Monday, 31 May 2010

Sleepless in Seattle

Movie Review: Sleepless in Seattle

Year of Release: 1993
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Nora Ephron
Cast: Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Bill Pullman

Plot outline: A motherless boy uses a radio talk show to find a new wife for his father (IMDb).

Sleepless in Seattle is very much a modern take on classic Hollywood openly taking several elements from the great An Affair to Remember (1957) and adapting them to fit into a modern setting. Yes at times the storyline is unbelievably cliché and often quite repetitive but it doesn't try to be anything more than a heart warming romantic story. It is very much old fashioned in its innocence, with a dream like feel to it which takes you out of the real world but not to the extent that it feels too fantastical. This is where the charm of the movie lies, it delivers that romantic tale which many wish would happen to them and taking them away from all the stress of real life into a warm and happy one. Adding to the magical mix is Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, a pairing which works remarkably well. Tom Hanks who has a bit of Jimmy Stewart about him does a brilliant job of delivering a toned down performance which although at times wallows in the realms of being cliché is just right for this movie, providing a balance between being corny and being interesting. The same can be said of Meg Ryan whose bubbly, somewhat frenetic persona oozes out of Annie in every scene, giving the movie bursts of energy where needed. Whilst all this is good, it does have some issues, mainly in the supporting characters which feel slightly cartoon like (e.g. Bill Pullman as Walter is so pushed to the side lines that his character feels too dispensable and dispatched with far too easily when it comes to the crunch for Annie). Although Sleepless in Seattle undoubtedly has some fine moments of humour the emphasis is set firmly on being a classic romance, causing laughs through humorous moments rather than obvious gags. In many ways Sleepless in Seattle is more whimsical than hilarious but the balance works well to stop it feeling monotone. All in all Sleepless in Seattle is a very enjoyable movie which despite its age it's still as pleasant and enjoyable today as it was on its original release. It delivers an inoffensive fairytale feel good movie with enough about it to make it stick in your mind. (AW)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Falling in Love

Movie Review: Falling in Love

Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 1984
Director: Ulu Grosbard
Cast: Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep, Harvey Keitel

Plot outline: A chance meeting could lead married commuters to an affair (IMDb).

Based on (or inspired by) the 1945 British movie Brief Encounter, Falling in Love is unremittingly, perhaps deliberately, banal. The funniest line in the movie ("How much do you weigh?") is inspired by the characters' inability to think of anything to say. We learn nothing of substance about them. They are provided with spouses who are ciphers, with personalities that are shallow and narcissistic, with crises that depend upon a manipulative script. And as if all of that were not bad enough, the movie also resorts to Idiot Plot techniques to squeeze out an infuriating ending. A final farewell between the lovers is prevented because of faulty communications. A later reunion takes place when there is only one fact that each lover needs to know - that the other is separated or divorced. Incredibly, neither character makes this revelation, because to supply that single essential fact would spoil its manipulative and shameless ending. Incredibly, there are passages when this movie works. They are entirely due to the chemistry, the genuine human qualities of Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep. They carry the plot and the dimwit dialogue because of the goodwill they've built up with us, and because of their own magnetism, their ability to invest worthless dialogue with a certain personal charm. Falling in Love will serve as a definitive example of good performances in a bad movie. (RE)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Deja Vu

Movie Review: Deja Vu

Year of Release: 2006
Country of Origin: USA, UK
Director: Tony Scott
Cast: Denzel Washington, Paula Patton, Val Kilmer, James Caviezel

Plot outline: An FBI agent has the ability to travel back in time and falls in love with a woman as her murder approaches (IMDb).

As if suffering the worst natural disaster in a century weren't bad enough for New Orleans, now there's this: A ferry full of Navy sailors and their family and friends, celebrating Mardi Gras, is blown up by a terrorist on Fat Tuesday. Even more disheartening: If the FBI really does have a way-back machine, which allows its agents to interact with events that happened exactly 4 1/2 days ago, then why didn't the feds employ it shortly after Katrina devastated the Big Easy? Couldn't they have asked ATF Agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) to travel back in time and use his strength and charms to persuade Mayor Ray Nagin, state and federal officials to get the city's residents out of harm's way, pronto? Those are some of the questions prompted by Tony Scott's nonsensical if mildly entertaining time-travel flick Deja Vu. The plot isn't the only been-here-before aspect: The Jerry Bruckheimer-produced movie cribs some of its farfetched ideas from Primer, which was far more intriguing in its explanations about wormhole jumping, and Minority Report, with its theories of pre-crime intervention. The results are hardly fresh. Deja Vu concludes with an absurd happy ending that seems to break the kooky rules established by the movie's universe. Deja Vu was the first major Hollywood production shot in New Orleans after Katrina, and footage of real-life devastation in the Ninth Ward figures into the movie, along with brief shots of the St. Charles streetcar and glimpses of the Garden District and the French Quarter. Too bad the filmmaker didn't give the beleaguered city something to brag about. (PB)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Monday, 17 May 2010


