oliver-123

IMDb member since June 2004
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Reviews

Wanted
(2008)

So ridiculous I had to laugh
Stated to be based on a graphic novel in another review, and it shows. Secret societies and superhuman powers come right out of the SF/modern fantasy milieu, and so, as at least one other review points out, does "I am your father". The frantic action of the chase at the beginning and the final shootout produced many moments where I just had to laugh at the absurdity of all the impossible things being shown. I can't imagine that the likes of Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie needed the money, so I suppose they just did it for fun. I felt they did their best with what the script offered, and James MacAvoy acted his character well - but what a comedown from The Last King of Scotland! Don't expect it to have much connection with reality, and you may enjoy it.

Four Lions
(2010)

Excruciatingly funny
I took the opportunity to record this from Film4 and watch with my wife - frequent advert breaks lessened the impact a bit, but not much. From the very beginning, it was clear we were in good hands: the constant bickering as one of the jihadis tried to make a 'martyr' video was hilarious. So was most of the film, and it needs to be emphasised that the attempts of the police and security services to identify and catch the right people (with echoes of real cock-ups like that which led to the Underground shooting, for instance) were satirised as much as the ineptness of the would-be bombers. There was an important serious side, showing that these people are part of our society and unconsciously behave like it half the time, interacting with 'white' co-workers and acquaintances in a perfectly normal way. The most malevolent, Barry, clearly a converted Londoner, would have made a good BNP supporter with only a few changes in his core beliefs. Be sure to watch all the credits sequence at the end; a nice sting in the tail when we are reminded who was referred to as "the Emir". Only a few criticisms, none very important. Not one but *two* of the jihadis effectively idiots? - seemed overdoing it. The relationship of Omar and Bashir, fanatically Muslim in a different way, was not made totally clear, but it seems likely that they are meant to be brothers. The northerners spoke too fast for even native Brits to catch sometimes. But the superb tirades of invective produced by Omar when he breaks into Urdu (all carefully subtitled), were another of the film's many pleasures, showing up Engligh-language abuse as the stunted and unimaginative thing that it usually is.

P.S. I should have added a major implausibility. How do Omar and Waj get back from Afghanistan with nothing but the clothes on their backs, apparently?

7 Men from Now
(1956)

A bit disappointing
I might have seen this as a teenager, but if so I don't remember it. Reading others' reviews gave me high hopes when a chance to tape it came up. So, well, it's certainly not bad: it starts and ends with tremendous scenes and has good stuff along the way. But for my taste there are entirely too much shots of them travelling through the scenery, and Randolph Scott does seem to be playing more on a single note than in other films like the Tall T, also shown recently. Lee Marvin's character is interesting and well portrayed. But some of the scenes seem to fall a little flat; the tensions within the group travelling together are unevenly portrayed, and the robbers whose action sets Stride on their trail are barely brought to life at all. The shooting of the husband of Gail Russell's character also seems a rather transparent way of getting him out of the way, which will put the robber leader in just as much trouble as the husband's revelations would have done.

Overall, then, I mark this lower than most have done, at 6.

The Comeback
(2005)

Embarrassment humour, but something more
I bought this as a long-time fan of Friends and of Lisa Kudrow as an actress (The Opposite of Sex and Wonderland are two *good* performances). I have just finished watching the last episode.

I can understand why this show did not get taken to the American public's heart. It depends too much on one character, and is not funny in the Friends, 30 Rock or even Ugly Betty style. Much of the "humour" lies in the continual humiliations that the central character Valerie Cherish undergoes, often self-inflicted - indeed, the readiness to be at the centre of a reality show is a source of continual embarrassments that, because seen by the reality show crew, are bound to be humiliating. Her high opinion of her own worth is constantly being undercut by what happens to and around her. The subtleties of the script in bringing out her character are one of the major features of the show.

At first I simply felt embarrassed for the character. But as well as all the relentless attempts at self-promotion and dizzying over-estimation of herself she does increasingly show sympathy for others, builds a relationship with Jane the director of the reality show that is suggested to make Jane sympathetic towards her, and goes against all her own principles in supporting an actors' strike that the other actors then duck out of. She then shows the nerve to confront the chief writers with their responsibility for the situation that led to the strike. This is in the second half of the season, when she begins to notch up some real if minor successes. Finally, she does what anyone with any heart will have been wanting her to do for ages and hits the odious Paulie G., one of the two chief writers, right where he lives, in his big fat gut.

