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I hate strip bars. To some of you, that may seem a strange comment coming from a 25-year old guy with a complete infatuation with the female form; I have a great girlfriend who frequently busts me checking out other girls in the street. I?m sure my PC has many useful applications, but time I could spend researching my novel or writing more reviews is often frittered away browsing through porn sites. And I often drift away at work, trying to think of a more cunning place to hide my stash of ?jazz mags? ? (I currently live at home, and Mums have an uncanny knack for stumbling onto porno collections.) To fully explain, I?ll have to digress and tell you a little about my experiences abroad. Which Prague cliché have you heard the most? The one about Czech beer being the best in the world, or the one about Czech girls being the most beautiful in the world? As with most clichés, it?s a wild generalisation that happily turns out to be true on quite a few occasions. Quite often, in fact. I?ve been here eight times over the past three years, for varying lengths of time, and I suspect this may be the travel equivalent of ?Beer Goggles?. You?re in a new city, a city that has a reputation for having more beautiful women per square foot than anywhere else. Of course they?re all going to look great! And yes, Prague does seem to have a disproportionate number of beautiful girls, something emphasised by the discrepancy in the Czech gene pool ? it?s quite rare to see a Czech guy who isn?t at least mildly ugly. It wears off, though. Now I go through whole tram journeys without seeing even one faintly gorgeous girl, surrounded by spazzy looking women and old crones with mouths punched into their faces with a biscuit cutter. But here?s the thing that makes it so great, the wonderful, tantalising, sensual, erotic thing. You?re shambling along Wenceslas Square wearing yesterday?s clothes, you could wring lard out of your hair because y
ou couldn?t be arsed to wash it, you?re a real fucking state. In the opposite direction is walking the archetypal ?Gorgeous Czech Bird?, strutting along in their typical haughty manner, with an expression that could be interpreted as deep contemplation, or merely a scowl. You check her out. And in return, she checks you out back ? even if you?re the polar opposite of attractiveness. More often than not, they?ll meet your gaze. She might be thinking, ?Christ, look at the state of this guy!?, but at least she?s not just totally disregarding you. On a lot of occasions, you can sense something there. The scowl doesn?t change that much, and is that look confrontational, inquisitive, or an outright come-on? And if you?ve got the guts to hold her gaze for the few seconds it takes to pass one another, it feels like you meet, touch, kiss, make love, then break up, all in that moment. Then she?s past you, and you inevitably ruin it by checking out her arse. That might all sound like a load of self-congratulatory bollocks, so let me tell you something. I?m not very good looking, certainly not the kind of guy who can stroll along the street and get checked out by gorgeous girls. I don?t have a fantastic amount of experience with girls, because until the age of twenty, I was a stereotypical geek. I wore awful clothes my mum bought me, an incredibly nerd-ish pair of crossbar spectacles, and an awful slapped over side parting. I was also a mumbling, stammering introvert. In short, I was a joke. Then, I come to Prague, and in a combined total of six months, I?ve had more luck with women than in the previous ten years of adult life! This is amazing to me, and given the total derision with which I?m treated back home by English girls, it?s obviously got nothing to do with me. So it has to be the attitude of the girls. Now, the old crap about how you could come here and trade a pair of Levis for a car used to go hand-in-hand with the old on
e about how you could pick up a Czech supermodel, so long as you had an English/American accent and a few crisp tenners in your pocket. Guess what, though? It?s fourteen years since the Velvet Revolution, and as my Jewish American friends would say, our shtick got old. They?re fucking sick of us there, the legion of twattish expats and the jetloads of brawny wankers from Birmingham, Newcastle, and Christ Knows where else, making the short hop to beer it up and try their luck with anything that moves. I?m betting that secretly the Czechs can?t wait for the day beer prices soar over a pound, and the whole bunch of us fuck off to Tblisi or Skopje, so they can have their city back. So it has to be something ingrained in the Czech female psyche. They?ve put up with our sleazy chat-up lines and complete disability to handle their language for long enough, so why do cocks like us continue to get lucky? Maybe it has to do with the rather retro attitudes toward women in the Czech Republic. It?s getting a bit better, but it?s still very much ?I want my pipe and slippers ready when I get home?. Despite their outward confidence and aspirations to self-sufficiency, I think a lot of Czech women still have a deeply ingrained sense of subservience. This is something that works for and against the Czech guys. If he manages to hook one over the barflies that populate his city, then he?s got someone to make sure his dinner?s ready when he gets home. It works against him, though, because despite this innate subservience, they?ve still got brains, they can still read, so they know that over here in the UK we have equal opportunities. Now it?s not unusual for the mother to go out to work, while father sits at home with the kids. How fucking ?Planet of the Apes? is that? So is it any wonder Czech girls continue to get flattered by us bunch, with the hope of snagging someone whose gender attitudes are a little more on the ball? There?s
always the possibility of instant sex when chatting up Czech girls. However, even though their willingness to go to bed with you might seem standard sluttish one-night-stand behaviour, they?re also laying down feelers. Do you have a girlfriend? Do you want to go sky-diving with me? It?s very possible to form on the spot romances with them, spending a couple of hours feels like a couple of months, which is very touching and sweet. So anyway. This was supposed to be a small, witty piece about strip bars, but then I struck upon something I actually cared about quite deeply. Despite being happy with my girlfriend, I still love the chase, the discovery that I?ve still ?Got it?, and it?s impossible not to feel love or at least pseudo-love for these young, willing, open, bright sweet young women. So that?s the attraction of Prague ? not because you can come here, check out the girls, get checked out back, maybe take one to bed ? but all the deeper, sweeter elements that make that possible. So, Titty Bars. The place I?ll use for an example is the ?Golden Tree? in Prague. You pay your 80kc, buy yourself a beer, then head downstairs to watch beautiful dancers in their underwear, before eventually getting their tits out. The disappointing thing about it is that these girls are the ones you?ve been checking out all day on the Square, except now the dancing in their underwear in front of a bunch of chimpanzees. That delicious frisson you encounter when a girl walks past you disappears, even when the strippers occasionally match your gaze. There?s nowhere left to go ? you walk past these girls fifty times a day, you lock eyes, and for a moment everything is a possibility. What?s under that winter coat and scarf? Other things, more carnal things ? how would her tits bounce when I fucked into her? All this, all the wonderful anticipation is gone, and you?re left with a couple of porno cut-outs jiggling around on stage. One important thing I f
ind is the relation of the stripper to her own reflection in the mirrors. Sometimes you?ll see her slip away into a moment of peace, tranquillity, equilibrium, when they meet their own gaze, see how desirable they are, and they dance for themselves. For that moment, they forget the gurning, wolf-whistling morons below, who would quite happily be knocking one off if the rules allowed. They become a beautiful girl dancing, not a slut, not a whore, not a go-go dancer. That?s the only pleasure for me watching a strip show, that quiet moment when the girl just dances for herself. It would be so much better if the girl started off dancing completely naked, perhaps spreading their pussy lips and showing everything. After a while, they could put on some underwear, then blouse, trousers, socks and shoes, then don a winter coat, gloves and scarf. Then they could step back onto a conveyor belt running at the back of the stage, with a projected backdrop of Wenceslas Square. Walking along briskly, with a scowl on her face, as if on her way to work. Transform a sex object into a real girl you?d want to stop and say Hi to, find out her name, take her to dinner and flirt with, rather than the other way round.
