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  • The trouble with making a movie out of a Pulitzer Prize winning book is that no matter how good and true to the book it is, it will usually be a disappointment. This has a lot to do with the difference between reading a story and seeing one. When one reads a book, it is usually done over time, perhaps a week or two. The words stir the imagination and the scenes described become images, usually more illusory than real. There is plenty of time for this process to work. A film, in contrast, is viewed over a period of about two hours, where the viewer is perceiving rather than imagining. The portrayals are well defined and no matter how creative the director, it is very difficult to create scenes that equal those of readers who have previously conjured fantastic images in their heads.

    I believe this is the reason this film was such a disappointment to so many viewers who had read the book. Thankfully, I saw the film first, so I had no preconceived notions. With that fresh perspective, I must say that it was outstanding.

    It the story is taken from the memoirs of Frank McCourt, who recounted his childhood in Ireland in the 1930's and 1940's. It is a poignant and compelling story of a poor family struggling to survive. The images are powerful depictions of the indignity of indigence in a world where hunger and disease were common and people went almost as frequently to the cemetery as to the market.

    Alan Parker brings us a starkly realistic view of McCourt's Ireland. He scoured Ireland to find a ghetto that brought forth the images described in the book, but after an exhaustive search, he decided to build the lane from scratch using McCourt's photographs. Upon visiting the set, McCourt said it was chillingly accurate and he couldn't believe he wasn't back home. Parker desaturated the color to give the film a very stark look, consistent with the squalor he was trying to portray. Paradoxically, the loss of color intensity intensified the power of the images. Though I'm not a big fan of this technique (I like rich and vibrant color), in this case it was the perfect choice.

    The film suffers a bit from excessive length, undoubtedly because there was so much to cover. However, when Parker bombards the viewer with disturbingly hopeless imagery for well over two hours, it becomes tedious. This is another advantage of reading a book. You can more easily put it down and come back to it. Parker sometimes overdoes certain ideas that he could have condensed. We could have done without half a dozen vomiting scenes and all the chamber pot activity. One or two such scenes would have gotten the message across.

    The cast was consistently excellent. Parker saw over 15,000 child actors before casting the three boys who played Frank at various ages. All three were wonderful, but my favorite was Michael Legge, the oldest Frank. He was the most hopeful person in the film, giving him character and determination, without losing his idealistic innocence.

    Emily Watson is a great dramatic actress and rose to the occasion to endow Angela with superhuman strength, courage and persistence in the face of crushing hardship and sorrow. Robert Carlyle was also terrific as Frank's father. He made the character a lovable man with fatal flaws. Despite his heinously irresponsible behavior squandering money on drink as his family starved, his charming nature and effusive affection for the children evoked as much love from us as disgust.

    This is a brilliant production. Though many who read the book were disappointed, I must point out that Frank McCourt, who wrote the book, was unabashed in praising it for its realism in capturing his impressions and feelings of the times. I rated it a 9/10. Other than a bit of overkill, this is superb filmmaking giving us an affecting look at the human face of poverty.
  • I doubt if I would rate this film that high if I hadn't read the book. Frank McCourt's best-seller is so good, and this movie is so true to it, that if you liked one, you'll like this because rarely has film been so close to a book. It's amazing, given what normally is the case.

    Even though the film brought no surprises, I still thought it was fascinating because of the fantastic cinematography in here and the great job done by the actors. The muted colors in this film are beautiful and the lighting is superb. Then again, it's hard to go wrong with a nighttime streetlight-lit shot of cobblestone streets. The directing talents of Alan Parker were never more evident than here. He should do more movies.

    The book, "Angela's Ashes," is a biography of McCourt and his extremely poor Irish family. All three boys who play McCourt at various times in his development are excellent here. The whole cast is excellent, for that matter, led by "Angela" (Emily Watson) and husband Malachy (Robert Caryle). Two sadder-looking faces, you never did see, and a more rainy, dreary town (Limerick) you never did if you're looking a happy, uplifting story, pass this one by. However, if you want a film totally true to a great book, wonderfully photographed film and one acted well ....and with some unique humor to it, check this out.

    I don't want to leave out the humor, the key ingredient in McCourt's otherwise- depressing days of growing up. Humor and dire poverty never went together so well as McCourt made it sound through his book and the filmmakers did through this movie.
  • In the very opening scene of Alan Parker's `Angela's Ashes,' we are informed by the narrator and main character, Frankie McCourt, in a phrase that turns out to be a masterpiece of understatement, that he had a `miserable childhood' – but just how miserable we may not be quite adequately prepared to see. Based on the author's Pulitzer Prize winning autobiographical memoir, this compelling film plunges us directly into the wretchedness and squalor of life in Depression-ridden Ireland, a setting overflowing with disease, starvation, joblessness and despair. Indeed, by the time the film has hit the 25-minute mark, we have already witnessed the deaths of no fewer than three of Frankie's little siblings. The film, like the novel on which it is based, never flinches from portraying the brutal reality of the life the people of this dreary town must endure.

