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The Sixth Sense

Good stuff, done well.
Hollywood's been getting better at producing more intelligent horror/thriller films of late. I'm not sure what's going on; perhaps it's something they're putting in the bottled water. Anyway - "The Sixth Sense" is a lovely example of what a "taught psychological thriller" should be all about. Shyamalan's opus about a little boy and his counsellor hits exactly all the right buttons, and does so whilst cranking up the tension to an almost unbearable level.

It is not overly gory, it does not rely on hugely fantastic special effects to stun and amaze the audience, neither does it resort to clichéd shock tactics. It is a great example of a good idea for a good film cleverly executed. The performances are good by all, but a special mention must go to Haley Joel Osment who plays a difficult and demanding role with the ability and talent of an actor five times his age. Toni Collette is also superb as his troubled mother, and it is very refreshing to see her tackling such a diverse range of roles (including such films as "Muriel's Wedding", "Emma" and "Velvet Goldmine").

I will confess that the storyline was somewhat spoiled for me, as somebody I know (and now despise) had the stupidity to tell me what the twist was. So, rather than appreciating what should have been an excellent exercise in astounding revelations, I sat through the movie thinking "oooh, that's clever" and "of course, I understand why that happened". I feel rather cheated out of watching it for the first time, all in all, which is more than a little disappointing. So, if you have seen the film, or you know the twist for some other reason, then keep your mouth firmly shut, and don't spoil it for others. And therin lies the film's main weakness - it is extremely vulnerable. A great deal of the film's effectiveness relies on the fact that people will not talk about it to other people who have not seen the movie. And, as we know, people have a tendency to blab.

This gripe aside, "The Sixth Sense" gains a lot of praise (and deservedly so) for being a cunning little movie with a nice line in scaring the pants off you. I feel that a great deal of praise should also go to the studios who produced this film (Hollywood Pictures and Spyglass Entertainment), for not leaving it to fester, or become a low-budget B-movie, a straight-to-video job, as it could easily have been. These sorts of thrillers are ten-a-penny these days, and it's nice to see that they recognised Shyamalan's talent for writing and directing, and gave the project a budget, a distribution and a cast it deserved. (Although one can speculate that it's reaping the rewards by taking in a phenomenal amount of money - rightly so, too).

The cinematography is well done, the soundtrack not too intrusive, and there are no appalling performances to spoil the rest of the movie's grandeur. "The Sixth Sense" is a good movie, pitched at exactly the right level, and it's a great night out at the cinema too. Even my parents enjoyed it, so it must be doing something right!

The World Is Not Enough

Bond. Just Bond.
Ah, it's Bond, what do you expect, hmmm? Maybe some revolutionary insight into the profound existence of man? Corset-ridden comedy of manners? Or a superspy bedding lithe young beauties simply because he knows how to use his weapon effectively (hee, hee). If you expect any but the latter, you're going to be sorely disappointed. "The World Is Not Enough" doesn't pretend to be anything it's not, which is as refreshing as cinema gets at the moment. It's a cheesy yarn of... actually, no, I don't remember the storyline - something about oil, bankers and wanting to take over the world - but the visuals are superb, the acting fairly solid with flashes of brilliance, adequately directed and greatly enjoyable. What more do you want, eh?

There are sterling performances from Dame Judi Dench as M, and from Robert Carlyle as Renard. Unfortunately, Carlyle is chronically underused: we only get a brief indication of the emotional pain the character goes through. Renard does what he does for a completely different reason to any other BondBaddie (TM), but this is only lightly touched upon. After all, isn't a great idea for a character? A man who feels no pain, who will get stronger and stronger until the day he inevitably dies? He is, after all, the perfect victim AND the perfect villain: a man with nothing left to lose.

I've always had a soft spot for M ever since Dench stepped into the role. She may be MI6's "evil queen of numbers", but the bean-counter from Oxford has depth, heart and commitment. "T.W.I.N.E." expands her role greatly; we get to see a lot more of her ability to care. There's a slightly implausible bit when we are asked to believe that the head of MI6 cannot escape from a cell with a tiny wee padlock on it, but the rest of it is a tough acting role, and Dench plays it superbly.

As for Brosnan, well, he plays Bond very well indeed. It's hard to imagine Connery running down a gantry with an automatic machine gun in each hand blowing people away left, right and centre, as he does in "Tomorrow Never Dies", but who cares? Brosnan makes the role his own, and I, for one, enjoy his performances immensely. Desmond Llewelyn makes his last appearance as Q, and it's very touching indeed. I shall sorely miss him saying "Pay attention, 007", in his own inimitable style, knowing that what will follow is the coolest selection of gadgets that will fuel kids' imaginations the world over. Let's face it, we all want the car, don't we? It would certainly make getting into London a hell of a lot easier, wouldn't it?

John Cleese is good as R, Q's replacement, and Marceau plays an interesting character very well. Denise Richards isn't really as bad as everybody else makes out (although she's certainly weaker than some of the other performances), but hey - what does she bring to the role? Pneumatic breasts that will stand her in good stead should she ever be in a potentially dangerous drowning situation. This may sound harsh - sorry, Denise, if you are reading this (as if), but you must have understood this when you took on the role. Michael Apted directs competetantly, although it doesn't have the same narrative strength as his "Gorillas in the Mist" or "P'Tang Yang Kipperbang", both previous sterling efforts.

In summary, then, this is not the best Bond movie by a long shot. It's not even the best Brosnan has done. He is, in this author's humble opinion, the best Bond there has been (controversial, but hey - I like him). "T.W.I.N.E." is good fun, executed fairly well. The narrative may lose you at times, but it's one set-piece after another. You don't come out disappointed.

The Shining

Relentlessly scary...
"The Shining" is (I think) the very first movie directed by Kubrick that I ever saw. I can't say I've ever looked back. There is little to tie all of Kubrick's films together - one of the greatest things I admired about him was his ability to triumph in a number of different genres. And this is certainly a triumph of horror.

"The Shining" is the only movie that really makes me scared any more - and it doesn't get any easier each time I watch it. The atmosphere is so intense, it will leap out of the film and invade your house. When you leave the cinema, or stop the video recorder, you will look at everything around you very differently. When I saw the movie a couple of years ago, and I had a live-in job at a hotel, I could not help but shiver as I wandered through the corridors late at night to check the fire doors and so on. It is a film you will never forget.

