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Plenty (1985)
A Mesmerising Depiction Of The Power of Memory
3 July 2004
PLENTY cast such a spell on me. It is one of those films which has a mood and tone all of its own. It is sombre, dreamy and elegaic. And it features a little seen, yet compelling and masterful central performance from Meryl Streep, who lights up the screen with the type of intelligence and female strength one laments the absence of in contemporary film.

Based on David Hare's play, PLENTY (like so much of his work) boasts wonderfully complex, multi-layered roles for women. Meryl Streep and Tracey Ullmann excel with the intelligent dialogue given to them by this incredible writer - and despite the plethora of strong male actors surrounding them, it is the women whose stories move and interest us the most.

What I love about PLENTY is that so much about it is anti-Hollywood. Its convoluted plot is often incoherent and dreamlike, its dependence upon memories and the co-existence of past and present present challenges for audiences who normally would be sign posted in the 'correct' direction. It has an impressionistic, hypnotic feel, and the film's characters, especially Susan, are unappologetic and potentially dislikeable people. Its narrative resoultion is ambiguous, refusing the closure of more traditional dramas. Here we have a film which refuses to pander to the demands of the mainstream, and for that it is to be applauded.

Is there anything new that any of us can say about Meryl Streep??? This is a must for admirers of the actress, and a must for anyone with a penchant for riveting, deeply intelligent acting. Meryl grabs the part by the throat, investing Susan with a compelling defiance, a fierce intelligence, a sensuality, and a restrained beauty. Watch out for the dinner party scene. I forgot there was anyone else in the room (a room which included Sir John Gielgud and Charles Dance!) Such command, such depth, and such naturalness. This is an actress of phenomenal depth and magnificent expression. And such wonderful chemistry with the other actors! (Even Charles Dance who reportedly was a bit of a diva on set!! I wonder if this helped to enhance the fiery antagonsim between them on screen?)

In sum, PLENTY is deeply complicated, but give it time, watch it more than once and you will be rewarded. For its thoughtful direction, its searing, intricate dialogue and its mesmerising acting - this is a film that deserves to be seen by much larger audiences. Bravo Queen Meryl!!
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Even Charming Julianne Can't Quite Save The Day!
8 May 2004
We all know that when RomComs are done well they can be excellent. But when they just do not work, it's usually because (in my opinion) they don't offer anything new to widen the parameters of the genre, more serve up a composite mix of the multitude of romantic comedies we've all seen before - films engrained within our collective consciousness. LAWS OF ATTRACTION is one such film. As a self-confessed adorer of the divine Julianne Moore, and an armchair admirer of Mr Brosnan (Grrr ladies!!) I did have high hopes!

I don't think LAWS OF ATTRACTION is an out and out failure. It does have some moments of wit and sparkle. But the sad truth is the remainder of the film is simply too bland and mediocre to live up the exceptional charm of its stars.

Julianne Moore (looking absolutely beautiful as ever ... nice to see that lovely smile of her's after all the tears she shed on the big screen last year!) has an old fashioned effortless charm and grace, but her phenomenal talents as an actress of incredible range are not even tested here. Yet she struggles valiantly on, single-handedly making the film just about watchable (such is her power that had this film starred - as it could so easily have done - Sandra Bullock - I would not have seen it for free!) Pierce looks as debonair and dashing as he always does ... but doesn't really convince due largely to the clunky dialogue, lack lustre plot and wafer thin characterisation. The main problem with LAWS OF ATTRACTION is that laughs are few and far between and the script is not nearly sharp enough to stretch its co stars or its audience. I know comedy deals often in stereotypes, but really - the Ireland sections of the film seem to me 'Ireland for America' - parts that are so cliched one expects three leprechauns to dance across the screen.

If you love Julianne and/or Pierce, you might just get something from this. Otherwise I can't see much else to reccommend it, a crying shame when one considers the talent involved. How I hate to see Julianne wasted!!
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An Absolute Privilege
7 January 2004
Being a citizen of the UK, I was (thanks to my own rabid impatience, and the extreme generosity of an American gentleman/IMDB user!) granted an advance screening of this television miracle.

Ignore ANY of the ignorant reviews on here. Close your mind off to them! This work is nothing short of miraculous. The complexity of it is mind blowing. The acting is earth shatteringly compelling. The direction is mesmerising. The intelligence, profundity and eloquence of this absolute masterpiece simply cannot be denied by anyone! It is on the level of Shakespeare! Astonishing ... I have never seen anything like it.

It's a mere ten minutes since I finished watching the second part, and I remain consumed by the images and words of what I have just seen and so it shall remain for days. Works like these are few and far between and I am not exaggerating when I say that viewing ANGELS was such an intense experience, I felt almost embarrassed by the privilege.

