Movie Talk: Heat (1995)

Heat-Poster-1Release Year: 1995     Directed By: Michael Mann   |   Starring: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Diane Venora, Ashley Judd, Amy Brenneman, Kevin Gage, Natalie Portman, Dennis Haysbert, Danny Trejo, Jon Voight

[Not to be confused with “The Heat” (2013) or Heat (1986), Heat (1972), Heat (1996 Australian TV film)…how many times has this name been used? Jeez…]

I’ll go ahead and begin by stating that Heat is my favourite movie of all-time. It hadn’t used to be; that honour tended to switch between Terminator 2 and the first Kill Bill. Each time I re-watched Michael Mann’s crime masterpiece however, it crept up the order until I decided that, fuck it, Heat may as well be my favourite movie. I can’t say enough good things about it.

The film centres on professional thief, Neil McCauley (De Niro) and determined LAPD homicide detective, Lt. Vincent Hanna (Pacino). Both are dysfunctional individuals with their own code and the cat-and-mouse game between these two main players of the movie is one of its main draws. McCauley heads up a proven crew of organised thieves and is a loner by nature, living with the philosophy of not having anything in your life “that you cannot walk out on in thirty seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner”. For McCauley, making the big scores is his life and all he wants to do. Hanna on the other hand is a workaholic cop that puts his job first at all times, even at the expense of his increasingly frustrated wife (Diane Venora) and step-daughter (Natalie Portman). Hanna is determined to take McCauley and his crew down and is unable to avoid putting the hunt aside to rescue his marriage.

The thing I absolutely love about Heat is that there are no irrelevant, filler scenes or dull moments – quite an achievement for a film that goes beyond the two-hour mark. Even the scenes that involve characters simply talking are enthralling because the writing and characterisation is brilliant. Obviously, the stars are De Niro and Pacino but the supporting cast are just an important. From the crazy Waingro (Kevin Gage) to the disillusioned Donald (Dennis Haysbert), there are so many memorable performances. Then there are the women who have to suffer for the actions and decisions of their other halves – just one of many subtle plot threads woven together to produce the epic tapestry that is Heat.

Another notable bit of genius is that it’s impossible not to like the characters no matter if they are good-hearted and innocent like Eady (Amy Brenneman), psychotic and violent like Waingro or greedy and unsavoury (most of the criminals). Heat is a character piece as much as it is a crime thriller or action movie and it feels natural to understand where everybody – good or bad – is coming from. Many of the characters blur the line between being wholly good or bad and this is probably what makes them so endearing as this is what it means to truly be human. We viewers may not partake in anything as dramatic as holding up armoured cars or putting big-time crooks behind bars but we can still relate to the characters and their motivations.

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[Source]
The action scenes are another highlight of Heat, particularly the gun battle in downtown LA as McCauley’s crew attempt to escape following their carefully-planned bank heist gone wrong. This kind of scene just wouldn’t exist today for many reasons. First up, there are no unrealistic and unnecessary explosions or dynamic action shots. There’s no music either. What you get is a group of guys simply trying to get away, using cars as cover while shooting at the LAPD, deafening bursts of assault rifle fire echoing off the buildings. It’s exactly what a real-life version of this scene would sound like and I’ve even read that their tactical retreat was used as a reference for police or military training (though how true this is, I can’t say). The whole thing feels raw and natural and is totally immersive.

The final showdown between McCauley and Hanna is another scene that would never be permitted today. Hanna gives chase to a desperate McCauley across the runways of LAX, even running across the path of a taxiing passenger plane at one point. As I understand, this kind of filming is now strictly prohibited in a post-9/11 world which is a shame but completely understandable.

Heat is a masterpiece of scripting backed up by superb performances from all actors involved. Every set-piece, every action scene and every conversation is special. I know I’m probably gushing over this fim and I haven’t said anything bad about it but really, I can’t think of anything. If you’ve somehow missed it then you should really rectify that mistake because – as cliched as it sounds – they really don’t make ’em like this anymore.

