The Alamo (12A) John Lee Hancock
Hellboy (12A) Guillermo del Toro
THE BIG MOVIE
American airports are never the most welcoming of places, but when Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) lands in New York’s JFK he is unprepared for what awaits him. While Viktor was in the air, there has been a coup in his native Krakozhia. The airport authorities, led by Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci) inform him that since the US no longer recognises Krakozhia, they cannot admit Viktor into their country; what’s more, nor can they let him out. As Dixon explains to the would-be tourist: “You are a citizen of nowhere.”
Dixon allows Viktor to take up residence in the international transit lounge, while Krakozhia sorts itself out. And so, as days turn into months, the stoic Viktor has no choice but to settle in: learning the language, creating a bedroom, even finding himself work. When Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the air hostess with whom he falls in love, asks if he lives nearby, Viktor answers: “Yes. Gate 67.”
With such an ingenious premise and with Hanks and Spielberg resuming their partnership from the sublime Catch Me If You Can, I had high hopes for this. In fact, it is woeful. Spielberg and his writers, clueless as to where to take their story, are soon succumbing to a string of predictable feelgood clichés, while Hanks struggles behind his cod eastern European accent. Worst of all, one can taste Spielberg’s self-satisfaction: he clearly sees this as an everyman/ underdog comedy in the manner of Capra or Sturgess. Such self-delusion turns an uninspired comedy into an infuriating one.
When Charles II returned from exile in 1660, he quickly reopened the theatres, closed by the puritanical Oliver Cromwell. Then he did something even more sensational: he made it legal for women to act on stage. This is the context for a costume romp that picks up where Shakespeare In Love left off. But whereas Gwyneth Paltrow did little more than don bumfluff in her attempt to play Romeo, Richard Eyre’s film makes a darker exploration of the consequences of theatrical genderbending.
“The most beautiful actress on the London stage,” declares Samuel Pepys, “is Ned Kynaston – a man.” Indeed, so beautiful is Ned (Billy Crudup), that his Desdemona is a sensation and female groupies insist he stay in costume for their saucy assignations. Meanwhile, Ned’s dresser Maria (Claire Danes) is also playing Desdemona, in a clandestine production of Othello across town. When news of this novelty reaches the king ( Rupert Everett) the law is changed and Ned is upstaged by the new girl – the real girl – on the block.
The gender complexity of Shakespeare’s plays, both their text and early performance, has always been fascinating: men playing women pretending to be men who, as such, are often loved by both men and women. The emotional, psychological and dramatic permutations are endless and Jeffrey Hatcher, who has adapted his play for the screen, adds a few of his own.
To himself, Ned is a woman both on stage and off, where he is having an affair with the butch Lord Buckingham (Ben Chaplin); when challenged to play male characters, he simply cannot. And his identity crisis is made more intriguing when the attraction between him and Maria starts to fizz. While the film is let down somewhat by its direction (Eyre alternating between racy handheld cameras and long, static scenes, without conviction), the themes and the performances hold the attention.
It’s a tall order trying to retell the story of the Alamo, where a small band of Americans featuring Davy Crockett (Billy Bob Thornton) and Jim Bowie (Jason Patric) were massacred by the Mexican army in the fight for Texas: we know how it ends and we’ve seen it all before, with the granite-like John Wayne and Richard Widmark a hard act to follow. This doesn’t overcome the doubts. Plodding, over-earnest, it has, in Patric, one of the most unengaging leads working today. That said, there is a commendable sense of historical realism, the battle scenes are exciting, and Thornton almost saves the day with his fiddle- playing Crockett, who taunts the Mexicans with a gleam in his eye: “I warn you – I’m a screamer.”
Another film based on a comic-book series, this features Ron Perlman as the half-man, half-devil, summoned from hell by Nazis in the second world war, but raised by US “paranormal advisor” John Hurt to be part of a team of heroic misfits that includes a merman and a pyro-kinetic girl. Red from horn to toe , Hellboy is an engaging-enough hero. But after an enjoyably preposterous opening, the film descends into a repetitious round of fist fights and exploding monsters.
Hellboy is released on Thursday; all other films are out on Friday 29 August 2004