Classic Bites: Short Reviews
- Dead Shack (2017)
- Top Gun (1986)
- Lean on Pete (2018)
- A Swedish Love Story (1970)
- My Friend Dahmer (2017)
- Boyz n the Hood (1991)
- Burning (2018)
- Baby Driver (2017)
- Richie Rich (1994)
- Harpoon (2019)
- Minding the Gap (2019)
- WarGames (1983)
- Horror Hospital (1973)
- Ray and Liz (2019)
- Afterschool (2008)
- Utøya: July 22 (2018)
- Jonathan ‘aka Duplicate’ (2018)
- SPUD (2010)
- El Angel (2018)
- Muppet Treasure Island (1996)
Dead Shack (2017)
Classic Bites: Dead Shack is available to stream on Shudder.
Let’s face it, there is no shortage of zombie movies, with most playing with imagery and themes created by Romero in his classic Night of the Living Dead. Dead Shack is also keen to embrace its predecessors’ classic zombie movie cliches with a familiar narrative based around an isolated house surrounded by scary woods and a family under siege. But what makes this slice of flesh-munching action, so fun is the dry Canadian wit that ripples through every scene.
Based on a classic ‘cabin in the woods’ premise, Dead Shack never attempts to deviate from the tried and tested zombie format but does so with bags of humour and gore-laced fun. Fourteen-year-old Jason (Matthew Nelson-Mahood) escapes his home for a weekend in the woods with best friend Colin (Gabriel LaBelle), his older sister Summer (Lizzie Boys), and their dad Roger (Donavon Stinson) and his girlfriend Lisa (Valerie Tian). The trip is all about escape, with the log cabin a place for chilling out, drinking and playing card games. However, not far up the road, a doting mother protects her unique family at all costs with their family mealtimes, a sinister game of cat and mouse.
Dead Shack gloriously unpicks the stereotypical family unit, openly challenging the notion that adults know best by placing its teen leads in charge. Here its intelligent screenplay hums with brilliantly timed comedy while the blood and gore flow through practical effects work. The result is a genuinely engaging and entertaining zombie horror that shines with bags of Canadian charm.
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Top Gun (1986)
Classic Bites: Top Gun is available to rent, buy or stream.
What type of movie is Top Gun? Is it a homoerotic bromance? A brazen advert for the US military? Or an opportunity to cash in on the sex appeal of a young Tom Cruise? These questions surround Tony Scott’s military action flick from 1986. With Top Gun, every viewer comes away from the sweat-drenched muscles, pearly white smiles, tight white t-shirts and aviators with a slightly different perspective. However, for me, Top Gun is an amalgamation of all of the themes raised above while also managing to be a damn fine action flick that provides moments of pure escapism. There is no doubt that Top Gun heralded a new, Reagan-inspired vision of the American military, following the anti-war movies of the 1970s. But it wrapped this new, bold, star-spangled vision of combat in MTV-inspired pop. Here Top Gun is, in essence, a feature-length music video.
Designing a movie for the new MTV generation was inspired; after all, it didn’t really need a story, just a killer soundtrack, sex appeal and an emotional hook. Here Top Gun was the first of a new wave of music video movies. These movies would prioritise their soundtrack over their story and bathe us in perfect bodies, skimpy tops, fast action and full-blooded Americana. Watching Top Gun now is a fascinating experience; after all, the triumphalism of America now seems somewhat tired, and its music video montages cover the fact that Top Gun has no real story. Yet, it remains addictive viewing over 35 years later, and that, my friends, is down to its star. Love him or loathe him, Tom Cruise is a Hollywood legend, and Top Gun is a career-defining pop culture sensation that would see white t-shirts and aviators become the must-have fashion accessories of 86.
Lean on Pete (2018)
Classic Bites: Lean on Pete is now available to rent, buy or stream.
Andrew Haigh’s Lean on Pete is a stunning exploration of one young man’s journey through the emotional, social and personal turmoil of family breakdown and neglect. Here Haigh’s exploration of modern America and the relationship between family, community and opportunity is not only challenging and relentless but rooted in conversations on the social division of the United States. Through the journey of Charley (Charlie Plummer), Haigh captures the loneliness and isolation of teenage life and the devastating realities of childhood poverty and neglect. However, unlike many similar movies, Lean on Pete never falls into a simplistic, one-tone narrative path as we follow Charley and an ageing racehorse named ‘Pete’. Here Plummer’s performance is nothing short of career-defining as he offers us a journey of self-discovery against a backdrop of poverty and injustice.
