Tango & Cash (1989) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Tango & Cash (1989) Directed by Andrei Konchalovsky. With Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell, Teri Hatcher and Jack Palance.


The wave of buddy-cop action-comedies of the 1980’s culminates with Tango & Cash. Sylvester Stallone is ‘Tango’ and Kurt Russell is ‘Cash’, two of L.A’s top rival cops, brought together to fight each other’s egos and a nefarious crime-lord.

It’s a good thing that Russell and Stallone appear to enjoy themselves, as without their camaraderie, the film would rapidly sink under the weight of its own stupidity. I’m not saying that ‘stupid’ isn’t sometimes fun, but it’s better if it has a little purpose. Here, it’s two big film stars against a group of generic, baddie-of-the-week antagonists (dodgy dealings with munitions, or something) led by Jack Palance.

The action-comedy enjoyed a boom in the mid-to-late-80’s, and the influence of Lethal Weapon and Beverley Hills Cop is abundantly clear. Indeed, for better of worse, Kurt Russell’s ‘Lt Gabriel Cash’ employs the same hair and wardrobe assistant as Mel Gibson’s Martin Riggs. Mere seconds into Russell’s very first scene, he’s hit at point blank range with a pump-action shotgun. Almost instantly, he’s seen leaping to his feet, which begins an elaborate chase sequence to apprehend the assailant. This sets a precedent for the kind of blind stupidity you’re expected to accept.

There’s some cute in-jokes; Cash turns to Tango and asks if he stopped “for coffee and a Danish.” Tango replies – “I hate Danish!,” –  an obvious swipe at Danish actress Brigitte Nielsen, whom Stallone had recently divorced. Sly also pokes a little fun at his Rambo persona.

These moments, though, are small diversions in a wafer-thin script that tries to paper-over gaping plot holes, by throwing star-power at the screen. There’ so much that happens that makes absolutely no sense at all. In one scene, the words ‘star vehicle‘ couldn’t be more apt, as our heroes drive a state of the art SUV (bulletproof and machine-gun mounted, of course) built for and given to them by Michael J.Pollard, a comedic take on the already comedic ‘Q‘ from James Bond. How this is funded and/or is available to them (given their predicament), is anyone’s guess, but it’d be no use asking the screenwriter, ‘cos it’s clear he doesn’t know either.

For those invested in some late-80’s nostalgia, Tango & Cash might be borderline enjoyable for the on-screen sparring of Russell and Stallone, but the overall product is a messy, pieced-together scrapbook of explosions and automatic gunfire, with little that makes much sense in-between. 2.5/5

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Barfly (1987) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Barfly (1987) Directed by Barbet Schroeder. With Mickey Rourke, Faye Dunaway and Alice Krige.


The semi-autobiographical tale of poet and author, Charles Bukowski, Barfly is a pidgeon-hole view into a time of alcoholism, set around various dive bars of downtrodden Los Angeles in the 1980’s.

It stars Mickey Rourke as Henry, a vodka-swilling poet, living in squalor with the company of classical music and his next-door-neighbour’s incessant arguments. Henry likes a drink or two-thousand, and can be found propping up a plethora of scuzz-holes-  frequently with a bloodied face; a result of one of his many punch-ups in the back alleys of loserville, L.A.

It’s on one of his many trips to the bar, that he happens across a strange fish called ‘Wanda’ (Dunaway). Rourke asks – “How come nobody sits next to her? – “She’s crazy!”, replies the barman. Undeterred, Rourke engages her anyway, which begins a fascinating booze-drenched romance, of sorts.

Between images of dilapidated apartments and foul-mouthed old prostitutes, everything in Barfly is bleak, rundown and unhealthy. It’s a place of no hopes or aspirations – just the next drink. It’s a piercing view into the mentality of an alcoholic; there isn’t even a basic need to survive, only the desire to pour and hope for the end.

It’s well directed by Barbet Schroeder, and there are subtleties dotted around the script that suggest all might not be quite what it seems. Sadly, not everything hits the spot, as a final act plot development involving Alice Krige, fails to entirely convince.

Home to two fine performances, Barfly is a snapshot view of pissed-away-potential. The curious pairing of Rourke and Dunaway is all the more resonant for its unlikelihood, with both actors bringing to life two heartbroken people, adrift but oddly at home in a self-perpetuating cycle of addiction and self-destruction. 3.5/5

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Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) Directed by George Lucas. With Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing and Alec Guinness. 


This is going to be the hardest, yet most enjoyable film review I have written. With anything in life, there’s a catalyst for why something happens. My passion as a film fan, moreover, the reason why I write this blog can be traced back to one film experience that changed my life. That film – George Lucas’ Star Wars.