What's clever is that Kubrick deftly manages to avoid making you sympathise with any character - you feel sorry for Shelley Duvall, certainly, but you can also see why Jack Nicholson might find her so irritating. Scatman Crothers as Mr. Halloran is also an interesting character, although his position in the film is one open to debate: is he there to symbolize hope? To provide the kid with the knowledge of his powers and that he is not alone?

Classic scene follows classic scene; when you think it can't get tenser, it does; when you think the images and sound can't unnerve you any more, they will - this is a film that constantly surprises, shocks and genuinely frightens. Strange, then, that Stephen King - who wrote the book on which the film is based) should dislike the film so much (he once famously stated that Kubrick knew nothing about horror). The acting is good - Nicholson as the questionably mad/possessed/tortured author, Duvall as the irritating wife pushed to the limits, Danny Lloyd as the troubled child.

But the true genius lies in the steadicam sequences, the stunning set, the brilliant cinematography and sound, the interspersed shots of horrors past and the inevitability of horrors future. This is a stylish film, the work of a true genius, recently voted the scariest film of all time by "Empire" magazine in the United Kingdom. It is a film that you will remember, simply because you won't be able to forget it. How many films can you say that of today?

Horror has come a long was since 1980 - the re-writing of the slasher movie with "Scream", the introduction of new and exciting premises of horror such as "The Blair Witch Project", and slicker, and more intelligent thrillers like "The Sixth Sense". (I appreciate these are recent films, but I cannot think far back enough at the moment!) However, all horror films have a long way to go before they can measure up to this film - one of the most intense and inspired horror films cinema has to offer.

The Limey

I've just seen a preview of this film - I knew nothing about it until the film started. "The Limey", I thought. I also thought "never heard of it". Well, it's got Terence Stamp in it, and he's usually good, and it's directed by Steven Soderbergh, and that's great because I thoroughly enjoyed "Out Of Sight". On the other hand, it looked distinctly like the opening credits were setting up a distinctly art-house film which I really wasn't in the mood for. I mean, let's face it - this is part of an all-night movie marathon, it's three o'clock in the morning, and it follows "Starship Troopers", "Go" and "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut". Nope, not the right time for such a film.

Usually I'm all for this type of film, but I just ended up comparing it to too many other things. Michael Winterbottom's superb "I Want You", for example - there are many similarities in the cinematography, visual style and narrative structure of both films. Secondly, it is obvious to compare it to "Out Of Sight" - dangerous, because they are two very different films - but nevertheless the similarities are there. "The Limey" tries to fill an art-house cinema role, and just seems to end up floundering around the "nearly, but naff" area of moviemaking. Perhaps Soderbergh let the excellence of "Out Of Sight" go to his head - after all, it was an exceedingly hard act to follow. The thing is, if you compare it to pretty much anything similar, it'll come off looking second best.

Reading the other reviews on this website, I am curious to know why so many people were attracted to it. It is perhaps because the majority of comments are from the US, and France - with only one comment from England, and one from Ireland. So, perhaps the audience reaction is one of enthusiasm for the tough-hardened-criminal with a quick with and a chip on his shoulder that we Brits have in abundance (of _course_ we do - surely you've seen "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels", "Trainspotting", "Shallow Grave" blah blah blah...). Of course such people exist, but that many of them? Nah. Terence Stamp was almost convincing as Wilson (leaving aside the obligatory cockney rhyming slang at every irritating interval), but every other character in the movie was criminally neglected - even Peter Fonda's character, the other principle part, was hazy at best. These are characters we do not feel for, I felt no connection with, and by the end of the movie, I really didn't care what happened. As it so happens, I have forgotten what the ending of the movie is. It only finished a couple of hours ago.

All this is highly disappointing stuff. We know Soderbergh can do better, and we know Stamp can do better. Yes, the situation is interesting for a while, and yes, there are enough pieces of tension to sustain enough enthusiasm in the film to limp from one set-piece to another, but it could have been so much more.

This pupil must try harder.

Mars Attacks!

Har har har! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!
Some of the reviews on the IMDB of this movie are very interesting - some people don't seem to know or remember the source materials that Burton lampoons in this excellent sci-fi shocker. Good films to watch as background material for this film are, for example, "Plan 9 From Outer Space" and "They Came from Beyond Space" - excellent films they are not, but they do sum up the paranoia that is so prevalent in these films: fear of the unknown, also mixed with a great fear of Communism. The plot is usually very simple - invaders from other planets come and try to TAKE OVER THE WORLD!!! And some square-jawed hero usually fights back, world is happy and saved, rah rah rah.

Which is (almost) what happens here. "Mars Attacks!" is not specifically based on these films (rather a set of trading cards from some years ago made by Topps), but it's undeniable that they are a heavy influence. An interesting twist in "Mars Attacks!" is that those who save the world are the misfits - a teenager stuck in a dead-end job, his disabled old grandmother, a retired boxer, and, erm... Tom Jones. It takes all sorts to save the world, apparently. The Martians themselves are corking - hideous, green, huge brains; everything you want from your average attacker. Everything about the movie (especially Danny Elfmann's perfect score) screams B-movie sci-fi, and "Mars Attacks!" re-invents this genre in a lampooning, humourous and affectionate way - much like Wes Craven's "Scream" did for the horror movie.

The acting is all fine, but pretty much everything takes second place to the special effects. I sat through the first showing of this movie completely gobsmacked, sitting slack-jawed, unable to tear my eyes off the screen as I dribbled into my popcorn. Pierce Brosnan is excellent as the pipe-smoking scientist, Sarah-Jessica Parker also excels as the dippy fashion show presenter. But this is clearly Burton's movie - he is the one pulling the strings, and his twisted, twisted sense of humour is put to excellent use.

It's not hard to work out that I am a big fan of Burton (read my review of his short film "Vincent" if you are in any doubt), but it also occurs to me that there are few directors who could do this movie quite as well. Burton excels in the film of the isolated ("Edward Scissorhands", "Batman") and the film of the twisted comedy ("Beetlejuice", "Vincent"). "Mars Attacks!" is clearly a film of the second category. If you're not a fan of sick humour, or the odd grizzly scene, then perhaps this movie isn't for you. But I think it is undeniable that Burton has done a good job with this film - I await with great anticipation his forthcoming "Sleepy Hollow".

