Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The Killer Inside Me




Every so often, a movie comes along that shakes us out of apathy. For a film to do so at this time of year, when the crowds are subject to mindless explosions and effects, is an especially refreshing prospect. Unfortunately, Michael Winterbottom's The Killer Inside Me, adapted from Jim Thompson's landmark 1952 pulp thriller, does so for all the wrong reasons. It's quickly gained a reputation, prompting an unprecedented reaction from a female audience member at the Sundance Film Festival in January who was appalled at the apparently misogynistic violence. Frequently tedious, often gratuitous, and with those two repellent scenes of brutality that are so badly integrated they might as well be seen as literal punch-lines, it's a nasty piece of work that never provokes in the way it should, unlike the novel on which it's based.



There Thompson shook up the clich├ęd world of chain-smoking anti-heroes and alluring femme fatales by making the reader complicit with a psychopath inside his own head. Said narrator is Lou Ford (assayed in the film by Casey Affleck), deputy Sheriff in a small Texan town; a place where 'everyone thinks they know who you are', observes Ford, astutely. He is ordered by Sheriff Bob Maples (Tom Bower) to run a local prostitute, Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba) out of town, for fear that she'll compromise the son of tycoon Chester Conway (Ned Beatty), a local client. Taking umbrage to Ford's request and refusing to be intimidated by a badge, Joyce slaps Ford about a bit, before something is awakened within and he responds, whipping her repeatedly with a belt, something that sparks an intense sado-masochistic relationship.



The lovers then plot their own scheme to blackmail her client and make off with the money, before that now notorious act of violence against Alba's character sees the narrative spear off in a different direction, the slippery killer taking perverse relish in staying one step ahead of his colleagues and a snooping DA (Simon Baker). All the above happens within the first 25 minutes, immediately underlining its status as a hectic adaptation and likely baffling those not familiar with the text. Affleck's incoherent noir drawl, a tasty proposition for film buffs, doesn't help in this regard either.



The horror creeps in early and expertly in the novel when it's revealed that Lou is battling a 'sickness', a glib word for the sociopathic tendencies that are bubbling under the surface but remain cryptic enough to exist beyond our understanding. That sense of horrific anticipation is what grips us. But it's the film's abject failure to effectively establish this sense of context that sees it snowball out of control into a shallow and uneasy adaptation. It is of course impossible for film, an external medium, to get inside a character's head fully, but Winterbottom and scriber John Curran's effort is scuppered from the outset by leaping into the narrative too quickly, leaving Affleck (usually a dab hand with darkly nuanced characters) high and dry, denying him the chance to establish early on that horrifying sense of banal evil lurking in our midst.



As a result, exposition and back-story are mangled and muffled, secondary characters like Kate Hudson (as Ford's unassuming girlfriend, Amy Stanton) and Elias Koteas (excellent as a suspicious union official, privy to knowledge of Ford's past) lacking an arc or development. What should be intricate and gripping is frequently rote and boring. And Winterbottom so badly misjudges those revolting scenes of violence, failing to realize their organic growth out of the character's twisted psychosis in the novel, that they almost seem deliberately designed to wake us from a self-imposed doze. Misogynistic or not, it certainly doesn't work, veering between the sickening and the somnambulant at will. Visually (all Stetsons, chrome cars and cigars) it's a treat, but then who watched Hannibal Lecter solely for his dress sense?

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Exit Through the Gift Shop


Being the story of Thierry Guetta, a man obsessed with video recording and likewise obsessed with street-art, namely the mysterious entity known only as Banksy; Rhys Ifans narrates.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

The *Eleven* Greatest Film Scores Ever



Complimenting my not at all frivolous 11 greatest action films list, here's another, that perhaps strikes closer to my heart. Having been fascinated with the orchestral film score for some years now (despite not being musically trained myself), I'm firmly of the belief that it's one of modern life's most underrated artforms. However, the best of them are able to encapsulate the films narrative arc in one fell swoop while also existing on their own terms as an autonomous entity. The eleven listed below are the epitome of what the film score can offer: working magnificently both inside and outside the film they're designed for. More than that, however, these are scores I would deem 'perfect', in that not one track can be sacrificed for fear of compromising the whole.





