Category Archives: 90s American crime films

Up periscope: a celebration of submarine cinema

I love a good submarine film. The claustrophobia of the confined setting, the tensions arising from a group of people having to co-exist and operate in a completely unnatural, extremely dangerous environment, is all pretty much guaranteed to hook me in every time.

I was reminded of this while I was watched the 2014 thriller Black Sea on the weekend. A hard as nails, embittered Scottish deep sea salvage expert, Robinson, (Jude Law), takes a job with a shadowy backer, to salvage hundreds of millions of dollars of gold rumoured to be in a sunken Nazi U-boat sitting on the bottom of the Black Sea. He has at his disposal a surplus communist era Russian submarine and recruits a fractious crew of washed up seafarers, half of whom are Russian because they are the only ones who know how to properly operate the vessel.

I don’t know why this film passed me by when it first came out but it ticked virtually every box on the my list of requirements for a good submarine film. The crew have to contend with a never ending series of life threatening technical and nautical challenges. Within the narrow confines of the aged submarine, the tensions between crew members ratchet up along ethnic grounds and how they will split up the gold.… Read more

Roy Scheider’s Last Embrace

This post is a short addendum to this piece I did on this site back in 2015 on the 5 great roles of Roy Scheider. I revisit these films every now and again and am always on the lookout for films I haven’t seen starring Scheider. So, when someone told me to check out Silence of the Lamb’s director Jonathan Demme’s thriller, Last Embrace, I was on it.

Last Embrace appeared in 1979, the same year as Scheider did his jaw dropping turn as the womanising, drug taking, dance instructor, Joe Gideon, in Bob Fosse’s All the Jazz. And, frankly, the two films couldn’t be more different.

Last Embrace sees the tanned, sinewy actor playing a character called Harry Hann, an agent for some shadowy unspecified US government intelligence agency. The film begins with Hann getting out of a sanatorium where he has been recuperating after the murder of his wife by unnamed assassins (look closely and you’ll see one of the killers is the late, great, Joe Spinell) in an attack that was obviously targeting him.

He makes his way back to New York City – nearly killing a civilian waiting for a train in PTSD flashback – and once there, goes to a makeup counter at Macy’s Herald Square, which is where he receives his assignments.… Read more

Roger Donaldson double feature: Sleeping Dogs (1977) and Smash Palace (1981)

To the degree that I was familiar with the film career of director Roger Donaldson, it was probably because he made what I would argue is one of the best American thrillers of the eighties, No Way Out (1987).

Donaldson actually had a pretty lengthy and productive directorial career after he decamped to Hollywood in the early 1980s from his native New Zealand: The Bounty (1984), Marie (1985), Cocktail (1988 – a terrible but successful film which gets a pass from me only because it features another Antipodean who was making his way in the US film industry in the 1980s, Bryan Brown), the psychological thriller, White Sands (1992), the wonderful hot garbage that was his 1994 remake of Jim Thompson’s The Getaway, with Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger, and the better than average action sci fi film, Species (1995).

But over the weekend I finally caught up with the two New Zealand films that Donaldson cut his teeth on as a director and which got him noticed internationally, Sleeping Dogs (1977) and Smash Palace (1981). I don’t want to go into too much detail but having finally watched them I wanted to write a little about them, because both of them are excellent.

Sleeping Dogs was Donaldson’s first film and tells the story of a loner, simply known as Smith (a very young Sam Neill), who is estranged from his family and living in a remote part of the country when he is reluctantly swept up in an underground revolutionary movement that is fighting against a right-wing dictatorial government that has taken over New Zealand.… Read more

“Go. Sleep badly. Any questions, hesitate to call.” Projection Booth episode 463: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Okay everyone, time to stop watching Tiger King and get into to some quality popular culture.

Episode 463 of one my favourite film podcasts has just hit the airwaves and is on the 2005 crime film, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. You can access the episode in full from the Projection Booth website at this link.

I join the hardest working man in podcasting, Projection Booth host, Mike White, and crime writer, Jedidiah Ayres, to discuss this deceptively complex piece of crime cinema. Mike also did an interview with the film’s director, Shane Black.

Among the things we cover in this show are the film’s myriad of pop culture references, everything from Sunset Boulevard (1950) to the long running Mike Shayne private investigator pulp series by Brett Halliday, its links to the work of Raymond Chandler, and what one of us (okay, it was me) termed ‘the Shane Black formula’ of film making and storytelling. We also give a lot of love to his other films, particularly the misanthropic delight of The Last Boy Scout (1991), and discuss Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’s metafictional elements. … Read more

Book review: Thailand’s Movie Theatres – Relics, Ruins and the Romance of Escape

I can’t remember when I first stumbled across Philip Jablon’s wonderful website chronicling the decline of the stand-alone movie theatre in Thailand, The Southeast Asia Movie Theatre Project. I think it was soon after I arrived back in Melbourne after a year in Cambodia, during which I spent my own fair share of time tracking down and photographing crumbling Khmer movie theatres (I also nearly broke my neck photographing the inside of an abandoned cinema in the Lao capital, Vientiane, but that’s another story).

My efforts, however, pale in comparison to Jablon’s painstaking work. His book, Thailand’s Movie Theatres: Relics, Ruins and the Romance of Escape, which emerged from his website, is a detailed, perceptive, beautifully rendered examination not only of the rise and fall of Thailand’s stand-alone cinema industry, but of a once powerful part of the country’s public culture which has now almost completely disappeared. As Jablon writes, ‘In Thailand, the standalone movie theatre represents a form of public entertainment that has all but slipped through the cracks of memory into the abyss of time.’

The first stand-alone cinema was established in Thailand in 1905. They proliferated rapidly, with the country boasting as many as 700 at the industry’s peak. Often established by local entrepreneurs, these movie theatres were usually a dynamic part of their community and deeply enmeshed in their economic and social life.… Read more