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James Wayland (Tim Roth) is an alcoholic, epileptic, unemployed genius, from a rich and powerful family. Accused of raping and mutilating a prostitute, he is taken into a police station where Detectives Braxton and Kennesaw (Chris Penn and Michael Rooker respectively) give him a lie detector test. However, they have under-estimated their adversary, who is soon able to manipulate them with their own issues – Braxton has gambling problems, and Kennesaw is convinced his wife is cheating on him. What follows is a tense and sinister stand off between the three men, interspersed with flashbacks of events leading up to the interrogation.

I wanted to watch this film because Tim Roth is one of the main stars, and I wasn’t disappointed. Here, he plays a deeply unpleasant character, who may or may not have committed a particularly gruesome  murder (no spoilers here!) There are plenty of psychological mind games afoot, and the truth behind what actually happened is revealed bit by bit. However, as the flashbacks are seen from the points of view of the characters, you are never sure whether what they are remembering is accurate or not, thereby keeping the viewer in the dark along with the detectives.

Super acting from all three of the main cast makes this film a worthwhile watch. As a lot of the film takes place in a single room in a police station, the atmosphere is suitably claustrophobic and there is always a disturbing undertone.

I think my only niggle would be that some of the events that take place in the second half of the film are just not believable – they simply couldn’t or wouldn’t happen. Nonetheless, if you are willing to suspend your disbelief, this shouldn’t hamper enjoyment.

Special mention for Renee Zellweger in a departure from her usual roles – she is superb as the murdered prostitute, Elizabeth.

Overall, if you are a fan of psychological thrillers, give this a watch and prepare for a few surprises.

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Year of release: 1997

Directors: Jonas Pate, Josh Pate

Writers: Jonas Pate, Josh Pate

Main cast: Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Michael Rooker, Renee Zellweger

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This movie is a an affectionate homage and occasional parody of those Doris Day/Rock Hudson movies from the 1960s – the most famous being Pillow Talk, which this film reminded me of.

Renee Zellweger is Barbara Novak, an author who has just released her book ‘Down With Love’ which is all about how women don’t really need men, and how they can be just as cavalier in their relationships as men are. This turns her into an overnight celebrity and she seizes the opportunity to publicly criticise Catcher Block (!) (Ewan McGregor), famous journalist and notorious ladies man.

Catcher is determined to exact revenge and sets out to make Barbara fall in love with him – she has never actually seen him so he assumes a fake identity and starts to romance her. Inevitably the deceit starts to unravel and revelation piles upon revelation…

I personally thought this was an absolute gem of a film, although it received only a lukewarm reception when it first came out. Zellweger and McGregor are perfectly cast in their parts and have terrific chemistry. The film is very colourful and playful throughout, perfectly recapturing the mood of those movies which it is playfully paying tribute to.

There are some terrific one-line zingers, and some unexpected twists, and at times I was genuinely laughing out loud. And Tony Randall – who co-starred in those Day/Hudson collaborations pops up here too! David Hyde Pierce plays the role that Randall tended to play in the original films, which is that of best friend/neurotic co-worker, and he is perfect for that part.

This is definitely one I will want to watch again and again.

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Year of release: 2003

Director: Peyton Reed

Writers: Eve Ahlert, Dennis Drake

Main cast: Renee Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, Sarah Paulson, David Hyde Pierce

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Sherilyn Fenn has the unenviable task of playing Elizabeth Taylor in this made-for-TV biopic, made while Taylor herself was still alive (she apparently tried to stop it). It gives a somewhat rushed run-through of the actress’s life, starting with a brief opening demonstrating her mother’s determination to make Elizabeth into a movie star – Elizabeth, it should be noted, wanted to be an actress, according to this biopic at least; her mother wants her to be a movie star because they are rich.

Moving quickly through her first four marriages to Nicky Hilton (Eric Gustavson), the abusive, jealous husband; Michael Wilding (Nigel Havers), who is charming but cuckolded; Mike Todd (Ray Wise) with whom she seems to share real passion, but who tragically died in a plane crash; and most controversially Eddie Fisher (Corey Parker) was married to Elizabeth’s best friend Debbie Reynolds whom he left for Elizabeth, but he clearly has no idea how to handle her or keep her interest.

Naturally enough, large focus is then given to her relationship with Richard Burton (Angus McFadyen) although their subsequent divorce, re-marriage and second divorce are flipped through in a matter of seconds, via images of newspaper headlines.

There then follows a marriage to Senator John Warner (Charles Frank), who seems to love her at least partly because of the fame marriage to Elizabeth Taylor brings with it – she gets depressed and puts on weight. Their marriage ends and she goes to rehab where she meets her seventh and final husband (to whom she has her eighth marriage) , Larry Fortensky (Michael McGrady). They were still married when this picture was made.

This film does not cover a great deal of Elizabeth Taylor’s professional career, sticking instead with the love, marriages and scandal. There are a couple of scenes which show her work for raising awareness of AIDS, which I would have liked to have seen more of.

Fenn was actually great as Taylor, nailing the accent in particular. Most of the supporting cast did a good job, although I felt that Ray Wise put in a slightly overblown performance. McFadyen looked very much like Richard Burton – uncannily so at times – but I that he also over-acted somewhat and never really captured the character convincingly.

Occasionally the dialogue was a bit clunky, a bit daytime soap opera-ish, but despite that and despite the fact that certain events were skimmed over with only the briefest detail, I have to admit that I did enjoy this film. In the same way that I don’t buy gossip magazines but I’ll have a read of one when I’m at the hairdressers – it’s entertaining even when you know that it’s entertainment first and information second. Sometimes some of the actual vintage footage which was used jarred with the more modern footage, due to the obvious difference in quality, but that did not detract from my enjoyment.

I would recommend this biopic to fans of Elizabeth Taylor, more for curiosity’s sake than for any real factual content.

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Year of release: 1995

Director: Kevin Connor

Writers: C. David Heymann book ‘Liz: An Intimate Biography’), Burr Douglas

Main cast: Sherilyn Fenn, Angus McFadyen, William McNamara, Corey Parker, Nigel Havers, Ray Wise, Michael McGrady

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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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