There's no question about it - while Czech beer is celebrated the world over, it's cuisine has got a pretty bad rep. Tom Cruise didn't help, bitching about being unable to find some decent grub while filming 'Mission:Impossible' here in 1996. And it's true - there are an awful amount of restaraunts which serve up extremely mediocre, if not just poor, food. The problem is, finding a restaraunt which doesn't charge the earth (ie. something equivalent to back home prices!) but still serves up decent eats. It's not easy. I've been here six months now, and I'm only just starting to discover worthwhile and cheap eateries... Let's start with 'Cafe Louvre' on Narodni. This elegant restaraunt has been around since 1902, and allows you to act like you're a bit rich without damaging your bank balance too much. There's a cloak room to leave your coat in, a tankful of terrapins, and friendly, efficient waiters (something of a rarity in Prague). You can peruse the international press while waiting for your food, or play billiards in the back room. There's even a non-smoking room for those who unreasonably want to avoid cigarette smoke in the Czech Republic. Cafe Louvre is very popular, probably due to it's relaxed atmosphere and delicious, reasonably priced and varied menu. The multi-national chatter can get a little loud sometimes, but it's a very small minus. If you're still in the mood for the elegant, try the 'Imperial' (Walk towards Florenc from Obecni Dum, or vice versa.) It's cafe has a stunning mosaic interior, and on some nights, there's even a ragtime band playing. The food is fairly cheap and tasty, and the menu has some priceless Czech-English translations. Rather bizarrely, they offer yesterday's donuts to throw at other customers. On the downside, the only way to actually get a donut is to buy a coffe
e. They don't come seperately or with any other beverage. And the waiters are almost comically sulky. There are many places to sample International cuisine, but for us English, our typical international dishes of Pizza, Curry and Chinese are a mixed bunch. The pizza in Prague, generally, is pretty terrible. They are reasonably cheap, and come with a multitude of toppings, but usually are devoid of flavour and have the moisture cooked out of them. With Indian food, expect to pay the equivalent of a curry back home. That's really expensive in Prague, and basically isn't worth it. Chinese, again, varies in quality, but you can find some really cheap deals and lunchtime buffets. If you're really on a shoestring, and you're not too worried about your stomach, you can try the 'Cinske' stalls - tiny Chinese restaraunts set up in sheds on street corners. My personal preference for a cheap take away snack are the gyros - marinaded chicken stuffed into a soft dough envelope, topped with mayonnaise and salad. If not, try the Smazeny Syr (Fried cheese) from one of the stalls dotted everywhere, dripping with ketchup and mayonnaise. Good food is possible in Prague, as long as you're prepared to search and experiment. I'll be adding to this brief guide everytime I find somewhere decent to eat.
I've been a member of Ciao! now for fourteen months, and I'm sick of it. The other day I was grudgingly reading a few reviews and posting a few comments. I hate doing this, because the quality of writing varies from appalling to solid, informed but unimaginative. But I suppose it's part of my duty as a member of the Ciao 'Community'... What really staggers me is the mundane subjects and objects people choose to cover. I don't want to single out any particular members, because hundreds are guilty of reviewing the most boring items imaginable. The review was about vaseline, and it was entitled "It has SOOOooo many uses!". Littered with irritating idioms, the 'Sooooo' in the title was bad enough. But this review on an everyday item had garnered more reads than my two most popular put together! God bless petroleum jelly! In light of *£"!##'s breathless recommendation of vaseline, let's paraphrase and review something else - "Wood: It has SOOOooo many uses!" Wood comes from trees, tall leafy plants that give us air, which are found in almost every part of the world (Apart from the polar ice caps and the sea, silly!) One of the most common products we get from trees, apart from paper, fruit and koala bears, is wood. If you decide to buy some wood, it usually comes in one of two forms, logs or planks. Logs are really cool. You can build cabins from them in Switzerland (Although they can turn nasty when you hit one while skiing!!!) Also, if you are cold in your house and you have a fireplace, you can chop up some logs and set light to them, to make fire (Thank Raquel Welch and the cavemen for that handy tip!) In Scotland, big men in tartan skirts (Mine cost £12.99 from Etam, Bargain, eh?) have a competition to see how far they can throw a log. Pointless, but what muscles, hey girls?!?!? Planks are also cool, because you
can make floors out of them. Pirates used them to get rid of people they thought sucked. Booo!!! You can also bend them to make the hull of a boat, which the Vikings did when they came to England to find more trees. Paradox, huh? Other uses for wood: Wood is used to make pencils, which is cool, because you can rub pencil out if you fuck up, which you can't do with pens, which are normally made from plastic. If you're back hurts from bending down to eat your tea, which is on the floor while you're sitting in a chair, you can use wood to make a table. This means your spine never moves more than thirty degrees from the vertical axis while eating! Unless you're using your tongue to lick up the last drops of scrumptious lasagne sauce from your plate (99p from Asda!) Yum yum! Ok, so enough sarcasm for the time being. I used to rally against the arch, snobbish cliques formed on rival sites such as Dooyoo and Epinions, but at least they had some standards. Ciao is a breeding ground for mediocrity, and it makes me sick being an also-ran to a bunch of well-meaning but talentless dickheads. Does anyone else feel the same?