Overall, ANGELS is (thematically and in a plot sense) endlessly complex. As a 22 year old English girl, I wouldn't even pretend to grasp the subtlties of the entire piece, and admit to ignorance regarding much of its political/social context. But none of these factors prevented me engaging with a HUMAN drama that spoke directly to me even when I wasn't sure what it was saying! This is not a work to be seen only by gay audiences, only by religious people ... it is to be seen by EVERYONE. ANGELS is, to me, solid proof of my belief that art can explain, enrich, open up and change the world. And it brings people together. I know this may sound hopelessly utopian, but ANGELS really does cast such a spell on one!

I write this review out of intense gratitude and admiration for every single person involved in bringing this masterpiece to the screen. I feel that my life has been enriched by seeing and it and I shall now be passing on the tape to every person I know ... this is life changing stuff and I know I shall take the eloquence of ANGELS with me wherever I go in life. It really is that amazing! To watch this was a privilege, to have been involved with it must be unthinkably wonderful.

ANGELS beats any film ever to win a Best Picture Oscar into a corner. If this were released in cinemas the world would not know what had hit it! I will conclude by saying it again ... this is once-in-a-lifetime viewing. Just see it and make up your own mind. And if you find yourself hating it... you need to ask yourself why, because that says more about you than it does about this!
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Crazy, Lilting, Hypnotic, Bizarre ... and BRILLIANT!
26 November 2003
Paul Thomas Anderson is nothing short of an absolute genius. An auteur of the rarest gifts and he has proven it yet again in this mesmerising, understated little gem of a film - easily (and infuriatingly) one of the most underrated pictures of last year. It doesn't have the ostentatiousness or the length of MAGNOLIA. And it doesn't have the bold brashness of BOOGIE NIGHTS (both of which I ADORED too!) But Punch-Drunk Love is wonderful. And PTA has proven his versatility as a director.

Like all art, this will divide its audiences. As a bizarre take on the Romantic Comedy genre, PDL is about as surreal as it gets whilst still managing to have its own warped sense of reality. It's a slow, ponderous yet engaging film which hooks you in and leaves you unnable to explain the power it commands.

I would do a disservice to the magic of the film by giving too much away to those of you who may not have seen it. All I am left with after a second viewing is a beautifully subdued tone, some painstakingly composed images, a gently sweet and fitting score and lush colours. The screenplay is in equal parts moving and darkly comic.

I wonder if the film's main strength (aside from the razor sharp direction) is to be found in the casting. Adam Sandler. All I can say is who would have thought it? In customary style, PTA has taken the most unlikely actor one can conjour up and extracted a majestic performance from him. As Barry Egan he is simply brilliant - never losing his grip on the potential for extreme sadness that lies underneath this apparent figure of fun, and social reject. Emily Watson is perhaps one of the finest actresses working today. As Lena she is off the scale endearing and at the same time mysterious and aloof. One oscillates from wanting to cuddle and protect her, and being slightly scared. I only wish her character had been fleshed out a little more, but I understand why this wasn't necessary in the surreal world of PDL.

As for the symbolism of the harmonium, the colours, the costumes? ... I'm still trying to figure those ones out. And that is why I love this film so much. It engages your brain and doesn't shout it's meanings out at you like 90% of contemporary Hollywood. Bravo, Paul Thomas Anderson! I applaud this masterpiece to a deafening scale!
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Adaptation. (2002)
The Finest Screenplay of All Time?
27 October 2003

Never before have I been as 'knocked out' by a screenplay as I was with ADAPTATION. Charlie Kaufman is, quite simply, a genius, And it's possibly the most ridiculous travesty in the history of the Academy Awards when he failed to win 'Best Screenplay'. What an absolute joke!

ADAPTATION is a transcendental masterpiece. A work of art. It is in equal parts hilarious and poignant. It features a plethora of wonderfully crafted, multi dimensional performances, primarily:

NICOLAS CAGE who as Charlie and twin brother Donald effectively conveys two different personalities seemingly effortlessly. What a skilled actor he is! Where was his Oscar?

MERYL STREEP Who I simply ADORED as Susan Orlean. Eyes that contain the sadness of the world. Beautiful, hypnotic voice-over sections where the poetic, lilting timbres of her elegant voice just wash over you like music. And then she plays stoned and is, quite simply, wet-your-pants style HILARIOUS. Three words: DIAL TONE SCENE. And what a thoroughly beautiful (gets more so year by year) woman Meryl is. I cannot imagine anyone else more perfect for this role. Who stole her Oscar? Why yes, it was the much less deserving Catherine Zeta Jones of course!

CHRIS COOPER who despite greasy hair, questionable dress sense and no front teeth made me fall hopelessly in love with him by captivating me from beginning to end with his funny, warm, quirky portrayal of John Laroche. And seeing him and Meryl together was the rarest of joys and had me running back to the cinema to see this incredible film another 4 times. His Oscar temporarily restored my faith in the Academy.

Yes some have balked at the ending - but if one looks closely enough (repeated viewings are advised) it becomes clear that looking beneath the surface of this phenomenally intelligent film is essential. Is Donald even real? Is the ending real? Who do we believe? So many theories, so much debate --- all proof (to my mind) of an absolute work of art and one of the finest films OF ALL TIME.

