Night and the City (1992)

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This is one of those ‘what the fuck am I going to watch on Netflix tonight’ choices. After leafing through poster after poster of everything-is-rated-4-star-by-somebody titles I hit upon what I assumed was going to be one of those films De Niro does for the money to fund what he really wants to do. Is that even true? There’s a certain amount of critical acclaim levelled against this film - with De Niro’s performance being cited as a key pull. It’s good but the film itself is a little flimsy - arguably it’s all about the characters anyway with New York being an overt supporting artist in the proceedings. 

Directed by Irwin Winkler (who has produced a shed load of amazing movies) who would later direct the Sandra Bullock ‘freight train’ The Net… Night and the City is about an ambulance chasing lawyer, forever an opportunist and an unbeatable optimist. After failing to sue a boxer and his boxing promoter our hero attempts to launch his own fight night leading to financial ruin and a bullet in the back. It’s not exactly uplifting but does evoke the side streets of life within a gritty and bustled New York. It’s a remake of a 1950 British film noir with the wrestling scene replaced by boxing.

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Compliance (2012)

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Compliance is a weird little movie that will challenge you to enjoy even the good parts. Flawlessly performed and directed with an assured and necessary objectivity. The overriding quality of this film though is the strength, or rather the chilling nature, of  it’s subject matter - the films details a deception so simple but one that has absolutely appalling consequences and leaves no one with a shred of hope for redemption. It’s an eye opener as to the power of authority and the influence it can wield while qualifying the weakness of good faith.

There’s a chase element to the film, a race to identify the perpetrator that somewhat diminishes the tension from the final act of the film. Compliance manages that difficult task of being a dark and even nasty little film without being mean spirited. It uncovers a dark situation but doesn’t exploit it unnecessarily. If there is anything negative to be said about the movie it is perhaps that it’s cold and maybe even banal tone can nullify the tension - but it’s needed in order for the themes of Compliance to be full developed. To believe in the deception everything must be just so and entirely normal.

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The Bling Ring (2013)

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A Sophia Coppola movie that feels very much unlike a Sophia Coppola movie. The Bling Ring doesn’t feel as though it needs reading in quite the same way as Coppola’s earlier films have. Rather it’s message feels deliberately played close to it’s surface level as if to highlight both the superficial nature of any defence the subjects could offer, and/or to tweak the nose of the victims of the alleged crimes. Perhaps it proffers that the damage done is less than (or equal to) the crimes committed by the celebs themselves. These are the characters then of legend, of that layer of society beneath the cast of The Hills, who themselves flutter beneath the layer of real celebrity - a growing swarm of barely legals without conventional boundaries or the fears of our youth. A vapid, born to be predatory, crowd wherein things like respect for another’s privacy and property is not absent, simply outdated and irrelevant. There’s not a single likeable character here - its a parade of loathsome spoiled wannabes as saccharin as the pseudo-celebrities they fantasise and fetishise. And yet there is a certain joy in waiting for their comeuppance; Of anticipating the evidence of their crimes turning around and dropping them all from a great height onto the stony floors of justice. But while the film may dish out sentences seemingly fit for their crimes and great performances display the spite and often patently psychotic angst of these would be neo-muggers, it’s disparaging to see how light the sentences of the real bling ring were.

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Lovelace (2013)

Amanda Seyfried is extremely watchable as the titular Linda Lovelace. And while the remainder of the film underwhelms, it’s her and Peter Sarsgaard’s performances that allows for the predicament of Linda Boreman to feel as raw and damaged as it pertains to be.

In fact the characterisation and performances across the film are great, but there is something missing from the proceedings to make it a classic. The details of design and costuming feel authentic but there is an absence of culpability or agenda.

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Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012)

This is the third official Universal Soldier movie. There were two sequels to the original 1992 classic directed by Roland Emmerich - both of which are now considered non-canon in the franchise. There is also a sixth film that actually starred Van Damme called Universal Soldier: The Return that has similarly been disavowed. Day of Reckoning's closest sibling is Universal Soldier: Regeneration which brought the concept of cloning to the story’s universe. Still with me? Basically Van Damme is the same character as the first Universal Soldier movie (maybe), while Lundgren is a first, second or third generation clone of his original character.

