Don’t Say A Word (2001)

Don’t Say A Word got a R1 release almost simultaneously with its UK cinema release. Michael Douglas plays a rare straightforward hero, a psychiatrist whose daughter is kidnapped by released convict Sean Bean and pals. Needless to say there’s the odd twist and turn and car chase before the end. There’s also a clever plot and elegant direction from the underrated Gary Fleder, who also contributes an intelligent and informative commentary track.

It’s not the most exciting movie ever but it is smarter than the average thriller and keeps you guessing almost up to the end, and Fleder almost always has his camera in the right place.

Mild Peril Rating: ★★★½☆

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Sleepless (2001)

Sleepless was made by Dario Argento in 2001, long after his peak. For a pleasant change the R2 release is a better release than the overseas DVD (where it goes under the original title Nohosonno, although I’ve seen it under a few different titles).

Never one to depart from a tried and tested formula, Dario gives us a story of a black-gloved killer stalking assorted women and poorly dubbed actors to the backing of a deafening soundtrack. The only original touch is that there’s a sincere and completely misplaced performance from Max Von Sydow as a retired detective. Oh, and there’s a gory and brutal Death By Clarinet, which is a first to me. There’s a whole sub-genre waiting to be analysed here, the best of which has to be the Death by Trombone from The Town That Dreaded Sundown

The score by Goblin is their best for years, and you also get a second disk, which includes the Argento documentary often shown on C4, with the expected contributions from the likes of Romero and Carpenter. The usual Argento warnings apply, which is to say that he’s a sick and nasty misogynist with an undeniable talent.

Mild Peril Rating: ★★★☆☆

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What’s the Worst that Could Happen? (2001)

Unlikely to get a UK release at all is What’s the Worst that Could Happen? This has a stellar cast including Danny De Vito and Martin Lawrence, and is a feeble comedy thriller (as if there were any other type) involving competing thieves. The only thing making it memorable is a jaw-dropping performance from tough-guy actor William Fichtner, appearing here as a Quentin Crisp-style detective with accompanying poodles, and not only stealing the movie but rendering the rest of it completely forgettable by comparison. Armageddon will never seem the same again.

Mild Peril Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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Almost Famous (2000)

If you’re after nostalgia, then check out Almost Famous. This is made by Cameron Crowe , based on his experiences as a teenage journalist working for Rolling Stone in the seventies.

It’s an extremely romanticised (or rather sanitised) version, as you’d expect from the maker of Jerry Maguire, but contains enough good scenes to make it enjoyable, especially if you’re my age and enjoy spotting who the fictional rock stars are based on. The disk contains copies of Crowe’s original articles, some of which are completely irrelevant, and the DTS soundtrack must have taken as much time to put together as the rest of the movie.

Mild Peril Rating: ★★★☆☆

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Wonder Boys (2000)

Coming off  L.A. Confidential, and with the world at his feet, for some reason Curtis Hanson decided to make Wonder Boys.

Frances McDormand stars alongside Michael Douglas, who plays a drunken professor trying to make sense of his life. It’s written by the great Steve Kloves and photographed by Michael Mann’s regular d.p. Dante Spinotti, but it’s not clever enough or good-looking enough to justify its smugness. It also varies wildly in tone and there are only two or three good jokes.

Still, a lot of people liked it, even if they are wrong.

Mild Peril Rating: ★½☆☆☆

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The One (2001)

The One was apparently written as a vehicle for that fine thespian The Rock, and that makes a lot of sense, being ideally matched to his range in the same way that The Terminator was to Schwarzenegger’s. But as he dropped out it now stars Jet Li.

The premise is daft but ingenious, in that our universe is just one element of a ‘multiverse’, and versions of Jet Li are killing each other off, aggregating their strength to become ‘The One’ and run the whole shop.

Li is fine and there are short appearances by Delroy Lindo and Jason Statham, but the main attraction is that this is the second movie by Glen Morgan and James Wong, known to us for producing many of the better episodes of X-Files, Millennium and Space:Above and Beyond, as well as last year’s hit movie Final Destination.

With that in mind, it’s a bit of a disappointment, as they never take full advantage of the idea, preferring to stage spectacular fights between Li and er, himself, and make a few funny throwaway jokes. Still, it’s very entertaining as long as you’e not expecting much.

Mild Peril Rating: ★★★☆☆

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The Crazies (2010)

The Crazies 2010 Advance one-sheet

Elegant remake of Romero’s 1973 classic, throwing away the politics and concentrating on the central characters.

Timothy Olyphant stars as a small-town sheriff (surprise) who is the first to realise what’s happening to the residents. As he’s married to Radha Mitchell, the movie focuses on their attempts to escape town to possible survival, with deputy Joe Anderson and Danielle Panabaker in tow.

As with the original, there’s a lot of fun to be had from guessing which cast member will be next to get the twitches and the urge to go nuts. However, there’s no sense of the panic and chaos created by Romero, despite a budget around 100 times the size. Part of that is due to our knowledge that this is made for mainstream audiences who don’t want to be too upset beyond the odd gory-set piece, and to be fair the film caters for this very well. There’s also an over-reliance on zombie-style make-up which needlessly tips us off as to who is insane.