    Yet, the film is also, at times, rich in humor and a sense of that unquenchable optimism that somehow exists in even the most hopeless of circumstances. Frankie, despite the harsh conditions of his life, remains a boy focused on the good things that come his way, enduring even a loving but utterly irresponsible ne'er-do-well father (beautifully played by `The Full Monty's Robert Carlyle) with an indulgence and tolerance borne of filial devotion. As Frankie grows from young boy, dutifully fulfilling the parental role for his younger brothers, to a man verging on the edge of adulthood, he feeds on his dreams of moving to America to start a new life full of hope and promise. The people and situations he encounters on this road create a stunning tapestry of life, teeming with bitterness and coldness it is true, but also with occasional, albeit momentary, displays of warmth, kindness and compassion – whether they be from a seemingly bitter aunt who, much to his astonishment, buys Frankie a brand new set of clothes in which to start his new job, a teacher who inspires him to see life beyond the circumscribed limits of this dreary Irish town or a compassionate priest who counsels Frankie in a moment of dark despair. These help to counterbalance the deadening effects of his father's thoughtlessness and drunkenness, the death of his first love by consumption, the often brutal treatment he receives at the hands of both his teachers and fellow classmates. And all the while there stands his mother, the anchor that holds him firmly in place, a woman beaten down by poverty, the untimely deaths of her children, the fecklessness of her otherwise loving husband - yet a woman so full of the quality of stoic self-sacrifice that it is from she that Frankie draws the strength he needs to move on in his life.

    Emily Watson provides a luminous portrait of this woman, triumphantly conveying the longsuffering reserve that helps shield her from the ugliness and dreariness of her life and provides her with the strength to carry on and build into her children a sense of moral rectitude. And the three boys who portray Frankie at various stages of the drama are utterly perfect in their wide-eyed naturalism, as they look upon a world often incomprehensible in its drabness and cruelty.

    It seems to be becoming a truism lately that, if you want to see the bleakest portrayal of life imaginable, go to see a film set in Ireland. Nowhere does the sun shine less frequently, nowhere do the drab colors of gray and brown so heavily predominate, nowhere does poverty seem so all encompassing and inescapable. The Ireland of `Angela's Ashes' is surely no exception. The filmmakers, moreover, cast a scathing eye on the mindless superstition, bigotry and hypocrisy to be found in much of the blindly pro-Southern Ireland, anti-Protestant, anti-British, anti-Northern Ireland attitude perpetuated by the Catholic Church there in the 1930's. Thus, in the depths of McCourt's autobiographical story, lies a diatribe with its roots planted deep in political and social protest. Yet, because of our fascination with the boy at the center of the narrative, these qualities filter through subtly, never dominating the proceedings. `Angela's Ashes' is rather, from beginning to end, a moving story about goodhearted, ordinary people learning to cope with the immense hardships life throws their way. In the long run, it certainly makes one happier with one's own lot in life. `Angela's Ashes,' for those who can take its uncompromising view of reality, is a richly rewarding experience.
  • Alan Parker has made many films which adapt material from other media. I have been less than thrilled with most of these, but I've enjoyed one or two. Angela's Ashes is one of his better works, but it adapts a book which< I would argue, can not be properly adapted.

    This is a very pure, almost sterile, adaptation of the original memoir "Angela's Ashes" by Frank McCourt. It chronicles vignettes in the family history of the McCourt's, a poor Irish Catholic family struggling to survive in early 20th century Ireland. The film, like the book, is stark, painful, hopeful, powerful, and deftly accurate. More than a period piece, this film works as a dramatic rendering of social history.

    Unlike the book, this film depicts Frank's childhood from a disembodied third person perspective, though it is liberally complemented by an effective voice-over narrative drawn almost directly from McCourt's own prose. Frank is the oldest of several siblings (many of whom never reach adulthood), in a family suffering from poverty, alcoholism, and persecution. Although the film has many positive messages, like the lives of the McCourt's, it's not an easy road. Those who wish to be simply entertained should probably not bother.

    The performances are all exquisite. Kudos to the cast and the director for making them all look so great. Visually, the film is stunning for its starkness and powerful use of contrast. The pace is a little breathless at times, but, given the richness of the original work, this is appropriate.

    All considered, this is a very worthy representation of the book. The only quibble I have stems from the very act of translating what was a very intensely personal, first-person memoir into a third-person medium like film, not from anything the production team did, or from the script and cast. It would likely have been impossible in a mainstream film to depict the texture and poetics of McCourt's prose to the extent that viewers would really feel that they had grown up with him and knew him like a member of their own family. This is how the book made me feel, and seeing the movie after the book I was reminded of the feeling, but not quite so powerfully affected. I would agree that reading the book first will help you enjoy this film, however, I also believe that this stands well on its own.
  • JEH-42 February 2000
    Angela's Ashes is a gentle movie about love, suffering, striving, and eventually, triumphing. There are no explosions, no aliens, no car crashes, no easy answers. The acting is uniformly excellent with Robert Carlyle's performance as Malachy McCourt especially outstanding. Beautifully photographed, funny and devastating by turns, Angela's Ashes is an experience to be treasured.
  • I've read both Angela's Ashes, and 'Tis (the sequal also by McCourt), and I think that really helped get a good perspective of what's going on. A lot happens that we aren't shown in the movie, which makes sense considering a word for word rendition of the text would be far too long.

