Director: James Cameron
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane
There are any number of reasons why the RMS Titanic ended up embedded in the ocean floor in the early hours of 15 April 1912; poor visibility, a negligent or over ambitious captain, and a small matter of a hefty chunk of ice looming out of the North Atlantic waters.
To this list, the filmmaker James Cameron adds one more contributing factor to lessen the burden of responsibility on that iceberg: a pair of bored officers, distracted from their vigil at the warning bell, by the sight of a couple canoodling on the deck. This is one of the more plausible details in the thoroughly loopy new film Titanic, because it operates in strict compliance with the cardinal rule of the disaster movie, which decrees that all catastrophes occur in direct correlation to the effrontery of the characters involved.
You play with fire and you'll get burnt, or drowned. The voyeuristic sailors aren't to blame for the 1,500 corpses littering the ocean. It's the thought of the young lovers, emerging on deck, after copulating in the cargo hold. Rose (Kate Winslet) is about to marry into obscene wealth, but has deserted her fiance at the last minute in favour of Jack (diCaprio), a scruffy ragamuffin from the wrong side of the tracks. The picture has a ratio of roughly two hours romance to one hour of spectacular destruction with the framing device of the elderly Rose telling her story to a group of explorers.
Cameron is a manipulative director but he's an incredible craftsman; you can admire Titanic immensely, yet it can still leave you cold as an iceberg.
Director: Robert Greenwald
Starring: Russell Crowe, Salma Hayek,
It will be a rotten year if there's a worse film than Breaking Up released in the next 12 months. A few minutes into this witless two-hander and it suddenly dawns on you that it's not going to get any better; the spoiled brat lovers played by Russell Crowe and Salma Hayek are going to keep separating, calling each other, analysing their relationship, hopping into bed and then separating again, and each time you care about them a little less. Crowe and Hayek give themselves hernias trying to make something of the tissue-thin script, while the director, Greenwald, sprinkles vox-pop inserts and fantasy sequences - but to no avail. This is the sort of picture that saps your will to live.
Director: Claude Berri
Starring: Carole Bouquet, Daniel Auteuil, Patrice Chereau
Claude Berri makes films that are reverend hymns to the strength of the common man, and to the sturdiness of old-fashioned narrative cinema, but his sombre style can squeeze the life out of any story. His new movie is a partially true story about a resistance hero, Raymond (Daniel Auteuil), and his wife Lucie (Carole Bouquet), and how their love survived the stomp of the jackboot. There isn't much more to it than secret meetings, noble suffering, and finally, a pleasingly tense jail break. Berri's over-deliberate direction and palate of greys, browns and moss-greens very nearly smother the film completely, though some sparking incidental pleasures survive his deadening touch - like the secretary who blithely continues typing while Raymond is being beaten, or the moments when Carole Bouquet's composure cracks and she allows us to glimpse the pain concealed by Lucie's bravery.
DAS BOOT: THE DIRECTOR'S CUT
Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Starring: Jurgen Prochnow
If Hell is other people, being locked in a steel tube for weeks at a time with 50 casual acquaintances, rotting sides of meat and one toilet between you must be the devil's money-spinning sideline. Wolfgang Petersen's recut 1981 submarine epic makes a virtue of these constraints and draws the viewer into a suffocating world of extremes: unremitting boredom and terrified, frenzied action when engaging the Allied convoys in the North Atlantic.
Petersen's filmic style is virtuosic: the Arriflex camera (a forerunner of today's ubiquitous steadicam) careers along the length of the submarine's belly, paying no regard to the men who dive out of its path. The lighting and composition have a painterly quality - a tableaux of huddled bodies, their gaunt, harshly-lit faces stark against the boat's gloom. And, in an environment where the enemy is invisible, the digitally remixed sound is uncannily realistic, from the foreboding ping of the enemy destroyer's sonar, to the explosions as rivets give way.
At times, the film's moral message is simplistic and heavy handed, while the ironies of war's denouement is trite and calculatedly sentimental. That apart, Das Boot remains an astonishingly truthful reflection of the horror and banality of war - superbly paced, masterfully acted and emotionally engrossing, yet free of bravado and triumphalism.
I WENT DOWN
Director: Paddy Breathnach
Starring: Brendan Gleeson
It hasn't been a good day for Git (Peter McDonald). He's just got out of prison, his girlfriend has dumped him and, to cap it all, he's had a run-in with a local gangster Tom French (Tony Doyle) who now thinks he owns him. Downtrodden Git unwillingly joins forces with the incompetent Bunny (Brendan Gleeson), a slave to pointless acts of petty crime, and the duo set off to Cork to do a little job ("an easy ride") for French.
Conor McPherson's script is deftly written, the dialogue sharp and witty without being ostentatious, while McDonald and Gleeson are excellent at portraying fundamentally good-hearted boys caught up in the shenanigans of old-time crime bosses.
LEWIS & CLARK & GEORGE
Director: Rod McCall
Starring: Rose McGowan
A self consciously quirky road movie, unashamed of repeating most of the genre's cliches. Lewis and Clark play escaped cons who meet the mute and enigmatic George (McGowan) enroute to finding a hidden gold mine in Mexico. It's punctuated by casual comic-book violence, substituting mannered dialogue and directorial tricks - fast pans, speeded-up photography, jump cuts - for structure or pace.
UP 'N' UNDER
Director: John Godber
Starring: Gary Olsen
Bobbing in the wake of The Full Monty, Up 'n' Under presents another in the series of stories of pride, jealousy and triumph over adversity. This time it's Arthur (Gary Olsen), a former professional rugby-league player turned painter and decorator, who has to transform a motley collection of professional bar proppers and overweight layabouts into a team capable of beating the best amateur league club in the north.
All your Brit-com favourites are here, hamming up the lightweight, but sporadically titter-inducing script. The camera dwells most lovingly on the legs of fitness instructor Hazel (Samantha Janus) and her beatific smile - less "Foul Monty" than "Carry On Balls".
Director: Alex Cox
Starring: Rebecca De Mornay
Exactly what attracted Rebecca De Mornay to the script is hard to work out. It's perhaps easier to understand Alex Cox's interest, given his weird and wonderful first feature, Repo Man. Where that film succeeded in its surreality, this tale of an innocent blessed (or cursed) with the ability to touch other people with good luck comes across as faintly ridiculous.Reuse content