'1001 Nights In - The A to Z Of Movies You Might Have Missed'
Updated: Nov 26, 2022
The decline of Blockbuster Video and it's ilk, (a foregone conclusion with the advent and domination of a plethora of streaming services), has meant that a great many films from a multitude of genres have yet to be unearthed and rediscovered. The days of casually browsing your local 'Mom & Pop' Home Video Store has given way to time efficient, complex algorithms suggesting what you might want to view next - based on what you've already seen.
But you may ask, with so much content online surely there is nothing that I can miss out on or still need to discover? Is there? Let's find out!
A.I / Steven Spielberg / 2001 / Jude Law / 12
From an original draft script by Stanley Kubrick, Spielberg enchants and wows us in this Pinocchio inspired story. David, is an innocent, self aware robot searching for ‘love’ and affirmation that he is, in fact a real boy. Violent in places, but full of rich camera work (courtesy of award winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski) and incredible visuals. Jude Law is particularly good as Gigolo Joe, and voice-over artist Jack Angel brings a beautifully rendered CG side-kick (and Jiminy Cricket like conscience) called Teddy to life. But it's Haley Joel Osmet’s performance as David that will break your heart.
Airplane! / Abrahams / 1980 / Julie Hagerty / PG
This high camp send-up of 70’s disaster movies, referencing everything from “Jaws” to “Saturday Night Fever”, has inspired a host of cheap imitators over the years, particularly the uninspired “Scary Movie” series, but this remains the best of its kind. The jokes come so thick and fast, you won’t mind that some don’t find their mark, because the next ones do. The follow up - Airplane: The Sequel! (1982) contains many of the same same recycled jokes, but it's worth watching for the additional “blink-and–you’ll-miss-them” moments - including William Shatner in a very funny cameo.
Alamo, The / Wayne / 1960 /John Wayne / 12
Nominated for 11 Oscars but winning only 1, John Wayne must have been wondering what exactly he had to do to be recognised and respected by the Academy in Hollywood. Before taking on the monumental task of producing, directing and starring in his epic The Alamo, Wayne had been told he should hire an experienced director like John Ford. Ford knew how to do BIG. After all he virtually invented the Western as the world would come to know it. Most importantly he knew how to get a great performance out of the Duke. Despite all advice to the contrary however, Wayne began work on his first and only film as Director. Supported by an able cast (including Richard Widmark, Frankie Avalon and his son Patrick Wayne) it was not the disaster that it could have been, with only perhaps Wayne himself lacking the energy to make Davey Crockett his own. Despite criticism this film remains a timeless Sunday afternoon favourite for fans of old school Westerns.
Alien Saga I-IV / Scott, Cameron, Fincher, Jeunet / 1979, '86, '92, '97 / Sigourney Weaver / 18
Much like the Terminator, Star Wars and Star Trek franchises, the Alien saga, has often divided audiences and fans throughout the years...
The original film quadrilogy could possibly be split into the following four categories: Horror/War/Isolation/Existential. All dealing in pretty heavy themes and issues while delivering much more than simple monster movie thrills. Each film has tried to add another dimension to an essentially simple story: Man (or in this case woman) against technology. The fact that the biggest monster in all of this remains “The Company” is not something to be taken lightly.
My personal fav. is Cameron’s Aliens: Special Edition. Waking after 76 years of hyper-sleep, and finding that she has out lived her own daughter, Ripley teams up with crack marines to rescue some terra-formers. Finding & bonding with the last survivor (a young girl called Newt) her mothering instincts take over. When the showdown arrives mono et mono with the 'Queen', our heroine finally gets to kick some alien butt!
American Graffiti / George Lucas / 1973 / Richard Dreyfuss / 15
Ron “Happy Days” Howard, and a delightful Richard Dreyfuss contemplate graduation, the draft and leaving town. Set against a back drop of 1960's America, each scene is timed and cut to the length of a particular resonating song from the R&R era. Its strength lays in its ability to be both funny and nostalgic, even if you aren’t American or old enough to have lived through the period yourself. It's an honest, semi-autobiographical story from George Lucas, who would later be consumed by the less personal, though visually impressive Star Wars.
