Wednesday 28 March 2018


After stealing a car and shooting a police officer, small time crook Jesse (Richard Gere) tries to convince French student Monica (Valerie Kaprisky) to abandon her future and start a new life with him in Mexico. Hoping to conceal who he really is from Monica, Jesse continues to lie, cheat and steal to fund their escape, all the while with the police hot on his trail.

With its charismatic leading man and stylish visuals, you could be understandably concerned that Jim McBride's Breathless might be nothing more than an Americanised remake of the French New Wave classic; but fear not, as there's some real substance to this under-appreciated gem. That's largely thanks to the performance of Richard Gere, still working his way up to the height of his star power (this was the capper to his one, two, three punch after American Gigolo and An Officer and a Gentleman) and revelling in the opportunity to play an anti-hero with real depth. As Silver Surfer obsessed Jesse, Gere is able to hustle his way through life, hook up with the beautiful French student Monica and evade the authorities without breaking too much of a sweat, figuratively. That's because at its heart, this sun drenched LA odyssey is a sexy, 'beads of sweat on a shirtless chest with a bleeding heart tattoo' kind of movie, and plays to its film soleil strengths at every given opportunity.

If you're unfamiliar with film soleil, it's best categorised as an update on the well-worn film noir genre, taking in beautiful, sun soaked vistas with quite often a boy and a girl on the run at its centre. Breathless may not be as recognised as David Lynch's Wild at Heart or Dennis Hopper's The Hot Spot, but it's a key film in that run of films that appeared in the 80s and 90s. This film shares the almost artificially hazy, dreamlike sunsets and outrageous wardrobe of some of its genre-mates, but although there is a lot of style on show, it would be wrong to consider it style over substance.

The basic plot of Breathless may concern Jesse's attempts to avoid incarceration and to cross the border to Mexico, but there's long scenes where little else happens except Gere and Kaprisky play cat and mouse flirting games in a hotel room, and these are as equally engrossing. It's the chemistry between these two that not only sells the romance, but the raw sexual power and the allure of the film. Special praise should be given to Kaprisky, who at only 20 years old at the time of production, puts in a star making turn against the established Gere. She ultimately opted to continue her career in her native France, but her relative obscurity only helps to make her character of Monica stand out all the more. It's also worth noting that McBride went on to direct The Big Easy and the Jerry Lee Lewis biopic Great Balls of Fire, so he's clearly a director able to project a particular style to all of his work. His career took a down turn in the 90s, but this will be the film he is remembered for, and not just because of its relationship to its French older brother.

1960's Breathless will always be heralded as the more important film, but director Jim McBride should be commended for doing something new with the set up. Okay, so a guy and a girl on the run is a familiar tale, but I've never seen LA look like this before (it's rare that a wall is passed without some exotic fresco painted on it), and as a real rock and roll rebel, I've never seen Gere this compelling a screen presence before. For fans of hip, sexy road movies, this is a must.


Friday 23 March 2018


After admitting to the murder of his boss, Misumi (Yakusho Koji) is now facing the death penalty. But his lawyer, Shigemori (Fukuyama Masaharu), unable to find a motive for the crime, begins to dig deeper and uncover a number of factors that raise doubts about the event as described. Kore-Eda Hirokazu's new film The Third Murder is now in cinemas.

The film starts by showing us the murder of Misumi's boss, at night, down by the riverside, first bludgeoned over the head and then his body set on fire. The film then spends the remainder of its running time making us question what we saw, and asking us to work out why the crime was committed. Misumi, previously convicted of a murder in his youth, confesses and admits culpability for the crime, but without an understanding as to why he would want to commit this murder, his lawyer decides to examine the case and everyone involved to see if there is a way to get his client's presumed sentence reduced.

At face value, the murder at the centre of this film isn't the most thrilling of set ups. All the evidence is plain to see, and with a man admitting to the crime, why would his lawyer argue with what is put in front of him? It is this question that drives the film and raises more questions about the legal system and the actual role of a lawyer in the proceedings. Is it to deliver the truth or the truth that best serves their client? Can there be or should there be a balance between justice, truth and winning? There is hesitation and manipulation from both sides, expressed creatively via the conversations Misumi and Shigemori have through the prison's reflective glass partition wall.

