Contact (PG) 150 mins Jr *
Robert Zemeckis's version of the Carl Sagan bestseller hits us with its best shot right away: in one awe- inspiring, continuous shot the camera pulls back from middle America to look down on the Earth, then our solar system, our galaxy, the cosmos itself. Digital sound conjures up a spooky silence that only adds to our sense of wonder.
It could have been a one-minute classic; unfortunately we spiral way past the two-hour mark with an epic story of man’s first contact with extraterrestrial intelligence, beset throughout by arrant nonsense and miscalculation.
Having lost her father at an early age, junior astronomer Jodie Foster grows into a top researcher specialising in the monitoring of radio waves from the ether. It's a big day, then, when she and her team actually pick up a communication signal from another planet. Zemeckis builds up to another peak of excitement as we fix on the message and discover our own television pictures have been beamed back to us.
Analysis of the codes being sent soon reveals encrypted plans to help mankind build an interstellar travelling device, prompting a battle between Foster and her superior, government department head Tom Skerritt. As media hysteria and public excitement grow, looming into view is the terrifying, amazing prospect of greeting our distant neighbours in another part of the universe.
Boy, does it take an age to get to the sequence we really want to see - Zemeckis's spin on the 2001-style cosmic rollercoaster - but in the end it's so reminiscent of Kubrick’s vision it's easy to feel short-changed. Zemeckis has had inherently fascinating subject matter
Universal love: Matthew McConaughey and Jodie Foster in Contact
throughout, but shows a truly depressing lack of imagination in bringing it to the screen: the alien- designed transporter gizmo looks like something from the 50s - have we really not moved on since then?
The bustling narrative certainly doesn't make the best of it either. Matthew McConaughey‘s spiritual advisor to the President is a laughable figure, his romantic involvement with Foster deeply unconvincing, and the play with broadly feminist equal-opportunities issues merely tokenistic. Foster does her usual head-girl performance, oozing so much sincerity it'll clog the soles of your shoes. If there is intelligent life in the universe, they really should have contacted it to doctor the script. (Trevor Johnston)
I General release from Fri 26 Sep.
Crime doesn't pay: Robert Carlyle in Face
pit closure demonstrations with the reductive free enterprise attitude installed by a decade and a half of Conservative government. Bird realises this most powerfully during the film's central armed robbery scene in which Ray has flashbacks to the demos he took part in and sees parallels between the victims of police brutality and the workers he is robbing. It’s a worrying thought for Ray that the police of the 805 and the thieves of the 905 occupy similar roles and troubling for us all that Ray's political about-face — activrst to thief — is indicative of a change in the national psyche.
Face is an ambitious film. It tackles the spectre of the Thatcher years, the current state of the nation (the ironically titled 'caring 905’) and family relations Within the framework of a
Face (18) 100 mins * k *
Filthy language, motors and shooters embellish this spirited addition to the British crime thriller tradition. Think The Long Good Friday. Think Get Carter. Ray 'the face' and his gang of East End London criminals pull off an armed robbery, but when the loot goes missing and gang members are bumped off one by one, it becomes obvious they have been stitched up by one of their own.
28 THE LIST 26 Sep-9 Oct 1997
Face reunites director Antonia Bird with her Priest and Safe star Robert Carlyle, who is fast outgrowing his status as a respected actor and entering the superstar arena. Bird, meanwhile, makes a triumphant return to filmmaking after her Hollywood debut Mad Love was savaged by the studio system.
Where any sense of depth or engagement with serious issues was excised from Mad Love, Face positively thrives on its political subtext. Ronan Bennett's smart script neatly contrasts
crime thriller. The results are hit and miss. The political comment works well, while the relationship between Ray and his law-abiding girlfriend IS unconvrncrng. Similarly, the initial armed robbery is expertly staged, but the climactic Terminator-like shoot-out in a police station is overblown. That said, Face represents intelligent cinema, a strong addition to a very British film tradition and a counterpart to American pulp filmmaking. (Miles Fielder)
I General release from Fri 26 Sep.
Volcano (12) 103 mins **
Flares . . . platform shoes . . . disaster movies. The recycling of the cheesier products of 705 pop culture continues apace. Hot on the heels of 1997’s other lava movie, Dante’s Peak, comes expatriate Brit Mick Jackson’s contribution to the genre, Volcano.
ApprOpriately enough, Volcano presents us with a Los Angeles bracing itself for disaster. It has endured earthquakes, firestorms and mudslides —- what catastrophe can possibly befall it next? Mike Roark (Tommy Lee Jones), father of a stroppy teenage daughter and the head of LA's Emergency Management Office, is soon to find out.
As the film opens, the city is hit by another quake, but while Roark and his team are assessing the damage, seismologist Dr Amy Barnes (Anne Heche) discovers that a far greater calamity lies in store. The tremor has opened a volcanic vent in the earth's crust beneath LA’s famous La Brea Tar Pits and, before long, a bubbling torrent of molten lava is laying waste to everything in its path. Can Roark and Barnes halt this unstoppable force of nature before LA becomes another Pompeii?
Volcano doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it lacks the anarchic irreverence that made Mars Attacks! such a hoot. Jones and Heche deliver far better performances than the film deserves: sparkily intelligent, Heche makes a more convincing scientist than we usually see in movies of this type, but Jones is given little opportunity to flash his cool, deadpan wit. Nor do we get much pleasure from second- guessing the demises of the film's colourless supporting cast — one of the chief delights of vintage disaster movies.
Where Volcano does score over its predecessors, however, is in the lavishness of its special effects. The lava itself has been faked from methylcellulose, the stuff used to thicken milkshakes, and it looks most impresswe. Unfortunately, lava just
doesn’t make the most exciting of . adversaries and, although Jackson '
valiantly tries to whip up the tenSion at the climax, wrth Roark dashing in slo-
mo to save his daughter, the result is a ‘
damp sqwb. (Jason Best) I General release from Fri 3 Oct.
Hot stuff: Tommy Lee Jones to the rescue in Volcano
STAR RATINGS * ‘k ‘k * * Unmissable at at t it Very good i t * Worth a shot it * Below average it You've been warned