror Train falls rather flat in the scares department. The closed atmosphere of the train is used to good effect and the set design provides many a decent setting for solid potential thrills but they just never seem to click. Perhaps the relative lack of gore is at fault but it’s probably more tied to the pacing which though nicely maintained for the majority of the film, fails to accelerate during the scarier moments. Therefore, Terror Train just misses out on classic b-movie status but due to the nice vibe it gives off, it retains a solid appeal.
Spottiswoode, Horror, 1980

65.9

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X-Men
Above average comic book drama due to a smart script, some stylish direction by Brian Singer, and good acting all round by an ensemble cast of scene stealers. The action follows a group of mutants who not only fight prejudice against their own kind but other other mutants who feels that such prejudice warrants violence against the rest of the human race.
Singer, Action, 2000

65.8

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Body of Lies
Above average espionage thriller concerning a CIA agent (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his handler (Russell Crowe) who are attempting to flush out the elusive leader of a dangerous terrorist cell. The plot is intricate but tight for the majority of the first two acts and DiCaprio and Crowe are very good, particularly when together on screen. Mark Strong is also present as a foreign intelligence tsar and as usual he steals every scene he’s in. Scott’s direction is slightly more understated than usual which was the right call considering the strength of the script and actors he was working with. It does unravel somewhat towards the end as the plot is rushed to a close and some liberties with logic are taken. However, for the most part, this is a slick piece of entertainment.
Scott, R., Thriller, 2008

65.7

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Public Enemies
Set in the 1930’s, Michael Mann’s thriller focuses on John Dillinger’s rise to notoriety and the newly formed FBI’s attempt to catch him. Mann’s film looks great and he captures the era wonderfully thanks to some superb production design. His stylistic hallmarks are all over the film from the first scene to the last. There are also the seeds of good ideas sprinkled throughout the story it tells, some better developed than others. The birth of the FBI and the political and ideological motivations driving it make for a fascinating story and those scenes that show us the early forensic investigations hark back to his previous film Manhunter. Christian Bale scores quite well as Melvin Purvis, the agent in charge of Dillinger’s pursuit and we empathise with him more than anyone else in the movie. On the other hand, Mann’s long time collaborator Stephen Lang’s few appearances as the hard boiled older law man are the best thing in the film. The Dillinger story is less exciting partly because it has been done before but more so because of Dillinger’s awful dialogue and Jonny Depp’s wooden portrayal of the anti-villain (so bad in fact, you might wonder if he needs to play quirky characters to cover his complete lack of natural charisma). Given that Dillinger was supposed to be a charismatic larger than life personality it’s difficult to imagine a more unsuitable portrayal. Depp and his character’s writing are so poor that the token romantic relationship that Mann (typically) shoehorns in with Marion Cotillard becomes all the more tedious. To make things worse, because this part of the story is the primary focus of the film, the more interesting side is stunted by its lesser screen time. Ultimately, Public Enemies goes down as an opportunity missed but there’s enough there to make it worth the watch.
Mann, Gangster, 2009

65.7

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Multiplicity
Harold Ramis hasn’t directed many movies but when he has they’ve usually stood the test of time and Multiplicity is no different. Michael Keaton stars as an overworked construction worker whose demanding family life and unsympathetic boss push him towards the edge. That is until he meets an eccentric scientist who convinces him that a clone is the best way to get two things done at once! Things go horribly wrong of course when the clone decides he himself needs a clone! As he did with Groundhog Day, Ramis gives the outlandish scenario some proper depth, never being afraid to bring the emotions of the characters to the forefront of the story. He also gives Keaton plenty of room to improvise and it pays off in spades as he is simply excellent with each clone being funnier than the next (all with different personalities – kudos Chris Miller). The last clone in particular (clone of a clone of a clone) is messed up from the repeated copying and is consequently utterly hysterical.  Andy McDowell is only slightly annoying as Keaton’s wife and in fairness she does more than her bit in allowing Keaton and his three Keaton-clones to do their magic.
Ramis, Comedy, 1996

