Tony Scott 21st June 1944 - 19th August 2012
Much missed: Rest in Peace
Tony collaborated with a who's who of Hollywood Producers/Cinematographers/Editors and other behind the scenes greats during his near 30 years of film making. I have noted these film by film, however the following list is a brief take on the acting talent Tony called upon to make these fantastic films. In chronological order:
John C Reilly
Robert De Niro
Benicio Del Toro
Drumroll please! My personal rundown of Tony's films, from best to worst, starting with an obvious choice at Number 1:
- True Romance (1993)
- Man on Fire (2004)
- Crimson Tide (1995)
- The Hunger (1983)
- Top Gun (1986)
- Days of Thunder (1990)
- Spy Game (2001)
- Enemy of the State (1998)
- The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)
- Deja Vu (2006)
- The Fan (1996)
- Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)
- The Last Boy Scout (1991)
- Unstoppable (2010)
- Domino (2005)
- Revenge (1990)
The Hunger (1983)
"I'm going to bring someone to you. To feed your hunger".
Tony Scott's first cinematic release as a Director is best watched knowing as little as possible about the film. And what a film it is. Disturbing and bizarre, but ultimately an immediate favourite of mine that perhaps gives too much of an insight into my own psyche! So, giving away as little as possible in terms of spoilers, here's my dissection of the opening six minutes and a brief background to the three main characters involved.
The disturbing opening is a frantic mix of quickly cut shots, of a band (Bauhaus) and their lead singer inside a cage, cut against a nightclub scene with "John" (David Bowie) and "Miriam" (Catherine Deneuve) watching provocative dancers on the dance floor from their balcony position. Miriam is chain smoking, indistinct occasional chatter with John who stares ahead impassively. Both are wearing sunglasses. With occasional jump cuts to a car driving across a bridge, these cuts gain frequency and are seemingly more random, now with a mournful synthesiser beat replacing the song from Bauhaus, and a singer still caged.
The cuts become more frantic now, from the still caged singer to the inside of the car. Inside, John and Miriam are sat in the front, with the two dancers from the nightclub in the back seat. Numerous close ups on all passengers, Miriam still smoking and still staring ahead impassively, John driving, similarly impassive. Arriving at a remote mansion style house, the cuts remain quick between a still caged singer but who has now stopped singing and is staring straight ahead at the camera, his hands gripping the bars of the cage, and of John and Miriam, and their two guests. The male dancer is relaxed and smiling as the female dancer, clad in black leather, dances and smokes against a white screen, producing a gorgeous silhouette, whilst all the while Miriam, still smoking, stares ahead impassively and John, a slight smile, enjoys the show. The first words of the film, a muffled "no ice" from John prompts the young lady dancer to go to the kitchen, whereby John and Miriam share a knowing look! The singer, still caged and gripping the bars of the cage is cut between and then replaced by, a distressed and angry monkey in a cage. The caged monkey, it's anger rising, is now cut between Miriam straddling the male dancer, ripping his shirt off in lust, and of John seducing the young female dancer in the kitchen. The foreplay of each situation is frantic and full of passion, of tongue's darting into each other's mouths and of extreme close ups depicting this. Juxtaposed against this now is the caged monkey, more and more distressed amidst cries of pain, anguish and anger. This highly disturbing opening six minutes ends in the gushing of blood and anger, from the dancers and a mutilated monkey, of two Egyptian Ankh symbols dropped onto a table covered in blood, to a pristine white sink, and of hands washing away copious amounts of blood.
Your interest no doubt piqued, here is a brief introduction to the three main characters:
Miriam (Catherine Deneuve)
A chain smoking, quiet and reflective performance, that is equally frightening, brilliant and heart breaking.
"You're part of me now, and I can't let you go".
John (David Bowie)
Deeply in love with Miriam and leading a seemingly idealistic and bohemian lifestyle. With minimal, muffled dialogue at times, constantly in shadow and unable to sleep, it appears that John is constantly lucid dreaming or working through his life and existence through flashbacks.
Sarah (Susan Sarandon)
A medical researcher and author and a great early performance from Sarandon.
With a small supporting cast (Willem Dafoe in a minimal cameo!) the two stand outs are Cliff De Young as "Tom" and a brilliant performance from the youngest cast member, Beth Ehlers, as "Alice". Assisting Director Tony Scott, great credit must go to Director of Photography Stephen Goldblatt, Editing from Pamela Power and a host of credited make up artists for their spectacular efforts. With original music from Denny Jaeger and Michel Rubini providing a strangely haunting 1980's style score and the use of Franz Hubert's "Piano Trio Number 2" accompanying this gothic horror, I can't recommend this first Tony Scott directed movie highly enough.
Based on the original Whitley Strieber novel, the violence is often oblique and bloody, yet fleetingly so, except one particular scene. Always intriguing, interesting and bizarre on first watch it gains even more so on repeated viewings, the intensity gaining momentum as the film does likewise. Disturbing yet brilliant, there are so many key scenarios, hints and especially juxtapositions throughout the film (and those hardly souls who've read my previous film blogs will know I love a good juxtaposition!), but to list them or even hint at them would lead to inevitable spoilers and that as always is not my intention. Nearly 30 years since it's original release, the film has aged a little but still retains a raw intensity and an engaging quality that still resonates. A high quality debut release from Director, Tony Scott.
Top Gun (1986)
"I feel the need. The need for Speed!"
For those unfamiliar with this eponymous mid 1980's blockbuster, a very brief premise: Top Gun is a flight school for the USA Navy, the "best of the best", "the elite", a tough training school for ACM (Air Combat Maneuvers) or air combat dog fighting. The front line of attack and defence for the USA Navy.
A stereotypical 1980's film production from Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, this second film from Tony Scott remains a personal favourite from my teenage childhood. A film I still love and a film that never fails to make me smile 26 years since it's original release, it has dated a little but to associate a film of this age as dating a little is barely a criticism. It's not perfect by any means, with the main criticism residing in a stale, sometimes lame screenplay which, when viewed now retrospectively, stunts some of the performances. A film definitely of it's time, but one that still holds it's own and a benchmark of the 1980's blockbuster genre.
Backed by the excellent musical score from Harold Faltermeyer, the soundtrack of which is highly recommended for those of a 40 years old plus vintage! Spawning numerous hits, the two most famous of which litter the film in varying guises. The film opens with "Danger Zone" by Kenny Loggins and is splintered throughout the film, as is both an instrumental version and full version of Berlin's eponymous hit "Take my Breath Away". The soundtrack as a whole is superb, with two further world famous songs noted below. In addition to the soundtrack is a stellar cast, the majority of whom have become household acting names since release. But none more so than Tom Cruise, who plays "Maverick". His duel and indeed dual scenes with Val Kilmer's "Ice Man" is the centre of the film, two ace pilots determined to outdo the other, to prove they're the "best of the best", one of the film's many taglines. Anthony Edwards is on star form as "Goose" Maverick's co-pilot, similarly Rick Rossovich as "Slider" co-pilot to Ice Man. Michael Ironside plays "Jester" brilliantly, as does Tom Skerritt, in a stand out performance as the older, more experienced and looked up to leader "Viper". I could mention many more performances but will end by confirming a small cameo role for Tim Robbins as "Merlin".
With a typical three act structure, we follow Maverick's life, his troubles, his duality and the loveable core to his being. Fiercely defensive of his Partner Goose and of his own abilities, this leads to the other key central strand of the film and his developing friendship and love interest with "Charlie" (Kelly McGillis). Two short scenes develop this perfectly.
Late for their "classified" date, Maverick, his motorcycle and Berlin's instrumental "Take my Breath Away" leads to the sweetest scene of the film. Playful banter leads Maverick to reminisce about his parents, as "Sitting on the dock of the Bay" plays in the apartment.
Maverick - "You are direct, aren't you?"
Charlie - "This is gonna be complicated"
Following a high speed chase, Berlin's instrumental version of "Take my Breath Away" still playing, an angry confrontation leads Charlie to confess:
"But I held something back. I see some real genius in your flying Maverick, but I can't say that in there"
There are many more notable scenes in this benchmark 1980's blockbuster, the highlights being Viper reassuring Maverick of his Father's brilliance during a beach side walk and the continual butting of heads between Maverick and Ice Man. But the gem scenes are reserved for the laughter and smiles that will break out every time you see this film.
The beach volleyball game for the utter 1980's "feel" (and the accompanying song!), the Tower Flyby's or "buzzing the Tower", Goose's young son sitting atop a piano as his Dad plays "Great Balls of Fire!" which leads to Meg Ryan's small cameo as "Carole" and her fantastic "Hey Goose, you big STUD! Take me to bed or lose me forever!" line. Which is my personal favourite of the entire film. Or indeed Maverick and Goose with their "You've lost that loving feeling" bar routine. Yes the film has aged a little and I'm probably a little biased, but it's still a wonderful film and brilliantly directed by Tony Scott.
Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)
"That's Dirty Harry himself!"
A follow up to the Martin Brest directed original, this is another in the 1980's blockbuster film cannon of Producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson. Before any opening credits we've witnessed a jewellery store heist in Beverly Hills and our first introduction to "Karla Fry" (Brigitte Nielsen) before quickly moving to Detroit and an introduction to "Axel Foley" (Eddie Murphy) an unconventional Detective with the local Police Force. The opening credits follow with "Shakedown" by Bob Seeger and with Axel Foley on wisecracking form straight away, this is very much a Simpson/Bruckheimer production and still a very funny film throughout.
