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Lacking in suspense and quite simply arduous in places, the kids aren't even that endearing.
"In an old house in Paris covered with vines Twelve little girls were learning their lives."
So, begins this muddled children's yarn. The title character (Hatty Jones), one of "twelve little girls who live in a line," is a feisty, redhead orphan, who attends a posh girls' school in Paris. Her teacher and mentor is a nun, Miss Clavel (The Coen Brothers' favourite actress Frances McDormand), and her contemporaries are a bunch of spoilt young girls, who come out with such debatable witticisms as, "It is better to be super everything, than super nothing!"
Plainly a pain in the rectum, Madeline causes all kinds of "jolly" and "super" havoc throughout the film. This includes plummeting from a bridge into the Seine, releasing a scourge of mice and having her appendix out. By attempting to blend together too many elements from Ludwig Bemelmans's classic children's book series, Madeline only serves to nonplus and alienate its audience.
Essentially there are three plots. Firstly, when the benefactor of the school Lady Covington passes away, her husband (Nigel Hawthorne) resolves to close the school. Secondly, there is the loneliness and mischievous antics of Pepito, the son of the Spanish Ambassador who has just moved in next door. Lastly, there is some vague, poorly explained abduction scheme involving Pepito's tutor (Ben Daniels) and a bunch of clowns, Les Idiots.
For a children's film of this sort to work, the bad guys have to be truly wicked. However, Ben Daniels isn't remotely scary and only comes into play with the obligatory car chase finale. Madeline lacks the sinister sense of say a Roald Dahl creation and also falls flat as a charming piece of entertainment. Lacking in suspense and quite simply arduous in places, the kids aren't even that endearing. An irritating and uneven film, suited to ages 3 to 6.
Very Bad Things (1998)
Ultimately, Very Bad Things is disjointed, mildly irritating and far more violent than the pilloried and much finer Natural Born Killers
"Strip away the morality, strip away the ethics, and we're left with a 105 pound problem. 105 pounds that has to be moved from point A to point B." (Christian Slater as Boyd).
Boyd is an estate agent. He is also a psychopath. Fittingly, given his recent incarceration for violence, Slater is landed the plum role. However, it turns out to be merely an extension of the nutcase he played in Heathers many moons ago. Only not half as good.
Very Bad Things is part of a trio (the other two being The Opposite of Sex and Your Friends and Neighbours) of very nasty American independent movies coming out in the next month or so. Like its contemporaries it's memorable and scabrous.
The tale concerns a trip to Las Vegas for the boys. Kyle Fisher, Favreau (of Swingers fame), is getting wed to snotty ex-sorority girl Laura (Diaz), but before he takes the plunge Boyd has organised some drugs and frolics in seamy Las Vegas.
Accompanied by brothers Adam (Daniel Stern) and Michael (Jeremy Piven) and mute-like Charles (Leland Orser), the big boys' entertainment is abruptly curtailed. Michael, high on coke, has accidentally embedded an Asian (played by real-life porn star Kobe Tai, a.k.a. Carla Scott) prostitute's head to a coat-hook in the bathroom. This is a truly gruesome scene that is interspersed quite cleverly with the revolting sight of two wrestlers on the TV. Noticeably, Berg's direction lingers very uncomfortably on her naked corpse.
The boys panic and before you can say "blood bath", Boyd misuses a corkscrew on a hotel security guard, leaving him wailing like a pig, before, inevitably, slaughtering him. He duly announces: "Surrender is no longer an option."
This kicks-off a lot of histrionic yelling and a burial scene reminiscent of Shallow Grave - shopping for equipment, decapitation and dismemberment. Aiming for humour, these scenes flop laugh-wise. Left in the hands of Tarantino or the Coen brothers, these sequences may have succeeded, but in Very Bad Things there is far too much screaming going on. The Coens would have tempered the chaos and brutality with pathos or a hint of humanity. Director Berg aims hard for "cool", but only achieves bad imitation.
After the horror of Vegas, the utterly charmless set of businessmen return to their suburban homes and go swiftly mad. What ensues is a series of events reminiscent of the classic Ladykillers, interspersed with the occasional witty line. Diaz, in particular, gets some fine dialogue: "The scent of cheap hotel's whore's sex" and "No one is going to rob me of the wedding I've waited 27 years to have." Slater also gets a couple of good scenes where he takes corporate business logic to an insane limit: "I'm a lighthouse, I never go dark."
Ultimately, Very Bad Things is disjointed, mildly irritating, far more violent than the pilloried and much finer Natural Born Killers, contains obnoxious characters and receives a rather good finale that it doesn't really deserve. A film that illustrates just how clever the likes Tarantino, John Dahl, The Coens and David Lynch really are.
The Opposite of Sex (1998)
Dedee, 16 years of age going on 70, is pregnant and vicious with it.
"Writer-director Don Roos' film has a gnarled wisdom about modern romance, straight and gay, that makes it a road-movie Chasing Amy, a Heathers for the whole post-nuclear family." (Time magazine).
Mighty praise indeed. Deserved? Well, it's no Heathers and its script isn't nearly as fine as Chasing Amy's. Our narrator and peroxide 'heroine' is teen tart Dedee Truitt (Christina Ricci). Dedee promptly warns us, "I don't have a heart of gold and I don't grow one later on. But relax. There are lots of nicer people coming up - we call them losers."
Dedee, 16 years of age going on 70, is pregnant and vicious with it. She ditches her dismal family life in Sucktart, Louisiana ("My mom was one of those mothers who's always telling her friends she's her daughter's best friend. Oh great, I used to think, not only do I have a shitty mom, but my best friend's a loser bitch.") to throw herself on the tender mercies of her gay half-brother (Martin Donovan), a small-town high school teacher. Once there, she seduces brother Bill's hunky lover Matt (Ivan Sergei) and takes off for California with the befuddled Matt in tow. Hot on their heels are Bill; Lucia (Lisa Kudrow), a fellow teacher with a yen for Bill; the earnest father of Dedee's baby (William Scott Lee); and local sheriff Carl Tippett (Lyle Lovett).
Dennis Price's narrator in Kind Hearts and Coronets was wicked, dastardly and captivating. Ricci, an actress who is usually sensational (had a recent barnstorming performance in The Ice Storm), is by contrast nasty, evil and tiresome. Throughout she informs us at which points to feel emotion. An interesting, but not engaging technique. However, her turn of phrase is even less appealing: "If you don't breathe in, you can do anything for ten minutes" or "A blow job is a blow job."
With Ricci laying it on far too thick, the pleasure in this confused, slightly inconsequential film lies with Donovan, the king of American indie cinema, and Friends' Kudrow. Donovan's careful, studied performance never hints at schmaltz and counterbalances the film's more crass characters. Kudrow also equips herself extremely well, playing an uptight, sexually repressed school madam. She gets the best lines: [On The Sound of Music] "I just want to stuff that guitar up that nun's arse" and "Matt, that is not your baby. It's some other idiot's, who probably has an eighth grade education and a trunk full of Waco pamphlets."
