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cathy earnshaw (Berlin, Germany)

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Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk [Extra tracks]
Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk [Extra tracks]
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £3.24

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'I am a railroad track abandoned / With the sunset forgetting I ever happened', 6 Jan. 2008
Jeff Buckley is frequently seen as a one-album wonder given that he issued only one full-length LP in his lifetime, but it was his tragic accidental death by drowning at 30 that curtailed the flow of more albums and not a lack of drive or talent. These unfinished sketches for his second album My Sweetheart the Drunk show what a great album it would have been, rivaling Grace's huge popularity. The versatility of style evident on his debut album is taken further here - Buckley demonstrates an astonishing musical breadth, shifting from soul funk to the dissonant sonic noise of Murder Suicide Meteor Slave, to the more middle-of-road rock numbers (on which he sometimes sounds eerily like Kurt Cobain). His vocals on these sketches are breathtaking (he featured prominently in Mojo's list of The Greatest Vocalists of All Time), especially on the pure sex soul of Everybody Here Wants You and his cover of Porter Wagoner's Satisfied Mind. The lyrics have become more erotic, e.g. Your Flesh is So Nice, and on Jewel Box where he sings "I know you're a woman by the way you burn below" (interestingly Tim Buckley also sang euphemistically of "my lady's chamber"). In a terrible sense of foreboding, there is a fair amount of water imagery, too: oceans overflow inside a loved-one (Opened Once), "I've loved so many times and I've drowned them all... Stay with me under these waves, tonight" (Nightmares by the Sea), the "poisoned river wild" of You & I, the reservoir heart of Morning Theft and the falling down to the sea on Gunshot Glitter.

Buckley would have tinkered, reshaped and even erased some of these tracks before release, so inevitably they are not all mind-blowing and some are quite patchy. It's just my subjective opinion, but I couldn't warm to Witches' Rave, Yard of Blonde Girls, Murder Suicide Meteor Slave and some of the other middle tracks of the second disc. Buckley was for me primarily a master of ballad-like songs of wounded romance and desire (even Leonard Cohen has said of Grace's Hallelujah, "I wrote the lyrics, but it is definitely a Buckley song"), so it's the more tender and falsetto-high songs which capture me. Some of the lyrics are stunning, with stellar expressions of loss ('I am a railroad track abandoned / With the sunset forgetting I ever happened', Opened Once), but some of them are underdeveloped and almost nonsensical (e.g. 'Hot, pink, nasty bubblegum / Coming down just like a big red coal'!). Yet Sketches is nevertheless well worth listening to, for Buckley's extraordinary vocal talent, his experiments with style and to hear how he might have moved on from the multi-million selling Grace. These are, sadly, the final blueprints of an immensely talented and sorely missed artist.

Standout tracks: Everybody Here Wants You, You & I, Jewel Box, Morning Theft, Opened Once, Satisfied Mind

Also recommended: David Browne's book Dream Brother: The Lives and Music of Jeff and Tim Buckley


Three Colours: Blue [DVD] [1993]
Three Colours: Blue [DVD] [1993]
Dvd ~ Juliette Binoche
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £3.49

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Facing the music, 4 Jan. 2008
An awful lot has already been said about this Krzysztof Kieslowski film from 1993 and the Three Colours trilogy of which it makes up the first part. I can only say that I agree with much of the positive reaction and can sympathise with some, but not all, of the criticisms. It was a mistake, I think, not to address the death of Julie's child in the film: her young daughter dies in the car crash (caused by leaking brake fluid) that killed her husband, but apart from the scene in which Julie hurriedly devours a left-over lollipop, the film focuses almost exclusively on the legacy of the loss of her husband, a famous French composer. I also found the symbolism to be occasionally too unsubtle: for example, the camera lingers overlong on a feather fluttering as if it were breathing, in quite a placative symbol of life's fragility; the colour blue does tend to be overused, too (through the use of liquid blue filters, the blue beads hanging from the lamp, the clear blue of the swimming pool, etc.). Having said that, some of the symbolism is stunning: when Julie (Juliette Binoche) sits alone in her favourite Parisian café in the aftermath of the horrible event she dips a sugar cube in her espresso (so French!) and the cube is shown slowly darkening - a metaphor for how Julie has been consumed by a trauma which will gradually colour her whole being; as the sugar sinks and dissolves into the coffee, we realize that Julie has been irrevocably changed by tragedy. Some have complained that the original musical score by Zbigniew Preisner is too bombastic, but I found it brilliantly emotive and well used (the last composition of Julie's husband is a song to celebrate the unification of Europe in a Union - why shouldn't the music be bombastic?).

