King's Game (12A)
Howl's Moving Castle, Hayao Miyazaki (U)
Bread and Tulips (12A)
One Nite in Mongkok (15)
Sunday 25 September 2005
For the first few minutes it looks like a return to form. Ritchie's old mucker Jason Statham plays a gambler who comes out of prison determined to get his own back on Ray Liotta, the ruthless casino kingpin he blames for his incarceration. Alas, events soon get more and more perplexing and mystical, as if Ritchie had shredded the screenplays of The Usual Suspects and The Matrix Reloaded and then glued them together with the light off. There's a fair amount of unsavoury violence perpetrated by villains with names such as Skinny Pete and The Three Eddies, but it all takes place in a dream world where logic doesn't apply. To use a gaming analogy - as Revolver does, ad nauseam - we don't know what the rules are, and Ritchie could well be making them up as he goes along. Even his big-mouthed banter has given way to cod-philosophical blather, much of it in voice-over, and all of it as unhelpful as this: "If you change the rules of what controls you, you will change the rules of what you control." If only Vinnie Jones had come along and slammed someone's head in a car door.
Just weeks before a Danish general election, the leader of the opposition has a car crash that leaves him on life support, and leaves his job open to two candidates. A spin doctor immediately hands a defamatory story about one of the candidates to a correspondent, but the journalist suspects he's being manipulated for reasons that are even more nefarious than usual, so he investigates a plot that has echoes of the Campbell-Gilligan-Kelly affair. This smart little conspiracy thriller would slot snugly into an evening's TV viewing. But would need bigger personalities and dirtier deeds to fill the cinema screen - and to contend with politics in the real world.
In the Harry Potter franchise, magic is a subject you learn at school, whereas in this Japanese cartoon from the makers of Spirited Away, magic is an arcane and wondrous matter of promises, curses and untrustworthy demons. That is, it's a bit more magical. Adapted from Diana Wynne Jones's novel, Howl's Moving Castle is the story of Sophie, a dowdy girl who is transformed into an old woman by a wicked witch, and has to seek help from a vain wizard named Howl. One of the film's principal pleasures is the way Sophie remains loveably feisty and fearless throughout. When she realises what an aged crone she's become, she sighs, "Oh well, at least my clothes suit me now." The film's other main treat is the gorgeous animation, from the verdant Alpine countryside to the steam-puffing mobile home of the title. It's just a shame the film obeys the first law of Japanese animes, which states that all films should go incomprehensibly batty towards the end.
An Italian Shirley Valentine, Bread and Tulips stars Licia Maglietta as a klutzy housewife who decides, on a whim, to visit Venice without her husband and her teenaged sons, and then decides, on another whim, to stay there, lodging with a suicidal Icelandic restaurateur and working at an anarchist florist's shop. The film rambles along for too long, straying off the story's emotional main road to stroll up every cute and kooky side alley it sees. I could have done with a little less of Maglietta's "holistic masseuse" neighbour and the bungling plumber-turned-private-eye who's assigned to track her down. But when the film returns to its appealing heroine, it's as warm as freshly baked bread and as bright as a tulip, which could be why it won every major Italian Oscar. And it's unusual to see a film set in Venice that doesn't show off any of the postcard beauty spots. In fact, the only time that St Mark's Square appears in the film is when it happens to be reflected in a shop window.
There seem to be at least two films going on simultaneously in One Nite In Mongkok, and while they're both gripping examples of their genres, they don't quite fit together. They both begin with a feud between two Hong Kong gangs which culminates in a godfather hiring a hitman from a remote village (right) to rub out his arch enemy. But half of what follows is a light, Ong-bak-like tale of a naïve country bumpkin who travels to the big city to find his true love. The other half, meanwhile, is a steely thriller in which the police chase the assassin through the bustling streets, pausing now and then to debate the ethics of shooting suspects and planting evidence. The blood-drenched finale is so dispiriting that it belongs to another film altogether.
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