Darkman (1990)

2014 #38
Sam Raimi | 91 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 18 / R

DarkmanBefore he made the insanely successful Spider-Man trilogy, horror auteur Sam Raimi helmed this cinema-original superhero-esque fable, about a scientist caught in the crossfire between a corrupt developer and the mob who sets out for revenge.

Although ostensibly a comic-book-y action/vigilante flick, Raimi brings his horror chops (note the certificate), as well as a left-field filmmaking style that gives the film a unique edge. Add Liam Neeson as an action hero decades before Taken, throw in that je ne sais quoi of ’80s/’90s-filmmaking-ness (it’s the lighting, the effects… I don’t know), and you have an atypical, enjoyable, overlooked genre minor-classic.

4 out of 5

In the interests of completing my ever-growing backlog, I decided to post ‘drabble reviews’ of some films. For those unfamiliar with the concept, a drabble is a complete piece of writing exactly 100 words long. You’ve just read one.

Burn After Reading (2008)

2010 #42
Joel & Ethan Coen | 96 mins | Blu-ray | 15 / R

Ah, the Coen Brothers! Those indie-mainstream praise-magnets that I’ve never particularly got on with. But then, perhaps I was just too young and under-read (or, rather, under-viewed) to get The Man Who Wasn’t There when I watched it; and I did like Fargo, even if I awarded it ‘only’ four stars; and I had a similar perspective on No Country for Old Men, though leaving if off my end-of-year top ten list when some have claimed it’s the only worthy Best Picture winner of the last decade may be seen as filmic blasphemy. (On the other hand, those claimants are wrong. Not very wrong, maybe, but still wrong.) Nonetheless, the rest of the pair’s ’80s and ’90s output (bar, for no particular reason, Raising Arizona) sits in my DVD collection waiting to be got round to… but first, this: their star-studded follow-up to No Country that seemed to disappoint so many. Probably because it was a comedy.

Turns out Burn After Reading is another film I don’t have much to say about. I liked it. It’s nothing like No Country for Old Men, other than being occasionally obtuse, but that’s the Coen’s style. Still, I’m sure No Country is the better — or Better — film, but in the same way I prefer eating a bacon cheeseburger to a pile of vegetables, I think I enjoyed watching Burn After Reading more. Or maybe eating a Chinese would be a better analogy — in the same way you’re hungry again not long after, Burn After Reading is kind of unsatisfying.

You see, as two minor characters observe at the end, we’ve learnt nothing. There’s been a sporadically complex set of coincidences and accidents, some good laughs and some surprises too, but the end result is… what? But maybe that’s the point. For the characters in the film, it’s a confusing mess of a situation they find themselves embroiled in — no one has the full picture, and most don’t properly comprehend the bit they do see. For the viewer, it’s a fun bit of nothing. Things have changed by the end, certainly — most notably, several people are dead — but the events that got us there are pretty quickly forgotten.

Perhaps this is the Coens’ response to No Country for Old Men — not intellectually or artistically, but as people and filmmakers: a break from the existential seriousness of their Best Picture winner with a romp-ish bit-of-nothing, which entertains well enough for the 90-something minutes it occupies our vision but is all but forgotten before the credits have finished rolling.

3 out of 5

Almost Famous (2000)

2008 #41
Cameron Crowe | 118 mins | DVD | 15 / R

Almost FamousSometimes I find I have quite a lot to say about a film when it comes to writing my review for this blog — recently, witness Cloverfield, Transformers, or Indiana Jones 4 (of course, using Indy 4’s full title more than once guarantees a long review). Other times it’s a struggle to come up with anything at all — try the relatively brief comments on The Fountain, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes or Field of Dreams. Almost Famous falls into the latter camp. Not because it’s no good, or because it’s middle-of-the-road, but because there’s nothing I’m dying to praise or slate about it.

Everything about it is solidly done. Patrick Fugit is an engaging and relatable lead, ably supported in the acting stakes by a good ensemble, especially Philip Seymour Hoffman (unsurprisingly) and fellow top-billers Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand and Kate Hudson. And there’s Zooey Deschanel, who doesn’t have many scenes, but, y’know, still…

Crowe’s autobiographical screenplay is a good one, with plenty of amusing and dramatic moments to keep it ticking over — the most memorable, on a crashing plane, manages both with aplomb. Likewise, his direction is rarely flashy but always works. The music, costumes, design and cinematography evoke the period well (to me, at least, who didn’t live anywhere near the ’70s). There’s probably some life lessons in here — it’s a coming-of-age film after all (as well as a rock & roll road movie, of course) — but they’re not over-laboured.

In short, I really liked Almost Famous. It’s the sort of film that might creep in at the lower end of a (relatively long) list of favourites, not because there’s anything exemplary about it, but because the cumulative effect makes for an enjoyable experience.

4 out of 5

Almost Famous is on Movie Mix (aka more>movies) tonight, Sunday 31st May 2015, at 1:15am.

Fargo (1996)

Fargo2007 #23
Joel Coen | 94 mins | DVD | 18 / R

Fargo is the latest film to have been inducted into the United States National Film Registry, donchaknow. It’s also 105th on the IMDb Top 250 [it’s now 153rd], and the 21st film from the 1990s. So it’s pretty much a modern classic then.

It is indeed very good; the only thing holding me off giving it 5 is a lack of that Something which leads me to rate so highly after one viewing. Maybe it will go up in time.

4 out of 5