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4/10
Exciting but fails due to poor handling of the characters.
7 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The third X-Men film is the only consistently exciting film of the series, and it has an intriguing premise – whether mutants need to be cured – that echoes the first film, now instead of a mutant trying to turn humans into mutants, humans have found a way to turn mutants into humans, so it is more interesting than the disappointing X2. But it is by no means a good film, mainly due to poor character handling.

It's clumsily written. Plot hints are painfully sledge hammered in while new ideas are dropped in with no explanation – exactly what is a mutant mark or class? The plot is a little holey, particularly at the finale, which happens far too soon, just over an hour in. To give this idea the attention it needs, and to handle returning characters and new characters sufficiently, this needed to be much longer than an hour and a half.

That's the big problem. The characters. The Last Stand takes characters with little opinion on the cure as leads, sidelining those who do have opinions, such as Rogue, Mystique or Angel. There are too many new characters, who while occasionally interesting, needed to have been set-up in the previous films or left out. No character parallels play out and too many characters die in this film, considering the sparse death list in the previous films – is it trying to make up for lost time?

There are serious character issues here, not least almost everyone suddenly being unlikeable, especially Storm, Magneto, Professor X, Bobby and Jean. Leader of the heroes, Professor X, follows the same character arc as in the first two films, but here it isn't handled as skilfully. Leader of the villains, Magneto, having long given up being a sympathetic villain is utterly repulsive and extremely irritatingly played by Ian McKellen, and despite egging Jean on constantly to kill people, still comes out with the worst-delivered line of the film, "What have I done?"

Several main characters clog up the plot and would have been better cut, making room for relevant subplots. The pseudo-romance between Bobby and Kitty is a misstep, seemingly only existing to drive Rogue out of the film, despite her being infinitely more interesting and likable than these two kids, likewise, the desperate 'romance' between Wolverine and Jean is still being paraded around, despite there being no explicable or discernible attraction between them. It is tedious that Wolverine is still desperate to get it on with Jean, despite her now being a completely different person. She is insane, has no personality, and would have been better left at the bottom of the lake at the end of the last film. She is a non-entity of a character, reduced to a psychotic weapon. Whenever the camera pans over to her, it is a jarring reminder that she is even in the film, and when she decides to actually be involved in the finale, this leads to the biggest let down of the film. There are better parallels and subplots that could have culminated here, and it is too easy for the big ending.

Meanwhile, other main characters such as Cyclops, Mystique and Rogue are heartlessly tossed aside both by their friends and the script, and their interesting subplots axed, when these are the strands that should be carrying the film.

Admittedly, new additions Beast and Juggernaut are a lot of fun but however cool six X-Men facing the onslaught of hundreds is, we barely know this small line of underdeveloped, boring characters. And is this really the last stand? Isn't this actually the first stand? It's not even that important.

As usual, my biggest gripe is that Rogue doesn't get to shine, when she has the most potential. When Rogue professes interest in getting cured, Storm claims that there is nothing wrong with her. Rogue's response should have been to touch Storm's face, and see if Storm still thought there was nothing wrong with Rogue, now that she was dead.

Stick to X-Men, and pretend it had no sequels.
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Flushed Away (2006)
5/10
Too Fast, Not Enough Detail
31 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Short and pacey, Flushed Away doesn't have time to set up its characters or plot in enough detail, making it feel empty.

The moral is obviously that being lonely is bad and lots of friends and family is good, however, especially with Aardman's Wallace & Gromit The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit in mind, it comes across as being rich and posh is bad and common as muck is good, and frankly, this is quite offensive.

Roddy is a pet mouse from Kensington who is flushed down the toilet when a nasty sewer mouse, Sid, breaks into his home. Roddy quickly gets embroiled with a villain plot that doesn't really matter and meets sewer mouse Rita who has a huge family. What is not set up is Roddy's relationship with Tabitha, the little girl who looks after him. This vital element of what a pet's life if like being missing makes Roddy's desire to be like Rita seem like a fad. The audience never sees Roddy's life, so cannot know why he should want to change it. Instead the audience is only given a view of pets from the sewer mice, who know nothing of this life and can't judge. There is also an annoying omission in that at the start Tabitha leaves Roddy too much food while she goes on holiday and at the end he has been replaced by fat Sid. The assumption is that Tabitha will think this is an overfed Roddy, but it is never mentioned, so instead the audience is left to believe that Tabitha simply doesn't notice that her pet has turned into an entirely different creature. Perhaps the makers of the film have never had a pet, and do not understand the close bond that can form. Perhaps they are too busy hating posh people.

Aardman's plasticine-animation style doesn't sit quite right with Dreamworks' lazy computer animation, and Roddy's permanent grin and lack of resemblance to a mouse is slightly annoying, whereas had this been stop-motion it would be endearing and impressive.

Flushed Away is filled with little jokes, details and references that are very hit and miss, so it is down to the individual whether they spend it cracked up with hysterical laughter, or stony faced. This one is very much down to personal taste, but it does need to be longer and more developed.
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3/10
Too Fast And Devoid Of A Reason To Exist
22 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The fifth Harry Potter film doesn't feel much like a film at all, everything happens too fast, as it whizzes through an entire year of events, lines babbled under too-loud music, making it feel as if nothing is really happening and with no noticeable time actually passing until Dumbledore informs Harry that he has been ignoring him for a year. A year? Surely not. Nothing happened.

Most of the plot is about Dolores Umbridge taking over Hogwarts, which has nothing to do with Lord Voldemort wanting to kill Harry, which is what seems to be happening at the start. Umbridge, a pink-clad giggling bureaucrat from the Ministry of Magic, seizes control of Hogwarts, a character that starts as a clumsy juxtaposition gag – she smiles but really she is mean – but develops into a chilling child-torturer.

