Mr And Mrs Smith

*Originally written in 2003

A light-hearted Hitchcock comedy with some good performances and an interesting idea, but one which fails to stay in the memory. Hitchcock’s most notorious and memorable comedic scenes are those which appear in his most tense and thrilling films, working best because of the dark and sexually charged situations his characters find themselves in. In Mr and Mrs Smith Hitchcock spends the entire film dissecting the flaws and perks of married life – becoming overly accustomed to one another, yet knowing that no-one else could put up with each other.

After playing their usual, monthly truth telling game in which husband and wife ask each other a question which the other must answer truthfully, a game which will naturally lead to problems, Annie becomes annoyed with her husband David. She asks if he had to do it all over again, would he still have married her. He answers with a ‘no’ as he misses his freedom, but says he does not regret anything he has done, and loves her. In an odd coincidence both David and Annie hear that their marriage is void and they simply must remarry. However, both decide to play with the rule unknown to the other, and soon all hell breaks loose.

The two leads are good and the best moments, aside from the dialogue, are Hitchcock deliberately showing the monotony of both married life, the singles game, and the last few scenes in the log cabins involving husband and wife trying to make each other guilty. Unfortunately this is too soft, and does not have enough funny parts to deserve many watches, but is an interesting film nonetheless and a change of pace from what we would expect.


Lost Highway

*Originally written in 2004 (and another where I inexplicably give a plot synopsis, so don’t read if you haven’t seen).


David Lynch creates another incredibly interesting, mesmerizing, beautiful, and dark experience which at times surpasses both Eraserhead and Blue Velvet, but one which will likely confuse and frustrate, at least the first time you see it. Featuring vast amounts of imagery, apparently differing and interweaving plots, and a large, excellent cast Lost Highway is a film which you are not likely to forget.

Bill Pullman stars as Fred, a saxophonist who is in an awkward relationship with his beautiful wife Renee, played by Patricia Arquette. He never seems to be able to get close to her, even though they have been together supposedly for years. When he finds a videotape at his doorstep, he watches in horror as it shows the inside of their house -someone has been coming in and watching them sleep. At a party, a mystery man (Robert Blake) seems overly interested in Fred and claims he is at Fred’s house now, even though they are standing together at this party at another house. Fred phones home, and the mystery man answers, being at both ends of the phone. Later, Fred finds another tape – this one showing him killing his wife – he is arrested shortly after as his wife actually has been killed. On death row Fred vanishes from his cell and in his place another man – Pete, appears instead. The cops let him go, but follow him. He is a mechanic who, like in Blue Velvet, becomes involved with a shady character called Mr Eddy with a violent temper and his mistress Alice, also played by Arquette. Pete is intrigued by Alice, and the two sleep together. Alice cries out to be rescued from her life, so Pete concocts a plan to save her. However, she does not appear to be all she seems, and Pete knows he is in too deep to escape. He cannot get a concrete hold of Alice. Then things get strange….

As with any real piece of art, you can come up with your own thoughts and explanations of what you see and hear while watching Lost Highway. The entire film is designed to haunt and disturb, from the slightly abnormal sets, to the look of certain characters, to the music, images and performances. At times this is incredibly quiet, and the volume must be played at full blast to hear what is being said. There are a few violent scenes, lots of sex which never seems erotic, but always necessary. Most of the actors give understated, cold performances and rarely try to explain or understand what is happening to themselves, but special mention must go to Richard Pryor. He plays the wheelchair bound Arnie who works with Pete, but it must rank as one of the most terrifying performances ever. It is deeply unsettling, his eyes seeming to see everything that no-one would ever want to see. Apparently at early showings, certain scenes were mixed up so the film played in a different order. Perhaps linear story-telling is not always needed. Unfortunately for most people, the story needs to be safe and simple, so many will be turned off by this. The film never attempts to show any sense of happiness, hope, or light in the traditional sense, is distant, yet seduces us to pay close attention and inevitably succumb to the unsavoury acts and tone which can become almost unbearable. If you want a thoroughly challenging and original film, then Lost Highway is a must.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Lost Highway!


