0-9 A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

The Machinist (2004).
Starring: Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh.
Director: Brad Anderson.
Synopsis: An insomniac begins to lose his mind when a co-worker is involved in an industrial accident.
Dean's comments: 'The Machinist' is a rarity amongst not only films but all forms of storytelling. It is a mystery that is engaging, occasionally terrifying and always interesting, but with a pay-off that isn't contrived and is really worth the wait. M Night Shayalaman should pay attention to films like this, where the characters are understated yet fully developed, and where the hints and twists are subtle and not lit up with huge neon signs. Christian Bale plays an insomniac who works in a factory and whose only friends are a prostitute and an airport cafe waitress. As he finds himself accused of being responsible for causing the loss of a co-worker's arm in a machine, he is aware of a strange new employee in the factory and begins to explore gaps in his memory. As snippets of information as to what really happened to cause his sleeplessness are revealed, his world descends into a number of levels of madness and unwillingness to believe what his eyes are showing him. As I have already said, the payoff is well worthwhile. Kudos to the writers and production team for being able to pull off a mystery that retains its dark allure for the duration of the film without going into impossible contrivances to conceal the 'truth'. Interesting that the writer and director couldn't find a backer for the film in America, the whole thing was shot in Barcelona with lots of British and Spanish actors putting on US accents.
Rating: 7/10.

The Magdalene sisters (2002).
Starring: Anne-Marie Duff, Nora-Jane Noone, Dorothy Duffy, Geraldine McEwan.
Director: Peter Mullan.
Synopsis: Three girls, each accused by their families of immoral behaviour, are send to a Catholic reformatory school.
Dean's comments: The scariest thing about this film is the knowledge that it is mostly true, and that the kind of school / mental asylum depicted in the film actually existed in Ireland until very recent times. Indeed the epilogue to the film tells us that the last one was only closed down in 1996. The idea that families would willingly send daughters and wives to an asylum run by sadistic nuns rather than fact the 'dishonour' of their lewd behaviour sounds like something out of a science fiction story, yet it happened. This film is a powerful and emotional portrayal of what those girls must have gone through, the mental tortures they had to endure and the ways that they tried to remain sane. In many ways the film has a lot in common with 'The Shawshank Redemption' in that it is all about hope overcoming fear and despair, one of the girls is rescued by her brother while the remaining two formulate a plan of escape. They overcome their fears of the chief nun and fight back, realising their own strengths and attacking the traditional powers in society (the Catholic church) in the process. This is only after a long process in which they see several of the other girls go mad or become ill; the journey is not smooth either, the friendship between the 3 main characters is initially built out of need rather than empathy for each other. The films on a positive note though, the triumph of the human spirit over the oppression of medieval organised religion.
Rating: 7/10.

Magnolia (1999).
Starring: Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H Macy.
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson.
Synopsis: The interconnected lives of several loners in contemporary America.
Dean's comments: This is an amazing film that highlights the failings and tough decisions that have to be made by a rainbow of characters that are tenuously linked by their relationships and experiences. Each character is connected to the next by the fact that they all have so much to give, but that circumstances have taken that opportunity away from them. It's always good to see Tom Cruise in a film which does rely on his magnetic Hollywood charm, it shows that he is (despite all evidence to the contrary) a half decent actor. It is quite a long film, but you wont notice the time passing as you'll be riveted into the lives of the characters and their problems.
Rating: 9/10.

The Maltese Falcon (1941).
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor.
Director: John Huston.
Synopsis: A valuable medievil artefact has found its way into the hands of criminals in America.
Dean's comments: This classic of war time American detective dramas is a fast moving and slick movie starring Humphrey Bogart as the smooth-talking private investigator who is always two steps in front of the police and the crooks. The trouble is that he is always several more steps in front of the audience and so you'll need to be paying attention to follow the plot. Normally I'm a fan of writers who respect the intelligence of their viewers, but 'The Maltese Falcon' seems to go a step beyond that in that it doesn't explaining things that leave us bemused and moves the plot on before we've had a chance to take the previous development in. You have to admire the slick and smooth acting ability of Bogart though, he holds the whole piece together with what can only be described as a dominant performance.
Rating: 6/10.

Man Bites Dog (1992).
Starring: Benoit Poelvoorde, Remy Belvaux, Andre Bonzel, Vincent Tavier.
Director: Remy Belvaux, Andre Bonzel.
Synopsis: A camera crew follow a serial killer around in order to make a documentary.
Dean's comments: This is one of the most outlandish, crude, nasty, funny and plainly insane films I have ever seen. These Belgian film students have created a masterpiece in their 'documentary' about the life of the deranged serial killer played superbly by Benoit Poelvoorde. The film contains several very disturbing images, most notable long strings of clips of people being killed in a variety of grim and awful ways. Ben, the killer, is one of the most fanatical and insane people every seen in cinema; he goes on long monolgues occasionally broken up by him asking a question which he answers immediately about life, sex, murder and having sea food. Several of his speaches are amazingly clever and dangerous in terms of challenging film status quo and censorship. He talks about weighing bodies down as well as new and interesting ways to kill people. All of this might be considered in bad taste if it were not for the character being so unrealisticly over-the-top that the film plainly exists in the realm of fantasy. That is what this film is, a pure fantasy with a vicious wit and a lot of brilliantly dark humour.
Rating: 9/10.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956).
Starring: Cary Grant, Doris Day.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock.
Synopsis: A man and his wife in Morroco stumble accross a plot to murder a plotical leader.
Dean's comments: A great thriller from Alfred Hitchcock which starts out in Africa where the Western lead characters feel ill-at-ease with their Moroccan hosts and then relocates to London where the political chicanery leaps into full swing. The plot is classic Hitchcockian stuff, James Stewart is a man in possession of a secret, a secret that could cost him and his wife their lives but a secret that none-the-less he is intent of getting to the bottom of. All the tricks of the directorial art are on display as Hitchcock effortlessly puts the audience in Stewart’s position and generates suspicion and tension as every new character and location is introduced. From long shots to wide angles to off-centre views, the tricks of the trade are all there as the psychosis of Stewart’s character builds to a spectacular finale – an assassination attempt during an opera at the Royal Albert Hall. Stewart finds himself in the role of the Hitchcock hero, the authorities wont listen to him while the bad guys want to kill him; the only way out is to solve the mystery himself while trying to desperately retain his sanity. The final sequence is an excellent one too; the music is as much a part of the story as the characters and setting. The opera builds to a crescendo in which our hero is on the run from both sides of the law while trying to protect his wife and find the assassin; the fact that he will win is never in doubt, nor is the director’s ability to wring every last bit of tension out of this classic thriller.
Rating: 7/10.