The emphasis of the first person shoot-em-up has changed over the past four or five years. Advancements in computer game technology has enabled developers to create ever more realistic scenarios for the gamer...and also credit them with some intelligence. That is, while the straightforward 'Doom'-style action blaster might be entertaining, it never quite sat right. The whole 'Health Bar' idea required massive suspension of disbelief - could a human, being thwarted on a fruitless raid on an enemy stronghold, really withstand five shots from a double-barrelled shotgun? Only to return later, having been restored to full health by the ubiquitous 'Medi Packs', and wipe out the bastards that dealt so much damage in the first place? The ability to create more realistic scenarios signalled the shift from the 'Doom'-style blast-em-ups to the more stealthy likes of 'Rainbow Six', where the cautious player is rewarded, while the wreckless player ends up in a pool of blood. All the sneaking around also makes the occasional death-defying bravado which actually comes off seem more satisfying. With this in mind, it's of little surprise that the influence of Tom Clancy came into play. A military writer with a loving attention to detail, his works became interpreted as ultra-realistic computer games. 'Ghost Recon' is the latest in the series that began with 'Rainbow Six'. I'm always a little hazy on computer game storylines, because I'm an infrequent gamer and always want to get straight into the action. As far as I can tell, the story is set seven years in the future, and hardline Communists are bent on reclaiming the satellite states taken away from them in the demise of the Cold War. And guess what? It's your job to stop them... Russian players may resent being portrayed as the bad guys again, after their country's pursuit of Democracy in the last deca
de. But for the rest of us, the storyline is ultra-realistic Commie-bashing fun. Each mission has varied goals - from rescuing hostages, to taking out military targets, to accompanying convoys. Before the mission starts, you must select your team according to the demands of the mission objectives. For example, if a mission requires sneaking in and out of a location with the minimum of commotion, it's no good taking in nine guys armed to the teeth with grenade launchers and machine guns. Learning to deploy your teams with success requires a lot of tactics and forethought. Snipers are good for taking out guards patrolling a perimeter, before sending in the big boys to purge the camp/farmhouse/bunker. There are a lot of tactical decisions to be made in the vast, stunningly realised locations. Do you go in mob-handed to clear out an enemy camp? Or keep them occupied with diversary fire before catching them in a crossfire? It's a hard game to master, thanks to the AI of the opponents. On the easiest difficulty setting, their marksmanship veers from amateurish to eerily accurate. On the most difficult, their shooting and anticipation is almost psychic in ruthlessness. Patience is required, as the guards are usually alert. For those rushing in, the mortality of their team members will become painfully apparent. A hail of gunfire from an unseen soldier will leave a whole team dead in a matter of seconds. Survivors are rewarded with points, which you can use to bump up their attributes - weapon, stealth, endurance, etc. Because you've spent so long keeping your soldiers alive, it's a real blow when a carelessly planned raid leaves one of them dead. The tension is built by the realism. Sound effects - the rustling of bushes, bird song, rushing water, really put you their with your soldiers. Trees sway realistically in the breeze. Once the action kicks off, it's gratifying to see t
he bad guys die properly. If you shoot them while they're running down a cliff path, they'll tumble until they come to a standstill. The computer's AI is impressive, for the most part. The enemies won't just stand there and get shot at. They'll duck and crawl and run for cover, and look for a way to flank you if possible. Less impressive is the AI of your team members. While they'll take care of themselves quite nicely when left alone, problems appear when you're in control of a team. While you are craftily hiding in the bushes, they'll frequently stand moronically out in the open, in plain sight. It's also annoying to be lining up a shot with your sniper on an unsuspecting soldier, only for one of your team mates to draw attention by taking pot shots at him themselves. There are also a few irritating quirks when it comes to interaction with the beautifully rendered scenery. Having been pinned down in the ruins of a village by enemy gunfire, you might decide to buy yourself some time by lobbing a grenade into their laps. Only for it to bounce back off a strangely rigid telephone wire and blow your whole team away. Trucks, houses and trees also seem strangely impervious to armour piercing anti-tank missiles. 'Red Faction' had the right idea when it pandered to the gamer's desire to blow shit up, and 'Ghost Recon's inability to shake up furniture in a farmhouse kitchen with a grenade launcher is an irritation. The game's realism serves to highlight the occasional unrealistic flaw. 'Ghost Recon's longevity is a major draw. Even if you cruise through the missions, there is always the desire to go back and complete it again with more efficiency. Secondary missions, unessential to completing the main thrust of the story, also beg to be sought after again. Soldiers are also decorated, and it's a challenge to keep them alive and gain more accolad
es for them. 'Ghost Recon' is an absorbing, nerve-wracking game that will keep you playing for months. Despite it's occasional flaws, it puts you right in there in the heat of battle.
Back in the day before Arnold Schwarzennegger became the No.1 guy for killing vast amounts of people with big guns, he was just an Austrian muscleman with a weird looking head and a physique like a human cloning experiment gone wrong. It's difficult to imagine what way his career might have gone if Cameron and Co had gone with their original choice of Lance Henrikson as The Terminator. Instead, they gave it to Mr. Universe, and his career went into orbit. 'The Terminator' revolves around a simple, mind-bending time travel theme. In the future, after a cataclysmic nuclear war, the machines take over the planet, opposed only by a plucky but increasingly demoralised band of survivors. Then comes a leader, John Connor, who teaches the rebels how to fight back and smash the robot infra-structure. So the machines go for a low blow - send a 'Terminator' back to the past to eliminate Connor's mother before he is born, therefore eliminating Connor and his threat to their world dominance. Cut back to 1984, and we meet Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), a drippy waitress with big hair and an appalling pastel wardrobe. The bulky Terminator slams back into the past, naked, kills a group of punks (led by Cameron stalwart Bill Paxton), acquires their clothes, and relentlessly tracks down Sarah. However, all is not lost, because the future rebels rumble the machine's plan, and send back their most likely candidate, grimacing commando Reese (Michael Biehn). It looks a bit of a mis-match, as the Terminator can withstand any amount of gunfire, car crashes, blazes, explosions, and has the ability to fake voices and wipe out entire police stations. The main draw of 'The Terminator' is it acts just like it's main antagonist - it "Absolutely will not stop". Endless car chases, shoot outs, and hair's breadth escapes as Reese and Sarah are perpetually on the run from the unstop
pable machine. What should be a by the numbers exploitation shoot-em-up is three credible performances. Hamilton's Sarah Connor goes from soppy dishrag to a toughened survivor, someone you could believe would raise a future rebel leader. Biehn makes the most of an exposition role. It's his job to set out Cameron's time travel theories, and Cameron makes sure it isn't boring by setting most of the speeches during the middle of a gunfight or car chase. Schwarzenegger has never been the most expressive 'actor' on the planet, and that's why the Terminator role is so perfect for him. Henriksson (who has a small role as a detective) probably would have been tempted to do some acting, but Arnie pitches it just right, keeping his face straight throughout the film and moving with slow, mechanical mannerisms. His "I'll be back" line isn't terribly funny on paper, but in the context it is hilarious, and now Arnie shoehorns it in whenever he gets the chance. Stan Winston's make up, used in the scenes where the Terminator patches himself up, look very rubbery now, but his realisation of the exo-skeleton is still remarkable and terrifying. The documentary on the DVD reveals how Cameron dreamed of a robot skeleton emerging from the flames, and this moment in the movie is the real money shot. The DVD features an exhaustive documentary which covers every aspect of the making of the film, plus all Cameron's excellent art work, which is essential to giving the 'Terminator' world it's distinctive look. Although it has been eclipsed by 'Judgement Day' in terms of effects and action, 'The Terminator' remains a solid, breathless action movie.
