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Grosse Pointe Blank

Best moive of 1997

(Edit) 06/08/2007

The summer of 1997 was a poor time for good movies.

Big budget offerings such as The Lost World and Batman and Robin underlined the fact that very few sequels can make the grade. Hollywood was beginning to realise that the public were tiring of formulaic pictures. We wanted a fresh spin on things or would vote with our feet and stay at home.

Thankfully, there was a little film that came from nowhere and not only became one of the best movies of the year but also the decade.

Grosse Pointe Blank is a jet black comedy co-written by and starring arguably the coollest actor/director and producer in Hollywood right now - John Cusack.

He plays assassin Martin Q Blank, a successful yuppie killer who seems to have it all - except security, a wife and kids and the trust of the girl he left behind.

However, when his secretary (Joan Cusack, sister of John) persuades him to go to his high school reunion, things get complicated. Especially as he has a fellow assassin on his tail and the girlfriend who he dumped a decade earlier.

It cost a mere $15million to make and grossed over $28million in the States alone making star and director, George Armitage, rather popular with the studios. But financial success aside, it's also one of the most intelligent and witty comedy thrillers to come out of Hollywood in some time.

This is still the best film of Cusack's Nineties offerings, boasting a natural performance from Minnie Driver (complete with word-perfect American accent) and an hilarious turn from Alan Arkin as Blank's shrink. If you had to break it down to basics, imagine a grown-up Ferris Bueller's Day Off directed by John Woo. Thrown into the mix is a great Eighties soundtrack and a fine score by The Clash's Joe Strummer.

I know what you're thinking: What's bad about it?

Well, very little. Even the often tiresome Dan Aykroyd is on top form, giving one of his best turns since Sneakers in 1992. The second act is a little too talky and Blank's estate agent friend, Jeremy Piven, is a bit of a pain as he renews his friendship with Martin, but why carp?

Personally, this is one of those movies I can watch every six months without getting bored. The dialogue is quick-fire and there's enough action to keep the Die Hard crowd happy, with several scenes you can't afford to miss:

Blank's shootout in a convenience store, set to The Ace of Spades; a stunning kickboxing scene with Mirror in the Bathroom punctuating the drama, while the finale ties things up without resorting to the usual Hollywood formula of a finale with three endings.

The best lines? So many it's hard to choose, but among the finest are from Cusack: "Thousands of innocent people die every day. Detonate one rich guy's dog, and you're a marked man for life."

Another great piece of small talk comes as our protagonist is preparing for the high school reunion.

"I killed the President of Paraguay with a fork. How have you been?"

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Groundhog Day

Watch it - then watch it again

(Edit) 06/08/2007

Bill Murray is not having a great day.

He's been stabbed, shocked, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted and burned. On the plus side, he can eat and drink anything he likes without putting on the pounds; get thrown in jail without fear of suffering a life sentence and bed just about any woman he fancies without having to worry about that morning after feeling.

You see Bill is stuck in a time loop and the results in Groundhog Day make for one of the funniest and most poignant comedies in history.

Why?

Well that's probably down to the fact that the Bafta-winning script by Danny Rubin and direction by Harold Ramis lends itself to repeated viewings.

As weatherman Phil Connors, Murray endures - and enjoys - the same day over and over while reporting on the genuine and bizarre ceremony in Pennsylvania.

This was not the first time Murray had starred in a winter's tale of a greedy man shown the error of his ways through a seasonal miracle.

In 1988, he headlined the big budget Scrooged, an enjoyably over-the-top updating of A Christmas Carol. However, while that movie rammed the 'love thy neighbour' message down your throat, Groundhog Day is far more subtle in its approach.

Treating the audience with a degree of respect rare in US comedies, this assumes you get the gag straight away and then moves on.

Connors may be a cynical, jaded old celebrity with delusions of grandeur but there's a bright spark of humanity in him that is eventually revealed through his stay in Punxsatawney.

Every morning is the same. He awakes in his cosy guest house bed at 6am to the sound of Sonny and Cher's I Got You Babe; he goes off to report on the festivities and by the time he goes to bed that night, the whole thing starts over again.

His attempts to seduce producer Rita (Andie MacDowell); his contempt for cameraman Larry (Chris Elliot) and in fact all of the inhabitants of this little town, reveal the fact that Phil Connors represents the selfish side of all of us.

As the time loop works its magic, Phil starts exploiting the conundrum for his own ends, seducing the town's babes; pinching money from dim-witted security guards and exploiting the situation for all it's worth.

When Rita resists his charms, Connors makes it his goal to win her over - even if it means living through several days of the same events in order to glean that vital bit of information which might lure her into bed.

Aside from men who will change 'poopy diapers' and can play a musical instrument, she likes French poetry - to which he laughs: "What a waste of time!"

The next day it doesn't take much for Phil to wax lyrical over a Gallic Bard - much to Rita's amazement.

Part of the beauty of this movie is the fact that Murray may be caught in a time loop but writer and director don't feel the need to explain how or why this works. It just does.

As the movie progresses, Connors realises that every day will be the same and that exploiting the predicament for his own ends just leads to misery and depression.

So he takes up piano lessons, ice sculpture and starts running round doing errands for the town's population.

On paper, such selfless acts could leave some viewers with a cavity but Murray's well worn face make you believe this is a man destined to spend eternity living the same day over and over.

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Independence Day

ID4 - 5 stars

(Edit) 06/08/2007

To be honest, there is only one way to watch this movie: Sat in a cinema the size of Wembley Stadium with a sound system on loan from the Rolling Stones and enough popcorn to last the duration.

From the opening scenes of a shadow falling across the moon to the eventual arrival of the alien invaders, Independence Day was always going to take the breath away when seen on the big screen. On the box, however, the effects may look far from special, but it actually works rather well as a sort of trumped-up version of Eighties sci-fi soap, V.

In case you actually have been on another planet for the last 11 years, here's the plot: cocky fighter pilot Will Smith, cable repairman Jeff Goldblum, sozzled crop duster Randy Quaid and struggling president Bill Pullman are the main protagonists who join forces when alien invaders prove they have not come in peace.

As the world's military join forces to kick alien butt, it seems apparent that all our combined might doesn't amount to a hill of beans when it comes to intergalactic warfare. Our alien cousins have come armed with 15 mile long space ships and nifty fighters that look like croissants. Can Goldblum come up with a plan to defeat the evil ETs?

Is the Pope Catholic?

Lifting heavily from Top Gun, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and countless war movies, writer/director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin beat the odds to turn ID4 into a relentlessly silly and enjoyable crowd pleaser.

For anyone who grew up on Star Wars, this was the perfect stop gap for those of us frothing at the mouth with anticipation until The Phantom Menace finally saw the light of day. As it turned out, the movie ended up boasting, among other things, better make-up than the much-hyped George Lucas offering.

It also boasts some wonderful in-jokes from the R2 logo on the wall of the Roswell hangar to Star Trek's Brent Spiner as a wide eyed scientist who's spent a little too long in a desert laboratory.

Aside from some knockout special effects - the Whitehouse being destroyed by a UFO is jaw-dropping - ID4 also features some wonderfully bad dialogue. For example, Harry Connick Jr's plea to friend Will Smith: "They're never going to let you fly the space shuttle if you marry a stripper," and Bill Pullman's rousing speech near the end, almost a direct copy from Henry V. "We will not go quietly into the night. We will not vanish without a fight. We're going to live on. We're going to survive. Today, we celebrate our Independence Day."

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