Top Gun (1986)

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I feel the need … the need for speed! Tom Cruise sped into the stratosphere of stardom with this emblem of the Reagan-Star Wars era of geopolitics and it performed pretty much like the recruitment video (game) that it really is. With Psychology 101 as the basis for the rudimentary screenplay by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr.,  adapting a California magazine story.  Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell is sent by dint of happenstance (his better colleague quits) to the elite fighter pilot naval school. He’s dealing with daddy issues, has a great best friend and co-pilot, Goose (Anthony Edwards) and he falls for trainer Kelly McGillis. The romance is unbelievable, Goose dies in a flatspin – not Maverick’s fault, whew! – and gurning Aryan Val Kilmer is the Iceman who can. It looks great, the stunts are fabulous and the songs are still famous with a soundtrack embedded in our collective brain but this gets stranger by the year! Directed by the late Tony Scott.

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Bond of Fear (1956)

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Smart little British B movie starring Irish-born stalwart Dermot Walsh as the man taking Land Rover and caravan on holiday from Birmingham to the South of France but he never gets there because he and his wife and kids are hijacked by Dewar (Canadian John Colicos) who’s just murdered a policeman. The unlikely scenario of this middle class family hitting the road for Dover port and a crazed killer in the caravan holding them hostage is well measured with police checkpoints proving a test for Walsh as he has to lie while his son has a gun held to his head in the caravan. An indignant hitch hiker provides a particularly good scene and there’s plenty of tension when the little boy Michael (Anthony Pavey) tries to defend his dad. It all comes to a head at Dover – so they never make it to France after all. Shot mostly at Nettlefold Studios at Walton-on-Thames (another to add to my list of British outfits) and around the burbs of Southern England, this looks pretty smart (courtesy of Monty Berman and operator Desmond Davis, a future director) and has an interesting soundtrack (an uncredited Stanley Black.)  Walsh had made his mark on the Dublin stage following a few years studying law at University College Dublin. He was discovered by Rank and had good roles in films like Hungry Hill. After a brief return to the stage he spent most of the 50s doing movies like this and is best remembered for TV’s Richard the Lionheart. He wrote a play and produced several works in the theatre. He is the father of the actress Elisabeth Dermot Walsh. He died in 2002. Digby Wolfe’s story was adapted by horror director and writer John Gilling with additional scenes provided by Norman Hudis; and directed by Henry Cass, who made one of my favourite British movies, The Glass Mountain. Not chopped liver.

The Goob (2014)

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Guy Myhill’s Fenland drama is brutal stuff. It’s a long hot summer for Goob (Liam Walpole) who arrives home to find Mum (Sienna Guillory) shacked up at a transport cafe with ugly violent stock racing bully Gene (Sean Harris) and he has to grow up bloody fast. A gay cousin who likes to dance and cross-dress and a lovely foreign fruit picker create diversions and ultimately obstructions and Goob has to choose sides in a dangerous household that has already seen off his brother following a prank gone wrong. This is an intelligent story of violent sordid lowlifes with limited ambitions and worldviews and while convincingly and even poetically evoked at times it’s a tough watch. Guillory’s willing subjugation is hard to take while son Goob is the collateral damage. Harris, one of the least attractive individuals ever to grace a screen, is all too realistic; and the masturbation and sex scenes are somewhat de trop, as Celeste Holm might have said. Sometimes some things are best left … imagined. Spare and affecting with some really good faces inhabiting a fascinating landscape, beautifully captured in shimmering golden hour light, a new approach to British social realism.

Big Jake (1971)

