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All 111 reviews in alphabetical order by title


  • "About A Boy"
  • "AI: Artificial Intelligence"
  • "Amélie"
  • "American Beauty"
  • "Analyze This"
  • "Armageddon"
  • "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me"
  • "Baise-Moi"
  • "A Beautiful Mind"
  • "Behind Enemy Lines"
  • "Bend It Like Beckham"
  • "Billy Elliot"
  • "Black Hawk Down"
  • "Bridget Jones's Diary"
  • "Captain Corelli's Mandolin"
  • "Cast Away"
  • "Changing Lanes"
  • "Charlie's Angels"
  • "Charlotte Gray"
  • "The Count Of Monte Cristo"
  • "The Contender"
  • "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
  • "The Dancer Upstairs"
  • "Dark Blue World"
  • "Die Another Day"
  • "East Is East"
  • "End Of Days"
  • "The End Of The Affair"
  • "Enemy At The Gates"
  • "Enigma"
  • "Entrapment"
  • "Erin Brockovich"
  • "Eyes Wide Shut"
  • "Fifteen Minutes"
  • "Galaxy Quest"
  • "The General's Daughter"
  • "Gladiator"
  • "Gone In 60 Seconds"
  • "Gosford Park"
  • "The Green Mile"
  • "Hannibal"
  • "Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone"
  • "The Insider"
  • "Insomnia"
  • "Iris"
  • "Into The Arms Of Strangers"
  • "Jurassic Park III"
  • "Kate And Leopold"
  • "Kissing Jessica Stein"
  • "K-19: The Widowmaker"
  • "K-PAX"
  • "Lantana"
  • "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider"
  • "Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring"
  • "Magnolia"
  • "The Mask Of Zorro"
  • "The Matrix"
  • "Maybe Baby"
  • "Meet The Parents"
  • "Men In Black II"
  • "Minority Report"
  • "Mission: Impossible 2"
  • "Monsoon Wedding"
  • "Moulin Rouge"
  • "The Mummy"
  • "Murder By Numbers"
  • "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"
  • "The Negotiator"
  • "Notting Hill"
  • "Ocean's Eleven"
  • "The Patriot"
  • "The Perfect Storm"
  • "Pitch Black"
  • "Planet Of The Apes"
  • "Pleasantville"
  • "Possession"
  • "Proof Of Life"
  • "Pushing Tin"
  • "Road To Perdition"
  • "The Royal Tenenbaums"
  • "Runaway Bride"
  • "Saving Private Ryan"
  • "The Score"
  • "Serendipity"
  • "Shakespeare In Love"
  • "The 6th Day"
  • "The Sixth Sense"
  • "Spider-Man"
  • "Spy Game"
  • "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace"
  • "Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones"
  • "The Story Of Us"
  • "The Sum Of All Fears"
  • "Suzhou River"
  • "The Talented Mr Ripley"
  • "The Thin Red Line"
  • "This Year's Love"
  • "The Thomas Crown Affair"
  • "Three Kings"
  • "Timecode"
  • "Titanic"
  • "Traffic"
  • "The Truman Show"
  • "U-571"
  • "Unbreakable"
  • "Vanilla Sky"
  • "We Were Soldiers"
  • "The World Is Not Enough"
  • "X-Men"
  • "xXx"
  • "You've Got Mail"

  • "About A Boy"

    Forget the Hugh Grant of "Four Weddings And A Funeral" or "Notting Hill", all foppy-haired, mumbling and well-intentioned. Here, as thirty-something Will Freeman - a north Londoner living off the earnings of his father's one-hit Christmas wonder - he looks and sounds altogether different: shorter, spikier hair, cynical and selfish manner, and outspoken to the point of cruelty. Who is going to reform such a self-centred character? Why, the boy, of course - 12 year old Marcus played with style by young Nicholas Hoult.

    Such an unlikely pairing comes about when Will hits on the idea of hitting on available and vulnerable women by attending a single-parents self-help group - Single Parents Alone Together or SPAT - as a make-believe single father of a son. Cue relationships of sorts with three of them: Marcus's wacky mother, portrayed by Toni Collette looking a million miles from her break-through role in "Muriel's Wedding", an Irish blonde played by Victoria Smurfit (familiar to British viewers of the television series "Cold Feet"), and a dark-haired sophisticate acted by Rachel Weisz from "The Mummy" series. No prizes for guessing who Will's going to finish up with but, along the way, this a thoroughly entertaining movie, involving both pathos and bathos and both funny and feel-good. Credit goes to the Americans Chris and Paul Weitz, responsible for direction and screenplay, who have stayed close to the spirit of the book on which the film is based, written by British novelist Nick Hornby. Indeed this is an unusually wordy film with parallel voice-overs from Will and Marcus that complement effectively the amusing and sharp visuals.

    Footnote: A couple of decades ago, I was a single parent with a real son and went to a north London single parents group called Gingerbread. I can confirm that it's an opportunity for a single man to meet single women and, in my case, she actually had three children. Whatever happened to you, Hazel?

    Link: official Web site click here

    “AI: Artificial Intelligence”

    The late Stanley Kubrick spent a long time developing this project, but it was Steven Spielberg who brought it to the screen as both writer and director. These mixed antecedents probably explain the uneven nature of this over-long and very disappointing work. The first and third segments are sickly sentimental and clearly come straight from the creator of “E.T.”, while the middle third represents a much more violent and dystopian world that owes more to the director of “Clockwork Orange”.

    Young Haley Joel Osment (“The Sixth Sense”) is perfectly cast as David, the latter-day Pinocchio – a super-sophisticated robot who just wants to be a real boy – and Jude Law looks good as a robotic gigolo. There is even an mechanical teddy bear that will delight young viewers, but irritate others who will think that a miniature Ewok has wandered in off the set of “Return Of The Jedi”.

    Certainly I would have liked more science and less schmaltz. Also I saw the movie just five days after the destruction of New York’s World Trade Center and my enjoyment of the film was not helped by an unsettling shot where the tops of the towers appear above the flood waters caused by melted ice caps.

    Link: official Web site click here


    It ‘s very unusual for a French-speaking film to break into the Anglo-Saxon world, but this quirky Gallic offering has done it. Some American audiences may find the sub-titles and the saccharine-sweet treatment difficult to swallow, but most British viewers should manage to cope. After all, the Paris portrayed here is the kind of innocent charm that so many of us seek on our holidays there; all the characters are eccentric and we are noted for our tolerance of eccentricity; and, after all, the eponymous role was originally written for the British actress Emily Watson (hence the name).

    In fact, following the stunning success of the movie in its home land, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the lead role than the gamine newcomer 23 year old Audrey Tautou who gives a wonderful performance as the Montmatre waitress Amélie Poulain who wants to escape her own withdrawal from so much of life by giving some pleasure to so many other lives. In the process, she discovers love in the odd form of a porn-shop worker who spends his time collecting torn-up photo booth pictures (Matthieu Kassovitz).

    The bizarre story-line and the inventive shooting are the work of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, previously known for “Delicatessen”, “The City Of Lost Children” and “Alien: Resurrection” (only the last of which I have seen). The – possibly unfashionable - message of the movie is that all of us need a little magic in our lives and, if we can be the one to bring some of that magic to some other lives, then our own will be enriched along the way. Escapism par excellence.

    Link: official Web site click here

    “American Beauty”

    What a pleasure to see such an intelligently scripted and superbly acted film that grips you with every scene. The originators of this impressive work are surprising – it is the cinematic debut of both British director Sam Mendes and American scriptwriter Alan Ball and the offering of the Dreamworks studio which originally gave us “The Peacemaker”.

    I’m a fan of Kevin Spacey and much admired his performances in “The Usual Suspects”, “L.A. Confidential” and “The Negotiator”. Here he gives an Oscar-worthy showing as 42 year old Lester Burnham, a nondescript suburbanite just waiting to explode. Annette Bening is excellent as his brittle wife Carolyn and there are some fine performances from youngsters Thora Birch, as his damaged daughter Jane, and Mena Suvari, as the flirtatious muse who inspires several fantasy sequences involving large, red rose petals.

    It’s not spoiling the movie to reveal that, like the classic “Sunset Boulevard”, the narrator is a dead guy – but how and why he is killed has to wait until the closing moments. By turns hilarious, poignant and shocking, “American Beauty” conveys perceptively and powerfully the seething anger that lies just below the surface of so many stale relationships.

    Links: official Web site click here Kevin Spacey site click here

    “Analyze This”

    Sometimes you don’t want to psychoanalyze a film; you just want a good laugh; and here’s a very funny movie that fits the bill. We all know that Robert De Niro is a consummate actor – what we didn’t know was that he has real comedic talent, as evidenced by this hilarious performance as a mobster suffering from panic attacks in a brilliant parody of so many of his earlier tough guy roles. Billy Crystal is back on form as a psychiatrist pressed into service as the Mafia man’s shrink and some of the best scenes are when De Niro and Crystal adopt elements of the other’s character.

    Link: official Web site click here


    Why do so many Hollywood movie come in pairs? Essentially this is the same story as “Deep Impact” released just a few months earlier: an asteroid is about to hit the earth and destroy all humankind (pretty serious, huh?). This time Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck lead drilling teams who plan to land on the asteroid and blow it apart with a nuclear bomb. Do they succeed? Well, we’re still here aren’t we? Like all such films, it is all very implausible but, of all the summer 1998 science fiction blockbusters (“Deep Impact” itself, “Lost In Space” & “Godzilla”), this is the best. It has stars, action, humour, music, brilliant pacing and terrific special effects (especially the destruction of New York and Paris). A little-known fact: at the cinema, the climax of “Armageddon” scored a record 110 decibels (compared to a recommended maximum noise level in the US of 87).

    Link: Ben Affleck's own site click here

    “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me”

    I can’t believe that I went to see this movie, but our local multiplex had nothing better on that I hadn’t seen before, and anyway I was curious to see how Mike Myers could be rivalling George Lucas at the box office. The film lived down to my worst expectations – it is simply dreadful. I suppose that Canadian Myers has a certain talent: he plays the eponymous secret agent, the villain Dr Evil, and a disgusting character called Fat Bastard as well as co-writing the screenplay. However, I’m not well-disposed towards spoofs of 60s spy films to begin with – I enjoyed the originals too much at the time and the spoofing commenced almost immediately anyway (see “our Man Flint” as long ago as 1965).

    What I really hate about “Powers” is the juvenile nature of the jokes which seem to focus mainly around the penis and the anus (“Oh, behave!). This childish type of cinematic humour really got under way with “Dumb And Dumber”, took a further leap downwards with “There’s Something About Mary”, and seems to have reached its nadir (I hope) with the two “Powers” films, but I suppose we should never forget that the core of the audience for a Hollywood movie is pubescent Americans.

    Link: official Web site click here


    In some 30 years of cinema-going, this is just about the most graphically violent and sexually explicit 'mainstream' movie in my experience. Of course, it's French (the title translates as "Rape Me"). More surprisingly, it is written and directed by two women, the novelist Virginie Despentes (on whose book it is based) and the pornographic film-maker Coralie Trinh Thi. In the UK, the film obtained an '18' certificate after the British Board of Film Classification cut 10 seconds from the early brutal rape scene.

    This extreme and shocking version of the "Thelma And Louise" tale sees Manu of north African origin (Raffaëla Anderson) and middle-class Nadine (Karen Bach) on an orgiastic journey of sex and violence, unrelieved by any sympathetic charcters, unhinded by any police action, and with no obvious purpose. It is simply impossible to divine what the makers were trying to thell us, but clearly - like their principal characters - they are very damaged and very angry.

    "A Beautiful Mind"

    Mental illness often makes compelling cinema - think of "Rain Man" or "Shine". Now both sides of the Atlantic have produced new movies on this theme, looking at the effect of such illness on brilliant and famous individuals: from the UK there is "Iris" portraying Alzheimer's Disease and from the US comes "A Beautiful Mind" examining paranoid schizophrenia.

    This latter work is essentially the story of American mathematical genius John Forbes Nash Jnr whose biography of the same name was written by Sylvia Nasar. However, I say 'essentially' because director Ron Howard - known for his 'triumph over adversity' movies ("Apollo 13", "Backdraft", "Parenthood") - has given us a somewhat sentimentalised and sanitised version of a complex life. Nowhere in this film will one learn anything of Nash's homosexuality or importuning, one would never guess about his divorce and remarriage, and we are told nothing of his repressed upbringing or his son's own troubles with schizophrenia.

    Having said all this, "A Beautiful Mind" is a must-see movie, primarily because of an outstanding performance from Russell Crowe who plays Nash from his arrival at Princeton in 1947 to his award of the Nobel Prize in 1994. Adopting Nash's West Virginian accent, his ornamental style of speech and mannered mode of movement, this is a character a million miles away from the assured confidence of Maximus in "Gladiator" and will deservedly win him many awards.

    Jennifer Connelly is excellent as Nash's wonderfully supportive wife Alicia. Like "Iris", there is not much on the principal's work but, again like "Iris", this is ultimately a love story - an account how a partner can be there when the spouse has literally lost his or her mind. Director Ron Howard skilfully manipulates us, both visually and emotionally, but in a sense all art is manipulative and, if we fall for the trap, it's because we want to. We want the human spirit to survive and succeed - and here it most assuredly does.

    Links: official Web site click here autobiography of John Nash click here interviews with Sylvia Nasar click here

    "Behind Enemy Lines"

    It often happens that films come in pairs and, in the same month on British screens, we have "Behind Enemy Lines" and "Black Hawk Down", two movies featuring rescues of American servicemen from policing missions in distant parts of the globe where the US involvement was less than brilliant. Their appearance is not coincidental - it reflects a wish, post the horror of the World Trade Center attack, to show America at its most heroic. Certainly "Behind Enemy Lines" deliver an adrenalin rush, but the style is too gung-ho for it to last long.

    The plot concerns the shooting down of an American jet which is 'off mission' over Serb-occupied Bosnia-Herzegovina. The American military has co-operated fully with the hardware, so - in a return to "Top Gun" territory - there are terrificly atmospheric shots of the aircraft carrier that is the crew's base and some really exciting film of the F-18 Hornet that is their 'mount'. Slovakia stands in for Bosnia but fits the bill convincingly.

    It was a shrewd move not to cast a star in the lead role, but instead the newcomer, blond-haired, pinched-nosed Owen Wilson. In fact, the only really well-known actor in the movie is Gene Hackman, playing a characteristically gruff role as the admiral of the carrier, but he is sadly under-used, even when stupidly he is shown leading the helicopter rescue operation ("Let's go get our boy!").

    First time director John Moore deploys some flashy camera-work and provides plenty of pyrotechnics but, besides the fact that it has been done before (in the more intelligent "Bat 21"), the whole thing is just too formulaic and simplistic to make a lasting impression.

    Link: official Web site click here

    "Bend It Like Beckham"

    This is a sheer delight of a film. OK, the clichéd plot-line is straight out of a cheap comic: young footballer overcomes personal obstacles to score winning goal in final seconds of crucial match. But the twist is that the 18 year old football fanatic is a girl and she's Asian to boot! Parminder Nagra is utterly credible as Jess, inspired by her hero David Beckham and encouraged by her English friend Jules (Keira Knightley) and Irish coach Joe (Rhys Meyers), but thwarted by Indian parents trying hard to maintain their religious and social traditions in west London's Hounslow (just down the road from where I live). Director and co-writer Gurinder Chadha presents a wry and very funny observation of the culture clash and its ultimate resolution in a movie brimming with sharp dialogue and comedic scenes, all enlivened by a superb sound track.

