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541 reviews in total 
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Brick Lane (2007)
4 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
A migrant experience we can relate to, 31 March 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Britain and Ireland were source countries for mass migration in the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries, but in the second half of the 20th some imperial chickens came home to roost. Thus there are over a million British citizens of Indian birth or descent, the majority being Muslims. The crowded London Borough of Tower Hamlets, where this film is largely set, has, according to Wikipedia, a population which is 36% Muslim, many of whom hail from what is now Bangladesh.

This is the story from Monica Ai's novel of one migrant from a Bengal village, Nazneen (Tannishtha Chatterjee), who, after the death of her mother (an unexplained suicide), is, at the age of 16, married off to Chanu, a man twice her age who has migrated earlier from the village to England. They settle down in a tiny council flat in Brick Lane in the East End of London and by 2001 they have two teenage daughters (having lost a son as an infant). Chanu, grossly fat and only intermittently employed despite being an "educated man" who can quote Thackeray on demand, initially comes across as a blustering bully. But we find there is more to him than that, and we end up sympathizing with him too.

Nazneen, despite Chanu's objection, takes in sewing work from Karim (Christopher Simpson), a young man who runs a small clothing factory. She and Karim become friends, and then lovers. Nazneen, however, is after emancipation, not another subservient relationship.

The idyllic flashbacks to life in Bengal are touched with nostalgia but the close at hand, almost claustrophobic, portrayal of life in Brick Lane is grittily realistic. The New York and Washington terror attacks have considerable impact on the local Muslim community and both Karim and Chanu get involved in efforts to deal with the anti-Muslim backlash.

Tannishtha Chatterjee's very Indian style of acting (which seems to owe a lot to silent films) emphasizes how exotic she is in her East End environment. Yet at the end she discovers she has made the jump and is indeed a Londoner, one who still prays to Allah.

For the film, the story has been truncated and Nazneen's back story is reduced to a few flashbacks and what transpires from her correspondence with her sister who has remained in Bengal. The tone of the film is quiet but intense – these are people leading lives of quiet desperation – but it ends on an optimistic note.

It was interesting that local opposition in Brick Lane forced the director, Sarah Gavron, to shoot elsewhere. At least the film did not suffer the fate of "Water", another excellent movie on an Indian theme, which was banned in India and Pakistan. It seems some residents saw the book as portraying the community in a poor light. In fact it's quite the opposite – if a film can lead people to a better understanding of the world, this one will.

75 out of 107 people found the following review useful:
Lumet does Tolstoy, 23 March 2008

Sydney Lumet hasn't had a box office hit in 20 years and yet at 83 has managed to churn out a tight, well-cast, suspenseful thriller set in his old stamping ground, New York City. (How he got insurance, let alone the budget after all those flops, is a mystery also). The story is a pretty grim one and the characters are not particularly likable but it held me on the edge of my seat till the final scene.

Two brothers with pressing financial problems conspire to rob a suburban jewelry store owned by their elderly parents. The only victim is going to be the insurance company. The robbery goes awry and two people die. Most of the film is concerned with the aftermath. The action is non-linear and seen from the main character's differing points of view, but it is not difficult to follow. What is not so easy to work out is the back story – how did the brothers get into such a mess? There are clues – the younger brother being the baby of the family is his fathers' favorite while the older brother seems to be carrying a lot of baggage about his relationship with his father, and vice versa, but that hardly accounts for him becoming a heroin-using murdering embezzler.

As the scheming older brother, a corpulent Philip Seymour Hoffman dominates the film, but he is well supported by Ethan Hawke as his bullied, inadequate younger brother. Albert Finney as their father seems to be in a constant state of rage but then the script calls for that. Marisa Tomei as the older brother's cheating wife at the age of 42 puts in the sexiest performance I've seen in many a year. The film literally starts with a bang, but we are out of that comfort zone pretty quickly.

