29 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Stardust (2007)
Hugely enjoyable fantasy film with plenty of heart
28 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I am not generally a fan of the fantasy film genre (I loathed the Lord of the Rings films, for example), and usually only watch children-oriented films because I have been whined into submission by my eldest daughter demanding I take her to the cinema. Based on rather less than stellar reviews, I happily gave Stardust a miss when it hit UK cinema screens in 2007, and didn't bother renting the DVD.

How very wrong I was. Having finally watched Stardust on the small screen, I am amazed I missed out on this first time round. It is a genuinely enchanting piece, elaborating a gloriously imagined magical world. The film sparkles with some mesmerising performances, most particularly from the romantic leads, newcomer Charlie Cox as Tristan and Clare Danes, luminous as Yvaine, a fallen star, who literally glitters throughout. A string of Hollywood veterans put in a strong showing, especially Robert De Niro as a cross-dressing pirate with a heart of gold, and Michelle Pfeiffer, equally camping it up as a decrepit old witch whose main design is to ensnare the fallen star for her own murderous, self-seeking purposes.

There are also marvellous comic performances from some of Britain's finest acting talent, including Rupert Everett, Mark Heap and Jason Fleminge as mutually murdering princely brothers, vying for their dying father's throne. Mark Strong as the wicked Septimus, the longest surviving and most bloodthirsty brother, is a villainous gem.

I am shocked and disappointed that Stardust failed to shine at the box office. The film's marketers at Paramount should be ashamed of themselves. Stardust deserved a bigger audience and I suspect it will gradually gain a devoted fan base through DVD rentals and multichannel TV. It really is too good not to: a dazzling fantasy adventure with a true emotional core.
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Archangel (2005 TV Movie)
A Drab Affair
12 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I recently watched the BBC's adaptation of Archangel, based on the Robert Harris novel. This mini-series, directed by Jon Jones and adapted to the screen by Dick Clement, was originally aired in 2005, but I decided to give it a go on DVD.

This is a lacklustre adaptation, despite a promising start. Daniel Craig is fine here as academic Fluke Kelso, an expert in Stalin and modern Russian history. He almost comes a cropper, tracking down a long-lost son of Stalin, now harboured by a band of conniving, ruthless Communists (in the 1990s) as a secret weapon - a means to ignite nostalgic fervour amongst Russia's poverty-stricken masses, hankering for the securities of a former communist regime. Craig has some OK support in the form of Gabriel Macht, as an adventuring American journalist who hopes for the story of a lifetime, and in the pretty personage of Yekaterina Rednikova, who plays Zinaida, the call girl daughter of Papu (Valery Chernak), who as a young man bore witness to the suppression of Stalin's 'secret' when the dictator died.

Russia is portrayed as cold, frostbitten, bleak and uncompromising. This is a chilly production. Atmospheric as this may be, the overall tenor of the production is too dour, too grainy, and simply too dull. By the time Craig and Macht have encountered the clearly loopy Stalin Jr, Josef, played here with surly aplomb by Konstantin Lavronenko, I found my attention wandering.

This is a shame. Some of the acting, from a mainly Russian cast, is top-notch. The scenery is convincing. Production values are strong, if not exciting. Perhaps it is the story itself? I had hoped to be gripped much, much more. All the right ingredients were in place. I love a conspiracy theory, and Russian politics is a pet topic. But this thriller failed to grip.
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Masterpiece Classic: The Ruby in the Smoke (2006)
Season 37, Episode 4
Disjointed and disappointing
12 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
A brief review of the BBC's adaptation of Phillip Pullman's The Ruby in the Smoke, which aired on the 27th September. This was hugely disappointing. The narrative was horribly rushed, ensuring a disjointed production. If I had not read the novel before watching this, I would have given up halfway through in exasperation.

Billie Piper was passable in the lead role as Sally Lockhart. But, there is something all too modern in her air, which in many respects should lend itself well to Sally's forthright, proto- feminist character - but instead Piper always felt like she was trying too hard. She was also overshadowed by Hayley Atwell, in her few brief scenes as Rosa Garland, which does not bode well for Piper's prospects as Fanny Price in the ITV version of Mansfield Park, where she stars alongside Atwell, playing Mary Crawford. Even better was JJ Feild, taking on the role of Frederick Garland, Rosa's brother and Sally's friend (and clearly the subject of a mutual crush). Piper has a buoyant, pleasing presence, but although this was not her finest hour, nevertheless. she was far from dismal.

Sadly the same cannot be said of one of Britain's best-loved actresses Julie Walters, who played the pernicious Mrs Holland - Sally's arch-nemesis and a murderer to boot. Walters was excruciatingly poor here, seemingly regurgitating her once famous role as the hilarious, crook-backed Mrs Overall in Acorn Antiques, re-spun with a sneering, sinister twist. To be frank I had harboured doubts at Walters's casting in this role. There is something too spare, spry and light in her demeanour, her bearing, which to my mind, never quite suited the thuggish solidity of Mrs Holland.

Other notable castings included David Harewood, playing the Bedwell twins Nicholas and Matthew, Miles Anderson briefly as Major Marchbanks, and newcomer Matt Smith (who woefully underperformed) as the cockney cheeky chappy Jim Taylor. Chloe Walker made for an appealing Adelaide.

Brian Percival, the director, did precious little innovative with what was a fairly pedestrian adapted script from Adrian Hodges, who has fared better in the past with the mini-series Charles II: The Power & the Passion and an adaptation of Dickens's David Copperfield in 1999. He has now been hired to adapt the sequel, The Shadow in the North - which is perhaps a better novel, with a stronger plot line - and I sincerely hope he produces a stronger, more coherent and more 'cinematic' screenplay. In truth, this adaptation strived to keep close to the source text, but Pullman's original is a bit of a jumble - albeit enjoyable. Hodges would maybe have been better advised to re-draft wholesale, sections of this text.

Sets, scenery and location were fine if uninspiring. This period drama is not set to win awards, that's for sure. But it made for a pleasant enough evening's viewing, even though it was far from outstanding, and never better than average.
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Casino Royale (2006)
Bond's no Bourne ... problem is, Bond's not Bond either
29 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The latest Bond outing, Casino Royale, starring Daniel Craig in the leading role, is over-hyped rubbish. Sorry. I know it has plentiful fans and critical support, but I was thoroughly unimpressed by the whole experience.

I had high hopes for this film. After the dire Die Another Day, I couldn't see any other direction for the franchise to go, but up. How wrong I was.

In truth, the Bourne franchise, with Matt Damon as the super-cool tough guy Jason Bourne, fighting against the worst excesses of the US secret services, has knocked Bond for six. The dark, gritty froideur of Bourne and the imaginative direction from first Doug Liman and then Paul Greengrass ensured Bond looked kitsch and laboured in comparison. Bond producers were rightly concerned. Their solution, it seemed, was to emulate Bourne. Big mistake!

Bond and Bourne are based on entirely different premises. James Bond is an insider, he works for Mi6, and according to Ian Fleming, Bond is Eton-educated, a man born out of British imperialist traditions. (Although in this new version of Casino Royale, Bond is strictly State-school).

