Liquid Sky 1982 ***

liquid

Liquid Sky sounded like quite an amazing movie when it first came out in 1982; aliens who invade New York to harvest the opiate produced at the moment of orgasm from beautiful clubbers? Sign me up, thought my 13 year old self, only to be somewhat stymied and baffled by the art-house, post-Warhol leanings of Liquid Sky itself. Don’t expect any aliens, in fact, there’s only a paper-plate flying saucer, and special effects are restricted largely to basic chroma-key which interrupt rather than illustrate Slavia Tsukerman’s sci-fi drama. The focus is not really sex, or sci-fi, but drugs, specifically heroin and cocaine, both of which seem to be widely popular in the slice of NYC rooftop club-land featured. Margaret (Anne Carlisle) plays both Margaret and Jimmy, two characters who get caught up in the alien’s enthusiasm for heroin; with glass shards appearing embedded in the heads of victims, who then vanish into thin air, it’s clear that there’s something allegorical going on, but Liquid Sky is too slippery to allow an easy definition. Whatever’s going on, the costumes are wild, the NYC club scene is well caught, and the print on Amazon Prime is surprisingly good; Liquid Sky has become a huge cult movie, and if you’ve never heard of it, broad-minded viewers will always find something outré in this weird and occasionally wonderful film.

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Hustlers 2019 ****

hustkers

One magazine is going with ‘the most important film of the year’ for Hustlers, which would be a pretty damning condemnation of the inconsequential quality of much of the year’s films. Hustler feels like the latest reaction to the MeToo era, and creating crime movies with a ‘sisters are doing it for themselves’ vibe. With credits for both ‘Stripper consultant’ and ‘Wall Street Consultant’, at least the production has done some due diligence on the subject in hand, and it shows.

Hustlers follows on from Oceans 8 (awful) and Widows (better) as a number of female star names join forces to make a buck and beat the system, with various male antagonists in their way. Based on an article and taking some inspiration from a real story, writer/director Lorne Scafaria’s film doubles-down on the bitches-get-riches formula, keeping the stakes small and realistic; Constance Wu from Crazy Rich Asians is Oliver to Jennifer Lopez’s pole-dancing Fagin, teaching her how to dope strip-club clients with a mixture of Ketamine and MDMA while the girls cleans out their bank accounts. Of course, their clients are Wall Street scumbags, so Hustlers feels that the victims deserve all they get, and it’s only when Wu’s character shows mercy to one client that things fall apart. Hustlers does seem to have a sociological statement up its sleeve; that women, given the chance, will be as greedy as men; paying granny’s medical bills is the initial motivation, but funky expensive shoes and handbags prove to be the real undoing of Lopez’s gang.

Much as I Tonya took the clichés of the Scorsese gangster movie and revitalised them by having a female point of view, Hustlers is a female-version of Goodfellas, the fun is watching a gang come together and fall apart due to greed. Pop stars Cardi B and Lizzo have brief cameos to add value, and Usher manages a brief cameo as himself in which he manages to enter a nightclub and say his own name, pretty much the level of achievement that might be expected of a five-year old in a nativity play. But Wu and Lopez have lots to do, and they do it with great style; Lopez’s dancing is pretty sensational, and she’s got her career back on track here after the hilariously awful Second Act. The punchlines can be summed up in two lines the two lines; ‘’ Hurt people hurt people’ and ‘motherhood is a mental illness’. Hustlers looks at women, greed, crime and money, and it’s an absorbing mix of Goodfellas and Flashdance; a big hit is one the cards, and deservedly so, it’s a big, flashy, entertaining movie that poses a few interesting moral questions alongside the handbag porn.