I don't know the origins of this story by first time scriptwriter Kelly Masterton but I suspect that like Lumet's great 70's film "Dog Day Afternoon" it is based on fact – it's too silly to be untrue. Lumet is just about the last of those immensely versatile old-time craftsman studio directors who with immense speed were able to direct just about anything that was put in front of them. Some great films were produced that way as well as some classic turkeys. This isn't a classic of either sort – it's a well-crafted piece of downbeat entertainment. It will probably leave you feeling that you were lucky not be a member of a family as dysfunctional as this one, but still wondering as to how they got that way. We do know the parents were happy but we see so little of the mother and hear so little about her it is impossible pick up on her relationship with the boys. (There is also a daughter whose presence seems redundant). Well, like Tolstoy, we have to conclude that "each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way".

60 out of 69 people found the following review useful:
A plea for understanding of a mysterious condition, 16 March 2008

It's a pity this film will not be more widely seen. It is an authentic demonstration of what it's like to live with one of the most enigmatic of mental disorders, autism, which afflicts about one person in 1000 (the more common and milder Asperger's syndrome affects about 6 in every thousand). Elissa Down, the maker of the film, has personal experience – two of her brothers are autistic – and with the aid of some truly accomplished acting she avoids cheap dramatics and conveys some genuine feeling.

The family portrayed has its eccentricities but you could not describe it as dysfunctional. Dad (Eric Thompson) and Mum (Tony Collette) not only have a strong love for their autistic teenager Charlie (Luke Ford) but they have learned to cope with his behaviour. The dramatic tension comes from younger brother Thomas (Rhys Wakefield) who loves the brother he has grown up with but finds the effect Charlie's' behaviour has on other people hard to take. Charlie has a few less than endearing habits like throwing tantrums at supermarket checkouts and bursting into other people's houses to use their toilet. The general adolescent horror of people who are different doesn't help much either – having a "spastic" as a brother is not good for the image. Yet Thomas's developing relationship with neighbour and fellow lifesaving squad member Jackie (Gemma Ward) gets a positive push from his situation.

As director, Elissa Down has a nice light touch, and the prejudice and distaste the family have to deal with are neatly sketched in. There are plenty of amusing moments; when a fight breaks out in a bus queue outside a high school several male teachers try ineffectually to stop it and it is the tiny but determined female lifesaving coach who, furiously blowing her whistle, restores order. Tough army NCO Dad holds conversations with his teddy bear and the two brothers wind up on stage together as dancing monkeys after Charlie's original partner throws a tantrum.

It has been suggested that autism, which has a strong genetic component, is a variation on normal rather than a defect, but its severely disabling nature means it has to be regarded as a malfunction. Autistic savants with freakish mathematic powers a la "Rainman" are extremely rare. People with mild forms of autism can function quite well in society, but Charlie is not one of those and will require care for the rest of his life. All this film is asking is for a little understanding of the pressures on families who have to support people like Charlie. I wish one of the commercial channels would show this in prime time instead of the usual reality show crap.

3 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
A train journey for the spirit, 12 March 2008

"Another cup of tea dear? It's Darjeeling." I've forgotten which aunt used to tempt me so, but she would not have been aware that though only 10,000 tonnes of Darjeeling tea are produced each year, about 40,000 tonnes are actually sold. This film is not about Darjeeling either. It is about families and travel and their effect on one's psychological state.

Following the death of their father, Francis, Peter and Jack Whitman from an affluent but dysfunctional New York family are brought together by Francis (Owen Wilson) for a train trip in India on board the "Darjeeling Limited". The initially undisclosed objective is a reunion with their mother (Angelica Huston) who has become a nun in an Indian convent but Francis bills it as a spiritual healing experience. Each is carrying a lot of personal baggage – Francis recently nearly killed himself (possibly deliberately) in a motor cycle accident, Peter (Adrian Brody) is on the point of leaving his wife just as she is about to have their baby and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) is getting over a recent break-up. Naturally they bicker and fight and eventually get turfed off the train. The journey continues however, and it becomes even more eventful.

Wes Anderson's India is indeed a fantasy, but quite a realistic one. The train attendants are a model of civility in the face of the Americans' increasingly oafish behaviour. The train's décor is delightful and the service excellent, though having it off with one of the passengers (Jack is desperate) is probably not in the attractive female attendant's job description. Alas, no such train exists - the real railway to Darjeeling in West Bengal is a 2 feet gauge "Toytrain" which lacks both a dining car and sleepers. The film turns more serious after the ejection from the train, and the "ugly Americans" become less offensive. In the end, we almost finish up liking, or at least understanding them.

