Barbara Jefford

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Philomena Review


Excellent

Based on a true story, this warm drama uses sharp humour to keep from tipping over into sloppy sentiment. It's still hugely emotional, but in a shamelessly entertaining way. And it gives Judi Dench and Steve Coogan characters they can really sink their teeth into as the twists and turns of the real events unfold.

In 2002, cynical London journalist Martin Sixsmith (Coogan) has just been sacked from his job as a government spin doctor, so his editor suggests he try a human interest story to get back to work. He hates the idea until he meets Philomena (Dench), a retired Irishwoman who was raised by nuns in a workhouse, where she was forced to give her baby son up for adoption some 50 years ago. She'd like to know what happened to him, so Martin accompanies her back to Ireland and then on to America, where the babies were sold. But their search doesn't go as expected, and what they discover is startlingly moving.

As he did with The Queen, director Frears gives the film a gentle, light tone that helps balance the intensely serious subject matter. He also encourages his cast to deliver understated performances, which is especially effective for the usually broad Coogan. And of course Dench is simply wonderful as a feisty straight-talker who isn't thrown by anything she encounters. Gurgling under everything is an astute look at religious heritage: Martin is a lapsed Catholic who can't understand why Philomena still has a devout faith, because of what the church has done to her. And as the story continues, he begins to understand the strength this gives her.

Continue reading: Philomena Review

Where Angels Fear to Tread Review


Grim
Insanely overwrought British period drama (based on E.M. Forster's first novel) has corset-ready standbys like Rupert Graves, Helena Bonham Carter, Judy Davis, and Helen Mirren headed to turn-of-last-century Italy. The story gets off to a promising start as the wealthy Mirren decides to marry an Italian of low status (Guidelli), finding a culture clash that only gets worse with the pronouncement that she is pregnant. Unfortunately, Mirren's character dies during childbirth, launching the movie into its primary plotline -- the war over the child, fought by her family and her no-Ingles husband. Sadly, this plot is melodramatic, incredibly phony, and nearly unwatchable. Unless you've just got a thing for corsets and petticoats, give this one a pass.

Where Angels Fear to Tread Review


Grim
Insanely overwrought British period drama (based on E.M. Forster's first novel) has corset-ready standbys like Rupert Graves, Helena Bonham Carter, Judy Davis, and Helen Mirren headed to turn-of-last-century Italy. The story gets off to a promising start as the wealthy Mirren decides to marry an Italian of low status (Guidelli), finding a culture clash that only gets worse with the pronouncement that she is pregnant. Unfortunately, Mirren's character dies during childbirth, launching the movie into its primary plotline -- the war over the child, fought by her family and her no-Ingles husband. Sadly, this plot is melodramatic, incredibly phony, and nearly unwatchable. Unless you've just got a thing for corsets and petticoats, give this one a pass.

The Ninth Gate Review


Good
What is The Ninth Gate? Judging from the cryptic marketing campaign, you might be likely to dismiss it as another ridiculous action movie, with big fireballs and car chase scenes. Or worse, maybe you'll shun it as a metaphysical adventure -- yet another End of Days.

Fortunately, The Ninth Gate is neither of these. In actuality, it's a mystery with Johnny Depp as the unlikely hero, Frank Langella as the perfectly-cast antagonist, and Lena Olin and Emmanuelle Seigner as the femmes fatale. Under the direction of Roman Polanski, you can rest assured that these characters get mixed up quite a bit en route through a serpentine plot that is far more interesting than its subject matter would imply: The search for a couple of rare books.

Continue reading: The Ninth Gate Review

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