1) To Kill a Mockingbird (Elmer Bernstein, 1962)


Sentimental without being sickly; poignant without being overwrought. Elmer Bernstein's score for Robert Mulligan's adaptation of Harper Lee's classic novel is an astonishing achievement, as soothing as a breath of wind through a garden, and capturing every facet of childhood innocence through the breathtaking intimacy between winds, strings and harmonica. It also traverses the films emotional journey marvellously, growing darker in the latter stages as the child protagonists mature to the realization of racists lurking in their mist, before the gorgeous main theme (possibly the greatest ever) restores our collective faith in humanity, family and decency.




2) Jurassic Park (John Williams, 1993)




John Williams' masterpiece to end them all, Jurassic Park came at a fascinating crossroads in the composer's (and indeed, director Steven Spielberg's) career, positioned as it is between the charming fairy tale antics of Hook and the increasingly dark, mature stance of Schindler's List. That duality informs the entire score, but it's never schizophrenic: Park unites brilliantly as a soundtrack, traversing those two classic themes for the dinos, some of the most ferociously brutal and gripping action music of Williams' career and some heavenly incidental sections. It's a score that brims with invention and professionalism, an utterly riveting listen from first to last.




3) The Omen (Jerry Goldsmith, 1976)




Oft imitated; never bettered; possibly the most important horror score ever to grace the silver screen. Jerry Goldsmith's contributions to film and television are innumerable and legendary but it was The Omen, Richard Donner's horror classic that forever turned people against the name Damien, that won him his only Oscar. But few have been so richly deserved. The score, brilliantly, works both inside and outside the diegetic planes of the film, existing beyond the consciousness of the films leads Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, but obviously audible to us the audience, lending a terrifying, demonic sense of anticipation to circumstances that may otherwise seem just a little, well, odd. The use of the spine-chilling Gregorian chant was to influence all following horror and thriller scores, from Christopher Young's Hellraiser to Philip Glass' Candyman.




4) Psycho (Bernard Herrmann, 1960)



I placed Jerry Goldsmith's The Omen higher by virtue of its revolutionary orchestral and choral devices. By virtue of perfecting the sound of a genre however, Psycho is the godfather. Truly, Bernard Herrmann (one of the most remarkable pioneers and romantics in the world of film music) singlehandedly created a watershed moment not just in film and music, but in cultural history, perfectly in-tune with Hitchcock's horrific, darkly comic world of cross-dressing, mother-obsessed serial killer, Norman Bates. Always a fierce modernist, Herrmann stripped the orchestra down to its bare essentials, reducing it to strings only, crafting a sound as sparse and black and white as the visuals. It's a groundbreaking approach made moreso by the astonishing variety of material Herrmann is able to extract from his limited set-up.




5) The Mission (Ennio Morricone, 1986)



How do you pick one soundtrack from the man who has composed more than any other (400, reputedly)? It's an incredibly difficult decision to make as so many of Morricone's best works enrich both the films they accompany and the soul of the listening audience. The Mission clinches it (just) purely because it ticks all the boxes: iconic, hymnal melodies; outstanding beauty reflecting the lush tropical scenery; and a brave progression into darkness just as with the film. However, that workmanlike description does nothing to capture the God-sent talent Morricone displays in this score. It's not just a magnificent piece of film music; it's a magnificent piece of art that will live on for generations to come (if mainly on endless chill-out albums).




6) Edward Scissorhands (Danny Elfman, 1990)




Every so often, a composer comes to define the 'sound' of a particular genre (indeed, Bernard Herrmann did it above with Psycho). With Edward Scissorhands, Tim Burton's heart-wrenching first collaboration with Johnny Depp, Danny Elfman changed our entire perception of fairy tales, invoking cooing choirs and tinkling music boxes every time so much as a piece of snow glides down from the sky. It's one of the most beautiful film scores ever composed, a featherlight tapestry of gorgeous themes, ethereal wonderment and an ability to find icy beauty in the tears rolling down your cheeks. Ever since, Elfman (in spite of his subsequent excellent work) has been recycling.




