Archive for the ‘Film Reviews’ Category

This Woody Allen directed contemporary musical, which boasts a star-studded cast revolves around the love lives of an extended family, and takes place in Manhattan, Paris and Rome.

I only really wanted to watch this film because Tim Roth is in it, and I wasn’t sure whether I was going to enjoy it – I’ve not actually seen many Woody Allen films – but in fact it is utterly charming and really rather lovely.

The story is narrated by Djuna (known to everyone as DJ, and played by Natasha Lyonne). She starts by introducing the viewers to her family – stepfather Bob (Alan Alda), mother Steffi (Goldie Hawn), step-sisters Skylar (Drew Barrymore), Lane (Gaby Hoffman) and Laura (Natalie Portman) and step-brother Scott (Lukas Haas). Not forgetting her actual father Joe (Woody Allen).

While Holden (Edward Norton) and Skylar get engaged, Joe is bemoaning the demise of his latest relationship, and DJ decides to set him up with Von (Julia Roberts) the patient of DJ’s friend’s psychiatrist mother! Von is in an unhappy relationship, and Joe is determined to win her over.

Meanwhile, Lane and Laurie are both in love with the same young man, Bob is distraught that son Scott is turning into a young conservative, despite have extremely liberal parents, and DJ is busy falling in love with various young men. Things get even more complicated when recently paroled prisoner Charles Ferry (Tim Roth) turns up!

The cast mostly sing all their own songs (Barrymore is dubbed) and all the songs are well known musical classics. Obviously these actors are not professional singers, but for the most part they hold their own pretty well – in fact Goldie Hawn and Ed Norton apparently had to be told NOT to sing as well as they were able, as they were not believable as the characters randomly bursting into song which they were meant to be portraying.

There is also some quite amazing dancing, with lots of extras (obviously professional dancers) being used – and this film also contains probably the happiest funeral scene you will ever see! There is also a quite stunning dance towards the end of the film, featuring Goldie Hawn and Woody Allen – it is very cleverly and beautifully done.

The whole cast shines, but I would give special mention to Alan Alda and Goldie Hawn, and also to Tim Roth, who has a great time with his own relatively small role. Edward Norton is also terrific in a role that is very much unlike the kind of parts we are used to seeing him play.

Overall, if you are looking for a film that will make you laugh and feel warm and happy inside, I would strongly recommend you give this one a go. I loved it.


Year of release: 1996

Director: Woody Allen

Writer: Woody Allen

Main cast: Alan Alda, Natasha Lyonne, Goldie Hawn, Edward Norton, Drew Barrymore, Woody Allen, Julia Roberts, Tim Roth, Gaby Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Lukas Haas


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Set in the 1930s, this comedy revolves around Maurice and Arthur (Oliver Platt and Stanley Tucci), two out of work actors who stow away on a cruise ship when they are wrongly accused of assaulting the famous actor Jeremy Burtom (Alfred Molina). However, Burtom is also on the cruise ship, along with a cast of colourful characters, which means that the situation goes from bad to worse for the two hapless heroes.

With a supporting cast including Billy Connolly, Campbell Scott, Allison Janney, Tony Shalhoub and Steve Buscemi, you might think that this couldn’t go wrong – and it doesn’t. Well, for the characters it does, but with hilarious results for the viewer.

Tucci and Platt are incredibly funny as Arthur and Maurice, looking for all the world like a modern day Laurel and Hardy (and by coincidence, played by actors called Stanley and Oliver too!) There is a lot of slapstick and the whole film has a very zany feel to it, with all the cast giving it their all. Campbell Scott was for me, the funniest character, as a German member of staff. I have admired him as an actor for a long time, but this is the first time I have seen him in an out-and-out comedy, and he totally stole all of his scenes.

I watched this film on my own, and when I do that, it’s rare for me to actually laugh out loud (very common apparently) but this film actually did make me do that on several occasions. I loved the farce, the cleverness of the lines and the absurdity of the situation. This film has definitely gone straight into my top ten films of all time.

Highly recommend, especially for fans of slapstick, or the old silent comedy films of Laurel and Hardy or The Marx Brothers. Brilliant!


Year of release: 1998

Director: Stanley Tucci

Producers: Jonathan Filley, Elizabeth W. Alexander, Stanley Tucci

Writer: Stanley Tucci

Main cast: Stanley Tucci, Oliver Platt, Campbell Scott, Steve Buscemi, Alfred Molina, Lili Taylor, Tony Shalhoub, Teagle F Bougere, Allison Janney, Matt McGrath, Richard Jenkins, Billy Connolly


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The Normal Heart is a fictionalised account of a gay activist, who tried to raise awareness of AIDS in New York in the early 1980s. Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo, in a role based on The Normal Heart’s writer Larry Kramer) is horrified when gay men start dying of what is called Gay Cancer, and he starts a HIV Advocacy group, in an attempt to get the government to take notice, and to help raise awareness. Weeks prefers a more outspoken way of tackling the problem, unlike many of his fellow members of the group, some of whom are not openly gay, and this causes tension amongst them. During this time, Weeks falls in love with Felix (Matt Bomer) a journalist who is also frustrated at the restrictions on what he can write about.

