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The Force is strong with this one...
*contains mild spoilers*
There is something indescribable about any Star Wars movie which brings out the child in most people. Although the previous two recent prequels of Lucas's epic have met with very valid criticisms- the fact that there is something indefinably spine-tingling about the very sound of a light sabre being unsheathed is undeniable to most.
Cynics might argue that the sound of cash registers ringing to the happy tune of marketing millions are the chief motivation of the continuation of the saga. There is no arguing that the first outing had it not been a success would have most likely been the last. Subsequent instalments have in truth not seemed to be the labour of love that A New Hope obviously was, but are no less entertaining or magical part of the Star Wars mythology.
What we are buying into however is not a new computer game or a DVD, but rather a youthful dream and a carefully engineered mythology which has the ability to touch the youngest padawan to the eldest master. George Lucas is selling us our very own dreams and aspirations, and the queue to buy into them will possibly never end.
Whether this is right or not seems irrelevant faced with the prospect of finally watching concluding chapter of the world's best known space adventure.
Revenge of the Sith by my reckoning is a fitting end- and a real accomplishment to all involved in it's technical production. We have all come to expect jaw- dropping and exceptional visual effects from Lucas, and in this there is no disappointment to be found as far as this movie is concerned. It is clear that Lucas will accept no standard that is not perfection. With this in mind, credit must be extended to all of those diligent and talented individuals involved in realising the contents of Lucas' imagination upon the big screen. Technically, I doubt that better could have been achieved.
As we all know however, effects alone do not a compelling story make. I breathed a sigh of relief this time around- as did many. Characterisation is greatly improved, dialogue is more believable and performance reflects both improvements. The cast seem to have at least been given the tools that they require this time in order to produce a more immersing and believable conclusion.
Of course it is natural that the audience is going to intrinsically feel a greater empathy with the central characters, since we have all been familiar with them for quite some time now. This alone is not enough for us to empathise and truly care of their fate.
Performances from Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman flower a little more and at least -seem- more adult. It is all a little more convincing but do not go along not expecting an emotive performance worthy of Meryl Streep here. The dialogue is still utterly painful at rare fleeting moments, and does let them down in a cringe-inducing way. This is only accentuated by the fact that such god awful appalling dialogue is not the norm in Revenge of the Sith- or at least if it is awful it is in better context and less noticeable. The shuddering cheesiness is mercifully- at least kept to a minimum.
None the less I found myself for the first time believing that the relationship between Padmé and Anakin had some true emotional substance. What the dialogue lacks is made up by (shock!) some surprising romantic chemistry this time, rather than what previously seemed to be two underwhelmed adolescents on a pity date.
With the theme of romance covered we move on to another aspect of Star Wars that is required to make it complete. The face of an easily recognisable evil is provided this time by Chancellor Palpatine. One of the great strengths of this movie is Ian McDiarmid's simply wonderful performance as Palpatine who oozes an almost tactile on- screen villainy which any audience will gladly lap up.
The movie as a whole is an entirely enjoyable ride, and should you sit down and watch the others the collective entirety is a commendable achievement in cinema.
As ever, all is enhanced by an iconic commanding symphonic musical score from John Williams. Other highlights include a mind bogglingly visual space battle, all within seconds of the opening credits. Purists and die-hards will be satisfied and more with this, and the light sabre fight to end them all between Obi- Wan and his errant charge Skywalker.
My own personal favourite scene has to be without doubt- the parallel deaths of Anakin and Padmé, and the parallel births of Vader, Leia and Luke. Emotive, artistic and beautifully directed. A timeless piece of popular mythology realised.
For what is is, and what it was intended to be- this is a great movie which has little room for improvement ...and yes...my spine still tingles every time I hear that "light sabre sound"
A Walk to Remember (2002)
You will hate yourself for loving this movie
I can not say that A Walk to Remember was a movie that I went out of my way to see, or even that I recall it being aired in any UK cinema. I happened to watch it on TV one Sunday morning expecting something somewhat usual and predictable.
