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Closer (I) (2004)
7/10
Engaging performances by a powerhouse cast make for a very interesting film
22 January 2005
'Closer' plays as a sequence of incidents in the lives of four main characters with passage of differing lengths of time between each scene so that to a certain extent, the audience has to fill in the gaps.

The film opens with a shot on a busy street where Dan (Jude Law) and Alice (Natalie Portman) are walking towards each other to a soundtrack of Damien Rice's 'The Blower's Daughter' (I loved this track the instant I heard it and it suits the opening and end scenes so well). There is a spark as Dan and Alice catch each other's eye but before introductions are made, Alice is knocked down by a taxi and Dan accompanies her to the hospital. At this point in time, we learn that Dan is an obituary writer. Later, we find out that he has used Alice's life as the subject of his novel. He meets Anna (Julia Roberts) who photographs him and they end up kissing. As a result of a prank Dan plays when chatting to Larry (Clive Owen) on an Internet chat room, Larry meets Anna at the London Aquarium.

At times, the film protrudes the intensity of a theatre production which is little surprise as 'Closer' is an adaptation of a Patrick Marber play. All four leads play on the whole, unsympathetic characters but are no less interesting because of it. Natalie Portman even plays against type as a stripper. At times, the film is darkly funny and I would not recommend this film if explicit dialogue offends you.

This is a love story that is different from the norm and deals effectively with the issue of deception and how it impacts on the lives of the central characters.
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Love Actually (2003)
7/10
Another feel-good offering from Curtis. I actually like ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral' and ‘Bridget Jones' Diary' more
9 January 2004
The film is set in the five weeks leading up to Christmas and consists of a number of love stories affecting people who are related to characters in the other stories: a best man (Andrew Lincoln) is inexplicably hostile to his friend's new wife; the British Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) falls in love with his tea lady (Martine McCutcheon); his sister (Emma Thomson) is faced with her husband (Alan Rickman) having an affair at work; Alan Rickman's colleague (Laura Linney) finds her long term crush and love for another colleague requited; a widowed father (Liam Neeson) helps his son cope with falling in love for the first time; a writer (Colin Firth) escapes to France after being cheated on by his wife and finds new love; and an aging rocker (Bill Nighy) aims to make Christmas Number One in the pop charts with a cover of ‘Love Is All Around' –only the lyrics have been changed to ‘Christmas Is All Around'. (Astonishingly, this song has been released for real in the UK and made the top 40!)

If you enjoyed Richard Curtis's previous offerings ‘Four Weddings And A Funeral' and ‘Notting Hill', you will not be disappointed by ‘Love Actually' which is fun, likeable and romantic, if a little formulaic. Hugh Grant gets another starring role in a Curtis movie and gives an endearing performance as the British Prime Minister. I like him a lot but I am sure that there are some people out there who will be irritated to find him in typical bumbling mode (yet again!)

It is a joy to see the abundance of British stars on the screen and it is fun to spot the additional television stars including British television presenters of the moment Ant and Dec! My favourite moment is one I'm sure many of the British public have been faced with at some point in their lives when Bill Nighy refers to one of the presenters as ‘Ant or Dec' as he has no idea which is which! Other comic highlights include Hugh Grant dancing in the hallway at Number Ten and the language barrier between Colin Firth and his maid in France –even though they are unable to speak each other's language, the subtitles on the screen show that they are communicating even if they are not aware of it. The chemistry between these two is irresistible but is let down by the silly way that their story is resolved.

While the film is filled with likeable performances, there is one piece of casting which let Liam Neeson's story down. His son is cute but he sounds far too posh and well spoken for me to feel sympathy for his situation!

Alongside the humour, there are some unexpected serious moments which I think over tip the balance and sit uncomfortably in a mostly lighthearted comedy. One of these is the discovery that Laura Linney's new love is jeopardised by her commitment to her mentally ill brother. Emma Thomson's realisation that her husband is cheating on her is also heartbreaking. You have these serious undercurrents on the one hand and on the other you have a couple of silly stories: one featuring Kris Marshall leaving his life in London for Wisconsin in search of beautiful girls and rampant sex and another featuring Martin Freeman (Tim from ‘The Office') as a porn body double having ‘getting to know you' conversations while engaging in various sexual positions with his naked co-star.

‘Love Actually' is like a book of short stories and suffers in the same way: by the time you get into the stories and you are just starting to get to know the main character, it is time to move on to a completely new story which is sometimes less interesting. However, it makes for an enjoyable and romantic enough date movie and is Christmassy enough to warrant repeat viewings on DVD and television over festive seasons to come.
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4/10
Style over substance
6 December 2003
Uma Thurman is The Bride, an assassin whose wedding day is ambushed by her former colleagues. She is left comatose by a bullet in her skull but she wakes four years later intent on revenge. She makes a ‘death list': number five is Bill, but first there are some others including O-Ren Ishi (Lucy Liu) to deal with.

The film starts promisingly with The Bride calling in at the house of a fellow assassin (Vivica Fox). This is the most entertaining sequence of the film with some trademark Tarantino-esque banter between the two women as they fight.

