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Persona (1966)
"I understand and admire"
2 May 2002
Back in December, after my first viewing of Persona, I stated that the film was "not as great as other reviewers had made out"… How wrong I was. I watched Persona again last night and found it, second time around, to be challenging, interesting and enjoyable, emotions and feelings that went straight over my head on first viewing. This is the closest thing to "real" cinema that I have seen, because it doesn't offer the viewer any easy answers, Bergman lets the story unfold, and as he goes deeper into the psyche of the character he expects us to pay very close attention to what he is doing.

The film is pretentious, unashamedly, but the way Bergman takes the style from the narrative means that the pretension isn't a bad thing, because the images of Persona are some of the most memorable and haunting that any director has dared to show. From the opening images of the young boy framed in front of a full-screen rear projection of his mother, to the famous image of the two women's faces merged as one, the images help the audience decode some of the more complicated elements of the plot.

Now I must mention the acting (something I glossed over in my first review), because there are better performances in this film than any other I can think of at this moment. Firstly Liv Ullmann, who is simply amazing as the broken-down actress Elisabeth Vogler, she manages to seem both trustworthy, but at the same time controlling without speaking a single line of dialog, and she's helped out enormously by Bibi Andersson. The way that Bergman uses these very different (but in some way similar) actresses, is to contradict their actions at every turn, to continually play with their status within the film, Ullmann comes off as the masculine character, despite the fact that her profession would call for her to be feminine. Similarly, Andersson's nurse Alma often comes off as being far too weak for her vocation, but is this a general character flaw, or just a continuation of the role reversal the two women are undergoing.

There is still a great deal of Persona that I don't understand, and maybe I never will but this only makes me want to watch the film again and again, as it's the perfect film to just loose yourself in. There is so much that I have picked up on since my first viewing that I could write about this film for even longer, but this is not my personal forum form any kind of film critique. All I can say is Persona is a film that must be watched multiple times, every viewing only strengthens my affection for it and my growing admiration for Bergman that hit full swing after I saw The Seventh Seal. In December I gave this film a rating of 8/10, now I feel compelled to, not only change that score to a 10, but also to see the film again. A true masterpiece…
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Blue Velvet (1986)
Only in dreams…
21 April 2002
With Blue Velvet, David Lynch made a film that was so pure to his original vision that it would become the archetype of his work for the next fifteen years. Here, Lynch cast his ever probing, surrealist gaze upon small town middle America, and for the first time in a US film, showed the audience the darker side to what was often depicted as nothing more than the birth place of apple pie. We are drawn into the story almost immediately, with what would seem like a simple depiction of small town life, but the use of slow-motion hints that there is something not quite right with what we are looking at. So by the time Lynch has pushed his camera through the soft green grass of a regular front lawn, only to show us the slithering insects that hide in the darkness, we know that we are about to enter a very dark world.

Blue Velvet is a world filled with not only darkness, but also ambiguity. The characters of this world are constantly hiding behind some kind of façade, be it the wardrobe doors that practicing teenage voyeur Jeffrey peers from behind as he watches Dorothy and Frank interact, or something as simple as the make-up worn by Ben. Everything suggests to us that these characters inhabit a world at night, a world away from the life they live in the day. As the film moves closer and closer to the climax Jeffrey begins to feel more of a connection with Frank, having to go to some very dark places within his psyche. However Lynch's message, that underneath the normal persona of a regular human being is a repressed pervert laying in wait, or whatever point he is making doesn't really translate well. Not least to today's audience.

Blue Velvet is very much a film of its time, that time being the mid-eighties, with aids paranoia everywhere, it's easy to see this metaphor for the dangers of sex and love within the films turgid dreamscapes. But beneath this message hides a strong detective story, a modern day neo-noir that delivers interesting twists and a controversial pay-off with it's almost fairytale climax. This is the film David Lynch got right, proceeding to make great films that where all personal, but completely different in terms of style and substance from one another. Blue Velvet is a great film, with some fine (albeit bizarre) performances, still challenging to this day, If only Lynch hadn't gone on to spend the rest of his career re-making it.
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Harvey (1950)
"I always have a wonderful time, wherever I am, whoever I'm with".
21 April 2002
A wonderful comedy-drama starring the immensely talented James Stuart as kind hearted Elwood P. Dowd, a man who has refused to be ruled by life. The brilliance of this film is the subtlety of the story and the layers of the character. Under the polite veneer of fifties Hollywood conventions, Harvey has a decidedly dark undercurrent, one that deals with alcoholism, loneliness and rejection. Not that this should deter you from enjoying the many comic scenarios that Harvey throws at the viewer during the course of the film, as this is definitely a comedy gem. But the truth and beauty behind what Elwood is saying only make the entire package all the more exquisite, like putting chocolate on a donut.

The most beautiful scene I've seen in any film is the scene in which Elwood explains how Harvey has enriched his life, though the people who are listening to the story doubt Harvey's existence, thus doubting Elwood's sanity, the words of his speech, coupled with the delivery of Stuart's performance are so touching and true that even the most jaded audience will be won over into believing Harvey to be real. The enjoyment that Elwood now gets from life, the wonderful times he has, wherever he is, whoever he's with, is the kind of enjoyment everyone strives to achiever from life. This is bygone film-making at it's best; Stuart is such a joy to watch that you'll remember this film for a long time after viewing. With fine support from all the actors, this is one film that truly deserves its classic status.
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The Pledge (I) (2001)
Some nice touches help elevate this from merely average territory…
20 April 2002
Having never seen Indian Runner or The Crossing Guard, I was looking forward to seeing The Pledge, not only because it was billed as Jack Nicholson's return to form, but also as an excuse to experience the directing work of Hollywood bad boy Sean Penn. I'd seen the trailers and heard the acclaim, now it was time to watch, what I thought, would be an exemplary piece of film-making. But I was sorely disappointed. For the most part the Pledge amounts to nothing more than a slow burning character study, with some nice photography. But besides Nicholson's Jerry Black, none of the characters are all that interesting, and come off simply as plot devises, despite the work of the amazing cast of diverse acting talent.

