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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.
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.
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.
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.