In summary, then, "Mars Attacks!" is definitely a good film to watch. Not everybody will get it, not everybody will like it - but it certainly benefits from Burton's direction, a mega-budget, Danny Elfmann's brilliant music and a VERY sick sense of humour. Enjoy!

American Pie

My cup of tea. Not everybody's - but certainly mine.
I had the good fortune to see a sneak preview of this film in England, a couple of weeks before release - and I was very impressed indeed. Hurrah - a comedy that is laugh-out-loud funny, enough to make you cringe at the embarrassing bits (of which there are many), and smile at the sentiment, which isn't corny in the slightest. This coming-of-age tale of four boys who make a pact to become men by losing their virginity by prom night is the perfect movie to go the cinema with your buddies to see, but probably not with your family. Having said that, I saw a family (son, mother, father and grandmother) coming out of the cinema, and they had a great time. The grandmother couldn't stop laughing, and saying how true it all was. Which is interesting, if a little embarrassing.

Part of the success of this movie is due to the fact that we've all had to contemplate how we feel about sex, and losing your virginity is something which (no matter how fraught with peril it is) bonds us all because it is a very frightening experience. It's also a topic which has so much comic potential, and I'm glad that cast and crew don't throw any of the opportunities away. Here's the thing: if you're going to make a movie that is probably going to offend a few people no matter what you do, and is a very near-the-knuckle affair, why stop at only half-gags? Go the whole hog, push the boat out, thrust it in their faces. And that's what "American Pie" does.

The performances are all great, if a little clichéd (are all you Americans really either:

a) jocks

b) geeks

c) sweet, loveable square-jawed heroes/long haired, intelligent heroines? ...gosh, I hope so, that would be so funny for us Brits to watch). There is yet another high school prom (jealousy sets in once more - see "Never Been Kissed"), which causes much consternation for all concerned. There are marvellous scenes between concerned father and embarrassed child, quite the highlight of the movie. I'll be interested to see how the careers of all of the stars fare after this film. I wish them all well, but I find it hard to see them all thriving outside a high-school environment (which is good, because it indicates that they all play their roles with a great deal of endearing believability).

It'll certainly give you something to talk about with your mates, and it'll make you think about things, too. It'll make you check what's in your beer, it'll make you think about apple pie, and it'll make you think more about your relationships. All of which is good stuff. The soundtrack is good (although doesn't contain any Don McLean), the lighting is also very good in places, the direction adequate, the editing fine, the . But at the end of the day, this is the kid's movie, and they make an excellent job of an excellent script and situation, so fair play to them. This movie deserves to succeed, and I hope it receives a good welcome from us Brits, who should enjoy it a lot. (Incidentally, this film got a fifteen rating, which I think is about right for it - eighteen would be too prohibitive (after all, isn't this film aimed at people aged fifteen?)). Take a piece of advice, though - if you are embarrassed easily, don't watch it with members of your family. But do watch it.

The Children's Hour

Ripe for re-release!
A 'classic' film, (whatever that may be), can almost never be re-made in quite the same way again. It's something that we've thought about for quite a while, though - and noted filmmakers (including Gus Van Sant and Sydney Pollack) have tried and failed to re-make films to jazz up their appeal, and make them more accessible to a wider audience. It's something that passed through my mind quite a few times as I watched "The Children's Hour" today. Quite clearly, this is a film that more people deserve to see and know about, and it would certainly be interesting to try and re-make it, but we would definitely lose something in the translation.

The largest reason for this is because it is a film of a definite period - the issues raised in the film are widely discussed these days, whereas in the period the film was set, homosexuality was something to be feared and despised. Similarly, we do not have the various elaborate codes of honour that are so prevalent in the film, and dictate the actions of almost all characters. It's a pity, then, that this film will be alien to lots of people today. The answer, however, is not in a re-make (the film is itself a re-make of a 1936 film by the same director called "These Three", and an adaptation of a play of the same name by Lillian Hellman), but a re-release of this fine example of moviemaking.

Boasting a terrific cast including Audrey Hepburn, Shirley MacLaine and James Garner, "The Children's Hour" is the story of two teachers, Miss Dobie and Miss Wright, who found a school for young girls in an idyllic town in America. Then, out of boredom, spite and plain maliciousness, a child tells a vicious lie that will bring about the downfall of the school, the teachers, and all caught up in the horrible set of affairs. It is quite possible to see the creeping evil and hatred that stems from Mary, the child concerned (played wonderfully by Karen Balkin). Eventually, it reaches out and destroys all it touches.

The photography is great (it was nominated for an Oscar) - there are many scenes which are so wonderfully composed that each frame paints a thousand words: the climax of the movie is a great example. The relationship between MacLaine and Hepburn is delicately and sensitively portrayed, especially for a cast who didn't know what they were doing (according to MacLaine in an interview for "The Celluloid Closet"). James Garner is also good in his role as the doctor about to marry Hepburn, although the movie is clearly not aimed at giving him the best lines. There are also many, many superb supporting roles - and the film's strength comes from a great ensemble performance.

It doesn't really matter what the child accuses the teachers of (indeed we only find out a good hour into the film, although it has been strongly implied), because the film isn't really about homosexuality. As MacLaine points out in "The Celluloid Closet" (a cracking documentary about the history of homosexuality in the movies), it is about "a child's accusation". It is also about the power held by a town to bring about the downfall of two perfectly nice, perfectly ordinary young people. The are lines in the film that one should never forget and it should also make us think about the way our words shape the situations in which we live: ("unnatural" is a great example).

All in all, a lovely film from director William Wyler ("Ben-Hur", "Roman Holiday", "Funny Girl"), and one that deserves to be seen by a wider audience - re-release, please!


When a film is made, it has a certain degree of potential. Some filmmakers have tried to do the two-teenagers-sucked-into-a-TV-show movie before and failed (miserably), "Stay Tuned" being a horrific example. So when I started to watch the film, I was interested because it it's quite a gripping theory, but I was apprehensive about the way it would be handled.

Happily, the film manages more-or-less to fall into the category of a successful "teenagers-sucked-into-a-TV-show" movie. The performances by all are good (but a special mention must go to Joan Allen for a wonderful display of talent as the repressed housewife who discovers the beauty of life, love and the female orgasm: "Oh my goodness!"), and a great deal of attention has gone into the set and props to make them authentic for the period in which the TV show "Pleasantville" is set. On a negative note though, the camerawork just isn't authentic for a fifties TV show - normally, this wouldn't have bothered me much, but as I had just finished watching and reviewing "The Elephant Man" (which makes good use of camerawork in just this manner), I was aware of it.