The vital flaw with the film is the plot, which is never as interesting as the film-makers would like you to think it is, with far too much emphasis on Black coming to terms with his retirement, instead of focusing on the detective story, which at the end of the day, is why the audience is watching the film in the first place. Nicholson may be a senior citizen now, but I was not expecting to see a cross between Grumpy Old Men and Se7en, which is what this film comes across as. The film does have some strong acting from most concerned, notably Helen Mirren, Harry Dean Stanton, Tom Noonan, Benicio Del Torro and Mickey Rourke, but this endless line up of, what amounts to nothing more than celebrity cameos are ultimately distracting.

The film should however be commended for having the guts to give us a twist ending that no one in a million years will ever guess, because it's the kind of ending that will either have you staring at the screen thinking `wow' or staring in to space laughing hysterically in disbelief. The Pledge is not the masterpiece some critics hailed it as, however the main performance of Jack Nicholson is perhaps his best, and most restrained since his pre-shinning days, giving us the only fully developed character, a character more about maturity than wild out-bursts, which is enough to make any serious film fan want to watch, but considering the talent on display, The Pledge should have been something so much more.
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"The stream flows, the wind blows, the cloud fleets, the heart beats... Nothing will die"
20 April 2002
Never could one hope to find a film as ugly and beautiful as David Lynch's film biography of John Merrick (The Elephant Man). Merrick's story is perhaps one of the most heartbreaking and appalling cases of human injustice to those different, with a strong message, which still holds importance to this day. In the hands of a lesser talented director this film may have been just another pointless Hollywood story, but in the hands of Lynch the film becomes a haunting, beautiful, but at the same time, highly disturbing work of art. Always surrealistic in its storytelling approach, the film sets up Merrick's complicated birth with an abstract dream/flash back sequence, dimly lit and photographed in gloriously grainy black and white the audience can't help but be immediately drawn in to the story.

The film then jumps forwards, and introduces us to the character of Fredrick Treves (Hopkins) at a London carnival, where Merrick is being shown as part of the sideshow. Treves is unable to see Merrick due to the police, who close the show before he gets there, but hungry for a glimpse he arranges to for a private showing with Merrick's owner Bytes. Lynch is reluctant to show us Merrick in full daylight for the first quarter of the film, which in my opinion was a clever move, because it allows we the audience to share Treve's intrigue as to weather or not the tag Elephant Man is suited, or whether we are being duped into seeing something not too much out of the ordinary. It is only later that, after we see Merrick, we realise that he is truly deformed beyond human recognition.

The next part of the film is where the real argument of The Elephant Man rests, the age-old argument of beauty only being skin deep and how those who have beauty on the outside often have none on the inside. As Merrick goes to show the staff of the hospital of which he's taken residency that he is an articulate, erudite human being, he is slowly integrated into polite society, not from respect though, the crowds are only gathering because viewing Merrick has become something of a status symbol, and this is where Treve's must decide whether or not he has forced John to exchange one freak-show for another.

For me The Elephant Man is one of the most staggering and moving films of recent cinema, the herald of a maverick talent in the then young David Lynch, and brimming with evocative production design, beautiful photography and a wealth of fine performances from Hopkins, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud and Michael Elphick, not to mention Hurt's remarkable performance hidden under layers of prosthetic make-up. It is true what others have said, that The Elephant Man is a very bleak, very downbeat film, a film not afraid to hold a mirror to society's injustices, but the ending is uplifting in a different way than most conventional happy endings. In the respect that John has just has the happiest day of his life, and no day will ever be that good, so the perfect way to end that perfect day, is to sleep like he has always wanted to, even if it will result in his own death. With the final line (used as my summary), we are told that nothing dies, that the spirit will always live on. What a touching sentiment to the endurance of the human spirit. A masterpiece 10/10
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Perhaps the best film I've seen in a long time
17 April 2002
Warning: Spoilers
If it wasn't for the fact that I saw Bergman's The Seventh Seal today, I could wholeheartedly state that director Krzysztof Kieslowski's A Short film about Killing is without a doubt the best film I have seen in a long time. Originally made as part of Kieslowski's series of TV dramas Dekalog, dramatising and updating the Ten Commandments, A Short film about Killing details the bleak story of a young man, who in the heat of the moment murders a detestable taxi driver. When I say bleak, that's really an understatement, this is one of the most downbeat films ever made, with it's specially printed photography and dreary Polish locations Kieslowski makes it clear that this is not going to be an easy film to sit through, and although there is not an upbeat moment in the entire running time, we still find ourselves compelled to watch, compelled to listen to what Kieslowski is trying to say.

The first image of A Short film about Killing is, appropriately enough a dead cat. Hanging from a railing as the title is superimposed on the screen. We are then introduced to the three characters that will play the important roles in the story, the killer (Miroslaw Baka), the victim (Jan Tesarz) and the young barrister set the task of following the case when the murder reaches the court (Krzysztof Globisz). Each of these people's lives are set up simultaneously, with the use of crosscutting, sometimes their separate paths cross briefly, but never fully meeting until the end of the films first act, which climaxes with one of the most brutal murder scenes ever committed to film. With this scene, I believe that Kieslowski is showing the audience that the act of killing is not as easy as shown in Hollywood movies and daytime TV, the fact the scene goes on for as long as it does gives the viewer an idea of just how loathsome an act of murder is.

The final act of the film may not be as strong as act one, but the point of Kieslowski's argument begins to become clear. An almost unplanned act of random violence is enough for the state to put all of their time and effort into the trial and subsequent execution of the murderer. By the final act, with the killer hanging from the neck, Kieslowski's draws parallels between the dead cat from the opening credits. The point being, does this murder actually stand for anything? This is a powerful film that will linger long in your mind and with stand out performances from all concerned, especially Miroslaw Baka whose display of emotion at the climax of the story is nothing short of brilliant. Without a doubt one of the greatest films ever made. 10/10
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Unarguably one of the greatest motion pictures ever made.
17 April 2002
My first taste of the work of Ingmar Bergman came late last year, when I first saw The Virgin Spring. My initial reaction to that film was one of bewilderment; being new to Bergman, I just wasn't sure what to make of it. The second Bergman film I saw was Persona; again I just didn't fully grasp the film and in my naivety, belittled the staggering work of art I now hail it as by saying that it needed to make sense. I know understand Bergman's work a little better, and understand that The Virgin Spring was Bergman's least personal film, and one that he accepted as a director for hire. Persona on the other hand is often credited as the director's most complex and experimental film, open to interpretation and definitely not a film for all tastes. Now I have seen my third Bergman film, the classic of art-house cinema that is The Seventh Seal.

