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TJ-Mackey

TJ-Mackey
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      16.01.2003 16:00
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      Probably the most famous city in the world, New York is a popular tourist destination for those visiting the United States, and is just an eight hour flight from London. Comprised of Manhattan, along with the four outer boroughs of Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and the Bronx, it's almost impossible to take everything in on a single visit, and a return trip will be essential. I recently spent six days in the city, and although we didn't venture outside Manhattan (except to get to and from the airport), I'm already convinced I want to return again soon. The many tourist attractions and sights are far too numerous to list in entirety - indeed, there's a lot I wish I could've seen, had our stay been longer - but it's safe to say there's something for everyone here. GETTING THERE New York is served by three airports; JFK and Newark for international flights, and La Guardia for domestic travel. We flew from London Heathrow to JFK with American Airlines, and despite hearing stories of imposing immigration officials and long queues at customs, we were actually outside within twenty minutes of leaving the plane. Whether this is a typical experience, I cannot say, but it was certainly a pleasant surprise. Assuming you're staying in Manhattan, you can easily get a taxi from the airport to anywhere in Manhattan for a fixed charge of $35 (plus a toll fee) from JFK. We decided to get the airport shuttle bus instead, which costs $13 each for a single trip to either Grand Central or Penn Station, where another bus will take you to your hotel (this cost us an additional $5). If you want to get to your hotel quickly then it's probably best to get a taxi, but as we had a bit of time to kill we opted for the longer journey. When getting back for your return flight though, I definitely advise a taxi unless you don't mind waiting for the bus to drive around Manhattan picking everyone up from their respective hotels! WHE
      RE TO STAY Staying in any hotel in Manhattan will be fairly expensive, but if you look around you should be able to find something within your budget. We stayed at the Howard Johnson Plaza on Eighth Avenue and 52nd Street, paying around $160 a night for a reasonable-sized twin room with en-suite bathroom and satellite television. Check out www.totalstay.com for a wide selection of hotels; then check their individual websites for potentially cheaper prices - we booked direct through www.hojo.com for a small saving. I definitely recommend this hotel if you want to stay in mid-town Manhattan; it's only a ten-minute walk downtown to Times Square or a similar distance up Eighth Avenue to Central Park. GETTING AROUND THE CITY Getting around Manhattan is remarkably easy thanks to the subway system, numerous bus routes, and of course, the ubiquitous yellow taxi cabs. Yes, they really are as widespread as you've been led to believe by film and television! The subway lines mostly run North-South, so if you're travelling a reasonable distance in an up or downtown direction, they really are the fastest way of getting around. A single journey will set you back $1.50, or alternatively a one-day 'MetroCard' costs just $4 and allows unlimited travel on the subway and bus. Just buy one from the machines found in most stations, although do make sure you have a subway map beforehand... obviously check which line you need, but also whether you need an express or local service (express trains only stop at certain stations). We only used the subway during the day and it was perfectly safe, but if you are travelling late at night, it's probably best to stick to the 'off-peak waiting areas' marked in yellow on the platforms. For shorter journeys, or when travelling at night, taking a taxi may be a more attractive option. You really shouldn't have any trouble finding one - just look out for a taxi with an illu minat
      ed sign and hail it over. Fares are comprised of a $2 set charge, plus 30 cents for each fifth of a mile and 20 cents for each minute waiting in traffic. If you're travelling during the night, the fare will rise by 50 cents. We didn't actually make use of the city's bus network during our stay (except for the airport shuttle service), so I can't really give you any advice here. Ask at your hotel if you're unsure which route to take. Having mentioned all these methods of transport, I must now say the best way of exploring New York is by foot, and if you're walking anywhere North of 14th Street, you really can't get lost. Avenues run North-South and are numbered First through Twelfth (First being the furthest East, Twelfth being the furthest West); Streets run East-West and increase in number the further North you go. South of 14th Street, the layout deviates from this system, and you may find you'll need to refer to a map to find your way around. One peculiarity you should be aware of is that when crossing a road (after waiting for the 'WALK' sign to light up), traffic can still turn around a corner, although they do have to give way to you. So, don't be alarmed if you see a car coming towards you as you're halfway across the road - it (probably) hasn't jumped the lights! ATTRACTIONS - Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island Ferries from Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan depart every 20 minutes to both of these "must-see" New York attractions. Although you can't actually go inside the statue at present (additional security measures were still being constructed during November 2002), the views of Manhattan from Liberty Island are spectacular. Ellis Island is equally impressive, and offers even more to the visitor, due its historical significance as the city's centre for immigration until the 1950's. The main immigration building has been complete
      ly renovated and now acts as a museum detailing every aspect of the immigration process, including a history of the island and how it eventually fell into disrepair. One area we didn't get a chance to see is the American Family Immigration History Centre, which would be of particular interest to those looking for information on family members who settled in America between 1892 and 1924. Allow yourself at least a couple of hours to take everything in, but remember not to miss the last ferry back to Manhattan, which leaves at 5.15pm. If you don't get time to see everything, remember to check the museum's website when you get home, at: www.ellisisland.org Round-trip tickets for the ferry cost $10, and can be purchased from Castle Clinton in Battery Park. For further information, see: www.statueoflibertyferry.com - Brooklyn Bridge, Pier 17 and Wall Street If you get a chance, the sight of Manhattan from the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge is supposed to be phenomenal. Unfortunately it was raining heavily the day we were there, so instead we settled for the impressive views of the bridge from Pier 17, near the South Street Seaport. If you like seafood, there are plenty of cafés and restaurants in this area, and Wall Street is just a short walk away should you wish to see it. The New York Stock Exchange is currently closed to visitors (again, presumably for security reasons), but the grandeur of the buildings in the Financial District are definitely worth seeing nevertheless. - Former site of the World Trade Centre ("Ground Zero") The same day we saw the Brooklyn Bridge, we also made a stop at the former site of the World Trade Centre - the rain and overcast weather only adding to the sombre mood of the place. There really isn't a lot to see now, as redevelopment has already started in the area, although information boards have been put up on the fences around the site. An uneasy atmosphere still exists
      as everyone stood reading them in silence, although one positive aspect was the absence of tacky souvenir stalls (that I was half-expecting to see). - Empire State Building One of the highlights of my trip was definitely the view from the walkway near the top of the Empire State Building. Once again the tallest building in New York, the sight of the city illuminated at night is truly spectacular, and well worth the $10 entrance fee. Certainly not worth the additional $9 is the 'Skyride' experience, which is entirely missable. Buy your tickets from the ticket office in the building's basement, and then take two elevators up to the 86th floor (changing from one to the other on the 80th), where you'll find the outside walkway/viewing platform and a gift shop. Up-to-date information on prices and opening hours can be found at the building's website: www.esbnyc.com - Times Square One of the most famous sights of modern New York is this intersection of Broadway, Seventh Avenue and 42nd Street - a dazzling amalgamation of bright lights, busy traffic and bustling crowds, best seen at night. Named after the offices of the New York Times (originally housed in the Times Tower to the south of the square), the area is in the heart of the city's main theatre district as well as being home to several chain stores and restaurants. Tickets to many of the Broadway shows can be purchased from a stand at the north of Times Square, although to avoid the rush it's advised to start queuing early. Wrestling fans will also be interested in visiting the WWE New York store and restaurant/bar (although note you'll need to pay an entrance fee to the bar when live events are being broadcast). An EasyEverything internet café is just around the corner, and if you're feeling really unoriginal (or just in a hurry), there's also a McDonalds close by. - Central Park Situated north of 58th Street between Fift
      h and Eighth Avenues, Central Park is an oasis in the middle of the city. Arrive early and you can take in much of the southern half of the park, before stopping for lunch at one of the many street-side cafés on the Upper West Side. Make sure you pick up a map from the visitor centre, as the park is definitely big enough to get lost in, and marvel at the sight of the city's skyscrapers towering over the lush green landscape. During the winter there's an ice-rink in the south-east corner, whilst further north there is plenty to see - the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the east, Belvedere Castle and the Great Lawn towards the centre, and Strawberry Fields to the west of the park near 72nd Street. If you're want to see the whole of Central Park then you'll probably need an entire day, so allow yourself plenty of time! - Still got time for more? A few other places you may wish to visit include Radio City Music Hall (www.radiocity.com), home of the famous Rockettes; the Rockefeller Centre with it's outdoor ice rink on Fifth Avenue (www.rockefellercenter.com); or the grandeur of Grand Central Station. Free tours of the latter are available on Wednesdays (the only day we weren't in the city!), but it's still worth a visit at any time purely to see the impressive architecture. I was disappointed not to be able to recreate the chase scene from Carlito's Way though - that area seemed to be ticket-only! ;) EATING AND DRINKING You'll have absolutely no trouble finding a place to eat or drink in New York - there's a bar, pub or restaurant just about everywhere you look! A good idea is to buy a guidebook and choose one of the places it recommends, depending on what you're looking for. No matter what your taste, there should be somewhere that caters for you! One thing to pay attention to is whether a restaurant takes credit cards (many don't) - the highly recommended John's Pizzeria in Greenwic
      h Village for instance, is cash only, so go prepared! Tips are expected and a rough guide in restaurants is to double the 8.25% sales tax that will appear on your bill. We generally found bars to be pretty expensive; two beers setting us back $12 in one pub, plus a tip on top of that. Obviously prices will vary from venue to venue, but don't expect it to be cheap anywhere! One other thing... remember to carry your passport with you if there's even a chance you look under 21! FURTHER INFORMATION There are plenty of websites providing information for visitors to New York, as well as numerous guidebooks including the 'Rough Guide' and 'Lonely Planet' series. Go for a pocket-sized book with a map and you'll easily be able to carry it around with you. New York City Information: - www.nycvisit.com - home.nyc.gov - www.nyctourist.com - newyork.citysearch.com - www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations/north_america/new_york_city/ - travel.roughguides.com/planning/journal.asp?JournalID=10302 Hotel Information and Booking: - www.totalstay.com - www.tripadvisor.com General Travel Information: - www.holidaytruths.co.uk - travel.roughguides.com