    Link: Keira Knightley site click here

    “Billy Elliot”

    “Flashdance” meets “The Full Monty” in this sentimental but uplifting movie debut by British director Stephen Daldry. Jamie Lee is outstanding as the 11 year old Billy who discovers a passion for dance that enables him to escape the problems of his widowed family and strike-ridden community. I’ve loved Julie Walters ever since her Mrs Apron character in the television sketch “Acorn Antiques” and here she gives a remarkably assured performance as the boy’s mentor. Set against the bitter miners’ dispute of 1984-85 in the north-east of England, there is a great deal of anger in this film, but also much humour and ultimately personal triumph.

    "Black Hawk Down"

    Like "Behind Enemy Lines", this is a movie rushed out in the aftermath of the World Trade Center horror, apparently on the assumption that it will make Americans feel better about themselves. It would seem that, in the US, there has been a "Let's kick ass" response but, to this British viewer at least, such a reaction is hard to fathom. Certainly the film is a celebration of comradeship and heroism, but it reminds us of an appalling military misjudgement by the Americans and a lack of political will by the international community.

    It depicts in savagely graphic form the outcome of an October 1993 operation in the Somalian capital of Mogadishu when an attempt to detain henchmen of the local warlord gave rise to a 15-hour "firefight" in which 18 American soldiers lost their lives and more than 70 were injured, while something like 500 Somalians - men, women ands children - were killed. Élite soldiers of the Rangers and Delta Force regiments go in, supported by Black Hawk and Humvee helicopters but, from the start, it is a mess, as one soldier falls from Black Hawk, resulting in it being downed by the local militia. This is war as we have never seen it before on the big screen: brutal and confused combat in city streets and houses where the enemy does not wear a uniform or fight by the rules and rescue is far from hand.

    This was always going to be a better work than "Behind Enemy Lines" because it is helmed by one of the finest directors around and presents a very much less 'gung ho' depiction of war. Fresh from his success with the wonderful "Gladiator", British Ridley Scott - the son of a Royal Marine - has taken locations in Morocco and used magnificent camerawork to produce a stunning visual and visceral record based closely on the book by journalist Mark Bowden. Indeed such is the verisimilitude of Scott's action that one can't always hear what is said or understand what is happening.

    As I left the London screen where I saw "Black Hawk Down", I found myself in conversation with the cinema attendant who incredibly happened to be a Somalian who was there in 1993. He assured me that the events were worse than shown in the film - we didn't see (fortunately) the parading of the dead Americans through the streets - and the situation is just as bad now as it was then, with four clans controlling different quarters of Mogadishu.

    A year after the disastrous American intervention in Somalia, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan and we all looked the other way until the appalling events of 11 September 2001. If Scott's film serves to remind us that we cannot forgot the injustice in Somalia - and other parts of Africa - perhaps it will have served a higher purpose than entertainment.

    Link: official Web site click here

    “Bridget Jones’s Diary”

    I found the eponymous heroine of Helen Fielding’s best-selling novel [for review click here ] a rather pathetic and even sad character. In this movie version, Renée Zellweger turns her into a more endearing personage and it is amazing that the Texan-born actress was willing to put on so much weight and was so capable of mastering a middle-class English accent. The jokes start from the very beginning and don’t finish until mid way through the closing credits, but they simply aren’t good enough to make you laugh rather than merely smile.

    “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”

    Ever since the closing moments of “Notting Hill" when the Hugh Grant character was seen reading the de Bernières novel “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” with its distinctive blue cover, like so many fellow readers of this superb work [for review click here ] I have looked forward eagerly to the film from the same British production company of Working Title. Essentially people’s reaction to the movie is likely to depend on whether or not they are familiar with the book. My three companions at the cinema had not read the novel and loved the movie. I suspect that most of those who have savoured the written version will –like me – leave with their undoubted pleasure tinged with a sense of disappointment.

    Of course, a film always has to be different from the book, not least because of the distinctive media being used and the variable time available – and “Mandolin” is a particularly long and complex work. Therefore I can understand scriptwriter Shawn Slovo abandoning almost all the political references and concentrating on the romance, although I think that the result is a little too sanitised. I can even appreciate the need to change the ending and make it more immediate and emotionally satisfying. But was it really necessary to excise even the homo-erotic relationship between Corelli and his saviour Carlo?

    The greatest strength of this work from British director John Madden (“Shakespeare In Love”) is the island of Cephallonia itself and, whatever the extra cost, the decision to shoot it entirely on location has resulted in some wonderful photography and a sensuous feel to the whole work. The chief weakness is the casting. The gorgeous Spanish actress Penélope Cruz is perfect as the young object of Corelli’s affections Pelagia and John Hurt is rather good as her father, the local physician Dr Iannis. But Nicolas Cage is seriously miscast as Antonio Corelli, with mannerisms and accent that defy credibility, while David Morrissey is even worse as the leading German on the island and Christian Bale little better as the rival for Pelagia’s love, the fisherman turned resistance fighter Mandras.

    Link: official Web site click here

    “Cast Away”

    Tom Hanks is reunited with the director of “Forrest Gump”, Robert Zemeckis, and the scriptwriter of “Apollo 13”, William Broyles Jr, to bring us this gruelling account of a Fed Ex’s manager’s four year ordeal on a tiny Pacific island. For much of the time, Hanks has to carry the movie alone, conversing only with a volleyball called Wilson, but he is a fine actor and his deliberate loss of four stones in weight for the later section shows that he is ready to suffer for his art.

    The desperate struggle for survival on the island and the acute difficulty of picking up his life once he is rescued are both brought out with power and pathos. However, I was not really comfortable with the Fed Ex product placement. Although the company did not pay the filmmakers, it co-operated fully with them and the work is one long advertisement for the organisation. Also, for my personal taste, the film was a little too long and, at times, somewhat sentimental – but, at my multi-plex, it was a sell-out.

    Links: official Web site click here Tom Hanks site click here

    “Changing Lanes”

    As we know from Michael Douglas's performance in "Falling Down", driving on the roads of American cities can make you crazy. So it's not too surprising when a fender-bender on New York's FDR Drive brings into conflict a hot-shot young lawyer trying to keep his law firm out of serious trouble (surprisingly well portrayed by Ben Affleck) and an alcoholic struggling to keep in touch with his estranged wife and two sons (Samuel L Jackson as a more conventional character than usual). But a mislaid file rapidly leads to a vicious escalation of alternating retribution in scenes reminiscent of "The War Of The Roses".

    British director Roger Michell ("Notting Hill") uses some edgy camerawork and rapid cutting to pile on the tension but, just when he should be pushing his characters to breaking point, the whole thing collapses into a most unsatisfactory ending of unconvincing decency. Along the way, Sydney Pollack, who has himself directed a movie exposing the hypocrisy of the legal profession ("The Firm"), is on the mark as the head of the law firm and the father-in-law of Affleck's character, but first-rate actors like William Hurt and Toni Collette are only given bit roles. The whole thing could, and should, have been so much better and the main fault has to lie with the last quarter of the script.

    Link: official Web site click here

    “Charlie’s Angels”

    I’m old enough to remember the television series (1976-1981) and the movie version manages simultaneously to capture the sense of fun of the original while cleverly up-dating it. It is all terribly post-modern, sending up old-fashioned sexism while at the same time pandering to it. The plot is so slight and silly as not to bear mentioning, but the whole thing is done with such speed and panache as to make it immensely entertaining, borrowing scenes from “Mission Impossible”, “The Matrix” and almost every Bond film. The never-seen Charlie is still voiced by John Forsythe (now 81). As the angels, Cameron Diaz and Drew Barrymore (who co-produced) have a natural comedic sense, but Lucy Liu needs to lighten up and, attractive though they all are, for me support player Kelly Lynch is the real beauty.

    Link: official Web site click here

    "Charlotte Gray"

    I've been a great admirer of Cate Blanchett ever since I saw her eponymous performance in "Elizabeth" and she is perfectly cast here as the Special Operations Executive agent on her first mission to Vichy France. Blanchett is the Meryl Streep of her generation - not classically beautiful but simply luminescent, wonderful with different accents in different roles, and a magnificent actress. Ironically Streep herself once played a former SOE agent in the film "Plenty".

    As well as - unusually in a war film - a woman in the leading role, the director is a woman, Gillian Armstrong, and indeed this is more a love story than a war movie. Yet, when all is said and done, this is the Second World War and the film does lack action sequences and dramatic pacing. I much enjoyed Sebastian Faulks' First World War novel "Birdsong" and I suspect that - when I do eventually read it - I'll find that "Charlotte Gray" works much better as a book than a film.

    Link: official Web site click here

    "The Contender"

    As a political animal who can’t get enough of the American television series “The West Wing”, I approached this political thriller with high expectations and, on the whole, I was not disappointed. Former film journalist Rod Lurie provides an accomplished debut as both writer and director of this dramatic account of the Congressional nomination hearings of the first woman to be put forward as Vice-President.

    There is a sharp script and authentic sets, but what really makes the movie is a triumvirate of fine performances. Jeff Bridges is excellent as Democratic President Jackson Evans, exhibiting the charisma of a Clinton but without any women – even a wife – in sight; a barely recognisable Gary Oldman fills yet another bad guy role with distinction as the hard-line Republican Shelly Runyon; and, in a role specifically written for her by Lurie, Joan Allen is superb as the nominee Laine Hanson, facing allegations of sexual misconduct with a coolness only a few degrees above her performance in “The Ice Storm”.

    It all becomes a little trite towards the end with some implausible plot twists and two grand-standing speeches, but one forgives this because of its uncompromising support for political liberalism and gender equality. Indeed a measure of the difference between British and American politics is that positions which are so commonplace in the former – support for a woman’s right to choose an abortion, opposition to the death penalty, abolition of possession of hand guns, and separation of church and state - seem so radical when espoused by Allen’s character.

    Link: official Web site click here

    "The Count Of Monte Cristo"

    Since Alexandre Dumas wrote his wonderfully-plotted novel of false imprisonment and cruel revenge in 1844, there have been countless film and television versions, but the success of "The Mask Of Zorro" - which similarly involved the tutoring of an intended avenger in the art of swordmanship - clearly showed audiences' appetite for old-fashioned swashbuckling. This new version comes from director Kevin Reynolds who gave us "Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves" and "Monte Cristo" is more restrained but almost as entertaining.

    American Jim Caviezel, as the unfortunate Edmond Dantes, and Australian Guy Pearce, as his erstwhile friend Fernand Mondego, both put on English accents for this romp in Napoleonic France, but acquit themselves well, especially the sneering Pearce (the bad guy had the better role in "Rob Roy" too). Richard Harris - who, as in "Gladiator", has to die to move on the storyline - makes the most of his role, but the Polish/American Dagmara Dominczyk should have brought more than a pretty face to her part as Edmond's lover and Fernand's wife.

    There is some magnificent scenery - the film was shot in Ireland and Malta - and some memorable sequences, such as the arrival of the Count in a balloon and the final swordfight in a wheat field, but the movie needed more pace and a better soundtrack if the buckle was really to swash. “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”

    Taiwanese-born director Ang Lee has made some fine English-language films, such as “The Ice Storm” and “Sense And Sensibility”, but bravely he has returned to the Chinese language and culture for his latest work in a totally different genre – and it is a triumph. The story is taken from the fourth volume of a series set in the early 19th century Qing dynasty and written by Wang Du Lu in a magical style known in Chinese as ‘wu xia’.

    At heart, this is a double love story. The first relationship – silent and simmering – is between veteran warrior Li Mu Bai (played by Chow Yun Fat of “Anna And The King”) and his close friend Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh from “Tomorrow Never Dies”). The other relationship – a much more combustible and passionate affair – is between the young bandit Lo (Chang Chen) and the beautiful Jen Yu (Zhang Ziyi).

    Astonishingly, these very different relationships are played out in the context of a martial arts movie which contains some absolutely stunning fight scenes, choreographed by Yeun Wo-Ping who did similarly brilliant work on “The Matrix”, and it is Lee’s genius that combines personal passion and martial miracles to such dramatic effect. In this mysterious new world, there is even a sword called ‘Green Destiny’, a villainess known as Jade Fox, and a fight scene in the tops of bamboo trees.

    Since I’ve only recently returned from a tour of China, I loved the wonderful sets and rich costumes. Shot in Beijing and the Gobi desert, the scenery is simply breath-taking, the photography glorious and the cello and drum-beat music stirring (I've bought the soundtrack). In short, this is set to be both a cult and a classic.

    Link: official Web site click here

    "The Dancer Upstairs"

    Acclaimed actor John Malkovich has made his directorial début with an assured political thriller that combines tension and intelligence to make for a gripping two and a quarter hours. The setting is a South American country which is unnamed, but the clear inspiration for the storyline is the early 1990s experience of Peru (which I have recently visited) when the bizarre Abimael Guzmán led the murderous Shining Path movement, while the movie was shot in Spain, Portugal and Ecuador.

    Javier Bardem plays Augustin Rejas, a former lawyer turned policeman who manages rare dignity and honesty as he battles with the interventions of a regime teetering on the edge of a military dictatorship and the pursuit of a fanatical revolutionary codenamed Ezekiel, while struggling with the varying emotions associated with a vapid wife, an adoring daughter, and his daughter's dance teacher, the eponymous and allurring woman upstairs (Laura Morante as Yolanda). Bardem - who reminds me of an early Raul Julia - gives a languid yet charismatic performance and hopefully we will see much more of this talented actor.

    In some respects the work is reminiscent of Costa-Gavras's "State Of Siege", a clip of which is actually used here. However, the movie is based on a novel by the British writer Nicholas Shakespeare, who wrote the screenplay which features some conversation in Quechua (a native language of Peru and Bolivia), and this is a more personal examination of terrorism than the 1973 French-speaking movie.

    Link: official Web site click here

    "Dark Blue World"

    This is a Czech-German production with the dialogue half in Czech and half in English made by the Czech father and son, writer and director, team of Zdeněk and Jan Svěrák who brought us the delightful Oscar-winning "Kolya" in 1997. I had to wait for a full year after the film was shown in the Czech Republic before it secured a British release, but I was always determined to see it because it concerns a subject close to my family and my heart: the war-time record of the Czechoslovak pilots who flew with the Royal Air Force. My wife's father, Karel Kuttelwascher, was the top-scoring member of this brave group and some of his wartime clothing was worn in the film by the main character.

    Like "Pearl Harbor", the war becomes a backdrop to a triangular love story involving two men besotted with the same woman. In this case, the rivals are the Czech airmen Franta (Ondřej Vetchý) and Karel (Kryštof Hádek) fighting over a married English girl (Tara Fitzgerald) which rather dilutes the political messages of the movie. Most viewers will not have known that these heroes were imprisoned after the 1948 Communist take-over in Czechoslovakia and that it was not until the 'velvet revolution' of 1989 that many young Czechs knew about their countrymen's contribution to the allied victory.