I must admit I was more than pleasantly surprised, enough so to actually watch it more than once, and consequently feel compelled to write these comments. I find myself struggling not to watch it whenever I see it listed, such a charming movie is this! The plot seems to be initially a rather predictable foray into the traditional territory of bad boy meets good, but sadly plain girl. At some point in the movie, girl momentarily transforms from ugly duckling into swan. At this point I found myself feeling that comfort that we all feel in the knowledge that we know exactly what is going to happen in a movie. I was entirely convinced that the entire culmination of the thing is for girl to gain some peer group acceptance. The presence of a seemingly overly protective father hints at overtones that he may be some kind of parental tyrant figure from whom she may require some sort of heroic liberation.
However as Jaime reveals her secret then all becomes apparent, and a far more absorbing plot unfolds than is initially to be expected.
Performances are competent and heartfelt, Shane West gives an admirable portrayal of an angry young man on a path of reformation. Mandy Moore is strong and almost graceful in her role as Jaime and enhances the charm of this romantic interlude with several pretty vocal solos.
Daryl Hannah and Peter Coyote both fine actors add a lovely depth to the general proceedings and are certainly worth a mention for their respective roles as concerned parents.
It is impossible for me not to like this little film, because I am an insufferably romantic female and A walk to Remember has romance in a monumental dosage. There is little or no sexual content, rather emphasis is put upon the more admirable and sincere aspects of courtship little seen in the average teen movie.
Without going into territory that could be classed as spoiling, it is worth mentioning that some people may place A Walk to Remember into the tear- jerker category, and consign it to a dark dusty corner of their DVD collection which is only delved into in the most girly of moments.
For some, several scenes may be a little too saccharine- but if you don't like romance then this picture probably isn't for you anyway.
In my opinion, this category is a little too narrow to slide A Walk to Remember into. The true themes of this lovely story are in reality- faith, and redemption, which are universal aspects of humanity with which we can all identify in various amount.
The end result for me was that I felt uplifted at the end. Like eating a tub of ice cream or having a nice bubbly bath this is a movie to put on when you feel low or have had a bad day and it's sure to make you feel much better. You will fall in love for the first time all over again for a couple of hours.
You may well sit down to watch with preconceptions about what you are going to see. You men may sit down and watch it solely to win a few merit points from your girlfriend so she'll let you watch the football in peace later. As my title says though, this may be the one romantic movie you will hate yourself for loving.
You don't even have to admit to anybody that you watched it and liked it, but I encourage you to watch it all the same without prejudice.
A little charmer- comforting and sweet- sets out to do something very simple, and delivers well, I give 7/10
The Phantom of the Opera (2004)
Does exactly what it says on the packaging
Phantom is the world's most popular musical, and so perhaps it's little wonder that it's been selected for a financially sensible Christmas release here in the UK. I felt a sense of comfort going along to see it late upon a December night, because with Phantom, you pretty much know what you are going to get before your rear even hits the seat.
A synopsis of the plot for the unenlightened
**PLOT OVERVIEW WITH MINOR SPOILERS CONTAINED**
***We are swept into a bygone Paris as the scene is set upon the gas-lit Victorian opulence of the Opera Populaire. The opera is newly purchased by two genteel businessmen whom have invested in this venture little knowing of the dark secret contained within. The Phantom, a little seen wraith overshadows every production with an air of voyeuristic menace. Becoming enraptured with the young soprano Christine, he begins to mentor the innocent girl whom assumes the Phantom to be an angelic spirit sent to watch over her by her dead father.
The mysterious masked Phantom spellbinds his wide- eyed charge, and deep below the opera house unrelentingly trains the young soprano to the peak of her ability. Unable to deliver his beloved music to the world because of his monstrous appearance, the girl becomes his voice. Determined to have his music heard the Phantom deploys intimidation and fear, even the threat of death to elevate the girl until she becomes the shining star of the Opera Populaire. Becoming fearful of the Phantom's obsession and hold over her Christine turns to Raoul, a childhood friend and patron of the opera. They confess their love to one another upon the snowy rooftop of the opera house. The Phantom sees the exchange and the betrayal consumes him, he becomes filled with jealousy and fury so plots a most terrible revenge.***
Additional critique... This movie is expertly directed and beautifully produced. Every scene is music to the eyes, and the music speaks for itself in it's timelessness, so little comment need be made there. Music of the Night is a musical high point as to be expected, and Masquerade is a visual feast and another memorable piece.
