Reviews, articles, rants & ramblings on the darker side of the media fringe

5 Star Reviews

The Warriors – Roger Ebert Review

“The Warriors” is a real peculiarity, a movie about street gang warfare, written and directed as an exercise in mannerism. There’s hardly a moment when we believe that the movie’s gangs are real or that their members are real people or that they inhabit a real city.

That’s where the peculiarity comes in: I don’t think we’re supposed to. No matter what impression the ads give, this isn’t even remotely intended as an action film. It’s a set piece. It’s a ballet of stylized male violence.

Walter Hill, the director and co-writer, specializes in fables like this. His first two films were “Hard Times” and “The Driver,” and they were both at arm’s length from realism. Hill likes characters that take on a legendary, mythic stature, and then he likes to run them through situations that look like urban tableaux.

“Hard times,” a good and interesting film, starred Charles Bronson as a professional street fist-fighter who went up against opponents with all the dimension of a James Bond villain. “The Driver” didn’t even have names for its characters; they were described by their functions, and they behaved toward each other in strangely formal, rehearsed, unspontaneous ways.

“The Warriors” takes that style to such an extreme that almost all life and juice are drained from it; there’s great vitality and energy (and choreography and stunt coordination) in the many violent scenes of gang fights and run-ins with the cops. But when the characters talk, they seem to be inhabiting a tale rehearsed many times before.

One example: Three members of a street gang are lined up in a row. The camera regards the first one. He speaks. The camera pans to the second, and he speaks. The camera pans to the third. He speaks. Because the movement of the camera dictates the order and timing of the speeches, there can be no illusion that the characters are talking as their words occur to them.

This same kind of stiff stylization dominates the film. The street gangs take stances toward each other as if they were figures in a medieval print. The deployment of the police and gang forces is plainly impossible on any realistic level; people move into their symbolic places with such perfectly timed choreography that they must be telepathic. And the chase scenes are plainly impossible, as in one extended shot showing the Warriors outrunning a rival gang’s school bus.

All of this is no doubt Walter Hill’s intention. I suppose he has, an artistic vision he’s working toward in this film, and in his work. He chooses to meticulously ban human spontaneity from his films; he allows only a handful of shallow women characters into his stories; he reduces male conduct to ritualized violence. And in “The Warriors” he chooses, with a few exceptions, to cast against type: Only three or four of the movie’s characters look and sound like plausible street-gang members. The rest look and sound like male models for the currently fashionable advertising photography combining high fashion and rough trade.

All very well, I suppose, except that Paramount chooses to advertise the movie as a violent action picture — and action audiences, I suspect, will find it either incomprehensible or laughable. Walter Hill has a considerable visual skill, and he knows what he’s doing in “The Warriors” and does it well. But is this style suited to this material? And does Hill have other notes to play? All three of his films have shown a certain skittishness in the face of human juices and the unrehearsed flow of life. And so his street gangs, and his movies, walk lockstep through sterile streets.

Curtis Harrington

Gene Curtis Harrington (September 17, 1926 – May 6, 2007) was an American film and television director whose work included experimental films, horror films, and episodic television. He is considered one of the forerunners of New Queer Cinema.

Harrington was born in Los Angeles on September 17, 1926, and grew up in Beaumont, California. His first cinematic endeavors were amateur films he made while still a teenager. He attended Occidental College, the University of Southern California and graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, with a film studies degree.

He began his career as a film critic, writing a book on Josef von Sternberg in 1948. He directed several avant-garde short films in the 1940s and ’50s, including Fragment of SeekingPicnic, and The Wormwood Star. Cameron also co-starred in his subsequent film Night Tide (1961) with Dennis Hopper. Harrington worked with Kenneth Anger, serving as a cinematographer on Anger’s Puce Moment and acting in Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954) ( he played Cesare, the Somnambulist).

Harrington had links to Thelema (religion developed by Aleister Crowley) shared with his close associate Kenneth Anger, and Marjorie Cameron who frequently acted in his films. One of Harrington’s mentors was avant-garde film pioneer Maya Deren, an initiated voodoo priestess.

Roger Corman assigned Harrington to turn some Russian science fiction footage into a whole new American movie; the result was Queen of Blood, which led to further films such as Games.

He also directed Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1971) with Shelley Winters, What’s the Matter with Helen? (1972) again with Winters, and Killer Bees (1974) with Gloria Swanson in one of her last film roles.

Harrington made two made for television movies based on screenplays by Robert Bloch: The Cat Creature (1973) and The Dead Don’t Die (1975) .

