Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) or HuluPlus (US only), we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.
1997 USA. Director: Simon West. Starring: Nicolas Cage, John Malkovich, John Cusack, Colm Meaney, Danny Trejo, Ving Rhames, Dave Chappelle, Steve Buscemi.
They just don’t make ’em like they did back in the late 90s. On rewatch, the movie is as goofy as ever but done so completely deliberately; which is something I actually appreciate now, more so than my theatrical experience 15 years ago whereas I just looked at everything as action cheese. It’s as simple as it gets but the outlandish scenarios keep things interesting at every turn. The score is awesome! It’s a unique blend of mechanical sound effects (listen closely whenever Buscemi is on screen), heavy metal and strings. The action and effects still hold up (the Vegas crash scene is terrific!). And of course it’s Nic Cage in proper mode working next to a fucking great, over the top John Malkovich performance. It’s fun and funny. For good ol fashioned, proper action flicks, you could do a lot worse.
1983 USA. Director: Tony Scott. Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon, David Bowie.
Finally, a Tony Scott film I can actually get behind. OK, I do like True Romance, but it doesn’t quite hit on all it’s cylinders with me – especially towards the end. Though the last 15-20 minutes in this modern day vampire story (well, it was modern day when it was released 25 years ago anyway – those hairstyles certainly couldn’t be mistaken as modern at this point), go slightly astray here as well, there’s a lovely slow build up as Catherine Deneuve marks medical researcher Susan Sarandon as her next companion. A lot is made of the steamy scenes between Deneuve and Sarandon, but they aren’t the focus here (in more ways than one – things are so soft focus you’d swear they were filmed through a feathered pillow). Deneuve plays the countess with a wonderful icy cool exterior that belies the real fire beneath and Sarandon’s big eyes soak all of it in (Bowie is actually very good as her previous companion as his Thin White Duke character slides perfectly into place). The style occasionally threatens to undercut it all, but (short of that last section) it achieves a strange tense balance that had me solidly entranced for most of it.
1955 UK. Director: Alexander Mackendrick. Starring: Alec Guiness, Peter Sellers, Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Danny Green, Katie Johnson.
Expectations are tough. Sometimes you can have such low expectations that a bad/okay movie can actually be really enjoyable, while your expectations can be so high you come away disappointed. Unfortunately that’s the way I felt about the original The Ladykillers. I’m very familiar with the Coen brothers remake – one of their most underrated films in my opinion – and so was looking at the original with those eyes. While I found the cast great – Guiness (looking like a young version of Max Schreck as Nosferatu!) and Peter Sellers are particularly good – I just plain didn’t laugh as much as I wanted to and 56 years on it does feel dated (although there are plenty of movies before then that don’t). I still enjoyed the film but in my eyes the Coen brothers did a lot more with the idea, resulting in a more rewatchable film.
1978 US. Director: Alan Parker. Starring: Brad Davis, John Hurt, Randy Quaid, Norbert Weisser, Irene Miracle, Bo Hopkins.
I seem to be crossing a lot of films off my list of shame as of late and Midnight Express is definitely one which lived up to its reputation for me. An absolutely harrowing and powerful film that really makes you feel like you’re locked in the prison right with Brad Davis’ Billy Hayes, a victim of a foreign government wanting to make an example of him after he tries to sneak drugs from Turkey back to the US. It’s a tad slow at times but that just allows you to soak in the grungy, purposefully unpleasant atmosphere. And the ending is one of the most fulfilling I’ve seen in quite a while.
24 Hour Party People
2002 UK. Director: Michael Winterbottom. Starring: Steve Coogan, Lennie James, Paul Popplewell, Paddy Considine, Andy Serkis, John Simm, Shirley Henderson, Sean Harris.
This was a film I absolutely avoided for years and years. Maybe it was the subject matter – diving head first into British music in the ’70s and ’80s – or simply the DVD cover but it just didn’t grab my interesting for whatever reason. How wrong I was to avoid it. It certainly has some issues to do with pacing and the likes but for the most part I enjoyed the heck out of this one, bringing to life the era of music it deals with in a way I’ve never really seen before. There’s an element of fun to be had looking out for the various different musical artists – including Joy Division, the Happy Mondays and New Order – but it’s more than just “spot the band.” Very well written, with a very savvy sense of humor all presented in appropriately manic fashion by director Michael Winterbottom.
2011 Chile. Director: Cristián Jiménez. Starring: Gabriela Arancibia, Cristóbal Briceño and Julio Carrasco.
An opening voiceover tells us that all we need to know about this story is that at the end, Emilia is dead, and Julio is not dead. “All the rest is fiction.” I love when stories play with storytelling itself, and that’s what this film does, giving us a multi-layered look at a relationship that may be real, or may be partly real, and certainly is partly fiction. Julio is a wanna-be writer who tries to get a job typing up the latest work of a famous novelist. When he fails to get the job, he tells his girlfriend about it anyway and starts making up the story based on the brief logline the novelist gave him, tying it back to a relationship he had nine years earlier with a girl, Emilia, in college. At some points he seems to be telling their story exactly, but other times it’s clear that filtered through both memory and fiction, it’s vastly different than what actually happened, if indeed, anything actually happened at all. The story owes a lot to Proust, whose opening lines in Remembrance of Things Past get repeated a few times (Julio and Emilia also met over them both pretending to have read Proust) – I won’t repeat them all here, but they have to do with the main character falling asleep reading and in a half-wakeful state imagining himself to have become part of the book he was reading. That’s very much what’s going on here, and I loved it. The love story (or stories, both the remembered one with Emilia and the current one with his girlfriend) is sweet and genuine, and though the film as a whole is pretty slight, it’s very tender and enjoyable.