    But reading the book provides you with a little more background- more insight as to WHY the family is in the situation it is (the mother was "knocked up" and the two were forced into marriage and family life that probably NEITHER were ready for), and especially the impact of the death of the little baby girl had- most notable in the father.

    All in all, it was a great film... seriously. It's the memories a poor Irish childhood- but the best part is that much of it is told through the eyes of a 'child' (even if its in retrospect). The reason that it is unique, I think, is that if the viewer is open enough, they can get beneath the obvious misery that we're pelted with and really see the innocence of a child through out the story.

    I get really irritated with those that brush it off as "been there, done that", or "Woe is me, I was a poor Irish child." I think that shows ignorance and disgusting apathy- go watch a movie where stuff explodes to keep your feeble mind occupied, because you obviously are too shallow to understand what you're seeing. Imagine yourself as that child- in a nation full of families stuck in the same rut. This isn't some Hollywood drama concocted... this is(was) someone's LIFE. And the movie sticks very much to the book- I remembered many of the exact lines word for word from the text. Also... a few people have complained about the 'incomplete' ending. That's pretty much exactly where the book ends- read (horror of HORRORS!) the sequal, 'Tis, to find out the rest.

    Either way- very touching film. Definitely dark and deep, and I recommend it to anyone who has an open mind.
  • Being married to a man from Ireland, I can really relate to this movie. I went to see his family home in 1978 and he grew up in very similar circumstances. The movie portrays the depression and drinking problems the Irish have. Emily Watson is great as his mother- she has to swallow her pride and beg so her kids can have food and clothes. The Vincent De Paul society is a great presence in Ireland. The way the kids are beat in school is right on- my husband tells me horror stories of how the priests and nuns treated him. Like Frankie he was able to get out of the country when he was 19-- This movie captures both the good and the bad of McCourt's book. I showed it to my son so now he understands his father a lot better. As a whole the movie deserves a lot of credit for staying true to McCourt's words. Robert Carlyle is good as Frankie's father. Everyone in the movie-- fits one type of Irish personality. We still keep candles burning in front of the statue of Mary at home. I will watch this move again so I can pick up on some of the other aspects

    of Irish life.
  • Angela's Ashes is a well made picture, and one of the better movie to come out this year. Also, this film is Alan Parker's best since Pink Floyd's The Wall. The picture evokes a feeling of sorrow for the young Frank McCourt, in a tale that never has any definite answers, it just leaves them open. The acting is superb, mainly by Emily Watson as the loving mother Angela McCout and Robert carlyle who gives his best performance since Trainspotting here as the father with almost three different personalities. We watch as young Frank goes through three periods of his life in the poverish Ireland and thankfully in the end everything turns out OK. This makes the film even better. Along with a gentle and moving score (by oscar winner John Williams), this film is very provocative, touching and dramatic. Well done.
  • paul2001sw-125 September 2005
    By rights, 'Angela's Ashes', Alan Parker's film of Frank McCourt's account of growing up in astonishingly deprived conditions in the impoverished theocracy of inter-war Ireland, should be unwatchable: just how much misery can a viewer be expected to take? But in fact, Parker tunes the misery level to perfection, and the movie is never as gruelling as its subject matter might lead one to expect. And while it doesn't quite have the emotional impact of the work, say, of Ken Loach, our foremost chronicler of contemporary poverty, there are still fine performances from all of the cast, most especially from the luminous Emily Watson (playing the eponymous Angela, whose ashes, however, appear to have disappeared from the screenplay). There are some nice stylistic touches as well: Limerick may be one of the wettest cities in Europe, but in this film, it lives under a perpetual cloud, though it gets a little brighter when the hapless heroes move into a slightly better class of house. But only a little. This is a movie that leaves you with a sense of sheer amazement and horror at how recently people lived in worse conditions than we would treat animals; and at the scale of the social and economic transformation that Ireland has undergone in McCourt's lifetime. And also at the unrivalled brilliance of Watson's skills as an actress.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Angela's Ashes is based on a 1999 memoir of the same name by Irish-American author Frank McCourt. Both the novel and movie detail his experiences growing up in the impoverished slums of Limerick Ireland during the time of the Great Depression. McCourt was, strangely enough, born in NYC but his parents decided to pack up the family and move back to Ireland upon the death of their infant daughter. When the baby dies, Angela (Frank's mother) shuts down completely and is unable to care for her other four children. Some less than helpful relatives intervene and soon they are on a boat. The deaths of McCourt's three siblings (two the result of disease and malnutrition) provides for some of the most haunting imagery. I think back on the scene where one of Angela's beautiful twin boys lies white in death on her bed as she cuddles him in her arms. In another particularly poignant scene, ten-year-old Frank goes looking for his drunkard father Malachy in a pub and sees him drinking right on top of his dead baby's casket. It's scenes like this that make Angela's Ashes such a heart rending experience. It would have been easy for this film to turn into nothing but a couple hours of despair, but thankfully, McCourt has a good sense of humor and filled his memoir with plenty of comedic anecdotes to be sprinkled here and there.
  • The Emerald Isle, due to its naturally green countryside, has more than its fair share of rain; we see plenty of that in `Angela's Ashes: and people splashing or wading through murky puddles to get to their rented houses: the tenants may be able to afford the few shillings rent per week, or may be not. Such were the conditions in a slum of Limerick, locality afamed for its humorous five-lined verses, in the west of Eire, then still very much under English `ownership'. Eire is today the only European country to have less population than it did in 1900. Reading/watching `Angela's Ashes' makes it quite clear why that was so: the Irish emigrated to North America and Australia, and indeed as a lad trying to grow up in post-war London I could hear comments like `there are more Irish in Islington than in Ireland'. I could have mentioned any other suburb of London, but it so happens that Alan Parker and Emily Watson were both born in this inner suburb. Many of those Irish émigrés found fame and fortune, and their offspring have helped to keep the White House occupied, though mostly they found their ways into suburbs of Chicago, New York, Boston, etc.