Firstly, I’ve never been comfortable with calling it ‘A New Hope‘. To me, that’s the name it took on when it began to expand into something else entirely. Of course, the release of the ‘Special Edition’ in 1997 was to see far more controversial changes to the actual film – changes that continue to irk the fans to this day. Even with Lucas’ 1997 brand of CGI graffiti, this is so more than just a silly space film. Oh, and Han most definitely shot first!

Star Wars is Luke Skywalker’s adventure. A young farmboy on a remote planet is plunged into a galactic war. In a nutshell, that’s the plot.

Those resistant to its undoubted charms, complain that there’s no story, or that Mark Hamill’s acting is a bit weak. The truth is, there’s a beautiful, fairytale simplicity to the story that cuts through with the most stunningly imagined realisation of a universe ever put on screen. It’s easy to take for granted the lasting impact of Star Wars – to attribute its appeal to the tastes of fan-boys locked in their bedrooms with life-size cardboard standees of Princess Leia and co. As we well know, it’s infinitely more far-reaching than that. With its potent mix of mysticism, the struggle of good vs evil and cool spaceships, Star Wars is the cultural phenomenon that changed the landscape of cinema history.

Along the way, the naive but plucky Skywalker (Hamill) meets a host of characters so familiar in pop culture, that we’ve almost forgotten where they originated. With such a broad mix of personality, the film is filled with minor eruptions as they clash and banter their way through one adventure to the next. As Han Solo, Harrison Ford’s wry, mocking delivery sparks perfectly against Carrie Fisher’s sarcastic comebacks, while as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Alec Guinness brings a gravitas that arms the narrative with an overarching weight of mystery.

Then there’s Darth Vader. There has arguably never been a better villain in the history of cinema. His imposing, wordless entrance still sends chills, not just for the character’s sinister grace, but for what he has come to represent. With that, Star Wars doesn’t waste a single second of screen time. Who can forget the ‘Cantina’, the emotional hit of the ‘binary sunset’, the Obi-Wan Vs Vader lightsaber duel, the first jump to hyperspace, the calculating cruelty of Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin, the bickering droids and that finale!?  All of that and so, so much more.

There are many reasons why I still love Star Wars, but they don’t just have their foundations in childhood. When I watch it today, it still resonates with a vital energy, supported by an absolute masterpiece of a musical score. Just like Luke Skywalker feels the power of the force, you can feel the power of joy leaping off the screen. It’s not hard to fall in love with something that makes you feel this good. 5/5

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You’re Next (2011) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

You’re Next (2011) Directed by Adam WingardWith Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, A. J. Bowen and Joe Swanberg.


Boasting a ‘certified fresh‘ rating of 75% on Rotten Tomatoes (to date), it seems the film critics of the world were fooled by Adam Wingard’s home invasion horror flick, You’re Next. Easily fooled, at that.

At an isolated location (where else!?), it’s the wedding anniversary of Aubrey and Paul Davison. Siblings reunite with their rivalries and new partners in tow as Wingard directs an ensemble cast of little-known actors, brought together to be murdered in an order that, if isn’t quickly apparent, soon becomes so.

It starts like Meet The Parent’s meets Scream, transforming into a sadistic version of Home Alone as non-events unfold. Some have praised its twists, but in truth, underneath a few plot contrivances, it’s all terribly derivative. There is a strong undercurrent of black humour, but it’s punctured by a sadistic edge that leaves a manky aftertaste.

It’s giving away the game to say exactly who emerges at the forefront of the piece, suffice it to say, it wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t a group of maniacs chasing a pretty young girl.  While it’s true that Wingard’s direction is solid, the film is too straight-out-of-the-manual to make any lasting impact.

Over a few bowls of popcorn and in the company of some like-minded friends, it might just scrape by as a passable movie-night cheap thrill. If, however, we’re asking where it stands in the grand pantheon of horror, or for that matter, if it has anything new or interesting to offer – that’s a big fat NO! 2.5/5


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Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) Directed by George Miller. With Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron. 


As far as unexpected comebacks go, George Miller’s wildly successful return to his Mad Max series is an especially pleasing one. For fans, thirty long years have passed since 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. In that time, the film had existed in its own wasteland of stop/start development hell. It’s almost as if the frustration of those long wilderness years is harnessed into positive creative energy, as Miller spews out a barrage of sustained action sequences that hit you like a burning freight truck.

It’s a fiery, loud, clanging mangle of steampunk chaos, headed up Tom Hardy’s titular Max, a haunted survivor in post-apocalyptic Australia – a cruel desert ruled by military factions who suppress the masses by limiting water and supplies. Hardy recalls the hero of a bygone era; Clint Eastwood’s ‘man with no name’ (except he has a name) – a monosyllabic grafter with flickering remnants of a conscience, which rears up via subliminal images of the innocent lost.

Fleeing the gruesomely theatrical leader, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), Hardy is joined by the shaven-headed rebellion of Charlize Theron as Furiosa. It isn’t long before Theron emerges as the beating heart of the piece. Indeed, in a brutal world, women form the through-line of the narrative. Along with water, the fairer sex are symbols of hope – the only life-giving gifts that remain on a land so dead, that they’re easily worth dying for.

