The Time Out Film Guide, 12th, revised and expanded edition, 2004. Penguin Books, London. Edited by John Pym. Pp. xxviii + 1565.

Time Out is a magazine published in London which focuses on city events and entertainment. Amongst its offerings are movie reviews, which have, for the last twelve years, been collected in editions of the Film Guide. Editions have progressively added goodies such as surveys of top 100 films, lists of award winners, obituaries of deceased film personalities of the year, and steadily growing indices. This year they added color illustrations and "Cinefiles" which the editor describes (i) as "detailed, historically slanted studies of a spread of films that complement reviews in the main text."

Each entry offers the obligatory director, producer, and actor information, but the Time Out guide also offers the screenwriter, cameraman, editor, production or art designer, and composer of the soundtrack. There is some, but not too much plot summary in this book. For the most part, the reviews are little essays which seek to arouse the reader's interest and sometimes to provoke a response. They are often witty, especially when describing bad movies. Coverage grows every year, but there are still many gaps, especially in the older films. The reviews are unchanged from their first appearance, and this makes it interesting to go back and see what intelligent commentators thought of a movie when it was released and before time made some movies great. Retrospectives are offered in the cinefiles.

The reviews have been produced over 35 years by many writers; you get to know a reviewer's habits and style and grow confident in your favorites. My favorite is the grumpily aggressive, opinionated, intelligent Geoff Andrew ("GA"). I disagree with him as often as not, but one rarely comes away from one of his reviews without having been surprised--the mark of a good writer. Here he is in action, panning The Matrix (753):

Thomas (Reeves), a salaryman at a software company, leads a secret double life. As 'Neo' he's a computer hacker much in demand. But only when Trinity (Moss) introduces him to charismatic seer Morpheus (Fishburne) does Neo learn that the whole world's unwittingly in the same boat: life as we know it is merely virtual reality, a 'matrix' designed by mankind's overlords to hold us in unquestioning obeisance. Not only are Morpheus and his rebel crew fighting to regain our freedom, but the leader has a bee in his bonnet: might not Neo be the One, who'll lead us to salvation? For its first hour, the second feature by the Wachowskis works well enough as an ambitious if rather portentious dystopian fantasy in the vein of eXistenZ and Blade Runner. Though sometimes a little clumsy, the frequent switches between different 'realities' are entertainingly ingenious, Bill Pope's camerawork and Owen Patterson's designs are slickly impressive, and the effects neatly embrace Cronenbergian body horror and comic strip panache. But the characters, too, are paper thin, (Keanu, especially), while the promising premise is steadily wasted as the film turns into a fairly routine action pic, complete with facile Hollywood heroics, cod kung-fu homilies, and computer enhanced martial arts scenes. Weaving is engagingly odd as the rebels' arch enemy Smith, but even he can't hold the attention in what's finally yet another slice of high concept hokum.

This review's dismissal of the "cod kung-fu homilies" and "high concept hokum" provoked me to rethink the movie, towards which I had initially had a neutral attitude. Andrew reached a hasty judgment on the basis of probably one viewing, and he goaded me into proving to myself that he was wrong. It is characteristic of the Time Out Guide to take strong positions and make you think. It is the finest movie guide I know.

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