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Another underrated Ridley Scott masterpiece (spoilers)
I didn't think the film was as good a Ridley Scott film as Gladiator, due to the rather unclear definition of its two principal villains, nor did I think it was as good a serial killer film as Seven, as it lacked that film's remarkably intelligent script. Yet the film is, surprisingly for such a successful, mainstream film, a triumph, and confirms Scott as perhaps today's most exciting director.
There are two main themes in the film; that of betrayal, and that of unrequited love. Both Lecter and Starling are constantly betrayed by those around them; he by the detective Pazzi, she by her misogynistic superiors. And, it could be argued, Starling finally betrays Lecter, when she tries once more to trap him at the end of the film. It's pretty obvious why Jodie Foster didn't want to do the film; Starling has not evolved much beyond Silence...; the lambs may have gone, but the dedication to rules and the lack of imagination are still there. In contrast, Lecter is the aesthete gone wrong; this is a man with too much imagination, a man who is weary of pretending to be something he is not. His cannibalism can be seen as a rebellion against the constraints of an incomprehending society rather than an act of brutality, as it was portrayed in Silence....
Unrequited love is the other major theme. Certainly, Hannibal Lecter is in love with Clarice. It is entirely possible that he sees something of a kindred spirit in her, somebody who is willing to step over boundaries and constraints. While I feel that Thomas Harris' original ending was inappropriate, insofar as it meant an unrealistic change on the part of Starling, the film's ending has a classic moment where (and don't read this if you haven't seen the film) Lecter attempts to kiss her, only to be handcuffed. The police are about to arrive. While the old Lecter would have had no qualms about removing Starling's hand, and possibly eating it later, he cuts off his own hand, so as not to disfigure his idol in any way. This is a wonderful touch; this man, who has killed so many people, finally realising that there is beauty outside the world of art history and Italian architecture.
Many people have complained that the film is too violent. My response would be this; Poussin's paintings are 'violent'. Ovid's Metamorphoses are 'violent'. The Bible is 'violent'. And yet did they provoke the level of outcry that Hannibal has? Of course not. Artistically, the film is a triumph, with glorious cinematography and intelligent use of slow and fast motion. Hopkins is unsurprisingly superb, but Moore is very nearly as good in a far less demonstrative role. You've probably seen the film already, but go and see it again.
North Square (2000)
A bit too good for the hoi polloi, perhaps
A really excellent legal drama that has unfortunately been cancelled after one series, North Square was almost unique in combining witty dialogue, interesting plots, superb acting and a good sense of legal life both in the courtroom and out of it, without resorting to the sordid emptiness of 'This Life'. A true cult TV series.
Purely Belter (2000)
Not as good as Billy Elliot or Brassed Off, but it'll do
Given the paucity of positive reviews, I feel I ought to say something about the film; I went to see it because I was bored and I'd seen everything else on, and really quite enjoyed it. Yes, it's incredibly cliched, yes, it's so miserable at times you begin to wonder if it's a comedy or not, and, yes, the ending is badly misjudged. But Herman has a gift for scenes of surreal comedy (the bit in the bookshop is a classic), and Newcastle looks as striking as ever. If you're a Lightning Seeds fan, incidentally, Iain Broudie composed some of the music, including the great song 'Happy Ending Lies', which sums the film up nicely.
Dirty Tricks (2000)
Extremely good fun
An adaptation of one of my favourite books, I was looking foward to this, and it didn't disappoint. Although the ending was a slightly strange deviation from the book, stating rather than hinting, it was very funny throughout, and had a suitably grim musical score.
Stiff Upper Lips (1998)
One of the funniest films I have ever seen
I saw this film twice in the first week it came out. This was just as well, as it closed after a week, as nobody else saw it apart from me and a friend. I think that, apart from its DVD availability, it is just about unseen. This is what I would call 'a pity'.
Stiff Upper Lips has, especially in the first half, so many spot on gags that it becomes almost abstract. Death in Venice? Yes. Chariots of Fire? Yes. Maurice? Yes. Every Merchant Ivory film? You bet. And all these jokes are funny. Imagine Airplane, remade in Britain, with better jokes.
And the performances are spot on as well. Peter Ustinov is amusing as a slave trading plantation owner, Georgina Cates is fun as the 'heroine', who spends most of the film whinging, but the honours go to Robert Portal and Samuel West, in a pair of the funniest performances of all time. Every nuance, every line is finely judged. (Is that Forster you're reading? Yes, but I only read him for the landscapes.) Buy a DVD player, get this film, and enjoy.
Charlie's Angels (2000)
Some good, some bad...
Good things: the action scenes, Cameron Diaz occasionally, Crispin Glover (best baddie for ages), Tom Green, Bill Murray, the visual effects.
Bad: the plot, the dialogue, Lucy Liu, Tim Curry, the jokes, the utterly bizarre plot twist.
