Tag Archives: Bill Paxton

Twister (1996) 3.71/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good –  66.7
Genre: Action, Adventure
Duration: 113 mins
Director: Jan de Bont
Stars: Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Cary Elwes

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”. There’s plenty of humour courtesy of his and everyone else’s antics and a neatly developed assortment of characters (an often ignored strength of Crichton’s screenplays) ensure it blends seamlessly with the plot’s progression. Incidentally, Twister was the first movie released in DVD format and so it not only scores as an enjoyable action adventure but it also holds a position of some significance among the geekiest of movie fans.

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Nightcrawler (2014) 4.57/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 85.7
Genre: Thriller, Satire
Duration: 117 mins
Director: Dan Gilroy
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton

Movies that tread new ground are a rare breed these days but Dan Gilroy’s grimy psychological thriller gets neck deep in a premise, plot, and movie perspective that’s unlike anything we’ve really seen before. Jake Gyllenhaal headlines as Louis Bloom, a degenerate dork looking for a vocation in which he can shine not to mention make a quick buck. Happening by a late night accident, he rapidly immerses himself in the world of sensational nighttime news and places himself at its forefront by videotaping crimes, accidents, and anything that bleeds and delivering them to Rene Russo’s desperate news director fresh off the blood-soaked pavement.

Nightcrawler introduces us to one unsavoury character after another but each are rooted in a desperate need that makes their wretched deeds all too relatable. Gilroy lures us through this looking glass of fast food media and successfully captures the upside down personal morality of all involved. Everything seems a little too incredible but at no point do we disengage. In fact, we want more, even as, no especially as, the credits begin to roll.

A skeletal Gyllenhaal is electric in a performance that reflects the movie’s creepy themes of the ‘real unreal’ on a singularly focused level. We begin by dismissing the likelihood that anyone could be so deranged only to recoil later on at the frightening sincerity in his bulging eyes and the sound of his voice as he recites his night-school rhetoric for business success. Gilroy was certainly taking a risk building the movie around the one truly irredeemable character but the entire film gravitates around Gyllenhaal’s magnetism and though we loathe him, we definitely enjoy doing so. Russo is wonderfully complicated as the TV exec who crawls onto his web, soliciting everything from the audience’s pity to their curiosity. The always great Bill Paxton pops up in a compelling cameo as a fellow nightcrawler who crosses paths with the manic Bloom and Riz Ahmed rounds off the cast with a sympathetic turn as the latter’s weary assistant.

Gilroy’s script is gleefully twisted in its originality while behind the camera he, cinematographer Robert Elswit, and indeed composer James Newton Howard give the nighttime streets of LA a character and personality of the kind we experienced in Michael Mann’s Heat. And whether they act as a still background to the patient madness of Bloom waiting for his scanner to announce his next shot or the frenetic blur of the subsequent high speed pursuit, they bring a critical balance of grit and gloss to the proceedings. It all adds up to a triumphant movie experience that should easily stand the test of time not only as a satirical social commentary but as a pulse thumping crime thriller to boot.

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Live Die Repeat (2014) 3.21/5 (6)

 

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Rating: The Good – 80.5
Genre: Science Fiction
Duration: 113 mins
Director: Doug Liman
Stars: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton

After decades of waiting for an action sci-fi that can match those of the late 80’s and early 90’s in class and smarts, Doug Liman, Christopher McQuarrie, and Tom Cruise have come up with the goods. Set during a future war for the planet against a horde of prescient aliens, the Cruiser headlines as a cowardly press officer who is railroaded into the infantry on the eve of humanity’s attempt at a D-Day style liberation of Europe. However, during the battle he gets killed and caught in a time loop that sees him re-live the same day over and over again which allows him to hone his initially hapless skills and, at the same time, avoid the pitfalls of the previous day.

