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The Hours (2002)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Elegant, fascinating melodrama invigorates with splendour., 19 September 2003

Diseases? Check. Feministic over-tones? Check. Lesbianism? Check. Meryl Streep? Check. This seems like the perfect recipe for `lurid chick-flick-of-the-week', but `The Hours' is something far deeper and captivating. Two immediate thumbs-up for originality. Not only does David Hare adapt the famous story by Virginia Woolf; he also intertwines two different stories that criss-cross in the most engaging style possible. Each story gets a rousing treatment with an equal proportion of attention divided among them.

The first takes us to 1923, New England where mentally unstable novelist Virginia Woolf is writing `Mrs. Dalloway'. In the second, Laura Brown, an unhappy housewife is reading the book in Hollywood in 1951. In the third, Clarissa Vaughn finds herself becoming the character in modern day Manhattan. British director brings the movie depth and meaning as the plots unfold and interact in a thoroughly earnest and believable manner. Of course there are those that complain that the film is made up of a series of `they'll show this clip for my Oscar nomination' moments, but this isn't enough to really hold a grudge against it. Okay, perhaps it is manipulative in that sense but it was hardly intentional.

Technical credits are surprisingly terrific all round. In particular, the silky, brazen editing cleverly switches from one scene to the other with the just right amount of emphasis on key elements. Scenery, cinematography and costume designs are spectacular as well. Though hardly breath-taking compared to `Chicago' and `Gangs of New York', the alternating sets are magnificently detailed. Such is the case with the image of Hollywood in 1951. Always sunny and seductive, there is a perfect overbearing of cleanliness in the idyllic household and crystal clear roads. The solemnities of the plots really go right to the core. The subtext is hidden far enough to consider the film `sophisticated' and every little detail, no matter how irrelevant is chosen for a reason.

But the main power is generated by the host of superlative performances. Nicole Kidman of course won an Oscar for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf (not to mention the heavy prosthetics). Though the performance is convincing, it is too small to consider in the `Best Actress' category. Meryl Streep gives the expected fine delivery and is as mesmerising as one would come to expect. It must have been tough for Julianne Moore to pull off her part. Mainly because she has played the same variation on the `disillusioned wife' character so many times. But she really makes this role her own, totally different from her character in say, `Magnolia', thus she is a brilliant character actress. Support is noteworthy all across the board from the likes of Miranda Richardson, John C. Reilly and Jeff Daniels; the best supporting turn coming from Ed Harris.

Under-rated and often misunderstood, `The Hours' is as subtly commendable as its haunting musical score with a shock ending to achieve the considerable impact. Easily one of the Top 5 best pictures of the year. My IMDb rating: 8.0/10

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Frivolous, satisfying rom-com, but bog-standard for all that., 12 September 2003

It appears that conventional paint-by-numbers romantic comedies are the order of the day. While writing these reviews, I try to be as original as possible, whenever possible. But when films (particularly rom-coms) are so alike, it's really a case of changing names and writing pretty much the same thing. So while `The Mirror Has Two Faces' is quite satisfying, it's hardly earth shattering or anything we haven't seen before. The world won't collapse if you don't get to see the film.

One thing that bogs down the standard of these movies is the `playing it safe' aspect. The inability to take risks doesn't guarantee consistent interest. Also, it more often relies on fluffy, glossy charm as opposed to good laughs and memorable situations. But it has its moments. It also makes some good points in showing the superficiality of `love'. But it soon falls into line with the slick `deux ET machina' ending which may be appropriate with most movies for this genre, but giving the circumstances, it was a wrong move.

Directed by singer/ songwriter/ actress/ newcomer director Barbara Streisand, there is a gently unpreachy tone throughout, but things are all too much in her favour. While she brings a spunky (if not increasingly feministic) charm to the proceedings, it's just not realistic. She takes it upon herself to recreate New York as the perfect haven for frumpy, single, middle-aged women. It's highly questionable that se should be the `coolest' person in a class of hundreds of college students, and also by able to memorise all of their names. And it's true what they say. She looks better before, as opposed to after, her transition to a `sex goddess'.

