My Favourite Films of 2016

2016 became an interesting year of film watching for me as I have personally had to change my cinematic viewing habits. This is due to the fact that I became a new father with all the responsibilities that fatherhood has bestowed on me.  So with this in mind I have had to forgo my usual weekly cinema jaunts and instead I have been watching the 2016 releases via irregular Cinema trips, On Demand subscriptions (very useful), buying the DVD/Blu as soon as it has been release (great 3 month cinema to DVD/Blu window on most non blockbuster releases) and the occasional preview DVD which kindly fell into my lap. Compiling my top favourites of 2016 has been a real eye opener as embracing other avenues of watching newly released films has become more varied and very much a technological innovative trip. Do not worry, this devoted cinephile knows full well that the best place to watch any movie is at the Cinema and I was blessed with a few trips to those fabled picturehouses, with even a date at the London Film Festival, so sit back, relax and see what films I enjoyed in 2016…

15. Deadpool  Director Tim Miller
As a Marvel comic book adaptation it was the usual studio set-up, for a grade B character but what makes this film a stand out example of how to make a comic-to-movie work, is the razor wit of the one liners, the comic timing of Ryan Reynolds and the whole cast and director do not take the making of this film seriously, which works a treat.

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14. The Accountant  Director Gavin O’Connor
This thriller has Ben Affleck starring as Christian Wolff a child with learning issues who grows up to become a top flight trouble shooting accountant during the day and a deadly killer-for-higher as his nighttime career. On his trail is a dogged old timer Treasury Department officer and his junior partner. If you can handle the premise then this is a film worth watching.

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13. The Lobster  Director Yorgos Lanthimos
The plot of this comedy drama is set in a near future, where single people, according to the laws of the country, are taken to a hotel, where they must find a romantic partner in forty-five days or they are transformed into beasts.  Analogys are rife in this feature, but if you have seen the directors previous film, Dogtooth then you can appreciate where he is coming from.  A very good cast as well play well with a very lateral script.

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12. The Hateful Eight  Director Quentin Tarantino
Okay a Tarantino film that I do like (including Jackie Brown (1998) his most mature work) plays well with Klondike era Spaghetti Westerns, Agatha Christie whodunnits and lashings of crooked sub Italian Western characterizations, with a score by El Maestro Ennio Morricone.

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11. High Rise  Director Ben Wheatley
This 1970’s near future set drama thriller is fantastically directed, well acted by the cool ensemble cast and the art direction is on the same fun levels that A Clockwork Orange had way back in 1971. The UK advertorial campaign was also well executed, with the UK film poster being very nice creation (see below).

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10. Nocturnal Animals  Director Tom Ford
I saw this feature only a few days before the end of 2016 and I really enjoyed what I had seen. It is a nice dark drama of a bored, bourgeois art director who is give a manuscript from her ex husband of this violent book, a revenge for an earlier incident they both went through. Good performances and an interesting opening credit scene and the most favourable of endings.

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9. Hell Or High Water   Director David Mackenzie
This film has a dogged performance form Jeff Bridges as a near retired Sheriff on the hunt for two outlaw brothers robbing banks in various Texan towns to pay off their mortgage. A telling plotline that sums up the camera shots of looming bill boars offering quick loans and credit cards throughout a once prosperous state. Bridges one liners and racial slurs are funny to hear.

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8. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens  Director J.J. Abrams
Yes I know, it was released in 2015, but for this viewer I saw it both in December 2015, then in January 2016 plus the BluRay release in April, so it is in my list, crowbarred in, so to speak! Several parts A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and a sprinkle of Return Of The Jedi, this is a film form a director who is a fan of the Star Wars mythology, though rough at the edges, there is a little glow that feels like a Star Wars film, only a little mind you, which works for me.

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7. Son Of Saul   Director László Nemes
When I saw Nemes’ film I was struck how well he focused on Saul throughout the film in a tight, claustrophobic !:37:1 aspect ratio, keeping the horrors of Sauls’ work in the concentration camp during World War II just out of the viewers eyesight, but enough to make you feel upset and horrified but what Saul sees. A film of true horror, but so gripping.

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6. The Nice Guys  Director Shane Black
Loved this film so much, the casting of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling reminded me of the old Bud Spencer/Terence Hill action comedies of the 1970’s-80’s, which incidental Crowe is a big fan of. Too clever for it’s domestic market, this film did well over here, but not enough to warrant a sequel! Shame.

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-5.Miles Ahead  Director Don Cheadle
A personal project for actor Cheadle, who wrote, directed and produced this great little biopic of Miles Davis, jazz muscian extrodinaire. I have spent the last year listening to alot of Davis’ work, especially the album King Of Blue, so this movie, about a semi fictional encounter between Miles and Ewan McGregors Scottish journalist is very funny to watch, layered with key flash backs and pointed attacks on the music industry. Well worth a watch.

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-5. Tale Of Tales  Director Matteo Garrone
This collection of three Italian medieval tales a screen adaptation based on collections of tales by Neapolitan poet and courtier Giambattista Basile: Pentamerone.It features another ensemble cast, from Salma Hayek, Toby Jones to Vincent Cassell, each tale touches upon the other, but never detracting from each other. This is Matteo Garrone first English language movie.

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4. Youth  Director Paolo Sorrentino
This is a fantastic film, set in a health spa in the Italian Alps and featuring a great cross performance from Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel and two long time artistic friends who meet regularly at the spa to wax lyrical about life, their children and the failures they have had to accept. This is also Paolo Sorrentino first primarily English language movie.

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3. The Neon Demon  Director Nicolas Winding Refn
Refn does Elizabeth Báthory, dog-eat-dog fashionistas on overdrive and the complete destruction of innocence. All done with so much neon in so many shots, this is Refn doing what he does best, dark, moody, violent with an electrifying syth score from Cliff Martinez.