The Man Who Wasn't There (2002).
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Francis McDormand, James Gandolfini, Tony Shalhoub.
Director: Joel Coen.
Synopsis: A barber tries to get rich quick by blackmailing his wife's boss.
Dean's comments: In this brutally effective mini-masterpiece on the meaning of life, existence and relationships; the Coen brothers produced their best film since 'Fargo' and once again staked a claim as one of the most innovative film makers of all time. Billy Bob Thornton plays the eponymous man who may as well not have been there, a slow and quietly spoken barber in a small American town in the mid 1950s. This barber tries to extort money from his wife's lover but lacks the wit and flair for deceit when his ill-conceived scheme falls apart around his ears. Everyone around Thornton's character eventually either passes away or loses interest in him, only a young girl who he wants to see become a great pianist pays him any attention. It is her relationship with him that eventually leads to him being condemned to the only fate that befits a man who wasn't there; he, and with him all memory of his existence, is removed from the world forever. The magnificence of 'The man who wasn't there' derives from two aspects of the film that feed off each other. The Coen brothers' decided to film the movie in black and white, a move which emphasised the non-contemporary setting and fed into the second important element, the surrealism of the story and Ed Crane's life. The title of the film may well have a subtle double meaning, as well as Ed Crane being a man who may as well not have lived; it is also possible that he never was there in the first place. The numerous references to UFO abductions evoke a feeling that Crane is entirely disengaged from the world in which he lives, perhaps he never lived there. With all the people he ever mattered gone, who is to know? The film is a character study of a man disengaged from mainstream society, a man who has been alienated in the classic Marxist sense of the word. 'The man who wasn't there' is almost the Coen brothers' best film, a work of modern cinematic genius.
Rating: 9/10.

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).
Starring: Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Brit Ekland.
Director: Guy Hamilton.
Synopsis: A master shot / megalomaniac plans to rule the world from his off-shore island, Bond must stop him.
Dean's comments: This is a fine Bond film, mainly because Christopher Lee plays a superb bad guy while his loyal side-kick 'Nik-nak' is faithful to the 'Bond' tradition to silly characters and over-the-top wickedness. Brit Ekland needs no introduction really, but her acting is fairly annoying as one of the worst Bond-girls ever. The plot isn't too bad for a Bond film either, it makes sense that someone would put a price on Bond's head given the number of times that he's foiled the schemes of evil geniuses all over the world. Obviously though it's too easy for them to kill him normally, an elaborate plan has to be devised ('...an easily-escapable situation...' thank you Mike Myers) which has more holes in it than a 'Doctor Who' plot.
Rating: 5/10.

The Manchurian candidate (1962).
Starring: Laurence Harvey, Frank Sinatra, Angela Lansbury, Janet Leigh.
Director: John Frankenheimer.
Synopsis: A conspiracy of communists and US sympathisers brainwash an ex-US soldier into becoming an assassin.
Dean's comments: The classic conspiracy theory film (remember that this came before the assassination of JFK), a classic of political intrigue. Harvey plays a soldier who has been brainwashed by communist conspirators working with some within the USA whose objective is to control an assassin who will never remember his crimes. The sequences in which the American soldiers are brainwashed into killing each other in front of an audience of Chinese and Russian generals are pretty disturbing. The film has an odd conceit though, that a queen of diamonds playing card controls the actions of the brainwashed soldier, seems a bit of a random way to organise the switch for the assassin. Indeed this flaw in the plan is exposed when Harvey's character accidentally sees a giant queen of diamonds and goes crazy. The film's best performance is from Angela Lansbury as the senator's mother who is willing to sacrifice her own son for personal political gain. This original is distinctly better than the 2004 re-make, not a surprise really.
Rating: 6/10.