The Seventh Seal is everything a great film should aspire to be, a joy to watch from start to finish and filled with a mixture if wonderful performances and haunting images. It was also nice to see a much more simplistic story after the mind bending Persona. Here Bergman's key concerns are not psychological mind games and disintegrating personalities, instead he looks at the themes that would in later years become synonymous with his cannon of work, religion, and death (or waiting for death, as illustrated in Cries & Whispers as well as here). The film follows knight Antonious Block (Max Von Sydow) and his companion Jöns as they return from the crusades. Death has long since walked besides Block, and now the hooded figure believes it is his time to go, Block however has other ideas and challenges Death to a game of chess, if he wins, his life will be spared. This gives us the first iconic image of the film, possibly the first major iconic image of art-house film-making, as Block sits by the sea playing chess with the apparition of Death.

As the film moves on, Block and his companion make their way to the nearest town, where a religious procession enter and warn the villagers of the plague. This is another key sequence in the film, and the way Bergman films the entrance is nothing short of genius. The cutting and camera angles (together with the naturally beautiful black and white film stock) evoke and convey the growing sense of dread that has been following our hero's from the outset. The key theme in this film seems to be not only religion, but also loss of faith. Antonious spends much of his time condemning the crusades for the pointless loss of millions, all in the name of god, and later it becomes more apparent that Block believes god to have abandoned him. This truly is a classic film, and a true work of cinematic art. 10/10
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Unfolds like a dream… but does it mean anything?
7 April 2002
Not for all tastes, Institute Benjamenta is like David Lynch's The Elephant Man via the works of Bergman and silent expressionism. Every single frame in the bizarre odyssey is tightly composed and beautifully printed in black and white. The use of shifts in focus and depth, and the wild juxtapositions of the most mundane actions, allowing them to take on any number of connotations only heightens the floating dream like atmosphere, as we are dumped into this world with no idea of what is going on, or what is going to happen. But this film is terribly slow (this is were the Bergman element comes into play), and it's a test of the viewer's concentration to see the film through. But unlike Bergman, Institute Benjamenta does not pay off at the end, nor does it leave the viewer puzzled, conflicted and desperate to experience the film again (ala Persona).

Instead Institute Benjamenta just ends, and personally I have no desire to watch the film again, I felt I got everything I could and wanted to gain from the experience. The acting was good, suitably distant and with the right level of cold detachment, but there was a constant feeling the actors were plating second fiddle to the sumptuous visuals put on show by the famed animators the brothers Quay. It's sad that they have yet to make another live action film, as the wealth of great ideas and knowledge of film-making displayed in Institute Benjamenta is one-hundred times better than most of the recent films I've seen, if the Brothers had put a little more time into the depth of the narrative, they could have backed up those haunting images with some much needed substance.

This is not a film for everyone, as I have already stated. The nonsensical narrative and bursts of surrealism will undoubtedly put off some viewers, but this is a film that should have a wider audience. In a cinematic world of conventions and formulas the brothers Quay made a film that, although by no means great, showed originality and definite promise, that makes Institute Benjamenta a film worthy of cult classic status.
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My first experience of Jean-Luc Godard
31 March 2002
Not quite a masterpiece in terms of world cinema, Jean-Luc Godard's La Petit Soldat, is still, to this day considered by most, to be one of the directors most singular films. Although the narrative is best described as simplistic, Godard's nouvelle vague approach to filming, and his clever deconstruction of film-noir conventions helps give this seemingly one-dimensional thriller a much-needed depth, bringing with it an added multitude of codes and connotations ripe for discussion. It's not a hard task to come away from La Petit Soldat, knowing immediately if you buy into Godard's school of film-making, because most of the familiar Godard-ian motifs are used. The grainy black and white photography, the cinema verite, hand-held camera, the brooding narration, the anti-hero, Anna Karina… All this information can be gathered from watching THIS film alone, excluding Godard's more well know works, such as Bànde a Part or À bout de soufflé. However it is the nihilistic torture of the main character (Michel Subor), which takes place mid-way through the film that really makes the film what it is. Godard's documentary approach to the scene, gives a sense of real terror, detailing the action in the same way he details the beauty of Karina in the apartment scenes. Another revelation, (perhaps used in other Godard films, I'm not too familiar with) is the way actors occasionally look into camera, as though Godard is letting us (the audience) in on the plot, or more importantly the joke. As stated earlier, this is not a spiralling multi-faceted conspiracy piece, more a modern distillation of film-noir, within the confines of the French New Wave… In full an excellent film.
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The definitive A.I. review
24 March 2002
The idea of Steven Spielberg delivering Stanley Kubrick's long in gestation epic A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) was always going to result in an odd hybrid of a movie. But at its core, A.I. delivers both the warmness of a Spielberg film, and just the right amount of Kubrickian detachment to make the story work. The film expertly sets up the theme of Robotic rebellion and their lack of understanding with the first scene, showing professor Hobby (William Hurt) conducting a talk about the creation of artificial life, after pricking a `mecha' with a pin, professor Hobby asks the machine how she feels about what has just happened. The machine is polite and accommodating, not really sure of what is going on, when Hobby speaks of love, the machine can only translate the intimacy of love, not the act it's self. This then leads us to the introduction of David (Osment), the first robot boy, capable of expressing the love of a real child. The first act now begins and we see David slowly inducted into the Swinton family, originally a replacement for their real son, who languishes in cryogenics until a cure for his illness can be found. But once the son is fit to come home, the Swinton's are faced with the problem of having two children, both fighting over the attention of their mother, one blinded by jealousy, the other blinded by love. Once the mother has abandoned David in the words, the film moves into act two, in which the brightness and optimism of act one slowly becomes a darker and more mechanical pessimism. The climax of act one shows us that it is human error that is causing the problems in society, whereas the parents abandon David because of his failings, because he is a robot, the robots continue the function, because they are programmed to regardless of what happens.

