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The English Patient

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The English Patient

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas
Director: Anthony Minghella
Rated: R
RunTime: 160 Minutes
Release Date: January 1996
Genres: Drama, Romance

*Also starring: Juliette Binoche, Jurgen Prochnow, Clive Merrison, Hichem Rostom, Julian Wadham, Kevin Whately, Nino Castelnuovo, Peter Ruhring, Willem Dafoe, Colin Firth

Review by MrBrown
4 stars out of 4

All across the country critics and sell-out crowdshave been going ga-ga over Anthony Minghella's adaptation of Michael Ondaatje's complex WWII-set novel, and it's easy to see why. This highly passionate and moving drama centers on a severely burned, amnesiac pilot (Ralph Fiennes), who, through, a series of flashbacks, puts together the pieces of his past, in particular his intense love affair with a married woman (Kristin Scott Thomas). This love story plays against one blossoming between the pilot's French Canadian nurse (Juliette Binoche) and an Indian bomb and mine defuser (Naveen Andrews). The film last a little over 160 minutes and takes its time answering its own narrative questions, but one is completely captivated throughout the entire film, thanks in no small part to the excellent performances, the sizzling chemistry between Fiennes and Scott Thomas, and the all-consuming passion and conviction of its story. This very impressive achievement for all involved is sure to be an Oscar contender next March.

Jingle All the Way (PG) ** 1/2 If it weren't for the credits "A Brian Levant Film" and "Directed by Brian Levant," one would be certain that the director behind this family comedy was Home Alone's Chris Columbus, for its wall-to-wall slapstick sure bears the Columbus stamp (he actually only produced). If you know what I'm talking about, then you know all you really need to know about this tale of two stressed-out fathers (Arnold Schwarzenegger and a scene-stealing Sinbad) trying to find the hottest action figure of the season, Turbo Man, on Christmas Eve to give to their respective sons. The first hour is what you would expect from a Columbus production, with cartoony fights, lots of stuff being knocked down and tripped over, and ceaseless mugging (which, needless to say, is _not_ Schwarzenegger's strong suit). What keeps this kidpleaser from being completely tired is the surprising special effects-laden final act. No point in blowing the specifics, but this film's closing twenty minutes or so are more funny and entertaining than the hour which precedes it. Only a must-see for Arnold fanatics and fans of that broad, oh-so-Columbus-y brand of slapstick.

Shine (PG-13) *** 1/2 Scott Hicks's film of the life story of Australian pianist David Helfgott is inspiring, memorable cinema--the kind of film that Oscar voters go ga-ga for. We follow David (played as a child by Alex Rafalowicz, then as an adolescent by Noah Taylor) as he gains early fame for his remarkable talent and then, while studying at London's Royal College, suffer a debiliatating mental breakdown--thanks in no small part to the stress put on him by his domineering father (Armin Mueller-Stahl). Years pass, and 40-something David (now played by Geoffrey Rush) is a mumbling mental case prone to public nudity and grabbing women's breasts. But slowly, surely, with the help of friends and the love of a woman (Lynn Redgrave), he finds his way back to the piano and the glory that came with it. Shine is at its best in its first half, focusing on the fascinating and heartbreaking relationship between father and son--brought to vivid life by Taylor and Mueller-Stahl, who is so painfully real as a man who obviously loves his son immensely yet just can't express it the right way. The second half is highly involving and inspiring, but without the captivating Mueller-Stahl and the compelling father-son dynamic at the forefront, it can't quite match the emotional power of the opening. Even the ending doesn't pack the punch one would expect, but Hicks should be commended for that, for the light close is in line with his admirable eschewing of overt melodramatics. Like The Crying Game back in 1992, Shine should be "the little indie that could"; with a passionate groundswell of support, it will undoubtedly be a major award contender in March.

The War at Home (R) * 1/2 Director-star Emilio Estevez's Vietnam vet drama is a mess, pure and simple. In this adaptation of James Duff's play Homefront (Duff also wrote the screenplay), Estevez plays an embittered vet who comes home to his family in 1972 Texas; his tensions with the family form the center of the film. Kathy Bates is fabulous as Estevez's histrionic nag of a mother, and Martin Sheen and Kimberly Williams also shine as Estevez's father and sister. The root of the film's troubles? Estevez himself, both in front of and behind the camera. As an actor, Estevez doesn't have the range to pull off the emotional fluctuations of the character; the fact that he is also not the warmest presence onscreen makes it hard to care about his central character. The even greater problems lie in his direction. The tone of the piece is completely confused; most of the scenes of familial tension and arguing play as farce, and at the drop of a hat the music changes, people start yelling and crying, and everything is played in earnest. Sometimes the tones overlap--in one dramatic moment, an upset Bates yells at and slaps Estevez, and suddenly Sheen brings up the subject of stolen peanut brittle--and the audience isn't sure exactly how to feel, whether to cry or laugh. In the end, I don't know if anyone will know exactly what emotional reaction Estevez was going after; I sure didn't.

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