This is going to sound really wanky and pretentious but I need to disclose it in order to explain the style of this week’s column; I got an e-mail recently, regarding my Die Hard 4.0 and Knocked Up reviews. They were basically saying they loved that the reviews were structured in a manner that fed you little bits of trivia as they “rambled on” (their words, not mine!) towards one small paragraph that laid out my opinion in one quick, tidy conclusion. Sometimes, says this reader, he skips straight to the end and reads the paragraph at the bottom before starting the review.
Going back over a few of my reviews recently, it struck me how succinct and to—the-point I’d managed to summarise my opinions in the closing paragraphs (numerous times I caught myself thinking “Why didn’t you just say that then and save yourself 5,000+ words?” so God only knows what you lot think sometimes!). I deliberately kept that in mind with this week’s issue as the monstrosity that is Off the Shelf is rambling out of control – what started as a twenty-odd part deal has now mutated into forty odd issues (potentially) thanks to my tangents and excessive warblings! So, this week, I decided to write about every title in the chosen subsection as if I was concluding a much longer review.
I gave myself only one rule: “Gazz mate, if you thought it was fucking really difficult writing the Cult Favourites issue with a one-hundred word limit per title when you’re ‘king of the wandering tangent’ then half-it!” That’s right, no more than fifty words on each film. It may have very nearly killed me, mentally, but it did manage to get me back to one issue per subsection, so I guess something great came out of it huh?
This week, we’re looking at The Collector’s Editions and Boxsets that makeup my DVD collection and, for once, there isn’t any other real criteria for their inclusion in this particular subsection other than a) they’re multiple titles in a boxset or b) they’re a film issued in a flimsy, fragile or collectible cover that could be damaged when crunched in with the other titles. And that really is it, which is probably why this will be the only place you will ever find Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day sitting across from the work of Stanley Kubrick or Citizen Kane sharing shelf-space with The Howling.
And without further ado, let’s – for the first time in a long time – go from A to… erm… W with the titles that make up The Collector’s Editions and Boxsets from Off The Shelf.
The Abyss: Special Edition
James Cameron’s most under-rated opus; decorated with stunning newborn CGI effects and accomplished performances. It’s an exciting, exhilarating and – in a standalone scene of Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio staring death in the face (in the aftermath of a thrilling underwater chase sequence) – truly heartbreaking cinematic ride!
The Adventures of Robin Hood
A self-respecting film-fan must own this right? Flynn fighting Rathbone on the stairwell, Flynn stealing the heart of Olivia De Havilland, Michael Curitz and William Keighley delivering what could be considered as the first true action extravaganza. This is as genuine and timeless a classic as “vintage” cinema can get.
A.I; Artificial Intelligence
A bloated, over-cooked yet strangely admirable science-fiction effort from Spielberg, channelling Stanley Kubrick, mixing occasional must-see moments with incredibly pretentious performances, terribly weak scripting and a horrific third act that takes the notion of Spielberg being “a bit poor” with endings, and delivers a conclusion that nearly sinks the entire movie!
An American Werewolf In London
John Landis’ horror comedy hybrid is the very definition of “cult classic” with the pitch perfect mixture of groundbreaking effects, nerve-shredding scares and gut-busting laughs. It’s a timeless genre piece that presents the best American interpretation of “British culture” seen on screen. And Jenny Agutter portraying every man’s dream nurse!
Back To The Future: The Trilogy
Back To The Future is one of the greatest films of the 80s. An intelligent family film that delivers thrills, laughs and unquestionably superb special effects in equal measure. A genuine masterpiece for every generation – then and to come! The screenplay should be studied as a work of art!
Back To The Future II is ingenious, inventive and thoroughly entertaining, gifting fans the opportunity to see events from Part 1 turned uniquely askew whilst delivering another fresh burst of out-of-this-world blockbuster amusement. It may be cynical compared to the huge-hearted original but it moves too fast for you to notice!