7) Out of Africa (John Barry, 1985)




Famously, John Barry rejected director Sydney Pollack's motion that his award-laden weepie be scored with indigenous melodies. It would prove one of the most incisive and wise decisions of the veteran composer's career; Barry's defiantly conventional yet heart-wrenchingly gorgeous score piercing right through the centre of the film and into the listener's
heart, extracting a welter of feeling and compassion for Meryl Streep's central character, Karen Blixen. It may only be 35 minutes long (a fact Barry pointed out when accepting the Oscar, his fourth), but few movie themes convey such a sense of melancholy beauty as the soaring 'I Had a Farm in Africa'.




8) American Beauty (Thomas Newman, 1999)




One of the most unique talents to emerge on the film-scoring scene in the 90s was Thomas Newman (son of the legendary musician, Alfred). Broadly speaking, the composer's style can be split into two, either favouring a quirky, ambient outlook or a more lush, pastoral approach. It is in American Beauty however that the 'Newman Sound' is at its purest: the composer's uniquely singular vision magnificently matching Sam Mendes' Oscar-winning portrait of suburbia through the plinky-plonky percussion and marimbas that seem to scream middle-class ennui. A marvellous, unexpected fusion and one of the most original (and successful) mainstream film music experiments of the decade.




9) Legends of the Fall (James Horner, 1994)




Titanic won the Oscar...but it's not Horner's best. No, that accolade goes to his true masterpiece, Legends of the Fall back in 1994, a magnificent, rich tapestry of emotion that marks the composer at the absolute peak of his powers. Forgoing self-plagiarism in favour of entirely original, strongly-bolstered and utterly engrossing themes and instrumentation, it's as expansive as a Montana sunset, as wide-ranging as the American frontier, and stuffed with as many memorable moments as several scores combined. In an especially glorious period for the composer (the mid 90s were to produce Braveheart, Balto and Apollo 13), this was Horner's magnum opus, taking the listener on a journey as few scores ever do.




10) Young Sherlock Holmes (Bruce Broughton, 1985)




Barry Levinson's enjoyable guilty pleasure from 1985 (speculating on, yes, young Sherlock Holmes' first gruesome case with a young Dr Watson investigating an Eygptian devil cult) is blessed with one of the greatest adventure scores ever composed. Bruce Broughton's score may not have blossomed in quite the way we had hoped in the years since, but Young Sherlock Holmes bests many of the more famous entries in the genre, an utterly riveting listen blending a whimsical, suitably intricate theme for Holmes himself, some blistering, uncompromising action material, a frightening choral chant from the baddies and a multitude of other memorable set-pieces. A tremendously exciting and addictive piece of work that demands more exposure.




11) Restoration (James Newton Howard, 1995)




Both a magnificent pastiche (of Purcell) and a magnificent score in its own right, Newton Howard's greatest achievement with Restoration is how he expertly balances those competing elements. Blessed with arguably the greatest theme of the composer's career, resplendent in the wonder of 17th century England, it's the more intimate moments that move the most, the composer's usual grace with wind ensembles reaching heights rarely seen again in his career so far. When other layers - bells, choir - are added to the mix, Restoration soars, although its tragic release in an astonishing year for film music now qualifies it as Howard's overlooked masterpiece.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

She's Out Of My League




Those going into She's Out Of My League expecting another tiresome Hangover style comedy will either be disappointed or pleasantly surprised by the result. By keeping the gross out gags to a minimum and focusing on a more innocent, old fashioned notion of romance, League turns out to be a sweet-natured joy.



Rising star Jay Baruchel (voice of Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon) is airport security worker Kirk. Blessed (or cursed) in typical romantic comedy fashion with three friends/muses who are helping to see him through a recent break-up, the self-deprecating skinny loser, a solid '5' on the attractiveness scale, falls over heels for luminous event planner, Molly (Alice Eve). To his complete amazement, she reciprocates the attention in selfless fashion, and so begins a delightful attraction of opposites. But how long will it be before the relationship with the perfect '10' is derailed by Kirk's own neuroses?



