WC Fields and Mae West

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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
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
general buster keaton 1

The General

    Buster Keaton’s favourite of his own films got off to a poor start in 1927. A flop at the box office and poorly received by critics (“the fun is not exactly plentiful” said the New York Times), it’s now considered to be one of the greatest films ever made. Is this high ranking down more to nostalgia for a simpler time or campaigns mounted by lovers of the hair shirt? Possibly a bit of both. But strip away the nonsense and you’re still left with something remarkable. The gags, for the most part revolve around The General, the steam locomotive of which Keaton is the engineer. The most famous of these … 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. … 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, … Read more
Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel in Holy Smoke

Holy Smoke

    A maker of thoughtful films, some hugely successful (The Piano), some not (In the Cut), Jane Campion here takes a small film – about a cultbuster (Harvey Keitel) and his intensely focused efforts to deprogram a naive Oz girl (Winslet) who’s been got at in India – and produces a sly, dry comedy of trans-Pacific manners. Being set in Australia really helps it, those highly personal, dialogue-heavy interchanges between the two main players being balanced against huge backdrops (does it come any bigger than the Outback?). Keitel is a presence it’s hard to miss too, of course, but he’s offset by deliberately ripe caricatures by some of Oz’s finest, the meat … 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
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
Pasolini's Arabian Nights

Arabian Nights

      Pasolini’s beautiful, erotically charged Arabian Nights took Cannes by storm in 1974 but all these years later it’s an almost forgotten film and the director seems to have fallen even further out of favour than fellow Italians Visconti, Fellini or Antonioni. Perhaps he’s gone so far out of fashion that he’s about to come back in via the back door. The film is definitely worth a look, being the third and best in his Trilogy of Life series. More completely than Canterbury Tales and The Decameron, Arabian Nights showcases Pasolini’s eye for unconventional beauty – both male and female. To get a taste of Islamic authenticity, Pasolini shot his handful of … Read more
Björk and Catherine Deneuve in Dancer in the Dark

Dancer in the Dark

      Is it “Unique” (CNN), “Heartbreaking” (The Independent), “Riveting” (Radio Times)? Or, perhaps, “Ludicrous” (Daily Mail), “Numbing” (Salon.com) or “Grim” (TV Guide)? Lars Von Trier’s low-rent, grainy tale of the Czech immigrant in the USA who is losing her sight, made according to the minimalist Dogme manifesto, won the Palme D’Or at the 2000 Cannes film festival. And even there fighting almost broke out in the audience. What got everyone’s goat was Von Trier’s decision to couple his muddy shakeycam style to the most velour of Hollywood genres – the musical – and to cast the coolest of Euro sophisticats, Catherine Deneuve, as a factory worker. Adding to this deliberate provocation … 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
Richard Burton in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold

    Based on the breakthrough novel by former spy John Le Carré, shot in black and white to suggest that espionage is unglamorous, dirty work and starring a hollowed out Richard Burton, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold is as far from James Bond as it’s possible to get – further, even than Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer of the Ipcress File. Telling the story of a jaded spy who is busted to a desk job in London and then recruited by East German intelligence – or that’s what they think – it’s a bleak marvel, as redolent of the drab side of the 1960s as the smell of a wet duffel … Read more

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