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Casino Royale

Exciting and well made... but not really a Bond film
So Bond is back. Except this is Bond Year Zero. Bond Rebooted. Bond: The Beginning.

In this loose adaptation of Ian Fleming's 1953 novel - the first to feature James Bond - Daniel Craig stars as 007 just as he has gained 'Double-0' status by chalking up two kills (and we see the kills in oddly film noir style black-and-white). After a debut mission in Madagascar goes awry, Bond is assigned to play a high stakes poker game with terrorist financier Le Chiffre, knowing that winning the game will bankrupt Le Chiffre, and losing it will mean Her Majesty's government directly funding terrorism...

The bloody and breathless chase in Madagascar immediately informs us that this is not Bond as we've known him before, but a raw and uncompromising version. Craig doesn't even look remotely like any other Bond, with his dirty blonde hair, rugged features, and rippling, hairless muscles (which the film-makers' deem it necessary to show off at every opportunity). Emotionally he is completely different too. This Bond is not indestructible and cool under pressure, but volatile and vulnerable, even falling rather quickly in love with Eva Green's Vesper Lynd, who is sent to the Casino Royale with Bond to keep an eye on the money he is gambling.

The action is relentlessly exciting, with several brutal fist-fights, a truly spectacular car crash, and eventually a collapsing Venetian house. The performances are also universally very good. Judi Dench is rather incongruously brought back to play the morose M, Eva Green is an enigmatic Bond girl, and Mads Mikkelson does as much as he can with a thin role as Le Chiffre. As for Craig, he can definitely play the back-to-basics, street-fighting man this Bond is apparently supposed to be - certainly at least as well as you would have expected any other actor to have played him.

The trouble is that this film never really looks or feels like a Bond film. There is no Moneypenny, no Q, and there are no gadgets. The theme tune is entirely forgettable, and John Barry's famous Bond music is shunned until the final credits. Le Chiffre, an asthmatic banker, makes for a rather pathetic super-villain, and there are no colourful henchman for Bond to duel. Bond himself is dismissed by M as just a "thug" early in the film, and he proves her right throughout, with little charm or wit to complement his undoubted talent for beating people up without the slightest concern for civilians and innocent parties who get in the way. He doesn't even "give a damn" if his vodka martini is shaken or stirred.

In fact the film appears more closely modelled on the Jason Bourne franchise than previous Bond films. Whilst I appreciate the need to renew and reinvent 007, I question the need to rob from Bond almost every single ingredient that made him such a success in the first place. If we want a series of films about an MI6 hooligan that's fine, but why not create a new character altogether? Interestingly 007 does by the close of the film utter the famous words, "The name's Bond. James Bond." Perhaps this is to signify that this film is just an introduction to the all-new Bond, and that the panache will re-appear in future films.

In the meantime CASINO ROYALE makes for a thrilling preamble. But be warned that it doesn't have much more in common with the official 20 Bond movies that preceded it than the farcical 1967 adaptation with Peter Sellers and Woody Allen.


Marvellous portrayal of a death in Hollywood
Loosely based on Tolstoy's 'The Death of Ivan Ilych' this searing indictment of Hollywood must be one of the most under-appreciated films of the last ten years.

Danny Huston plays Ivan Beckman, a typically sleazy, coke-snorting Tinseltown agent who is forced to confront the emptiness of his life when he learns that he is dying of cancer. Amongst the many people with whom he is surrounded but cannot confide in are hotshot director Danny McTeague (James Merendino), gun-toting homophobic mega-star Don West (Peter Weller), and Ivan's girlfriend, Charlotte (Lisa Enos), who may or may not be using him to further her own ambitions.

IVANS XTC. actually begins with the news of Ivan's death, and apart from the first 15 minutes or so the story is told in flashback. This works superbly because we immediately discover just how meaningless Ivan's life and career really were. Nobody really gave a damn about him (nor does anyone believe for a minute that he died of cancer rather than a cocaine OD), and his death merely serves as an inconvenience to those involved in the film project he was trying to get started (West and McTeague even have the insensitivity to confront each other in the middle of Ivan's funeral service!).

