Heat (1995)

Can you believe this classic is 20 years old this year?  It is still fresh and punchy as the day it was released.  Two screen legends, Al Pacino and 

Robert De Niro playing opposite one another.  De Niro plays Neil, the charismatic sophisticated criminal master mind with a penchant for robbing banks.  Pacino on the other hand plays Vincent, a veteran in the police force whose job is to take down bad guys like Neil.

Interestingly this is the first time these pair have shared screen time together.  They have appeared in the same movie before (Godfather Part 2) but never had a scene together.

Michael Mann both writes and directs this masterpiece as he plays the dance of giving these two great actors enough individual screen time to lay down their characters so when they do finally meet half way through in a diner, the tension is electric.

At this point in the movie the characters morals are very well established, with an ironic twist of sensibility from each other.  

Vincent: You know, we are sitting here, you and I, like a couple of regular fellas. You do what you do, and I do what I gotta do. And now that we’ve been face to face, if I’m there and I gotta put you away, I won’t like it. But I tell you, if it’s between you and some poor bastard whose wife you’re gonna turn into a widow, brother, you are going down.

Neil: There is a flip side to that coin. What if you do got me boxed in and I gotta put you down? Cause no matter what, you will not get in my way. We’ve been face to face, yeah. But I will not hesitate. Not for a second.

Naturally there is enough opportunity for Pacino to do his classic shouting routine, which for me personally, never really gets old.  Though let us be honest, nothing like his whole end-of-movie routine 3 years prior in 

Scent of a Woman (HOO HAA).

If this isn’t enough, Mann manages to squeeze in 

Val Kilmer

Jon Voight and 

Tom Sizemore who adds weight to Neil’s crew.   Keep an eye out for a very young 

Natalie Portman who pops up in one of her first movie roles as Vincent’s step daughter.  There is a number of other, now, famous actors that pop up as you forget after 20 years just the sort of names that were attached to this outing.

The movie works very well on all levels.  Had it been a weaker story, then the two actors would have felt over bearing.  Likewise, I can’t imagine any other two leading males playing off one another with the same intensity.  The planets aligned for this one.

If you haven’t seen it, then what are you waiting for?  If you have, then put it on again and remind yourself just what can happen when great actors do a great story.


Viewing Date
Monday, 7th September 2015


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The Ladykillers (2004)

After last nights viewing escapade, one needed something a little lighter, something that didn’t require too much thinking and would lift the spirits with a chortle or two.   Interestingly this particular movie also stars

J.K. Simmons doing what he does best; off beat personality.   So with that, the 2004 remake, The Ladykillers, was chosen.

The setup of this movie is a good old fashioned heist, involving 5 criminals of varying skill sets, camped out in an old ladies basement as they tunnel their way through to the local casino to rid them of $1.6M.   Naturally, the old lady suspects and therefore must be dealt with for fear of jeopardizing the whole plan.

Tom Hanks plays the Professor, the ring leader who assembles the group and for the large part does all the talking and planning.  He talks in a very verbose, yet succinct, tone, painting a whole landscape with each sentence.  I loved this articulation and found it most amusing. 

Professor: Yes, I must confess. I often find myself more at home in these ancient volumes than I do in the hustle-bustle of the modern world. To me, paradoxically, the literature of the so-called “dead tongues” holds more currency than this morning’s newspaper. In these books, in these volumes, there is the accumulated wisdom of mankind, which succors me when the day is hard and the night lonely and long.

Irma P. Hall plays the old, church going, god fearing black lady who is just a riot to watch as she innocently bumps into the truth.   She is a widow who sits under her late husbands portrait hanging above the fireplace telling him all about the events of the day.   Keep an eye out for this picture, as it changes expressions throughout depending on time (a technique seen in

Young Frankenstein).

J.K. Simmons as noted earlier, plays a wonderfully comedic bomb expert who is suffers Irritable Bowl Syndrome with impeccable timing.   Simmons reminds me of the great Stephen Tobolowsky who can also create a unique off-the-wall character each and every time without ever overlapping.

We also have one of the younger Wayans brothers, Marlon Wayans doing an excellent job of providing, what has to be said, the majority of the cursing.  But done in a wonderful way.   Keep an eye out for a particular funny scene in a Waffle Hut when he is proclaiming “you brought your bitch to the waffle hut?”.

The Ladykillers is from the director/writer brother duo the Coen’s.  They do a fantastic job of capturing the humour and wit from the original 1955 Alec Guinness version.  I recall seeing that one Sunday afternoon, when the BBC would screen the black’n’white movies when I was but a young lad.