    The film is a well-researched piece, full of authentic detail, with some splendid Spifire flying and beautiful photography, but ultimately it is too slow and too sentimental to make the impact that it should for viewers who are less interested than me.

    Footnote: When an event was held at the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum to promote the film, my sister-in-law Mari Rowe was photographed with Tara Fitzgerald for the local newspaper and the actress autographed copies of the offical film brochure which quoted attributively from my book "Night Hawk".

    Official Web site in Czech: click here
    Unofficial Web site in English: click here
    Czechoslovaks in the wartime RAF: click here
    Karel Kuttelwacher's record: click here

    “Die Another Day”

    The James Bond franchise is the longest-running and most profitable in the history of the cinema, with each successive movie being seen by around a quarter of the world's population, and the 20th film in the 40th year is a homage to the oeuvre with repeated allusions to earlier films. This is a lot of fun for those of us who have seen all the earlier outings of 007, but it serves to emphasize how difficult it is to come up with new plot lines - this one is basically a repeat of "Diamonds Are Forever" - and how totally derivative is the whole of the latest effort. The best reminder is Halle Berry's recreation of the famous scene where we first see Ursula Andress appear on the beach in "Dr No". In fact, Oscar-winning Berry as the formidable Jinx is one of the finest features of "DAD" and it's rumoured that she's going to have her own spin-off series.

    In Pierce Brosnan's fourth appearance as the agent licensed to thrill, there are as always great locations, exciting chases and endless explosions, but we are shaken rather than stirred. What is really different this time is that New Zealand director Lee Tamahori makes excessive use of computer graphics. These simply do not have the impact of those stunning stunts from earlier works and at times - like the scene of windsurfing through the ice pack - are rather silly. But it is all enormously entertaining and Bond will be back.

    Links: official Web site click here official Bond site click here

    “East Is East”

    I lived in Manchester until 1971 and I now live in the London Borough of Brent which has a large Asian population, so I was quite willing to view this small,but succesful, British film centred on a family headed by a Pakistani living in Salford in the early 1970s. Writer Ayub Khan-Din has produced a sharp script which manages to be full of both humour and pathos, while director Damien O’Donnell has elicited fine performances from a virtually unknown cast (unless you watch television's “Coronation Street”). Om Puri is excellent as George Khan who presides over his English wife and seven children (all but one of them sons). Somehow his arrogant and often brutal character manages to win our sympathy as he tries to instil in his Anglicised off-spring acceptance of his culture, while Linda Bassett is impressive as his partner, torn between respect for her husband and understanding for her children.

    Link: official Web site click here

    “End Of Days”

    After a two-year screen absence, Arnold Schwarzenegger returns in this eve of millennium supernatural hokum that could be termed “Terminator” meets “The Exorcist”. This time the enemy is Satan himself – played by Gabriel Byrne, who can at least act – and, as usual, the devil has the best lines. The prey is Christine York (Christ in New York – get it?) played by the winsome Robin Tunney. Can Arnie save her from diabolical violation and the world from Satanic domination? Well, what do you think? Along the way, director and cinematographer Peter Hyams (“TimeCop”) offers us shocks and gore - hence the ‘18’ certificate - plenty of pyrotechnics and some 450 special effects shots before faith conquers all. This mess of a movie will not do much for Scwarzenegger’s flagging film career, but it won’t do his political ambitions any harm in a country where fundamentalist Christians hold extraordinary sway.

    Links: official Web site click here Arnie's own site click here

    “The End Of The Affair”

    This is a frightfully English film in which the suave Ralph Fiennes (“The English Patient”) plays the writer and narrator Maurice Bendix who has a passionate affair with the delectable Julianne Moore as Sarah Miles, the neglected wife of the repressed man from the ministry portrayed by Stephen Rea. Most of the story is set in a war-time London, where it seems to be constantly pouring with rain, and the earth certainly moves for Maurice and Sarah – with a little help from the Germans. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to fathom why the movie attracted an ‘18’ certificate in Britain. It can’t have been the occasional glimpses of Moore’s breasts, so one has to assume that it had something to do with the equally brief shot of Fiennes’ heaving buttocks. Writer and director Neil Jordan ("The Crying Game") has done an excellent job and produced an atmospheric and intelligent work, full of illuminating flash-backs and repeat scenes.

    The film is based loosely on the autobiographical novel by the Catholic writer Graham Greene which in turn was inspired by his affair with the married socialite Catherine Walston. In fact, Greene and Walston did not meet until 1946 and, far from being short-lived, the affair lasted 13 years.

    Link: Ralph Fiennes site click here

    “Enemy At The Gates”

    They are very few western-made films about the Second World War’s Eastern Front. After all, although the casualty toll – around 20M dead overall, including up to a million at Stalingrad alone - far exceeded that on the West, it was not American or British but Soviet lives which were lost. The two such works that I have seen are “Cross Of Iron” (1977) and “Stalingrad” (1992).

    Now French director Jean-Jacques Annaud (“The Name Of The Rose”) offers us “Enemy At The Gates” which is also about the ferocious 1942 Battle of Stalingrad, but – a novel angle for a war film – this is set around a personal duel between crack snipers. The movie has provoked some controversy since, while the Soviet marksman Vasily Zaitsev (played by Jude Law) did exist, the German shooter Major Konig (Ed Harris) was almost certainly an invention of Communist propaganda. However, such minor tampering with history is certainly not on a par with the travesties in “U-571” or “The Patriot”.

    The sets and special effects – it was filmed in Berlin – are stunning in their verisimilitude and some of the action sequences, especially at the beginning, approach those in “Saving Private Ryan” in the brutality of their impact. Bob Hoskins impresses in a cameo role as the young Nikita Kruschev. Nevertheless the rivalry for the affections of woman soldier Tania (Rachel Weisz) is too sentimental and the script far too weak for this to be as good a film as it could have been.

    Links: official Web site click here info on Battle click here


    This is a rare pleasure of a film – one that is prepared to treat its viewers intelligently and tell a war-time story without explosives and histrionics and without falsifying history to glorify the Americans. It is based on the best-selling novel by Robert Harris whose previous work “Fatherland” suffered so badly when translated to the screen. Here he has a decent screenplay from Tom Stoppard, assured direction from Michael Apsted, and three fine performances by British actors.

    Dougray Scott, in a very different role from his “Mission Impossible 2” outing, has lost weight to portray brilliant, but tortured, code-breaker Tom Jericho at Britain’s war-time Bletchley Park; Kate Winslet put on weight (she was pregnant at the time) for a performance far removed from “Titantic” as the frumpy, but clever, Hester; and Jeremy Northam is excellent as the sardonic secret service agent Wigram who knows far more than he is prepared to reveal.

    Links: official Web site click here Kate Winslet fan club click here Enigma machine site click here


    I wanted to enjoy this film since the three main locations are well-known to me and individually the two British stars have done some good work – but what a disappointment. It features dramatic robberies set in New York, London and Kuala Lumpur respectively with – in the last case – the architecturally distinct Petronas Tower standing in for a special bank, so it is visually quite glossy. However, the leading actors are simple inadequate to the occasion. Sean Connery as Mac is charismatic but at 68 just too old for these sort of escapades, while Catherine Zeta Jones – just 29 – is attractive enough but too wooden in her performance. The double life of the Jones character is implausible and the age difference makes the chemistry between the actors difficult to accept.

    Link: official Web site click here

    Back to home page click here

    “Erin Brockovich”

    This is a wonderful star vehicle for Julia Roberts in the eponymous role as the brash and brassy unmarried mother of three who foists herself on a small-time law firm and then brings to account an American utility that has knowingly poisoned hundreds of trusting citizens. Roberts is rarely off the screen and gives arguably the finest performance of her career. She is well-served by a hard-hitting script from Susannah Grant and excellent direction by Steven Soderbergh. Brockovich’s boss Ed Masry is played by Albert Finney who has had good reviews, but I don’t understand why a British character actor was cast in such a role.

    The case – closely based on a real one – concerns 600 residents of the small town of Hinckley in the Mojave desert who, it transpires, have suffered decades of poisoning from water contaminated by chromium 6 leaking from the gas transmission plant owned by Pacific Gas & Electric. Most legal dramas conclude with a court-room scene in which victory is secured through some clever verbal exchange. This one is very different and more typical of most legal work: the case never goes to trial but is instead resolved by arbitration and success only comes after four years of research and negotiation. In 1997, Hinckley’s residents were awarded $333 million (£208 million) in the largest settlement in American legal history.

    The film has had a major impact in the United States. On the one hand, it has stimulated many more class actions against utility companies, with Brockovich herself now working on seven new toxic litigation cases. On the other had, many of those involved in the Hinckley case are now arguing that it should have gone to trial and that their settlements were too low. Any film that can stimulate such controversy is a must-see.

    Link: official Web site click here

    “Eyes Wide Shut”

    This is the film for which we have waited 12 years – the first work from masterful, but idiosyncratic, movie-maker Stanley Kubrick since “Full Metal Jacket” in 1987. It is his 13th production and, since he died aged 70 shortly after completing it, clearly his last. This erotic thriller is loosely based on a novella called “Tramnouvelle”, first published in German in 1926, and the English translation “Dream Story” was issued free in paperback by the “Guardian” on the weekend that the film was released in Britain [for review click here]. The film is remarkably faithful to the book, simply transposing the action from beginning of the century Vienna to present day New York.

    Typically a movie will take three months to shoot, but the obsessive Kubrick needed 18 months and some $65M. Although the action takes place over just three days – it is set in New York but was actually filmed in London – it takes a ponderous 2 hours 39 minutes to screen.

    Remarkably little happens. Professional American couple Dr William Harford and his wife Alice, played by Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, confront the nature of their seemingly secure marriage when she confesses to a dream fantasy involving a naval officer and he – as a reaction to this revelation – gains entry to a bizarre, masked and sybaritic orgy which may or may not have had murderous consequences. Yet the whole exercise is carried out with superb style –some fine acting, brilliant costumes and photography, and wonderfully atmospheric music (from Dmitri Shostakovitch and Jocelyn Pook).

    The verisimilitude of these surreal events is much aided by the use of a high-profile, real-life couple for the lead roles. I saw the film with two women friends and the consensus was that Kidman – while on screen for less time – out-acted her husband. However, there was much less agreement between us about what the film meant. I thought that it posed the questions of what constitutes infidelity and how one can resolve it, but what is certain is that this is a film which HAS to be seen and will have you thinking and discussing long afterwards.

    Links: official Web site click here Stanley Kubrick site click here Tom Cruise site click here

    “Fifteen Minutes”

    I set out for my local multi-plex to see “Thirteen Days”, only to find that it had been wrongly advertised in the press and so instead I finished up seeing “Fifteen Minutes” – which I guess is shorter. This is a crime thriller set in New York and both written and directed by John Herzfeld. The guy tried hard, so hard – especially with his edgy camera style – but it really doesn’t work.

    No movie with Robert de Niro – a celebrity cop who is here teamed up with a fire marshall played by Edward Burns – can be totally written off, but this is no “Heat” or “Ronin”. Instead there are elements of “Dirty Harry” with the cynical treatment of the American justice system and its cannibalistic media and a final shoot-out with the deranged killer. There’s fire and firepower, but insufficient characterisation and subtlety.

    “Galaxy Quest”

    I love science fiction movies, but I confess that I’m not a great “Star Trek” fan – I find both the television series and the films too ponderous and moralistic and the original cast certainly overstayed their time on the big screen. So it’s OK by me to spoof the series, its cast, and its fanatical followers in the inconsequential, but rather entertaining, “Galaxy Quest”. Tim Allen is almost touching in the Kirk-type role and the British Alan Rickman brings a lovely dead-pan style to the Spock-alike part. But the revelation is the statuesque Sigourney Weaver. We know that she can do comedy – “Ghostbusters” made that clear – but it took a certain kind of self-deprecating charm to poke gentle fun at her "Alien" role as “The Talented Miss Ripley” by taking on a persona that required her to be both blonde and buxom.

    Link: fan Web site click here

    “The General’s Daughter”

    Like “A Few Good Men”, this is an investigation of a murder on an American military base where the top bass simply want a cover up. It is effectively a star vehicle for John Travolta as Paul Brenner from the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division and he gives a strong, if one-dimensional, performance as someone who will stand up to anyone, including the General (James Cromwell), to find the truth. James Woods plays one of the many suspects and, though his appearance is brief, as always he is simply brilliant. Ultimately I found this film unsettling and unpleasant – although the final credits purport to make the movie a tribute to women in the military, it uses themes of sexual violence in a manner which I found offensive.


    When I first started going to the cinema some 40 years ago, the sword-and-sandal saga was a staple part of the repertoire. Many of the films came from Italy and starred the ubiquitous former Mr Universe Steve Reeves who ironically died a few days before the opening in Britain of “Gladiator”. Easily the best of these epics was “Spartacus” (1960), but I had thought this type of film long dead before the talented and resourceful Ridley Scott – director of such magnificent work as “Alien”, “Blade Runner” and “Thelma And Louise” – decided to revisit (but surely not revive) the genre. The plotting and values of “Gladiator” are decidedly old-fashioned, but the skill and technology deployed to bring it to the screen are state-of-the-art.

    The basic storyline is thoroughly familiar to anyone who has seen “The Fall Of The Roman Empire” (1964): following the death of the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius in AD 180, a noble soldier seeks to restore the glory that was Rome in the face of the corruption and brutality fostered by the new, young emperor Commodus. But, whereas “Fall” was very slow and stilted, from the opening battle scene in Germania to the closing combat in the Colosseum, “Gladiator” is simply thrilling. Above all, this is a tribute to Scott who is a consummate film-maker: the photography, the cutting, the sound, the music are all brilliant. Having twice visited the ruins of the Colosseum, I had wondered what it looked like originally and know I believe I know as a result of Scott’s computer-generated recreation of the mighty edifice and its visceral exhibition of violence.

    Yet the director is well-served by his stable of actors. New Zealand-born Russell Crowe, who first came to the fore in “L.A. Confidential”, is inspiring as Maximus, a hero as honourable and laconic as he is brave and resourceful. Plato would have been proud of him, since he believed that the only man fit to rule was one who did not want to do so. Joaquin Phoenix has a deeply unsympathetic role as Commodus but brings immense depth to the evil part. Among the other performers are an unusually venerable Richard Harris as Marcus Aurelius, Derek Jacobi who was so magnificent in the British television series “I, Claudius”, and Oliver Reed who drank himself to death during the filming in Malta.

    Links: official Web site click here Russell Crowe site click here

    “Gone In 60 Seconds”

    I always look forward to films produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and movies likes “Con Air” and “The Rock” provided great entertainment, but “Gone ..” disappointed me. It seemed like an excuse to show flashy cars and yet another prolonged chase sequence with little thought of the need for a plot. Nicolas Cage – the master car thief pulled out of ‘retirement’ – is at his most languid; fine actors like Robert Duvall and Will Patton are seriously under-utilised; I would have liked to have seen more of Angelina Jolie (I know ..); our own Vinnie Jones inexplicably has only one speaking opportunity; and I’m becoming a little tired of the callous villain always being a Brit (this time Christopher Eccleston).