Despite taking a dislike to the brothers Whitman (why Whitman – a reference to Walt the poet?) at the start I enjoyed the journey and was impressed by all the main performances. Owen Wilson as Francis is particularly good – a big brash brat nearly at the end of his tether. I also enjoyed Angelica Huston as the Mother very superior.

Anderson makes great use of the desert scenery of Rajasthan (which is nowhere near West Bengal). I liked the sight gags – Bill Murray as the platform-running businessman, the 11 pieces of matching "elephant" motif luggage etc and I liked the respect shown for Indian culture. Travel may or may not broaden the mind, but it can provide some excitement, and there is plenty of that here.

The version I saw had the 10 minute prequel "Hotel Chevalier" in which Jason has an unsatisfactory encounter with his girlfriend in Paris. I thought I had walked into the wrong film to start with, but it makes sense eventually.

Priceless (2006)
4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
cinematic soufflé, 3 March 2008

Audrey Tautou as Irene does her gamin number ably partnered by poker-faced comic Gad Elmaleh as Jean. The setting is the haunts of the filthy rich on the French Riviera. She is a shameless gold-digger, he is a bartender, and when she mistakes him for a rich quarry, he falls in love with her. Lots of posh hotels and restaurants, a fancy party and generally opulent living by the undeserving rich, who think that youth and beauty are for sale The problem of course from the viewer's aspect is that someone like Irene, no matter how attractive, is very hard to like, especially as she continues to bleed Jean after she has discovered he's not rich. Nicely paced and entertaining, but essentially a cinematic soufflé.

1 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Charlie's foreign policy disaster, 2 March 2008

As entertainment this film succeeds well. Tom Hanks is always engaging and he does a good job here as a larrikin (Australian for good natured tearaway) congressman from Texas, who in the 1980s managed to cause the US to arm the Mujahadeen, the rebel groups fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, with some effective weapons. There is a certain satirical bent evident but, inasmuch as it is based on a true story the film provides plenty of ammunition for critics of US foreign policy in the last 20 years. The experts are ignored and weapons deployment is organized by a Texas socialite and a playboy congressman.

The results speak for themselves – Charlie Wilson and his friends ended up arming the Taliban and 20 years later Afghanistan is still not at peace, though there are many other reasons for this state of affairs. The movie makers admit this at the end of the movie, but this is after portraying Charlie's part in the story as a merry romp through the spa baths and bedrooms of American high society. If this is the way foreign policy is made in the US we are all in deep trouble.

Charlie's dealings with the CIA, who gave him a medal for his work, are, in the film at least, conducted largely through the maverick agent Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman). This is a problem since Gust has little standing in the agency. In fact, Gust is a bit of a spare wheel, despite his droll exchanges with Wilson and others, which is why Hoffman's performance falls somewhat flat. Much of the wheeling and dealing with the Israelis, Pakistanis and others is merely alluded to and at the end of the day you are still left wondering how Charlie did it. The scenes of the relevant congressional committee meetings (Charlie's influence stems from his membership of two important defense committees) are equally frustrating. We see the results of Charlie's efforts but not the process by which they were achieved.

Aaron Sorkin wrote the script, so there are plenty of good one-liners. He and director Mike Nichols give the film plenty of sparkle (it's worth the price of admission to see Julia Roberts wearing almost nothing) but this is really the sad and sorry story of a major US foreign policy failure. Well, it could have been worse – Charlie Wilson the Musical anyone?

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Snoozing with Jane Austen, 2 March 2008

One of the male characters in this movie thinks an Austen is a car, quite remarkable really as Austins (deeply mediocre cars once made in England) have not been sold in the US for thirty years. Nevertheless Jane Austen, who published her last book about 180 years ago, is still read even in California.