Minus Ricci, the main character, this may have made an engaging one-hour TV special. As it is, The Opposite of Sex, is a mess with the odd funny line and two fine performances.
The Mighty (1998)
Sounds cheesy, but The Mighty is anything but.
"Sometimes seems like the whole world has just seen me on America's Most Wanted." (Max Kane)
So says the imposing gentle giant Max (the excellent Elden Ratliff). He is a 13-year-old with a murdered mother and murdering jailbird father (James Gandolfini), who has twice failed 8th grade and lives with disgruntled grandparents Gram and Grim (the particularly morose Harry Dean Stanton and Gena Rowlands). It's a wonder he isn't Mad Max. However, he has a saviour. A minor miracle named Kevin Dillon (Kieran Culkin). Sounds cheesy, but The Mighty is anything but.
Peter Chelson, director of the inventive and original Funny Bones, has lovingly superimposed Rodman Philbrick's successful children's book Freak The Mighty to the screen. The result is as moving as any kiddies film you've seen in the last ten years.
Kevin is suffering from Morquio's syndrome, a progressively degenerative disease that makes him unable to walk without leg braces. However, the boy is a considerable intellectual giant trapped inside a small, fragile body. As luck would have it he is consigned to tutor Max in remedial reading. In the words of Bogart it's the start of a "beautiful friendship".
Kevin introduces the big guy to Arthurian legend. "Every word is part of a picture. Every sentence is a picture. All you do, is let your imagination connect them together. If you have an imagination that is," he says.
Inspired by the knights in the book, the boys invent a fantasy world in which honour is everything. Together, Max and Kevin set out to battle their foes, both real and imagined.
Do not be put off by the presence of a Culkin or the mention of King Arthur. The Mighty is sincere, without being turgidly earnest, and genuinely uplifting. Sharon Stone equips herself well as the distraught mother of Kevin, but can't quite convince us that she doesn't ooze glamour. The "bad" kids also do not quite fit, resembling the troublesome urchins in Bugsy Malone rather than vicious Cincinnati hoodlums. However, these are minor quibbles, for ultimately The Mighty is several notches above the average children's film.
The family are in a rut and need a rat to get them out of it.
Francois Ozon's debut feature aims at black farce and satire, but fails on the both counts.
Structuring the film as sitcom a la I Love Lucy or the appalling BBC show No Place At Home (anyone remember or are you still taking medication to forget?), Ozon is presumably aiming for scabrous wit. However, at 80 minutes, Sitcom feels overly long and mediocre.
The family unit of mum, dad, son and daughter are wealthy and spoilt. They are in a rut and need a rat to get them out of it. On returning from work, the father, a man with a thousand platitudes - only converses in clichés such as "slow and steady wins the race" (very reminiscent of the excellent Heathers) - gives his closet homosexual son, Nicolas, a rodent to keep him company.
The rat is a catalyst you see. Once you pick up it's vermin aura, you become your true self or something. Subsequently, nerdy Nicolas announces he's gay at a family dinner party and duly 'cops-off' with the maid's black husband, a gym instructor named Abdu (Jules-Emmanuel Eyoum Deido). Trust me, it sounds funnier than it actually is. The Coen Brothers would have done this dark tale far more justice.
Anyway, the insidious little rat continues to work its black magic on the other members of the family, until there are attempted suicides, sadomasochistic sexual forays, "in-home orgies" and incest, courtesy of mother and son. All rather appalling, but somehow because the characters are so trite, the scenes leave one indifferent. Maybe, that's the point? But, surely it also needs to be funny?
Ultimately, Sitcom is a tiresome distraction, which only disturbs in the metamorphosis finale. Most unappetising fare.
Enemy of the State (1998)
This is not in the same league as All the Presidents Men or the even finer 70s paranoia classic The Conversation
"I hate doing this at Christmas." (Jon Voight as Thomas Brian Reynolds, NSA)
'This' pertains to murder, fraud and general evil doings against a gamut of innocents at, worst of all, the festive season. Umm, sounds vaguely familiar, nay pertinent, given recent world events.
Being a Simpson/Bruckheimer production you know this isn't going to be a gradual, thoughtful exposition of American mores. No, this is a loud and crushingly obvious exercise in conspiracy shenanigans. This is not in the same league as All the Presidents Men or the even finer 70s paranoia classic The Conversation. Yet, in times riddled with postmodernism, there are a plethora of direct references to these seminal films.
Jason Robards (star of All The Presidents Men) bites the dust courtesy of one of Voight's wicked charges, David Pratt (played by Barry Pepper, so good as a religious psychopath in Saving Private Ryan). Unfortunately, for the high echelon bad guys a bird watcher has inexcusably videoed the gruesome scene at the lake (De Palma's Blow Out anyone). Said 'twitcher' is chased around the streets of Baltimore (care of some super-duper satellite technology) until he careers into an old Georgetown mate, in mid-chase, in a lingerie store. The friend is top lawyer Robert Clayton Dean (Will Smith) and he's busy trying to spice up his marriage. Are you still with me?
Essentially, this is all about privacy and people's lack of it. As Voight's' bog-standard bad guy makes abundantly clear, "Privacy's been dead for 30 years because we can't risk it. The only privacy left is inside of your head. You think we're the end of democracy? I think we're democracy's last hope."
The crux of the tale centres on the deterioration - he's bugged (mainly by teenage geeks who munch crisps and act like their monitoring a soap opera), battered, fired and on the edge of divorce - of Dean's privileged life, but for film fanatics the real pleasure is in Gene Hackman. He plays Brill, an ex-NSA agent and a dead ringer for the 'bugman' in The Conversation. In fact, a photo of him from Coppola's masterpiece is surreptitiously added to the action and there is a surveillance scene in a Washington park that mirrors the 70s film completely - beggars with mikes in their newspaper, a married man talking to a secret love. Tony Scott (True Romance director) has been excessively referential, but fun.
Ultimately, this lacks the same wit or chemistry of Con Air and The Rock, but it possesses energy and clever gimmickry. Silly, but watchable.
Tasteless and violent in the extreme, Dobermann is not for the loose-bowelled.
"I won't be accused of being a party pooper," loony cop, Christini (Tcheky Karyo), mutters to a transvestite before thrusting a grenade into a baby son's nap. Infants get a somewhat raw deal in this French film, as do mothers.
Tasteless and violent in the extreme, Dobermann is not for the loose-bowelled. It kicks-off with a gothic, vaguely ludicrous, scene where a Dobermann catapults a pistol into a baptised baby's pram. The baby grows up to be biggest baddest wolf of them all called you've guessed it Dobermann.
