Monthly Archives: October 2004

Last Orders

Touching portrayal of four men, as they gather to mourn the death of their old friend Jack, and take a road trip to scatter his ashes off Margate pier. The film intersperses their drive to Margate with flashes back in time as they reminisce about Jack’s life. On the way, grievances will be aired, laughter will be shared, and secrets will be revealed. It’s a complex yet down-to-earth tale about friendship and love in all their forms. Funny and sad, with some lovely performances by an extraordinarily strong British cast. Well worth looking out for.

Absolute Power

While out on a job, burglar Luther Whitney (Clint Eastwood) sees a woman being murdered by her lover, who just happens to be the President of the United States. When the President’s aide and Secret Service bodyguards realize that their attempt to cover up the crime has an eyewitness-shaped hole in it, they (naturally) try to eliminate him. Predictable and implausible in roughly equal measure.

Val McDermid – The Last Temptation

Third of Val McDermid’s Tony Hill/Carol Jordan books. In this one, Carol is recruited for a special undercover sting operation against a ring of people smugglers in Berlin. At the same time, Tony half-reluctantly gives up his quiet academic life to help out the Dutch and German police to track down a serial killer targetting experimental psychologsts at major universities. The two strands tie up in a smartly plotted story, with a runaway page-turning climax.

Along Came A Spider

Renowned detective Alex Cross (Morgan Freeman) is on leave of absence following the death of his partner. He is drawn out of seclusion and into the heart of a child abduction case when the kidnapper singles him out as the only one who can appreciate his cleverness. This is a satisfyingly twisty thriller that doesn’t try to overstretch itself. It doesn’t aim for angst and psychological depth: all it wants to do is entertain, and it does so quite nicely.

Glengarry Glen Ross

A small office of downtrodden real estate agents is shaken up when “downtown” decides it’s time to give them a kick up the backside. By the end of the month, the top two salesmen will get to keep their jobs, while the other two will be fired. The message is delivered as part of a brutal sales seminar by cut-throat über-slimeball Blake (Alec Baldwin). The rest of the film follows the four salesmen throughout the rest of the evening and the next morning, as they come to terms with this new hand fate has dealt them.

The film is adapted from a play by David Mamet, and director James Foley handles it with a very small-scale, theatrical touch. The story is played out mainly through dialogue in a handful of closely connected locations. The all-star cast put in tremendous, intense performances, but in the end I didn’t find myself emotionally connecting with them. It’s undoubtedly a good film, but I enjoyed it primarily in a critical sense.

Office Space

A slice of wish-fulfilment cubicle humour with dozens of sharply observed digs at office life and office habits, and more quotable lines than you can shake a stick at. The plot backbone is only so-so, but when the script and the cast are firing on all cylinders, sometimes that’s all you need. Gary Cole as Lumbergh is just perfect.

Starsky & Hutch

I was surprised by how much this film didn’t strike me as an off-the-cuff pastiche of the original TV show. Yes, there are perm and disco jokes. Yes, they make a big deal of the car. Yes, the camera work deliberately mocks “classic” seventies zoom shots and outboard chase-cams. But overall, this felt like a comedy that could stand on its own two feet.

Ben Stiller in particular makes the character of David Starsky his own. Owen Wilson plays Hutch as his standard cuddly, flaky rogue, and the dynamic between the two heroes is good. The story is simple, but it doesn’t go for Naked Gun-style absurdity: the bad guy (Vince Vaughn) is a serious drug dealer (with some decidedly odd henchmen–Will Ferrell is subtly excellent as Big Earl), not a madman with a crazy plot to take over the world.

I think that’s what makes the difference: the comedy flows from the story, rather than the other way round. It also clearly has a lot of respect and affection for the Starsky & Hutch TV show. It allows you to laugh at it without making you feel embarrassed about having enjoyed it the first time round. That’s a good trick.


Black but ultimately sweet comedy about intelligent and talented high school student Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) who nonetheless fares appallingly poorly in his academic subjects at the exclusive Rushmore Academy. When he sets his mind on winning the heart of teacher Rosemary Cross, his obsessive devotion to her leads him into conflict with his friends, and threatens to destroy the extraordinary reputation he has built for himself.

It’s a clever and subtle film that delights in misdirecting the audience’s sympathies. Max is much more than the stereotypical high school dork, and the film isn’t afraid to show him indulging in the nasty and sometimes creepy side of infatuation. All the while, though, it remains funny, with absurd humour cropping up in the strangest of places. Very worthwhile.

Five Children and It

It’s 1917, the Great War is raging, and children are being evacuated from London. Robert, Cyril, Anthea, Jane and baby Lamb go to stay with their eccentric Uncle Albert (Kenneth Branagh), while thier father, a pilot, goes to fight in France. While exploring Uncle Albert’s sprawling mansion, a secret passageway leads them to a beach where the discover a sarcastic Sand Fairy with wish-granting powers.

I haven’t read the book it’s based on, but taken on its own merits, this is a sweet little film. It skips over a host of plot details (such as where Thursday and last October vanished to, and exactly what the housekeeper knows about the Sand Fairy) in favour of delivering a simple story about family bonds, magic going wrong and lessons being learned. My favourite scenes, though, were those with the Sand Fairy. Eddie Izzard provides its voice, and does so with his characteristic sly absurdity. “Have your parents tried boiling you?” Nice, but not quite a classic.

Bad Boys II

Gratuitious succession of gun fights and car chases, strung together by a weak-ass script, and directed with an utter lack of visual flair. The action is big, dumb, and careless. The verbal sparring between Martin Lawrence and Will Smith was funny in the first Bad Boys outing, partly because of the switched identity sub-plot, but also because it was better written. Here, the interplay relies on an anger management character angle, and it breaks down into “Oh yeah?” “Oh yeah?” shouting matches right from the start. The villain is stupid, and the main plot lines don’t come together for an hour and a half; which is exactly the length this film should have been if the production team hadn’t taken their eyes off the ball.