Jason Bourne is an outsider of uncertain origin - a CIA-trained killing machine who is now intent on recovering his identity. Thus, however maverick or disobedient Bond may be, he is ultimately on government pay, whereas Bourne is a social outcast, unearthing the dark and sinister secrets underpinning the State - the prime source of all the best paranoid conspiracy theories, which epitomise the uncertain, fearful world we live in today. From this point of view, Bond is pretty much stuffed.

Casino Royale is even further hampered by its lack of a decent plot-line. Yes, yes, we know this is now post 9/11 ... Judi Dench's M tells us this in the starkest terms possible. But this has little effect on plot detail it seems. Even the rise of extremist Islamic terrorism hasn't informed the new look Bond, in spite of being viewed world over as the major terrorist force of our times.

So what do we get with Casino Royale? A muddled narrative which focuses on financial fraud - namely fixing stock prices by means of sponsoring terrorist actions. Which terrorists? Well, we never learn this vital piece of information.

Our 'Bond Villain' is the terrorist money-man, Mads Mikkelson, complete with a creepy bleeding tear-duct, who has lost $150m and needs to recoup it in a poker game. Wow whoopee .... edge of the seat stuff ... I was almost crying with boredom. The plot thus revolved, seemingly, around this $150m, and Bond's sharpest card-playing tactics to prevent it falling into the wrong hands. Now I hate to be flippant - but let's face it, $150m is diddly-squat in the big scheme of things.

To be fair, the opening scenes, Bond's first kills, were fantastic. And then there was an exciting high wire crane-chase with Bond hunting down a bomb-maker in Madagascar. All good stuff. We then had a mildly riveting action sequence at Miami airport with Bond trying to save a new Skyfleet super-plane from being blown up by the bad guys. But it went dramatically downhill from there.

Bond was dispatched to Montenegro and the interminable poker game at the heart of the film - which was punctuated, mercifully, by a few bouts of unbridled violence. This sequence culminated in a much-hyped torture scene, and then there was an endless coda in Venice, when Bond discovers the true perfidy of Vesper Lynd, the slink Missy he has fallen for.

Lynd was played by the stylish French actress Eva Green, whose plummy British vowels sounded like she was gobbling clumps of broken china and had a bad cold to boot, poor dear. Plus, her natural good looks were swamped by lashings of thick black kohl.

As for Bond himself. Could Daniel Craig overcome his critics? In a word, no ... Except, yes. The critics have positively wet themselves with surprised glee, admiration and probably contrition at Craig's Bond. This universal acclaim has declared him to be the best Bond since Connery. How can this be??

I seriously wonder if I am living on an alternative planet ... Craig's Bond was mediocre, at best (and believe me, I was cheesed-off at the whiny Craig-bashing pre-Bond). His primary facial expression was a strangely screwed-up, pursed-lip 'thing' which riled me. His voice is flat and toneless and he lacked charisma. Worse still, he is humourless.

OK so we know the famous Bond 'quips' were a non-starter in this all-new, oh-so-serious Bond ... well Bond producers, scriptwriters et al, get over yourselves! We need a Bond with a 'twinkle' - even while dispatching the villains with calculated, sociopathic violence. Bond's wit is an essential ingredient. Jason Bourne, of course, does not need to be funny. That is not his style, which is born out of anguish, pain, a sense of loss. But then again, this is not Bourne. I'll just repeat that. THIS IS NOT BOURNE.

Craig, in fairness, was given precious little to work with. He is a fine actor. But in Casino Royale, the script is risible. During the interminable poker- game we actually get 'commentary' from one of the secondary characters, Mathis (Giancarlo Gianninni). And still, the game doesn't make sense.

On the plus side, the locations are magnificent. Montenegro is a combination here of the Czech Republic and Italy's spectacular Lake Como, and the Bahamas look fabulous. As a deluxe tourist brochure Casino Royale is at its very best.

I was surprised to see that Martin Campbell had directed this film so poorly. I loved Goldeneye. It was outlandish, silly, occasionally hammy, but boy, was it a thrilling ride!! But this seems far too much like good, old-fashioned audience-pleasing fun for the new look po-faced Bond.
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A grimly beautiful cinematic feast
29 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men, based on the dark and chilling PD James novel, focuses on a tragically apocalyptic world set in 2027. This is a world dogged by a fertility crisis which has meant there has not been a new baby born at all, in over eighteen years. Wars have ravaged the planet, the environment is in a funk from decades of prolonged pollution and mankind is in freefall, offered suicide packs by the government which promise a quiet and painless demise. A totalitarian British government herds all foreigners ('fugees) into concentration camps and multiple terrorist groups seemingly stage bombings for fun.

And yet, miraculously, amidst this angst and mayhem, a young woman, Kee, has fallen pregnant. The story charts Kee's desperate attempt to escape to a new life, accompanied by her protector Theo, one of fiction's unsuspecting heroes - a man who suddenly finds himself at the crossroads of history and rises to the occasion.

I should say for starters that I am a huge fan of Cuaron's work. He directed, in my opinion, the best Harry Potter film so far - by a country mile I might add. His work on Great Expectations and A Little Princess was eye-catching. And Y Tu Mama Tambien was one of my favourite films of 2001. He does not disappoint with Children of Men. Cuaron has an astonishing feel for the cinematic medium. Every single frame is crammed with visual delights. More than most directors he succinctly moves and moulds narrative with cinematographic brilliance and has a talent for deploying colour, or lack of it, when necessary. He genuinely paints a story for us with a magically illustrative visual vocabulary.

Here we are presented with a dank, rain-strewn world; a bleak, grey landscape, scarred by numerous power-stations belching thick smoke. The city streets are dirty, claustrophobic and crowded and buildings are graffiti-ed and fallen into disrepair. After all, what is the point of rebuilding a world which no-one soon will be able to enjoy?

Cuaron has elicited strong acting performances from his cast here. Amongst the minor characters, Michael Caine is simply fantastic as genial hippy Jasper - a real scene-stealer. As indeed is Peter Mullan, an unsung hero of British film-making, who takes on the minor rumbustious role of Sid, the corrupt border official. Claire Hope-Ashitey is fine as Kee, the first woman in eighteen years to give birth, (her name is a little too heavy handed symbolically), and Pam Ferris as her anxious guardian Miriam is passable, but this is not her best work by any means. Julianne Moore is one of Hollywood's greatest actresses but is really rather ordinary here - although her early death is shocking and raw. Chiwetel Ejiofor is always good value but a little under-used here as the idealistic Luke.

However, most eye-catching (and heart-tugging too, if truth be told) is Clive Owen's searing, brave performance as the film's 'hero' Theo - a sour-faced, cynical everyman, who takes it upon himself to escort poor Kee to the sanctity of a ship headed for the much-fabled 'Human Project', a quasi-mythical settlement on the Azores, far away from the grime and misery of mainland Britain. To do so requires a perilous journey, avoiding trigger-happy terrorists and murderous thug-like British police officers. Their journey takes them to 'Bexhill' - a town turned notorious refugee camp, enmired in filth and despair, where a minor civil uprising is being quashed most violently by the authorities.