The use of colour is very well done, and the concept of people being susceptible to colourisation when they become passionate (for whatever reason) is simple, clever and competently exercised. There are also certain points in the film which create quite surprising reactions in the audience: for example, a friend of mine described the scene in which Joan Allen uses grey make-up to conceal her colour as "very sad" - and she was right. At face value, there is little that is moving about the scene, (it is perhaps almost comic), but it is well played and directed, and evokes a great deal of empathy for the character.

It's now time for me to jump on my Equal Opportunities high horse, and explain that the film is also a subtle exercise in discrimination and racism, in the same vein as Disney's "The Fox and the Hound". The signs begin appearing in windows saying "No Coloreds", just to make the point staringly obvious for those more excited about the toffee popcorn before the movie (optional). It makes the point simply and effectively, and it's also worth thinking about. It also talks a great deal about change, "traditional family values", and the society in which we live today (the montage at the beginning of the film through various different High School lessons is a good example, and very grimly comic).

Unfortunately, I must also point out two negative points about the film: firstly, that the film is a little over-long at 124 minutes, and secondly, that the absolute ending confuses the hell out of me. There are probably thousands of you who understand the last and final camera shot - it probably ties the film together beautifully and is the best part of the film - but not me. Maybe I'm being thick. I'm not going to describe it for fear of spoiling it for those of you who haven't seen it before, but it left me scratching my head after an otherwise pleasant and simple movie.

In total, though, "Pleasantville" is funny when it should be, moving when it should be, and above all, simple. This isn't a bad thing, by any means: the points are clear and effective, but it is also very possible to watch "Pleasantville" without giving much thought to these issues - it is a light, fluffy comedy/drama, which is ultimately very enjoyable. Excellent for a Sunday night in front of the video.

Muppet Treasure Island

"Muppet Treasure Island" is another one of those films that has so much to offer, but unfortunately seems to deliver very little. The pitch must have been a doddle: "Treasure Island, yeah, but throw in the Muppets for comic appeal, add a little intrigue and lovely sets, and Bob's your father's brother - a definite money spinner".

Half of the problem with the film is the running time: it's a hundred minutes according to the IMDB, but it still seems to be far too long. A lot of the situations (and particularly the songs) just seem to drag too much. That's not to say the songs aren't good - "Love Led Us Here" is a gorgeous ballad (stick around to hear the heart-warming version at the end of the credits), "Cabin Fever" is funny enough, and "Something Better" is sweet. But they just seem to weigh the film down too much. There really isn't enough to keep your average adult stimulated, which is a disappointment because the part of the Muppets' success is the gags appeal to most senses of humour no matter what your age.

On the other hand, the younger members of the audience seemed to like it quite a bit, so there's clearly enough to keep the moppets amused. If you're watching the film with kids, as I was, they will probably enjoy it loads, particularly if they know the Muppets already. That's the great thing about the Muppets: you're watching a character you know and love take on a different persona in the film, like you're watching one of your mates play a big movie role. You know that Miss Piggy is temperamental and the best karate pig you know of, so you can guess she's going to chop somebody in the stomach and send them flying, no matter what character she plays. You laugh because she's not just Benjamina Gunn, she's Miss Piggy too.

Tim Curry is merely all right as Long John Silver (a little too bit over the top in places, and the stereotypically swarthy laugh will probably grate after a while), Jennifer Saunders is adequate in her brief role, as is Billy Connolly. Jim Hawkins, played well by Kevin Bishop in his first screen role, is a very sensitive hero and adds a great deal of depth to the film. Gonzo and Rizzo make a good team, as we discovered earlier in "A Muppet Christmas Carol", and Kermit in his role as Captain Smollet is good - but doesn't shine nearly as much as he did as Bob Cratchett. Miss Piggy is, as usual, fabulous as Benjamina Gunn ("I'm a pig: I need commitment") - but isn't on screen for nearly long enough.

The sets are great, the one-liners are good fun, the original score is top-hole (by noted movie composer Hans Zimmer). All said and done, the movie does have so much going for it, but it just lacks the tightness that would push it to better heights, and perhaps this is partly due to director Brian Henson: a noted family connection does not necessarily a good director make. Having said that, he also directed "A Muppet Christmas Carol", and that was great. So, I don't know. I just get the impression that, despite all the good stuff the film has to offer, there's just too much "filler". Take out all this stuff and a few of the mediocre jokes, bung in funnier jokes and (as an excellent director once told me) "crank it up a gear" and voila! Better movie.

There's a line in the film by Statler and Waldorf (the two old guys in the balcony in "The Muppet Show" - remember?) which goes something along the lines of:

"Hey! We saved the pig and the frog!" "True, true. Pity we couldn't save the movie!"

True. A pity.

The Elephant Man

David Lynch has an fascinating track record - "Blue Velvet" is a good example. It is truly a remarkably interesting film, with lots of things to say, and yet it is vaguely repellant. Not, as is pointed out in Lynch's excellent "The Elephant Man", for "women or nervous persons". Interesting, then, that Lynch should choose a subject that mirrors most of his films almost exactly.

The film tells the real-life story of John Merrick, born with a deformity that most people treat as something to ridicule, profit from, or be terrified of. He is rescued by young surgeon Frederick Treves, who sets about rehabilitating him, much to the interest of Victorian-era London society, and the anger and contempt of certain members of the hospital board. In addition, we see Bytes, the man who has been exhibiting Merrick in his freak shows, and many people who want to meet him (for a number of reasons). All of this provides an interesting backdrop to the rise and decline of an extraordinary young man.

The film is shot entirely in black and white, and the attention to Victorian era detail is marvellous to behold: great quantities of steam, many gaslights, the costumes are perfect and even the accents have a plausible Victorian lilt to them. Without resorting to obviously faked running scratches on the film itself, the period is clearly and brilliantly set. Similarly, the lighting and cinematography is meticulously crafted. A special mention must also go to John Morris, who composed the score. Without being too intrusive or distracting, the music gently accents the beauty that the film has to offer, and conveys a sense of wonder at the appropriate moments.