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2. Hail Caesar!  Directors Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
This cool satire of the 1950’s Hollywood Studio system is so fantastically funny that I really did enjoy the Coens feature very much. Clooney plays a matinee idol actor, kidnapped by Communist sympathizers who convince him to join their group, at the same time Josh Brolins studio executive is keeping the lid on a pressure cooker blockbuster Sword ‘n’ Sandal epic with no leading man! Throw in some great cameos form Tilda Swinton amongst others and a classic scene with Brolin, a Cathloic priest,  a Rabbi, a Greek Orthodox priest and a Baptist minister all discussing the merits of Jesus Christ on screen, classic.

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1. The Assassin  Director Hsiao-Hsien Hou
A poetic martial arts film with beautifully shot landscapes, wonderful performances and lyrical martial arts sequences, all shot in 1:37:1 aspect ratio. It all comes together perfectly this well produced Taiwanese, Chinese, French Hong Kong co-production owes much to the old classic Chinese political costume drams, infused with expertly stage martial arts scenes. A Beautiful film to watch.

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So this is my top film list for 2016, a rather varied collection I think, but ably summing up some of the movies I like to be entertained by. As I have spent the year discovering other ways to view the latest releases, I have have lost none of the enjoyment of film and cinema. So with that in mind, I thank you for taking the time to read my list…

MS.45 aka Angel of Vengeance (1981)

I first saw this film on a VHS rental copy from Warner Home Video back in 1992, which came into my hands as an avid collector of Video Films and knowing that this film was a rarity on the Home Video market. This edition was rated X, which was an obvious pre-cert release in the UK (see the example below) and was uncut as far as I knew. I was already familiar with Abel Ferrara  as I had already watched The Driller Killer (1979) on a pirate VHS (another banned title), so to get my hands on this title was a cool find.

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I watched the movie twice on Video and thought, yes, a revenge movie with many nods to Death Wish, but the victim becomes the avenger and not by association. This worked for me and from what I had read about Ferrara and his writing partner Nicolas St Johns weaved many religious tropes into the story line and visually, the finale where Thana (Zoë Tamerlis) dressed as a Nun, has a virtual thrill inspiring orgy of gun violence in slow motion as a literal Angel of Vengeance descended from Heaven.

The plot begins in the garment district of Manhattan of the early 80’s where we are introduced to a small fashion house, run by a salacious, camp like owner and his team of seamstress’ once of which is Thana (Zoë Tamerlis). Thana is a quiet, timid mute girl, pretty but unassuming who is always looked after by her colleagues and lusted after by her boss. After leaving work with here work friends, Thana decides to go home early instead of going out with her colleagues for a drink. As she leaves a supermarket, she is attacked and dragged into an alleyway where she is raped by a masked assailant brandinshing a gun the undulant being played by a Jimmie Laine. a pseudonym of Abel Ferrara. Bo sooner as Thana. been attacked she is then  assaulted in her own flat by a opportunist armed burglar which proves the  undoing of this quite timid woman as Thana reaches out for a red apple like paperweight ( shades of Snow White) and knocks out her assailant cold!  The next scene Thana uses and iron off sacred to finish the job properly.

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This begins a chain if events where Thana becomes an angel of vengarance, despatching male scumbags with the fury of a woman who does not want to tale the male domination scenarios anymore. As Thana becomes more violent in her attacks we see her very image change as she dress mire alluringly presumably to enticement male gaze and continue her killing  spree. There is one scene where her nosy neighbours dog, Philly is kidnapped by Thana who intends to kill him fir being annoying, though the dog is male and irritating that is enough to encourage Thana to kill! The police are little more than useless even to locate the neighbours missing  dog.

The final third of the film gears up to s costume party, presumably Halloween where we see Thana in full nuns outfit,stockings  and suspenders, this total male fantasy brandishing her 45 pistol as we see her point her gun at imaginary assailants while we here almost silent gunshots on the soundtrack. , We are drawn into her almost silent world where the only sounds Thana can make is through her pistol.  At the party, Thana is molested by her now drunk boss who is ultimately shot by her. This begins a rampage of shootings as one by one, in slow motion, male party goers are gunned down, even a man dressed as a woman, which causes a momentary lapse of concentration as Thana is confused as to why she shot a ‘woman’ and is finally stabbed by here work friend, only to let out a shriek form hell!

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Much has been written about the feminist slants this film seems to take, that this was a serious take on the rape-revenge storylines populating the cinema. It has been argued that Ferrara and writer Nicolas St Johns had created a paired down female revenge machine, that the real exploitation came with making the Thana character a mute, so she has to silently suffer the abuse meted out to her, we are forced not feel what she feels silently and horribly without being able to turn away. As Death Wish began a strand of revenge cinema populating the 70’s right through till today, MS.45 takes the revenge a few steps further and not in a comfortable way.

I have since watched MS.45 at the ICA in London a few years ago as part of their Fashion and Violence season of films, so I was finally able to watch an uncut print on the silver screen. More recently I purchase the US Drafthouse edition of MS45 on Blu Ray with a fantastic transfer of the film and a cool selection of video essays and interviews with the key creators of the film, including Mr Ferrara himself.

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As an example of Abel Ferraras work, this is a recommenced must-see of this directors work. As readers may know, I have a huge bias for Ferrara’s work, but I will say that this film is one to seek out as a very strong example of how a revenge movie should be.

 

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The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957)

Director: Terence Fisher
Screenwriter:  Jimmy Sangster
Soundtrack: James Bernard
Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Hazel Court
Country: United Kingdom
Run Time: 1Hr 37 Mins
Ratio: 1:66:1 Colour
Language: English
Format: Restored BluRay Region B

Terence Fisher’s ‘The Curse of Frankenstein’ was released in 1957 to huge box office success in both England and the United States, and made stars out of both Peter Cushing and a heavily made-up Christopher Lee. It was the first time that a Frankenstein film had been made in colour and with the censorship laws more relaxed than in the previous decade, a good injection of blood and a little gore was also added to the mix which made this version of the story the bloodiest yet. The script was revised several times to avoid repeating any elements from the Universal Frankenstein series. As part of this effort, new monster make-up had to be devised especially for this film which many critics commented that Christopher Lee looked like a car crash victim.
The story was adapted and re-written by Jimmy Sangster and in their new version we see Victor Frankenstein as a young man who has inherited the family estate of Frankenstein meeting his cousin who will later become his wife and employing a teacher so that Victor can study medicine in his own home. as the years go by both Frankenstein and his teacher begin experiments to re-animate animals and to set about the ultimate experiment, to re-animate a body made up of dead human beings. As the film progresses Victor Frankenstein tries to re-animate his creature several times causing death and destruction until ultimately Victor is put into prison and blamed for all the deaths in the village. In the end the message of this film is the same as the previous incarnations, man’ obsession with playing the life giver will ultimately end in his destruction and of those around him.