The film also stars Jim Parsons as Tommy (based on Rodger McFarlane), a friend of Ned, Taylor Kitsch as Bruce (based on Paul Popham), another member of the Advocacy group, Julia Roberts as a Doctor who tries to raise awareness (based on real life Doctor Linda Laubenstein). Albert Molina also appears as Ned’s brother, who loves him but struggles to understand his lifestyle or the crusade he has set himself upon.

Well – wow! It’s hard to describe just how fantastic I thought this film was. It was heartbreaking and inspiring all the at the same time. Kramer wrote the play which the film is adapted from, in 1985, at which time the AIDS crisis was in full flow. I cannot imagine how it must have felt to watch his friends dying in such numbers, and yet to be more or less ignored by the government. Mark Ruffalo really portrayed the frustration and anger that Ned Weeks felt. Matt Bomer won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor as Felix, and it was totally deserved. (Ruffalo was also nominated for Best Actor). Jim Parsons – best known for the role of Sheldon Cooper in comedy The Big Bang Theory – was a revelation here, and brought a lot of warmth to the film

I could probably wax lyrical about this film all day long, but for anyone with the slightest passing interest in the AIDS crisis, or the political and social reaction to it, this is an absolute must-see. Keep a box of tissues handy – you WILL cry. Very highly recommended to all.


Year of release: 2014

Director: Ryan Murphy

Producers: Jason Blum, Dante Di Loreto, Dede Gardner, Ryan Murphy, Brad Pitt, Mark Ruffalo, Scott Ferguson, Gina Lamar, Ned Martel, Alexis Martin Woodall

Writers: Larry Kramer (play), Ryan Murphy

Main cast: Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Jonathan Groff, Taylor Kitsch, Joe Mantello, Stephen Spinella, BD Wong, Julia Roberts, Jim Parsons, Alfred Molina, Finn Wittrock


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Dr Kate Forster (Sandra Bullock) leaves the lake house which she loves so much, to go and live in the city in Chicago. She leaves a letter for the next resident, who is Alex Wyler (Keanu Reeves). He replies and the two start a correspondence which turns into a romance – however it seems that the two will never be able to meet, as Kate is writing the letters in 2006, while Alex is reading them in 2004. Is there a way they can be together, or are they forever destined to remain separated by the years?

There are all kinds of reasons not to like this film. Some people say Reeves is a wooden actor – I think this is a bit harsh. He’s likeable in the role, and certainly good enough to make me root for Alex and Kate. And then there’s the whole time-travel element…yes if you think too much about it, it might give you a headache. The first time I saw this film I kept thinking, “But what about…”, “Well, how did they….”, “Hang on a moment…” etc. But the second time I watched it, I ignored all that and just decided to enjoy the film for what it is.

And what it is is a lovely, sweet romantic film, with two incredibly likeable leads – oh, and a very cute dog, who seems to be able to cross time zones!

Naturally, there are obstacles for the couple to overcome – and that’s before you factor in that they are communicating across two years – and yes you obviously have to suspend your disbelief, but if you can do that, and you are a fan of gentle, romantic films, then I would definitely recommend giving this one a look.


Year of release: 2006

Director: Alejandro Agresti

Producers: Bruce Berman, Dana Goldberg, Mary McLagen, Erwin Stoff, Doug Davison, Roy Lee, Sonny Mallhi

Writers: Eun-Jeong Kim (motion picture ‘Siworae’), Ji-na Yeo (motion picture ‘Swore’), David Auburn

Main cast: Sandra Bullock, Keanu Reeves, Christopher Plummer, Ebon Moss-Bachrach


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Skunk Cunningham (Eloise Laurence in her debut role) is a young diabetic girl living with her older brother Jed and her single father Archie, in an anonymous city in London. Also living in the house is Kasia (Zana Marjanovic) a babysitter/housekeeper, who has an on again-off again relationship with boyfriend Mike (Cillian Murphy). Their neighbours are the Buckleys (Denis Lawson and Clare Burt) and their emotionally handicapped son Rick (Robert Emms) and the Oswalds (widowed father Bob, and his three wayward daughters, Saskia, Susan and Sunrise).

When Skunk witnesses a mindless act of violence, her life starts to change. As the film progresses, the reason for the attack she sees is revealed and events in the little cup-de-sac soon spiral out of control.

