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22 out of 26 people found the following review useful:
Such a shame, 17 December 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It is difficult to describe the disappointment I felt when viewing this movie. Alfred is portrayed as a would-be monk who grudgingly takes on the mantle of king under persuasion from a Welsh bishop called Asser, here played by Colin Blakely. In reality, Asser did not come into Alfred's life until eight years after the Battle of Ethandun in 878, the climax of this movie. The real Alfred was a tough, pragmatic German from a hierarchical society and would have known all along that his likely destiny was to be king and the wrangle over his accepting the kingship is weak and manufactured. Similarly, by this time he was already married to Ealhswith and had at least two children and, in fact, wed her not in Wessex but in Mercia, a neighbouring kingdom. Moreover, she was never handed over to the Danes as a hostage. I hate to be a history bore here, but when a film opens with and runs on so many inaccuracies, it is difficult to take it seriously. The real story of Alfred is compelling and dramatic enough without mangling the history and embellishing it with impossibilities; and, by the by, the tale is ripe for telling by Hollywood or any British company with the gumption to tell it. Alfred was a far "greater" and more important historical figure than William Wallace ever was and is responsible for saving the Anglo-Saxons and English and ultimately the British state and culture from Danish rule. Without Alfred and his victory at Ethandun, there would have been no English state, no English language and no Norman Conquest; the world would have been a totally - totally - different place. Ethandun was a pivotal moment in world history.

There are other problems with this production, including the portrayal of the Danes as a uniformed army, which always rankled with me: they were no army, but violent adventurers on the rampage for money, treasures, women and slaves (for use or sale). They were simultaneously disorganised, ruthless and practical, and were not a state-made, organised army in uniform. Moreover, as in Braveheart, there is too much talk here of "freedom" and the rule of law. The law and freedom were never available to the likes of the peasantry portrayed here by, amongst others, Ian McKellen in his film debut. Alfred's laws, for instance, did not apply to the slaves kept by the Saxons, and justice in any real sense was only available to those with the money to buy it. So do not look to this film for a history lesson. The conflict is manufactured, the dialogue and themes weak and the history dispensed with. It is such a shame that such an excellent film could have been made from the material - ie from the life of King Alfred.

Despite the foregoing, I have rated the film as a five because it does give a fairly realistic sense of ninth century existence: the towns "walled" with wooden posts, the clothing, the hunting culture and the bleakness of an "England" with only a few hundred thousand inhabitants. The names, too, of the characters are drawn directly from that time: Cerdic (cherditch), Ethelraed, Burghred and the rest. Similarly the acting itself from first-rate actors is everything it should be - it's just that their dialogue and the story they are telling leave everything to be desired.

In a nutshell, look to this movie for its production values and material realism, not for its history or its script and plotting. For the latter, read a book.

20 out of 29 people found the following review useful:
A real mess of an oddity., 17 June 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***


This is a bizarre little film about a British spy based in the US who is dispatched by his embassy to watch an official's son. The son is murdered by a mysterious girlfriend, played by Ashley Judd, and our spy starts to tail Judd from afar, using all the paraphernalia of his trade. He becomes more and more obsessed and soon progresses from spy to stalker to guardian angel as she disposes of lover after lover during her dashes across the States, winding up in Alaska, at "the end of the world". Not until the last act do the stalker and the killer exchange any meaningful dialogue, and, on the trudge to the final act, we learn very little about the two characters and even less about their motivations.

Like many movies, this one draws extremes of praise and rancour. It is not an enjoyable film, but some elements compel us to watch it and to watch it again, and we are left wondering why this should be the case. From one angle, this is easy: the two stars are good at their job and both are highly watchable. But what holds our interest after the closing credits is more significant and that is that this film could have been so much better, that some poor decisions were taken at the writing stage and that with these two headliners, Eye of the Beholder could have been a memorable offering. MacGregor's stalker is fleshed out almost entirely by the irritating presence in his imagination of his daughter, whom he lost when his wife left some time ago, and his imaginary conversations with this child provide some vestiges of character and motivation; other than that, we are on our own. A couple of minutes at the beginning with the character interacting with a real girlfriend or on some sort of assignment might have had us rooting for him much, much more. As it is, he is hardly more than a cipher. Similarly, Judd's killer is even more of a mystery and we never really understand why she is so murderous. Again, a few minutes of exposition in the early stages could have heightened the viewer's interest in and empathy for her character: as she is presented to us, our only interest in her is that she's being played by Ashley Judd. Neither Judd nor MacGregor could have done anymore with the material given to them, short of returning the screenplay with a polite "no, thank you".