Harrington had a cameo role in Orson Welles’s unfinished The Other Side of the Wind. In the 1970s and 1980s, Harrington directed episodes of Wonder Woman, The Twilight Zone, and Charlie’s Angels for television.

Harrington was the driving force in locating the original James Whale production of The Old Dark House (1932). Even though the rights had been sold to Columbia Pictures for a remake, he got George Eastman House to restore the negative. On the Kino International DVD, there is a filmed interview of Harrington explaining why and how this came about (the contract stipulated that they were allowed to save the film only, not release it, essentially to prove no profit motive). Harrington was an advisor on Bill Condon’s excellent Gods and Monsters, about the last days of director James Whale, since Harrington had known Whale at the end of his life. Harrington also has a cameo in this film.

Harrington’s final film, the short Usher, is a remake of an unreleased film he did while in high school, Fall of the House of Usher. His casting of Nikolas and Zeena Schreck in his updated version of Edgar Allan Poe’s ”Fall of the House of Usher” is in keeping with the magical thread that runs through the film-maker’s career. Financing of the film was partly accomplished through the Shreck’s brokering of the sale of Harrington’s signed copy of Crowley’s The Book of Thoth.

He died on May 6, 2007, of complications from a stroke he had suffered in 2005. He is interred in the Cathedral Mausoleum at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

House of Harrington a short documentary about the director’s life, was released in 2008. It was directed by Jeffrey Schwarz and Tyler Hubby and filmed several years before Harrington’s death. It includes footage of his high school film Fall of the House of Usher. Check it out HERE. Curtis Harrington’s memoir Nice Guys Don’t Work in Hollywood will be published in fall 2012 by Drag City.

Quadrophenia *****

The mid-seventies success of the Ken Russell directed rock opera Tommy (based on the Who album of the same name) prompted The Who films to bring their classic tale of teen angst, Quadrophenia, to the big screen.

Set in 1964 at the peak of the first Mod subculture, Quadrophenia is the coming-of-age story of young London Mod Jimmy Cooper (Phil Daniels), a disillusioned, confused and angry young man.

During the day, Jimmy works as a post-room runner at a large corporate firm in the City, however at night and on the weekends, Jimmy is a Mod. He hangs out with his friends Dave (Mark Wingett), Chalky (Philip Davis) and Spider (Gary Shail), enjoying an amphetamine fuelled alternate lifestyle of drinking, partying and posing.

Influenced by peer pressure, and desperate to ‘belong’ to the ‘scene’ at all costs, Jimmy alienates his childhood friend Kev (Ray Winstone), who is now a Rocker. In a classic example of Jimmy’s mindset, when asked by Kev why he is a Mod, he answers: “Look, I don’t wanna be the same as everybody else. That’s why I’m a Mod, see? I mean, you gotta be somebody, ain’t ya?”

Adding to his confusion, Jimmy has a crush on local girl Steph (Leslie Ash), and feels increasingly detached from his parents who ‘don’t understand him.’ To make matters worse, in a retaliatory attack, Jimmy and his friends beat up Kev’ simply because he is a rocker albeit not the one responsible for injuring their friend. This act of betrayal only adds to Jimmy’s growing drug-induced confusion.

A chance to get away from it all comes when the Mods converge on the coastal town of Brighton over a bank holiday weekend. In some of the film’s most iconic scenes we meet the hordes of Mods led by the self-styled ‘Ace Face’ (Sting in his film debut), and witness a running battle between rival gangs of Mods and Rockers, during which Jimmy escapes down an alleyway with Steph where he finally has the girl of his dreams, only to emerge and be arrested.

At the moment he belongs and appears to have everything he wanted, everything is taken away; Jimmy’s life continues to fall apart, his identity crisis escalates, alienating him from everything he knows…

Written and directed by Franc Roddam with an obvious love for the subject matter. Jimmy is real; he’s likeable, flawed, annoying and complex, not a one-dimensional movie teenager like so many other coming of age stories.

The cast are all good, delivering natural performances, many in their debut roles, headed by Phil Daniels who is exceptional as Jimmy in the most iconic and most important performance of his underrated career.

I love this film; the energy, performances and depiction of Mod subculture, as it says on the poster: “It’s a way of life”. The film is gritty, humorous, violent and cool, it’s also quintessentially British.

SPOILER ALERT: I also love the ambiguous and symbolic conclusion, symbolizing either Jimmy’s death (though he is not shown falling) or the death of his belief in the Mod culture and his final decision to live without it. It still remains a talking point 30 years later.