Anyone who has seen this film or read the book it is based on, and who has also read/watched To Kill a Mockingbird, will see the comparisons between the two. After watching the film, I found an online interview with Daniel Clay who wrote the book ‘Broken’, where he said that he took the characters of TKAM as a starting point for his novel.

Despite the bleak subject matter (and it only gets more bleak as the story progresses), I really enjoyed this film. Tim Roth is, as ever, excellent and is by far the most likeable adult character in the show – a hard-working solicitor, who is trying his hardest to bring up his children well, while also attempting to resolve the tensions in his road.

However, the whole cast is superb and nobody puts a foot wrong. Rory Kinnear is brilliant as the brutal, impulsive and reckless father of the Oswald girls (who are all, frankly, despicable). Cillian Murphy is an actor who has slipped under my radar until now,  but I enjoyed his performance a lot.

Plaudits have to be given to young Eloise Laurence however, as Skunk, upon whose shoulders the story largely hangs. I loved the easy father-daughter relationship between her and Archie, and her acting was incredibly natural and believable – hard to believe it was her screen debut.

If I had any criticism, it would be that there was perhaps just a little too much going on towards the end – that said, I was completely absorbed in what was unfolding, and did not get bored or restless at any point.

I’m not going to give away the ending, but I will say that while some reviewers didn’t like it, I definitely did. I thought it was beautifully and sensitively done, and there was a definite lump in my throat (actually, I just out and out cried!)

Overall, an excellent acting debut, solid acting from the whole cast, and genuine tension make this a must-see.


Year of release: 2012

Director: Rufus Norris

Producers: Peter Hampden, Norman Merry, Joe Oppenheimer, Peter Raven, Wendy Bevan-Mogg, Tally Garner, Bill Kenwright, Dixie Linder, Nick Marston

Writers: Daniel Clay (novel), Mark O’Rowe

Main cast: Eloise Laurence, Tim Roth, Rick Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Martha Bryant, Faye Daveney, Clare Burt, Denis Lawson, Bill Milner, Rosalie Kosky, Zana Marjanovic, Cillian Murphy, George Sargeant


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Tim Roth is at the heart of this quirky film, as Ted the Bellboy, working his first night at Hotel Mon Signor, on New Years Eve. However, the guests in four different rooms mean that his first night is eventful, exciting, scary and sexy.

The film is cut into four separate tales, a couple of which do interlock slightly – each segment has a different director and a different cast.

In the first tale, ‘The Missing Ingredient’, a coven of witches meet in the honeymoon suite, to resurrect their dead leader Diana. Ted is called upon to make a most unexpected contribution to the ceremony.

The second tale, ‘The Wrong Man’ Ted arrives at a hotel room having received a request for some ice. When he gets there, he finds a woman tied up and gagged, and her furious husband apparently convinced that she has had an affair with Ted. And that’s before things get even stranger.

The third segment, ‘The Misbehavers’ – and for me, the funniest – features a couple who go out for the evening and leave their children in their room, with instructions to Ted to keep an eye on them and make sure that they don’t misbehave. Predictably things go awry, to disturbing and hilarious effect.

Finally, there is ‘The Man from Hollywood’, where Ted is called to the Presidential Suite and meets a Hollywood producer named Chester Rush, and various members of his entourage. Rush and one of his friends, named Norman, have made a bet – if Norman wins, Rush will give him his car. If Norman loses the bet, he will also lose part of his anatomy (no, it’s not what you’re thinking).

This film was widely panned by both critics and audiences, and I do feel that it is a bit of a shame, because it actually has a lot to offer. It’s unfortunate that the first story is easily the weakest of the four. Featuring Madonna, Alicia Witt, Ione Skye and Sammi Davis, it perhaps asks the audience to suspend their disbelief a little too early into the movie – nonetheless, there were still moments which made me laugh out loud.

The second segment had a couple of genuinely hilarious moments, as the arguing couple, played by Jennifer Beals (who would later feature as the ex-wife of Roth’s character Cal Lightman, in tv show Lie To Me) and David Proval draw Ted into their own drama.

The Misbehavers was worth the proverbial ticket price alone. Banderas hams it up as the strict father, but the real kudos in this scene must go to Roth, as well as Lana McKissack and Danny Verduzco as the two children. There is one really surprising moment, and Ted’s reaction to it is so funny that when I think about it now, I still get the giggles.

Finally, The Man from Hollywood features Quentin Tarantino as the titular character, along with an uncredited Bruce Willis as one of his entourage. There is an homage to an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode (The Man from the South, although Chester Rush wrongly mentions a different episode) which in turn was based on a Roald Dahl short story. The ending of this managed to mix predictability and surprise to such a degree that it was disturbingly funny.

