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6/10
A missed opportunity
25 March 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Up to about 70 minutes It would have rated the film considerably higher. The razor-sharp dialogue really makes the film, especially that between Mitchum and Russell.

However it's never very clear where the plot is going, and eventually it falls apart spectacularly. Vincent Price seems to belong in a different film, and the constant switching between his scenes and Mitchum's in the final act is jarring to say the least. Having expertly established a mood, it seems bizarre that the film-makers chose to puncture it with broad comedy. I think they should have rewritten the final act to include Russell, as it makes no sense for her character not to play a pivotal role in the final scenes.

In the end I was left disappointed, as I thought that with a better and less baggy ending this could have been one of the all-time Film Noir classics.

Fine but too long, by about half an hour.
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Crash (I) (2004)
5/10
One-dimensional and over-rated
2 August 2006
Not to be confused with the David Cronenberg movie of the same name, Crash is a film about racial tensions in Los Angeles. It paints a picture of people of different races living uneasily alongside one another, while doing their best to keep the 'others' at arms length as much as possible.

Crash boasts a large ensemble cast, ranging from established stars such as Don Cheadle and Sandra Bullock to unknown actors in breakthrough roles. Ensemble dramas can work well, but in Crash there are just too many different plot strands all vying for attention, leaving some badly underdeveloped. Bullock's character for one would definitely have benefited from more screen-time.

While the acting is strong throughout, the film is let down by its script. All anyone ever seems to talk about is race, and while this is obviously the main theme, this obsession detracts somewhat from the film's realism, and risks turning the characters into ciphers. Also everyone has to voice every thought that enters their heads, rather than occasionally letting their actions alone do the talking.

Crash is attempting to address race in the way that Traffic tackled drugs, and it is interesting to compare the two films. Traffic benefits from having fewer separate story lines, and when the strands came together at the end it is much more convincing. Also, the film feels less like a straightforward issue movie than Crash does.

While racism is the film's overarching concern, there are also spiritual overtones, which seem to be fashionable these days (they even appear in Superman Returns). In Crash they centre on a lock-fitter who pretends to hand a cloak of invincibility to his daughter. Without giving away the ending, it is very implausible, and doesn't appear to have much to do with the main thrust of the narrative.

There are some effective scenes in Crash, and even some humour (in the exchanges between the two young car-thieves). However, the film just has too many subplots, making it feel at times like an extended TV episode. Racism is certainly an issue that needs addressing, which makes it all the more disappointing that Crash doesn't rise to the occasion.
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4/10
Just another blockbuster.
18 May 2006
The third film in the Matrix trilogy proves to be a disappointing finale. The scope of the action is almost unprecedented but this cannot disguise the film's fundamental deficiencies. The plot is even more threadbare than usual this time around.

The biggest mistake made by Revolutions is that the series' greatest asset (the Matrix itself) is barely utilised until the final reels, leaving a film which is hard to distinguish from any random sci-fi blockbuster, throwing special effects at the screen that would make even George Lucas's eyes bulge. When the humans are defending Zion, the effects are truly epic, but it goes on too long, and Neo, Morpheus and Trinity are not even involved, distancing the film further from the 1999 original.

The best thing about the first Matrix film was its notion of a world not unlike our own filled with ordinary people going about their daily lives, but who were really part of a gigantic program. Even Neo began the film as one of these people, until he was made aware of the reality. This was a terrific concept, which the sequels failed to carry forward. In Reloaded our heroes often ventured into the Matrix, but it no longer bore much of a relation to the world we know.

Both the sequels suffer from the presence of far too many minor characters, feeling like an attempt to ape the ensemble cast of Lord of the Rings. The trouble is that most of these characters are hardly fleshed out at all. Whereas Reloaded used numerous kung fu sequences inside the Matrix to distract attention from the slightly tedious main plot, Revolutions is forced to tie up this plot, and it has only 2 hours in which to accomplish this, an almost impossible task.

