True Romance 1992 *****


The late Tony Scott was something of a cinematic powerhouse, whose work was consistently underrated; a note on his Wikipedia page says that after The Hunger, he stopped reading the vitriolic reviews his film inspired. Most of these critics are long gone now, but Scott’s canon endures; hits like Top Gun, Crimson Tide and Enemy of the State are all better than average blockbusters, but his other works are remarkable in their consistency; Revenge, The Last Boy Scout, Man on Fire or Unstoppable would be highlights in any director’s resume, whether they appeased the public or not. His best film was a flop; 1992’s True Romance gave Scott a super-hot script, and he did it proud; Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette are ideal as Clarence and Alabama, young newly-weds who scram from snowy Detroit to sunny LA after he romantically murders her pimp Drexl (Gary Oldman under dreadlocks and prosthetics). All kinds of talent are shown to their best advantage here, from Bronson Pinochet’s coke-addled flunky to Brad Pitt’s avuncular stoner Floyd via James Gandolfini’s memorable thug. Scott creates the requisite tension, but also creates two vibrant, dynamic worlds for his characters to inhabit. And at the centre is one of cinema’s greatest scenes; a confrontation between Clarence’s cop father Clifford (Dennis Hopper) and mobster Cocotti (Christopher Walken). Two experienced actors with some great dialogue; Scott gets the best out of them as Cocotti’s threats raise Clifford’s awareness of his predicament. From the moment Clifford accepts his last cigarette, the dynamics of the scene change and it becomes a meditation on defiance in the face of death. Ridley Scott has given interviews regarding the family history of cancer which throw some light on his brother’s suicide; Scott’s elegiac handling of True Romance’s highpoint throws further illumination. Unfairly derided as a man who placed style over content, Tony Scott was in the deep end while most directors were just splashing in the shallows.


Illuminata 1998 ***

illuminata-movie-poster-1998-1020204021Another entry in there “Where do Amazon find these films?’ file, Illuminata was barely released anywhere back in 1998, and is likely to find its biggest audience now that its inexplicably popped up in Prime. John Turturro directs from a play by Brandon Cole, and given that the play is about a play being staged, it’s an intensely theatrical experience. Turturro plays Tuchio, a theatre director who is struggling to finish and perform his play, with performers (Susan Sarandon, Rufus Sewell) and critics (Christopher Walken) ranged against his artistic vision. The seam of talent runs deep with Beverley D’Angelo, Ben Gazarra and Donal McCann also contributing to the gallery of exquisite caricatures. The best of the has to be Walken’s dissolute, sexually-motivated critic, on whose foibles the venture lies. Leaching after the male lead with grim enthusiasm, Bevelaqua is a grotesque subversion of any kind of morality, and a perfect pivot for a story of the madness of creativity. Admirers of Vanya on 42nd Street or Cradle That Rocked will enjoy this, a painstaking evocation of the theatre in days gone by; Tuturro’s career as a director has been occasional, but Illuminata is far better than it’s lack of recognition suggests.

Brainstorm 1983 ***


An ideal double bill with 2014’s Transcendence, Brainstorm is a strange and somewhat prescient sci-fi film from Douglas Trumbull, taking his only post-Silent Running shot as director after managing the ground-breaking effects for 2001 and Close Encounters. Hampered by the death of star Natalie Wood during production, Brainstorm has an original conceit; a device which allows participants to experience events happening to someone else; experiencing death second-hand is the ultimate goal. Michael Brace (Christopher Walken) has been developing the machine, but fears the intervention of the military industrial complex, and after the death of his wife Lillian (Wood), goes on the run with the machine. The focus on mortality sits uneasily with the real-life tragedy of Wood’s death, but Brainstorm has a good deal of ideas to play with, with Trumbull creating visceral scenes of visual flair to suggest how the machine would work, interspersed with a sinister conspiracy drama. Brainstorm is an interesting failure; as with many sci-fi films that attempt to consider serious themes, the plotting gets in the way of the more profound meanings aspired to, but the intent is admirable.

Mousehunt 1997 ***


Gore Verbinkski’s first features shows all the visual energy and gift of visual comedy that featured in the Pirates of The Caribbean movies, but without the lame-love interest. Instead there’s a stream of high quality slapstick for kids of all ages; Nathan Lane and Lee Evans play Ernie and Lars Smuntz, who are hoping to restore an ancient mansion but haven’t reckoned with the sitting tenant; a mouse who is unwilling to move out. Mousetraps, cats and eventually a tough professional exterminator (a brilliant cameo from Christopher Walken) are all enlisted, and Mousehunt has enormous fun with the comic possibilities in this breezy Dreamworks production; any film with such an extended mouse-down-the-trousers gag deserves points for trying.