At the start of Day of Reckoning we meet John, a literal John Doe, at the mercy of home invaders who are armed with crowbars and pure malice. The home invasion’s leader is revealed, in a rather interesting first person perspective opening, as Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme). There then follows 60 minutes of almost completely arbitrary traipsing about before some plumber who can grow back his toes has a really, really, really, brutal punch up with our lead, John, in a sporting goods store. The scene ends with the toe-regrowing aggressor having his head caved in with a baseball bat. Our hero, John, now realises he’s insanely talented when it comes to hitting someone with a baseball bat and barbells… oh and he can punch bowling balls into smithereens while they are in mid-air. This will be completely irrelevant for the rest of the film.

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The Good Son (1993)

Coming just a year after Home Alone 2 I remember there being considerable controversy over whether or not this film would get a UK release (It coincided with the Jamie Bulger disappearance and murder). Having now seen it I can see what the commotion was about. Imagine little Kevin McCallister, only imagine him less a rambunctious free thinker who foils attempted domestic burglary and more a sociopathic child of nightmare.

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Riddick (2013)

Riddick is 2 hours long, and for those 119 minutes almost nothing happens. Rumour has it that Vin Diesel used his own assets to finance the production of this film, if it’s true that is a brave and foolish move. Stripped of all the truly woeful crap from the second Riddick film I think everyone involved assumed they were cherry picking the best bits from Pitch Black in order to return the character to some sort of bare bones, stripped, lean action-thriller - the stuff that made the first so great. Instead we get a pallidly violent Riddick vs. one, Riddick vs. two, Riddick vs. more scrap-fest where the CGI monsters are as one dimensional and pointless as the real humans playing the bounty hunters. There are no stakes, ever. The one quality about Riddick that makes him potentially interesting, that he’s unstoppable in the dark and buggered in the light, is always downplayed by those Riddick-ulous glasses. If that flaw is what defines his dangerous status - give him a proper weakness that can’t be solved conventionally please.

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Salvador (1986)

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I’m a huge fan of James Woods’ work with his lead turns in Videodrome and The Boost amongst my ever changing top 100 films of all time, never mind the countless roles in which he’s a secondary character. James Woods even made John Carpenter’s Vampires watchable.

Salvador is a curious film - not nearly as timeless as Oliver Stone’s later films. It feels less rich for is own sake and more concerned with the central moral assertion, that of American influence and aide to the right wing junta in Salvador being abhorrent (which it undoubtedly was on the strength of this film). There isn’t the sprawling tapestry of themes, opinions and competing agendas for the audience to fall back and forth between. The film’s liberalism is worn on it’s sleeve. But aside from the politics is a keen performance from James Woods that is arresting. I could take or leave Jim Belushi’s Doc. Rock - but John Savage’s purer than pure photojournalist John Cassady had a particularly interesting supporting story.

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Upstream Color (2013)

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And so it came to pass that I did finally watch the second feature from Shane Carruth, whose debut film Primer may well be my most favourite film of the last 20 years. I’ve been longing to watch this film and have resisted reading any reviews or theories about it’s meaning or even it’s content. Never the less i’d picked up on some of it’s supposed intricacies and themes from conversations here and there. Upstream Color may well be the film I have most recommended that people see without ever seeing it myself. What stopped me watching it? Fear. As i’ve mentioned before on the blog so many times i’ve endured a follow up or sequel to something that I have cherished that could not possibly live up to the first or original film. It is with great relief and with ecstasy that I look forward to my second viewing of Upstream Color. Even more idiosyncratic than Primer - UC seems to nail the emotional connection between friends, lovers or simply other human beings in the similar fashion to how Primer tickles at the nerve endings of understanding ego. It’s a beautiful film both aesthetically and aurally, but more importantly thematically. It could well be an allegorical soup of dreamy images and primal amniotic sensation or it could easily be a tightly plotted thriller. And herein is it’s brilliance. Pure cinema, evocative of Lynch or Cronenberg. Deep sci-fi, it’s tale woven betwixt Asimov & Philip K. Dick.  Exemplary.

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Gone Baby Gone (2007)

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For some reason i’d always assumed this film was Keane, a Damian Lewis abduction movie released in 2004 (i’ve not seen that either). I was delighted when Casey Affleck popped onto the screen, Casey being uniformly very watchable in anything I’ve seen him in.

Gone Baby Gone is a film whose quality is undoubtable at it’s conclusion and yet it contains a sort of tonal roller-coaster that threatens to imbalance it. The film shifts from gritty Wire-like authenticity to unlikely silliness.

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