Binoche comes into her own in the film, partly because Kieslowski was a very compassionate and humanistic director who was able to give her alot of freedom during filming. She says in the interview included in the DVD extras that her performance was personally inspired by actress Annie Duperey's book The Black Angel, in which she tells of the death of both parents in a car accident ("I suffered enough inside without having to show it as well"). This resembles, and begins to explain, the coldness and initial unsociability of Julie: "I don't want any belongings, any memories. No friends, no love. They are all traps." Binoche sensitively shows how she wipes the slate clean after the double deaths and starts - tabula rasa - again, without feelings.

Before Julie begins to grieve, music is a torment for her, freighted with terrible memories of love and lives lost: in the swimming pool, she is shown underwater in a foetal position with her fingers in her ears, trying to block out the deafening reverberations of her husband's music through her psyche. But music is, in the process of grieving, invested with a healing power - the more Julie works on completion of her dead husband's last symphony, the more humane and receptive she becomes. It could be said that music brings her back to feeling itself as well as out of the cocoon-like isolation a little in which she has been living in Paris.

There has been much high talk in the fourteen years since its release that Blue is a dark and morbid film relentlessly crammed with scenes of bereavement and grief, but I would argue that it is ultimately a film about human survival. At the close, Julie is finally able to cry; as hot tears stream down her cheeks, the faintest of smiles - the hint of a new beginning - can be seen.

Also recommended: The Double Life Of Veronique (DVD), Three Colours Red (DVD), Damage (DVD), and The Unbearable Lightness Of Being (DVD)


Damage
Damage
by Josephine Hart
Edition: Paperback

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "I always recognise the forces that will shape my life. I let them do their work", 3 Jan. 2008
This review is from: Damage (Paperback)
This novel could equally have been called 'Control'. Its narrator, Stephen Fleming, insists that assuming we have control over our lives is an "essential misreading" of life - we cannot choose to go, or stay, without agony. He did not fear damage because he believed he could control it, that is was a private matter of the soul "between myself and God". The affair on which he embarks with his son's fiancée, Anna Barton, is predicated on sado-masochistic games of control: she claims in a note to him, "in this world I have created, you rule and I am your slave". But we know - as Stephen does - that he is in thrall to her mysterious appeal, to the damage she emanates, to her apparently selfless devotion to fulfilling his most primal and unfed sexual desires. The boundaries of the false self, which had kept his real self - selfishly and greedily desiring and pursuing pleasure that is tantalizingly mixed with transgression and pain - safely at bay, are penetrated (quite literally) by the appearance of Anna in his life and the power he immediately invests in her. Before he had lived simply as "a loving alien in surroundings of unsatisfying beauty".

We learn what Anna had to gain from the act of betrayal and transgressive eroticism only after the tragic denouement. We are told early on in the novel that her brother - who resembles Martyn, Stephen's son, aesthetically - had committed suicide when she was a teenager and she is candid about his incestuous desire for her. The trauma of Aston's suicide subjugated her to a position of non-agency, of victimhood; forces greater than her had inflicted their damage. In replaying the traumatic episode in a new setting and sacrificing another, she regains the sense of agency and power she lost in becoming the victim in the tragic trajectory of her brother's life. In a sense (and in tune with the religious connotations that run through the novel), she purges herself of his hold over her. She says before the illicit affair is discovered that "I always recognise the forces that will shape my life. I let them do their work", which neatly quells questions of guilt and responsibility (at least for her).