Gerard Butler is a noteworthy Phantom conveying all of inner tragedies of the iconic figure to the best of his ability. My only arguable criticism would be that the true horror of the character's appearance was somewhat understated since Gerrard himself is no gargoyle even with makeup applied. I later joked that there was no woman that would complain about being abducted by him, myself included! With his mask removed Butler's Phantom seems rather pitiful like a crab without it's shell rather than simply an odious beast. This in itself lends a more subtle emotive overtone to the characterisation of the Phantom This point perhaps gets a little glossed over on stage because the audience is constantly waiting to see the foul makeup under the mask.
Emmy Rossum's performance was equally competent as Christine, she was only seventeen at the time of this film's production and her youth added to the role rather than detracted in my opinion. Christine is an innocent, impressionable young girl seeking guidance and love in the world and Rossum for her part was well cast to fit the bill. All of the original subtle chemistry between Phantom and Christine is present. Phantom broods and enchants, Christine swings pendulous between glassy eyed acolyte and terrified child.
This is a timeless tale indeed which draws the audience no matter what it's medium may be. Phantom is set in a theatre and is viewed in one- some of this magic is still present though to lesser degree than upon the stage. The stage production allows the audience to feel that the Phantom is truly amongst them and up in the rafters above, and leaves them wondering where he will manifest next. His voice appears from the darkness as the story builds to it's crashing climax. This of course is not wholly possible with Phantom in movie form, and something of the wonder of it has been inevitably lost as a result.
In conclusion, a wonderful Christmas movie- take your wife or mother to see it to win some female favour. Do not go expecting that most of the dialogue will be spoken and not sung, this is a musical, and in an operatic style. Anybody who goes to see anything with "Andrew Lloyd Webber" in the title then complains about singing really has only themselves to blame.
Opera is at it's heart about emotion and expression and for those who love it, this movie's music is enchanting. Each song befits a perfect accompaniment to a darkly romantic and achingly tragic fairytale. It can be easy to pick over the movie's shortcomings, but I just like Christine, found it impossible to resist the Phantom or be haunted by the music of the night.
A spellbinding 8/10
In a word terrifying
**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**
Ringu is an unassuming little movie that my boyfriend and I rented from the local DVD store knowing little about it other than it had inspired a recent Hollywood remake.
The first thing which accosts you when watching this film, is it's lo-fi documentary-style reality. Ringu has the look and feel production wise of a TV movie, but this only adds to the objective of it, to terrify.
The story unfolds of an everyday Japanese single mother, the backdrop is nothing unusual but this is required as the bizarre begins to unravel before the eyes of the watcher. The woman has a child whom appears to be a strange little boy, and in many ways he parents her in her hectic schedule. Her ex husband is an amiable fellow, though he has an annoying quality to any female whom observes him which one assumes is the reason for the couple's politely handled split.
The story takes a turn for the more macabre when a videotape emerges which is shrouded in urban myth. The short synopsis is you watch the tape and die within seven days of doing so. A group of teenagers inexplicably die, one of which is the niece of our leading lady. Being the plucky reporter that she is, she begins to investigate the eerie tape initially by watching it herself and embroiling her ex in this grim fairytale by seeking his counsel, on technical matters relating to the tape itself. The two find themselves in a race against time to discover the secret of the tape when their son watches a copy that was made.
The bogeyman of this psychologically rattling outing, is Sada- a child or a demon?, perhaps a freak of nature? No answer is given and the viewer is left to their own conclusion and speculation. This reliance upon the viewers observational conclusion is what makes Ringu a truly adult horror movie above all others, we are not told what to think or moralised. Ringu simply displays the evidence on the nature of Sada, and leaves you to suppose whether she is a tortured victim cast from society, or simply a demon and nothing more.