There is a splendid irony in the fact that this, taped by the reality show crew and made part of its first episode, catapults her to real (if perhaps temporary) fame again, being featured on the Leno talk show, and ensures a second season of the reality show as well.

It would be interesting to know what ideas Kudrow and King had for a second season, because in many ways this was a natural end. Pushing her back into the swamp would have been an artistic mistake, I think.

The Millionairess
(1960)

Surprisingly poor
I never saw this when it first came out, though I remember the song that went with it (but does not feature in it), and only caught up with it when the Times gave away free DVDs with its Saturday edition recently. I agree entirely with other criticisms; too little happens, the dialogue doesn't flow naturally, some of the acting is wooden and there are pointless cameos (e.g. by Alfie Bass) and weak attempts at slapstick (various persons ending up in the Thames). The setting seems to be modern, i.e. 1950s, but the East Enders the Indian doctor treats belong to an older time, the time of Shaw's own play, except that some are Indian or similar. Part of the problem seems to be the placing of some of Shaw's epigrammatic dialogue in a weaker and rather inappropriate framework; the millionairess is much more ruthless and unpleasant in the play, as I remember it. Sophia Loren is a pleasure to watch, and there seems to be genuine chemistry between her and Peter Sellers (as I believe was reported off-set), but they cannot save this, and good actors like Alastair Sim and Dennis Price are wasted.

Desperado
(1995)

Even 'plotless' movies should make some sense
Important spoiler references: avoid reading this if you haven't seen the film.

Why does the Colombian knife-thrower attack El Mariachi & Buscemi? Why does Carolina decide to make love with him? How does he survive, at the end, when there are so many guns trained on him? (Not to mention all the earlier fights, of course)? Aren't there any police *at all*, even corrupt ones, to be worried about the mass slaughters? (Not having seen the earlier film) Doesn't he know about the relationship between him and Bucho? Okay, the fights are tremendous, and sometimes humorous (I especially liked the part where El Mariachi and the accountant are locked in deadly struggle and keep grabbing and levelling empty guns simultaneously), Salma Hayek is good value, the setting is evocative - but this really seems like a first-person shooter brought to life. The mark I give reflects the darkly humorous elements as much as anything.

D.E.B.S.
(2004)

Some funny moments
On a second viewing, I found more funny bits, and feel a previous review was perhaps too negative. There remain all sorts of things in it that just don't make sense, even within the context of the imagined world of the film. E.g., why, when the other D.E.B.s on her team and her ex-boyfriend find Amy in bed with Lucy, do they just let Lucy go, when she was at their mercy? Why is the whole crowd so panicked, near the end, when told that Lucy Diamond is in the building, when a good proportion must be D.E.B.s in training, and run all over the place instead of evacuating in an organised way? Couldn't more use have been made of the Russian assassin character? And, most important, can anyone conceivably believe in Lucy Diamond as an international criminal? Jordana Brewster is very attractive and has some nice facial expressions, but she gives off not a trace of danger - unlike Demi Moore in the second Charlie's Angels film, for instance.

I found the Charlie's Angels films much more entertaining overall, despite their flaws, also other deliberately silly films like Zoolander. But there were some laugh-out-loud moments.

But I'm a Cheerleader
(1999)

I wanted to like this, but ...
Many potential or actual spoilers below.

I really wanted to like this, because I believe passionately in the message that it promotes (though not gay myself). I watched this twice on successive days, feeling disappointed after the first viewing (I had read the first page of reviews). Second time around, I could see more in it: some subtle touches (Mary planting the *plastic* flowers and finding one that wouldn't stay planted - very symbolic), and found the bits I laughed at (especially the males drooling over Rock, and the ludicrous ideas of proper masculine/feminine behaviour being presented) still funny.