Movie Review: Silverado

Year of Release: 1985
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Cast: Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn, Kevin Costner, Danny Glover

Plot outline: A group of misfits try to bring justice to a small Western town (IMDb).

This big budget movie bombed at the box office. Big Chill director and Raiders of the Lost Ark writer Lawrence Kasdan tries to make up for all its deficiencies that include being overlong, clichéd and having a rambling story, by keeping it exuberant. It covers the following usual Western happenings: a saloon fist-fight, multiple shoot-outs, incident over a stolen horse, a stampede, a house burned down, a jail break, a corrupt sheriff working with a greedy cattle baron, the climactic gun duel between the villain and unlikely hero and the heroes parting ways at the end to ride off in the sunset. Though entertaining in spots, visually splendid, showing a love for the Western genre and with its action sequences well choreographed, it still lacks any dramatic edge to hold one's interest for over two hours. The movie has what could be considered a series of pseudo climactic shoot-outs throughout until, thank heaven, the final forced one clears the town of the baddies. After the dust clears, the cuddly good guy Paden (Kevin Kline) decides to tie the knot with the widowed idealistic pioneer woman Hannah (Rosanna Arquette) and remain in town as the new sheriff; while the noble Mal (Danny Glover) rides further west with his sister (Lynn Whitfield) and the adventurous brothers (Scott Glenn and Kevin Costner) ride for California seeking further thrills. Jeff Goldblum has a turn as the slimy, dandified, and backstabbing gambler; while Linda Hunt is the diminuitive tough-minded wise saloon manager who is threatened by the corrupt sheriff Cobb (Brian Dennehy). This was Costner's breakthrough movie, and his merry role propelled him into stardom. (DS)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Love Affair

Movie Review: Love Affair

Year of Release: 1994
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Glenn Gordon Caron
Cast: Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Katharine Hepburn

Plot outline: After meeting and falling in love, a couple plan a rendezvous three months later. When one of them is injured on the way to the meeting, the other waits without knowing what happened (IMDb).

Love Affair depends on grace and style to make its effect, and that's just as well, because most of the people seeing this movie are going to know how it turns out. If you haven't seen the original Love Affair (1939) with Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer, or the remake An Affair to Remember (1957) with Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant, you must have seen Sleepless in Seattle (1993), which was about people who loved the earlier movies. No, there aren't going to be many people in the audience who don't know what's supposed to happen on May 8 on top of the Empire State Building. When Warren Beatty is pacing around up there, indeed, we almost expect him to be part of a crowd, with Boyer, Grant and Tom Hanks, all partners in misery. That's why it's kind of surprising that this second remake works as well as it does. What's interesting about the screenplay is that the movie's key turning point takes place, not between Beatty and Bening, but between Bening and legendary Katharine Hepburn. Sure, Bening likes the guy, but she distrusts him, and it's not until she sees the real Mike through the eyes of his aunt that she can take him seriously as a potential partner. Hepburn's scenes steal, and almost stop, the show. She has been old for a long time (she is in her 80s) but this is the first time she has also looked small and frail. Yet the magnificent spirit is still there, and the romantic fire, and she's right for this eccentric old woman, living alone in unimaginable splendour, and feeling an instant connection with the young woman her nephew has brought home. Part of the magic of the Hepburn scenes is set up by the location and the cinematography. There are scenes in the movie - including Beatty and Bening walking across a vast, lush green meadow - that are so radiant your jaw drops open. It's as if nature itself is a co-conspirator in the romance. Funny thing. This is one of the few Idiot Plots that works. Yes, there is a monumental and tragic misunderstanding between Mike and Terry. Yes, their happiness stands to be destroyed because both of them are pussy-footing around, and not saying what needs to be said. But the movie toys with that, and with us, in delicately written dialogue that allows them to say, and not say, everything that needs to be said, and needs not to be said. (RE)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Thursday, 13 May 2010


Movie Review: Always

Year of Release: 1989
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter, Brad Johnson, John Goodman, Audrey Hepburn

Plot outline: A downed pilot plays celestial wingman to his successor in love and flying (IMDb).