American Werewolf In London / John Landis / 1981 / David Naughton / 15
Classic 80´s comedy/horror that was both ground-breaking in its use of transformative practical FX, and in its use of black humour. Landis' quirky American observations lampoon British hospitality (check out the scene in The Slaughtered Lamb with ex-milkman turned actor Brian Glover in a brilliantly unsettling cameo), and turns the genre clichés on their head. David Naughton is perfectly cast as the titular character, fresh faced Jenny Agutter adds the sex appeal/love interest, while Griffin Dunne turns in an unforgettable role as the rotting best friend, returned from the grave and imparting warnings of the werewolves curse!
Antz / Darnell & Johnson / 1998 / Woody Allen / PG
The first (and often overlooked) computer animated offering from DreamWorks SKG Studios, remains one of their best. Woody Allen voices “Z”, a worker ant unhappy with his place in the world, with pretty much all of his usual onscreen characteristics intact. The humour is clever, dry and dark, with some pretty weighty themes (war/genocide) making this more for adults and older children than your typical animated affair. The likeness and voices of Sharon Stone, Sylvester Stallone, Christopher Walken and Gene Hackman simply add to the fun.
Any Given Sunday / Oliver Stone / 1999 / Al Pacino / 15
Directed by 'General' Oliver Stone, this plays out like a war film as boardroom backlash rubs (wide reciever) shoulders with medical ethics. Throwing some tense sexual politics into the pains of the game, Stone then maneuvers the individual pieces like a chess master, manipulating a delicious, almost Shakespearean play. Plus, there is enough action on the field to shame most major blockbusters. Superbly acted by old hands Al Pacino, James Woods and Dennis Quaid, other stand outs include Jaime Foxx and a never better Cameron Diaz.
Almost Famous / Cameron Crowe / 2000 / Patrick Fugit / 15
A semi-autobiographical look at the '70's Rock & Roll scene, based on Crowe's early years as a reporter for Rolling Stone Magazine, this Box Office flop is actually a thoroughly delightful tale. Told through the eyes of 15 year old fan and aspiring writer William (beautifully played by Patrick Fugit), we experience life on the road with struggling band 'Sillwater' (an amalgamation of early Hard Rock acts such as Free, The Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd). The sex, the drugs, the egos and insecurities are all played out in a meandering but very funny pace. The attention to period detail is believable and has a lived in feel. The Main Cast - Jason Lee, Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand and Kate Hudson all excel in their individual parts, but the movie is stolen by a smart, emotive cameo from Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his best and most beloved roles - that of real life critic Lester Bangs. A must-see, warm hearted coming-of-age drama.
Back To The Future Trilogy / Robert Zemeckis / 1985, 1989, 1990 / Michael J. Fox / PG
From the moment we meet the Doc (superbly played by the inimitable Christopher Lloyd) we know this is going to be one wild ride. Nostalgic for a 50's America that never really was, it nevertheless hits home on a very simple premise “What if you could meet your parents when they were young?”...
Though each sequel is somehow less involving than the superior first film, each film has its own merits. For example, during the second films confusing, overly complicated finale there is a brilliantly (re)filmed moment of a key scene from the original. From another perspective, even with the knowledge of the original outcome, the audience loses its sure footing in the excitement. The final film sees the whole thing relocate to the old West, allowing new variations on the jokes from the first two movies, but still finds time for reflection and even romance for the Doc. All throughout, the lovable Marty (a perfectly cast Michael J. Fox replacing Eric Stolz in the first weeks of shooting) keeps the whole thing from falling apart.
Bad Taste / Peter Jackson / 1987 / Jackson / 18
An early B-movie splatter fest from New Zealand’s schlock horror meister Peter Jackson, later director of the technically superior Heavenly Creatures, King Kong and The Frighteners. As well as immensely popular Lord of the Rings and Hobbit Sagas.
When an alien fast food company tries to add humans to their list of intergalactic recipes, they don’t count on a small group of expert Kiwis - the Astro Investigation and Defence Service (AIDS) foiling their plans. It's exactly what you might expect from a student film full of homemade props made over 4 years with almost zero budget - cheap and cheerful.
Pulpy, gory and full of very black gross-out humour, it's definitely not one for the squeamish or the faint hearted. But watched in the right frame of a mind, it's also very funny!