My interest in the film disintegrated soon after with a lengthy sequence that introduces O-Ren Ishi and is entirely in the form of a Manga style subtitled cartoon. I am still not sure whether the film sent me to sleep because after that, I have no recollection of a coherent storyline. A flashback to The Bride's escape from hospital is mildly amusing but in a very black way. There is also a lengthy black and white sequence for the confrontation between The Bride and O-Ren Ishi's bodyguards. Here, I felt like I was watching a very violent computer game with lots of fighting and blood spurting from dismembered bodies.

As is conventional with Tarantino films, the sequences are not chronological which makes ‘Kill Bill' quite a frustrating film to watch. Although I find Uma Thurman a very watchable actress, what this movie is lacking in is the witty banter between characters that made ‘Pulp Fiction' and ‘Jackie Brown' more enjoyable.

Volume 1 ends with an intriguing piece of information being revealed in anticipation of the story being continued in Volume 2. Perhaps I would like ‘Kill Bill' more and my opinion would be different if I were to view Volume 2 on its release. Unfortunately, at this stage, I feel that the six year wait for a new film by Tarantino has hyped up the film more than it deserves and I increasingly feel that he is an overrated director –so much so that I am inclined to wait until I can borrow the two disc DVD from someone.
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Finding Nemo (2003)
9/10
Visually stunning and hugely enjoyable
6 December 2003
Over-protective clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) witnesses his only surviving offspring Nemo being captured by a deep-sea diver soon after a moment of rebelliousness from the youngster. Frantic, Marlin endeavours to find his son with the help of an amnesiac fish, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres). On his quest, he also meets sharks which have formed a Fish-Eaters Anonymous group, and a group of ‘surfer turtles' that speak like Bill and Ted.

Meanwhile, Nemo has been released into a fish tank in a dentist's waiting room in Sydney. There, he meets a group of fellow prisoners led by angelfish Gill (Willem Dafoe) who has devised a cunning plot for them all to escape. The challenge that Pixar faces here is to make fish as cute and as loveable as the furry leads of previous animated successes. Anthropomorphism goes far enough to over ride the fact that in the wild, fish lay eggs and then neglect their offspring and to allow Dory to read the handwritten name and address on Nemo's abductor's neglected goggles.

Having enjoyed both ‘Toy Story' and ‘Monsters Inc', I found ‘Finding Nemo' just as good. The success of Pixar features is down to the studio's story-telling skills and their ability to entertain the whole family: familiar quotes such as ‘Hop inside my mouth if you want to live' will be appreciated by adults but lost on kids. However, there is still plenty to entrance the youngsters as well although I do feel that the film is overlong for very young children.

Brilliant characterisation and glorious animation makes ‘Finding Nemo' stunning and charming to watch. This is a visual treat not to be missed. Also, the fun continues to the end of the credits so don't be too eager to leave your seat!
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8/10
Exceeds what one might expect from a sequel
2 September 2003
The story will be familiar to followers of the series so far: a cyborg killing machine is sent back in time from a future where machines rule the Earth, to eliminate John Connor, the future rebel leader and saviour of humanity. At the same time, a ‘good Terminator' in the form of a T-101 model (i.e. Schwarzenegger) is sent back with the mission to keep Connor alive for the day when the Skynet system is due to launch its first attack on humanity. This may sound mostly like a tiresome rerun of ‘Terminator 2' but apparently, Sarah and John Connor did not prevent Judgment Day in ‘Terminator 2' –they only postponed it! Also, the twist and selling point here, is that this time the ‘baddie' is T-X, a female supermodel ‘Terminator' which is far superior to the T-101 (‘an obsolete model').

Of the original main cast, only Arnie is back; Sarah Connor is dead as Linda Hamilton did not want to star in another sequel and Edward Furlong has been replaced by Nick Stahl to play John Connor. Another new face to the cast is Claire Danes who gives an appealing performance as the suitably bewildered and vulnerable girl destined to be John Connor's wife. With a delay of twelve years since ‘T2 Judgment Day' was released, Schwarzenegger's career on the decline and him revisiting the role for a third instalment, there is obviously a lot of pressure on this one to deliver the goods, and it certainly does.

Schwarzenegger is key to much of the fun of the film; his delivery of one-liners with robotic seriousness and Austrian accent is superb. As a result, I found the film hilarious in parts. At the start of the film, there is a re-run of two cyborgs being zapped back from the future nude and this makes for one of the funniest scenes in the film where a naked Arnie strides into Ladies night at a bar to be mistaken for a stripper by the raucous attendees. He then steals the stage dancer's leather biker costume before trying on his star-shaped shades –he off course soon ditches these for the by now familiar and way cooler black shades!

A lot of excitement is to be had from the film's action set-pieces and chases and this is down to the relentlessness of the T-X who like her predecessor, can shape herself into another human being and pull herself back together whatever gun you use to shoot at her. Surprisingly, the ending is affecting as it reflects the inevitability of Connor's future role as a leader despite his reluctance to believe throughout. Also, (I actually feel a bit silly for admitting it) I was unexpectedly moved by the scene where the T-101 struggles to override the corruption that the T-X has implanted in his program so that he alternates between conflicting missions of killer/protector of John Connor.

