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The Beach (2000)
Ignore the critics--this is a good film!
Critics didn't like this film. Roger Ebert, whose reviews I generally find insightful and on target, gave it just 2 stars and called it "seriously confused". On the IMDB hit parade, it only rates about 6 stars. Because of this, I didn't go and see it at the theatre, and have been ambivalent about renting the video, even though I like DiCaprio's work, and admired Danny Boyle's previous "Trainspotting". Then my teenage daughter came home from a party where she and her friends had watched it, and she said, "It's brilliant! You HAVE to see it, Mum!"
So, we rented the video, and I'm glad we did. The Beach is an interesting and solid film that tells an intriguing, if somewhat episodic, story in a stylish way. DiCaprio is, indeed, excellent as a young man searching for life's ultimate experiences, and getting more than he bargained for. This is a loss-of-innocence story, a sort of cross between Lord of the Flies, Apocalypse Now, and the musical The Fantastics. Director Danny Boyle leads us on Richard's journey to the Heart of Darkness in an energetic, stylish way--filming is interesting and beautiful--and he gets excellent results from his actors. The use of Richard's voice-over as narrative--often a distraction in films--here offers a certain amount of adolescent profundity and acuteness of observation, and it works.
I've been a traveller in Thailand. Although Richard's quest and Richard's scene wasn't mine, I've seen it...the beaches, the bars, the snake blood, the dope, the parties. I've also been a high school teacher, and have worked with adolescents hungry to discover "the real world", to bite into Eve's apple with gusto. Many from New Zealand head off in their late teens/early twenties on "The Great OE" (Overseas Experience). The same is undoubtedly true for many Australians and Brits, if not so commonly for American youth. So there's a strong element of "truth" in this story.
Don't listen to the critics. This is a good, solid film with an interesting perceptive story, fine performances, and a stylish presentation. Four stars out of five.
Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
I think I must have different contact lenses from the other people who've commented on this film. Either that, or I saw a different film.
First of all, I have to say that I found this a mildly amusing film with some good moments that made me laugh out loud.
I also have to agree that Renee Zellweger does a fantastic job playing Bridget Jones: she's plain, gawky, funny, warm, sincere, and a real twit all at the same time. That said, I confess it took me a little while to warm to her character, partly because Bridget is such a twit. I mean, she's 32 years old and she doesn't have a clue how to fix a meal for friends? She automatically assumes that first-date sex is inevitable even before a relationship begins (hence the underwear angst)? She cannot string two words together without babbling?
I guess the thing that bothers me the most about this film, though, and people's glowing reactions to it, is wondering what Bridget and Mark are going to talk about from now on. I mean, he's a top barrister with education, money, social standing, and a variety of interests, humanitarian and otherwise. Bridget, on the other hand, seems to have no interests, other than drinking, smoking, feeling sorry for herself, and catching a man. She's not intelligent, well-educated, committed to anything, or even with the prospect of being a viable, supporting housewife. At least with Daniel, cad though he clearly is, [I muse cynically here] she had fun--and so did Daniel. Fun and Darcy don't actually go in the same sentence! In the end, I thought she ended up with the wrong man.
I walked out of the movie theater a bit disappointed. I'd heard lots of good things about this film, and although it has some good moments and some funny lines, and Zellweger's acting is commendable, I thought the film just didn't live up to expectations.
Mad Dog and Glory (1993)
A Real Gem
A terrifically good little film with a slick and funny script, consummate actors allowed to strut their stuff, a tight edit, and a wonderful sort of black humour that had me laughing out loud. Yes, it's fairly predictable, but I didn't mind knowing where it was heading because it was so much fun getting there.
That said, it's not a film for everyone. It's sort of a "Pretty Woman" meets "Fargo". If that combination doesn't appeal, then this film probably won't either. But I thought it was a real gem. Two big thumbs up.
Pearl Harbor (2001)
Worth the ticket price
I almost didn't go to see this movie. Reviews have been wishy-washy at best, and Roger Ebert's usually insightful comments raised a laugh but certainly lowered expectations...he gave this film a grim 1 1/2 stars. I don't think that's fair.