I could not recommend this movie, nor could I call it a bad movie. For me, Ashley Judd could never be boring, and there are bucketloads of moviegoers who would sit back happily while Ewan MacGregor painted a wall white and watched it dry. But, aside from curiosity about the two stars, unless you are interested in how and why projects with good potential fail to deliver the goods so spectacularly, this is probably one to avoid. Which is something of a shame.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
I am the king's loyal servant, but God's first., 15 June 2004

England needs an heir. Queen Catherine is as barren as a brick. Henry VIII falls for Anne Boleyn and needs to divorce his queen, but she is the aunt of the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope cannot grant Henry's wish. Anne Boleyn falls pregnant, and Henry needs a divorce now. He rejects papal power in England and the Church of England is born. Henry and Anne are married in January 1533; Henry divorces Catherine the following May, insisting they were never married because she was once betrothed to his long dead brother, Arthur. In September, Elizabeth is born. So began the Anglican church, the Elizabethan era, the patronage of Shakespeare and the conflict between protestant England and Catholic Spain, culminating in the dispatch of their doomed Armada; for good measure, Elizabeth, the virgin queen, had two American states named after her. All because England needed an heir, or because Henry wanted Anne, or both.

Behind the scenes of this drama is the story of lawyer Thomas More, who rose to become Chancellor of England (the king's closest advisor) then fell from grace because his conscience would not allow him to oppose the Pope, who was, to More, the link with St Peter and therefore with Christ Himself. This film is an examination of More's belief in his god as represented by the Pope. What it is not about is divorce. Thomas More did not object to the divorce so much as to the rejection of papal authority and the establishment of a rival church - albeit catholic - with the monarch as the head of the church in England. Henry, it should be noted, regarded himself as a catholic until the day he died.

More's refusal to swear to an oath based upon the Act of Succession, and his eloquent legal and philosophical debates on and around the subject, form the basis of this staggering film. In the background, his family gradually lose their status and their wealth when More resigns the chancellorship and is imprisoned in the Tower (of London). It is when we hear of his reasons for refusing the oath, as explained to a King's Council, to his daughter and to the Duke of Norfolk, that we understand his absolute faith in his god and the depth of his love: "only God is love right through". We understand that although he is responsible for his family in this earthly realm, when it comes to their souls, they are on their own and must go where their own consciences take them: we know that he would not perjure himself even to save their lives.

This is an astonishing film. From the opening scenes, including Orson Welles's cameo, where the challenge to papal authority is explained, through More's confrontation with Robert Shaw's Henry VIII, to his imprisonment and trial, we are with the man for all seasons. We understand his predicament and we learn why he is regarded as a saint. Most of us know we are not made of such stuff as this, that we could not tolerate the imprisonment in the grimy, dank dungeon, then face execution for the want of the taking of an oath.

Scofield's portrayal of More is one of the best performances in cinematic history and he delivers Robert Bolt's literate dialogue with the gravitas appropriate to the role. Robert Shaw, in his one scene, plays Henry like a kid in a candy store who needs help reaching the jar on the top shelf, only to be disappointed when he takes off the lid. With actors like Wendy Hiller, John Hurt, Nigel Davenport, Susannah York, Leo McKern and Corin Redgrave in the other supporting roles we cannot claim any as standing out from the rest: these are, each and every one, the most outstanding actors and each part has been perfectly cast.

This amazing movie won half a dozen Oscars and deservedly so. It has withstood well the ravages of time and glows like a beacon in the wilderness as an example of how to write a spellbinding (screen)play, of how to direct a dialogue driven film and of how to bring to life the complexities and machinations of a middle ages court. It is a luxurious slice of cinema that will live for a long, long time. We are privileged to be able to watch films of such quality.

16 out of 21 people found the following review useful:
Should I see this film? It is rather Quixotic... but I think you should try., 11 June 2004

Wealthy London bachelor Jack Worthing falls for Gwendolen, cousin of London socialite Algy, who has in turn fallen for Jack's ward, Cecily. Amongst other barriers to both relationships is the determination of both ladies to marry men called Ernest, leading Algy and Jack to pretend that Ernest is, indeed, their given name. Another stumbling block is the ubiquitous Lady Bracknell, Algy's aunt and Gwendolen's mother, who refuses to accept Jack as a suitor for her daughter because he was a foundling, discovered as a baby in a handbag at Victoria Station. Playwright Oscar Wilde put into Lady Bracknell's mouth some of the most delicious comments in stage history: "To be born, or at any rate bred, in a handbag, whether it had handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life that reminds one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution".

