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Jack O'Connell and Tim Roth in The Liability

The Liability

Starting great but ending merely good, this British thriller full of deadpan laughs is sexy, nasty and features two great actors, Tim Roth and Peter Mullan. It even boasts a starmaking performance by Jack O’Connell as The Liability. The genre is announced before the opening credits, as a man in a car parked somewhere bleak but lit with the rainbow palette of an acolyte of Christopher Doyle is gruesomely garrotted from the rear passenger seat by someone we never see. Except it isn’t. The genre we thought it was, I mean. Cut to Adam (Jack O’Connell) a total dipstick who has borrowed his mum’s boyfriend’s C Class Mercedes and is razzing it up … Read more
Christopher Walken surveys his kingdom in King of New York

King of New York

I used to work at a magazine and would get a lot of DVDs in for review purposes. King of New York was the one that really got all my co-workers misty eyed. They started quoting lines from the script, remembering the best bit of the film, asking me if I could have the disc after I’d finished with it. No wonder. It’s a hugely influential piece of work and you can see its impact on almost every mob drama since. It was made when Christopher Walken was in his pomp, here he plays the self-styled King, a classically ruthless gang boss with a strangely benevolent streak, a man who tries, in his … Read more
Emil Jannings and Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel

The Blue Angel

This is the film that made Marlene Dietrich a household scandal back in 1930. It’s the story of how a pompous but respectable schoolteacher is lured on to the rocks by Lola-Lola, the nightclub singer in a Weimar-era club who can’t help “Falling in Love Again” (which Dietrich sings here). Poor Emil Jannings, who played the professor, thought he was the star of the film – as well he might since he’d won the Best Actor Oscar the year before, at the very first Academy Awards. He resisted director Von Sternberg’s choice of Dietrich, then a nobody, as the temptress. Von Sternberg had discovered her acting in a stage play quite by accident. … Read more
Sean Connery in Finding Forrester

Finding Forrester

A young ghetto kid (Rob Brown) breaks into the local recluse’s house only to discover it’s his literary hero, an author whose one novel has been followed by nothing except a mysterious silence for 40 years. The gruff old codger doesn’t bark at the kid and send him on his way. Nor does he shoot him with the gun he keeps on his bedside table. He doesn’t do either of these things because we’re in master-and-protégé territory, a fact which director Gus Van Sant cunningly seems to have made us fully aware of before the film has announced that that’s what it is. And he’s done that maybe to dial down our expectations. … Read more
Tom Cruise in Magnolia

Magnolia

Paul Thomas Anderson’s follow-up to Boogie Nights disappointed those who were hoping for more Dirk Diggler and his prosthetic schlong. At 182 minutes it also caught out those who were watching at the cinema with a beer or two inside them – knotted legs don’t make for maximum movie fun. At home with a pause button it’s pure luxury. Stylistically it’s heavily in debt to one of Anderson’s readily acknowledged influences, Robert Altman – the overlapping dialogue, the wandering camera and the faintly disengaged performances. By which I mean the actors are not all constantly presenting three-quarter profiles to camera (no, not even Tom Cruise). Yes, Tom Cruise. How often is it that … Read more
All That Heaven Allows original poster

The Curious Return of Douglas Sirk

What is it about a film-maker who died around 25 years ago in obscurity that fascinates a new generation of directors? The director Douglas Sirk died in 1987 aged 90. Born in Hamburg as Detlef Sierck, he became well known for his string of lush melodramas made in Hollywood in the 1950s. Magnificent Obsession (1954), All That Heaven Allows (1955), Written on the Wind (1956), The Tarnished Angels (1957), A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958) and Imitation of Life (1959) are considered his key works. The French “auteurists” were the first to start the re-assessment of Sirk in the late 1950s – the distinctive look of his films marking them out as … Read more
Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in X-Men