The storyline to Always does share a couple of tenuous similarities to Ghost but is by no means of the word in the same league because it just basically isn't very exciting. That is its biggest problem it lacks the impetuous needed to keep you watching rather than drifting off to sleep. The storyline about Pete returning as a ghost to miraculously guide those left on earth is not new and instead of adding anything to spice it up seems happy to drift along delivering scenes which feel lacking and slightly cliche. I am not saying that the storyline is terrible; in fact it is sentimentally sweet and well structured with a natural flow. It's just distinctly unmemorable and although a couple of humorous moments and a cameo from the delightful Audrey Hepburn may stick in your mind I doubt that the storyline will. As for the performances from the star names well like the movie they feel slightly low level but adequate. Richard Dreyfuss who is a slightly strange choice as a heroic fire-fighting pilot, although the role was offered to Tom Cruise, manages to put in an adequate performance as Pete Sandich, with some moments which feature Dreyfuss's ability with wise cracking humour. Alongside Dreyfuss is John Goodman who gets to goofs it up as his best friend Al, with moments of comedy which could have come straight out of a Tom & Jerry cartoon. Probably the best performance comes from Holly Hunter as Pete's love interest, Dorinda, a mixture of tomboy but with a girlie inside. Also making nice appearances are Brad Johnson and the divine Audrey Hepburn in what was to be her last movie, although the latter is massively under used. To be honest, there are no real problems with any of the performances in Always, the problems arise from the characters themselves, they are just too boring. This makes the movie feel a little flat, as all the characters merge with no real differentiation between them. It's not a terrible movie but with stars such as Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter, John Goodman and Steven Spielberg directing you couldn't be blamed for expecting something more. (AW)

My judgement: **1/2 out of 4 stars

Sunday, 9 May 2010

The Shoes of the Fisherman

Movie Review: The Shoes of the Fisherman

Year of Release: 1968
Country of Origin: USA
Director: Michael Anderson
Cast: Anthony Quinn, Laurence Olivier, Oskar Werner, David Janssen

Plot outline: After twenty years in a Siberian labor camp, Kiril Lakota is released and sent to Rome, where the ailing Pope makes him a Cardinal. When the pontiff dies, Lakota finds himself in the running for the papacy, but is plagued by self-doubt, by his years in prison, and by the strange world he knows so little about (IMDb).

Based on the Morris West novel written a decade before the election of Karol Wojtyla, The Shoes of the Fisherman imagines an Eastern European cardinal, a Slav from an Iron Curtain country, who becomes “the first non-Italian pope in 400 years.” Played by Anthony Quinn, the cardinal’s very name, Kiril Lakota, is eerily similar to Karol Wojtyla. The similarities don’t end there. While Lakota has none of his real-world counterpart’s sense of presence or drama, he places great stock in the power of words to change the world and even the destiny of nations, and makes a memorable speech to that effect during a private summit with two world leaders. This resonates with John Paul II’s faith in the spoken word to move the world - a faith that served him well during his 1979 trip to Poland, when his words helped launch the Solidarity movement, dealing a substantial blow to the Iron Curtain. The filmmakers realize the rituals of the conclave process and the pageantry of the coronation ceremony with remarkable persuasiveness. The movie’s fictional politics stand up to consideration; faux theological debates involving a controversial German priest named Fr. Telemond (think Teilhard de Chardin by way of Hans Küng) are interesting. Although Lakota doesn’t emphasize orthodoxy as a major concern, the movie strongly emphasizes obedience and submission to authority despite disagreements or objections, whether it is the heterodox Fr. Telemond or the hardline (but ultimately surprisingly sympathetic) Cardinal Leone. While Telemond is probably the most textured character, Leone ultimately gets the best scene and the best lines as he addresses the loneliness and difficulty of the road that the pope walks alone in the shoes of the fisherman. The climax may turn on a naive conceit, but The Shoes of the Fisherman is well worth a look. (SDG)