From the moment that the ravishing Eve breezes through the airport, leaving a stream of slack-jawed luddites in her wake, to the heartening notion that a girl as attractive and intelligent as her would find unlikely love in a guy like Kirk, League exerts a beguiling charm. It has one eye on the innate pitfalls of all fairy tale relationships, ensuring a somewhat tense edge to a romance that seems to be in full bloom, and the other on the archetypal formula (wacky family; bromance; the ex and the parents). Thankfully, it focuses mainly on the former, meaning the mix is more honest than smug.



And the two lead performances are a delight, Baruchel walking just the right side of weedy and whingy, and Eve, a stunning blonde bombshell with brains to match. As good as they are however, the show is virtually stolen from under their noses by the wonderful T.J Miller (Cloverfield) as Kirk's know-all best mate, Stainer, harbouring serious personal baggage, but never afraid of offering sage advice of his own. Krysten Ritter's caustic Patty, Molly's best friend, also steals her fair share of show-stopping bombs.



In the end, the film wins by virtue of its big heart and life-affirming outlook. It avoids the yuck factor (mostly - premature ejaculation and a macho Brazilian job interlude offer painful asides) in favour of supporting the layman, the '5' who, it seems, is perfectly capable of scoring the girl of his dreams. It may veer more towards farce in the conventional 'chase through an airport' climax but that's a small misstep for a comedy this breezy, refreshing and witty.

Friday, 11 June 2010

4.3.2.1




For all the flaws of Noel Clarke's feature debut as co-director (with Mark Davis) 4.3.2.1 - namely a hectic, overly aggressive sense of pace and attitude - you've got to give the guy credit for at least attempting to address the issues of Britain's youth. For sure, he may display more bravado than actual talent, but this is surely expected, given his inexperience. Fresh off his scribbling on similarly pitched urban flicks Kidulthood and Adulthood, he now clearly wants to up his game by stepping behind the camera, and for that, he is to be applauded.



In 4.3.2.1, he attempts the fabled Robert Altman approach of overlapping and interlocking several narratives. Any comparison should stop right there however, and exist solely as that, a comparison. For one thing, Altman wasn't exactly familiar with the multi-racial London streets as Clarke clearly is. Secondly, Clarke himself is no Altman (at least not yet), but is simply indebted to that fluid, dynamic style of directing. Like most things in the film, he's never quite able to pull it off, but the bravado and ambition is certainly there. Who knows? In a decade's time we may be seeing real magic on-screen. For the moment, we must settle for 'noble attempt'.



The title derives from the tagline: 4 girls, 3 days, 2 cities, one chance. The 4 refers to the main characters. Emma Roberts (niece of Julia) is Yankee abroad, Joanne, working a part-time dead-end job in a grubby convenience store under the eye of odious manager and criminal, Tee (Clarke). The second, Shannon (Ophelia Lovebond) is perhaps the moral heart of piece, perceiving a degree of neglect from both her lonely father (Sean Pertwee) and her friends. Tamsin Egerton's Cassandra meanwhile takes the tale across the pond when she flies to New York to meet her new Skype boyfriend, only to find events spiralling out of control; and lesbian Kerrys (Shanika Warren-Markland) comes into conflict with her lawbreaking stepbrother Manuel (Gregg Chillin) after she commandeers Cassandra's flat without her knowledge. Looming in the background is a recent diamond heist that will eventually impact on all the characters...



It's a commendably energetic project and there's little doubt that Clarke is perfectly comfortable detailing the multicultural aspects of modern day Britain. In fact, this may be where the story is at its strongest, the naturalistic street patter and colourful racial jibes lending proceedings a suitably zesty edge. Where he stumbles is in the 'less is more' approach: a sonic bombardment of drum n' bass plus some relentlessly off-kilter camerawork doesn't always equate to edge, particularly in the Shannon and Cassandra segments. He also struggles to find his feet narratively, choosing to wind back each section of the story to its source before starting another, clearly lacking the confidence to fully splice them together.