    But the 1930's in poor suburbs of New York in the Great Depression was hardly a friendly environment lurking behind the awesome sight of the lady with the torch in the harbour (a present of the French Government).

    `Angela's Ashes' records those grim years for a poor family, based on hard autobiographical facts; but Frank McCourt's book better conveys that curiously Irish sense of fatalistic humour combined with that strangely abject Catholicism so pervasive in life of those times. The elements contrast and contradict themselves: the useless alcoholic father who must be respected because he is their father, though later he disappears, and the boy's (Frankie) obedient and supposedly devout sessions at the confessionary box, would seem to veer into mirth if it were not for the sinister underlying sociological aspects. And it is the classroom where much of this spoon-fed doctrinal interpretation obviates the ruthless imposition of supposedly `clean' ideology - whether Catholic or not.

    Beautifully filmed in almost black and white, with more colour creeping in as the film progresses, undoubtedly Alan Parker has done a good job and has tried to remain faithful to the philosophical concepts of the book. Excellent Emily Watson and Robert Carlyle, but no less so the different youngsters used in the film as the children grew up, especially Michael Legge. Other secondary actors are all exemplary, well cast. The result is a film that has an authentic feel to it, such that having already read the book and seeing this film twice in no way diminishes the interest it suscitates. The music is a very different kind of John Williams to what we are accustomed, giving correct ambience to the story's unfolding.
  • Bert-822 September 2000
    A movie of Frank McCourt's bestselling memoir was always going to be a box office smash and that is the only reason I can see that Alan Parker had to be associated with this project. Biography isn't really his oevre and, while he has worked in the area of working class social realism, he hasn't really tackled the issue of poverty. And here is the problem :- there is no narrative in the book, it is a collection of incidents linked by three major themes (poverty, class & [like "Angel At My Table] the heroes' rotting teeth). Parker even throws away the minor theme (which grows through the memoir) of a desire to return to America. The result is a mess of pottage. It is as if Parker hasn't even bothered to read the book (and, incidently gives more screentime to Malachy's alcoholism than Frank does). It's as if the old Victorian melodrama fable of the poverty stricken family linked to the drunken father is irresistable to Parker - irresistable but he's unable to actually DO anything with the dramatic cliche. The film is ill-served by some very peculiar camera-work. For instance : the early parts of the film are all shot down at the level of young Frank but the POV is looking down on the action (i.e. camera low, set far away, and framed at a downward angle). For all sorts of reasons this is wrong: not the least being that it distances the audience from the characters by making us appear to sit in judgement upon them.
  • I read "Angela's Ashes" last year, and I became enamored with the story. When I heard that it was going to be made into a movie directed by Alan Parker, I was counting the days until its release. I haven't been this excited to see a movie since "The Phantom Menace" was released. When I went to the theater last night to see "Angela's Ashes" I was prepared to fall in love with the story again.

    I'm sad to say that I was a slightly disappointed.

    Watching the film version to this wonderful story was like reading Cliff Notes to a novel: the main points are covered, but small details that made the story so touching are left out. For example, the film never mentions the little girl that Francis met while he was in the hospital for typhoid. The young lass was the one that turned Francis on to Shakespeare and gave him his love for literature. The film also doesn't portray the deep, intimate, brotherly bond between Francis and Malachy as well as the book did (Malachy was only a year or two younger than Francis and experienced many of the same hardships as Francis). The film left out the part where Francis and Malachy went out to steal groceries left on neighbor's door steps in order to feed the family. Also, the time when Angela became deathly ill which prompted the father to return from England for a visit was also left out. I could go on and on.

