Thief

Thief | 1981 | Film Review | SHELF HEROES

★★★★★ 

I was several years too young to catch Michael Mann’s Heat on the big screen – an oversight since remedied – but even from seeing it on our old flickering CRT TV it became, and remains, one of my all time favourites. The slick inner city cinematography, the pounding tension and the rounded, troubled protagonists. It is one of the great genre movies. With his 1981 feature debut (aside from a few made-for-TV movies) Mann lays much of the shimmering, macho groundwork for this later masterpiece.

Thief is a film I have seen, but only on the poorest quality DVD transfer – praise be to Arrow Video, then, for breathing life into this benchmark in the director’s career with another immaculate Blu-ray restoration. Finally witnessing it in all its neon-illuminated, murky backstreet glory has shifted it in my estimation from an early footnote I liked to a vital visceral thriller I love.

Looks aside, there is one standout scene in Thief that makes it essential viewing – the cross table diner sit-down between James Caan and his beau Tuesday Weld (a motif famously revisited by Pacino and De Niro in Heat). Here we see the fragile beating heart of our anti-hero, and the honest, sensitive force behind his motivation. While on the surface he is still the savvy jewel thief in flash suits and purring black Cadillac, a revolver tucked in his waistband, we glimpse the naive ill-adjusted child who governs him. 11 years lost in prison, Frank (Caan) has mapped out his dream life in a collage lovingly cut from magazines, pleading Jessie (Weld) to make it a reality with him. He wants out from the underworld, but his dreams are all secondhand, and ill-conceived. Offered a chance of a huge score that will earn him enough to call it quits, against his better judgment he is unable to refuse.

“I am the last guy in the world that you wanna fuck with,” he declares while attempting to elicit some information – but we can see his heart isn’t in it. Too old. Too tired. Too soft-hearted. A life of thuggery is all he knows, and he can no longer face it. Likewise, as the narrative oscillates between Frank preparing for a high-stakes, high-risk diamond robbery – reluctantly under the employ of a sublime Robert Prosky – and his gradual adjustment into suburban life, we see a man too fierce and rough-edged to settle down. This tense imbalance, and the never-bettered performance of Caan, make Thief arguably the great ‘One Last Job’ picture.

Mann is predominantly thought of as a director of great style. Reflecting streetlights, and elegant camera moves. But it is his focus on the conflicted character, fleshed out with meticulous research, that makes his movies tick. There is little action in Thief, nor any imaginative leaps in its storytelling – but we care about what is going on, about what becomes of Frank. Not because he’s wholly empathetic – he isn’t – but because he is real. Dialogue is dense with slang and nicknames, little is given away for free and every decision seems conflicted. By Frank’s own admission, he reached a place in prison where ‘nothing meant nothing’ – a mental state perfect for a successful life of crime, but is it possible for him now to claw back a part of himself to raise a family?

Scored by the revolving, foreboding synths of Tangerine Dream, a sense of momentum is conjured to keep us driving through the Chicago nights. For at times Thief is more character piece than crime thriller, drifting through the dreamlike vision of a rain-lashed urban metropolis, in-and-out of the deeply wounded psyche of a man who is desperate to claim back the life he never lived. The only job that he doesn’t have the tools for.


[ 1981 — Dir: Michael Mann — 122 mins — IMDb ]

I'm All Right Jack

I'm All Right Jack | 1959 | Film Review | SHELF HEROES

★★★★☆ 

Slippery international arms trading. Bickering trade unions. Manipulative media. Greedy, conniving old chaps in power. Not much changes – as demonstrated by John and Ray Boulting’s 1959 BAFTA winning satire I’m All Right Jack, set in the booming industrial age of post-war Britain. Largely a knockabout comedy of errors with the occasional nudge nudge of Carry On smut and jaunty music, the film is best remembered for Peter Sellers' creation of socialist trade unionist Fred Kite.

Pre-Kubrick and Clouseau, this was the film that launched Sellers from Goon and bit-part actor to movie star (with even a hint of his later multi-role appearances to come). What is so successful about Kite, though, is how rounded he is – not just a comedy Commie, but a fleshed out character with a home life and a streak of melancholy running through him. This isn’t necessarily there in the writing, but Sellers' performance yields a layer of depth that prevents the film's more dated attributes overruling its enjoyment.