It is from this that the Pinocchio quest begins, and Spielberg expertly draws parallels with the story of the wooden boy searching for the blue fairy to make him real, with the story of a Robotic boy trapped in the same situation. This also helps set up the conscience of the film, in the character of Teddy, a supper toy. It's no surprise that Spielberg (and Kubrick) decided on the Pinocchio element, because David is programmed to think like a child, and it is only natural that he would identify his very real situation with something more aching to fantasy, something that Freud believed in strongly. Children watch cartoons and read fairytales because they give the child hope; it's also a way of telling very dark stories in a lighter way. The use of Pinocchio is a clever devise as the story is really a metaphor for coming of age, and loss of innocence, which is what is at the forefront of A.I. This loss of innocence also sets up the character of Gigolo Joe (Law), a pleasure robot who joins David on his quest, a character who fills David in on the ways of Human law and their feelings about robot kind. When Joe and David find themselves rounded up at the flesh fair, act two takes on a much darker tone. It is here that we get the first look at human error in its fullest form, as robots are slaughtered for the entertainment of humans. It is only after one human believes David to be a real boy that pandemonium breaks out, the message being that the humans are only interested in their own kind. As David and Joe quest to Rouge City to find the blue fairy, the origins of David become more clear, and it is only when we begin to make sense of the whole situation that the film spirals into a third act that comes right out of nowhere.

David, with the knowledge that he is not the original he thought he was, lies at the bottom of the ocean for two thousand years, his blue fairy a statue at a fairytale amusement park, flooded like the rest of Manhattan. It is here that Spielberg's film takes a bizarre turn that it almost doesn't recover from. The sight of the alien beings subtracts the humanity of David's quest, taking away the humanity he had developed over the course of the film. This is also the part of the film that is so obviously trying to be 2001: A Space Odyssey, as the aliens recreate David's adopted home, and give him the chance to see his mother once again is almost like Bowman travelling through the star gate and finding himself in the huge house. But it is from this that we must remember that David is a child, that one day with his mother is worth more than anything else to him, and it is also important to think of the possibility that the entire third act could be taking place in David's imagination, as he lies at the bottom of the ocean, slowly shutting down due to the harsh conditions. This would explain the almost fairytale reprise of the narrator (Ben Kingsley), and the strong sentiment of David's perfect day. A lot of people have expressed great hatred to this ending, words like schmaltzy and copout have been thrown around, and it only highlights a noticeable parallel between them, and the humans of A.I., have audiences become so nihilistic that they root for a child (admittedly a robotic child) to be destroyed, and to have his wish go unfulfilled. The ending of the film beautifully nurtures the notion of undying, unconditional love between parent and child, as David's dream of a lifetime with his mother has been granted, even if it means he must lay in the bed for another two-thousand years. A.I. may be an odd hybrid, and it may not have been the film that Kubrick envisioned, but it is definitely a greatly underrated film that has been criticized by talent-less critics who have no real ammo to back up their argument.
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The Keep (1983)
I have two words for this film… But they're unprintable
16 March 2002
Rubber Monsters, poor acting and eighties pop-promo visuals are the only thing you'll take away from this miss-step from acclaimed director Michael Mann. The Keep, as others have said, had the potential to be something original and hauntingly atmospheric, well there is at least an atmosphere, but as for originality, well the film reeks of cheap rate, straight to video schlock for the eighties dungeons and dragons crowd. The acting is for the most part terrible, and coming from respected actors like Gabriel Byrne, Jurgen Prochnow and Ian McKellen is a great insult. Mann was obviously far to wrapped up in his slow motion, foggy photography that he failed to notice he had actors, not to mention the terrible continuity errors, a point in the film when a whip-pan shows us a little too much of the assistant director, the floppy dummy human that bends as he flies through the air and a needlessly explicit sex scene halfway though. I don't even want to start on the rubber monster that shows up at the end, are we supposed to be scared? Well I was scared, scared by the sight of how many people rate this as a good film. The Keep not only bores me, but also disappoints me, I also feel a sense of anger by the fact that I spent good money on this film, which must have been an anger Paramount was feeling at the time of the Keep's release. This is one movie that should have been sealed within the walls of the fortress and never released, a film so bad that no amount of slick photography (DOP Alex Thomson ironically calls the film an embarrassment) can make up for this failure. The Keep, keep it away.
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Wonderland (1999)
The best British film I've seen in a long time
10 March 2002
One of the major problems with being a film fan, or a British film fan for that matter, is the deep sense of embarrassment whenever a new British film is released, because it's almost always bad. But alas, this is not the case with Michael Winterbottom's fascinating Wonderland. Here Winterbottom has gone back to the roots of the Ken Loach, Mike Leigh genre of kitchen-sink drama, crossing it with the narrative feel of Robert Altman, and the free-from style of Lars von Trier, creating in the process a new and deeply affecting tale of three south London sister over the course of one weekend (three days). The great thing about this is, briefly, for the course of the film anyway, British cinema has it's own identity. The BIG brit films of the last few years have all been tired American knock-offs, from Guy Ritchie's pathetic lock-stock and Snatch, to the empty romanticised views depicted in films like Four Wedding and Notting Hill. Wonderland gives an authentic view of London, without the glamour but with much more pathos, and fully developed characters.

The ensemble cast of rising character actors are perfectly put together, they may not be familiar to some audiences even in the UK, but the work of the three female leads, McKee, Parker and Henderson are given fine support from the men, Ian Hart, John Simm and David Fahm. The cinema-verite style gives the film a strong realism, making some the more depressing scenes almost un-watchable, but Winterbottom and writer Laurence Coriat should be commended for trying something different within the confines of the ever-predictable British Film Industry (™). It sadness me that this film is so underrated, whilst average films like Billy Elliot gather a barrage of Oscar and Bafta nominations, I don't remember Wonderland getting a mention. This is by far the best British film I've seen in a long time, not a perfect film by any means, one flaw would be that some of the characters are pushed to the background, never getting a chance to fully shine, but a film this good is a rare thing. See it now you won't regret it. 9/10
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Barry Lyndon (1975)
As with all Kubrick movies we're dealing with a cold, detached story of a man searching for his own identity.
2 March 2002
Very much a film of two halves, the first chronicling the rise of Redmond Barry, and the second dealing with the fall of the now appointed Barry Lyndon. This is a similar structure device applied by Kubrick, notably in A Clockwork Orange and later in Full Metal Jacket, both of which depicted the long development process of an individual at odds with his society and surroundings. The parallels between Barry, Alex and Private Joker are staggering, from the cynicism and underhanded intelligence, they each, somehow manipulated their way from common rogue, to a character with reasonable standing within the structural society of the film.

