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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
Aleksei Kravchenko in Come and See

Come and See

Best Of lists are designed to infuriate, obviously, to provoke debate. But even so, it seems beyond the realms of the credible that Elem Klimov’s Come and See only made it to number 71 when UK television’s Channel 4 ran a Best War Movies Ever poll a few years ago, while Ridley Scott’s fart in a biscuit tin, Black Hawk Down, sat happy at number 9. The 1985 Russian film is the best film about the Russian experience of the Second World War, one of a handful of real contenders for the best war film ever made. Following a tender 14-year-old (Aleksei Kravchenko) as he is first pressganged into joining a ragtag militia … 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 of the Twilight … Read more
Redneck Keanu Reeves in The Gift

The Gift

Director Sam Raimi is an expert in genre-twisting. Back when he was making The Evil Dead he so overloaded his gore epic that it eventually became funny. With The Gift he takes on a genre even more arcane: the British whodunit. Then he does weird shit with it. First he transports the whole shebang to the Deep South to remove all traces of afternoon tea or warm beer. Then he gives us Cate Blanchett as a clairvoyant detective who can’t quite make out the identity of the murderer – well, it wouldn’t be much of film if she could, would it? And then, as a masterstroke, he takes a raft of famous faces … Read more
audition

Audition

The horror film has a special use for the young female body. How often does one crescendo with some girl in a tight white T shirt – if not Jessica Biel then someone pretty similar – running endlessly, screamingly away from a scaggy male assailant with a hook/axe/chainsaw/knife? Meanwhile a man with a Steadicam aimed right at the young woman’s breasts in turn runs backwards away from her, to the nodding appreciation of the largely male audience. Audition turns the tables – a sad sack of a Japanese salaryman pretends to be a producer holding auditions for a film. In reality he’s doing try-outs for something more permanent and less well paid – … Read more
Madeleine Carroll handcuffed to Robert Donat in The 39 Steps

The 39 Steps

There are several filmed versions of John Buchan’s novel. The other two notables have Kenneth More and Robert Powell in the lead. But this one, in spite of its antiquity, is the best. It stars debonair, pencil-moustached Robert Donat as the innocent man forced into going on the run after accidentally getting caught up at the wrong end of someone else’s spying caper. The “innocent” theme was something Alfred Hitchcock was already comfortable with in 1935 and one which he’d return to repeatedly, most notably in North by Northwest. If you’ve read John Buchan’s original book, you’ll know The 39 Steps is a taut thriller full of derring-do, a rattling good read even … 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
Snow White sings to the bluebird in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

David Hand? Look at the credits and you’ll see the name down as the director, one among quite a few, depending on where you’re looking. Such is the grip of the “director as auteur” notion on modern thinking that everyone – from the IMDB down – feels obliged to list the director first, as if theirs were always the guiding hand. Which is a long-winded way of saying that Snow White is a Walt Disney film. He might not have directed any of it but he directed the people who did. And, in the days when we’re meant to marvel at the computer-generated output of Pixar and the like, how much more amazing to … 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
Terry Jones in Life of Brian

Life of Brian

It’s no surprise that this film was hotly controversial on its initial release, since it tells the story of Brian, a hapless Messiah of sorts, condemned to live in the shadow of the Other Guy from Galilee. Its debut saw the first stirrings in popular culture of the phenomenon of synthetic outrage – then only practised by the more conservative elements of society; now everyone is at it – with most of the complaints about the film coming from people who hadn’t even seen it. In fact the Monty Python team were nonplussed by the media hoo-hah – true, they had set out to make a film lambasting Christianity but had hit a … Read more
Ray Winstone in Sexy Beast

Sexy Beast

A simple story from first-time feature director Jonathan Glazer – an advertising hotshot who directed the famous Guinness “surfing horses” advert . It’s all about a retired tealeaf (make sure your dictionary of rhyming slang is beside you) being forced into one last job back in Blighty (as Brits of a certain vintage mock-affectionately call the UK). And right from its opening moments, featuring a glistening Ray Winstone in ludicrous yellow trunks flat out beside a Spanish swimming pool, Sexy Beast feels like a slice of your actual quality. The film is deliciously short but the pacing is so luxuriously slow and self-confident that initial groans – Oh God, not more Brit gangsters … 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 is the … Read more

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