The acting was uniformly good. But whether the characters were entirely believable was another matter. In particular, Mary had evidently managed to get a son from somewhere, but if she was so big on heterosexuality, why did she not have at least a lover (and why did not some cheeky kid point this out)? Of course, there was at least one passage to suggest that she was a suppressed gay herself - and her ideas of masculine and feminine behaviour were so extraordinary that they would have seemed unnecessarily prescriptive even in the Fifties. There is another major inconsistency: if she is so insistent on 'proper' male-female roles, which seems to include the man being the one with the job, why is she running a business and not confining herself to the kitchen etc.?

Graham's motivation was not wholly clear: was she simply desperate to please a notably unpleasant and manipulative father? And if Megan's parents love her so much, why are they, especially her mother, so fast to state that they will disown her completely if she cannot decide not to be a lesbian? And why are her friends so ready to turn her in, and take the line that her boyfriend's appallingly sloppy kissing should please her? It is my understanding (as a Brit) that poor kissing technique is frowned on in high school circles, and I can see why any girl would have disliked this!

There was an element of parody that went so far that it stretched credulity to breaking point. Could anyone *really* believe that vegetarianism was a sign of homosexuality ... when probably at least half the massive population of India, for example, is vegetarian? Or that one's mother getting married in pants, or being born in France, was a *sufficient* "root" for homosexual behaviour? (Mind, American antagonism to France being what it is in some conservative quarters ...)

Further, there is some reference to God and the religious importance of a heterosexual lifestyle, but my understanding is that this is a *major* part of the teaching pushed by these institutions that attempt to 'cure' homosexuals (and apparently of Mary's own motivation), so we should have heard a lot more about this Other elements of the presentation, such as the attempt to present a gay lifestyle as luridly self-destructive, to suggest that gays 'recruit' (and liberals promote this), have no friends, etc. sound truer to life.

There was also a tendency to make use of the stereotypes that the message of the film surely deplores. So André the actor and dancer has to be a 'cissy' (indeed, all the gay boys are made to run away when the axehead flies off the handle), and Megan is the child of a more dominant mother, who will say things her somewhat ineffectual husband can't get out - until a final scene after the credits have begun.

This is a reminder that one would like to have known more about the parents. E.g. why does Graham have a boy's name? Did her father really want a son?

The film is quite short, but I think it could have been improved by adding a little to fill in this part of the background more and answer some of these questions. I am still ready to give it a mark of 7.

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
(2003)

Doesn't hang together
There are good things in this: the acting is good, with obvious chemistry between the stars, and there are good scenes, especially (as other reviewers have noticed) the scene where Ben takes Andie to meet his family. But right there is one of the problems. Having been turning herself into an increasingly girlfriend-from-hell character, suddenly Andie blends right in, does not show herself irritating in any way, and proves sharp as a pin in playing the family card game, beating Ben. Doesn't Ben notice the inconsistency? Another that has been noted, that she claims to be a vegetarian after having eaten lobster, is explicable, maybe, in that not all vegetarians avoid fish and seafood, but might at least give him pause for thought. Can't remember what she is shown eating at the family occasion.

And then there are the hackneyed features, especially the chase at the end to catch her before she leaves for ever. And for them each to have two 'best friends' might fit reality but seemed a wearisomely familiar plot device.

So, I have to say, I have seen rom-coms that hung together better and that I therefore remember with greater pleasure.

The Black Dahlia
(2006)

Not in the same league as LA Confidential
I have to agree with the mainly critical reviews I have checked - and it may be the quality of the DVD or my advancing age, but I found some of the dialogue difficult to pick out, and especially Ramona's last words. Even with flashbacks, it was not clear what was actually going on some of the time, and Josh Hartnett's character never really seemed to come alive. I liked the performances of the two female stars, but Kay's motivation in particular was not made clear. And it is fair to say, as others have said, that it was not clear what the film was focussing on. The feeling of groping one's way and trying to make sense of what is going on is appropriate to the style of film, but here it was definitely overdone.

Good Night, and Good Luck.
(2005)

Why can't people write like Ed Murrow any more?
As my title indicates, I was extremely impressed by everything Ed Murrow is presented as saying, which presumably represents what he actually did say. Maybe I'm being unfair to modern-day broadcasters (and being British I don't see American news programmes anyway), but I do not get the impression that anyone working now has that kind of authority.