Revolutions is not a terrible film, but it is just another blockbuster, and most of the originality which marked out The Matrix has been lost. It's a shame the series had to end in such a conventional way.
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6/10
Entertaining and well worth checking out.
17 May 2006
The upcoming vegetable competition is proving to be an obsession for the villagers, including the wealthy Lady Tottington, but is in danger from an explosion in the rabbit population. Fortunately Wallace the inventor and his dog Gromit have a new sideline in pest control, but Wallace pushes his luck too far when he hatches a plan to eradicate the rabbit threat for good.

This latest extravaganza from Nick Park's Aardman Animations is the 4th outing for Wallace and Gromit, their first full-length film following on from the success of Chicken Run. Though most animation films now use CGI, Aardman have thankfully stuck to their Plasticene roots. This medium has some definite advantages over CGI, such as the ability to employ natural light.

The film is resolutely old-fashioned, and makes few concessions to international audiences. This is the world of 1950's England, reflected in the dialogue and accents, as well as the characters of the villagers, many of whom wouldn't look out of place in an Ealing comedy. Gromit on the other hand resembles a silent movie star, able to convey an amazing range of emotions through his eyes.

Comparing Were-Rabbit to Wallace and Gromit's earlier adventures, the film most closely resembles A Close Shave, substituting rabbits for sheep, and having a similar love sub-plot. The film's main challenge was to extend its plot over more than 80 minutes. It occasionally feels slightly stretched and some of the twists are ridiculous even for this series, but on the whole it achieves a remarkable level of success.

Overall the film doesn't reach the standard of The Wrong Trousers, but it's very entertaining and well worth checking out.
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10/10
A classic of screwball comedy
24 November 2005
Bringing up Baby is an absolute classic of screwball comedy, starring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and the eponymous Baby. Grant plays stuffy palaeontologist Dr David Huxley who is due to be married, and is trying to obtain some money for his museum, but all his carefully laid out plans start to unravel when he first meets Susan Vance (Hepburn) on the golf course. From this point on Huxley is subject to an almost continuous series of humiliations and misfortunes.

Those who claim that Bringing up Baby isn't funny because of the cruel way that Hepburn's character treats Grant's are missing the point. If the film's events were taking place in the real world then many of Hepburn's actions would be inexcusable, but the point is that these events are happening in a world without consequences where anything goes, and this is the premise on which much of the film's humour is based.

The presence of a tame leopard called Baby provides further evidence that the film is trying to distance itself as far as possible from the boring predictability of reality. Much humour is derived from the contrasting attitudes of Hepburn and Grant towards the leopard. Whereas she reacts as if it were a small kitten, despite it's need for massive quantities of raw meat, Grant seems genuinely terrified, even though the animal shows no signs of aggression.

One of the most remarkable things about Bringing up Baby is the extent to which it remains enjoyable today. While many films regarded as classics in the 30's seem somewhat dated now, Bringing up Baby seems as fresh as it ever did, thanks largely to the energetic central performances. Grant is terrific as the professor who gradually loses his inhibitions, but Hepburn steals the show as a self-absorbed young woman who wins the audience over through her lack of inhibitions.

Films such as Bringing up Baby became far less common as America geared up for World War II and people began to lose interest in screwball comedy. This makes the film all the more significant, as it is undoubtedly one of the defining examples of a genre which never re-emerged in quite the same form again.
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4/10
Slavishly follows the standard disaster movie template
28 October 2005
Dennis Quaid stars as climatologist Jack Hall, who predicts that the world is heading for a new ice age due to global warming, but nobody listens. However, extreme weather systems soon start erupting all over the planet.

The recent hurricane season in America has made some of the severe weather in this film seem slightly less far-fetched, but this is still a ridiculous film, which subjugates science to the needs of a fast-paced action movie. Although this is understandable, using global warming as the basis for entertainment seems somewhat misguided.

As with many disaster movies the characterisation in The Day After Tomorrow is wafer-thin. The film might have benefited from ditching it and concentrating on the action, which at least provides some excitement, despite some fairly average special effects. As in Deep Impact, sentimentality substitutes for meaningful characterisation. This explains the focus on Jack's son and the fact that his wife works in a hospital with sick children.