Many have complained that Jospehine Hart's narrative tends towards the melodramatic (I agree) and that her writing is sometimes too unsubtle, too overwrought (an impression borne out by her later novel, Sin). Particularly ridiculed have been the final lines of Damage, in which Hart claims that "this is a love story". Al Alvarez has claimed a similar thing of Sylvia Plath's poem, 'Daddy', a nursery rhyme of patricidal hatred and revenge. Interestingly Plath's husband, Ted Hughes, reviewed Hart's novel positively upon its publication, asserting that "Damage is really a poem...Lorca says somewhere that 'the poem that pierces the heart like a knife has yet to be written', but I felt that kind of knife dangling somewhere in Damage."


Dream Brother: The Lives and Music of Jeff and Tim Buckley
Dream Brother: The Lives and Music of Jeff and Tim Buckley
by David Browne
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tim as the musical hunter and Jeff as the wounded deer, 2 Jan. 2008
This is the book that Jeff Buckley, presumably, would have hated. Not because he is any way defamed in it, but because it reproduces the father-son comparisons that always dogged and irritated him during his lifetime. He probably wouldn't have been too chuffed either about the printed excerpts from his unpublished journal that appear in the book: he was after all a fervently private person (when diehard fans got too close to him after a show and he could feel the heat of their obsession, he would scream, "This is my private life! I'm not on TV - I'm a person!").

Writing a combined biography of Tim Buckley (1947-1975) and Jeff Buckley (1966-1997) does seem something of a cynical marketing ploy, considering author David Browne has so little good to say about Tim and is almost hagiographically positive about Jeff. Having one chapter on Tim and the next on Jeff is also slightly disorientating: just when we are becoming embedded in tales of Tim's prodigal productivity or womanising, we are thrown forward into Jeff's story, to friends who say he was "insanely vulnerable" and bandmates who recall him being a perfectionist in the studio. But, like other reviewers have written, it's a start: hopefully this dual biography can serve as a springboard for in-depth individual biographies in the time to come.

Both Buckleys have posthumously become icons: Tim as a 1960s cult figure, a folk-jazz trailblazer who made 9 albums before dying of an accidental heroin overdose at 28; and Jeff as a 1990s haunted romantic with an astonishing vocal range who tragically followed his father into an early grave, drowning accidentally aged 30, with much of his immense promise untapped. In Browne's book, Tim comes across as traumatised (his father was a WW2 veteran with a ferocious and violent temper) as well as traumatising (he abandoned his wife Mary when she was pregnant with Jeff and only made guest appearances in his son's life). Tim had sought refuge with Mary - they had bonded over stories of their abusive fathers - but marriage soon became constricting for him and he broke out to pursue his career with less "distractions" (he released his first LP two days after his son's birth). Tim seemed to have contradictory feelings about his childhood (telling one interviewer that his father was a "brilliant man") as well as being more generally contradictory, suggesting a personality in conflict (he could be "alternately cocky and self-pitying" according to those in the music business at that time). Browne cannot muster much praise for his now classic early folk-rock albums; even Goodbye and Hello which some regard as his masterpiece is for Browne "sometimes overbaked and too ornate" with lyrics that are "too pretentious or cloying".

