Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, Don Cheadle, John C Reilly, William H Macy
Paul Thomas Anderson's second feature is a self-consciously epic trawl through the American porn film industry, from 1977 to 1984, when its existence was irrevocably altered by the video industry. Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) is a 17-year-old country boy who catches the eye of the director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) and quickly becomes the rising star of the porno industry under the moniker Dirk Diggler.
Rejected by his own family, Eddie finds a sanctuary in his new profession, mothered by his co-star Amber (Julianne Moore), but the harmony is destroyed when the Seventies blur into the Eighties and, through a mixture of inflated egos and wayward business interests, the family finds itself splintered.
There's no denying Anderson's thrilling ambition, nor his persuasive way with actors - Moore and Reynolds are particularly touching in their scenes together. But there's something uncomfortable about a film which lifts its structure and even its stylistic mannerisms wholesale from another source - in this case, Martin Scorsese (there are entire scenes here lifted shot for shot from Goodfellas).
The kinetic camerawork and bold tricks that Anderson indulges in can give you a buzz, but true to the film's subjects, it's a movie built on cheap thrills but one which never quite gets under the skin of its characters.
Director: Taylor Hackford
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Al Pacino
This pompous thriller has ambitions to be a satirical fable, but is actually more like a sitcom about satanism. - I Love Lucifer, perhaps. Keanu Reeves plays the clean-cut, ambitious young lawyer whose descent into hell, embodied here by his acceptance of a top job at a New York law firm, forces him to assess his own ethics and the morality of the world around him.
The director, Taylor Hackford, whipped up a wonderfully melodramatic storm with his last film, the hysterical Dolores Claiborne, and there are some interesting moments early on in the new film. His decision to present New York as a place of sinister calm is particularly intriguing, going against the trend of trying to capture the vitality and bustle, and instead portraying the whole place as a city emerging from anaesthetic.
The movie needed a flamboyant figure to carry off the role of John Milton, the head of the law firm who is also Reeves's mentor, and Al Pacino has the right flash of glee in his eyes, contrasting brilliantly with the vacuum that is Keanu Reeves. But Pacino's grandstanding wears you down, and the part feels clamped - there's nothing for him to do but flash that wicked smile.
Most damagingly, there is nothing human about the picture; it's as though someone programmed a computer to devise a modern-day fable, and this is the result. Only a wonderful volatile actress named Charlize Theron impresses as Reeves's wife. When she starts to fall apart an hour into the film, you're so grateful for her rawness and honesty that you can get angry remembering that her function is just to be the film's sacrificial lamb.
BRING ME THE HEAD OF MAVIS DAVIS
Director: John Henderson
Starring: Rik Mayall, Jane Horrocks, Danny Aeillo, Ronald Pickup, Philip Martin-Brown
Ten years ago, Rik Mayall appeared in Private Enterprise, an unassuming little television film by the Comic Strip team, which took great delight in puncturing the vanity of the music business. This new film attempts the same trick, but without the aid of a decent script, tight direction or anything resembling bite or originality.
Mayall himself is rather endearing as the washed-up manager who realises that he could wipe out his debts to an American mobster by wiping out the biggest star on his books - an obnoxious prima donna named Marla Dorland (Jane Horrocks). You're left cold by the way the film opts for the most obvious and outdated gags attacking therapists, rock stars and head waiters.
PRETTY VILLAGE, PRETTY FLAME
Director: Srdjan Dragojevic
Starring: Dragan Bjelogrlic, Nikola Pejakovic
A prickly drama about two childhood friends divided by the Bosnian conflict, this has some of the dark, exotic imagery of Kusturica, undercut by gallows humour that might have had Bunuel reaching for the sick bag.
You are less impressed by the film's ferocious drive than by the intricacies of the structure, which flashes back and forth through time very deftly and poetically.
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