Film: Money can't buy you braininess

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The Independent Culture
The Thomas Crown Affair (15)

John McTiernan; 120 mins

Mickey Blue Eyes (15)

Kelly Makin; 102 mins

Rushmore (15)

Wes Anderson; 94 mins

Late August, Early September (15)

Olivier Assayas; 112 mins

Regarde la Mer, X2000, Bed Scenes (18) Francois Ozon; 50, 5, 26 mins

The Man Who Knew Too Much (PG)

Alfred Hitchcock; 75 mins

Doug's 1st Movie (U)

Son Myung-Hee; 77 mins

The hero of The Thomas Crown Affair (Pierce Brosnan) is a self- made billionaire, art connoisseur and extreme sportsman. He is also a predatory Wall Street something-or-other whose competitiveness ruins a round of golf and whose taste stalled at the Impressionists. Bored with striding up and down his skyscraper's corridors like a surgeon followed by gawping nurses, "Tommy" (important, this chummy diminutive; it means "I was a team player until I bought the company") steals a Monet from a New York gallery and falls for the insurance company's polymathic investigator (Rene Russo). She fingers him right off the bat, but then she speaks 12 languages, so what do you expect? Ah, Monet. Throughout, the film's materialism craves the legitimisation of art in the same way the foyer of a multinational needs a De Kooning - as a disguise for something obscurely shameful.

The courtship of these two thoroughbreds - our main event - focuses largely on the specifications of their drinks. She knows how he takes his whisky because she's read his file, and he knows about her champagne because he's read her file. What files are these? It's a favourite trope of Hollywood. Somewhere in film-Wichita there is a graduate collating information on people for the hell of it. Send him an SAE and you'll discover what your wife's favourite toy was in 1958, or what she ate for breakfast the morning after she lost her virginity.

The dialogue is entirely composed of the charged ellipses that signify sophistication in coffee commercials. Paraphrased, the script reads as follows: He: "Ooh! I'm clever!" She: "Grrr! Not not as much as me!" He: "Do you tango?" She: "Yes, in 25 self-taught languages." He: "I'm really sad inside." She: "So am I. The only man who ever understood me was my father, but he was a plumber." Him: "Do you like diamonds?" She: "Not half. Come here you hot-shaved plutocratic animal you ..."

We are to assume, that, inside, they're foolish like us (ubermensch Tommy is in therapy) but then the super-successful rely upon their internal frailty as a badge of their humanity. What you get to see is the outside: a Ralph Lauren montage of New England playthings.

They seem to be having fun, although you can't be sure since the film is so unconfident of its own version of happiness that these sequences are drowned in dinner jazz. We can't hear that they have nothing to say, in 12 languages. "The very rich are different from us," said Scott Fitzgerald. "Yes," said Hemingway. "They have more money."

In Mickey Blue Eyes, Hugh Grant is a British auctioneer in New York who marries into the Mob: a good set-up for a farce. Farce works best at a high pitch of unsentimentality, but Hollywood's soft heart always guts and fillets the cynical possibilities. Basil and Sybil, in hands like these, would end up mistily canoodling in the Fawlty Towers breakfast nook. Hugh Grant, neither Everyman enough to be Cary Grant nor sufficiently nebbish to be, well, everything he dreamt, lacks about half an octave of comic notes. This is not a bad film, just a triple-tested and mediocre one.

American critics loved Rushmore, but no one over there went to see it. Wes Anderson's writing-directing debut is easily one of the funniest films I've seen in ages, but it's a hard sell. Jason Schwartzman plays Max Fischer, a driven geek student in a smart US school. His grades are hopeless, but he's head of the bee-keeping society, the drama group, the fencing club, the debating society, the bridge meet. He pines after a primary school teacher (Olivia Williams) but inadvertently sets her up with a lonely industrialist (Bill Murray) and the liaison drives Max nuts. This bravely unspecific, meandering film is utterly relaxed in its threadlessness, its moments of silent thought, its Graduate-like stillness, its straying from the path.

Max is both wistful and passionate, full of love for his tasks and full of bravery and stupidity and burgeoning psychosis. He never retreats to simple decisions. You want to burst into tears of gratitude at the sight of him, and for the fact that this film was made at all.

Olivier Assayas's Late August, Early September sees Gabriel (Mathieu Amalric) and Jenny (Jeanne Balibar) falling out of passion and into contemplation and careers and confusion. The film uses chapter headings and fade-outs and seemingly unimportant chatter and activity to examine its central question - can a story really describe the world? It's intense, and intensely clued-up. Regarde la Mer, X2000 and Bed Scenes are three short films from the young French film-maker Francois Ozon, the best being Regarde la Mer, a threatening number about a lone housewife and a dangerous backpacker. All three films are well judged.

Hitchcock's 1934 thriller, The Man Who Knew Too Much, was withdrawn in 1956, when Hitchcock made another version with James Stewart and Doris Day. This original, re-released in celebration of Hitchcock's centenary, is inferior, but neither film, to my mind, is up to much. Both pivot on the kidnapping of a child by terrorists. The original is hilariously wooden, but it does have Peter Lorre in his first English-speaking role.