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Absolute Power (15). After a moderately tense opening set-piece, Clint Eastwood's political thriller falls apart and eventually winds up as little more than a sluggish vanity production. Directing from a lazy and glaringly illogical screenplay by William Goldman (based on David Baldacci's bestseller), Eastwood also stars as an ageing cat-burglar. Trying to pull off a career-capping haul, he finds himself trapped behind a two-way mirror in a Washington mansion, witness to a murder involving an obnoxious drunk (Gene Hackman) - who also happens to be the President of the United States. Eastwood's terse, understated direction - often praised for its subtlety and economy - seems merely pedestrian (as does his equally minimalist acting). Reprising their roles from Unforgiven (the noble fugitive against the corrupt big gun), the two stars engage in the metaphoric power struggle to which the title alludes, but their characters are drawn with such broad strokes that the outcome is never in doubt. Eastwood's greatest achievement here is in his generous direction of a crack support team that includes Ed Harris as a concerned cop and the peerless Judy Davis, suitably over-the-top as the president's irascible and rabidly loyal chief of staff.

Love and Other Catastrophes (15). The debut feature by 24-year-old Australian Emma-Kate Croghan is one of that dreaded breed: a campus romantic comedy, and with film students in it, to boot. Characters fret over course- changes and sit around listing their favourite movies ("Alphaville, for its dystopian vision," affirms the token pseudo-intellectual). The film is never as funny or as clever as it thinks it is. But mercifully, it does avoid the gaudy vulgarity that has infected so many Down Under comedies of late. And the young cast are, without exception, a game and talented bunch.

Con Air (15). The kind of film that, in the summer heat, inspires fatuous descriptions like "high-octane thrill-ride". Shrunk to fit a television screen, it's unmitigated tosh from start to finish. First- time helmer Simon West is an experienced director of beer commercials; factor in that information, and the movie begins to make sense.

of sense.

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