Sellers’ character draws the eye, but it is Ian Carmichael’s Stanley Windrush who is at the heart of the narrative – a Tim-nice-but-dim posho in tweed suits and old school tie who has returned from the war with ambitions of a management job in industry. A goal soon quashed as each interview exposes him as an earnest chap, but a dim-witted liability. Just the sort of stooge his uncle is after to stir up a good old fashioned trade dispute to aid him and his pals in some personal profiteering. Donning a blue collar, Stanley is sent to the factory floor of the ominously titled Missiles Ltd., not as in his eyes to get a taste of industry and work his way up the ranks – but to spark a strike for his uncle’s benefit.

The Boultings’ intentions with the film have been a contentious issue, with many regarding it as a sneering mockery of trade unionists. In fact the film’s lead Ian Carmichael goes so far as to compare the toothbrush moustached Kite as falling somewhere between Hitler and Chaplin, when interviewed on the subject. And it is fair to say the unions are painted as conniving work-shy slackers (“We haven’t had a stoppage like this in ages...the week before last”); but what allows the lively British satire to work is that everyone takes a beating. The slime-ball upper-classes arguably come off worse amid laughable privilege and self-interest (special mention for a fantastically hateable Richard Attenborough), as do the sleazy newspaper men and shady foreign investors.

In a comedy market of bawdy shouting Americans, I’m All Right Jack does feel mightily slow and stuffy – a product of its time. But what endures about the film is its bubbling, wide-reaching satire. While it never bites, and is happier to raise a wry smile at its subjects, its issues are timeless. The live TV talk show climax in particular has echoes of Lumet’s Network and other outraged breakdowns about the fixed, failing systems of governance.

As a wild counterpoint to I’m All Right Jack, this beautifully restored reissue comes complete with Peter Sellers' The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film, an absurdist short film collaboration with Spike Milligan and Richard Lester that features all manner of slapstick madness in a field in its chaotic 11 minutes. Alive with the spirit of The Goons, it was shot for pennies over a few days before becoming a popular cult favourite and even receiving an Academy Award nomination.


[ 1959 — Dir: John Boulting — 105 mins — IMDb ]

WIN Obvious Child on DVD

WIN Obvious Child on DVD | Free Competition | SHELF HEROES

To celebrate the release of Obvious Child on DVD we’ve got 3 copies of the film to give away!

Refreshing, honest, relatable and hilarious, Obvious Child is a comedy like no other. Following one woman’s haphazard journey through her late twenties.

Obvious Child is the story of unapologetic Brooklyn comedian Donna Stern (Jenny Slate), a twenty-something loose cannon who gets dumped, fired and pregnant in quick succession. Better at cracking jokes about her flatulence and the contents of her knickers in her weekly stand-up routine than doing her taxes, Donna has a lot of growing up to do. With her parents nudging her to take control of her life, Donna is forced to do just that when she falls pregnant following a one-night stand with clean-cut, sensible Max (Jake Lacy) – a guy not remotely her type – and decides to seek the choice most responsible to her future. With the support of her friends Nellie (Gaby Hoffmann) and Joey (Gabe Liedman), Donna learns how to be brave, honest and vulnerable in real life; not just on stage.

Obvious Child is available now from Koch Media.

To be in with a chance of winning, simply complete the form below by liking us on FACEBOOK, answering the simple question or with one of the other easy methods.

Winners will be notified on 8th February. Open to UK residents only.

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WIN Night Moves on Blu-ray

WIN Night Moves on Blu-ray | Free Competition | SHELF HEROES

To celebrate the release of Night Moves on DVD & Blu-Ray from 12 January we’re giving away 3 copies of the film on Blu-ray!

From director Kelly Reichardt (Wendy & Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff) and with an all-star cast
including Oscar-nominee Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), Dakota Fanning (The Twilight Saga: New Moon) and Golden Globe nominee Peter Sarsgaard (An
Education), Night Moves is an intense thriller that rests on a knife’s edge.

When outsider Josh (Eisenberg) teams with high society dropout Dena (Fanning) and
Harmon (Sarsgaard), a radicalised former marine, for a controversial mission to blow up a
dam, they cannot imagine the fatal consequences. Night Moves takes you on a chilling
journey that will see their alliance shattered and put their lives at risk.

Night Moves is available now from Soda Pictures.

To be in with a chance of winning, simply complete the form below by liking us on FACEBOOK, answering the simple question or with one of the other easy methods.

Winners will be notified on 1st February. Open to UK residents only.

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