The Jane Austen Book Club comes about through the efforts of much-married Bernadette (Kathy Baker) to console her kennel-owning friend Jocelyn (Maria Bello) who has lost a favorite dog. Other members are Sylvia (Amy Brenneman), whose lawyer husband (Jimmy Smits) has gone off with a co-worker, her lesbian daughter Allegra, teacher Prudie (Emily Blunt) who is neglected by her husband and fancies one of her students Trey (Kevin Zegers), and one male, Grigg (Hugh Dancy with a good American accent), a successful businessman and science fiction fan who Jocelyn is trying to get interested in Sylvia but who actually fancies control freak Jocelyn herself.

The group plow through all six Austen novels, which come to be seen by them as lessons in manners. In one surreal scene Prudie is about to cross a road to join her possible teenage paramour who is waiting outside a motel for her. The traffic light, instead of "Walk" reads "What would Jane do". Naturally "Don't Walk" follows.

With eight or nine main characters, including Sylvia's aging hippie mother and nightmare house guest (Lynn Redgrave), it is a tight fit in 105 minutes to get all their stories in, but in adapting Karen Fowler's book first time director Robin Swicord covers the ground quite efficiently. The film is not so much about the novels as about the group of friends; after all we know what happens to the Austen heroines, but the fates of the club members is up in the air.

Channel 4 in Scotland did something similar in their 2002-03 series "The Book Group" (with a lonely American in Glasgow starting the group), but this film does not match the hilarity of that series. It is pleasant to watch and you don't need to know much about the novels to understand what's happening, but it's a bit of a snooze, and I'm afraid I don't buy Jane Austen as a marriage counsellor. After all, she never got to the altar herself. As for Jimmy Smits becoming a latter day Austen fan – I can't suspend my disbelief that far.

3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
An oilman's story well if slowly told, 24 February 2008

Director Paul Thomas Anderson, "inspired" by Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel "Oil" and the career of Californian wildcatter Ed Doheny, has combined with the fine British actor Daniel Day Lewis to produce a truly remarkable character, Daniel Plainview, oil wildcatter and horrible human being. While Sinclair, a lifelong socialist, attacked capitalism overtly, Anderson is more subtle; he concentrates on the effect that the unbridled lust for wealth has on one man.

We are told little about Daniel Plainview's background. He came to the West from Fond du Lac,Wisconsin (as did Doheny), probably off a small farm, spent some time working for the US Geological Survey, where he picked up some expertise in mineral location, and by the time the film opens (1898) he is mining for silver in New Mexico. Mining was and is a hard, dangerous business, and when one of his employees is killed in an accident Daniel takes custody of the man's infant son. Daniel strikes oil and by 1913 has several producing wells. His big break comes when Paul Sunday (Paul Dano), a farm boy from Southern California estranged from his dirt-poor evangelical family, tells him about oil seeping from the ground. Daniel swoops down on the family, buys their miserable property, starts drilling and hits a gusher. But this wealth is not without its costs.

Daniel, who admits to his erstwhile "brother" that he dislikes most people, is a driven man who will do anything including murder to achieve his goals, and he makes John D. Rockefeller Senior, the ruthless founder of Standard Oil, look like a gentleman. Starting out as a small time wildcatter he eventually aligns himself with the big boys, Union Oil of California, having been exquisitely rude to their opposition, Standard Oil. But wealth does not buy him happiness; by 1927 he has come to resemble Charles Foster Kane, alone in his huge mansion (in fact the one Doheny built for his son), alcoholic, rejecting his son, and in despair.

This saga is told in a leisurely fashion and some viewers will find the pace (stately) and length (2 hours 40 minutes) daunting. Daniel Day Lewis creates an enormously forceful character though we are left to work out for ourselves how he got that way. His Daniel is not religious though he pays lip service to the evangelicals along the way. His "spiritual" opponent, the Sunday's other son Eli (also played by Paul Dano), a Pentecostal preacher, turns out to be two-faced and the film ends in a final confrontation between the two.

I'm not sure who the villain is meant to be - atheists and believers can both be ruthless capitalists – it's up to the rest of us to make sure they do not get out of hand. Even so, the film is an impressive achievement from a director previously known for small, quirky movies like "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia". The cinematography is wonderful – you can also smell the oil - and the musical score atmospheric. Above all, the film captures the mood of the times. Now, of course we have to stop burning the stuff.

