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Donald Sutherland in Don't Look Now

Don’t Look Now

It seems an odd thing to say, but most films aren’t really that cinematic. Most films, you could close your eyes and follow them. Not so with Nicolas Roeg’s “arthouse horror”. Close your eyes and you’re lost. In fact, even with your eyes open, all is not as it appears. Take the infamous love-making scene played out between grieving parents Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. It’s not the “were they doing it for real” question that marks it out as significant but the fact that Roeg keeps intercutting this ultimate example of living in the now with scenes from a few minutes later – when the duo are absent-mindedly getting dressed, ready to … Read more
Poor Photoshop skills add a little extra to the lie-detector scene from Meet the Parents

Meet the Parents

The notion of “upstaging” comes from the theatre and refers to the moment when an actor walks upstage, away from the audience, thus forcing the actor they’re addressing to turn their back on the audience. The audience can’t see the actor’s face, it can’t hear them that well either. It drives actors crazy. It’s a harder thing to nail down on film, but it’s something Robert De Niro is great at, especially when a comedian is involved. In Meet the Parents the funnyman in question is Ben Stiller, playing the poor sap back to “meet the parents” of his intended (Teri Polo). De Niro plays Jack Byrnes, the mutha of a father, subjecting … Read more
Zhang Ziyi in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

He (Chow Yun-Fat) loves her (Michelle Yeoh); she loves him, but they cannot be together until the fabled jade sword has been returned to its rightful owner. This they seek to do, hindered by an assassin and a mystery figure whose martial arts abilities rival their own. All that plot business is entirely secondary to the working of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon though. It has just enough connective tissue to lead from one breathtaking display of martial arts magic to the next. It was the film of 2000, taking the most autistically male of movie genres, the martial arts epic, and broadening its appeal by adding a balletic twist. By a similar sleight … 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 drug-monster editor, played … Read more
Mike White as Buck in Chuck & Buck

Chuck & Buck

In this small-scale, nasty and even snivelling film born in the Classmates.com/Friends Reunited era, young sleek winner Chuck (Chris Weitz) returns to his hometown and falls somehow back into the orbit of old childhood chum Buck, who in the intervening years has polished his dweebieness into something altogether needier and more pathological. Buck is a stalker in other words and, having met Chuck again, he locks on hard. Mike White plays Buck and also wrote the film. He cut his teeth on slightly squeaky TV shows about high school, such as Dawson’s Creek and Freaks and Geeks, before turning to the dark side with this twisted debut. It was a welcome breath of … Read more
eraserhead

Eraserhead

David Lynch’s first full length film was made piecemeal between 1971 and 1977 and is the perfect visual accompaniment to an era obsessed with industrial decay – check out the music of Cabaret Voltaire or Throbbing Gristle for the aural equivalent. It follows a passive, expressionless man with a perpendicular hairstyle through a succession of grim, clanking scenarios back to his home, where his livid girlfriend and their newborn child – a cross between ET and something that might crawl up your urethra and start living in your insides – seem to be waging psychic war on him. Is he schizophrenic? Are we viewing these scenes from inside his mind? Lynch won’t say, … 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 a heavily … Read more
Thandie Newton and the back of David Thewlis's head in Besieged

Besieged

Bernardo Bertolucci was once famous you know. As a director of the brilliant political drama The Conformist, the controversial Last Tango in Paris, Bertolucci’s was one of the big names in cinema. Since that early 1970s heyday he’s stopped making headlines but continued making films. Often they have been marked out by the director’s keen eye both for a well composed shot and for women with strong, beautiful faces. Both figure centrally in this romantic drama from 1998, which in so many respects apart from its troubling message (is there one?) delivers few surprises. It’s the story of an exiled African woman (Thandie Newton) skivvying for a Rome-based classical pianist (David Thewlis). Is … 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
Anders Berthelsen and Iben Hjejle in Mifune

Mifune

The title is a reference to Toshiro Mifune, the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s favourite actor. He died as the film went into production and director Søren Kragh-Jacobsen and writer Anders Thomas Jensen came up with the title as a way of honouring him. So, no, this isn’t Japanese arthouse; it’s Danish. Which will scare a few people off, most likely. Scarier still, Mifune follows the Dogma commandments – the puritanical, ornament-free film-making style that has Hollywood-lovers reaching for their revolvers. The story is similarly bare-bones: the wife (it’s Sofie Gråbøl, later of The Killing fame) of a newly married man (Anders Berthelsen) is far from happy when she discovers his secret history – … Read more
manhattan image 2

Manhattan

Woody Allen’s 1979 magnum opus starts famously with a long montage which appears to suggest that New York is to the modern world what Paris was in the early half of the 20th century – the home of romance, intellectualism, art, sex and impossible glamour. To the sinuous jazz of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Allen treats us to a sequence of lush black and white images such as Robert Doisneau or Henri Cartier-Bresson might have taken. And then, in the filmic equivalent of dragging the needle off the record, he appears to say ‘Hang on – the French may be mature, worldly and philosophical. But New Yorkers?’ The next 90 minutes play out … 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

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