*Crappy review originally from 2003 after my first watch – it’s now one of my favourites.


Lifeboat is an early experimental film by Alfred Hitchcock, one mainly taking place in the limited confines of a lifeboat. A US ship has been bombed, and a number of survivors reach a lifeboat. Connie Porter is a self-interested, strong-willed reporter, Kovac is anti-German due to the war, and each of the other characters have their own problems and opinions. When a young mother kills herself after her baby dies, the crew become closer and try to find a way out of their situation, deciding to sail for Bermuda even though their compass is broken. When a German joins the boat they crew argue over what to do – some don’t trust him, others say they cannot just throw him out. The German says he knows which way Bermuda is and the others follow his course. He has another agenda though, appearing to lead them to a Nazi supply ship, keeping the water and food pills for himself. When he lets one of the group die they turn against him in typically brutal fashion. However, was he genuinely trying to help them? And how will the group escape now?

The film is of course character driven, but unfortunately many of the characters are not as interesting as the core group and no matter what happens they seem passive and unemotional. Each actor does well even if none stand out and the tension continues to build by small degrees until the last 15 minutes or so. Hitchcock would hone these elements in later films such as Rear Window and Rope, films which also center on a number of moral debates while taking place in a single set. It is interesting because we inevitably ask ourselves what we would do in such a situation, who we would trust, what prejudices would we put aside or exploit to ensure our survival.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Lifeboat!

Way Of The Dragon

*Originally written in 2003


Action movie performers typically don’t get much critical praise, yet every so often they will have a performance which transcends what they do or what the genre expects – think Stallone in Rocky. Bruce Lee was seen by some as a mere fighter, incredibly talented with fists and feet, but little else. They apparently missed Way Of The Dragon in which he gives a brilliant performance when not fighting, conveying a myriad of emotions. Lee wrote this film. Lee directed this film. All those movie critics are fools. For those who say the characters are clichéd or stereotyped, remember that this was made in 1972, the time when such stereotypes were being formed or in their infancy. A film is always of its time.

Tang Lung (Lee) is sent to Rome to help out some friends who need help to run their restaurant which has been getting hounded by gangsters. When he arrives he sees that local scum are trying to bully his family out of business, and he intervenes, proving to be a fierce, unstoppable fighter. As time passes Lee struggles to work out if violence should be used, while the bad guys increase in numbers. Eventually the bad guys send in Chuck Norris and in a twist, most of Lee’s family and friends are killed. Lee tracks the bad guys to the Colosseum, where he fights Norris in the best one on one fight in movie history.

As always, Lee deals with issues of racism, philosophy, violence, family, and self. The tourist sites of Rome remind Lee of the slums of China, which everyone avoids. His character is a haunted one and the tone is dark. ‘Wherever he walks, he will walk alone’ remarks one of his friends. Nora Miao gives a brilliant performance, as do Ping Ao-Wei and Chung-Hsin Huang. But Lee is the main draw, and he is breathtaking again. Few actors have had such an impact on cinema, on pop culture, and on modern life, in such a short time, as Lee has. Aside from the Norris fight, The fights outside the restaurant are excellent, and Lee’s ‘lamp kicking’ has to be seen repeatedly. Easily one of the best martial arts movies ever made, and one of the best movies of the 70s.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Way Of The Dragon!


*Updated version of review from 2003


A  film which blends genres and emotions, Leon became one of the the most highly rated and loved cult hits of the 90s, thanks in no small part to the talented cast and director. Luc Besson’s film concerns a quiet and solitary hit-man who befriends a young girl after her family is slaughtered by a local crooked cop. Jean Reno stars as Leon, in his best performance, the professional hit-man with 100% success rate, solitary yet lonely. Gary Oldman is the crooked cop, stealing almost every scene he is in while Natalie Portman plays Mathilda, in one of the best child performances ever, conveying sadness and loneliness with hope and innocence, and anger and pain.

