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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 distress, shooting … Read more
Peter O'Toole as Jeffrey Bernard

Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell

A night at the theatre in London’s West End is not always an evening of total entertainment: the ticket price, the discomfort of the seats, the warm G&T at the interval. But here’s an easy way to experience a play that was murder to get a ticket for when it was playing at the Old Vic. An affectionate tribute to professional drunk Jeffrey Bernard, it is the ultimate “stagey” film – as in we are literally watching the performance on the stage of the Apollo (where the play had its London debut), with a live audience, boomy acoustics, the lot. It’s perfect for fans of high-grade thespianism, louche yarns, ridiculous japes and, of … 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
Katharine Isabelle is Ginger, in Ginger Snaps

Ginger Snaps

The last thing you want when it comes to scary films is something that’s had money lavished on it. You don’t want a famous director, and you certainly don’t want a big star, their exec-producer-status ensuring their make-up never gets smudged. You want something that looks cheap, smells cheap and is packed with cheap thrills. Something like Ginger Snaps is what you want. The plot is as straightforward as it is cheeky, taking the old werewolf myth and glossing it with the anxieties of a pretty young girl (played by Katharine Isabelle, 12 years before she’d turn up in the equally cult American Mary) as she is visited by her first period. Being … Read more
Fairuza Balk and Robert Forster in American Perfekt

American Perfekt

It’s a good rule of thumb that road movies set out in any American desert and made on a low budget have a knack of turning out OK. There’s often something fairly oddball going on too. Made in 1997, the same year that its star would appear in Tarantino’s career-boosting Jackie Brown, American Perfekt sees Robert Forster playing a psychiatrist driving through the empty desert who stops to pick up a female hitchhiker (Amanda Plummer). She is clearly deranged but no matter how mad she apparently seems, he’s even madder – it’s only thanks to a coin toss that he’s giving her a ride, rather than killing her. Half an hour or so … Read more
Max Adrian as Frederick Delius in Song of Summer

Song of Summer: Frederick Delius

Any follower of British arts programmes on TV, from the South Bank Show backwards, will be aware of the bleating of Ken Russell and his ilk that no one really makes ’em like they did in the Sixties, when clever chaps freshly down from Oxbridge would be sent out with a curmudgeonly working-class crew and instructed to make films on anything that took their white-shirted fancy. Well, I have to report that Russell’s 1968 B/W film on Delius does back him up. Detailing the strange five-year relationship between Eric Fenby, the young amanuensis who helped blind dying syphilitic Frederick Delius complete some of his most noted works, it is very good indeed. Russell wasn’t … 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
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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
Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott in Dude, Where's My Car

Dude, Where’s My Car

Sometimes an utterly mindless comedy really hits the spot. That’s Dude, Where’s My Car. It was written by South Park graduate Philip Stark and stars Seann William Scott, a stalwart of the American Pie genre, and Ashton Kutcher, then a new arrival on Planet Heartthrob. One day our two unlikely lads wake up after a large night out and can’t find the car. That’s the title dealt with, and the plot too, since what now happens is that the halfwitted stoner chums wander off trying to find the missing vehicle. As the situations shift from aimless to unlikely to improbable to impossible, with enough drink and drugs consumed en route to fuel a … Read more
Alice meets the Mad Hatter

Alice

Jan Svankmajer is hardly a household name, yet he is one of the most influential animators ever. He’s not Walt Disney, maybe, but you can see his stamp in the work of Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam and even, through squinted eyes, Nick (Wallace and Gromit) Park. His live-action/stop-frame adaptation of Alice in Wonderland is a prime example of what he does – a darkly surreal, loud, clanking, gothic distillation of Poe, De Sade, Kafka (a fellow Czech). It’s also about the best film adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s much abused work. Uncle Walt chose to play cute with the story, but Svankmajer goes the other way – a white rabbit that bleeds sawdust, for … Read more

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