Heat: a professional robber and homicide detective go head to head in a battle of wits, guns and getting the job done. The film is laden with superb moments & set-pieces: action, suspense and climaxes, which means that the film is gripping, explosive and unpredictable for the most part. You couldn’t hand-pick a greater cast of actors at their peak – right down to the extras (including Henry Rollin’s neck!!). Both leads are fantastic, equally volatile yet in-control men, despite the contrast between Pacino’s shouting / flailing and De Niro’s calm / focused anti-hero. Both portrayals are physical, entertaining, and career-tipping performances, so much so that by the end, you don’t really want either to snuff it. The biggest problem is that, by wanting to keep the film believable and give it more clout, almost every character gets some back-story, which means that the film spends some time opening lots of minor tangents, many of which are never resolved or revisited – or related to the plot. There’s no question about it, Heat is an outstanding film, and I’d love to give it 9, or 10, but I’d have been much happier watching a three-hour film focused almost exclusively on the two central performances, than have them share the runtime with a multitude of smaller, less relevant characters.
“Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.”
New York, I Love You: a collection of short stories all about New York and New Yoykers – loosely labelled under the umbrella ‘romance’. The vignette setup just doesn’t do it for me, far too many characters, and differing themes / tones / styles / storylines – all mashed together, tediously linked through the location. The second problem is the quality control, or lack of – a few of the shorts were really good; prom night, pickpockets, old couple – but the rest were all varyingly pretentious and dull stories featuring varyingly pretentious and dull artisan characters – some of whom are beyond absurd – Ethan Hawke, I’m talking to you. Despite being all about NY, and the ‘love of the city’ there’s not that much iconic scenery; it’s mostly grimy side streets, greasy spoons, apartments, bars, yellow cabs, ect, which doesn’t really capture the vibes of the big apple – although someone could probably argue that this captures ‘THE REAL NEW YORK, BRO’. Given the massive list of A-list actors (and them some) New York, I Love You is massively disappointing – parts are good, but overall it’s collectively dull. Give City Island a bash instead!
Your Highness: when a lovely damsel is kidnapped, her heroic husband-to-be and his useless brother set out on a quest to save her. With this big budget, cast, and timeless mix of fantasy / peril it would be hard for this to go wrong… Above all, this film is pegged as a comedy, and for me it delivers, particularly if you enjoy some reductive and juvenile toilet humour. The special effects are turned up to eleven in parts – to keep the kidz of 2010s amused, and my nemesis (shaky cam) appears big-time during the last big set piece. The entire cast all play it well; Franco and Portman appear to be having fun and role-reversing both their Oscar-nom roles of 2010; Danny McBride does more of what he’s good at, as does the ever wide-eyed offbeat Deschanel – basically everyone is perfectly cast to play to their strengths. Big fights, dragons, magic, damsels, knights, nudity, swearing, hot pixies, drug jokes, robots, and the most unsettling ‘great wise wizard’ in cinema… what more could you ask from a rompalicious comedy? Laugh-a-minute, potty mouthed x-rated kids film.
Thor: after putting the galaxy’s’ peace at risk Thor is cast out to Earth until he learns to tone down the arrogance, and ramp up the leadership. This is one of the most eclectic mixes of a film I can remember seeing; there’s oodles of tongue-in-cheek camp, so much so that everybody seems to think they’re in an amateur stage play; there’s about 30 characters all turning it up to eleven and vying for attention – not to mention robots, goblins, gods, scientists and feds. Most annoyingly, the SFX are insanely overused – reminiscent of the first wave of GCI laden 90s films. The action scenes are also poorly done – resulting in a series of blurry smashes and explosions until there’s a body is lying on the ground / frozen in ice. The bottom line is that the tone, style and elements of Thor are so erratic, that it ends up feeling like a film that exists just to be the next comic book film. Big, bright, loud and stupid, Michael Bay would be so proud
Black Swan: when a devoted ballet dancer finally gets featured in the lead role of Swan Lake she has to deal with all the pressures that drove her predecessor crazy. To get it out of the way, nobody does ‘descending into madness’ quite like Aranofsky – and this is no different in that you genuinely have no idea if what your seeing is real, unreal, paranoia, hallucinations, fantasy, or mental illness. The second half on the film in particular has some genuinely chilling and thrilling scenes. To begin with the camerawork feels awkward and unnecessary – walking shots behind the heads – but it works surprisingly well for most of the film – particularly when it starts spinning around the dancers. The film also uses SFX outstandingly, and wiping out the cameramen in the reflections gives the viewer a strange haunting sensation. The new-age classical soundtrack is nothing short of stunning. Although I wasn’t convinced by the first 40 minutes, seeing the complex relationships (mum, teacher, peer) develop is thoroughly enjoyable, particularly because the film always keeps you guessing. Cassel and the Hershey both give show-stopping performances, although they’re overshadowed by Portman who puts everything out there, and becomes the definition of fragile, slowly and believably transforming into a woman on the brink of madness. Don’t understand the big deal around theater walk outs – it’s definitely not for the prudish, but there’s nothing offensive here. Despite everything in front of the camera being golden, the real star is the man behind it, who gets everything pitch perfect and creates an absolutely stunning finale. Ballet’s never been this sexy and dramatic.
Leon: story of a hitman that takes a 12 year-old under his wing, trains her up and slowly becomes more human in the process. Leon’s pretty complex: made out to be one of the most badass men in the history of cinema in the action scenes, yet comes across as quite coy and simple in others. Gary Oldman’s intense villain is a bit over-acted. The original score dominates many of the scenes and despite being set in New York it’s unmistakably French & has loads of cheeky trademark Besson bits. My favourite aspect of this film is that it plays on the peculiarities and mystique of hitmen / assassins: they come from nowhere, vanish into thin air, can take out swat teams and bodyguards… and scope out every new location. Upon re-watching this for the first time in years it wasn’t as awesome as I remember, hasn’t really aged well (totally 80s) and the plot’s full of massive holes, not to mention severe bouts of police malpractice. It can’t really pass as an action flick because there’s only two action scenes, and as mentioned the story’s pretty flawed. What’s left is a piece of trademark Besson fantasy that’s good, but seems to enjoy an uncannily large ‘best film ever’ reputation.