Though not a major box-office hit, Quadrophenia quickly went onto receive a cult-following. An apparently accurate sample of the times, the films celebration of the Mod movement partly inspired the Mod revival in the UK in the late 1970s and early 80’s. Many of the Mod revival bands were influenced by the energy of British punk rock, new wave and of course, the music of The Who. The revival was led by The Jam (whose front man Paul Weller is nicknamed The Modfather), and included bands such as Secret Affair, Purple Hearts and The Chords.

The Who are everywhere throughout the film, a poster on Jimmy’s wall, performing Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere on TV and the My Generation single played at a party.

It’s interesting to note that John Lydon screen tested for the role of Jimmy, it would have been a very different film with him, I can see him inhabiting Jimmy with angst and anger, not so much anything else.

“We are the Mods, We are the Mods, We are, We are, We are the Mods…”

Quality: 5 out of 5 stars

Any Good: 5 out of 5 stars

Night of the Living Dead *****

Second review in a short series of five, featuring one of the five major groundbreaking horror movies of the late 60’s through early 80’s. The movies on the list are: The Night of the Living Dead (1968); The Last House on the Left (1972); The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974); Halloween (1978) and ‘The Evil Dead’ (1981). These movies set the templates that have been used to make and remake hundreds of horror movies of varying quality for the last 30+ years.

Barbara ((Judith O’Dea) and her annoying brother Johnny are visiting their father’s grave. They see a man stumbling towards them as Johnny tries to scare her, making lame jokes: “They’re coming to get you Barbara”, when suddenly the man attacks her. Johnny comes to her rescue and is killed; Barbara escapes and pursued by the undead assailant, makes it to an apparently abandoned farmhouse.

Shocked by the discovery of a dead body she tries to leave and encounters Ben (Duane Jones) whose truck has run out of gas. Ben fights off 3 undead attackers and before realising that the farmhouse is surrounded by dozens of them. He sets to work boarding up the windows while relating his story to Barbara of the carnage he’s see; at the same time informing the audience of the scale of the situation. This is driven further home by the doom laden news reports from the ever present radio: “Attacks by the undead”, “Partially devoured by their attackers”, “The killers are eating the flesh of the people they kill”; then television news break announcing that a radioactive satellite, the Venus probe, is responsible for the dead returning to life .

Joined by Harry Cooper (Karl Hardman), his wife Helen (Marilyn Eastman) and their sick child, and young couple Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ridley), who have been hiding in the cellar; the group make a stand.

Taking a brilliantly simple idea, which obviously draws inspiration from ‘Rio Bravo’ and ‘The Birds’, throwing a disparate group of strangers together and made us care for them; and using the limitations of the budget to his advantage by restricting the group to one confined set, George Romero has crafted the prototype zombie movie; the template for all that followed it.

The real strength of the film is in the human drama within the house; the group are fractured, argumentative and divisive, building tension throughout. The characters are believable, displaying their fears, prejudice and vulnerability. As viewers we’re initially apprehensive about them, but as the film unfolds we’re willing them to survive, and Romero being a realist, he kills them off unceremoniously, family members literally ‘eating their own’.

The cast of unknowns inhabit their roles well, delivering believable depictions of fear, cowardice, stupidity and uncertainty. However this is Romero’s film, his script, his politics, his direction, and he delivers on all fronts. The use of gore must also have been quite shocking; having the zombies eating actual meat lends the cannibalistic scenes some realism and although not as graphic as the gore thrown onto the screens with the relentless ‘torture porn’ movies, it still holds up today.

A lot has been made of Romero’s social commentary within the film, made at the height of the Civil Rights movement and Americas involvement in Vietnam. Making a black man the more heroic figure within the group, then dispatching him so callously at the hands of the ‘good old boys’ can’t have been missed by m any viewers at the original time of release.

This is an exceptional film, a real classic of the horror genre, bettered only by Romero’s own follow up, the superlative ‘Dawn of the Dead’. Avoid the 30th Anniversary Edition DVD; it contains some awful new footage shot by alleged fans of the original. Also avoid the colourised version and the 1990 remake, which although not abysmal is pointless when you can watch this.

Turn out the lights, board up the windows, sit back and enjoy.

5 out of 5 stars

Last House on the Left *****

I thought another list was overdue and wanted to do something slightly different. So over the next few weeks I’ll be posting a review of one of the five major groundbreaking horror movies of the late 60’s through early 80’s. The movies on the list are: The Night of the Living Dead (1968); The Last House on the Left (1972); The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974); Halloween (1978) and The Evil Dead (1981). These movies set the templates that have been used to make and remake hundreds of horror movies of varying quality for the last 30+ years.