If the objective of any horror movie is to scare, then Ringu succeeds with flying colours. Everything about this movie is genuinely disturbing and unsettling. From the mythology of the tale to the ghastly contorted faces of the corpses that Sada, the demon of the story leaves in her wake.
The grainy gritty production plays and builds upon anybody who dares to watch. The bittersweet relationship between the two leads encourages us to care about them and their plight. The story piques the curious child in all of us, and dares us to look when we should not, and tamper with things that are beyond our understanding.
The absolutely heart ripping and bone chilling climax to this movie is unmissable. You will not be able to stop watching, but be wishing that you could rip out your eyes simultaneously!
This movie is a quiet and unpretentious if imaginative little piece from Japan, which displays something that Hollywood has lacked in the horror genre in many years. The director has a true innate gift for knowing exactly what it is that we can not put our finger on that horrifies the human mind. This film is very Japanese, and I cannot imagine it doing well when converted to Hollywood form.
Ringu is a movie made to be watched on your TV at home, exactly the way I did renting the DVD from your local store. This plays upon the very nature of the story. The TV is something we all think of as safe, it's in all our homes, and it is exactly this that adds such an overtone of terror to this particular film
As an additional note, my boyfriend was flicking through the extra features on the DVD and came across the cursed video clip, and proceeded to watch it. I couldn't, I left the room. This fact serves as the best conclusion that I can muster as to the brilliance of Ringu. It is not to be missed, but do not watch it alone!
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
The best of Disney
**CONTAINS PLOT REFERENCES AND SOME SPOILERS**
Before approaching Beauty and the Beast it is worth mentioning that this is a movie which Disney himself had always intended to make before his death. The finished product I should imagine would fail to disappoint even he himself the most intimidating of perfectionists.
What separates this particular Disney offering from the usual litany of animated boy meets girl stories previously is the particularly deft and mature characterisation. We have always come to expect charming and technically leading animation from Disney, but the characters themselves are what sets this movie apart as a jewel in the studio's crown.
Belle is a truly contemporary and cerebral heroine, beset by a life that offers little to her aspiring imagination and intelligence. The small village in which she lives with her father seems to be a place in which she does not fit. She is looked upon as a crank because her passion is reading. Her father is viewed as insane because of his quirky inventions.
Beast is by far the most deep and complex Disney character to date. He is not a perfect prince, far from it- but rather a fallen man, and the product of his own misfortune. Filled with bitterness and cynicism, he exists in a damned world of his own creation and must endure the limbo that surrounds him as a result of his selfish choices in life. Pride has led to his great fall and hope has deserted him.
From the outside the viewer feels the plight of both of the lead characters and it is a joy to watch both characters come together, not in the usual Disney formula of a magic kiss, but a real relationship with real pitfalls and real emotional challenges.
We witness lonely bookworm Belle finding that books can not be judged by their cover, finding a true friend for the first time in her life, and ultimately true love. Beast's gradual redemption ensues and he discovers the error of his ways, and abandons his defences and even his sense of self in order to truly love Belle.
The music delights and the animation charms with a surrounding plethora of delightful supporting characters which appeal to both children and adults alike. Villain and all round sexist boor Gaston adds some comic relief and grotesque cave-man charm in his desire for Belle whom he views as another beautiful hunting trophy for the wall of his lodge.
The musical aspect of the movie is astoundingly well written and performed. Each song lends something unique to the movie as a whole without detracting or seeming unintuitive to the storyline.
One of the most charming things about this movie is that its French origins have not been eliminated by Disney, but incorporated into a colourful backdrop for a story that will stand the test of time.
This movie has so many personal high points for me that I wish I could mention them all. It contains one of the greatest pieces of animation I have ever seen in the Beast's transformation at the end of the film. Beast emerges from his seeming demise magically and changes to his staggeringly beautiful human form almost resembling Michaelangelo's David emerging from the marble. This ending is a fitting climax to a great work of both animation and storytelling.
In conclusion this is an unmissable slice of classic animation, served up so beautifully that future generations will keep coming back for more. Beauty and the Beast was well deserving of it's Best Picture nomination, for here at last is a Disney story which will stand the test of time and melt the heart of even the most cynical beast.