In 'adulthood', Mr Dobermann (Vincent Cassel, so camp as Anjou in Elizabeth) enlists the service of a deaf psycho, Nat the Gypsy (Monica Belluci) and a gang of horrendous low-lifes called Mosquito, Pitbull and so on. They engage in a series of slapstick Sam Raimi-style violent robbery rampages, including depositing a grenade (yes, again) inside of a policeman's helmet. Their savagery is Natural Born Killers with a Bugs Bunny taste.
Kounen, whose previous credits include the fantastically trashy, Vibroboy, obviously revels in the unlimited, mindless brutality. He has said as much himself: "When I made Le Dernier Chaperon Rouge, I was dealing with a musical and all that goes with it Dobermann is a thriller, it's a real urban western. The rules are different. So I went for it, went all the way!"
Apparently, he wanted to achieve the same ill ease as Scorcese's masterpiece Goodfellas. Taken in this context, it is a little easier to cope with the general lack of humanity or good intentions (everyone, apart from one marginalised cop, is pretty much loathsome) in the film. The pleasure is in the gratuitous shoot 'em ups and in this respect Kounen stages the grossness quite impressively.
Comparisons with Tarantino will inevitably been drawn, but if anything Dobermann is more like British TV cop shows The Sweeney and The Professionals (the split screen robbery scene being a direct rip-off) of the 70s. The essential differences being that Dobermann is slicker, nastier and possesses some sly promotions for Trainspotting, a certain reassuringly expensive lager and even Amnesty International. Not The Sweeney's bag at all.
Ultimately, this is not a film to take at all seriously. Karyo's nutter makes Gary Oldman's cop in Leon look like a cuddly wee bear, who hardly hams it up at all. The totally unrealistic 'cowboy' gang is equally hammy, full of diarrhoea gags and splattered genitalia, and in all honesty are a bunch of vile clowns. You've been suitably warned.
My Name Is Joe (1998)
My Name Is Joe's core is unbearably moving and tender.
"Did I give a monkeys
Did I f*ck
I did not give a toss." Joe (Peter Mullan) exclaims to his AA meeting.
Loach, along with Mike Leigh and Alan Bennett, is Britain's finest social commentator, and here he is at his uncompromising best. Searing, emotional, gritty, of course, and this time marvellously romantic and cohesive too.
Set in a Glasgow landscape not a million miles away from the most deprived areas of Eastern Europe, unemployed Joe (Mullan, who deservedly won the best actor prize at Cannes) is a recovering alcoholic who spends his evenings at AA meetings and his afternoons coaching football with his mates Liam (David McKay) and Shanks (Gary Lewis). The football team shenanigans provide the film with its premium comic moments:
"I've been Franz Beckenbauer for f***ing years by the way," exclaims Joe's bald forward. "If you're Franz Beckenbauer, I'm the tooth fairy," counters the referee.
A group of men acting like boys, swearing over each other, playing hopeless football and resorting to stealing a new Brazilian kit - their scenes are very reminiscent of Loach's Raining Stones.
The main storyline concerns Joe's love of Sarah (Louise Goodall), and their entanglement with Liam and his heroin-addicted wife. Full of vitality but long unattached, Joe is drawn to Sarah a health worker for social services, but hesitates to ask her out: "Here I am just getting my act together, off the juice, the first peace of mind in years, bloody hell, what happens ambushed by a woman!", he exclaims.
My Name Is Joe's core is unbearably moving and tender. The bonding between Joe and Sarah is mature, witty, realistic and far better than anything Hollywood has produced in over thirty years. Two superb leading performances.
However, the sweetness soon gets kicked aside by a series of seemingly unstoppable and depressing events, which Joe finds himself bound to. As he pleads to Sarah, "I didn't have a F***ING choice." Loach is saying that none of these people have a choice in this Dickensian landscape bereft of jobs.
My Name is Joe is about dependence, redemption, shame, poverty, disgust, violence and ultimately, loneliness. It doesn't possess the glamorous tint of Small Faces or Trainspotting, but it does have the best performance this year. From Peter Mullan. Fabulous.
Henshall is no Woody Allen and isn't funny, Headey is no more a psychologist than Margaret Thatcher is a communist and the plot is so wafer-thin you could charge a speck of dust through it.
Once upon a time no amount of cash would induce me to knock a British-made film. Now you need to slip me a wad of cash to make me pay to see one. Well, a romantic one at any rate.
Want to make your own English romantic 'comedy'? Well, the formula is relatively simple. Set it in London, invariably in the unbearably trendy Notting Hill, make your leads middle class, put them in flats most Londoners would never be able to afford, have an out-of-work actor (like that awful Martha, Meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence), write an unamusing script (okay, Shooting Fish had a couple of funny sequences) and add Charlotte Coleman (a lady who has distinctly lost her babyface charm) to the mix.
Four Weddings and A Funeral, indeed, has a lot to answer. It even starts like the Hugh Grant 'classic'. Lead man and struggling actor (yawn) Victor Bukowksi, (utterly unbelievable Scottish name) played by Douglas Henshall (a very poor man's Ewan McGregor) is late to catch his ex, psychologist Sylvia (Lena Headey), before she marries an earnest plonker called Dave (Mark Strong from Fever Pitch). He was unfaithful to her eight months before you see and is desperately trying to make amends.
Well, as if by magic two Spanish rubbish men twirl Victor around a bit at a dump and hey presto he's transported back in time, and he can right all the wrongs of eight months ago. Oh, if only (hence the feeble title), love and life were that simple.
Morbidly watchable throughout, this film is nonetheless essentially awful. Henshall is no Woody Allen and isn't funny, Headey is no more a psychologist than Margaret Thatcher is a communist and the plot is so wafer-thin you could charge a speck of dust through it. Not a Christmas treat. More like the cinematic equivalent of bumfluff.
Elizabeth could have unfolded in front of me all day and I would have remained enraptured.
England. 1555. Henry VIII has snuffed it from gout or syphilis, it depends on who you read, Bloody Mary's got a tumour and the Catholics' greatest fear is Anne Boleyn's daughter Elizabeth. Director Kapur has brought to the screen some of the most intriguing moments in English history and the result is dazzling.
Following recent grandiose French historical epics, such as the glorious Ridicule, Elizabeth more than holds its own as a no-holds barred, gripping English extravaganza. Historians across the land will no doubt pick holes in the accuracy, but it hardly matters.
The opening scene signals the film's intent. Protestant heretics are burnt mercilessly at the grisly stake, accompanied by proclamations that they should burn in Hell. It's clear that England is in a pretty gloomy state and ruled by a humourless zealot, Mary (the ubiquitous Kathy Burke), who is hell-bent on converting or murdering Elizabeth: "My sister was born a whore of that Ann Boleyn."