Unsurprisingly the son who Tim Buckley steadfastly and inexplicably neglected in his lifetime grew up to be conflicted (guitarist Lee Underwood tries to argue that "[Tim] did not abandon Jeff; he abandoned Mary", but I think few would agree). If his father tended to be misogynistic (screaming at one woman, "What problems can you have? You're a woman!"), his son embraced his feminine side (telling his then girlfriend Joan Wasser, for example, that she was the more masculine in their relationship). Shuttled between his grandparents and his mother who had a series of relationships with forceful, seemingly unsuitable men (one of whom was married at the time), Jeff's childhood was nothing if not unstable. Neither Mary nor Jeff was invited to Tim's funeral or to the scattering of his ashes at sea (his widow Judy Buckley rather bizarrely says, "There was a lot of confusion...It was simply a mistake"). Jeff became understandably deeply ambivalent about the father he never really knew: going into the same business, whilst denying his influence; disparaging most of his father's music, whilst singing in a similar, high octave tone and appearing as a key act at his tribute concert; insisting that his father's early death had scant impact on him, whilst telling Joan Wasser in his final days that "My blood is cursed". The mystery of his death - drowning in the Wolf River in Memphis after going for an early evening swim with his clothes and boots on, having taken no illegal drugs and having very little alcohol in his system - is not resolved here (although Browne suggests he must have been unconscious as the currents pulled him under, since so little fighting for life could be heard). Photographer and friend Merri Cyr says, "I don't think he felt he could fight his fate". As we hurtle towards the premature deaths of both Jeff and Tim in the closing chapters, Browne's book becomes unmistakably saddening.

Many readers might have wished for deeper insights and a greater attempt to access and re-create the thoughts and feelings of these two very mythic characters. Rather, the author has cobbled together hundreds of interviews and impressions of people who knew them and woven in song lyrics and 19 black-and-white photographs. As Jeff's last girlfriend told Browne after her interview with him: "Good luck figuring him out".


The End Of The Affair [DVD]
The End Of The Affair [DVD]
Dvd ~ Julianne Moore
Offered by Just4-U-Media
Price: £8.91

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "There is a splinter of ice in the heart of a writer", 30 Dec. 2007
This review is from: The End Of The Affair [DVD] (DVD)
How true this seems when watching the novelist Maurice Bendrix (Ralph Fiennes) luxuriating in his anguish when retelling his experience of thwarted sexual passion in The End of the Affair (1999). Graham Greene wrote his now classic novel on which the film is based during an illicit postwar affair he was having with Catherine Walston, the American wife of a monied landowner (his novel is dedicated "to C."). Having converted to Catholicism in the 1920s, Greene draws upon autobiographically potent themes in intertwining of the intense religious struggle of his two protagonists with an erotic passion, and setting it against the grey backdrop of the London Blitz ("It was hard to believe that during the war we could be so totally at peace," Maurice says).

Fiennes has in the film that sneering, half-demonic glare and voice of controlled menace that have become his trademark (his cinematic debut was, after all, as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights). It is as if Fiennes himself, as film critic Peter Bradshaw has suggested, has "a great and terrible wound somewhere in his heart". Perhaps the script does belabour the point of Maurice's jealously at the start, having Fiennes repeatedly articulate a hatred that is clearly discernible from the penetrating stare of his blue-grey eyes and those 'locked lizard lips'. But Maurice is nevertheless an intriguing, passionately obssessed character; director Neil Jordan has said, "There was something heroic in his refusal to take solace in anything".

Stephen Rea puts in a sensitive and tender performance as the cuckolded, stiff-upper-lipped husband, Henry. Julianne Moore, here with a convincing British accent, is good, but seems a little too concentrated and mannered (or she intended Sarah to come across as tightly neurotic). Director Jordan, himself a novelist and a Catholic, has chosen to water down the trauma of Sarah's fidelity to her sudden faith, having her break her promise to God and escape to the shores of Brighton with Maurice to reignite her affair. Not all viewers have, as a result, been able to swallow her ascent to quasi-sainthood in the closing scenes. The bumbling, humble private detective (the brilliant Ian Hart) and his son Lance (Samuel Bould) bring everyday humanity and comic interludes to the high drama and the big themes.

The central theme - that God can touch the lives even of those who attempt to flee from him or who have solidly refused to believe - is not for everyone, which is presumably why Neil Jordan upps the sex factor (at one point the camera gazes longer than is strictly necessary at Fiennes's peachy buttocks!). In spite of the retro-nostalgic, old-fashioned atmosphere, you don't see much of London; the camera remains almost claustrophobically close to the central relationships. On the downside, there is an excessive amount of torrential rain occuring in London (which seems a bit heavy-handed), and Michael Nyman's musical score overdoes it a little on the violin front (making it sappier than necessary).