'Tomb Raider' had every chance of becoming a very successful computer game adaptation. Unlike others that have made the transition and flopped - 'Super Mario Bros' and 'Street Fighter' are just two - 'Tomb Raider' had many cinematic elements. Strong (ish) storylines, awesome locations and an ice cool heroine, Lara Croft. Angelina Jolie landed the role as Croft, after much speculation among the fan boys, dweebs and net pervs. She looks the part, and has mastered a passable posh English accent. Interest in seeing Jolie jiggle around in tight shorts and tight shirt was always going to be high. A friend who works at the local UGC cinema reckons she's never served so many lone middle-aged males buying tickets to see a kid's movie! But it turns out to be a total failiure. Pitched by director and cast in interviews as a cross between Indiana Jones and James Bond, it only manages to be a very pale imitation of both. It's Indiana Jones without any breath-taking action sequences, and James Bond without any gadgets and one-liners. The script is so weak that it can only manage a couple of lame one-WORDERs, and although Jolie exudes as much laid back arrogance as she can in such circumstances, she has no chance to use her qualities to make the role her own. All she has to do is smile, wink, run, jump, fire guns. After a baffling opener featuring a homocidal robot, and a few unfunny comic moments from Mr Brittas as Croft's butler, Lara is embroiled in a nonsensical plot involving the search for two halves of a triangle thingy. When the two halves are brought together, they give the power of time travel. And the planets are about to line up. Or something. Who cares? Opposing her is Iain Glen's bad guy. All he has to do is make shapes with his 'Bert from Sesame Street' eyebrows and wear nice suits. He's possibly the most bland movie villain to hit the silver screen. So much of this seems to rely on references to the computer game. For example, are we supposed to gasp in recognition as Lara straps her leather-strappy-things around her perfect thighs? That's not plot, that's not action, that's just filler. There's also a gratuitous half-tit shot so the lonely middle aged males and fanboys can make their popcorn extra salty... The scenery is awesome, but amounts to very little. The CGI baddies feel substandard for this kind of big budget spectacle - the stone soldiers poor rip offs of 'The Mummy's army. Whenever a decent battle scene seems to be shaping up, it's cut frustratingly short. Lara's confrontation with a vast six-armed statue looks about to be some nail-biting, Ray Harryhaussen inspired fun, but he's quickly despatched. With guns. For such a smart girl, it's amazing how often Croft resorts to a bit of two-handed gunplay to get her out of a tight spot. Insultingly lame at every turn, 'Tomb Raider' marks the pinnacle (or nadir) of lazy blockbuster production. Avoid at all costs.
Opinion on 'Gladiator' tends to fluctuate very quickly. On first release, everyone loved it - even Barry Norman - correctly recognising it as a quality, rousing summer spectacle. Then everyone grew wary of it - why was this quality, rousing summer spectacle mounting an assault on the Oscars? On a strong year at the Academy Awards, 'Gladiator' wouldn't have got a look in. But then neither would 'Erin Brockovich' or 'Chocolat'. It was the popular vote, and now all that's over, everyone loves it again. And watching the double DVD set at home, it's easy to appreciate what an earnest and lovingly crafted piece of movie-making it is. Old fashioned, honest, and exciting, 'Gladiator' will eventually replace 'Spartacus' as your Bank Holiday afternoon viewing. It's a simple story of an honest man, unjustly punished for doing the right thing, left for dead, then returning to exact his revenge. Russell Crowe is Maximus, the earnest General of Rome's Northern Armies. He genuinely cares for his men, and dreams of returning to his wife and son. After defeating the Germanic barbarians, his stock rises in the eyes of ailing Caesar (Richard Harris) who plans to install Maximus as Emperor rather than his snivelling, wretched son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). Understandably pissed off by his father's decision, Commodus bumps the old man off, sends Maximus out to be executed, and assumes his Father's role as Emperor. However, his assassins botch the execution, Maximus escapes, and hurries home - only to find his family butchered and his farm burnt down. At the point of exhaustion, he collapses. Awakening, he finds himself property of a slave trader (Oliver Reed). Maximus' career as a Gladiator begins, and he realises if he becomes good enough, he might get close enough to the new Caesar to kill him. After almost a decade of sissy boy heroes with
floppy hair (Leo DiCaprio, Hugh Grant, etc.) Russell Crowe burns a hole in the screen as Maximus - butch, gruff, honest, hairy and decent, he's a real man's man. No surprise that he took Number One in Empire's Sexiest Movie Stars Poll. Crowe dominates the screen, glowering through every scene he's in. It's the kind of movie icon presence the cinema has missed for a long time. Pacino, De Niro and Nicholson did the same thing back in their Seventies heyday...Crowe's performance is right up there with the greats. The trouble is, Crowe's performance is so magnetic that Joaquin Phoenix seems hopelessly mis-matched against him. As the whining, conniving Emperor who fancies his sister, he doesn't seem much of a match. The scenes where Commodus is whingeing to his sister (Connie Nelson) really drag compared to Maximus' scenes. Richard Harris is authoritative in his twenty minutes or so on screen, and Oliver Reed makes the most of a juicy role for his last performance before his death. Ridley Scott's direction is inobtrusive, although his 'borrowing' of 'Saving Private Ryan's jitter technique in the opening battle scene makes it difficult to see what's going on. The CGI work is stunning, although looks a little glossy. However, the interior of Rome's Colosseum is flawless melding of real sets and computer trickery. The effect is breath taking. The double disc DVD has plenty of features to keep you amused. Aside from the usual scene selection and trailers, it also has making-of, out takes, documentaries, etc. The out-takes are unusually good, and come with a commentary by Ridley Scott, explaining why he left them out. His excuse most of the time is "It would have made it too long". It would be interesting to see a Director's Cut with the scenes inserted, as it would be far more rounded. Some of the out-takes feature som
e very nice subtle touches. The 'making of' is also unusually good. Yes, it features the usual arse kissing "Everyone's so wonderful" banter that usually plagues interviews, but it also gives a sense of the director and star's personalities. There is also the universally amusing sight of perfectly healthy extras sitting on plastic chairs drinking coffee with arrows sticking out of their heads! 'Gladiator' on DVD makes an excellent purchase. A good, solid, repeatedly entertaining movie grounded by a magnificent Russell Crowe show, and plenty of features to keep you tweaking with your handset.