While events surrounding Harry at the start of the film are mildly mysterious and quite creepy, these are instantly dispelled by the horribly disappointing realisation that Harry is going to spend most the film with his two useless sidekicks, Hermione and Ron, who are simply there to stop any of that creepy, interesting stuff going on too long. Emma Watson as Hermione wobbles her head and pronounces syllables that aren't there, failing to be convincing at any point, Daniel Radcliffe as Harry veers wildly from completely believable to child-in-a-school-play acting, and Rupert Grint mumbles his lines, possibly deliberately because Ron is dull and pointless, but if so, Ron really needs to be cut. There is no friendship or love discernible between the characters and every moment Hermione and Ron are on screen is annoying.

On the subject of unbelievable relationships, it is rather tedious that Harry is obsessed with his Godfather Sirius while poor Lupin is forced to the side, even though he clearly cares deeply for the boy. Harry is also still hero-worshipping his father when here we get a glimpse that he was a horrible bully, before moving hurriedly on.

As the plot speeds along, forgetting to be a plot, explained only in the lazy device of spinning newspapers, it crashes into the finale, in which we learn at some point the good guys will fight Lord Voldemort, but it won't be in this film, begging the question, why does this film need to exist? Much like the previous two, it is simply adding in five minutes exposition that might be needed later. There is a bit of a scuffle at the end between the Order of the Phoenix (good guys with white smoke) and the Death-Eaters (bad guys with black smoke) but it is difficult to see who they actually are, and the battle is dull and confusing. Voldemort shows up, looking stupid and rather ill with a flat nose and skinny white arms, in time for a lame ending.

This film is a non-entity, simply setting stuff up for further sequels. At least some day, these will end.
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8/10
Refreshing, intelligent rom com that works, if only that final scene had been developed
22 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
You've Got Mail takes romance and feel-good film clichés, and handles them refreshingly, intelligently and believably with a witty and bouncy script and style, heavily developed characters and is full of nice details, particularly how in love the meaningless becomes meaningful.

The plot is vaguely reminiscent of the 1940 film The Shop Around The Corner, enemies who unwittingly fall in love through the written word, and nods its head to this, but the romance in You've Got Mail is far more central to the plot and the situations and set-up are completely different.

Kathleen owns a friendly children's bookshop, and Joe owns part of a big bad chain store that threatens to swallow Kathleen's simple existence whole, causing Joe to suffer for the pain he causes the woman he loves. This makes Joe a fascinating romantic lead. He is a callous businessman, but with depth and humour as a person. His horror at discovering his anonymous lover is his enemy, the inner turmoil bubbling beneath his eyes for what he has done and his desperation to befriend her and be forgiven when he knows it is too late is all superbly acted by Tom Hanks. Rom-com leads usually go from enemies to lovers, and it is wonderful to see the friendship stage actually broached for once.

The film balances humour and wistfulness with heartbreaking despair, depths not usually covered by rom-coms, as Kathleen must watch all her efforts fail as she loses her mother's shop. It is also pleasing that Kathleen's relationship with boyfriend Frank comes to a natural end, rather than the usual dumping that goes on in such films, and both this relationship and that between Joe and girlfriend Patricia are cleverly set up to show why the couples are together, but that there is no possibility of the long term for them.

However, the ending irritatingly sabotages You've Got Mail's chances of being a classic. Once Kathleen loses her shop, the film switches almost entirely to Joe's perspective, as he tries to become her friend. This throws off the delicate balance that has been the structure so far. And then the last scene, in which Kathleen waits to meet her anonymous lover and is presented with Joe, doesn't work. The 'surprise' tactic is tasteless, as is confirmed by Kathleen bursting into tears, not really the happy ending desired, but instead of these two witty, intelligent and deep people, so recently bitter enemies but now close friends, discussing the coincidence, irony and subterfuge of this situation, they kiss.

One of the best rom-coms made, but the ending brutally stops it being perfect.
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2/10
Take Everything Needed For A Funny And Heart-Warming Film, And Throw Them Away. The Nothing That Is Left Is THIS.
16 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The problem with Dennis, the 'fat boy' of the title, is exactly that. What is his problem? He's a loser, a scumbag and utterly unlikeable, and at no point in the film does he become a nice, likable, or sympathetic character. So it is very hard to root for someone this self-involved. At no point is he ever nasty or pathetic in a funny way, he's just a jerk. And no matter how many 'emotional' scenes are rammed in, it has been five years since he left his pregnant fiancée at the alter. FIVE YEARS of seeing her every day. How is it only NOW that he wants to do anything about it? And it doesn't matter if he does. It's been FIVE YEARS. It's too late. Luckily for him, the people he wants to win back, the dull Libby and their duller son Jake, are so flat, the audience can't care about them either. Especially Jake. And the lazy demonising of Libby's new love Whit is obvious and convenient so Dennis can worm his way back in to Libby's affections after five years of being the most detestable and unreliable jerk she could hope to meet.

So, Run Fat Boy Run isn't funny. There are a couple of jokes that possibly could have worked as part of a sitcom, but never in a one-off film, but just to make it clear, this isn't funny. The serious scenes are even worse, falling horribly, uncomfortably flat, and the painful dragging out of a heart-warming ending is… not heart-warming. There is no character development or motivation, so basically there is nothing here that is needed to make a film. Dire.
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Zulu (1964)
5/10
It Is What It Is - If Western-Style Historical Battles Are You - Then Go For It
16 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The plot leading up to the battle of 4000 Zulu warriors against only 100 British soldiers is hard to follow, mainly because there are far too many characters to remember who they are and it is difficult to hear what they are saying, and no one bothers to explain the historical setting, so unless the audience has studied 1870s African colonialism wars, they're going to be a bit lost as to what is going on and why.

Scenes of the Zulu warriors dancing, or singing, or preparing for battle are lingered on, presumably because they took a lot of effort to film, but are so long and uneventful, it is difficult to concentrate.

Due to some camp acting and a strange lack of violence, with people being murdered with quick pokes of spears or bayonets as if this is a game of tag, Zulu can be hard to take seriously.