Also recommended: The Constant Gardener (DVD), After The Wedding (DVD), Damage (DVD) and The Unbearable Lightness Of Being (DVD)


Jane Austen on Screen
Jane Austen on Screen
by Gina MacDonald
Edition: Paperback
Price: £20.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some astute readings of Austen adaptations, but sometimes too puritanical, 28 Dec. 2007
This review is from: Jane Austen on Screen (Paperback)
In this collection of essays, the authors focus on what is lost and what is gained in the translation of Jane Austen's classic novels to film: "the words will never be the same as the original," the two editors tell us, "yet a careful, imaginative treatment can shed new light on the text".

Paulette Richards contributes an illuminating essay on Roger Michell's Persuasion (1995) starring Ciaràn Hinds and Amanda Root, explaining the sometime lukewarm reception of the film: "The taste for feisty, active heroines leaves twentieth-century readers and viewers less able to accept Anne Elliot's reticence". Her sensitive analysis reveals how the cool blue colour of Anne's gown at the start and the nearly empty grate of the hearth "portray the lack of passion in Anne's life". She also teases out the phallic significance of the umbrellas in the teashop scene and notes that when Captain Wentworth silently points out a letter he has written to her declaring his undying love, he pretends to forget his umbrella in the film. In the light of its phallic symbolism, this "conveys his anxiety about being rejected as a man"; in the novel, however, he forgets his gloves - a mark of the gentleman - which "betrays his anxiety about being rejected as a social inferior". This measured and attentive appraisal contrasts with Tara Wallace's essay on the same film in which she paintballs Amanda Root's performance, favourably quoting another critic: "Amanda Root lets Anne Elliot and the movie down damnably". This attack rests on the assumption that Root "should" represent Anne precisely as Jane Austen characterises Anne in her novel (i.e. less neurotic and flustered than in the film), yet who is to say that an adaptation "must" be faithful or be damned?

Another case of puritanism can be found in Jocelyn Harris' essay in which she criticises film productions for "contaminating" what Austen wrote by introducing new elements. Harris thereby reduces filmic changes of novel - which can be enhancing, they do not all straightforwardly represent losses - to the level of poison. John Mosier doesn't do the collection any favours either by strictly and narrowly prescribing what Austen critics should be doing ("instead of judging the extent to which the films conform to preconceived notions about how the period should be seen, critics would do better to judge the adaptations by the extent to which they develop an interpretation of the text").

Penny Gay's favourable article on Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility (1995) provides welcome relief. Gay astutely notes that scriptwriter Emma Thompson and director Lee make genteel women's lack of access to paid work more bluntly explanatory in the film, thereby foregrounding and enhancing the feminist qualities of the original text in its movement to screen. There is comparatively little discussion in the collection of the much-loved BBC mini-series of Pride and Prejudice (1995) with only half an essay (by Ellen Belton) devoted to it. Interestingly, Colin Firth is quoted on Mr. Darcy's bewilderment and curiosity at Lizzy's character as Belton details how Darcy is tranformed "from eighteenth-century lord of the manor to late twentieth-century romantic hero" in the series.

I can understand that the editors wanted to provide contrary and competing views in their collection, but I had the impression that traditionalism and puritanism are simply given too much space. There are some good discussions here, but a more consistent and stringent dissolution of the "low" and "high-brow" dichotomy would, it seems to me, have enabled criticism of Austen adaptations to move more unobtrusively onto fresher and greener turf.


