Cinema: The bucket of an architect

also released; Thursday 18 Cube 15 Deep Rising 18 Secret Defense PG Woo 15
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The Independent Culture
It's a bad week for architects. In Thursday, Skip Woods's accomplished debut, architect Casey's past as a fast-living LA gangster suddenly catches up with him. His former business partner Nick turns up, and before Casey (Thomas Jane) can say "axonometric", there's a briefcase of smack in the spare room, a .45 in the fridge, a drug-dealer tied up in the garage, a horrifyingly vicious porn-queen and a chain-saw wielding maniac breaking through his door.

Casey's domesticated veneer breaks down as he is forced to resort to his old ways of thinking. And the tension works best when the disparity between Casey's old life and his new is played out in his suburban kitchen: as Casey is kept on the phone by his wife, he has to watch helplessly as the porn-queen (the larger than life Pauline Poizkova, in a rubber dress and an awful lot of kohl) begins to discuss her craft with the adoption-agency man; at one point, Casey gets down on his knees to mop up a dark slick of blood and brain-matter from his tiled floor, using a very shiny and neat-looking bucket.

Thursday is a clever and interesting film, if a little long. And it contains the first instance I've ever seen on celluloid of a man being raped by a woman. Poizkova ties Casey to a chair at gunpoint, sets up a photograph of his wife to "watch" and, against his will and better judgement, forces herself upon him. It's a taut, frightening scene: the look on his face expresses more self-loathing than revulsion.

Which are both things Worth, a nihilistic architect, feels in Cube, a low-budget sci-fi film from the Canadian director Vincenzo Natali. Worth has unwittingly helped design the huge man-trap in which six people - himself included - mysteriously find themselves one morning. Each room is a clone of the next - 14 feet by 14 feet of polished steel and glass. And some are rigged with lethal traps that do nasty things to stuntmen. This film is a bit like The Crystal Maze crossed with Nineteen Eighty- Four (except more violent); and, as we laboriously discover, each character has a skill which, if used in a cooperative fashion, will help the group find its way out. One is a maths genius, another is a cop clearly into leadership games; there's a doctor, and an autistic man with a handy savant side.

This film makes for strange and pretty unpleasant viewing. Altruism breaks down; people die; the cop has a Nazi fit; the director fits his fish-eye lens to the camera; and the maths gets harder and harder. I can't really imagine what kind of audience it might be aimed at. Conspiracy theorists? Architects with a mendacious bent? Interior designers with a penchant for reinforced-metal doors?

If I was ever on the maiden voyage of a cruise-liner and someone started giving a speech that contained things like "this boat is my life's dream" and "good times forever", I would head straight for a lifeboat, sit in it and refuse to get out. In Greek mythology it's called hubris - the arrogance which invites disaster. And it strikes the Argonautica in Deep Rising in a big way: a vast octopus with vagina dentata-like mouths at the end of its tentacles invades the liner's plumbing and digests everybody within reach. Except, that is, for Finnegan (Treat Williams). And a gang of dastardly thugs with heavy weaponry and fake accents. And the captain. And a glamorous girlie in a red evening dress.

The peckish cephalopod rampages through the sinking ship, conveniently devouring all the bad guys. The remaining cast hurtle about through lots of gore and skeletons, machine-gunning the monster and screaming "What the hell was that?" After an hour or so, Finnegan has a bright idea: "We need to get off this ship," he announces, his manly brow wrinkling with the effort of thinking. In the process he manages to cop off with Red Dress. Come back Leonardo and Kate, all is forgiven.

It's a relief after all this to come to a French film in which people moodily light Gauloises, travel on the Metro, stare into the middle distance, and say things to each other like "Can I buy you dinner tonight? At our restaurant?" But all is not entirely well in Jacques Rivette's Secret Defense. Sylvie's brother presents her with evidence that their father was murdered by Walser, his former colleague. The brother swears to avenge his father and then disappears. To protect her brother, Sylvie (Sandrine Bonnaire, even more po-faced than usual) goes to Walser's home with a gun, but shoots his young secretary by accident.

At nearly three hours long, this would have been a much better film had Rivette not been so self-indulgent at the editing stage. The plot and the family secret at its heart are potentially engaging, but they are swamped in unnecessary and tedious footage. People take journeys in which we are treated to every train change and every departure board. There are a few low-key arguments over who killed whom and why. A phonecall or two. A long shot of a dark room. A dinner. People take the same journeys back the other way. Lots of phone calls. Half a row. Another departure board. A different train. Time. Passes. Slowly.

Most of the audience walked out of Woo before the first hour was up. I stayed to the bitter end. A very dull man goes on a date with party- girl Woo (Jada Pinkett Smith). She is possibly the most irritating woman in the world - a simpering, petulant baby-woman with a whiny way of speaking which causes her to constantly display her lower teeth like a terrier. Dull man and she find they are complete opposites, and if you can't guess what happens in the course of their wacky evening, then you deserve to watch this film over and over again.

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