65.7

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The Art of the Steal
Russell stars as Crash, a thief turned stuntman who after being betrayed by his conman brother (an equally evergreen Matt Dillon) reluctantly agrees to run one last scam with him. Enter a “Leverage” style team of forgers and thieves and a slickly realised heist corkscrews its way to the close. It’s a pleasantly satisfying affair as the chemistry between Russell, Dillon, Jay Baruchel, and Kenneth Welsh proves amusing at times and laugh-out-loud hilarious at others. Nothing new is offered in the way of style or story but, Sobol confidently handles the basics while Geoff Ashenhurst’s editing gives the plot a coolish gliding quality which makes the whole thing very easy to watch.
Sobol, Crime, Comedy, 2013

65.5

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The Best of Times
Ron Shelton and Roger Spottiswoode team up again for this quasi-quirky but fully enjoyable sports comedy. Robin Williams is a middle-aged banker whose life was ruined when he fumbled a last second catch  in the most important high school football game in his town’s history. Obsessed with making amends he cajoles the town into challenging their age old rivals from the big city to a rematch with the reluctant help of Reno Hightower (Kurt Russell), the star quarterback from that team. This is a charming little comedy tinted with just the right amount of nostalgia. Russell and Williams are great together and their respective wives are played well by Pamela Reed and Holly Palance. There’s only a few genuinely funny moments but mainly this movie is all about bringing a satisfied smile to the face. Best fun of all is the climactic game, full of all the small town idiosyncrasies you’d see in real life and with plenty of wisecracks and nifty set pieces thrown in for good measure. Writer Ron Shelton has always been a dab hand with sporting comedies and while this was one of his more modest efforts it still manages to capture all the eccentricities of our love for sports.
Spottiswood, Comedy, 1986

65.4

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Proof of Life
Based on a Vanity Fair article about the rescue of a ransom victim from a South American cartel, Proof of Life stands out mainly because of its sense of authenticity regarding the military and strategic details of the dramatised rescue. Russell Crowe plays the former SAS hostage negotiator, David Morse the hostage, and Meg Ryan his wife. Besides the questionable love triangle that threatens to emerge and Ryan’s often annoying performance the film manages to entertain throughout and culminates in a well thought out and satisfying action sequence. David Caruso provides good support as Crowe’s partner.
Hackford, Thriller, 2000