With Harold Faltermeyer's eponymous "Axel F" tune running throughout the film and numerous pop culture references and sly (pun intended) jokes as we go, this is very much a popcorn movie of the 1980's in every possible sense. From the Dirty Harry references, to Clint Eastwood to Star Wars and two references to Rambo (including a poster continually in frame) in an apartment, this film continues to a fun romp 25 years since release. As with Top Gun, the screenplay is a little lame by today's comparisons, but the characters certainly aren't and viewed through the comedic prism as they should be, are still a funny joy to watch their escapades, and careers, unravel. Returning with Eddie Murphy from the original film are Judge Reinhold as "Rosewood" and John Ashton as his Detective Partner "Taggart". The excellent Ronny Cox also returns as "Bogomil" as does Paul Reiser as the comically accident prone "Jeffrey". Last, but definitely by no means least is Gilbert Hill as "Inspector Todd", Axel Foley's foul mouthed and hilarious boss. More of him later. Notable new additions to this film include Jurgen Prochnow as "Maxwell Dent" and two small cameos from Chris Rock and Hugh Hefner, but again, last but by no means least (and more of later) is a great cameo from Gilbert Gottfried as the bizarre "Sidney Bernstein".
Reuniting with his friends and colleagues to solve the "Alphabet Crimes", this is Eddie Murphy's platform to do what he does best, or rather what he did best (and was very good at in the late 1980's and early 1990's), a virtuoso performance of great comedy. The scene opposite is late in the film, but Murphy at his best and rather than being flamboyant, here he is subtle and tongue in cheek with "Hugh Hefner! Axel Foley. Sorry, I feel like I know you already! You know how many times I've put your magazine up and...? Forget about it, it's not important!" before launching into a tirade at the assembled guests. A great cameo of Murphy's comedic genius and of a scene well written and to the point. Not always subtle, his trademark laugh running through the film, as are the gags, and there are quite a number! Most still work, some now look awkward in retrospect but this is a virtuoso performance from Murphy as he adopts so many comedic persona's, a pool cleaner in the scene above, a psychic medium and building inspector amongst many others. But despite it being a platform for Eddie Murphy, the other characters too add to the comedy on show.
Rosewood and Taggart have a Laurel and Hardy element to their antics, a slapstick and devil may care attitude, with Rosewood the slapdash risk taker and Taggart playing the straight man. When joined by Axel Foley (and it's an oft occurrence during the film) it's great fun to watch, if a little cringe worthy at times. Jeffrey, Axel's "undercover" assistant at the Detroit office is subtly comedic, but taken as a whole, the film retains a charming, if in your face (in a Blockbuster sense) sense of comedy.
Two of my favourite scenes as a teenager watching this film haven't changed over the years and I'm hoping that it may even surprise aficionados of the Beverly Hills Cop trilogy of films and/or fans of Director Tony Scott with my choices, which are detailed briefly below:
Axel: "I know that you're getting upset and I know you have reason to be upset but let me tell you something Chief, I am close, I am so close now. I'm closer than I've been and it's making me crazy. I can smell it, it's in the air, and I smell it. Can you smell it?"
Todd: "All I smell is your bullshit!"
A simple two camera short scene, with Axel Foley trying to be his wise cracking, slippery best, but it's Inspector Todd (Gilbert Hill) who shines and dominates the scene, countering with his own jibes and gags. A short scene that always makes me smile.
"Oh, come right in. Don't let the fact my door's closed dissuade you in any way from entering my office!"
A brilliant cameo from comedian Gilbert Gottfried as Financial Manager Sidney Bernstein. Opening with the above line, his ticks and foibles evident throughout, his short performance is excellent as he attempts to bribe a brazen Axel watched by an embarrassed Rosewood and Taggart. Watch out for his "bitch" telephone call, without a dialling a number!
With numerous cameos and pop culture references in between the gags, Eddie Murphy's singular comedic performance and stylish camera work from Tony Scott (aided by returning Director of Photography Jeffrey Kimball) this remains a fun comedy film. As with the trilogy as a whole, there is repeated coarse language, shoot outs, heists and bad guys. Thankfully for Inspector Todd and Axel Foley, they find the bad guys at the end of their particular rainbow.
"Nothing's forever, man"
With dark and brooding opening credits accompanied by a similar style musical score from Jack Nitzsche, the film then changes gear immediately with some beautiful, bright, swooping crane shots of the Mexican desert and a fighter jet searing through the sky. Piloted by the film's star Kevin Costner (who was also Executive Producer) he's having fun with his last ever flight for the US Navy and the cameras depict this brilliantly inside the cockpit and from the long distance crane shots of the fighter jet making it's way at a pace across the sky. Interspersed with this are quickly cut shots of a bloodied man, face down in the Mexican desert below struggling to move and scratching his way along the barren surface. It's perhaps the ideal juncture to note the immediate juxtaposition of these opening minimal scenes as they are starkly opposed to one another, from the opening credits (dark/brooding) to a clear bright sky punctured by the fighter jet in cinematography reminiscent of the best shots from Top Gun. Returning Director of Photography Jeffrey Kimball again deserves great credit here, and throughout the film. Inside the cockpit, Costner's "Cochran" is joyous and having fun at the expense of his co-pilot and enjoying his last flight, juxtaposed against the man on the desert floor, seemingly fighting for his life.
The juxtaposition theme continues throughout the first Act, the highlight of which I've dissected below. But first, in addition to Costner, the film has two more star roles. Anthony Quinn stars as "Tibey" a Father figure and great friend to Costner's character Cochran, their scenes together are joyous, full of smiles and laughter and great friends catching up on lost time spent apart. Madeleine Stowe stars as "Miryea", wife of Tibey and her dreadful Mexican accent apart is fantastic! Similar to her husband, she shares some wonderfully light, entertaining screen time with Cochran, their times together full of smiles and laughter. It's clear very early in the opening minutes that there's an intensity to Cochran and Miryea's time together and again early on it's clear there's a "love triangle" theme developing. In addition to the film's three main stars, a relative unknown cast of supporting actors fill important roles, notably Tomas Milian as "Cesar" and James Gammon as "Texan".
With many opulent settings beautifully depicted, including a Mansion house with a tennis court and swimming pool and some excellent scenes at Cochran's beach side retreat, the film certainly doesn't fail there. The clunky script fails, as does some of the acting talent no doubt hindered by said script. Easy to brand it a "film of it's time" as I'm prone to do and 22 years since release it has certainly aged, however the cinematography hasn't and that is indeed the film's resounding positive point. Despite the intensity and intrigue of the nefarious activities and the early love triangle, the film never engaged me and sadly this won't be a film I re-watch as eagerly as I do the others in Tony Scott's cannon of great films. The film's one true highlight is extremely good, brilliantly edited, lit and shot. I've dissected this short scene below:
A six minute scene towards the end of Act One sets up the remainder of the film perfectly. At a celebration/fund raising event, Tibey is first seen on a balcony taking the applause and adulation of the crowd below, which includes Cochran. Tibey pushes forward a reluctant Miryea to enjoy the warmth of the crowd, all to the amusement and slight smile of Cochran. As he walks away amidst the first of many fireworks and a traditional Mexican band playing "La Bamba" he is confronted by Cesar, Tibey's dutiful henchman. "Are you looking for someone Mr Cochran?" asks a snarling Cesar to which Cochran replies "No. Is someone looking for me?" There follows an angry exchange before Cochran departs the scene, again backed by numerous fireworks and the Mexican band still playing, with a now dancing Tibey smiling for the crowd. Following a jump cut we find Cochran now in the upstairs cloakroom alone until Miryea walks in, yet despite wanting to talk to Cochran turns to leave but is caught as Cochran turns around. The scene now develops along a quickly cut path, from a dancing Tibey playing to the crowd whilst his best friend and wife make frantic, passionate and often very graphic love! With a late 1980's tinged synthesiser as a soundtrack, the room beautifully lit amongst the fluttering see through drapes and often oblique camera angles, their passion is very much on screen and graphic as we cut back and forth between this and Tibey's continuing dancing for the crowd below. As he undresses to the waist, his wife and best friend do all this and more, unseen upstairs, and the scene continues with these juxtaposed images until it's conclusion.
Not a favourite Tony Scott film of mine. Nor a favourite Kevin Costner film either. Which is a perfect summation of this, the fourth in Tony's directing career. Despite the critics reaction, a much better film was to follow.
Days of Thunder (1990)
"Let me drive. I won't make a fool out of you"
I have minor criticisms: The second act is too baggy and lame in places and yes, the film follows the stereotypical early Tom Cruise career script model of raw recruit becomes a superstar, to losing his star status along with the girl he has won, then lost. Easy criticisms to make, but in this writer's mind, the film still stands the test of time and remains a fun, if stereotypical romp.
Tom Cruise plays rookie race car driver "Cole Trickle" and is the film's undoubted marquee star. However, the film's true star with a brilliant performance is Robert Duvall as "Harry Hogge", the gnarly "old fart" car designer, builder and racing Pit Boss.