    Link: official Web site click here

    "Gosford Park"

    I didn't think that they made films like this anymore, but I'm certainly glad they do because it is a sheer delight. In many ways, it is the quintessential British movie, combining the social satire of the old television series "Upstairs, Downstairs" with the conventions of an Agatha Christie murder mystery, the whole thing populated by a magnificent collection of British character actors. Yet it was directed by the American Robert Altman who has become the master of the ensemble movie, whether it be "The Player" or (less successfully) "Pret-Á-Porter".

    Gosford Park - actually Syon House in west London, near where I live - is the stately home of Sir William (Michael Gambon) and Lady Sylvia McCordle (Kristin Scott Thomas) who invite some relations and guests to a shooting party in 1932. Before too long, Sir William has been murdered and writer Julian Fellowes - who gives the cast some wonderful lines in a richly-textured script - ensures that there are plenty of suspects with a whole variety of theoretical motives.

    In fact, Sir William is such an unpleasant character that we don't really care that he's been killed and the rites and rituals of the British upper class are dissected with such fascination that we don't care that much who killed him either. But tradition decrees that we have a murderer and a motive and we are given at least one of each.

    There are so many fine performances from so many well-known (at least to a British audience) faces - Alan Bates, Jeremy Northam, Charles Dance, Clive Owen, Robert E Grant, Helen Mirren, Emily Watson, and many more - but it is the aged Maggie Smith as the Countess of Trentham who has some of the best lines and ultimately steals the show.

    Link: official Web site click here

    “The Green Mile”

    One is bound to compare “The Green Mile” with “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994): both were written and directed by Frank Darabont, both are based on stories by Stephen King, and both are set in American pre-war prisons. “Mile” has been much more successful at the box office, but it is not as good a film. The acting is uniformly excellent, with another fine performance by Tom Hanks leading the kindest collection of prison warders – with one notable exception – ever seen on celluloid and Michael Clarke Duncan moving as the mystical black giant John Coffey (his initials are not unintentional) accused of murdering two young girls. The script and the direction are so good that one accepts the presence of a performing mouse called Mr Jangles. And there is an important social message about the revolting nature of capital punishment by electrocution. However, in the end, the whole thing is just too sentimental and silly and too long into the bargain. A urinary infection plays a role in the plot and it may well be that, after 3 hours 9 minutes, the toilet is not that far from your mind.

    Links: official Web site click here Tom Hanks site click here


    The cannibalistic Dr Hannibal Lecter now makes his third cinematic outing. After the hors d’oeuvre of Michael Mann’s “Manhunter” (1986) and the main course of Jonathan Demme’s “The Silence Of The Lambs” (1991), Ridley Scott serves up the dessert so to speak. As friends will testify, the dessert is normally my favourite course – but not this time. I didn’t see “Manhunter”, but Anthony Hopkins’ compelling performance in “Silence” so seared itself on the mind that I can hardly believe it was a decade ago and not much more recently.

    Ten years later, Lecter is practising his cultural and culinary talents in Florence. This is a city I know well, but I have never seen it so dark and threatening and Scott has a wonderful eye for shapes and shadows. Meanwhile FBI agent Clarice Starling – now played by Julianne Moore rather than Jodie Foster – is an altogether tougher, more confident, less trusting woman who has gained a career and commendations but sacrificed the chance of marriage and parenthood.

    “Hannibal” has some gory scenes, but in truth it is not as subtle or as scary as “Silence” and at times the implausibilities strain credulity. The last supper would have been more shocking if it had not reminded me of the monkey brain feast in “Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom” but, at least when it come to making an original escape, one has to hand it to Lecter.

    “Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone”

    As a guy in his fifties who has never read a word of the Potter books, I felt that I needed an excuse to see this children’s film, so – together with five other adults – I accompanied nine year old Yonatan Lee to a Sunday morning showing on the opening weekend. It was a really fun atmosphere with lots of kids dressed up in pointed hats and coloured cloaks and they cheered when the movie started and applauded at the end.

    British one-time primary school teacher Joanne Rowling has now sold some 120 million copies of the first four novels in her planned seven-part saga and apparently managed to ensure that the screen version of her first story stays really close to the book. Although the funding and the director - Chris Columbus of “Home Alone” – are inevitably American, it was shot at classic locations in England and the cast is a wonderful roll call of British character actors and youthful newcomers. Twelve year old Daniel Radcliffe is simply perfect as Harry and the casting is consistently clever from 71 year old Richard Harris as the headmaster Dumbledore to Maggie Smith as Jean Brodie’s alter ego.

    Like Superman, Batman and Luke Skywalker, Harry is an orphan with exceptional powers, but his training ground – the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – is like no other and given magical form through some brilliant special effects, not least in the furious flying game of Quidditch. The pacing of the movie might have been better but, as a mere “muggle” (someone without special powers), I guess I’m in no position to complain and the kids are going to love all two and a half hours.

    Footnote: A couple of days after seeing the film, I caught a train from Platform 9B at London’s Kings Cross station and I was delighted to find the platform decked out with Harry Potter references: signs announcing “Hogwarts Express 9 ¾” and warnings such as “All owls must be caged”.

    Links: official Web site click here special report on Harry Potter click here

    "The Insider”

    This is not an obvious, or an easy, subject for cinematic treatment – high-level whistle-blowing in the US tobacco industry – but, in the hands of accomplished director Michael Mann, the outcome is a compelling analysis of the nature of big business and media values in corporate America. Al Pacino gives another fine performance as CBS “60 Minutes” television producer Lowell Bergman, trying to maintain his old-fashioned radicalism while surviving the tyranny of the suits and protecting his source.

    It is Russell Crowe, however, who sustains the two and a half hour movie as he portrays the former Brown & Williamson scientist, turned informant and science teacher, Jeffrey Wigand. I actually viewed “The Insider” after I saw “Gladiator” and it is astonishing that the same actor could have so ably taken on both eponymous roles. For the former, 34 year old Crowe takes on the persona of a man 18 years his senior by putting on 80 lb, while grey hair, glasses and sheer talent do the rest.

    This true story has an uncompromising message: cigarettes are delivery devices for nicotine and the companies that manufacture them are deliberately trying to make users addicted to them. Sad, then, that Crowe himself is a smoker.

    Text of Wigand’s legal deposition click here
    Text of CBS “60 Minutes” programme click here
    Site about Jeffrey Wigand click here

    “Into The Arms Of Strangers”

    For some reason, most of my closest friends are Jewish and two of them, Ivan and Ros Sloboda, suggested that my wife and me accompany them in seeing this harrowing account the “kindertransport”, the transfer from the Nazi terror of Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia to Britain of some 10,000 Jewish children in the nine-month window of opportunity between “Krystalnacht” and the outbreak of war.

    It is impossible to convey or imagine the feelings of heart-broken parents, forced to send away their children, knowing that they are most unlikely ever to see them again, or of terrified children, torn suddenly and inexplicably from the only family, country, faith and language that they have ever known. But the alternative was almost certain death and some one and a half million children perished in camps like Auschwitz and Terezin which I have visited.

    One cannot review this like a normal film. In a sense, it is not a film at all, but a documentary, consisting of two hours of personal testimony from some of the “Kinder” with interweaving footage and photography from the time. And nothing relating to the unique horror of the Holocaust could be regarded as having anything to do with normality or humanity. Most people will see this work on television but, as Philip French of the “Observer” put it, “There are occasions when it’s morally important for the image to be bigger than we are”.


    A movie with no special effects, no explosives, no real action sequences - how could it succeed? Yet British director Christopher Nolan, known previously only for "Momento", has made a wonderfully crafted remake of a 1997 Norwegian thriller. Although slowly paced, the plot is so intelligent and the acting so fine that one is in no danger of falling asleep any more than the Los Angeles cop played consummately by Al Pacino is in the near-permanent daylight of an Alaskan summer.

    His quarry is a murderer who writes crime novels and likes to play mind games and it is a pleasure to see Robin Williams back in a successful 'straight' role, where the inter-play between the protagonists reminds one of the Pacino/de Niro meeting in "Heat". Young Hilary Swank gives a promising performance as a rookie cop who admires the Pacino character more than perhaps she should. Finally, the unusual location shooting gives the film a very distinctive feel, although - while set in Alaska - most of the actual shooting was done in Canada's British Columbia.

    Link: official Web site click here


    Mental illness often makes challenging cinema - think of "Rain Man" or "Shine". Now both sides of the Atlantic have produced new movies on this theme, looking at the effect of such illness on brilliant and famous individuals: from the US comes "A Beautiful Mind" examining schizophrenia and from the UK there is "Iris" portraying Alzheimer's Disease.

    The latter concerns the novelist and philosopher Dame Iris Murdoch (1919-1999) who was loved and cared for by her uxorious husband Professor John Bayley, on whose books the movie is based. Kate Winslet and Hugh Bonneville represent the couple at Oxford University in the early 1950s, while Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent take on the roles for the last years of the author's life - what one critic has called the "bonking" and "bonkers" phases of her rich life.

    The performances are uniformly excellent, with Dench compelling in a role where expressions as much as words speak volumes. When she does speak, it is often movingly, as when she comments "I feel as if I'm sailing into darkness".

    The film cuts constantly from one period to the other and would have been better served with a more settled structure. Also the subject matter in terribly depressing and anyone who has watched a loved one destroyed mentally - in my case, it was my mother after a stroke - will know how utterly helpless one feels. But not all cinema can be escapist fantasies like "Harry Potter" and "Lord Of The Rings", so see "Iris" and be thankful for your mind.

    "Jurassic Park III"

    Just when you knew that it still wasn't safe to visit the island …some fool does so. Following in the dinosaur footsteps of the earlier two movies in 1993 and 1997, a new cohort of youngsters can thrill to the brilliant special effects - especially since this one is rated PG. For the lead character, its back to the original film with Sam Neill as Dr Alan Grant and there's even brief appearances from his colleague at that time, played by Laura Dern. However, the real 'stars', as always, are the creatures themselves and - as before - we have a mixture of old and new, the latter this time being represented by something called the spinosaurus and the winged pterodactyls. There's no plot and the ending is surprisingly sudden and weak, but this won't worry the kids and, at a mere one and a half hours, it's the perfect afternoon's entertainment for them.

    "Kate And Leopold"

    Meg Ryan - now 40 - was probably born a cute and ditzy blonde with a shaggy dog hair style. Indeed she may well have emerged from the womb crying: "Yes! Yess!! Yesss!!!" I've been a fan since seeing her in "Innerspace" and who could forget her fake orgasm scene in "When Harry Met Sally"?

    So she is a natural - if typecast - in this romantic comedy where she plays the New York advertising executive Kate McKay. More surprising is Australian-born but London-based Hugh Jackson - Wolverine in "X-Men" - who sports an impeccable English accent as the suave Duke of Albany transported from 1876 via a crack in time located at the Brooklyn Bridge (which - perhaps fortunately - I didn't notice when I was there).

    There have been many 'fish out of water' movies set in New York, ranging from "Crocodile Dundee" to "The Dream Team". This one is likeable but light, frothy but forgettable.

    Link: official Web site click here

    "Kissing Jessica Stein"

    This is such a fresh and enjoyable romantic comedy with the twist that it centres on two basically straight New York women who experiment with a lesbian relationship. It could so easily have been prurient or embarrassing or just plain sexist, but that it succeeds so well and so endearingly is down to Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen.

    These two wrote and performed the original off-off-Broadway play and have now successfully transfered their scripting and thespian talents to the screen. Westfeldt plays the eponymous Jessica, a Jewish singleton who sets impossible standards for both herself and her male suitors, while Juergensen is the cooler Helen who seduces Jessica into trying something Sapphic. The dialogue and acting are very naturalistic and, together with direction by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, it makes for entertaining, if undemanding, viewing.

    Link: official Web site click here

    "K-19:The Widowmaker"

    A film which presents in an heroic light the Soviet crew of a nuclear submarine at the height of the Cold War is probably not what American audiences want to see in the aftermath of September 11th. Furthermore, unlike more conventional sub movies, such as "The Boat" or "U-571", this is one where essentially there is no enemy and not a single sonar blip. It is the work of an American woman, producer and director Kathryn Bigelow, where the only American on show is a helicopter crew member and the only woman to make an appearance is the tearful partner of one of the crew. So the whole thing is - so to speak - swimming against the tide.

    It is all rather predictable and wooden with a weak script, yet it still is worth seeing - the production values are high, there is sustained drama, and it was "inspired" by an actual event. K-19 is the first of the Soviet Union's nuclear-powered submarines and is forced to go to sea with a host of known technical and logistical deficiencies with two rival captains on board. One could almost imagine the movie being shown to an MBA class studying leadership models, as we see the dramatically conflicting styles of command of the tough Alexei Vostikov (Harrison Ford) and the more tender Mikhail Polenin (Liam Neeson). If they get it wrong, they'll not only lose their crew, but they could provoke a nuclear war. Ultimately though, this is a tribute to the resourcefulness and bravery of crew members individually and collectively. There are some bad accents, but some tense moments, and it would be a shame if the movie sunk without trace.

    Links: official Web site: click here the true story of K-19 click here


    Great title, reminiscent of "THX 1138" from George Lucas. However, although this might sound like another science fiction movie - which initially put off my wife - it is in fact an earth-bound tale devoid of special effects. Kevin Space, as a character called Prot, is either a visitor from a planet called K-PAX who can travel faster than the speed of light or someone very seriously mentally ill with complex and detailed delusions. Assigned to find out is Jeff Bridges as Dr Mark Powell who - on his own admission - becomes too deeply involved in the mystery.

    Spacey, an actor with an 'otherworldliness' about him and a surname to match, is utterly believable as the benevolent and insightful alien with a consuming taste for fruit. Of course, Bridges has been here before and performs well as the doctor who often cares more about his patients than his family. He was himself a visitor from outer space in "Starman" and he was a psychiatrist again in "Vanilla Sky". Indeed so well cast are the two that it's hard to imagine that originally Spacey was going to be the shrink and Will Smith was slated to be the spaceman.

    There are some good lines ("I've got a light beam to catch"), but unfortunately it all looks rather familiar. The idea of a man with seemingly magic powers was done in "Phenomenon" and the cathartic revelations in the psychiatrist's office is straight out of "The Prince Of Tides". Although there is much sentimentally, the ending is uncharacteristically down-beat and - unless you're like me and watch all the credits - you'll miss a tiny scene at the very end of this particular rainbow.

    Link: official Web site click here


    Calvin Allan writes:

    This Australian film opens with the (fully-clothed) body of a dead woman hidden deep in a lantana - a dense, thorny bush which forms a metaphor for the film's treatment of its central characters: four couples whose lives are interweaved in a complex, but very believable way. As the film evolves, it does not become evident which one of the women is the victim until towards the end. By then, we care deeply about the reasons for her disappearance and the motives, and even more so, for what it has to say both about those who are involved with her on the screen and, by extension, ourselves as viewers bringing to it our own complex relationships.

    It is no coincidence that one of the characters is a therapist - perhaps as much for ourselves as for the on-screen characters. In an absorbing, gritty (and appropriately shot) film that has much to say about the state of the human - and specifically the male - condition, Anthony LaPaglia, the male lead, is utterly compelling as an Australian detective undergoing his own mid-life crises, a tough role to which he brings immense realism and, ultimately, pathos. Despite the difficult nature of the film's central themes, it is not without its moments of humour and its ending outlines a hopeful, if fragile, future.