    At first I thought Alan Parker was the perfect choice to direct this story. "Angel Heart", "Pink Floyd: The Wall", "Mississippi Burning" are great films. Yet, after I left the theater, I began to wonder how different the film might have been if Neal Jordan or Terrance Davies had directed it. Even though the film was around 2.5 hours, I still feel that Alan Parker didn't take his time. I got the feeling that Parker's heart wasn't into this film.

    Nevertheless, "Angela's Ashes" stands head and shoulders over all the other films I have seen this year. The acting, especially from the kids, is outstanding. The cinematography perfectly captures the beauty and dreariness of Ireland. And although the movie wasn't detailed the way I wish it was, it is still an amazing and powerful movie. I hope it gets a slew of nominations at the Academy Awards.

    I highly recommend "Angela's Ashes". 8 out of 10.
  • Theo Robertson26 September 2005
    There's a famous sketch with several men gathered round a table and one ejaculates :

    " When I were a lad we didn't get anything to eat six years and we were grateful to get nothing "

    Put out by this type of inverted snobbery another exclaims

    " You had things easy , when I were a lad I worked twenty seven hours down a pit every single day "

    The impromptu urinating contest continues with other members claiming

    " You had things soft , when I were a lad my dad would make us drink sulphuric acid then he'd chop our heads off and stick them on a pole "

    You do find yourself reminded of this sketch while watching Alan Parker's ANGELA ASHE'S the film version of Frank McCourt's autobiography . The story starts in a crowded hovel in New York where an ex-pat Irish family called McCourt live . I'm probably misleading you if I use the word " live " because if that's living I sure don't want to find out what dying must be like . things are so bad that they move back to County Limerick in Ireland . You know that phrase " out of the frying pan into the fire " ? well this happens to the McCourt family , just when you think things can't get any worse they get worse - This happens in every single scene . Some people have criticised Alan Parker's interpretation of THE WALL as being so depressing as to be unwatchable , but compared to this Pink Floyd's rock opera is a musical comedy

    This doesn't mean that ANGELA'S ASHES should be viewed as being a bad film . Far from it since it's the best movie Parker had made for many years and much of it is down to casting two of Britain's most consistent thespians from that era namely Emily Watson and Robert Carlyle . Carlyle especially gives a great and understated performance as Malachy McCourt one of the most hateful and despicable characters he's ever played . He's by no means the raving psychopath that he played in TRAINSPOTTING but you will hate him none the less . But despite the talent behind and in front of the camera and the attempts at humour which the Celtic race are renowned for you'll probably only want to watch this movie once due to the depressing subject matter .
  • elle-102 November 2000
    I was given the book "Angela's Ashes" as a gift because I have an Irish background that goes way back. There were many funny incidents which made me laugh out loud, but as I read on, I found it depressing. The movie was now available in video because it wasn't a success at the box office, so I stopped reading the book, and watched the movie. It was a struggle for me to sit and watch it to the end. I found it very depressing ...just like the book.

    I was once told by an Irish friend that being a Catholic schoolchild in Ireland was more difficult than being one in any other part of the world. Even worse if you were a young married mother not producing children ... the priests would insist on a doctor's visit for both the husband and wife, to find out the reason why. This movie came close to my friend's stories. Frank McCourt certainly has to be admired for winning the Pulitzer Prize for writing his memoirs. It is amazing how he survived the squalor as a young boy to achieve a coveted award like this. It's hard to imagine any actor wanting a part in a movie of this nature, short of having a "strong Cause" in relation to it. However, all the actors were excellent from the children to Robert Carlyle and Emily Watson. I don't think Carlyle found his Irish accent hard to master due to it being close to his own Scottish tongue.

    In today's world where we all want more, watching this movie can certainly make you feel very rich indeed, but it's not the happiest of movies to watch for entertainment. I can see this movie being used for teaching purposes. I think this would be the only way you could get teenagers to watch it ...while trapped in their seats at school.

    The school teachers in this movie were tyrannical, bar one who doesn't see much hope for his clever students and advises them to leave Ireland.

    When I was a schoolgirl in a Catholic school in Scotland, I remember children from an Irish family being taunted because they were wearing uniforms from the Parish. Clothes which were so easy to recognize ... not as fine as those bought in the stores. Watching the McCourt boys being taunted about the boots they were wearing brought this to mind cruel children can be. Although I attended a very good school, I was disillusioned by Catholicism and couldn't wait to grow up and leave, and haven't had any regrets in doing so.

