WC Fields and Mae West

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Casablanca

    Exhortations to go and see this timeless film are usually based on its treasure chest of quotable lines. “Round up the usual suspects”, “We’ll always have Paris”, “Play it, Sam”, “Here’s looking at you, kid” and so on. But there’s more to it than that. It’s the one where the guy doesn’t get the gal, discovers his soul and wanders off into the gloom with a Nazi-sympathising police chief who may have just had a similar epiphany. Modern Hollywood films often generate a similar tension – can Spider-Man nobly save a cable-car of terrified schoolkids about to hurtle to their death or will he selfishly save his girlfriend instead? And modern … 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 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 … Read more
together

Together aka Tillsammans

    There’s something very funny and fairly tragic about Lukas Moodysson’s 2000 film set on a Swedish commune called Tillsammans (or Together, in English). It’s set in 1975, just as the Spanish dictator Franco has been declared dead and follows what happens when Elisabeth, an abused woman and her children arrive and are taken in, grudgingly, by a gang of virtuous, or so they think, communards on a big experiment in free living outside Stockholm. Liberal idealism is at its peak and nurture has the philosophical upper hand over nature. The lentil-eaters believe that lesbianism is a political choice, not a predisposition,  that sexual love should come with no emotional baggage and … 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 … Read more
Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense

The Sixth Sense

        How the mighty M Night Shyamalan has fallen since this, possibly the most barnstorming debut in the past 25 years. I’d have said “except Reservoir Dogs” except that Tarantino’s film wasn’t his debut (the barely seen My Best Friend’s Birthday, the final reel of which got burnt up in a lab fire, has that honour). But then a lot of people don’t know that The Sixth Sense wasn’t Shyamalan’s debut film either; it was his third. Those hugely digressive factoids to one side, Shyamalan’s certainly most famous film to date gave us Haley Joel Osment as a young boy being pestered by unquiet spirits. The boy doesn’t like it … Read more
Max Schreck as Nosferatu

Nosferatu

Murnau’s 1922 silent expressionist classic is one of defining moments in movie-making. It borrowed its story wholesale from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, gave it the lightest of resprays and hoped no one would notice the theft. Bram Stoker’s widow noticed and sued for breach of copyright, won the case and had all the prints of Nosferatu destroyed. But the film refused to die, and rose from the undead. Its star, who plays Count Orlok (aka Nosferatu), is one Max Schreck, “Schreck” being the German word for terror. Maximum Terror – and you thought modern Hollywood had a lock on this sort of thing. Adding to that in terms of myth-making, it was always rumoured that … Read more
Judi Dench and Ian Holm

The Last of the Blonde Bombshells

    Fans of Eighties cult 1980s UK TV series The Beiderbecke Affair will know immediately what’s going on here. This ostensible “let’s put the band back together” drama is really just another opportunity for Alan Plater to resurrect the male/female comedy double act he brought to perfection back then with James Bolam and Barbara Flynn. Judi Dench and Ian Holm play the duelling duo this time out, she being the youngest member of a wartime “all-women” swing outfit, he being the drummer who had to cross-dress to keep the fiction alive. Sly old Plater also gets to indulge two other big passions. First, music of a jazzy, swingy sort – Basie and … 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 … Read more
Ciarán Hinds and Amanda Root in Persuasion

Persuasion

    Before popping up seemingly out of nowhere when he directed Notting Hill, Roger Michell had had a successful career as a theatre director, at the groundbreaking Royal Court Theatre in London with Samuel Beckett and John Osborne (where he also met Danny Boyle), then on to the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) before switching to directing for TV. Persuasion was his second gig for the BBC, and considering that stories of difficult love (Notting Hill, The Mother, Venus) would be his future, and the theatre was his past, it’s a perfect melding of the two. His cast for Persuasion is theatrical through and through, Amanda Root (an RSC stalwart) playing Jane Austen’s … Read more
still of al pacino in dog day afternoon large picture

Dog Day Afternoon

    Look at all those 1960s heist movies – gents with David Niven accents in cat-burglar outfits effortlessly walking out of Monte Carlo with a heist of diamonds. How different the 1970s heist movie. In the decade when it became apparent that, economically, everything was falling apart, director Sidney Lumet caught the mood perfectly in a bank job movie set in a city crumbling faster than most others, New York. And there’s Al Pacino as our hero. Not a normal bank robber, but a slightly rubbish one, married but gay, cackhandedly stealing money so his boyfriend can have a gender reassignment operation – sexual orientation being another one of those little things … Read more
Tom Green suckles from a cow's teat

Freddy Got Fingered

    The ancient Hebrews used to send out a goat into the wilderness, hoping it would take all their sins off with it. Modern Hollywood continues the practice every year with the Razzies, awards handed out to films which supposedly stink but which are in fact often not significantly more terrible than many others.   In fact Razzies are often awarded to films which tried hard and failed, rather than to films which cynically set out to be terrible, in the hope of turning a buck, so maybe there’s some honour in getting one. In 2012, was Kristen Stewart really deserving of hers, for Snow White and the Huntsman and the last … Read more

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