13 Reviews
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Funny, sad, sometimes grim, but not moribund.
10 January 2004
This is quite a low-key film from Alan Clark. It is a sad, funny, warts-and-all story about social desperation, and how people seek escape and solace from it. George Costigan is excellent as the bored, 'nouveau-riche' husband who gets his kicks from seducing less experienced teenagers. The two girls are wonderfully played and their characterisations are true to life. This is also a film about the 'little' people. Some viewers might be offended by the use of racist language used when referring to Asians, and perhaps even the portrayal of Sue's Pakistani boyfriend as violent, but this is essential to the realistic depiction of working-class life in a decaying inner-city area. The funniest characters are Sue's drunken and obnoxious father, and the nosey parker with the hosepipe who's always got his eye on the strange goings on in the neighbourhood. This film also marked the highest moment of that dreadful party band Black Lace who perform a composition entitled 'Gang Bang'. It is the films bawdiness and honesty that makes 'Rita, Sue and Bob too' a minor classic of the long gone 1980s.
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The Believer (2001)
I find it hard to believe in this film.
12 January 2002
'The Believer' is an extremely overrated film. Ryan Gosling gives a brilliant performance as Danny an exceptionally bright young Jewish man who lives a double life, when he becomes involved with weird right wing 'neo nazis' and conceals his Jewishness from them. Danny's rejection of the religious and moral strictures of orthodox Judaism has a narcisstic and nihilistic edge to it, he says the Jews 'are nothing'. He becomes close to a creepy 'intellectual' right-wing couple and becomes attracted to their daughter Carla (Summer Phoenix) and has an affair with her. Unlike her stepfather and mother, Carla has some degree of sensitivity and questions Danny's anti-semitic views.

In the meantime, Danny has to keep his Jewish past hidden and he is rumbled a journalist whom he threatens with his own suicide if the story is published. He becomes deeply involved with racist skinheads and plants a bomb in a synagogue. It is here, when Danny sees the damage and desecration to the Torah that his 'Jewishness' returns. He tells his fellow skins not to damage the Torah and takes it home with him. Danny repairs the damaged scrolls, and Carla starts to become curious about his behaviour. What stretches my incredulity in this film is when the naked Carla is reading the holy book and Danny demands that she put her clothes on. All of a sudden Danny is transformed back to being an orthodox Jew demanding that a woman should not be naked infront of a man.

Danny's intimate knowledge of Judaism raises suspicion amongst his skinhead colleagues. He is also sent on 'sensitivity training' as an alternative to prison for the desecration of the synagogue. He hears horrific stories from Holocaust survivors but mocks and insults them. This scene I found hard to bear, particularly the idea of the State posing as a sensitive and neutral arbitrator on the issue of racism.

The films premise lacks credibility and it is hard to sympathise with Danny and his destructive self-hatred, which he seems to blame on the rigid inflexibility of his religious upbringing. In spite of his religion, Danny lives in New York, a modern secular city. Why would such a bright person want to get involved with right-wing cranks when there are far more opportunities available to him in modern American society? Also, the concept of 'Jewishness' as a cultural identity, is awkwardly posited, one minute Danny is a repulsive fascist convert and then suddenly the sight of the Torah and religious garments turns him back into a Jew. Danny's demise when he blows himself up at a synagogue does not arouse much sympathy with me, as he, and nobody else, has willed on his own destruction. The film is confusing in its narrative structure and it forces issues down the viewers' throats. Anti-semitism is not a major social problem in America and most Jews and other ethnic groups are not under threat by a ramshackle bunch of racist, 'neo nazi' non entities. In fact Jews are one of the most assimilated groups in modern America and the idea of a perpetual, endemic anti-semitism is as ridiculous as the cranky right wing conspiracy theory about the US government being a Zionist Government of Occupation.
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Brilliant performance from Jim Carrey!
6 January 2002
Jim Carrey is to 'The Truman Show' what James Stewart is to 'It's a Wonderful Life' - completely indispensable. Carrey's great performance as Truman, a man predestined to be an eternal innocent and denied the full knowledge of how his circumstances came to be, makes this film. In spite of an over-the-top 'Twilight Zone' style plot, this film has more to say about the 'human condition' (and is far superior) than 'Good Will Hunting' which aspires to the loftier heights of 'realism'.