It must be pointed out, however, that the film progresses far too slowly in places, and a substantial part of the responsibility for this must go to Lynch for his fanciful dream-like sequences and unnecessary shots of (exquisite, certainly) sets. It can be argued that we learn a lot of Merrick's history and the era in which the film is set through these sequences, but the acting, effects, screenplay and directorial talent elsewhere do more than enough to convey this, and the rest of it just comes across as inconsequential episodes which weigh the rest of the film down.

All actors and actresses imbue their characters with the dignity, helplessness, terror or aggression that they require. Freddie Jones is excellent as the pathetic yet frightening Bytes: it is refreshing to see a character portrayed so well with a dual sense of helplessness and power. Similarly, John Hurt does a marvellous job as John Merrick - especially beneath the weight and restrictive nature of Christopher Tucker's spectacular make-up. He manages to give Merrick a very real sense of dignity and humanity (surely the point of the film), and it is very possible to see the pain and humiliation in his eyes at certain points, a well-nigh-on impossible task given the nature of the make-up. Hopkins is good as Treves, (although it is not his finest hour), and the performances from Anne Bancroft and Hannah Gordon are also very well done.

To conclude, "The Elephant Man" is a very touching and moving film, in turns fascinating and upsetting, but certainly overblown in places. If you can get past these minor quibbles, however, "The Elephant Man" is definitely a good film to watch, with much more to say than the average blockbuster.


Excellent fun!
Cracking film! Well paced, superbly edited, lovely performances, gripping plot, nice line in black humour, colourful and clever.

Nevertheless, "Go" isn't for everyone. Avoid, for example, taking your Granny (unless you've briefed her on the effects of Ecstasy). For the most part, though, `Go' is a clever film with definite pulling power. It has the same black comedy as "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels", with similar plot spins. The plot is inventive, funny and almost impossible to relate, so I'm not even going to try - but it neatly avoids being too complicated, and leaves just enough scope for character development and humour, without playing second fiddle to the storyline.

"Go" is actually three stories in one, tied together in a similar fashion as "Pulp Fiction". Yet unlike Tarantino's opus, "Go" relies on reality far more than the vaguely cartoonized characters played by Travolta, Jackson, Keitel and the like. Furthermore, we `youths' understand this sort of situation far more than the plots offered by `Pulp Fiction' - for `Go' is about people we know, not weird folks in tuxedos who, no matter how cool they may be, actually say very little about our good selves. It's also clear that "Go" has had a lot less money thrown into it, and as a result, the film retains a raw quality that gives it added punch. This is clearly enhanced by the editing, which has a frenetic, ravey feel to it (particularly in the opening credits).

The acting is good - particularly from Sarah Polley as Ronna, and Katie Holmes as Claire. Scott Wolf does very well here, although fans of `Party of Five' will no doubt recognise the odd `Bailey' look. William Fichtner is superb as the creepy Burke, and if anyone has to go through the mental anguish of trying to work out where we recognise him from, it's `Armageddon'. It's not worthwhile listing all performances in the film - all of them were good.

The director of "Go", Doug Liman, is probably best known for his earlier comedy "Swingers", and the same freshness can be seen in both: he deserves to go a long way. This movie is one of the best new flicks around: go.

Eyes Wide Shut

Solid Kubrick, great flick!
Let's face it - Stanley Kubrick's last film was always going to generate a lot of interest regardless of how good it was. There are a number of reasons for this: firstly and most importantly, that all of Kubrick's other films are very, very good. Stanley was, by all accounts, an exacting director who demanded a lot, but gave a lot in return. His death has deprived the film world of a rare genius; it will be a long time before we see his like again.

Leaving all this emotive stuff behind, what's the film actually like? Well, it's quite slow to begin with: the music is lovely, the set is exquisite, but all the speeches are very drawn out, especially in the party sequence at the beginning of the movie. Indeed, as my friend pointed out, the party begins to develop just like a Ferrero Rocher advert - complete with dodgy Hungarian accent and arched eyebrows. All we're missing is an old waiter with superb balancing skills and "Monsieur - with this Rocher you're really spoiling us!" It's hard not to think that Stan's having a big celestial laugh - why all this melodrama? After all, it apparently wasn't unheard of for Kubrick to re-shoot a scene fifty, sixty, seventy times - so nothing is left to chance: if Stanley doesn't like it, it ain't in the movie. So, Kubrick must have wanted it that way. The point? Pretentiousness? Are we supposed to laugh at these people? Hmmmm. Don't know. That's something you're going to have to be prepared for when you watch this movie (like the rest of Kubrick's films): thought. Your thought and consideration is definitely required.

Things progress fluidly enough, and before you know it, there's a pot-fuelled revelation, a sexual proposition, and well-to-do people begin screwing like bunnies over luxurious decor. It's all cracking stuff; the tense moments are almost unbearable, the acting is solid (more Kidman, please), and the lighting is absolutely fantastic - full marks go to cinematographer Larry Smith there. Coupled with this, the colour schemes are very interesting, as is the fact that it was not shot in Cinemascope (the really wide widescreen format), as I had expected. Interesting - I wonder why?

The British running time is two hours and forty minutes, so if you're not happy about sitting in the same place for that long, maybe this isn't the film for you. I can't honestly say that I was conscious of the huge length of the film, as it interested me a great deal. But it's not the sort of movie to go and see if you're restless or have bladder problems. As for nudity and sexual stuff, there is a fair bit, but I don't think it's hugely titillating - just a bit weird in places. If you love Kubrick's other films, then you'll love this. If you're wanting to watch your first film directed by Kubrick, but you've got no idea which one to choose from, it's worth bearing in mind that he directed a film in practically every genre. So, while you're here at the IMDB, search under `Kubrick, Stanley', and take your pick - horror, war, sci-fi, costume drama, comedy, thriller - he's done ‘em all (almost).

It's inevitable that Kubrick's death has generated a great deal of interest in this movie, combined with a very long movie shoot and troubled casting, so the stakes are high. But the long and the short of it is this: "Eyes Wide Shut" is a good movie, Kidman and Cruise are excellent, and this is a thought-provoking, intelligent swansong from the genius who brought the world such classics as "The Killing", "2001: A Space Odyssey", "The Shining", "Full Metal Jacket" and many, many more. Stanley - thank you. I shall miss you.