Lean on Pete delicately explores the coming of age process from the perspective of a hurt and isolated young man who has lost all trust in humans. Charley’s only peace, calm and solace come from an animal who listens without judgement. But, as Charley discovers, the world is a far from forgiving place, and no matter how far and how fast you run, we all have to face the demons of our past eventually.
A Swedish Love Story (1970)
Classic Bites: A Swedish Love Story is now available to rent, buy and stream.
Few films encapsulate teenage emotion and intensity, like Roy Andersson’s beautiful and complex tale of young love in 70s Sweden. Here Anderson tenderly explores the first throws of love, jealousy and emotional pain against a backdrop of dysfunctional family life. Anderson combines the beauty of Bergman with a darkly comic, tender and nuanced coming-of-age tale that demonstrates how family life steers and affects the life chances of young people. But it is in the realism Anderson creates when exploring first love, sex and emotional attachment that A Swedish Love Story shines with a rich and stunning complexity.
Often overlooked as a classic of the coming of age genre, A Swedish Love Story is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful explorations of first love ever brought to the screen. Here Anderson’s tale carries a dreamlike Romeo and Juliet-inspired intensity as two young lovers meet, fall apart due to family struggles and attempt reconciliation. A Swedish Love Story is one of the finest coming-of-age movies ever made and one that deserves far more attention in modern film journalism.
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My Friend Dahmer (2017)
Classic Bites: My Friend Dahmer is now available to rent, stream or buy.
What makes someone a serial killer? Are they born evil, or are their actions rooted in their upbringing and socialisation? These questions surround our obsession with serial killers, the answers alluding us all as we watch countless crime dramas, documentaries and films. Much of the fear the serial killer holds over us is based on our inability to fully understand or comprehend their motivations and actions. After all, as humans, we like to place behaviour in easily defined boxes. For example, murder, when viewed through a lens of self-defence, war or even jealousy, can be understood. But, the concept of random homicide based on a personal desire remains clouded in secrecy and fear.
The men and women sitting behind these actions are quickly labelled as monsters, pure evil from the inside out. But, this, in turn, takes away the fact that they are also humans; partners, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. Our society is obsessed with the horrifying murders surrounding these people while rarely exploring the years leading up to their crimes. And it is here where Marc Meyer’s 2018 film version of John Backderf’s 2012 graphic novel is both chilling and fascinating.
My Friend Dahmer focuses on a teenage Dahmer who already has a festering obsession with death as he locks himself away from a loving but dysfunctional home. Here, Ross Lynch provides a stunning central performance embedded in self-loathing, confusion, turmoil, and social isolation.
My Friend Dahmer places the viewer into a range of uncomfortable encounters where sympathy and even humour mix with a deep sense of unease. For some, this may prove too confusing. But, for those willing to look deeply into the realm of adolescent psychology, identity and belonging. My Friend Dahmer offers a unique film experience that challenges our very notions of inherent evil. While uncomfortably shining a light on the lasting impact of our teenage experiences.
READ MORE: BRUNO REIDEAL: CONFESSION OF A MURDERER
Boyz n the Hood (1991)
Classic Bites: Boyz n the Hood is now available to stream, rent or buy.
John Singleton’s uncompromising exploration of inner-city life for young African Americans not only broke a glass ceiling but took a sledgehammer to it in creating one of the most influential and important films of the 1990s. While many may argue Boyz n the Hood is a typical coming-of-age film of the period, nothing could be further from the truth. Here Singleton’s movie not only embraced the spirit and drive of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989) but further uncovered and exposed the reality of inner-city life for African American teens in the early 1990s.
Singleton would directly confront systemic racism, neglect, and police/community relations at a time when the Rodney King case only further highlighted the institutional racism still rampant in American society. Boyz N the Hood would be the first of several movies from Singleton exploring race and culture in the United States, but it’s Boyz n the Hood that remains his finest work.
Classic Bites: Burning is now available to rent or buy.