We are introduced to Leon, we see his mundane life, occasionally interspersed with acts of violence necessary for his career. His only friend is a pot plant, though he does have a relationship with his boss – a man who has a lot of respect for Leon, yet exploits him regardless. He lives alone in a flat. A few doors down is Mathilda who lives with her abusive father, alcoholic mother, and innocent younger brother. They have seen each other occasionally in the corridor. Mathilda’s father is in trouble with Oldman’s character, and he is killed along with his wife and son when Mathilda is shopping. She arrives home in the middle of the massacre, but saves herself by pleading that Leon lets her in. Leon’s life is turned upside down, torn between knowing he shouldn’t interfere but can’t let an innocent get hurt. Soon the two strike up an interesting friendship, each learning from the other and quickly becoming dependent on one another.

The film’s direction is often beautiful, and it complements the story perfectly, meaning that the tear-jerking scenes, action scenes, and everything else are all the more potent. Although the action is brilliant, it is the scenes between Leon and Mathilda which linger in the memory and raise the film into the top tier. There are many funny parts, most involving the fact that Leon has been outside of society for his entire life. Many critics mention a potential sexual relationship between the two, admittedly this could have occurred in the future, but by the end the most important thing is that they have found a special person who can give them hope. Although this is growing and reaching a wider audience it is still relatively little known, but it is a startling film which everyone should see.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Leon/The Professional!

Jurassic Park

*Heavily edited version of an original from 2003


I’m sure I’ve told the story before, but when I was young I wanted to be a paleontologist. Now, I didn’t actually care (much) about the whole digging up bones and hanging around museums… I assumed I would be more like Indiana Jones, arsing about unknown, long forgotten cities in search of relics and new specimens. I did read as many books about dinosaurs as I could get my hands on and I watched every dinosaur movie I could. As ropy as the effects always were, I was nevertheless enchanted by them and by the notion that these giant beasts ever existed.

In 1993 Spielberg brought tears to my eyes with the breathtaking effects, excellent set pieces, action, stunts, of Jurassic Park. His film broke records and set a new benchmark for special effects, but throw in a brilliant score, non stop traditional Spielberg fun, a great cast, a rip-roaring story and many immediately iconic images and we have one of the most exciting films ever. Speaking of those effects, they were truly revolutionary and many of them still look light years better than those of today which have a habit of appearing too rubbery and fake – in Jurassic Park you assume you are seeing a real dinosaur brought to life while today’s blockbusters make you feel you are staring at an effect.

For years, the esteemed Dr Hammond has been trying to make his dream come true – to bring back the most awesome creatures that have ever walked the earth – dinosaurs. Extinct for millions of years until now, when science has enabled us to bring back that which was once thought to be lost forever. Hammond and his team of experts have succeeded in not only creating life, but reversing extinction. His idea is to create a zoo for the animals which anyone can visit, but as these are wild and extremely dangerous creatures which cannot be trained or tamed, he needs feedback from other scientists and businessmen. He invites Dr Alan (Sam Neill) and Dr Ellie (Laura Dern) – paleontologists, and Jeff Goldblum – part philosopher, part scientist, part comedian. His young nephew and niece also come along, as well as the man who will be financing the park. Hammond shows them how he created the dinosaurs, leading to debates on morality etc but what everyone really wants is a trip around the park. So they go. Of course, things soon go wrong when Dennis, a man working for Hammond, decides to turn off the security in his attempt to steal samples for the black market. Soon the dinosaurs are loose, and the group is fighting for their lives.

Each character is brilliantly drawn, and well acted. The variety of creatures is wide, and they all leap off the screen as if from our imaginations. The action flows fluidly once it starts, and there are many tense and scary moments. The first T-Rex attack has become part of our culture, but the tree descent, Raptor kitchen and chase are all equally spectacular and get your heart racing. I love the idea of splitting the central group, meaning we get to see the relationships between Sam Neill and the kids growing, as well as the banter between Goldblum and Dern. The deaths are pretty gruesome, but hardly over the top, but some parents may find them too scary for kids.

