Classic Bites: Short Reviews

23 mins read

Classic Bites are short reviews of classic films now available to rent, buy or stream.

You may also like Q Bites and Film and TV Bites.

Burning (2018)

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. 


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.


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, a strange mix of fantasy and reality. 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.


Harpoon (2019)

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 audiences compassion and hatred in equal measure.


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.


WarGames (1983)

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, leading 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.


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.

Afterschool (2008)

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, uncomfortable as the narrative explores the boundaries between compassion and indifference. The young people at the heart of the story, both the manipulated and manipulators of their modern world.


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.

The Muppet Movie (1979)

Classic Bites: The Muppet Movie is available to rent, buy or stream.

The Muppet Movie has remained the benchmark for every Muppet film since. Its style, grace, and humour, embedded in the hearts of a whole generation. While at the same time, its physical effects helped set the template for puppeteering work in Hollywood. Henson’s movie oozes love for the diverse characters he created, from the first magical scene of Kermit playing his banjo in a swamp to the raucous energy of Dr Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. But the icing on the cake is Paul Williams and Kenny Asher’s outstanding score of musical numbers. After all, this is the soundtrack that would give the world The Rainbow Connection, a song that encapsulated hope, creativity, love and family; everything Henson’s Muppets stood for. And with over 250 Muppet characters appearing in the finale, The Muppet Movie is an intelligent and emotional journey into belonging, acceptance, and dreams.


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.


SPUD (2010)

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.


Classic Bites

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.


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.

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