Ronald Harwood

Ronald Harwood

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Quartet Review


Good

For his directing debut, Dustin Hoffman takes no chances, filling the screen with gifted actors who are working from an intelligent script. So even if it's essentially a rather flimsy little drama that never really stretches the talented cast, there's plenty to like along the way. And Hoffman makes sure that we enjoy ourselves, inserting some sparky humour and a bit of romantic comedy to keep us smiling.

It takes place in a stately home for retired British musicians, which is planning its annual fundraising gala. Then iconic soprano Joan (Smith) arrives, and the gala's diva-like director (Gambon) decides to reunite the quartet known for a famed performance of Verdi's Rigoletto. The other three have long been residents: womanising Wilf (Connolly) and ditzy Cissy (Collins) are up for it, but Reggie (Courtenay) has never recovered after his marriage to Jean failed decades ago. Of course, everyone connives to get Jean and Reggie to talk to each other, but getting Jean to come out of retirement to sing again is an even more daunting task.

Aside from the central theme of second chances, there isn't much to this film beyond watching a group of superb veteran actors have a lot of fun on screen together. As the swishy ringleader, Gambon camps it up hilariously, even as everyone else ignores him. Connolly gleefully chomps on Wilf's innuendo-filled dialogue, and Collins radiates warmth. While Sheridan Smith surprises with a strong turn as the doctor in residence. This leaves Smith and Courtenay with the script's only meaty scenes, and they make finding the raw honesty in these wounded people look easy.

Continue reading: Quartet Review

Australia Review


Weak
It takes a half hour before you're able to put a finger on the tone and tactic of Baz Luhrmann's Australia. First steps are taken on shaky legs until the sweeping picture hits its stride. After that, you're given an additional two-and-a-half-hours to determine whether or not you like what's attempted.

At 165 minutes, Australia is ambitious to a point -- and then, to a fault. You can actually point to two movies jockeying for position on screen (well, one full story and the seeds of another). And while I quite liked the primary story, the third-act coda struck me as fodder for a potential sequel I wasn't prepared to sit through at the time.

Continue reading: Australia Review

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly Review


Excellent
Jean-Dominique Bauby, Jean-Do to his loved ones, was an editor for the Parisian branch of Elle magazine before he suffered a stroke at 43 and became completely paralyzed save one eye. A playboy of sorts, he was also a great father, an irresponsible husband, and an excellent writer. Suffering from locked-in syndrome and communicating via a visual alphabet, Bauby dictated his abstract yet wholly absorbing account of his days trapped inside his own body, which he equates with living in a diving bell. His account became an autobiography of sorts and was published two days before he succumbed to heart failure.

Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly takes its title from said book, and, like its source material, the film has a spiffy discordance to it. When Bauby (the great Mathieu Amalric) opens his eyes, so does the camera, and we are struck by the light in the same petrified and blurry way that Bauby is. Manipulated to Brakhage-like lengths, the image has the same effect as Jean-Do's fumbling voiceover; we are as unsure of his footing as he is. His pleading to not sew up an eye threatened by infection becomes our begging; we don't want to lose the slight view we have. Then, with little preparation, we aren't with the protagonist anymore, and we are looking at a frozen, terminally-twitched face in a hospital bed.

Continue reading: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly Review

Oliver Twist (2005) Review


Grim
At the end of a good year, I will have read three books. This has nothing to do with any sort of laziness or lack of literary enjoyment; this is simply my quota. When I do read, however, I tend to try to read what one would consider modern classics. On this reasoning, I've read a scant number of what most people consider "classic" novels. However, of the few I have read, one of them happens to be Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist. So, I am coming into Roman Polanski's Oliver Twist locked and loaded with the book and David Lean's wonderful 1948 version on my mind.

Let's get the story out of the way for those few who haven't heard it. Sweet, young Oliver Twist (Barney Clark) is cast out of his orphanage when he is picked to ask the cook for more porridge and is sent to work for a kind casket maker who is controlled by his wife. He escapes to London where he makes friends with a charming thief nicknamed The Artful Dodger (Harry Eden). As it happens, Dodger is part of a gang of thieving youths who work for the persuasive Fagin (Sir Ben Kingsley), a decrepit old man with too much hair and too few teeth. The storm really swells when Twist tries to go straight with a rich book collector named Mr. Brownlow (Edward Hardwicke) and gets on the bad side of a few of Fagin's friends and partners. The most nefarious of the partners is Billy Sykes (Jamie Foreman), a terribly mean thief who is followed around by an ugly dog named Bullseye. This all leads to a plot between Sykes and Fagin to kill poor little Oliver, but that proves to be pretty difficult.