    None of us can choose when to be born, but I'll guarantee anyone who watches "Angela's Ashes" will be thankful to God, or "whoever" (?) that their childhood wasn't like Frank McCourt's.
  • For anyone who read the novel by Frank McCourt, `Angela's Ashes' would've been one of the most anticipated movies of the year. The book, which is terrific, takes you on an emotional roller coaster ride without cessation; there are passages so gripping it becomes almost unbearable at times. The movie, however, directed by Alan Parker and starring Robert Carlyle and Emily Watson, unfortunately doesn't come close to capturing the desperation, hopelessness and pathos of the book. McCourt's autobiographical account of growing up in extreme poverty in Limerick, Ireland, is a gut-wrenching experience; that he even survived his childhood under such conditions as he recounts is a minor miracle in itself. His father, Malachy McCourt Sr., (played by Carlyle in the movie), wasn't a bad man, in an evil sense; he was just no good. He loved his family, but was too weak, prideful and irresponsible to even begin to look after them at all. Though reasonably intelligent, apparently, he was nevertheless lazy to the point of slothfulness, couldn't keep a job even if he lucked into one, and most of the time didn't bother looking. He never had money to keep bread on the table, but somehow always managed to have enough for tobacco and for a `pint' at one of the local pubs. Carlyle, a fine actor (great in `The Full Monty'), never seems to get to the core of this admittedly complex character; the ability to mine the depths of what really made Malachy tick somehow eludes him. His performance is passable, but it's all on the surface. Emily Watson fares little better with her Angela. A Gifted actress (Breaking the Waves' and `Hilary and Jackie'), she handles what she is given to work with aptly enough, but there is so much more that simply goes untapped. She, too, never really seems to get to the soul of Angela, whose whole life was nothing less than tragic. And with such rich source material from which to draw, it's puzzling as to how this movie failed to deliver the emotional impact promised by the story. That Parker chose to use the same voice as the novel to tell it is one reason, possibly. The matter-of-fact, stoic narrative that worked to great advantage in the novel simply doesn't translate well to film, at least not in this case. Here, it merely falls flat; somehow it gives an ambivalence to the proceedings that keeps the young McCourt, his family and their circumstances, at arms length throughout. Visually, the movie is stunning, though; the cinematography successfully captures the bleakness of Limerick and the surrounding countryside. Parker, however, fails to blend it all in sufficiently enough with the actual story to make it effective. Using the same approach for visual content as he does for the emotional, he succeeds only in presenting an image without enticement. He asks his audience to bring more to this than they can, given what they are being offered; it simply isn't enough. Still, it in no way diminishes the artistic merit of the photography, which is, in fact, the high mark of this whole endeavor. The young McCourt is portrayed in three successive stages of his youth by Joe Breen, Ciaran Owens and Michael Legge; all able performances. The supporting cast includes Ronnie Masterson (Grandma Sheehan Keating), Pauline McLynn (Aunt Aggie Keating), Liam Carney (Uncle Pa Keating) and Eanna MacLiam (Uncle Pat Keating). For those who haven't read the novel, `Angela's Ashes' will provide some touching moments, though nothing particularly memorable. This should have been a ten-hanky movie; instead, it leaves the tear ducts dry and the heart just a little empty. This is an unfulfilling rendering of McCourt's acclaimed account of his childhood and, on a larger scale, the failure of society and of the Church to truly minister to all it's members. The humor, which is laced throughout the novel, is lost here as well, which is nothing less than negligence on the part of the filmmakers, because they have excluded what was undoubtedly one of young McCourt's basic tools of survival. In the end, then, this film, which should have been remarkable, was one of the biggest disappointments of the year. And it's a pity, yes. ‘Tis. I rate this one 3/10.
  • If you pitched a movie about historically accurate misery and poverty to any Hollywood exec, none would endure it for more than twenty seconds. So how did this get made? Well, when you present the same dreary idea with the words "It's based on the best-seller," things tend to get green-lighted. You know, there's a ready audience to extract admission fees from. Without that, this project had no possibility of being made. There are exactly zero people in the world clamoring for a generously long, depressing movie.

    This movie really needed an adaptation that found (or manufactured) some engrossing throughline in the episodic material. Making it filmic instead of a slavishly, literal depiction of the books imagery would have been just dandy too. But no. Rabid fans tend not to like that. They want the book filmed as if the imagery they supplied while reading it were merely recorded. This is the limp task we ask of filmed novels in this era. It's not compelling. Rarely does a movie survive a books fan base.

    They must have devised special life-sucking camera filters to make this. Everything is grey and torpid. But if there's one thing this story didn't need is to have it's misery overdetermined by ponderous direction, a ponderous script, ponderous production design, a ponderous poster of a scowling child and that ponderous Misery-Vision camera work. As my Irish relatives might say "Oh for f***'s Sake!" Didn't a colored piece of broken glass occasionally end up in their hands that didn't get painted grey by the gloom patrol? Even the fruit is grey in McCourts world.

