47 FILMS: 24. THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH

47 FILMS: 25. THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH – Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 movie is a classic of science fiction and provided David Bowie with his most iconic role.

Everything about Nic Roeg’s mid-seventies classic is bold and fascinating. The editing, the performances, the camera work and the script. Everything. Bowie plays Thomas Newton, an alien who has come to Earth to take water back to his planet which is suffering from a terrible drought and where his family await his return. Patenting a series of inventions due to the advanced technology of his own planet, Newton becomes incredibly rich and a target for dark forces within the government as well as plagued by his own distractions. Having tasted various pleasures with his guide, the down on her luck Mary-Lou (Candy Clarke) Newton begins to acclimatize to the planet losing his way in the midst of alcoholism and, wouldn’t you guess it, alienation. His one friend, a womanizing academic Dr. Bryce (Rip Torn) betrays him to the authorities and as they test him, they also strip him of his identity. Testing his eyes will make it impossible for him to remove his contact lenses which serve as a disguise.

Based on a novel by Walter Tevis (who also wrote The Hustler!), the film is so suited to Bowie himself that it’s difficult at times not to assume it’s a documentary and that there’s something about Bowie that we always suspected but is only now revealed. Loving the alien has been a consistent theme of Bowie’s work and also to some extent Nicolas Roeg. Forty years on from its initial release, The Man who Fell to Earth still has the power to shock and amaze. It also has one of the best final lines and shots in the history of cinema.

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47 FILMS: 23. CHILDREN OF MEN

47 Films to see before you’re murdered in your dreams continues with Clive Owen in Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men.

The future is a grim reality. Children are not being born and humanity is on a nihilistic march towards its own extinction. Theo (Clive Owen) is a working stiff who likes his drink, an occasion flutter on the dogs and to just get by. But when he is contacted by his ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore) to do a job for her radical movement the Fishes, he is tasked with guarding perhaps the only hope in a world of increasing hopelessness and violence.

Alfonso Cuarón’s film takes PD James science fiction novel and creates one of the most interestingly subversive and thoughtful dystopias of recent times. The Britain of virulent anti-immigration hatred and militarized police is all too recognizable. As with his Harry Potter film, the Mexican director proves to have a perceptive eye at capturing those particularly English details of rain wet tarmac and occasional beauty of the ‘Sceptred Isle’.

Clive Owen has never been better as the rumpled hero. His apathy and non-ideological stance attains a nobility in contrast to the fanatical opponents of the political process. Add to this Cuarón’s now famous extended one shot sequences and what we have is a deeply intelligent and witty political thriller (brilliant cameo by Michael Caine by the way) that is also an exciting chase film.

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47 FILMS: 20. 1492: THE CONQUEST OF PARADISE

In our continuing series of ‘47 Films to see before you’re murdered in your dreams‘, we look at Ridley Scott’s dark take on the New World: 1492.

Medieval Spain is a harsh place. The Inquisition burns heretics at the stake and following the fall of Granada, the most Catholic Majesties reign confident in their pomp. An Italian sailor with a bad temper and a yen for exploration seeks funding for his latest venture: an attempt to find a Western passage to India.

Following the success of Thelma and Louise, Ridley Scott managed to get financing for this bold historical epic. Competing with a lighter and more swashbuckling take on the Columbus story (starring Tom Selleck as the King of Spain), 1492 is a strange beguilingly dark and twisted historical piece that gets lost and tortured but turns into something quite extraordinary somewhere along the way. It’s a big budget companion piece to Werner Herzog’s Aguirre: Wrath of God and – although not as fully accomplished as that masterpiece – has much to recommend it.

Featuring a rare English language performance from a hulking Gerard Depardieu as well as sterling support from Sigourney Weaver and a growling Gothic villain in Michael Wincott’s Moxica, the film is a Conradian take on the savagery at the dark heart of the civilization project.  As ideals of adventure and discovery give way to murderous injustice, conquest and vicious exploitation, 1492 is an epic deconstruction of the usually benign heroic take on what for many populations actually represented an apocalypse. A score by Vangelis and Scott’s sumptuous visual style make this an unforgettable film.

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47 FILMS: 19. THIEF

In our continuing series of ‘47 Films to see before you’re murdered in your dreams‘, we look at Michael Mann’s glorious Thief.

Before the Mohicans were all but one and Miami was Vice ridden, Michael Mann made his feature film debut – and possibly his best film to date – with the 1981 James Caan crime flick Thief.

The tale is familiar enough: a super-professional criminal begins to feel the need for something resembling a normal life, a wife (Tuesday Weld), a family, a home. Of course his criminal associates and corrupt cops want to control or destroy him and ruin his plans. However, the film is lifted from its relatively ordinary story by the amazing performances. James Caan has rarely been better. His diner scene with Tuesday Weld is a professed favorite of the actor’s and you can see why. Caan – who also produced the film – is at his wired best, suggesting a vulnerability of a man ready to fall apart or fly off the handle. Weld is more than capable of standing up to him, and add to the leads debuts by James Belushi and Dennis Farina and some excellent moments with Willie Nelson and Nick Nickeas.