The film is hampered by having too many sub-plots, one of which involves Ian Holm heading up a group of stereotypical Brits who send some data to the Americans. The over-abundance of sub-plots means that they become squeezed, with none given enough space to develop. Deep Impact at least had Morgan Freeman's impressive performance as the President, but here the President is almost anonymous, and only makes a few very brief appearances.

The Day After Tomorrow is a lacklustre film, which slavishly follows the standard disaster movie template. It was never going to be a classic, but the piecemeal characterisation makes it very hard to care about the fate of the characters. Without the ability to generate empathy the film loses any tension it might otherwise have had.
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About Schmidt (2002)
8/10
A terrific film, featuring one of Nicholson's best performances
24 October 2005
Jack Nicholson stars as a Warren Schmidt, a man who suffers several crises at once. First he goes into retirement, then his wife dies, and finally his daughter marries a no-hoper. Forced to abandon his usual comfortable routine, Schmidt goes on a personal journey of discovery and tries to make some sense of his life.

The beauty of About Schmidt is how well developed and interesting the characters are. They feel like real people struggling with real situations, which is a surprisingly difficult trick to pull off. This success can be attributed to the strength of the script and most importantly to the uniformly superb acting.

This film provides a showcase for Nicholson to display his talent, and he doesn't disappoint, delivering a superb and multi-layered turn, which is a world away from the smirking characters he often plays. He allows his face to droop, and adopts a world-weary expression, as Schmidt continually finds himself at the mercy of events.

One of Schmidt's first decisions when he determines to get out of the rut he finds himself in is to sponsor an African child. This doesn't have much to do with the rest of the plot, but provides an outlet for Schmidt's innermost thoughts, and is a brilliant and original way of allowing the audience inside the head of the central character.

About Schmidt succeeds in tackling the subject of old age, a topic not often addressed in mainstream Hollywood fare, and for that it should be applauded. This is a terrific film, which features Nicholson at his best.
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8/10
An effective and moving film about personal and political change
24 October 2005
This is a German film about a young East German man in the late 1980s whose mother suffers a stroke. While she is unconscious the Berlin Wall is knocked down and Germany is re-unified. When his mother starts to recover, he is desperate not to shock her into a relapse by revealing the truth, and constructs an elaborate fantasy in which East Germany still exists.

Throughout the film, he persists in his efforts to keep his carefully constructed fiction alive in the mind of his mother, and goes to ever more extreme lengths to maintain the illusion. He enlists the help of a friend to construct some fake news footage, and their combined efforts are a success, but the lie is now too big to allow them to turn back, and it seems as if the truth must come out eventually. When it does, will it be too big a shock for his mother to take?

One of the most telling sequences in the film is when his mother is shown TV pictures of West Germans flooding into the East. He tells her that the westerners have come because they finally realised the emptiness of consumerism, and have sought sanctuary in the communist East. Because this was such an attractive lie his mother was taken in. As well as showing how people can become blinkered to reality when it becomes too painful, this scene makes you think about all the East Germans who didn't celebrate when the wall came down. This point is subtly made, and is all the more effective for it.

Goodbye Lenin is a very effective and moving film, which explores how people deal with all kinds of change, whether just affecting a few, or the entire population of a country.
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5/10
Really should have been better.
29 June 2005
As the concluding section of the Star Wars trilogy, Return of the Jedi is quite disappointing. Most of the same characters from the first two films appear again, including Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Darth Vader and Chewbacca, but somehow they don't have the same impact as they did before.

The main problems with Return of the Jedi are the general tone and the uneven script. The film is at its best when at its darkest, but unfortunately the film is less dark overall than the original Star Wars, let alone The Empire Strikes Back. Most of the film's best scenes are those featuring Emperor Palpatine, who is finally seen in the flesh for the first time. He exudes a believable aura of malevolence, and many of his scenes are electrifying (no pun intended).

Return of the Jedi is hampered by an over-abundance of set pieces, which are entertaining enough while on screen but don't do enough to advance the plot, and are quickly forgotten as our heroes move on to tackle the next leg of their adventure.