The Manchurian candidate (2004).
Starring: Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Liev Schreiber.
Director: Jonathan Demme.
Synopsis: A sinister corporation plans to assassinate the U.S. president and place their own man in office.
Dean's comments: This remake of a 1950s classic is disappointingly unimaginative and has little or no twists at all. The premise is that a group of soldiers in the Gulf war were brainwashed by a corporation to be their puppets and that their brains can be triggered by the right words to carry out assassinations and other heinous tasks. This is all very well apart from the fact that it isn't really a surprise to discover that a corporation is 'evil', and that Meryl Streep's character is so over the top in terms of being a pantomime baddie that the direction of the plot is never in doubt. Streep goes into a monologue about how America must use its power to dominate the world and kill its enemies while trying to persuade the democratic convention to take her son on as their candidate, this little speech is cringingly awful (the nastiest bit of the film is when she comes on to her son while he's in his brainwashed state, just in case you hadn't spotted that she was trying to turn him into her dead husband). Were the writers trying to do some Bush parody? Well it doesn't make any sense as I'm sure Bush doesn't need to make speeches like that to get the support of his Christian fundamentalist core. If Denzel Washington's character being brainwashed is supposed to be a twist at the end of the film then it's the stupidest and most obvious twist of all time (note how I don't consider it a twist and therefore give it away in my review) as through-out the whole film we see Washington being talked into killing people etc during the Gulf war. Add into this the fact that the 'evil scientist' is English and you have a film that's nothing more than a pantomime trying to pass itself off as intelligent political debate.
Rating: 4/10.

Manhattan (1979).
Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Mariel Hemmingway, Michael Murphy, Meryl Streep.
Director: Woody Allen.
Synopsis: A New York intellectual divorcee experiences love, loss and friendship.
Dean's comments: I instantly fell in love with this film the moment I saw the opening 5 minutes, an opening in which Allen voices over several conflicting – yet accurate – descriptions of a thriving and diverse city revelling in, and yet struggling to accept, its own contradictions. Allen is surely playing himself in this film; as a self-confessed New York lover and quietly-spoken intellectual, it isn’t too hard an imaginative leap to see that Woody Allen sees a lot of himself in the character he portrays. The style of the film also hooked me, the use of black and white and lingering camera shots allow the actors to act and give the plot a genuine realism. The plot revolves around Allen’s character recovering from a divorce in which his wife declared herself gay. He has managed to find a girl who is infatuated with him but he wants something more, something he sees in Diane Keaton’s character. She plays a character who has intelligence and is prepared to challenge his opinions, a character who Allen falls in love with. ‘Manhattan’ is a love story, it is also a piece about the power and joy of living in a vibrant and diverse melting-pot of an urban culture. Being born a Londoner I think I can appreciate what Allen is getting at with his descriptions of New York as almost a living entity. All I need to do now is go to New York and see what he was talking about.
Rating: 9/10.

Manhunter (1986).
Starring: William L Peterson, Brian Cox, Kim Greist.
Director: Michael Mann.
Synopsis: With a serial killer murdering at will, a detective enlists the help of an intellectual killer to track him down.
Dean's comments: This is the film that first introduced the Hannibal Lector character to the silver screen. There is lots of intrigue, cryptic dialogue and atmosphere but the whole thing is rather too slow-moving for my liking. Fans of crime drama will probably enjoy this, I was a little bored to tell you the truth.
Rating: 5/10.

March of the Penguins (2005).
Starring: Morgan Freeman.
Director: Luc Jacquet.
Synopsis: The story of the mating rituals of penguins.
Dean's comments: Clearly the majority of the American public did not grow up on an endless string of David Attenborough-narrated 'Wildlife on one' nature documentaries, if they did they would probably not have been falling over themselves quite so much to praise this film. The film is a documentary on the penguins of the south pole, specifically their mating rituals and the long journey they make every year from the coast to the place where their give birth to their young. Apart from the quite unnecessary over-anthropomorphisation of the penguins and their lives, the documentary gives an extremely interesting insight into the lives of these quite remarkable animals. 'March of the Penguins' is an interesting and reasonably informative film, but by no means a classic and not a patch on almost anything David Attenborough has ever put his voice to.
Rating: 5/10.

Maria Full of Grace (2004).
Starring: Catalina Sandino Moreno, Yenny Paola Vega.
Director: Joshua Marston.
Synopsis: A poor girl living in COlumbia becomes a 'mule' for drug runners after she becomes pregnant.
Dean's comments: This is a film about the drugs trade; not the police enforcement end of the business but the production end, a place where young and often impressionable poor people are economically conscripted into delivering drugs from the southern to the northern continent of America. Maria is one such girl, she is smart – although one wonders how she became so streetwise given her rural upbringing – independent and capable. After discovering her pregnancy she makes a life-changing decision and travels to the USA as a ‘mule’, one who swallows small packets of drugs for delivery upon arrival. Thus the ruination that the drugs trade causes upon the lives of so many is told from the point of view of its lowliest link. It’s a desperately sad tale, one which can have no happy ending and demonstrates the reality of the lives of people caught in the economic depression of central America.
Rating: 7/10.

Master and Commander (2003).
Starring: Russel Crowe, Paul Bettany.
Director: Peter Wier.
Synopsis: A British and a French ship battle for naval supremacy of the South American seas at the historical high-point of European naval domination.
Dean's comments: A beautifully shot sea-bound adventure that hardly strays from the confines of the ship and the hardship of life at sea in the early 19th centaury. The fact that the film is actually good despite the claustrophobic confines of the ship is a testament to the direction and beauty of the cinematography. The film feels a little hollow in places, probably because there are no female characters at all and that there is no one on board the ship who deserves any sympathy at all, but it makes for a great adventure (struggling not to use the word 'swashbuckling') all the same. Both the leading actors are great in their roles, Crowe gets to play a dour jobs worth while Bettany in his role as the passionate scientist is his perfect foil. I'm a fan of this film's ending too, I hope I don't give anything away but Crowe's character does 'beat' his rival in the traditional sense. The finale and aftermath are left to the viewer, in that sense the film demands a sequel.
Rating: 7/10.