When Ivan learns of his cancer he tries to binge his way to redemption through drink, drugs, and women, but there is none to be found. Nothing can ease his physical or emotional pain. He can't even find an image of beauty or happiness in his head - everything he can think of is "shit". Ivan was already a victim even before the cancer took hold.

Many films have successfully attacked the excessive yet soulless Hollywood machine in recent years e.g THE PLAYER and SWIMMING WITH SHARKS, but IVAN's XTC. is perhaps even better (British writer-director Bernard Rose drew from many of his own bitter experiences). The film is shot entirely on DV (with oddly effective use of Wagner as musical accompaniment!) and this gives it a documentary-style realism (you really feel you're in the back of that limo with West as he snorts coke off Charlotte's leg). It is also to the film-makers' credit that no punches are pulled when it comes to conveying exactly what Ivan's cancer is doing to him (the visceral last reel is not for the squeamish).

The performances are first-rate all round, but Huston is especially brilliant and should have had an Oscar nomination. Although Ivan is an unpleasant individual - and Rose never dresses him up to be anything but - Huston manages to elicit the viewer's sympathy simply by demonstrating Ivan's ever more desperate need for something to fill the complete void that is his quickly fading life. As far as the 'terminal illness' genre goes this film is ultimately far more moving than blatantly manipulative stuff like TERMS OF ENDEARMENT and MY LIFE precisely because there is absolutely no on-screen sentimentality whatsoever. Ivan's one moment of true tenderness comes not with Charlotte or with any of his friends or family... but with a nurse he doesn't even know. The glorious closing shot is surely one the best in recent film-making history.

This is a disturbing film that is at times difficult to watch. Yet at the same time it is so perceptive and involving that one feels it actually deserves several viewings. Highly recommended.

Warlock: The Armageddon

Totally dreadful
I find it absolutely astonishing that anyone would regard this film as anything other than categorically abysmal.

Normally I wouldn't bother commenting on this level of celluloid excrement, but I find it rather disturbing that people make a case for it being anything other than atrocious on every level (incidentally, being "better than the first" - and I'm less than certain it is - does not constitute high praise).

I luckily managed to avoid this film until now, but having just seen it can I just assure any doubters that this is a truly pitiful movie - although I was, kind of, mesmerized by its utter awfulness.

28 Days Later...

Exciting but derivative and unpleasant post-apocalyptic thriller
28 DAYS LATER does not, as some seem to believe, herald some kind of rebirth for British cinema. This is in fact the latest entry in a very old and well-trodden genre, and the fact that it is set and made in Britain rather than the US for once doesn't mean its complete lack of originality should be conveniently overlooked. Having said that, it is slickly and stylishly done, and contains enough thrills and spills to keep you reasonably entertained throughout.

It doesn't start well. If there really are high-tech laboratories housing diseases capable of causing the mayhem 'Rage' does, I doubt very much that their security system is so lax that they can be penetrated by a few animal rights activists.

But the scenes of a deserted London are chillingly effective, and when the real action starts, as we first encounter 'the infected', the film's pattern becomes clear. Although we have seen this kind of thing many times before, the one interesting twist Boyle and Garland add to the mix is that unlike Romero's zombies, Star Trek's Borg and so on, the fearless, unrelenting stalkers here don't plod slowly and rather pathetically toward their intended prey, but sprint at top speed. This makes the action sequences considerably more tense and breathless than one might have expected.

Furthermore Boyle's directorial flair is such that even when the story moves out of London the screen is repeatedly filled with dazzling, memorable images. There's some good use - although it might be considered overuse - of music, and most, if not all, of the performances are good, thanks to the casting of solid, reliable types like Christopher Ecclestone and Brendan Gleeson in many of the key roles.

