Category Archives: Little White Lies

‘Grease’ at 40: A first-time look at a pop culture classic

We all have our blind spots when it comes to cinema – and that’s a good thing. Being passionate about film is being open to discovery and constantly looking to fill in gaps in one’s knowledge. But when you get to a certain age and also happen to work in film journalism, not having seen certain pop culture touchstones starts to stick out. Until very recently, my biggest blind spot – at least in terms of a film it seemed everyone had seen at least once – was Grease.

And yet, through cultural osmosis, I’ve always felt like I have seen Grease. Not only did I know most of the songs, I knew most of the words to most of the songs. What I didn’t know was what a peculiar musical it is. Take the title track, for instance, which plays over the opening credits and is one of the few songs I hadn’t heard before. One of four original songs written for the film (this one by Barry Gibb), the disco number feels surprisingly at odds with the late-’50s/early ‘60s style of the rest of the soundtrack. It’s a catchy tune, but seems as though it’s been included merely to forge a connection between the film and star John Travolta’s earlier Bee Gees-scored hit, Saturday Night Fever. It’s a curious identity crisis moment, but then perhaps it’s appropriate given the narrative arcs of the film’s leading pair…

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Eight films to watch before you see ‘The Shape of Water’

Combining fantastical romance with Cold War intrigue, Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is both a loving tribute to all manner of movies and a swipe at societal woes – more so bigotry and the tyranny of toxic white male heteronormativity than disapproval of romancing an amphibian.

Here’s our guide to some films worth seeking out before – or after – seeing The Shape of Water: ones del Toro has cited as influences, a few explicitly referenced in the film, and the odd one that shares something of the same spirit…

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Why I love Nicolas Cage’s performance in ‘Bringing Out the Dead’

Released in 1999 to generally positive reviews but a poor box office, Bringing Out the Dead remains one of Martin Scorsese’s most overlooked films. His fourth collaboration with screenwriter Paul Schrader (here adapting a novel by Joe Connelly) acts as a fusion of the pair’s earlier efforts Taxi Driver and The Last Temptation of Christ. It is a frequently horrific odyssey through nocturnal New York, tinged with a desperate grasp at grace from a man teetering on the line between life and whatever lies beyond.

Instead of Christ, though, Bringing Out the Dead’s hero is Frank Pierce, a graveyard shift paramedic played by Nicolas Cage, an actor who probably qualifies as a deity to certain subsets of online fandom. The film follows Frank over three consecutive nights, at a point where he’s not managed to save any dying patients for months. During these hectic nights, he befriends the daughter (Patricia Arquette) of a heart attack victim he’s brought in and works in a two-man ambulance team with a slew of different partners, each as unhinged as him but in their own ways…

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Brigsby Bear (Dave McCary, 2017)

This is the story of an emotionally stunted thirtysomething who can only conceptualise the world around him through cultural iconography, which might make it sound like it’s a serious work about a film critic. Instead, it’s an off-kilter, open-hearted comedy…

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In praise of Dwayne Johnson’s performance in ‘Pain & Gain’

With the release of Baywatch, Dwayne Johnson ventures into raunchy comedy mode, as the much belovedremembered TV show gets an affectionate piss-take update. Word of mouth on the reboot may be mixed, but that certainly isn’t a reflection of Johnson’s comic abilities. Cocksure humour was a key component of his wrestling persona, The Rock, while the star’s finest film performance to date came in one of the more grotesque (and interestingly so) studio movies of recent times: Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain, in which he plays an amalgamation of three other men involved in one of the strangest true crime stories of the ’90s.

Pain & Gain makes up one third of 2013’s unofficial ‘American Dream, Y’all’ trilogy, which also includes Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers and Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring – each a high-stakes crime tale that takes a satirical stab at, among other targets, narcissism and commodity fetishism. All were divisive works upon release, but Pain & Gain is by far the most misunderstood, perhaps due to the disbelief that director Bay could actually possess the self-awareness to skewer the kind of half-witted machismo that features in so many of his films…

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How ‘The Lost World’ taught me that films can be cruel

Twenty years on from its summer ’97 release, any reverence for The Lost World: Jurassic Park is largely restricted to people holding up for it as the best of the franchise’s sequels. Which is perhaps fair and certainly understandable, especially given that directors Joe Johnston and Colin Trevorrow, the series’ most recent torch bearers, have not managed to deliver a set-piece as thrilling as anything from Steven Spielberg’s predecessors.

Speaking as someone who has seen the film many times over the last 20 years, I can’t make the case for The Lost World being an overlooked classic. But it remains a fascinating film; essentially dino-based riff on Howard Hawks’ 1962 safari movie Hatari!, it abandons the wonderment of Spielberg’s original in favour of a more macabre and cynical worldview. Growing up, it had an unexpectedly profound effect on me…

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Detour (Christopher Smith, 2016)

There are two possible effects that come from lifting the title of a respected movie classic: on the one hand, it can be perceived as an audacious, assuring wink to savvy viewers that you’re aware, as a filmmaker, of your movie’s debt to hallowed classics of the medium; on the other hand, it can serve to accentuate how much more desirable revisiting older, better films would be, than to sit through a pretty bad new one.

If we’re being generous with regard to Christopher Smith’s neo-noir runaround, Detour, it almost fits into both of the above. Edgar G Ulmer’s not-so-neo-noir of the same name, from 1945, is without doubt the superior movie, but it doesn’t really have all that much in common with this film’s story, which owes a bigger debt to such ’90s throwbacks as Tony Scott’s roistering crime caper, True Romance

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