Cheery Mary rules a poor, remote island that is very likely to become the next possession of the growing empire of Spain. She is surrounded by rebels who want to place the Protestant Elizabeth on the throne. So, Mary gets her trusted Lord Norfolk (Eccleston cuts an impressive presence; you can imagine this man swishing on the battlefield) to arrest Lizzy and dispatch her to the Tower of London.
The camerawork and the pace of this film are breathtaking. Kapur directs with ambitious panache, whilst supplying more than a wink to Coppola's The Godfather in the process. Two scenes in particular reek of the Mafia masterpiece: one in the Vatican, the other a succession of assassinations sparked by the majesty's demand, "let it all be done". Pure Pacino.
If you shimmy past the slightly silly inclusions of the likes of Eric Cantona (the IKEA School of Acting) and Angus Deayton, and the fact that Dickie Attenborough (plays a fussy sidekick who sniffs the Queen's bedsheets and claims, "her body belongs to the State") is starting to resemble an Ewok, the acting is otherwise splendid.
Cate Blanchett not only resembles the great lady, but imparts her with enormous affection (her love of Lord Dudley, played by Fiennes, is tenderly dealt with) and delivers her lines with a steely intelligence, "I do not see why a woman must marry at all" and "I'm no man's Elizabeth" . Her performance is a revelation and if it weren't for Geoffrey Rush she would have stolen every scene. However, the Shine star, playing her demonic sidekick Walsingham, delights in creeping in the shadows and pulling the devilish strings. A positively Machiavellian turn and worthy of another Oscar.
This is a history film made at its very finest and the equal of A Man For All Seasons. Elizabeth could have unfolded in front of me all day and I would have remained enraptured. Intoxicating imagery ("English blood on French colours" the wicked Mary of Guise, Ardant, proclaims), naughty shenanigans, dastardly deeds, an epic tale and a superb cast. Stunning cinema.
This is stark reality, beautifully shot and faintly reminiscent of the masterpiece Ashes and Diamonds
In the icy wastelands of Yaroslavl in Stalin's Soviet Union, a young woman, Katja (Ekaterina Rednikova), gives birth on the side of a dirt track. The year is 1946, the war has left the country stricken with poverty, her husband will soon die and everything is ever so slightly grim.
Six years later Katja and her young son, Sanya, are still wandering, looking for a place to settle and someone to take care of them. On a crowded train travelling across country, Katya exchanges steamy glances with a vigorous young army officer, Tolyan (Vladimir Mashkov), and by the next stop, she, the officer and Sanya have become an instant family. Only one problemo. Tolyan is, in actual fact, a thieving scoundrel with more than hint of brutality mixed in with his charm.
Of course, from there on in everything goes from bad to worse. Let's face it have you ever seen a Russian slapstick comedy or even, for that matter, an Eastern European one. The Thief doesn't try to imitate the romanticism of Hollywood's more famous tales of con men - Bonnie and Clyde, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting. No, this is stark reality, beautifully shot and faintly reminiscent of the masterpiece Ashes and Diamonds or indeed something from Charles Dickens. Except without the happy ending.
The Thief is always watchable mainly because of its two male leads. The wide-eyed scared little boy played by Misha Philipchuk possesses a wonderfully expressive face and Vladimir Mashkov revels in playing the violent rogue, who rolls razor blades in his mouth for light kicks. The relationship between these two serves as the core of the film. At first the boy, who is haunted by images of his dead father, refuses to give in to Tolyan's stern demand that he address him as "Daddy," yet hesitantly grows fascinated by Tolyan's slick manner and tyrannical brutality.
As for Katja? Once the lust departs and she realises Tolyan is no soldier, but a liar and common thief, she is bitterly disappointed, yet her inability to leave him taints Sanya and eventually leads to tragedy for them all. Their plight is only worsened by the tyranny of communist Russia, where Josef Stalin pervades his people and the landscape, like, of course, Big Brother. Tolyan wears a tattoo of 'laughing boy' Stalin on his chest. Everyone toasts to Comrade Stalin. We become privy to Stalin's Russia in documentary footage. In fact as a harsh, relentless father figure for the uncertain young Sanya, Tolyan also serves as an emblematic double for Stalin and his ruthless domination over a deluded nation. However, Tolyan may be brute, but he comes off lightly in relation to the procession of vicious, corrupt soldiers who claim they're "not moved by whimpering or by kids" and in one unforgettable scene force "criminals" to run in the snow past bloodhounds, on the way to the trucks that will eventually take them to Siberia.
The Thief is moving, without being overly sentimental. It is no surprise that this stunning Russian movie was the nominee of that country for a 1997 American Oscar.
- Ben Walsh
The X Files (1998)
A laughable cult to be derided like The Invaders, Land of the Giants or, indeed, Lost In Space. Wrong.
When it began you may have thought this paranoid adventure's destiny, in say fifteen years time, was a slot after The Waltons on a Sunday afternoon. A laughable cult to be derided like The Invaders, Land of the Giants or, indeed, Lost In Space. Wrong. It has matured into the most revered SF phenomenon since Star Trek and as those champions of hair, ZZ Top, once proclaimed it's 'got legs'.
Forsaking opening credits or a slow build-up, director Rob Bowman propels us on to a roller-coaster ride of moderately daft spooky shenanigans and grand effects. All the same elements from the TV series are here, shadowy high-ranking figures controlling the planet - "These people have been secretly negotiating a planned Armageddon", plenty of furtive glances and hellish beasties from the dawn of time. Plus we have the two small box giants, Mulder (David 'Mondeo Man' Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian 'the FHM pin-up' Anderson), coming across marvellously well on the big screen.
In fact, for a show which thrives on a claustrophobic feel, this wide-screen treatment is cleverly handled. Bowman arms his two leads with a witty, edgy script, and pits them against the pervading evil through a combination of Aliens, James Bond and Alfred Hitchcock action sequences.
Ultimately, The X-Files is very entertaining and thankfully devoid of any product placing or blessed meteors.
Velvet Goldmine (1998)
At two hours, Velvet Goldmine feels interminably long and features the sort of prize pillocks you'd travel across several oceans to avoid.
One definite rule of thumb in the last 25 years. Don't watch a film with David Bowie in it. This counts double for a film actually about him.
Set extensively in London in the early 70s, Velvet Goldmine charts the fortunes of glam-rock star and son of a Brummie roof-tiler Brian Slade (Rhys-Meyer playing Bowie), who vanished after a fake assassination attempt on his life went aubergine-shaped in 1974.
Using an avowedly Citizen-Kane framing device, director Haynes (previous work Safe) has old glam-devotee journalist Arthur Stuart (Bale) writing a story on the 10th anniversary of the key event in glam rock. What ensues is arguably the hugest pile of impenetrable, unfathomable nonsense since Pink Floyd's The Wall.