Last night I sat in an almost-full theatre, and for three hours all of the people around me were glued to the screen. There were some laughs (my husband and I chuckled heartily at the movie cliches and the "put your hand over your heart" squeeky-clean patriotism), a few gasps, and more than a few tears. The young woman sitting next to me was reduced to hiccupy sobs at least four times in the film, and watched the bombing scene with her hand to her mouth. She was not alone.
This movie is entertaining. In that sense, it's a good movie. It's not a great movie. It will not bring historical enlightenment, it has no surprises or unexpected plot twists, it's not profound, and it follows the Hollywood formula. I guess some folks expected more than just entertainment from a movie with a super-sized budget, talented actors, and a historic event loaded with potential. But if you ignore what it COULD be, and look at what it is, you get a decent movie with wide appeal that's certainly worth more than 1 1/2 stars.
My teenage daughter is going to see it next weekend with her friends, and I'm sure they will all like this film. (They're too young to have seen "From Here to Eternity" or "Tora, Tora, Tora" so will miss the obvious--and for some, unfavorable--comparisons.) I've written to my parents, who live in Hawaii and who don't go to movies much, that they'd like this one and should see it. That's 3-generations worth of appeal. It's a great date flick: The girls can feel all warm and fuzzy over the romance, and the guys will like the action. It's "Titanic" with bombs.
My advice? Read the wishy-washy reviews, if you want. Read Roger Ebert's for a laugh, if you want. But don't be too discouraged. Don't expect too much, and you will be pleasantly surprised. I had an enjoyable and entertaining three hours for the cost of a movie ticket, and reckon that's worth a firm thumbs up for a summer blockbuster.
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
A circus blend of Shakespearean comedy, Cabaret, and Romeo & Juliet
This film has plenty of pizzazz, dash and spectacle with fabulous costumes, eccentric characters, dizzying camera movement, and a curiously surreal, circus-like Paris. It's also a funny, fresh look at the tragic love story -- and only with Baz Luhrmann at the helm could that not be a contradiction.
This is a musical, first of all, and that will alienate some potential movie-goers. The characters burst into extravagant musical numbers (my favorites were the Roxanne tango--WOW--and the comic "Like a Virgin" number) at the drop of a hat, and any smidgen of realism is non-existent. That said, however, the love story between Christian (Ewan McGregor) and Satine (Nicole Kidman) carries a surprising ring of truth. McGregor's natty smile (reminds me a little of Hugh Grant, but I reckon McGregor brings it off in a less corny way) and Kidman's melting response just work a treat.
Story-wise, this one is very Shakespearean with all sorts of mix-ups and confusions and plenty of bizarre side-characters with wonderful cameo roles. You feel like the cast had a lot of fun making this film, and you're let in on some of the jokes, which is very neat.
That all said, I still wasn't as pulled into this film as I have been with others. It was fun and I wasn't bored, but I wasn't much moved either, and at the end I have to give this film a firm thumb up, but not two thumbs.
The Cell (2000)
Stunning surrealist art in a film, and a story too
I give this film 8/10 overall. Visually, a great deal of it is nothing short of stunning: an art director's dream mix of Hieryonomous Bosch, Salvador Dali, Frieda Kahlo and Georgia O'Keeffe--and a valid testament to the power of film as a serious art form. Beautiful use of color, form, imagery, environment--and fabulous set decoration, combine with state-of-the-art computer graphics. So, 10/10 for that! Wow!
The plot line is, well, more predictable. You know they'll save the girl and get the killer in the end, but the story is still interesting and pacy enough to pull you in and keep you there. 6/10 for that.
Squirm factor...I won't give this a rating, but the film certainly made me squirm, and I was watching it on video on a tv screen. It would, of course, have a great deal more impact on a big screen. Graphic violence of a twisted, erotic nature in a surreal landscape--even if beautiful--is highly unpredictable. The world inside the killer's head is not--thank goodness!--my world. Because I watched this film on video, I was able to replay a couple of sequences and found much to admire the second time around when I wasn't so nervous about where the scene might be going, and I suspect the whole film would be worth seeing a second time, just for the "visual art".
General suggestion: don't take the kids or conservative grandparents to this one, but if you're keen on the visual look of films, like surrealist art, don't mind a bit of kinky gore, and just want to take a bit of a "mind trip", this one's a winner. Oh, and if you're keen on babes, Jennifer Lopez is pretty hot.
