Archive for 1999

One More Kiss * * * *

Posted in Drama, Romance with tags on October 25, 2012 by Mark Walker

20121025-171934.jpg

Director: Vadim Jean.
Screenplay: S.A. Halewood.
Starring: Valerie Edmond, Gerard Butler, James Cosmo, Valerie Gogan, Carl Proctor, Danny Nussbaum, Dilys Miller, Ron Guthrie.

Over the course of the next couple of days I’ll be posting a little trilogy of Scottish films that will have, no doubt, passed many people by and are certainly worthy of some more attention. I’ll begin with this 1999 film set in the Scottish borders that although it falls into a particular romantic genre, it dares to do things differently and succeeds admirably.

Sarah Hopson (Valerie Edmond) has been living a successful, high-flying lifestyle in New York but when she finds out that she has a terminal illness, she heads back home to Scotland to prepare for her death. When she arrives, she reacquaints with her childhood sweetheart Sam Murray (Gerard Butler). Sam now runs a restaurant and has since married but Sarah approaches his wife (Valerie Gogan) to ask that she spend time with him before her death – causing everyone some mixed emotions.

The film opens with a lone female, arms aloft, teetering on the edge of a skyscraper. It’s a powerful piece of imagery and an opening scene that sets the tone of this heartfelt tale. This is not a film about death but about life, love and relationships. It explores the mistakes and regrets but also delivers a chance of redemption. It’s in the human relationships that this film finds it’s strength. It’s not just about Sarah and her need to tie up loose ends but it confidently explores the effects on the people around her; she brings both a mixture of pleasure and pain to the other characters. At times she can come across as arrogant and selfish yet she also brings hope and instills a belief in people to live their lives fully. This is a film that wears it’s heart on it’s sleeve and for the most part, the performances are great. It’s interesting watching a young Gerard Butler and Valerie Gogan as his suffering wife is fantastic. James Cosmo is also especially memorable as Sarah’s cantankerous, rough diamond father. However, Valerie Edmond as the lead, looked a little stretched at times which I just couldn’t understand; in some scenes she was absolutely superb and in others she was quite poor. This could be down to her delivery of the dialogue though. I tend to be a little harsh on Scottish performers as sometimes the dialogue isn’t delivered properly. Most Scots have a certain slang nature to their dialect and when you hear words uttered with correct English pronunciation it jars a little. Understandably this has to be the case, so as to appeal to a wider audience but as a Scotsman, it seems out of place. That being said, Edmond still gets the job done and although some of the idiom may lost, the film still retains it’s subtle Scottish humour and delivers moments of highly impressive, realistic drama.

Despite some small inconsistencies this is still a beautifully played, poignant and heartfelt life/love story. It’s not normally the type of film I’d be drawn to but I was impressed with it’s execution.

Next up… “Dear Frankie“.

Mark Walker

20121025-172012.jpg

A Midsummer Night’s Dream * * *

Posted in Comedy, Fantasy, Romance with tags on January 29, 2012 by Mark Walker

20120129-181827.jpg

Director: Michael Hoffman.
Screenplay: Michael Hoffman.
Starring: Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfeiffer, Calista Flockhart, Stanley Tucci, Rupert Everett, Christian Bale, Dominic West, Anna Friel, David Strathairn, Sophie Marceau, Roger Rees, Bill Irwin, Bernard Hill, John Sessions, Sam Rockwell.

As a rule, I dont like to watch any William Shakespeare adaptations until I have read the play first. Having just finished reading this classic comedy/love story, I was eager to see it on screen like I am of any of the screen adaptations of his wonderful works. This however, isn’t as good as the great master deserves.

While preparing for the wedding of Duke Theseus (David Strathairn) to Hippolyta (Sophie Marceau) a group of actors including Bottom the Weaver (Kevin Kline) rehearse an amature play for the forthcoming betrothal while forbidden lovers Hermia (Anna Friel) and Lysander (Dominic West) run away together, pursued by Demetrius (Christian Bale) and Helena (Calista Flockhart). Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, Faerie King Oberon (Rupert Everett) wants to get at his wife Queen Titania (Michelle Pfeiffer). He dispatches malicious ‘sprite’ Puck (Stanley Tucci) on a mission to humiliate his Queen. En route Puck can’t resist messing with the mortals lost in the woods also, ensuring all sorts of confusion.

Director Michael Hoffman’s take transports us from ancient Greece to late-19th-century Italy (complete with newly invented bicycles) and I have to say, it works. The sets and costumes are absolutely stunning, drawing you into the magical and mystical land of the faeries. He addresses it with the same playful tone that Kenneth Branagh captured for his adaptation of “Much Ado About Nothing” and also like that, uses the same mix of both American and British actors who are perfectly suited to their roles. It’s a lush and extravagant production, infused with Shakespeare’s humour but something doesn’t quite click. The mock Pyramus play at end is way overlong and almost grinds the film to halt. The only positive is that this is when the underused Sam Rockwell gets a chance to contribute something, but by then it’s too little too late. As David Strathairn’s ‘Theseus’ says around this time “No epilogue I pray you…” if only he’d said this 15 mins earlier, we could have had a satisfying ending.