Skipping around more than a dodgy market stall vinyl record, Haynes implies that a green jewel (the 'Rosebud' device used throughout), which was deposited by a UFO as a gift to Oscar Wilde in 1854, was the acorn of glam rock. Don't ask? It's gibberish. Anyhow, our man Slade (a predatory buggerer of schoolboys in his spare time), encounters a dude named Jack Fairy, and hey presto becomes Maxwell Demon and inherits the power of glam.
Somewhere along the cocaine trail, Brian marries Mandy (Collette) and falls in love with trailer trash rock star Curt Wild (McGregor). Cue lots of "untamed" concert gallivanting, depravity and glitter. Those obsessed with the Trainspotting star will no doubt revel in the Scotsman showing off his arse and tackle (not exactly ideal preparation for Star Wars) and obsessives may enjoy spotting some old record sleeves, but there's not a lot else of note.
At two hours, Velvet Goldmine feels interminably long, features the sort of prize pillocks you'd travel across several oceans to avoid and worst of all singularly lacks character development, empathy and humour.
Snake Eyes (1998)
Well, there's an hour and a half's worth of well-fashioned, conspiracy-themed entertainment involving the statutory array of politicians, TV reporters and military goons.
The bent copper hands over a bloody $100 bill. "I didn't want this one," says the shifty bookie. "Why?," retorts the crooked cop. "There's a blood all over it," he moans. "Whoa, aren't you delicate."
It's Cage again, this time in action-mode as a bent, two-timing Atlantic City cop. Donned in gear reminiscent of his Wild At Heart days, Cage's Rick (not that name again) Santoro is invited by his boyhood friend, Navy Commander Kevin Dunne (Gary Sinese), to a front row seat at a championship fight where Dunne is in charge of security for the U.S. Secretary of Defense.
It's a windy night in Atlantic City with Hurricane Jezebel whipping around. However, the real trouble is brewing inside (sorry, sounds clichéd, but wait until you see the film), where defending heavyweight boxer Lincoln Tyler (Stan Shaw) is being pounded in the ring. Just as the bug guy hits the canvas the crack of bullets rings out and you've guest it, The Secretary of Defense is shot through the throat. Panic ensues and Rick, of course, is left to piece the assassination together.
In lesser hands than Brian De Palma, this would be an exceedingly mediocre picture. However, the flamboyant director applies a box full of stylish tricks - cross-cutting splitscreen, point-of-view flashbacks, unreliable narration and an overhead, traveling cam that pans from room-to-room, unimpeded by walls - to keep the viewer interested. He also audaciously relates the assassination (along with the events leading up to it) from four points-of-view.
Subsequently, the film is never less than visually impressive, but like De Palma's previous feature Mission Impossible, its characters are not sufficiently fleshed out and the ending is simply dreadful. So awful, in fact, it almost completely ruins the entire film.
However, the acting is uniformly good, especially Sinese, without ever being particularly memorable. As for the plot? Well, there's an hour and a half's worth of well-fashioned, conspiracy-themed entertainment involving the statutory array of politicians, TV reporters and military goons. However, the ending is weaker than my left hook.
Mulan is mildly diverting for adults and cynically appropriate for kids, but it desperately needs a jollier tune.
"The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all."
Yep, it's that old animated chestnut. This time it's 12th century China and wild-eyed loon Shan-Yu (Miguel Ferrer), the ruthless leader of the Huns, has started to invade all and sundry. The Emperor (Pat Morita) makes a law stating that one man from each family in China must serve in the Imperial Army, and dispatches his snarky assistant Chi Fu (James Hong) with the words: "One man may be the difference between victory and defeat."
Cue our heroine. Her pa, an old war veteran, can't quite cut it against evil Shan-You and his ugly cronies. So, enter clumsy daughter, Mulan (Ming-Na Wen), who takes up arms, pretends to be a geezer, changes her name to Ping (better than Pong), falls for a dashing captain and wins the hearts of the nation. All, as Phil Collins would wail, against the odds.
Mulan has more than a passing similarity to the animated Magic Sword released this summer, but it's not as witty and the songs are even worse. We are spared the statutory farmyard animals, hens, pigs et al singing along with the pretty heroine a la Beauty and The Beast. However, we are subjected to some of the dreariest array of saccharine-coated drivel this side of Boyzone. Beginning with the mournful I Will Never Pass For A Perfect Bride, a quasi Circle of Life lament that even Sir John would balk at, matters descend so rapidly that even Donny Osmond (who last featured in the turgid 1982 TV movie The Wild Women of Chastity Gulch) turns up warbling for the one-dimensional hero, Shang (B.D. Wong).
So, what are we left with? Well, plenty of cowboy references. Mulan seems to have been brought up in what appears to be a Chinese Dodge City, where grandma utters, "who spit in HER beancurd." Disney has also thrown in every stock Chinese emblem/symbol they could muster without ever really achieving any notable depth.
The characters are extremely familiar. The idiotic soldiers led by gruff Yao (Fierstein) are reminiscent of the Roman legionnaires in Asterix and work reasonably well. However, the comic moments come courtesy of Eddie Murphy's dragon, Mushu. Reeking of Robin Williams' genie in Aladdin, Murphy obviously receives the best lines: "Look at those Huns they popped out of the snow like daisies." Disney will no doubt make a pretty bob out of the marketing of this creature, but it still falls disappointingly short.
What about the actual animation? Well, there's some creepy, mystic, computer generated imagery and magical gimmickry going on, but ultimately there's only one avalanche scene that truly dominates.
Mulan is mildly diverting for adults and cynically appropriate for kids, but it desperately needs a jollier tune. Perhaps, Monty Python's I Like Chinese. Then again, maybe not.
The Mask of Zorro (1998)
Although, a modicum too long, this has chemistry, great action, two great villains and wit
Castanets, much wailing, swash-buckling and baddies with dreadful complexions - all sounds like a dodgy weekend in Magaluf.
No, the King of the Saturday morning specials (Flash Gordon and Rocketman had neither the dash or panache) is back with two, so to speak, upfront. The strikers in question being the original Zorro, Don Diego de la Vega, (played by
Hopkins) and the brash new hero of the under-privileged Mexican masses, Murrieta/Zorro (played with finesse by Banderas).
Set in 19th century California, the masked, dusky avenger, a sort of Spanish Robin Hood minus the rather tacky business of exchanging money from rich to poor, is in a spot of bother.
His greatest enemy Don Rafael Montero (rather fine English thespian Stuart Wilson), the ruthless and corrupt Spanish Governor, has accidentally murdered his wife and quite deliberately appropriated his daughter, Elena (Darling Buds of May Zeta Jones). To add to his misery he's been banged up in an obviously quite unhygienic jail for twenty years.