My judgement: *** out of 4 stars

Monday, 3 May 2010

The Triplets of Belleville

Movie Review: The Triplets of Bellevilee (Les triplettes de Belleville)

Year of Release: 2003
Country of Origin: France, Belgium, Canada, UK
Director: Sylvain Chomet
Cast: Béatrice Bonifassi, Lina Boudreau, Michèle Caucheteux, Jean-Claude Donda, Mari-Lou Gauthier

Plot outline: When her grandson is kidnapped during the Tour de France, Madame Souza and her beloved pooch Bruno team up with the Belleville Sisters - an aged song-and-dance team from the days of vaudeville - to rescue him (IMDb).

The Triplets of Belleville has a gothic feel, giving the sense of a fractured fairy tale. Although there is virtually no talking, it is by no means silent. In fact, sound is a critical element of the movie, whether it's in the approach of a train, the croaking of frogs, or the barking of a dog - there's just no meaningful dialogue. Therefore, dubbing and/or subtitling does not become an issue. And the jazz-tinged music that permeates the soundtrack is a critical element. The Triplets of Belleville is a highly satirical work, albeit without the "in your face" style of South Park. It pokes fun at stereotypes of both the French (who are shown to subsist solely on a diet of frogs) and North Americans (who are depicted as overweight gluttons). Belleville is a bizarre marriage of New York and Quebec (complete with a Rubenesque Statue of Liberty), and Paris is depicted as having grown up and swallowed its suburbs. The overall story can be seen as an allegory of how Hollywood steals away the best and brightest talents of Europe and sucks them dry. Whether or not that's true (and the subject could foster and long debate), it's certainly the European viewpoint. The movie's generally unconventional approach makes it difficult to determine where it's going next, or how it's going to end. The Triplets of Belleville contains its share of comedic elements and the overall tone is light, but there's something almost mournful lurking beneath the surface. It can probably be best described as a true art-house animated motion picture - a rarity, to be sure. However, for someone with an adventurous cinematic appetite, a production that makes Miyazaki appear mainstream is surely worth a look. (JB)

My judgement: ***1/2 out of 4 stars

Sunday, 2 May 2010

The Long Good Friday

Movie Review: The Long Good Friday

Year of Release: 1980
Country of Origin: UK
Director: John Mackenzie
Cast: Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren

Plot outline: Harold Shand is the undisputed ruling kingpin of the London underworld, when his world is suddenly torn apart by a series of murders and exploding bombs from an unseen foe (IMDb).

Directed by John Mackenzie and produced for a paltry £930,000 (unthinkable nowadays), The Long Good Friday might not have the gloss or glamour of today's Brit-based gangster tales, but in all other departments it is the daddy. Delayed for a year due to political ramifications that had Thatcher's team up in arms (Shand is the epitome of Thatcherite values), Mackenzie's classic has a cutting script, loads of realistically brutal violence and some of the most quotable dialogue this side of Michael Caine's Jack Carter. Topping all of this off is an impossibly catchy, soul-wailing saxophone score by Francis Monkman. In his breakthrough role, Bob Hoskins gives a towering performance. Effortlessly switching from charismatic businessman on top of the world to vicious warlord struggling to comprehend how easily his empire is crumbling beneath him, Harold Shand is an interesting anti-hero, who barks out much of the quotable dialogue with the same ease as most people breath air. As for the quality of his final scene, it will leave you as speechless as Hoskins was when he performed it. Elsewhere, while excellent support is provided from the likes of Helen Mirren as the beautiful wife, Eddie Constantine as the American gangster supremo and Dave King as the bent-copper ("Parky!"), the rest of the cast draw attention as a list of familiar faces. Aside from the likes of Pierce Brosnan and Dexter Fletcher, we also see Paul Barber (Denzil from Only Fools and Horses), Gillian Taylforth (Cath from Eastenders), Derek Thompson (Charlie from Casualty), Karl Howman (Jacko from Brush Strokes), TV stalwart Kevin McNally, Alan Ford (Bricktop from Snatch) and PH Moriarty (Hatchet Harry from Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels). From start to finish there’s a lot of "I know his face!" Nearly 30 years later and John Mackenzie’s classic is still the yard-stick for any new entry into the genre. (SC)

My judgement: ***1/2 out of 4 stars