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A.I. Artificial Intelligence

A waste of two hours (that felt like five)
I cannot believe so many talented people can combine to make something that is so much less than the sum of its parts. Boring and ridiculous are the words that spring to mind on viewing this piece of clap-trap.

I am an enormous fan of Spielberg's work (with the following exceptions: The Lost World, 1942, Amistad and his segment of Twilight Zone The Movie). Equally, I love most of the films directed by Kubrick until his dull Eyes Wide Shut (the last word of the title just a spelling mistake away from accuracy). Add to that the obvious talent of Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, William Hurt and Brendan Gleeson (to say nothing of John Williams) and someone needs to explain how these people came up with a convoluted, soulless, implausible, over-long movie.

Open minded as I am, every time I read a positive review of this film I find myself condescending to the review's author. Who can like this movie? Why? It is unintelligent (ironic considering the title and subject matter) and I've seen the topic covered in more depth and with greater sensitivity in entertainment magazines (to say nothing of the vastly superior D.A.R.Y.L.). Extraordinary.

The Fourth Angel

An intriguing thriller
Although the genre (revenge thriller) is a little dated and the cast hardly A-list, this is a constantly involving film which may delight an unsuspecting audience. Jeremy Irons is not everyone's natural choice for an action hero. However, casting him as the beleaguered Jack Elgin only serves to reinforce the intelligence and sensitivity with which the film's makers construct the story of an innocent man's quest for justice. Support from Forrest Whitaker (amusing, if hackneyed), Charlotte Rampling (bizarre accent/affectation) and Jason Priestly (smarmy, slick and spot-on) enriches the drama and the little boy is fantastic.

Action sequences are sporadic and small-scale compared with big-budget American movies like Planet of the Apes and A.I. but at least The Fourth Angel has characters about whom one cares and a story that, if not wholly original, is constantly involving.

London sparkles spectacularly and the overall look of The Fourth Angel makes you wonder why other British-set films feel cheap and TVesque. The score is a little intrusive but the soundlessness of the Seventies seems a distant memory with modern films choosing to instruct the audience exactly how it should react with over-the-top strings and drums. End of rant. See The Fourth Angel.

12 Angry Men

Fantastic 50s classic
This is such a great movie. To think that a movie, set almost entirely in one room with nothing but twelve male jurors deliberating on their verdict for a murder trial, can be thrilling and exhilarating even though you know from the outset how the denouement will unfold! Incredible. Aside from the great performances (by each of these great actors) the standout in Twelve Angry Men is Lumet's subtle pacing and tension-building. Lumet gently leads us in to the crucial characteristics of the jurors. The interplay is wonderful and the slow realisation that there is more to this trial than previously seen is deliciously unfolded.

Atmosphere is as important as character. Watch the jurors sweat in stifling heat and then delight in the rainstorm. All the while, Fonda remains cool and calm in his white suit. A ticking clock, a wall-mounted fan and a dozen heated debaters are perfectly exploited to portray this study in prejudice, justice and humanity. The interlaced moments of comedy are very welcome too and always appropriate to the progress of plot and character.

This film writes the cinematic book on claustrophobia, perspiration, dogmatic bandstanding, small-mindedness, the power of reason and measured persuasion, the mundane games played by truly bored jurors and ultimately the belief that justice will prevail.


Charming and original entertainment
DARYL is an enjoyable and thought-provoking kids' film. The central premise is fantastic and high-concept - a rare thing for children's films. Daryl, a military experiment that combines the body and senses of a child with a microchip for a brain, is set free from his creators and settles in mid-America suburbia with a loving adoptive family. The high-jinks that result from an apparently normal ten-year-old who has super-intelligence living in normal surrounds is light, predictable and great fun in patches.

The coup for this movie, however, is the thought-provocation that arises from the evolution of Artificial Intelligence lifeforms to the point when you can no longer tell them apart from humans. This complex issue is dealt with sensitively and thoughtfully in the context of a film not aimed at philosophers or AI scientists (clearly, however, the topic continued to prey on the mind of one of the screenwriters - Ambrose went on to write the excellent novel, Mother of God, which is the "grown-up" heir apparent to DARYL).

The familiar faces of Mary Beth Hurt, Michael McKean and Josef Sommer are ideally cast in the roles of parents and scientist respectively. Equally, the young actors playing Daryl and best-friend Turtle are excellent. The set-pieces fly through with surface levity and implied poignancy in equal measure (how easy it is to dismantle a computer, how difficult when the computer is encased in the flesh and blood of a child). Stagey action scenes and the odd moment of wooden acting from minor support actors are the major blights on the film. Overall, though, it is fun and entertaining.


