How to Steal a Million (1966)

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You should be in jail and I should be in bed. Super stylish Sixties Art Nouveau heist comedy about a painting forger Bonnet (Hugh Griffiths) whose daughter Nicole (Audrey Hepburn) needs to steal back a famous but fake statue (by her grandfather) that he’s loaned to an art museum and does it with the aid of a thief Simon Dermott (Peter O’Toole) –  who’s actually a private detective investigating this sort of thing.   Harry Kurnitz adapted the 1962  story Venus Rising from a collection about art forgeries by George Bradshaw and despite its overlength it coasts on the sheerly delightful charm of the leads and some very sparky dialogue. Charles Boyer has a blast as O’Toole’s boss and you’ll recognise the chief security guard at the museum Jacques Marin because he played the chief of police in Hepburn’s earlier Parisian comedy thriller, Charade. Eli Wallach is an industrialist who feigns romantic interest in Hepburn to get at her grandfather’s work and there’s an outstanding score by John Williams as well as to-die-for production design. Givenchy dressed Hepburn – mais quoi d’neuf? Directed by William Wyler reunited with Hepburn 13 years after Roman Holiday. Bliss.

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Baby Driver (2017)

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Ansel Elgort is the super speedy getaway driver with tinnitus and a soundtrack to beat the band as he works his way through a debt to heist mastermind Kevin Spacey and there’s the One Last Job that must be carried out. How much you like this depends on your identification with the leading man (it took me a while since I don’t like the actor);  your tolerance for minimal characterisation but some snappy one-liners (even if you can’t comprehend the poor delivery of one Jamie Foxx); the use of a sub-Freudian scenario (aspiring singer Mom was killed in a car crash and love interest Debora sings B-a-b-y when he first sees her in a diner);  and your capacity to take a story that more or less falls apart in a big-budget Kenneth Anger dream blowout (weelllllll……!!!) at the conclusion. Jon Hamm is the psycho banker turned Satanic cokehead robber but that’s as much development as you’ll find here in this fabulously OTT car chase of a movie from Edgar Wright who’s finally almost living up to expectations and even aspires to doing a Jacques Demy in those street scenes in this musical wannabe. Makes me want to see The Driver all over again and you can’t say fairer than that.

  1. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – ‘Bellbottoms’
  2. Bob & Earl – ‘Harlem Shuffle’
  3. Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers – ‘Egyptian Reggae’
  4. Googie Rene – ‘Smokey Joe’s La La’
  5. The Beach Boys – ‘Let’s Go Away For Awhile’
  6. Carla Thomas – ‘B-A-B-Y’
  7. Kashmere Stage Band – ‘Kashmere’
  8. Dave Brubeck – ‘Unsquare Dance’
  9. The Damned – ‘Neat Neat Neat’
  10. The Commodores – ‘Easy (Single Version)’
  11. T. Rex – ‘Debora’
  12. Beck – ‘Debra’
  13. Incredible Bongo Band – ‘Bongolia’
  14. The Detroit Emeralds – ‘Baby Let Me Take You (in My Arms)’
  15. Alexis Korner – ‘Early In The Morning’
  16. David McCallum – ‘The Edge’
  17. Martha and the Vandellas – ‘Nowhere To Run’
  18. The Button Down Brass – ‘Tequila’
  19. Sam & Dave – ‘When Something Is Wrong With My Baby’
  20. Brenda Holloway – ‘Every Little Bit Hurts’
  21. Blur – ‘Intermission’
  22. Focus – ‘Hocus Pocus (Original Single Version)’
  23. Golden Earring – ‘Radar Love (1973 Single Edit)’
  24. Barry White – ‘Never, Never Gone Give Ya Up’
  25. Young MC – ‘Know How’
  26. Queen – ‘Brighton Rock’
  27. Sky Ferreira – ‘Easy’
  28. Simon & Garfunkel – ‘Baby Driver’
  29. Kid Koala – ‘Was He Slow (Credit Roll Version)’
  30. Danger Mouse (featuring Run The Jewels and Big Boi) – ‘Chase Me’

Hell or High Water (2016)

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Call it white man’s intuition.  Taylor (Sicario) Sheridan writes a great screenplay so this was bound to be thrilling one way or another. Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) are brothers carrying out bank heists in west Texas to retrieve the family land, in foreclosure by the local bank two weeks after their Mom’s death. Tanner’s not long out of prison, Toby is divorced and wanting to do right by his sons:  he’s found oil on the property so he knows it’s crucial to get the ownership in order and there’s no way out now he’s lost his job and is behind in child support. Tanner carries out a third robbery after Toby is befriended by a waitress in a nearby diner and it’s the first bank to have CCTV that works. Texas Ranger Marcus (Jeff Bridges) who’s mere weeks from retirement gets the bit between his teeth and decides to take them down if he can figure out who they are by a simple method of deduction as the brothers rob the remaining banks in the chain – to repay the same bank  … Crafty, wise, mordantly funny and unbearably tense, this has two parallel male friendships – Marcus’s partner Indian-Mexican Alberto (Gil Birmingham) is the target of his ongoing race jokes –  winding around each other like DNA. This contemporary western has a great socio-political background (mass repossessions after the 2008 crash) and a wonderful setting:  look at those empty roads and desert and big skies. All four are convincing in their acutely interesting roles, everyone with something to lose and clearly defined by both action and dialogue. It reminds me of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, another outing with Bridges but with him on the other side of the law four decades later. It asks questions about right and wrong and family and friendship and being a western it must have a logical conclusion – with a shootout. And then some. Brilliantly balanced storytelling that’s really well directed by David (Starred Up) Mackenzie, a Brit who clearly relished being let loose in all that big scenery.

