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20 reviews in total 
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59 out of 68 people found the following review useful:
A terrific film, featuring one of Nicholson's best performances, 24 October 2005

Jack Nicholson stars as a Warren Schmidt, a man who suffers several crises at once. First he goes into retirement, then his wife dies, and finally his daughter marries a no-hoper. Forced to abandon his usual comfortable routine, Schmidt goes on a personal journey of discovery and tries to make some sense of his life.

The beauty of About Schmidt is how well developed and interesting the characters are. They feel like real people struggling with real situations, which is a surprisingly difficult trick to pull off. This success can be attributed to the strength of the script and most importantly to the uniformly superb acting.

This film provides a showcase for Nicholson to display his talent, and he doesn't disappoint, delivering a superb and multi-layered turn, which is a world away from the smirking characters he often plays. He allows his face to droop, and adopts a world-weary expression, as Schmidt continually finds himself at the mercy of events.

One of Schmidt's first decisions when he determines to get out of the rut he finds himself in is to sponsor an African child. This doesn't have much to do with the rest of the plot, but provides an outlet for Schmidt's innermost thoughts, and is a brilliant and original way of allowing the audience inside the head of the central character.

About Schmidt succeeds in tackling the subject of old age, a topic not often addressed in mainstream Hollywood fare, and for that it should be applauded. This is a terrific film, which features Nicholson at his best.

Rain Man (1988)
54 out of 69 people found the following review useful:
Shows the way forward for issue driven movies., 22 February 2005

Tom Cruise stars as a used car salesman, who is angry when his father's inheritance is left to his older autistic brother (Dustin Hoffman), whose existence had not been revealed to him.

The film is built around its two assured central performances. Hoffman gives an excellent portrayal of a man with autism, totally unable to comprehend the real world around him. Cruise is no less impressive. While he is essentially playing to type, his character's attitude changes so gradually throughout the film that you barely notice, and without Cruise's subtle performance this transformation would be much less credible.

This is a highly commendable film, which, despite tackling a tricky subject, refuses to succumb to sentimentality. In giving autism such publicity, the film has hopefully helped to lessen the stigma brought on by ignorance of this condition.

Rain Man's great success is that it shows the way forward for issue driven movies in Hollywood. Its success at the box office demonstrates that taking a risk can pay off in spades, provided that the film is good enough.

9 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
A classic of screwball comedy, 24 November 2005

Bringing up Baby is an absolute classic of screwball comedy, starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and the eponymous Baby. Grant plays stuffy palaeontologist Dr David Huxley who is due to be married, and is trying to obtain some money for his museum, but all his carefully laid out plans start to unravel when he first meets Susan Vance (Hepburn) on the golf course. From this point on Huxley is subject to an almost continuous series of humiliations and misfortunes.

Those who claim that Bringing up Baby isn't funny because of the cruel way that Hepburn's character treats Grant's are missing the point. If the film's events were taking place in the real world then many of Hepburn's actions would be inexcusable, but the point is that these events are happening in a world without consequences where anything goes, and this is the premise on which much of the film's humour is based.

The presence of a tame leopard called Baby provides further evidence that the film is trying to distance itself as far as possible from the boring predictability of reality. Much humour is derived from the contrasting attitudes of Hepburn and Grant towards the leopard. Whereas she reacts as if it were a small kitten, despite it's need for massive quantities of raw meat, Grant seems genuinely terrified, even though the animal shows no signs of aggression.

One of the most remarkable things about Bringing up Baby is the extent to which it remains enjoyable today. While many films regarded as classics in the 30's seem somewhat dated now, Bringing up Baby seems as fresh as it ever did, thanks largely to the energetic central performances. Grant is terrific as the professor who gradually loses his inhibitions, but Hepburn steals the show as a self-absorbed young woman who wins the audience over through her lack of inhibitions.

Films such as Bringing up Baby became far less common as America geared up for World War II and people began to lose interest in screwball comedy. This makes the film all the more significant, as it is undoubtedly one of the defining examples of a genre which never re-emerged in quite the same form again.

Dogville (2003)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Challenges the boundaries of what we can expect from films., 19 April 2005

Nicole Kidman stars in this extraordinary film as Grace, a woman on the run from mobsters, who is taken in by the residents of a small and isolated town called Dogville. Gradually the townsfolk turn against her, and blackmail her into accepting increasing levels of abuse, but there's a twist in the tale.

The film's most startling feature is the fact that all the action takes place on a set, representing the town, with no buildings and no scenery. When viewed from above, the town has the appearance of a giant Cluedo board. This has the effect of making the town seem far smaller than it normally would.