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This was Maureen O’Hara’s third film with director George Sherman and her fifth and final with John Wayne. After the first 20 minutes we don’t see her again! She’s the grandmother and wealthy matriarch of a family of sons whose father the titular Jake she booted out ten years earlier (possibly due to his liking for the opposite sex). A gang led by evil Richard Boone has targeted the ranch, killing and crippling ten of them and taking Little Jake (Ethan Wayne, Wayne’s own son), the grandson Jake has never met. She determines that the rescue mission “needs an extremely harsh and unpleasant kind of man” so summons her ex.  He argues with his sons (his own, Patrick Wayne and Robert Mitchum’s, Chris – this really is a family affair) about how to go about it and takes off with his mule and dog and Indian (Bruce Cabot) and has to rescue them from an ambush when their cars  expose them to the little boy’s captors. Set in 1909, this is a motorised western! The hunt takes them into Mexico where a final shootout leaves a lot of people dead. It’s written by Harry and Rita Fink, responsible for Dirty Harry. They would write Cahill US Marshall for Wayne a couple of years later. This is far from the worst of late Wayne, the comedy is fun (a running joke is that everyone thinks Jake is dead), the style is winning, it’s marvellously shot (William Clothier), Elmer Bernstein’s score isn’t classic  but you’ll recognise some riffs he borrowed (and they’re not even his own) and the motorcycle stunts are really something. Watch out for singer Bobby (Blue Velvet) Vinton as one of Jake’s boys. And as for the dog … fantastic.

The History Boys (2006)

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Nicholas Hytner directed Alan Bennett’s play at the National Theatre where it was a critical and popular hit. He took it to the big screen with some of the stage cast. It’s the story of a group of sixth formers at grammar school who need coaching to get through their Oxbridge exams. A new Cambridge grad Irwin (Stephen Campbell Moore) said to be based on Niall Ferguson is brought in to enhance their chances. He has a style that clashes with that of camp eccentric Richard Griffiths, who has them learn endlessly quotable poems and perform songs and movie scenes; and traditional Frances de la Tour. The boys are a racial and sexual mix. They include a range of young acting talent, Dominic Cooper, Russell Tovey and James Corden among them. Their path to success is paved with difficulty and includes a day trip to a monastery burned out by Henry VIII who Irwin likens to Stalin and Thatcher. An interesting sojourn, definitely, but not cinematically great.

The Kids Are Alright (2010)

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It’s not an especially new dilemma not to know your real father – a friend of mine did a genealogical survey in Ireland c18 years ago and discovered that more than 20% of legitimate children in the Republic were not born to the head of household (and obviously didn’t know … national incest alert!) And in these days of alternative families and soaring rates of illegitimacy, who knows who anyone is without a DNA test?!  When restless teen son Laser (Josh Hutcherson) of Lesbian moms – control freak doc Nic (Annette Bening) and flaky gardener Jules (Julianne Moore) – goes looking for the sperm donor who gave them their family, he’s under 18 so has to get older sister Joni (Mia Wasikowska) to do the deed. They find Paul (Mark Ruffalo) a genial, bohemian restaurateur who wants more involvement with them.  The underlying tensions in the domestic unit are raised. Issues of parenthood, family life, the role of the unknown father, marital compromise, mismatched unequal spouses, sex with the (non-)ex, teenage experience and growing pains are dealt with expertly and humorously by admirable writer/director Lisa Cholodenko (co-written with Stuart Blumberg). She has made some very smart contemporary comic dramas: High Art and particularly Laurel Canyon. Part of this narrative was based on her own story:  she shares her life with Wendy Melvoin, of the duo Wendy & Lisa who were Prince’s collaborators at the height of his 80s superstardom with the Revolution (they co-wrote Sometimes It Snows in April. Sob). This is spectacularly well cast and performed with not a duff or inauthentic moment. And amongst other things, we find out why Lesbians enjoy watching gay (male) porn … TMI?  A very modern story.

The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968)

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Made at the height of the anti-censorship era this soft perv film from former cinematographer Jack Cardiff illustrates just how daft some 60s films were, erotic potential notwithstanding. Wifey cyclist Marianne Faithfull (pre-junk) rides off to see Alain Delon – well, wouldn’t you? The scene where he unzips her leather outfit … is matched only by the one where his genitals are concealed by a large bouquet of roses.He’s described here as ‘Typical Swiss. Despises German thought but exploits it.’ There are some exceedingly portentous ‘thought sequences’ written by Gillian Freeman, who was responsible for that other paean to motorsickle fetishism, The Leather Boys. Some great orgasmic hallucinogenic photography has the effect of sinking into a lava lamp.Produced by Ronan O’Rahilly who founded Radio Caroline and persuaded George Lazenby to stop doing Bond movies after the greatest one ever, OHMSS. As you do.