    "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider"

    There are far too few strong roles for women in the cinema, so bringing electronic game icon Lara Croft to the big screen was a wonderful idea and 26 year old American actress Angelina Jolie is perfect physically for the role, even managing a competent English accent, like her compatriots Gwyneth Paltrow ("Sliding Doors") and Renee Zellweger ("Bridget Jones's Diary") before her. Her sardonic tone and sassy swagger are just right. In another neat bit of casting, real life dad Jon Voight plays her deceased father in flash backs.

    The locations are wonderful - most notably the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, but also Iceland, Venice and Hartfield House in rural England - and the action scenes are fast, furious and fun. A pity then that the plot is so weak (finding the key to time and space before the wicked Illuminati get hold of it) and some characterisation would certainly have been in order (where did Lara learn to shoot two huge guns simultaneously?). Jolie has signed a two-sequel contract, so let's hope that the franchise will become better.

    Footnote: Jolie told an interviewer: "I'll make it real simple. I'm a 36C. In the game, Lara is a double-D. In the movie, she's a D. So we split the difference and made her more athletic".

    Link: click here

    "Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring"

    J.R.R. Tolkien was a professor of medieval literature at Oxford University when he wrote the "Ring" trilogy between 1937 and 1949 and, since their publication in 1954/55, apparently some 100M people have consumed them. I've never read a word of Tolkien and have no desire to do so, but I'm always up for a fantasy film because today's special effects are so brilliant in realising strange, new worlds. Director Peter Jackson shot three films in one mammoth undertaking, taking 15 months and $300M and deploying 300 crew members and 20,000 extras.

    Certainly there is much to admire here: an eclectic cast, some fine acting from veterans Ian McKellan (Gandalf) and Christopher Lee (Saruman), magnificent sets, wonderful prosthetics, stunning special effects, terrific battle scenes, soaring camerawork, and the splendidly varied terrain of the director's New Zealand.

    But there are many problems too - most of them inherent in the novels themselves. For starters, how can one believe that the saviour of Middle Earth can have a name like Frodo Baggins (played by pop-eyed Elijah Wood)? Indeed, for viewers not familiar with the books, there is a bewildering array of strange names and it's not always clear what's going on. Then there's the lack of female characters, just brief appearances by the ethereal Queen Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and the elf Arwen (Liv Tyler). Next there's the utter ponderousness of it all - this is a work that takes itself so seriously and "Harry Potter" was much more fun. In short, one could say that the film is a triumph of visuals over victuals.

    Most seriously of all, there is the poor pacing. The bladder-straining three hour movie is one set-piece battle after another, with no real plot development or build up of the tension. Then, to cap it all, suddenly the film ends in mid air, leaving us to wait for 12 months before we can pick up the story ("The Empire Strikes Back" did this much more successfully). However, real fans will stick it out and Christmas and the "Ring" is set to become a hobbit.

    Link: official Web site click here


    Months before it reached Britain (why do films take so long to cross the Atlantic?), my American friend Michael Grace recommended “Magnolia” – and it proved to be a sound tip. Rarely will one see such an unusual and such a character-driven movie. Paul Thomas Anderson, who both wrote and directed “Boogie Nights”, carries out the same creative tasks here in a veritable tour de force that tells the stories of a complex of individuals all inhabiting the same Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley in a 24 hour period and all connected web-like in ways that are only really clear at the end of this long (3 hours 8 minutes) but, satisfying, work.

    The cutting and the camerawork are stunning, while the pacing is unusual since – like Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony – the fastest action comes two-thirds of the way through and the last third is the most thoughtful and melancholic. Anderson has collated a wonderful cast – no less than eight of them from “Boogie Nights” – and there are so many impressive performances, but Tom Cruise deserves to be singled out for an Oscar-nominated display in a most unsympathetic role.

    The film is not flawless: I would have preferred quieter music and clearer dialogue at times and a couple of the scenes - involving even dying characters singing and a plague from on high – were a little too surreal. But it is an immensely thought-provoking work of great power and poignancy. So, what’s it all about? Michael believes it is about “broken dreams, hopeful dreams, and maybe dreams”; I saw it essentially as about regret and redemption. Judge for yourself. And the origin of the title “Magnolia”? I still haven’t a clue. Finally, quiz-time: what other film refers to the same flower in its title? Answer: “Steel Magnolias” in 1989.

    Link: official Web site click here

    “The Mask Of Zorro”

    Anthony Hopkins plays a ‘retired’ Zorro, the charming Antonio Banderas is his protegé, and feisty Catherine Zeta Jones discovers – and learns to love – both in this perfect family entertainment, full of swashbuckling action, good stunts and some humour. The sound is superb and, if you can’t see it on the big screen (as I did first time), then try to see it on DVD (as I did the second time).

    “The Matrix”

    Written and directed by the Wachowski brothers who made the lesbian heist film “Bound”, this is a totally different movie that is set to become a science fiction classic. It stars Keannu Reeves as Neo (a rather wooden performance), Lawrence Fishbourne as Morpheus, and the sexy Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity in an exciting battle against control by Artificial Intelligence devices in a world not too far in the future. I know that it sounds weird and the storyline is somewhat limited, but it has immense style (down to the dark glasses and Nokia phones), the shooting and fighting sequences are almost balletic, and the special effects are simply breathtaking. Indeed the movie has been so successful that the directors are planning to shoot two sequels back to back. And what is the Matrix? Morpheus tells Neo: "The Matrix is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth".

    Links: official Web site click here fan site click here

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    “Maybe Baby”

    For many cinema goers, the conjunction of the words “British” and “film” is about as promising as that of “military” and “intelligence” and the ignominious reception for “Honest” will have done nothing to undermine this image. However, “Maybe Baby” should recoup its £3M investment.

    In my capacity as Chair of the Internet Watch Foundation, I was invited by the Post Office to a preview with various e-commerce types at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) in London. It is the directorial debut of British comedian Ben Elton and based on his novel “Inconceivable” which in turn was inspired by the infertility problems suffered by himself and his wife Sophie. Infertility is a serious business which affects a surprising number of couples, but Elton gives it a characteristically slapstick treatment with some good lines and at least a few laughs. The British have a fascination with the comedic potential of private parts and body functions (remember all those “Carry On ..” films) and “Maybe Baby” comes on hard (“Oh, behave!”) in that department.

    Hugh Laurie plays Sam Bell, a commissioning editor at the BBC, in a role that is a little more variegated than his usual performances. Joely Richardson is his wife Lucy who displays a wide selection of sexy lingerie in an undemanding part. Various other British performers – Emma Thompson, Joanna Lumley, Dawn French and Rowan Atkinson – have cameo roles. Most of these people are much better known to British television viewers than American cinema audiences and the film may find its rightful position on the ‘box’ on a wet (aren’t they all?) Bank Holiday weekend.

    Link: Hugh Laurie site click here

    “Meet The Parents”

    It was the idea of my son’s partner that we see this comedy as a family (perhaps she’s trying to tell me something?), but it was a real disappointment to us all. It may have done brilliantly in the United States, but I found the plot slight and the humour forced. We know from “Analyze This” that Robert De Niro can do comedy and we know from “There’s Something About Mary” that Ben Stiller has a wicked way with domestic animals, but neither De Niro as the anally-retentive potential father-in-law nor Stiller as the earnest but unfortunate suitor of de Niro’s daughter can overcome an inadequate script with too few real laughs. The humour around the name of the Stiller character (Greg Focker) is both contrived and repetitive and that concerning his ethnicity (Jewish) almost offensive.

    “Men In Black II”

    In 1997, I enjoyed the original movie enormously and, five years later, the boys in black are back, but this is a tired and disappointing sequel. On paper, it probably looked like easy money: the same director (Barry Sonnenfeld who has a tiny, non-speaking role), the same stars (Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones with some role reversal), and some of the same creatures (Worm Guys and Frank the Pug have expanded parts). But, if there is a plot, it's as disguised as many of the aliens and, if you go to the cinema as often as I do, you've already seen many of the best bits in the trailers.

    Link: official Web site click here

    “Minority Report”

    The first-time pairing of director Steven Spielberg and producer-actor Tom Cruise promises something really special, but their ambitious work only partially delivers. The premise of this sci-fi movie, based on a Philip Dick short story of 1956, is that in a Washington DC of 2054 special humans called "pre-cogs" (the most important played by the androgynous Samantha Morton) can forsee future murders so accurately that a Pre-Crime Unit, with Cruise as top cop, is able to intervene and arrest the potential murderer before he kills his victim. If one can go with this bizarre idea, it's still hard to understand how, at the end of the day, the assailant apparently has a choice. There are other plot incredulties, such as how the Pre-Crime people neglect to withdraw Cruise's corneal security clearance once he himself is identified as a future murderer and goes on the run.

    However, if one can overlook these plot weaknesses, a tendency to introduce unnecessary humour, and a couple of sentimental final scenes, the film has much to commend it, above all a roller-coaster action-packed ride with some sharp twists in the tale. The feel of the movie - dark, washed-out colours and hi-tech gadgetry & equipment such as a wall-screen for constructing digital evidence - and the sound of it - music from four classical composers plus John Williams - create a world reminiscent of "Metropolis" or "Blade Runner" and there are some terrific sequences such as the chase by jetpack-enabled police and a reconnaissance operation by robotic spiders. In short, "Minority Report" is going to have majority support, but the aforementioned "Blade Runner" it isn't.

    Link: official Web site click here

    “Mission: Impossible 2”

    When I saw the original Brian de Palma “Mission: Impossible” in 1996, I found the plot confusing but the action sequences thrilling – and I especially enjoyed the Prague locations (because I know the city so well). In the case of “M:i 2”, there is very little plot, but – thanks to director John Woo (“Broken Arrow” and “Face/Off”) - the action scenes are even more explosive and even more visceral with some superb stunts and a pounding soundtrack. I could have done without the repeated use of a particular prosthetics trick, but the thrilling final bike chase sequence is vintage Woo and worth the admission price alone.

    This time round, we have a very different Tom Cruise as Impossible Missions Force agent Ethan Hunt: he looks different, with his long hair flaying all over the place; he fights differently, displaying flying drop kicks at every opportunity; and he feels differently, almost immediately falling in love. Cruise can act, as we know from “Magnolia”, but here his thespian talents are not really needed, but then the guy did do virtually all his own stunts and he was co-producer, so I suppose he deserves his rumoured 30% share of the profits.

    I would like to have seen half British half Zimbabwean Thandie Newton (“Beloved”), as both the agent and the villain’s love interest, given a more physically resourceful role and the great Anthony Hopkins is sadly underused – although he does have the best lines – as the head of the IMF. At least the Scottish Dougray Scott is suitably chilling as the renegade with an original use for his cigar cutter.

    The critics have been pretty cynical about this movie – “More Tom foolery with Mr Cruise” and “Cruising on empty” were just two of the British headlines – but, when I saw the film on its opening weekend at the largest cinema in London (the Empire Leicester Square), every performance that evening was sold out and, at the end of my showing, the audience actually applauded. Sure, it’s a triumph of style over performance – but what style. And, if you’ve had a tough week at work (as I had), it’s a terrific antidote.

    Link: official Web site click here

    “Monsoon Wedding”

    British films "East Is East" and "Bend It Like Beckham" have examined the inter-generational culture problems of families originally from the Indian sub-continent bringing up a family in urban England. But "Monsoon Wedding" makes it clear that one does not have to leave India to find clashes of values within the Indian family. Punjabi director Mira Nair uses the device of a large-scale arranged wedding - an event lasting some days and involving much expense, ritual and tradition - to explore a range of inter-personal relationships, skillfully woven together in a screenplay by Sabrina Dhawan.

    This is a vibrant and colourful movie full of contrast: between the relative peace and affluence of the Verma family home and the endlessly noisy and teeming streets of Delhi, between the normally dry and dusty weather and the regular monsoon downpours, between the candles, flowers and saris of a joyous wedding and the discovery of awful inter-family abuse. Even the dialogue is a contrast, constantly shifting between English, Hindi and Punjabi. Finally there is something of the music and dancing that one expects of a traditional Bollywood product. In short, this is a rich and rewarding work that deserves a world audience.

    “Moulin Rouge”

    My deep love of the cinema embraces most genres, but the musical is probably my least favourite. Yet Australia director, co-producer, and co-writer Baz Luhrmann has virtually reinvented the genre with this visual extravaganza which has furious pacing, stunning sequences and startlingly fresh versions of recent songs as well as older ones. Nicole Kidman has never looked more striking than as the French courtesan Satine, while Ewan McGregor, the writer, and Richard Roxburgh, the Duke, are fine if theatrical as the two suitors with their rival offerings of love and riches respectively. This is a movie which it’s hard not to like, such is its exuberance and charm.

    Link: official Web site click here

    “The Mummy”

    This movie is very derivative of “Raiders Of The Lost Ark”, but it is still enormous fun with lots of action, plenty of humour, the odd scare, superb sound, and excellent special effects. It was written and directed with great panache by Stephen Sommers, the hero is played by American actor Brendan Fraser with a certain charm ,and the feisty heroine is the English Rachel Weisz (“I am a librarian!”). The success of the film was a surprise to Universal, but a sequel is now in production.

    Link: official Web site click here

    "Murder By Numbers”

    Cute, doe-eyed and snub-nosed Sandra Bullock came to our attention in action movies like "Speed" and "The Net" but has become best-known and well-liked in a string of romantic comedies such as "While You Were Sleeping" and "Forces Of Nature". "Murder By Numbers" - which she produced - is clearly her attempt to strike out into tougher characterisations, since here she is a homicide investigator, seemingly with a male attitude to sex, seeking to bring to justice two amoral teenagers who think that they have committed the undetectable crime. It doesn't really work and Bullock is either going to have to find better scripts or revert to type.

    Link: official Web site click here

    "My Big Fat Greek Wedding”

    This was the summer sleeper of 2002, a small production ($5M) that surprised everyone by winning over audiences and raking in cash comparable with the blockbusters (over $200M already) to make it the most successful independent movie of all time and (in terms of its rate of return on investment) one of the most profitable movies ever made.

    American films have explored Jewish and Italian families endlessly, so it's a pleasure to focus on a different ethnicity, the Greek-American, in a romantic comedy that has much less meat than a moussaka but as much syrup as baklava. That such a work has reached our screens is down to co-producers Tom Hanks and his Greek-American wife Rita Wilson, following her enjoyment of one-woman stage show of Greek-Canadian Nia Vardalos. There are no big-name stars, just Nia Vardalos herself as ugly duckling Toula, John Corbett as her all-American suitor, and Michael Constantine as Toula's irascible father, who thinks that everything good in life and every word in our language come from the Greeks. This is a movie for a date or a diversion and we all need more of both.

    Link: official Web site click here

    "The Negotiator”

    No, this is not a film about collective bargaining – otherwise it would have been in the section on trade union films! Instead it is a movie about a Chicago police hostage negotiator who is forced – by false charges of murder and embezzlement – to himself become a hostage taker and deal with a police negotiator from the other side of the precinct. Apparently based loosely on an actual incident which occurred in St Louis, the stars are two of the finest character actors around: Samuel L Jackson (“Pulp Fiction) as the wronged Danny Roman and Kevin Spacey (“The Usual Suspects”) as the cool Chris Sabian. The chemistry between the two is important to the film’s success and much helped by an excellent script and the actors near 20 years of friendship. The plotting is intelligent with plenty of tension and twists and there are some exciting action sequences, all making for a must-see movie. So what does the middle initial stand for in Samuel L Jackson? The answer – Leroy – may win you a pub quiz sometime.