A beautiful "Masterpiece Theatre" sort of film
This is a beautiful film, well-acted and carefully paced in the style of 19th century literature, a "Masterpiece Theatre" sort of production. Visually evocative of "Dr. Zhivago" (or is that just the Russian connection?) and paced like "Wings of the Dove", and with main characters holding old-fashioned morals regarding love, right, and justice, this is not a film destined to be a modern hit.
Several of the user/reviewers of this film have been critical of either Ralph Fiennes (Onegin) or Liv Tyler (Tatyana) (most like one actor, say the other is hopeless). It's true that there isn't the electrical attraction between the two lovers that we've come to expect in a modern film. I don't think this is a fault of either actor, both of whom produce excellent performances here. I think the fault lies in the script, first of all, and perhaps also in the direction.
The first part of the film is the better half, and I can't really fault the storyline. The second half, however, is a problem. There's a six-year gap between the two halves, and when we meet Onegin (Ralph Fiennes) again, he's been transformed from the self-assured, intelligent, realist he was in the first half of the film to a broken man besotted with the beautiful Tatyana. What's happened to him in those six years to change his perspectives? Perhaps it's her rise to wealth, or perhaps it's the death of his friend Lensky. Although these are presented as likely catalysts, neither seems likely, given six years of doing something else, somewhere else. It's difficult for us to relate to a character if we don't understand his motivations.
Perhaps the writers, Peter Ettedgui and Michael Ignatieff, wanted to remain true to Pushkin's poem. I don't know, having not read the poem. But I suspect the story and the film as a whole would have been improved with more attention to this second half.
In terms of direction, there is much to admire in this film. However, the love story which is central to it does lack spark. Perhaps this is because Onegin and Tatyana never really share an intimate moment, viewpoint, or a bit of gentle laughter. Most of the time, they simply see each other across a crowded room (or through the trees/grass/etc), and glances can only do so much. There is a scene where she borrows a book from him, and there's potential there to give them some commonality, but it doesn't come off. The only "intimate" moment they share is his confession of passionate love at the end, and that doesn't work at all.
Overall, though, this is a beautiful film to be recommended. It's thought-provoking both for the story itself and, for me, for an understanding of what makes a story work or not. I've enjoyed playing "literary analyst" with this film, and perhaps that's a compliment enough to it's literary qualities.
Wo hu cang long (2000)
It's been said already, so there's no point in a long repetition. Simply...this is a lovely film: stunningly photographed, beautifully correographed, handsomely acted. I'm currently reading a book on cinematography, and this was a superb illustration of all that the best cinematography should be. Don't let the thought of "some Asian martial arts flick with subtitles" put you off. And don't assume this is a "guy flick" either. It's not. This film is absolutely, simply first rate.
Hideous Kinky (1998)
A fine, dreamy little film
Lots of the reviews here are negative. Well, I liked this film. It's short on plot, but it moves with a dreamy vagueness that matched real life in the era/social environment portrayed, and it is beautifully filmed. As a mother, I feared for Julia's children--and indeed for poor, naive Julia--which no doubt is what the writers and director intended. A lovely little film, gentle and exotic, that explores the conflict between generations and ideologies. Accolades too for the fine acting of young Bella Riza and Carrie Mullan, who carry much of this story on their small shoulders. (And of course Winslet is very fine.) Good soundtrack too...guess I'm the target audience because I remember these songs and this era well... Dumb title, though.
If you like this film, check out "Heat and Dust".
Mùi du du xanh (1993)
Beautiful but tedious
I checked out this video expecting to like it. Wanting to like it. I like foreign films, I like beautiful cinematography, I know the critics liked this film (including my favorite, Roger Ebert), and I don't mind "slow" films.
Well, it's beautiful. That's about the best I can say for it. The plot is very thin, the shots are very long, the glances are very meaningful, the actors are very sincere, and it seems like a very long movie. I fell asleep half way though it, woke up, rewound the tape, tried again. It was a trial, but I made it to the end. I didn't like it any better for that.
American History X (1998)
It's a stunner.