Morvern Callar [DVD]
Morvern Callar [DVD]
Dvd ~ Samantha Morton
Offered by ____THE_BEST_ON_DVD____
Price: £19.99

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Morvern remains cryptic, stranded emotionally on her own island, 28 Dec. 2007
This review is from: Morvern Callar [DVD] (DVD)
The positive reviews here surprise me - there are alot of people vigorously complaining about this film on message boards elsewhere, saying that it is plotless, lacking in dialogue and an utter waste of time. It is not as bad as all that and Lynne Ramsay's film, based on the novel Morvern Callar (1999) by Alan Warner, clearly does have a plot: our anti-heroine caresses the body of her boyfriend, who we slowly realise is lying dead - his wrists slit - under the blinking neon lights of the Christmas tree. Left with a considerable amount of money and a finished novel which her boyfriend has left on a disc, Morvern (Samantha Morton) is faced with terrible grief, but also with a possibility to break out of her mundane, stultifying life and experience something new. She embarks on a personal journey, in the course of which she pushes back her boundaries and gradually becomes an active agent in her own life. Morvern fills her psyche with loud music and pills, engages in casual sex and sets off with a friend on an impromptu holiday to southern Spain (having sold her boyfriend's novel to publishers under her own name for a tidy sum).

Samantha Morton plays Morvern's wounded introspection and emotional vacancy brilliantly: she seems to intuitively understand her. And newcomer Kathleen McDermott - who was working as a trainee hairdresser in Glasgow's Argyle Street when approached by casting director Des Hamilton - is stunningly convincing as Morvern's friend, the bubbly and game-for-a-laugh Lanna. The difficulty for viewers is, I think, that Morvern is for the most part emotionally mute and almost autistic (a characteristic which contrasts with her boyfriend's literacy and creative output): we drift into a sensory ride through a club landscape with its throbbing lights and across the wild Spanish countryside, but are not allowed much access into Morvern's disturbed psyche or emotional impoverishment. Her blank, moon-like face shuts us out; with her headphones on for much of it, Morvern is cocooned in her own reality, in which trauma and pain are not expressed, but doggedly contained in the self. For me, this makes for a film about searching - blindly - for an answer, for a greater sense of identity, for agency. As Morvern drags her bag and battered case amongst the cacti and dusty roads of Spain, I was reminded of that Sylvia Plath line that seems written for her: "There is no terminus, only suitcases".

There are other problems, too. The two publishers who spontaneously fly out to Spain to meet Morvern are too clichéd, too much like cardboard cut-outs. It also seems implausible that they would participate in her holiday activities and pay her £100,000 in one fat cheque, without any talk of re-writes or publicity meetings, etc. Moreover, Morvern's burial of her boyfriend's body (which she has just dismembered, with her trusty headphones on, in the bath) using only a small, flat-bladed garden tool is distractingly odd. Samantha Morton did not have time to work up a Scottish accent, too, so - in contrast to the novel - she has a Nottingham accent and is not originally from the area.

Ramsay has said that she didn't intend her as a completely realistic character, saying that she saw the story as "a bit of a black fairytale": "The way she saw the world, how she didn't take the road she was meant to - she's kind of a revolutionary to me". It doesn't quite work in my opinion, but it's worth seeing nonetheless for the two main performances and for the unusual, catatonic enigma that is Morvern Callar.

Recommended>
Sweet And Lowdown (DVD), Jesus' Son (DVD) and Control (DVD) - in all three of which Samantha Morton stars


The Virgin Suicides [DVD] [2000]
The Virgin Suicides [DVD] [2000]
Dvd ~ Kirsten Dunst
Offered by DVDBayFBA
Price: £3.60

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Trapped in a stifling doll's house, 26 Dec. 2007
In her debut feature film based on Jeffrey Eugenides' novel, Sofia Coppola constructs the claustrophobic atmosphere of a highly dysfunctional family in suburban America in the 1970s. It resembles how Sylvia Plath (who, like the five protagonists here, also committed suicide) described it a decade previously: "the motherly breath of the suburbs enfolded me. It smelt of lawn sprinklers and station-wagons and tennis rackets and dogs and babies" (The Bell Jar). In the film you can almost smell the scent of manicured lawns, freshly-ironed school uniforms and the pungent trail of air freshener. Coppola also has an uncanny eye for the paraphernalia of female adolesence: half-used red lipsticks, a kaleidoscopic collection of nail polishes, and multi-packs of tampons proudly stored in the bathroom. This is, the male voiceover tells us, "the imprisonment of being a girl", or as Cecilia (Hanna Hall) declares to a male doctor who downplays the significance of her suicide attempt: "Obviously, Doctor, you've never been a thirteen-year-old girl."