    When I first heard his reading of the first page or two of this on NPR it made me laugh out loud. I thought it was going to be a moderate view of his bad childhood relieved by a little humor. Instead I discovered the book to be an exercise in troweling misery upon misery without edification, and I never made it; neither could some of my friends who wanted to open a vein after just a few chapters. It was like paddling upstream through oatmeal (grey oatmeal) wearing a blindfold (grey also). I don't know what this book did for the readers who made it a best-seller, nor did I realize that there were such enormous audiences in the entertainment age hoping to feel seriously miserable. By page 50 I was shouting "We've got it, Frank!" I don't know how I got the tone so wrong from his reading. There's barely a sentence that survives the all-pervading clutch of gloom and death.

    If this material weren't already exhausted in just two iterations, it could be spoofed perfectly with the figure of death and his scythe gleefully chopping people down mid-sentence every couple of minutes, and extras in the background painting entire fruitstands grey.
  • The joy of the author's verse, as well his uniquely ironic, heartwarming and witty perspective even in the worst of times, is an exceptional and rare inspiration hardly captured in this weak account which merely grabs for the Oscar. The cinematography only adds to the movie's dismal tone. In a country as glorious as Ireland, one can only surmise that Alan Parker refused to include even one sunny, green, lush and hopeful day. As an Irish-Italian-American, it is tragic to see films that persist in presenting overrun stereotypes of the "victimized" Irish, like the "Mafia" Mediterranean. Though members of both groups have undoubtedly suffered individually and collectively, revealing their respective strength and preservation is far more compelling. Watch Jim Sheridan's "In America" instead.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Spoilers herein.

    Great films transport us to different worlds and confront us with the unexpected.

    Poor films dip into the common vocabulary of everyday images and use them to simply manipulate us. This is a poor film; one manipulative, unoriginal episode after another. Not a shred of imagination. Not one surprise.

    What's wrong with the people portrayed is that they have no control over who they are and how they react. They are manipulated by the arbitrariness of a society that is based on solid roles and rules.

    A real film, a good film would transcend that in its perspective. But we are plunked in that dark room and presented with what? We are manipulated by the arbitrariness of a film vocabulary that is based on rote roles and rules. We have no control, but are blindly manipulated in just the same fashion as the sorry characters we are watching (and pitying).

    Makes me feel dirty that I am swept up in these emotions so blithely. How different am I from this family to be played so by Hollywood just as these characters are played by the Church?

    Makes me angry at McCourt, who is credibly accused of making much of this up in order to manipulate us - he is a world away from Dylan Thomas who knew how to create rather than copy. Makes me disappointed in Parker, but then look at his career since the original and fresh `Fame.' He specializes in the shameful exploitation of the obvious.

    Ms Watson is quickly moving up to my short list of actresses to watch, with Cate, Kate and Julianne. No matter that the film is exploitive. She brings a focus that is extraordinary. She transports. The child actors are honest as well.

    In a decade or so, if Emily matures and becomes as well respected as, say Streep. Then this film will be worth watching to see what she is doing, how she is moving within her skin. Otherwise, better to cry over a real life.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Still, no surprise here. A movie about life in impoverished Depression-era Ireland was in fact depressing. Ireland holds little promise for young Frank McCourt, the oldest son in a tightly knit family. Living by his wits, cheered by his irrepressible spirit, and sustained by his mother's fierce love, Frank embarks on an inspiring journey to overcome the poverty of his childhood and grow up as a successful author. Based on his memoirs of the same name, the movie begins with McCourt painting the 20th century Turn of the Century, immigrant's nightmare. It wasn't the picture of America dream, but as a broken dream, where his immigrant parents eventually give up and return from New York to their native Ireland when McCourt is just a small boy. Life doesn't get better for young Frank, and that might be the fault of the film and the book. It's too morbid. Children are always dying from pneumonia, typhoid, or tuberculosis. There is a lot of deep wrongs, here that the movie deal with, such as alcoholism, child abandonment, sexual abuse, etc. etc. that some viewers might be turn off of. Some people love hearing people survive against the odds, hints why the novel was popular, but that same fanfare didn't translate into film, because of some keys things. I read the book, they make the father Malachy (Robert Carlyle) look amazing in this movie, but sadly, he was a drunk. Frank blame him somewhat for one death in the family due to his drinking with black pint scene. This film seems to portray him as responsible, hardworking, and optimistic. He is quite different in the book. Still, what a great actor, Robert was. The author is trying to honor his mother by remembering her ashes. Frank's mother Angela (Emily Watson) takes the title of the film due to her endless amounts of smoking. Figuratively, it stands for the darkness of her very hardscrabble life and her dreams of raising a healthy family with a supportive husband have withered and collapsed, leaving her with only cigarettes for comfort and the smoldering ashes of a fire for warmth. While the movie makes her look good, once again, the book is a bit different in my opinion. Angela is still a filthy prostitute. People talk in reviews here about this woman's great self-sacrifice, but I noticed that she never failed to have a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, going through depression as her kids were going hungry and having to walk through the overflow of a toilet just to get into their house. I can't see any great self-sacrifice there, just laziness, lack of self-respect and self-indulgence. The mother is just as bad the father. Emily does a great role as well as Robert. Frank also go through his own guilt. It felt like a hate-filled Bildungsroman movie. Most of the movie, Frank is burdened by guilt at his own sinfulness, particularly the sinfulness of his sexual thoughts and behavior. He frequently worries that he is damned or that he has damned other people due to his Catholicism. While the movie might make Ireland look bad, it's helps cherishes the strong human spirit. Still it doesn't have the same spirit of the book. The music sounds so melodramatically to the point that mainstream America feels depressed. It's kind of hurts the film when the humor of the story comes in. The Irish humor is a little dry for American audiences as it hard for them to understand the Irish culture, the Anti-English Sentiment, and the Irish slangs in the language. Still, I love the movie culture symbolism in theme such as the river Shannon. Still, I can't see anything funny in this film, and certainly nothing noble in any of the characters. The movie is just one shovelful of grim after another linked by an unseen narrator who speaks of them in the past. This a major blow by Alan Parker, as it should have set the narration in present tense, using Frank to quote directly from his book. It is thrown upon unrecognizable and unbelievable caricatures of the Ireland culture that might not be true. We may never know the extent of the town of Limerick's misery. Not all books are meant to be translated into film. Still, they did an OK job with it.
  • When Frank McCourt's autobiography "Angela's Ashes" was published, we were all quite impressed with it, specifically how McCourt was able to write about each stage of his life as though he was still the age portrayed. Obviously, the movie wasn't able to do this. But otherwise, the movie was a worthy effort, showing the poverty in Limerick and how the father (Robert Carlyle) spent his earned money on alcohol, and the mother (Emily Watson) felt like she couldn't do anything about it. An interesting device that the movie does use is that the soundtrack is mostly American jazz (which Frank probably heard a lot on the radio) rather than Irish jigs.