    Links: six more reviews click here Kevin Spacey site click here

    “Notting Hill”

    This is from the writer (Richard Curtis) and producer (Duncan Kenworthy) of the phenomenally-successful “Four Weddings And A Funeral” and it is another romantic comedy with Hugh Grant leading a very British cast except for an American leading lady. All the performances are excellent and Julia Roberts is perfectly cast as the famous movie star who falls for the diffident London bookshop owner. Not for the cynical, but my wife and I found it totally charming with some enjoyable jokes. Also, those of us who live in London know that a portrayal of Notting Hill without black faces is a serious misrepresentation.

    "Ocean's Eleven"

    The cinematic convention is that the remake of a successful film is rarely as good as the original, but here director Steven Soderbergh has inverted that convention by taking a mediocre movie of 1960 and turning it into an enormously entertaining caper. A lot of it is down to Soderbergh's sheer cinematic verve; some of it is explained by the sharp script from Ted Griffin; but ultimately it works because of the stellar casting.

    George Clooney oozes charisma and cool as Danny Ocean, a career criminal who is no sooner out of jail than, like Yul Brynner in "The Magnificent Seven", he's recruiting for a mission impossible. Few shots are fired on this escapade, though, because it all comes down to planning, cunning and sheer bravado.

    Along for the fun - and it's clear that the crew really enjoyed themselves - are young stars Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, old timers Elliot Gould and Carl Reiner, and sundry others ranging from a non English-speaking Chinese acrobat to a Cockney-speaking black man, although not all the eleven gang members are well delineated. Andy Garcia is the owner of the three casinos whose $150 million is targeted and Julia Roberts is his girlfriend who - at least for Ocean - is as much a target as the money.

    The plot is totally fanciful, never more so that in the suggestion that one could take possession and operate a device that would knock out the electricity of Las Vegas without either act attracting the attention of law enforcement let alone special forces. But it is all done with great panache and, as sheer entertainment, this is hard to beat.

    Footnote: The movie ends with a beautiful rendition of "Claire de Lune" by Debussy. Question: which other film uses this piece classical music? Answer: the 1991 "Frankie and Johnny".

    Link: official Web site click here

    “The Patriot”

    There is no doubting the impressive production values of this re-creation of the American War of Independence. Filmed on location in South Carolina, some 400 enthusiasts of the period helped to portray faithfully the clothing, the weaponry and the tactics of this epic conflict. There are some exciting fight sequences and some impressive battle scenes and the direction, photography and sound are all superlative, so some credit should go to German director Roland Emmerich who has previously given us “Independence Day” and “Godzilla”.

    Yet, however entertaining the movie, it is irredeemably flawed by its appalling travesty of history and I simply cannot imagine how the Smithsonian Institution could allow itself to be credited as historical consultants. I saw the film with my good American friend Eric Lee and it is difficult to say which of us found the narrative more risible and offensive. The British regulars are represented as proto-Nazis and there is simply no evidence to justify the infamous church-burning scene that seems to be a crude attempt to wipe out the memory of the American butchery at My Lai. Although Americans supported slavery for four decades after the British abolished it, here blacks are shown as free and happy.

    As the eponymous settler and family man Benjamin Martin, Mel Gibson once more plays a hero of mythic qualities – at times he is referred to as a ghost – most notably in a tomahawk-wheeling scene taken straight from “The Last Of The Mohicans”. As in “Braveheart”, he turns the course of battle with a speech that few could have heard and still fewer would have heeded and this time his literal flag-waving apparently becomes a pivotal point in American history. The whole thing is laden with clichés from the traumatised girl who will not speak to the dogs who switch their affections to the good guy. At the end of the 2 hours 41 minutes, you will be none the wiser about why the Americans fought for independence and how they won the war and this inability – or unwillingness – to come to terms with history has serious implications for the present. .

    Link: official Web site click here

    “The Perfect Storm”

    The film is based on Sebastian Junger’s 1997 best selling book about the loss of the sword-boat “Andrea Gail” in a ferocious storm off the New England coast in 1991 and directed by Wolfgang Petersen who gave us another maritime drama with “Das Boot”(1981). The lead roles are taken by George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg who were together in “Three Kings” and seem likely to continue pairing up in further movies. The dialogue is often hard to follow – especially for my Czech mates Vojta and Tereza with whom I saw the film – but in fact there is minimal plot or characterisation. Instead, as in “Twister” (1996), it is the elements which are centre stage and the special effects are utterly believable – in both films, Industrial Light and Magic was responsible.

    Link: official Web site click here

    "Pitch Black"

    This is “Aliens” revisited – but with enough variation and verve to make it a compelling movie from bone-rattling opening to nail-biting finale. Once more, we have a space crew led by a resourceful woman (an able performance from Radha Mitchell) confronting killers more sensed than seen. But this is a planet with a difference: at first, bleached white by three suns but later – thanks to an unfortunately-timed eclipse – the total darkness of the title.

    And, since the eclectic characters are played by a (mixed American/ Australian) unknown cast, it is not so easy to determine who will live and who will be devoured alive in this tightly-paced and sharply-cut work.. Considerable credit goes to director and co-writer David Twohy and some charisma comes in the bulky form of Vin Diesel as a convict with rare insight.

    Link: official Web site click here

    “Planet Of The Apes”

    I’m old enough to have seen and enjoyed, when it was first released in 1968, the original film directed by Franklin J Schaffner, with its now legendary ending as astronaut Taylor (played by Charlton Heston) finally realises where he is and screams “Damn them all to hell!” Also I’m an admirer of director Tim Burton’s innovative work in such movies as “Batman”, so I looked forward to Burton’s effort at “re-imagining” Pierre Boulle’s imaginative novel. Sadly the result is nothing to go ape about.

    As one would expect with Burton, the work has a distinctive and impressive look, even if it is frequently as much Gothic as gorilla. The location shooting in Hawaii and Arizona and the prosthetics of five-times-Oscar-winner Rick Baker give the film strength. The problem – as so often in today’s Hollywood – is the script which seems to have been produced by sitting a bunch of chimps in front of some keyboards. Much of the dialogue is risible and the thoughtfulness and sharpness of Schaffner’s work is missing.

    Mark Wahlberg, in the role of the lost spaceman Leo Davidson, is adequate, but he does not have the presence or the anger that made Heston’s performance so powerful. In fact, Heston makes a cameo appearance in this re-make and manages to reprise his 1960s closing line. Many of the other stars, who include Tim Roth (“Reservoir Dogs”) and Michael Clarke Duncan (“The Green Mile”), can only be recognised by their voices.

    In the original, Taylor was fleeing Earth because war and famine had caused him to become totally disillusioned with mankind. In the reprise, Davidson is desperate to return to the Earth he knows, even though he is on a planet where he finishes up with a God-like status among both men and apes and he can choose between the bee-sting lips of Estella Warren and the simian charms of Helena Bonham-Carter. Anyone that silly deserves what he finds in a brave, but essentially futile, attempt to provide a variation on the 1968 ending.

    Link: official Web site click here


    In this movie written, produced and directed by Gary Ross, Tobey Maguire (as Bud) and Reese Witherspoon (as Mary Sue) are two 90s kids who are sucked into a 50s-style TV sitcom where their parents are William H Macey (“Honey, I’m home!”) and Joan Allen. This television world is black and white both literally and metaphorically and there are clever special effects as the sitcom seeps and then bursts into colour. There are obvious allusions to Nazism in this in this comedic but intelligent film that celebrates change, difference and uncertainty.


    I'm a big fan of Gwyneth Paltrow whom I regard as an actress of rare talent and beauty so, in spite of many reviewers being parsimonious in their praise for this film, I ventured out to London's Leicester Square to make my own judgement and did not regret it. Following her performances in "Emma", "Sliding Doors" and "Shakespeare In Love", for the fourth time Paltrow adopts an impeccable English accent.

    This time she plays an academic specialising in the work of an obscure 19th century poet called Christabel LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle, whom I enjoyed in "This Year's Love"). She is approached by an American researcher, Roland Michell, played by a permanently unshaven Aaron Eckhart, who has discovered a possible romantic connection between LaMotte and fellow poet Randolph Henry Ash (Jeremy Northam, last seen in that other costume drama "Gosford Park"). It turns out that Ash's marriage has no physical side (for reasons which are not explained), while LaMotte's lesbian relationship may not be as exclusive as was thought.

    All this sounds more raunchy that it is. There is in fact little sex and no nudity at all on show; yet director Neil LaBute ensures that sensuality imbues scene after scene. Set against the unusual locations of Lincoln and Whitby, the modern-day academics retrace the steps of the two poets both physically and romantically in cross-cutting scenes that reminded me of the structure of "The French Lieutenant's Woman". If you're a pubescent popcorn-guzzler, you'll hate this movie and find it terribly slow and literary (it is based on the Booker Prize-winning novel by A S Byatt); on the other hand, if you'd like something different from the usual mindless, blockbuster fare, you'll probably find this a refreshing change.

    “Proof Of Life”

    The title is a reference to the first requirement of the specialists who work in kidnapping and ransom, for this is a superior thriller about the attempt to recover alive American dam builder Peter Bowman (played by David Morse) following his capture by a tough Latin American guerilla group. The professional negotiator is Terry Thorne and, for once, Russell Crowe is allowed to use his natural accent as an Australian who has served with the British SAS. In the middle of it all is Bowman’s wife Alice, portrayed by the ever-watchable Meg Ryan who is sleepless in South America.

    Director Taylor Hackford grabs our attention from the very beginning with a tense action sequence set in Chechnya (but shot in Poland) and then, except for some scenes in good old London town, the story unfolds in an un-named Andean republic with superb photography on location in Ecuador. The finale is an exciting and realistic attack on the guerilla camp led by Crowe and an emotional and equally realistic “Casablanca”-style parting between Crowe and Ryan. In an ironic case of life imitating art, the two leads commenced a nine-month affair while filming the movie and, since its release, Crowe has been the subject of kidnap threats.

    Footnote: When I saw the film in London, there was applause at both the opening and closing credits. Enquiries revealed the presence of a troupe from the movie’s post-production company The Whitehouse cheering on a colleague. Way to go, guys!

    Link: official Web site click here

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    “Pushing Tin”

    This strange title comes from the unusual setting of the film – it’s a term used by air traffic controllers to refer to positioning aircraft in tight air spaces and the movie is set in New York’s Terminal Radar Approach Control {TRACON). Local hot shot Nick Falzone, ably played by the charming John Cusack (“Grosse Point Blank”), is challenged at work, at play and ultimately in the sack by ultra-cool newcomer Russell Bell, portrayed by the excellent Billy Bob Thornton. All this is particularly tough on the wives: respectively Australian actress Cate Blanchett, who was so good as “Elizabeth”, and sultry Angelina Jolie (daughter of Jon Voight). “Pushing Tin” is a black comedy, with a touch of romance, that is probably best avoided if you have a fear of flying. But, if you sometimes feel stressed at work, this film should put it all in perspective and entertain you in the bargain.

    Link: official Web site click here

    "Road To Perdition"

    We've waited three years for British director Sam Mendes to follow up his Oscar-laden debut "American Beauty"; we've waited his whole career to see Tom Hanks play an immoral guy (although we're still rooting for him from the beginning); and, so far as I can determine, we've waited the history of the cinema for an English-language movie with the word 'perdition' in the title. Was it worth the wait? Most certainly - Mendes has triumphed again with totally different subject material - Irish-American gangsterism of 1931 - but the same consummate composure and craftmanship of every scene.

    Mendes is well-served by a fine cast. Besides Hanks, Paul Newman comes out of retirement to give an excellent performance as the gang leader who is a father figure to the Hanks character (indeed the whole film is about the father-son relationship), Daniel Craig and Jude Law are impressive as psychotic killers of different kinds, and young Tyler Hoechlin is convincing as Hanks' son and the narrator of the story. As with "American Beauty", Mendes has used veteran cinematographer Conrad Hall, who creates wonderful visual images, and an atmospheric score from Thomas Newman which, together with the production design of Dennis Gassner (who makes the Depression era so live) adds up to a real class act.

    Link: official Web site click here

    "The Royal Tenenbaums"

    I'm at all sure that I'd have gone to see this film if it hadn't received such positive reviews. The strange title gives no indication of the subject matter and, when one does discover the theme of the movie (examination of a dysfunctional well-off New York family), it's not exactly a crowd-puller. Royal Tenenbaum is the odd name of the head of an even odder family, played by Gene Hackman - an actor who is now in his 70s and starring in his 80th film. Hackman does little comedy - believe it or not, this is a funny movie - but here has the pivotal role in a stellar cast.

    His wife Etheline - whom he left 17 years ago - is played by Anjelica Huston and they have three 'grown-up' children, each of whom was once a prodigy and now has psychological problems. There's Chas (Ben Stiller), a financial whizz-kid, Richie (Luke Wilson), a one-time tennis champ, and Margot (a panda-eyed Gwyneth Paltrow), a playright of sorts. If that was not enough, there's Danny Glover as Etheline's suitor, Bill Murray as Margot's husband, and Owen Wilson (who teamed with Hackman in "Behind Enemy Lines") as a family friend.

    It's this talented cast that gives director and co-writer Wes Anderson such an entertaining success for such a quirky movie. Without them, it's hard to see how this would have been more than a light-weight curiosity

    Link: official Web site click here

    “Runaway Bride”

    Almost a decade after the world-wide success of “Pretty Woman” comes this romantic comedy from the same team: director Garry Marshall and co-stars Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. There’s even the same supporting actor Hector Elizondo and a kind of reprise of the shop scene. This time round Roberts, playing small-town girl Maggie Carpenter, is a woman who has already jilted three men at the altar and is planning a fourth attempt at nuptials to a local bone-head. Will she go through with the wedding or will she fall for columnist Gere – in spite of the 18 year age difference – instead? Pretty. predictable, profitable.

    “Saving Private Ryan”

    Tom Hanks leads a unit of eight soldiers – not all of whom will last the course – on a mission to find Matt Damon (Private Ryan), the last survivor of four brothers in post-invasion Normandy of 1944. Produced and directed by Steven Spielberg, this is a stunning movie – one of the best war films of all time. In the first 25 of the 170 minutes, there is the most realistic depiction of war ever witnessed on screen in a shocking recreation of the D-Day landings on Omaha beach. Yet the most moving parts – as in the same director’s “Schindler’s List” – are the present day cemetery scenes. When the modern-day Ryan pleads with his wife: “Tell me I’ve been a good man” – as if that could make the loss of life somehow worthwhile – I was choking with tears. At the 1999 Academy Awards, the movie won five Oscars including that for Best Director.

    Link: Tom Hanks site click here

    “The Score”

    Directed by the man who gave us the voice of Miss Piggy (Frank Oz), the plot is entirely unoriginal: an aging professional thief is persuaded to do one last job before he plans to settle down with a younger woman and you just know that things will not go smoothly and someone is going to be double-crossed. But what makes this movie worth seeing is a few differences.

