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8 reviews in total 
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6 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Buried treasure., 11 December 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

**Spoilers throughout**

Unfairly eclipsed by the excellent The Truman Show, and easily dismissed as a facile "sucked into the TV" comedy, Pleasantville is truly an under-appreciated classic.

Strong performances and writing set it apart from films like the later Stay Tuned, with Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon displaying acting capabilities that transcend their youth. The standout in this excellent ensemble has to be Joan Allen, whose remarkably studied performance is a masterclass in character development, as her Betty slowly steps free of repression and blossoms into a woman of sensuous, simple beauty and independence. Jeff Daniels is charming too as Bill, the bow-tied soda store owner who discovers passions within. Coming to terms with one's inner passion isn't an easy process, we discover, as the town breaks apart into paranoia and fear, dangerously teetering on the brink of a kind of apartheid until even the staunchest black-and-white citizen realises that change is inevitable and that the unPleasant waits within. It is precisely this thread of tension that elevates Pleasantville over the level of easy comedy, though there are a good number of affectionate laughs here.

The beauty of Pleasantville is the way in which the film so easily and comfortably finds its stride and, like Groundhog Day, uses every last scrap of its unapologetically high concept to the maximum. The real coup de cinema is that the modern-day kids don't learn old-fashioned values as much as the citizens of Pleasantville learn from David and Jennifer how wonderful sexual and cultural freedom can be. This isn't just a fish-out-of-water comedy - the arrival of the kids disturbs the very fundament of Pleasantville. The way in which the seemingly happy yet horribly repressed town is slowly exposed to the freedoms of modern life is thrilling to watch - symbolised with such great clarity initially by the use of colour and other "unPleasant" things like lightning, rain and the joyous eruption of a tree into orange and yellow flames upon Betty's first orgasm. Another great achievement here is that the audience really gets a sense of how powerfully such changes impact upon the community - the first glimpse of a red rose is framed with such intensity that we ourselves are disturbed - uncertain as to whether we should be thrilled or frightened.

9 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
*WARNING: spoilers within* Too long, too inconsistent, too far-fetched., 26 July 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

While the visual style is well executed, and the action scenes exhileratingly paced, this movie is too poorly-thought through, poorly acted and riddled with both inconsistency and cliché to make it worth watching for the action (of which there is far too little) and visuals alone.

Problems the movie cannot seem to deal with include: Kate Bosworth is 23 years old, and looks it. So Lois had an affair with Superman at what - 17 or 18? - had an boring, pointless kid at 19 and still found time to forge a career as a Pullitzer-prize (sorry, Pyoolitzer) -winning journo without going to university, or even graduating high school. Right. And people say Clark Kent's disguise is the hardest thing to swallow in this movie. Lois and Superman had a big romance in the past, yet they are reduced to monosyllabic exchanges and have hardly any scenes together of any significance.

They've both been away for five years, both left at the same time, both reappeared at the same time... so why does nobody connect Clark's disappearance and reappearance with Superman?

Lex Luthor's plan is also woefully half-baked - does he think the international community aren't going to hunt him down and execute him for killing billions of people, then just take over his new (seemingly uninhabitable) continent? And why is Superman so surprised that Lex has some kryptonite? When has Superman EVER met Lex Luthor when the scoundrel hasn't had some to hand? He really should be more prepared.

I know that comic book movies thrive on excess and the bending of their own rules, but consistency with things as important to the story as Superman's strength and his vulnerability to kryptonite is the least one could expect. Superman is shown working really hard lifting a boat out of the water one moment, only to be seen flinging an entire continent, which is riddled with kryptonite, incidentally, into space.

I liked Parker Posey though, and the chap playing Jimmy.

Singer really should have done X3 instead of this turgid nostalgia.

2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Charming but dated entertainment., 29 December 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I haven't seen The Producers on stage but I saw the film yesterday and I'm a bit disappointed. It felt charmingly old-fashioned, but it just wasn't very funny, and I found the music and lyrics rather dated (however recently written) and obvious. I wasn't expecting Sondheim clever-cleverness but Mel Brooks is a witty chap and should have been able to do better with the lyrics.

