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lazy cinema, another wasted opportunity
This film really has the cast one usually dreams of. There are so many familiar faces explicitly there that it's easy to overlook several others who are partly masked by their roles as dead people, for example. Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert de Niro both coast through, relaying on their innate magnetism and charisma to make up for the deafening lack of direction and appalling script. Above all else, this is a lazy film. It depends on a trite, cliché-ridden musical score to lift every change of scene and hint at a chase: it really pounds one into submission (not me, I hasten to add) with its feeble, derivative invention. The editing of the film seems almost random. One moves from one strand of the plot to another with the randomness of a game of snakes and ladders. The premise of the story is enchanting; everything was in place for a great fantasy adventure; but first one needs a bit of drive and flair from those in charge. Apart from a few witty moments, not least with Ricky Gervais almost reprising his Office persona, this film is a waste of two hours and a huge sum of money.
Sense & Sensibility (2008)
wonderful cast and settings, but a poor screenplay
I loved the look of this adaptation of the novel and thought almost all the characters were ideally cast. In fact, I can't imagine a better Elinor, and the rest of the Dashwood family was close to ideal. As usual the BBC found lovely settings, though the cottage is too basic to be believable and too close to the sea (!): Austen's concept of a cottage was a great deal more than this (four reception rooms downstairs, I believe). The problem is the screenplay, which trivialises so much of the novel, fails to understand some of its basic premises, and relies on visual titillation at the expense of the dialogue that was much more in evidence in the BBC's generally superior previous attempt. The moral of the story, both implied in this adaptation and explicit in the book, is to do with the dangers of excessive sensibility and not editing your feelings in order to conform to social conditions. It is not to do with what you do being more important than what you feel, as Marianne puts it during her sudden, Stepford-wife transformation to rationality. Her illness is not physical, and certainly has nothing to do with the ridiculous scene in the rain Davies has devised: it is in her mind. The whole point of the story is to show the danger of over-indulging one's feelings and disengaging from society. Davies: read the book again, and even if the book is to be changed, at least be consistent. The end product here was, I believe, a dumbing down of one of the most miraculous stories of the very early nineteenth century.
OK, but a bit flat
The premise is good, the pixels superb, and there is charm in abundance, especially the knowing visual gags, which must often be too deep for children but keep adults on their toes. But the film has serious longeurs. It doesn't really live up to its very promising opening, and the chef villain is a very feeble character -- a real off-the-shelf job. In fact, I think this is colour-by-numbers much of the time. A formulaic, not very imaginative film that looks feeble beside, for example, Antz and the Shrek movies. I don't begrudge the time I spent with it, but given the resources and the background, it could have been much, much better.
Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
mediocre sequel in an otherwise impressive series
This film is horrible. It's a damning indictment of the total lack of imagination and flair in mainstream US cinema now. Almost everything that happens can be termed comic book, from the preposterous invulnerability of the main characters to their lamentable attempts at dialogue. Whatever hint of credible situations occasionally settled into the fabric of the earlier films is replaced now by the most risible, inconceivable denouements. We are used to bad men who can't hit a car with a vast machine gun mounted in a helicopter at near point-blank range, but it's difficult to credit the fact that a little later Bruce Willis launches his car into the air like a guided missile and knocks the helicopter out of the sky! After jumping out of the speeding car he rolls across the highway, gets up, grunts (better than the dialogue to be sure), and starts shooting at the man who miraculously crawls out of the helicopter after it's hit the ground. Well really! And there's no longer any foreplay. The shooting starts almost the instant the film starts and continues at a predictable pace for the next two hours, all carefully doled out to stop morons snoozing after tens minutes without blood and guts. It's terrible entertainment. Humourless, predictable, tension-free, and utterly witless.
Casino Royale (2006)
dour Bond movie, no fun at all
This was a dour and rather serious Bond movie. I guess I like these movies to be fun: the plots are ludicrous, but they become tolerable if they are backed up with entertaining characters and spectacle. This Bond had neither in the quantities I'm used to or that the plot, such as it was, required. Daniel Craig, the new Bond, has two or three expressions, one of which is a bovine grin that is supposed to be the mark of the hard man. He is stretched at one point by a a pretty vile torture scene that was, by any standards, unedifying; but as an actor Craig came through. Into the final act the film fizzles out completely with a lengthy anti-climax that is not seriously lifted by the spectacle in Venice or the damp squib of an ending. We also lose out on the good bits that eke out the slender plot lines of Bond movies, such as the inimitable contribution Judi Dench might have made as M and the usual explanation of new gadgets, which we don't get at all. As for the new seriousness and greater respect for women -- no silhouetted nudity in the opening titles -- that's all very well, but it would have been gratifying to find something taking the place of the usual clichés. I thought this Bond was cold, often dull, and lacking any real narrative drive. Very disappointing.