Continue reading: Oliver Twist (2005) Review

The Browning Version (1994) Review


Excellent
Smitten with the original Browning Version, and rightly so, Mike Figgis remade the lovely little film in 1994. It's quite a faithful remake, updating it to the present day but leaving virtually all of the story and much of the dialogue intact. In many ways it's unneccesary as a remake -- the original still stands up well -- though Albert Finney is perfectly cast in the role of a hated prep school teacher on his last day on the job... and how that might change, however slightly, before the day is out. Watch both versions together if you can to catch the little nuances that Figgis tweaks and fiddles with, though for God's sake watch a comedy after the double feature is over.

The Pianist Review


Excellent
Roman Polanski is said to have turned down the opportunity to direct Schindler's List because he felt it would be too painful. Himself a survivor of the Holocaust, Polanski's connection to the Krakow ghetto made the story all too personal. But with the release of The Pianist, it seems the director has finally come to terms with his pain.

Set amidst the ruins of another infamous ghetto -- Warsaw's Jewish district -- The Pianist recounts the horrors that Polanski could not face a decade ago. The movie tells the true story of pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman's escape from Nazi persecution and his subsequent struggle to survive. Unlike other mainstream Holocaust movies, though, this one doesn't try to portray heroism and selflessness as much as it does the actual process of surviving. In other words, it is about the constant act of searching -- for food, for water, for a new place to hide, and for a way out.

Continue reading: The Pianist Review

Being Julia Review


Good
When you have a performance as fresh and audacious as this one from a movie star who doesn't average a film a year, it makes you wonder why we see so little of her. But here she is, Annette Bening (Open Range, The Grifters), wowing us with her patented delicious verve in the form of stage naughtiness -- a portrayal that should go on more than one Best Actress list for the year 2004.

As the great Julia Lambert, the toast of the London stage in the early '30s, she's struck by a premonition of fading vitality at the grand age of forty. Worries of it bring her close to a breakdown as she begins to desperately search for other stimuli to give her life meaning. She carries on a dialogue with her muse, Jimmy Langton (Michael Gambon), her dead drama coach that she summons up as an imagined presence to tell her when she's going well or going astray.

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The Statement Review


Terrible
No matter how much leeway you want to give certain films - whether they star an actress you like or are about a worthy subject - it just isn't enough, and you will end up disliking them no matter how much you don't want to. With some of these films, like The Statement, you end up coming close to actually hating the thing and hoping bad things happen to it.

An ostensible Nazi-hunting thriller that's far too impressed with its supposed moral ambiguity, The Statement is about former Vichy militia Pierre Brossard (Michael Caine) who, back in 1944, helped the Nazis round up and execute seven Jews in a small French town. It's based on the true story of Paul Touvier, who ordered such an execution on June 29, 1944 in southwestern France, and was sentenced to life in prison in 1995.

Continue reading: The Statement Review

Cry, The Beloved Country Review


Good
We had an execution, jilted lovers, big-time payback, and at least three sprawling examinations of someone's life. Now we get an apartheid film: another in the string of "serious movies" coming out in the last few weeks.

Cry, the Beloved Country is James Earl Jones's magnum opus, a film in which he gets to really stretch his range as an actor, even though the film doesn't give him much room to do so. The movie is the story of aging Zulu priest Stephen Kumalo (Jones) and his search for his sister and son in 1946 Johannesburg. A stranger in a strange land, Kumalo soon finds his country ways unsuited for life in the bustling city, and he is victimized by thieves almost as soon as he arrives.

Continue reading: Cry, The Beloved Country Review

Oliver Twist Review


Grim
At the end of a good year, I will have read three books. This has nothing to do with any sort of laziness or lack of literary enjoyment; this is simply my quota. When I do read, however, I tend to try to read what one would consider modern classics. On this reasoning, I've read a scant number of what most people consider "classic" novels. However, of the few I have read, one of them happens to be Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist. So, I am coming into Roman Polanski's Oliver Twist locked and loaded with the book and David Lean's wonderful 1948 version on my mind.

Let's get the story out of the way for those few who haven't heard it. Sweet, young Oliver Twist (Barney Clark) is cast out of his orphanage when he is picked to ask the cook for more porridge and is sent to work for a kind casket maker who is controlled by his wife. He escapes to London where he makes friends with a charming thief nicknamed The Artful Dodger (Harry Eden). As it happens, Dodger is part of a gang of thieving youths who work for the persuasive Fagin (Sir Ben Kingsley), a decrepit old man with too much hair and too few teeth. The storm really swells when Twist tries to go straight with a rich book collector named Mr. Brownlow (Edward Hardwicke) and gets on the bad side of a few of Fagin's friends and partners. The most nefarious of the partners is Billy Sykes (Jamie Foreman), a terribly mean thief who is followed around by an ugly dog named Bullseye. This all leads to a plot between Sykes and Fagin to kill poor little Oliver, but that proves to be pretty difficult.

Continue reading: Oliver Twist Review

Ronald Harwood

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