Within the plethora of characters, it becomes questionable who the audience is supposed to like. Perhaps the film makers had no one in mind, and were trying to give an honest portrayal of each man, but each character has moments of likeableness and moments of detestableness so it is difficult to pick favourites, there is an awful lot of setting up of the peace-loving Reverend who becomes a screaming alcoholic force of evil, just because he thinks murder is a sin and the battle of power between Lt Chard and Lt Bromhead makes each constantly switch in the affections of the audience, Bromhead originally being set up as a fop, but later it seeming wrong that Chard is stealing his command.

Zulu is a film that will be liked by those who want to see a film about a historical battle, but it doesn't have anything to offer on any other level. It is exactly like Westerns that focus on homesteaders versus Native Americans, with the small band in the wagon circle being beaten down by an expert warrior race that are on their own land and yet feel like the villains. The Zulu warriors are never represented as bad, in fact they are constantly praised, however, watching 4000 of them attack 100 British soldiers, and willingly sacrifice their own men just to test the enemy weaknesses makes it very hard to want anything other than for them to lose. And towards the end, when the British get some really organised firing lines in action, it is actually quite exciting. Everyone loves the underdog, and a film of 100 men being slaughtered by 4000 men would never have been made, so it is just a matter of sitting it out to see how these few will defeat the many.
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5/10
Perfectly enjoyable, but somehow forgettable.
14 May 2008
An enjoyable and fairly intelligent children's film, making a change from the usual tripe DreamWorks' computer animation studio churns out. RJ the raccoon needs to get food to replace what he stole from an angry bear, so he enlists naive forest animals who have just woken up for spring to find that their forest is now a housing estate. It has a few problems that make Over The Hedge less memorable than it deserves to be, Verne the tortoise, sensible leader of the forest animals, is voiced by Garry Shandling as if he has been tranquillised, even his screaming sounds bored, the pace can be a little slow in places, and the music is far too slow, and there are too many characters to care about, only Hammy the hyperactive squirrel and RJ the scheming raccoon are interesting. Also, the basic plot is a little irritating. RJ is lying to them, they're going to find out, but he really doesn't need to lie to get what he wants, and the moment half way through when Verne destroys all their hard work is infuriating. Unfortunately Over The Hedge is clearly trying for a Woody and Buzz dynamic between Venre and RJ but fails because the film starts with RJ, making him the main character, and he's the one with the personality, so he's the one the audience cares for, so it doesn't come across that he might be stealing Verne's thunder. Basically, Over The Hedge is much more enjoyable than it looks, but it doesn't really linger in the memory once it has finished.
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Bad Company (2002)
5/10
Would be enjoyable, if Rock and Hopkins had been fired.
14 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Officer Seale (Gabriel Macht) is handsome, brave, intelligent, an ace biker, skilled in gun duels and at dodging bullets, and can even survive being shot in the back at close range. He's great! Unfortunately, he's not the focus of the film. That is shared by street-wise scalp Jake (an irritating Chris Rock who is followed everywhere by blaring rap music) who has to pretend to be his undercover CIA agent brother and dull (not to mention elderly and overweight) Officer Oakes (an unconvincing Anthony Hopkins sleeping through his lines) who has to train Jake to save the world from a nuclear bomb.

Bad Company starts with a clichéd poetic action scene in which Kevin Pope is killed. Enter exposition overload to explain who Jake is and why he has to cover for Kevin. This gets all the information across in a short space, but is so obvious and clumsy, only a child wouldn't be irritated. However, the plot itself is pleasingly straight-forward and sense-making, which isn't often the case in action films, but it does all rest on how lucky the CIA are that Jake is basically a receptive genius. But it can't be that hard for Jake to pretend to be Kevin, since Rock's Kevin acting involves using a quiet monotone and nothing else. This touches on a vague plot hole of the film, in that why does the CIA bother training Jake to act like Kevin, and then training him to act like Kevin acting like Michael Turner (Kevin's alias)? Why not go straight from Jake to Michael, especially since they are not supposed to give Jake any extraneous information that could pop out at the wrong time? Other plot holes include why in the lengthy car chase in which baddies want the bomb that Jake and Oakes have, do they not kill Jake and Oakes when they get the bomb, and undercover agents like Oakes probably shouldn't run around as CIA officers in the middle of undercover operations. Also, there is something extremely tacky about the style in which the diffusing the bomb scene is edited, with lots of random close ups.

All that aside, this is an inoffensive action film, fine for passing the time, although thanks to the two flat leads, probably not one to seek out.
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Enchanted (2007)
3/10
A Horrible Disappointment
6 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Enter a standard Disney cartoon. The cartoon section of the film is supposed to be a homage, or a reference, or a poke at classic Disney cartoons. Instead, it is practically a complete lift from Sleeping Beauty, one of the better early Disneys. This does not come across as intelligent, but as a rip-off, as if it is okay to laugh at Sleeping Beauty because post-modern cartoons have taught the modern audience that the old cartoons weren't very good. Well, mostly they were very good and so far, the post-modern versions haven't touched them in quality.

Edward's stepmother doesn't want Giselle to usurp her throne, so sends Giselle to the live-action real world. Amy Adams plays human Giselle bizarrely, while she clearly isn't a normal person, she doesn't particularly come across as a cartoon. The first part of the film follows Giselle closely, and then suddenly cuts to new characters Robert and his daughter Morgan (who may as well have been cut for the little she does) for no reason, breaking the feeling of continuity, which irritatingly sets how the rest of the film flits between so many characters that none get a good enough set up or development and scenes are endlessly resolved by simply not existing any more.

The romance, the crux of the film, is boring, obvious and has been done too many times before. For a brief moment it seems as if Giselle will help Robert propose to his long-term girlfriend Nancy, while her own love Prince Edward fights to rescue her. However, the film quickly kills this interesting premise after suggesting it, by going back to the dull getting-to-know-you plot and having Giselle randomly state she is on a date with Robert, and proceed to steal him off of Nancy. It is slightly sick that Robert fancies Giselle, since she is basically a child, and she never learns anything about reality, other than dates and hot dogs, because this is a children's film and children aren't allowed to know about reality, which really defeats the point of the film. It would have worked better written for adults, but then wouldn't have done so well at the box office.