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In the opening credits we have a small prologue of white text on a red background introducing the Frankenstein, while the haunting score by James Bernard sets the tone for the preceding horror to come. We then begin with a tired and drawn Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) languishing in a prison awaiting his fate as he relates his strange story of his experiments. The cinematography is one of lush colours, beautiful, ornate sets and elegant costumes set in a backdrop of 19th century Europe. What Terence Fisher and hammer succeeded in doing was to recreate the mythology of Frankenstein in a bloodier and more explicit form. Here was a version of the story which was not afraid to show blood, human body parts, and have a cruel sense of humour. This Victor Frankenstein was seen as ruthless and very, very determined to make his experiments work even if it meant that he had to kill in cold blood, to him it was all part of his grand creation, to bring life to a body composed of all manner of human organs and make this being live.
Watching Christopher Lee stumbling about and not understanding what his very existence was for, I felt very sorry for the creature, who has to live like an animal, a trained monkey, with no will of his own who eventually dies in a hail of flames and a vat of acid! What an end to Frankenstein’s experiments. Curse of Frankenstein injected new imagery into an old story, the public had never seen explicit horror presented this way and in full glorious colour. It is no wonder that this movie did so well After this successful version, Hammer Studios made several sequels to ‘Curse’ continuing Frankenstein’s experiments with
re-animation, the first was Revenge of Frankenstein, followed by Evil of Frankenstein, then Frankenstein Created Woman, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, Horror of Frankenstein (without Peter Cushing) and finally Frankenstein and The Monster From Hell (Reviewed Here).

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Each sequel had some very good ideas but by the time Horror of Frankenstein was filmed, interest had disappeared for Frankenstein and his experiments, though Peter Cushing will always be remembered as Victor Frankenstein, a man who wanted to create life but could never achieve it a moral tale that has never been surpassed. I love this version of the story and feel that this is an excellent example of Hammers Golden Age, along with Dracula (Horror of Dracula), The Mummy and the Quatermass films, Hammer became synonymous with British Horror even the US market benefited from this new injection of full colour and bloody Horror and the partnership of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee would make Hammer and enduring, iconic movie making studio in the annals of Horror.

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Baron Frankenstein: [after his monster has nearly killed him] I did it, Paul!

Cop (1988)

Director: James B. Harris

Produced by James B. Harris, James Woods

Novel: James Ellroy

Screenplay: James B. Harris

Starring: James Woods, Lesley Ann Warren, Charles Durning, Charles Haid, Raymond J. Barry

Music:  Michel Colombier

Cinematography: Steve Dubin

Edited: Anthony Spano

Distributed by Atlantic Releasing Corporation

I first watched this film at the cinema in London in 1988 in a small screen, Piccadilly if memory servers    This was a James Woods performance that really impressed me and wanting to watch the film again. I subsequently bought the film in VHS when it was released on sell – through for several more re-watches.

Based on the novel Blood on the Moon (1984) by James Elroy. It is the first of the Lloyd Hopkins Trilogy. It was followed by Because the Night (1984) and Suicide Hill (1985). Although the novels are written in multiple perspectives and narrated omniscient, the main character in all three is Lloyd Hopkins.

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Cop begins with a black screen and the credits roll as the voice of a frustrated man trying to call the police filters through the main titles. As the conversation unfolds we gather that the man on the phone us burglar who has just reported a murder to the police while trying to rob the victims house. Cut to the first scene with James Woods playing titular cop, Lloyd Hopkins, as he lectures s new recruit in the art of following leads and eliminating false ones, while all the while walking through his busy homicide squad room where he takes the same call from the beginning credits and off he goes to answer the 911, what he discovers is a grisly serial killer like murder of a young women and a series of clues which lead him to suspect an anti-female killer is on the prowl.

The next scene are a lobbed but fraught as James Woods screen daughter who delight listening to daddy describe his murder cases in detail and ad libbing the dialogue, daddy’s daughter responds in her dads stories by swearing which upsets her mother and causes a major argument between her parents, the upshot being that Hopkins needs serious counseling as he is ‘so fucked up in the head’. His outlet comes in the shape of his old mentor Dutch played by Charles Durning an old time cop who is also Hopkins superior. In one scene both men team up to catch a well known hoodlum in the middle of the night, a good bit of fun for them.

As Hopkins pieces his evidence to together he begins to see s pattern, that this murder and other similar murders stretching back to the 1970’s maybe be linked in some way and as the true cop in the title, Hopkins must find out for sure. The story moves at a cool pace as Hopkins both tracks a friend of the murdered woman who masterminds sex parties for discerning clients, which gets Hopkins collar hot, enough to embark on a steamy one night stand, while trying to piece the case together. As he continues bating of his religiously skeptic Captain who would like Hopkins out of the force, as potential more victims might arrive. The latter half of the film sees Hopkins suspended but all the while suspecting that a secret love affair which.never transpired, is driving the serial killer to kill . Enter enter Leslie Anne Warren’s character as a feminist book store owner who wants to help find the killer, that she is romanced by Hopkins just so that he could use her to find the killer himself. This leads Hopkins to take some very serious risks in apprehending the killer.

Climax of the film with his character trailing the killer to the college where he began his mis-understood romance with Leslie Ann Warren and there is a fire fight in the school gym where Hopkins eventually corners The serial killer who wants to surrender as he is insane and that Hopkins is a cop, but Hopkins answer is a classic line that he ‘was a cop but he was suspended’ with a click of his shotgun….