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      • Full Frontal (DVD) / DVD / 1 Reading / 33 Ratings
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        10.12.2002 20:07
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        • "Definitely not for everyone"

        A movie within a movie within a movie... Nicholas is a confident, up-and-coming black actor who is travelling to the location of his latest shoot - a David Fincher film in which he's working alongside Brad Pitt. Catherine is a journalist, following Nicholas around to get the inside story on his successes, his career, and his thoughts on the movie industry. There's a definite hint that there's more to their relationship than this, and just who is writing those unsigned love letters to Nicholas? But wait... Nicholas is also called Calvin, and Catherine is also Francesca. And is this film really called 'Full Frontal', or is it 'Rendezvous', as the opening title card suggests? Everything becomes blurred (even the picture at times), and in the world of movie-making, what exactly is real, and what is an illusion? That's essentially the premise for Steven Soderbergh's latest release - a low budget, rough-around-the-edges film that lifts up a rock and looks into the lives of a collection of people working in and around Hollywood. Be prepared for lots of in-jokes, nods to other movies (including his own), and a sardonic swipe at those working in the entertainment industry of which Soderbergh himself is most definitely a part. But will you enjoy it? If you go in expecting another 'Ocean's Eleven' or 'Erin Brockovich', then I'd have to say "probably not". 'Full Frontal' is much closer to Soderbergh's earlier films in terms of style and production, although the influence of his Hollywood successes aren't hard to spot. A lot of the action is shot on digital videotape, giving an ugly feel to the cinematography that contrasts dramatically with the scenes from 'Rendezvous', which are filmed in gorgeous 35mm. Given these differences, you might think it simple to distinguish between what is real and what is part of the "movie-within-a-movie", but Soderber
        gh rarely makes it that easy... The screenwriters for 'Rendezvous' are Carl and Brian, who also happen to be staging an off-Broadway play about the life of Hitler (the title of which would be criminal to spoil). Brian (Rainn Wilson) is excited about an upcoming date with a young woman he has met on the internet, while Carl (David Hyde Pierce) has apparently reached an impasse in his marriage to personnel director Lee (Catherine Keener), and is facing trouble at work. Lee's sister Linda (Mary McCormack) is a masseuse who is stopping off in LA before flying to Arizona to meet an artist she has fallen in love with on the internet. Everyone is in town to celebrate the birthday of film producer Gus (David Duchovny), although when the party does finally begin, things could hardly get any worse for the host. Before signing on to appear in the film, all of the actors had to agree to a set of rules laid down by Soderbergh, which he attached to the screenplay when sending it out. These were: 1. All sets are practical locations. 2. You will drive yourself to the set. If you are unable to drive yourself, a driver will pick you up, but you will probably become the subject of ridicule. Either way, you must arrive alone. 3. There will be no craft service, so you should arrive on set "having had". Meals will vary in quality. 4. You will pick, provide, and maintain your own wardrobe. 5. You will create and maintain your own hair and make-up. 6. There will be no trailers. The company will attempt to provide holding areas near a given location, but don't count on it. If you need to be alone a lot, you're pretty much screwed. 7. Improvisation will be encouraged. 8. You will be interviewed about your character. This material may end up in the film. 9. You will be interviewed about the other characters. This material may end up in the finished film. 10
        . You will have fun whether you want to or not. If any of these guidelines are problematic for you, stop reading now and send this screenplay back where it came from. I have my doubts about how many of these rules were actually enforced, but it's obvious how much of a reputation Soderbergh now carries for him to be able to persuade stars such as Julia Roberts to agree to such requirements. In the final cut though, Roberts actually has the least to do, and it's the other performances that are the most noteworthy. David Hyde Pierce is surprisingly good as the neurotic Carl, while Catherine Keener is a revelation as his wife Lee, demonstrating a wide range of emotions over the course of the film. Mary McCormack is also impressive throughout as perhaps the most down-to-earth character, although I suspect her one scene with David Duchovny will be the most memorable. Nicky Katt, however, steals the show. Seen earlier this year in 'Insomnia', Katt's performance here as Hitler in Brian and Carl's play is truly hilarious, and one scene in which two SS officers are dancing around behind him as he attempts a serious conversation is quite brilliant. On the whole, 'Full Frontal' is a film that won't appeal to everyone. Some of the action is non-linear, characters aren't immediately who they appear to be, and the grainy look and feel of the picture will put many people off. However, there's plenty here for film fans to enjoy and the impressive acting is certainly another positive. Sure, Soderbergh tries to be overly clever at times (some would say pretentious), but who really cares when it works so well? It's not his best film, but 'Full Frontal' is definitely worth taking a chance on.

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        • The Sweet Hereafter (DVD) / DVD / 5 Readings / 36 Ratings
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          25.10.2002 20:32
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          Back in 1997, most people were only talking about one film, and eventually it went on to sweep the board at the Oscars. Disappointing then, that the Academy, and many audiences, overlooked what was possibly the best film of that year. At first glance, 'The Sweet Hereafter' would appear to be an interesting, if somewhat slow-moving drama. However, on reflection, it is a truly remarkable piece of filmmaking. When a school bus tragically meets with an accident on an icy road near the town of Sam Dent, British Columbia, a small close-knit community is devastated by the sudden loss of many of their children. Focussing on the aftermath of this tragedy, writer/director Atom Egoyan slowly unravels the complex fabric of the town and its inhabitants; many of whom hide secrets buried deep beneath their immediate and overwhelming grief. The arrival of a lawyer, seeking to represent the families in a class action lawsuit, only threatens to shatter the delicate balance with his promises of retribution. Given the subject matter, 'The Sweet Hereafter' is understandably an extremely sad and tragic film; managing to stir powerful emotions without ever resorting to manipulation or sentimentality. Rather than dwelling on the events of the crash itself, the story instead concerns itself with those who survived, and those who must carry on with their lives despite suffering such a massive loss. By necessity, the structure of Russell Banks' novel - a series of monologues given by four of the central characters - had to be changed, and Egoyan's decision to interweave several different timelines undoubtedly helps in achieving this focus. The film opens with a peaceful shot of a sleeping family - a mother and father, with their young child lying between them. At this point there is no context to the image, and immediately the scene shifts to the arrival of Mitchell Stephens in San Dent, intent on persuading the families to sign up with him
          and pursue compensation. Essentially an ambulance-chaser, he seems to lack the energy required for such an undertaking, and at times it appears he is simply going through the motions. As he makes his rounds, we meet the families of some of the victims - the Walkers, who lost their only son in the accident; the Ottos, whose adopted son Bear also died; and the Burnells, whose daughter Nicole is now in a wheelchair. Mitchell also speaks with Delores Driscoll, the bus driver who once thought of the town's children as her own, and still can't quite come to terms with what has happened. Many of the families want to be left to their grief, but by playing on their emotions and their need to assign blame, Mitchell steadily gets more people on board. He also has a more personal reason for his involvement - a situation with his daughter, Zoë, which he believes aligns him with the people of Sam Dent. Zoë is addicted to drugs, and only calls her father when she needs more money... essentially, he has lost a child too. As we witness the lives of these people both before and after the accident, Egoyan patiently allows the narrative to circle around and around it, until when it finally does arrive, we are already well aware of its outcome. This though, does nothing to lessen the impact of the sequence, as we witness the horror and disbelief on the face of the helpless Billy Ansell as he watches the bus, carrying his two children, careen off the road and into an icy lake. The simplicity of the shot - the entire sequence is seen from a distant perspective - makes it all the more harrowing. Indeed, Egoyan keeps the audience at a distance throughout most of the film, but the sheer weight of the emotion cannot fail to pull you into the story. Of all the fascinating characters in 'The Sweet Hereafter', Mitchell is definitely the most intriguing. Ian Holm's central performance is quite brilliant, in particular his ability to bring so much to
          such a complex and troubled individual. There are many conflicting feelings and motivations beneath his exterior, and with just the slightest of facial expressions or changes in tone, he superbly lets the audience into his character. One scene, in which he tries to convince Wanda and Hartley Otto to pursue compensation, shows the duality of his situation - one minute he's desperate to direct their rage and prevent a similar accident in the future, the next he's barely able to contain his glee at winning a new client. This is the best acting performance I've seen in years, and in a later scene when Mitchell relates a story from his past in a heart-breaking monologue, I can almost guarantee you'll be moved to tears. Other key performances come from Bruce Greenwood and Sarah Polley, although in all honesty, the entire cast is worthy of high praise. Greenwood is subtle and understated as Billy Ansell, who lost his wife a few years before and has now lost his two children as well. Polley plays an extremely important role in Nicole Burnell, who survived the crash but pays a heavy price for doing so. Ultimately, the fate of the entire town rests on her deposition. This may well be one of the saddest films I've ever seen, but there is a life-affirming quality to the story that elevates it from depressing to something altogether more thought-provoking. I haven't yet mentioned the wonderful cinematography, or Mychael Danna's evocative musical score, but these are really elements you need to experience for yourself. Atom Egoyan has created a mesmerising and intriguing study of human relationships; rich with multiple layers that are slowly peeled back until the emotional core, and the climax of the movie, are revealed. 'The Sweet Hereafter' is not a film about a bus crash; it is about how such tragedies affect us, and how our lives must go on afterwards.