Wow! A gripping, moving, frightening film that caught and held my attention throughout. It's intelligently directed by Tony Kaye, and beautifully shot. Edward Norton produces an outstanding performance as Derek, and Edward Furlong creates a believable and likeable-in-spite-of-his-mixed-up-politics little brother. I rated this film 9/10, and the only thing keeping it from 10/10 was the script, which occasionally gets a little preachy, and at times I was aware that the characters were functioning as a mechanism to try and educate me, the viewer, not talking to each other. Norton was up last year for an Academy Award for his portrayal of Derek here...why wasn't this film up for a Best Picture award? It's a stunner.
Tea with Mussolini (1999)
Not everyone's cup of tea...
A pretty film with a few nice performances...but the rather limp script left me feeling unsatisfied. I think this could have been a first-rate film: it's got a fine director, good actors, lovely scenery, potential for an interesting story, but somehow it just doesn't come together very well. The plot meanders. The characters don't always behave in believeable ways. It's kinda tedious in spots. If you like little glimpses of eccentric characters involved in "ordinary events" shadowed by the course of history, and you have a love of Italy, than this might be your cup of tea. If not, find another film to see. I enjoyed watching it, but wouldn't go see it again. The Merchant/Ivory team do this sort of thing better.
Anna and the King (1999)
A fine family movie
Anna and the King is a movie you can take your kids to, your mother too, and even Great Aunt Esther, who complains "They just don't make movies like they used to." This is a movie like they used to make, and there's more than a nod to The King and I, which Great Aunt Esther probably remembers pretty well. It's better than the old Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, though, and although it was filmed in Malaysia with a variety of Asian actors, it looks very Thai. Sumptuous, well-acted, occasionally moving, and perhaps just a little slow--maybe not the year's best picture, but certainly worth seeing.
Oh, and whether to take the kids? It's a bit long, there are a few brief splashes of blood, and it deals with love that cannot be, but there are lots of kids in the cast who get a lot of screen time, and it's a timeless story of some cultural value. Don't take the littlies, but the 8+ years should enjoy going to this "grown up" movie with the rest of the family.
Waking Ned (1998)
Not a great movie, but a nice one.
This is a feel-good, warm-fuzzy film. It doesn't have a great script. It won't have you sitting on the edge of your chair. It won't strain your intelligence. And ten years from now, you probably won't remember it very well. That said, it has some delightful moments. The motorcycle ride--if you see the film, you'll know the one--is a real giggle. The aerial shots are lovely. The community seems wonderfully warm and populated with interesting characters. The pig farmer love story is a bit contrived but sweet. And it's good to see some older actors getting such lovely roles. Overall, I wouldn't go see this film a second time, but I'm glad I saw it once.
A clever, well-produced film worth seeing
"Scarfies" is currently #2 at the box office in New Zealand, behind "Eyes Wide Shut". It's a clever, dark comedy/thriller that only occasionally jars. (Torture scenes make me squirm, especially if they're meant to be funny.) The film has some wonderful moments of surprise, moments of humour, moments of recognition, and, indeed, moments of horror, but the overall piece is a delight that certainly never bores. There's some good ensemble acting, too, from the young flatmates.
Although an "inexpensive" first film, it does not look cheap or amateur in any way. This film is as good as any Kiwi film in the genre, and better than the classic "Goodbye Pork Pie" in my opinion. Well done, Duncan and Robert Sarkies.
Into the West (1992)
Gritty, lyrical Irish fable for the whole family
Don't let the cheesy video cover put your off. This is a gem of a family movie that uses a wee bit of magic to pull a dysfunctional Irish family back together. This is not a Disney film. The actors lack Hollywood's plastic sheen and cutesy appeal--they're real and honest, and good. You know from the start that this story will end happily, but there are some interesting surprises along the way, and at the end, you feel like you've just seen a piece of literature, not popcorn entertainment.
I give this film 9/10. My 12-year-old gave it 10/10, and my sometimes-cynical husband acknowledged "Yeah, it's a pretty good movie." That's high praise indeed.
The Deep End of the Ocean (1999)
The Reader's Digest Condensed Version
I saw this movie on a plane in the middle of the night--not ideal viewing conditions--and found it acceptable airplane fare to while away long hours, but nothing remarkable. I'd read the book earlier, so was curious to see how it might be handled as a film. Well...