The best movie of the 90s
You need more detail than what is written in the one line summary? Don't be silly. Trust me. Stop reading about it. Go and see it. Then come back and I defy you to try and tell me I am wrong. Oh, okay, if you REALLY need to be told why this is such a great movie then you need a vague grasp of the following words: original, funny, intelligent, shocking, moving, absorbing, beautiful, ingenius, disturbing, memorable. That's it.


A perfectly timeless classic
Everything about this film is absolutely top notch. The performances are uniformly judged to perfection. The delicate balance drawn by Nabokov in the novel between naive romantic longing and distasteful paedophilia is expertly handled by the masterful Kubrick. The comedic elements are laced with bathos (especially when Peter Sellers' magnetic performance is on show)and the arc of Humbert Humbert's obsession with Lolita is phenomenally well acted by James Mason.

I love this film and think it could hardly be improved yet I can understand why it was remade in the nineties with Jeremy Irons replacing Mason as Humbert Humbert. The idea of updating it for an audience with nineties sensibilities does sound an appealing thought. However, the sixties version is so far ahead of its time that what is shocking in the original is still shocking today. That which is innocently affectionate behaviour by James Mason towards Sue Lyons is still simply innocent affection today. Having said that, I liked the remake too.

The Match

An enjoyable, light romantic-comedy.
The Match is a comedy in the same vein as The Full Monty. It falls short of the latter in terms of sustained laugh-aloud comedy but has a naive sweetness and a fairly exciting footballing climax.

The calibre of the cast is excellent - perhaps to the film's ultimate detriment - and the plot both light and fantastic. The comedy remains constant but never belly-wrenching; the romance sweet but never Romeo & Juliet-threatening; and the football match climax enjoyable but never over-whelming.

Having said all that, the film feels like it might have worked more successfully as an out and out kids' movie. The comedy is fairly accessible (if a little UK-specific) and the sporting battle widely appealing to children. Add to this cameos from England's most famous footballer and one of the world's biggest stars (I'm not spoiling the surprise) and there is much to be said in favour of this small, enjoyable film.


A poignant, under-stated and moving film
Regeneration treats its audience with respect. The dramatic denouement and characters are not simply laid bare for a popcorn-audience to mindlessly digest. The film unfolds, the scenarios develop, the characters live and breath the ugly reality of warfare. And this all happens in a natural, credible manner beautifully shot and paced by the under-rated Gillies McKinnon.

The opening aerial shot of the bloody consequences of battle are every bit the emotional and visceral equal of Spielberg's lauded 20-minute opening sequence in Saving Private Ryan. The rest of the film - in my opinion - surpasses Ryan as a whole in terms of its drama, poetry, anguish and thought.

The performances are outstanding. Jonathan Pryce's portrayal of Rivers falling apart at the seams as he adopts the neuroses and trauma of his patients is astonishing. Johnny Lee Miller is also excellent as the (initially) mute soldier, haunted by the brutality of a trench-attack. James Wilby's Siegfried Sassoon is perhaps the toughest role to play in the film and yet he surpasses any prior (or subsequent) performances with a characterisation that swings from harsh to likeable, strong to weak, right to wrong.

All of the numerous storylines are well constructed and followed to their natural conclusion. There are no false avenues; no bum notes; no waste.

The source material is beautifully adapted for the film (by the rare breed of writer-producer, Allan Scott), losing none of its pace or characterisation. The emotional weight so prominent in Barker's novel are perfectly transferred into the movie. How wonderful for a modern film to have non-stereotypical, imperfect lead characters and lack easy conclusions. How beautifully evoked is the friendship between Sassoon and Owen. There is no sacharine sentiment in this movie; nor artificial shock to induce pity; nor a wasted scene or moment of dialogue. Equally, the period look of the film is stunning. Filmed in Scotland, the vistas are beautifully bleak and wintry. The atmosphere of the First World War is all too frighteningly real.

The music, whilst beautiful, is perfectly restrained. Harking back to the films of the seventies, long moments of silence pervade Regeneration. How did things go so badly wrong in the last twenty years in this respect?

Regeneration achieves the very rare distinction of matching (if not surpassing) the beautiful and moving novel on which it is based. Thoughtful film-goers should treat themselves to this wonderful and intelligent film.

The Last Boy Scout

A genre classic - oft copied, never matched
Although this film receives a lot of credit for reinvigorating the action/buddy genre movie, the praise is too often misdirected. For instance, whilst Bruce Willis gives a solid performance as low-life private eye Joe Hallenbeck, we have seen the act a dozen times. There are remnants of Die Hard's John McClane in every knowing smirk and pained cigarette inhalation. Equally, Tony Scott's direction is still based on an obsession with placing bright lights behind the actors and turning up the volume of car chases and gunshots. Jimmy Dix, the faded football hero, is given a suitably comic persona by Damon Wayons and the action sequences are as good as you will find elsewhere in Hollywood. However, these are not the attractions of the film for me.