Special attention should be made to the soundtrack of this movie.  Like the earlier Coen outing, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, this movie is also blessed with a rich, toe-tapping soundtrack that is weaved throughout the story to bring each situation to life.  Very gospel in nature, with a dash of ‘hippity hop’ music thrown in.

This is too beautiful a movie to give away any spoilers, but this movie has a definitely repeat-ability to it and you will find yourself coming back to it as they years roll by.

Viewing Date
Sunday, 6th September 2015


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Viva Las Vegas (1964)

Okay so let us get this out of the way quickly, you don’t watch an Elvis Presley movie for its in-depth, multi-dimensional story line.  If you even attempt to rate or review an Elvis movie on its story, then you have already missed the point of the King’s musical escapade.

Long before Michael Jackson raised the bar with his highly produced mini-movies with his music videos (Thriller, Smooth Criminal etc), Elvis was doing it 30 years earlier.

An Elvis movie is essentially just a string of music videos weaved together with a very thin narrative that simply gets us from one musical number to the next.

Viva Las Vegas is no different, except this time, set in the world of race car driving in the Nevada desert.  

Ann-Margret is his leading lady who simply steals the show from our Elvis without him putting up any resistance.  He knows he is out ranked and defers screen time to her.


Not only can she sing, but she can dance with a sexiness that I am sure skirted the censors of the mid sixties.  The lady oozes sexual sensuality without showing too much or resorting to cheap tricks.  Pure class.

This was an unusual setup for Elvis movies – the leading lady was always the very feminine, disarmed and vulnerable that he would win over and they would fall in love with him.  Ann-Margret broke that mold. 

For the number, If you think i don’t need you, keep an eye on Ann-Margret’s eyes when Elvis comes into the room with a guitar trying to woo her.  Natural response with a knowing that Elvis was really trying to woo his leading lady and she wasn’t going to make it easy for him.

You can see why Elvis fell for Ann-Margret so hard, as this was the movie their affair started that continued for a year or so, then they became life long friends.  It is rumored Elvis would often phone Ann-Margret seeking her advice on all manners of things right up to his death.  She referred to Elvis as her soul mate.

Viva Las Vegas delivers on some wonderful classic set pieces, including Yellow Rose of Texas, Lady Loves Him, C’mon Everybody and of course Viva Las Vegas.  All in all there is 12 musical numbers dotted throughout.

A highly enjoyable Elvis movie and one that can be thrown on in the background for the series of musical tracks.


Viewing Date
Thursday, 3rd September 2015

8 out of 10

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Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

John Cusack in one of his finest and career defining roles.  Martin Blank is a professional killer, a fact he never actually hides from anyone, yet people think it is so outlandish they don’t believe him.

Martin is getting tired of the hitman business, particularly after one botched kill that was meant to look like natural causes ended up with multiple bullets in the chest, he is forced to do one more to make up for that mistake.   Fellow hitman, Dan Aykroyd, is pushing Martin to join forces with him so they can form some sort of hitman guild.

Martin’s assistance, played by sister Joan Cusack, has discovered there is a 10 year reunion at his high school in Grosse Pointe but he isn’t for going, as a reunion for him is just to see how people have swelled.  Besides he has one or two skeletons in that closet that he feels better not facing, number one being his high school sweet heart Debi (Minnie Driver) who he left waiting on her prom night.

When the details of the retribution hit comes in, by lucky happenstance, it is in Grosse Pointe.  Maybe he can go to the reunion after all.

The movie centers around Martin going back into the community he abandoned 10 years ago with nay a goodbye or explanation.   Bumping into school friends, trying to make up with Debi (who is now a local radio celebrity) and of course dodging the various other hit men (and NSA agents who Dan Aykroyd has had Martin setup) that have come into the area to take the contract from him.

The humor in this movie is all about the dialogue and subtle references to his current profession while most have no clue he is telling the truth.

Dr. Oatman, please pick up, pick up! It’s Martin Blank! I, I’m standing where my, uh, living room was and it’s not here because my house is gone and it’s an Ultimart! You can never go home again, Oatman… but I guess you can shop there.

The movie has a wonderful 1980s soundtrack with classic 80s tunes framing each scene to keep reminding us that Martin is discovering these people and places after 10 years absent.

A thousand innocent people get killed every day! But a millionaire’s pet gets detonated, and you’re marked for life.

