Despite the Falling Snow (2016)

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Winter is coming. So my thoughts naturally gravitate to films whose titles reflect grim weather. Political and otherwise … Shamim Sarif adapted his own Cold War novel which has a parallel narrative structure. In 1992 Alexander Ivanov or Sasha (Charles Dance) is living in NYC, a long-time exile from Russia where he was part of the political elite. His artist niece Lauren  (Rebecca Ferguson) lives with him, unaware of his past. Her portrait of her late aunt Katya stirs memories. Between 1959 and 1961 we learn of his romance (he’s played by Sam Reid) with Katya (also Ferguson) a Russian woman turned American agent who was using him for his access to arms secrets and who married him. She had sworn revenge on the Stalinist regime that saw her parents murdered. Her boyfriend Misha (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) helps her but then she really falls in love with Sasha and persuades him to defect with her … In 1992 Lauren wants to go to Moscow for an exhibition and a woman journalist Marina (Antje Traue) with whom she begins having sex is revealed to have a connection to her late aunt’s espionage activities, fully revealed when Sasha visits and Misha (Anthony Head) crawls out of the woodwork. Sasha learns what really happens to his lost love. This starts convincingly, with Sasha’s Cold War defection to the US, but overall the tension in the drama isn’t especially well handled and some of the intimate scenes are not put over well by the cast. Bizarrely, Dance and Head resemble the actors playing each other’s younger selves, which kills the drama. A promising story that seems like something from an entirely different age – until you start listening to the news.

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Rumble Fish (1983)

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If you could have written one book in your life and you had a choice out of everything what would it be? I’ll nail my colours here and say I would love to have been Susie Hinton and wish that I was capable of writing something so plaintively romantic and atmospheric and attracting Francis Ford Coppola to the camera when it came to adapting it for the screen. (Isn’t it better to have written a wonderful, meaningful, heartfelt book that is so small it fits in your pocket and everyone has read at an important time in their lives than a large tome nobody has?) He shot this back to back with The Outsiders, that other great short novel she wrote. And it all happened because her fans at a Fresno school petitioned Coppola to do it. It’s the story of smalltown Oklahoma teenage gangs. Rusty James (Matt Dillon) leads one of them. He lives with his drunkard dad (Dennis Hopper) and he’s not too smart. He worships his absent older brother, The Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke channeling Albert Camus) who’s a pretty legendary guy around these parts, at least when gangs ruled the roost and he ruled the gangs. Rusty James breaks his brother’s anti-rumble pact, the Motorcycle Boy reappears and everything changes … A beautiful, stately, painterly work  (by Stephen H. Burum) in monochrome – with the exception of those colourful Siamese fighting fish! – when all the actors were young and oh so achingly beautiful (with the obvious exceptions of Hopper and trash star William Smith). This is one of those films you either get or you don’t. With an homage to Penrod, an amazingly choreographed fight scene or two, a love story with Diane Lane and a radical score by Stewart Copeland, there’s only one thing left to say:  The Motorcycle Boy Reigns.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

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Poor Tom Cruise. He is one hell of an actor and in what is still probably his greatest performance in Born of the Fourth of July he found himself in a wheelchair-off against Daniel Day-Lewis. (Don’t try to tell me DDL has never given a crap performance – I’ve seen Nine, for Pete’s sake.) Mind you, he came back a decade later with a stunner of abject nastiness in Magnolia. So that’s the Oscar noms taken care of for now. But he is one hell of an auteur – as star and producer he has hooked up with some of the smartest people around, which means he’s pretty smart too. And he knows how to indulge what used to be called the cinema of attractions in any analysis of the early days of the business:  thrill a minute, sensation-building, audience-pleasing. He is a properly savvy star with charisma to burn and I love pretty much everything he does. In the fourth installment of the TV reboot, he makes the best episode since the first one (IMHO) and starts by breaking out of a prison in Moscow, gets blamed for blowing up the Kremlin when a competitor rides the coat-tails of his op and then the Secretary of the IMF (and I don’t mean Christine Lagarde) gets offed in front of him … so he’s disavowed.  It all gets nuclear and since Cruise is famous for doing most of his own stunts those of us who have vertigo have to avert our eyes when he tackles the Burj Khalifa. Gosh it’s terrific.  The way the team is pulled together (Paula Patton, great, Simon Pegg, a bit WTF?, Jeremy Renner, fairly suspect) is efficient, the trickery is marvellous and Brad Bird directs in super kinetic style as you’d expect from a man made in animation.The screenplay by Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec is a marvel of economy and they provide really good performing opportunities for both of the main women (Lea Seydoux is one hell of a villain). I love this series and what is even better for us is that episode 5 is probably the best of the lot with a truly promising ending to an endlessly Bond-like scenario … If you’re interested in reading about Cruise as action hero I’ve written a series of articles about his collaborations with screenwriting legend Robert Towne for Creative Screenwriting magazine. They can be found starting here:  http://creativescreenwriting.com/mission-impossible-surprising-depths.