There is an unmistakable, probably unavoidable messianic overtone to the piece at times, given the nature of the material. And of course there are blood-sacrifices. We know they're coming. But that doesn't make them any less powerful when they do.

There is a lot to love in this film, including random but touching acts of human heroism ... and a lot to worry over. Most affecting, perhaps, was the news that Theo and Julian had lost their young child in 2008 to a flu pandemic - a death that clearly haunted and destroyed their relationship - though probably not their love.

There is a very moving moment when Jasper recounts the sorry story of their loss to Kee and Miriam - not knowing that Theo is in earshot. The camera slowly closes in on Theo's face which is stricken at the memory. Saving Kee and her child thus gives him a second chance to save a child when he could not save his own.

This is one of the best films of 2006. It confirms, yet again, Cuaron as one of the supreme directing talents working today. I rather doubt Children of Men will garner much awards attention - it's a little too dystopic and bleak perhaps - but Cuaron deserves recognition.
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Surprisingly Fantastic
14 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I simply adored this film. This was one of the best romantic comedies I have seen for some years and I'm generally a pretty harsh judge of this genre.

Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet had sizzling chemistry - in all departments. Somehow they came across as a genuine, everyday couple. I had a real feeling that this story might well happen to two such people in such a way. Their story was not incongruous, outlandish, fantastical. It was very easy to relate to. After all, how many times in our busy lives are opportunities missed - or postponed? Often forever, as fresh circumstances intervene and take over?

So lead performances were strong, or at least highly credible. Supporting cast was fine. Ollie's deaf brother was very sweet, but this, sadly, was the only real weak spot for me, because it felt a little borrowed from the seminal romcom Four Weddings and a Funeral - which was also a story of missed opportunities.

Set design was nicely thought out and locations were aptly chosen. The soundtrack was AWESOME. Absolutely fitting. Faultless frankly.

Best moments - well, being the soppy romantic I've just re-discovered myself to be after watching this film: when Ollie dramatically kisses Emily at the New Years Ball; the moonlight photo; Emily's hilariously transparent attempt to seduce Ollie when he shows up in L.A. after being dumped by his girlfriend; the moment Emily discovers he took photos of her FIRST; and the graveyard scene. Oh, plenty more ... I really liked this film. Can't wait to see it again.
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Fantastically funny
2 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Reading other reviews here at IMDb I am staggered at how polarising this film has proved to be. 'A Cock and Bull Story' was one of the most brilliantly-managed funny films I have seen in a long time. And like all good comedies, the film also had pathos and heart.

The disjunctured, non-linear narrative was an apt adaptive style for Sterne's masterpiece allowing for the digressive qualities that make up the original. The conceit in this case - the analysis of the meta-textual film-making process, in conjunction with the 'adapters' re-creation of the source - was ideally suited to the material. In addition, we had a separate textual narrative in play, the narrative of Steve Coogan (as Steve Coogan)'s own confused and digressive life. In this sense the film played pitch perfectly to both needs - the process of text-to-screen adaptation itself (with an intelligent twist), and, most aptly, afforded additional modern relevance by utilising modern-day obsession with celebrity culture, the drive towards self- narrativisation, to express the key tenets of Sterne's original story - how each life is ongoing, unmanageable, shifting, mutable, haphazard.

Sterne's text effectively prefigures postmodern ideas of intertextuality, reality is slippery, unfixed - to the point where no narrative, no story of a life, can ever be truly or truthfully related. Winterbottom's response, however, is far from disorganised - this is tightly controlled stuff masquerading as loose and ramshackle. There are clear points the film aims to put across, including the impossibility of closure, man's relentless ego, hence we have a radio news broadcast at one point reminding us of the interminable nature of the war in Iraq, and the dubious fate of terror suspects. This is a sharp reminder of how our inability to manage and control our own personal narratives and our self-presentation, has extended beyond ourselves - we create and participate in a bigger picture which is unruly, reckless, unmanageable, prone to digression, subject to ego.

By the same token, the presence of Coogan's baby, his realisation that being close to the mother of his child - even if it is only for then, that moment - is necessary, warm and comforting. Even the Tristram Shandy story can only resolve itself by reaching the point of childbirth - the delivery of a new life into this chaotic world - a baby who will become the confused and confusing (yet utterly realistic) Tristram Shandy. Life goes on regardless.

Seriousness aside - thankfully - 'A Cock and Bull Story' does just that; ensures seriousness is constantly put aside. Po-faced comments on postmodern textuality (not too far removed from what has been written in this review) are delivered deadpan by Coogan, to be laughed at and ridiculed. Stephen Fry's small role as the curator of Shandy Hall tells us in mockumentary style what Sterne was writing about, and why - and indeed, what he tells us, goes straight to the heart of the matter, but is rendered humorous by Fry's comic old bluffer mode of acting. The pretentious twaddle spoken by Coogan's sexy production assistant Jenny (a splendid Naomie Harris here) is debunked at the end of the film by her 'real-life' shallow twaddle, discussing her pay-as-you-go mobile phone.

Acting performances are strong, multi-layered, interesting. Steve Coogan is fabulous as the loathsome yet pitiful Steve Coogan - a brilliant piece of acting as he brings a sneaking sadness to the role, a quiet desperation behind the ebullient point-scoring with Rob Brydon. His final concession of (self)-defeat - allowing his and Brydon's shoes to go unchanged - is a wonderful, underplayed moment; effectively the climax for his character's development within the narrative arc (what there is of one) within this film. Rob Brydon as Brydon-Uncle Toby is simply superb here - granted, he has the funnier, more sympathetic role, but he is still something of a scene-stealer (although, 'Coogan' would be happy to know that it is still 'Coogan' who is very much the lead star). Again, Brydon brings humour, comic banter, but also a slight sadness and even a faint anger at Coogan's comparative celebrity, which underlines his performance with the requisite depth and interest it would need.

There are flawless performances throughout the highly talented supporting cast - including Jeremy Northam as the twitchy, uncertain director, Kelly Macdonald as the sweet, tolerant girlfriend, Naomie Harris as the earnest production assistant, Gillian Anderson as the imported glamour, James Fleet as the star-struck producer, Shirley Henderson as the cryptically comic maid, Dylan Moran as the drunken doctor, Keeley Hawes as the poor benighted mother, constantly in painful labour, and Mark Williams as the over-enthusiastic historical battles expert.

In sum, a smart, funny and strongly-acted piece of work. It is unlikely to be a widely accessible film by virtue of its deliberately contrived media parochialism - you need a degree of prior knowledge in Coogan's work and comic personas for example. Also, the appearance of David Walliams as the curate prompted an automatic snigger at my cinema viewing, because of the current popularity of Little Britain.

This film seems to be trying to make a pseudo-pretentious point about postmodernism, offering a seemingly shambolic, made-up, impromptu, disconnected sort of narrative, which is then debunked by the over-arching reality that this film is actually tightly-controlled, ultimately on-message and a surprisingly streamlined narrative, (while pretending to be otherwise) - indeed, this (perhaps) is the real point the film is making about postmodernism itself - Postmodernism as ironic messiness, as style over substance, as witting sham. Yet, the film has enough heart to ensure it never becomes too weighty or laboured.