65.1

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Out of the Furnace
Scott Cooper’s down and dirty small town revenge drama is a sometimes interesting film made with all the right intentions but also a lack of directorial savvy. Christian Bale and Casey Affleck are brothers struggling to get their lives on track after a jail sentence and traumatising tour of Iraq respectively. Bale is the more sensible elder brother who’s back at the local steel mill which is threatening to close for good while Affleck has taken to underground fighting to pay his debts. When the latter gets mixed up with some mountain folk and their bare knuckle and meth dealing rackets, he disappears leaving his brother and uncle, played by the evergreen Sam Shepard, to track down the vicious maniac responsible. Cooper takes a meditative approach to Out of the Furnace, employing an extended yet concealed introduction of the main characters. Lots is alluded to but, with sparse dialogue and an abundance of secondary characters, nothing is for sure. For a film that moves as slow as this, there’s actually a lot going on in the way of character dynamics and what Cooper is trying to say about the daily lives of his working class protagonists. And with a cast like this, one would expect some powerful drama. Unfortunately, it all runs a little flat save for a handful of scenes as Cooper’s incompatible ambitions see it fall between two stools. In the first place, there’s just too many characters in play to justify that meditative style. Taking time in the buildup can be a virtue (and a rare one these days) but it hurts this movie as its focus constantly bounces around from one of the many characters to another. Furthermore, long periods without dialogue with only brief interludes of character interaction make it difficult to engage with even the main characters despite the wealth of acting talent behind them. Setting the characters amongst some palpable conflict or anxiety can offset this but Cooper and co-writer Brad Ingelsby simply allude to their troubled backgrounds and keep them completely separate from their current travails. This itself can often be an elegant approach to storytelling but again the wrong choice here as it compounds the first problem. And finally, when Cooper finally gets around to colouring in between the lines, he paints a fairly bleak picture making it yet more difficult to stay invested. On paper, he may make all the right moves but the final cut unsurprisingly fails to add up to the sum of its parts. Matters aren’t helped by some overfamiliar motifs and the equally worn metaphors used to tease them out – does cinema really need another moment of personal revelation involving a seasoned hunter’s sudden inability to shoot a cute deer? Regardless of Cooper’s slip ups in shooting his script, the sterling cast ensures a reasonably entertaining if frustrating watch. Bale is terrific as usual and despite having to do most of it in silence, he inhabits the soul of his character in the manner we’ve become accustomed to. Affleck does what he can though both he and Bale alike would’ve benefited from a few substantial scenes together. Ditto Sam Shepard. Willem Dafoe tantalises with an extended cameo as Affleck’s bookie but Forest Whitaker’s turn as the local chief of police is utterly wasted. Woody Harrelson has won most of the plaudits as the crazed yokel and Cooper does his level best to raise the intimidation factor including a needless and unimaginatively violent introduction at the opening of the film. To be fair, the star reborn gives it plenty of oomph but again, we have to ask: is it anything we haven’t seen before?
Cooper, Thriller, 2013

65.1

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The Mechanic
Michael Winner popped up with the odd good movie and this gritty 70’s thriller starring Chuck Bronson as a sophisticated hit man was one of them. There are some nice action sequences and some cleverly conceived scenarios. Bronson is good and it stands as one of his more interesting roles. Even Jan-Michael Vincent scores well as the cocky and disturbed young buck whom the older pro agrees to mentor. This is a dark movie with some intereting themes running through it. It also had an important if subtle influence on later movies such as The Eiger Sanction and indeed its more recent remake.
Winner, Crime, 1972

65

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Tequila Sunrise
A retired drug dealer (Mel Gibson) is caught between his romantic feelings for a restaurant owner (Michelle Pfeiffer), loyalty to an old drug dealing king-pin from Mexico (Raul Julia), and his life-long friend who leads a narcotics task force (Kurt Russell). Written and directed by the one of the great 70′s writers Robert Towne, Tequila Sunrise was a big hit on its release due to the big names attached to the project. It has since been pigeon-holed by many as nothing more than a piece of 80′s schmaltz but in reality it’s an original and clever thriller driven by the three excellent central performances of Gibson, Pfeiffer, and Russell and the equally excellent supporting performances of the late greats, Julia and JT Walsh. The well balanced script gives each of the leads their fair share of time on screen (with Russell and Julia in particular standing out) and the various cross-over relationships are terrifically realised thanks to the easy chemistry they all share. Moreover, there isn’t a word of dialogue wasted in what is in general a very economical script. The soft sun-lit scenes ensure that the film looks great and there are the deftest touches of film noir in Towne’s use of shadows. The score hits some cheesy 80′s notes at certain points in the film particularly in the final scene which on a whole is pretty much Hollywood of the time at its most self-indulgent. However, they are small quibbles for an otherwise solid thriller from an era that specialised in that genre.
Towne, Thriller, 1988