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          • Donnie Darko (DVD) / DVD / 5 Readings / 57 Ratings
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            09.10.2002 22:53
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            "28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, 12 seconds. That is when the world will end." At the time of writing, 'Donnie Darko' has still to be given a theatrical release in the UK (however, expect to see it in selected cinemas from October 25th). In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if you've never even heard of it. After reading nothing but praise for the film, I bought the DVD earlier this year and have since watched it three times - it is a truly remarkable debut from writer/director Richard Kelly. However, there is a big problem with 'Donnie Darko', and that's the difficulty in categorising it within a particular genre; even giving a plot synopsis is problematic. This was undoubtedly one of the major reasons for its limited distribution, and also makes it rather difficult to justify a recommendation. It's one of those films you urge someone to watch, but when asked why, you begin by simply saying, "Trust me". For a start, 'Donnie Darko' is a true mind-bender of a movie. You'll be thinking about it for days afterwards, and a repeat viewing will be almost essential. And even then I doubt you'll understand everything that's going on (I certainly didn't!). The setting for the film is suburban America in the late 1980's, and the Donnie of the title is an intelligent and confident teenager who also happens to be seeing a psychiatrist. You see, Donnie is friends with a six-foot bunny rabbit named Frank, who wakes him one night to warn him that the world will end in twenty-eight days, six hours, forty-two minutes and twelve seconds. Not only that, but while he's out of the house, a jet engine drops through the roof of Donnie's bedroom - an event that would surely have killed him had Frank not intervened. Is there a higher purpose at work here, or is Frank merely a figment of Donnie's troubled imagination? As the days count down, even stranger thing begin to happen in Donnie
            9;s life... While the plot may seem intriguing (and rightly so), perhaps the most impressive thing about Richard Kelly's debut is the multitude of interesting characters, all ably played by a strong cast. Carrying the film on his shoulders is Jake Gyllenhaal, mesmerising as the titular Donnie, but he's well supported by an array of fascinating performances - Patrick Swayze's new-age guru standing out in particular. Drew Barrymore's name perhaps gains more prominence than it should due to her role as executive producer, and for the most part it's true that the big names are overshadowed by a crop of lesser-known actors including Jena Malone, Beth Grant and Maggie Gyllenhaal. The exceptions to this are Mary McDonnell, who puts in a touching performance as Donnie's mother, and the aforementioned Swayze whose seemingly ridiculous character hides a dark secret. Also deserving of mention is Kelly's inspired choice of music throughout 'Donnie Darko' - lending songs from the period to some striking imagery, particularly in the film's poignant final sequence, played out to a cover of 'Mad World' by Tears for Fears. Other artists on the soundtrack include Duran Duran, The Church, and Echo & the Bunnymen, whilst further references to the eighties can be seen everywhere in the film... nods to Back to the Future, The Smurfs, The Evil Dead and E.T. are particularly noticeable. One thing you can easily forgot about 'Donnie Darko' is that it's an independent move, with a budget of just $4.5m. This isn't at all obvious from watching the film, especially considering the impressive special effects and high profile stars, and it just shows how much independent filmmaking has changed in recent years. Sadly, it's only made a fraction of this budget back at the US box-office, when really it should have made a profit many times over. Part psychological thriller, part science-fiction myst
            ery, and part-coming-of age drama, the only real problem with 'Donnie Darko' is that Richard Kelly has tried to do too much with just the one picture. There are references to time-travel, pre-determination/fate vs. existentialism, schizophrenia, high-school rebellion and quite a few other subjects I won?t reveal here. Listening to the director's audio commentary only confuses matters further, and at least one of the deleted scenes would have completely changed one aspect of the story had it been included. This is undoubtedly because 'Donnie Darko' is his first film, and therefore does have a rough-around-the-edges feel to it. It is also tremendously ambitious, and contains an intense and subtle performance from a relative newcomer who surely has bigger things on the horizon. In summary, 'Donnie Darko' is a truly beautiful, moving and tragic debut, which has been criminally under-seen. Get to your nearest cinema as soon as you can.

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            • Insomnia (DVD) / DVD / 0 Readings / 31 Ratings
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              02.09.2002 21:15
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              "People give themselves away in small lies, small mistakes. It's just human nature." Christopher Nolan's latest film opens in a similar way to his previous success, Memento. A rousing score, tinged with sadness, builds over a close-up; this time not of a Polaroid photograph, but of blood seeping through a previously clean white cloth. As Memento's fading photograph was indicative of the protagonist's memory condition, perhaps Insomnia's first shot represents the corruption that seeps into decorated detective Will Dormer's life. It's an interesting scene, and one whose meaning doesn't truly become apparent until close to the end of the film. In contrast to his previous two features, Nolan maintains a traditional narrative structure with Insomnia that will certainly appeal more to the mainstream audience than Memento or Following. Working from a screenplay adapted from the 1997 Norwegian movie of the same name, the thematic emphasis of the story has been shifted, allowing a more appropriate focus for the American setting. Although I've yet to see it, my understanding is that the Al Pacino character is less sympathetic in the original, with the effects of guilt and fatigue on the human condition explored more fully in Nolan's version. As the film opens, homicide detective Will Dormer (Pacino) and his partner Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) are flying into the small fishing town of Nightmute in northern Alaska. A teenage girl has been murdered and by bringing in their experience of Los Angeles murder cases, the two cops look to solve the case. Their motives aren't entirely selfless though; the trip also puts some distance between themselves and an Internal Affairs enquiry into their work back in LA, from which Dormer in particular is anxious to escape. This inevitably plays on his mind during the investigation, but even more disorienting is the twenty-four hour sunlight that is present this fa
              r north of the Arctic Circle, making it increasingly difficult for him to sleep. "A good cop can't sleep because he's missing a piece of the puzzle, and a bad cop can't sleep because his conscience won't let him." What begins as a routine murder mystery quickly becomes something altogether more interesting following a bungled stakeout. While chasing a suspect through thick fog, Dormer accidentally shoots and kills his partner. Exhausted and ridden with guilt, he is tormented by the suspect, who witnessed the incident and by blackmailing him, believes he can strike a deal. Nolan again shows a talent for directing actors; Pacino holds the film together with suitable determination, while Robin Williams is played against type as Finch, the calm and creepy murder suspect. As Finch's actions begin to echo his own, Dormer has to address his own feelings of guilt and morality, and Pacino's restrained performance reflects this superbly. You can almost believe he kept himself awake for days on end to obtain the required level of fatigue. The camera stays with Pacino for almost the entire film, and thus we really get drawn into Dormer's situation, especially during the sleepless nights, when despite every effort to shut it out, the sunlight still pervades his hotel room with a piercing brightness. Just as he did with Leonard Shelby in Memento, Nolan allows us to sympathise with a character who isn't entirely likeable, and certainly has enough flaws to place him closer to 'anti-hero' than 'hero'. The biggest moral dilemma facing Dormer isn't even a choice between right and wrong, but rather the better or worse of two wrongs. Is it acceptable to plant evidence on a suspect you know to be guilty in order to get a conviction? What about covering up an accident to preserve the greater good? These questions would unhinge even the best of detectives, but as his mental and physical condition deter
              iorate, Dormer begins to question what was accidental and what was intentional. As Finch, Robin Williams gives an extremely believable performance, and perhaps this move away from comedy and sentimentality will be a good thing for his career. He's certainly effective here, and one of the reasons Nolan was so keen to cast Williams is that he's never played this kind of role before. A supporting appearance from Hilary Swank provides some interest, and small parts for Maura Tierney, Nicky Katt and Paul Dooley are also memorable, but it's the two leads that stand out. Pacino in particular gives an outstanding portrayal of a man on the edge, and shows how good he can be without the over-the-top histrionics of his past performances. Christopher Nolan is most definitely a talented director, and now he's shown the ability to direct such acting heavyweights (three Oscar-winners), I think he'll cope well with Jim Carrey in his next picture. He does acknowledge the guidance from executive producer Steven Soderbergh on Insomnia, and if he can emulate Soderbergh's success with both indie and mainstream filmmaking, Nolan will soon become one of a small group of 'must-see' directors. After only three features, that's quite an accomplishment. There are flaws, most notably with Hillary Seitz's script, which relies on coincidence on a few occasions and ends by veering slightly towards typical Hollywood fare. Having said that though, Insomnia is probably one of the best Hollywood releases of the year, and is certainly the best film I've seen this summer. It won't keep you awake at night like Nolan's last picture, but this one does come highly recommended.