You might think, from what is written above, that I disliked the film but you would be mistaken to think that as I believe it to be an absolute classic of its kind. I truly think The Last Boy Scout should be used as a teaching tool at film schools the world over. In spite of its glaring limitations it is a movie that has everything! The opening scene is a modern movie classic - up there with those of Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Goodfellas. If there is a film-goer alive whose mouth didn't gape in wonderous amusement at the climax to the opening scene then I am amazed. The plot, as far fetched as it is, provides a perfect vehicle for the key elements that go towards making this the gem of a movie that it is.

First in the list of key elements is the wonderfully funny dialogue. Shane Black's hallmark of snappy one-liners is all over the sizzling repartee between the two heroes. Even Hallenbeck's daughter gets a couple of laugh-out-loud lines. Secondly, the story benefits from the ideal combination of: sport, gambling, violence, comedy, the odd topless dancer, important values of family and friendship, revenge and honour. Take out the topless dancer and they pretty much all feature in The Godfather!

The third crucial component for the success of The Last Boy Scout is the perfect casting of the bad guys. Milo, played to chilling perfection by Taylor Negron, is a bad guy with a difference. He isn't just a mindless hard man. His brilliantly annoying habit of calling people by their elongated names is a superb touch (Joe becomes Joseph, Jimmy becomes James and so on), as are his attempts at civility when trying to "do a formal introduction" with the kidnapped Hallenbeck. Other bad guys are fleshed out and distinguished by quirky traits or funny lines. They are not merely there to make the good guys look good.

Overall, this film is not a piece of celluloid art. It is, however, a perfect example of popcorn-friendly entertainment. It is the sort of movie you imagine the makers would like to see as movie-goers themselves. Without being utterly contemptible or mindlessly low-brow it entertains. An ideal Saturday night movie to watch with a group of friends.

Don't Look Now

The zenith of movie-making
People want and expect different things from movies. What engages and captivates one person can just as easily displease and repulse another (see Titanic). Sometimes, a film simply doesn't register beyond the viewer's walk/drive home (this criminal offense is not exclusively a phenomenon of the 1990s in spite of the last decade's distinct dearth of memorable films). Don't Look Now, however, is a film which cannot fail to last long in the mind.

It is easy to love the film for its rare depth of character, its beautiful yet disturbing plot, the stunning Venice setting, the tender and original love scene or just for Donald Sutherland's never-rivalled wig! I am sure, however, that people find it easy to fault the film because it doesn't neatly tie up loose ends, because it is dark and depressing (the film's extensive reach encompasses death, loss, murder, blindness, religion and dwarfism) and because film-making conventions are abandoned.

The source material of Du Maurier's short story provides only a meagre framework onto which screenwriters Scott and Bryant have fleshed a stunning adaptation. Roeg's visual and emotional style of directing has never been so perfectly showcased as in Don't Look Now. How many more times can film-makers and advertisers steal (or "pay homage to") Roeg's ingenious work? Julie Christie is luminous and pulls the viewer with her through Laura's painful journey after the film's shocking opening. Sutherland's performance is stellar as well. His character, John, is like a Hitchcockian fall-guy with real personality and depth. You are swept along through the canals and narrow avenues with him as Pino Donaggio's stirring music both chills and lulls.

Films made in the tone of Don't Look Now are so rare these days. I am not an old fuddy-duddy who complains that "they don't make 'em like they used to" but am simply a slightly disillusioned film fan who wishes there were just a few more film-makers willing to take chances and not follow the dull formulaic line. What was the last film that stayed with you long after you saw it? It always sounds like a cliche when some obsessed fan tells you a film haunted them for days but Don't Look Now has a curious effect on the viewer. Its intensity grows. Different parts of the film mull around in your mind. You don't think about individual 'scenes' from the film either, you think about the situations, the people, the feelings. All of which is testament to the roundly drawn characterisation and elegant (yet not contrived) structure of the film.

If you haven't seen Don't Look Now before then you have a treat awaiting you. If you have seen it - see it again and marvel at a profound, eery, haunting, moving and beautiful film. If it disappoints you that films of such indelible and recurring substance like this are thin on the ground (Apocalypse Now, Taxi Driver and The Conversation had similar effects on me) then do not hesitate to picket the next showing of....(OUT OF RESPECT TO IMDB'S CONTENT GUIDELINES I WON'T NAME TITLE OF MORONIC HOLLYWOOD BLOCKBUSTERS AND THE LIKE)!

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