Hi there, this is your old pal Fu-Manchu here, speaking to you live from an Internet Cafe on Vaci Utca, what seems to be the main tourist drag in Budapest. Yet for all the Yank accents round here, they might aswell rename Vaci 'Little America'. Withnail himself, Richard E. Grant hated it here - he was filming the latter stages of the ultra-turkey 'Hudson Hawk' in and around the city. His vitriolic account in his memoirs 'With Nails' makes hilarious holiday-from-Hell reading, but that shouldn't deter anyone from giving Budapest a try. Budapest is a sprawling and occasionally bewildering city. Comparisons with my beloved Prague are inevitable, but size-wise, Budapest to Prague is like London to Ipswich. Before I got here, I read in one guidebook that Budapest has an "Architectural Majesty" grander than that of "Toyland Prague". I took this to be a derogatory comment, but now I understand - this is a huge place, while Prague seems like something out of a snowglobe. The feeling of the place seems more laid-back and almost Mediterranean, while the people seem more relaxed than the melancholy Czechs. Again, I'm stunned by the women in this city. Budapest is home to some of the most gobsmackingly gorgeous girls in Europe, who walk round in a self-conciously Cosmopoliitan manner. Sit in a terrace cafe by a row of fashion shops, and watch them walk bz THIS F**KING HUNGARIAN KEZBOARD!!! THE Z IS IN THE PLACE OF THE Y') catching glances of themselves in the windows. Sorry if I sound a little stressed - I didn't hit the sack until six this morning. Last nite was a big one, fuelled bz the local spirit, Unicum. Unicum is simply the evillest shit I've ever tasted. It smells like the Czech Becherovka, but drinking it is like getting hit round the head with a plank of wood. Bitter and vaguely minty, this makes Absinth (30% stronger) seem like Panda Pop. Palinka, a kind of fru
it brandy, goes down easier, but is similarly unforgiving. If the Hungarians seem withdrawn or even rude, persevere - when you get to know them, they are the warmest people I've ever met. We've made friends with a group of locals who have really taken to us, and dragged us everywhere with them. The warmth is touching - ridiculously, I was on the verge of tears when the girl of the group kissed us on both cheeks goodbye. They did have a few laughs at our expense, though. Thanks to them, I ended up telling the barmaid that I wanted to lick her clit. They creased up with convulsive laughter, and it got a weird reaction from the barmaid. Not as weird as when I pulled later on, and I told the girl I wanted two pints of beer and a bag of pork scratchings. That's a poor joke, of course, but telling bar staff back home you want to go down on them would get you assassinated by the bouncers. The size of the place makes it difficult to find anywhere, especially as most places hardly scream at you for attention. Little doorways and cellar hatches lead down into crypt-like disco bars. Now we've got some Magyar buddies, we shouldn't have a problem. No more wild scenic rides in decrepid Ladas posing as taxis. In London, taxi drivers have to do 'the knowledge', but here the taxi drivers seem to be having trouble distinguishing Buda (hilly and scenic) and Pest (flat and chaotic). Still having trouble actually finding anywhere full of people, we tend to fall back on our 'local', Morrison's. This is your typical cellar disco bar, with the usual British relics such as a red phone box. The atmosphere is hot and sweaty on the tiny dance floor when packed, and the tunes are a mixture of cheesy party favourites, Hungarian mainstays and various European oddities. (Including my favourite Turkish song, 'Simarik' by Tarkam!) Oddly, the DJ seems to have none of the tunes I
wanted playing, but maybe Vindaloo by Fat Les was pushing it somewhat. This problem of finding the main nerve means that we're having a kind of out-of-body nitelife experience, but we'll just have to go with it... Yet to find any English out here, which is fine. Met Randy the Canadian, who is probably the rudest person I've ever met. He was chatting to my mate outside a pizza place about Ice Hockey, and his first words to me were, "Dude, the Coyotes can kiss my fuckin' ass.", referring of course to my tenuous support of the Phoenix Coyotes. Great guy, though, he left his wife in bed to spend a couple of hours drinking piss poor wine and smoking fags in our apartment. Thanks to his Hungarian born wife, we were given a Fanta bottle of home-made Palinka. This stuff smelled like meths, and had about the same result drinking it. Eventually found some English on the third day, hanging around at St. Stephen's Basillica, a monstrous cathedral that exists in a perpetual state of restoration (Since 1980). It's close in size to St. Pauls Cathedral, with the added gimmick of being able to get on the roof for a stunning panorama of the city. My genius idea of taking out my entire stash on the first night to see how much a night out in Budapest would cost ended in disaster - naturally, after a few Unicums, I started splashing money around like a lottery winner. This meant when I emerged from my hangover the next day, I found I'd blown almost half my holiday fund. Not good, and the desperation led me to pantomiming my monkey ass around the Westend Shopping centre (one of the biggest in Europe) trying to get six quid changed. All the straight-and-narrow change places won't swap coins, so I eventually got a Hungarian girl to lead me to a dodgy kiosk in the Metro, where I got stung 30% commission. Still, it was better than a kick in the nuts. Things were still pretty bad on our last two days in Budapest. The only feasible solution was to duck out on our hotel bill. The idea was, chuck the cases out of the window, stroll nonchalantly out through reception like we were going for a few beers, then pick up our cases and check into another hotel. We figured this idea would roughly treble our spending money. The first problem was, we were on the third floor, and below that was a lowered courtyard. Even dangling the cases from tied together bedsheets wouldn't cut it - they were still too far from the ground. Dropping them from this height would result in them busting open and spilling our crusty boxers all over the courtyard. We already had one escape - one of the maids entered the courtyard to tip out some rubbish, failing to notice the suitcase being frantically dragged up the hotel wall above her head. So, stoked up on the home made embalming fluid they call Palinka, I ventured down into the courtyard, hollering a cheery "Ahoj!" to the receptionist (I kept forgetting I was in Hungary and not Czech Republic). Again, my mate dangled the case from the blankets, and as I braced myself for impact, I noticed some of the locals in the surrounding buildings gathering on their balconies to watch. Maybe this kind of thing was commonplace in Budapest - two dodgy looking English guys bunking out of their bill by throwing their cases out of the window. Nevertheless, the attention was making me nervous. We could just about get away with our clueless tourist act when it came to subway tickets, or "Accidentally" walking out of a bar without picking up our tab. But there was simply no way to explain to the Hungarian police why you were half-pissed and catching cases your mate was throwing to you from a third storey window. The first bag came down, and I truly appreciated the power of gravity for the first time. Catching a sixty pound piece of l
uggage dropped from three floors up is as punishing as trying to stop John Prescott committing suicide, jumping off the ramparts of the Houses of Parliament. It knocked me flat. To my surprise, the accumulated crowd on the balconies celebrated my successful catch by cheering and clapping, like rugby fans celebrating a conversion. The second one came down, and I re-assumed my horizontal position. After that, I had the relatively simple task of catching the hand luggage. Grabbing the cases, I pulled off a quick theatrical bow to my audience, then ran to the Metro station. I met my friend there, and we indulged in a couple of slices of pizza and some rough-as-guts Hungarian cigarettes before jumping on the Metro to safety. Sorry this seems a bit disjointed - I'll tidy everything up and add to it as soon as I get home. For now, take it easy - Fu Manchu in Budapest.