Back To The Future III may be the weakest of the three but for every weak moment there’s two off-the-chart moments of cinematic brilliance. Slower paced then its predecessors, obviously detrimental, it more than makes up for it in its steam-train-pushing-deloreon conclusion! A nice little closing chapter to a fantastic trilogy!
Beauty & The Beast
Probably one of Disney’s definitive masterpieces in a CV littered with them – a joyous musical offering up the perfect confectionary mix between romance, daring thrills, the occasional infant-aimed scare and some surprisingly hilarious visual and verbal punnery. Don’t let the wonders of Pixar wipe this hand-drawn stunner from your memory!
Considered to be the “greatest film of all time” – just not by me! That’s not saying it’s not a superb, technically awe-inspiring piece of vintage cinema/unarguably great directorial debut. See it, adore it, but don’t “go down on it” just because every one tells you to, if you don’t want to.
Dances With Wolves
Kevin Costner’s majestic, lyrical and transcendent western should be shown to History students aged thirteen onwards in my opinion. The guy’s career has taken more hits than Peter Docherty’s veins but it’s mostly forgivable when you’ve made your directorial debut under the weight of industry guffaws – and delivered this!
Die Hard / Die Hard 2: Die Harder
Die Hard is, quite simply, one of the greatest action movies ever made within the genre. It is a rollercoaster, nerve-shredding, blood-drenched extravaganza held together with a wonderfully witty screenplay, flawless direction from John McTiernan and a fantastic (career-defining) lead role from Bruce Willis. Every one must own this film!
Die Hard 2: Die Harder is an admirable, nothing less than thrilling, attempt to pull off a sequel under the weight of the “same-guy/same-shit” stigma. Occasionally too daft for its own good and lacking when compared to the original masterpiece, it’s still a hugely recommendable piece of ‘popcorn’ action entertainment!
E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial
Yes, it’s admittedly the daft walkie-talkies-instead-of-guns 2002 version but that doesn’t, I assure you, stop this being a masterpiece in family-friendly-cinema. An enduring showcase of a masterful director hand-feeding his audience to unarguable perfection. A film that always makes me cry whenever I see E.T lying dead in that river!
The French Connection / The French Connection II
The French Connection is William Friedkin’s brilliant, genre-defining masterpiece; a definitive textbook example of how to make a police-procedural for the masses. It’s memorable for it’s superbly executed balls-to-the-wall car chase but not characterised by it and, in Gene Hackman’s ‘Popeye’ Doyle, driven by one of cinema’s greatest character performances!
The French Connection II, at the hands of John Frankenheimer, is a cracking sequel and a firecracker-of-a-thriller in itself, taking Friedkin’s original as just act one in the turbulent life of Hackman’s Doyle as he’s kidnapped, involuntarily hooked on heroin and becomes prey to the villain he broke his career hunting!
The Godfather Trilogy
The Godfather is a film so classy, timeless and majestic that I don’t need ANY of the 50 words I’m allowed – so well-known and well-reputed is Coppola’s masterpiece! It is undoubtedly a must-own for any self-respecting film-fan and unarguably something every person on the planet should see before they die!
The Godfather Part II is the poster-child for sequels yearning to be superior to their ‘birth-parent’. More assured/inventive, it’s a film so well executed across every relevant arena that it looks, feels and breathes its way into your life like a work of art. Coppola has never bettered it since!
The Godfather Part III is the bastard-offspring of Coppola’s breathtaking 70’s one-two-punch; bloated and irrelevant, its desperate filmmaking of the type that thinks replacing Robert Duvall with George Hamilton and putting your untested (terrible) daughter at the centre, is most definitely the way to conclude a trilogy of such majesty!
It’s still as fast, scary and imaginative as it was back in 1980. Joe Dante’s werewolf shocker, scripted to nigh-on-perfection by John Sayles, is often overshadowed by John Landis’ werewolf-movie but this is every bit that film’s equal. Forget the horrifically-inept franchise, and spend some time with this smart, sexy horror!