Far too many great scenes to mention but the stand outs are when Harry is talking to his car creations as though addressing a loved one or child "you gotta take care of him" he implores a new car. Well shot joyous scenes. The film's heart and soul, Harry is hilariously funny at times, with an infectious laughter to boot. A great performance from a supreme actor. Together with Cruise, their joint scenes are the first of three joint narrative strands that are key to the success of the film. Their fights, their love and admiration for each other are evident from very early on, as is the mutual respect between a Pit Boss in constant communication with his driver as he competes at the very highest level in breakneck speed races. In a micro small segment of a scene, this is encapsulated perfectly:
A smoke filled track ahead, with car wreckage littering the track:
Harry: "You gotta go high, Cole"
The second key strand is with fellow race car driver "Rowdy Burns" (Michael Rooker). Two peas in a pod, both ultra competitive drivers who never give an inch, their joint scenes are mainly on the race track itself and in each other's rear view mirrors (but watch and wait for their wheelchair "race"!). Rooker is excellent as Rowdy Burns, but the key joint scene is as below:
Rowdy Burns: "Listen man. I've raced with my legs broke, heart bruised, eyes popping out of my head like they're on springs".
The third key narrative strand is with "Dr Claire Lewicki" (Nicole Kidman). A key role, well played, if unspectacular, from Kidman, their key joint scene follows a needless race instigated by an irate Cole Trickle with a local taxi driver. The picture below is of a later scene, but placed here for effect as an accurate picture from the scene is unavailable:
Claire Lewicki: "You shouldn't be driving a car anyway. Not on a road, not on a race track and not in a parking lot. You're selfish. You're crazy. And you're scared"
Aided by an additional supporting cast including Randy Quaid as Financier "Tim Daland", Cary Elwes as replacement superstar driver "Russ Wheeler" and the great John C Reilly as Pit Man "Buck Bretherton" and race scenes that are brilliantly captured by Director Tony Scott, this film still stands the test of time. The race scenes in particular are breathless at times, shot via multi cameras at various angles (inside/outside the cockpit, bumper cameras, track side cameras and overhead cameras), plus there's also a TV broadcast style to both the camera angles and the shots themselves.
In addition to the musical score from Hans Zimmer (Jeff Beck guests on guitar), the film spawned a huge worldwide hit for Maria McKee and "Show me Heaven" and the highly recommended soundtrack includes songs from Tina Turner, Cher, Elton John and a Guns'n'Roses version of "Knockin' on Heavens Door". The stand out track for me is the Spencer Davis Group song "Gimme Some Lovin", which is the first to be interspersed with the racing scenes and this mix of great music and fast paced racing is a highlight of the film. Unfairly panned as "Top Gun on wheels" amongst many other criticisms, it retains an 80's charm for me.
The Last Boy Scout (1991)
"Ain't life a Bitch"
Opening with a smartly cut montage of an American Football game and "Friday Night's a Great time for Football" by Bill Medley, this buddy/cop genre film should've been a lot better than in retrospect it is. With regular Director of Photography Ward Russell on duty and a screenplay from Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Last Action Hero), the sixth directorial film for Tony Scott has some superb highlights, however they are too few and far between. Again, writing in retrospect it is easy to criticise (which is never my intention) but 21 years on from initial release, this film has aged somewhat, with sloppy characters that are difficult to engage with and a script that appears slap dash and a little forced. There's none of the flair that I remembered as a 19 year old watching this film for the first time.
With original music by Michael Kamen and additional soundtrack songs "I wanna be a Cowboy" from Boys Don't Cry and "Get Off" from Prince accompany a simple narrative premise. The death of a football star is linked to local business interests and the somewhat nefarious interests of a local crime Boss. Thrown together by circumstance, "Joe Hallenbeck" (Bruce Willis) and "Jimmy Dix" (Damon Wayans) take it upon themselves to investigate the crimes whereupon a stereotypical buddy/cop film develops. Their lives couldn't be further apart, or so it seems, as we first encounter them. Hallenbeck, drunk and asleep in his car returns home to find his wife sleeping with his best friend and Dix, in a palatial looking hotel room with a prostitute yet popping pills in the bathroom.
A supporting cast play the additional key roles of "Sarah Hallenbeck" (Chelsea Field), "Darian Hallenbeck" (Danielle Harris), "Sheldon Marcone" (Noble Willingham), "Milo" (Taylor Negron), "Mike Matthews" (Bruce McGill) and a cameo from a young Halle Berry as "Cory".
A film that fails to grab your attention and immerse you in the story, there are some stand out highlights worthy of note. Youngest cast member Danielle Harris plays Darian very well, often out acting her much older and more experienced co-actors. The dual scenes between Willis and Wayans in the main limp along unaided by a poor, lame script but occasionally both the script and their presence together light up a scene. Their stand out dual scene comes with Hallenbeck (Willis) being viciously beaten by two eloquently speaking gangsters to which Dix (Wayans) proclaims "Shit, we're being beaten up by the inventor of scrabble". Which is funny and perfectly in the context of the situation. The rest of their scenes pale into insignificance and rarely please from thereon in, though are occasionally comically pleasing. The flashback sequences are the film's highlight (left out due to not wanting to provide spoilers) however the flashbacks themselves provide an insight into how good this film could and maybe should, have been. The film's opening scene, a rain soaked football game is excellent in every department, brilliantly shot, framed, lit and realistically depicted.
And there lies the problem. Or perhaps it's the age and the popcorn, buddy/cop narrative that has caught up with it. In retrospect, not a classic in the cannon of Tony Scott. His next film however is not only a classic, it put's that title in a cannon and blows it a million miles in the air!
True Romance (1993)
"You're so Cool!"
Released 20 years ago, this film continues to be in my personal all time favourites list and continues to age like a fine wine. Still as sharp and crystal clear in every frame, a film I can endlessly quote dialogue from as I've watched this all time classic on too many occasions to admit. There are many reasons why, but principally because the character of Clarence is everything I aspire to be, aside from the drug running, shoot outs and Elvis worship, obviously! A film geek, an idealist and a man who falls in love with the woman of his dreams. That's Clarence (and me) and much more besides. As the title suggests, it's a love story and a very powerful one at that. Written by Quentin Tarantino, you shouldn't be surprised that this is at it's heart a powerful love story, for the majority of scripts/films written by Tarantino are love stories at heart. This is often overlooked as the concentration rests on the ultra violence and pop culture references normally bathed in a Tarantino film. As a lifelong Quentin Tarantino fan it's easy for me to be bombastic and describe the screenplay as unsurpassed and without equal but on this occasion it's true. This has everything and so much more. The violence is up close, graphic at times and occasionally difficult to watch. It is also stylised to a point, culminating in a timeless shoot out amidst a cloud of cocaine and feathers. But we're getting ahead of ourselves already, and overlooking the fact that this is a love story, an unusual, Quentin Tarantino style love story, but one that continues to resonate with me 20 years after it's initial release. Outside a Movie Theatre, following a Kung Fu triple bill, our lovers first discuss their plans:
Clarence: "You came to see 3 Kung Fu movies?"
Alabama: "Sure, why not?"
Clarence: "Nothin. Nothin. It's just you're a girl after my own heart, that's all"
Alabama: "Do you know what time it is?"
Clarence: "It's about 12:00"
Alabama: "Suppose you gotta get up early"
Clarence: "No, not particularly. How come?"
Alabama: "It's just after I see a movie, I like to go get a piece of pie and talk about it. It's sort of a little tradition I have. Do you like to get pie after you see a good movie?
Clarence: "Yeah, I love to get pie after a movie"
Alabama: "Would you like to go get some pie with me?"
Clarence: "Yeah, I'd love some pie"
Cue "In Dreams" by John Waite and the first tears of the movie from me!
For those reading this completely unaware of this all time classic film, here's my cryptic premise for you: Clarence, obsessed by Elvis, comic books and films falls in love with a Call Girl and obtains Dr Zhivago by accident. Looking to sell this masterpiece for a fraction of it's price to a real film Director, he sells Dr Zhivago to enable his dream life with Alabama and Elvis. That's all you need to know for now!
For a myopic film fan such as myself, this film truly does have it all. A stellar all time cast list (fully detailed below) even down to minimal supporting roles from some giants of modern day cinema. A joy of a musical score from Hans Zimmer including the iconic "You're So Cool" title track which is a lullaby of pure joy, and many more tracks throughout the film from Aerosmith "The Other Side", Billy Idol "White Wedding", Soundgarden "Outshined", Big Bopper "Chantilly Lace" and The Shirelles "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" personal favourites. There are many more. The screenplay from Quentin Tarantino is unsurpassed, rich in pop culture references, coarse language and dialogue to die for. The characters created will long pass into cinematic history as with usual Tarantino panache the characters are rich, quickly back storied with multiple layers of intrigue, before being brilliantly depicted on screen by a wonderful cast that infuse so much into these characters. Director of Photography Jeffrey L Kimball again excels in a Tony Scott film, bringing to life and lighting some incredibly diverse settings throughout the film. In the opening minutes alone the short scenes outside the movie theatre, the restaurant (especially), the comic book store and outside Clarence's apartment are brilliantly depicted, framed and shot, and this trend continues throughout. Joint Editors Michael Tronick and Christian Wagner also deserve great credit cutting this film to the perfect length of two hours.
