Melinda and Melinda

Aspects of life and how we see it differently, is the basis of the new comedy/drama from Woody Allen. The film starts with a group of writers in a restaurant, and they speculate on how the same story can have either a tragic or comedic side to it. Both stories star a woman called Melinda (Radha Mitchell), who gatecrashes a party held by some friends. In the tragic story, Melinda is a woman getting over a divorce and losing custody of her kids and trying to find a better way to go about her life. In the comedy side, Melinda gets involved with her friend’s husband, Hobie (Will Ferrell), who despite loving his wife, can’t fight his attraction to Melinda. Both sides of the story show how life can be viewed in a different way, and how the slightest change to things, can affect the bigger picture.Woody Allen has had a very successful career as both an actor and director. One of the earliest films I remember seeing him in, was the dreadful 1967 version of the James Bond book, ‘Casino Royale’. He had such a bad experience on that picture, that he was determined to have complete control on his films, and write most of the material himself. ‘Melinda and Melinda’ would be about Allen’s 33rd film in a very long career - he makes a film each year, and has only given the script of the film to the actors only a few weeks beforehand. He prefers to give his actors room to move and to improvise their dialogue, in order to make the scenes more natural.

The list of Allen’s films is quite impressive, with ‘Manhattan’, ‘Broadway Danny Rose’, Hannah & Her Sisters’, & ‘Husbands and Wives’, being just a few. I wouldn’t quite put this new film up there with them, but it certainly is a very funny/interesting film done in his own good fashion. Radha Mitchell is excellent as Melinda, and gives her enough personality in the 2 separate stories, to make you believe they are totally different people. Mitchell is an Australian actress who got her start in ‘Neighbours’ about 10 years ago, and has been in a few Hollywood films since then. Will Ferrell who plays Hobie is very good as well. You can easily tell that this was a part that Allen himself could have played, but giving it to the younger actor was a wise decision, as he gives it a charm and makes you care for the character. Johnny Lee Miller and Chloe Sevigny are other reasonably well known faces who are good in their roles as well. In fact, as usual for a Woody Allen film, the whole cast can’t be faulted at all, they’re all good.

I’d like to make the point though, that ‘Melinda and Melinda’ is the first Woody Allen film to be released into Australian cinemas for 3 years. His 2 previous films - ‘Hollywood Ending’ and ‘Anything Else’ - went straight to dvd over here, as the Australian distributor here said ‘they didn’t make any money overseas’. I find this quite strange and sad that those 2 films didn’t get seen by a wider audience, because I’ve seen ‘Hollywood Ending’, and I have to say that I think it’s one of his best films he’s made, its hilarious. I would definitely recommend that film to anyone. I haven’t seen ‘Anything Else’, but when I do, I’ll let you know what it’s like! It’s weird that rubbish like ‘XXX 2′ can get a release (even though that made no money overseas), and yet a simple Woody Allen comedy doesn’t. Hopefully in future his films will continue be shown in the cinemas, where they are meant to be seen!

Anyway, his current film is yet another well made comedy/drama, with excellent acting and a fine music jazz score. ‘Melinda and Melinda’ is a very pleasant way of relaxing for a few hours and seeing a good story and some good actors at work. Highly recommended.

Rating out of 10: 7 and a half

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Star Wars 3 - The Revenge of the Sith

This film as we all know, is the final film in the new trilogy of the Star Wars series. The film begins with a space battle, as Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), and Anikan Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), try to save Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) from the clutches of the evil android General Grevious, and Count Dooku (Christopher Lee). After they have rescued the Chancellor, Anikan starts to have dreams that his wife Padme (Natalie Portman) dies during childbirth. Palpatine, who is secretly the Sith Lord, Darth Sidious, tries to lure Anikan to the ‘dark side’ of the force, and convinces him that the only way to save his wife is to destroy all Jedi Knights. This all leads towards a final confrontation between Anikan and Obi-Wan, and of course, to Anikan finally becoming Darth Vader.

The Star Wars films have been incredibly popular since Episode 4 came out 28 years ago, and has spawned a mega million dollar industry in films, books, action figures, etc. The old trilogy of films ended in 1983, with the new ones beginning in 1999, when George Lucas finally felt that he could show the Star Wars universe as he always wanted it to be. Episode 1:The Phantom Menace, and Episode 2:Attack of the Clones, seemed to divide Star Wars fans and the general audience, for being too bland, with not enough action, and wooden acting/dialogue. It has to be said, that I agree with that point of view, as I thought those films weren’t a patch on the original ones.