The support, on the other hand, is quite good all round. While none of them are suited to this genre, they're good all across the board. The standout is Lauren Bacall (on Oscar nominated form) as the typically overbearing mother. And Jeff Bridges finally finds a definition of character with an underwhelming, but convincing performance.

Certainly not flawless and very much cliched, `The Mirror Has Two Faces' is latte-light material. But certainly not the worst of its type, this is satisfying for what it's worth, and most importantly of all, there are a couple of laughs to be had along the way. My IMDb rating: 5.5/10.

9 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
Artificial, vacuous but highly skilful supernatural chiller., 29 August 2003

It's ironic that a movie be entitled `What Lies Beneath' when it is so shallow. Not as much ‘shallow' as opposed to ‘empty'. This picture is typical Hitchcock suspense. There are plenty of creaks and jumps and `look behind you' scenes, but there aren't enough full on scare sequences. And much of these are just overused clichés. That said, there's a good deal of fun to be had along the way. Zemeckis is clearly having a blast behind the camera and successfully masters yet another genre. He puts a tremendous deal of skill into the proceedings.

But there simply isn't enough material to work with. The film uneasily balances between domestic drama, supernatural chiller and all-out thriller, and the three sub-genres simply don't gel. While it starts well and ends well, there is a huge dissipation in the mid-riff. With the `horror' being reduced to a series of talky conversations, it's just too slow burning. But the closing half-hour is a skilful succession of high-octane moments that never wear thin. The less you know about the plot, the better. And whatever you do, don't read the tagline, as it will only spoil things.

As the neurotic housewife, Michelle Pfeiffer is perfectly cast and brings depth to her first good role in a long time. And she holds her own against the more popular Harrison Ford, who curiously avoids the limelight for most of the movie. It's just surprising that he was credited first. Miranda Otto and James Remar on the other hand, are totally out of place. No that the performances are bad or anything, but after a revelation in the first 50 minutes, their characters are totally and utterly irrelevant to the plot.

As soon as the emotional hokum gets going, the film loses a good deal of momentum, but the shear suspense of it all is what keeps `What Lies Beneath' going. But with the uneasy mixture, the bogeyman material seems out of place when in tone with the thriller aspect. While it is very slow-paced, my advice is to stick with the movie and you'll probably be rewarded. Zemeckis and Pfeiffer make a deadly combo and almost overcome the bogging down of sentimentality and a slightly shallow script. Eerie, creepy and surprising, `What Lies Beneath' is flawed, but generally good. My IMDb rating: 5.9/10.

Cerebral, high concept thriller plays well on the big screen., 29 August 2003

Intriguing concept isn't it. A film that takes place entirely in a phone booth in which a man will be assassinated if he leaves the area. And then the police attempt to negotiate when he is thought to have shot someone. From the start, you can tell that this will be a good movie. The concept in itself is worthy of 80 minutes of your time. The movie gets all of its power from the long high-octane thrill, which carries on from start to finish in a deadly one act. The premise never wears thin and ends just at the right moment. It is very strange that instead of being a small-scale A grade flick, this is a large-scale summer blockbuster. And that is one of the films downfalls. Schumacher completely overplays the effect, which bogs down, what should have been, plot subtlety.

I'm not saying that `Phone Booth' was bad. I'm just saying that it had the potential to be IMDb Top 250 material as a landmark in cinema history. But too often does Schumacher rely on 'outsider' help. The creation of modern era New York is perfectly realistic, but did this really need a narrator? This isn't helped by fast edits, split screens and flashbacks, which do nothing but lessen the effect. It must have been very easy to make. It might have been slightly better had they done the entire movie in one take and perhaps degraded the shots to make them look slightly less Hollywood like.

The small details are occasionally impressive, but others are un-necessary. Case in point is the fact that they fiddled with the 20th Century Fox logo at the beginning. This was a neat idea when directors first started doing so, but here it just seems pointless. And they gave the opening a glossy `Broadway musical' style Barbershop score. But they have a dazzling `zoom in' on New York City. The outcome is accelerated by a shock ending which is followed by yet another shock ending which de-shocks that which we thought was true. That sounds confusing, but watch the film and you'll understand.