The second Act is by far the strongest part of the film, because it is by this stage that we begin to feel empathy for Barry, but it is also the part of the film, which differs greatly from those other Kubrick masterpieces. For example, A Clockwork Orange showed our hero return to his murderous ways, cured by the state that originally imprisoned him for his crimes, whereas Full Metal Jacket showed the platoon soldier on, in both instances we got the impression that the film may be over for us but the characters had a long way to go. This isn't the case with Barry Lyndon. Although it may be argued that Barry's "luck of the Irish" lifestyle may still have some excitement left in it, there is the feeling that we have all ready been privy to the best part, that no matter what happens next for him will not reach the same unbelievable fortune and misfortune that has followed him through the course of the film.

Kubrick plays with notions of loyalty, love, power, deceit, war, honesty and nobility with Barry Lyndon, never allowing the film to flag or become tiresome. As much a film of technicality as it is performance (as with all Kubrick), it was to be the film that would set the visual staple for subsequent period films The Dualists, Dangerous Liaisons and Amadeus. Kubrick's approach to filming in Barry Lyndon is like filming renaissance paintings, employing the long zoom in's/zoom out's to show us the necessary information, never merely cutting away to an object. This is so rare nowadays, with cuts in films getting quicker and quicker, Kubrick manages to condense everything of importance of those times (fashion, architecture, music) and fill every corner of the frame, and the recurring theme of Handel's Sarabande is hauntingly evocative.

The performances are strong, given Kubrick's standing as a visual film-maker, with Ryan O' Neil giving a fine performance, along with Leonard Rossiter, Patrick Magee, Marisa Berenson, and Leon Vitali ensures that acting is of the same calibre as the cinematography, and O' Neil giving the standout of his career (even with the accent). An overwhelmingly beautiful film that should rank amongst Kubrick's greatest, which has somewhere along the lines been sadly forgotten. With a deep emotion and wonderful moments, Kubrick's film version of Barry Lyndon has that rare power to restore the love of film-making to any jaded film fan. 10/10
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Akira (1988)
Animated fantasy that offers philosophy, politics and ultra-violence
24 February 2002
Although I went through a short faze of watching a lot of anime movies in my early teens, very few of them actually have had a lasting effect on me, with the exception of Akira. Akira is a twisted cyber-punk thriller that in terms of visuals defies belief, but in plot defies proper explanation. It's the kind of film in which everyone has a different opinion about the story and of the relationship between Tetsuo and Kanneda and the role that the government play in Tetsuo's downfall. Most people are put off by animation, believing it will either be all out Disney sentimentality, of sex and gore packed Manga, people refuse to understand that animation can be used to tell stories for an adult sensibility. Akira has so much story and so many sub-plots all clambering for attention that multiple viewing are required, and it's definitely worth it just to get the most out of the rich characters and consideration to detail that the animators put into every frame.

There is a strong emotional pull to the characters in this film, a much deeper side to them, deeper than you would find in traditional live action films, in which the characters not only demonstrate the language and fashion of the world they live in, but also help transmit much needed information as part of exposition within dialog. It's important to look carefully at what the characters say, and to make a mental note of it, as it all comes back at the end of the film. The focus of the film, as I pointed out above, id the friendship between Tetsuo and Kanneda, both are the complete opposite side of a connected personality that come into direct conflict at the climax of the film, and each one has qualities that the audience can identify with. For example, Tetsuo being the doormat to Kanneda's fearless leader, knowing that he will never escape from his shadow. We also have the three mysterious children who try to point Tetsuo in the right direction, their faces withered and old. These are characters whose function is clear, but whose past I still don't fully understand.

In the final act the film kicks into another gear, bringing into play ideas of morality and loyalty, and the more political aspects of dehumanisation and military control. It also depicts the kind of body-horror mutation that would make David Cronenberg proud, as Tetsuo's body begins to mutate into something more resembling his state of mind. Again throughout the story we are gripped and the way in which the animation is used, I just can praise highly enough. Ultimately the film says more than we can answer, leaving the audience (well me anyway) scratching our collective heads. But that's not really a problem, and it wasn't the last time I've been left cold by a film I enjoyed. Don't be put off by the fact that this is anime, the deep story and characters make Akira a rewarding experience, and a definite landmark in science fiction cinema. 10/10
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Showed early promise but nowhere near masterpiece status.
24 February 2002
The first successful film from Dutch provocateur Paul Verhoeven, famous for of course Robocop and Basic Instinct (and infamous for Showgirls) is a small scale, human relationship drama that not only established the careers of Verhoeven and start Rutget Hauer but signalled the new wave for the Dutch film industry. However Turks Fruit is nothing more than the Dutch Love Story, as moody artist Eric (Hauer) falls in love with Olga (Monique van de Ven) after the young lady pick him up from the side of a motorway. The film is littered with so much bawdy humour I'm sure Benny Hill was kicking himself somewhere for not thinking of it, in one particular cringe inducing scene Eric gets himself caught in the zip of his pants, the couple then has to drive around franticly to find a set of pliers. I'm sure this kind of schoolboy theatrics played well to the Dutch polo-neck brigade, but as the film shifts into more serious territory the humour only deflates any building melodrama that Verhoeven was probably shooting for.