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The film was one of several adaptions of Blood on the Moon, I have never read the book myself and I am guessing that this is a pretty good adaptation of the novel. Woods also  drives to create the act the character convincingly is all the more emphasis what works for me and makes everything very very believable I thoroughly enjoyed this film I would recommend people to watch nothing more to what extent the Woods who is great actor someone such intensity unbelievable that’s for the film itself is a great testament to small budgets are highly detailed police procedural server that works so well and ranks alongside some of the best the American cinema industry has produced. A killer ending, great jazz score with synths with a killer ending, that saying Wood’s this performance is top-notch and he holds the whole film together, every scene has him in the camera and it is fantastic acting piece.

Is the killer in the frame? Director James B Harris unusual has the serial killer character early on in the film, but you don’t even see the character as a full on participant in the movie, he is just there in the background and in several other key scenes we see glimpses of him but we never as an audience, interact with him. When I first watched the movie back in 1988  we are introduced to killer in nothing but an obvious long shot which is obviously watching points Woods disappears through doorway at the local bus station but on the right side of the screen you see a man watching want to leaving this is arson several other key scenes the killer is there hiding in plain sight but as the viewer you have to find him.

It would’ve been great if Woods had continued with the character of Lloyd Hopkins in the next two novels but as a standalone piece is a fantastic police opera well worth seeking out and well worth watching.

I watched this print on the Kino Lober Blu Ray label which is Region Encoded for the USA. Running time 1hour 50mins  58secs.

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My Favourite Films Of 2015

Well, that time has arrived again, an opportunity to tell you readers my favourite films of 2015. Though I guess it is a personal critic of what I watched at the Cinema and on Download (How modern). As an avid cinema goer I love to compile my favourites of any given year, but to share them with the global cinema crowd adds that extra touch. As these are my personal take on the Cinema of last year I hope you might agree with some of my views, if not, well, not to worry. Sit down, relax and have a read…

1. Mad Max Fury Road (2015) Director George Miller
This film, written by George Miller in collaboration, has had a long and oft troubled production history, with Miller stating that ‘15 years in production was way too long…’ but the finished production, a two hour car chase ac cross the desert is simple in it’s plot, fantastic in it’s visual landscape and the minimal CGI is a breath of fresh air to this old Cinema goer, so yes the throw back to the 1980’s is a fantastic treat for those film fans yearning for the old school action films of yesterday.

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2. Inherent Vice (2014) Director Paul Thomas Anderson
A great little detective movie from an American director known for his nuanced character driven movies. I enjoyed this film for the performances from Joaquin Phoenix as the laconic, dope headed detective Larry “Doc” Sportello searching for his former girlfriend amongst the drug pushers and pimps of downtown Los Angeles during the 1970’s. Based on a novel which was said to be un-filmable (which I have not read) I thought this was a cool movie, great soundtrack and some nice cinematography capturing the 70’s vibe.

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3. Steve McQueen The Man And Le Mans (2014) Director Gabriel Clarke
I really enjoyed this film which I reviewd here:https://wordpress.com/post/cultofthecinema.wordpress.com/336  which has now become my third favourite film of 2015, this is a biased choice and I do not really care. It has Steve McQueen which is a huge plus side and the unearthed footage of the trouble production of his film Le Mans is fantastic.

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4. Amy (2015) Director Asif Kapadia
At the time of writing this list, Channel 4 UK had just aired this Documentary which made it a timely re-watch. It is still a fascinating documentary about the very talented Amy Winehouse and her whole world of beautifully crafted music and her entourage of people who had their own self interests at heart. It is still a sad movie to watching knowing the untimely ending. Very moving.

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5. Macbeth (2015) Director Justin Kurzel
This adaption benefits from some of the most beautiful cinematography I have seen in a long while. The story is old enough and adapted enough to not warrant a synopsis, butb the performances of Michael Fassbender and Marion Coulitard is enough to make you want to watch this version. Atmospheric to the max a fantastic film to watch.

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6. Legend Director Brian Helgeland
Take one American writer/director, a classic British true life gangster story, a stand out double performance from Tom Hardy and you have the film that is Legend. Not a film that was supposed to work, but it does. It has it’s flaws but they are out weighed by the performances and the sense of it’s period.

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7. Far From The Madding Crowd Director Thomas Vinterberg
I liked this adaptation for all the reasons the other films are on this list, the performances are again excellent especially Carey Mulligan, the cinematography is excellent, capturing the beautiful countryside of old England wonderfully and the whole film has a dated feel which I truly felt at home with.

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8. La French  aka The Connection (2014) Director Cedric Jimenez
Yes when it comes to crime films, the French have a certain way to tell their stories, whether Jean-Pierre Melville hard boiled crime flicks, or the charms of Alain Delon, French crime films have always had a sense of style, intelligence and a wit that l always enjoy. La French  (The Connection) based on the same stories as the French Connection has Jean Dujardin as a crusading youth judge turned criminal investigator who wants to arrest drug kingpin Giles Lellouch. These two men cross paths and their lives slowly disintegrate as the the reach their inevitable conclusion. A classic.

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9. Scario (2015) Director Denis Villeneuve
Villeneuve is a director I have admired since watching Incendies (2010) and reeling at the shock conclusion to that film. Prisoners (2013) was another taut thriller which had a downbeat ending which was again fantastic. Scario is a excellent for a strong performance by Emily Blunt, with nuanced support from Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin with a really a tonal soundtrack which I enjoyed very much.

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10. Wild Tales aka Relatos Salvaje (2014) Director Damián Szifrón
What my intial eye about this film was the extended trailer/featurette showing one of the stories set on a plane, which as the story unfolds, each passenger had a link to an unseen main character. Eventually said plane begins to nose dive taking it’s passengers with it as it is about to hit the house of the unseen protagonists parents! Excellent. With an opening story, this collection of revenge and counter revenge is a great little feature from Argentina, well worth seeking out and enjoy the visual ride.

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11. Timbuktu (2014) Director Abderrahmane Sissako
‘A cattle herder and his family who reside in the dunes of Timbuktu find their quiet lives, which are typically free of the Jihadists determined to control their faith, abruptly disturbed.’ I really enjoyed this drama and learnt a little about another culture which is always cool in my book. Sissako delivers a powerful snap shot of life under a Jihadist rule book and how ordinary people live in fear of being forced to adopt a way of living removed from what they truly believe in.

