WC Fields and Mae West

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Hidden aka Caché

Everyone loves a form/content double whammy, when a film’s story and its method of telling correspond. It’s why Memento succeeds so well, for example, a tale about an amnesiac told in partial and unreliable flashback. How much craftier is Michael Haneke’s psychological thriller Hidden. Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and Anne (Juliette Binoche) are media professionals, members of the Parisian chattering classes, liberal right down in their DNA. What could people of such good intent have to do with the rising tide of Islamism, anti-westernism, terrorism? Why are they being blackmailed by an increasingly incriminating series of videotapes? Are they guilty of something, or innocent, as the film seems to proclaim? Haneke’s double whammy is … Read more
Emil Jannings as Mephisto in Faust

Faust

It says a lot about the continuing differences between the Old World and the New that not one of the many stabs at a straightforward cinematic version of Faust is American. The tale of the old man who sells his soul to have his youth back and then uses his new vigour to ruin a beautiful young girl’s life is a European staple, but probably not the sort of thing Tom Hanks’s agent is going to beat down Meg Ryan’s door with – in the New World you can have it all; in the Old it comes at a cost. No matter, the German F.W. Murnau made this version in 1926, in the days … Read more
Gael Garcia Bernal in Amores Perros

Amores Perros

The film which announced the rebirth of Mexican cinema in 2000, Amores Perros was adored not just by cinephiles but also those who “don’t do subtitles”. The reasons are many and continue to make it a film worth seeing, or seeing again. Shot on film which has been deliberately processed in the “wrong” chemical to produce distorted colours and bleached out highlights, it’s got a look which suddenly was everywhere – from hip adverts to films by old-schoolers such as Steven Spielberg (see 2005’s terrorist thriller Munich, for example). The multi-stranded plot which zips backwards and forwards from a pivotal moment – in this case a car crash – is now a Hollywood … Read more
Nicole Kidman shocked in The Others

The Others

Oddly, quite a few people hated this atmospheric ghost story when it came out. It’s a tale with a twist, set just after the end of the Second World War and it’s directed by the Spaniard Alejandro Amenábar. He was a cult name back then, thanks to Tesis and Abre Los Ojos and perhaps he was a bit too out there for some tastes. Nicole Kidman plays the woman waiting for her missing husband to return from the war, a too-dutiful mother who keeps their kids locked away from the light (they’re allergic to it, she says) in a weird dark house kept functioning by a trio of servants. They, we have seen, turned up … Read more
Jason Statham and Brad Pitt in Snatch

Snatch

Two years after Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Guy Ritchie returned with a film that looked, felt and almost smelt the same. Except this time around the story is about bare-knuckle fighting and diamond heists, and Brad Pitt (for the ladies) is playing an Irish tinker, just one of a number of silly ethnic stereotypes, which include Russian gangsters, Jewish jewellers and  a Turkish boxing promoter called Turkish (played by Jason Statham, one minute before he launched his action hero career). Lock Stock traded in the same currency, you’ll remember. As well as Pitt, Snatch is studded with other non-British actors, such as Benicio Del Toro and Dennis Farina. Nevertheless it often feels … 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
Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted

Girl, Interrupted

Girl, Interrupted tells the real-life story of Susanna Kaysen, who wrote the original memoir about her enforced stay at a mental hospital in the 1960s. She was banged up after a pills overdose for what was termed a “borderline personality disorder” but the suspicion remains that she was being incarcerated at least partly because she was young, rebellious and pissing off her parents. Director James Mangold’s film version turns the whole experience slightly into One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest redone as a 1960s Mean Girls drama. Instead of shock therapy there’s the withdrawal of TV privileges, straitjackets have largely been replaced by attentive, pleasant carers. And as for debilitating doses of recreational … Read more
Stephen Baldwin plays a clone in sci-fi thriller Xchange

Xchange

Here’s one of a number of interesting sci-fi films produced in Canada in the wake of Vincenzo Natali’s Cube. It’s a low-budget body-swap futureshocker with three different actors (Stephen Baldwin, Kyle MacLachlan and Kim Coates) all vaguely playing the same man, a “floater” refusenik named Alvin Toffler. There’s a joke in that name if you’re a dyed in the wool sci-fi fan. Possibly also funny is that in this futureworld if you’ve swapped bodies (that’s the “floating” bit) with someone but can’t get back to your starting position you can park yourself inside a clone while everything is sorted out. Enter Stephen Baldwin as the empty vessel waiting to be filled. So when … Read more
800

The Adventures of Robin Hood

“Only the rainbow can duplicate its brilliance” ran the tagline to the swashbuckler from 1938 which took a young Tasmanian and gave him a movie role that would define him for ever. Errol Flynn may have become a fat roué in later life but here, as Robin Hood, he is every inch the handsome, athletic, cocky, light-hearted and brave hero. The film too is full of that brio, telling a story of good v bad, true love v convenience, rich v poor, idealism v cynicism. That “brilliance”, by the way, comes from the costly and technically demanding Technicolor three-strip process, which produces colours more saturated than any subsequent process has managed. Everything – … 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

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