But unfortunately Boyle and Garland don't know where to stop. The unpleasantness and/or stupidity of everyone in the film is as ceaseless as the pursuit of them by the infected. Most of the scrapes Jim and co. get themselves into are entirely of their own doing, and those that aren't turn out to be because the uninfected are basically as nasty as the infected. After a while you begin to think that us Brits are all apparently so moronic or amoral that the rest of the world would probably be better off if we did all get wiped out. The likes of THE OMEGA MAN are generally not exactly a barrel of laughs either, but at least those films made you want humanity to survive.

28 DAYS LATER is worth seeing, just about, and as pure white-knuckle entertainment goes it's probably at least as good as the average star-studded Hollywood blockbuster.

Now if only we could do it with more interesting and original material...

The Music of Chance

Elegant, unique, and compelling
Paul Auster writes marvelous contemporary fiction, and this is a wonderful film adaptation of perhaps his finest work.

THE MUSIC OF CHANCE revolves around two very different protagonists. Jim Nash (Mandy Patinkin) is an ex-fireman, driving across America, and searching for meaning to his life. Jack Pozzi (James Spader) is a professional poker player, out of money, out of luck, and given a ride to New York by Nash. It emerges Jack has a game scheduled with two eccentric millionaires (Joel Grey and Charles Durning), so Jim puts up the capital with the last of his own money. But the poker game doesn't go quite according to plan...

Some people have described this film as "pretentious" - pretending to what exactly? Jack Pozzi and Jim Nash are two unusually clearly defined characters - one shallow, over-confident, tetchy; the other calm, reasonable, tolerant. Their eventual predicament is also disarmingly simple. That air of mystery to the film does not spring from narrative or character but from the viewer's own philosophies towards life. Does one choose one's own path or is it chosen for you? Chance or fate? Freedom or incarceration? Meaning or, in Nash's words, "just bullshit". So in fact even if you think the events onscreen have no deeper meaning, well then that *is* the meaning. For you anyway.

The acting is universally excellent, with Grey, Durning, M Emmet Walsh, and Chris Penn illuminating supporting roles. But Patinkin and Spader dominate the film, with two absolutely captivating performances. Philip Haas's direction is suitably under-stated, and there is also excellent use of music, from jazz to classical.

THE MUSIC OF CHANCE is an absorbing and intelligent piece of film-making. If only there were more films like it.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

(Don't) grow up, petty critics! Enjoy this fun movie!
First of all I have to say I haven't yet read J K Rowling's books, so I am in the apparently unenlightened position of not feeling it necessary to compare this film to the books. But since this is, as I understand it, a *film* internet database, I would hope that this puts me in a better position than many of this film's critics here.

Might I make a token suggestion to those who write reviews on this site (with AMERICAN PSYCHO, THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, and - no doubt - THE LORD OF THE RINGS in mind) to judge a film as a film, not as an adaptation of a book. By all means mention a film's faithfulness or overall quality in relation to its source material, but please don't define that as whether or not it is a good or bad film. Believe it or not, some people went to see HARRY POTTER who hadn't read the book. Does the quality of APOCALYPSE NOW make Joseph Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness' a bad book? Does the dreadfulness of CHILDREN OF THE CORN (and its innumerable sequels) make Stephen King's original short story the greatest literary work of all time?

What I saw when I went to see this film was not a masterpiece or work of genius. But it was a fun, exciting, and immensely enjoyable family film. Although it was perhaps overlong (a good twenty minutes could probably have been snipped without any damage to narrative or characterisation), it was charming and witty and engaging all the way. The SFX were no better or worse than one might have expected, but the sets and costumes were outstanding, with a real feel for England and the public school ambience that Hogwarts seemed to represent. John Williams' score was also memorable.