That is until the second half takes off like a rocket courtesy of Markland's terrifically charismatic turn as the ball-busting yet loyal Kerrys, a portion of the film that fuses ethnic awareness with genuine pathos and wit (a take-off of David Fincher's Panic Room is brilliantly funny). Having thrown all his balls into the air, Clarke has his work cut out resolving them all in Roberts' climactic segment, but the actress not only convincingly fits into the Cockney ghetto; the narrative and our emotional response are also tied up marvellously, cleverly forcing us to review events we witnessed earlier. It's a rare film that finishes stronger than it started, and a shot of adrenaline into the stuffy arm of outdated cinematic British gender politics. On this basis, Clarke has more than one chance of capitalising on his potential to become one of our most prominent filmmakers.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Reel Retrospective: Blue Velvet (1986): RIP Dennis Hopper




This past week, we bade tragic farewell to one of Hollywood's legendary bad boys, Dennis Hopper, who passed away after a battle with cancer at the age of 74. Famous of course for single-handedly making counter-cultural youth cinema both commercially and artistically successful with Easy Rider, his was a career that saw more dips and mounds than most. Blighted by bouts of drink and drugs, Hopper made a triumphant dual comeback in 1986 after years in the wilderness, with an Oscar-nommed turn in Hoosiers...and, more significantly, his extraordinarily frightening turn as Frank Booth in David Lynch's Blue Velvet. This review is to his memory: RIP Dennis Hopper.



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To say that examinations of American suburbia were unheard of when Blue Velvet appeared in 1986 would be a mistake. What was unforeseen was the force with which director David Lynch yanked back the curtain. Forcing our faces into a dark, vaguely Freudian notion of an apple-pie town concealing a rotten, monstrous subterranean layer, it's arguably his most successful fusion of satire, pathos and horror, beginning when Kyle MacLachlan's naive Jeffrey discovers a severed human ear in a field. Pursuing the mystery further (Lynch humorously aware of the Hardy Boys-esque nature of Jeffrey's venture), events take an unexpected, horrific turn when he traces the source back to tormented lounge singer Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini), captive of Hopper's terrifying, gas-guzzling psychopath.




Set in that distinctive Lynchian hinterland between plausible reality and unnerving fairytale malevolence, Blue Velvet was to influence virtually all representations of suburbia to follow. It's a world that speaks of the director's singular perspective, deconstructing Americana as we may (or may not) know it. One minute, Laura Dern's wholesome, blue eyed Sandy (with whom Jeffrey rekindles a teenage crush) reveals, completely straightfaced, a dream she had about robins, and their symbolic beauty; the next, by contrast, Dean Stockwell's sinister, camp gangster, Ben, is miming Roy Orbison's In Dreams into a lamp. Those venturing in unawares may find the contrasts hilariously obtuse and hamfisted, but of course the joke's on them, Lynch always being one step ahead with his keen eye for absurdity and satire.


The most famous anecdote bandied about the film of course is that initial meeting between Lynch and Hopper, where the actor claimed: 'I *am* Frank!' Clearly this would be a one-of-a-kind synergy between actor and character, Hopper drawing on his turbulent years to bring added authenticity to the part. It would mark his return to the A-list, sealing him as villain-for-hire in hits like Speed, Waterworld and TV's 24.



Even with prior knowledge of those latter efforts though, nothing prepares the viewer for the sheer ferocity and viciousness of Hopper's performance as Frank, one which makes Victor Drazen look like the careleader at nursery. It's a breathtakingly nasty performance, yet one that's keenly tuned into the absurdity of Lynch's tale. It's also remarkably cryptic, something which adds to the palpable fear the first time Frank stalks on-screen in the notorious cupboard-watching episode. After all, while Hannibal Lecter would cook your liver with some Fava beans and a nice Chianti, Frank would likely perform the latter without the common courtesy of even ringing your doorbell. He's a rampaging id, harbouring some serious Oedipal issues ('Mommy wants to fuck' is his repeated mantra when assaulting Rossellini's Dorothy) and always boiling over with rage.