The cast do well – there’s a tiny cameo appearance from Lynn Lowry from the original, but sadly there’s no room in this version for an equivalent of Richard France’s stroppy doctor who may be developing the cure by eating the scenery. Olyphant can do ‘small town sherriff’ in his sleep by now, but nevertheless brings a lot of charm and conviction to his role.  The angry seventies tone of the original is replaced by a glossy lack of trust in anyone, which is about the best we can hope for from a big studio remake. And there’s a cynical (not to mention incredible) finish which is about as political as it gets. If you’re happy with this approach, then you’ll enjoy it.

Mild Peril Rating: ★★★½☆

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Near Dark (1987)

Near Dark was made in 1987 and reunited Bill Paxton with his Aliens co-stars Lance Henriksen and Jeanette Goldstein, as part of a family of modern-day vampires.

Farm boy Adrian Pasdar finds himself mixed up with them as they travel across America, and the whole thing is perfectly directed by Kathryn Bigelow, with the exception of the over-sentimental and illogical finale. Several set-pieces (the bar scene, the shoutout at the motel and the shots of Pasdar trying to make his way home) are unforgettable both in concept and execution.

An odd attempt to sell Near Dark to the Twilight audience on DVD

There was a persistent rumour that the original negatives of this movie were lost, but happily this proves to be just a rumour, and the image and sound quality on recent DVDs (including the Tangerine Dream soundtrack) are very good.

The 2-disc R1 DVD contains a boring commentary by Bigelow, but also has a great cover and an excellent and lengthy recent documentary which reunites the cast, all of whom seem to have written their own sequels. Henriksen in particular reveals himself to be as eccentric as most of the characters he’s played.

The documentary on the DVD also reveals that female lead Jenny Wright has gone missing in recent years, but doesn’t refer to writer Eric Red, whose recent life also seems to have been as dramatic as his screenplays.

At the time of release, Near Dark was lost somewhat in the shadow of the cosier Lost Boys, but has deservedly regained its reputation as one of the classic vampire movies, and has gained new viewers since Bigelow’s Oscar triumph with The Hurt Locker. As Bill says in the infamous bar scene, it’s finger-lickin’ good.

Mild Peril Rating: ★★★★☆

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The Town (2010)

After his stunning debut with Gone Baby Gone, Affleck returns with another portrayal of the Boston criminal class. This time it’s a combination of a glossy Michael Mann-style heist thriller and and a European police procedural, with Affleck as the leader of a small group of career bank robbers. He’s hindered as much as helped by his colleagues, who include a pudgy Jeremy Renner adding to his fine collection of slightly nutty tough-guy characters. Jon Hamm plays the police chief who knows something is wrong as soon as he interviews bank manager Rebecca Hall, the object of Affleck’s affections as well as his blindfold.

Adapting Chuck Hogan’s novel Prince of Thieves, Affleck proves surprisingly strong where you expect him to be weakest: the bank robberies and action scenes are brilliantly staged, whereas the quieter moments, so moving and convincing in Gone Baby Gone, are relatively patchy. Renner steals all his scenes as the man who could explode at any second, and the supporting cast does its best with the time available – Chris Cooper and Pete Postlethwaite among them.

In fact the whole movie feels a bit rushed, Affleck is faithful to the novel in places, then seems to rush others – the ending is changed but probably would been better left alone. This is one of the rare cases where the material would have been better served by a 3-hour marathon, and hopefully Affleck will restore it in a director’s cut at some point.

Mild Peril Rating: ★★★★☆

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Gone Baby Gone (2007)


Gone Baby Gone

Gone Baby Gone is one of Dennis Lehane’s Boston-based detective novels featuring Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro. It must have seemed a bit of a gift for Ben Affleck, making his directorial debut, to be able to use such strong source material and a great cast, as well as to film it in his own backyard.  However no-one could have expected Affleck, lightweight leading man, to make one of the best thrillers of recent years.

Affleck’s brother Casey plays working-class detective Kenzie, and Michelle Monaghan his on/off girlfriend/partner, and the story involves them in a search for a small girl, apparently kidnapped from her junkie mother. Needless to say, it’s not quite as simple as that, and the search leads them through a complex plot to a genuinely devastating finale, giving the title a whole new spin. Affleck has to jump through a couple of plot hoops to get  there, but it’s one of the few recent movies that actually leaves you with a lot to think about, and does this without preaching at you (take notice Clint Eastwood) or patronising its working class characters (another one for Clint).

postit The two leads both do so well that they get away with being about 10 years too young and 30 pounds too light for the parts created by Lehane. The rest of the cast is equally impressive, though you’d expect nothing less from Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman, and although Amy Ryan got most of the plaudits and an Oscar nomination for playing the hideous mother, there are small but important contributions from Amy Madigan (Mrs. Harris) and Titus Welliver as her relatives. Harry Gregson-Williams’ score is elegant and manages to underscore the emotions without being obtrusive, and John Toll similarly makes Boston look good but not too good.

It all adds up to a knockout debut from Affleck, pitching him right into the top league of directors from a standing start. It’s just unfortunate that the book is the fourth in the Lehane series, making it a bit tricky to spin off into a franchise, then again it’s probably best left alone. At the time of writing, Lehane has just published a 15-years-later sequel to Gone Baby Gone, acting as a finale for Kenzie and Gennaro, so you never know.

Mild Peril Rating: ★★★★½

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