The cruel director, played by Ed Harris, is not a million miles away from the so-called 'fly-on-the-wall' documentary directors, who manipulate real people and pepper our screens with tedious, victim based documentaries which claim to be great social insights. Carrey's portrayal of the innocent Truman has great pathos and a touching quality. In being denied the truth about his real existence, Truman is unknowingly imprisoned in a childlike existence that he has never had the opportunity to shape for himself.

Carrey's brilliant performance wins the audiences' sympathy when he finds out the reality of his 'constructed' existence and tries to break free from this cruel manipulation and tyranny. What makes this film stand out today is that it is one of the few films of recent times, based around the theme of personal liberty. When there is so much false theorising in the real world about what constitutes 'liberty' and we are being told that fewer liberties is a new consequence of fighting a 'war for civilisation', it is refreshing to watch a film that is funny, entertaining and wholly sympathetic to the idea of personal freedom.
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Promising screenwriting debut but an overrated movie.
23 December 2001
A good piece of screenwriting by young cast members Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, but one that I don't think will stand the test of time. Matt Damon's (Will) performance as the troubled working-class genius in need of guidance is excellent. However, I think that this was too much of a feelgood movie and an endorsement of counselling, for it to be a truly great film. I found Minnie Driver's (Skylar) expressionless English accent thoroughly irritating and it destroyed, for me, the possibility of the romance between Will and Skylar being interesting.

The performances of Robin Williams (Sean Maguire) and Stellan Skarsgard (Professor Lambeau) are good. The patient-therapist relationship between Damon and Williams is played well by both actors. The films flaw is that it lacks real depth of characterisation. There is a good story in this movie, but it lapses into classical Hollywood slushiness with all ends tied neatly together. Some characters, such as the pseudo-intellectual student who Will runs rings around while chatting up Skylar and a friend, are pretty one dimensional as he is someone we can easily mock and despise, just like the lapdog (what's his name?) who follows Lambeau around.

There are few profundities in this film and I find the idea that therapy is what is needed to help a troubled young prodigy out of his predicament rather spurious. We are also shown how Will's initial hostility to therapy as part of his probation is surrendered. While one would not wish Will to remain an angry young man with no direction, I find the belief that therapy can necessarily mediate the relationship between an individual and society too hard to swallow.
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Another gritty drama from Ken Loach.
3 December 2001
'The Navigators' is a well made and moving TV drama. The largely unknown cast play their parts well. Set in 1995 during the privatization of British Rail, 'The Navigators' depicts the change in working relationships between management and workforce amongst a group of trackside workers at a small depot near Sheffield. We see the men's jobs gradually being phased out as different shareholders buy up the business. The eventual closure of the depot and the offer of redundancy leads to the men working long hours on the trackside for agencies who will even cut corners on health and safety to get the 'best deal'. In the end this leads to a tragic event, which puts the workmates in a terrible dilemma, as it is they and not the agency or employers that would be held responsible for their colleague's accident.

The drama is not all moribund and there are typical touches of Loach humour, such as the men getting splashed by the flushing toilet of a passing train and a clever workplace wind up around a tin of sardines. The main character Paul (Joe Duttine) is well played and Loach slowly builds up our sympathies for the men and the difficulties that their precarious employment places on domestic and family life. At the end it would be easy to condemn the men's conspiracy to cover up the accident, but Loach also points towards the bigger picture which leads to health and safety being criminally relegated to an inconvenience for employers rather than a priority.

Perhaps this film was a little too long, but Loach puts across well the suffering caused by job insecurity and how the awful, euphemistic management 'double speak' has smothered industrial relations and taken us into a new era of low-rights and low-paid work.
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The Coens are back on form!
24 November 2001
This film is simply a modern 'noir' masterpiece with brilliant performances all round, especially from Billy Bob Thornton as Ed Crane and Frances McDormand as his wife Alice.

Ed Crane is a laconic, small town barber and an outwardly unexceptional man, lacking in passion and stuck in a dreary life and sexless marriage. Laconicness is often a quality we associate with careful, wise thinking and circumspection. In reality Ed Crane is both hapless and devious (like Jerry Lundeegard in 'Fargo'). Crane cons his wife's boss, department store manager Big Dave Nirdlinger, played by James Gandolfini, (with whom she is having an affair) into handing over blackmail money to a con artist whose spurious business idea he had initially refused. Things come full circle when we learn that Big Dave has found out from the confidence trickster (with the help of his fists) about Ed's sneaky little trick. In a frenzied fight, during an after hours meeting at Nirdlingers', Ed kills Big Dave in self-defence. The authorities discovery of the embezzled money leads to a murder charge being made against Alice and from then on Ed's foolishness and deceit leads to greater tragedy.