ADAPTATION is seriously wonderful. If you have ever written anything and agonised over it, if you have ever been unhappy, if you have ever doubted yourself, if you have ever wondered if there is something missing in your life, if you have been in love, if you have been out of love, if you have a pulse --- YOU NEED THIS FILM IN YOUR COLLECTION.

I end by thanking ALL INVOLVED in the creation of a masterpiece that will stay with me forever. What a film this is!

PS - Oh, and do we think THE THREE could work?!?!
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Hit and Miss ...
15 September 2003
I feel very ungracious about this film, because I wanted to love it ... and really expected it to be so much better than it was. It stars some truly marvellous actresses, and has been given so much hype and advance publicity, I was genuinely expecting something great. But it turned out to be (in the main) a crushing disappointment.

The main problem is the screenplay. It's not funny. There are a few great comic moments and gems that give you an insight into what the film could have been, but the end result suffers dreadfully by not having the original choice of screenwriter - Victoria Wood. It panders too much to Hollywood tastes, and lacks the sparkle and eloquent wit of Wood's comedy. Why, oh why didn't they allow her to write the screenpay?

Another issue I have is casting. Helen Mirren is a great actress but here she is woefully miscast - unfunny, out of place and far too over-the-top - cold even. Plus her Yorkshire accent (and I should know, being a native!) is all over the place. Julie Walters and Celia Imrie are the real heart and soul of this film - warm and down-to-earth - but for some bizarre reason they (especially Celia) are given little to do and not stretched. This is a shame.

The main strength of this film, however, is its representation of women, and it's emphasis upon female friendship. I applaud the 'calendar shooting' scenes because AT LAST here we have a plethora of real women, with wrinkles, cellulite and no re-touching. Great. They all look fab. That I love. But what really is such a shame is the lack of humour, the terrible ending (the meandering final few scenes in Hollywood are so badly written and have absolutely no point) and the pandering to American audiences. What we have here is a kind of painting by numbers, 'how to make a heart warming Yorkshire comedy' which does work in some instances, but is (overall) a real disappoinment. But I expect the Yorkshire tourist board is pleased!
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A cinematic silk purse from a literary sow's ear ...
11 September 2003
I only managed about two pages of the book before feeling physically ill by the trite dialogue, heavy dependence on cliche and ham fisted, adolescent romance prose style. So a film of the book 'The Bridges of Madison County' did not fill me with joy and pleasureable anticpation.

Yet Clint Eastwood has waved a magic wand, and worked wonders on the lack lustre source material, by pairing it down to produce a beautiful, warm film with only one real flaw (more on that later)

The film's overwhelming main strength is the casting of Meryl Streep. As Francesca she dissolves into the role - at times her gestures and dialogue seem so natural and unforced it is as if Eastwood had installed a fly-on-the-wall camera into the house of a real Iowan housewife. She lifts the film - which does centre on themes which could appear trite in the wrong hands - to the level of profound piece of art. Her selflessness and devotion to her family, and tortured sense of divided loyalites are presented so powerfully, and so plausibly, that the final scene in the car at the end (those who've seen it will recall immediately what I mean) pulls at your emotions so hard you'd swear it was you who was making the decision. I defy anyone with a pulse not to shed copious amounts of tears at this point --- you would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved on some level by this great, great performance.

Clint Eastwood provides good, solid support in the sense that he doesn't overact, and allows Meryl to become the heart of the film. This is a wise decision - part of the terrible weakness of the book was its dependence upon the inane thoughts and ramblings of Robert Kincaid. The film is beautifully directed, beautifully photograhed and beautifully scored - the radio tunes and the non-diegetic Bridges Love theme really enhance the romantic, lush tone and mood of the film.

My only problem is with the misguided decision to cast Francesca's older children and flash back periodically to them reading through their Mother's journals. The acting in these parts is mediocre at best, and they detract from the elegance and poignant mastery of Meryl Streep's central performance. The ashes scene at the end is - I feel - necessary for closure, but the rest of the scenes featuring the chldren should have been scrapped. The Francesca and Robert sections stand alone and require no interruption - these other segments cheapen the mastery of Meryl.

Above all, this is a film which (on paper) can be dismissed as pure soap opera. But it transcends these potentially trite themes to make a universal story of love, selflessness, devotion and choice, that speaks eloquently to the viewer, no matter what your age or experience. It's a truly heartbreaking tale of transitory experience and the power of memory. It will make you think about your own life, and about your closest family members and relationships.