They followed the book pretty closely, but it's a 400+ page novel. Rather than redevelop the ideas in the story for the tighter format required by the screen, they tried to keep in all the various plot elements and cut out the detail needed to preserve the story's integrity. What a pity.
The question of what happens to a family who loses a child to some unknown person/event is an interesting one worthy of exploration. The twist of having that child found again nine years later opens another can of worms. The book manages to develop the characters of the whole family better than the film, which concentrates on Beth and Sam, but both result in a "too perfect" ending that doesn't really satisfy.
I suspect that the film has a fairly strong appeal for the mature (50+) female audience...but they don't seem to be such keen movie goers. It might do well on TV...
Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Light-hearted fun, but...
Shakespeare in Love was a good movie, and I enjoyed it, but I walked away wondering what all the fuss was about. It's a clever script, the acting is good, the set is superb...but in the end I found it rather "fluffy". And it's up for how many Oscar nominations--11?
Script? Well maybe. It's clever and fun and I think Shakespeare himself would have approved.
Best picture? Best director? I reckon Private Ryan was harder to produce, and so was Elizabeth, and both of those films would get my vote in these categories before this one.
Best actress? Paltrow was good, yes, but her role wasn't that challenging, and her performance can't equal the complexity of Cate Blanchett's in Elizabeth. In fact, I found her rather unattractive as a "lad" and wondered what Will could possibly see in him/her. (I reckon this was a bit of a sop to that handful of Shakespearean scholars who maintain that Will was probably gay...) Judi Dench was only on for a few minutes and didn't do anything other than handle her role and the fine script well...what any quality actor would do.
This film was "low-brow" Shakespearean theatre at its best, and like the original Shakespeare comedies, it seems to be drawing all sorts of people into theatres for a taste of the Bard--and that's great. The whole film--indeed the script--relies heavily on theatrical convention (Stoppard is, after all, best known for his stage plays) and it screens like a lively stage performance. It's fun entertainment with some delightful performances, clever comic touches, and a fine script...but it surely isn't the best the year has to offer.
Deconstructing Harry (1997)
Vulgar, funny, honest, sad, a little bizarre
Woody bares his soul--again--and if the introspective vision of the sad clown (growing old) isn't what you're expecting, the film is likely to be a disappointment. The film is funny, of course, and vulgar (as most Allen movies are), but it's also bitter and cynical, and rather sad.
The jerky jump-cuts might be a stylized editing cover-up for jumping from take to take to utilise the best performances of a pantheon of actors, or they might be planned...I don't know. I had to see a few of them before I settled into accepting them as "the style", but I decided they work in this film.
Other "user comments" complain about Woody and the sexy young women. That bothers me in some films, but not here. Here it's part of Harry's character--part of Woody's "character"--and is clearly part of his problem.
I think this is an honest film, a sad and revealing film about one of the most clever and creative writers in America. It's funny, it's witty, and it's also depressing. It has moments of pure, laugh-out-loud humour (eg. the elevator going down to the bottom floor of hell; Harry arriving at the honouring ceremony with a dead body, a prostitute, and his "kidnapped" son in the car), but underneath it's the story of a man who cannot function happily in real life, only in the fictions he creates. Although fantasy plays a major role in the story, the story is not a fantasy. The parallels between Allen himself and the character and plot he's created here are obvious.
I enjoyed watching this video, and would recommend it-- selectively--to friends. If you like the Allen sense of humour, want to see a fairly unusual editing style used effectively, want to see some superb acting cameos by some very talented actors, or have an interest in the torments of a neurotic middle-aged genius and how they might be revealed on film, then you'll like this movie. If this doesn't sound like your kind of thing, watch something else.
Deep Impact (1998)
A satisfactory Friday night family video
Judging by other comments, most people either hate or love this movie. Well, my family and I thought it was okay. We weren't bored, we weren't moved...but we did talk about it afterwards.
The biggest problem is that it tries to be too many things: a disaster flick, a "realistic" response to crisis, a "people" film, a "science" film, a special-effects film, even a bit of a comedy (at least in spots). It does well with none of these. And in the end, you don't really care that much about the people who end up dead...or the ones that don't.