It’s classic Shakespeare that, shockingly, hasn’t had a decent adaptation yet. This is the best so far, but for fans of the great playwrite only.
It captures the look but doesn’t quite capture the heart.

Mark Walker

20120204-143421.jpg

A Civil Action * * *

Posted in Drama with tags on January 29, 2012 by Mark Walker

20120129-172134.jpg

Director: Steven Zaillian.
Screenplay: Steven Zaillian.
Starring: John Travolta, Robert Duvall, James Gandolfini, William H. Macy, Tony Shalhoub, John Lithgow, Kathleen Quinlan, Zeljko Ivanek, Dan Hedaya, Sydney Pollack, Josh Pais, Edward Herrmann, Harry Dean Stanton, Kathy Bates, Stephen Fry.

“Schindler’s List” scribe Steven Zaillian seems to craft meticulous pieces of work. It’s hard to put into words but his films seem to have substance. He doesn’t try to cut corners, which is precisely his downfall here. There’s too much weight that, despite an excellent beggining, it gets bogged down and ultimately hoisted by it’s own petard.

A group of parents, whose children have died via pollution, enlist Jan Schlichtmann (John Travolta), a hot-shot ambulance chasing lawyer to fight their case against two huge corporations. But Schlichtmann soon realises that he may have met his match in opposing lawyer, Jerome Facher (Robert Duvall), with defeat possibly spelling financial ruin for him and his firm.

This was only Zaillain’s second film behind the camera and although there’s much to admire, he still has much to learn. The problem he has, is with the pace. It was the same mistake he made later with his star studded “All the Kings Men”. He has amassed an abundance of quality actors fleshed them out with substantial characterisations, yet they don’t get a chance to shine. There is too much legal jargon going on for any of them to leap to the forefront. Duvall and Travolta duel with the viewers delight but the impressive supporting ensemble are wasted. Still, it’s a cut above a John Grisham adaptation and if you don’t mind a bit of legal mumbo jumbo and consider yourself a fan of slow talking legal drama’s, then this will certainly appeal.

Based on a true story and treads a similiar path that “Erin Brockovich” would tread a couple of years later. I’d have to say that the Steven Soderbergh/Julia Roberts film is the better of the two though.

Mark Walker

20120204-143840.jpg

The Astronaut’s Wife *

Posted in Science Fiction, thriller with tags on January 29, 2012 by Mark Walker

20120129-151620.jpg

Director: Rand Ravich.
Screenplay: Rand Ravich.
Starring: Johnny Depp, Charlize Theron, Joe Morton Clea DuVall, Donna Murphy, Samantha Egger, Nick Cassavetes, Gary Grubbs, Tom Noonan.

Johnny Depp is one of those actors who has consistantly made brave choices throughout his career. There are few actors like him and although some of his choices work better than others, this is one that I’m sure he’d rather forget.

Jillian (Charlize Theron) lovingly greets her space-rocketeer husband Spencer (Johnny Depp) home from a mission, but after a mishap she soon begins to suspect that Spencer is not the same man and fears she may have been impregnated by an alien.

Although this a career move Depp would rather forget, he can’t be entirely blamed for the end product. He’s not in it enough to make any major impact and whenever he is, he’s reduced to a few sinister, brooding facial expressions. Theron’s character is the main focus here and despite her attempts at depth, she can’t save the film from being mind-numbingly boring and uneventful. She also sports a short blonde hairdo to further fuel the comparisons with “Rosemary’s Baby” during her pregnant paranoia. This is one of those straight to DVD films that remind you why not all films deserve a mainstream release. It’s pretty dire to say the least and you’re more likely to find more suspense while waiting on a bus. Quite possibly the worst of Johnny Depp’s films.

Despite the lead actors involved, steer well clear of this stinker. Do yourself a favour and watch Roman Polanski’s aforementioned horror masterpiece instead. He’ll show you how it’s done.

Mark Walker

20120205-002440.jpg

Eyes Wide Shut * * * * 1/2

Posted in Drama, Mystery with tags on January 28, 2012 by Mark Walker

20120128-190018.jpg

Director: Stanley Kubrick.
Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, Frederic Raphael.
Starring: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack, Todd Field, Alan Cumming, Marie Richardson, Thomas Gibson, Vinessa Shaw, Rade Serbedzija, Leelee Sobieski, Fay Masterson.

Director Stanley Kubrick has without doubt, offered up some of the most thought provoking films throughout his career. He is renowndly fastidious and with this being one of the longest ever shoots in history to complete (it took over a year), Kubrick’s fastidious nature payed off.

Happily married New York City doctor, Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) appears to have the perfect life with his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman). When she admits that she had a potent sexual fantasy about a man she never met and was tempted to cheat on him, he is left reeling from shock, and goes out into the Manhattan night where he meets strange characters and enters into a world of sexual adventure for the first time in his life.