A strong theme in Coen brothers' films is how ordinary people's attempts to find shortcuts out of humble or uncomfortable predicaments ends up creating uncontrollable mayhem and disaster. This is a superb film, beautifully shot in black-and-white and compelling right to the end. This could be the best ever Coen brothers' movie, and there's a long line of great films to choose from.
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Ghost World (2001)
A brilliant coming-of-age film!
22 November 2001
'Ghost World' is a wonderful movie which mixes humour, pathos and the real life dilemmas of growing up with great sensitivity. Thora Birch is excellent as Enid, the talented young artist who, after graduating from the bland, conformist world of high school, is not sure whether to get a job (and there aren't any good ones in the towm where she lives) or going to college. Enid shares with her best friend Rebecca (Scarlet Johannson) a disdain for the dreariness of small town life and the unfulfilled people she sees around her.

However, the girls' 'disdain' is really a factor in their growing up. Enid and Rebecca initially fool middle-aged loner Seymour (Steve Buscemi)into a false bind date by responding to a lonely hearts ad. They cruelly watch Seymour as he waits in the cafe for the date that will never come. The girls see Seymour again at his market stall selling second hand records. Enid buys an LP which she gets to like, and this spawns her interest in Seymour. Enid becomes fascinated by Seymour and his interesting record collection. She changes her first impression of him being a lame duck and grows to like him. On the other hand Rebecca still thinks Seymour is weird and this leads to arguments between them. The girls decide that they want a flat together, but as their difference of opinion grows, the real difference between them as people emerges.

Enid, while appearing arrogant and diffident to all around her is a very bright, highly imaginative and talented girl with bigger sights on her future than living in a dreary mid-West town. She is enrolled by her father on part-time art class, and these sections of the film are pivotal to the film. They also mock the idea of 'art as therapy', a sickening notion to Enid, and one which is all too present both in America the UK. I won't elaborate any further on the story as I don't wish to spoil it for those yet to see the film. Life is too short to miss this film, I recommend that everyone who loves movies to see this.

Finally, if you it on cinema or buy the video/DVD when released, watch the credits all the way through as Zwigoff adds an amusing vignette at the end of the credits. I'm surprised Zwigoff has made so few films in his career because this is a masterpiece and the lovely Thora Birch is a huge talent!
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Khartoum (1966)
Short on action and historical accuracy
10 June 2001
This is a rather dull British bio-pic, which laments the end of the grand era of Britain's colonial might. The portrayal of Gordon stretches the truth, he is presented as a maverick colonialist with a 'human' face. In reality, Gordon was as ruthless as any colonial officer and was rightly despised by the Sudanese. In the film he is a reformist, progressive liberal who brought the end of slavery in that part of Africa. Also Gordon was only five feet two inches not as tall as he is in the film. He was not killed by a spear either, he was shot dead and his head was stuck on a spike and paraded around Khartoum two days after his death.
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Powerful and moving story.
4 April 2001
An intelligent and well balanced film from Tim Robbins. Robbins examines both sides in a gruesome murder trial. The underrated Sean Penn is excellent as the condemned killer Matthew and is well supported by Susan Sarandon.

The viewpoint of the murdered teenagers' families is shown to be unflinchingly in favour of Matthew's execution right to the bitter end. However, the film doesn't show them as bigoted and irrational, in fact their views seem perfectly normal considering the trauma they have been through. Matthew is boorish and unwilling to accept help throughout the movie until the truly touching moment when he apologises to the victims' families as his brutal execution by lethal injection is about to take place.

Robbins allows us to make up our own minds about the death penalty while intending to depict it for what it is, a brutal, calculated act of state murder.
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Paternalist view of post-war youth.
4 April 2001
Dearden takes a different course from 'The Blue Lamp', in this gentle and modest examination of the probation services. The lead character, the probation officer Phipps (played by Cecil Parker), is a post-Empire man who has left his job in the Colonial Office. The film being made not that long after Britain's withdrawal from India.