I have to admit that I didn't totally get the plot and was a bit lost with regards the references to the Skynet system. However, if you just go with the flow and don't think too much about the story, ‘Terminator 3 makes for undemanding entertainment.
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5/10
Yawnsome -should have remained as the Walt Disney World theme park ride it is inspired by
1 September 2003
As a child, Elizabeth Swann spots Will Turner floating unconscious in the water when she is at sea with her father, the British Governor. After Will has been rescued, Elizabeth discovers and takes the coin hanging around his neck (a sign that Will is a pirate). As an adult, Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) wears this coin round her own neck and because of this, she is kidnapped by the crew of pirate ship, the Black Pearl who are cursed to sail the seas in a ghostly zombie-like state. Only when the coin is returned to its treasure chest will this curse be lifted. It is then up to Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) with the help of pirate Jack Sparrow to rescue the Governor's daughter.

A good selling point of the film is its cast which includes pretty actors Bloom, Knightley and Depp (personally, I don't know what the fuss is about with Orlando Bloom –to me he is merely a younger version of Antonio Banderas). Depp gives a likeable but over-the performance as the drunk and cockney accented Jack Sparrow and other big names include Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa, the captain of the Black Pearl, and Jonathan Pryce as Elizabeth's Governor father. Also, look out for Gareth of ‘The Office' fame as one of the pirates! All seem to be having fun with some acting more befitting to a pantomime than a film.

The main problem I have with this film is that the pirate concept holds little interest for me (I am however, slightly amused by the obligatory ‘Oooh Arrr's in pirate speak). The main source of excitement is the fight sequences during which we see some good special effects of the crew of the Black Pearl appearing as a combination of skeleton and rotting flesh when exposed to direct moonlight. However, the fighting soon becomes dull and repetitive. Because the villains are already dead, there does not appear to be a quick resolution and as a result, the film is painfully drawn out to well over two hours in length.

Young children and those who are intrigued and excited by the prospect of pretty actors romping about and fighting on ships and the hoisting of the Jolly Roger will probably enjoy ‘Pirates of the Caribbean'. If you arrive to the cinema in a panto frame of mind, you will have a lot of fun but unfortunately the film left this viewer cold.
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Ripley's Game (2002)
7/10
Totally engaging
1 September 2003
Yes, this is the same Ripley as the Tom Ripley of ‘The Talented Mr Ripley', only this time it is an older Ripley played by John Malkovich. This is not to say you necessarily have to have seen Matt Damon's film to make ‘Ripley's Game' worthwhile as the story stands alone in its own right. In ‘Ripley's Game', we learn what we need to know about the character –that he has a taste for the good things in life including a love of fine art, and a ruthless attitude to anyone who stands in his way which enables him to con and even murder when necessary.

Because of his past successes, Ripley is approached by Reeves (Ray Winstone), an old colleague who wants him to murder a rival. At a party, Ripley overhears the host, Jonathan Trevanny (Dougray Scott) insulting him in front of his guests. When Ripley learns that Jonathan is terminally ill, he plans revenge for the insults by exploiting the illness to turning Jonathan into Reeves' paid assassin, thus intruding on and destroying his quiet and happy family life.

The fascinating nature of the character of Tom Ripley makes for an engaging film. It is interesting that I found myself rooting for both the bad and the good guy throughout. Malkovich excels in the role: on the surface he is charming –even funny at times, but awareness of his psychotic tendencies and his lack of conscience provides an uncomfortable and chilling edge. Dougray Scott gives a believable and sympathetic performance, while Ray Winstone is sufficiently unpleasant as the acquaintance which Ripley is keen to lose.

I found following Ripley's Game compelling and entertaining and it has been a while since I have been able to associate the word ‘compelling' with any film.
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Hulk (2003)
7/10
Enjoyable film with impressive special effects but low on the re-watchability factor
23 July 2003
Yup, it's yet another comic-strip superhero adaptation and for me personally, this film takes me back to my childhood. ‘The Incredible Hulk' was a famous television series when I was a child and was one of my brother's favourite programmes. Unfortunately, he rarely got to watch the show in peace as the sound of the theme tune alone was enough to send me into floods of tears. Even now, I can still vividly remember the transformation which was the source of my trauma: the bloodshot eyes and bulging green flesh becoming visible under the ripped material of Bruce Banner's shirt …..

Director Ang Lee succeeds in capturing a comic strip feel in the film. Often the action is split-screen and the way that the camera switches between scenes mimics the way someone would scan the images when reading a comic.

On the whole, the cast is good: Jennifer Connelly as Bruce Banner's ex-girlfriend is effectively tearful when necessary and Nick Nolte is disturbingly tramp-like and manic as the elderly David Banner. The special effects are also very good; the Hulk is an impressive creation but as a result of being completely computer generated, he is not as scary as in the television version. What does come across in the film is the Hulk's awesome invincibility with his ability to smash up buildings; defeat mutant dogs and spin tanks around his head with ease (the violence is perhaps too much for young children).