    First the pro (Robert de Niro) owns a jazz club, so we get to hear a little cool music. Next the location is French-speaking Montreal and we usually only have Canadian locations when Toronto is set up to be an American city because Canadian technicians work for lower rates.

    Above all, though, there is the intriguing casting of three terrific actors from three generations. Young Edward Norton is excellent in the most demanding of the roles; the eminently-watchable de Niro gives the kind of performance he can deliver in his sleep; while there is a rare opportunity to see the now physically inflated, but still commanding, Marlon Brando. Not anything like as good as it could have been, but still superior fare.


    I'm a sucker for romantic comedies, but even I need more substance than this. The leads are fine. I've admired John Cusack since "Grosse Point Blank" and he's cute as American newsman Jonathan. Kate Beckinsale was sweet in "Pearl Harbor" and is charming as English therapist Sara. The main problems are the script which is weak and the narrative which is almost non-existent. Finally it doesn't help that the nature of the plot - if that's not too strong a word in this context - means that the principals spend too little screen time together. Perhaps the best that can be said for this film is that it will make the word 'serendipity' better understood (fortunate, but chance, discovery), but I bet you don't know it's origin (it was coined in 1754 by Horace Walpole and is derived from the ancient name for Sri Lanka).

    Link: official Web site click here

    “Shakespeare In Love”

    This is directed by John Madden (“Mrs Brown”), co-produced by Edward Zwick (“Something”) and cleverly written by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman. It is an excellent romantic comedy set in 1593 London, as William Shakespeare – played by Joseph Fiennes (“Elizabeth”) – struggles with writers’ block over what eventually becomes “Romeo And Juliet”. His inspiration and love is Viola de Lesseps portrayed by the luminescent Gwyneth Paltrow in her third role calling for an English accent (after “Emma” and “Sliding Doors”). This is Shakespeare as we’ve never seen him before with a script that fairly crackles with jokes ranging from the modern to the literary.

    Links: official Web site click here Gwyneth Paltrow site click here

    “The 6th Day”

    This latest Schwarzenegger offering is not as execrable as his previous film “End Of Days”, but neither is it as clever and slick as “Total Recall” with which it bears some plot similarities. The story of illegal human cloning is set “in the not too distant future” and some of the futuristic sets and devices are quite neat, especially the cloning processes and the versatile helicopters. The plot had potential but comes out more silly than sophisticated. The real problem, however, is the Austrian hunk himself – as Conan or the Terminator, his physique and accent had a place and even style but, as an ‘ordinary’ helicopter pilot, he looks out of place and sounds wooden. The lesson of “End Of Days” and “The 6th Day” is that the 53 year old Arnie should call it a day.

    Link: official Web site click here

    “The Sixth Sense”

    There was no way I was going to see the over-hyped and under-funded “Blair Witch Project”, but friends eventually persuaded me to view “The Sixth Sense” in spite of my aversion to the paranormal. Bruce Willis plays a child psychologist in an uncharacteristically gentle and under-stated, but very effective, performance, but it is the 11 year old Haley Joel Osment who is simply stunning as a deeply disturbed young boy with a chilling secret. Really the less one knows about this film, the more one is likely to enjoy it. Suffice to say that writer and director M Night Shyamalan has produced a well-paced and intelligently plotted movie that is very well worth seeing.

    Link: official Web site click here


    The four "Superman" movies, "Supergirl", the four "Batman" films, the "X-Men" - saw them all and (to varying degrees) enjoyed then all. So I needed no encouragement to see another fantasy super-hero brought to the big screen and the record-breaking $114M opening weekend in the States just whetted my appetite. The film does not disappoint, providing fun and flying in good measure with some superb computer animation - but it's hard to see just how it took so much money so fast. For me, the first two "Superman" films still take some beating.

    Perhaps it's something to do with the post-September 11 need for protection and it was right - although cinematically a loss - to cut the original sequence involving New York's twin towers. Perhaps it's 'that kiss', unlikely and uncomfortable though such an inverted encounter would be. It must have something to do with Tobey Maguire who was so weird in "The Ice Storm", but brings a kind of nerdy charm to Peter Parker. It may well owe something to Willem Dafoe who looks bizarre even before he dons the Green Goblin mask and gives the most over the top performance of a super-villain since Jack Nicholson was the Joker (I'd love to have his flying device).

    Surely it wasn't Kirtsen Dunst as Mary Jane (MJ) - liked the cute dimples, but hated the red hair, and really she is a rather plain Jane. It certainly wasn't the puerile plot or the dire dialogue. So I guess in the end it was Sam Raimi's assured direction and John Dystra's brilliant special effects that spun such an entertaining yarn.

    Links: UK official Web site click here US official Web site click here Spider-Man fan site click here

    “Spy Game”

    What do you have if you take Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, charismatic stars from two generations, and combine them with virtuoso director Tony Scott? A clever-crafted, furiously-paced thriller that should appeal to an audience from the teenage to the retired – that’s what. Redford – who has directed Pitt but never starred with him – is veteran CIA controller Nathan Muir who is on his last day at the Agency and, in movie land, retirement day always means trouble. In this case, former CIA assassin Tom Bishop (Pitt) has been arrested by the Chinese, is about to be executed in 24 hours, and has been abandoned by his erstwhile employers.

    The action jumps from China and Vietnam to Berlin and Beirut and always back to CIA Headquarters in Virginia, while – even before the opening credits and for the next two hours - there are some compelling action sequences, frenetic camera work and an excellent sound track. This is a film which requires, even demands, constant attention, never letting up the pace and the tension. Much of the story line – especially the finale – is totally implausible, but this is entertainment not documentary and, as such, it delivers on target.

    Link: official Web site click here

    “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace”

    OK, let’s start with the confessions. I’m a great movie fan; science fiction is one of my favourite genres; and I loved the original "Star Wars" trilogy. The first film that I took my son Richard to see was the first “Star Wars” movie and he was only two and a half at the time. Once I went to see all three of the original “Star Wars” films back to back. I entered the cinema at 2.30 pm and left about 10.30 pm, having been fortified with sandwiches and a flask of coffee! So I was really looking forward to “The Phantom Menace” and saw it on the opening weekend with Rich.

    It has been perhaps the most hyped film in the history of the cinema and it has been poorly reviewed by most critics, but I loved it. All the weaknesses of “The Phantom Menace” – corny dialogue, wooden acting, and simple plotting – were there in the earlier three films and we have to make allowances. After all, the series is made for children – and adults with a sense of fun.

    Set thirty years before “A New Hope”, in “The Phantom Menace” we meet many familiar characters: Anakin Skywalker (before he falls prey to the dark side of the Force and becomes Darth Vader), a much younger Obi-Wan Kenobi (played in a strange English accent by the Scottish Ewan McGregor), a slightly less wrinkled Yoda, Jabba the Hutt, and of course R2-D2 and C-3PO. However, there are lots of new characters including the devilish Darth Maul with his double-ended light sabre, Queen Amidala (played by young Natalie Portman who was so brilliant in “Leon), and Jar Jar Binks who is entirely computer generated. Also there are a host of great robots and machines and some wonderful sets. Above all, the special effects are quite simply brilliant.

    See the film at a decent cinema, so that you can enjoy the wide screen and the superb sound and it’ll be an experience you’ll savour.

    Links: official Web site click here fan Web site click here

    “Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones”

    There's nothing quite like a new "Star Wars" film to excite movie fans and, on the opening weekend at the première cinema in London, the sell-out audience was buzzing with expectation as we awaited the familiar theme tune and introductory sloping text. When it came, the folk applauded and hooted with pleasure. There is a family tradition of two decades whereby I take my son Rich to the new "Star Wars" movie and, although he is now in his mid-twenties and a fully fledged Jedi knight, we still honour that tradition - and it was just as well because, on occasions, this 50-something fan needed a bit of explanation of a convoluted plot.

    I liked "The Phantom Menace", but "AOTC" will appeal more to aficionados, not least because - like the middle film in the second trio, "The Empire Strikes Back" - it is altogether darker, both metaphorically and visually. I'm becoming used to Ewan McGregor's weird accent as Obi-Wan Kenobi and lobeless but lovely Natalie Portman is a delight as Padmé Amidila. However, it is Canadian newcomer Hayden Christensen who has the most challenging role as 19 year old Anakin Skywalker, a personality in transition, constantly torn between the light and dark side of The Force. When he describes the savaging of the Tusken Raiders who killed his mother, one is reminded of the massacre scene towards the end of "Lawrence Of Arabia".

    As always, George Lucas' fifth in the franchise is a technical tour de force. In the course of some 2,200 effects shots, we encounter wonderfully inventive worlds and weapons and a marvellous array of characters and creatures, all enhanced with stunning visuals and superb sound. Again as always, the weakest part of the production is the dialogue which reduced the audience to unintended laughter at several points. As Harrison Ford allegedly told Lucas on one of the earlier films: "George, you can type this shit, but you sure can't say it". On the other hand, Lucas was inspired to create the "Star Wars" saga by the Saturday matinée serials like "Flash Gordon" and their scripts were even worse.

    At the end of the day, "AOTC" is not fine art but simple entertainment and, on that level, it certainly delivers with a roller-coaster ride and a thrilling finale that features - the best bit of the movie - Yoda kicking ass with Count Dooku. Personally I can't wait for 2005 and Episode III.

    Links: official Web site click here fan Web site click here

    “The Story Of Us”

    I saw this in Prague with my Czech mates Tamara, Katka and Martin. It had such promise: a stellar first-time pairing of Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer and direction by Rob Reiner who made such romantic comedies as “When Harry Met Sally” and “The American President”. However, the emotional subject matter of the movie – the bitter breakdown of a 15 year old marriage with children – does not lend itself to Reiner’s trademark charm. I have been where the film’s protagonists find themselves and I found the script often hit the mark, but sadly the whole is something less than the sum of the parts. The title in Czech is “Druha sance” or “Second Chance” which gives away the all too predictable ending that comes almost as a relief.

    “The Sum Of All Fears”

    I suppose that, if James Bond can be portrayed by five actors, Tom Clancy's CIA agent Jack Ryan can be played by three (but in the space of just four films?). Following Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford, we now have the much younger, lantern-jawed Ben Affleck relying more on his command of intelligence than his physical prowess.

    After the horrific events of September 11, the idea of a nuclear device exploding in an American city is not beyond the realm of imagination, but would the Americans really suspect the Russians? In fact, the bad guys are portrayed like cardboard characters from an early Bond movie. However, if one can suspend one's critical faculties over the plot, the film still manages to be an effective thriller, aided by some good performances - especially from the consummate Morgan Freeman as Head of the Agency - a considerable deployment of military hardware and some exciting photography.

    Link: official Web site click here

    “Suzhou River”

    On the return flight from our tour of China in Autumn 2000, we befriended a Chinese postgraduate student called Hua Ye who was on her way to commence her studies at Oxford University. Two months later, when she came to stay with us in London, we found this Chinese film to entertain her. The titular river runs through the north of Shanghai – one of the cities we visited on our holiday – and the action is set around the dilapidated quarters of this waterfront. Director and writer Ye Lou, himself a native of Shanghai, has crafted a haunting tale of betrayal, love and death told in a jerky, documentary style of photography with a compelling performance by the young actress Xun Zhou. It opens and closes with the same snatch of conversation but, by the time we hear it for the second time, we understand a lot more about the characters and the words themselves have become so much more meaningful and melancholic.

    “The Talented Mr Ripley”

    In real - as opposed to reel – life, Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow are now an item but, in this piece, they are protagonists over the affections and well-being of an American played by the British actor Jude Law who may find that, following appearances in such films as “Gattaca”, this proves to be his breakthrough movie. Damon is the eponymous Tom Ripley who is asked to go to late 1950s Italy and persuade a rich stranger called Dickie Greenleaf (Law)to abandon his wanton ways and return to New York, but chameleon-like Tom is seduced by Dickie's lifestyle with ever-complicated consequences. It would spoil the film to say more about the intriguing, if unlikely, plot; suffice to say that Ripley’s multiple talents range from the musical to the macabre.

    The movie is both written and directed by the British Anthony Mingella, who had such a success with “The English Patient”, and here he has another winner on his hands. It’s always an extra pleasure when one knows the locale of a film and Mingella has used a wonderful variety of Italian sites, including Naples, Rome and Venice, each of which I’ve visited more than once.

    Link: official Web site click here

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    “The Thin Red Line”

    Inevitably this film will be compared with “Saving Private” Ryan”, since they were issued about the same time and both deal graphically with the experience of American troops in World War Two. Yet the two could hardly be more different. It is not just that “.. Line” is set in the Pacific rather than the European theatre; the structure and style of this first work in 20 years from the maverick director Terrence Malick is a world apart from Spielberg’s offering.

    The impressive cast is led by Nick Nolte, Sean Penn and John Cusack, but they are ably supported by less well-known Adrien Brody, Jim Caviezel and Ben Chaplin, and the performances are uniformly excellent. The photography is superb and the music haunting. But ultimately this is a mess of a movie. The narrative is weak and punctuated by incomprehensible monologues in a dream-like scenario that at times borders on the surreal. It received seven Academy Award nominations but lost out – in my view, rightly – to “.. Ryan”.

    Link: official Web site click here

    “This Year’s Love”

    Like the much better known “Notting Hill”, this is a very British film centred on a part of north London – in this case Camden Town – but, in every other respect, the two could hardly be more different. “This Year’s Love” has grit and grime with lots of swearing, smoking, drinking and – to use the vogue word – shagging. Like “Friends”, it narrates the lives and loves of six twenty-something characters who all know each other but, in this case, there is much less amity and much more sexuality with, in the course of the three year time-scale, each of the main characters bedding at least two of those of the opposite sex, with some extra coupling thrown in for even more colour.

    It is a credit to David Kane, the writer and debut director, that this tragicomedy all works so well and it is a shame that one cannot always hear the sharp dialogue. Kane was aided by fine performances from a relatively unknown cast, headed by actors Douglas Henshall, Dougray Scott and Ian Hart and actresses Catherine McCormack (“Braveheart”), Jennifer Ehle (“Wilde”) and Kathy Burke (“Nil By Mouth”).

    “The Thomas Crown Affair”

    This is the movie that my colleague Beth Lamont walked out of while on holiday in New York City. However, while it is light and predictable (especially if you saw the original), it is a slick production that is enjoyable and entertaining. This remake of the 1968 success stars suave Pierce Brosnan, taking time off from being 007, as the businessman turned art thief and sophisticated Rene Russo as the insurance investigator who is supposed to be his nemesis. These were the roles taken first time round by Steve McQueen (who died in 1980) and Faye Dunaway who appears in this reprise as Queen’s psychoanalyst. It is a homage to the original: while the chess scene is gone, the glider sequence is still there and the song “Windmills On Your Mind” (sung now by Sting) can be heard if you stay for the credits.

    Like “Entrapment”, the heart of the movie is the relationship between two canny protagonists, but here the lovers are played by actors virtually the same age and it is a delight to see a 45 year old woman ‘allowed’ to be the femme fatale (it helps that Russo is a former model). Incidentally, if “Entrapment” and “Thomas Crown” seem to have a similar plot, that’s no coincidence. Brosnan, who produced “Thomas Crown”, did not like the original script for the intended remake, so the writer took it to Sean Connery.

