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REVIEWED BY BILL HARDING
Robert De Niro was great - make that the greatest - in the mid-seventies to the early nineties, when beautifully written, disturbing and moving roles like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, Jake La Motta in Raging Bull and James Conway kicked his career into the critical if not the box office stratosphere. Nobody knew it then, but writing like that was going out of style faster than you could say Paul Schrader. Taxi Driver was the role of De Niro's life. It's not the fault of actors there's so little great movie writing to grab and shake life into. Martin Scorsese and Schrader have worked successfully since, but nothing they have done since 1975 can hold a lighted candle to Taxi Driver. 'You talkin' to me?' Few films can be mentioned in the same breath.
It sums up his career since '95
De Niro has worked hard, arguably taking to many mediocre parts. He's set up his Tribeca company in New York to nurture young filmmaking talent, but look at his career dispassionately and clearly it's been going downhill since 1995, when the brilliant Casino and Heat appeared back to back. In the late '80s The Untouchables and Midnight Run stand out from the later, over rated likes of Jackie Brown and the dreadful, laughfree comedy, Analyze This. De Niro's latest, Meet The Parents (12), is a domestic comedy which casts him as a retired CIA officer meeting and disapproving of his elder daughter's latest, and most serious, boyfriend, played by Ben Stiller. It sums up his career since '95.
...tortured geniuses like Schrader are as rare as honest politicians.
It's lukewarm, patchy, well acted, passes the time pleasantly, and it's not a patch on the recent Wonder Boys. De Niro is superb when he has great writing to work with, but tortured geniuses like Schrader are as rare as honest politicians. Meet The Parents barely improves on those warmed-over family movies Steve Martin skidded downhill with - Parenthood and Father of the Bride. De Niro is treading water. Certainly he needs a break from 'heavy' films, but we want more.
....a girl called Martha Focker.
The big joke is that Stiller's character is called Focker. How Carry On. The screenplay bangs us over the head with it, again and again, Mel Brooks style. I've seen school plays written by fourteen year olds with more wit than a joke about a girl called Martha Focker.
It's his directorial debut and it doesn't disappoint.....
Way of the Gun (18) is another film which harks back to a time of great directors and great movies. This time it's Sam Peckinpah, the much imitated, never equalled drug and booze addled maverick whose battered reputation has grown since his death in 1984. Michael Mann tried in Heat, with a shoot-out on the streets of LA which Sam would approve of. Now comes a dark, gloomy modern Western from Christopher McQuarrie, writer of The Usual Suspects. It's his directorial debut and it doesn't disappoint ringing the action movie changes and leaving a few philosophical threads hanging in the air after its final bloodletting.
Smelling shitloads of folding currency, they kidnap her.
Two drifters (Ryan Phillippe and Benicio Del Toro) are named Parker and Longbaugh, the real names of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. To call these guys nihilistic is like calling Tony Blair lightweight. They'll sell anything - like semen, for example. At the clinic they notice a heavily pregnant woman (Juliette Lewis), a surrogate for a millionaire couple. Smelling shitloads of folding currency, they kidnap her. The problem is that the bankrolling 'father' is a well-connected criminal.
....how many times did you see a Ceasarian section carried out in the middle of a shoot-out?
McQuarrie sets up the usual ingredients and tweaks them sideways, making his film fascinating, offbeat and disturbing. You never saw a car chase like this before; and how many times did you see a Ceasarian section carried out in the middle of a shoot-out?
...a small place in Hollywood for movies with a brain.
The young turks are supported by old timer James Caan as the millionaire's equalizer and Juliette Lewis's pa, Geoffrey, as his longtime back-up. McQuarrie insists in his publicity blurb that he didn't want his film to be compared to Peckinpah. "In this film there's a lot of emotional violence, not a bloodbath. It's about what is being done, not how it's being done.~" What makes Peckinpah's greatest films - Ride The High Country, the Wild Bunch,Cross of Iron - so powerful is prescisely that they show the emotional cost of violence. There was no fake nobility. That's also true of The Way Of The Gun. It proves that there is still a small place in Hollywood for movies with a brain.
...said to be considering politics, even though he's signed for Terminator 3.
Big Arnie made his name blasting his adversaries with the heaviest weapons and firepower in the history of the cinema. He tried comedy in Twins and Kindergarten Cop, and it didn't work. Now he seems to have turned his back on the guns and is said to be considering politics, even though he's signed for Terminator 3.
...you'll like this, but it's not a patch on The Terminator...
His new one, The Sixth Day (15), is all about cloning, and it has plenty of shooting, but the handguns are futuristic and look nothing like normal shooters. The look of the film is glossy and steely and Arnie goes through the motions without making his advancing years too obvious. There are some neat visual flourishes - especially a creepy lifelike doll for children - and Arnie does his self-mocking bit amid the below-par verbals. One idea stands out; it's to do with helicopters and it almost makes the movie worth watching. If you like Arnie you'll like this, but it's not a patch on The Terminator, despite a fine supporting cast that includes Michael Rapaport, Robert Duvall and Sarah Wynter.
What's with all the sixes?
One of the megahits of last year was M. Night Shamalyan's creepily effective big twister, The Sixth Sense. (What's with all the sixes? - Ed). Shamalyan wrote and directed and made instant cinema history with his slightly overhyped Bruce Willis-led supernatural story, which, provided you didn't click early on, kept you watching. His follow-up, Unbreakable (12), tries desperately to repeat the success. It fails miserably.
...the new story verges on the ridiculous.
Once again the cast is headed by Bruce Willis, with Spencer Treat Clark, who was in Gladiator, in the Haley Joel Osment part. Willis had much the same to do as he did in The Sixth Sense, but the new story verges on the ridiculous. It starts well enough, outside Philadephia. Samuel L. Jackson plays Elijah Price, a mysterious stanger with a rare bone disease, who seems unhealthily interested in precisely why Dunn walked away without a scratch.
....the pace is as slow as a drugged snail....
So far, so good. The underrated Robin Wright Penn is excellent as Dunn's wife, in a part similar to her turn in State of Grace; and that, folks, is about it. Shamalyan tries desperately to keep his tale afloat, but it would barely make the grade as an episode of The Outer Limits. the visuals are slick and polished, but the pace is as slow as a drugged snail and this time the "surprise" ending is risble. Sadly, it looks as if Shamlyan's brief reign as the modern master of suspense is over.