Spielberg wisely keeps the science and morality to a minimum – it’s there, it’s briefly discussed, but we don’t get bogged down in the rhetoric, though the depth is appreciated. What matters is that Spielberg has created another masterpiece, the monster movie he wanted to make years before with Jaws, but didn’t have the budget or technology to do so. Make another one like this Spielberg, come on, we know you can.

Let us know in the comments how you feel Jurassic Park has held up especially in the light of Jurassic World!

Lady Bird


In general, I’m not a fan of those ‘slice of life’ films – you know, films which focus on a characters or group and meander through some aimless part of life in the hope that we’ll be endeared enough to care. Which is strange, because I love coming of age films which are a very similar strain of the same idea. Lady Bird falls somewhere in between these, following roughly a year in a teenage girl’s life at that transitional period between school and whatever comes next. The film is up for a bunch of Oscars, looks certain to win at least one, but how does it differ from others of its ilk…. and is it any good?

These films often succeed or fail based on the quality of writing, of whether we accept and enjoy the characters, and the performances. There are two central performances here – Saoirse Ronan as the titular teen who we follow through the adventures of being an outcast, looking for a boyfriend, looking for purpose, and Laurie Metcalf as her mother. Metcalf has been doing the whole world weary thing for a while now, and here she is particularly embittered towards a daughter who doesn’t appear to deserve any of the criticism. The relationship between the mother and daughter has been highlighted as one of the pluses of the film, but it’s actually fairly vague and undefined – at moments they appear to be head of heels besties, at other times they seem to genuinely despise each other. There’s no doubting the caliber of the performances, but Oscar worthy? I guess that’s what passes for such these days. I like the performances, but I’m just not as wowed by them as I expect to be when so many plaudits are attached.

Lady Bird, or Christine, is your typical precocious teen, appearing at once wise and naive. There’s little of the quirks of Juno yet plenty of similar behaviour, though many of the antics will be familiar to many of those watching. I couldn’t help recall my final year of school – the stress of exams, the desire for a girlfriend, the need of friends, of freedom etc. It’s clear Gerwig was drawing from her own, universal experiences, and doesn’t allow the script to get bogged down by being too personal. In essence, Lady Bird isn’t going to be someone you will mind spending 90 minutes or so with, and her surrounding characters embellish proceedings nicely. There’s a wider family group, essentially there for comic relief, though her father, played by Tracy Letts gets special mention for a constant sympathetic ear. Gerwig does create a fully realized world – even though the focus is on Lady Bird, we understand the struggles of her parents – the pain and stress they are going through, and the fact that Lady Bird’s peers are surely going through similar issues as she is. The dialogue never becomes too affected and while it’s rooted in the early noughties it also achieves a universal, dateless quality. To be honest, I think I need to watch the film a second time to watch specifically for direction – everything was fluid, but on the surface it felt like the director was anonymous or that it could have been anyone pulling the strings.

There are some light laughs, what heartache or tragedy there may be is slight, marking this as a soft, warm drama which doesn’t really go anywhere but is perfectly content in relating these few months of activity for us. I was thoroughly on board and comfortable within the first five minutes, after ten I was won over, but by the end of the film I couldn’t help but think that it didn’t live up to whatever expectations it had given me in those opening minutes. Nevertheless, if the film is to win a number of Oscars I would hardly complain – at the time of writing I’ve only seen this, Dunkirk, and Get Out out of the big Oscar hitters and have enjoyed them all roughly equally – like the other two I’ve seen, Lady Bird is not without its flaws and I doubt I’d need to see it again. It’s no Kings Of Summer, it’s no Lucas, but maybe being Lady Bird is all it needs to be.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Lady Bird and if you think it deserves the acclaim it has, and will continue to receive!