I was expecting more sophisticated humour than people repeatedly falling over/on a sofa and slightly offensive gay stereotyping. My early giggles over the posters showing the names of the shows that Bialystock had previously produced were not followed up by the guffaws I had been expecting to follow. Nothing really got me above a chuckle. Nathan Lane effectively carries the movie, mugging splendidly and clearly having a great time, bordering on scenery-chewing excess in places but generally delivering a big-screen-worthy performance. The memory of Gene Wilder's performance in the original looms over poor Matthew Broderick, who plays Bloom like a secondary character and his performance feels rather lifeless and static (his delivery of lines like "But I'm going to wear that hat some day, because I'm going to be a producer!" made me raise a pitying eyebrow), though his singing is lovely. And who cast Uma Thurman? She looks fabulous, really amazing, but she's so out-of-place it stings. And what's with the thirty-second-long lisp? And why did those bloody animatronic pigeons get so much screen time when they look so incredibly rubbish? It's a shame that I can only really remember bad points as the overall effect of the film was entertaining enough. There's a charmingly knockabout air about the whole thing, the production design is flawless and the choreography is great fun in places. It's just that the songs themselves are uninspired and sometimes simply pointless (any of Will Ferrell's numbers would be a good example, as would the one in the prison cell where Lane recaps the story). The only numbers that really stand out are Broderick's "I Want to Be a Producer" dance break and of course "Springtime for Hitler", though that was far more effective in the original film.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Not as original as it thinks it is, 12 December 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

There's no doubt that Batman Begins is well cast, well directed, well designed, and well shot. But for all its grittiness and crunching violence, its plot is as formulaic as its predecessors. There's a well-scripted first hour, going over (in more detail than Tim Burton deemed worthwhile) the minutiae of the psychological genesis of Batman, the reasons Bruce Wayne is so messed up, and exactly why he chose bats to be his symbol. This is all good, if a little slow-paced. Liam Neeson continues his new line in 'mentors that teach the hero to fight, and then die' roles, and does it well.

But the second hour provides little inventiveness, giving us another supervillain who wants to destroy/take over Gotham City through an over-elaborately technological plot device. Yawn. The design of the elevated railway depressingly mimics the excesses of the previous two Batman films. There is one new element to the formula: the continual signposting of a brand new theme! Fear! Fear! The movie is all about different kinds of fear! Fear you confront! Fear that inspires you! Fear you create! Fear! Got it yet?

Sin City (2005)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Sin City grabbed me by the heart..., 2 June 2005

...dragged me along the ground by it, and dumped me in a grimy alley.

The best production design since Sky Captain, the darkest yet funniest violence since Reservoir Dogs, Sin City knows just where to play the clichés and where to subvert them, and how to twist the stories into a whole that was like nothing I have ever seen before. The atmosphere - of seedy, decayed urban life where everyone has to fight to stay alive and every authority figure is plain corrupt and where your best friend can be your worst enemy - is what this film is all about, and it delivers it in spades and then some. This is the best comic book movie ever made.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Utterly enthralling, 2 May 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Watching Gosford Park is really more like eavesdropping: it's packed so tight with rich detail one cannot possibly take it all in. Instead, we drift through the house, upstairs and downstairs, watching the events of a shooting weekend at a magnificent old-money house in the (very rainy) English countryside, piecing together characters by catching a snippet of conversation here, a liaison there.

We're watching from the point of view of the servants (there's one in every scene). Some characters are more thoroughly explored than others, but even those who aren't particularly foregrounded feel like people we aren't really getting to know rather than underdeveloped extras. As a result, a few of the plot lines (especially the two involving letters) are obscured in the general texture of the piece, and some are never resolved at all, but again this feels deliberate - we catch intriguing glimpses, but do not get to know the whole story. If this sounds frustrating, let me assure you that it's entirely the opposite - it makes everything even more absorbing. Like life, we don't get all the answers.

There is a plot, in the classic whodunnit style, but to concentrate on this plot is to miss the point of the film entirely. That said, the secrets brought to light by the murder are heartbreaking, and 'who' is nowhere near as significant as 'why'. But the focus of this film (such as it is) is on the subtly developing characters, the rich production design and the satisfaction of feeling things fall into place in your head as you mentally assemble the various plots and characters from the details you've managed to 'overhear'.

The film leaves me with a feeling of melancholy - of nostalgic regret that such a grand (albeit classist and exploitative) way of life had to end, and that change is on the way.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Devastating, 11 January 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This film is one of the most remarkable horror films I have even seen. Despite its origins, Dawn of the Dead 2004 never feels like "merely" a remake of a sequel: it feels like a totally new movie: it deserves a fresh approach, and comparisons with Romero's version are unnecessary.

From harrowing, uneasy beginning to the devastatingly dark ending, the film is alive with plot and pace, with dialogue that really crackles and sounds like it's coming from characters rather than a clunky expositive screenplay. This last is particularly surprising in a zombie flick: it's a genre in which the best dialogue usually comes from the zombies themselves.