Some films forever burn a place in your memory; these movies are rare cinematic treasures. Lee Chang-dong’s Burning is one of those films. Based on the short story by Haruki Murakami, Chang-dong’s movie ripples with mystery, romance, desire, and fear as we are taken on a twisted journey that Hitchcock himself would be proud of. However, this South Korean gem never received the attention it deserved, as themes of consumerism, debt, memory, and desire combined to create a sublime and intricate mystery.
Jongsu (Yoo Ah-in) is a young graduate who lives an isolated life as he scrapes together a living as a delivery driver in Seoul. However, Jongsu’s life is about to change following a chance encounter with Haemi (Yun Jong-seo). Haemi seems to know Jongsu, and her presence does, indeed, bring back some vague yet confused childhood memories for Jongsu. However, when Haemi becomes involved with a wealthy businessman, Jongsu finds his life submerged in a spiralling mystery of no escape.
Burning wraps you in its haunting mystery from the outset through the outstanding performances at its heart. But Burning truly excels within its direction, cinematography, and score. Here Lee Chang-dong slowly builds a sense of impending disaster from the opening scene. But this complex web of intrigue and unease only increases in size as we near the shocking finale. Here Chang-dong reflects the work of Hitchcock at his best. But this is no carbon copy thriller; it’s a unique, haunting, and bold journey into the emerging power of South Korean filmmaking.
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Baby Driver (2017)
Classic Bites: Baby Driver is now available to rent, buy or stream.
Baby Driver arrived in UK cinemas with a bang on June 27 2017, humming with the energy of a high-octane engine. Baby Driver was designed to be a cinematic event, merging the heist thriller with the musical in a way few before or after have managed. But, I wonder how many of you would class Edgar Wright’s testosterone-soaked crime thriller as a musical? Yet that is precisely what we are offered as Wright merges Walter Hills The Driver (1978) with the musical energy of Saturday Night Fever and The Blues Brothers.
Music acts as the foundation stone of the film’s narrative from the opening scene as we are thrown into a perfectly choreographed musical heist. Here, Bellbottoms by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion rings in our ears as Ansel Elgort sits waiting in his getaway car, dancing and lip-syncing his way through the opening bars of the song. And as the getaway begins, it’s the hum of the car’s engine and screech of the brakes and tires that takes over from the music as we dance our way into the opening credits. With a soundtrack of over thirty classic tunes, Baby Driver is a love letter to the power of music, its score, the very heartbeat of its on-screen action and tightly formed characters. Baby Driver is Edgar Wright’s unique take on the classic Hollywood musical.
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Richie Rich (1994)
Classic Bites: Richie Rich is now available to rent, buy or stream.
By 1994, Macaulay Culkin had cemented his place as the most successful child star of the modern era. His journey from 1990s Home Alone encompassed eight motion pictures in just four years, a tiring, all-consuming feat for even the most well-established adult stars. But, for a 13-year-old boy whose life was directed by an overbearing father, this persistent on-screen presence was taking its toll. By the time Richie Rich went into production, Culkin had shown all the signs of exhaustion, symptoms evident on-screen while equally tying him to the loneliness of the character he portrays.
Richie has everything a boy could ever desire but lacks the most important thing money can’t buy, friends. In reality, Culkin’s life was in a similar position; his Hollywood dream warped into a nightmare of social isolation and pressure. Here Culkin’s longing for escape is visible in every scene as he methodically turns on the charm. Richie Rich is an unknowing portrait of a child star attempting to keep up a pretence of enjoyment. The resulting picture, is a strange mix of fantasy and reality with both Richie and Culkin, searching for meaning in an ocean of loneliness. This ultimately gives Richie Rich a strange overarching vibe, which didn’t play well with audiences in 1994 as it became a financial and critical flop.
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Classic Bites: Harpoon is available to watch now on Arrow Player.
Are you dreaming of a luxurious vacation following the oppressive boredom of the global pandemic? If so, how about a leisurely trip out to sea on a yacht owned by your best friend? It all sounds so idyllic, doesn’t it? But add to that a brawl just a few hours before departure over a girl and a toxic friendship based on jealousy, secrets and lies, and maybe the planned excursion wasn’t the best move. Thus begins Canadian writer/director Rob Grant’s delicious tale of friendship, betrayal and bloody revenge in Harpoon, a film laced with survival movie clichés, dark comedy and wince-inducing bodily trauma.
Taking its inspiration from Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket’ and lacing this with the true story of the ‘Mignonette’ from 1884. Harpoon is a darkly delicious joy that even manages to offer us a beautifully twisted finale as it plays with the audience’s compassion and hatred in equal measure.