GoodFellas (1990)

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As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster. Martin Scorsese’s astonishing portrait of Sicilian-Irish Henry Hill’s 25 year rise through the ranks of Italian-American hoodlums – and his eventual fall – is re-released this month and it still exerts a visceral thrill. Between Coppola and Scorsese we have a reference book on this topic and so many of the tropes and lingo of this subculture are common parlance thanks to them. Nicholas  Pileggi adapted his book Wiseguy (with Scorsese) and with an exegesis on true crime and punishment, violence,  family, honour and dishonour, cooking, drugs and horrible taste,  it has a panoramic sweep we pretty much take for granted. Not for nothing did some of the cast become mainstays of The Sopranos, which wouldn’t exist without this. However it is not the sociological examination we think it was:  it’s a film of no particular depth or self-knowledge, not if we’re depending on Henry’s voiceover. Instead it’s a stylish compendium of cinematic vocabulary, with flourishes influenced by everyone from Anger to Visconti, boasting a particularly nice tribute to The Great Train Robbery in the closing moments. And there are a lot of great, queasy moments here, with gore to spare:  Joe Pesci has the lion’s share as the psychopath Tommy DeVito; Paul Sorvino as the main guy, Paulie Cicero;  and Catherine Scorsese has some nice bits as Tommy’s mom, a keen amateur painter; De Niro is good as Jimmy Conway, the other Sicilian-Irish guy who can never be truly Mafia; Lorraine Bracco is superb as the whining Jewish wife who develops a taste for cocaine; and Ray Liotta could never be better than here, even if he’ll never be a made man. A funny and scarifying tour de force of surfaces, textures and moviemaking.

The War Wagon (1967)

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Burt Kennedy is a fairly unusual figure in western movie history – a gifted screenwriter who became a very interesting filmmaker specialising in humorous genre workouts, brilliant at managing and sustaining a mocking tone and creating quite original roles for women.  He didn’t exactly turn western tropes inside out but he was very good at playing with characters and situations in tongue-in-cheek fashion to subtly question their generic arrangement. Clair Huffaker adapted his novel Badman for this parodic outing. John Wayne produced it through his own company, Batjac, and rumours persist that he didn’t much like the end result. He teams up with Kirk Douglas, former gun for hire to villain Bruce Cabot, who ensured Wayne was put in prison for 3 years and took his land which has been a literal goldmine. Wayne wants to carry out a heist on the titular wagon of gold which is armed with a Gatling gun so he assembles a motley crew and intends an explosive takeover. Naturally, there are complications. The fun en route includes a great barroom brawl involving wisecracking cardshark Indian, Howard Keel; and there’s a nice turn from Joanna Barnes (almost the wicked stepmom in The Parent Trap) as poker dealer Lola.  Wayne and Douglas make a good, edgy buddy team and there’s always a fear that they’ll wind up killing each other as they trade taunts about guns and gals. They had previously starred together in Cast a Giant Shadow and In Harm’s Way. Some reference guides list Robert Walker in the talented ensemble but as he’d been killed by his psychiatrist 15 years earlier, it’s actually his lookalike son, Robert Walker Jr.  Good,laid back, funny actioner.

Gambit (1966)

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Michael Caine’s a Cockney burglar who spots the uncanny likeness between Eurasian showgirl Shirley MacLaine and the late lamented young wife of the world’s wealthiest man, Herbert Lom and sees the potential for robbing a priceless work of art. There’s roleplaying, misunderstandings and the fact that MacLaine has ideas of her own. This is a lot of fun but the story twists are telegraphed too quickly if you’re looking hard enough although it’s well constructed:  we see everything played out in the first 20 minutes then Caine reveals that’s how it should go.  Then it all happens – for real. Which is when it gets complicated. The principal cast play it  beautifully, however, timing the comedy with expert precision and the heist when it happens is pretty good. Adapted from Sidney Carroll’s novel by Jack Davies and Alvin Sargent and directed by Ronald Neame. The gleaming cinematography is by Clifford Stine and Maurice Jarre did the score.