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              • The Bends - Radiohead / Music Album / 3 Readings / 61 Ratings
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                09.08.2002 06:29
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                Following the massive critical acclaim Radiohead received for their third album, OK Computer, and the subsequent experimental nature of their next two releases, it might be easy to forget their earlier effort, The Bends. That, though, would surely be a mistake, as it's arguably their greatest work. Admittedly, it is more mainstream than OK Computer, and that's probably why that album took the plaudits whilst The Bends has always been referred to as the band's more accessible 'rock album'. This is certainly true in respect to the overall style of the record, but the guitar rock of most of the songs hides a much deeper musical vision for the group, which they developed further on later albums. Most notably, Radiohead's most recurrent theme, of being a small individual trapped in a large, uncaring world, is perhaps the most poignant, and is certainly built upon further on many of OK Computer's standout songs. Immediately giving you an idea of what the rest of the album will be about, the opening track 'Planet Telex' begins with an other-worldly electronic wind effect that fades quickly into a catchy guitar riff and finally some gloriously downbeat lyrics. Although somewhat depressing, 'Planet Telex' is a thoughtful and interesting song to begin with, and works well in setting the tone of the album before launching into the more traditional rock of the title track. Much of The Bends is structured in this way... blending heavy rock soundscapes with quieter, more reflective songs, and it works tremendously well in making the record as a whole much more than the sum of its parts. Having said that though, there are some truly outstanding tracks on this album; easily good enough to compete with the best of Radiohead's later songs. At the time of The Bend's release, Radiohead were primarily a three-guitar quintet focused around the unique vocal talents of singer Thom Yorke. The intense guitar work by Ed O&#
                39;Brien and brothers Jon and Colin Greenwood can be both explosive ('Just') and delicately beautiful ('Bullet Proof... I Wish I Was'), and Phil Selway's drum sequences often hold the songs together perfectly. Lyrically, much of the material conveys some pretty intense emotions - anger, joy, sorrow, regret, hopelessness - in a way that seems entirely appropriate... almost cathartic in nature. Without doubt, the most emotionally draining song for me is 'Street Spirit (Fade Out)', which is so heart-rendingly sad, and with a message so pure that even Thom claims, "I didn't write it... it wrote itself." Ed's deceptively simple guitar work, Thom's superb vocals and above all, the haunting imagery are mesmerising: "Cracked eggs dead birds scream as they fight for life I can feel death can see its beady eyes" While it's true that the rest of The Bend's tracks don't quite reach this level of emotional intensity, they each have something just as fascinating of their own to offer. The slow, sublime sounds of 'Fake Plastic Trees' make a biting comment on modern consumer culture, while the complex, multi-layered guitars of 'Just' help make it a sure fan favourite - the perplexing video only heightening this response. It's interesting that even those songs which aren't particularly deep in meaning don't become over-simplified... the extremely catchy 'High and Dry' being a case in point. Released with some success as a single, the predictable lyrics of the chorus ("Don't leave me high, don't leave me dry") don't detract from the song at all. Although Radiohead are undoubtedly very good when it comes to roaring guitar rock, I have to say I prefer their more delicate, introspective songs. Thom's superb voice is so much more evocative on the quieter tracks such as 'Fake Plastic Trees' and 'Bullet
                Proof... I Wish I Was' - complimenting the instruments perfectly. Having said that, nearly all the songs on The Bends have moments of calm before building up to a high on the chorus, which is perhaps what makes the album so infectious. Despite any criticisms I may have made though, there really are no weak tracks here - only degrees of greatness. This is my favourite album of all time. I think it's safe to assume that if you're a fan of Radiohead, you already own it. However, if you're looking to buy a Radiohead album for the first time (or have only heard their recent singles), not only is this their best, but also their most approachable. I can't recommend it highly enough. iMMersE your soUL in LOVE at www.radiohead.com or www.followmearound.com "Jill Murphy asked me to write about one of my favourite things to help her celebrate her fourth anniversary of cancer-free living and to remind ourselves of all the nice things in the world. It takes more muscles to make a frown than a smile you know. If you'd like to join in, whether you've only just joined dooyoo, or you've been here ages, you're more than welcome. Just write about one of YOUR favourite things, make your title "A Favourite Thing: [your choice]" and include this paragraph at the foot of your opinion. And post before Friday, 9th August."

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                  05.08.2002 00:13
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                  Everything is Wrong is possibly one of the most diverse albums I own, and yet that's not particularly surprising when it's produced by as versatile an artist as Moby. Prior to 1999's hugely successful Play, which featured samples from (amongst other styles) blues and gospel music, he also released records across various genres ranging from techno right through to punk rock. On Everything is Wrong, most of these genres are covered on the one album, and suffice to say, if you've enjoyed any of Moby's previous work, I'd recommend you give it a listen - there should be at least something here for you! Released back in 1995, some time after the highs of 'Go' (surely one of the best dance singles of the nineties), this album is probably Moby's most eclectic, but that's perhaps it's biggest strength. On its first play, the most noticeable aspect of the album, other than the diversity of style, is the discontinuity between tracks. You'll be thrown straight from the slow, calming piano and synthesisers of the opening track, 'Hymn', to the jumping break-beats of 'Feeling So Real' with barely time to catch your breath. The loud opening vocals - "Sound system a-rockin! Sound system a-rockin!" - couldn't be further from the blissful tones of the previous song. Similarly, the energetic electronic-dance of 'Anthem' drops straight into the slow, almost sorrowful piano chords of the title track. This incongruous selection is possibly Moby's attempt to convey the 'everything is wrong' theme of the record, which is much more explicitly referenced in the inlay notes; advocating vegetarianism, denouncing corporate evils and providing a multitude of disturbing facts about our present society. With different styles though, come different moods. The first half of the album consists of mainly upbeat songs before progressing onto the more introspective nature of the la
                  ter tracks, although there is the odd exception. The fast-paced 'Feeling So Real' and 'Everytime You Touch Me' are very club-oriented and are guaranteed to get you up and dancing, whilst the extremely heavy rock sounds of 'What Love' seem curiously out-of-place. But then again, that makes perfect sense in the context of the rest of the record! By far my favourite tracks from Everything is Wrong are the chilled ambience of the later offerings. The down-tempo sounds of 'First Cool Hive' are probably the most similar to the standout songs from Play; 'Into the Blue' soothes your mind with its calming lyrics; and 'God Moving Over the Face of the Waters' is a truly beautiful instrumental piece. Slowly building upon an infectious piano intro, this is a complicated, multi-layered track that rises to almost anthem-like levels - and what's more, it's easily the best on the album. These three tracks are perfect for simply lying back, relaxing and taking in the mood. What's most noticeable on the album as a whole is Moby's talent for combining sampled vocals, traditional instruments and electronic sounds and then adapting and combining them to fit in with his chosen style. Hence we see heavy guitars, synthesisers and elegant piano arrangements, set to vocals ranging from loud screaming (Moby himself on a couple of the tracks) to the soft, delicate female voice found towards the end of the album ('Into the Blue' and 'When it's Cold I'd Like to Die'). Of course, with such a variation in styles of music, it's doubtful the entire album will appeal to anyone. What's more likely is you'll find yourself listening to some of the tracks again and again, whilst skipping others that you're not so keen on. Which is fine - you can rarely please all of the people all of the time. As I said before, fans of Moby's other albums will undoubtedly find much to appr
                  eciate in Everything is Wrong, and even those who considered Play to be massively over-rated may be surprised by some of the material here. ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* I bought my copy of Everything is Wrong from play.com last year and it's still available there for £9.99 (although I notice the track ordering now appears to be slightly different). Amazon.co.uk have it for £11.99, and they're also selling the 'DJ Mix' double-cd version of the album for the same price. Further information on Moby is available on his website at: www.moby-online.com

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                    22.07.2002 18:41
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                    "How much did it cost again?" he asked. "$7,000," I told him. "Really? That's pretty good... most trailers usually cost between $20,000 and $30,000." I paused for a moment, trying to make sense of what he had just said. Then I said, "No, the whole movie cost $7,000." Robert Rodriguez wrote, directed and produced his debut feature film, 'El Mariachi', with a borrowed camera, no crew, and less money than a typical Hollywood actor earns in a single day. His book, 'Rebel Without a Crew', features extracts from the diary he kept during his remarkable rise from amateur filmmaker to one of the hottest prospects in Hollywood in the space of a year. Throughout, he imparts the insider-knowledge he gained from his experiences, whilst maintaining a down-to-earth sense of humour that you can't help but warm to. Thankfully, this isn't one of the many 'how-to-make-it-in-Hollywood' style handbooks. If anything, it flies in the face of advice usually given to wannabe filmmakers. Rodriguez argues that in ten minutes, you can learn everything that a $20,000 film course could teach you and more. He himself wasn't admitted to a film class at the University of Texas until his award-winning short 'Austin Stories' beat everything that class's students had to offer. In fact, when he finally did enrol, he discovered that "a lot of the other students had never touched even a video camera, yet they wanted to be filmmakers. They spent almost $1,000 on films that didn't turn out as good as they expected, so they figured they weren't cut out for movies and would go into something else". Rodriguez shot his first movie on a super 8 camera when he was in 8th grade, and went on from there. His impressive ten-minute short film, 'Bedhead', scooped awards at over a dozen festivals, and the prize money from these partly went towards funding the
                    production of 'El Mariachi'. A large chunk of the $7,000 though, was famously earned in a month-long stay in a medical research hospital, and Rodriguez's account of this experience, entitled 'I Was a Human Lab Rat', is bitingly funny. As well as the cash incentive, he also wrote the screenplay during his stay there and even recruited a fellow lab rat to play his lead villain. All in all, a very productive experience. Less than fifty pages of 'Rebel Without a Crew' actually details the filming and post-production of the film, with a large proportion concentrating on the amazing interest shown in him by nearly all the major Hollywood studios. Although it might be hard to believe now, 'El Mariachi' actually began life as the first of three learning projects for Rodriguez, which he would sell to the Spanish home video market for a small profit (he very nearly sold it for $25,000). This would allow him to learn the basics of filmmaking in an environment where he wouldn't be thrust into the limelight too early. Once these low-budget action movies had been made, he'd then be in a position to think about making a film for a theatrical release in the United States. Even when Rodriguez finally accepts a contract with Columbia Pictures, his doubts over the release of 'El Mariachi' are still apparent, and in hindsight it's almost laughable as he persists in believing it's a film no one would want to see. It's perhaps this honesty from Rodriguez that is one of the book's biggest strengths. There really is no sense of ego from him at all, and his frequent self-deprecating humour only reinforces this image, and makes it even more believable that anyone really can make a film. If that's not inspiration, I don't know what is. Later diary entries follow the success of the film after the acceptance of Columbia's contract offer. Rodriguez visits the Telluride, Toronto and Sundance
                    film festivals, where he meets, amongst others, Roger Ebert, Quentin Tarantino and Steve Buscemi (who would later appear in 'Desperado'). However, perhaps the most surreal entry comes shortly after the theatrical release of 'El Mariachi': "'Entertainment Tonight' came over to my apartment today to shoot a kind of 'Day in the Life' sort of thing. They are actually filming me right now, as I type this in. I'm supposed to look like I'm working. This is getting really scary." At the end of the book is Rodriguez's 'Ten-Minute Film School', in which he gives a summary of all the advice he has given previously, covering everything from writing the screenplay to shooting the movie to cutting in the editing room. Whilst the technical aspects may be slightly outdated (computer editing is pretty standard now), in general these suggestions would be very useful to a first-time filmmaker. The original screenplay to 'El Mariachi' is also included, with selected annotations from Rodriguez where certain details need to be clarified. It's interesting to note the lack of standard screenplay formatting (he'd never written a script before) and the tracking of the number of shots required for each scene in the margin. 'Rebel Without a Crew' is a fascinating read, both as a story in itself (with Rodriguez as the 'hero') and as an account of a low-budget filmmaker succeeding in Hollywood. Even if you have no interest in filmmaking, I'd still recommend this book as a great piece of light reading, but if you do, this will undoubtedly give you plenty of inspiration.