The film looks gorgeous, rain slicked streets of incredible beauty. Mann hasn’t gone kitsch yet. His cops are grubby, there are workplaces and the whole thing is taken seriously. The safe cracking scenes are exciting and at the same time almost humdrum. Caan’s thief – who will appear again in De Niro’s role in Heat – is a man who gets the job done and doesn’t want any part of the glamour or the myth of what he does.

This is the kind of American movie Jean Paul Melville was trying to reproduce, but which probably didn’t exist until after Melville. Tangerine Dream provide an overbearing score, but with this material it works.

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47 FILMS: 12. MONA LISA

In our continuing series of ’47 Films to see before you’re murdered in your dreams’, we look at Neil Jordan’s murky English noir Mona Lisa.

A stylish British crime flick produced by George Harrison’s Handmade Films in 1986, Mona Lisa also features one of Bob Hoskins’ best performances. Up until this point Hoskins was most famous for his hardman turn in The Long Good Friday, but here he plays against type as George, a heart of gold ex-con, who, on being freed, gets a job as a limo driver for Michael Caine’s sleazy gangland boss.
With an abiding love for Nat King Cole and a nostalgic longing for a better more honorable time, George is given the task of driving around high class call girl Simone (Cathy Tyson). They soon strike up a friendship, which leads George to agree to find her abused young friend Kathy, leading him onto a collision course with his boss and his criminal dealings. Neil Jordan’s film (co-written with David Lealand) is a neo-noir akin to his underrated 2002 film The Good Thief. It’s got a fantastic score and wonderful performances from Hoskins and Tyson, the former losing out to Paul Newman for the Oscar nod.  There are also early cameos from Robbie Coltrane and The Wire’s Clarke Peters.

Kids director Larry Clark is currently developing a remake which was going to star Mickey Rourke who has since pulled out. For more of our ’47 Films to see Before you are Murdered in your Dreams’ Click Here.

47 FILMS: 6. THE WILD BUNCH

More 47 Films to see before you’re murdered in your dreams. This episode we tackle the testosterone soaked western epic, The Wild Bunch.

Whenever I meet a movie critic my first question is always, have you seen The Wild Bunch? If they say yes I’ll buy them a drink and they’re a friend of mine for life. If they say no I punch them in the face and tell them to come back to me when they know their f*cking job.

You can’t make a movie like the Wild Bunch any more. Not because the industry isn’t full of talented directors and cinematographers, there’s plenty, but what the industry sorely lacks is hard-living, hard-drinking, leathery men. They’re all too pretty these days, too in touch with their feelings. Warren Oates didn’t have any feelings he lost them in a midnight poker game to a one-armed bear hunter who could breathe cigar smoke through his eyes. Imagine Sam Peckinpah being forced to cast James Franco, he’d have beat the living shit out of him with his own boot and had him dragged by a fast horse all the way back to Hollywood.

For years you could only get hold of a cut version because some guy in a tie on the classification board actually shit themselves when they first saw it. I sympathize, it’s a violent film. Peckinpah intended it to be an allegory for the Vietnam war which was raging at the time. He wanted people to be disgusted by the violence but unfortunately for him and fortunately for us, it is so wonderfully shot that he transmuted the bloody savagery into poetic beauty.

As for the characters, they’re all bad men, you shouldn’t root for any of them but I defy anyone not to feel the urge to applaud when Holden, Johnson, Oates and Borgnine walk like giants towards certain doom.

It’s a movie you can endlessly dissect and plenty has been written about how it explodes the mythology of the old west and how the rise of automated weapons destroyed any semblance of the noble war. It’s the stuff of dissertations but all that aside, it’s a damn good movie that can be enjoyed without turning your brain on.

Is it the best Western ever made? My head says yes, my heart says Once Upon A Time in the West but if you’ve haven’t seen the Wild Bunch, not only are you in for a treat you’ll spare yourself the indignity of being punched in the face by me.

Update: When I posted this out I was informed by a trustworthy source that David O. Russell is preparing to do a remake. Ye Gods.

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47 FILMS: 2. OUTLAND

47 Films to see before you’re murdered in your dreams continues with Sean Connery Sci-Fi Outland.

A lone space Marshal, O’Neill (Sean Connery) on a moon of Jupiter – although set on Io the film was actually filmed on Ganymede for budgetary reasons – has to contend with a corrupt mining company which would rather see its workers die one by one raving in the depths of drug induced psychosis than see its quotas suffer. When O’Neill won’t let go of the investigation and his family desert him, mining boss Wizard (Peter Boyle) calls in some hired guns to off the plucky law man.

Having made the wonderful Capricorn One, Peter Hyams garned a reputation for himself as having balls of 100% brass in 1984 when he made a sequel to 2001: a Space Odyssey. Outland is a work of fantastic gritty and chunky science fiction and carries on from Alien the idea of a proletarian space age, when those in the suits will be the miners and the Parkers of the world and not the preppy military types. Connery’s glum O’Neill – heaven forfend he should ever play Scottish – is a guardian of an unappreciative working man. The violence is brutal; the setting is perfect with a real world of drab clunkiness and the sense of dread as the killers approach palpable. In a swipe at Alien (the balls on this man), the poster line for the film was ‘Even in Space Man’s worst enemy is Man’.

Outland was so successful it was later remade in black and white as a Western and renamed High Noon and a new Outland remake is currently in production.  

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