The first movie reviewed is The Last House on the Left. For no reason other than I lent my copy to a mate at work and when he gave it back to me I watched it again on the weekend.

On the eve of her birthday, Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassell) and her friend Phyllis Stone (Lucy Grantham) borrow the family car to go to a concert in New York. They head to a seedier part of the city to score some marijuana before the show and it’s there they meet Junior (Marc Sheffler) who says he has some back at his apartment. The girls agree to go back with him. At the apartment Junior introduces the girls to his father Krug (David Hess), Weasel (Fred Lincoln) and their apparently shared partner Sadie (Jeramie Rain). Krug and Weasel are escaped convicts, dangerous and sadistic; they abuse and rape Phyllis in front of Mari.

The next day they put both girls in the car boot and head off to the country. They take the girls into the woods where their ordeal is about to get much worse. They dehumanise the girls, making them strip, soil themselves and touch each other, then they murder and dismember Phyllis. Krug cuts his name into Mari’s chest before he rapes and murders her.

The killers head to the nearest house under the guise of a family on the road, they say that their car has broken down and they need somewhere to stay. The house belongs to Mari’s parents (Gaylord St James and Cynthia Carr) who discover what has happened to their daughter… they wreak savage revenge on the gang one at a time.

Last House was directed by Wes Craven who went on to make ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ and ‘Scream’ and was produced by Sean S. Cunningham who made the original ‘Friday The 13th’.

The reason that this movie retains such a reputation almost 40 years after its release is not only due to the savagery of the violence but the way it is portrayed. Craven said that he wanted to represent violence in the movie the way that he was seeing it on the TV news in shocking footage from Vietnam. The violence therefore is shot in a documentary style without any score, it looks and feels real. Craven then intercuts the violence with blissful  scenes of the parents preparing Mari’s party and comedic scenes of two hapless policemen (Marshall Anker and Martin Kove) looking for the missing girls. The gang are shown enjoying the violence then becoming bored by it. The movie is also accompanied by an odd late 60’s style score by actor David Hess; it lyrically tells the story as it unfolds and throws those scenes off kilter with the feel of the rest of the movie.  None of this should work, but intercut together in the verite style it combines to make the violent shots feel worse… and it works.

The movie is brutal, shocking, disturbing, sickening, depressing, sadistic, intense, tragic, and legendary and of course it’s groundbreaking. To avoid fainting keep repeating, it’s only a movie… only a movie… only a movie… only a movie.

The best DVD version is the UK 3 Disc Ultimate Edition. It contains 2 uncut versions of the movie and some excellent documentaries: Celluloid Crime of the Century and Krug Conquers England as well as outtakes and trailers. The real bonus is the 3rd disc which contains Going to Pieces: The Rise & Fall of the Slasher Film, a feature length documentary on the slasher film genre.

Quotes from the documentary: “It was a film very much on the edge” Wes Craven; “We didn’t know what we didn’t know” Sean Cunningham; “What you’re seeing in her face is real fear” Fred Lincoln; “It never gets so bad that it’s funny, it’s just so bad” Jeramie Rain

 5 out of 5 stars

The Warriors *****

Walter Hills third film as director was almost life changing for me when I saw it for the first time as the support feature to ‘Friday the 13th part 2’ in 1981. It was one of the movies that turned me on to a lifelong love of cinema.

The Warriors was adapted from Sol Yurick’s frankly depressing and bleak novel about an unnamed gang on the run through hostile territory from the Bronx all the way back to their turf in Coney Island. Taking the source material and stripping the story back to basics, heavily influenced by the ancient Greek tale Anabasis by the Spartan General Xenophon, Hill made what appear to be a few minor but very important changes. The first was calling our gang ‘The Warriors’, the book title refers to all the gangs amassed at the Bronx meeting who are after the gang we follow back to Coney Island. The other change being that the gang is of mixed race. This no doubt contributed to the film’s success at the US box office on release. No racially divided gang, a cool name and look as well as toning down the books less appealing character aspects gave us a group of guys to cheer for.  And cheer we did as teenagers. The look, the colour, the action, the dialogue, the music and the near non-stop pace made for a perfect teenage movie.