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12. Straight Outta Compton (2015) Director F. Gary Gray
This is the authorized biopic of Dre Dre and Ice Cube’s rise to Rap super-stardom with Niggas With Attitude (NWA). Superbly directed, well acted and great to see Paul Giamatti as Jerry Heller, their manager and sometime mentor in a spot on role for him. The music, if you like Rap, is superb, the actual story is pretty well crafted wether wholly true is probably not relevant, it works well all round.

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13. Black Mass (2015) Director Scott Cooper
This film is one for cinema goers who have forgotten that Johnny Depp can really act. Based on the true story of notorious Boston gangster James ‘Whitey’ Bulger and his violent double-life as an FBI informant. Depp steals all the scenes, has a cool time being the villain and is so very menacing. Excellent.

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14. Hyena
A personal favourite of mine, this British made, London set police crime film is full of nasty coppers, even more nasty gutter gangsters and corruption aplenty, all set against the rain soak London streets. Nasty, visceral and aptly named, not a film to shy away from. This was also recommended to me by @HeidyMo when it played at the Toronto Film Festival.

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15. Girlhood aka Bande de Filles (2014) Director Céline Sciamma
This film I enjoyed because yet again it is a cool slice of French urban life with the right amount of drama, pathos, humour and street-smarts to engage the audience. You do care what happens to the characters. Considering hardly any of the main actors were professionals, Sciamma manages to gain some strong performances from her leads. a highly recommended drama.

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Steve McQueen The Man And Le Mans (2015) London Film Festival Review

Director: John McKenna
Screenwriter:  Gabriel Clarke
Soundtrack: Jim Copperthwaite
Starring: Steve McQueen, Chad McQueen, Neile Adams McQueen, Derek Bell, Jonathan Williams, David Piper,  Alan Trustman, John Klawitter, Peter Samuelson, Haig Altounian, Les Sheldon, Michael Keyser, Mario Iscovich, Craig Relyea, Bob Rosen, Siegfried Rauch, Louise Edlind, Hal Hamilton
Country: United Kingdom
Run Time: 1Hr 56Mins
Ratio: 1:85:1 Colour
Language: English
Format: Cinema, Part of The London Film Festival 2015

Steve McQueen The Man And Le Mans is a documentary film based around the making of Le Mans which was shot between July 1970 and November 1970 and became an infamous piece of film making and on-set production disasters which have become legendary in Hollywood film circles. This film had it;s UK premier at this years London Film Festival (2015).
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I have a very personal love of Steve McQueen’s movies and the whole mythology surrounding him as an actor and producer. After watching many repeats of The Towering Inferno and Bullit back in the 70’s on TV, I often wondered as a youngster what made this actor bring the screen to life with a knowing look or small gesture towards the screen. There are few actors that can come nearly half way through a films running time and just ‘take over’ the film from his peers (Towering Inferno) and just run with it, one that does spring to mind is Orsen Welles in The Third Man (1949), though I know there are others and I will probably have them pointed out in due course!

So to start with, I had a fantastic seat right in the middle of Row Q Cineworld Haymarket, facing the screen dead centre ! Excellent. Then a brief introduction by Adrian Wotton, one of the programmers of then festival who also introduced the writer and director and the feature. British TV documentarians John McKenna and Gabriel Clarke. With a few choice words the DocuFilm was screened to the waiting audience….

The Film itself charts the fraught creative process of Steve McQueens film Le Mans from the initial concepts, through McQueens insistence on authenticity and to demonstrate his passion for the motor racing sport and for the drivers who McQueen looked up to and emulated throughout his career as a driver.
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The film interweaves stunning newly discovered footage (which I always scratch my head at and cast a dubiously eye over) and voice recordings with original interviews within the people who new McQueen well. It is the true story of how a cinema legend would risk almost everything in pursuit of his dream. Contributions from McQueen’s first wife Nellie, his son Chad and other members of his entourage who knew the man well. What comes out from this film is the intense love the contributors have for McQueen, even though he was a man blessed with being a difficult to work with and interested in racing cars bikes and bedding women, all the time showing to the public how much he was close to his family.  A paradox if ever there was one.

McQueen had wanted to make the ultimate car racing movie, to out do any before and any after. It was well documented that when Grand Prix, starring James Garner was released, McQueen was not  best pleased, even ignoring Garner for years because of the picture.
With McQueen’s box office sales, he was well positioned to green light any film he wanted to make, including his long cherished project, Le Mans.

McQueen’s production company, Solar Productions, had signed a six-picture deal with Cinema Center Films, which had invested $6m in the movie, the largest budget ever for a McQueen film; but as the months dragged by and the eventual walking out of the films original director John Sturges and the virtual shutting down of the production after the budget spiraled out of control.
the backers started to grow nervous. Eventually Cinema Center Films moved in on the production (it had not previously been involved in the filming process) and took over completely, sending another director to replace Sturges. There were two on set car accidents, including one driver who lost part of his leg in the accident. It was later discovered that the particular scene need not have been filmed, which adds even more angst to an already fraught production.

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McQueen was reluctantly forced to act in the film only, When you watch hie performance, you can tell that McQueen was on virtual auto-pilot, not to say it was a bad performance but one from an actor who could command the whole picture at any point in the movie, he was not really there.

After Le Mans, McQueen contributed some memorable performances, but the tired look in his eye may have been form his love and loss on the set of Le Mans, the creative reign which was ripped from him and the subsequent quieting of the King Of Cool.

I as you have guessed it, enjoyed the DocuFilm very much, the found footage did show McQueen away for his acting persona revealing a man who wanted and took all, but had to live with outcomes he could not always face. McQueen’s legacy lives on, this film adds to the whole mythology and whether you see Steve McQueen as a reckless egotistically actor-producer or a man who wanted to show to the world he was not all about looks, smiles and acting, but someone who had passions outside his chosen profession and a respect to the drivers who risked their own lives to win the race!

