Sub-genres don’t come much smaller than ‘films which deal with an identical mirror image earth hidden on the other side of the sun’. Aside from 1969’s Doppleganger/Journey to the Far Side of the Sun, there’s really just Another Earth, the first of Brit Marling’s collaborations with Zal Batmanglij. It’s as much of a contemplation of what another earth might mean as much as an exploration of the newly discovered planet; for Rhoda (Marling), ridden with guilt about a DUI car accident she caused the split second she became aware of the alternate world’s existence, it’s the potential to confront her own guilt. She finds her way into the affections of John (William Malpother), whose family were killed in the crash, while applying to be one of the first to visit the new planet. Another Earth is an adult drama with science-fiction trimmings, in the Upstream Color mould, and deserves praise for its mature consideration of grief and potential solace.
The attitudes to race, sex and wanton property destruction have conspired to keep Richard Rush’s perfect buddy cop movie offscreen for long periods of time, but now you can experience what decades of taste arbitrators have deemed unacceptable for mainstream broadcast. A favourite of Stanley Kubrick, Freebie and The Bean stars Alan Arkin and James Cann as two cops talking down a drug-lord. Urban chaos ensues with cars, motorbikes and truck flying in all directions; the joke is that the cops cause more problems than they resolve. Arkin and Caan’s repartee is exquisite, and the scene where Caan busts open a tampax machine to staunch the blood from a bullethole is a stone-cold tough guy classic.
Sydney Pollack’s superbly paranoid thriller sees Robert Redford as the meek New York book-reader who discovers he’s part of a doomed CIA operation when an assassin (Max von Sydow) murders his co-workers. Redford kidnaps and romances Faye Dunaway as the forces of darkness gather, but distinguishing the good and bad guys is a problem that Pollack cleverly fudges. Refdords transformation from cycling nerd to super-spy is subtly done, making Three Days one of the great conspiracy movies.
Another Oscar nomination for Peter O’Toole didn’t go far in cementing the reputation of Peter Medak’s 1972 version of Peter Barnes’ play, adapted by the author. O’Toole plays Jack Arnold Alexander Tancred Gurney, who in the first half of The Ruling Class believes he’s Jesus Christ, complete with a crucifix that he rests on, and then afterwards he’s Jack the Ripper. There’s musical scenes in the style of a student musical, comic support from Alastair Sim and Arthur Lowe, and a general feeling of anything goes that makes for an unheralded classic of anti-establishment comedy as only the British can make. The sight of O’Toole arriving in the bedroom for his wedding night on a tricycle is worth savouring for connoisseurs of cinematic wildness.
Despite testing better than Star Wars and Jaws, Black Sunday didn’t become the late 70’s sensation that producer Robert Evans anticipated on the back of his hits Chinatown and Marathon Man. But Black Sunday is a thrillingly chilling trackdown thriller with Robert Shaw as an Israeli agent knows as The Final Solution. He’s on the trail of Bruce Dern as a disillusioned Vietnam vet who plans to load a Goodyear blimp full of explosives and crashing in into the Super-bowl during play. A pre Hannibal Lecter Thomas Harris’s novel provides some tense scenes, including a pre-Scanners exploding head, and tight screenwriting with North By Northwest’s Ernest Lehman. The variable effects in the grandstanding final sequence, shot during a real Superbowl, let the film down, but it’s easy to see why Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan saw that influenced Kill Bill and The Dark Knight Rises.
John Carpenter’s name is celebrated mainly for Halloween, The Thing and Escape From New York, but there’s a whole lot going on in his other films, particularly They Live, a classic B-Movie with simple effects but big ideas. Taking a Twilight Zone style idea as a basis, They Live features ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper plays a man who gets a pair of sun-glasses which allow him to see the world as it really is; with all advertising subliminally set to control thought, and aliens walking amongst us, it’s a downbeat, desolate picture, and one Rowdy Roddy is keen to resolve. They Live may settle down to a more conventional plot than the synopsis suggests but the subversive view of modern society makes this a genre classic to rank alongside Carpenter’s best.
A favourite of Quentin Tarantino, the 1960’s James Bond spoof offers bags of personality and technical skill, with an opening set-piece atop Rio de Janeiro that puts the early Bond to shame. Featuring a hero with a passion for guns, girls and bananas, Kiss The Girls is notable for the location filming, wonderfully elaborate costumes sported by, a wonderful gag involving a Rolls Royce, and Terry Thomas as a karate-chopping chauffeur.
There’s a wonderful charm about low budget British sci-fi in the 1950’s and 60’s. The luridly titled The Day The Earth Caught Fire concerns itself with a Day After Tomorrow/Deep Impact storyline which is never pictured, just mentioned in conversation ‘The Taj Mahal was submerged!’ Similarly parsimonious with visuals, Unearthly Stranger is a gripping drama that features the idea of space projection long before Avatar or Intersteller. Being a British production, there’s not much to look at except blackboards and lab-coats, but the tension builds from the suicide of a scientist and the return from vacation of our hero with his otherworldly wife in tow. His fellow scientists suspect her of being a strange, if not unearthly, woman, and therefore an potential alien projection. Her giveaway signs, such as crying acidic tears and having no sense of pain when handling a piping hot casserole dish, are amusingly put down to being a ‘foreigner’, but Unearthly Stranger’s quaintness hides a deceptive plot machination that pays of with an ingenious double twist.
Michael Mann established himself with a series of tight genre films in the early eighties including the articulate but butchered horror film The Keep. But his 1981 thriller Thief marks itself as a template for the hard-nosed, detailed character driven crime movie that led to Miami Vice, Heat and Public Enemies. James Caan is the hard-nosed safe-cracker, his job portrayed with such detail as a metallurgist’s dream. Rising to a dynamically films shootout, Thief has elements rare in modern thrillers; driven, professional blue collar hero, Robert Prosky (Hill Street Blues) in an unexpectedy sinister role, and yes, a throbbing Tangerine Dream score.