The emotional impoverishment of the family situation is clear: the Lisbon parents (Kathleen Turner and James Woods) are suffocatingly strict, socially inept and utterly in denial. When the youngest kills herself, impaling herself on railings after a depressing house party, the family unit carries on as if nothing has happened: the girls return to school with bright pageant smiles and their bumbling father continues his routine of teaching maths and building model aeroplanes. Cecilia's suicide is - as so many suicides are, even today - covered up by her family and their priest (who registers it as an accident). The motivation for the sisters' self-destructive impulses is not etched out: the school boys who narrate the story from a grown-up perspective say they are intrigued, even mesmerized, by their copycat deaths, but do not scratch the surface of their motivation. I would imagine that in this way Coppola intends for the film to be "mysterious" and "haunting" (especially given the wistful Air soundtrack), but without a deeper sense of their psychological reality, it is difficult to be affected by the narrative. The five sisters become, like the Virgin Mary cards they drop or hand out to the boys, sacramental and sacrificial symbols rather than more mortal beings.

Kirsten Dunst nevertheless puts in a good performance as Lux (even her name - a brand of soap and detergent - suggests artificial cleanliness) as does Josh Hartnett as her caddish, self-adoring date, Trip Fontaine. The Lisbon parents are also well portrayed by Turner and Woods. But they - like their five blonde paragons of girlish suburban innocence - cannot beef up a script and approach that ends up being strangely artificial. With an underdeveloped sense of reality, The Virgin Suicides proves too devoted to a weightless dreaminess to lift itself above the level of stylish fairytale.


Jude [DVD] [1996]
Jude [DVD] [1996]
Dvd ~ Christopher Eccleston
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £4.63

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gloriously morbid and bleak, 26 Dec. 2007
This review is from: Jude [DVD] [1996] (DVD)
This film really is a feast for manic depressives! On the one hand, you have the spirited banter between the two leads and the effusive giggliness of Arabella's character and on the other hand, starkly grim scenes of death and birth. For the squeamish, these could be stomach-churning: a pig is gruesomely killed and unceremoniously gutted; bodies are found ashen with death; and, most extraordinarily of all, when Sue (Kate Winslet) is shown giving birth, the bloody head of her baby is visible between her spread-eagled legs. It is fitting that Michael Winterbottom's adaptation of Thomas Hardy's novel should shock and horror to this degree: when Jude the Obscure was first published in 1895, it prompted widespread outcry from Victorian readers who denounced it as "coarse beyond belief" and mockingly referred to it as "Jude the Obscene". Aghast at the novel's apparent "insolence and indecency", the Bishop of Wakefield rather hysterically threw it into the fire after reading it. It was to become Hardy's last novel: he subsequently abandoned narrative-writing for poetry.

For its outspoken critique of class inequalities (in particular with regard to university admissions), the institution of marriage, Christianity, and the narrowness of women's social role, Jude the Obscure is today regarded as radical and a classic. Played with panache by a 20-year old Winslet, Sue Brideshead is a paradigmatic New Woman of the 1880s and 1890s - her very surname reflects the conflict between her headstrong nature and the social expectation that she should marry. Christopher Eccleston makes for a sterling Jude: a Dorset countryman and stonemason, angrily frustrated about his rejection from Christminster, who is tolerant of his authoritarian Aunt (June Wakefield), steadfastly honourable in marrying the supposedly pregnant Arabella (Rachel Griffiths), a pigfarmer's daughter, and warmly supportive towards his true love and nemesis, Sue (especially in the scene when they first make love). Ross Colvin Turnball also deserves a mention as the touching and melancholy son as do Eduardo Serra's beautiful cinematography and Adrian Johnston's musical score.

