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Plenty (1985)
23 out of 28 people found the following review useful:
A Mesmerising Depiction Of The Power of Memory, 3 July 2004

PLENTY cast such a spell on me. It is one of those films which has a mood and tone all of its own. It is sombre, dreamy and elegaic. And it features a little seen, yet compelling and masterful central performance from Meryl Streep, who lights up the screen with the type of intelligence and female strength one laments the absence of in contemporary film.

Based on David Hare's play, PLENTY (like so much of his work) boasts wonderfully complex, multi-layered roles for women. Meryl Streep and Tracey Ullmann excel with the intelligent dialogue given to them by this incredible writer - and despite the plethora of strong male actors surrounding them, it is the women whose stories move and interest us the most.

What I love about PLENTY is that so much about it is anti-Hollywood. Its convoluted plot is often incoherent and dreamlike, its dependence upon memories and the co-existence of past and present present challenges for audiences who normally would be sign posted in the 'correct' direction. It has an impressionistic, hypnotic feel, and the film's characters, especially Susan, are unappologetic and potentially dislikeable people. Its narrative resoultion is ambiguous, refusing the closure of more traditional dramas. Here we have a film which refuses to pander to the demands of the mainstream, and for that it is to be applauded.

Is there anything new that any of us can say about Meryl Streep??? This is a must for admirers of the actress, and a must for anyone with a penchant for riveting, deeply intelligent acting. Meryl grabs the part by the throat, investing Susan with a compelling defiance, a fierce intelligence, a sensuality, and a restrained beauty. Watch out for the dinner party scene. I forgot there was anyone else in the room (a room which included Sir John Gielgud and Charles Dance!) Such command, such depth, and such naturalness. This is an actress of phenomenal depth and magnificent expression. And such wonderful chemistry with the other actors! (Even Charles Dance who reportedly was a bit of a diva on set!! I wonder if this helped to enhance the fiery antagonsim between them on screen?)

In sum, PLENTY is deeply complicated, but give it time, watch it more than once and you will be rewarded. For its thoughtful direction, its searing, intricate dialogue and its mesmerising acting - this is a film that deserves to be seen by much larger audiences. Bravo Queen Meryl!!

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Even Charming Julianne Can't Quite Save The Day!, 8 May 2004

We all know that when RomComs are done well they can be excellent. But when they just do not work, it's usually because (in my opinion) they don't offer anything new to widen the parameters of the genre, more serve up a composite mix of the multitude of romantic comedies we've all seen before - films engrained within our collective consciousness. LAWS OF ATTRACTION is one such film. As a self-confessed adorer of the divine Julianne Moore, and an armchair admirer of Mr Brosnan (Grrr ladies!!) I did have high hopes!

I don't think LAWS OF ATTRACTION is an out and out failure. It does have some moments of wit and sparkle. But the sad truth is the remainder of the film is simply too bland and mediocre to live up the exceptional charm of its stars.

Julianne Moore (looking absolutely beautiful as ever ... nice to see that lovely smile of her's after all the tears she shed on the big screen last year!) has an old fashioned effortless charm and grace, but her phenomenal talents as an actress of incredible range are not even tested here. Yet she struggles valiantly on, single-handedly making the film just about watchable (such is her power that had this film starred - as it could so easily have done - Sandra Bullock - I would not have seen it for free!) Pierce looks as debonair and dashing as he always does ... but doesn't really convince due largely to the clunky dialogue, lack lustre plot and wafer thin characterisation. The main problem with LAWS OF ATTRACTION is that laughs are few and far between and the script is not nearly sharp enough to stretch its co stars or its audience. I know comedy deals often in stereotypes, but really - the Ireland sections of the film seem to me 'Ireland for America' - parts that are so cliched one expects three leprechauns to dance across the screen.

If you love Julianne and/or Pierce, you might just get something from this. Otherwise I can't see much else to reccommend it, a crying shame when one considers the talent involved. How I hate to see Julianne wasted!!

112 out of 149 people found the following review useful:
An Absolute Privilege, 7 January 2004

Being a citizen of the UK, I was (thanks to my own rabid impatience, and the extreme generosity of an American gentleman/IMDB user!) granted an advance screening of this television miracle.

Ignore ANY of the ignorant reviews on here. Close your mind off to them! This work is nothing short of miraculous. The complexity of it is mind blowing. The acting is earth shatteringly compelling. The direction is mesmerising. The intelligence, profundity and eloquence of this absolute masterpiece simply cannot be denied by anyone! It is on the level of Shakespeare! Astonishing ... I have never seen anything like it.

