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Nervy, edgy, desolate view of Edinburgh youth...
...I'm sure that this is what was intended with this film but it never quite makes the grade. The video film stock is unsettling at first but easy to get used to and if anything adds a little realism. The use of the club music also works well in the first half of the film and should have been used more. It could have formed an interesting background to the supposed heightened emotion felt by the characters in the remainder of the story.
The three leads are, for all intents and purposes, people you think you could get used to watching on screen, all apparently likable in their own way, but they do not exude any chemistry, especially when playing against each other. Most scenes last far too long and are drawn out with morbid, self-reflexive examinations that would probably almost work with better editing and a faster pace to the film.
It's low budget, sure, but that doesn't have to mean low quality.
Melinda and Melinda (2004)
Witty, incisive, refreshing
This film probably marks the crucial point where Woody Allen takes one step back and lets others take over the Woody persona of a typical Allen film. It's happened before, in Celebrity and Anything Else, but now the lead characters can breathe as themselves without having to essentially 'be Woody'. Sure the resemblances are still there but more in the situations than in the characters. Will Ferrell displays proper comic timing and Jonny Lee Miller tries valiantly with what he's given. The script sparkles with more one-liners than most recent efforts and an appropriate return of the 'lust for life' motif seen in earlier films such as Hannah and Her Sisters or Everyone Says I Love You. If you don't appreciate that comic situations are both sad and full of life, and that tragedy has a fair share of unexpected delights as well as heartache, than you're definitely missing the point. Woody displays both of these in equal quantity spread liberally throughout the film in all situations. And so what if the end plays more like a series of sketches than a full-on film? It's the mark of a master than can make us enjoy what we see regardless of narrative form. 8 out of 10.
Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003)
Fascinating Los Angeles
Most people are going to say 'whoa!' at the running time for this lengthy (3 and a bit hours) documentary but it is one of the most fascinating films you can see on the subject of Los Angeles (certainly not L.A.). Andersen's monotone voice does not grate or bore and is scripted well not to tell too much or too little about the city. The running time, as any film or LA aficionado will appreciate, is not nearly enough time to fit in all that could be said, or shown, about the city, people, buildings, spaces, representations but he does very well with condensing what he has gathered.
Many critics have argued that the poor quality (it is entirely on video) of a lot (even the most recent) footage lets the piece down slightly which is true if the viewer is to appreciate the wide landscapes but matters not where he is simply trying to illustrate an oft-repeated point. People will say 'what about 'The Couch Trip' or 'where's 'Beverley Hills Cop' but this is just nit-picking a fine achievement and a labour of love that Andersen has fortunately been able to share with the world. Even if you haven't been to Los Angeles you'll love this trip through the movies.
The Portrait of a Lady (1996)
Tap, Tap, Tap
Much emphasis here on the tapping of shoes on paving stones as people hurry from one sadness to another, each one in turn deeper than the last. All in all a pleasant enough film slightly spoiled by the use of the old cinema reel-style interlude for the main character's adventures during 1873. This is 1873 after all - before the invention of cinema - and there is no reason given to believe we are living beyond this period i.e. in someone else's remembrances. Much strain and inaudible mumbling but eventually a satisfying glimpse into the pressures of a lady (with money) in the nineteenth century.
Go, boy, go
In the tradition of overtly sentimental and feel-good movies from Hollywood, Seabiscuit makes a good stab at becoming the ultimate horse movie (if ever there was such a thing). It appears right that sentiment is consigned to stolid lip-biting and mute scenes of grief but less pleasing that any feel-good factor is replaced by only small doses of excitement and wisps of knowledge from the spin-king Bridges. Having said this however, Seabiscuit is a very credible movie cheapened only by the narration that appears to gloss other great swathes of the history of the horse. There must be more to know about this seemingly amazing horse? What we get instead is the lives of the jockey, the trainer, and the owner. Each in their own way moving, but each also in fits and starts. Bridges and Maguire's lives are covered in depth but Chris Cooper's admirable part is left to hang in the wind and we never really know what motivates him. The result being that too many strands are forced together. Admittedly, most of these work very nicely but they contrive to give the film an extended running time. Happily however, the film does not peak too early and leaves enough for a pleasing dash down the final straight.
None But the Lonely Heart (1944)
Everything with a kiss
This ernest turn at portraying Cockney life quickly becomes a fascinating story with strong characterisation. The initial narration, a touch overdone, gives a tantalising glance at future events that never appear in the film. At first, Grant seems to be playing his part with a strange over-zealous streak but we rapidly understand that this is the nature of his Ernie Mott (like Nic Cage in Wild at Heart, this is a man with clothes that represent his sense of independence), a happy-go-lucky character with a brooding sense of social injustice. Everything bad comes with a dose of sugar, a kiss if you like, to sweeten the experience and make life seem better than it really is. This is one of those pictures that plays out like a languishing soap opera - insightful and compassionate with moments of excitement - just enough to keep 'Ma' happy. This would probably work today as a remake but I suspect the directors would play up the sex and violence to such a level that the real essence of 'want and need' would be lost. Worth watching.
The Ninth Gate (1999)
Lets you down slowly...
For all the slow promise of the Ninth Gate, it can never really deliver. It's on the cusp of a good mystery, on the edge of a good drama, and very nearly an eerie follow up in the tradition of The Omen. Polanski does his best, as does Depp, but sadly this becomes little more than a disappointment by the final scenes.
In the Cut (2003)
Mining a deep vein
Not one of the finest films about suspicion simply because of the enforced red herrings and the predictable direction of the plot. Ryan and Ruffalo are good in their roles, with the former portraying just the right level of anxiety to leave the audience knowing more about her state of mind than the character herself. The background of each character is suitably sketchy and this adds to the messed-up nature of their current lives. Everyone lies to themselves, and this film more than any other excels in showing how deep these falsehoods can cut.
Mystic River (2003)
A river runs through it?
Mystic River is slow and clunky to say the least - it moves with grandeur but at a snail's pace and really only delivers in the acting department. Sean Penn is excellent, as is Tim Robbins, whereas as everyone else seems to be putting in an appearance to earn the cheque at the end of the day.
It's saved from being a predictable film by the level of acting. Even when you know what's ahead you're pretty much engrossed by some emotional bludgeoning from some character or other. The underlying tension - the events, unshockingly portrayed at the beginning of the film, slowly burn inside of Tim Robin's head but we never really get to sample the uncertainty he holds within. Perhaps this is meant to reflect the messed-up nature of the character but it simply comes across as confused.
The end is strange too - as if it was added to please someone - and it really gives nothing to the previous events. A worthy film that says more about family ties and laying ghosts to rest than any other subject matter it may have thought it was explaining.
You're just willing them to get the words correct from the word go. Eight young lives are followed in a variety of ways, from their regional finals, home preparation and the memory-aiding techniques they use, to the big Spelling Bee event itself. Mesmerizing from start to finish Spellbound is one of the most likeable documentaries of recent years. Simply put together, though it's obvious a lot of work has gone into this, it delves just deep enough to gain an insight into the family issues and backgrounds surrounding these youngsters. Eight of a kind become 249 of a kind, and all of them at least happy to have had the experience of trying. If you don't think this is for you, think again and go ahead and rent the video or visit your local cinema. You won't be disappointed. A gem.