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The secret of this film's success
11 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The secret of this film's success is how it stays with you, after the event, and indeed, its power intensifies. I hugely enjoyed watching Brokeback Mountain at the cinema - the film is a visual cinematographic treat, the acting performances are spot-on, the changing period details are subtly wrought (although Anne Hathaway's wigs are outright hilarious), the theme of forbidden love is duly frustrating and - less hyped - the class context which underpins much of the story too is extremely well done.

However, there are some 'minor' problems with the film too. The film's first act up Brokeback Mountain is a masterpiece - as indeed it is the high point for Ennis and Jack for all of their lives - and the chemistry generated between the lovers is deftly handled. We warm to their characters, we want them to be happy.

After Brokeback, the film has to cover a lot of time and comes across as choppy, too episodic, and by the end of the film, the pace even loses traction a little. Perhaps we would have been better off witnessing Jack's death for ourselves? Although we cannot be precisely sure just HOW he died, which is possibly why the film chooses to offer us two versions - Lureen's account and Ennis's lurid imaginings which mirror his own childhood fears of the brutalised, murdered homosexual rancher his father cruelly forced him to witness - the experience which traumatises poor Ennis for life.

Interesting then that these 'problems' actually become a strength after leaving the cinema ... the episodic format enables easier 'recall'. I found moments and scenes drifting into my consciousness, often unbidden, for a few days afterwards. Similarly, the soundtrack which mainly comprises acoustic guitar riffs and vast swathes of silence, was far from impressive I felt - and even a little annoying, when each mini-episode seemed to crank up with yet another twanging reprise of the acoustic guitar. And yet, this little riff can't quite leave my mind now - and I have even come to like it. It is a cunning little device, because it formally kickstarts each little episode - both on film and in mental replay. Again, post film recall is made easier.

Much praise has gone to Heath Ledger as Ennis, and much of it is deserved, as he embodies this pained, buttoned-up character, who shies from emotion and only seems to find release with Jack. But I found myself more haunted by Jake Gyllenhaal as Jack Twist. His frustration is palpable - not just with Ennis and their circumstances - but his whole life. The turkey- carving scene with his overbearing father-in-law was superb, capturing their 'masculine' battle for patriarchal control of the family. This then was mirrored perfectly by Alma's demure new husband carving his turkey with an electric carving knife - which said everything about Alma's new squeaky-clean life without Ennis.

Jake Gyllenhaal's haunted eyes powerfully recall what might have been, as he nostalgically remembers the intimate, playful relationship Ennis and Jack once enjoyed up Brokeback Mountain, even revealing how Ennis had cared so tenderly for Jack – a sudden insight into Ennis himself, his own emotional potential, which has been stymied throughout the film. This brief glimpse into past youthful happiness which has never been fully realised is tantalising and tragic, as Jack wistfully watches Ennis driving away from the mountain after a bust-up. Gyllenhaal carries this moment superbly well.

One of the most poignant and important moments in the film is when Ennis explains to Jack that it is his poverty, the harsh realities of his hand-to-mouth economic situation, which also put a brake on his ability to spend more time with Jack. The contrast between their circumstances is stark. Jack can afford to take time off work to visit his 'fishing buddy'; Jack works for the family firm and is unlikely to lose his job. But poor Ennis has had to sacrifice much more to be with Jack. Jack brings swish camping gear to their mountain rendezvous, subtle signification of his increasingly middle- class status, which further alienates him from the non-aspirational Ennis who is socially entrenched. Indeed, so rigid is his conservatism, it has become his personal prison. Ennis always stays the same.

Jack's wife, played by Anne Hathaway, is also superb - and in fact impressed me much more than Michelle Williams who plays Ennis's long-suffering wife Alma, and seems to be garnering more critical plaudits. Williams was OK, but she never moved me, and I feel her role demanded that kind of response.

Did the film as a whole move me in the way it appears to have affected so many others? Frankly no - but this is probably a strength and not a failing. Ang Lee has not opted for mawkish sentimentality - and he had many options to do so. A completely melodramatic emotional collapse from Ennis at the end would have served this point well - but he chooses instead to steer clear of overt emotionalism, and allows the story to tell itself, the characters to 'be'. The film thus feels realistic, rather than voyeuristic - and political messages are never forced home with undue punch and pomposity. The narrative solely charts the emotional journeys of these two simple, everyday men - it is never hyperbolised, messy, unnecessary but tightly controlled, under-stated, even spartan. Much is left unsaid, and the film is the better for it.

One of the most glorious 'characters' of the piece is the awe-inspiring scenery of "Wyoming"/ Alberta in the film - the manifold wide-lensed shots, the dramatic colours, the luminous skies, the rolling clouds, the clear blue rivers and even the vast flocks of sheep texturing the landscape - these images stay with you.

8.5 out of 10.
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Disappointing and lacks Cuaron's magical vision
10 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I had high hopes for this latest instalment of the Harry Potter series, most especially after the superlative production of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban with Alfonso Cuaron at the helm. Cuaron's film was a genuine cinematic treat, often visually stunning, darkly atmospheric, strongly-acted, emotionally satisfying with a realistic central theme charting Harry's personal growth and his evolving sense of identity. Emma Watson was excellent here as Hermione, and her scenes with Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), most particularly during the brilliantly directed Time Turner sequence were a stand-out. There were multiple visual clues, gags, motifs, clever filmic transitions to delight during this film, ensuring a multi-layer narrative - more than mere popcorn action and trite adherence to the book.

As for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - everything I can say about Cuaron's film cannot now be said. Indeed, it is an almost complete reversal. The film is not as impressive visually - indeed, it borders on dull and plodding. The brooding darkness first instigated by Cuaron is still apparent, but has been dimmed to an oddly greenish, medieval hue which pervades throughout. Cuaron's palette was more blues and greys and silvers, to often startling effect. Newell's dank colours stifle and subdue the film. There is abundant use of silver at the Yule Ball, but even this episode lacked vitality I felt, which is a big shame as Newell was most surefooted when tackling material which pertained to the teenage angsty relationships - basically human interest stuff was handled pretty well, and often to mildly comic effect. As a result, Rupert Grint as Ron, and Matthew Lewis as Neville, came off best in this production. I have not been impressed with Grint in particular in former films, but here he put in a strong performance - I guess Newell was more secure and at ease in handling Grint's major material.

The same could not be said for Emma Watson, who was shrill and annoying - much more so even than her character Hermione who can herself be hugely irritating in the book (albeit lovable). Gambon's hysterical Dumbledore was quite dreadfully overplayed - in Cuaron's version Gambon just about managed to maintain an even keel - here, Newell allowed him to melodramatically fall overboard. In truth, precious few performances had much to recommend themselves. Maggie Smith was competent as always, ditto Rickman's Snape (although horridly underwritten). Barty Crouch Snr and Jnr were much less effective (this saddens me as fan of David Tennent). Gleason's Mad Eye Moody was a wasted opportunity, and his eye decoration was simply ludicrous and not in the least bit disturbing.