Being John Malkovich / Spike Jonze / 1999 / John Cusack / 15
Chaotic unemployed puppeteer Craig Schwartz's life is quickly thrown into even more turmoil after he finds work as a file clerk working for the mysterious Dr. Lester. If working between the 7th and 8th level of the Manhattan building wasn't strange enough, he discovers a small hidden door - that incredibly leads him into the mind of actor John Malkovich! It's a darkly eccentric study of obsession and commercialism, with highly complex spiritual and existential ideas being thrown around like confetti. A bit more cohesion would have been welcome, but as an odd little indie film it works in its own right – by showcasing the talents of John Cusack (supported by a strong and game cast including Cameron Diaz and Catherine Keener), former music video director Spike Jonze, and writer Charlie Kaufmann (Man In the Moon).
Ben Hur / William Wyler / 1959 / Charlton Heston / 15
Filmed twice before (silent) and since, this 50's classic is a true cinematic event. Although an over long and over ambitious project, it marked a turning point in film making using huge sets and thousands of extras. An unlikely proposition today, more than often CG rendered due to the incredible production costs involved. Chuck, all wide jaw and clipped vowels, was never better than in this “Tale of the Christ”. Despite the occasionally corny dialogue, the scenes with Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd sizzle with sexual chemistry, (thanks to hints within Gore Vidal’s subtle homoerotic storyline), while the 9 minute chariot race remains one of the most truly unforgettable moments in big screen history.
Best In Show / Christopher Guest / 2000 / Eugene Levy / 15
The creators of This Is Spinal Tap take on a new target - the world of professional dog shows. Not as eternally funny as the classic ...Tap (what is?), it's nevertheless another highly successful “mockumentry” achieving a similar tone. Eugene Levy leads a cast of eccentrics and misfits in a “battle of the handlers”. There is so much to like here, featuring great performances from Catherine O´Hara (Schitt's Creek), Jane Lynch (Glee) and Jennifer Coolidge (American Pie), it remains truly hilarious and immensely quotable even after much repeat viewing.
Big Red One, The / Sam Fuller / 1980 / Lee Marvin / 18
Sam Fuller’s autobiographical war drama is hard, bloody and cold. Through the eyes of Mark Hamill, fresh from Star Wars, we get to empathise and understand the actions and emotions of a young combat soldier during a series of campaigns during WWII. Based on Fuller's own war experiences, the camera never flinches, leaving us with a hard hitting assault to the senses. Sometimes uneasy, this is a dirty lens handheld approach to film-making that stylised the way war films would be shot in future. Inspiring a spate of Vietnam films during the 1980’s such as Platoon and Full Metal Jacket up to the documentary approach of Tigerland and Saving Private Ryan the 90’s.
Blazing Saddles / Mel Brooks / 1974 / Gene Wilder / 15
Immensely quotable, this classic Mel Brooks comedy, features Cleavon Little in the lead role (replacing Richard Prior who co-wrote the script), Slim Pickins as a racist deputy, Madelin Kahn as a Marlene Dietrich inspired cabaret artisté and a hilarious Gene Wilder as a shaky gunslinger. It's Wilder who steals the show of course much as he does in Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. It was quite daring for its time in dealing with topical subjects including racism and anti-Semitism. It's also a near perfect parody of Western clichés and has lost none of its satirical bite over the years. Structurally it's a mess, but what other film can lay claim to constant fourth wall breaking, a Busby Berkley musical number food fight and a character called Mongo punching a horse? Plus you’ll never eat baked beans in the same way again...
Casablanca / Michael Curtiz / 1942 / Humphrey Bogart / PG
“You must remember this . . . . “. A thousand film scholars can’t be wrong! Without doubt one of the most beautiful pieces of cinema ever made, or ever likely to be made. Like a box of Belgium’s finest chocolates, each scene and every moment is filled with heavenly delights. Whether it is the enjoyably quotable dialogue that has entered into everyday usage, the beautiful picture book photography, or simply the magical chemistry between leads Bogart & Bergman, this remains a true celluloid treasure. Immensely watchable time after time if only for the delightful turns of Claude Rains as suave Capt. Renault & Peter Lorre as the creepy Ugarte.
They really don’t make them quite like this anymore.