The ending, apart from emphasising the bad plot of Robert and Giselle getting together, involves the evil queen turning into a giant dragon to kill Giselle, despite her whole reason for sending Giselle to the real world being to break her up with Edward – well, she has succeeded! The Queen wins her evil aim, so what is with the awful dragon stuff? So poor Edward loses the love of his life and Nancy loses her five-year relationship despite telling Robert that she trusted him (she shouldn't, because he runs off with the girl she thinks she can trust him with), but don't worry, no broken hearts for them because they get together for a nice neat, nonsensical ending. They don't know each other at all, she doesn't know he comes from a cartoon and the two scenes which could have helped their relationship feel like it was destined to happen were cut by some idiot editor. That's if it is possible to hear the ending over the blaring music.

So it's a horrible disappointment of a film. Elements of the film that really work are the swashbuckling Prince Edward, brilliantly performed by James Marsden, who is sidelined again (seriously man, get a better agent), and the two moments in the film when Giselle manages to bring her cartoon magic to the real world – when she decides to clean the house with the help of local animals (rats, pigeons, flies and cockroaches) and when she starts to sing a song and hundreds of people join in. If these elements had been more central, and the forced romance had been axed (it's yet another they get together because in the course of the film they don't spend any time with anyone else) then Enchanted may have been worth watching, even achieved the classic status it was aiming for, but instead it is vapid and spirit-crushing and an annoying waste of time.
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3/10
Pointless Rom-Com We've All Seen Done Better
5 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Talk show talent scout Jane (Ashley Judd) is obsessed with her idea that men are like bulls. Her narration announces that the 'cow theory' – that men are polygamous and won't go back to an old lover – took over her entire life due to a broken heart. This would be more believable if the 'cow theory' actually did take over her entire life. Instead, she comes up with the ungrounded theory, is told it isn't a very good theory repeatedly since all she has to do is look around at say, more than one man, and refuses to admit it could be wrong because if it is, men don't leave all women, they just leave her – well, it would be nice if there is any sign of this other than the one break-up within the film.

Then there is the broken heart that sparks all this. It doesn't help that her relationship with Ray (Greg Kinnear) is performed entirely in montages, so the audience can never tell what is so great about it. The editor should have been advised to leave in the deleted scene of Ray telling Jane how he can't stop thinking about her, as as it is, I was never sure why he is with Jane. He tells her that he is in a serious three-year relationship to the one, Jane proceeds to have an affair with Ray, Ray dumps the one, is clearly distraught, then dumps Jane and she is surprised. She was planning on moving in with a guy in a serious relationship, what did she expect to happen? As for the characters themselves, Jane is an uninteresting lead and Eddie (Hugh Jackman), the womanising housemate who is obviously going to end up with her, doesn't have a coherent personality. His inevitable pairing with Jane seems to happen because she only knows two other men, and they're both taken.

Judd and Kinnear have plenty of chemistry, but there is none between Judd and Jackman, which is a huge problem. Also, an odd quirk of the film is that Ray is the nicest Mr Wrong in rom-com history and he would make a more interesting lead than Jane or Eddie.

Animal Attraction desperately tries to adhere to standard rom-com formula and then, as if to break away enough to be remembered, it tries to be quirky, with narration, title cards and mildly surreal elements. Unfortunately, there isn't enough fun in the film to carry these, and the dreary rom-com soundtrack and forgettable names bog it down. A forgettable collapsed soufflé of a film.
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1/10
Failure To Engage The Audience At Any Point
5 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Tripp is a man in his thirties who still lives with his parents. His parents hire Paula to get him to move out. The film manages the set-up, but forgets to fill in the romance.

Matthew McConaughey as Tripp is off-putting to watch, and his accent so thick it is often difficult to understand what he is saying – and baffling, since no one else in the film, including his parents, share his accent. As for the character, he isn't given a personality or any depth, except for a sledge-hammered back story about a dead fiancée, which is dropped in towards the end of the film. Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker) repeatedly mentions how sweet Tripp is, but this sweetness must be going on off screen, as on screen he is constantly a jerk. There is also no chemistry between McConaughey and Parker which makes the so-called romance hard to notice. If it is there at all.

Paula is given even less personality than Tripp. All we know about her is that she gets men to move out of their parents' home professionally. She only refers to Tripp in terms of the job, so when after about half an hour we have to be told Paula has feelings for Tripp, it is a surprise. It certainly isn't in the performance or the dialogue. It would help if we saw she doing her job before being hired in to help Tripp. As it is, it is very confusing how she is so successful since she utterly fails in every aspect of her job with Tripp. And realising she is failing in her job, she sleeps with Tripp – for money. She becomes a prostitute, and doesn't bat an eyelid. How is this not an important plot development?

The film generally doesn't make sense and the scenes in which Tripp is attacked by a chipmunk/dolphin/lizard seem to have wandered in from a different genre, and fail to amuse. However, the scene in which Kit, Paula's house-mate, tries to buy a gun is very funny, the only funny moment of the film, mainly due to the performance by the salesman (Rob Corddry).

As for the supporting cast, Kathy Bates as Tripp's mum hams it up and Zooey Deschanel as Paula's house-mate phones in her usual tediously bored performance – this is obviously her selling point, but strangely enough, a bored actor is boring to watch.

Basically, Failure To Launch is an entirely disengaging film and forgets to actually put any romance in between the set-up and the finale.
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Born Romantic (2000)
5/10
Mildly entertaining romance, spoiled by its ensemble nature.
5 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
An ensemble rom-com that requires a love of salsa. If this love is lacking in the audience, they will often be bored. The opening is set in the salsa club that connects the characters, is long and dull and drenched in a cheap-looking murky red, which isn't going to snag the interest of a passing viewer. This is reprised throughout the film along with drawn out shots of London roads, adding to the lethargic and depressing tone.