Unfortunately, a large chunk of the film is spent on Endor with the Ewoks. The appearance of these small furry creatures indicates that Return of the Jedi is aiming for a younger demographic than before, but in doing so it sacrifices much of the cross-generational appeal the series used to have.

Return of the Jedi marks the point at which the Star Wars series began to lose its way. It undoubtedly has some memorable sequences, but there are also long sections where it becomes boring (yep, the Ewoks), an accusation that couldn't be levelled at the first two films. Viewed on its own terms, or compared with the more recent Star Wars films, Jedi's faults can be forgiven, but as part of the original trilogy it really should have been better.
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8/10
A thoroughly absorbing and original work.
19 April 2005
Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett star in this unique film, as two people who meet and slowly fall in love. However the relationship is somewhat rocky, and slowly begins to deteriorate. After one particularly nasty row, Winslett decides to have Carrey erased from her memory.

Amazingly it turns out that there exists a procedure that allows her to do just that, even though everything else points to the film being set in the present day. The futuristic machines that facilitate Carrey and Winslett's memory loss seem somewhat out of place in this thoughtful drama about the pitfalls of relationships, and the film seems intent on enlightening us about how the memory-wiping technology works. Better they had glossed over this, and allowed it to remain a mystery.

The film also devotes some time to examining the lives of the people who carry out the procedure, who to be honest are pretty incidental to the main plot. These sections aren't particularly enlightening, as they just seem to mirror the problems that Carrey and Winslett are experiencing.

Carrey is a revelation in this film, showing that he is capable of far more than just energetic mugging in dubious comedy vehicles, and gets his career firmly back on track, while Winslett finally puts Titanic behind her, delivering an assured performance.

Overall this is a thoroughly absorbing and original work, which invokes bizarre technology, and is so bonkers at times that you occasionally forget that it's basically a simple film about relationships. It's superbly thought provoking, and only slightly marred by its tendency towards science fiction.
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Dogville (2003)
7/10
Challenges the boundaries of what we can expect from films.
19 April 2005
Nicole Kidman stars in this extraordinary film as Grace, a woman on the run from mobsters, who is taken in by the residents of a small and isolated town called Dogville. Gradually the townsfolk turn against her, and blackmail her into accepting increasing levels of abuse, but there's a twist in the tale.

The film's most startling feature is the fact that all the action takes place on a set, representing the town, with no buildings and no scenery. When viewed from above, the town has the appearance of a giant Cluedo board. This has the effect of making the town seem far smaller than it normally would.

This is far more than just a stylistic flourish. As the audience is able to see through walls, they can view everything that goes on in the town, provided of course that the camera is pointing in the right direction. This emphasises the elusiveness of privacy in a small community where everyone knows everyone else's secrets.

While the townspeople act as if the walls are solid, in fact they are only too aware of what goes on behind closed doors, but won't act to disturb the superficial calm. This makes a negative suggestion about human nature; that given the chance human beings will exploit vulnerable people rather than protecting them.

Because there is no scenery to serve as a distraction, the viewer's attention is solely focused on the performances, which are uniformly superb. Kidman demonstrates that despite her star status she is not averse to taking risks, and Paul Bettany is excellent as the man who tries to defend her against the rest of the townsfolk.

Dogville challenges the boundaries of what we can expect from films, and does so with considerable success. The only downside is the end credits, which unnecessarily court controversy, and spoil an otherwise subtle film, which deserved better.
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8/10
An important indictment of the Vietnam war.
19 April 2005
Tom Cruise stars in this true story as Ron Kovic, an idealistic young man whose life is transformed when he is paralysed while fighting in Vietnam.

In many ways this is a very good film, which shows how circumstances can cause someone to change from being an idealistic young man eager to do their duty, into a bitter person who believes there is nothing left to live for. It's a tribute to Cruise that his performance makes this transformation so believable, and it is this film more than any other in which he removes any lingering doubts about his talent as an actor.