One of The Weinstein's first productions, helmed brilliantly by Director Tony Scott, he tells this unusual love story well, mixing the ultra violent outbursts with the tender love of Clarence and Alabama amidst some wonderful cinematography and central performances. The love story itself is heart breaking at times, joyously uplifting at others, with both a darkly comedic thread running parallel with an openly funny one. It's self referential and stylised at times, bathed in Tarantino pop culture references and the tender moments are often juxtaposed against brutal violence or openly graphic sexual play. The film never relents, nor does it ever apologise for what it is, a modern day account of a love that will not be broken or destroyed, and of a man wanting his idealised world now, and his love forever.
The supporting cast alone is a who's who of all star talent even 20 years ago, many of whom have gone on to shape many fantastic films in the intervening 20 years. Val Kilmer plays Clarence's "Mentor" and the less said the better here as his reveal is obvious, yet subtle, over the top, yet brilliantly included. Samuel L Jackson plays "Big Don" as only Samuel L Jackson can and Michael Rapaport brings "Dick Ritchie" as a geeky, arkward film wannabee to life brilliantly. Bronson Pinochot brings "Elliott Blitzer" to life with a camp charm and inserts much needed fun and humour with him, as does his Boss "Lee Donowitz", the irrepressible Saul Rubinek. Three further giants of the big screen also play small cameo and supporting roles, with James Gandolfini as Mafia Hitman "Virgil", Chris Penn as "Nicky Dimes" and Tom Sizemore as "Cody Nicholson". This is a brief list of the supporting roles on show, all of whom bring something very special to their roles and each infuse dark humour to an already black comedic film. The main roles are of rich characters, expertly portrayed, and are briefly outlined below:
(Christian Slater) A career defining performance from Slater as he carries both the film and your heart for the duration of the run time. A geeky loner desperate for love and recognition who grabs his one chance to set up the life he's always craved for the woman of his dreams. A superlative performance.
(Patricia Arquette) From Call Girl to Avenging Angel. The narrator of the film and of our dreams. Never better than here, another career defining role superbly portrayed.
Clifford (Dennis Hopper) Clarence's Father brilliantly portrayed by one of the best character actors of our generation. His stand off with Christopher Walken is a joy to behold.
(Christopher Walken) One scene is all Walken has to work with, but with supreme anger he brings Tarantino's words to life brilliantly during his "Q and A" with Clifford. "I'm the Anti-Christ. You got me in a vendetta kind of mood".
Drexl (Gary Oldman) Yet another powerhouse performance from Oldman, infusing his distasteful character with an odd charm and relying heavily on Tarantino's mixed heritage background. A frightening performance from Oldman, gold teeth, scars and dreadlocks as he remarks "I know I'm pretty" in his showdown with Clarence.
Floyd (Brad Pitt) Seemingly never away from his couch, perma stoned and hilarious to boot, a very different role for Brad Pitt but one that always makes me smile as he struggles to simply form a sentence, aptly shown when confronted by machine gun toting Mafia hitmen "You want to smoke a bowl?"
Another in the bracket of "Greatest Films of All Time". I've loved this film for 20 years, and I'm looking forward to the next 20. An astonishing film.
Crimson Tide (1995)
"You keep your priorities straight. Your mission, and your men"
Tony Scott again teams up with Producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer in this, his eighth cinematic feature. This film remains a personal favourite of mine for a host of reasons. Being a Portsmouth lad and brought up near the coast and a bustling dockyard, my Father was a submariner in his very early years and many,many years before I entered the fray. My older Sister was married to a sailor, hence I was lucky enough to set foot on both a small frigate naval ship and inside an unbelievably claustrophobic submarine when I was a very young boy. However, that's not the main reason for my love of this film. It's for two performances of the highest calibre, from Denzel Washington as Lieutenant Commander "Ron Hunter" and Gene Hackman as Captain "Frank Ramsey", his portrayal in particular is Oscar worthy yet cruelly overlooked.
Although Produced by the combination of Simpson/Bruckheimer, please don't allow that to put you off as this film is so much more than their traditional blockbuster genre of popcorn fare. With an uncredited writing position for Quentin Tarantino and a sublime musical score from Hans Zimmer, this claustrophobic thriller set almost exclusively within a submarine is still fantastic 17 years after initial release and has aged very, very little. A stellar supporting cast of a young Viggo Mortensen as "Peter Ince" and James Gandolfini as "Bobby Dougherty" excel, as do Matt Craven as "Roy Zimmer" and George Dzundra as "Chief of the Boat". There are numerous more superb cameos throughout.
The opening twenty minutes, whilst jingoistic nonsense, sets up the premise for the film as a whole. A rogue Russian breakaway republic is threatening to launch nuclear missiles at both the USA and Japan and the clock is very much ticking. In retaliation and as both an attack and defence mechanism, the USS Alabama under the stewardship of Captain Ramsey is launched. With newly installed "XO" or Commanding Officer Hunter next to him, Ramsey takes centre stage and it's a thunderous, yet nuanced at times performance from Gene Hackman. I'll explore both Hackman's and Washington's roles later. Within the first twenty minutes are numerous stock footage shots of the present day, mimicking the cold war of recent times between the USA and Russia, but these opening minutes are all exposition for the real core of the film aboard the USS Alabama. Very similar in style to 1990's John McTiernan directed "The Hunt for Red October" but more similar to my personal favourite "Das Boot" (directed by Wolfgang Petersen), all three films brilliantly depict life inside a cramped and claustrophobic submarine deep in the ocean.
Rather than give further exposition as to the plot of the film, I'll complete this appraisal by focussing on the giant performances from Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington. Their joint scenes together litter the film with greatness and are at the heart of the film, as they verbally joust their way to dominance in every scene. Sparring with each other verbally, to gain dominance and the higher ground and more importantly, the moral higher ground in many respects. Both performances are sublime, however Hackman's is corrosive, explosive, exploitative and utterly compelling. The following is a brief dissection of their first three joint scenes together, all within the opening Act of the film:
With his Chief of the Boat standing and hovering over the conversation and against a backdrop of raining pouring down the window panes, the camera zooms into Captain Ramsey reading Hunter's citations and recommendations, only glancing up for his first look at Hunter, with a sneering smile at "A year at, excuse me....Harvard?". It's both a question and a statement of intent from the Captain. With only an occasional cut away shot to the Chief of the Boat, there's now predominantly just two cameras used, both over the shoulders of our protagonists, for that's what they are and are brilliantly portrayed by both actors here. Captain Ramsey, smoking his cigar and staring intently at Hunter, a nervously smiling, agitated and unsure exactly what footing the conversation is on. Ramsey is quick to change from smile to sneer, joke to serious question, forever trying to unbalance the young recruit. Needing a new Commanding Officer, Ramsey confirms Hunter's name was "at the top of the list" but before Hunter can gain comfort from this compliment, Ramsey dead pans a further "It was a short list" gibe. Continually underlining everything he says with a veneer of sarcasm and/or contempt, Ramsey continually unsettles Hunter. The close ups on Denzel Washington confirm this brilliantly, a smile is quickly replaced by a quizzical look of bemusement, of wonder, his ease replaced by a concerned look. Ramsey ends the scene abruptly with a knowing look to his Chief of the Boat before standing and confirming to his new charge "Welcome aboard The Alabama son. Do me proud".
On deck and amidst a beautiful setting sun in the background, Captain Ramsey passes Hunter a cigar to enjoy, along with the sunset.
"Last breath of polluted air for the next 65 days. Gonna miss it. I don't trust air I can't see"
Captain Ramsey describes this as his favourite part, the setting sun before the submerging of the submarine. With the camera mainly on the Captain (Hunter is in shot by mainly on the periphery) Ramsey gives Hunter a rare genuine compliment before he gives the final order to dive "Bravo Hunter. You knew to shut up and enjoy the view". This short scene ends with brilliant slow motion shots of the submarine slowly submerging and diving from view, to the strains of "Eternal Father, Strong to Save".
My favourite scene of the film so I make no apology for including it here! Sitting around the Officers Mess/Lunch room post dinner, the conversation amongst the Officers is of their Russian adversaries, of warfare and of the merits and demerits of dropping the Atomic bomb in World War Two. His smiles turning to snarls and sneers, Captain Ramsey holds court, dominating the conversation as he begins to almost test Hunter on his views of warfare and their reasons for being where they are. Testing his commitment yet still playing to the assembled officers, Hackman is formidable here as Captain Ramsey, the old wise head of Naval warfare and conflict, juxtaposed against the fresh faced Academy Graduate Hunter. A brilliantly written and shot scene, it climaxes all too soon, but not before Hunter finally gains some momentum in his verbal jousts with his new Captain.
Quoting the teachings and philosophy of Carl Von Clausewitz, a moral crusader in times of 18th Century war, Ramsey misquotes him to which Hunter corrects him "the purpose of war is to serve a political aim but the true nature of war is to serve itself" whilst also giving his leanings and moral views on modern day warfare "I just think that in the nuclear world, the true enemy cannot be destroyed". A further verbal joust ensues before Captain Ramsey, pulling hard on his cigar stares intensely at Hunter, never leaving his gaze as the scene ends.