The main criticism I had of the film (and, aside from the length, the *only* substantive criticism that I can see if you forget the books) is that some of the acting by the children was a bit ropey on occasion, even by young Daniel Radcliffe as Harry. But fortunately the likes of Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Harris, Ian Hart, John Hurt, and Alan Rickman keep it well above sea level.

It is certainly not a ground-breaking or life-changing film in any way, but anyone who has an open mind and open heart should enjoy this exuberant and good-natured magical adventure.

Moulin Rouge!

Dazzling but totally empty...
It is a depressing indictment of Hollywood that a film such as MOULIN ROUGE is apparently considered to be one of the best films to emerge from Tinseltown in recent years. Visually it is certainly fantastic, and - assuming your taste is very much in the mainstream - it must have value in purely musical terms. But it is also a soulless and in my mind rather cynical film, and one that demonstrates contempt for many fundamentals of good cinema.

The cinematographer, choreographer, special effects team and so on should all be congratulated for some dazzling work. Indeed I'm sure many of these people will be nominated for Oscars. And so they should be. However the plaudits should end there.

Correct me if I'm wrong but isn't it customary for a fictional film drama (whether musical or otherwise) to have a story and/or some characters? MOULIN ROUGE's lame excuse for a "story" is in fact revealed in a Ewan McGregor voice-over in the first reel of the film. There are no twists, no surprises, no short it is feebly, depressingly, almost mind-numbingly predictable from first minute to last. Characterization fares no better, with no hint of personality detectable in any of the protagonists (the Duke comes closest by at least being a caricature - MacGregor, Kidman, etc don't even get that). This is truly one of the most lazily written films I have ever seen.

Of course it could be quite reasonably argued that the very same criticism could be leveled at all sorts of films, and that is true enough. However MOULIN ROUGE has the breathtaking temerity to purport to be about "truth, beauty, freedom, love". It could not have chosen grander themes, and could not have made a more pitiful attempt at exploring them. In fact the film is so wretchedly written that at absolutely no point does it ever, even once, make a sincere effort to engage the audience on an emotional or intellectual level. Of course the renditions of 'Your Song' might have brought a tear to the eye to some, but if so then the credit is due entirely to Elton John, and no more due to Baz Luhrmann than it is to a radio DJ who plays it on Heart FM or whatever. The great musicals, SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, TOP HAT and so on did actually bother with an involving and emotive screenplay between numbers. CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG had more of a script than this.

MOULIN ROUGE is the product of someone being given a lot of money to make a big crowd-pleasing movie, and him making it without actually having anything whatsoever to say. To me a great cinematic spectacle comes from having an idea and building a film around it; not from hiring some big stars, spending the GDP of a small country on SFX, and then rather grudgingly putting a story and some characters in it as an afterthought.

If you are attuned to its humour then I can see how this could be a fun movie to watch, but if you expect something more than an extended MTV video for your time and money, it's a wearying and ultimately rather insulting film. MOULIN ROUGE isn't - even for one second - about truth, beauty, freedom, or love. It's about making as much money as possible for the people behind it.

Gimme Some Truth: The Making of John Lennon's Imagine Album

Absorbing chronicle of the recording of 'Imagine'
This is far superior to IMAGINE:JOHN LENNON which also used footage from Yoko Ono's personal archives. It follows the making of Lennon's classic album, 'Imagine', and we are given insight both into his impatient but passionate recording processes, and also into the man himself and his relationship with Yoko. Seeing the succession of fantastic tracks being laid down with the likes of George Harrison and Klaus Voorman is engrossing, but the most presciently ghoulish episode concerns a bedraggled and disturbed fan turning up on Lennon's doorstep and insisting that all the Beatles songs were written specifically with him in mind (Lennon tries to reason with him then invites him in for a meal). An engaging delve into popular music's past and the work of a genius.