It's the epitome of a fearless performance, and by far the most memorable thing about the film, despite the admirable tightrope walking done by helmer Lynch, Maclachlan, Dern and the rest of the cast. Hopper is indeed the beating heart of the picture, the psychological flipside to the sweet-natured romance rekindled between Jeffrey and Sandy. It's chilling enough in its presentation...but it really frightens, as do many of Lynch's films, because our primordial senses recognise the very darkness itself. He's the big bad wolf writ large. Few screen psychos generate as much terror as Frank, who is stomach-churning simply because of his very unpredictability. As one might say: 'It's a strange world'...

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

The *Eleven* Greatest Action Films Ever

So, it's the summer season...and we all know what that means: sweet or salted to go with your blockbuster fodder? Now is the oft lambasted time in the cinematic year where it's argued that creativity is tossed in favour of humungous tentpole releases, ones which which help the studios prop up smaller releases elsewhere throughout the year, but which are often...well, crap. There is a grain of truth in this (did the entire crew of Transformers 2 last year have a braincell to rub between them?) but, as Jaws proved when it changed the face of the multiplex way back in 1975, it's perfectly possible for a disposable piece of genre entertainment to be made WELL, to be made with a sense of ARTISTRY. Note the capitals: below are the top eleven (yes, eleven) action movies which are made...erm, well...



1) Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988)






The godfather of the modern action movie did what only a handful of flicks (let alone action flicks) do: define a whole genre, and influence the next generation to come. Of course, none which followed bottled Die Hard's still magical essence, namely privileging character, wit and an audience's intelligence alongside the blistering, claustrophobic shootouts and fistfights. Throughout, there's a real dynamism and charge between two radically different opponents: Bruce Willis' uncouth but sharp as a tack New York outsider cop, John McClane, and Alan Rickman's delightfully suave but very dangerous German terrorist, Hans Gruber, who has commandeered Willis' wife's LA towerblock in order to rob the joint



2) Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)




Truthfully, has any popcorn summer movie ever proved as straightforwardly entertaining as Raiders? Revelling in its strictly unambitious, pulpy origins, alchemist Spielberg was somehow able to rise above the material, crafting a terrific rollercoaster in every sense of the word, where every piece of the puzzle, from the production values to the inspired casting (Harrison Ford's weary, believable hero) came together to form cinematic gold. Two hours rarely flies so quickly as when taking our first journey with Indiana Jones, propelled by possibly the finest theme of celebrated composer John Williams' career: the Raider's March. Da da da daaaa, da da daaaa...



3) First Blood (Ted Kotcheff, 1982)





Likely the first action movie, post-Jaws, to deal with a political agenda, namely that of war vet John Rambo's (Sly Stallone) inability to fit in with contemporary society, something that sees him pursued across a mountain by sleazy hick cops, First Blood has more than enough brains to go with the brawn. In fact, it probably has more of the former than of the latter, the violence coming in sparing, controlled bursts in comparison to the more explicit Vietnam subtext stemming from David Morrell's source novel. Lean; mean; and visceral, it boasts a physical quality as wired as Stallone's biceps, something which the increasingly cartoonish sequels would forego


4) The Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954)





If Die Hard is the heart of the action movie, the soul can be traced much further back, all the way back to feudal Japan, and Kurosawa's masterpiece. Drawing inspiration from the westerns of John Ford (and, in turn, spawning The Magnficent Seven), Samurai takes the viewer on an extraordinarily beautiful journey, singlehandedly creating elements of the action movie that would be repeated in future (buddy comedy; battle scenes) but with a breathtakingly moral, humane centre. It's a long old haul at nearly three hours but by the end, your patience is not only rewarded; your moviegoing life is enriched.




5) Lethal Weapon 2 (Richard Donner, 1989)





The original lit the dynamite under the tired buddy movie formula (adding some refreshing racial wrinkles in the process), but it was arguably in Lethal Weapon 2 that the franchise found its true voice. Less violent certainly than the first but with a sense of intrigue and compassion well beyond installments 3 and 4, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover here hone an almost preternatural chemistry, two actors so comfortable both in their characters and in each others company. Of course, there's also rollicking action (including a terrific decapitation by surfboard) and those truly despicable, parking ticket-dodging Sarf African villains in the shape of Joss Ackland and Derrick O'Connor.