    So, the book is better - especially how he indicts the Catholic Church for keeping his family in poverty - but the movie is passable. Alan Parker has maintained a pretty good track record.
  • Woe is me. Misery upon misery. This harsh drama is based on the much acclaimed autobiography of Frank McCourt. A penniless and hard drinking man (Robert Carlyle)and his wife (Emily Watson)try to raise a family in Depression-ridden 1930's Ireland. Young Frank(Joe Breen)endures the deaths of siblings; the lack of compassion from his drunken irresponsible father; the sadness and desperation of his overwrought mother; his imposed parental role in raising his younger brothers; and the hopes and dreams of leaving a world of starvation and little opportunity. This movie really tugs at the heart strings. Somehow there are flashes of humor and optimism during the two and a half hours of despair.
  • A great movie that needs to be recommended. It is the story of the childhood hardships of Frank McCourt, based on his book. It is the story of Ireland and how living and growing up in Ireland influenced and affected the ordinary and poor families in the 1930s, a desperate and bleak time. Life in Limerick was a burden for anyone and nothing but an uncompassionate struggle for the very day-to-day existence. This story symbolizes the epitome of James Joyce's perception of Ireland as a society caught in paralysis, a society the capital of which he described as "the sow that eats her pigs". The historical paralysis as an eternal scar on the Irish mentality and the religious paralysis as being mentally chained by the stifling impact of the Catholic Church is even strengthened by the personal poverty and the manifold tragedies that afflicted the McCourts. In the center of this account stands Frankie, and we come to experience the scorning contemporary society which offers nothing but apathy towards its citizens' needs through his eyes as he grows up amidst bleak and dirty surroundings. It is an account moving in its simplicity and agonizing in its apodictic truth. The moments of joy and happiness in Frankie's life, rare as they are, allow temporary escapes from a society and a culture caught in its despair and paralysis. The movie tells the story of an Irish boy growing up and trying to find hope and love amidst despair and abject poverty. It is a valuable account that needs to be applauded for its authenticity and brutal candor. Highly recommended.
  • rps-218 January 2001
    Angela's Ashes is an almost impossible challenge to a filmaker. Yet the producers have done a more than capable job of translating Frank McCourt's bitter sweet story onto the screen. It's a little on the long side. But its main fault is the failure to capture the wonderful contrasts of the book. You would laugh on one page and cry on the next. There are many more tears than laughs in the film. And surely it must stop raining sometime in Limerick. At times I wasn't sure whether I was watching McCourt's story or Noah's.
  • The film takes place in Limerick which, from the looks of it, is in the middle of a rainforest. Two brothers grow up with a mother who struggles and begs to keep her family alive and together. The father uses every bit of money he ever earns to drink "pints." (More like gallons.) The film shows slices of life in the growing up process, and details how Frank finally gets the money to leave Ireland and come to America.

    It's hard to imagine living in a place that is that wet. Rain rain rain all the time. The boys were no angels, but they survived without getting into too much trouble, and became literary lions in America.

    In the movie, however, Angela, the mother, does not die, and so there are no ashes. Or did I miss something? Where are the ashes?

    Very good performances by all; if any one performance stood out, it was the teenage version of Frank McCourt.
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