The Blair Witch Project

Flawed but clever, and provokes amusing criticism
TBWP has many flaws - the implausibility of some of the characters' behaviour, the irritation factor of watching people bicker for an hour, and so on. That said, it is an interesting little film with some clever touches (the interviewee's child covering her mother's mouth; the handprints in the house etc.). Scary? Not really, but then that couldn't be more subjective could it? THE EXORCIST had some people vomiting in the aisles yet it doesn't scare me at all (but the reverse could be true of another film). Anyway I personally I give TBWP six out of ten. What I find hilarious is the nature of the criticism this film has received since its release, which is almost as OTT as the hype that preceded it.

Most of those people who insist that is the worst film ever made are as one-eyed as those who said a year ago that it was the best. I notice that the early comments on the IMDb were nearly all hysterically complimentary, and now they're nearly all hysterically savage. There's nothing like a good bandwagon to jump on is there? (Or did the film suddenly metamorphosize from a classic to a turkey sometime last autumn?) This isn't the worst film ever made; there are countless worse (see the IMDb's own "100 worst" list for some prime examples). Harbouring unfettered resentment at the film-makers because you've seen an over-hyped movie is hardly a platform for objective criticism. If anyone had seen a film of this standard on late night TV and not cared for it they'd have turned it off and forgotten about it, and certainly not worked themselves into a frenzy about how awful it was. I particularly enjoyed reading the comments of those BWP-haters on here who remarked upon the "suckers" and "idiots" who actually watched it (can you spot something of an own goal here?).

The oft-repeated refrain that this film is "cheap" and "amateurish" beggars belief. Since it was made cheaply by then-amateurs, was hyped as a cheap film made by amateurs, and purports to be a cheap documentary made by amateurs, I would have thought its cheapness and amateurishness was rather to be expected. Given that the protagonists are supposed to be making little more than a home movie, the complaint about the jerky camera movements in this context is especially absurd - or would you have Heather & Co. set up dollies, cranes, and so on as they flee through the woods? If you've automatically got it in for this style of film-making (and you'd have to have been on Mars not to have known how TBWP was shot) why go and see it?

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT has actually gone up in my estimation because it's reminded me of the power of movies to provoke the audience, and the public reaction to this film has been priceless. My absolute favourite comment I keep reading is "I could have made this!" Well since it cost next to nothing and those who made it are now multi-millionaires, why the f*** didn't you?

The Virgin Suicides

Beautifully made exploration of nostalgia and adolescence
Numerous people seem to complain that THE VIRGIN SUICIDES fails because the reasons for the suicides are never explained. I don't know if they think this was merely an oversight on the part of the film-makers, but I would have thought it was obvious that the lack of explanation is absolutely pivotal to the thrust of the whole movie. The film is about the mystery and seductive power of beauty, and about how we are left helpless and grasping for reason when beauty dies (a theme further explored with the ruthless destruction of the tree on the Lisbons' lawn). It's about growing up and trying to reconcile love and sexuality with a world full of tragedy and injustice. It's about looking back to our childhood, when life was full of warmth and magic and mystery, and thankfully bereft of the kind of cold and logical "explanation" that we demand as adults. We never get inside the heads of the Lisbon girls because we aren't supposed to; the film is told entirely from the point of view of the local teenage boys, who are fascinated to the point of obsession with these fantastically beautiful girls who live down the street. Although set in the 1970s, the nostalgia for the period here is refreshingly gentle and beguiling. Shot with poise and grace, this film looks fantastic (and why shouldn't Sofia Coppola borrow actors and techniques from her dad - wouldn't you?) The entire cast are magnificent - for me, James Woods has never been better - and the soundtrack (a mixture of Air and '70s classics) is perfect. This is a wonderful film.

