Scarface (1983) – Often, Brian De Palma’s better films are, somewhat paradoxically, his uneven ones: what seems merely sloppy will suddenly come together in (or perhaps serve to foreground) one of his classic sequences, like the prom in Carrie or the slow-motion escape in The Fury. These moments stand out more than they would in a more consistent film; often they’re powerful enough to make the movie seem better than it was in retrospect. Scarface isn’t like that – it’s smooth all the way through, which isn’t necessarily an improvement. (The nearest thing to a standout sequence is the drug deal with the chainsaw.) De Palma makes full graphic use of Miami in the 80s, and his long shots – like the one that starts on an overpass and follows Steven Bauer into a refugee camp – effortlessly locate his characters in their world. Yet his technique never provokes the anxious jolts of identification so characteristic of his best work. Perhaps it’s the hackneyed story elements – the Scorsese wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) who enters with style and then has nothing to do but complain; the honest immigrant mother who reproaches her criminal son; the best friend who betrays the hero with a woman. There’s little sense of surprise, and Pacino’s intensity is as monotonous as Jack Nicholson’s in The Shining, so that at the end, there’s only one place to take it – over the top, into ludicrousness. **½

The Thin Red Line (1998) – In many ways, this is the opposite of Apocalypse Now: the jungle is not presented as ominous but rather in terms of its physical beauty (war is, among other things, a desecration of landscape); its perspective is not assigned to a single, alienated officer but dispersed amongst soldiers of various ranks; and unlike the Vietnamese in Coppola’s movie, Terrence Malick grants the Japanese full humanity – the captured enemy are as individual in their pride and exhaustion as their American counterparts, and the sequence where the Americans storm the Japanese camp is the most upsetting thing in the movie. It’s more perfect than Malick’s later The Tree of Life (the flashbacks with Miranda Otto anticipate that film): it’s a masterpiece, maybe the great war movie. You could poke fun at Malick’s lyricism – the fantasy of island life entertained by one soldier, the sexual daydreams of another – if it was not so brutally undercut in the final hour. There’s no going home for these men (the only one who does is sent against his will): the film is, in its unhurried way, relentless, its horror only intensified by its immense beauty. ****

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) – David Lynch has his Wizard of Oz side: his ambiguous images and ominous noises are sometimes the empty gestures of a showman. Here, he drains the original Twin Peaks of mystery and emotion, by repeating familiar effects (Ray Wise’s uncanny shifts in expression; torchlight probing the woods; Frank Silva prowling through a pastel room) and laboriously depicting events any viewer of the show has long taken for granted. The frequent flashes of Sheryl Lee’s breasts and the graphic murders have a gratuitous, exploitative vibe: in this instance, Lynch does not seem that different from the backroom creeps who take advantage of Laura and Donna. And all this is an improvement on the first part of the film, which repeats the show’s initial setup (Chris Isaak plays an eccentric FBI agent coaxing information from the inscrutable inhabitants of a small town) with the slack pacing and stifled giggles of a bad school play, Lynch’s trademark pauses devoid of tension or humour. Isaak is emblematic of the film as a whole: a gnomic, contemptuous hipster, pleased with himself for no good reason. It’s pretty close to terrible. *½

Wonder Woman (2017) – The fact that this was hard to make – that releasing a film with a female protagonist is regarded as a brave gamble – is a sign of what a timid sausage party mainstream movies have become. Unfortunately, that’s the only chance Wonder Woman takes: otherwise it’s a standard superhero movie, with all the genre’s flaws. The first half hour is so bogged down in flashbacks and exposition that it never gets a rhythm going. The last half hour is an interminable monologue by the movie’s villain, and the obligatory green screen duel – on a different, pulverising plane to the rest of the action, so that the story to that point seems almost not to count. Visually, the Greek blues and whites of Diana’s island home are a welcome change from DC movies’ usual relentless sobriety, but it soon plunges back into the murk. The film’s anti-war message is a mess: Wonder Woman never questions her own warrior culture, or perceives any parallels between it and the modern war machine. And for all Gal Gadot’s sad contemplation of the victims of violence, the movie’s (ahistorical) presentation of the Germans in WWI as Nazi-style villains allows her to dispatch them without any pangs of conscience. **