Ghoulishly good fun!
The art of the short film is one that is all too often overlooked by larger production companies. Which is just downright silly, really - OK, chances are they will provide less huge financial returns, but companies can afford to lose the odd dollar here and there, especially when films like "Vincent" are at stake. Funded by the Walt Disney Company whilst they were nurturing a budding young animator called Tim Burton, "Vincent" is a lovely little exposé on the secret thoughts that lurk in the back of most little children's brains. Lawks - I know they lurked in the back of mine.

Based on a poem that Burton composed himself, Vincent tells the story of a little boy who wants to grow up to be just like Vincent Price, the popular horror actor, and Burton's childhood idol. The narrative has a sing-song feel to it, and therefore retains an added grizzly-little-child-like nature, and the cinematography is a triumph, harking back to the classic B-movie horror films that Burton (and myself) grew up on. Vincent Price was, it seems, just as much an icon for Burton as for me: "House of Wax", "The Fly", "Theatre of Blood" - these are all films that made a great impression on Burton as a child.

Among other influences within the short are Edgar Allen Poe and Mary Shelley, both of course prolific horror writers that have inspired many films themselves. It is clear that Burton was going on to great, great things - as indeed he did - and it says a great deal about the company that agreed to fund this unknown's obvious talents. It's sad to say, however, that there was little Disney felt it could do with the film (without damaging it's reputation as the family-friendly Mouse Factory), and so it remains largely unseen by most people (with the exception of those who see it at film festivals, and on laserdisc).

"Vincent" is, to my knowledge, the first major use of claymation, the animation technique that featured in "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas", directed by Henry Selick; and therefore a breakthrough in animation technique. More short films should be made to test the viability of such new devices - just like Disney's "Flowers and Trees" and "Steamboat Willie" were breakthroughs with their use of colour and sound respectively. But all too often, these new devices are left to major motion pictures (like the use of the IMAX format in "Fantasia 2000", and the new CGI animation Deep Canvas, being pioneered in "Tarzan"). The short film is an ideal way of discovering exciting new additions to cinema - both in technique, and in directing, acting and photography.

For more information about "Vincent", and to see some of the concept sketches that went into the creation of the movie, I highly recommend "Burton on Burton", a loose autobiography of Tim Burton's work so far. It certainly has lots to say about short films - when the running time is five minutes, as opposed to the standard hundred-odd minutes provided by a main feature, there is also a lot less scope for things to go drastically wrong. And practically nothing in "Vincent" does - it is a diverting, amusing and gruesomely imaginative addition to Burton's work, and also to Disney's showcase. All in all, "Vincent" is a sterling little film, with lots to recommend it, and a fine example of Burton's early work!

Twelve Monkeys

Good film - but I was left strangely unsatisfied...
There are loads of reviews of "Twelve Monkeys" that say it's a fantastic film, and it's undoubtedly one of the finest examples of moviemaking, and that it has enough special qualities to separate it from the other merely 'good' films the world has to offer. This ain't one of those reviews. It's not that I disbelieve people when they say they love it - and the film offers superb performances (particularly from Brad Pitt), a wonderful visual style and exactly the right sort of direction (from a very talented Mr. Gilliam) for the movie. Everything fits together very nicely indeed. But personally, I just found it lacking in... Oh blast, I don't know. I'm human.

Having said that, the positive points of the film (in addition to those already mentioned) seem to leap out at hit one smack in the face: inspired camerawork, thrilling storyline, nice soundtrack, a keep-you-guessing plot... all the elements are there. I think I wanted something more from the movie, though - I wanted a certain sense of wonder, that I get from the end of movies like "Cinema Paradiso", "Edward Scissorhands", "Casablanca", "Stand By Me" and so on. Maybe that's greedy. "Twelve Monkeys" interested me - it interested me a great deal, but I wasn't inspired.

The bits I particularly liked were the clever Hitchcock references and the way the society appeared to respond to 'madness'. It's clear that Terry Gilliam knows his subject. It's also interesting to compare the film to his earlier work, "The Fisher King", for both films share a fascination with society's underworld: the beggars, the homeless, the 'mad'. It appears that these people have important things to say (at least as many important things to say as the rich, the housed and the 'sane') - and they have more freedom to say what they feel. The thing is, nobody seems to listen.

I could pretentiously twaddle on about this film forever, skirting round the issue of why it just didn't grab me as well as it might, but perhaps it's just me - a personal viewpoint. As James Cole (played with great flair by Bruce Willis) points out, it is our opinions on movies that change, not the movies themselves. I'll perhaps watch it again and love it. If my opinions change, keep an eye out here, and I'll write another review.

I found "Twelve Monkeys" to be visually stunning, wonderfully acted, and quite compelling viewing - but it lacked the 'something' (whatever the hell THAT is - and if you find out, you'd make movies that would be the envy of the world) that makes the movie (for me) a great, great film. Harsh, yes. But it's a good film that can stand a little criticism.

Never Been Kissed

Enjoyable! Go, see, forget! Have fun!
This is an enjoyable way to spend the evening - you could certainly do a lot worse than see this film. OK, it's not Oscar-winning, mind-blowing, event movie stuff, but it passes a very enjoyable couple of hours. Drew Barrymore turns in a remarkably well-rounded (if somewhat clichéd "ugly duckling/swan") character, David Arquette's character is good fun, and Michael Vartan (aside from being stunning to look at) makes a likeable love interest. We all remember our High School days, and perhaps that's why the film will do quite well. Because, love them or loathe them, it was those days that helped shape us into who we are today - and all of us have some great memories, and some not-so-great ones (I was the one always picked last for sports: you remember, glasses and freckles?).

Watching this kind of film frustrates me a bit, because Americans get to have proms, and fairs and are allowed to wear their own clothes - all I got in rainy England was a mountain of homework and Saturday school. I want a carnival like at the end of "Grease", too. No fair.

Well, never mind - because we don't forget those magic days, and secretly, we all want to go back and have the chance to do it all again. But we can't, because we're stuck in our nine to five jobs and have bills to pay. So it was nice to have Drew and the rest of the "Never Been Kissed" crew to remind us. Chuck in a little romance, a lovely soundtrack, a potential crisis, the "will they/won't they" factor, wait for the happy ending, and ding! Your recipe for success.