Hawk the Slayer

Hilariously inept piece of "sword and sorcery".
Sometimes you watch a movie and you wonder whether in the midst of shooting the film-makers have realised they are making something irredeemably terrible and decided, "What the hell? Let's make this even worse. Let's make this as dreadful as we possibly can." Such is the case with HAWK THE SLAYER. Everything about it is apparently calculated to elicit maximum ridicule - giving characters names like Voltan, Drogo, and Gort; the absurd editing to illustrate the elf's nifty technique with his bow and arrows; Hawk's grotesquely corny flashbacks of his late girlfriend...the list is endless. A cult classic for sure, and does anyone know where I can get hold of a copy of the stupendous theme tune - a glorious venture into what I can only describe as "medieval disco"?

The Vanishing

Indecently awful remake of the classic Dutch thriller
Most American remakes of European films are pretty poor, but this is in a league of its own. In fact this might even be the worst (Sandra Bullock) movie ever made. I daresay I might have passed it off as just another innocuously bad Hollywood thriller had I not seen the Dutch original, SPOORLOOS. The altered ending here is stupid enough (and executed with particular ineptitude), but a far worse crime than that is removing all the intelligence and depth of character that marked out the original as a classic. The real horror to be found here is in the fact that the same man who directed SPOORLOOS is responsible for this atrocity. Will the real George Sluizer please stand up?


Engrossing and subsequently haunting horror/thriller
Those unimpressed by SPOORLOOS are probably simply unused to seeing a horror film that employs neither repeated shock tactics nor blood and gore as a means to horrify the viewer. The fate befalling Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu's victims is indeed disturbing for many, but to describe SPOORLOOS merely as a "twist ending" film doesn't do it justice. The true horror of the movie lies within its studied, almost clinical exploration of sociopathic behaviour. For me Donnadieu's character, Raymond, is truly terrifying precisely because he DOESN'T appear evil or threatening, yet commits acts of extreme evil simply because he can find no reason not to. How many serial killers have we seen who, like Raymond, have apparently also been loving family men and hard-working members of society? Raymond could be the nice man living down the street from any one of us. SPOORLOOS is also about love and obsession and the torment of ignorance - Rex's behaviour, however irrational in the cold light of day, is down to the fact that he can no longer stand not knowing what happened to the woman he loved. Although a subtitled Dutch film with no stars and no knives is probably not everyone's idea of the perfect horror movie, if you like to think while you're being scared, SPOORLOOS is very much recommended. And no, don't see the exceedingly stupid Hollywood remake.

The Glass Key

Reasonable Dashiell Hammett adaptation
Although rather flat in parts, this is still a very watchable slice of film noir. It will be of particular interest to fans of MILLER'S CROSSING, which was based on the same source material. This has none of that film's pure brilliance, but some of the visual humour is almost Coen-esque - Alan Ladd nonchalantly kicking Richard Denning in the shins; Brian Donlevy throwing things at people as they leave his office. Ladd is excellent in the lead role, though William Bendix's physically brutal yet verbally affectionate henchman steals the film.

You've Got Mail

Cloying and lazily constructed attempt at romantic comedy
Like one or two of the other reviewers, I too was almost moved to tears by the end of this movie. I had just witnessed a dreary, drippy, forgettable piece of film-making that cost an obscene amount of money. Apart from the futility of remaking a close to perfect film in the first place (THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER), adding the e-mail element doesn't work because e-mail and the internet play so little part in the romance or the film as a whole. But what really sinks this movie is that the mechanics of the plot are stuck in the syrup of sentimentality. It's so busy being fluffy that even if it was as witty and charming as it thinks it is (which it ain't), it would still need some semblance of drama or believable conflict or just about anything except unrelenting "cuteness". The inevitability of every single detail working out absolutely perfectly for everyone is just too much. I've nothing against fairy tales, but Tom and Meg were already living happily ever before the end of the first reel.