Wrongly accused of the murder of ‘The One and Only’ Cyrus, leader of the Gramercy Riffs, The Warriors have to ‘Bop their way back’ from the Bronx to Coney Island. Along the way they are chased by cops and other gang members including the real killers The Rogues. They are spurred on by the unseen radio DJ who keeps the gangs, and us, up to date with their movements; she also plays some of the movies incredible score that provide the backdrop to some cool montages.

Any guy in their teens or early 20’s during the 80’s knows more than a few lines of dialogue from it and they all remember the Baseball Furies chase and fight in the subway station men’s room. The interaction with the gangs is priceless; Cyrus, leader of the Riffs “Can you dig it?”; The Orphans “So far down they ain’t even on the map”; The Baseball Furies “I’m gonna shove that bat up your ass and turn you into a popsicle” and Luthors final act chiding “Warriors, come out to play”

The young cast are all good, with Michael Beck as leader Swan, James Remar as the feisty Ajax and David Patrick Kelly the only members who had any real post-Warriors career. James Remar the more successful with roles in subsequent Walter Hill movies and on TV in Sex and the City and Dexter. However the other gang members are less well known but leave their mark on the movie: Brian Tyler (Snow), Tom McKitterick (Cowboy), Thomas Waites (Fox), David Harris (Cochise), Terry Michos (Vermin), Marcelino Sanchez (Rembrandt) and Dorsey Wright (underused as original Warriors leader Cleon) are all solid and give us characters to believe in. Deborah Van Valkenberg (Mercy) provides real heart as the girl looking for some excitement and hitching a ride with the gang.   

The soundtrack is as memorable, an excellent electronic score by Barry DeVorzon sprinkled with classics such as ‘No Where to Run’ and new material from Joe Walsh ‘In The City’. However, this is Walter Hills’ movie, the lean script, sparse memorable dialogue and most importantly, the look of the film, which has no doubt been an influence on countless movies, TV series and MTV videos over the years. Neon lights reflected on wet city streets predated the 80’s look. Hill himself took this to its natural conclusion with 1984’s ‘Streets of Fire’   

Released in 1979, The Warriors has always been compared with the other classic gang culture movies of the time: ‘The Wanderers’ and ‘Quadrophenia’. However unlike those movies which looked back at teen angst of the past, The Warriors was set slightly in the future. This near future setting along with the neon light visuals and comic book dialogue adds to the timelessness of the movie and it is as iconic today as it was back in the early 80’s.

One of my all time favourite films, I own at least 4 versions of it! In 2005 ‘The Warriors’ was rereleased as a ‘Directors Cut’ in which Hill was finally able to release a cut with his originally intended comic book panel style… I’m sure I would have enjoyed the movie like this if I’d seen it that way in the 80’s, however I prefer the original cut which is worth seeking out on DVD. A Criterion release is overdue as there are numerous out takes and deleted scenes out there that have never made it into an official DVD. It would surely sell in huge numbers, I’d buy it again! Check out the excellent website for all Warriors information.

Quality: 5 out of 5 stars

Any Good: 5 out of 5 stars

The Company of Wolves *****

With the disastrous release of ‘Red Riding Hood’ recently I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the best movie adaption of that particular fairy tale. The Company of Wolves was the first Neil Jordan movie I ever saw at the cinema, I’ve seen everything he’s made since.

After the funeral of her older sister who was killed by wolves, Rosaleen (Sarah Paterson) stays at her grandmothers (Angela Lansbury) cottage in the woods. Her grandmother spends the night telling Rosaleen stories about ‘men whose eyebrows meet in the middle’ and ‘babies found in stork eggs’ much to Rosaleens horror and excitement. The stories are cautionary tales as Rosaleen is pre-pubescent and granny is trying to warn her about certain types of men and what they will want from her. The stories are dismissed by Rosaleens mother when Rosaleen asks her if her father ‘hurts’ her after she heard them having sex. The film is all filled throughout with sexual references and imagery.

Of course soon after Rosaleen meets a charming stranger in the woods, the huntsman (Micha Bergese), he begs her for a kiss, when Rosaleen declines he makes abet with her that he can reach her granny’s house before her, and then he will take his kiss. Rosaleen agrees to the bet even though the strangers’ eyebrows meet in the middle…

The Company of Wolves is a strange, original, beautiful and sensual film; preoccupied with Rosaleens burgeoning sexuality and her obvious appeal to the opposite sex. The film is incredibly beautiful to look at, the village, cottage and woods sets are wonderfully realised and provide the perfect fairy tale backdrop for the characters to ham it up. The actors really play up their roles, there’s not much subtlety in delivery but it all works in the films favour.      