Unfortunately, I feel that the story telling does not really justify the need for the film to be over two hours in length. Not much time is really spent on providing the background of the hero and as a result, you don't really get to know the main character and cannot sympathise with him. In a speedy introduction, we learn that genetic scientist Dr David Banner has passed his self-mutilated genes on to his son Bruce through using himself as a guinea-pig for his genetic modification experiments. Like his father, Bruce grows up to become a genetic scientist. Following an incident in the lab which causes Bruce to be exposed to a dose of gamma rays, he transforms into the ‘Hulk' in moments of stress or anger. Other than that, there really is not much else other than the military finding out about this monster and seeking to capture and destroy him. The film is also let down by a chaotic and silly ending and of course, like in the television series, you are still left wondering how Bruce's pants stay intact during his transformation!

Overall, I did enjoy ‘Hulk' but unlike some other comic book adaptations I've seen, this is not a film I would choose to watch again.
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Dreamcatcher (2003)
5/10
Disappointing horror with a very daft story
25 May 2003
‘Dreamcatcher' is the latest cinematic adaptation of a Stephen King novel about four childhood friends with paranormal powers who go on a hunting trip together. Two of the main characters rescue a stranger wandering lost in the woods following a blizzard. It is clear that the stranger is unwell: his stomach is disturbingly swollen and he has a sinister looking rash on his cheek. The two friends suggest that he have a lie down in one of the bedrooms. Already, his stomach seems to be getting more enlarged; not only does the rash become deeper in colouration but it also appears to be spreading across a greater area of the stranger's face –one can't help but feel a sense of dread as the friends sit in the next room!

This film starts off well. The cabin in the middle of the snowy forest makes for a spooky setting and a sense of anticipation is created before the cause of the mysterious infection that is spreading round the local population is revealed.

While the lead actors give engaging performances, Morgan Freeman is in a dubious choice of role here as a bad colonel guy with ridiculously huge eyebrows.

The overall impression I have of this movie is that it can't quite make up its mind on what it wants to be –I would describe it as a messy combination of horror/ psychological drama/alien movie. I therefore am uncertain as to what the target audience for this film is –as a horror it is not really that scary but does have some gross out moments. The alien idea is also an unoriginal one and has been used more effectively in the Alien films and ‘Signs'. Unfortunately, the end result is a very daft story and an overlong film.
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6/10
Ralph Fiennes is looking fine but overall, an underwhelming romantic 'comedy'
10 May 2003
Jennifer Lopez plays single mum Marisa who works as a maid at a posh hotel in Manhattan. While trying on designer clothes belonging to one of the hotel guests during one of her shifts, Marisa meets American politician Christopher Marshall (Ralph Fiennes), who mistakes her for the guest staying in the room. As a result of the mutual attraction and fear that he will no longer be interested in her if he finds out that she is only a maid, Marisa fails to correct Christopher's assumption and keeps up the pretence.

As far as romantic comedies go, the ‘poor girl and successful wealthy man fall for each other' theme in ‘Maid in Manhattan' is an unoriginal one which has been presented more effectively with more charm and humour elsewhere (eg ‘Pretty Woman' and ‘American President'). An additional flaw is that for a romantic comedy, there are too few laughs. Attempts at humour lie predominantly with the supporting cast which includes Natasha Richardson giving an over-the top performance as the wealthy guest Marisa is mistaken for.

Early scenes of Marisa with her young son serve to convey the affection within their relationship. Unfortunately, my inability to warm to Jennifer Lopez as an actress is an obstacle and the overall effect is far too cutesy to be affecting. I have to say, the selling point of this film for me was the idea of Ralph Fiennes in a romantic leading role but unfortunately, there is uneasiness in his performance here and I actually find him far more appealing in more dramatic roles where he has been presented with a high quality script.
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7/10
A good laugh
6 May 2003
The ludicrous plot is as follows: French businessman Pascal Sauvage plots to steal the Crown Jewels so that he can become King of England. When secret agent Number One is killed during his latest mission, Johnny English played by Rowan Atkinson becomes his successor as a result of a bomb wiping out all other feasible contenders. English's mission is to stop Sauvage and his evil plan becoming a reality. Needless to say, this is a very silly movie but it does have some genuinely funny set-pieces -I was relieved to find that these were not just restricted to the ones that I'd seen in the trailer. In many ways Johnny English is as inept and clumsy as the Mr Bean character but sidekick Bough (Ben Miller) is nearby to clean up the messes that English finds himself in. Much of the comedic value is derived from the fact that this assistance is never acknowledged by English. John Malkovich plays the bad guy and hams it up with an over-the-top French accent while Natalie Imbruglia is an effective and pretty ‘English' girl.

This is definitely not the film for you if you are after something intellectual as the comedy is simple and unsophisticated. However, if you like Rowan Atkinson or if you are a fan of the Mr Bean character, you will have a good laugh.
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7/10
Romantic comedy fans will not be disappointed
1 April 2003
Hugh Grant plays George Wade, a property developer who hires Lucy Kelson (Sandra Bullock) as his Chief Counsel. Sick of calls in the middle of the night and appalled at being called away from a wedding just to help her boss decide what to wear for a particular occasion, Lucy gives George two weeks notice.