Groundhog Day

Wonderful piece of heart-warming comedy
Like many others, I still find it staggering that this film was not given even the slightest consideration as Oscar material. It is not as if GROUNDHOG DAY were only a lightweight romantic comedy. It *is* exceptionally funny, the perfect vehicle for Bill Murray's sardonic wit, but like Frank Capra's work (which this film most closely resembles) there is great depth and a message here. Phil Connors' journey from cynicism and vanity to humility and redemption may be a touch whimsical, but it is also touching and finally uplifting. Like IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (another film robbed of Oscar recognition), you can watch it again and again. And again. And again...

American Psycho

Hilariously vicious satire of the 1980s.
So let's get this straight: AMERICAN PSYCHO is pornographic and horrific, but also not shocking enough; it's dull and boring, but also overly brutal and disgusting; it crams in too much of the novel, but also not enough. Films like this just can't win when so many people insist on going to see it with such deeply entrenched expectations of exactly what kind of film it ought to be, rather than judging it on its own terms. Surely it is beyond serious dispute that Christian Bale's performance as Patrick Bateman is as compelling as you could possibly hope to see. And some moments (notably the business card scene and Patrick's meditations on various MOR musicians) are extremely funny. I can understand the gore putting off some people, but it's actually no more gory than, say, GOODFELLAS, and nobody ever seems to imply Scorsese ruined that film with graphic violence. And I find it astounding that a film that gets its point across so determinedly can be labeled "pointless". The portrayal of a decade of image without substance, riches without work, sex without love, and so on, represents, I would have thought, a pretty forthright "point", whether you agree with it or not. The film's closing monologue is merely a final reminder that sincerity has no place in a world so vacuous and empty. For me one of the funniest and most telling moments in AMERICAN PSYCHO is when Willem Dafoe, who had previously appeared to be the typically astute screen detective, turns out to be just another grinning Huey Lewis fan - perhaps with dark thoughts and urges of his own. I for one will certainly be extra careful with the next person I hear raving about Phil Collins.


Pretentious to an unbelievable extreme.
People still don't believe me when I tell them there's a feature length film made up entirely of a plain blue screen. A commentary about AIDS and loss, however real and moving, cannot possibly compensate for such a pretentious gimmick. In fact, whatever is being said is obscured, quite literally, as the poor viewer's boredom and frustration sets in.

Pushing Tin

A lot of talent, not much of a movie.
Considering the acting, directing, and writing pedigree involved in this film, that it misfires so badly is something of a shock. Billed as a comedy/drama, there is little of either as the various characters go about exhibiting a good degree of childishness but zero charm. Both Cate Blanchett and Angelina Jolie are hopelessly underwritten, and Thornton and Cusack's characters have a combined maturity of about fourteen years of age. Worse still are the ill-advised ventures into sentimentality - notably Cusack singing in the final scene - that turn PUSHING TIN from a boring movie into an embarrassing one. Air traffic controllers could be excellent subjects for a film; just not this one.


Extraordinary and under-appreciated psychedelic classic
That this film flopped at the box office, and still struggles for the recognition it deserves today, is a great pity - yet somehow rather appropriate. The commercial suicide the Monkees committed by making this film is mirrored by the metaphorical suicide they commit on-screen. To destroy so brutally their carefully constructed image as a wholesome American alternative to the Beatles is courageous to the point of rashness, as is the admission of being no more than pawns in the entertainment industry, trapped (in the movie, literally) in their own artificiality. The Monkees' television series was not that conventional, but HEAD is utterly plotless...although in the end there is actually some kind of circular logic to it all. Unrestrained by a genuine storyline, the surreal sequence of events is by turns hilarious and rather disturbing. The greatest irony is that the Monkees effectively signed their death warrant as a commercial force at a time when they were reaching their artistic peak. Their exploration into psychedelia reached its zenith with the soundtrack to HEAD (all the songs are memorably woven into the film), which is one of the landmarks albums of the 'sixties. The Monkees began to disintegrate after the box office failure of this movie, but HEAD serves as a noble legacy.