The opening jingoism aside, this film remains a firm favourite of mine. The cinematic score from Hans Zimmer is often overlooked but is a wonderful accompaniment to the film. As is the screenplay (uncredited Tarantino addition or not). A triumph for the Director, but two stand out performances that still stand the test of time.
The Fan (1996)
"That's why baseball's better than life. It's fair"
A personal favourite Tony Scott film that it's fair to say has lost a little of it's sheen in the 17 years since initial release. A baseball fan and a fan of the four main lead actors, my view is probably a little more myopic than some, however although this isn't a particularly good film, it is also far from the throwaway film some may lead to you believe. The premise of the film is simple enough: "Gil Renard" (Robert De Niro) is a devoted, passionate and borderline psychotic fan of the San Francisco Giants baseball team who have finally signed Gil's favourite player "Bobby Rayburn" (Wesley Snipes) to compete with and bring the best out of their star player "Juan Primo" (Benicio Del Toro), all watched and reported on by gnarly, perma smoking baseball journalist "Jewel Stern" (Ellen Barkin). From an acting standpoint, Snipes eclipses all with his detached determination to succeed as a professional sportsman, with all of his superstitions and quirks present, alongside a telling detachment from reality and his place within a larger society. Del Toro's role is deliberately vague and deliberately stereotypical as the non American star player, loved by fans and players alike, yet his role is as vague as his dialogue! In the following 17 years he will eclipse this role with utterly brilliant performances in "21 Grams", "Savages" and "Che" amongst many others. Ellen Barkin is excellent as the Radio Host come baseball journalist bringing both a much needed feminine touch to the film as well as a realism and fan's perspective.
The ultimate fan of course is portrayed brilliantly by De Niro and early into the film you have numerous examples of his psychotic behaviour, balancing work with securing tickets to the new baseball season's opening day, the debut of his hero and the estranged relationship with his ex Wife and son "Richie Renard", brilliantly played by Andrew J Ferchland. Similar to his role in Martin Scorsese's 1991 Cape Fear, De Niro plays that fine line between obsessive compulsive and flat out psychotic excellently, flipping from everyday professional salesman to his trademark scary stare of boiling apathy in an instant. It's not a flawless performance by any means, but a performance that definitely convinces you of his darker intentions. The juxtaposition between De Niro's fan and Snipes' professional sportsman drive the film, with Gil Renard desperate to speak with and be with his hero Bobby Rayburn, yet so often just a face in the crowd of fellow fans, on the outside looking in. Gil Renard is seen frantically dashing from one sales appointment to another, forever listening to the phone in shows hosted by Ellen Barkin's Jewel Stern, anxious to talk baseball and especially anxious to talk with new player and personal hero, Bobby Rayburn. Rayburn on the other hand is more aloof and detached, simply complying with yet another media request for an interview and cocooned within his highly paid world of super stardom. The juxtapositions continue throughout the film but with spoilers in mind I will limit this to one further example, with both men desperate to spend time with their estranged respective son's, we see a stark portrayal of this on both sides.
With further vital supporting performances from Patti D'Arbanville as "Ellen Renard" and especially from John Leguizamo as Rayburn's enigmatic Agent "Manny", the film as a whole just falls short of being a very good one. Based on the original book by Peter Abrahams and with a screenplay from Phoef Sutton, the other redeeming feature of this film is the gentle cinematic score from Hans Zimmer.
Far more than a simple tale of an obsessive baseball fan, it's rather more telling as (to use the baseball vernacular) a "Slugger" versus a thoughtful Pitcher film, the Slugger a mere batter slugging home runs, taking the plaudits and the multi million dollar contracts. The Pitcher, more thoughtful, planning his pitches but perhaps now too old for the large contracts and very definitely living in the past. It's also an interesting tale, set in 1996 as it is, of the vaunted life of a professional sportsman in today's era of big business, contracts and multimedia interest, against the backdrop of an "ordinary" man's life, a simple fan with a genuine love of the game. The comparisons between this and today's 24 hour rolling news and of one person's multi million dollar/pound contracts amidst crushing unemployment and austerity is even more prescient than it was 17 years ago. The media interaction in the film may even look a little dated to younger eyes than mine, but it can also be seen as a portent of things to come.
The film opens and closes brilliantly on a similar theme, of dated cine film and black and white montages of pictures and baseball cards. The concentration on the eyes both at the beginning and the end is both telling and an obvious metaphor for the film. With Gil Renard being an obsessive Rolling Stones fan, the film is littered with references to, and music from, the Rolling Stones, as well as many other classics from the age. A film very much of it's time, yet with a portentous view of the future? You decide.
Enemy of the State (1998)
"Say hello to the FBI"
A firm favourite of mine when released fifteen years ago and recent re-watches have only slightly dampened my earlier enthusiasm. Only very minor quibbles, as the film remains tense, tight, awkwardly funny and a genuinely enjoyable narrative tale brilliantly told by the Director and his behind the scenes team. With a slight variation from the other films reviewed here I will focus on just two pivotal scenes as a taster for the film and these follow shortly, however whilst I won't go into express detail of the opening twenty minutes, a broad description will set up the premise of this still excellent film.
A murdered Congressman who opposed and refused to sign an impending Cyber Security Bill sets off a chain of events that eventually leads to a local Lawyer prosecuting a Mafia gang. The FBI/CIA and NSA (National Security Agency) are all heavily featured within the opening twenty minutes as a tale of two completely separate videotapes intertwine. This intriguing thriller is set amongst the high technology world of video surveillance, CCTV, Spy Satellites and heat recognition cameras, but interestingly the focus is on the teams of people executing the actions to follow and invade the privacy of their fellow human beings for nefarious purposes. "Only doing their job?" Perhaps. But the opening twenty minutes raises an immediate question, should they be doing this job, effectively spying on their fellow citizens? This is a theme I'll return to in my brief conclusion. With frenetic editing to the fore, we jump from one spy satellite to another and are forever moving from one surveillance camera to another, one part of a surveillance team to another, following the opening twenty minutes unfold.
Tony Scott re-teams with Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer productions for this thriller, however the real kudos and credit here is for regular collaborator and Editor Chris Lebenzon whose cuts and edits really propel the story and at the same time immerse you as the audience within the action. The edits, in line with the theme of the film are quick, sharp, to the point and often on complete overload, and purposely so. Director Scott is also ably assisted by some excellent and vivid, pinpoint cinematography from Director of Photography Daniel Mindel. Fifteen years since release has not diminished either of those cinematic feats one iota. Although the film is slightly baggy (132 minutes) this is a very minor criticism as for the most part you are so immersed in the intriguing story and willing a triumphant outcome for the put upon Lawyer "Robert Dean" (Will Smith) and boisterous and brilliantly played wife "Carla Dean" (Regina King). Both are excellent here and supported by a stellar, high profile cast synonymous with Simpson/Bruckheimer productions. Jon Voight is excellent as ever as NSA Director "Thomas Reynolds" and fellow giant of cinema Gene Hackman excels as "Edward Lyle". A smaller role but a highly important one is reserved for Lisa Bonet as "Rachel Banks", confidant to Robert Dean and ex Girlfriend, and there's an early supporting role for the excellent Barry Pepper as "David Pratt". The Who's Who cast list continues, but without wishing to give any spoilers I'll simply continue to list a stellar cast, with Gabriel Byrne as "Brill", the ever excellent Jason Lee as "Daniel Zavitz" and the constant surveillance team is manned by Jack Black "Fiedler", Jamie Kennedy "Jamie" and an uncredited role for Seth Green as "Selby". This is highly surprising as Green's role is both pivotal and the best of a very good bunch. Equally surprising is Tom Sizemore's uncredited role as "Paulie Pintero".
Two important, brief scenes are dissected below, each offering a layer of the story:
With vital evidence to hand, Daniel Zavitz is desperately trying to make a quick copy of his bird watching videotape as quickly edited cuts demonstrate he is under both surveillance outside of his apartment and under threat of invasion from David Pratt and his team of Agents. Unable to dial out for his assistance as all of his telephone lines are dead, he quickly grabs the finished copy and makes his escape across the surrounding apartment rooftops. In pursuit are Pratt's team of Agents as well as the full force of the "Eye in the Sky" surveillance team headed by Fiedler and Selby. Throughout the next two to three minutes of this absorbing chase scene the action is quickly edited between a frantic Zavitz trying to make a desperate escape over the rooftops and through various shops on ground level, forever pursued both by the Agents and numerous multiple surveillance cameras tracking his every move. Close ups of the remote surveillance team are mixed with above earth shots of the tracking satellites moving into place and longer, wider shots of the pursuing Agents across the rooftops and through the various shops.
The frantic chase continues until Zavitz stumbles into a Lingerie Shop and bumps into his old College friend, now Lawyer, Robert Dean. "It's me! Bobby Dean. We were at Georgetown together", however Zavitz is understandably panicked by the Agents circling the shop and can only respond with a simple "Help Me" before he discreetly drops the videotape into Dean's shopping bag and escapes from the shop.
Now making his escape on bicycle, Zavitz is still pursued by every facet of the surveillance teams, both on the ground and in the air. Another frantic chase ensues before Zavitz makes a desperate leap across traffic lanes and meets a grisly end from a passing fire engine. "Target is down. Permanently".
