The Place Beyond The Pines 2012 ***

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Ryan Gosling plays a variation on the taciturn loner he created in Drive for this curious, original and decidedly ambitious melodrama for writer/director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) . Gosling plays Luke, a motorcycle stunt driver who wants to prove himself to lover Romina (Eva Mendez). Turning to bank-robbery to make cash for his unborn child, Luke comes to the attention to cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), but The Place beyond the Pines takes an abrupt left turn halfway through, jumping forward in time to focus on how these actions impact on the generation to come. While there’s a strange lack of detail, with the characters never seeming to age, Cianfrance evokes a grand canvas of generational adherence and the sins of the father; a Wuthering Heights-style drama with big ideas to match the star performances. And the bank-robbery scenes are undeniably compelling.

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Set It Off 1996 ****

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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.

Loophole 1981 ***

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Adapted from a novel by Robert Pollock, John Quested’s forgotten 1981 film is a good example of a no-frills heist movie. Shot in London, Martin Sheen plays unemployed architect Stephen Booker, who gets involved with Mike (Albert Finney) and his plans for an ingenious bank-job. Going in through the sewers, Booker’s knowledge is invaluable, but the plan goes away leaving Mike’s gang in a rat-infested predicament. Loophole’s emphasis on the physical conditions of the raid is refreshingly detailed, and Quested manages to elicit considerable tension. Support from Robert Morely, Susannah York, Jonathan Pryce and Colin Blakley add local colour, making Loophole required watching for aspiring criminals.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three 1974 ****

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Undiminished by the big-budget remake, Joseph Sargent’s 1974 police drama pitches Robert Shaw’s ruthless criminal Mr Blue against world-weary policeman Zachery Garber (Walter Matthau). The conflict arises when Blue and his gang hijack a NYC subway car, threatening to shoot the passengers if their demands are not met. Sargent manages well with both long periods of tension and sharp, location-based action, while coaxing memorable performances from Shaw and Matthau. John Godey’s terse novel gets the film version it deserves, with David Shire contributing a notable score to accompany the sweaty heroics.

Where’s Jack? 1970 ***

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Few films have really investigated the folklore of Old London, but in 1969 novelist and director James “Shogun’ Clavell created a vivid picture of the 1720’s in this rarely seen drama. Tommy Steele’s toothy grin and pop-star persona might seem a poor fit for the story of Jack Shepard, a locksmith who was pressed into unwilling service by the city’s Thief Taker Jonathan Wild (Stanley Baker, who also produced).  Although there’s a few songs on the soundtrack, and a lavish production design, this isn’t a musical, and although the pace is slow, it builds to a tense scene as Shepard is led to the gallows to pay the price for his daring defiance of his masters. Both Steele and Baker have the chops to carry the film, and there’s strong support from UK TV stalwarts Alan Badel and Michael Elphick.

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