Just hearing the man speak was enough to make this film very worthwhile. I felt that the use of documentary footage was just a little excessive, especially when we got parts repeated, and one did ned to pay close attention to be clear what was going on. It was not always entirely clear who people were, and, no doubt deliberately, the hubbub of comment made catching what any individual was saying difficult at times. But it all felt authentic - and, omigawd, the *smoking*! (None of the women smoked, that I noticed - a tribute to the days when it was felt rather fast, if not a sign of a dissolute or dangerous woman as in film noir?).

I hope that everyone who saw this took away some lessons. The use of smear tactics, guilt by association, etc. and the demonising of groups perceived as alien or hostile has not diminished, and is practised all over the world (cf. the President of Iran on Jews); the reluctance of powerful organisations to have their actions questioned and be required to justify them publicly has not diminished.

Given that the media played a major role in turning the US against the Vietnam War, some of Ed Murrow's gloom about the future of TV, as expressed in 1958, might be thought excessive. But the points he made are still valid today - and it was very interesting to hear him indicate doubts about American policy in the Middle East, in 1958.

Saving Face
(2004)

Absolutely convincing
I liked just about everything about this. The characters, and the clash of expectations between older and younger generations of Chinese Americans, seemed completely true to life, and the sense of a community was well brought out. It is amazing that this is the director's first film (but she is older than she looks in the Behind the Scenes featurette). Particular pleasures were the grandmother's evident boredom with her husband's pomposities, Vivian's fumbling with Chinese, which she evidently didn't speak normally despite her background, the scene in the church, and the payoff. It's not entirely clear how old Wil is meant to be (given her mother's age, hardly out of her twenties, which seems young for the responsible position she seems to have in the hospital), and it was not made at all clear how Wil's mother had got into some kind of affair with Little Yu that went far enough for her to become pregnant. But overall, tremendous.

The Devil Wears Prada
(2006)

Not a great film, but a great performance
This is, as every comment has surely noted, a tremendous performance by Meryl Streep. She creates a character who is, basically, monstrous, even though at one point she shows vulnerability, just for a while before the armour goes back on. Whether the real life models for Miranda Priestly are quite this tyrannical and demanding I do not know. If there is a flaw, it is that she comes across as almost too beastly: there is no real suggestion that she has the charisma to inspire the (often fearful)loyalty that she gets. Nor do we really get an insight into her motivation, except perhaps the implicit suggestion that she *has* to behave like this to maintain her position, maybe that she fears if she does not, she will be dethroned. The film is subtle in suggesting her limitations - she cannot conceive of anyone not wanting a position like hers - and in giving her the comeuppance she deserves by having Andrea walk away, to give her "her biggest disappointment".

The film really centres on her much more than on Andrea and the rather moralistic story of her temporary seduction by and final rejection of the world of fashion. In general, I found the characters wholly caught up in this world (Emily and Nigel) much better realised than Andrea's 'normal' friends. Her boyfriend, in particular, is hard to get a handle on, and he is given one of the more questionable lines. In my view, Andrea did *not* do the job just for the clothes and shoes and bags, and it is unfair and narrow-minded to suggest that she did; surely she did it to "show them" - that she was competent, that she could handle anything Miranda could throw at her (even if she needed help once or twice). It could be said that, in giving him this line, the film is offering too simplistic a choice between workers in the fashion industry who starve themselves to get unrealistic, dangerously thin figures and so are 'bad', and 'normal' near-slobs (we never see the boyfriend in anything approaching a stylish getup, that I can recall) who are 'good'.

But for all its imperfections this is worth seeing, and maybe a little more realistic than Ugly Betty.