I think that's a fair enough summation. Overall, worth seeing.
Wo hu cang long (2000)
It's really not very good....
The trouble with it is that it wants to be a kind of Oriental Matrix; unfortunately, it so overuses the wire work that many sequences turn into things that look like bad 70s movies. At one point, there is a battle in a tree. That says it all, really; the film is stunning for the first battle, and then gets stupider and stupider, climaxing in a bizarre ending that is probably only comprehensible if you're Ang Lee. Don't believe anyone who says this film is better than The Matrix; it is not a patch on it.
Mission: Impossible II (2000)
Strange....but great (spoilers)
I've now seen the film 3 and a half times, and I still don't know whether it's actually any good. I mean, it's got fantastic, better-than-any-other-film action scenes, but what it lacks is a plot.
While 'The Matrix' had a final act of sheer mind-blowing amazing action, which MI2 surpasses, it had an interesting and provocative plot. Face/Off, which I would have to write a book on to do it justice, makes up for the unlikely central conceit with an almost Greek-tragic view of humanity and sin. MI2, on the other hand....has a plot in which a villain wants to TAKE OVER THE WORLD! What a revelation! Except it's not a Bond film, so his domination is financial, rather than physical.
Cruise doesn't really register in this film. In the first film, which is better but not as much fun, at least you got some sense of his betrayal by Jon Voigt and the IMF. Here, the IMF are great again, with only Anthony Hopkins' misogynistic comments showing any kind of negativity. But, to be fair, Cruise does a fine job as an action hero, although not quite as great as Willis in Die Hard, Keanu in The Matrix or Cage in Face/Off. You don't really care all that much. Thandie Newton's OK, but it's a bit convenient as to how she doesn't infect anyone else with the virus. Dougray Scott....well, he's a different kind of British baddie. I prefer the upper-class, Jason Isaacs/Alan Rickman types, but still.
So, does it seem any good. Hell no. Is it good? Hell yeah! Why? Because of the last 45 minutes, which top Face/Off and The Matrix comfortably, in the sheer hysterically OTT Woo-isms. Remember the shoot-out in the loft in Face/Off? Well, there's one of those in a chemical weapons facility, with the obligatory huge body count. There's a scene where Cruise infiltrates the baddie's hideout, a la any Bond film, but the Bond films didn't have a scene where Bond blows a door open...and SENDS IN A DOVE!!!! It's a fantastically stupid bit, and sums up the entire film. Woo is an absolute genius at the stupidly baroque, operatic and theatrical and MI2 is a perfect example of all this.
And then there's the bike chase (best ever on film) and the final mano a mano showdown (one of the best on film- it's all real!). And then Cruise catches a gun in mid-air, kills Scott, saves Thandie Newton and the film ends. The audience, over and over again, jumps up and down. It is a brilliant example of how, with a genius filmmaker like Woo, a rubbish plot matters not. Yeah baby!
A film so good it hurts
Most films are 'quite good'. That, as a critical comment, is applied to the kinds of films that are well-made, thoughtful, etc. Gladiator is not 'quite good'. It is beyond goodness. Watching it, on the first weekend it came out, in a packed cinema and the volume turned up to the max, it actually felt like the Christmas you've always wanted as a child.
Russell Crowe is 50% of the reason the film is so great, as he actually makes you believe in, and care about, the character. The other reason it's so good is Ridley Scott; this is easily his best film, by a mile and a half. Buy the soundtrack, DVD, poster...it's the best film of the year, and the best film I've seen since Face/Off (1997).
What begins in life, echoes in eternity.
What Lies Beneath (2000)
I hoped that 'What Lies Beneath' would be, if not a masterpiece, at least good entertaining fun. However, the film has serious basic problems. Firstly, it isn't scary at all. I say that as someone who finds it hard to watch films like 'The Shining' or 'The Sixth Sense'. The trouble with 'What Lies Beneath' is that it never really comes clean on what does lie beneath- is there a ghost or not? Secondly, there's a really annoying red herring. It's really annoying because it's completely unexplained, doesn't add anything to the film, and gives up way too early.
Thirdly, Zemeckis wants to be Hitchcock so badly it hurts. Yet he doesn't even come close. Coincidentally, I watched 'Mission Impossible' after I saw this film, and Brian DePalma does a far, far better job of getting the sheer 'oh my god' tension in there.
Lastly, the bathtub scene- which I assume you've heard of- is over much too quickly. Zemeckis does not yet understand that you have to complicate a situation in order to make it really tense.
It's got some good things about it- Harrison Ford is really quite good, when you realise the truth about why he seems to be taking a back seat in the plot- but I thought Michelle Pfeiffer was really dreadful. And Zemeckis has not really improved as a director since 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit'. See it if you want, but it's not that great.