And its finest quality has to be the magic of Meryl Streep who proves, yet again, why she is uniquely the best actress we have ever had. As Clint Eastwood said about casting this role: 'I only made one phonecall'. He knew as you will too - no other actress could have brought so much depth, warmth, beauty, charisma and humanity to this character. As a humble film lover, it's all I can do to applaud her from the depths of my heart. Bravo, Queen Meryl!
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Only one redeeming feature: her name is Julianne Moore.
31 July 2003
I really tried so hard to like this film - but in the end I had to concede: we did not get on. It turned out to be one of the most disappointing pieces of 'drama' I've seen in a long time. The script is terribly hammy, in fact there are some truly apalling moments (the worst being Sigourney Weaver's declaration 'let's go on Oprah!' - I still can't work out if that was a joke) The acting (with one notable exception) is pretty mediocre, which is not helped by formulaic, humdrum direction and some truly shocking child actors. Why give kids who can't act dialogue? It undermines the dramatic potential of a film. As an aspiring screenwriter, I am constantly told to 'make every scene earn its place in your film' - well, there are countless here that could have been omitted. I have seen better made for TV films. The whole thing seems a terribly overlong excersise in 'how can we pull on the heartstrings of the Academy voters?' Luckily even they chose not to acknowledge it.

'A Map of the World' has, as I said, one redeeming feature: the presence of the gorgeous, versatile Julianne Moore. Her compelling scene of emotional breakdown following the death of her child in the woods is, in my opinion, worth the price of the film alone. What a shame that they didn't cast her in the lead role. With mediocre material like this, the only hope of transcending it is with a gifted actress of Julianne's talents - however I fear that even she could not have saved it.

One to avoid - but worth it (just) for Julianne Moore.
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Safe (1995)
Gripping - with a masterful performance from Julianne Moore
24 June 2003
'Safe' is enigmatic, anxious, bewildering and captivating. It will divide viewers, but I argue that this is the hallmark of all true art. You will either love it or hate it, you will either get it or you won't. But it won't leave you indifferent.

Julianne Moore plays Carol White, the film's childlike protagonist with a phenomenal skill. In the hands of a more showy, ostentatious actress, Carol's 'illness' could have appeared trivial, her character, flighty, whiny and irritating. In the hands of Julianne Moore who is, in my opinion, the most intelligent, thoughtful and captivating actress working today, Carol's predicament is moving amd her character endearing. Her performance truly is astonishing. Never does she feel the need to overact, to emphasise Carol's confusion or her fear. She plays her with a childlike acceptance, a surface simplicity and a sing-songy girlish voice, and she is a master of restraint, implication, understatement. I have yet to see a more impressive performance from an actress whose skill lies in making it appear like she is doing very little, when really there is a huge amount going on underneath the surface. The film would be worth it for Julianne Moore alone, but it also has other things to reccommend it.

There's the excellent direction from the genius, Todd Haynes. His mainstream hit, the wonderful homage to Sirk 'Far From Heaven' catapulted Haynes into the mainstream, but I find this work even more affecting. Haynes is a genius at utilising the mise-en-scene for the maximum effect. He uses his camera as a painter would with colour - each shot is masterfully composed, with the director never allowing us to get too close to Julianne Moore's character, making her predicament all the more confusing and alienating. This is a film which demands thought and concentration, and what you take from it will depend upon individual disposition and experience.

The dialogue is generally sparse and quite functional, meaning that emphasis is placed onto the menacing soundtrack (giving the film a horror/thriller feel), the meticulously orchestrated mise-en-scene and, of course, the amazing nuances and depth of Julianne Moore's artistic gifts. In terms of what the film is trying to say, there is a real sense of satire in the second section of the film (When Carol goes to the commune to be 'cured') but there is no insistence upon one single message. This is reflected with a deeply ambiguous ending which leaves one feeling anxious and confused.

Overall, 'Safe' is a masterful piece of work. The team of Julianne Moore and Todd Haynes is (as we have seen with 'Far From Heaven') a match made ... in heaven. I would urge those who appreciate non maintream, thought provoking and unconventional films to give it try, just don't go in with 'Hollywood' expectations as you will be disappointed. Finally, I'd like to end by reiterating what is possibly the film's main strength - the presence of Julianne Moore. This truly is a captivating performance from her, and certainly one of the most astonishing I am likely ever to see. 'Safe' gives us the chance to watch this gifted actress in one of her most underrated, little seen, yet most remarkable roles.
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The Hours (2002)
21 February 2003
I must admit to being genuinely baffled by some of the negative criticism this magnificent film has received since its release. Film goers lament endlessly the lack of thought provoking intelligence, quality acting and indeed scarcity of gripping roles for women in Hollywood, but when a film comes along that offers all three qualities in abundance, all they seem to do is pick holes in it!

For what it's worth I believe 'The Hours' to be a landmark film, a beautifully created masterpiece, and a crucial work for women to see - both as spectators, and for future actresses in terms of the opportunities its success will (hopefully) open up.

Aesthetically, 'The Hours' is endlessly beautiful. It's apt that the film opens with a river, because its beauty simply washes over you as the story unfolds. Each moment is lovingly agonised over by Stephen Daldry, whose attention to detail is second to none. The result is an absolute visual feast of stunning imagery - flowers, water, and nature. I adored the evocative manner in which the three different settings [contemporary New York, 1940s Los Angeles and Richmond] were signalled in the lighting, and this was aided immeasurably by simply glorious costuming and make-up.

David Hare has transformed Michael Cunningham's wonderful homage to Virginia Woolf into a mesmerising screenplay - literate, moving, profound and riveting. I love the effortless way his words move you, and engage your brain at the same time. This is rare in today's cinema.