A big, dumb, preposterously-excessive piece of blockbuster-filmmaking. Far from being a classic, it’s an overly-long, ridiculous amalgamation of science-fiction, action-adventure and disaster-movie conventions for the attention-deficit crowd – the sort of movie where alien spaceships get destroyed by a PC virus and the American President flies a fighter-jet! An escapist gem!
Indiana Jones: The Trilogy
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is a joyous piece of pure perfection. Probably the greatest slice of action adventure the genre has ever seen and, in the horse-versus-truck set-piece, one of my all-time favourite movie moments. An undisputable classic that will transcend generations! A Must-See Movie!
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is an undeservedly-maligned prequel delivering a more action-packed, more turbulent and very much darker adventure for our favourite archaeologist. Nothing can compare to the awesomeness of seeing Raiders for the first time, but this comes damn close! Kate Capshaw is no Karen Allen though!
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is as perfect a conclusion to a trilogy as you’d hope for. Thrills, spills, slapstick and stunts carried out by a director/cast at the top of their game. It’s impossible not to get teary as our heroes ride off once and for all – well, until Part 4
Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
Despite much potential/a director perfectly suited to the material, this is blighted by an impenetrable screenplay and a disastrous lead forced by the studio – Orlando Bloom does not have the talent to carry this off properly and the film noticeably suffers. This ‘cut’, however, is a vast improvement on the original release!
King Kong (2006): The Extended Edition
You can read my ‘controversial’ original review here but, strangely for an excessively long and slightly over-rated film that far from requires an “extended edition”, thanks to the inclusion of the “underwater attack” sequence, this is rather perversely my preferred version of the film! Weird? Hypocritical? Unexplainable? Yes to all!
The Stanley Kubrick Collection:
2001: A Space Odyssey is allegedly Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece. Hardly. Nearly ever film he made was worthy of eclipsing the last. It’s a superbly shot, mentally-taxing work of art, too easily dismissed as just “the greatest science-fiction movie” when it is more than even that. Still not his best film though!
Barry Lyndon is a film I shamefully admit to owning as part of this boxset for six years now… yet still haven’t got round to watching yet. One friend said it plays like a real-life painting, the other told me it was like watching paint dry. Must make time for this film!
A Clockwork Orange is over-rated. There it’s said. We can relax now. It’s a great film but it’s flawed; Kubrick’s decision to withdraw it in Britain only served to exaggerate its own reputation/quality. Self-indulgent, over-long but still a cult gem thanks to the double-strike of Kubrick and leading-man, Malcolm McDowell.
Dr Strangelove Or: How I Learnt To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb is another film I shamefully haven’t got round to watching yet. The only difference is, with a film this iconic and well-reputed, I probably deserve to be shot! I will watch it very soon, I promise you!
Eyes Wide Shut is actually a rather good, under-rated if criminally over-long and self-indulgent (158 minutes for Gods sake!) conspiracy/revenge hybrid with never anything less than interesting and involving turns for Cruise and Kidman, and superb tracking shots from Kubrick, not to mention that nerve-shattering musical score. Deserves re-evaluation!
Full Metal Jacket is a Kubrick masterpiece and one of the greatest war movies ever made with an ingenious two-act structure (Boot camp! War itself!), its fantastically well-made with Matthew Modine, brilliant in the lead, and R. Lee Emery in a debut that’s been caricatured in all his roles since!
Lolita is one of Kubrick’s most forgotten films but probably one of his best. It’s ridiculously over-long (147 minutes) which since became the norm for Kubrick’s movies, but it’s a thrilling, darkly funny adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel (also doing the screenplay!) with a marvellous performance by James Mason!