This is far more than just a stylistic flourish. As the audience is able to see through walls, they can view everything that goes on in the town, provided of course that the camera is pointing in the right direction. This emphasises the elusiveness of privacy in a small community where everyone knows everyone else's secrets.

While the townspeople act as if the walls are solid, in fact they are only too aware of what goes on behind closed doors, but won't act to disturb the superficial calm. This makes a negative suggestion about human nature; that given the chance human beings will exploit vulnerable people rather than protecting them.

Because there is no scenery to serve as a distraction, the viewer's attention is solely focused on the performances, which are uniformly superb. Kidman demonstrates that despite her star status she is not averse to taking risks, and Paul Bettany is excellent as the man who tries to defend her against the rest of the townsfolk.

Dogville challenges the boundaries of what we can expect from films, and does so with considerable success. The only downside is the end credits, which unnecessarily court controversy, and spoil an otherwise subtle film, which deserved better.

4 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Shows far more originality than 99% of films., 28 February 2005

Bruce Willis plays James Cole, a man from a future where the world has been devastated by a deadly virus, who is chosen to go back in time and try to find out how this came about.

Directed by Terry Gilliam, Twelve Monkeys bears many similarities with his earlier film Brazil, but somehow feels more complete. Brazil was a weird, and at times brilliant futuristic parable, with crazy characters offset against grim cityscapes. However it failed to mesh into a coherent whole, and had a plot that amounted to little more than a dash from one mad sketch to another.

Twelve Monkeys largely succeeds in improving on the things that didn't work in Brazil. Gilliam has reined in some of his more bizarre ideas, and paid more attention to keeping the plot moving, making this a far more balanced work. Even so, Gilliam remains true to his own uniquely quirky style, making Twelve Monkeys strikingly different from the average science fiction film.

Bruce Willis plays a character far removed from his usual action movie stereotype. As a man set adrift in a strange world, he demonstrates that he can do more than just blow up buildings. Brad Pitt also gives a terrific performance as a mental patient, although it does become a tad irritating after a while.

Being a time travel film, there are many plot holes in Twelve Monkeys, but this is unavoidable in any film on this theme, since whatever approach is taken to the possibilities of time travel you are bound to create inconsistencies. For example, this film's notion is that the time in which Cole lives is the present, and everything up until this point has already happened, so it is impossible to change the past. However, surely every action that Cole takes in the past must impact on events in some small way, through the very fact of his presence.

Twelve Monkeys is an ambitious and impressive film. Of course many of its ideas are derivative, but it shows far more originality than 99% of films. It succeeds in being simultaneously entertaining and thought provoking, and deserves to be regarded as one of the best science fiction films of the 90's.

5 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Fails to deliver a coherent narrative., 19 April 2005

Drawing inspiration from the Pinocchio story, this film is about a robotic child who yearns to be human. He is given to a family who are mourning the loss of their son, but soon their natural son re-appears, causing the robotic child to be sidelined.

The film is clearly delineated into separate acts, which fail to come together in a coherent narrative whole. The early scenes in which the boy attempts to enjoy a normal family life could have been the basis for an interesting morality tale, but all this good work is wasted in the 2nd half, as the plot veers violently out of control.

This lack of discipline is typified by Jude Law's character. He plays a 'love droid' who lives in some kind of pseudo-Blade-Runner city, but is almost totally redundant. His early section of the plot is extremely underdeveloped, and his only connection to the rest of the film is that he tags along with the robotic child for a while.

The film's disjointed plot is understandable to some degree given that both Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg were involved in directing. The end of the film is very reminiscent of Kubrick's earlier work on 2001: A Space Odyssey, but the twists that are required to get to this point often strain credibility to breaking point.

Hampered by a lunatic plot, the film still earns points for sheer audacity. However, in striving for both entertainment and profundity it only succeeds in falling flat on its face. Spectacular both in its ambitions and the extent to which it fails to live up to them, A.I. is a major disappointment.

Just another blockbuster., 18 May 2006

The third film in the Matrix trilogy proves to be a disappointing finale. The scope of the action is almost unprecedented but this cannot disguise the film's fundamental deficiencies. The plot is even more threadbare than usual this time around.

The biggest mistake made by Revolutions is that the series' greatest asset (the Matrix itself) is barely utilised until the final reels, leaving a film which is hard to distinguish from any random sci-fi blockbuster, throwing special effects at the screen that would make even George Lucas's eyes bulge. When the humans are defending Zion, the effects are truly epic, but it goes on too long, and Neo, Morpheus and Trinity are not even involved, distancing the film further from the 1999 original.