I for the record, respect him even more as a human being and as an actor. #LFF

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Danger: Diabolik (1967)

Director: Mario Bava
Writers: Adriano Baracco (story) Mario Bava (screenplay)
Starring: John Phillip Law Marisa Mell Michel Piccoli Adolfo Celi
Composer: Ennio Morricone
Runtime: 99 min
Country: Italy / France
Language: English
Format: DVD Region 1 USA

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Mario Bava’a Danger: Diabolik is an adaptation of a popular 60’s comic strip about a master thief, Diabolik and his nefarious adventures thwarting the government and other criminals as he reaps in money far and wide. This was the perfect vehicle for Bava to demonstrate his visual eye, and demonstrate he did! As the opening credits begin with the whirring imagery and typographic into, it is a total attack of colour coupled with Ennio Morricone’s pulsing guitar driven score you cannot help but be drawn into this comic book fantasy hat is Diabolkis’ world.

The story begins with Diabolik and his muse-partner in crime Eva Cant, stealing a huge amount of cash under the protection of an unnamed European government’s police force.  Michel Piccoli playing Inspector Ginko, is charged by the government to track down Diabolik and put him away for good. Ginko does this by attacking various mob rackets run by Ralph Valmont (Adolfo Celi) the top Godfather of Crime. He in turn is cohersed into tracking down Diabolik on behalf of the Inspector, in return for easing off of raids to his mob activities.  Diabolik is no fool, as he knows he is being set up. Kant is kidnapped by Valmont, so Diabolik agrees to meet him on board his HQ plane where Diabolik destorys the craft and escapes with Valmont hanging onto him, via parachute.  A gun battle ensues with Ginko’s police squads as Diabolik manages to free Kant so she can escape, only for Diabolik to die in the gun battle, or so we think…

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John Philip Law is the eponymous hero/villain Diabolik who’s nefarious activities sends the viewer into wanting him to do more and more, Marisa Mell plays his love interest Eva smart but unerringly loyal to Diablolik. Adolf Celli plays Ralph Valmont who seems to be straight out of the book of American gangsters with the Brooklyn accent and the demeanor of a small time Al Capone! a true send-up.  Add in Terry Thomas as a brash Minister of the Interior and you know that you are going to be into a lot of fun and action.

Again Bava use of a very limited budget does not stop him from delivering the goods and with tongue firmly in
cheek. This slice of psychedelic pop is going to leave a lasting impression on you. this movie has achieved a long history of cult status and it is not easy to see why, from the night club scene where the 80’s kids take drugs, dance and paint this is how people who can remember how the 1960’s were, surreal. Morricone score oozes 60’s feelings with fast and furious guitar riffs to the Indian mystical sounds of the sitar lulling the viewer into a hazy drug fuelled psychdellia.

It is always with pleasure that Bava rarely fails to deliver in any of his movies, and if they seem dated like Diabloik, then all the better, for it is Bava’s style and his mastery of photography that brings to life his subject, from subterranean tunnels to high rise buildings exploding in front of you it all adds to the illusion of thrills and suspense fun and comedy that bring this character to life Bava felt at home with the comic book style of Diablok, the richness of colours the sense of action
from climbing sheer walls to gun battles with the police it all had the comic book feel to each scene. Filmed in an aspect ration which reflected the comic book panels of the original source material, Diabolik was always going to have a feel for the comic strip with the jump cuts and the all round simple characterization you don’t need to know each character intimately, just enough to get the whole story going.

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The acquisition of material luxury is what Diabolik is all about, and Bava makes everything in the film look lush and luxurious. His leather suit comes both black and cream-coloured, like a designer sofa. His rubber mask covers his entire face except for his exaggerated eyes, and is such a tight fit, in some shots it looks painted on. When Eva peels it away, it’s as if she were shedding his skin. No director ever used colour like Bava, and here the variety of stunning visuals goes far beyond his catalogue of horror effects. Clouds of multicolored smoke, used to snooker the cops or to givethe bureaucrats a dose of laughing gas, have a circus-like feel to them. For simple fun, Diabolik easily outdoes TV’s Batman in scenes like Terry-Thomas’s news conference, which falls apart in  uncontrolled, infectious laughter.

Politically, Bava and his screenwriters retain much of the anarchy of Diabolik’s source, the Italian comic of Angela and Luciana Giussani. 3 As in their original, Diabolik’s plundering has destabilized the government (Italy?, France? ) into constant turmoil. Embarassed officials and bureaucrats lose their jobs over their failure to stop him. Diabolik also retains a number of his nastier comic habits: the criminal fiend thinks nothing of contemptuously killing policemen right and left, and at one point dynamites a couple dozen government buildings for little more than a lark, a personal statement to prove that his threats are never bluffs.
It would be interesting to see if this movie would work well now if it was made with a modern spin, but as it seems to be of it’s time, then I would suspect that there would be something missing from a modern version. I like Bava’s Danger: Diabolik and I would recommend it as a great slice of Kitsch 60’s swing. Fun and frivolous great to watch and very exciting! Fun  Comic Book Mayhem.

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Hercules In The Haunted World aka Ercole Al Centro Della Terra (1961)

Director: Mario Bava
Screenwriter:  Mario Bava
Soundtrack: Armando Torvajoli
Starring: Reg Park, Christopher Lee, Leonora Ruffo, George Ardisson, Ida Galli
Country: Italy
Run Time: 1Hr 28Mins
Ratio: 2:35:1 Colour
Language: Italian-English Subs
Format: DVD Region 1

Mario Bava’s Ercole Al Centro Della Terra (1961) is another adventure in the Hercules cycle popular in Italy during the mid 50’s to the mid 60’s. The Hercules mythology was very popular in Italian cinema ever since the 20’s and many variations and adventures were filmed for the Greek hero. Reg Parks, a British bodybuilder was cast as Hercules with a two sidekicks and an evil nemesis played by Christopher Lee, starlight from his success as Hammer’s Dracula. In a few countries this movie was promoted as Hercules meets the Vampires! which already typecast Lee as the uber-vampire lord!! The US title is Hercules In The Haunted World an altogether creepier title but bears little resemblance to the story locations.