However, Born Romantic does have an interesting set up, once it gets around to it, and each of the three male leads have intriguing back stories. Fergus has come to London to find the love he jilted eight years ago. Frankie lives in a sinking house with his ex-wife. Eddie is a petty thief looking after his senile father. Unfortunately their female equivalents are less developed. Mo is a slag (broken heart), Eleanor a snob (high standards) and Jocelyn a kook (fear of death). It feels very much that each couple ends up together only because there isn't space in the film for them to think about meeting anyone else and the ending is unsatisfactory because from all signs the relationships between Fergus and Mo, and Frankie and Eleanor are doomed, with them only getting together because they are tired of fighting. The sweeter relationship between Eddie and Jocelyn may last, but these two characters have the least depth in reality so it is hard to consider them real people at all.

Fergus, Frankie and Eddie pursue their ladies, their stories connected by a salsa club and a widower taxi driver, but while individual scenes can be enlightening and well crafted, they are never enough. The whole film suffers from its disjointed nature and it ultimately has too many characters and plots to give any the depth they deserve. While this is the risk of all ensemble films, Born Romantic doesn't have anything else to it to fall back on.
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Election (1999)
8/10
Intelligent film for intelligent people
17 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
A highly intelligent and witty story about a high school election, told from four perspectives, psychotic over-achiever Tracy (Reese Witherspoon) who must win, caring but cynical teacher Mr McAllister (Matthew Broderick) who wants to see the nasty Tracy fail, nice but dim sports star Paul (Chris Klein) as her opposition and lesbian under-achiever Tammy (Jessica Campbell) as Paul's adopted sister, each given surprisingly excellent performances by the actors.

Election is extremely watchable due to fun direction and a razor sharp script, with its four unreliable narrators, the images of the film giving away more than characters admit, which can often be touching, and a plot that ties up neatly.

However, the comedy is so black, and Tracy's triumph so horrifically inevitable, it can be slightly uncomfortable to watch, as the bitter events unfold. The sex and porn scenes feel unnecessary, is this a side to Jim McAllister that needs to be seen? It feels more an attempt to make sure the audience doesn't get too fond of Jim, who is still the main character despite three competing narrations, he isn't squeaky clean like Paul. In this vein, the Linda plot is excruciating to watch once the audience knows where it is going. Why is Jim so obsessed with her? Fair enough, his marriage is loveless, but what is so appealing about Linda? Although his home life disintegrating, and being stung in the eye by a bee are there to physicalise the stress Jim is under, it does feel a little like Jim's revenge on Tracy has more to do with him having a bad day, than a genuine desire to take her down a peg after everything he has seen her do.

Clever, witty and fun, Election is a highly polished gem, but the nastiness running through the plot does leave a bitter aftertaste.
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French Kiss (1995)
7/10
Subtle romance with a delightfully amoral lead, that could do with a bit more pep.
15 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
A pleasant romantic comedy, that could do with a more eventful second half.

The first half of the plot focuses on the phobic Kate, having travelled to Paris to get back her fiancé after he ran off with the French Juliet, losing everything, and French thief Luc desperate to get at the necklace he has smuggled in her bag. Luc is a delightfully amoral hero and he enlivens every scene, while Kate is a sympathetic lead, lost, trapped and alone. Although, since Kate never manages to get a new passport, how is she on a plane at the end of the film?

The middle section of the film is sadly rather dull. Luc and Kate go to Luc's childhood home, the stereotypical cliché of quaint, simple vineyard folk in picturesque landscape and the pace disappears. Also Luc's desire to own a vineyard doesn't really fit with his personality of thieving, gambling and loose women and both leads act out of sorts during this lethargic portion of film.

The second half focuses on Luc helping Kate to win back her Charlie. This is all very romantic, but there are a lot less laughs than the first half and raises the question, what does sultry beauty Juliet see in Charlie?

Between Kate wanting Charlie, and Luc wanting the stolen necklace to buy his vineyard, the film charts the development of Luc and Kate's feelings for each other, and the understated nature of this romance is extremely well handled and enjoyable to watch.

French Kiss would be improved if the vineyard section was cut, and if a bit more actually happened, but it is an excellent example of a sweet and pleasurable romance with likable characters.
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Greedy (1994)
4/10
Hilarious characters suffer a dull and irritating plot
14 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
A comedy filled with entertaining characters, Greedy fails to be a successful film due to a tedious plot.

Dirty old selfish Joe is rich and his snivelling greedy relatives want his money, so far, so funny. However, the structure of Greedy is badly done. The film starts with one of Joe's greedy relatives, Carl and his family. It is a mistake to make us side and sympathise with them, if ultimately they are not important or developed. Worried they are going to lose out on their inheritance to sexy young nurse Molly, the bickering relatives call in long-lost nephew Danny, Uncle Joe's favourite. Although Michael J Fox is a welcome addition to any film, and his energy, wit and compassion make him a watchable lead, he is introduced too late to be this lead. Danny either isn't needed in this plot of greedy relatives versus evil old man, or it should start with and focus entirely on him. It is very difficult to care about his failed professional bowling career, as it is boring, and the sappy music that follows Danny and girlfriend Robin around is far too overdone.

While child-Danny and Michael J Fox-Danny's impressions of Jimmy Durante are impressive, the need to show the audience who they are doing impressions of by starting the film with a lengthy clip of Jimmy Durante from Two Girls And A Sailor makes for a slow beginning that has little to do with the film.

Molly is a badly written character. She knows Joe is perving on her, but she likes the lifestyle he provides and eventually she nearly sleeps with him for money, and yet she isn't supposed to be that sort of girl. Well, she clearly is. Also Olivia d'Abo is apparently English so it is confusing that her English accent is one of the fakest I have ever heard. Exactly what part of England is she from?

The plot plays out pretty obviously, excluding Joe's insanely over the top ploy to discover who loves him, with bad people getting nothing and good people being rewarded, but it is the despicable Joe who has ruined his family's lives. Without him, they would never have become the people they are, so to see them end up with nothing, while he is still rich isn't satisfactory at all.