Matchstick men (2003).
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohman.
Director: Ridley Scott.
Synopsis: A con man's daughter arrives out of no-where and becomes his new apprentice.
Dean's comments: A passable comedy/drama about con artists. The 'twist' is very obvious and there is a terribly annoying 'happy ending' that looks very much like it was tacked on at a later stage after a bad screen-test.
Rating: 4/10.

The Matrix (1999).
Starring: Keanu Reaves, Lawrence Fishbourne, Carrie-Ann Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Hugo Weaving.
Director: Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski.
Synopsis: A computer hacker in the modern-day USA discovers that the world around him may in fact be an almighty hoax perpatrated by sophisticated machines.
Dean's comments: With amazing special effects and martial arts style combat, the characters in 'The Matrix' are too cool for the screen. In my opinion this is one of the most important movies of the late 90s, it brought special effects into a new age and defined new boundaries in Sci Fi genres. The development of 'Bullet time' changed the face of special effects for the new millennium, I for one was stunned by the slow-motion sequences at the time. Even now the effects look great (compare this to the SFX in 'Jurassic Park' or 'Independence Day', they look very dated now despite being 'revolutionary' at the time). 'The Matrix' taps into 'Cyber-punk' culture and is one of the first modern science fiction films to fully embrace the post-modern world of the internet and instant communications technologies. It has a very 'Alice-in-Wonderland' feel to it, indeed Morpheus notes this to Neo, and it is this feeling of mystery and wonder that gave it such a cult following at the time of it's release (hard to believe now but there was very little advertising or hype surrounding the original release). The film has a couple of major plot holes though, namely that the main premise (the use of artificially-grown Humans to generate power) is scientifically ludicrous.
Rating: 8/10.

The Matrix Reloaded (2003).
Starring: Keanu Reaves, Lawrence Fishbourne, Carrie-Ann Moss, Hugo Weaving.
Director: Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski.
Synopsis: Neo has dreams and premonitions about his future and the fates of his friends.
Dean's comments: Continues where the first left off in terms of special effects and fight scenes, but the fantasy element seems to have left the story with political wrangling taking over. This is not a good thing; all the mystery and wonder of the first film has been lost with one fell swoop. The only thing left that's any good is Hugo Weaving's wonderful performance as the improbably evil agent Smith.
Rating: 4/10.

The Matrix Revolutions (2003).
Starring: Keanu Reaves, Lawrence Fishbourne, Carrie-Ann Moss, Hugo Weaving.
Director: Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski.
Synopsis: The final battle between the machines and the citizens of Zion.
Dean's comments: An improvement over the second instalment, but not enough to warrant an average rating. The special effects don't really seem to have advanced from the first, and with everyone else spoofing 'Bullet Time' they need to do something new if they want to rely on the SFX to woo us. The trilogy's conclusion is fairly unsatisfying, a bit of a cop out in my opinion, not to mention the all-too-obvious messianic overtones to Neo's finale.
Rating: 4/10.

Max (2002).
Starring: John Cusack, Noah Taylor.
Director: Menno Meyjes.
Synopsis: A young Adolf Hitler is challenged to pursue his artistic career by a rich Jewish art dealer.
Dean's comments: Powerful tale about hardship in post WW1 Germany and the balance between fate and making decisions. The use of Adolf Hitler as a character in the film is a masterstroke, as one can see his regression as a person into hate-politics through his unsuccessful attempts to become an artist. We know what's going to happen to Hitler, so the interest is in watching how he's going to get there. Noah Taylor's performance is excellent, Adolf Hilter is one of the most well-known historical figures of all time and so it would have been very easy to ham his performance up subconsciously. Accusations of anti-semitism are unfair, many Jewish leaders in America supported the film and were clear that simply using an anti-semetic character in a film doesn't make the film-makers fascist.
Rating: 7/10.

Mean Girls (2004).
Starring: Lindsey Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Tina Fey.
Director: Mark S Waters.
Synopsis: A girl who grew up being 'home-schooled' by her parents finds she has to go the school and learns about the social ettiquettes of that institution.
Dean's comments: This finally shows that American teen films can be good, they don't all have to be 'American Pie'. Succeeds in its portrayal of school life as a hard but ultimately shallow affair that you only need to survive in order to beat. Lindsey Lohan looks like she's going to be a good (proper) actress one of these days, she needs to time her transition into the world of not-playing-teenage-characters right. A slightly too-sweet ending takes the gloss off the film somewhat though.
Rating: 6/10.

Mean Streets (1973).
Starring: Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, David Proval.
Director: Martin Scorsese.
Synopsis: A number of young Italian-Americans have several brushes with the world of organised crime while growing up.
Dean's comments: One of Martin Scorsese's earliest ventures into storytelling in the world of Italian-American organised crime, 'Mean Streets' is interesting in that it is perhaps the most un-violent and laid-back of his films on the subject. It is a story that revels in the joy and thrill of youth while simultaneously condemning its characters because of their youthful naivety of the world around them. DeNiro and Keitel play characters who are on either side of that emotional rollercoaster of youth, both live on the edges of the local mafia and desire to control the direction of their own lives. DeNiro's character reacts to the authority of others by lashing out, Keitel's character reacts by trying to escape; both efforts are ultimately doomed. Of course the film is about redemption, as indicated by Keitel's voice-over at the start, everyone wants redemption, Keitel's character especially. It is clear that he has not yet had the opportunity to commit any serious crimes, but as he grows up those opportunities are becoming harder to avoid. In this sense he is trying to avoid having to find his redemption by escaping before he is lost.
Rating: 7/10.