Perhaps, however, the single most remarkable facet of 'The Hours' is (for me) the acting. The cast - one that I would have dreamed about before hearing of this film - could not be bettered. Each of the three primary actresses, Streep, Moore and Kidman, is impeccable in their own way and I suspect individual disposition will dictate whose story moves you the most. I only hope their resounding achievment here will be rewarded by a plethora of intelligent scripts for women in the future.

Much praise has been lauded onto Nicole Kidman, and let me say that her achievments go far beyond make-up, dowdy dresses and the prosthetic nose that critics have become so obsessed with. Her piercing blue eyes (said to have the ability to scorch holes in carpet by one critic) succeed in capturing the essence of Woolf's fractured emotion, and the depth of her performance is truly outstanding. She is also intensely moving and at times painful to watch. Julianne Moore - a remarkably versatile actress - is magnificent as Laura Brown, the introspective, lonely housewife. She has an amazingly expressive face and haunting eyes, making dialogue hardly necessary in conveying her deep unhapiness, a performance almost suited to silent cinema. Again, her story was at times intensely painful.

And finally to Meryl Streep who is, for me, the finest of the three (although this is an ensemble performance - the three should all be rewarded for their acting together) I found her energetic, elegant, graceful and powerful. She invested Clarissa which such an enthusiasm for life and an energy - plus a subdued longing - and I found her performance explosive. Take note small minded producers - we need more Meryl on the screen. Her humanity and charisma is boundless. Give me her over 1000 twenty-something non entities any day.

Special mentions also to Stephen Dillane (magnificent and underrated as Leonard Woolf) Toni Collette (her kiss with Julianne Moore is possibly the tenderest moment in the film) Miranda Richardson (always excellent) and Ed Harris (a great, moving performance from him) All of these actors and others help to allow this film to live in the minds of those who see it and are moved by it for long after the credits roll.

I want to end by applauding all involved in the creation of an exquisite, lyrical masterpiece. I found it at times heartbreaking, yet strangely enriching and even life affirming, despite its potentially morose themes of suicide and depression. It left me with the desire to find out more about Virginia Woolf, and to look at my own life in a different way. Surely this has to speak volumes for the overriding success of this wonderful film. Awards shouldn't matter, but I hope it sweeps the board at this year's Oscars. It deserves its success and as a humble film-goer, I will be eternally thankful for its existence.
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The Gift (2000)
Cate Blanchett is mesmerising!
10 June 2002
'The Gift' is an understated, underrated thriller which succeeds in captivating one's attentions from beginning to end. The film's main strengths are its screenplay, its beautiful mise-en-scene, a strong ensemble cast and a haunting soundtrack (those of you who enjoyed 'The Shipping News' will recognise the composer from the lilting score of that film)

But perhaps 'The Gift's' main attribute is the presence of the wonderful Cate Blanchett. Although I loved the film, I was forced to wonder if in the hands of a less capable actress, whether it would have had the same captivating power. Somehow I think not. Cate Blanchett's restrained portrayal of Annie exudes compassion and tenderness, and is integral to the success of the film as a whole. Her sensitivity as an actress is important in relation to the subject matter - ESP and the occult - as these areas generally attract much scepticism. Blanchett, through her unique skill as an actress, manages to make the more fantastical elements of the story not only plausible, but intensely moving. She is luminous to watch, reminding me of the (also magnificent) Meryl Streep in terms of her quiet beauty, her range of expression and her adept skill at accent mimicry. Who could believe that she is Australian?

In short, 'The Gift' is well worth seeing, primarily for Cate Blanchett, but also for the supporting actors Keanu Reeves (very impressive and effective) Hilary Swank (underused) and the magnificent Giovanni Ribisi - who is both explosive and reticent as Buddy Cole. Also demanding attention is the imaginative screenplay, and the hauting beauty of the mise-en-scene which manages to be both beautiful and eerie at the same time. Overall, 'The Gift' is a resounding success, due mainly to the heart of the film - Cate Blanchett's resonant performance. The actress has a unique gift herself, which richly deserves to be seen by many.
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Moulin Rouge! (2001)
The film that should have swept the board at the Oscars is ...
18 April 2002
Moulin Rouge!

From what I can gather reading other user responses on this site, this film very much divides audiences into black and white categories. You either love it or you loathe it. May I be so bold as to suggest that this is solid proof of a work of art? It leaves no one indifferent.

I reside in the former category, that of love! (bordering on obsession if I'm honest) I saw this film five times at the cinema and would rate it as one of the greatest cinematic experiences I have ever had the privilege to partake of.

Why did I love Moulin Rouge so much? Have you got a spare couple of days?:

1 - Stunning, breathtaking visuals. So colourful and enchanting to look at.