We Are Your Friends 2015 ****

Film Review-We Are Your Friends

‘Secret success’ is a phrase the critic Nathan Rabin coined for his excellent My Year of Flops project; while Zac Efron vehicle We Are Your Friends fell pretty hard at the box office on release, it’s probably a better film that it’s unheralded nature might suggest. Efron plays DJ Cole Carter, who is trying to make a name for himself in the electronic dance music scene, and gains a mentor in James Reed (Wes Bentley), who encourages him to use real sounds rather than computer-generated ones. Reed does not like Carter’s friends, and Carter’s relationship with Reed’s girlfriend Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski) only complicates matters. That’s not the most compelling story for a feature, but Max Joseph’s debut film uses a loose Star is Born structure to hang an ambient rave simulator on. It’s kind of fun to compare this high-gloss, super-slick production to the Scottish movie Beats, which has a black and white, gritty aesthetic in its consideration of rave culture. As entertainment, We Are Your Friends has plenty to recommend it, including an animated sequence in which Cole starts tripping in an art gallery and the paintings come to life, plus lots of montages overlaid with well-chosen music. And the ending, which reveals that Cole Carter has been secretly following his mentor’s advice all through the picture, really packs an emotional punch. Like the central character, We Are Your Friends has a bad reputation, but if you’re prepared to shut up and enjoy the music and blissed-out visuals, it’s a surprisingly smooth ride.

Pain and Glory 2019 ***

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Sooner or later, the critic Clive James once noted, every artist feels the need to give us something of themselves. Pedro Almodovar’s latest, Pain and Glory, might as well be titled All About Myself; the subject is Salvador Mallo, an aging Spanish film director (Antonio Banderas) who has various health worries, and is wrestling with the creative process; he’s unwilling to work, and seeks escape through smoking heroin with an actor he’d previously fallen out with. While under the chemical cosh, Mallo falls into a reverie about his early life, recognising what a gifted individual he was, recounting his first attraction to men, and fondly remembering how much his mother (Penelope Cruz) did for him when they were reduced by poverty to living in a cave with whitewashed walls. It’s hardly a surprise that Almodovar should lapse into such navel-gazing and ‘I remember mama’ sentiment, but it’s hardly cause for celebration; the creativity that drove Volver, Live Flesh or The Skin I Live In is absent here, and there’s a lot of self-pity. Of course, Almodovar has a few games to play ‘You would never let me make a film about you’ Mallo tells his mother, yet the audience already know that motherhood is as much a staple of the director’s work as colourful kitchens and eye-popping decor. Still, Cruz is always something to beyond under the great man’s direction, and Banderas is excellent, wincing with pain as he surveys a life suddenly emptying of character and good times. Pain & Glory is one of these ‘artistic summation; the wonder of me’ films so beloved by Fellini and Cocteau; essential for fans, but perhaps a little dry and self-absorbed for the general public.

French Connection II 1975 ****

French-Connection-IIAlthough it was released as The French Connection Number 2 in the UK, one of the claims to fame of John Frankenheimer’s sequel is that it started the trend of Roman numerals after the title. Otherwise, French Connection II is not exactly a classic sequel; it doesn’t have the NYC setting, only a couple of returning characters, no car chase, and offers a very different mood to William Friedkin’s scuzzy Oscar-winner. Friedkin wasn’t interested either, but Hackman presumably liked the idea of retuning to the role of cop Popeye Doyle, arriving in Marseilles without any French and falling foul of hoods and police alike on the trail of Frog One (Fernando Rey). Most reviewers focus on a lengthy rehab scene after Doyle is shot full of heroin, and while Hackman’s commitment and performance levels are admirable, it derails the energy of the movie  without upping the stakes and is probably the reason that it’s not as fondly remembered. But The French Connection’s ambiguous ending left room for a satisfying sequel, and there’s lots of vigorous cops and robbers action to enjoy here, including a big-scale docklands shoot-out, a raid on a drug-packaging and distribution plant, and some great bits of business with Doyle; expressing remorse after blowing a fellow cops cover, forming a wordless bond with a barman, or hitching a ride on a garbage truck to avoid a tail, Hackman inhabits this signature role so well that, even if it’s not quite the original, Frankenheimer’s thriller has a weather-beaten style of its own.

