Rating: The Ugly – 60 Genre: Action Duration: 124 mins Director: Johnathan Hensleigh Stars: Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Samantha Mathis, Ben Foster
Standard enough action fare as Tom Jane does the best he can with a fairly unadventurous interpretation of comic book hero Frank Castle aka “The Punisher”. There are some good actors on show here with John Travolta and Will Patton playing the bad guys and the late great Roy Scheider in a cameo appearance as Castle’s father. Ben Foster in an early appearance gives a good turn as Castle’s nervous neighbour. The story is predictable enough and the tension slips around the beginning of the final act but it nonetheless remains an entertaining watch.
Rating: The Good – 74.5 Genre: Crime, Comedy Duration: 105 mins Director: Barry Sonnenfeld Stars: Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, Danny DeVito
The 90′s was easily the decade that gave us cinema’s coolest films and this was easily one of its top 5. The personification of cool himself John Travolta plays a movie loving loan shark Chilli Palmer, who heads out to LA to collect a debt and sees a chance to get involved in the movie business by protecting a down-on-his-luck director (Gene Hackman) from some smalltime gangsters he owes money to. Based on an Elmore Leonard novel this charming and often hilarious film has all the trademark twists and turns you come to expect from a Leonard story. Travolta and Delroy Lindo get most of the cool lines and although Travolta and Danny DeVito will get some chuckles the funniness of the film is primarily down to Hackman and Dennis Farina (as the gangster Chilli works for). Their respective characters are absolutely hysterical and the scene where they finally meet is unquestionably the highlight of the film. The last mention should go to director Sonnenfield who brings as much wit to the proceedings as anyone.
This is the film that confirmed to the world that Reservoir Dogs was no fluke and that, in Quentin Tarantino, a master film-maker had emerged from the position of a video store clerk. Pulp Fiction skillfully interweaves the stories of two hit-men – Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson), a boxer – Butch (Bruce Willis), and a mobster’s wife – Mia (Uma Thurman) into an innovative tale of crime and punishment in los a Angeles. The set pieces are spellbinding, the source music is inspired, every single one of the cast give a career defining performance, and the dialogue is the coolest, most original writing to be ever uttered on screen. “Let’s get into character.”
Rating: The Good – 78 Genre: Thriller Duration: 107 mins Director: Brian De Palma Stars: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow
If Brian De Palma’s 1981 movie was made today by someone like Quentin Tarantino, it would be hailed as a masterpiece which defines the fresh playfulness of the modern cinematic era….and rightly so. However, this just goes to show how ahead of his time De Palma actually was (or how slow mainstream cinema was in catching up). John Travolta stars as a B-movie sound man who while out one night recording stock sounds, ends up recording a car accident from which he rescues a young woman (Nancy Allen). When he tells the police that the accident sounded like it was preceded by a gun shot he gets told to keep it quiet and when he tries to go about proving it with his recording he inadvertently puts the girl’s life in danger.
Blow Out opens with a delicious film-within-a-film vignette as Travolta and his on-screen director are watching the dailies of their latest slasher film – which is so well lit and staged that you wouldn’t mind seeing the full feature! This sets a tone to the movie that persists throughout as Travolta uses the tools of movie making to elucidate the crime that De Palma’s movie is built around. This gives the entire movie a kind of through-the-looking-glass feel as everything seems overtly cinematic and otherworldly. The lighting and production design are vividly captured and De Palma’s striking use of staging even in the quieter, more insignificant moments seems conspicuously relevant to the movie’s vibe. The characters too, in particular Allen’s ditsy female lead and John Lithgow’s creepy assassin, feel purposefully overblown.
As is typical with De Palma, there are a host of dazzling set pieces (arguably more here than in any of his other movies) the best of which surely being that ingeniously crafted night-time sound recording scene. Travolta is in top form and his relationship with Allen’s character is believable and interesting yet much different to the malevolent pairing they shared in Carrie. Lithgow is equally entertaining in a peculiar sort of way.
Blow Out is a movie-lover’s delight and required viewing for anyone who enjoys intelligent cinema. It’s dark, it’s suspenseful, and like all De Palma’s great work, it’s wonderfully dramatic.
Rating: The Good – 90.5 Genre: Horror Duration: 98 mins Director: Brian De Palma Stars: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving
Brian De Palma brings Stephen King’s horror classic to life with bags of wit and style in this seminal addition to the horror movie genre. From the very opening shot we see that De Palma’s innovative style and penchant for long slow tracking shots are perfectly suited to telling the story of a troubled high school girl who spends her days being bullied in school and her evenings being psychologically abused by her fanatically religious mother. A target for her classmates’ cruelty and a vessel for her mother’s self-delusions, Carrie is about to blow and given that she has recently discovered that she can move objects with her mind, neither is going to want to be around when she does.
Carrie is a case of inspired writing and screen adaptation (kudos Lawrence D. Cohen) being brought to life by a confident young director who was (along with others of his generation) both heavily influenced by the old maestros yet also changing the shape of modern cinema with bold new ideas and innovations. And Carrie is chock-full of both. This film glides along and shifts almost effortlessly in tone from seriously dark and creepy in places to whimsical, carefree, and downright fun in others (just check out that tux-buying scene). Pino Donaggio’s score helps hugely in the latter instances but really comes into its own when Carrie is using her powers.
Sissy Spacek is phenomenally good in the title role given that the two sides to her character’s personality were so disparate. William Katt’s always positive presence brings a ray of sunshine the party and Nancy Allen and John Travolta are excellent together as two of the twisted bullies. Of course Piper Laurie is just plain scary as Carrie’s mother and adds that final touch of class needed to elevate this masterpiece into the high echelons of great cinema.