Amusing characters suffer an irritatingly twisty plot, dominated by a detestable patriarch and are buried under too much moral for this film to be as funny as it wants to be. It should have stuck with the idea of relatives who will do anything for their inheritance and dumped the morals of Danny and manipulation of Joe, which just hinder the laughs.
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Nick of Time (1995)
5/10
Real time thriller that's half an hour too long.
13 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
A suspense thriller that gets by on a tense plot with the audience unable to see the outcome, which becomes evermore tedious which each repeat viewing.

Mild-mannered Mr Watson has ninety minutes to kill the governor, or his little girl will be murdered, and everyone he turns to for help is in on it. A shame there is nothing else to the film.

The opening credits with close-ups of clocks and guns should set the tone for the film, which comes across more like a television episode than a motion picture, full of amateurish tilty cameras and endlessly repetitive scenes to stress the predicament Mr Watson is in, but just make it hard to watch. The lack of character development, and the fact that some scenes do not include Mr Watson make what John Badham is going for in his direction a mystery.

Christopher Walken as Mr Smith, the hit man forcing Mr Watson into this situation, is more irritating than scary, as he constantly pops up and checks his watch, as if he is waiting for Mr Watson to finish in a shopping queue rather than commit murder.

The climax is a disappointment, as the whole film balances on the audience's desire to know how Mr Watson will get out of this situation, only to find at the climax he still has no idea, and the final shot of the film, of the man behind it all getting away is redundant, as both Watson and the governor know he is in on it, so he's going to get caught.

Enjoyable suspenseful thriller if there's nothing better on, but not of good enough quality, and not one for repeat viewings.
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The Hard Way (1991)
4/10
Fox does his best to enliven a dull action flick
10 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The flimsy, barely-there plot of The Hard Way is about angry cop John Moss wanting to catch serial killer the Party Crasher but being unable to as he has been stuck with undercover actor Nick Lang, who is researching for a role. John and Nick irritate each other, John's fledgling relationship with Susan isn't working out and the Party Crasher, occasionally murdering people, hates John. That's the plot. There's no character development or detective work, two elements essential in buddy cop movies, and yet the film is heaving with clichés, which would work if handled in a tongue in cheek manner, after all the film does send up some cop drama clichés, but most are meant to be taken seriously.

James Wood's performance as John Moss, angry, fast-talking and foul mouthed, does not come across as a real person, or a real detective as he doesn't do any police/detective work, just beats people up or threatens them, so he quickly becomes an irritating bore to watch. His mostly-off-screen relationship with new girlfriend Susan is also hard to believe. Neither seems to have any interest in the other's personality, and Susan gabbles and laughs nervously but doesn't appear to have anything else to her. Towards the end of the film she dumps John as it is too dangerous to date a cop, a fact she would surely have thought about sooner, she is then instantly proved correct when she is kidnapped by the villain, so why are John and Susan a couple at the end of the film?

Set in a neon-filled, noisy, dirty, dark, overpopulated New York, The Hard Way is not enjoyable visually. Every scene in a public place is packed wall to wall with extras, with irritating cuts to street dancers in the middle of action sequences, and there are far too many supporting characters who at most get three scenes to have a line in, and all this gritty, dark, crowdedness makes a lot of the scenes hard to follow. The only visually interesting set is that of the giant Nick Lang billboard, Michael J Fox's enormous head, smoking a cigarette, which becomes involved in both the starting action sequence and the ending. This is advertising the film within the film, Smoking Gunn II, which amusingly spoofs action/adventure films. It is worrying that Smoking Gunn II looks a lot more enjoyable than The Hard Way. However, even this is overused and repetitive, as two action scenes at the end of the film, one following the other, parody Smoking Gunn II, one in a cinema and one on the billboard.

It is difficult to understand, and unexplained, why the police have so much trouble catching the Party Crasher when they constantly witness him committing crimes, so it becomes tedious how many times he is caught/wounded/trapped but always magically escapes. This is also the worst performance of the film. What is Stephen Lang going for as the Party Crasher? He comes across as mentally disabled, his 'only kill bad people' crusade is never gone into and he is so underdeveloped that it makes no sense he is given scenes on his own.

The Hard Way is a dull, clichéd cop thriller minus the thrills, held together entirely by Fox's amusing and energetic performance as actor Nick Lang. We have to wonder how similar Fox's own life at this time was to Lang's spoilt rich lifestyle.
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The Bachelor (1999)
7/10
Refreshingly witty genre filler
10 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Full of witty lines, comic situations and a fun, upbeat soundtrack, every scene in The Bachelor is shot to get the utmost comedy from the script, so as a comedy, this film is excellent. Where it falls down slightly is with the romance.

Jimmie Shannon has to get married before his thirtieth birthday or he loses out on his inheritance, and sees all his employees at his billiard table factory out of work as the sharks move in and buy out his business (a clever device, making Jimmie have to sacrifice himself, rather than be greedy for money). So he has to get married. Only problem is, his birthday is tomorrow, and love of his life Anne just walked out on him. So now he has to ask each of his ex-girlfriends if they wouldn't mind entering into a loveless marriage, and failing that, gets his face in the paper and a church-full of angry brides-to-be. All very fun.

But the crux of the plot rests on Jimmie's inability to propose to Anne. But he repeats how he loves her, and admits he wants to spend the rest of his life with her, so when towards the end of the film he has a revelation that she is the one he wants to marry, it's rather difficult for the audience to comprehend what his problem was in the first place. It is never explained why he fears marriage, since he is happy to stay in a long-term monogamous relationship with Anne. This relationship itself is not on screen much, as the first twenty or so minutes of the film whizz the audience through the relationship by Jimmie's narration, without a look in to how Anne feels, odd, since the rest of the film cuts between the two of them.

