Firefox 1982

firefoxLong before Space Cowboys or Sully, Clint Eastwood was flexing his muscles with this high-tech thriller with an aviation rather than web-browser bent. Mitchell Gant (Eastwood) is recruited to infiltrate Soviet Russia and return in the cockpit of the Firefox, a plane so high-tech it responds to the thoughts of the pilot. The first half of the film has a lot of Clint standing around in toilets looking pensive, but once Gant gets his hands on the plane, it’s all action fare; even if the projection work isn’t quite to modern standards, it’s amazing for 1982. Adapted from Craig Thomas’s novel, Firefox is still fun to watch, even just as a record of Eastwood learning his trade; a strong supporting cast including Nigel Hawthorne, Freddie Jones, Warren Clarke and Ronald Lacey are also along for the ride in this unusual star vehicle. Reboot, please!


Hell or High Water 2016

hell-or-high-waterScottish director David Mackenzie has made his fair share of head-scratchers, from his poor concert rom-com  You Instead to his baffling sci-fi opus Perfect Sense. The further he gets from home, the better his films get, and his follow-up to Starred Up is his best to date. Jeff Bridges plays Marcus, the grizzled Texas Ranger on the trail of two bank-robbers Tanner and Toby (Ben Foster, Chris Pine), brothers who have reluctantly decided to operate on the wrong side of the law since their mother passed away. Taylor Sheridan’s script is peppered with memorable scenes and characters, including a couple of pithy waitresses, and neat reversals of expectations. And when the finale comes, it’s got the drive and violent verve of the best dime-store novels. Dismissed by some as a Coen Brother knock-off, Hell or High Water is an intense, thoughtful thriller with a unique atmosphere of its own.


Anthropoid 2016

anthropoidThe truth about the execution of SS General Reinhard Heydrich and the aftermath has been told before, notably Operation Daybreak. Writer/director Sean Ellis attempts to breathe new life into a familiar story with Anthropoid, which takes its name for the operation’s coded title. Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan are the two paratroopers who arrive in Prague on a deadly mission, with Toby Jones along to assist. Anthropoid differs from most WWII dramas in giving substantial screen-time to examining the consequences of the assassination, and notably the high price paid by those Czechs who assisted. There’s a brief lapse into sentiment that might have been better avoided, and the final church siege seems a little overblown. But for much of it’s length, Anthropoid is an effective update on one of WWII’s most brutal events.

Victoria 2015

victoriaAnyone who ever feels bored with cinema should give Victoria a look; it’s an adrenalin shot of a kind that’s never been achieved before. Sebastian Schipper’s film was shot in one take, and lasts over two and a half hours. It’s not an art movie but a heist story in a Michael Mann vein; Victoria (Laia Costa) falls in with a group of local criminals after a night out, and gets involved in a robbery that goes wrong with deadly consequences. The gang’s leader, Sonne, is played by Frederick Lau with a Brando-esque intensity that should break him as an international star. Schipper keeps the action moving after a slow start, and Victoria somehow manages to be more than the sum of its parts. The sheer rush of watching the actors play out the drama in real time matches the desperate energy of the heist, and the result is a hyper-real thriller that leaves you shattered and moved. A one-off, Victoria is the kind of film that it’s a pleasure to stumble upon; it’s recommended viewing for anyone open to the possibilities of cinema at its best.

Ben -Hur 2016

BEN-HURFor many fans of bad movies, an initial taste was found watching the thud-and-blunder epics of the 1950’s and sixties. The 1959 version of Ben-Hur was a perfect example; it may be a spin-off from The Bible in the form of Lew Wallace’s source material, but it’s pure Hollywood all the way. In it’s own way, Timur Bekmanbetov’s much heralded flop is the same; Ben-Hur’s story is now formed almost entirely around a chariot race viewed in a Fast and Furious fashion, and Morgan Freeman is on hand to explain a winning strategy that’s remarkably similar to the one featured in Tokyo Drift. Despite pallid leads in Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell as the brother estranged by fate and circumstance; there’s a full and groaning buffet of delights for bad movie fans. Jesus is treated like a minor character who might get his own franchise one day, popping up in the background to comic effect. There’s a stupendous sea-battle full of expensive money shops, not least when James Cosmo’s galleon-master gets pinged off by a giant oar like a rubber band. Ben-Hur; Full Throttle Drift Racer might have been a better title for this big, daft but undeniably amusing epic.

Triple 9 2016

triple-9-stakeoutJohn Hillcoat is a skilled but sometimes overtly pretentious director (The Proposition, Lawless) who really needed a good B script to reign him in. Matt Cook’s Triple 9 gives him exactly that, a pared-down noir thriller which sets cops and robbers against each other in downtown Atlanta. A closing credit extends viewers an offer to come and visit Atlanta, but that’s highly unlikely given the portrayal of the city as a lawless hell-hole. Casey Affleck is the driven cop, and Aaron Paul and Chewitel Ejiofor amongst the thieves, and the heist scenes are tough and vigorous. Only Kate Winslet’s Mafia-boss stretched credulity, and the final plot mechanics are silly, but Triple 9 is a nice enough B-movie thriller with A-List talent to burn.

The Legend of Tarzan 2016


It’s debatable whether the world really needed a new Tarzan movie in 2016, but David Yates’s lush adventure was probably better than the traditional origins story that might be expected. The Legend of Tarzan begins with Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard) and Jane (Margot Robbie) happily living a sophisticated, domesticated life-style in Britain; the ape-man is lured back to Africa to act as a white-savior and sort out the nefarious activities of Christoph Waltz. The Belgian Congo background is an unfamiliar and colorful terrain, and there’s decent action and suspense sequences as well as a cleverly engineered set of original flashbacks. The Legend of Tarzan may not have rewritten the book as far as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ character is concerned, but it’s original enough blockbuster fare to be going on with.