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Minding the Gap (2019)
Classic Bites: Minding the Gap is now available to rent, buy or stream.
By embracing and exploring the peer group of his youth, director Bing Liu provides us with a multi-layered documentary that speaks to the challenging journey from boyhood to manhood in a community of limited opportunity. Here Minding the Gap mixes the adrenaline-soaked skateboarding world with a nuanced exploration of masculinity, community, opportunity and family.
Starting its life as a collection of homemade skateboarding videos alongside his friends Keire Johnson and Zack Mulligan, Bing Liu offers us a vivid portrait of his community Rockford, Illinois. Here the lives of the boys and young men who provided him with the stability of escapism and belonging growing up are placed centre stage alongside the thrill of skateboarding and the reality of family life. The result is a deeply emotional journey of self-discovery, poverty and domestic conflict as we follow a group of young men who sit on the margins of the so-called American dream.
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Classic Bites: WarGames is available to rent, buy or stream.
Reflecting the social fears of a Cold War still burning with nuclear tension, John Badham’s 80’s teen thriller also peered into the future in its exploration of artificial intelligence in a newly emerging computer age. The result delivers us a thriller that has remarkably stood the test of time. WarGames arrived in cinema screens the same year as Apple launched the Lisa computer and Microsoft launched its first Word software. Meanwhile, Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan would become the first movie to use computer effects with Lucasfilm’s DEC VAX computer. But WarGames release was also surrounded by the first computer-to-computer communication as ARPANET was born (the precursor of what we now call the internet). WarGames not only embraced the march forward of tech but asked one pertinent question, where does human control end and A. I start?
Attached initially to director Martin Brest, WarGames was to be an out-and-out thriller; however, worried the film may end up too dark for its 80s audience, The studio quickly replaced Brest with John Badham. Badham would lighten the tone of WarGames while building on the hacker elements of the original script. His vision led WarGames to become a far more teenage-orientated thriller. This change in direction worked, with WarGames becoming a smash hit in 83, its box office impact defined by the introduction of America’s first policies on data surveillance and protection.
Horror Hospital (1973)
Classic Bites: Horror Hospital is now available to rent or buy.
The 1970s gave us some of the best horrors ever made; however, Horror Hospital is not one of them, but it is a delicious slice of low-budget 70s filmmaking that is so bad it’s addictive. Here we have Nazi-inspired doctors, quirky British humour, leather-clad bikers and gallons of red sauce in a film that never takes itself seriously. Horror Hospital is quintessentially 70s British viewing as it bathes its audience in sex, gore and screams, its attempt to challenge the might and stability of Hammer Horror both humorous and decidedly camp. And while many may now find the 70s dialogue dated and at times offensive, Horror Hospital is a gem of 70s low-budget moviemaking.
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Ray and Liz (2019)
Classic Bites: Ray and Liz is available now to rent, buy or stream.
Richard Billingham’s photography is world-renowned. With his debut feature film, he manages to combine the power of still photography with the dynamism of the moving picture in a stark yet beautiful personal memoir of poverty and dysfunctional family life in 1980s Britain.
Shot in a non-theatrical 4:3 format on 16mm film, Billingham creates a feeling of claustrophobia from the outset, coupled with an unsettling sense of documentary-inspired realness. Here Ray and Liz is a porthole into the memories of its director, creating an experience reminiscent of Terrance Davies’ Distant Voices, Still Lives. Billingham’s movie is a snapshot of a society where class and background impact opportunity, achievement and growth while shaping family development. However, where Ray and Liz differs from previous powerful portrayals of family life is its critique of family dysfunction and poverty and a society unwilling to challenge, support, and care. Here schools idly stand by, and neighbours are reluctant to intervene. This was Thatcher’s Britain, where the individual was more important than the community, the inability of some parents to care, coupled with a social unwillingness to get involved.
Classic Bites: Afterschool is available to rent or buy.
Taking a clear lead from Michael Haneke’s Benny’s Video, and equally reflecting the turbulence of teenage life seen in Gus Van Sant’s early work. Antonio Campos’ Afterschool smartly updates the VHS discussions of Haneke’s 1992 film for the YouTube generation. While at the same time reflecting on the mental health impact of young people who feed on an online world, without the maturity to navigate the scenes reaching their young eyes. Here, Campos’ dissection of online media is wrapped in the isolation and paranoia of a boarding school, where public image trumps any desire to understand the psychological needs of students. The resulting journey is uncomfortable as the narrative explores the boundaries between compassion and indifference. Here the young people at the heart of the story, are the manipulated and manipulators of their modern world.