    Link: official Web site click here

    “Three Kings”

    Written and directed by independent-minded David O Russell, this is a war film with a difference that defies easy categorisation. For a start, it begins on the day that the war – Operation Desert Storm in March 1991 – ends. Then the action is not about territorial conquest, but initially about personal greed and later increasingly about group liberation. In spite of the title, there are not even three protagonists but four, well-played by George Clooney (the former “ER” television doctor who is now a star of growing charisma), Mark Wahlberg (an actor previously known for playing a porn star with a prodigious tumescence in “Boogie Nights”), Ice Cube (the former gangsta rapper with the most ridiculous name since Rip Torn), and Spike Jonze (director of "Being John Malkovich").

    There are echoes of other films: like “Courage Under Fire”, it has a Gulf War setting; like “Kelly’s Heroes”, it’s centred on a freelance wartime quest for personal wealth; and, in some of the stand-off scenes, one is reminded of “The Wild Bunch”. But Russell has a very personal style of his own with jerky, newsreel-like camera action and an almost surreal take on the effect of a bullet on the human body. This is an impressive work which poses some sharp political questions about the conduct and purpose of the Gulf War, let down only by a too-easy ending. Quiz time: what do Twister” and “Three Kings” have in common? Answer: both feature flying cows (you’d better believe it!).

    Link: official Web site click here


    Films do not come bolder and more experimental than this. Throughout the entire 93 minutes, the screen is divided into four segments and each quadrant is occupied by the product of one hand-held camera generating one continuous shot - a feat not technically possible until the advent of digitalisation. As if this were not enough, there was only an outline script, permitting and indeed requiring considerable improvisation by the cast of 28.

    It is not as difficult to follow as one might fear because the soundtrack is usually dominant in one corner, focusing the viewer on one quarter while allowing other points of view. There are some very attractive women on show: the director’s partner Saffron Burrows, Salma Hayek, Jean Tripplehorn and Xander Berkeley. But plot-wise the focus is on a male: a dissolute producer played by Stellan Skarsgård (“Ronin”).

    Essentially though, this is the work of an auteur – the British Mike Figgis was director, co-producer, writer, and even composer. The whole thing is a satire on Hollywood film production and, when one character describes the very kind of film portrayed by “Timecode”, the producer character condemns it as “the most pretentious shit I ever heard”. “Pretentious”? Probably. “Shit”? No. Successful? Tentatively.

    Link: Mike Figgis info click here


    Like many others, I’ve always been fascinated by the tragedy of the “Titanic”. One of the first films I ever saw was the black and white 1958 account called “A Night To Remember” and, a few years ago, I visited an exhibition at the National Maritime Museum of artefacts recovered from the wreck. Therefore I wanted to see this movie, but I could have done without the tidal wave of publicity which preceded it.

    The main reason for the hype was the staggering sum – allegedly some $200 million or more – spent on it by the writer and director, the driven James Cameron, to produce a 3 hour 15 minute spectacular. Against the background of the famous 1912 sinking, there is an “Upstairs, Downstairs” love match between Kate Winslet as the refined Rosie and Leonardo de Caprio as the free-spirited Jack. Once the ship hits the iceberg, so many of the scenes and characters are borrowed from the earlier film, but this version is distinguished by a 90% scale model of the ship and some sensational special effects depicting the sinking. It is certainly an impressive piece of work, but not as informative or moving as the British offering of 1958.

    As the world now knows, in fact the Cameron film was so successful that “Titanic” won an amazing 11 Academy Awards – equalling the record set by “Ben Hur” in 1959 – and became the biggest money-making movie of all time – at least until “The Phantom Menace” knocks it off the stop spot. As a result, a sequel has been suggested which opens with Jack bursting from the waves panting for breath! More seriously, expect a director’s cut of some 4 hours.

    Links: official Web site click here Kate Winslet site click here


    What I know about drugs, you could write on the back of a cigarette packet (I’ve never even smoked) and I was not initially inclined to spend two and a half hours witnessing an examination of the problem as exhibited in the relationship between Mexico and the United States. But the reviews and word of mouth were so good that I made the effort and – together with my 24 year old son - I found a powerful and challenging work.

    Both the subject matter and the style make this an uneasy experience. It’s no fun seeing young people overdosing or turning to prostitution and the whole movie is shot in a grainy, bleached, jerky documentary style with rapid inter-cutting of different narratives. Director Steven Soderbergh and writer Stephen Gaghan take a social problem so often viewed in simplistic terms and present a multi-layered, multi-faceted approach, devoid of easy answers and even any answers at all. The final line if dialogue is “We’re here to listen” and I guess that the purpose of the movie is to make us think rather than to offer us a solution.

    This is one of those films in which there are many good performances and no one is allowed to overshadow the subject matter itself. Real life husband and wife Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones play respectively a judge turned drugs czar and a naïve wife turned drug baroness, but they never appear on screen together. There are some excellent roles for minority actors – indeed almost half the dialogue is in Spanish – with Benicio Del Toro particularly impressive as a Mexican policeman in a moral maze. You’ll be thinking about this work long after you’ve left the cinema and that can only be beneficial, given the scale and complexity of our drugs problem.

    Link: official Web site click here

    “The Truman Show”

    I came late and reluctantly to this film because I am not a Jim Carrey fan, but here he gives an unusually multi-layered performance as the eponymous star of a 30-year long, 24 hours a day, world-wide television show in which the only ‘reality’ is the man himself. This ‘world within a world’ is reminiscent of the science fiction work “Logan’s Run”, but this time the inner world is populated by actors with the exception of Truman Burbank. The show is controlled by the God-like Christof – a strong performance from Ed Harris – who, at one point, calls: “Cue – the sun”!

    This is an inventive movie directed with style by Australian Peter Weir who similarly elicited a ‘straight’ performance from a comedian when he made the excellent “Dead Poet’s Society” with Robin Williams. “Truman” has a thoughtful premise, an intelligent plot, accomplished acting and atmospheric music (from Philip Glass) in what is ultimately a life-affirming story.


    In the wartime Battle of the Atlantic, a crucial element in the success of the U-boats was the Germans’ Enigma encryption system. This film suggests that the turning point in the Allies’ breaking of the code was the assault on U-571 by an American submarine crew led by Lt Andrew Tyler (played with some stoicism by Matthew McConaughey) in the Spring of 1942. In fact, the Enigma machine and code books were first captured from U-110 by a British boarding party from the Royal Navy’s ship the “Bulldog” led by Lt David Balme and the incident occurred on 9 May 1941 – when the Americans were not even in the war.

    “U-571” tries to compensate for this historical travesty by including in the final credits a dedication to the “Allied” effort on Enigma and dates of two British as well as one US capture of vital material. However, I’m one of the few people I know who sit through such credits and, by the end of the war, the British had actually captured 13 Enigmas to the Americans’ one. Is it really necessary commercially for Hollywood to portray the Second World War as consisting of heroics exclusively by characters of its own nationality?

    Historical fallacies aside, this is a superior action-adventure movie and director Jonathan Mostow has created a fine addition to the long submarine genre flowing all the way from “Run Silent, Run Deep” (1958) to “Das Boot” (1981). He may have paid more attention to the technical details than the characterisation, but there is sustained tension and continual action, assisted by excellent special effects and superb sound. You can almost feel the sweat.

    Link: official Web site click here


    Following his well-deserved success with "The Sixth Sense", the young (29 year old) M Night Shyamalan has come up with another clever and original occult thriller which he wrote, produced and directed. It is often slow and deliberate, but always mesmerizing.

    Again Bruce Willis is the leading character, but this time he has a strange alter ego in the form of the ever-able Samuel L Jackson. The precise relationship between the two characters is not revealed until the final seconds and, as with "The Sixth Sense", any further information will simply spoil the pleasure of the viewer with this accomplished, if not quite so powerful, successor to the earlier movie.

    Link: official Web site click here

    "Vanilla Sky"

    What do you have if you take two Cruises and two Camerons? Four Cs and a B+, that's what. The first two Cs are Tom Cruise and Penélope Cruz who are playboy publisher David Aames and his newly-discovered love (both on and off-screen). The second two Cs are Cameron Diaz as Aames' "fuck-buddy" Julie and Cameron Crowe as both writer and director of this strange thriller set in New York with an appealing soundtrack.

    Is David Aames demented or dreaming? Is he a murderer or a victim of a set up? Who knows? More relevantly, who really cares? If Aames seems thoroughly bewildered by what is happening to him, maybe you'd be confused if you had to choose between making love four times a night to someone like Diaz and having an idyllic relationship with someone like Cruz.

    The movie - a remake of the 1997 Spanish work "Open Your Eyes" - tries hard to be clever and original and has some memorable scenes with Cruise often looking like the "Phantom Of The Opera", but it only partly succeeds, leaving me at least more than a little perplexed. In short, no more than B+.

    Link: official Web site click here

    "We Were Soldiers"

    Mel Gibson has now given us a trilogy of 'leadership in war' movies. Putting aside "Gallipoli" (where he was a mere foot soldier), he has led the Scottish against the English in "Braveheart", turned the tide for the Americans against the British in "The Patriot", and now he commands Custer's old unit in Vietnam. This is an account of one of the very few full-scale battles between American troops and North Vietnamese regulars which occurred in November 1965 in the Ia Drang Valley in the Central Highlands (recreated in central California). Some 400 US soldiers took on around 2,000 Vietnamese in a fire fight lasting three days and nights.

    I've never been over-impressed by Gibson as an actor. He's fine in roles such as the wacky cop in the "Lethal Weapon" series, but I find him a performer of limited range. Nevertheless, here he has beefed up his body, adopted a gruff Southern accent and put on a smart uniform to enable him to give a more than adequate performance as the real life Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore. For Gibson, this is clearly a very personal endeavour. His company Icon co-funded and distributed the film and the director and screenwriter is his old friend Randall Wallace who wrote "Braveheart" (and "Pearl Harbor"). Gibson - himself a Catholic with a large family - obviously identifies with Moore who is represented as fatherly to both his children and his men. Ironically Gibson's own father moved the family from the USA to Australia partly so that his sons would avoid the draft.

    Veteran Sam Elliott is good as the stereotypically tough, loyal and laconic second-in-command ("Sir, Custer was a pussy. You ain't"), but Madeleine Stowe is sadly under-utilised as Moore's stoical wife. By contrast with "The Deerhunter", "Platoon" or "Born On The Fourth Of July", this is very much an officer's view of the Vietnam war with working class characters given very little to say.

    War movies will never be the same since "Saving Private Ryan". "We Were Soldiers" - like "Black Hawk Down" - presents a brutally visceral version of war in which we are left in no doubt of the terrible sound and awesome destruction of modern ordnance. Indeed there are so many similarities between these two films issued within weeks of one another. Both are based on books and show the essential role of the helicopter in modern warfare to both deliver and sustain ground troops and the all-decisive nature of air power; both involve US troops being massively outnumbered by local forces, inflicting far more deaths than they suffered, and having to fight by night as well as day; and, above all, both portray ill-conceived and ultimately failed American operations in an heroic light.

    What distinguishes "We Were Soldiers" from so many other Vietnam movies is the patriotic and religious tone which is made easier by the timing of the incident in question. This was a period before the cynicism and chaos of the war had taken hold, when the Americans still thought they were right to be in this Asian quagmire. For the British viewer, this tone will not sit so easily, although one cannot fail to be stirred by the action and the music. However, I saw the movie with an American friend, who once wrote a book based on the recollections of 19 Vietnam veterans, and he confirmed my clear impression that American audiences - especially post-9/11 -will love it.

    Link: official Web site click here

    “The World Is Not Enough”

    Growing up as an adolescent in Britain in the 1960s was for me very much about the Beatles and Bond. I read all 14 of Fleming’s books and, over the 37 years of the franchise, I’ve seen each of the 19 movies as they appeared. “World” is Pierce Brosnan’s third outing as 007 and he is now very assured in the role. In many ways, this is classic Bond with all the standard ingredients: guns, gadgets and girls, exotic locations and above all superb action. Yet this one manages, under the direction of Michael Apted, to offer a little more subtlety of plot and characterisation: Bond does not always understand what is going on and is not in the peak of fitness, Elektra King – played very well by France’s Sophie Marceau (“Braveheart”) – is genuinely enigmatic, and even the villain Renard – our very own Robert Carlisle (“Trainspotting”) – is less one-dimensional than the likes of Blofeld. Bond is the most successful franchise in the history of the cinema and, on this excellent showing, there‘s plenty of life left in it yet.

    Links: official Bond site click here
    Sophie Marceau site click here Denise Richards site click here


    I love science fiction and fantasy films because they are the most escapist of movies and best differentiate the cinema from other art forms like the theatre. So I really looked forward to the “X-Men” and hoped that it would come close to the brilliance of “The Matrix”, but sadly, while there are some excellent special effects and a few thrills, it is not in the same class.

    Certainly it is a visual treat with no less than ten superb looking mutant characters with a variety of spectacular powers. Newcomer Australian Hugh Jackman is particularly convincing as the metallicly-enhanced Wolverine, but overall the casting is fascinating and includes once child star Anna Pacquin from “The Piano”, the British Shakespearean actors Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, and three former models, Halle Berry (“The Flintstones”), Famke Janssen (“GoldenEye”), and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos.

    However, the film lacks effective pacing and compelling narrative, with the damsel in distress ending being particularly weak. At least the message is more meaningful and liberal than most SF movies: mutants – like ethnic minorities, or all groups who are perceived as different - can be good or bad and we should not be too quick to judge.

    Links: official Web site click here Virgin Net site click here Mutantwatch site click here


    The James Bond films are the longest running and most profitable franchise in the history of the cinema, so it's not surprising that there are regular interpretations of the genre. On the 40th anniversary of 007's movie début comes a new kind of action hero, an extreme sports fanatic who is reluctantly pressed into state espionage in a film with many references to both the characters and situations of the Bond movies. Vin Diesel (born plain Mark Vincent) has the physicality and boyish charm that enable him to pull off this variation as the muscle-bound and heavily-tattooed Xander Cage who - thanks to a vast cast of stunt men and expensive computer graphics - performs some spectacular escapades. The whole thing is utterly mindless but enormous fun - just leave your brain at the door, enjoy the ride, and look forward to the sequel.

    By the way, much of the shooting was done in atmospheric Prague which is my favourite city, so I recognised many of the locations and even the speed boat which carries its deadly cargo down the River Vlatava in the concluding climax (I actually saw the craft on the river during one of my visits).

    Link: official Web site click here

    “You’ve Got Mail”

    As you’re reading this review on the Web, it’s a fair bet that you use e-mail, so you have to see this movie which is effectively an on-line romance courtesy of AOL’s Instant Messaging system. This is a reuniting of the team that made such a success of “Sleepless In Seattle” (1993) – the dependable Tom Hanks, the cute Meg Ryan and writer/director Nora Ephron – in what essentially is a remake of “The Shop Around The Corner” (1940) that could be called "Sleepless In Cyberspace". This time we have a modern setting as Joe Fox (a.k.a. NY152) and Kathleen Kelly (a.k.a. Shopgirl) fall in love in spite of being rivals in the book-selling market of New York City. It’s all entirely predicable, but charming, funny and romantic.

    Link: Tom Hanks site click here

    All reviews by ROGER DARLINGTON.

    Last modified on 13 December 2002

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