Framing John DeLorean 2019 ****

FramingJohnDeLorean

The title is an interesting one; we know who John DeLorean was, or at least we may have some ideas. Don Argott and Sheena M Joyce have constructed a documentary that aims to ‘frame’ him; are they suggesting that the various crimes that John DeLorean was accused of constituted a frame job? That’s not what their film is about; there’s very little in the way of conspiracy theory or speculation here, just a journey through the key facts of the car moguls rise and fall from grace. This well-constructed doc also has a narrative frame in that it features reconstructions featuring Alec Baldwin as DeLorean, and we also get to see off-cuts showing rehearsals and the actor in make-up, discussing his role. With Back to the Future’s Bob Gale amongst those testifying to the number of potential films which might be made about the subject, Framing John DeLorean is one of the the first out of the gate, but unlikely to be the last.

Like Preston Tucker, DeLorean was a man with a dream, to innovate in the expensive world of car production, and to take on the big boys in the corporate world. Setting up a huge plant in Ireland in the 1980’s, DeLorean was not short of enemies; the key moment comes when he stops dealing with Margaret Thatcher and Jim Prior (the latter interviewed here) and started dealing with Colombian cocaine traffikers. DeLorean managed to move a massive consignment of coke in order to provide finance for his company, and jobs for many workers who had no other options, and he brazenly paid for it in worthless share certificates. If he’d pulled that deception off, it would have been one for the memoirs, a Danny Ocean-style masterstroke that beat the system, but the deal had been set up by a narc and public ignominy followed. Even after DeLorean was found innocent of drug-dealing in the courts, it took a separate scandal to bring him down involving the embezzling of funds. Other public figures have got away with far more; it’s clear that someone had it in for DeLorean. In retrospect, DeLorean’s mistake seems to be not that he stole money or dealt with drugs cartels, but that he accepted public ie government rather than private money; that lack of business savvy seems to have been the real reason for the scrutiny that led to his downfall. Americans often imaging UK government funding to be free money, when the truth is that it’s often the most expensive kind, as DeLorean found to his cost.

Framing John DeLorean is an entertaining, informative documentary with strong source material and plenty to draw the viewer in, not least the sight of the car immortalised by Back To The Future. The sight of thousands of the cars lying unsold in Irish car-parks, or driven en masse to ferries for US import is surreal, as is a glimpse of a red DeLorean; even if it didn’t actually drive terribly well, the car was beautiful to look at. Like the man who created it, the DeLorean had style to burn, and this artful documentary captures the essence of the man and the machine.

Framing John DeLorean, available on Amazon Video and ITunes in the UK from 29th July

In the US…

https://www.amazon.com/Framing-John-DeLorean-Alec-Baldwin/dp/B07SN62Y5K

 

Busting 1974 ****

busting

Peter Hyams is a director with quite a body of big-budget studio work behind him, from Capricorn One to Outland; a hit tv movie sent him on a six month research spree at the LAPD and led to his writing and directing this early work, a strikingly small-scale and down-at-heel view of police-work. Elliott Gould, sporting a handlebar moustache, and Robert Blake are the cops who shake-down various low-lives on their way to confrontation with gangster Rizzi (Allen Garfield). An early scene in which the cops enjoy the beating up of men in a gay bar sets the unpleasant tone, but that scabrous honesty is what Busting is about; post MASH and throughout the 70’s, there was a general enthusiasm for depicting the moral confusion and general squalor of life, and the nihilistic workings of the police force made an ideal cross-section in films like Fuzz or The Choirboys. Hyams supercharges his story with a couple of stunning foot-chases, one leading into a brutal market gunfight, and the leads are just right for the abrasive feel. Busting was the kind of US import the BBC used to cheerfully show on a Sunday evening; in portraying life as a steaming cess-pit of prostitution, homophobia and general degradation, Busting lays the old, familiar story out before television and Starsky and Hutch in particular, could sanitize it for resale.

https://www.amazon.com/Busting-Elliott-Gould/dp/B009B52VZ2/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=busting&qid=1562403937&s=gateway&sr=8-1