Another problem with the film is Hauer's character Eric; he's too much of a chauvinist and bully, not only towards Olga, but even more so to the numerous women he sleeps with after she has left (You're fat is just one example of his pillow talk). We never feel anything for him, not that Hauer isn't good in the role he plays it very well, but playing butch carefree characters has never been too much of a stretch for him. Van de Ven is impressive as the liberated Olga, and she would go on to give another fine performance in Keetje Tippel, but she is used too much like an object and never really becomes likable enough. Definitely a product of its time, the sexual revolution was noticeably in full swing, as Eric goes from woman to woman without a seconds though about the consequences. It's this dating that also detracts from the film. Whatever Verhoeven was trying to say about relationships, and the constant power play between men and women, he just doesn't get the balance right. All in all, Turks Fruit is an impressive early feature that tries to belie it's exploitation roots and to become series storytelling just a little too late in the game. 6/10
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Funny Face (1957)
Slight in plot and not nearly interesting enough
24 February 2002
Although it constitutes as enjoyable Sunday afternoon entertainment, Funny Face has hardly enough going on for it in terms of script and plot. The film is something of a stretch at two hours, even though I never remember checking my watch, but I just never felt the relationship between Astaire and Hepburn was entirely believable, and the whole of the final act seemed rushed, as if the filmmakers were grabbing for straws. Being directed by the great Stanley Donen, the visuals and the musical numbers, notably the bonjour Paris number had a required visual pop, and were a complete joy to watch. I wouldn't rate Funny Face too high, perhaps a 5, maybe 6/10 at a push, and it is worth watching, just don't expect too much from it.
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Out of Sight (1998)
Although it saw a step down for Soderbergh, there is no accounting for the subtle brilliance of this film.
23 February 2002
Steven Soderbergh began the nineties hotly tipped as the next big thing, largely down to his debut film Sex, Lies & Videotape. But Soderbergh decided that his films would not be mere Hollywood pap, that he would take that success and put his name to smaller, more personal projects. Oh dear! The result was two of the most underrated films of the last decade, Kafka, and King of the Hill. Following those set backs, and the wildly different Schizopolis Soderbergh began to make his way back to the mainstream, and although some would hail his new Hollywood movies as remarkable, I would argue that they in-fact show a step down for the director. And the first step was out of sight.

Based on Elmore Leonard's novel, it's easy to see how drab the film would have been were it not for Soderbergh's unique story framing, and the chemistry between Clooney and Lopez. But it's hard to watch the film and not pick up on the subtle points in which Soderbergh is trying too hard to be Tarantino. Tarantino was of course the director that had made the most fuss on the independent circuit following Soderbergh with Reservoir Dogs, and he himself probably saw ripping of the Pulp Fiction helmer a safe bet for success. Foreshadowing what would follow with the seventies homage The Limey, Julia Robert's Oscar vehicle Erin Brockovich, and useless issue flick Traffic, Out of Sight showed a new Soderbergh, a Soderbergh all to ready to become the one-trick pony, using the same flash-back structure and jump-cut rhythm in all his subsequent films and sacrificing his once great talent.

Out of Sight however, is early enough in the scheme of things to still count as a great picture. The script is sharp and fast, and Soderbergh's loose direction fits the theme of the film. Jennifer Lopez had not yet become that annoying cardboard singer J-LO, whilst Clooney manages to get through the film without a squint from under his brow. There's also fine support from Don Cheadle, Albert Brooks, Ving Rhames, Nancy Allen and the very funny Steve Zahn. Add to that the excellent photography from Elliot Davis and you have a great romantic caper. Sadly, at date of writing this is Soderbergh's last great film. 8/10
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Although Stone fudges the Issue, it's still a very relevant one
23 February 2002
As I pointed out in my comments for the highly overrated Man Bites Dog, the idea of a motion picture attacking the media for sensationalising violence is not only morally questionable, but also a harsh contradiction. Films are also a form of media product, and the thought of a film-maker allowed free reign to depict violence as explicitly as he/she wants in the name of satire seems like a misjudgement on the part of that particular film maker, just how far can they go before their attack on exploitative violence becomes exploitative violence in its self. And that is one of the issues with Natural Born Killers. The idea of Natural Born Killers, or at least the idea that Oliver Stone brought to the table when he took over the project, is the public's fascination with fame, and just how far would someone go to get their fifteen minutes. Although Stone's visual style contradicts his own ideas, filming the proceedings with an almost comic depiction of violence (bullet point of views and sitcom formatted incest are all scored to cheesy Tom & Jerry style music) his message and intent seems much more (self) important. We've seen a barrage of reality TV shows and so-called docu-soaps of late (and I keep coming back to this), focusing on a whole host of boring individuals clowning in front of the camera believing they are saying something so important that we (the audience) should be hanging on their every word.

But that's the problem, shows like Big Brother, Temptation Island, and in the UK shows like Reps and Pop Idol promote the message that everyone, no matter how un-talented and boring should be given the chance to go out into every living room in the nation. They also show just how willing the public are to humiliate themselves on these programmes, Pop Idol for instance showed us some of the most desperate bunch of losers ever seen, people where actually turned away on the grounds that they were too ugly, and they accepted that. And then we have a show like Reps, which follows a group of club reps at a holiday resort aboard. The stars of the show are a bunch of common losers, who spew foulmouthed obscenities amongst a hail of vomit and alcohol, not to mention every single young person exposing themselves to the camera. Now I may sound like I'm over-reacting, but this sort of thing only promotes not only a negative review of that person, but also the decline of television entertainment and as some would say, the decline of civilization (ok, that one does go a little far).

That's the issue at hand with Natural Born Killers, that people buy this kind of garbage, that people are actually interested in the lives of a bunch of drop-outs, who, although a sad fact, will never do any thing of use with their lives again, ever. And that is what culminates at the climax of Natural Born Killers, as the audience sits mortified by the idea of a televised riot in which respected news journalists get involved with the killing. Like I said, Stone doesn't do the greatest job of promoting this issue, because as I also pointed out, the entire notion of film condemning television is a pot/kettle scenario, they two go hand in hand. But thank god for a film maker who is not afraid to kick-up a storm. Stone doesn't give the audience any easy answers, nor does he make the viewing experience all that relaxing. Black & white footage is crosscut with colour, video spliced with film, 16mm with 35mm, animation and digital effects, each, not only signify a change over in the character mentality, but also a strange channel surfing feeling, never allowing the viewer to settle in one place.

