Captain Corelli's Mandolin (15)
Along came a spider (15)
La BÍte (18)
Your free holiday on a Greek island - enter competition now, filling in tear-off coupon. You will stay in a picturesque clifftop cottage with lovable old Dr Iannis, still alive despite reports and appearances, and still sieving fractured English through a moustache and grizzled likeness to actor John Hurt. His daughter Pelagia, aging beautifully, will cook, sew and philosophise. His son-in-law Captain Antonio Corelli, whose Nicolas Cage-ish features turned so startlingly grey-templed after the second world war, giving him a resemblance to TV entertainer Michael Barrymore, still plays the mandolin, unless you give him a glass of retsina or a generous tip.
To win the holiday, answer correctly the following questions regarding the film of the acclaimed Louis de Bernieres novel. One: Is there anything left of the author's combative, controversial depiction of war's atrocities on both Fascist and Greek Communist sides? Two: Is there anything left of the secondary plot involving burly soldier Carlo's homosexual pinings, which help to explain the heroic climactic gesture on which the story turns? Three: Is there anything left of -
Well, of anything that gave the book substance, mystery and contrariness. Captain Corelli's Mandolin may or may not be a great novel. But it was an ambitious feat of historical re-imagining, with the author pushing our faces in wartime cruelties from which no side was exculpated. It was also a deft double love story in which Pelagia's romance with billeted Italian officer Corelli, votary of life, peace and music despite his membership of the invading force, is poignantly paralleled in the yearnings of Carlo, our first-person narrator for large chunks of the book.
Addio, Carlo. In this brochure-beautiful movie directed by John Madden, his love-that-dares-not-speak-its-name gets the same shrift as the Bard's in Madden's Shakespeare in Love, from which we emerged with no inkling that the Swan of Avon might have swum both ways. Gay themes would upset a world audience, of whom this costly movie needs every man, woman and child. No less upsetting would be a suggestion that those brave lads, the Communist Greek resistance fighters, could sometimes - though Bernieres' adversaries have disputed it - be as barbaric as their Axis enemies. (Even if the author hyperbolised, to present the Greeks as purer-than-pure nullifies the novel's unassailable point that "means" in war are nearly always muddy or vile, however clearly history might judge the "ends").
What is left? Lots - in the sense of the umpteen down-the-catalogue items at the end of an auction. A will-they-won't-they romance between wartime adversaries, with Cage and doe-eyed Spanish actor Penelope Cruz glowing sweetly without ever catching fire and sputtering out in a feeble ending that douses Bernieres' fairytale original, which also consummated his theme of love outliving infatuation. Much gorgeous scenery at knockdown price, with Cephallonia risking lifestyle suicide with every alluring shot of shimmering azure bays. (Are they even now building the Pelagia Interconti?) And two hours of brave, do-the-accent thespianism, with Hurt inviting throat rupture as the guttural medic, Cruz parlaying Iberian into Aegean (it will all sound the same to Mr and Mrs World Ticketbuyer) and Cage drawing on every particle of his Italian-American DNA as Francis Coppola's nephew, though The Godfather would never have allowed lines of the calibre of "We're Italian - famous for singing, eating, making love!"
Screenwriter Shawn Slovo was an inspirationally perverse choice to adapt the novel. Her Communist sympathies were well established even before she scripted A World Apart. What would she do here? Faithfully honour the book's bloodcurdling accounts of bilateral atrocity? She and Madden will not even preserve the rape scene involving Pelagia's Greek-guerrilla love rival Mandras (Christian Bale): much too prejudicial.
In putting history on screen Slovo barely manages a basic competence. The use of radio broadcasts for exposition in war movies should be banned by law: it is pure laziness. As for the overnight re-arming of the Greek fighters by the German- surrendering Italians, it is a detail I remember from neither Bernieres nor the history books.
But then in history we are all flounderers and speculators. The past is not just chronicled by the immediate victors, it is re-chronicled by every vested interest who holds a brief ascendancy in cultural or political fashion. In the week of the May Day protests, how could cinemas open a film that anathematises Communism? In the age of family values, and of a tabloid-blessed homophobia that manifests and pseudo-justifies itself in endless "protect the children" campaigns, how could we accept a queer Italian soldier as a war hero and the shadow hero of a filmed novel? Much better to play safe. There may be movies, moviemakers and audiences who would want such subversive things. But they are far from the Madden crowd.
"Any kid working in a garage can put us out of business" says Tim Robbins as Bill Gates - sorry, "Gary Winston" - in Antitrust. What fun Robbins has with steel-rimmed specs, floppy hair and a remoulded nose as the boyish superboss of a computer giant in the northwestern USA which has no, we repeat no, resemblance to Microsoft. To sedate libel lawyers, Gates is even mentioned in the dialogue as a rival of Robbins/Winston.
We know better. The imitation screams at us, and the movie needs a good scream. All we have otherwise is Ryan Philippe as a young techno-buff summoned from smalltime hacking to the giddy mazes of NURV, Winston's company, where anti-democratic conspiracies grow like bacillae. Eventually everyone is chasing everyone else through cod-futuristic corridors, though in the Gigabyte Age you'd think legwork would have been superseded by more cerebral, cybernetic methods of pursuit.
Ah, the perils of political correctness. Is that fine black actor Morgan Freeman condemned to play detectives forever, with no remission for bad behaviour? Couldn't he just once get his acting chops around a nice juicy psychopath? (We don't count his blink-and-miss turn in Nurse Betty). In Along Came A Spider he re-impersonates novelist James Patterson's forensic cop hero Alex Cross, carrying on where Kiss the Girls left off, tracking a homicidal madman who has designs on kidnapping the son of a top Russian politician.
Why abduct this sprig of a clapped-out empire? God knows. God may also know - mortals couldn't possibly tell - why Monica Potter as his aide acts as if Novocained, why an entire school cannot discern, though every filmgoer can, that one teacher is sporting a prosthetic facial disguise and fake English accent, and why director Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors) left New Zealand to commit career suicide in the Hollywood smog. Oh, and along with radios blaring out progress reports in war movies, I would ban TV reporters in thrillers who stand on suburban front lawns intoning "Residents of this normally quiet community . . . "
Walerian Borowczyk's La Be^te, previously bowdlerised in Britain, returns uncut to the land of sexual tolerance among screen censors. (Can it last?) A comely American heiress, marrying into a crumbling French family, finds her dreams overrun by a priapic wood-dwelling ogre who had his way 200 years before with the mansion's mistress. Frenzied couplings took place; screams rent the air; will hysteria repeat itself? Borowczyk - see also Immoral Tales - is an unreconstructed erotomane. But when sex mania is as cleverly metaphored as here, as wittily choreographed and, when necessary, as down, dirty and delectable, only prudes (who are erotomanes with problems) could object.