The concept which inspired Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s graphic novel All You Need is Kill (brilliantly adapted as “Live, Die, Repeat” before some drone snatched “Edge of Tomorrow” off a low shelf) may have been the classic video game scenario, but Liman adds so much more polish and depth to the concept that, as with Groundhog Day, Cruise’s most wearing and touching battle is his fruitless and unending dance with time. However, that Liman merely tantalises us with this heaviness only to constantly kickstart the scenario with energetic optimism is his masterstroke. Thus, the danger with the Groundhog premise, namely repetition boredom, isn’t as much sidestepped here as it is leapfrogged…. in a funnel of brilliantly edited, pulsating action! They even make the mechanised exoskeleton (which everyone from James Cameron to Neill Blomkamp has failed to actualise) look cool while also making it work for the script.

Cruise is to be commended for playing such an unflattering character with real gusto and whether it be tapping the humour, hopelessness, and/or heroism of his circumstances, he makes for a smashing lead. As his comrade in day-tripping, Emily Blunt is equally strong in an admirably feminine way and watching the pair burst their way off the beaches of Normandy in a whirlwind of mechanised alien fighting (along to Christophe Beck’s muscular score) is just spine-tingling.

McQuarrie, Jezz and John-Henry Butterworth deserve their fair share of credit too for delivering the freshest but most purposeful screenplay the genre has seen in quite some time but it’s Liman’s mastery of time-playing that deserves most respect. A coalescence of shot composition, alternate camera angles, and editing tempo that propels the plot forward in a series of groundhog-esque transitions. So good is this part of the movie, that the scenes in which a more traditional narrative is employed suffer immensely by comparison and even begin to drag. The relative facelessness of the aliens becomes more obvious at these points too alerting us to the fact that this is one area where Live Die Repeat (the original title has thankfully been restored for home-market release) fails to live up to the classics of the genre and is more in tune with today’s more generic movie evil. In the long run, however, these issues are eminently forgivable because the rest of this movie is such an irresistible blast from the past that it’s as likely to stand the test of time. Do Not Miss!

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Commando (1985) 3.14/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 62.2
Genre: Action
Duration: 90 mins
Director: Mark L. Lester
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rae Dawn Chong, Dan Hedaya

It’s not easy to fully describe how utterly stupid this movie is. From the beyond lame opening montage of Arnie and his (on screen) daughter feeding deer and frolicking in slow motion to the willful buffoonery of what is passed for the plot, the ham-fisted dialogue to the cardboard characters, the shabbiness of Schwarzenegger’s still unpolished acting to Vernon Wells’ outrageous turn as the chief villain, this movie is a case of the ridiculous being piled on top of the ridiculous. Of course, as a pure action vehicle straight out of the mid eighties (when Hollywood had the genre down to a fine art), it works despite all of this! Cheese it may be, but nostalgic high octane cheese it remains. Everyone involved dives in head first and there’s a genuine sense of fun to the proceedings even as the cast are rattling out some of the worst lines in screenwriting history – seriously! The set pieces are great bang for their buck and although Wells’ Bennett counts as the most ludicrous movie villains, it’s an undeniably addictive performance. All this makes Commando one of the ultimate guilty pleasure movie experiences. So do like the cast and crew do and just dive in head first and start laughing.

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Weird Science (1985) 3.14/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 76.9
Genre: Comedy
Duration: 94  mins
Director: John Hughes
Stars: Anthony Michael Hall, Kelly LeBrock, Bill Paxton

“Not having a good time? Well, do you think they’re having a good time being catatonic in the closet?” “Weird” is not the word to describe this behemoth of movie madness. John Hughes’ seminal teen comedy is as purely and authentically eccentric as we’ve seen on screen and so it’s a testament to the genius behind it that so many moviegoers of all ages have still found it so irresistibly funny. John Hughes regular Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith star as two dorky teenagers who program their computer to create the perfect woman (don’t ask) who once alive and kicking, promptly begins to give them a wild and madcap series of life lessons.

There are too many standout moments to speak of but those involving Bill Paxton as Mitchell-Smith’s older brother are particularly memorable. Funny as Hall and Mitchell-Smith are, the star of the show is undoubtedly Kelly LeBrock as the mysterious woman who can bend reality to her will. She carries the barely graspable concept on her shoulders with a charming ease and improves every scene she’s in. Watch out too for a young Robert Downey Jr making a decent contribution to the comedy quotient.