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This time our hero must travel to Hades to retrieve a life giving glowing stone which will cure his beloveds illness. All the while Hercules must fight stone monsters, evil witch women, flying zombie vampire creatures, and finally face off against Lico (Christopher Lee) and more flying zombie-vampires. Lee wanted to move away from the Dracula persona he was now so associated with, so trips to Italy to star in movies he was offered was a must. Though this film was marketed on some countries as a vampire movie, all because of Lee’s role!

This film is again a delirious mix of colours, lighting, mist and sets that are lurid and wonderful all at the sametime, so if nothing else this is a feast of visual delights which the viewer cannot but emmerce themselves in the beautiful visuals presented before them.

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The script maybe basic, the plot simple but that is not what this film is all about, this is a Bava movie and as been pointed out before, Bava has an inexhaustible colour visual eye and a full pallet of colours which is a feast to the eye. Apparently this film was Bava’s second feature as a director, after his debut with ‘Black Sunday’ which had done excellent business worldwide. When you take into account all of Bava’s movies you can see the specific and unique visual style that Bava employs, a trademark if you like that has often been copied but never bettered.

As mythology is about the fantastic and wondrous, Bava is best suited to the genre, and is of interest to note that he contributed to many Peplums, both as cinematographer and as art directors over the years Bava’s eye for the colourful worlds of the Ancients brought to life what we thought it looked like. Unlike the first Hercules film’s with Steve Reeves, this Hercules movie is dark and foreboding in it’s tone the tasks set for our hero are scary and dangerous, though all only breed to appropriate usage of muscle and all ends well.

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In the climactic scene where Hercules is overwhelmed by the flying zombies it is a treat to watch the insane visuals in front of your eyes and not be amazed. As the creatures rise up from their tombs is delirious blues and blacks and greens, covered in smoke and dust and flying through the air trying to attack our hero you feel scared and delirious at they same time as so much is happening and this scene is so much a for runner to the later Zombie movie cycle. Bava’s extensive use of trick photography including his trademark fore and background shots, and various matte shots all created in the studio it is a testament to Bava’ ingenuity that this film is his first foray into colour and what an experience he had from baroque Black & White visuals to glorious technicolor.

Bava could be quite clearly labelled a master of the visual arts and through his long career through all his genre film making it is clear that he enjoyed making movies going experience a treat for his audience. like a great painter, Bava was able to bring his world’s to life and for us to enjoy.

Hercules In The Haunted World is a must see gem, just to witness Bava’s extraordinary use of colours, photography and special effects and the wild sets, creatures, beautiful maidens and heros ready to do battle are all in this  heady mix of sword and sandal mythology, true fun!!!

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Una Nuvola Di Polvere… Un Grido Di Morte… Arriva Sartana (1971)

Director : Giuliano Carnimeo
Screenplay: Ernesto Gastaldi Tito Carpi
Composer: Luis Bacalov
Starring: Gianni Garko, Nieves Navarro, Piero Lulli
Format DVD R2 Japan Macaroni Collection 4 Disk Collection

I have always enjoyed the Sartana series of features with the eponymous hero played by Gianni Garko and also including the more comical outing with George Hilton and Charles Southwood. This is the fourth in the Sartana series of Spaghetti Western starring Gianni Grako, ‘Una Nuvola Di Polvere… Un Grido Di Morte… Arriva Sartana’ was directed by Giuliano Carnimeo under the pseudonyme of Anthony Ascott.

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In this adventure Sartana is on the trail of a case of gold coins which have been whisked away and ‘lost’. The only man who can get the stolen gold is Grand Full (Piero Lulli) who can piece the whole puzzle together but he is in prison, so who has to get himself inside the prison, well Sartana does! Once Full is free, Sartana has to piece the puzzle together without getting shot and killed. In his investigations Sartana meets a shady business man, a renegade Mexican bandit and and a one eyed sheriff who’s not all he seems with their only connection is that they all want the gold. With the help of an old man gambler and sometime inventor Plon Plon (Franco Pesce), Sartana finally puts the puzzle together and who and why. In a neat twist one of the inventions makes a great mobile timebomb dispatching one of the main villains in a hail of rocks! As the movie heads towards it’s climax Sartana has managed to re-introduce the main villains at a graveyard and a final shoot-out ensues.

In a very cool scene from the film, Sartana uses a church organ as a Gatling type gun to mow down Mexican bandidas on horseback in droves, very different and a cock at Nero’s Django and his Machine Gun out of a Coffin routine!

As a stand alone Spaghetti this is a fine example of the genre, though Luis Bacalov’s soundtrack sounds a little like an Ennio Morricone score (as he was Morricone’s main conductor) but nonetheless it is still a good soundtrack.

To watch this piece and the previous outings of Sartana, it is clear to see that iconogarphy is a main and essential element in the Spaghetti Western genre movie series. The trademarks of the all in black gunfighter, cigarillo, trick guns and even smarter one-liners. Sartana is the suave secret agent in the `Wild West’ a man mysterious but cool, who never seems to lose even when he’s been beaten up and had guns poked into his face he still seems the winner.

By the time the movie had been completed the Italian film industry had produced an incredible five hundred plus Spaghetti Western and the wave continued until the mid 70’s. ‘Una Nuvola…’ success as a Spaghetti Western is the fact that the lead actor Gianni Garko was the character of Sartana, much like Clint Eastwood as the ‘Man With No Name’ Garko epitomised the character, the smooth gunman, card sharp and very clever trickster who knew how to play his enemies and win in the end. As a style icon, the dress of all black with a red cravat and black cape made him look and feel like a ‘Western James Bond’ with gadgets coming out from all pockets and a neat verse of one liners which would put the Bonds to shame (probably not but you can see where I’m coming from). Sartana was a character created to monopolies on the fan base for the Django’s Ringo’s and the Sabata’s of the genre.  Watching the Sartana films you are struck by the whole cool and collected character with trick guns and even more tricky situations.

The mythical feel of the Sartana character who seemed to know when and where anything was happening made Sartana an enduring character in the Spaghetti Western genre It is no wonder that these movies became so popular in the Far East,  Asia and Africa as the cinema audiences sympathised and identified with a lone man who would bring justice to the evil men of the town.