The film is somewhat let down by uneven pacing. A lengthy set-up is followed by a brief sequence of actual fighting in Vietnam, in which Kovic is paralysed. There then follows a sequence in which he struggles to recuperate and come to terms with his disability. Most of the rest of the film shows him becoming increasingly disillusioned, and alienating everyone who tries to help him cope with his disability.

Not until the very end does Kovic realise he has something to live for, and re-invents himself as an anti-war protester. Because the film spends so long focusing on Kovic's bitterness, it doesn't leave enough time to explore his redemption. For this reason the film isn't quite rounded enough, but it still provides an important indictment of the Vietnam War, seen through the eyes of one man.
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3/10
Fails to deliver a coherent narrative.
19 April 2005
Drawing inspiration from the Pinocchio story, this film is about a robotic child who yearns to be human. He is given to a family who are mourning the loss of their son, but soon their natural son re-appears, causing the robotic child to be sidelined.

The film is clearly delineated into separate acts, which fail to come together in a coherent narrative whole. The early scenes in which the boy attempts to enjoy a normal family life could have been the basis for an interesting morality tale, but all this good work is wasted in the 2nd half, as the plot veers violently out of control.

This lack of discipline is typified by Jude Law's character. He plays a 'love droid' who lives in some kind of pseudo-Blade-Runner city, but is almost totally redundant. His early section of the plot is extremely underdeveloped, and his only connection to the rest of the film is that he tags along with the robotic child for a while.

The film's disjointed plot is understandable to some degree given that both Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg were involved in directing. The end of the film is very reminiscent of Kubrick's earlier work on 2001: A Space Odyssey, but the twists that are required to get to this point often strain credibility to breaking point.

Hampered by a lunatic plot, the film still earns points for sheer audacity. However, in striving for both entertainment and profundity it only succeeds in falling flat on its face. Spectacular both in its ambitions and the extent to which it fails to live up to them, A.I. is a major disappointment.
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Falling Down (1993)
9/10
Brilliantly tackles the problems of modern life.
19 April 2005
Falling Down stars Michael Douglas as William Foster, a man at the end of his tether. He's a defence worker who, whilst sitting in a traffic jam, suddenly abandons his car. He is desperate to regain contact with his ex-wife, and decides that he must be re-united with her, but she is terrified of his mood swings, and wants to keep him away at all costs.

As Foster makes a beeline for his wife, he meets a diverse array of people. He doesn't have enough money to pay a shop owner, and thinks his prices are too high, and so trashes his store. He strays into the territory of some urban youths and narrowly survives a drive-by shooting.

These are essentially a series of self-contained sketches, each of which illustrates a different problem of modern life. Even though Foster behaves in a way that seems highly irrational you still sympathise with him, and it's questionable whether he is really any crazier than the society in which he lives.

Foster's nemesis is Prendergast, a close-to-retirement cop played by Robert Duvall. As Foster causes mayhem wherever he goes, Prendergast starts to see a pattern, but he is hampered by many of his colleagues, who think he is just imagining things, and trying to delay his retirement as long as possible.

The sections featuring Duvall are quite conventional. The cop nearing retirement is a well worn cliché, but here it's effective, as these scenes lend the film some variety, and complement Douglas's scenes rather than detracting from them. The two main protagonists are both sympathetic in their different ways and each is single minded in the pursuit of their objectives, but it's impossible for both to succeed.

There is a surprising amount of comedy in the film, black though it is, generated by Foster's extreme reactions to seemingly innocuous events. Against all the odds the comedy succeeds, mainly thanks to Douglas, who turns in one of his best ever performances, as a man pushed too far by events beyond his control.

Foster could be dismissed as a lone nut-case, but there can't be many who haven't contemplated acting as he does at one time or another. He sees himself as just an ordinary man trying to live a normal life, and is genuinely amazed when told he is considered a bad guy.

Falling Down is a terrific film, which illustrates some of society's problems through the travails of its central character. It's amazingly effective at getting its point across, while retaining some ambiguity on the question of whether Foster is a hero or a villain. That's left for you to decide.
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8/10
Shows far more originality than 99% of films.
28 February 2005
Bruce Willis plays James Cole, a man from a future where the world has been devastated by a deadly virus, who is chosen to go back in time and try to find out how this came about.