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True Lies (1994)

 

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Rating: The Good – 75.7
Genre: Action
Duration: 141 mins
Director: James Cameron
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Bill Paxton

James Cameron at his best: rip-roaring story, tremendous special effects, spellbinding action, effortless humour, and no cloy token adolescent messages about world peace or saving the environment. Arnold Schwarzenegger is also at his best in by far his wittiest role as a smooth talking secret agent battling boo-hissable terrorists. Kevin Arnold is terrific in support and really raises the humour quotient and Jamie Lee Curtis excels as Arnie’s bored unsuspecting wife. The action is breath taking even to this day and all the characters work off each other perfectly. And on top of all that, Cameron’s old mate Bill Paxton cameos once more, this time to hysterical effect as a used car salesman who spends his nights pretending to be a secret agent to enchant bored housewives. You see where this one is going.

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Aliens (1986) 3.86/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 85.8
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Duration: 137 mins
Director: James Cameron
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Bill PaxtonLance Henriksen

The last survivor of the Nostromo, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), is found drifting in space after 57 years of hypersleep. Her account of what happened naturally makes the powers that be curious so they quickly order the colonists of the now populated planet to check out the co-ordinates where Ripley reported to have located the crashed spacecraft. When things inevitably go bad, Ripley is sent to the planet with a team of hi-tech marines to exterminate the alien threat.

In taking on the unenviable task of creating a sequel to Ridely Scott’s original sci-fi classic, James Cameron pulls a masterstroke by bringing the premise firmly into the action genre. The result is a qualitatively different film to the original, allowing for a whole raft of new ideas to be explored. As is typical with all Cameron’s films, Aliens looks amazing. The set-design, the special effects, and the creature effects (Stan Winston – who else?) are extremely impressive and are as good as anything you’ll see today. The chemistry between the various actors is splendid as are the performances themselves. Cameron regulars Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, and Lance Henriksen are all present and in top form. So is Weaver who, in this film, confirmed Ripley as the most interesting and authentic of all screen heroines. The dialogue is tight and tech-savvy and the tension is built perfectly through Cameron’s expert direction.

Of course, the stand-out strength of this film is the action and Cameron again uses the science-fiction context to raise the stakes and create imaginative new ways to capture the audience’s fascination. He also takes his time building up to said action which makes it all the more rewarding when it finally gets going. It’s a testament to Cameron and co. that when all is said and done, Aliens will remain not just one of the best sci-fi films of all time, but also one of the best horror and action films of all time.

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Predator 2 (1990) 3.15/5 (4)

 

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Rating: The Good – 67.8
Genre: Action Sci-Fi
Duration: 108 mins
Director: Stephen Hopkins
Stars: Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Bill Paxton

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.

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One False Move (1992) 3.43/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 74.7
Genre: Crime, Thriller
Duration: 105 mins
Director: Carl Franklin
Stars: Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, Cynda Williams

Carl Franklin’s excellent crime thriller One False Move tells a dark story about two men and a woman who rip off some LA drug dealers and proceed to leave a trail of bodies as they head south for Star City, Arkansas the town of Chief of police Dean “Hurricane” Dixon. Bill Paxton is electric as the backward, mile a minute lawman and much of the film’s comedy comes from his interplay with the two incredulous LA cops (played by Jim Metzler and Earl Billings) sent down to track the murderers. The dramatic tension comes mostly from the other side to the story as unlikely couple Billy Bob Thornton and Cynda Williams along with their cold blooded friend Michael Beach make their way for Hurricane’s patch. This is an original and quietly gripping film. The script is full of intelligent dialogue and is structured in a somewhat unorthodox manner. The main character is undoubtedly Paxton’s Hurricane though he is introduced almost incidentally while the remaining secondary characters all remain hugely and equally important throughout. It’s all the more impressive, therefore, that Franklin coordinates the different sub-stories so well and maintains an even pace to the film. Although there isn’t much bloody violence, there are a couple of scenes which are seriously dark and Franklin uses them well to set the tone to the film. Michael Beach’s cold and calculating Pluto comes to the fore in these scenes and leaves a sinister and lasting impression. Thornton and Williams are also strong as his amoral accomplices as are Metzler and Billlings as the cops but all are blown off the screen by Paxton’s tour-de-force.