It's a mere ten minutes since I finished watching the second part, and I remain consumed by the images and words of what I have just seen and so it shall remain for days. Works like these are few and far between and I am not exaggerating when I say that viewing ANGELS was such an intense experience, I felt almost embarrassed by the privilege.

Overall, ANGELS is (thematically and in a plot sense) endlessly complex. As a 22 year old English girl, I wouldn't even pretend to grasp the subtlties of the entire piece, and admit to ignorance regarding much of its political/social context. But none of these factors prevented me engaging with a HUMAN drama that spoke directly to me even when I wasn't sure what it was saying! This is not a work to be seen only by gay audiences, only by religious people ... it is to be seen by EVERYONE. ANGELS is, to me, solid proof of my belief that art can explain, enrich, open up and change the world. And it brings people together. I know this may sound hopelessly utopian, but ANGELS really does cast such a spell on one!

I write this review out of intense gratitude and admiration for every single person involved in bringing this masterpiece to the screen. I feel that my life has been enriched by seeing and it and I shall now be passing on the tape to every person I know ... this is life changing stuff and I know I shall take the eloquence of ANGELS with me wherever I go in life. It really is that amazing! To watch this was a privilege, to have been involved with it must be unthinkably wonderful.

ANGELS beats any film ever to win a Best Picture Oscar into a corner. If this were released in cinemas the world would not know what had hit it! I will conclude by saying it again ... this is once-in-a-lifetime viewing. Just see it and make up your own mind. And if you find yourself hating it... you need to ask yourself why, because that says more about you than it does about this!

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Crazy, Lilting, Hypnotic, Bizarre ... and BRILLIANT!, 26 November 2003

Paul Thomas Anderson is nothing short of an absolute genius. An auteur of the rarest gifts and he has proven it yet again in this mesmerising, understated little gem of a film - easily (and infuriatingly) one of the most underrated pictures of last year. It doesn't have the ostentatiousness or the length of MAGNOLIA. And it doesn't have the bold brashness of BOOGIE NIGHTS (both of which I ADORED too!) But Punch-Drunk Love is wonderful. And PTA has proven his versatility as a director.

Like all art, this will divide its audiences. As a bizarre take on the Romantic Comedy genre, PDL is about as surreal as it gets whilst still managing to have its own warped sense of reality. It's a slow, ponderous yet engaging film which hooks you in and leaves you unnable to explain the power it commands.

I would do a disservice to the magic of the film by giving too much away to those of you who may not have seen it. All I am left with after a second viewing is a beautifully subdued tone, some painstakingly composed images, a gently sweet and fitting score and lush colours. The screenplay is in equal parts moving and darkly comic.

I wonder if the film's main strength (aside from the razor sharp direction) is to be found in the casting. Adam Sandler. All I can say is who would have thought it? In customary style, PTA has taken the most unlikely actor one can conjour up and extracted a majestic performance from him. As Barry Egan he is simply brilliant - never losing his grip on the potential for extreme sadness that lies underneath this apparent figure of fun, and social reject. Emily Watson is perhaps one of the finest actresses working today. As Lena she is off the scale endearing and at the same time mysterious and aloof. One oscillates from wanting to cuddle and protect her, and being slightly scared. I only wish her character had been fleshed out a little more, but I understand why this wasn't necessary in the surreal world of PDL.

As for the symbolism of the harmonium, the colours, the costumes? ... I'm still trying to figure those ones out. And that is why I love this film so much. It engages your brain and doesn't shout it's meanings out at you like 90% of contemporary Hollywood. Bravo, Paul Thomas Anderson! I applaud this masterpiece to a deafening scale!

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
The Finest Screenplay of All Time?, 27 October 2003


Never before have I been as 'knocked out' by a screenplay as I was with ADAPTATION. Charlie Kaufman is, quite simply, a genius, And it's possibly the most ridiculous travesty in the history of the Academy Awards when he failed to win 'Best Screenplay'. What an absolute joke!

ADAPTATION is a transcendental masterpiece. A work of art. It is in equal parts hilarious and poignant. It features a plethora of wonderfully crafted, multi dimensional performances, primarily:

NICOLAS CAGE who as Charlie and twin brother Donald effectively conveys two different personalities seemingly effortlessly. What a skilled actor he is! Where was his Oscar?