I think I've already used up far too much room, on what would appear to be another useless diatribe as I try to summaries this challenging piece of work. Although not entirely successful, and it does raise far to many moral issues that it can handle, Natural Born Killers is still a fresh and daring film, that should be seen in it's Director's cut format, for the interested only. 7/10
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Man Bites Dog (1992)
Immature and vulgar black comedy that thinks it's saying something of relevance.
23 February 2002
Warning: Spoilers

Many films have tried to attack the media for it's seeking out of violent and exploitative stories with complete disregard for the victim's feelings, and very few of them have actually succeeded. Last year saw the release of 15 Minutes, which to me was nothing more than jumped up entertainment, the age-old scenario of pot calling kettle. Before that we had Oliver Stone force-feeding us his message with Natural Born Killers, which to this day is still the most effective of the cycle. But before any of those films (not to mention Michael Haneke's Funny Games, which I haven't seen) there was Man Bites Dog. An immature and decidedly vulgar little film that so badly wishes it was saying something important under it's guise of sick social satire and supposed black comedy that it's as painfully obvious as the poor acting of the lead. The film is nothing more than a badly made student film, supposedly a mock documentary about a group of film-makers who follow around a serial killer? I'm sorry, but I don't buy the plot at all, are we supposed to be shocked later in the film, when the film makers begin to actively take part in Benny's murders, because if they where such good human beings to begin with they wouldn't passively stand by and watch him murder women and children. If the character's were journalists maybe I could have understood this, but no, there was never any mention of journalism made that I picked up on. This film is nothing more than a bad joke, committed against moviegoers who take this rubbish seriously. Not only a waste of film, but a waste of time for anyone who watches it. 2/10, and that's just for the black and white photography.
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Vertigo (1958)
Must we all fall before we awake?
23 February 2002
Warning: Spoilers

The problem with Vertigo, is that it's neither one thing nor the other, unable to decide what it wants to be. We open as a detective story, an American detective story, as there is never a trace of noir, but slightly removed from reality, more so than the usual detective story, in a way that everything about the world in which the characters inhabit has an odd sanitised look and feeling, as though there is never any real danger around the corner. The same thing could easily be applied to Hitchcock's other classic Rear Window, in which besides from the ominous threat of the man across the way, we never had any other worry for L.B. Jeffries. In Vertigo the lead character is Scottie Ferguson (James Stuart), a detective hired by an old friend to keep a trace on his wife who he believes has been acting irrationally. Scottie obliges, but pretty soon begins to develop an unhealthy obsession with the woman. Hitchcock masterfully layers his subtexts and dreamscapes into his dense visuals, but the crux of the story only becomes more misguided. We are torn somewhere between detective story and avant-garde psychological drama.

The plot becomes more complex as we move along, with the kind of twist a-minute scenarios that modern audiences have come to expect, as Scottie is lead deeper into a web of mystery and deceit he has no chance of controlling. There are many varying interpretations of Vertigo, most of which only thicken the plot more. There is of course the irrational idea that Scottie dies during the opening leap across the building, or that he is fatally wounded, and the entire film unfolds like a dream, rapidly becoming a nightmare, but this variation only makes the ending of the film seem flawed. For this to work, the dénouement would need to be less vague, although the idea of the nun brings a nice touch about Scottie confronting his faith, and his run up the steps of the tower becoming an almost allegorical riff on the old stairway to heaven motif, as the wounded Scottie slips from this world into death. But like I said, it only raises unnecessary complications. This idea also fails to give insight into Scottie's mental breakdown, if this is a dream, or some kind of life or death situation, then what would be the point of it.

