Young Guns II: Blaze of Glory (1990) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Young Guns II: Blaze of Glory (1990) Directed by Geoff Murphy. With Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, Christian Slater, Alan Ruck and William Petersen. 


Geoff Murphy takes the directorial reigns for Young Guns II: Blaze of Glory, adding cinematic richness on top of a more soulful, matured approach to the storytelling than the previous outing. Continuing from the first film, which ran with the idea of creating its own mythology around known historical facts, this sequel is clever in the way it adopts the mythology of what actually became of Billy the Kid, accenting the rumours of his survival of the Lincoln County War as a set-up for a film that, once again, stars Emilio Estevez as the larger than life, trigger-happy ‘Kid’.

The catalyst for the story here (John Fusco returning as screenwriter with more quotable dialogue) is James Coburn’s John Chisum, a wealthy cattle baron who hires Pat Garrett to lead the hunt for Billy. As Garrett, actor William Petersen is excellent, playing the conflict of a man torn between loyalty and the preservation of his own path.

All but gone are the cheesy electric guitars of the first film, as composer Alan Silvestri introduces more authentic musical themes to heighten the horseplay. Back in the saddle are Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Phillips, bringing a sense of investment and continuity as they fight battles internally and externally, as to their association with the most wanted man in the land. The themes of friendship and loyalty that underpinned the first film are brought fully to the fore for the sequel, which improves both technically and dramatically on the first outing.

In no small way, Young Guns, and to some extent this sequel, observe the joyful abandon of youthfulness, but also the inevitability of the break of up the band. It’s why Young Guns II is more resonant than the first movie, with Estevez’s unmannerly portrayl of Billy the Kid being forced into a corner, facing the prospect of losing what matters most to him – not only his ‘pals’, but something far worse – thier loyalty.  4/5


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Young Guns (1988) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Young Guns (1988) Directed by Christopher Cain. With Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, Casey Siemaszko, Charlie Sheen, Dermot Mulroney, Terence Stamp and Jack Palance. 


Young Guns is an example of a film elevated by the fun of watching a group of actors with a collective chemistry, born of off-screen friendships and earlier collaborations that combine to imbue the adventure with a sense of star-quality, coming of age. In short, Christopher Cain’s western for the MTV generation is the crest of the 1980’s brat-pack era – a revenge story starring Billy the Kid (Emilio Estevez) and a bunch of young men who bring about the beginnings of the Lincoln County War.

Next to the likes of Sergio Leone’s epic ‘dollars trilogy’, Young Guns appears somewhat frivolous with its pretty-boy cowboys and shrieking electric guitars, yet, those who come to it aren’t searching for the gold standard of westerns. Admittedly, the soundtrack doesn’t fit and Christopher Cain could have established a more cinematic tone, but it’s short-sighted not to see the appeal.

For starters, Emilio Estevez is good value as “The Kid”. From a pure lookalike-mannerisms perspective, it’s hard to ignore the presence of of his famous father, Martin Sheen, and that seminal performance in Badlands (both romanticised anti-heroes on the run) yet still, there’s a warmth in watching the son emulate the father. With John Fusco’s script, Estevez finds an appealing line of bat-shit crazy with his interpretation of Billy. I use the word interpretation liberally, because in the name of entertainment, you have to let certain things slide. If you’ve seen a picture of Billy the Kid (Google him) you’ll know he looks more like the banjo-picking kid in Deliverance than a young Emilio. But then, the agenda here isn’t historical accuracy, it’s more seated in an attempt to create its own mythology, harnessing historical names and places by blending them with the pulling power of the brat-pack reputation. And it works well.

It helps that the film is propped-up by the sturdy older hands of an authoritative Terence Stamp and western veteran Jack Palance. Palance, the antagonist of the piece, not only provides much-needed authenticity, he’s also a good counter to Estevez in the unhinged stakes. Casey Siemaszko and Dermot Mulroney equally stand out as two pronounced characters we can easily root for as the stakes raise, with the star faces of Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips and Charlie Sheen rounding out the gang.