Chopper / Andrew Dominik / 2000 / Eric Banner / 18
A cult Australian indie flick featuring a scarily accurate performance of infamous real life villain Chopper Reed, by Eric Banner. Violence and humour are uneasy bedfellows in this brutal prison drama, but the central performance is so mesmerising you'll forgive its misgivings
Hot on the heels of fellow Oz actors Russell Crowe & Guy Pierce, Banner displays the talent (good body /brooding and smouldering looks) that would steal him the role of Bruce Banner in Ang Lee’s existential, angst filled Hulk.
Concrete Cowboy / Ricky Staub / 2020 / Idris Elba / 18
Idris Elba and Caleb McLaughlin deliver exceptional performances in Writer/Director Ricky Staub's debut offering, as an estranged father and troubled son reunited by necessity, after the son is expelled from school.
It's a slow moving but ultimately rewarding film, that builds upon their relationship with a peek into a hitherto hidden world. A subculture that has existed in Philadelphia for over 100 years - the urban black cowboys (and cowgirls) of The Fletcher Street Riders, and their real life plight against gentrification, local drug gangs and disapproving neighbours.
More than worthy of your time...
Constantine / Francis Lawrence / 2005 / Keanu Reeves / 15
Alan Moore is apparently never happy with any adaptation of his work which is quite understandable, after all Comics and Film are two very different mediums. Here however, the balance is almost perfect (for Comic book to Film perfection watch Zack Snyder's Watchmen & Justice League (ZS Cut) or the Russo Brothers' Endgame). Reeves more or less plays himself, but the film is FUN! Plenty of Horror, action and dark humour make up for an age old story. Rachel Weiss looks battered, bewildered and beautiful, while Tilda Swinton is cleverly cast as fallen angel Gabriel. Shia Le Beuf overplays an unnecessary comedy side-kick role, although that alone shouldn't detract you from seeing this quirky flick.
Corpse Bride, The / Johnson & Burton / 2005 / Johnny Depp / 12
Perhaps not quite as accomplished as Burton’s previous animated work with Henry Selick 'The Nightmare Before Christmas', this remains thoroughly engaging nevertheless. The biggest let down is actually the songs, penned by usually reliable co-contributor Danny Elfman (who also voices here). Here, unlike Nightmare they merely get in the way of an otherwise creepily charming tale. The stop-motion animation itself is superb, while the voice talents including Helen Bonham-Carter and Emily Watson are the cream of the acting crop.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon / Ang Lee / 2000 / Chow Yun Fat / 12
Taking western misconceptions about Chinese cinema and turning them on their head Ang Lee, (who won an Oscar for Brokeback Mountain), makes a surreal ballet with his actors. Having them fly across trees and over walls during intense, beautifully choreographed martial arts workouts. The entire film is cast brilliantly, but Chow Yung Fat & Michelle Yeoh are exceptional in their roles. There is also an emotion weight amongst the philosophy, and a heart-breaking story to boot. All that and outstanding cinematograpy, make for a truly unforgettable experience.
The Dig / Simon Stone / 2021/ Carey Mulligan / PG-13
Watching Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan slowly excavate an old Anglo Saxon burial ship in Sutton Hoo might sound like a painful way to spend a couple of hours, but you'd be quite wrong.
Set in 1939 against a looming WW2, the perfectly matched central performances are everything. Based on 'The Dig' by John Preston, in turn based on a real event, the actual archeology is secondary to the connection between Basil Brown an amateur digger who believes there is something worth finding, and Edith Pretty the widow who owns the land.
Rather revealing layer by layer, the deep emotional connection to the past and the importance of remembering...
With this in mind, an added subplot romance between 2 other characters (skillfully played by Lily James and Johnny Flynn) probably for that reason, proves a slight distraction.
Their might be some fictional aspects to the facts, but the acting is exquisite, the cinema photography sublime, and the film doesn't take anything away from their real life counterparts, or what they accomplished. In brief an unmissable, Sunday afternoon delight from BBC Films worthy of your time.
District 9 / Neill Blomkamp / 2009 / Sharlto Copley / 18
Inspired by events in Cape Town's District Six during the era of apartheid, this debut feature from South African Director Neill Blomkamp is a true original. In turn exciting, violent, bloody and heartfelt this Sci-Fi action film stands unique amongst a slew of similar found footage movies, that began with The Blair Witch Project in 1999. Produced by Peter Jackson in an international co-production between New Zealand, the US and South Africa it was filmed in Johannesburg. Using the city as a backdrop to explore racism, segregation and humanity.