Kill Bill: Vol. 2
(2004)

Unanswered questions
Warning: very serious spoilers Well, now I've seen both halves, and as I suspected we wouldn't, we are given no answer to how the baby is retrieved from the Bride's supposedly dead body, without any trace of this being apparently visible to the law officers. This also brings up a major continuity error: she flees as soon as she is pregnant, Bill traces her three months later, yet she is evidently near term when the massacre takes place - where did half a year go? And there are more questions: how did Bill know she was coming, when the last he'd heard, from Elle Driver, was that she was buried? Are we to suppose that Elle Driver, even in her agony, warned him? (And what happened to Elle anyway? She was blinded, but not not killed) And were Elle and the other assassins so blindly obedient to Bill that they were ready to beat up and kill her and some perfectly innocent people - and why did he want them to, when he could have had the Bride taken out by other assassin methods)? And why did they disperse afterwards, one to become an ordinary mother, one the boss of the yakuza, and one (Elle) who knows what? So, though the acting is good (Uma Thurman's is great), this is even less satisfactory than Vol. 1, in my opinion. The fighting scenes are much more scrappy, less "artful" than in 1, and the most interest is generated by how the Bride gets out of her bonds and her coffin - which is actually reasonably plausible, if one accepts that her body was not searched.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1
(2003)

Even to fantasy there must be some limit
Warning: really serious spoilers.

Curiosity led me to tape this off TV, and watch it. I have no fault to find with the acting: Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu, in particular, are excellent, and it is for that, and the undeniably impressive action scenes, that I give a mark of 7. But ...

I am not enough of a film buff to recognise all references, influences, etc., but for me the strongest influence is the comic book, and especially what I have seen from my son's collection of anime. This, of course, is fitting, since much of the action of Part 1 takes place in Japan. But it is most like the comic book in its focus on the central characters, who often seem to be moving in a world where the outside world barely exists and certainly does not interfere with their actions to any notable extent (no police pursuit of The Bride after the killing we see first, for instance; no attempts to find her when she's left the hospital). The central character, The Bride, is effectively a superhero; she survives what ought to be mortal wounds (even a shot in the head!); manages to dispose of two men and get herself into a wheelchair, and from that into a car, when just recovered from a bedridden coma lasting 4 years, apparently; fights and disposes of multiple opponents with only a samurai sword, displaying more than Xena-like agility and stamina and taking only minor damage until her climactic duel with Lucy Liu's character. How the child she was carrying is supposed to have survived is not at all clear(cut out of her after she was shot?); but we only learn this at the very end, in a pretty outrageous piece of manipulation. Maybe it is explained in Part 2(not seen yet).

This presentation of a character without any explanation of her abilities is not confined to The Bride. Lucy Liu's character becomes an expert assassin - fine; but she then becomes the 'boss of bosses' of all the yakuza in Tokyo. We are not given any hint of how she achieves this amazing feat, simply that she has. By this time, she has acquired an entourage of extremely lethal henchmen (and an equally lethal schoolgirl bodyguard), but The Bride disposes of them all (none of them takes a shot at her, even with a bow - they only use swords and other weapons of similar vintage), while their boss waits to fight the final duel, again with a sword only. Why? There is a good deal of extremely gory slicing off of hands, feet, limbs etc., but all those affected survive - they don't bleed to death, as they surely would without prompt application of tourniquets - especially the lawyer whose arm is cut off at the shoulder. But she must survive, to have information that The Bride wants tortured out of her.

Such total disregard for reality grates after a while. Comparisons with LOTR are inappropriate: in that characters cannot overcome great odds absolutely single-handed, they die (or appear to, in Gandalf's case), take wounds, feel fatigue etc. They still achieve their quest, very much against the odds (but they do have some magical help at crucial moments), but they seem much more plausibly human.

Ultimately, this film is a series of spectacles, which one is meant to admire without questioning any details of their presentation. I cannot suspend disbelief to that extent; but I will watch Part 2 just to find out how the end happens (I know from reviews the barest outline of what happens in it).

Office Space
(1999)

I'm glad I never worked in an office
I did not follow The Office on UK television, in retrospect a mistake, perhaps, but after seeing this, and Nine to Five, and others, I am so glad I never had to put up with this. It all rings gruesomely true, because the performances make it so credible: it may be hard to believe in anyone as terminally nerdish as Milton, but he was very well played, and so was the Lumbergh character. I suspect everyone who reviewed this has commented joyfully on the complete mashing of the printer - also, maybe, everyone who has ever used a PC or a Mac and got enraged when it throws a snit and decides not to boot up or to crash or just not to do something for its own arcane reasons.

My only regret was not seeing much of the divine Jennifer Aniston. She didn't have all that much to do. I'd love to have seen her tearing a strip off her obnoxious boss instead of just giving him the finger, but you can't have everything.