Meet the Feebles (1989).
Starring: Stuart Devenie, Donna Akersten.
Director: Peter Jackson.
Synopsis: An adult take on the Muppets.
Dean's comments: This film is an incredibly crude but very funny take on the 'Muppets', i.e. there are a load of Jim Henson-style puppets that swear and have sex. An over-the-top song about 'Sodomy' is probably the highlight.
Rating: 5/10.

Memento (2000).
Starring: Guy Pearce, Joe Pantoliano, Carrie Ann Moss.
Director: Christopher Nolan.
Synopsis: A man who suffers from short term memory loss struggles to piece together recent criminal activities involving himself and his colleagues.
Dean's comments: An interesting idea, a man whose short-term memory is non-existent allows a story to be told in reverse. The film is very confusing right to the end, but thankfully the whole thing becomes clear at that stage. Watching the film for a second time is highly recommended, as a knowledge of what has happened in the past (in terms of the plot of the film) will give you lots of 'aha!' moments as previously-forgotten plot-strands fall back into place.
Rating: 7/10.

The Merchant of Venice (2004).
Starring: Jeremy Irons, Al Pacino, Joseph Fiennes, Lynn Collins.
Director: Michael Radford.
Synopsis: In 16th centaury Venice, a merchant makes a deal with an unscrupulous money-lender which goes horribly wrong.
Dean's comments: 'The Merchant of Venice' is - obviously - a Shakespeare play; this modern version retains that heritage by including the original dialogue. Thus the film isn't so much as an 'adaptation' of the original, more simply a 'production'. Being reasonably unfamiliar with Shakespeare in general I am not best-placed to comment on the accuracy of the film or how it compares with theatre productions. What I can say is that I rather enjoyed this occasionally hectic concoction of romance, drama and political intrigue. The Bard certainly knew how to tell a tale. Al Pacino is a masterful actor, and he doesn't hold back in his portrayal of one of the most reviled yet trodden-upon characters in the history of English literature. Shylock's presence on screen is, for me, an opportunity to explore many dark sides of our own society, themes of racism and greed are liberally scattered throughout the film. The script for 'Merchant of Venice' also serves as a historical document, telling us about European social values in 16th centaury Italy. Of course the film is racist, but that doesn't mean anyone should ignore it. People in the 16th centaury were, in general, racist towards Jews; there's no point trying to re-write history to cover that fact up. I'm glad I watched the film on DVD, where I was able to turn on the subtitles. I think I may have missed a lot of the archaic dialogue had I needed to rely on my ears to pick everything up. Overall then, I enjoy the film. I don't know what a Shakespeare purist would have to say though, so I might be missing crucial flaws somewhere.
Rating: 7/10.

Miami Vice (2006).
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Colin Farrell.
Director: Michael Mann.
Synopsis: Two cops on the vice squad go deep undercover in order to expose an international drug ring.
Dean's comments: The television series Miami Vice was apparently a rather silly thing that came out of America in the 1980s. I never saw it, but for all intents and purposes it was nothing like this Michael Mann action film; one of the most dangerous of its genre I have ever witnessed. The opening 15 minutes of the film pull no punches and tell the audience that they’re not in for an easy ride. When two men in a car are shot by automatic machine gun fire there is no ‘A-Team’ style falling down, in ‘Miami Vice’ we see limbs and body parts flying off where bullets strike. When a man commits suicide by walking in front of a truck, rather than a sanitised cut the director shows us the briefest glimpse of a red stain on the road before cutting away. The same is true for the two set-pieces at the end of the film when Jamie Foxx’s character initiates a stand-off with Neo-Nazi criminals and the final shoot out with the drug cartel occurs; the sense of danger and peril permeates so strongly through the action that you are convinced the two leads are in mortal danger despite all Hollywood precedent to the contrary. It is this constant danger – helped by the awesome sound effects – that cuts the film above the standard Hollywood action thrillers. Mann is a genius of his trade, using expert camerawork to create the effects described above he knocks the wind out of any audience members who were expecting him to go through the numbers. The guy should be allowed to direct all actions films, ‘Miami Vice’ comes recommended.
Rating: 7/10.

Miss Cengeniality (2000).
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Michael Caine.
Director: Donald Petrie.
Synopsis: An FBI agent goes undercover in a beauty pagent.
Dean's comments: I'm very dissapointed that I actually bothered to sit through all of this, Sandra Bullock is very pretty as usual but the film is entirely rubbish.
Rating: 2/10.

A Mighty Wind (2003).
Starring: Harry Shearer, Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy.
Director: Christopher Guest.
Synopsis: 'Mockumentary' about the demise of mainstream folk music.
Dean's comments: This is probably the best spoof comedy since 'Spinal Tap', it's no surprise really to find out that the makers of that classic of 80's rock are the people behind this too. The film is a piece of artistic wonder, packed with unscripted comedy moments and amazing musical performances. Each song was performed live, i.e. not in a studio, and that seems to add to the feeling that the actors and actresses put into it. Did I mention that this thing is funny too? The lyrics of the songs and the titles of the albums that the bands are meant to have produced are outright genius, Eugene Levy puts in a stunning performance as the emotionally-stunted ex-folk-hero re-uniting himself with his former singing partner, funny and touching at the same time.
Rating: 8/10.