The narrative flow was episodic and clunky. The early stages of the film actually dragged: The World Cup debacle resulted in a completely disproportionate and unwarranted apocalyptic landscape, the introduction to the TriWizard tournament was wrecked by egregious over-acting from Dumbledore. Events mildly picked up during parts of the tournament itself, and the dragon sequence was particularly impressive. The bathroom scene with Moaning Myrtle was well-done (again, back into safe semi-comic Newell territory) and although much was lost from the original which would have boosted the suspense factor considerably, the maze had its moments. The final graveyard sequence, however, was OTT rubbish, almost completely devoid of suspense and emotion. I had looked forward to the recreation of Voldemort, but this was one hell of a letdown. Fiennes deserved better.

I did wonder though if Newell had been slightly handicapped by the book too in this respect - the evocation of Voldemort was always going to be tricky to handle. Perhaps Cuaron was lucky in not having to handle this aspect of Harry Potter at all - events, fears were grounded in reality - and frankly the Dementor's kiss, and indeed, the ghastly spectral Dementors themselves, feasting on our fears and phobias, are probably the most frightening inventions in the entire series to date. Voldemort is a bit too much of a cartoon figure - the personification of evil is probably better left unstated, left to the imagination, the subjective. As a mind-possessing force in the next instalment (The Order of the Phoenix), Voldemort is more sinister, more terrible. Perhaps then we will get a better film.
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Batman Begins (2005)
Over-hyped and dull
24 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
What is it with the rapturous acclamation of this film? It's really not worth it. For the most part this is OK - it has a a suitably dark and brooding Gothic cityscape and some fine actors including Tom Wilkinson, Cillian Murphy (particularly good here as the creepy Dr Crane/ Scarecrow) and of course Christian Bale himself as a more psychologically explained and brooding Batman than we have formerly been accustomed to. Although it must be said, the standout performance is Michael Caine who is hugely endearing as Bruce Wayne's loyal butler. Linus Roache is affecting too in his foreshortened role as Bruce's father.

But the narrative itself is meandering and vague. The non-linear structure in the early stages is simply not well-managed enough by Nolan's direction and can be confusing. The training sequences were too drawn-out and deathly dull - a fault common in this film; sometimes the director just does not know when to say 'cut'. This is especially true towards the end when the film drags badly.

In short, Batman Begins is really rather boring. I found I couldn't care less about Batman's vengeful mission or his guilty obsession with his poor dead father. Notably his poor murdered mother was barely commented on throughout this gloomy Freudian nonsense.
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major disappointment
23 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I really wanted to enjoy this film and was looking forward to it, but sadly found it a major disappointment. There were some comic moments - I loved the Hammer Horror references, in particular the scene between the crazed vicar and Victor, and the organ music joke - I also liked the 'dogfight', most especially when 'Phillip' produced his pretty purse to pay for the dodgem him and Gromit are driving. There were some other enjoyable moments too, most especially the characterisation of Victor (a great job from Ralph Fiennes) and, of course, Gromit, who is absolutely marvellous in every department, the complete star of the show.

What I could not abide however - WALLACE. He drove me up the wall. His inane voice, the same old lines, same old jokes - yes, yes we know he likes cheese for the umpteen hundredth time. And the storyline itself was ridiculous and original in its own way, but not ridiculous and original in a 'funny' way, which is what I had hoped for. The multiple puns were vaguely amusing in a 'Carry On' ooh-er missus kind of way - done better, I should add in the original 'Carry On' ooh-er missus films, or even the first Austin Powers, but not so funny re-trod over and over and over again as it was here.

In fact this film was simply too over-loaded with intertextual references across a variety of genres and well-known films, and had also parodied itself, its own characterisations, to the point of self-annihilation. I was desperately seeking smidgens of originality - but they were rare sightings. I really, really couldn't care less about this painfully silly fictitious Northern British pastiche, with its dull fixation for overgrown vegetables. Lady Tottington was carried off with some aplomb by Helena Bonham-Carter and was a sweet lass, but was a ridiculous stereoptype -the posh bird and the 'peasant' is old hat. This film was saying nothing, doing nothing - now this I can handle, and I definitely am a glutton for vicarious enjoyment - but sadly Wallace & Gromit this time fell a long way short here. It was empty and vacuous, saved by the always-brilliant Gromit. The Wrong Trousers is one of my favourite animated films - the evil penguin one of our most pernicious and chilling villains (seriously) - perhaps this film lacked a true baddie?
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The Garden of Redemption (1997 TV Movie)
18 October 2005
What a dull film which only really perked up towards the very final stages. So much more could have been made of this narrative - and there was some decent acting talent on board too: Anthony La Paglia is almost always a stalwart; Peter Firth is generally good value; and Jorge Sanz is a charismatic actor and a big star in his native Spain. However Sanz was woefully under-used here, and the lead female Embeth Davidtz, while undoubtedly a reasonable actress, is best when arch and witty, but is badly miscast here as too soft and winsome.

The plot meandered, the script was lifeless, the actors had assumed horribly phony sounding accents which grated after the first five minutes: this was really was a case of direction-by-numbers. The La Paglia/Davidtz will they, won't they 'romance' was mildly intriguing - carried by LaPaglia who has to grapple with his inner conscience throughout, as he is a Catholic Priest but is clearly very attracted to Adriana (Davidtz). So this gets a 4 for LaPaglia, and for a minor fillip of interest due to a suspenseful and tragic finish.
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Serenity (2005)
Reasonably entertaining
17 October 2005
This was a reasonably enjoyable if not scintillating way to spend a night at the cinema. I went to see Serenity with minimal expectations - I had never seen Firefly on TV - although I had heard good things. This is not a great Sci-Fi movie, and is closer (as reviewers point out) in mood and feel and narrative structure to a typical Western - but set in Space (and some indeterminate future).

It took me some time to understand Nathan Fillion who stars as 'Mal' because he is an inveterate mumbler, but I eventually got the hang of it, and once I did I enjoyed his role. Adam Baldwin as Jayne had me sniggering throughout - definitely my favourite character. The doctor (Sean Maher) was a little dull, Kaylee (Jewel Staite) was a lot spunkier and convincing and the Goth super-teen River (Summer Glau) had her moments. The husband and wife Wash (Alan Tudyk) and Zoe (Gina Torres) were strong characterisations - Zoe in particular. However, the inclusion of Inara (Morena Baccarin) was a total waste of time and space. It was clear that she was Mal's love-interest (though not properly explored - but clearly being set up as an ongoing on-off love affair throughout the franchise zzzz) and could (kind of) kick butt as she lures the baddie into a trap, but her character was hugely under-developed and merely involved her wafting around prettily in impractical clothing.

The big bad secret (without going into details here) was disappointing and poorly executed - cheap sets, cheap 'effects', cheap dummies, space-ships which look like kiddie models, and some dodgy plot-lines; this has been called a Star Wars for adults, but in fact Serenity just seems to rip off elements of its infinitely better precursor. I guess Serenity is supposed to be akin to (pre-Leia) Han Solo's perspective.