Colin `I've been in a million movies this year' Farrell quite frankly overdoes the `look at me! I'm an asshole' act in the opening moments but once he's in the booth, the performance kicks in. They should really have an Academy Award for `Best Voice'. If they did, Keifer Sutherland would be a shoe-in, as the menacing, antagonistic vocals are right on target. It's just too bad they made the inexcusable mishap of putting him on the front cover, as it answers the question of `Will he show up or not?'. Supporting turns are good from Radha Mitchell, Forest Whitaker and Katie Holmes.

Of course then there's all the symbolic, philosophical hokum that just doesn't work. Schumacher shouldn't have tried it out in the first place. You've probably noticed that most of what I've done in this review is complain about the picture, yet I still claim to like it. `Phone Booth' is great high-octane, thrilling fodder, but it had the potential to be a classic. My advice is to go in with low expectations and you won't be disappointed. My IMDb rating: 6.4/10.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Veritable, glossy small-scale character study from Neil LaBute., 29 August 2003

Famed for dark satirical styles and cutting edge controversy, director Neil LaBute (`Nurse Betty', `In the Company of Men') has produced an intriguing, though not thoroughly compelling study on human activity and relationships. Subtle in manner and narrative, the main problem is that it lacks bite. Where a different director may have highlighted key moments and plot points, LaBute keeps things at a slow pace for the entirety. While this adds to the realness of it all, it's hard to tell how scenes are to be interpreted. And this superficial presence is hardly felt.

Virtually without a plot other than examining people's marital and adulterous lives, it simply doesn't lead anywhere. While similar films are usually given a shock ending to bolster the effect and/or go out with a bang, the overall effect is curiously underplayed. The film starts at a random point and then suddenly ends. That said, there is a nervy authenticity about it that brings humane depth to it all. All is played out in a perfectly sombre and believable manner without taking its material too seriously. And there is also a heavy dose of irony thrown in for good measure.

Did you find it strange that none of the characters names were mentioned? There's something not right about that. And I was surprised to see that the characters all had similar sounding names- Jerry, Terri, Cheri, Barry, Cary and Mary. It's hard to tell if LaBute was trying to be symbolic in doing so, as it's hard enough to concentrate on the film at face value. Another case in point is the fact that there are absolutely no supporting characters- the closing thing to represent support are the extras that occasionally stand around in the background. Perhaps this represents the seclusion of suburban life- I don't know. But the exceptional casting certainly pays off as the six characters are brilliantly personified and defined.

Arguably the best known of the cast is Ben Stiller. It's surprising how he can blend in with the other `lesser' actors and seem perfect for the neurotic part that he regularly plays. Also very good is Jason Patric who isn't afraid to risk his reputation and play an arrogant misogynist (not to mention the fact that he uses the ‘c' word). As the only `good' person of the bunch, indie regular Aaron Eckhart is also quite good. Amy Brenneman's persistently nervous and philandering wife is an excellent creation, while Catherine Keener's power b*tch is well interpreted. Also in there is Nastassja Kinski who probably gets the least development. The performance is fine, but the way her character is written is a bit sketchy.

Another strange aspect is the repetition in which Kinski attempts to seduce the four other characters, minus Mary. Strange is the fact that they use the exact same dialogue in each of the four scenes. This may represent how all of the characters are alike despite their different personas- who knows? While it is bogged down by the occasional narrative flaw, `Your Friends and Neighbours' is a polished take on modern life. Sometimes confusing and mind numbing, it is best interpreted as a satire. I thought it was generally good and give it an IMDb rating of 6.1 out of 10.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Swashbuckling action flick is a good summer blockbuster., 23 August 2003

I have to admit I was hoping this film would be bad. Never really been a fan of pirate movies, and judging by the trailers, I thought this would be phoney and shallow. `Pirates of the Caribbean' has been receiving mass critical praise since the opening week and I can see why. It has that certain charm about it which is very hard to resist. The plot follows a very familiar outline, but the film comes to life in the swooping visuals and brilliant fight scenes. Essentially, `Pirates' is a B movie but a rather good one at that. While it is immensely enjoyable, is this really a five star movie? It's a big-budget large-scale blockbuster in the vein of `The Hulk' and `Terminator 3' but it hardly pushes the limits of cinema.