In brief, you can choose to be a snob about Young Guns, or, you can put away your history books and enjoy the ride like you’re supposed to. 3.5/5

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White Palace (1990) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

White Palace (1990) Directed by Luis Mandoki. With James Spader, Susan Sarandon, Jason Alexander, Eileen Brennan and Kathy Bates. 


Adapted from Glenn Savan’s original novel by the screenwriting duo of Ted Tally and Alvin Sargent, White Palace is an absorbing romantic-drama that portrays loss, lust and love (in that order) in a way that shuns the pizzazz of Pretty Woman (released the same year) in favour of a grounded maturity that is given the kiss of life by its two leads, James Spader and Susan Sarandon.

Spader and Sarandon make for an unlikely, albeit delightfully mismatched screen couple, struggling to deal with their own personal tragedies. Spader’s Max comes from education and money, whereas Sarandon’s Nora struggles as a diner waitress living in semi-squalor. Their worlds could not be further apart – the chasm so often being fertile ground for love to grow.

As the Marylin Monroe-obsessed Nora, Susan Sarandon is excellent, giving an intelligent performance imbued with a keen sharpness of wit. The beauty of Sarandon often stems from the realness she’s able to convey, which doesn’t always strive to make us like her characters. Here is no different – Nora’s acid-tongued take-down of a complete stranger seems cruel, and her insecurities are often a result of her own preconceptions, yet somehow, Sarandon’s strengths and vulnerabilities make her appealing, even with a side-order of selfish.

Max, on the other hand, is less complicated and more direct. James Spader is often overlooked for not being a bigger part of the mainstream, but White Palace reminds us what a fine actor he can be, as he emits a collected warmth that allows space for Sarandon’s more volatile turns.

In the years that have passed, it seems unfair that White Palace has been largely disregarded by distributers and TV-networks. Perhaps it is hamstrung in that grief is a hard sell, and that it doesn’t front-load glamour. What it does manage to be, though, is a beautifully rewarding piece of semi-mainstream romance anchored by two superb central performances. 4/5

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Badlands (1973) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Badlands (1973) Directed by Terrence Malick. With Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. 


With Badlands, writer-director Terrence Malick captures a sense of America’s past that speaks to the soul, potently webbing together nature, humanity and the beautifully insane chaos that goes along with it. Alongside, it’s an involving story of love on the run, told from the perspective of an adolescent girl’s misadventure into the unknown – part accomplice, part victim to Kit, a charismatic, single-minded young man with an itchy trigger finger.

Between the use of music and Malick’s stirring encapsulation of a time and place, Badlands is a film that is capable of taking you away from the humdrum. The melting pot of nature and humanity fuse together to produce a dangerous tone that feels seconds away from disaster at any given moment. But it’s also life-affirming, in the strangest and most oddly pronounced way, that you can’t help but fall in love with the blind romanticism that it so fondly exerts.

As Kit, Martin Sheen seduces not only his young muse, but also the audience with his James Dean-inspired, laconic style, which is punctuated by a raging passion born of the need to love and be loved, whatever the cost. As Holly, Sissy Spacek narrates heaven-sent dialogue that is coloured by an affecting innocence and further accompanied by images that remind you why it’s good to be alive. An absolute, unquestionable masterpiece. 5/5

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Premium Rush (2012) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Premium Rush (2012) Directed by David Koepp. With Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon.


As titles go, Premium Rush is a fairly generic one, which could partly explain why I hadn’t heard of it before it unceremoniously plopped into my Netflix stream last week. Now if they’d called it Google Maps: The Movie (actually a better fit) for better or worse, my recollection would’ve been clear.

Directed and co-written by David Koepp, the film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Wilee, a New York City bike messenger who gets a job to deliver an important envelope of across the ‘death maze’ of rush hour Manhattan. We’re immediately at street level with JGL, winding and weaving between the familiar sight of yellow cabs to the sound of honking horns, as the film aims to establish a pace it intends to maintain. And so, for about 20-odd-minuites, it succeeds, but with a growing sense of inevitability that it will tire and become clichéd, which is exactly what happens.