Despite these faults, which cannot be ignored, the film is fun enough and certainly worth a look, if only for the absolutely stonking performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor as The Operative - the cold-blooded baddie. I have never yet seen Ejiofor fumble in any role, he is a superlative actor. David Krumholtz as Mr Universe was a cute enough comic cameo; he could thrive with bigger, meatier material.
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Enjoyable and Endearing
17 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
'Blast from the Past' was never going to win any major awards, it was never going to re- define postmodern cinema or even be remotely block-busting. It was surely conceived as a harmless piece of fluffy fun originating from the ludicrous but cute conceit that a family - headed by a gloriously loopy Christopher Walken - has been living in a fully-functioning nuclear shelter beneath L.A. since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Now in his 30s, the son born to Walken and his equally loopy and long-suffering wife Sissy Spacek, is sent on a mission into modern-day L.A. to accumulate supplies. 'Adam', played with sweet charm and gusto by Brendan Fraser soon meets his 'Eve' (Alicia Silverstone) and the film then charts his assimilation into modern life (and the ghastly realisation that his father has been deluded for so long) and his ensuing comic romance.

There are numerous mildly (though never gut-bustingly funny) comic sequences in this film - the hippie's cult, Adam on the bus, Adam at the Holiday Inn, but most particularly, the antics of Adam's parents, most especially Walken. Indeed, the entire underground-bunker set-up and how the family survive so many years is brilliantly orchestrated and strangely fascinating too. There are also occasional touching moments too - Adam's discovery of the ocean for the first time for example. The stand-out scene is the 1940s nightclub where Adam gets to strut his funky stuff in a dance sequence overflowing with brio and panache. The Big Band music is brilliant.

On the downside, Silverstone's performance is occasionally a little jarring, and the characterisation of her friend Troy needed some fleshing out. This is clearly not a mega- budget film which is far from a criticism in itself, but the look, feel and flow is occasionally clunky, and a little cheap-looking. Overall I give this a 7.5/10 - (8 on the IMDb star system, rather than 7) as much for its enthusiasm, some fine comic performances and its endearing charm.
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Only You (1994)
A Love Letter to Italy
17 October 2005
I have a problem with this film. I know it's schmaltzy, silly, OTT Romcom at its most cynically heart-tugging but I am simply a sucker for it - it gets me every time, most especially the last scenes at the airport (without wanting to give too much away) which always, and I mean always, squeeze a tear out of me.

I have to give it an 8/10 because the film holds a quasi-gravitational pull on me - the moment I catch a tinsy glimpse of it if channel-hopping I am compelled to watch the film in its entirety - again. And while in this confessional mode, Robert Downey Jr is incredible in this film; how was he ever so cute? Marisa Tomei is also a feast for the eyes and their chemistry is sensational. But Bonnie Hunt steals the show - she is immaculate in this role and demonstrates a keen sense for deadpan humour.

Best of all though is the scenery, the setting - Italy itself. The photography is sumptuous, idealised and mixed with a frothy Rachel Portman score we are being seduced by a 'fake' Italy if truth be told - it is impossible for somewhere to be so universally charming in every single shot. Even so, Italy is my favourite country in the world - the way it works its enchantments on the characters is totally true: Rome is gorgeous, the Tuscan landscape is stunning, the road trip to Positano and the town itself are breath-taking, a genuine evocation of the wonders and ambiance of those places. It gets me every time.

In sum - this film is lovely, heart-warming, escapist nonsense: a genuine guilty pleasure.
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Good in Parts - Dull and Predictable Finale
16 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
The Last Samurai was much better than I had expected. It was never a film I looked forward to with keen anticipation and I waited until it was on satellite TV before bothering to watch it. This I now see was probably a mistake as the film's panoramic drama would have been more effective viewed on a big screen.

Perhaps my small-screen mode of viewing affected my response to this film? Frankly the grand battle-scene finale left me cold, while the more intimate section of the film which detailed Algren's assimilation into Samurai society was much more appealing. I felt sad to see Algren leave his mountain hide-out because I realised that this part of the film was now over - after this I was less interested.

Tom Cruise as Algren was OK - still so very much Tom Cruise of course, but then mega-buck uberstars always tend to play themselves; that's Hollywood I guess. Ken Watanabe put in a strong performance - perhaps a little over-hyped - and I enjoyed Higen's characterisation.

Scenery was splendid - partly shot in New Zealand, which is always a winner. And the photography was spot-on - although the 'direction' was a little stale at times, even plodding.

Obviously there has been some controversy over the portrayal of Japan and Japanese culture - I think this is understandable, and debate is healthy. There is a perpetual instinct for Hollywood to view the world from a US-centric position which in today's globalised world and with the constant threat of US Cultural Imperialism is not especially useful or necessary. However, Hollywood is making films for a primarily US audience - even though worldwide box office and DVD sales are vital economic components. Therefore having an American hero and 'experiencing' with this character what is to him, and to us (assuming most viewers around the world in the 21st century are not tuned into the ancient rules of Bushido) a wholly alien and yet fascinating and wonderful culture is not in itself patronising. Accuracies, misportrayals are a different story, but frankly I don't have the knowledge-base to challenge these - hopefully then this film can inform greater understanding, if only through the subsequent debate.

As a piece of entertainment, The Last Samurai has plentiful action and some pleasing moments - I have given it 6 out of 10 only because the draconian Amazon rating system won't allow me to submit a 6.5 which is where I would properly rate it!
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Simply Brilliant
15 October 2005
This film is one of the best I have seen for a long, long time. A truly surprising gem. The acting is outstanding: Matthew MacFayden is utterly superb in his role as Paul Prior a jaded war photographer embroiled in emotional drama, most of it painful, when he returns home to his native New Zealand for his father's funeral - his performance here is heart-wrenching, yet under-stated. He is surely one of our finest actors working today. Emily Barclay is hugely impressive and extremely moving as Celia, the 16 year old girl he befriends. Their relationship is touching, beautifully drawn - even though Paul is weighted with the possibility that things are not what they seem.

The narrative flow of the film is well-controlled; it's a complicated and suspenseful plot, but handled deftly, and skilfully paced. Some concentration is required as the film does not plod through plot in a linear fashion, but juxtaposes scenes, juggles time-schemes - but the rewards repay the effort in keeping track 100-fold; if only for the final scene which is all the more moving for it.

The look and feel of the film is realistic - a cinematographic blend of gritty greys and blues, offset by luminous pools of spotlight colour. It is gorgeously photographed: The passing of time as depicted by an avenue of trees, moving from blossom to snowfall; the stunning landscapes - courtesy of New Zealand's immense natural splendour - provide backdrops which are both eye-catching but often appropriate too; even the grimy intimacy of the father's den. The soundtrack also warrants mention as music is used to excellent effect throughout.

All in all a staggeringly beautiful, wonderfully-written film with gloriously strong acting performances. 10/10
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Surprisingly refreshing
12 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I liked this film more than I ever thought I would.

