Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element is what you get when you give a massive budget to a director who has an otherworldly flair for imagination and a creative pulse that doesn’t subside for one single second. It’s one of the best sci fi films ever made, a pure intergalactic rush of absurdist qualities anchored by a solid blueprint that’s both akin to and far removed from countless space movies out there. The surprise, and what works so well, comes from Besson and his team crafting a warped and almost Dr. Seussical world that dabbles in cartoonish territory, boggles the eyes endlessly and continually assures you that anything goes in terms of style and tone. It’s an all timer for me, a blast of zany ideas, lovable characters (even the villains are teddy bears to me), a celebration of off the cuff production design and a goddamn certified barrel of fun. Most who read this will know the plot inside out and up and down, but we all know how much I love babbling on about actors and events, so bear with moi. There’s an adorable prologue (“Aziz, light!!!!”) In which an alien race called the Mondosheewans arrive on earth to remove a sacred and very powerful item from an Egyptian pyramid. They resemble shambling steam punk Volkswagen beetles, and are a force of good. This takes place in the 1800’s, and before you can say Luke Perry, we’ve flashed forward to a dazzling futuristic New York City where the events that came before come full circle. Self depracating cabbie Corben Dallas (Bruce Willis) has a day of unending bad luck, until a gorgeous humanoid being named Leeloo (Milla Jovovich was my first cinematic crush in this role ♡) literally falls into his lap, or rather, crashes through the roof of his cab and incites a high speed chase in hover cars, a fantastic sequence, I might add. It turns out this slender, orange deadlocked babe is the human manifestation of the coveted artifact that the Mondosheewans took into their possession. Willis and Jovovich have an immediate exasperated chemistry that practically leaps off the screen as giddily as your heart does whenever they’re seen together. They’re one of the cutest couples in history, and soon embark on a wild adventure to prevent mass destruction at the hands of a giant ball of pure evil that threatens earth (and no I didn’t make that up). Also threatening them is Jean Baptiste Emanuel Zorg (wish that was my name), played by Gary Oldman in a preening, gaudy display of theatrical evil that must be seen to be believed. Zorg is an arrogent megalomaniac who basically runs the city, out to find the ancient stones that are the key to stopping that malevolent force that hangs out just outside of earth’s atmosphere. This is the only film that can claim it has a scene where pure evil itself calls up Gary Oldman on the phone for a chat, which has to be some kind of achievment. There’s a gaggle of incredible actors running around as well, including Bilbo Ba-, I mean Ian Holm as Father Cornelius, a priest of an ancient order sworn to protect Leeloo, the president of the united states (Tiny Lister, once again I’m not making this up), a hapless general (John Neville), a tweaked out petty thief (Mathieu Kassovitz in a scene of pure WTF), Brion James, Lee Evans, and Chris Tucker. Oh good lord Chris Tucker. I don’t know how the guy has the energy, but he keeps it in mania mode as Ruby Rod, a flagrantly horny loudmouth prima donna radio DJ that tags along with Corben for a few gunfights and explosions and shrieks like a banshee all the while. Willis has never been as amiable as he is here, it’s as if John McClane wandered into an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and decided to have some fun. Truly a great protagonist. You will fall deeply in love with Milla as Leeloo. Her lithe physicality, unearthly dialect that she actually learned in full for the film, striking naivete and burgeoning compassion all make her one of the most unique and mesmerizing heroines to ever exist in a film. Oldman mugs, chews scenery like a bulldog, prances about like he’s in a grade school play, and is a sheer diabolical delight. The scene where he demonstrates the ‘swiss army gun’ for his dimwitted extraterrestrial cohorts is time capsule worthy, as is the entire film. Besson directs and stages his world with a reckless abandon that plays like a watercolor painting of pure expression. If there’s an idea someone had, it ended up in this film no matter how outlandish and random it is. That’s the kind of carefree artistic qualities that all movies should have; a willingness to be silly, to be crazy, to step outside the box and then trample on it whilst hurling confetti all about the place. This film is a shining example of that, and stands out as not only one of my favourite films of all time, but one of the best ever made. Big BADABOOM.
Penthouse North is a vicious little 90’s inspired slice of thriller fun, which sadly seems to have gained zero marketing and promotion, so unless it catches your eye on US Netflix or Shaw On Demand (which is where I watched it), you’ll prolly never even know you missed it. It’s nothing groundbreaking, and sometimes is very predictable, but as I found myself calling plot twists on the dime, and figuring out story beats before they happened, I didn’t find myself frustrated or feeling cheated out. I got a burst of nostalgia for the 80’s/90’s time period when these type of thrillers were in full bloom. Michelle Monaghan throws herself into the role of Sara, an ex-war photojournalist who was blinded in an incident. She lives in an ornate NYC penthouse with her boyfriend now, only just beginning to adjust to her new condition and emerge from reclusiveness. On New Year’s Eve, that auspicious time of year that buzzes with possibility, trouble comes knocking in the form of homicidal criminals in search of something hidden within the apartment. We are then treated to the archetypal game of cat and mouse as she fights tooth and nail for her survival. The film benefits greatly from a frenzied performance from Michael Keaton as Hollander, the lead criminal and a real piece of work. Keaton rarely plays in the bad guy arena (check out Pacific Heights for a more restrained yet equally dastardly turn), but he’s got a reptilian ferocity that’s equally scary and amusing, sometimes both at once. His Hollander is a royal prick, and oodles of fun to watch. Mark Mancini composes a solid score of jangly apprehension, and the film makes great use of its setting, with several clammy moments that didn’t sit well with my fear of heights. Good stuff.