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last update 25.Aug.13
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4/5   MUST must see SEE
dir Joseph L Mankiewicz
prd Walter Wanger

scr Joseph L Mankiewicz, Ranald MacDougall, Sidney Buchman with Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, Martin Landau, Roddy McDowall, Pamela Brown, George Cole, Hume Cronyn, Cesare Danova, Kenneth Haigh, Andrew Keir, Francesca Annis
burton and taylor release UK 31.Jul.63
reissue UK 12.Jul.13
63/UK Fox 4h13
Cleopatra One of the most spectacular films ever made, this epic saga has been immaculately restored for its 50th anniversary. If you have a chance to catch it on a big screen, it's a must-see. Movies had never been made on this scale before (or arguably since), and along with the massive set-pieces the film features blistering performances from Taylor, Burton and Harrison.

To calm dissent, Roman emperor Julius Caesar (Harrison) travels to Alexandria to help cement the rule of Pharoah Cleopatra (Taylor). Seduced by her, they marry and have a son. He returns to Rome, and she makes her own grand entrance a few years later. Then after Caesar's murder in the senate, Cleopatra turns to his right-hand man Mark Antony (Burton) for help in escaping. And when they unite to oppose Caesar's legal heir Octavian (McDowell), they begin their own passionate romance. But Antony feels like a man without a country, and a showdown is looming.

The story is broken into two two-hour halves (with a helpful intermission). The first half centres on Caesar and is much livelier, with a snappy pace that leaps through years of political intrigue, enormous battles and some sudsy romance. Then we get the Antony years, which feel mopey by comparison, as Burton indulges in some typecasting as the wayward drunk throwing his talent away. This kind of undermines the epic romance between Antony and Cleopatra, which is the heart of the film, but it adds some intriguing darkness to the ongoing political/military sequences.

And what sequences they are! Scenes in Rome feature what looks like tens of thousands of extras, with the film's centrepiece being Cleopatra's astonishing arrival in the city on a mammoth sphinx surrounded by hordes of dancers and escorts. Much later there's an equally jaw-dropping ocean battle that seems frankly impossible to render without digital effects work, but there it is. And Taylor glides through it all in a blinding series of elaborate costumes, never wearing the same frock twice.

Everything about this film screams excess, just as you'd want it to. And it's anchored by a solid script and performances that get under the skin of the characters. Burton even delivers a pungent Shakespearean monologue as an inebriated rant in the final act. But this is a movie to savour for its extravagance: costumes, hair, sets, draperies, extras and enormous set-pieces. It's a pretty great story too.

PG themes, violence
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Heaven’s Gate
5/5   MUST must see SEE
dir-scr Michael Cimino
prd Joann Carelli
with Kris Kristofferson, Isabelle Huppert, Christopher Walken, John Hurt, Sam Waterston, Jeff Bridges, Brad Dourif, Joseph Cotten, Mickey Rourke, Geoffrey Lewis, Richard Masur, Paul Koslo
huppert and kristofferson release US 19.Nov.80
restored US 5.Oct.12,
UK 2.Aug.13
80/US United Artists 3h39

Heaven's Gate Restored to its original cut, unseen since 1980, this is the epic that sank Cimino's career and nearly bankrupted United Artists. Even with more than an hour chopped out for the 149-minute release version, the film was better than its press. After 33 years we can now see the full-length masterpiece in its wide-screen glory. And as a story of over-privileged haves versus tenacious have-nots, it feels even more relevant today.

In 1890 Wyoming, wealthy farmers led by Frank (Waterston) are hiring mercenaries to kill poor European immigrants and steal their land, claiming that they are cattle thieves. But Johnson County Sheriff Jim (Kristofferson) takes them on. As the situation gets increasingly intense, Jim's romance with the local brothel madam Ella (Huppert) is strained when he asks her to leave for her own safety. And then sensitive hired gun Nathan (Walken) falls for her as well.

The film's expansive settings and vast crowds of extras are astounding. Cimino has an immaculate attention to detail, from full-size bustling frontier towns to the most seemingly insignificant prop and costume. Vilmos Zsigmond's luxuriant cinematography uses light, smoke and dust to recreate the textures of vintage photographs. David Mansfield's guitar-based score is evocative without being intrusive. And the brutal conflict is strikingly knotty morally, as is the love triangle between the three central characters.

Kristofferson exudes intelligence and steely physicality as the educated man trying to maintain a peaceful balance both in his personal life and in the free-for-all of Wild West society. Huppert is fiery, vulnerable and luminous as a woman who has survived with her sheer force of will. Walken expertly reveals Nathan's soft heart and fierce determination. They're ably supported by terrific actors such as Waterston, Hurt (as Jim's drink-loving Harvard buddy), Bridges (as a straight-talking pub owner) and a string of memorable one-scene players.