2 - Baz Luhrmann is a genius. There was not one moment in this film that he had not agonised over. I would like to have seen him presented with a 'Best Director' Oscar this year, as this man is gifted and deserves huge kudos. What a surprise that the academy once again opted for a conventional choice, and the outrage that Luhrmann was not even nominated! There is no way in this world that any of the nominees put as much heart and soul into their work as this man breathed into his. He is a phenomenon.

3 - The music. Beautiful. There was not a piece of music or re working of a song in the entire film that I didn't like and I can only hope that Baz Luhrmann's film will help start a new era in getting musicals back onto our cinema screens. I'm sick of teen filcks I want to see more intelligent films like this one!

4 - The perfect balance of humour, surreal visuals and comedy with the tragic love story. Any film that can make you laugh and cry in equal measure has to be applauded.

5 - The Performances. First of all let me say how stunning Nicole Kidman is. She is captivating and reminds me of a screen Goddess from the golden age of cinema. Her voice is, granted, not west end musical standard but it is very, very capable and human sounding. Ewan McGregor is a star with a lovely boyish look about him and a Robbie Williams style singing voice. Both are fantastic, play their roles to perfection and have excellent chemistry together on screen. A delight to watch. The supporting cast are also excellent. I especially loved (the amazing) Jim Broadbent and Caroline O'Connor.

I could go on and on, but I would like to put a theory forward as to why some are disliking this film. I honestly think that it is above the heads of the average member of the cinema going public, most of whom are accustomed to hi concept trash and popcorn films. Luhrmann's film is postmodern and unconventional - two factors which make it unnapealing to a popcorn movie crowd. Despite that, I do accept that even to individuals who 'get it', its dizzying pace and hypnotic look may still be too much. Overall, 'Moulin Rouge' is an acquired taste. For what my view is worth, I would rate it as one of the finest films ever made and the nearest I have ever been to a theatrical experience in a cinema building. Thank you Baz Lurhmann: you deserve every success. Thank you for daring to be bold, and daring to break new ground. Thank you for the passion that goes into every frame of your work. Thank you for your energy, your vitality and your dedication! Just a huge thank you really! The Academy need their heads examining for overlooking this masterpiece!
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The forecast is great ...
22 March 2002
I heard one 'critic' describe 'The Shipping News' as having a pace akin to "treacle running down a wall." All I say is that this critic's favourite films must be 'Pearl Harbour', 'Armageddon' and 'Tombraider'.

What makes 'The Shipping News' great?

For a start the ensemble cast is magnificent. Kevin Spacey, who (in my opinion) excels at conveying vulnerability and enigma is a wonderful Quoyle, managing to engage our sympathies whilst still retaining an air of mystery which runs from beginning to end. Dame Judi Dench's magnificence goes without saying - here she is simply wonderful, managing to communicate years of pent up suffering and pain with just one expression, one look of her eyes. The fabulous Cate Blanchett literally explodes onto the screen as Petal, Quoyle's promiscuous wife. Yet the star of the show for me was the excellent Julianne Moore. As an actress of extraordinary range, down-to-earth beauty and versatility, here she confirms her gift, as the film's 'love interest' Wavey Prowse. She is luminous, powerful, loving, endearing and plausible. A joy to watch.

The direction. I found Lasse Hallstrom's last film 'Chocolat' magical and sumptuous to watch, yet somehow lacking in substance. In 'The Shipping News' Hallstrom uses his camera to weave a magical spell, creating a world of muted blues and greens, which perfectly conveys the sense of hidden magic and mystery that is key to this film's success. The lilting, haunting score only serves to emphasise the subdued beauty of Hallstrom's images. This is a film which captures you and draws you into its magical world - testament to Hallstrom's skill as a director. I suspect that those who found 'Chocolat' a little too light and insubstantial would appreciate the darker, more profound nature of his latest offering. For me it is far superior.

What I adored about 'The Shipping News' is what some would cite as its flaw - its slowness and apparent 'lack' of plot. We live in a climate where film tastes tend to lean towards the big budget, hi concept blockbuster. There seems to be a constant demand for action, explosions, teen flicks, Barbie doll type women and Ken doll style men. How refreshing then to be given the opportunity to watch an intelligent film which meanders, which doesn't pander to dominant audience taste, which demands you to think, which is a feast for the eyes as well as engaging your brain. For what it's worth, I adored 'The Shipping News' and honestly believe that many of its critics dislike it for its 'un Hollywood' nature, and its pondering narrative.

If you only like your films heavily populated with aliens, crude gags explosions and boobs, then it is probably advisable to give this little gem a miss. You won't find rapid editing, excessive violence and abundant special FX, but you WILL find a wonderful script, a stellar cast, not to mention sumptuous direction and cinematography. In short 'The Shipping News' is a marvellous discovery - an understated film of magnificent beauty.
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Complex yet Stunning
24 January 2002
I came to the film adaptation of 'The French Lieutnant's Woman' with initial trepidation. As anyone who has read the John Fowles novel will appreciate, this is one text for which adaptation would not be a walk in the park.

How unfounded my uncertainty was! The director, writer and actors did a fantastic job in adapting a complex novel to the screen. The film works impeccably as a metaphor for what the novel was trying to achieve, which is all we should expect from film adaptations.