65

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Prom Night
Jamie Lee Curtis stars as the prom queen whose friends have been hiding a dark secret concerning the death of her younger sister years earlier. And now on her big night, it’s all going to boil over in nightmarish style. With its low production values and somewhat derivative story, prom night has been misjudged and unfairly criticised over the years. Yes, those two criticisms are fair but there is a strong screenplay driving this movie (kudos William Gray) which employs some clever structuring and original scenarios. Moreover, Paul Lynch’s taught direction gives it the room and time to breathe before unleashing the axe-wielding maniac. When the violence does begin, it must be said that Lynch captures much of it in memorable and innovative fashion. There are of course problems with Prom Night. Jamie Lee is competent in the lead but her character could’ve been given a little more to do (particularly during the final act) and the movie certainly does attempt to copy too many movies which were popular at the time (worst of which includes that cringe-worthy Saturday Night Fever inspired dance sequence). However, if watched with a forgiving eye there are plenty of strengths also to be appreciated.
Lynch, Horror, 1980

64.8

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X-Men: First Class
As tedious as origin stories are at the moment, this one had potential primarily because of an interesting and talented cast but also because its director Matthew Vaughan has shown some promise that he’s going to be more than just another journey man or studio lap-dog like the host of directors who are normally hired to shoot these popcorn movies. Set in the 1960’s, First Class stars James McEvoy and Michael Fassbender as the two heavyweight mutants of the future, Professor X and Magneto, with the story centring on their battle with an even nastier mutant (Kevin Bacon) as he attempts to manipulate both the US and the Soviet Union into World War III. However, the moral differences between both Professor X and Magneto regarding where relations with the human race fit into the new emerging mutant order constantly threaten to break their uneasy alliance. The two leads are superb together and their charisma alone makes this movie enjoyable to watch. The visual effects are excellent too and the action sequences are handled competently by Vaughan even if they are a little uninspired in places. The biggest let down however is the script which at times reaches the level of mindlessness. Lines such as “A ‘war’ suggests both sides have an equal chance of winning” are uttered without a hint of irony (or even an awareness of how stupid they are) while the more dramatic moments are rife with flat cliche. The plot at times isn’t much better and who knows what they were thinking of when it came to choosing the mutants who would take part in this movie (Angel Salvadore and Banshee were just ridiculously lacking in the intimidation factor). Ultimately, First Class counts as an opportunity missed but the quality of the actors playing the three main mutants plus a decent and well shot climax does make it worth a look.
Vaughan , Fantasy, 2011

64.9

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Lords of Dogtown
As with all films that deal with a particular subculture this film seems to gain as much criticism as it does praise for its relevance or lack thereof to real life. However, judging it simply as a film this is a well directed story that properly evokes a feeling of a time and a place now gone. It tells the story of the beginning of skate-boarding as a legitimate sport in Venice Beach California by focusing on three of its originators. The acting is top notch by everyone (except Emile Hirsch who at times comes across a little wooden) and the story is compelling and well told.
Hardwicke, Drama, 2005

64.8

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Fletch
Iconic 80’s comedy as famous for its electronic score as it is for Chevy Chase’s dry wit. Chase plays Fletch, an undercover reporter who gets wind of a drug racketeering real-estate scam and quickly becomes a target for those responsible. Chase was at the height of his powers at the time this film was made and was always one of the few comedians who managed to remain funny even while gaining the upper hand and generally coming across as quite cool. Crossing the comedy and mystery genes is not necessarily an easy task but Michael Ritchie finds the right balance so that fans of both genres are kept interested.
Ritchie, M, Comedy, 1985

64.8

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Into the Blue
A loose remake of Peter Yates’ The Deep, Into the Blue is a thoroughly entertaining and gorgeously photographed underwater adventure. Paul Walker and Jessica Alba play two amateur prospectors who along with their friend (Scott Caan) discover a potentially valuable shipwreck while partying out on the water. Unfortunately, it’s beside a crashed plane full of a local drug baron’s illicit cargo which makes things difficult when it comes to salvaging the wreck. The story is decent enough but it does employ some broad strokes towards the end. However, it’s the chemistry between the three leads and the modest but well crafted underwater set-pieces which make this film work. Josh Brolin also makes an appearance as a hi tech prospector who may or may not be trying to horn in on their find and as usual he steals the show whenever the camera is on him.
Stockwell, Adventure, 2005

64.5

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