Loving 2016 ***

lovingJeff Nichols has been a consistent force of nature in the world of B movies; from Mud to Midnight Special, he’s specialized in small, intense dramas, and as such, it was inevitable that his considerable skills would be co-opted for a ‘prestige’ picture. Tackling the real-life story of the Loving family, a mixed-race couple whose only crime was to love each other, Nichols manages to keep the focus on the relationship at the centre of the drama and not get bogged down in courtroom shenanigans. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga are both excellent, and the period detail is kept to a minimalist background. There’s a lack of humour, and a deft-downplaying of drama and sometimes makes the story seem drab, but Loving is to be admired for its refusal to function as awards bait or to recast a personal drama in a contrived Hollywood way.


Conquest of the Planet of the Apes 1972 ***


The development of the original Planet of The Apes franchise is an oddly haphazard one. The twist of the original film is so familiar it dulls the impact, the second entry (Beneath…) puts a full-stop on things by having Charlton Heston’s character Taylor blow the earth to smithereens. Charged with continuing the franchise, writer Paul Dehn ingeniously sent the apes back to 1970’s earth for the serio-comic Escape, allowing him to reboot the story from the start with 1972’s Conquest, which sees Cesar (Roddy McDowell) leading an ape revolt. Covering similar ground to 2011’s Rise, Conquest offers up a tricky racism context for the revolt, made all the more striking by the use of LA’s Century City shopping mall for the climactic massacre. Strikingly on-the-money, Conquest is a troubling and thoughtful entry in the series, although 1975’s Battle did little to further the ideas involved.

Talk Radio 1988 ***


Long before internet chat-rooms, comments banks and twitter became the repositories for public hate and argument, talk radio was the front line when it came to racial disagreement, and Oliver Stone’s 1988 thriller goes straight for the jugular. In a film adapted from his own play, Eric Bogosian plays Barry Champlain, a shock jock based in Dallas whose show is a lightning rod for debate, anger and general public disaffection with modern life. Stone’s film takes inspiration from Stephen Singular’s book Talked To Death and draws on the murder of talk-show host Alan Berg, with Robert Richardson’s cinematography making something highly disturbing from the closed environment of the studio. Alec Baldwin is ideal as the pushy boss, while Michael Wincott is suitably disconcerting as the prank caller who gets invited tonto the show; Talk Radio is theatrical, but also compelling it its consideration of the extreme forces at work in modern-day USA.


Black Dynamite 2009 ***


Despite the best efforts of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez in Grindhouse and Machete, their efforts to create genre parody have fallen on deaf ears; a pity, because Scott Sanders’s 2009 comedy deserves a wave to surf. The fabulously earnest Michael Jai White is amongst the writers of this Blaxploitation parody, as Black Dynamite (White) launches a one-man war on his neighbourhood drug-peddlers, a mission he takes all the way to The White House and a tussle with President Nixon. Black Dynamite gets plenty of laughs in the Airplane/Kentucky Fried Movie–style, with boom mikes and stock footage providing constant reminders of the cheapness of the venture, negotiated with aplomb by a game cast enjoying the endlessly amusing joke.

Set It Off 1996 ****


The ebullience of 1970’s exploitation features in Coffy, Foxy Brown and Cleopatra Jones finds a more subdued but still entertaining medium in F Gary Gray’s taut thriller Set it Off. Vivian A Fox, Queen Latifah, Kimberly Elise and Jade Pinkett Smith are four South Californian women who plan and execute a series of bank heists, with John C McGinley’s copper on their trail. Based on a true story, Gray’s film has sympathetic protagonists and sparse action, leading to an ending that pushes the audience’s empathy with the girls to the limit. Featuring the eminence grise of rap, Dr Dre, as Black Sam.

One Of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing 1976 ***


Rather surprisingly for a Disney film, neither children and dinosaurs are center stage in Robert Stevenson’s silly romp, with instead focuses on a battle between nannies (led by Helen Hayes) and Chinese criminals (led by Peter Ustinov). The competition is for Lotus X, a mysterious formula smuggled out of China by Lord Southmere (Derek Nimmo) and hidden in the bones of a dinosaur in a London museum. Few would suggest that Stevenson’s film has anything astute to say about race or age; the gag is that the old ladies are more than a match for their professional opponents. Featuring a role call of aging British talent, from Jon Pertwee to Max Wall, this holiday staple’s main prop is the same skeleton which turns up buried in the desert in Star Wars, and the film also features some rather lovely glass paintings in the old style and is based on a novel by David Forrest.

Year of the Dragon 1985 ***


Michael Cimino recovered from the poetic excess of Heaven’s Gate to essay this terse, controversial police drama, which deals with racism by having the hero, Stanley White (Mickey Rourke) as a confirm racist. With Oliver Stone as co-writer, Cimino portrays White as carrying baggage from his Vietnam experiences into his work as a New York Cope, tackling John Lone’s Mafia leader Joey Tai is a series of bloody confrontations. The domestic scenes between White and his wife Connie (Caroline Kava) are equally powerful, and Year of The Dragon is a potent and troubling character study as well as an efficient, no-holds-barred policier.