Directed by Terry Gilliam, Twelve Monkeys bears many similarities with his earlier film Brazil, but somehow feels more complete. Brazil was a weird, and at times brilliant futuristic parable, with crazy characters offset against grim cityscapes. However it failed to mesh into a coherent whole, and had a plot that amounted to little more than a dash from one mad sketch to another.

Twelve Monkeys largely succeeds in improving on the things that didn't work in Brazil. Gilliam has reined in some of his more bizarre ideas, and paid more attention to keeping the plot moving, making this a far more balanced work. Even so, Gilliam remains true to his own uniquely quirky style, making Twelve Monkeys strikingly different from the average science fiction film.

Bruce Willis plays a character far removed from his usual action movie stereotype. As a man set adrift in a strange world, he demonstrates that he can do more than just blow up buildings. Brad Pitt also gives a terrific performance as a mental patient, although it does become a tad irritating after a while.

Being a time travel film, there are many plot holes in Twelve Monkeys, but this is unavoidable in any film on this theme, since whatever approach is taken to the possibilities of time travel you are bound to create inconsistencies. For example, this film's notion is that the time in which Cole lives is the present, and everything up until this point has already happened, so it is impossible to change the past. However, surely every action that Cole takes in the past must impact on events in some small way, through the very fact of his presence.

Twelve Monkeys is an ambitious and impressive film. Of course many of its ideas are derivative, but it shows far more originality than 99% of films. It succeeds in being simultaneously entertaining and thought provoking, and deserves to be regarded as one of the best science fiction films of the 90's.
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Rain Man (1988)
8/10
Shows the way forward for issue driven movies.
22 February 2005
Tom Cruise stars as a used car salesman, who is angry when his father's inheritance is left to his older autistic brother (Dustin Hoffman), whose existence had not been revealed to him.

The film is built around its two assured central performances. Hoffman gives an excellent portrayal of a man with autism, totally unable to comprehend the real world around him. Cruise is no less impressive. While he is essentially playing to type, his character's attitude changes so gradually throughout the film that you barely notice, and without Cruise's subtle performance this transformation would be much less credible.

This is a highly commendable film, which, despite tackling a tricky subject, refuses to succumb to sentimentality. In giving autism such publicity, the film has hopefully helped to lessen the stigma brought on by ignorance of this condition.

Rain Man's great success is that it shows the way forward for issue driven movies in Hollywood. Its success at the box office demonstrates that taking a risk can pay off in spades, provided that the film is good enough.
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2/10
A poor excuse for a blockbuster.
22 February 2005
The original Mission Impossible film, starring Tom Cruise as agent Ethan Hunt was a pretty good attempt to update the 60's TV series for a new generation. Sadly the sequel has failed to live up to the modest standards set by its predecessor. Tom Cruise reprises his role, but probably wishes he hadn't.

This is a poor excuse for a blockbuster, with dull characters, and a plot that only exists as an excuse for some mind-numbing action. Its style is heavily indebted to the Matrix, a sure sign that nobody had any faith in this franchise's ability to compete on its own terms. This end result is a film that never really establishes an identity of its own. There are one or two effective moments, but they can't outweigh the negative aspects.

As if that wasn't bad enough, this is a John Woo film, and so we can't get by without a few of his trademark doves flapping about the place. I've got nothing against the doves per se, but they're ludicrously out of place here.

The performances in this film leave a lot to be desired. Tom Cruise goes through the motions, Thandie Newton's character is unmemorable, and Anthony Hopkins seems totally disinterested, as well he might. Worst of all though is Dougray Scott's horrendously over-the-top villain.

What you're left with is a very lacklustre and severely disappointing film, where only the action scenes linger in the mind, and even these are barely original. It only serves to make the original Mission Impossible look even better by comparison.
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I, Robot (2004)
6/10
Skims over the surface of some weighty issues.
22 February 2005
Will Smith stars in this Isaac Asimov adaptation, as a future cop who is deeply suspicious of robots. His fears seem well-founded when one of the new generation of robots apparently goes crazy following the death of its inventor, but the more he investigates the more complex it becomes.