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                    • Mouse-Hunt (DVD) / DVD / 0 Readings / 34 Ratings
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                      01.07.2002 01:05
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                      From first impressions, you could easily be forgiven for dismissing 'Mouse Hunt' as a simple kids movie. Certainly from the trailers, it looks very much like 'Home Alone' with a mouse - slapstick comedy all the way. But then again, movies do sometimes surprise us, exceed our expectations, and turn out to be so much better than anticipated. This is one of those movies. Out-of-luck brothers Ernie and Lars (Nathan Lane and Lee Evans) inherit a dilapidated old house and the family string factory when their father passes away. After discovering the house may actually be worth a fortune, they embark on a refurbishment before going to auction. The only thing standing in their way is an inventive little mouse who doesn't want anyone disturbing his home, let alone these two bumbling idiots. And so, the game is afoot. Where this film differs from the comparisons with 'Home Alone' is that this is most definitely a black comedy. Firstly, and perhaps most interestingly, there are no real heroes and villains to the story -unlike the two burglars in John Hughes' comedy, the brothers do evoke sympathy from the audience, but then again, so does the mouse. At times, we're actually rooting for both parties, and this is undoubtedly thanks to the lead actors. Ernie is the more intelligent of the two characters, and Lane plays off well against the wackier Evans. Their obsession with catching the mouse is drawn out a little too far, but as it's essentially the only plot to the film, it's only to be expected. The mouse itself is a brilliant creation, brought to the screen using a combination of real mice, computer effects and animatronics. The rest of the acting parts are reasonably small, but do look out for Christopher Walken, who's brought in as an expert exterminator and almost steals the show. Apart from the acting though, the style of the film is also quite different to your usual family entertainment. A lot o
                      f it is filmed in a fairly bleak manner, with the interiors of the house given a dark atmosphere similar in approach to Gilliam or even Burton. Then, there's the quirkiness that could be compared to the Coen brothers' work, in particular 'Raising Arizona' and 'The Hudsucker Proxy'. The biggest influence, though, is surely from the classic comedies of Laurel and Hardy - many of the set pieces and plenty of the visual humour wouldn't look out of place in one of their movies. In fact, I'm sure the scene in which Lane waits on a park bench opposite two young women is a direct homage to a scene with Oliver Hardy. I just can't remember the film! Believe it or not, there are even serious messages hidden behind the visual gags and 'kids movie' façade. When greed and selfishness are the motivation for the protagonists, they are doomed to failure at the hands (paws?) of the mouse, but following their father's advice and continuing the family business may bring greater rewards than they think. There's a nice quote in the very last scene which underlines this further, with the metaphor of the piece of string nicely brought to a conclusion. However, there are problems with 'Mouse Hunt'. Not all of the jokes work, and there's only so much humour to be had in slapstick before it begins to grate. There's also a rather cheesy ending. Of course, children will enjoy this side of the film more than the adults, but do note the PG certificate - some aspects might not be entirely suitable for the very young. There are some sexual references, and quite a lot of violence (albeit comic book in style), but nothing major. I guess this is one of the hardest types of films to make - aiming at both adults and children - and while 'Mouse Hunt' certainly isn't perfect, it definitely makes a worthy attempt.

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                      • Traffic (DVD) / DVD / 0 Readings / 39 Ratings
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                        11.06.2002 17:03
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                        There are some who argue the so-called 'war on drugs' can never be won. In Steven Soderbergh's superior 'Traffic', it can be seen that minor victories are achievable, but at what cost? The cocaine industry is worth billions of dollars each year. With inadequate laws and widespread corruption, the trafficking of the drug from Mexico to the United States is surprisingly easy. After repeated failures, an independent 'drugs tsar' is appointed to improve the country's ability to combat the illegal drug trade. Whilst still finding his feet, Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas) devises a three-pronged strategy focussing on rehabilitation, education and policing. However, the magnitude and difficulties of the problem are only just becoming apparent to him. Everyone in Washington is more than willing to offer their support, but when push comes to shove, ideas and solutions are far from forthcoming. And is there more to his daughter Caroline's behaviour than he realises? That isn't to say the DEA is entirely without success. In San Diego, a mid-level distributor (Miguel Ferrer) is arrested and coerced into giving evidence against his employer - a supposedly legitimate businessman with a wife and child who are unaware of his illegal activities. His capture brings its own problems, as the wife, Helena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), must fight to keep the creditors away whilst protecting her family from the ruthless drug barons looking to recoup their losses. We also follow Tijuana police officers Javier and Manolo as they tackle two warring cartels amidst widespread corruption in their own government. This is perhaps the most interesting story, as Javier (Benicio Del Toro) struggles to uphold the ideals of the law when faced with morally ambiguous opportunities from both a Mexican colonel and two DEA agents. It's this narrative strand that best underlines one of the central themes of 'Traffic'; that very few
                        parts of society are untouched by the effects of the drug industry, and despite appearances, the people involved can rarely be categorised as simply 'good' or 'bad'. Unlike other ensemble movies, the narratives only overlap directly on a few occasions; instead the film is held together by a thematic structure that attempts to show the completely pervasive nature of the drug supply chain. At nearly every level of society, from the prosperous Indian Hill area of Cincinnati to the streets of Tijuana, the intrusion of the drug industry can be seen in a number of different ways. Acting as his own cinematographer, Soderbergh employs a unique visual style to portray each of the plot threads - the harsh sepia tones of Tijuana contrasting strongly with the blue-washed hues of Washington and the bright Californian technicolor. A lot of the footage is shot using hand-held cameras, and overall this is very successful in giving the film the added feel of a documentary. Soderbergh's usual directorial techniques are also prevalent; especially the jump cut handling of dialogue that was so effective in 'Out of Sight' and 'The Limey'. However, as good a job as Soderbergh does, he couldn't have done it alone, and the casting for the film is almost flawless. There are well over a hundred speaking parts in all, including a dozen or so central characters across the three stories. The acting is, on the whole, excellent, and although Benicio Del Toro took all the plaudits, in truth most of the primary players are just as impressive. Don Cheadle plays a determined DEA agent with just the right amount of humour; young Erika Christensen is entirely believable as Caroline descends towards addiction; and Catherine Zeta-Jones is surprisingly effective as the rich wife who must resort to desperate measures. 'Traffic' clearly focuses on a massive issue affecting today's society. But instead of taking the moral
                        high-ground, or preaching to the audience, writer Stephen Gaghan sensibly takes a step back and shows it how it is, allowing us to draw our own conclusions. There aren't any easy solutions to the drug problem; and indeed, if there are answers they must surely rely on a long-term strategy that addresses the biggest reason for the industry's power - the massive demand. While that is there, nothing can be done to stop the supply, and any attempts to do so are, as one character in the film observes, meaningless. There certainly is optimism in the haunting final scene of the movie, but with just one of the stories having any real resolution, some viewers may find it entirely unsatisfying. Honest and unflinching, 'Traffic' pulls no punches in showing just how difficult it is to stop the illegal trade in drugs. Because of this, it isn't an easy film to watch, but watch it you should, as it fascinates in a thought-provoking and totally engaging manner. This is Soderbergh's best film to date.

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                        • Panic Room (DVD) / DVD / 0 Readings / 52 Ratings
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                          15.05.2002 18:46
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                          One building. Five characters. Three inches of solid steel. Trust ultra-stylish director David Fincher to build a tense, gripping thriller from such a simple grounding. And while 'Panic Room' is undoubtedly more mainstream than his previous three films, his usual directorial touches are thankfully still present. The claustrophobic atmosphere, dazzling camerawork and intense performances are all impressive and will be familiar to fans of Fincher's past work. The screenplay by David Koepp is admittedly neither as biting as 'Fight Club', nor as intelligent as 'Se7en', but that's hardly a fair criticism. 'Panic Room' is a well-structured, taut drama, which is lifted further by the uniquely distinctive vision of Fincher, who is fast becoming one of the few 'must-see' directors working today. The story itself is perhaps nothing remarkable. Recent divorcee Meg Altman (Jodie Foster) moves into a cavernous Manhattan house with her teenage daughter, Sarah (Kirsten Stewart). As well as being unusually large and spacious for its location, the property also boasts the panic room of the title - an impenetrable room installed by the previous owner to protect the occupants from intruders. As their luck would have it, three burglars break into the house on their first night, and immediately the high-tech security system is put to the test. Matters are complicated further when it's revealed the intruders are after a safe that just happens to be located in the panic room with Meg and Sarah... What you notice first about 'Panic Room' is the undeniably polished production. It's also worth noting that this is what you'd call a 'straight' thriller, certainly by Fincher's standards, anyhow. There aren't any devilish twists, it's not overly dark either, and some of it is fairly predictable. Koepp is guilty of borrowing certain elements from similar films in this genre, but not
                          so much that it spoils our enjoyment. Technically though, the movie is outstanding. The camerawork is superb throughout, and as we sweep effortlessly around the many floors of the house, it's difficult to tell just where the gloomy set ends and the CGI begins. Character-wise, Jodie Foster is unsurprisingly given the most development, while the three burglars range from interesting to clichéd. Replacing Nicole Kidman at the eleventh hour, Foster gives a believable performance as a mother first overcoming a messy divorce, and then desperately trying to protect her daughter from danger. Of the burglars, the underrated Forrest Whitaker is the most impressive as the 'good villain', playing him well enough to gain audience sympathy for his situation. The other two are your typical movie bad guys ? Jared Leto plays the motor-mouthed guy without a clue, while Dwight Yoakam is the quiet, unhinged type who you just know could snap at any moment. Once Meg and Sarah are behind the solid-steel door of the panic room, a game of cat-and-mouse begins as the three intruders attempt to flush them out. The tension doesn't let up from the moment of the break-in, and I'd have to say this is the first time in a while I've been so transfixed by a film for the entire first hour. Fincher's direction is exhilarating, and Howard Shore's atmospheric score is entirely appropriate to the themes of the movie. Unfortunately, the clichés in the script let 'Panic Room' down somewhat in the second half, but thankfully the superior performances from Foster and Whitaker are enough to save it. I'd definitely recommend this film to anyone interested in seeing a well-made and interesting thriller, and I'm sure if you're a fan of David Fincher's you'll have already booked your tickets. Having said that, it doesn't really compare to the terrific 'Se7en', and it'll be interesting to see if Fincher can achie
                          ve that level of excellence again. After this film though, he's bound to get a few more offers coming his way.

