The Dion Brothers

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Terrence Malick isn’t generally noted for his quick-fire action comedies, but The Dion Brothers, aka The Gravy Train, is just such a rare beast. With Martin Scorsese originally attached to direct, this oddball thriller is also a family drama as Calvin (Stacy Keach) chucks in job in a factory to spring his brother Rut (Frederic Forrest) from his mining job and embark on a crime spree that includes impersonating police offers, an armored car robbery and a get-rich-quick scheme that carries high personal risk. Margot Kidder is a sassy love-interest, and the anti-authority sentiments of Jack Starrett’s film are something to behold, even several decades later. From Calvin’s inspiring opening speech about being Kirk Douglas, The Dion Brothers deserves a reputation as a stone cold classic of the crime movie genre.

 

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T2-Trainspotting 2

It’s never fair to judge a film by it’s trailer; Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting 2 will have to wait till January for a full appraisal. But in a year when many two decade old properties have been exhumed to resurrect the careers of those involved and create one more pay-day for all concerned (from My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 to Independence Day Resurgence), it’s a little dispiriting to see a trailer that revisits all the greatest hits of the first film with seemingly no new angle. The original Trainspotting had an energy that brought a microcosmic focus to the life of Scottish drug culture and created a cult hit. This sequel features Boyle’s traditional visual flourishes, but without a firm text to base a story on (this clearly isn’t related to any of Irvine’s Welsh’s sequels or prequels), it just looks like a refried version of the original. If the original plotted new ground in detailing how a group of friends dealt with the come-down of drug-abuse, Trainspotting 2 seems to be dealing with the less-than burning question of what happens if the same characters meet 20 years on. Scotland still has serious drug problems, but there’s no indication of any opportunities for Scots to tell their own stories or be more than a backdrop for overseas productions. Instead, we have millionaire tourist film-makers returning to their benighted, voiceless homeland, doubtless keen to re-establish their ‘street’ credentials and make some cash – by failing to observe that anything has changed in twenty years, beyond the arrival of the internet and Edinburgh having trams, the T2 trailer jumps the shark at some speed.

Mute Witness 1995

mute_witness5Writer/director Anthony Waller’s unheralded thriller has style to burn as it unfolds a teasing narrative of mute film-technician Billy Hughes (Marina Zudina) who finds herself trapped in a Moscow film studio by an violent group of men who she catches seemingly in the act of making a snuff film. Mute Witness works best when playing with the real-fake issues of Billy’s predicament, but even though Waller throws in some regrettable sixth-form comedy and a nice but irrelevant cameo from Sir Alec Guinness, there’s more than enough command of the medium on show to make it a shame that Waller didn’t get more recognition.

Mrs Henderson Presents 2005

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The late Bob Hoskins finds an ideal for in Judi Dench for this slight but amusing BBC drama, which takes the war-time action of the Windmill strip-club in London’s Soho as its subject. Stephen Fears has made entrepreneurial duos something of a speciality in films like My Beautiful Launderette, and Mrs Henderson lovingly recreates the milieu in which Vivian Van Damm and Laura Henderson kept their club open despite the bombs falling outside. Popular singer Will Young croons a couple of vintage songs including The Girl In The Little Green Hat, and Christopher Guest has a neat turn as Lord Cromer. Frears handles the nudity with taste; the aim is nostalgia rather than exploitation, and Mrs Henderson is about as genteel a film about stripping as might be imaginable.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VFeayFKvaw

The Dreamlife of Angels 1998

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Writer and director Erick Zonca’s French film is a frank and finally shocking drama about two girls in the town of Lille and their relationships with men. Élodie Bouchez plays Isa, a girl disappointed in love and life, who strikes up an alliance with Marie (Natacha Régnier), who lives in an apartment where all the inhabitants have died in a car accident. The two girls struggle to reconcile their desire for love with the differing attitudes of local men, and Isa’s discovery of a diary belonging to the accident’s sole survivor Sandrine opens up an inner world that leads to a casually depicted but truly tragic event. The Dreamlife of Angels is naturalistically acted and performed, but the low-key presentation only disguises Zonca’s determination to turn clichés inside out; there’s no miracles here, just bravery in the face of a world without pity or remorse.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oh827AIMCVQ

Death Rage 1976

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Yul Brynner was something of an unlikely star, but his performances in The King and I, The Magnificent Seven and Westworld made him a house-hold name. By 1976, he was dying of cancer, but still puts in a serviceable performance in Antonio Margheriti’s murky but effective thriller. Brynner is Peter Marcinia, a NYC hit man who re-enters the killing game to revenge the death of his brother. He travels to Naples where he tangles with both the local cops and the mafia, while finding time for romance with exotic dancer Barbara Bouchet, whose night-club routine gets quite a bit of screen-time. While nothing new in the genre of poliziotteschi, Death Rage has plenty of punch-ups and car chases, well-filmed and anchored by an unexpectedly touching performance from Brynner. There’s a weariness about his portrayal of Peter that makes Death Rage worth catching for genre fans; struggling to get himself into gear for one last job, there’s echoes of another 1976 elegy for a Hollywood star, Don Siegel’s The Shootist and John Wayne.

Milan Calibre 9

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A kick-ass slice of thick-ear gangster coolness, Fernando Di Leo’s 1972 film is a cleverly plotted crime-flick that turns clichés on their ear, right up to an amazing double-twist ending. The Godfather’s Gastone Moschin is Ugo, a big man in a small car, who gets out of jail with both the cops and his criminal counterparts keen to get their hands on the stolen money that put him in the clink in the first place. Ugo hooks up with Nelly (Barbara Bouchet) for a bit of respite, but the attentions of the Commissioner (Frank Wolff) and crime-boss Rocco (Mario Adorf) leave Ugo with little room for manoeuvre. Using street-actors and real Milan locations, Di Leo offers up an urgent slice of police melodramas, with nail-bombs, torture and punch-ups in spades, with Adorf’s crazy behaviour nicely matched by Moscin’s taciturn performance; if any film could revive Jason Stratham’s career, a remake of this would fit the bill nicely.