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Streets of Fire (Walter Hill, 1984)


    Underrated action director Walter Hill reaches aesthetic heights that heís rarely matched in 1984ís lively kidnapping drama Streets of Fire. Perhaps best described as an improved amalgamation of John Carpenterís Escape From New York and Hillís own The Warriors re-imagined as a careening rock opera, the movie enters territory thatís certainly playful by the hard-edged directorís standards. The results are a movie that is unabashedly fluent in pop culture terminology, and not afraid to exaggerate its notions of hipness or downplay its expectations of realism to thrill us. In construction, it resembles a comic book as much as it does a music video, and, at least on the surface, has about as much on its mind as either. Itís rare to see a modern movie thatís so deliriously, obviously fake. With a massive, fabricated backlot standing in for city streets and a cast of wonderfully outsized characters (I love McCoy, the butch female sidekick), Streets of Fire clearly takes place in a world that could only be found in the movies. This makes the movie a pleasurable experience for those who crave the elements of genre cinema that more readily lend themselves to escapism. Perhaps, then, itís not surprising that the music that plays during this filmís climactic show-off resurfaces in Tarantinoís Pulp Fiction.


    Hillís skill in this genre pays off in the expected ways. Characters largely defined through action. There are few unnecessary subplots. The pacing is snappy and efficient. It becomes apparent while watching, however, in a lot of ways, this is less an ďaction movieĒ than a ďmotion movieĒ, since the director is able to find the same kinetic thrills in his dialogue scenes, musical numbers, and establishing shots as in his brawls. With Hillís evolved, MTV-style editing (does anyone use wipes more readily?) and willingness to let the soundtrack enhance the action, the fusion between the propulsive pop music and the mobile camera create an elated swirl of screen momentum. The end result is a movie that could only have been made in the Ď80s, but somehow maintains its virtues in the present day. As much as the film is stuck with a mid-1980s definition of cool (think MeatLoaf songs and Stevie Nicks), it benefits from a retro-futuristic look that makes it tough to place it definitively in any time period. As action adventures go, Streets of Fire is a likable achievement. With its lively spirit and its unpretentious attitude toward the craft, it delivers on all of the promises it makes.




Jeremy Heilman