In an alternative history aliens landed in 1982 looking for help... only to be placed into internment camps, which turn into slums. 20 years later, a bizarre chance meeting between a human social worker and an alien (known derogatively as 'prawns') begin a chain of events that will it show what it means to be outsider on your own planet.
8 Mile / Hanson / 2002 / Eminem / 15
The controversial rapper proves he can act in this “Rocky” styled tale, based in part on the real life of Marshall Matthers III. As Rabbit, Eminem is surprisingly rather good. Although, impressive turns from Kim Basinger as his drug addicted Mother, Britney Murphy as his girlfriend and Mekhi Pfifer as his mentor/friend, make this into a much more rewarding film than the melodrama it could easily have been. And the rap battle finale is as exciting as going 10 rounds with a pro boxer.
Everybody's Talking About Jamie / Jonathan Butterell / 2020 / Max Harwood / PG-13
16 year old Jamie New (a brilliant central performance by newcomer Max Harwood), a Sheffield teenager, dreams of being a performer - a Drag Queen to be exact!
Dealing with an absent father, school bullies and exams he finds support from best friend Pritti (Lauren Patel) and his doting Mum (an excellent Sarah Lancashire). But it’s through a chance meeting with local drag legend Miss Loco Chanelle (a perfectly cast Richard E. Grant), where Jamie finds a mentor, and perhaps the strength he needs to finally step out into the spotlight… as Mimi Me! The songs and music written by Dan Gillespie Sells (The Feeling) are fun and energetic albeit missing a little well,… feeling. Fortunately the script by Tom McRae (Lewis, Doctor Who) covers the movies many clichés with some bitting wit.
As a Musical it probably won’t change the world, but based on a true story, it might inspire a little more tolerance and acceptance. A (self) love story for anyone feeling shunned and marginalised by simply being who they are, and who they aspire to be…
Fatman / Eshom & Ian Nelms / 2020 / Mel Gibson / 18
Mel Gibson has often proven a controversial and divisive figure over the years, but there is a chance however small that this film might redeem him in the eyes of some cinephiles, casting agents and even critics. In fact Fatman might prove to be one of his late career defining roles. With a performance both emotional and wildly esoteric, the film dips whenever he's not on screen. A testament to just how good an actor he is. Walton Goggins lends dark comedic relief, while Marianne Jean-Baptiste lends the film a believable heart.
The film is also a demented, slow burning, Cohen-esque delight filled with twisted humour and a brilliant blood soaked finale.
The Harry Potter Saga
Harry Potter & The Philosophers Stone / Christopher Columbus / 2001 / Daniel Radcliffe / 12
J.K Rowling’s boy/teenage hero is brought to life for the big screen with an enjoyably sweet family film. The leads are perhaps a touch too inexperienced for the task in hand, but reveal their future potential - especially a delightful Emma Watson. Home Alone director Columbus’ style is solid if unimaginative, while Steve Kloves attempts to cram as much as possible from the book into the screenplay. The result is a warm, funny family adventure that sets the tone and pace for the entire series. The title was changed to The Sorcerers Stone for American audiences, along with additional scenes not in the original book.
Harry Potter & The Chamber Of Secrets / Christopher Columbus / 2002 / Daniel Radcliffe / 12
Columbus is little out of his depth with large scale movies. Here his limitations begin to appear in an otherwise wonderful adaptation, although he does manage to create the right amount of tension in certain scenes involving giant spiders! Diehard HP fans will always have something to moan about, and much of the book would be un-filmable anyway. On the plus side, Steve Kloves once again proves to be the right man for the book to screen adaptations. The young leads have already improved in leaps and bounds in the acting department, and a well needed shot in the arm for the FX budget adds a little more magic missing from the first film.
