Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Mix of Reviews

Slow news day so here are some reviews to tide you over.

Disclaimer: I have neither read the original novel by A.S. Byatt (though now I definitely plan to) nor have I seen the French Lieutenant's Woman. By only basis for comparison is as a neutral viewer, though admittedly one with a preference for romantic comedies.
Having said that, I was completely mesmerized and swept away by this movie. From the first note of the subtle yet soothingly rich score, Possession just draws you in - a love story set in two different eras with evolving standards for love. It's really a simple story, but it delves into the different and often heartbreaking facets of love. Jennifer Ehle delivers one of the main lines and themes of the movie, "No one can stand in a fire and not be consumed." We see how love can both devour and awaken a person, and how beautifully twisted it is.

Though Gwyneth Paltrow headlines the movie, it really belongs to the two leading actors - Aaron Eckhart and Jeremy Northam. Aaron Eckhart, in my opinion, really gives a standout performance. His performances in Erin Brockovich and Nurse Betty were good, but he seemed to be stuck in one-dimensional roles that hardly showcased his talent. In Possession, he finally breaks out of his white-trash male persona to amazing results. He actually lets us see his face sans beard (and it is fiiine and chiseled!) and into the soul of what we ladies desire - the sensitive alpha male. Jeremy Northam once again epitomizes the quintessential Englishman of yesteryear - regal, handsome, and genteel. It's truly an irresistable combination. Jennifer Ehle is wonderful as always. She showcases why she was last year's Tony Award winner for Best Lead Actress. She provides the passion, the heart that Gwyneth Paltrow's character invariably lacks.

This movie is perfect for a Friday night with your man or one of your girlfriends. The scenery alone is worth the trip - the shots of Yorkshire are really breathtaking. Who knew dreary England could be so lush and beautiful? It honestly makes you want to book a trip, a honeymoon to England. Let yourself be caught up in this movie - you'll be glad you did when the lights go on and you realized you forgot to breathe.

This Year's Love
Another one of those charming, in your face comedies based on La Ronde. You know the sort of thing. A bunch of mates and eclectic twentysomethings are brought together, have a fling and move on over the course of a few years.

So we have Dougray Scott as Cameron getting off with just about every woman in the movie using the opening gambit: "You have wonderful bone structure"; tattooist Danny (Douglas Henshall) leaving his wife and going off for flings with most of the women Scott leaves behind; Jennifer Ehle is Sophie, a stunning single mum going deaf in one ear who looks great in dreads but has rejected her upper class roots. She hates the word nice but can't tear herself away from what she is. An inverted snob.

Ian Hart as Liam is by far the saddest character in the movie. A comic book fan who defines the word intense and when he sees his flatmate in bed with another woman, goes off and slashes his wrists. He ends up with singer Mary (Kathy Burke) and when a gag involving a tipple goes pear shaped, he storm off. Liam believes that time goes backwards and in one of the bleakest developments of any movie, by the end of the film, he actually goes mad.

Yes, this isn't your average rom com where there's loads of happy endings and that's what makes it a lot more believable than most movies in its class.

Good direction by screenwriter David Kane and an excellent soundtrack make this very easy entertainment while the cast is superb.

Sunshine gives us 100 years of Middle Europe, when Jews tried to be Hungarians, and Hungarians wouldn't let them.

Butterfly gives us nine months of Spain just before the civil war in 1936, when a young republic went to school until Franco's fascists shot the teachers.

Ralph Fiennes stars and stars and stars in Sunshine. There are three of him.

With a beard, he is Ignatz, who changes his name from Sonnenschein to become a judge in the Austro-Hungarian empire.

With a mustache, he is Adam, son of Ignatz, who converts to Catholicism so he can fence at the Berlin Olympics.

Clean shaven, he is Ivan, son of Adam, who gets out of Auschwitz to become a secret policeman in the Stalinist regime, before they remember he's Jewish.

At least as interesting as Budapest, Vienna, wars and revolutions, are the women who throw themselves at Ralph: a stunning Jennifer Ehle, who grows up to be the equally beautiful Rosemary Harris (Ehle's mother in real life).

And there's Molly Parker, who marries Ralph the second in spite of a prior commitment, and Rachel Weisz, who sleeps with Ralph the second, even though she's married to his brother, and Deborah Kara Unger, who goes into the woods with Ralph the third, risking both their lives. And I haven't even mentioned William Hurt, nor the sunshine tonic that made the family rich.

Monarchy, fascism, communism, anti-Semitism and the sex appeal of Ralph are a lot to think about, even in three hours. But something else seems to be on director Istvan Szabo's mind.

If the Sonnenscheins don't help themselves by selling out their Judaism, what are we to make of the filmmaker who keeps popping up to lick the hand of whatever master feeds him? There are dark shadows in Sunshine, not quite dispelled by the radiance of Jennifer Ehle and Rosemary Harris.

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