The movie is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer- the helm behind similarly themed efforts such as `The Rock' and `Pearl Harbour'- so I can't say I'm surprised that there are so many big bangs throughout. Technical credits are top-notch all across the board. The cinematography, in particular, is a huge stand out. The CG work is good as well, but over showy in parts. Case in point is the scene in which Geoffrey Rush (Captain Barbossa) turns into a skeleton and then drinks alcohol that we see as if we were wearing x-ray specs. While the animated work for that scene is good, the `It's-the-21st-century. -Look-what-we-can-do' effect comes across in an overtly preachy way. But this part is brief so there's no need to go into too much detail with it.

And as your classic adventure movie, there are the three main characters- the hero, the significant other and the hammy villain. Also in there is a jilted lover/ hero #2, but he's perfectly relevant to the plot. Of course, the media are constantly saying `the film has everything! Action, comedy, drama, romance'- virtually 90% of all movies have all those factors. As I said, it all comes down to the action. The cheesy jokes, romantic subplots etc. are okay, but hardly what `Pirates' will be remembered for.

Johnny Depp has the charisma and quirkiness to carry the role of Jack Sparrow. Better yet, he makes the role his own. With the offbeat swagger and cheesy one-liners, no one could have executed the role better. And the hammy villain is perfectly portrayed by Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush, who does this comic-style part just as well as the tougher ones. Keira Knightley (I hate that name) would seem like the perfect stereotype, but her character is well written and she brings life to- what could have been- a very flat performance. But Orlando Bloom seems out of place. His character has no charisma, no characteristics, no quirky one liners. And the lines are delivered without credibility. There's such thing as `playing it straight', but this is more wooden than the plank which he walks off of.

And while the closing moments may go on for a bit too long, there's enough treasured moments to be able to forgive all that. And while there is no emotional core that elevates above the level of `a flashy action packed adventure-fest', you probably shouldn't expect one. So if you want an old-fashioned crowd pleaser, you won't go far wrong with `Pirates of the Caribbean'- a film which I'm almost ashamed to say that I enjoyed. My IMDb rating: 6.9/10.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Glamorised, violent account of the porn industry of the 70's., 22 August 2003

PT Anderson's docu-satire on the hardcore porn industry of the late 70's and its collapse over the conservative 80's is a bold and daring tale. It also establishes him as one of the greatest young directors around at the moment. Anderson creates a unique style in the visual aspect of the film. It maintains the look and feel of a low-budget porn movie, but also the un-graded look of a documentary and the over-lapping, interweaving narrative of a satire. Indeed, he really should pay his dues to Robert Altman as he creates a similar effect. `Boogie Nights' certainly isn't for the easily provoked. There's an awareness of explicit sex as well as an aberrant sexual content, throughout. It's actually surprising that the film didn't receive an X rating (i.e. the kiss of death) from the MPAA.

But one thing that `Boogie Nights' may have missed out on- perhaps intentionally- was heart. All of the characters have such high degrees of bad attitudes, it's hard to really sympathise with them or understand what they're going through. The movie follows an unusual pattern. While it is ultimately compelling, it lacks the overall dramatic shape and comprehensiveness of what it sets out to be. It also may have benefited from a better- that is more audible- soundtrack.

Much like the style of Altman, the movie creates large visual sweeps as it takes in a variety of events and talks. The sound emphasises on the key elements. The editing is done very seldom in each scene as the camera follows around the characters for long periods of time, adding to the authenticity of it all. These techniques are very impressive and appreciative, but with so many characters on screen at once and the rapid-rate plot, the supporting characters rarely develop. As soon as the camera settles on one character, it quickly moves on to the next, providing us with no new information or background. And in classic Altman sense, sub-plots are briefly glanced upon but rarely explored. All characters are taken at face value.

Having said that, there are tremendous performances all round from a cast made up almost entirely of Anderson's best friends in showbiz. Mark Wahlberg is a suitable lead while Burt Reynolds' turn as porn director Jack Horner is probably his best performance to date, though he takes the back seat for most of the movie. Julianne Moore's Amber Waves is an excellent creation and she perfectly balances sex-goddess with vulnerable single mother. Other supporting parts, no matter how small, are all fine but the real stand-out is John C. Reilly. It's strange how someone can go from saintly nobody (`Chicago', `Magnolia') to egotistical, tyrannical porn-star so easily.

