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Kiss Me Deadly

Kiss Me Deadly

Critics continue to argue over whether this is the best film noir ever made but all seem united on one point – Kiss Me Deadly is the best adaptation of one of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer novels. Now 50 years old, the film opens with a scene that still packs a punch – cynical private eye Mike Hammer picks up a girl hitchhiker who is wearing only a mac. Within minutes his car has been run off the road and a brutal gang is torturing the girl before killing her. The stage is set for Hammer, one of cinema’s great anti-heroes, to become avenging angel, visiting bad men in places high and low … Read more

Samantha Morton and Billy Crudup in Jesus' Son

Jesus’ Son

    The son in question is played by Billy Crudup, a near schizo drug user on a no-brain road to nowhere. But never mind Crudup, wait till you see the performance by Samantha Morton. When she was cast in Sweet And Lowdown, Woody Allen’s uncharacteristically misogynist film, Allen had her playing a mute. Even so, she stole the film from under Sean Penn’s chiselled cheeks. Here it’s brave Crudup who’s standing too close to the flame. She plays the girlfriend, a hopeless smack-happy, grinning, winsome and overwhelmingly simpatico partner to FH (Crudup, who at the time seemed to be on the brink of something big). Together they bounce from balls-up to self-inflicted … Read more

Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould

Mash

An on-screen statement, put there at the behest of a nervous film studio, claims this film is about the goings-on at a field hospital during the Korean War. That statement apart, this is obviously a film about Vietnam, a war the Americans had already lost at home, if not yet out on the field of battle. Now, decades later, from the other end of the countercultural telescope, Mash’s relentless portrayal of the military hierarchy as being overrun by charlatans and buffoons seems a bit old hat. But the director making it had earned the right to his opinion. Robert Altman was a veteran of the Second World War who’d gone on to become … Read more

Sean Bean and Alex Kingston in Essex Boys

Essex Boys

    Though not a perfect film by any means, this story about violent pill-dealing mafia wannabes has bags of flavour. It’s based on the Rettendon Range Rover murders, which saw two drug barons and their driver murdered in a car in the back of beyond, in December 1995. Four films have been made (as I write) about the events of that night but this is the first and it’s probably the best (though Bonded by Blood is tasty too). Quite why this one event has spawned so many fictional retellings is a mystery, though my personal theory is that a fair bit of smallscale film-making in the UK is more about laundering … Read more

In the Mood for Love

In the Mood for Love

    Escape the tyranny of the huge flatscreen TV for an evening and surrender to a slow-moving visual feast best seen on the big screen in a darkened room with lots of people barely breathing. They’re holding their breath for a variety of reasons. The gorgeousness of Christopher Doyle’s cinematography for one, depicting 1960s Hong Kong as a kaleidoscope of butterfly blues, resinous ambers and neon reds. The unusual focus of the plot for another – on the man and woman realising that their other halves are having an affair with each other. On the losers not the winners in the game of love, in other words. And on the awful, stomach-clenching … Read more

Gwyneth Paltrow in drag in Shakespeare in Love

Shakespeare in Love

    Judi Dench won an Oscar for an eight-minute on-screen performance, which in her acceptance speech even she admitted was slightly pushing it, but her Elizabeth R was the icing on a very lavish cake that reminded a lot of people that there were other ways to do romantic comedy than the prevailing models – ie Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan doing it the adult Nora Ephron way or Freddie Prinze Jr/Julia Stiles doing the high school equivalent. On second viewing the richness is even more apparent, yet what’s also clear is that the romantic element is handled with a featherlight touch, as “blocked” Bill Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) gets all Romeo and Juliet with … 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 … Read more

Mel Gibson does yoga in What Women Want

What Women Want

    Nick Marshall, a sexy, charming and single Hollywood exec, hey it’s Mel Gibson everybody, suddenly develops the ability to hear what women are thinking. Of course he’s completely freaked, though obviously flattered at some of the “what a great butt” comments – this being the very last time that Gibson’s physique rather than his politics would be attracting attention. To start with Nick exploits his talents as many men would – getting laid, psyching out his female boss (Helen Hunt) and shortcutting his way back into his estranged daughter’s affections. But then something weird happens, which lifts this film right out of the common run. As a result of listening to … Read more

Robert Downey Jr, Michael Douglas and Tobey Maguire

Wonder Boys

      Michael Douglas plays the college prof with one book under his belt and a smart-ass student (Tobey Maguire) about to steal his thunder with his debut novel, which is going to be glorious, headline-grabbing, sexy, everything Douglas once was but now just isn’t. However, this fading wonder boy does still have enough residual kudos to make him a honeypot for a girl (Katie Holmes) who’s attractive dark-haired and far too young for him (and what a nudge nudge that was at the time). He’s also having an affair with his boss (Frances McDormand). And, on the weekend of frenzy that we catch up with him, he’s being pursued by his … Read more

Antonio Banderas

The 13th Warrior

    A real proper old-fashioned Sunday afternoon film – epic in intention, ludicrous in execution. Considered to be unwatchable when it was test-screened, it was partially recast, rescored and reshot – by Michael Crichton, writer of the original book, who took over from John McTiernan, his Die Hard and Predator experience counting, apparently, for nothing. Crichton’s intervention doesn’t save it. Perhaps nothing could. Perhaps it was jinxed by the presence of Omar Sharif, an adornment of so many terrible films of a similar sort in days of yore. Or by his Nineties successor, Antonio Banderas. It’s an adaptation of the Old English epic poem Beowulf and Banderas plays Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan, a Muslim banished … Read more

The Ladykillers

The Ladykillers

      Now that there’s a new team at Ealing Studios, using an illustrious old name to sell underweight product (St Trinian’s, Dorian Gray, Burke and Hare) it’s a good time to look back at 1955’s The Ladykillers, the last classic of the studio’s golden era. Its director, Alexander Mackendrick, also called the shots on Whisky Galore! in 1949 and The Man In The White Suit in 1951 and would go on to make one of America’s most rancidly brilliant satires, The Sweet Smell of Success. But here the accent is definitely on the sweet smell of lavender water, as a group of robbers, led by Alec Guinness’s caterpillar-browed Professor Marcus, first … Read more

Henry Fonda is the baddie in Once Upon A Time In The West

Once Upon a Time in the West

      By 1967, after countless Italian sword and sandal epics and three astonishingly successful spaghetti  Westerns (A Fistful Of Dollars, A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly), director Sergio Leone was tired of men in period costume and was eager to try his hand at something more contemporary. It wasn’t to be. Paramount studios prevailed upon Leone to make one more western for them. In return they promised to fund his four-hour, four-decade overview of organised crime, Once Upon a Time in America. Leone’s fourth Western could easily have turned out to be a 90-minute contractual obligation, with Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and whoever was available squinting … Read more

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