MERYL STREEP Who I simply ADORED as Susan Orlean. Eyes that contain the sadness of the world. Beautiful, hypnotic voice-over sections where the poetic, lilting timbres of her elegant voice just wash over you like music. And then she plays stoned and is, quite simply, wet-your-pants style HILARIOUS. Three words: DIAL TONE SCENE. And what a thoroughly beautiful (gets more so year by year) woman Meryl is. I cannot imagine anyone else more perfect for this role. Who stole her Oscar? Why yes, it was the much less deserving Catherine Zeta Jones of course!

CHRIS COOPER who despite greasy hair, questionable dress sense and no front teeth made me fall hopelessly in love with him by captivating me from beginning to end with his funny, warm, quirky portrayal of John Laroche. And seeing him and Meryl together was the rarest of joys and had me running back to the cinema to see this incredible film another 4 times. His Oscar temporarily restored my faith in the Academy.

Yes some have balked at the ending - but if one looks closely enough (repeated viewings are advised) it becomes clear that looking beneath the surface of this phenomenally intelligent film is essential. Is Donald even real? Is the ending real? Who do we believe? So many theories, so much debate --- all proof (to my mind) of an absolute work of art and one of the finest films OF ALL TIME.

ADAPTATION is seriously wonderful. If you have ever written anything and agonised over it, if you have ever been unhappy, if you have ever doubted yourself, if you have ever wondered if there is something missing in your life, if you have been in love, if you have been out of love, if you have a pulse --- YOU NEED THIS FILM IN YOUR COLLECTION.

I end by thanking ALL INVOLVED in the creation of a masterpiece that will stay with me forever. What a film this is!

PS - Oh, and do we think THE THREE could work?!?!

4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Hit and Miss ..., 15 September 2003

I feel very ungracious about this film, because I wanted to love it ... and really expected it to be so much better than it was. It stars some truly marvellous actresses, and has been given so much hype and advance publicity, I was genuinely expecting something great. But it turned out to be (in the main) a crushing disappointment.

The main problem is the screenplay. It's not funny. There are a few great comic moments and gems that give you an insight into what the film could have been, but the end result suffers dreadfully by not having the original choice of screenwriter - Victoria Wood. It panders too much to Hollywood tastes, and lacks the sparkle and eloquent wit of Wood's comedy. Why, oh why didn't they allow her to write the screenpay?

Another issue I have is casting. Helen Mirren is a great actress but here she is woefully miscast - unfunny, out of place and far too over-the-top - cold even. Plus her Yorkshire accent (and I should know, being a native!) is all over the place. Julie Walters and Celia Imrie are the real heart and soul of this film - warm and down-to-earth - but for some bizarre reason they (especially Celia) are given little to do and not stretched. This is a shame.

The main strength of this film, however, is its representation of women, and it's emphasis upon female friendship. I applaud the 'calendar shooting' scenes because AT LAST here we have a plethora of real women, with wrinkles, cellulite and no re-touching. Great. They all look fab. That I love. But what really is such a shame is the lack of humour, the terrible ending (the meandering final few scenes in Hollywood are so badly written and have absolutely no point) and the pandering to American audiences. What we have here is a kind of painting by numbers, 'how to make a heart warming Yorkshire comedy' which does work in some instances, but is (overall) a real disappoinment. But I expect the Yorkshire tourist board is pleased!

140 out of 197 people found the following review useful:
A cinematic silk purse from a literary sow's ear ..., 11 September 2003

I only managed about two pages of the book before feeling physically ill by the trite dialogue, heavy dependence on cliche and ham fisted, adolescent romance prose style. So a film of the book 'The Bridges of Madison County' did not fill me with joy and pleasureable anticpation.

Yet Clint Eastwood has waved a magic wand, and worked wonders on the lack lustre source material, by pairing it down to produce a beautiful, warm film with only one real flaw (more on that later)

The film's overwhelming main strength is the casting of Meryl Streep. As Francesca she dissolves into the role - at times her gestures and dialogue seem so natural and unforced it is as if Eastwood had installed a fly-on-the-wall camera into the house of a real Iowan housewife. She lifts the film - which does centre on themes which could appear trite in the wrong hands - to the level of profound piece of art. Her selflessness and devotion to her family, and tortured sense of divided loyalites are presented so powerfully, and so plausibly, that the final scene in the car at the end (those who've seen it will recall immediately what I mean) pulls at your emotions so hard you'd swear it was you who was making the decision. I defy anyone with a pulse not to shed copious amounts of tears at this point --- you would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved on some level by this great, great performance.

Clint Eastwood provides good, solid support in the sense that he doesn't overact, and allows Meryl to become the heart of the film. This is a wise decision - part of the terrible weakness of the book was its dependence upon the inane thoughts and ramblings of Robert Kincaid. The film is beautifully directed, beautifully photograhed and beautifully scored - the radio tunes and the non-diegetic Bridges Love theme really enhance the romantic, lush tone and mood of the film.

