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A sprightly and optimistic little film
13 May 2008
If ever a film was wonderfully summarised in a title, it is Happy-Go-Lucky. Those five syllables perfect describe the light and breezy tone of this film, and quite possibly how you will feel as you leave the cinema. This is a movie that admirably celebrates optimism, which I for one found a nice relief in an age where even Hollywood blockbusters strive to be dark and cynical.

At first, I didn't really think I was going to enjoy Happy-Go-Lucky. The opening few minutes have a couple of attempts at humour that fall rather flat: not really a positive sign in a comedy-drama. And then there is a sequence illustrating a stereotypical, painful night out: the drunken ramblings of a coven of irritating witches prove to be an instant turn-off that creates little sympathy towards Poppy, our chirpy protagonist.

But luckily Happy-Go-Lucky is a slow burner: it just takes a little while to adjust to Poppy's world. It is Poppy (or Pauline) herself that will likely begin to conjure up some goodwill. Her cheery, often illogical optimism is a difficult trait to pull off, but Sally Hawkins gives a truly exceptional performance. Poppy is an oddity in London: a woman who has decided to be endlessly upbeat in a city of dreariness and unfriendliness. Her primary coloured clothes are in sharp contrast to the grey, apathetic streets and people around her, while her constant attempts at light humour and banter are often dismissed by those she tries to cheer up. Admittedly, she does often come across as annoying and excessive, but this simply strengthens her character: she is a solid mix of likable quirks and annoying habits. Her good-will even in the most difficult of situations (one sequence where she attempts to talk to a homeless drunkard sticks out) becomes endearing, and you may well find yourself cheering her on sooner than expected. She is a multi-layered character: her motivations admirable, her outlook likable. Most importantly she is a very strong, independent person who is entirely happy with her life, and the character is more than capable of holding the film together. Hawkins' portrayal works brilliantly, and her performance is one of the most charming and memorable in quite some time.

Poppy holds the story together, and it is a great relief that her character is so compelling, as the narrative relies on her completely. Indeed, the 'story' is almost non-existent, and is simply a few chapters in the day to day life of our protagonist. The film simply comprises of a number of vignettes in Poppy's life. It documents her day-to-day encounters: dealing with a troubled boy in the class she teaches, her bizarre dancing lessons, her sojourns with an intense driving instructor. More than anything, these mini-tales try and portray the way in which Poppy tries to retain her optimism in the face of an often bleak reality. Perhaps the central story is the one focusing on her driving lessons with a racist, emotionally fragile instructor. These Saturday excursions are the best examples of the film's thematic concerns: the difficulty of remaining optimistic in a pessimistic world. While Poppy's refusal to drop her friendly mannerisms often put her at risk, ultimately her cheery attitude keeps her safe and wins over the many other characters she encounters. Director Mike Leigh seemingly urges the audience to try and be friendly in an increasingly unfriendly world through his sympathetic portrayal of Polly, which seems to me to be an entirely refreshing moral! There are dark hints throughout the film: there are subtle references to child abuse, alcoholism, obsession and other bleak issues. But these are an integral part of the film that reinforce the general happy mood. The cinematography reinforces this – often quite subtle, it makes terrific use of colour to give Poppy a central presence. Her multi-coloured clothing and her flatmate's yellow car make her stand out instantly. It is also quite a funny little movie when it wants to be: the humour is quirky and offbeat, but Leigh will likely succeed in making you laugh through his bizarre characters and situations. Driving instructor Scott's repeated refrain of Enraha is a great running joke, while the sometimes ridiculous mannerisms of Poppy are often good for a chuckle.

There are one or two issues that should be raised. Some of the sequences seem a little redundant: in particular a final-act romance that seems somewhat surplus to requirements (although it is thankfully brief). The ancillary characters sometimes seem to lack depth: Poppy's younger sister in particular. And the previously mentioned weak start is an obstacle that has to be overcome to reveal the real depth and subtlety the film has to offer.

Happy-Go-Lucky is a sprightly little film that is a truly uplifting experience. True a fantastically realised lead character, it has a lot to say about the increasing depersonalisation of contemporary society. The messages are subtle and careful, despite the excessiveness of Poppy. The film is far deeper than appearances may suggest, and while it is a very enjoyable two hours, it also lends itself to more detail examination. Catch this in the right mood and Happy-Go-Lucky's big heart (symbolised by Poppy's necklace) may just win you over.
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Decent sequel
6 July 2006
I'm a huge fan of the first "pirates", because it was just a helluva lot of fun. Luckily the sequel retains the sense of fun of the prequel. However, it lacks the surprise the unexpectedly brilliant first did. That's not to say that this is a poor film. Not at all. Indeed, the central action sequences (the island escape near the beginning and the climatic big wheel sequence especially) are terrific, with an excellent sense of humor that had me laughing out loud, to use that annoying internet phrase. The CGI is excellent, especially Davy Jones himself. And of course, Johnny Depp. What can I say, this man deserves an Oscar for his wonderfully campy Captain Jack - he was so cruelly denied one first time around.