Miller's Crossing (1990).
Starring: Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden, John Turturro.
Director: Joel Coen.
Synopsis: The right hand man of a criminal gang lord realises that his future lies in his own hands rather than those around him.
Dean's comments: No where near the masterpiece that I have seen it described as in some quarters, 'Miller's Crossing' is a largely clichéd piece of film which suffers from a heavy reliance on turgid voice-overs by the quite capable Gabriel Byrne. I think the Coen brothers have finally found a genre of film they don't excel at producing. A gangster film has to have a number of elements in order to make it work, it can either be utterly ruthless in the punishment of it's characters for the crimes ('Reservoir Dogs', 'Get Carter'), develop strong characters with layers and dimensions to explain their life choice to become a murderer ('The Godfather', 'Goodfellas') or be all about style in a brutal fantasy world where being a criminal makes you 'cool' ('Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' or 'Pulp Fiction'). 'Miller's Crossing' tries to fit into the second of these descriptions, but fails because Gabriel Byrne's character appears to have no personality or life beyond his surprising ability to know all and influence events to his advantage. To be totally honest, the Coen brothers' usual style of film making doesn't work in the gangland setting. For example, their obsession with killing minor characters in 'interesting' ways is nothing new in gangster movies. This lies in stark contrast to 'Fargo'; in a way that is also a gangster movie. The reason Fargo is a classic is that Francis MacDormand plays a character the Coens clearly loved writing for and whose humanity allows her to triumph. In 'Miller's Crossing', Byrne's character is a manipulative, womanising psychotic who would stop at little to preserve his own elevated position. No amount of witty dialogue and cleverly set-up escapes from 'inescapable' situations can recover the simple fact that the characters make 'Miller's Crossing' a disappointing film. Something I never thought I would ever say about a Coen brothers movie.
Rating: 5/10.

Million Dollar Baby (2004).
Starring: Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman.
Director: Clint Eastwood.
Synopsis: A young female boxer pursuades an ageing coach to train her.
Dean's comments: A quite magnificent film that fully deserved the Oscars for best film and best director. The two main characters are a grizzled boxing coach and a 'white trash' wannabe boxer, played by Eastwood and Swank; Swank's character pursuades the coach to train her up despite his opposition to training a woman. The film then becomes a reasonably good 'coming of age' story as Swank rises through the ranks of the local and then national boxing ladder, the determination of Swank's character shining through despite her nasty money-grabbing relatives telling her to leave her dreams behind. The true class of the film emerges when the tone shifts dramatically about 2 thirds of the way in, although this is not a 'twist' in the strictest sense it would spoil the impact for me to discuss details. Suffice to say that the film becomes something altogether different, it becomes a portrayal of a father / daughter relationship between two friends that manages to pack more emotion than some films can in their entire running time. Both actors shine in these roles, if you're not holding back the tears by the end then you're probably a robot. Quite what Morgan Freeman's role in the film is I am not sure, and quite why he recieved an Oscar for such an unimportant role mystifies me (where were the Oscar panel during 'Shawshank'?). He does bring a certain aged wisdom to proceedings though although his voice-overs seem somewhat unneccessary (you've got to be careful when using voice-overs, see Martin Scorcese for advice). 'Million Dollar Baby' is a wonderful piece of work, a tour do force of dramatic and emotional storytelling.
Rating: 9/10.

Millions (2004).
Starring: James Nesbit, Alexander Etel, Lewis Owen McGibbon, Daisy Donovan.
Director: Danny Boyle.
Synopsis: Two Mancunian children of a single father discover a bag of money next to the railway tracks.
Dean's comments: This is a story that could almost have been a Roald Dahl book; with its eclectic mix of bizarre imagery, nastiness and kids-point-of-view angle it is a sure hit with parents and their children alike. When our two heros – Damien and Anthony – find the millions of pounds they both react differently, one sees the power of good that money can have, the other sees only the power of influence amongst their friends that the money can buy him. They soon come to the realisation that this money brings more troubles than joys, as it turns out that the money was originally stolen from a London freight train and that the cash itself will become useless in two weeks due to the impending change over to Euros as the British currency. The film then takes on a kind of ‘Danny the Champion of the World’ edge as the father and his girlfriend become involved in beating the criminals and the Euro deadline. All this sounds fine and normal, except for the periodic appearance of the spirits of saints and holy men in the film. The younger of the two boys – Damien – is able to see visions of these people and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of catholic martyrs. These apparitions do nothing more than provide spiritual guidance to him (St Peter, in a Geordie accent, even gives a brilliant interpretation of the feeding-of-the-5000 from bible mythology) and provide him with a tear-jerking finale. This really is the Danny Boyle film you can take your kids to see, they’ll love it, you’ll love it.
Rating: 7/10.

Minority Report (2002).
Starring: Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell.
Director: Steven Spielberg.
Synopsis: Drama in which the police of the future have the power to prevent crimes happening by arresting people who are yet to commit them.
Dean's comments: This stylish sci-fi thriller is too labyrinth for its own good. The film-makers seem too interested in weaving an unintelligible plot designed to make them look artificially clever rather than telling a story. Some nice special effects drown out the overly convoluted plot, this makes it hard to see the film as anything more than fireworks display for Tom Cruise to show off his action film credentials.
Rating: 3/10.

