Film: Also showing - Kingdom of basket cases
Friday 15 May 1998
Lars Von Trier/Morten
John McNaughton (18)
The Man Who Knew Too Little
Jon Amiel (12)
Josh & Jonas Pate (18)
Mimi Leder (12)
The automatic doors glide open to admit phantoms into the lobby. Orderlies place bets on the fate of an ambulance dodging the oncoming traffic on a busy motorway. And an esteemed doctor is deep in conversation with his own stools. Nice to see it's business as usual at Copenhagen's haunted hospital, where the manager begins his morning address with the words "Alas, alas, alas", and the corridors play host to zombies, cannibals and mutant babies - all the things you don't get to see on Children's Hospital.
That same manager has also developed an interest in ornamental erotica, leading to some monkey business involving a brass dildo, something else that rarely crops up on children's tv. But then that's the magic of . No, not its brass dildos, but rather the devilish abandon with which the creator/ co-writer/co-director Lars Von Trier flings together disparate ingredients which should by rights be indigestible. The picture is a gumbo of melodrama, farce, fairy tale, horror, slapstick and weepie, shot with a jerky camera which deliberately echoes ER, on tinted stock that appears to have been soaked in creosote.
Nothing works as you might expect it to: a taut scene, in which a doctor accused of malpractice plans to dispose of his brain-damaged victim, suddenly lurches into comedy when he kidnaps her in the laundry basket. While you're getting your bearings after doubling up at something so disturbing, Von Trier takes a scenario which should be rendered stubbornly unaffecting by its absurdity - a half-human, half-demonic nine-foot-tall baby pleading for euthanasia - and wrings the tears out of you, like the drops of saline solution that the mother uses to baptise her enormous baby boy. It's a measure of the film's success in constructing this bizarre universe that you're vaguely disappointed when Satanists are revealed to have been holding court in the hospital catacombs. The sight of a naked virgin being sacrificed on an altar of blood feels positively humdrum compared to everything else that's on offer.
Like its predecessor, comprises four hour-long episodes made for Danish television, although the medium is irrelevant - together, these eight hours of mind-boggling, grimly funny, deeply unsettling surrealism drag cinema kicking and screaming into waters uncharted since Von Trier's Breaking the Waves. The man is a 24-carat treasure: an artist in whom technical discipline, profound humanity and primal imagination can happily flourish. He's like a proud asylum proprietor, keen to run a tight ship but not averse to lingering at spyholes to witness his charges in the throes of insanity.
Wild Things is a film so saturated in sleaze that you need a shower once it's over. A slow-motion shower, that is, in which the pearls of water cling to your tanned, writhing limbs while - oh, you must excuse me. The movie has that effect; it's a potent exercise in pathological trashiness from John McNaughton, the director of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, who surveys his ripe Florida locations with a master satirist's glee, zooming in on every snapping gator or wet t-shirt he can find.
High school counsellor Sam Lombardo (Matt Dillon) is as libidinous as the dance he's almost named after. But is this evidence enough for a shifty detective (Kevin Bacon) to charge Sam for the rape of two students? That's half the story. Thereafter, everyone starts triple-crossing everyone else and you begin to wonder if the woman who over- charged you for your popcorn is somehow in on it. McNaughton maintains a sly, ironic distance, but if you're still not tempted, try the sublime comic cameos, including Robert Wagner as an attorney whose face gleams like a basted turkey, and Theresa Russell as a rich old soak who wearily shrugs off the death of her husband by sighing, "He didn't have to kill himself". Or Bill Murray, who embodies the movie's spirit as a smug, slimeball lawyer; proving that you can be a winner and an oozer too.
What a week for us Bill Murray fans: he's also on form in The Man Who Knew Too Little, a plain caper comedy which he single-handedly elevates into a goofy gem. Murray plays a naive tourist who arrives in London and gets involved with what he believes is a role-playing reality-TV show but is actually a sinister espionage plot presided over by Boris the Butcher (Alfred Molina) who does nasty things with machetes. Although the picture is sluggishly edited and directed, I laughed long and hard throughout, especially during the scene where Murray tests the reflexes of a corpse in order to persuade the "actor" to come out of character.
Liar is a drably theatrical thriller with lots of tricks up the sleeve, though the sleeve in question actually belongs to Quentin Tarantino, who I'm sure would like it back immediately. Tim Roth plays an epileptic murder suspect turning the tables on the cops (Chris Penn and Michael Rooker). When the cast lapse into a round of Russian roulette, as you tend to do when things get a bit dull, you'll be praying that there are enough bullets for everyone.
In Deep Impact, a meteor the size of New York is on a collision course with Earth unless the astronaut Robert Duvall can intercept it. But with characters like a lovestruck teenage astronomer (Elijah Wood) and the touchy-feely US President (Morgan Freeman) as representative specimens of the human race, it's hard to get worked up about the potential extinction of mankind. The movie spends so long plodding toward its catastrophic climax that you want to scream "Apocalypse! NOW!".
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