Other technical credits are top-notch all round. The art direction and cinematography are so synthetic to the last detail; it's easy to forget that the film was made in 1997. Of course there have been many complaints about the shocking amount of violence towards the end. While they may have gotten a little carried away with themselves, I prefer to think of them as punctuation marks stressing how important the given scene, and the collapse of the porn industry is.

In my humble opinion, `Magnolia' is the better film as it went into a little more depth with the characters (virtually played by the exact same actors) but `Boogie Nights' is a glistening, gritty and colossal satire on the change of attitudes as the 70's ended and the 80's began. My IMDb rating: 8.0/10.

Zoolander (2001)
Wacky, stylishly goofy comedy on the fashion industry., 22 August 2003

In about 1997 a new genre was invented with the coming of `Austin Powers'. While it was a spoof of such, it wouldn't be considered in the same vein as the ZAZ/ Mel Brooks movies. And after hits like `Scary Movie' and flops like `Scary Movie 2', the latest in line is `Zoolander'. And this is easily as funny, if not funnier, than the second two `Austin Powers' movies. Written, directed and headlined by Ben Stiller, this was quite a hat trick to pull off. But the job was done and a good job at that. At the same time, this is hardly groundbreaking material. And in retrospect it's only laughing gas.

From some perspectives this is a satire on the style-crazy fashion industry in the same light as `Pret-a-Porter'. But the film is too stupid and inaccurate to be truly realistic, so this is best thought as a just-for-fun barrel of gags. As is the usual case, when the jokes hit they can be hilarious. But when they miss, they leave you staring blankly at the screen. And it does get a little carried with itself towards the end as it becomes to hip and trendy for all tastes. A slightly limp third act is well compensated for by hilarious proceedings. The central plot of the attempted assassination of the Prime Minister of Malaysia is a mere skeleton for the plot to stick to, and hardly the strongest point. But again, this isn't to be taken seriously.

The character of Derek Zoolander represents the vapid male model of today and is hilariously portrayed by Ben Stiller. In most of his other comedies (`Meet the Parents', `There's something about Mary') he played the protagonist who is the subject of the jokes, and it's great to finally see him as the antagonist as he has a good flair for comedy. Particularly funny is his part as a merman in the informecial for water. As the over-flamboyant opposition, Owen Wilson has rarely been funnier. Will Ferrell's obnoxious fashion designer Mugatu is a half-realised character. He starts out funny but towards the end becomes increasingly annoying. The rest of the support is decent all round from Christine Taylor, Milla Jovovich, John Voight and David Duchovny among others including a host of celebrity cameos.

The real star is the script that holds many memorable one-liners. And while many of the lines are delivered with impeccable gusto, others just fall flat. A good example is the classic `You can't think for yourself' `You're right, I can't' line. It isn't bad, but it's been used many times before and seems a little slack when attempted here. While it is shapeless, absurd and just as shallow as the subject matter itself, `Zoolander' is also one of the funniest movies around at the moment. If you want a good `stupid' comedy `Zoolander' is a passive and entertaining bit of gas. Just don't expect anything else. My IMDb rating: 6.4/10.

Chicago (2002)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Glitzy, radiant musical sparkles in glamour and frivolity., 15 August 2003

The stage musical- this is a genre that was common in the `MGM Golden Era' or the 40's and 50's. But as time went by, attitudes changed and people became more cynical and focused. And in the high-tech sceptical world of today, such a sunshine, happy smile utopia seems inappropriate. `Chicago' is unlikely to revive this dusty old genre, but it certainly is a welcome attempt. Based on the original Bob Fosse stage play, this plays out like a normal musical. While it is often considered as a `visually impressive' picture, the narrative that follows is a strong one.

