The Truman Show

One of the stranger fragments of Orwellian paraphernalia you’re likely to see. Less a Jim Carrey-comedy – he’s (relatively) restrained here – more a slice of existential sci-fi. My solitary laugh came when I spotted Philip Glass playing piano in the background of one scene having just recognised his music, and that was an Easter egg rather than a joke. As sci-fi, however, it’s more than functional; 100-minutes in a technicolour police state clinched with the culmination of narrative, score, imagery, and Ed Harris momentarily becoming God.       

B+

Scarface (1983)

The first scene sets the tone. Cuban mobster Tony Montana, played by Al Pacino, is being interrogated by US border officials, having arrived in Miami as part of the 1980 Cuban exodus. The camera is circling him: director Brian De Palma’s utilisation of long, creeping single takes – key to many of the film’s best scenes – accentuates Pacino’s dominance. It’s the look in his eye, his restlessness of movement, the calculated apprehension in his voice. Those facets are what make Scarface, and what keeps at bay its less auspicious production decisions. Guiltiest is composer Giorgo Moroder, whose jungle rhythms and luscious synths mark the score out as an ‘80s artefact which simultaneously dates the entire production with it. Nor is the narrative anything to write home about, proceeding as an unadventurous rise-and-fall that hues closely to gangster-movie cliché. Its staying power then will rest on how much Pacino and De Palma repay repeated viewing, which for now is a hedged judgement.

A-

Coco

Ostensibly this archetypal Pixar effort is about music, though it eventually transpires that music is a Trojan horse for Pixar’s official motto ‘Nothing’s more important than family’. Which is fine. But for a movie that talks so much about music, I was hoping it would be more musical than it is. You see, the computer animation in the smattering of guitar-playing scenes is wonderful, I mean really wonderful. Advances in the medium will never cease to amaze – even 2020’s otherwise underwhelming Onward arrested me with its digital paintwork on occasion, and this has far more soul going for it. So it’s a shame those soulful moments aren’t served by the Disney production-line pop and predictable, arbitrary plot demands that we get. Señor Mouse, más America Latina por favor.

B+

A Beautiful Mind

Another ‘bout-a-genius-drama from the turn of the millennium provides the most salient observation regarding this John Nash biopic – Gus Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting. Simply put, Russell Crowe isn’t Robin Williams. I know, who is? But without a performance of the latter’s calibre, the beauty of this title’s troubled mind is never realised as stated. Crowe’s stilted delivery and underwhelming body-language convey inertia rather than brilliance. Not bad, but not enough to lift competency into creditability. Elsewhere, a familiar biopic pitfall saddles the very end, where the narrative blitzes through 30-years of Nash’s life in what amounts to a Wikipedia-scanned hagiography. But the film’s strongest act, straddling the middle third, makes more of an impression than the finale’s faults. Here Nash’s descent into mental illness grabs the viewer too, and alongside imparting the sheer fortitude of will he required to function with it, is successfully dramatic. Which is pretty important for a drama.

B+