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                          • 24 / TV Programme / 1 Reading / 60 Ratings
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                            28.03.2002 04:55
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                            Pop quiz. It's past midnight, your daughter's gone missing, you work for a counter terrorist unit and you've just got word that an attempt will be made on the life of a leading presidential candidate within the next twenty-four hours. What'd you do? In federal agent Jack Bauer's case, you get on with it. Working for the government funded Counter Terrorist Unit, he must prevent the assassination of Senator David Palmer, the first African-American with a real chance of getting into the White House, while also trying to identify a possible mole in his own team. Meanwhile, Jack's daughter Kim has disappeared, leaving his estranged wife Teri to search for her on the dark and dangerous streets of Los Angeles. This all happens in the first hour of the new American TV show '24' - between the hours of 12 midnight and 1 AM. The novelty of the show, if you will, is that each episode follows events as they happen in real time. I don't think I've been as engrossed in a television programme such as this since the first season of the excellent 'Murder One' first hit our screens around seven years ago. Already there are the multiple plot lines and characters that will surely become even more complicated, but also the indication that their relationships are strongly intertwined. The show overcomes the inherent problem of showing parallel storylines in real time by making use of a split-screen technique that allows us to follow events simultaneously. Far from being distracting, this actually furthers the tension of each episode, and is perhaps even more effective at showing the passing of time than the digital clock that regularly appears on-screen. Keifer Sutherland in the lead role is impressive. He recently picked up a Golden Globe for his performance in '24', and it's certainly he who holds the show together in these early episodes. The rest of the cast is made up of unknowns or the type of act
                            ors you know you recognise, but can't remember what they've been in before. This is effective in keeping us guessing as to whom we can trust, but also allows the characters more believably, in much the same way as the casting of lesser known actors in 'Band of Brothers' worked so well. After four episodes, most of the characters are well established, and it's now the ever-moving plot that's driving the series. It's a credit to the editing work on '24' that so little exposition was needed at the beginning of the series, and with the tension and cliff-hangers in all the appropriate places, the viewer is on the edge of their seat by the end of each episode. As the final few seconds pass on the digital display, there's a definite feeling that more will be built upon in the next instalment, and before you know it you're hooked. At present this format is working well, but it'll certainly be interesting to see how the writers maintain our interests over the remaining 20 hours. Already, '24' is showing signs of slight predictability in the episode structure, and of course it's biggest strength - the ongoing relationship between the viewer and the characters - is also it's biggest weakness in terms of audience figures. Like 'Murder One', it will become increasingly difficult to pick up new viewers as the series progresses; but if you haven't tuned in yet, you're in luck. The BBC are repeating the first 4 episodes back-to-back this Saturday (March 30th) - the perfect opportunity to catch up with this promising show before you fall too far behind. Episodes are broadcast on BBC2 at 10 PM on Sundays, with repeats every Friday on BBC Choice.

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                            • The Truman Show (DVD) / DVD / 1 Reading / 66 Ratings
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                              17.02.2002 01:43
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                              Who'd have thought such a programme could become so addictive? Essentially all we get to see on 'The Truman Show' are the day-to-day events in the life of Truman, a regular guy living on idyllic Seahaven Island. Of course, the pièce de résistance of the show is that Seahaven is actually a massive set populated by actors and other extras, the true nature of which only Truman is unaware. Thus, 'storylines' can be introduced as and when the writers see fit, but the real appeal of the show is Truman Burbank himself. Chosen from a number of unwanted children at birth, Truman became the first child to be legally adopted by a corporation, and since that time his every move has been followed by millions of viewers. Since the show's inception, the technology employed has gradually advanced, to the point where a camera the size of a pinhead can now be used to broadcast events in Seahaven to a 24-hour channel. In fact, there are now thousands of cameras scattered around the town, ensuring we never miss a second of Truman's life. Of course, the most talked about moment since the show was first aired was the re-introduction of Truman's long-lost father, who apparently drowned at sea 22 years previously. This, along with several smaller happenings, caused Truman to question the reality of his surroundings for the very first time. For those who didn't see this marvellous piece of televisual drama when it first aired, the re-runs and 'Best Of' tapes aren't far away. The eventual conclusion, which I won't spoil here, is one that will stick long in your mind, having already gone down as the most-watched moment of television ever. There is so much to praise about 'The Truman Show', and yet there's also much to debate. A small minority started the 'Free Truman' campaign - questioning the morals in confining Truman to the studio that is Seahaven. The enigmatic Christof, creator and overall
                              controller of the programme, dismissed such claims by (correctly) stating that Seahaven is really a much nicer place than the real world. Still, the arguments were never entirely quashed, and they'd certainly be taken into account should a similar show be planned in the future. As the first of its kind, 'The Truman Show' became a milestone in television broadcasting, as well as an example of perfect merchandising - at its peak, the corporation made profits that rivalled the GNP of some small countries. Product placement also plays a big role in the show's financing, with every prop and piece of wardrobe available to buy from the 'Truman Catalogue'. Additionally, the characters in the programme regularly endorse products on-air - often to comical effect. These, as well as the highlights tapes that still sell remarkably well, were all essential for funding such an extravagant project as 'The Truman Show'. I hate to think just how many items of Truman memorabilia there are around the world now - you probably have some in your own home. The show itself though, is surely the centrepiece. Truman himself was perfectly suited to entertainment... even if he was unaware of that fact himself. With a likeable personality and quirky sense of humour, he endeared himself to a worldwide audience for many years. For those of you who missed this remarkable show, I can highly recommend a visit to your local video store, or a check of the TV listings for the next re-run. Guaranteed to make a good afternoon, good evening or good night!