Understandably the swordsman's a tad miffed. However, he needs to train and enlist the services of a young protégé to avenge the evil Governor. Enter Banderas who has his own bone to pick with Don Rafael Montero's sidekick, the perfectly dastardly Captain Love (wonderful psychopathic turn from Letscher). The blonde-haired, mercenary cavalryman has placed the young Zorro's brother's head in a glass jar. A cinematic moment not for the squeamish.
Unlike renderings of great TV series' like The Avengers, The Saint and Mission Impossible to the big screen, The Mask of Zorro is rather successful and you get exactly what you expect. Although, a modicum too long, this has chemistry, great action, two great villains and wit ("the pointy end goes into the other man" says a novice Zorro). The most enjoyable the 'blockbuster' film this year.
The Last Days of Disco (1998)
the dialogue is fresh and chances are you'll be grinning from here to Bolivia when the "Love Train" rolls through the subway at the end.
`You have no idea what men think about women's breasts,' womaniser Des McGrath (Christopher Eigeman) pleads. No, not a rehash of Boogie Nights, but the third instalment, following Metropolitan and Barcelona, of Whitman's `yuppie' odyssey.
This New York yarn centres on publishing assistants Charlotte (flawless snotty American accent by Kate Beckinsale) and her best friend/biggest rival Alice (Chloe Sevigny). Bitchy Charlotte - `In physical terms, I'm cuter than you, but you're much nicer than I am,' - and Alice fall in with a parade of self-absorbed fellows in pullovers and drab ties. The `verbal' action between this set of intellectual folk takes place at a ludicrous dance palace in the very early 80s, with the `disco movement' decaying and Reagan's soul-devouring materialism taking hold.
In the main these are disagreeable people, but as much as you urge yourself to loathe them, you can't quite do it. Whitman's wildly self-indulgent and witty script (`Do you think the neurological effects of caffeine are similar to that of cocaine?') makes them impossible to ignore and eventually their awfulness becomes disturbingly compelling. A bit like Friends, only without dumb Joey and flaky Phoebe.
Although, aesthetically and visually Whitman's film doesn't quite ring true clothing looks too 90s and they'd never be able to talk so much in a club the dialogue is fresh and chances are you'll be grinning from here to Bolivia when the "Love Train" rolls through the subway at the end.
- Ben Walsh
Cue, the ultimate avatar of evil, Mr Myers (no, not the one from Wayne's World) and that washing powder face.
Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson have a lot to answer for. The resurrection of this shaggy old John Carpenter horror can be laid solely at the feet of the oh-so-clever and postmodernist Scream.
In this sequel, to the original Halloween (we're meant, Pam Ewing-style, to conveniently forget all the appalling sequels), Jamie Lee Curtis returns as Laurie Strode. She's changed her name to Keri Tate (an allusion to Sharon no doubt) and has become a Headmistress of an exclusive school, which her teenage son, John (Josh Hartnett), attends. She is still loony tunes owing to laughing boy Myers, so has become overprotective of poor John and has a moderate drink problem - two glasses of Chardonnay at lunchtime is meant to be a tell-tale sign. Her only confidante is weedy Will Brennan (Adam Arkin), the school guidance counsellor.
Set almost exclusively in a school that resembles a Mexican cowboy town, with a statutory creepy wood attached, Halloween:H20 is obviously predictable. However, no more so than a lot of dross around these days.
The rollercoaster ride begins with the gruesome slaughter of Donald Pleasance's (star of the original) nurse and a couple of obnoxious teenagers (including the young alien from Third Rock From The Sun), before targeting the main meat: John and Molly (Michelle Williams) and their friends Charlie (Adam Hann-Byrd, who was superb in The Ice Storm) and Sarah (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe). These naughty students have bypassed the school camping trip to Yosemite in favour of a sexy Halloween to themselves on campus. Do you think they made the wrong decision? Does a bear sh*t in [Yosemite's] woods.
Cue, the ultimate avatar of evil, Mr Myers (no, not the one from Wayne's World) and that washing powder face. Now, apparently that uniquely disturbing visage of violence concealing his face was literally a Star Trek mask of William Shatner, spray-painted white and stripped of its hair. A very scary thought - Captain Kirk without hairpiece.
The Enterprise captain's visage isn't the only fun to be had. There's also an amusing sequence between mother and child, Jamie Lee and Janet Leigh. The original scream queen, Janet, mutters something about maternal instincts to a shaky Jamie, before the Psycho theme music kicks-in and the old dame presumably enters the same car that was used in Hitchcock's masterpiece.
Ultimately, Halloween: H20 fulfils its basic function. To quicken the pulse and ultimately to frighten the bejeezes out of the viewer. This is purely and simply bloodcurdling entertainment and thankfully, in Jamie Lee Curtis, it has an excellent lead.
If Harvey Keitel had played the "mutated lizard" he would probably have pleaded with the director Roland Emmerich, "Where's my motivation"?
If Harvey Keitel had played the "mutated lizard" he would probably have pleaded with the director Roland Emmerich, "Where's my motivation"?
Of course, this dirty great beast need not have the IQ of Stephen Hawkins, but most audiences need to see a whiff of personality, however small.
You could identify/sympathise with The Beast From The Black Lagoon because however dastardly his acts, he always looked somewhat lost and forlorn. And, of course, this distinctly amateurish Godzilla, comes nowhere near the beauty of King Kong - one of the greatest spurned lovers of all time. But surely it's the actors that count, not the monster? Well, it's not a great sign when you're backing the lizard to gobble up the leads.
Damsel in distress Maria Pitilo (Audrey) is no Faye Wray. She arguably delivers the film's most irritating performance. With mannerisms copied from Friends star Lisa Kudrow (plays Phoebe, the most annoying of the six of them and that's hard to pull-off) and looks faintly reminiscent of Anne Heche, one suspects the makers originally actually wanted Heche, but were too terrified to employ her after the lesbian furore.
As for Matthew Broderick, well his career has been very unusual indeed. Two seminal and hugely popular 80s flicks War Games and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, were followed for a short time by moderate obscurity. However, Broderick was re-born as an actor with three marvellous low-budget, low audience films: The Freshman, Torch Song Trilogy and The Night We Never Met. So, after all this considerable hard work to establish credibility, Godzilla is a genuine come down. His quirky, boyish scientist caricature, Nick Tatapoulos, ("worm guy") does not achieve the dry wit, cynicism or charisma of say a Jeff Goldblum creation and his lines are awful, "She thinks I'm cute". Where did I leave that puke bag?