The Shining is probably Kubrick’s most famous film – an adaptation of Stephen King’s novel – presenting us with a cerebral, nerve-shattering ride, so leisurely-paced that our nerves cannot cope. Modern audiences too easily dismiss its lack of cheap scares and copious gore, but true movie-buffs can recognise it’s brilliance from miles away!
Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures is a thoroughly comprehensive, brilliant introspective/retrospective study of the life/work of Stanley Kubrick. Narrated by Tom Cruise (his last leading man), with unprecedented access to his personal records and the co-operation of his estate, delivering great insight into one of most private and reclusive of people! (Exclusive to this boxset!)
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – Extended Edition
An unarguably impressive cinematic memo to Mr “Phantom-Menace” Lucas on how to establish a world, it’s history, a wealth of characters and an epic plot in an interesting, involving and thoroughly entertaining manner. The Mines of Moira sequence is a showcase of how CGI and live-action can be superbly melded correctly!
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – Extended Edition
My personal favourite of the trilogy; an assured, thrilling and exhaustively-action-packed blockbuster ride not at all blighted by its “middle-film/no-real-start-no-real-end” structure. Anyone doubting Peter Jackson’s talent only has to look to the Helms Deep siege and its status as one of the greatest pieces of cinema of the last twenty-odd years!
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – Extended Edition
A conflicting experience for me; worthy as a conclusion to the trilogy, it’s still flawed and crippled by its over-wrought ending(s). However, seeing as the films are only meant to be considered as ‘one-long-three-act-movie’ then can you really complain against the sheer blockbuster quality/entertaining sheen that presents itself as a whole?
P.T Anderson’s much-maligned, too-easily-derided follow-up to Boogie Nights is an operatic, epic and lovingly detailed study of the coincidental collisions of emotion into a variety of empty lives. Audacious and exhilarating from the get-go, it also contains a groundbreaking performance from Tom Cruise that NOBODY thought him capable of! A masterpiece!
Roland Joffe’s sublime film is a grandiose spectacle of enormous beauty and power that everyone should see, supported regally by Ennio Morricone’s timeless gorgeous musical score and stunning performances from Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons. Roland Joffe now makes below-par-rip-offs-of-the-Saw-movies with the least-talented-one-out-of-TV’s-24. Sigh! How the mighty fall huh?
The film that made me realise Toy Story 1 & 2 were just friggin’ drops in the ocean for Pixar. Long before The Incredibles arrived, this was the film that soared into my Top 100 thanks to it’s wonderful mixture of stunning animation, hilarious scripting, great voice-work and heart-tugging-but-never-exploitative emotion. Genius!
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Justifiably ranked as one of the funniest films made, this is surreal/inventive/bizarre humour at its best. An extension of the TV show, this lags slightly behind Life of Brian but still does enough in breaking down ‘the fourth wall’ and providing a stellar gag-to-running-time ratio to make it a vintage masterpiece!
Recognised as one of the greatest ‘forgotten’ cult horror movies, Katherine Bigelow’s low-budget indie is a full-throttle “consummate reimagining of the vampire myth. Romantic and haunting, tender and terrifying, it oozes atmosphere as thick as blood” as Total Film magazine says. That ‘bar-fight’ sequence still stands up superbly to this day!
Once Upon a Time in America
Sergio Leone’s epic, operatic gangster movie is an undisputable masterpiece too-often cast aside with comparisons to The Godfather, a film it actually stands equal to. Don’t attempt to view it in its horrifically massacred 120-minute studio imposed version, experience it in all of its 220 majestic glory for truly awe-inspiring results!
Once Upon a Time in Mexico
Robert Rodriguez’s trilogy-capping ‘El Mariachi’ film may have an all-star cast (with Johnny Depp stealing the show effortlessly) but it’s a cluttered/unfocused affair that needs more than its 102-minutes to breath. Rushing from one impressive action sequence to the next, it fails to pay heed to the “epic” story it wants to tell.
