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Police/US/English (Japanese subtitles)/111minutes
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Harrison Ford
Director: Ron Shelton
Columbia Pictures

Hollywood Homicide opens with four dead rappers in a club and the cops kicking off their investigation. In terms of plot what follows is pretty much standard cops-investigate-dead-celebs stuff with the unexciting twist that the cops themselves are being investigated for some dubious off-duty business dealings. So far so dull. What makes this film ultimately watchable is the cops, played by Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett. The characterisation is off-beat and the dialogue unrelentingly engaging and humorous as the pair obsessively ramble on about their other jobs, from which police work is an unwelcome distraction.

Drama/US/English (Japanese subtitles)/103 mins
Starring: Samantha Morton, Paddy Considine, Djimon Hounsou
Fox Searchlight

In America follows newly arrived immigrants in New York in the 1980s. The principle characters are from Ireland and Nigeria. The film is not just about the problems of adapting to a new society, it is about the difficulty of just being, of living up to your own expectations and the demands of family. It is very much about becoming a merely competent human being. The writing and is of an unusually high standard and is almost literary in its quiet artfulness. No big names in this movie, just excellent, carefully nuanced performances.

The Recruit
Action-Thriller/US/English (Japanese subtitles)/115 minutes
Starring: Colin Farrell, Al Pacino, Bridget Moynahan
Director: Ronald Donaldson
Touchstone Pictures

Colin Farrell is unlikely spy material. He is a casually talented computer nerd who is in no rush to do anything with his life. However, CIA bigwig Al Pacino knows talent and draws Farrell into the Agency. Farrell for all his laid-back way is damaged goods: his own father was Agency and died in the line of duty when Farrell was but a nipper. Going along with Pacino is his way of connecting with his long lost dad but he connects with a whole lot more when they go after a mole. Twisting plot and good acting.

Once Upon a Time in Mexico
Action/US/English (Japanese subtitles)/103 minutes
Starring: Julio Bandero, Johnny Depp, Salma Hayek
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Columbia Pictures

Once Upon a Time in Mexico is the third instalment of Robert Rodriguez’ El Mariachi series. Julio Banderas is El Mariachi, a guitar-wielding, singing action hero who is drawn out of self-imposed hermitage by the CIA to go after a noisome revolutionary/drug lord bad guy. Of course, El Guitar Hero is in recluse mode in the first place because someone murdered his family, and of course the target of the mission is the very same murderer. Quirky, offbeat action movie with some great ideas and great acting — watch out for louche, show-stealing Johnny Depp as the CIA man.

Sport-drama/US/English (Japanese subtitles)/140 minutes
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper
Director: Gary Ross
Universal Pictures

Seabiscuit is a true story of a pint-sized racehorse that captured the imagination of the 1930s American public when it became a symbol of depression-hit America struggling back to its feet. Jeff Bridges, Tobey Maguire and Chris Cooper find faith in the lazy underachiever and encourage him to greatness in this tale of nag to riches. The story starts too slowly but the otherwise adept storytelling, thrilling race scenes where the camera gets right among the racers, and the film’s humanity and honesty make it a winner.

Mystic River
Crime/US/English (Japanese subtitles)/137 minutes
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Sean Penn, Tim Robbins
Director: Clint Eastwood
Warner Brothers

Such is the association with Dirty Harry, it is easy to forget that Clint Eastwood as director makes good films. Mystic River is crafted, monolithic, and austere and seems to hark back to a past, nobler age of film making. Three childhood friends separated by an awful crime committed against one of them are brought back together as adults by another crime. The friends are played by Tim Robbins, Sean Penn and Kevin Bacon and their inspired performances with the superior screenplay and expert direction raise this film way above a conventional police whodunnit to something intense and psychological.

War Requiem
Art/UK/English (Japanese subtitles)/93 minutes
Starring: Nathaniel Parker, Tilda Swinton, Laurence Olivier
Director: Derek Jarman
Anglo International

This is a re-release of Derek Jarman’s powerful 1989 rendering of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem in images. It is experimental and frankly a little difficult at times. It is by turns horrifying, beautiful and ultimately moving. Laurence Olivier in his last screen appearance is an old soldier whose memories of war are told through the poems of war poet Wilfred Owen, and which are incorporated into the Requiem.Through exploring the experiences of ordinary soldiers in poetry, image and music, the film becomes both an extraordinarily articulate statement against war and a major work of art.

My Life Without Me
Drama/Canada/English (Japanese subtitles)/106 minutes
Starring: Sarah Polley, Scott Speedman, Mark Ruffalo
Director: Isabel Coixet
Sony Pictures

Ann married at 17 a super, handsome, smiley guy who she loves very much, had two lovely kids, and now at the age of 23 finds she is dying of inoperable ovarian cancer. She decides not to tell anyone and sets about leaving her world in better order than it is now. She also decides to have sex with another man because her husband is the only man she has … you know. Confusingly, she falls in love with this other guy — oops! Good acting and direction, but the viewer might feel a little queasy about the affair.

Reviews by Chris Page

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