Monster (2003).
Starring: Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci.
Director: Patty Jenkins.
Synopsis: Story about the real life of U.S. prostitute Aileen Wuornos, who was convicted and executed of murder.
Dean's comments: Charlize Theron gives a wonderous performance, which she rightly won an Oscar for, in this film about a woman who is so lost in her own mire and society's innability to care about her that she becomes a murderer. The film opens with Theron's character thinking about killing herself, but soon she encounters Ricci's character (Selby) and finds a new lease of life. The plot progresses in an interesting way as Selby seems to live off Wournos' prostitution quite happily, even spurring her on to commit more crimes in order to sustain them in their hotel. In this way the writers are proposing that Selby, possibly a representation of society as a whole, is responsible for what Wournos does by telling her that she needs to buy expensive things, smoke cigarettes and eat out in restuarants. This irony is brought to a head as Wournos allows herself to take the full brunt of her crimes upon herself without implicating Selby, Selby even testafies against her friend in court. I see the film as an indictment of the 'easy answers' to crime which a lot of right wing think tanks like to come up with, bringing back the death penalty and demonising people like Aileen Wournos is never going to solve anything.
Rating: 8/10.

Monster's Ball (2001).
Starring: Halle Berry, Billy Bob Thornton.
Director: Marc Forster.
Synopsis: A woman's husband is sentenced to death and finds companionship with a prison guard.
Dean's comments: This is a distinctly average film that seems to border on gratuitous pornography in places. Halle Berry does fairly well with her character who has lost everything, and the idea that she's learned to appreciate the things she has in her life before she looses them comes across strongly. She plays a widow struggling to find her place in her new world after the execution of her criminal husband; she unwittingly falls in love with a prison guard (Thornton) who was involved in her ex-husband's execution. There isn't a lot of 'body' to the story, just a lengthy detailing of Berry's character and life she leads. This is fine as she's such a good actress, someone needs to remind her of this and stop her from making any more crappy sci-fi / comic book rip-offs and cheap Bond films.
Rating: 5/10.

Monster's Inc (2001).
Starring: John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Mary Gibbs, Steve Buscemi.
Director: Peter Docter, David Silverman.
Synopsis: Fantasy about a world where monsters scare children to generate power.
Dean's comments: This is a cartoon in the Toy Story mould which runs on the very fairy-tale premise that monster really exist and in fact appear in children's bedrooms as part of a working day in order to generate power. The modern computer-generated method of producing cartoons makes for some beautiful images, notably the fur on the monsters themselves which was good enough to make me have a double take. There isn't really much here for the adult viewer though, apart from a side-splittingly funny line about digging a tunnel with 'mostly spoons'.
Rating: 4/10.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975).
Starring: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Connie Booth, Carol Cleveland.
Director: Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones.
Synopsis: Comic take on the 'King Arthur' legend.
Dean's comments: The Python team's first film is an amazing work of comic art, historical spoof and delightfully biting political commentary. Their parody of the King Arthur tale will surely go down in legend as one of the best British comedies of all time. Sketches like the Black knight ("It's only a flesh wound...") and the Knights who say 'Ni' are the most well-known, while subtle political discourse ("Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.", OK well maybe it's not that subtle...) in the dialogue show a greater depth than one might have thought at a cursory glance. A classic with genuinely classic scenes, this is undoubtedly the daftest film of all time.
Rating: 9/10.

The Motorcycle Diaries (2004).
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Rodrigo de la Serna.
Director: Walter Salles.
Synopsis: A young Che Guevara travels around South America and realises his true calling to help the people of that continent.
Dean's comments: Gael Garcia Bernal is quickly becoming a star of Spanish language cinema. In this film he plays the younger Ernesto Guevara (later Che Guevara) on his legendary journey around South America in which he discovered the poverty of the ordinary people and the depression and destitution caused by the influence of American capitalism. He discovers that the people are much the same between the artificial borders of the South American nations, he and his companion work at a leper colony and tour the ancient Incan ruins talking to people who had never had the chance to learn Spanish. All the time the film emphasises the strength of the common South American man and the oppression that they suffer, add into this the gorgeous scenery and we have a quite spectacular film which explores the social context of Guevara's later revolutionary politics. Bernal is brilliant in the role, the dialogue and landscapes are fantastic, a great film for anyone who has ever wondered who Che Guevara was or is interested in his life.
Rating: 8/10.

Moulin Rouge (2001).
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Nicole Kidman.
Director: Baz Luhrmann.
Synopsis: Contemporary musical in a 19th centuary setting.
Dean's comments: The only thing that really convinces you that the film is set in 1900 is that someone can still die from consumption! Opening few scenes made me think I would hate this film, but it improved immensely as it progressed. It would be a triumph of cinema if it were not for the fact that some scenes are too far over the top. The best thing about 'Moulin Rouge' is the realisation of just how much talent McGregor and Kidman have, that coupled with the delight at seeing contemporary songs performed in a Victorian setting. One of my problems with the film is that I'm not much of a fan of 'pop' music, and so a lot of the musical references go right over my head. IF you like you're modern music, you'll be delighted by this film.
Rating: 6/10.