Eyes Wide Shut

A very good film, although only an average Kubrick film
Of course people compare this to Kubrick's earlier work, and dwell on his past reputation - the man was an undisputed genius! That doesn't mean the faults of this film should be overlooked, and nor were they, as I recall, by the critics or the public upon its theatrical release. Yes, it is overlong, slow, and at times rather pompous. Alice is so unpleasant that you wonder what on earth nice Dr Bill would see in her. And the incorporation of the thriller element into the plot is sometimes rather unconvincing. But the cinematography IS amazing (though its impact much diminished on the small screen), the orgy scene at the very least memorable, and Cruise's performance outstanding. And of course the funny bits are supposed to be funny! (Could the scene with Cruise and the hotel clerk POSSIBLY be intended otherwise?) Not among Kubrick's very BEST work, but still an immensely intelligent, compelling, and original piece of cinema.

The Hazing

Astonishing (and not in a good way) attempt at campus comedy
I'm glad the folks at IMDb were able to decipher what genre this film falls into. I had a suspicion it was trying to be a comedy, but since it also seems to want to be a dark and solemn melodrama I wasn't sure. For a comedy it is amazingly bereft of even the slightest venture into the realms of humour - right up until the ridiculous "twist" ending, which confirms what an utter waste of time the whole movie actually is. It is hard to describe just how amateurish THE HAZING really is. Did anyone involved in this film have any idea at all what they were supposed to be doing? Actually worth watching so that you can stare at the screen in slack-jawed disbelief at how terrible it is.

Cuentos de Borges: Death and the Compass

A weird and wonderful blend of fantasy and crime thriller
As I write this only a few other people have ever voted for DEATH AND THE COMPASS, so I must assume that only a relatively tiny proportion of film-lovers have had the opportunity to watch this movie. Which is a shame, because it's an extremely good film. I actually only saw it myself by accident, as it were, at the London Film Festival three or four years ago after Alex Cox had entered it as a replacement for THE WINNER, which he had withdrawn, feeling it had been ruined by studio interference. And DEATH AND THE COMPASS is up there with his best work, at times surreal, but always clever and involving, and full of memorable sounds (that voice-over at the beginning!) and images (and what about those police cars!). Cox always casts great actors, and having Peter Boyle and Christopher Eccleston on board ensures the twisting story-line is enthralling right up to its quite stunning finale. Even if it gets the recognition it should, I don't think this will ever be prime time viewing material, but if quality counts for anything perhaps it should.

Repo Man

Insanity/Genius...and the sheer definition of "cult movie".
This isn't an unequivocal classic like CITIZEN KANE or THE GODFATHER, because I can perfectly understand why a lot of people just wouldn't get it. But for those of us on REPO MAN's own peculiar wavelength it IS a classic, and the fact that it is so strange and mad and silly and profound and hilarious all at the same time puts it into a category of brilliant cinema all of its own. No doubt non-believers will find this tiresome, but it is almost impossible to like this film and not quote lines of dialogue from it at every opportunity. If that wasn't enough reason for its status as THE cult movie of all time, there are punk icons to be heard AND seen ("I can't believe I used to like these guys!"), a startling revelation about John Wayne, the labeling on the food and drink, and the not unrelated naming of major characters after beers (Miller, Bud, Lite)! Intensity is only one of this film's many, many virtues...

The Green Mile

A poignant, wonderfully performed supernatural drama
Those who complain about the length of THE GREEN MILE should count themselves lucky that there are some film-makers around willing to put faith in their work and its value rather than fob you off with 90 minutes of the usual over-edited dross. And though I accept that there's little in the film that hasn't been done before, there's also little in it that has been done better. Although not as cohesively structured as THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, THE GREEN MILE is that wonderful film's equal because it explores evil and injustice in a more telling and confrontational manner. So what if all the bad characters are EXTREMELY bad? Would more morally ambiguous characters have really served the thrust of the story? One of the film's strengths is its simplicity both in story and character. A movie as touching and marvellously acted as this deserves nothing but praise.

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