The Walk (2015)

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140 feet. A walk of pure terror and joy. What Philippe Petit did in 1974 was literally a high-wire act, a dance of death between the Twin Towers. Once he saw the photograph of them, he knew he had to do it. The first part of the film is amazingly clunky considering the origins – Robert Zemeckis is a world-class storyteller but the combination of piece-to-camera and voiceover narration with this Pinocchio-esque story of a street performer (Joseph Gordon-Levitt replete with Frawnch accent) mentored by Uncle Rudy (Sir Ben Kingsley, as he insists upon being called – so be it!) is Awkward. The real action – still with the strange narrative devices – is the caper-heist nature of the preparation in NYC:  assembling a team, getting into the buildings, the donning of disguise, the criminal acts necessary to perform this magical act or ‘coup’ as Philippe calls it. One of the great ways to put across story in cinema is process – showing us something that we would otherwise know little about, and how precisely it can be done. This replicates what we already know from Man On Wire, the documentary that also uses Petit’s memoir and boasts Petit himself in the role of narrator.  The difference here is budgetary and visionary – because ultimately we accompany him not just to the edge of the Towers but across the air that separates them – and it is sweat-inducing stuff. He goes from South to North – and then – turns back. And lies down. And comes face to face with a curious seagull. It is just extraordinary and more than compensates for the shortcomings in what precedes it. We are all on the high wire. And it seems impossible, crazy, a hallucination, although we have photographs to prove that it took place and people watched it, albeit from very far away, beneath him on the streets. There were just 140 feet separating the North and South Towers and now that they are no longer there this seems … imaginary, the dream of a madman, a matter of faith. This was a miracle that really happened. Religions have been built on less.

The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)

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Some films just take you back in a swoon of nostalgia for a time you couldn’t possibly have known but maybe you’d sniffed once upon a time. Bank clerk Holland (Alec Guinness) dreams of the good life and we meet him in Rio, regaling the assembled audience about his cunning plan (and watch for Audrey Hepburn in an early walk-on) to escape the dull life he used to lead. He and Pendlebury (Stanley Holloway) use the latter’s smelting gear to forge gold bullion into Eiffel Tower souvenir paperweights which they have to smuggle back to London and hire Lackery (Sid James) and Shorty (Alfie Bass) to help carry out the scheme. This is one of the best Ealing comedies and embodies the term droll. Those names read like the comfort blanket of the shipping forecast, the T.E.B. Clarke script parodies The Blue Lamp – watch that final chase! – and he won an Academy Award for his trouble. He had done research for bank robberies when writing Pool of London and the Bank of England set up a special committee as to how best it could be achieved! Edited by Seth Holt and directed by Charlie Crichton, this was shot by the late great Douglas Slocombe in a London that still looks bombed-out. (If you’re really sharp you’ll spot little James Fox in a shot). For when you need a warm bath. Love it.

Point Break (1991)

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Roger Ebert was right about pretty much every film he reviewed. He said of this that it was about ‘men of thought who choose action as a way of expressing their beliefs.’ It is a sensational film in the best sense – a film about sensation and visceral feeling and action and doing and excitement and adrenaline. Quarterback Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) is enjoined by FBI colleague Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey) to infiltrate a surfer gang he suspects of masterminding a series of bank heists, calling themselves The Ex-Presidents. They are led by the charismatic Bodhi Zapha (Patrick Swayze) whose ex Tyler (Lori Petty) proves the necessary introduction, rescuing Johnny from drowning then teaching him to surf. Bodhi’s belief system and bucking the establishment becomes a very attractive philosophy and Johnny is drawn in. This is one of the great Nineties films, directed at warp speed by the wonderful Kathryn Bigelow from a screenplay by W. Peter Iliff (sharing a story credit with Rick King) and it’s a total rush, from start to heartbreaking finish with an ending out of Dirty Harry. One of the great theatrical experiences. Not so much a film as a way of life. Surf’s up.

Harry and Walter Go To New York (1976)

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I will admit this true thing:  I have never managed to get through more than the first 20 minutes of The Sting. Something about the stultifying production design. Or the story. Or the characters. Don’t know. I try and fail, oh, maybe once a decade. But its success bred imitators and this was one of them. Admittedly I love Elliott Gould, that much you know.  And he’s directed by Mark Rydell, who did the dirty on him in The Long Goodbye. James Caan, sheesh, maybe I love him too: I always felt sorry for him after witnessing his horrifying death at the toll booth (Godfather alert). They’re two not very impressive vaudevillians who get into cracking safes and mastermind Michael Caine has an idea… Diane Keaton, looking quite odd (the hairdos emphasise the down-sloping eyes) and Carol Kane and Lesley Ann Warren (playing odd to the hilt) round out the cast but it’s a bit of a slog. Even the stage antics aren’t that hot. It’s not awful, but … maybe it’s all that brown. Caine is the only one who looks truly comfortable, IMHO. The Sting is on some channel today. I’m going to give it another go. Maybe. Or the FA Cup Final….