Making a frantic telephone call home to his wife Carla, their fractured and uneasy conversation is broken when Robert spots Edward Lyle entering the hotel reception and nonchalantly standing in his eye line. He appears to mouth "fuck you" before walking off, to which Robert quickly ends his conversation and pursues Lyle, who corners him and orders him to "get in the fucking elevator" with a gun trained on Robert.
Joined by others briefly, their awkward silence is finally broken when their lift companions depart and with a gun pointed at Robert's face, Lyle constantly tells him to "shhh" as he first stops the elevator before ripping away various hidden tracking chips and beacons within his shoes and clothing. All of this is done mixed with yet more "Eye in the Sky" surveillance as the teams watch their tracking equipment slowly being dismantled. "We had an arrangement. No contact. You broke the rules" Lyle shouts as the lift reaches the top floor and they depart for the rooftop.
"You think the Mob uses devices like this?"
"It means the NSA can read the time off your fucking wristwatch"
Fifteen years since release and still a tense and tight thriller with a real political underpinning, especially in today's surveillance society. The interesting issue for me, aside from the UK being the most surveilled society in the world yet crimes are rarely prevented (or even caught on camera) or the various bills before Parliament or Congress in the United States of America (search National Defence Authorisation Act or NDAA and shudder with horror) is that all of these spy, surveillance and tracking devices need human beings to action them. Fifteen years ago was towards the birth of such technology and the implementation thereof. Today, we are bathed in it, passing from camera to camera in our daily lives, smartphones and Iphones, and all other manner of electronic equipment able to track and identify where we are, what we're doing, and with whom. The argument to be made is, is that this makes us safer as a society, tracking down the more nefarious elements who perpetuate heinous crimes and are duly imprisoned. The alternative argument is, as this film aptly demonstrates, is what happens if these nefarious elements are part of Government(s) trying to track innocent people to cover their dubious history and black operations. Yes this is a film, and a very good one fifteen years on. But a film that is grounded in truth and intrigue, and more prescient today than ever.
Spy Game (2001)
"You don't just trade these people like a baseball card"
Writing this retrospectively, I wasn't a fan when I originally watched twelve years ago, however I am far more taken now after two recent re-watches. The main flaw resides in the present day action, as this still feels a little plodding with too much exposition. The flashbacks are the film's heart and indeed the continual high water marks, as we see an intriguing and exciting back story via Vietnam, West Germany, Beirut and Cyprus amongst many destinations. To that end, again retrospectively, the film has a slight feel of a Bourne Identity film, numerous locations quickly spliced together, building a back story of a lone (in this case) CIA Spy, unable to settle in one location and always looking over his shoulder. The opening titles, mixed amidst an attempted prison break and a continual pulsing musical soundtrack from Harry Gregson-Williams is frenetically edited by Christian Wagner (who again deserves great credit in a Tony Scott film), sets the tone for the film and also introduces the audience to our two main, marquee characters:
(Robert Redford) On his final day as a CIA Case Officer before retirement, Redford slowly builds a likeability and loyalty to his character. His fierce loyalty and effusive charm grates on those around him, which clearly spurs him on, bringing light and dark humour to the otherwise plodding present day scenes of a high level CIA briefing meeting. He excels here, dominating proceedings against the odds, leaving his Field Agent to do likewise in the excellently portrayed flashbacks.
Tom Bishop (Brad Pitt) Recruited by Nathan Muir after his Sniper Marksman role in Vietnam, Pitt grows into his role as a deep cover CIA Agent. Mentored by Muir, their joint scenes within the flashbacks are a joy. A Master with his Pupil. One particular joint scene stands out, and is a personal favourite.
Taking a seat (following another circular, swooping shot of their locale') Muir delivers an ultimatum to his Field Agent, of the business they're in and of expendable pawns to be used for "freedom". As he leaves, Bishop exclaims "Fuck your rules, Nathan" before Director Scott again moves his camera around their location and with a soaring jump cut, moves the film along again.
The film as a whole is dominated by these two marquee names, however they are ably supported by vital roles from Catherine McCormack as "Elizabeth Hadley" and the excellent Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Muir's secretary "Gladys Jennip". Their scenes together bring a much needed light, comical and sweet natured relief to the film! Also excelling in supporting roles are Stephen Dillane as "Charles Harker", Larry Bryggman as "Troy Folger" and a young Omid Djalli as "Doumet". With so many locations and narrative strands in the film, these are the key supporting players, written so very well in a screenplay from Michael Frost Beckner and David Arata. As well as the aforementioned Editor Christian Wagner, Director of Photography Daniel Mindel returns to work with Director Scott after they teamed up on Enemy of the State. Together with a pulsing, beating musical score, there are snippets of music tracks inserted that impress, particularly "Brothers in Arms" by Dire Straits and "Four Seasons Concerto" by Vivaldi. The eclectic music mix matches the eras depicted, in concert with some real life stock footage of the time as we see a 2nd Anniversary celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall, horrific devastation in Beirut, plus the horrific devastation of David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson on a TV screen in "Baywatch"!
The film really commences with the first of many "flashes" of the time on screen "8:02am" being the first, and the announcement that they have 24 hours in which to rescue a captured USA citizen. This theme continues throughout this far more enjoyable film than I first gave it credit for twelve years ago, of a counting down of time amidst a series of flashbacks of events and of dates, times and back story. This twisted narrative really engages the more you flow with the information and of the character development. As you'd expect from a film about spying, it's bathed in subterfuge and deceit, but it's also far more than that. A film about loyalty, friendship, love and devotion twisted amongst some of the most stylised camera work Tony Scott has produced. Not a classic, but far more interesting than some may have you believe.
A film dedicated to his Mother, Elizabeth Jean Scott, who died in 2001.
Man on Fire (2004)
"There is one kidnapping every 60 minutes in Latin America. 70% of the victims do not survive"
One of my personal all time favourite Tony Scott films, one which I was enchanted with immediately I watched for the first time and a film that continues to enchant me on regular re-watches. Not because of the fact it follows a Tony Scott guideline of stylised, gritty realism, or the fast paced and often manic editing as yet another long (146 minutes) Tony Scott film flies by in a whirl of great cinematic story telling. Nor is it because of the wonderfully diverse characters on display or the sublime cinematography from Paul Cameron. All of these plus points and many more are present in this fantastic film, however it's the human story so very well told that enchant and engage me time after time. Although based on a novel of the same name by A J Quinnell, it's the frightening reality portrayed, based on very real day to day fact, that engages me, and two central performances that always touch my heart and grip my imagination:
(Denzel Washington) In his second Tony Scott film, Washington is stunning as an ex CIA/Special Forces operative with a checkered history. Recruited as a bodyguard yet struggling to come to terms with day to day life and who drinks heavily to dull the pain. Socially awkward & reticent to make friends, both his character flaws and positive aspects run deep, with Washington bringing this multi levelled character to life absolutely brilliantly. One of the prized character actors of our generation he treads the fine line between professionalism and reckless abandon throughout the film, excellently displaying every side to his deep, dark character. An exceptional performance.
Pita (Dakota Fanning) An exceptional performance from one so young, portraying a character that on the surface appears to be far more worldly wise than she actually is, a grown up in a child's body if you will. Well provided for and living an affluent life with her devoted parents, speaking dual languages, intelligent, creative and imaginative. Yet Fanning's performance both swell's and breaks the heart, her childlike enthusiasm seeps through the screen. A marvellous performance.
From the outset, this is a Tony Scott film in every sense. The opening minutes are all exposition yet shot through the prism of frenetic flash cuts depicting the horrors of kidnapping, the rules and guidelines typically set down by the kidnappers and the repercussions if these guidelines are not met. The flash cuts are quite literally that, very brief flashes of a person, a place, a drop off, a secured return of a hostage or child, all shown in the blink of an eye. Christian Wagner returns for his fourth collaboration with Director Scott and excels yet again. Based on A J Quinnell's book, screenwriter Brian Hegeland also deserves great credit for providing a script that works within the confines of a very convoluted story, and the first of two collaborations with the Director.
Following this frenetic beginning the film settles with a number of simple talking heads scenes that set the scene, drive the narrative and introduce all the main characters of this gripping film. Simple scenes at a Barbecue, a restaurant and two car driving segments introduce us to Creasy and latterly in the exposition to Pita. In between, the supporting roles of first "Ray" (Christopher Walken) is introduced, Creasy's old CIA friend and confidant who secures Creasy the bodyguard job and "Jordan" (Mickey Rourke) a local family Lawyer. Much larger supporting roles are reserved for Pita's parents, with both Radha Mitchell as "Lisa" and Marc Anthony as "Samuel" really excelling. Two further key roles are brilliantly played by Rachel Ticotin as "Mariana" a local reporter specialising in the grisly reporting of the ever present kidnapping's and Giancarlo Giannini as "Manzano", Director of the local Police Force. There are many more important roles within a huge cast for this Mexico/USA cross border thriller, but all of the above perform superb supporting roles to Washington and Fanning.