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Utøya: July 22 (2018)
Classic Bites: Utøya July 22 is available to rent or buy.
The horror of the events on Utøya Island on July 22 2011, will long haunt society. Here young people enjoying a summer camp organised by the Norwegian Labour Party found themselves the subject of pure hatred and violence when a lone gunman killed 69 people on the Island and a further 8 in Oslo. Unlike the Netflix film released the same year, Utøya: July 22 has no interest in the thoughts or background of the right-wing terrorist at the heart of the devastation. Instead, Utøya opts to focus squarely on the horror and fight for survival of those young people caught in a net of hate.
Utøya is filmed in a heart-pounding and emotional single take, echoing the atmosphere of Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (2003). The result is a movie of immense power and emotion that divided critics and audiences alike on release. However, Poppe’s film asks the audience to witness the events while never exploiting them for cinematic effect.
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Jonathan ‘aka Duplicate’ (2018)
Slipping under the radar here in the UK, Jonathan/Duplicate is a hidden sci-fi gem. Part Jekyll and Hyde, and part The Outer Limits, Jonathan is a tale of two separate personalities inhabiting the same body; one delicate, studious and controlled and the other vibrant, energetic and rebellious. More than just a science fiction tale, Jonathan is a beautiful exploration of mental health, personality and the need to live the life we are gifted. But in its soul, it is also a clear commentary on the challenges of sharing a life, including the limits of trust. Here Ansel Elgort beautifully encapsulates the trials and tribulations of both John and Jonathan, allowing the audience to garner empathy and understanding of each unique persona. Bill Oliver’s film would sadly never make a splash outside the film festival circuit, but this low-budget indie sci-fi gem is well worth anyone’s time.
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Based on John Van De Ruit’s novel, Spud carries many similarities to Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole, as the trials and tribulations of puberty, discovery and friendship surround the story of young John Milton (Troye Sivan). Here Milton’s first year at boarding school is wrapped in fear, apprehension and darkly comic moments of wonder, alongside the changing political landscape of South Africa. However, when you add to the mix John Cleese’s delightfully grumpy yet tender mentor, Spud becomes something truly special. Unfortunately, Spud all but disappeared here in the UK due to a 15 certificate that hindered its discovery. But, with moments of wonderful humour and heartfelt emotion, alongside performances that glow with the uncertainty and rambunctiousness of youth, Spud is nothing short of an entertaining and emotional delight.
READ MORE: BOYS FEELS: DESIRES IN THE DARK
El Angel (2018)
Argentina’s infamous baby-faced killer Carlos Robledo Puch takes centre stage as director Luis Ortega delivers a beautifully shot portrait of the sexually ambiguous and complex killer. Here Puch’s crime spree is surrounded by 70s fashion and disco as we are taken on a thrilling ride into friendship, jealousy, crime, and murder. However, far from glorifying the murderous muppet, Ortega’s character study is embedded in a need to try and unpick the psychology underpinning his actions and the youthful energy and invulnerability he wore like a shield. Some may indeed find the film to light given the numerous victims of Puch’s rampage, but the resulting study is fascinating, electric and unmissable.
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Muppet Treasure Island (1996)
Following the model established in The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), Brian Henson’s second feature would again look to classic literature for inspiration, moving from Dicken’s to Robert Louis Stevenson. Once again, the Muppets would also be joined by a well-known actor, Tim Curry. However, unlike The Christmas Carol, Treasure Island allowed for a lighter Muppet translation where the comedic dial could be turned to maximum. The result would be a wild Muppet adventure, where Tim Curry steals the show as Long John Silver alongside a young Kevin Bishop as Jim Hawkins.
However, the fact that Muppet Treasure Island is remembered more for Curry than Kermit would lead to criticism, with many pointing to this as a reason for its lacklustre box office takings. However, Muppet Treasure Island is a beautifully made picture, one that continues to build on the emerging confidence of Brian Henson while returning to a style of comic delivery last seen in The Muppet Show.
READ MORE: THE MUPPET MOVIE