dir. Robert Altman. Based on the classic E. C. Segar comic strip. Popeye the sailor man (Robin Williams) arrives in coastal town Sweethaven, where he meets Olive Oyl (Shelley Duvall), and becomes involved in the problems of the small town while investigating his own family history. A glorious mess of a film. Almost none of the songs are memorable, and the jokes are not very funny. The way the comic book slapstick and fight scenes are translated into live action are very clever and inventive, but not as funny as they need to be. The design of Sweethaven is very detailed, but you always feel like you’re looking at a large set. Robin Williams’s Popeye voice is so hard to understand, at times is unintelligible. While nothing really works, it still has a charm to it, and the Swee’Pea infant (or ‘Infink’ as Popeye says) is very cute. The high point of the film is the wonderful song ‘He Needs Me’, beautifully sung by Shelley Duvall. The same song was also used perfectly in Paul Thomas Anderson’s PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (2002), fans of that movie will recognise the song instantly. POPEYE is worth watching just to see Olive Oyl sing this song.
dir. Dave Wilson. Based on the comic books of the same name. Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel) and his wife were killed, he is brought back to life as a techno-super solder by scientist Dr. Emil Harting (Guy Pearce). Wacky over the top sci-fi action, with quick cut un-emotive CG mayhem. The narrative feels too much like a re-hash of ROBOCOP (1987), but quickly gets much more interesting. The style of the film is cheesy pop action, but I could see the same concept being explored in a much more sophisticated sci-fi thriller. It’s always great to see Guy Pearce, such a fun screen presence. The film doesn’t take itself very seriously, and there are a few laughs in the final act. I still don’t get the appeal of Vin Diesel as an action star, there is not much physicality, and he always seems too humourless to deliver action hero banter. I’ve not read the comics, but just from watching the movie, I think the producers should write a cheque to Hideo Kojima, as so much of the tech seems right out of his video game series ‘Metal Gear Solid’.
dir. John Dahl. Mike McDermott (Matt Damon) is a law student and reformed poker player. When old school pal, Worm (Edward Norton) gets out of jail owing money to a loan shark, Mike gets back into high stakes poker to try settle things. Some great scenes, but ultimately unsatisfying in the way the messy plot unfolds. Some standout performances, with Martin Landau (Bela Lugosi in ED WOOD (1994)) as Mike’s understanding law professor, and John Malkovich as the gambling boss with the terrible, but amusing Russian accent. The fabulous Famke Janssen (Xenia Onatopp in GOLDENEYE (1995)) has a small role that feels like it should be more important, but it evaporates like so many character arcs. Early on it feels like the core of the film is about the friendship between Mike and Worm, but it’s never paid off satisfactorily – no character seem to go through any change, and the major moments are not suspenseful or exhilarating. Maybe you have to be a real poker fan to fully get this film.
THE INSIDER (1999) dir. Michael Mann. Based on the true story of tobacco industry insider Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) who does an interview with TV program 60 Minutes, exposing illegality within the company. An incredible epic film, about an essentially unlikable character. One of Russell Crowe’s best performances, as the hard drinking scientist with anger issues who loves his kids. Al Pacino as the 60 Minutes producer is a delight, I enjoyed how he is calm and professional for almost the entire movie, and when he loses his temper, it’s glorious. I loved Al Pacino’s beach house. The deposition scene is one of the most satisfying courthouse moments in cinema. Possibly the best soundtracks to a thriller ever, combining operatic vocals, classical guitar, and a perfectly placed Massive Attack track. Watching again this time, I was very impressed by the use of repetition of the Wigand interview tapes. The taping of the interview is not the climax of the film, we see it multiple times from different angles: interviewer, interviewee, editor, producer, a finally audience, shown without words, in an airport lounge. Masterpiece.
dir. Tom Ford. The story is based on the 1993 novel ‘Tony and Susan’ by Austin Wright. Gallerist Susan (Amy Adams) reads an advanced copy of a violent sadistic novel written by her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), while reminiscing about their relationship. The movie is a combination of scenes from the book as Susan reads, flashbacks, and scenes from present day where Susan goes to work, and interacts with her new husband. I really didn’t enjoy this movie. I hated watching Edward’s repugnant novel play out, with an overlong scene of a mother and daughter being abducted by a gang of rapists. I hated the way their fate was revealed, and the “aesthetic” presentation of that discovery left me feeling sick – not pity at the crime, but revulsion at the artistic compulsion to present the scene in this style. The narrative is a low-rent melodrama, with no redeeming qualities. There is a beautiful high gloss style layered over this unworthy material, with elegant moody cinematography, and a subtle swelling soundtrack – all of which deserve a better film. I’m glad I missed this in the cinema.