Corruption, greed slavery they were what the establishment were portrayed as, Sartana and his ilk were the brave loners who dealt with the evils of the world, even if they too got the money. In a genre that spawned so many movies, it is refreshing to see that Sartana had some longevity with five official films, all but one starring Gianni Garko, and all with the cape, black wearing hero looking for a quick buck! and a guarantee that a Sartana film was not just about a gunfight or four but a good Spaghetti Western.

An old fashioned murder-mystery with plenty of card tricks and shoot-outs to keep the audience interested.
This was down to the skilled director, Giuliano Carnimeo, who helmed all the Sartana sequels and to his credit the movies established the character of Sartana and made him a well know cinema cowboy that even the character of Sabata (as played by Lee Van Cleef) was based on the Sartana template and many unofficial films and loose tie ins.

I have enjoyed the Sartana films very much and Gianni Grako will always for me, be Sartana. Una Nuvola Di Polvere… Un Grido Di Morte… Arriva Sartana is a recommended watch, enjoy!

There were alternate titles used for this movie such as
Light the Fuse… Sartana Is Coming! or Cloud of
Dust… Cry of Death… Sartana Is Coming.

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Stick (1985)

Director: Burt Reynolds
Screenwriter:  Elmore Leonard and Joseph Stinson
Soundtrack:  Joseph Conlan and Barry De Vorzon
Starring: Burt Reynolds,  George Segal,  Candice Bergen,
Charles Durning,  Annie Potts
Country: United States
Release Date: April 1985
Run Time: 109 min.
Ratio: 1:85:1 Colour
Language: English
Format: BluRay Region B Germany

It was 1985 when I was handed a copy of the Elmore Leonard novel Stick by my Dad, who had found it on the train on his way back from work one evening. Emblazoned on the front cover was the image of actor Burt Reynolds holding a Heck & Koch sub machine gun. I thought ‘no harm reading this on my way to college, would pass the time on ye olde public transport.’

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As time went by I began to see the film posters crop up around London, but alas I did not watch the film on the silver screen, not till I rented the movie on VHS in all it’s 4:3 ratio to watch one evening with my Dad. I enjoyed the movie very much at the time and went onto read the book several more times after that.

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The plot revolves around Ernest “Stick” Stickley, played by Reynolds, a former car thief, who has just been released from prison. At the beginning of the film we see Stickley riding the freight train into Miami, unsure as to where he is heading too, or what he is heading too. He meets up with an old friend, Rainy, whose has a  “quick stop” job for Chucky (Charles Durning) a low rent criminal near the Florida Everglades before they go home turns out to be an illegal drug deal that goes sour.  Rainy is killed by Moke, Chucky’s hitman as South American drug cartel henchmen led by led by the voodoo-obsessed Nestor, hunt Stick down.

He escapes with his life! With his friend dead, Stick needs to hide out for a while to elude the killers (who must eliminate him as a witness). While lying low, Stick finds himself watching and then hooking up with when he helps a wealthy eccentric named Barry (George Segal) a business associate of Durnings, he helps get into his locked car. Hired as a driver, he has a comfortable home with a stable job and tries to make up for lost time with Katie, his teen-age daughter. He also finds a new flame in Kyle (Candice Bergen), a financial consultant who acts as a business adviser for Barry. Before he can move on, however, Stick confronts drug dealer Chucky to demand the money owed to his murdered friend. Chucky refuses and sends albino hit-man Moke after Stick.

He becomes the target of Moke as well as Nestor. A three-way confrontation on a high-rise balcony ends in Chucky’s and Moke’s deaths. Stick must then rely on his quick wit and fists to deal with his final enemy, Nestor, who has kidnapped Stick’s daughter.  All is set for a grand finale at Nestor’s house…

Stick received negative reviews from critics in the USA. Despite opening at No. 1 in its first weekend, the film was a box office flop, grossing just $8.5 million when compared to its $22 million budget.

Reynolds is stated as saying “I wanted to make that movie as soon as I read the book. I respected Leonard’s work. I felt I knew that Florida way of life, having been raised in the state. And I was that guy! I turned in my cut of the picture and truly thought I had made a good film. Word got back to me quickly that the people at Universal wanted a few changes. The studio pulled the movie from its release schedule and asked Reynolds to reshoot the second half of the film.  A new writer was brought in along with a subplot involving his character reuniting with his daughter post-prison. Reynolds says his agent advised him to go along with the changes: “I gave up on the film. I didn’t fight them. I let them get the best of me. Leonard saw the film and told them he hated it.  After his comment, every critic attacked the film and he wouldn’t talk to me. When I re-shot the film, I was just going through the motions. I’m not proud of what I did, but I take responsibility for my actions. All I can say and this is not in way of a defence, is if you liked the first part of ‘Stick,’ that’s what I was trying to achieve throughout.” (Wikepedia)

I felt that Reynolds was trying to direct a cool crime movie and from my perspective, it does delivery the goods, but not on all the levels it needed to. The added ending seemed to bring the movie down to a revenge plot and a tying up all the loose ends as is the American studios way of doing things and it can be seen clearly here. That saying, it is still a workable feature Reynolds was trying to move away form his charm inducing schtick of Smoky And The Bandit and the Canonball Run franchise with a more serious role. That saying, he did a fine turn as honest cop Sharky in Sharky’s Machine, which he also directed, several years earlier, but Reynolds was always typecast as the charmer action man and not so much the tough thriller persona so attached to Eastwood and Bronson.

Stick to me was an honourable try that deserves a chance to be re-discovered and probably better appreciated now, as Reynolds can evoke a more serious acting side as seen in his later work. While researching information for this review, I chanced upon the original ending of Stick, on You Tube, set in the Chucky’s apartment during the tree-way confrontation with Kyle in tow, which is a more satisfactory ending and has none of the gun play of the Hector finale. As mentioned earlier, Reynolds did not have the final say on his cut of the film and once again the studios won out and crippling a perfectly good thriller.

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I for one would champion this film for all it’s merits and I guess that if I had not read the original source novel I may have never ventured into watching Stick at all, I am glad I did.

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