As brilliant as 'Goldeneye' was, there was always the nagging doubt that it was lacking something. Lining up a perfect head shot and popping a bullet in the brain of a Soviet soldier seemed infinitely satisfying...but it was missing something. Blood. We had bullet holes in walls, and the gunshot wounds turned the baddies' uniforms a shade of pale red, but no blood. The good news for those who love gratuitous violence is 'Perfect Dark' contains copious amounts of the red stuff. Pop a cap in one of these bad guys and watch blood splash up the walls. Then, if you're really sick, you can keep pumping round after round into their corpse and make pretty patterns on the carpet. Utillising an enhanced version of the 'Goldeneye' engine, 'Perfect Dark' takes the player to the future. As agent Jo Dark, you must uncover a convoluted plot involving treachery in high places and aliens. If that plot breakdown sounds a bit vague, then you're right...the 'PD' cartridge has been wedged in my N64 for the past two weeks, and the urge to go on a wild killing spree with a Reaper means I'm hammering the start button throughout the video sequences. In short, I haven't really got a clue what the game is about, and I don't really care! What makes it such an awesome gameplaying experience is two things: the vast array of features, and the attention to detail. In 'Goldeneye', there were very few secrets and unlockable goodies - beat a time limit, get a few crap cheats. Here, aside from the main game (each mission has the familiar three difficulty levels) there are also the challenges, which feature an array of different situations varying from all out slugfests against the computer to slow motion combat. The challenges can be played by 1-4 players, and completion is rewarded with different cheats, arenas and weapons to create more carnage with
in multiplayer. There is also a shooting range, which allows you to practice with 'Perfect Dark's impressive arsenal - get gold on all the weapons, and start unlocking the classic 'Goldeneye' weapons. Multiplayer options have the obligatory 1-4 player shoot out, but also include co-operative missions and counter operative missions, which allows one player to be Jo Dark, and the other controls the entire army of enemies on each level. The attention to detail is astonishing - shoot an enemy in the leg and he will limp away. Blast one in the head on a fire escape and watch him tumble over the railings. Blood splashes all over the place, and blasted enemies usually stay put until the floor is piling up with cadavers. Fiendish fun can be had from wasting soldiers while their sitting down, and slow motion cheats enable you to see every skull-rupturing volley of machine gun fire in amusingly gruesome detail. The range of guns allows you to play with some of the most outlandish weapons in computer games to date - the 'farsight' can peer through walls and home in on the bad guys. The laptop gun can be deployed as a sentry to cover your back, or rack up the kills in multiplayer. All the weapons have secondary features, which vary from useless to apocalyptic. There are two downsides. The improved computer AI means the enemies border on telepathic - whereas it was possible to complete most Bond levels by stealth, spooky pre-emptive attacks by the computer in 'PD' means you will be involved in a fire fight. Also, the vastly powerful weapons means the stealth factor is also decreased on the multi-player, turning games against your mates into cataclysmic free-for-alls. Despite this, 'Perfect Dark' remains the most exciting gaming experience this side of the PS2 - getting involved in a shoot out with an elevator full of soldiers travelling the opposite di
rection in a lift shaft has a pulsating, cinematic intensity. Buy it, and prepare to finally bid 'Goldeneye' a fond farewell...
"We're off to Button Moon, We'll follow Mr Spoon, Button Moon, Button Moon..." Like many people of my age range, one of my fondest memories of childhood was this cheap and cheerful classic. As with all the best kid's programmes, there was a nice sense of tranquility about it - little or no conflict, as in other cult classics such as 'Magic Roundabout' and 'Willo the Wisp'. Watching Mr Spoon fly his rocket to the moon every episode had an enduring appeal...almost twenty years later, I can't remember a thing that happened in it, but there's that warm glow when I think about the show. (Nostalgia buffs should check out www.sausagenet.co.uk - a treasure trove of ancient kid's TV shows.) But how is the best way to review 'Button Moon'? From a new perspective. Originally seen as just another cult kid's show, it has now become focus of academic study. Perhaps the most in depth is Dr Herman K. Knowlitz's 'Mr Spoon: Poet, Prophet, Pervert or Parriah?' Mr Spoon: Red or All-American Hero? "It seems ridiculous now," Says Gerrard Heller, professor of American Studies at Hull University, "But during the Cold War years, there was a lot of very nervous people about such things as space, rocketry and surveillance. 'Button Moon' contained elements of all three." Indeed, when the series was first being shot, word somehow found it's way across the Atlantic to Nasa, who assigned an 'advisor' to the studio. "They got their messages mixed up somewhere along the line," Series creator ------ chuckles now, "We were just making a fun series for kids, and they were worried that we might inadvertantly comprimise their position in the space race." At the time, Reagan was attempting to implement his Star Wars project, and the Russians were scouring Western media for any clues. "The first problem the Nasa advisor had was with the control room of Mr Spoon's rocket. I originally designed it without a thought, a kind of amalgamation of Dr Who's Tardis, the bridge of the Enterprise, and vague memories of those fuzzy shots from space in the Seventies. It was originally much more complex, but he wouldn't have it." Pictures revealed that his design was remarkably close to the early probes used to send monkeys into space. "They had to be powerful enough to get into orbit, but also simple enough for a chimp to fly." Another thing that made the Nasa advisor nervous was Mr Spoon's telescope. "It seemed crazy at the time, but he wasn't happy about it at all. But when you look at what can be achieved with surveillance today, it's remarkable how prophetic 'Button Moon' was." So was Mr Spoon a Red spy? Not according to Dr. Heller. "'Button Moon' has a great cult following in the States amongst astronauts and fighter pilots. They feel he has 'The Right Stuff'." Mr Spoon and the Penis: A Freudian Perspective. Mr Spoon is perhaps the last of a great British tradition of hen pecked husbands. But while Basil Fawlty might fume impotently, and Andy Capp might escape from Flo's rolling pin down the pub, Mr Spoon goes for the 'extremist' approach...building his own rocket and flying to the moon. Mr Spoon faces a classic castration anxiety in the presence of his wife. She intimidates him both mentally and physically. The show is full of phallic symbols - the rocket and the telescope are the most obvious extensions of Mr Spoon's penis. The rocket is the most important one - conquering his castration anxiety by building a craft that provides the literal 'thrust' he lacks in the sack. The telescope is another, but it also reveals Mr Spoon's voyeuristic tendencies. Howev
er, he displays guilt about being a Peeping Tom. Most obviously, his head is made from a saucepan. Now, the head is not only the seat of the brain, but of the consciousness, the id. A saucepan is used to heat things up - Mr Spoon literally has a burning conscience. [To be continued...]