Hitchcock's imagery is as much a part of the film as the complex plot, as I mentioned before his composition and iconography layers false dreams and false realities, within the subconscious of the character. Is it Scotties point of view we are seeing or Madeleine/Judy (Kim Novak)? We are never sure of anything in the world of Vertigo, so we the audience must create our own false realities behind the film, to lull us into thinking we have a grasp on the proceedings, but we never fully will. This is were the dream logic comes into play, the idea that we never fully awake from a dream until we fall, much like Judy's character at the end of the film, have we been viewing the proceeding through her eyes? Who knows, much like a dream, Vertigo is a film that will never be understood, and despite some minor nagging flaws, it's better to just enjoy it whilst it lasts.
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O' Lordy, I do declare
23 February 2002
Ok, so that is not a direct quote from Gone with the Wind, I allowed myself a little creative free reign. Now, first things first, I'm not the kind of person who believes that, just because some one says a film is a classic, necessarily mean that it is a classic. I don't know, maybe to everyone else in the world, Gone with the Wind is the greatest motion picture ever made, it may just be something someone my age doesn't understand, or as Prince put it, a Sign O' the times. To me, Gone with the Wind looked like nothing more than a four-hour version of Dallas, spliced with Day of our Lives, directed by Ed Wood's older brother (if you could imagine such a thing). Meaning that the plot was so threadbare and self-important that it really did bring to mind actual scenes from Dallas, and the colours of the film were so bright and sludgy (probably down to the primitive colour printing of the time) that it was hard to make out objects clearly. The acting was hardly exemplary either, Vivien Leigh tried her best, but the character of Scarlett is one of the most obnoxious, self-obsessed, empty headed character to ever grace the screen, to get an idea of just how bad she is, let's just say she wouldn't be to far out of place in an episode of Beverly Hills 90210. As for Rhett Butler, well he's a brutish man's man, who has no other characterisation other that the fact that he is Clark Gable and no one else, there is no other shimmer of a character lurking beneath the surface. There are a couple of key memorable moments in the film, but besides the famous scenes that everyone knows fluently without ever having seen the film, nothing much happens, especially towards the end. There is also a crass racism to the film, notably in the character Mammy, probably the mentality of the times, but it is surprising producer Selznick didn't just cast a white actor and black the up with boot polish. Now I am not the kind of person who attacks classic (or so-called classic) films just to get attention, I really do enjoy most classic films, but Gone with the Wind is just to badly dated to even register as anything above average.
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Freaks (1932)
I may never watch this film again
23 February 2002
Not because it's a bad film, it's probably one of THE greatest films ever made, but the reason I may never watch this film again is because of how disturbing I found it first time round. I was about 15 or 16 at the time and I'd never seen a film before 1940, let alone a film of this magnitude. Yet it's hardly ever talked about, that's the hallmark of a great film, if it can still be as challenging in this day and age as it was when first released nearly seventy years ago then the film obviously has something very few films have. I too was thinking for most of the film how they achieved those mind blowing special effects, it's only when you realise that the effects are very real that the film takes on an entirely new dimension. You cannot hide behind the façade of the special effects (something that is killing modern movies) you have to accept the film on it's own grounds. Tod Browning did a fantastic job with the groundbreaking work that really needs to be seen. In defence of the comment that stated, `you have to be a freak to like freaks', well then I guess I am a freak, because I think this film is remarkable. But it will be quite a while before I decide to watch it again. 10/10
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Rear Window (1954)
Hitchcock challenges the audience to put themselves in the picture.
21 February 2002
The great thing about Rear Window, as others have probably pointed out much better than I can, is the fact that Hitchcock challenges the audience to look at themselves and make the decision of just how far are we, to some extent, the voyeur. We spend our entire lives watching other people's lives unfold before us on some kind of screen or other, and with the recent explosion in reality based TV shows, the lines between entertainment and exploitation are becoming increasingly blurred. And Rear Window is one of the few films of this cycle to actual make an interesting point. Hitchcock uses the environment of the protagonist L.B. Jeffries (his cramped apartment) and never allows us to leave, so we see the entire film evolve from our hero's eyes, helping us identify more. This is also an important devise, as it means that we the audience are only given privilege to the same information that Jeffries has. Hitchcock creates an atmosphere and a tension that lasts for ever, right up to the very last minute, never giving the audience an opportunity to breath, we're in the same position that James Stuart's character is in and for a moment, because Hitchcock has so expertly put us in that position we can suspend disbelief and almost feel what he is going through. If anyone ever has any doubts as to what a talented director Hitchcock was, then immediately point them in the direction of Rear Window. One of the greatest films ever made. 10/10
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Unbelievably enjoyable fantasy, but slightly empty in its subtext
20 February 2002
Although highly entertaining, and with an impeccable visual style, the follow-up from Jeunet & Caro, the creators of Delicatessen, never really gives the viewer anything to think about. It unfolds before us like a fairytale, and before it's said anything lasting it's ended. It's hard to go into any aesthetic connotation the film might have, because in my opinion it doesn't have any. The visuals are there purely to create a bizarre atmosphere, there is never any great thought into mise-en-scene, the composition might trick viewers into thinking that the ideology behind the framing has some deep message, but it doesn't. But that doesn't mean the film isn't enjoyable, it has an interesting and imaginative story, concerning a scientist who is unable to dream, kidnapping children so he can steal theirs, and also has some delightfully abstract performances from the likes of Ron Perlman, Dominique Pinon, and the young Judith Vittet. Not to mention Darius Khondji's cinematography (everything the man has lit has been beautiful) and unique production design and Angelo Badalamenti's evocative score. Don't get me wrong the film is very good, just in an empty kind of way, and you can't help but feel cheated when you think of how wonderful a film like Delicatessen is. Perhaps the bigger budget sent directors Jeunet & Caro crazy, as the film could have certainly done with a little restraint. Anyway, it may not be in the same league of Delicatessen, but City of Lost Children still has more beauty and imagination than any American/British film I can think of at this moment, and is worth seeing just for the opening Santa Clause dream, which is truly haunting. 8/10
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RoboCop (1987)
"Dead or alive, you're coming with me"
19 February 2002
Warning: Spoilers

It may have been produced purely to capitalize on the success of that other eighties cyborg cult-hit The Terminator, but Robocop still manages to not only thrill, but also entertain. I use the word still, but to be honest, I only saw the film really for the first time today (I got the Director's cut DVD today for my birthday), so I have no idea what people though of it when it first came out, I know it must have been big business as it necessitated two crap sequels and two TV spin offs (one animated, one live action). I also remember the kids at my high school talking about it every time it was show on television the night before, I was once lucky enough to see one of those screenings, but sadly for me, it was edited for TV. Which made watching Verhoeven's gore splattered director's cut toady a real eye opening experience. Where as in the TV version, say for example Murphy's (Peter Weller) death scene, we saw some guns go off, heard a couple of comedic one-liners, then wee saw a body hit the floor. So, for the rest of the film, we had no idea what kind of agony Murphy went through, so therefore, we are unable to feel enough of a connection with him to get more out of the film. But seeing the character of Murphy destroyed by shotgun blast in the un-cut version, his limbs torn from his body, the laughs and now menacing one-liners, only made Robocop's struggle all the more moving as the film reached it's third act.

That's always been my problem with the censor board, they are all to willing to have guns, being fired and people being killed, but we're not allowed to see the actual effect that a gun can do to a human body. So we get films like the Matrix, in which fifty people are killed (by the hero I might add) being deemed suitable for young teenagers, and that's fine, as long as we don't see the consequences of a violent act. Then, conversely we can have a film like Natural Born Killers, which was held back from distribution and brought-up all kinds of political debates, as to whether or not the film was dangerous, all because Oliver Stone was brave enough to show the effect that violent crimes have on people, maybe if he didn't do the greatest job with said material, he was still persecuted for a film in which, although about killers, had less people killed than in the Matrix. And this is a problem that has followed Verhoeven throughout his career. Admittedly, sometimes the violence in his films can be exploitative, like for example Star-ship Troopers, but in Robocop the violence is completely justified, as it's from that unforgiving violent act that the story is developed.

Judging from Robocop, they should really let euro art-house directors make Hollywood blockbusters more often. Paul Verhoeven, then better know for his Dutch art films Turkish Delight, Soldier of Orange and The 4th Man, not only heightens the dramatic impact of the characters, but also the harsh social critique directed at America. The film not only looks at the problems with capitalization if big business, the privatisation of the police force, and the growing consciousness of the mass media, it also has a strong message about the triumph of the soul. How many blockbusters would even attempt to pick-up on any of those issues, few I can think of. A truly underrated film from the eighties cycle of violent action. 8/10
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