The story follows the ups and downs and deceits of the two men whilst they pursue Gwendolen and Cecily, dogged by Algy's creditors and Lady Bracknell, whose opposition to Jack's origins proves insurmountable. On the way we learn of Jack's brother who does not exist yet manages to die in a Paris boarding house, and Algy's invalid friend Bunbury who also never drew breath yet nevertheless explodes on the advice of his physician. The situation remains unresolved until the final scene, when all the protagonists have collided at Jack's country estate.

This interpretation of Oscar Wilde's play may not suit purists. Oliver Parker takes a few liberties with the original, adding a couple of off-the-wall touches such as Gwendolen having "Ernest" tattooed on her rear end. None of this detracts from the film precisely because this is a film and not a filmed play and as a stand-alone movie this is highly enjoyable fare and remains graced by Wilde's eternal and inimitable wit.

The cast, too, is outstanding. Reese Witherspoon as Cecily mastered an English accent and, along with Colin Firth as Jack, Frances O'Connor as Gwendolen and Judi Dench as Lady Bracknell (Aunt Augusta), is first-rate; the film also boasts Edward Fox, Tom Wilkinson and Anna Massey in supporting roles. Lastly, no-one plays Wilde's nihilistic, aristocratic and insouciant wasters quite like Rupert Everett, who was designed for such parts.

Oscar Wilde's play is timeless and priceless and his wit dominates the proceedings; matched to a cast with the acting talent of this troupe, it does not fail. Wilde and English period drawing room comedies are an acquired taste and, for those unsure of their nature, can be distinguished by the conspicuous absence of gunfire, vulgar Anglo-Saxonisms, explosions, wizards, references to def-con 2, giants, breasts, giant breasts and Steven Seagal: if any of these is your cup of tea, look elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you want to watch a team of gifted actors delivering with great aplomb some of the smartest dialogue in English literary history, The Importance of Being Earnest is not a bad way to spend an hour or two.

"Is Miss Cardew at all connected with any of the larger railway stations in London? I only ask because until yesterday I had no idea that there were any families or persons whose origin was a terminus."

Macbeth (1971)
30 out of 33 people found the following review useful:
Something wicked this way comes, 5 June 2004

Dark, bloody and brooding version of Shakespeare's play about a doomed Scottish king who was, according to his wife, Lady MacBeth "too full of the milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way". This is one of Shakespeare's later plays and is entirely devoid of some of the lighter moments prevalent in his earlier work.

Macbeth, a loyal Scottish thane and a cousin of King Duncan, is waylaid with his companion, Banquo, by three witches who prophesise that he will become king and that Banquo will beget kings. Once MacBeth has informed his wife of these predictions, he is propelled by her and by his own lust for power on a journey of self-destruction leading ultimately to madness. In his determination to bring about the witches' predictions, he kills his liege-lord, steals the crown from the rightful heirs, who flee into exile on suspicion of regicide and patricide, then orders the secret murder of ally and friend Banquo and Banquo's son Fleance. So begins a descent into a nightmare existence, replete with ghostly apparitions, sleepless angst and withering self-doubt. Gradually mutual distrust emerges between himself and the nobles whose support maintains his position, and eventually he murders the wife and children of one MacDuff, an act which symbolises the horror he has become. MacDuff, along with other Scottish nobles, has joined the exiled heir, Malcolm, who lives under the protection of the English king. An army of rebellion - or liberation - is brought to bear on MacBeth's stronghold, whilst inside, MacBeth has begun "to grow aweary of the sun". The witches have told him that he cannot be killed by any "man of woman born". But, in the final fight scene, he learns too late that MacDuff "was, from his mother's womb, untimely ripped" and that the witches have, in Banquo's words from the start of the play, won him "with honest trifles" and betrayed him "in deepest consequence", and his destruction is complete.

This is a suitably melancholic reading, full of images of blood, of sombre leaden skies, of torrential downpours and of thickset, bearded nobles. Scotland is presented as a gloomy outcrop on the edge of the known world and the sun has been heavily filtered by Polanski, giving the film a surreal and eerie feel and stressing the superstitious environment in which the play is set. We are also treated to a fair representation of the early Middle Ages, a time when travelling lords and ladies and their kith and kin slept communally on straw in the great halls, side by side with their massive hunting dogs.

The obviously archaic dialogue has been abridged and everso slightly updated for modern audiences. The lines are delivered eloquently by the two leads, Jon Finch and Francesca Annis, who are well matched as the doomed couple, and this clipped entry would be a good introduction to Shakespeare for those of the MTV-set with a literary inclination. All in all a good stab at bringing Shakespeare into the twentieth century and an effort which the bard himself might well have smiled upon.