My Super Ex-Girlfriend
(2006)

Not exactly super, but quite okay
I laughed quite a lot at this. I thought Uma Thurman did a particularly good job of presenting her character, and the special effects were inventive and fun. But there were holes in the plot - if Bedlam is a supervillain, why isn't he arrested as soon as he comes out of hiding (fi that's what's happened, though he seems to be living in a perfectly ordinary house in a suburb, where he would surely be spotted), and what are his special powers that we hear about but never see? - and there were characters whom I would like to have seen developed further, like the sexual harassment monitor who was evidently desperate to make a case against some man, whether to justify her position or out of spite against men was not clear. So, only a 6 - but worth a single viewing.

A History of Violence
(2005)

Very impressive
There are loose ends in this film - we hear no more of repercussions from Jack's final attack on the bully, or how Joey gets away from his brother's house without being arrested (surely all the shooting would have attracted attention and calls to the police) and back to his truck (but maybe he takes a car of his brother's?), and the hints that Jack has inherited his father's capacity for extreme violence are not really followed up. But these in my view only pull it down from a 10 to an 8. The acting by the protagonists is fantastic. Viggo Mortensen seems to have an uncanny ability to portray the shifts between his mild and savage personas in his face; Maria Bello is excellent as his wife, William Hurt in a short but memorable scene as his brother, Ashton Holmes as his son, Ed Harris as Fogarty. The violence is believable and not gratuitous, except perhaps for the first scene establishing the nature of the two criminals who are the first to die, but maybe that too is justifiable, and sets up the viewer to accept Viggo Mortensen's character as his family and fellow townsmen do in the beginning. There are well-respected films out there that have worse, in my opinion (I have never even wanted to see Reservoir Dogs). Altogether, very impressive.

Can't Hardly Wait
(1998)

Not as good as some would have it
I have certainly seen high school movies I enjoyed more (Dazed and Confused, for example). I felt many of the performances, like that of Jennifer Love Hewitt, only came alive later in the action - JLH did not make much impact when she first appeared, but was good later on - and maybe there were too many different story lines. The most consistently good actors were Ethan Embry and Lauren Ambrose; I have to admit, I found Seth Green's character a pain in the backside, and, not being of that age or culture, had little sympathy for his relentless "homeboy" stuff; he was much better when he stopped! There were some nice set pieces, like the nerd suddenly lighting up the party with his (drunken) karaoke performance, and the top jock getting his richly deserved comeuppance - but why was he back with his friends the following day, as if nothing had happened? One can't feeling they would have been uneasy with him, maybe even a little contemptuous after what they had seen and heard.

It was undoubtedly a bonus to see actresses such as Jaime Pressly, Selma Blair, and Melissa Joan Hart making an appearance, if only fleetingly in Selma Blair's case.

Nice ending (after some credits), reminded me of the end of Gregory's Girlfriend.

Boys and Girls
(2000)

More believable than When Harry Met Sally?
I am sorry to see that this film has achieved such a low average score, for I thought it was really pretty well done. Of course the plot has echoes of When Harry Met Sally, but for me it was sufficiently different to be readily distinguishable, apart from the fact that it took place over a much shorter time period, almost all the important action being in the central characters' college years.

I liked it that Ryan was an archetypal nerd (but not a totally clueless geek), which made the whole development of an apparently platonic friendship (but evidently more on his side almost from the start) much more plausible. I know it's a cliché, but I liked his room mate, self-proclaimedly more knowledgeable about women, continually striking out in real life. I liked the quietly attractive but by no means glamorous heroine and her friend.

Because it did not require so much suspension of disbelief as When Harry Met Sally, I think it worked better.