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The Terminator (1984) 4.53/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 92.5
Genre: Science Fiction, Action
Duration: 107 mins
Director: James Cameron
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen

Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is just a regular unassuming young woman living a normal life oblivious to the fact that her future son is destined to lead a human resistance against an army of sentient machines. When the machines send a seemingly unstoppable cyborg (Schwarzenegger) back in time to kill her and her unborn son, the resistance send back their own soldier (Michael Biehn) to protect her.

One of the very best science fiction films, The Terminator has it all: timeless special effects, an unforgettable score, sublime action, an excellent cast, and a story that re-defined what science fiction was all about. Hamilton and Biehn have never been better with the latter’s contribution often going underrated as the wily yet traumatised soldier whose performance is just unhinged enough to give us a terrifying sense of the future he comes from. Nothing about his acting seems false and it easily rates as one of the great sci-fi performances (check out that interrogation scene). However, in retrospect everyone seems to have been overshadowed by Schwarzenegger who was indeed born to play the role of the remorseless machine. There’s not another actor who could’ve played that character as coldly and as clinically as he does and it has rightly gone down in history as his defining role.

The Terminator stands apart from most other action sci-fi’s in both the sophistication and inventiveness of its writing. Not only do writers James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd incorporate the initial killings of the other “Sarah Connors” into a fascinating sub-plot of a police investigation into a “one-day pattern killer” but they also offered a far more intense and thoughtful play on the time-travelling concept than we had previously seen from the sub-genre. Furthermore, technology modern to 1984 plays an extensive if subtle role in the film and, thereby, accentuates the central theme exquisitely. Answering machines, pagers, a punching clock, a walkman, laser sighted guns (for a cyborg who shouldn’t really need one), drills, the radio advertisement for CD’s (referred to as the latest in sound technology), motor bikes, petrol tankers, techno music, & the Tech-Noir club (with its electronic decorative theme) all heighten the relevance of technology to the story. The film opens with a shot of a dumpster truck, builds up to a finale in an automated factory where the present day machines play their most overt role, and closes with a polaroid (which itself has the most direct links with the future of all featured contemporary technology). Sure many of these things are every day items and feature in many films from that era but never as prominently and indeed as conspicuously as they do here. They act as Cameron’s central device in foreshadowing the future the Terminator hails from by quietly illustrating how machines have crept and continue to creep further into our lives. Insidiously so.

However, in the final analysis, the highest praise must go to Cameron the director, whose work in this film is among the very best to bless either the sci-fi or action genres. The pinnacle of which, the Tech-Noir sequence, where Connor first encounters the Terminator and where Reese’s role is finally revealed is a suspenseful master class in multi-layered staging and editing which explodes into the most ferocious and focused action ever filmed. Pure Genius.

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Haywire (2011) 3.57/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 74.7
Genre: Action
Duration: 93 mins
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: Gina Carano, Bill PaxtonMichael Douglas

Steven Soderbergh turns his hand to the action genre and combines the staples of that genre (fights, chases, guns, and lots of colourful bad guys) with his arty style of desynchronised dialogue, angled shots, delayed cuts, and general polished production. Think Oceans Eleven with knuckledusters! The good news is it works like a charm and given this entire project is a critique of the brainless modern action movie template, it’s all the more satisfying to hear the popcorn brigade deride it for having the temerity to interrupt action sequences with something a little more pensive.

Muay Thai champ Gina Carano headlines as an elite black ops mercenary fighting, kicking, and running for her life through Europe and the US while trying to piece together the clues to who in her agency has set her up. The plot is well developed and populated with terrific characters, each one tougher than the next. Furthermore, shot as it was on location in Dublin and Barcelona where the actual backstreets of those cities are used to splendid effect, Haywire counts as a hugely authentic and grittier action bonanza than anything we’ve seen since the Bourne trilogy (purposefully not counting the fourth film). The plot is explicated with a technocratic dialogue even more opaque than in those films but this gives it a Kuleshov-like functionality allowing the audience to project all sorts of intrigue onto it and the wider plot. There are also some genuinely funny and unique moments of physical comedy lightly sprinkled throughout the film and acting as well timed breathers from the ass-kicking roller coaster.