Stand out features include:

The actors are perfect. I can't say anything new about Meryl Streep, who I believe to be the finest actress ever to have graced the cinema screen. Here (as ever) she is perfect - if you didn't know she was American you would believe she is English, the accent is so accurate. She embodies the character of Sarah perfectly with a multi layered performance, managing to convey Sarah's dignity, her independence and her complex mystery. My only criticism (if you can call it that) is that she is too beautiful! According to the novel, Sarah is "not beautiful by any period's standards", but with her porcelain complexion and delicate features, Meryl Streep is stunning. As Charles, Jeremy Irons gives a commanding performance, managing to convey the character's genteel veneer and the inner passion that lurks beneath. Both actors are excellent, and the chemistry between the leads is tangible.

A "Story within a story". The way in which Harold Pinter weaves the Fowles tale with the lives of Anna and Mike - the actresses who are playing the Victorian lovers, is inspired. The manner in which the film flits from Victorian age to modern day, is the filmic way of conveying Fowles's tendency in the novel to judge his Victorian characters and their era by Twentieth Century standards. Some critics have found this device jarring - I find it clever and affecting.

Overall, 'The French Lieutenant's Woman' is a beautiful, haunting tale of repressed love and social hypocrisy. Right from the opening shot, where we see the image of Sarah on the Cobb looking out to sea, the viewer is grabbed and drawn into this complex world. The actors are faultless, the screenplay ingenious and the cinematography and score, haunting. If you normally find yourself disappointed by novel adaptations, look no further than 'The French Lieutenant's Woman' to show you that when a work is adapted properly, the results can be stunning.
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Manhattan (1979)
A visual love letter to New York .. you will fall in love with Manhattan!
24 January 2002
Woody Allen's 'Manhattan' sores a perfect 10 rating from me because it is faultless. I have never seen a more beautiful visual love letter to New York as this one, in which Woody Allen manages to encapsulate all he adores about NY to a gorgeous score and a razor sharp screenplay.

With a dynamic ensemble cast including Diane Keaton as a neurotic intellectual, marvellous Meryl Streep (looking lovely!) as Allen's lesbian ex-wife, and Mariel Hemmingway as the teenage object of Allen's affections, the witty screenplay is brought to life with humour and also a little pathos.

The city of New York is, as any visitor or inhabitant will know from experience, magical, and Allen captures this essence in 'Manhattan'. The film looks stunning in black and white, and the accompanying Gershwin score feels as if it were written specially to be used by Allen.

At the end of the film, Woody Allen's character lists all that he feels is wonderful about life. If I had to make the same list, this film would feature. It is a true classic and is not to be missed. I rate 'Manhattan' and 'Annie Hall' as Woody Allen's finest accomplishments.
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Serendipity (2001)
Predicatable yet amiable RomCom.
17 January 2002
When I saw this film was directed by Peter Chesholm, director of the marvellous 'The Mighty' I was looking forward to seeing it, despite an uninspiring trailer. Unfortunately, despite masterful direction, it could not be redeemed. 'Serendipity' is hindered by a predictable plot, wafer thin jokes and insipid performances.

Reasons to SEE this film:

1 - New York looks fabulous. On a serious note, I expect that many would find escapism in the way New York is captured in this film, after the horrific events of September 11th. Chesholm has encapsulated the magical essence of the city wonderfully. The New York we all know and love is on full display from beginning to end.

2 - The music. The soundtrack is excellent, mainly because of one man: David Gray. His lilting and understated scores are out of place in this hackneyed film, but add to it nevertheless.

3 - There are some lightly comic moments. I think about three in total. But it is very, very gentle comedy. Gentle being the operative word.

4 - The direction is excellent. Peter Chesholm is a fabulous director as he proved with 'The Mighty'. He's wasting his time, and his talent here. For me the highlights of the film were the sections where we were shown aspects of the city and footage of scenery to music. These provided a break from the monotony of the cream cracker thin plot and 'written on the morning of the shoot' screenplay.

Reasons to AVOID this film:

1 - Representation of the English. To every non-UK reader reading this, can I just take the time to assure you that there is more variation to the English dialect than the stereotypical Kate Beckinsale voice? This is just a personal grievance. It seemed to me she was cast SOLELY on the basis of her English Rose beauty and Received Pronunciation voice. As a result of these superfical reasons, she falls flat, in a way that Kate Winslet wouldn't have.

2 - Kate Beckinsale. I like to call her Kate "Not Winslet" Beckinsale, depite the comparisons made between the two actresses after 'Pearl Harbour'. She is a beautiful woman, but she does not have the charisma and spice of Kate Winslet. In this film she just simpers. Of course, that could be because she isn't given much material to play with, but she still is not a primary reason to rush to the cinema. All round, I found performances weak and flat, except the actor who played John Cusack's best friend. He was under used.

3 - The plot is so unbelievably predictable that you find yourself writing the script in your head, and knowing what event will come next. This is not my psychic ability, more the unwritten rules of the RomCom unfolding in traditional fashion. Please give us something new. The words trite, hackneyed and unoriginal spring to mind.