6 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Superior Romcom, 1 June 2004

Matthau is a widowed hospital doctor enjoying his single status and the footloose and available nurses on the staff whilst colleague and friend Richard Benjamin looks on with amusement and amazement. Their boss is hard-of-hearing going on senile Chief of Staff Art Carney who is up for re-election to that post.

Matthau is content playing the field without commitment until he meets single mother Glenda Jackson who insists upon being the only woman in his life while she is in his life. At the same time, he comes under pressure to respond to the amorous advances of a potential litigant in a malpractice suit, and to support the shambolic and incompetent Carney in his attempt to be re-elected Chief of Staff.

This is a superior old-fashioned romantic comedy graced by four Grade-A actors and an excellent supporting cast working with a first-rate dry, caustic and sarcastic script. Carney steals every scene he's in and, in the parlance of IMDb, has us rolling on the floor laughing out loud whenever he appears on screen. We are otherwise entertained by the on-off relationship of the two leads and various sub-plots.

Lacks the ambition to be a great film, but remains one of the best of its kind and watchable and re-watchable for its comedic value alone. Deserves more attention than it seems to have received and well worth the cost of the DVD or video cassette.

11 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
A Classic, 26 May 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Slight spoilers

Henry II is a twelfth century king of England, a powerful, energetic and spontaneous monarch who has conquered or otherwise acquired the rest of the British Isles and half of France. His wife, the legendary Eleanor of Aquitaine, some years older, has led more than one civil war against him, more than once with one or other of their four sons. By 1183, Eleanor has been "dungeoned up" in Salisbury keep for ten years and their eldest son has died. At Christmas, Henry summons his wife and their three remaining sons - Richard, Geoffrey and John - to Chinon castle in central France. Along for the ride are Henry's mistress, the beautiful Alais, and her brother Phillip, the king of France.

Henry and Eleanor are played by Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn with tour-de-force acting that is second to none. They are ably supported by Anthony Hopkins, Timothy Dalton, John Castle, Jane Merrow and Nigel Terry.

The purpose of the gathering is to decide who will inherit the crown and which son gets which wife and what territory as a consolation. They bicker, backbite, squabble, carp, plot, coerce, cajole, bribe and threaten in equal measures. Who will be king? Who will marry Alais and get her brother as an ally? Who will get the Aquitaine?

A witty, rich and biting script and inspired characterisations by the two ferocious leads in a tale set in a vast medieval castle make this unmissable. O'Toole and Hepburn scrap and hiss and spit like alley cats whilst their sons and the French onlookers manouevere and circle cautiously around them, waiting to strike at the first hint of weakness.

But there are no weaknesses here. Not in the acting, which earned Hepburn an Oscar. Not in the script, which earned James Goldman an Oscar. Not in the soundtrack, which earned a third Oscar for John Barry. The film itself and O'Toole were also nominated. The Lion in Winter has been called a twelfth century soap opera, a Dallas of the medieval era. But this is wide of the mark. It is difficult imagining J R Ewing condemning his own sons with the eloquence of Henry II: "I, Henry, by grace of God, king of the English, lord of Scotland, Ireland and Wales, count of Anjou, Brittany, Poitou and Normandy, Maine, Gascony and Aquitaine, do sentence you to death. Done, this Christmas Day, at Chinon, in God's year eleven eighty three."

This is a classic film, essential to anybody interested in acting or writing or wanting a glimpse into the world of twelfth century politicking. Don't miss it.

Trivia notes. Richard, played here by Hopkins in his film debut, became King Richard the Lionheart (not "the Lionhearted") whom Robin Hood supposedly supported. John became King John of the same tales; and in reality was the King John who signed the Magna Carta in the early thirteenth century. Nigel Terry, who played John, went on to play King Arthur in Excalibur some years later. Henry II was the great-grandfather of Edward I, William Wallace's nemesis in Braveheart.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Potentially great film ruined, 25 May 2004

Series of loosely connected love stories centred upon middle-class London. We are offered broken love, unrequited love, true love and impossible longing. The tales are funny and sad, bitter and sweet, and, for the most part, wish-fulfilling a la Notting Hill, another Richard Curtis outing.

The numerous stories involve the Prime Minister, an ageing rock star, a writer, a widower and his stepson and various professionals experiencing diverse but well worn crises. The ensemble acting is peerless from all involved so it is the most endearing of the characters themselves should be singled out. In no particular order there are Laura Linney's American in London held back by her brother's illness; Thomas Sangster's ten-year-old with a crush on a classmate; Bill Nighy's rock-star-of-the-year-1973; Lucia Monez's Portuguese housekeeper; and Hugh Grant's bachelor Prime Minister.