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                              • Oscar Predictions 2002 / Archive Movie / 0 Readings / 48 Ratings
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                                10.02.2002 01:21
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                                Ah, it's nearly that time of year again. Yes, once more that festival of razzmatazz, histrionics and shameless backslapping that is the Academy Awards is almost upon us. For some reason, they're held in the highest esteem by those in 'the business', and with the nominations soon to be announced, everyone in Hollywood (and beyond) will be dreaming of getting their hands on one of those little guys. No, not Tom Cruise - an Oscar. Even more so than last year's awards, there isn't an obvious winner in the main Best Picture category, although some films are now almost guaranteed a nomination. Living in England, as most of us do, a lot of the hype so far surrounds movies that haven't yet reached our shores. Recent releases 'In the Bedroom' and 'Gosford Park' feature strongly, whilst the upcoming 'Ali' and 'A Beautiful Mind' open in the coming weeks. On the flip side, 'Memento', seen here in late 2000, is also in the running, having received a March 2001 release in America. - - - BEST PICTURE - - - At the moment, it's looking like an increasingly open race. While many see 'The Fellowship of the Ring' taking the honours, it's my feeling that the Academy won't go with another epic, following last year's winner, 'Gladiator'. This leaves a number of smaller-scale pictures in with a chance, with the frontrunner at the moment being 'A Beautiful Mind', starring Russell Crowe and directed by Ron "I used to be in Happy Days" Howard. A story about a schizophrenic mathematician may not sound all that great, but it's just the kind of movie that does well at the Oscars, and with Russell Crowe's much praised performance, it's a certainty for a nomination, especially following its Golden Globe win last month. Other virtually guaranteed nods are 'The Fellowship of the Ring' and the Todd Field drama, 'In the Bedroom
                                9;. Even based purely on their performances at other awards ceremonies, I can safely predict the inclusion of these three films. That leaves two more slots up for grabs. I'd personally love 'Memento' to sneak in there, but it almost certainly won't happen. Not only was it released early last year, and thus ironically it may be forgotten, the film also has a complex story and structure that is likely to put off many voters. Another that will put off some is 'Moulin Rouge', but this has a much better chance of being there come awards night. Others in with a chance are 'Gosford Park', 'Black Hawk Down' and 'Mulholland Dr' (although surely David Lynch is far too strange for the Academy!). 'Moulin Rouge' is the most likely of these five (plus, it was my favourite film of 2001), and I hope it goes on to some success. I can see the final spot going to 'Black Hawk Down', mainly because of Ridley Scott, but politics will also play a part, and the heroism and bravery on display by American troops will lift this picture above the rest of the pack. My predictions then: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring A Beautiful Mind In the Bedroom Moulin Rouge Black Hawk Down PREDICTED WINNER: A Beautiful Mind WILDCARD: Memento - - - BEST ACTOR - - - After his Golden Globe win, and numerous other accolades, Russell Crowe is a lock here for his third consecutive Best Actor nomination. As I haven't yet seen 'A Beautiful Mind', I can't comment on the quality of his performance myself, but after seeing him in 'L.A. Confidential', 'The Insider', and later, 'Gladiator', he definitely shows the kind of talent that can win the award again. But who will be Crowe's fellow contenders in this strongly led category? Denzel Washington is a hot favourite for his turn in 'Training Day', whil
                                e Gene Hackman must also be in with a chance after his Golden Globe win for 'The Royal Tenenbaums'. Billy Bob Thornton was quietly impressive in 'The Man Who Wasn't There', but he may be forced out of contention by the likes of Tom Wilkinson, Will Smith and Guy Pearce. If there's going to a surprise here, let's not forget Jack Nicholson's superb work in 'The Pledge' - although so far unrecognised on the awards circuit, he is loved by the Academy and could pull off a big shock by landing a nomination. Pearce too, would also be a surprise, but I have a funny feeling he may slip in here, especially as the talk surrounding 'Memento' grows. My predictions: Russell Crowe (A Beautiful Mind) Denzel Washington (Training Day) Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom) Gene Hackman (The Royal Tenenbaums) Guy Pearce (Memento) PREDICTED WINNER: Russell Crowe (A Beautiful Mind) WILDCARD: Jack Nicholson (The Pledge) - - - BEST ACTRESS - - - One of the biggest questions in the leading actress category is which of Nicole Kidman's two excellent performances will be included in the nominations. As the rules state only one can be entered, will it be the hotly tipped 'Moulin Rouge', or her better (in my opinion) role in 'The Others'? Studio influence and her recent Golden Globe win suggest the former, which is a shame as it's the lesser performance of the two. Perhaps the favourite to win is Sissy Spacek for 'In the Bedroom' (a film which has certainly drawn rave reviews for its acting), and if Kidman does go for her 'Moulin Rouge' performance, I can see it backfiring. Judi Dench is also likely to be in the running (she always seems to be), as is Naomi Watts for 'Mulholland Dr', despite the uncertainty of whether she should be nominated here or in the Best Supporting Actress category. So, if Kidman goes with 'The
                                Others', she may well win here, but as it's unlikely, Spacek should pick up her second Oscar, along with her SIXTH Best Actress nomination. My predictions: Nicole Kidman (Moulin Rouge) Sissy Spacek (In the Bedroom) Judi Dench (Iris) Halle Berry (Monster's Ball) Renee Zellweger (Bridget Jones's Diary) PREDICTED WINNER: Sissy Spacek (In the Bedroom) WILDCARD: Naomi Watts (Mulholland Dr) - - - BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - - - In the last few months, Ben Kingsley was the hot favourite for this award, but following Jim Broadbent's win at the Globes, it's a little more open. Adding Steve Buscemi, Jon Voight and Ed Harris to the equation makes this one of the strongest categories. My personal favourite is Tony Shalhoub for his hilarious turn in 'The Man Who Wasn't There', while Joe Pantoliano's sinister performance in 'Memento' was also highly memorable. Not having seen 'Iris', I'm not sure Broadbent will win here as well as at the Globes, but he was effective enough in 'Moulin Rouge'. I expect Kingsley to take the award though - he was mesmerising in 'Sexy Beast', and even though he faces strong competition; Ian McKellen will also be there or thereabouts; I still think he'll go home with the Oscar. My predictions: Ben Kingsley (Sexy Beast) Jim Broadbent (Iris) Steve Buscemi (Ghost World) Jon Voight (Ali) Ian McKellen (The Fellowship of the Ring) PREDICTED WINNER: Ben Kingsley (Sexy Beast) WILDCARD: Tony Shalhoub (The Man Who Wasn't There) - - - BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS - - - Almost ten years ago, Marisa Tomei pulled off one of the biggest shocks in recent Oscar history by snatching the Best Supporting Actress trophy for her scene-stealing performance in 'My Cousin Vinny'. It's now odds on that she'll receive her second nomination this year, a
                                s a single mother in Todd Field's 'In the Bedroom'. Whether she'll win again is another question, as there's a lot more talent waiting in the wings… just as there was in 1993. For starters, Jennifer Connelly has already won no less than six awards for her turn in Oscar front-runner, 'A Beautiful Mind'. Maggie Smith and Helen Mirren have also been doing rather well - both nailing BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations for their work on 'Gosford Park'. In fact, this category seems the easiest to predict in terms of nominations, but as for a winner, it's anyone's guess! I think the final spot will be between Kate Winslet ('Iris') and Cameron Diaz ('Vanilla Sky'), with Winslet just taking it. Although Diaz was the best performer in 'Vanilla Sky', if she couldn't get a nomination for 'Being John Malkovich', I really can't see her getting one here… but there's always a chance. My predictions: Kate Winslet (Iris) Marisa Tomei (In the Bedroom) Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind) Helen Mirren (Gosford Park) Maggie Smith (Gosford Park) PREDICTED WINNER: Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind) WILDCARD: Cameron Diaz (Vanilla Sky) - - - BEST DIRECTOR - - - Perhaps one of the most interesting categories this year is for directing - reducing the field to just five nominations will certainly be tough. It's just so open, and there are many highly praised directors… Peter Jackson, Ron Howard, Baz Luhrmann, Todd Field, Robert Altman, Ridley Scott, David Lynch, etc. etc. etc. However, an interesting point to note is that in the last five years, all but one of the Best Picture nominees were also nominated for Best Director. I think Peter Jackson and Baz Luhrmann will definitely be there, and Ron Howard will pick up his first nomination too. Robert Altman will most likely be recognised as well, picking up h
                                is fifth Oscar nomination, although I can't see him winning here as he did at the Globes. This leaves a fifth spot that could go to any of Ridley Scott, Todd Field, David Lynch, Christopher Nolan or Michael Mann. Scott seems the most likely, especially as 'Black Hawk Down' sounds suspiciously like a "director's movie" to me. My predictions: Peter Jackson (The Fellowship of the Ring) Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind) Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge) Robert Altman (Gosford Park) Ridley Scott (Black Hawk Down) PREDICTED WINNER: Peter Jackson (The Fellowship of the Ring) WILDCARD: Christopher Nolan (Memento) - - - BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY - - - Even if 'Memento' fails to be nominated in any other category, surely it's a lock here. Christopher Nolan's complex and compelling screenplay has featured in almost every awards ceremony this year, and is certainly my favourite to win. Interestingly, it is eligible as an original screenplay, and will likely face competition from 'The Royal Tenenbaums', 'The Man Who Wasn't There' and 'Moulin Rouge'. My predictions: Christopher Nolan (Memento) Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) Joel Coen, Ethan Coen (The Man Who Wasn't There) Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce (Moulin Rouge) Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson (The Royal Tenenbaums) PREDICTED WINNER: Christopher Nolan (Memento) WILDCARD: David Lynch (Mulholland Dr) - - - BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY - - - The brave and mostly successful effort at bringing 'The Lord of the Rings' to the screen will undoubtedly score a nomination here, as will Akiva Goldsman's screenplay for 'A Beautiful Mind', as long as the Academy don't hold his previous work ('Batman & Robin', 'Lost in Space') against him. My predictions: Robert Festinger, Todd Field (In the Bedroom) Ak
                                iva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Frances Walsh (The Fellowship of the Ring) Daniel Clowes, Terry Zwigoff (Ghost World) Ken Nolan, Steven Zaillian (Black Hawk Down) PREDICTED WINNER: Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) WILDCARD: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Roger Schulman, Joe Stillman (Shrek) Of the other awards, the new Best Animated Feature award should be interesting, with the race between 'Shrek' and 'Monsters Inc' in particular being well contended. Also of note is the Best Foreign Language Film category, as audience favourite 'Amelie' has recently been losing out to the more critically acclaimed 'No Man's Land'. The technical and music awards will most likely be split between the visually impressive 'The Fellowship of the Ring' and the vivid and colourful 'Moulin Rouge', whose set designs alone will surely be honoured. Brit Roger Deakins should run away with the Best Cinematography award for his stunning work on 'The Man Who Wasn't There', whilst the editing category should definitely include 'Memento', whose splintered structure surely made for one of the toughest editing jobs of the year. Of course, I'm probably completely wrong in a lot of my predictions, as it's especially difficult when I haven't seen all of the films in contention. Still, the obvious choices are bound to feature largely, and if you want to see just how (in)accurate my selections were, the nominations will be announced on February 12th.