This film is not, however, flawless. There are quite a few implausibilities: Arabella's exit from Jude's life is inexplicably abrupt; when the young Jude is discovered feeding black crows which he is meant to scare away, the farmer pounces on him in a huge field that was empty a few seconds before; and Arabella, too, is a considerable way off, washing pig innards in a stream, when she is supposed to have been able to correctly aim a pig's heart at Jude, who is seen reading Latin in woodland. Hossein Amini's script is sometimes too modern in its vocabulary as well ("Well, you're confrontational!" says Sue at one point and at another "I'm intellectualising, aren't I?").

Jude is nevertheless a brilliantly unsanitized, emotionally intense film that is sombre and tragic - but not without light.

For fans of: Breaking The Waves (DVD), The Cement Garden (DVD), The Piano (DVD) and Dancer In The Dark (DVD)


Damage [DVD] [1993]
Damage [DVD] [1993]
Dvd ~ Jeremy Irons
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £14.99

27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive", 25 Dec. 2007
This review is from: Damage [DVD] [1993] (DVD)
The key catalyst in this modern Greek tragedy is Anna Barton (Juliette Binoche), a young, androgynous woman and the daughter of a diplomat, whose taciturn and cryptic presence has both a bewitching and disturbing effect from the start. When she meets her boyfriend's father, Dr. Stephen Fleming (Jeremy Irons) who is a Member of Parliament, and begins an affair with him, the Oedipal roles are reversed as the father becomes the competitor for the son's love object. At a family gathering, Anna is open about her traumatic past, telling them of her brother who committed suicide at 16, unable to cope with his sister embarking on her first love affair. Left with a legacy of existential anguish, she would seem to be compulsively reenacting the conflict through new erotic entanglements in an attempt to resolve it, and remains wholly unconcerned about the destruction she might wreak in the process. As she rather melodramatically tells Stephen after another bout of aggressive sex, "Remember: damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive".

Other reviewers have commented that the motivation of Jeremy Irons' character is not clear or realistic. But I felt that it was plausible and could understand how he might be easily seduced by Anna - she does after all embody the fierce passion and powerful emotions that are all too lacking in his boring, bourgeois marriage to Ingrid (Miranda Richardson) and the routine-based family existence he has built up with her. His betrayal of her and his own son Martyn (Rupert Graves) is not a morally reprehensible act, but I believe it was director Louis Malle's intention to show what is spontaneously - and sometimes fatally - abandoned when buried desires are finally acted upon after years of repression. How we react to the character of Stephen perhaps tells us how we react to desire, and the extent to which we might allow morals to harness and hold back a basic, existential passion.

The film polarised critics, too, upon its release in 1992. Some could not take it seriously (always a problem with melodrama) and mocked the combative sex scenes in which Binoche and Irons paw and claw at each other. Others found the adultery storyline and the character of Anna off-putting (as if trauma were somehow 'unpleasant' rather than a tragic fact of life). There are, it must be said, a few incongruities in the film: Anna's mother Elizabeth (Leslie Caron), for example, has an American accent although her daughter retains a French one; at dinner, she tactlessly talks of Martyn resembling her dead son, thereby unsettling everyone in the room without noticing herself, but somehow astutely observes Stephen's furtive lust for her daughter and warns him to steer clear at the same time. Also, the musical score is sometimes too much of a distraction, too intrusively melodramatic.

But this film is nevertheless well worth watching. Miranda Richardson's performance is so emotionally sincere, it is almost painful to watch in the closing scenes (especially when she tells her husband in utter devastation, "What a pity we ever met"). In contrast to what others have written of the two leads, I found that they rose to the task well. Binoche - one of my favourite actresses - is compelling, in spite of the discrepancy of accent. Asked by the New York Times in 1992 whether she identified with the character of Anna, she replied: "No, but I understood her. I understood that when you have lost the main thing in your life, you have nothing else to lose and you're kind of free and dangerous to others. It's your road; you're walking along your own road."

Also recommended: The End of the Affair (DVD), Three Colours Blue (DVD) and The Unbearable Lightness Of Being (DVD)


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