The joint scenes between Creasy and Pita are the distinct heart of the film and to reflect this I've dissected just one brief scene, however this is not a purely joint scene in every sense as it also includes a star turn from another of my favourite actor's, Christopher Walken:
Mid way through the film is the setting for yet another light hearted and fun filled get together hosted by Ray (Christopher Walken). One of a number of similar brief light hearted scenes, this is filled with huge laughter from our three main characters and of tall tales of Ray and Creasy's time together as work colleagues as well as hints towards Creasy's past life. As the pair continue to reminisce amidst much joy and a far more relaxed Creasy finally settling into being both a friend and a bodyguard to Pita, she has a surprise for him "Now's as good a time as any" she announces. Passing Creasy a small bear (the bear motif is of central significance throughout the film) it is not the actual bear that is significant here, but the contents inside, a pendant for "St Jude. Patron Saint of Lost Causes".
Christopher Walken is excellent here, his smile and nods of approval towards his friend say so much with so little, and Creasy, overcome at such a genuine and poignant gift says so much again with so little in his response to Pita. A stunning, yet brief scene.
This brief scene also acts as the springboard for the middle Act of the film and onward. All main characters excel now but especially Rachel Ticotin who as Mariana steals the majority of the 2nd and 3rd Acts. Leaving aside plot spoilers I simply can't recommend this Tony Scott film highly enough. Stylised violence mixed with a heart rending story delivered by some wonderful performances which is edited to within an inch of it's life. From the above scene onward the film simply never relents and a 3rd Act which borders on thunderous. With Harry Gregson-Williams again providing a wonderful musical score throughout, the film also benefits from some beautiful choices of music tracks with an eclectic mix again working really well, from "Blue Bayou" by Linda Ronstadt to two pieces from Chopin through to a number of thunderous tracks from Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails. Overly biased I may be, but this is simply one of Tony Scott's greatest ever films.
"My destiny was life. Life as a bounty hunter"
I had no prior knowledge of this "based on a true story" tale before I watched for the first time six years ago. Both the actual real life story and the DVD escaped my attention for some time and when I finally watched for the first time I wasn't wholly impressed. Re-watching for the purposes of this blog, I remain unimpressed! I'll concentrate more on this in the concluding paragraph, but first some brief background followed by a dissection of the opening twenty minutes and our main characters.
Based loosely on the life of Domino Harvey, daughter of actor Laurence Harvey (famous for his role in the original Manchurian Candidate in 1962) and with a screenplay from Richard Kelly (writer of another of my favourite films - Donnie Darko), it is a bizarre life story to say the least and in the hands of Tony Scott and Richard Kelly I expected far, far more. Teaming up with regular collaborators Harry Gregson-Williams (music), William Goldenberg and Christian Wagner (editing) and Daniel Mindel (Director of Photography) it is typically Tony Scott, loud, brash and stylised with continual slow motion edits and jump cuts. With a stellar cast of Keira Knightley, Mena Suvari, Jacqueline Bissett, Mickey Rourke, Edgar Ramirez, Delroy Lindo, Lucy Lui, Tom Waits and Christopher Walken, what could go wrong? Here's a brief dissection of both the opening twenty minutes and a main character run down:
The film opens with flash rolling type "This is based on a True Story", then a second or so later "Sort of", which aptly sets the both the scene and the tone of the film, as does the initial FBI interview, a constant narration and a whispered "Heads you win. Tails you die" in the background. The FBI interview introduces us to our first two main characters:
(Keira Knightley) The star of the film is introduced as perma smoking, aloof yet co-operative in the interview, willing to tell the FBI "everything I know". Bloodied and bruised on the outside but highly confident in herself and her story. Sadly, despite being a fan of Keira Knightley, she doesn't quite convince as the streetwise Domino.
Taryn Mills (Lucy Liu) FBI Interviewer and smallest of the marquee roles. Noted as her role is so crucial to the narrative and because of a wonderfully quiet performance from Lucy Liu. The flashbacks to this particular interview are constant, if fleeting, and Liu's subtle and meticulous performance lends the film some equally meticulous balance.
The first of many flashbacks follow, and a brutal shoot out come Mexican Stand Off ensues with Domino and her two Bounty Hunter gang members. However, as the film develops we see that these are not mere acquaintances but firm friends. Firstly, Ed:
(Mickey Rourke) "The Most Legendary Bounty Hunter in Los Angeles" and "The Father I never had", Rourke's performance grows with the film. Minimal dialogue, yet the Bounty Hunter gang's notional Leader.
Choco (Edgar Ramirez) The film's true star. Dark and brooding with similarly minimal dialogue often split between his native Spanish and broken English. A sublime performance and character piece.
The film is continually bathed in pop culture references of the time, some of which work and many of which don't! The first of which definitely does and transports us back to the Mexican Stand Off. Awaiting their cash bounty, Domino and Ed wait impatiently for their bounty reward watching The Manchurian Candidate on television, starring Frank Sinatra and Domino's father Laurence, an early indication of the twisted nature of this true life tale. Choco departs for the Winnebago to retrieve a "bargaining chip" to ensure the smooth passage of their bounty and we see the second of many cultural/pop/reality television references as the occupants of the Winnebago (many blood splattered and in distress) are watching "The Weakest Link" on television. Surreal and bizarre, as is the introduction to the gang's driver "Alf" (Riz Abbasi) "The Cat Eating Alien".
Regular flashbacks continue between the FBI interview and the continuing Mexican Stand Off which straddles the glossy opening title sequence which is accompanied by Xzibit's "The Gambler" tune. The setting returns to the now calmed stand off but it's Domino and her continuing narration that is the key now as she narrates her relationship with her Father and their brief time together in England in 1993, spliced with a continuing shot of her Father in The Manchurian Candidate on television. Two further characters are introduced after this brief interlude "Frances" (Kel O'Neill) and "Lateesha" (Mo'Nique), both "fixers" in different ways and additions to the main gang, however as Domino narrates "Lateesha, Frances and the four fake ID's is where it all went wrong". Before this is unravelled, flashbacks are again used to cover the continuing FBI interview, her childhood in England, the death of her Father and the introduction of her Mother "Sophie Wynn" (Jacqueline Bissett), all via flash cuts to propel the story however it's interesting to note the religious iconography that surrounds young Domino, a motif of which continues throughout the film.
Domino's later teenage years are depicted firstly as a model "bored with life" and of an American high school after she and her mother emigrated following her mother seeing the cast of Beverly Hills 90210 on the Wogan Show. This is our third/fourth pop culture reference and also acts as an interesting time frame for perspective. However the key is Domino's antipathy towards both England "sleaze bag central" and her new life in America despite the trappings of being a newly established model. Following a throwaway segment depicting high school life we enter the final key scene of the opening twenty minutes and the introduction to another key character, Claremont.
Claremont Williams III (Delroy Lindo) A Bail bondsman and doting father, his cameo accompanies the heart of the film and that of it's twisting unseen narrative. First seen with Ed giving a seminar on Bounty Hunting, he brings the opening twenty minutes to a close with a sparkling, smooth talking performance of assurance and the profits to be made from this particular industry. Cue the arrival of Domino at his seminar, her forceful rebuke of the advances of a room full of alpha males (she is only the second woman in the woman but the most attractive), her fleeting glimpses at Ed are telling, as is the iconic lighting up of a cigarette and her coming determination to be a very successful Bounty Hunter.
There are numerous further supporting and cameo roles not yet detailed, including Macy Gray as "Lashandra Davis", a typically iconic cameo from Tom Waits as the "Wanderer" during a drug fuelled desert escapade, which is a highlight of the film. As is Christopher Walken's portrayal of Television Executive "Mark Heiss" and his Assistant "Kimmie" (Mena Suvari).
A fan of Keira Knightley, Tony Scott (have you guessed that by now?!) and of films based on real life stories, yet I'm not a fan of this fan. Why? The Tony Scott trademark of jump cuts/flash cuts are messy here and too many cuts blur the film. The film's constant narration centre's around the FBI interview yet it becomes a film narration of Domino's life and rightly so, but it's jarring and awkward with the frequency of the flashbacks and doesn't convince and sadly this is reflected on Keira Knightley too. Despite the intriguing and bizarre life story, the characters (except for Domino, Choco and Mark Heiss) are unengaging and stereotypical. Yes it's based on a real life story, however some of the characters are purely caricatures. The music employed in the film is an eclectic mix and if you've read some of my other Blogs (bless you) you'll understand how highly I rate both the musical score and the tracks used. Here, there are some not to my palette, some period related (Billy Ocean's "When the Going Gets Tough"), a bizarre pop culture reference to Pat Benatar and "Love is a Battlefield" which bemuses me greatly and Tom Jones' "Mama Told Me Not to Come" which is brilliantly used during a frenetic shoot out which has all the hallmarks of Tony Scott's shoot out in True Romance. Overall, the music is a twisted, unconvincing mix.
As are the pop culture references. On the one hand you have the successes notably the Sam Kinison statue reference and The Manchurian Candidate, but these are overshadowed by Wogan, Beverly Hills 90210 and a bizarrely awful Jerry Springer segment! The interesting issue though is the advent of popular/reality television. Domino, Ed and Choco "starred" in a reality television show called Bounty Squad which is eerily reminiscent of a recent similar show "Dog The Bounty Hunter", the parallels of which are uncanny. The final gripe is saved for the over the top and constant rolling type across the screen, naming characters, events, ideas, exclamations and sometimes purely random thoughts. Again, I am a fan of these, but in moderation and narrative driven. Here there are far too many, they are distracting and end up serving no purpose whatsoever.