First off, I love how Kubrick can make a room feel. He has a knack for crafting a place or scene that is vast yet claustrophobic. He gives a place importance, and here it is no different. Despite being set in the vibrant sprawling nightlife of New York City, we seem enclosed in the character of Cruise’s tormented doctor. Kubrick managed the same effect in “The Shining” and it also brings the actors to the forefront and enhances their performances. Speaking of which, Cruise and Kidman are very brave and dynamic here. Their real life marriage (at the time) effectively seems to permeate the characters, giving a very intimate portrayal of a strained, unfulfilled relationship. Cruise in particular smolders on screen, always heavily weighted on. There is an escalating sense of foreboding and danger in the experiences of Dr. Harford. Are they his fantasies? Or are they the world around him, that he has been cloistered from, now that his sexual desires and imagination have been reawakened? This is a film that is most certainly not for all tastes but has been judged unfairly in my opinion. It’s not the explicit orgy that people expected, but a deeply surreal psychological exploration of sexual tension, paranoia and jealousy, that if viewed from a subconcious perspective, is highly rewarding.

A rich, provocative meditation on the human psyche and sexual desires, anchored by a excellent central peformance by Cruise. One of Kubrick’s finest and sadly his last.

Mark Walker

20120205-223757.jpg

Payback * * * *

Posted in Crime, Film-Noir, thriller with tags on January 26, 2012 by Mark Walker

20120126-233259.jpg

Director: Brian Helgeland.
Screenplay: Brian Helgeland.
Starring: Mel Gibson, Gregg Henry, Maria Bello, Deborah Kara Unger, Lucy Liu, David Paymer, John Glover, Bill Duke, Jack Conley, Freddy Rodriguez, William Devane, James Coburn, Kris Kristofferson.

“L.A. Confidential” screenwriter Brian Helgeland makes his directorial debut with this remake of John Boorman’s “Point Blank”. The commanding presence of Lee Marvin may be gone but this time we get an uncompromising, bad-ass Mel Gibson taking centre stage.

Armed robber Porter (Gibson), is double-crossed, shot in the back and left for dead by his ambitious partner Resnick (Gregg Henry) and junkie wife (Deborah Kara Unger), who also take $70,000 from him. Once the bullets are removed and he’s fighting fit again, he chases down a parade of low lives in a violent bid to get even and grab his share of the loot.

We are introduced to Porter during the opening credits as he steals from a homeless man, doesn’t tip his waitress, and basically just shows a mean-spirited disregard for everyone around him. He’s a deliciously nasty character and probably Gibson’s finest role to date. This is a gritty modern noir with everything you could possibly want. It has the voice-over, an anti-hero, arch enemies, femme fatales and also a sense of humour. Not to mention having a great seventies feel to it, and boasting three prominent seventies actors in William Devane, Kris Kristofferson & James Coburn as the crime lord’s Porter is out to get. Despite all this though, it seems everything I liked about this film was (surprisingly) the studio’s doing. Helgeland was sacked during the making of the film and as a result, he released his director’s cut at a later date. One of these studio additions is a wonderful monochromatic look with the colour desaturated, adding further weight to a Film-Noir. I haven’t seen Helgeland’s cut yet but I doubt it’ll change my opinion of this version and I never thought I’d find myself saying I like what a studio has done to a film. All the performances are delightfully sleazy or menacing with the highlights being Gregg Henry who lends some excellent support as Porter’s sleazy double-crossing partner and Gibson has never been better. Like a cross between the ruthlessness of his “Mad Max” and the craziness of his “Lethal Weapon” characters.

It may leave a bad taste for some but I found this to be an uncompromising and highly enjoyable guilty pleasure.

Mark Walker

20120212-120754.jpg

The Sixth Sense * * * *

Posted in Drama, Mystery with tags on January 17, 2012 by Mark Walker

20120117-205911.jpg

Director : M. Night Shyamalan.
Screenplay: M. Night Shyamalan.
Starring: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette, Olivia Williams, Donnie Wahlberg, Trevor Morgan.

Every once in a while a film comes along that instantly appeals to the public and becomes part of pop-culture “The Usual Suspects” and “The Shawshank Redemption” were a couple and “The Sixth Sense” is another.

It follows the story of Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) an 8 year old boy who is misunderstood by all around him. He seems withdrawn and lacks confidence. His mother Lynn (Toni Collette) cannot work out what the problem is and neither can child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis). Through time though, young Cole begins to confide in Dr. Crowe and reveals to him that he can “see dead people” and is in fact plagued by ghosts all around him that everyone else is unaware of.

This was the film that brought M. Night Shyamalan’s directing to everyone’s attention and still remains his best film. He has found it difficult to replicate the success he had with this one and it’s no surprise why. It is a brilliantly crafted ghost story with a genuinely surprising twist. Shyamalan doesn’t go for anything fancy or any unexpected fright techniques but rather allows his story and characters to unfold in their own time, which in turn allows us to care and invest in the film. Willis gives a very subtle and sympathetic performance, one of which he isn’t usually known for and the Oscar nominated Collette is outstanding and almost unrecognisable as the protective and loving mother. The real star of the show though is young Osment, also Oscar nominated, who is completely believable as the frightened and tormented child.

There’s nothing overly gorey or frightening about this film, just damn good storytelling and excellent use of atmosphere.

Mark Walker

20120215-153657.jpg

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,898 other followers