Harry Potter & The Prisoner From Azkaban / Alfonso Cuarón / 2004 / Daniel Radcliffe / 12
Finally the right balance is found with Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity, Children Of Men), and the story arc can evolve more maturely than before. The tone here is darker and the running time tighter than in the two predecessors. The shorter running time of course means that even more has been cut out and lost from the book, but is actually all the better for it. Gary Oldman is perfectly cast as Sirius Black, and David Thewlis brings much sympathy to the role of Professor “Moony”. But there are great turns from all the supporting players as usual, particularly Michael Gambon as Professor Dumbledore (replacing the sadly departed Richard Harris), some wonderful FX and even a mystery to boot. Super family entertainment all round.
Harry Potter & The Goblet Of Fire / Mike Newell / 2005 / Daniel Radcliffe / 12
Harry grows up, falls in love, and faces his greatest challenge to date – the resurrection of Dark Lord Voldermort, his nemesis. Another director – Mike (Four Weddings & A Funeral) Newell - and another style. Different in tone again from the last film, it feels unsure whether it wants to be a dark coming of age drama or a teenage fantasy comedy. And therein lays the only real problem. On the outside it looks fabulous, the FX people working overtime to bring us the best Quiddich game yet, an amazing duel of fire with a dragon plus a fabulous underwater set piece. The teenage actors prove themselves well capable of handling the daunting tasks beset them too. Delivering emotionally charged scenes like true pros. Once again the differences between film and book become obvious. As the books get bigger and the stories become more structurally complex, more things have to be lost or changed in order to bring the movie in at a reasonable running time - here 2hrs 40mins. If you know the book(s) well enough, you can forgive the jumping around within the script while non fans may just be scratching their heads wondering what all the fuss is about. Aside from this tiny flaw, the spirit is there and overall it remains a thrill ride for the whole family.
Harry Potter & The Order Of The Phoenix / David Yates / 2007 / Daniel Radcliffe / 12
The most difficult (thickest) book to read becomes one of the best films of the franchise. JK Rowling (this time together with 'Contact' screenwriter Michael Goldenberg ) fillets away the flab and the excess to deliver a tight, emotional ride, some fantastic set pieces and a satisfying conclusion. Despite a bourgeoning romance between Potter and Cho Chang, it's certainly one of the saddest films in the series. Fortunately Imelda Staunton adds a touch of dark humour and wicked glee as Harry's latest antagonist, Dolores Umbridge.
Harry Potter & The Half Blood Prince / David Yates / 2009 / Daniel Radcliffe / 12
Harry and his friends are now 16 years old and the weight of their task ahead is really beginning to shape, strengthen and test their friendship bond. Lord Voldemort is drawing closer and tightening his grip on both the wizarding and Muggle worlds. Harry's school nemesis Draco Malfoy (a previously underused Tom Felton) is brought reluctantly into the fight and given a mission that will change both of their lives forever. Alan Rickman (Snape) is finally given material to really get his teeth into during some powerful, heartbreaking scenes, while our young leads deal with new romances and even more internal and external conflicts. Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (Amélie) used de-focussing and soft wipes but Warner Bros. asked director Yates to retouch the picture by adding more colour. As a result it has a lush, rich palate that gives it a romantic, lived in European look and feel. The spectacular rendered and exciting opening scenes of the Death Eaters' attack on Diagon Alley and London, belie the devastating, tear-filled ending to come...
Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows (Part 1&2) / David Yates / 2010, 2011 / Daniel Radcliffe / 12
Perhaps not quite the ending many had hoped for but satisfying enough. Full of actual magic (so often strangely missing throughout the series) and it pushes all the correct emotional buttons. Ralph Fiennes and Alan Rickman finally get to unleash their acting skills too! Visually it's stunning, but also occasionally slow and uninspired, not quite having the excitement or urgency of Part.1. Although for anyone who has taken the journey with our 3 now perfectly at home leads, it's a heartbreaking farewell that will linger long after the credits roll...
The Heist / David Mamet / 2001 / Gene Hackman / 15
David Mamet's script is so packed with killer lines it’s impossible to dislike this film - even with its slick but snail like pace and direction. Professional thief Joe Moore tries to go legit, but after being caught on a security surveillance camera, he's blackmailed into one last job... DeVito is princely, Hackman steals every scene, and there is stunning ensemble work from all concerned especially Sam Rockwell, Ricky Jay and Delroy Lindo. I have a soft spot for Guy Ritchie's British Gangster flicks, but this remains my fav US heist film. If only all movie dialogue was this good!