Domino is not a bad film in the same category as Tony Scott's 1990 "Revenge". But based on a fantastic if tragic story and in the hands of Richard Kelly and Scott himself, I expected much more.
The film ends with a long tribute to the actual star of the film and the actual real life of Domino Harvey, who sadly died in June 2005 just prior to the release of the film. Included is a simple shot of Domino (see above), hair shorn and smoking in her iconic way as characterised so well in Keira Knightley's portrayal. An overly dramatised portrayal of an extraordinary life.
Domino Harvey 1969-2005
Deja Vu (2006)
Despite its flaws (a convoluted story is it's main flaw) this film retains a real charm and purpose and even in spite of it's difficult to follow/believe narrative, it was well written by the principal writers Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio. As the title of the film suggests, there is a new, real time incident (notably many more but detail avoided to prevent plot spoilers) that appears to have occurred before. That incident plays outs in the first 3/4 minutes of the film so no plot spoiler to confirm the following:
The USS Nimitz is holding a Mardi Gras event on board a New Orleans ferry and backed by The Beach Boys "Don't Worry Baby" the ferry is full of partying sailors and locals along for the ride. As the ferry departs it is ripped apart by a huge explosion and fireball that is captured brilliantly by the Director using multiple cameras. The immediate aftermath of burning sailors and fellow passengers is distressingly graphic, as is the longer aftermath of hundreds of dead bodies washed ashore and survivors unable to fully grasp what has happened and why. The death toll is over five hundred and quickly announced as "terrorism". Denzel Washington, the film's marquee star is quickly introduced as ATF Agent "Doug Carlin" and his meticulous attitude is also quickly established as he searches the nearby scene of devastation on the shore and surrounding areas. His arrival and the majority of his early searches are all in slow motion, with Washington very much front and centre of the frame. With a wonderful supporting cast (noted below) it's interesting to note that Washington is nearly always front and centre, dominating the screen and in virtually scene. This is very much Washington's film and he stars brilliantly as ever. It's also interesting to note the minimal dialogue in these opening scenes for Doug Carlin, again concentrating on his role as an ATF Agent/Investigator. As the film progresses we see a fully layered Carlin, happy and smiling, cocksure and confident, his character brings a little of everything to the film.
In support of Washington are varied roles in terms of depth and nuance, with the stand out roles reserved for a brilliant Paula Patton as "Claire Kuchever", a larger than normal Val Kilmer as studious FBI Agent "Paul Pryzwarra" and excellent as ever Jim Caviezel as "Carroll Oerstadt" and Bruce Greenwood in a cameo as FBI Chief "Jack McCready". But it's Washington who dominates, in league with Paula Patton as he falls in love with her character Claire Kuchever in a series of real time flashbacks that need clarification but will remain absent due to plot spoilers. Suffice to say both are excellent, with Washington brilliant as always. The deja vu aspect needs further clarification but the film itself (comically so) baulks at this clarification, nominally detailing "physics" and "wormholes" and time loops. In much the same way as Duncan Jones' "Source Code" plays on this idea, this is the imprint, of creating a wormhole to teleport someone back into a pre-destined past to prevent an event, however devastating this prevention may have on present day or the characters involved. All is messily explained in the film and it doesn't wholly convince but that shouldn't put you off this fine film as it has so much more to offer, including many references back to Tony Scott's film of 1998, Enemy of the State. There are numerous parallels, all of them highly intriguing, and the film's true highlight.
The film also references another real life terrorist attack on Oklahoma City in which Doug Carlin was a central figure, although this is nodded to and not overly explained. However, the parallels between Carroll Oerstadt and Timothy McVeigh are obviously intended. The film's main drawback is a convoluted story that involves time travel! Fans of the genre will enjoy this, as will fans of Source Code and Enemy of the State. Away from this it's an excellent thriller yet again from Tony Scott, with a stellar performance from Denzel Washington.
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009)
"Maybe, maybe I'm not the guy you should be talking to"
Based on the original novel of the same name by John Godey, this is the second remake of the 1974 original film, with a TV re-make also made in 1998. Eleven years later, Tony Scott and his regular collaborators in editing, Chris Lebenzon and Harry Gregson-Williams (original music score) made their long awaited version. Newcomer to the Tony Scott camp in the shape of Tobias Schliessler as Director of Photography deserves great plaudits, capturing this light and dark action chase perfectly. The lengthy opening credits, fractured and split amongst frenetically edited exposition of our main characters performing their "day jobs" sets up the basic premise of the film. The train, The Pelham 123 has been hijacked, is subsequently detached from the main body of the train leaving the Hostage team in charge of 19 commuters as hostage. Demanding £10,000,001 as ransom in exactly one hour, the Tony Scott style of visual aids and screen prompts of the minutes counting down are all present and correct, but far less than on Domino, and this style works here.
The supporting cast for our two marquee names are excellent, with Luis Guzman as "Phil Ramos" the "brains" behind the hijacking and ably assisted by Victor Gojcaj as "Bashkim" and Robert Vataj as "Emri". James Gandolfini hams his role as New York "Mayor" and John Turturro excels, as ever, as NYPD Hostage Negotiator "Camonetti". There are minor roles throughout the unfortunate train hostages, notably the youngest member, 8 year old Jake Sicialano. All though are in support of two fantastic roles, from a yet again returning Denzel Washington (his fourth film with Tony Scott) and a surprising co-star and archetypal villain, John Travolta.
(Denzel Washington) Thrown in at the deep end with the train hijacking and despite his cool, calm exterior is only two weeks back into his role as Subway Dispatcher. Rarely away from the central controls and a man who takes pride both in the cool, efficient manner in which he performs his job and his central command hub. His "showing off" of his central hub, the buttons and communications to others is a touching insight into his meticulous attention to detail. Opinionated and unwilling to back down, his back story is fleshed out in the full glare of his colleagues but rarely does he take a backwards step. Again in a Tony Scott film, Washington is rarely out of the centre of the camera's lens, this time for the majority of the film talking directly into the camera as he negotiates the safe release of the hostages whilst forever staring ahead at the subway route board. His verbal jousts with "Ryder" become legion as the film progresses, but it's the camera work of Scott that impresses too, sweeping continually around a desk bound, straight ahead Washington. Another stellar performance in a Tony Scott film.
With 15 minutes of exposition edited (the chase scenes, money delivery scenes were all far too long) this would've been an excellent film but settles for a good one, and an engaging one at that. The exposition is flabby and feels a little out of place and more emphasis should've been placed on the duels between Washington and Travolta. The other minor gripe is the speed at which the stock market downturn takes hold, in a time frame of just one hour? It's a key story strand admittedly, but this also feels way too stretched. The last interesting point of note (especially in line with his final film below) is the way the multi media of internet and "Breaking News" reports feature in the film. It becomes a multi million dollar heist film caught in the full glare of 24 hour rolling news and Internet streaming, but more on this in Tony's final film.
A good film which could've been a great one. And one which has sparked my interest to watch the 1974 original again.
Based loosely on the CSX 8888 incident of 2001 in Ohio, the premise of the film is two fold with each strand colliding (pun unintended) to produce another in the Tony Scott cannon of drama/thriller/chase films. The first strand is of an unmanned train hurtling towards a large commuter conurbation in Stanton, with the other strand being the first day working together of Frank and Will.
"Frank" (Denzel Washington) is the grizzled old time railroad engineer partnered for the first time by young graduate and "Union Guy" Conductor, "Will" (Chris Pine). It's established early that Will has both the Union connections as well as the "family name" connections, hence his early promotion above his station. Neither man wanting to work with the other but professional courtesy prevails despite Will not wanting to work with the "Old People's Home" and Frank, suspicious of his motives and reasons for taking this particular job. On the surface they are like chalk and cheese, however it's interesting to note that both have similar back stories and motivations and early on it's noticeable that each conducts their own private business on their own, despite the similarities we see as the audience. Their relationship slowly souring, it's interesting again to note how this thaws when Frank describes his family and how his two daughters are training for life at "Hooters". This brings the first laugh for the pair on screen and indeed the audience. It's the age old story of the young buck, fresh faced and desperate to succeed butting heads with a wise old sage, the ever smiling, but suspicious veteran. Both men are admirable in their roles.
Rosario Dawson shines in a supporting role as "Connie", the under pressure yard master who fulfils an eerily similar role to that of Washington in The Taking of Pelham 123. Ethan Suplee as "Dewey" also shines. The chase scenes and wonderful camera work for the trains themselves apart, the film lacks an overall drive as I mix my metaphors once again! Despite the two main characters spending the majority of the film in a single train cab, the laughs and jokes are thin on the ground even after the Hooters moment and containing so much television coverage it begins to grate long before the end. Not Tony's worst film, equally not his best and not the way I wanted to end this genuine appraisal of his enormous contribution to cinema for thirty years.
A true cinematic legend, his legacy is filled with incredible memories that will never die. Thank you for True Romance, for Man on Fire and for Crimson Tide. Thank you for brightening a spotty teenager's life with Top Gun and Days of Thunder and for sparking my imagination in cinema.
Tony Scott, much missed. Forever shall you rest in peace.