6) Terminator 2: Judgment Day (James Cameron, 1991)





No action list would be complete without at least one entry from the modern master of the mega-budget, James Cameron. What's remarkable about T2 is how significant it seems; far from a cash-cow sequel, it's instead the work of a brilliant director grabbing his own franchise with both hands, ladling on the money, the star power (Arnie was never more iconic), the effects (still extraordinary after all these years) and the pathos, moving his own creation into genuinely poignant, humane areas. Along with the raptors in Jurassic Park and bullet-time in The Matrix, the liquid metal T-1000 (Robert Patrick) was truly a watershed moment in the development of intelligent, effects-led blockbusters


7) North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)





It was a spot of light relief after the head-spinning complexity and gut-churning psychological torment of Vertigo (1958). But then....this is Hitchcock doing light relief, so it's not exactly going to be throwaway, is it? Indeed, Hitch practically invented (or at least, made more commercial) the sub-genre of 'the man on the run', although they were never done with as much wit, flair and charm as here, Cary Grant's dashing Roger O. Thornhill ('The O stands for nothing') on the lam after being mistaken for a spy, and falling in love with Eva Marie Saint. Always keenly aware of the ridiculousness of his leading man's predicament, Hitch's tongue practically bursts from his cheek, but it's done with that consummate professionalism we expect (and the cropduster and Mt Rushmore sequences are two of the most audacious action scenes, ever)





8) Predator (John McTiernan, 1987)






When does a B-movie become something truly great? When it's Predator of course! Fusing a testosterone-laden cast of tough-nuts, led by Arnie, with tangibly humid, claustrophobic jungle settings and the (then) latest in CGI effects to denote the viewpoint of a terrifying, invisible enemy, Predator's atmosphere hasn't been topped since. Of course, it's really a masterpiece because of how brave it is in the latter stages, stripping our hero of his weapons entirely (which of his other efforts have done that?) and forcing him to take on Stan Winston's unforgettable monster Heart of Darkness style, propelled by a terrific score from Alan Silvestri that is akin to the heartbeat of the jungle itself. Fingers crossed for the sequel/remake in a month's time...


9) The African Queen (John Huston, 1951)




Way back in '51, John Huston's bold decision to shoot on location in Africa for his now classic Bogart-Hepburn double act resulted in multiple bouts of malaria and dysentry. Whatever the hardships though, they were clearly worth it: proof that a bit of dedication plus a lot of star wattage will reward an audience tenfold. An early progenitor of the now standard bickering buddy movie, The African Queen is always most entertaining when playing to its stars strengths: Bogart, grizzled and grumpy (and Oscar winning), Hepburn prim, proper and intellectually shrewd.



10) The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass, 2007)



Furiously casting off the tired shackles of CGI idiocy in favour of the documentary, verite style that made his name, Paul Greengrass doesn't just bring greater relevance to the action movie with the (so far) last in the Bourne trilogy; he implodes it from within, crafting a jittery, adrenaline charged world where you're never too far from a CCTV camera poking in your face, or Matt Damon's amnesiac spy charging across the world as if the devil were at his heels. Enormously exciting; politically astute, and excellently cast, this is the benchmark for the modern action flick.



11) The Matrix (Larry and Andy Wachowski, 1999)




Sorry, what was that other major sci-fi released in 1999? The Phantom Menace you say? Well, in comparison to the Wachowski Brothers' revolutionary blend of millenium paranoia, groundbreaking bullet-time effects and a myriad of Biblical and cod-philosophical references, we weren't having any of it, George Lucas. *This* was what audiences were demanding from their action cinema at the end of the decade; that the fledgling filmmakers were able to pull it off with such aplomb however is still a marvel today. Even star Keanu Reeves' wardrobe door approach to emoting works a treat in mirroring our reaction to the spectacle. But have the brothers followed up on their potential?... Have they, heck.