Roth shines throughout – but then again Tim Roth makes literally anything worth watching – and I adored his quirky mannerisms as Ted’s patience and credulity is stretched further and further. The supporting cast vary widely in terms of acting – neither Madonna nor Tarantino will ever be brilliant actors, but they work well enough here; Banderas by contrast is terrific.

Overall, I would say that this is a thoroughly enjoyable film – the disjointedness may put some people off, and certainly the various quirks will not be to everyone’s taste. It’s an interesting attempt at something a bit different, and for me anyway, it largely worked.

I think I’d be careful about who I recommended this too, but it’s a film that I personally will watch again.

Year of release: 1995

Directors: Allison Anders (The Missing Ingredient), Alexandre Rockwell (The Wrong Man), Robert Rodriguez (The Misbehavers), Quentin Tarantino (The Man from Hollywood)

Producers: Lawrence Bender, Quentin Tarantino, Alexandre Rockwell, Paul Hellerman, Scott Lambert, Heidi Vogel

Writers: Allison Anders, Alexandre Rockwell, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino

Main cast: Tim Roth, Madonna, Ione Skye, Valeria Golino, Lili Taylor, Alicia Witt, Jennifer Beals, David Proval, Antonio Banderas, Lana McKissack, Danny Verduzco, Paul Calderon, Quentin Tarantino, Bruce Willis,

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Well, it worked for Baz Luhrmann, when he updated Romeo and Juliet to a modern day setting.  In this film, director Michael Almereyda updates Hamlet and shifts the action to corporate New York in 2000.  Hamlet (Ethan Hawke) is mourning the loss of his father, who was the CEO of The Denmark Corporation.  He believes that his father was in fact murdered by his Uncle Claudius (Kyle McLachlan) who has gone on to marry Hamlet’s mother Gertrude (Diane Verona) in distasteful haste, and is also the new CEO of the corporation.

Hamlet is determined to avenge his father’s death.  Meanwhile, he struggles with his own loose grip on sanity, as does his former girlfriend Ophelia (Julia Stiles).

I’m not completely sure what to make of this adaptation.  I like the idea – I like Shakespeare’s plays in their own settings, but I do like to see them in new and unfamiliar settings, which may entice other people to try them out.  This version comes in just shy of two hours, which is pretty short, considering that Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest play (the very faithful Kenneth Branagh adaptation is four hours long).  Certain parts have been cut out, but the essence of the story remains intact, and Shakespeare’s original language is used throughout, although not in its entirety.  The cast overall were strong – Ethan Hawke is an under-rated actor, and he captures Hamlet’s fine line between grief and insanity very well.  I also liked Julia Stiles and Liev Schreiber as Ophelia and Laertes respectively.  Kyle MacLachlan did a fine job as Claudius, while Diane Verona was excellent as Gertrude, and really captured the character.  Hamlet’s ‘friends’ (if you have seen the play, you will understand why I use the term loosely) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are played by Steve Zahn and Dechen Thurman – who is the brother of Ethan Hawke’s then wife Uma Thurman – and Zahn in particular shone in his role.  I also really liked Karl Geary as Horatio, Hamlet’s true friend until the end.

The cast was not perfect however – unfortunately, the usually excellent Bill Murray seemed lost as Polonius.  I’ve seen Murray in straight roles before and he is normally great in them, but I didn’t think he suited this particular character at all, and just seemed to be reading his lines with no inflection or meaning whatsoever.  It’s a shame – Polonius could have been great with a different actor, but overall this did not detract from my enjoyment of the film.

What did occur to me however was that if I didn’t know the story of Hamlet, I think I would have had trouble following what was happening.  It’s not the language; it was more that scenes seemed particularly disjointed from one another, and it seemed to me that it was jumping about a bit – first concentrating on this, then concentrating on that.  On that basis, I would definitely recommend that anyone planning on watching this familiarises themselves with the story first.

On a positive note, New York City is actually a very good backdrop for the story…aesthetically it looks perfect, and I also loved the music.  I’m not sure that I can forgive the famous To Be Or Not To Be soliloquy being recited in voice-over while our hero roams a Blockbuster video store.  There was probably some symbolism there, but it escaped me.

Overall, if you are looking for an adaptation of Hamlet, this is not the best one to start with.  However, if you are a fan of the play and want to see this version for that reason, you might find more to enjoy than you expect.

Year of release: 2000

Director: Michael Almereyda

Producers: Jason Blum, John Sloss, Andrew Fierberg, Amy Hobby, Callum Greene

Writers: William Shakespeare (play), Michael Almereyda

Main cast: Ethan Hawke, Kyle MacLachlan, Diane Verona, Bill Murray, Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles, Karl Geary, Steve Zahn, Dechen Thurman


Click here for my review of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2013 production of Hamlet.


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