Yet this film is not perfect. The film begins very slowly indeed, taking a good half hour to really kick off, with some confusing plot strands required to set up sequences of events (indeed, the whole cast is not reunited until well past halfway into the film). Yet the major problem lies in the poor casting of Orlando Bloom, whose quite frankly irritating hero struggles to hold the screen when Capn Jack is absent.

Overall however, this is a fine film. The surprisingly lengthy running time flies by, and Pirates is many times more enjoyable than 90% of other blockbusters due to it's sense of humor, style and fun. I must admit I'm looking forward to chapter three of this continuing quality franchise.
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Beyond Good & Evil (2003 Video Game)
Spectacular, jaw dropping, stunning
20 August 2005
It's always the good ones that get overlooked.

This is arguably the most sublime, awe-inspiring, playable adventure of this generation of consoles. It plays like a sci-fi version of Zelda, only much more cinematic and less mention of elves. The graphics are quite simply jaw dropping, with a whole world - including the animals, the environments, the people, and space (!!!) - rendered in an utterly believable way.

The characters are the most likable bunch you could hope for. From Jade, the main character trying to uncover a vast conspiracy, to Pey'J, your friendly talking pig sidekick, through to even the most minor of characters, you build a connection with many of the different characters.

The music is absolutely stunning, with cinematic themes acting as a powerful backdrop to the game play. And some game play it is. With a wide amount of game types - platformer, action, racing, photography, puzzler, and at the end space battle - it's a game bursting with variety.

The only problem is it's length - at around 10 hours you want more. But while it lasts it's complete perfection. A game like none other awaits you. That it didn't sell enough to warrant the planned trilogy is one of the greatest shames in video game history.
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Crash (I) (2004)
Forces you to question - and even change - your perceptions.
13 August 2005
It's perhaps wrong to class Crash solely as a study of racism. Sure, there are massive racial overtones to the film, but there's so much more to it than that. It's a film which tries to get behind the motives of people, why they do what they do, and what the consequences can often be.

What is most spectacular about crash is not it's stunning cast. Every single member of the massive ensemble impresses. The trustworthy likes of Matt Dillon and Don Cheadle do their best as always. New faces such as rapper Ludicrous deliver wonderful performance. Even Sandra Bullock and Brendan Fraser are superb.

What makes 'Crash' the film it is it's unflinching reality, it's constant ability to shock you, the way it forces you to question - and even change - your perceptions. It refuses to bow to fantasy. Even moments which seem fantastic at first turn out to be either beautifully scripted coincidences. No character in 'Crash' is exactly as they appear at first. They are multi-layered individuals, with their very own morals and motives. These morals and motives unfortunately lead to discrimination and bigotry in a number of cases. But never in the way you expect.

Uncompromising and highly intelligent, Crash is a motion picture which has something to say, but never what you expect. One of the films of the year.
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Awe Inspiring
21 June 2005
There are two films that i've ever seen that have left me completely and utterly speechless with amazement. One of them was Spirited Away. The other was Lost in Translation. Words cannot praise this film enough. It's - for lack of a less wussy word - beautiful. The cinematography is stunning, simple but utterly compelling. The acting is superb from all - and found a superstar in the gorgeous Scarlett Johannson. Bill Murray proves that he is arguably the best actor in Hollywood today. Sofia Coppolla showed promise with the Virgin Suicides. With this, i'd honestly say that she is a better director, at least visually, then her father Francis Ford. This is the truest, most touching portrayal of blossoming love ever committed to celluloid. Oh yeah, and it's pretty damn funny too.
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Men in White (1998 TV Movie)
Poop on Toast
21 June 2005
This film is so bad, it made me want to vomit. Poorly produced, a complete laugh free zone. Why in the name of god would you spoof a movie which to a degree is a spoof (and a damn funny one at that) as it stands? The sets are laughable, the effects so bad that they aren't even laughable, and the acting farcical. It is a complete mystery why you would even consider watching this lump of garbage. National Lampoon once made Animal House, which people still consider to be completely and utterly hilarious. Now they've been relegated to making TV movies like this lump of ****. Name your expletive, and it could be accurately used to describe this film.
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