4 - It's called a "Romantic COMEDY" but that last word is debateable. I would say the film has about two funny jokes and one instance of physical comedy. All of these are contained within the trailer. Therefore, viewing the trailer provides as much instance of comedy as viewing the entire film. Surely this is not how it should be.

In a nutshell, 'Serendipity' is the cinematic equivalent of a nice cup of tea which is starting to go cold. It's just predicatable, bland but amiable. Don't rush to the cinema to see it, but if it's a choice between that and 'The Princess Diaries' perhaps plump for the former.
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Paradise Road (1997)
A heartfelt, underrated work of art with some magnificent performances.
12 January 2002
Why didn't more people see this film? This is what makes it great:

As an ensemble piece it works wonderfully - the cast are truly magnificent. Glenn Close is fabulous as the 'central' character and most well known 'star', but she does not monopolise all the scenes and screen time. She blends in with what is a wonderful cast, and does so impeccably. Why she hasn't been given more kudos as an actress is beyond me - she is stunning.

The film worked perfectly because of what comes across as a genuine rapport between the female cast. Each actress brings a different element to the story - Jennifer Ehle is strong willed and beautiful, Julianna Marguilles fiesty and dominant, Pauline Collins has such a human quality which she conveys to perfection, Cate Blanchett portrays wonderfully a quiet woman with a rebellious side. All compliment and balance each other. The actresses succeed admirably in bringing to the fore the bond that grew between their real life inspirations for this story.

The direction is precise and the cinematogrpahy beautiful. Despite the bleak context, Japan still looks vibrant and colourful, full of life.

The score. I can't do justice to the score in words - the vocal orchestra formed by the women is just beautiful and poignant to listen to and really does need to be heard to be understood. Somehow the actresses manage to make the music symbolise their humanity and spirit. It works wonderfully.

Overall, this is a heartfelt film with a profound message of hope which runs all the way through it. 'Paradise Road' is one of those rare films which reminds you of the indestructible nature of the human spirit. I wish there were more films like this one, and I wish more people had have seen this film. In a word it's a gem.
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The finest performance by an actress in the history of film.
28 December 2001
'Sophie's Choice' should be compulsory viewing for any member of the voting panel who decide Academy Award winners. Quite simply, Meryl Streep's performance is THE benchmark for that 'Best Actress' category. I've seen a LOT of films, but not one performance has ever (and will ever) match her's. The manner in which she embodies Sophie goes beyond explanation. It is too accomplished and moving for words. It is almost offensive to think that Julia Roberts was awarded the same statue for ‘Erin Brockovich'!

Aside from the breathtaking central performance from the marvellous Ms Streep, there are so many other reasons to see this film. Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicol are excellent, the cinematography is beautiful (particularly the shots of Brooklyn Bridge) the score is haunting ... I could go on.

Although certain critics have berated 'Sophie's Choice' as a mere platform for Meryl Streep as an actress, I urge you to overlook this view. The film succeeds admirably in bringing to horrific life an event in history which we should all be made aware of. It is undeniable that the phenomenal performance of MS leaves you spellbound, but NOT at the expense of being horrified and affected by what you have seen. All I can say to sum up is: just see it. An intelligent and profoundly moving film which will (I promise you) live on in your memory long after the closing credits.
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The Next WORST thing, more like!
28 December 2000
Oh dear.

Don't get me wrong, I love Madonna as a singer and a bloody good one she is too. And she was good in Evita. But no matter how hard she tries she is still Madonna, and as 'Abbie' in this travesty of a film, she proves that she really should stick to the day job (i.e - singing)

I'm trying to be constructive, but this film is truly apalling. Admittedly, Rupert and Madonna are hindered by one of the worst, most hackneyed screen plays I have heard in many a year. Hear are just a few snippets of the trite, contrived, cliched dialogue:

"Being a parent takes more that DNA!!"

"I take sick companies and make them well"

"I miss him. He was totally me!"

The use of gay stereotypes is utterly apalling (I would be outraged if I were a gay man) the plot is dull and the characters are so thinly developed that there is no room for empathy. We learn next to nothing about the character of Abbie (nor do we care) and Rupert's Robert is simply a gay stereotype - I can't believe that he read the script and then agreed to accept the part. Perhaps he was feeling under the weather at the time and his judgement was impaired. Whatever the case, by the time the brat of a kid has his fate decided, you really could not care less what happened to him, Rupert or Madonna. All that stopped me hitting the fast forward button at regular intervals, was the unintentional, self parodic hilarity of this film. A prime example being the impromptu performance of 'American Pie' around the grave of one of the bloke's boyfriend's. Supposedly a poignant touch, this is unintentionally hilarious and has to be seen to be believed.

Avoid it at all costs, unless you have a fondness for seriously bad films, unintentional, self parodic humour, wooden, over-the-top acting, a wafer thin plot, characters who are little more than stereotypes and contrived dialogue. Need I go on?
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