WC Fields and Mae West

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Klaus Maria Brandauer as Colonel Redl

Colonel Redl

Colonel Redl is an adaptation of John Osborne’s play A Patriot for Me and charts the rise and fall of a soldier with opportunism where principles should be. It’s a sumptuous affair set in the dog days of the Austro-Hungarian empire and builds slowly towards a painfully frenzied climax, as did the previous collaboration between director István Szabó and actor Klaus Maria Brandauer. And as in Mephisto we’re following a man of few scruples making his way from relative obscurity to the top of his tree – the secret service in this case. Redl was a real man, an officer in the espionage wing of the Austro-Hungarian army who sold his country’s war … 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
Kate Hudson and Patrick Fugit in Almost Famous

Almost Famous

Almost Famous follows teenage Rolling Stone wannabe William Miller (Patrick Fugit) on his trek across America as he tries to get an interview with Stillwater, a band on the verge of making it. Abba: The Movie has the same plot, but it misses out on the groupies, including “band aid” Penny Lane (the perfect Kate Hudson), the drugs (when going out to dinner was a knife, fork and stomach-pump affair), and the passive-aggressive one-upmanship of cool (“So I boned your lady. You don’t own her, maaaan” etc). Given these elements, Almost Famous could easily have been Spinal Tap, but for director Cameron Crowe’s dribbly-nosed affection for the era and its music – Yes, … Read more
Aleksei Kravchenko in Come and See

Come and See

Best Of lists are designed to infuriate, obviously, to provoke debate. But even so, it seems beyond the realms of the credible that Elem Klimov’s Come and See only made it to number 71 when UK television’s Channel 4 ran a Best War Movies Ever poll a few years ago, while Ridley Scott’s fart in a biscuit tin, Black Hawk Down, sat happy at number 9. The 1985 Russian film is the best film about the Russian experience of the Second World War, one of a handful of real contenders for the best war film ever made. Following a tender 14-year-old (Aleksei Kravchenko) as he is first pressganged into joining a ragtag militia … Read more
You're thinking "that HT box is seriously off codeSaffron Burrows in Deep Blue Sea

Deep Blue Sea

Not to be confused with high-tone The Deep Blue Sea, from 2011, this action thriller whose USP is “smart sharks” got a mixed reception when it came out, everyone suddenly having forgotten how many people have tried to follow in the wake of Jaws – and totally failed. Renny Harlin’s film succeeds, mostly, thanks to his understanding of action, his writer’s reliance on the old “someone’s been messing with nature” plot, of Godzilla vintage, and a better cast than these things often have (Michael Caine in Jaws: The Revenge being a rare exception). So we have Saffron Burrows as a scientist who’s been genetically modifying sharks in an attempt to find the cure … Read more
Dame Edith Evans

The Importance of Being Earnest

Fifty years after the making of this quintessentially British comic classic it was remade starring Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Judi Dench and the then almost incandescently famous Reese Witherspoon, to give it a bit of global appeal. That’s a great cast – three Oscar-winners and a scene-stealer par excellence (see Everett in My Best Friend’s Wedding for evidence of that). So no argument there. But they still couldn’t beat the original. That’s because they really, really don’t make them like this any more. No one speaks like Edith “a handbag” Evans. No one resembles Margaret Rutherford’s preposterously dotty, doting Miss Prism. As to direction, what hotshot these days would settle for the approach of … Read more
Juliette Lewis and Woody Harrelson in Natural Born Killers

Natural Born Killers

Oliver Stone’s notorious film about two dim kids who kill a few people and become media celebrities takes two actors who weren’t exactly the go-to choices for crazy nutjob killer roles. Woody Harrelson was fresh from playing affable dunce Woody in Cheers and Juliette Lewis was uppermost in the mind as the daughter in Cape Fear. As it turned out the roles fit them like a second skin. As in similar gangster/road movies such as Badlands or Bonnie & Clyde, writer Quentin Tarantino and director Stone send their two fuck-ups off on a series of murders. But, unusually, they also send them off on a stylistic journey through a storm of different generic … Read more
Jeremy Theobald in Christopher Nolan's debut, Following

Following

Can you honestly tell from Following, that its first-time director Christopher Nolan is only two years away from making Memento, the film that put him on Hollywood producers’ speed-dials? Shot on weekends and holidays guerrilla-style around London for about $6,000, it is a real “you saw it here first” effort and the acting is strongly redolent of the great days of British film – it’s rank. But when a story is this strong it barely matters. It’s simple too. We follow, in low-budget monochrome, a young, luckless and broke writer (Jeremy Theobald) who thinks it would be fun, “creative” in an artschool way, maybe, to “follow” people and see where it leads him. … Read more
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No

Robert LePage directs this exercise in dry wit and history, a French-Canadian comedy of manners cut down from his seven-hour play The Seven Streams of the River Ota. It’s set in Japan at the time of the 1970 Expo, 25 years after the end of WWII. Meanwhile back in Quebec the secession movement is reaching its high water mark and the national government is so rattled it is on the verge of imposing martial law. No is a clever, sophisticated film (and at times in a slightly self-satisfied way) whose title gives us a taste of things to come. No – a pun on the Japanese style of Noh theatre, was also the … Read more
The Cast of 10 Things I Hate About You

10 Things I Hate About You

Apparently if you’re drunk enough when you say the title of this film, it sounds like, “The Taming Of The Shrew”. Whatever. When it came out in 1999 it tapped into two of the big trends in the cinema of the time: the high-school drama (Cruel Intentions, Election, Rushmore) and adaptations of the Bard (Elizabeth, Shakespeare In Love). It’s a teen tangle in Shakespeare country that manages to be both reasonably faithful (depending on how you define “reasonably” and “faithful”) to Shakespeare’s original, but not so heavy-handedly that the average audience member will nod off. It also managed to cast two hot properties of the time – Julia Stiles, who at one point seemed … Read more
Geoffrey Rush in House on Haunted Hill

House on Haunted Hill

When you buy a Bentley – as you do – you’re not looking for a holographic dashboard, an in-car virtual chauffeur, or an ejector seat. You want walnut and leather everywhere. The same is true of some horror movies. House on Haunted Hill was originally directed in 1958 by William Castle, the man who fitted cinemas seats with buzzers, had skeletons drop from the ceiling. Castle was – in the best sense of the word, a horrible man. In 1958 wonderful Vincent Price was the star. In 1999 for this remake it’s the magnificent Geoffrey Rush – as a crazy millionaire called Price – complete with pencil moustache, cravat and lop-sided leer. The … Read more
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

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