Criminal Activities [mild spoilers]: when they get a bad investment tip a group of friends try to settle their debt to a mob boss by kidnapping a rival gangster’s family member. I was pleasantly surprised at how entertaining this crime caper was – the henchmen side-story (which stars the director) is particularly rib-ticking. The script and performances are surprisingly funny, but there are so many “Fucks” in here it feels like the film is going for a Guinness record – which is a bit of a shame, as it distracts from the good jokes. There are also some very well handled and well placed moments of serious tension and drama that really sink the hooks in to the viewer. The big issue is that it completely hangs on a very large and very wild twist that you could never have guessed on your own (and requires about 10 mins of runtime to fully explain). I hate lazy comparisons, but this one’s quite unique: think Lock Stock and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – and you just don’t get many good films in this sub-genre. How much you ultimately enjoy Criminal Activities will depend on your tolerance for a big old slap in the face at the end – although there’s plenty fun to be had on the way.
Savages (mild spoilers): when two pro pot dealers have their shared girlfriend kidnapped by a cartel for leverage, they don’t take it lying down. This one is absolutely packed to the brim with torture, violence, action sex, drugs and rock & roll – it’s all turned up way past 11. All the characters are all pretty broad stereotypes, however it’s the cast and story that raise this above your standard gang-banger flick. Hell, it’s worth watching this just to see the scene with Del Toro and Travolta – each doing their thing and loving every second of it. For a 2hr30 film, it’s so packed with action and plot that it never drags: as it plays out like a dramatic chess match. Savages barely puts a foot wrong until it doubles back on what would have been a powerful, Shakespearian out-of-the-blue ending – instead copping out at the last second for a crowd-pleaser. The only real downer for me was a sloppy, grating, “ike-OMG-totally-I-was-like-and-she-was-all” So-Cal voiceover that does nothing more than point out the obvious – and annoy the shit out of viewers. After a couple of duffers, this one definitely puts Oliver Stone back on the cinemap, and with ample style to spare.
Blow Out: a sound effects artist records a car accident, but finds himself in danger as he tries to blow the top on a cover-up. This film is nothing short of a directorial masterclass: the visuals are filthy rich, with dozens of brilliantly filmed & striking scenes. De Palma is truly a master of ‘the shot’ as he effortlessly throws in a barrage of intricate, flashy, techniques: 360 spinning, dolly shots, split-screens, dual-focus, playing with depth of field & perspective… he has technical flare and style to burn here. Travolta matches this with an intense portrayal of an investigative man-on-the-edge. The music and sound effects are great, until the end when a cheesy score dominates the picture. The plot is good, and backstory perfectly stitched through the movie, My favourite aspect is the horror movie tropes being poked fun at through the sub-plot, particularly at the start: the opening film-in-a-film scene, and his previous movies named ‘Bloodbath’, ‘Bloodbath 2’, ‘Bad day at Blood Beach’, ‘Bordello of Blood’… Blow Out is a rare example of directorial technique, story, action, and acting being massaged together perfectly to create something powerful, dramatic and iconic – it’s enviable how good this movie is. I can’t wait to re-visit this already.
From Paris with Love: A govt rookie teams up with an unconventional seasoned spy to take down a drug / terrorist ring in the city of love. This is essentially an action film with every cliché in the book: rookie cop with trigger issues, unconventional old-timer who gets results, and some of the most obvious twists in history – you all know the drill. There’s a lot of flashy direction with fast wooshing CGI pans, and action set pieces. Other than a couple of big, loud, fighty action scenes the only major redeeming feature is Travolta hamming it up: albeit with a brazen, overly offensive script. While it’s definitely not his finest 90, he is rrrather entertaining – even sneaks in a “Royale with cheese” – OH NO HE DIII IIINT!!! His partner (Jonathan Rhys Meyers – form a queue, ladies) is ok, but is basically there to say Travolta’s name (Wax) about 2,000 times. Despite using as many tricks as the budget could facilitate – flashy stunts / big action jumps / explosions / swearing / big stars – nobody could hide the fact that this is the kind of film you’ve seen a thousand times before, but in Paris instead of somewhere Stateside. From Paris with Love is a wild ride, but it’s the very definition of braindead action, even by Europacorp/Besson standards!
Grease: made in the 1970s and set in the 1950s, this is the story about summer lovin’ that carries on when the kids go back to school for their final year. Where to start with Grease; it’s the film for kids that says bullying nerds like Eugene is OK. A film that says respectable girls need to turn in to size zero, lycra wearing, chain-smoking slags before guys will find them attractive. A film that uses actors over 30 to depict teenagers. A PG rated film with more innuendo and sneaky swearing than your average porno… Yet, despite these anomalies the bottom line here is that Grease is so deeply engrained the public conscience that everyone has seen it – it also helps that the soundtrack has some of the best songs of any musical; ever. Sure it’s got some faults and is flabbier than 90s Travolta (although to see him bursting on the screen as a T-Bird is the definition of cool) but this is one of the most timeless romances ever committed to film. A deserved classic, and at over 30 years old and it’s still a musical benchmark. Grease is sexually charged, yet total unadulterated camp, and for a ‘kids’ film, it’s as smutty as they come!
Bonus round: Frenchy looks the absolute spit of Lady Ga Ga
<Time to re-attach my balls>
Face/Off: is what happens when John Woo makes a film about a cop and a baddie swapping bodies. The rule is that any film that opens up with a double-assassinaton attempt, fake moustaches and a kid getting shot is going to be great. The first 40 minutes are filled with ridiculous over-acting and pseudo-science; a fully working face swap, really?!? Neither actor can pull off the madness of Caster Troy convincingly and when he wasn’t making ridiculous noises and faces, Cage was trying his damndest to un-act. Then there’s the action, and Face/Off is crammed with huge slabs of over-the-top action, culminating in the apartment shootout carnage with ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ pumping through the speakers; one of the most epic and intense action scenes I can remember. Because both guys’ families are in danger it makes the story more gripping. There’s a lot of face touching, religious symbolism and bad parenting throughout (what ever happened to the hot goth Dominique Swain?). Despite the cheese and clichés this is my top action film of the 90’s, perhaps ever. If you’ve not seen this yet, where have you been hiding?