Of course, set up as an alternative to your more typical 21st century mind numbing actioneer, Haywire was always going to stand or fall on its action sequences. To simply say it does the former would be to vastly understate the case because the action choreography and execution is jaw dropping. Carano is outstanding with the physical stuff but it’s the design, pretext, and shooting of those sequences that’s so special. Soderbergh intrigues the audience with a disciplined and ultra composed build up to each fight with the various spies sent to work with and/or kill Carano and the actors who play them, enriching the drama no end. These amount to a series of tasty cameos with Michael Fassbender’s blistering appearance as Carano’s Dublin contact being the show stopper. Bill Paxton, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, and Michael Aragano do very well given their even more limited time though Channing Tatum’s endless muttering makes hard work of his speaking scenes. Ewen McGregor returns to form as Carano’s slimy boss and counts as the only other cast member with a significant amount of screen time.

Haywire isn’t perfect. Soderbergh tends to over-edit some of the Barcelona and New Mexico segments so as to unnecessarily truncate them. This ironically makes them feel longer, dragging as they do in a similar fashion to the director’s earlier feature The Limey. These annoyances are brief in the context of the overall film though and that same directorial patience when channeled in less ponderous ways during the Dublin and New York segments gives us some thrilling set-pieces including one of the most inspired chase sequences we’ve seen in years.

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Near Dark (1987) 4.43/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 82.6
Genre: Horror
Duration: 141 mins
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Stars: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton

The vampire genre is peculiar in that it is the most over-exploited yet poorly represented of all the horror sub-genres. Happily, Near Dark is not only an exception to that rule but it’s also quite simply the best modern representative of the genre. Director Kathryn Bigelow and Tangerine Dream’s brilliant score add a haunting and dreamlike quality to Eric Red’s excellent script about a small town boy named Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) who gets more than he bargained for when he takes a pretty girl (Jenny Wright) on a night-time drive. Before he knows it, he’s kidnapped by her “family”, which is led by the sensational Lance Henrikson’s Jesse and populated by an array of brilliantly fleshed-out (no pun intended) characters. The most captivating of these is without doubt Severen, played by Bill Paxton in one of the most explosively entertaining performances you’ll ever see. Paxton quite simply burns a hole in the screen as the deranged and incendiary vampire but it’s a testament to the quality of the acting throughout that a performance of that stature doesn’t overshadow that of the others.

Near Dark is a more mature and contemplative horror film than we typically see as it blends aspects of both the western and vampire genres together in ways that draw interesting parallels between the two. There’s a strong romantic theme running through the film which is fascinatingly skewed by Red’s more intimate take on the vampire mythology. There are no fangs on show, which makes the feeding all the more believable and indeed gruesome. The bar scene in particular (involving a great piece of ensemble acting from the “vampires”) will leave you seriously squeamish. The story takes a couple of logical leaps towards the end but they don’t really tarnish the overall experience because Near Dark is really about the lingering atmosphere it sets.

This was Bigeolow’s first great film (the more observant will notice the cast is full of regulars from her then husband James Cameron’s films) and her use of sound and awesome imagery (just check out that early shot of the family bearing through the desert in their RV) gives it an intimate yet appropriately otherworldly feeling which not many directors can achieve. Of course in that respect, credit must also be given to screenwriter Eric Red, whose previous film The Hitcher had a similar dreamlike vibe to it. Red’s script is quite minimal in parts which makes the words of the characters all the more relevant when they are spoken. Furthermore, at crucial junctures, he uses the extended moments of silence in between lines almost as lacunae which gives the audience a more tangible sense of the world of the “vampire”. It really is an extraordinary device which is only augmented by Tangerine Dream’s luminescent score riding somewhere in the background. In fact, that score and Red’s words work so effectively together, it’s like he wrote the script to their music. There are not many films coloured so strongly by their score and it’s yet another testament to the skill of Bigelow that neither it nor the script cancel the other out. In fact, it’s exactly that type of balancing act which makes Bigelow such a good director and Near Dark such a good cross-over horror.

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