pretentious, derivative, and hard to follow
This was extraordinarily hard work. My first, and then abiding, impression was of dialogue that was unbelievably unfocused in terms of sound. Over and over again I had to rewind the DVD and retrace a scene in the forlorn hope that the secrets of the plot would be revealed. Even then, the deliberate obscurity of the film failed to deliver sufficient words to make this anything other than an ordeal. Then there was the sheer, unexpurgated, unrelenting pretentiousness of the film -- those long shots of feet and faces with vaguely modern piano music, so derivative of vastly superior French films of the 1970s and 1980s. There were umpteen tedious passages where all we had to contemplate was the wholly charisma-free, almost expressionless (is he really a fish?) face of our hapless lead actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whose personality deficit, in this role, was another nail in the coffin of this endless homage to film noir, Lynch, etc. By the end I neither cared nor understood why he had to reject the wholly inexplicable advances of attractive Norah Zehetner. This film has been well received by some people: if they knew the films that it draws on so poorly and lazily, maybe they would revise their opinion.
An American Haunting (2005)
poorly structured damp squib of a film
After nobody knows how much shock-horror this poorly written film suddenly introduces an unexpected explanation for the horrific spirit visitations on a family of three (one teenage daughter) in a beautifully recreated early nineteenth-century rural American village. Looking back over the film it is hard to find any logical link leading them to this explanation, true events or pure fantasy. But the real problem with this film is that it doesn't know when to stop, start, or develop. After a short build up we are in the thick of the hauntings and they come round over and over again with no sense of increasing or changing narrative implications. After an hour the only thought in my head was how much more mayhem I had to endure. Donald Sutherland is a fine actor and he has his moments as the father of the daughter, who seems to be the chief butt of an angry spirit, but he also sets himself limits that often sit uncomfortably with the excessive goings on around him. As the mother Cissy Spacek gives a wonderfully persecuted performance, and the daughter is evocatively played by Rachel Hurd-Wood, but I wish the director had decided to keep us waiting a bit and obey the old, extremely obvious maxim that the less you see and know, the more frightening it is.
King Kong (2005)
grim, over-long, sentimental reworking of a masterpiece
Heavens preserve us from Hollywood. This crassly over-long version of a much-loved classic droned on for well over an hour beyond what it needed. I thought at the beginning that the extension of the New York preamble was charming, humorous and gloriously acted. It seemed that the scene was set for a good film, but as soon as we set foot in the jungle and we suddenly enter a feeble reworking of Jurassic Park meets The Lost World, all sense of proportion and narrative drive were lost. And though I really don't care about special effects, wasn't the endless and boring chase involving the dinosaurs and film team pretty pathetic by modern standards? I thought it made the film look at least ten years old, and in fact Spielberg had this stuff nailed anyway. The sentimental relationship between Kong and Ann Darow was not only extended to such an extent that I thought the scenes would never end, I also felt that her pursuit of the great ape rendered a touching but edgy relationship in the original absurd in this ham-fisted remake. The director milks these scenes for all they're worth and seems incapable of editing and tightening his dramatic structures. What an outrageous waste of a superb cast (Naomi Watts -- Ann and Jack Black -- Denham are wonderful in it) and massive budget. Hollywood needs to get back some style, a sense of timing, economy, and above all else it really has to get over this idea that we need action every five minutes or so. It's tedious beyond belief.
Rumor Has It... (2005)
dull script, poor acting, grievous sentimentality, few laughs
This is a real soggy evening out. A stinker of the first order. I can't believe I spent $10 on it. Cute though Jennifer Aniston is in the lead role, which involves her discovery that her mother and grandmother were -- or might have been -- co-participants in The Graduate, I still don't think that she can lead a film. She is too passive, too much in need of regular makeovers, to get the desired effect. Maybe if she were given a good script she would be better, because we know how devastating she could be in Friends when the writing was often white hot; but in this drivel, clumsily directed by Rob Reiner, would you believe?, she doesn't stand a chance. As for Shirly MacLaine's playing of the grandmother, who could believe that a once-great actress would allow herself to become such a gauche caricature of herself. Cringe-inducing stuff. The best came from the father, Richard Jenkins, and there was the occasional hint that Kevin Kostner, as the Dustin Hoffman character, might be worth a comeback. All of these people might have worked if there had been any staying power in the screenplay, but it petered out after 30 minutes and there was nothing but a formulaic, dreary, repetitive, over-acted, crassly sentimental rendering of the love triangle to fall back on. Bob Reiner should be ashamed. Awful!
Batman Begins (2005)
cold, disappointing movie
Now here's the problem for me. I'd looked forward to this film after some very good reviews and a terrific score at IMDb, but after a while I seriously began to wonder where the emotional heart of the movie was. To be frank, I don't like this man batman one little tiny bit. Of course, we can see how his world was turned upside down as a boy, and the murder of his parents haunts him. But what a cold fish he is. Without a sense of where his emotions are concealed I simply couldn't empathise with him as a passionate advocate of the poor people against the corrupt and the cruel. Indeed, when he is knocking the baddies around I couldn't find much difference between him and them. I'd also heard there was a sense of fun in this film alongside the dark, Gothic sets. So where was it? Humour, passion, dramatic development. All missing. A big disappointment.