It really is director Neil Jordan’s film and must have been a difficult sell when he initially pitched it to the studio. Encompassing a strong undercurrent of sexual desire that would become a familiar theme throughout his career, especially in ‘The Crying Game’ and ‘Interview with A Vampire’; using the fairy tale imagery allows Jordan to look at teenage sexuality from a safe distance.

The special effects are always a talking point in werewolf themed movies, specifically the transformation scenes, with ‘An American Werewolf In London’ setting the standard. The werewolf change in Company of Wolves is different and disturbing in a unique way. Wonderfully staged and well performed it relies on the acting, setting and lighting to build the tension before exploding with some terrific make-up effects. Although now obviously slightly dated, I still prefer these types of effects to CGI abominations. 

Quality: 5 out of 5 stars

Any good: 5 out of 5 stars

Badlands *****

“He was 25 years old. He combed his hair like James Dean. She was 15. She took music lessons and could twirl a baton. For a while they lived together in a tree house. In 1959, she watched while he killed a lot of people”. This was the tagline for ‘Badlands’ (1973) and it pretty much sums up the film. What it doesn’t do however is explain just how beautiful, romantic, violent and engrossing the film is.

We follow Kit Carruthers (Martin Sheen), a young garbage collector and his girlfriend Holly Sargis (Sissy Spacek) as they go on the run after killing Holly’s father (Warren Oates). Kit is a morally ambiguous young man, self-centred and listless; he falls for Holly after seeing her twirl a baton in her front yard. Holly is shy and introverted; she falls for Kit almost immediately as we hear through her narration that he “looked just like James Dean”. As their relationship develops, her father disapproves and it is at this point that Kit casually shoots him. They burn down the house and go on the run…

The film plays out like a fairytale through the inner monologue from Holly that is a constant throughout. She describes in a childish manner what she is feeling and what she believes to be Kits reasons for his actions. This narration and the incredibly haunting score lift the film to another level. Without it we would become detached from Kit and Holly’s world as they are not the most interesting characters. Kit postures more as the film progresses, believing his motives for killing are justified and revelling in his new found fame. Holly remains detached throughout and although initially infatuated with Kit she soon becomes bored with him and the constant running. She is simply along for the ride.

Sheen and Spacek are perfect in their roles, entirely believable and have great screen chemistry. But this is director Terrence Malik’s film, andwhat a beautiful film he has made. The cinematography is gorgeous, with wide vistas of the mid-west and sunsets against distant stormy clouds a constant feature. The backdrops appear almost surreal with only Kit, Holly and whoever they come across in the shots, we rarely see anyone else and this helps establish how isolated they are both physically and as characters.

The killings are not overly bloody and in many cases happen off screen; thaey are played out as almost banal and sterile. They are not really important to Kit other than heightening his noteriety, they just happen and this reinforces that the violence isn’t the central theme of the movie, it’s not about the killings, it’s about the people doing the killings. There isn’t any justifiable reason for any of them except in Kit’s head. When Holly decides to leave Kit he realises that he is doomed and eventually gives up. Believing in his own fame, Kit even goes so far as to mark the exact spot he was captured. If the film had been made in the last decade the critics would call it a ‘critique of modern society’s obsession with fame’. This was made in 1973 and stands the test of time.

It was Terence Malik’s debut; it took him five years to make his follow up ‘Days of Heaven’ (1978) and he would not make another film until ‘The Thin Red Line’ (1998). His last film was ‘The New World’ (2005). Not exactly prolific each of his films are worth waiting for, although The New World was somewhat of a disappointment after the high standard he set early on. Badlands was an incredible debut and I don’t think he’s done anything as good since, although not many directors started with the bar set so high.

Quality: 5 out of 5 stars

Any good: 5 out of 5 stars    

Trainspotting *****

“Choose your future, choose life… now why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life; I chose something else, and the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?” These words spoken by Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) over the opening shots played out to the strains of Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust for Life’ set the tone for the rest of the movie. Trainspotting is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It was incredible when I first saw it and remains so today.

I read the book a year or so before I saw the play which I saw before the film. Each one was a major event. I was introduced to the book by my friend Andrew, he always was (and still is) the most widely read guy I know… in fact I’m overdue some recommended reading from him. Brilliant he said. It was as I’ve already said, like nothing I’d read before, incredible.

I saw the play in Shepherds Bush with Ewan Bremner as Renton, it was raw and brilliant. We saw the play again in the West End, bigger budget, and brilliant again.