Koepp attempts to add style on top of energy; we get Google maps style cutaways to mark the routes along with alternate eventualities that play out in Gordon-Levitt’s head as he speeds through perilous areas of the city, some of which are hilariously disastrous.

Michael Shannon’s presence in a one note bad-guy role that only asks him to rant and rave makes you wonder if he owed Koepp a favour, much in the same way his character owes life-threatening quantities of gambling debt to backstreet crime syndicate. He’s good enough, but you can’t help puzzling why he’s here.

While it opts for a non linear approach to storytelling, Premium Rush is as straightforward as they come. The NYC setting allows it to remain busy, but ironically, the final third seems to drag along at a snails pace. 2.5/5

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Welcome to Me (2014) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Welcome to Me (2014) Directed by Shira Piven. With Kristen Wiig, Wes Bentley, James Marsden and Tim Robbins. 


Kristen Wiig deserves credit for making unconventional career choices, despite those choices not always providing the best platform for her talent. Bridesmaids was Wiig’s graduation from SNL to the multiplexes, but her path since then has led toward more offbeat, challenging films like The Skeleton Twins, and now, Welcome to Me, in which Wiig plays Alice Klieg, a woman with borderline personality disorder who wins $86m on the lottery and decides to spend her wealth on becoming the new Oprah Winfrey.

On paper, it sounds hilarious, which acts as an elephant in the room from the very beginning. Directed by Shira Piven, the film has a noticeably uneven tone, prompting the audience to wonder if they have the licence to laugh. I found myself pondering if this was an intentional reflection of the central character’s muddled mind. In truth, it isn’t clear.

What is clear, is Wiig’s commitment to a role that asks a lot of her (add one awkward moment of full-frontal nudity to many others) as she’s supported by a fine cast of familiars like Tim Robbins and her psychiatrist, and Wes Bentley and James Marsden as morally dubious TV producers.

While the humour might be too offbeat for many, it’s hard to deny that Welcome to Me isn’t without merit. The central gag is that of surrealism invading the structured world of television broadcasting, a joke that I personally enjoyed. It might aim to tie a neater bow than people drawn to the material would like, but you are allowed to laugh. That said, you might want to choose carefully who you recommend it to. 3.5/5

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Emelie (2015) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Emelie (2015) Directed by Michael Thelin. With Sarah Bolger, Chris Beetem, Joshua Rush, Carly Adams and Elizabeth Jayne. 


As a man with no children, sat in my living room feeling tense and uncomfortable in the company of Michael Thelin’s taught horror-thriller, Emelie, I found myself wondering what I might feel like if I was a father of three, out for the night with his wife seeing the same film at cinema, knowing the kids were home being ‘looked after’ by the babysitter. I suppose it’d be a bit like watching Die Hard 2 on an aeroplane…only about twenty times worse. Listen up parents – if you found Rebecca De Mornay hard to swallow in The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, trust meyou don’t need introducing to Sarah Bolger as Emelie.

Film director, David Fincher, has previously talked about “films that scar” – films like Jaws and Psycho. Well David, add Emelie to your list. The film opens in disturbing fashion, setting a threatening tone that intensifies as events quickly take their course. It’s the sort of film you watch, seemingly aware of what awaits, yet still, catches you unprepared for the onslaught of upsetting moments that prevail.

Tonally, it’s shot with a gloomy, under-lit aesthetic that brings home a depressing reinforcement of the darkness that lives in the centre of its warped heart. Structurally, it offers little new to a genre that has trod similar turf in slightly different shoes, and while Sarah Bolger’s Emelie will never attain the iconic status of Glenn Close’s famous bunny boiler – in terms of overall nastiness, she surpasses her with ease.

In summary, away from blood, guts and ghouls, Emelie is a film that offers genuine horrors. So much so, that it’s sometimes hard to tell if you’re actually enjoying yourself. To say ‘it isn’t for everyone’ might be an understatement. Oh, and hamster lovers pay attention – never watch this film. Ever. Just don’t. Ok? 3.5/5

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