Episode 3, for the most part, is so much better in every way to the previous ones, that it made me grateful that Lucas at least ended the new trilogy on a good note. Unlike in the previous 2 films, the special effects compliment the action and story, rather than swamping it. The creation of General Grevious is really good, and is an excellent addition to the villains gallery. Count Dooku is only in the film for a short time, but he still brings an air of menace, which the actor Christopher Lee knows how to do only too well. Ian McDermid, who plays the Chancellor, is definitely the best one in the film. I think the film belongs to him, and he brings all his acting skills to the fore, and is the most memorable thing about the film. The violence level in the film is much greater than in any of the films, and at times, can be quite scary (although not as scary as the infamous 1978 Star Wars Christmas special, which had all off the Star Wars cast doing a song and dance routine - that was truly a sight to see!!).

One of the problems I had with the film though, was Hayden Christensen’s performance. I felt he was too wooden and didn’t really bring any real threat or anger to the role, which was needed. To be fair, the dialogue that the actor was required to deliver was at times, pretty bad, and in fact downright embarrassing. I know that Christensen is a good actor, having seen him in the film Shattered Glass, in which he gave a fantastic performance. However I think the direction he was given and the dialogue which was written by George Lucas, let him down considerably. Plus the scenes between him and Natalie Portman, while being brief, were still as cringe worthy as they were in Episode 2. Ewan McGregor is good in this, but again, the direction he received let things down a bit - especially in the final battle with Anikan. He didn’t show enough anger, or grief at being betrayed by his friend, and just seemed to be going thru the motions. Again, Ewan McGregor is a great actor, but the script let him down I think. Samuel L Jackson, and Jimmy Smits, are certainly the stronger actors in the ‘Jedi Group’, and are as always a pleasure to watch.

I think it’s fair to say that the new trilogy failed to live up to expectations and were an exercise in special effects over acting performances. The problem with the films, I think were that while the villains were great, the heroes weren’t. They were too bland and lifeless, and there wasn’t any hero that people could cheer for. Unlike the original trilogy, where the heroes and villains were equally good, the ones in the new trilogy, weren’t. Also I think that the new trilogy was missing a Han Solo type character - a charming rouge type, who people could take seriously but also have a laugh at as well. If the films had that character in it, I think they would have been worth watching more often. Episodes 1 - 3 were a classic example of where the special effects were great, but the story wasn’t. I believe that George Lucas should never have directed the new trilogy and should have let someone else do it - give the story a fresh slant. The Empire Strikes Back was directed by someone else, and it’s the most popular film of the whole series. George Lucas is clearly not an actor’s director, and it’s obvious from this film.

As for tying up loose ends, George Lucas didn’t quite achieve that. There is still the plot hole from Episode 2, where C3PO can be found on the farm run by Uncle Owen. If Uncle Owen had seen C3PO on the farm, then why didn’t he remember him in Episode 4? For that matter, why didn’t C3PO recognise him? This isn’t explained at all in this film and for George Lucas to overlook that obvious continuity error is unforgivable. However, the rest of his efforts to tie Episode 3 into Episode 4 work well enough, although I’m sure some other Star Wars fans might find some other plot holes if they look carefully enough!

Having said that, for the most part, I did enjoy Episode 3. It’s more coherent than the previous films, and unlike those ones, it knows where it’s going and has a definite ending that it aims for. It’s interesting to note that the closer the films got to Episode 4, the more ‘Star Wars like’ the films got. As a small note, it’s interesting to see that the 3rd film of this series is called ‘Revenge of the Sith’ as the 3rd film in the original trilogy was going to be called ‘Revenge of the Jedi’, but was changed to ‘Return of the Jedi’ at the last moment. It has also been announced that there will be a Star Wars tv series, which takes place between Episodes 3 & 4, plus 3-D versions of the films, to be released in 2007, just in time for the 30th anniversary. Overall this film was much better than the previous 2, only let down by some bad dialogue and performances from the leading actors.

Rating out of 10: 8 and a half

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