However, Broderick is by no means the worst culprit and a very ropey plot and script infest this film's innards like a tapeworm. In the first 80 minutes the lack of actual suspense is shocking and the film's values even worse. We are led to believe that the reason this aberration is stomping around Manhattan is because of French nuclear testing. Not the Americans of course. Now that wouldn't do to admit American failings. Worst of all, though, are the plugs or indeed digs at the Warner Brothers and Disney stores mentioned in the script. The mere mention of these film companies reeks of cynical product placing and the impending preparation of a Godzilla theme ride at Universal Studios or the like.
Of course, the constant bombardment of Godzilla hype has been arguably the largest marketing exercise ever undertaken. Larger even than the first Batman film and even more disappointing. So, what is there to recommend it? Well the last forty minutes or so are a dramatic improvement. This is chiefly down to an egg-hatching scene straight out of Aliens, where hundreds of tiny Godzillas spring to life in Madison Square Garden. Reminiscent of Jurassic Park, the velociraptor-like beasts stalk our collection of stereotypes around a plethora of dark corridors, and the effect is all rather gripping. As is the car chase that follows.
However, one decent sequence does not make a great monster flick and the combination of a diabolical script, idiotic stereotypes, excessive hype and a dreadful leading lady should be enough to deter you seeing this drivel until appears on Sky Movies. Blimey, they've got me at it now.
La vie de Jésus (1997)
This is pure social realism. There are no stylish gimmicks or hint of light relief courtesy of a groovy soundtrack.
You will literally stagger out of this film, bewildered, disillusioned and perfectly miserable. This isn't enjoyable by any stretch of the imagination. However, it's certainly memorable. Much like contracting herpes.
The tale centres on epileptic and borderline psycho, Freddie. Freddie, a scooter nut, lives in his mum's bar, has an uncommunicative sexual relationship with the girl down the street and hangs out with a gang of very dumb and very unattractive wasters in a dreary provincial French town. It sounds harsh, but trust me they make the redneck murderers in Easy Rider seems congenial.
Kicking-off like a kitchen sink drama with bikes, it slowly dawns that Bruno Dumont's debut film is no Quadrophenia or The Wild One. This is pure social realism. There are no stylish gimmicks or hint of light relief courtesy of a groovy soundtrack. If anything, La Vie De Jesus mocks the infamous Marlon Brando hero figure. Freddie, the twitching, unsympathetic yob, keeps a finch (On the Waterfront), rides a bike (The Wild One), shaves his head (Apocalypse Now) and suggests sodomising his girlfriend (Last Tango In Paris).
Maybe these comparisons are stretching credibility, but Dupont certainly seems to be saying that the staple inarticulate, "silent one" in the majority of Hollywood films is essentially a ridiculous myth.
Freddie lives in a town less glamorous than a septic tank. AIDS, starvation in Sudan, Armistice Day do impinge themselves on this drab place, but it doesn't change the locals and their parochial prejudices.
The first half an hour is merely depressing, the last hour excruciating. The descent begins with some mindless bigotry aimed at a family of Arabs in a cafe. The collective moronism and crassness of the town embodied by Freddie uttering, "Shut up, you wogs." This racist incident introduces us to the only moderately likable character of the entire piece, Kader (Kader Chaatouf). However, from the word go you know things are going to end badly.
Revolutionary French director Jean Luc Godard would probably be pleased with this unrelenting grimness, the greyness, the endless social comments and, to some extent, this is indeed a very powerful and worthy work. However, do not expect to feel empathy for the yobs as in the marvelous La Haine or indeed any hint of stylish camera work to break up the film's painful, nihilistic journey. Almost unwatchable.
In lesser hands than Paul Schrader, Elmore Leonard's non-crime novel could have become an overwrought toil in the evils of America's salacious media.
`You are an odour in the nostrils of God,' jabbers religious zealot August Murray (Tom Arnold). He is damning sometime revivalist Bill Hill's (Christopher Walken) cynical marketing of Christ-like figure Juvenal (Skeet Ulrich essentially playing Edward Scissorhands minus the blades). Hill wearing a glitzy gold jacket and an enormous `Thank You Jesus' necklace sees a book deal and a slot on the awful Debra Lusanne Show (Gina Gershon superb at mimicking Ricki Lake with a snarl) for the innocent healer, who has stigmata on his rib cage.
In lesser hands than Paul Schrader, Elmore Leonard's non-crime novel could have become an overwrought toil in the evils of America's salacious media. However, Touch is actually a wryly amusing and unhurried look at faith and exploitation. The histrionics and belly laughs are bestowed upon the cameos, who obviously capture the best lines: `Do they make condoms that protect the soul' (Arnold) and `Controversy is the oxygen I breathe' (Gershon). Ultimately, best savoured on video. --Ben Walsh
The Spanish Prisoner (1997)
Pidgeon plays infatuation like a Dalek - "Don't get morose, get even" she advises robotically.
"Always do business as if the person you were doing business with were screwing you, because they probably are." And if they're not, you can be pleasantly surprised,'' Jimmy Dell (wonderfully creepy Steve Martin) tells "salaried employee" Joe Ross (Scott).
Ross has just invented the "process" for his company (it's so valuable that when he writes the figure on a blackboard, we don't even see it, only the shining eyes of executives looking at it and their proclamation in unison, like a Greek chorus, of, "What do we own?"), but he quickly fears they will rob him blind. For good reason.
Supposed jet setter Mr Dell leads to more doubts in Joe's mind, and offers to lend his assistance in Joe's battle for monetary "consideration". Complicating matters is Susan (Rebecca Pidgeon, Mamet's wife), a distinctly odd, but strangely fascinating woman who is either Ross' only advocate or a crucial figure in the plot against him. Pidgeon plays infatuation like a Dalek - "Don't get morose, get even" she advises robotically.
Mamet claims that this familiar exploration of financial deceit and con artists is lighter than his previous work. It looks just as dark, claustrophobic, dangerous and vaguely dank to me. Although, admittedly, the "Hitchcockian" feel and the dearth of statutory Mamet expletives probably lends itself to a more widespread audience.
As in House of Games (1987), Mamet's first film as a director, The Spanish Prisoner takes a reasonably intelligent, self-possessed character and proceeds to shatter his expectations and sense of equilibrium (similar to Martin Scorcese's 80s masterpiece After Hours). Trust proves his undoing, faith in the human race his tragic flaw - "Can't go around mistrusting everybody," he maintains.
Eventually, painfully, hopelessly Joe figures out that he has to second-guess the sharks. However, even then he continues to take people at their word. They flatter him and play him on his vanity and greed. Steve Martin, in his best role since Parenthood, is unrelentingly insincere (he would sell his grandma's teeth for a wine gum), he keeps saying, "extraordinary gesture" and Joe falls for it. Dell flatters in order to deceive and Joe becomes a Kafka/Alfred Hitchcock-type pawn.