'Enemy at the Gates' takes the Titanic-ish approach of setting a love triangle against a major event in Twentieth Century history. Here, in the middle of the Nazi's abortive siege on Stalingrad, we have the three-way romance between sharpshooting country boy Vassily (Law), moon-faced Tania (Weisz) and speccy propagandist Danilov (Fiennes). Comparisons with 'Saving Private Ryan' will inevitably be drawn - Anaud seems to be going for the same approach, right down to the specks of mud on the camera lens - but while engaging, the battles never have the gut-wrenching impact of Spielberg's invasion of Normandy beach. Despite this, the subject is treated with respect (Unlike 'Titanic') and is ultimately more credible and engaging than Leo and Kate's sappy loveboat. It's 1942, and the Nazis are crushing their way across Russia. Stalingrad stands in their way to victory, and the besieged city stubbornly refuses to surrender. The precariousness of the Russian situation is established in the opening battle scene - under equipped, there aren't even enough rifles to go round. The Russian foot soldiers must mount an assault on German machine gun positions virtually unarmed - when those with rifles are gunned down, the others scramble for the weapon. If they retreat from what seems like certain death, they are ruthlessly wiped out as cowards by their own comrades. In the middle of this battle is Vassily, and after narrowly escaping death, he meets propogandist Danilov. After taking out five German officers in the aftermath of the street battle, Vassily is instantly hailed as a hero - a propaganda tool used to inspire the flagging Russian soldiers. Vassily's sharpshooting is beginning to demoralise the Germans,so they send for Major Koenig (Ed Harris) from Berlin to stop him. To complicate matters, both Danilov and Vassily also fall for translator Tania (Weisz). This is
old fashioned stuff that manages to do all the right things for a Friday nite date movie...gripping action and a believable love story set against possibly the most overlooked conflict in history. Jude Law, despite sounding like he was brought up closer to Stepney than Stalingrad, holds the screen with another worthy performance. Rachel Weisz leaves behind her shit-itchingly annoying 'Mummy' shtick and creates a nicely vulnerable heroine. Fiennes is his usual self, Bob Hoskins enjoys himself as the fierce, gruff Khruschev, and Ed Harris is typically commanding in a small-ish role. If there is one major fault with 'Enemy at the Gates', is it's failiure to truly show the scale of the Russian-German conflict at Stalingrad. It's supposed to be the backdrop for our protagonists, but the battle is always at a distance. It also seems to suggest the whole battle hinged on the duel of wits between Vassily and Koenig. Like 'U-571', it plays fast and loose with historical fact, but like last year's derivative U-boat thriller, if you can get past that you'll have a lot of fun with 'Enemy at the Gates'.
Fifty-plus opinions in, and up until now, I've put off writing about 'It's A Wonderful Life'. Why? Because whenever people ask me what my favourite film is, I'll usually pick this...although I could probably come up with a top 100, and still be torn about some of the exclusions. The reason I've left it so long is that with a film that means something to you, you really want to do it justice. 'It's A Wonderful Life' is a perennial seasonal favourite, lumped in with 'The Wizard of Oz' and 'The Great Escape' as Christmas films that actually don't have anything to do with Christmas. For anyone who has somehow managed to avoid the film, 'It's A Wonderful Life' stars James Stewart as George Bailey. Bailey is a small town man with big ideas - he wants to get out there and see the world. He is also loyal and totally selfless. His home town of Bedford Falls is suffering under the virtual tyranny of miserly Mr.Potter (Barrymore), and the only hope of it's poorer citizens of securing some kind of decent life is the Bailey Building & Loan, run by George's father. When Peter Bailey suffers a stroke, Potter realises it as a chance to seize the town. George is forced into a choice - go off on his travels as planned, or stay and take on the business, thwarting Potter. This sets the pattern for the story of George's life. He selflessly throws away his own dreams for the benefit of others. By providing others with hope, he squashes his own ambitions. He eventually marries his childhood sweetheart Mary (Donna Reed), and they raise a family in a broken down old house. Crisis strikes when George's loveable Uncle Billy manages to lose $8000 on the day the bank examiner arrives. Faced with bankruptcy and a possible jail sentence, George contemplates suicide. In answer to the townsfolk's prayers, Heaven sends down 'Angel Second Cl
ass' Clarence Oddbody (Henry Travers) to show George what a wonderful life he has. This could have been corny and overly-sentimental, but it is all hung on a deceptively dark performance by Stewart. His nice-guy act is stretched to the limit, but as things go wrong, the years of frustration bubble to the surface. Despite the overall feel good nature of the film, Capra also does wonders in giving it a darker edge. When Clarence shows George what life would be like without him, the Twilight Zone-style segment is relentlessly dark and disturbing. This, of course, makes the jubilant catharsis even more joyous. Aside from Stewart's monumental performance, the rest of the cast are flawless. A Christmas treat that's good for a few tears of joy no matter how many times you've seen it - and just as welcome any time of year...
In 1973, a group of tiny-minded fools thought it would be a bit of a laugh to beat and rape a young Dutch girl, while singing the evergreen Gene Kelly hit, "Singin' in the Rain". The incident directly parallels a similar scene in Kubrick's adaptation of 'A Clockwork Orange'. Tired of the shitstorm of hysterical reaction the film recieved from British media, Kubrick decided to withdraw the film from UK release. Which was a great shame, because it meant the British public were denied one of the masterpieces of British film for nearly thirty years. Dying shortly after completion of the tedious 'Eyes Wide Shut', Kubrick was barely cold in the ground before distributors decided to reverse the auteur's decision and re-release it in this country. So here we have it: an adaptation of Anthony Burgess' masterfully realised fable about man's liberty to choose between Good and Evil. Written entirely in Nadsat, a mixture of Cockney rhyming slang and corrupted Russian, Burgess argued that the only thing more Evil than Evil, was to take away a person's right to choose Evil. Big themes, and although Kubrick's version is slightly watered down from the book, the impact remains the same. Without the barrier of Burgess' invented language, the audience feels and hears every kicked stomach, squashed testicle and bottled head. Our 'hero' and humble narrator is Alex DeLarge, a 15-year old Droog. When he's not at school, he enjoys hanging around in milk bars with his cronies, rape, violence and Beethoven. One night their violent antics go too far, Alex ends up beating a woman to death with a huge sculptured cock, his friends betray him, and he ends up in prison. Two years into his sentence, Alex decides the best way to get out of jail quick is to volunteer for the revolutionary Ludovico technique, that guarentees the reform of violent prisoners. Alex is strapped into a
chair and - in possibly the film's most disturbing scene - has his eyes clamped open. Then he is forced to endure violent images. The result of this is Alex feels physically sick whenever the thought of violence crosses his mind. Released meek and vulnerable into society, Alex is utterly helpless. He can't even defend himself anymore. Malcolm McDowell delivers one of those magnetic performances that tend to pigeon hole actors, and leave them type cast forever. Anthony Perkins never escaped the shadow of Norman Bates, and a similar thing may happen to Christian Bale after his performance as Patrick Bateman in 'American Psycho'. McDowell portrays Alex as cunning, witty, cocky and utterly cold-hearted. Yet he is also incredibly likeable. Not one for actors, Kubrick tends to centre his films around a larger than life male presence - Kirk Douglas in 'Spartacus', Jack Nicholson in 'The Shining' are two examples. The weirdo set design of 'A Clockwork Orange' is the future as envisaged from the 70's. However, like the retro-futurescape of Gilliam's 'Brazil', it serves to hold a mirror to Britain on the day you watch the film. In a western society where the female body is the optimum of sexual desirability and physical attraction, this obsession with women is blown up and warped in 'A Clockwork Orange'. The tables in the milk bar are naked women, bending backwards with legs spread, and the customers serve themselves milk from the automated barmaid's breasts. Even old women have walls covered with pop art porn. Britain today, magnified to the nth. As a director obsessed with sounds and images, Kubrick again beautifully choreographs his action to the strains of well chosen classical pieces. The space ships set to Strauss' 'Blue Danube Waltz' is much revered, but how about Alex's manic, speeded up sex scene with two girls set to
Rossini's 'William Tell Overture'? Then there is the ever present Beethoven's 9th Symphony, Alex's favourite piece. The 'Ode to Joy', full of optimism and love, takes on a demonic glow in light of the onscreen goings on. So Alex and his Droogs have returned to their homeland after so long in exile. The surprise is, for a movie with such a terrible reputation, it remains one of the masterpieces of British film.