I thought I knew what to expect when I went to see the film in Hammersmith. I underestimated how good it would be, and this was a film I’d already expected to be amazing.

The story revolves around Mark Renton, a junkie and his social misfit friends Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) a cocky confident ladies man; Spud (Ewan Bremner), Marks best friend and a hopeless case; psychopathic Francis Begbie (Robert Carlyle) and nice guy Tommy (Kevin McKidd). The film follows their meaningless lives as Renton tries, fails, tries and eventually succeeds in kicking his habit. Kelly MacDonald also plays a pivotal role as Diane, Rentons school age girlfriend. She is the catalyst for Renton to make a positive change in his life… but for how long?

The film shows their junkie lives as fun and enjoyable, as Renton says in his voice over: “Why else would we do it?” But it also shows how sordid, dirty and depressing the scene undoubtedly is.

 A simple premise but it is so well written by John Hodge from that incredible book by Irvine Welsh. The script captures all the dark, sad, scary, violent and incredibly funny moments from the book. It also has a thick vein of black humour running through it; and it’s this humour that offsets the dark moments and allows us to enjoy the ride.  

The cast are all fantastic in career making and career defining roles, delivering the dialogue seamlessly and with real purpose. It is impossible to single anyone out as they are perfect in their roles; however Ewan McGregor pulls off the impossible by making us like and care about Renton; and Robert Carlyle is terrifyingly real as Begbie.

The film though belongs to Danny Boyle. He was helped by the great script and once-in-a-lifetime cast but he brings it all together with style. The camera angles and set-ups take you inside this world and the fluidity of movement keeps the film constantly flowing, there is never a moment where we are waiting for something to happen. It’s always happening, all the time. Boyle has been compared to Tarantino whenever this film is mentioned; it came out just after Pulp Fiction. That comparison is unwarranted and unfair for as good a director that Tarantino is, or was as he’s faded of late, Boyle is far better. Boyle has never made the same film twice, let alone remade it again and again as Tarantino appears to be doing. Boyle is a master; he proved it with his debut ‘Shallow Grave’ and again since Trainspotting with ’28 Days Later’, ‘Sunshine’, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and ‘128 Hours’ .

The advertising campaign in the UK was exceptional; Trainspotting posters appeared everywhere and on every teenage bedroom wall up and down the country.

Trainspotting is the zeitgeist film of the 90’s; it captures the sounds and feel of the era like no other movie of the decade. Incredible, essential, timeless, genius… if you haven’t seen it, see it now.

“…index pension, tax exemption, clearing gutters, getting by, looking ahead the day you die…”

Quality: 5 out of 5 stars

Any good: 5 out of 5 stars

Taxi Driver 35th Anniversary *****

“Someday a real rain will wash all the scum off the streets”

Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) is an ex-Marine Vietnam veteran in New York. He’s an insomniac loner who passes the time by taking a permanent night shift as a Taxi Driver. He sees the worst of mankind each night on his rounds and this eats away at him, fuelling his urge to lash out and right the perceived wrongs in the city. Travis tries to make some sort of connection with Betsy (Cybil Shepherd) a worker on a presidential nomination campaign. His failed attempts at some kind of normality serve only to highlight how alienated and out of touch with reality he really is. Deciding to turn his urges into action, Travis determines to help teenage prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster) escape the clutches of her pimp (Harvey Keitel)…

I first saw Taxi Driver at a College Cinema club in the early 80’s. I had no idea what it was about but had been told it was ‘unmissable’ by a few guys who had seen it. You hear that a lot about way too many movies but this time it turned out to be true. It was my real introduction to the work of Scorsese; I had seen Raging Bull a few weeks before and was blown away by DeNiro and I had mistakenly at the time thought of Raging Bull as a ‘DeNiro’ film. I was young, gimme a break… But Taxi Driver stays with you after you’ve seen it, and after you’ve seen it again because repeat viewings are mandatory.

The film came out in 1976, a year after ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and both films are exceptional studies of mental illness, albeit from different viewpoints. Whereas Cuckoo’s Nest pits a relatively sane man against the mental health system from inside an institution and is a damning indictment of that institution; Taxi Driver features an obviously irrational and mentally disturbed individual in a world he is incapable of comprehending.