This Western is so realistic that it doesn't feel like a Western at all. Yes, the film is long and indulgent, but it's supremely well-made, exploring class and immigration with prescient complexity. And by digging so deeply, Cimino's vivid characters and situations get under our skin. Nearly every scene is unforgettable, from waltzing on a Harvard lawn to a frenzied cockfight to the film's centrepiece ho-down in the Heaven's Gate roller rink. And the messy shoot-outs of the final act are both horrific and breathtaking.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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dir-scr Gregg Araki
prd Gregg Araki, Andrea Sperling
with James Duval, Rachel True, Nathan Bexton, Guillermo Diaz, Jeremy Jordan, Ryan Phillippe, Heather Graham, Mena Suvari, Joshua Gibran Mayweather, Jordan Ladd, Christina Applegate, Sarah Lassez, Thyme Lewis, Scott Caan, Jaason Simmons, Alan Boyce
duval and bexton release US 9.May.97,
UK 5.Jun.98
reissue UK 26.Aug.13
97/US 1h22

cameos Beverly D'Angelo, Shannen Doherty, Christopher Knight, David Leisure, Traci Lords, Chiara Mastroianni, Debi Mazar, Rose McGowan, Eve Plumb, Charlotte Rae, Denise Richards, John Ritter, Lauren Tewes
Nowhere With this madcap teen romp, Araki was adapting his lurid filmmaking style for a wider audience, keeping us entertained with its larger-than-life attitude and colourfully complex characters. As in his other films (before and after this one), the confusion of youth adds an emotion kick to everything. And it stands up eerily well 15 years later.

Assigned to make a video about someone he cares about, Dark (Duval) isn't sure who he really likes: his girlfriend Mel (True) or cute blond boy Montgomery (Bexton). Meanwhile, his friend Cowboy (Diaz) is trying to wean Bart (Jordan) off drugs. Alyssa, Dingbat and Egg (Ladd, Applegate and Lassez) get surprises when they hook up with a black Elvis (Lewis), a skater boy (Caan) and a teen idol (Simmons), respectively. And two sets of young lovers (Phillippe and Graham, Mayweather and Suvari) let their passions run wild. There's also an alien lizard on the loose with a raygun.

Assembled with broad comedic strokes, Araki's transgressive sitcom style externalises the heightened colours of adolescent desire. In the process, he touches on big issues like sexuality, ambition, addiction, rape, gossip, eating disorders and TV evangelism. And like Kaboom (2010), there's a clear sense that the end of the world is nigh. Of course, it all builds to an out of control party with no adults in sight. And it's loaded with fantastic music.

With an eye for rising-star talent, Araki uses with young actors who will go on to even bigger things. There are more than a dozen main characters, each with his or her own romantic odyssey. And he also gives juicy cameos to veterans from 70s and 80s television. The performances aren't particularly subtle, but they adeptly reveal the characters' internal emotions, which makes it easy for us to identify with what happens even as things begin to get rather insane.

As Mel observes, human are built for sex and love, and should dole out as much of both in the little time they have. And yet Dark feels like everything around him is unhappy and violent. It's that universal feeling that we have to make our own happiness as the world falls apart around us. And of course, when you're a teen life seems apocalyptic, because everything's so new and unthinkable.

18 themes, language, violence, sexuality, drugs
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Plein Soleil
5/5   MUST must see SEE  
aka: Purple Noon
dir Rene Clement
scr Rene Clement, Paul Gegauff
prd Raymond Hakim, Robert Hakim, Goffredo Lombardo
with Alain Delon, Marie Laforet, Maurice Ronet, Erno Crisa, Frank Latimore, Bill Kearns, Ave Ninchi, Elvire Popesco, Viviane Chantel, Lily Romanelli, Nicolas Petrov, Romy Schneider
laforet and delon
release Fr 10.Mar.60,
US 31.Aug.61
restored Fr 10.Jul.13,
UK 30.Aug.13
60/France 1h58

plein soleil At the height of the Nouvelle Vague, master of suspense Clement adapted Patricia Highsmith's novel The Talented Mr Ripley into an iconic, slow-burn thriller. Pristinely restored, this expertly made film is utterly mesmerising. And its exploration of ruthless ambition is still fiercely timely.

Tom Ripley (Delon) is hired to go to Italy to bring his friend Philippe (Ronet) back to America. But they instead decide to hang out and have some fun with Philippe's girlfriend Marge (Laforet). Philippe's refusal to even write to his dad means that Tom's funding is cut off, so he has no option but to join Philippe and Marge on a boating trip to Taormina. But she doesn't like how Philippe behaves around Tom, so she leaves the boys to their games. And this is when Tom puts his dark plan into action.

Clement directs the film with a lively, off-the-cuff style that catches the tiny insults as rich kid Philippe talks down to the poorer and less well-mannered Tom. We can see this eating away at Tom, who longs to have Philippe's money and perhaps even Marge. Every scene has a simmering touch of innuendo to it, suggesting possible directions the story might go. The stunningly shot and played scene in which everything takes a sudden dark turn is masterfully disorienting.

The beautiful and very young Delon cleverly reveals Tom's inner demons in sharply written and directed scenes that are deeply unnerving. His physicality dominates the film as he puts himself between Philippe and Marge at every opportunity. And watching these three in the close quarters on the boat is fascinatingly intense, even as they smile and relax around each other. And from here the narrative spins in increasingly nasty directions.

After the taut first half, what follows sometimes feels a little dull, as Tom's elaborate, increasingly desperate deception becomes almost procedural. Clement may dodge some of the story's more controversial plot points (which are more present in Anthony Minghella's 1999 remake), but this remains a fascinating story, impeccably played, directed and edited. And through each riveting turn of the plot, the film challenges our ideas of attraction and identity.

PG themes, language, violence
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