My 11-year-old raised several questions after it finished, though, which we went on to discuss. What would happen if a meteor or asteroid this big WAS coming towards the earth? Wouldn't a nuclear blast deflect it? It wouldn't take much deflection if you hit it from far enough away, would it? If a big meteor or asteroid hit the ocean, would it make a wave that big? What about earthquakes? If it did make a wave that big, what would happen down here in New Zealand, a long way from the impact portrayed in the film, but where most of the population lives along the coast? And, wouldn't there be a problem with genetic diversity if you took your "ark" animals 2-by-2 as they implied in the film?
And then we went on to talk about the making of the film itself. We all agreed that there were some scenes "missing", like the finding of the computer disk near the beginning, and perhaps one before the first attempt to approach the meteor to build up the anticipation...and we talked about how those scenes were probably written and maybe shot, but somehow ended up on the cutting room floor...and for what reasons. We also talked about the computer graphics manipulation that allows for disaster film special effects like we saw here.
My husband and I give this film a 6--okay for a stay-at-home Friday night video but nothing remarkable. My daughter gave it an 8. I reckon the discussion afterwards was worth the video rental cost, though, and think this is a fine film for science-oriented families who talk about what they watch...there's plenty of fuel for thought.
A tour de force
A brilliant, rich, intelligent film and a tour de force for Cate Blanchett. I was a bit distracted by the constantly-moving cameras at first, though the many aerial shots are quite stylish. Within a few minutes, however, I was so pulled in by the story and the whole set-up that I completely lost track of time, and no longer noticed the swirling cameras. I reckon this is the best film I've seen this year. Two thumbs up.
Oh yes, and having recently seen Ever After, I was struck by the contrast between fairy tale and reality. In a fairy tale the girl gets the guy and the throne and she's happy about it. In reality she trades her youthful freedom and innocence to hold the throne, and loses the guy to fulfill her responsibilities as a just ruler. I suppose that's obvious, but I was still struck by it.
Bread & Roses (1994)
A satisfying budget production
The details listed here show this to be only 90+ minutes (USA), but in NZ it ran over several nights on television and made quite a strong impression on viewers. Made on a budget smaller than some 30-second tv ads, it is still full of solid performances, and it tells an interesting story of a real woman whose life experiences were quite extraordinary.
A particularly apt film for people interested in the early years of the women's movement and/or the Labour Party.
Via Satellite (1998)
A stylish budget film reminiscent of Secrets & Lies
Like a cross between Secrets & Lies and the Australian comedy The Castle, this film puts an "ordinary" (but dysfunctional) suburban family under pressure and under scrutiny, and then lets us sit back and watch what happens. It's a stylishly shot budget film with some excellent moments, and a few real laugh-out-loud scenes.
True, the film's a bit slow in the middle, and there are some small lapses in continuity, but the beginning and ending are good, and the actors all perform well throughout. Danielle Cormack does a particularly fine job as Chrissy/Carol, and Tim Balme is wonderfully quirky as the frustrated and frustrating Ken. This is writer/director Anthony McCarten's first feature film, but no doubt we'll see more of his work.
Incidentally, while walking out of the theatre, I chatted with another viewer who said, "When my daughter was competing in the Olympics, and the tv crew came to film my family, it was nothing like this. It was really exciting. I'm sad this film didn't capture that kind of excitement and good feeling that we all felt watching her compete." Her comment may truly reflect surburban life, but that's not what Via Satellite is about, and McCarten's story explores more interesting issues.
The Truman Show (1998)
Good, but not great.
The Truman Show is a pretty good flick, better than the previews suggest (unless you're a fan of Carey's), but it certainly doesn't live up to all the hype. The second half is better than the first half.
I saw Kolya at the cinema during the film festival here in 1997, and recently rented the video so the rest of my family could see it. The ending may be rather predictable, but the characterization is just magic. Best scenes: Kolya's funeral for the puppet, and the lump-in-the-throat moment when Kolya tries to call his babushka in the bathtub. Give that kid another acting job! A beautiful film. Even if you don't generally watch subtitled films, this one's worth it. My family and I all agree--this is a 10/10 film. They don't come any better.