Predictably, The Spanish Prisoner, features some marvelous Mamet's truncated monosyllabic dialogue such as: "I put a thief in my mouth to steal my brains," "People aren't that complicated Jo," and "Work for a living that explains your good manners." Plus, Mamet's distinctive feel for the conventions of heterosexual male intimacy as its mediated by business and pleasure is indeed a pleasure to behold. The Spanish Prisoner is definitely worth a visit.
Ultimately, a slow, witty work with one outstanding feature.
"A puerile romp without a single redeeming feature."
That's what an imaginary Sight and Sound review gives the trashy teenage exploitation film Hotpants College 2. However, for "erstwhile fogey" and famous English writer Giles De'Ath (John Hurt) this Porky-esque flick, which he watches purely by accident (he meant to see an E.M Forster adaptation) has one very redeeming grace. It contains the love of Giles' life Ronnie Bostock (Jason Priestley).
This witty and poignant film, which divides itself between London and Long Island, may have faltered badly if it had been left in lesser hands than John Hurt. However, Hurt is simply mesmerising. He is one of the few actors who never shies away from making the audience utterly ill at ease watch 1984, the monster shooting out of his stomach in Alien or The Elephant Man for confirmation.
Self-exiled from the modern world in his stuffy flat, with a picture of his recently deceased wife by his writing desk, and a fussy maid (Sheila Hancock) tending to his every whim, Giles' emotions are thoroughly repressed. Until, that is, fate lends a hand and exposes Giles to, amongst other things, terrible American teenage movies, video stores, fax machines, One Man and His Dog, and, finally, to his own sexual desires.
Love and Death in Long Island is brimming with quirky cameos, including weirdo diner owner Irv (Maury Chaykin), a motel manager (Elizabeth Quinn) reminiscent of Shelley Winters in Lolita, and a surprisingly good Priestley (lampooning his "bimbo" soap background much like Maxwell Caulfield in The Real Blonde).
However, it is ultimately a "warts and all" performance from Hurt that holds our gaze. Dignified, perplexed and slightly tragic, Hurt makes Giles one of the most touching "stalkers" in film history. Much like James Mason's Humbert in Lolita, Giles is a man of culture finding beauty in youth, in coarseness - in "all that I myself have never been."
Ultimately, a slow, witty work with one outstanding feature.
Kicking-off with a jarred opening sequence that resembles the nightmarish start to David Fincher's Seven, Erik Skjoldbjaeg's feature debut makes a predictable whodunnit, but an all-together more unpredictabl
Swedish homicide investigator Jonas Engstrom (Stellan Skarsgard, star of laugh-a-minute Breaking The Waves) and his chirpy, flirtatious side-kick Erik Val (Sverre Anker Ousdal) trudge over to Northern Norway (the Land of the Midnight Sun) to help in the investigation of a murdered teenage girl. The supposed "perfectionist" killer has scrubbed clean the victim for evidence, including all her hair. However, laughing boy Jonas is on the case.
Kicking-off with a jarred opening sequence that resembles the nightmarish start to David Fincher's Seven, Erik Skjoldbjaeg's feature debut makes a predictable whodunnit, but an all-together more unpredictable investigating cop. Certainly more Bad Lieutenant than Colombo.
Suffering from serious sleep deprivation due to the endlessly light Norwegian days, Jonas vitally loses concentration whilst chasing the killer. In the fog he accidentally shoots and kills his mate Erik. Then, and this is what makes Skjoldbjaeg's Insomnia quite interesting, instead of owning up and doing the decent thing, Jonas conceals evidence pointing to him and even lands on the side of the murderer. From there on in the hunter and hunted become embroiled in a sort of dastardly pact.
Suffering from acute guilt, Jonas becomes increasingly involved in a web of paranoia, deceit and cover-ups, and to top it all he still can't get a decent nap with all these shenanigans going on. You want to sleep for this man. Eventually, of course, he becomes truly psychotic and you sense he would most likely laugh in the face of Mel Gibson's 'twisted cop' in Lethal Weapon. Going steadily more bonkers, Jonas calls a pretty receptionist's kittens disgusting (very bad sign) before trying to rape her against a row of toilet rolls.
Including a grotesque scene with a stray dog, Insomnia is not for squeamish and although it succeeds in keeping the viewer awake throughout there's something very rotten in the state of Norway. Ultimately a measured, compelling and really rather nasty film. Hitchcock might well have approved.
The Gingerbread Man (1998)
Ultimately, this is a slow burner that never ignites.
First Coppola, now the maker of masterpieces such as M*A*S*H, Nashville and The Long Goodbye. Altman's done a Grisham. The once esteemed seventies directors are all succumbing. Whatever next? Scorcese doing Police Academy.
Super successful Southern lawyer, Rick Magruder (Branagh) takes on pro bono case client, Mallory Doss (Embeth Davidtz), because he just happens to be bonking her. Yawn. How many times do we need to suffer this tale endlessly rehashed? Thankfully, we don't get the obligatory courtroom scene denouement, but we do get a piss-poor imitation of classic film noirs such as Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Maltese Falcon and seventies masterpiece Chinatown.
The enigmatic Mallory is being harassed by her seemingly deranged daddy a shoeless hillbilly (Robert Duvall) who steals her car, breaks into her house and hangs her moggy by the front door.
Branagh in the midst of a messy divorce becomes embroiled in this strange waif's turgid world. He has the hillbilly arrested and after a trial filled with a gaggle of lank-haired followers, Duvall is packed off to the loony bin. His gang helps him escape, and Branagh's kids are swiftly abducted.
About now you're approximately 90 minutes in and the only elements stopping you from entering the world of slumber are the interesting cameos, from the likes of Hannah, Berenger, Duvall and especially Downey Jr, and the occasional Altmanesque touch.
How about Branagh? Well, they should have got a genuine Southern actor wheel out Matthew McCoughney or better still Harrison Ford. Branagh doesn't convince and the supposed passion between Branagh and Davidtz just isn't there. Although the South African actress is rather better in her femme fatale role than Kenny is in his. The moment when they get it on, so to speak, is about as sexy as witnessing Manchester City drawing 0-0 to Macclesfield on a wet Sunday afternoon at Maine Road in deepest, darkest February. There's no chemistry whatsoever, although Davidtz pluckily tries to emulate Barbara Stanwyck.
The interest level only truly rises when Robert Downey Jr appears as Clyde Pell. Patently in his own world his bravura over-acting is a blessing. Maybe he should have been given the main role, then perhaps not given his subsequent mental state.
The film always looks great, thanks to the dramatic Savannah thunderstorms, but everyone involved has forgotten to tell an original and decent tale. One suspects that Grisham's influence has most likely ruined The Gingerbread Man (very silly title) from the off, despite Altman's attempts to resuscitate the beast.
Ultimately, this is a slow burner that never ignites and possesses a predictable, unremarkable script. --Ben Walsh