X-Men

The origin story of the Marvel Comics characters which, as in the original print version, struggles with the sheer number of characters. It’s a SFX-heavy titanium-shelled blockbuster that pits one team of mutants (headed by good guy Patrick Stewart) against another (bad guy Ian McKellen). Guy being the operative word – X-Men isn’t too bothered with the sexism of its source material. Take that name for starters. Men? X-Persons, surely. The men in the comic, as in this adaptation are all gutsy and have traditional masculine attributes: Professor Xavier (Stewart) has brains; Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is a hairy brute; Cyclops (James Marsden) has nuclear-level laser sight; and as for naughty Sabretooth and Toad … Read more
Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality

Miss Congeniality

Call it nominative determinism but the Kirk Douglas-dimpled Sandra Bullock is often the most bullish person in the movies she’s in. This is presumably why somebody thought she’d be ideal playing a tough cop who makes an ugly-duckling transformation in order to go undercover at a beauty pageant. It’s completely unbelievable, of course – Bullock never for a second looks less than a Hollywood A list star, even when made up to look like a dog. But who wants believable when there’s fun to be had? And so we yield to Bullock’s brilliant comic interplay with Michael Caine, as her camp coach in feminine poise (see what I mean by unbelievable), and if … Read more
Alan Rickman in Galaxy Quest

Galaxy Quest

Turn on TV most nights and there’s some Star Trek spin-off boldly heading off somewhere. In it are actors you’ve never seen before and will possibly never see in anything else again. As coloured latex hangs off various bits of various faces they strike heroic poses and over-earnestly deliver lines from rehashes of scenarios that were tired in the Sixties. Galaxy Quest knows those shows and those actors. It follows a past-it sci-fi cast as they do the convention circuit, signing books for the geeks they despise, bickering among themselves, boring anyone who’ll listen with stories of antique Shakespearean glory. Then, gasp, a bunch of real aliens turn up, expecting not crummy autographs, … Read more
Daryl Sabara, Carla Gugino, Alexa Vega and Antonio Banderas in Spy Kids

Spy Kids

Ever since he’d arrived in 1992 with his made-for-nothing El Mariachi, director Robert Rodriguez had been readying himself for Hollywood primetime. His 1996 grindhouse vampire comedy From Dusk till Dawn had allowed him to play with a big name cast (Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, Salma Hayek and a new-to-movies George Clooney) and special effects, and boasted a script by Quentin Tarantino. Following on from that The Faculty gave him a sexy gang of newcomers (Josh Hartnett, Jordana Brewster), a smart script by Kevin Williamson and a bucket of attitude. Both films were, by Hollywood standards, fairly low rent. With Spy Kids he finally got what he wanted – lots of cash, nearly all … Read more
John Cusack and Jack Black in High Fidelity

High Fidelity

A film that caught a moment rather well. One of the moments it caught was the high point of Nick Hornby – the chronicler of a generation that was slightly more conservative, slightly more sentimental than the preceeding one, and had come to accept it. Director Stephen Frears’s version of Hornby’s novel about men and their bloody lists also caught hold of the then current notion that men were all, to some extent, on the autistic spectrum. Giving that idea flesh is John Cusack as the obsessive, nerdy, list-driven owner of a second-rate record shop. The action has been moved from London to Chicago but vinyl geeks are a global trope and Cusack’s … Read more
Cameron Diaz has her disco moment in Charlie's Angels

Charlie’s Angels

Good god this film got some bad negative publicity when it came out. I’m really not sure why. Of course it’s not Ingmar Bergman, but it’s not trying to be. What it is trying to be is a light and frothy, giddy and bubbly pastiche of the Seventies adventure series – which was the TV equivalent of that poster of the tennis woman scratching her bum. Perhaps naysayers were all still carrying a torch for Farrah Fawcett, the star of the original who left after one season to parlay her TV fame into a cinematic career. That didn’t work too well for her. Taking the Farrah role in McG’s film (perhaps the naysayers … Read more

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