‘Two Weeks Notice' is little more than a predictable romantic comedy and it is only a matter of time before George and Lucy realise that they have fallen for each other. How the film turns out is obvious, but this will not spoil your enjoyment of it. Sandra Bullock fails to convince as a successful lawyer and businesswoman but she is able to convey a vulnerability which makes the audience warm to her. Like her character in ‘While You Were Sleeping', Lucy is a lonely individual. When she is at home she comfort eats Chinese food, always ordering just for one. There are also no surprises with Hugh Grant's character as he is much the same as any of his other romantic roles i.e. very likeable and charming.

The film succeeds purely because of the actors' likeability and the on-screen chemistry between Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock who are both gifted comedic actors. There are also enough good lines and funny situations to keep you chuckling throughout.
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The Recruit (2003)
6/10
A thriller lacking in tension and excitement
1 April 2003
Walter Burke (Al Pacino), a CIA recruiter spots James Clayton (Colin Farrell), a computer whiz and barman in a bar. At the start of the film, we learn that James is on a quest to find out the truth about his father who disappeared when he was a boy and may have been a CIA agent. Walter uses this information to manipulate and convince James to sign up for training to join the CIA. There, he meets and falls for fellow trainee, Layla whose movements he is later asked to track when Walter suspects that she is a CIA mole and is trying to get her hands on a secret computer programme.

For his first mainstream lead role, Colin Farrell gives a confident and charismatic performance. His unshaven and rumpled appearance combined with good looks give him enough sex appeal to carry the film. Al Pacino is always a compelling presence on the cinema screen but here, I feel that he somewhat coasts through the proceedings on his way to an easy pay packet.

I spent much of the film not really caring about the characters, their motives or the consequences of their actions, e.g. what is the big deal of this secret computer programme that James has been instructed to get hold of? You also don't really get the sense of what the aim of the rigorous training is, only a vague one that the job of the CIA is to save the world. This is communicated through Al Pacino's character: `We believe in good and evil… We believe in right and wrong… Our cause is just.' Because of my vagueness on the film's events, the film bore no tension or excitement for me.
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Adaptation. (2002)
6/10
Ambitious with strong performances but too surreal
1 April 2003
‘Adaptation' is about Charlie Kaufman, the author of the screenplay of ‘Being John Malkovich' who is now working on a screenplay based on Susan Orlean's book, ‘The Orchid Thief'. Meanwhile, there is a romantic sub-plot which involves Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) getting to know the orchid collector in her book, John Laroche (Chris Cooper).

The recent Oscars ceremony is indicative of the acting talent on show in the film (both Nicholas Cage and Meryl Streep were nominated for their roles in the film and Chris Cooper came away from the ceremony as winner of the Best Supporting Actor award). Nicholas Cage gives particularly impressive performances as both Charlie and Donald Kaufman. While Donald is brash and confident and embarks upon writing a screenplay himself, Charlie is suffering from writer's block and is convinced that he is incompetent, unattractive and socially inept. Donald Kaufman is also credited as screenwriter of the film although he does not actually exist in real life.

Those who have watched ‘Being John Malkovich' will not be surprised by the unusual premise for the film, as it is indicative of the eccentric and surreal style of Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman. One flaw of the film for me is that it is hard to empathise with Charlie's frustration and the pressure he feels during his attempts to get his ideas on paper. These feelings are briefly amusing but quickly turn into melodrama. The film is also let down by the weak and baffling ending (a car chase, shoot-out and some alligators). I can only assume that these ideas were Donald Kaufman's!
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6/10
Enjoyable but not a memorable classic
26 March 2003
‘Catch Me if You Can' is inspired by the real life story of conman Frank Abagnale Junior who ran away from home at the age of sixteen following his parents' divorce. His deceit includes pretending to be an airline pilot, doctor and barrister –all while he is still a teenager. As he travels around the globe cashing fraudulent cheques, Frank is pursued by FBI Special Agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) –hence, the taunt in the film's title.

What makes this film an interesting and fun one is that the main character actually exists in real life and Leonardo DiCaprio's performance is a charismatic one. Although I found some parts of ‘Catch Me if you Can' enjoyable, I did find it a bit slow and the story-telling flawed. Although one can conclude that Frank was a genius to have deceived as many people as he did, the film is lacking in explanation of how Frank managed to succeed in the range of positions he came to work in, eg how did he become a doctor and barrister without going to either medical or law school?

As a fan of Steven Spielberg's work, I was looking forward to this release and compared to his last two films ‘A.I' and ‘Minority Report', this film is much lighter in tone. Although entertaining while it lasts, ‘Catch Me if You Can' is not the memorable classic that I was hoping for.
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Chicago (2002)
6/10
You're better off watching the musical at the theatre
15 February 2003
This is, as you are probably already aware, the hit stage musical transferred to the big screen. The scene is set in 1920s Chicago: Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta Jones), a top showgirl, is sent to prison for murder; Roxie Hart (Rene Zellweger) is a housewife who cheats on her husband with a man who has promised her the glitzy lifestyle she has always dreamed about. When these promises turn out to be empty, Roxie shoots him dead and is given a death sentence. While both women await trial in prison, they vie for the help of lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) to get them off the hook.

The film is packed with great tunes which are sung impressively by the three leads, especially Catherine Zeta Jones who gives a confident and mesmerising performance. However, John C Reilly as Roxie's husband is a little bit of a letdown after witnessing a heart breaking performance of the same role in the stage version.