Rightly considered to be one of the funniest movies of all-time; experience the sheer joy of the 1968 original in all its smart, endlessly fresh, thoroughly inventive, Zero-Mostel-led glory – long before stage-musical adaptations and (rather-under-rated) remakes shadowed over its completely unique brilliance! A genuine vintage comedy classic! You Must-Own this film!
A real modern masterpiece! A fantastic ‘difficult-second-movie’ from a very talented director! A genre-defining slice of gold! However, don’t forget that there’s been other ‘modern classics’ since and other directors who have excelled with their sophomore effort – the film is brilliant but let’s not worship it like a religion anymore okay?
Robocop: The Trilogy
Robocop is the greatest adult science-fiction-action blockbuster of the 80s! A satirical bloodbath of superb design, fantastic directorial execution and overwhelmingly brilliant scripting. Within the realms of undiluted adult entertainment for this genre, this film has not been bettered! View only it in its full, uncut glory for best effect!
Robocop 2 is a commendable attempt to deliver a sequel with the same level of adult-only action/violence, whilst dealing with increased/hands-on studio involvement that only diminishes its overall quality. Not a patch on the original but, thanks to Frank Miller’s script, the film still delivers enough bangs-for-your-bucks and surprises throughout!
Robocop 3 is one of the worst sequels and worst films ever made. Despite a ‘story’ by Frank Miller, the film is a horrifying smorgasbord of dire special-effects and diluted action for the kids/teen market. Directed by Monster Squad’s Fred Dekker, this is an abomination of Robocop-with-rocket-packs/little orphans/robot-ninjas and total embarrassment!
Rocky: The Anthology:
Rocky is one of the greatest sports movies; a joyous, emotionally-draining, expertly-made journey with one of the best movie climaxes of all time! Thanks to Parts 3, 4 and 5, the timeless, sheer-brilliance of this masterpiece is too easily dismissed. Ever doubted Stallone’s ability as an actor of weight? Re-watch this!
Rocky II is a cracking sequel, giving the mainstream masses exactly what they want – essentially the same film but with a happier ending! Stallone, however, shows real talent in sneakily investing it with well-executed plot mechanics, character development and a whole heap of heart before handing us that over-wrought-but-edge-of-the-seat finale. “Get… Up!”
Rocky III is a purposeful but ill-judged move away from the gritty/classic feel, into the territory of simplistic, cartoon-like childishness; presenting us with pantomime-esque villains, no real dialogue, yet remaining thoroughly entertaining from start to finish by corrupting us with the naff-brilliance of the “Eye of the Tiger”. Popcorn fluff!
Rocky IV is less a movie and more a constant barrage of MTV-music-video-montages interspaced with silly dialogue and wooden performances. However, it’s ‘living-cartoon’ fight-finale is still, ashamedly, a thoroughly-involving, cracking bit of popcorn cinema that you just cannot help but enjoy! Nothing more than 80-odd minutes of pure silliness!
Rocky V is Stallone’s failed but admirable intent to take his much-loved character back down to “rags”, told in the most-simplistic and silly of ways. Crushed by an almost moronic screenplay and horrendous casting choices (Stallone Jnr! Tommy Morrison), the street-fighting climax is one of cinema’s most horrifying of missteps!
You can read my original review of this film by just clicking right here!
Spielberg’s one for “them” (Jurassic Park) and for “him” (this!) mentality gave us a great directorial two-hand-slap; epic, emotionally-draining, difficult, exhausting, mature filmmaking and one of the best studies of history’s most difficult and horrifying of subject matters. Despite early misjudged humour, it’s the very definition of a ‘Modern Classic’!
The Silence of the Lambs
Jonathan Demme’s best film is one of the finest genre-entries cinema has seen AND one of the top five movies of the 90s. Perfectly executed, attempts at a franchise cannot dilute its power or weight and that climax (cross-cutting the FBI and Agent Starling) is a much-aped-but-never bettered piece of cinema!