Winning 6 Oscars at this year's Academy Awards, I'm surprised to say that this deserved all of its awards. The most attractive feature is the stylish production design and lavish cinematography that give the film a lot of glamour. But it has often been misinterpreted. While the characters are vapid and superficial, the underlying narrative is a much deeper one. The presence of grit has often been overlooked. `Chicago' is an adaptation of a popular musical, but also a bold satire on the shallowness of showbiz and the flaws of the law system.

The weakest point is probably the script. With song and dances taking place every 2-3 minutes, the script must just make up a few lines of dialogue that will signal a plot advance. I'm not a big fan of musicals, but this is thoroughly engaging throughout, right from the big bang of an opening. Perhaps that is because the narrative is bolstered by the visual beauty, but either way, it will have your attention. The feature is directed by newcomer Rob Marshall. He presents a unique blend of the styles of Bob Fosse (the traditional stage play) and Baz Luhrmann (bizarre costumes and numbers) but the amateurish characteristics show. While he does a fairly good job, the camerawork is flawed on occasions.

I have to admit I'm not a big fan of anyone in the cast. But most of them do a glossy, solid job. I think Melanie Griffith would have pulled off the part well, but Renee Zellwegger's ditzy interpretation of Roxie Hart is right on the mark. Yet compared to the heavy dramatics of Nicole and Julianne, the performance comes across as a little shallow. Richard Gere is simply perfect for the part of suave lawyer Billy Flynn. Easily the best performance on show goes to Catherine Zeta-Jones ice goddess, Velma Kelly. She simply makes for the perfect b*tch and was totally deserving of the Oscar. John C. Reilly and Queen Latifah are okay (though the latter is too young a choice) but easily upstaged by Zeta-Jones. The Oscar nom's they received certainly are questionable. The support ranges from the underused (Dominic West, Lucy Liu) to the totally miscast (Taye Diggs anyone?).

Perhaps it's the fact that I'm unfamiliar with the musical itself, but I was very impressed with `Chicago'. As a film, it was (slightly) better than `Gangs of New York', `Adaptation.' etc. but has often been misunderstood. If you like musicals, you'll love this. Even if you don't, there's a good chance that you'll take a shine to Chicago. Or if you just want some good glitzy fun, this is the film for you. My IMDb rating: 8.1/10.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Quirky, delightfully eccentric comedy from the Coen brothers., 15 August 2003

Renowned for witty dialogue, quirky performances and bravura styles, the Coen brothers are among the most innovative filmmakers around. And `Raising Arizona' ranks as one of their best films to date. The plot is simple enough- a young couple steals baby when they can't have one of their own-- but it provides the chance for some hilarious situations. And while the running time is a narrow 94 minutes, plenty of laughs are to be had and the story develops quickly enough. `Raising Arizona' is the definitive cult classic. A mass following has compensated for little attention upon release.

The script is as sharp and witty as one would hope for, and you can tell that a lot of work has gone into it- smart, witty and comprehensive. The verbal wit is top-notch, but some of the best gags come from the `Cannonball Run' style visual wit. The demonic `Angel of Death' who kills all little creatures in the most bizarre fashion is hilarious, as are the riotous kids who bring new meaning to `rebellious'. But the funniest scene is definitely the grocery store hold-up sequence that escalates into a slapstick chase.

The performances are superbly comedic all round. Nicholas Cage and Holly Hunter flews their comic talents as the white trash protagonists. Even the costume designs (Cage's hair especially) are hilarious to look at. Meanwhile, Coen regular John Goodman is tremendously funny as is his equally dim-witted brother played by William Forsythe. Even the small parts that go to Sam McMurray and Frances McDormand among others are funnier than expected.

One problem that can affect similar stories is that they can sometimes be a little thin. But `Raising Arizona' never wears out its welcome. It sticks to the set-up but brings in plenty of fresh sub-plots that brilliantly coincide with the main story. This is by far the best movie of 1987. While pictures like `The Last Emperor' and `Moonstruck' may have hogged the Oscars in an otherwise mediocre year, they didn't survive the test of time.

If you haven't yet seen `Raising Arizona', you should check it out because you're in for a treat. It works on a small-scale, but brilliantly improvises. Memorable one-liners, excellent humour and impeccable timing make for a classic of less-than-epic proportions. My IMDb rating: 7.9/10.

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