While she dreams of becoming a star, Roxie chooses to take refuge in a fantasy world in which everyone she meets take to the stage to sing a musical number. The result of tagging one musical number after another in this way makes for an uninventive style which left me feeling that I'm better off just going to watch the musical at the theatre. There are even scenes that are choreographed in virtually the same way as the stage show is. What would have been more interesting is a merger between Roxie's fantasy and reality worlds as I found that the frequent intercutting of the dialogue scenes with the show tunes only served to overshadow the narrative.

I really do not think that ‘Chicago' is worthy of a Best Film Oscar this year as there are other films I've seen this year which are more deserving of this accolade.
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8 Mile (2002)
6/10
One for rap fans
12 February 2003
Eminem plays aspiring rapper Jimmy (nickname ‘Rabbit') who lives in a trailer in Detroit with his mother (Kim Basinger) and his little sister. The story of ‘8 Mile' is pretty uneventful. When we first meet ‘Rabbit', he has just broken up with his girlfriend but he soon finds new romance in the form of Brittany Murphy. We see him hanging out with his buddies and by day, he works at a steel pressing plant while trying to build up the nerve to compete in the rap ‘duels' which take place at the local club. Although ‘Rabbit' has the raw talent, his nerves get the better of him at his first attempt and he freezes when he is passed the microphone while an all black audience heckles him.

The lead role is one which is hardly going to stretch Eminem but he does give a credible performance and I emerged from the cinema liking him a bit more than when I went in.

‘8 Mile' is a very well acted film but I did not find it a great film. This is one which will be enjoyed more by rap fans. During the rapping scenes, I felt like I would have benefited if the speed of the lyrics were either slowed down or printed on the screen as subtitles. Also, the ending was a little abrupt which for me took away the sense of personal triumph which ‘Rabbit' must have been feeling.
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5/10
If you enjoy the book, you'll enjoy the film; otherwise don't bother
9 February 2003
Not a fan of the Harry Potter franchise, I really did not want to see this film. My boyfriend on the other hand was itching to see it. Being the generous hearted person that I am, I bought two tickets for him as a present and accompanied him to the cinema.

My feeling is that if you enjoy the books, you'll enjoy the films which are basically an on-screen illustration of the book. The success of the film depends on the viewer having seen the original or at least be familiar with the story so far from reading the ‘Philosopher's Stone'.

‘The Chamber of Secrets' has its moments with some memorable scenes (Ron Weasley vomiting slugs; the flying car scene and another Quidditch chase). The special effects are also good; Dobby the house elf is an impressive creation whose computer-generated animation integrates convincingly with the live action. Julie Walters as Ron Weasley's mother and Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart are perfectly cast and provide a lot of the fun in the film. To me, where the film is lacking is in the child leads –I just cannot bring myself to care about what happens to them.

So, having watched two of the Harry Potter films, I'm afraid to say that I'm still not a converted fan of the series. I fail to see the charm of the stories that seems to captivate readers and viewers in the thousands and actually find the whole Harry Potter concept boring. This feeling is accentuated by the fact that the film is over two hours long which in my opinion is way too long for a kids film.
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7/10
Delivers what you expect
20 January 2003
When you go and see the latest Bond film, you know exactly what to expect. As you settle into the darkness on your cinema seat, you are already anticipating some sort of jaw-droppingly spectacular pre-credits sequence which builds up into the theme song by Madonna. You also have expectations of explosions, fights, pretty girls, gadgets and double entendres.

Although the usual Bond ingredients are here, there is a style which is unfamiliar. As the scene is set in North Korea, there is a sense of a Bond who is fallible: before the opening credits roll, Bond is captured and tortured. This unexpected turn of events and the shock of seeing Bond turn into a long haired, bearded beast of a man are very odd and seem out of place in a Bond story.

The general gist of ‘Die Another Day' is that Bond was betrayed by the MI6 which was how he ended up being captured. Following Bond's release from imprisonment the story takes our hero to Cuba where he meets American agent Jinx (Halle Berry), and Iceland to investigate smarmy entrepreneur Gustav Graves who has created a deadly satellite. Thrown in are the usual seductions (Pierce Brosnan, gorgeous as he is, still achieves these ridiculously quickly!) and gadgets which include an invisible car! John Cleese is back to provide some comedy patter (I would have liked to have seen more of him).

I will remember this film for its action set-pieces which include a fencing duel between Bond and Graves that sees the two men crashing their way through a gentlemen's club (look out for Madonna in a cameo role) and a car chase across ice, and a villain with ice blue eyes and diamonds embedded in his white face.

I have to admit, when it comes to the story in Bond films, I'm terrible at keeping up with how it is progressing and find myself in a muddle. Ask me a question on the story of any Bond film and I find that I have great difficulty in matching the storyline with the title. However, while I am watching I am thoroughly entertained; Bond never fails to deliver what you go into the cinema expecting.
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Donnie Darko (2001)
6/10
This film did my head in!
2 November 2002
Donnie Darko is the name of the teenage hero of the film. One night, a jet engine falls from the sky and lands through the roof of the Darkos' home –no one knows where from and Donnie encounters a rabbit-headed figure, Frank who informs him that the world is coming to an end in twenty eight days.