dir. Howard Franklin, Bill Murray. Grimm (Murray), robs a bank dressed as a clown, along with two friends, and spend the day trying to escape from the police. Bill Murray’s only directorial credit, and it’s brilliant. One of my favourite comedy-crime films. Some painfully suspenseful scenes with the semi-competent thieves always on the verge of catastrophe. Gina Davis is fantastic as always. Supporting cast is outstanding, especially the talented Phil Hartman as the gun wielding yuppie, and Stanley Tucci as the bootlicking mob enforcer. The only aspect that has not aged well is the cabbie (Tony Shalhoub) with his gibberish foreign accent, which he made up for the role. The film is dedicated to Helen Scott, who was a collaborator and close friend to both Francois Truffaut, and Bill Murray, she introduced Murray to the book that this film is based on. Sadly she passed away three years before QUICK CHANGE was released. The same book was also made into the French film HOLD-UP (1985), starring Jean-Paul Belmondo.
dir. Carol Reed. Set in 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II. Anna Bomasch (Margaret Lockwood) is the daughter of an inventor who’s research is highly sought after by both British and German secret agents. Anna and her father become caught in the middle of a deadly game of counterintelligence. Frequently compared to Hitchcock’s THE LADY VANISHES (1939), but very different in structure and atmosphere. The dazzling Margaret Lockwood plays the female lead in both films, both involve intrigue on a train, and both feature the cricket mad comedy duo Charters and Caldicott. Like Hitchcock’s film, there is a wonderful use of miniatures for special effects. The most surprising element of this film is the humour, I found it hilarious. The two male leads are outstanding and very amusing – Paul Henreid who people will recognise as Victor Laszlo in CASABLANCA (1942), and Rex Harrison, who much later was Professor Henry Higgins in MY FAIR LADY (1964). There are some delightful twists and turns in the plot, so if a Hitchcock style adventure, from the director of THE THIRD MAN (1949) appeals, get yourself a ticket on the NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH!
dir. Sung-hyun Yoon. In a near future dystopian Korea, Jun-seok (Lee Je-hoon) is released from prison. Discovering his stash of money is spent, he convinces his friends to help him rob an illegal gambling house. An epic, incredibly suspenseful crime action thriller. It’s a clever idea to make the movie more about about the aftermath of the robbery, than the robbery itself. The film looks stunning, with the colours becoming more neon and lurid as the film progresses. The mysterious killer, ‘Han’ feels very inspired by Javier Bardem’s character in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2017). The film aspires to the epic nature of Michael Mann’s HEAT (1995), but is let down by some of the performances, and an unnecessary occasional voice-over. The dystopian setting provides some incredible abandoned building locations, very reminiscent of the 2013 video game ‘The Last of Us’, or the Will Smith film I AM LEGEND (2007). A great example of a film that would be much better in the cinema, than on a TV streaming service, the soundscape and visuals are extraordinary, clearly inspired by both BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017) and MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015).
dir. Stephen Herek. Seventeen year old Sue Ellen (Christina Applegate) is stuck at home during summer holidays, with a diabolical elderly babysitter foisted upon her while her mother is on holidays in Australia. When the babysitter becomes indisposed, Sue Ellen lies about her age to get a job at a clothing company, to provide for her younger siblings. A fun mix of movie tropes, the unsupervised children from HOME ALONE (1990), combined with the fashion industry imposter of THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA (2006). Not nearly as funny or fast paced as I remember, but still has a few memorable moments. I love Kimmy Robertson as the spreadsheet wiz saving Sue Ellen, she was also the Sheriff Office receptionist in ‘Twin Peaks’. It’s great watching David Duchovny in sleazy 1980s mode, with his slicked back hair, two years before ‘X-Files’. Superb use of Spinal Tap song ‘Gimme Some Money’. The business plot line does not work at all, and there is not really any suspense about Sue Ellen’s masterplan. The love plot is dismal, there is zero sexual chemistry between Sue Ellen and Chili dog delivery boy Bryan (teenage Josh Charles who played Will Gardner in ‘The Good Wife’). Sue Ellen’s constant cigarette smoking really dates the film, she smokes in the car, in front of her mother, and in the office – that alone may be reason enough not to introduce this movie to younger viewers. I love a movie montage, and the house cleaning segment at the end has to be one of the better ones from the 1990s.
dir. Carlo Mirabella-Davis. Hunter (Haley Bennett) is a newlywed, living with her husband in a beautiful glass house on the Hudson River in upstate New York. Her wealthy new family are loathsome, and Hunter copes by swallowing inedible objects, later diagnosed as a Pica disorder. A remarkable looking film, for such a difficult subject, their family home is as beautiful as the one in EX MACHINA (2015). More of a tense drama than a horror film, although there are some scenes of animal slaughter, and surgery that give the aesthetic of horror. Haley Bennett is remarkable, and is on camera for almost every shot. She reacts so honestly and believably to the oppressive, suffocating world around her, that it’s understandable, even perversely logical, why she makes her choices. The supporting cast includes David Rasche as the boorish father-in-law, a wonderful actor, and featured in some of the best TV series made, including ‘Succession’, ‘Veep’, and ‘Rubicon’. This is director Carlo Mirabella-Davis’s first feature, and it’s remarkable, definitely a name to watch.