Hamlet

There are some films on the List that I’ve no idea when I’ll get to them. These films fall into three categories – the ones I absolutely adore but have no clue how I’ll even start writing about them, the ones I desperately do not want to watch (but am too much of an anal completist to ignore) and the really long ones. This four-hour-plus cut of Hamlet obviously falls into the latter, but fortunately for me, my girlfriend opted for Kate Winslet as her Film-Maker of choice, and seeing as I’ve reached that point in Winslet’s career in which she appeared in Hamlet as Ophelia, I can cross off Kenneth Branagh’s opus from the Empire 5-Star 500. As for the unspeakable films I don’t want to see, whenever LoveFilm drop Salo through my letterbox it shall not be a good day, though I could pull an In The Realm Of The Senses and bottle it when I’ve taken as much as I can stand.
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A.I.: Artifical Intelligence

Kubrick’s visionary ideas, social commentaries and moral dilemmas don’t quite gel with Spielberg’s family oriented sentimentality in this disjointed and overlong offering, conceived and planned by the former but implemented by the latter after his death in 1999.

Now, I love me some robots. Whether they’re compacting waste into trash skyscrapers, travelling through time to save Sarah Connor or trying to kill Will Smith, you show me a film with robots in and I’ll watch the Hell out of it (though I’ve never actually seen the 20th Century Fox film Robots starring Ewan McGregor and Robin Williams, just never came around). There’s a robot clock watching me from atop a bookcase in the lounge, robot cushions on the sofa and a robot cookie jar whose head seems to rotate around and look at me wherever I am. But the key characteristic that joins these all together, is that they all look like robots, which is where A.I. looses my interest, for here they look like people. Yes, I know that’s the point. Haley Joel Osment’s mini-mecha David has been created to fill the hole left when his new parent’s son goes into a coma, and Jude Law’s robo-gigolo Joe (that’s fun to say) would be downright weird if he didn’t look a lot like a human, but that’s not what I want to see in a film about mechanical men. It isn’t until over half way through the film that we see some older models and exposed innards, and even then it’s far too briefly.

Osment is good, too good, as the automated child, and occasionally he passes for human, but for the most part he’s in full-tilt terrifyingly creepy mode, following his ‘mother’ Monica (Frances O’Connor) around the house all day, standing and watching her until she justifiably locks him in a cupboard. The first 45 minutes could quite easily be the start of a horror film, so disturbing is David: “I can never go to sleep, but I can lay quietly and not make a peep.” Nothing he does is endearing or even likable, but then I’ve always felt this way about children, but still the brief amount of time it takes for Monica to bond with this mechanised horror is jarring, especially given there seems to be no real scenario that draws them together. Also, David is only programmed to ‘love’ one parent, and his new ‘father’ Henry (Sam Robards) seems devoid of emotions, either for his comatose son or the new replacement, so that fits together nicely.

The movie is comprised of a series of episodes that, once passed, are all but forgotten. The story could have been interesting, and the world has potential for a more enthralling film within it, especially in the city scenes, and the brutal Flesh Fairs, where rogue ‘bots are hunted and tortured to a baying crowd’s delight, but over an hour of watching David desperately wanting to be a real boy becomes terminally dull. The future technology and gadgetry is generally good, subtle yet insightful, although the cars look a bit silly. And the ending is polarising, I found it terrible and unsatisfying, whilst Aisha thought that, whilst it seemed tacked on and unnecessary, it was still very moving.


Choose life 5/10

Good Morning, Vietnam

Barry Levinson can’t work out whether he’s Oliver Stone or Jerry Zucker in this Vietnam-based Robin Williams vehicle. Heavy handed politics and imagery of riots, fire and explosions doesn’t tend to gel with zany antics and improv riffing from one of the world’s leading fast-talking funnymen, but fortunately Williams is on fine enough form to just about rescue the material from an uneven mess, as his radio DJ Adrian Cronauer is brought in to perk up the on-air talent of 1965 Saigon. The troops love him, but his superiors, including the late, great Bruno Kirby’s put upon aggressive peon Lt. Steve, are less keen on his refusal to play approved material and pre-programmed songs, opting for rock and roll over Perry Como. Some storylines seem forced and contrived – Cronauer repeatedly infiltrating an English class just to meet a girl, her entire family accompanying them on a date – and you get the feeling that this is only loosely based on a true story.
Where it shines though is the comedy. Though some of the references are now very dated and probably worked a lot better back in the States (Ethel Merman, Walter Cronkite, Mr. Ed), Williams knack for voices and repartee with a crowd is unparalleled, though a young Forest Whittaker as station lackey Edward Garlick gets his share of decent lines too: “A man does not refer to Pat Boone as a beautiful genius if things are alright.”
The film tries too hard to make a political statement where none is wanted, and the failed attempts at poignancy leave a bad taste in the mouth. Had the serious side been toned down – difficult, I know, given that it’s about war – and the directionless plot been reined in a little this could have been a classic.
Choose life 6/10

Aladdin

What better way to kick off a lazy Bank Holiday Monday than with a Disney classic? With a Pixar one of course, but I’ve watched most of those, so Disney it is. Notable in the Disney archives for being the first to use big name actors to voice its characters (Robin Williams steals the show as the Genie, even though he isn’t in the first third of the film) , Aladdin doesn’t have a lot else going for it to set it apart from the more renowned Disney pictures such as Beauty and the Beast, the Lion King or the Jungle Book. Yes, the devious royal advisor Jafar is a masterclass in how to draw an evil character (acute angles, lots of acute angles, think a dehydrated Peter Cushing), Gilbert Gottfried is excellent as the cantankerous parrot Iago and there is some of the studios greatest comedy from Williams’ improv and one liners (“10,000 years will give you such a crick in the neck!”), but the plot is thin, the Arabian stereotypes broad (and at times a little racist, a wink to Uncle Walt maybe?) and most of the songs are forgotten before the credits roll, with only A Whole New World and Genie’s Never Had a Friend Like Me leaving any kind of impression.
The animation is largely flawless, although touches of CGI sap the warmth from the otherwise hand-rendered imagery, and it is hugely impressive just how much characterisation has been given to a tasselled rug, but the plot is too thin and predictable, the morals daubed too thickly, even for a Disney, to make this a must-see.
Choose life 6/10

Good Will Hunting

Is anyone else waiting for the second Oscar-winning screenplay from Matt Damon and Ben Affleck? I know they’ve been busy (until recently, Damon more so than Affleck), and that they essentially wrote the script because they weren’t getting the roles they wanted, but the guys obviously have talent, and I hope they start tapping away again soon. Affleck could even direct this time, as he’s shown great promise with Gone Baby Gone and, apparently, The Town (I’ve not seen it yet but am looking forward to, I’ll keep you posted).
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