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                                • 2001 / Archive Movie / 0 Readings / 41 Ratings
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                                  28.01.2002 03:32
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                                  Let's face it, 2001 hasn't been the greatest year for Hollywood movies. Fortunately though, there were enough of the independent, smaller budget films to make up for that. I had to go all the way back to January to find a few of the choices for my top ten, but this may have been down to me missing a lot of the well-praised movies of the year ('Amelie' and 'Ghost World' for starters). As has been noted elsewhere, it's quite difficult to compile a list of the best films of the year when you haven't actually seen every film released! However, as well as missing some good movies, I was also subjected to the Hollywood disappointments of the summer, of which 'Pearl Harbour' was by no means the worst. Thankfully, there were a number of movies that I did enjoy, although it should come as no surprise when I tell you that 'Lara Croft: Tomb Raider', 'The Mummy Returns' and the shockingly bad 'The Gift' won't be featuring in my list. Still, there definitely were some bright spots to the year, and with a few great movies among them, there's plenty to write home about. 10. BEST IN SHOW A comedy about a national dog show perhaps isn't the strongest premise for a movie, even less so for an enjoyable one. However, writer/director Christopher Guest (previously responsible for rock-spoof, 'This is Spinal Tap') employs a mockumentary style that elicits laughter in a subtle and effective manner. Centring on the increasingly eccentric owners of five of the competing dogs, we are treated to some of the funniest improvisation and character work I've seen in a while, and Guest employs it perfectly. There are plenty of quotable lines, with perhaps the best scenes going to the ludicrously out-of-place commentator Fred Willard, who deals non-sequiturs like there's no tomorrow. Perhaps what's most surprising is how co- commentator Jim Piddock mana
                                  ges to keep a straight face. Of the actual contestants, the best performances come from Eugene Levy as Gerry Fleck, a Terrier owner with two left feet, and from Guest himself as Harlan Pepper, a Bloodhound owner with a talent for ventriloquism and "naming nuts". However, the real winner here is the witty and hilarious writing. 9. THIRTEEN DAYS It's not entirely surprising that '13 Days' didn't do that well at the UK box office - after all, from the trailer it appeared to be about a load of politicians shouting at each other, and the added 'bonus' of Kevin Costner probably condemned it before it had even opened. Remarkably though, this is Costner's best film for years, and despite the slow moving on-screen action, the obvious tension surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis is more than enough to keep the pace at an energetic level. Roger Donaldson directs the tension superbly, and for those who have seen his little-known thriller 'No Way Out', this will come as no surprise. That we know the ultimate outcome of the crisis is inconsequential; in fact, it goes to show just how well the screenplay has been developed. You'll be rooting for the situation to end peacefully, and you'll also see quite how difficult a position John and Robert Kennedy were put in for those tense thirteen days, as the threat of nuclear war grew ever more likely. 8. THE PLEDGE What starts out as an apparently simple story - a retiring cop promises the parents of a murdered girl that he will find her killer - slowly descends into something altogether more complex and disturbing. Despite the somewhat clichéd premise, it's about the only thing that is predictable in this movie, with the ending in particular being far from your typical Hollywood resolution. And of course, that's part of what makes it so good. As director, Sean Penn is very impressive, but the standout (possibly ca
                                  reer-best) performance from Jack Nicholson is what sticks in the mind the longest. How he hasn't been showered with awards is beyond me, and if the Academy makes one surprise decision this year, I hope it'll be to at least nominate Nicholson for an Oscar. His portrayal of anger, determination and ultimate obsession makes for thoroughly compelling viewing, and not until the very end are the importance of the opening shots made clear. This is a film that many won't appreciate, but for those who enjoy challenging cinema, it's one of the year's best. 7. THE OTHERS Definitely the surprise hit of the year, this low budget traditional ghost story grossed almost $100 million at the US box-office, and more than £10 million here in the UK. Without doubt, the highlight of the movie is the outstanding Nicole Kidman - yes, she's even better than her turn in 'Moulin Rouge' (which will certainly win her more awards). Kidman's utterly believable performance here is helped by the masterful direction from Alejandro Amenábar, who makes the tricky art of building tension and atmosphere look easy. The story itself is uncomplicated enough; it's essentially about a mother and her children, who gradually discover the huge house they live in is haunted by ghosts. Don't worry though, it's anything but formulaic. 6. THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE Although it took me ages in getting around to watching this film, I'm glad I did in the end. A Coen Brothers' production is normally a must-see for me now - they're two of the most consistent American filmmakers working today. What strikes you first about 'The Man Who Wasn't There' is the quite brilliant black-and-white cinematography by Roger Deakins (who also, coincidentally, shot 'Thirteen Days'). Combined with the wonderful lighting set-up (Joel Coen clearly knows what he's doing there), the film is a jo
                                  y to watch, and that's before you even consider the central performance from Billy Bob Thornton, and the film-noir inspired plot that involves murder, blackmail and flying saucers. It's a little strange in places, but the typical Coen Brothers' humour is excellent, mainly when delivered in a dry, deadpan voiceover by Thornton, although special mention must also go to Tony Shalhoub. In a brilliant supporting performance, he plays probably the only lawyer to ever use the Heisenburg Uncertainty Principle as a defence for murder. Not quite up to the standard of their greatest movies ('The Big Lebowski' is one of my favourites), but definitely one of the best of the year. 5. THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING Does it really need any introduction? While I wasn't as overwhelmed with this adaptation as many people clearly were, I do recognise its obvious winning credentials. The overall look and feel of the movie is outstanding, with some marvellous location shoots recreating the depth and beauty of Middle Earth perfectly. The performances are good too, with the major actors seemingly well suited to their characters. Peter Jackson's direction is also effective, working from a screenplay that was nothing if not brave - after all, bringing Tolkien's massive work to the screen was never going to be easy. And that's really the only problem with the film. In trying to cover so much story, and filling in so much exposition, there was always going to be something missed out. Unfortunately, it's the depth of the characters that is sacrificed, with most simply becoming caricatures that further the plot with little or no explanation. Of course, with this being the first of three films, I would hope these thinly developed characters would be fleshed out more in the next instalment. This is, however, my only major criticism of the movie, and besides, it's more of an event than a film
                                  , anyway - you just have to see it, especially if you've read the book. 4. TRAFFIC Whilst the original television mini-series was arguably better, mainly due to the longer running time, this movie adaptation is nevertheless worthy of high praise. Steven Soderbergh picked up a Best Director Oscar for his work here, but perhaps more interesting is his cinematography credit. Following three stories along different points of the drug supply chain, a distinct method is employed for filming each one. The sepia-toned vision of Mexico's front-line contrasts starkly with the blue-washed images of Washington as a government-appointed drug czar fights the narcotics trade at home and abroad. The casting, and therefore acting, is virtually flawless. Benicio Del Toro won all the plaudits, but the performances of Don Cheadle, Miguel Ferrer and Catherine Zeta Jones are also impressive. The real star though, is Soderbergh. Like the series before it, 'Traffic' gives an honest and unflinching look at drug use, and pulls no punches when showing just how difficult it is to stop the illegal trade. Because of this, it isn't an easy film to watch, but I still recommend it for anyone who can appreciate good filmmaking. This is Soderbergh's best movie so far. 3. ALMOST FAMOUS Easily one of the best and most enjoyable feel-good movies of the year. Cameron Crowe writes and directs this story of young William Miller (Patrick Fugit) as he goes on tour with a rock group and on the way discovers as much about himself as the people he is following. The soundtrack is excellent, the acting universally impressive, and the writing thoroughly entertaining. One thing is certain: it would be very hard not to like 'Almost Famous'. The characters are interesting and funny: Frances McDormand is brilliant as William's overprotecting mother; Kate Hudson shines whenever she's on the screen as a groupie who fol
                                  lows the band everywhere; Philip Seymour Hoffman (in a very small role) is perfect as music critic Lester Bangs; and Billy Crudup gives a complex and subtle performance as Russell Hammond, the band's lead guitarist. Cameron Crowe shows, as he did in 'Jerry Maguire' and 'Vanilla Sky', that he is more than capable of bringing out the best in his actors, and he can also bring together a likeable and appropriate soundtrack. 'Almost Famous' is undeniably a feel-good movie, but that's one of its biggest strengths. 2. CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON It's pretty unusual for a foreign, subtitled movie to be successful at the box-office. 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' took more than $120 million in the US alone, and for good reason. The film contains examples of beautiful cinematography, stunning martial arts choreography, and a rousing musical score from Oscar-winner Tan Dun. The story itself concerns the long-standing love between warrior Li Mu Bai (Yun-Fat Chow) and Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), against a backdrop of the theft and subsequent search for a mythical and powerful sword. Most of note in the film are the remarkable sword-fight sequences, in which the warriors defy gravity while flying across rooftops, standing on slender tree branches and climbing walls in a single bound. The best of these though is the heated confrontation between Shu Lien and Jen (Zhang Ziyi) in a weapon-filled dojo, and it's here that Wo Ping Yuen's inspired fight choreography really comes to the fore. This isn't simply a martial-arts movie, though. There's also a much deeper current running through the story, and the thought-provoking ending is one of the most poignant of recent memory. 1. MOULIN ROUGE "Spectacular! Spectacular!" shout several of the characters in this movie, and that's exactly what Baz Lurhmann's colourful musical is, as well as being
                                  my Film of the Year. Following aspiring writer Ewan McGregor on his exploration of the bohemian nightlife of turn-of-the-century Paris, Lurhmann directs the action with a flourish. Fast cuts, spectacular music sequences, and some wonderful costume and set-design set this movie out from the crowd. Nicole Kidman is simply the icing on the cake, and even though diamonds are her best friend, she manages to sparkle all on her own. The story itself is actually the least special thing about 'Moulin Rouge', but somehow that doesn't really matter. You won't be worrying about plot while the pace is kept so fast, and with the music and set pieces coming thick and fast, the picture draws you in until you're truly involved. Admittedly, it does become rather slow in the final act, but that's forgivable when the director is audacious enough to provide re-workings of modern pop-songs that surprisingly fit the setting. Madonna's 'Like a Virgin' is used as a sales pitch, Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' is chanted by an enthusiastic crowd, and to top it all, 'Roxanne' by The Police is adapted into a tango that intersects a crucial turn in the story. Baz Lurhmann certainly doesn't do things by halves. I resisted seeing 'Moulin Rouge' at the cinema because I thought it wasn't going to be my type of film. Therefore, I was very surprised by quite how much I enjoyed it when watching the DVD. If you can still catch it on the big screen (a few cinemas are still showing it), I'd highly recommend doing so, although seeing the movie at all is a must. Spectacular. ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ So there we are, then - my top ten films of 2001. I'm sure plenty of you will disagree with my choices, or my failure to include certain films that you enjoyed. But hey, we can't all like the same things, huh? Do let me know in the comments section though, as I'll be interested to see which
                                  of the films I missed are worth watching once they arrive on DVD.

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