So, all in all, it was a little formulaic and slightly stodgy in places (it could have afforded to move a lot faster, probably because the audience knew what was going to happen before it actually did). You know who's going to get their come-uppance, who's going to be the belle of the ball, and you can more or less guess the ending. Does that make it a bad film? Nah, I don't think so. I buy into this cheesy stuff, bring it on. It makes you giggle, it makes you go "aaaah", and when the credits roll, you leave and don't think much more about it again. It's a great way to leave your troubles at the concessions stand.

Will I buy it on video? No. Will I go to see it at the cinema again? No. Will I forget about it in a couple of years time? Probably. Will I recommend it to my friends? Certainly, because I didn't have to think, enjoyed it, giggled, went "aaaah", and surely that's what I was after. A little diverting piece of fun: and that's what makes "Never Been Kissed" so great.


Great film, worthy of wider release
"Barrio" is the sort of film that comes from the suburbs, does extremely well, and deserves to do so, too. The poster sums the film up very well: a jetski parked and chained to a lamppost in a suburb of Madrid, a good 170 miles from the sea. It seems to capture the very funny nature of the film, but also the tragedy of it all: there's absolutely no way that the jetski is going to get used, and similarly, Rai, Javi and Manu aren't going to get out of the suburbs and fulfill their full potential.

"Barrio" (meaning "neighbourhood" or "suburb") was well received in Spain, and definitely deserves to go on a wider release, but it probably won't, if you will forgive a little gripe about foreign film distribution. There's absolutely no way that films like "Jingle All the Way" and "Batman and Robin" should have loads of money poured into them and then be released only for people to find out they're dire, when films like this should be seen by many more people. Grrrr. I guess the point is that if you're a film distributor who happens to be reading this, wise up. And if you're somebody who wouldn't give a foreign language film a chance (unlikely you'd be reading this, but never mind) - you're missing out on far too much.

I was warned by many Spanish people that I wouldn't understand a lot of the dialogue, because a lot of it was in suburban slang - but strangely, I found it one of the easiest films to understand, possibly because most of the characters spoke rather slowly. It's hard to single out somebody for individual merit because the movie fits so well together, and one gets the impression it was a great collaborative effort. Certainly the acting is consistently impressive and the direction is great because you can't see joins, to quote Morcambe and Wise.

Added to all of this, the soundtrack is great; it provides a good flavour of Spanish music, without managing to sound clichéd or tired. There's even an impressive dancing goat. (Yes, even better than the goat in "Muertos de Risa"). What more could one want from a film?

Muertos de risa

The short fat one gets slapped. That's it.
"Muertos De Risa" had such a lot going for it, it's hard to see exactly how director, cast and crew could make such a stupendously stupid film. Yet somehow, through colossal ignorance of what makes a decent movie, sheer bad luck or a complete lack of talent, Alex De Iglesia's supposed laughfest offers little more than a bewildered titter at the point of the thing.

The thing was, I went in with such high hopes. The poster looks good, I was in the mood for a knockabout screwball comedy, and I had been busy defending this type of movie to my Spanish friends (who clearly aren't too impressed with this genre - see "El Milagro De P.Tinto"), and I was looking forward to a nice seventies kitsch affair. But it just failed to deliver. The comedy was dire (alright, I might have missed a few Spanish language one-liners, but judging by the noises the Spanish audience were making, I doubt it). But really, what's going on? How on earth did this make it past greenlighting? It can't be entertainment, surely.

Nevertheless, before sitting down to write this review, I endeavoured to find some positive aspects of the film. And, to my surprise, there were one or two diamonds in the very, very rough. Firstly: the title sequence - lovely, stylised animation, nice attention to seventies detail. Secondly, the goat gave a sterling performance - I can honestly say I have never seen a goat play dead quite as realistically - fantastic! (In comparison). Finally, the comedy old mother is alright, I suppose. But animation, goats and mothers aside, there isn't a lot to look forward too, I'm afraid.

The thing is - it's all so bloomin' unnecessary. There is no need for all the naked women (no there isn't, to all those lecherous readers out there), there is no need to push the jokes quite as far as they try, because the jokes don't work on their own. There was just no point in making the film: a brief comedy sketch on "Saturday Night Live", fine - but a feature-length movie? Never. "Muertos De Risa" is crass, stupid, unnecessary and irritating (like most of the actors). I don't think I've ever hated a movie quite as much: which is good, I'm glad it's got my passion up. I might try to watch it with subtitles, just to see if I did miss something stupendous - and you will be the first to know if I did. But I really don't hold out much hope.

Alright - this is a personal opinion; you, of course, might love it. But my advice is this: if you're after screwball Spanish comedy, watch "El Milagro De P.Tinto", if you're after soft porn, watch anything by Russ Meyer, and if you're after an example of the best Spanish cinema has to offer, then try "Todo Sobre Mi Madre". If, however, you're after something to irritate the hell out of your friends and family, maybe this is the film for you. It certainly isn't for me.

Las ratas

Tough watching.
The more and more I think about this film, the less and less I dislike it. And trust me, when I came out of the cinema, I disliked it.

The ending of the film was bizarre to say the least; did it really ask itself to be taken seriously? Everything (except the action) would seem to suggest that it did, and yet the final few moments were accompanied by howls of laughter from the audience.

There are hundreds of problems with the movie (indeed my friend said she thought it was one of the worst films she had ever seen), and I think that the move never quite transcends these problems. The pace is too slow, the secondary characters are never quite developed, the plotline just too divorced from modern, urban city life that most of us live in to make sense. Yet despite all of these, the film does have certain things to recommend it. For example, the nature photography is fantastic, and the way the film captures the nature of the seasons through the village is breathtakingly beautiful.

Las Ratas is lyrical and poetical about the countryside that the action is set in, and it works very well. The main characters are somewhat bizarre, but they are well rounded, so bizareness is not really a problem.

Several scenes in the film are extremely graphic (indeed the opening of the film carries a warning that it should not be seen by anyone under thirteen (Spanish censorship laws being less strict than their counterparts in the USA or UK)), and I admit to finding myself wincing at the gorier parts: for this is life in the country, accompanied by birth, death and slaughter. (This is not a film to watch if you like pigs). Yet the camerawork always maintains its reverence for wildlife, and the position of man amongst all of this is probably only questioned at the end.

This is a very literary film: if you are watching it without subtitles (as I was), you may find that you follow only the visual action, and very little of the dialogue, save very few repeated phrases.