My only problem is with the misguided decision to cast Francesca's older children and flash back periodically to them reading through their Mother's journals. The acting in these parts is mediocre at best, and they detract from the elegance and poignant mastery of Meryl Streep's central performance. The ashes scene at the end is - I feel - necessary for closure, but the rest of the scenes featuring the chldren should have been scrapped. The Francesca and Robert sections stand alone and require no interruption - these other segments cheapen the mastery of Meryl.

Above all, this is a film which (on paper) can be dismissed as pure soap opera. But it transcends these potentially trite themes to make a universal story of love, selflessness, devotion and choice, that speaks eloquently to the viewer, no matter what your age or experience. It's a truly heartbreaking tale of transitory experience and the power of memory. It will make you think about your own life, and about your closest family members and relationships.

And its finest quality has to be the magic of Meryl Streep who proves, yet again, why she is uniquely the best actress we have ever had. As Clint Eastwood said about casting this role: 'I only made one phonecall'. He knew as you will too - no other actress could have brought so much depth, warmth, beauty, charisma and humanity to this character. As a humble film lover, it's all I can do to applaud her from the depths of my heart. Bravo, Queen Meryl!

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Only one redeeming feature: her name is Julianne Moore., 31 July 2003

I really tried so hard to like this film - but in the end I had to concede: we did not get on. It turned out to be one of the most disappointing pieces of 'drama' I've seen in a long time. The script is terribly hammy, in fact there are some truly apalling moments (the worst being Sigourney Weaver's declaration 'let's go on Oprah!' - I still can't work out if that was a joke) The acting (with one notable exception) is pretty mediocre, which is not helped by formulaic, humdrum direction and some truly shocking child actors. Why give kids who can't act dialogue? It undermines the dramatic potential of a film. As an aspiring screenwriter, I am constantly told to 'make every scene earn its place in your film' - well, there are countless here that could have been omitted. I have seen better made for TV films. The whole thing seems a terribly overlong excersise in 'how can we pull on the heartstrings of the Academy voters?' Luckily even they chose not to acknowledge it.

'A Map of the World' has, as I said, one redeeming feature: the presence of the gorgeous, versatile Julianne Moore. Her compelling scene of emotional breakdown following the death of her child in the woods is, in my opinion, worth the price of the film alone. What a shame that they didn't cast her in the lead role. With mediocre material like this, the only hope of transcending it is with a gifted actress of Julianne's talents - however I fear that even she could not have saved it.

One to avoid - but worth it (just) for Julianne Moore.

Safe (1995)
50 out of 62 people found the following review useful:
Gripping - with a masterful performance from Julianne Moore, 24 June 2003

'Safe' is enigmatic, anxious, bewildering and captivating. It will divide viewers, but I argue that this is the hallmark of all true art. You will either love it or hate it, you will either get it or you won't. But it won't leave you indifferent.

Julianne Moore plays Carol White, the film's childlike protagonist with a phenomenal skill. In the hands of a more showy, ostentatious actress, Carol's 'illness' could have appeared trivial, her character, flighty, whiny and irritating. In the hands of Julianne Moore who is, in my opinion, the most intelligent, thoughtful and captivating actress working today, Carol's predicament is moving amd her character endearing. Her performance truly is astonishing. Never does she feel the need to overact, to emphasise Carol's confusion or her fear. She plays her with a childlike acceptance, a surface simplicity and a sing-songy girlish voice, and she is a master of restraint, implication, understatement. I have yet to see a more impressive performance from an actress whose skill lies in making it appear like she is doing very little, when really there is a huge amount going on underneath the surface. The film would be worth it for Julianne Moore alone, but it also has other things to reccommend it.

There's the excellent direction from the genius, Todd Haynes. His mainstream hit, the wonderful homage to Sirk 'Far From Heaven' catapulted Haynes into the mainstream, but I find this work even more affecting. Haynes is a genius at utilising the mise-en-scene for the maximum effect. He uses his camera as a painter would with colour - each shot is masterfully composed, with the director never allowing us to get too close to Julianne Moore's character, making her predicament all the more confusing and alienating. This is a film which demands thought and concentration, and what you take from it will depend upon individual disposition and experience.