But ultimately, even with a slightly unclear reason for the whole 'bachelor' thing, and a slight cheapness to the style, and forgiving the blatant continuity error of Anne's bouquet at the end, and the fact that Renée Zellweger sounds dubbed for a lot of the film (it's just the way she speaks) this is a constant laugh-out-loud comedy and definitely worth it.
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Sleepy Hollow (1999)
5/10
Depp saves a sleepy and hollow fantasy flick
10 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Despite a creepy atmosphere and a likable and amusing performance by Johnny Depp as the squeamish Constable Crane, Sleepy Hollow isn't as enjoyable as it has the potential to be due to too much conspiracy and not enough of anything else.

Ichabod Crane believes in using scientific methods to uphold truth and justice and is sent to the isolated farming community of Sleepy Hollow to detect the murderer who has been beheading victims. This will put his methods to the test. A test he presumably fails, as he is faced with the truth that the supernatural exists, and the stories that the villagers tell of a ghostly headless horseman coming to kill them is proved true. A shame, because a scientific solution to the inbred community's superstition looked like it would have been an interesting plot. And while Depp's constantly scared performance is entertaining, it doesn't make much sense for a man who is a policeman interested in cutting open bodies. And for a man so intent on fact and reason, he very quickly changes his tune when he sees the headless horseman and is suddenly an expert on ghosts and magic.

Everyone, even those not part of the conspiracy at the centre of the plot, acts suspiciously and guilty at all times, and the conspiracy, filled with too many red herrings and half uttered statements, is very hard to follow. Also, the villain is unfortunately easily guessed from the billing order. As for the headless horseman, he is strangely treated sympathetically, despite having been a mass-murdering loon in life, and a brutal assassin in death who kills at least one, possibly more, victims without orders.

Christina Ricci gives the worst performance of the film as the bland love interest Katrina, trundling out her lines as if she has no idea what they mean. It comes across as if Ricci, a normally vibrant actor, is deliberately sabotaging her role as revenge for being cast as such a dull character.

Sleepy Hollow is funny, exciting and scary when it's good, but too many dull characters, an irritating sleepiness to important events and a needlessly convoluted plot get in the way. For a film based on a short story in which the headless horseman didn't even exist, the writers have gone far too over the top to come up with a replacement narrative. This would be one to miss if it wasn't for Johnny Depp giving a career-best performance.
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Panic Room (2002)
8/10
Suspense thriller that'll keep you on the edge of the seat every time
10 April 2008
That Panic Room is a suspense thriller that retains its suspense in repeat viewings, a very rare occurrence for the genre, is a sign of its quality.

David Fincher directs the film to create a real feeling of utter isolation in the middle of Manhattan and realistic touches, not needed for plot, convince the audience that Meg is a real woman in a real predicament. The thriller works due to an insular plot of a mother and daughter trapped inside the panic room of their new house when three men break in, who want what is hidden in that panic room. It doesn't feel the need to branch out or become over the top, and it is a situation the audience can relate to on a basic level – intruders in the home.

Its few flaws are that at the start of the film when Meg and Sarah move in, it is too quiet, with too much ominous music to emphasise this woman and her daughter are in trouble, feeling a little heavy handed. Why do Meg and her daughter need such an enormous labyrinthine house anyway? The fancy camera-work is impressive on a first viewing, but distracting on re-watches and the ending is slightly too abrupt.

As for the characters, the film cuts between Meg and Sarah on the inside, and Junior, Burnham and Raoul on the outside, letting the audience get to know all the characters equally. If there is a problem here, it is that Junior's inconceivable stupidity is unfortunately inconceivable, but he and Burnham remain likable throughout, he for sweetness due to his dumbness and Burnham for being the nice one, while the faceless Raoul is suitably despicable.

Panic Room is one of the best examples of the suspense thriller, taut and terrifying, exhilarating and entertaining, viewing after viewing, a talented ability for a film set in one house during one night. Highly recommended for a thrill, but not for a relaxing night in.
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Devilishly brilliant and not blasphemous
16 March 2002
I'm religious and I love this programme. That is my first point, just to make clear that people who say this is bad are wrong.

Okay I was forced to watch it against my choice and now I am so glad. It is hysterically funny and very well written. Alan Cumming as the devil is by far the greatest cartoon character (not including anything from the simpsons) and is the best portrayal of the devil I have seen upon the screen. Ever. This show not only has wit, farce, brilliant scripting but morals and style. It is NOT saying anything bad against religion at all and really makes you feel good about yourself.

I am very upset, so America dropped it due to religious folk complaining and here in Britain we got the whole series BUT due to it being an American cartoon it didn't really take off. Yes it is an acquired taste but take the time and you'll be hooked too.

Funny is too bland a word for this show. It is BRILLIANT.
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9/10
I don't care how nice it is outside, stay in and watch this.
10 March 2002
I do admire this programme very much and I hope that all who watch it will too. I would recommend it to anyone who likes a murder mystery, the Victorian era or Sherlock Holmes and anyone else looking for something new and brilliant. This episode focuses mostly, (apart from the murders obviously) on Doyle being converted to spiritualism, a transition he finds difficult being a scientific man (even though in reality I'm sure this didn't happen until much later in his life). Murder Rooms makes great use of dreams, hallucinations and flashbacks, this episode uses all of these and even some ghosts. This really adds to the intensity of the story and manages to keep it completely believable. Doyle can't stop thinking about the murder of his girlfriend/fiancée and is becoming obsessed, losing his faith in the fellow man. This worries Bell but this has to be put aside to find the murderer of two people, (later 12!). The title of this episode doesn't mean much until a terrifying finale involving Doyle. I can't tell you much without giving the plot away but there are plenty of twists so it was only on my third viewing that I completely understood everything. The acting is electrifying (even from the bit parts) and added with the writing and proxemics this series is an all time great. There is even razor comedy, the best bit coming from Doyle's housekeeper overhearing Bell explaining he is off to a whore house. Charles Edwards seems to have a constantly worried look but this could be explained as, why is it Doyle seems to get nearly killed EVERY episode? If this were true it really is astonishing that he had such a brilliant mind and lived as long as 71 years. Even so Doyle is portrayed extremely positively and Edwards is a fantastic actor.