Perhaps I had a harder time than most with this film because I did not understand a lot of the dialogue. Perhaps it would work a lot better with subtitles. Perhaps it would work better if I lived in the countryside. Perhaps all of these are true. But I really cannot see myself watching Las Ratas again to find out.


Muy fuerte, poco melodramatico (Very powerful, a little melodramatic)
Benito Zambrano´s "Solas" is a mixed affair - slow to get started, yet remarkably moving and beautiful as it progresses and the characters develop. Though it tends to rely on stock characters (wise, old yet lonely man, caring and efficient mother, wild-child daughter with a heart of gold), "Solas" retains a lot of it´s power through the well acted performances of all characters throughout.

It is a film worth watching in conjunction with Pedro Almodóvar´s "Todo Sobre Mi Madre", for its observation of women and their remarkable capacity to care despite the attitudes of some men, and the situations that they are placed in. Indeed, the title does very well to explain the movie - "Solas" is best translated "Alone", although the ending (-as) suggests it would be more accurately translated "Women Alone".

The action does tend to switch into the melodramatic, especially in the first half of the movie, and this may discourage those with little patience for such indulgences, but it is worth sticking through. As a film to watch in order to improve your Spanish, it isn´t easy - but it gets easier to understand as the film moves along.

Apparently, not a lot of Spaniards have seen this film, but those who have all agree on one thing - that it is "muy fuerte", or "very powerful", something they only seem to say about some films and most whiskies. It is a title that is not undeserved.

Todo sobre mi madre

The future of Spanish cinema starts here...
Almodóvar´s latest is beautifully shot by Affonso Beato, and is about the strength of women - and as a homage (as well as an expertly made piece of cinema), it works very well. The acting is first-class, particularly from Cecilia Roth, whose cries of "Hijo mío" ("My son") as her son Esteban lies dying in her arms is powerful enough to wrench the heart of even the most even the most hardened film watcher.

The events that follow provide an interesting vision of women in all situations (and by contrast, the role of men is an interesting one to watch - Padre H. Rosa is unflinching and unforgiving, Esteban is the ideal son is lifted to almost iconic status, and Antonia San Juan is excellent as the prostitute transsexual). Indeed, the Spanish seem to have encountered a fascination of women in the last couple of years - another notable example is Benito Zembrano´s "Solas".

As a piece of cinema from which to study Spanish, you could do a lot worse than see this film. It isn`t as visual as "El Milagro de P.Tinto", for example, but it is relatively easy to keep up with the events. (However, Agrado (the prostitute) speaks with a very strong regional accent which is tough for the novice (like myself) to make head or tail of).

"Todo Sobre Mi Madre" is an honest and powerful film, and one that deserves to be seen. The future of Spanish cinema starts here.

El milagro de P. Tinto

Fun with a capital F.
Good film, I loved it.

El Milagro de P.Tinto is a mixture of the slapstick and the sick humour, a sort of "slapsick", if you will. It takes pains not to base the film in reality (which is a good thing: all too often comedy is sacrificed to the god of reality - why? Life appears to be more tragedy than comedy). The visual effects are nicely realised, and the humour leaps out of every frame. If you´re an English-speaker who is learning Spanish, you could do a lot worse than see this film, as the humour is very visual, so it is easy to understand.

But most of the Spanish people I´ve been talking to absolutely hated it. They all say the same thing: that the film is stupid, a silly, pointless film with little to recommend it. The question is: is your local cinema a place for such a film?

The thing is, I came, I saw it, I laughed (a lot), and I left. It was a good way to pass a couple of hours. After all, isn´t that what cinema´s about, entertainment? And P.Tinto certainly entertained. It is a witty, observational view of the world (if a little warped). The cinematography is excellent, and it takes pains to replicate the atmosphere created by other classic films (the opening sequence, set in the psychiatric hospital is a good example, as is the parody of E.T.).

So, come on, Spain - stop worrying about the intellectual impact of the movie and see El Milagro de P.Tinto for what it really is: a bloody good laugh.

Twilight Zone: The Movie

Passes the time, classic example of eighties film, good - but check out the series!
Was this film really necessary?

Yes, perhaps it was. "The Twilight Zone", the popular TV series hosted by Rod Serling that ran from 1959, has much to say - and it's also probably a fair comment to make that not many people have seen the series. So perhaps the movie was intended to reach a wider audience.

This would, at least, explain the tactics of the film: big name directors (Dante, Spielberg, Landis), and a generally "spooky" overtone, mass appeal. The trouble is, do these tactics detract from the point of the series - modern parables, lessons for life, Rod Serling's "word to the wise"? The answer is probably "yes" again: in attempting to bring the TZ to a wider audience, it has missed the point. Ah well.

What are given, however, is an enjoyable stroll down early 1980's special effects avenue - it passes the time, the stories are in turn thought-provoking, cute, weird and scary. It's a good film to watch, and the nature of it means that you can stop halfway though, pick it up again, and lose nothing. It's well done, and I'd like to think that the directors contributed to the film out of respect for Serling, who is conspicuous by his absence here (but admirably voiced by Burgess Meredith - who appeared in the original series in the cautionary tale "Time Enough at Last", self-referentially discussed in the movie's prologue).

So an excellent movie to watch, with lots to recommend it - sterling work from all four directors, a cracking title sequence and a great score. Classic TZ it is not, but it IS a great place to start. Watch the movie. Then watch the series.

Breaking the Surface: The Greg Louganis Story

Very inspiring - but not a great cinematic experience
Despite the stigma the film attracts by being a "TV movie", Breaking The Surface is well worth a look. I read Greg Louganis' autobiography before I saw the movie, and I must admit that there were distinct advantages and disadvantages with both. The poetry of Louganis' sport was much more evident in the film - but there was a much more personal account of the man in the book. Mario Lopez acquits himself well here, and I hope he will begin to move onto better things. The rest of the performances are adequate, nothing more. The film has a distinct "not-for-the-cinema" feel about it, which is why it will never reach a greater audience than those who come across it in their movie store, or are channel-hopping and realise that the biopic of "that guy who hit his head in the Seoul Olympics Diving Board" is on.

All of this is a pity - because the movie has a lot to offer, inspiration, a lovely sense of tension, and real believability in one of this decade's true inspirations.

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