As the enigmatic title would suggest, there is more to this murder than first meets the eye. The film slowly builds this mystery, adding more questions involving the victim's wife and daughter, right up until its dying moments. However, if you go in expecting a gripping murder mystery you may feel short changed, as although the murder is at the centre of the film, it is the dubious legal quandaries that take up the bulk of the film's story. This is a constantly evolving narrative, the outcome of which is hard to predict or perhaps more pertinently, justify. At one point in the film when discussing the likely death penalty that faces him, Misumi asks why he should not kill a man who he thought deserved it when that is exactly what the court is proposing to do to him.

Don't go in expecting a Japanese version of Zodiac and you will find that The Third Murder is able to offer something that is rare in the crime drama; a film that is unafraid to ask important, difficult questions about its own story and the criminal justice system as a whole. It is at times a slow and ponderous tale, but it builds up layers of mystery and intrigue that, come the finale, cannot be easily answered.

Verdict 4/5

Friday 2 March 2018


The latest batch of Vestron Video titles have had their upgraded blu-ray releases this week, and first up for review is the unfairly forgotten Stephen Dorff horror, The Gate.

Left to look after the house for the weekend when their parents are away, 13 year old Glen (a ridiculously young Stephen Dorff) and his older sister Al (Christa Denton) are forced to fend off otherworldly spirits summoned by a broken orb dug up at the bottom of the garden by Glen and his best friend Terry. Manifesting themselves as all manner of creatures, Glen, Terry and Al must put their petty squabbles aside to avoid having the house, and maybe the entire world, destroyed.

When I think of Stephen Dorff, I think of the 90s heart-throb who was the villain in the first Blade film and the washed up movie star in Sofia Coppola's Somewhere. What I don't think of is the teeny, tiny, teenage poppet who appears in The Gate, a munchkin not dissimilar to a young Leonardo DiCaprio in Critters 3 or River Phoenix and Ethan Hawke in Explorers. Filmed in Canada when Dorff was just 13 years old, this was his debut movie role but still manages to show some of the laid back performance style that would define him as a movie star later on. Glen is perpetually blindsided by the events in his house, which given the believability of the effects work does make sense.

First things first, The Gate is almost objectionably 1980s. The odd "fag" insults here and there, horrendous clothing on literally everyone, and one poor girl who seems to have been the model for Cameron Diaz’s There’s Something About Mary jizz hair, presented without explanation. It’s a portrait of suburbia as a barren wasteland of fun; with identikit houses with huge lawns and nothing for the kids to do except play in the dirt, which of course is what leads the kids into trouble when they uncover a pit from hell.
It’s a bit of a slow starter, and the first couple of scares aren’t especially ground breaking (pun intended), but when it kicks into gear and shows off its effects work, The Gate is great bordering on fantastic. In a blatant pilfering of The Evil Dead’s Necronomicon incantation recordings, the film features a goofy subplot about playing a record backwards to find out how to banish the demons; but in classic The Evil Dead fashion all they manage to do is piss off some demons and speed up their ascent from hell.

One of the canniest moves this film plays is the gradual ramping up of the effects work, beginning with some dry ice and back lighting and then shifting up a gear as mini Dorff put his fingers through the eye sockets of a demon, allowing for a horrible soupy substance to flow out. Yes, this is a real treat for gore hounds who appreciate the artistry of a good effects shot, and the originality and execution of the special effects is worth commending.

The story of a young boy and his sister battling monsters from beneath is simple enough, but this film is still able to wrong foot you and provide a number of pleasant surprises. When it feels like The Gate has reached its natural end you then realise the story hasn’t even hit the hour mark yet, and then the teens head into the basement to retrieve the spell they need to close the gate (hello again, The Evil Dead) leading to a solid 40 minutes of absolute bedlam; with zombies, demonic children, even more mini orc beasties and one of the most jaw dropping special effects shots I’ve seen in a long time. It's perhaps sacrilegious to say you can afford to sacrifice a cleverly nuanced script when the entirety of your budget is up there to see in the tremendous VFX work, but this is definitely a perfect example of that happening. There are numerous moments where you’ll find yourself wanting to rewind it and watch a VFX shot again. And now you can.

The title is unremarkable, the acting is never beyond what you’d expect from a bunch of kids, there’s not much way in plot and what there is has been taken from other films; but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend The Gate to anyone with a fondness for slightly naff 80s horrors. Seriously, this is a special effects bonanza that deserves to have a bigger midnight movie following. Buy this, invite your friends around and watch their jaws hit the floor.


Special Features
- Two commentaries from the director, writer and special effects crew
- Isolated score and interview with the composers
- Modern featurettes about the making of the film
- Creature workshop
- Teaser trailer
- Theatrical trailer
- Storyboards
- behind the scenes gallery