Another small amusing part of this movie, watching it nearly 20 years after it was made, is a reminder just how big technology was in the mid 90s.   Huge monitors, big laptops that were literally inches thick and a huge (not retro) clam Motorola mobile phone.

I am not going to give away any more of the plot here or the climatic ending scene as it should be discovered fresh for yourself.  

I don’t think John Cusack has ever topped this movie, even though his War Inc. was a sort of unofficial unconnected follow up to this.  Every list featuring his top movies, this one is never too far from the top, depending on the compiler of said list at the time.

Always worth revisiting from time to time. 


Viewing Date
Saturday, 29th August 2015


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Life of Brian (1979)

What more can be written about the Monty Python classic, Life of Brian?  A firm favourite in any movie aficionado’s collection that just keeps giving and as it comes up for 40 years old, shows no more sign of aging than the day it was released.

I refuse to believe there are people who do not know the story line, but just in case you have been in prison (or a remote Scottish island) with no access to civilization, then allow me to give you a quick primer.

Long story short – Brian was born at the same time as Jesus Christ and follows his life as they bump into each other.  He is often mistaken for the Messiah through out his life.   All the major incidents of Big J’s life, is seen through the eyes of Brian and how he copes with the unwanted attention.

He’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy! Now, piss off!

The amount of lines this movie gifted to the English speaking western world that have now become part of our culture is immeasurable.  All 6 Pythons (playing 40 characters between them) have classic lines with no real stand out one.  They are all on top form.

I say you are Lord, and I should know. I’ve followed a few.

The movie was not without its critics. Even before it was released, it was lobbied hard by the various Christian groups who thought it was a complete a-front to their beliefs.  When the movie was finally released, there was lots of demonstrations and the Pythons found themselves in a whole series of interviews defending their right to express their beliefs.

John Cleese once remarked that they had done the Christian groups a favor “We’ve brought them all together for the first time in 2000 years!“.  I have always believed a strong and true believer should never fear criticism but welcome it.  Movies are designed to challenge the wisdom of the day, provoke debate and open peoples minds to other possibilities.

In addition to the comedic setups and cleverly scripted word play, the movie gave the world the excellent Eric Idle song, ‘Always look on the bright side of life’, as he was nailed up on the cross, trying to convince Brian who has been mistaken for Big J yet again, shouldn’t worry too much, and should always look on the bright side.  Genius.

Takes a hardened critic not to come away humming the tune.  My heart goes out to those that can’t – you are taking life way too seriously.

Naturally the problem with ‘Life of Brian’, is that it has you reaching for that other Python classic, ‘Holy Grail’.  Expect that to pop up here soon.


Viewing Date
Wednesday, 26th August 2015


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She’s Funny That Way (2015)

Every so often a gem of a movie comes along that comes out of nowhere that completely surprises you and makes you wonder how you missed the publicity for it in the first place when it was released.

She’s Funny That Way is what I would call a comedy farce. A movie that builds on its seemingly unrelated characters that slowly have their lives intertwined after various comedic encounters.

Owen Wilson plays the main lead, a theater producer, who has a weakness for escorts.   After spending an evening with them, he offers them $30,000 to turn their backs on escorting and to pursue their dreams.   Now why specifically $30,000 is never explained.

We see this from the eyes of British actress, Imogen Poots, who does a wonderful New York accent explaining she is using escorting as a way to make ends meet while she attempts to break into acting.  

Rhys Ifans is the main lead in the new west end play, who also has a weakness for the call girls, while attempting to relive a magical affair with Wilson’s wife who comes to star in the production.

Jennifer Aniston plays a therapist (rather fat faced) who manages to link a lot of the characters together through both her patients and her boyfriend played by 

Will Forte.

As the pace moves on, the outlandish scenes stack on top of one another, adding further complexity between the characters as they weave a web of deceit and misdirection.   Naturally, many women to whom he has offered redemption to starts to pop up.  Brilliant.

The comedy of this style of movie is perfectly delivered, with the right level of witty one-liners that don’t feel at all strained and keeping within in the situational setup.

Keep your eyes open for Cybill Shepherd who pops up as the down trodden mother of our aspiring lead actress.  You may find yourself shouting oooh oooh that is ….

I am not usually a fan of Owen Wilson, but he keeps this role grounded, with a genuine surprise and wit as his life begins to unfold before him. 

This sort of movie is straight out of the Woody Allen playbook, complete with the New York back drop, but instead executed to perfection by Peter Bogdanovich.   

Watch it, with a glass of red wine, and be prepared to be surprised.


Viewing Date
Monday, 24th August 2015


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