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
Time may be a great healer – this film starts to stink less with each passing year but it’s still a disgracefully inept piece of filmmaking from an egotist working completely against the fan-base that made him; Jar-Jar? Jake Lloyd? Midichlorians? Underwater kingdoms? Gurgans? Taxation? Worse was yet to come though…
Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
One of the worst films I’ve ever seen. A moronic assault of blatantly uninvolving sci-fi-action set-pieces in a film only interested in lifting it’s skirt and showing you its “special effects”. Performed awkwardly by all involved and constricted by the most ridiculously stupid of screenplays. “Yeah, but Yoda fights!” is not a defence!
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
Finally, what we’ve been waiting to see since 1999! Still blighted by all the horror of the previous two prequels, it manages to skirt-by on the weight-and-expectation of ‘that’ Obi-Wan/Anakin mash-up along with the heavy splashes of affection towards the original trilogy. Good, but maybe too-little-too-late for the “new” threesome!
Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
Probably my favourite science-fiction movie. Nothing short of unbeatable entertainment that drags the inner-child right out of you. Yet, when Lucas showed such skill in establishing a ‘new’ world, its history, a wealth of characters and an epic plot right here, how come he could fuck it up so greatly decades later?
Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
Like The Godfather Part II, not a “sequel” more a “companion-piece” that, now it exists, you cannot really see the first film without it. Impossible to describe without using those ‘stale’ labels, it really is “grander, darker and more accomplished” over-all. A truly fantastic piece of cinema! Everybody: “Luke, I’m your…”
Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi
It’s got the highest amount of memorable set-pieces out of the three “original” films, the best opening act (Jabba’s Palace!), most-inventive creatures and the happiest of endings but, thanks to the Ewoks, the film finally overbalances the ratio of child-like-wonder to just-for-kids and turns into an all-out children’s toy-catalogue-on-the-big-screen. Cynical!
One of the best films of the 80s, James Cameron’s low-budget ‘living-comic-book’ is an exhilarating rabid-leopard of a movie experience; constantly moving at a wondrous speed, snarling it’s way through thoroughly inventive, uniquely conceived, grandiose action sequences, science-fiction imaginings and proving, along the way, to be a true genre classic!
Toy Story / Toy Story 2
Toy Story proved its ok to embrace ‘some’ new movie-trends; I was totally opposed to the idea of a ‘completely-CGI-animated-movie’ as I’m a fan of the hand-drawn Disney stuff but this film blew me away! It’s so good it transcends its animated-genre-status and becomes a genuinely fantastic piece of cinema!
Toy Story 2 is, yes – that term again – The Godfather Part II of animated sequels. Proving there’s life/acclaim outside of Disney’s straight-to-DVD dumping-ground; Pixar’s sequel is a bigger, funnier, more confident outing in every way – standing completely toe-to-toe with the original as a superb piece of cinema! A masterpiece!
True Romance: The Director’s Cut
Prior to Man on Fire, this saw Tony Scott ignore his usual thirst for ‘popcorn’ cinema and deliver a full-bodied, blood-thirsty, gritty classic. The film, and it’s impressive all-star cast, attach themselves to Quentin Tarantino’s screenplay and hang on for dear-life; delivering a fantastic piece of cinema as a result!
The Usual Suspects
One of the 90’s greatest movies and one that, unlike The Sixth Sense, plays as fantastically the eighteenth time as it did the first. Complex, confident and never anything less than involving, it’ll captivate you from the first lit match to the last footstep. Modern crime-movie-making at it’s indisputable best!
The Wicker Man: The Director’s Cut
Standing toe-to-toe with Lindsay Anderson’s If…. as the greatest British film ever made in my opinion, it’s an atmospheric ride that can be used as a template on how to make an almost gore-free, nerve-shredding horror of pure, unadulterated terror. Its climax is STILL one of the best! Just ignore the remake!
And there you have it! Next week, I’m back to a quick, short ‘director’s chair’ issue which I hope you all enjoy.