The quality of everyone’s work is there on the screen. Bernard Herrmann’s terrific score gets under Travis and the viewers skin. Paul Schrader’s script is exceptional and signalled the dark heart that would permeate his work henceforth: Hardcore, Raging Bull, Mishima being the standouts. DeNiro fulfilling the promise of his previous year’s best supporting actor Oscar for The Godfather Part II. He is surrounded by a fantastic supporting cast, Jodie Foster as Iris, Cybil Shepherd as Betsy and Harvey Keitel as Sport the pimp… but DeNiro carries the weight of the movie, he’s in almost every scene and his is an exceptional performance.

However the film belongs to Scorsese, returning to the New York of his breakthrough ‘Mean Streets’ of three years earlier. He brings all the individual parts together to form what is a dark, disturbing and compelling film. Essentially we are watching Travis’ psychosis and irrational thought process unravel to an explosive climax. On the page it must have looked bleak and it’s difficult to imagine how hard a sell it must have been to the studio. Scorsese sells it perfectly.

I’ve watched everything that Scorsese and DeNiro have done since that first Taxi Driver viewing; there have been the odd stumble here and there, especially for DeNiro of late but Scorsese is never less than essential viewing.

35 years after its initial release, Taxi Driver remains an all-time classic. The 35th Anniversary Blu-Ray and DVD are released this week with all the old and some new features.

Quality: 5 out of 5 stars

Is it good: 5 out of 5 stars

The Exorcist *****

I was legally underage the first time I saw The Exorcist, so were my friends Keith and Gary. We saw it at an old porno cinema in Waterloo Street in Newcastle; they never asked your age… allegedly. I can’t remember the year but we were still at school. We were too young. It was a double bill; they always were at that cinema, 4 screens, 3 of which showed porn, the 4th always screened double bills of classic 70’s movies that we were too young to see… so we saw a lot of them often, Dirty Harry movies, Bruce Lee and horror flicks. This time we turned up to see The Exorcist and The Exorcist 2: The Heretic; an all time classic and an all time piece of shit.

We were excited and nervous, we knew the reputation that came with this film, we were prepared… or so we thought. Between us we’d seen a lot of horror films but most horror films scare you with ‘jumps’ and quick cuts… this thing got under your skin and picked at your nerve endings. It ramped up the tension, threw in those ‘jump’ scares and shredded your nerves completely right through until after the closing music has faded.

The film begins at an archaeological dig near Nineveh in Iraq, it’s here we’re introduced to Father Merrin (Max von Sydow), the titular Exorcist.

In Georgetown, actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) notices odd noises in the attic and more alarmingly, disturbing changes in her 12 year old daughter Regan (Linda Blair). After Regan suffers through a series of medical tests, Chris takes her to see a psychiatrist whom Regan assaults. As a last resort Chris enlists the help of Father Karras (Jason Miller); a conflicted priest, he agrees to talk to Regan but doubts that she needs an exorcism.

You know the drill by now, shaking beds, blasphemy, levitation and physical assault on those around her as well as on Regan’s own body.

After a further visit Karras listens to some recordings he made of Regan, she is speaking in dead languages and backwards English. She taunts him about his sick mother. Karras agrees to ask for an exorcism to be performed. The church sends Father Merrin, an experienced exorcist, he has unfinished business with this demon…

I’d never seen anything like it at the time and no matter how many horror films I’ve seen since, not one of them has given me the sense of dread and emotional battering that The Exorcist did. And yes, that is a good thing.  

There are excellent performances from everyone involved, a great script from an equally terrifying novel and awe inspiring visual and audio effects. This is an incredibly well directed movie by William Friedkin at the peak of his powers, a career defining film.

I’ve seen the film many times since that day in the musty, dark porno theatre; on video in the eighties, before and after it was ludicrously removed from video shops due to its placement on the ‘video nasties’ list. I also saw it on its ‘The version you’ve never seen before’ rerelease at the cinema; I own that version and the original cut on DVD, as well as the anthology box set (I‘m a completist tragic)… and EVERY time I watch it I get that same sense of fear and excitement I had back in Waterloo Street over 30 years ago. I prefer the original cut, the addition of the ‘spider walk’ scene to the rerelease adds little apart from it being a cool shot.

Every time I see the film I see something new in it, every time I see it, it’s different but the same. It’s intelligent, emotional, visceral and peerless. I’ve seen a lot of top ten, top fifty or top hundred lists for horror films, everyone is entitled to their opinion… but any of them that don’t have this at number 1 are full of shit. It’s THE greatest horror film EVER, there really is no competition.  

Quality: 5 stars

Is it fun, God no, but is it good: 5 stars

There will be a review of the DVD anthology of The Exorcist, the sequels and both prequels soon.