Phipps's transition into the role of probation officer is amusing. At first he still wears the traditional civil servant's bowler hat before changing it to a less awkward trilby. His first reaction to the young lad Hooker (Harry Fowler), reveals his upper-class outlook when he says to his colleague Matty (Celia Johnson); 'I've had trouble dealing with difficult people in the colonies you know'. The White Man's Burden is transferred from the Colonial Office on to the new 'unstable' working-class youth of post-war Britain.

Phipps responds sympathetically to a young lad named Hooker whose father died in the war and who lives at home with a cruel stepfather. Phipps goes off to Lewisham to visit Hooker and his narration amusingly comments; 'I always thought of London in terms of Knightsbridge...'. This shows that Phipps is broadening his outlook and awareness of how the 'other half' live.

Hooker is a lad on the verge of delinquency, he is attracted to another problem child, one of Matty's probationary clients, Norma (Joan Collins). Norma is young, petulant and just wants a good time. This 'good time' she wants; drinking; dancing; romance and other immediate sensations, can be provided by the young thug and spiv Jordie (Laurence Harvey). She is shown as torn between the excitement with Jordie that will lead to self-destruction and the patient, cautious relationship with Hooker that may yield a happier future.

This is a conservative film which tries to show the Establishment as becoming more understanding of social problems. However the characters of Jordie and Hooker present two faces of British working-class youth; one evil and malign; the other nice but impressionable and easily misled. The probation office shows the public as a wide range of eccentrics such as alcoholics, prostitutes and wayward youths, which ties in with Ealing's depiction of Britain as a 'community' one with it's real divisions but 'unified' by the imaginary link with the great British nation. The film has a happy ending and was one of Dearden and Relph's early 'social problem' films.
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The Slasher (1953)
An amusing cod thriller.
3 April 2001
'Cosh Boy' has dreadful scripts and abysmal acting. The only attractive feature of the film is the pretty 18 year old actress Joan Collins (whatever became of her?). The storyline is condescending and moralistic. It suggests that manly discipline is needed to help in the rebuilding of the post-war family, otherwise working-class youths will turn into vicious, nasty 'cosh boys' or poor hapless single mothers. Crime had actually fallen after the war. Black market crime, and other offences, was rife in wartime Britain

What makes this film funny, apart from the atrocious acting, is that in hindsight we can see how ridiculous some 'moral panics' are. The people that might laugh at the caricatures in this film might still go along with existing panics in Britain today - such as 'mad cow' disease, 'road rage', chlamydia teenage alcoholism etc. The total ridiculousness of this film is clear because it is so dated. However panics still grip the popular imagination today, only that they are filtered through far more sophisticated channels such as so-called public health campaigns and the media.

Returning to the film. The characters are one-dimensional, it is purely an exercise in moral tub-thumping concerned with the reconsolidation of law and order in post-war society. The acting is so bad it is hilarious and I'm sure this is one film that Lewis Gilbert would not want to be reminded of.
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Lock, Stock... (2000– )
Execrable, infantile trash!
2 April 2001
'Lock, Stock' is the nadir of the British gangster genre. The infantile, stylised plots fail to amuse or stimulate me. Why did Channel 4 waste their time on this?

There is so much anti-American bilge expressed by British commentators, but how can you compare this crap to an American masterpiece like 'The Sopranos'. 'Lock, Stock' is a great series for dorks but I was bored after 5 minutes. A three-year old could have written something more interesting!
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Brilliant and haunting film!
2 April 2001
Warning: Spoilers
This movie conveys graphically the horror of murder and capital punishment. The injustices which a system of capital punishment can bring about comes across in the trial of the backward and gullible Timothy Evans, played beautifully by John Hurt. Evans is tricked by the brighter and devious Mr Christie into believing his wife died accidentally from an abortion. When the police investigate, Christie is able to turn all the evidence against Evans, a man not intelligent and articulate enough to defend himself. The ineptitude of the police of that day is shown in their readiness to listen to Christie and get an easy conviction against poor Timothy Evans.

The film captures, with honesty and realism, the bleakness of post-war London and the loneliness of its less glamorous parts. Attenborough's performance as the psychopathic Christie is first-class. The sheer emptiness and insignificance of Christie as a person and the horrifying actions that stem from a man whose world has shrunken, is put across powerfully. The execution of Evans is shown to be cold blooded and calculated, making it an act morally no better than the terrible murders.

Finally, to the film's credit when Christie is arrested we are not shown his hanging, and no fanfares are sounded for his conviction. The whole episode is just one of many shameful chapters in British justice. There are some ongoing and no doubt others are yet to be written.
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