The dialogue is generally sparse and quite functional, meaning that emphasis is placed onto the menacing soundtrack (giving the film a horror/thriller feel), the meticulously orchestrated mise-en-scene and, of course, the amazing nuances and depth of Julianne Moore's artistic gifts. In terms of what the film is trying to say, there is a real sense of satire in the second section of the film (When Carol goes to the commune to be 'cured') but there is no insistence upon one single message. This is reflected with a deeply ambiguous ending which leaves one feeling anxious and confused.

Overall, 'Safe' is a masterful piece of work. The team of Julianne Moore and Todd Haynes is (as we have seen with 'Far From Heaven') a match made ... in heaven. I would urge those who appreciate non maintream, thought provoking and unconventional films to give it try, just don't go in with 'Hollywood' expectations as you will be disappointed. Finally, I'd like to end by reiterating what is possibly the film's main strength - the presence of Julianne Moore. This truly is a captivating performance from her, and certainly one of the most astonishing I am likely ever to see. 'Safe' gives us the chance to watch this gifted actress in one of her most underrated, little seen, yet most remarkable roles.

The Hours (2002)
Hypnotic, 21 February 2003

I must admit to being genuinely baffled by some of the negative criticism this magnificent film has received since its release. Film goers lament endlessly the lack of thought provoking intelligence, quality acting and indeed scarcity of gripping roles for women in Hollywood, but when a film comes along that offers all three qualities in abundance, all they seem to do is pick holes in it!

For what it's worth I believe 'The Hours' to be a landmark film, a beautifully created masterpiece, and a crucial work for women to see - both as spectators, and for future actresses in terms of the opportunities its success will (hopefully) open up.

Aesthetically, 'The Hours' is endlessly beautiful. It's apt that the film opens with a river, because its beauty simply washes over you as the story unfolds. Each moment is lovingly agonised over by Stephen Daldry, whose attention to detail is second to none. The result is an absolute visual feast of stunning imagery - flowers, water, and nature. I adored the evocative manner in which the three different settings [contemporary New York, 1940s Los Angeles and Richmond] were signalled in the lighting, and this was aided immeasurably by simply glorious costuming and make-up.

David Hare has transformed Michael Cunningham's wonderful homage to Virginia Woolf into a mesmerising screenplay - literate, moving, profound and riveting. I love the effortless way his words move you, and engage your brain at the same time. This is rare in today's cinema.

Perhaps, however, the single most remarkable facet of 'The Hours' is (for me) the acting. The cast - one that I would have dreamed about before hearing of this film - could not be bettered. Each of the three primary actresses, Streep, Moore and Kidman, is impeccable in their own way and I suspect individual disposition will dictate whose story moves you the most. I only hope their resounding achievment here will be rewarded by a plethora of intelligent scripts for women in the future.

Much praise has been lauded onto Nicole Kidman, and let me say that her achievments go far beyond make-up, dowdy dresses and the prosthetic nose that critics have become so obsessed with. Her piercing blue eyes (said to have the ability to scorch holes in carpet by one critic) succeed in capturing the essence of Woolf's fractured emotion, and the depth of her performance is truly outstanding. She is also intensely moving and at times painful to watch. Julianne Moore - a remarkably versatile actress - is magnificent as Laura Brown, the introspective, lonely housewife. She has an amazingly expressive face and haunting eyes, making dialogue hardly necessary in conveying her deep unhapiness, a performance almost suited to silent cinema. Again, her story was at times intensely painful.

And finally to Meryl Streep who is, for me, the finest of the three (although this is an ensemble performance - the three should all be rewarded for their acting together) I found her energetic, elegant, graceful and powerful. She invested Clarissa which such an enthusiasm for life and an energy - plus a subdued longing - and I found her performance explosive. Take note small minded producers - we need more Meryl on the screen. Her humanity and charisma is boundless. Give me her over 1000 twenty-something non entities any day.

Special mentions also to Stephen Dillane (magnificent and underrated as Leonard Woolf) Toni Collette (her kiss with Julianne Moore is possibly the tenderest moment in the film) Miranda Richardson (always excellent) and Ed Harris (a great, moving performance from him) All of these actors and others help to allow this film to live in the minds of those who see it and are moved by it for long after the credits roll.

I want to end by applauding all involved in the creation of an exquisite, lyrical masterpiece. I found it at times heartbreaking, yet strangely enriching and even life affirming, despite its potentially morose themes of suicide and depression. It left me with the desire to find out more about Virginia Woolf, and to look at my own life in a different way. Surely this has to speak volumes for the overriding success of this wonderful film. Awards shouldn't matter, but I hope it sweeps the board at this year's Oscars. It deserves its success and as a humble film-goer, I will be eternally thankful for its existence.

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