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Laurence Fishburne and Keanu Reeves, The Matrix

The Matrix

Who has not seen The Matrix? It’s the Gone with the Wind and Star Wars of our era, a phantasmagoria in black leather open to multiple readings that was already being described as mind-bending and complex before it even debuted. From this distance it all seems as clear as water – Mr Anderson (Keanu Reeves), a disaffected slacker/hacker is invited to visit another plane of awareness, from which vantage point he can see that the plane he once inhabited, what he thought of as the “real” world, is in fact a construct, assembled by a computer program. Strip away the program and in the real “real world” humans are being grown in tanks … Read more
Mena Suvari in American Beauty

American Beauty

    London theatre director Sam Mendes’s debut as a movie director has been treated by some critics as if it were a missive from the gods. Perhaps it was the opening scene which showed Kevin Spacey jerking off in the shower which did it for them – so bold, so adult. The film locks straight in to a long line of suburban dystopian drama and hangs its story off the jowls of Spacey, playing the worm that turned, the comfortable middle-class corporate Joe who chucks it all in for the easy release of drugs and sex after he becomes infatuated with his daughter’s best friend (Mena Suvari). His wife, meanwhile, is filling … Read more
Thandie Newton and Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible II

Mission: Impossible II

Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is back, tasked with saving the world from a dastardly villain intent on unleashing a deadly virus – cackle, preen. The “this time it’s personal” angle comes from the fact that the villain is a former Impossible-ist himself, and also the former lover of the woman Mr Hunt is now in love with. You’d have thought it a mission impossible to make a duff sequel to Brian De Palma’s all-action 1996 movie with the fine ingredients assembled here. For starters there’s the $125m budget and Cruise, still one of the biggest stars in the world (he earned $60m+ for this). Then there’s the damsel in distress, Thandie Newton, a … Read more
Chloe Pirrie in Shell

8 July 2013-07-08

  Out in the UK This Week   Shell (Verve, cert 15, Blu-ray-DVD) This is a hell of a feature debut for director Scott Graham, whose eye for poetic desolation is the key feature of his drama about a lonely girl working at a struggling petrol station in the Scottish Highlands. Graham’s camera dotes on Chloe Pirrie, who has one of those faces that can flash from knowingly beautiful one second to fairly ordinary the next, depending on how much wattage its owner is generating. Shell is a simple, succinct drama with the tension of a thriller – is our heroine going to do something stupid with one of the rare regulars whose … Read more
Lou Diamond Phillips

Malevolent

      Some films aspire no further than cliché. Though when your eyes fall across the cover of this DVD in your local Blockbuster, the name “Lou Diamond Phillips” splashed all over it as if to say, “Look, quality”, you already know that. Here he’s joined by a fellow gaurantor of something not very good, Kari Wuhrer (nothing too wrong with her acting, she just knows how to pick them). LDP is effectively playing Jim Rockford, a hapless cop with a Seventies sedan whose buddy and mother are both dead. Into this already familiar scenario comes Edoardo Ballerini as a James Mason-style effete/motherloving English villain who is E-V-I-L and, this being a … Read more
Daniel Cosgrove in They Crawl

They Crawl

    Yes, They Nest was a stupid film, but it did at least have a couple of very good squirmy moments – stuff we felt if not privileged to have seen, then at least slightly sickened by. They Crawl, I’m sad to report, doesn’t. Close reading of the credits reveals no connection in terms of cast and crew (not even SFX or stunts) between the two films, meaning there’s just a personal pronoun in common, just the They. And insects, of course. However, They Crawl does hit us with two recognisable names – Tone Loc and Mickey Rourke. But fans of the Funky Cold Medina star and the one-time contender who went … Read more
Peter Sarsgaard and Amanda Seyfried in Lovelace

Lovelace

    Amanda Seyfried has a spectacular rack and, gents, you get plenty of it in this biopic about Linda Lovelace the 1970s deep throat queen who unwittingly did more than most to make porn legit. Amanda Seyfried… rack… unwittingly. Those are the key words from that sentence and of this film, a well made, deeply period piece that would have us believe that it’s on the side of the unwitting, naïve Bronx Catholic girl born Linda Boreman – who went on to become the star of Deep Throat, the first porn film to screen in mainstream theatres – while all the time devoting 90 per cent of screen time, and 99 per cent … Read more
Former executioner Anwar Congo

The Act of Killing

  “For killing people trousers should be thick,” says Anwar, the “star” and chief exhibit in this bizarre documentary. He’s the retired head executioner of an Indonesian death squad reliving his glory days garrotting hundreds if not thousands of “communists” (ie anyone in the way) with a piece of thick wire in the mid 1960s. And though now knocking on a bit he shows us how he did it, in the place he did it, a cement yard out the back of what looks like a restaurant. Bizarre though this is, there is more to come, because what the makers of this film have done – not sure if it was their idea … Read more
Elijah Wood in Maniac

1 July 2013-07-01

Out in the UK This Week       Maniac (Metrodome, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD) Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur, the writers of Switchblade Romance, one of the most heart-pounding horror films of recent years, swing bloodily back to form with a remake of a 1980 slasher which takes lovely gentle Frodo (Elijah Wood), casts him as a Norman Bates-style homicidal mother’s boy and then sets director Franck Khalfoun to work filming his exploits as if from the killer’s point of view. Result: another brilliant horror film, touches of Silence of the Lambs, House of Wax, with an electropop sound that just makes it all the grimmer. Maniac – at Amazon   Cloud Atlas … Read more
Bruno Todeschini and Vincent Perez in Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train

Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train

    A bunch of reasonably familiar French faces (Charles Berling, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi among them) all get together in a talky French Big Chill sort of affair, concerned with the interaction of lots of individuals, as was director Patrice Chéreau’s recent Queen Margot. Though here we’re in the present day and Chéreau’s characters are  heading off to the funeral of one of their number, a bisexual painter (Trintignant, who also plays his own brother) who’s had them all, one way or another. And they’re on the train, as his will commanded – he’s controlling them in death as he did in life. En route they expose themselves and each other, to their … Read more
Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowsk in Stoker

24 June 2013-06-24

Out in the UK This Week   Stoker (Fox, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD) Park Chan-Wook – of Oldboy fame – makes his English language debut with a visually, sonically, thematically accomplished film that seems to be trying to get as many varieties of gothic horror assembled in one place as possible. Mia Wasikowska delivers another of inscrutably cool Alice-like performance as a young girl whose lovely daddy has just died mysteriously. And before Daddy’s body is even cold he’s been replaced in the affections of her blowsy mother (Nicole Kidman, looking just a touch Wildensteinian these days) by her uncle (enter, eyes rolling, tongue lolling, Matthew Goode). Park references Night of the Hunter, Shadow … Read more
Ewan McGregor in The Serpent's Kiss

The Serpent’s Kiss

    A treatise on order and chaos, propriety and lust, hidden inside the convoluted, if a bit TV-ish, story of Meneer Chrome (Ewan McGregor), an 18th-century Dutch (or is he?) landscape gardener. Chrome has been employed to refashion and tame the herbaceous borders of bumptious self-made Thomas Smithers (Pete Postlethwaite) and in the process bankrupt him and seize his bride (Greta Scacchi), if the plans of dastardly fop James Fitzmaurice (Richard E. Grant) bear fruit. This lace-cuffed fol-de-rol of a Sunday afternoon movie is the directorial debut of Oscar-winning cameraman Philippe Rousselot and it doesn’t suffer from bad looks. It also has its odd sly, dry moment – though there are only so … Read more

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