Film: Also Showing
Touch of Evil Orson Welles (12) Cruel Intentions Roger Kumble (15) Gloria Sidney Lumet (15) Venus Beauty Tonie Marshall (15) Croupier Mike Hodges (15) Just the Ticket Richard Wenk (15) Bride of Chucky Ronnie Yu (18)
Friday 18 June 1999
Ten years on from his sleek, almost boyish Harry Lime in The Third Man, Welles is here practically unrecognisable as the corrupt cop Hank Quinlan, a vast, grizzled, shambling figure on whom the years weigh mightily - "You should lay off the candy bars, honey, you're a mess", Marlene Dietrich's bordello madam tells him; somebody has to.
Quinlan's nemesis is an upright Mexican cop (Charlton Heston) who happens to be honeymooning with his wife (Janet Leigh) in a sleazy border town when a car bomb explodes - the climax of the film's celebrated opening tracking shot - and sets in train a delirious dream narrative of crime and punishment.
The story, however, is less important than the baroque manner of its telling, as Welles disorients us with dancing shadows, vertiginous angles and eerie close-ups, horrifyingly combined in the hotel-room strangling of a local crime boss. Henry Mancini's Latin score rounds off the nightmarish setting with a kind of drunken brass blare. It was Welles's last Hollywood production, and the crest of a grand decline through the Sixties and Seventies, but nobody has painted it noir with such thrilling extravagance before or since.
Roger Kumble's Cruel Intentions updates Laclos' Les Liaisons Dangereuses to beau-monde Manhattan and emerges as a poisonously enjoyable sex comedy. Step-siblings Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Philippe play a pair of heartless manipulators who decide to amuse themselves with a wager: if he succeeds in seducing the virginal Annette (Reese Witherspoon) he will enjoy the pleasures of Gellar's bed. If he fails, she gets his vintage Jaguar. While impossible to watch their vicious intrigues without being reminded of Stephen Frears's Dangerous Liaisons, the comparison turns out to be far from invidious.
This version may have fudged the latter's chilling endgame, yet in other respects it nails the original's sensibility with surprising finesse. Gellar is particularly good, a viper in Donna Karan, and Philippe, not the most expressive actor, just about holds his Malkovich impersonation together. It's not bad at all.
The other remake this week, Gloria, is based on John Cassavetes's 1980 chase thriller, with Sharon Stone taking over the lead from Gena Rowlands and Sidney Lumet in the director's chair. Its tale of a blowzy broad rescuing a six-year-old boy from mobsters may also remind contemporary audiences of Central Station, and there's a similar comedy in its odd- couple partnering. Stone, a much better actress than she's usually credited for, is terrific as the eponymous heroine, a woman so embittered and won't-get-fooled-again, you can almost see her blond Medusa curls crackling at the tips.
"Kids shouldn't be exposed to you," says her estranged sister. "What am I, the mumps?" she snaps back. Yet she makes the journey from serial slut to surrogate mom credibly, even movingly, and helped by support from George C Scott and Cathy Moriarty (another great "lost" talent), she enlivens a mostly pedestrian yarn.
In Venus Beauty, the wonderful French actress Nathalie Baye plays Angele, a fortysomething singleton who wards off loneliness by picking up men at local caffs. Angele works in a Parisian beauty salon where she ministers to rich clients craving the illusions of youth and pulchritude. No such comfort for her - "You're on the skinny side," as men keep telling her - until a shaggy young dude named Antoine (Samuel Le Bihan) out of the blue avows helpless love, despite his being affianced to a 20-year- old. Yeah, right. Tonie Marshall's film hasn't much to do with realism, and its diverse narrative strands are never properly braided into a whole; none the less it amply redresses these shortcomings through its tone of melancholy hopefulness and Baye's fragile tenacity.
Following the brutish magnificence of last week's re-released Get Carter, it's sobering to note that nearly 30 years on, Mike Hodges' latest, Croupier, seems to be the work of a callower and far less talented individual. Clive Owen plays Jack, an ex-public schoolboy who can't get on as a novelist so returns to a job he's good at - as croupier in a London casino. Jack's a bit of a lad, too, and in between bedding various women (Kate Hardie, Alex Kingston) his voice-over keeps us up to speed with his novel about a scheming bastard named Jake. The film attempts to shuffle reality with fiction, though neither proves quite seductive or plausible enough to command our attention, while Owen only succeeds in making his character's steely, affectless pose look like bad acting. Besides, I'd never trust a man who wears a hat indoors.
The low-life hero of Just The Ticket, motormouth NY tout Gary (Andy Garcia), commits the very same sartorial howler. All is not well in his life: his girlfriend (Andie MacDowell) is leaving for Paris on a Cordon Bleu course, and there's a slick new tout on the block who's muscling him out of the action. Yet given his livelihood - voluntary extortion - and his pork- pie hat, I found his plight of very little interest.
Highlight of Bride of Chucky was a sex scene between two homicidal plastic dolls. Huh? Let's just say it's a long story, which I don't want to rehearse and you don't want to hear.
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