Days pass accompanied by more bizarre events which builds up the audience's anticipation of what will happen when the time runs out. We learn early on in the film that Donnie is taking medication which hints that day to day episodes may be tricks in Donnie's mind. What makes the film stimulating is the fact that you cannot be sure whether events are real or the result of Donnie's state of mind.

You get the sense that throughout the film, Donnie is a trapped soul (whether it be in a time warp or a dream I can't decide) where teachers and adults such as the Patrick Swayze guru character want to simplify everything in life into two extremes: fear and love. You also have Drew Barrymore as Donnie's English teacher who invites the new girl of the class to sit next to the boy she finds the cutest. The romance which develops between Donnie and his new classmate is nice and helps to lighten the tone of what has already developed into a pretty dark film.

Jake Gyllenhaal gives a likeable performance as the hero and displays good comic timing and laidback personality –he reminds me of Tobey Maguire in many ways. He is not an actor I am familiar with but he looks to be a promising future star.

I went to the cinema seeking a film that would be unpredictable –what better film to choose than a film where a boy meets a human-sized rabbit and the world is meant to end in less than thirty days. When the 28 days of the story had run out, I was left with no logical explanation to what I had seen. I left the cinema very confused, this film did my head in!
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Red Dragon (2002)
7/10
Quality cast and highly entertaining -fans of the Hannibal series so far will not be disappointed
27 October 2002
Before the opening credits roll, the scene is set whereby we see how it came to be that Hannibal Lecter, the cannibal was caught and put behind bars. The man responsible for this is FBI Investigator Will Graham (Edward Norton) who retires shortly after. However, it doesn't take long before Will is lured back into action when the FBI seeks his help in the investigation of a serious of murders carried out by a new serial killer known as The Tooth Fairy (Ralph Fiennes). Just like in ‘Silence of the Lambs', the Investigator enlists the help of Hannibal Lecter to catch the killer.

Anthony Hopkins gives another effortless performance as Hannibal. Although he is looking too old to play the part in a prequel, he has already made the part his own and it would not be right to have anyone else replace him. Although the audience has grown to know about Hannibal's ways, there is still an element of unpredictability in his character which makes him all the more sinister and dangerous. He is also highly astute –in one scene when he returns to his cell, he notices gloves in the pockets of a supposed cleaner which leads him to work out that a search and some tampering has been carried out during his absence.

There is no doubting the quality of the rest of the cast -I've always found Edward Norton a very likeable actor to watch and Ralph Fiennes intriguingly manages to show the two sides of the serial killer's character: on the one hand he is completely mad, running around naked with a huge tattoo on his back and buttocks or eating a William Blake painting; and on the other hand, he encourages sympathy from the audience in his tentative relationship with a blind colleague (Emily Watson who conveys the character's naivety and vulnerability with great conviction).

The ending of the film tying in with the arrival of a new FBI agent Clarice Starling is neat but too obvious and not really necessary as the majority of the audience already know this story to be the prequel to ‘Silence of the Lambs'. However, it does serve to invite you to watch the latter again!

This adaptation of Thomas Harris' prequel is an entertaining one but is not as explicitly grotesque and is lacking the black humour of ‘Hannibal'. Perhaps the most disturbing scene is where The Tooth Fairy tortures a journalist (Phillip Seymour Hoffman reduced to his underwear). Nevertheless, you can see this one coming as the journalist involved is a slimy one and one can't help but feel that his fate is deserved!

Although not as powerful or memorable as ‘Silence of the Lambs', fans of the Hannibal series so far will not be disappointed. I found this film very entertaining.
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Lilo & Stitch (2002)
7/10
Refreshingly different from the usual Disney fare
27 October 2002
Lilo is an orphaned Hawaiian girl who is brought up alone by her elder sister. They adopt a dog, Stitch which unknown to them, is actually a mutant alien accidentally landed on Earth and has been designed to destroy everything it touches. Despite Stitch's genetic tendencies towards destruction, a bond forms between girl and alien while the scientist who created Stitch also arrives on Earth to capture him.

Lilo is an adorable but rebellious little girl who loves Elvis. Therefore, instead of characters bursting into song singing the usual Disney tunes, we get Elvis songs on the soundtrack which makes for a refreshing change. Stich is immediately unattractive, being a big-eared four armed monstrosity designed for destruction and creating havoc. Like with Warner Brothers' Tasmanian Devil, it is down to the animation and characterisation which up the cute factor and allow for the audience to warm towards the alien.

It seems like Disney have gone with the times, choosing to deal with the issue of a single parent family. In doing so, they keep the right balance of sensitivity and compassion in the relationship between the two sisters without being sickeningly sentimental.

As is often the case in animated features, part of the fun is to work out who the familiar voices belong to: Lilo's older sister Nani is played by Tia Carrere and Jason Scott Lee plays Nani's friend who offers her a shoulder to cry on (and probably wants the friendship to develop into something more!) Another character is the Ving Rhames-voiced social worker who oddly, is a big burly Man in Black type character.

Chaotic action towards the end of the film is a little bit of a let-down after the fun of the relationship between Lilo and Stitch and inevitably, the ending is a sentimental and happy one.