This is a chequered film and has very funny highs and a couple of extreme lows. The most touching tale by far is that of Colin Firth's writer falling for Lucia Monez, despite the fact that neither can speak the other's language; and the most pointless about two actors standing in for porn stars during a film shoot. This latter thread was unnecessary and prevents the film being suitable for young children, which is a shame. But even the porn stars did not find the depths plumbed by Hugh Grant's Prime Minister when he railed at the US President at a press conference. In a film about human emotion, this trendy and crass political interjection was uncommonly lame and totally out of place. With the porn stars, this scene ruined - as in ruined - what could have been a great film. Wiser heads should have ruled and the offending celluloid excised and ceremonially burned. Sadly, it is too late and some brilliant writing and brilliant performing have been tarnished forever by four or five minutes of gormless film which should have been removed at the editing stage. What were they thinking of?

Please keep your politics out of my entertainment.

I have not, to date, rated a film, but this is going to be the exception. Without the Prime Minister's tirade and the porn thread: 10 out of 10. With the porn stars added: two out of 10. With the tirade: zero out of two million.

123 out of 153 people found the following review useful:
Simultaneously personal and panoramic, 23 May 2004

Sweeping, epic and literate version of British adventurer and soldier T E Lawrence's experiences in Arabia during the First World War. Lawrence, miraculously well played by Peter O'Toole, "went native" when sent into the desert to find Alec Guinness's Prince Feisal. Before long he was striking out himself against the Turkish Ottoman Empire, which still held sway in the region at the beginning of the last century. Lawrence's efforts to unify the various Arab factions are particularly prescient.

Lawrence became an inspirational warlord whose neutral presence amongst the Arab tribes, lead by Omar Sharif and Anthony Quinn, amongst others, served to glue together shifting and uneasy alliances. As well as wrestling with himself, with his own demons, and with the cruel desert environment, the Englishman was also faced with culture clashes which pitted not only the imperialists against the indigenous populations, but also the mercenary practices of the Arab guerillas against the discipline of the British army. In the end, Lawrence himself does not know which side he is on, nor which party he belongs to. Set against a backdrop of the Arabian desert, the nomadic allies under Lawrence's direction, attack and disrupt the Turks' efforts to maintain control of the territory, whilst the elephant - the British army and its heavy guns under General Jack Hawkins - pushes ever deeper into the area: not until his job is done does Lawrence learn that the French and British governments have carved up the middle-east between them and that the battle-lines for the 21st century are already being drawn.

Scripted by the inimitable Robert Bolt and directed by David Lean, Lawrence of Arabia is one of those films without a weakness, despite drawing complaints for its near four hour length. The dialogue, cinematography, soundtrack and especially direction are superlative; likewise the supporting actors. But it is O'Toole at his charismatic best who steals the show in his starring debut; he never looked back. It may take an effort to watch this movie, but is well worth the ride and will, by the bye, provide some insight into the fractious and volatile world of Arab politics.

One of the best films ever made.

18 out of 36 people found the following review useful:
"Far out!", 15 May 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Mild Spoilers

The classic Hitchcock premise of dropping an ordinary man into extraordinary circumstances and watching him go is used to terrific effect by the Coens, who are matched all the way by their players.

The Dude, a permanently stoned, nihilistic hippy for the nineties who likes listening to tapes of Creedence, whales singing and bowling pins tumbling is attacked in his apartment by two thugs who mistake him for a millionaire of the same given name - the Big Lebowski of the title.

Jeff Bridges as the Dude, excited by intermittent moments of clarity, is sent on a journey through mazy plots and sub-plots populated by outrageous characters from the Los Angeles netherworld. Confronted by kidnap, deception, extortion and German nihilists desperate for cash, he is alternately helped and hindered by his buddy, a Polish Catholic, 'Nam obsessed vet who thinks he's Jewish and who threatens fellow travellers who commit minor bowling transgressions with summary execution. The character is played with relish and perfectly by John Goodman in what may be his finest hour. Their bowling buddy, Steve Buscemi, is underused but sports his best crestfallen facade throughout and demonstrates first-rate comic timing as his character tries to get with the programme.

The Big Lebowski is not for all tastes, but, if you get it, is one of the most engaging and side-splitting films around, and one which is eminently quotable: "Walter, you're my friend and I love you, but sooner or later you're going to have to face the fact that you're a goddam moron."

If you don't get it, watch it again. And, if you do get it, watch it again.

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