PP is utterly engaging, emotionally resonating, and truly beautiful. Photography is lush, cinematography is outstanding, art design is impressive and director Joe Wright has a wonderful choreographic talent for organising space and people - the long tracking shots he uses for the two major (and magnificent) dance scenes, and the opening sequence at the Bennet House comprise brilliant film-making. The music is enchanting too.

The overall atmosphere of the film is evocative, down-to-earth, very sensual. Many may not appreciate this reading of Austen; but in my opinion this earthy, sensuous interpretation actually works surprisingly well.

The plot mainly focuses on Lizzie and Darcy which ensures coherency and flow and streamlines the action. Even so, Bingley and Jane are nicely-played and the relationship between Lizzy and Jane is endearing and realistic too.

At first Bingley is a little too comedic with his froggy bug-eyes and a shock of bright red hair, but he grows on you - his crush on Jane (a luminous Rosamund Pike) is heart-warming. His failed proposal is amusing too, as is an additional scene where Darcy 'rehearses' the proposal with Bingley.

Lydia and Wickham are much less-developed, and both characterisations are not so satisfying. Lydia is just too giddy and even a little vulnerable. Wickham has a touch of the sociopath – there is even a foreboding of marital violence.

The Bennet family is one of the highlights of this production. The chaos, warmth and humour of the household is delightful; We do hear Donald Sutherland's Canadian twang but his Mr Bennet inspires affection. Mrs Bennet (Brenda Blethyn) is comical and vulgar but lovable and naturalistic too.

Stand-out minor characters - Mr Collins (Tom Hollander) is pitched nicely, very funny but very stiff; Penelope Wilton has a nice cameo role with Aunt Gardiner; Judi Dench's Lady Catherine de Bourgh is amusing, most especially when she hyperventilates like an angry rhino during her final confrontation with Lizzie - although it is some measure of her overall lesser importance here that this scene actually felt a little unnecessary by this stage.

Darcy is truly wonderful - in my opinion Matthew MacFayden nails this role. I love the Firth portrayal (BBC 1995), but have always considered it just TOO haughty and mature and confrontational, even for the novel's Darcy. Despite a shorter running time and an occasionally jarring script, MacFayden's acting is wonderfully subtle - there is a sense throughout of intense emotion barely contained ... just beneath the skin. His eyes flicker with light and shade to relay emotion. He has a powerful presence throughout.

As for Knightley's Lizzie - at first I didn't like her one jot. Too many teeth, too perky, clipped delivery - but she gains real gravitas as the film progresses. (Despite this she is awful in the very last scene - but that is the fault of the script). In 1995 Jennifer Ehle's Lizzie was marvellously witty, but maybe a little too matronly. Knightley's flighty Lizzie is so very different - a bright young girl grappling to come to terms with her emotional and sexual feelings. She is not the much-loved Lizzie Bennet of the book – but there are flashes. This is still a pleasing and appropriate Lizzie in the short space of time we have to know her.

Sure, this film is not too big on ideas and wit and verbal combat - it is fleshier, sexier, easier to understand in a digestible 2 hour fix; but it succeeds brilliantly in what it set out to do, which is to revel in Austen's world, language, and this hugely entertaining love affair. This film is primarily about falling and being in love.

The tense physical attraction between Lizzie and Darcy is enacted beautifully - Darcy's gaze lingers on Lizzie's neck (a beautiful neck by the way and frequently seen), and their fierce argument when he first proposes - strong acting overwhelming what was otherwise quite a clichéd scene - and their graduating sense of mutual awareness as the story progresses. Even their final sappy scene together is rather charming, albeit cloaked in dawn mists amidst thundering romantic piano music.

Stand-out scenes include one likely to enrage Austenite purists when Lizzie visits Pemberley and marvels at a gallery chock-full of Classical Greek marble male statues – she tearfully admires the smooth eroticism of their naked forms. The grandiose ceiling above is festooned with plump naked cherubs and scantily-clad ladies.

The opening scenes at the Bennet house are fabulous, Lizzie's begging her father to not allow her to marry Mr Collins by a sunset-drenched lake, and the first assembly is a rumbustious, lively affair - you can almost smell the sweat.

But for me the best scene in the film is the Netherfield Ball. This sequence is stunning; the camera swooping and diving throughout the action, pursuing multiple characters and story lines before the camera finally moves outside of the ballroom and finds Lizzie alone, recovering from her dance with Mr Darcy.

The film is packed with similar moments - the camera seems to track closer and closer to Lizzie as the plot progresses, and constantly captures subtle signs of Darcy's physical response to Lizzie's presence such as when he flexes his hand whenever he has been near to her.

There are also a lot of laughs in this film. Watching this is rather like quickly downing a few glasses of champagne - you feel bubbly, lightheaded, even enervated.

Don't expect a deeply cerebral experience. Don't expect virtuous reverence to text and period. Don't have too many pre-conceptions - just enjoy the film for what it is: silly, sexy, often very witty, visually stunning, at times remarkably subtle and beautifully acted (MacFayden is a stand-out in this department, as is Blethyn); all directed with great verve and feeling.
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Overall, a fine sequel
29 January 2005
Warning: Spoilers
The Bourne Supremacy is a fine sequel movie albeit a little confusing in terms of plot and overall narrative structure. Like many others I too was annoyed at the early killing off of Marie, and on first viewing, the re-calibration of Jason as a lone, ruthless and tragic killer seeking revenge seemed a bit trite to me. This made me 'miss' the first film, with its air of wintry mystery and suspense, and of course the love affair which feels so sincere and under-stated between Jason and Marie. But on subsequent viewing I can now see that the franchise would have ground to an early halt with Marie still alive, as the idea of their constantly being on the run from those intent on killing Bourne would have had less and less mileage over time. There are now many more possibilities for further plot developments.

Where the film fails is in explaining the back-story of Treadstone - its purpose, power relations, corruption. A deleted scene on the DVD serves a better purpose here than the film itself does in explaining the link between corrupt CIA operatives and corrupt Russian oligarchs. It is not necessary of course to have the plot spelt out in stark terms, but a little more clarity would have been appreciated at some points.

The settings were excellent and the look and feel of location shots very effective - although it was annoying that the European scenes were gritty and darkly-lit but New York City is awash with clean bright light.

Much of the acting was impressive stuff - Joan Allen (and her character Pamela Landy) were excellent and her verbal face-off with Brian Cox (Abbott) was superb. Matt Damon as Jason Bourne was fabulous - the secret to this franchise's success is surely Bourne himself; he is dark and conflicted, a controlled cauldron of emotion, guilt, fear and pain, and unpredictable, as we are never entirely sure of his motivations, his direction - and yet we still feel tremendous empathy for him. This is partly due to the writing of his character, but Damon has to take the lion's share of the credit for Bourne's weighty presence and the films' success.

For me, the most striking aspect of the film was the music soundtrack - winsome, dynamic, harsh, melodious, staccato, active - and silence is used appropriately too. Bourne's final meeting with the Russian girl is suitably still, not sentimental.

