A film-loving friend suggested trying to imagine the definitive 70’s movie; The Great Smokey Mountain Carquake and Orangutan In a Trans-am were the (fictional) winning entries. Race with the Devil would do just as well; Jack Starrett’s 1975 horror-action hybrid attempts to capture the mid-70’s angst by fusing demonology with hard driving; the late Peter Fonda was the ideal centre for this film. Roger Marsh (Fonda) and his pal Frank (Warren Oates) grab their girls (Loretta Swit and Lara Parker) and head into the desert with their RV and motorbikes, only to come across Satanists; the result is, quite literally, a race with the devil. There’s a few staples of 70’s cinema here, from distrust of authorities to a downbeat ending, but there’s also a sense of fun; if you mash up Deliverance, Easy Rider and The Exorcist, this is exactly what you get.
Every year, the cinematic season brings at least one psychedelic freak out, and following on the coat-tales of mother!, Claire Denis’s super-weird and defiantly original High Life arrives to test the patience of the unwary. Monte (Robert Pattinson) is a criminal who joins a group of convicts working in space, harvesting black holes in a way that’s not entirely clear. Due to the distances involved, it’s a suicide mission, although Dr Dibs (Juliette Binoche) is seeking a loophole through her experiments with some form of artificial insemination. Their story is bookended with lengthy framing scenes involving Monte clearing the dead-bodies of the crew out of the ship, so there’s no suspense about the outcome, only how Monte and the crew got to this point. Throw in Mia Goth and Andre 3000 and you’ve got a very odd package for Denis’s first English language film, which plays down the conventions of sci-fi in favour of something rather more elusive. Pattinson is excellent as ever, and even if the scripts reflections on human sexuality are unclear, High Life has an uncompromising stance on the deadly DNA of selfish human behaviour.
There’s not much in director Michael Schroeder’s CV to suggest he was capable of pulling off an off-beat valentine to the movies like The Man in The Chair; the director of Cyborg 2 pulled off a career high when he pulled together an accomplished cast including Christopher Plummer, Robert Wagner and M Emmet Walsh as a group of Hollywood veterans who get together to help young aspiring LA film-maker Cameron (Michael Angarano) realise his dream. Schroeder over-eggs the flashy style of the direction, but coaxes strong performances from his cast, particularly Walsh who has a nice scene in which he discovers the value of the internet in a public library. Wagner also has a strong turn as a mogul who funds the enterprise, but Plummer takes centre-stage; his performance here as Flash is arguably better than his Oscar-winning turn in Beginners.
Taking inspiration from Jean Anouihl’s play, Peter Glenville’s 1964 drama derives its story from one of the key clashes between church and state. Henry II (Peter O’Toole) has a great friendship with Thomas Becket (Richard Burton); they enjoy a drink, and carousing with women, even though Thomas has leanings towards the church. Henry imagines that making his friend Archbishop will allow him to have his own behaviors rubber-stamped by the clergy, but he reckons without Thomas Becket’s strong beliefs, and the schism between the two men threatens to tear the roles of state and church apart. Becket as a film clearly plays fast and loose with historical detail, but the heavyweight performances, as well as a brief but impressive appearance from Sir John Gielgud, make for compelling viewing.
Kevin Costner’s return to the Kennedy ethos didn’t make the same cultural impact as Oliver Stone’s JFK; nonetheless, Roger Donaldson’s evocation of White House drama during the Cuban missile crisis is one of cinema’s more reflective history lessons. The strangely accented Kenny O’Donnell (Costner) is caught up in the angst as JFK Bruce Greenwood) and RFK (Steven Culp) ague about the best course of action to take, with the future of the world at stake. Thirteen Days has a couple of well-stages action scenes involving U2 spy-planes, but it’s all the stronger for being a claustrophobic talkfest; it was diplomacy that resolves the Cold war issues, and Thirteen Days is a respectful and conscientious look at one of the most startling chapters of world history.
Sidney Lumet’s last few decades were disappointing in view of the consistently excellent quality of his heyday, from 12 Angry Men to Dog Day Afternoon, but his final feature marked a impressive return to form. In a role that takes on uncomfortable resonance since his 2014 death, Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays Andy, a drug-fuelled real-estate exec whose marriage is on the rocks, and who convinces his brother Hank (Ethan Hawke) to help rob his father’s jewelry store. When the heist goes wrong, Charles (Albert Finney) is compelled to investigate the behavior of his own children, and discovers that Hank is having an affair with Andy’s wife (Marisa Tomei). An absorbing crime drama with great performances from a distinguished cast, Hoffman, Finney and Hawke are all at their best, while Tomei excels in a memorable if short appearance.
The attitudes to race, sex and wanton property destruction have conspired to keep Richard Rush’s perfect buddy cop movie offscreen for long periods of time, but now you can experience what decades of taste arbitrators have deemed unacceptable for mainstream broadcast. A favourite of Stanley Kubrick, Freebie and The Bean stars Alan Arkin and James Cann as two cops talking down a drug-lord. Urban chaos ensues with cars, motorbikes and truck flying in all directions; the joke is that the cops cause more problems than they resolve. Arkin and Caan’s repartee is exquisite, and the scene where Caan busts open a tampax machine to staunch the blood from a bullethole is a stone-cold tough guy classic.