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Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Peter Jackson employs the entire population of New Zealand as Orcs and puts the ‘gosh’ in ‘spectacular’ in the epic last instalment of the epic Lord of the Epics trilogy.
Frodo and his chums continue on their quest to lose the ring of power in the fiery bowels of Mount Doom, while the Orc hordes threaten the end of Middle Earth as Hobbits know it and humans bicker among themselves and set fire to their own children. The audience emerges from the cinema twirling imaginary swords. It’s that much fun.

Master and Commander
A swashbuckler of the old school in which stoic Brits chase dastardly Napoleonic Frenchies round the horn of wherever to protect their own imperially plundering interests. There is plenty here even for non-swashbuckling moviegoers. Life at sea two hundred years ago is lovingly and convincingly recreated, the tall ships are adorably photogenic, there are some spectacular battle and storm scenes. Russell Crowe turns in his best performance since Gladiator — and he has much to work with as the script and characterisation are intelligently crafted. Made on the same location as Titanic. No, really!

Crime, Thriller/US/English (Japanese subtitles)/98mins
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Edward Burns, Rachel Weisz
Director: James Foley
Lions Gate Pictures

Confidence does not quite deliver what it promises. It’s well directed (James Foley of Glengarry Glen Ross), it looks good and Dustin Hofmann as gangster boss King plumbs new and startling depths of sliminess, but as a whole the film sags. Beyond the Hofmann character Confidence does not have much to offer. A conman (Edward Burns) accidentally rips off King and to save his own skin cuts the little big man in on his new scam. The plot thereafter is deft but reminds too much of all the other conman films you have seen.

Love, Actually
Comedy/US, UK/English (Japanese subtitles)/129mins
Starring: Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson
Director: Richard Curtis
Universal Pictures

Hugh Grant is completely unbelievable as a prime minister of the UK. UK PMs are either grey and blurry or howl at the moon. They are never good looking or charming as the Right Honourable Hugh G is here. The PM is the first bachelor to hold the office since Ted Heath and in quaintly British fashion he falls head over heals with the tea lady. Cue a long comic meditation on love with more characters and sub-plots than War and Peace. Very Four Weddings and a Funeral without the saving grace of a funeral.

Uptown Girls
Comedy/US/English (Japanese subtitles)/93mins
Starring: Brittany Murphy, Dakota Fanning, Heather Locklear
Director: Boaz Yakin

Uptown Girls is a scatty comedy about two young, privileged things coming to terms with being young, privileged things. Brittany Murphy is a twenty-something airhead who has never done a real day’s work in her life. On the death of her rich parents, the guardian of her trust fund makes off with all the dosh and Brittany has to (gasp!) work for a living. She gets a job as a nanny to eight-year-old rich kid Dakota Fanning. Where Brittany is the adult that failed to grow up, Dakota is wise and jaded, way beyond her years. Implausibly fun.

Runaway Jury
Crime, thriller/US/English (Japanese subtitles)/127mins
Starring: John Cusak, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman
Director: Gary Fleder
Twentieth Century Fox

Runaway Jury is a court pot boiler with some nice big twists. In this based-on-a-Grisham story a woman is suing a gun company over the shooting of her husband with one of their guns. She has retained the decent lawyer, Dustin Hoffman, while the slimy gun boss has retained the slimier Bruce Davison who in turn hires the even slimier jury fixer Gene Hackman to get a jury that will deliver for the gun company. Unknown to all, juror John Cusak has the slimiest secret of all and threatens to upset the best laid plans of both sides.

Italian for Beginners
Comedy/Denmark/Danish (Japanese subtitles)/112mins
Starring: Anders W. Berthelsen, Ann Eleonora Jorgensen, Anette Stovelbaek
Director: Lone Scherfig
Miramax Films

Italian for Beginners is a charming Danish comedy. When the pastor of a small church outside Copenhagen is carted off for pushing the organist off a balcony — this is a film of comically frayed tempers — he is replaced by Anders Berthelsen who is our vehicle for exploring this town of charmingly dysfunctional characters. When the local restaurant employs a young Italian woman, several of the males of the town spontaneously decide to learn Italian, a project complicated by the equally spontaneous death of the Italian teacher. Romances blossom and fade and we watch with affection as these oddballs seek happiness.

Brother Bear
Animation/US/English (Japanese subtitles)/86mins
With the voices of: Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Suarez, Jason Raize
Director: Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker
Walt Disney Pictures

So who needs another Disney animation? Just as you are about to skip the review — and the film — you find there may be some reason for one more as Disney ups the animation ante. Native American kid Kenai is turned into a bear after killing the bear that killed his brother. Irony: Kenai’s family come after him assuming him to be the killer bear. This is a gross simplification of a plot that you are going to be explaining to your kids weeks after you’ve seen the film. Sappy, New Agey, engaging, technically great animation.

History, drama/US/English (Japanese subtitles)/108mins
Starring: John Cusack, Noah Taylor, Leelee Sobieski
Director: Menno Meyjes
Lions Gate Films

When this film was released in the West in 2002 it caused controversy for its three dimensional portrayal of Adolf Hitler. However, to portray is not to sympathise and this story of Hitler’s life between WWI and the start of his political career gives us the homeless, destitute with a desperate need for attention. The Max of the title is the art dealer who befriends Hitler out of pity. Max is Jewish and liberal. Both Max and Hitler fought on the same side in the trenches in the war. History fills in the silences in the script.

Review by Chris Page

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