Character development is taut but it is at least present. I especially liked Ana, the nurse who's given a split-second to realise what's going on, and she grabs the keys, and gets the hell out. CJ's transition from convincing, frustrating hard-case to team player is 100% genre, but he plays both so well that it's hard to fault. The isolated Andy cultivates a real warmth and I was just heartbroken when he meets his bitterly ironic end. Even the passive characters, the ones we just know are going to die, give us the impression that these are people we've only just met, rather than people who are waiting to die when they reach their allotted page in the screenplay. I certainly didn't want the trucker lady to die. In any case, up-against-it survival horror doesn't give much opportunity for long, complex character arcs: there isn't enough time, but the acting is so refined that the character moments always feel substantial, and we have the casting director to thank for that.

The gore is visceral and convincing - though a few of the scares are a little over baked, particularly the zombie childbirth, torture to watch, for sure, but not as scary as it should be because we see it coming from miles off. However, these suspense less mis-steps pale when compared to the verve of the faster scares - The parking garage chase, the little girl at the beginning, the chainsaw through Nicole's arm in the bus, and so forth. The zombies themselves are horrific: fast, crazy, determined, and with incredibly creative and individual make-up effects.

And the ending just destroyed me.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Extended Edition review. Throw away your theatrical edition DVD!, 11 December 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

** Spoilers throughout! **

It's a shame that a review of the Return of the King extended edition has to mention the shortcomings of the theatrical edition, but unlike the theatrical editions of the Fellowship of the Ring and the Two Towers, The Return of the King felt naggingly incomplete. Story threads both major and minor are set up and either not followed through at all or come to an unsatisfactory shorthand conclusion. I'm thinking particularly of the Witch-king's threat to "break" Gandalf, which never happens, and of course, the conclusion of Saruman's story – as far as I am concerned "he has no power any more" just didn't cut it. Worse still, there are a number of places where the editing shows the 'joins' where you just know something is missing from a scene. So the EE has double the work to do: to fill in the blanks, and to provide the wealth of extra detail that the previous two Extended Editions have led us to expect.

Don't let my negativity fool you into thinking that I didn't like the TE, but now Peter Jackson and his crew have delivered us the EE… well, let's just say I'll put my copy of the TE on eBay in a few days. The Return of the King now feels complete.

I think it's safe to say that most fans were holding their breath for the Voice of Saruman scene, and I'm thrilled to say it was well worth the wait. Truly a mighty actor, Christopher Lee demonstrates the true power of Saruman's (and his own) voice in an exciting, grisly and tragically ignominious end that makes me wonder more than ever why Jackson would cut such a powerful scene from the TE. Lee proves yet again how perfectly cast he was as Saruman simply by intoning the line "You are all going to die." Shivers down my spine! It seems that all characters get some benefit from the extra breathing room allowed by those extra 50 minutes. In the scenes that follow Saruman's death, Pippin's compulsion to look into the palantir is much better explained: it's not just a hobbit's curiosity - we see it preying on his mind.

Small changes see Legolas's character finally allowed to breathe, and we can now really believe in the friendship between him and Gimli, who provides useful comic counterpoint to the intense action scenes to come, making sure the action stays rooted in character and doesn't stray too far into groundless spectacle (though there is an enjoyable amount of extra shots of mumakil smashing through the Rohirrim and, speaking as a Witch-king groupie, I don't think I'll ever get to see enough Nazgul shots). Eowyn has a few nice new moments, particularly her intimate scene with Aragorn in the Golden Hall (plus a beautiful tracking shot of that wonderful set) and it's good to see her fighting more on foot in the Pelennor Fields battle. Eomer gains a few more lines of dialogue – nothing significant, but the film is all the better for his presence.

Frodo and Sam's exhausting trek across Mordor, and the march to the Black Gate are both now given a more appropriate timescale, and we get some sense of how arduous the journey across Gorgoroth was for poor Frodo and Sam. The scene with the two hobbits forced to march with the orcs is an unexpected bonus and a nice touch. Frodo's relationship with the ring is deepened too – now we see that he collapses due to the physical weight of the ring rather than simply through exhaustion alone.

The economy of the TE is still admirable in places – the shorthand treatment of Denethor for example, in which we find out exactly what we need to know about his character to explain his actions. Even here, however, the EE can make tweaks for the better: his motivations are now given added gravity: what we formerly saw simply as madness is now revealed to be more like despair. Not every addition is for the benefit of the film, however - I could have done without Faramir and Eowyn gazing wetly at one another, for example.

Overall the story is allowed to flex and breathe, but doesn't become flabby. There is a feeling of luxury, but Jackson still keeps the tension high while allowing the subtle richness of the production to shine. Throw away the TE… Peter Jackson and co have finally given us the film we've been waiting for.

And I haven't watched the appendices yet!