I always tend to head my reviews with quotes from the movie if I can, and even the most Z-grade slasher has a few lines that are hilarious...intentionally or otherwise. 'Cherry Falls' is no exception, and that's why I've picked my favourite line from this slack teen horror, that appeared in the resurrected sub-genre almost as an afterthought. The rest of the script seems to be made up of lines randomly snipped out of a copy of Smash Hits magazine. Spiky haired loser: "Why are you wearing lipstick?" Maniac wearing make-up: "Because it makes me look pretty!" Forgetting everything 'Scream' taught us about how idiotic people in horror movies can be, 'Cherry Falls' decides it's Okay to treat the audience like morons again. There's a maniac on the loose! Why not search for your mate in the dark basement? There's a maniac chasing you through the library! Why not just run down aisles backwards? But hang on a minute - you've just rented a movie called 'Cherry Falls', with the distasteful/titillating premise (delete as applicable) of a killer slicing up virgins. How do you expect to be treated, you moron?? There isn't much plot to speak of - a mysterious killer is preying on virgins. Deciding they don't want to get carved up, the High School kids decide to have a big party, shag each other, and therefore render themselves safe. Judging by what you know about our own High School kids, do we really believe there are this many young, pretty virgins at this particular High School? The questions mount up: Is this film so bad it's good, or so bad it's bad? Why is that cop acting so suspiciously? Is it possible to knock out a psycho with a six foot rubber shark? How does that bloke run so well in high heels? Why has respectable young B-lister Jay Mohr got so few lines? And most disconcertingly, why
am I enjoying this??? All the characters boil down to teen slasher stereotypes: dodgy cop, dodgy headmaster, dodgy teacher, dodgy boyfriend. It seems one of the first rules of a 90's teen horror is that EVERYONE must be a suspect... 'Cherry Falls' could have had some clever things to say about the pressure society puts on kids, making them think they're not cool if they haven't had sex. On a metaphorical level, the killer could have been the effect virginity has on their credibility in the eyes of their peers. But it's not...just an opportunity to laugh at a man running round in a dress. Enjoy it, then slate it afterwards.
Oliver Stone has often been derided as a paranoid conspiracy theorist who tends to use the cinema as a battleground for his own personal wars. As a Vietnam Vet, he tends to plan his projects in the same way the Nazis planned their fateful raid on Stalingrad - bold in concept, meticulously planned, but ultimately too much to bite off. The stereotyped image of Stone as a raving fear merchant quickly dissolves during a viewing of 'JFK', which, incidentally, is his only overtly conspiracy based work to date. It comes as a surprise, given his reputation, that Stone lucidly and cool-headedly assembles all his evidence, convincing and otherwise, and uses the power of movies to state his argument. Working from two books, 'On the Trail of the Assassins' and 'Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy', Stone creates a mesmeric tapestry of sounds and images to bombard the viewer with several encyclopaedia worth of theory, conjecture and political intrigue. Black and white, colour, newsreel footage, and dramatic reconstructions bring the real life tragedy so vividly to our attention, with the help of an awesome ensemble cast fleshing out the characters. After narrowly averting a nuclear holocaust during the Cuban missile crisis, some suspect President John F Kennedy is going soft on Communism. On November 22, 1963, Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas by a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald (Gary Oldman). Three years later, New Orleans District attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) notices a few holes in the Government's official take on events in Dallas. On further investigation, he comes to believe that Oswald was, as he claimed, a 'patsy'. As the clues and suspicious deaths pile up, Garrison believes Oswald was merely the fall guy at the end of a massive conspiracy - possibly involving the CIA, the FBI, the Cubans, the Mob, and even the new President, Lyndon Johnson. As the
fiercely determined Garrison, Costner gives a level headed, reassured performance that reminds us why he was a big deal once. In a sublime ensemble cast, Joe Pesci is probably the most visible as another small cog, David Ferrie. For twenty minutes or so, Pesci chomps scenery as Ferrie realises the information he gave the DA will result in his death. Tommy Lee Jones has juicy role as effete businessman Clay Shaw/Bertrand, suspected of being a major player in the Coup d'etat. Kevin Bacon enjoys himself immensely as a fascistic, homosexual convict. John Candy has a rare dramatic role as a dodgy, jive talking lawyer. Pick of the bunch is Gary Oldman, having a day off from raving lunatic duty and delivering an extremely sympathetic portrait of the doomed Oswald. Odd Couple Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau crop up, but don't even share a scene together. Donald Sutherland makes use of his creepy sibilant persona to spice up an exposition role, as mystery informant 'X'. Further down, Michael Rooker, Lolita Davidovich and Vincent D'Onfrio have small roles, and even the real life Jim Garrison gets in on the act, playing a judge with wooden authority. The only real disappointment in the cast is Sissy Spacek. A talented character actress, she is lumbered with a 2D nagging wife role. It's Oliver Stone's movie, though. Years before his trademark slash n' paste film stocks technique became a parody of itself in 'U-Turn' and 'Any Given Sunday', he finds the perfect pace for his historical conundrum, and it doesn't let go of your attention for the full three hours. Like a master magician, Stone saves his best trick for last. Presumably knowing his controversial movie would be jumped on from a great height by many big voices, he saved the Zapruder film for the last half hour. The Zapruder film is probably the most important pi
ece of evidence in history. Having been suppoenaed from the vaults of Time Life Magazine, it shows the President having his head blown off. Even if every word of Stone's conspiracy theory was rubbished, it wouldn't matter, because the Zapruder film stands. It clearly shows Kennedy's head being blown BACK, when Oswald was supposedly shooting from behind him. This couple of seconds of film shows there was a conspiracy in Dallas that day. Audacious, mesmerising, frightening, 'JFK' is the most enthralling history lesson you'll ever have.