Independence Day / Roland Emmerich / 1996 / Jeff Goldblum / 12
The ultimate tribute to the Sci-Fi B-movies of the 1950's complete with corny dialogue and over-the-top acting. The difference? Emmerich gives us spectacular set pieces conjuring up trick after CG trick, hopeful the audience won’t notice! We do, but we delight in this, because amongst all of the OTT bluster there are moments of genuine warmth. Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum basically play themselves, but Judd Hirsch brings some genuine heart and humour, while Bill Pullman’s final presidential speech is a touch of pure cornball genius. It's tosh. But, brilliant tosh.
The Irishman (I Heard You Paint Houses) / Martin Scorsese / 2019 / Robert De Niro / 18
Written by Steven Zaillian, and based on the 2004 book by Charles Brandt, Netflix financed this sprawling epic to the tune of $200 million! It tells the (possibly) true story of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro). A simple hard working truck driver who, after a chance meeting with mobster Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), becomes a hitman involved with a powerful crime family. Eventually leading to him working for Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), a notorious Teamster and Sheeran's hero...
De Niro is never less than compelling. Pacino down-plays as much as he can, but well it's Pacino! While Pesci reveals hereto untapped subtleties and nuances that steal the scene every time he's on screen. While the 3 leads are as good as one would expect, a shout out must be given to Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale and Stephen Graham (especially in his scenes with Pacino) in excellent supporting roles. Even Anna Paquin, despite having only 6 lines of dialogue delivers a short but mesmerising performance.
The use of CG / Mo-Cap for the de-aging of the main characters (the story is told over 50 years) is occasionally jarring, but the acting is so uniformly good throughout, it really doesn't become an issue. The 209 minute running time is slightly excessive too, but allows the story room to breathe. Perhaps it could have been edited down a further 20 minutes allowing for a more impactful, emotional ending. But revisiting many familiar themes - dark humour, violence, poignance - it sits comfortably among Goodfellas, Casino, Gangs Of New York and The Departed as one of Scorsese's best pictures.
Zack Snyder's Justice League / Zack Snyder / 2021 / Ben Affleck / 16
If you're not invested in the DCU and Superhero flicks in general move along...
There's nothing for you here and it will likely leave you cold. Zack Snyder is truly preaching to the converted.
Structurally and tonally different from the 2017 version which due to a family tragedy, Snyder 'abandoned' midway through shooting, to be replaced by Joss Whedon. While Whedon's reshot, re-edited movie had its moments, most of those (the better scenes) were actually shot by Zack and are reinstated here in a very different context.
The almost 4 hour running time deepens character arcs, and continues the story first presented in Man Of Steel, Wonder Woman and Batman Vs Superman. While the Aquaman film now feels like a logical follow up.
Sure the big bad villain is still, well... a big bad villain. The McGuffin is just an Infinite Gauntlet substitute. Some of the dialogue could have used a polish, and a couple of VFX shots a touch more budget. But, this is a vastly superior film. It moves and breathes like a living comic book. Which was surely Zack's intention - it's even filmed in a 4:3 ratio (IMAX) which evokes graphic novels, and is broken down into chapters!
It's darkly fun, it's thrilling, it's hokey and completely OTT. For fans, it's exactly what we want, more than we expected, but not quite as brilliant as it should have been. That it even exists at all is astounding (also down to unbelievable fan loyalty).
Obviously it's not Lawrence Of Arabia (what is?), but as we continue to stream more and more, this style of story telling might become the new norm...
King Kong / Peter Jackson / 2005 / Naomi Watts / 12
Following up The Lord Of The Rings trilogy was never going to be easy for Jackson. Quite why he didn’t revert to a smaller more complex film like his earlier work is a mystery. Perhaps he felt he was on a roll or maybe the new WETA technology was just too much fun to play with. Whatever, he returned to his childhood ambition of remaking the 1933 classic instead.
True, some scenes in this 3 hour epic could have used a touch more editing and it occasionally feels over long and over produced. But regular collaborator Andrew Lesnie's cinematography ensures that it never looks less than stunning. One scene that works exceptionally well, involves a rather nasty onslaught of insects. Wave after wave of creepy crawlies attack our heroes increasing in size and number each time (incidentally without any of the expected overblown movie score cues) – hints at his early gore filled films like Brain Dead (Dead Alive) and Bad Taste. While Kong himself, is a wonderfully realised creation. A fully believable ape, that convinces in every sense. Especially when conveying emotion thanks to some incredible motion capture work courtesy of actor Andy Serkus.