This is a competent film, which goes some way to getting across the central message, that an excessively ordered, peaceful and regimented society is a bad thing, and that it is better to retain what we have, a society of fallible human beings. Humans may make mistakes, and sometimes they make colossal ones, but if you eliminate this aspect of human nature then society will stagnate.

While much of the film is about ideas, an equal amount is given above to traditional action fare, and there are a number of energetic sequences, in which the special effects are put to good use. The highlight sees Smith driving through a tunnel with robots clambering all over the bonnet of his futuristic car.

When all's said and done, the film doesn't quite deliver. Smith seems more subdued than usual, and his dialogue includes some fairly forced quips. A bit more of his Fresh Prince persona would have been welcome here, although perhaps this was ruled out to avoid turning the film into a comedy, and depriving it of a suitable level of dramatic tension. For once Smith is not bigger than the film.

Despite an intriguing plot, I Robot skims over the surface of some pretty weighty issues, without really tackling them head on. It's agreeable enough, but remains a mild disappointment.
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Shrek 2 (2004)
5/10
Fails to recapture the magic of the original.
22 February 2005
Shrek was a brilliantly inspired send-up of traditional fairy tales, giving me high hopes for this sequel, but sadly it proves to be a backward step, failing to recapture the magic of the original.

The CGI remains uniformly astounding, and the increase in computing power means that it's even more eye-popping this time around. However all this means nothing without a decent script. The biggest disappointment is that they seem to have made everything a bit too serious, most noticeably in Shrek's rather glum demeanour throughout most of the film, and funny lines are far harder to come by.

One of the biggest irritants in Shrek 2 is the lengthy musical numbers, which aren't even original, and feature the sort of toe-curling songs usually favoured by karaoke. It would have been a far better decision to make use of a dramatic score for the action highlights.

Donkey, voiced by Eddie Murphy, is still good value. However he is the only amusing character in the entire film, and any comic momentum he generates is dissipated by the writers' obsession with their tedious plot, and the aforementioned musical interludes.

The original Shrek was tremendously fresh and fun. This sequel, while not a total disaster, remains a massively missed opportunity. As Shrek 3 is currently in production, I really hope the creators will look at what didn't work this time, and be able to make amends. However, I get the sense that the first Shrek was something of a one-off, and that there aren't too many good ideas left to mine from this particular seam.
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Troy (2004)
8/10
A enjoyable blockbuster which delivers on its promises
22 February 2005
Brad Pitt stars as Achilles in this re-imagining of Homer's Ilyad.

Despite the source material the film remains an unashamedly crowd-pleasing summer blockbuster, taking liberties with the original story in order to create a more dramatic screenplay. Although purists would rightly take issue with the rewriting of an ancient myth, there is no denying that the final result is impressive.

Troy features some of the most sustained and dramatic action sequences yet seen on screen. As well as the mass Lord of the Rings style battles, utilising computer graphics to display epic tussles between the Greeks and Trojans, there are several equally exciting duals between the principal characters.

This is a film packed full of star names, including Orlando Bloom as Paris and Brian Cox as Agamemnon. Perhaps the most impressive is Peter O'Toole as Priam the king of Troy. The moment when he contemplates the annihilation of all he holds dear is incredibly poignant, and demonstrates that this film is more than just an excuse for a lot of dramatic action.

Troy doesn't present a clearly delineated struggle between the forces of good and evil, and this makes it all the more intriguing. While Brad Pitt is the hero for the Greeks, most of the other stars in the film play Trojans, and so neither side is simply portrayed as a faceless enemy horde.

There's no denying that the film flags slightly in between the battles, and the fact that it takes so many liberties with its source material mean that it can't be recommended unequivocally. However I think it's somewhat harsh to criticise this film for its anachronisms, and believe it should be appreciated for what it is, an enjoyable historical blockbuster, which delivers on its promise of epic entertainment.
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