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.