Movie Talk: Blade Runner (1982)

BR-1Release Year: 1982  |  Directed By: Ridley Scott  |  Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward Hames Elmos, Daryl Hannah

I don’t suppose that there’s much more to be said about Blade Runner by this point so this review is probably redundant (and certainly thirty-seven years too late) but what the hell. I fancied watching something the other night and chose this from the DVD collection that most certainly needs trimming as part of my ongoing battle against materialism. I watched the ‘Final Cut’ version, if that’s important. It’s the only version I have ever seen so unfortunately, I’m not privy to any knowledge on the changes/additions that were made over the original theatrical release. This is turning out to be a useless review isn’t it? *ahem*

Anyway, Blade Runner is set in the ‘future’ of 2019. Looking out of my window as I type this, I can’t see the flying police cars, towering buildings or giant neon advertising signs but then again, I don’t live in LA where Blade Runner is set so who knows. This future is loaded with technology and wondrous advancement but at the same time, the film depicts nothing but urban decay and slum-like living with the populance crammed into tight streets. Further, The Tyrell Corporation has developed bioengineered human-like beings known as Replicants to do the dirty/dangerous work of humans. The Replicants are a perfect mimicry of man and are even capable of developing human emotions over time. Explained in the movie’s intro, there is a rebellion amongst Replicants working on an off-world colony and they are thus made illegal back on Earth but a small group manage to steal a shuttle and successfully make it to Earth.

Harrison Ford plays Deckard, a special type of police officer known as a Blade Runner, whose role is to hunt down Replicants hiding in society and “retire” them.

As the plot progresses, Blade Runner explores several philosophical themes with the most obvious being the morality of playing God and creating life. There is also the question of whether it is right to create beings that are more or less human with their own personalities but then treat them as disposable appliances or slaves and kill (or “retire”) them without a second thought. It’s 2019 now and artificial intelligence/man-made “people” hasn’t quite happened yet as in the world of Blade Runner BUT we are getting there at a rapid rate and so I suppose these themes have turned out to be the most relevant since this movie released in ’82. In other words, the content of movies like Blade Runner and The Terminator aren’t necessarily just sci-fi entertainment anymore but real possibilities that throw up questions and potential concerns for the near future.

Looking at Wikipedia, there are (apparently) other themes running through Blade Runner including religion, Deckard’s morality, paranoia and even literary influences. I didn’t really pick up on most of these myself and I don’t mind because for me, Blade Runner is all about the visuals and world design.

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[image: BFI.org]
I mentioned the “urban decay” look before but Blade Runner really does paint a miserable, grim future. It’s always dark and pouring with heavy rain, tight streets are choked with people pushing past one another and seediness is around every corner. There is a police presence everywhere and corporations rule supreme with enormous advertising boards and airships with giant video screens beaming more advertising down from above. There is definitely a dystopian feeling to Blade Runner but I really like it and drank in the exhaustive detail of the sets. The Asian influence with the neon advertising boards and abundance of oriental-looking civilians wearing wide-brimmed conical straw hats doesn’t really make much sense to me but it kind of fits the futuristic vision somehow.

Blade Runner is one of the original influences of all things cyber-punk and many, many forms of entertainment – books, videogames, movies – have mimicked the dark, wet and neon look. This is where it all began however and the impressive thing is how believable the sets and special effects still look considering the age of the film. The take-off and landing of the flying “spinner” police cars for example look far better than you might expect them to for a 1982 film.

There are lots of things to like about Blade Runner but for me, the movie is all about the look and the vision of a technological future. It’s why I enjoyed it the first time round and why I still enjoy it now. The only negative in my opinion is the somewhat abrupt and open-ended conclusion that leaves the viewer to decide what happens next. I know that many appreciate these sorts of “thinking man’s” endings but I personally don’t. Other than that, Blade Runner is a sci-fi classic that deserves its status. I’m definitely interested in watching the recent sequel now too.

Book Talk: The Kind Worth Killing (Peter Swanson, 2015)

worth1Upon finishing The Kind Worth Killing, all I could think was “wow”. Granted, my buzzing response to this book could well be down to the fact that my fiction intake has been 90% Stephen King over the past few years. Am I perhaps overreacting and viewing Peter Swanson’s thriller as ‘fresh’ just because it’s something different written in a different author’s style? I won’t rule out the possibility but the fact is that I seriously enjoyed this book and couldn’t put it down. I devoured it like a starving man presented with a McDonalds.