Overall, ‘Lilo and Stitch' is good fun and will win over audiences both old and young through the story's originality and the characters' charm.
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6/10
Visually impressive and oozing with quality and talent but lacking in entertainment value
21 October 2002
Tom Hanks plays Michael Sullivan, a hit man employed by John Rooney (Paul Newman). One night, in an attempt to find out what his father does for a living, Sullivan's eldest son follows him and witnesses a murder carried out by Rooney's son, Connor. This leads to a chain of events which involves Sullivan's wife and younger son being murdered and Sullivan going on the run with his eldest son while being pursued by a professional killer (Jude Law).

The film begins with the eldest son pondering over whether Michael Sullivan is a good or a bad man. One feels that this issue isn't really resolved by the end of the film. Tom Hanks' most memorable roles to me are in ‘Splash', ‘Big' and ‘Forrest Gump' and despite my high regard for him as an actor of quality, I cannot find him believable as an amoral bad guy. Sullivan has kept his work a secret from his son to protect him, but in doing so finds that he is unable to show the affection that his son craves. The relationship between father and his surviving son is handled sensitively and convincingly with subtle humour.

Jude Law fans will be disappointed to witness him as a bit of a slimeball character with stained teeth and long filthy fingernails, who shoots dead people with both camera and gun. However, he does manage to carry off the part convincingly.

‘Road to Perdition' is one of those films which oozes with quality and talent, being directed by Oscar winner Sam Mendes and starring Oscar winners Tom Hanks and Paul Newman and Oscar nominee Jude Law.

The film is also a visually impressive one with effective use of lighting and good-looking costumes. These qualities are most apparent during the final encounter between Rooney and Sullivan: no one speaks; it is pouring with rain through which we see the actors as dark silhouettes and out of the darkness comes rapid gun fire. Cinema critics will love the poetry of the moment but to me the sequence is too affected.

This film has a number of good qualities which will impress critics and voters at next year's Oscar ceremony but from the point of view of the average cinema goer, ‘Road to Perdition' is lacking the surprises and entertainment value to make it a memorable classic.
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Signs (2002)
8/10
M Night Shyamalan fans will not be disappointed (except perhaps by the ending)
21 September 2002
Mel Gibson plays Graham Hess, a man who lives on a farm with his two young children and brother (Joaquin Phoenix). One day, the news headlines on television reveal that large crop circles have appeared around the world (one of these has appeared right outside the Hess' house!) The world speculates that there are only two possible explanations: either it is a hoax or signs of an alien invasion. We also find out that Graham Hess was previously a priest but lost faith when his wife died. The events in the film cause him to embark on a voyage of discovery which helps him regain his faith by the end.

Having been a fan of M Night Shyamalan's two previous films ‘The Sixth Sense' and ‘Unbreakable', I was eager to check out his latest offering. This director has a very distinctive style which is again apparent in ‘Signs': he uses strong child actors; takes time in the story-telling; focuses on only a small number of characters and there is a flashback sequence in the final reel. Part of the fun of his films is also looking out for the director's cameo appearance! It is a style which I find very effective but I do know some people who have found the build-up to his stories too slow and uninteresting.

The two male leads give engaging and subtle performances. The child actors are also good; they are never irritating and very believable –this comes as a surprise considering the son is played by one of the Culkin brothers! I found the story both suspenseful and engrossing. It is also quite a scary film in places going for suggestion of what cannot be seen in the shadows rather than ‘in-your-face' scares. All the audience gets for most of the film is strange noises on an old baby monitor and glimpses in reflections on a kitchen knife and the television set. There is a sense of the family being in real isolation with their link to the outside world being provided only really by news updates on television while outside there is an unexplained presence which is made more threatening by a picture of a house in flames in the son's extra-terrestrial textbook which looks eerily like the Ness' home.

The only let-down in the film is perhaps the ending which gave me the sense that the director couldn't be bothered with anything fancy this time round. Without giving too much away I can only describe the ending as being too convenient.
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The Guru (2002)
6/10
Great dance sequences but disappointing story
19 September 2002
Jimi Mistry (aka Dr Fonseka from Eastenders) plays Ramu who travels to New York in an attempt to fulfil his dream of becoming a big film star. Inadvertently, he auditions and gets the part in a porn film but finds that he is unable to ‘perform' in front of the camera. He befriends his co-star Sharonna (Heather Graham) who gives advice to help him overcome his problem and unknown to her, he uses this advice to fulfil his role as a sex guru at dinner parties.

Mistry is sexy and likeable in the lead role and demonstrates an aptitude for physical comedy. This is shown to great effect in the best scene of the film -Ramu's porn audition which involves him performing the Macarena and an imitation of Tom Cruise in ‘Risky Business'. Heather Graham is also appealing in her role as porn star with a heart but I found Marisa Tomei a little over the top and not really very funny as a girl who is in search of mystical enlightenment.

‘The Guru' comes at the right time to take advantage of the current popularity of all things Bollywood and for this reason, it will do well at the box office. The dance sequences made me grin from ear to ear but overall for me, the gaps between laughs were long and made the film seem longer than it actually was. Overall, I found ‘The Guru' a rather predictable romantic comedy which is a shame because with a decent storyline, this film could have been a real blast.
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