The best thing about the first Matrix film was its notion of a world not unlike our own filled with ordinary people going about their daily lives, but who were really part of a gigantic program. Even Neo began the film as one of these people, until he was made aware of the reality. This was a terrific concept, which the sequels failed to carry forward. In Reloaded our heroes often ventured into the Matrix, but it no longer bore much of a relation to the world we know.

Both the sequels suffer from the presence of far too many minor characters, feeling like an attempt to ape the ensemble cast of Lord of the Rings. The trouble is that most of these characters are hardly fleshed out at all. Whereas Reloaded used numerous kung fu sequences inside the Matrix to distract attention from the slightly tedious main plot, Revolutions is forced to tie up this plot, and it has only 2 hours in which to accomplish this, an almost impossible task.

Revolutions is not a terrible film, but it is just another blockbuster, and most of the originality which marked out The Matrix has been lost. It's a shame the series had to end in such a conventional way.

Entertaining and well worth checking out., 17 May 2006

The upcoming vegetable competition is proving to be an obsession for the villagers, including the wealthy Lady Tottington, but is in danger from an explosion in the rabbit population. Fortunately Wallace the inventor and his dog Gromit have a new sideline in pest control, but Wallace pushes his luck too far when he hatches a plan to eradicate the rabbit threat for good.

This latest extravaganza from Nick Park's Aardman Animations is the 4th outing for Wallace and Gromit, their first full-length film following on from the success of Chicken Run. Though most animation films now use CGI, Aardman have thankfully stuck to their Plasticene roots. This medium has some definite advantages over CGI, such as the ability to employ natural light.

The film is resolutely old-fashioned, and makes few concessions to international audiences. This is the world of 1950's England, reflected in the dialogue and accents, as well as the characters of the villagers, many of whom wouldn't look out of place in an Ealing comedy. Gromit on the other hand resembles a silent movie star, able to convey an amazing range of emotions through his eyes.

Comparing Were-Rabbit to Wallace and Gromit's earlier adventures, the film most closely resembles A Close Shave, substituting rabbits for sheep, and having a similar love sub-plot. The film's main challenge was to extend its plot over more than 80 minutes. It occasionally feels slightly stretched and some of the twists are ridiculous even for this series, but on the whole it achieves a remarkable level of success.

Overall the film doesn't reach the standard of The Wrong Trousers, but it's very entertaining and well worth checking out.

Shrek 2 (2004)
Fails to recapture the magic of the original., 22 February 2005

Shrek was a brilliantly inspired send-up of traditional fairy tales, giving me high hopes for this sequel, but sadly it proves to be a backward step, failing to recapture the magic of the original.

The CGI remains uniformly astounding, and the increase in computing power means that it's even more eye-popping this time around. However all this means nothing without a decent script. The biggest disappointment is that they seem to have made everything a bit too serious, most noticeably in Shrek's rather glum demeanour throughout most of the film, and funny lines are far harder to come by.

One of the biggest irritants in Shrek 2 is the lengthy musical numbers, which aren't even original, and feature the sort of toe-curling songs usually favoured by karaoke. It would have been a far better decision to make use of a dramatic score for the action highlights.

Donkey, voiced by Eddie Murphy, is still good value. However he is the only amusing character in the entire film, and any comic momentum he generates is dissipated by the writers' obsession with their tedious plot, and the aforementioned musical interludes.

The original Shrek was tremendously fresh and fun. This sequel, while not a total disaster, remains a massively missed opportunity. As Shrek 3 is currently in production, I really hope the creators will look at what didn't work this time, and be able to make amends. However, I get the sense that the first Shrek was something of a one-off, and that there aren't too many good ideas left to mine from this particular seam.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
An important indictment of the Vietnam war., 19 April 2005

Tom Cruise stars in this true story as Ron Kovic, an idealistic young man whose life is transformed when he is paralysed while fighting in Vietnam.

In many ways this is a very good film, which shows how circumstances can cause someone to change from being an idealistic young man eager to do their duty, into a bitter person who believes there is nothing left to live for. It's a tribute to Cruise that his performance makes this transformation so believable, and it is this film more than any other in which he removes any lingering doubts about his talent as an actor.

The film is somewhat let down by uneven pacing. A lengthy set-up is followed by a brief sequence of actual fighting in Vietnam, in which Kovic is paralysed. There then follows a sequence in which he struggles to recuperate and come to terms with his disability. Most of the rest of the film shows him becoming increasingly disillusioned, and alienating everyone who tries to help him cope with his disability.

Not until the very end does Kovic realise he has something to live for, and re-invents himself as an anti-war protester. Because the film spends so long focusing on Kovic's bitterness, it doesn't leave enough time to explore his redemption. For this reason the film isn't quite rounded enough, but it still provides an important indictment of the Vietnam War, seen through the eyes of one man.

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