As for the much-maligned camera-work under Greengrass's direction, certainly there is something a little arrogant, even over-reaching in its desperation to be so 'real' - but there are many more truly fine moments. The final car chase does work, but the best moments are those where Greengrass captures stillness, quiet. Brian Cox in Berlin, a brooding, guilty presence in shadow while the CIA 'hub' office is racked with activity. Jason Bourne washing his hands in a public toilet, glancing nervously at his face in the mirror. Marie's death, as Bourne kisses her, and she drifts silently away underwater. Bourne walking away from the car crash at the end of the Moscow chase scene into a pool of light beyond the dark tunnel.
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Swimfan (2002)
Shoddy little teenpic
13 September 2004
Swimfan is dull, lifeless and predictable (especially if you have already seen Fatal Attraction). As with its more famous antecedent, this movie focuses on a hateful, obsessive female destroying the life of a careless but 'nice-at-heart' guy after taking a one-night stand a little too seriously. Yet the 'seducing' murderess is actually the most interesting character in this (which is saying precious little) - the 'hero' is dreary, and his girlfriend simply a victim, the sweet passive little counterpoint to the femme fatale figure. The plot is so over-blown, over- used and creaky, not to mention misogynistic. The film is shot in moody blues, and employs jump cuts amidst a variety of cinematographic devices designed it seems to somehow keep our interest. Yet all efforts fail miserably.
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striking, stylish, sometimes harrowing
11 September 2004
Warning: Spoilers
28 Days Later is a fine piece of British film-making. For me, (as a Brit), this post-apocalyptic film, replete with striking, often stirring images of a desolated Britain, resonated that much more than the typical US-set disaster movie. The deserted London streets were especially effective. The road trip mid-section is also worthwhile. The effects and overall camera-work are used judiciously and to stylish effect.

The film also features some fine performances - Cillan Murphy in particular. (SPOILER) His final, raging killing spree, bare-chested, gleaming pallour, splattered with blood, is slightly reminiscent of Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now. This sequence of events comes across as somewhat shocking, as up to this point (bar a cold-blooded incident with a baseball bat and an infected child) Murphy's character has appeared too gentle, even for his own good.

Less impressive were the red-eyed, blood-spewing Infecteds, Christopher Ecclestone's over- wooden performance, and a slightly confusing 'happy ending'. Unlike other commentators, I didn't find this ending too trite or unwelcome, but more explanation would have been preferred.
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One of the Best Movies I have ever seen
10 September 2004
Warning: Spoilers
I have seen many movies I thought I loved, but nothing has quite touched me like this film did. The film grabs you on many levels - it occasionally makes you laugh, certainly makes you think (a refreshing change in view of usual Hollywood fare) and unless you have a heart of stone, is likely to make you want to cry as well. The bitter/sweet ending is a true choker - my throat ached with pent-up emotion (I refuse to cry in cinemas!).

The script is wonderful, imaginative and joyously original. Kaufmann must surely nab the 2005 Oscar for this fine feat. The direction was slick and yet subtle when required, coping admirably with a convoluted plot and fractured, non-linear narrative style.

The acting was admirable, although with such marvelous material to work with it would have been a giant effort in itself to screw up too much here. Dunst and Rufalo were engaging in the film's key subplot, but the film truly belongs to Carrey and Winslet as the lovers who are at pains to forget each other though at such great pain to themselves. (SPOILER) The denouement when they agree to try again, even though they are confused, in turmoil, but needing each other so desperately, even with the uncertain knowledge that their love is probably doomed, and doomed to be doomed again and again, is truly wonderful, achingly beautiful and acted with such vivid emotion - Winslet is especially impressive.

This film deserves academy awards, so hopefully it will be re-released nearer nomination time. It is countless times better than most of the dross which passes for reasonable viewing these days. It stays with you, keeps you thinking, challenges and inspires.
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Donnie Darko (2001)
Wonderful, annoying, original, impactful - simply beautiful film-making
8 September 2004
This is a wonderful film on so many levels.

Thought-provoking, satirical, creative, beautifully-acted, well-scripted, stunning soundtrack, mood-making and yet with a really, really, really annoying storyline, trying so, so hard to be cutesy clever, literally frothing to put the P into Postmodern.

Yet I forgive it. Totally and utterly.

This is a refreshing take on the ubiquitous teen-movie and a dark, biting swipe at US suburban complacency.

And Jake Gyllenhal is simply incredible, wholly absorbing. A staggering presence. Awesome talent.

This is a riveting film all-round. A one-off.
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Meanders and fades after a good start
8 September 2004
'Moonlight Mile' is OK on many fronts, most especially due to some sturdy if somewhat obvious acting performances, but after a fine start, about the halfway point. the narrative sags a little and the movie ultimately meanders and fades to a predictable, sappy ending.

The slow unravelling of the plot is not the problem ... indeed the narrative needs it, as Joe (Gyllenhal) painfully eases his way towards truthful self-exposure, and his murdered fiancée's parents (Sarandon in splendidly brittle form and a less effective Hoffman) must come to terms with the grievous loss of their daughter and the realisation of Joe's awkward dilemma. The narrative calls for a sensitive portrayal of shock and grief, and for the most part this is what we get. Yet the movie starts to drag, the direction loses sight of its tight emotional core and soon slides into lazy clichés. The plot unravels somewhat and the final 20 minutes feels a tad disoriented and rushed - over-playing sensuous lighting in a moody bath-scene, plucky parents pulling themselves together and miraculously resolving (in Hoffman's case) pent-up psycho-drama built up over many years, plus a constant stream of lingering, love- lorn looks from a grim-faced Gyllenhal.

Overall Gyllenhal puts in a fine performance, consolidating his already burgeoning and impressive array of soulful youths in varying degrees of dank depression. His eyes are a key focus throughout - large limpid pools of sorrow and confusion; bearing more than a passing resemblance to the large, soulful eyes of the slightly down-looking labrador who accompanies Joe throughout much of the movie. Undoubtedly Gyllenhal has the appropriate emotional resonance and intensity for this role. Yet I would have preferred to see the part of Joe played by Tobey Maguire, with his even larger limpid pools of sorrow and confusion. The slight husky catch in Maguire's voice would have suited the timbre of this film and its ultimate descent into romantic mushy mawkishness more than Gyllenhal's slightly more weighty presence.
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Mixed bag
30 May 2004
Great special effects, sketchy characterisations, flimsy plot-lines, a frequently diabolical script, and yet some neat acting performances make for a mixed bag. Not the best disaster movie, but certainly not the worst either. Jake Gyllenhal was engaging, as were Ian Holm and Arjay Smith. Dennis Quaid was not as impressive. I felt the film needed the Quaid character to be more dynamic, more truly terrified, transmitting that sense of urgency - the film never really developed this for me, aside from the scenes at the British testing site when the buoys were seen to be behaving peculiarly - this was slightly eery, suspenseful. Overall, however, the film builds sufficiently well to hold interest, but sags badly two-thirds in. The US refugee crisis at the Mexican border drew a lot of laughs at the theatre I was watching! The political points though were heavy-handed; a shame in view of the importance of these issues. There was an unnecessary plot-line involving Quaid's wife and a sick child, included it seemed only to add mawkish sentimentality - it actually added nothing to the narrative.
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