The Kind Worth Killing was first published in 2015 and it has been on my radar ever since I read a magazine recommendation (FHM of all places…). It’s taken me four years to get around to picking up a copy but it was well worth it. The basic premise sold to me by that magazine recommendation is that Ted Beaumont is on his way back to the US when his flight is delayed. He meets a beautiful stranger – Lily Kintner – in the airport bar and they agree to play a game. Since they agree that they will never see each other again, they decide to take it in turns to reveal absolute truths about themselves, no matter how personal. Ted reveals that he knows his wife has been cheating on him and jokes that he wants to kill her.

After hearing his story, Lily takes Ted aback by revealing her view that the death of a person such as Ted’s wife is no loss to the world and she even offers to help him do the dirty work. What begins as a random airport meeting and a flippant musing about Ted’s wife’s adultery rapidly escalates into plotting an actual murder. Ted is initially on the fence and inwardly concerned at how easily he agrees to murder his wife but his misgivings don’t last long. After all, Miranda has suckered him in with calm lies and expert manipulation to get at his wealth. For Lily’s part, she has killed before – several times in fact. Ted doesn’t know this but suspects it and continues to go along with her anyway. The fact that Lily is described as being incredibly beautiful in a delicate, waif-like way probably helps. It’s clear that Ted is fascinated by Lily and falling in love with her even as they plan a murder.

“What I really want to do is kill her” I smiled with my gin-numbed mouth and attempted a little wink just to give her an opportunity to not believe me, but her face stayed serious. She lifted her reddish eyebrows.

“I think you should” she said, and I waited for some indication that she was joking, but nothing came. Her stare was unwavering.

I can’t go into much more of the plot without spoiling it and it really is a story that doesn’t deserve to be spoilt. Each chapter switches between the different perspectives of the characters, initially limited to Ted’s present and Lily’s recollection of her past. These perspectives are from a first-person standpoint so the reader becomes a guest of the characters’ headspace and privy to their true motivations and views of the other main characters. The book is broken into three main acts with each act climaxing in some big twists. The end of the first act for example turns the entire book on its head and leaves you wondering just what else is going to happen. Plenty of surprises, double-crosses and didn’t-see-that-coming developments follow. As a result, I found it incredibly hard to put The Kind Worth Killing down and regardless of any other reason(s) for why I enjoyed it so much, that is a cast-iron sign of a good read in my opinion.

Swanson does a great job of making you like bad people. This book has several unsavoury characters and rotten personalities and even though I wanted some of them to get their just desserts, I was no less fascinated by them. Lily in particular was the star of the book for me. Calm, calculated, somewhat aloof and with a very different regard for life, she would probably be described as psychotic by our society. The fact that she has already killed several people and isn’t particularly perturbed by her actions would cement this. However, through Lily’s own perspectives in the book, you get to know her and even sympathise with her motives. She is dangerous and clinical but at the same time, I couldn’t help rooting for her to the end. It also made me ponder on the subject of beautiful psychos in fiction and cinema and why we – men – are so attracted to them despite what they are capable of. That’s a topic for another post though.

There were only a few criticisms that I levelled at The Kind Worth Killing but it wouldn’t be a review if I gushed over the book without mentioning them. The first is that it’s difficult to relate to the characters because most seem to be incredibly wealthy with little of the surface level hardship in their lives that us ‘normal’ folk battle against day-to-day. This didn’t detract from my liking for the book’s cast but it also felt very convenient and and a little unrealistic. Speaking of unrealistic, a lot of the events that happen in the book are incredibly far-fetched and people get away with so much, so easily. Obviously this is fiction so realism has to take a backseat to a degree but when the book is set in the real world and dealing with crime and murder, then the ease at which plans are made and successfully followed through does stick out a bit.

Those minor gripes aside, The Kind Worth Killing is a genuine page-turner that I can’t recommend enough. If you love thrillers and villainous characters that you can’t help but love then this is for you. If you want to be kept guessing and unable to predict what happens next then this is also for you. I will definitely be looking for Peter Swanson’s other books after this.