Contributing to the madness is Nicholas Hoult’s ‘Nux’, who represents a glimpse into the world of the brainwashed – a drone so indoctrinated through extreme suffering and poverty, that the promise of glory or a better afterlife makes him, and his like, eager to make the ultimate sacrifice. All skin and bones, Hoult is very good – battling himself and everyone on the way to being the most rounded character of the piece.

With the frenetic, unrelenting pace of the action, the film is carefully edited to drive home the impact. There’s nothing shiny and new here – everything is rotting with rust and decay, as the expressive physical designs on show offer an attention to detail that gives way to a sense of genuine depth. The cobbled together vehicles, charging through the unforgiving terrain, make for a lived-in quality that invites the imagination to fill in the gaps of what has become of this starved land.

At times, it feels a little bombastic, but it’s joyously theatrical too – like opera with huge trucks, one of which features a huge wall of amplifiers fronted by a guitar-hero-death-metal-punk, who orchestrates a full-throttle charge like Wagner and the helicopters in Apocalypse Now. Its pauses for breath are short, and it’s never seconds away from jolting us back into the frenzy. Yes, it’s completely mad, but would you want or expect anything else!? 4/5

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Smokey and the Bandit (1977) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Smokey and the Bandit (1977) Directed by Hal Needham. With Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jerry Reed and Jackie Gleason. 


Chances are, if you’ve made the decision to sit down and watch Smokey and the Bandit, you’ve already made your mind up that you’re going to enjoy it. In truth, that’s the only way to approach it.

Released in 1977, Hal Needham’s film is like the feel-good antidote to Vanishing Point; a road movie caper that rejoices in the romance and kinship of driving fast cars, CB radio, big trucks, country music and sticking it to the law. It’s a prime, juicy cut of potent American imagery – with Burt Reynolds’ ‘Bandit’ existing in a state of heaven that alpha males can only dream of.

Along with his willing accomplice Cledus (Jerry Reed), Bandit agrees to transport 400 cases of beer (unlawfully) across the state lines, while being pursued by an army of cartoon law enforcers headed up by Jackie Gleason’s delightfully spiteful ‘Buford T. Justice’. Minimal brain power required.

For the hell of it, Reynolds is eventually joined by the tomboy playfulness of Sally Field, who just so happens to be fully garbed in wedding whites, fleeing the scene of nuptials she wants no part of. It’s never anything other than extremely silly, but therein lies the appeal. Reynolds carries energy and bullish charm, breaking the speed limit, as well as the fourth wall on one occasion.

Second only to Star Wars at the US box office in 1977, Smokey and the Bandit is pure 1970’s junk food escapism. It’s Coors beer and hot dogs. It’s Stetsons, roaring engines and a fantastical idea of the glory of American life on the road, all rounded off by Burt Reynolds’ impressive moustache. It’s just as easy to absent-mindedly enjoy as it is to dismiss. 3/5

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The Mission (1986) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

The Mission (1986) Directed by Roland Joffé. With Jeremy Irons, Robert De Niro, Ray McAnally, Aidan Quinn, Cheri Lunghi, Chuck Low, Liam Neeson and Ronald Pickup. 


Winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or and directed by Roland Joffé, with a screenplay and story by Robert Bolt, The Mission is an affecting historical drama starring Jermey Irons and Robert De Niro, following the work of Jesuit priests with natives, in 18th century jungles of South America.

With a powerfully emotive score by Ennio Morricone, the film is a searing composition of pure evil and innocence, horribly, but unforgettably juxtaposed. Robert De Niro is Rodriguez Mendoza, a mercenary, who through his own self-destructive acts of violence, discovers a higher calling alongside Father Gabriel, played with subtle grace by Jeremy Irons.

As a religious film, it succeeds in demonstrating the righteous path a man can take, shunning any and all personal gain for the in the name of love and love only. It’s also a message about the political influence on the church, and the infestation of power and greed that can rot its values to the core.

The Academy Award winning cinematography by Chris Menges is absolutely breathtaking to behold. Between ferocious battles over waterfalls and sheer mountains, the landscape is simultaneously intimidating and welcoming; the power of God a fitting backdrop for the enveloping spiritual turmoil.

The film has been criticised for its bland central performances, but it isn’t the place for grandstanding, broad cinematic turns. Some have also charged it with being a didactic exercise, embraced primarily by those of a Christian persuasion.

A narrative from a religious perspective is always going to create vast division, but for me, The Mission makes a bold statement against violence in the name of any religion, yet is also at pains to emphasise how some who practice faith, betray their own principles to fit the ideals of their world, even if that means the loss of innocent life. An essential watch, albeit a gut-wrenchingly tough one.  4/5

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