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Life on Mars (2006)
Very promising start
There are some shows which sound dodgy on paper but prove themselves to be better than they sound. Life on Mars is not one of those shows. It starts with such a fantastic concept - 21st Century Police Officer goes back to the 70s - that everyone involved must have known they had a chance of making something truly great. While the first episode was not perfect - in particular the opening 10 minutes was overly crammed with exposition masquerading as dialogue - it is already fulfilling much of its initial promise. As well as the superb production values that one would expect from the producers of Spooks and Hustle, this show has set up two intriguing ongoing mysteries both of which ought to be well worth watching unspool over the next seven weeks.
Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
How rarely do we see romantic comedies where we can truly empathise with the feelings of both leads? How rare is it for us to see a romantic comedy where we do not know how things will end after 5 minutes. Paul Thomas Anderson has fashioned a film that is littered with hilarious moments and is more romantic than a thousand "She's All Thats".
With this film Adam Sandler proves he can really act. In many ways he plays the stock Adam Sandler character - quiet, shy, prone to sudden and uncontrollable fits of violence - but the effect is both more subtle and actually funnier than in his previous films.
Much has been made of Anderson's stated decision to make a short film. Well he does it the right way. Punch Drunk Love concentrates wholeheartedly on the 2 leads and so the supporting characters are just that. They are shown because they exert some influence on the lives of the leads.
This is a romantic comedy that is actually romantic and funny. How often can you truly say that?
Hable con ella (2002)
Another amazing work by an outstanding writer-director. Pedro Almodovar is a genius and this is his latest masterpiece. The film within a film is hilarious. At times Hable con ella is unbearably poignant, at others it's witty, at others blackly comic. Great movies teach us something about life and something about film. Hable con ella is a great film.
Ghost World (2001)
Mature, intelligent and haunting (but in a good way)
Movies that criticise the world can fall into many traps, leaving the viewer to feel jaded by the film's experience. Ghost World's witty appraisal of 'America' successfully avoids being childishly caustic or self-important and thus emerges as one of the best films of 2001. We sympathise with Enid (the luscious Thora Birch) without being expected to completely believe that her cynical world-view is necessarily the right one. Enid's (and her best-friend Rebecca's)negativity is turned on all around them, and their obsessive need to be cool but on their own terms sees them take post-modernism to its absurd conclusion.
Enid's bizarre costume choices mean that she stands out from the rest of her baggy-panted generation, and in one scene is infuriated that no-one, even Rebecca, understands her 'original 1977 punk look' she's testing out.
The fact that we should not fully empathise with Enid is shown by the contrasting character arc of Rebecca. There is a definite sense that she grows up over the course of the movie, but not in a "what have we learned about life" Disney way. Perhaps she has sold out to the conservative ideals that seemed so repulsive to them at the beginning of the movie, but just as Enid ultimately fulfils her desires, so does Becky live out her 'seventh grade fantasy'. The important thing is not the choices people make, but whether they make choices with which they are happy.
The movie's main targets are people who betray themselves in an effort to fit in, and their resulting stupidity by doing so. But the people who have remained true to their values (like Steve Buscemi's Seymour, in a performance that should have been at least nominated for an Academy Award), are portrayed as leading equally vacuous lives. Seymour's infrequent attempts to achieve 'normality' are galling for us to observe, and near soul-destroying for him to experience.
This is an excellent movie. Thora Birch gives her most confident performance to date, and Scarlett Johansson is superbly laconic as Enid's icy side-kick. The supporting cast all shine. Strongly recommended!
Internal Affairs (1990)
Great acting, shame about the film
Richard Gere and Andy Garcia are both great in this and some have even gone as far as to argue that it was the combination of this film and Pretty Woman in 1990 that rescued Gere's career. Despite this, the film is a big disappointment. The most interesting idea that this film offers is that the illegal methods that Gere's character uses do bring fantastic results. He is known as the most productive cop on the force. However this idea is tossed aside as quickly as it appears and the film becomes a simple "good cop gets his man" film. If the film had made this obvious from the start then it could have been more enjoyable but it is the fact that it misses a great opportunity that makes it such a disappointment.
American Beauty (1999)
The Most overrated movie of the 90s
I went to see American Beauty with high hopes. At the time it was hotly tipped for Oscar glory and had received fantastic reviews in the US and the UK. This was obviously an ambitious film. It tried to make incisive points about American society, art, beauty and freedom of self-expression. Most of these were bungled. We are supposed to sympathise (or even empathise) with Kevin Spacey's character and yet Annette Bening is a figure of ridicule. Surely her character who is still "trapped" in the materialism of the American dream who is the real victim. If you want to watch a great film with a similar theme, watch Fight Club. Ultimately American Beauty has some funny moments but it is nowhere near the equal of the film that "inspired" it - Sunset Boulevard. For a film that is supposed to be so ground-breaking, American Beauty is far too cliched and far to derivative.