L.A Story / Mick Jackson / 1991 / Steve Martin / 15
Like Woody Allen, whose work is usually based on his affection for his native NY, this is Steve Martin’s love song to his beloved LA. Featuring a host of famous celebrity cameos (Richard E. Grant, Patrick Stewart, Rick Moranis etc.) this also stars a pre Sex & The City fame Sarah Jessica Parker. Steve plays a “wacky weatherman” who, with the help of an electronic freeway sign (!), tries to win over the affection of visiting English tuba playing newspaper reporter Sarah McDowel (Victoria Tennant ). A simple feel good movie. Slight, funny, eccentric and sweet.
Top Gun: Maverick / Joseph Kosinski / 2022 / Tom Cruise / 12A
Name a sequel that’s arguably better than the original. Chances are you’ll say The Godfather II, Aliens, The Empire Strikes Back, The Dark Knight, Terminator 2…? Like Tom Cruise’s own Mission Impossible: Fallout, Top Gun: Maverick can now be added to that list.As formulaic as it is, it 100% delivers on its promise by embracing what was so beloved about the original 1986 film, while improving on it with a perfect blend of nostalgia and reinvention. Director Joseph Kosinski (Oblivion, Tron: Legacy) closely follows the established (occasionally slow) template beat for beat and shot for shot - before igniting the afterburner, lifting the film to new heights with an explosive 3rd act you probably won’t see coming.
While the cast (including solid turns from Miles Teller, Jon Hamm and Glen Powell) are mostly strong and engaging, Tom Cruise remains the main draw. At 59, he continues to be the most enigmatic big screen actor of the last 40 years and strikes a fine balance here between the cocksure swagger and charm of his younger character, while giving the emotional scenes some real depth and weight. Most notably in a beautifully played, well judged scene between Maverick and Iceman (Val Kilmer). A scene that could have been terribly mawkish genuinely brought me to tears…
After a handful of cult films (including Risky Business, All The Right Moves and Legend) made him a name to watch, it was taking on the role of Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell aged 23 that made T.C a household name and an overnight superstar. While he has occasionally coasted on his personality, he’s proven himself time and time again to be a great actor in movies such as Magnolia, Collateral, Rain Man and A Few Good Men. Maverick is another great performance. He’s also an experienced producer and a firm believer in the hands on approach to movie making and ‘keeping it real’. As such Cruise has often performed his own stunts, from car chases and parkour to high altitude jumps from a transport plane, to driving a motorcycle off a cliff in his upcoming Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning. For Top Gun: Maverick he learned how to fly an F-18… The results are on the screen with some of the most intense, brilliantly filmed aerial photography scenes put to film. Reason enough to see this movie, but with a smart attention to detail, reclaiming the past with just the right amount of 80’s jingoistic cliché and a good deal of genuine heart, Top Gun: Maverick will take your breath away…
Muppet Treasure Island / Brian Henson / 1996 / Kermit The Frog / U
One of the very best Muppet movies, as well as one of the best screen versions of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novel.
It's not easy to upstage Kermit, Gonzo, Fozzie and Piggy, but Tim Curry as the infamous Long John Silver, steals every scene! Sadly he only has one musical number (a fact he winkingly points out in the brilliantly witty script) - but what a performance. A young Kevin Bishop makes a sweetly naive Jim Hawkins, while a few choice cameos from Billy Connolly and Jennifer Saunders, round out a near perfect family film that still tickles the funny bone, whatever your age.
2001: A Space Odyssey / Stanley Kubrick / 1968 / Keir Dullea / PG
Much has been written about Stanley Kubrick’s challenging mind-melting movie – particularly its trippy visuals, but there is much more to enjoy here than ground-breaking special effects. True, watching this cinema classic can be quite hard going at times, in turns both thrilling and patience testing. However, persevere and you just might find it remains an essential, ground breaking experience, suitable for anyone interested in the possibilities of film and BIG Sci-Fi ideas...