Vanity Fair
(2004)

Far too light
I like Reese Witherspoon as an actress, but she was miscast in this. I am sure it is not wholly her fault, but the whole approach to this satirical novel of Thackeray's was entirely too light, so that Becky Sharp's attempts to make a place for herself in society almost came across as a light-hearted game, not a deadly earnest struggle in which she was ready to be effectively ruthless. The relationship between her and Joss Sedley, on which the story of her struggles opens and closes (omitting Becky Sharp's final achievement of respectability, if I remember rightly), was presented very lightly. Nor do I recall in Thackeray - but it's a long time since I read it, and our copy is not to hand - anything *remotely* like the Indian song-and-dance routine, with much display of leg, presented by the Marquess of Steyne, in which the troupe, apart from Becky herself, are all announced as aristocrats or near it. I doubt that even the most abandoned would have behaved like this on a respectable occasion (for there are grandes dames of society present) in 1820's London, even for George IV. This, with considerable emphasis on Becky Sharp's fine singing, is another feature that lightens the whole tone of the story. And Becky's words about showing Rawdon how to live in London on *almost* nothing a year weaken the effect of Thackeray's sardonic commentary on their exploitation of the credit extended to 'gentlemen', and of their unfortunate servants.

The Break-Up
(2006)

Not a comedy, but not really intended to be?
The categories for classifying films tend to be pretty broad, but this certainly should not have been billed as a romantic comedy. In fact, I did not find much to laugh at: often it was too painful, and the 'funny' minor characters did not actually provide much light relief. I personally feel the two stars did a good job of portraying their characters (interestingly, the commentary makes clear that quite a lot of the dialogue was improvised, by them and others), though Jennifer Aniston's was less fully imagined, I think. But there was a basic flaw: it was very difficult to see how these two characters could have developed a sufficiently strong relationship to move in together, without having perceived their basic incompatibility. The fact that Gary expects to be able to support Brooke so she doesn't 'have to work' reflects a difference in approach that would surely have become apparent very early on, for instance. That said, the portrayal of the break-up seemed well done, to me - and of course there was a lot of shouting, that's what people do in a break-up.

Add to this that the minor characters often did not come across very well (and could be irritating when they did, like Brooke's brother and Gary's younger brother), that we have quite a long scene with Johnny O talking of having something done to Gary's supposed rival that is pointless, because there is has no sequel at all, and other things, the result is a film that only really entertains occasionally. At least they went with an ending that, while basically positive, did not have them kiss and make up (and thank heavens they chose this ending rather than the alternate, a bonus on the DVD, which had the lame concept that each is now dating someone who looks like their ex, and entirely too much cringe-making singing by Brooke's brother's group).

Friends with Money
(2006)

Too understated
Jennifer Aniston certainly seems to be trying to vary her range in the film roles she undertakes, and this one is her most serious of the current crop. The problem I had with this film is that one never really understood what made her character Olivia tick - why, for example, does she take up with the jerk Mike? - and never knew the basis for the friendship with the other three. Her character was a bit like that in The Good Girl, but there one was given some idea of what was driving her. Similarly, it was not easy to know what was going on with the other main characters, except for Frances McDormand's, where her great acting did make it more clear. I can see why it wasn't a hit; it is just too downbeat and inconsequential, and the audience has to do too much work trying to sort out what is actually going on.

Love Actually
(2003)

Funnier than I expected
I watched this because there was a special offer at the video shop, so it only cost me £1. It was far funnier in places than I expected, and quite subtle in its balancing of love affairs that do take off, generally in unusual circumstances, against failures and other kinds of love, all in pursuit of the theme that "love is all around". I have to say, some of the developments are wildly implausible, and Hugh Grant does not convince as a bachelor Prime Minister, who must, to judge from a remark by his sister in the story, be a lot older than he looks (and would either party actually have a leader in his forties who was not merely a bachelor but without any kind of female partner at all? I doubt it). But many of the performances are engaging, especially Bill Nighy as a clapped-out old rock star, and overall it was good fun.

Scorched
(2003)

Yes it's funny
Given the cast, and after seeing other comments on IMDb, I chanced it on this one, and it was well worth my money. I frequently burst out laughing. Undoubtedly the funniest bits are the extremely varied ways in which Woody Harrelson's character messes up - occasionally predictable, but well acted slapstick at its best. John Cleese was middling, best at the end, while the opening sequence has a splendid running gag and a marvellous outbreak by Alicia Silverstone. Perhaps Rachael Leigh Cook's and Paulo Costanzo's talents are underused, and the actor who played George Sr. in Arrested Development makes only a guest appearance. I hope there will be more good writing like this from Joe Wein.

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