Please watch this and please enjoy it.
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6/10
A Great 70s Classic.
8 March 2002
I thoroughly enjoyed this film, at great surprise. I would not recommend it to fans of the action genre but everyone else should take a look, especially animal lovers, don't think for a second you need to have read Herriot's book. The actors themselves provide all the entertainment with their dialogue (except the bits with the animals and farmers). It is actually an emotional film and makes you involved with the characters. A word of warning, since it covers a significant amount of time without making it that clear don't leave the room. I haven't made this film sound as good as it is but believe me it's great. Simon Ward and Brian Stirner are very good as James Herriot and Tristan respectively but Anthony Hopkins steals every scene he's in (as always) as Siegfried, who constantly confuses Herriot by changing what he said the night before and manages to insult all the women. The scene where he is chatting up his girlfriend is a classic example of how NVC can be better than actually saying something. So long as you know what you are expecting this film is excellent.

A great British classic, watch it.
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9/10
The Best.
4 March 2002
When shown on television the series was called 'The dark beginnings of Sherlock Holmes' and had Edwards with a voice over, on video it's called 'The mysteries of the real Sherlock Holmes' and there is no such voice over, I say this as this is the only episode I don't have on video. I prefer the original title as the new one seems cheesy. However there is nothing cheesy about the programme itself. Like the first episode 'The patient's eyes' white knight stratagem borrows conventions from Sherlock Holmes stories, the middle two doing this much less. It doesn't matter as all are top of the range programmes, made so by EVERYTHING involved from props to the extras the show could almost be carried off without the scripts and actors (which are of the highest quality I've ever seen all in one programme).

As usual there is wit threaded in-between drama and it is as sharp as ever. Bell being worried Doyle will be remembered as a writer rather than a doctor (which is what has happened), Doyle asking the cricketers if they've seen any cricketers and the alcohol conversation. The best part for comedy is when Bell wants to buy a deer stalker hat. No, it really is funny.

Doyle works out a lot for himself in this episode as Bell is the one caught up in personal vengeances for once but Doyle still needs a guiding hand and is facing problems of his own. Doyle's turmoil comes from having his father locked away in a mentalinstitute and his own disgust at himself. He finds it more difficult to cope with as he has to put on a brave face for Innes his little brother and receives no sympathy from Bell as they are against each other. Easily explained if you watch the episode but not in a review that doesn't want to spoil it for you.

Rik Mayall is a main character in this episode, as Bell's advisory with a brilliant mind and dark secret. I am used to Mayall in 'the young ones', 'bottom', 'drop dead Fred' and 'blackadder' so was unsure what to expect from him in a straight role. Well, expect a lot, he was brilliant, utterly convincing and I wish to see more of him as a serious actor.

I really feel sorry for Doyle. So far in the series he has done very poorly as a doctor, had two close friends murdered, fancied two murderers, been nearly killed over four times, been hunted, had his writing badly criticised, his father go mad, his little brother dumped on him, his religion changed, witnessed many deaths, got into quite a few arguments and fist fights and been arrested a couple of times. And yet he is still a very clever and moral and caring and attractive (oops, sorry) man.

The ending of this episode is very poignant and thought provoking. (but I dislike the dissolve from Doyle to Bell as it is freaky to watch)

The end is done in such a way to definitely be the end of a series but suggest the possibility of more to come. I really hope this is so, I wait patiently.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has always been my favourite author and recently my hero. Charles Edwards and Murder Rooms are fast becoming a favourite actor and programme.
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9/10
Arthur Conan Doyle should be proud
4 March 2002
When thinking about this programme the word marvellous comes to mind but brilliant or superb will do just as well.

I feel I must write a separate review for each episode of this four part series as they are feature length and stand just as well on their own as part of a perfectly crafted series. This means that to stop myself being unoriginal but not letting any aspect of these programmes go un-praised this review shall be long and the others very brief.

I started watching 'Murder Rooms' with a very sceptical mind. I am a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle fan, well more than that, he is probably my hero, a man I look up to in almost every respect. So a fictional series on his early experiences spent with Joseph Bell, written like Sherlock Holmes stories did not sound to my liking. Why make up new stories when Doyle wrote enough great fiction to satisfy anyone or why not document his real life?

However I was stunned. This series is excellent. More than excellent. The historical accuracy is somehow unimportant. All you need to know is Doyle met Bell in 1876 at Edinburgh University and was taught by him, Doyle did base some of Holmes' science of detection on Bell's diagnostic methods AND the series is set between 1882-1890 when Doyle worked as a doctor in Southsea, Portsmouth, Hampshire.

Doyle is portrayed as the most moral and gallant man I have seen on screen. Charles Edwards is one of the few men alive who could attempt to portray my hero and actually pull it off. He does more than this, Edwards is an extremely competent actor and slips into his role with ease. I only wish he was in more. Not only is he a very talented actor playing the role of a truly gifted and considerate man with an exceptional script he also has physical attraction, though does seem to be constantly worried for some reason. Here I'll briefly mention Ian Richardson as Bell who is also a very good actor but this is more of a well known fact so I needn't dwell.

If I wanted to I could talk for hours praising this programme but would result in only sickening you rather than convincing you to watch it as is my real motive. So I'll briefly cover the other merits then finish.

The scripts weave drama, mystery, a little despair or romance, surrealism and almost laugh out loud humour so skillfully together I have seldom come across such brilliance. Added with the setting, camera angles, proxemics. mis-en-scene and music at just the right moment this programme is more than a success.

This particular episode starts like the Holmes story 'The Solitary Cyclist' but soon goes down a very different path with plenty of twists along the way. Poor Doyle has just moved to Southsea and is doing rather badly as a doctor as he is too kind for his own good and then is crushed in love for the second time. This episode has one of those great things, rarely done- a funny fist fight, but don't get too relaxed, there are plenty of horrors too.
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