Mulholland Drive (2001).
Starring: Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux.
Director: David Lynch.
Synopsis: Psychological mystery in which a woman new in town befriends a woman who has recently lost her memory.
Dean's comments: Fantastic suspense, intrigue and fantasy rolled into one. The mystery keeps you addicted while the black comedy of Hollywood's darker side keeps you entertained. The fleeting appearances by odd characters and twisted final 20 minutes gives the film a mystical feel than one feels unable to describe without ruining the plot. This is David Lynch's best film, a story which questions that nature of reality by introducing two strangers (an amnesiac and someone new in town) to the city to each other and forcing them to come to terms with a mystery. One of the best scenes in the film involves the main characters watching a Spanish opera singer in a deserted theatre at night. This is a film that everyone should watch; although you might be totally baffled don't worry, there's often no logical threads to pull together in a David Lynch production, the 'point' is the experience. .
Rating: 9/10.

Munich (2005).
Starring: Eric Bana, Daniel Craig.
Director: Steven Spielberg.
Synopsis: A group of Mossad agents are tasked with tracking down and killing those invloved in the kidnapping of Israeli atheletes in the Munich Olympics.
Dean's comments: Munich is part political thriller, part historical document and part psychological drama in which Steven Spielberg attempts to present an even balance of opinion on the current ‘troubles’ in the Middle East. Spielberg could be congratulated for the fact that he produced about as neutral a piece as a Hollywood film director could on the subject; a mainstream American film was always going to concentrate on the Israeli experience and be narrated from the point of view of Israeli soldiers and their families. Spielberg has done well in that he presents both sides of the conflict, he fails because the Palestinian side is glimpsed all too briefly through the eyes of soon-to-be-dead bit-part characters while the Mossad soldiers are shown to be multi-dimensional human beings with a desire to protect their families and avenge the deaths of their countrymen while struggling with their own consciousnesses. There are also a number of strange conceits about the film, such as the rather convenient and frankly laughable French informer who mysteriously appears in order to tell our lead characters where to find Palestinian terrorists, which conspire to make it seem quite over-the-top. It is interesting that although the screenplay is based on historical fact, the only proven case of Mossad agents tracking Palestinian militants across Europe is totally ignored. Mossad killed an innocent man in Norway based on faulty information that he had been involved in the Munich hijackings; there is no parallel to this in ‘Munich’, these Mossad agents never kill anyone they don’t intend to. The film then ends on a slightly preaching note, the final image – of the World Trade Centre in New York as it was in 1972 – is hackneyed and hugely telegraphed. If the link between 21st centaury Islamic terrorism and the US support of Israel’s Middle Eastern policies wasn’t already clear to you, then that finale isn’t going to open your eyes.
Rating: 6/10.

My Little Eye (2002).
Starring: Sean Johnson, Jennifer Sky, Kris Lemche, Laura Regan, Stephen O'Reilly.
Director: Marc Evans.
Synopsis: A contemporary horror tale based around the 'reality TV' concept.
Dean's comments: Passable horror about a 'snuff-site' on the internet where 5 kids have been duped into appearing on a reality TV show. The film is very much in the mould of 'Evil Dead' in that it revolves around randy teenagers being stuck out in the woods and pursued by unknown 'evil' forces, it has a good modern feel to it though and asks some disturbing questions about the current un-policed use of the internet. The film isn't actually that scary though, and could have done with a bit more of a thrill in the middle.
Rating: 5/10.

Mysterious Skin (2004).
Starring: Joseph-Gordon Levitt, Brady Corbet, Elizabeth Shue, Michelle Trachtenberg.
Director: Greg Araki.
Synopsis: The lives of two teenager who were both abused as children.
Dean's comments: The premise is this: two teenagers were both abused as children, one believes he was abducted by aliens, the other decides that he enjoyed the experience and becomes a gigolo. Essentially it’s a coming of age story which discusses the way in which different people react to abuse. The outgoing child who realises he is gay early in his life and has a female soul mate exploits this sexual awakening to make money. The slightly nerdy kid with the over-bearing mother suppresses the memories and turns to conspiracy theories. Each kid then grows up and reaches an epiphany when the true realisation of what has happened in their childhoods dawns upon them; they meet as teenagers for the first time in the film’s final scene and console each other in the house where they last met over 10 years ago. Interestingly the film is very short on strong male characters; neither kid has a visible or supportive father, each of the (male) kids reacts somewhat unsettlingly to his abuse, the baseball coach is a child molester while every other man in the film is one of Brian’s customers. Contrast this to the strong female characters, Trachtenberg as the soulmate and conscience, Elizabeth Shue as the emotionally powerful working class mother, the alien woman – who is portrayed as a victim of society’s unwillingness to take her in, even Neil’s mum is seen to be misguided but essentially good at heart. An interesting and often funny film, some people may be disturbed by the subject matter though.
Rating: 6/10.

Mystic River (2003).
Starring: Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Lawrence Fishbourne, Marica Gay Harden.
Director: Clint Eastwood.
Synopsis: Three men, linked by a kidnapping when they were young, suffer when a local girl is murdered.
Dean's comments: This is a fabulous tale of the paths taken by three young boys growing up in the same city. With one leading a life of crime, a second becoming a police man and the third a virtual recluse the scene is set for the men to find each other again in tragedy. This is a murder mystery too, which fits in around the portrayal of the characters beautifully. The film is helped by the excellent cast, each of the three men being played by an a-list headline star. Lawrence Fishbourne isn't half bad either, I love to see detectives portrayed as they are here; always being an a par with the baddies and half a step in front of the audience. The film does suffer from the fact that the murder mystery can be solved by anyone who's ever paid attention to any other cinematic murder mysteries in the past; just look for the one character that has some lines but doesn't seem to do anything important.
Rating: 9/10.

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