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Film: No more Mister Nice Guy.

Byline: MIKE DAVIES

CHOPPER

Cert 18. 93 mins

Down Under's answer to John McVicar, Mark 'Chopper' Read is one of Australia's best selling authors. And, with a judge's kidnap and 19 self-professed but never proven murders, also its most notorious criminal.

Selectively based on Read's fanciful autobiography From The Inside and drawing on such other catchy titles as How To Shoot Friends and Influence People, it opens with an incarcerated Chopper (a remarkably understated Eric Bana) watching a tv doco about his life, telling the female interviewer he's 'just a normal bloke who likes a bit of torture.'

It sets the quirky, blackly comic tone and provides an instant thumbnail of the man who can viciously stab a rival inmate and then contritely apologise as he lies dying.

Shot in a variety of experimental, heightened styles with effective use of sickly or lurid colour, it's constructed as two part flashbacks; Read's 1978 maximum security term and his mid 80s paranoia believing there was a contract out on him. Both brutally if banally violent (fearful for his life Chopper has his own ears sliced off to get transferred) and blackly comic, its exploration of criminality and celebrity never seeks to romanticise its subject, but Bana's brilliant, character inhabiting performance ensures that while he's a thug he's a fascinating repulsive yet pathetic figure. Compelling viewing, it's an unsettling but inspired work.

FLAWLESS

Cert 15. 106 mins

'You have a My Left Foot thing going on, don't you?, observes a camp Hispanic drag queen of Robert De Niro's stroke victim. It's moments like this and lines like 'I need some butch faggots over here,' that makes Joel Schumacher's wildly uneven and very 70s gay cinema odd couple movie watchable despite itself. That and another mesmerising performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman, part Eddie Izzard part Ethel Merman as the drag queen neighbour De Niro's introverted self-pitying bigot is reluctantly forced to turn to for singing lessons to improve his affected speech.

A darker variation on As Good As It Gets by way of Stanley and Iris, minus the romance, you don't need this review to tell you that despite initial mutual antagonisms, Hoffman and De Niro's characters come to like each other and learn something about themselves. And, as if to show he's not ashamed of cliches, Schumacher even has aspirant transsexual Hoffman say 'I'm a woman trapped in a man's body'.

There's much to enjoy among the emotionally screwed up oddballs that populate the film (not least a gratuitous but funny scene as the drag divas stick it to the Gay Republicans) and while the notion of De Niro playing someone who mumbles (the DVD will have subtitles!) hardly sounds a stretch, his portrayal, using his vocal and physical impediments and the emotional pain they cause (his character loved to dance) rise well above the usual Hollywood does disability level.

A pity then the ongoing sub-plot about a gangster's search for the stolen cash he thinks is hidden somewhere in the residential hotel constantly reappears to bring matters back from the camply melodramatic to the mundane.

GOING OFF BIG TIME

Cert 18. 87 mins

A last trickle after the flood of British gangster movies finally begins to dry up, this at least benefits from being set in Merseyside rather than a Mockney-overrun London.

Written by and starring comedy scripter Neil Fitzmaurice it's the now familiar post-Tarantino balance of humour and hurt, an anecdotal narrative told in flashback. The story's no great shakes. Sent down for accidentally thumping a copper, erstwhile mild mannered Fitzmaurice learns how to look after himself on the inside, valuable lessons learned from veteran con Bernard Hill. Once released, his prison record makes work hard to find, so he links up with his former cell mate Dominic Carter in a fledging protection and drugs racket.

However, they run foul of the local kingpin, Carter's somewhat volatile temper not making matters easier when he has a run-in with the bloke's son. The opening scene already tells us things have turned nasty. The rest is about how, why and what actually happened. Worth a look.

READY TO RUMBLE

Cert 15

You'd think a film that had the nerve to cast an aged Martin Landau as a retired wrestler still capable of taking down a couple of muscle mountain bruisers might have something going for it. But no.

A juvenile, dump teen comedy set around the world of American Wrestling, this stupefyingly inane and obsessively scatological nonsense involves David Arquette and Scott Caan as two effluent disposal operatives who set out to restore their fallen idol, wrestling champion Oliver Platt, to his rightful place when he's done the dirty on by his backstabbing WCF boss.

I could go on about how American Wrestling glorifies violence as entertainment and appeals to the animal in its audience, but why bother.

Caan denies that 'wrestling is for retards', but this film doesn't make much of an argument to the contrary. Audiences who can read or write should steer well clear.

CAPTION(S):

Eric Bana as the deeply unpleasant Mark 'Chopper Read
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 24, 2000
Words:845
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