Familiar but well told story, 19 February 2008

Gangster movies usually bore me witless ("The Godfather" and "The Sopranos" apart), but Ridley Scott is an interesting director and the story here is derived from real events. The style of the film is busy – there is often far more going on the tightly edited scenes than the viewer can take in at once - but as it progresses things fall into place and the two parallel stories of Harlem drug lord Frank Lucas and incorruptible New Jersey detective Richie Roberts eventually merge. As Lucas, Denzil Washington puts in his usual solid performance, and Russell Crowe, with a rather less interesting character- the only thing unusual about him is that he is an honest copper- fits the role perfectly. What is more, he speaks every line audibly, an object lesson to some of today's fashionable actors who all seem to think they are Brando. The gang members here, though, just about need sub-titles, and there are so many it is difficult to keep track of who's who.

Much of the story – set in the period 1968 to 1974 – is familiar to those of us around at the time – US army personnel smuggling pure heroin from SE Asia back to the US of A in coffins, police corrupted by the vast amounts of money involved, the rise of black crime bosses. The movie doesn't dig too far into motivation – greed is accepted as sufficient. Frank Lucas's gang operates as a family business, with five brothers and numerous cousins in the organization but he keeps almost all the money for himself, resenting paying even $10,000 a month to bent coppers while amassing $250 million in offshore bank accounts. His boldest ploy was to cut out the middleman and buy pure heroin direct from a surprisingly urbane ex-Kuomintang general hiding in a remote South-East Asian jungle (probably Burma). His customers got Frank's "Double Blue" heroin at twice the strength for half the price. This of course killed more people, but Frank never seems to be short of customers.

Without giving the game away it can be said that Richie is fairly successful in his efforts against the heroin trade, but others, some selling other drugs, sprang up to take Frank's place. Ridley Scott doesn't go into the issue, but this story clearly shows the futility of treating drug abuse as a criminal law rather than a public health problem. Unfortunately the puritanical origins of the United States are still reflected in public attitudes towards addiction. The addict is a sinner and must suffer to be redeemed. Punishment is more important than rehabilitation, and drug dealers are beyond the pale altogether (actually I would go along with the last bit as long as it included tobacco company executives). Anyway, as I said, Ridley Scott stays clear of the issue. He gives us a familiar story, cleverly framed and well presented.

Juno (2007)
2 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Cheerful teen in trouble comedy, 28 January 2008

Juno (Emily Page), a feisty High School junior in a modest Minnesota suburb, manages at 16 to get pregnant at her first try with boyfriend Beeker (Michael Cera). Abortion? Natch. Adoption? There's got to be some nice couple out there needing a baby. Sure, there is, Vanessa and Graham, the seemingly perfect Yuppie Couple who've advertised in the Pennysaver. Dad (JJ Simmons) and Step Mum Brenda (Allison Janney) are warmly supportive, but of course things don't quite go to plan.

This film is of course the little movie that could, a US $3m movie that grossed $70 million in four weeks (alas, mostly for Rupert Murdoch's Fox Searchlight company). It caused quite a stir – just look at the message board on this website, there are 5000 posts at least. It's nice it is so popular because it's well-scripted (by first –timer Diabolo Cody), well acted and generally cheerful to watch. At the same time it dodges the "long term" issue – the effect on a birth mother of separation from her child, and for that matter the effect on the child.

Emily Page, helped by the sparkling script, is terrific, and I really enjoyed Alison Janney ("CJ" in West Wing") as the definitely not wicked stepmother. Jason Reitman proved he can do quirky comedy in Thank You for Smoking and shows it again here. We might have teenage sexuality house trained but accidents are still going to happen. To me, adoption outside the family circle, noble as it may be, is "second best" parenting, and should only be resorted to where there is no real alternative. As for abortion, well I'm pro-choice, but that includes saying no as well as yes.

It's interesting that this movie was shot in British Columbia, with a Canadian actress in the lead. Maybe it was cheaper, or maybe it was to forestall pro-lifer demonstrators (who are not always as charming as the one in the film). Anyway, I wouldn't have thought pro-lifers will have anything to quarrel with here. The Academy won't either.

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